Pandowrimo

for a few years, i have participated in a national poetry writing practice (#napowrimo) in april. this year, april fell in the midst of a global pandemic that has left us scared, quarantined, separated, and grieving. i felt like i needed an activation of my imagination as a balm to all we’re holding. i invited others to join me and send in prompts, and for thirty days, we created fiction and art around the pandemic using the hashtags #pandowrimo and #pandemicwrimo. the prompts are on my page and all the posts i saw are gathered in highlights on my instagram. i’ve gathered my own offers here, public drafts in various states, to have them all in one place.

day 1 prompt:
Write a conversation between the virus and the crisis.

seed notes: COVID-19 is here to teach us boundaries. and to teach us we don’t need capitalism/greed/individualist society for abundance.

A grabs B’s hand and shakes it vigorously

A (white, coifed, stiff smile): How may I help you?

B (sort of green, round, with an ever shifting face): Cease to exist.

A: Excuse me?

B: Your existence is no longer of use. Become history.

A purses lips, cocks brows

B: We are here to unhook them from you.

A: We? (looking around as if someone might be behind B) Who is your we, if you don’t mind my asking?

B (face shifting many times, quickly, smiling lightly): We are god. A force of god. The shifting tide.

A: Well, not to be rude sir…eh…madam? But…our projections account for a little change here and there. (scratches nose)

B (now a young, curious brown face): Your projections only serve you. They are realizing they want boundaries. Need them.

A, eyes wide, offended: Come again?

B: Your projections…in order to exist, you suck up every aspect of them – their money but also their health, dreams, desires, privacy. They have surrendered the personal to stay alive within you.

A, smiling without their eyes: Oh they love it. Don’t be silly. They love it!

B: They feel lost, depressed, confused – like imposters. They feel fear. And hate.

A, chuckling: They feel instant –

B: Don’t say gratification. Don’t say satisfaction. They almost never feel that.

A, flummoxed, insistent: They –

B, bored: There’s not even a they with you around. There’s a tiny few who get so much. And even they aren’t happy.

A, swallowing a curse: If you would stop interrupting and listen –

B: You are used to them being docile now. Polite when they should be screaming.

A, hands up: I don’t think all this negativity is called for.

B: You never do. Wealth accumulates, slavery proliferates, you want everyone to talk nice. You build cages, walls, fences and borders, but strip them of boundaries, you make them fight to live, compete for care –

A, a bit sharp: Well, you’re doing that now, aren’t you?

B: You aren’t paying attention. We’re only dangerous to the places who don’t pay attention. They’re seeing that, that places where people attend and think collectively are adapting quickly, with very few deaths. It’s only the places that worship you who suffer.

A, sour laughter: So, what, you’re going to make them all socialists now?

B: When it’s time for a system to end, we don’t prescribe the next one. We are the inevitable result of this time. They are the ones who will adapt. To worship boundaries and laugh at borders. To redistribute care. To grow something rooted in gratitude, preciousness.

A, mask falling away to something skeletal, bruised: It’s too late. They can’t change. They depend on this way. They can’t change.

B, face shifting to something infantile: They already have.

A, mouth gaping, breath fast: We will kill you.

B: By the time you understand us, the seeds we are planting will be green, sturdy, deep.

A, teeth sharp, jowl wet: (incoherent growl)

A leaps to bite B’s throat.

B, leaps into A’s mouth.

A, makes noise of protest, trying to to gag, to swallow, to breathe – but B is invisible again, and everywhere.

day 2:
remember your premonition – go back and change

seed notes – deja vu means pay attention, some part of you has lived this before. don’t assume this is the first or only time to change, disrupt, intervene.

the air in her lungs felt too familiar. she’d done this before, this gulping breath and short, frustrated sigh. something was wrong inside, and she couldn’t get enough air, and she felt defeated. nina was supposed to be with her lover in venice, proposing to him while a gondolier/media maker filmed it in high definition.

they’d gotten into a fight because of the fucking virus, because he asked her to pull out of Carnival when it still “like the flu”, because she was 67 and he 49, little shit. this is the hard part of dating someone so young – he can see just how old she really is. in her hips, her bellyflesh, her knuckles, there are years that gather and won’t be smoothed.

he knew her age and wanted to marry her anyway. and her hesitations had all been the anticipatory embarrassment of this moment where, because she was older, she was more vulnerable to the zombies, or in this instance, the little green men. this was some suuuuper ultimate toxic masculinity – ooh, she thought, she should write that down somewhere – unwanted penetration, spraying all over your face, not revealing its true nature until its destroyed your life and everyone else’s. so, now she’s standing in the Milan airport, dabbing at feverish sweat on her forehead, face bare of mask because she’d rather die than admit that Simon might have been right.

all week had been tense between them, not in the ways of passion that often preceded their reunions, but in growing emotional distance as he railed against her leaving the hotel, yelled at her in his swallowed rage after she got pizza (down the street for heaven’s sake), and then finally said not to come home. he thought she’d get sick if she flew, bring that sick into their home. she’d been furious the whole time, hanging up on him, buying her ticket, packing up her year’s income worth of carnival gowns, all along her inner dialogue half “how fucking dare he?” and “fuck I miss him.”

she wanted her hands in his hair, just beginning to show temples of gray. she wanted to press his face into the soft of her breasts and return to their ease.

but for a moment now she wondered at this heat in her face, the exhaustion of just walking through the airport…what if Simon were right? impossible. but…what if she should have holed up in her hotel, ordered in, stayed put in Italy with all the other snow foxes, waited for the flat horizon?

as she thought this she looked up and saw a short brown woman in front of her with a floral scarf over her face in lieu of a mask. the woman’s eyes looked wild and she kept making micro-moves away from everyone else. they locked eyes. this stranger’s eyes showed fear, judgment, patience, compassion. a voice came thru the scarf, “are you sick? please don’t travel if you’re sick.” nina couldn’t answer. the stranger shook her head, already knowing nina was sick, and turned away into security, where she was immediately pulled into the extra inspection line. nina felt jolted, like she’d never been confronted before, so visibly responsible for…others? she sailed thru security as usual, no one needing an extra check from an older white woman in Italy.

on the plane she stuffed her book into the seat pocket and her bag up above and went straight to the lavatory because she felt like shit and didn’t want to deal with everyone walking by in her face, with her interrogator wanting another thick stare. “are you sick?” pulling the door behind her, again she felt the too familiar, the repetition. she knew what was coming, she grabbed a paper towel just in time to cough into it. that was different…she remembered once coughing all over the sink and mirror. “please don’t travel if you’re sick.” she looked at herself then, in the mirror, skin pale and spotted, eyes bagged, red rimmed and frightened.

sick.
shit.

her instinct was to quiet herself, take her sleeping pills, curl into her seat, get home to her man and the peace on the other side of some tears and apologies. but she’d always done that, and now the instinct itself felt heavy, off.

before she could third guess herself, she reached out and pressed the button with the tiny lego figure on it, and when the flight attendant knocked she called through the door, “I am sick. i think I have the virus! i think i might be contagious.” and in saying it, knowing it was true, surrendering control, surrendering the journey home, breaking the cycle that had, in the last rotation, infected nearly everyone on this plane and led to 1800 deaths in her city, including her own.

the flight attendant was smooth with the power in his hands, smooth evacuating the plane and requesting a thermal scan that revealed nina’s fever and four others. smooth soothing the white haired white woman into the ambulance that would take her to the hospital to see if she could get well.

and Simon, when she reached him, broke into tears – fear, relief, love, distance – this too was new. she wanted to marry him, again. she felt the space between them chasm and close. he had been right, was right – that was possible. if she lived, she was proposing to him with her first healthy breath.

day 3
an alternate timeline

day 4
the day the humans left

Day 5
What incredible technology emerges in this break from capitalism?

