Tag Archive for 'toni cade bambara'

transformative justice in wakanda

i just saw black panther for the third time. i wanted to see it in 3D, just in case the awesome could be enhanced in any way. 3D felt unnecessary. the visuals are so crisp, so stunning, that all the dimensions felt covered without special glasses.

since my first viewing, i have had something between a thought and a longing, something i need to explore. i admire the movie, and each viewing gives me more to admire in how the story unfolds. in order to explore this thought-longing i needed to see the film again. and again. and i will surely watch it some more.

and i want to talk about transformative justice in wakanda. (this piece will only make sense to people who have seen the movie.)

transformative justice is justice that goes beyond punitive justice – punishment in response to transgression (from spanking to prison to death penalty); and goes beyond restorative justice, which seeks to restore the original conditions in which harm happened, often focusing on rehabilitating offenders rather than systemic change. transformative justice recognizes systemic injustice, oppression, and particularly the harms that come from putting conflict resolution in the hands of the state; it seeks to go deep into the soil and find the root causes for harm and transform the systems and societies such that harm becomes impossible.

my question around transformative justice in wakanda first occurred to me while watching the last minutes of the story: i believe that the king, t’challa, is offering his antagonist, erik killmonger, transformative justice. and killmonger is not ready for it. with each viewing this belief has strengthened.

Screenshot 2018-03-03 19.45.33

in the scene, t’challa has just bested killmonger in a battle on a literal underground railroad (this was pointed out to me by the very observant poet nadine marshall). t’challa has delivered one of those mystical injuries where the weapon is lodged in killmonger’s body in such a way that it’s a death blow, but the actual death won’t happen until the weapon is removed. i love movie injuries like this because they allow for extended death monologues that spark blogs.

t’challa helps a dying killmonger up into the light, to see the sunset. killmonger’s first words after the death blow are that his father, n’jobu (played by sterling k brown, one of the people most likely to make me cry in the last year) had always told little erik about these sunsets. i had questions about whether n’jobu actually told erik about their secret homeland as a child or only in the secret wakanda journal in his gun closet…or if he just mentioned it in the afterlife.

black-panther-8

regardless, this sunset move on t’challa’s part is generous. killmonger has killed t’challa’s uncle (zuri, who, adorably, calls t’challa the bleck peintha…and who, in all fairness to killmonger’s vengeance, betrayed n’jobu back in 1992).

killmonger has also thrown t’challa to what seemed like certain death, burnt all the heart shaped flowers that make black panther kings, and caused mad strife between couples and friends in wakanda. killmonger literally arrived like, ‘hi, i spent my whole life preparing to kill you. what’s good?’

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it’s only because of FINE ASS m’baku that t’challa is even alive. now that i mentioned m’baku we should probably look at him.

Reactions-MBaku-Black-Panther-Movie

sigh.

so. the fact that t’challa continuously tries to find a non-combat-to-the-death way to resolves things with killmonger is noble (woah, did y’all know that noble means having a higher moral principle AND belonging to a hereditary class of rulers? it’s like the hierarchy superword!). however, killmonger is right as rain about one thing: wakanda has been shirking its responsibilities…to the diaspora specifically, and the world at large potentially. it’s unlikely that t’challa would have seen the error of national isolation without this challenge.

killmonger-angry

the crucial exchange i want to examine happens in the fading light of this sunset.

t’challa says ‘we might be able to heal you.’
killmonger says, ‘why? so you can lock me up? naw son. bury me in the sea with my ancestors who knew death was better than living in bondage.’ he then pulls the spear out of his chest and dies.

i think this moment is so crucial. it’s so heartbreaking.

i have seen and heard people express disappointment that t’challa doesn’t respond in that moment to say ‘wakanda has no prisons!’ or ‘dude, i’d never lock you up. you’re my bro-cousin and all is forgiven.’

but to me, what t’challa offered was far more precious than the absence of prisons – he offered the possibility of healing, which could only be offered with the energy of compassion. i didn’t hear it simply as – we can close up the wound in your body, but as a larger, deeper understanding that what killmonger needs is not victory, or defeat, or prison, but healing. t’challa has listened through the violence, through the personal attack. he has heard the pain under all the anger.

a course in miracles has this idea that what people do is either an act of love or a cry for love. to be able to hear that cry, for love, for healing, is quite profound.

we actually don’t know if wakanda has prisons or not (unless they’re in the comics…are they? UPDATE: several readers quickly let me know there are prisons and popo! more reading required on my part – a part two of this post is coming). yes it would be great to know for sure that wakanda is abolitionist.

but this also speaks in some way to the limits of the colonized imagination. a nation that developed outside of the context of colonialism and slavery would likely have a different method of justice than what we as black people in the u.s. have ever known. black people are part of a diaspora that has been shaped by and against colonialism and white supremacy; we have been traumatized by punishment from humans who did not, and do not, see us as people.

this is not to imply that any prison is ever acceptable, but simply to point out that what we experience as prison/confinement in the u.s. is inside an institution that is a direct descendent of slavery, that is still constructed to break us, to generate labor and misery instead of healing at an individual and societal level.

i actually have a lot of curiosity about how wakandans approach justice. the existence of the doro milaje and ritual combat suggest that physically engaging in combat for a purpose is engrained into the society. the jabari have different values and they have sovereign space in which to live into that difference, plus a fighting chance at the throne. even the conflict of having a privileged monarchy vs other wakandans has to be understood through a context that most black americans can’t fully grasp: being tribe. having love and honor and protection and love for each other as tribe. this is part of what has been taken from us, what we are regenerating.

