Hamilton

Hamilton is exquisite theater. Set, costumes, choreography, songwriting, cast, pace, character development, dazzle, excellence. The excellence of art made me cry most of the show. The songs are thrumming through my mind even as I write this. It is an act of undeniable theatrical genius.

It presents the founding fathers as distinct relatable human beings, and for me that makes it highly uncomfortable art. I don’t want anyone to watch it as a surface level experience, nor do I want anyone to miss it.

Any time I have to remember that there were/are no monsters, just flawed selfish limited human beings, it messes me up. It’s easier in binary, if I can erect an impenetrable boundary between my experience and that of those who would own/kill/dehumanize me…but that isn’t the world we live in. Heartache and grief are nearly universal, ego and foolishness too, and love.

The dream of America is/was so good. Everyone equal in a functional democracy? Yes! I just don’t know anyone who ever lived there. It was doomed by white supremacy, which made it impossible for these men in fancy shirts to see indigenous and Black and woman humanity. Today, watching this story that started 244 years ago, we are watching a lineage of our own doom. Watching while living and dying in a nation that could have been great, but the foundation is rotten with hate and it’s crumbling, toppling, turning.

With my analysis, there’s no way to see this musical as anything other than heartbreaking. My mind overlays it with the image @arlenparsa updated to show how many of the founding fathers were slaveowners, and then I sit with the contradictions. I don’t feel patriotic watching it, I think it’s more like seeing the childhood photos of someone who later abused me. Where did that wholeness go? Can that humanity be saved?

Hamilton is provocative theater because it is so excellent while dancing the same lines of centering white narratives and erasing others, even as the overt excellence of everyone from all their multitudinous backgrounds is why it’s so good.

I do want to see what Ishmael Reed did in Toni Morrisons living room though. And I want to watch Hamilton some more. I want it all.

a word for white people, in two parts

part one: what a time to be alive.

right now we are in a fast river together – every day there are changes that seemed unimaginable until they occurred.

if you are a white person (or a man) this is a time of intentionally relinquishing power, or having it pulled out from under you. i know it seems fast and everywhere, but it’s actually not a rapids, not a waterfall, not a tsunami. most people who aren’t white have in our lineages or lived experiences the whiplash of much more drastic changes, placed upon us by your ancestors. being snatched from home and shipped into slavery, weighed and measured, worked to death, lynched daily by authorities, reminded that our lives are expendable at any moment (and yes this is true even right now, hence #blacklivesmatter and #defundthepolice).

or being displaced from the land we were given instructions to love and care for, then raped, killed or reprogrammed.

or being burnt up by new weapons your ancestors created to speed colonization or domination. being cast as the savages or terrorists in their worldview in a way that stuck to us even outside the stage of their minds; stuck in your minds such that it’s nearly impossible for you to even see it without cultural ice buckets poured on the delusion.

your ancestors did not fight fair, and they didn’t teach you to be in right relationship with anyone. they didn’t give our ancestors time to wonder, ask for help, course correct, negotiate. this is why some say you should be grateful we seek justice, equality, and our humanity, versus revenge. because right now, after years of physical, intellectual and cultural warfare on peoples who were different from white, you have an opportunity to leap forward, dive into this river of change, rather than be deluged and drowned in it.

the time for denial is over. you were not raised in a secret mountaintop retreat disconnected from the world, you haven’t existed with no contact for over 400 years…so we know you see and know what is going on. and you’re scared, saddened, defensive, guilty, and unsure of who to be if you aren’t the default superior. so you make choices towards or away from or against your own highest self.

when you say ‘but don’t all lives matter?’ we hear ‘i refuse to acknowledge the harm i have caused you by benefiting from false constructs of supremacy. i cannot prioritize your pain over my privilege.’

when you say ‘ok ok so teach me’, we hear, ‘my time and needs continue to be more important than yours. i refuse to google and read, i demand your labor.’

when you say ‘but what do i do?’ it sounds like procrastination, because we have told you a million things. here.

here are ways i recommend for diving into this river:

learn to say, and mean, ‘i am sorry for the impact of my white supremacy.’ don’t post it on the internet, say it from your heart and gut directly to people you’ve impacted, especially in situations when you were/are in positions of leadership or authority. and then – and this is important – shift your behavior so you never need to give that apology again. riffing off fellow nerd albert einstein, practicing white supremacy and expecting a different outcome than race war is one definition of collective insanity. i don’t want the apology without the shifts in behavior, policy and access to power, without the end of the monsoon of constant harm.

commit to doing your own work without seeking accolades. yes, some people of color will be welcoming, will even celebrate what you do – i am sometimes moved to tears when i hear how acts-of-white-people-being-kind-to-black-people touch my black southern father, who just never thought he would see that. and/but many people of color won’t clap because the point of this moment is decentering whiteness in the story of humanity. that means not centering white course correction with the attention we give a baby’s first steps. we won’t patronize you for rejoining a collective path…and that should be good news.

don’t revert to supremacy under pressure. it breaks trust. if you are told you are practicing white supremacy, consider that we see and feel things you do not because they’re weaponized against us, weighted against us, scarring us, limiting us. we aren’t generalizing or reducing you, we are protecting our vulnerable lives.

redistribute resources. not as charity, which is just another way to assuage the conscience of privilege. redistribute money, leadership positions, decision-making power, land, time in meetings, visionary space, relationships with philanthropy, speaking opportunities, press attention, health care benefits – if you can measure it, you can redistribute the resource.

i am taking the time to write to you because i am a mixed race black woman. i am connected to the same lineages of harm as you, even as i am harmed by them. i am in intimate familial relationship with white people, and i want those relationships to be honest and accountable. i benefit from how the artifacts of whiteness in my skin, cadence, and cultural shaping make me more visible and comprehensible to you, more human to you.

it’s a devastating weight to carry, to work to be fully myself, humble and brilliant and messy and great, against a delusion of white supremacy so pervasive and invasive that it can grow within each of us without invitation. but just because something alive violates us does not mean we asked for it, does not mean we partner with it, believe it, or even let it live.

i in my wholeness am working to hold the contradictions of white supremacy responsibly, to weed my own garden even as i demand and build my and our black power. we all have our work, and none of us can do anyone else’s.

..

part two: a variation on paying attention to white people

in the spirit of ‘what you pay attention to grows’, i want to bring more attention to the white people who are in my life, none by accident, none tolerated, each beloved and cultivated. not everyone has an experience of white people who love, learn with, and follow them. i want to practice, in this moment, attending to them as much as or more than we attend to the swarm of karens and beckys and donalds and other haters.

i do not believe whiteness will just disappear in shame, or that white people committed to race and other offenses to science and god will self-segregate in a way that leaves the rest of us and the planet safe. so i must believe that something else can emerge, is emerging, even if it is still small and rare. and my belief is met by the presence, felt much more than spoken, of white people who are blessings, peers, beloveds, comrades, self-responsible humans.

i am blessed by my mother. she gave up everything she’d been raised in, family and resources, when she realized she was in love with my father. she began unlearning racism without training, decolonization curricula, language monitors. she began her unlearning in relationship, both as wife and as mother. she was the one who came storming into classrooms challenging our racist teachers. she has taken our sides and has our backs and asserts our brilliance at every turn. she doesn’t claim to get it right, she keeps leaning in and learning with love. she makes me consider that something can shift deep within when you birth a black child, or three. i am not interested in denying that, ridiculing that, making it smaller than what it is.

i am blessed by those in my southern white family who reach out to let me know they love me and listen hungrily to suggestions for what they can do to be in solidarity, to raise their kids to see beyond the racism they’re all raised to swim in. they do help to offset the pain of knowing there are white people related to me by blood who watched me be a black child and then chose to vote for the klan’s favorite president, frump.

i am blessed by the anti-racist white people in my inner friend circle. instead of perfection, these friends are committed to practice, to asking questions and really listening to the answers, to doing their own work and not putting it on me, to releasing rigid control and seeing that that there are many ways to be productive and efficient, to growing ease in taking leadership from black people, from people of color. and then diving in deep with other white people. and decentering themselves in their fields. and fucking up, and then letting it grow them rather than make them performative or bitter. they do most of their race work elsewhere, and yet it is palpable to me without feeling like guilt, charity, pity or other power-over emotions.

i have had a white partner in the past, and though i revel and thrive in black love now, when i look at movement i actually see a huge number of leaders with white partners, white family, white community. sometimes claimed, sometimes quietly kept off screen. i think we need to bring more attention to why those people get to be in our lives, why any white person gets the privilege of being in intimate space with those who have experienced enough ancestral harm from white people to stay away forever. attend not in a carrot/stick way, not denying your humanity, not cheerleading what you are already just supposed to do, but simply to acknowledge that it is work.

it isn’t a shift at the level of slogan, political correctness or press release, though those cultural quakes do soften the soil for new organic infrastructures of antiracist life to take root. it is deeply personal work to relinquish white supremacy, and it helps me if i think of the white people in my life not as exceptional, but just a few steps ahead in their work.

