Tag Archive for 'self love'

things i think i said at eso won books

the other night i got to do an artist talk at eso won books, in leimert park los angeles. super grateful to cultural shapeshifter lynnee denise from international locals who organized the event, which included an artist talk with the sci fi writer nature grrrrl homey lisa bolekaja, and a book signing. it felt like a portal opened up, and i said some things. below are those things. afterwards i got to sign their big book of famous signatures where octavia butler’s signature from 2005 was on the first page! then i was told that one of my future wives, queen latifah, had just purchased octavia’s brood the night before.

!!!

so here are some thoughts:

as you do anything, as you write new stories, you are either moving towards justice or away. there is not a neutral space actually, you’re either perpetuating the existing paradigm of power, or you are disrupting it. that’s why visionary fiction is important, fiction that intentionally disrupts existing paradigms of oppression.

writing sci fi, writing futures we want, is a mindfulness practice. we need mindfulness practices to intentionally grow a future up through our collective and familiar cycles of trauma.

time is non-linear – octavia butler’s stories or nina simone’s music are good proof of this, as relevant now as when they were writing and singing it.

(in response to a question around what and how we create in a world that doesn’t want to acknowledge and celebrate our work…referencing hugos, world fantasy, oscars, etc, i stood up and turned around and said:) look at me. look at my body. i don’t have a body that is seen and affirmed in the mainstream space. i see some reference to it now in people like nicki minaj, but still nothing quite like all of this. so learning to love my body has been choice after choice after practice. it has included self documentation, self pornography, not engaging lovers who want my body to change, learning how i like to look and feel, learning what health is for me. my mind is as divergent from the mainstream as my body is. all of our minds are. which means we can’t look to mainstream systems for affirmation and approval – that’s why we created octavia’s brood. that’s why there are anthologies, and malkia cyril’s work and center for media justice are fighting to keep the web accessible to all, so we have room to create our own spaces and celebrate ourselves. our self love and full realization are dangerous to the mainstream.

capitalism has skewed what we think is enough. everything doesn’t have to be huge bestseller on mainstream markets for everyone. figure out who you want to reach and measure success against that.

we have rituals for collective trauma – we spread the word, and our outrage, on social media where you have to be careful, the trauma is on auto play. we create a hashtag and seek justice and take action and then when justice is often not send we have a next round of grief. we listen to music and sing and numb ourselves. we have less ritual for collective healing. black zen teacher angel kyodo williams pointed that out to me, how technology is connecting our pain so fast, but we have to develop the individual and collective capacity not just to respond, but to evolve together beyond this paradigm.

(in response to a question of the difference between black sci fi and afrofuturism). i see black sci fi as a literal thing, black people doing sci fi – it includes anything, can be the regular old tropes, action narratives, can be conservative, heteronormative, misogynist, etc. whereas afrofuturism to me implies a worldview beyond the western paradigm, being explicitly distinct, born from a different perspective from the mainstream white male American sci fi stuff.

create create create. find people to read your work and get feedback and let people see and hear and engage the part of the future you hold.

Self Love as a Liberatory Practice for the Future

On Wednesday night I got to have a public conversation with new and old friends about self love.

We spoke at Solespace, my favorite site store /community space in Oakland. They’re in a campaign right now to keep the space open after the city shut down their street. Support the space with donations and spreading the word.

I opened by speaking about Audre Lorde’s Uses of the Erotic, specifically the idea that once you have tasted the pleasure of being so fully alive and self realized, you cannot settle for suffering. She teaches:

“once we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of. Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives. And this is a grave responsibility, projected from within each of us, not to settle for the convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected, nor the merely safe.”

I’m titillated by the implications of a future determined by those who willfully immerse themselves in joy and love for the self. I am obsessed with how love and joy are the actual tools we need to move against the culture of fear and scarcity. We’re experts at deconstruction and tearing systems and each other apart. But if what we pay attention to grows, how can we be more mindful about growing our capacity for love?

I also spoke of building community with those who are also focused on self love and how it shifts accountability. About how I’ve been learning slowly to engage self loving behaviors and disengage from behaviors that harm myself. That there is a way that truly loving myself makes clear how interconnected I am to other people, to this planet…makes it harder to do harm. I spoke of Somatics and healing as a way to understand that I am more than my trauma, that I can be a part of communities organized around collective and liberatory longing. I spoke of how grief has made self love more crucial, because I have to love not only myself, but the ancestors and ghosts I carry, their wisdom.

