Tag Archive for 'pleasure activism'

writing so hard

writing comes easily to me in that i write daily, and have since i learned the alphabet. i don’t really feel things fully, or understand things, until i have written them down.

writing is still the hardest work i do – physically, emotionally, spiritually, politically. figuring out what needs to be written, what needs to be uplifted, how to write it, who to write to, how much i am willing to share and to change…and, always, when to write – it’s hard work.

words are spells and invitations. they all exist, and we rearrange them over and over to say the truth.

the ancestors i love left me a river of words, and i am conscious of being a small stream flowing into it, sometimes guiding others, bringing myself to an ocean.

so. i just wrote for three weeks straight.

on the surface of it, i finished two books.

one nonfiction, on pleasure activism.

one visionary fiction, a novel on grief and transformation in detroit.

just under the surface, i edited an anthology that i’d been gathering for a year, with a lot of original writing on pleasure to weave it together. as i was completing it, i could see all these additional needs, and every day i was reaching out to people who would add the exact note to the chorus that would make it complete. it was exciting work. and i had to ask myself daily: am i being brave enough? am i telling the truth about my pleasures and vision and healing journey? do i need all these words? does it read like a conversation? am i enjoying this?

i turned it in to my publisher a day before it was due. it will come out this fall, it has a cover, it’s real!

and just like with emergent strategy, i wrote a book that i was longing for.

by the end my whole body hurt. there’s no way to write for 12-13 hours a day that doesn’t tax the body. i took baths and swam every day, celebrated each chapter upon completion, went for walks, sought pleasure.

still, it hurt my hands, my neck, my back, my ass.

my goal is to create a life in which i write 4-5 hours a day most days, an amount that doesn’t hurt. writing brings me unparalleled satisfaction. for now these marathons are what i have and i’m grateful.

so then it was time for the novel. the novel has been showing itself to me for five years in short stories, through a nanowrimo, and a month long writing residency january 2017.

it’s an emotional lift. it’s all about grief, so of course it’s full of ghosts, and i have to step into my own grief to write any of it.

for two days of the work i wrote for 17 hours, no breaks, no swim, nothing but the work. and my pulsing sense of scarcity, that i only had six days left. then five. i moved like a dying snail through three small chapters. my eyes were trembling when i laid down to sleep.

then, the third morning, i released my outcome orientation. i accepted that i most likely wouldn’t finish in the time i had. that i may never finish, that i can’t approach this book that way. i scolded myself for being out of alignment with everything i believe in about creating.

i course corrected.

i let myself deepen into the story, lose myself in the content, feel it and weep, take risks. i went swimming daily, took more epsom salt baths and let myself feel as excellent as possible. i connected with others, friends fighting cancer and heartache and nightmares. i watched planet earth ii.

and, to my surprise…i finished something i’m excited to read, to share. i feel satisfied.

and i remembered, then, how i wanted, needed, to finish the novel before i turn 40. i am aware of time passing. i love aging, and i live in a perilous world.

i noticed how people, people who love my writing, don’t quite understand that writing is hard.

i set relatively soft boundaries around the writing – i won’t answer emails, i won’t be on facebook as much, i won’t do other work. just for three weeks. people used the private space of every social media platform i’m on, my text messages, and friends in common, to still send me requests.

“i know you are writing but…”
“i hope your writing retreat is fun, can you just…”
“congratulations on writing, what about…”

i initially resented this. then i realized it’s the ongoing lesson of boundaries. i am responsible for my life. i can’t have slippery boundaries and expect others not to slide into my sacred writing space.

there are so many societal reasons why boundaries are hard for me. for all of us. and for me.

and, every day, i see how the work of creating and holding boundaries allows my life to be lived in a way that satisfies me. not in reaction or resentment, not protecting my projections of other people’s feelings, but in reveling, in the miracle of being a creative, curious person.

i keep telling the truth these days: no. no and here’s why. no, i’m writing a book. no. i’m writing two.

no makes way for yes. and i’m 39, i want all the yes i can get in this life.

time is both nonlinear and magical. AND finite in the sense of a life. actual years. death is always with me. the week i finished the novel was the 50th anniversary of martin luther king’s assassination.

when i turned 39 i felt very aware that it was my mlk year. 33 was when i compared my life to the brief miraculous life of jesus at the age of his assassination. it’s ridiculous to do this. so what.