in wakanda there’s evidence that conflict, and the meting out of justice, happens in culturally respected settings, and that it is generative, from a sense of being tribe, of sharing land, of sharing identity.

but in absence of more information on it, i would say in some ways we miss the point if we focus on physical prisons or not, because it is a society in which healing is possible.

we live in a society where, whether we are behind bars or not, we are constantly harmed, constantly reminded that we can be taken when the state decides. in that constant harm, healing at a societal level feels impossible.

in wakanda we see healing with herbs, healing with family and relationship, healing with the land. healing is available to killmonger without anyone having to say, ‘i understand you’, or ‘i forgive you’. it’s just there if he wants it.

he chooses death. he disrespects my ancestors on the way, the humans black americans descended from only because they chose to live, to cast their breath forward through terror and hell, towards their childrens’ childrens’ children.

and even when killmonger rejects the possibility of healing, even when he is dead, t’challa is still compelled to seek solutions to the original wound that created killmonger’s need for annhilation. t’challa takes shuri to oakland, he wants to bring what wakanda has to offer into relationship with that place. the emergent strategist in me is pleased to see that he is starting with a relatively small experiment – an outreach center (although i also saw the instant gentrification flags). but he is moving in the direction of healing the underlying wounds that killmonger carried into clear view.

i wonder what it would take in this moment for most of us to be able to continue to extend the possibility of healing to those who have harmed us, harmed our families and communities, harmed our movements. those who look like us, and those who don’t. can we stay focused on the harm? and, from whatever privilege we have, can we adapt to meet the deepest need?

that, to me, is the lasting question of wakanda. it is an echo from toni cade bambara’s salt eater: “are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well?”

are we?

national network of abortion funds 2016 keynote

tonight i had the honor of giving the keynote speech for the national network of abortion funds 2016 summit. i spoke after they gave each other awards and there were lots of tears and just so much recognition and celebration of their incredible and radical work. here are my notes from my talk, what i planned to say and what i think i added in. <3

I would like to open with centering words from octavia estelle butler, the black science fiction writer and, I would argue, prophet-philosopher.

first, let’s take a moment to center, come into this moment:
let yourself be heavy with gravity
and light with stardust
and look around your table, connect with the people around you
and connect to this moment

now, octavia says:
all that you touch you change
all that you change changes you
the only lasting truth is change
god is change

i always evoke her into these spaces because she taught me to be visionary.

wow. so here we are in texas, this massive great state that gave us beyoncé.

now, i was also born in texas, not to imply that all first-born singing virgos from texas are at the same level, or that you should expect a beyoncé level performance from my speech tonight. i only aim for perfection.

but seriously – i heard that there are only 6 abortion clinics left in this state. as we sit here knowing how hard we are working to make moves forward, as we make our Best effort to create changes within and beyond the system, as we raise the money to create our own systems of care, we are still only meeting about 1/3 of the need.

and we are traversing an election season that for some of us is ‘so historic’, for some of us is ‘so depressing and/or terrifying’, for some of us is ‘totally irrelevant in terms of tangible impacts in our communities’, and for some of us all of the above.

this fight of ours is both a local fight, and a supreme court fight. it is a fight that can sometimes feel rigid – as if all the territory has been mapped out already. as if every victory is fragile, and every position must be defensive.

and yet we must win, right? we must not only end hyde, but go beyond, beyond smashing our opponent (which can absolutely satisfying, i know). we need to evolve the conversation beyond the realm of opposition – we must create such a change around abortion that no one can deny it.

everyone in this room is part of an effort to create change. and yet sometimes we forget how change actually works. we think of change as an external impact – we will do something, and the other person will change. and we will stay the same, and we will be happy.

we do this at a personal level – how many of us have fallen in love with someone’s potential? with our story of how we were going to liberate another person’s best self?

or educate a family member?

we do this at a collective or organizational level. how many of us have gone to work at institutions that were deeply unsustainable, or patriarchal, or had severe conflict aversion or other really big clear red flags that we imagined we could transform on the strength of our own (naive) brilliance?

(i won’t ask if anyone here is still in that situation. we are all feeling the love – and i know it’s complicated.)

and of course we do this at a political level. we can see so clearly how the other, our opposition, needs to change. and we set forth to change them. we rage against them on facebook and twitter, go head to head in policy wars, or give them the evil eye at holidays. (cuz you know all this political opposition is in the family, right?)

and of course they are doing the same thing.

our lovers are imagining that we will begin to put the toilet paper roll on correctly, and stop interrupting them with important details when they tell a story to our mutual friends.

our organizations hope that with time we will get so passionate about the mission that we will overlook the regressive structural issues and work the extra unpaid hours to close the gap between the needs of our communities and never-quite-enough resources we can generate to meet those needs.

and politically, our opponents hope, and probably pray, that one day we will cave. that we will say fine. you all should make the decisions about what we can do with our bodies. you win – what were we thinking?

now, within this battle of wills, no one actually wins.

we all get amazing at fortifying our positions, at polarizing the entire world in a binary system that has no room for complexity, for changing positions, for life experience. we create hierarchies of ourselves and others.

octavia teaches us that we use our intelligence to construct hierarchy, over and over. and then we revel in it. i am guilty of this. i feel superior in every way to any man who seeks to legislate my body.

i can’t help it!

it is so easy to see the change that is needed in others, or needed in large scale systems. it is so much harder to create those changes within ourselves, to live up to our values, to live into the unknown, the theoretical – what we FEEL is right, even what we have proven is right at a small scale.

it is particularly frightening to see socialization rooted inside ourselves, and to pull it up. and yet that is what we have to keep doing, and what we need to inspire the rest of this country to do.