Jodie then spoke of how self love radically changes what we demand from the world and the future. She also spoke of how people on a self love journey in parallel engage in coevolution through friendship – and how this isn’t easy. It means asking each other tough questions about whether the choices we’re making serve that highest purpose of self love.

Jay-Marie spoke on being a deity amongst deities and how her choices in life, including leaving the bay for a massive black lgbt bike tour of the South, participating in the stunning Say Her Name action earlier this year, and pouring her heart into her music, come out of this exploration of self love. Jay-Marie brought tons of people out, drawn in by the light force she’s generating.

Ashara was our final speaker, and she had us in tears as she spoke about this year of her mother’s death and her own near-death experience with overworking to the detriment of her health. She taught us about family, being present to each other’s real emotions, about learning to do work we lOve without sacrificing our bodies in the process. Her 29 year-old son was at the event and wouldn’t take his eyes off of her. It was deeply moving.

Everyone in the room then paired up and got a chance to just see and be seen, feel the attention of another. I was moved by how much laughter and crying happened during this pairing. Each pair shared their own ‘self love front line’, where they know they need to advance their self loving practices.

Finally we brain stormed self love practices together. Here’s the list we started – feel free to add!

Therapy 
Bodywork
Masturbation (‘an orgasm a day keeps the nothing away’)
Tarot 
Meditation 
Shifting relationship to food 
Learning to say no in real time 
Unstructured time to feel myself, follow my intuition  
Acupuncture 
Notice when I feel alive and happy 
Give myself permission to grow old 
Recognize my body is all I have 
Celebrate self love in self and others 
Jomo…cultivate the joy of missing out 
Self love day!  (Baba’s day – insert your name!)
Sleeping in late 
Waking up early and being quiet 
Silent walks 
Dancing 
Decaf life 
No meeting Wednesdays (or whatever day you choose)
Grow more food 
Care for injuries 
Don’t hate, collaborate
Delegate 
Trust my intuition 
Being in spaces with my community that cultivate healing 
Spending time by the water 
Singing to myself 
Working out 
Playing sports 
Dancing and playing music 
Finding a tree in my neighborhood 
Read more books 
Free writing daily, or often
Less Internet 
Cook 
Work with clay 
Good one on one interactions 
Prayer 
Making home a safe space 
Animal love 
Feeling land and air 
Let myself be danced by another
Have good sex 
Making out for a really (really) long time 
Put hands in the dirt 

Go forth and love ????????????

10 sugar cleanse tips for success

so i am nearing the end of a 21 day sugar cleanse. it has been a completely transformational experience. i am at the end of day 18 now and really loving how it feels to have this much agency, and the growing trust i feel in myself that i can set and hold the boundaries i need for my health. i was inspired to do it by my sister, and along the way lots of other friends have joined in. i have also seen folks doing other cleanses, and it’s all incredibly inspiring. and it helps to have people in it with you sharing tips for success.

i wanted to share here some of the best guidance i have received and/or learned:

1. TELL EVERYONE. this came from autumn. i found it to be immensely true, particularly when traveling or when hitting walls where i felt like i couldn’t go on. landing some place and being greeted with, ‘i saw you’re doing a sugar cleanse! how inspiring – how does it feel/work?’ increases accountability ten fold. this also helps when you start to feel your feelings and don’t have sweets/bread/cheese/chocolate/whiskey/potatoes/insert-other-sugar-things-here to turn to. it helps when you can ask for patience and support for behaving like a dragon in a forest getting angry at the trees for being so green and sedentary and burning down everything in sight.

2. NOTICE ALL THE SWEETNESS IN YOUR LIFE. this came from jodie and was right on time. i started the cleanse surrounded by sick sweet babies and an eager sweet puppy dog, supported by my sweet and health oriented partner. i started noticing all the love that flows towards me, everywhere, and leaning in for more hugs, kisses, listening, contact. love multiplies, fills up, wins.

3. DON’T SUBSTITUTE. the goal is not to maintain the sweet tooth with, or shift the dependence to, artificial things. the absence of sugars and sweeteners has actually changed what i am able to taste and what i long for. that is where the freedom comes from – that i am not looking for the sugar in everything, but noticing the wide range of sweet and complex flavors in the whole and healthy foods i can consume.

