sacred places and stardust

There are many sacred places along the journey through grief. One of the them is the body, but I’ll build to that.

Land is precious. Especially land full of trees in the fall, when everything is changing so beautifully. I’ve always loved fall most of all the seasons, the season of my birth and of new beginnings. For much of my life this was the time when I would be landing in a new place, new school, new community. As a child in a military family we often moved in summer, so fall would be a time of seeing who I was in a new place. How would this place and these people receive me, a precocious child who challenged authority, loved approval and wanted to create everything anew?

Land always received me well.

I remember landscapes – German forests, Georgia swamps, a low flat Kansas field between our backyards and the big gates behind which I later learned Leonard Peltier was imprisoned, the dried up riverbeds and magical desert lawns in Texas, the sparse trees held in concrete in Brooklyn, the dirty active water between the Twin Towers and the Statue of Liberty, sky fetish beauty in every direction in the South Pacific, the white sands of Tulum, the lush green hills of rural Japan and the Big Island and Southern Africa. Changing conditions, diverse beauties – it is an outstanding planet. Each of these places are locations of my growth and places where I left part of myself behind, skin shed.

Lately I have been shedding self in a few places.

In Detroit I have been letting go of a certain urgency that permeates crisis, that can make everything feel very important. People ask me how I am responding to the crisis in Detroit, and I want to say: by loving it, very slowly, as it is. It isn’t easy. I am growing a capacity to see a longer arc of time in this city, these communities which are engaged in basic battles, that is, battles over the most basic human needs. I am growing a capacity to be visionary even when there appears to be no time for looking ahead.

In rural Minnesota my unborn little relative is now part of the land, the wind, the dirt, the birch stand and the pond, the trail through the woods, everywhere. I am growing my skill in grieving, my understanding of the importance of impermanence.

I am realizing the humility required to be stardust. It’s heartbreaking, and it’s just the truth. We suffer, we die, we control only how much beauty and joy and laughter we can seek and let in. We are temporary, first and foremost.

This cosmic season has been all about grief and letting go. It feels like there is so much death and transition being pulled forward by these eclipsing or retrograde celestial bodies which don’t know our names but shape our lives. It’s terrifying to realize the insignificance of my impact, my pain, my grief, and my ability to protect those I love. This doesn’t mean don’t try, give, effort, extend. It just means I have to be less attached to everything, be of the world without clinging and grasping.

This is theoretical, right now my knuckles are pale with the grip I have on all the things I want to love forever.

It helps to look at the truth of what I can and can’t protect. I am concluding that I can’t protect anything except my dignity and my capacity to love. And that is a lot, that is worth fighting for, that is a life’s work, against all the odds and expectations and the strong arms of the moon and the playful fuckery of mercury.

What gets me through, always, is space. I meditate as if I am floating in space, the Milky Way somewhere far behind me. I remember that I am just one body of billions, hurtling through space on a body in orbit amongst a trillion gazillion other bodies, much larger, much smaller.

What is random is not personal, even the most beautiful and sacred experiences – it is the whole massive universe that is precious, not me specifically or especially. It is all of existence that is worth the attention of prayer and intention, not my singular and most likely myopic concern. That comforts me, being a fragment of a sacred existence.

Then I can pull all of that scale into my understanding of myself. I am stardust, the baby is stardust, Charity is stardust, Grace is stardust, Sheddy is stardust, Blair is stardust, Papa is stardust, Grandma Brown is stardust, and so on. This is my stardust litany.

What does it mean to be stardust? The sacred place I am longing for is right here, in this body so briefly available to me, accessible through pleasure, chanting, storytelling, healing, dancing and noticing this skin I am in. I am of the celestial whole. When I see my flesh and bones as a source of information, self-love and curiosity become inevitable.

Fragile bones and individual oceans, with memories of stardust spiraling through us – could we be more beautiful? More sacred? More capable of the grief and love required of the living?

Octavia taught us to pray working, to let our work be sacred practice. I am holding these words as my life work continues to challenge me completely, to feed my human curiosity in the face of human terror. I cannot know or understand it all. It hurts my heart, mind and body to pretend I know much of anything.

And, we are stardust. And, each one of us is the sacred place.

The Beauty of Autumn

On Wednesday we learned of a transition in our family, a little one we were expecting in February was instead delivered at twenty weeks by my sister Autumn. I’ve been completely humbled by the experience, both the exquisite unbelievable pain, and the sweet tender weight of family. I’m feeling everything in poetry. I wanted to share some with you.

