Tag Archive for 'alexis pauline gumbs'

the parables: an ecstatic review

today i saw the Parable of the Sower opera.

it is the work of my beloved ancestor-teacher Octavia Butler in the hands of Toshi Reagon, begun as a collaboration with her mother Bernice Johnson Reagon. Dr Reagon is now retired, but her sonic fingerprints are all over the piece that continues to grow.

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today as i watched it, Octavia’s family and her incredible agent were in the audience. i got to meet them after, for which i am grateful.

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i saw the opera years ago in an earlier iteration. i remember loving the music then, in the dark, in a circle of voices.

today it was in a theater, packed, and it opened with the sweet gift of Toshi just giving us some context, some welcome. she has one of my favorite voices in the world, speaking or singing. she was on the stage the entire time, along with two others called the Talents, who rode the wave from earthly to ethereal as the two hours passed.

every singer who entered the stage was powerful, well cast, sounded timeless. Toshi later explained that the singers were trained to truly open their mouths, sing with their whole bodies, sing in a 19th century style. they sound like forever.

it was a congregational opera, we were invited to sing when we knew the songs. even the balance of lights made it feel as if we were part of the circle of survivors trying to find a viable future.

the music Toshi gathered and/or wrote is so beautiful, so emotionally accurate to the story. the pieces were tender – at one point i found myself crying in a new way, the pain of my eyes sharp – something was being cleansed in the tears. i gasped as the last song landed; now hours later, i feel freedom like what only comes after suffering, i feel connected to other believers within a dual web – archives and whispers.

in the iterative process of this opera the singers have left their seats and now we must call them actors. these actors danced as a flock of birds, they migrated north, fractal, iterative, each one contributing to this act of musical genius.

Toshi is not just conducting the musicians, the sounds…she is orchestrating emotional liberation from apathy and oppression, with our bodies as instruments. this is sound healing.

and these actors, these players! there’s a moment when Lauren’s stepmother (played by Karma Mayet) is singing to Lauren’s pastor father (Jason Charles Walker): “I Won’t Crumble With You If You Fall” and i felt my concept of love changing. this is a kind of love/survival we need access to for this coming change.

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and then Lauren (realized, embodied by Shayna Small) singing “Have You Seen My Father”…writing out the words brings the grief back. this is what i was worried would be lost in translation, the solitary work of grief inside of the stunning experience of terror. the hyperempathy, which was well done, AND the mundane experience of losing someone. Toshi didn’t shy away. there were several moments when all we could hear was a weeping song and the breath of tears.

and emergent strategy was so apparent. the verses Toshi selected – “belief initiates action or it does nothing”, “embrace diversity” – are those that most read as instructions for how to survive the impossible.

tonight we held a conversation at the national black theater, a historical location which was perfect for us as a stand against gentrification, not to mention they’re in the middle of a season called Black to the Future! the temple was packed and we generated life. here are a few highlights, moments that increased our honesty and togetherness:

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Toshi spoke to how she’s not going to be one that runs, that’s not what her body does. she said she will stay, she will cover the backs of those who must go. and that the idea of playing this role makes her smile.

Shay spoke to how being Lauren Olamina on that stage is changing how she moves through her real life, what she practices, making her revolutionary.

Manju and Alexis came up from north carolina, where the parable was put on last fall. they spoke of the need now for direct action, and for recognizing that when God is change, each of us is God and must act accordingly.

in this state, with the bias of ecstasy, i recommend you bring the Parable everywhere. give it every grant. run to see it when you have a chance. change and be changed.

bonus: for yesterday’s #movementtarot i pulled a spread on the relationship between movements and Octavia Butler.

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#sundayspread on the relationship between movements and Octavia Butler.
(in honor of me going to see the Parables Opera today and then hosting a conversation with the Parables team later this evening at the National Black Theater.) what we bring: “the student of branches carries a fire in their belly that refuses to be put out. other people don’t always understand why the student must act with such fiery determination. and that’s OK. the student doesn’t always understand either. they just know they have been called to move, and they are heeding that call. the student wants to bridge the gap between what is imagined and what can be actualized.” ?

what Octavia gives us. “the visionary of stones reminds us that being grounded need not mean being boring. a dazzling diva whose glamor is drawn from the natural world, the visionary represents the pinnacle of intuitive connection to the earth element. when the visionary appears in your reading, recognize that you have the power to reshape your world.” ?

