St. Louis Racial Equity Summit 2021 Keynote

St Louis Racial Equity Summit Keynote (notes):

We are imagining a world we have never seen before. Writing it into existence with words and with actions.

We who live in this country on this earth today have barely experienced the wonder of our planet. We have not experienced a world without homelessness, poverty, inequality, white supremacy, patriarchy, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, rape culture, slavery, environmental degradation, climate crisis or prisons. And that’s the short list of our ‘horrible, ordinary’ things, as Octavia E Butler called them. We haven’t seen a world free of these hellish beliefs and behaviors – many of us have never even experienced a pocket of community with the absence of some of these beliefs and behaviors – and yet we imagine.

We live in a world which others imagined. Most of the constructs that oppress us feel like fact, are taught to us as fact – but they are actually evidence of historical imagination. These ideas were imagined before being practiced into solidity, authority, tradition, assumption. The core patterns of U.S. historical imagination are supremacy, dominance, victory. These are not the most beautiful things imagined in human history, but the most violently upheld.

Someone imagined a racialized economic system built on a foundation of indentured labor and slavery – exploitative production of dehumanized people to benefit those who labor less or not at all. In capitalism the norm and assumption is that we must always be producing and growing in scale, so we either work ourselves to death, or if we are privileged we work others to death, or under risk of death, though these days we prefer that the exploitation stay out of sight, behind bars or across borders. In racialized capitalism, the exploited are primarily Black and Brown people. But it must be said that while Whiteness is presented as a racial distinction and a superiority, in fact when people speak of white supremacy and privilege, they are speaking of a very particular and limited racialized economic status – they mean wealthy able bodied white straight men. White privilege can trickle down to other white people, but the way whiteness really works is that anyone who has access to white skin privilege is competing for that elite economic status of White. This is why the wealthiest nation in the world couldn’t just pause and care for our citizens to stop the spread of Covid, even the white people. That elite body refused to take a loss, to let production stop. They could not imagine a scenario in which 570 thousand lives were more valuable than their own bottom lines. Can you imagine only being able to imagine what is good for you?

And yet, there are also, alive right now, those who remember how we are supposed to imagine in relationship to all that lives – indigenous beloveds have taught me we are meant to imagine seven generations ahead of ourselves, and make our choices accordingly. This long-view puts us in a time traveling familial relationship with all of existence.

So. We are in what teacher-friend Terry Marshall calls an imagination battle. The moment we begin to question oppressive historical imagination, supremacy imagination; the moment we begin to dream of justice, of liberation, of right relationship, we become imagination warriors. Organizers. Our mission is to co-dream visions more compelling than oppression, and more honest than supremacy. And then move from imagination all the way to new practice.

What happened in St. Louis, in Ferguson changed our imagination. Changed what we thought was possible inside the collective imagination. We have been fed up with living in a world in which a police officer can imagine himself in danger and kill our children, our spouses, our parents, our friends.

When I was in college, Amadou Diallo was killed in the Bronx, just north of my campus. As a young person, I was galvanized, politicized, shaped, scared, and I felt responsible for doing something urgently to stop this from being able to happen again. I cocreated a campus project called CPR – I can’t quite remember what it stood for, it was short-lived but it was a beginning of my path as an abolitionist. Now I see a generation awakened similarly by what happened here, and the way you all rose up to respond to it seven years ago this month.

We are most often moved onto the path of abolition, after being snatched into grief and uprising. Perhaps we watch the disparities, how our communities get locked up for things that white communities don’t. Perhaps we see how those who cause harm go into that system and come out with fewer options and more likelihood of needing to break a law to survive. When does it end? ‘When does it end?’ can be a question most clearly answered by the idea that it ends when we imagine what comes next. Abolition must absolutely be imagined as we begin to practice what comes next.

We imagine in part by remembering. Every single one of us, if we go back far enough, have ancestors indigenous to a place on this earth, or multiple places for those of us of multiple heritages. These ancestors predate colonization world-wide, and in a multitude of ways, they practiced being in relationship to every aspect of the earth and to each other, in responsible stewardship of land and life. For those of us who time and slavery and capitalism and the construct of whiteness have displaced from our original homes and peoples, we must reach to imagine how it might have felt to live this way. Most indigenous people alive today have to navigate and protect their long-held practices, and their literal land, against the pace and pressure of a modern world at odds with being in relationship. But we can all imagine some future-past which lives in our ancestral memory bag, which lives in our DNA. And when we struggle, we can actually find and follow indigenous leadership. A first step is to understand whose land you live on. I am in Detroit, on Anishnaabe territory. Anishnaabe organizers are active here, teaching me and others what they know and remember, and also sharing generously what they imagine through creative projects like the Adizookan.

We imagine in part by tasting our own aliveness. Audre Lorde wrote that once we experience our erotic aliveness, it becomes impossible to settle for less, for suffering and self-negation. For me, organizing to transform the conditions of injustice in the world was when I felt that aliveness, that tying in to something true, a connectedness that vibrates through my veins. We know this isn’t right. We know we aren’t meant to live in this perpetual state of war and stress and unmet needs and loneliness and lies. We can change this. Even before we have an intact political analysis we can feel that things must change, and we in small circles of humanity can change things.

Now, I sometimes imagine that each of us holds a distinct piece of our collective, liberated future within us, and it is only accessible as we liberate our own imaginations, and our truest selves, shaped by each of our particular ancestral and life experiences.

My work straddles the lines of science fiction, speculative fiction, and collaborative ideation.

Most science fiction answers three fundamental questions: What if, if only, and if this goes on. Social justice work answers the same questions as we dream together of a world in which we feel our miraculous lives matter, our freedom is non-negotiable, and we live lives that are satisfying and interdependent.

What if there were no prisons? What would you need to be able to do? Who would you need to be, to participate and be accountable and experience growth and consequences in that paradigm? I find it exciting to remember that there are places where there is no armed body making people obey – I got to travel to Costa Rica, a land with no ARMY, and I can attest that there is joy and there is community.

What if all children had access to the same resources of healthy meals, space to play and create, solid familial and community attachments, safety from physical emotional and sexual abuse, and quality education? What if they were not raised in an environment of emotionally or physically violent punishments, but tangible and nourishing consequences that grew their sense of responsibility for their behaviors and relationships?

What if we began life by getting to know ourselves outside of any preconceived identity-value construct (race, gender, class)? What would our Blackness feel like if it wasn’t primarily a site of shared trauma and forced resilience? What if the work we do in this generation makes it a smaller and smaller part of our history?

What if?

If only we learned democracy and consensus and collaboration as a practice from a young age, instead of just a theory we expect our government to practice with representatives in our place.
If only our police were not issued deadly weapons, but trained to mediate and intervene on harm.
If only we had a cooperative economy. If only we could liberate ourselves from scarcity thinking and practicing, had an abundance

If only.

If the movement for a just transition goes on, our species might be able to survive on earth and take root amongst the stars, a destiny Octavia gifted us with in her books the Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Talents.
If this abolitionist movement goes on, we will transform how humans relate to each other.
If movements for queer and trans justice go on, we will successfully break the restrictive and damaging construct of gender and hetero normative supremacy and actually get to experience the wide variety of love, life and pleasure that is most natural to us.

