napowrimo poem 13: that springness

write a poem that contains at least one kenning. Kennings were metaphorical phrases developed in Nordic sagas. At their simplest, they generally consist of two nouns joined together, which imaginatively describe or name a third thing. The phrase “whale road,” for example, could be used instead of “sea” or “ocean,” and “sky candle” could be used for “sun.”

in the motor city crisis zone
a glacial age falls finally away
and in that gorgeous absence
we let the firefly season lift us up
we glorify the sun
which will give us every single thing
and then hold us with reckless wonder
until the first snow

to be whole (a collective poem from detroit center for whole communities gathering)

detroit-based alumni of the center for whole communities programs came together today to dialogue and share awareness practices. one thing we have done is gathered thoughts during the dialogues into a poem structure. here is the poem that emerged in response to the questions ‘what do we need in our work? what do we need to feel whole?’

the work will get weird in these lean times
like minds want to move out of lockstep alignment
to be our whole selves we have to climb out of the
small box of our righteousness
the anxiety of staying on our linear paths
the crisis of self
the stagnation
the resilience that holds what is though it must go
let go of the cynic inside
let go of the bully who must win
relinquish the uniform
close the book on institutions
don’t speak what they taught you
shed the skin

we must forgive ourselves for all we do not know
we are the animators
we must bring the light
walk by in this world together
talk at more depth
let go of this frenetic activism – it doesn’t work
we need to waste time with each other
how do you come, how do you go?

the universe nurtures me
the creativity of the 13.8 billion year old story
the planet, our teacher, says
learn wonder
we are frozen to each other
what is the spring of the soul?
the seed is still there

what will the child think of my life?
the protest politic depresses me
i long for the art of the elephant
for the cosmos
‘we are all star stuff’
i am not impossible
see – i need what you need, want what you want
and i can carry on
rooted and nurtured
affirmed in community with others
redemption is collective
‘we don’t only inherit land from our ancestors,
we borrow it also from our children’

breathing into this moment in context
with emotional and spiritual agency
risk inside of love
we can remember: being is an act of resistance
we imagined these zoos
now is the time to bring courage and grace
to necessary failures
upending our hows
our hows which undo our peace
if we can release,
what can evolve?

more chapters.

– jan 29, 2014
by gloria rivera, gloria lowe, shane bernardo, adela nieves, patrick crouch, diana copeland, ginny mcginn, michelle martinez, adrienne maree brown

learning to respond to the world as a non-organizer

as usual, so much is happening.

in the past couple of weeks the voting rights act was overturned, trayvon martin’s known murderer was released, detroit declared bankruptcy…these are three of roughly a billion things to respond to.

my response is rarely surprise. it is often: right, that is what happens next in this scenario, in this system. and the need for self and collective love and liberation persists.

the other day the news of detroit declaring bankruptcy came down and i went through a series of responses.

so what?
surviving is detroit’s default.
we make it look fresh.
i love detroit.

how did this happen?
can people actually survive on any less here?
i don’t want to even try and become an instant expert on city bankruptcy. just like i didn’t want to become an instant expert on emergency financial management.

but then how can i imagine a viable solution?
…i look at the cultural wealth of this city, don’t they see it?
…i reflect on what capitalism allows in terms of stratification – how many people are succeeding in this city, off the development of this city? don’t they see?

and how do i respond as myself, as a person?
i love detroit. as she is, has been, and will be.

(hands over ears)

the facts are on our side right now. but the facts alone don’t seem to line up with when and how communities rage and riot, resist, or renew.
…i don’t want to give the actions of people who don’t care about detroit so much of my attention.

i love detroit.

the other night, sitting with some of my favorite detroit minds reflecting on this moment, i realized part of my resistance to emotions around the emergency manager and the bankruptcy is rooted in residual guilt about knowing i am not an organizer, and my growing/ongoing questions about other ways to show up.

recently someone from outside detroit questioned me on why i wasn’t organizing responses and direct actions here, with all that’s going on. i struggled to respond without feeling defensive, dropping into what i know to be true for myself and for the city.