the composite energy is the visionary of vessels, but in reverse. “the supporter needs support, the healer needs healing. a temporary blip or disruption in intuition and empathy. approaching powerful wisdom and capacity to heal, but not there quite yet.” what to practice? the four of stones. “no need to hoard, no need for excessive accumulation. trust that there is always enough. ground your sense of security in that you are always enough.” from @slowholler deck, #resistancetarot #movementtarot

#blacklivesmatter freedom song

a couple of months ago i was on a piece of special and haunted land in north carolina with BOLD. i was facilitating our national gathering, where we had a lot to look back on and look forward to – #blacklivesmatter was born of three BOLD participants and as we vision the future there is not only the terror of the ongoing and escalating violence against black and brown communities, but in this moment the joy of movement, of having thousands in the streets together, of feeling like justice is possible.

that saturday morning i woke up from a dream in which i was in a massive crowd marching, dancing, singing and blowing brass band horns to a song i had never heard before. i sang it into my phone, and then i couldn’t stop singing and humming it as i got ready. freedom song, freedom song, i got to sing my freedom song – i love my people oh i love us so. i got my freedom and i won’t let go.

then i went into the morning session where sister-doctor alexis pauline gumbs led us in a practice of chanting in small groups using the words of brilliant black feminist ancestors. my group worked with the words of harriet tubman, ‘my people are free’. as with many of the words passed down from tubman, this declaration is futuristic, complex. but as we chanted it, it became – oh – so tender, so simple, so clear that that was the truth that everything tries to make us forget. we wept and rocked and laughed together, and i can still the way each of the women in my circle co-created the opening we felt.

that evening the rest of the song came – black lives matter. black lives matter. black lives matter to me. your life matters, my life matters, black lives matter to me!

i recorded the whole thing wearing my #blacklivesmatter hoodie, my uniform for the latter half of 2014. i sent it to the BLM team for feedback and they posted it. one of the people who saw it, another brilliant black woman in the lineage of harriet tubman, is phaedra ellis-lamkins. because of her, with the help of the black lives matter team (patrisse, alicia, opal and damon), and the recording support of invincible – the song now has an incredible video full of the moments that inspired this song.

here is the video.

my next dream to sing it at a march with a brass band, dancing.

being so utterly alive. or, a visceral release of grief. or, from delirium.

I wrote this yesterday after a sleepless night of creative output that led to a spiritual breakthrough. I considered not sharing it. It is my voice from delirium, not neat or polished. And it is an intimate movement of grief in my life, and it feels like a particularly open me, and a special, necessary moment to share, for y’all who have been with me this far.

Gratitude.

I recommend putting on the song Glosoli while you read this…not yet but when I cue you. Demand it even.

Today I had the moment I came on this retreat for.

To be there with me you have to time travel, to first know I didn’t sleep last night. The words came to me, flooded me around five pm and just didn’t stop.

No, further back – I’ve been working all along, editing my novel (!) (which by the way is hard! because the characters have a lot to say about themselves and really want to negotiate in this process) and putting down other snippets of words as poems, short stories, drawing characters and pregnant women in magical forests as per usual (I have a vast collection of colorful drawings of pregnant and/or alien women in nature, just my goddess thing I suppose.)

And I’ve been reading…professionally, a book a day at least. Fiction I fly through, nonfiction I have to dose myself, a chapter every day or so. Reading writers who make me laugh and rage and moan or sigh with pleasure and realize I should give up and then remind me to just be myself, to bring my whole self to the page.

I’ve been immersed in Soul Talk, from Akasha Gloria Hull (on recommendation from sister teacher Alexis Pauline Gumbs), a stunning exploration of black women’s writing and spirituality in the 80s, full of interviews with Toni Cade Bambara and Alice Walker and Lucille Clifton and so many others, which I will do a full review of in a couple days. But for now just know that one thing she talks about is black women intentionally communicating with spirit, ancestors. And I decided to try it here in a few ways over the past weeks.

Yesterday I tried the pendant. I have this pendant I bought last year because my friend Mia had one and it seemed like some good clear magic. But as I often do, I carried the magic around faithfully, everywhere, and didn’t quite practice it.

I pulled it out yesterday afternoon and started asking hesitant questions in a doubtful tone. When the pendant started swinging and I couldn’t tell how, I asked better questions. Eventually I was in tears of clarity and gratitude, both for what I was learning, and for who was teaching me. More on that when I write my autobiography in fifty years.

So then the words came, because the ones I really wanted were backed up behind those questions and tears. They been there just waiting. They came through me, prolifically. I kept sitting back and thinking whew, good. Then the next words would come and I’d adjust on the hard little chair and keep going.

I needed and need this kind of writing.