think of those confederate statues coming down. all my roots are southern…those statues seemed like they’d always been there and always would be. and then slowly the realization that they were celebrating the worst of humanity, the plantation hitlers, that that’s what white supremacy is really about. now it feels inevitable that we are pulling down the symbols, while inside everyone’s minds we are pulling down the ideas of racial supremacy.

but then there’s the gap, the statue’s empty base, the place where that idea once seemed right but now there’s just the wound, the world shaped around the absence of a clear way of being. i just purchased the bust of a black man, head full of amethyst, from damon davis; and last year i visited the lynching museum, full of statues to honor the murdered. both of these works are perfect and i wish they were everywhere, so i am tempted to make a case for replacing the statues with black heroes and martyrs. but i can also see the case for no replacement statues, in our town squares or our minds. we live in a beautiful interconnected world that needs our attention. maybe if we drop the performance of celebrating difference, we can make it possible to actually survive difference.

it must be possible. we must make it possible, or else we will always be in a position of demand, or counter policing, or rage. i want us to use this current justified rage to shape demands that take the labor and danger off of us. so that our grandchildren don’t have to live such taut, hurt and angry lives.

at the same time i want us to contend for power, and notice who truly invites that power. that is the common trait of every white person, every person, i allow into my life in a meaningful way: there is a mutual invitation. both of us in our power and truest selves are invited into every space.

so for the white people walking this path with me, thank y’all for keeping me faithful when a mass perspective on whiteness still feels pretty hopeless. thank you for being willing to be visible, or not. thank you for not waiting for praise as you unlearn the supremacy you were programmed to practice, and for not reacting personally to the righteous rage and shifting boundaries required to move through this collective transition. thank you for offering support instead of demanding more labor.

mary hooks has articulated a mandate for black people in this time – to avenge the suffering of our ancestors, earn the respect of future generations, and be willing to be transformed in the service of the work. the white people in my life must align with that mandate – put your lifetime in service of undoing the work of your ancestors, earning the respect of future generations, and being willing to be transformed in the service of the work.

Juneteenth meditation for BEAM

juneteenth
june nineteenth
nineteen years – i dedicate this to the activist, Toyin.
nineteen Black breaths guided by nineteen Black genius revolutionaries. (edited to be i/we statements so that this meditation can claim for each of us all the Black magic we need)

come celebrate with me that everyday something has tried to kill me / and has failed. (lucille clifton)
caring for myself is not self indulgence, it is self-preservation. (audre lorde)
when i liberate myself, i liberate others. (fannie lou hamer)
to tell the truth is to become beautiful. to begin to love myself, value myself. and that is political, in its most profound way. (june jordan)
my purpose is to make revolution irresistible (toni cade bambara)
all that i touch, i change. all that i change, changes me. the only lasting truth is change. (octavia butler)
i have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. and i have to do it all the time. (angela davis)
nobody’s free until everybody’s free. (fannie lou hamer)
until the killing of black men, black mothers sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest. (ella baker)
i am no longer accepting the things i cannot change. i am changing the things i cannot accept. (angela davis)
when i dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether i am afraid. (audre lorde)
i am a light to this world that is unmatched. (toni-michelle)
black lives matter. (alicia garza) black trans lives matter. black disabled lives matter. black queer lives matter. black children’s lives matter. all black life matters.
yes, i mean literally abolish the police. (mariame kaba)
when i say abolish the police, i also mean the cop in my head and in my heart. (tourmaline)
we make abolition possible. (charlene carruthers)
if i hear the dogs, keep going. if i see the torches in the woods, keep going. if there’s shouting after me, keep going. don’t ever stop. keep going. if i want a taste of freedom, keep going. (harriet tubman)
the mandate for black people in this time is to avenge the suffering of our ancestors, to earn the respect of future generations, and be willing to be transformed in the service of the work (mary hooks)
my people are free (harriet tubman)

let that flow through you. and feel yourself in your black dignity – that line from the center of the earth to the stars with your name on it. feel yourself in black connection, the great circle of us holding each other. feel our allies at our backs. feel our ancestors at our backs, feel us on black time (prentis hemphill). you are on time. on purpose.

what you pay attention to grows. grow this revolution. black love.

happy juneteenth my loves

happy juneteenth!

i hope you are celebrating our freedom journey today Black loves, definitely by not working, hopefully by being involved in radical acts with your mind, body, heart, and spirit.

i am extending my heart protection over every Black person who needs it today. i invite those who aren’t/can’t be on front lines today to join me in this spell:

i dedicate my life force to Black people

that we may celebrate and leap forward,
know freedom without waiting,
that when our chance to be courageous comes,
we feel no hesitation

i extend protection over our freedom fighters
pulling up from the earth mountains around each cluster of Blackness

i lend speed and flexibility to our body and mind for moments of adaptation, a river of Black liberation

i cast away all effort to harm us, today and all days, may it fall away as pollen no creature will carry

today we continue the work of burning down slavery
today we cannot be distracted from the target
today we cannot be kept from the joy
today we cannot be made small
today we can only be free

hold on to your collaborators, dance in the face of provocateurs, ignore those who try to draw your attention from the collective target of defunding police/evolving beyond policing. keep love at the center, and enjoy your precious Black life all day long.

if you wonder, worry or doubt about how you’re doing the day, listen for harriet whispering to you, “my people are free.” not will be, but are. act accordingly.

#defundthepolice #DefendBlackLives #blacklivesmatter #blacklovesmatter #juneteenth

Octavia Tried to Tell Us

the other day i had the honor of being the fifth guest in the Octavia Tried to Tell Us series, hosted by Monica Coleman and my teacher-friend Tananarive Due!

here is the full video if you want to watch it!

here are some highlights of what i shared that were posted on social media:

we’re in a very parable time.

if you’re feeling numb, dig into that feeling. numb leads to overwhelmed. overwhelmed leads to rage. rage leads to heartbreak. heartbreak leads to something’s gotta change. don’t give up on pursuing yourself.

Organize as if we’re going to be here a long time. Not as if we’re only going to be here until tomorrow.

This is an immense time to pivot into the kind of community you want to be in, and articulate it.

We do know how to care for each other and ourselves when we are given a little room. ritual, song, circle, conflict resolution, healing, staggering, rest, etc. WILL emerge in community given the right space.

people creating togetherness in this moment is a form of creating, a form of art.

“How do I help?”…”Take yourself seriously as someone who has the destiny to help.”

you’re not late to the movement. whenever you get here, you made it.

There are some things you can teach, but there are some things you can only learn through experience.

Ask yourself, how do I break my relationship with capitalism today? When I feel I’m satisfied, I don’t need to buy anything. When I feel, generosity emerges.

There’s power in giving ourselves permission to be the one to imagine the next phase…what am I contributing to what comes next?

A major city is defunding the police? It’s now done. You can’t tell me it can’t be done.

So much of emergent strategy is being able to let go of what’s no longer working. If an experiment fails, you don’t double down on the experiment. The experiment of policing has failed. It’s time to imagine something new – a system that values ALL BLACK LIVES.

Thoughts on sabbatical and unplugging: ‘It’s not that I’m not needed, but that my rest is ok.’

We want to create a culture where it’s irresistible to do the right thing. Let’s make it culturally unacceptable for Trans lives not to matter’.

Part of rejecting white supremacy is rejecting Black respectability.

Nature says each of these lives is miraculous, and can never be created again. Each of these breaths is miraculous.

With the trendy BLM posts shared by corporations, we can see these cynically of course, but also as a culture shift – now we have something we can hold these companies accountable to. Capitalism doesn’t get to claim our work. WE are the ones shifting the culture.

and here is the big announcement i made at the end:

On June 22 (Octavia E Butler’s birthday) we are launching Octavia’s Parables!

It’s a podcast with Toshi Reagon and myself going chapter by chapter thru both (all three!) parableswith summaries, analysis, questions to address in community, and original music.

Patreon.com/oparables
twitter.com/oparables

for oluwatoyin ‘toyin’ salau

if it was up to me
i would reach back through time
push away the hands that groped you
amplify your no into an earthquake
it would open the dirt
all would-be assailants crash and slip down
into a realm of heat and solitude and reflection
to sweat out their demons
as you sashayed to a safe home

if it was up to me
if i couldn’t stop the crime i’d pull you close
not asking you to ask what you need from me
cold cloth your forehead
thumb away those tears
place my palm over your trembling heart
remind you that miracles
are stronger than violations
and celebrate however you survived

if it was up to me
we would march side by side
me old, slow, and rolling along
you nineteen, and then twenty,
and then fifty and then eighty
those cheekbones high enough to hold ages
feeling the worship due for your labor
sacred child warrior, newly arrowed
you took so many unlived stories with you

if it was up to me
you would get what you deserved
black nights full of pleasure
heart swoons and heart aches
dancing in Toyin Park all Sunday
spirit child i hope you cannot even hear pain now
but if it was up to me, to we who needed you
this would never be the way
you got free

– for oluwatoyin ‘toyin’ salau
#blacklivesmatter

returning from away: wow

this post is a bit mantra, some thoughts, and some resources. if you just want the resources, skip to the bottom.

center
you are not the center
face the center
follow the center

repeat

“the world isn’t going to fall apart just because you stop to rest.” – me, to myself and many coaching clients over the years. also many people to me as i prepared for sabbatical.