If this goes on.

What if.
If only.
If this goes on.

Right now, we are in a phase of history in which we are awakening our imaginations, and these questions help. We are articulating dreams to each other in which we matter. We are dreaming to each other that Black Lives Matter – and not just black straight ablebodied male lives, but black queer trans women’s and non binary disabled lives matter. We will say the names of these lives and we will take direct action and change policy until these lives matter to everyone.

I want to share a poem I wrote about this political moment. It’s called “this is not justice, this is respite”:

the first thing we could do was breathe,
together
a practitioner of breathlessness is guilty
(hallelujah hallelu!)
like, they said what we knew
(he looked surprised too)
that small alignment is so rare
it lays our contradictions bare
some hushing shout does move through the body as if (remember) we are one body but
it’s really chorus, we of so many minds
we feel so hollow
we feel such joy
we feel such rage
we feel our grief
we feel relief
all at once, in undulation
we cry out in celebration
and then catch a dissatisfied breath
this moment makes the moment we need possible but…but…
in the next breath world
he would be fathering right now
or high like the rest of us
inhaling aliveness, exhaling freedom
on a day that blended into a life
blessed to be unknown
in the next breath world
they would all be alive today
and the presence of that absence
casts a blur across the headline
it took so much burning of precincts, chaos, rage
screaming and defending and
terrifying the children and
combating every mistruth and
nauseous vulnerability and regret and pressure from so many precious lives already at risk
to get this guilty, guilty, guilty
we will praise up the collective tonight
we will lay gratitude for our warriors tonight
we will claim the hard-won territory tonight
tomorrow, we return to the fight
for even in our gasp of yes
with our need to grieve so desperate
we know
this is not justice
this is respite

Respite is going to save our lives. Rest is going to save our lives. And rest allows us to come down from the nonstop stressful urgency of now, to remember that we are also responsible for dreaming. We are concurrently dreaming a world in which all Black lives matter, and rape culture ends, and we reclaim our place on this planet, and we can hold each other accountable through love, mediation, boundaries and consequences.

My mentor Grace Lee Boggs used to always ask us ‘What time is it on the Clock of the world?” and right now my answer would be, we are in a phase of imagination, co-dreaming a world where our ‘what if’s and ‘if only’s get realized, and the patterns of harm cannot go on.

Imagining these futures, writing these stories, does not mean we know yet how to live into these dreams.

I have worked as a facilitator and mediator for over two decades and a huge portion of the disputes I have been asked to hold are rooted in us being angry at our mistakes or someone else’s, while unable to be accountable for those mistakes. The crises are urgent, but the transformation that emerges from radical imagination is still slow, relational, imperfect work. We are learning.

Earlier this year, I noticed that we are in a pattern of disposing of Black women leaders, and I felt the heartbreak of that, and at first it hurt too much to write. But then I wrote, and so much came out of me that i ended up sharing a piece called Disrupting the Pattern, in which I offered some things for us to consider as we learn to practice solidarity with each other, whether it’s with and amongst Black people, or across racially constructed lines with any other people fighting for right relationship to the earth and each other:

“Consider that whenever dehumanization is taking place, someone is benefiting from devaluing another person. Ask yourself who benefits from attacks on effective Black radical women? Who benefits from spotlighting conflict within movements that are changing material conditions for Black people?

Consider who benefits from you thinking that Black success and freedom is dangerous, and particularly that the success and freedom of Black women is dangerous.

Consider that this isn’t a new pattern.

Consider that social justice work is a place where most of us work for years for less than a living wage, subject to the whims of trend and philanthropy.

Consider, when you see the news of some perceived betrayal, some corruption of power, that the least likely option is that a Black woman who has given decades of her life to social justice work, to her people’s liberation, has turned on her own legacy, on us.

Consider that the lie is scarcity. The lie is that there isn’t enough for us to have abundant resources for our liberation work. The lie is that we can’t have multiple leaders shining simultaneously, moving divergent strategies. It’s a lie – we generate what we need and we are always moving divergent strategies.

Consider that there are ways to access abundance that don’t rely on attacking each other.

Consider that it is not an accident that a massively impactful social movement for Black liberation is under this scale of attack – it only looks personal. This is an attack on all our emergent, imperfect efforts for Black liberation.

Consider that you don’t have all of the information. We live in a social media world that profits from tawdry, salacious, divisive misinformation, where power is wielded by those most comfortable with distortion and manipulation. Consider that we don’t have to feed the beast that comes to eat those who inspire and lead us. Consider that this may not be your business, especially if you don’t have time to ask questions, investigate for something true, especially if you are only being asked to leap into judgment.

Consider how you want to be held when you are attacked for things you didn’t do. Consider how you want to be held accountable for things you did do. Do you want death threats, doxxing and other privacy violations, organized harassment and disposal, when it’s your turn? Cause if you plan to lead anything, your turn will come. So consider – what is principled struggle, principled critique, not just when you have a concern, but when you are the concern?

Consider that movement is not just a place of faith in the futures we are creating, but a place where we need to practice faith in each other, in our effort and our learning.

Consider that how you act or don’t act in this moment is part of setting a precedent for how movement responds to attacks on those who love us. If you won’t protect a Black leader from white supremacist attack because you also have critiques of or questions about how that leader’s movement work is unfolding, examine that. How does that align with the world you dream of?

Most of the leaders I look up to were attacked in their time, and might have been attacked in ours. The common thread amongst them is that they were driven by love for their people, our people, us. The work of the revolutionary is to transform everything that does not align with love, from the personal to the systemic.

Consider what love does in the face of dishonesty, faithlessness, and repression: love tells the truth. Love believes in our best selves. Love liberates us.

Consider that you should not feel afraid to love Black women leaders out loud. In the long run, what Audre Lorde taught us is still true: your silence will not protect you or anyone else. Love Black women leaders out loud wherever you see us attacked and dehumanized.

Love invites us home, love says we belong, unconditionally.

Love does not demand our perfection, because none of us have that – love sees the effort we have made on behalf of our people, our species. They are home.

A huge part of my racial justice work is being in solidarity and loving myself in my own Black story and Black offer, which I know takes nothing away from all the other Black brilliance in the world, but increases its abundance. I love myself and claim my eternal place in movements for liberation. I have made and will make mistakes. I will still be liberation bound.

If you feel moved to practice this solidarity of which I speak, repeat after me:

I love you, Black woman.
I love you, organizer.
I will not engage in gossip about you.
I will not stand by quietly while you are attacked.
I will practice solidarity with you, for you, at your side and all around you.
I am committed to your freedom.”

Thank you for that.

In closing I will offer that yes, I imagine a world in which we are liberated. And before that, I imagine a world in which we deeply honor the work that we all do towards that liberation, even if we don’t agree on the methods. But I see so much more than just the state of freedom – I know my dream is not a destination, but a practice that will be ongoing. Because after imagination comes ideation – how do we bring these dreams into ideas of structure and policy and agreement? How do we move from air to earth?

