returning from away: wow

this post is a bit mantra, some thoughts, and some resources. if you just want the resources, skip to the bottom.

you are not the center
face the center
follow the center


“the world isn’t going to fall apart just because you stop to rest.” – me, to myself and many coaching clients over the years. also many people to me as i prepared for sabbatical.

“things fall apart.” – the world, roughly two seconds after i stopped to rest.

returning, may 31st

at a certain point you realize that the world is like the body, it’s a falling apart world, after a while it’s mostly deconstruction. something beautiful, pure, naked and sacred has been abandoned, again, taken, again.

while i was away, the world fell apart and many days felt like trying to meditate with a raging army at the door, knowing that i didn’t know how to calm that army, or lead it, or make any move that wasn’t obligation, surrender or loss.

i return knowing even less about what to do at a mass scale. i am only armed with what i know to do at the smallest scale. i took my own life and made it satisfying, joyful, livable, on purpose. my usefulness feels clear, though i may never quite be able to articulate it more than saying i carry light in the darkness. i hold it like the earth holds a fire for sharing love stories, secrets and song. without shadows, the precious miracle of light, fire, heat, becomes either a scorching end or a beauty unnoticed, and that’s fine. knowing how to channel something as honest as fire has taken a lot of precise wearing down of myself from rock to soil. it doesn’t make me special, and if i’m not careful, it overwhelms me. we all have a role to play and mine involves telling stories, prophecy, song, conversation, solitude, creative responses and instigations for movement, and fully inhabiting my freedom.

something i noticed on my journey is that i am one of the freest people to ever exist. this freedom is not yet total. but it is a freedom from certain oppressions my ancestors survived, and didn’t. i see them everywhere, taking shape in the clouds, in dirt formations, in abstract patterns on curtains, in the shapes of flowers – a mouth, a jaw, a wrapped head, strong shoulders. and a freedom from certain burdens, supremacies, that other ancestors carried.

i do not feel the myth of safety that some white people walk with. i do not feel the myth of innocence some black people walk with, try to cover ourselves with even though it doesn’t save us. i have the freedom that comes from having ancestors who sacrificed a lot, prayed to a variety of gods and goddesses, sang a lot; there is a wave of good work behind me. i have the freedom of living in this era in a place where i learned to read and write and my words can reach beyond my range of motion or travel. i have the freedom of having been politicized early and lived my adult life moving away from the toxic distortions of capitalism and respectability. i have the freedom of being a sinner in touch with my divinity. i still have some freedom of mobility, both in the form of my passport (a freedom in constant threat based on federal fuckery), and my arthritic body – though each step hurts so much that i only do what’s necessary, which feels clearer each day: yoga, dance, praise, listen, make love, eat, drink, bathe, cleanse, write.

fight is not part of my nature, but to protect my life, our lives, i am learning to wield the weapon i have been gifted: words.

i want everyone to have their own list of what is necessary, what is just right for their own lives. we, all of us, were given this utopia of a planet in order to exist and learn and feel and change. without harm.

which doesn’t mean without suffering, the part of changing and loving and the life cycle that includes death…no, ‘without harm’ meaning without acting from a constant insecure attachment to life. that insecure attachment makes us harm the planet, break the children, shrink the women, require the men to be gladiators or slaves. that insecure attachment to life makes us insatiable for something other than the most incredible thing of all time: life. being alive, being present, having agency, loving others in all manner of ways, finding that balance – that’s the most exquisite liberating way to be. i say this from experience.

i am learning how to be happy in most conditions. i am learning how to return to happiness even when walking with grief, rage and overwhelm. i am learning how to protect my happiness from those who can’t find theirs, and cultivate mutual happiness by sharing it when it seems to be in limited supply.

my lessons involve a lot of the things you might guess – stillness, reflection, rest, boundaries, being able to feel. giving up numbness, escape, judgment, codependence and, often, social media and the news.

but more than any of these it requires a taking myself seriously. giving myself time to figure out how to be myself in any condition. the rest gets easier, comes when needed, doesn’t require massive amounts of discipline or self flaggelation or sacrifice. just acceptance.

my theory is that the more individuals who can increase this acceptance – of ourselves, of the cycles of our lives and connections, of our conditions – the easier we can pull back the veil on how ridiculous a society we’ve ended up in. the more of us can pivot right now to living lives that are compelling to ourselves and future generations.

so. this is what the next phase of my life will be about. building on emergent strategy and pleasure activism, bringing attention to this acceptance, uplifting practices i know to be liberatory, writing the way, singing the way, living the way.

the world ended at least twice while i was away. or 100,000 times. in ways that feel newer and bigger than ever. but of course they do because this time it’s us living it. the sooner we can accept that this is the inevitable, and we get to shape what’s next, the sooner we stop participating in other people’s cycles and start shaping new patterns that allow more of us to have outstanding beautiful lives.