“things fall apart.” – the world, roughly two seconds after i stopped to rest.

returning, may 31st

at a certain point you realize that the world is like the body, it’s a falling apart world, after a while it’s mostly deconstruction. something beautiful, pure, naked and sacred has been abandoned, again, taken, again.

while i was away, the world fell apart and many days felt like trying to meditate with a raging army at the door, knowing that i didn’t know how to calm that army, or lead it, or make any move that wasn’t obligation, surrender or loss.

i return knowing even less about what to do at a mass scale. i am only armed with what i know to do at the smallest scale. i took my own life and made it satisfying, joyful, livable, on purpose. my usefulness feels clear, though i may never quite be able to articulate it more than saying i carry light in the darkness. i hold it like the earth holds a fire for sharing love stories, secrets and song. without shadows, the precious miracle of light, fire, heat, becomes either a scorching end or a beauty unnoticed, and that’s fine. knowing how to channel something as honest as fire has taken a lot of precise wearing down of myself from rock to soil. it doesn’t make me special, and if i’m not careful, it overwhelms me. we all have a role to play and mine involves telling stories, prophecy, song, conversation, solitude, creative responses and instigations for movement, and fully inhabiting my freedom.

something i noticed on my journey is that i am one of the freest people to ever exist. this freedom is not yet total. but it is a freedom from certain oppressions my ancestors survived, and didn’t. i see them everywhere, taking shape in the clouds, in dirt formations, in abstract patterns on curtains, in the shapes of flowers – a mouth, a jaw, a wrapped head, strong shoulders. and a freedom from certain burdens, supremacies, that other ancestors carried.

i do not feel the myth of safety that some white people walk with. i do not feel the myth of innocence some black people walk with, try to cover ourselves with even though it doesn’t save us. i have the freedom that comes from having ancestors who sacrificed a lot, prayed to a variety of gods and goddesses, sang a lot; there is a wave of good work behind me. i have the freedom of living in this era in a place where i learned to read and write and my words can reach beyond my range of motion or travel. i have the freedom of having been politicized early and lived my adult life moving away from the toxic distortions of capitalism and respectability. i have the freedom of being a sinner in touch with my divinity. i still have some freedom of mobility, both in the form of my passport (a freedom in constant threat based on federal fuckery), and my arthritic body – though each step hurts so much that i only do what’s necessary, which feels clearer each day: yoga, dance, praise, listen, make love, eat, drink, bathe, cleanse, write.

fight is not part of my nature, but to protect my life, our lives, i am learning to wield the weapon i have been gifted: words.

i want everyone to have their own list of what is necessary, what is just right for their own lives. we, all of us, were given this utopia of a planet in order to exist and learn and feel and change. without harm.

which doesn’t mean without suffering, the part of changing and loving and the life cycle that includes death…no, ‘without harm’ meaning without acting from a constant insecure attachment to life. that insecure attachment makes us harm the planet, break the children, shrink the women, require the men to be gladiators or slaves. that insecure attachment to life makes us insatiable for something other than the most incredible thing of all time: life. being alive, being present, having agency, loving others in all manner of ways, finding that balance – that’s the most exquisite liberating way to be. i say this from experience.

i am learning how to be happy in most conditions. i am learning how to return to happiness even when walking with grief, rage and overwhelm. i am learning how to protect my happiness from those who can’t find theirs, and cultivate mutual happiness by sharing it when it seems to be in limited supply.

my lessons involve a lot of the things you might guess – stillness, reflection, rest, boundaries, being able to feel. giving up numbness, escape, judgment, codependence and, often, social media and the news.

but more than any of these it requires a taking myself seriously. giving myself time to figure out how to be myself in any condition. the rest gets easier, comes when needed, doesn’t require massive amounts of discipline or self flaggelation or sacrifice. just acceptance.

my theory is that the more individuals who can increase this acceptance – of ourselves, of the cycles of our lives and connections, of our conditions – the easier we can pull back the veil on how ridiculous a society we’ve ended up in. the more of us can pivot right now to living lives that are compelling to ourselves and future generations.

so. this is what the next phase of my life will be about. building on emergent strategy and pleasure activism, bringing attention to this acceptance, uplifting practices i know to be liberatory, writing the way, singing the way, living the way.

the world ended at least twice while i was away. or 100,000 times. in ways that feel newer and bigger than ever. but of course they do because this time it’s us living it. the sooner we can accept that this is the inevitable, and we get to shape what’s next, the sooner we stop participating in other people’s cycles and start shaping new patterns that allow more of us to have outstanding beautiful lives.

returning June 8th

as i return to the world from a strange sabbatical marked with reality checks, it is amazing to feel my own center in relationship to the center of movement, of nation.

in the practice of centering, we organize ourselves around what we most care about and want to see in the world. at my core i want to love and be loved, to trust and be trustworthy. i want loving and trusting to be the primary ways i spend my time, the primary skills i hone, the way i define community, the liberation path. intimately, yes, but i also want to live on a planet that i know loves me and get to experience that love. i want to live with people i can trust to make decisions from a foundation of love.

here i mean love as a good parent loves: nourishing, patient, abundantly feeding, carrying without complaint, cleansing, comforting without the kind of judgment that shrinks, holding in complexity.

trusting the way healthy lovers trust – not trusting in a staying the same, but trusting the other(s) to constantly change, with integrity. to change in ways that unveil and fortify our whole selves.

i want to feel whole with my family. in every relationship. in my home. at any place i work. on a drive to the store. in the places i gather food, supplies. it seems simple to me, to want to feel myself a whole human in the mundane flow of my life. it’s all ritual. it still befuddles my higher nature that so many systems in human history have been structured to deny that simple whole feeling to the majority of those both alive and anticipated.

for months i have felt like a ghost of myself in the world, an after image with no promise of return. imagine me dashing across borders with one wet wing, dragging a split cocoon. then trying to knit a safe space back around me in a hailstorm, trying to expose the least of myself to danger, knowing i am only half transformed, but maybe that’s all there’s time for. #sabbatical2020.

recentering during the pandemic meant finding dignity within caution and boundaries, finding and deepening connection with no contact – the last 3.5 months is the longest i’ve ever gone without human touch, and it changed me. it’s also meant surrendering to this moment in time and my role in it without rushing ahead of myself.

“i am a writer, i am going to write.” – lorraine hansberry

“it just seemed like writing was absolutely the most important thing in the world…somebody asks ‘what do you do?’ and you print it out: WRITE.” – toni morrison

nervous and thrilled, i return, two wings dazzling and fragile, pushing and peeking back into the world, rested and happy and grateful for the space i carved out against all the odds. i am here and i am writing.

(George Floyd drawn by Joaquin Zuniga-Perlstein)

and of course what i return to is a new moment, a moment that feels historic…perhaps unexpected in the midst of a pandemic…but of course it’s like this, of course the containment is followed by mass explosion, our attention contained and focused makes it easier to see our rage.

the risk of being in the close proximity of protests is heightened by the global pandemic, such that a wave of sickness will likely follow all of this exerted power. those in the streets assert it is worth it for the gains, and i feel all of us negotiating between the rocks and hard places we always navigate.

police brutality is a constant, but in the past five years we in movement have pivoted, brought our collective and global attention to it such that each death is an escalation, and the responses to it grow, the demands sharpen to a point: defund the police.

when society is in such upheaval it helps me to remind myself that love is the foundation of everything, love is gravity. when we can’t see and feel it, we must uncover it, open the channels. when it’s this blocked, it can feel like imprecise work to disrupt and peel back and clear off the layers of sediment that have distorted our understanding of everything.

capitalism is the sediment of greed and colonisation.

white supremacy is the sediment of ignorance and gunpowder.

brutal policing is the sediment of slavery – the worn down granules of sloth paired with fear and hatred of the perceived other.

these inherited and assumed norms are the least of ourselves, leftover from rigged debates over competition vs collaboration, abundance vs greed, biodiversity vs monoculture. now we traverse a barren landscape stinking of gasping fish, the abundance and true wealth evaporating.

but watching this round of protests, i see our tears from violent loss and raucous laughter beginning to flow.

amidst the terror and my tender hearted daily cries, so often i find myself laughing. this generation of protests is woven through with black twitter and drag culture and shade rooms and viral contortions of cool.

it is pc, but also pointing and laughing at pc, not from a place of benefiting from the offenses, more from a place of realizing how much ego drives pc (“see how right i can be? don’t punish me!”), and how anything become trend is in some way laughable.

we have learned how to take ourselves very seriously and also shrug it all off. to weep and wobble, march on the beat, march in second lines, for justice.

i say we but i can feel my distance from the epicenter in a way that feels appropriate. i am responsible, i am finding my ways to contribute, but my time closer to the center was back up the river a ways, fervent and righteous – and not nearly as effective. not nearly as fun and funny, either.

i feel my currents in these waters, i feel work that was done last year, one and two decades ago, all in the flow. i imagine that older organizers and movement shapers can feel all the moments and small shifts and breaks and splits and sharpenings of their work present and shining in this moment.

