Tag Archive for 'transformation'

writing so hard

writing comes easily to me in that i write daily, and have since i learned the alphabet. i don’t really feel things fully, or understand things, until i have written them down.

writing is still the hardest work i do – physically, emotionally, spiritually, politically. figuring out what needs to be written, what needs to be uplifted, how to write it, who to write to, how much i am willing to share and to change…and, always, when to write – it’s hard work.

words are spells and invitations. they all exist, and we rearrange them over and over to say the truth.

the ancestors i love left me a river of words, and i am conscious of being a small stream flowing into it, sometimes guiding others, bringing myself to an ocean.

so. i just wrote for three weeks straight.

on the surface of it, i finished two books.

one nonfiction, on pleasure activism.

one visionary fiction, a novel on grief and transformation in detroit.

just under the surface, i edited an anthology that i’d been gathering for a year, with a lot of original writing on pleasure to weave it together. as i was completing it, i could see all these additional needs, and every day i was reaching out to people who would add the exact note to the chorus that would make it complete. it was exciting work. and i had to ask myself daily: am i being brave enough? am i telling the truth about my pleasures and vision and healing journey? do i need all these words? does it read like a conversation? am i enjoying this?

i turned it in to my publisher a day before it was due. it will come out this fall, it has a cover, it’s real!

and just like with emergent strategy, i wrote a book that i was longing for.

by the end my whole body hurt. there’s no way to write for 12-13 hours a day that doesn’t tax the body. i took baths and swam every day, celebrated each chapter upon completion, went for walks, sought pleasure.

still, it hurt my hands, my neck, my back, my ass.

my goal is to create a life in which i write 4-5 hours a day most days, an amount that doesn’t hurt. writing brings me unparalleled satisfaction. for now these marathons are what i have and i’m grateful.

so then it was time for the novel. the novel has been showing itself to me for five years in short stories, through a nanowrimo, and a month long writing residency january 2017.

it’s an emotional lift. it’s all about grief, so of course it’s full of ghosts, and i have to step into my own grief to write any of it.

for two days of the work i wrote for 17 hours, no breaks, no swim, nothing but the work. and my pulsing sense of scarcity, that i only had six days left. then five. i moved like a dying snail through three small chapters. my eyes were trembling when i laid down to sleep.

then, the third morning, i released my outcome orientation. i accepted that i most likely wouldn’t finish in the time i had. that i may never finish, that i can’t approach this book that way. i scolded myself for being out of alignment with everything i believe in about creating.

i course corrected.

i let myself deepen into the story, lose myself in the content, feel it and weep, take risks. i went swimming daily, took more epsom salt baths and let myself feel as excellent as possible. i connected with others, friends fighting cancer and heartache and nightmares. i watched planet earth ii.

and, to my surprise…i finished something i’m excited to read, to share. i feel satisfied.

and i remembered, then, how i wanted, needed, to finish the novel before i turn 40. i am aware of time passing. i love aging, and i live in a perilous world.

i noticed how people, people who love my writing, don’t quite understand that writing is hard.

i set relatively soft boundaries around the writing – i won’t answer emails, i won’t be on facebook as much, i won’t do other work. just for three weeks. people used the private space of every social media platform i’m on, my text messages, and friends in common, to still send me requests.

“i know you are writing but…”
“i hope your writing retreat is fun, can you just…”
“congratulations on writing, what about…”

i initially resented this. then i realized it’s the ongoing lesson of boundaries. i am responsible for my life. i can’t have slippery boundaries and expect others not to slide into my sacred writing space.

there are so many societal reasons why boundaries are hard for me. for all of us. and for me.

and, every day, i see how the work of creating and holding boundaries allows my life to be lived in a way that satisfies me. not in reaction or resentment, not protecting my projections of other people’s feelings, but in reveling, in the miracle of being a creative, curious person.

i keep telling the truth these days: no. no and here’s why. no, i’m writing a book. no. i’m writing two.

no makes way for yes. and i’m 39, i want all the yes i can get in this life.

time is both nonlinear and magical. AND finite in the sense of a life. actual years. death is always with me. the week i finished the novel was the 50th anniversary of martin luther king’s assassination.

when i turned 39 i felt very aware that it was my mlk year. 33 was when i compared my life to the brief miraculous life of jesus at the age of his assassination. it’s ridiculous to do this. so what.

