returning from away: wow

this post is a bit mantra, some thoughts, and some resources. if you just want the resources, skip to the bottom.

center
you are not the center
face the center
follow the center

repeat

“the world isn’t going to fall apart just because you stop to rest.” – me, to myself and many coaching clients over the years. also many people to me as i prepared for sabbatical.

“things fall apart.” – the world, roughly two seconds after i stopped to rest.

returning, may 31st

at a certain point you realize that the world is like the body, it’s a falling apart world, after a while it’s mostly deconstruction. something beautiful, pure, naked and sacred has been abandoned, again, taken, again.

while i was away, the world fell apart and many days felt like trying to meditate with a raging army at the door, knowing that i didn’t know how to calm that army, or lead it, or make any move that wasn’t obligation, surrender or loss.

i return knowing even less about what to do at a mass scale. i am only armed with what i know to do at the smallest scale. i took my own life and made it satisfying, joyful, livable, on purpose. my usefulness feels clear, though i may never quite be able to articulate it more than saying i carry light in the darkness. i hold it like the earth holds a fire for sharing love stories, secrets and song. without shadows, the precious miracle of light, fire, heat, becomes either a scorching end or a beauty unnoticed, and that’s fine. knowing how to channel something as honest as fire has taken a lot of precise wearing down of myself from rock to soil. it doesn’t make me special, and if i’m not careful, it overwhelms me. we all have a role to play and mine involves telling stories, prophecy, song, conversation, solitude, creative responses and instigations for movement, and fully inhabiting my freedom.

something i noticed on my journey is that i am one of the freest people to ever exist. this freedom is not yet total. but it is a freedom from certain oppressions my ancestors survived, and didn’t. i see them everywhere, taking shape in the clouds, in dirt formations, in abstract patterns on curtains, in the shapes of flowers – a mouth, a jaw, a wrapped head, strong shoulders. and a freedom from certain burdens, supremacies, that other ancestors carried.

i do not feel the myth of safety that some white people walk with. i do not feel the myth of innocence some black people walk with, try to cover ourselves with even though it doesn’t save us. i have the freedom that comes from having ancestors who sacrificed a lot, prayed to a variety of gods and goddesses, sang a lot; there is a wave of good work behind me. i have the freedom of living in this era in a place where i learned to read and write and my words can reach beyond my range of motion or travel. i have the freedom of having been politicized early and lived my adult life moving away from the toxic distortions of capitalism and respectability. i have the freedom of being a sinner in touch with my divinity. i still have some freedom of mobility, both in the form of my passport (a freedom in constant threat based on federal fuckery), and my arthritic body – though each step hurts so much that i only do what’s necessary, which feels clearer each day: yoga, dance, praise, listen, make love, eat, drink, bathe, cleanse, write.

fight is not part of my nature, but to protect my life, our lives, i am learning to wield the weapon i have been gifted: words.

i want everyone to have their own list of what is necessary, what is just right for their own lives. we, all of us, were given this utopia of a planet in order to exist and learn and feel and change. without harm.

which doesn’t mean without suffering, the part of changing and loving and the life cycle that includes death…no, ‘without harm’ meaning without acting from a constant insecure attachment to life. that insecure attachment makes us harm the planet, break the children, shrink the women, require the men to be gladiators or slaves. that insecure attachment to life makes us insatiable for something other than the most incredible thing of all time: life. being alive, being present, having agency, loving others in all manner of ways, finding that balance – that’s the most exquisite liberating way to be. i say this from experience.

i am learning how to be happy in most conditions. i am learning how to return to happiness even when walking with grief, rage and overwhelm. i am learning how to protect my happiness from those who can’t find theirs, and cultivate mutual happiness by sharing it when it seems to be in limited supply.

my lessons involve a lot of the things you might guess – stillness, reflection, rest, boundaries, being able to feel. giving up numbness, escape, judgment, codependence and, often, social media and the news.

but more than any of these it requires a taking myself seriously. giving myself time to figure out how to be myself in any condition. the rest gets easier, comes when needed, doesn’t require massive amounts of discipline or self flaggelation or sacrifice. just acceptance.

my theory is that the more individuals who can increase this acceptance – of ourselves, of the cycles of our lives and connections, of our conditions – the easier we can pull back the veil on how ridiculous a society we’ve ended up in. the more of us can pivot right now to living lives that are compelling to ourselves and future generations.