The Kisser

Survive quarantine with this fantastic bluetooth toy for couples/pairs. Made with our patented famous Real Flesh technology, The Kisser lets you code-pair with the mouth of your choice – their toy becomes an approximation of your mouth and vice versa. As long as one member of the pair has the toy on their mouth, they can kiss any place the other person needs kisses in real time. As part of the Real Flesh line, The Kisser is waterproof – heck, water is encouraged! Easy Clean surface! Group edition coming soon. Order today!

day 6
pandemic-mates

ok pandemic-mates. how are we succeeding in our relationships and boundaries?

embodied amb: well, we do our yoga and crunches and go for walks or swim every day.

honest amb: except yesterday.

embodied: most days.

honest: and yet, we should do it every day according to a portion of the internet, and our internal assessment of the non-yoga days.

brightside amb: but we ARE doing it. AND being honest with ourselves and others more often about…everything!

shadow amb: almost everything.

embodied: we are challenging old fears and patterns each time we’re emotionally honest.

shame amb (shamemb): not everything needs to be shared.

honest: what we withhold of ourselves becomes our prison. and prison is in all ways a lie.

future amb: we succeed at bringing light inside us. we’ll be grateful for how we spent this sabbatical.

shame: shamebatical. hehe. who goes and stays on sabbatical during a pandemic?

honest: the good news is there is nothing to interrupt shame-antine!

bright side: we’re doing shametastic for having spent so many days –

honest: untouched? in 315 Sq feet?

bright side: in much needed and requested and protected solitude! by the sea!

shame: but…still on social media. harumph. not finishing any novels there.

embodied: but it’s really ok to need more connection than we planned.

honest: much like our government, we didn’t plan for a pandemic.

shadow: also, fuck our plans. most of those plans are part of an irrelevant world and everyone knows it.

honest: and the unknown isn’t special for us, you know. we aren’t the only one flailing to grasp onto facts and futures that aren’t solid.

embodied: facts, ok, those aren’t our thing. but futures! we are especially into knowing, dreaming the future. and so into seeing how it could be better. longing for that.

shadow: but now you’re not even doing anything useful.

future: with due respect, that’s a lie.

(shadow shrugs away)

future: mindful change is success. are you changing? how?

shame: I’m changing. getting a tan from all this light on my closet.

shadow: even in my lies, I feel seen and respected.

embodied: I am definitely changing. we feel so much more now, all over like a stripped down nervous system of emotion. I’m learning how to not…numb. how to harness, harness all of us.

brightside: I’m changing…i feel less cheerleader-y. like I’m able to access full moon truth even from the shadow side.

honest: we are changing. my gift of truth is being honored and centered within us, and in our connections to the world. imagine the joy and satisfaction possible, the true success possible, the right relationship possible, if we were all telling the truth – at least to ourselves.

future: oh yes. this time of change is extremely important. for all beings. you think you’ve served your purpose, achieved some things. but you’ve barely unmasked. so much more is coming. and we’ll have to really be there, not performing or projecting, but feeling. the future is felt. every feeling we are having now, every negotiated boundary and professed truth, all the anger and grief and fear AND pleasure AND joy, it’s all success.

day 7
a world where disability justice proliferates

we thought fast was who we were,
loud, legs wide, open mouth,
crass joke,
a general goal to be just like each other

but I was different – fast some ways, but also immensely slow,
performing loud to survive but
happiest alone and quiet most of the time,
processing in tears and song,
more coherent in writing than in person,
legs hips and fingers stiff each morning, imaginative ears, malleable mind,
eyes that only saw so far –
and I was never sane, I was never normal.
I had to learn to want myself, want my survival.
Thank gods my parents loved me.
The lie of normal almost drove me mad
luckily I was mad.
The contortion of difference we could hide versus the tender raw exposure of difference that showed used to determine one’s quality of life.
We were all the baby turtles racing to the ocean, predation = socialization, & there was death in the sand (which btw looks uniform only because it has been crushed and broken and worn down from the beginning of time)
geological detritus all around but I am alive, you are alive,
moving slowly as fast as we can,
difference declares life, adaptation, nurture
You & I we need a pace we can all move at.
We need nothing planned such that it cannot change.
We need a world where we can roll, walk, run, float or fly thru
We need time for our minds to understand what we know, and for our bodies to feel what we know

release the center and you see how small and boring it is
the edge is where future proliferates
and we are being pushed to the edge now
stop contorting!
find your particular way
there’s room

day 8
the banks have closed

1
i told you not to give them your money
I said fold it into the walls and the box spring
bury it at every crossroad to your beloved
I told them to keep a little out
I said it wouldn’t be worth nothing no ways
I said get you some gold
pour you a ring
build you a house
any real thing will be better than what you gonna
someday be missing

but nobody listens

2
ooh this fucking rage,
all the work we did in hunger
how long we’ve given more than everything

the rhythm of generational sacrifice
twists vibrancy in the marrow
turns down the volume of light
the brightness of sound

the rug that seemed like comfort
unveils bloodstained concrete
and we know that DNA, we remember
all of their names

3
we already know
some of us anyhow
about how precious soil is
some store it under our fingernails
so we can feel when we are home
where no one thinks they cleaned up
just to look down at what should have never become unknown

we already know that care equals care
a spell for a tincture, a birth for a barn,
a winter’s worth of wood for the newlyweds
the passed down bibs marked with
whoever came first in the order
we already know it’s a distraction, cash money
we can remember ourselves quickly
what with so many people,
who’ve been living this way always
always outside the myth of trickles

4
we can change whenever we want to
oh…we haven’t really wanted to
we had just enough to keep pulling the lever
just enough to shrug, innocent
just enough to keep our babies soft
just enough to plain clothes police each other
on the internet
to point and defer guilt to the “richer than us”
to pay for our own demise annually
to forget we need warriors and truth tellers and laughter and tomorrow

we see very quickly,
only sudden to a sheltered few
how we always have the numbers
as many of us as there are zeros in that bank
we can go and get that money
we can go and get so much more

5
when the time comes
we will pull off these masks
we will remember it wasn’t meant to be like this
it really wasn’t isn’t and will not be
the money is an idea – we are, this is, the value
so meditate, pray, submit to not knowing
the right way all the time
weep, scream. bury. blame. surrender.
choose a future for all of us
crack your knuckles, prepare for battle
howl at the waning moon until it waxes, and then?
from the depths of our grief
we’ll become green again

Day 9
Write a harm and recovery or transformation story

we finally learned to turn away from each other
not destroy each other
but find the boundaries of our breaths

we finally learned to move towards opposite walls
lean our cheeks to the brick, borrow depth
find what earth was left in us

we finally learned how small our circles are
no reckless elbow, no casual police, no righteousness
can fit in this house, this heart, this earth

we finally remembered: after all the hurt we’d caused
the forgiveness we’d needed was precious,
the wounds we healed here, healed all

day 10
healthcare

whisper to each other, trench to trench
tell no lies, then we can have faith in what we hear
one body, one trail of hungry ants

warn each other of the death that is coming
but remember, the intricate pathway isn’t destined
this plague in the wood, this virus on the wind

keep moving towards life, growing deeper underground
be fecund, unique, laughter in light
but in the dark? pulse, reach, grasp, bond

the world is toxic, we will swallow poison
if we can process it, we will live
changed, fed, wiser, more humble

the world is toxic – it may overwhelm your small body
and then you will feed the dirt,
and we, we will water you

day 11
what unknown capacities are unveiled by pandemic and what happens because of them?

we learned to hug with one hand on our hearts
we could feel each other without moving our bodies, beam love from our palms
relinquish known futures for ‘togetherness someday’

and in the hours alone, especially for those
parenting alone, caretaking alone, grieving alone
we learned how to fill time to brim with
meaning. rest. weeping. sorrow.

we didn’t know we could hold so much sorrow
and still breathe, didn’t know we could get used to the wind chime rhythm of broken hearts pulsing in chorus,
awakening. remembering.

we woke up to the unbearable world
we had created, built, begged entry into
one small desperation at a time…
in a closed system blame is relative and then irrelevant

we learned to stay awake even when we wanted to drift away, how to sleep through nightmares
numb was on sale each day, essential even now
still, we learned to sustain, to direct, our attention

we remembered there was an off screen world
we could hear a living thing creeping up behind us
we could smell when fear left our bodies, returned
the salt of each grief tasted new

we must but can we remember how to tighten up
we hope we can remember how to cast a village
we pray we will remember how to weave the roots
when, when will we remember how to go to war

day 12
being with shadow

did I ever tell you
how everything about humanity makes me
so tender
I could be weeping all the time
my eyes see all the darkness
the shadows crawl across the floor
peek from the corners
laugh when I’m laughing
counting it down
they will take it back with the next sentence

