Tag Archive for 'octavia butler'

the overwhelming world: snippets

returning from being out of country and mostly away from the news, i find there is too much to take in. and i am moved to:

– remind everyone that Octavia Butler‘s Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents are required reading for all humans right now, not as escapist fantasy, but as relevant instructional prophecy. it was her birthday on the 22nd and i think she is whispering to us through her pages across time.

– send love to those who know borders, walls and fences cannot hold us, cannot keep us from each other. ‘our destiny is to take root amongst the stars’ (we are made of stardust).

and since i last wrote here, jasmine abdullah was released on bail! i love the idea that when she was pulled through that wall we all extended through it with practice and attention and strategies and family, and we didn’t let go, and we pulled until the wall shivered. want to really uplift the practices of chelsea cleveland who pulled a tarot card for black liberation each day, che rene who sent us an original song and alexis pauline who wrote this poem and released it the morning of jasmine’s release.

how you are in relationship is how you are.

i saw beyoncé’s formation tour in detroit. i immediately bought tickets to see her again. that is my review.

the allied media conference was beautiful this year. i spent my time there in healing circles and rituals for orlando. i also got to cofacilitate the say her name gathering. there is a lot of tenderness in my work these days, a lot of opening and closing of circles, a lot of slowing down and trusting the strange processes of humans. we only move forward as we are able. it felt like as we stood face to face with each other we were clear that we have to rise above small differences – we are still more alike than most of the world, moving towards justice. family reunion feeling was in effect, and i met a lot of beautiful new loves over those days.

and i danced.

i want to tell you how i danced but you know it doesn’t fit into words. during and afterwards i felt free and i felt in communication with my body. i am healing and it is glorious, it is glorious to remember in my bones that i am meant to dance. it is healing to dance in queer space, always has been. i needed it, we needed it.

i spent the past week mostly away from the internet, working with first nations and environmental organizers building responses and strategies around the tar sands. the main thing i learned in holding that space is that everyone wants to be seen in their best intentions. then, maybe, there can be a real conversation around impact. people building movement over time will impact each other, but we still want to be seen for our good intentions, for our good hearts. often this is at the root of having disagreements with integrity – being able to see each other’s goodness in spite of the different perspectives that are just the nature of human existence. seeing where we can agree today in ways that increase the space for alignment in the future.

now i am deep in processing a pile of super exciting proposals from detroiters who are shifting the narratives of our city. my heart is swelling and i feel…hopeful.

when i look up it’s all overwhelming, tectonic shifts in global politics, and devastating national decisions. but if i keep my head down on the present moment, on the people i can touch, the places i love – there is a lot of good, a lot of pattern shifting, a lot of micro-liberations. we are learning to hold each other close as the bottom falls out.

it’s falling, it must fall.

in this way we will fly.

this will be america

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

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

you are the ones we’ve been waiting for

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

    this will be america

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

national network of abortion funds 2016 keynote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

or educate a family member?

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

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

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

and of course they are doing the same thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

i can’t help it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

i thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

humans tend to change in a cycle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

i know we can do this.

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

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

we can shape change around abortions and reproductive justice.

it is time to get visionary about abortion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

edges

image

this country pushes
my human heart
to its edges

earth’s ancient borders
let the land breath
humans mimic
making only ugly edges

the majority is dishonest
in this way justice is elusive
fighting in the street
we leave tumbleweed
we come apart and sacrifice
for those displaced from the core
to the edges

we whisper at the necks
of our lovers
black girl stories
the sharp edges of truth
leaving carved flesh
trust notes

the sun leaps down
the edges of the world
a mountain goat
a temporary life

all of this is so fleeting
it is a comfort to let it go
to dance breathless and awed
on time’s edges

(for walidah, rasheedah, krista and ola)

#shapingchange #becauseofoctavia

golden ages apocalyptic offer

The golden age of climate change is in effect. It’s sweater weather, at most, in the ice tundra states of North America. It’s mid December. It’s gray…and balmy.

In many states this unseasonable warmth overlaps with the golden age of gentrification – goat cheese omelettes, truffle fries, health food stores and street bikes for rent are some of the key indicators.

It appears that golden ages are a function of privilege. We are learning that when you have little to no proximity to displacement, and the water keeps coming out of the faucet, and you can afford to shop in the health food stores even as you rail against the high prices, you can experience ease, even a sense of ignorant distance, inside end times crisis.

