Tag Archive for 'audre lorde'

love and Yoncé and even haters

i have two new pieces out in the world and wanted to make sure y’all saw them.

first, for valentine’s day, bitch magazine asked me to offer some thoughts on love.

the result is LOVE AS POLITICAL RESISTANCE, LESSONS FROM AUDRE LORDE AND OCTAVIA BUTLER – here’s an excerpt:

We’re all going to die if we keep loving this way, die from isolation, loneliness, depression, abandoning each other to oppression, from lack of touch, from forgetting we are precious. We can no longer love as a secret, or a presentation, as something we prioritize, hoard for the people we know. Prioritizing ourselves in love is political strategy, is survival.

From religious spaces to school to television shows to courts of law, we are socialized to seek and perpetuate private, even corporate, love. Your love is for one person, forever. You celebrate it with dying flowers and diamonds. The largest celebration of your life is committing to that person. Your family and friends celebrate you with dishes and a juicer. You need an income to love. If something doesn’t work out with your love, you pay a lot of money to divide your lives, generally not telling people much unless it’s a soap opera dramatic ending. This way of approaching love strangles all the good out of it.

What we need right now is a radical, global love that grows from deep within us to encompass all life.

i was also honored to reflect on the afrofuturist elements of Beyoncé’s grammy performance last sunday.
Beyonce’s Grammy Performance Was a Gilded Afrofuturist Dream

an excerpt:

I want to close with a moment of reverence for the exquisite symbology of healing that is Beyoncé in the last moment of the performance. After the last woman, a white woman, surrenders to her (which, in most parallel universes, would have foreshadowed her inevitable slaying of the awards)—we are left with Beyoncé, timeless and holy, face to face with the camera, her full mother-breasts gleaming, her nails sharp enough to protect against any who would harm her family, her face that of a woman who has learned the sacred witchcraft of healing, who has grown a universe in the landscape of her broken heart.

This performance is, like the best black speculative work, a spell we cast for a liberated, abundant black future. The healing we need will require the creative abundance of so many black women stepping into our wholeness.

i wanted to offer a psa for haters specifically, because i heard round the way that other people have encountered haters who still struggle to feel what Beyoncé is offering up as an artist. it appears that She keeps growing, but Her critics don’t. the knee jerk reactions range from bitter to misogynistic to reductive to outdated to obsessive. as always, i wonder: if Her work doesn’t do it for you, if you can’t respect Her art or Her hustle, why can’t you keep your eyes off of Her, or keep Her name out your mouth? your attention is in your control…isn’t it? mine is – i don’t give it to anything that isn’t worthy of it. which means that in addition to my revolutionary work, and my creative pleasure magic work, i give as much of it as i can to black women artists who delight me with their growth and their success in current conditions – success that creates more room for futures where we all get to determine our success beyond the matrix. so i give my attention to Her, gleefully, because She earns it with Her transformative life, learning, giving and abundant work. perhaps next time you feel moved to critique Her winning, you can pour that energy into doing something impressive with your own miraculous life? mkay, kizzzzzes.

#blackband: how to, a reflection

#blackband: how to, a reflection

i am just over a week into the practice of wearing a black band on my left arm as a statement of grief, and as a statement against white supremacy in all it’s manifestations.

it’s been a beautiful, simple practice so far. people either already know why i am doing it or, when they hear my reason, vigorously agree with my rationale.

i have had people ask me questions about how to participate in #blackband, so here are some answers (with the caveat that i am learning the practice as i go):

1. where do i get a #blackband?

i made mine from old leggings. other friends have made bands from t-shirts and bandanas, or taken black ribbon or hair bands or bracelets and created their bands. my friend sabrina, a detroit artist, drew hers on with permanent marker. my friend adela showed me the black band of one of her sacred tattoos that inspired me to consider that for my next step.

i love the DIY nature of this so far. it was a deeply personal commitment for me to don a black band, and making/finding my band, imbuing it with intention, feels like part of the strength and magic in it.

2. where do i wear it?

left side of body, closest to your heart. i have been wearing mine around my left arm just above or just below my elbow.

you can wear it right on skin or over clothes – visibility is important.

if you don’t have a left arm or wearing it on your arm isn’t possible, wear it on your left leg. if you don’t have a left leg or wearing it on your leg isn’t possible, pin a black circle to your left side, near the heart.

wear it to all of your life, in transit, at work, in sacred spaces. let your resistance be constant.

3. i have my band on. now what?

once i had my band on, i invited conversation around it. i let my friends, family and y’all know what i was doing and why. now i answer strangers who ask about it, pointing them to resources for more information based on their entry point – black folks i point towards ongoing movement for black lives work, non-black people I point towards amazing solidarity work. i invite them to join me if they are tired/devastated by white supremacy and constant grief.

it’s been interesting to hear the responses – a few black folks have said their skin is their black band, and others have said it feels important as a black person in a professional environment to wear the black band to counter the way white supremacy wants to normalize the trauma.

some of my friends indulge me in what they see as my practice, others take it on. i am not pushing it on people, i am inviting us to make visible our resistance in a world that wants to silence us with fear.

i do notice that each time i see someone take it on i feel a bit safer. audre lorde taught us “your silence will not protect you.” the black band feels like a vocalization and harmony.

3. so…can non-black people wear a blackband? can white people wear it?

absolutely!

i wasn’t really thinking about this part when i committed to wearing the black band, but lots of non-black people have been asking me about it and rocking the black band and it feels really important and comforting to see non-black people visibly making a statement against white supremacy and anti-blackness.

it’s an emergent win.

for non-black #blackband-ers i would ask a few things:

– that you pair the wearing of the band with a monthly/sustainer donation to BOLD, blacklivesmatter, byp100, or other groups affiliated with the movement for black lives. support local work led by black people. (donations of any size count – $5 a month from a million nonblack people would really increase what our movements can do and i believe there are more than a million nonblack people who are against white supremacy in this country)

– for white people especially: be ready to be transformed. look to the thorough analytical work of catalyst or the action network of surj for other practices to be in to unlearn white supremacy.

– and if you haven’t yet, bring it up to friends and family explicitly. have the conversations i can’t have with your parents and grandparents, with your kids.

4. how long are you wearing the black band?

i don’t know yet. it may be the rest of my life. i need to see explicit and significant advances of justice and liberation for my people. a lot of people have to wake all the way up to make those advances real. i see the black band as a small daily direct action that helps to turn up the volume on that ‘white supremacy is over’ alarm. i suspect when it is no longer needed, we will all know.

below are images of three people wearing the band – taylor renee aldridge, aurora levins morales, erin ní chonaill, paury flowers, chelsea cleveland, and leah lakshmi piepzna-samarasinha (in black lace!!):

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national network of abortion funds 2016 keynote

tonight i had the honor of giving the keynote speech for the national network of abortion funds 2016 summit. i spoke after they gave each other awards and there were lots of tears and just so much recognition and celebration of their incredible and radical work. here are my notes from my talk, what i planned to say and what i think i added in. <3

I would like to open with centering words from octavia estelle butler, the black science fiction writer and, I would argue, prophet-philosopher.

first, let’s take a moment to center, come into this moment:
let yourself be heavy with gravity
and light with stardust
and look around your table, connect with the people around you
and connect to this moment

now, octavia says:
all that you touch you change
all that you change changes you
the only lasting truth is change
god is change

i always evoke her into these spaces because she taught me to be visionary.

wow. so here we are in texas, this massive great state that gave us beyoncé.

now, i was also born in texas, not to imply that all first-born singing virgos from texas are at the same level, or that you should expect a beyoncé level performance from my speech tonight. i only aim for perfection.

but seriously – i heard that there are only 6 abortion clinics left in this state. as we sit here knowing how hard we are working to make moves forward, as we make our Best effort to create changes within and beyond the system, as we raise the money to create our own systems of care, we are still only meeting about 1/3 of the need.

and we are traversing an election season that for some of us is ‘so historic’, for some of us is ‘so depressing and/or terrifying’, for some of us is ‘totally irrelevant in terms of tangible impacts in our communities’, and for some of us all of the above.

this fight of ours is both a local fight, and a supreme court fight. it is a fight that can sometimes feel rigid – as if all the territory has been mapped out already. as if every victory is fragile, and every position must be defensive.

and yet we must win, right? we must not only end hyde, but go beyond, beyond smashing our opponent (which can absolutely satisfying, i know). we need to evolve the conversation beyond the realm of opposition – we must create such a change around abortion that no one can deny it.

everyone in this room is part of an effort to create change. and yet sometimes we forget how change actually works. we think of change as an external impact – we will do something, and the other person will change. and we will stay the same, and we will be happy.

we do this at a personal level – how many of us have fallen in love with someone’s potential? with our story of how we were going to liberate another person’s best self?

or educate a family member?

we do this at a collective or organizational level. how many of us have gone to work at institutions that were deeply unsustainable, or patriarchal, or had severe conflict aversion or other really big clear red flags that we imagined we could transform on the strength of our own (naive) brilliance?