4. PLAN OUT THE DAY. know where you will be eating, what options will be there for you, and if you need snacks. i have found that i need to eat something roughly every two hours on this cleanse, and the meals can be small, or super nutritious, or just snacks. (grind your own peanut butter (available now at most health oriented grocers) is indulgent decadent heaven. toasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds, mixed nuts (i liked pistachio/peanut/pecan/walnut), tomatoes sliced and drizzled with oil and sea salt, broccoli and cauliflower marinated in lemon – these are just a few of my favorite snacks.)

5. DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH. learned this from lynnee: products lie! or they just might be so familiar that you don’t even consider the sugar content – you have to look at the ingredients list and nutritional facts. things like sriracha, kombucha, wasabi seaweed snacks and most salad dressings have some sugar listed. ‘no carbs, no sugar’ is what you are looking for. there are a lot of trends out there now. sugar free, gluten free, raw, organic, vegan, natural. and in a capitalist nation a trend is an opportunity to sell something to people who want to be healthier but may not do due diligence. don’t get mad, get informed.

6. WATCH, FEEL, DON’T WEIGH. look at your body and face in the mirror before you start. take pictures. see what you can notice about the ways you change during the cleanse. don’t spend too much time on the scale, i would say not more than once a week, because during the cleanse you might notice an accelerated speed of weight loss, faster than is sustainable long term. it can become an unhealthy tendency. instead, notice how you look different to yourself. notice how you feel in motion, how your clothes and joints feel.

7. MOVE. your body will especially need sunlight, fresh air, and motion during this time. your body is a divine machine. you want to encourage your body to use the fuel you are giving it, to change how it processes. it helps so much if you move, dance, walk, get the machine going.

8. ENCOURAGE, DON’T EVANGELIZE. learned this one by being evangelized to before i reached this point. i have mostly been able to keep in mind what i’ve learned – inspiration works better than any implication that you know more about my health that i do. everyone comes to these kinds of transformations in their own time, relative to their own struggles. i never thought i could do this, but when the moment was ripe, i fell into it without resistance. my whole being is aligned with this life change.

9. TRANSFORM. i am actively learning this. this doesn’t feel like a temporary detox, it feels like getting clean from an addiction. don’t approach it as a short-term withholding of something you want. think of it as an intentional transformation. you are shape shifting yourself – deciding to shift your body’s main source of energy from sugar to fat. don’t go into it with an intention to get back to deep dish pizza on day 22. start it when you can imagine any sugar other than fruit as a rare thing.

10. WATER IS SACRED. and precious. and drinking outlandish amounts of it helps manage hunger, headaches, how toxins move out through the skin, and just how you feel in your water-based body. i’ve been making the effort to empty my water bottle before breakfast and after every other meal, as well as sipping in between. my whole system is functioning beautifully, i’m sleeping more deeply, and i just love how my skin feels as a result.

that’s all for now, i will update again once it’s done. and if you do this cleanse, i want to hear about it!

wherein i write about sex. (5 tangible tools of a pleasure activist)

i started this blog the night beyonce’s album came out. i didn’t know her album was coming, and beyonce didn’t know she was unleashing a soundtrack to this moment of my life. that convergence was so special that i had to pause writing this and spend two months learning the flawless dance and wondering, among other things, exactly what kind of feminism i am interested in. i decided that i am interested in a sexual, complex, whole person, imperfect feminism, one full of mothers, single people, married people and poly people, sex workers. women who make quality work and create systems to liberate their creativity. women as powerful as tina turner and other survivors of domestic violence. women who like to submit, talk dirty, shock even themselves. women who like to dominate, operate outside of gender norms, women willing to disagree and sit in discomfort and hold their power and their ground, women willing to grow and learn in public. it is in that spirit that i return to this blog entry.

here goes:

i don’t talk about sex enough here!

anyone who knows me in real life knows that the sensual, sexual, erotic perspective is a primary lens through which i see the world. and yet i struggle with how to integrate that self with the one here who speaks about transformation, babies, grief, growth…

but the link is all in the body as a practice ground for transformation.

i had a dream the other night. i boarded a train for a cross country journey with my friend evans, which is important only because he is a sexy beast. i was quickly recruited for a burlesque show, and i auditioned in a clear plastic belt and little else. the person running the auditions said, ‘to do this job you have to l.o.v.e. love your body!’, and i responded, ‘oh I do. i do love my body. i love my body!’ i woke up murmuring this to myself. (note: can you see how the lyrics ‘i woke up like this: flawless’ struck me with joy?)