so. this is what the next phase of my life will be about. building on emergent strategy and pleasure activism, bringing attention to this acceptance, uplifting practices i know to be liberatory, writing the way, singing the way, living the way.

the world ended at least twice while i was away. or 100,000 times. in ways that feel newer and bigger than ever. but of course they do because this time it’s us living it. the sooner we can accept that this is the inevitable, and we get to shape what’s next, the sooner we stop participating in other people’s cycles and start shaping new patterns that allow more of us to have outstanding beautiful lives.

returning June 8th

as i return to the world from a strange sabbatical marked with reality checks, it is amazing to feel my own center in relationship to the center of movement, of nation.

in the practice of centering, we organize ourselves around what we most care about and want to see in the world. at my core i want to love and be loved, to trust and be trustworthy. i want loving and trusting to be the primary ways i spend my time, the primary skills i hone, the way i define community, the liberation path. intimately, yes, but i also want to live on a planet that i know loves me and get to experience that love. i want to live with people i can trust to make decisions from a foundation of love.

here i mean love as a good parent loves: nourishing, patient, abundantly feeding, carrying without complaint, cleansing, comforting without the kind of judgment that shrinks, holding in complexity.

trusting the way healthy lovers trust – not trusting in a staying the same, but trusting the other(s) to constantly change, with integrity. to change in ways that unveil and fortify our whole selves.

i want to feel whole with my family. in every relationship. in my home. at any place i work. on a drive to the store. in the places i gather food, supplies. it seems simple to me, to want to feel myself a whole human in the mundane flow of my life. it’s all ritual. it still befuddles my higher nature that so many systems in human history have been structured to deny that simple whole feeling to the majority of those both alive and anticipated.

for months i have felt like a ghost of myself in the world, an after image with no promise of return. imagine me dashing across borders with one wet wing, dragging a split cocoon. then trying to knit a safe space back around me in a hailstorm, trying to expose the least of myself to danger, knowing i am only half transformed, but maybe that’s all there’s time for. #sabbatical2020.

recentering during the pandemic meant finding dignity within caution and boundaries, finding and deepening connection with no contact – the last 3.5 months is the longest i’ve ever gone without human touch, and it changed me. it’s also meant surrendering to this moment in time and my role in it without rushing ahead of myself.

“i am a writer, i am going to write.” – lorraine hansberry

“it just seemed like writing was absolutely the most important thing in the world…somebody asks ‘what do you do?’ and you print it out: WRITE.” – toni morrison

nervous and thrilled, i return, two wings dazzling and fragile, pushing and peeking back into the world, rested and happy and grateful for the space i carved out against all the odds. i am here and i am writing.

(George Floyd drawn by Joaquin Zuniga-Perlstein)

and of course what i return to is a new moment, a moment that feels historic…perhaps unexpected in the midst of a pandemic…but of course it’s like this, of course the containment is followed by mass explosion, our attention contained and focused makes it easier to see our rage.

the risk of being in the close proximity of protests is heightened by the global pandemic, such that a wave of sickness will likely follow all of this exerted power. those in the streets assert it is worth it for the gains, and i feel all of us negotiating between the rocks and hard places we always navigate.

police brutality is a constant, but in the past five years we in movement have pivoted, brought our collective and global attention to it such that each death is an escalation, and the responses to it grow, the demands sharpen to a point: defund the police.

when society is in such upheaval it helps me to remind myself that love is the foundation of everything, love is gravity. when we can’t see and feel it, we must uncover it, open the channels. when it’s this blocked, it can feel like imprecise work to disrupt and peel back and clear off the layers of sediment that have distorted our understanding of everything.

capitalism is the sediment of greed and colonisation.

white supremacy is the sediment of ignorance and gunpowder.

brutal policing is the sediment of slavery – the worn down granules of sloth paired with fear and hatred of the perceived other.

these inherited and assumed norms are the least of ourselves, leftover from rigged debates over competition vs collaboration, abundance vs greed, biodiversity vs monoculture. now we traverse a barren landscape stinking of gasping fish, the abundance and true wealth evaporating.

but watching this round of protests, i see our tears from violent loss and raucous laughter beginning to flow.

amidst the terror and my tender hearted daily cries, so often i find myself laughing. this generation of protests is woven through with black twitter and drag culture and shade rooms and viral contortions of cool.