(i won’t ask if anyone here is still in that situation. we are all feeling the love – and i know it’s complicated.)

and of course we do this at a political level. we can see so clearly how the other, our opposition, needs to change. and we set forth to change them. we rage against them on facebook and twitter, go head to head in policy wars, or give them the evil eye at holidays. (cuz you know all this political opposition is in the family, right?)

and of course they are doing the same thing.

our lovers are imagining that we will begin to put the toilet paper roll on correctly, and stop interrupting them with important details when they tell a story to our mutual friends.

our organizations hope that with time we will get so passionate about the mission that we will overlook the regressive structural issues and work the extra unpaid hours to close the gap between the needs of our communities and never-quite-enough resources we can generate to meet those needs.

and politically, our opponents hope, and probably pray, that one day we will cave. that we will say fine. you all should make the decisions about what we can do with our bodies. you win – what were we thinking?

now, within this battle of wills, no one actually wins.

we all get amazing at fortifying our positions, at polarizing the entire world in a binary system that has no room for complexity, for changing positions, for life experience. we create hierarchies of ourselves and others.

octavia teaches us that we use our intelligence to construct hierarchy, over and over. and then we revel in it. i am guilty of this. i feel superior in every way to any man who seeks to legislate my body.

i can’t help it!

it is so easy to see the change that is needed in others, or needed in large scale systems. it is so much harder to create those changes within ourselves, to live up to our values, to live into the unknown, the theoretical – what we FEEL is right, even what we have proven is right at a small scale.

it is particularly frightening to see socialization rooted inside ourselves, and to pull it up. and yet that is what we have to keep doing, and what we need to inspire the rest of this country to do.

most of you are in this room because you have done this work to unlearn the shame and stigma so many of us still get taught to associate with abortion, and to step to the front line to make sure that anyone who needs an abortion can get one.

your work here, all of you, has been so crucial in this respect – you are putting your time, life and resources on the line to help us change how we access abortion care from the local to the national level. you are supporting low-income women, women of color, young women.

i commend you all. i am grateful beyond words. (part of why i wrote this down was because of how emotional i was just preparing for this)

i am grateful as a full spectrum doula.
i am grateful as a survivor of ectopic pregnancy.
i am grateful as an auntie to babies who will have more choices because of your work.
i am grateful as an ever evolving pan-queer-sexual human (who knows what the future holds?)

i thank you.

so now i want to explore what the next edge of growth is for us. what will be healing to everyone we touch?

all that you touch you change. but it also changes you. change is a multidirectional activity.

one of my biggest areas of question to offer tonight is – how do we expand our network of change? i mean, not just who we will change, but who we will let change us, in order to reach far enough to change everything.

to even consider letting others change us, we have to have a solid sense of self. a movement sense of self. we can create change around abortion, we are growing reproductive justice. we are creating a new world here. that you all have raised the money you have raised in spite of the cyber and ideological attacks, the vitriol and socialization of this country is a tangible measurement of that change.

but as we succeed, our opposition changes.
as we get bigger, they get frightened of losing power, and become more dangerous.
as they become more dangerous, their strategies and policies become more outrageous.
and then we become more fearful.
and we can get very narrow, trying to just protect ourselves, to hold the line for the tiny sliver of dignity and liberation and basic rights we cannot live without. our vision, tucked tightly in a safe place.

but often what we think we are protecting is already gone. vision is the collateral damage of a reactionary movement. the ‘vision’ begins sounding like “not this! repeal that! stop that! can we just get a little of this? a tiny bit of justice?” (i speak from experience)

remember the personal relationship scenario? you ever find yourself in a fight like – “wait how did we get here? i don’t even care about the toilet paper – i started this conversation because i want our home to feel like a retreat center of love and equity! you got stuck on bathroom habits, and what the heck? are we breaking up right now?”

it can be funny – even if its not funny at the moment we can usually laugh in retrospect, depending on how the breakup goes.

but this happens in our political work all the time. its less funny there.

this has absolutely happened with our work for reproductive justice, we keep finding ourselves in external and internal debates over differences that distract us from our vision – which is that every person has agency over her, his or their own body. it isn’t about one choice – its about a multitude of choices all rooted in love and equity.

humans tend to change in a cycle.

people say history repeats itself, and in some ways it does. but each time, the group of humans is different, the world is different, and even if it looks the same from the outside, within each cycle are evolutions, micro shifts that create different outcomes.

this slow but determined cycle of change is why so many of our movements are evolving beyond silo’d issue struggles and embracing intersectional identities.

it is how this movement is coming to understand that any discussion about abortion is a discussion about race, about poverty, about borders, about prisons, about control, about collective liberation.

that took so much work. your work and so many others. it is imperative to celebrate that work.

in order to realize our vision for a world in which we have safety and agency for all humans in all bodies, we have to understand this iterative cycle of change, and aim not just for surface shifts that advance or regress from administration to administration.

we have to get very intentional about how we “transform ourselves in order to transform the world”. those are the words of grace lee boggs, my late mentor. we have to create an ideological majority and stability around abortion access and reproductive justice, one that can normalize inside an ever changing world.

i know we can do this.

grace also said “we must assume our power, not our powerlessness”.

octavia called this shaping change. understanding that change is inevitable and constant, but if we are awake we are not simply victims of change, or reacting to change. we can be a force that shapes change.

we can shape change around abortions and reproductive justice.

it is time to get visionary about abortion.

(visionary. what do i mean? not idealistic. not never never land. (vision is kind of my fetish – one of my fetishes))

last year a book that i co-edited with walidah imarisha came out, it’s called Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction from Social Justice Movements. we asked organizers to write science fiction, because we realized that our work as social justice visionaries and organizers is to bring about a world we have never seen. a world without poverty, without patriarchy. a world where every human has the right to make their own difficult choices for their health and lives, towards abundance, towards liberation.

we haven’t experienced this world yet – we are cocreating it. so organizing is reaching forward and pulling the future into our present. all organizing is science fiction. (we are all badass super heroes!)

and what we found in our organizers was that many went above and beyond our call. we don’t lack vision, we lack permission.

we called it sci fi to reach the place people are familiar with, but it is more precisely called visionary fiction. walidah created that term to speak of art we create with intention.

art is never neutral – it either upholds or upends the status quo. so Octavia’s Brood gathered stories of the future that show change as a process, as a bottom up, collective process, centering marginalized communities. neither utopian nor dystopian, because as we know those actually tend to go hand in hand. the 1% depends on the 99%. first class has to be in front of coach. even heaven requires hell.

we invited stories that took us beyond binaries, that took us to the edge of what these organizers could see.

because gloria anzaldua taught us: “nothing happens in the ‘real’ world unless it first happens in the images in our heads.”

this is our work. we must dream the impossible, dream it together, out loud, until it becomes practice and pathway. we must collaborate on our ideas, subverting the capitalist practice of competing like gladiators to have the best idea. we must build collective vision, deep intentions that allow radical adaptations in the unknown future.

(now, i say this next part as someone with deep southern evangelical anti-abortion family members)

a lot of the people who are counted in our opposition have been negatively impacted by the execution of their own espoused values – unable to get the abortions they needed; born to people who did not want to, or were not ready to, parent but felt they had no choice; people shamed for their pregnancies; then shamed for their abortions.

our imagination needs to include these women, our story needs to be big enough to invite them in.

i have been talking about imagination a lot lately. who gets the right to imagine? who gets to realize their imaginations in the real world? we are, in fact, in an imagination battle. i borrow this line of thinking from claudine rankine and terry marshall – right now we are living inside the imagination of other people. people who think women and black people and people from other countries and people with different abilities or desires are dangerous and inferior. can be shot down in the street. mike brown, renisha mcbride and so many others lost their lives to that imagination. we can be regulated around the choice to bring life into this world, we can be controlled through the violence people take based on their waking dreams.

those imaginings have created the conditions of oppression that bring us into this room. the results of this delirium are that women, especially women of color and poor women, are not to be trusted with our bodies. it’s not sane, but it has been institutionalized. and as we grow our resources and our ranks, it is imperative that we burst out of the box that the conservative imagination designates for us. this means moving out of a defensive stance.

i am creating work at a particular intersection. octavia is there, grace is there, and gloria. and a few other ancestors who bear naming.

toni cade bambara charged us with “making the revolution irresistible”. i think of this often when i find myself turning to fear or shame as a motivating force for my people (i never mean to do this but it comes out under pressure, fear and shame are contagious).

how do i make a future of justice an irresistible option? how do we paint in the loudest colors a picture of a world in which families are intentional, joyful, resourced with love and longing. that’s what’s on the other side of abortion access.

audre lorde is also at this intersection – she taught us of pleasure – that it is the experience of the erotic, of being fully sensationally alive in real time, that makes suffering unbearable. she said, when i am “in touch with the erotic, i become less willing to accept powerlessness, or those other supplied states of being which are not native to me, such as resignation, despair, self-effacement, depression, self-denial.”

so i have been reflecting on how the fear of an unwanted pregnancy seriously impacts pleasure and power. in part because of the process of abortion. but, i think, in much larger part because of the narratives around abortion, the trauma of stigmatization, and the lack of emotional support for those who make this choice.

in terms our opposition might understand, they “deny themselves heaven” in this regard, because i suspect a next level of sexual freedom and erotic evolution is also on the other side of abortion access and human-centered reproductive justice.

the final piece i want to add here brings us back to where i started. one of the ways we change ourselves is to change our stories, yes – and my invitation is to bring creativity, joy, love, longing and pleasure into the next stories told about abortion.

but the other way we change ourselves is to put down our armor, or at least move the shield to the side so we can see who we are fighting with. this is ESPECIALLY important for our internal differences. how much of our time and energy do we spend trying to change each other, instead of working to align with each other?

this is a lesson from nature, which i have been studying in a deep way for my next book, which is on emergent strategies, focusing on the way complex systems and patterns emerge out of relatively simple interactions.

in nature the big creatures, those who are the same species but battle each other for territory – the lions, tigers, bears (oh my) – they are on the extinction lists. the creatures which work together with clear distinctions and roles and a shared sense of survival, those are the ones that are proliferating. ants, birds, roaches. octopi and squid. slime mold. these organisms move at the speed of relationship.

the black lives matter movement has been articulating this practice as moving at the speed of trust – that’s as fast as we can go. and our impact can be as big and powerful as our trust is.

our internal movement armor comes in the form of political positions and think pieces and call-outs. we must practice putting down our armor with each other, spend more time getting into a room together and not just drinking (which i enjoy but am abstaining from sugar so…) but working on our alignment. if we are already clear on where the differences are, how do we turn our collective attention to those places where we align and grow that?

what we pay attention to grows. so let’s practice with an affirmation pledge. turn to the person next to you and really take in this divine specimen of warrior. now repeat after me:

i am not you
oh but I need you
thank you for your work
let’s get this. let’s get free
.

thank you so much for paying attention to me these last twenty minutes.

thank you so much for paying attention to our rights and our bodies as your life’s work.

thank you yamani, tiffany and everyone at the national network of abortion funds for having me.