first, detroiters are responding. hearing of some of the efforts, i am reminded of the AMP principle: “Wherever there is a problem, there are already people acting on the problem in some fashion. Understanding those actions is the starting point for developing effective strategies to resolve the problem.”

amplify the efforts happening, yes. maybe more support is needed. but trust that there are passionate and strategic responses afoot.

but second, i am not an organizer.

i have tried various approaches to organizing. the way i was developed as an organizer was to learn tons of information, tactics and theory, and based on that data to form an opinion, a strategy, and wage critique through my words and actions. whether that waging was effective or not (and i can humbly say it often wasn’t) it was righteous, backed up by fact.

i have seen this approach work gloriously for folks who had a nature of warrior, or researcher. i literally don’t have the natural skill set of an organizer (my extroversion comes in spurts; my memory is inconsistent, numbers free and creative; my vulnerability thrives in written form; i really prefer to be alone more of the time than most people know; approaching strangers gives me anxiety).

also, my theory of change (we must transform ourselves to transform the world) has me focused on internalizing the site of transformation. i am working to evolve beyond the capitalism, competition and individualism within myself, my family, my relationships, my writing, my reach.

and as y’all know, i have not thrived in the burn-out culture of organizing, which i acknowledge is the state of most of the movement now.

i have been building a life of things i am called to do, and love. i am a facilitator and a writer, a creative practitioner. a doula. a coach. i am a lover, a budding philosopher. a hybrid. i excel in the inter-nodal work, the intermediary work.

if there is anyone i place on a pedestal it is organic organizers, the kind of people i regularly support through facilitation and coaching, who are out in the world knocking on doors, approaching strangers, spending the majority of their waking hours in group processes to strengthen community. i respect and admire them, i need them to succeed.

i know i am not them.
they are better people than me in many ways that matter to me.

but i also love me.

my curiosity is peaked by conversations more than news, by emotions more than policies, by relationship and healing more than long-term strategies. and i don’t think this makes me less serious, less strategic, or anti-intellectual – i think am just oriented towards other types of intelligence.

i deeply believe in collective action. i don’t believe everyone in that collective has to be an organizer. i think the more clearly everyone seeks the roles in society/family/community that give them pleasure and fulfillment, the more effective and creative any collective action, resistance and living will be.

so i am learning, honing my ways of responding as an artist. as an emergent strategy facilitator, i am focusing on healing strategies, relationship depth and emotional growth at the collective level.

this means when injustice happens in a major ways, it brings me to questions about the emotional realities of communities i live in, love and support.

these are the kinds of questions i sit with:

what can i create, write, build, birth, hold, make easy?

what is in our hearts that makes us internalize oppression, resist, or create alternatives?

how much heartache can a people take before we walk away from participating in oppressive systems?

how many dreams must be deferred before a community withers – and what is it that breathes new life in…anger? love? some perfect juxtaposition of the two?

how do we give our all to the creation and practice of ancient, alternative and new systems within the shell of the current…knowing they could be smashed like the acorn community in parable of the talents?

or is that the inevitable point, that we must build new systems without attachment, growing philosophies and practicing belief systems grander than our current endeavors, discovering new ideas about ourselves, literally new futures, from within?

rather than fighting for the political/physical place we are, how do feel/find the place that can hold and love us?

it’s speculative fiction but i suspect that what we long for might occupy the same physical space we are in, but is a parallel emotional world determined by how we show up.

on being a kresge literary arts fellow. :)

i am a kresge literary arts fellow. it’s in the free press, detroit news, and metro times, so it’s real in spite of my ongoing shock.

i have a lot of thoughts and feelings about it.

1. i am a writer.

2. ‘i can sense it. something important is about to happen…it takes courage to enjoy it.’ – bjork (big time sensuality).

3. i am an artist. i am a singer. i am a writer.

4. for years there has been this undertow. i would move forward in my life as a social justice facilitator, worker, leader. and reach some peak, receive some honor or title or role that honored my work. and there would be this undertow – my artist self. my writer self, wanting to write wild speculative poetic fiction and sci-fi erotica and afrofuturist opera, sing jazz in paris and paint entire worlds made of women’s beauties. then the current would move again and i would be chasing sand, rolling in the familiar rhythm of holding space for others to dream and reach for justice.

which i also love.

