37 gratitudes

1. My life.

2. My mother, carrying me, loving every iteration of me.

3. My father, at my back, thinking always of my safety.

4. My sisters. Warrior rock comrades and best friends. So glad you chose this family, with me in it, and have grown it/us with true love.

5. The gift of writing, the place I know myself.

6. My loves, my woes, my partners, each of you have grown up my heart – you orient me all the time towards my highest self.

7. Finn, 8. Siobhan, 9. Mairead and 10. Summer. 11 & 12. The Unnamed.

13. Emergence – surrendering to, and falling in love with, change.

14. Octavia’s Brood. When the time comes, I’ll die satisfied.

15. Facilitation. Giving me, over and over, hope for humanity and earth.

16. Somatics. Teaching me I’m more than my trauma, and letting me experience so much aliveness.

17. Black lives matter. This work, in my lifetime? Thank you all.

18. Dreaming, for the wisdom and wonder. I can’t believe so much of my waking life is spent dreaming and making dreams come true.

19. The places where sky meets water. The sound of summer. The first snow. The wild and calm ocean. The forever stars. Heart beats. This particular planet, this particular universe.

20. Grief – carving me out over and over, making me so spacious inside.

21. Tarot, pendant, horoscope, guides, witchiness and intuition…it helps so much to not know anything, but with some sense of patterns. I love being magical.

22. Sugar. You’ve gotten me to here. No hard feelings. I needed you.

23. Adela, Lisa, Mia, Anna and other healers who have made my body more whole.

24. Weed. Whiskey too. And moderation.

25. Pleasure, in every iteration.
Being a body of nerves in a sensual world and saying yes. (And, I’m learning, no.) Being prolific and alone, laughing with others, complete release, anticipation, joy. Yes.

26. Reading. Reading voraciously. Grateful for the physical and emotional places I’ve been through pages. Playing scrabble (and bananagrams) for the love of words.

27. Happy style: the celebration of my gorgeous body through clothing and adornment.

28. The privilege of traveling freely in this beautiful world. Feeling home in so many places, with so little.

29. Song – singing just for me, singing to heal, singing with others. Song/poems that measure moments in my life (both sides now, all is full of love, purple rain and adore, man in the mirror, a song for you, 22nd century, misty blue, strangefruit, cheek to cheek, home and so on)

30. My ghosts and ancestors, so thick with me these days.

31. Dancing.

32. ‘Never a mistake, always a lesson.’

33. The writers who shaped me, and left room for me.

34. Beyonce. The women artists, mothers, athletes, activists, and academics who keep me looking up and ahead.

35. The unknown. Ok, keep surprising me.

36. Complexity. I know nothing, I know everything. I am nothing, I am everything.

37. Self love. This shit is exquisite.

something rotten

i came home from a summer of writing on the west coast feeling like a late blooming novelist, centered in what i am here to do. i opened a cabinet in my kitchen that i immediately had to close again. there was something terrifying and alive and putrid in the cabinet, something that had been growing in my absence. i didn’t want to ever look again, to know what was inside, to smell it….no. no no no.

but i live alone and there isn’t really a service to do this kind of thing for you. so an hour later i had on rubber gloves, a face mask, and half a tube of clorox bleach wipes to scrape the bag of rotten and transformed potatoes and maggots and flies out of the cabinet and out of my home.

i did it. i neither fainted nor threw up. and i can’t stop thinking about it.

it feels exactly like the emotional work i have been up to for some time. going past what the world sees, opening up all these doors down deep in my psyche, in my memory, in my choices, in my heart. finding the places that i want to slam shut and run away from, and instead reaching my hand, my attention, in.

it what i feel when i walk around my neighborhood now in Detroit. there are fences and strangers everywhere, people smiling as they get their cars valet parked, patrols every other block. there is so much rot under these new developments. i miss the place i moved to. but when i open the cabinet, i have to really think a lot about being a gentrifier, dipping in and out of this place as it’s face changes – how am i perpetuating this? how do i divest from the erasure and displacement of Detroit?