39 is the year when i am noticing what i have (and mostly haven’t) done in relationship to mlk. (there are other such years, if you’re into such things.)

i have felt a lot of admiration for mlk as i have aged. he was a human, a direct action hero, and a writer. we remember him as an orator, but that’s because the words he wrote to speak were such radical love poetry.

now i am a 39 year old writer deeply disappointed by the nation of my birth, losing faith in the species at a large scale, but gaining faith in the planet, in the intimacy of communities, in what love can do, and…in what i can envision beyond the mountains of struggle and pain before us.

i see free people.

writing in the context of white supremacy and militarized capitalism and patriarchy ranges from annoying to devastating. writing about concepts that were articulated clearly 50 years ago, and thousands of years before that, is humbling.

will the conversation ever change? it’s changing all the time, of course, but will it ever really change?

i think about how hard it was to write the words “i may not get there with you.” to have a wife and children, a flock, a following, security and a god…and to still know no safety. they are true words that shouldn’t be true. this far into the human journey, speaking truth shouldn’t be fatal. but he didn’t stop writing, speaking. mlk was generous.

i get inspired by this when i dabble with hopelessness and rage. i don’t stop writing, even though i rarely claim originality. i am in the chorus i believe in: i sing of justice, i sing of liberation. i write what i need to read, to hear, to say. i feel when it’s true. i celebrate when i feel truth from others – it’s so easy to perform, to promote. but all i want is truth.

junot diaz just wrote something i needed to read, to hear. it’s in the new yorker, and it’s a #metoo story.

i am a survivor of many kinds of sexual harm. among these is harm that came at the hands of a male survivor of rape. i didn’t know that until later, it was all a mystery in the moment. i experienced harm inside of a sort-of-relationship where i believe we truly loved each other as much as we could at the time. we both carried so much unspeakable baggage in the door that we could not see or hear each other. and i experienced the physical harm of his trauma, coming through his body into how he interacted with my body. he didn’t mean to hurt me. he did hurt me. writing about it hurts me.

i could feel in junot’s words a pain that has always been under the surface of his books. the yawning chasm. the unspeakable baggage. the truth. i know it hurt to write this piece. everyone needs to read it.

writing shapes and reshapes the world, even if the words are simply rearranged dreams, visions, confessions, truths. matter doesn’t disappear, it transforms. we are of it, we shape it. writing so hard that the truth comes forth changes the world, and it changes the writer.

in all of this, in small and undeniable ways, i feel different than i did last month. this is internal. i told the truth. i am 39, and i am slowly seeing who i am.

my hands

i just turned in the pleasure activism manuscript. my hands hurt. and the book is exciting.

!!

the moon is full above thick clouds. i feel her. i completed this work in a moon cycle. that feels right. full moon is when you name what you are releasing. i detach from outcome for this work. i’ve given it everything.

and i got two days of fiction writing in this week. now i get to revel in the fictional realm of my novel. well…struggle more than revel. joyful struggle.

with nonfiction i have a sense of how to do it, it’s my voice, my opinions, my stories. but the novel is a weaving together of voices i can hear, ghosts and complex characters who want me to get their stories right. and this first novel is full of ghosts, grief, songs and magic, all in Detroit. i love the story, and i am eager to know where it will take me.

grateful for everyone honoring my boundaries, and reminding me to hold them tight. grateful for the wide range of pleasure activism contributors. grateful to have a life that centers pleasure. grateful to have a life that has gifted me so much to grieve that i must write about it. every day, as i’m here, comes more sorrow, more joy.

all is full of love. wish me luck, and hand love.

