It's time for a cheesy reader appreciation post. So if receiving appreciations makes you squirm, you've been warned. And if you enjoy reading about how awesome you are, then please, read on.
I've been blogging for over two years now, and I am just full of gratitude for everyone who reads what I write here. That includes newcomers just stumbling by, as well as everyone who's been with me since the beginning
, and all of you who joined this journey somewhere in the middle.
You've read while I rant and ramble about anything remotely related to the arts and social change, everything from the big picture of justice work
to the smaller frame of the happenings around me
to the most intimate inner workings within my own body
. You've read my self-indulgent posts about my own readings and my fangirl raves about the artists whose work I admire. You've read while my blog has shifted focus, as I grow in my own healing work and learn more about how that growth connects with nurturing my world. This blog, which
began as a somewhat random, experimental project, has become very important to me. As an outlet for writing about many of the subjects I hold closest to my heart, this blog reminds me that I deserve to have time and space for what matters to me most. And knowing you're reading reminds me that I'm not alone in caring about transforming injustice into liberation through creativity.I'm feeling especially thankful for my readers these days, since I've been posting on a somewhat slow, irregular schedule lately. And yet, every time I think you must have all given up on me, I come back to find so many people still visiting this site, and apparently sharing it, too, with more folks reading now than ever before. This is the time of year when I tend to slow down a bit on new posts. This year should be no different, as I'm currently in the process of finishing the third semester of my MFA program,
as well as moving to a new city (still in the Bay Area, don't worry), and keeping up with work and the other details of my life. So new posts might be a bit sparse for the time being, but I want you to know that I'm thinking of you.
Your comments and emails help me find hope and remember the power of community, as I'm never alone in the fight for change, no matter how far my fellow warriors are from me. So feel free to speak up in comments or messages, even on old posts, even just to disagree with me and start a discussion, or even just to share your own work with me so that I don't feel like the only self-indulgent one around. I'd love to hear from you, for many reasons, but mostly because, as I said before, you are awesome. And not just because you read my blog. Mostly because, in your own unique way, your life is art. And your art is helping to change the world. Thank you for reading!
Want to change the world? Join a non-profit agency! At an organization full of compassionate visionaries dedicated to making the world a better place, nothing could possibly go wrong – right?
Okay, so nobody’s perfect, and no non-profit is the perfect agent for change. As you may know, some aspects of non-profits can be stressful, challenging, and even counter-productive to the ultimate goals of social change work. And that can be hard for me to hold, knowing that even people with the best intentions can contribute to creating obstacles in the way of true liberation.
Luckily, we now have some courageous folks to help us name what goes on in the wacky world of non-profits, through a new activist-artist group called Peacock Rebellion. And they’re doing it all with fun and sass, as well as a deep sense of hope in the power of true activism.
Peacock Rebellion is centered around queer and trans people of color, and the artists craft their work through lenses of intersectionality, interconnection, interdependence and transnationalism. These artists aren’t afraid to speak the truth about the dangers of a non-profit industrial complex that upholds problematic patterns and stifles activists' dreams.
The truth is, we don’t have to accept the problems of the non-profit world, even with the best intentions. As Peacock Rebellion founder Manish Vaidya says, “we can dream bigger.”
Our big dreams take center stage at Agen(c)y: Nonprofit Dreams + Disaster
, Peacock Rebellion’s first cabaret. Twelve queer and trans people of color use comedy, film, burlesque and more to critique the current state of social change, and to share their freedom dreams. The tremendously talented performers include Lambda Literary Award winner Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Deep Dickollective founder Juba Kalamka, and Mia McKenzie, of the revolutionary blog Black Girl Dangerous. In addition to the all-star performers and curators (Maya Chapina and Manish Vaidya), there’s an all-star line up of sponsors: INCITE, Mangos with Chili, POOR Magazine/Prensa POBRE, Queer Rebels, and QWOCMAP. In other words, a whole lot of fierceness has gone into this show.
Agen(c)y: Nonprofit Dreams + Disaster premiered last night to a packed house at La Peña Cultural Center, and tonight’s show is nearly sold out, so it may be too late to see it on this run. But don’t worry! We’ll be seeing much more of Peacock Rebellion’s amazing work. To find out more, you can visit their website
or their Facebook page
, and to offer your support, visit the Indiegogo page
Women prisoners have been on my mind all week.
