Monthly Archive for October, 2010

on fashion

so…i just finished watching the season finale of project runway. spoiler alert: gretchen won, and mondo should have.

watching this show has been so exciting to me, because i am a fashionista. it’s taken me years to admit this, for many reasons.

as a thick woman, there’s definitely a few phases i went through relative to fashion. one was the phase where i believed that my fashion needed to cover up my body.

another phase was thinking that as an activist i shouldn’t put a lot of thought and time into clothing.

luckily i have conquered both of those false belief systems. i realized that i feel better about my body each time i claim it and represent it beautifully.

and through my work, particularly with allied media projects, i have realized that fashion is yet another form of communication. we have to build a beautiful movement, something that shows we ARE the future and folks can be drawn to what we’re doing and how we exist – we show a merger of vision and sustainability.

i want to communicate that choosing sustainable, ideally zero waste, clothing – can be engaging, interesting, futuristic, elegant, beautiful.

i want to communicate the beauty of curves, shape and softness; that the body you have is a gift, that the health and attention you pay to your body is a liberation practice.

i want to communicate the importance of choosing unique ways to pull together the materials we already have…that we don’t need to consume more to express ourselves.

to this end:

1) i go through every item of clothing i own twice a year. i lay it out on the bed and organize it into items to donate to the homeless shelter around the corner, items to give away to friends, items that are out of season…that leaves me with a super pared-down wardrobe where i feel excited about every item i could possibly pull out of the closet.

here was the pile this year:

2) i have been looking for designers that align with values i have around sustainability, zero-waste, local designers, etc. you’ve heard me speak of the amazing trudy miller. i also recently entered an amazing local boutique – Flo‘s – in detroit. buy local, support innovative folks to make a living for being creative, and support sustainable clothing.

3) i spend more for less…which sounds ridiculous. but whereas i used to go look for deals, and buy several cheap items…now, i shop rarely, and look for things that are high quality, have a marvelous fit, and that i will wear all the time. this strategy is working.

4) i shop my closet and rock accessories – i learned this from maori holmes, a philly/l.a. based fashionista. looking past the stuff i wear every day for those unique pieces or combinations and the right accessories can keep my look fresh. the spring and fall closet sweep help with this.

now all this doesn’t speak to the most important aspect of my relationship with fashion: let go of what other people say/think.

i have had people say ignorant things about my style, and i have been greatly complimented on it. at this point i don’t care about that – i care about how i feel in that expression of myself….the fashionistas i love create a world of their own look – elegant, brand new – unexpected. i love to see something i didn’t know could exist, and i can’t imagine where it could come from, and it perfectly suits the wearer.

i recently watched coco before chanel, and recommend it to other fashionistas. seeing the way that she channeled a whole mindset of resistance to sameness, to the status quo, in every aspect of her existence – from her first impression (through her fashion), to her ongoing demand for justice and dignity in every relationship she entered – was very inspiring.

so, starting tomorrow: do you. coco mondo you.

ode to detroit

first.

you can always see the fires here
there’s wild dogs
wildcats everywhere
and they will eat you

our roadkill is all rubber
blast
broken spines sprawled up on the median

i never saw a place grow so fast
sunflowers race vines up the walls
burst through roofs

and they (we) are still
inside these houses
you can hear them..us
if you listen to these songs, these anthems
you can hear us

second:

she’s ancient
she is as old as africa
but her story is a different black story

a frenchman took her one night
but he couldn’t keep her
left traces of his love all over her

here

she got heavy on the earth
and then lighter
her dirt soaked by the sun again
grew fields
grew jungles right up through the concrete

we fight each other to survive,
but don’t tempt us
we will eat you.

+++

“they hungry”
“don’t look right at them like that”

don’t look past
don’t look down for sure
you don’t know what it takes
to be committed to freedom

to having some dignity
out here

hold you in my arms
close, then closer
you breathe in (you gasp)
i’m of you, with you now

cover you with my own body
which half is target
i move to protect you
but you’re holding me now

i feel your age
i feel the body you were given
falling apart

i feel new life in you
another heart beat
that fusion self
which will shed you

time all alone

i am having a weekend all to myself. it’s been a long time since i have done this – for all kinds of reasons including work, family, being in an incredibly amazing relationship…

i used to do this as a near spiritual practice. stock up on survival stuff and art supplies, and just spend the weekend to myself. in new york i would take the train to a neighborhood where i could go to fancy dinner alone.

i realize at times like this how easy it is to fall into a practice of defining yourself only as you are in relationship to others. which is good – to understand who you are as a point of reference in the whole world. its a right, responsible way to be.

but there is also something deeply true about being who you are outside of any context of others (as much as possible). on my own, in my liberated context, i find i am a pure creator.

