Tag Archive for 'grace lee boggs'

Guest Blog: WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION OF OUR TIME? from Marcia Lee

Marcia Lee asked this question on Facebook and i really loved the questions that came out. i asked her if we could share the questions further, and she responded not only with the questions organized but this awesome framing:

“We are living in a time where it is essential that we strive to have our values and our actions match. However, fast action without sufficient analysis and reflection will lead to reactions to the immediate rather than long term transformation. We need to move fast slowly.

“One of the ways we move fast slowly is ask carefully crafted questions and allow the answers to be our actions. If we don’t ask the right questions, we will not have the right answers. In the last few years of Grace Lee Bogg’s life, she would often ask people who came to visit her, “What is the most important question of our time?” She would often pair this question with, “What time is it on the clock of the world?” The second question grounds us in our reality and then in discovering the important question for this time, we are able to move more effectively towards the answer.

“In order to help us to find the right question, I asked folks on facebook. 34 people responded and the questions basically came in a few categories. I am sharing a few questions that fit within each category, but if you want all of the questions, post a comment and we can share them with you. In sharing these questions with you, the hope is that you will either dive deeply into one of the questions or develop your own. If you would be willing to share your questions in the comments, I would be so grateful.

“Individual:

how do i keep moving forward when i am scared? ~adrienne

How do we heal ourselves? ~Parker

What healing do I need to commit to in myself so my being can impact the healing needed throughout my community? ~Shelly

What is required of me, in this moment? ~Mindy

How can we be kind to ourselves and others? ~Cristina

Why am I standing still? How can I move forward to be a catalyst of hope, love, and joy? ~Tania

What am I willing to do? ~Scherezade

What do you notice in your body? Where in you is calling to your attention? What does it need/asking for? ~Sarah

How can I support myself & others in letting love guide? ~Mahfam

“Organizing:

What are we willing to surrender for the sake of the future of living communities on the planet? ~Margaret

how does humanity reconnect to our shared fate? ~Leo

What are the differences between a riot, rebellion and revolution and how can we sharpen the analysis around resistance so that it speaks to the role of the visionary. ~Tawana

How are we equipping future generations to be fearless and free of the current structures of oppression? ~Ryan

How can we radicalize our relationships, narratives and actions to build stronger communities through tougher and more turbulent times? ~Michelle

Do you know how to organize and act while listening to those who are silenced? ~L’Heureux

Where do I/you still hold on to greed? ~Cynthia

how do we effectively organize to create a mass movement capable of turning the tide. ~Lou

“Environment:

How can we, as a global society, take the treat of climate change serious enough to have 1st world countries drastically change to renewable & to help developing countries to prosper without using polluting natural resources. ~Ant

How can we better manage land and other natural resources? ~Lawrence

How do we save our one and only planet as mining, logging, drilling, etc will now get a giant green light? ~Sura

“Diversity:

How are we valuing each person regardless of gender identity, race, ethnicity, religion, abilities? ~Rhonda

How do we inculcate a spirit of cooperation in people from differing value systems? ~Rain

Can/how do you convince someone to change their mind/act differently without threatening them or yourself? ~Joey

How do we prevent the conflict that arises when cultures meet and clash? ~John

“Politics:

How do we eradicate poverty? ~Desmond Tutu (I asked him this question a few years ago and this was his answer at the time)

How do we end these huge pendulum shifts from one set of values to the other, in terms of the belief systems that influence governance? are these pendulum swings to be understood nationally or globally? is there a way out? also: what motivates those who seem to care only of short-term profit? do they know a way off the planet that others don’t? what do they want for their grandchildren? When I taught US government to high school students I mapped this out and it went back to the early 19th century, maybe even 18th. There’s a way to read it as proof that the voting public will never let extremes get too extreme. That there’s a self-correcting instinct toward centrism. That read now feels dead wrong. The swings are exhausting, untenable and dangerous. And I wonder if it’s always felt that way to people who have lived through more of them. ~Dani

“Why?” is the most important question. The truth will be the most important answer. ~Frantz