I create troughs
threading away from my heart
spilling down my limbs to pulse out
sole of foot, palm of hand
all wide for the ground
in this way, I can open my eyes
since I was a newborn
people have asked me for direction
and I have almost always felt which way to point
away from me, away, away from me

I hear something coming
which is asking me to receive
to stop letting things go through me
to reawaken the black hole at my center
the part powered by what we lose
what we grieve, and by longing
to reach is to live, to reach is sacred
be attached to aliveness
and nothing else
trust: when life is done, it will let you go

day 13
reincarnation

video reading

waves crash in, riverbanks flood
the original souls – a handful in the cosmic sense –
split and fractured for so long
into so many sand particle lives
all feeling some else missing thing some gone
perhaps even half of themselves,
perhaps even more

waves pull away, river narrows, cracks
more soul concentrates in each little riddle of flesh
bringing back more humilities, a variety of heart breaks, the trauma of true love, of being whole
not thinking of wholeness, but feeling how
you are not wrong, you never were wrong
you were always a child reaching for light

a wave takes flight, a river finds its infinite tail
we realize the total pleasure of minds, desires, histories, dreams, and futures other than our own
left alone, one would always become god
create another to long for, lean on, snuggle into
and then miss, and return to
and then grieve

addendum:

these newest oldest parts of ourself
remind those coming generations, from within, of truth:
if you cannot grieve you will not survive
life is not promised, death is not fair
the politics of care reveal what people love
don’t let those who cannot love lead you
bitterness is only bearable when paired with sweet and with change
it didn’t have to be this way – what will you change in yourself to make this moment impossible to repeat?

day 14
intimacy at a distance

day 15
honoring femme work

and then one day, enough blood on our hands, the people rose up. we felt it was time to stop living in the trap of a violent sociopath, to stop participating in the complicity of politics as usual in 2020, the lies, pandering, peacocking, compromise, genocide. it was a coup, but so much more than that. it was a chaos. the rallying cries were simple: say no. do not participate in decisions that are inhumane. and then, in the span of a season, any politician who was locally determined to be inadequate to the work of leading during an apocalypse was removed from office – not by skilled military forces, but by mothers. millions of mothers stormed into these offices and put these putrid politicians in timeout. very few places resisted with violence because we all knew the value of mothers, their fundamental and complex innocence fed by the radical imperative of unconditional love. plus, we needed the management skills of mothering. we all read a manifesto from a small group called movement generation that helped us remember all that we needed to survive right now, and offered best practices for local recentering of humans and earth in both policy and practice. a thoughtful circle of mothers called mamis unite, who’d spent years building online supportive community, issued a hasty but sound protocol that each local body of mothers could use in their revolutionary experiment:

let it be messy.
stay kind, be firm, and in decision making ask – is this right for our children? is this right for the land?
focus on the next step that moves us closer to a care-based society.
ask nurses to form councils and generate plans for running our hospitals and clinics. if desired, select doctors who can serve an advisory role.
ask teachers and social workers to work together to create justice councils to bring order and fairness to the impossible circumstances of modern life, and to gather curricula for teaching the next generations to participate in a just democracy.
ask domestic workers and janitors for guidance on cleaning house and eliminating waste.
ask caretakers how to make all of our homes safe during the next phase of the pandemic.
ask grandmothers how to prioritize the resources of your building, block, town or city.
ask homeless parents how to make what we have miraculously be enough.
ask administrators and secretaries to run their places of work.
allow charismatic leaders and celebrities to continue to entertain us, and to make meaning of our coup.
we won’t all do it the same way, the mothers said. but the chaos of care is a better option than the stability of sadism.

day 16
exchange between too alone and too together

hiawatha heard the ocean.

she’d been surrounded by seven people for more days than she could count. she loved these people, these were her people. if she had been far away from them, she’d have longed for them in her love languages of insomnia and chewed fingers. but they were here. all of them. all the time.

a wave crashed, dispersed, a hush, a mist. she knew these sounds. she needed these sounds.

gram. father. ma. hiawatha’s son, grapevine. grapevine’s daddy, donavan and his partner ethel. and hiawatha’s new girlfriend, shreya. all the time.

hearing this vast sound made her stop at the sink, hands clasped and covered in soap. eyes closed she saw a flood of variations on blue, some sea, some sky. in her own darkness she felt a salted sun touch her face. the stillness of this constant motion brought her breath.

this was gram’s house, the one they’d teased her about – why do you need all these rooms, gram? and these stacks of magazines and newspapers? and four french presses, and every book ever written? and scrubbed aluminum foil?

another parent at grapevine’s school had gotten sick, hiawatha had asked gram if they could stay with her because she knew how to care and she had a yard. one by one, the rooms had filled up with the people who loved grapevine and would follow him and his mama to any bunker.

waves come in, waves go out. nothing is permanent, nothing is safe. in the vast world find your depth. you can be storming and calm, you’re that massive. ride the changes, go deep under the biggest waves. when you leave this shore it will change and you’ll never be here again.

hiawatha turned, seeing her world anew. grapevine curled against gram on the couch, donavan, ethel and shreya quietly learning trust at the puzzle table, father and ma making messes on all the freshly scrubbed counters as they made the 1000th meal.

when this time ends I’ll never be here again, she knew.
she opened her mouth, she dove back in.

day 17
pandemic erotica

they stood in her foyer in their street suit. everyone wore them now, gray, lightweight, full body with a visor.

“take it off,” she called through the glass pane of her apartment door. they reached up and slowly unzipped themselves from the top of their head to the bottom of their feet and stepped out.

over their mask were wide hungry brown eyes under a scruffy self-fade. she’d liked the pictures of their face online, tho who knew when she’d see it in person. it felt strange to know they also couldn’t see more than her eyes – her flirtation was so much in the lips. oh well.

they hung their suit on the rack and slowly pulled off their gloves, watching her. she liked the eye contact, the long body unveiled before her, t-shirt clinging to a slender torso, thick hips a pleasant surprise in fitted joggers.

“come in.” she opened the door and they stepped in, and she immediately pivoted them both into the front closet she had repurposed for these sexcapades – no need to bleach the whole house for a short hookup.

in the little closet they both put on the cheap single use latex gloves she had in the supply basket, next to lube and condoms and wipes. she opened her robe so they could see her fat belly, full breasts, pussy hair shaped in a heart because she’d had ample time to learn things like that. their masked mouth gaped and smiled as they awkwardly undressed to nakedness, their soft eyes showed everything.

“first i would kiss you,” they finally spoke, low, easy.

“yes please. i’d love to taste your jaw. your neck,” she reached her hands up and traced her fingers where her mouth wanted to go. they leaned their head back and let her touch them, she thought they were smiling under that mask. then they pulled her against them, burying their face in her hair and neck. for a long time they held each other, flesh to flesh, feeling the quick breath between them, the need greater and simpler than words.

finally they whispered near her ear, “your breasts are gorgeous,” and took her breasts up in big pillowy handfuls, squeezing a bit rough at first and then teasing her nipples until she wanted to be swallowed. they bent down briefly and covered their fingers in lube. “close your eyes.” she needed the authority in their tone, and easily closed her eyes and let her robe drop all the way to the floor. what they did, that wet pressure on both breasts, came close to the sensation of sucking.

she expected them to keep going, to quickly fuck her like the others had, but this one, they noticed how her nipples responded, clitoral, ever growing shafts. she felt the heat between her thighs. she had missed foreplay, she had missed surprise. they said, “i would suck you forever”…and then they stayed there, visibly aroused themselves, watching her begin to lose control, sliding slick fingers and palms over her small erections, pressing and pulling, twisting, thrumming, until she came, just like that.