(after this was an incredible karaoke night that was, as yamani sang in her first ever karaoke performance, ‘more than words’)

Self Love as a Liberatory Practice for the Future

On Wednesday night I got to have a public conversation with new and old friends about self love.

We spoke at Solespace, my favorite site store /community space in Oakland. They’re in a campaign right now to keep the space open after the city shut down their street. Support the space with donations and spreading the word.

I opened by speaking about Audre Lorde’s Uses of the Erotic, specifically the idea that once you have tasted the pleasure of being so fully alive and self realized, you cannot settle for suffering. She teaches:

“once we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of. Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives. And this is a grave responsibility, projected from within each of us, not to settle for the convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected, nor the merely safe.”

I’m titillated by the implications of a future determined by those who willfully immerse themselves in joy and love for the self. I am obsessed with how love and joy are the actual tools we need to move against the culture of fear and scarcity. We’re experts at deconstruction and tearing systems and each other apart. But if what we pay attention to grows, how can we be more mindful about growing our capacity for love?

I also spoke of building community with those who are also focused on self love and how it shifts accountability. About how I’ve been learning slowly to engage self loving behaviors and disengage from behaviors that harm myself. That there is a way that truly loving myself makes clear how interconnected I am to other people, to this planet…makes it harder to do harm. I spoke of Somatics and healing as a way to understand that I am more than my trauma, that I can be a part of communities organized around collective and liberatory longing. I spoke of how grief has made self love more crucial, because I have to love not only myself, but the ancestors and ghosts I carry, their wisdom.

Jodie then spoke of how self love radically changes what we demand from the world and the future. She also spoke of how people on a self love journey in parallel engage in coevolution through friendship – and how this isn’t easy. It means asking each other tough questions about whether the choices we’re making serve that highest purpose of self love.

Jay-Marie spoke on being a deity amongst deities and how her choices in life, including leaving the bay for a massive black lgbt bike tour of the South, participating in the stunning Say Her Name action earlier this year, and pouring her heart into her music, come out of this exploration of self love. Jay-Marie brought tons of people out, drawn in by the light force she’s generating.

Ashara was our final speaker, and she had us in tears as she spoke about this year of her mother’s death and her own near-death experience with overworking to the detriment of her health. She taught us about family, being present to each other’s real emotions, about learning to do work we lOve without sacrificing our bodies in the process. Her 29 year-old son was at the event and wouldn’t take his eyes off of her. It was deeply moving.

Everyone in the room then paired up and got a chance to just see and be seen, feel the attention of another. I was moved by how much laughter and crying happened during this pairing. Each pair shared their own ‘self love front line’, where they know they need to advance their self loving practices.

Finally we brain stormed self love practices together. Here’s the list we started – feel free to add!

Therapy 
Bodywork
Masturbation (‘an orgasm a day keeps the nothing away’)
Tarot 
Meditation 
Shifting relationship to food 
Learning to say no in real time 
Unstructured time to feel myself, follow my intuition  
Acupuncture 
Notice when I feel alive and happy 
Give myself permission to grow old 
Recognize my body is all I have 
Celebrate self love in self and others 
Jomo…cultivate the joy of missing out 
Self love day!  (Baba’s day – insert your name!)
Sleeping in late 
Waking up early and being quiet 
Silent walks 
Dancing 
Decaf life 
No meeting Wednesdays (or whatever day you choose)
Grow more food 
Care for injuries 
Don’t hate, collaborate
Delegate 
Trust my intuition 
Being in spaces with my community that cultivate healing 
Spending time by the water 
Singing to myself 
Working out 
Playing sports 
Dancing and playing music 
Finding a tree in my neighborhood 
Read more books 
Free writing daily, or often
Less Internet 
Cook 
Work with clay 
Good one on one interactions 
Prayer 
Making home a safe space 
Animal love 
Feeling land and air 
Let myself be danced by another
Have good sex 
Making out for a really (really) long time 
Put hands in the dirt 

Go forth and love ????????????

Caring for Ourselves as Political Warfare

protests and actions can give us the highest highs and the most gut wrenching terrors or deepest disappointments. in the midst of wildly inspiring actions and protests happening worldwide, there is increasing racialized violence and the urgency of trying to grab this moment, the feeling of pressing up against our edges.

i invited adaku utah, leah lakshmi piepzna-samarasinha and susan raffo to generate an offering of practices to restore us to ourselves, to recenter us on why we are here and doing this work. autumn brown and maryse mitchell-brody are developing a guide with many others for how to create a healing justice practice space.

remember, audre lorde teaches us: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

we need all of us:

    PRE-PROTEST SELF CARE TIPS

adaku

Cast a Heart Spell

HEART SPELL
Return to yourself
Light a candle
Inhale the air that surrounds you, from the soles of the Earth to the crown of the galaxies
Open your heart with breath, with life force
Feel your heart expand with the rhythms moving through you
Exhale
Inhale
See light fill all empty spaces
Awaken the tree within
Breathe your limbs tall
Your roots deep
Exhale
Inhale
Expand heart muscle even wider
Push past boundaries
Break through chains
Reach for your power
Digest its dimensions
Fill through cracks
Pulse with life
Exhale
Inhale
Deep
Deeper
Anchor yourself to the love that is you
to the love that is your ancestors
to the love that is life
to the love that can never be stolen
Radiate this truth
Strong enough to break restrictions
Exhale
Inhale
Increase the flow of love
Let each breath be a magic spell you cast upon yourself

If you will be protesting using #BlackLivesMatter, take some time to remind and align yourself with the inspiring herstory of this movement led by the brilliance of Black Queer women Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi and Alicia Garza. www.blacklivesmatter.com

Create a poster or chant that is an affirmation and embodiment of the resistance and resilience of Black People. Last week I came up with this chant/mantra I kept repeating to myself during the march:: White supremacy you tryna fuckin rule.. NO.. Black love will rise over you!

If you do not have capacity to hold up a sign during the protest, write the affirmation somewhere you can see. I often write on my palms or glove, a sticker I can place on my water bottle, a cloth patch I can safety pin on my jacket or write something on a piece of my clothing.

Pack a wellness bag for you and comrades. Ask what will sustain and take care of you and your team while you are protesting. Here are some things that I’ve learned to put in mine as I am supporting wellness for myself and community members during protests (Giving thanks to Black Cross Health collective, fellow wise comrades and my intuition for these resources!):

the National lawyers Guild number
Lots of water in a water bottle to drink and to wash of your skin or eyes if needed
healthy snacks and fruits
warm, comfortable protective shoes you can move and run in
extra warm layers if its fall or winter (gloves, scarves, hand and toe warmers)
zip-lock with bandana soaked with cider vinegar (water if nothing else). It can aid in breathing during chemical exposure
shatter-resistant eye protection
fresh clothes in plastic bag (in case yours gets contaminated by chemical weapons)
inhaler, epi-pen, insulin or other meds/healing herbs if applicable
several days of prescription medication and doctor’s note in case of arrest
protective herbs and crystals ie sage, cedar, osho root, onyx, amethyst
Nervous system tinctures: oatstraw, motherwort, lemon balm
Rescue remedy flower essence
Throat lozenges
tampons and pads
first aid kit

Check out these amazing action additional tips from the Audre Lorde Project.

Learn the language of your body and spirit. Notice how your body chooses to respond in the midst of certain people/certain places/certain types of actions/certain types of inactions/certain times of the day/certain times of the month/certain types of noise/certain types of movement. What do you notice? Does what arises bring you ease or tension? Being numb or not knowing is totally fine too and is also information about how your body is choosing to show up at that given moment. Write down, draw or remember what you discover. Affirm what is happening. Your body, spirit and intuition are such incredible guides that can support how we live. Without judgement, recognize that your body has unique ways of responding to what is happening inside and outside of you. Many of these responses have been powerful protection tools that continue to keep you alive.

Create safety and/or support plans in advance. Ask yourself and community that you trust, what will I/we do if ____________ happen? How would I/we like to be supported? Icarus Project has a great tool.

Figure out what your capacity is. Can you protest for 1 hour or 7? Are you currently recovering from illness and need to shift your form of resistance outside of the streets? Are you someone who is arrestable? If it is cold out, how long can your body tolerate the weather?