i still feel crucial, and that my choices matter. but i am thrilled by this feeling of being outside the center, facing it with wonder and humility.

this movement moment is irresistible because there is less respectability at the center, and more queer Black feminism. there are fewer attempts to join and assimilate into the norm and more efforts to leverage the norm towards humanity, justice, love and life. it is more compelling to hear a mass scream from the heart than a pundit pontificate from a false center. i love the murmuration of sounds as we sing and heal and listen. we dreamed aloud this ferocity and politicized and trained and held and tilled and watered and shat and wept and fought and mended and now many of us get to be participant-witnesses to this cycle, collective doulas.

a few years ago i realized that the privilege walk exercise is more compelling to me if it’s done in a circle, to represent the interconnectedness that is true to all human formation. it’s more compelling if, after the questions are asked, it centers those who have faced the most structural adversity and innovated their survival – that’s whose needs we should follow, demands we should center.

once we unveil the privilege and power and oppression in the room, we can imagine turning this circle on its side, creating a bullseye, a direction, a center for targeting attention and resources. a way to follow the center, set the pace by the center, measure relevance by how much an idea touches the needs of the center. i often do this mentally and somatically – note and acknowledge and feel the distinctions in privilege, access and struggle in any interaction. if we believe we are all equal to each other, why doesn’t it always feel that way? mindfulness helps me see where i have been trained i am less than another, or more. where i should be the center, claiming attention and resources and pointing direction, and where i should be closer to the edge, protecting and resourcing and following.

in this moment, with all the layers of impact and vectors of change, i can see that i am not the center of this moment, and that is the blessing. the center is younger, is trans, is willing and able to risk it all. in some places the center is white self-responsibility, in some places it’s black integrity, in some places it’s brown and borderless and global and post binary. the center is in the streets using full voice, unashamed, celebratory, ready for this confrontation. the center is pure, a fountain of hope and rage and possibility that feeds our greatest callings.

i notice in this returning that i mostly feel like i do when i come back to visit a family i was a doula for: i can take no credit for the actual miracle. i did encourage deep breaths and pleasure for the womb to soften, i did whisper ‘trust yourself, adapt, transform yourself, open, you can do this,’ alongside the panting sweating birthing. i feel grief for the losses, and a weepy explosive tenderness for the life that comes thru. and there are more births to come.

not being the center, but facing the center, doesn’t mean i am removed from impact. i am a black woman, with family in several uprising cities, and tentacles of work and love woven into and throughout movement – i feel the grief and the tenderness, the danger and the need for change. but i also have every possible need met right now, safety nets of community if i find myself without resources, and no direct intimate losses to police violence. i am slowly but surely paying off my debts. i am able to speak and write freely.

so i turn and face those who are grieving and teaching us about how to do this work in a way that actually helps those who are shocked by loss. or homeless, jobless, targeted by the state. or without a safety net, a reputation, an education or analysis of this moment. i acknowledge that i can feel the depth of our suffering and still not fully understand, still listen to those closer to the broken heart of this nation.

and listening to that pain, to the wisdom that follows pain, for clear leadership, i hear the brilliant emerging call: defund the police.

which is to say, redistribute the budget of community safety.

this is a logical, experimental pivot.

let us recognize a broken thing. in birth work, it is incredibly dangerous not to face reality. if the baby is in a perilous position, or unable to access sustenance, or if the baby spirit has left the flesh, we must find an adaptation.

here and now we live in a system where there is something fatal at the center of our being. this system, made up of millions of people, billions of actions, has blood on its hands, seeks vengeance and dominance under the guise of protecting innocent people, and is causing immense harm. we the body politic must release it to survive, to create compelling futures for our children. it will change us completely to release it, to divest from the violence, acknowledge that this isn’t the way, that brutal militarised police are not leading us to safety or peace, but increasing conflict and tension and danger and racism.

we can grieve the longing for safety that was dashed time and again. and then, having faced reality, we can see what has the potential for life, and we can make new realities possible. facing the reality at the center allows for the necessary induction of birth/change, the intervention, the c-section, even the miscarriage that the parent can survive.

in this pivot we face the life, the miracle, still possible from our stardust selves, our freedom dreams and precious tomorrows.

one or two steps back from the center, it is easier to see that every nuance is not urgent. every distinction doesn’t actually need the same amount of room. priorities can be localized – uprising culture is localized and better for it.

facing center, it is easier to see that while the police and 45 crew are doing the expected, we are doing things in a myriad of ways that show how we have been learning from our struggles – with each other and with the state.

i return rested and centered, shaken by all that changed in my absence, saddened by all the loss, inspired by all the expressed rage. i feel ready to follow, document, write between trenches, uplift and shine light on the workers, sing, comfort, and hold.

every time someone reaches out to me for resources, it feels so clear where to point to. it’s all over the internet but i’ll put it here too:

in general, follow #m4bl, the movement for black lives. m4bl is a set of unleashed black minds operating together with historical integrity. that is the way.

here’s a collection of healing spaces for black people as the grief compounds, adrenaline crashes, high comes down, victory unveils next steps. follow prentis hemphill and BEAM.

in most towns, there are chapters of black organizers in BYP100, black lives matter, and others who you can either join or pour resources into.

building movement across cultures/races/ethnicities? there are so many formations and alliances and efforts – the one i know most intimately is the rising majority, which flows out of the action arm of #m4bl.

white? some white people thought about y’all – here’s a scaffolded resource list. black folks think about y’all too, particularly this mama scholar writing specifically to white parents.

generally the three most helpful things you can do if you aren’t from/at center are:

– educate (read more yourself and help others see the center clearly – bell hooks, angela davis, michelle alexander, charlene carruthers, andrea ritchie – there are a wealth of living writers who can get you together)

– bless the center with a just redistribution of resources…keep gathering wealth from stagnant legacies and moving them towards the future. small or large, your generosity lets the brilliance scale up.

(when possible, don’t make organizers do additional unpaid labor {answering a bunch of questions, making sure you feel seen and thanked, educating you} for your donations. yay you were generous yay! seriously it’s great! just don’t take time or strategy away from the work of those you see and hear being effective. search, find the donate page on their website and give.)

– stop business as usual. strike, march, act, blow whistles, disarm. leave harmful positions in harmful institutions or become a wrench in the gears. be impolite. disrupt white supremacy and patriarchy and policing wherever you encounter it. don’t look for praise for doing the right thing, just do it and notice how it sharpens you, strengthens you.

look what happens when we follow the truth. yes even if you are not the center, you can drop into your center, face the center and follow.

remember, the front line of cultural struggles is wherever two or more are gathered.

i have written a lot, i was away a long time. and i am grateful to be alive with y’all specifically.

for George Floyd: fire

have you learned nothing from sunsets
flaming the entire sky with soft edges
fuchsia periwinkle whisps,
taut and temporary nature taking day,
inhaling light

have you learned nothing from autumn
blazing the earth with gorgeous death
burnt orange kiss-red fragility reaching
last chance for the sky, floating, releasing,
exhaling life

have you learned nothing from war
inferno dappled muddy hose water, puddled
green edged flames of files, photos, losses
our battleground wherever you make us
defend life

have you learned nothing of justice
the deep ever changing heart must breathe
the fire in our veins needs oxygen,
do not unleash us if you don’t want to burn
we’ll keep choosing life

have you learned nothing of love
you on your knees but we the ones praying:
let us never give up on each other
even when grief is the only match for the pyre
we honor life

it is the end of a day, a season, a way, an era
the change is tumult, terrifying and beautiful
we will never be convinced to be expendable.
alchemize every death system, liberate
our divine lives


(photos via ny times)

Pandowrimo

for a few years, i have participated in a national poetry writing practice (#napowrimo) in april. this year, april fell in the midst of a global pandemic that has left us scared, quarantined, separated, and grieving. i felt like i needed an activation of my imagination as a balm to all we’re holding. i invited others to join me and send in prompts, and for thirty days, we created fiction and art around the pandemic using the hashtags #pandowrimo and #pandemicwrimo. the prompts are on my page and all the posts i saw are gathered in highlights on my instagram. i’ve gathered my own offers here, public drafts in various states, to have them all in one place.

day 1 prompt:
Write a conversation between the virus and the crisis.

seed notes: COVID-19 is here to teach us boundaries. and to teach us we don’t need capitalism/greed/individualist society for abundance.

A grabs B’s hand and shakes it vigorously

A (white, coifed, stiff smile): How may I help you?

B (sort of green, round, with an ever shifting face): Cease to exist.

A: Excuse me?

B: Your existence is no longer of use. Become history.

A purses lips, cocks brows

B: We are here to unhook them from you.

A: We? (looking around as if someone might be behind B) Who is your we, if you don’t mind my asking?

B (face shifting many times, quickly, smiling lightly): We are god. A force of god. The shifting tide.

A: Well, not to be rude sir…eh…madam? But…our projections account for a little change here and there. (scratches nose)

B (now a young, curious brown face): Your projections only serve you. They are realizing they want boundaries. Need them.

