Tag Archive for 'grace lee boggs'

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.

Being Quiet

My mentor and friend Grace Lee Boggs died on Monday. I’ve been writing about her since then – poems, memories, what I learned. I’m not ready to post it yet. But meditation has been helping me move through it, so I wanted to share some thoughts on that, from before and after.

9.28.15

I’ve been meditating 37 minutes a day this month in honor of turning 37. I added another minute yesterday, I’m wanting to get up to an hour daily, maybe more.

Here’s some reflections:

What I’m mostly doing is intentionally being quiet inside and out. To listen to my breath and body means to quiet the distractions. Outside distractions are impossible to control but getting easier to see, release.

Inside…whew. I notice my breath for two seconds and then I start thinking about something, coming up with an idea, writing this piece, reliving a conversation. Then I notice where I am, pick up my attention, bring it back. Three seconds later it’s onto another thought journey away from center.

I must admit that I like what I think during this time. It makes me realize how much I need quiet time to work, because a deeper stranger part of my brain becomes available in the silence.

I also love how it feels to abandon the thought, undone, and return to my center, to my breath. I find my thoughts are all equal in a way…most of them concerning something beyond my control, trying to figure out how I could have controlled it in the past or how I will control it in the future. When I surrender thinking for brief seconds I feel so free.

10.9.15

On the day Grace died, I meditated three times. Twice before I got the news, and then a 100 minute sit at the end of the day, a minute for each of her years. It was a journey, at times chaotic, at times so full. By the end it was slow, calm. I didn’t know I could be still for that long.

Sitting still is about the only thing that feels right right now. I’m craving so much more quiet. On one of my last visits with Grace, I asked her what she was thinking about. She smiled and looked a bit surprised, and she said, ‘not much!’, and there was so much wonder in it.

I have been sifting through my memories. I think Grace is the only person of color I’ve known to die at peace. That is massive to sit with. I am joyful for her and grateful that she told us she was ready in so many ways.

It means it’s possible. I’ll think more on that eventually.

Right now, I just miss her so much. Being quiet is the only way to handle that.

BALLE 2015 Closing Plenary Speech

Here are the notes from my talk today at the BALLE 2015 Conference! Enjoy.

Thank you first and foremost for your work to bend the future towards justice, love, cooperation and liberation.

I would call your work science fictional – being concerned with the way our actions and beliefs now today will shape the future, tomorrow.

You are excited by what we can create, you believe it is possible to create the next world, you have been building it here these last few days. You believe.

So do I. as michelle mentioned, I’m the Co-editor of an anthology of original science fiction from social justice movements called Octavia’s Brood, which has just sold out its first print of 10k books, so i suppose now it’s public…but I’ve held this belief that we can create new worlds for a long time.

This might be because I was born to a trekkie – meaning one who watches star trek obsessively. My dad watched Star Trek in a way that seems logical to me now. He watched the way a black man from the deep south bringing mixed race children into a racist world would always watch a post racist narrative – eyes wide, faith bubbling up.

We all watched it together, as his military career took our family from place to place. My parents intentionally took us away from the US for our early years and I think they believed that by the time we came back here things would have changed.

When that didn’t happen, they brought us back anyway and took us to Georgia. I think what I experienced there, the casual and constant presence of white supremacy, the knee jerk assessments of my intelligence and humanity, is one of the foundational catalysts for my study of sci fi, apocalypse and post-apocalypse, emergence and complexity.

i thought then in middle school, and i think now…This can’t be all. no one survives this approach, not long term. This can’t be the purpose of our species, to constantly identify each other as ‘other’, build walls between ourselves, and engage in both formal and informal wars against each other’s bodies, build an economy that could never serve the whole.

I feel miraculous. its confusing to feel so miraculous when so many people hate my skin and my history.

i see the miraculous in others – even those who hate me have heartbeats, and, I generally assume, have people they love. why can’t they love me? should i love them anyway? how can i hold these massive contradictions?

I started reading sci fi, obsessively, looking for options. Other worlds where I wasn’t dismissed as an idealist or an inferior.

On that path I discovered octavia butler. Decades before my birth, she was working these same edges in her heart, pendulum swinging between curiosity, possibility and hopelessness. Because if we can’t articulate more viable futures, and adapt, our human future is pretty hopeless.

