nanowrimo, BOLD, and other grown folks business

i am writing my second novel this month!!!, so i won’t be blogging much, but wanted to come on here to share a few things:

1. the novel i am writing has a serious and intriguing situation at the center, but no real plot. i am having the time of my life writing it. i hope someone out there is interested in reading racialized parallel universe snapshots.

2. i was just at BOLD in north carolina – black organizing for leadership and dignity. it’s one of the places i go to restore my soul and spirit, my cool, my belief that the living liberation i long for is possible. it’s one of those things that is difficult to explain when you aren’t there, being with black people intentionally cultivating our dignity, our right to feel loved and safe in our black bodies. we move, dance, sing, struggle, change. all of that is everything, but the thing that is blowing my whole mind right now is that one of the participants, an amazing starlight named kesi, said i was cool. me!?!? and then, another southern starlight named aaron wrote a poem for me !!! and he said it out loud. and then he posted it. the poem actually captures the collective experience of BOLD, this is what we do for and with and to each other. if you love black people you should be supporting this organization.

3. i finally set up a payment plan with a certain entity which has been chasing, hounding and disrupting my peace for several years. it is the lowest i can possibly give because i am still politically at odds with the priorities this entity stands for, and at some point i am sure there will be some other solution that makes the need for this payment plan go away. but right now i feel grown and exhaling at having gotten it solid.

4. i am a month into not smoking. so. !!!

5. i am 20 days into a sugar shift and have managed to hold my head up and my sense of decision making power throughout travel – even through the sweet tea pie shaped dessert fried fish wonderland of the deep south. i am doing this and my novel writing challenge in community, and i feel immensely supported, seen and powerful.

6. i have bitmoji now. now i can finally express myself in text messages and elsewhere.

7. santigold gave me this. and sam smith put this on spotify. and i spent most of the month listening to alabama shakes sing joe.

*update: and then erykah gave us THIS!! timely pleasure activist mantra.

8. i took a day off today, which meant i read volume 5 of saga, my birthday gift from my sister autumn. it was INCREDIBLE and inspiring. and then i found this article, and i read it, and i felt – astounded. astounded. imagination goals – this man used his imagination to survive being stranded at sea for 14 months. here is a taste:

“Alvarenga let his imagination run wild in order to keep sane. He imagined an alternative reality so believable that he could later say with total honesty that alone at sea he tasted the greatest meals of his life and experienced the most delicious sex. He was mastering the art of turning his solitude into a Fantasia-like world. He started his mornings with a long walk. “I would stroll back and forth on the boat and imagine that I was wandering the world. By doing this I could make myself believe that I was actually doing something. Not just sitting there, thinking about dying.” With this lively entourage of family, friends and lovers, Alvarenga insulated himself from bleak reality.”

ok that’s all for now. if you miss me, write me a poem, or a story, or a love note, or a anything. besos til december (unless i desperately need to procrastinate, like this, with you)

music that got me through

This morning I woke up before the kids did, in the light of a Christmas tree, thinking of my ghosts.

I’ve also been thinking about the rebel Jesus…faith is a kind of ghost in my life too. I was raised with stories of a poor family of resilient miracle makers, and the birth of a freedom fighter who rolled with the same types of folks I roll with now, speaking of compassion, practice, sacrifice, forgiveness and love.

I’m not big on organized religion in this era of institutionalized greed, but I love these stories of justice, and I think in many settings, in my family, Jesus (radical, martyr, murdered, unarmed…and uplifted after death to create change in an unjust world) is another way to speak of black life, of dignity as a path out of oppression.

I’ve been thinking about how to live my values today and every day. Sade’s lyric ‘it’s only love that gets you through’ comes to mind over and over. I’ve been feeling ‘no justice, no Christmas’ these last few months, knowing that I wanted to reconcile magic and grief, resistance and abundance.

I’ve been exploring how ‘no’ is both necessary and not the shape of my daily life or work. Or perhaps more precisely, there are many ways to say no, and one is by turning up a righteous yes. So I thought, what do I want to say yes to, to grow, to multiply?

Love, yes. Creativity, yes. Black excellence and brilliance, yes! Authentic relationships and transformation? Yes.

To that end I gave gifts that reflect my values for creativity, spirit nourishing, genius. I gave and requested gifts that increased resources to black life. I gave to the families of as many of our black martyrs as I could.

Over and over I came back to music as the gift I wanted to give, and it made me realize what an incredible year this was in black music.