A, eyes wide, offended: Come again?

B: Your projections…in order to exist, you suck up every aspect of them – their money but also their health, dreams, desires, privacy. They have surrendered the personal to stay alive within you.

A, smiling without their eyes: Oh they love it. Don’t be silly. They love it!

B: They feel lost, depressed, confused – like imposters. They feel fear. And hate.

A, chuckling: They feel instant –

B: Don’t say gratification. Don’t say satisfaction. They almost never feel that.

A, flummoxed, insistent: They –

B, bored: There’s not even a they with you around. There’s a tiny few who get so much. And even they aren’t happy.

A, swallowing a curse: If you would stop interrupting and listen –

B: You are used to them being docile now. Polite when they should be screaming.

A, hands up: I don’t think all this negativity is called for.

B: You never do. Wealth accumulates, slavery proliferates, you want everyone to talk nice. You build cages, walls, fences and borders, but strip them of boundaries, you make them fight to live, compete for care –

A, a bit sharp: Well, you’re doing that now, aren’t you?

B: You aren’t paying attention. We’re only dangerous to the places who don’t pay attention. They’re seeing that, that places where people attend and think collectively are adapting quickly, with very few deaths. It’s only the places that worship you who suffer.

A, sour laughter: So, what, you’re going to make them all socialists now?

B: When it’s time for a system to end, we don’t prescribe the next one. We are the inevitable result of this time. They are the ones who will adapt. To worship boundaries and laugh at borders. To redistribute care. To grow something rooted in gratitude, preciousness.

A, mask falling away to something skeletal, bruised: It’s too late. They can’t change. They depend on this way. They can’t change.

B, face shifting to something infantile: They already have.

A, mouth gaping, breath fast: We will kill you.

B: By the time you understand us, the seeds we are planting will be green, sturdy, deep.

A, teeth sharp, jowl wet: (incoherent growl)

A leaps to bite B’s throat.

B, leaps into A’s mouth.

A, makes noise of protest, trying to to gag, to swallow, to breathe – but B is invisible again, and everywhere.

day 2:
remember your premonition – go back and change

seed notes – deja vu means pay attention, some part of you has lived this before. don’t assume this is the first or only time to change, disrupt, intervene.

the air in her lungs felt too familiar. she’d done this before, this gulping breath and short, frustrated sigh. something was wrong inside, and she couldn’t get enough air, and she felt defeated. nina was supposed to be with her lover in venice, proposing to him while a gondolier/media maker filmed it in high definition.

they’d gotten into a fight because of the fucking virus, because he asked her to pull out of Carnival when it still “like the flu”, because she was 67 and he 49, little shit. this is the hard part of dating someone so young – he can see just how old she really is. in her hips, her bellyflesh, her knuckles, there are years that gather and won’t be smoothed.

he knew her age and wanted to marry her anyway. and her hesitations had all been the anticipatory embarrassment of this moment where, because she was older, she was more vulnerable to the zombies, or in this instance, the little green men. this was some suuuuper ultimate toxic masculinity – ooh, she thought, she should write that down somewhere – unwanted penetration, spraying all over your face, not revealing its true nature until its destroyed your life and everyone else’s. so, now she’s standing in the Milan airport, dabbing at feverish sweat on her forehead, face bare of mask because she’d rather die than admit that Simon might have been right.

all week had been tense between them, not in the ways of passion that often preceded their reunions, but in growing emotional distance as he railed against her leaving the hotel, yelled at her in his swallowed rage after she got pizza (down the street for heaven’s sake), and then finally said not to come home. he thought she’d get sick if she flew, bring that sick into their home. she’d been furious the whole time, hanging up on him, buying her ticket, packing up her year’s income worth of carnival gowns, all along her inner dialogue half “how fucking dare he?” and “fuck I miss him.”

she wanted her hands in his hair, just beginning to show temples of gray. she wanted to press his face into the soft of her breasts and return to their ease.

but for a moment now she wondered at this heat in her face, the exhaustion of just walking through the airport…what if Simon were right? impossible. but…what if she should have holed up in her hotel, ordered in, stayed put in Italy with all the other snow foxes, waited for the flat horizon?

as she thought this she looked up and saw a short brown woman in front of her with a floral scarf over her face in lieu of a mask. the woman’s eyes looked wild and she kept making micro-moves away from everyone else. they locked eyes. this stranger’s eyes showed fear, judgment, patience, compassion. a voice came thru the scarf, “are you sick? please don’t travel if you’re sick.” nina couldn’t answer. the stranger shook her head, already knowing nina was sick, and turned away into security, where she was immediately pulled into the extra inspection line. nina felt jolted, like she’d never been confronted before, so visibly responsible for…others? she sailed thru security as usual, no one needing an extra check from an older white woman in Italy.

on the plane she stuffed her book into the seat pocket and her bag up above and went straight to the lavatory because she felt like shit and didn’t want to deal with everyone walking by in her face, with her interrogator wanting another thick stare. “are you sick?” pulling the door behind her, again she felt the too familiar, the repetition. she knew what was coming, she grabbed a paper towel just in time to cough into it. that was different…she remembered once coughing all over the sink and mirror. “please don’t travel if you’re sick.” she looked at herself then, in the mirror, skin pale and spotted, eyes bagged, red rimmed and frightened.

sick.
shit.

her instinct was to quiet herself, take her sleeping pills, curl into her seat, get home to her man and the peace on the other side of some tears and apologies. but she’d always done that, and now the instinct itself felt heavy, off.

before she could third guess herself, she reached out and pressed the button with the tiny lego figure on it, and when the flight attendant knocked she called through the door, “I am sick. i think I have the virus! i think i might be contagious.” and in saying it, knowing it was true, surrendering control, surrendering the journey home, breaking the cycle that had, in the last rotation, infected nearly everyone on this plane and led to 1800 deaths in her city, including her own.

the flight attendant was smooth with the power in his hands, smooth evacuating the plane and requesting a thermal scan that revealed nina’s fever and four others. smooth soothing the white haired white woman into the ambulance that would take her to the hospital to see if she could get well.

and Simon, when she reached him, broke into tears – fear, relief, love, distance – this too was new. she wanted to marry him, again. she felt the space between them chasm and close. he had been right, was right – that was possible. if she lived, she was proposing to him with her first healthy breath.

day 3
an alternate timeline

day 4
the day the humans left

Day 5
What incredible technology emerges in this break from capitalism?

The Kisser

Survive quarantine with this fantastic bluetooth toy for couples/pairs. Made with our patented famous Real Flesh technology, The Kisser lets you code-pair with the mouth of your choice – their toy becomes an approximation of your mouth and vice versa. As long as one member of the pair has the toy on their mouth, they can kiss any place the other person needs kisses in real time. As part of the Real Flesh line, The Kisser is waterproof – heck, water is encouraged! Easy Clean surface! Group edition coming soon. Order today!

day 6
pandemic-mates

ok pandemic-mates. how are we succeeding in our relationships and boundaries?

embodied amb: well, we do our yoga and crunches and go for walks or swim every day.

honest amb: except yesterday.

embodied: most days.

honest: and yet, we should do it every day according to a portion of the internet, and our internal assessment of the non-yoga days.

brightside amb: but we ARE doing it. AND being honest with ourselves and others more often about…everything!

shadow amb: almost everything.

embodied: we are challenging old fears and patterns each time we’re emotionally honest.

shame amb (shamemb): not everything needs to be shared.

honest: what we withhold of ourselves becomes our prison. and prison is in all ways a lie.

future amb: we succeed at bringing light inside us. we’ll be grateful for how we spent this sabbatical.

shame: shamebatical. hehe. who goes and stays on sabbatical during a pandemic?

honest: the good news is there is nothing to interrupt shame-antine!

bright side: we’re doing shametastic for having spent so many days –

honest: untouched? in 315 Sq feet?

bright side: in much needed and requested and protected solitude! by the sea!

shame: but…still on social media. harumph. not finishing any novels there.

embodied: but it’s really ok to need more connection than we planned.

honest: much like our government, we didn’t plan for a pandemic.

shadow: also, fuck our plans. most of those plans are part of an irrelevant world and everyone knows it.

honest: and the unknown isn’t special for us, you know. we aren’t the only one flailing to grasp onto facts and futures that aren’t solid.

embodied: facts, ok, those aren’t our thing. but futures! we are especially into knowing, dreaming the future. and so into seeing how it could be better. longing for that.

shadow: but now you’re not even doing anything useful.

future: with due respect, that’s a lie.

