something is ending

you want to argue with me on the internet
you feel judged by my coping mechanisms
it’s all misunderstanding my love, listen.
so many have died, but we are still alive!
argue all you want! you’re still here
I’ll defend nothing – I’m still here
we both know something of living
I promise I don’t know more than you
and I (mostly) don’t think I do, I promise
and you don’t know more than I do
about reaching for tomorrow from this
blessed broken bodymind or spiritheart
still, I am learning. every. day.
simple things like how to breathe
to love without controlling
to admit I have been wrong
I am learning. every. day.
not to apologize for each breath
or hearing the call of joy

even here in the ruins
I feel the thrum of life
even in your corrections and bickering
all I hear is each one of you saying
I’m alive I exist I want to live
and I hear you
all I see is how much you want to be seen,
vibrant, special, nobody’s fool, free
and I see you
all I know is death is not our enemy
time is no accident or prison, but the gift of life
being right is not a permanent state
it’s logical to be obsessed with living
and to be flooded with fear
crawl beside me back into our ancestors’ arms
do you argue with invisible strangers because no one else will listen?
look – even wrong, you’re someone’s miracle
we might all be a single sacred mistake

but we are still alive
every time I feel lost frustrated stuck angry
or overcome by despair and grief
meaning every day, every single day
of this slow and fatal endtime
I find my eyes in a mirror
and whisper: you are still alive
and to each loved one: we are still alive
our adaptations unfolding from our
undeniable need for each other
yes something is ending – but it isn’t us love!

the future is not something they can steal
or you can win or I can win
it’s at the intersection of every argument
it’s in the resistance to every oppression
it’s in the generosity that bursts thru hoarding
it’s the impulse to save each other
from the sharp corners of a full life
I see you trying, I hear you singing
in dialectical chorus
echoing our own kind of forever
we live/we lived, we live/we lived
we live/we lived

what if this body

ah but what if this is the ideal body after all
this body which once danced all night and still waited to see the sun rise
this body which caught mothers as they released babies from their bodies
this body which has known so many kinds of touch
from lovers who wanted and didn’t want it
from doctors who saw and didn’t see it
from children who did not hesitate to surrender tears or laughter or dreams
onto my bosom

what if this body has kept me from becoming a monster
kept me humble
stilled me from ego
with sufficient doubt

what if this body was the ideal protection
from the death throes of patriarchy
if this body was a lighthouse
to the lovers who knew
freedom was the arousing aspect

and what if this body
is the ideal body
for what is coming
when the food dwindles on the shelves
because all of us willing to pull it from the ground
and milk or slaughter the beasts
have turned to feed our own
or are too busy grieving
or gone quiet in the plague
of a nation that will always choose
pride and profit
over its people
when the rest of the world
is sick of indulging the bully
and the rich men are stabbing each other with phallic weapons
and we are all simply too sick
to apologize or be accountable

the farmers are sick
and the teachers are sick
and the babies are sick
and the soldiers are sick
and the nurses are tired
and the doctors are depressed
and the scroll is eternal
and the rest of us
are watching the end
muted on our televisions

what if this body was made
for an endless quarantine
as this dysfunctional nation collapses
what if this body is the promise of a lush future
perfect for holding on to
through another night of grief
that is not even shocking
because we all know
we all die

what if this body is the last to know hunger
unveiling the strength always there
carrying us through this wild life
while greedy bellies grumble in absence of the fat that fills one up
may mine swallow my thighs from within
delight in self loving sweetness
sustained by soft

what if this body
is the ideal body
for this apocalypse
what if?
what if the future
is simply all the fat girls
outlasting the fools

we who still alive

1. we who still alive
whisper to each other
‘forgive me
I did not know
what you was holding’

2. someone who loves you
needs to know
‘not trynna to fix you
dare not judge you
just here beside you
learning to live’

3. we who still alive
cup palmfuls of sea
offering each other
love’s enduring oceans
blushing with want
for our ghosts, living and dead
showing our shadows
falling for darkness

4. we who still alive
know the future
is a warping window
a dream coming true
among the restless

5. we who still alive
let no one try us
let no one cross us
let no one shrink us
in search of their
own medicine
their own magic

6. we who still alive
be whole against the knife
be wild against the cage
be silence in cacophony
be song inside the smoke
be of the many
be set on freedom
be so kind

7. we who still alive
put your hands on your body
your ancestors can feel you
touch that gentle
nourish that fire
love that steady
heal that self

let’s keep being

it is my 15,811th night. what is it for you? this cycle is within so many others. it matters if we want it to. the miracles are constant.

of the things I can change, I wouldn’t change a thing.

I am steeped in love in every direction.

one nibbling tells the other cool teenagers on the phone they have to go watch fantasy and action movies with their auntie. another says I always look fantastic and smell right, and we discuss our novels – i suspect she will outpublish me. another says that the love of a thousand buddhas is but a tenth of their love for me. my parents say they are proud of who and how I am. my sisters tell me the truth. my friends give all they can, and receive all I can offer. my beloved is steadfast in a way that makes me tremble with joy.

I’m making the love of my self, my body, my circle, a habit.

I am learning to trust the universe even when I can barely grasp how complex it all is.