That sparked this post for today.

Here is the Spotify playlist to go with this post!

This year has had many many moments when music was the only thing that got me through. I want to thank the new and old artists who were medicine, soundtrack, and light at the end of converging tunnels.

I started the year in a Beyonce universe that kept providing joy and contemplation throughout the year, with 7/11 as a gratuitous cherry on top.

When my loved ones died this year, there were a few songs I needed to listen to, to move things through. Jimmy Cliff’s Many Rivers to Cross was the first and central song of my grief soundtrack. I’m also grateful for the familiar voices of Sade, Whitney Houston, Donny Hathaway, Johnny Cash and Sam Cooke.

In terms of new albums, there were a few that I want to lift up and shout out as healing either in content or just by exhibiting the beauty of fully realized creative output.

Obviously D’angelo has claimed the end of the year. Black Messiah is an instant classic, and a gift that is both on time and on purpose. All I want to feel in this moment is the easy good continuous blackness that he and Questlove deliver on this album. It works as a coherent whole, and as a loop with no beginning and no end. There is no moment, no note, no moan or snare, no rhythm and no lyric on this album that I don’t love. Black excellence.

Little Dragon released an incredible album – mature, daring, gorgeous music. I forgot this and had to come back and honor them because Nabuma Rubberband was excellent and feels classic as the year ends.

FKA Twigs, on EP1 and LP1, is the other artist who gave herself to us as a sensual whole this year. On the lyrical tip she is specific, naughty and evocative. Her voice sounds both heavenly and carnal, she arouses with an incredibly light touch. She’s theatrical in performance, she’s gorgeous and strange to look at, she feels both young and very comfortable in her grown-ass-woman-hood. I could listen to her curse all day.

(I want to note here that Lykke Li’s album No One Ever Loved is incredible. Heartbreaking direct feelings – and it almost gave me whiplash in terms of the growth from her previous work. It feels like an emotional bookend to FKA Twigs work.)

Azealia Banks is the truth. She’s better than all the other rappers and she feels her feelings, she is as emotive and intelligent as she is ruthless. Her album is not perfect, but it’s exciting, her flow is fantastic and as I decipher her lyrics I am impressed with her mind and her choices. She and Kendrick Lamar , whose performance on Colbert gave me life, look back at their field from a distance.

I really enjoyed Mary J Blige’s The London Sessions. It feels experimental, produced by all these dope British artists I like including Sam Smith and Emeli Sande. I liked Sam’s album ‘In the Lonely Hour‘ as a set of well done pop songs that reference black music in every vibration, but he didn’t have the depth to hold me for more than a week of focused listening. However, paired with the life force of Mary J, there’s some really beautiful pieces. ‘Doubt’, ‘When you’re gone’, and a set of house dance tracks move this through.

Tunde Olaniran’s Yung Archetype was the most stylish stuff I heard this year, the music I put on when I needed to stomp around the house feeling fly. He’s an amazing performer and a righteous organizer and it’s a necessary combination.

As the year comes to a close, I have Nicki Minaj, Coultrain, TV on the Radio and Jesse Boykins III in the queue. (Speaking of Jesses, Jessie Ware was also the truth this year, and Jesse Williams made me believe in celebrity radicalism again.)

But the thing I am most anticipating is Toshi Reagon’s production of The Parable of the Sower. She’s collaborated with her mother to translate Octavia Butler’s work into an opera, and while I will miss these physical shows, my Christmas wish is a live recording, to spend years with this new music.

What about you beloveds…what are you balancing? And what music gave you life through this impossible year?

5 reasons sam smith is everything

this tender young brit is the only thing i want to hear right now, and here is why:

1. he doesn’t care about money and he says so on multiple songs. he doesn’t have money on his mind, and that leaves so much room for love songs. 1b. his romantic nature is so consistent! he has a love song to a soulmate he hasn’t met yet. i was his emotional twin at 21.

2. he also can’t be bothered with trifling people in general and just covers his ears and says, la la la la la. this reminds me of one of my favorite facilitation agreements: engage tension, don’t indulge drama.

3. the album is an emotional journey. it works song for song in order on repeat: leave your lover, stay with me, i know i’m not the only one, he’ll never love you like i can, i’ve told you now, make it to me.

i miss albums, i miss albums that are unapologetically meant to be consumed whole as a singular text and mood. when i get excited about an artist, i want them to do me the honor of consistently being at their most awesome. there is nothing so disappointing as two great songs on a subpar album. this album is an act of respect. i feel like i can trust him now.