And then once we have these ideas in place, we move into iteration – what do we stop practicing and what do we start practicing?

I am aware of how so much of what I imagine – liberation from the cycles of harm and supremacy, being in relationships of sovereignty and safety in our bodies and on our planet, letting love being a guide to how we understand everything from identity to economy – these imaginings may still seem peculiar and strange…queer. So i want to share the first words of Emergent Strategy, a quote from Ella Baker. ““This may only be a dream of mine, but I think it can be made real.”

Distinguished and Singing

yesterday was a big day for me!

i released an EP, a small odd intimate music project of songs and a story written during my sabbatical over beats my friend J-Mythos created. it’s called The Sabbatical Suite and it’s on streaming services. my general approach to my music has been that i write and sing it every day, occasionally share snippets, and dream of making a massive musical project where i get to build the soundscape from the ground up. this is my small step in the direction of learning my singer self in public.

i was also honored to be the IHR Distinguished Lecturer at Arizona State University yesterday, and i wanted to share an excerpt from my talk notes here because i am interested in these questions on identity, community and belonging. the full speech is available here.

more and more i think of myself as a ‘scholar of belonging’, which is an idea that emerged in conversation with my friend and teacher Prentis Hemphill.

how do we belong to this place, this planet, this species, this family, this love, this friendship, this body, this community?

i think, especially for those of us with a lineage of displacement, forced displacement, economic displacement, from the lands that we were indigenous to – we need to rediscover belonging.

in somatics and embodiment work we learn that the most basic humans needs are safety, dignity and belonging. we try belonging in so many ways – in family, religious spaces, hobbies or shared fandom, and definitely we show up in movement expecting belonging. movements need to be spaces that get good at belonging, cultivating belonging, because we want to be an invitation, and we want to be a sanctuary, and we want to be a space that can hold and grow the future.

this thought occurred to me last night while rereading all about love by bell hooks. i’m reading it aloud with my fiancé (yes to cocreating liberated relationship!) and we’re in chapter 8, on community. as we read hooks’ exploration of why we don’t know how to really do community, i had two ahas.

one: we need to give bell hooks so many more flowers and awards and donations.

two:

right now, people are confusing identity with community, and finding no satisfaction in either place.

identity (racial, class, sexual, etc) is often, initially, externally defined, a label for distinction, a construct developed for supremacy and oppression, a practice of compartmentalizing a whole complex miraculous person into one aspect of themselves which can be marked off with a check box.

identity is often quite binary, asking us to answer yes or no about aspects of ourselves that are much more complex, dynamic and spectrum-oriented than that.

lately i have been thinking that every binary i can think of, applied to humans, is conservative – good/bad, right/wrong, boy/girl. conservative meaning, trying to control and constrict nature, deny complexity, make rigid what is fluid. we have to survive and reclaim ourselves from most identities.

now – we are a resilient species on a resilient earth, and earth species are all programmed to adapt, so many of us have ended up finding ways to experience joy and power within these identities, claiming them as suits of armor within which we fight for our freedom.

some of us feel, deeply or briefly, a sense of belonging within specific identities.

being Black, for many of us, means having unspeakable trauma at our backs, having been wrenched from our ancestral and tribal homelands, languages, songs, the earth we knew, and surviving ten, twelve generations of torture, misery, violence, rape, child loss, and dehumanization. somewhere inside of that we claimed each other across history and language and cultural distinctions. (and being honest, its still never been an unconditional love situation).

we aren’t the only peoples who were collapsed into an identity by shared experiences of trauma and external reduction.

at minimum, identity can be a crucial space from which to organize across shared experience.

but identity doesn’t equal, or promise, community.

community is a place to practice and participate in care, attention, knowing and being known, being protected, having room to make mistakes and still belong…not just allowed to be there, but be valuable…to heal. to recover. community feels responsible for each other.

community is a choice. more precisely, community is an accumulation of choices made every day, a set of growing practices.

we can have community that is drawn together based on shared identity – BOLD (Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity) is that for me. but it only works because it allows a wide ranging space for us to be in our own Black experiences without negating each other. and because it centers around naming and healing trauma together, while actively changing material conditions, learning together through political education, and delighting in the pleasure of being together.

most of us long for community. we expect and sometimes demand it from those with whom we share identity.

but who teaches us how to…community?

bell hooks examines this at the realm of family, where there are so many assumptions and so few skills.

in school we might get lucky enough to have teachers who can help us learn community skills, but they’re being paid to teach us to score well on tests. and to compete with each other. we are being trained to be capitalists – to compete, in a system of scarcity, to be better than each other to access resources to meet our basic human needs. octavia speaks of this in lilith’s brood as our fatal human flaw, our combination of intelligence and hierarchy. so we aren’t guaranteed to learn how to be in community in schools.

the internet is confusing cause we can feel like we are generating belonging there…and we can practice community there, but it’s also a space where we can get super mixed up about what we mean by community, how we understand and navigate identity, and how we answer the need for belonging amongst strangers – even if we are somewhat intimate strangers.

then there’s our organizations…some of us call them family hoping for belonging, but, just like in family spaces, we don’t necessarily learn to navigate the things that will shake our foundations and split us apart. we break each other’s hearts trying to practice community there, and in our larger movement formations.

in our formations we are ostensibly trying to generate belonging and community through shared analysis and practice, but we often end up trying to one up each other for unnamed social power, policing each other, pointing at each other’s imperfections, shortcomings, misalignments. simultaneous to these internal struggles, we are also struggling for survival because we are pitched against each other for what we’re told are limited resources. for the most part, the philanthropy that funds movement work has not supported belonging…

when i look at movements, and at humans in general, i see how deeply we want belonging, but how we are trained to use every breath to not belong to each other.

then we land in spaces of identity, which are massive – Black, immigrant, tran, queer, disabled, woman, southern – spaces which are too broad and divergent to actually offer and sustain belonging for the individuals within.

that longing for belonging can then grow toxic: ‘i don’t feel heard, or seen. someone is going to see me, even if i have to throw a tantrum or cause harm to get attention.’

we get in a loop – ‘my identity is under attack’, or being ignored! or being coopted! or just…has it the worst!

then everyone shows up in vague but righteous solidarity, maybe we change how we speak of that identity…but do we see a change of any behaviors?

the rash of crimes and hateful acts against people who share the identity of Asian, and trans, and Black, and immigrant, and sex worker, and and and…it’s spreading. its ubiquitous now to hear about identity-based harm.

and when we most need each other, even within ‘movement’ spaces, our internal attacks on each other, our intolerance with each other’s failures, is also on the rise. our fragility in the realm of connection is the highest i’ve seen, right when our need for interdependence and being aligned with something larger than ourselves is…desperate.

deep breath, this is the water we’re swimming in.

on every level, the answer is community.

both community for those identities under attack – we have to get in or deepen how we are in community with each other. we combat regressive, conservative, narrow thinking, the racism and white supremacy and stereotypes, at the level of community – that’s where we can be accountable to each other, intervene on harmful thinking and action.