most of you are in this room because you have done this work to unlearn the shame and stigma so many of us still get taught to associate with abortion, and to step to the front line to make sure that anyone who needs an abortion can get one.

your work here, all of you, has been so crucial in this respect – you are putting your time, life and resources on the line to help us change how we access abortion care from the local to the national level. you are supporting low-income women, women of color, young women.

i commend you all. i am grateful beyond words. (part of why i wrote this down was because of how emotional i was just preparing for this)

i am grateful as a full spectrum doula.
i am grateful as a survivor of ectopic pregnancy.
i am grateful as an auntie to babies who will have more choices because of your work.
i am grateful as an ever evolving pan-queer-sexual human (who knows what the future holds?)

i thank you.

so now i want to explore what the next edge of growth is for us. what will be healing to everyone we touch?

all that you touch you change. but it also changes you. change is a multidirectional activity.

one of my biggest areas of question to offer tonight is – how do we expand our network of change? i mean, not just who we will change, but who we will let change us, in order to reach far enough to change everything.

to even consider letting others change us, we have to have a solid sense of self. a movement sense of self. we can create change around abortion, we are growing reproductive justice. we are creating a new world here. that you all have raised the money you have raised in spite of the cyber and ideological attacks, the vitriol and socialization of this country is a tangible measurement of that change.

but as we succeed, our opposition changes.
as we get bigger, they get frightened of losing power, and become more dangerous.
as they become more dangerous, their strategies and policies become more outrageous.
and then we become more fearful.
and we can get very narrow, trying to just protect ourselves, to hold the line for the tiny sliver of dignity and liberation and basic rights we cannot live without. our vision, tucked tightly in a safe place.

but often what we think we are protecting is already gone. vision is the collateral damage of a reactionary movement. the ‘vision’ begins sounding like “not this! repeal that! stop that! can we just get a little of this? a tiny bit of justice?” (i speak from experience)

remember the personal relationship scenario? you ever find yourself in a fight like – “wait how did we get here? i don’t even care about the toilet paper – i started this conversation because i want our home to feel like a retreat center of love and equity! you got stuck on bathroom habits, and what the heck? are we breaking up right now?”

it can be funny – even if its not funny at the moment we can usually laugh in retrospect, depending on how the breakup goes.

but this happens in our political work all the time. its less funny there.

this has absolutely happened with our work for reproductive justice, we keep finding ourselves in external and internal debates over differences that distract us from our vision – which is that every person has agency over her, his or their own body. it isn’t about one choice – its about a multitude of choices all rooted in love and equity.

humans tend to change in a cycle.

people say history repeats itself, and in some ways it does. but each time, the group of humans is different, the world is different, and even if it looks the same from the outside, within each cycle are evolutions, micro shifts that create different outcomes.

this slow but determined cycle of change is why so many of our movements are evolving beyond silo’d issue struggles and embracing intersectional identities.

it is how this movement is coming to understand that any discussion about abortion is a discussion about race, about poverty, about borders, about prisons, about control, about collective liberation.

that took so much work. your work and so many others. it is imperative to celebrate that work.

in order to realize our vision for a world in which we have safety and agency for all humans in all bodies, we have to understand this iterative cycle of change, and aim not just for surface shifts that advance or regress from administration to administration.

we have to get very intentional about how we “transform ourselves in order to transform the world”. those are the words of grace lee boggs, my late mentor. we have to create an ideological majority and stability around abortion access and reproductive justice, one that can normalize inside an ever changing world.

i know we can do this.

grace also said “we must assume our power, not our powerlessness”.

octavia called this shaping change. understanding that change is inevitable and constant, but if we are awake we are not simply victims of change, or reacting to change. we can be a force that shapes change.

we can shape change around abortions and reproductive justice.

it is time to get visionary about abortion.

(visionary. what do i mean? not idealistic. not never never land. (vision is kind of my fetish – one of my fetishes))

last year a book that i co-edited with walidah imarisha came out, it’s called Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction from Social Justice Movements. we asked organizers to write science fiction, because we realized that our work as social justice visionaries and organizers is to bring about a world we have never seen. a world without poverty, without patriarchy. a world where every human has the right to make their own difficult choices for their health and lives, towards abundance, towards liberation.

we haven’t experienced this world yet – we are cocreating it. so organizing is reaching forward and pulling the future into our present. all organizing is science fiction. (we are all badass super heroes!)

and what we found in our organizers was that many went above and beyond our call. we don’t lack vision, we lack permission.

we called it sci fi to reach the place people are familiar with, but it is more precisely called visionary fiction. walidah created that term to speak of art we create with intention.

art is never neutral – it either upholds or upends the status quo. so Octavia’s Brood gathered stories of the future that show change as a process, as a bottom up, collective process, centering marginalized communities. neither utopian nor dystopian, because as we know those actually tend to go hand in hand. the 1% depends on the 99%. first class has to be in front of coach. even heaven requires hell.

we invited stories that took us beyond binaries, that took us to the edge of what these organizers could see.

because gloria anzaldua taught us: “nothing happens in the ‘real’ world unless it first happens in the images in our heads.”

this is our work. we must dream the impossible, dream it together, out loud, until it becomes practice and pathway. we must collaborate on our ideas, subverting the capitalist practice of competing like gladiators to have the best idea. we must build collective vision, deep intentions that allow radical adaptations in the unknown future.

