The Darwin Variant, and/or Love of the Fittest

The chaos grows and grows, everything around us faltering, falling. Who do we need to be and who are we becoming?

Once I was in a room with Margaret Wheatley, one of the people whose thinking on emergence and complexity helped me understand emergent strategy. I (or someone else) asked how we bring down massive systems through small, complex organizing. She said, essentially, that systems that are top heavy will inevitably collapse from their own imbalanced weight.

How do we survive these falling systems? Especially when many of them need to fall? How do we prepare for the opportunities in collapse?

I am thinking about that in this era of Covid, climate catastrophe, natural and unnatural disasters (this week there are wildfires, floods, droughts, earthquakes, and disaster capitalism feeding off of all of it), cultural shifts, and long-term war consequences from indigenous struggles locally in the U.S. to the Taliban in Afghanistan. It’s all connected – decisions made from a competitive, supremacist, dominant mindset lead to top heavy economies and infrastructures, which inevitably collapse, leaving the survivors to contend with the detritus of empire.

Much of the crisis now feels out of our hands – even to me as a fairly connected radical movement person, most days it feels like a series of unstoppable events, to which I can offer prayer and donations, witness and attention. There are so many frontlines, each equally important to the soldiers in that particular battle. Stepping back to see it whole, there’s definitely the sense that we are trying to hold back tsunamis by plugging a million holes in a dam.

I realize that this sense of total pending and unfolding disaster is all over my Covid responses, thoughts and interactions. I am writing to face this disastrous feeling within me, to see if I can center a different perspective down in myself.

As both an antiwar and climate activist, I remember the devastation I felt when I first realized we weren’t going to be able to stop the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. People were not going to sustain direct action, they were still going to pay their taxes towards the war, and be satisfied with resistance in the form of liberal punditry that changed nothing. This week we leave behind another nation long violated, knowing it will be eaten alive. It has taken so long to say, with humility, we lost a war we should never have been fighting.

With the climate catastrophe, I realized in my gut that we weren’t going to pivot our nation, our states, our towns to be in a just transition, not in time. Organizers inch forward proposals of survival and boundary, documentation and data, the responses much smaller and slower than the pending crises demand. We are up against capitalism, which feels so big, has so many heads. It is all so daunting. It is still the right work. But how do we make it matter? How do we meet the moment?

It could feel reasonable to give up the fight, all the fights, in light of this overwhelming comprehension of our species in its limitations. But then we are also in a period of massive cultural shift around race, anti-Blackness, rape and patriarchy. Systems designed to allow the total violence and control of those given power through a mythical supremacy are suddenly exposed down to the blueprint. Again, that labor of exposure is largely done by organizers who cleared space for the truth to be told with calls of Black Lives Matter and Me Too. We are rejecting these systems of harm in policy, action, and interpersonal encounters.

It’s all crumbling, concurrently. We are living through both the devastating fall of systems that guarantee life, and the necessary fall of systems that uphold violence.

So then Covid enters, stage right. It’s fast moving, wreaking havoc along the fault lines of existing vulnerabilities – those struggling to piece together enough inside of these multiple intersecting crises are hustling, hungry, taking risks to go to work, trying to survive eviction and exposure. Nations who let collective thinking lead are responding intelligently, and then there’s us.

Since the beginning, Covid has asked one thing of us: act collectively. First, the collective actions were maintaining the social distance of breath, hand washing, wearing masks. Then it was staying home unless you were an essential worker. And quarantining if you were sick. Then quarantining even if you were not sick. Doing work and community through virtual connections. And then, most recently, it’s been getting a vaccine that reduces the hospitalizations and deaths of those exposed to the virus. I cannot truly comprehend how many people have died as we figured out the necessary actions to take together. And now people are dying because we struggle to take collective actions.

To be fair, we are also in a period of peak socialized distrust. The divisions between us are dangerous and near total – we look to divergent news sources, have different conversations, suspect different aspects of government (from police to politicians to scientists) of wanting us surveilled, tracked, controlled or dead. Four years of a destructive and immature president did result in a wall, but not the border wall he threatened. The wall that now feels so solid in the U.S. is a cultural one that has deep roots and an ancient design, 3D printed hateful troll bricks stacked on top of colonial ruins.

Trying to be curious, to ask a question, to express a fear, to make a request, to assume a commonality – all of it quickly gets interpreted as building the division. Inside of this, on whatever side is for life moving towards life, I have been asking myself about boundaries, expectations, solidarity, and collective action. And love.

I now live by these words from my friend Prentis Hemphill, “Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.” Love. Not tolerate or survive, but love. When I speak these words, as reminder, as mantra, they give me hope that no one has to be disposable, cut off from that vast connectivity of love. It’s just a matter of distance.

I learned some time ago that not everyone was going to survive and see liberation, or right relationship with the earth, in this lifetime. Not everyone was going to be in vibrant, accountable communities in this lifetime. Not everyone was going to choose love. Not everyone was going to even be aware that they could want or need such interdependence. For so many people, it feels impossible to experience love, to give and receive that sacred extension of adoration, devotion, care, growth, belonging, loyalty and shared experience.

But with distance, perhaps even as far away as the moon, I can always see the species as lovable. I can see that everyone deserves that deep belonging which displaces greed and grasping. I can see us, young, beautiful, powerful, clumsy, tender, selfish – and generally lovable, like a rambunctious and curious child. Or sometimes lovable like the traumatized, neglected bully child who needs so much more love and attention to soften and trust and connect again.

With enough distance, I can love even those who, up close, hate me, or hate the earth, or hate anything different from them. I know “only love can conquer hate.” From far away I can see the haters of the world – those who hate nature, difference, complexity, freedom in others – in the grip of their own spiritual work, which is daunting, which devours from within. Knowing almost nothing of the mysteries of the universe, having only our own planet’s wisdom to learn from, I deduce that even the haters are processing something for the whole, though it may be something toxic, or something heading towards extinction.

With that guidance, I have been earnestly asking myself: what is the distance at which I can love those who choose individual freedom over collective care in the short-term, at the cost of a future? Those who choose to go unmasked? Those who still don’t wash their hands? Those who breathe and cough too close to me? Those who have access to and capacity for the vaccine and choose not to take it?

This year has been a brutal and necessary reminder that control and manipulation don’t work, for anyone involved. I have had to practice self-awareness of my own controlling nature, I have had to soften my grip on a fearful future narrative and return to the humility of the present. I am not in control of any choices or boundaries but my own. I cannot manipulate others into collective action, into choosing life, not even with all my best words. I can only be vulnerable, I can only live into my own values, I can only invite others to join me, and to teach me.

Collective action is still made up of individual choices, which is the beauty and bane of our species. Especially in the colonized capitalist borders of the U.S. Even in the face of policy and punishment, the American way is to choose individual thinking and action under pressure, to fight for superiority on any hill. This focus on dominance over the living rather than partnership with life is how we have racism, rape culture, climate catastrophe, economic disparity, war and disease all in rampant disaster states at the same time.

It is perpetually disgusting to contend with the reality that these disasters benefit a bloated elite. And too many of us participate in our small scale versions of their individualistic and hoarding worldview, thinking we are better than each other and the earth, deserve unlimited resources and access, and should never have to adapt to protect others.

This is humanity at our worst. How will we change?

At a certain point, even if collective action feels far away, there has to be an awareness of the pattern. We have to develop the systemic intuition to sense that the same glitch is present throughout all the systems. Thinking that your choices only impact you or those you immediately know – that you needn’t be concerned with or accountable for the results – is supremacist thinking at the root. It gets packaged as freedom and independence, but we are not individual entities. Humans, like all of nature, live within systems of relationship and resource. Our freedom is relational. Individualist supremacy is a delusional concept, perhaps safely enjoyed as fantasy but not to be applied as common practice. One way to see all of the current crises is as a single delusional wildfire consuming time and space.

What do we do though? How do we practice another way inside so much crisis?

I have a very small circle of beloveds now. Covid required me to get clear about who I absolutely had to be in contact with, who I would invest my time in arguing boundaries with, who I would risk my life to go see. Relative to the number of people I’ve met, the number of people I’ve marched with and for, the number of people on the side of justice and liberation who populate this earth…it turns out there’s a tiny handful that I can actually hold onto. And I now believe my work is to be a good member of the human flock with that small number. Yes, I can still sing out my birdsong to the whole forest. But I move in community, in relationships that are visionary and loving at the root.

I light candles every day around my hope that the distance at which I can love most people in this era isn’t that mortal boundary between life and death.