39 is the year when i am noticing what i have (and mostly haven’t) done in relationship to mlk. (there are other such years, if you’re into such things.)

i have felt a lot of admiration for mlk as i have aged. he was a human, a direct action hero, and a writer. we remember him as an orator, but that’s because the words he wrote to speak were such radical love poetry.

now i am a 39 year old writer deeply disappointed by the nation of my birth, losing faith in the species at a large scale, but gaining faith in the planet, in the intimacy of communities, in what love can do, and…in what i can envision beyond the mountains of struggle and pain before us.

i see free people.

writing in the context of white supremacy and militarized capitalism and patriarchy ranges from annoying to devastating. writing about concepts that were articulated clearly 50 years ago, and thousands of years before that, is humbling.

will the conversation ever change? it’s changing all the time, of course, but will it ever really change?

i think about how hard it was to write the words “i may not get there with you.” to have a wife and children, a flock, a following, security and a god…and to still know no safety. they are true words that shouldn’t be true. this far into the human journey, speaking truth shouldn’t be fatal. but he didn’t stop writing, speaking. mlk was generous.

i get inspired by this when i dabble with hopelessness and rage. i don’t stop writing, even though i rarely claim originality. i am in the chorus i believe in: i sing of justice, i sing of liberation. i write what i need to read, to hear, to say. i feel when it’s true. i celebrate when i feel truth from others – it’s so easy to perform, to promote. but all i want is truth.

junot diaz just wrote something i needed to read, to hear. it’s in the new yorker, and it’s a #metoo story.

i am a survivor of many kinds of sexual harm. among these is harm that came at the hands of a male survivor of rape. i didn’t know that until later, it was all a mystery in the moment. i experienced harm inside of a sort-of-relationship where i believe we truly loved each other as much as we could at the time. we both carried so much unspeakable baggage in the door that we could not see or hear each other. and i experienced the physical harm of his trauma, coming through his body into how he interacted with my body. he didn’t mean to hurt me. he did hurt me. writing about it hurts me.

i could feel in junot’s words a pain that has always been under the surface of his books. the yawning chasm. the unspeakable baggage. the truth. i know it hurt to write this piece. everyone needs to read it.

writing shapes and reshapes the world, even if the words are simply rearranged dreams, visions, confessions, truths. matter doesn’t disappear, it transforms. we are of it, we shape it. writing so hard that the truth comes forth changes the world, and it changes the writer.

in all of this, in small and undeniable ways, i feel different than i did last month. this is internal. i told the truth. i am 39, and i am slowly seeing who i am.

excerpt from Sublevel: Report

i was asked to write a piece for Sublevel magazine and it aligned with what felt like a transmission, possibly written in the pace of a Battlestar Galactica cylon hybrid. here’s an excerpt and a link to the full piece!

Task: We must become scholars of belonging.

Need: Separation weakens. It is the main way we are kept (and keep each other) in conditions of oppression.

Truth: Belonging doesn’t begin with other people accepting us. It begins with our acceptance of ourselves. Of the particular life and skin each of us was born into, and the work that that particular birth entails.

Mantra: Where we are born into privilege, we are charged with dismantling any myth of supremacy. Where we are born into struggle, we are charged with claiming our dignity, joy and liberation.

Possibility: From that deep place of belonging to ourselves, we can understand that we are inherently worthy of each other. Even when we make mistakes, harm each other, lose our way, we are worthy.

Practice: Learn to apologize. A proper apology is rooted in this worthiness – “I was at my worst. Even at my worst, I am worthy, so I will grow.”

Practice: Move towards spaces that value us, let ourselves belong to those communities that know they want us, know they need us, know we have worth, know we deserve more than transactional care.”

read more HERE!

radical gratitude spell

a spell to cast upon meeting a stranger, comrade or friend working for social and/or environmental justice and liberation:

you are a miracle walking
i greet you with wonder
in a world which seeks to own
your joy and your imagination
you have chosen to be free,
every day, as a practice.
i can never know
the struggles you went through to get here,
but i know you have swum upstream
and at times it has been lonely

i want you to know
i honor the choices you made in solitude
and i honor the work you have done to belong
i honor your commitment to that which is larger than yourself
and your journey
to love the particular container of life
that is you

you are enough
your work is enough
you are needed
your work is sacred
you are here
and i am grateful

final letter to Ursula le Guin (sent the day after your departure)

first, a few excerpts from our correspondence, which will be published in the Ursula le Guin Science Fiction and Social Justice Reader this year.

1.
amb: How does imagination help our species survive?
 
UKL: It is through imagination that we think intelligently about what we’ve done, are doing, and should do.

2.
amb: did you ever spend time with Octavia?

