Monthly Archive for September, 2011

the importance of being angels

I just facilitated a circle on ‘sustaining ourselves’ at a gathering of organizers who do work with a reproductive justice lens…work that advocates for the dignity and right to exist for trans people, poor people, people of color, queer people, queer families, women, people living with HIV/AIDS, people in the sex trade, active drug users…basically people marginalized now and as far back as any of us can remember.

the circle deeply moved me, which sometimes happens to me when I facilitate, where the room is crying, and I find I am crying too.

what moved me was how deeply we have to go to find the part of ourselves that still waits for the dominant systems to love us, to save us, to care for us. to find that part which is desperately clinging to those systems, as they manifest in our work, relationships, communities, governments, societies, media and elsewhere, and to let go.

what I mean is, there is a part of us (however much we acknowledge or deny it) that is trying all the time to just be normal, to have traditional power and privilege in the world of normal. and my challenge, to myself and all those around me, is can we let go of being normal if letting go is the only way to survive?

there is a level at which we know we have to be who we are, because we are being it – the room I am sitting in, the city of Detroit which I am living in, the family I am born of, the friends I have claimed out of the chaos – we are all being human in ways which have been considered radical, marginal, illegal, wrong. and yet it’s who we are, and though many of us have given conformity the good-old-boys-college-marriage try, it doesn’t fit.

but that doesn’t mean we don’t still hold onto some other dream that lives deeper within us, in a dark place, a dream to just be safe, to be held by a society that continuously rejects us.

and in that process of letting go, of leaning into the margins, the new world we are evolving with our difference, it is so important to have angels who come along and care for us, love us as we are. exactly as we are, insecure and different and somehow surviving.

angels tell us the truth, bring us water and tissue when we cry about the truth, hold us tight when the truth is too much. angels heal us, restore our energy when we are battle weary.

when our society is on the brink of change, and it begins to chasm and split apart the old from the new, crash the old into the new, burst new from the old, it hurts. if you are aware, you can’t help but feel it.

many of us organize because we can feel the enormity of transformation that is coming, and we can see it playing out in our families, communities and organizations as the change occurs.

it is angels who remind us to breath, remind us that this wave breaking over us is what we prayed for, and we not only know how to swim, we might just know how to breathe underwater.

what brought tears to my eyes just now was how we never know when WE are the angels. there are so many ways to acknowledge the strength, perseverance, survival, brilliance and existence of another human being at exactly the moment they need it acknowledged.

today I heard stories of people saving themselves, being saved by someone willing to be in conflict with them over issues that matter, saved by being able to engage others in actions that were about feeling together, even if they couldn’t change the outcomes of the moment. i heard stories about grieving together, about working together after breaches of trust because it is the work that matters, about holding each other accountable in the moment, about body and spiritual practices that we can offer each other to expand the space we have within ourselves to love.

today, and this week, and this year, and this life, I encourage you to stay, to listen, to look someone in the eye when they are blinded by tears, and hold the space for them to feel, to heal, to find their center again.

and if/when you have an instinct to judge them, to let them go, to push them away…don’t.

they are you.

and believe me, they need you.

small things that make me happy in big ways

swimming every day. every day that i can. some days i can do a long workout with weights and resistance, and some days i can only knock out 20 minutes of laps, but it feels great.

keeping the kitchen clean. sparkling countertops, empty sink, swept floor, organized fridge, everything in it’s place. the effect is that when i walk in, i want to create in that space. i smile as i leave the house, and i smile when i come home.

the look they get. the look on finn and siobhan’s faces when they see me. its like love, happiness, excitement, auntie joy, pure fun, curiosity and more love.

biking. getting somewhere because you put your whole body into it is satisfying. it feels right – we have lost respect for distance, for getting from point a to point b. and getting to see detroit from my bike is so sweet – this city is so green, and so much is happening at all times. people are living, being in community, surviving – it looks different outside of the car.

there’s more things…those are just my favorite right now.

on the 10th anniversary of 9/11

it still helps, 10 years later, to tell the story of my 9/11, to remember who i was with and who i longed for. i am still grateful to those who held me on that day, fed me, and cared for me. and sometimes i still miss the ny in which i came of age, which died that day.

when i tried to write about this anniversary, what kept coming out was a series of poems. i am sharing here, and hoping you share your stories today as well.