now that’s an awesome dream outside of any analysis. but it is particularly awesome when you understand that my focus for personal transformation for the last few years (roughly 30+ years or so) has been learning to love my body, or more precisely, falling in love with myself through the terrain of my body. this dream made me feel that my focus is restructuring and healing me at the level of my subconscious…if i understand anything about the mysterious realm of dreams.

it is still work, daily. thousands of choices, opposing values and longings, moments of slipping, days of feeling super active and strong, days of feeling lazy and slothlike. i sit at the crux of an apparent contradiction: wanting to debunk the mythology (with my middle finger held high) that skinny = good/healthy, AND wanting to reclaim agency from the national practices of emotional eating, oversized portions, sedentary lifestyles, fast non-food, pharmaceutical concoctions over cooking, and corporate success over nutrition. slowly, surely, i am changing habits that will liberate me from my socialization.

but here’s the key: it started with pleasure, not with dieting and exercise. i had to love what is before i could understand what transformations were wanted, needed. and i’ve been feeling so loving in my body lately that i want to be more explicit around my pleasure activist practices. lots of them fall under the umbrella of sex. really good sex.

are you ready for that? if not, skip to my last blog which is probably about transformation or sci fi. no judgment here.

for those still here…hi….:-)

here are five tangible tools which should work regardless or any aspect of your identity, or the current state of your pleasure activism. they are in a sort of chronological order:

1. self-love. since i was a kid i have had a penchant and passion for my touch on my body. this was sometimes shameful, sometimes wonderful, and deeply private from fairly early on, as i received messages from family and neighbors that it wasn’t ‘right’. it has only been as an adult, as i have witnessed every single child i have ever met come into pleasureful awareness of their bodies, that i have understood that it was a natural part of growing into my body. in my early twenties i learned about pleasure activism: acting from an analysis that pleasure should be a natural, safe and liberated part of life – and that we can offer each other tools and education to make sure sex and drugs and other pleasures aren’t life threatening, but life enriching. my self-touch took on a political power. i started saying ‘an orgasm a day keeps the doctor away’, and i was in joyful practice for my own health. toys? yay! but i also worked to ensure that my own touch was effective. i was mostly single during this period, with lovers as they came and went. i now know that i was mostly single because i needed to reach a certain level of healing from earlier experiences of sexual trauma in school. it also became clear to me that if more people were encouraged to masturbate early and often, to learn what feels good to them and that they have the right to communicate that, there would be less sexual trauma, assault, patriarchy, misogyny and general awkwardness.

2. orgasmic meditation. this was a more recent practice connected to self-love. i went to a meeting of an unrelated group in a space in san francisco that focused on orgasmic meditation, among other things. i remember being in the space and sort of on edge. it is not unusual to end up in a room in california where people are talking openly about sex and even having it with each other, but i felt young and flustered by the idea of a room full of people bringing each other to orgasm and very glad my meeting had nothing to do with that. but the idea stayed in my head and a couple years ago i came across it again in my random explorations of the entire internet. i watched a few videos where folks explained the method: stroking the upper left quadrant of the clitoris to bring a person to orgasm. the focus on just that one place, following the breath patterns and emotional process of the recipient, and the power of the orgasm as a form of meditation and spiritual practice – all of it was fairly titillating to me. by this time though, i was thousands of miles from san francisco, with no one around i felt comfortable asking to stroke me just so without, you know, making it a whole thing. so i decided to see what happened if i just did it for myself. i did a fifteen minute practice every morning before anything else in my day for a few months. what i experienced was that every one of my orgasms had a different emotional flavor, like an experiential snowflake. and that i didn’t always need to reach an orgasm in that fifteen minutes – sometimes not releasing yielded a more energized day. starting my day with this practice made everything else go better, feel lighter and healthier, and generally increased my personal and interpersonal joy. i have still never attended their classes or done it with a group…we’ll see. but as a solo practice i return to this one if ever i feel i am in a funk.