UKL: We met only two or three times…She was an extraordinary person, both formidable and lovable.  I always felt she was larger than life, if you know what I mean.

3.
amb: Thanks for your life’s work!
 
UKL: You’re very welcome! I have enjoyed it very much.

C70C7811-F76B-48E3-9FE2-1FAC0B3A48F9

a relationship with a beloved writer can be a very selfish place. you are alone with them, building an understanding of the world through their eyes and some intimate pairing of imaginations – they paint the worlds but all of it happens inside you. i tried to write something more epic and universal, and i trust that will come. but first i wanted to write a letter to her that was about how she shaped me.

dear Ursula,

great teacher.

great spirit.

i’ve been crying since i got the news of your passing, and also feeling very alive.

i got to live at the same time as you.

and i get the honor of grieving you.

there are thoughts and ideas you wrote down that became beliefs for my whole life, marking posts on the journey of freeing myself.

there are questions you asked that changed the way i could think.

many of us don’t get to experience grandparents who can accept us whole. for me you were one of the adults who stepped into that yawning space, who joined the composite of my dream elder.

you let me know i may be in the wrong universe, but i am not wrong, i am not impossible.

you not only matched and fed my queer unorthodox mind, but pushed me further. on relationships and sex alone you had me consider: what about four-way marriage? what about gender as a responsive switchy sexual state that was otherwise nonexistent? what about instead of a period you just had a monthly sexual overdrive and a special place to go orgy for that time?

i am a lucky one – i got to tell you to your face that you were everything – and you were gracious about it.

i am still creating a project about your work. in researching it i became fascinated by you, your abundant correspondence, your art and poetry connected to the worlds you created, your fierce letters to local editors about tree removals, your loves and flirtations.

i still want to read everything. it feels impossible in the best way.

writers cast themselves out to the world with words, so that now you feel fully dispersed more than gone. you were so generous with your gifts. and you were rare – both prolific and genius. so many genius words!

the worlds you wrote increased my trust that white people could imagine something beyond their own supremacy. and that capitalism could be out imagined, like monarchy.

even when i did not seek you, you were there.

when i learned to meditate, you’d left me a framework.

when i fell in love with the Tao, i could turn to your translation.

when i wanted amazing fiction for all my nibblings, you had a series on flying cats.

when i needed to stand up for something, feeling alone in my dignity, you told me about the ones who walk away from a utopia dependent on someone else’s suffering.

when i lost hope in this world, you offered me a plethora of fully formed universes to learn from. you even gave me multiple options for moving between universes, both distant and parallel.

when some aspect of humanity felt beyond my comprehension or compassion, i found books you had written twenty years before that not only opened my heart, opened the possible in me, but generated desire for that specific difference.

when i wondered if imagination could be necessary for revolution and transformation, you said yes, you said our dreams and visions matter, they are the way we make oppression temporary.

88 years. i wanted more. you are that kind of human.

even as i sit in my grief for you, you guide me, you remind me that you are not absent, but complete.

“true journey is return.”

love
amb

BE9CAC95-193C-4B4D-8788-DA1E73A22215
from the new yorker’s piece “the fantastic Ursula le Guin”

loving the people like Fred Hampton

0DB0B015-867C-4CC6-877A-07D37861366A

“i’m going to live for the people
because i love the people”
– Fred Hampton

lately everything has been changing fast
and we are reminded, in case we forgot,
that our blood is sacred
that it might be required
for the spell, the strategy, the next move
we are called extremists for our love
of ourselves
of our people
of our humanity

it is not enough to articulate
a radical politic
we have to declare a warrior nature
we have to embody yes-to-the-mystery
for, knowing nothing about our deaths,
we must promise to give our lives
to the future
to the children
to strangers with our skin

and maybe it isn’t your last breath
that is most needed right now
but, for the people, would you change?
for the people, would you apologize? forgive?
for the people, would you be honest?
for the people, would you learn, and learn?
– not for me
not for you
but for all of us?

because if you refuse to change
to look within and seek yourself out
your freest self, and your systemic self
your self which is imperfect and must grow
your harmed self who causes harm
your heartbroken self, and your resilient self
how can i trust your blood
how can i trust your work
how can i trust your love?

we do not survive when we live for ourselves
when we die our truths are forgotten
held in no heart, at most a legend
part of no wholeness, tender in no memory
when we live for the people
we never die, seeded so deeply in each other
love yourself, and the people
give your life for the people
give yourself to the people

outgrowing patriarchy (tarot spread)

some of you know about #resistancetarot, #movementtarot – each day since the 2016 election i have consulted the tarot to ask the universe for guidance for our movements for justice for people and the planet. i post these on instagram. on saturdays i do a past/present/future spread on the week we just survived and the one to come. on sundays i do a relationship spread to explore our interactions with various experiences or systems – trauma, funding, etc.