“Community:

Why won’t every single body sit still some damn where and mind his/her own damn business? Stop trying to fix everything and fix his/her own self. Stop interfering with other people’s land, homes, and livelihood. ~Sun

We are all connected. How do we come to know this in our bones? ~Ian

At what point does the greed end? ~Daniel

How do we encourage actions showing love and acceptance that are rooted in equity and justice? How do we heal from shame? ~Esperanza

What are the young people saying to us that needs to be listened to and explored more deeply? ~Janice

What are the best things a man can do to support the rights and equality of women? ~Michael

How can we be love when we are surrounded by hate? ~Fred”

now we can

I remember one time I was talking about how capitalism was failing and classmate-friend-teacher-organizer Mia Herndon said “capitalism is working exactly as it is meant to. in competition and constant growth, those who don’t compete, or who compete less viciously, suffer, serve and struggle.”

now it feels to some people like America is failing, like the people who said “make America great again” are confused. but this is the trajectory of nation states, of borders and white supremacy. deepening our anti-capitalist and post-nationalist analyses will help make this moment an opportunity.

also, saying “I told you so” in any way is tacky and diminishes the speaker, because saying is not enough if we don’t effectively organize to make our visions palpable and our strategies collective. so we knew “make America great again”, when uttered by white supremacists, was not harkening the racism of the 1980s, or even 1950s, but the era of chattel slavery that preceded and seeded our current prison system. we may have done our very best, but we did not organize effectively enough to have the power to stop this moment.

but now we can. this moment is our ledge, or choice point. we are as free as we choose to be. (baldwin)

now we can put a moratorium on shading and attacking other factions of movement on the internet (or in meetings, or with funders) and either choose to collaborate or ignore other efforts while still counting them as part of our own resistance momentum.

now we can look at each person, regardless of background or experience, as a potential comrade (butler) and figure out how we must transform ourselves to transform the dynamic (boggs) in the name of liberation. i have been practicing this in cabs – i’ve had three transformative conversations with drivers in the last three days – people just need one suggestion, one encouragement to question everything.

now we must look within ourselves and ask what actions we are willing to take, what interventions we are capable of, if we can will ourselves into honest conversations, if we believe in our visions enough to step towards them, if we are brave enough to assert the future we require and to shape it.

the other option is to survive for a while, pointing at the very sharp thing aimed at our hearts and getting closer by the minute.

adapt! dodge, weave, learn from the L, slip out of your ego, hold each other, scream the truth and keep moving towards life. everything is going fine in this realization of someone else’s imagination. but we dream another world, and we make it come true.

a range of reflections on resilience

resilience: the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties

things i did today to recover

1. i reminded myself of something i’ve learned in life which helps me focus: things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered. we must hold each other tight & continue to pull back the veil.

right.

2. i cried hard. woke up ugly-crying. at first i couldn’t even clearly say why i was crying, cause i knew/know all the analytical things. but i can’t deny that i feel the collective grief, the uptick of fear. the angle at which our uphill battle is being fought just got steeper.

i gave myself to the tears, and cried til i was spent. then got reiki and cried some more, letting the energy flow.

i realized that i had prepared my heart for the ache and compromise of a clinton win. but people who live all around me and all around everyone i love, and people who are related to me by blood, they came out of the woodwork in favor of someone who campaigned on violence and hatred towards everything about me and my loves.

perhaps it is in that shared blood that i feel the most pain in this moment. my ancestral line has slavery, genocide, rapists and scoundrels in it. yours too.

it also has all the people who survived and changed those stories. that means that while there is despair, i am not hopeless.

and my crying is not nostalgic, it isn’t denial – i don’t want to cling to the shore, emotionally flailing for a more comfortable, familiar narrative. right now there is justified grief and rage, my own and others, flowing through.

3. spent time with babies. in person and by video. babies who i love and feel responsible for, who reminded me to focus on learning, laughter and breasts.