Covid keeps adapting, like a shepherd herding us as a group through the one gate that leads forward. When we think we alone can run off and stop attending to the whole, a variant emerges to gather us back groupward. The idea of being herded generates such resistance in me, “WE ARE NOT SHEEP!”, “I AM NOT A COW!” (“imspecialimspecialimspecial”)…and yet, are these not also sacred and communal creatures from whom I can learn? In this moment, perhaps theirs is the wisdom we need. Can we adapt to be herd, to be meek, to belong, to move together, to be humble together? Or maybe it’s more simple, more literal: can we be satisfied in a smaller range of physical space? Can we be satisfied inside of necessary boundaries?

It’s quite clear that one activity that keeps the majority of people safe and, coincidentally?, has a positive impact on the planet, is to stay home, stay still, travel less, reduce each personal footprint towards a collective reduction of negative impact. Perhaps variants like Delta will come every time we attempt to return to a normal that the planet cannot sustain.

I heard someone call it the Darwin variant and I can’t stop thinking about that.

The first waves of Covid deaths were our loved ones and strangers who didn’t know what it was. Then those who knew the name and symptoms but didn’t stand a chance. Then those who didn’t realize or trust just how dangerous it was. Now we are seventeen months into the official global pandemic, playing chicken. Most of those who are getting sick and dying in the U.S. now are doing so as a result of choosing not to believe in Covid, in its viral nature, or in the benefits and safety of the vaccine; or those who think they are beyond the reach of guidelines; or those most susceptible to misinformation from unverified sources; or those unable to avoid interaction with others caught up in denial or misinformation, tragically including our precious babies.

They all still expect and need care.

I feel empathy for those who don’t trust the government, even as I feel my own righteous distrust. What’s been helping me in this moment is how much I love the divine work of science. I believe that the sacred force that designed hummingbirds and eagles and the symbiosis of bees and flowers and the desalination of the ocean through vapor and rain also moves through the minds of our scientists. I feel a primal longing for more people to trust in the curiosity-based practice of science. I feel a political need for science to be decoupled from big pharma, which feels so close to how I need movements to be decoupled from big philanthropy. But currently it’s all the same tangled rope of innovation and struggle and funding to which we cling over an apocalyptic abyss. I am not trying to be dramatic here, I’m just being with what is.

Charles Darwin was a scientist whose writing explored many concepts, including one from Herbert Spencer: ‘survival of the fittest.’ The concept reverberates into moments like this. The common misinterpretation is that it means survival of the most physically fit, an ableist view. I’m sure you, like me, have seen able-bodied people argue against Covid safety protocols by saying those with strong immune systems will survive. Many of those I’ve seen take this stance have gone on learn through sickness or loss that that’s not how Covid, or any of our other current apocalyptic conditions, actually work.

I was reminded recently (in public) that Darwin’s own writing points to ‘fittest’ meaning those most adaptive and collectively oriented, those most suited to the immediate conditions. Our immediate conditions are chaotic, frightening, fast-changing and inevitable. What is grossly imbalanced is teetering and falling. What is wildly anti-planet and inhumane is exposed and falling. What is cruel and violent and unfair and ridiculous, it’s all falling.

And the persisting question for me is, what is the work of love in all this falling? Can love help us be the fittest our species has been?

I have sought to offer and experience all kinds of love throughout my life. I have learned that I can love people who will still choose to leave me, to risk their lives, and I will feel grief. I have been learning that there is the big collective massive love I feel for all that lives, and then the tangible offer of love as an energy, resource and commitment which I can only give to those with whom I am in a mutual, consensual and aligned relationship.

I find it hard to love those who hate science, and hate me…not impossible, at least in the big picture setting. But working to actively love those who hate me is immense labor, and if I am honest with myself, it’s generally not something I’m even interested in cultivating in the irreplaceable hours of my remaining life.

Because my love feels rooted not just in myself, but in myself as a fragment of the miraculous natural world, I notice the patterns of hate at the interpersonal, interspecies and global level. There is an undeniable overlap between this resistance to science and the resistance to wear a mask, socially distance and/or vaccinate, in spite of data that affirms the life saving impacts of each choice. And all of that overlaps with the resistance to do right by the earth. The resistance to move beyond capitalism to economic models that allow shared abundance. And the resistance to give up patriarchy and white sociopathy. And national supremacy.

How do I love this vast diversity of human beings, beloved and stranger, who are currently toxic to our collective survival?

I only see one way. If I define love as the willful extension towards spiritual growth that bell hooks and M. Scott Peck told me about, then when I come across all this resistance to the miraculous and collective aspects of our species, I willfully extend my energy towards the necessary and inevitable growth evidenced by that resistance.

It liberates my love to see the resistance to science and nature and interdependence as a cry for help, a sign of how important it is that we grow our capacity to act as collective beings. And, as is my practice, when I can see where that edge of growth is, I seek it in myself. Where in my own life do I still persist in actions that presuppose my importance and supremacy, rather than accept my small role in our collective existence?

I have begun to feel gratitude inside my Covid grief. It’s the result of thinking collectively, even trying to think as a cell or atom of this planetary existence, awkward as that may sound. Even as I despair at the deaths of those who didn’t have a chance to choose, and those who did not survive their risks, I have to acknowledge what else I sense here…at a certain point we have to consider that Covid might be aligned with the earth, of the universe, designed to get us to fight for ourselves, love ourselves as collective beings, love ourselves enough to set and hold boundaries that serve more than our individual wants and needs.

Can I surrender the recent-normal for the present need? Can I commit to practicing a new and limited present-normal for the sake of a species-future? Can I listen more deeply to the earth, to the patterns? Can I keep finding the space to feel for direction within the chaos?

It’s so complicated.

It is much easier for me to love those who want collective human life to continue, in right relationship to the planet. But perhaps that’s evolution moving in me, perhaps this is a sacred attention, a ‘love of the fittest?’

Even now, as I write this, I still love people who choose themselves over the collective every time. And, I’m noticing, every day they feel further and further away. Or I do.

Seeing the pattern of life unfolding inside the destruction and chaos, I keep bringing my attention to it. I despair and then seek laughter, seek the community of others who feel afraid but keep working to connect. I relinquish being right for being present. I don’t deny reality as I find my place in the present moment and try to be of the fittest in constantly changing conditions.

I don’t wait for perfection or magic, I participate in the mundane work of staying alive. I keep my distance, wash my hands, wear my mask, carry my vaccine card. I get tested at every possibility of Covid. If something gets through my mask, if a variant finds me in spite of my best effort, it won’t be for lack of trying to live. If the vaccine works for most people who get it, but somehow not for me, I accept my role in the collective story.

And in my life I keep writing, keep working to shift myself out of the center of anything. I shift my practices one at a time away from capitalist socialization that says I need to be the best at something to deserve a quality life. I redistribute attention, time, donate money…and ask for help.

I am rooting myself amongst people who are learning to think and act together, as pairs, small groups, communities. We ask each other more questions, about what we are choosing to practice and why. We know so much more about each other’s lives and patterns than ever before. We process our inevitable risk-taking with each other because we are imperfect, and we long for each other. We are raising children inside these unclear, ever-shifting boundaries, and we are moving our resources around amongst us to get through. Sometimes we find that in the light of all this new transparency, we aren’t as compatible as we thought. It’s OK. We let each other go on different paths through the adventure, and root with the people on our path.

So are these answers, these small breaths in the maelstrom?

Small circles rooted in love.
Relinquishing control and offering love.
Mundane practices as acts of love.

Humility in the face of the unknown is self-love.
Seeing and shaping the whole, not as a million overwhelming waves, but as a sea – this is collective love.
Living in generosity and gratitude, every day, is living love.
Being nature, is being love.

It certainly feels like love is the way.

Perhaps. Perhaps.

And this may or may not fit in this piece of thinking and writing, but love is asking me to mention that I am centering pleasure even now, within the small circle. We are a pleasure flock, comforting each other, cheering each other on towards our best lives even today in these conditions. Pleasure connects us to ourselves and each other, to the aliveness at the funeral, to the blessing in the crisis, to the sweet new life pushing green up through the sludge.

We who are not yet dead are responsible for living fully, without regrets, with deep reverence for the wide range of emotion in the human experience. I look for the pleasure of home, of rooting and nesting, of growing things, of moving slowly, of being honest, of writing, of cooking, of dancing, of gratitude, of love. Every single day I dose myself with pleasures small and large, knowing that as it all falls apart, so much is growing; knowing that within myself and my circle I am seeding a path towards a future in which feeling and growing pleasure and aliveness and delight, in relationship to each other and our abundant and perfect planet, is our central focus.