‘you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land’
warsan shire

rotten is how it feels looking at the picture of aylan, the syrian baby that washed up on turkey’s shore. i could imagine how he felt in his parents’ arms. i sat with the picture of him and wept, overwhelmed. in this case, opening the cabinet and reaching into the rotten place doesn’t just mean pointing at europe…it’s sitting with my role in this – how long have i been skimming over news from syria? why did it take this image to make me pay more attention? what can i do? i signed the petitions, but what else?

there is so much that is rotten in this world right now, so much we don’t turn and face. i mostly focus on the miraculous, beautiful, evolutionary…but it’s not for lack of seeing. it’s out of desperation, out of a need to grow something good in this violent and unfair world.

and then as always i wonder: what can we do to manage all of this simultaneous crisis and trauma?

i don’t know. to a humbling and quieting degree, i don’t know. i am learning to heal, learning to write the rotten honestly, learning to see myself in the dark.

but also, i have only just gotten the cabinet open, i am only just looking inside.

from earth to obsidian (28/30)

prompt: write a poem about bridges. A bridge is a powerful metaphor, and when you start looking for bridges in poems, you find them everywhere. Your poem could be about a real bridge or an imaginary or ideal bridge. It could be one you cross every day, or one that simply seems to stand for something larger – for the idea of connection or distance, for the idea of movement and travel and new horizons.

queens aya and e— tell why

we walked this sky
because we were not wanted
because we were always targets
of extermination

we left in twos
like all sacred beasts
spinning a path
towards another time

where we cannot be hunted
skinned, broken
lynched, choked of fair breath
expected to look away
from our genocide

where our love is no one’s
path to hell
(that look in the eye
confuses even righteous desire,
or the spark of forever)

we bet on the
miracle of our beautiful
black and queer
and liberated
bodies

we called our ship
Harriet’s Escape
her of rocket science and
witchcraft, dream fuel
and tomorrow
as our only direction

we came here for a future
in which our flesh is precious
in which our children are divine
in which our lives matter

we spun the bridge from
death to life
from supremacy to love
from earth
to obsidian

nanowrimo

i am writing a draft of a novel!

i had an incredible experience with napowrimo, national poetry writing month. i spent april writing a poem each day and remembering how much i love poetry, that i am a poet in my own way, even if it isn’t my primary form.

i have been reading a lot lately. i was recently inspired by kiese laymon’s long division, and then margaret atwood’s maddaddam trilogy. both were wonderfully creative and funny stories, the first one on time travel, the second on apocalypse and corporate control.

i was looking around for my next book, which i am pretty sure will be chimimanda ngozi adichie’s americanah, when i was reminded that november is national novel writing month (nanowrimo).

my style isn’t really funny, but it absolutely concerns time travel and apocalypse – in detroit. this is a story i have been trying to get out for a while, and everything i’ve written is too small to tell the story. the goal of nanowrimo is 50,000 words. i hope that’s enough, but i figure that by the end of the month i will know a few things:

– how i feel about novel writing
– how big my love story of detroit needs to be
– what’s possible inside my writing practice with a rigorous daily word count goal

the other thing to share about this story is that it’s all about grief, of course. part of why this story has been hard to land is that grief keeps knocking me sideways. today i pulled together the writing i have done about grief on this blog and it was so much. it was beautiful to see how time has made each loss more bearable, more complete. and it was humbling to see the ways in which my real life grief is being transformed into a generative force in the story i now write.

this novel may be like my songs and most of my poems, for my own release and healing. but i am excited to let it out, to give these ghosts a place to play together.

send me love, and luck. and if there are people you have lost that you would like me to include in some way, especially connected to detroit, please share their names and stories here. i’ll see what i can do.

michael brown’s homegoing

i have been watching ferguson and feeling many many things. how unique this moment is, and how familiar. how exciting the responses have been, and how exhausted i am by the need to respond. most of all, how to manage all of these front lines, all these black bodies swinging, all this brutality to brown skin.

