by Charles Bibbs
Sometimes, when I think of divinity, I think of something bigger than this world, something so far outside of myself that perhaps I'll never reach it.
Then there are the times when I see divinity in the eyes of another black woman. I guess that's the difference between thinking
about divinity and feeling
the spirit of the divine, through contact with a black woman who has struggled and survived. And in turn, I suppose that means seeing divinity in my own eyes. I've got to stop and absorb that for a moment, because the transformation from struggling to sense an ounce of worth in my dark skin
to seeing myself as embodying the divine feels like a miracle.
Black women's voices lifted up our divinity at last weekend's Black Women From the Future
event. It really enriched my soul to be part of
such a powerful reading, and I'm feeling an immense amount of gratitude for everyone who was part of the show, and who came out to see it, and who watched online via livestream. Be on the lookout for video from the event soon, and for more from Black Futurists Speak
And in the meantime, let's continue on with the inspirational divinity of black women with The Black Woman is God, a living altar art exhibition showing now at the African American Art & Culture Complex in San Francisco. From the program description
: The Black woman’s contribution in the society has been devalued. She has been viewed as second-class citizen, relegated to the dresser draws of history. However, she has shaped and changed the world in social and political spheres. These influences of change are reflected in the art world, however, dominated by white male patriarchy. This exhibition will challenge the limited artistic space deemed appropriated for black women to occupy and question when black women create are they God. It is explosive because the images of God have on the most part been white and male until recently.Wow.
I can't wait to see this exhibition, and to hear from the participating artists at tomorrow night's reception - see details for that event on Facebook
. And for a start, listen to an important discussion between the artists in the videos below, and see what you get out of it. The message I got? I am more than a healer. I am healing.
Valentine's Day came and went again this year, along with its usual...challenges
. You know I'm all about the self-love
when it comes to these kinds of holidays, because if nothing else, it can be a good time to remind ourselves that we're worth loving even if we don't have the types of relationships or lives deemed perfect by the mainstream media's standards. But one of the great things that came out of this year's Valentine's Day was more about coming together than being alone. It was One Billion Rising,
a global campaign to end violence against women. People all around the world united in the most wonderful way – by dancing. Anti-violence action and
dance? You know I love it! Taking a stand to say we all deserve to live without violence – in the end, that comes down to self-love, too, doesn't it? For me, one of the most inspiring results of the One Billion Rising campaign comes out of the San Francisco jails, with those who participated there. Maybe I love it so much because I'm connected to these folks through my life and work, but I think this action also spreads a moving message that's important for all of us to hear. Watch "Inmates Rising" below, to see why the inmates danced, and why it was such a special experience for them. This video reminds me of the work of the formerly incarcerated poet Reginald Dwayne Betts. If you're not familiar with his work, I'd recommend getting to know him. Here's a taste, one love-centric poem of his:
"For you: anthophilous, lover of flowers"by Reginald Dwayne Betts
For you: anthophilous, lover of flowers,
green roses, chrysanthemums, lilies: retrophilia,
philocaly, philomath, sarcophilous—all this love,
of the past, of beauty, of knowledge, of flesh; this is
counter: philalethist, negrophile, neophile.
A negro man walks down the street, taps Newport
out against a brick wall &
stares at you. Love
that: lygophilia, lithophilous. Be amongst stones,
amongst darkness. We are glass house. Philopornist,
philotechnical. Why not worship the demimonde?
Love that—a corner room, whatever is not there,
all the clutter you keep secret. Palaeophile,
ornithophilous: you, antiquarian, pollinated by birds.
All this a way to dream green rose petals on the bed you love;
petrophilous, stigmatophilia: live near rocks, tattoo hurt;
for you topophilia: what place do you love? All these words
for love (for you), all these ways to say believe
in symphily, to say let us live near each other.
I’m finally back to blogging! Sorry for the extended break, and thanks for sticking with me. What have I been doing during all this time off, you ask? Keeping busy. Here are a few highlights – more on the resulting insights later.