There. It is long, but I have shifted myself from despairing overwhelm back to visionary center. It is a gift that I can only fulfill my own small destiny, follow the instructions that are clearest to me, move with my own consecrated choreography. When I feel completely lost, I can focus each day on being kind, being generous, and being honest. I light candles for all I cannot carry, and then move into the present moment with only my love. As everything crumbles above and around us, it is still true that the most strategic move is the ever changing dance of love.

boundary moments

this is a boundary moment, and i want to make a brief offer into it.

a few weeks ago my partner and i got our first vaccine shots. immediately we felt different, and began renegotiating our own individual covid-19 boundaries in new ways. after over a year of Everything Is Dangerous And We Must Be Inside These Walls, we had/have no measure for what is normal, what is safe, or if safe is even possible.

i felt safe-ish taking risks to be with family. my love felt safe-ish taking risks to be with friends. neither of us was necessarily right or wrong, but we both felt the other was risking too much, and those feelings grew into a sticky situation.

i am sharing this because since this pandemic started, i keep noticing that we are all trying to navigate collective boundaries as individuals or pairs, because we live in an economy of hyper-individualization. but it’s so hard to navigate this way because as Sistah-Dr Alexis Pauline Gumbs teaches: we aren’t individuals. we are cells in an interdependent highly connected species.

it would be so amazing if the information was clear, and safety was guaranteed, and we could just live inside the boundaries as a species, rather than as a million different risks. but we are here, and now. what i want to offer is what my love and i eventually landed, which is helping. (this is u.s.-centered because that is the context in which i am navigating covid-19 boundaries, with the availability of vaccines now fairly high in most places, but without a majority of people accessing the vaccine yet.)

suggestions:

one, review the CDC guidelines on vaccinated behavior. it really helps to not have to debate over things that are known, like ‘don’t change your boundaries until you are fully vaccinated two weeks after the second shot,’ or ‘where and when you can be unmasked with other vaccinated people,’ etc.

*Update: i am a bit at a loss with the latest guidelines from the CDC (for those fully vaccinated to stop wearing masks). i don’t grasp the logic and collective responsibility of it.

two, agree on boundaries for this next period. prentis hemphill told us, ‘boundaries are the distance at which i can love me and you simultaneously.’ you can just accept the cdc guidelines, or you can do cdc guidelines with some flourishes that are particular to your health vulnerabilities and needs.

remember, boundaries are more meaningful when you discuss the consequences of what happens if a boundary gets broken, so get that clarity too – apologies? rapid testing? another brief quarantine? rolling back to earlier boundaries?

spend some particular time on any particular adaptations you may need based on your personalities. this ‘personalities’ part is really important – we have forgotten a lot about how to be social animals. being quarantined together means that many of us have been in a house with our person or family, operating as one creature. with this shift of increasing vaccination, our biodiversity will start showing again: for some of us, there is comfort in the highest boundaries; people beyond our pair or pod seem like a terrifying untrustworthy danger. for others, the need to be free and out and normal is a pounding drum within. many of us feel both things…and there’s everything in between. don’t underestimate the social impact of this boundaries moment. don’t assume you need the same things, and don’t pathologize the divergent responses you are each having to impossible pressures.

discuss what you personally need in this transition into the next phase of the u.s. pandemic. do you need to see everyone you love, immediately? do you need to go really slowly? do you need to keep wearing masks until there is more data? do you need to see vaccination cards for anyone you’re gathering with? do you need to understand better how the vaccine actually works? both/all people reflect on and share your needs, and then find the path that is most nourishing to both/all needs.

three, organize, advocate and donate to ensure that more people worldwide have access to the vaccine. what is unfolding in india is devastating, and we in the u.s. are benefitting from their labor, which produced vaccines that they haven’t been able to access. you can support mutual aid efforts there right now. and they aren’t the only place struggling to survive covid with little to no vaccine access – areas already struggling in conflict, occupation, war and economic collapse all need our collective attention. we are not individuals. we have to make sure that everyone who wants this protection can access it.

finally, four, love and protect each other every day. i saw a meme on the internet posted by @hillarydixler that said, “everybody needs more than anyone can give right now.” we are burnt out and overextended at the level of species, and we do not know all that people are holding. channel octavia e. butler’s earthseed wisdom: “kindness eases change.”

if you’re good, say you’re good

i keep having this odd little experience where i ask people how they are and they tell me how bad the world is and then kind of whisper at the end ‘but i am actually loving being home’ or ‘i am actually doing good in spite of thewholeworldbeingincrisis thing’ or ‘i am actually thriving in these conditions.’

i want to explore for a moment how important it feels to claim what is good in this time.

first of all, BRAVO. whatever you have done to get to a good place right now took labor – spiritual, mental, emotional…and probably physical. i know that i am doing good right now because i go spelunking through the not-good with my therapist each week, and i cry a lot, and i have rearranged my living space so many times that my furniture has attachment issues.

when i ask my secretly good friends what they’re doing to create the good, it is some of the hardest work of their lives, setting new boundaries and patterns and permissions on their time and attention. it’s not easy to be good right now – don’t add the additional work of containing it.

second, it makes more support and mutual emotional aid possible. if we think everyone is just out here overextended and suffering, it becomes harder to risk asking for what we need. i am thriving in large part because i am in relationships where we stagger support, giving freely when we are the ones who have energy/love/money/time, and asking freely (or reluctantly, depending on our shapes around interdependence) when we are the ones struggling/lonely/broke/maxed out.

when i think back nine months, i was really caught in a rough mental space and all by myself far from home, and it helped so much to feel the loving presence of my friends who were more grounded and with their loved ones. they couldn’t fix my problems, but they had capacity to be with me as i faced my shadows and reintegrated into this moment of life, so wildly different from what i’d dreamed. now that my roots are back in home soil and i can notice each time the sun shines, i have more capacity to be with those in their shadows.

third, deep connections thrive on authenticity. a hidden light still shines, still shows, still emits warmth. in the same way it sows distrust to sense unnamed trouble in each other, dissonance can arrive with unnamed happiness, and especially intentionally denied joy.

there are times when we are truly all in the trenches of shadow times, dragging each other through salt and mud and just barely making our way through it. we can feel and name those times, and survive in the honesty that we don’t have much to offer each other except our own survival.

but honesty is just as important in our happiness, in our contentment. knowing that i can trust the words my friends speak to be a real reflection of how they are, and of what my intuition is sensing, allows me to relax and show up fully, knowing that they will let me hold them when they need holding, and let me know if they can hold me when i need holding, and let us just hold each other tight in the muck when it comes to that.

fourth, we learn good from each other. most of the ways i am practicing my contentment in this moment come from studying people who lived/live fully into their lives, in whatever time. black feminists past and present, close friends who point out the mind, body, spirit, boundary, listening and therapeutic balance of a good life. i am a practice adopter! if i hear something is working i try it:

life hacks for making more space in small space,
body practices for staying flexible and mobile indoors,
apps for meditation,
playlists,
therapists,
having more plants,
getting in water daily be it bath or shower,
drinking more water,
a desk that can transition to standing,
lavender mist near my bed,
more time with my ancestor altar,
having a clear end to work time and not expecting anything like my old full-time self to be possible right now,
intentional check-ins with loved ones,
watching movies at a distance – especially with kids,
doing what i love as my job,
surrounding my life with art,
being more fair in arguments,
reducing my belongings,
redistributing time from social media to reading,
having boundaries out loud in real time

…these are all learned behaviors.

a lot of the possible good in this time is circumstantial – the physical space you’re in and how many people are there with you, the guidelines and practices of covid-19 safety in your town and community, economic status, how many people you’ve lost and how close they are to your heart, how many crises you’re holding, your own health.

and inside all of the circumstances, there’s the possibility of this being one of the most beautiful, connected, grounded, liberating, fertile, creative, abundant times of your life.

there’s also, and this feels very related to abundance, the possibility that these are your last days. how do you treat precious time?

there’s a possibility that these are the first days of a great era in your life, or the days when you will have the most impact, the days of the hardest work, the biggest release, the most important memories you’ll carry forward.

you don’t have to shout it out everywhere. i think often of my teacher spenta kandawalla asking what it would take to be able to answer the question ‘how are you?’ with ‘i’m good,’ and to mean it.

so, if you’re good, say you’re good. it doesn’t negate reality, it weaves your reality into the fabric of this complex time.

you can also keep your complex answers, of course – i for one am grieving and good. stretched and good. want to go to a beach, and also good. but the main news, the thing i have worked hard enough to claim, the way i can be of use to my beloved community, is to be honest that right now, today, i’m good.

brief thoughts 2: starting small

this pandemic has really been a dance for me and my body.