Octavia Butler wrote novels with young black women protagonists meeting aliens, surviving apocalypse, evolving vampires, becoming telepathic networks, time traveling to save slave owner ancestors. But woven throughout her work were two things: 1) a coherent visionary exploration of humanity and 2) emergent strategies for being better humans.

I’ll say more about emergent strategy in a second.

First I want to say that what my Octavia’s Brood Co-editor walidah Imarisha and I call or work is not actually science fiction. We call it visionary fiction.

Fiction that disrupts the hero narrative concept that one person, often one white man, often matt Damon, alone has the skills to save the world. we write Fiction that explores change as a Collective process. Fiction that centers those who are currently marginalized – not to be nice, but because those who survive on the margins tend to be the most experientially innovative – practicing survival based efficiency, doing the most with the least, an important skill area on a planet whose resources are under assault by less marginalized people. In these ways visionary fiction is constantly applying lessons from our past to our future(s).

Visionary fiction is neither utopian nor dystopian, instead it is like real life: Hard, realistic…Hopeful as a strategy.

We’re here in Arizona, a land where the voting majority believes in aliens, and where my safety is determined by the proximity of my passport. also, the future is unfurling here. Utopia? Dystopia? Perspective is everything.

As long as the future comes from imagination, there will be divergent paths that are moving in and out of alignment, in and out of conflict. Our ideas of right and wrong shift with time – right now it’s clear to me that something is wrong if it hurts this planet. But if we don’t claim the future, that sense of loyalty to earth, of environmentalism, could become an outdated concept. Kenny Bailey from Design Studio for Innovation shared that recently on a panel called black to the future – that justice, rights, things we take for granted are not permanent.

That affirmed to me how important it is that we get into the game, get dirty, get experimental. How do we create and proliferate a compelling vision of a new economy that centers humans and the natural world over the accumulation of material?

We embody. We learn. We release the idea of failure, because its all data.

But first we imagine.

We are in an imagination battle – Claudine Rankin and Terry Marshall speak of this. Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown and Renisha McBride and all of them are dead because in some white imagination, they were dangerous. And that imagination is so respected that those who kill based on an imagined racialized fear of black people are rarely held accountable. imagination has people think they can go from poverty to millionaire as part of a shared american dream. imagination turns brown bombers into terrorists and white bombers into mentally ill victims. imagination gives us borders, gives us superiority, gives us race.

We have to imagine beyond those fears. We have to ideate together. The poverty that results from our current system allows all of this Imagining to be fed by the results of scarcity economics. We must imagine new worlds that transition us from seeing black people as murderers, or brown people as terrorists and aliens, to ones that can see black and brown people as cultural and economic innovators.

Black lives matter, which has issued a clarion call to us in this time, is brilliant on so many levels. they created products to support their work almost immediately, making the look of the movement irresistable and undeniable. Now they are gathering stories from black people about what the world will look like when black lives matter. This is a time travel exercise for the heart. This is ideation – what are the ideas that will liberate all of us?

The more people who collaborate on that ideation, the more people who will be served by the resulting world (s).

Sci fi is simply a way to practice the future together. I suspect that that is what many of you in this room are up to, practicing a future economy together, practicing economic justice together, living into new stories. it is our right and responsibility to create a new world.

And what we pay attention to grows, so I’m thinking about how we grow what you are all imagining and creating into something large enough and solid enough for a tipping point of humans to cross over?

Ursula Le Guin recently said “We live in capitalism – Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings.”

she went on to say It’s up to authors to spark the imagination of their readers and to help them envision alternatives to how we live.

I agree with her. We must make an alternative economic future, as Toni Cade Bambara taught us, irresistible. That was our goal with our anthology, to have a collection of compelling, irresistible stories.

I think you are amongst the protagonists of what might be called the great turning, the change, the new economy.

And I think it is healing behavior, to look at something so broken and see the possibility and wholeness in it. That’s how I work, when a body is between my hands, I let wholeness pour through.

And I think you are healers too – because you are creating possibilities, because you are seeing a future full of wholeness and equity and hope.

I suspect this is in part because you are practicing what i call emergent strategies.

Emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of relatively simple interactions. My mentor Grace Lee Boggs first raised this concept with us in detroit after reading Margaret Wheatley’s work , about biomimicry and mycelium magic. Grace started asking us what our movements would look like if we focused on critical connections instead of critical mass.

