notes to self aug 7 2019

notes from the Northstar church pleasure activism event in Durham last night…

first, read these notes about Toni Morrison:

and @thisandthatkat said: “tweet’s southern hummingbird was my shower soundtrack this morning. as “oops (oh my)” played on repeat, i thought of toni, this twitter post, and the part in her doc where she fondly reminisced on being “loose” as a howard undergrad and unapologetically declared, “it was lovely, i loved it”. toni was sensual. she reveled in the sweetness, the pleasures, the fullness of black womanhood and encouraged us to do the same. thank you, toni”

and these:

i got to sit between Omisade and Nia and listen and learn about the pleasures of the crone.

we thought and said, aging is humbling, can make you invisible to huge portions of humans, can make you feel shame about falling apart. but you can remind yourself to feel into your body, that you are just changing, that each day is still miraculous.

we uplifted the #decolonizethecrone work of Omisade – have you heard her podcast, A Black Girl’s Guide to Menopause? Omisade pointed out how we give tons of attention and information to people getting their periods, but so little information about menopause, how it will feel, from the inside to the interactions.

in this conversation i was reminded that both outside of and because of age, ability is always shifting. i want to be in my body in a way that increases my joy each day – each day is another day to make good on the contract of creating a beautiful life for myself, for my people.

i shared something i learned from Alexis Pauline Gumbs, whose essay The Sweetness of Salt was the centerpiece of tonight’s reading. Mya read the section about Kai, Omisade read the section about Cara. it was a very Durham love burst.

Alexis taught me about time travel, how we can transmit across time and space. i spoke of my two formative grandparents tonight, and felt their distinct presences in me, the celebration of being remembered, the joy of being useful, that sparkle coming up my back in ancestral shivers. i spoke of how i can see the pleasures my grandmother missed, working multiple jobs as a maid while raising seven kids…where were her footrubs? massages? meals cooked for her, orgasms just for her? i gather these delights and send them back to her, share them. for a moment, i can fold time and let her feel good.

at some point we spoke of the weight of grandmother wisdom. and how sometimes it’s racist, patriarchal, transphobic, close minded stuff. we got to the idea that when we come across people acting out from that inherited ignorance, part of our work is to remove the weight, bring them to current time.

i was also reminded that, often, those who are most conservative in my life are older women who believe themselves to be in a covenant with god. it’s repression, shaming, self negation, denial, all in the name of being closer to god. and what helps me navigate the conversations is to understand that even the force i am moving against, that force feels sacred to the other person. i must contend for divinity to really move the conversation. to say, god, goddess, god-is-change also made me, particularly.

also, did you know men can use beet juice and a vegan diet to grow virility?

oh and nia taught us how we must decide, and begin to practice, something new. in the here and now. that’s the work of spirit house, to build a foundation for the time when we win, are free.

we remembered, from somatics, how compassion helps us soften in the face of shame, and move through it to the terror, or grief, or other big emotions that shame protects.

this was a beautiful day for thoughtful feelings or emotional thinking. one day at a time, but each day has lineage and dreams.

today we dreamed within the revered energy of the Phil Freelon. it was an honor to feel the goodness of that space, the love he rendered.

toni morrison, fly

so. you set down all that weight,
gave up all that shit?

cleared the ghosts’ hands away from your heels?
straightened the wide brims of their hats?
kissed the men on soft smirked cheeks?
danced beyond the reach of your children?

you knew how to end the long tale

precisely

you knew how to meander without waste
you kept our attention on their faces

you heard the black women
folded, almost disappeared between the pages,
but you told their stories
and made them our stories

we all learned to love our eyes
we all remembered that we are not wrong
we all looked at whiteness with a withering eye
we all knew the cost of enslavement

we all needed you
we are all grateful

ase

future things: on skawennati, yan jun, feedback improvisation + international kindred in montreal

i’m writing from a train pressing through a gray quebec landscape. yesterday i spoke at science faction, the sight + sound international digital arts festival in montreal. the panel i was a part of was called ‘whose fictions? upturning the male dystopian gaze’, and it was pretty fantastic.

i am wary of things that sound very cool, especially in the digital tech world – i always seek the organic connection. this space felt like building the organic bridge between technology and the heart, desire, evolution. it felt like being amongst those who will tinker and experiment and push edges into the future. i was blown away by the kindred thinking of the other artists on the panel, especially skawennati, who i got to connect with before the panel on sex, sugar and sabbaticals. i share my notes from the conversation below.