i thought i was going to be very healthy. i stocked my home with healthy things.

then i placed another order for the things my body actually wanted and needed in order to move through isolation and stolen control and grief.

i heard crissle say not to judge my body for gaining weight during a pandemic, but instead be grateful to be in a body that has so far survived a global pandemic.

i heard glennon doyle say love and control can’t coexist, that you don’t control what you love and that’s how she knows she still has self love work to do with her body.

i did a round of sugar shift where i removed added sugars from my life for three weeks. i noticed how much better i felt and slept. i thought i would continue like that forever.

then i returned to the comfort of sugar, without much judgment.

i read lizzo talking about body normalization, and how do we normalize that there are all kinds of bodies that are beautiful and incredible. i read it while having sea salt caramels and sea salt chips, which really compliment each other beautifully, rubbing on my softer belly.

i tried to do a celery juice cleanse but was quickly reminded that i am allergic to raw celery. as i cleaned up the mess of bodily rejection, such a clear message, i reflected on all the vegetables i can eat raw, and how many vegetables and fruits i truly love.

i went to the hospital convinced i had covid-19 or an embolism, but after a variety of tests i was told i had an upper respiratory infection and otherwise am so healthy – this communicated by a stranger speaking with the slight surprise of health practitioners who assume the worst of fat bodies. i feel grateful that even my pandemic comfort kitchen is mostly populated with whole, organic foods, that i love cooking vegetables to eat with my jalapeño cheddar cornbread, that i drink like the receiving end of a waterfall.

i had a deep discussion with a friend about how sometimes the “you go fat/disabled/hairy/etc girl!!” energy can feel so inauthentic, tinged with the fear people still have around anything not socialized as normal and desirable. fear almost always shows.

i notice that i feel the ease of more bodies being normal in my mind, in my eyes. i pick up less and less on the false narratives of normalization, and more and more on how at peace people are within their skin, their capacity to celebrate their own aliveness, their capacity to grow. ah, more people strike me as beautiful.

i notice that what matters most when my life feels good is how it feels inside, how i listen to what i need and how i celebrate my aliveness…it’s intimate personal work, and i don’t have to measure where anyone else is in that work, but i have to find my own peace.

i notice that in my recent video calls, almost everyone is softer around the chin and face in ways that no angle or lighting can hide. a few are more gaunt, hollowed, shadowed. the constriction and pressure and patterns and grief is touching and changing us in ways that are visible. i find i rather like the softening, though i know better than to say so in real time because this territory is a tender one. maybe others don’t feel ease with their smoother edges…i know that just as with my own body, assumptions are rarely useful or relevant.

i have returned to my yoga practice. every morning before i touch my phone, i get on my mat. my body is fluent in yoga, so if i bend forward, the language of sun salutation flows through me. each day i leave room for my body to lead, and am genuinely impressed with what i can still do even with my arthritis, inflammation, gut; the freedom and flexibility increase with breath. i shift poses slowly, fluid as if dancing, feeling the strength and stretch in sustaining. each day the practice is a bit longer, and now most mornings include some crunches and the new-to-me practice of qi gong. i remember how good it feels to be in a body without the hypervigilance of thinking about how it looks.

i am practicing not being distressed to be alive in my body.

i am practicing hearing the old and new colliding at the border of my awareness.

i am practicing starting small while being big.

i am practicing what it is to be and do enough, based on a measurement within.

i am practicing loving my body, normalizing my body, relinquishing control, listening to my inner communications as if to a teacher, being authentic in my self love.

i am so grateful to be alive.

i am considering that this state of mind and body might just be the healthiest i have ever been.

unthinkable thoughts: call out culture in the age of covid-19

update:

hi loves,

i am publishing a book called we will not cancel us and other dreams of transformative justice which includes a deeply edited version of this piece, reflections on what the responses to the piece taught me, other writing on tj, and what is still mine/ours to learn.

i am leaving this essay up here as part of the learning journey – it isn’t the beginning or end of the conversation or the learning. we aren’t going to all agree on every aspect of this, but i believe it’s up to us to keep learning together, keep growing each other, keep opening the conversation.

….

adaptation note:

Three pieces of information for those who see this and are moved to keep going.

One, the ‘we/who’ is movement workers, particularly those who identify as abolitionists, in Black and Brown centered organizing spaces.

Two, a trigger warning: in the piece below I speak of what I’m feeling and observing in this moment in terms of suicidal ideation, witch trials, and lynching.

Three, this piece is an invitation to more accountability, not less, to take each moment of conflict and harm as practice ground for abolition.

what do we do with unthinkable thoughts?

who are we in our unthinkable thinking moments?

how do we adapt together if the clues to our next pivot are unthinkable?

maybe sharing these unthinkable thoughts will help?

i’ll start with the scariest unthinkable thought for me, which is that maybe we are in a state of collective suicidal ideation – the state of thinking about, even planning, the end of us. i have thought this thought many times, for years.

i have ideated suicide in the past, thought it didn’t much matter if i was here or not, and so it didn’t much matter how i treated myself or others. when i was in that phase of ambiguous commitment to life, i took risks with my mind and body that i couldn’t imagine taking now. i practiced cynicism and hopelessness, as if they were the measures of humor, of intelligence. it was a brief phase of my life, but during that time i believed in nothing.

i tried to exit.

i then had to choose life from deep within me. that’s why i’m still here. i want to live. i want to want to live. i think everyone chooses to move towards life or away from it, though some don’t realize that they are making the choice. capitalism makes it hard to see your own direction.

as i have watched the world respond to the pandemic, the borders between nations shift meaning in my mind. i can see which countries choose life, and which don’t. which countries have a majority life-minded citizenship, which countries/regions elect leaders who care for them. which countries pivot at the highest governmental level to protect their people, to guide their people to protect themselves – places with a variety of economies and exposure have found ways to move towards life.

i wonder about the movements in those countries, what it might feel like to live and organize in a place that chooses life.

choosing life means being able to admit we are wrong when new information presents itself about the dangers around and amongst us.

choosing life means committing to the adaptations to stay alive, rather than the stubbornness to stay the same.

the u.s., as a nation, does not choose, or love, life. not yet, and possibly never before now.

other nations, many amongst the most developed in the world, initially shrugged at COVID-19. then they adapted.

the u.s. response has been more egregious than a shrug; it’s been a flagrant disregard, running towards a category five pandemic tornado. it’s meant that those of us who want to live are watching in horror as the mutating coronavirus fills in the pre-existing grooves of collective suicidal ideation and the resistance of those who love life – with climate deniers and corporate polluters on one side, environmental and climate justice movements on the other. white supremacists and patriarchs on one side, solidarity movements in race, ethnicity, class, gender, ability and sexuality arenas on the other.

we are a nation not divided but torn – pulled towards life and pulled towards death.

when i get that torn feeling within, which in recent years comes very rarely, in twinges and whisps, i now recognize it as the suicidal tendency in me. it’s not the truth, not the only truth, not my truth, not the choice i want to make. but the tendency is wiley, using the voices of people i love to make itself heard. i have to be vigilant, listen between the lines, ask: who would benefit from my absence? who benefits from my self-doubt?

our nation has a tendency towards its own destruction, a doubt of its right to exist, that is rooted in our foundation.

i think our movements struggle inside this larger national suicidal tendency – we want to grow, but at the same time some of us don’t believe we will all get there, or get anywhere better, in time. that we can’t, and won’t, put forth the effort.

maybe the idea of our future generations experiencing peace and abundance is not enough to keep us going.

maybe we just need some more immediate signs of life.

maybe we are terrified.

i, we, have to be able to discern what is me/us, and what is fear.

which leads to my next unthinkable thought: do i really know the difference between my discernment and my fear?

my dear friend Malkia teaches me that there is the fear intended to save your life, vs fear intended to end it. what i mean by discernment is the set of noticings, fears, wisdoms, deductions, and gut tremblings that want to save, or even just improve, my life, versus the fear that makes me unable to do anything, which makes me unable to draw on my life force to take action.

do i think i am being discerning when i am actually frozen in place, scared to change?

am i too scared of standing out from the crowd to pause and discern right action?

am i acting from terror?

am i able to discern a decision or action that makes sense?

i was in italy when the pandemic really became clear as a threat to my well-being. i went to one of the places i felt at home. and once i got there, i again found myself freezing, in denial of next moves, as everyone asked me where i was and when i was going home-home or elsewhere.

in my frozen state i would hear just a bit of the news, the new numbers of crisis, and shake my head at the idiots in office, and then numb back out. having quickly identified who i blamed, i was even less able to feel any agency in me. i froze and delayed and froze until i was overwhelmed by the inquiries.