This post is just a ‘don’t forget’ nudge. As far as we know (we being all living scientists, and me) things are falling apart, actually.

Some sci fi immersions for this time

Mad Max: Fury Road (place yourself in the story! This won some acknowledgment recently.)

Dune (read it all)

Interstellar (because I like it, and so does my science hubband. Except last ten minutes)

Parables of the Sower and Parable of the Talents (read a few times! Hard and exciting because POC survive.)

2312

Future States TV

Pumzi

The Road (read)

And if you think Donald Trump is cute/funny, revisit Schindler’s List. Or Roots. He makes conceptual appearances in both.

Other recommendations? Add in comments PLEASE.

Oh and the apocalypse palate cleanser? Magic Mike XXL. (possibly feministish)

Parable of the Sower Concert Review/Gush

Terry Marshall of Intelligent Mischief recently articulated this moment we’re in as a Black Renaissance. I concur – we are transforming pain into gold at an impossible speed. I keep turning around and finding something black, brilliant, fantastic, collective, wonderful – I feel in the midst of an artistic explosion, of a people cultivating creativity and joy in the face of genocide and mass produced misery. And Octavia Butler is one of the seed mothers of this moment.

There are some of us who read the Parable of the Sower (and it’s sequel the Parable of the Talents), as sacred text. Butler, the author of these two near-future novels, was a black sci fi writer hermit who died in 2006 after giving us 12 novels, a collection of short stories, and winning the Hugo, Nebula and MacArthur genius grant.

Everything she wrote is provocative and interesting, but in the Parables she cuts in right next to her own story, and many of ours, a black girl creator, surviving. Lauren Olamina is growing up in a gated community in dry, divided California as the government swerves violently to right.

I heard a few years ago that Bernice Johnson-Reagon and Toshi Reagon, mother daughter movement folk singers, were going to make an opera of the Parables. At that time, I fell out with possibility. Then I wished I had lived my life differently, seriously pursued my vocal practice, tightening up my pitch issues, because clearly this was the best thing that could ever happen in life.

As the Opera/concert piece has moved along its iterative process, I’ve been awestruck by the caliber of talent in and around it, while also landing in my own Octavia/sci fi work (I’m in NY because Octavia’s Brood is reading at the Schomberg open house on Wednesday!).

In January there was a first set of Parables concerts. I was out of the country and seriously priced out what it would cost to fly to NYC for one night. Out of my economic capacity.

Then it was in Abu Dhabi, because…of course. Octavia in Abu Dhabi. But again, tickets were researched and too expensive and I was left bereft, so distant from the experience of my dreams.

All of this context is just so you understand a little bit about how ecstatic I was when it was announced that the concert would be in at the Annenberg Center in Philly when I was scheduled to be in NYC, when I priced the trip, when I realized it was possible. I got tears in my eyes buying the tickets. That’s the level of anticipation I took with me on the bus, to Philly, and into the concert.

Because this was a predestined perfect night, I got to eat at White Dog Cafe, which I’ve been hearing about for years – I have tons of respect for its founder Judy Wicks, who is one of the sparks in local living economies work. I shared a meal with my dear friends Sofia Santana, who bussed down with me from NYC, Jennifer Kidwell, and Sham-e-ali. Jennifer, an incredible singer and performer now based in Philly, was part of one of the earlier iterations of the opera. Sham, a poet, had seen the concert the night before and said she’d wept the entire time.

Rasheedah Phillips of Afrofuturist Affair was in the lobby with her sweetheart, we’d all been together at Ferguson is the Future just a couple of weeks ago.

Sofia and I got to the theatre right as the show was starting – I dashed to the bathroom and switched from my bus outfit into something more appropriate for a historic event. It had a belt, pink lipstick, the basics.

The musicians were tuning up in the black box of the theatre. There were twelve chairs in a circle, microphones, a full house audience, and the singers were standing at the edges of the theatre. I recognized vocalists Tamar-Kali and Karma Mayet Johnson, Marcelle Davis Lashley, violinist Juliette Jones. Many of the others were new to me.

Then Toshi came out from the back with a gorgeous smile on her face. I love watching her perform – she sits down surrounded by instruments and immediately makes it feel like we’re just watching her jam out in private, extending ease and intimacy to everyone.