Make a TURN UP revolutionary mix tape

    SELF CARE TIPS DURING PROTESTS

adaku
Continue to remind yourself why you are there. Recite mantras, meditations or chants when you need.

Tilt your eyes up softly to meet the sun, moon or stars. Let them wash over you with their power and embrace. Feel your connection with other forms of life. Allow your breath to move in and out as slowly as a cloud morphing through the sky. Imagine your breath is pulling in the vast expansiveness of the sky, the radiance of the moon, the majesty of the sun or the consistency of the night. Let each inhale awaken the vast possibilities that exist inside and outside of you. Allow each exhale to blanket where you are with a commitment to a world you desire to live in.

Continue to listen to how your body is responding. What sensations are arising? Where do you feel them? Are these sensations telling you to slow down, eat, keep going, call your support buddy, catch up with the crew you are marching with, warm up your body, breathe deeper, walk with a different contingent, head home?

Remind yourself of a moment when you could feel your own power. Allow yourself to feel that energy all over again. Invite the presence of that power to be with you now. Feel it expand. Breathe in the textures of your truth. Send this power wherever you need it. Let each inhale carry this power as far back to your ancestors and each exhale carry it forward through you and into future generations.

If you are near a tree, with permission, sit under or place your spine on the tree. Let the dignity of the tree encourage yours to rise with every breath.

susan
Vibration vibration vibration…hum low in your throat, as low as you can go, and bring that hum down into your lungs and your chest…feel the vibration, taking a breath in when you need to breathe, and then back to vibration. Let the vibration be a small chosen shake, a rattling of what is held inside, the vibration expanding in circles from your throat out through the rest of your body

Movement. It doesn’t matter what kind, just move as you are able. Move from the inside of yourself, inviting your hands, your arms, your face, your heart, your brain to lead the movement. The movement can be small and energetic or it can be big and take up a lot of space. From inside your self, start the movement like a shooting star, sensing when it shifts direction or wants to stop.

Notice what is happening around you right now. The colors of life around you, the texture, the edges between things, the edge of a building against the street, the edge of a car wheels on the ground, a tree against the sky. Notice where there is an edge, a boundary between two things, sense into that. Let your skin feel texture around you in whatever way your skin notices texture: rough bark or cement, hot flat metal of a car, cold slickness of a window. While you are noticing, tell yourself what you are witnessing. There is a red brick building in front of me and the bricks closest to the street are crumbled. My hands can feel the bits of dust and red brick, their sharp and crumbly edges. Put yourself into whatever part of the space around you is safe enough to touch and sense. The color of it. The sound if there is sound. The taste if you can imagine taste.

    POST PROTEST SELF CARE TIPS

adrienne

with one minute or less:

breathe. take three breaths that are a little deeper. imagine the breath filling you up from the heart, more each time, till your whole body has breath.

speak a mantra or commitment that brings you back to your purpose. here are some examples:

black lives matter. (alicia garza, opal tameti, patrisse cullors)
my people are free. (harriet tubman)
all is full of love. (bjork)
love’s in need of love today. (stevie wonder)
i am enough.
black love. (BOLD and many others)
i am a practice ground for abundance/love/fearlessness/ transformation/magic
i do it! (my niece mairead)
i’ma have none of that (my niece siobhan)
i just want to talk about dragons (my nephew finn)
all that you touch you change (octavia)
I am my ancestors’ answered prayer (Leah)
I am significant (Adaku)
I am the love that I have been waiting for (Adaku)
Tell your child self: You are alive. I am alive (Adaku)
when Black people get free, everybody gets free (Black Lives Matter)
who is worth my love, my strength and my rage? (Leah saw it on tumblr on a lot of qTPOC sites)
act in a way your past, present and future self will appreciate (kyisha williams)
no one said this road would be easy/ I don’t think she brought me this far to leave me (Mango Tribe)

think of someone who you love, who you do this work for, alive or ancestor or dream. hold that thought like a rock.

keep a tincture or flower essence with you to use at these moments. i am currently loving one called ‘boundaries in a bottle‘ (from Dori Midnight) which helps immensely in my work. rescue remedy is a go to for lots of people. a few drops under the tongue can help you breathe. good fight herb co has a lovely self-love potion that is also really helpful after the battleground.

leah
I use motherwort tincture as a reliable anti anxiety aid, that also scoops me up in her arms when I’m grieving, mourning or cried out. Hawthorne and rose are great for heart hurts too.

adrienne
light a candle so the fire can transform your focus and energy. wach it for a while, or let it sit in a sacred space to release what you can’t carry.

with ten minutes

that loved one i mentioned above? spend some time thinking of them at your side, or at your back. lean on them. let them hold you. breathe into it.

meditate. with each in-breath, invite spaciousness and rest into your body and spirit. with each out-breath, release that which is not yours to carry. (some examples: ‘breathing in space, breathing out drama’. ‘breathing in sleep, breathing out white guilt’. ‘breathing in comrades, breathing out fear’. or this one from naima penniman: ‘breathe in beyonce, breathe out condalezza rice’.)

lay down flat on your back, pull your knees up to your chest, hug your knees, and rock back and forth. this gives your body a quick break, your vertebrae more space, a little massage to your hips.

pour yourself a glass of water. drink the whole thing, inviting your body to be like water, transforming to move forward.

write about what you learned at the action/protest. write it for yourself, write it to share with others.

leah
pranayamic breath, or ‘the great yogic breath’ (shout outs to nisha ahuja for teaching me) take a deep breath into your heart, and then into your belly. hold it. feel how full you are. exhale from your belly, then from your heart. repeat.

containment breath (shout outs to vanissar tarakali for teaching me): inhale into your belly. when you exhale, do it in three stages- exhale from your belly, pause, exhale from your middle chest, pause, then exhale from the top of your chest. this breath helps give a sense of containment when I am feeling overwhelmed and EMERGENCY MUST GO EVERYTHING IS AN EMERGENCY.

I also squeeze my arms and thighs and feel the bones underneath when I am overwhelmed and dissassociated- it helps me feel like there is something holding me up all the time, that I don’t have to do anything to get, and it brings me back to my body more than other anti dissassociation exercises.

Train yourself to go outside and take a short walk every couple of hours, if you are locked up by a computer. I was always telling myself “yeah, I know I should but….” and remaining glued to the computer. A recent work gig that told us all to go on quick breaks every hour showed me how much this helped my focus, for real.

with an hour

adrienne

take a nap. a timed nap so you won’t miss anything, or an untimed nap…whichever one is more relaxing for you.

exchange shoulder and neck massages with someone you feel physically safe around. use your thumbs to move up and out, imagine that stress and oppression are small knots at the top of the spine and that you can smooth them out and drop them off the edges of the shoulders.

cook yourself a meal, alone or with loved ones.

write a note of appreciation (on paper, on email, through social media) to someone (in the movement or in your circle) who you deeply appreciate right now. you don’t have to send it, but you do have to feel it.

put yourself in water – a shower, a bath. let the water remind you who and what you are. anything that feels too big, send it to the ocean.

take care of something alive and revel in the impact of that action. water a plant, change a diaper, play a game, hold an elder’s hand. small miracles grow big ones.

engage in a spiritual practice that brings you into yourself. that may be prayer, meditation, movement, song, art. ask someone to hold this space with you. others from your actions, or those who aren’t/can’t protest but are in alignment.

with two hours or more

leah
What feels good? Figure out how to do the work in ways that feel as good as possible. When Healing Justice for Black Lives Matter blew up and all of a sudden I was getting 48 FB notifications an hour- including from a million white healers I didn’t know personally, who were all eager to join in, without maybe noticing how their presence shifted what had been a majority BIPOC action- what had felt like a juicy, generative, wild freedom song action started to feel like a stress ball in my shoulders. But this time, I actually stopped and said, how do I want to do this? How do I want it to feel? I asked for help. I gave myself permission to turn off the computer for breaks. I breathed. I reminded myself, and got reminded, that it’s ok to check people and set limits! Boundaries are beautiful.

Take time for sex and cute outfits and the gender things that make your body strong and shining. My sephora lipstain and eyeliner are on purpose, they are not sidenotes, they are femme armour and blessing and allow me to teach, organize and show up. So is texting my dates and masturbation as self care.

adrienne

yes to pleasure activism. remember your body can release a lot through pleasure. be grateful for your skin, softness, hardness, nerves, mysteries, releases.

community acupuncture. let the acupuncturist know you are engaging in protests and actions, what you want to release, what you want to embody.

see another kind of bodyworker or healer. i ride for somatic bodywork and limpias, but there are so many practices that can help – craniosacral, tarot, reiki, coaching. on december 18 a lot of us are offering our healing services at a reduced rate, and/or donating all of our income to ferguson movement work. we are also offering up healing for black activist/organizers involved in these protests worldwide, not just that date, but in general. find more about both efforts here.

go to a sauna or spa or hot springs. i have a list here, they range in affordability. a lot of places have options to sit in the hot tub even if you don’t get a massage or treatment.

adaku
Continue to listen to how your body is responding. What sensations are arising? Where do you feel them? Are these sensations telling you to slow down, eat, mastrubate, call your support buddy, catch up with the crew you are marching with, warm up your body, breathe deeper, sleep?

Sit, stand or lay down in silence. Breathe in silence. In the deep quiet, find a word or phrase that needs to be spoken. On your next exhale, scream it at the top of your lungs.

Put your arm around yourself. Take a deep breath. Give yourself a squeeze. On your next inhale repeat an affirmation to your core.