then i had an excellent therapy session where i noticed:

oh. i am afraid.
i am afraid that the pandemic is on the rise everywhere and i am going to leave safety for a dangerous unknown.
oh!
i don’t know what to do!

as soon as i acknowledged i was afraid i was able to move into discernment. my fear became data – i am afraid because the numbers are clear that i am in a safer place than any of the locations i am considering going to. i should stay put, not because i am afraid, but because, as my fear is actually screaming on behalf of my informed intuition, this is the best place to be in this moment.

my fear made me freeze until i had to move. therapy helped me notice i was afraid, deepen my breath, and return to discernment.

i see the same vacillation between fear and discernment in our movements right now, with no therapist in sight.

we are afraid of being hurt, afraid because we have been hurt, afraid because we have caused hurt, afraid because we live in a world that wants to hurt us whether we have hurt others or not, just based on who we are, on any otherness from some long-ago determined norm. supremacy is our ongoing pandemic. it partners with every other sickness to tear us from life, or from lives worth living.

so we stay put and scream into the void, moving our rage across the internet like a tornado that, without discernment, sucks up all in its path for destruction.

our emotions and need for control are heightened during this pandemic – we are stuck in our houses or endangering ourselves to go out and work, terrified and angry at the loss of our plans and normalcy, terrified and angry at living under the oppressive rule of an administration that does not love us and that is racist and ignorant and violent. grieving our unnecessary dead, many of whom are dying alone, unheld by us. we are full of justified rage. and we want to release that rage. and one really fast and easy way to do this is what i experience as a salem witch trial, a false bid for justice, or the even faster method of lynching.

before i move on, i need to acknowledge that these are extreme terms, terms that refer to systems of death. i know that i am speaking of a social destruction, a significantly less extreme consequence – and i am trying to place my finger on a feeling of punitive justice unleashed in our movements.

in our movements, this feeling of punitive justice comes in the wake of call outs of leaders or those with some increased exposure or access. in the past week i have seen people called out for embodying white supremacy in the workplace, for causing repeated or one-time sexual harm, for physical, emotional or digital abuse, for appropriation of ideas and images, for patriarchy, for ableism, for being dishonest, for saying harmful things a decade ago, for doing things that were later understood as harm – for embodying all of the pain that supremacy holds. the call outs generally share one side of what’s happened and then call for immediate consequences. and within a day, the call out is everywhere, the cycle of blame and shame activated, and whoever was called out has begun being punished.

we are afraid, and we think it will assuage our fears and make us safer if we can clarify an enemy, a someone outside of ourselves who is to blame, who is guilty, who is the origin of harm. we can get spun into such frenzy in our fear that we don’t even realize we are deploying the master’s tools.

ah, audre, come in.

we’ve always known lynch mobs are a master’s tool. meaning: moving as an angry mob, sparked by fear (often unfounded or misguided) with the power to issue instant judgment and instant punishment. these are master’s tools.

we in movements for justice didn’t create lynch mobs. we didn’t create witch trials. we didn’t create this punitive system of justice. we didn’t create the state, we didn’t choose to be socialized within it. we want to dismantle these systems of mass harm, and i know that most of us have no intention of ever mimicking state processes of navigating justice.

the master’s tools feel good to use, groove in the hand easily from repeated use and training. but they are often blunt and senseless.

unless we have a true analysis of abolition and dismantling systems of oppression, we will not realize what’s in our hands, we will never put the master’s tools down and figure out what our tools are and can be.

oh – but you can’t say it’s a salem witch trial if it’s all Black and Brown and queer and trans people doing it…

oh – you can’t call it a lynching, because of the power dynamics! it’s a move against someone with more power.

but then – my third unthinkable thought – why does it feel like that? why do our movements more and more often feel like angry mobs moving against ourselves? and what is at stake because of it? why does it feel like someone pointing at someone else and saying: that person is harmful! and with no questions or process or time or breath, we are collectively punishing them?

sometimes we even do it with the language of transformative justice: claiming that we are going to give them room to grow. they need to disappear completely to be accountable. we are publicly shaming them so that they will learn to be better.

underneath this logic i hear: we are dunking her in the water to see if she drowns, because if she drowns then we know she wasn’t a witch. we are hanging him from the tree because then we can pretend we have exorcised ‘bad’ from our town. we are lynching to affirm our rightness.

which isn’t to say that some of the accused aren’t raging white supremacists in movement clothing. or abusers who have slipped through the fingers of accountability. or shady in some other way.

which isn’t to say that a public accounting of harm, and consequences, aren’t necessarily the correct move.

which isn’t to say we don’t believe survivors. because we must.

but how do we believe survivors and still be abolitionist? and still practice transformative justice?

to start with, i have been trying to discern when a call out feels powerful, like the necessary move, versus when it feels like the witch trial/lynch mob energy is leading.

it feels powerful when there have been private efforts for accountability.
it feels powerful when survivors are being supported.
it feels necessary when the accused has avoided accountability, particularly (but not exclusively) if they have continued to cause harm.
it feels necessary when the accused person has significantly more power than the accuser(s) and is using that power to avoid accountability.
it feels powerful when the demand is process and consequence based.

it feels like a lynch mob when there are no questions asked.
when the survivor’s healing takes a back seat.
when there is no attempt to have a private process.
when there is no time between accusation and the call for consequences. and when the only consequence is for the accused to cease to exist.
when the accused is from one or more oppressed identities.
when it feels performative.
when the person accused of causing harm does what the survivor/crowd demands, but we keep pulling up the rope.

no inquiry, no questions, no acceptance of accountability, no jury, no time for the learning and unlearning necessary for authentic change…just instant and often unsatisfactory consequences.

a moment on this: one of the main demands i see in call outs is for a public apology. to expect a coherent authentic apology from someone who has been forcibly removed from power or credibility feels like a set up. usually they issue some pr sounding thing and we use that paper as more fuel for the fire at their feet.

i have seen the convoluted denial-accountability-nonapology message from many an accused harm doer, especially when physical or sexual harm is involved. sometimes they are claiming innocence, sometimes they are admitting to some harm, rarely at the level of the accusation. sometimes they say they tried to have a process but it didn’t work, or they were denied. who knows what they mean by process, who knows if the accuser was ready for a process, who knows what actually happened between them, the relational context of the instance or pattern of harm, who knows?

the truth about sexual assault and rape and patriarchy and white supremacy and other abuses of power is that we are swimming in them, in a society that has long normalized them, and that they often play out intimately.

the truth is, sometimes it takes a long time for us to realize the harm that has happened to us.

and longer to realize we have caused harm to others.

the truth is, it isn’t unusual to only realize harm happened in hindsight, with more perspective and politicization.

but there’s more truth, too.

the additional truth is, right now we have the time.

the additional truth is, even though we want to help the survivor, we love obsessing over and punishing ‘villains’. we end up putting more of our collective attention on punishing those accused of causing harm than supporting and centering the healing of survivors.

the additional truth is, we want to distance ourselves from those who cause harm, and we are steeped in a punitive culture which, right now, is normalizing a methodology of ‘punish first, ask questions later’, which is a witch trial, lynching, master’s tool methodology. which, because we are in the age of social media, we now have a way to practice very publicly.

supremacy is the original pandemic, an infectious disease that quietly roots into each of us. we might have supremacy due to race, citizenship, gender, class, ableism, age, access, fame, or other areas where we feel justified to cause harm without consequence, sometimes without even realizing we’ve caused harm, because supremacy is a numbing and narrowing disease.

i want us to let go of the narrowness of innocence, widen our understanding of how harm moves through us. i want us to see individual acts of harm as symptoms of systemic harm, and to do what we can to dismantle the systems and get as many of us free as possible.

often a call out comes because the disease has reached an acute state in someone, is festering in hiding, is actively causing harm. i want us to see the difference between the human and the disease, to see what we are afraid of, in others and in ourselves, and discern a path that actually addresses the root of our justified fears.

this is not a case against call outs – there is absolutely a need for certain call outs – when power is greatly imbalanced and multiple efforts have been made to stop ongoing harm, when someone accused of harm won’t participate in community accountability processes, the call out is a way of pulling an emergency brake.

but it should be a last option. the consequences of being called out at this point are extremely dire and imprecise. the presence of infiltration in our movements is so documented and prevalent. call outs are an incredible modern tool for those who are not committed to movements to use against those having impact.

right now calling someone out online seems like first/only option for a lot of people.

i can’t help but wonder who benefits from movements that engage in public infighting, blame, shame and knee jerk call outs? i can’t help but see the state grinning, gathering all the data it needs, watching us weaken ourselves. meanwhile, the harm continues.