(now, i say this next part as someone with deep southern evangelical anti-abortion family members)

a lot of the people who are counted in our opposition have been negatively impacted by the execution of their own espoused values – unable to get the abortions they needed; born to people who did not want to, or were not ready to, parent but felt they had no choice; people shamed for their pregnancies; then shamed for their abortions.

our imagination needs to include these women, our story needs to be big enough to invite them in.

i have been talking about imagination a lot lately. who gets the right to imagine? who gets to realize their imaginations in the real world? we are, in fact, in an imagination battle. i borrow this line of thinking from claudine rankine and terry marshall – right now we are living inside the imagination of other people. people who think women and black people and people from other countries and people with different abilities or desires are dangerous and inferior. can be shot down in the street. mike brown, renisha mcbride and so many others lost their lives to that imagination. we can be regulated around the choice to bring life into this world, we can be controlled through the violence people take based on their waking dreams.

those imaginings have created the conditions of oppression that bring us into this room. the results of this delirium are that women, especially women of color and poor women, are not to be trusted with our bodies. it’s not sane, but it has been institutionalized. and as we grow our resources and our ranks, it is imperative that we burst out of the box that the conservative imagination designates for us. this means moving out of a defensive stance.

i am creating work at a particular intersection. octavia is there, grace is there, and gloria. and a few other ancestors who bear naming.

toni cade bambara charged us with “making the revolution irresistible”. i think of this often when i find myself turning to fear or shame as a motivating force for my people (i never mean to do this but it comes out under pressure, fear and shame are contagious).

how do i make a future of justice an irresistible option? how do we paint in the loudest colors a picture of a world in which families are intentional, joyful, resourced with love and longing. that’s what’s on the other side of abortion access.

audre lorde is also at this intersection – she taught us of pleasure – that it is the experience of the erotic, of being fully sensationally alive in real time, that makes suffering unbearable. she said, when i am “in touch with the erotic, i become less willing to accept powerlessness, or those other supplied states of being which are not native to me, such as resignation, despair, self-effacement, depression, self-denial.”

so i have been reflecting on how the fear of an unwanted pregnancy seriously impacts pleasure and power. in part because of the process of abortion. but, i think, in much larger part because of the narratives around abortion, the trauma of stigmatization, and the lack of emotional support for those who make this choice.

in terms our opposition might understand, they “deny themselves heaven” in this regard, because i suspect a next level of sexual freedom and erotic evolution is also on the other side of abortion access and human-centered reproductive justice.

the final piece i want to add here brings us back to where i started. one of the ways we change ourselves is to change our stories, yes – and my invitation is to bring creativity, joy, love, longing and pleasure into the next stories told about abortion.

but the other way we change ourselves is to put down our armor, or at least move the shield to the side so we can see who we are fighting with. this is ESPECIALLY important for our internal differences. how much of our time and energy do we spend trying to change each other, instead of working to align with each other?

this is a lesson from nature, which i have been studying in a deep way for my next book, which is on emergent strategies, focusing on the way complex systems and patterns emerge out of relatively simple interactions.

in nature the big creatures, those who are the same species but battle each other for territory – the lions, tigers, bears (oh my) – they are on the extinction lists. the creatures which work together with clear distinctions and roles and a shared sense of survival, those are the ones that are proliferating. ants, birds, roaches. octopi and squid. slime mold. these organisms move at the speed of relationship.

the black lives matter movement has been articulating this practice as moving at the speed of trust – that’s as fast as we can go. and our impact can be as big and powerful as our trust is.

our internal movement armor comes in the form of political positions and think pieces and call-outs. we must practice putting down our armor with each other, spend more time getting into a room together and not just drinking (which i enjoy but am abstaining from sugar so…) but working on our alignment. if we are already clear on where the differences are, how do we turn our collective attention to those places where we align and grow that?

what we pay attention to grows. so let’s practice with an affirmation pledge. turn to the person next to you and really take in this divine specimen of warrior. now repeat after me:

i am not you
oh but I need you
thank you for your work
let’s get this. let’s get free
.

thank you so much for paying attention to me these last twenty minutes.

thank you so much for paying attention to our rights and our bodies as your life’s work.

thank you yamani, tiffany and everyone at the national network of abortion funds for having me.

(after this was an incredible karaoke night that was, as yamani sang in her first ever karaoke performance, ‘more than words’)

BALLE 2015 Closing Plenary Speech

Here are the notes from my talk today at the BALLE 2015 Conference! Enjoy.

Thank you first and foremost for your work to bend the future towards justice, love, cooperation and liberation.

I would call your work science fictional – being concerned with the way our actions and beliefs now today will shape the future, tomorrow.

You are excited by what we can create, you believe it is possible to create the next world, you have been building it here these last few days. You believe.

So do I. as michelle mentioned, I’m the Co-editor of an anthology of original science fiction from social justice movements called Octavia’s Brood, which has just sold out its first print of 10k books, so i suppose now it’s public…but I’ve held this belief that we can create new worlds for a long time.

This might be because I was born to a trekkie – meaning one who watches star trek obsessively. My dad watched Star Trek in a way that seems logical to me now. He watched the way a black man from the deep south bringing mixed race children into a racist world would always watch a post racist narrative – eyes wide, faith bubbling up.

We all watched it together, as his military career took our family from place to place. My parents intentionally took us away from the US for our early years and I think they believed that by the time we came back here things would have changed.

When that didn’t happen, they brought us back anyway and took us to Georgia. I think what I experienced there, the casual and constant presence of white supremacy, the knee jerk assessments of my intelligence and humanity, is one of the foundational catalysts for my study of sci fi, apocalypse and post-apocalypse, emergence and complexity.

i thought then in middle school, and i think now…This can’t be all. no one survives this approach, not long term. This can’t be the purpose of our species, to constantly identify each other as ‘other’, build walls between ourselves, and engage in both formal and informal wars against each other’s bodies, build an economy that could never serve the whole.