two sweet things

one – the podcast i am doing with my sister, How to Survive the End of the World, is going and growing, with 80K listens and over 100 patrons. This week we released an episode on class that is vulnerable, beginning a larger conversation on Future Economics. Check it out.

two – i got to have an awesome conversation with Zenobia Jeffries from Yes! magazine, The World is a Miraculous Mess, and It’s Going to Be All Right – here’s an excerpt of the interview:

“We currently live in a reality of scarce justice, scarce attention, scarce liberation. It makes us believe that we must pit ourselves against each other with our harm, with the worst things that have happened with our lives. Where we’re like, my worst thing is worse than your worst thing. We’re like, “How come your worst thing gets attention and my worst thing didn’t?”

That scarcity is the lie. Actually the society we want to build, the society we want to structure and move toward is one in which there’s abundant justice, abundant attention, abundant liberation, where there is enough for all of us to feel attended to.”

ps. i am basically complete with the Pleasure Activism book!! diving into the novel now. keep sending love and supporting my boundaries <3 <3 <3

one week down, two to go

i love this. this being: writing nonstop.

i have been writing and editing the pleasure activism book for a week. here’s a bit of a report back:

it has been an intensive reminder on how to boundary my life. here are a couple of lessons so far:

– no one means to cross the boundaries. some people apologize as they do it or try to diminish the request. there’s a lot of love and longing out there, intentions are usually good.
– it’s actually not up to others to uphold my boundaries. if i can’t hold the line, it won’t be held. so i am shoring up with as much love as possible.
– i can’t dabble with Facebook if i want to finish anything else in my life. i tried a few half boundaries and kept finding myself scrolling away precious writing time. so i am stepping back further, removing the app from everything.
– boundaries work best when rooted in abundance. i am not keeping myself from fun or connection, i am gifting myself the delight of total creative time. all the good things will be there on the other side.

i love the routines of this process. my routines here include tarot, yoga, swimming, eating in a uniform way (when i write i graze, so popcorn, sunflower seeds, those puffs that are like flavored air, those are go tos), and dance breaks.

i am especially committed to being in a state of pleasure while creating this work, so there are baths with fir salts and there’s an excellent soundtrack and i am only wearing super comfortable clothes.

extreme solitude feels good in a way that let’s me know how far my healing work has moved.

i am befriending trees!

i am a writer writing in the woods

i haven’t brushed my hair since i arrived. i have taken epsom salt baths and two-headed showers. i have to remind myself to brush my teeth, and something about this pleases me, the hermit-nature of it. i am a virgo, this is extra. i have left the house twice, both times to walk to the nearest body of water and listen to it, the waves lapping song against the shore. looking among the ducks for the giant swans that i see bobbing there each morning. today i saw one in the late afternoon light – it looked like it was my size, so i said ‘hey thick ass swan, looking good’!

i have written for about 24 hours now, with daily dance breaks. am i delirious? only with pleasure. pun intended, but i only expect those in the know to get my drift.

please don’t ask me where i am, i appreciate feeling like there is some mystery about all of this. when i want people to know where i am, i geotag myself and scream it from the mountaintops. but right now i appreciate the solitude, even if it is mythological, or generated only from my boundaries. boundaries are life’s work! i love boundaries. this whole paragraph is a boundary, do you feel my joy?

i have been practicing not looking at incoming requests, and deflecting folks when work comes through personal channels. it’s hard and i am doing it.

the things that come through are only things that do not wait – things that make me cry instantly, an assassination, the death of someone fabulous, a new cancer, an older one, a heartbreak or two, a grief cycle.

in the face of the massive and melancholy, i appreciate how clear and small the editing process feels, how instinctive and nourishing the weaving of these pleasure tales feels. writing, total writing, is an erotic experience for me. i feel so alive.

i removed social media from my mobile devices (instagram is not social media, it’s like hbo) and yet the web of superconnection is like moana’s sea, it calls me! so i am being patient in the withdrawal, noticing each time i go out of my way to plug in, and what i actually need.

