“The Aldabra white-throated rail, a flightless bird that lives on its namesake atoll in the Indian Ocean, doesn’t look like anything special at first glance. But the small bird has big bragging rights, because it has effectively evolved into existence twice after first going extinct some 136,000 years ago.”
– Vice magazine
why does this story make me tear up and exhale? why does it activate all the science fictional hope in me? what is this flutter of earth adoration?
perhaps extinction all along has been a way of the earth tucking into herself the precious secrets which we refuse to handle with care.
perhaps she is saying, “if you want a simple life, if your tendency is towards the rudimentary, than i will pull into my body all of the most complex beautiful things. you butcher down and extract from me my magnificent wooden breathy life, and then cover me in boxes, flat concrete, boxes full of rows and boredom and lost hours. so i let my dream (and the bones) of the dodo bird hold safely near my heart – i don’t make permanence. that’s the only unnatural thing, you know, that which attempts to defy change.”
when i hear the news of your revolution, white throated rail, i wonder if you’ve only came to tell us that it is possible – not to not fly, to be defined as flightless (can you imagine making such an epic return and then every story about you includes the thing you don’t do?) – but to remind us that we are the only species who limits our creative wonders.
i think so many humans are terrified/hopeful/terrified to consider that she who made everything will remember how to make the world again, after us, after this foolish phase of us. or maybe we, too, will go and come again, more humble from the evolution years in the dirt?
i feel for the white-throated rail in my bones, the tasmanian tiger in my lungs, my black rhino skin, my mammoth heart. what i mean is: i wonder if i too carry the essence of forgotten miracles!
first, a few excerpts from our correspondence, which will be published in the Ursula le Guin Science Fiction and Social Justice Reader this year.
amb: How does imagination help our species survive?
UKL: It is through imagination that we think intelligently about what we’ve done, are doing, and should do.
amb: did you ever spend time with Octavia?
UKL: We met only two or three times…She was an extraordinary person, both formidable and lovable. I always felt she was larger than life, if you know what I mean.
amb: Thanks for your life’s work!
UKL: You’re very welcome! I have enjoyed it very much.
a relationship with a beloved writer can be a very selfish place. you are alone with them, building an understanding of the world through their eyes and some intimate pairing of imaginations – they paint the worlds but all of it happens inside you. i tried to write something more epic and universal, and i trust that will come. but first i wanted to write a letter to her that was about how she shaped me.
i’ve been crying since i got the news of your passing, and also feeling very alive.
i got to live at the same time as you.
and i get the honor of grieving you.
there are thoughts and ideas you wrote down that became beliefs for my whole life, marking posts on the journey of freeing myself.
there are questions you asked that changed the way i could think.
many of us don’t get to experience grandparents who can accept us whole. for me you were one of the adults who stepped into that yawning space, who joined the composite of my dream elder.
you let me know i may be in the wrong universe, but i am not wrong, i am not impossible.
you not only matched and fed my queer unorthodox mind, but pushed me further. on relationships and sex alone you had me consider: what about four-way marriage? what about gender as a responsive switchy sexual state that was otherwise nonexistent? what about instead of a period you just had a monthly sexual overdrive and a special place to go orgy for that time?
i am a lucky one – i got to tell you to your face that you were everything – and you were gracious about it.
i am still creating a project about your work. in researching it i became fascinated by you, your abundant correspondence, your art and poetry connected to the worlds you created, your fierce letters to local editors about tree removals, your loves and flirtations.
i still want to read everything. it feels impossible in the best way.
writers cast themselves out to the world with words, so that now you feel fully dispersed more than gone. you were so generous with your gifts. and you were rare – both prolific and genius. so many genius words!
the worlds you wrote increased my trust that white people could imagine something beyond their own supremacy. and that capitalism could be out imagined, like monarchy.
even when i did not seek you, you were there.
when i learned to meditate, you’d left me a framework.
when i fell in love with the Tao, i could turn to your translation.
when i wanted amazing fiction for all my nibblings, you had a series on flying cats.
when i needed to stand up for something, feeling alone in my dignity, you told me about the ones who walk away from a utopia dependent on someone else’s suffering.
when i lost hope in this world, you offered me a plethora of fully formed universes to learn from. you even gave me multiple options for moving between universes, both distant and parallel.
when some aspect of humanity felt beyond my comprehension or compassion, i found books you had written twenty years before that not only opened my heart, opened the possible in me, but generated desire for that specific difference.
when i wondered if imagination could be necessary for revolution and transformation, you said yes, you said our dreams and visions matter, they are the way we make oppression temporary.