I am beginning to understand how what happens in our lives is both impersonal and deeply interior spiritual work. some things you can only learn by moving along your own distinct path, but everyone has the possibility of such learning.

my heart beat is a thousand ancestors clapping the rhythm for me, singing “don’t waste it, don’t hoard it, don’t wait, be here now, don’t rush, it’s a dance, it’s your life, there’s enough.”

beginner’s mind is the only one I have capacity for.

let’s keep being.

in case it helps / bell hooks asé

hi beloved blog readers

i haven’t been writing here as often. i am writing so much, in so many places, but i haven’t forgotten you – i come here when i want to share something more tender than social media, more precise than a podcast, more intimate than an essay.

what i want to share with you today is that this year nearly took me out. it didn’t, i am still here. but the simplest truth is that i have been struggling. i am tethered by a close circle, and a set of small, repeated practices to keep moving through the days. i want to share, in case it helps. especially to those who follow emergent strategy and pleasure activism and maybe think i have it all together: i don’t. as far as i can see, no one does, nor is that a reasonable goal in this moment.

we are living, and this falling apart, stumbling, flying and feeling is how we live right up until the last moment.

i didn’t realize i was struggling until i was in the danger zone. i am a highly competent person just trying to live a good life, but it felt like those humbling moments when i have wanted to go for a swim in the ocean and couldn’t get past the break, instead getting pummeled by each wave, unable to find a rhythm, salt in my throat and eyes.

and of course, because i am me, i wasn’t trying to just solo swim, but to simultaneously teach others about swimming, call out tips on how to best navigate tumult, and occasionally save others from the breaking waves of loss, the encroaching trials of our bodies, the betrayals of our inner plans for forever.

which was hard, because i was upside down with sand up my nose trying to figure out where the shore went.

it wasn’t until someone dear snatched me out of the path of the next monster wave that i realized i was in trouble. i wasn’t swimming, i was flailing; i wasn’t really helping anyone, i was just wearing myself out trying to avoid my own big feelings. and i was in danger.

the moment i had a breath in my lungs i started crying and couldn’t stop. for days. for weeks. i kept trying to explain why, and the why was a tsunami that never ended, every pain that had poured into me, every loss, every disappointment, every fear, everything i had unconsciously been smoothing over as less important than what others were holding. it came out in a wall of weeping.

i am sitting on a metaphorical sand dune now, still catching my breath. the tears come less frequently, with much more ease. the breaths are deeper. the ocean does not look like a menace.

i have been meditating, centering, doing sun salutations and swimming every day.

i have let people who lean on me know i am rickety right now. more than rickety…i am the wave moving over and through myself. my heart overflows with grief and despair, and all my friends and healers agree that it makes sense to feel this way at this moment in history (i still need that kind of logic-based affirmation). i am, we are, suspended between pandemic and climate crisis and sharing the planet with so many death cultists. it hurts. it is ok to be overwhelmed during an overwhelming time.

i have surrendered to my emotional self, putting down the labor of repression and containment. i am taking a break from social media, so that the nonstop incoming crises are my own, or are happening in the lives of people i know. i turned off notifications on my phone for everyone that isn’t family/inner circle. i look when i have capacity. i trust that the news of the day will come from people who love me. i am growing my spiritual capacity to be with the griefs of my own life.

in the past two months there have been five six seven eight deaths that impacted my life, including that of bell hooks, which i learned about from my beloved friend toshi reagon as i was finishing up this writing.

when the big hits come, all that new and unexpected grief pouring into my overflowing heart, i have a small and sacred ritual i want to share with y’all, in case it helps.

first i sit with the true emotion – shock, tears, denial, anger, absence.

for bell hooks, i had a long cry of deep gratitude.

then i let the memories come, and i say them aloud.

when i met bell hooks, she delighted me so much that i couldn’t linger in the fangirl realm. i got to thank her for the permission to write my name the way i wanted to, to attempt to center my work over my recognition. i got to thank her for reshaping feminism. the fire in her eyes was that of someone willing to stand in her truth, uncompromising. i learned so much from her writing, her thinking, her critical mind. because of her i have restructured my life to be a writer who is able to read voraciously.

i light a candle for the transition, the journey my loved one is on, the path i have not yet traveled.

the candle for bell hooks joins the greg tate candle, and all the burnt down candles of dead friends and family on our ancestor altar.

if there is material support needed for the funeral or family, i make the donation with tears drying on my face, letting the felt sense of impermanence guide my giving.

finally, i gather with other grievers – telling stories over the phone and on text threads, sending messages with memories to those who i know also grieve, lingering phone calls where we tell the stories and honor the impacts. what i used to love most about funerals, the laughter of both honest and embellished stories, i now mostly do in a nonlinear and immediate way.

there is no sentence that can sum up or quantify everything bell hooks taught me. all about love alone gave me the keys to open my own heart. but i think that is the highest honor i can pay to her life, that her impact is beyond measure or expression.

so.

if you are feeling more than you can contain, i just want to say yes to that.

if you need to cry, yes.

if you can’t cry, it doesn’t mean you aren’t feeling. my therapist reminds me that even when we sit perfectly still, our hearts beat and our blood rushes through our veins – emotion is that kind of underground river.

if you know the feels are there but are struggling to let them move through, or if you don’t have people nearby who can hold you the way you need, write yourself a letter of compassion and permission to survive. if you tell no one else, at least be honest with yourself about what you are holding, and affirm to yourself that it is ok to feel overwhelmed by an overwhelming time.

if it’s all kind of breathless and messy and you can’t clean it up, or make it more palatable, or put any mask on other than the one marked oxygen – breathe. anything that matters will keep until you catch your breath.

if you need to land in yourself a bit more, take a break from social media. increase time spent in meditation and in the body.

if you need to ask for help, ask as if there is enough love and care in the universe for your needs to be met. ‘everyone needs more than anyone has to give right now,’ but also ‘no one can fill those of your needs that you won’t let show.’ i suspect the future will be shaped by all that we are feeling in the present. i believe that asking each other for help is self-love, and answering honestly is self-love, and giving what we can is community love. and love is what will reshape the pattern of humanity. even through the tears, i know that.

special shout out to the close circle. i am because you are.

exciting lessons from yes on 2

I woke up this morning thinking about the Yeson2 campaign in Minneapolis. The campaign, instigated and organized by people I adore, was a call to replace their municipal police department with a Department of Public Safety. It was visionary, comprehensive and timely. And they got 44% of the vote.