in the past two days i wrote a sci-fi story, made 4 pieces of art, did my whole fall cleaning ritual (separate, tho perhaps next, blog entry), got acupuncture, walked around my neighborhood, sat in my yard, read some paulo coelho, and…did even more other stuff.

outside the context of others, i am so pleased with myself and my creations. i feel the satisfaction of being. that can become creativity, or spiritual awakening, or relaxing, or something productive, or something sensual, or something lost…the important thing is: it is my own.

i sometimes think that this one of the most important and overlooked human experiences, what keeps us from evolving. time apart, time all alone, to be who you are, to practice self, to be able to come into the world and be in relationship with others from your most aligned, true self.

even writing this to you now feels a bit like cheating myself some attention :)

later.

updates on the blog

i have added two sections to this site.

one is called delicious feelings, which lives on the fantastic life page (up above), and just tracks all the places i like to go for massage, spas, saunas, etc. you can send me suggestions to check out.

the second is a page about how to book me for stuff – facilitation and organizational development, speaking engagements (especially on octavia butler and sci fi), and more. that’s also reachable on the navigation bar above.

that’s all :)

basquiat

today i got to see the radiant child, a documentary on jean-michel basquiat.

by about the middle of the film i was feeling deeply inspired. anyone who wants to change the world, who is a creative spirit, should see this. his bright sensuality and unique pace and raw ambition make for a completely charming, compelling story. watching the speed with which he works makes me want to be unashamed to create quickly. his precision and editing process demand a respect for his organic gift, his drive, his discipline.

by the end of the film, i was feeling distraught…the combination of longing, racism and drug use that killed basquiat is not a thing of the past. tonight i listened to friends talk about the upswing of heroin in this neighborhood. as i write this someone is screaming outside my window: “it’s all bullshit, you know it’s bullshit. don’t try to tell me – i KNOW it’s bullshit!”…it is so hard to be awake to the way the world can hurt, and try to tell the story. i have often said we call people crazy when they can no longer pretend not to see the truth and we aren’t ready to admit it in a way that might change our own coasting through the myth of normalcy.

it is a gift and a burden to be prolific, to be awake.

i wonder for all the artists i know: how to protect and love them in their wholeness, so they can give their offering to the world…and – is it possible to be loved, to feel safe, and still make paradigm-shifting art?

this circles back to my recent meditations on transformation – is it possible without the near-death experience? would the caterpillar submit to the longing for cocoon if s/he knew there would be no more long walks on the delicious soft earth – that nothing recognizable would emerge in that first flight of the butterfly? would basquiat have suffered through the depression and loneliness and grief if he had known that someday the world would value him? and could we truly value him while he was alive? he was so delicious alive.

who are the basquiats of this era, the artists who are completely unfettered in their truth telling, completely new in their expression and interpretation of the shared dream, ‘reality’?

support them in any way you can.

now what?

i want to be a local facilitator-on-call for radical organizers in detroit.

and elsewhere.

i want to work on a sci-fi anthology of original pieces from movement minds.

i want to do these massive art-collages where my sci-fi femmes traverse a future world create from pieces of today’s media.

i want to sing.
my own songs and others’.
all the time.

i want to focus the eyes of the whole world on these sustainable organizing models that are emerging in detroit, and in networks which are decentralizing and deepening collaboration and community-based work across the country.

i want to spend an indulgent amount of time being an in-person auntie.

i want to swim every day, and eat healthy foods, and just be impeccable in my relationship to my body.

i want to shift, in my own life, from any aspect of my decisions being driven by money.

i want my life now to be an act of desire, excitement, an organic unfolding where my skills find perfect places to be applied.

i want to be curious, humble and learning all the time.

these are various answers i have given to the people who keep asking. i haven’t really had a moment to think about it…but somewhere among all these choices is a future…

i know it’s going to be incredible, my life. it already is. i just want to be supported to do things i love, all the time.

what do you want?

a best day, a movement day

this may be one of the best days of my life. i’m not sure i’ll be able to explain why for months, or even years. but something shifted today in my belief of what’s possible.

today was the last day of the evaluation meeting of the us social forum. when the meeting ended, tears started pouring out of my eyes, my shoulders dropped, my breath deepened. i realized that since the forum, i have been holding on – for 90 days holding on going about my business knowing this was coming.

for me, my last day as the director of ruckus was september 21, and i went out with a week-long bang of rainy, freezing camping. then i was on the facilitation team for web of change, the facilitation for the common fire board meeting, and then straight boom into the facilitation/synthesis team for the us social forum evaluation meeting.

and i knew it was going to be the hardest facilitation work i’ve probably ever done.

and it was…axe.