Maybe it's because it's now October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month
. And there's a tragic connection
between violence against women and the incarceration of women. The vast majority of incarcerated women have experienced violence throughout their lives, and many of them are serving time in prison for the very acts of self-defense that they had to use to stay alive. So when I think of raising awareness about domestic violence, I have to consider the ways we might shatter the myth that women's prisons are full of villains who deserve to be locked up – No. Women's prisons are full of survivors, who deserve freedom from the violence in their lives. So today, my Friday Friends are the fierce women of Fired Up! Fired Up! is
"a grassroots network of people who have been or are currently, behind the walls of SF County Jail building community with others who are committed to breaking down the barriers those walls produce." Every week, the Fired Up! women gather to grow together, heal together, and share the strength it takes to survive the system that continues to traumatize and dehumanize them.
I know from personal experience that the vibrant energy of this community of women can add a dash of hope to a dreary place. A few weeks ago, they invited a co-worker and I to visit the group as guests from CUAV, and even within the jail's cold, concrete walls, we found laughter, joy, and the undeniable spirit of resiliency. Visit the Fired Up! blog
to read more about what happened when CUAV and Fired Up! joined forces. You can also help celebrate the one-year anniversary of Fired Up! at a screening of the film Still Time, which tells the story of
LaKeisha Burton as she rebuilds her life after twenty years in prison. That screening will take place on October 20, and it will include snacks, a raffle, and a discussion with the filmmaker and with LaKeisha. You can find details about the event on the Fired Up! blog
as well. Fired Up! meetings began
with members of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP). To learn more about incarcerated women and how you can support the vision of liberation and healing from violence, visit the CCWP website
And if you have twenty minutes to spare, watch "Strength of a Woman" below. It's a documentary "created by the Violence Against Women Committee of the Coalition For Women Prisoners and filmmaker Allison Caviness about the experiences, resilience, and strength of formerly incarcerated domestic violence survivors and the devastating impact that the criminal justice system can have on women's lives." These are heartbreaking stories, but the fact that someone is telling them offers some hope for change.
This is a strange edition of Friday Friends. Usually, I use these posts to highlight a blog I like, or a literary hero of mine, or an organization doing important work. Today's Friday Friend is Nina Simone - not a particular interpretation or recreation of Nina Simone's work, but Nina Simone herself. Because some stories just need to speak for themselves. As a singer, songwriter, pianist, and civil rights activist,
Nina Simone made an unforgettable impact on the world. Personally, I have her to thank for helping me feel permission to love me for me. Her incredible sense of self-respect was nothing less than a fiercely radical act of courage, when she faced racism that said she wasn't good enough, and colorism that would call her anything but beautiful. Like me, Nina Simone looked in the mirror to see dark skin and big features, so like me, she had to see past the messages that attach the word "ugly"
to such features. Hers is a story that can teach us about true beauty, the kind that emanates from a spirit of self-love.
Now, Nina Simone's life is being adapted into a story as told by Hollywood, the source of so many of our messages about beauty. In Hollywood, beauty means lighter skin and smaller features, so in order for our Nina to be a Hollywood hero, she will be played by Zoe Saldana. She will be a romantic lead, because no leading lady is complete without the company of a leading man - never mind that the man in this story, her assistant Clifford Henderson, was, in fact, gay. And she will give us hope, with an altered happy ending - isn't it inspiring to know that every dark-skinned woman could someday be immortalized onscreen as a light-skinned woman? Perhaps there's hope for beauty after all.
Don't get me wrong - I do think Zoe Saldana is a beautiful woman, and for all I know, she could pull off the role very well, as far as the acting goes. And I'm not one to try to challenge someone's Black Card - her more mainstream features don't make her any less black than Nina Simone. So why does it matter if her skin is the right shade for the role? Because, unfortunately, choosing someone whose experience of blackness is so far from the challenges Nina faced follows a predictable Hollywood pattern
reinforcing hurtful messages about what it means to be beautiful. It's very rare to see this happen in reverse - a dark-skinned actress picked to portray someone who was much lighter. Instead, those who don't fit Hollywood standards of beauty must be replaced. And why? Will audiences relate more to someone who is thinner and more conventionally gorgeous
than the average woman? Will we learn not to let history repeat itself, to avoid underestimating the power of a dark-skinned woman, when we see her depicted as a light-skinned woman? Nina Simone's daughter has spoken up about the movie plans, sharing that the project is unauthorized, and giving clarification about her mother's platonic relationship with the film's "romantic" lead.