returning June 8th

as i return to the world from a strange sabbatical marked with reality checks, it is amazing to feel my own center in relationship to the center of movement, of nation.

in the practice of centering, we organize ourselves around what we most care about and want to see in the world. at my core i want to love and be loved, to trust and be trustworthy. i want loving and trusting to be the primary ways i spend my time, the primary skills i hone, the way i define community, the liberation path. intimately, yes, but i also want to live on a planet that i know loves me and get to experience that love. i want to live with people i can trust to make decisions from a foundation of love.

here i mean love as a good parent loves: nourishing, patient, abundantly feeding, carrying without complaint, cleansing, comforting without the kind of judgment that shrinks, holding in complexity.

trusting the way healthy lovers trust – not trusting in a staying the same, but trusting the other(s) to constantly change, with integrity. to change in ways that unveil and fortify our whole selves.

i want to feel whole with my family. in every relationship. in my home. at any place i work. on a drive to the store. in the places i gather food, supplies. it seems simple to me, to want to feel myself a whole human in the mundane flow of my life. it’s all ritual. it still befuddles my higher nature that so many systems in human history have been structured to deny that simple whole feeling to the majority of those both alive and anticipated.

for months i have felt like a ghost of myself in the world, an after image with no promise of return. imagine me dashing across borders with one wet wing, dragging a split cocoon. then trying to knit a safe space back around me in a hailstorm, trying to expose the least of myself to danger, knowing i am only half transformed, but maybe that’s all there’s time for. #sabbatical2020.

recentering during the pandemic meant finding dignity within caution and boundaries, finding and deepening connection with no contact – the last 3.5 months is the longest i’ve ever gone without human touch, and it changed me. it’s also meant surrendering to this moment in time and my role in it without rushing ahead of myself.

“i am a writer, i am going to write.” – lorraine hansberry

“it just seemed like writing was absolutely the most important thing in the world…somebody asks ‘what do you do?’ and you print it out: WRITE.” – toni morrison

nervous and thrilled, i return, two wings dazzling and fragile, pushing and peeking back into the world, rested and happy and grateful for the space i carved out against all the odds. i am here and i am writing.

(George Floyd drawn by Joaquin Zuniga-Perlstein)

and of course what i return to is a new moment, a moment that feels historic…perhaps unexpected in the midst of a pandemic…but of course it’s like this, of course the containment is followed by mass explosion, our attention contained and focused makes it easier to see our rage.

the risk of being in the close proximity of protests is heightened by the global pandemic, such that a wave of sickness will likely follow all of this exerted power. those in the streets assert it is worth it for the gains, and i feel all of us negotiating between the rocks and hard places we always navigate.

police brutality is a constant, but in the past five years we in movement have pivoted, brought our collective and global attention to it such that each death is an escalation, and the responses to it grow, the demands sharpen to a point: defund the police.

when society is in such upheaval it helps me to remind myself that love is the foundation of everything, love is gravity. when we can’t see and feel it, we must uncover it, open the channels. when it’s this blocked, it can feel like imprecise work to disrupt and peel back and clear off the layers of sediment that have distorted our understanding of everything.

capitalism is the sediment of greed and colonisation.

white supremacy is the sediment of ignorance and gunpowder.

brutal policing is the sediment of slavery – the worn down granules of sloth paired with fear and hatred of the perceived other.

these inherited and assumed norms are the least of ourselves, leftover from rigged debates over competition vs collaboration, abundance vs greed, biodiversity vs monoculture. now we traverse a barren landscape stinking of gasping fish, the abundance and true wealth evaporating.

but watching this round of protests, i see our tears from violent loss and raucous laughter beginning to flow.

amidst the terror and my tender hearted daily cries, so often i find myself laughing. this generation of protests is woven through with black twitter and drag culture and shade rooms and viral contortions of cool.

it is pc, but also pointing and laughing at pc, not from a place of benefiting from the offenses, more from a place of realizing how much ego drives pc (“see how right i can be? don’t punish me!”), and how anything become trend is in some way laughable.

we have learned how to take ourselves very seriously and also shrug it all off. to weep and wobble, march on the beat, march in second lines, for justice.

i say we but i can feel my distance from the epicenter in a way that feels appropriate. i am responsible, i am finding my ways to contribute, but my time closer to the center was back up the river a ways, fervent and righteous – and not nearly as effective. not nearly as fun and funny, either.

i feel my currents in these waters, i feel work that was done last year, one and two decades ago, all in the flow. i imagine that older organizers and movement shapers can feel all the moments and small shifts and breaks and splits and sharpenings of their work present and shining in this moment.

i still feel crucial, and that my choices matter. but i am thrilled by this feeling of being outside the center, facing it with wonder and humility.