where i sit in detroit, it is a beautiful, soft, cricket-full summer. and there are masses with no water. the u.n. said it isn’t right, like they said gaza isn’t right. so. there isn’t much relief in the moral high ground.

tonight it is the virgo new moon, and it is a night for prayer, ritual, magic and saying what it is we want. i want the kind of safety that comes when no one is afraid of you, when you are loved unconditionally, when you can make mistakes and live to learn the lessons, when you can rest assured that you will only die of natural causes, when you have every opportunity to live a beautiful and impactful life, when you can be bold and young and vivacious and sassy and creative and brave and tender and old and full of tears, pleasure, laughter, wisdom, new life. and black. i want, i invoke, the safety for black and brown people, for all people, that will come with the healing of the species from the mental illness of racial supremacy/inferiority.

i thought the moon should know.

they called him michael
and he was her only blameless child
and you would have loved him
but he died so quickly,
like a nameless child
(chorus of a song i wrote in high school, for another brown boy who never made it home)

lay him in the dirt
lift him high, raging angels
let him make it home
(for black august on the day of michael brown’s funeral)

nuanced voices on the detroit water situation (shifting from false solutions to real ones)

this past week a victory was declared for the detroit water fight. i got tears in my eyes, i got excited. honey we need some victories.

but i also got concerned and started digging a bit because the groups i have known to be working on this (the people’s water board, michigan welfare rights and others) were not mentioned, or posting the good news. as i have focused more on my writing, i have defaulted to the late sister-warrior charity hicks regarding most things about the water issues in detroit. in her absence, i have started tuning into some of my other favorite detroit minds.

will copeland, shane bernardo, shea howell, bill wylie-kellerman and tawana petty have all been saying brilliant things about what is happening and why the ‘victory’ of emergency manager kevin orr handing control of detroit’s water over to mayor mike duggan is actually not quite the success that is being claimed.

shane reminded me, for context, that this is all connected “to emergency management and the bankruptcy. in short, this is not a singular instance or issue but one in a protracted and carefully thought out scheme based on predatory economics.” yes sir.

so, i wanted to share some of their clarifying, inspiring and informative words.

first, from bill wylie-kellerman, quoted in al-jazeera’s article on west virginians driving water up to detroit: “The emergency manager and the mayor have been working hand in glove all along. The mayor doesn’t have any power that the emergency manager doesn’t grant him. It’s a fake appearance of a fresh start.”

from shane: “If you didn’t know any better, you would think that Duggan taking over control of DWSD was a good thing. Citing this as a victory is misleading and self-delusional. Lest we forget, Duggan was part of the emergency manager selection process. Making Duggan in charge of the water dept is like taking it from one hand and placing it in the other.”

i commented that we need victory, and will responded that “the victory is in the fact that they/the power structure is responding and adapting. They are making overtures towards us. The fact that they made two overtures (15-day moratorium and now this) shows that they are struggling with public opinion and trying to silence the movement. As Shane Bernardo points out, Orr and Duggan are for all intents and purposes in the same camp. It is not an objective ‘victory’ but definitely a subjective victory, meaning they are feeling the heat. But we still have to be vigilant to make sure the shutoffs have actually stopped in this moratorium. Duggan is not committed to ending shutoffs – his stance is on ‘warning consumers’. Duggan has significant privatization experience also. Our level of vigilance remains constant.”

shea howell was quoted in a release from the people’s water board, a really clarifying piece on what’s being asked for: “The crowds that brought media from all over the world were not chanting for ‘more advanced warnings of shut-offs’ as the Mayor said he would have given. If you can’t pay the hundreds or sometimes even the thousands of dollars demanded by DWSD, more warning is useless. We’ve received news that 40 people in a Palmer Park apartment have been shut-off. Has Mike Ilitch paid his overdue water bill? Has DWSD moved in to shut off the golf course? No. Corporations can get by while families are deprived. Is this what Mayor Duggan meant when, this morning, he referred to some Detroiters have to pay for the bills of others?”