4. i love how he looks. he doesn’t smile when he sings, because he is singing about a subtle pull that is wrought with tension. i love his soft chin, his narrow hair, his bright eyes, his black jacket.

5. he is not afraid of pulling in a big ass choir to emphasize the truth of what he is feeling, but he doesn’t overuse them, or any other production elements. fundamentally this is us with him, a few instruments, and that voice. and occasionally about thirty other people clapping hands and catching the early teen romance spirit.

its. so. good.

random SPRING music round-up

today for the first time since december, beyonce’s ‘drunk in love’ came on a playlist and i skipped it.

to honor this completion of a small complicated era of obsessive listening, i thought it would be nice to share what else i have been tuning into. what you will see below is mostly pop, which is my favorite music for spring, and other seasons.

these are not critical reviews, it’s not even really a set of recommendations. it’s just what i like right now as i procrastinate on a piece of writing:

1. sam smith, nirvana – been listening to his EP and everything else i have been able to find on spotify and youtube. his voice is perfection, his live performances show it isn’t a fluke or a gimmick – it’s really that pretty. he reminds of my friend mike in the sense that they both evoke the cool of boy george with a bit more husk to their spirits. the songwriting is solid – just a pleasing experience. highlight: the dj premier remix of ‘latch’.

2. latasha lee & the black ties – found the lead singer a while back through an indie black women singers list posted on forharriet, but i’m really diving in now. she reminds me a lot of amy winehouse and a little bit of one of my favorite people, my friend janine. the group is giving us modern subject matter through a timeless sonic lens that both samples melodic lines from and gives funky reference to the temptations, the jets, mint condition, sam cooke – they’re just wonderful, her voice is time traveling. highlight: stuck in my mind.

3. feist, metals – somehow this album came out and i missed it, even though i wore “the reminder” out. but lynnee found it and it’s so magnificent. her songs are complex but sound simple and spare and emotive. so good. highlight: the circle married the line.

as a mood album, i’m enjoying beck, morning phase. this album picks up the journey he began with sea changes, which is just a soft transformative soundtrack.

i also want to mention these songs/folks who are good on a playlist, though not necessarily blowing me away: imagine dragon (though if you add kendrick lamar to ‘radioactive’, i’m blown away), lorde (excited to hear her when she’s 35), pharrell (the best song off g.i.r.l. imho is ‘brand new’ with justin timberlake), aloe blacc’s ‘the man’, jessie j’s ‘who you are’ (and nothing else so far except her cover of ‘we found love‘), mr v’s ‘go downtown’ when i need to blush, and the national’s ‘graceless’ when i need to feel human.

oh and guilty pleasure: shakirihanna’s ‘can’t remember to forget you’ (just ignore the silly video).

who y’all listening to and loving these days?

napowrimo poem 9: a song of song titles

prompt: take any random song play list (Spotify) and use the next five song titles on that randomized list in a poem.

my song titles:
nirvana (sam smith)
who you are (jessie j)
lost queen (pharrell)
brand new (pharrell with justin timberlake)
i’ve told you now (sam smith)

hook:
i don’t know who you are
but i adore you
i loved who you were
and who you will be (x2)

vs 1:
really i am in my own world
you in yours
yours which i could never know

and i’ve told you so much
i’ve told you now
that i could never let go

enough to explain how i can feel
this and that
how i can feel the ego

1st bridge:
and every single thought
and the ancestors
and the memories
and i can feel forgiveness
and i can feel boundaries
and i can feel myself
a lost queen

hook:
and i don’t know who you are
but i adore you
i loved who you were
and who you will be

vs 2:
and maybe you are the prince
of some erotic city
because i blush when i write of you

how can i feel such nirvana
at your fingers
i am the record, you know what to do

whorls and whorls and whorls meet whorls
the epic scape of sounds
makes dreams come true

2nd bridge:
and you know where it is best
i repeat best i repeat
i am the record and you know best
i repeat i repeat
where it is best
best best best best
until i feel brand new

hook:
(and/no) i don’t know who you are
but i adore you
i loved who you were
and who you will be (x2)

3rd bridge:
until i’m crawling across the wood
until i’m seeking your scent
until i hunt you down like a stranger
a clairvoyant
a voyeur

(cause/no) i don’t know who you are
but i adore you
i loved who you were
and who you will be (x2)