4. i let myself go down a path of snarky, petty thoughts. such as:

– this election can best be summed up in the words of “Fake Love” by our neighbor Drake – “I got fake people showin’ fake love to me/Straight up to my face, straight up to my face/I can tell that love is fake/I don’t trust a word you say.”

– seriously 2/3 of voting white women – “who taught you to hate yourself?”

these thoughts did not really make me feel better, so i just let them slip by.

5. i found words that made me feel better.

“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” – Kahlil Gibran

“Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – MLK

“Transform yourself to transform the world.” – Grace Lee Boggs

“Wage Love” – Charity Mahouna Hicks

“The only lasting truth is change” and “There’s nothing new under the sun. But there are new suns.” – Octavia Butler

6. saw people calling this a dark time and i was like NOPE. remembered that Steven Barnes, in the alternate history classic Lion’s Blood, flipped the script of who had power. in a world where Africans held power, everything was “a pale, pale time”.

it occurs to me that this is not a dark time at all, not a dark age. it is a pale, pale time.

7. remembered that octavia told us all about this. one thing that stands out today as i view the world through swollen eyes is that i have a responsibility as an empath, to FEEL this, to let my feelings matter and guide me.

i have been reading the parables over and over in this lifetime for a reason, because there is wisdom in them, there are tangible tools for survival, for empaths and everyone else.

a few other people had the same thought at the same moment, and we are generating a discussion guide to support people reading and studying it together. join us.

8. i connected with others.

– reached out to loved ones and we texted and wrote pieces and called and facetimed and hugged our way through the day. sometime mid afternoon several of us noticed a feeling of focus, a sharpening of our work. we carry it on.

– got together with others in Detroit tonight and generated resilience. it was a simple evening – sharing our fears, reminding ourselves that fear is an intelligence, a sign to be more alert. then we shifted to remembering what helps us recover from pain and trauma. there was a lot of expanding, galaxies, oceans, trees, stillness, rocking, laughter, song. we, especially those of us who feel more overtly vulnerable today than yesterday, need each other.

9. i also did my usual resilience practices: a bath, centering, cooking (gave myself a day off of food tracking), singing really loudly, meditation, watching things (atlanta, black mirror).

and this. writing to you all. i love you. all.

<3

critical connections

last night i was hosted at Exit the Apple for a very sweet community potluck in Baltimore. the potluck brought together people who have been doing beautiful justice work around the city, but not necessarily together.

img_0507

i introduced myself by telling of my journey through organizing, electoral organizing in a panicky fear to stop george w bush, direct action and civil disobedience, and landing in visionary fiction, emergent strategy and pleasure activism.

we focused on the aspect of emergent strategy that is about critical connections, and i wanted to share the exercise we did. it took about 20 minutes total and people reported back surprisingly deep connections with each other (a lot of exchanging information and wanting to continue building at the end, signs of healthy community longing).

1. i had people raise their hands if they knew everyone in the room, 80% of the room, 50%, just one other person. often we assume everyone else is friends and we are the only stranger or outlier when it isn’t true. this scan exposes the patterns already in the room and the needed pattern making.

2. i asked folks to partner with someone they didn’t know and get lined up. this meant chairs were facing each other, hearts and eyes were facing each other. too often we work together and never actually consider the person in front of us, or we work off of assumptions and stolen glances. so the invitation is to actually see this person in their humanity, in their desire to transform the world. i invited people to reflect to each other first what they noticed in each other.

3. next people shared what they love about baltimore, and the work they do for/in this place. in an ideal place-based movement or life, those two things are connected. for instance – i love the radical blackness of detroit, so i center black liberation/freedom fighters in all my offerings of somatics, writing and healing space.

4. after pairs talked for about ten minutes, i asked people how they were doing at connecting. i noted that often we talk at each other, and we listen through our preconceptions. it is important to shift away from trying to fit people in our existing internal boxes, to shift towards curiosity in each other.

so the next step was a version of the question game. for a full minute, each pair had to go back and forth only asking each other questions. in this case, it was questions related to what they had heard in the other person’s baltimore love/movement story.

as a facilitator i noticed the shift in the room. there was laughter, people leaned into each other and became more collaborative, a team on a mission of curiosity.

