learning and untangling

dear readers,

my last blog was one of the longest things i’ve ever written as a single piece, and one of my most read blog pieces. it’s also the most controversial thing i’ve written, and i’ve spent the last couple of weeks swimming in the light and shadow of it.

when i was writing it, i felt clear about the distinctions i wanted to make, the invitation i wanted to make to movement:

can we hold each other as the systems that weaken and distort our humanity crumble?
can we release our binary ways of thinking of good and bad in order to collectively grow from mistakes?
can we be abolitionist with each other?
can we be principled and discerning in movement conflict?

i had people i trust read it beforehand, and when i pressed ‘publish’ i felt scared of what might come, but also faithful…that every word was the most accurate one i know for the feeling i was trying to express, that people would understand my intentions.

the initial waves of feedback, and the overwhelming majority of feedback, has been gratitude and affirmation. i have received so many messages and testimonials from sectors of movement that feel seen in the piece and saddened by the quickness with which we turn against each other, troubled by our apparent collective excitement when we attack each other. the feedback was from long-term organizers, people who identify as survivors, and as those have caused harm, and as both, as neither. some of it was public, and some of it was texts from comrades i hadn’t heard from in a while. i exhaled – what i felt was not just in my head or an isolated crew. my publisher said, let’s get this in print! i felt on purpose thinking of a little book that gives us more options, more patience, more kindness and space for healing together.

but then a second wave of feedback came. from other survivors. and as i listened i felt defensive (did you read the whole piece?), dismissed (don’t you know i am an abolitionist survivor? don’t you know how much abuse intervention i have been a part of?), hurt (why are you coming at me like this?) and, finally, curious: what am i not seeing? not hearing? what do i not know? what can i learn?

i asked more people for feedback, and have had conversations, emails, text threads. i have learned a lot more about some things i thought i knew, heard a lot of tea that people assumed i already knew because my name is reaching further than i can track, learned that so many more people are struggling with call outs in this moment than i had any idea about, and some of them felt helped by my writing, while others felt offended. i have learned how in certain communities the piece exacerbated existing tensions i wasn’t fully aware of. i got clearer on what parts were triggers for people, what parts are political disagreement, and what parts are both. i feel honed in on what is within my expertise, and reaffirmed that celebrity activism is not my jam.

here are some things i am learning:

– i need to be much clearer in my distinctions between harm and abuse. as someone who has experienced both, i was reminded of how important it was to me that my abuse be acknowledged as what it was, not reframed into a lesser impact. how important it was that i be allowed total boundaries, space for rage, space for healing, how much i needed assurance that it wasn’t my fault, and that making sure those who abused and/or harmed me got their healing together wasn’t my job. but as i have moved away from that period of my own life, i have gotten comfortable with the catch-all language of harm and harm doers, which blurs the danger and impact. part of my critique of the way call outs are being used is that not liking someone, social media offenses, power misuse in work settings, movement conflict and sexual assault are all getting the same level of public response. but even in that critique, i collapsed all these distinct experiences into one word, harm. i am sorry for the pain and erasure i know that caused to other survivors.

– i will make better use of content and trigger warnings.

– i explored my argument with language that felt precise to me, and within my right to use as a Black witch. it is also language that has been weaponized against communities i love, and i am earnestly looking for other metaphors to work with.

– i don’t know how we get from here to there. i don’t know if we have what it takes right now to support survivors while also holding an abolitionist lens, and it isn’t fair on my part not to make that apparent gap clear. those who are expert in holding domestic violence, intimate partner violence, rape support and other skilled areas will have to lead in that realm of abolition, in part by pointing all of us towards the skills we need to develop in order to actually take on community accountability. the hopeful news is that we have the teachers…but will we prioritize learning? and how do we not drop long haul survivor support along the way?

– i do believe, deeply, in the power of mediation in instances of conflict and harm, within movements, and including interpersonal conflict and harm. i believe it works because i have held it, and i have seen movements benefit from having people experience principled struggle with each other, set necessary boundaries, request and receive authentic and adequate apologies, and continue to be committed to something larger than themselves.