And I want to say as an outsider, supporter, and abolitionist why I am feeling so inspired by this campaign.

1. The center of the campaign is in movement and community, not in the electoral process.

I have said before that electoral spaces cannot be our political homes. One story of this year’s election is that at this incredibly high stakes moment for our species, the Democratic Party, in an underwhelming repeat of most of its existence, took the road most traveled by (run towards the center right!) and now expects people to be surprised that they ended up in the same place of lost political ground. We live in a corrupted electoral system meant to serve whiteness, serve our nation’s elite, and even as we watch this campaign we know others throughout the nation were shady. As India Walton said of the Buffalo mayoral race, “Every dirty trick in the book was tried against us. We knew that would be the case. When you take on the corrupt and the powerful you can’t expect them to play fair.”

But the heart of Yeson2 was not centered in the electoral process – the electoral process is a way to see tangible results from all the other culture shifting work to demand a humane system of care, protection and justice, work that has been unfolding for years, escalating in the wake of George Floyd’s May 2020 murder. This multipronged work will continue.

2. The campaign used a multitude of tactics and strategies that allowed for broad participation and alliance in solution thinking.

The same energy that took people into the streets last May, confronting the mayor and demanding justice, ran all the way through this campaign. That period of massive protest was informed by both lived experience and by excellent research and historical grounding on the 150 years of punitive policing specifically in Minneapolis. There was well-informed grief and rage in the uprising, and it was harnessed into cultural and political strategy. It was harnessed into visionary organizing that helped people see beyond the righteous NO at the root of last year’s uprisings, through to a possibility, to a YES that would actually make everyone in Minneapolis safer.

3. It was a locally grown experiment advancing a national conversation. The abolition of prisons, policing and punitive justice is a dream that has moved through generations, and Black organizers have escalated it in the face of this past decade of police brutality and killings. In order to take the next steps, we need to create a possibility for people to look at, practice, borrow from and be inspired by. The Department of Public Safety is such a solid proposal – a shift that allows for many experiments to emerge, that focuses on responding to those in mental health and economic crises with compassion and care instead of violence and punishment.

4. It was a pleasure. It was irresistible.

Again, I am speaking as a comrade from afar, but I couldn’t resist this campaign. Everyone I know was excited by it, and many people found ways to participate from a distance, or went to be on the ground. I supported a fun, well organized phone bank with my friends Junauda Petrus and Miski Noor, and, inspired by Junauda, I made a not-tik-tok. I watched well informed, creative videos from Lizzo and Ryan Ken and many others. It was an easy campaign to say yes to and support and to feel great about participating in.

5. The data is clear.

Now the organizers understand exactly where to focus their efforts, who still needs to be invited into this vision, and where the tendency to cling to a dysfunctional system is still stronger than the desire to cocreate something that works. The city is an organizing map, and the cultural shift will continue both in the city and all over the country. When we are working at the level of systems change, we don’t get discouraged by a loss in our first attempt – it’s data.

Understanding just how outstanding the organizers of this work are to have made all of this headway in such a short period of time, I’m thrilled to see what they will do with this data, what pleasurable visionary spaces they will invite us into next, what local experiments they will devise to practice in the here and now with that 44%, what complex strategic community they will build, and how they will continue to grow the center of transformative justice through and beyond the cycle of elections.

not busy, focused; not busy, full

this is a poem or a reset
you keep telling me you know I am so busy but…
and then you ask me for something
and I want you to know
I am not busy
no, with all of these boundaries I have space
to write.
to take care of my body.
to hold my loves tightly in my many many hands so we can somehow make it through the rest of our lives

I am so focused
on the imaginary world which is trying to whisper to me
how to write a story that unlocks a heart
to write a spell that makes us bored with punishment and immune to capitalism
I am so full of ancestors and characters and I can’t tell which is who
but they are a chorus
telling me humans are not the protagonist
and nothing I can say is more brilliant than a stand of trees or a mycelial warning
or a newborn’s first shuddering dance
or the grace of the blue heron in lustful prance across this pond
or the continuous sky flood always somewhere storming

and when the clouds are full with pending storm they are quiet
so I am studying that quiet so I can hold that storm
and when the riverbanks flood, the soil forgets it is earth and goes flying through the water and finds a new purpose in the deep or maybe maybe even the vast ocean
isn’t every stream a boddhisatva
didn’t Lao Tzu know it is humble to become the vastness beneath
I was running so fast and trying so hard but what I forgot was the wonder

now my body aches to remember when I was busy
when I was so capitalist in my anti-capitalism, that is to say so productive in my revolutionary performance
but now I am not busy
I am breathing
I am moving at the pace my body allows, ever forward, mentored by a tortoise
I am balancing my vibrant intentions with my bemused body – bones of betrayal, bruised by the busy I once thought was my worth
now I know my body is the sliver of earth I’ve been given
I am healing from the extraction
I thought gave me value
from the toxins I thought of as solace

the freedom I can experience is from the traumatic past and the dystopic future
into the miraculous now
in which I can still find moments of respite
moments to water the garden of my home
to skim the news stopping only to witness and feel the heartache and longing
the beauty of being so connected is that my boundless love has a field without horizon, my heart can gallop on, loving all the people experiencing and shaping humanity, without end

I hope to never be busy again
I owe this quiet breath to my grandmother
I am creating at an astounding rate
and some of it I even write down
some moments I get so still
I can sense how it is all connected
and that the tissue is love
and I know my love could never be wasted
or too small a contribution
I say yes when love leads
I say yes when there’s enough time to do it well
and sometimes even then I am not there
because life showed me another way to love
and it was irresistible

I Remember Everything

It’s been twenty years since I stepped out of the subway on 6th Avenue and heard an unusually close groaning in the sky and then a boom of glass thunder.