9/11

1.
…comes rushing back to me
the sounds of it
the smells
the moment of not knowing it was
the last moment of that new york

I looked down 6th avenue
at the hole in the sky
the building full of sky
the sky empty of buildings
the sky full of smoke and ashes

and them

those who didn’t make it out
on those safe rehearsed evacuation routes
those on the steps and ledges
crushed
and dropped
and melted
perhaps in life they had been my opponents
suddenly I had none

***
2.

I understood everyone that day
every maneuver
I understood the taxi drivers
immediately and perpetually flagged
I understood the broken angry men
who had destroyed my home
I understood the strangers
white men and women
white flesh or white ash
walking up the east side
as I walked down
I understood that whatever they had been
now they were grief

I walked so far that day
maybe I even flew
for all I remember it

we walked so far that day
never looking away
never looking back

***
3.

i longed for my father
but he wasn’t in his pentagon office
said the person who answered the phone
and then they were gone
and my father’s office was destroyed
i still wonder who answered that phone?
and were those his last words?


***
4.

I couldn’t find my father
but I knew he was ok
or I denied he was dead until he came back to life
or my mother brought him back to life
all of our longing
prayer longing prayer

someone made a miracle
but the man who came back
had kabul in his eyes
where i had
rubble in mine

others had no miracles
their faces wallpapered the city
lit by candles and streetlights
lighters, flashlights
mutated by mourning and rain and time
curled up on the edges
our constant, collective altar

others had no missing
still the sacred city was suddenly full of gentleness
gentle words to strangers
we all had this now
we could all smell it
we all had ashes on our tongues
accidental cannibals,
urban war torn
we had all been touched

others had no mercy
they came in uniforms
dressed like my dad
but holding massive guns
guards, under the guise of protection
the fire of our altars
choked under their boots

I didn’t feel safer

others could not cry
except to cry for war
not me,
walking streets that smelled of incinerated human and plastic
finding papers
budgets, task lists, spreadsheets
many lifetimes of files
that had escaped
when their creators could not

how could we not see that
any act of war meant we lost?

***
5.

reborn
baptized in the ashes of icons
we walked to the river that day
leapt or fell
crashed or flew

a moment later
we were a new people
with new gods
and new rules

post american dreams
post democracy
fear and freedom cannot coexist
fear must swallow freedom to survive
some went fighting into that dark water
some went running
but we all came out
sputtering and new
the craven generation
with or against the mad king
shocked and awed into silence

***
6.

it has taken me this long to take the word american back into my mouth
it has taken my elders shaking me by my shoulders

you cannot shirk responsibility for this country
you cannot shake off these atrocities
its a bloody birthright
all children are born into blood
you have to grow up by growing down into the soil
past the burnt bodies and broken buildings
built on broken bodies and broken promises
built up, bloody borders
borders you live in whether you want to or not

you are the ones we’ve been waiting for

it has taken me this long to understand that i cannot escape this mark, ‘american’
branded into me with every breath
every right and privilege
every whisp of superiority that shudders
down in those darkest places

i was born an american child
that is my burden, our burden

i must remember how i loved her once
without knowing what a bloody monster she was
i must love her even more now
to heal the wounds that make her such a terror
i must love her
person by person
cell by cell
not as two buildings on the tip of an island
or a dream that will never, never come true
but as a child loves her mother
for the deliverance
as a mother loves her bully child
unconditionally

a book?

I have been writing a lot. some of the writing feels like it wants a more permanent offline home than this blog, so I want to gather it up into A Book.

can you help me?

write me, or comment, with which writings/posts you think should be added/edited into The Book. I will put those that get the most fervent love into a book. simple as that!

clean the house

there is no limit to the number of times 
you can clean a house
over and over again
it can be your whole life

what flows through your mouth when you speak of your life
through your arms as you work
through your back as you bend your whole weight into the task
   always at hand

do you say to yourself
tomorrow will be different,
how did I get here
spent, me done, me can’t 
tired tired and so so tired…

or does your body sing it’s life:

this, this is my work
this is what I live for
this home, these faces, 
this little order in chaos
above and below, within and without

seeking the moment when all is 
as it should be 
for the ones I adore

the deeper rest that comes after toil

bless this endless floor, this dusty shelf
this smooth tile, this broken glass, this ancient wood
this life built out of chore, duty
time, 
time and sacrifice

this is the small light within everything
the little love in the dark

– august 2011, inspired watching sister fold laundry

shifting my relationship to the apocalypse

recently there was an earthquake, and then a big hurricane and it became clear that the 2012 apocalypse is nigh.