– i have to be very intentional as i gain more followers. while i did not seek fame or ask for any pedestals, i can’t deny that more people are taking my words seriously. and that is a privilege. i am not taking down the piece because i think more can be learned from keeping it up and being transparent in what i am learning. i do commit to not putting it in print without adaptations that reflect my learning. i see all of this as a larger process of exploring abolition as an emergent strategy, and i am not alone in that exploration.

– i will respect my own depth and complexity and that of my readers by not engaging this conversation on social media. some learning needs to be face to face, heart to heart, or at minimum thoroughly expressed. i am excited for the conversations i am in as a result of the piece, and i feel so much possibility on the horizon around how we turn and face the harm and abuse rampant in our movement communities, learn to be in the complex work of abolition and survival, and actually transform the systems that hurt us into systems that hold us and allow us to heal.

learning in public,
amb

radical gratitude spell

a spell to cast upon meeting a stranger, comrade or friend working for social and/or environmental justice and liberation:

you are a miracle walking
i greet you with wonder
in a world which seeks to own
your joy and your imagination
you have chosen to be free,
every day, as a practice.
i can never know
the struggles you went through to get here,
but i know you have swum upstream
and at times it has been lonely

i want you to know
i honor the choices you made in solitude
and i honor the work you have done to belong
i honor your commitment to that which is larger than yourself
and your journey
to love the particular container of life
that is you

you are enough
your work is enough
you are needed
your work is sacred
you are here
and i am grateful

37 gratitudes

1. My life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24. Weed. Whiskey too. And moderation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

31. Dancing.

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

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

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

35. The unknown. Ok, keep surprising me.

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

37. Self love. This shit is exquisite.

Home is Here (repost of Autumn Brown)

(i wanted to share this gorgeous post with you all. as most of you know i spend a week of each month with my sister and her growing family in rural minnesota. here, autumn brown offers a glimpse into the living, rooting, healing and learning happening there.)

Hello good people!

And welcome spring! Maybe you noticed: it’s been awhile since I’ve sent a newsletter. For those of you who follow my writing, I apologize for the long delay. The last seven months I have been in a sort of hibernation, learning the ropes and loving the challenge of my still-quite-new job leading a young non-profit; stoking the fire in the wood burning furnace that heated my new home in the woods all winter long; and growing a new child (Mairead Irene was born on January 19th, at home in a tub, assisted by my sister, my midwife, my husband, and my mother). I was inwardly focused on growth and expansion, and I gave myself the space to fall inward, without commentary.

And as the winter wore on, I felt that my emotional well being was quite literally tested by the weather. Several snows came during the month of April; and yes, that is strange even for Minnesota. I began to have an actual, quite irrational fear that spring would never come.

And then it arrived. Yesterday I walked barefoot between long dead leaves, new grass, and sponges of melting snow, learning the outdoor landscape of my new home, a place I have never been in the spring. We are discovering that our house is surrounded by a carpet of tulips and crocuses that are just beginning to peek through the dirt. We planted our first trees: White spruce, scotch pine, and chokeberry. Mairead had her first taste of full sun, and loved it. Siobhan and Finn ran around naked, covering themselves in mud, and working hard with their father and grandfather to hang a bat box in the tree near our pond to attract mosquito eaters. We are preparing our garden, eager to get our seedlings into the ground: they grow taller every day and begin to smell like tomatoes and peppers.

Today I have that absolute sense of rebirth that I can only credit to having spent a winter so close to the land, and at the mercy of the physical climate. Surrounded by the silence of snow and dormant life, now the sounds of life return to our woods, and I truly feel them to be ours.