5. i thought all this time it was a selfish pull. but it isn’t.

6. i thought i could stave the need to write by blogging. but i haven’t.

7. i want to write more and more. on my sabbatical last year i wrote so much my hands were weary, then i dictated things into the recorder. i wrote poems, songs, memoirs, fiction, science fiction, essays.

8. the most exciting writing was the science fiction. the science fiction pathway has been growing for years, and it’s steeped in the learnings about emergence, it’s steeped in my love of octavia butler, and my love of detroit. it’s steeped in my complex relationship to apocalypse.

9. as i have started to write science fiction, and hold space for others to talk about and write science fiction, i have found a juxtaposition of passions. in this space i get to shamelessly be an artist, while still opening and holding a space for the art of imagination and visioning to spread amongst the people i most believe need to be central in the future.

10. late last year i was awarded the BALLE fellowship to do local living economies work – and i was excited, because it was a chance to advance ideas i am deeply aligned with. but as i got into the experience, surrounded by amazing people i respected, i found it wasn’t quite for me – it was for detroit, but i wasn’t the right conduit to get that radical business knowledge to the city (‘i don’t know nuthin bout birthin no bizness!!’). when i stepped back from that space, it was without knowing what else might come my way, and hoping (praying, doing ceremonies, searching) for some way to still keep roots in detroit.

11. i forgot i had applied, it was such a reach. i am beyond the curve – i have not been writing full time. there are many in detroit who have, and i am so aware of their brilliance and hard work. and i thought i had run out of viable options to stay creating and working in this city i love. i had an absence of purpose. i had eeyore eyes looking around my beloved apartment. i was building up my adaptability muscle to let go.

12. and i thought i might be destined to always write on the side of the work i do as a facilitator. in terms of how i made a living. and i was making my way to being ok with that. kind of.

13. i can think of so many incredible artists in detroit who should receive this award. so many it humbles me.

14. it is kresge, with whom as social justice worker in the D i have had a very complex relationship. this is the foundation that funds everything in detroit in some way, things that move us towards justice and democracy, and things that move us away from it. and i wish there were more black detroiters with me amongst the awardees. i see the whiteness, i see particularly the lack of women of color, black women.

they are investing in me, and my intention is to uplift the transformations afoot in this city and play out the potential futures of justice. so the relationship is direct now, and the invitation for accountability intrigues me, challenges me.

15. the money is a major blessing. but even more so is what the people of the fellowship keep saying – ‘we want to support you to become the artist we already see in you’, ‘we will help you learn to connect to resources to be an artist as your life.’ really? really.

16. thank you more than i can fit the words in my mouth to express it. thank you to the panel who felt my writing, to kresge and creative capital and artserve michigan. and to the people who supported my writing all these years, those who funded my sabbatical, to invincible, to my parents, especially my mom who reads every blog post. to my creative partners walidah imarisha and dream hampton, to the sci-fi nerds building community with me. and to the greater force i feel moving in my life, god-is-change, thank you.

17. in the spirit of all of that – i’m going to write. i am going to write as the center of my life! in every way, to the best of my ability, prolifically and unapologetically and as sacred work, work prayer, shaping god.

18. i feel exposed…this feels like a coming out. even though maybe everyone knows how much writing is my center. but i didn’t know it could be honored, that it was that visible mama-i-want-to stuff. i feel like another self, further inside of me, is in the sun. it’s delicious.