shea added to me that, “One thing that I think is critical for us to tackle is Duggan’s calculated effort to turn one Detroiter against the other….with his ‘those who don’t pay are forcing those who do pay to have ever higher rates’. This divide and conquer strategy draws on deep rooted stereotypes that dehumanize people who are poor (let’s remember this is nearly half the city – and most of the rest of us are close to it). But in trying to say there are good Detroiters and bad Detroiters, he is trying to deflect attention away form the real structural issues facing the water department including:
1. more than half the water department budget goes to banks to pay debt..
2. a small number of corporations owe as much as nearly half the city and they are not aggressively assaulted.
3. Last month Detroit lost Flint as a customer because of Governor Snyder and legislative action creating a new Flint water system (that was completely unnecessary) taking the scarce dollars needed to maintain existing infrastructure to build a new infrastructure along side it. This will mean Detroit water customers will have to cover a new 12 million…the Flint cost…”

and finally, poet warrior tawana shared these words on real solutions, which have been dispatched to the president via food and water watch: “We know the Mayor’s been handed a hot mess. However, we are clear that this is not a solution to the water crisis in Detroit. An immediate halt to water shutoffs, a rejection of any effort to privatize the water, restoration of all residents’ water currently shutoff and enforcement of the Peoples’ Water Affordability Plan is the solution to this crisis.”

stay tuned in!

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

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

storytelling black women’s lives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

octavia’s brood

the brood had two fantastic experiences at the AMC.

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

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

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

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

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

emergent strategy train the trainers

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

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

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

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

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

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

20140626-104743-38863733.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

letter to charity, as she goes home

i just received the news that my friend and comrade charity mahouna hicks has made her transition. here is the statement on her life from lila cabbil:

Our dear Charity Hicks joined the ancestors on July 8, 2014. She had recently directed her community in Detroit to “wage love” as a strategy in our fight for justice and equity. Her mantra was her love for her people and consistently bringing in the voice of those who were marginalized. As we prepare for her homegoing services let us reflect on her rich legacy of passion, knowledge, vibrancy, sharing, commitment, mentorship, persistence, giving, wisdom, advocacy, and deep pride of African heritage and culture. We are all Blessed by her God given gifts. The global beloved community she cherished is collectively charged with continuing her extensive, unmatchable, intellectually brilliant, work that reached out lovingly to people world wide.

Support for services (including bringing her home) can be directed to Gofundme.com/wagelove

i have been writing to charity since the accident, trying to understand it all. here are some words pulled together from that writing and in response to her transition:

charity love,

i write this with tears in my eyes – i just heard that you’re gone, at least in the way i know you. black beautiful soft round tall beaming you. i want one of your hugs. i have a hard time believing your body could not recover. i knew it was impossible, i knew it. i thought of you as a cosmic ancient superhero.

when we worked together, i found myself trying to keep up with your mind, trying to stand with you in massive emotions. your mind moved faster, drew easily on more data, connected everything together. and the connections you made filled you with rage, with sadness, with incredulity…and with such tenderness.

the way you would take my niece’s face into your hands, the way you would hug people in greeting, the way you would listen to a curious young visitor to detroit and then affirm her curiosity by blowing her mind out with an explosion of stories and facts. you brought to the world equal parts tenderness and fire.

and no one could bring fire quite like you.

we had our different approaches. i wanted you to focus, you wanted me to ignite. the place we found each other over and over in our work together was love – for family, for Detroit, for justice, for our own bodies, for the ways spirit was moving through us and our lives, for new ways of grasping the universe, for our own potential. i loved our kitchen table talks. i wish we could have more of them.

and what will Detroit do without you?

for the years we worked together i watched you with amazement and worry, as you tirelessly attended one meeting after another on the unreliable bus system of Detroit, carrying a mental map of issues and people and histories, bags full of documentation and computers and flyers, a hundred keys to the universe hooked to your top.

i remember meetings where you stood up and demanded that we all get naked, say what we really meant, say what we were going to do. you were daunting, generative, wholistic, healer, soldier. if there was a right action you would take it first. you embodied a commitment to justice.