“one.” they said. the new lovers laughed, the blessing of a good match unveiled in spite of all the ways they were still covered. they kept counting until the sun came up.

day 18
a fresh quarantine release first encounter (but make it fashion)

let me be sun on your skin
feel that miraculous proximity
you are all beauty to me
your attention is a revelation

I love your bleach and fear scars
I want to trace you with my fingertips
come and see all of my scars
I had to gather so much life to me

I love your beautiful smile
unmasked, unrushed, unafraid and unscreened
please, please touch all of my face
cheek to cheek, kiss me, and kiss me again

day 19
the next economy

memory and dream weave together a net that no one can slip through.

we remember that everyone needs time to wander. we dream that everyone has comfort and a clear river on their journey.

we remember that circles hold each other through scarce times. we dream that technology will relieve us of bureaucracy.

we remember that what grows and breathes is more valuable than ashes. we dream of losing greed like we lost our tails.

we remember that constructs make us small and hungry, feeling so wrong. we dream of an economy that lets our inner realms grow beyond imagining.

we remember we are earth. we dream we are one.

day 20
future food systems

are you sated yet with starving
are you ready to be seed
to root into dirt, stop fearing soil
come down and listen to ground
are you tired of your own empty gut
missing each sign and each season
are you hungry? are you angry?
are you ready to listen to reason?

it is time to worship the earth

it is time to focus on farmers
teach our children the prayer of planting
everyone, gasp at the garden
the abundance of home is amazing
there’s an order, a rhythm, a heartbeat
there’s a tenderness waiting for rain
there’s a world longing for our touch
we can be reverent again

it is time to worship the earth

day 21
a day in successful movement in social distancing

journal entry, 2022

it’s come to this, then: to succeed, secede? learning to hold boundaries within militarized borders seems to be just the beginning of the gifts we have pulled from the ashes of the pandemic. although my god it’s been two years! and people are still getting sick from deploravirus – none of us could have predicted how the conservatives would take themselves out, rushing into the toxic streets and stores in an individualistic orgy of casual suicides, then refusing the vaccine and cure when they came, sentencing themselves and their families to crisis and death. millions of people who hate my existence are gone, even though i, we, tried to save them. and what’s left? the Traditional States of America. and us, as yet unnamed, but united in ways we didn’t know were possible.

this is the new emerging politic – there’s our collectivism, that’s the evolutionary path. individualism is conservatism, regardless of claimed party or politic.

i can still remember the terrified malaise after the first waves tsunamied through every city i loved. back when we didn’t know anything, back when we thought we could still return to normal. and then the pivot, as we buried our loved ones and understood we had to think collectively of our safety and resources, we had to go forward…that’s when COVID-19 truly split the wheat from the chaff. we didn’t think we were ready. we weren’t really, we never had answers exactly. we still don’t.

but organizers were ready. ready to learn, to play, to say ‘I don’t know’, to experiment, to teach.

and we, so tired of being a nation within a nation, used the safety protocols and physical distancing to lay the groundwork for tomorrow’s vote, when states will finally choose whether to stay or to go. after this vote, there will be a three month period of relocation, and then we will land in the future. our new nation has been ideological…now it will be geographical. we will grieve the united states. we will learn with indigenous comrades how to restore our ancient relationship with new and old earth. we must learn to harness our screen time connecting into being a people with no border. we’ve been at least two nations for so long. now we will learn how to stay safe against a small minded, armed, racist, regressive nation. this will not be easy. but we no longer have to pretend we are one body, one people, with those who have opted out of the future.

day 22
What have we learned (are we learning) about (navigating and) strengthening intergenerational relationships?

I always wanted to be a whole person
with every other person, also whole
wielding the strength seeded by strangers,
grown in roots that trail back from the spine
knowing how to turn towards the sun
knowing our oldest names, our songs, our stories
knowing the kind of love that does not waver

but we didn’t get to learn all the songs
and we hadn’t heard all the stories
we don’t even know the name of the dirt
we didn’t really know what was taken
until the flood receded, with our memories
pulled away, salt and sand, not gone
but no longer here in our hands

we learned to listen past patience
to humble ourselves enough to become
an altar for our ancestors
soil for our grandparents’ stories, tears
to become the love we so longed for
which can only be learned thru loss
distance, and years

day 23
what has been mended?

the wound in me
which seeks solitude to fix my loneliness
has learned to say
hold me as I am

the earthquake in me
who just knows I’ll be whole if I can get still
has found the peace possible
in panicked motion

the judge in me
which wants to control all the world’s transgressions
has learned I can’t even
control myself

the storm is within and without
undoing each structure I’ve ever built or known
gifting me the lesson again:
the change is the constant

the chaos is the mend
the tears are the river
the wave is the window
the release is the way

day 24
global solidarity, boundaries, borders

they say the differences between us
are not visible from space

from outer space the only border is gradation
are you of the blue world
or the green one with swaths of blood red and brown?
we don’t care that you want to be
mermaid, whale, octopus
you are dirt and weapon

from inner space the only border is porous
an infinite realm of cells to swallow,
to pray into, fortify, change, to master
so, are you healthy or dying? both? always?
how ridiculous.
who made you so stubborn and fragile

every kind of people are mostly poor
but the story the rich tell
confuses us all into thinking we chose our misery
borders between a hungry people and our fecund earth
bricked with underdeveloped ideology
gnaw at the belly and the spirit

how can we love without the moat
the fortress, the guards, the groping pat down
the detector, the mask, the glove
the cage, the court, the verdict
the blame, the gates, the fences,
the passwords, the secrets, the omissions

how do we love beyond the myth of safety?

i say the differences between us
make of our hearts so many stars in the void

day 25
staggering collective emotional burnout

some creatures swallow mulberry leaves
spin silk from their longing to be set free
others cast silk from dark spinnerets
praying fat prey will crash and feed
some swing from branch and vine and sky
with babies who learn young not to let go
others form circles in the ice and snow
protecting their children, whose wings do not fly

we spin in the solitary cage of success
thrash against webs made of concrete and chrome
let go too soon of the wisest hands
always try first to stand here alone
because someone told us this death is our nature
solitude deified to nomenclature
but now we are crawling through our telephones
having suffered enough, we surrender to home

inching there we pass in the dark and fog
last week’s collapse strolling back our way
not healed, not whole, but dignified
able to look us all in the eye
burning anguish held, bright flaws dismissed
deep rest affirmed, furrowed foreheads kissed
we all need our mothers, and they’re all too far
and we’re surprised again at how normal we are

day 26
courage not to go back to normal

the hardest part was saying no
you can’t come in close / touch / be here
feeling thru doors, stepping aside in the sun
being first in the crowd to mask up

the hardest part was seeing
we were different in a way that would matter
i’d taken our “of course” things for granted
i wanted to trust you to live forever
i couldn’t control your mortality
you were feeling rebellious

the hardest part was finding the courage
to say how i felt in real time
my voice trembling, hitched, stone, ice
but never a weapon

the hardest part was letting go
of the crisis which made us feel important
to grasp onto the mundane
that made us feel alive

day 27
collective soul shape, state shift

I can’t stop thinking the universe has us all by the throat with her dazzling hands.
we can’t stop thinking.
I can’t stop wondering how long it takes to surrender. until the end of our bending? or the end of our breaking? how small can we shatter, will we become the sparkle in certain concrete or

I can’t stop feeling like a diamond before the beauty during the horrific pressure that makes them fill with light.
we can’t stop feeling.
this loss, being deep within the earth so close to her warm heart, but the explosion of leaving her body, pulled pushed ejected from what felt like always