i also got to experience a few other artists. sound artists. i have found a new experience to love. let me start there.

the first artist was named yan jun and he did something called feedback improvisation. i followed an instinct to sit in the very front row. an announcement came on before he played, that the performance was subtle, so the audience should be quiet, calm. the room was dark, just a bright light where his equipment was set up. it looked like a bunch of volume knobs, a sort of gun with a cone at the end of it, some round metal disks, rubber bands.

yan jun walked up with a quizzical alert look on his face. he took off his hoodie and draped it over the back of his chair, then took off an outer shirt and folded it carefully and draped it too. from the first movement, everything felt meticulous, intentional. he sat down and started making noise. the noises he made took us on a journey. sound is vibration, we are vibration, and he took us to the very edge of what the body can handle in a performance that was part meditation, part internal massage, part tension and distress, part caress.

subtle, yes, and incredibly sensual. he would hold a piece of paper near the sound gun, or press two fingers against a vibrating coil, and the feedback would shift in ways that sounded like dancing, heartbeats, terror. at one point i was sure i heard a choir in the static. it was strange and exquisite.

after him, leslie garcia came on with bio-box, this complex set up with algae and moss in little dishes, hooked up to wires, so that the sounds of the plants could be used to create music. it was beautiful and paradigm shifting – there was so much life in the sounds. leslie is from mexico city. she says at home she has over 80 variety of plants, and each makes a unique sound, that philodendron sound nothing like lavender, and algae nothing like moss.

if the opportunity comes to you to take in some sound art i recommend it. get high first, it helps you listen with your body.

now, notes from ‘whose fictions?’

our facilitator erandy vergara was wonderful. she opened up by asking us to speaking about how fiction can move us beyond binaries, and offered us two questions:

1. how does something unnatural become natural? (if you cannot reproduce human children, for instance, it is considered unnatural – how does it become natural? she had a clip from the movie her to explore this, but as is the case at every tech related conference i have ever been to, the tech didn’t work)

2. how does the cyborg figure show up in your work?

i was the first speaker. i spoke of my social justice background, my background reading and watching sci fi, and how that was coming together in my life through octavia’s brood and my sci fi salons and emergent strategy sessions.

i said for me the cyborg figure – which is becoming current, i am one step away with my constant devices – is a way to explore: what is freedom? the ways we become cyborg are not necessarily so drastic, so binary as human, not human. it is often to address some self-defined limitation. my friend recently got bone anchored hearing aid to counter the severe hearing loss he’s experienced in the past few years. he looks like a future. i think our cyborg age will likely come very naturally, slip through and into us, as an expansion of nature. afterwards i thought about talking about cyborgs and economic divide – who gets to enhance? how do we hack into cyborg equality? but perhaps that will be a future talk.

in terms of natural or unnatural, i said what interests me is how often that which is different is considered unnatural, at least at first. but really difference, diversity, is what nature shows us works for evolution.

i said fiction is one way to naturalize things which people aren’t yet comfortable with. i have been thinking about this lately as it relates to the idea of ‘master’s tools’…perhaps there is no such thing. master’s ideologies, yes. but there are tools, masters use them, so do we. fiction, storytelling is a tool. men, mostly white men, have used it to express their imaginations for years, particularly in the realm of science and speculative fiction. through projects like octavia’s brood, we as women, people of color, queer people, feminist men, claim this tool for the inception of our own power in the future.

skawennati was next, and i just have to say i love this woman, and i love her partner. some people you meet and its just easy from the start.

her work focuses on natives in sci fi, imagining indians in the 25th century. she used second life to create a series. she spoke my thesis: if we dont imagine ourselves in the future we will not be there. she said particularly in native communities, ‘we spend a lot of time thinking about the past. its an unfulfillable wish’. she did a millennium project where she made a timeline from just before contact, 1490, to 2490. as she moved through it she realized it was a girl project, and wanted to do a brother project.

she created a scenario about a time in the future when people have a device that they can put on and have the 3d experience of a historical event. in her work it was important to notice that her people, mohawk people, were no longer worried about survival, they were thriving now.