afterwards someone said – “how in the hell are you smiling…that’s what you do all the time?” and i had to be clear, facilitating or not – it’s not like this anywhere else. there’s nothing else like the forum process. it’s the most intense microcosm of movement in the u.s., wrestling with questions like: oppositional vs transformative organizing? mass scale vs deep relational organizing. does our combined work address the work of overcoming capitalism, or perpetuate it? how much unity, how much alignment do we need to take the next steps together?

in the midst of these questions swirling about, i’ve wanted to not believe in the process as a way of answering – because it’s so hard. and yet the willingness to work, and work, and work – it’s incredible to contend with the power of this body if that energy was unleashed with conviction, integrity, purpose, clarity. alignment.

not knowing the answers or pathways to these things, we have to somehow dig deeper than analysis, to intuition, to desire.

how do we make a new world so desirable that it cannot be denied? how do we make it so whole it can consume the roots of oppression?

all through the day, as we struggled to move step by step closer to the level of alignment we needed in order to move forward, i kept thinking of what i have learned in this process. so many of the biggest chunks of work in my life have sort of slipped up on me, and then i learn so much that i have to wonder if i was called to it.

i am so much more competent that i was a year ago…but only because i am more humble and am learning to ask for help.

there is more work to be done than anyone could ever really know how to do…to transform our entire culture, our entire society, requires more than everything we have.

to even attempt that work, it takes an unbelievable amount of humility, because it’s going to all be trial by fire….and if you can own your mistakes, then you will find your comrades ready to move forward with you to the next lesson.

we are longing for each other, we need each other, and we know it.

we will not get there with our words – it is truly evolving our behavior and relationships to each other through practicing new models, ancient models, acting together (5 years of training that actions speak louder than words) .

today i shared something…a fear that i think roots down so deeply in us it’s hard to speak aloud. angel kyodo williams asked this question at web of change and it’s been clanging around in my mind: in our movement work, we are wondering when the moment will come when we can’t stand together, where will we diverge, become enemies. will we have honor in our fight at that point, can we deal with that possibility?

i think we hold that potentiality closer to us than any vision.

it’s the deepest human fear – that if we show who we really are, and what we really want, we will be alone.

but if we are willing to transform ourselves, to be known, then it makes our singularity human, and it allows our undeniable connection and interdependence to be a pathway towards something…divine. taking the personal risk – that risk is how we intertwine at the root.

and we cannot just go off as leaders and transform ourselves, walking away from this work. we have to transform our organizations, sectors, regions, movements, families – wherever we find the edge, we must create an opening, not a wall.

we have to build relationships that are stronger than our institutions.

we have to become irresistible in our wholeness.

to that end, i let my singing self be pulled into the process:

axe.

evaluating the debrief and debriefing the evaluation

just to say this here: pour in your all, and then detach yourself from the outcomes. vandana shiva said something like this, and so did the buddha. its easier said than done.

tomorrow we begin a three day evaluation meeting for the us social forum. i have been in the position to hear the internal and external debriefs from lots of folks, read lots of reports, take in lots of info. the negative and the positive, across the spectrum.

one evaluation that came in said there were two forums – the one everyone experienced, and then the one that the staff and Detroit and planning committee all worked on and intended.

i think there’s more like thousands of forums, and that’s still just a sliver of the thousands and thousands of experiences people have trying to build movement in this country, a speck of the millions of experiences people have trying to build movement worldwide.

now it’s time to look back at the work, and think about how it happened. there’s so many opinions to bring in, and weave together from that something that can actually serve the greater purpose of movement building in the u.s.

so i head in with the intention to pour myself fully into this process again. and then to let go, to remember that there were so many experiences, and that we are in an experiment, learning as we go.

so. let’s go.

movements like trees

so a friend of mine just reached out to me about something i was saying a LOT a couple of years ago – our movements need to be like trees. there was a short period where this was basically all i wanted to talk about. the movements-like-trees metaphoric vision has emerged in a number of ways…in writing this up for my friend i thought i should share it here:

1. movements like oak trees – i learned from shana sassoon in new orleans (and climbing poetree included this in hurricane season) that oak trees intertwine their roots underground, making them incredibly resilient during storms. after katrina, oaks were still standing where nothing else was.

2. movements have needs like trees – facilitator jidan koon helped ruckus prep for a pruning process, sharing that trees can either grow wild, or they can be pruned in order to grow to their best potential. the pruning process may be painful in the short-term, and its important to think it though with a long-term lens, but the potential for sustainable growth is extremely powerful.