it is pc, but also pointing and laughing at pc, not from a place of benefiting from the offenses, more from a place of realizing how much ego drives pc (“see how right i can be? don’t punish me!”), and how anything become trend is in some way laughable.

we have learned how to take ourselves very seriously and also shrug it all off. to weep and wobble, march on the beat, march in second lines, for justice.

i say we but i can feel my distance from the epicenter in a way that feels appropriate. i am responsible, i am finding my ways to contribute, but my time closer to the center was back up the river a ways, fervent and righteous – and not nearly as effective. not nearly as fun and funny, either.

i feel my currents in these waters, i feel work that was done last year, one and two decades ago, all in the flow. i imagine that older organizers and movement shapers can feel all the moments and small shifts and breaks and splits and sharpenings of their work present and shining in this moment.

i still feel crucial, and that my choices matter. but i am thrilled by this feeling of being outside the center, facing it with wonder and humility.

this movement moment is irresistible because there is less respectability at the center, and more queer Black feminism. there are fewer attempts to join and assimilate into the norm and more efforts to leverage the norm towards humanity, justice, love and life. it is more compelling to hear a mass scream from the heart than a pundit pontificate from a false center. i love the murmuration of sounds as we sing and heal and listen. we dreamed aloud this ferocity and politicized and trained and held and tilled and watered and shat and wept and fought and mended and now many of us get to be participant-witnesses to this cycle, collective doulas.

a few years ago i realized that the privilege walk exercise is more compelling to me if it’s done in a circle, to represent the interconnectedness that is true to all human formation. it’s more compelling if, after the questions are asked, it centers those who have faced the most structural adversity and innovated their survival – that’s whose needs we should follow, demands we should center.

once we unveil the privilege and power and oppression in the room, we can imagine turning this circle on its side, creating a bullseye, a direction, a center for targeting attention and resources. a way to follow the center, set the pace by the center, measure relevance by how much an idea touches the needs of the center. i often do this mentally and somatically – note and acknowledge and feel the distinctions in privilege, access and struggle in any interaction. if we believe we are all equal to each other, why doesn’t it always feel that way? mindfulness helps me see where i have been trained i am less than another, or more. where i should be the center, claiming attention and resources and pointing direction, and where i should be closer to the edge, protecting and resourcing and following.

in this moment, with all the layers of impact and vectors of change, i can see that i am not the center of this moment, and that is the blessing. the center is younger, is trans, is willing and able to risk it all. in some places the center is white self-responsibility, in some places it’s black integrity, in some places it’s brown and borderless and global and post binary. the center is in the streets using full voice, unashamed, celebratory, ready for this confrontation. the center is pure, a fountain of hope and rage and possibility that feeds our greatest callings.

i notice in this returning that i mostly feel like i do when i come back to visit a family i was a doula for: i can take no credit for the actual miracle. i did encourage deep breaths and pleasure for the womb to soften, i did whisper ‘trust yourself, adapt, transform yourself, open, you can do this,’ alongside the panting sweating birthing. i feel grief for the losses, and a weepy explosive tenderness for the life that comes thru. and there are more births to come.

not being the center, but facing the center, doesn’t mean i am removed from impact. i am a black woman, with family in several uprising cities, and tentacles of work and love woven into and throughout movement – i feel the grief and the tenderness, the danger and the need for change. but i also have every possible need met right now, safety nets of community if i find myself without resources, and no direct intimate losses to police violence. i am slowly but surely paying off my debts. i am able to speak and write freely.

so i turn and face those who are grieving and teaching us about how to do this work in a way that actually helps those who are shocked by loss. or homeless, jobless, targeted by the state. or without a safety net, a reputation, an education or analysis of this moment. i acknowledge that i can feel the depth of our suffering and still not fully understand, still listen to those closer to the broken heart of this nation.

and listening to that pain, to the wisdom that follows pain, for clear leadership, i hear the brilliant emerging call: defund the police.

which is to say, redistribute the budget of community safety.

this is a logical, experimental pivot.

let us recognize a broken thing. in birth work, it is incredibly dangerous not to face reality. if the baby is in a perilous position, or unable to access sustenance, or if the baby spirit has left the flesh, we must find an adaptation.