I still question myself, did I hear this? How do I remember this sound so clearly?

Coming around the corner and looking down the island of Manhattan from 23rd street I saw something I couldn’t comprehend, which is now one of the most familiar images in U.S. history: a building on fire. Not just any building, but a tower of the World Trade Center, where my crew went often because our friend sneaked us free sushi at her waitress job in the basement mall. There were flames pouring out the side of one of the skyscrapers.

Then a plane flew into the second tower. I knew in a way I had never known before that I was in the presence of mass death; in that fire were people who had gone to work and were now dead and dying. All around me on the avenue people were standing and staring, slack jawed or screaming, running, trying to call people.

I ran into my office building and tried to call my father, who worked at the Pentagon. I couldn’t reach him, though someone did pick up the phone and say in a harried voice that they didn’t know where he was. A few minutes later the news came over the radio that the Pentagon had been hit. I spent the rest of the day praying, trying not to even consider that my dad was dead. In the end, we were one of the lucky families. He was not in his office, which was destroyed. Before I slept I heard his voice with a flood of gratitude. I remembered this flood often over the next few years, which would test our relationship.

I still wonder about the man with the harried voice – who was he? Did he make it?

At the towers, people were running down stairwells, stuck in elevators, though I didn’t hear all of that until later. On the floors that were on fire, and above the fire, people were gathering on ledges, jumping, falling. I can’t remember how I saw this, but I remember it, people having to make impossible decisions, alone and together. I’ve never stopped thinking about this.

And then the towers fell. I began writing this today in that window between first impact and collapse, though perhaps like the event itself, it will take longer than that for the dust to settle.

I remember my baby radical brain thinking our empire was falling, and perhaps everything I called my life was over, and that made sense to me, felt expected in a way.

I remember talking to a friend in South Africa at the World Conference on Racism, who reached me by phone when almost no calls were connecting, who asked me if people were going wild in the streets.

I remember connecting with a friend a few blocks away who seemed far less shaken by it all, which lodged in my brain as something to pay attention to, as another option that I couldn’t quite imagine with my father missing and the world falling down.

I remember how quiet it was as we joined the slow moving crowd and walked all the way down the island, across the bridge, to a friend’s house in Park Slope. I remember not wanting to be alone in my apartment in Washington Heights.

I remember that everything was covered in ashes, including people walking in the opposite direction, some visibly injured; including my hands every time I touched anything; including the backyard Brooklyn picnic table where I, a vegetarian, ate kielbasa that night. Ashes.

We breathed these buildings in, breathed these people in, and they became part of us.
I remember everything.

This is unusual for me, my memory tends to tuck the most traumatic events of my life away in a soft dense fog that I need support to move through. But in the same way childhood photos can shape our memories with sepia tones of repeated exposure, this traumatic event was replayed over and over. This event was witnessed in person or on television by everyone else I knew, everyone had and has a story. People I knew lost loved ones. My memories are individual and collective.

And, of course, 9/11 was used as the reason we went to war with Iraq and Afghanistan.

I understand in retrospect so much more than I did then about how the U.S. uses conflict to avoid grieving, avoid growing.

At the time, I was naively wondering to everyone I spoke to: how could we, having lived through that horror, inflict it on others? Knowing how random the deaths were, how precious those lives were, how could we put others through that? Through so much worse than that – in our retaliation for the strikes on these two structures, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, we obliterated nations. We became obsessed with security, we reignited rampant and overt xenophobia and racism, we used overpowering violence in the name of American safety.

We went to war.

As a military child, this was the first time war felt visceral to me. I knew by then that there’s no such thing as a fair war with a superpower. There’s terror, chaos and narratives of justification. There’s bloodlust, and the desire for total dominance and control. And there’s an attempt to erase any memories beyond the ones that make us warriors.

But I remember.

I remember all the complex emotions of being a budding nonviolent revolutionary living through September 11, wanting us to be accountable, to listen to what the conditions we were creating in the world had produced. I remember wondering who could believe in such one-dimensional villainy.

I remember the American flags everywhere.
I remember the eyes on me, trying to place me.
I remember the armed soldiers in the subway.
I remember the smell of downtown, it haunted the subways. I remember the open grief that seemed so brief before the warmongering began. I remember acts of heroism and humanity. I remember the flyers with faces and heartbreakingly intimate descriptions of loved ones everywhere; going to Union Square which was part-bulletin board, part-memorial, and feeling an empathy beyond politic for these strangers.

I remember knowing that I was politically at odds with a lot of these dead strangers, that they were capitalists and soldiers. There were also those I saw as my people, as an antiwar, anticapitalist organizer, the workers. But in the wake of 9/11, my empathy expanded, and I could grasp that every single one of these people were parents, spouses, friends, beloveds and children of those who now grieved.

Our nation began gearing up for war instead of turning to face the grief and take accountability for the impacts of our foreign policy legacy. My young empathy easily expanded into action as I first protested the pending wars, then watched the bombs hit Baghdad and Afghanistan. The day that we launched the shock and awe invasion of Iraq, I started sending emails with news from the war to everyone I had an address for, pre-blog. Perhaps I am still writing those emails now – I knew then that those who were dying far away were also parents, spouses, friends, beloveds and children of those who would grieve them. I remember thinking about 23-year-olds there, going about their days under the threat of our vengeance. I remember knowing they had less to do with 9/11 than I did as an American taxpayer and voter.