I can’t stop bowing with awe at the plot twist, that we are so powerful and gorgeous all the time but feel so helpless.
we can’t stop bowing.
we thought we were complete but only now, only now do we hear the tireless tap tapping of excavation, as one by one we are gathered for our next labor: love

day 28
staying open

the tangerine taught me how to die (or how to open)

thumbnail splitting peel
pulling off her gown in one piece, unveiling
flinging shocks of essence into the air
briefly visible
the bitter scent split from the
sweet promise

but still not open

the exhale of connective tissue
one circle becomes many moons
each part similar (normal)
each piece unique (special)
centered, then piled in my palm
clinging, releasing, wide, falling apart

but still not open

on my busy tongue the taut skinbody
veined and ripe, perfect and ready
(and still not open)
it is only the gnashing of my teeth, the suckling,
the bursting of life, lips to throat, the swallow
the total destruction of self for the unknown

now, now we are open

BONUS: A BINDING SPELL

day 29
getting back in alignment with original instructions

care for yourself and everything else (transmission)

everything is teacher, virus too is teacher, is practice ground, sickness, death, we all die, we all need practice. this virus has been a practice of coming into awareness of our collective selfishness. (I am not selfish you are selfish…) we can see the inward focus in others, but mostly feel ourselves to be good (I was trying to be as good, as thoughtful, as selfless as a saint, but I failed). trying and just failing to care enough for others, that’s us. the awareness of how selfish and self-focused we’ve been, when it comes (detonates from another’s mouth, or in a moment of stillness), can make us deny, panic, freeze, spiral, disappear.

selfishness is the contagion.

with this virus, the self falls away, or the selfishness is unveiled.

it doesn’t matter if you alone tend towards health, the virus will hitch a ride on your breath and collar to those who can’t protect themselves.

it doesn’t matter if you want to quarantine, your job is essential to others, or your big boss is unwilling or unable to give you the time off. or you need the money not to stop for a second. you need groceries, and you need to bring your kids.

it doesn’t matter if you wear a mask and bleach everything and wash your hands raw, that one coughing maskless person has no idea what six feet look like.

and even if, even if we’re all fine, if we all recover, if we all survive – we have to acknowledge (in spite of all evidence that we do not care) that the earth is thriving in our containment, our stillness.

our connection to everything is undeniable. i never knew the language of the original instruction but now I wonder if it’s written in each thing’s code, ‘here is how you be’. when i listen to my bones the instruction is care: care for this body and all other bodies, care generates harmony and balance, care for boundaries without borders. care for each connection, and if it must end, care for the ending. care for communities and have as many as you can care for. care for this planet with how you pet, feed, water, eat, till, plant, and harvest. if it is too challenging for you personally to care for strangers, accept your limitation, and just care for family, you define it, you define who you care for. care generally for futures, or specifically for your own future and the futures of those you can care for.

and you can be single and solitary and solo and silent and still be caring, still relinquish selfishness, maybe that isolation is your deepest care, maybe you need that quiet to heal enough to care again, maybe in this moment you need the care, and it is caring to let others care for you (did you know that caring feels like a burden only when it isn’t shared?) – the more people who care, the more joy, the more we are able to make use of this existence, which came with instructions, which everyone got, and some forgot, and some never learned how to hear, but nonetheless this is how it works: together.

day 30
post pandemic story

in five years

the chaos is brand new, still
we pour our hearts into each day
carefully, slowly, we hold nothing back
sleep shows us a mycelial way
we oak root in the hurricane
we ripple borders like leather whips
we’ve let go of the ceaseless pain
who knows when we’ll feel home again

3 year old

we are always somewhere new
home is where my mommy sleeps
we are finding out what’s true
home is where we feel our feet

on my deathbed

I saw the end of an empire
can you imagine, we split from chaff
we got the mess of nationbirth
and we got the miracle

Additional Resources for Facing Coronavirus/Covid19

ah loves, turns out it’s not easy to take a sabbatical during a global apocalyptic event. in my attempt to stay away from news, work, stress, and distraction, i found myself a little rural hideaway which, who could have guessed it, is now in a quarantine zone. i am fine, supported, connected, stocked, staying calm and solo and washing my hands in that near-obsessive way virgoes are prone to do naturally.

but there’s no escaping this, even with reduced contact – friends, family, media, strangers in the grocery store…we are interdependent and it shows so deeply in moments we are asked to stay apart for our own good.

i keep thinking – should i write about this? and, conversely, am i really writing about anything else? every bit of fiction and song emerging from me swerves into the territory of connection, safety across generations, virus, right relationship. i am writing about this, but there’s also so much that i and others have already written and spoken that might be helpful for the human, land, spiritual, community, movement, familial, network, and/or society side of this virus at this moment.

the science, the protocols, i leave that to science and government: wash your hands, stay home, think collectively.

and here are some resources that might help you think about where to be, how to be, and how to see the possibilities even in this moment, how to move towards life.

1. Octavia’s Brood.

over the past few days as i have had to consider where to be, i was comforted by Dani McClain’s excellent story Homing Instinct and then remembered how Mia Mingus pointed to society shaped by those with chronic illness and disability in Hollow and how Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha reminded us we can travel without traveling in Children Who Could Fly. these texts feel relevant now, as we would do so well to learn from those who survive toxic exposure daily and know about being safe and connected in vulnerable bodies.

i am challenged anew by the implications of my own story The River, in which earth moves to protect herself and those who love her. only time will tell how this moment will impact our relationship to earth, but early reports of reduced emissions appear to be a silver lining to this tragedy.

here is a real-time resource leah just passed on to me for mutual aid and survival!

2. Emergent Strategy.

change is constant, be like water. we are used to being a rushing river pounding through every obstacle. now we see there is danger in that endless rapid flow and we need to find a place to pool deeply and be still and let time cleanse us in its way. i have received messages from people who are finding a first or re-read of the book useful in this moment.

a few bits to highlight:

* “transform yourself to transform the world”, grace lee boggs’ wisdom is literal right now. this virus doesn’t stop because of blame, pointing at other people’s faults, or races/ethnicities. it only stops, or slows, because each individual increases their own accountability to the collective. people have suggested different songs for hand washing time, to help stay in the sink long enough to do an adequate job. i found this bit of magic with the ‘fear is the mind killer’ guidance from Dune that i love. i am also often just saying a little universe prayer – “with this handwashing i align with the universe, with this handwashing i wage love, with this handwashing i care for [here i insert the names of elders and compromised immune systems i cherish].” i am transforming my own behaviors through practice and repetition.

* there is a conversation in the room that only these people at this time can have…there are conversations that will only happen because you initiate them, lives that will be saved because you risked being the awkward one to ask ‘how are you adapting safety protocol in response to coronavirus?’ i have a text thread of dear ones who are sharing news with each other and one had to push thru the resistance of her elder family members (our elders have seen so much – how do we honor their experience and dignity and still acknowledge that this virus is hungry for them, specifically?). another just changed the safety trajectory of her pilates studio. and in another friend circle a european book tour was canceled. this is no time to politely drift along with the herd, this is the time to ask direct questions and generate unique community solutions in conversation.

* there’s always someone already working on the problem. i think of all of my patient friends who have navigated chemical sensitivity for years. or those with lyme, gluten intolerance, fibromyalgia, cancer, aids…who in our communities must we protect, yes, but who has been surviving collective cluelessness and obstinance, who must we now listen to?

* beware of haters (and infiltrators). here we are, figuring out massive issues of safety during a fraught election year in the u.s. under a government hungry for tighter borders. this virus may change how voting happens, and how communication around the election happens – if we are all dependent on the internet to contact each other, campaign, even vote, there’s a lot of uncharted and quicksandish territory. our electoral system is dysfunctional on a good day. and, this collective experience will impact what people seek from leadership. and, the outcomes of this election will effect the future of this virus and how other similar global threats are handled. it is not a time for petty, haterish, divisive behavior. it is a time to be in heightened awareness of infiltrators, instigators, agitators. beware the lone wolf, beware the critic who isn’t oriented on any solution, beware the social media poster who has few followers and fewer posts, beware time sucks, red herrings, and vapors posing as people. it’s easy to get sucked in. liberate your attention back to the much more important and difficult work of finding political alignment and righteous compromise amongst the people you know and live next door to, your relatives, people who care about you.

* pay attention to patterns. what is being detoxified from the soil? what is migrating? who is in drought, in flood, in peril, in privilege? i am definitely influenced by having just finished The Overstory by Richard Powers but…ask the trees what they think this virus is about. what to learn, now?

* localize your attention. what grows near you? who grows it? how can you secure resources together vs stockpiling individually and combatively?