(shadow shrugs away)

future: mindful change is success. are you changing? how?

shame: I’m changing. getting a tan from all this light on my closet.

shadow: even in my lies, I feel seen and respected.

embodied: I am definitely changing. we feel so much more now, all over like a stripped down nervous system of emotion. I’m learning how to not…numb. how to harness, harness all of us.

brightside: I’m changing…i feel less cheerleader-y. like I’m able to access full moon truth even from the shadow side.

honest: we are changing. my gift of truth is being honored and centered within us, and in our connections to the world. imagine the joy and satisfaction possible, the true success possible, the right relationship possible, if we were all telling the truth – at least to ourselves.

future: oh yes. this time of change is extremely important. for all beings. you think you’ve served your purpose, achieved some things. but you’ve barely unmasked. so much more is coming. and we’ll have to really be there, not performing or projecting, but feeling. the future is felt. every feeling we are having now, every negotiated boundary and professed truth, all the anger and grief and fear AND pleasure AND joy, it’s all success.

day 7
a world where disability justice proliferates

we thought fast was who we were,
loud, legs wide, open mouth,
crass joke,
a general goal to be just like each other

but I was different – fast some ways, but also immensely slow,
performing loud to survive but
happiest alone and quiet most of the time,
processing in tears and song,
more coherent in writing than in person,
legs hips and fingers stiff each morning, imaginative ears, malleable mind,
eyes that only saw so far –
and I was never sane, I was never normal.
I had to learn to want myself, want my survival.
Thank gods my parents loved me.
The lie of normal almost drove me mad
luckily I was mad.
The contortion of difference we could hide versus the tender raw exposure of difference that showed used to determine one’s quality of life.
We were all the baby turtles racing to the ocean, predation = socialization, & there was death in the sand (which btw looks uniform only because it has been crushed and broken and worn down from the beginning of time)
geological detritus all around but I am alive, you are alive,
moving slowly as fast as we can,
difference declares life, adaptation, nurture
You & I we need a pace we can all move at.
We need nothing planned such that it cannot change.
We need a world where we can roll, walk, run, float or fly thru
We need time for our minds to understand what we know, and for our bodies to feel what we know

release the center and you see how small and boring it is
the edge is where future proliferates
and we are being pushed to the edge now
stop contorting!
find your particular way
there’s room

day 8
the banks have closed

1
i told you not to give them your money
I said fold it into the walls and the box spring
bury it at every crossroad to your beloved
I told them to keep a little out
I said it wouldn’t be worth nothing no ways
I said get you some gold
pour you a ring
build you a house
any real thing will be better than what you gonna
someday be missing

but nobody listens

2
ooh this fucking rage,
all the work we did in hunger
how long we’ve given more than everything

the rhythm of generational sacrifice
twists vibrancy in the marrow
turns down the volume of light
the brightness of sound

the rug that seemed like comfort
unveils bloodstained concrete
and we know that DNA, we remember
all of their names

3
we already know
some of us anyhow
about how precious soil is
some store it under our fingernails
so we can feel when we are home
where no one thinks they cleaned up
just to look down at what should have never become unknown

we already know that care equals care
a spell for a tincture, a birth for a barn,
a winter’s worth of wood for the newlyweds
the passed down bibs marked with
whoever came first in the order
we already know it’s a distraction, cash money
we can remember ourselves quickly
what with so many people,
who’ve been living this way always
always outside the myth of trickles

4
we can change whenever we want to
oh…we haven’t really wanted to
we had just enough to keep pulling the lever
just enough to shrug, innocent
just enough to keep our babies soft
just enough to plain clothes police each other
on the internet
to point and defer guilt to the “richer than us”
to pay for our own demise annually
to forget we need warriors and truth tellers and laughter and tomorrow

we see very quickly,
only sudden to a sheltered few
how we always have the numbers
as many of us as there are zeros in that bank
we can go and get that money
we can go and get so much more

5
when the time comes
we will pull off these masks
we will remember it wasn’t meant to be like this
it really wasn’t isn’t and will not be
the money is an idea – we are, this is, the value
so meditate, pray, submit to not knowing
the right way all the time
weep, scream. bury. blame. surrender.
choose a future for all of us
crack your knuckles, prepare for battle
howl at the waning moon until it waxes, and then?
from the depths of our grief
we’ll become green again

Day 9
Write a harm and recovery or transformation story

we finally learned to turn away from each other
not destroy each other
but find the boundaries of our breaths

we finally learned to move towards opposite walls
lean our cheeks to the brick, borrow depth
find what earth was left in us

we finally learned how small our circles are
no reckless elbow, no casual police, no righteousness
can fit in this house, this heart, this earth

we finally remembered: after all the hurt we’d caused
the forgiveness we’d needed was precious,
the wounds we healed here, healed all

day 10
healthcare

whisper to each other, trench to trench
tell no lies, then we can have faith in what we hear
one body, one trail of hungry ants

warn each other of the death that is coming
but remember, the intricate pathway isn’t destined
this plague in the wood, this virus on the wind

keep moving towards life, growing deeper underground
be fecund, unique, laughter in light
but in the dark? pulse, reach, grasp, bond

the world is toxic, we will swallow poison
if we can process it, we will live
changed, fed, wiser, more humble

the world is toxic – it may overwhelm your small body
and then you will feed the dirt,
and we, we will water you

day 11
what unknown capacities are unveiled by pandemic and what happens because of them?

we learned to hug with one hand on our hearts
we could feel each other without moving our bodies, beam love from our palms
relinquish known futures for ‘togetherness someday’

and in the hours alone, especially for those
parenting alone, caretaking alone, grieving alone
we learned how to fill time to brim with
meaning. rest. weeping. sorrow.

we didn’t know we could hold so much sorrow
and still breathe, didn’t know we could get used to the wind chime rhythm of broken hearts pulsing in chorus,
awakening. remembering.

we woke up to the unbearable world
we had created, built, begged entry into
one small desperation at a time…
in a closed system blame is relative and then irrelevant

we learned to stay awake even when we wanted to drift away, how to sleep through nightmares
numb was on sale each day, essential even now
still, we learned to sustain, to direct, our attention

we remembered there was an off screen world
we could hear a living thing creeping up behind us
we could smell when fear left our bodies, returned
the salt of each grief tasted new

we must but can we remember how to tighten up
we hope we can remember how to cast a village
we pray we will remember how to weave the roots
when, when will we remember how to go to war

day 12
being with shadow

did I ever tell you
how everything about humanity makes me
so tender
I could be weeping all the time
my eyes see all the darkness
the shadows crawl across the floor
peek from the corners
laugh when I’m laughing
counting it down
they will take it back with the next sentence

I create troughs
threading away from my heart
spilling down my limbs to pulse out
sole of foot, palm of hand
all wide for the ground
in this way, I can open my eyes
since I was a newborn
people have asked me for direction
and I have almost always felt which way to point
away from me, away, away from me

I hear something coming
which is asking me to receive
to stop letting things go through me
to reawaken the black hole at my center
the part powered by what we lose
what we grieve, and by longing
to reach is to live, to reach is sacred
be attached to aliveness
and nothing else
trust: when life is done, it will let you go

day 13
reincarnation

video reading

waves crash in, riverbanks flood
the original souls – a handful in the cosmic sense –
split and fractured for so long
into so many sand particle lives
all feeling some else missing thing some gone
perhaps even half of themselves,
perhaps even more

waves pull away, river narrows, cracks
more soul concentrates in each little riddle of flesh
bringing back more humilities, a variety of heart breaks, the trauma of true love, of being whole
not thinking of wholeness, but feeling how
you are not wrong, you never were wrong
you were always a child reaching for light

a wave takes flight, a river finds its infinite tail
we realize the total pleasure of minds, desires, histories, dreams, and futures other than our own
left alone, one would always become god
create another to long for, lean on, snuggle into
and then miss, and return to
and then grieve

addendum:

these newest oldest parts of ourself
remind those coming generations, from within, of truth:
if you cannot grieve you will not survive
life is not promised, death is not fair
the politics of care reveal what people love
don’t let those who cannot love lead you
bitterness is only bearable when paired with sweet and with change
it didn’t have to be this way – what will you change in yourself to make this moment impossible to repeat?

day 14
intimacy at a distance

day 15
honoring femme work

and then one day, enough blood on our hands, the people rose up. we felt it was time to stop living in the trap of a violent sociopath, to stop participating in the complicity of politics as usual in 2020, the lies, pandering, peacocking, compromise, genocide. it was a coup, but so much more than that. it was a chaos. the rallying cries were simple: say no. do not participate in decisions that are inhumane. and then, in the span of a season, any politician who was locally determined to be inadequate to the work of leading during an apocalypse was removed from office – not by skilled military forces, but by mothers. millions of mothers stormed into these offices and put these putrid politicians in timeout. very few places resisted with violence because we all knew the value of mothers, their fundamental and complex innocence fed by the radical imperative of unconditional love. plus, we needed the management skills of mothering. we all read a manifesto from a small group called movement generation that helped us remember all that we needed to survive right now, and offered best practices for local recentering of humans and earth in both policy and practice. a thoughtful circle of mothers called mamis unite, who’d spent years building online supportive community, issued a hasty but sound protocol that each local body of mothers could use in their revolutionary experiment:

let it be messy.
stay kind, be firm, and in decision making ask – is this right for our children? is this right for the land?
focus on the next step that moves us closer to a care-based society.
ask nurses to form councils and generate plans for running our hospitals and clinics. if desired, select doctors who can serve an advisory role.
ask teachers and social workers to work together to create justice councils to bring order and fairness to the impossible circumstances of modern life, and to gather curricula for teaching the next generations to participate in a just democracy.
ask domestic workers and janitors for guidance on cleaning house and eliminating waste.
ask caretakers how to make all of our homes safe during the next phase of the pandemic.
ask grandmothers how to prioritize the resources of your building, block, town or city.
ask homeless parents how to make what we have miraculously be enough.
ask administrators and secretaries to run their places of work.
allow charismatic leaders and celebrities to continue to entertain us, and to make meaning of our coup.
we won’t all do it the same way, the mothers said. but the chaos of care is a better option than the stability of sadism.