19. ‘i predict a graceful explosion.’ – cold specks (elephant head)

emergence (speech from opening for allied media conference 2013)

emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. it emphasizes critical connections, authentic relationships, listening with the body and the mind.

in emergence, the whole is a mirror of the parts. fractal – the health of the cell is the health of the species and the planet.

there are examples of emergence everywhere.

birds don’t make a plan to migrate, raising resources to fund their way, packing for scarce times, mapping out their pit stops. they feel a call in their bodies and they must go, and they follow it, responding to each other, each bringing their adaptations.

clara reminded me today of the WAY of flocking: staying separate enough not to crowd each other, aligned enough to maintain a shared direction, and cohesive enough to always move towards each other. destiny is a calling that creates a beautiful journey.

emergence is beyond what the sum of it’s parts could even imagine.

a group of caterpillars and nymphs might not see flight in their future but it’s inevitable. it’s destiny.

oak trees don’t set an intention to listen to each other better, or agree to hold tight to each other when the next storm comes. under the earth always they reach for each other, they grow such that their roots are intertwined & create a system of strength which is as resilient on a sunny day as it is in a hurricane.

dandelions don’t know whether they are a weed or a brilliance. but each seed can create a field of dandelions. we are invited to be that prolific. and to return fertility to the soil around us.

cells may not know civilization is possible. they don’t amass as many units as they can sign up to be the same. no – they grow until they split, complexify. then they interact and intersect and discover their purpose – i am a lung cell! i am a tongue cell! – and they serve it. and they die. and what emerges from these cycles are complex organisms, systems, movements, societies.

detroit. the allied media conference.

nothing is wasted, or a failure. emergence is a system that makes use of everything in the iterative process. it’s all data.

octavia butler says “civilization is to groups what intelligence is to individuals. it is a means of combining the intelligence of many to achieve ongoing group adaptation.”

she also says “everything you touch you change, everything you change, changes you.” we are constantly impacting and changing our civilization – each other, ourselves, intimates, strangers. and in that reality, we are working to recreate a world that is by it’s very nature in a constant state of change.

but Janine Benyus the mother of biomimicry, says Nature would always create conditions conducive to life. She tells of a radical fringe of scientists who are realizing that natural selection isn’t individual but mutual, that species only survive if they learn to be in community.

how can we, future ancestors, align ourselves with the most resilient practices of emergence as a species?

many of us have been socialized that constant growth, and critical mass, are the ways to create change. but emergence shows us that adaptation and evolution depend more upon critical connections. dare i say love. the quality of connection between the nodes in the patterns.

and we know how to connect – and we long for it.

we are going to experiment with this in our bodies now. together we are going to make a wave. how many of you have observed the ocean? the waves are not the same over and over – each one is unique and responsive. the goal is not repeat each other’s motion, but to respond in whatever way feels right in your body. the wave we create here is a one time occurrence, show up. let’s begin.

notice what it takes to respond well. how it feels to be in a body, in a whole – separate, aligned, cohesive. critically connected.

now, let’s get more complex.

(dance, hustle, crowdsurfing explosion)

juneteenth dreams

i was in a brownstone in brooklyn with this sweet older black couple. he says to me, with this twinkle in his eye, ‘come down and see what i have’. and she says, ‘oh harold. he loves to show off. go on go on.’

he opens a red door next to a bay window, and i realize that isn’t possible. the stairs beyond the door are piles of books. he makes his way down easily, i slowly pick my way down, wanting it all to be more solid. but i’m charmed.

we get to the basement and there is a slender blue black boychild tending a massive table, a table shaped like a continent, growing all over with little seedlings. there are intricate systems of sprinklers over it, and lights hung low and close, little pictures in cordoned off sections of this verdant basement table. there are shelves floor to ceiling farther than my eye can see, full of little packets and pictures and instructions. bees move amongst the green.

it smells like life down here, and i suddenly feel tears in my eyes.

‘you know what it is don’t you girl?’

i nod. i thought he was a myth.

‘and he’s the next one.’ harold nods over at the young man, ‘next seedkeeper. you do this too, i know. i see you.’

somewhere between the basement and my house i leave my scarf and the rain comes back to brooklyn.

conversations with the universe

me: give me one reason to stay in detroit, to let it be a home. please.
universe: loving it is enough of a reason. but i will give you two other reasons. (whispers)
me: oh. 🙂 thank you.

notes from BALLE talk

i spoke today at the annual gathering of the business alliance for local living economies.

the theme for this session was changing the story. fran korten facilitated, with gar alperovitz, d’artagnan scorza and myself as panelists.