I feel miraculous. its confusing to feel so miraculous when so many people hate my skin and my history.

i see the miraculous in others – even those who hate me have heartbeats, and, I generally assume, have people they love. why can’t they love me? should i love them anyway? how can i hold these massive contradictions?

I started reading sci fi, obsessively, looking for options. Other worlds where I wasn’t dismissed as an idealist or an inferior.

On that path I discovered octavia butler. Decades before my birth, she was working these same edges in her heart, pendulum swinging between curiosity, possibility and hopelessness. Because if we can’t articulate more viable futures, and adapt, our human future is pretty hopeless.

Octavia Butler wrote novels with young black women protagonists meeting aliens, surviving apocalypse, evolving vampires, becoming telepathic networks, time traveling to save slave owner ancestors. But woven throughout her work were two things: 1) a coherent visionary exploration of humanity and 2) emergent strategies for being better humans.

I’ll say more about emergent strategy in a second.

First I want to say that what my Octavia’s Brood Co-editor walidah Imarisha and I call or work is not actually science fiction. We call it visionary fiction.

Fiction that disrupts the hero narrative concept that one person, often one white man, often matt Damon, alone has the skills to save the world. we write Fiction that explores change as a Collective process. Fiction that centers those who are currently marginalized – not to be nice, but because those who survive on the margins tend to be the most experientially innovative – practicing survival based efficiency, doing the most with the least, an important skill area on a planet whose resources are under assault by less marginalized people. In these ways visionary fiction is constantly applying lessons from our past to our future(s).

Visionary fiction is neither utopian nor dystopian, instead it is like real life: Hard, realistic…Hopeful as a strategy.

We’re here in Arizona, a land where the voting majority believes in aliens, and where my safety is determined by the proximity of my passport. also, the future is unfurling here. Utopia? Dystopia? Perspective is everything.

As long as the future comes from imagination, there will be divergent paths that are moving in and out of alignment, in and out of conflict. Our ideas of right and wrong shift with time – right now it’s clear to me that something is wrong if it hurts this planet. But if we don’t claim the future, that sense of loyalty to earth, of environmentalism, could become an outdated concept. Kenny Bailey from Design Studio for Innovation shared that recently on a panel called black to the future – that justice, rights, things we take for granted are not permanent.

That affirmed to me how important it is that we get into the game, get dirty, get experimental. How do we create and proliferate a compelling vision of a new economy that centers humans and the natural world over the accumulation of material?

We embody. We learn. We release the idea of failure, because its all data.

But first we imagine.

We are in an imagination battle – Claudine Rankin and Terry Marshall speak of this. Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown and Renisha McBride and all of them are dead because in some white imagination, they were dangerous. And that imagination is so respected that those who kill based on an imagined racialized fear of black people are rarely held accountable. imagination has people think they can go from poverty to millionaire as part of a shared american dream. imagination turns brown bombers into terrorists and white bombers into mentally ill victims. imagination gives us borders, gives us superiority, gives us race.

We have to imagine beyond those fears. We have to ideate together. The poverty that results from our current system allows all of this Imagining to be fed by the results of scarcity economics. We must imagine new worlds that transition us from seeing black people as murderers, or brown people as terrorists and aliens, to ones that can see black and brown people as cultural and economic innovators.

Black lives matter, which has issued a clarion call to us in this time, is brilliant on so many levels. they created products to support their work almost immediately, making the look of the movement irresistable and undeniable. Now they are gathering stories from black people about what the world will look like when black lives matter. This is a time travel exercise for the heart. This is ideation – what are the ideas that will liberate all of us?

The more people who collaborate on that ideation, the more people who will be served by the resulting world (s).

Sci fi is simply a way to practice the future together. I suspect that that is what many of you in this room are up to, practicing a future economy together, practicing economic justice together, living into new stories. it is our right and responsibility to create a new world.

And what we pay attention to grows, so I’m thinking about how we grow what you are all imagining and creating into something large enough and solid enough for a tipping point of humans to cross over?

Ursula Le Guin recently said “We live in capitalism – Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings.”

she went on to say It’s up to authors to spark the imagination of their readers and to help them envision alternatives to how we live.

I agree with her. We must make an alternative economic future, as Toni Cade Bambara taught us, irresistible. That was our goal with our anthology, to have a collection of compelling, irresistible stories.

I think you are amongst the protagonists of what might be called the great turning, the change, the new economy.

And I think it is healing behavior, to look at something so broken and see the possibility and wholeness in it. That’s how I work, when a body is between my hands, I let wholeness pour through.

And I think you are healers too – because you are creating possibilities, because you are seeing a future full of wholeness and equity and hope.

I suspect this is in part because you are practicing what i call emergent strategies.

Emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of relatively simple interactions. My mentor Grace Lee Boggs first raised this concept with us in detroit after reading Margaret Wheatley’s work , about biomimicry and mycelium magic. Grace started asking us what our movements would look like if we focused on critical connections instead of critical mass.

We need each other. I love the idea of shifting from ‘mile wide inch deep’ movements to ‘inch wide mile deep’ movements that schism the existing paradigm.

Strategy is a military term meaning simply a plan of action towards a goal. We use it to mean good or bad, but it’s not that discerning. Horrible plans can be pitched as strategic. We must be more precise.

Emergent strategies are ways for humans to practice complexity and grow the future through relatively simple interactions. It was what made sense to me when I was trying to explain the kind of leadership in octavia butler’s books.