this came through yesterday and i want to lift it up.

soundtrack, Roxette’s classic Listen to Your Heart, and Björk’s stunning new album Utopia (she read Octavia as research for it!! #swoon)

95CB4A96-A0F0-47ED-8D72-8DDA76B3027B

#sundayspread on the relationship between movements and (outgrowing) patriarchy. patriarchy is dying as a system, fighting for air where no more can be offered. so what do movements that include men, masculine of center people, and others shaped in reaction to/defense from patriarchy do/be now?

we bring the energy of the queen of swords: “reinvention. here we are being asked to renounce old roles. we can get stuck in certain modes of performance, thinking that this is the only way we can exist, be loved, nurtured or accepted. we are being asked to grow out of these roles and find the truth of who we really are.”

ooh.

the work of outgrowing patriarchy (nothing just disappears, it must transform) is queen of cups work: “openness, transparent emotions, authenticity. in a hard world it can be more than difficult to remain tender. go the distance in your emotional being and pull out the gems through your own tenderness. remain open to others, in spite of any trauma.”

oof.

the composite energy is the star. “divine clarity. it takes time for ideas and wisdom to crystallize within us, but when they do, the clarity shines down like a northern star, guiding us and inspiring us.”

true.

the next step is in the realm of the lovers. “communication, awakening through bond. two wolves howl at the sky. they bring each other to higher levels of consciousness. but in order to find union, they first must be confident on their own. this card asks us to find our own voice, love ourselves. mantra: I work on myself in love.”

well damn. unexpected deep read. from serpentfire tarot deck.

choose your own adventure: an affirmation

i learn experientially.

i often feel slow, behind the clarity, behind the certainty that others have. my questions focus on things i feel, things happening under the surface. sometimes that’s all i can feel, and the more overt reality has to be pointed out to me.

i also often feel clear, out ahead in a mysterious fog or body of water, afloat, gently feeling my way forward and then calling back, ‘this way, this way is new’…not safe, but not what we’ve already done.

sometimes i feel immense belonging, an interconnectedness so profound that i know everything, i just know.

other times i feel overwhelmingly alone – lonely, or, more and more often, at peace in the solitude and mystery; a star that cannot feel the constellation i’ve been clustered into, just the darkness.

joy is possible in each place, and in the transitions.

i’m learning that because i learn experientially, i have to be so intentional. i have to move towards experiences that keep growing me up, that challenge me and demand my authentic self. and can meet my authentic self when i show up.

there’s so much of the storyline of my life and grief that i don’t get to choose. i do get to make decisions along the way. i get to think for myself…it’s important that i keep doing so, keep feeling for myself.

i get to determine how much i will let others see and feel me in real time. i know now that i see good in people, and in moments, brighter than anything else. i am learning to listen and feel beyond what i can see, to believe the shadows as much as the light. i am learning that i don’t get to determine what others think about themselves, or about me.

i take the actions, build the relationships, hold the boundaries and shape the life that keeps me in right relationship with myself.

lately things keep happening in my life that are so deep, so true and so good that i can’t believe it. not perfect. not tidy. but absolutely mine, my lessons, my good news, my adventure.

i am accepting responsibility for what i’ve been given. i am accepting the blessing of the time i have left. i know this life is precious.

love love love

i believe we are living on the precipice of the next phase of our species. and i’m with such good people, people who cry hard and laugh harder. and do one to move through the other, rolling across the full emotional span in epic waves. we feel what’s gaping and yawning underneath both of those releases, that scale of lovegrief that can’t be captured in any words i know…we let it be in our eyes, at our core.

the more i learn/remember how to feel, the more in love i fall with the particular aliveness that only sparks between us. that met longing felt when the interior world unfolding in me comes to a border and longs to be porous, expansive, vast, one, multitudes. this opening, these moments, this work, this makes a viable future possible.

today i remembered a song i was taught over a decade ago:

“oh i say thank you
oh i say thank you
oh great spirits
in this way
i long to give my life to you
in love and devotion
in love and devotion”
(this was taught to me as a gwitch’in song from haida gwaii)

even now, especially now, with a mask over my mouth and a storm at my back, i am learning what i must realize in myself, what i must defend and protect, what i must cultivate in the face of fear and death and supremacy: love, love, love.