- I made a big move, crossing the Bay to move from San Francisco to Oakland. It feels a little like hooking up (and shacking up) with the person I’ve been crushing on for a long time, and it’s been really good for me so far.
- I attended my second-to-last residency for my MFA program at Pacific University. Spent most of my time there feeling floored by the fact that the time has passed so quickly, but I had a great time. One of the big high points – Kaffir Boy author Mark Mathabane as a guest speaker, calling us to be a “courageous, humanitarian generation of writers” who write with the spirit of Ubuntu, that which makes us human.
- On the school note, I’m now in my final semester of my MFA program, which means I’m putting together my thesis, a manuscript of poems. It’s an exhilarating, excruciating process that feels a little like killing my darlings and giving birth to new ones every day. So exhausting and so rewarding, to say the least.
- I’ve been booking reading gigs, and I’ll have details on those soon!
- And I’ve been taking good care of myself, which totally counts as a thing to include among this list of life achievements. Because it’s necessary. It’s revolutionary. It’s love.
But okay, I would be lying if I pretended I’ve been only triumphant in my time away. I’ve also been feeling the pressure of what Jay Smooth calls “the little hater,” which said that when I finally got back to blogging, my return would have to be GLORIOUS. Well, this is my return, and it might not be so glorious, but the important thing is that I’m back.
I encourage you to watch this video, and to beat your own little hater by getting back to doing something you love. Let me know how it goes. *Shout out to Sugarcane
, the LGBTQ of color writing workshop that brought this video into my life and helped me beat my little hater*
Today is World AIDS Day
. I've written about HIV
and worked in HIV prevention, and I'm always saddened by the role that stigma plays in creating the pain that surrounds HIV and AIDS. Many of us don't want to talk about HIV or associate with it, which makes it easier to forget that stories of HIV aren't just about a virus – they’re about humans, brave humans who are hurt by our silence. Here's a project that helps combat that stigma. Magnum Photos shares stories and photographs of people around the world who are living with HIV and the stigma that comes with it. Here's "Stigma Under the Lens."
I've made plenty of silly confessions on this blog, so I guess it's a good place for this one, too: there's been a ridiculous amount of giggling in my world these days. Giggling, and smiling, and even blushing, as best as I can blush in my dark skin.
Maybe you can guess what that means. And no, it's not just that I've lost my mind, though I suppose you could call it a form of madness
. I say this has been happening in "my world," because although we live on the
same planet, it sometimes feels like each of us lives in our own little world. Perhaps this is most noticeable during times of tragedy. While some of us struggle through the demolition of our worlds
, the rest of us keep living our lives. When I'm halted by grief
, everyone else's worlds keep spinning. And recently I've discovered that it's true for the opposite feeling, too – it turns out that while I'm consumed by amorous bliss, the rest of the planet doesn't stop and join me in schoolgirl giggles. One glance at the news tells me that injustice doesn't take a leave of absence from the earth to make room for love to flourish. Who knew? I've come across a movie that
captures how the earth keeps spinning throughout a lifetime of love. Chico & Rita
is a feature-length animated film that tells the story of a jazz musician and a beautiful singer, set against the backdrop of Havana, New York City, Las Vegas, Hollywood and Paris in the late 1940s and early 50s.
The setting of this film means, of course, that the two title characters can't exist within a blissful bubble of joy. Forces including racism, deportation, and the fight for revolution impact Chico and Rita's lives and their chances of being together. The influences of music and of fame also make their mark.
In addition to telling a complex story, Chico & Rita is an alluring film to watch, with dazzling animation, as well as a captivating original soundtrack by Cuban musician Bebo Valdés. Featured musicians include Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, and many more who greatly influenced jazz music in both Cuba and the U.S.
Chico & Rita is really an enchanting movie, and I highly recommend it if you get a chance to watch. It's available to view on Netflix, and also on DVD.