we also have to know that community is the answer for traumatized and lost people causing harm. and it’s easier to say: no – those flawed disruptive, damaged people? they don’t belong to me. to us. but this is how we end up complicit in a prison system. someone, someone has to be willing to be in community, accountability, responsibility with those who fall out of alignment with their own spiritual growth, and with the collective. someone has to stay curious about the roots of harm, and what dissatisfaction, what longing, what trauma, is at the root of the harm?

these are different communities, or different components within a community. every identity or multi-identitied grouping needs to cultivate actual community.

as we heal, as we regain our humanity, what we all need is community. with these things which currently have us split from each other, we need to remove what is toxic at the level of belief and behavior, not at the level of the individual.

we have to imagine these open, festering wounds as clean scars, markings of something we learned from, and outgrew. let capitalism, and patriarchy, and supremacy, let it all become scars on our healing, collective body.

fortunately there are communities developing resources around these things. (donate, buy their resources, reference and cite them!)

the embodiment institute

just practice

BOLD

bay area transformative justice center: pods!

M4BL

the body is not an apology

esii mediation resource

oh great mystery (a prayer to the blue moon on the day of the dead)

oh great mystery (a prayer to the blue moon on the day of the dead)

[read out loud to make into spell, or listen to me read with a lit candle]

oh great mystery
we need your help right now
for we are in an impossible situation
which we must survive

our nation is caught up in conspiracy theories
demons and superiority weaken the mind
and we have so many people who would rather
dominate than do their share of societal labor
how do we break the tie of slavery
oh universe we need your help
help to clear the vision of those who cannot see
the dazzling nature of existence in each being

we have those who have turned from the earth
our only home. our only viable home.
they treat her and all who can produce life as machines
to make without ceasing what they then take without hesitation, gratitude or gentleness
how do we break the tie of slavery
oh universe we need your help
help us honor the places where abundant life blooms
protect the consent and agency and song of earth

there are so many who have felt the explosive power of death in their hands, in their bodies, in their imaginations
they roam amongst us, armed; crash into humans praying with their bodies to be deemed worth protection from our most abusive relationship: our nation
how do we break the tie of slavery
how do we quell the addiction to blood and completion
to power that breaks bones and opens flesh
help us relinquish the pleasure of violence

oh great mystery
oh great change which has a commitment to moving towards life
we struggle with humility and now i see i should have started with my heart on the ground
pulsing against gravity, in supplication
it isn’t that i doubt your resilience
only that i see how you might have concluded that we no longer wish to be a part of your constant changes and the magic of spring, so long have we hibernated in ignorance and isolation
so universe here i want to whisper to you what has been flowing through my veins
i want to live, i want to want to live
i want us to live, i want us to want to live

all who can love the cherry blossom,
the glorious fire of fall,
the three eggs opening to chirping children,
the magnificence of storms,
the electric tapestry of mycelium,
the persistence of the succulent in my winter window
all who can love the song of humpback motherwhales,
the rush of a room full of people telling their favorite memories,
the drum beat of a child gleefully chasing her dreams upstairs, the laughter of humans not performing
all who can love their own perfect bodies after a lifetime of being told they are flawed,
all who can blurt out their heartache before it becomes a weapon,
all who can say yes and no and mean it,
all who fumble at every turn but are still worthy of love and connection and being held and forgiveness and patience and one more chance

universe i, we, surrender to whatever chance you will give us
universe i, we, trust that we cannot know everything about the divine nature of change and how discomfort is what presses us into pearl and bursts us out of seed and shell and cocoon
and perhaps you are helping us to see how tight and breakable our current iteration is
and i am saying and singing that i see it
yes i feel the claustrophobic nature of our current ways of thinking
and i surrender to more, we surrender to more.
we pray that you open the way to us, with us,
the way that seems impossible with all the corruption and closed hearts and systemic denial of miracles
and even, quite frankly, the willful stupidity of reason and emotion

but we small and mighty choose life, choose this life
we choose the struggle of navigating dissonance and finding rhythm
we choose the brick winters and the terror of letting the child walk to school alone and even the nightmares that remind us how much we love sunrise
we pray today for sunrise
we pray today for tomorrow,
we pray for generations beyond terror
we pray today for memory,
for every single person to remember back through their lineage
all the way to when yours was the only voice they knew
guide us all in your way, weave us back into the tapestry,
let us be earthseed
let us be earthseed
let us be earthseed
again

*thank you Octavia Butler for earthseed, and Lucille Clifton for the reminder to listen to what comes before dawn

Octavia Tried to Tell Us

the other day i had the honor of being the fifth guest in the Octavia Tried to Tell Us series, hosted by Monica Coleman and my teacher-friend Tananarive Due!

here is the full video if you want to watch it!

here are some highlights of what i shared that were posted on social media:

we’re in a very parable time.

if you’re feeling numb, dig into that feeling. numb leads to overwhelmed. overwhelmed leads to rage. rage leads to heartbreak. heartbreak leads to something’s gotta change. don’t give up on pursuing yourself.

Organize as if we’re going to be here a long time. Not as if we’re only going to be here until tomorrow.

This is an immense time to pivot into the kind of community you want to be in, and articulate it.

We do know how to care for each other and ourselves when we are given a little room. ritual, song, circle, conflict resolution, healing, staggering, rest, etc. WILL emerge in community given the right space.

people creating togetherness in this moment is a form of creating, a form of art.

“How do I help?”…”Take yourself seriously as someone who has the destiny to help.”

you’re not late to the movement. whenever you get here, you made it.

There are some things you can teach, but there are some things you can only learn through experience.

Ask yourself, how do I break my relationship with capitalism today? When I feel I’m satisfied, I don’t need to buy anything. When I feel, generosity emerges.

There’s power in giving ourselves permission to be the one to imagine the next phase…what am I contributing to what comes next?

A major city is defunding the police? It’s now done. You can’t tell me it can’t be done.

So much of emergent strategy is being able to let go of what’s no longer working. If an experiment fails, you don’t double down on the experiment. The experiment of policing has failed. It’s time to imagine something new – a system that values ALL BLACK LIVES.

Thoughts on sabbatical and unplugging: ‘It’s not that I’m not needed, but that my rest is ok.’

We want to create a culture where it’s irresistible to do the right thing. Let’s make it culturally unacceptable for Trans lives not to matter’.

Part of rejecting white supremacy is rejecting Black respectability.

Nature says each of these lives is miraculous, and can never be created again. Each of these breaths is miraculous.

With the trendy BLM posts shared by corporations, we can see these cynically of course, but also as a culture shift – now we have something we can hold these companies accountable to. Capitalism doesn’t get to claim our work. WE are the ones shifting the culture.

and here is the big announcement i made at the end:

On June 22 (Octavia E Butler’s birthday) we are launching Octavia’s Parables!

It’s a podcast with Toshi Reagon and myself going chapter by chapter thru both (all three!) parableswith summaries, analysis, questions to address in community, and original music.