the scale of epiphany

all of my adult life i’ve navigated depression. it doesn’t show up in obvious ways. but i know when it’s running the ship.

i lose touch with the miracle, the clarity, the deeper compassion that allows me to move through the world and it’s sharp edges. i notice myself getting drawn towards my favorite things that numb me, it gets foggy around me, hard to see clearly, hard to ask for what i need.

turning inward brings me back. sometimes it’s extreme – like i have to go all the way to where its darkest and find the little light.

often its just moving through cloud, gray, a heavy gray that resembles the nothing from Never Ending Story because that’s the formative threat-of-apocalypse narrative of my life.

the last us election sent me into the fog. i wrote and worked and drank and smoked and got all cranes in the sky…but…i couldn’t get away.

so i’ve been moving through. into the unknown. into my own not knowing, more precisely. some people may know what’s going to happen, i believe that they believe.

but i don’t know. and when i try to imagine beyond a certain point, there is static as often as vision these days. i think we’re in a crucial place of making a viable future, and we might not make a compelling case for ourselves. i believe we have all the potential. but are we willing to practice anything new?

i have been working with groups and movements i believe carry portions of an answer i can imagine living inside.

i’ve been slowing way down. no one likes this. everyone likes it in theory but they still want their things attended to. it’s OK. i got a turtle tattoo to whisper ‘go slow’ in my ear.

and Sunday i took the day off. not just from work, but from chores. i looked at piled dishes and travel laundry and unswept floors and said ‘it’s my day off. i am not doing you.’

i slept so well last night. woke up and read the Ursula le Guin rendition of the Tao te Ching. then i read several graphic novels, between calls for interesting work and the (super amazing exciting deep sweet awesome) new podcast i’m recording with autumn, which included a talk about our summer bodies. in the midst of that conversation i realized and remembered how much i’m loving my whole body these days.

i put on the trolls soundtrack and danced while cleaning the house. i checked in on my heart, my mind, my body, my spirit. i cared for myself in many ways, and planted several seeds for things i want to do/experience in the next few months. i made a gorgeous dinner and ate it on the back deck in my fanciest robe. i listened to Bruno Mars and Superfruit to intentionally let the music lift me.

i feel a fog dissipating, a fire burning. and again the small epiphany: oh, the balance between solitude and togetherness! oh, using the body feels good. oh, no is a complete sentence and emotion. oh. the miracles continue. even when we aren’t worthy, grateful, gracious or even aware. the miracle is the river that doesn’t stop.

Oh.

stagger

it helps to say that i’m on the edge of burnout. in the past i flew right by all the telltale signs and right into the flames, almost welcoming the rest that came when i relinquished all ability to live in my life.

right now i feel like i don’t want the rest that comes inside of, or post, burnout. i want to intentionally bring my attention to my well being, and make adjustments so that i can sustain. i want all of us who are tired to learn how to stagger our efforts with each other.

when i think of staggering, i think of geese migrating long distances, and how they take turns holding the lead position because it is the hardest labor. cutting against the wind, setting the direction, setting the pace – it’s maximum effort. we all need to hold that position sometimes, and we all need to fall back in the formation sometimes, in order to all make it, to collectively go all the way.

that means collectively paying attention to the signs of burnout.

my signs include feeling tired and irritable and uninspired to connect with others or engage new ideas. i recently found myself rewriting the words to that song “if you don’t know me by now”, adding the lyric “i may never ever want to know you.” crispy.

in groups i often see signs like flakiness and haphazard communications, constant conflict that people accept as inevitable, and a shape of power under – no one wanting to take responsibility for impact, everyone feeling like victims of the world, powerless to shape the future.

i’m naming this precarious personal state as an invitation to stagger. i recognize that i am not alone in my exhaustion and we all need to name how we are and what we need so we can sustain our efforts.

for now, if you don’t need me, let me rest. there are so many incredible people out there! i list many of them in Emergent Strategy, and there are lists of awesome people at Social Transformation Project, or this list Mia Henry just pulled together.

if you have energy to lead, i am down to follow and support.

free labor feels heavier right now, so if you just need information, consider picking the internet instead of my/others brains.

if you do need me, be gentle and spacious with it – urgency feels like a serrated knife right now.

i’m practicing emergent strategy and resting and stretching and taking my vitamins and hydrating and shifting my diet and adding turquoise and ceremony and easing my schedule and all the other unglamorous things which make it possible for me to give what i can right now, and give more as my cup fills back up.

it already feels better.