day 16
exchange between too alone and too together

hiawatha heard the ocean.

she’d been surrounded by seven people for more days than she could count. she loved these people, these were her people. if she had been far away from them, she’d have longed for them in her love languages of insomnia and chewed fingers. but they were here. all of them. all the time.

a wave crashed, dispersed, a hush, a mist. she knew these sounds. she needed these sounds.

gram. father. ma. hiawatha’s son, grapevine. grapevine’s daddy, donavan and his partner ethel. and hiawatha’s new girlfriend, shreya. all the time.

hearing this vast sound made her stop at the sink, hands clasped and covered in soap. eyes closed she saw a flood of variations on blue, some sea, some sky. in her own darkness she felt a salted sun touch her face. the stillness of this constant motion brought her breath.

this was gram’s house, the one they’d teased her about – why do you need all these rooms, gram? and these stacks of magazines and newspapers? and four french presses, and every book ever written? and scrubbed aluminum foil?

another parent at grapevine’s school had gotten sick, hiawatha had asked gram if they could stay with her because she knew how to care and she had a yard. one by one, the rooms had filled up with the people who loved grapevine and would follow him and his mama to any bunker.

waves come in, waves go out. nothing is permanent, nothing is safe. in the vast world find your depth. you can be storming and calm, you’re that massive. ride the changes, go deep under the biggest waves. when you leave this shore it will change and you’ll never be here again.

hiawatha turned, seeing her world anew. grapevine curled against gram on the couch, donavan, ethel and shreya quietly learning trust at the puzzle table, father and ma making messes on all the freshly scrubbed counters as they made the 1000th meal.

when this time ends I’ll never be here again, she knew.
she opened her mouth, she dove back in.

day 17
pandemic erotica

they stood in her foyer in their street suit. everyone wore them now, gray, lightweight, full body with a visor.

“take it off,” she called through the glass pane of her apartment door. they reached up and slowly unzipped themselves from the top of their head to the bottom of their feet and stepped out.

over their mask were wide hungry brown eyes under a scruffy self-fade. she’d liked the pictures of their face online, tho who knew when she’d see it in person. it felt strange to know they also couldn’t see more than her eyes – her flirtation was so much in the lips. oh well.

they hung their suit on the rack and slowly pulled off their gloves, watching her. she liked the eye contact, the long body unveiled before her, t-shirt clinging to a slender torso, thick hips a pleasant surprise in fitted joggers.

“come in.” she opened the door and they stepped in, and she immediately pivoted them both into the front closet she had repurposed for these sexcapades – no need to bleach the whole house for a short hookup.

in the little closet they both put on the cheap single use latex gloves she had in the supply basket, next to lube and condoms and wipes. she opened her robe so they could see her fat belly, full breasts, pussy hair shaped in a heart because she’d had ample time to learn things like that. their masked mouth gaped and smiled as they awkwardly undressed to nakedness, their soft eyes showed everything.

“first i would kiss you,” they finally spoke, low, easy.

“yes please. i’d love to taste your jaw. your neck,” she reached her hands up and traced her fingers where her mouth wanted to go. they leaned their head back and let her touch them, she thought they were smiling under that mask. then they pulled her against them, burying their face in her hair and neck. for a long time they held each other, flesh to flesh, feeling the quick breath between them, the need greater and simpler than words.

finally they whispered near her ear, “your breasts are gorgeous,” and took her breasts up in big pillowy handfuls, squeezing a bit rough at first and then teasing her nipples until she wanted to be swallowed. they bent down briefly and covered their fingers in lube. “close your eyes.” she needed the authority in their tone, and easily closed her eyes and let her robe drop all the way to the floor. what they did, that wet pressure on both breasts, came close to the sensation of sucking.

she expected them to keep going, to quickly fuck her like the others had, but this one, they noticed how her nipples responded, clitoral, ever growing shafts. she felt the heat between her thighs. she had missed foreplay, she had missed surprise. they said, “i would suck you forever”…and then they stayed there, visibly aroused themselves, watching her begin to lose control, sliding slick fingers and palms over her small erections, pressing and pulling, twisting, thrumming, until she came, just like that.

“one.” they said. the new lovers laughed, the blessing of a good match unveiled in spite of all the ways they were still covered. they kept counting until the sun came up.

day 18
a fresh quarantine release first encounter (but make it fashion)

let me be sun on your skin
feel that miraculous proximity
you are all beauty to me
your attention is a revelation

I love your bleach and fear scars
I want to trace you with my fingertips
come and see all of my scars
I had to gather so much life to me

I love your beautiful smile
unmasked, unrushed, unafraid and unscreened
please, please touch all of my face
cheek to cheek, kiss me, and kiss me again

day 19
the next economy

memory and dream weave together a net that no one can slip through.

we remember that everyone needs time to wander. we dream that everyone has comfort and a clear river on their journey.

we remember that circles hold each other through scarce times. we dream that technology will relieve us of bureaucracy.

we remember that what grows and breathes is more valuable than ashes. we dream of losing greed like we lost our tails.

we remember that constructs make us small and hungry, feeling so wrong. we dream of an economy that lets our inner realms grow beyond imagining.

we remember we are earth. we dream we are one.

day 20
future food systems

are you sated yet with starving
are you ready to be seed
to root into dirt, stop fearing soil
come down and listen to ground
are you tired of your own empty gut
missing each sign and each season
are you hungry? are you angry?
are you ready to listen to reason?

it is time to worship the earth

it is time to focus on farmers
teach our children the prayer of planting
everyone, gasp at the garden
the abundance of home is amazing
there’s an order, a rhythm, a heartbeat
there’s a tenderness waiting for rain
there’s a world longing for our touch
we can be reverent again

it is time to worship the earth

day 21
a day in successful movement in social distancing

journal entry, 2022

it’s come to this, then: to succeed, secede? learning to hold boundaries within militarized borders seems to be just the beginning of the gifts we have pulled from the ashes of the pandemic. although my god it’s been two years! and people are still getting sick from deploravirus – none of us could have predicted how the conservatives would take themselves out, rushing into the toxic streets and stores in an individualistic orgy of casual suicides, then refusing the vaccine and cure when they came, sentencing themselves and their families to crisis and death. millions of people who hate my existence are gone, even though i, we, tried to save them. and what’s left? the Traditional States of America. and us, as yet unnamed, but united in ways we didn’t know were possible.

this is the new emerging politic – there’s our collectivism, that’s the evolutionary path. individualism is conservatism, regardless of claimed party or politic.

i can still remember the terrified malaise after the first waves tsunamied through every city i loved. back when we didn’t know anything, back when we thought we could still return to normal. and then the pivot, as we buried our loved ones and understood we had to think collectively of our safety and resources, we had to go forward…that’s when COVID-19 truly split the wheat from the chaff. we didn’t think we were ready. we weren’t really, we never had answers exactly. we still don’t.

but organizers were ready. ready to learn, to play, to say ‘I don’t know’, to experiment, to teach.

and we, so tired of being a nation within a nation, used the safety protocols and physical distancing to lay the groundwork for tomorrow’s vote, when states will finally choose whether to stay or to go. after this vote, there will be a three month period of relocation, and then we will land in the future. our new nation has been ideological…now it will be geographical. we will grieve the united states. we will learn with indigenous comrades how to restore our ancient relationship with new and old earth. we must learn to harness our screen time connecting into being a people with no border. we’ve been at least two nations for so long. now we will learn how to stay safe against a small minded, armed, racist, regressive nation. this will not be easy. but we no longer have to pretend we are one body, one people, with those who have opted out of the future.

day 22
What have we learned (are we learning) about (navigating and) strengthening intergenerational relationships?