Patreon.com/oparables
twitter.com/oparables

a telepathic communion with dino

amb: dino?

dino?

i’m trying telepathy to reach you because a lot is going on that i could use some ancient insight on. and frankly i don’t know when i’ll be allowed in the chicago airport again.

dino: i’m here.

amb: wow! wow i feel you!

dino (smiling): i’m always available. but if i explained how, it might mess up our whole thing.

amb: like i told santa, i choose the magic.

dino: every time. so. are you here to tell me where the masses have gone?

amb: you noticed?

dino: i almost exclusively see in patterns these days. the river is a stream, the stream becoming a drizzle.

me: there’s a virus. it passes with no symptoms, hides inside us for two weeks, and it’s bigger than our healthcare system.

dino: nefarious. everywhere?

amb: at first it wasn’t, but now it really is. so we’re all staying home to try and slow it down while we find cures, vaccines, face masks, ventilators. thousands of people are dying.

dino: i’m so sorry to hear that.

amb, hesitant: is it our asteroid, dino?

dino, pausing a moment: you’re really scared, huh.

amb: terrified.

dino: but…isn’t this your thing? change, apocalypse? the collapse of capitalism? right relationship to the earth?

amb: totally. but i don’t want to lose the people i love. and i can’t make everyone stay home – i’ve tried. and i don’t want to die yet.

dino takes a deep breath.

dino: it’s hard when death comes in big waves. so much grief all at once.

amb: and for what? earth is getting this brief moment of respite, respiration. but so many bosses are still endangering their workers and plotting ways to capitalize this crisis. is this the end of capitalism, or the beginning of global authoritarian rule, or extinction, or liberation? what are we meant to learn?

dino: woah. hey now. it generally doesn’t help to make too much meaning of things that are still unfolding. from within the storm, vision is limited. and you, my friend, you and your species are in the storm.

amb: but deeper meaning helps me get thru the hard parts of life.

dino: hmmm.

amb: i need something to control. a narrative will do in absence of order, safety. i think i’ll become useless without meaning. the grief. the fear, anxiety, suspicion, sinophobia. the blur of my empathetic self feeling everything. i need something to root in to.

dino: i feel your chaos. perhaps instead of meaning, it’s time to revisit destiny.

amb: “the destiny of earthseed is to take root amongst the stars.”

dino: mmmm!

amb: octavia butler wrote that.

dino: she was always nice to me.

amb: that’s amazing. i have been rethinking her destiny. or, our way of understanding it.

dino: say more.

amb: i always thought it purely meant space travel. but she struggled with sequels, because no world she found in her imagination was as right for us as earth. and on earth, we are amongst the stars, here and now. this is a perfect home spinning in space. we may even be celestial to someone else.

dino, mulling it over: hmmmmmmm.

amb: i think we need to root here. re-root. choose here.

dino: perhaps. or maybe all of this, this way of being – on earth or in space – just isn’t your destiny. meaning, maybe human destiny isn’t the most important thing.

amb, sad eyes: now you say more.

dino: i often think that we are all experiments of an earth figuring out her destiny. she likes living things. she likes sentient creatures that love and make family and eat. in our experiment, she learned she wanted a species that could look up to the stars, defend her from asteroids.

amb: oh wow. so…our experiment could be teaching her to not let evil people accumulate all the power and money?

dino, chuckling: perhaps.

amb: or?

dino: perhaps it’s just time to see how what you call evil, what i call wrong relationship, how that can spread, can disconnect a species from its future.

amb: right. it’s like the virus itself, invisible. but making the wrong structures and systems and beliefs so visible.

dino: we can never teach how evil a thing is better than it will show us itself, with time.

amb: but it’s in all of us. or most, to varying degrees. this i, i, i, exceptionalism.

dino: hm.

amb: sorry. i want to let in new perspective. it’s just that all the problems are so big. and intertwined. and i’m supposed to be one of the ‘hopeful’ ones.

dino: what was that?

amb: what?

dino: that…tone. you sound…

amb: sharp? ugh. sorry – that happens when i’m trying to be funny but i feel something else. sad. scared. grief.

dino: ah humans. tone is the tip of your internal icebergs.

quiet together for a while.

dino: tell me something. can you imagine being sad and scared and still feeling hopeful?

amb: it’s hard.

dino: can i offer something?

amb: please.

dino: it’s not an asteroid.

amb, shoulders dropping: oh.

dino: hope, hopefulness, that’s the realm of the survivors. it’s not too late for y’all. grief shows us what we love, what we most want to protect. it swallows everything extraneous. and so much of what you love is still here. and tomorrow is another miraculous opportunity to change, to protect it.

amb: dang dino.

dino: ha. i guess i’ve been a little scared too. i don’t want you to give in, give up.

amb, hugging dino’s telepathic neck for a good cry.

dino, gently, into amb’s telepathic hair: we’re all rooting for you, you know. all the extinct ones. we’re all at your backs. you humans have so much beauty in you.

amb, sniffly: there is so much superhumanity and kindness and humility and change happening. and humor. and dancing online across all borders. and caretaking. and new kinds of honesty. and heroic communal isolation. and choosing to protect the future.

dino: very good. that’s life. grieve like the trees in october. but don’t forget you are nature, and spring is certain.

amb: i am glad to know we can be together in this way.

dino: me too. isolated is one perspective of this moment. deeply connected is another.

amb: love you dino.

dino: love you too.

build as we fight: remarks from the 2019 American Studies Association Annual Meeting

my friend and comrade Scott Kurashige is the president of the American Studies Association, and this year he very kindly invited me to be the artist-in-residence, which meant that I got to do lots of sessions and offers for folks who I am amazed might be interested in my work. my offers here have so far included an emergent strategy workshop, a pleasure activism workshop, singing the Black national anthem to open Scott’s presidential address, and a panel with three of my life teachers, Angela Davis, Robin Kelly and Shea Howell. today I get to do one more panel with some of my favorite speculative fiction thinkers and creators.

the workshops went well, I got to test out new forms for offering the content and got great feedback.

here is the song:

IMG_8310

and here are the notes for my remarks at the panel “build as we fight”, most of which I said roughly like this (I’ll italicize things I wrote but don’t think I spoke aloud):

hi. my name is adrienne maree brown and I’m nervous. it’s delightful to feel this nervous, this alive.

after two days of making academics get in small groups and feel feelings and cry and discuss nakedness, I caught on to the ASA way and I have written up some thoughts to read to you.

I want to tell you about a few ahas, ways I am moving towards the future, and about what building as we fight looks like in my life, thru my lens as a facilitator of Black liberation movements for justice.

my lens is shaped by the Anishanaabe land I fell in love with over a decade ago, also known as Detroit, the post motor city, where it feels like a modern Black Renaissance is unfolding as an artist-led insurgence against gentrification.

I’m shaped by Grace Lee Boggs, who I initially resisted, cause everyone loved and worshipped her, and I mostly recoil at heroes, celebrities and worship. But then we spoke, and I kept coming back. Grace taught me to ‘transform myself to transform the world’, and to keep working a question as long as it took, because some questions are longer than one lifetime.

