maybe happiness?

being happy takes a lot of work for someone like me.

suffering makes sense to me, the world is hard and unfair and oppressive and dangerous. finding the narrative of despair is our focus as a species, hence what we call news (terror, shame, controversy, immaturity), what we slow down to ogle at in traffic (hint: not the flowers). we make each other miserable, unnecessarily. many people, including me, can make meaning of our lives by how much we suffer, how extensive and heavy the baggage is that we bring forward.

also, i am a virgo. scorpio moon. i pay attention, i look for the inconsistencies, i can see the worst case scenarios fanned out before me, a million lonely paths. since i was young, i have been drawn to what i thought of as “real life”, the hard stuff; the addictions, heartbreaks, and the places where humans were failing at perfection.

i have had to learn to cultivate joy, to generate and extend trust, to be still, to focus my attention on what brings me ease, to give myself permission to experience beauty and love. that shouldn’t be past tense, as it’s all daily practice. i am learning. i am learning that being happy is, at least initially, not about external circumstances, but about internal perspective and attention liberation.

two years ago i wrote: when i feel hopeless, it usually means my attention is on things I can’t touch. when I bring my attention to the people and places I can touch, can shape and be shaped by, my life fills with meaning, connection, joy and transformation. #attentionliberation #attentionreparations #emergentstrategy #interdependence.

i have been practicing. here are some further aspects of bringing our attention to, and experiencing, happiness.

acknowledge suffering
if you deny that suffering is real, is happening, is part of human life, then you cut off a massive part of your awareness. you move out of balance with reality. happiness lives in the connections between us, the tether that joins us to the living world.

we have to acknowledge grief, longing, anxiety, oppression, depression, despair, loneliness. khalil gibran taught us that our sorrow carves out the space for our joy, and vice versa. they are inextricably linked – to deny suffering, especially the suffering of others, is to stay in false joy, joy that takes but does not give.

acknowledge suffering.

acknowledge doubt
doubt is a sign that you are paying attention.

there is a random wild energy moving through the universe, that is what makes it interesting, what brings us the unexpected. life has patterns, but is still not predictable.

doubt is that proof of chaos that distorts the blank surface of perfection. doubt is that small cut at the foundation of a lie, which eventually fells it. doubt keeps us from staying in stupid systems forever, from believing misguided leaders when they tell stories about god, power and change. doubt helps us escape false paradigms in which joy in the present moment is impossible.

acknowledge doubt.

be smaller
start small. be small.

i am happiest when i let my life be contained within my body, listening to my needs, and letting myself follow the impulses of care and connection.

current life requires such projection, such a massive scale of oversharing and trying to change strangers through the internet and attend to massive crises. we can live our whole lives as minds, worried, thinking, untethered.

large scale sometimes still happens when you’re being small, but it’s more deeply sourced, and doesn’t create the same level of attachment. when you’re small, your discernment is about the authenticity of the care, the real person you can be and feel in each connection.

be smaller.

let it go
my papa used to say this all the time. when someone was complaining, building a case for their misery, building a case against a loved one, he’d say ‘let it go.’ he gave it to god.

i didn’t understand it then as the profound key to happiness that i now find it to be, the ability to let go of things. when i can’t change something, when it isn’t working, when we don’t know how to apologize, when they didn’t mean to hurt me, i let it go. i give it to earth – that which is larger than myself.

i also think of this as clearing the channel. one of the first ways i understood healing was that i could feel the open channel of connection between myself and others, and/or sense blockages there. i would focus on clearing the channel so that my love, care, tenderness, forgiveness or other kinds of nourishing attention could reach them. i now use this technology to let things go, to keep myself from holding grudges, becoming a sad barnacle on a wreckage of my life. i don’t stagnate in any narrative that denies my power. i let it go, i stay in sacred motion.

as often as possible, if it doesn’t serve the miracle of life, let it go.

revel in the present
the present is so precious. sometimes when i drop out of the grip of memory, when i pull myself back from forecasting into the unknown, i find myself shocked at how incredible the present is.

in the present is where love makes its offer. i look back at how often i have missed love because i had my attention elsewhere while it was happening. i have a visceral memory of the first time i felt present-time love, holding another’s hand and walking across a field, needing nothing. it was so mundane, but every blade of grass caught the light, and still does.