of her character, skawennati shared that by learning about himself, his history, he learns to love. he is even financially successful. she said she was inspired by a lyric from an indigenous artist: ‘im gonna live real lavish for all the times you called me savage’.

the final speakers were members of the transnoise collective, a platform based in barcelona for artists to collaborate. they said they are part of the transhack feminist movement. their approach is network, DIY, performance as a way to live. play with noise. they use garbage from the places where they perform. there were technical difficulties and a language barrier, so i don’t have as much of their content, but they shared awesome stuff, such as:

– we understand ourselves as a mixture of culture and nature.
– no more projects and outcomes, more processes
– we see in research that bacteria sex is the transmission of information. sex, pleasure is another level of information, of communication.
– the fear of the unknown doesn’t exist. you have fear because of something you know, something you have heard, even if it is false. you heard it. it made a belief in you.

then erandy asked us how working with communities had impacted our practices. i shared that as a virgo, an oldest child and an american i was oriented towards individualism. but i have also learned from early achievement that success in that context is isolating. so with lots of fits and starts and lessons, i can proudly say community is growing me.

the allied media conference has been a major space of being and working and growing in community, around the principle: we begin by listening.

i shared that in most of octavia butler’s work (its always comes back to her somehow, she is muse and prophet to me) she is challenging hierarchy. that has really impacted me. it’s working with others, but also shifting traditional power dynamics.

the collective creation process of the sci fi writing workshops has been major – when building a world with others, the imaginative space goes beyond what i would think alone.

i also spoke to pace in terms of learning to work with others. often we realize we want to be more collective in our approach, and then leap from working alone to being part of an intricate highly involved collective.

collectives are advanced. the phd level of human interactions.

i have been learning to work with one other person at a time, and learning about myself in that. my work with walidah on octavia’s brood, for instance, is really revealing for both of us.

creating with others in detroit is important to me. i realized that so many of the spaces i was in in detroit were about our shared suffering, victimhood, powerlessness. and we need the reality of those spaces, to grieve and vent. but i also needed to experience and create generative healing space. and the pleasure of creating together.

at some point we spoke about embodiment – how important it is to bring the body self, which needs to eat, drink, have sex, have pleasure, into the space where the future is being imagined.

skawennati said people should teach that sex is for pleasure, instead of procreation. my heart flipped. i shared how my brother is talking about not teaching the babies the concept of virginity. how do we teach different things about the role of intimacy, the work of bodies – to not see ourselves through a religious lens, but a wholistic lens.

i spoke of pleasure, referencing audre lorde and the uses of the erotic. that the body and pleasure can be a compass for leaving behind suffering. people are motivated to change for pleasure, for desire and longing more than fear. we have tried scaring people to change, for instance, with climate change. but we have to paint compelling futures because we change when the future is so beautiful, abundant, not because it is so terrifying.

skawennati countered, ‘our society is based on fear. turtle island was developed on fear, religion based fear. telling people how bad they are. same in europe in all colonized countries. i think this is the role of the artist – to think about ways for us to move forward as a society. to put these ideas out and hope they take root.’

she recommended reading snow crash and physics of the future.

in the conversation we also got to speak to how important it is to create outside of the ongoing dynamics of oppression. toni morrison speaks to this, and nnedi okorafor has spoken about writing stories without white people in them, not as a slight to white people, but just because she writes worlds centered on black or african people who are reacting to other challenges than whites.

this means not centering our victim selves, but our creative selves. it becomes easy to come together based on shared oppression, and then start to compete about something that cannot be measured – the suffering of oppression.

i spoke about emergent strategies as an alternative. birds don’t win migration, they just go where they are supposed to be, adapting and facing the challenges along the path. this gives us space for our complexity, to have oppression in our identity and so much more. to have the tools in our communities not just to commiserate, but to move through and beyond grief and survival.

i noted that i intentionally spend a lot more time on healing, generating solutions, positivity, in relationship to others focused on cultivating the same things. as radical work.

an audience member asked how we respond to the singularity, the idea that eventually we will create an artificial intelligence that surpasses us, and how can we continue in, or merge with, that future?

i referenced kweli tutashinda’s book on grassroots and indigenous responses to singularity, which basically posits that we are all connected, that the intelligence of the planet, of life, is beyond what we comprehend and that will still be the case in and through the technology we create.