We need each other. I love the idea of shifting from ‘mile wide inch deep’ movements to ‘inch wide mile deep’ movements that schism the existing paradigm.

Strategy is a military term meaning simply a plan of action towards a goal. We use it to mean good or bad, but it’s not that discerning. Horrible plans can be pitched as strategic. We must be more precise.

Emergent strategies are ways for humans to practice complexity and grow the future through relatively simple interactions. It was what made sense to me when I was trying to explain the kind of leadership in octavia butler’s books.

It wasn’t just that it was black, female, or young leaders. Or perhaps it was because of all of those things, who leads matters.

But what I noticed is that her leaders were adaptive – riding change like dolphins or surfers ride the ocean.

Adaptive but also intentional, like birds migrating south who know how to get where they’re going even when a storm pushes them 100 miles west. I just came from supporting a meeting naomi klein called in canada, to set an intention to build a clean energy economy. I was so moved by their work to build a shared intention. that is radical imagination.

Octavia’s protagonists were also interdependent, often polyamourous, because the personal is political, because pleasure evokes change perhaps more than shame. right now there is an effort called BOLD, black organizing for leadership and dignity, is cultivating a safe space for black vulnerability and mutual support of leaders, countering the usual model of leader isolation. we all need a place where we can weep and be held and feel our feelings and figure out how those feelings can direct our next evolution. what amazes me is that in the space of such constant black trauma, we get together and we celebrate and love on each other, we laugh, we find the pleasure of community, of interdependence. it feels good together.

Octavias leaders were also decentralized, and they were generative – resilience came from that decentralization, no one person held the power. Ferguson showed us the power of individuals willing to act without a single leader, their leaderfull example is inspiring others to stand up in real time, offline and online, to change legislation and perception.

Ferguson and other movements right now are fractal, practicing at a small scale what we most want to see at the universal level. no more growth before experience. There’s a group in new Orleans called the wild seeds that’s doing this fractal work – women of color practicing pop up galleries and stores to sustain themselves on their radical creativity.

Rather than narrowing into one path forward, her leaders were creating more and more possibilities. that is what i see here – not one perfect path forward, but an abundance of futures, of ways to manage resources together, brilliant together.

So I have become obsessed with how we can be movements like flocks of birds, underground power like that mushroom under Oregon, the sea shell representation of a galactic vision for justice.

I invite you to join me in writing ourselves into the future, naming the principles of total transformation, building an economy in which black lives matter because every single life, and all that supports life, matters – let us practice in every possible way the world we want to see.

sacred places and stardust

There are many sacred places along the journey through grief. One of the them is the body, but I’ll build to that.

Land is precious. Especially land full of trees in the fall, when everything is changing so beautifully. I’ve always loved fall most of all the seasons, the season of my birth and of new beginnings. For much of my life this was the time when I would be landing in a new place, new school, new community. As a child in a military family we often moved in summer, so fall would be a time of seeing who I was in a new place. How would this place and these people receive me, a precocious child who challenged authority, loved approval and wanted to create everything anew?

Land always received me well.

I remember landscapes – German forests, Georgia swamps, a low flat Kansas field between our backyards and the big gates behind which I later learned Leonard Peltier was imprisoned, the dried up riverbeds and magical desert lawns in Texas, the sparse trees held in concrete in Brooklyn, the dirty active water between the Twin Towers and the Statue of Liberty, sky fetish beauty in every direction in the South Pacific, the white sands of Tulum, the lush green hills of rural Japan and the Big Island and Southern Africa. Changing conditions, diverse beauties – it is an outstanding planet. Each of these places are locations of my growth and places where I left part of myself behind, skin shed.

Lately I have been shedding self in a few places.

In Detroit I have been letting go of a certain urgency that permeates crisis, that can make everything feel very important. People ask me how I am responding to the crisis in Detroit, and I want to say: by loving it, very slowly, as it is. It isn’t easy. I am growing a capacity to see a longer arc of time in this city, these communities which are engaged in basic battles, that is, battles over the most basic human needs. I am growing a capacity to be visionary even when there appears to be no time for looking ahead.

In rural Minnesota my unborn little relative is now part of the land, the wind, the dirt, the birch stand and the pond, the trail through the woods, everywhere. I am growing my skill in grieving, my understanding of the importance of impermanence.