It wasn’t just that it was black, female, or young leaders. Or perhaps it was because of all of those things, who leads matters.

But what I noticed is that her leaders were adaptive – riding change like dolphins or surfers ride the ocean.

Adaptive but also intentional, like birds migrating south who know how to get where they’re going even when a storm pushes them 100 miles west. I just came from supporting a meeting naomi klein called in canada, to set an intention to build a clean energy economy. I was so moved by their work to build a shared intention. that is radical imagination.

Octavia’s protagonists were also interdependent, often polyamourous, because the personal is political, because pleasure evokes change perhaps more than shame. right now there is an effort called BOLD, black organizing for leadership and dignity, is cultivating a safe space for black vulnerability and mutual support of leaders, countering the usual model of leader isolation. we all need a place where we can weep and be held and feel our feelings and figure out how those feelings can direct our next evolution. what amazes me is that in the space of such constant black trauma, we get together and we celebrate and love on each other, we laugh, we find the pleasure of community, of interdependence. it feels good together.

Octavias leaders were also decentralized, and they were generative – resilience came from that decentralization, no one person held the power. Ferguson showed us the power of individuals willing to act without a single leader, their leaderfull example is inspiring others to stand up in real time, offline and online, to change legislation and perception.

Ferguson and other movements right now are fractal, practicing at a small scale what we most want to see at the universal level. no more growth before experience. There’s a group in new Orleans called the wild seeds that’s doing this fractal work – women of color practicing pop up galleries and stores to sustain themselves on their radical creativity.

Rather than narrowing into one path forward, her leaders were creating more and more possibilities. that is what i see here – not one perfect path forward, but an abundance of futures, of ways to manage resources together, brilliant together.

So I have become obsessed with how we can be movements like flocks of birds, underground power like that mushroom under Oregon, the sea shell representation of a galactic vision for justice.

I invite you to join me in writing ourselves into the future, naming the principles of total transformation, building an economy in which black lives matter because every single life, and all that supports life, matters – let us practice in every possible way the world we want to see.

22 books in 21 days: my reading/writing retreat reviews/thoughts/reflections

2015 reading/writing retreat book thoughts/responses/reviews for the 22 books i’ve read this year:

1. herland, charlotte perkins gilman
this book is a collection of fascinating concepts embedded in dated writing that was hard to read at moments, particularly around race. the central concepts around what a society of only women would be like, what a mothering-based society would look like, are really quite lovely. it’s a quick read, i would recommend to folks looking at feminism and parenting in sci fi, to mothers.

2, 3, 4. saga volumes 1-3, fiona staples and brian k vaughan
this graphic novel may actually be the best thing i have ever encountered. the writing is gorgeous and visceral and hilarious, the visuals are emotive and stunning. i was moved to laughter and tears multiple times. i couldn’t put it down and i wanted to know that all of these complex characters were going to be ok. magnificent way of casting the world in a war vs peace question without feeling boring or earnest. can’t wait for more.

5. the secret history of las vegas, chris abani
subtle, strange, poetic. a good mystery with skilled reveals. particularly of interest for those considered freaks and outcasts by mainstream society – how is that condition, that distance from the center, survived, navigated? abani is a masterful writer, he creates a situation where you wouldn’t want to be in this world, but you can’t not see it.

6. a book of common prayer, joan didion
this book makes me want to release a particular little keening moan. didion writes about grief and pain in the most exquisite precise way. this story is very small and personal and a little mysterious…i can’t exactly put my finger on what she was telling us about other than heartache. but it’s enough. apparently it’s about to be a movie with the redhead from mad men – i anticipate.

7. chronicle of a death foretold, gabriel garcia marquez
garcia marquez could write about sitting on a toilet for 100 pages and i would be stunned by the beauty of it. this is a story of a murder, where the murderers are known, and the motive, and everything. but the exploration is around how the whole town handles it both before and after. his writing is poetic and objective and casts judgment without any accusation, simply with the information he offers.

8, 9. fifty shades trilogy (darker, and freed), e.l. james
i just had to know: what was the big deal about these books? as someone who doesn’t really read romance novels, there was a certain thrusting loin quality, where every brush of the knuckle against sensitive skin blooms an orgasm that felt beyond ridiculous. but what i was left with was a lot of discomfort, not from the kind of sex, but from the abusive relationship between this virgin and a possessive, traumatized, controlling man. i was glad to see the presentation of bdsm agreements and communication around sex that gets explored here. but the way sex was used to connect with someone so emotionally volatile and manipulative made me want to sit down with this girl and do some life coaching and mediation. i’m sure someone good has already written about this somewhere, but i hadn’t seen it. i kept rooting for her to put her foot down and say no, you can’t treat me this way. alas, they would instead fall into romantic throes again because she bit her lip and his manhood was involved. yay for bondage and consensual play, but all thumbs down for the presentation of this as any model of a sexy relationship.

10. positron episodes 1-3, margaret atwood
this is a hilarious dystopian future series. i didn’t realize it was an unfinished series when i started or i probably would have waited til it was done. but it’s funny enough, though not her best, not on par with the maddaddam trilogy. she is skilled and cynical, she makes me actually laugh out loud, and the idea is a brilliant critique of the modern prison system.

11. the blind assassin, margaret atwood
a tragedy, written in slow full detail. very different, sadder and more earthbound than anything else i’ve read of atwood’s work. this is a great family drama, and it’s quite cinematic. there is sci-fi in here but its tucked inside a world war 2 era tragedy that builds up to be very specifically of it’s time, the kind of tragedy that can only emerge out of deep shame and politeness.