when i am present, i relax, bringing my attention to the gift of the moment. i am feeling. i can choose connection, or solitude (connection with others or self). i can move or be still. i can intentionally focus on what brings me awe, even while getting a flu shot or blood drawn or a speculum inserted. when the present is grief, i can remember it is gratitude, i can bring love into me.

when i am present, i understand that time is not linear, but fully available to me. in my healing work, i can relegate the past to the past, notice my own survival. i can humble myself to the futures, and listen for which ones want to use my sacred life, partner with my heartbeat to shift the potential. i can release my need to know that which i cannot know. in the present, everything is possible, except the clearly impossible. that clarity, that light on everything inside me, is a sign of right direction.

revel in the present.

when i do these things, acknowledge suffering and doubt – past present and future; when i get small, and let go of what isn’t connection, i find that the only thing left is to revel in the present. a brief car ride becomes a celebration. love becomes an option that doesn’t require contortion or obsession, just honesty. a truth spoken becomes a liberation. our species is not failing, but learning.

and i can have a moment of happiness.

that’s what all this brightness is, pouring out of me as i do my life’s work, heading towards rest, connected deeply and honestly to those who see me whole and still choose me, letting praise and critique simply be signs that others exist and feel. when i am present, i am doing my best without effort, relaxing into what is, right now.

and because it’s taken so much work, i want to claim it, here in my exhausted and overextended life, even though i need the sabbatical coming and more quiet and more vegetables…i am also full of this chaotic, tender, real time brightness. in this moment, awake again before dawn to listen to now, i feel so much life flowing through me.

i feel satisfaction.

and maybe, maybe, happiness.

2012, and scene.

2012 has been such a full and blazing year.

this year i grabbed my life up, got fierce about what my every day looks like. there have been years of great advances in my life, and great setbacks – and most of those have been in pursuit of righteous and grandiose dreams for what i am meant to do in the world.

this year, in many ways, it felt like i woke up.
or began to.

the year had two parts.

the first part, traveling the world on sabbatical, was all about getting quiet enough to have some agency. the further i get away from that international journey, the more clearly i see what i brought home beyond the gorgeous tan – this capacity to take a step back into myself without disconnecting, to find the quiet room of my own reckoning, and determine right action. the quiet room is massive and constant.

i believe myself, which is a relatively new experience. i believe what i feel, and am less inclined to creative beautiful fictions to counter those feelings if they require difficult action. it is hard to be a writer and also live an authentic life, but i am getting there.

the second part of the year was a long series of opportunities for application of this practice of getting quiet within, and taking right action.

i have had so many distinct opportunities to step further and further into living my truth, holding every day of my life, every moment, as the practice ground for being the abundance i have longed for for so long.

i have learned some things about abundance.

it is self-perpetuating. each moment in which i have claimed abundance has simply increased my comfort with claiming abundance, and has made scarcity then more unbearable, as a personal mindset or a worldview.

it is a natural state. there is a period in each of our lives before we start participating in the routines of shared time (school, work, etc) where we are just present. how long we get to be in that place depends on a number of factors, but it is worth protecting. for a long time i couldn’t figure out just why i adored children so much, but it is this capacity to be present that is so delicious. and in that present state, to be able to easily say what is interesting and focus on that, that is a skill worth reclaiming as adults. so much scarcity comes from wasting time on things that neither interest nor excite us at the foundational level.

and abundance is immediate. its not something you have to plant and wait for spring. that too of course, it grows now and in all your potential futures. but if you truly call it in, you must be ready for it, because it shows up right away, and you will want to have room for it.

i love what i have learned so far. i am grateful for all of my teachers. for next year, i have no new resolutions, i just want to deepen my practice of abundance, which deepens my incredible life.

blowing you kisses!

sabbatical book reviews for you!

beloveds – i kept track of all the books i read on my sabbatical, rating them on a scale of 1 (don’t read this) to 5 (don’t let your life end without having read this).

it was my 33rd year so i aimed to read 33 books. i did that, plus a few extra. here are the brief reviews i kept on the journey. happy reading 🙂

otherland volumes 1-4
tad williams
3.5
my friend nancy dalwin directed me towards this collection and wow. it’s a slow start, but that’s mostly because the ideas are so massive and you are dropped right into a truly other place. it’s all about what’s real and what’s not, and how those with unlimited resources think of the future, and what it means to be sentient. fascinating and exciting exploration of a virtual reality future.

divergent
veronica roth
2.5
read this because a near-stranger in Mexico put it in my hands, and said its kind of like hunger games. it wasn’t as good, but fast and entertaining and with some social critique. would recommend for high school sci-fi club.

