napowrimo poem 22: the little seeds learn why things go

write a poem for children.

i imagine this as a little book for my minnesota babies, earth day themed. where there’s an image i see on the page, i’ve shared it before the words that would be written out under the image. the locations are all places around their minnesota that they know and love.

(the pond view in summer – blooms, gardens, dragonflies)
you are the little seeds
you must know why things go
because you will go everywhere

(the babies, hands spread in question)
but why do things go?

(geese taking off from pond)
because bran thinks the geese would be tasty, they go

(bran the dog running with all feet off the ground)
because the world smells so delicious, he goes

(mairead with a crayon in her mouth and mud in her other hand)
because little bunny is learning the world with her mouth, she goes

(siobhan running towards the tree down the yard)
because the princess must climb a higher tree now, she goes

(finn entering the brush)
because there are dinosaurs to seek and name, he goes

(mama waving from the garden with her coworkers and daddy)
because she has to build a garden everywhere, she goes

(daddy with a circle of meditating youth on the lawn)
because all the babies need a calm place to sit, he goes

(papa roger laughing in the sunroom, in viking hat)
because he was very tired after such a good life, he went

(papa on his horse, with finn in front of him)
because he’d saved as many as he could, he went

(the pond view in fall, leaves falling, deer across the way)
everything goes because it cannot stay
the whole world is set up this way
once you know which game to play
you must go on, you can’t delay

(the pond view in winter, with ice skaters and ice fishing)
everything goes because there’s something more
waiting out just beyond the door
once you know what vessels are for
you must push off from the closest shore

(the pond view in spring, muddy and green)
everything goes because the world is wide
finite though, there is no room to hide
cycle, pattern, spiral, tide
the most beautiful seasons unfold inside

(the babies splashing in the mud at sunset)
you are the little seeds
you know why things go
you might just see everything

funny moments with the babies

(wrote this last week but just getting around to posting. yay babies.)

i spent 48 hours being on point with the kids. we had a blast, although i couldn’t quite seem to get them to the bath or get the meals on schedule. i am more lenient with time, the auntie with no set hours.

here are some humorous highlights:

watching the sunrise: siobhan woke up at 6:30 this morning and came to get in bed with me. she lay quietly for one minute, and then said, ‘it’s really dark!’ i told her ‘that is because it’s still nighttime’. she was quiet for another moment. then she sat up and pointed, gleefully, ‘but look!! the light is coming!’

choice: whenever i put on happy feet two, which we happen to have recorded on the dvr thingy, they both scream, ‘i don’t want to watch happy feet!’ if i ignore this, about five minutes later they are transfixed and dancing around to this cautionary climate change musical. want vs need, kids.

on reality: finn is perpetually disappointed in my lack of ability to tell what is real and what is pretend. case in point, finn, siobhan and their grandmother-in-law decorated the house in spiderwebs, spiders and a pumpkinhead scarecrow. all terrifying. when it was time to show off they made me cover my eyes and come with them to see. when i see it all i start giving an oscar worthy performance of fear. finn turns to me and screams at the top of his lungs, ‘IT’S FAKE!!!!!!!’. he then gives me this ice cold glare tinged with disgust.

this helped me later that night when i walked past the window and saw a strange huge man sitting on the porch. the scream caught in my throat as finn’s voice echoed through my head, ‘it’s fake!!!’

bathroom as water cooler: at one point while they were transfixed with happy feet 2, i realized i could go to the bathroom! i got really excited and went in. i closed the door and danced over to the toilet for this alone time. literally as soon as i sat down finn came running in, followed by siobhan, both yelling ‘i have to pee!’ i told them it was my turn, and they both shrugged and began having a polite conversation with each other about the very bathroom itself, with no intentions of leaving until we’d all had our turns. sigh.