12. kafka on the shore, haruki murakami
ahhhh. this book had so much magic, so many of the right fundamental questions, so much good taboo and sensuality…it is a perfect book, each character unlikely and compelling, the mysteries pulling you forward. there is a section of this story that actually feels impossible – an act of sexual violence that is somehow made part of the journey through innocence, that i have to note as a survivor, and also say i never thought anyone could write such a scene in a way that still felt safe, tender, forgivable and humane. the whole thing is brilliance. the story is paced perfectly, and there are things like having half of a shadow, or talking with cats, that make total sense here. i want to read a lot more of his work.

13. at night we walk in circles, daniel alarcon
this story really echoed garcia marquez’s chronicle of a death foretold in it’s pace, in telling of how scandal and love and youth happen in a small place, or in this case a series of small places where people are trying to make meaning of their lives. i love how daniel writes, and i love what feels like looking behind a curtain at the friendships and society of men, the immense quiet suffering, confusion and pride.

14. killing moon (dreamblood), n.k. jemisin
n.k. writes fantasies where the darkest skinned people are the divine presence, where romance is queer and crosses gender, sexuality, ability and species. there is tension, longing, principle, power play. she easily evokes and drops us into worlds that are fully formed and believable, and then she focuses in on tender interpersonal dynamics. this book really examines death – seeing it as something not to be feared, as a possible transition into ecstasy that i found very compelling.

15. the salt eaters, toni cade bambara
this book is difficult! there isn’t something clear to grab onto and hold as you enter the heart of this healing, and i found myself having to approach it as a spiritual journey rather than a narrative as i was moved, confused, annoyed, touched, witnessed and worked. i am grateful toni opened herself up to this one, and i know this isn’t my last time reading it.

16. americanah, chimimanda ngozi adichie
ahhhhhh. ah ah ahhhh. i saved this book for near the end of my trip because i had great expectations and i wanted to savor the anticipation. adichie delivers. she writes this book about all of these normal things – love, family, friendship, growing up, figuring out who you are and want to be – and she makes it all feel honest and meaningful. what is it like to be aware of yourself being difficult, or being silent in the face of injustice, or walking away from love? how many of us are moved by forces we can’t quite put our finger on, between choices that don’t offer clear and easy next steps? when i finished this book i hugged it, literally, with gratitude.

16. this is how you lose her, junot diaz
yunior! this book felt like it flew past, the voice moving so quickly, so of the world junot is documenting, that i wanted to make myself read it slower, but i couldn’t. i appreciate what feels like a shamelessness in this, the exposure of how straight men learn to speak to each other and think to themselves about women. and how much these women with their fears and care and needs actually mean to the men, in spite of the training to disregard love, to be greedy. i wanted it to go on.

17. how to slowly kill yourself and others in america, kiese laymon
i wrote some about how this book effected me in my delirious travel posting. i think kiese is writing a very particular voice that feels like the open vein of this political moment, wonderful and accessible and also hard to read. i love his southern black boy stance, i love reading him be vulnerable about what he has lost in trying to be tough, i love his relationship with his mama and the women who love him, i love that this collection of essays is designed to be read in one sitting – even though i took a break in the middle to have a spiritual enlightenment moment – and i love that it feels like there is so much more to come from him.

18. y the last man volume 1, brian k vaughan
after falling hard for saga people kept mentioning this work to me and it’s fantastic – the premise is like herland, a world of women, and the experience of a man/men traversing that world. vaughn writes characters you want to kick it with, want to kick the asses of, and want to see win at life. can’t wait to read more.

19. motherless brooklyn, jonathan lethem
this book was a find on the shelf where i was staying once i ran out of books. i grabbed it because it had incredible reviews, and i found it an interesting book – the lead character is a detective who lives with tourette’s and the most fascinating part of the book by far is being inside his tourette’s ticking mind – the self awareness of control and lack of control. made me think how much i take for granted the relationship between my mind and my body. the detective story was fine, but the journey into the protagonist’s brain was the reason to read this book. i’m excited to see ed norton take this on for film.

20. lion’s blood, steven barnes
wow. i wanted to read this book because i had heard about how steven flipped white supremacy in his head to the degree that in the book hard times are called ‘pale times’…i wanted to see this flip. this book is well researched and deeply plausible, and it really pushes the mind to see how clearly white supremacy works, where it is embedded and assumed. there was a point where i was reading and wanting to close the book because the account was so traumatizing, and then had to release a good cry because…that’s my lineage. this is a powerful, innovative and thorough alternate history.

21. healing sex, staci k haines
this book is so necessary. staci is my teacher in my somatics and social justice path, and i have been needing and fearing this book for a few years. i worked through it one chapter at a time and there was so much smart, nonjudgmental, ambitious and practical wisdom in here…i feel like i grew up a few years in my journey of sexual health and power with this book. i recommend it to anyone and everyone who has sex.

22. soul talk: the new spirituality of african american women, akasha gloria hull
this book, prescribed to me by dr alexis pauline gumbs, also got touched on in my delirious post, but i want to add that i thought it was brave of akasha to name that the book was a spiritual journey in and of itself, in addition to being a whisper across spirit between these women of the 80s and those of us reading and learning from their words today. this book is full of vulnerability, and not trying to condense or synthesize black creative and spiritual brilliance, but letting it be ethereal and precise and emotional and mystical. she helped me read the salt eaters, and moving through it one chapter at a time, it put me in contact with my ancestors in a way that feels precious and right.

how to have a creation retreat (advance) any time, any place

i am on a reading/writing retreat/advance in mexico, and it is so precious and delicious. i have been reflecting on what makes it so good, and realizing that the majority of elements are ones i conjure up to advance my creative work any time, any place.

the word retreat is familiar, but really it’s an advance – taking the time to move forward intentionally in my life’s work.

so, partially to remind myself, partially to spark creative time for you, here goes.