* and, as aways, what’s in your go-bag?

3. Pleasure Activism

right now we are getting to experience the unexpected expected. we all knew contagion was coming and have made countless entertainments about it…but when, how, from where?

it may seem counterintuitive, but i am putting my attention on the pleasures of quarantine, aka ‘if introverts ran the world’. what to do when you can’t go somewhere else and be around mad people to do it?

obviously there is a way of working with less distraction when isolated, which those of us liberated from offices already know to be a pajama-infused delight.

i have made a list of additional recent pleasures i opted to fully experience instead of panicking – washing my hands in warm water, writing, reading, new kinds of orgasm, cooking, painting, slow yoga in the sun, going out in the yard to observe my local ecosystem during the day (which often involves attending to what is usually the periphery – the sound on the edge of hearing, motion on the edge of sight) (and which, during my writing of this post, included watching and hearing two bumblebees mating in the air!), and at night listening to owls, porcupine, wind, river, traffic, life. catching up on shows, extended and deeper video chatting with loved ones. inventory (this may just be me but i like assessing that i have enough), being topless outside, creating and executing rituals. getting high, or, lately, getting that other high that comes from not getting high, but getting present.

i encourage you, whether you’ve already been quarantined or it’s coming soon, to at least attempt the mental emotional embodied exercise of not fighting it, but finding the pleasure and connection potential in it. how can it increase your freedom to have your routine disrupted? how can it allow for more intentional and reverent interdependence? don’t just think about where you will get your food and water, also map out where you will get your togetherness, your touch, your laughter, your joy.

4. how to survive the end of the world

in the years of doing this podcast with my sister, we have had many conversations that feel relevant to this moment.

our conversation with Sister-Doctor Alexis Pauline Gumbs on breath, among other things – we need to practice breathing deeply thru a respiratory invasion. our conversations with Toshi Reagon on prophecy and responsibility. and with Angel Kyodo Williams and Lama Rod Owens on being still. with Mariame Kaba on justice – because this virus is largely spreading by human error, and how do you address the harm caused by someone not washing their hands, the sickness and death caused by humans who didn’t mean to hurt anyone? and the conversation with Siwatu Salama-Ra, how to generate freedom within when externally contained? and, of course, our talk with Michelle Mascarenas-Swan of Movement Generation, about the larger systems at play in this great turning. plus roughly every other conversation.

5. generative somatics.

this is a time to get more curious about your body, your health, your patterns. listen to your gut – the other day i was ten minutes out from home heading to the store when i realized i’d left my hand sanitizer on the table after checking if it has enough alcohol in it. with almost no thought, my body found the next spot to turn around (i am way down a single lane dirt road) and went back to get it. i used it four times while out and was so grateful my body knew i needed it. my body steers me away from people with sniffles and coughs, processing information faster than my brain can generate a logic for me. if it’s hard to hear and trust your body, get into this centering practice from generative somatics genius Sumitra Rajkumar, let repeated centering awaken you. there’s time.

so. visionary fiction, emergent strategy, pleasure activism, and surviving apocalypse. attention liberation, somatics, right relationship. listening, adapting, surrendering.

may this serve as it needs to. i am with you, of you, and you are of me. let’s do this transition well.

build as we fight: remarks from the 2019 American Studies Association Annual Meeting

my friend and comrade Scott Kurashige is the president of the American Studies Association, and this year he very kindly invited me to be the artist-in-residence, which meant that I got to do lots of sessions and offers for folks who I am amazed might be interested in my work. my offers here have so far included an emergent strategy workshop, a pleasure activism workshop, singing the Black national anthem to open Scott’s presidential address, and a panel with three of my life teachers, Angela Davis, Robin Kelly and Shea Howell. today I get to do one more panel with some of my favorite speculative fiction thinkers and creators.

the workshops went well, I got to test out new forms for offering the content and got great feedback.

here is the song:

IMG_8310

and here are the notes for my remarks at the panel “build as we fight”, most of which I said roughly like this (I’ll italicize things I wrote but don’t think I spoke aloud):

hi. my name is adrienne maree brown and I’m nervous. it’s delightful to feel this nervous, this alive.

after two days of making academics get in small groups and feel feelings and cry and discuss nakedness, I caught on to the ASA way and I have written up some thoughts to read to you.

I want to tell you about a few ahas, ways I am moving towards the future, and about what building as we fight looks like in my life, thru my lens as a facilitator of Black liberation movements for justice.

my lens is shaped by the Anishanaabe land I fell in love with over a decade ago, also known as Detroit, the post motor city, where it feels like a modern Black Renaissance is unfolding as an artist-led insurgence against gentrification.

I’m shaped by Grace Lee Boggs, who I initially resisted, cause everyone loved and worshipped her, and I mostly recoil at heroes, celebrities and worship. But then we spoke, and I kept coming back. Grace taught me to ‘transform myself to transform the world’, and to keep working a question as long as it took, because some questions are longer than one lifetime.

I’m shaped by her beloved Jimmy, who was gone by the time I got to Detroit, but also present in everything, was everywhere. He reminds me often that I’m nothing outside of relationship, never to let the celebrity so available in capitalism keep me from being in authentic and accountable relationship to real people, to use any platform I have to advance ideas generated and tested by collective formations.

I’m shaped by Scott Kurashige and Emily Lawson, by Shea Howell – who taught me to foment revolution on the detroit river. And Malik Yakini and Feed’em Freedom Growers and the Peace Circles and Detroit Summer.

and by Octavia Butler, the no nonsense prophet who used science fiction to deliver her visions. And Toni Morrison, Samuel Delaney and Nalo Hopkinson, Walter Mosley, and Tananarive Due, all the black speculative fiction writers who bent and bend the world into fractals of truth and justice to help us see ourselves.

and by Margaret Wheatley and Janine Benyus, women studying complexity science. We are also complex science, we are also nature.

I’m shaped by Harriet Tubman, who was willing to go and make a space for those hungry for freedom, those not quite ready to make a run for it without invitation, leadership, path and proof.

I’m shaped by the Tao the ching, which says to let the mud settle into the way is clear. to trust the people. and that mastery is when the collective can feel it’s own power.

and by Audre Lorde, who validated my black queer poetic and erotic aliveness as a measure of political power. And bell hooks with love and rigor, and Toni Cade Bambara with irresistibility and Barbara Ransby showing me that facilitation was radical through Ella bakers legacy.

and of course, of course Angela Davis who has pushed me to understand freedom and justice beyond the carceral state, and Robin DG Kelly, who has widened the lens with which I understand our moment in black history.

and there are so many more. so if it sounds familiar, or like worship, it is.

my first big aha was visionary fiction, offered in a collection of science fiction from social justice movements coedited by myself and Walidah Imarisha called Octavia’s Brood. When I told Grace about this work, she casually dropped that she had tried visionary fiction in the 1970s, and pointed me to the shelf where I could find a copy of it. she thought ‘it could be interesting’.

we who believe in freedom must build our muscle of imagination. because we are living in, and only sometimes surviving, an imagination battle –

who imagined this world?
this absence of right relationship to earth?
this violent addiction to dominating each other?
these myths of superiority of those with pale skin or external sex organs or bodies without kinks in the bones, or born on this side of manmade, and cruelly held, borders?
who imagined that these prison bars on jails and schools would generate safety?
who imagined a generation or more would tolerate this black and brown hunger? and this allowance that some will hunger while others feast, not oblivious, but willfully, and structurally, ignorant?

in the face of this world, this moment, where self definition outside of oppression can feel impossible, we must strengthen our capacity to live and create and affirm and vision outside the white male straight able-bodied citizen gaze, to structure our visions beyond their limited, often self-worshipping imaginations.

or the educated imagination.

any emotion-less, arrogant, vengeful imagination.

we need our own oceanic visions.

socialization of the dominance of white imagination and fantasy creates what toni morrison called “interior pain”.

we must counteract by creating an abundance of interior freedom, and weaving collective freedom dreams, dreams that include all of us, dreams we can speak to each other plainly, or poetically (or as y’all speak to each other, which I’m trying to comprehend).