As I remember all of this, I have to acknowledge to myself that 9/11 and its aftermath transformed my sense of nation. I stopped paying taxes as a stance against those wars, the largest and most sustained direct action of my life. I became a post-nationalist in those years – I wanted a way to be a connected human, and it occurred to me that the project of building a specific nation-state with borders defended by walls and weapons and greed that poisons integrity is the antithesis of being connected as a species. I wanted to live in the connected field of all that empathy sparked in the seconds, days and weeks after September 11.

Because I remember the empathy as clearly as the fear. I remember how I felt the humanity in all of us, the enhanced brightness, the awareness of all our choices. The empathy ran concurrent with that concoction of disappointment and rage that humans produce in me when we, over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again forever, choose violence. I remember longing to know what love could do uncoupled from vengeance and violence.

I still want that. I’ve seen a lot of numbers this week, placing September 11 deaths next to those of the global coronavirus pandemic. Seeing these numbers juxtaposed, I can’t help but wonder how we would respond to COVID-19 if, each day, it was a building of mostly strangers, altogether, taken at once, with an enemy we could other and blame. Instead we have this dispersed, intimate loss of loved ones we often can’t hold or see, with no one to turn to in anger but ourselves, our families, our neighbors, our elected officials.

Every day now, we lose thousands of people, more and more of them children. Each day in the U.S. alone, COVID-19 deaths are comparable to the numbers of 9/11. In a year and a half, we’ve had a total U.S. loss of life comparable to the total global lives lost in our twenty year 9/11 retaliation.

But this is not a surprise attack. We have known for over a year now exactly what is happening, and exactly how to save most of those lives. Our capitalist commitment to profit won’t let us hold the lines that would stop the spread of this virus, truly quarantine until it is contained, and shift the economy to support the people until that time. We have the resources, but not the will. It is thus left to individuals to make impossible decisions, alone and together, in crisis. The protests feel ridiculous – asking other adults to cover their mouths? Step back? We fight each other, and we die, polite and/or with violence, struggling with boundaries, logic and collective action right up until the end.

Ah, I didn’t expect to need to write this much today. This all feels connected to me, but perhaps the fog and dust and ash is too much for me to say it clearly, even feel it clearly…forgive me if I am wandering about, or doing too much.

I am sifting through the memories with this current lens of daily death, on the planet/species side of a vast chasm between belief systems around our human purpose on earth. There has been and is a war within our nation, just look at the casualties. It is a war of values and standards, and a war between individualism and collectivism. These days it feels like a war between informed boundaries and risks, and the myth of consequence-free, independent choices.

Stepping back to look at the patterns, the battleground is everywhere. It’s the plague, the profiteers, the police, the non-consensual pregnancies, the apocalyptic climate conditions – we are in the age of consequences for inhumane choices. We are still and always battling the culture of death. This iteration of war will determine how many days are left to millions of people, how many years humans will have on earth.

We breathe each other in, still.

For some of us, September 11 awakened an expansive and humble empathy that could have transformed our nation. The aftermath, however, fully unveiled the culture of supremacy and death that is as U.S.-American as any aspirational culture of democracy or liberation.

In the tenderness of my memories, I long for a collective shift into reality. We are just humans who need to find a way to empathize, feel compassion, grieve, generate love, and tether ourselves back to this abundant planet.

But can I still access that empathy beyond politic, that compassion beyond border, today? I can feel how my empathy is exhausted, bruised, stretched. But I remember when it felt like a limitless energy. And maybe that memory is what will help me, help us, survive this period of pandemic – not nationally, and not just physically, but collectively, and spiritually.

what they do to the earth / they do to our bodies

what they do to the earth
they do to our bodies

they press their filth into the crevice
and when, somehow, still, we make it holy
they take the miracle for granted

knowing all possible life is sacred
knowing what a life needs,
we decide what love would have us do

they demand we bring children
into this world, amongst them
amongst men fighting each other to the death

we know the labor of sustaining a whole life
so we will have to protect
these precious babies from them
as they starve, displace, risk, infect,
molest, rape, incarcerate and murder
that which they could never carry

yet they want us to bear it
in spite of what we know from within
there are so many lives
lived in untenable crisis
because we hear the no
but they won’t listen

and what they do to the earth
they do to our bodies

but
and this is so important
what the earth can do?
so can we
we are earth
we are earth

we can swallow with tongues of flame
rage down from the sky
in precise and dizzying destruction
shake the foundation back into
a chaos of stone..
strip the bullshit to the bone

unleash this creation fury
which cannot be contained or controlled
we know every choice in this context
is brave

don’t make us weep floods
when your house is on fire
if we can’t decide
who to save

The Darwin Variant, and/or Love of the Fittest

The chaos grows and grows, everything around us faltering, falling. Who do we need to be and who are we becoming?

Once I was in a room with Margaret Wheatley, one of the people whose thinking on emergence and complexity helped me understand emergent strategy. I (or someone else) asked how we bring down massive systems through small, complex organizing. She said, essentially, that systems that are top heavy will inevitably collapse from their own imbalanced weight.

How do we survive these falling systems? Especially when many of them need to fall? How do we prepare for the opportunities in collapse?

I am thinking about that in this era of Covid, climate catastrophe, natural and unnatural disasters (this week there are wildfires, floods, droughts, earthquakes, and disaster capitalism feeding off of all of it), cultural shifts, and long-term war consequences from indigenous struggles locally in the U.S. to the Taliban in Afghanistan. It’s all connected – decisions made from a competitive, supremacist, dominant mindset lead to top heavy economies and infrastructures, which inevitably collapse, leaving the survivors to contend with the detritus of empire.