i didn’t always understand your fire, love. you were a friend and a mystery, deeply rooted and incredibly complicated. Detroit needs your fire now, your kind of thorough love, compounded, burning out of control. the world does.

you led with your love, water warrior earth goddess in motherland cloth armor. you have always been larger than life.

when i last saw you, i felt awe. even as you were in the between place, your vibration filled the room. i hope you heard and felt all of the love that was flowing towards you, from me, from Detroit, from all of the people you touched.

i need you charity. you inspire me. simultaneously, i hold on in disbelief, and i let go wishing you only ease and rest and goodness on your journey. keep an eye on us, on Detroit, send us some divine sacred fire for the work and the change that is coming.

love you, and miss you
amb

water is life (reflection/call to action for detroit)

i feel like sister warrior charity hicks, who has been central in the fight for water rights in detroit and is currently in critical condition after a hit and run accident, is in my dreams sending me poems and anger in my daily meditation on her.

the current state of affairs is this: the u.n. has warned detroit that turning off water to force the poorest residents to pay exorbitant bills is a violation of human rights – you can only turn off water if you can prove that people could pay the bill but are not paying.

learn more about this key moment for all humans that is playing out in detroit. sign the petition crafted by blue planet project, the detroit people’s water board, mi welfare rights and others.

our daughters cannot be thirsty
this whole summer long
dust tongue dance of desperation
blossoming bodies, arid fruit

our sons cannot be parched
long limbs pressing black skin
through the tar sand streets of july
ratchet prayers for rain

our elders should not be anxious
after heavy lives holding all our dreams
now water becomes memory in the dark?
dry begging whispers with no teeth?

our babies cannot be sustained
on ashen breast or mother’s tears
as david checks face goliath bills
they will become our thick sweet rage

we who are human cannot taste
our own bitterness for so long
without becoming the silver spear
that righteous edge cuts out from within us

for now we look naked before you
hands cupped in the heart of
america
needing (begging) only (pleading) for water

but life creates conditions for life
the phoenix may burn, but first she is water
look into our eyes before you upset us
we water warriors, we survive

only lovers left alive: movie review / gush

i have said it before and i must say it again: if you are a vampire, i want in. turn me.

i am rearticulating this in light of jim jarmusch’s gorgeous new vampire classic only lovers left alive. jodie recommended it, and i was going with my favorite movie buddy, mike, so i had high expectations.

without spoilers, i just want to say: it is a joy of a movie. exquisite, from the pace to the soundtrack to the landscapes to the clothing to the peculiar problems these vampires face amongst their buttery leathers, intricate moroccan textiles, walls and stairs and piles of books, ancient instruments, ornate robes, cheekbone speeches.

it’s gorgeous.

and it’s set in detroit (albeit a fantastical-alternate-universe detroit with only one black person in it. and that black person is jeffrey wright!)!

and tangier, which looked much better in the movie than it did for the few hours i was there.

here are the other reasons i love this film:

tilda swinton is a delight, that is just her truth. i dressed particularly happy style for the film in her absence and her honor. as eve, she is a direct hit of everything good – swag, lilt, fervor, pleasure. she stomps around the movie all twenty feel tall and full of compassion and good choices and wonderful things she’s learned. her character offers a powerful theory on life – that we are not here to obsess about ourselves, but to connect, learn, love, dance. and she dances, and it’s a wonderful thing to see, she’s a slinky benevolent demon.

jarmusch gets detroit like an intimate stranger. he captures the quiet wild feel and sound of the city if only you know it at night: the glowing skyline across what can look like a forest, the vast clearish skies, the juxtaposition of old rambling homes, empty intersections in rare streetlamps, the isolated clubs where genius can be heard before the world recognizes it.

the movie also offers a beautiful example of the life of lovers – reading, traveling, making and consuming music, loving. delight, adventure, reuniting, nesting, care, tenderness.

jarmusch touches on very specific emotional needs, like tom hiddleston’s adam wanting to uncouple the act of sharing his work with the world from the wretchedness of fame.

it’s just a wonderful film. i recommend it on the big screen, particularly for the closing scene.