i was selected as a BALLE fellow last fall, and am super excited about their work, although i ended up stepping back from the fellowship because it wasn’t lining up with where my life is going (babies, writing sci-fi, etc) and i wanted the resource to go to someone in detroit who loves entrepreneurship and could really bring the skills home (enter the remarkable jess daniels). they were deeply understanding about it and invited me to still come through to the conference.

i spoke after gar, whose brilliant book i have been reading (and I had prepared some questions for him but he had to dip early), and d’artagnan, who is a serious mlk meets will allen meets berry gordy type brother from l.a. who i have come to deeply respect since connecting in the fellowship.

though my formal work (facilitation, curriculum development) with the detroit food justice task force is done, i still wanted to share a little about what i learned there and what changing the story looks like in my beloved detroit. these are the notes i prepped for the talk, which came out a bit differently, but you’ll get the gist here:

detroit is the ultimate city of changing the story – narrative is the key to our future.

detroit is dying? ‘we see opportunity in crisis’, ‘detroit is what the country has to look forward to.’

time to right size the city? ‘we aren’t leaving the land we have tilled’, ‘now is the time to grow our souls.’ [grace lee boggs]

detroit’s a blank canvas? detroit is a city full of survival stories and brilliance.

noticing stories? we notice stories, we create stories.

my friend mia herndon often says, capitalism is not failing, it is working for the elite. beautifully. but in detroit, lots of people are beginning to practice alternatives, even if we don’t yet have language for it.

the businesses and organizations that we support are ones that honor the survivors, the resilience, not saying they are filling empty space or saving poor detroiters. detroit doesn’t need saving, we need folks to recognize the creative and brilliant ways detroit is still here.

even just what you see – you might see abandoned lots – we see fertile ground. we are detoxifying years of abandonment, corruption, and being forgotten, composting the —- people have spoken about/dropped on the city.

literally and figuratively. we have the fastest growing and largest urban agricultural movement in the country! land mass to compare to l.a. but just over 700k living there. do you understand that scale of potential food growth? but it hasn’t necessarily created sustainable business models – because the majority of the 713k people left in the D don’t want to eat it, or can’t get to it, or can’t afford it.

so the food justice task force charged itself with connecting the abundant food potential to the hungry people of the city – that’s why the twitter handle is @justfeeddetroit – looking at all possible options to feed detroit.

first, wow, it’s overwhelming how many challenges there are, how many systems need to shift. it’s a long arc, a long piece of work. but one of the things we realized was that we needed to change the story at the neighborhood level.

so cook eat talk was a series of events we created where instead of asking people what was wrong with their community, or training them on the crisis, we asked what works? what is your favorite food? who are your food heroes? who is feeding the neighborhood now? where are the gardens? how are your cornerstores and liquor stores, where you get groceries?

and then we could ask, what do you need, what do you long for, what is the new story of the neighborhood?

we heard about grandmothers cooking for the neighborhood, folks gardening found plots. to be real, a narrative and land battle is afoot in detroit, between those who claimed the land when no one else wanted it, and those who just realized it is the most fertile gorgeous place…

we also heard about chili cheese fries. how delicious they are, and the real question from a young person of ‘could they be nutritious’? (audience members told me to try parsnips and string beans btw)

the real question emerged: how do we create a desire for the healthiest food possible, the healthiest life possible?

it’s possible to get it, it’s possible to get the rights to grow it, we have a food policy, we have restaurants and farmer’s markets and grocers and cooks and pantries and foodlab and all the potential for a justice based food system. we must tune into and keep growing that longing, consistently.

the cook eat talk model worked for folks, and people have run with it, even using cook eat talk to have other community conversations. the task force is finalizing a food justice curriculum to use for the next round of programming.

i want to throw in that my other work is in science and speculative fiction, growing our capacity to imagine, practicing the right and responsibility of writing ourselves into the future. which to me falls in line here with moving past idealism and into new practices.

competition is not going to be eradicated with pointing fingers. we must ‘be the change’, we must ‘transform ourselves to transform the world’ – the older i get the more i understand we can’t change others. we can inspire though, we can show that something is possible. we have to do inner work, generate new imaginings, to heal the trauma and change the patterns within ourselves.