Dreams as complex as a black owned food cooperative in right relationship with indigenous land lineage, or the community land trust, two projects seeding in Detroit after twenty plus years of experimenting with solutions. We are living science fiction – all organizing is science fiction.

my next big aha was, is, emergent strategy.

emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of relatively simple interactions. emergent strategies are informed by complexity, by learning from nature how to be in right relationship with each other and the earth.

Grace exposed me to Margaret Wheatley and complex science theory as a movement direction. I went fast into learning and I’m still going.

as we fight we must also harness each lesson to learn how to get in right relationship with change.

we must build dialectically, committed to learning with each other more than stagnating in a point of view.

as we fight we must build our fractal capacity, meaning solutions that we practice at a small scale, that will work at any scale (as opposed to solutions we demand at a large scale but no one, or very few people, practice, ever – democracy, abolition).

we need solutions that work for a small band of survivors in an apocalypse bunker if that’s what humanity will be up to for a while, a more and more likely scenario each day. we need to be raising up and becoming humans who have the communications skills, imagination muscle and loving care to make a life worth living at a small, hyper-local scale.

or the scale of municipality, if we can breathe above ground but we can’t fly or drive to each other every other day.

or the scale of instantaneous transporter travel and sky highways and alien technology if that happens first. or the octopuses start talking to us. it’s all equally possible.

one of these fractal skills is what cabral spoke of as revolutionary democracy – trusting the people to learn self governance. many of us are terrified to govern, much more comfortable with critiquing what is than with creating and practicing what will be.

start small. democratize your home, your relationship with your neighbor, with your lover, with your family. if we can’t budget together, we can’t be mad that our government struggles to.

movement generation, also a great teacher of mine, defines economy as the management of home. how do we manage collective home together? how do we contribute to a collective home that is resilient in constantly changing conditions?

at each level, our natural world teaches us that we build the resilience by building relationships, proliferating aligned differences. we need critical connections not just between those who think the same thing, but between different skill sets, worldviews, cultures and, yes, politics.

Loretta Ross teaches us that “a group of people thinking the same thing and moving in the same direction is a cult. a group of people thinking many different things and moving in the same direction is a movement.”

we need to harness the most successful strategies of the natural world – the symbiotic biodiversity, the interdependent fecundity, the abundance mindset of mushrooms and dandelions, the shapeshifting adaptation of multisexed frogs, the collaborative pheremonal effort of ants, the iterative beauty of ferns and deltas and galaxies.

if attended to, and learned from in an ongoing way, these critical connections to each other and to our nature are what make critical mass solid enough not just to demand change, but to become change.

we must go beyond calling for abolition, and build our tolerance for, and practice of, transformative justice.

at an intimate level, I do kitchen table mediation, bringing movement leaders going through a breakup or break down to sit together and remember what is larger than us.

at a collective level I facilitate principled struggle – a Marxist conflict framework by way of N’Tanya Lee at LeftRoots – helping people to have integrity to movement even in personal beef, to struggle for the sake of deeper understanding (not just to be right), to be responsible for our own feelings and actions, to find the right container for our gifts and longings and to release containers that cannot hold us, to seek deeper understanding before writing the critical commentary or instigating the debate or tweeting the complaint. to gossip and vent, yes, we are human – but keep returning with integrity to the work we can and must do together.

in this moment, we can spend a lot of time tracking every crack in the shell, or we can be the chaos that tremors those cracks open, or we can be the wild creature learning to breathe inside that shell, preparing to burst thru, expanding beyond the boundary of what most people think is reality. it’s all construct.

what we can be and do depends on the rigor of our collective attention. are we obsessing over what we cannot change, or nourishing what we can touch and grow – or as Octavia taught us, shape, partner with?

my final offer to build while we fight is pleasure activism.

we must build a felt sense in ourselves of authentic satisfaction. and remember that pleasure is not a frivolous spoil of luxury, but a measure of aliveness, the life force that has been whittled away, stolen away, by oppression and colonization and capitalism. we must break with the assumption of misery that does not serve us.

we are responsible for building movements that feel good to enter and good to stay in. in my work facilitating the movement for black lives, I have continuously asked these current and future shapers of history to turn towards each other (when it felt like there was no time for it), care about each other, sing 90s r&b together, and risk loving each other.

to organize this way means we must remember how to feel. we are not minds alone, strategies and speeches alone. we have multiple kinds of intelligence to draw on. we must learn to tolerate feeling both discomfort and delight, sadness and celebration, more than just fear and submission.

and to love. to be loyal to love, as grace was to jimmy for their life together and for the years after she left. to love the way she did, for us to look at each other the way grace looked at jimmy’s face on that little video of jimmy she played every day.

ultimately we need to feel and heal and grow and love ourselves into movements that birth not just rock stars or temporary victory based campaigns or cultural pendulum swings, but new worlds. movements that can see our future dissolution (rather than permanent institutionalization) not because we outsmarted each other, but because we forget how to lose. and we win by surrendering to our collective purpose, to being life moving towards life, surviving and thriving together. we win only by getting in right relationship, before we go extinct.

Building Accountable Communities (speech on strategies for ending and recovering from harm)

Harm is an external wound to your wholeness. More than a bump, an accident.

Harm is what convinces us that in this abundant world, we only deserve to survive. Convinces us that material and emotional scarcity is our lot.

My work is very much about returning people to the truth of miraculous abundance. I’m bleeding as I write this – a reminder that miracles are messy, that I am alive and not in charge. Life is a bloody, magical, messy, beautiful gift.

I play with scale – instead of impossibly wide, go satisfyingly deep. Instead of focusing on the whole, getting stagnant in your insignificance, get close in, get dirty. Operate at your OWN scale. and MAYBE grow. If everyone was practicing transformative justice in their own lives, we’d have enough.

The natural world gives us some clues: abundance is healthy. It’s normal to have plenty. But! And! Plenty is relative!

Each species is programmed for the precise amount of sunlight it needs, and how to swallow light. How do we balance between the rich fertility and terror of darkness, the abundant life and dangerous fire of light?

Balance.

Divergence and balance.

And emergence. The complex systems and patterns we long for – the justice and accountability that allows for our whole humanity – it all comes from, is built from, relatively simple interactions.

Calling Black liberation workers into support. Sitting at a kitchen table. Drinking tea. That’s where I invite people into accountability. Not to be friends, not to share joy, not even to be comrades necessarily – but accountable. Accountable to something larger than ourselves.

And nature says: enjoy this. We’ve been given bodies so brilliant that some of us have even reclaimed the pleasure of the whip! in just a few generations. We long to feel satisfied and content. Belonging and dignity.

We are born into another’s hands, we are a species meant to hold and be held. We live on an orgasmic planet, fecund and perfect.

But! can we see ourselves home again after all this harm?

My work is to remind us to imagine, to remind us that we are responsible for shaping the future. And to point us down and all around at our teacher-parent-planet. And to remind us not to sleep through the sensational experience of being alive, the heaven here on earth, the blessing of having a body – an individual and collective body – that can recover, can learn, can remember to love.

Visionary fiction.
Emergent strategy.
Pleasure activism.

Transformative breakups.
Kitchen table mediation.
Boundaries are better than disposal.

Abundant justice.
Liberation.

That is all the miracle I know.

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’)

Beyonce’s Visionary Fiction: Formation

Like many of you, yesterday I was sitting in my house minding my own Black History/Futures Month business when Beyonce did this:

This video.

My first reaction:

“Wow. Thanks to musette Tunde Olaniran for letting me know Beybe gave us something new. There is so much going on here and a lot of it gave me feels (tears…Blue Ivy opening and then that baby boy vs the riot squad??).”

12694529_10156713415620314_1036310145448945242_o

“Overall it reads as Bey slaying (sp) no to govt/popo killing us with no impunity, and I’m absolutely here for it.”

Then I came back to say: “this video keeps on giving. Each viewing there are so many gifts and blessings. Each line is conversational, it is constructed to be used in pieces or as a whole to transform a situation. Spell casting place-based brilliance.”