5. as a final step, each person got to choose one of the questions asked and answer it as honestly as possible.

img_0508 photo credit Jason Harris

in reflections on the exercise, people said they were amazed at how deeply they could go in such a short period of time.

i referenced the incredible barbara holmes here, a black scientist who taught me years ago about the vibrational field of the heart, which extends about ten feet around us, strongest in front and back. when we sit face to face with someone, we are in each other’s vibrational field – it’s a practical way to connect.

so often when we speak of movement building, we look first at how to achieve critical mass. but margaret wheatley and grace lee boggs and octavia butler taught me that the quality of connection inside each pair, group, community or movement is what makes transformation possible.

facing each other and getting curious are two very simple tools for generating critical connections. focusing on place and what we long for really helps with alignment – there are a million places to diverge and we have been taught to focus on those, to deconstruct. but what we pay attention to grows, so the invitation for critical connections is to find the places of alignment and common interest and grow towards interdependence from there.

also, food helps. our community potluck was truly baltimore style with fresh oysters! and tons of other small, precious offers of sustenance.

also, children and babies help. there were teenagers in the group and 2 young children running circles around our pairs while a 3-month-old observed us and took naps in the back. watching the young children make connections by chasing, hugging each other, rolling around on the floor and shrieking with joy reminds us that it is in our nature to connect and play, that it brings delight when we give into the friendship available in the moment.

grateful to baltimore, exit the apple, lester spence and especially ailish hopper for pulling this together.

this will be america

my friend jodie reminded me of this piece i wrote a few years ago about being an american revolutionary, particularly section 6. she has reposted that section in the past, calling it ‘america, i must love her':

you cannot shirk responsibility for this country
you cannot shake off these atrocities
its a bloody birthright
all children are born into blood
you have to grow up by growing down into the soil
past the burnt bodies and broken buildings
built on broken bodies and broken promises
built up, bloody borders
borders you live in whether you want to or not

you are the ones we’ve been waiting for

it was hard to revisit the poem in the shock and grief of orlando. and it feels important to remember my own responsibility in this place. i sit in the spirit of grace lee boggs and octavia butler, knowing i, a post-nationalist american-born revolutionary, need to do the hard work of taking on america, and shaping the future that can grow from this place. so.

    this will be america

we are strewn across the street
or the sticky sweet floor
where we called ourselves home
where we got ourselves free
now slick with our blood
this
is america

we are heads bent knees bruised
guilty in hushed prayer
god’s words telephoned across time
to tell us: everything you need
is made of fire
this
is america

we are children, somebody’s children
we are innocent children
we are wayward children
we are violent children
and we fight and we grieve like children
this
is america

we are warriors brought home in whale bellies
to fight, to die on this soil
in an unnamed civil war spilling all our borders
on one side is humanity
and we cannot see the other side
this
is america

we are bruised broke-open fruit
a piled mess under ancient trees
which will only grow with us
we permeate the roots, seething, seeding
we will never go anywhere else
this
is america

we are born with our dignity
we look beautiful weeping, waging love
when scared we sashay the tar streets
press together in the steaming darkness
sweating out freedom songs, love songs
this
is america

we are growing and falling apart
and we are absolutely terrifying
we are stunning funghi, transforming this toxic soil
we are swallowing our dead
becoming worthy of our miracles
this
is america

we cannot separate now
there is nowhere else, no escaping ourselves
millions whisper rituals into dirt and flesh
millions, millions hold each other, raging, changing
fecund with our sacrifices
and this
this will be america

and our future will inhale together
to sing out a bright axe ooh
and remember the names of our martyrs
as we offer each other abundance
as we finally, finally learn we are love
and this
this will be america

thank you to dani, jodie and autumn for holding this with me

national network of abortion funds 2016 keynote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

or educate a family member?

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

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

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

and of course they are doing the same thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

i can’t help it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

i thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

humans tend to change in a cycle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

i know we can do this.