Offer up gratitude to yourself, your ancestors and/or your team for protecting you and supporting your capacity to engage in this action.

Do this with someone your body trusts and feels comfortable being vulnerable and close with:: Embrace each other in a hug (Hugging stimulates an incredibly deep nervous system relaxation response). Mirror each other with each next step. Breathe in through the nose slowly and evenly until you fill your lungs to capacity. Hold the breathe for five slow counts. Breathe out through the nose, releasing the air slowly. Repeat 3 times. If you have capacity, whisper an affirmation into each other’s ear at your very last exhale.

Allow yourself to be heard by someone you trust. Call, visit or welcome someone who has capacity to hold space with you to join you where you are. As much as feels comfortable, share how you are doing and what you might need in the coming moments, days or weeks.

Make a dream pillow to support insomnia, anxiety and panic attacks. (Great recipe from mountain rose herbs).

Give yourself permission to come undone. To cry unabashedly, to laugh wildly, to whip your hair back and forth, to dance ferociously, to summon up the fiercest scream. Tap into the primal nature of your emotions. Let it stir what needs to be heard.

Suck on some honey! my favorite. If you can, mix a tablespoon of honey with a tiny tiny pinch of lavender. Both are incredible relievers of stress and anxiety and fortify the immune system. Suck slow and intentionally. Let the sweetness caress every part of your mouth.

leah

because self care is collective care is disability justice:

Lift up disabled and chronically ill folks for how much we have invented the art of collective care (because we have to live interdependently, because we know the medical industrial complex is not our friend.). Ask the crips in your life for tips first! We know how to make access and share resources on no money, we’ve been doing this for forever!

A place I always go to for disabled wisdom about collective care is this blog, which has all the thinking and all the real talk practice (access audits, how to make a spaces that’s accessible except for the bathroom accessible, and more.) Yashna’s article about collective care also never gets old. To see how we organized Creating Collective Access, a group of disabled and sick folks collectively caring for each other, at the Allied Media Conference, go here.

This blog post – about how sick and disabled and mad folks offer support to each other all the time, and how we don’t have to wait to be “healed” to offer care to each other- is really speaking to me right now.

At the same time, it’s not like sick and disabled and mad people all are a monolith or have this issh figured out either! Years ago, I was part of a group of sick and disabled qtpoc who were trying to figure out how to care for each other. My Virgo moon was all about “let’s just get the google doc going!” but another person was like, wait a second- most of us have experienced people trying to care for us in messed up ways- paternalistic, controlling, disrespecting our autonomy, all the ways people try to “help the handicapped” all the time. We need to figure out first what would even allow us to accept help. She made us journal about a time when someone offered help to us in a way that felt good and was about solidarity, not charity.

A lot of the time, I see folks go “I know I should ask for help,but it’s hard…” And that is totally real. And it’s because of ableism. Ableism, inside the white supremacist capitalist colonialist ableist patriarchy (the WSCAP), tells us that if we ask for help, we are weak, and that’s a bad thing. Most of us have lived in the world in ways where there have for real been nobody we could trust to take care of ourselves well but ourselves (on a good day.) This is embedded in everything from abuse in nursing homes to welfare cuts to jail to our families. I’ve heard politicized QPOC comrades blithely call folks who ask for help, “energy vampires” or say, “Oh her, she has issues, she’s so *neeedy.*”

So sometimes the first step you have to do in order to even feel comfortable asking for and receiving help is to unpack all that. And to start small. Make your list of the shit you could really, really use help with, and another list of the people you think would be safe to ask, and ask for the least risky thing first. See how it feels. See how it goes. Experiment.

Do an access check in before you plan an action and before you start. Ask people what they need to be in the space. Often, people have never been asked before and go “uhhhhh…” That’s fine. Start where you are. Let the needs and their brilliance shape the action. That’s actually stronger than trying to force people into a mold that doesn’t fit them.

If you’re already caring for people, but you are wrestling with feeling depleted, giving more than you can, feeling resentful- unpack that stuff too, because it’s not good for anyone.

If you are nondisabled, don’t be texting your disabled friends all the time going “See you at the barricades! Oh wait you can’t do a five mile march in the cold… oh well, take care!” That’s ableism and it’s shitty and we’re all really sick of it. Figure out ways you can do actions where you can all take part. Roll with the krip/sicko crew when we make it to the march. Ask us how and if we want your support. Re read “Wherever you are is where I want to be” by Mia Mingus

Ask your sick and disabled friends what we need to participate, in what actions, and let us steer the boat of what we want/need instead of doing what you think is good for us- we’re the experts on our own bodies and lives, trust me ;). Bring water and snacks. Offer to push a manual chair ( you can often rent them for cheap from a medical supply place or drugstore) for someone who is a cane user or someone who walks but has chronic pain who wants to be able to be on a longer march. Ask your powerchair using friend if her battery needs a charge, and help people get out of the way of her rolling, if that’s what she wants.

Hold that leaving the protest at any time someone’s bodymind is about to give out is just as radical as staying.

This is a good guide by and for disabled folks doing direct action.

Also, recognize that for some of us with disabilities and chronic illness/pain and/or madness, we may make the choice to push our bodies extra hard to be in the streets- but that we may need extra time to recover afterwards. When we shut down the port of Oakland during Occupy/Decolonize, I had to be there at 4 AM and walk 3 miles each way because the accessible busses were badly promoted and left before I got there. I’m glad I did it, but I totally went into a flare, hurt like hell and needed to sleep 12 hours afterwards. Don’t judge us for our choices or tell us what to do or that we are being irresponsible for being in the streets. Understand that we negotiate many kinds of risk in these bodies everyday, that our relationship to pain is different because we dance with her all the time, and we negotiate stretching our limits all the time. Ask us what you can to do support- if you can bring food after, or do childcare so we can rest.

adrienne
and if all else fails, read this again, because…

susan
This is power. This is power humming on this page. Reading it settles me in places where I wasn’t aware of the need for settling. Reading this makes me want to show up quietly and fiercely, to rest quietly and fiercely, and to show up again. This is power humming on this page.

adrienne
please add on more resources you know of, and please take care of yourself. we know you are precious.

black love as a radical commitment

i am writing to you from a plantation, but it might also be the future.

this space, the franklinton center at bricks, was once a place that slaves were sent to be broken in. for centuries.

and then it was a christian school in the same white charitable tradition that led to many of our historical black colleges and universities. for decades.

now it is a retreat center and, if prayers are responded to, in the most tangible manifestations, the future home of BOLD – black organizing for leadership and dignity.

reparations, soil up.

i donate facilitation time to BOLD each year because i believe it is our best chance at liberation. not just black liberation, though that would be enough. but i believe that the liberation of black people represents a realization of the human experiment, the resolution of a tension born out of our distance from the sacred truth of who we are. stardust.

we are sentient miraculous beings. on a magnificent planet, possibly the most biologically diverse planet in an apparently infinite universe, or multiverse. at least so far. who knows – as far as we have seen, we are unique.

and within this unique species, there are so many oppressed peoples.

and within that, the primary sustaining hierarchy of our planet has been that of dark skin to light skin. to be a black person on this experimental rock hurtling through space, obsessed with the sun, is a dangerous thing. in some parts of the world our children are armed soldiers. in most parts of the world our children are the hungriest of the youth. in our part of the world, we are being publicly lynched at a higher rate than ever before in our history.

all of the systems are exposing themselves as built on shaky sand, at minimum obselete. iphone 3. we developed so quickly, so quickly we gained the cultural center, and the white house. but of course we needed, as a nation, to spend a few centuries healing, holding each other, getting our breath back from how this specific nation began just yesterday. genocide and slavery are stones woven into our skirts, bruising our calves as we run, trying to escape the weight.

we need healing.

we need to stop and reconcile ourselves with existence, though nothing ever pauses in evolution. but..i am 36, and i can walk on a piece of ground where the soil still shows bloodstains from my ancestors being broken, and breaking in. slavery is a visceral presence. cotton whisps in my hair, i walk through a school house here that feels thick, like i had to push my way through spirits; young, black, hopeful spirits.

and all of that is done in this place, BOLD, where we are celebrating and cultivating black love as an organizing strategy. the three women who birthed #blacklivesmatter are of this community, not accidentally. they were not created by this community, but gathered, noticed, honored. gathered by denise perry and others, because they, we, are not interested in short tem reactionary responses to systemic violence. because we want to keep our hands on the root of the problem – the solution: black lives matter.

our black love is what teaches us that we matter.

i can’t tell you how nourishing and restorative it is to be in this space, at this time. i cannot count how many of the people said they traveled long and far because they needed to fill up at the well with black love.

because we are lovable, as lovable as anything else on this incredible and utterly unique planet. and even though our recent history includes generations of self-negating branding, physical and psychological, we have begun to love ourselves again.

some people are terrified by this, just by black people saying ‘enough’ and ‘it stops today’. they will try to suffocate us all, put bullets in us all.

but!

we outnumber the ones who feel this way. black people and those who can see us for who we are, we are the ‘overwhelming majority of planet earth’.

bold is the black power movement of our generation. the medicine we claim will heal anyone who swallows it – black lives matter.

we know black love is a radical commitment. an aspirational and healing commitment. you think you are not us, but we know you are. black love means looking in the mirror and remembering who you, and we, are.

we danced in cotton fields, we danced in the darkness of ships, we danced on the biggest continent on this magical rock.