88 years. i wanted more. you are that kind of human.
even as i sit in my grief for you, you guide me, you remind me that you are not absent, but complete.
“true journey is return.”
from the new yorker’s piece “the fantastic Ursula le Guin”
Revolution begins with the self, in the self. It may be lonely. Certainly painful. It’ll take time. We’ve got time. That of course is an unpopular utterance these days. We’d better take the time to fashion revolutionary selves, revolutionary lives, revolutionary relationships. If your house ain’t in order, you ain’t in order. It is so much easier to be out there than right here. The revolution ain’t out there. Yet. But it is here.
~ Toni Cade Bambara
“On the Issue of Roles” in The Black Woman Anthology (pp. 133-135) (thanks janine for sending me this on time!)
i love time.
if there is a constant in this world, something that i feel deeply grateful for on a regular basis, it’s the passage of time and the capacity to see it passing, and see my self changing.
i am home after another week with the babies. i have technically been home 4 days this year. i have felt home every single day though, in montreal, ny, cali, denver, new orleans, dc, and of course that little house in the woods in central minnesota.
i have been so at home out in the woods with the babies, feeling the beautiful ease with which they give me their trust and their rage and their vulnerability – it’s creating in me a really tender different way of being present, with my body and my creativity and my patience. they have such unabashed longing to know and control and destroy and create. it is deeply inspiring to see the level of human emotion that we all learn to manage, for better or for worse.
home with them means waking up to wet diapers and toilet lessons, breakfast, starting fires, playing, cleaning, negotiating, reading, planning adventures and surprises and treats, holding and bouncing and rocking and dancing and feeling both my limitations and my unconditionality and then falling into bed at the end of the day exhausted and delighted with life.
i have been at home in long late night talks with some of my oldest friends, and with new friends, all of whom are intentionally caring about me and moving closer in my life.
i find i need each interaction i am having right now. i am learning that the quality of my presence shapes whether something useful happens in exchange for my attention. this lesson is emerging from work i am doing on my relationship with mortality…in the meantime i am growing my commitment to wasting none of my life and energy.
i have been at home holding space for black women’s reproductive justice with someone nearly twice my age; we recognized each other as kindred. homecoming can happen between two people, in groups, regardless of all the history or distance between us.
i have been coming home to forgiveness, of myself and others. i am cultivating the level of forgiveness that allows closed doors to meld into the wall of memory, allows new openings and possibilities to emerge. i am balancing light that nourishes when it falls on the truth, darkness that is fecund instead of concealing.
time is everything in the work of forgiveness. intentional days matter. and years matter. and then decades matter.
now i find i am different than i thought i was. i am not sure if this is actually change, or just radical remembering. fortunately the effect is so magnificent that i am not sure it matters, the distinction.
i am remembering how to soften my edges enough to move against a tantrum and bring solace, to be in a moment without trying to narrate it, to be honest about how i feel in the moment, to be with people, including – especially – my family. to be WITH as my whole self, the responsibility of all i am in any given room.
i am coming home to feeling my beauty, my spirit and my health in my body…whoo child. i promise to only use my powers for good.
i am lit up by the small miraculous experiences i am having, remembering how to be important to one person at a time, as opposed to feeling i should be important to many.
and of course i have been at home in rooms that were equal mixes of beloveds and strangers, smiling at each other, intoxicated by the erotic scent of brilliance that octavia butler has left all over our lives.
an email from jeff perlstein led to an event in oakland, and now it feels like some awesome octavia butler and emergent strategy world tour with new orleans, dc and minneapolis already touched.