I’m shaped by her beloved Jimmy, who was gone by the time I got to Detroit, but also present in everything, was everywhere. He reminds me often that I’m nothing outside of relationship, never to let the celebrity so available in capitalism keep me from being in authentic and accountable relationship to real people, to use any platform I have to advance ideas generated and tested by collective formations.

I’m shaped by Scott Kurashige and Emily Lawson, by Shea Howell – who taught me to foment revolution on the detroit river. And Malik Yakini and Feed’em Freedom Growers and the Peace Circles and Detroit Summer.

and by Octavia Butler, the no nonsense prophet who used science fiction to deliver her visions. And Toni Morrison, Samuel Delaney and Nalo Hopkinson, Walter Mosley, and Tananarive Due, all the black speculative fiction writers who bent and bend the world into fractals of truth and justice to help us see ourselves.

and by Margaret Wheatley and Janine Benyus, women studying complexity science. We are also complex science, we are also nature.

I’m shaped by Harriet Tubman, who was willing to go and make a space for those hungry for freedom, those not quite ready to make a run for it without invitation, leadership, path and proof.

I’m shaped by the Tao the ching, which says to let the mud settle into the way is clear. to trust the people. and that mastery is when the collective can feel it’s own power.

and by Audre Lorde, who validated my black queer poetic and erotic aliveness as a measure of political power. And bell hooks with love and rigor, and Toni Cade Bambara with irresistibility and Barbara Ransby showing me that facilitation was radical through Ella bakers legacy.

and of course, of course Angela Davis who has pushed me to understand freedom and justice beyond the carceral state, and Robin DG Kelly, who has widened the lens with which I understand our moment in black history.

and there are so many more. so if it sounds familiar, or like worship, it is.

my first big aha was visionary fiction, offered in a collection of science fiction from social justice movements coedited by myself and Walidah Imarisha called Octavia’s Brood. When I told Grace about this work, she casually dropped that she had tried visionary fiction in the 1970s, and pointed me to the shelf where I could find a copy of it. she thought ‘it could be interesting’.

we who believe in freedom must build our muscle of imagination. because we are living in, and only sometimes surviving, an imagination battle –

who imagined this world?
this absence of right relationship to earth?
this violent addiction to dominating each other?
these myths of superiority of those with pale skin or external sex organs or bodies without kinks in the bones, or born on this side of manmade, and cruelly held, borders?
who imagined that these prison bars on jails and schools would generate safety?
who imagined a generation or more would tolerate this black and brown hunger? and this allowance that some will hunger while others feast, not oblivious, but willfully, and structurally, ignorant?

in the face of this world, this moment, where self definition outside of oppression can feel impossible, we must strengthen our capacity to live and create and affirm and vision outside the white male straight able-bodied citizen gaze, to structure our visions beyond their limited, often self-worshipping imaginations.

or the educated imagination.

any emotion-less, arrogant, vengeful imagination.

we need our own oceanic visions.

socialization of the dominance of white imagination and fantasy creates what toni morrison called “interior pain”.

we must counteract by creating an abundance of interior freedom, and weaving collective freedom dreams, dreams that include all of us, dreams we can speak to each other plainly, or poetically (or as y’all speak to each other, which I’m trying to comprehend).

Dreams as complex as a black owned food cooperative in right relationship with indigenous land lineage, or the community land trust, two projects seeding in Detroit after twenty plus years of experimenting with solutions. We are living science fiction – all organizing is science fiction.

my next big aha was, is, emergent strategy.

emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of relatively simple interactions. emergent strategies are informed by complexity, by learning from nature how to be in right relationship with each other and the earth.

Grace exposed me to Margaret Wheatley and complex science theory as a movement direction. I went fast into learning and I’m still going.

as we fight we must also harness each lesson to learn how to get in right relationship with change.

we must build dialectically, committed to learning with each other more than stagnating in a point of view.

as we fight we must build our fractal capacity, meaning solutions that we practice at a small scale, that will work at any scale (as opposed to solutions we demand at a large scale but no one, or very few people, practice, ever – democracy, abolition).

we need solutions that work for a small band of survivors in an apocalypse bunker if that’s what humanity will be up to for a while, a more and more likely scenario each day. we need to be raising up and becoming humans who have the communications skills, imagination muscle and loving care to make a life worth living at a small, hyper-local scale.

or the scale of municipality, if we can breathe above ground but we can’t fly or drive to each other every other day.

or the scale of instantaneous transporter travel and sky highways and alien technology if that happens first. or the octopuses start talking to us. it’s all equally possible.

one of these fractal skills is what cabral spoke of as revolutionary democracy – trusting the people to learn self governance. many of us are terrified to govern, much more comfortable with critiquing what is than with creating and practicing what will be.

start small. democratize your home, your relationship with your neighbor, with your lover, with your family. if we can’t budget together, we can’t be mad that our government struggles to.

movement generation, also a great teacher of mine, defines economy as the management of home. how do we manage collective home together? how do we contribute to a collective home that is resilient in constantly changing conditions?

at each level, our natural world teaches us that we build the resilience by building relationships, proliferating aligned differences. we need critical connections not just between those who think the same thing, but between different skill sets, worldviews, cultures and, yes, politics.

Loretta Ross teaches us that “a group of people thinking the same thing and moving in the same direction is a cult. a group of people thinking many different things and moving in the same direction is a movement.”

we need to harness the most successful strategies of the natural world – the symbiotic biodiversity, the interdependent fecundity, the abundance mindset of mushrooms and dandelions, the shapeshifting adaptation of multisexed frogs, the collaborative pheremonal effort of ants, the iterative beauty of ferns and deltas and galaxies.

if attended to, and learned from in an ongoing way, these critical connections to each other and to our nature are what make critical mass solid enough not just to demand change, but to become change.

we must go beyond calling for abolition, and build our tolerance for, and practice of, transformative justice.

at an intimate level, I do kitchen table mediation, bringing movement leaders going through a breakup or break down to sit together and remember what is larger than us.

at a collective level I facilitate principled struggle – a Marxist conflict framework by way of N’Tanya Lee at LeftRoots – helping people to have integrity to movement even in personal beef, to struggle for the sake of deeper understanding (not just to be right), to be responsible for our own feelings and actions, to find the right container for our gifts and longings and to release containers that cannot hold us, to seek deeper understanding before writing the critical commentary or instigating the debate or tweeting the complaint. to gossip and vent, yes, we are human – but keep returning with integrity to the work we can and must do together.

in this moment, we can spend a lot of time tracking every crack in the shell, or we can be the chaos that tremors those cracks open, or we can be the wild creature learning to breathe inside that shell, preparing to burst thru, expanding beyond the boundary of what most people think is reality. it’s all construct.

what we can be and do depends on the rigor of our collective attention. are we obsessing over what we cannot change, or nourishing what we can touch and grow – or as Octavia taught us, shape, partner with?

my final offer to build while we fight is pleasure activism.