The Beauty of Autumn

Few of the trees here are evergreen 
The most beautiful hues are all bright and brief 
and clear and sharp and haunting

The verdant holdout who seems immune 
to the tax fall demands with windswept hands 
will be stripped right down to the quick, it’s that season

Fire covers the wood from floor to ceiling 
becomes earth again, still, changing and healing
Swallowing up all but the smallest bones

Hours after the child became ash 
An owl told the story in a whoop and howl 
We thrilled at the wild language of our belonging 

And I wonder, how do the trees let go 
of their leaves, which made it through the summer’s blaze 
But then left, hushed and nameless with the wind?

And I wonder, what does the earth recall 
When the cold gives way and the green slips forth 
from her body, taking another greedy spring?

And I wonder of Venus and Mercury 
When they watch her face is it grief they see 
Do they wish their fleeting eclipses could keep her from burning?

And I wonder, what should a mother do 
With that stored up love, when a life is through…
what playful perfect spirit will come to receive it?

When I was younger I feared the woods 
How could all this ghosting amount to any good?
Now it seems so sweet just to be haunted.

Was it yesterday we rang all the bells 
To mark the solstice and the darkening days 
To chant: even this quick dying season was wanted.

Time warp log (a piece of sci-fi only it isn’t fiction)

I write to you from what I am now empirically convinced is the inside of a time warp. Which, to be clear, is an experience and not in fact a container I can exit.

Whatever divinity is at work here won’t answer me, even when offered tobacco and prayer.

Understandably, everything is suspect.

The moon is supposedly moving the tides and reflecting everything, but I’ve been watching it for hours and it continuously displays the same blank lie of a face. Is it not the grand conductor of the grief current? But yet it reflects no hint of blood anywhere.

It can’t be trusted.

Time in here passes extraordinarily slowly. I can’t seem to get out of this day in spite of repeated efforts at closing my eyes and counting all manner of living things. I am afraid that when I see daylight again I’ll be too bitter to attune to its fine fall beauty.

I have searched all my belongings but can’t find the instructions for Manual Mood Shift in Spite of Repeated Daunting.

It is an uncomfortable place, meaning, there is no familiar comfort to give or receive here.

Of utmost peculiarity is the dysfunction of miracles in here. Case studies seem to indicate that the line between life and death itself is weak, somehow faulty. It keeps glitching as one might expect in a light bulb run on too much (or too little) power. Those who are ready to cross over are left wandering the empty halls of disappearing memory, shrinking in adjustable beds. Simultaneously, the landing strip has gone dark, and there is still no orientation, so the new ones are getting lost. And otherwise healthy creatures are being eradicated in places where no war has been declared.

Nothing can be counted on here to go as it should, the very word ‘should’ is becoming a meaningless relativity.

My final noticing is that the sound system in here is bizarre. Things seem either muffled or bubbling, like they are screamed into pillows or uttered while drowning. There is an ongoing coupling of a sharp high keening weep, and a low growling moan. I’m wondering if they are the full emotional vocabulary of the same creature.

And to be forthcoming, I may be that creature.

It’s all quite mysterious. I’m beginning to think the night itself will never end, although the bright empty liar of a moon is in fact very slowly progressing across the sparse and freezing sky.

There is nothing else to report.
That is not accurate…
There are simply no more words.

Spell for Grief or Letting Go

Adequate tears twisting up directly from the heart and rung out across the vocal chords until only a gasp remains;

At least an hour a day spent staring at the truth in numb silence;

A teacup of whiskey held with both hands, held still under the whispers of permission from friends who can see right through ‘ok’ and ‘fine';

An absence of theory;

Flight, as necessary;

Poetry, your own and others, on precipice, abandonment, nature and death;

Courage to say what has happened, however strangling the words are…and space to not say a word;

A brief dance with sugar, to honor the legacies of coping that got you this far;

Sentences spoken with total pragmatism that provide clear guidance of some direction to move in, full of the tender care and balance of choice and not having to choose;

Screaming why, and/or expressing fury at the stupid unfair fucking game of it all (this may include hours and hours, even lifetimes, of lost faith);

Laughter, undeniable and unpretended;

A walk in the world, all that gravity, with breath and heartbeat in your ears;

Fire, for all that can be written;

Moonlight – the more full the more nourishing;

Stories, ideally of coincidence and heartache and the sweetest tiny moments;

Time, more time and then more time…enough time to remember every moment you had with that one now taken from you, and to forget to think of it every moment;

And just a glimpse of tomorrow, either in the face of an innocent or the realization of a dream.

This is a nonlinear spell. Cast it inside your heart, cast it between yourself and any devil. Cast it into the parts of you still living.