3. self-pornography. this is also an extension of the self-love practice, but has a lot of it’s own specifications. i don’t fit the standard for american pornography or american desire. i have traveled to other places where i have been celebrated immediately for my size and shape, my color. but not so in the u.s. most pornography here offers the choice of brunettes, redheads, or blondes, or the ‘exotic’ options of asian or black women, all having sex with white men, or for lesbian porn white women, or in really freaky stuff, black men. perhaps you can feel the yawn in that sentence, pardon me. but i realized that if i wanted to truly be radical in the world, truly see white and skinny as one way people are born as opposed to the physical supreme, which pours over into every other aspect of life, i had to decolonize my desire. i had to learn to desire myself, my body, my skin, my rhythms, my pleasure. i took pictures at first. the pictures weren’t necessarily explicit in the beginning. they were just selfies, before instagram. i started with my face – how did i look smiling? happy? turned on? shut down? laughing? i took photos of every part of myself until i felt i knew more about my body, could tolerate myself, even like what i saw. then it was time for short videos. i would create the videos during moments of self-love, and then use them the next time i felt like touching myself. these videos were not shared, they were not for anyone else’s eyes, opinions or desires. that was radically important. the energy of them was purely self adoration. i dated a woman once who told me she had done sexual healing work to get to a place of screaming out her own name when she orgasmed. i let that concept be a guide. how much could i love myself, literally?

the results were life changing. this practice changed the way i dressed, the way i walked, the way i flirted, the way i made love to others, the way i spoke…because i had seen, heard and felt my power. i mean both my physical, earthly power, and the divine power inside of this body, this light brown, big, queer, glasses-wearing body. it wasn’t ego, it was sitting with what is and finding beauty. and now no one could take that from me, however they might regard my body. i was a pleasure unto myself, i was a guaranteed delight in my own hands and my own eyes. it was, and continues to be, magnificent.

4. developing erotic awareness. this section could also be called staying curious. it can get rote. you learn the way to release whatever is building up in your body, alone or with others, and you return and walk that path over and over, because you know it will satisfy your need. this parallels with other aspects of life – you can learn what works and keep doing it and get by. but bringing curiosity into your sexual relationship with yourself and your lovers is related to the spiritual practice of cultivating a beginner’s mind. as often as possible, i approach the experience of sex as if it is my first time feeling my flesh, feeling myself awaken. in my 30s this has led me to discover a whole new landscape of pleasure in my body, and then be able to clearly let my lover know when it feels good, how it feels good, and what adjustments to make. i used to have lines in the sand, places of judgment. these would usually form in my mouth like, ‘oh i would never (insert activity i simply hadn’t tried yet here)’. but i have been opening up, learning that the realm of desire is actually one of the most honest territories that can exist in the relationship with myself or anyone else. ‘haven’t tried yet’ allows so much more eroticism than ‘never!’, believe me. having curiosity, wanting to know what i desire, and why, and what effect it has on me to follow the desire, has led to an erotic reimagining of my life. audre lorde has a brilliant piece of work called the uses of the erotic, which i have been reading and listening to over and over. she talks about how one taste of the truly erotic, the feeling of moving from a blank world to one full of color and sensation, makes it impossible to settle for suffering. it raises the bar on every aspect of life. this curiosity in my body and my pleasure has helped me to clarify what kind of life work i enjoy and don’t enjoy. just as obligation is not a great motivator for intimacy and pleasure, i find i can’t live my life doing work that feels like i am obligated to do it because of other people’s expectations. i thrive when the work has elements of pleasure, titllation, total presence. that work might itself appear mundane or tedious to others – it includes housework, exercise, cooking, shoveling my car out of snow, honest conversations, facilitation, family visits. as long as i can see the glimmer of life in it. sometimes the glimmer is so bright, and i feel utterly alive. i realize that in the present moment, i am free, i am a body of sensations and memories and dreams, energies and spirits and ancestors, totally complex and utterly free. erotic awareness, for me, is coming into an aliveness in your felt senses that is quite beyond the material world.

5. talk about sex. blush and fumble, ask questions, let the words fall out of my mouth. one of my favorite aspects of the beyonce album is how it has led to really beautiful, powerful, nuanced, honest sex conversations with people in my life of all different ages, backgrounds, politics and sexualities. sex is the most common behavior amongst humans after birth breathing sleeping and death, and too often we still feel shame or bite our tongues when it comes up. now some degree of secrecy increases the heat, for me at least, tho i don’t know if that is just the last whisp of some demure virgo dynamic. i won’t tell you of my lover then, the specific things she does with me. but i will say i am having the best sex of my life, and it isn’t an accident. it is because of years of practice and hard work. it is because of friends who saw me having the most unhealthy sex of my life in my 20s and said honey girl no. it is because i have been blessed with lovers who were tender and taught me things and let us explore together. it is because of periods of intentional celibacy (a whole other practice and blog post) in my life. and it is because of each practice above.