I always wanted to be a whole person
with every other person, also whole
wielding the strength seeded by strangers,
grown in roots that trail back from the spine
knowing how to turn towards the sun
knowing our oldest names, our songs, our stories
knowing the kind of love that does not waver

but we didn’t get to learn all the songs
and we hadn’t heard all the stories
we don’t even know the name of the dirt
we didn’t really know what was taken
until the flood receded, with our memories
pulled away, salt and sand, not gone
but no longer here in our hands

we learned to listen past patience
to humble ourselves enough to become
an altar for our ancestors
soil for our grandparents’ stories, tears
to become the love we so longed for
which can only be learned thru loss
distance, and years

day 23
what has been mended?

the wound in me
which seeks solitude to fix my loneliness
has learned to say
hold me as I am

the earthquake in me
who just knows I’ll be whole if I can get still
has found the peace possible
in panicked motion

the judge in me
which wants to control all the world’s transgressions
has learned I can’t even
control myself

the storm is within and without
undoing each structure I’ve ever built or known
gifting me the lesson again:
the change is the constant

the chaos is the mend
the tears are the river
the wave is the window
the release is the way

day 24
global solidarity, boundaries, borders

they say the differences between us
are not visible from space

from outer space the only border is gradation
are you of the blue world
or the green one with swaths of blood red and brown?
we don’t care that you want to be
mermaid, whale, octopus
you are dirt and weapon

from inner space the only border is porous
an infinite realm of cells to swallow,
to pray into, fortify, change, to master
so, are you healthy or dying? both? always?
how ridiculous.
who made you so stubborn and fragile

every kind of people are mostly poor
but the story the rich tell
confuses us all into thinking we chose our misery
borders between a hungry people and our fecund earth
bricked with underdeveloped ideology
gnaw at the belly and the spirit

how can we love without the moat
the fortress, the guards, the groping pat down
the detector, the mask, the glove
the cage, the court, the verdict
the blame, the gates, the fences,
the passwords, the secrets, the omissions

how do we love beyond the myth of safety?

i say the differences between us
make of our hearts so many stars in the void

day 25
staggering collective emotional burnout

some creatures swallow mulberry leaves
spin silk from their longing to be set free
others cast silk from dark spinnerets
praying fat prey will crash and feed
some swing from branch and vine and sky
with babies who learn young not to let go
others form circles in the ice and snow
protecting their children, whose wings do not fly

we spin in the solitary cage of success
thrash against webs made of concrete and chrome
let go too soon of the wisest hands
always try first to stand here alone
because someone told us this death is our nature
solitude deified to nomenclature
but now we are crawling through our telephones
having suffered enough, we surrender to home

inching there we pass in the dark and fog
last week’s collapse strolling back our way
not healed, not whole, but dignified
able to look us all in the eye
burning anguish held, bright flaws dismissed
deep rest affirmed, furrowed foreheads kissed
we all need our mothers, and they’re all too far
and we’re surprised again at how normal we are

day 26
courage not to go back to normal

the hardest part was saying no
you can’t come in close / touch / be here
feeling thru doors, stepping aside in the sun
being first in the crowd to mask up

the hardest part was seeing
we were different in a way that would matter
i’d taken our “of course” things for granted
i wanted to trust you to live forever
i couldn’t control your mortality
you were feeling rebellious

the hardest part was finding the courage
to say how i felt in real time
my voice trembling, hitched, stone, ice
but never a weapon

the hardest part was letting go
of the crisis which made us feel important
to grasp onto the mundane
that made us feel alive

day 27
collective soul shape, state shift

I can’t stop thinking the universe has us all by the throat with her dazzling hands.
we can’t stop thinking.
I can’t stop wondering how long it takes to surrender. until the end of our bending? or the end of our breaking? how small can we shatter, will we become the sparkle in certain concrete or

I can’t stop feeling like a diamond before the beauty during the horrific pressure that makes them fill with light.
we can’t stop feeling.
this loss, being deep within the earth so close to her warm heart, but the explosion of leaving her body, pulled pushed ejected from what felt like always

I can’t stop bowing with awe at the plot twist, that we are so powerful and gorgeous all the time but feel so helpless.
we can’t stop bowing.
we thought we were complete but only now, only now do we hear the tireless tap tapping of excavation, as one by one we are gathered for our next labor: love

day 28
staying open

the tangerine taught me how to die (or how to open)

thumbnail splitting peel
pulling off her gown in one piece, unveiling
flinging shocks of essence into the air
briefly visible
the bitter scent split from the
sweet promise

but still not open

the exhale of connective tissue
one circle becomes many moons
each part similar (normal)
each piece unique (special)
centered, then piled in my palm
clinging, releasing, wide, falling apart

but still not open

on my busy tongue the taut skinbody
veined and ripe, perfect and ready
(and still not open)
it is only the gnashing of my teeth, the suckling,
the bursting of life, lips to throat, the swallow
the total destruction of self for the unknown

now, now we are open

BONUS: A BINDING SPELL

day 29
getting back in alignment with original instructions

care for yourself and everything else (transmission)

everything is teacher, virus too is teacher, is practice ground, sickness, death, we all die, we all need practice. this virus has been a practice of coming into awareness of our collective selfishness. (I am not selfish you are selfish…) we can see the inward focus in others, but mostly feel ourselves to be good (I was trying to be as good, as thoughtful, as selfless as a saint, but I failed). trying and just failing to care enough for others, that’s us. the awareness of how selfish and self-focused we’ve been, when it comes (detonates from another’s mouth, or in a moment of stillness), can make us deny, panic, freeze, spiral, disappear.

selfishness is the contagion.

with this virus, the self falls away, or the selfishness is unveiled.

it doesn’t matter if you alone tend towards health, the virus will hitch a ride on your breath and collar to those who can’t protect themselves.

it doesn’t matter if you want to quarantine, your job is essential to others, or your big boss is unwilling or unable to give you the time off. or you need the money not to stop for a second. you need groceries, and you need to bring your kids.

it doesn’t matter if you wear a mask and bleach everything and wash your hands raw, that one coughing maskless person has no idea what six feet look like.

and even if, even if we’re all fine, if we all recover, if we all survive – we have to acknowledge (in spite of all evidence that we do not care) that the earth is thriving in our containment, our stillness.

our connection to everything is undeniable. i never knew the language of the original instruction but now I wonder if it’s written in each thing’s code, ‘here is how you be’. when i listen to my bones the instruction is care: care for this body and all other bodies, care generates harmony and balance, care for boundaries without borders. care for each connection, and if it must end, care for the ending. care for communities and have as many as you can care for. care for this planet with how you pet, feed, water, eat, till, plant, and harvest. if it is too challenging for you personally to care for strangers, accept your limitation, and just care for family, you define it, you define who you care for. care generally for futures, or specifically for your own future and the futures of those you can care for.

and you can be single and solitary and solo and silent and still be caring, still relinquish selfishness, maybe that isolation is your deepest care, maybe you need that quiet to heal enough to care again, maybe in this moment you need the care, and it is caring to let others care for you (did you know that caring feels like a burden only when it isn’t shared?) – the more people who care, the more joy, the more we are able to make use of this existence, which came with instructions, which everyone got, and some forgot, and some never learned how to hear, but nonetheless this is how it works: together.

day 30
post pandemic story

in five years

the chaos is brand new, still
we pour our hearts into each day
carefully, slowly, we hold nothing back
sleep shows us a mycelial way
we oak root in the hurricane
we ripple borders like leather whips
we’ve let go of the ceaseless pain
who knows when we’ll feel home again

3 year old

we are always somewhere new
home is where my mommy sleeps
we are finding out what’s true
home is where we feel our feet

on my deathbed

I saw the end of an empire
can you imagine, we split from chaff
we got the mess of nationbirth
and we got the miracle

Auburn Lives of Commitment Ceremony, adrienne and Autumn’s speech

autumn: we are thrilled to be receiving the lives of commitment honor. we were humbled and surprised to get the news and wanted to start off by saying thank you all so so much.

amb: to be seen in our commitments feels like love in public. we are committed to certain ideas that have led both of our lives, rearranged us, picked us up from paths that were not ours, and deposited us on purpose.

autumn: we would like to share with you our guiding commitments. this is a moment when we need commitment to get through – commitment to each other, and commitment to having a future on the other side of this apocalypse. our first commitment is to the power of the collective – to finding ways to work cooperatively, generate interdependence, and learn to think and dream collectively.

amb: it is our right and responsibility to prepare for the future. we are committed to preparing ourselves, our communities and our children to survive in the future, and to shape it.

autumn: communities who live on the margins of capitalism have a lot to teach us about our own unlearning and remembering work. we are committed to learning from, and uplifting teachers from, those communities fundamentally opposed to supremacy, patriarchy, militarism and greed.

amb: we are a commitment to, as grace lee boggs taught us, transforming ourselves to transform the world. for us this means healing ourselves, not letting trauma control our reactions, and mending our relationships in order to contribute to healing the wound of human disconnection from earth and village. we want to learn from and collaborate with this miraculous planet, from each other…we must reconnect.

autumn: change is hard. even though we’ve known forever that this isn’t the way, it’s become familiar. what we need to move towards is a way of living that will give us futures, but it’s a huge risk. we are a commitment to taking risks, pushing off from the shore, being uncomfortable, but holding on to each other and encouraging each other towards liberation.

amb: we are a commitment to revolution. we honor the years of our ancestors and elders fighting for reforms to make this life bearable, while also recognizing that the societal transformation we need for the long term is complex, radical, and reaches into almost every aspect of human thought and practice.

autumn: we are a commitment to family, which, to us, means learning the unconditional love that gives us a foundation for transformative justice. we can learn boundaries. we are not our worst day. we must stop destroying each other.

amb: and finally, we are a commitment to pleasure. apocalypse is terrifying, and it’s hard work, and it’s going to require all of us to give all of ourselves. laughter, togetherness, play, rest – we are a commitment to filling up the cavern of sorrow with joy.