dance break: i play music most of the time i am at the house with them. this trip i was playing nina simone, drake, jessie ware, beyonce and emeli sande. i was in the kitchen cooking while the kids played – and i was feeling REALLY excited because we had spent the day not watching tv or movies. suddenly siobhan comes up and says, it’s time to dance! i was amenable, so she ran and got finn, and we had an amazing dance party where we were often holding hands. finn and siobhan took turns directing the dances we were doing. this isn’t really funny, just awesome.

things you have to tell auntie because she doesn’t generally wear pajamas or underwear and thus forgets crucial things: tonight siobhan fell asleep on the couch, and i carried her upstairs to her bed without waking her up, which is an unbelievably sweet and magical advanced act in parenting.

when it was time to take finn upstairs we were both working hard to stay quiet and not wake siobhan up. that looks like finn yelling about how they could run out of water if their local water table goes dry (he JUST turned 5) and me reminding him about his inside voice.

i helped him get in bed, and then in a stage whisper he said, ‘i need underwear!’ i pulled out a pair of outside sweatshorts and he looked at them skeptically. i put them on him and then he looked at me with deep concern. ‘i’d really rather have…underwear.’

once we got the proper situation happening, i kissed him goodnight and told him to let me know if he needed anything. i went back downstairs.

roughly two minutes later finn again stage whispers from the top of the stairs, ‘auntie adjin! remember how you said to tell you if i need anything? i just remembered my dessert part didn’t get full yet!’ finn has determined that his stomach has several parts, which adapt based on the meal. his pancake and pizza parts never get full. lately his cooked vegetable part is very very small. he holds these parts up with his hand opened or closed to express the state of the part.

i laughed and gave him something. on his way back upstairs he stops and says, ‘auntie adjin, i love you.’


storytime: siobhan invited me to sit with her and listen to a story from her notebook. here it is, verbatim: ‘once upon a time, there was a little car (pointing to a car sticker in the middle of an otherwise blank page). and then, it went BUMP! and see, it was in this (pointing to a dark scribble on the next page, also in the middle of an otherwise blank page)! and then there was a big surprise (pointing to a completely blank page). hey! i need my crayons!’ future artist-griot in the house.

choice, part 2: siobhan is a fashionista. it’s not unusual to put socks or a dress on her and then watch her little 3 year old face crumple because ‘it’s not working,’ or ‘it’s not right’. we went to get ready for a walk in the crisp fall outdoors and after three different outfit attempts, siobhan decided that the only thing that worked was a sundress with no leggings and finn’s rain boots. and i daresay she looked fantastic! but clearly underdressed for the weather. finn was wearing shorts with a pair of siobhan’s legwarmers and a sweatshirt. i decided not to fight with them, as we were all a bit done with being inside.

so we get outside and jog to the top of the road. on the way back siobhan turns to me and says, in genuine surprise, ‘i’m freezing!’ i asked why she thought that might be and her face got woeful as she shook her head and said, ‘i just didn’t listen.’ i carried her home under my sweater like a rescued puppy.

with pumpkinhead

the good people

ah, the tender vast space between myself and the good people.

i generally don’t use the terms good, bad, right or wrong with any seriousness. this is an exception. i’m going to use ‘good’ in the simplest sense here, shamelessly, because i was just really good for like 4 days and am thus a bit exhausted. proceed at risk of gross simplification.

i just spent a few days with one of my sisters and her husband. they are ‘good’ people. friendly, brilliant, hardworking, and nice to others because they genuinely want to be.

i, on the other hand, am more of a visitor to the experience of being a ‘good’ person. when it happens i feel like a different self, a self that aligns with what i imagine actually-good people feel like most of the time.

i used to strive for good with virgo zeal. a pedestal-worthy good – selfless and kind and working for justice and honest and hardworking and knowing-how-to-do-things.

in addition to my sister and her husband, i happen to know lots of people who are good in this way most of the time, and still let me come around, so i have reference points and observational wisdom to bear. (my best friend is good!) i sometimes feel like i live in a forest of people on well-earned pedestals who all manage to still be interesting.