we have to practice. understand that every single thing we are doing is a practice. are we practicing old? new? very old? intention, with?

envision the new story, practice it into existence.

after this fran asked everyone to reflect on the story they are trying to change, and we created a map of the stories we are changing from (profit is our purpose, any job is a good job, american dream, change is impossible, dystopia), and the story we are changing to (we have many purposes and that biodiversity is good for life, abundance is the default state of earth, meaningful work, dreams for all, change is inevitable, utopia). we talked about how we make that change – naming the vision, practicing, creating art and culture, redefining wellness, practicing, practicing, practicing.

it was inspiring to hear how much this room full of small local business owners grasp these radical love-based thoughts. the great turning feels active.

‘let it cut more deep’

Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly.
Let it cut more deep.
Let it ferment and season you
as few human or even divine ingredients can.
Something missing in my heart tonight
has made my eyes so soft
my voice so tender
my need of god
absolutely clear.

i went to a beautiful talk last weekend at the clouds in water zen center in the twin cities. the talk, in light of memorial day, was on death. facing our own deaths, those of our loved ones, the inevitability of it, the truth of it. it was also on change.

last night i sat with my mother and sister also talking about death, grief, the way that when people die it seems for an instant they are everywhere, in us, in or with everyone they touched.

when talk of death starts i never want to hear it. superstition, fear, the way i love people (where i never feel done with it)….this is who i am. a student of change, but not interested in changes that take away my beloveds, in that pain which presses out from the center of things.

the talk offered the framework that sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are born from loving and caring for others. this echoed through the conversation with my mother and sister – that all of these feelings are born from the same exact experience that yields the joy of connection, intimacy, wholeness, wonder.

while listening to the talk last weekend i remembered, as if he was suddenly beside me, a brief friend: jai. we met in hawaii and he did powerful reiki work on me. i was processing the dual griefs of death and lost love and he said, ‘grief is gratitude. all i hear from your guides is grief is gratitude.’ that has stuck with me – because it felt true, like a whole thing placed in my heart. and because he took his own life shortly thereafter and so his gift and his sudden absence are forever compressed around him into one important experience.

as things in my life end i absolutely notice how much they meant to me by the way grief doubles me over and wrings me out.

or not.

this is all relevant for me as i continue to be in a life where chapters are ending and new possibilities arise.

my time living in detroit as i have for the past few years is ending, changing. no matter how hard i try i can’t seem to stay there for even a month at a time. between traveling for paid work, babies, family, lovers…my life is happening elsewhere. i rarely see the beloved friends and amazing apartment i keep in detroit. there has been grief as i have considered letting go of my built life there, grief rooted in my gratitude for the love and life i experience there.

but there is past and present. it’s simple in words: to let go of what is past allows new possibility to open up in the present.

what does it look like to lean into this, to see detroit as a home rather than the home? a shared dynamic home? a few times a year home? a past home i visit? i don’t know yet.

i do know that i want and need more resources within my self to feel of use in detroit, more capacity to be solution oriented in the midst of crisis. i hope my somatics teacher training will help me find my right relationship with this city i love so much.

knowing where to root next feels easy – every time i am near the children i am home. i don’t have to tell y’all – anyone who has read a word i’ve written in the last few years knows i am smitten with my nephew and nieces and keep finding my way to them. i want the rhythms of my life to align with theirs for the foreseeable future. we are so in love, and i follow love. it’s how i came to detroit, and now how i am looking at minnesota.

knowing that sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are on the path no matter how carefully and rigorously and wholeheartedly i practice, i want to lean into the places where i feel uncompromised joy, and where my full presence is not only desired but necessary.

fortunately, because of love, i have many homes.

i have family of all sorts along the east coast. i still know how to melt into a crowd in new york, shuttle between best friends’ homes, and pick a great restaurant. i know how to get from the airport to my parents’ house outside boston, or to the two families i love in cambridge. i can drive from atlanta up to my grandparents’ house on the border of south carolina by scent and sound alone.

then there’s california.