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

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

we can shape change around abortions and reproductive justice.

it is time to get visionary about abortion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

on being with what is

i often write when i am learning about something. for some time i have been learning to get present, and be with what is in the current moment. it is much much harder than i thought it would be. it has meant noticing the ways i numb, regress, resist, ignore and deny the present moment, and asking myself why.

this being with what IS, enhanced by meditation and somatics and tarot and my woes and my family and most recently my time away from the u.s. and facebook, is such a powerful learning. i am closer and closer to living in the present moment – i am closing the gap between anticipating/observing my life and actually living it.

i wanted to share with y’all some of my practice ground of late, which has included, but not been limited to, the following:

– sometimes it rains for a week in mexico. the week i was planning to beach and scuba dive was rainy and cold. but i found that there was no feeling of anger or ‘why me, why now’ that would change the weather. so i bought tea and read books and watched ants and listened to the rain pounding on the little skylight and did rituals and booked cheap massages. and i think it ended up being much more restful than my plans would have been.

– David Bowie died, and he was only 69, which seems so very young. he influenced me more than i can pinpoint, his existence was one invitation into the creative weird life that i am carving out for myself, loving earth and space and flesh and magic and colors and travel and art and music. but he is dead. and Grace is dead. and both of them gave me a gift: turning and facing death. listening to the album Bowie released on his birthday, days before his death, is almost a trans-life/death experience. he took the truth that he was going to die and created from it something ethereal, stunning.

Grace, similarly, faced her death and said yes, let me go/come, i am ready.

i have been so scared of death, and so angry with it for showing up all the time. i have seen so much unexpected death, where i didn’t have a sense that my lost ones were ready for the change that came. this intimate/stranger modeling is such a lesson.

i also read a book by carlos casteneda that i will review in my next post – the central figure of the book is an elder named don juan who teaches carlos that death is always with us, to the left, at arm’s reach. to accept and live with that is a fundamental part of a liberation process.

when i finished the first draft of the emergent strategy book earlier this month, i journaled that i felt a new kind of satisfaction. not a desire to die, i adore life. adore it.

but i also felt this sense of having done something that made my existence worthwhile, completed some cycle of expression that i have been playing at for years. there’s editing, but the raw yawp is out.

maybe the world needs this book as much as i do, maybe it doesn’t. but i came here to do a few things…as far as i can tell so far, that includes being good at love, seeding octavia’s brood, and this emergent strategy book. i feel satisfied.

– i landed from mexico into minnesota on the coldest night of the year. as the cold touched me all over my sunkissed skin i kept saying to myself, you really love, you really love, you really love – it was my youngest nibbling Mairead’s 3rd birthday, and i haven’t been with her on that day since her birth, where i got to be her doula. the babies were all super snuggly with me and i really needed that. Mairead and i spent most of her birthday curled up on the couch, watching dora the explorer (such a deeply repetitive show – one madlib style script really….) and the little mermaid. it was so perfect.

i only got two days there, which nibbling Siobhan let me know was not really adequate to her (because she wanted to read me more books – she is basically teaching herself to read because she is brilliant), and i agreed.

but the thing i want to bring up for practice here is that my oldest nibbling, Finn, asked me on my last night there (before a seven am departure) if he could sleep in bed with my mom and i.

as usual when we visit, we’re sharing a futon that is tight for the two of us. but i can’t say no to Finn! so i say: if you wake up early in the morning, you can come down.

to which he says, ‘is that in thirty minutes?’, which should have been a clue about his intentions.

i said no, like, five hours?

he’s like bet.

so around two am he is standing by the bed tapping my shoulder. i scoot over and make room, and then move him between us. and i would say my mom and i didn’t really sleep after that, just adjusted ourselves in various uncomfortable positions with Finn in the middle.

Finn is. and i am not his parent, this won’t happen a ton in our short lives. so, i watched him sleep, i wrapped him up in the covers, i contorted around his long limbs. and then i lay there in the dark, feeling so much love for him, and for my family, and for these kids who know how to be so openly loving.