Mexico holds me just right. In 2012 I wrote for eight hours straight in the sun, no food or bathroom breaks, after a sleepless night. I’ve been longing for that torrential downpour again, and here it was. When the words for one thing ended, I turned to the art supplies, and later to poetry, and then more stories, all in that dusky zone between confessional and fantasy and future memoir that I call my fiction.

At exactly 8pm, an innocent seeming courtyard enclosed in white pillars next door turned into a NY errybody-come-thru club and started blaring the loudest music I’ve ever heard outside of the Outkast show in Rotterdam, and in that case it was partially because we were right in front of the speakers. Not being anywhere near yesterday’s speakers, I initially felt a pure and total wow of respect for the volume.

The music was fascinating, literally every genre I can name and several I can’t, in no clusters or order I could follow. It felt like there were 500 musical desires there and the dj was just playing them in the order they were requested. But somehow the shit sounded great, and the crowd was going wild no matter what song came on. And I felt blessed because yay, I have a soundtrack for this explosion of writing.

At around 2am, I’m still writing on the balcony, on my little glowing device, in the dark, when the music stops. I felt pretty complete with my creative outburst, still soft and wide from the magic pendant experience. I started to get ready for bed.

Stopped is the wrong word however. It was merely a pause, possibly because the police came by? I think they then stayed to kick it based on the yelling, but I can’t be sure since, in spite of several half-ass efforts and lots of good incentives (see: five trips to mexico in three years), yo still no habla nor comprende most of le espanol, feel me. Point being, all of that other music, the Rihanna salsa Elvis merengue Kanye square dance Goethe/Kimbra waltz pachata James Brown bagpipe Queen Jay Z Beyonce Air Supply part?

That was just the buildup.

At 2:20am began the coherent part of the night – three hours of what struck my ears as nonstop German street fair techno (see: my entire childhood). Each song would seem to be the last song, and then the dj would do the soccer scream and drop the beat harder and the crowd would flail in vocalized bliss.

Blasting.

Sleep was not an option, because I personally can’t sleep when my body is being vibrated with such gusto at the cellular level. I was even somewhat concerned that my heart’s rhythm might get thrown off beat by the other, deeper sound.

So…I kept writing. I lay in bed and thought and wrote and drew and thought and wrote some more. In spite of the unusual soundtrack, and the realization that no sleep meant I couldn’t scuba dive today as planned – I felt happy.

The spark is why I’m here, and I was on internal and externally-fueled fire.

When the party ended around 5am, I tried again to sleep…but then the roosters started. There’s also a cat who somehow knows I have the capacity to be swayed by sounds of woe, so she comes and weeps outside my window around six each morning, but she also knows I’m allergic to her so she compassionately runs away when I try to give her milk. Or maybe cause it’s rice milk?

Regardless, it was daytime.

I got up, stretched, trying to remember the last time I wrote all night. It’s been long enough that I can’t remember it.

I made a remarkable Spanish omelet for breakfast, did my little rituals, canceled my dive because it seems dangerous to risk napping 90 feet under the ocean’s surface, and then decided to come to the beach and read Kiese Laymon’s How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America. I also brought Soul Talk to finish.

Soul Talk ended beautifully, in the sunlight, sand between my toes. Topless but, you know, on my tummy cause they ain’t necessarily ready for alla dis. I felt of a lineage in a way I think every creator needs, regularly.

Then clouds covered the sun, the wind brought in a bit of cool air, and I picked up Kiese’s book. I stayed at the beach because even with the clouds, it’s warm and beautiful and not winter. Also Sunday is the best, the beach fills up with local families, so many kids.

So, we have caught up with: my moment. (Cue music.)

I’m halfway through the book, which is filling me with such immense tenderness. Kiese’s writing is ferocious, he comes in fists up but he’s punching mirrors and letting us witness and also demanding we not lie, even as readers. I’ll review it when I finish it but it’s already black excellence/a classic/must read/brilliance.

I have my Falsetto Season Spotify mix on, which I hold as basically the best thing I accomplished in 2014. And Glosoli comes on as I reach page 97, finishing a chapter. And I look over at the ocean all pretty and dark and choppy, there’s some seagulls flying over, and I think: Iceland has made really good music for being on Mexican beach.

And before I can look back at my page a soccer ball rolls in front of me. The kid who grabs it and says ‘pardon’ shyly to me is one of the most handsome children I’ve ever seen. I realize that he’s Finn, my nephew, in a few years – lanky and intelligent in the eyes and not concerned with his beauty. In that moment I feel towards him what I feel towards Finn, a total may-you-have-all-of-the-things love.