I am realizing the humility required to be stardust. It’s heartbreaking, and it’s just the truth. We suffer, we die, we control only how much beauty and joy and laughter we can seek and let in. We are temporary, first and foremost.

This cosmic season has been all about grief and letting go. It feels like there is so much death and transition being pulled forward by these eclipsing or retrograde celestial bodies which don’t know our names but shape our lives. It’s terrifying to realize the insignificance of my impact, my pain, my grief, and my ability to protect those I love. This doesn’t mean don’t try, give, effort, extend. It just means I have to be less attached to everything, be of the world without clinging and grasping.

This is theoretical, right now my knuckles are pale with the grip I have on all the things I want to love forever.

It helps to look at the truth of what I can and can’t protect. I am concluding that I can’t protect anything except my dignity and my capacity to love. And that is a lot, that is worth fighting for, that is a life’s work, against all the odds and expectations and the strong arms of the moon and the playful fuckery of mercury.

What gets me through, always, is space. I meditate as if I am floating in space, the Milky Way somewhere far behind me. I remember that I am just one body of billions, hurtling through space on a body in orbit amongst a trillion gazillion other bodies, much larger, much smaller.

What is random is not personal, even the most beautiful and sacred experiences – it is the whole massive universe that is precious, not me specifically or especially. It is all of existence that is worth the attention of prayer and intention, not my singular and most likely myopic concern. That comforts me, being a fragment of a sacred existence.

Then I can pull all of that scale into my understanding of myself. I am stardust, the baby is stardust, Charity is stardust, Grace is stardust, Sheddy is stardust, Blair is stardust, Papa is stardust, Grandma Brown is stardust, and so on. This is my stardust litany.

What does it mean to be stardust? The sacred place I am longing for is right here, in this body so briefly available to me, accessible through pleasure, chanting, storytelling, healing, dancing and noticing this skin I am in. I am of the celestial whole. When I see my flesh and bones as a source of information, self-love and curiosity become inevitable.

Fragile bones and individual oceans, with memories of stardust spiraling through us – could we be more beautiful? More sacred? More capable of the grief and love required of the living?

Octavia taught us to pray working, to let our work be sacred practice. I am holding these words as my life work continues to challenge me completely, to feed my human curiosity in the face of human terror. I cannot know or understand it all. It hurts my heart, mind and body to pretend I know much of anything.

And, we are stardust. And, each one of us is the sacred place.

love scholarship lessons 14-20

14. if i want love, i can’t hurt love.

i used to be very cavalier about the idea of boundaries in love. ‘that’s not how humans ARE,’ i’d insist. ‘we must be free, we are mercurial, we are porous, chemistry moves between us, everyone works the systems of human interactions to get what they need, you can no more own a person than you can own the planet, etc.’

i still believe all of this to varying degrees.

but/and! lovers make agreements with each other, agreements that grow trust and transparency as they are held. trust and transparency that lay the foundation for the kind of mutual transformation that i believe can only happen in relationship (not necessarily romantic relationship, but definitely authentic relationship).

lao tzu teaches, ‘if you don’t trust the people, they become untrustworthy.’

if i want to give and receive the kind of all-inclusive trust that allows for transformation, allows me to actually feel loved in real time, i have to be trustworthy. with my boundaries and with the boundaries others set. crossing those boundaries, even if – especially if – i can’t understand them…makes it that much harder for me to trust anyone to hold the boundaries i am learning i need for my own transformation.

grace lee boggs teaches us to ‘transform ourselves to transform the world’ – love is a front line. transforming how i love, and how i treat the love of others, transforms how love can work in the world.

15. each time i name, hold or respect an intimate boundary, my understanding of the purpose of love grows.

self-love first: self-love is not about accumulating a galaxy of ever arching incoming desires, sexualizing every experience. self-love is being able to see every part of myself with compassion. to feel tenderness for all my ways of being, how i was shaped, what i have done with my gifts, where i disappoint myself.

love with another, or many others, it is not hunting. love is a fertile ground for growth. one crucial purpose of love with others is to have people to grow with. to grow out of obligations and depression, to grow old, to grow wise, to grow babies, to grow home, to grow creatively, to grow analysis, to grow freedom, to grow justice – to have another person, or other people, with whom to grow.

when i tell someone i love them, i mean: ‘i am growing with you!’