i think it is important that we hold space for each other to feel good, to be touched in whatever ways bring us pleasure. i notice the impact it has on people i care about when erotic healing, self-love, and the tender touch of a lover, or a few lovers, is needed. i think this is yet another place to apply the wisdom of grace lee boggs, ‘transform yourself to transform the world’. i believe that if everything else in the world stayed the same, but every single person deepened their physical and spiritual practices of self-love and great sex, the domino effect would be a revolution of our understanding of our purpose here. suffering is a massively important and absolutely true part of life, a spiritual reality. but i deeply believe we were not placed on this gorgeous sensational planet to suffer. it is not the point.

a coach recently told me, ‘what is easy is sustainable’. i have been thinking, what feels good is sustainable. when my body feels good, my life feels good, and i want to keep going, and fight for my right to exist and love and grow and evolve. this is true whether it is in the context of a meeting, or a relationship, or a night of love making. that doesn’t mean the absence of discomfort or awkwardness or hard conversations or learning. but the majority experience should be presence – being fully alive. and i think that comes from experiencing ease, pleasure, connection. as nina sang: ‘feelin’ good’.

so…go forth and ‘turn that cherry out’!

:-)

and yes, i am blushing.

lessons from a transformative breakup: how to find new ways be in each other’s lives and not split the communities we love or the movements we support*

Try every single thing you can to make it work, and articulate the effort you are making to each other. Even things you aren’t sure will work – try EVERYthing. this will matter later.

Love yourself.

Don’t let fear make you settle for something you know isn’t working.

Be honest. The harder things are to say, the more necessary they are to say.

Commit to being in each other’s lives, and doing whatever is needed to ensure that in the long term.

…this may include being far away from each other (physically, and in social media, and in all communications) in the short term.

Set boundaries around communication and stick to them. This includes how often to communicate, what is ok to talk about, who it’s ok to talk to about the process, and permission to express feelings. You can identify a new boundary while in communication as you go along if something hurts or doesn’t feel right.

Don’t tell anyone else until you are ready.

Be intentional about who you tell, what you say, and letting people know what is and isn’t ok to talk or ask about. Write a letter to your community if need be. That way your true story trumps gossip and bullshit.

Feel your feelings.
Feel your feelings!
Feel your feelings.

Gather trusted support around you and lean on them as much as necessary.

Together, tell the story of your relationship to a trusted friend. What happened, what was great, what did you learn? Be as honest as possible, and take the time to tell the whole thing.

Don’t judge each other’s choices, feelings or processes. You can’t actually know what is going on for them. Take responsibility for your own feelings and act accordingly.

When you feel ready, dream together about the new relationship you want to have with each other.

As you come into new, post-breakup relationship with each other, watch for your patterns, and take it slow.

Celebrate your maturity and growth and ability to be present and do this.

Invite others to celebrate and applaud the efforts.

When you feel ready, enjoy the friendship you made possible together.

* please note: all of this is in the case of a generally awesome, healthy relationship that doesn’t quite work. not an abusive one that you may need to actually completely leave quickly.)

why i stopped plucking/letting my brows grow

my sister autumn and i have been in a conversation for a while about letting our brows grow out. we touched on it again and last night and wrote down some thoughts. i wanted to share the conversation, interested in hear how others navigate their beauties.

amb+siobhan

why i stopped plucking (autumn):

I remember the first time I had my eyebrows done. I was in high school, and had traveled from dc to nyc to visit my big sister, a student at Columbia university. It was my first trip to visit her on my own (!!) and after about a day, adrienne granted me the enormous privilege of getting to go out and roam morningside heights alone, while she did something. Honestly I have no memory of what she was doing. I only remembered that she trusted me enough to send me off on my own, and I trusted myself enough to enjoy it.

I did what felt like the most adult thing I could do. I went to a salon to get a manicure. But when I walked in the door, the first thing the woman in the salon said was, “here to get your eyebrows done?” Embarrassed, unsure, suddenly feeling that all of my years of misgivings about my bushy brows were now confirmed by the truth, essentialized in a moment, I said, “yes” and was led back into a room, laid down on a bed, and unceremoniously had my abundant brows waxed.

I felt cool. But I looked ridiculous. Red, puffy.

It was not until I got back to dc that I realized the fullness of my mistake, the level of upkeep I had consigned myself to with one decision.

Had my eyebrows done one other time, took skin off, never had waxing again.