Remember you are water. Of course you leave salt trails. Of course you are crying.

Flow.

P.S. If there happens to be a multitude of griefs upon you, individual and collective, or fast and slow, or small and large, add equal parts of these considerations:
– that the broken heart can cover more territory.
– that perhaps love can only be as large as grief demands.
– that grief is the growing up of the heart that bursts boundaries like an old skin or a finished life.
– that grief is gratitude.
– that water seeks scale, that even your tears seek the recognition of community.
– that the heart is a front line and the fight is to feel in a world of distraction.
– that death might be the only freedom.
– that your grief is a worthwhile use of your time.
– that your body will feel only as much as it is able to.
– that the ones you grieve may be grieving you.
– that the sacred comes from the limitations.
– that you are excellent at loving.

Was it me that changed or you?

This week I’m running around NYC, working and experiencing the city with my sweetheart.

It feels different again. When I first came to the city I’d loved it for years already, reveled in the idea of being a New Yorker as I was coming of age. When I left it was with a sense of having given it everything I had. For years after that visits to NYC would find me trying to catch a deeper breath, befuddled by the changes, missing my New York.

This trip feels heart opening. My partner Lynnee Denise is part of a series of events that the great bell hooks is curating at the New School, which includes conversations with Laverne Cox, Cornell West, Samuel Delaney, and others. bell is riveting, very human, very dynamic, fierce and curious. So far the conversations have been hilarious and insightful and necessary. Sitting in a space with minds like these, with participants like Deborah Willis, is quite intoxicating for the part of spirit that is constantly evolving. I am reminded that there are still original points to be made in conversations around sexuality, queer theory, fabulousness, body love vs shame, healing, patriarchy, relationship, transformation and healing.

The thing that still blows my calendar out of order is the sheer number of magnificent people to connect with. On top of the usual plethora of beloveds, several dear friends happen to be visiting NYC at the same time we are. New York visits require days of open time for the spontaneous love affairs and reconnections. Or a full return. Thrilling, daunting, but possible again after almost a decade away.

I’m also working with a long-term client, the Correctional Association. I really respect their work, their hearts and spirits and dedication to growing. We’re experimenting with a fusion of traditional and emergent strategic planning and I am learning a ton.

Everything changes. I am excited to feel a little home again here.

how to feel a feeling

I want to feel everything, to meet all my feelings head on.

I suspect it’s impossible, because there are so many valid feelings and only so much time.

But to live in the world at this highly interconnected moment and be a part of a growing global self-consciousness seems to mean that we must increase our capacities for feeling our feelings.

I have had the opportunity this summer of being given more things to feel than ever before. And by that I don’t mean this is the hardest summer of my life, but rather the most emotionally diverse, and the fastest paced. It feels like each day grief dawns over me in multiple shades, and by nightfall the need for celebration is steady as the moon. Anger flows over me like rain into a cloud, joy breaks through often in solid beams of light. No day feels fair per se, and every day feels weighted, destined.

And then in every situation I find so much complexity. I have to be in much more regular communication with my confidantes in order to have real conversations because of the complexity of it all.

Recently I have found myself trying to compress my feelings. By ‘found myself’, I mean the emotional equivalent of walking in on my heart in an overlooked closet, attempting to meditate atop a burlap bag writhing with undeniable life.

When I pulled my heart back into my chest, the bag opened and out stepped a gorgeous demonic creature, million-headed, glistening raw and ranging from meadow-calm colors to a garish rainbow, singing to me in a sweet and clashing chorus of need.

And here is what I learned and am learning about feeling a feeling:

1. There is no wrong way to feel a feeling.

2. It helps to have a reflective practice that allows me to look at all my life and the places where I could be feeling things, to be in touch with myself around where the most intense feelings might be. Sometimes I go so far as to ask myself, ‘Self, how do you feel about this intense thing today? What do you need?’

3. Notice my patterns for feeling. I like to swallow my feelings, and I can consume anything. For grief and pain I like cold and sweet things, for loneliness or emptiness I like cheese and bread, for joy or surprises I love whiskey and foods at the meeting place of sweet and salty, for ease I love sour pickled things. Learning this through years of observation, I begin to be in relationship with my feelings by looking at my cravings. I get quieter inside, convinced no one can hear feelings (in spite of all evidence to the contrary), and start to feed the feeling, perhaps to keep its silence. Small things begin to overwhelm me. The other day I was moved to tears trying to put a screen on my phone. Hints…a feeling or few is afoot.