well – all the time there are earthquakes and hurricanes, but these were treated as apocalyptic by the twittersphere, my bank, and my loved ones on the east coast, so i paid attention.

i have long been obsessed with apocalypse, first the God one, then the environmental one, then the Mayan one, then all the rest. it seems like the biggest thing ever, and thus worth my obsessive energy. i have read guides on how to prepare for the apocalypse, and i have an eeyore sounding voice in my head that weighs in about any plans post-2012 – ‘if i’m even here. sigh.’

i read octavia butler religiously, as many of you know, and one of the reasons i was first drawn to her was because she was unafraid to put on a page what it might be like to be a young woman of color in america during an apocalypse. she explored oppression, containment, lack of food and water, lack of control over land, rape, violence, torture, death, separation of families, being alone, trying to have faith in anything throughout all of that. her work arrived when i needed it, and opened the door to a whole field of apocalyptic science fiction that allowed me to safely explore the worst possible futures to my heart’s content.

over the past few years though, through my reading of octavia’s work, and through the relationships i have been deepening in my family, through grief processes, and in my work, i seem to be shifting my relationship to the apocalypse.

or perhaps shifting my relationship to endings. or to matter. or to existence. not sure – what i know is, i don’t feel so panicked, and i don’t feel so rushed. i just feel like i have to live into my full potential all the time.

i am aware of mortality in a healthier way than i have been. mortality means there is a limit to things, a limit to what you get. and it is up to me to unleash the abundance of what is possible within that mortal limitation.

i have always seen death as an ending, but as i go through grief as an adult, for adults i love, i can see how death can be a liberation – an unleashing of a person from the physical realm into the spiritual realm, where they exist as the best of themselves, purely the love and the inspiration. it’s a way of going from being separate, to being distributed amongst many, part of many, part of a whole, without the borders and boundaries of flesh.

octavia wrote of this realm beyond in a way that both intrigued and terrified me – what about going to the stars? what about merging with alien species to become more resilient? what about telepathy, gene mating? what about the universe beyond our world, both in terms of what we can physically experience and in terms of what we can comprehend?

what if there are no endings, truly? what if we released the very idea of endings, and only held onto the idea of transformations – that everything that currently seems to end is actually just transforming to the next iteration, which may be beyond our capacity to comprehend?

i love the idea of things that are beyond my capacity to comprehend. and apocalypse is definitely one of those ideas, especially if i disentangle it from the biblical association it has always had in the back of my mind.

i can do that disentangling not because of what i know, but because of what i feel. i am learning to listen more deeply, and for me that means tuning into all the things i feel as i hear the world, hear my loved ones, hear the news.

i feel like something great is happening, shifting, transforming in the world – its happening in the smallest ways, small enough that we can contribute to the incomprehensible greatness.

the deeper we engage in our self-transformations, and transforming the ways we do our work and listen to each other and bring our full presence to bear on each moment we exist, the more we create shivers of change in the failing systems of this moment. and that is what creates the room for the new.

in the birthing process, in labor, the moment you are absolutely certain you can go no further and it has to end is actually the precipice of new life. if you can push through that, beyond anything that seems possible, you will find yourself holding that new life in your hands, with your whole relationship to yourself transformed in relationship to that newness.

maybe apocalypse means going to the precipice of new life, and transforming my relationship to the world from being solely responsible for myself to being completely responsible for the well-being of another, of others. that kind of apocalypse sparks curiosity more than fear.

who knows what it will look like (‘if i’m even here’) – i am not saying i am suddenly without fear. the ground shakes and so do i. the storm rages and i flinch. death is still unimaginable to me when i run my hands over my own body, feel my own heart beating, think of all the songs and books and ideas i still have inside of me.

but i am considering that it might mean something different than i have imagined. being more awake and resilient than i have even been, more collective and communal than i have ever been, more responsible for my day-to-day survival and that of my loved ones. having to create abundance.

one thing i know from all my apocalypse studies is that only the unabashedly creative and unleashed survive.