we dance now, screaming “i can hear my brother saying i can’t breathe/now i’m in the struggle saying i can’t leave/calling out the violence of these racist police/we won’t stop the struggle til our people are free,” in new york.

dying-in in small towns.

shutting down highways from the twin cities to l.a.

and singing our ancestors’ words in north carolina.

today i was part of a circle of black women evoking harriet tubman under the guidance of sister doctor alexis pauline gumbs. she had us chant harriet’s words, ‘my people are free. my people are free.’ we chanted until we were swaying, rocking, giggling, glowing, weeping, laughing out loud.

try it. chant it till your body believes.

or june jordan’s words, ‘we are the onces we’ve been waiting for.’

or fannie lou hamer’s words, ‘nobody’s free until everybody’s free.’

or audre lorde’s words, ‘i am who i am, doing what i came to do.’

or ella baker’s words, ‘give light and the people will find the way.’

or anna julia cooper, ‘the world needs to hear her voice.’

alexis had us chanting these words, in a space where folks were contemplating emergent strategy, black love, somatics and resilience.

and what we know for sure at this point is we need each other, and we as black people need to give other black people space to be themselves completely. we have to love ourselves so no one can be confused about our dignity, our preciousness, our brilliance, our lovability.

we keep turning inwards, and back out. breath, ocean, orbits, we are the fundamental rhythm, in flesh. and as we master ourselves, it becomes impossible to serve any other master.

our numbers are massive with ghosts. we are cultivating the liberated state. we know every person killed is a fallen soldier in the greatest war ever fought – and we grieve with parents and community, and we blow on fires of fearlessness growing deep in our bellies, to take action in and through grief.

it won’t be easy, but we will find every pleasure, every sacred instance.

we know we are on the right side of history.

we choose to be the light.

future things: on skawennati, yan jun, feedback improvisation + international kindred in montreal

i’m writing from a train pressing through a gray quebec landscape. yesterday i spoke at science faction, the sight + sound international digital arts festival in montreal. the panel i was a part of was called ‘whose fictions? upturning the male dystopian gaze’, and it was pretty fantastic.

i am wary of things that sound very cool, especially in the digital tech world – i always seek the organic connection. this space felt like building the organic bridge between technology and the heart, desire, evolution. it felt like being amongst those who will tinker and experiment and push edges into the future. i was blown away by the kindred thinking of the other artists on the panel, especially skawennati, who i got to connect with before the panel on sex, sugar and sabbaticals. i share my notes from the conversation below.

i also got to experience a few other artists. sound artists. i have found a new experience to love. let me start there.

the first artist was named yan jun and he did something called feedback improvisation. i followed an instinct to sit in the very front row. an announcement came on before he played, that the performance was subtle, so the audience should be quiet, calm. the room was dark, just a bright light where his equipment was set up. it looked like a bunch of volume knobs, a sort of gun with a cone at the end of it, some round metal disks, rubber bands.

yan jun walked up with a quizzical alert look on his face. he took off his hoodie and draped it over the back of his chair, then took off an outer shirt and folded it carefully and draped it too. from the first movement, everything felt meticulous, intentional. he sat down and started making noise. the noises he made took us on a journey. sound is vibration, we are vibration, and he took us to the very edge of what the body can handle in a performance that was part meditation, part internal massage, part tension and distress, part caress.

subtle, yes, and incredibly sensual. he would hold a piece of paper near the sound gun, or press two fingers against a vibrating coil, and the feedback would shift in ways that sounded like dancing, heartbeats, terror. at one point i was sure i heard a choir in the static. it was strange and exquisite.

after him, leslie garcia came on with bio-box, this complex set up with algae and moss in little dishes, hooked up to wires, so that the sounds of the plants could be used to create music. it was beautiful and paradigm shifting – there was so much life in the sounds. leslie is from mexico city. she says at home she has over 80 variety of plants, and each makes a unique sound, that philodendron sound nothing like lavender, and algae nothing like moss.

if the opportunity comes to you to take in some sound art i recommend it. get high first, it helps you listen with your body.

now, notes from ‘whose fictions?’

our facilitator erandy vergara was wonderful. she opened up by asking us to speaking about how fiction can move us beyond binaries, and offered us two questions:

1. how does something unnatural become natural? (if you cannot reproduce human children, for instance, it is considered unnatural – how does it become natural? she had a clip from the movie her to explore this, but as is the case at every tech related conference i have ever been to, the tech didn’t work)

2. how does the cyborg figure show up in your work?

i was the first speaker. i spoke of my social justice background, my background reading and watching sci fi, and how that was coming together in my life through octavia’s brood and my sci fi salons and emergent strategy sessions.

i said for me the cyborg figure – which is becoming current, i am one step away with my constant devices – is a way to explore: what is freedom? the ways we become cyborg are not necessarily so drastic, so binary as human, not human. it is often to address some self-defined limitation. my friend recently got bone anchored hearing aid to counter the severe hearing loss he’s experienced in the past few years. he looks like a future. i think our cyborg age will likely come very naturally, slip through and into us, as an expansion of nature. afterwards i thought about talking about cyborgs and economic divide – who gets to enhance? how do we hack into cyborg equality? but perhaps that will be a future talk.

in terms of natural or unnatural, i said what interests me is how often that which is different is considered unnatural, at least at first. but really difference, diversity, is what nature shows us works for evolution.

i said fiction is one way to naturalize things which people aren’t yet comfortable with. i have been thinking about this lately as it relates to the idea of ‘master’s tools’…perhaps there is no such thing. master’s ideologies, yes. but there are tools, masters use them, so do we. fiction, storytelling is a tool. men, mostly white men, have used it to express their imaginations for years, particularly in the realm of science and speculative fiction. through projects like octavia’s brood, we as women, people of color, queer people, feminist men, claim this tool for the inception of our own power in the future.

skawennati was next, and i just have to say i love this woman, and i love her partner. some people you meet and its just easy from the start.

her work focuses on natives in sci fi, imagining indians in the 25th century. she used second life to create a series. she spoke my thesis: if we dont imagine ourselves in the future we will not be there. she said particularly in native communities, ‘we spend a lot of time thinking about the past. its an unfulfillable wish’. she did a millennium project where she made a timeline from just before contact, 1490, to 2490. as she moved through it she realized it was a girl project, and wanted to do a brother project.

she created a scenario about a time in the future when people have a device that they can put on and have the 3d experience of a historical event. in her work it was important to notice that her people, mohawk people, were no longer worried about survival, they were thriving now.

of her character, skawennati shared that by learning about himself, his history, he learns to love. he is even financially successful. she said she was inspired by a lyric from an indigenous artist: ‘im gonna live real lavish for all the times you called me savage’.

the final speakers were members of the transnoise collective, a platform based in barcelona for artists to collaborate. they said they are part of the transhack feminist movement. their approach is network, DIY, performance as a way to live. play with noise. they use garbage from the places where they perform. there were technical difficulties and a language barrier, so i don’t have as much of their content, but they shared awesome stuff, such as:

– we understand ourselves as a mixture of culture and nature.
– no more projects and outcomes, more processes
– we see in research that bacteria sex is the transmission of information. sex, pleasure is another level of information, of communication.
– the fear of the unknown doesn’t exist. you have fear because of something you know, something you have heard, even if it is false. you heard it. it made a belief in you.

then erandy asked us how working with communities had impacted our practices. i shared that as a virgo, an oldest child and an american i was oriented towards individualism. but i have also learned from early achievement that success in that context is isolating. so with lots of fits and starts and lessons, i can proudly say community is growing me.

the allied media conference has been a major space of being and working and growing in community, around the principle: we begin by listening.

i shared that in most of octavia butler’s work (its always comes back to her somehow, she is muse and prophet to me) she is challenging hierarchy. that has really impacted me. it’s working with others, but also shifting traditional power dynamics.

the collective creation process of the sci fi writing workshops has been major – when building a world with others, the imaginative space goes beyond what i would think alone.

i also spoke to pace in terms of learning to work with others. often we realize we want to be more collective in our approach, and then leap from working alone to being part of an intricate highly involved collective.

collectives are advanced. the phd level of human interactions.

i have been learning to work with one other person at a time, and learning about myself in that. my work with walidah on octavia’s brood, for instance, is really revealing for both of us.

creating with others in detroit is important to me. i realized that so many of the spaces i was in in detroit were about our shared suffering, victimhood, powerlessness. and we need the reality of those spaces, to grieve and vent. but i also needed to experience and create generative healing space. and the pleasure of creating together.

at some point we spoke about embodiment – how important it is to bring the body self, which needs to eat, drink, have sex, have pleasure, into the space where the future is being imagined.

skawennati said people should teach that sex is for pleasure, instead of procreation. my heart flipped. i shared how my brother is talking about not teaching the babies the concept of virginity. how do we teach different things about the role of intimacy, the work of bodies – to not see ourselves through a religious lens, but a wholistic lens.

i spoke of pleasure, referencing audre lorde and the uses of the erotic. that the body and pleasure can be a compass for leaving behind suffering. people are motivated to change for pleasure, for desire and longing more than fear. we have tried scaring people to change, for instance, with climate change. but we have to paint compelling futures because we change when the future is so beautiful, abundant, not because it is so terrifying.

skawennati countered, ‘our society is based on fear. turtle island was developed on fear, religion based fear. telling people how bad they are. same in europe in all colonized countries. i think this is the role of the artist – to think about ways for us to move forward as a society. to put these ideas out and hope they take root.’

she recommended reading snow crash and physics of the future.

