that one time in Chicago

how to respond to an invitation from the Obamas

when i was invited i thought it was spam or a mistake. then very coherent emails keep following up.

i looked on the internet and yes, it was true, the Obama Foundation was having a summit on those dates in chicago. i didn’t really have time to go.

but. well. geez.

as y’all may remember, i identify as an American revolutionary who endorsed Obama, twerked on a cop car the night he won, critiqued him with my work, and eight years later thanked him for taking on the impossible job.

also, Michelle. Malia. Sasha.

i am curious about where they go from here with all that sun-kissed we-survived energy. i am curious about whether emergent strategy can help them, without being coopted.

and i was asked to be on a panel about the role of fiction in social change (Octavia’s Brood) moderated by my college friend Courtney Martin, with NY Times bestselling author Angie Thomas. a chance to plant seeds.

i said yes.

how to dress

day 1 i wore see-through black lace, cream tulle, bright lipstick – femme armor; if you are dazzled, you won’t see that i’m shaking.

my friend Sally Kohn saved me a seat at the opening event and basically held my hand through the first hour until my outsider anxiety settled. i centered in my analysis and what i care about, and realized i have enough ground to be able to listen with an open heart.

so much happened so quickly – the Obamas were actually there (i know, duh, but still), they set a no selfies rule (grown folks business! as Oprah says, be 1000% present!). there were amazing speeches (my favorites were Heather McGhee and Anand Giridharadas), and people like Thelma Golden and Lena Waithe and Krista Tippett were just walking around.

how to fall for Lena Waithe

yes Lena is that fine in real life. and gracious. the first time we met i was too shy to interact much, though i did thank her for her existence and she did compliment my look (style icon compliment swoon).

the second time, she sat behind me while Michelle was speaking. now, i didn’t know she was sitting behind me, just that whoever was right behind me was all up in my ear saying “mmhmm, yes, that’s right, preach” at all the same times as i was, and thus we were kindred. so when i turned around and saw that it was Lena, i just hugged her (cue Insecure-style vision of our great love). she smells so right, and deserves this full paragraph of adoration.

how to gala

on the first night there was a big gala style dinner with assigned tables. we all went over there in buses, and it really was like, buses of excellence.

the biggest impression i was left with from the entire summit was that there are so many people who are solution oriented and sane, divergent but in conversation with each other, brilliant people focused on the future. and i have to take Octavia’s lesson (everyone is a potential ally) seriously and understand these brilliant people as potential allies in the work i am passionate about.

and everyone, big speaker and participant, was on the bus.

i rolled over with my new friend Candice, who is part of the Harriet Tubman Collective. we got little cards with our table assignments and headed into the museum. my table number was 46, which i assumed meant somewhere near the back.

in fact it was right up front and center. and when i got there there were several other people all looking at the little cards with our names on the table.

adrienne, Ted, Joel, Whitney.
Uzodinma, Ashley, Kirsten, Roberto.
President Obama.

my internal dialogue at this moment was – “whaaaaaaat?
but do they know who i am? who i serve?
but i’m a post-nationalist revolutionary!
how do i best use this moment to grow our work?
but my whole outfit is see-through!”

and then i heard my nibbling Mairead’s voice in my head saying “my fravorite name, Barack Obama”.

we were all surprised and unable to play it cool, so we sat and bonded with each other a bit until everyone was seated and the Obamas arrived in the midst of the black suited security river that flows around them.

President Obama hits the same intersection of charming, handsome, smart and corny as my father – universally appealing (unless you’re racist, which, go heal…or just can’t with presidents, which i respect). he feels familiar. he and Michelle walk with dignity and ease in their bodies. he talks with long, thoughtful pauses and when he smiles it reaches his eyes. his presidency is behind him, and he seems excited about what is ahead of him.

Michelle was one table over, facing me, and i think we caught eyes and had a moment – but i haven’t been wearing my glasses so i can’t swear by it.

a group called the People’s Supper set the tone and i was really moved by Jennifer Bailey, one of the founders of the group, who shared her family story with deep vulnerability from the dinner stage.

we then had facilitated time (good job Whitney!) to share a bit about our names and how we show up in the world. two minutes to tell the president how i show up in the world? i spoke of magic, miracles, writing, facilitation (it felt good to speak the names of Movement for Black Lives, Black Lives Matter at that table) and love.