4. Clear my schedule. If possible, once a feeling has gotten my attention, I give it some time and space. My stronger feelings require something like a sick day. My feelings appreciate being processed thoroughly with others, thrive in an honest environment, demand I don’t sleep until they are named and love a hot bath after I release them into the world.

5. Listen to my body. My feelings know so many languages. They tingle up my spine, tighten my gut, sparkle or lock in my jaw and chest, fill my eyes with tears, create an overall numbness, drop like a weight through my feet, seize up in my left hip, crave and crave. If I notice anything that is clearly not normal in my body and approach it with curiosity, I learn so much about what I’m feeling.

6. Articulate it. This is actually the hardest part for me. I can speak eloquently of many things, other’s feelings for instance…but my mouth freezes up and tears overwhelm my own deepest feelings. There are good reasons for this, I’ve been studying. And it’s always time to grow. Learning to speak my feelings out loud is currently one of my liberation practices.

7. Love the feeling. However messy and compressed and intense it is, however weak it makes me feel, ultimately I find a peace in myself when I love the feeling, embracing it as part of my life and my journey, a sign that I am still alive and, with awareness, empowered to act on the feeling.

8. Be grateful to this magical world which makes me feel so much, and to the people who make me feel and love me through my feelings. Right now in this summer of immense living, which I’ve been in all sorts of work around, I’m grateful to Lynnee, my family, the babies, Sofia and Jodie and Dani and Janine and Morgan and Walidah and Ife and Cindy and so many others who have shown up to feel with me.

9. Keep breathing. If I am feeling I am alive and need all the oxygen I can get. If I know what I’m feeling, then I can figure out the next step. If I can take the next step, I’ll be rewarded with more feelings.

That’s what I know about how to feel a feeling. Would you add anything?

reviews: on the run, long division, fka twigs, and more!

so the world has been really giving us a toxic dose of black suffering and bodies under assault lately. it feels like half the black names i hear in the news belong to people who have just lost their lives to some sort of injustice. i feel it is important in this context to uplift some of the joy, creativity and beauty that black folks are up to around the globe. i picked four things that have lifted my gloom and grief of late.

1. my own life!

i just want to shout out my life right now. my friend patrisse recently told me that my black life matters, and i appreciated the specificity, the demand really to live a life that matters.

i feel like many threads are finally weaving together. i am placing as much of my facilitation work as possible in the container of emergent strategy, and i am taking on clients and mediations left and right – there are so many intimate moments and processes that need gentle hands. i find i have a different attention for it, for the scale of small deep change. it is the level at which i am currently reveling.

also, walidah and i announced this last week but AK Press picked up octavia’s brood!!

i am also on a refresher sugar cleanse, with a growing awareness that i am in a transparent and lifelong mindfulness practice around sugar that is, in both the ancestral and healing games of life, revolutionary. basically, i am (we are) immersed in a world that wants to give me (us) sugar instead of watching me (us) cry or laugh or live.

nah son.

2. fka twigs

this is the sexiest album and artist of 2014 (not counting beyonce, obviously). i started with the video two weeks, which had such a gorgeous afrofuturist effect that i giggled and clapped my hands together with joy and tried to get everyone i know who likes badass women of color and sci fi to watch it.

then i watched the video for pacify and blushed and averted my eyes in erotic overwhelm. and then watched it a few more times. her music, over two EPs and an LP, plays seamlessly, emotionally accurate, steamy, smooth, sensual and complicated.

watch, listen…i am excited to see and hear more from her.

3. long division

this book! i know i am late and he has a whole nother book out but…

kiese laymon managed to write a laugh-out-loud-and-cry-about-the-truth-of-racism narrative about a brilliant chubby black boy in the south. i couldn’t put it down. my sister autumn told me she had a book for me to read about time travel, the 80s, race, the south, spelling bees. i ran towards it.

i don’t want to say too much about it because it is the kind of wild journey that is best experienced in your own hands.

but i will say that i like you, and therefore i want you to read it.

also, i shouted him out on facebook and he totally responded and i am still lit up about the modern world of fandom.