i moved from oakland four years ago but i can’t shake it, it’s home too. landing there, rolling down my windows and letting the sun and bay and mountains in, it always releases something in my shoulders. i have beloveds there, the highest concentration of my partners in coevolution through friendship. and my somatics teacher training is there.

so i’ve made it more official, i have been offered a room of my own with dear friends, and said yes. the bay is a home again.

in this abundance and change, i can feel home inside of me, after a long time of feeling lost with myself. i have let pain carve me out and i will continue to do so. it seems to leave behind a space shaped like a bell, i feel full of tones i can recognize when i let myself get still. a clarity of feeling vibrates inside of me.

this tone only came to me through loneliness. for some time, landing in detroit, i have been more aware of absence than anything else. in the company of dear friends, in my beautiful home, while dancing and reveling in the specific black cultural richness of detroit, i feel the absence. it’s specific – i miss the babies climbing in my bed each morning, and then centering my days and work around their learning and bodies, that feeling so needed.

and yet without the loneliness and heartbreak of the past few years, i don’t know if i’d ever have opened my life and schedule to these children in the way i have. without ‘something missing’ i may not have shapeshifted into such a good auntie.

it has required the death of a certain self, an ambitious important highly responsive doing self. i felt no small amount of grief there too, from my ego, for who am i if not a shaper of history? if i am not good, deeply and constantly?

i think arrogance can grow in the space between smart, well meaning and naive. it has taken me longer than most to realize the freedom of insignificance. of being one who lives and dies, amongst others who live and die.

within that, it becomes clear that the most precious, delicious life experiences are rarely the ones that make people famous or historic. loving and being loved, choosing to be with those who love you, who can receive your love, that is what makes for a good life…and perhaps even a death without clinging.

the changes that come with loving others are divine. to open your heart to another and become worthy of their devotions, trust, vulnerability – to ‘grow our souls’ together! – that is the sacred miraculous offering inside of each day.

last week, the teacher read that hafiz poem, and it allowed some good death inside of me, some submission to what is in the past. it let me notice what is composting, and what is growing. i am allowing myself to contemplate god-is-change, to feel the fleeting fragility of this particular tender life i am in. i am living a life free of obligation and full of willful loving.

and taking risks. letting myself love more people more deeply, knowing the risks. letting it all cut more deeply, letting something mysterious and divine, something i need, touch me at the root.

the human right to home

recently i have been experiencing the unique joy of home, when my home is in order, has the right amount of things in it and no more, has capacity for holding friends, family, laughter. when the lighting is just right and the sun filters in just so and i have to pause and revel in the clean spare beautiful lines of my home. home for me means the place where i feel safe, surrounded by beauty, the place in which i receive the world.

i think it’s no mistake that one of the oldest sounds we know of, om, is in the word home – i feel it when i am in it.

my sister and her husband recently bought a home around the corner from his parents in rural minnesota. it is beautiful, it is possible because of loans and incentives and friendship with the previous owners. it is the place my nephew and niece and the baby coming in january will grow up. home here means the house itself and the five acres of land around it, the path through the woods to their grandparents’ house.

with the state of the world right now, i have been thinking about the human right of home. in the universal declaration for human rights, the closest right is a right to property in article 17. but i am thinking of this deeper right, which may or may not come from ownership. i think it is the right that so many people around the world are trying to attain or hold onto, which i feel in the privilege and harmony of my home.

here in detroit, we are currently pressed once again to hold onto home as a vicious and quick land grab escalates. a couple years ago our mayor was rebuked for talking about ‘right sizing’ the city, because it would have meant displacing people from their homes. (the effort continues, though the words are different.) it showed that in this city people don’t think of their homes just as the buildings in which they live, but their blocks, neighborhoods, their particular part of the city with it’s histories and fertile grounds. in detroit, as in many cities, home includes sitting on the front porch or stoop, the community gardens, the neighbors who care for each other – home includes the people who fill the world around your building.

it is getting cold again in detroit, and the homeless folk i interact with most are becoming more scarce as they spend less and less time moving about the work of their lives – hustling, hunting, gathering same as anyone else. a friend recently noted that we have more vacant houses in the u.s. than we do homeless people, which i feel acutely aware of in detroit in the winter. it makes me think the rights of owning property should not trump the right to have home. home here means shelter from the elements, a safe place to sleep, to store one’s things.