we must build a felt sense in ourselves of authentic satisfaction. and remember that pleasure is not a frivolous spoil of luxury, but a measure of aliveness, the life force that has been whittled away, stolen away, by oppression and colonization and capitalism. we must break with the assumption of misery that does not serve us.

we are responsible for building movements that feel good to enter and good to stay in. in my work facilitating the movement for black lives, I have continuously asked these current and future shapers of history to turn towards each other (when it felt like there was no time for it), care about each other, sing 90s r&b together, and risk loving each other.

to organize this way means we must remember how to feel. we are not minds alone, strategies and speeches alone. we have multiple kinds of intelligence to draw on. we must learn to tolerate feeling both discomfort and delight, sadness and celebration, more than just fear and submission.

and to love. to be loyal to love, as grace was to jimmy for their life together and for the years after she left. to love the way she did, for us to look at each other the way grace looked at jimmy’s face on that little video of jimmy she played every day.

ultimately we need to feel and heal and grow and love ourselves into movements that birth not just rock stars or temporary victory based campaigns or cultural pendulum swings, but new worlds. movements that can see our future dissolution (rather than permanent institutionalization) not because we outsmarted each other, but because we forget how to lose. and we win by surrendering to our collective purpose, to being life moving towards life, surviving and thriving together. we win only by getting in right relationship, before we go extinct.

lessons from a lunar eclipse

(i am a cheap expert on the stars – at some point i stopped buying gossip magazines and put my attention on stars that felt more authentic and reliable, more capable of holding the weight of my projections. i now say things about the stars and other celestial bodies with gravitas, but i am often corrected by my smarter friends. this caveat is to say that what follows is all feeling more than knowing.)

last night was a lunar eclipse and a super wolf blood full moon, aka a bloody howling supreme lunar happening. i learned (at the intersection of multiple websites and listening to what others learned on the internet) that it’s about truly letting go of patterns that don’t serve, about release at the level of system, about making room for something that cannot coexist with that shriveled up rotten moldy crusty whatever that i am dragging along behind me. time to kondo my soul.

so i looked up and i listened for what it is time to release. i learned some things in the watching that feel like clues, if not answers.


(howling bloody lunar wow, rural mn, 1/20/19 11:16pm)

– the moon eclipsed in shadow is gray, quiet, murky, briefly reddish. it looks like it is resting. i am reminded of its passive, orbital nature.

– the moon is not doing anything. not covering up, not unveiling, not demanding. unlike me, the moon’s life isn’t much changed by brief and total shadow.

– to us humans, the moon eclipsed in shadow is dramatic headline material with awesome names…even though it was more dazzling an hour before in super bright fullness. why are we so drawn to the drama of reduced light?

– the body that casts the shadow is not made of shadow. it’s just earth. i often think this is the case between humans…one complex system casts shadows or shines light on another, while being neither darkness nor light.

– but when you’re looking up at something that hurts, it can look like a shadow monster. back lit, broken, the illusion can be confusing. this makes me think that i don’t believe in monsters amongst humans. i believe in shattered spirits, and in souls that get stuck/lost in shadow, and then want to shadow everything.

– this is why, as a mediator, i choose space over punishment every time. space to stop harm, space to look at, release and claim our own shadows.

– and i choose love over pain when i can. pain doesn’t stop or resolve pain. love is what heals – love of self, love from others who see the shadows, love of how we survive. love invites us to occupy the universe, not just some cage of our worst moments.

– i can’t ignore that i am in the martin luther king jr holiday season, reflecting on love, at the edge of saying only light can drive out the darkness you can’t carry. but of course. he was a moon, he held brightness.

– i have been thinking a lot about how to make distinctions between beings and our behavior. in real time, how can i not get confused between the who and the how?

– and, if a being is committed to a certain behavior, and that behavior casts shadows, what are the options? we are not in orbit, we do not have to continue the dance. sometimes we must ask each other to move in massive ways, sometimes we must go around the sun to get to the light, sometimes we are unable.

– you may have noticed i identify with the moon, even though i’m part of the shadow on her face tonight. my work as a facilitator/mediator is often that deep reflection. what beauty is in this darkness? how much light can you handle being? look how bright you are. but always half dark, or more.

– i am generally comfortable holding the dark. i believe it is the balance of light and dark that makes our world miraculous and dynamic. and since light is the anomaly of this universe, perhaps we all need to be comfortable with/in the dark.

– i hold brightness, too. but i think it’s a reflective work, catching and sharing the light of sun creatures like octavia butler, grace lee boggs, audre lorde, ursula le guin, mlk, toni cade bambara and other bright beaming beings. as i write that, i can also see how they caught and shared the light of their teachers. some light is as old as the tao, some as old as a humanish god. and some light is much older than that.

– this moon is telling me to notice every shadow on my face, accept my own darkness, emerge from any shadow that isn’t mine, surrender to the cycle of light and dark, and, when my time comes, be unapologetically bright.


(superfull af moon through branches, 1/21/19, 6:48am)

final letter to Ursula le Guin (sent the day after your departure)

first, a few excerpts from our correspondence, which will be published in the Ursula le Guin Science Fiction and Social Justice Reader this year.

1.
amb: How does imagination help our species survive?
 
UKL: It is through imagination that we think intelligently about what we’ve done, are doing, and should do.

2.
amb: did you ever spend time with Octavia?

UKL: We met only two or three times…She was an extraordinary person, both formidable and lovable.  I always felt she was larger than life, if you know what I mean.

3.
amb: Thanks for your life’s work!
 
UKL: You’re very welcome! I have enjoyed it very much.

C70C7811-F76B-48E3-9FE2-1FAC0B3A48F9

a relationship with a beloved writer can be a very selfish place. you are alone with them, building an understanding of the world through their eyes and some intimate pairing of imaginations – they paint the worlds but all of it happens inside you. i tried to write something more epic and universal, and i trust that will come. but first i wanted to write a letter to her that was about how she shaped me.

dear Ursula,

great teacher.

great spirit.

i’ve been crying since i got the news of your passing, and also feeling very alive.

i got to live at the same time as you.

and i get the honor of grieving you.

there are thoughts and ideas you wrote down that became beliefs for my whole life, marking posts on the journey of freeing myself.

there are questions you asked that changed the way i could think.

many of us don’t get to experience grandparents who can accept us whole. for me you were one of the adults who stepped into that yawning space, who joined the composite of my dream elder.

you let me know i may be in the wrong universe, but i am not wrong, i am not impossible.

you not only matched and fed my queer unorthodox mind, but pushed me further. on relationships and sex alone you had me consider: what about four-way marriage? what about gender as a responsive switchy sexual state that was otherwise nonexistent? what about instead of a period you just had a monthly sexual overdrive and a special place to go orgy for that time?

i am a lucky one – i got to tell you to your face that you were everything – and you were gracious about it.

i am still creating a project about your work. in researching it i became fascinated by you, your abundant correspondence, your art and poetry connected to the worlds you created, your fierce letters to local editors about tree removals, your loves and flirtations.

i still want to read everything. it feels impossible in the best way.

writers cast themselves out to the world with words, so that now you feel fully dispersed more than gone. you were so generous with your gifts. and you were rare – both prolific and genius. so many genius words!

the worlds you wrote increased my trust that white people could imagine something beyond their own supremacy. and that capitalism could be out imagined, like monarchy.

even when i did not seek you, you were there.

when i learned to meditate, you’d left me a framework.

when i fell in love with the Tao, i could turn to your translation.

when i wanted amazing fiction for all my nibblings, you had a series on flying cats.

when i needed to stand up for something, feeling alone in my dignity, you told me about the ones who walk away from a utopia dependent on someone else’s suffering.

when i lost hope in this world, you offered me a plethora of fully formed universes to learn from. you even gave me multiple options for moving between universes, both distant and parallel.

when some aspect of humanity felt beyond my comprehension or compassion, i found books you had written twenty years before that not only opened my heart, opened the possible in me, but generated desire for that specific difference.

when i wondered if imagination could be necessary for revolution and transformation, you said yes, you said our dreams and visions matter, they are the way we make oppression temporary.