16. if we are not growing, we are doing something else…often regressing. and there are probably a million good reasons for that – the only one i understand is that there is something in my past that i haven’t really seen. and it is going to keep creeping up until it becomes unbearably present behind me, and i turn and face it, and i truly comprehend it. then i can move forward. if i try to run away, or only cast a glance over my shoulder and keep walking, it will not go away. james baldwin teaches, ‘not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced’.

17. what you withhold of yourself becomes your prison. love is also a process of getting free with another person. and along the way you learn all the cages that can develop within you and between you. one of those cages is built of lies and half-truths, knowing something your partner should know, something about who you are or what you’ve done, and withholding it from them.

i have thought of myself as an open book, but that doesn’t mean my words are in a common tongue. too often i communicate in passive aggressive dishwashing, directive playlists, abstract poetry.

i have had to learn to translate from my heart the truth of what i am feeling and what i need, walk another person through my secret garden, discover the fruits i have grown from desperation, believe in the abundance that makes sharing easy. and most of all, not to leave any part of myself in a cage, being unuttered…left there, my forgotten self creates what prisons create: criminals, humans centered around survival.

no more prisons, not even inside.

18. truth seeks the light, and love is a lightbearing emotion. the more i love, the more i want to show my wholeness. secrets come leaping through my mouth because of love. i can’t hide in the face of love. and as i love myself, i feel no need to keep hidden. healing and moving forward become possible in ways that were not available in my periods of resentment, hatred, insecurity, secrecy.

19. i learn to love in various directions simultaneously, inwards to myself, outwards to others, back to my ancestors, forward to my great great great grandchildren. i learn to love my flawed self as i fall for imperfect others. to love my communities as i become unconditionally lovestruck for my nephew and nieces. love has shown itself to be a liberating, generous and universal emotion. when i feel it in one direction, i remember that love in every direction is possible, is always present.

i would venture that part of what is happening in ferguson is an outburst of love. love of children getting to be children, love of black and brown children, is making the truth of this moment in the american racial construct come to light. this love has our eyes and our hearts extended to where michael was shot down, standing up for him, for the people murdered before him and those who will continue to be killed on this 28-hour cycle until we become too loud to ignore politically, socially and spiritually.

20. love requires practice. listening, speaking honestly, caring, surprising, grounding, calming, supporting, nourishing, pleasing, receiving, declining, creating, teaching, learning. there are so many skills to develop, simultaneously. wax on, wax off. love, love. love, love.

love, love.

afrofuturism and detroit

what an exciting morning in detroit.

started off with the always elegant ingrid lafleur speaking on afrofuturism and detroit in a talk oriented towards creatives.

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here are some twitter highlights, mostly quotes from ingrid:

“An apocalypse doesn’t end in something destroyed, it’s opportunity for transformation. For example, look at @octaviabutler’s parables.”

images from wild seed, pictures of sun ra and imani uzuri, art from bodys isek kingalez were flipping through as she spoke.

“#Afrotopia (the gorgeous logo/imagery from brilliant wesley taylor) is creating radical futuristic art in a majority black city to generate positive social change. Includes magical daily practice.”

“I like #afrofuturism because u have to know ancient history, cosmology, quantum physics, beyond school, broaden black identity.”

sun ra, who was from saturn and was helping us journey through music.

“I enjoy that #Detroit is 82% black & that informs the culture & art…I believe I live in a magical reality all the time.”

“I don’t think you need disposable income to go beyond your current reality. It’s about getting out beyond assumptions.”

“A lot of these ideas are tradition, are within us, they don’t come from going to school.” (beautiful particular as an offering to the mostly art student audience who were genuinely perplexed as to how to engage)

“#afrofuturism is about black being at center – diversity can come, but it’s about the liberation we, in a majority black city, still don’t have.” (in response to the ever brilliant and fearless dream hampton, who questioned the need to constantly move to diversity instead of learning to be in a black space, where black is the center of the work)

“Within our gritty, our bones are beautiful, we have great housing stock, our city is already beautiful & quite vibrant.”