3. movements are like trees – certain trees grow in certain places due to a complex eco-systemic match. this doesn’t mean a tree can’t be local to more than one place, but it does mean that each place has its set of trees that are most easily sustained. for our movement work we have to think deeply about local movement sustainability.

this is not just true for organizations or movements, but for people. where are you growing your roots, who are you intertwined with? these feel like crucial questions right now.

american revolutionary

i assert my solutions as the living embodiment of my nationality…

i’m testing that statement out.

for a long time, most of my conscious political life, i have not thought of myself as an american (and not a nationalist at all, especially not of a colonial empire). i have been a world traveller. a future ex-pat. a staunch critic of the ways america is failing at everything from dreams to execution of values, from founding to present. and i hold these critiques to be self-evident – how can anyone with a mind and a heart not see the failure, the epic moral failure of the country i was born into?

recently, 3 things have made me reconsider my relationship to america.

one thing is sitting with the words of the late james boggs and being with grace lee boggs, and their clear belief that we have to understand the context of where we are, that there is a real place in which we have the right to be revolutionary. jimmy said, “i don’t believe no one can run this country better than me,” and he said that as a worker. now i feel challenged by grace’s latest thinking, that a new “more perfect union” is ours to envision and embody, and i think we have to believe that no one can run this country, community by community, better than those of us with clear visions and practices of justice and sustainability. if we believe that, then we must take on the responsibility of bringing our visions into existence – through our actions, not just our words.

the second thing that has made me reconsider this is a conversation that happened at web of change. it was hosted by anasa troutman and angel kyodo williams, and i wasn’t even there, just got to debrief how powerful it was with several participants afterwards. one of the key components was the idea of being able to say that those things that offend us at the deepest level, which seem inhumane, which give us feelings of shame by association – we have to step up to say “that is not our America.” leaving the space open for american identity to be defined only by those who are driven by fear leaves us with what we have now – policies of walls and borders instead of open arms and visions, prisons and penalties instead of communities that hold each other accountable and safe, poverty and joblessness instead of meaningful roles in communities where we each feel our worth and get honored for our contributions. america holds an international role which we who have citizenship here can’t shake off – unsolicited and violent judge, oppressor, manipulator of resources and relationships, bringer of trash/waste/dehumanizing work. what we are within our colonized borders is amplified in our external actions. and there are enough of us who know a better way that if we truly took on the responsibility, the practice of being american revolutionaries, it would have a worldwide impact. scaling up, yes, but only by going deep in accepting the privilege and responsibility of being american at this moment in time and taking up new practices wherever we are.

the third piece for me is looking at my family in light of recent stories i have heard from immigrant families living and dying to get a hold of a status i have taken for granted. my sisters and i were born in texas, in el paso. folks who are brown like me and whose ancestors’ blood still bakes in the earth of my birthplace, folks who were born 10 miles away from me, they have died because of long-term impacts of our foreign policy, trade policy, drug habits. on a fundamental level, being an american means being responsible for the human cost of our way of living, our mistakes, our policies. i may not agree with the policies, but that doesn’t much matter to the people impacted by them if i do nothing to change the ways of this country. my family has had a chance at happiness that was made possible because of american military endeavors and i have to attend to that reality. can i face it completely and instead of feeling shame, think of what can bring justice to my family, to my nephew and niece as they begin their young political journeys? this feels like huge work for me.

i see more and more that my path is not necessarily an organizing path, be it electoral or community. this is not simply because i am disappointed in our movements, though i feel, viscerally, that we/they are mostly practicing what i could call the old american ethic: spread, grow, mainstream yourself, prosper in competition, value new ideas over ancient wisdom, colonize by spreading as many chapters with cookie cutter action plans as far and wide as you can, don’t apologize, pitch first and listen later, etc.

all of that is there, but my calling is underneath that critique, and it feels like yearning, it feels like a budding set of solutions. i am interested in connecting with, building with, and supporting folks who are interested in the next american revolution – in holding space for a new american ethic that speaks to the experience of masses of people within these hyper-enforced borders: we start by seeking indigenous wisdom for how to be in this place and honor those who have been here the longest. we stand with the world in calling for america to evolve as we practice these new-old ways of being here. we build our economy of relationships, not dollars. we see ourselves as part of a global network of citizens of one shared planet who have a collective responsibility towards home. we respect each other and the land, we practice restorative justice, we begin by listening, we accept the responsibility of where we are. instead of being known for our critique, we embody the revolution wherever we are, in whatever work we are called to.

i know i can’t change the past, not even the very recent past, our actions of yesterday and even this morning. but i am also more and more aware that i can’t put off this being of a place for even one more day. i have lived in many places, and i have loved many places, but i have papers for one place, voting power for one place, family all rooted in one place. it is this place where i will make my stand.

in a way this is another coming out, full of terror and bravado…and pumping out of me like blood. i will test this out, here, as a truth and an invitation: i am an american revolutionary.