at least it is still a choice. (suspicion voice tho)

the soundtrack so far is Joi, Lizzo, DRAM, and Prince. the number one snack is homemade kale chips, tied with a homemade honey peanut butter.

happy new moon. hope to sleep soon. <3

the pleasure dome

my loves

i am so excited to announce that i will be writing a column on pleasure, justice, feminism, race and pop culture for Bitch Magazine – it is called The Pleasure Dome and it will be published every other wednesday.

i see this as a collaborative space to explore and learn about using pleasure towards collective power. let me know what you want to explore!

the first column is up here – enjoy!

lessons from solange

just listened to a delectable remix of “Cranes in the Sky”, Solange’s song where she looks in everyone’s whole life and Ripertons thru all our coping mechanisms so pretty style.

the remix is from Kaytranada, via Taylor Renee Aldridge of arts.black and “my faves” fame. putting CITS on repeat (original or remix) while reading this review will make it more accurate for you.

i put CITS on after a long day of life work and i start dancing around, leaving the hard day in piles on the floor.

i think i should write a sci fi short/book about Solange, but not tonight. tonight i am just sitting with her wisdom:

when everyone else is being smooth, jut and jitter and be an angle that must be observed and accounted for.

make it all sacred.

it’s good to roll with the squad nearby, just being themselves.

when everyone is trying to be hard and cool, be soft, sharp and ethereal.

even when simple and forgettable are trending, be complex and irresistable.

when there is too much fear to breathe in, or even take it all seriously, be a balm. a tuning fork in the ground beneath us, making us praise dance. be a healing energy, nourishing not because you ignore our suffering, but because you make room for our wholeness.

be you, and make no concessions or apologies.

(this fractal extraneous review of life lessons applies specifically to “cranes in the sky”, inclusivally to the entire album, and generally to Solange Knowles)

pleasure activism is contagious

yesterday i got to be a part of Arts in a Changing America – ReMap: Detroit. the effort of this work is to address the changing demographics of the US and understand the role art has in shifting narrative and opening justice-based futures.

the day started off with six workshops to immerse people in innovative artistic practices for social justice. i offered a workshop called Writing the Future where i had folks do future memoir entries about art they had been a part of that shifted the course of human history.

in another room folks were writing poetry with tawana, another group was foraging in the wilds of Detroit with shane and mama myrtle, and another group was processing grief with sounds and song with rebecca and ron.

after the workshops we all gathered together for a call and response. the speakers were dream hampton and favianna rodriguez, talking about this moment for Detroit, for Oakland, for artists and activists.

favi showed some of her more recent work, which is focused on challenging the phobias that make us feel shame around our desires and bodies, pussy power, claiming the human right of pleasure. dream spoke about the patterns of mass incarceration and drug sales, advocating for the right of black people to use and sell weed without being criminalized.

i, of course, was the loudest member of the amen chorus in the audience.

to close out the session, both women spoke about the role that masturbation has in their self-care, creative and work processes. i was whooping and hollering with joy!

abby dobson came up and sang while a video of women assaulted and killed by the state played, uplifting the #sayhername campaign to make clear that black women, cis and trans, are being targeted and killed by the state. i must say it was a shocking transition – the work, her voice, were so powerful. i have chosen not to watch most of the footage that comes out, i know we are under attack. to see it with others, with a sacred sound around all of us, was deeply moving.

afterwards a group of us sat, immobilized with grief. slowly, laughter, sweetness, hugs and pleasure helped us to acknowledge that a constant truth of our lives right now is grief, but we are complex, we have so much resilience.

we have the right to each other.

we went out and got “sun all over” our skins, as richard pryor taught us.

later in the evening many conference attendees gathered around dream’s table overlooking the city, and the pleasure principle was the center of our conversation.

i mostly want to talk about pleasure these days. for a long time i have been unknowingly quoting mae west: “an orgasm a day keeps the doctor away,” because pleasure was my health care plan for years before i knew how to talk about it.

at the table we shared survival strategies of pleasure and asked each other questions, to repeat things. we wrote notes, book titles, names. we were learning together, this was sensual scholarship.