Much of the crisis now feels out of our hands – even to me as a fairly connected radical movement person, most days it feels like a series of unstoppable events, to which I can offer prayer and donations, witness and attention. There are so many frontlines, each equally important to the soldiers in that particular battle. Stepping back to see it whole, there’s definitely the sense that we are trying to hold back tsunamis by plugging a million holes in a dam.

I realize that this sense of total pending and unfolding disaster is all over my Covid responses, thoughts and interactions. I am writing to face this disastrous feeling within me, to see if I can center a different perspective down in myself.

As both an antiwar and climate activist, I remember the devastation I felt when I first realized we weren’t going to be able to stop the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. People were not going to sustain direct action, they were still going to pay their taxes towards the war, and be satisfied with resistance in the form of liberal punditry that changed nothing. This week we leave behind another nation long violated, knowing it will be eaten alive. It has taken so long to say, with humility, we lost a war we should never have been fighting.

With the climate catastrophe, I realized in my gut that we weren’t going to pivot our nation, our states, our towns to be in a just transition, not in time. Organizers inch forward proposals of survival and boundary, documentation and data, the responses much smaller and slower than the pending crises demand. We are up against capitalism, which feels so big, has so many heads. It is all so daunting. It is still the right work. But how do we make it matter? How do we meet the moment?

It could feel reasonable to give up the fight, all the fights, in light of this overwhelming comprehension of our species in its limitations. But then we are also in a period of massive cultural shift around race, anti-Blackness, rape and patriarchy. Systems designed to allow the total violence and control of those given power through a mythical supremacy are suddenly exposed down to the blueprint. Again, that labor of exposure is largely done by organizers who cleared space for the truth to be told with calls of Black Lives Matter and Me Too. We are rejecting these systems of harm in policy, action, and interpersonal encounters.

It’s all crumbling, concurrently. We are living through both the devastating fall of systems that guarantee life, and the necessary fall of systems that uphold violence.

So then Covid enters, stage right. It’s fast moving, wreaking havoc along the fault lines of existing vulnerabilities – those struggling to piece together enough inside of these multiple intersecting crises are hustling, hungry, taking risks to go to work, trying to survive eviction and exposure. Nations who let collective thinking lead are responding intelligently, and then there’s us.

Since the beginning, Covid has asked one thing of us: act collectively. First, the collective actions were maintaining the social distance of breath, hand washing, wearing masks. Then it was staying home unless you were an essential worker. And quarantining if you were sick. Then quarantining even if you were not sick. Doing work and community through virtual connections. And then, most recently, it’s been getting a vaccine that reduces the hospitalizations and deaths of those exposed to the virus. I cannot truly comprehend how many people have died as we figured out the necessary actions to take together. And now people are dying because we struggle to take collective actions.

To be fair, we are also in a period of peak socialized distrust. The divisions between us are dangerous and near total – we look to divergent news sources, have different conversations, suspect different aspects of government (from police to politicians to scientists) of wanting us surveilled, tracked, controlled or dead. Four years of a destructive and immature president did result in a wall, but not the border wall he threatened. The wall that now feels so solid in the U.S. is a cultural one that has deep roots and an ancient design, 3D printed hateful troll bricks stacked on top of colonial ruins.

Trying to be curious, to ask a question, to express a fear, to make a request, to assume a commonality – all of it quickly gets interpreted as building the division. Inside of this, on whatever side is for life moving towards life, I have been asking myself about boundaries, expectations, solidarity, and collective action. And love.

I now live by these words from my friend Prentis Hemphill, “Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.” Love. Not tolerate or survive, but love. When I speak these words, as reminder, as mantra, they give me hope that no one has to be disposable, cut off from that vast connectivity of love. It’s just a matter of distance.

I learned some time ago that not everyone was going to survive and see liberation, or right relationship with the earth, in this lifetime. Not everyone was going to be in vibrant, accountable communities in this lifetime. Not everyone was going to choose love. Not everyone was going to even be aware that they could want or need such interdependence. For so many people, it feels impossible to experience love, to give and receive that sacred extension of adoration, devotion, care, growth, belonging, loyalty and shared experience.

But with distance, perhaps even as far away as the moon, I can always see the species as lovable. I can see that everyone deserves that deep belonging which displaces greed and grasping. I can see us, young, beautiful, powerful, clumsy, tender, selfish – and generally lovable, like a rambunctious and curious child. Or sometimes lovable like the traumatized, neglected bully child who needs so much more love and attention to soften and trust and connect again.

With enough distance, I can love even those who, up close, hate me, or hate the earth, or hate anything different from them. I know “only love can conquer hate.” From far away I can see the haters of the world – those who hate nature, difference, complexity, freedom in others – in the grip of their own spiritual work, which is daunting, which devours from within. Knowing almost nothing of the mysteries of the universe, having only our own planet’s wisdom to learn from, I deduce that even the haters are processing something for the whole, though it may be something toxic, or something heading towards extinction.

With that guidance, I have been earnestly asking myself: what is the distance at which I can love those who choose individual freedom over collective care in the short-term, at the cost of a future? Those who choose to go unmasked? Those who still don’t wash their hands? Those who breathe and cough too close to me? Those who have access to and capacity for the vaccine and choose not to take it?