4. on the run tour, hbo

i have no real excuse for not seeing the on the run tour in person. i had logistical challenges, yes, i was traveling and not in the same city as them at the right time. but…beyonce and jay-z together? i should have been there. i wanted to be there.

so when i learned it would be aired on hbo, i added it to my calendar. i made sure that i had the kind of internet that has hbo with it (it’s called internet plus on comcast and it’s all i have wanted forever). when i realized i would be traveling when it aired, i made sure i could get hbo at my sister’s house while i was out there taking care of the babies with my mom. i made sure the babies were asleep on time. i recorded it, while watching it, so i could watch it again. and so my sister could watch it. i then returned to detroit and watched it a few more times.

i have some thoughts.

there was one major problem with it, and it was a big one, so let’s get it out of the way. the way the concert was edited was upsetting. they changed camera angles every 3-5 seconds for most of the first two thirds of the concert. it was exhausting, it was an onslaught…an onslaught of incredible performance!, yes, but an onslaught nonetheless.

i wanted the sports experience, you know? my dad watches sports on tv and he says it is often better to watch it from home. you get to see more details. this was the opposite. i was having to fight way too hard to see bey’s outfits and perfect laughter and diverse dance moves and references. it was like standing behind the tall guy at the concert. a smile would start on her lovely face and then the camera would cut away. or worse, go slow motion. jay-z’s camera work was much more steady and i actually got to really see him emote, perform, work the crowd, be brilliant.

the rumors are that she is pregnant and that is why there was so much camera play. but i saw the dance for you video and she is delectable pregnant, so i don’t quite buy that, i think they were showing off how many cameras they had. and whew, when we got to see her move? it was magnificent.

so, that said.

there were beautiful transitions and exciting blends of their older hits into their modern shared aesthetic, skewed more hip-hop than i expected on the fashion tip. i love watching that woman perform, and i loved watching bey and jay go back and forth.

the whole concert is framed as a bonnie and clyde love affair tragedy, with the disclaimer ‘this is not real life’ popping across the screen. about halfway through the concert the songs start to move from tossing greatest hits back and forth to what played out as an intimate conversation between them, around when bey rages like a blood dragon on ‘ring the alarm’.

at this point, the camera work slowed down a bit.

‘drunk in love’ had several moments of jay looking at beyonce with gleeful disbelief, like he is having the time of his life with his favorite person. i realized watching that look on his face that i adore him. i also realized that the show has a sort of tina and ike turner revue energy in several places. i continue to want to ask them about that song, what it means to them.

there are little movie clips all along, one with her drunk and half dressed trying to reach him on the phone which ends, brilliantly, with the line, ‘nothing open at 3am but legs’. another with her riding a horse, bouncing on a saddle in what appears to be a white thong under a wedding dress. just gifts and gifts.

i must note that i feel so curious about public conversations on jealousy and infidelity and honesty and healing, the real things that happen in relationship which we don’t discuss and thus have a hard time learning around.

that they could argue, as all couples do, and then collaborate at this scale, which almost no couples do, is a testament, although i am not sure if it is to their professionalism or their mutual adoration.

either way, her magnificent hype wifeyoke on holy grail changed the song for me, now i hear it and forget whoever originally sang the hook, i just see her dropping low and it fills me with joy.

i have extensive notes on this concert, but what matters most to me is the flow that begins with the last verse of song cry, where jay speaks of giving and receiving pain in front of video of bey being wounded. that transitions to beyonce singing resentment wearing a wedding veil and white slacks, sitting on stage singing in a way that feels righteous and vindictive and fair and powerful. i was with her every step of the way. this song slays me, it feels like the heart of the matter. it isn’t about what people do, but how we honor the trust that sits at the heart of partnership.

the camera stays right on her face for most of this song, and she is worthy of the singular focus. she looks like catharsis embodied. grown and scarred and tender and fierce and truly deeply beautifully shady in the BEST way. it’s my favorite act of her play, every time i see it.

then she BRUSHES THE DIRT OFF HER SHOULDER. and LAUGHS.

so liberating. and then it cuts to footage with her saying, ‘love is an act of endless forgiveness. forgiveness is me giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me. forgiveness is the final act of love.’ and takes us to love, saying ‘after all the pain there’s love’, and she transitions into ‘love on top’, and we realize we want to forgive everyone. because love wins.

i was fully buzzing by this point, camera work woes forgotten.

the last section of the concert is us getting to watch beyonce and jay-z love on and celebrate each other, looking into each other’s eyes, astounded by how awesome it is to be the best things ever. they face each other for ‘part 2′ and just look smitten and beautiful. they hold each other and sing ‘halo’ to blue ivy and it is the kind of black love we need to see: big and bright and loud and over the top, awesome, complex, healing, friendly, respectful, fun, glamorous, fierce and so on.

now i want them to take a year off to just love on each other, on a boat, with no paparazzi or internet. i doubt they will, but i am rooting for them, that all of this vulnerability translates into earned joy.

p.s. i have been listening to jay nonstop since the concert came out, studying and enjoying his genius in a new way, as a lovable, forgivable man. that twinkle in his eye? flawless.

facebook makes life less regrettable

Robert Frost spoke of two roads diverging in a wood, and choosing the one less traveled by. There are so so many more than two paths…and moments of choice are constant.