1) time.

set aside time to get lost in the work. this might be an hour, a day, three weeks, a couple of months. obviously more time is better, though some people thrive in the small window. you know what you need. but don’t postpone until you get the biggest chunk of time. think of every moment as time you are intentionally feeding your creativity. when you are hungry, you don’t say, ‘well this meal isn’t big enough, better wait for the feast’. you nourish yourself (on local grassfed organic gluten free sugar free foods, but if that’s not there, pizza or goat curry also works, feel me?). small also opens the door to large. when you use an hour well, your system starts rearranging your circumstances, wanting more.

creating with others may work well for you, again, know thyself. be wary of work dates, be honest about who you can actually create next to or with. don’t cocrastinate, it will only grow resentment in all directions.

say no during this time, to plans, lunch dates, phone calls. scheduled things with others can disrupt the flow. tell beloveds you will see them on the other side. let people root for your creator self by giving you time.

the exception to this is if toni morrison, or toshi reagon, or kiese laymon, or beyonce, or bjork calls you to go out and talk about creating things. otherwise, it can wait.

time is the first way to nourish your creativity.

2) disconnect.

the whole internet with it’s crises and food porn and subtweets and azealia banks will be there when you’ve finished creating something. the texts and emails are generally not as urgent as they seem – be as responsive to your creativity as you are to the projected world.

airplane mode is a gift from the gods-of-getting-your-life-together. disconnecting will deepen your sleep, sharpen your awareness of the actual place and moment you are in, and give your mind a little room from the words of others to actually hear yourself. turn the outer world back on only after you have completed something.

it’s not even disconnecting really, it’s giving yourself the space to connect to your creative self. prioritize that connection which buzzfeed cannot capture.

3) input.

make a list of all of the artists, writers, musicians and other creators who inspire you, who are better than you, who are part of your field. ask for recommendations from people who are familiar with your work. spend part of your time inhaling, devouring, analysing, being humbled by and filling up on the work of other artists.

i like to juxtapose creative things, listening to jay-z while reading toni cade bambara. but do it how you like. you might need to take things in on their own. but take in the intentional arts of your possible peers.

don’t only take in art that is in your field either. poetry and essays are essential ingredients of great fiction. the natural world can teach you how to describe love. genius teaches in many ways, be open to unexpected inspiration.

4) options. give yourself multiple outlets through which your creations can flow.

i am here primarily to write, but i have a sketchbook, a small notebook for ideas, a journal for personal reflection and clearing, magazines to collage, a recording app if songs come, and the device i am writing on now for actual story writing and editing.

even if you just have a sketchbook and a journal, you’ve widened the options. stories can come as sketches, charts, character drawings, jumbles of many faces, photography, poetry, freedom songs. the main thing is to have a way to grab it when the genius comes.

5) supplies.

i think of prepping for a creation advance like prepping for a sport. i need water! i need food that is quick to prepare and meets the nutritional needs of my body. i love to cook beautiful meals for myself, basic delicious stuff i can prepare on the front end to heat and eat – brown rice stir fry, quinoa and veggies, frittata, etc.

give yourself as few escapes as possible – needing to go get food can be a procrastination move.

i also need all the creation options mentioned in point 4. chargers, pens, paper, ritual items (see 6). have it all ready to go on the front end.

the inputs – a stack of books, real ones and kindle downloads. also amazing playlists that make you want to put out.

and i think we all need what i think of as the valve, or pleasure, supplies – i want my body to feel good throughout the work. wine, whiskey, weed, sex toys – ways to celebrate a good day’s work. bookend the retreat/advance with body treats, have a massage booked, or go to a sauna. the body is the creative tool, treat it well.

6) ritual.

creating is the work of god(s), so set the sacred space. i create an altar for my work, pull tarot cards about what i should be open to, and start my writing days with journaling, yoga, meditation and somatic practices. i brush my teeth, i like to smell good for my creativity.

i also tidy the space where i am going to create – dishes, bed made. basic stuff, as cleaning can become a procrastination too. but clear space leaves more room for the new things.

your ritual might be coffee, a prayer, a long run, a mantra (i think i can, i dream i do, i breathe brilliance) or sitting mindfully in your studio. it can change as you go too, it’s the spirit of ritualizing your creative life that matters. creating a practice ground, where anything can happen.

mind body earth and spirit create, it’s not just your brain and fingers. i am thrilled here to be able to swim in the ocean each day, read in the sun, write in my hammock. i know that i write more under these conditions, so i have started keeping a fund for this purpose, going someplace warm, near the ocean, in the winter. but this is rare, and i don’t want my creating to be rare. at home i put on music, turn the heat up so i can wear tropical attire, light incense, and do the ritual, noticing my outer and inner worlds before i drop in.

7) spark.

everything up until now is setting the conditions. this is the fire pit, the dry ready wood, the abundant kindling, the paper, the air, the longing for warmth. now the spark might come at any time.

i often ritual, journal, read, draw, and then the spark comes, but sometimes it comes as i am drifting to sleep, or first thing when i wake up, or as i am biking past a tree. sometimes one spark will come while i am pursuing another – good problems!

the spark receives the highest honor, everything else is secondary. i stop whatever i am doing – reading, cooking, biking, dreaming – to blow on the spark, cultivate it, welcome it.

that spark is why we are here.