Obama gave me a big hug at the end, said he saw the love goddess in me. i felt similarly, that i saw in him, and in Michelle, a great love – for each other, for the nation, for our species. we are walking very different paths, but love guides those paths through the impossible. afterwards i felt grateful to be in practices of complexity.

how to cry about TLC in public

the next day i attended a session on design of the foundation and wrote community benefits agreement all over the pages. there’s no reason not to do one and model that as a best practice for development that serves the people.

then i did my panel and the highlight was Angie, a YA writer whose novel The Hate U Give is slaying the NY Times bestseller list. she told a story about her love of 90s foundational group TLC that made us all gasp and concluded with a big reveal. we had to cue Waterfalls before the panel was over. Courtney was a masterful moderator and we had some truly authentic time together.

how to take a selfie with the president

shortly after that i was sitting in on the fantastic Mia Henry’s session and the president came through to listen, and was asked to say a few words before he left. i honestly don’t know that he said much, but that might be because i was busy snapping this abysmal photo.


i left before the concert, feeling hopeful. i think that was the point.

thank you, barack obama

dear barack obama,

now we have come to the end of your time as the president of the united states of america, the end of your black presidency. let’s just say it – perhaps the end of the world.

i have some things to say to you, but you do not know me, so i shape here a letter or poem out of my feelings instead, and i place it into the wilderness of my computer so perhaps you will feel it somehow.

to begin, i am a blood mutt like anyone else. you and i can point to this and that, and say white, black, brown, complicated, multi, mixed, melanin-blessed, etc. but each story is different, and i did not live yours.

i think we are important, we who are overtly between, raised between, knowing the difference and un-difference, the construct, and the breath inside the construct when someone says ‘die nigger’ to our fathers, to us, or asks where we are from, as a threat.

i am the daughter of a black man who served this country for 30 years. i remember when i learned what the us military did all over the world, our interventions. i was appalled, ashamed – was my own bowl full of blood? i came home and roared at my father. i made of the dining room table a tense wood, and perhaps it has stayed that way, as i have only learned more and more, and my father has not traveled back in time yet to make different choices.

and i love my father, even when i consider what his work was. i loved the child my father had been, what he had survived. i loved what drove him – it was me, it was us. i see this in you, a willingness to engage the horrific because you have daughters, and the world must change. loving one’s children is not promised, but my father did, and he does, no matter what we say to him as we try to make his life fit into our mercurial values.

loving my father prepared me for you, how you have all that lift in your voice. even when your hands are bloody you say, we are doing our best! even when the white man has earned the left hook you say, what’s for dinner?

or you dance.

i told you years ago in another message to the world that i had no misconceptions about the job you were taking on. and now it is done, for better or worse. imperfectly, gracefully, violently, patiently, you have done it.

we can say you have been the president.

we can say you have survived the presidency.

i hope you don’t know what it means to us, that you have survived, or at least that you don’t think of it much.

i feel that, even though you, even though you – ah i told myself i wouldn’t speak here of policies – between you and i there is all this data, like a wall. i cannot see how you could have, you cannot tell me anything at all to convince me otherwise, and my ideas have yet to be tested at scale.

i will say only that you have disappointed me. so many times. this is just the truth, even last night i was crying about the limitations of your legacy, i was lighting a candle for leonard peltier and other prisoners who cannot run from the next administration.

ah! what is it like to hold such specific freedom in your hands and only give it to some?

what is it like to try and end wars, or to have put on god’s shoes and meted out death?

what is like to stay in so many concurrent abusive relationships, to be both abuser and abused?

what is it like to come up against the edges of what you can do? and even the edges of what you can say about what you can do?

and how, tonight, do you prepare for a ceremony to hand your legacy to the villain, the man who has purposefully desecrated your existence at every opportunity?

i don’t understand.
i don’t even want to understand.

and here we can finally get to the thank you i promised long ago, in the title of this very poem, or whatever this is.

thank you for being willing to climb into the mouth of the lion, past the great sharp white teeth and the acidic tongue, up through the steam and mucus, up into the predator brain. willing to see the mechanizations of war, the territorial, jealous madness of our wild young armed beast of a nation, and to sit there, trying to reason.

thank you for reading books, listening to music, hosting concerts and parties and readings, and eating five almonds a night. whispering to her while the water is running, that it is too much, and then turning off the spigot and returning to the spotlight. smiling for the selfies, and the official photos, and the exhausting and ridiculous rituals.