Then he is kicking the ball back to the group and I set the book down and really look at these boys. They are all Finn, all bright and fast and easily beautiful and incredible at soccer. Beloved.

The sun moves out from behind the clouds in a glorious big reveal which brings an energetic burst of glee up and down the beach, and the song is building, and the moment becomes cinematic. And as the moment is happening I know it’s cinematic, part of my brain is already writing it down, complex meta awareness. And often I scold that part, like just Be here. But I am a goddamn writer and that is exactly how I Be anywhere and that little thought made me laugh.

I look left and there are little spirit twins of Siobhan and Mairead, my nieces, a princess running fast and fearless with her hair flying out behind her like a kite of curls, and her androgynous sibling trying to keep up, baby fat thighs on fleek. Their young parents sit on a blanket laughing and touching each other, overtly loving. I see my sisters and their beloveds and my parents in them.

And then with the sun turning everyone to shimmery gold and caramel,
and the music twisting up into throes of ecstatic beauty,
and the people running in and out of the waves,
and this dope crone rocking her wrinkles in a bikini showing how to age flawlessly,
and an older couple leaning on each other in the shadow of a beach wall that look like my landlords in their sweet comfortable knowing togetherness,
and the tooth free man approaching with the guitar who periodically ogles my beach d├ęcolletage and says ay que linda while offering to sing me a love song,
and the dogs, especially the three legged lassie look alike, running ahead of their humans and getting called back and returning with reckless devotion,
and the littlest ones righteously terrified of the waves but also needing to touch their toes in,
I realized (again but anew) how deeply connected and miraculous existence is, how beautiful it is to be awake to the ways humans love and care for and play with and grow each other.

We are connected in that we love. Love is the common form of our best ‘being human’ (the essential focus of Kiese’s book and perfect way to explain this thing).

And as the song peaks and tears are coming to my eyes, I look back at the sea, turned by the sun into a rolling rainbow of turquoise and light refraction. And, of course, just then, a flock of over thirty massive pelicans are taking to the sky from the water’s surface, moving into emergent formation, my life’s obsession.

And the grief moves through me.

Not out, but through, filling me up with it’s own powerful and life affirming force. We grieve because of this, all of this simple and overwhelming love and beauty, which resides in the small work of being humans on a fragile and resilient and perfect and changing planet.

The tears are brief, because whoever in the universe keeps track of tears knows I have been crying. These tears were joyful, and gave way to long deep shameless orgasmic laughter.

I’m sleep deprived because I’m creatively spent, and I’m whole because I have loved and lost and learned so much, and I’m here.

Right now.

And everyone I love who has died, and those who loved in ways that led to my existence, my ancestor-strangers, they’re all also here, right now. They are with, of, in me. The way water is ocean, mist, fog, diaphanous cloud, nourishing cloud, rain, river, ice and all? We are like that, we are all here, in and with and of each other.

And I laugh too because I’m not high, not drunk, not hungry, not distracted, not preaching, not aiming for brilliance, not longing for anyone or anything, not giving or taking anything, not doing anything at all, just being. At peace with who and what and where and how I am, we are – the living.

Being so utterly alive.

***

Bonus time travel round – I’ve been letting words come through without my rearranging them while I’m here, asking the ocean to tell me stories and truths. (Purple Rain and Cavalier played as I typed this up if you want to stick with my soundtrack journey)

This piece – not poem, not unpoem – came out the other day, two days before my magic moment, maybe three, and it feels part of it:

The first lie you were taught is I love you
That love happens outside the heart
Extended in an open palm to another
Between the naked flesh of frantic bodies pulsing blood and shivers
In the intense eye looking at you with wet hunger
In the soft swell of the breast feeding your wordless mouth

This lie has weight, put in your young hands
‘Take this and protect it
And also give it away’

You feel it become fire and pass it quickly
Not knowing how to hold it when it comes back impenetrable rock
You feel it slipping away like salt sea water
Cup your hands together tighter
Pushing all the air
hushed into your crisp lungs

Now I’ll tell you the truth

I love myself

Everything good flows from that being the truth
That you can be beloved every moment – every moment
And nothing heavy can cling to you
And your sweet body will open up with the laughter of being alone in an infant world
And the hands and the eyes of others will be mirrors that show you the galaxies
And there will be so much of the miracle of yourself
That you will sizzle and spark, root and flow
And always know
The true love

(Sing yourself all of those love songs honey
Know deeply how it feels to fall madly in love with you
Then you will see, every time it happens
That it is moon love from everyone else
and it can move the tides in your heart
But my darling it is your love
that is the light)

***

Now, back to crying with Kiese. Love y’all.