this movement moment is irresistible because there is less respectability at the center, and more queer Black feminism. there are fewer attempts to join and assimilate into the norm and more efforts to leverage the norm towards humanity, justice, love and life. it is more compelling to hear a mass scream from the heart than a pundit pontificate from a false center. i love the murmuration of sounds as we sing and heal and listen. we dreamed aloud this ferocity and politicized and trained and held and tilled and watered and shat and wept and fought and mended and now many of us get to be participant-witnesses to this cycle, collective doulas.

a few years ago i realized that the privilege walk exercise is more compelling to me if it’s done in a circle, to represent the interconnectedness that is true to all human formation. it’s more compelling if, after the questions are asked, it centers those who have faced the most structural adversity and innovated their survival – that’s whose needs we should follow, demands we should center.

once we unveil the privilege and power and oppression in the room, we can imagine turning this circle on its side, creating a bullseye, a direction, a center for targeting attention and resources. a way to follow the center, set the pace by the center, measure relevance by how much an idea touches the needs of the center. i often do this mentally and somatically – note and acknowledge and feel the distinctions in privilege, access and struggle in any interaction. if we believe we are all equal to each other, why doesn’t it always feel that way? mindfulness helps me see where i have been trained i am less than another, or more. where i should be the center, claiming attention and resources and pointing direction, and where i should be closer to the edge, protecting and resourcing and following.

in this moment, with all the layers of impact and vectors of change, i can see that i am not the center of this moment, and that is the blessing. the center is younger, is trans, is willing and able to risk it all. in some places the center is white self-responsibility, in some places it’s black integrity, in some places it’s brown and borderless and global and post binary. the center is in the streets using full voice, unashamed, celebratory, ready for this confrontation. the center is pure, a fountain of hope and rage and possibility that feeds our greatest callings.

i notice in this returning that i mostly feel like i do when i come back to visit a family i was a doula for: i can take no credit for the actual miracle. i did encourage deep breaths and pleasure for the womb to soften, i did whisper ‘trust yourself, adapt, transform yourself, open, you can do this,’ alongside the panting sweating birthing. i feel grief for the losses, and a weepy explosive tenderness for the life that comes thru. and there are more births to come.

not being the center, but facing the center, doesn’t mean i am removed from impact. i am a black woman, with family in several uprising cities, and tentacles of work and love woven into and throughout movement – i feel the grief and the tenderness, the danger and the need for change. but i also have every possible need met right now, safety nets of community if i find myself without resources, and no direct intimate losses to police violence. i am slowly but surely paying off my debts. i am able to speak and write freely.

so i turn and face those who are grieving and teaching us about how to do this work in a way that actually helps those who are shocked by loss. or homeless, jobless, targeted by the state. or without a safety net, a reputation, an education or analysis of this moment. i acknowledge that i can feel the depth of our suffering and still not fully understand, still listen to those closer to the broken heart of this nation.

and listening to that pain, to the wisdom that follows pain, for clear leadership, i hear the brilliant emerging call: defund the police.

which is to say, redistribute the budget of community safety.

this is a logical, experimental pivot.

let us recognize a broken thing. in birth work, it is incredibly dangerous not to face reality. if the baby is in a perilous position, or unable to access sustenance, or if the baby spirit has left the flesh, we must find an adaptation.

here and now we live in a system where there is something fatal at the center of our being. this system, made up of millions of people, billions of actions, has blood on its hands, seeks vengeance and dominance under the guise of protecting innocent people, and is causing immense harm. we the body politic must release it to survive, to create compelling futures for our children. it will change us completely to release it, to divest from the violence, acknowledge that this isn’t the way, that brutal militarised police are not leading us to safety or peace, but increasing conflict and tension and danger and racism.

we can grieve the longing for safety that was dashed time and again. and then, having faced reality, we can see what has the potential for life, and we can make new realities possible. facing the reality at the center allows for the necessary induction of birth/change, the intervention, the c-section, even the miscarriage that the parent can survive.

in this pivot we face the life, the miracle, still possible from our stardust selves, our freedom dreams and precious tomorrows.

one or two steps back from the center, it is easier to see that every nuance is not urgent. every distinction doesn’t actually need the same amount of room. priorities can be localized – uprising culture is localized and better for it.

facing center, it is easier to see that while the police and 45 crew are doing the expected, we are doing things in a myriad of ways that show how we have been learning from our struggles – with each other and with the state.

i return rested and centered, shaken by all that changed in my absence, saddened by all the loss, inspired by all the expressed rage. i feel ready to follow, document, write between trenches, uplift and shine light on the workers, sing, comfort, and hold.

every time someone reaches out to me for resources, it feels so clear where to point to. it’s all over the internet but i’ll put it here too:

in general, follow #m4bl, the movement for black lives. m4bl is a set of unleashed black minds operating together with historical integrity. that is the way.

here’s a collection of healing spaces for black people as the grief compounds, adrenaline crashes, high comes down, victory unveils next steps. follow prentis hemphill and BEAM.