i don’t find it satisfying, and i don’t think it is transformative to publicly call people out for instant consequences with no attempt at a conversation, mediation, boundary setting or a community accountability process with a limited number of known participants.

it doesn’t make sense to say ‘believe all survivors’ if we don’t also remember that most of us are survivors, which includes most people who cause harm. what we mean is we are tired of being silenced, dismissed, powerless in our pain, hurt over and over. yes. but being loud is different from being whole, or even being heard, being cared for, being comforted, being healed. being loud is different from being just. being able to destroy is different from being able to generate a future where harm isn’t happening all around us.

we are terrified of how widespread and active harm is, and it makes us want to point the finger and quickly remove those we can identify as bad. we want to protect each other from those who cause harm.

many of us seem to worry that if we don’t immediately jump on whatever mob wagon has pulled up in our dms, that we will be next to be called out, or called a rape apologist or a white person whisperer or an internalized misogynist, or just disposed of for refusing to group think and then group act. online, we perform solidarity for strangers rather than engaging in hard conversations with comrades.

we are fearful of taking the time to be discerning, because then we may have to recognize that any of us could be seen as harmdoers. and when we are discerning, when we do step up to say wait, let’s get understanding here, we risk becoming the new target, viewed as another accomplice to harm instead of understood as a comrade in ending harm.

perhaps, most dangerously, we are, all together now, teetering on the edge of hopelessness. collective suicidal ideation, pandemic burnout, 45-in-office burnout, climate catastrophe burnout and other exhaustions have us spent and flailing, especially if we are caught in reactive loops (which include the culture of multiple daily call outs) instead of purposeful adaptations. some of us are losing hope, tossed by the tornado, ungrounded and uprooted by the pace of change, seeking something tangible we can do, control, hold, throw away.

the kind of callouts we are currently engaging in do not necessarily think about movements’ needs as a whole. movements need to grow and deepen, we need to ‘transform ourselves to transform the world’*, to ‘be transformed in the service of the work’**. movements need to become the practice ground for what we are healing towards, co-creating. movements are responsible for embodying what we are inviting our people into. we need the people within our movements, all socialized into and by unjust systems, to be on liberation paths. not already free, but practicing freedom every day. not already beyond harm, but accountable for doing our individual and internal work to end harm, which includes actively working to gain awareness of the ways we can and have harmed each other, and ending those cycles in ourselves and our communities.

knee jerk call outs say: those who cause harm cannot change. they must be eradicated. the bad things in the world cannot change, we must disappear the bad until there is only good left.

but one layer under that, what i hear is:

we cannot change.

we do not believe we can create compelling pathways from being harm doers to being healed, to growing.

we do not believe we can hold the complexity of a gray situation.

we do not believe in our own complexity.

we can only handle binary thinking: good/bad, innocent/guilty, angel/abuser, black/white, etc.

it is a different kind of suicide, to attack one part of ourselves at a time. cancer does this, i have seen it – oh it’s in the throat, now it’s in the lungs, now it’s in the bones. when we engage in knee jerk call outs and instant consequences with no process, we become a cancer unto ourselves, unto movements and communities. we become the toxicity we long to heal. we become a tool of harm when we are trying to be, and i think meant to be, a balm.

oh unthinkable thoughts. now that i have thought you, it becomes clear to me that all of you are rooted in a singular longing: i want us to want to live.

i want us to want to live in this world, in this time, together.

i want us to love this planet and this species, at this time.

i want us to see ourselves as larger than just individuals randomly pinging around in a world that will never care for us.

i want us to see ourselves as a murmuration of creatures who are, as far as we know right now, unique in all the universe. each cell, each individual body, itself a unique part of this unique complexity.

i want us not to waste the time we have together.

i want us to look at each other with the eyes of interdependence, such that when someone causes harm, we find the gentle parent inside of us who can use a voice of accountability, while also bringing curiosity – ‘why did you cause harm? do you know? do you know other options? apologize.’ that we can set boundaries that don’t require the disappearance of other survivors. that we can act towards accountability with the touch of love. that when someone falls behind, we can use a parent’s voice of discipline while also picking them up and carrying them for a while if needed.

i want us to adapt from systems of oppression and punishment to systems of uplifting and transforming.

i want us to notice that this is a moment when we need to choose life, not surrender to the incompetence and hopelessness of our national leadership.

i want us to be discerning.

i want our movement to feel like a vibrant, accountable space where causing harm does not mean you are excluded immediately and eternally from healing, justice, community or belonging.

i want us to grow lots and lots of skill at holding the processes by which we mend the wounds in our communities and ourselves.

i want satisfying consequences that actually end cycles of harm, generate safety and deepen movement.

i want us to hold Black humanity to the highest degree of protection, even when we have caused harm. i want us to see each other’s trauma-induced behavior as ancestral and impermanent, even as we hold each other accountable.

i want us to be particularly rigorous about holding complexity and accountability well for Black people in our movement communities who are already struggling to keep our heads above water and build trust and move towards life under the intersecting weights of white supremacy, racialized capitalism, police brutality, philanthropic competition culture, and lack of healing support.

i never want to see us initiate processes for Black accountability where those who are not invested in Black life can see it, store it, weaponize it. replace Black in that sentence with any other oppressed peoples and i still feel the same way. it is not strategic, and, again, it is rarely satisfying.

i want us to ask who benefits from our hopelessness, and to deny our oppressors the satisfaction of getting to see our pain. i want them to wonder how we foment such consistent and deep solidarity and unlearning. i want our infiltrators to be astounded into their own transformations, having failed to tear us apart.

i want us to acknowledge that the supremacy and suicidal ideation and hopelessness and harm are everywhere, and make moves that truly allow us to heal into wholeness.

because against all odds in space and time? we. are. winning.

we are winning in spite of the tsunami of pressures against us. we are moving towards life in spite of everything that wants us to give up.

we in movement must learn to choose life even in conflict, composting the bad behaviors while holding the beating hearts.

choosing life includes asking:
do i have the necessary information to form an opinion?
do i have the time to seek understanding?
what does the survivor need?
did a conversation/process already happen?
is a conversation/process possible?
how do we be abolitionist while gaining accountability here?
who benefits from me doubting that movement can hold this?
who could hold this well?
what will end the cycle of harm here?

we must learn to do this before there is no one left to call out, or call we, or call us.

….

thank you deeply to shira hassan and malkia devich cyril for loving feedback on this piece.

* grace lee Boggs
** mary hooks

care for yourself and everything else (transmission)

(day 29 #pandowrimo prompt: Humans have broken the original agreements and we are at a crossroads. How do we restore the balance?
@elotedream)

everything is teacher, virus too is teacher, is practice ground, sickness, death, we all die, we all need practice. this virus has been a practice of coming into awareness of our collective selfishness. (I am not selfish you are selfish…) we can see the inward focus in others, but mostly feel ourselves to be good (I was trying to be as good, as thoughtful, as selfless as a saint, but I failed). trying and just failing to care enough for others, that’s us. the awareness of how selfish and self-focused we’ve been, when it comes (detonates from another’s mouth, or in a moment of stillness), can make us deny, panic, freeze, spiral, disappear.

selfishness is the contagion.

with this virus, the self falls away, or the selfishness is unveiled.

it doesn’t matter if you alone tend towards health, the virus will hitch a ride on your breath and collar to those who can’t protect themselves.

it doesn’t matter if you want to quarantine, your job is essential to others, or your big boss is unwilling or unable to give you the time off. or you need the money not to stop for a second. you need groceries, and you need to bring your kids.

it doesn’t matter if you wear a mask and bleach everything and wash your hands raw, that one coughing maskless person has no idea what six feet look like.

and even if, even if we’re all fine, if we all recover, if we all survive – we have to acknowledge (in spite of all evidence that we do not care) that the earth is thriving in our containment, our stillness.

our connection to everything is undeniable. i never knew the language of the original instruction but now I wonder if it’s written in each thing’s code, ‘here is how you be’. when i listen to my bones the instruction is care: care for this body and all other bodies, care generates harmony and balance, care for boundaries without borders. care for each connection, and if it must end, care for the ending. care for communities and have as many as you can care for. care for this planet with how you pet, feed, water, eat, till, plant, and harvest. if it is too challenging for you personally to care for strangers, accept your limitation, and just care for family, you define it, you define who you care for. care generally for futures, or specifically for your own future and the futures of those you can care for.