I also recommend doing whatever it takes to welcome some more giggles into your world. As I'm discovering, silly laughter can be good for the soul, and though we can't forget about what's happening around us, we can remember that it takes more than injustice to create our worlds.
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
As you may know, I'm a little sensitive about tributes to the irreplaceable Nina Simone. When I heard that Hollywood executives cast Zoe Saldana to play her in a movie, for example, I had to join the chorus of voices
pointing out the trouble with having a petite, light-skinned actress represent Nina, who had to fight to claim the beauty in her dark skin. I'm drawn to Nina's strength, her struggle, and her damn good music, and I like to honor her as a personal hero of mine, so maybe that's why I feel so protective over her legacy.
Well, now musician Meshell Ndegeocello has released a new tribute to Nina Simone with her album Pour Une Âme Souveraine: A Dedication to Nina Simone. And this time, I can't find a bad word to say about it. In fact, the album leaves me speechless, in silent awe, much like the music of Nina Simone. Since I can't find the words for it, I recommend this excellent write-up on NPR, which says,
"Ndegeocello's has always been Simone's heir apparent. Ndegeocello, like Simone, has dared to cross musical boundaries, express bold politics and be a steadfast presence as an African American woman instrumentalist in a male-dominated music scene."I still believe, of course, that
nobody could possibly take Nina's place. But it's good to know that she didn't just leave behind shoes too big and too bold for anyone else to fill. She also left her footsteps behind, and when we follow her path with the best intentions, we can continue to walk the road to revolution.
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.
(the real thing)
I got down in the kitchen recently. I love to cook, so I do it fairly often, but there’s a difference between throwing dinner together for myself and getting down in the kitchen. It was a whole Caribbean-inspired feast – seafood sizzling in lemon juice, veggies coated in curry, cornbread sweetened with honey.
It was all for my grandmother, who just passed away. Or, as I like to think of it, she just found peace, after fighting many battles. One of her most recent battles was with Alzheimer’s disease. Another was her effort to live out her final days in her home country of Trinidad. In that fight, she claimed victory.
Now, I say that the food I cooked was “Caribbean-inspired,” because it was not quite authentically Caribbean. Cooking here in the U.S., I didn’t have the ingredients to make the dishes just right. I didn’t have the wise guidance of somebody like my grandmother, who could’ve helped me craft the meal like they do in Trinidad. So I had to substitute ingredients, and find my own path to the flavors I sought.
The most obvious of this inauthenticity was the callaloo soup. Callaloo is a popular dish in Trinidad, a green puree of delightful flavors, made with vegetables, coconut milk, and many times, crabmeat. I had to substitute leafy greens found in Trinidad for those at my local market, and I left out the crabmeat. In the end, my soup was more yellow than green, and considered callaloo by name only. It was delicious, and completely inspired by the real thing, but my soup was not real callaloo.
Sometimes I feel that my writing process is similar to this cooking endeavor. Lately, I’ve been feeling all kinds of things that exist beyond my grasp of words – grief, love, passion. For a moment there, these things threatened to shut me down with a bit of writer’s block. I mean, what could I really say about feelings that burst through the containers of the words we try to give them? Is it even worth the effort, when I’ll always fall short of capturing what I really want to say?
A moment in Trinidad
Well, the food was worth the effort, despite the flaws. It filled my home with an irresistible aroma, filled my mouth with delectable flavors, and fed a few people I really care about. And it also gave me a chance to honor and celebrate my grandmother, to send her off with a tribute to her life. I don’t have the right words for this, and I couldn’t find the exact flavors for it, either. But it feels good to create something that represents, in a way, my search for an expression of all I want to say.
A poem I wrote in 2010 for my grandmother:
Here's some of what I've been writing lately - part of my reading
from last month's Lyrics and Dirges anniversary show. You can watch the whole show on Litseen
. My next reading's on Thursday - The Grinder Reading Series at Telegraph Cafe. Details on my events page. And I'll have a new blog post up soon! A real one. This shameless self-promotion doesn't count.
But until then...