in the conversation we also got to speak to how important it is to create outside of the ongoing dynamics of oppression. toni morrison speaks to this, and nnedi okorafor has spoken about writing stories without white people in them, not as a slight to white people, but just because she writes worlds centered on black or african people who are reacting to other challenges than whites.

this means not centering our victim selves, but our creative selves. it becomes easy to come together based on shared oppression, and then start to compete about something that cannot be measured – the suffering of oppression.

i spoke about emergent strategies as an alternative. birds don’t win migration, they just go where they are supposed to be, adapting and facing the challenges along the path. this gives us space for our complexity, to have oppression in our identity and so much more. to have the tools in our communities not just to commiserate, but to move through and beyond grief and survival.

i noted that i intentionally spend a lot more time on healing, generating solutions, positivity, in relationship to others focused on cultivating the same things. as radical work.

an audience member asked how we respond to the singularity, the idea that eventually we will create an artificial intelligence that surpasses us, and how can we continue in, or merge with, that future?

i referenced kweli tutashinda’s book on grassroots and indigenous responses to singularity, which basically posits that we are all connected, that the intelligence of the planet, of life, is beyond what we comprehend and that will still be the case in and through the technology we create.

but also, we have to keep working on increasing our capacity for impermanence. meditate.

another audience member asked how to get more women to his hackerspace in mexico city. the other panelists spoke of creating women only spaces, safe spaces for women to be a part of. i added that it would be amazing if the people there, if the men reflected on how to turn up the feminine in themselves.

between the talk and performances i met two women. one was anne goldenberg, a feminist hacker artist who had just given a workshop on meditation and computers and somatics and being present with the body of your technology and the body experiences you have in your computer interactions. i was so excited to hear somatics!, and loved the premise of her work, bringing mindfulness to the machines we use all the time.

the second person was named angela gabereau, co-creator of this awesome little expressive lamp. she invited me to be a part of her current project, a queer futures online video tarot deck. um…yes.

i think that’s everything.

i will just add that having the organizers bring me by train rather than plane worked beautifully to give me a writing retreat. i feel creative and rejuvenated in it.

napowrimo poem 8: rewrite of audre lorde’s now

prompt: rewrite a famous poem, giving it your own spin. i selected audre lorde’s Now as the poem to rewrite, because i am foolish and ambitious.

Woman power
is
Black power
is
Human power
is
always feeling
my heart beats
as my eyes open
as my hands move
as my mouth speaks

I am
are you

Ready.

my magic
is
black magic
is
human magic
is
always dreaming
my heart’s next pulse
as i lean back onto ancestors
as i arch forward into vision
as my mouth sings

i am
are we

ready?

wherein i write about sex. (5 tangible tools of a pleasure activist)

i started this blog the night beyonce’s album came out. i didn’t know her album was coming, and beyonce didn’t know she was unleashing a soundtrack to this moment of my life. that convergence was so special that i had to pause writing this and spend two months learning the flawless dance and wondering, among other things, exactly what kind of feminism i am interested in. i decided that i am interested in a sexual, complex, whole person, imperfect feminism, one full of mothers, single people, married people and poly people, sex workers. women who make quality work and create systems to liberate their creativity. women as powerful as tina turner and other survivors of domestic violence. women who like to submit, talk dirty, shock even themselves. women who like to dominate, operate outside of gender norms, women willing to disagree and sit in discomfort and hold their power and their ground, women willing to grow and learn in public. it is in that spirit that i return to this blog entry.

here goes:

i don’t talk about sex enough here!

anyone who knows me in real life knows that the sensual, sexual, erotic perspective is a primary lens through which i see the world. and yet i struggle with how to integrate that self with the one here who speaks about transformation, babies, grief, growth…

but the link is all in the body as a practice ground for transformation.

i had a dream the other night. i boarded a train for a cross country journey with my friend evans, which is important only because he is a sexy beast. i was quickly recruited for a burlesque show, and i auditioned in a clear plastic belt and little else. the person running the auditions said, ‘to do this job you have to l.o.v.e. love your body!’, and i responded, ‘oh I do. i do love my body. i love my body!’ i woke up murmuring this to myself. (note: can you see how the lyrics ‘i woke up like this: flawless’ struck me with joy?)

now that’s an awesome dream outside of any analysis. but it is particularly awesome when you understand that my focus for personal transformation for the last few years (roughly 30+ years or so) has been learning to love my body, or more precisely, falling in love with myself through the terrain of my body. this dream made me feel that my focus is restructuring and healing me at the level of my subconscious…if i understand anything about the mysterious realm of dreams.

it is still work, daily. thousands of choices, opposing values and longings, moments of slipping, days of feeling super active and strong, days of feeling lazy and slothlike. i sit at the crux of an apparent contradiction: wanting to debunk the mythology (with my middle finger held high) that skinny = good/healthy, AND wanting to reclaim agency from the national practices of emotional eating, oversized portions, sedentary lifestyles, fast non-food, pharmaceutical concoctions over cooking, and corporate success over nutrition. slowly, surely, i am changing habits that will liberate me from my socialization.

but here’s the key: it started with pleasure, not with dieting and exercise. i had to love what is before i could understand what transformations were wanted, needed. and i’ve been feeling so loving in my body lately that i want to be more explicit around my pleasure activist practices. lots of them fall under the umbrella of sex. really good sex.

are you ready for that? if not, skip to my last blog which is probably about transformation or sci fi. no judgment here.

for those still here…hi….:-)

here are five tangible tools which should work regardless or any aspect of your identity, or the current state of your pleasure activism. they are in a sort of chronological order:

1. self-love. since i was a kid i have had a penchant and passion for my touch on my body. this was sometimes shameful, sometimes wonderful, and deeply private from fairly early on, as i received messages from family and neighbors that it wasn’t ‘right’. it has only been as an adult, as i have witnessed every single child i have ever met come into pleasureful awareness of their bodies, that i have understood that it was a natural part of growing into my body. in my early twenties i learned about pleasure activism: acting from an analysis that pleasure should be a natural, safe and liberated part of life – and that we can offer each other tools and education to make sure sex and drugs and other pleasures aren’t life threatening, but life enriching. my self-touch took on a political power. i started saying ‘an orgasm a day keeps the doctor away’, and i was in joyful practice for my own health. toys? yay! but i also worked to ensure that my own touch was effective. i was mostly single during this period, with lovers as they came and went. i now know that i was mostly single because i needed to reach a certain level of healing from earlier experiences of sexual trauma in school. it also became clear to me that if more people were encouraged to masturbate early and often, to learn what feels good to them and that they have the right to communicate that, there would be less sexual trauma, assault, patriarchy, misogyny and general awkwardness.

2. orgasmic meditation. this was a more recent practice connected to self-love. i went to a meeting of an unrelated group in a space in san francisco that focused on orgasmic meditation, among other things. i remember being in the space and sort of on edge. it is not unusual to end up in a room in california where people are talking openly about sex and even having it with each other, but i felt young and flustered by the idea of a room full of people bringing each other to orgasm and very glad my meeting had nothing to do with that. but the idea stayed in my head and a couple years ago i came across it again in my random explorations of the entire internet. i watched a few videos where folks explained the method: stroking the upper left quadrant of the clitoris to bring a person to orgasm. the focus on just that one place, following the breath patterns and emotional process of the recipient, and the power of the orgasm as a form of meditation and spiritual practice – all of it was fairly titillating to me. by this time though, i was thousands of miles from san francisco, with no one around i felt comfortable asking to stroke me just so without, you know, making it a whole thing. so i decided to see what happened if i just did it for myself. i did a fifteen minute practice every morning before anything else in my day for a few months. what i experienced was that every one of my orgasms had a different emotional flavor, like an experiential snowflake. and that i didn’t always need to reach an orgasm in that fifteen minutes – sometimes not releasing yielded a more energized day. starting my day with this practice made everything else go better, feel lighter and healthier, and generally increased my personal and interpersonal joy. i have still never attended their classes or done it with a group…we’ll see. but as a solo practice i return to this one if ever i feel i am in a funk.

3. self-pornography. this is also an extension of the self-love practice, but has a lot of it’s own specifications. i don’t fit the standard for american pornography or american desire. i have traveled to other places where i have been celebrated immediately for my size and shape, my color. but not so in the u.s. most pornography here offers the choice of brunettes, redheads, or blondes, or the ‘exotic’ options of asian or black women, all having sex with white men, or for lesbian porn white women, or in really freaky stuff, black men. perhaps you can feel the yawn in that sentence, pardon me. but i realized that if i wanted to truly be radical in the world, truly see white and skinny as one way people are born as opposed to the physical supreme, which pours over into every other aspect of life, i had to decolonize my desire. i had to learn to desire myself, my body, my skin, my rhythms, my pleasure. i took pictures at first. the pictures weren’t necessarily explicit in the beginning. they were just selfies, before instagram. i started with my face – how did i look smiling? happy? turned on? shut down? laughing? i took photos of every part of myself until i felt i knew more about my body, could tolerate myself, even like what i saw. then it was time for short videos. i would create the videos during moments of self-love, and then use them the next time i felt like touching myself. these videos were not shared, they were not for anyone else’s eyes, opinions or desires. that was radically important. the energy of them was purely self adoration. i dated a woman once who told me she had done sexual healing work to get to a place of screaming out her own name when she orgasmed. i let that concept be a guide. how much could i love myself, literally?

the results were life changing. this practice changed the way i dressed, the way i walked, the way i flirted, the way i made love to others, the way i spoke…because i had seen, heard and felt my power. i mean both my physical, earthly power, and the divine power inside of this body, this light brown, big, queer, glasses-wearing body. it wasn’t ego, it was sitting with what is and finding beauty. and now no one could take that from me, however they might regard my body. i was a pleasure unto myself, i was a guaranteed delight in my own hands and my own eyes. it was, and continues to be, magnificent.