but also, we have to keep working on increasing our capacity for impermanence. meditate.

another audience member asked how to get more women to his hackerspace in mexico city. the other panelists spoke of creating women only spaces, safe spaces for women to be a part of. i added that it would be amazing if the people there, if the men reflected on how to turn up the feminine in themselves.

between the talk and performances i met two women. one was anne goldenberg, a feminist hacker artist who had just given a workshop on meditation and computers and somatics and being present with the body of your technology and the body experiences you have in your computer interactions. i was so excited to hear somatics!, and loved the premise of her work, bringing mindfulness to the machines we use all the time.

the second person was named angela gabereau, co-creator of this awesome little expressive lamp. she invited me to be a part of her current project, a queer futures online video tarot deck. um…yes.

i think that’s everything.

i will just add that having the organizers bring me by train rather than plane worked beautifully to give me a writing retreat. i feel creative and rejuvenated in it.

slave songs (on renisha mcbride, 12 years a slave, beloved)

i don’t want to write about renisha mcbride. i don’t want to know her story.

last week i saw 12 years a slave, and then beloved. it was an intense week in my body.

after 12 years i wanted to crawl into another skin that felt somehow further from, or alien to, what i had just watched and felt. as a multiracial person i watched it feeling everything, the whip on my back and the whip in my hand. all my people have lived in south carolina for generations, you know? i want to know these ancestral memories and i don’t.

after 12 years i wanted to be quiet with my blackness, quiet around black people, in black spaces far from the dangerous suburbs. i couldn’t move to a place of even having an opinion on the film…i was shook. because it felt true. through the hollywood lens, and the phallic frame of finding singular male stories through which to tell all of history, i still felt the pain of women, mothers, sexualized slave bodies, radically unfair circumstances, allies, and legacy, the legacy of slavery this country is still holding so tightly.

and it was powerful to watch beloved again so soon after 12 years. perhaps even necessary. i had seen and read beloved before, years ago, but was unfamiliar with the 12 years story. i watched both movies with my lover/scholar/friend lynnee. she framed beloved, which is a horror story, as an examination of a tenderness of storytelling, how do we tell the ugly truth in a beautiful dignified way? toni morrison took this story into her thorough speculative hands and shaped something immensely humanizing, focused on a powerful and complex female protagonist, where the black love and survival and even madness left a feeling of empowerment in us when it was finished. she indicts white supremacy – as we watch sethe stand in that shed we understand what happened to her, what slavery was. this time around, with children in my life, that scene was even more devastating than it was the first time.

so my mind has been returning to the scenes of both movies, wanting to write.

and then 19-year-old renisha mcbride was shot in dearborn. i didn’t see it at first, my friend dream has been posting about and organizing around it. renisha, from what i’ve gathered, was a young black woman who got in a car accident and was seeking help. instead of being seen as a human seeking aid, she was taken for a potential robber. an unarmed robber knocking on a front door in the middle of the night. so she got shot in the face? and as i write this no charges are being brought against her zimmerman, but pressure is mounting as more of us reluctantly say and write and scream her name for the first time.

it all feels deeply connected, to me.

from the first day we were brought here, until today in this obamajayzoprah era, it is still such a dangerous thing to be black – and let’s be precise, most every other shade of brown – in the wrong place in this country. and the wrong place is wherever there is sufficient fear and arms. the borders are invisible, because they are internal – if you fear us for any reason, you can shoot us to death and the word ‘justified’ will become your armor for the remainder of your shameful life.

before learning renisha’s name, 12 years already had me thinking about the modern day spaces where race and ethnicity are used to justify capturing, enslaving, disappearing, torturing, and/or eliminating people. i was thinking about guantanamo bay, about migrant workers and immigrant families, about the survival of palestinians and somalis which gets narrated as terrorism, about our industry of prisons and punishment.

watching a slave balance on his toes as he hung just so from a tree, as others moved about their day, i thought of herman wallace in solitary confinement, and of waterboarding – i already couldn’t stay in the past.

lynnee’s scholarship of late has focused on nina simone, and she just unearthed this line, ‘slavery has never been abolished from america’s way of thinking.’ it is a trauma, toxic in the soil. mostly we don’t want it to be this way, we want to be ‘post-racial’. but we shoot babies in the face, and over skittles, because we are not post racial. we are not even post traumatic. we are in an active, sustained state of ongoing trauma, and that state has no borders.