i want to document this because i suspect the tipping point of whether humans deserve to continue our existence on this planet is somehow linked to the ways in which we are good. not just good out of some obligation to others, but the good that grows wild because it feels natural and right.

it feels like this:

a) without thinking about it, hours pass in which i make decisions where my concerns are not centered, not even necessarily present.
b) there is something that needs to be done, i do it.
c) if i don’t know how, i figure it out.
d) if there is a best way to do it, i aim for that, even if no one else will know.
e) when the task is done, i don’t sit around feeling proud of it…i look for the next task that must be done.

i can do this for hours, even days.

but so far i can only really do this when i am in auntie mode or, occasionally, in love. with my sister autumn’s family, this good self comes out easily.

i notice it, usually in retrospect, because it’s not how i am usually wired. i find myself having just done a lot of helpful things and just feeling alive and present and happy.

my norm – which fortunately also feels alive and present – involves shamelessly thinking of myself a lot of the time. i don’t know if it is even possible to be good in the way i mean and have a blog. i think deeply about my comfort, my joy, my pleasure, my learning.

i think about what is a fair contribution from me relative to others in terms of effort towards whatever tasks may be at hand. i get bored, my mind wanders. i start writing blogs on being helpful instead of being helpful. even when it comes to chores around my own house i have to turn it into a musical costumed event with wine (‘presenting and i daresay toasting adrienne as domestic goddess’) or i just can’t really apply myself to the task.

when people ask me for help, there is still an inner voice like, ‘do i have to?’ i would rather not be asked to do something good…just let me do it on my own. i like my good acts to be inspired, not obligated (more on this later).

but i also rarely initiate goodness.

and then, when i am good, i usually want thanks or praise for it – see how good i am? is anyone watching me be good here? cause otherwise i would rather be watching louis or archer.

i accept and love who i am. i share an astrological sign with mother teresa, so this acceptance has been a journey. but i would love to be a more generally good person. so i am really interested in what has pierced my self-orientation here in my mid-30s.

(i’m dramatizing, i am. i hope.)

but when i land in rural minnesota for my monthly visit and move into the rhythms of that two-full-time-job-three-kid having household, my good self emerges. my source of joy shifts outside myself. being helpful, doing what’s needed, being present with the babies, all of this suddenly becomes enough for a life. janelle monae starts singing ‘to be victorious, you must find glory in the little things,’ and it feels like it could sustain me indefinitely.

what i know as clearly as i know the ‘good’ feeling is that part of how i can be so good this one week of each month is that i leave. i don’t have the capacity yet to be that good all the time. i visit good, then go home and go about my life being…not bad, but more just thoughtfully middling.

as i mentioned earlier, i don’t really do anything out of obligation. i tried being good out of obligation for much of my 20s and it was a mess – everyone within silent-resentment range of me could feel me suffering the sacrifices.

but the good i get to visit now is magnificent in part because when i am in it, i am doing the only thing i could even imagine wanting to do in that moment. it feels like an appropriate use of the miracle of my life.

i am in a real exploration of how to bring this passionate goodness into the rest of my life, with people over the age of 5 and not related to me, in places that don’t look and smell like rural fairy forest heaven.

because it feels like life force in my body, and why humans are here – to be living embodiments of love. to be good.

i would love to hear experiences others have with being good – when does it happen, who inspires it, where and why, and how is it sustained?

it is a simple thing, but it might just be everything.