Continued plucking, even after I stopped shaving my underarms (age 16), even after I stopped shaving my legs (age 17). It was a recognizable (hypocrisy) but by then I felt like I had dug my own grave. If I stopped plucking, I would look even more ridiculous. I thought…

Then I had my daughter. She was only a few days old when I realized she not only had my face, but MY EYEBROWS. As she has changed from an infant to a toddler, the similarity has become more pronounced. She is going to have the thick eyebrows I had. The ones I got from my dad.

siobhanbrows

One day I grabbed tweezers from the drawer while she and Finn were in the bath, raised them to my face, then stopped. I felt a profound sense of shame. I was about to pluck in front of my daughter. What kind of message would that send to her? In that moment I decided to stop plucking. It’s been weird, trying to let my brows grow out, but I don’t regret it. I want Siobhan to know that she is beautiful, and the best way to do that is to let her know that I am.

autumn and siobhan

letting my brows grow (adrienne):

i am one of three daughters of a man with big expressive eyebrows, the brown family brows.

i have always loved them on his face, the way they move and let me know his moods. but on my face i’ve sought to control the bush, to feminize, to keep expression but in a way that was elegant and slender and arched.

my sister autumn and i have ‘the brows’. our sister april somehow ended up with dark sharp slender arched brows that are almost too perfect. i have paid lots of money over the years trying to get those brows, with lots of hi-jinx. folks going too far and leaving me with lines of tragic surprise, or odd uneven shapes that pointed at my vanity.

and sometimes i would negotiate just the right brow and experience a week of happiness. i have had two different women who did it perfectly, consistently, and with whom i developed the gentle and submissive relationships we can have with those who make us feel beautiful.

i have never been great at keeping them up between waxing because the pain of tweezing doesn’t appeal to me. every time i would go in to get them done it would be with a sheepishness – yes i know there’s a wilderness on my face, yes i know i should have come earlier, yes i know it will hurt more now because ‘it’s so much, my god. so much hair!’.

i didn’t really consider how beautiful my brows might be until i saw them on my sister’s face. and that was while she was holding my niece siobhan, who was also blessed with the brown family brows. on them the brows look full and fierce, in the realm of strength, self-expression and boundaries. autumn told me she was intentionally not plucking.

i arched a waxed brow. i felt moved inside, towards her.

with no conscious connection i came home and covered my bathroom wall in frida kahlo prints. every time i look in the bathroom mirror i am flanked by a wall of shameless and powerful eyebrows. and slowly i’ve stopped plucking. i haven’t gotten them waxed even thought the AMC starts today. i’ve watched them grow.

now i am so grateful autumn inspired me to stop plucking, waxing, threading and shaving these brows into submission. as they have slowly recaptured their natural glory it’s been complex.

and…i do still want to get them waxed sometimes, mainly whenever i’m going to nyc. i love the clean lines and contrasts of done brows, how high femme/drag queen fabulous i have felt at times with my brows (and nails and hair) did. i find myself admiring the art of eyebrows on other faces even more.

but i’m also generally loving the power of being a woman with these brows – it says something about my self-love. i am learning a new beauty in my face, a beauty that comes from seeing what is without wanting to improve it.

and i feel in an authentic place when siobhan lays next to me in the morning and touches my face. there is something healing in the knowledge that when she sees me she sees that her beauty is whole.

amb and siobhan

wild seed dinner, albuquerque nm

on june 3 we had an octavia butler dinner in albuquerque, an intimate event, just three of us (myself, host andrea quijada, and ob lover elena letourneau). this format made me kind of want to do it this way more often – the intimacy we were able to achieve was quite remarkable before we even started speaking about the book.

then we moved into speaking about wild seed, the first (and achingly good) book in octavia butler’s patternist series (the first series she wrote). this book is my favorite starting place for anyone who hasn’t read her work.

we had one of those gorgeous conversations where you get to the root by exposing it. a lot of what we shared wouldn’t fit into words. however, at the end we summarized the shareable things we thought/discovered together:

it’s quite possible that gardening and living together and building community together is the most radical work. intentional community is a skillset to develop. but in a u.s. context, individual spaces, interdependent. shifting to intentional living – but slowly. everyone has their own space in it, with shared kitchen, yard, garden.

the interconnection of these communities brings to mind safety in relationships. right now with the balancing between online and offline work and organizing, there is a way we can commune globally. (example given: march on monsanto). we have lost a lot of physical relationships with people, which leaves everyone feeling isolated. but safety is in relationships more than any other structure.

wild seed speaks to the isolation of being a leader, of being special. (how that loneliness piles up, how deep the desire to be met and matched.)