thank you for michelle, and malia, and sasha. it has been so nourishing to watch them shine and grow.

and more than all that, thank you for chasing children through those halls – black children, free children, all the children.

and thank you for bringing artists into that house – black artists, relevant artists…as if you meant it.

so many of the people i most respect spent time in that house, conjuring compelling futures together, with and without you. i think no matter what comes next they have left some good witchcraft, some buried seeds of an impossible nation that continues to breath in, and breath out.

thank you for not walking away, for standing at the crux of knives, for continuing to smile as everything turned gray.

i told other people, which is sometimes how i say my love, but i will say it here as well. i love you more than any radical should ever love a president. you and your whole family. even with my analysis of all the things.

i am so deeply grateful to have had this experience, to have had a black/multiracial/elegant/facilitative/thoughtful/reasonable person/family in the emperor’s chair. it’s still empire, and i am still post-imperialist.

and tonight i light candles for what you did do. for who you were 8 years ago, and who you have become.

thank you.
thank you.
thank you.

pleasure in the age of [insert president elect]

if you are actively working on the election (knocking on doors, calling black voters in the south, talking to voters who feel confused, etc), thank you. remember to eat, shower and drink something other than coffee – at least twice a day. book a massage for november 9.

if you have voted already, or are waiting to vote in person, and know what your choice is (for example in Detroit you know why you are voting yes on Prop A and no on Prop B), and aren’t actively working in the election, but still find it impacting the pleasure potential of your days?

some options:

1a. if ranting and raving at people online makes you feel good, this is the week to indulge. helpful tip – when sharing any of the often terrifying and/or underwhelming news about the womEn running against candidate bump, make your recommendation for what you think people should do in the voting booth. it is more interesting to hear how people navigate the compromises than to pretend there are none.

afterwards we will all be out of the theoretical multiverse and back in some version of the same boat (an ethno-racialized hyper-gendered/abled/class segregated multiverse), so rage against whichever machine most enrages you.

1b. if ranting and raving (your own or others) makes you feel hopeless and miserable, take a social media break. write a book. read a book. i was accidentally offline most of last weekend and i felt my brain instantly nourished by the lack of incoming election-related crises.

1c. i have also curated who i follow right now – mostly checking for people who inspire and inform, with humor and fact checked sources. some favorites: alicia garza, kiese laymon, rebecca solnit, dallas goldtooth, jay smooth, taylor renee aldridge. yours?

2a. have at least one orgasm each and every day. minimum. to paraphrase mae west, an orgasm a day keeps the doctor away AND keeps everything in perspective – no matter what, right now you still have your miraculous body, made up of a complex system of pleasure sensors.

if you don’t have easy access to a lover each day, or if you do but still love the idea of buying new sex toys to use for political purposes, i recommend the womanizer (worth it), magic wand (dependable), wahl (also good for joint massages) or jimmy jane 2. use separately or all together. i’ve also heard positive reviews of the fleshlight, but can’t evangelize from experience…feel free to add your recommendations.

2b. more cuddles and more massages. hold, comfort and release each other.

3. stay hydrated and increase your exercise and mobility. polls show a 100% likelihood that some portion of us will move closer to apocalyptic conditions on nov 8, 2016. get ready!

4. focus on how incredible standing rock/#nodapl and the movement for black lives/#blacklivesmatter continue to be every day in the face of traumatizing and hard work. feel grateful to be alive at a time when you can give time, attention and money to such groundbreaking work.

5. in order to help yourself remember that whatever the outcome, y/our work continues, write a love note to your today-self from your 2020-self about the incredible work you and y/our community accomplish in the next four years.

this might include working on evolutions in the voting system like instant runoff voting so you don’t spend the next election in a fear vise about voting your values.

or not. your future self knows.

6. plan post election community healing spaces, places to notice how we are, knit ourselves back together if need be, hug on each other and focus on breath and laughter.

i will be hosting such events in oakland (11/16, 7pm solespace) and detroit (TBA) (will post events on my page)!

7. if all else fails, google michelle obama speeches (just fast forward through the ‘greatest nation’ parts, because as a reader of this blog i assume your goals for humanity are global survival, abundance and pleasure, not permanent dominance and competition) and revel in black woman magic.

let your pleasure be an act of resistance in this time of terror and distraction. as always, we are almost in the future, and this moment is almost in the past.