there are many conflicted nations around the world, most of them with some link back to u.s. foreign policy, few as distinctly supported and funded as our ‘friend’ israel. in gaza, in palestine, there is an old struggle for home happening…palestinians holding onto home, as many have been displaced from the houses that were home and herded into ghettoized sections of land which they cannot leave without permits, in which they are brutally attacked regularly with u.s.-funded weapons. many palestinians hold home in their hands, literal keys to the homes they were moved out of, to which they long to return. home here means land and legacy.

and who is attacking them, but other people? not machines, not alien invaders, but human beings traumatized after centuries of not being able to find safe home on this planet.

when i look at israel i see that we as humans have so much to learn about addressing collective trauma. to be without home is dehumanizing – it is a violence unto itself, and increases the vulnerability to other violence. i’ve been learning that with patterns of bullying and abuse, most people who use violence to move through life learn that behavior by receiving and witnessing violence at a formative age. and that the bullies, underneath the bravado and actions of violence, still feel like victims, powerless.

in the same way it is clear that continual displacement mixed with violence has created the conditions by which the primarily european descended israeli population can feel justified in displacing and murdering the people of palestine, and still call themselves the victims. as with the violent child, steps must be taken to disarm, deescalate, resolve conflict and redirect the positive desire for safety towards a viable option. because home has to be a place where violence is abnormal, free from the tension of potential attack, where none of the children are seen as soldiers, or collateral damage.

in fact, nothing alive, including the planet, should be seen as collateral damage. i love the recognition coming out of Bolivia that home is this planet, that there can be no human rights without earth rights, because fundamentally we have this one small home in all the universe, to share, to care for, to find safety and abundance in. home here meaning source of all life, existence, the only planet capable of sustaining human life that we know of.

to me all of these things are connected – the right to home, the joy of home, the significance of safety, the insignificance of boundaries when we see how small and perfect our home truly is, and how much it relies on the homefulness of all others.

this is how i move through my home with mindfulness:

i compost, reuse and recycle in my home and wherever i find myself,
i use energy and heat sparingly,
i make and display art in my home,
i am constantly learning to simplify – which feels like post-capitalist deprogramming, finding more beauty in space than in materials,
i cook,
and i am intentional about bringing into my kitchen and into the home of my body the most local healthy food possible,
i support the boycott called for by palestinians by not having products from starbucks, sabra hummus, and other zionist companies in my home,
i don’t keep anything i don’t need and love, and i don’t allow toxic energy to build up in my home,
i sweep the floors and make the bed and fold the laundry…

all the while aware that what i have is not guaranteed to anyone yet, and is what i want for all people, is not to be taken for granted, is under attack, and is worth fighting for, is worth living for.

home mehta meditation:

may you find home
may you feel home
may you always be home

may i find home
may i feel home
may i always be home

may we find home
may we feel home
may we always be home.

still of it

i am still of it
this world
full of sorrows

i trace the lines back
from my fingertips
to my heart

the feelings all start with distinction
such unique purpose
only to pool and to pulse together

and i want to un-utter
certain passions
in my cellular structure

i taste on my tongue
her absent kiss,
the three dead names i always called him,
the wet hitch of goodbye
as that failed father enters his prison,
the acidic bite in detroit
gasping as hands tighten at her neck
and they bruise her soil,
and the sharp raging bitter
of gaza
my god, some god, somebody…

can i blame it on the moon
she thinks we are hers
because we are water
with her ink on our spines

can i blame it on mercury
patterning fuckery
is this envy or legacy,
all this human catastrophe

can i recall the prophet
who spoke of joy and sorrow
carving out spaces
from each other’s bodies

why don’t we find out
there is no place outside ourselves
to put this daunting sorrow
while we breath we are still of it

what is the science
for this bent over grief
crying us to sleep
in this solitary cosmos

can i still wonder
feel wonder
when i am still of it

when my breath stops
flood me with joy
i feel room for oceans
here in my veins