Finn
jon clinch
3
saw this on the little outdoor library shelf of the front desk in my cabana hotel in tulum and had to grab it because my favorite little boy in the world is named Finn. gorgeously written, the idea is lifted from side note references to huck finn’s dad. sad story, hard read, racism is so ugly even when the words are pretty.

malcolm x: a life of reinvention
manning marable
3.6
marable was my college advisor and malcolm x is one of the thinkers whose story has shaped my life. there were a lot of critiques of his book and folks didn’t want it out, said it took away from malcolm’s image – i understood that. to me, it made him more human and his story even more powerful, but i also look for that. i don’t know that marable wanted to strip malcolm of his heroic story, but rather paint a deeper picture of a complex man. this is all through the lens of my love for malcolm tho. if you don’t love malcolm, skip it.

broken angels
richard morgan
4
i love the whole takeshi kovacs series (which starts with altered carbon) – the lead character is this emotionally charged superhuman who feels like a 1940s detective at times. morgan writes erotic scenes that wake me up. this book, second in the series, explores human relation to martians, basically to something utterly unhuman, in really fascinating and scary and lovely ways.

woken furies
richard morgan
3.5
more brilliant takeshi kovacs, he really is pushing up against ‘the system’ in this one. the idea of what is fair, what is right, is big in this one and we get to learn a lot more about the anarchist philosopher quelchrist falconer who is quoted throughout the other books in the series, and her thinking and words are exciting. ‘face the facts, then act’ is an actual mantra for me now.

the kingdom of gods
nk jemison
4

ahhh. i got to meet nk last year and it’s wonderful that such a grand, clever, cosmic series comes from such a humble, brilliant black brooklyn woman. this is the third book in the trilogy and all three are delightful and really play with ideas around what is human, what is divine, what is balance between good and evil. and race, class, sex, violence, incest, cosmic action scenes, shapeshifting? it’s all there.

midnight robber
nalo hopkinson
4
i love how nalo writes – this was taught to me before i read it, by dr. alexis pauline gumbs, at the allied media conference in 2011. it’s Caribbean science fiction, it’s about how we handle punishment, build community, build mythology, and our relationship to technology. grand.

dream park
steve barnes and larry niven
3
this was cool, though it definitely felt like it was written by guys who like to game – not so beautiful, but like a fun old fashioned whodunit set in a virtual reality game park.

annals of the western shore: gifts, voices, powers
ursula le guin
4.4
this collection is subtle, gorgeous, intricate and very radical. over the course of the three books, le guin explores what it means to accept your gifts, raise your voice, acquire and hold power. she is with the underdogs and the oddities and the magic ones as usual, and i fell in love with everyone, and i cried at the end of it all.

thirteen
richard morgan
3.5
i mostly like how morgan writes, though it is intensely violent stuff. in this, like in the takeshi kovacs series, morgan plays with the idea of how our desire for security and safety makes us create monsters, and then go deep in to find the humanity in those monsters.

his dark materials: the golden compass, The subtle knife, the amber spyglass
philip pullman
5

this is less a trilogy of books and more a world that you open the books and go over to. it’s a magnificent attack on blind faith, on anything that asks you to submit, to relinquish pleasure…all done through a set of intriguing imperfect characters on the constantly changing landscape of love.