in most towns, there are chapters of black organizers in BYP100, black lives matter, and others who you can either join or pour resources into.

building movement across cultures/races/ethnicities? there are so many formations and alliances and efforts – the one i know most intimately is the rising majority, which flows out of the action arm of #m4bl.

white? some white people thought about y’all – here’s a scaffolded resource list. black folks think about y’all too, particularly this mama scholar writing specifically to white parents.

generally the three most helpful things you can do if you aren’t from/at center are:

– educate (read more yourself and help others see the center clearly – bell hooks, angela davis, michelle alexander, charlene carruthers, andrea ritchie – there are a wealth of living writers who can get you together)

– bless the center with a just redistribution of resources…keep gathering wealth from stagnant legacies and moving them towards the future. small or large, your generosity lets the brilliance scale up.

(when possible, don’t make organizers do additional unpaid labor {answering a bunch of questions, making sure you feel seen and thanked, educating you} for your donations. yay you were generous yay! seriously it’s great! just don’t take time or strategy away from the work of those you see and hear being effective. search, find the donate page on their website and give.)

– stop business as usual. strike, march, act, blow whistles, disarm. leave harmful positions in harmful institutions or become a wrench in the gears. be impolite. disrupt white supremacy and patriarchy and policing wherever you encounter it. don’t look for praise for doing the right thing, just do it and notice how it sharpens you, strengthens you.

look what happens when we follow the truth. yes even if you are not the center, you can drop into your center, face the center and follow.

remember, the front line of cultural struggles is wherever two or more are gathered.

i have written a lot, i was away a long time. and i am grateful to be alive with y’all specifically.

sabbatical your quarantine

god is change, change is god. this has been a time of massive change in every direction.

a week ago i was at the end of a dirt road in tuscany having the rural italian sabbatical of a lifetime. i was initially a coronavirus minimizer, focused on how it wasn’t going to touch me personally, and how was i going to get to my pizza – one of the main reasons italy was a destination for me.

and then, with everyone else, i faced the reality – coronavirus is going to touch us all, impact us all, change all of our trajectories. i woke up a week ago and adapted quickly. i grieved the sabbatical i had planned, and then i opened my heart to something else.

i booked a place to be where i could still rest, create, be away; still do my internal work. i traveled around the shook world with a face scarf and torn gloves, stocked up on groceries, and drove away from humans. i have been self-quarantined since i landed, while also in touch with all the people i know on earth.

several of these earthlings have said to me, ‘well, now everyone’s on sabbatical!’

and i keep thinking: no they aren’t!

but then today i thought: but they could be!

you could be!

change, pivot – it can feel in moments like this that change is only happening to us. but octavia taught us that we do not have to be victims of change/god. she said:

“A victim of God may,
Through learning adaption,
Become a partner of God.
A victim of God may,
Through forethought and planning,
Become a shaper of God.
Or a victim of God may,
Through shortsightedness and fear,
Remain God’s victim,
God’s plaything,
God’s prey.”

feeling fear and choosing adaptation is a mindful pivot. here’s the thought process of this pivot…

my initial ‘no they aren’t’ is rooted in the conditions of this moment…sabbatical is a planned, paid time to learn and practice ways of getting to your best self, best life. it can involve moving a big piece of work that isn’t doable in your normal schedule, or deep rest, travel, learning things. the COVID-19 global pandemic is unplanned, urgent, changing every day, and – for many people – means unpaid or less paid time. on lockdown. in your home.

a quarantine can be a massive inconvenience, a shift from external to domestic work, a period of financial crisis, a period of familial and communal fear. but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to bring some sabbatical spirit to this time.

almost everyone i know could use a period of unstructured, or less structured, time. to rest and create, to feel. most folks could use more permission to just be. and, it turns out, there are aspects of quarantine that align perfectly with a good sabbatical setting. so…here are some suggestions for sabbaticaling your quarantine.

see the time as a gift. the sooner you accept the time as a gift, the more time you’ll have. nothing is forever, so how can you be present right now?

you’re alive – thousands of people aren’t, because of this virus. but you are.

thousands are working overtime on this crisis. but you are quarantined – to help our collective health, you are staying home.

you have this day. it might be a gift of more time with your children, or your beloveds, or yourself. i am focusing on the last option, because i am on solo sabbatical. if you have informed suggestions for sabbaticaling your quarantine with kids or lovers, please add them in the comments.

do nothing. plan nothing. see what you want to do with wide open space. do it. don’t judge your longings, or need to rest, or masturbate all afternoon. release structure, especially if it supports ways of being that you’ve outgrown.

unless a schedule makes you feel more alive. then by all means, do that.

offer gratitude at the beginning and end of the day. as simple as ‘thank you for this day’, or a writing practice naming what you’re grateful for, or a longer ritual.