and you can be single and solitary and solo and silent and still be caring, still relinquish selfishness, maybe that isolation is your deepest care, maybe you need that quiet to heal enough to care again, maybe in this moment you need the care, and it is caring to let others care for you (did you know that caring feels like a burden only when it isn’t shared?) – the more people who care, the more joy, the more we are able to make use of this existence, which came with instructions, which everyone got, and some forgot, and some never learned how to hear, but nonetheless this is how it works: together.

capitalism IS a conspiracy

capitalism IS a conspiracy.

it works because it’s out in the open, and there are so many ways to be greedy that all of those benefiting from the conspiracy don’t have to coordinate. in fact, it feeds off conflict – intimate, electoral, corporate, and especially the conflicts that proliferate in moments of disaster.

you don’t need to add more once you truly understand how deep that rabbit hole goes.
follow the money. ask yourself who benefits from a confused and suspicious people?

to resist the conspiracy, spend less time consuming the internet, and more time developing relationships with real people with whom you share the tangible (shelter, transportation, masks, medicine, groceries, care, childcare) and the intangible (listening, loving, dreaming, trusting, laughter, grief). follow and respect the workers, the doctors, the scientists, the caretakers, those who call back to us from the front lines with strategies and requests for help and adaptation (as opposed to those who cower behind us and tell us to trust nothing, and not to adapt for collective safety).

capitalists are absolutely looking at how to benefit from the tragedy we are currently in – medical supplies, technology control, security, borders, data access, benefiting from an economy that crashes and has to rebuild.

we have to be looking at how we deepen our relationships to hold each other through this, claim power for our communities, and be accountable with those we most love and want to protect and be with.

two places for good reading on this:

Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein
@movementgeneration web page

please place more suggestions (clear, accessible analysis and thinking) in the comments if you have them.

suggestions so far

Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit
Sacred Economics, Charles Eisenstein
Surveillance Capitalism, Shoshana Zuboff
I, Coronavirus – http://www.emergencenetwork.org/icoronavirus/
Arundhati Roy

shadows

day 12 #pandowrimo prompt:

How do we shape change from a place of turmoil and grief?

A) How do we deconstruct and disarm despair: what does despair take from us and how do we do the shadow work to replace what is stolen?

(what does it look like on the other side of shadow work?)

@ky_magdalene, @sea_witch_love, amb

…..

did I ever tell you
how everything about humanity makes me
so tender
I could be weeping all the time
my eyes see all the darkness
the shadows crawl across the floor
peek from the corners
laugh when I’m laughing
counting it down
they will take it back with the next sentence

I create troughs
threading away from my heart
spilling down my limbs to pulse out
sole of foot, palm of hand
all wide for the ground
in this way, I can open my eyes
since I was a newborn
people have asked me for direction
and I have almost always felt which way to point
away from me, away, away from me

I hear something coming
which is asking me to receive
to stop letting things go through me
to reawaken the black hole at my center
the part powered by what we lose
what we grieve, and by longing
to reach is to live, to reach is sacred
be attached to aliveness
and nothing else
trust: when life is done, it will let you go

a telepathic communion with dino

amb: dino?

dino?

i’m trying telepathy to reach you because a lot is going on that i could use some ancient insight on. and frankly i don’t know when i’ll be allowed in the chicago airport again.

dino: i’m here.

amb: wow! wow i feel you!

dino (smiling): i’m always available. but if i explained how, it might mess up our whole thing.

amb: like i told santa, i choose the magic.

dino: every time. so. are you here to tell me where the masses have gone?

amb: you noticed?

dino: i almost exclusively see in patterns these days. the river is a stream, the stream becoming a drizzle.

me: there’s a virus. it passes with no symptoms, hides inside us for two weeks, and it’s bigger than our healthcare system.

dino: nefarious. everywhere?

amb: at first it wasn’t, but now it really is. so we’re all staying home to try and slow it down while we find cures, vaccines, face masks, ventilators. thousands of people are dying.

dino: i’m so sorry to hear that.

amb, hesitant: is it our asteroid, dino?

dino, pausing a moment: you’re really scared, huh.

amb: terrified.

dino: but…isn’t this your thing? change, apocalypse? the collapse of capitalism? right relationship to the earth?

amb: totally. but i don’t want to lose the people i love. and i can’t make everyone stay home – i’ve tried. and i don’t want to die yet.

dino takes a deep breath.

dino: it’s hard when death comes in big waves. so much grief all at once.

amb: and for what? earth is getting this brief moment of respite, respiration. but so many bosses are still endangering their workers and plotting ways to capitalize this crisis. is this the end of capitalism, or the beginning of global authoritarian rule, or extinction, or liberation? what are we meant to learn?

dino: woah. hey now. it generally doesn’t help to make too much meaning of things that are still unfolding. from within the storm, vision is limited. and you, my friend, you and your species are in the storm.

amb: but deeper meaning helps me get thru the hard parts of life.

dino: hmmm.

amb: i need something to control. a narrative will do in absence of order, safety. i think i’ll become useless without meaning. the grief. the fear, anxiety, suspicion, sinophobia. the blur of my empathetic self feeling everything. i need something to root in to.

dino: i feel your chaos. perhaps instead of meaning, it’s time to revisit destiny.

amb: “the destiny of earthseed is to take root amongst the stars.”

dino: mmmm!

amb: octavia butler wrote that.

dino: she was always nice to me.

amb: that’s amazing. i have been rethinking her destiny. or, our way of understanding it.

dino: say more.

amb: i always thought it purely meant space travel. but she struggled with sequels, because no world she found in her imagination was as right for us as earth. and on earth, we are amongst the stars, here and now. this is a perfect home spinning in space. we may even be celestial to someone else.

dino, mulling it over: hmmmmmmm.

amb: i think we need to root here. re-root. choose here.

dino: perhaps. or maybe all of this, this way of being – on earth or in space – just isn’t your destiny. meaning, maybe human destiny isn’t the most important thing.

amb, sad eyes: now you say more.

dino: i often think that we are all experiments of an earth figuring out her destiny. she likes living things. she likes sentient creatures that love and make family and eat. in our experiment, she learned she wanted a species that could look up to the stars, defend her from asteroids.

amb: oh wow. so…our experiment could be teaching her to not let evil people accumulate all the power and money?

dino, chuckling: perhaps.

amb: or?

dino: perhaps it’s just time to see how what you call evil, what i call wrong relationship, how that can spread, can disconnect a species from its future.

amb: right. it’s like the virus itself, invisible. but making the wrong structures and systems and beliefs so visible.

dino: we can never teach how evil a thing is better than it will show us itself, with time.

amb: but it’s in all of us. or most, to varying degrees. this i, i, i, exceptionalism.

dino: hm.

amb: sorry. i want to let in new perspective. it’s just that all the problems are so big. and intertwined. and i’m supposed to be one of the ‘hopeful’ ones.

dino: what was that?

amb: what?

dino: that…tone. you sound…

amb: sharp? ugh. sorry – that happens when i’m trying to be funny but i feel something else. sad. scared. grief.

dino: ah humans. tone is the tip of your internal icebergs.

quiet together for a while.

dino: tell me something. can you imagine being sad and scared and still feeling hopeful?

amb: it’s hard.

dino: can i offer something?

amb: please.

dino: it’s not an asteroid.

amb, shoulders dropping: oh.

dino: hope, hopefulness, that’s the realm of the survivors. it’s not too late for y’all. grief shows us what we love, what we most want to protect. it swallows everything extraneous. and so much of what you love is still here. and tomorrow is another miraculous opportunity to change, to protect it.

amb: dang dino.

dino: ha. i guess i’ve been a little scared too. i don’t want you to give in, give up.

amb, hugging dino’s telepathic neck for a good cry.

dino, gently, into amb’s telepathic hair: we’re all rooting for you, you know. all the extinct ones. we’re all at your backs. you humans have so much beauty in you.

amb, sniffly: there is so much superhumanity and kindness and humility and change happening. and humor. and dancing online across all borders. and caretaking. and new kinds of honesty. and heroic communal isolation. and choosing to protect the future.

dino: very good. that’s life. grieve like the trees in october. but don’t forget you are nature, and spring is certain.

amb: i am glad to know we can be together in this way.

dino: me too. isolated is one perspective of this moment. deeply connected is another.

amb: love you dino.

dino: love you too.

On Rushing Toward Apocalypse (with Aja Taylor)

a conversation on the possibilities of this moment, with Aja Taylor *

Aja: DC, MD and VA have now all declared states of emergency. Italy’s death toll has officially surged past 1,000. COVID-19 has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, and yet – I am on the edge of my seat with barely-contained wonderment. My 3rd grade self – obsessed both with epidemics and dystopian fiction – is positively mystified by what we are seeing across the globe.