wild
cheryl strayed
5

i am so in love with cheryl strayed i can’t see straight when it comes to her. i loved her anonymously as the author of the dear sugar columns, and when she revealed her identity i rushed to find every thing she’d written. This book wasn’t on kindle when i first looked, then i met this dope older gay couple in hawaii who raved about it and said it was on kindle. i read it while laughing, crying, rooting for her, forgetting where i was, and trying to slow down because it was that good and honest that i didn’t want it to end. it’s about her walking the pacific crest trail for three months on her own. from her heavy bag to wrong shoes to her grief and heartbreaking break-up and terrifying journey and loving nature and all of it, i felt this was a parallel to my journey and a Very Important Book

the host
stephenie myers
3.5
very cool book about an alien invasion and how humans survive and love – also what is human?, what is it we must protect, how we evolve. by the author of twilight, so has a bit of that love story overlay to it that’s kind of high school-y and thick. but good story, good idea.

love
toni morrison
4.5
picked up wanting a physical book in my hand. this is a bitter story about love, and the ways people grab onto each other in life, what grows the heart and what damages it. some big twists in here, brilliant mysterious morrison writing.


changing course

susan wells
3.5
lovely account of the retreat program i am on, the history of it, the changes it puts people through. great for leaders who are feeling burnt out, on how we heal, what we need.

journal of a solitude
may sarton
5

sarton documents her process of being a writer in solitude for a year. she is tough on herself, and so vulnerable, and the result is something every artist and writer should read. she understands humanity as she runs away from it, understands why we create, and wonders if happiness and creativity can coexist really. so good. (with me daily, still)

in the woods
tana french
2
i found this book frustrating. it was poised to be a scary book with one mystery hidden inside another, and that’s true, but it feels like a cheat of a book at the end.

the woman warrior: memoir of a girlhood amongst ghosts
maxine hong kingston
4.8

classic. this book is a mix of stories, memories, myths that altogether paint a portrait of the cultural space between america and those who immigrate here, particularly from china. this book made me feel the longing of family across cultural divides that were crossed for survival, and it makes me think women are the most resilient species on earth.

unquenchable fire
rachel pollack
4.5

truly remarkable and different. i like this story because it cuts so close to home, so much of it is both outlandish and maybe happening right now and that is a great tension to hold as the story unfolds, it’s hilarious, it’s another one that drops you into its world so completely that it’s hard to feel solid at the start, and then once you are in the other world, you kind of want the rapture of it, the key questions about why have faith?, the story telling culture. brilliant.

skin folk
nalo hopkinson
4
great collection of short stories, nalo writes with a distinct voice that balances between futurism and caribbean folklore – i feel like i’m learning and being challenged and expanded the whole time.

white tiger
aravind adiga
4
magnificent hilarious cocky critique of capitalism and racism and the fundamental flaw of societies that operate with servant classes.

friday night knitting club
kate jones
2.5
readable but lacked something for me, though i appreciated the community aspect of it. another part felt like diversity training and pop love. i was entertained, but felt like the book wanted me to feel more than i felt for the characters

futureland
walter mosley
5

apocalyptic science fiction at its best – really mindbending ideas, race/class analysis on point, particularly useful in imagining the future of prisons and justice, understanding class and servant/worker dynamics. How to subvert capitalism at the level of concept? mosley goes there.

cinnamon kiss
walter mosley
2.5
fun. i like his sci fi better, but this is entertaining and keeps the attention and has some wonderful thick woman loving sex scenes!

the known world
edward p jones
5

this is one of the best books that’s ever been written related to slavery. its about black slave owners just before the civil war. it’s so nuanced, it so thoroughly explains how slavery and freedom are internal conditions as much as they are external, how evil the institution is, but also how love and compassion stays intertwined in any human system.

bonus books

shadow tag
louise erdrich
ooph – this is a devastating beautiful book about privacy, love, longing, truth and lies.

inside/out, selected poems
marilyn buck
powerful, beautiful, haunting. so glad these were published, that her time in prison yielded something gorgeous.

ahab’s wife
sena jeter naslund
‘it was in her nature to love and to nurture; she would not leave those feelings within herself to fester and sour, but instead she chose someone who would receive her gifts gladly. she did not hold herself to be so special that only one special person could she find satisfactory.’
i thought this book was stunning, just stunning. i would love for schools to teach this and moby dick side by side. this is a fierce story.

crazy wisdom saves the world again
wes scoop nisker
brilliant, clear, accessible and funny reflections on religion and science and existence!

lessons from the damned: class struggle in the black community
by the damned
brutally honest, a necessary collection. my favorite essay is ‘the new education coming out of the old’.

read read read!!!