88 years. i wanted more. you are that kind of human.

even as i sit in my grief for you, you guide me, you remind me that you are not absent, but complete.

“true journey is return.”

love
amb

BE9CAC95-193C-4B4D-8788-DA1E73A22215
from the new yorker’s piece “the fantastic Ursula le Guin”

the parables: an ecstatic review

today i saw the Parable of the Sower opera.

it is the work of my beloved ancestor-teacher Octavia Butler in the hands of Toshi Reagon, begun as a collaboration with her mother Bernice Johnson Reagon. Dr Reagon is now retired, but her sonic fingerprints are all over the piece that continues to grow.

F092A7AB-3691-4F34-8443-3C38E90A4D8F

today as i watched it, Octavia’s family and her incredible agent were in the audience. i got to meet them after, for which i am grateful.

C44AA8D4-A79F-4847-9A1F-AC833D979F06

i saw the opera years ago in an earlier iteration. i remember loving the music then, in the dark, in a circle of voices.

today it was in a theater, packed, and it opened with the sweet gift of Toshi just giving us some context, some welcome. she has one of my favorite voices in the world, speaking or singing. she was on the stage the entire time, along with two others called the Talents, who rode the wave from earthly to ethereal as the two hours passed.

every singer who entered the stage was powerful, well cast, sounded timeless. Toshi later explained that the singers were trained to truly open their mouths, sing with their whole bodies, sing in a 19th century style. they sound like forever.

it was a congregational opera, we were invited to sing when we knew the songs. even the balance of lights made it feel as if we were part of the circle of survivors trying to find a viable future.

the music Toshi gathered and/or wrote is so beautiful, so emotionally accurate to the story. the pieces were tender – at one point i found myself crying in a new way, the pain of my eyes sharp – something was being cleansed in the tears. i gasped as the last song landed; now hours later, i feel freedom like what only comes after suffering, i feel connected to other believers within a dual web – archives and whispers.

in the iterative process of this opera the singers have left their seats and now we must call them actors. these actors danced as a flock of birds, they migrated north, fractal, iterative, each one contributing to this act of musical genius.

Toshi is not just conducting the musicians, the sounds…she is orchestrating emotional liberation from apathy and oppression, with our bodies as instruments. this is sound healing.

and these actors, these players! there’s a moment when Lauren’s stepmother (played by Karma Mayet) is singing to Lauren’s pastor father (Jason Charles Walker): “I Won’t Crumble With You If You Fall” and i felt my concept of love changing. this is a kind of love/survival we need access to for this coming change.

BE0F4A84-E8F5-4C19-8C7C-2C9E9AE020A7

and then Lauren (realized, embodied by Shayna Small) singing “Have You Seen My Father”…writing out the words brings the grief back. this is what i was worried would be lost in translation, the solitary work of grief inside of the stunning experience of terror. the hyperempathy, which was well done, AND the mundane experience of losing someone. Toshi didn’t shy away. there were several moments when all we could hear was a weeping song and the breath of tears.

and emergent strategy was so apparent. the verses Toshi selected – “belief initiates action or it does nothing”, “embrace diversity” – are those that most read as instructions for how to survive the impossible.

tonight we held a conversation at the national black theater, a historical location which was perfect for us as a stand against gentrification, not to mention they’re in the middle of a season called Black to the Future! the temple was packed and we generated life. here are a few highlights, moments that increased our honesty and togetherness:

53BF810E-66AD-42A4-98A2-09F7FA916FCE

9A9F7E7A-5C38-41CE-A7F8-F62989ACBCD0

5021BC90-90ED-415A-80E4-D75C382698FF

3D6AAE67-A183-4EDE-8223-7DF1ED67B18F

Toshi spoke to how she’s not going to be one that runs, that’s not what her body does. she said she will stay, she will cover the backs of those who must go. and that the idea of playing this role makes her smile.

Shay spoke to how being Lauren Olamina on that stage is changing how she moves through her real life, what she practices, making her revolutionary.

Manju and Alexis came up from north carolina, where the parable was put on last fall. they spoke of the need now for direct action, and for recognizing that when God is change, each of us is God and must act accordingly.

in this state, with the bias of ecstasy, i recommend you bring the Parable everywhere. give it every grant. run to see it when you have a chance. change and be changed.

bonus: for yesterday’s #movementtarot i pulled a spread on the relationship between movements and Octavia Butler.

9CC75195-8359-4B94-9741-4BF4BB9EC258

#sundayspread on the relationship between movements and Octavia Butler.
(in honor of me going to see the Parables Opera today and then hosting a conversation with the Parables team later this evening at the National Black Theater.) what we bring: “the student of branches carries a fire in their belly that refuses to be put out. other people don’t always understand why the student must act with such fiery determination. and that’s OK. the student doesn’t always understand either. they just know they have been called to move, and they are heeding that call. the student wants to bridge the gap between what is imagined and what can be actualized.” ?

what Octavia gives us. “the visionary of stones reminds us that being grounded need not mean being boring. a dazzling diva whose glamor is drawn from the natural world, the visionary represents the pinnacle of intuitive connection to the earth element. when the visionary appears in your reading, recognize that you have the power to reshape your world.” ?

the composite energy is the visionary of vessels, but in reverse. “the supporter needs support, the healer needs healing. a temporary blip or disruption in intuition and empathy. approaching powerful wisdom and capacity to heal, but not there quite yet.” what to practice? the four of stones. “no need to hoard, no need for excessive accumulation. trust that there is always enough. ground your sense of security in that you are always enough.” from @slowholler deck, #resistancetarot #movementtarot

earthseed poem

D7BD90DF-09BA-4680-8E11-1D58E43E8A6E

the compass spins around
north becomes south,
becomes simply the horizon
the direction that matters is forward
we conjure from the darkness
a future orientation of the people
moving like firstlight, touching everyone
moving like water
weeping and crashing through mountains
nothing is permanent
“to shape god
shape self”
our destiny is to “take root amongst the stars”.
where do you think earth is?
root.

#earthseed #octaviabutler