I’ve realized that facebook is a way to peek at alternate life paths, paths I might just as easily be walking. And in nearly every instance, there is deep relief and freedom in watching paths unfold that were almost mine, but aren’t.

There are more ‘well-traveled’ paths that I absolutely wanted to take at various points in my life. Perhaps, if anyone would have walked with me, I’d be living a different set of miracles now. I wasn’t brave enough to walk those louder, populous paths alone.

The road less traveled by has consistently provided shelter and spiritual respite for a bruised young sensitive ego, in addition to being fertile with divergent wonders. I’ve come to prefer the quiet, learned to be very satisfied in my own heart, seeking the rare company of fellow adventurers who like to gasp and create in ways that align with my own patterns of observation and reflection.

And because of the modern moment of personalized technological life sharing, I get to see in real time the way those unwalked paths unfold. And feel the freedom of not being on those paths, feel the gratitude for the life I’ve chosen, through my cowardice, bravery and particular responses to fate.

I’ve heard it called JOMO, the joy of missing out. Some of my JOMO (almost/ungranted wish) paths:

The jobs I almost took/kept
The coworkers I almost had
The unbearable power and responsibility I almost shouldered
The fellowships/grants I wanted
The crushes I almost confessed my ‘love’ to
The relationships I almost fell into
The friendships I thought would thrill me
The boys and girls I thought were so brilliant and broodingly attractive
The people I thought I should have children with (!!)
The cities I almost moved to
The ambition I almost centered
The sacrifices I nearly normalized
The places I wanted to stay when I’d outgrown them

More than any other social media (though I sometimes have these moments on Instagram and Twitter too), Facebook has just been helping me notice how I have been so fortunate in my deferred dreams and near misses.

And the deep joy/JOMO I experience at seeing someone else walk a path that I nearly journeyed, when it was so clearly for that person and not for me? That joy is total!

And I’m sure there are other people out there reveling in not being in my shoes. It’s just so wonderful.

So, let’s honor the random awesomeness of this moment in technology and communication as a sci fi win. Facebook’s exposure to other people’s lives is making my own life increasingly less regrettable, and making me more curious when things I think I want don’t happen…or don’t sustain. I rejoice in apparent failures. Sometimes. At the very least, I’m starting to frame things that seem like thwarted loves and rejected dreams and mercury-retrograded plans as opportunities for future JOMO.

Love wins.

While we are singular, we are not alone.

Just finished facilitating a bunch of brilliant LGBTQ people from all over the Upper Midwest, gathered by an inspiring and accountable regional foundation called PFUND.

There were some folks, primarily from Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota, who have been at the forefront of the movement locally and nationally for years. Inspiring.

I was deeply touched by the number of people in isolated rural settings, especially in the Dakotas, who have found themselves and come out to live their truths in spite of having few models or relationships, and literally no spaces, to indicate that they would survive, thrive.

While we are singular, we are not alone.  Seeing that, seeing other people realize that, is healing.

There were two children present with us, a young child and a 6 month old baby. Knowing that this self-liberating circle would form the normal for these kids…this work does something divine to my heart, brings tears to my eyes.

A poem came during the work:

Sometimes I feel I am
just behind my own life.
Out a breath ahead
my great heart dances.
Almost caught up,
I sway
Longing to surrender.

Sometimes I feel I am
inside a cracked glass gift,
a small dropped globe
gone fragile as a gasp.
Mute, scarred and wondrous,
I press
my palms to bleeding.

And sometimes I feel I am
in the soft grip of the goddess,
womb deep in the long crevice
of her sacred life.
Light as a prayer
I realize
I, too, am forever.

Love wins.

Reflecting on Terrorism

It has always been a question for me.

Why?

As a human who has lived a beautiful life, loves my family, has called many places home, has believed lots of humbling and divergent things about divinity, loves my body, and is still scared of death, I have often struggled trying to grasp what would make someone die over a place, a boundary.

I generally understand terrorism to be when a people without an acknowledged place engage in warfare. Generally a statistical minority against a violent majority. It often takes the form of suicide, kamikaze flights into buildings, self-explosion in a crowd, the use of the self as a weapon, as an exclamation point in an argument.

And I have to ask myself, under what conditions would I kill myself?

