in case it helps / bell hooks asé

hi beloved blog readers

i haven’t been writing here as often. i am writing so much, in so many places, but i haven’t forgotten you – i come here when i want to share something more tender than social media, more precise than a podcast, more intimate than an essay.

what i want to share with you today is that this year nearly took me out. it didn’t, i am still here. but the simplest truth is that i have been struggling. i am tethered by a close circle, and a set of small, repeated practices to keep moving through the days. i want to share, in case it helps. especially to those who follow emergent strategy and pleasure activism and maybe think i have it all together: i don’t. as far as i can see, no one does, nor is that a reasonable goal in this moment.

we are living, and this falling apart, stumbling, flying and feeling is how we live right up until the last moment.

i didn’t realize i was struggling until i was in the danger zone. i am a highly competent person just trying to live a good life, but it felt like those humbling moments when i have wanted to go for a swim in the ocean and couldn’t get past the break, instead getting pummeled by each wave, unable to find a rhythm, salt in my throat and eyes.

and of course, because i am me, i wasn’t trying to just solo swim, but to simultaneously teach others about swimming, call out tips on how to best navigate tumult, and occasionally save others from the breaking waves of loss, the encroaching trials of our bodies, the betrayals of our inner plans for forever.

which was hard, because i was upside down with sand up my nose trying to figure out where the shore went.

it wasn’t until someone dear snatched me out of the path of the next monster wave that i realized i was in trouble. i wasn’t swimming, i was flailing; i wasn’t really helping anyone, i was just wearing myself out trying to avoid my own big feelings. and i was in danger.

the moment i had a breath in my lungs i started crying and couldn’t stop. for days. for weeks. i kept trying to explain why, and the why was a tsunami that never ended, every pain that had poured into me, every loss, every disappointment, every fear, everything i had unconsciously been smoothing over as less important than what others were holding. it came out in a wall of weeping.

i am sitting on a metaphorical sand dune now, still catching my breath. the tears come less frequently, with much more ease. the breaths are deeper. the ocean does not look like a menace.

i have been meditating, centering, doing sun salutations and swimming every day.

i have let people who lean on me know i am rickety right now. more than rickety…i am the wave moving over and through myself. my heart overflows with grief and despair, and all my friends and healers agree that it makes sense to feel this way at this moment in history (i still need that kind of logic-based affirmation). i am, we are, suspended between pandemic and climate crisis and sharing the planet with so many death cultists. it hurts. it is ok to be overwhelmed during an overwhelming time.

i have surrendered to my emotional self, putting down the labor of repression and containment. i am taking a break from social media, so that the nonstop incoming crises are my own, or are happening in the lives of people i know. i turned off notifications on my phone for everyone that isn’t family/inner circle. i look when i have capacity. i trust that the news of the day will come from people who love me. i am growing my spiritual capacity to be with the griefs of my own life.

in the past two months there have been five six seven eight deaths that impacted my life, including that of bell hooks, which i learned about from my beloved friend toshi reagon as i was finishing up this writing.

when the big hits come, all that new and unexpected grief pouring into my overflowing heart, i have a small and sacred ritual i want to share with y’all, in case it helps.

first i sit with the true emotion – shock, tears, denial, anger, absence.

for bell hooks, i had a long cry of deep gratitude.

then i let the memories come, and i say them aloud.

when i met bell hooks, she delighted me so much that i couldn’t linger in the fangirl realm. i got to thank her for the permission to write my name the way i wanted to, to attempt to center my work over my recognition. i got to thank her for reshaping feminism. the fire in her eyes was that of someone willing to stand in her truth, uncompromising. i learned so much from her writing, her thinking, her critical mind. because of her i have restructured my life to be a writer who is able to read voraciously.

i light a candle for the transition, the journey my loved one is on, the path i have not yet traveled.

the candle for bell hooks joins the greg tate candle, and all the burnt down candles of dead friends and family on our ancestor altar.

if there is material support needed for the funeral or family, i make the donation with tears drying on my face, letting the felt sense of impermanence guide my giving.

finally, i gather with other grievers – telling stories over the phone and on text threads, sending messages with memories to those who i know also grieve, lingering phone calls where we tell the stories and honor the impacts. what i used to love most about funerals, the laughter of both honest and embellished stories, i now mostly do in a nonlinear and immediate way.

there is no sentence that can sum up or quantify everything bell hooks taught me. all about love alone gave me the keys to open my own heart. but i think that is the highest honor i can pay to her life, that her impact is beyond measure or expression.