notice that you are feeling. in our daily lives, we can get too busy to feel our feelings. feeling is life, feeling helps us understand the next needed adaptation. all the feelings we’re having are justified right now…fear and anxiety about the present and the future. grief, anger at systemic incompetence, anger at people still ignoring the safety protocols and endangering others. urgency to transform everything instantly. depression over not wanting to (or feeling able to) do anything. overwhelm…especially the parents/caretakers out there. helplessness at the scale of crisis.

or…joy. ease. curiosity. fascination. the thrill of canceled plans and extra cuddle time. all of the above and more. i spend an immense amount of sabbatical time feeling.

harness the big feelings as generative energy. what do the feelings need – space? expression? support? solitude?

sabbatical includes having room to feel and to examine the feelings. sometimes i need to sit and let the feeling move over me like a wave. or punch a pillow, or journal, call a friend, or my therapist. or write a short story, paint, dance. feeling is what infuses my actions with life. and feeling yields the most interesting creations.

– if you can’t work, or must reduce work, notice how it feels when you aren’t working. do you miss the work itself? or are you relieved? part of sabbatical for me is assessing if there are shifts i need to make to increase both the internal joy and community impact of my presence on this planet at this time.

make it easy to create in your space. i think back to when my nibblings were in montessori school, how their classrooms were full of opportunities to create and play. in each sabbatical location, i put opportunities to create, play and learn out where i can see them – my watercolors, my tarot decks, my books, my journals, my writing area. i move through the days by moving between creation and rest.

learn something. what do you want to know more about, or master, that you can learn at home? masters classes, duolingo, yoga, dance apps, youtube, the names of all the trees in your neighborhood…sabbatical is about expanding what you know.

indulge. and get curious, rather than shaming, about what indulgences feel most nourishing. i stocked a healthy af kitchen for the quarantine. cool, fine, grown. but two days later i needed an extra special NASA-suit excursion for frozen pizza and häagen-dazs. i am not wasting my precious time feeling bad about these culinary additions. pizza and ice cream is the meal i would offer aliens in first contact. actually that may be my next short story.

get with nature. cause nature is everywhere. find the beauty of the sky where you are, the earth where you are, the creatures, trees, the water. align with the sunrise, settle down in the darkness of night. if you can’t go outside, remember that you, too, are nature. neither sloth nor hummingbird, but human. what does your nature need, how can you balance your ecosystem? care for your skin, water yourself, sweat, hibernate. because i returned from a level 3 country, my nature experience right now mostly involves sunbathing on a balcony and watching the sea. i see more each day.

relinquish knowing. you had other plans, your calendar was full, you thought you knew the future. but actually none of us know how all of this is going to play out. new articles come out every other day shifting the timeline, the protocols, the expectations. the revolutionary potential of this moment, the threat of abusive state control, it’s all happening and i hear grace lee boggs voice in my head asking ‘what time is it on the clock of the world?’

and that’s just the external world…it’s also never too late for you to change, to uncover new interests, longings, callings.

relinquish knowing, and get in touch with what you most love and care about. whatever clarity we can have now, whatever possibility opens up for the future, it’s going to be rooted in what we love.

p.s. i recognize the economic variance and limitations folks are in and i know lots of people are working on mutual aid and redistribution. this piece doesn’t cover all of that, because i am on sabbatical and i am just writing what i know and can offer right now. i will say asking for help can be a crucial part of sabbatical. my community supported a huge portion of this journey i am on, and i have been donating back to various funds and efforts to help those who can’t make ends meet right now. (lean on me starts playing: ‘for no one can fill those of your needs that you won’t let show’.) a sabbatical only feels solitary – it actually takes a village, like anything we do in this life. so if you need support, ask your community. give and receive.

before completion

today i am packing again, it is almost time to move to the next location. before i packed my i ching book i did a reading and i got ‘before completion’, the reading that says the process of moving from disorder to order is not yet complete. the image is given of a fox crossing the ice, carefully, almost there, but if his tail touches the water it is all over. i love this read for where i feel myself to be right now.

the other day i was walking a precarious path, at least for me and my arthritic knees, and it was very clear to me that i could do this, but only if i slowed down, slowed down in spite of the people trying to pass me, slowed down in spite of wanting to go fast. i caught myself in a little pep talk under my breath: “trust this step. now just trust this one. now this one.”

i am in a lifelong process of becoming, and i get overwhelmed and ahead of myself often, wanting to already be solid, to already know the thing i just realized i should learn. there are several areas of my life now where i have dedicated more than a decade to the learning of a craft, and so i grasp both theoretically and experientially that becoming masterful at anything takes time. and the further challenge is always there – as opposed to facilitation, english, somatics, there is no path or set of practices guaranteed to lead to the mastery of being me.

being human, yes there is more guidance. meditate, do unto others, cultivate humility and curiosity, love often and be honest.