we talked about sexual, reproductive, mental and emotional health, favorite toys, increasing the practice of pleasure, decolonizing desire, getting into real practices of consent, asking for what we need, putting action behind our radical sexual theory, how oppressed people cultivating their own pleasure can be an act of resistance, and how ridiculous it is that sex and the pleasures possible in the body are still such taboo topics.

the next book i will be working on is all about pleasure activism and it feels right on time. this day made me feel…titillated to get to work.

being high with amb

i often speak of being a pleasure activist, and i even reference weed, but it’s rare that i actually write to y’all – or anyone else – while i am high.

well, i am high.

IMG_2532 [photo of shirt made for me as a birthday present, quoting marty from house of lies]

i quite enjoy myself when i’m high, and i have been contemplating these last few minutes as to whether i should blog an explicitly high post.

post an explicitly high blog.

write this.

in a serial way.

but the journey of a million high posts begins with one. this one.

being high is one of the primary ways i process this world. i work hard, and then i smoke weed to slow down enough to understand the scale and impact of my life, what is urgent and what really isn’t. i dive into less accessible layers of my own thinking and feeling and see what i have been carrying around. my body relaxes and lately i notice that i am often holding tight, contracted, when i am not aware of it.

this makes sense when i notice it. i am on defense, as a [inserts my whole self here], my body is in danger. my spirit is in danger. my brilliance is in danger.

my brilliance is a given, it’s a DNA level common trait, a brilliance of survival. you have it. yours is under a different danger probably, a different unique combination of dangers.

and yet there is so much pleasure to be had. pleasure of resistance against the wrongs we generate. pleasure of release into what is. the pleasure of the fight and the mystery. and then the erotic.

(the song should i stay or should i go came on and i thought – that should be what consent workshops are made of)

the erotic: of, relating to, or tending to arouse sexual desire or excitement. synonyms: sexy, sexually arousing, sexually stimulating, titillating, suggestive;

being high i become available to the world of my skin, my fantasies, my feeling self.

i know this will be suspect but i do need to pause here because i am watching stranger things and it’s getting really good!

*

oh well one more thing is that the erotic feels deeply related to this subtle and constant contraction. it is a way of pulling in me, making me smaller so i can be safer in the world. but there is no safer. there is only smaller.

but small can be so good. when i orgasm, the dance between contracting and bursting open is where the pleasure happens. the pleasure emerges from a very small place to be everywhere.

when i think of how change happens, it is mostly like an orgasm. out of a lack, or an intense pressure, a problem begins, a need arises, and it draws in all the attention until, all in one place, there is pleasure of togetherness and connectedness and it changes everything.

this show (stranger things) is pretty amazing so far, i feel fully drawn in.

although part of me wants to listen to frank ocean endless on repeat some more. i watched the video once but i tricked my phone into letting the music loop all last night. the music is lovely.

well i am done writing. should i press send now or wait until i am not longer high. which is more honest?

[i chose to wait]

*

ok i came back to say i think i created a term, but it feels so obvious that someone needed to have said this before. we all do it. the word is: highlaxing. people do many things when they get high, but not all of them are highlaxing. this requires snacks, good entertainment, a clear schedule. nice things emerge like face and hair masks, magazine or book reading. dancing in the rain. writing children’s books.

i just wrote four poems and a children’s book based on an incident involving my niece and a frog (the frog did not survive, but may always be remembered).

*

STRANGER THINGS IS AMAZING

*

frank ocean (endless) man this is intriguing and meditative and the music is atmospheric. i am for it, i like how you…how he is experimenting and working up to his release in a variety of ways and claiming his renaissance nature.

AND i want an album where i can play the ‘at your best you are love’ song (which i think of as an aaliyah cover, all facts to the contrary) on repeat.

*

FRANK OCEAN BLOND/BLONDE IS AMAZING
IVY! white ferrari, solo, godspeed – i
wait no i can’t even. i can’t say more now.

——

what do you think of this experiment? enjoyable? repeat? not so much?
<3

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’)