so.

if you are feeling more than you can contain, i just want to say yes to that.

if you need to cry, yes.

if you can’t cry, it doesn’t mean you aren’t feeling. my therapist reminds me that even when we sit perfectly still, our hearts beat and our blood rushes through our veins – emotion is that kind of underground river.

if you know the feels are there but are struggling to let them move through, or if you don’t have people nearby who can hold you the way you need, write yourself a letter of compassion and permission to survive. if you tell no one else, at least be honest with yourself about what you are holding, and affirm to yourself that it is ok to feel overwhelmed by an overwhelming time.

if it’s all kind of breathless and messy and you can’t clean it up, or make it more palatable, or put any mask on other than the one marked oxygen – breathe. anything that matters will keep until you catch your breath.

if you need to land in yourself a bit more, take a break from social media. increase time spent in meditation and in the body.

if you need to ask for help, ask as if there is enough love and care in the universe for your needs to be met. ‘everyone needs more than anyone has to give right now,’ but also ‘no one can fill those of your needs that you won’t let show.’ i suspect the future will be shaped by all that we are feeling in the present. i believe that asking each other for help is self-love, and answering honestly is self-love, and giving what we can is community love. and love is what will reshape the pattern of humanity. even through the tears, i know that.

special shout out to the close circle. i am because you are.

Author: Adrienne

VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22): Your uprising against the forces of darkness has got to do more than say "no." A fierce, primal yes should be at the heart of your crusade. (rob brezny, long ago)

22 thoughts on “in case it helps / bell hooks asé”

  1. I am glad someone is looking out for you. This year has been rough in a different way than 2020, but still rough.

  2. Oh beloved Adrienne. Even here, even now, even in this pain, that you have so astutely described, even now, you have stretched your broken heart to guide others through this time too. I am continually grateful to be alive in a time where you exist (and reply and like comments ? fangirl moments) I will be keeping your name in my prayers for protection and peace of heart. And I promise you will come through the other side. This will pass. This exact time 2 years ago, I was there too. The crying wouldn’t stop. Every day. For 6,7,8 months, the grief, the pain, mine, the world’s, it felt like my skin had been ripped off and I was feeling it all. I am still shocked to this day that I made it through. All of the love that you have put out into the world since you arrived on this planet will be coming back to you to carry you through this time. Your close circle and the ripple circles you’ve created, will continue to hold you no matter what. All storms come to an end. Go gently and thank you for these words and your sharing about meeting bell. I have huge love and deep gratitude for you and to you both. Take good care and know the universe loves you Xx

  3. I love you and I hope to meet you someday soon. Thank you for the truth and the deep goodness.

  4. Thank you. Deeply. From bell hooks to you to all of us, the language of love is alive. Thank you for the remembering.

  5. It does. Thank you. I hope you continue to take as long as you need to to fill your own cup first.

  6. This writing was read at my church this AM and it SO hit home! 4 losses in 3 months, including my mother, and I can’t stop crying. Thank God for my therapist. Looking at going back to a grief group or a day treatment program and trying to realize that it’s not a failure to do either for a third time. And looking forward to reading more of what you’ve written.

  7. Hey there, comrade. I’ve revisited this post more times than I can likely share. Thank you so much for your vulnerability and honesty. Your words are prophetic, as usual. Our recent cohort of Emotional CPR practitioners really resonated with your sharing. Thank you for bearing open your soul so that we can all be connected in healing. So grateful for your work and your witness.

  8. It’s hard to express how deeply felt these words are. I feel the same: I am unfolding slowly and painfully this year. I have beoth been needing and resenting help. Deep anger and tears come up around and through me like that writhing ocean, in which we’re barely afloat.
    I am also becoming a writer. Which is the coolest and most terrifying thing. And I’m in that very green phase where I need to stop shaming myself for not being perfect and soak up as many words of my peers and predecessors as I can.
    You wrote here what I have tried and failed to write. You expressed with grace and clarity what I clutched in my very core but could not describe.
    I was just an Instagram fan. Someone who regularly applauded the honest, sometimes savage humor of your many slides. I didn’t know about bell hooks. I didn’t know how much I need her and you until this week. Thank you for taking the time to feel your feelings and take good care of yourself and write this. You are truly felt and heard. You are truly appreciated. Your words are changing people, turning faces toward hearts. Thank you again.

  9. “I don’t think you can hate anything that you know intimately. There is no fine line separating love from hate because there’s a deep chasm separating love from hate.”

    –bell hooks

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