but being adrienne is more mysterious. am i answering a calling or running from one? is my hypothesis on how i am meant to serve my time and species going to yield a satisfying result to me, and/or to the gods or aliens (not mutually exclusive) who may assess my life?

i don’t know, and more interesting to me every day is the big unyielding wall of truth that i can’t know. and i can feel peace in the not knowing.

but i am distinctly ‘before completion’ here. i am on sabbatical, right? so it should be a zenfest orgy of unleashed becoming and creation of next self. and it is, i can’t deny that so much is flowing – i am writing in eight different ways right now, and my inner octopus is delighted.

but the things that undo me in life also undo me here.

i want to be alone so intensely that even at the end of the world i bristle to run into someone…but then i hunger for contact, to know i haven’t been forgotten, that i am still wanted.

i want to feel abundance of time and life, but i keep looking at exactly how many days i have left and AM I SPENDING THEM CORRECTLY??

i love sitting with tea and writing and then reading and writing some more and spend hours that way…but i also spend hours playing candy crush and look up to find it’s dark outside.

i know i am valuable beyond what i can produce…but i still feel like i need to have tangible things to show at the end of this, lol…evidence that i am rested and liberated and stuff.

it is humbling to feel so mysterious to myself still, and to see how clearly my particular patterns persist in every circumstance. there is no where i have traveled where i have been able to escape myself.

i can offer that the things that are working best for me in this space before completion, the practices making me feel most alive and at ease, are the same things i have always done, things that work anywhere. i love the travel, but it is helpful to me to remember (and leave this seed here to return to later when this sabbatical is in my past and maybe i forget what i know) that the journey i am truly taking is internal, is about giving myself time and permission to be and become.

i listened to a lovely, slow conversation between neil gaiman and tim ferris where gaiman talks about the process of writing a novel as ‘discovering the day that works for you, and trying to repeat that day as many times as possible’. this resonated with me in it’s simplicity, and somehow struck me as different from rigor, or even routine. there is a way that i can move through a day that opens up in me a flow, life force, creation energy. there is a way i can say yes to my true yearnings that then allows the subsequent production to not feel like work, but play, delight, dream-come-true.

for me it’s:

starting the day attending to my body with yoga, stretches, crunches (i’m up to 75!). i do 3-5 sun salutations, warrior, triangle, chair, tree, reverse pigeon, twists, happy baby, some floor stretches, crunches and a brief sit. whole thing takes 10-20 minutes depending on the variations my body wants once i am on the mat. it’s such a not intimidating commitment, and it changes everything about the day to come.

learning something as a way to awaken my mind (i am on a fifty day streak of learning Spanish on duolingo and while it’s still appalling what happens when i try to speak to another human, i can feel the language connecting in my brain. i can imagine a new story replacing my ‘i can’t learn languages’ narrative…something like ‘i know a little bit of a lot of languages and benefit from immersion’). again, this can be a five minute thing, though some days i go a half hour or more, enjoying the dings of affirmation.

reading other people’s work. fiction i swallow whole, reading even as i walk from bed to bathroom. nonfiction i crawl through diligently, a chapter at a time with lots of permission for breaks. but i read other people every day, and work hard to not to compare myself to their greatness, but just take it all in as many ways of expression.

i also take in work in other ways – i am listening to john coltrane, thelonius monk, moses sumney and justin bieber this week, feeding something softly masculine in my creative flow.

not eating until i am actually hungry around 2pm, and then only eating exactly what i want. this has also been a game changer – listening to my body is making my relationship to food functional, sweet, adult. it feels mature to check in, say what do you want right now?, and to give it without shame or punishment or disorder. i eat much less these days, and enjoy it much more, feel much more satisfied.

being in touch with my honey, my friends, my family in small touches. being in relationships without obligation is a lifelong learning and i find real delight in the feeling of being alone and clearly wanting a particular person’s contact – my mother’s voice, lover’s laugh, nibbling’s story from the bus.

sweating. i have been walking, hiking, swimming and dancing. i had forgotten how enlivening it is to have sweat on my lip and brow, to feel my lungs demand more air. i like sweating in nature, sweating where i can see birds swooping or little furry things dash about, or fish go by. it makes it feel not like working out, but being alive, using energy and flesh to be alive.

centering and recentering – meditation, somatic centering, journaling, tarot, moon rituals…the methods i use to center myself are multitudinous and mercurial, but every day i do some combo of centering behaviors. and when i knock my perfect smoothie off the counter, or stumble on the rocky path, or flub mi nombre, i recenter from the rapid negative voices that want to make me shrink. i recenter and breathe and keep living.

and, of course, i would be remiss not to mention the healing work that i am doing here. many days contain sudden fits of grief, rage, questions, pain that has been in a holding pattern. i don’t think of healing as completion necessarily, but as clearing out of the way, the body, that which keeps me from completion, fullness, wholeness, integrity. sabbatical, for me, is having enough time to fall apart and come back together differently, then awkwardly take a next step from and towards myself.