Then the music came. It came up through Toshi, and from the edges of the room. I had to take off my belt right away. The context was set in songs that walked the line between chant, lamentation and praise. We learned that the water was gone, that some were seeking solace in God, and the gifted and gorgeous singer Shayna Small, who sang Lauren Olamina, was feeling a change, feeling everything.

After the second song I turned to Sofia and said “this is a best-experience-of-my-life”. There was a fearlessness about the songs, they were precise and subtle and then deep and full, the pace was just right – the pace respected the way Octavia told this story.

Toshi gave us some context after a few songs. I’m not sure it was needed, it all felt so spiritually correct…but how could I know, I’ve read the text twenty something times.

Toshi spoke at various points throughout, her words always spare and heart opening. As the journey north began, she said, ‘if you don’t know where you are going, you can just make something up and walk on that.’

The main thing I will say about the songs is that as I was hearing them I was deeply satisfied, and when each song passed I wanted to rewind and stay in it, even the songs that covered the hardest moments. Hyper empathy in an apocalypse is painful, the terrifying world changing behind them as Lauren and her crew made their way north, the ideological battles between systems of belief that give and take away responsibility – the Reagons have written songs that allow us to feel all up in this text.

I didn’t know I needed these songs till I was flooded in them.

One of my favorite moments was Toshi inserting a folk singer into the story. She said it was Octavia’s mistake, that when things are going so badly, people need the singers to tell the story, to give them back to themselves. Yes, exactly.

Towards the end of the concert, the songs were straight up Earthseed verses. I kept catching tears all over my face and then getting caught up in wonder, needing to undulate and tap my foot and dance and sing along.

Helga Davis was a sitting closest to us, and her moves were so funky and distinct, Sofia and I couldn’t take our eyes off her.

I walked out after and ran into several magical people, including radical dance artist Althea Baird, both of us wide open and teary eyed. Annie Danger later posted that those of us who’d experienced the show might need a support group to live into the change. Sonia Sanchez was in the audience.

Now I’m glowing from the experience, wanting everything I suffer through, everything I learn, to be sung in chorus by the Reagons. And even as I wonder how I can hear the songs again, I recognize that in this time of instant gratification it is a gift to be given something so rare, so visceral, so about being bodies and hopes and grief in a room together.

Thank you Toshi and Bernice for the vision and the execution. Thank you Eric Ting for the direction – the presentation felt so organic, centering the songs and voices. Thank you Bertilla, Helga, Karma, Tamar-Kali, Morley, Marcelle, Josette, Shayna and Jason for the gift of your voices and the way you became conduits for this crucial story. Thank you Juliette, Robert, Fred and Adam for the music which swelled up the room.

Looking forward to the next iteration.

black sci fi dreaming (report back from Ferguson is the Future)

so…princeton’s new african american studies department partnered with the octavia butler legacy network to offer up ferguson is the future, a black to the future sci fi love fest extravaganza that took place over the last three days.

there’s a live stream archive, and i live tweeted and instagrammed everything, so i’m not going to cover all of that.

i’m going to instead share the feelings i was left with.

– we make the beautiful moments, we bring the magic with our presence and attention.

– there are many ways to build family, and none of them are fast.

– when the opportunity comes to support other artists, take it. this includes buying things, but also really listening or contemplating the art, dancing to the music, reading the book, seeing the whole.

– be present. when you are actually present you can shape the moment. you can shape by speaking truth, slowing down, letting someone know you appreciate them, suggesting what you most long for, and other small/massive actions.

– children can create the best moments. the 11-year-old and the newborn at the gathering gave me some of my favorite moments of playfulness, sweetness and equality.

– living into your gifts doesn’t take away your humanity. meeting all these sci-fi deities was so humbling. i was daunted at the task of facilitating them, and then i got there, and each one of them was kind, visionary, figuring out life, and just…just wonderful. i miss them all, i want to time travel back to their laughter.

– to love others in this world is to see in them the same humanity and flaw-possibility that i see in myself. it’s liberating.

– we cannot change others, but we can change ourselves and in doing so change everything. complexity.

– mentoring can happen in a moment.

– transformation can happen by witnessing someone else in their wholeness.

– being deep in my life’s work makes me feel beautiful.

– walidah imarisha is a powerful human being who has changed my life and i’m so grateful for her and for Octavia’s Brood.