“I need me to exist, even when I die.” – George Henry, at #afrofuturism talk.

after the talk, a few circles of blackness pooled together in the room, vibrating to be in each other’s presence. we talked about octavia butler salons. we talked about how as black people it isn’t about demanding entree into white spaces, especially white spaces in this black city. it’s about creating work so undeniable that being centered is not a question. it was thrilling to meet folks in the arts, design and performance world also bubbling about octavia and black brilliance.

as we were leaving, one of the lovely black men i’d met at the event backed his car into another’s. we all looked at the damage and instead of anyone getting mad, they decided it was an opportunity to sit down for dinner and get to know each other better. it felt like afrofuturism in practice, leaning into each other, creating more possibility, because we need each other, rather than indulging in potential conflict.

then i took some of my broccoli/cauliflower/leek/manchego soup over to grace lee boggs. on the way i had an exciting scifi idea about self-governance in detroit. i shared it with grace and we giggled our way through updating each other on the opportunities we are seeing now. she’s always been ahead of her time, which is saying a lot as she approaches 98 years on the planet this summer.

i’m nearing the end of a beautiful month at home and spring is everywhere. detroit love, black love, that is all.

birth and revolution

when asked who is the leader, people in tahrir sqaure say, ‘we are’. we need a new concept of revolution to understand #egypt. it’s emerging from the people. leaders could only be midwives.
— grace lee boggs


Meet Asmaa Mahfouz and the vlog that Helped Spark the Revolution

i have been watching internet videos and sharif kouddous on democracy now, and al-jazeera non-stop for days, watching revolution catch and grow like a fire in the middle east. it’s beautiful, and i have been trying to think of ways to write about it without romanticizing what i see. i know that there are beautiful parts and mostly there are very very hard conditions that people there are in, and have been in, and will be in.

to me the beauty is in the self-organization, decentralization, and simultaneous strategic use of and independence from technology. its in the voices and leadership of women and young people who are all incredibly on message and uncompromising on their demands.

watching the people demand and create change in egypt and throughout the middle east is giving me that thing i have been longing for which is greater than hope – belief that change is possible in our lifetimes, in the present.

i had been feeling sort of hopeless not about the work of u.s. movements, but the internal dysfunctions and how that lays a shoddy foundation for any revolutionary work. i have felt myself wanting to shake loose of movements where i can’t feel the commitment to transformation, only feeling the loyalty to anger, critique and competition.

i have felt myself pulled towards healing and food and babies, cooking all the time, focusing on being a great auntie, and beginning to learn the path of the doula.

now its clear to see there is something universal in this longing, that it is not a moving away from movement that makes me want to attend to the health and the birth and body of people. it is another path to liberation.

we need to see, and feel, that there is a resilience which comes from saying no to traditional top-down leadership, from stepping up to take care of our own communities (whether that’s as security or picking up litter or marching), from saying yes to women’s voices and actions, from holding out for the true demand of participatory democracy (not “capitulating as Mubarak has done,” — Noha Radwan).

i see that one role of midwives and doulas at this moment is to present a new way to think of generating great transformation. you support the mother, you nourish her, you believe in the innate capacity of the child and the mother to negotiate that fine line of life and death, you give everything you can, you do your best, you stay with it no matter what, you don’t take the mother’s process personally, you know there is no single right path except the one taken, and no matter what, you believe with your whole heart that the change WILL happen.

this happens all the time. 30 years ago such a miracle happened and the love of my life was born. what she has taught me about love could fill many books, but the most important lesson is the simplest: love is expansive.

and love – of people, of family, of the right to participate and to live – is what is driving the rage and uprising and change in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Yemen, in Jordan.

it is possible. it will happen. it is, now.

good resources in addition to al jazeera:

http://twitter.com/sharifkouddous
http://twitter.com/monaeltahawy
http://twitter.com/atefsaid

american revolutionary

i assert my solutions as the living embodiment of my nationality…

i’m testing that statement out.

for a long time, most of my conscious political life, i have not thought of myself as an american (and not a nationalist at all, especially not of a colonial empire). i have been a world traveller. a future ex-pat. a staunch critic of the ways america is failing at everything from dreams to execution of values, from founding to present. and i hold these critiques to be self-evident – how can anyone with a mind and a heart not see the failure, the epic moral failure of the country i was born into?

recently, 3 things have made me reconsider my relationship to america.

