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

student self

this week i get to be a student again. it’s always part of what’s happening, i am always learning. there are teachers everywhere…and then there are those moments when you explicitly get to sit in a room and say ‘i don’t know’, or, ‘i can’t hold this’. in this room, i get to not know, to ask, to furiously scribble down things my teachers say, to let go of time, to trust the container to hold us, to even hold me.

i don’t know how to expand time the way i want.

i don’t know how to love without obsessing over future grief.

i don’t know if i can be any less selfish and complete my mission.

does everyone think of themselves as a microcosm of the planet?

is it a privilege to feel? is it the most universal human experience to feel? both at the same time?

what is enough?

what do we deserve? why does the creator give us so much more than that?

why is it so easy to see the miraculous in others, and so hard to see it in myself? thank goddess i can feel more than i’ll ever see.

this week it’s my birthday and i gave myself the gift of returning to my student self. i feel happy and loved and connected and abundant and there’s nothing i need that isn’t in reach, and i can still learn so much more.

chimamandagate

this morning as i was catching up on chimamandagate i found myself feeling a ton of gratitude to trans, gender nonconforming and nonbinary people who have stayed with me through my unlearning process,
through my misgendering them, trying to argue grammar (even though in nearly every other instance i dismiss grammar rules and all other rules),
through my defensive reactions (“but half my lovers are trans/gnc i couldn’t be transphobic”),
through my feelings of scarcity around my womanhood and women’s spaces,
through delicate/scary conversations around transracial vs transgender journeys,
through my unrequested advice or protection,
through my absence when support was needed.
through my fascination and curiosity,
through my putting them on pedestals,
through my forgetting them in spaces where they needed inclusion and/or centering.
and through my fumbling love.

i wish i could say each of these lessons took me hours to learn, but some of it has taken days, weeks, years – sometimes i never made it back to thank the teachers of specific lessons, especially the ones that were hard.

and i am still unlearning.

and i am still grateful.

the hour for making

do you have a special time when you are at your most creative?

i have tried and tried to set my creative hour during the daytime, but no matter what i do, i find that it’s not til the sun goes down that the world is quiet enough for me to really get into my creative process.

for 2011 i am in a process of opening and learning and questioning.

the last phase of my life was in many ways defined by trying to know more than i could possibly know, in part because i was a young executive director, in part because it’s hard to make the distinction between facilitation and leadership and often in my effort to support transformation through facilitation, i would find myself in a position of leadership. it didn’t fall on me, i took it on…but when i think about shifts i want to make in my life, a major one is learning to hold the boundaries of facilitation more carefully, and explore what facilitative leadership and collective leadership really means.

this is challenging for an introvert virgo with a wild side, but i am committed.

one part of this practice is continuously putting myself in situations where i know, and everyone else around me knows, i am not an expert.

a second part of this practice is approaching the world with curiosity and questions and an eagerness to learn – rather than my default judgments and criticisms. it’s so much easier for me to make time to critique than to create, but i know when i make the choice to create it is more powerful than any old tired critiques.

part three is getting my house in order. i do this often, and it always liberates my mind from clutter. little improvements – getting the bookshelf i needed, the butter dish, rearranging things to be more instinctual – release my mind from obstacles and worry.

and the fourth part is what has me up so late: creating. tamara warren said, as many other wise writers have said, write every day. so i am writing, or creating art, every day. nothing i create fits into the hour i set aside for it, the creation time stretches for hours and i have to make way for it, move my reasoning self out of the way so a story can really emerge from me.

and then i feel awake, and alive, and unfinished – like there is a reason for all that i feel and think.

what is your hour for making?