and it’s hard, because most of the time i think white people, particularly white people with southern roots, should be terrified. because of what their ancestors did, and what karma might be justified to demand as recourse. but black people aren’t out here raging against white people and exacting revenge in place of reparations. we barely engage in any kinds of social movements at this point, to our detriment. but we are being presidents, we are railing against glass ceilings in high fashion culture on the jimmy kimmel show, we are falling in love, we are working for ford motor company when they’ll hire us, our social justice efforts may be small but they are fierce – we are working to shape a society to somehow see our humanity even though we all know all day every day how we came to be here. when we do turn to crime, we take it out primarily on each other, and it’s driven by the economic state that emerges from being so recently the slaves of this nation.

it is hard to shake away the fact that slavery really helped capitalism take off here. today, how one is doing in the system of capitalism is the difference in most aspects of black life – whether you will work for others and barely survive, get sucked into illegal pathways of survival, or ultimately ride away. and it’s a markedly less discriminating slavery, this embedded modern version. it still shows a statistically trackable lust for black bodies, but will swallow whole anyone who can’t advance against the odds.

if you ride away you can be president. but if you were the president and you happened to be in dearborn heights and got into a car accident and approached a door for help? for the resilience of surviving slavery and being a nice guy and achieving status and titles and leadership and then surviving the car crash and getting to the door, you get nothing. you die, sir.

i am thinking a lot on how creativity thrives in such conditions.

how do we generate life in the midst of an ongoing war? how do we love in the path of such a mysterious borderless hunter?

the only answer that makes any sense to me is the resistance of creating, and letting that creation, that joy and love and generation of something new, press up against the fear.

this combination of movies has me reflecting a lot on resistance. throughout both films there are whispers and traces of love and intimacy as forms of resistance – feeling touched, connected, sweetness, sexual release, goodness. then there is the resistance of not engaging, which beautiful brave slave patsey employs in 12 years. there is the resistance of choosing to die, to kill one’s future, that both patsey and beloved’s sethe turn to or attempt. there is one woman in 12 years whose resistance is weeping, uncontrollably and unstoppably, for her children.

i love the full consideration of these forms of resistance. dream tweeted that resistance is never futile, and i agree – resistance let’s us know how severe the conditions of suffering are, and also let us know how resilient we are, that we still long for a taste of freedom, of action on our own recognizance.

to that end, i have always loved the stories of slow poisoning slave masters, of learning to read and write in the shadows and dirt, of doing the slave work as incompetently as possible without incurring punishment – i love these as much as the stories of running away and freeing others, and think they speak just as powerfully to the ways in which we bend but do not break, break but do not disappear, disappear but are not forgotten.

perhaps because i know myself, and how hard bravery is. and how radically i am living my resistance with every choice, though it may never be seen by others.

perhaps because i have been in the woods in the dark and it still scares me and i think that is some ancestral memory, and i know you can hear everything in the night in the wood, that an escaping slave must have been a crashing burden to the darkness. renisha mcbride. we have been getting shot at in the night such a long time.

i want hear the truth until it is made impossible. if that means lots and lots of movies and television shows and series about slavery and its foundations, its legacies, it’s breathing beastly present, so be it. i want these creative indictments of this viral system, until it can no longer justify itself the morning after. i want inspired-by-true stories like toni wrote, i want directors from all backgrounds to see this as a necessary story to tell. i want djangos, i want fantastical lesbian slave science fiction, i want slave narratives from survivors. i want big budget hollywood movies and small home crafted art films. i want oscar worthy performances and scripts, and i want the rest of it – i want us to obsess about this, to turn to it as a festering spreading wound that can only truly heal with our attention, our slowing down and attending to this place where we have never been well but could be. today, slavery is the rarely mentioned core narrative of this country’s existence – i want our narrative to be truth and reconciliation.

i want a justice for renisha that makes her the last one.

i don’t avoid the news because i don’t care. it is a sign of exhaustion about living in this country, about willfully turning the best of my attention towards creativity and solutions. but from a place of surviving, in case there is ever confusion. i am hanging on the line too, digging my toes in the dirt for purchase on some new stability, hanging on for a true freedom.