one thing is sitting with the words of the late james boggs and being with grace lee boggs, and their clear belief that we have to understand the context of where we are, that there is a real place in which we have the right to be revolutionary. jimmy said, “i don’t believe no one can run this country better than me,” and he said that as a worker. now i feel challenged by grace’s latest thinking, that a new “more perfect union” is ours to envision and embody, and i think we have to believe that no one can run this country, community by community, better than those of us with clear visions and practices of justice and sustainability. if we believe that, then we must take on the responsibility of bringing our visions into existence – through our actions, not just our words.

the second thing that has made me reconsider this is a conversation that happened at web of change. it was hosted by anasa troutman and angel kyodo williams, and i wasn’t even there, just got to debrief how powerful it was with several participants afterwards. one of the key components was the idea of being able to say that those things that offend us at the deepest level, which seem inhumane, which give us feelings of shame by association – we have to step up to say “that is not our America.” leaving the space open for american identity to be defined only by those who are driven by fear leaves us with what we have now – policies of walls and borders instead of open arms and visions, prisons and penalties instead of communities that hold each other accountable and safe, poverty and joblessness instead of meaningful roles in communities where we each feel our worth and get honored for our contributions. america holds an international role which we who have citizenship here can’t shake off – unsolicited and violent judge, oppressor, manipulator of resources and relationships, bringer of trash/waste/dehumanizing work. what we are within our colonized borders is amplified in our external actions. and there are enough of us who know a better way that if we truly took on the responsibility, the practice of being american revolutionaries, it would have a worldwide impact. scaling up, yes, but only by going deep in accepting the privilege and responsibility of being american at this moment in time and taking up new practices wherever we are.

the third piece for me is looking at my family in light of recent stories i have heard from immigrant families living and dying to get a hold of a status i have taken for granted. my sisters and i were born in texas, in el paso. folks who are brown like me and whose ancestors’ blood still bakes in the earth of my birthplace, folks who were born 10 miles away from me, they have died because of long-term impacts of our foreign policy, trade policy, drug habits. on a fundamental level, being an american means being responsible for the human cost of our way of living, our mistakes, our policies. i may not agree with the policies, but that doesn’t much matter to the people impacted by them if i do nothing to change the ways of this country. my family has had a chance at happiness that was made possible because of american military endeavors and i have to attend to that reality. can i face it completely and instead of feeling shame, think of what can bring justice to my family, to my nephew and niece as they begin their young political journeys? this feels like huge work for me.

i see more and more that my path is not necessarily an organizing path, be it electoral or community. this is not simply because i am disappointed in our movements, though i feel, viscerally, that we/they are mostly practicing what i could call the old american ethic: spread, grow, mainstream yourself, prosper in competition, value new ideas over ancient wisdom, colonize by spreading as many chapters with cookie cutter action plans as far and wide as you can, don’t apologize, pitch first and listen later, etc.

all of that is there, but my calling is underneath that critique, and it feels like yearning, it feels like a budding set of solutions. i am interested in connecting with, building with, and supporting folks who are interested in the next american revolution – in holding space for a new american ethic that speaks to the experience of masses of people within these hyper-enforced borders: we start by seeking indigenous wisdom for how to be in this place and honor those who have been here the longest. we stand with the world in calling for america to evolve as we practice these new-old ways of being here. we build our economy of relationships, not dollars. we see ourselves as part of a global network of citizens of one shared planet who have a collective responsibility towards home. we respect each other and the land, we practice restorative justice, we begin by listening, we accept the responsibility of where we are. instead of being known for our critique, we embody the revolution wherever we are, in whatever work we are called to.

i know i can’t change the past, not even the very recent past, our actions of yesterday and even this morning. but i am also more and more aware that i can’t put off this being of a place for even one more day. i have lived in many places, and i have loved many places, but i have papers for one place, voting power for one place, family all rooted in one place. it is this place where i will make my stand.

in a way this is another coming out, full of terror and bravado…and pumping out of me like blood. i will test this out, here, as a truth and an invitation: i am an american revolutionary.

detroit bodhisattva

an interview just got posted which i did last night with mark rudd, who now lives in albuquerque and supports organizers. he says when he visited detroit, he met all these enlightened beings – bodhisattvas like tyree guyton and grace lee boggs. it was so exciting to talk about how i feel about detroit, and invite people to come through in the summer to the social forum.

check out the show here!