So I write to you now from a place of joyful understanding. I can feel myself in the balance, and always this is my experience after giving birth (I can really say “always” now, since it has been true three times). After giving birth, I become keenly aware of my own death and the future deaths of everyone I love, but I am less and less cowed by it. Death is just what is, in the same way that life is just what is. Life is painful and immeasurably sad, and then it is pleasure, release, the taste of boundlessness. Life is fear and not knowing, and then it is sudden immediate knowing. Life is hard. And then it’s not.

What I am feeling now can only be expressed as gratitude, though there is something deeper too. Something this army brat has only ever felt hints of before, but is coming closer each day to knowing: an actual place called home. Home for me has always been migrating. Home is where my family is, or home is where I’ve lived the longest. But for home to be an actual place, a piece of land with it’s own memory – that is a kind of magic I have never experienced. So here it is. My home, all around me. Home is here.

dear god-is-change

So…

‘Everything you touch you change
Everything you change changes you
The only everlasting truth is change
God is change’
(Octavia Butler via Lauren Olamina)

Sometimes I need to talk to someone, to express gratitude. Like my grandfather spoke to Jesus all the time.

Octavia said earthseed would never work as a real religion because it isn’t comforting enough. But I find myself faithful, I find earthseed working for me, profoundly. It’s growing in me, a faith in change, in work as a form of prayer, in seeing what is, in shaping what will be.

And I’m noticing I’m in communication all the time, with an ever changing face of god-is-change, often looking like my grandfather, then yemaya, a murmuration, the moon, the vast cold silence of space, Siobhan deciding to do something she knows not to do, Finn understanding a new fact, Mairead pouring her celestial newness into my eyes, a new song moving up into my mouth. I don’t mind this way of experiencing god-is-change, it’s generating a peacefulness inside of me, and a sense of responsibility.

It only worries me when I fill with gratitude and the old training kicks in, to bow my head and fling my voice up the shaft of a pedestal.

If instead I let the gratitude fill me up, I realize stardust and miracles are manifestations of the same thing, detritus from great fire, the gift of the past continuing to move into the future.

And I am that sacred detritus, a gift, a consciousness both constantly changing and utterly unique. Able to believe in the universal threads of everything sacred, because there is a truth running through it; able to tune into nature as our grandest tangible temple.

Dear god-is-change…
I believe. It’s making me aware of each moment, the occasion it is to be alive, the awestriking power of creating the conditions for life versus committing to suffering. Today I will pray to you through my deeds, shaping you and letting myself be shaped. Not because I am guilty or afraid. But because you exist, and I do, and for that I am so grateful.
This gratitude attunes me to the mercurial shifting of each person I interact with today, as we shape each other.
Everything you touch
Everything you change
Is god.

Grateful

I believe in meditations & gratitudes. What we give our attention to grows. There were disappointments, imperfections & compromises yesterday, election day 2012, generating or continuing our next to-do lists for the coming years (or month depending on what happens 12/21/12).

But here are things I am grateful for:

Grateful that Detroit rejected the emergency manager proposal, reclaiming our humanity in decision making in the city. & that our local comic book villianaire Manny Maroun’s millions didn’t trick us into supporting his nefarious bridge plans.

Grateful that two of the rape-to-baby pipeline  enthusiasts, Akin & Mourdoch, were thoroughly shut down.

Grateful that we have a black president whose offspring are women, who chose last night to speak on climate change, native americans, gay marriage, complexity, cooperation, & ending war. Meditating on his possibilities for these next four years.

Particularly grateful for a president who speaks of ending wars while my sister serves. Relationships bring the larger world into proximity, reality.

Grateful that my own mind is more complex than it was 12 years ago, that I can see the range of victories & tasks yet to do in relationship to each other, that I can see what is possible in the present while still longing for & working on creating more revolutionary possibilities.

Grateful that the majority of people I am in community with are neither idealists nor purists, but visionary transformative emergent strategists, and lovers of life, people & planet.

Grateful to live in Detroit, MI, where the average person in voting lines has historical context & nuanced analyses. Where folks were primarily looking after each other, informing each other & thanking each other in yesterday’s long lines.

Grateful that today my work continues, that it inspires & nourishes me.