She also speaks about her mother's unseen beauty, her intelligence, and her revolutionary spirit. All of which could have an indelible impact if it were captured on the big screen. So I prefer to leave Nina's story as told by Nina, through her music, her soul, and her vision for justice. We don't need to rewrite lives, alter people's appearance and sexualities
, and ignore their truths in order to tell their stories. Nina Simone had no shame in who she was. We can respect her enough to know that she doesn't need to live up to Hollywood standards to be beautiful. I've posted this video a couple of times before, but it's always worth re-posting. Here's Nina Simone singing the words of William Waring Cuney's poem "No Images."
How strange, this business of writing.
On one hand, it's very personal for me. It's just me and the page, journeying through thoughts and memories that exist nowhere else but within my own mind. You may have noticed that lately my blog has focused a lot on my emotions and my healing, and my creative writing has also been taking an inward turn. I've been looking at the possibility of social change through the lens of inner change, exploring how tending to my needs as a survivor connects with creating the change necessary to counteract the broader impact of oppression.
And on the other hand, writing can be all about connection. It's an odd combination of stories both personal and shared, as the words that once hid in my darkest places make their way into the daylight for anyone listening to hear.
Like so many others, I began my day today with the impact of violence weighing on my heart, as I woke to news reports of the mass shooting in Colorado
. I'm praying for the victims and the survivors. I'm thinking about what it means to witness and survive violence, as so many of us in oppressed communities do each day, as we watch others fall to the violence we face.
In moments like these, I feel the need for connection. If only to know that others are surviving, and to learn how they're doing so. So today I'm turning to Dangerous Sweetness
, "an online collection of poems by queer & trans* poets responding with love & rage to the violence committed against those in their queer & trans* communities." It's a powerful, meaningful, necessary collection of words by remarkable artists, including some I've been honored to connect with personally. Poet Meg Day, whose work I've shared on this blog before,
writes of her need to collect these poems for those who have lost lives and livelihoods to violence, including those whose stories we haven't seen in the news, saying, "We honor them with our grief, our fury, our love, our words, & our lives."
There's something about connecting in this way that offers a glimmer of hope on dark days. This post was supposed to be about Bitchez Brew Revue
, the event where I'm reading tomorrow. Obviously, today's news of violence took my thoughts in a different direction, but this feels like an appropriate time to reflect on what connection means to me. Tomorrow, as I share some of my most personal poems with a crowd mixed with friends and strangers, I'll be thinking about what it means to share those stories that once were secrets, and are now acts of resistance against the forces that bring suffering. Event details:
Bitchez Brew RevueJuly 21, 20127:00 pm Awaken Cafe
1429 Broadway, OaklandFeaturing MG Roberts, Sean Labrador y Manzano, Cassandra Dallett, John Panzer, Jason Scheinheit, and Maisha Z. Johnson, with music by Brooke D.
Here's today's song for survival - Asha Ali's "In This World."
Warning: this isn't a proper blog post. It's not something from a real professional writer, the kind who has something profound to say after spending the last week and a half soaking up the brilliance of the likes of Leslie Adrienne Miller, Bonnie Jo Campbell, and guest speaker Charles Johnson. I'm not pretending to be that person. I'm seeking the essential me-ness
, so this is a blog post from the real me. This is a blog post about kittens. As we near the end of the Pacific University MFA residency,
I'm trying to decide on a defining moment for this experience. And it's not the moment when Joseph Millar, Dorianne Laux and Ellen Bass shared what they learned from reading Lucille Clifton. It's not when Kwame Dawes read his poems, or when he read the work of Audre Lorde and Langston Hughes, two poets whose words
are tattooed on my body
. It's not
even when Marvin Bell used one of my poems to illustrate the points he made about poetic strategies.