I remember asking that question perhaps for the first time on 9/11. My response since then has been consistent: that the horror of oppression that exists leading up to an act of terrorism must be unbearable.

I have my own rhythms of melancholy and hopelessness, which undulate on a roughly five year cycle, and which I’ve learned to live through and with. My hopelessness is smart, sometimes smarter than I am. It has great reasons for existing, feels like a logical response to my experience in the world, to unavoidable suffering. But my hopelessness is regularly countered by reprieve from oppression, by great joy and love and abundance and freedom and periods of undeniable emotional and physical safety that counteract some of my other truths.

For me, the only external force that could make me take my own life, and perhaps anyone else’s (still pretty sure this is not possible, though I have people in my life who make me feel violently protective) is feeling unheard in a cycle of hopelessness, in a trap of oppression, with no reprieve.

Powerless and still awake.

On 9/11, I walked from my midtown office to my friends’ home in Brooklyn, through a city of rubble and blood. I ate a dinner of kielbasa and pierogies off a backyard picnic table covered in human and corporate ash. I’d lived in NY for five years that month, dreamed of it for a decade before getting there, and I thought it would always be my home. I loved it. When it was attacked, I needed to know why?

As a sci-fi writer, I get that the idea of hateful lifestyle fundamentalists is appealing, easy like a comic book villain. In a binary mind, it is so fulfilling to have a one dimensional bad person, or bad people. But in my life I have never met a bad person. I’ve met a lot of traumatized people, some of whom behaved badly.

I’ve met prisoners and bully children and drug dealers and sexual assailants and killers and thieves and hustlers. And each one was a human with a story, with learned behaviors and survival strategies, a sliver of life force that hadn’t given up. Some of the people carrying these labels are amongst the most tender, brilliant people I’ve encountered.

People get traumatized individually and collectively. I have both experiences in my life and lineage. Responses to individual trauma can be privatized. Get a therapist, learn to love, stop overeating, forgive someone, choose life. It’s a legitimate effort, a whole life’s work, and for better and worse so much of it can happen behind closed doors, in rooms with sunlight and lavender and people who claim to know how to live.

Collective trauma is louder, harder to hide. It manifests as self-hate and internalized identity phobias, fear-based survival strategies, group violence at a gender or gang level.

It manifests, too, as terrorism.

At an international level, collective trauma is passed around, less like a hot potato, more like live coal in bare hands that no one will drop, believing it will cool to gold. It is searing everyone, leaving no one to offer comfort or a better option.

There is a deep desire to belong in this world, species, land – I have had many teachers say it is one of our deepest most common human longings, and the absence of belonging is one of the most common ways we experience trauma.

I’ve seen this phenomenon with children…my youngest niece wants to play soccer with the bigger kids, wants to be involved. She can’t kick or control the ball with her feet yet, so she picks it up and runs off like Bonnie or Clyde towards the sunset.

Of course, while amusing, this strategy is not long lived. The ball is not meant to be used this way, the other kids cannot just let her take the ball. She won’t have a moment’s peace with that ball. She has to give it back, and be patient as she grows up, learns to play, learns that she belongs to the family whether she can kick the ball or not.

That is the simplest way I understand a conflict/place like Palestine. A traumatized people, left out, forced out of other homes, subjected to genocide, were offered something that was already in use. They ran with it. But the land is not meant to be occupied in this way, and so they have not had, and will not have, a moment’s peace. It has been war, it will be war, until Israel finds a way to return what they can of what was taken, to return dignity to the relationship they have with the Palestinian people they appear to be trying to erase.

I live in a country where this same process happened. Indigenous people were pushed aside, murdered, manipulated, robbed. I believe many of our economic, environmental and health problems, as well as a general spiritual void, are directly linked to that trauma. I don’t think America will be ‘free’ until there is a serious reckoning with that history, and what it now implies for other colonial efforts.

Accountability matters. Truth and reconciliation only works if the truth is really sought, really heard.

The truth, as far as I can tell, is that hate is not a root emotion. The why is not hatred, not at the root. My niece doesn’t hate the other children…she wants to play with them. Israel wants to exist, to be recognized and respected. It wants the world to never again try to eliminate the Jewish people. It is a beautiful and noble desire.

But you cannot transform others.

Not with stolen property, not with apartheid practices of brute force, walls, passes, human rights violations and violence. What will continue to happen is collective trauma, and the growing, desperate need on both sides to end the trauma and begin to heal. The rhythms of Gaza, the demoralization of checkpoints, makes that impossible, currently.