the radical strategy is to love.
we are in perhaps a dark age. our legacy might be that we maintained and remembered the way to love.
vulnerability, attachment, care, attunement, these are the ways we remember. we have to remember to feel.

anyanwu is the living embodiment of ‘transform yourself to transform the world‘.

this book is an incredible exploration of the arc of long term relationship, from the initial passion –> to negotiations and struggle over power –> to transformation.

noticing that in the relationship between anyanwu and doro, that they loved each other after seeing the shadow sides of each other. there are people who are our mirrors and show us what we don’t want to see, and we want to run. we need mirrors. we need also to be able to see and love ourselves. (moved to share nina’s song ‘images’

She does not know
Her beauty,
She thinks her brown body
Has no glory.
If she could dance
Naked,
Under palm trees
And see her image in the river
She would know.
But there are no palm trees
On the street,
And dishwater gives back no images.
– poem by william waring cuney
)

loving the body, feeling the potential of breath and self-love and healing in each body is radical. (anyanwu is a study of feeling deeply – perhaps we all have her capacity to heal if we could listen inward?)

we appreciate our bodies when we use them. yoga! breath. walking and being outside doing what it is meant to do. ‘moved to tears using my body for myself.’

our culture teaches us not to love our bodies, that something is wrong. it is radical to reclaim loving our bodies.

gender and body insecurity is interesting too – men/boy bodies usually have to do something to get called names. women bodies just walk in, just people look at us and call us names. doing things for ourselves in our bodies is radical. other gender norms…women have to look good on outside, but vagina always good. men can generally look aight but their penis has to be big/just so. insecurities related to those stories. what does this mean for how anyanwu and doro traverse the world, him jumping bodies, coming to her in any body, with her healing and shapeshifting the one she has.

‘i want all women, all people. to lay on the floor and just feel your body and loving each amazing living part, the living organism of the body.’

what is most radical? to transform ourselves.

**

makes me wonder – what is your secret gift?

this life is miraculous. what if you don’t waste any day, any gift? if this day, this activity is as miraculous as anyone’s very best day and offering…what then is the call?

say it out loud

lately i’ve felt like god-is-change is saying to me something like ‘you can have what you want, everything you want, but you have to say it out loud.’

today i got to visit with a curandera, a traditional healer of the kalpulli izkali circle in albuquerque. and after she worked with me, cleansed and cleared me, she said, now say what you want, to yourself or out loud. i shuddered a bit (how did she know/of course she knows). i knew exactly the words i wanted to say, and i knew i had to say them out loud.

it felt so good. i love this practice, i want to encourage it.

so: i have at least four gray hairs now, and my niece is asking me all about my body. being unashamed and feeling beautiful as a big brown woman in front of babies is radical. i am no longer a beginner living in my body. i know that loving it and listening to it is political work for the babies in my life as well as for myself. i want my body to be a practice ground and conduit for healing and transformation.

earlier i was driving around in the desert, staring at red rock formations and mesas and trying to remember what i used to think a mesa looked like, when it was just an idea in a storybook. mesas and fjords and savannahs and volcanoes. i think i am less an environmentalist than an earth lover, an earth sensualist. i document and protect her as a body i love. i want to keep seeing and feeling this world and falling in love with her.

i woke from a dream the other night in which a boy i knew in college was showing me a poem that had changed his life, that was changing the lives of all the people who read it. it was such a powerful poem – i woke up and tried to write it. i got snippets and rhythms. i want that poem. if it comes back to me i will share it here.

perfect new people just came into my life and several others deepened into our knowing each other, all in some way because of my ‘let it cut more deep’ blog. i want this intimacy – i want connections through vulnerability.

i spent the weekend facilitating a circle of radical women of color in visioning and naming their work around providing support in all aspects of birth and/or parenting. watching them push out past the familiar and comfortable and into the new and needed was humbling, it felt like an important place to be. i want to always work with people living their values that deeply, creating ways out of dark ages.

last night was another octavia butler and emergent strategy conversation, this one perhaps the most intimate yet. octavia butler is such a liberating force in my life. in speaking about her ideas, people have the option to consider their own freedom, and pathways for freedom from prisons of mind, body, heart for all human beings. i can’t tell you how many of these conversations, from small to large, have been alive with tears, confessions, longings, commitments to live miraculously, and that incredible tingling up from within that tells me yes, this is it! i want emergent strategy to be a viable option for anyone trying to change the world.

these are not small desires, but they are true.

do you know what you want? you don’t have to tell me, though i will listen. but say it somewhere.

say it out loud.