These were all incredible moments that will remain with me, undoubtedly, but if I had to choose just one moment of all of those that are sticking out in my mind, this would be it: Standing on the corner of the farmer's market in Forest Grove, holding in my arms one of the kittens from the free kitten box I've just come across, as Ellen Bass rubs his tiny head and we giggle over his absurd adorableness. I know, I'm ridiculous. That moment had nothing to do with the residency. But to me, in a way, it had everything to do with why I choose to be here. I choose this moment not simply because
I'm crazy about animals, although it's true that I am, and not just because I have immense admiration for Ellen Bass, though that's true, too. I choose this moment because Ellen and I weren't standing apart as student and teacher, or as emerging poet and established poet. We stood together, no expectations between us, just united by our appreciation for cute creatures, a real, down-to-earth, essential part of who we are, not just as poets or lovers of the written word, but as people.These are the moments that make my MFA experience so unforgettable. I am just deliciously delighted to say that Ellen Bass is my advisor for this
semester, which means that from now until January, I'll be working with her one on one to craft an essay and continue to grow in my poetry. I just adore Ellen, as a person and as a poet. She writes the loveliest poems about some of the subjects I care about most, including love between women, healing from trauma, and spirituality. And I've already worked with her in workshop so I know that she "gets" me, and really supports my poetic vision. And kittens. She also shares my love of kittens. She understood my longing
as I reluctantly faced the truth that the kitten in my arms couldn't come home with me. But before I put him down, we all shared a moment - Ellen, the nameless black kitten, and I. And though it may seem silly, in that moment I knew that Ellen Bass understood an essential part of me. Watch this clip of Ellen reading her sweet, funny poem
"Bone of My Bone and Flesh of My Flesh." You can visit her website
I feel so lucky for the chance to work with Kwame Dawes
at Pacific University. He's one of my wonderful workshop leaders at this residency
(along with Ellen Bass
), and I'm also going to get to work with him one-on-one throughout the semester as he serves as my faculty advisor. I am, to say the least, thrilled. He gave an incredibly moving reading last night, and after hearing him and the amazing Patricia Smith, I spent the evening in a giddy poetry nerd trance. It was almost too much. What's a girl supposed to do with all that inspiration?
I'm working hard on the answer. But my time here at the residency isn't nearly the extent of my admiration for Kwame Dawes. Earlier this month was Caribbean American HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, and as you may know, both the Caribbean and HIV prevention are passionate topics for me.
This is why I adore Dawes' Emmy awarding-winning website, LiveHopeLove.com
, which draws attention
to the HIV/AIDS crisis in Dawes' home country of Jamaica. Kwame Dawes' remarkable poetry sheds light on the lives of those who are living in Jamaica with hope, love and HIV. Visit the website for the full experience of LiveHopeLove. Here's a glimpse of it, with Kwame reading his words among images of Joshua Cogan's photography. Also, this Monday, June 27th, is National HIV Testing Day. Will you participate?
Can the way we move change the world around us? In a way, it must be true. Our bodies make footsteps in dirt, ripples in water and breezes in the air. We can tear each other down. We can lift each other up.
Watching Sheena Johnson
move, I am reminded of the power we have within our bodies. Her performance at Queer Rebellion during Safetyfest
left me in awe of the wave of inspiration she could send out through her body. Now, her story continues to inspire, as she's been accepted to attend the Summer Leadership Institute
lead by Urban Bush Women to study dance as a tool for social justice. Read more here
. Next Friday, June 3rd, I'll have the pleasure of sharing the stage with Sheena again at the First Friday Performance Salon
in Oakland. The event will help Sheena raise her fundraising goal, and other performers include Oluyemi and Ijeoma Thomas of Positive Knowledge, Valerie Troutt and more. It'll take place from 6-9 pm at the Joyce Gordon Gallery
near 12th St BART in Oakland. I'd love to see you there, and if you can't attend, you can still make an online donation in support of Sheena Johnson's work.
I can't wait to help move Sheena forward, and watch the change her body creates.
I am so damn lucky to live in a place where I can be inspired by the folks around me every day. Let me tell you what it's like for someone like me to come across someone like Kirya Traber. I see that I'm in the presence of another queer woman of color writer, and I recognize myself in her.
And for me it's not just about seeing another queer woman of color, but about seeing how she carries herself with pride. Here is a woman who knows that the world would be lacking without the energy and voice that only she can provide. Who has no doubt
that she can do something to make it better for queer youth. Who is Kirya Traber? Read her bio for details. How does it feel to be inspired by Kirya? Find out now, by watching this video.
And how can you help support Kirya in using her invaluable voice to inspire more people? Find out on her blog
. Let's do all that we can to support each other.
Today’s Friday Friends follow this week’s continuing theme
of the transformative power of art
. Roaddawgz drop-in center
is even more than a place for San Francisco’s homeless youth to come for shelter and rest. At Roaddawgz, young people can find alternatives to the risks of living on the streets, such as incarceration
, drug addiction and death.
The best part is that they find that these alternatives are possible through their own power. Roaddawgz help youth develop job and life skills through literary and artistic activities, including recording music, creating art and writing. The youth are compensated for their work, which is published online and in zines. The program also provides mental health support, education enhancement,
and employment and technological training.
And the truth is that the Roaddawgz participants aren’t the only ones who benefit. For those of us who aren’t homeless youth, the project offers a glimpse of the triumphs and struggles of the people who are, so that we may transform our world in ways that support those who are most in need.
Visit the Roaddawgz website
for more information.