if i do these things (which have no particular order or obligation, but each occur to me now that i am in the flow of practicing them), at some point in the afternoon a sentence will come and i will know which project it is for, or maybe have to start a new project to hold it. and then i follow the words, the characters or ideas, writing until my hands hurt (i mostly write by hand, or by thumb into my phone) or my stomach growls or my bladder insists or, in some other way, my body reminds me i am not simply an idea unfolding in space.

and it isn’t rigid – some mornings i wake up full of essay, or dialogue. when i am not on sabbatical, i often wake up in the 4-6am hours and write, my mind taking the time i haven’t otherwise carved out. i like knowing this about myself, that my writer self takes its own space if i don’t create it. it feels like one of the truest, most consistent things about me, that i will write every day…if i am not writing, i know something is wrong.

i think part of why i am ‘before completion’ is because i am still learning to trust the next step on the journey to being a writer more than anything else. it isn’t for lack of affirmation, or ideas, or passion.

it’s just that i enjoy writing so deeply.

i was raised like most humans since the beginning of time, that you do things because they need to be done, and work is mostly an uphill push, or about ambition, and paying bills, and having something to complain about in bed later, and to escape later. i am still trying to learn all the way through me that even though i love writing, i can let it be the center of my life. that it doesn’t need to be the delightful sidebar to a serious relevant life. i am still trying to learn to feel from within that my writing is of service, and enough. not because others say so, but because i know so.

i just finished the finale of The Good Place, which was so excellent, and so i also feel aware that i will be ‘before completion’ in some way as long as i am alive, and that makes my shoulders drop back and down.

though it sometimes feels like time is a rushing river tossing me around, i am aware that just in this past year i lost, or at least started losing, the impulse to push against it. i am not trying to stay younger than my 41 years, and i am not trying to get ahead of myself to the future, to the end. i am grief-striken, meaning i am aware that it is finite. striving and regression are two ways of ending. i want to study the art of reveling, living, loving.

i am before completion, reveling in what is undone – it’s so me, all this unfinished business. i am whole in my incompleteness, writing parts of myself into existence every day. and i will do this as long as i get the gift of breath. to be unfinished is to be human!

first the window, then the door

according to my calendar i am, today, exactlyish one third of the way through my sabbatical.

i was with others, various kinds of family, for the first month, and then have been mostly alone this second month. i’ve been gently reducing my time on social media – being alone is really daunting for most people, and i am a person. it’s felt especially so after the year i had, moving like a whirling piece of kaleidoscope through experiences of immense depth and relationship with groups ranging from two to five thousand, and during all of it, also being present with a growing social media community, or set of communities, the scale of which i can’t really comprehend…i generally feel healthier if i ignore the numbers. so, the new normal, feeling deeply face to face, and then going in the bathroom to see the love and grief and adventure and random thoughts of friends and strangers.

the spaces i have chosen to travel are just right for this shift towards solitude – first, busier tourist beach areas, or the brown family holiday house where there were enough people to create lines for bathrooms or stove top burners at high tide. then, slightly less trendy spots but still, neighbors and restaurants. the next places i am going are much more solitary – ‘bring groceries down this dirt road and don’t expect high speed wifi’ type places. when i booked them i was intimidated by my ambition, but now i can’t wait. even with all the space, i feel crowded by the random late night party sounds, the hostel hoppers looking for friendship at the snack spot…i am ready to claim even more solitary space. i’ve learned this past decade not to go too fast into solitude, as it isn’t meant to be a violence to my system but an opening.

what i am most aware of is how the size of my thoughts grows as i open more space. other voices, news, trolls, scrolling, all of it can become a wall of sound, of content that i may or may not actually care about, when i don’t give myself space. after a while it feels like i only have a tiny window through which the light of my own thinking and feeling can pour in or out.

i think of plato’s shadows on the cave wall – my comprehension of the world can become an analysis of shadows, an interpretation of shadows cast from captured light, of a reality i am not really able to see. time alone, for me, is a way of slowly turning towards the light, grabbing a torch and finding my way to a gap somehow full of light in the wall, and then finding that it is somehow a window, hitching it open, looking outside. then it’s ‘aha! it’s so different than i understood!’ all the time. and cave/house blended metaphors abound.

the boundary work shifts in the opening. initially i was (as usual) very rigid, trying to control and direct others into seeing and holding my boundary. but then aha! if i hold my boundaries, others don’t have to do that much to honor them.

and the attention shifts. ‘i can’t meditate’ or ‘i can’t learn a language’ becomes a story that suited and relieved me in the cave. looking out the window, i can’t help but reflect, drop inwards, contend with my place in the world. looking out the window i want to know the language of the falcon, the lizard, the turtle, and all the different humans i meet. aha! it isn’t the story of my limitations i want to hear, but the story of my healer, my host, my cohabitating wildlife, the chef. surely i can bring my attention to learning that language, to attempting that listening?