– i love sci fi, i love black and brown people creating our freedom with zero apologies.

now, finally, sleep.

in octavia’s lineage

happy Octavia Butler birthday!!

last year i was beginning the inaugural class of VONA’s Speculative Fiction workshop on Her birthday.

this year it’s her day and i’m up early for the first day of the clarion sci fi writing workshop – six weeks of reading and writing original sci fi!

i’m nervous and excited. Octavia attended this workshop, her first draft stories are in the archives and i’m going to visit them today as part of my celebration of her existence.

i learned last night that another of my favorite writers, kim stanley robinson, has read my stories and will be around here. we also get to attend comic con, my first one, and there’s a chance of total nerd immersion. those kind of things really make me fangirl out.

leading into this i was on a 12-city run, so i am definitely on fumes and anticipating being in one place for six weeks (even if that place is a cement dorm block with cafeteria food), meditating, yoga, reducing sugar intake, being still-ish.

just before this i was at the Allied Media Conference in detroit and it was deep to feel the growth and transition pains, and also be reminded of the utterly unique, self-evolving and unicorn-loving space that it is. i’ll be posting more from that experience, including notes on a debrief of a racist incident, emergent strategies for organizations, and new Earthseed verses for grief.

part of being in that space that was so hard, and will make it hard to be here or in any space that isn’t all black, is that less than a week ago there was an act of terrorism in charleston that is incomprehensible. for some of us it’s hard to function in the aftermath.

yesterday as i flew here, i wrote a lot about it, about the hour the wolf was amongst the black sheep. i wept a lot, but couldn’t pull anything out to publish, it hurts too much. this morning i woke up with a short story about it coming forward, and am going to write it this week.

i want to encourage all of y’all to also find a way to create – create from rage, from grief, from anguish – do not be silenced, creation is the finest tool we have.

i love y’all, and may blog less during these six weeks, but trust that it’s because i’m writing so so much.

i love y’all. send me focused, restful writing energy.

besos!

p.s. i received a partial scholarship, but the workshop still costs a couple thousand dollars – if you want to support my being here, feel free to become a member of this blog, or just make a donation via paypal.

BALLE 2015 Closing Plenary Speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But first we imagine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

afrofuturism and #blackspring (new school, #afroturismtns)

welcome to #blackspring!

today as we speak there are actions happening across the country, and here in new york, a massive round of future claiming.

we tend to think and speak of afrofuturism as the far off future, something beyond our current comprehension and planet. but now is the only moment. AND we hope things will be different in the next now. AND I must admit, i am excited about the near future.

what are we about to do after this winter of discontent?

we have been escalating tactics in the face of flagrant injustice.
escalating tactics because we charge genocide,
we charge homicide,
we say no more killing us,
we say no more reckless obstinate impunity,
We say no more white supremacy in governance,

because, we say, black lives matter!

an afrofuturist assertion.

because we see something other than the normative truths of this place…we see something that is NOT here…

we see the future, cast over this devastating present moment.

we see,
and we believe.
we know,
and we bend the world to assert and embody that black lives matter.

that, to me, is the heart of afrofuturism, as i choose to understand it. labels don’t excite me so much, but concepts turn me on. the concept of seeing and creating the future from a perspective that has the lineage of an african seed, of something older and other than western, feels healing to me.

we, of that displaced diasporic seed, who involuntarily reach back to the motherland in our dreams, have been scattered so far from each other.

and in spite of all the odds, we have been resilient.

i cannot speak emotionally about the journeys of the other seed clusters, though i am seeking stories all the time, reading nnedi okorafor and ben okri and credo mutwa and wanting to know more.

but i can speak of the grief stricken journey of the kidnapped african…

and the abused, raped, enslaved, lynched, uprising negro, or in the language of white supremacy, the ‘nigra, or nigger';

the beaten, vilified, billyclubbed, legally unlovable, disobedient and organizing afro-american, or again ‘nigger';

the tokenized, mistrusted, mistaken, misguided, self-loathing, entrepreneurial, hoodwinked and bamboozled, boot strapped, assimilating african american, or ‘nigger';

and the divergent, underpaid, unemployed, sugar soothed, imprisoned, resistant, resilient, awakened, politicized black. Or ‘thug. or nigger’.