It isn’t the spread of the disease that mystifies me, but rather the opportunities and truths being unearthed in this very moment.

amb: i am on a plane from italy to the u.s. via paris, having canceled a beautifully planned two-month journey through europe. i was in tuscany for the last two weeks, during which the word ‘quarantine’ became a new undercurrent rhythm in my ears, a heartbeat. i’m on sabbatical, which will show in my unspooled writing voice (Aja will be more direct so feel free to skip me, she says it all). i’ve been trying to intentionally avoid the news, the triggering, election year ughs. my friends and family have gently screamed questions at me while waving digital newspapers and, of course, supporting my boundaries and my agency. (love smirking)

and when i turned to face it, COVID-19, i felt ashamed because i’d delayed so long, and because my speculative mind activated instantly, my emergent mind, my apocalypse dreamer self, feeling the familiarity of a moment i’d never lived, but prepared for. ashamed because during any thought of possibility, just north of me, grandparents were dying in hospital hallways.

i don’t believe in justified collateral damage, and while i love the vulcan quote “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one,” i actually don’t believe it, because i can’t say that many and one are different things…i highly and publicly suspect we are part of one creature, one system. we just don’t know the scale: are we a cell in the earth body? is earth the cell in a universe body? are we all the light beams of a god body?

nor do i think we can argue that any life is less miraculous than others, though we overlook some of the most important ones. twyla tharp says something like ‘destiny is a function of persistent parenting’, and i would add grandparenting, eldering, teaching, community-ing. think about the future inventors, storytellers, organizers, alien’s life partners, who fundamentally needed the encouragement of a certain elder or immune compromised teacher, lost because people didn’t know in time that they’d been weaponized with an efficient killer, couldn’t stay safe.

i offer this because the conversation we are about to have doesn’t presume that the lives of those who survive are more precious, worth more, than the lives of those who don’t survive this, or who suffer greatly in this. they aren’t giving their lives for us – we have to hold the complexity of senseless loss and undeniable possibility.

because this? this is already apocalypse.

Aja: This could be the very apocalypse we’ve been waiting for.

Apocalypse. Rooted in the Greek words “apo,” meaning “un,” and “kaluptein,” meaning “to cover,” apocalypse is generally regarded as something terrifying and negative. A life ending event. But as my Emergent Strategy “Creating New Possibilities” group explored this past summer in the Emergent Strategy Ideation Institute, what if apocalypse was indeed an ending – but to all of the things we actually needed to end in order to sustain life on this planet?

amb: i’ve been saying ‘things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered’. it’s the age of COVID-19, already bigger than the intimate reach of 9/11, the Titanic, and many man made and natural disasters we’ve defined eras by. we are in history, in an apocalypse moment in history.

Aja: At its etymological core, apocalypse means to uncover – and COVID-19 has uncovered so damn much, hasn’t it?

amb: so much, including for a lot of people just how privileged and/or precarious we have been. those already struggling in this system are often shamed into hiding our financial, physical, mental and emotional challenges. we didn’t know how bad our healthcare system was cause we were good, or we were so overwhelmed by navigating it that we couldn’t look up and notice the patterns.

we didn’t realize how quickly borders can change, and standards for who is allowed to move and who isn’t, especially if our parents were born here. now more of us see that we can all end up on the wrong side, classified as a threat overnight.

and we’ve been too ashamed to show the precarity of our own bank accounts. we didn’t realize how many people in the richest nation in the world are living check to check. people are getting sick because many of us are more terrified of the proximity of losing income than risking our health and that of our families, communities and clients (i was so disappointed to land in the u.s. and, in addition to zero screening or questions about my health anywhere, to see all the airport restaurants open, all those exposed workers with no protection).

it’s a lot to take in. but it’s all about what we do in this unveiling. i’ve been dreaming that we ‘hold each other tight and continue to pull back the veil’. see both the wild wrongness in so many of our current structures, and the wild possibilities if we apply our visioning, organizing, earthling selves to the conversation and pattern seeking.

the first pattern shift i noticed was the dropping emissions as industry in key production areas slows, stops. the organizers i serve have been pushing for corporate emission reduction, and getting “no no no, impossible, maybe ? of that in twice the time, no even if we’ll all be dead it’s more important that 1% of us experience excess right now.”

COVID-19 comes and emissions are down 25%, and that’s just the beginning?

Aja: Everyone deserves a place to live, regardless of their ability to pay. Evicting someone because they cannot afford to pay is inhumane. And yet, capitalist forces have persuaded us that in order for society to function, people must pay or be put out. COVID-19 comes and suddenly, the inhumanity of evictions becomes politically expedient, and more people now know that if they wanted to, the government could absolutely step in and halt evictions.

amb: behavior shift can actually happen very quickly once we collectively decide to do it. relearning en masse how to wash our hands. i was part of a group in the rome airport who learned what one meter felt like, the social distance encouraged everywhere now. it was taught directly, impersonally – “not that, this. too close! good.” boundaries held collectively immediately relaxed my shoulders. it was so much harder landing in france and the u.s. where very few people seemed aware of personal space. i want that mindful level of collective boundary norming and consent for all bodies all the time, against street harassment and racism, for recycling and dogpoopscooping and helping each other.

Aja: Protecting workers makes sense. Making sure workers have adequate paid time off is good for people, good for a thriving workforce and good for our communal health. “We can’t afford that!” the business community lined up to testify. COVID-19 comes and suddenly across the country we are seeing lawmakers and businesses get creative to make sure that people can work from home, and even that hourly workers and folks who can’t telework have ways to have the time off and still recover wages.

amb: i am most fascinated by how much small personal bravery is emerging. my group text threads are full of people sharing the bold initiating moves they’ve been making in their workplaces, with their parents, at their gyms, kids’ schools, with friends.

we are either vectors of doom or safety in this.

it’s also brave when people who ignored or ridiculed the response to COVID-19 for a while finally let themselves be moved by new data and start helping with containment and slowing it down.

and at least in movement spaces it looks like we’re starting to listen to people who have been trying to teach us collective pathways for a while.

it’s also time for organic redistribution – those who have more than enough are going to need to move funds to help artists, freelancers, chronically ill, immigrant, jobless, houseless and other economically vulnerable communities. i am excited by how quickly needs and pivots are being understood and activated, how many people i know who are thinking collectively.

Aja: Making sure people with disabilities can have equitable access to convenings and workplaces makes sense. But our disabled siblings hear time and time again how “teleconferencing technology is so expensive!” and “it’s too hard to figure out—we’ll think about it for next year.” COVID-19 comes, and now more people know that yes, companies and organizations can indeed make spaces accessible, and choose to prioritize cost over cause.

amb: i know there is tragedy here, unfolding, the scale of which we cannot, will never, measure in terms of heartache. but i’m also aware of us moving towards things we have needed to move towards. how do we widen the space within us for the grief and wonder? fear and vision? the surrender, and the creativity, the relief, the humor, the possibility?

this is an opportunity to stop trying to ‘cling to the shore,’ as the hopi elder prophesied. say the shore is our crisis level individualism, and the river is interdependence. we don’t really know what intentional post-capitalist interdependence looks like at our current national, much less global, scale. it’s still time to push off, go forward, into that unknown, holding each other, in pairs, in circles.

now is a time to learn about relinquishing boredom. this is a time for generating life by rooting where we are. and learning intimacy as a survival tool, because we need to be able to communicate our realities, needs and wants – a level of communication that previously often happened only through proximity, pheromones and subtle facial shifts.

the overlay of all of this is deepening connection towards a right relationship to the earth.

i’m also excited to start using the vulcan “live long and prosper” hand greeting in place of hugs or fist bumps.

Aja: As an organizer, this uncovering – this apocalypse – is one I feel like running toward. It pushes us to be sharper, to contemplate organizing our folks through chaos and disorganization, and presents so many opportunities to politicize and contextualize for our folks. The things we fight for are not just right, but POSSIBLE. And I don’t know about y’all, but this election cycle especially had me feeling so depleted. So impossible. So hopeless.

amb: demoralized! dejected! apoplectic! watching us divide, forget what matters and divide.

Aja: And then COVID-19 came, and reminded me that the world we are fighting for is nigh. Now is not the time to pump the brakes or abandon hope. The world we are fighting for is just on the other side of apocalypse.

amb: asé and hallelujah

* Aja Taylor is a community organizer, fiction-loving facilitator of mischief and meetings. She enjoys good food, analyzing birth charts, octopuses and thinking about how sexy consent is. She is also Director of Advocacy and Organizing at Bread for the City and one of the co-founders of Two Brown Girls Consulting Cooperative, both based in DC.