And this Sunday morning I have watched it several more times, and realized that above and beyond the level of excellence I expect from Beyonce, she is serving visionary fiction here.

But before I even get to the visionary fiction aspects of this work: the references made throughout this video are so satisfying, so uplifting – New Orleans is in the pace, in the lighting, in that black southern mythical witch Marie Laveau finger lickin life and death Sunday church realness. Beyonce rocking her long blond hair preference but meeting haters with braids. Every single outfit, every move, all three perfect seconds of the conqueror Blue Ivy, all of it. Stanned out.

Like, I love that only a chorus separates the middle-fingers-up promise of how she will respond to good sex from the black-bodies-dancing Sunday church spirit catching. Pleasure activism. This is real life.

And then…so visionary fiction, a concept Walidah Imarisha taught me, which we have been popularizing with Octavia’s Brood, centers traditionally marginalized communities, posits change as something that is bottom up and collective, neither utopian nor dystopian. Visionary fiction understands that there is no neutral ground, that art is either advancing or regressing justice.

I think parts of this video (a video which also has non-radical elements, I know, I’m open to that conversation) are as radical a seeding of visionary futures as the lunch counter sit-ins. Stay with me – after the country saw black and white people sitting together at that counter they couldn’t unsee it – it was an option, it was a possibility. It was an aspiration.

In this video, at a point where Beyonce has already taken us from the adorable to the raunchy to the ecstatic, and instructed us to get in formation!!!!, we get to see a riot squad surrender to the body brilliance of a black boy in a hoodie, dancing in the middle of the street.

One day after Trayvon Martin’s birthday. And, as my friend YK Hong points out, one day before Sandra Bland’s birthday.

Then we pan over graffiti which says, in case you are in any way confused: Stop Shooting Us.

Then, a police. car. sinks. into. the. NOLA. waters.

With the Queen Bey as a human sacrifice to keep it down!

I/We cannot unsee these things, they speak so completely to the longing to drown the impulse of white supremacy, of violence against my/our people.

And then, finally, one of the central lyrics is basically a visionary fiction mantra:

I dream it
I work hard
I grind til
I own it

We create from what we can imagine. We are living right now inside the imaginings of people whose mental illness makes them believe they are superior to other human beings. This video is part of the resistance, the new imaginings that we use to pull ourselves towards liberation.

I feel so proud of Beyonce, so moved by director Melina Matsoukas’ vision in action, and just want to say thank you everyone who shaped this incredibly timely work. We needed this, and we need more artists to deliver this kind of flawless politicized work. Art is our public sphere, our culture shaping cauldron. This is a precious black love offering.

Now. Go slay.

things i think i said at eso won books

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

!!!

so here are some thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

packing my octavia butler bag (reflections on the field innovation team boot camp)

i am returning from a gathering that felt like a redirection, or next thrilling iteration, of my life resources.

a few months ago, my friend renna reached out to me because she knew some people who were getting together to design innovative responses in real time to the challenges of disasters.

i have very little background in disaster response, but i do live in detroit, and am as obsessed with apocalypse as the next sci-fi head, and i regularly work with communities who have been devastated by a combination of slow economic disasters and faster natural or manmade ones. so i agreed to go.

and i am so glad i did.

the room was one of the most experientially diverse i have been in in a long time. there were first responders and people who had worked in the disaster response field for years and have published books on it. and then there were veterans, an astronaut, robotics experts, artists, nonprofit leaders, government employees, theater arts facilitators, scientists, writers, designers, makers, hackers, teachers, futurists, technologists with communications tools that made me salivate, gamers.

and me.

we are all volunteers, and most of us have never been part of a disaster response effort. and that is the exactly the point. a few years ago, some people who had been involved in disasters we’ve all watched at a distance or survived – 9/11, katrina, fukushima to name a few – reached out to a team of designers, convinced that there must be more innovative ways to approach the conventional response to disasters. with the design team, they (at the time housed within fema) cultivated a survivor oriented response framework during hurricane sandy. they asked how do we fundamentally transform the experience of survivors? not seeing people as numbers, but as stories, people with futures, sensitive traumatized individuals and communities at a major precipice.

what grew out of this was a project called the field innovation team (FIT). it has spun off from fema to be it’s own project.

it includes a lot of characters and really brilliant people. i met an elder astronaut/pilot with a dry wit that kept me cracking up the whole meeting. i met a man using sci-fi to prototype plans with communities. i met a woman who makes robots that can swim underwater during a tsunami and tell rescue teams where people are, where danger is. i met other people creating robots that can carry supplies and resources to people where there are no/dysfunctional roads, and eventually might be able to lift people out of places where vehicles and helicopters can’t safely reach them. i met technologists envisioning a world where the detritus of natural disasters can be processed through 3D printers to rebuild. i met two facilitators using theater, masterfully, to deepen the relationships of the room, and it felt good to be in their hands. i met techies who are creating communication tools that keep people connected where there is no wi-fi.

i met a safety trainer who told us all to pack our ‘go’ bags – not just for doing this work, but generally to make sure we were ready for the world that exists now, with rapidly changing climate and manmade conditions. what he described putting in that bag made me think of lauren olamina, octavia butler’s perhaps most famous protagonist, packing her bag to survive an unknown future. the whole training placed me firmly in my ongoing question about how we grow in the escalating tension of our times – living on a planet we have abused so thoroughly that she must respond.

i won’t lie – it was a politically complex setting for me. i am used to being in spaces where people generally agree on a set of core values, or at least assume that agreement. in this circle, i could feel the best part of each person there, but knew that many had journeyed corporate, military or government paths on their way to landing in the place of doing survivor-centered disaster innovations. the language was largely foreign to me, i had to ask a lot of basic questions to make sure i understood what was going on, and i was left with so many more questions yet to get answered.

but i felt good that they were excited about my world view. and as i shared what mattered to me, i found that the common thread in the room was not just saving lives, but a passion for community voices being at the center of any response, communities being at the heart of envisioning futures that move us beyond the long-term crisis of inequality as well as the urgency of disaster. i learned a lot more about the resource and legal challenges to handling crises with community direction.

most of the people i talked to agreed that disaster strikes in ways that unveil the social inequalities in a place, in ways that open people up to different pathways than they may have thought possible – it is an opportunity to do what octavia spoke of in the parables: shape change.

i feel like my belief that ‘there are a thousand paths towards justice and liberation’ is alive in this work. from our unchosen starting places, we reached this room, and we were able to hold each other as living intersectional entities between lots of different worlds that need to be not just in coherent conversation, but in flow, if we choose to survive and evolve together on this planet.

over the course of the training, it became clear to me why i, particularly, was there. all the diverse, seemingly random skills i have been developing can be of use for FIT. from my doula training to my somatics training to my sci-fi scholarship to my facilitation and process design work to my auntie skills to my coaching work to my ruckus/allied media conference/detroit learnings. perhaps more than anything else, i can imagine calling on my network of incredible people around the country, dedicated to the local brilliance of their communities.

my vision for my impact as a part of the team is to connect communities i love to resources that enhance local reach in the midst of a crisis. i feel like in most cities in the u.s., i either know (or am one step removed from) a body of local experts – people who love their city, understand it’s dynamics and reactions, understand why people stay there and what could catalyze them to save their own lives, and most importantly, have a long-term vision of justice and growth that can shape the innovations that will work immediately and sustain the right kinds of change over time.

one of the things i have learned in detroit is to seek out opportunity in crisis, and i have come to see this as a foundational emergent strategy. the idea of FIT in and of itself feels deeply aligned with emergent strategy – responding to disaster – unexpected change – in ways that contribute to community resilience long-term.

it is just a beginning, and i have a lot to learn. but i am thinking very, very big again, and it feels magnificent. i am excited to find out who in my network will be amongst the local leaders, healers, doulas, sci fi writers and strategists who will transform the way we as humans respond to crisis.

it feels like sci-fi in practice. and it feels like an invitation you say yes to. i’ll keep reporting back on the experience and lessons. and i hope to hear from those of you either interested in getting involved, or with ideas and feedback on all of it.

now – off to pack my go bag.