– i am getting to a next level of my grief for Grace, for which i am grateful. i feel her in me, in us. i landed in Detroit and within two hours was in and facilitating a meeting, then went to another meeting, a circle of local healers who are going to be offering our work to a fellowship of low-income students this semester. and i feel her all in us. part of ‘what is’ is that she is with us all now, in us, lesson/essence. and when i look up from looking back to find her in my memories, she’s right here.

– i gave to a white homeless person for the first time ever. i always resist it on some principle i haven’t even articulated to myself: no, you’re white. i am not a fan of this form of charity anyway. and this is black Detroit, and you are gentrifying even the begging corners? no.

but…last night my thoughts shifted. who am i to limit my compassion according to some system i didn’t create, that is so much more complex than black/white? or hold this moral or political high ground, when i can see this human being’s face, and he can see mine?

what is? right now?

it’s so cold outside. cold enough that no one would be outside if they had an inside.
and i have a car full of food and a life full of met needs and abundance.
and his skin privilege has not kept him from this corner.
and maybe he doesn’t agree with charity either. who knows.

he said he was grateful, and he blessed me, and i said the same.

– i over-scheduled my return. i knew it as i was doing it, but i wanted as much writing/retreat time as possible, and then i wanted to be fully present with family. a lot of people were waiting for me to return and do things.

so. i landed, dropped my suitcase and went straight to work. as i write this, i have not unpacked. that’s major for me.

but the whole time i kept/keep thinking, this is so good! this is my good full strange life. i planned this, i got all the time i needed, i got to be so present, and now here i am. and retreat or no retreat, i am aware that i am a relatively slow person in a fast world, and i am still making it happen.

as a result of all this Being with what Is, this week – which has also held the beginning of my year of no added sugar, and my moon, and mercury in retrograde – i am often moved to tears by the love, the rightness, of my life. not the rightness of the universe, not yet. but the rightness of surrendering to and growing the good in my life, inside of what actually is, right here, right now.

100 Years of Grace

Today was the memorial of Grace Lee Boggs, my mentor and friend. There was an extensive program. Danny Glover came to honor Grace. There were indigenous grandmothers, family members, musicians, poets including Tawana Petty and Will Copeland (who Grace called the next CLR James), scholars, and so many babies, all vocalizing from the audience.

Grace Lee, director of American Revolutionary, spoke after a lovely memorial film.

Julia Putnam and the children of the Boggs School sang their school song and it was a cuteness overload.

Nobuko and her son offered a song that landed like a meditation.

Scott Kurashige made us laugh with words from Grace (on how his ass was high like a black man’s), wearing a gorgeous white outfit originally gifted to Grace’s husband Jimmy from Kwame Nkrumah.

Angela Jones gave an immensely moving and poetic tribute that left us all weeping.

Emily Lawson and her daughter Tula led the Detroit Asian Youth Project in a collective piece of lessons from #graceleetaughtus.

Invincible shared audio from a conversation they had with Grace this year where she was still demanding better of all of us. Then they brought up Jenny Lee and Kristian Davis Bailey and they all shared core questions that Grace left them with.

There was so so so much, it was moving and loving.

I was asked to sing A Change Gonna Come, a song Grace loved, a song Jimmy loved. I sang it for her many times over the 9 years she was in my life.

I have been coughing for 3 weeks and when I tried to practice, no sound came out. But the spirit in the room was powerful, using all of us to love and release Grace. When it was time to sing, sound came, and for that I am grateful.

Here are the words I shared before I sang, bullet points from Grace:

– philosophy can be a root for a nomadic soul
– there are new ways to listen to my parents and elders…I must love them and hold them accountable
– use Hendricks for a proper gin and tonic
– conversation is a revolutionary activity
– creating science fiction is a revolutionary activity
– emergence is a revolutionary science
– being a good aunt and daughter is revolutionary
– not having kids might reduce the stress in my life
– apocalypse is an opportunity for a greater humanity
– transform myself to transform the world

A pastor at the end said two things I loved – first that Grace had lived so long because god was scared of that conversation. And second, that even though Grace was not a religious person, she embodied god more than most people in church on Sunday.