here and now we live in a system where there is something fatal at the center of our being. this system, made up of millions of people, billions of actions, has blood on its hands, seeks vengeance and dominance under the guise of protecting innocent people, and is causing immense harm. we the body politic must release it to survive, to create compelling futures for our children. it will change us completely to release it, to divest from the violence, acknowledge that this isn’t the way, that brutal militarised police are not leading us to safety or peace, but increasing conflict and tension and danger and racism.

we can grieve the longing for safety that was dashed time and again. and then, having faced reality, we can see what has the potential for life, and we can make new realities possible. facing the reality at the center allows for the necessary induction of birth/change, the intervention, the c-section, even the miscarriage that the parent can survive.

in this pivot we face the life, the miracle, still possible from our stardust selves, our freedom dreams and precious tomorrows.

one or two steps back from the center, it is easier to see that every nuance is not urgent. every distinction doesn’t actually need the same amount of room. priorities can be localized – uprising culture is localized and better for it.

facing center, it is easier to see that while the police and 45 crew are doing the expected, we are doing things in a myriad of ways that show how we have been learning from our struggles – with each other and with the state.

i return rested and centered, shaken by all that changed in my absence, saddened by all the loss, inspired by all the expressed rage. i feel ready to follow, document, write between trenches, uplift and shine light on the workers, sing, comfort, and hold.

every time someone reaches out to me for resources, it feels so clear where to point to. it’s all over the internet but i’ll put it here too:

in general, follow #m4bl, the movement for black lives. m4bl is a set of unleashed black minds operating together with historical integrity. that is the way.

here’s a collection of healing spaces for black people as the grief compounds, adrenaline crashes, high comes down, victory unveils next steps. follow prentis hemphill and BEAM.

in most towns, there are chapters of black organizers in BYP100, black lives matter, and others who you can either join or pour resources into.

building movement across cultures/races/ethnicities? there are so many formations and alliances and efforts – the one i know most intimately is the rising majority, which flows out of the action arm of #m4bl.

white? some white people thought about y’all – here’s a scaffolded resource list. black folks think about y’all too, particularly this mama scholar writing specifically to white parents.

generally the three most helpful things you can do if you aren’t from/at center are:

– educate (read more yourself and help others see the center clearly – bell hooks, angela davis, michelle alexander, charlene carruthers, andrea ritchie – there are a wealth of living writers who can get you together)

– bless the center with a just redistribution of resources…keep gathering wealth from stagnant legacies and moving them towards the future. small or large, your generosity lets the brilliance scale up.

(when possible, don’t make organizers do additional unpaid labor {answering a bunch of questions, making sure you feel seen and thanked, educating you} for your donations. yay you were generous yay! seriously it’s great! just don’t take time or strategy away from the work of those you see and hear being effective. search, find the donate page on their website and give.)

– stop business as usual. strike, march, act, blow whistles, disarm. leave harmful positions in harmful institutions or become a wrench in the gears. be impolite. disrupt white supremacy and patriarchy and policing wherever you encounter it. don’t look for praise for doing the right thing, just do it and notice how it sharpens you, strengthens you.

look what happens when we follow the truth. yes even if you are not the center, you can drop into your center, face the center and follow.

remember, the front line of cultural struggles is wherever two or more are gathered.

i have written a lot, i was away a long time. and i am grateful to be alive with y’all specifically.

Doing my best

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what is my best.

When I was young it was clearly laid out for me what the best was, there were prizes and gold stars and north stars and ways to measure: grades, parental smiles, degrees, solos. I can count my not-best moments (when I saw the failure coming and did not change course) from birth through college on one hand. Generally, I was ambitious because I thought that was good.

Then began a dance, a crumbling of drive, a dusting off of something essential which appeared like an inner resistance. I would achieve some honor, title, position, or acknowledgement and feel erased by it, instead of seen. That I was conforming to other people’s idea of the best, in a society which measured things in ways that didn’t resonate with me.

This has been slow, and its ongoing. It has meant rejecting or sidestepping degrees, money, and certain spotlights. I am beginning to tease out what feels right after years of just being able to sense what didn’t resonate. There are two aspects which are emerging, which work in tandem as a compass towards doing my best: love and dignity.

These two aspects work in a couple of ways – as I follow them, when I feel them in myself or sense them in others, they are leading me to the best life I’ve known. And tasting these feelings, I want more of them – I want to let love grow through me, and guide me. I want to stand in my dignity against all the odds.