so this is a shout out to the uppity nigger beyond all space and time. all along this journey, those who some saw and see as particularly ‘uppity niggers’, i call afrofuturists.

they, we, have cast our lot forward.

lately I’ve been obsessing over the afrofuturism and justice orientation of slave era blacks, because our situation today feels so terrifying, and exhausting and sometimes hopeless, and there’s so much trauma and grief to bear, and yet we survived THAT.

not individually, but collectively.

not all of those black people were afrofuturists, but to focus on afrofuturists in the black social justice tradition, i would note that:

africans leaping off of slaver ships were afrofuturists.
slave era parents teaching their babies a foreign alphabet in the candlelit dirt were afrofuturists.
black women dissociating themselves through to tomorrow while being raped into motherhood were afrofuturists.
those who raised the children of violence and those who chose not to, all were predicting the future and articulating their choices.
slaves who ran to freedom, and slaves who ran to their deaths, were afrofuturists.

it is the emphasis on a tomorrow that centers the dignity of that seed, particularly in the face of extinction, that marks, for me, the afrofuturist.

and of course there are the big ones, whose names have made it through the erasers of history books, into our mouths – harriet, sojourner, frederick, john, malcolm, james, ella, martin, nina, june, toni.

octavia.

now it is our work, and the exciting thing about this time is that we are learning to name ourselves, our distinctions and solidarities. our afrofuturisms and black springs. developing enough of a common dream language that we can be that much more explicit about the real futures we are shaping into existence.

we are touching the future, reaching out across boundaries and post apocalyptic conditions to touch each other, to call each other out as family, as beloveds.

‘all that you touch, you change. all that you change, changes you.’

we are making ourselves vulnerable enough to be changed, which will of course change what black existence means.

octavia butler, who gave us that philosophical spirit poem of earthseed that I just quoted, is a bridge for many of us, between this world, and the narratives that pull us through to the next realm, or the parallel universe, or the future in which we are the protagonists.

this is the essence of octavia’s brood, the anthology of original science fiction from social justice movements which walidah imarisha and i had the honor of co-editing. walidah couldn’t be with us today because she is visiting the political prisoner sundiata acoli, but she sends her love.

what we are all up to, this changing the world willfully, is science fictional behavior.

because all organizing is science fiction.

we are creating a world we have never seen. we are whispering it to each other cuddled in the dark, and we are screaming it at people who are so scared of it that they dress themselves in war regalia to turn and face us.

because of our ancestors, because of us and because of the children we are raising, there will be a future without police and prisons.

yes.

there will be a future without rape.

without harrassment, and constant fear, and childhood sexual assault.

a future without war, hunger, violence.

with abundance.

where gender is a joyful spectrum.
where my nephew would not be bullied for his brilliant differentness.

where each of our bodies is treated like sacred ground, whether we have insurance or not…that one is very real for me right now as i am coming off of a surprise major surgery a couple weeks ago, and that, in addition to the urgency of our movements right now for black lives, and for the planet, all has me in a much closer consideration of the future.

octavia’s brood is 2 essays and 20 pieces of original and beautiful visionary fiction from largely hesitant and skeptical organizers, with breathtaking appearances from some folks who have been creating this kind of work long term – tananarive due, levar burton, mumia abu-jamal, and others.

visionary fiction, (a term which walidah coined, this was what made me start following her all over the internet til she said yes to this anthology) visionary fiction includes sci fi, speculative fiction, fantasy, magical realism, myth, all of it. in addition to this intentional genrecide, visionary fiction intentionally explores:

how change happens from the bottom up,
how change works in collective ways, disrupting the single white male hero narrative,
centering marginalized communities…meaning we are the center of the story, as opposed to the sexy and unbelievably stylish sidekick.
and visionary fiction is hard, and realistic, and hopeful.

it’s neither utopian nor dystopian, its more like life.

in real life, we may make it to a future full of gardens and bicycles, but we may not get to choose who is there with us, and we may never get to leave it.
we may get rid of gentrification but not without violence.
we may get to travel to parallel universes, but only by feeling completely insane in this one.
we may learn to use dissociation and other responses to trauma as a way to teleport and heal, but not without losing our families.
we may create the key to a liberated technofuture, but have to live a life on the run to keep it from being weaponized.
our black skin may become special and valued, but then we have to fight to keep it from those who realize melanin is better for surviving increased sunlight.
there might be angels, but what if the good ones get kicked out of heaven for trying to help us.