5 years

five years ago my life changed. it was dramatic, and it wasn’t.

my nephew was being born 3000 miles away from me. i reached out to see if i should come, if i was needed. my laboring sister and my emotionally brilliant mother gently held me off. i heard about his birth in a phone call, everyone breathless and overjoyed.

a week later, i flew out to meet him. when i held him in my arms those particular tears came into my eyes, the kind that indicate the bonding of fates. i felt joy beyond words, beyond sounds. holding him felt purposeful, and i sang him sam cooke songs in the darkness, and couldn’t take my eyes off of him all day.

i fell in love, immediately and thoroughly and unconditionally.

actually, maybe more precisely, i learned another realm of love was possible. i understood with more humility the way my parents love me. that love isn’t rooted in debt and discipline, but unparalleled opening. an opening to another human being, full of immense pleasure, with a guarantee of pain.

and discomfort, sacrifice, tension, exhaustion, laughter, delight, learning, breakthroughs.

i understood why i wasn’t invited to be near that birth – i was addicted to my work, surviving my non-profit leader life, surrounded by brilliant people who i preferenced over my family with my attention. i spent much of our family time on my phone or computer being an important person, and then drinking or getting high for the wrong reasons – to escape from the overwhelming to-do list i was managing. i wasn’t happy, i wasn’t healthy. i felt like a victim of my life.

it slowly occurred to me, over years, that something else was possible, and that a way to measure that was in how i showed up as a daughter, as a sister, and in my relationships.

in the past five years i have transitioned my life towards the sort of happiness i want to model for these babies – the full realization of my potential. not safe, but liberated. not stable, but abundant. not perfect, but practicing. which for me looks like being an auntie, facilitator, sci-fi scholar, writer, creator, with space for the spontaneous and unknown and ever changing.

i have learned the path of a doula and applied the lessons to the birth of my sister’s youngest child, as well as my facilitation work.

if i am on the phone or computer now during family time, they know it’s for love or creating. i have a sangha of people i am in practice with, being vulnerable, landing in my body, loving.

these babies fill me up – i know they give me the spiritual energy to return to detroit during this bankrupt time feeling generative, creative, still seeing the love and future in the complexity and hardship.

i may be less important in the political world…there is, blissfully, almost nothing urgent in my life these days. but i am very important in a little house in central minnesota. and i have the same conversations (food and environmental justice, gender presentation, health, power dynamics, race, detroit’s future, love, etc) at a different scale.

i have both learned and remembered how to love by loving finn, and then siobhan, and then mairead. i am still learning to turn that tenderness, patience, unconditionality and passion towards my own heart, my own development.

getting to be in their lives, especially at the abundant level my sister and brother-in-law have granted me, floods me with gratitude.

yesterday finn turned five.

so did i.

stories from omega

omega retreat center in ny’s hudson valley has been the location for some pivotal moments in my life. here are a few stories:

10 years ago: i’m here for early meetings of the league of young voters. we’re working on a book, hundreds of printed out pages in stacks around the room for editing. several of us are experiencing culture shock at the rural health culture of this place. two brave members of our group take a canoe out onto the lake and get stuck, while others map out where to smoke and get burgers in the onslaught of healthy air and vegetarian food. we all dash to the nearest bathroom often. there’s no where to dash away from the other aspects of culture shock – strangers smiling at me, being out in nature with no access to technology. we believe we have a sacred call to intervene against the bush administration on behalf of our communities.

9 years ago: after hours of nervousness, i give a speech on weaving together electoral, community organizing and business strategies at the social venture network gathering. it is a dynamic and breathless moment, even for me…a standing ovation moment. i surprise myself with the energy moving through me. i can’t focus on any face in the crowd but feel the energy as a whole swelling. is that hope? i don’t know it yet but several people in the audience that night are from my future.

the next day i sneak off with a new friend for a joint in the parking lot. he makes me laugh harder than anyone else i know, and he inspires me with his radical commitment to action. his name is john sellers. he doesn’t ask me to compromise my values, he makes demands. a year after this i join his board. within two years i am executive director of the organization he had held and shaped for a decade – the ruckus society. this will be the practice ground where i learn to walk my ideas of collaborative leadership and organizational development.

6 years ago: i join a circle of people who were discussing governance models for intentional communities. one of them was with me years before, in my nervousness, in my speech. i am skeptical because – what do i know about intentional community? and why are they all crying and opening up so much? within three days i will be in love with these people and call them family, the people of common fire. they carry the radical vision i associate with the zapatistas, with all who reject the mainstream society and choose to live their values in the current moment.