The role the U.S. plays in it is so important. Certain states of mind and heart should not be weaponized and resourced. I can’t imagine giving rape victims an AK47 and saying ‘do whatever you need to do in order to feel safe from men.’ Trauma begets trauma. Yet we pour funding into a situation where collective and recent trauma from a genocide is the undercurrent for decision making.

Of course, my mind comes back to the U.S. for other, current, reasons. A 2012 study found that every twenty eight hours a black person is killed by someone employed or protected by the US government. Stand Your Ground and Shoot First policies combine with white supremacy to devastating effect.

I feel and see us going through all of the options we can find to respond. Asking for justice, creating talking points and memes to educate ourselves and those who fear us, journeying across the country to focus our solidarity, meditating, praying, singing, screaming, grieving, demanding accountability, advocating for policy change, taking to the streets in nonviolent protest.

Movement is growing. I am inspired by the work being done under the hashtag/philosophy #blacklivesmatter – focusing on healing, solidarity, love, care and justice. These efforts highlight to the country and anyone else watching that, as a nation, we are only as far along as our oppressive tendencies.

But I also feel a growing danger. There is an exhaustion. One of my favorite exercise podcasts to listen to is The Read,. Cohosts Crissle and Kid Fury had some shows where they fully expressed their emotions about Ferguson. And Crissle particularly spoke my heart at one point when she said she was just so tired of watching black people be killed by authority figures. Deeply tired.

Yes, there is violence inside the community. Scarcity and poverty create a toxic and fatal self-image inside a people. Collective trauma, like individual trauma, does immense internal damage. The work necessary to restore and transform that self-inferiority has been in progress for years – black power, black love, building up our self-esteem as a people, generating dignity. That internal community violence is tragic and logical, to me. Slavery ended 149 years ago. Jim Crow laws, about 60 years ago. Blacks have been considered less than human in this country for the majority of our time here. Our statistics for prison, education, police brutality – there are few numbers we can look at see a story in which America loves black people more today, to see a story in which America is not still trying to rid itself of us. We have the Obamas, we have Oprah, but roughly every twenty eight hours or so, it feels like all we have are exceptions and skin that marks us like a breathing yellow star in a genocidal state.

In order for slavery and Jim Crow to end, there was a combination movement working the voting path, the legal path, the nonviolent movement path, and the path of armed resistance. And probably many many other paths as well. But in my reflections on terrorism, it feels important not to forget that there were slaves who fought back. There were black revolutionaries who armed themselves in response to the constant violent efforts of this nation to enslave and or erase them.

I was taught, in Department of Defense schools, that indigenous people were scalping and violent terrorists. But the more I have read, learned, listened to indigenous people today, I understand that that was the colonial view, a way to justify the unjustifiable and horrific violence of taking land and life from people.

I believe in the power of nonviolence, it is where I have spent the majority of my political life, working in the realm of vision, conflict resolution, nonviolent actions, and so on. And from that place I find myself trying to understand how much oppression humans can ever be expected to bear? It is from that place that I find myself feeling a deep compassion and solidarity for those pressed into the small box of terrorism, globally.

It feels very important to me to relinquish the safety of victimhood in the context of terrorism. Particularly as an American. I no longer feel shocked, ‘how could this happen?’ I feel more like, with the way that modern colonization and power are being wielded at this moment in our human journey, it shocks me that incidents of terrorism are not happening daily, across the nation, across the world.

I work with a client who monitors prison conditions. The staff is made up of people who have never been incarcerated, and people who have been incarcerated. We were recently in a conversation about what the future looks like – is it better, more humane prisons?

One of the responses, from someone who had been incarcerated for over a decade, was that there is no such thing as a humane prison. It was a simple and deep truth to hear. It didn’t mean that reform work is not useful in the short term, but it absolutely meant that we have to build a common answer to this question: what are the conditions by which we can stand together in our dignity as human beings?

There is no humane way to shoot a black child in the street or in the face. There is no humane way to bomb a city. There is no humane way to imprison another human being. There is no humane way to commit an act of terrorism.

In the same way that we must listen to those who have experienced incarceration if we want to craft a humane and transformative justice in our lives, in our nation, in our time…I believe we must learn to really listen to those we call terrorists.

We need to remember, always, to humanize, to seek compassion, to let no human be outside of the mirror in which we see our own responsibility and our own potential. These are other human beings who have been driven to this edge. Dismissing or demonizing them will not keep anyone safe.

We must know that within each of us, there is that same small blue fire for life, for love, that can burn everything in sight under the wrong conditions. We must learn to consider terrorism as desperation born of oppression and collective trauma, and listen all the way down to the root of that desperation, down to the human.