all of this and much more is explored in the book. these are writers who mostly didn’t identify as artists, as writers…and yet, we argued, their lives are acts of futurism and creation. when they returned to us on our deadline, and instead of the ten pages we begged for, there were 40-50 pages of new novels and character visitations.

the stories are beautiful. we went through 6-7 edits for each one, loving them up. sheree renee thomas, the editor of the dark matter collections, advised us and let us know they were great. john jennings crafted the cover for us – and created a glyph system, a glyph for each story which is incorporated into the cosmic space of octavia on the cover. i don’t have copies here but if you order online at ak press, use the code octaviafs and you will get free shipping through the end of may. octaviafs.

so…imagination is one of the spoils of colonization, which in many ways is claiming who gets to imagine the future for a given geography. losing our imagination is a symptom of trauma. reclaiming the right to dream the future, strengthening the muscle to imagine together as black people, is a revolutionary decolonizing activity.

when we were in the editing process, these narratives felt important and interconnected – now as i reread the book obsessively, the whole thing feels so audacious. it is massive, the visions of these organizers are in no way small.

and in that way we hope we honor octavia butler’s legacy. she never wrote us a small problem, or a small vision. she offered us nothing stagnant. to speak of her protagonists, i use the term emergent strategy – strategies that create and move complex systems and patterns through relatively simple interactions. if you have noticed a flock of starlings move through the air in a pluralistic dance, or seen geese share leadership moving south, you have seen my movement vision, and what i believe octavia offers one case study after another for:

leading that centers relationship,

decentralization and interdependence,

adaptation…or being in right relationship to change,

resilience, the capacity to accommodate and integrate change,

transformative justice – going to the root of the problem and transforming the conditions instead of just getting punitive and righteous about symptoms,

fractal (or the idea that patterns repeat across scale – the spiral on your finger echoes the spiral of the galaxy, how do we become the small,scale version of the large scale changes we seek?)

and finally creating more possibilities, as opposed to current strategies which seek to narrow options down to one path forward…

some of the key practices that show up in octavia butler’s work, and in octavia’s brood, are collaboration, compassion, curiosity, romantic and sensual and non-possessive love, play, mediation, and the patience that comes from seeing ourselves in a much longer arc of time than we are encouraged to see in the instantaneous culture of the modern world.

so along with touring the book and reading stories to people, we are offering workshops that blend visionary fiction and social justice, in ways we hope are elegant.

one is a training in science fiction and direction action, which we’ll be offering a taste of here. in this we plan actions in some of our favorite sci fi worlds and apply the lessons to our current work.

two is a collective sci fi writing workshop, where we use collaborative ideation to build a world that is a living solution or testing ground to work through a current local issue.

third, i have been offering trainings in emergent strategy, and emergent strategy facilitation. and on one level i am talking about adaptation and resilience and mushrooms and schools of fish and spirals and stardust and stuff.

but what i am really asking, what we are all really asking, what octavia was asking, is how do we who know the world needs to change begin to practice BEING different?

how do WE have to BE for justice to truly be transformative? not them, that massive amorphous them
that is also us,
in our heads and hearts,
or loves us,
or is tired of this shit but is family to us…not them, because maybe they don’t recognize yet that these changes are the key to human survival.

but us, us who are awake and awakening? how do we need to BE for black lives to matter? what do we need to HEAL in ourselves in order to offer a future of any real peace?

or to become the protagonists of this human story – and earn the flip of the page of all the sentient life in the universe?

to claim the future as a compelling place for our miracles?

this is everything.

science fiction is not fluffy stuff. afrofuturism is not just the coolest look that ever existed. the future is not an escapist place to occupy. all of it is the inevitable result of what we do today, and the more we take it in our hands, imagine it as a place of justice and pleasure, the more the future knows we want it, and that we aren’t letting go.

so. start this black spring, start with black lives matter. its the afrofuturist activity of this moment. embody the concept that black lives matter. no matter what your background is, no matter what your struggles are, let black lives matter fill you up, believe it, practice it being true.

all along the journey, all of the afrofuturists i named from movements before this time, all they have been is unapologetically black, uncompromising in their right to take up space. will you promise to do that?

i love you.
black love.