5 years ago: i’m returning as a board member of common fire, my fourth (or fifth) board commitment. knowing these two founders, kavitha rao and jeff golden, is changing my life, making me think about where and how i live, the resources i use, what i eat, my war tax resistance, and particularly the skill of how to be vulnerable with other people for the sake of sharing my life. this time they have a newborn baby, samiha, and she lives on the soft shelf of my breasts the whole meeting. my partner is recording drafts of their shapeshifters album in a studio magicked together with a lamp stand, microphone and some towels.

yesterday: i’m holding my blue eyed mixed race niece on my lap, talking with friends about the ‘luxury item timeshare system’ from the utopia in woman on the edge of time. a woman comes up too close to mairead’s face, saying how beautiful she is. she doesn’t speak to me but to her credit i am ignoring her, continuing my story. this trip i am more aware of the white-people-seeking-enlightenment pattern of this and other retreat centers, full of beautiful intention and sloppy mid-transformation interactions. she then asks my friend sean, a tall redhead, if he’s the father. she completely ignores my sister, sitting on the other side of sean, and explicitly doesn’t see the baby autumn is holding. that baby is our friends’ newborn, a gorgeous black baby girl. the woman moves past them as if they don’t exist. anger, hurt, exhaustion…i work through to generate compassion for that woman, who has not yet learned to see so much beauty. i wonder what i still don’t see.

today: i finished facilitating the common fire board through a beautiful transition retreat. i moved off the board two years ago, along with any of the other boards or national roles which so enticed me a decade ago. my sister autumn is now a part of the board, which means my niece mairead is the newborn baby on my shelf. babies are a major part of my spiritual and political work these days. common fire is thinking within and beyond non-profits as the form for transformative movement building. the integrity and self-awareness i experience with this circle is still refreshing, even when the lessons they have to share are learned in hard ways. its powerful to see a vision at four years old, six years old, a decade old…to watch children come into the world and grow up in the container of a shared vision.

i wonder about the spiritual paths that call to us, and why so many do their spiritual work outside of political commitment. i wonder how the workers here feel about their workloads, their power and access to the offerings here. i balk a bit at the cost of things sold here, from massages to yoga pants to workshops. i notice the small details of beauty everywhere. i finally find the laundromat.

i feel how much can shift in a decade, strategically, contextually, personally.

i’m sure i’ll be back again.

the other intimacies

I have been learning and remembering other intimacies. Perhaps even collecting.

I am fascinated by those instances when you can feel the fabric of the universe between you and another being fall away or bunch together, bringing you magnificently undeniably closer.

What is chosen at that moment is a talisman of the whole being, of the present moment, of all existence. Do you run? Make a joke? Serious your gaze? Bite your lip & bat your eyes like a teenager aspiring to Hepburn?

Or do you lean into the intimacy of being your actual self in the actual moment, raw uncut live present?

Here are some of the other intimacies I’ve noticed:

– sustained eye contact with a baby or child. There’s no where to go & nothing to hide, but a massive amount to aspire to.

– being vulnerable about your limitation(s) with those who pay you.

– crying. Not constantly or regularly, but uncontrollably and inconsolably. Crying from the root because you are thirsty.

– loving people you do not like.

– a baby or a child pressed up against you knowing you are their safety. The way the..soul? Divine inner being? Mama warrior?…steps to this task, oh it is so beautiful to be alive in that moment.

– to be a child/relation to someone you can support/help/serve – and you want to. From compassion.

– to return to one who has wronged you, knowing their darkness, knowing they know what hurts you, both of you looking in each other’s eyes again.

– to recognize a stranger and smell on each other, hear in each other, something kindred. To let that be, and smile on it, rain on a rosebud, unafraid to open.

I am still noticing. Have you seen others?