This year has been a brutal and necessary reminder that control and manipulation don’t work, for anyone involved. I have had to practice self-awareness of my own controlling nature, I have had to soften my grip on a fearful future narrative and return to the humility of the present. I am not in control of any choices or boundaries but my own. I cannot manipulate others into collective action, into choosing life, not even with all my best words. I can only be vulnerable, I can only live into my own values, I can only invite others to join me, and to teach me.

Collective action is still made up of individual choices, which is the beauty and bane of our species. Especially in the colonized capitalist borders of the U.S. Even in the face of policy and punishment, the American way is to choose individual thinking and action under pressure, to fight for superiority on any hill. This focus on dominance over the living rather than partnership with life is how we have racism, rape culture, climate catastrophe, economic disparity, war and disease all in rampant disaster states at the same time.

It is perpetually disgusting to contend with the reality that these disasters benefit a bloated elite. And too many of us participate in our small scale versions of their individualistic and hoarding worldview, thinking we are better than each other and the earth, deserve unlimited resources and access, and should never have to adapt to protect others.

This is humanity at our worst. How will we change?

At a certain point, even if collective action feels far away, there has to be an awareness of the pattern. We have to develop the systemic intuition to sense that the same glitch is present throughout all the systems. Thinking that your choices only impact you or those you immediately know – that you needn’t be concerned with or accountable for the results – is supremacist thinking at the root. It gets packaged as freedom and independence, but we are not individual entities. Humans, like all of nature, live within systems of relationship and resource. Our freedom is relational. Individualist supremacy is a delusional concept, perhaps safely enjoyed as fantasy but not to be applied as common practice. One way to see all of the current crises is as a single delusional wildfire consuming time and space.

What do we do though? How do we practice another way inside so much crisis?

I have a very small circle of beloveds now. Covid required me to get clear about who I absolutely had to be in contact with, who I would invest my time in arguing boundaries with, who I would risk my life to go see. Relative to the number of people I’ve met, the number of people I’ve marched with and for, the number of people on the side of justice and liberation who populate this earth…it turns out there’s a tiny handful that I can actually hold onto. And I now believe my work is to be a good member of the human flock with that small number. Yes, I can still sing out my birdsong to the whole forest. But I move in community, in relationships that are visionary and loving at the root.

I light candles every day around my hope that the distance at which I can love most people in this era isn’t that mortal boundary between life and death.

Covid keeps adapting, like a shepherd herding us as a group through the one gate that leads forward. When we think we alone can run off and stop attending to the whole, a variant emerges to gather us back groupward. The idea of being herded generates such resistance in me, “WE ARE NOT SHEEP!”, “I AM NOT A COW!” (“imspecialimspecialimspecial”)…and yet, are these not also sacred and communal creatures from whom I can learn? In this moment, perhaps theirs is the wisdom we need. Can we adapt to be herd, to be meek, to belong, to move together, to be humble together? Or maybe it’s more simple, more literal: can we be satisfied in a smaller range of physical space? Can we be satisfied inside of necessary boundaries?

It’s quite clear that one activity that keeps the majority of people safe and, coincidentally?, has a positive impact on the planet, is to stay home, stay still, travel less, reduce each personal footprint towards a collective reduction of negative impact. Perhaps variants like Delta will come every time we attempt to return to a normal that the planet cannot sustain.

I heard someone call it the Darwin variant and I can’t stop thinking about that.

The first waves of Covid deaths were our loved ones and strangers who didn’t know what it was. Then those who knew the name and symptoms but didn’t stand a chance. Then those who didn’t realize or trust just how dangerous it was. Now we are seventeen months into the official global pandemic, playing chicken. Most of those who are getting sick and dying in the U.S. now are doing so as a result of choosing not to believe in Covid, in its viral nature, or in the benefits and safety of the vaccine; or those who think they are beyond the reach of guidelines; or those most susceptible to misinformation from unverified sources; or those unable to avoid interaction with others caught up in denial or misinformation, tragically including our precious babies.

They all still expect and need care.

I feel empathy for those who don’t trust the government, even as I feel my own righteous distrust. What’s been helping me in this moment is how much I love the divine work of science. I believe that the sacred force that designed hummingbirds and eagles and the symbiosis of bees and flowers and the desalination of the ocean through vapor and rain also moves through the minds of our scientists. I feel a primal longing for more people to trust in the curiosity-based practice of science. I feel a political need for science to be decoupled from big pharma, which feels so close to how I need movements to be decoupled from big philanthropy. But currently it’s all the same tangled rope of innovation and struggle and funding to which we cling over an apocalyptic abyss. I am not trying to be dramatic here, I’m just being with what is.

Charles Darwin was a scientist whose writing explored many concepts, including one from Herbert Spencer: ‘survival of the fittest.’ The concept reverberates into moments like this. The common misinterpretation is that it means survival of the most physically fit, an ableist view. I’m sure you, like me, have seen able-bodied people argue against Covid safety protocols by saying those with strong immune systems will survive. Many of those I’ve seen take this stance have gone on learn through sickness or loss that that’s not how Covid, or any of our other current apocalyptic conditions, actually work.

I was reminded recently (in public) that Darwin’s own writing points to ‘fittest’ meaning those most adaptive and collectively oriented, those most suited to the immediate conditions. Our immediate conditions are chaotic, frightening, fast-changing and inevitable. What is grossly imbalanced is teetering and falling. What is wildly anti-planet and inhumane is exposed and falling. What is cruel and violent and unfair and ridiculous, it’s all falling.

And the persisting question for me is, what is the work of love in all this falling? Can love help us be the fittest our species has been?

I have sought to offer and experience all kinds of love throughout my life. I have learned that I can love people who will still choose to leave me, to risk their lives, and I will feel grief. I have been learning that there is the big collective massive love I feel for all that lives, and then the tangible offer of love as an energy, resource and commitment which I can only give to those with whom I am in a mutual, consensual and aligned relationship.