We ended things with a second line, dancing in the rain.

And there it is – Grace is everywhere. And Grace is gone.

a conversation with the dinosaur at chicago o’hare airport

me: wow.
dinosaur in chicago airport: hey.
me: i feel a little loopy. have a three hour layover here because i missed my flight yesterday…only got a few hours of sleep last night.
dino: what did you do? when you missed the flight?
me: first i was in denial, i thought i could make it against all the odds. then i got really angry, and i snapped on this airline worker.
dino: i see a lot of that.
me: i bet. i felt so good, using all the worst words i know as i stomped away. but then i was just standing there breathing and…gaining perspective.
dino: airports can be good for that. everyone is taking a huge risk together, going up in the air. life is on the line, do you want to fly in a funk?
me: you know i travel so much i don’t really consider that part. sometimes i tune into the magic part of it, like…woah i am in the sky! and i have started meditating on planes.
dino: but it’s just the way you get around. the business travelers, its like any other shuttle. the kids and newcomers still have wonder. travel enough and rage is possible.
me: yeah exactly. but no matter how angry i was, it wasn’t going to get me home. and i thought about how i had missed my flight – it wasn’t that worker’s fault. i made a series of flippant decisions and expected my usual travel magic to get me there.
dino: travel magic? explain this – i mostly stand here.
me: mostly?
dino: long story. travel magic?
me: kind of a series of events of irrational good luck. traffic opens up, i get randomly selected for tsa pre-check, the airport shuttle arrives right when i get to the door, or they had to hold the plane an extra minute for some reason. things just align and i make it.
dino: but not this time?
me: no. and not last time i flew home either. last time i got on the slow train, bumped my head, lost my water bottle.
dino: dang.
me: yeah it was so sad.
dino: what do you do, in lieu of magic?
me: you know….both times ended up being really magical in their own ways. the first time i went to the spa til my next flight. spa castle, highly recommend it.
dino shrugs
me: oh right. so yesterday, after i was angry with that worker, i dropped back into myself, my center, and realized it wasn’t her fault, she was just doing her job. so when i was rebooked i walked back over to her and i told her i was sorry for taking my anger out on her, that it was a bad moment.
dino: what did she say?
me: she said it happens all the time, just let it go. but she teared up, and i teared up. like, we were having a real human moment all of the sudden, not in the prescribed roles of travel power dynamics.
dino: what do you mean?
me: well it’s this weird thing – like in the moment of interaction there is this temporary power that the airline person has over my life and time, but in the long run, i get to leave and go on about my life, not tied to a desk with no windows, finding my zen with miserable people yelling at me when they miss their planes. there’s a balance in there somewhere.
dino: i think i get that. how did you feel after that?
me: light. emotional. like everything was ok.
dino: and was it?
me: well yes. i decided to go back and get more time with my nibblings.
dino: your what?
me: nibblings. the children of my sibling. nephews and nieces, but not gender determining.
dino: i like that.
me: i got it from my friend tanuja – actually she lives here in chicago! maybe you know her?
dino: maybe.

(we watch people for a little while)