If I ask, ‘Is love here?’ and/or ‘Am I in my dignity here?’, I can feel answers that help me move towards my truth and back away from future regrets. I still do things that might be morally questionable, all the time. But with intention, with the consideration of love and dignity being present, I am learning to trust myself to do my best.

Last week my friend dream posted a mini rant about the ways people judge each other’s work and passions. She was responding to general local critiques of folks who aren’t in the streets over the emergency manager in Detroit, among other things.

I was really moved by her words, probably in part because I haven’t been in the streets. To a large extent I see the EM as a distraction, pulling people away from their work to create a future for this city rooted in abundance and community, to fight for a symbol of power instead of continuing to learn how we generate and hold power in community.

But I care about a lot of the people impacted by, displaced by, and focused on resistance to the EM. I’ve been reflecting and writing and meditating and praying on the well-being of all the people I love here who are internalizing this period of Detroit’s history, taking it into their breaking hearts.

I also care about gender justice, which dream named as one of her core passions. And Assata. And the men in Guantanamo Bay. And the sexual health of black women and girls. And people impacted by terrorism and violence the world over. And Palestine. And the tar sands pipeline, environment, trans liberation, combating obesity and fat phobia, education and so many more things.

I want to do my best by these things.

I actually think most people want to do their best, to be good people and create a good society. But there are so many paths to do that good. Is it by being a body in the streets, or infiltrating the school system with radical content, or making new media, or creating more art, or opening cooperative businesses, or raising awareness on social media, or disrupting every city council meeting, or writing science fiction about new worlds, or, or, or?

How to choose? What is the best way?

What I have been exploring over the past few years is that the work I do best is that which I am most passionate about, work which encourages my health and well-being, affirms my power and the power of everyone else, and keeps me in a space of creativity and solutions.

I don’t think this is unique to me. In my heart I feel there are a thousand paths towards justice and liberation. Yes to all of those things, all of that work, all of those strategies. All of these issues need to evolve – which means they each need people who are most passionate about them, people who feel powerful in moving the work forward, who are healthy enough to do the work well, who are creating solutions.

This happens, for me, at the smallest scale. It has felt hard to explain, unimportant after some of the national and/or urgent work I have done in my life – where I felt special and smart and strategic and at the table. But I am beginning to really understand how political it is to do personal emergency management.

Detroit is one epicenter amongst many – we are in the midst of systems which are imploding. Systems which we – well I, and I suspect/hope many of you dear readers – know better than to want to save, because these are systems which rely on our oppression and inequality, on seeing each other as competition rather than family.

So we are working to remember and create new ways to manage our shared home together. And yet many of us are still in the elementary stage of learning how to manage our personal homes – our bodies and health, our relationships, our movement work, our hearts. Not to mention our actual homes and our finances.

I might be in pre-K.

In this chaotic state we try to create change in the world and find ourselves stretched, tired, demoralized, and unable to create the transformations we yearn for, though we feel the possibility within ourselves. But in the lack of knowing how to do things differently, too many of us still do our work from places of fear, obligation or anger. From no, instead of from yes.

I am sitting now with the question of what it means to do my best, as an adult in a world full of crisis and tragedy. I’ve written about cultivating joy as a weapon, as a frontline. And here I don’t mean a general upbeatness. I mean joy powerful enough to generate authentic resistance in the face of hopelessness. Joy that makes people want to create new worlds and new life together.

I think a first step in cultivating that joy is measuring my best based on how well I can manage my personal state. I was in an emergency state for a decade – my mental, emotional and physical health were deteriorating and I wasn’t even really aware of it except occasionally as a badge of honor to mark how dedicated I was to the work. I was, like many activists I love and respect, doing my best impression of eeyore-on-speed.

eeyore

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I am on the journey now of getting my health, spirit, heart and finances together, with the belief that the more grounded, joyful and dignified I am, the better I can live and lead. The more clearly I can apply my gifts and energy towards work I am passionate about, making the most of my miraculous and limited human capacity. Then, the more inviting my futures become. And the stronger my emergent strategies can be.

Because when it is time for us to manage it all – whatever we call it, our neighborhoods, our cities, our sovereign collaborative tribes – I want to be capable of the task, I want to be experienced, I want to be trustworthy. I want it to feel like love and dignity are there.

I suspect we won’t even get a real chance to manage it all until we have generated so much love and dignity and joy that our future is the irresistible one.

I see everything I am doing now as learning, as preparation. Now, and then, I want to do my best.