I find it hard to love those who hate science, and hate me…not impossible, at least in the big picture setting. But working to actively love those who hate me is immense labor, and if I am honest with myself, it’s generally not something I’m even interested in cultivating in the irreplaceable hours of my remaining life.

Because my love feels rooted not just in myself, but in myself as a fragment of the miraculous natural world, I notice the patterns of hate at the interpersonal, interspecies and global level. There is an undeniable overlap between this resistance to science and the resistance to wear a mask, socially distance and/or vaccinate, in spite of data that affirms the life saving impacts of each choice. And all of that overlaps with the resistance to do right by the earth. The resistance to move beyond capitalism to economic models that allow shared abundance. And the resistance to give up patriarchy and white sociopathy. And national supremacy.

How do I love this vast diversity of human beings, beloved and stranger, who are currently toxic to our collective survival?

I only see one way. If I define love as the willful extension towards spiritual growth that bell hooks and M. Scott Peck told me about, then when I come across all this resistance to the miraculous and collective aspects of our species, I willfully extend my energy towards the necessary and inevitable growth evidenced by that resistance.

It liberates my love to see the resistance to science and nature and interdependence as a cry for help, a sign of how important it is that we grow our capacity to act as collective beings. And, as is my practice, when I can see where that edge of growth is, I seek it in myself. Where in my own life do I still persist in actions that presuppose my importance and supremacy, rather than accept my small role in our collective existence?

I have begun to feel gratitude inside my Covid grief. It’s the result of thinking collectively, even trying to think as a cell or atom of this planetary existence, awkward as that may sound. Even as I despair at the deaths of those who didn’t have a chance to choose, and those who did not survive their risks, I have to acknowledge what else I sense here…at a certain point we have to consider that Covid might be aligned with the earth, of the universe, designed to get us to fight for ourselves, love ourselves as collective beings, love ourselves enough to set and hold boundaries that serve more than our individual wants and needs.

Can I surrender the recent-normal for the present need? Can I commit to practicing a new and limited present-normal for the sake of a species-future? Can I listen more deeply to the earth, to the patterns? Can I keep finding the space to feel for direction within the chaos?

It’s so complicated.

It is much easier for me to love those who want collective human life to continue, in right relationship to the planet. But perhaps that’s evolution moving in me, perhaps this is a sacred attention, a ‘love of the fittest?’

Even now, as I write this, I still love people who choose themselves over the collective every time. And, I’m noticing, every day they feel further and further away. Or I do.

Seeing the pattern of life unfolding inside the destruction and chaos, I keep bringing my attention to it. I despair and then seek laughter, seek the community of others who feel afraid but keep working to connect. I relinquish being right for being present. I don’t deny reality as I find my place in the present moment and try to be of the fittest in constantly changing conditions.

I don’t wait for perfection or magic, I participate in the mundane work of staying alive. I keep my distance, wash my hands, wear my mask, carry my vaccine card. I get tested at every possibility of Covid. If something gets through my mask, if a variant finds me in spite of my best effort, it won’t be for lack of trying to live. If the vaccine works for most people who get it, but somehow not for me, I accept my role in the collective story.

And in my life I keep writing, keep working to shift myself out of the center of anything. I shift my practices one at a time away from capitalist socialization that says I need to be the best at something to deserve a quality life. I redistribute attention, time, donate money…and ask for help.

I am rooting myself amongst people who are learning to think and act together, as pairs, small groups, communities. We ask each other more questions, about what we are choosing to practice and why. We know so much more about each other’s lives and patterns than ever before. We process our inevitable risk-taking with each other because we are imperfect, and we long for each other. We are raising children inside these unclear, ever-shifting boundaries, and we are moving our resources around amongst us to get through. Sometimes we find that in the light of all this new transparency, we aren’t as compatible as we thought. It’s OK. We let each other go on different paths through the adventure, and root with the people on our path.

So are these answers, these small breaths in the maelstrom?

Small circles rooted in love.
Relinquishing control and offering love.
Mundane practices as acts of love.

Humility in the face of the unknown is self-love.
Seeing and shaping the whole, not as a million overwhelming waves, but as a sea – this is collective love.
Living in generosity and gratitude, every day, is living love.
Being nature, is being love.

It certainly feels like love is the way.

Perhaps. Perhaps.

And this may or may not fit in this piece of thinking and writing, but love is asking me to mention that I am centering pleasure even now, within the small circle. We are a pleasure flock, comforting each other, cheering each other on towards our best lives even today in these conditions. Pleasure connects us to ourselves and each other, to the aliveness at the funeral, to the blessing in the crisis, to the sweet new life pushing green up through the sludge.

We who are not yet dead are responsible for living fully, without regrets, with deep reverence for the wide range of emotion in the human experience. I look for the pleasure of home, of rooting and nesting, of growing things, of moving slowly, of being honest, of writing, of cooking, of dancing, of gratitude, of love. Every single day I dose myself with pleasures small and large, knowing that as it all falls apart, so much is growing; knowing that within myself and my circle I am seeding a path towards a future in which feeling and growing pleasure and aliveness and delight, in relationship to each other and our abundant and perfect planet, is our central focus.

There. It is long, but I have shifted myself from despairing overwhelm back to visionary center. It is a gift that I can only fulfill my own small destiny, follow the instructions that are clearest to me, move with my own consecrated choreography. When I feel completely lost, I can focus each day on being kind, being generous, and being honest. I light candles for all I cannot carry, and then move into the present moment with only my love. As everything crumbles above and around us, it is still true that the most strategic move is the ever changing dance of love.