allied media conference 2014 share out (octavia’s brood, storytelling black women, emergent strategy handbook!)

this year’s allied media conference felt like one miracle after another and i wanted to share out with you all (especially those not there or unable to get into certain workshops) a few stories, agendas, occurrences and the link to the emergent strategy handbook which is now available for viewing online or downloading.

storytelling black women’s lives

this friday morning workshop was proposed as a five person panel of storytellers, featuring some of my favorite scholars of black women ancestors. the panel shifted a few times, and by the time the session rolled around we had two panelists in person and one on a google hangout. but it appears that certain ancestors were so pleased to be told on that they made it not just work, but become a time for praise, healing and magic.

we realized the night before that what we were really engaging was the fine art of being oracles, imparting wisdom as presented through the lives of these ancestors. the oracles were sister doctors alexis pauline gumbs, moya bailey and ayana jamieson.

alexis made an alphabetical list of ancestors and we filled it up as far as we could, trusting that the workshop would be able to keep growing it.

the first part of our workshop was the oracles channeling. a participant would ask a question, and the oracles would let the right story come to them, about octavia butler, or toni cade bambara, or harriet tubman, or another black woman ancestor.

the questions included how to we honor our ancestors as we transition into our own power, how do raise multi level genius babies if we don’t see ourselves as geniuses, how do we tell our mother’s stories in a culture of shaming?

the second part of the workshop gave everyone present a chance to give and receive guidance. i have heard lots of feedback of how accurate the guidance was.

we closed by sending love to sister warrior charity hicks as she sat between here and there in an ICU unit. we conjured up a shared sense of her aliveness and power, and let the universe know we want to learn the next chapters of her life, whether it was to stay or to go.

octavia’s brood

the brood had two fantastic experiences at the AMC.

first, we got to present four brooders as part of the opening ceremony. alexis, gabriel teodros, dani mcclain and leah lakshmi piepzna-samarasinha (whose name is a joy to my tongue). they hadn’t heard each other’s stories, and it was exciting for us as editors to hear these stories in their voices.

my co-editor, walidah imarisha, was delayed in portland and arrived literally five minutes before we took the stage. we threw on our heels, had a mindmeld and walked out there.

the next morning we got to offer our first behind-the-scenes session. the brooders, including the editors, shared where our stories came from, engaged with the participants about the art of writing visionary science fiction, and offered lessons from the overall process.

walidah and i have learned so much about ourselves and each other in the effort to do this project in line with our principles. we have learned to laugh at each other, keep it real, and offer each other support as our personal lives have unfolded in parallel to this life’s work.

it was beautiful to share that with folks who cannot wait for the book to be out, the transformation is not the end product, it’s the entire journey.

emergent strategy train the trainers

this workshop felt like it’s been building for a while. i created a handbook for it, which you can download now.

i want to decentralize emergent strategy, share it in a way that others can deeply engage and take ownership over and keep learning and shaping.

our room was much much too small. we had 80 people inside and somewhere between 40-50 outside and upset. next time i will request the auditorium, i want so many people to be in practice around this approach and these tools.

i started by reviewing the handbook (shout out to eli feghali for getting it printed the morning of!), which includes three different pieces i have written about emergent strategy, in chronological order, as well as a clear illustrated articulation of the elements of emergent strategy thus far.

the elements were up around the room, and we used emergent strategy methods of flocking and adaptation for the group to engage these elements. while they were flocking about we found a larger room and reconvened the group there.

people were then partnered up with one other person to make emergent strategy commitments. the idea behind this is that you ‘transform yourself to transform the world’. the best way to implement emergent strategies is to become emergent in how you process information and show up in the world. it was beautiful to watch the energy with which people claimed their commitments.

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we then came together to reflect back learning and lessons. here are the lessons i offered as a way of deconstructing what we had done:

– collaborative ideation. at the root of generating our ideas, we want to learn to be collaborative, to see the best ideas as growing through conversation and sharing (rather than competing, isolated moves forward).

– begin by listening. this AMC principle is the key practice of emergent strategy. we are tuning into each other, listening not just with our ears but our awareness, understanding, bodies.

– deepening one-on-one connections builds the strength of the whole. to change what is possible in a room, let people connect with each other directly.

– people are more passionate about the things they articulate themselves. don’t over-structure an agenda, let people articulate what they most want to work on together.

– passion over obligation. understand the motivation for people being in the room.

– lao tzu on trust: if you don’t trust the people, you make them untrustworthy.

– make room for the conversation that wants to be had in the room.

– reach for the horizon but realize that it is only a limit of your sight, keep checking for new horizon info as it changes.