the events have been SO different – in oakland it was a revival. in new orleans it was a close sweet circle of people at the neighborhood story project, really longing for time to read and think together. in dc, at bread for the city, it was more quiet, with reflection on what it means to be radical in that city of extremes. there, a homeless man brought the current apocalyptic parallel universe into the room with us along with a set of challenges on how to hold cross-class conversations that shift us away from charity and towards power in the face of actual hunger and need.
in minneapolis we were in moon palace, a bookstore opened four months ago that quickly filled up with parents and their babies, including my nephew and nieces, who provided the energetic and musical background to our conversation – i got to watch the way parents can be present with two things at once in a way that doesn’t feel diminishing, but is a skill of loving people who need you for their safety.
i am hoping these conversations spark lots of reading of octavia butler’s work intentionally, politically. and that a lot more cities want to have events – in the next few months i’ll be in new york, new mexico, buffalo, back in oakland and minnesota, and of course home in detroit. hint hint.
it feels like i’m home from an accidental second sabbatical, this one focused on connecting with friends, family and soulmates as deeply as last year was about connecting deeply with myself. each of these people and places are growing the pattern of my life, scaling up as i step into myself.
and of course there’s been a soundtrack:
– kendrick lamar
– bruno mars
– ellie goulding – ‘anything could happen’
– rihanna – ‘diamonds’
– martha wainwright
and of course audre lourde on the uses of the erotic (listen and let your life be different):
and of course stevie nicks reminding me it’s all good, it’s my wild heart.
and kimbra has been singing me through the journey, over and over again, ‘home is here.’
my heart is bursting from my chest today, tears on my cheeks, my skin covered in waves and waves of goosebumps as my body integrates the beautiful revolution in egypt.
i am watching al jazeera, reading the voices of egyptians on twitter, watching and listening as the egyptian protestors dance and sing and scream and celebrate the success of their revolutionary effort.
in case you don’t know yet – hosni mubarak, after 30 years of holding the presidency in egypt, has been forced out of power by the egyptian people after 18 days of revolution. and it’s not just him, it’s his entire regime. and it’s not just egypt, it’s tunisia, it’s the entire region! and instead of handing power over to the unacceptable vice president he appointed 14 days ago, mubarak conceded power to the army, who have unequivocally stated that they will stand with the people and the democratic process in this effort.
there is so much work to come as the people continue to learn how to hold power together. there is so much grief to process for the lives lost in this struggle, the martyrs who sacrificed themselves for something they knew was greater – justice.
and right now, there is this moment of feeling absolutely alive, feeling the absolute best potential of humanity when it rises up against corruption, against oppression, against violence.
if i could do backflips, or be a firework, or transport myself to tahrir square – i would.
all i can think is – how beautiful is it when people love themselves so much that they cannot continue being compromised, when they must stand up for justice?
it is so beautiful – i can’t take my eyes off of it.
“i feel so proud to be egyptian”, “i love my people” – this is love, that inner transformation which allows you to be brave and persistent and nonviolent and put others before yourself. this is love, happening at a quantum scale.
and i feel so humbled. i live in the united states, where i constantly hear organizers talking about strategy, how can “we beat them?”…and i have felt, deeply, that it isn’t about the enemy, it’s about what is within you. are you willing to step up, to put your voice and body behind your beliefs, to live in a new way? are you willing to be fearless? are you willing to see everyone as a potential ally in the larger mission for justice?
but i haven’t had enough modern models of love and inner transformation creating tangible large-scale change to draw on. now, egypt has given us this gorgeous model. nonviolent, personal, loving, healing, taking care of each other and their country, and not giving up – cleaning the streets, inviting the army to stand with the people, setting up their recycling centers and medical stations and childcare and creating the society they longed for – that is what revolution can look like.
and it is so important to me that this model of love and nonviolence comes to us all from the arab world, from the very people who have been SO internationally maligned and targeted, by my country and others, as “dangerous”, “terrorists”. it is important for us all to grasp that in fact, egyptians, arabs, are the current face of people’s power, of a new democracy, of a love-based transformational movement.
i am in, i am celebrating, i am crying and laughing and overjoyed. i am so grateful.