my interest in changing itself shifts. though i am at this point fanatical about change as a divine force, i still mostly mean change in others. me myself personally, i can be remarkably resistant to change. it takes me time to notice that i have outgrown myself, time to then shed skin which i don’t yet know how to slink out of (i tend to burst out, apologize, and then try to tidy the mess without being noticed until i can present it victoriously), and then time to expand into my next self.

i am excited by small and large changes. how i transition from cobra to downward dog, how my back foot feels in triangle pose. how forward my shoulders are when i am in a conversation i care about. how different walking a couple miles a day feels in my knees now than it did the first few days. how audre lorde’s work makes me notice which identities feel like home in this moment, gives me permission to examine myself as a relevant case study for my scholarship. some changes are small and structural, some are larger and ideological – are my ideas changing? do i have enough space to think at scale?

that question makes me hunger for the space to think and feel and be at the scale of my gifts, my communities, my generation, my love. these aren’t small times, though they are made up of small-seeming moments in which change is chosen in the (scary/compelling/comfortable) face of staying behind our evolutionary thrust, in false concepts of economy, safety and power.

now i am heading towards the door, the cave’s mouth. smaller thinking, forced to shrink by others, happens in here, in the tiny cave left at the edge of an overly full life, a life of nonstop doing…i want to go out and be in it. looking through the window isn’t enough, i want to run through the field, get pollen all over my dress, dance backwards and forwards in time, i want to inhale reality and feel the inevitable thrum within me, that internal philosophy lighting up. in this way i become available to life and then this feeling of being alive on purpose is so natural, it’s so right, it doesn’t need to be narrated or conducted, it just is…i want as many moments of my lifetime as possible to be spent here, finding the next heirloom seed ideas that want to root in me now, to burst out of the roof, or mountaintop, someday. out here looking at the sea and the stars i remember i am as much a tree in the forest as a volcano as a child as an artist as a warrior as a me. it’s just a matter of time and space, and diving into one to make my way to the other.


sabbatical boundaries

beloveds – i have had a number of somewhat panicked messages since monday that made me think it might be helpful to articulate how to interact with me on my sabbatical.

first, a couple of FAQ type things:

what is a sabbatical?
“a period of paid leave granted to a university teacher or other worker for study or travel, traditionally one year for every seven years worked.”

why am i taking one as a non-academic?
i identify in the ‘other worker’ category, on good days an organic intellectual. in the last seven years i have completed three books for publishing and three books that are still making their way to the light, toured a lot of places, been a doula for an institute, facilitated and mediated movements i admire, and survived mad shit.

what am i going to do?
i am going to travel and rest, rest, rest until i remember how to really sleep and feel a good deep breath. i may study pace and creating in the realm of fiction, music and art.

and how can y’all interact with me on this journey? here goes:

send me beautiful, weird, cool, science/fictional, Black, liberation or other awesome things – i especially love pictures of bombastic creatures, proof of magic, and high quality memes.

send me positive vibes that remind me how each of us are more miraculous and valuable than anything we have or could ever produce.

if you happen to see me in the wild, know that i am aiming for anonymity. be kind, and let me go on.

i am aiming for unstructured and unplanned space. if you are not my family or woes, please do not ask me where i am going, or if you can join me.

do ask me how my heart is, what is interesting my mind these days, what inspires me.

don’t take it personally if i answer internally.

do not ask me to work.

beyond facilitation and writing, my work includes scheduling, brain picking, assessing, connecting, interviews, administration, and teaching. do not ask.

that includes not asking me who to reach out to in my absence about work – my auto responder and all social media have the email addresses to use for all work related requests: or – ask them…and please honor their answers.

especially don’t slide into my DMs/private messages to ask me to work, or to slip around my boundaries.

holding boundaries as people push against them is work. do not push against my boundaries. do not ask me to collaborate with you in breaking my boundaries.

if you aren’t sure if what you want to say or share is work or not, wait until June 2020 to say or share it. let’s share the interdependent faith that it’ll keep or find another space.

and finally, recognize how hard it is to need this, to write this, to ask for this, to take this moment for myself, to go into the unknown of myself. hold my hand by holding my boundaries.

with love!

ps. you can also give to my sabbatical fund:

you can send me money (thru apps below or send checks c/o allied media projects with amb sabbatical fund in memo line) OR e-gift certificates to online places where I can order books!

cash app: $adriennemareedough
venmo: adrienne-brown-25

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
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.

veronica roth
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.

jon clinch
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
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
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
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

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
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
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
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.

richard morgan
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

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.

cheryl strayed

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
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.

toni morrison
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
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

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
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

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

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
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
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
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

walter mosley

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
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

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!!!