me: are you always here?
dino: kind of. i don’t remember being somewhere else in my memories. but observing all of you, i get the feeling i belong to a different time place and sometimes i feel like i’m also there.
me: has anyone told you things about yourself?
dino: yes…but what do they know? i think its all theory, all they know for sure is these bones go together. kids roar at me, as if i can’t talk. they learn that from adults. and yet here i am, thinking, feeling.
me: you’re really quite thoughtful.
dino: thank you. one more question before you go?
me: shoot.
dino: why do you keep missing flights home?
me: good question.
dino: seems like something to understand.
me: this might not be it, but…last year my friend charity died. and then on oct 5 my friend and mentor grace died. they were both really big parts of my detroit experience…and i don’t quite know…like i know they are gone, and the city is so full of them, but it’s full of grief too. and life, moving too fast for my grief. but…when i travel? i feel like they are still there, and it’s just me who’s gone.
dino: i feel that sometimes!
me: say more?
dino: well part of me knows that everyone i ever knew and loved is gone. but sometimes i think i am just doing this thing, being the dinosaur that wows people at this airport. and that one day i will walk out of here, flesh and bone, and walk towards the tallest trees, and they will be there, just waiting for me.
me: does it make you sad?
dino: immensely. it’s sad to outlive your loved ones, whatever that looks like.
me: especially when it’s raining. (points at rain)
dino: well yes. actually this season might be the saddest season.
me: so much loss.
dino: it’s also the most beautiful, from my vantage point. transformation is the most colorful and alive looking season. i don’t know this for sure but i think it’s when we are the closest to each other, this side and that.
me: i like that.
dino: me too.
me: thanks for this talk dinosaur.
dino: thank you for stopping to talk with me. i hope you get home safely. and see your loved ones everywhere.
me: you too dino. you too.

being there

1. I want to be present. Here, not always over there, or in my phone somewhere, or on my way somewhere else.

This is the quality about Grace that I am appreciating most as I reflect on all that she taught me.

Grace was present with her ideas and her conversations, regardless of the age, history or politic of the person she was speaking to. She stayed with an idea, turning it around in the light. She brought each visitor into the question she was present with. When she could no longer be present she would end the conversation.

I’ve mastered the art of sort of being present. I love the idea of being present, but I’m often out ahead of myself making plans, or lagging behind myself replaying the past. I document the present well, but sometimes I feel about that distance from it, watching my life through a lens, filtering.

So I’m actively trying to get present. And the thing is, I feel so much when I’m present.

Sometimes it feels like too much.

I’m learning that I got good at numbing and leaving and dreaming and remembering because sometimes the present is so emotionally overwhelming – joyous or painful – that I don’t believe I can be in it.

But I am meditating and reflecting and journaling and declaring that I want to be here. Not perpetually there, in some elsewhere. I don’t want to look back and find I spent my life being ‘there’.

2. Being there for people through life’s changes is an art form. I have experienced some of the best presence and love from the most unexpected places this year. And learned that some people have tons of other skills but really don’t know how to be there when it’s hard. They say the wrong thing, or direct attention away from the hard thing in a way that feels cowardly, or disappear until the hard time is ‘over’.

I’m longing to develop the skills of being there for people in a way that feels comforting and appropriate and good when things are falling apart, or simply changing rapidly. It’s both tangible (the voice that says ‘I’m right there with you’ when giving you tragic news, the check in text that requires no action, the friend who shows up with bad movies and ice cream when the tears are gone and only the emptiness remains) and intangible (the person who gives you quiet without saying they are doing so, the prayers and love extended through space and time). I don’t think the changes are going to stop, I want to be able to feel excited about change, to pivot to an opportunity outlook quickly, to trust the changes.

But it’s all aspirational right now. Right now I’m just trying to avoid my most familiar grief homies (chocolate, pizza, whiskey, harmful connections, cigarettes…I’m three weeks smoke free after a year of grief smoking!) and in that, notice that there is a way I’m learning to be there for myself, instead of substituting my own presence with food, drink, drug or distraction.

I fly all the time, I know the ritual with oxygen masks. Put mine on, then help the child sitting next to me (is it always a child next to us, asking us to do the right next thing?)…but in life it can be so easy to attend to the crises of others first. I’m grieving a few people who I believe gave more than they had, putting others first until they literally slipped away from themselves.

With each day I believe more and more in that self sustenance, that greedy inhale that guarantees the next moment will be one in which I can choose to give, simply because I’m still here.

I want to really be there for myself, and then expand into my ability to be there for the people I love. ‘The only lasting truth is change’, so how do I change with my whole complex centered loving self? This question I ask of my self and my species – how do we stay whole and change?

Only, I think, by being present. So…return to point 1, rinse, repeat.