4. developing erotic awareness. this section could also be called staying curious. it can get rote. you learn the way to release whatever is building up in your body, alone or with others, and you return and walk that path over and over, because you know it will satisfy your need. this parallels with other aspects of life – you can learn what works and keep doing it and get by. but bringing curiosity into your sexual relationship with yourself and your lovers is related to the spiritual practice of cultivating a beginner’s mind. as often as possible, i approach the experience of sex as if it is my first time feeling my flesh, feeling myself awaken. in my 30s this has led me to discover a whole new landscape of pleasure in my body, and then be able to clearly let my lover know when it feels good, how it feels good, and what adjustments to make. i used to have lines in the sand, places of judgment. these would usually form in my mouth like, ‘oh i would never (insert activity i simply hadn’t tried yet here)’. but i have been opening up, learning that the realm of desire is actually one of the most honest territories that can exist in the relationship with myself or anyone else. ‘haven’t tried yet’ allows so much more eroticism than ‘never!’, believe me. having curiosity, wanting to know what i desire, and why, and what effect it has on me to follow the desire, has led to an erotic reimagining of my life. audre lorde has a brilliant piece of work called the uses of the erotic, which i have been reading and listening to over and over. she talks about how one taste of the truly erotic, the feeling of moving from a blank world to one full of color and sensation, makes it impossible to settle for suffering. it raises the bar on every aspect of life. this curiosity in my body and my pleasure has helped me to clarify what kind of life work i enjoy and don’t enjoy. just as obligation is not a great motivator for intimacy and pleasure, i find i can’t live my life doing work that feels like i am obligated to do it because of other people’s expectations. i thrive when the work has elements of pleasure, titllation, total presence. that work might itself appear mundane or tedious to others – it includes housework, exercise, cooking, shoveling my car out of snow, honest conversations, facilitation, family visits. as long as i can see the glimmer of life in it. sometimes the glimmer is so bright, and i feel utterly alive. i realize that in the present moment, i am free, i am a body of sensations and memories and dreams, energies and spirits and ancestors, totally complex and utterly free. erotic awareness, for me, is coming into an aliveness in your felt senses that is quite beyond the material world.

5. talk about sex. blush and fumble, ask questions, let the words fall out of my mouth. one of my favorite aspects of the beyonce album is how it has led to really beautiful, powerful, nuanced, honest sex conversations with people in my life of all different ages, backgrounds, politics and sexualities. sex is the most common behavior amongst humans after birth breathing sleeping and death, and too often we still feel shame or bite our tongues when it comes up. now some degree of secrecy increases the heat, for me at least, tho i don’t know if that is just the last whisp of some demure virgo dynamic. i won’t tell you of my lover then, the specific things she does with me. but i will say i am having the best sex of my life, and it isn’t an accident. it is because of years of practice and hard work. it is because of friends who saw me having the most unhealthy sex of my life in my 20s and said honey girl no. it is because i have been blessed with lovers who were tender and taught me things and let us explore together. it is because of periods of intentional celibacy (a whole other practice and blog post) in my life. and it is because of each practice above.

i think it is important that we hold space for each other to feel good, to be touched in whatever ways bring us pleasure. i notice the impact it has on people i care about when erotic healing, self-love, and the tender touch of a lover, or a few lovers, is needed. i think this is yet another place to apply the wisdom of grace lee boggs, ‘transform yourself to transform the world’. i believe that if everything else in the world stayed the same, but every single person deepened their physical and spiritual practices of self-love and great sex, the domino effect would be a revolution of our understanding of our purpose here. suffering is a massively important and absolutely true part of life, a spiritual reality. but i deeply believe we were not placed on this gorgeous sensational planet to suffer. it is not the point.

a coach recently told me, ‘what is easy is sustainable’. i have been thinking, what feels good is sustainable. when my body feels good, my life feels good, and i want to keep going, and fight for my right to exist and love and grow and evolve. this is true whether it is in the context of a meeting, or a relationship, or a night of love making. that doesn’t mean the absence of discomfort or awkwardness or hard conversations or learning. but the majority experience should be presence – being fully alive. and i think that comes from experiencing ease, pleasure, connection. as nina sang: ‘feelin’ good’.

so…go forth and ‘turn that cherry out’!

:-)

and yes, i am blushing.

inspiration chain mail abundance

several people recently sent me a chain email that had me send an inspirational quote to a stranger (mostly – i knew some of the people which was also a thrill), and add my name to a list to receive some inspiration. i then passed it on to others who passed it along and as a result have had a gorgeous inbox for the past week or so. i wanted to share here some of the quotes and poems that moved me.

quotes:

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” – Rumi

“Chance favors the prepared mind.”

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

“Leap – and the net will appear.”

‘It is in your self-interest to find a way to be very tender.’ – Jenny Holzer

“This is brain surgery so don’t go in there with an ax”

“I used to have an ego, but now I’m perfect.” – Geologic

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.” – Johann Wolfgang Von Geothe

“The only person standing in your way is you.”

“Let yourself be silently drawn toward the stronger pull of what you really love.” – Rumi

“Never try, never know.”

“Thrown away where? The world is round.” – Luciente from Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy

“I want to live the rest of my life, however long or short, with as much sweetness as I can decently manage, loving all the people I love doing as much as I can of the work I still have to do. I’m going to go out like a fucking meteor!” ~ Audre Lorde

“The white fathers told us, I think therefore I am; and the black mothers in each of us-the poet-whispers in our dreams, I feel therefore I can be free. Poetry coins the language to express and charter this revolutionary awareness and demand, the implementation of that freedom. However, experience has taught us that the action in the now is also always necessary. Our children cannot dream unless they live, they cannot live unless they are nourished, and who else will feed them the real food without which their dreams will be no different from ours?” – Audre Lorde

“The process of finding the truth may not be a process by which we feel increasingly better and better. It may be a process by which we look at things honestly, sincerely, truthfully, and that may or may not be an easy thing to do.” – Adyashanti, Bliss is a By-Product

“There are certain emotions in your body that not even your best friend can sympathize with, but you will find the right film or the right book, and it will understand you.” ? Björk

“Today I will experience love of self, love of others, love of planet, and love of God in all of my actions.”

“Pleasure is the ultimate rebellion…”–Lydia Lunch

?”You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.” – Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon ?

“You are not crazy. You are just ready to change.” –Nnedi Okorafor

“Compassion is the tender opening of our hearts to pain and suffering. When compassion arises in us, we see and acknowledge what we often push away – the parts of life that cause us sadness, anger, or outrage. The powerful awakening of our own compassion can tune us not just to the nurturing and sustaining forces of the world, but to the oppressive and destructive ones as well. When we open to these directly and become familiar with them, instead of avoiding them as we often do, we are more likely to hear ways to respond with love and support to relieve the suffering.” – Ram Dass

“I’ll not widow the world.
I’ll tell my human
tale, tell it against
the current of that vaster, that
inhuman telling.”
—Li-Young Lee

“I found god in myself and I loved her, I loved her fiercely.” ~ Ntozake Shange

poems:

    Kindness

Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing
inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

? Naomi Shihab Nye, Words Under the Words: Selected Poems

    Sonnet

Bill Knott

The way the world is not
astonished at you
it doesn’t blink a leaf
when we step from the house
leads me to think
that beauty is natural, unremarkable
and not to be spoken of
except in the course of things
the course of singing and worksharing
the course of squeezes and neighbors
the course of you, tying back your raving hair to go out
and the course, of course, of me
astonished at you
the way the world is not.

    Coal

by Audre Lorde

I
Is the total black, being spoken
From the earth’s inside.
There are many kinds of open.
How a diamond comes into a knot of flame
How a sound comes into a word, coloured
By who pays what for speaking.

Some words are open
Like a diamond on glass windows
Singing out within the crash of passing sun
Then there are words like stapled wagers
In a perforated book—buy and sign and tear apart—
And come whatever wills all chances
The stub remains
An ill-pulled tooth with a ragged edge.
Some words live in my throat
Breeding like adders. Others know sun
Seeking like gypsies over my tongue
To explode through my lips
Like young sparrows bursting from shell.
Some words
Bedevil me.

Love is a word another kind of open—
As a diamond comes into a knot of flame
I am black because I come from the earth’s inside
Take my word for jewel in your open light.

    Phenomenal Woman

BY MAYA ANGELOU

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

    On Love

Khalil Gibran
(note, two people sent this one to me)

But if in your fear you would seek only
love’s peace and love’s pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover
your nakedness and pass out of love’s
threshing-floor,
Into the seasonless world where you
shall laugh, but not all of your laughter,
and weep, but not all of your tears.
Love gives naught but itself and takes
naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love.

When you love you should not say,
“God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am
in the heart of God.”
And think not you can direct the course
of love, for love, if it finds you worthy,
directs your course.

Love has no other desire but to fulfil
itself.
But if you love and must needs have
desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook
that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding
of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart
and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate
love’s ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the
beloved in your heart and a song of praise
upon your lips.

    On Joy and Sorrow

Kahlil Gibran

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

    Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott