Wu Wei or What If Our Movements Were Like Water

It has been so long since I sat down and wrote something for this website. My world has been so consumed with work, with relationships and self-examination that I lost the habit of writing here. In some ways, not needing to have my thoughts be profound enough to be shared with the world was a practice of releasing ego’s hold on me. In other ways, it allowed that egoic grasping to take me into the realm of action. I was focused on doing things to change the world.

There is nothing inherently wrong with that. Just like I believe there is nothing inherently wrong with ego. It is a tool. It can protect us from a world that says we are nothing. If we listen to it, it can reveal what unmet needs are arising and what hurts need tending. Yet when we forget it is something outside of us to listen to, when we think it is us, we get in trouble.

Speaking your truth into the void and delving your hands into the earth to plant and water seeds are both worthwhile tasks. Yet they both have the capacity for overindulgence and ego. Thinking that my brilliant writing would change the world had a very similar energy to planting seeds frantically hoping to grow a forest that topples empire. I have come to believe that both fundamentally misunderstand how change happens.

Both see human agency as something that can transcend nature. Human agency is the conscious thing. We can figure out how to counter the waves of history and the natural world and direct them as we will it. All that is needed is an understanding or decisive collective action. They both see change making as a struggle. An active fight over power against the forces that oppose us.

Yet what if that view, of the necessity and centrality of struggle to change, is wrong? What if we don’t need to always be struggling to be free? What if struggle is secondary to movement rather than its impetus? What if we moved with the current instead of struggling to swim upstream?

I have a sense now, not an analytical knowing but a sense. I can sense now that change is not a linear process. It cannot be directed to a specific, pre-determined end. Change is a constant force to dance with, lean into, co-shape, to nudge, to nurture.

In Taoism, there is a similar belief in the idea of Wu Wei or non-action. It’s a concept I am leaning into. It is, in many ways, antithetical to how I am used moving in the world. Honestly, it causes me a lot of anxiety because it requires giving up my sense of control that is so baked into my sense of security. Because of this, I can’t say that I fully understand it. Yet I feel invited in this moment to practice it. To try it. To see what it can teach me.

From my very limited understanding, Wu Wei does not have one meaning in all Taoist texts. The aspect of Wu Wei I am talking about here can be summed up by this description of Bruce Lee’s Wu Wei Gung Fu, a fighting art that expressed his ultimate philosophy:

“Learn technique. Practice technique. Forget technique.” At the highest level of this discipline (as well as other martial arts), the warrior becomes one with the flow of reality around him. In that state of oneness, he is able to act without the necessity of volition. To the bystanders, he doesn’t seem to do much, and yet he delivers the exact minimum of impact at the exact right time to accomplish what needs to be done and not one iota more.Derek Lin

 

Learn technique. Practice technique. Forget Technique.

 

It is about allowing what we learn to be so incorporated into our being that we do it naturally as the need arises. We do not need to seek out opportunities to prove it. We merely view opportunities were the technique might be useful as an invitation to practice. We practice until it is how we move through the world. The goal is to move the through the world skillfully rather than to transform it actively with a predetermined plan.

What if this is how we thought about liberation. What if we actively tried to learn it. Practice it with each other and then embodied it so thoroughly that it becomes as natural as breathing?

We are practiced at struggle. We know how to do that. You cannot survive within capitalism without learning struggle. Wage labor is struggle. Even capitalist learn to struggle against their own empathetic humanity. But what if started practicing what we actually want?

In a recent romantic break-up, my ex and I were discussing our relationship. She was explaining the pain that arose from some of the dynamics in our relationship. I wanted her to see how much I loved her in that moment. I felt a strong desire to interrupt her and correct her perception. To struggle with her, the very thing she was naming as hurtful. “You don’t understand what I was trying to do in that moment!” I wanted to scream. “You have to understand I was just afraid. I just wanted you to really see me!”

Instead of battling it our with her, I cried, I reflected back what I saw as her perspective though it was not my own. I acknowledged the harm she felt and explained how, in my perspective, I was reacting to her pulling away from me. I acknowledged how much I loved her, wanted to be with her, and just need her to know that. Rather than refute a perception of me that I thought wrong, I affirmed what I thought was good and right and spoke my truth. By being loving and gentle towards her, I changed her perception of me in that moment and got the human connection I wanted.

Within the practice of loving each other and connecting we could have the space to see all the truths and perspectives of our past disagreements. We didn’t have to struggle or contend with our different truths. I also didn’t have to pretend that I wasn’t hurt by her perception or that I viewed it the same way she did. Because winning the struggle wasn’t the goal, proving that I was good guy and she was mistaken wasn’t the goal, being seen and connecting was.

It still saddens me that it took being broken up for me to realize that. That you can just love. You don’t have to scheme or try to argue with people to love you. If we practice loving we can embody Love.

 

Lao Tzu is quoted as saying “Be like water, nothing is weaker, yet nothing is better at overcoming the strong.”

 

 

I know many of you think, okay, you can do that in a loving relationship, but politics is different. Yes, politics is different, which is why I’m starting to think it might be more effective there. In politics, the oppressed have nothing to lose from speaking their truth to power. The state is going to kill them anyway. In intimate relationships we have whole worlds to lose. I care more about what my ex thought of me than I care what the police think.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we go bear our soul to the cops or hug Nazi’s. Rather, I’m suggesting we think about what we actually want and try to learn how to get it, and practice it until we embody it. Is what we want to shut down a highway? Is that our true goal? Or is the goal to make the wound visible? To have our society grieve for the loss of life? To be seen by the powers that be as a force to reckoned with?

If our goal is for society to grieve the loss of life, are we actually, consciously allowing ourselves to grieve? Are we re-learning how to grieve? Are we practicing it, gently holding our selves through anger, bargaining, denial, depression and acceptance? If not, how are going to expect society to do it? Why are struggling to get people to do something we ourselves won’t do?

If we practiced grieving in our lives and communities we might learn some more effective techniques to do it at scale. We can master inviting society into our grieving process. What if America actually grieved the killing of Black people? How would empire change if it had to come to acceptance of what it has done?

Is our goal to be a power to be reckoned with? If so, are we actually  building power? Are we practicing the wielding of power or we just critiquing it? If we have power, do we need to argue with the state or can we just wield it to get what we want? Why do we feel we need power that the state can understand?

Wielding power on the small, organizational scale was an eye-opening experience for me. As local community leader, I realized how difficult wielding the small amount of power I had according to my principles was. It allowed me to see how much material, spiritual and emotional infrastructure needed to be in place to wield power well. That understanding sharpened my critique of the state. It is simply not set up to wield power in the ways we want. By actually practicing wielding power, I realized my fundamental assumptions about power had to change. Now I focus on embodying my true power, which for me, is based in love and compassionate understanding.

 

“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

 

 

Do We Have An Alternative?

Why not get real about what we want? If we really want liberation then let’s practice it first. Let’s love each other without grasping or policing how that love needs to be received or repriprocated. There is struggle in that believe me. Its taking me years to understand that, to heal enough to even attempt that.

If we want joy then let’s practice it! Struggle should not be the impetus for movement. Liberation is a much better one. If struggle is necessary for Liberation then let’s struggle, but how can we know that without practicing it?

Have we asked ourselves…what if we win? What if we overthrow the Trump administration? What if we overthrow capitalism? Have we practiced an alternative enough to embody it when things get rough? Will love, self-determination and abundance be as natural as breathing when the collapse comes? If we freed all the children in the detention centers tomorrow, do our communities have to process to heal children on that scale? Do we have an alternative to policing and drug wars that are fueling this crisis?

We live in a world that is dying, a tower that is crumbling from neglect, an empire that refuses to look in the mirror. We can struggle with it, to try and overcome the reigns before it falls over the cliff or we can remember that Empire isn’t what we wanted anyway.

What if our movements were like water? What if we went with our own flow? What if we practiced loving each other and finding belonging as the world ends? What if we practiced a form of humanity in which we saw each other as an invitation to remember that we are Love? What if we practiced finding refuge by offering to others?

 

Honestly, all I want to say is this:

What if we tried being Liberated first and saw the opposition to our freedom as an invitation to heal each other? What if Liberation didn’t have to be so hard? What if we looked at our family who disagreed with us, who asked us to go slow, to not cause waves and asked them, what hurt stops you from wanting to be free? How can we care for each other in this moment? Maybe we would be surprised by the result.

I’m not suggesting that shut down’s are not necessary. I’m merely inviting us to think about what would be different if we only did BLOCKing actions to create space for BUILDing the world we want in order to BE Love?

I’m inviting us to think about what we are practicing.

I’m inviting us to consider seeing opposition as an opportunity to heal.

Mostly, I’m inviting myself to remember to keep practicing love.

So Many Started Things Need Finishing

Do the Laundry
Vacuum my room
Cook Diner
Buy Groceries
Loss Five Pounds
Update Work Plans
Finish Action Planning
Figure Out How To Convince the Workers to Accept the Settlement
Re-write Short Story Ending
Record Poems
Finish Reading the Mayor’s Budget
Finish Reading Sister Outsider
Figure Out How To Say Goodbyes…

So many started things need finishing.
Saul checks the watch his cousin gave him in Chicago two years ago. The one with the chipped glass that he had made plans to fix on Friday after work and before the panel on gentrification he still had to prepare for. It was 9:32. That means it had been almost an exactly 20 minute ride from the restaurant back to his house, assuming that they had only spent 5 minutes in forced pleasantries with his roommates downstairs.

Tomorrow he would have to check in with Karen and ask her about her day. He had been too anxious to ask when he walked in with Angela. He could tell that she wanted to talk with him. He feels bad. He also needs to remember to ask her if they picked a date for the townhall so he could start making turn out calls.

His gluttonous mind was acutely aware of every detail of his room. The union pin reminding him to finish up the grievance form, cross it off his infinite to-do list. The crumpled up draft legislation on the floor reminds him to push out some talking points tonight. He’ll just re-write the ones from last year.

Dirty underwear laying on the floor reminds him he needs to finish the essay he had started on Tuesday instead of doing laundry. He should have cleaned his room before he brought a second date home. She probably doesn’t have enough affinity for him to overlook the filth. Though in fairness, he thought, there is no way he could have predicted this date would end up in his room. Oh, right, he remembers, the date that is happening now.

Saul tries to be present as the remnants from the early spring shower are dripping slowly and soundlessly on the window. The street lamp’s dim light is refracting within the moving droplets. If you are watching closely, you can see a million tiny rainbows on the windowsill. It is what his mother had always called exquisite sacred beauties, the ordinary places where god showed up.

Saul finds himself wondering if other people sees these little things. The play of light on bedroom windows after a storm; the patterns of creases on the bed sheets; the semi irregular assemblage of nobs on the radio that looked like Morse code; the creases on the corners of her lips that came from excessive laughter.

He wonders how she can sit there in front of him like she is not the most beautiful woman in the world. It always amazes him how otherwise observant people could be oblivious to their own beauty. He knows most men would have pointed this out to her by now instead of sitting in silent admiration. Yet Saul feels a deep comfort in the silences, even if they were partly a response to an intimacy that had developed perhaps too quickly in the course of two dates.

Part of him knew that a lot was being assumed about each other in these silences. That their relationship thus far had been laying out their hearts to each other, without discussing all the connective tissues that really made them who they were. With her he experiences silence as an endless series of pregnant pauses giving birth to something magically mundane. He felt an almost meditative calm begin to wash over him. Saul notices that the rhythm of Angela’s breathing was starting to match his own. He was beginning to feel that each deep, almost luxurious breath he took was drawing them closer. It makes the silence seem almost metaphysically productive.

Saul checks his watch, out of habit, but quickly forgets the time. Each moment of silence seems to grow in importance to him. Like sitting here poised precariously between the towering clutter of laundry that still needed to be folded and papers that still needed to be sorted, was the most important thing he could be doing.

Angela communicates volumes in these silences. Straight backed with a naturally proud poise, she exudes a vibrant confidence, even in moments like this. The ease of this moment is part of what Saul likes about her. Her openness always seems so organic, like a warm invitation to an intimate space that she is waiting to walk with him. Her warm solid vulnerability was the first thing he looked for in her eyes but the last thing he wanted her to see in his.

“When I was a kid,” He says stepping into the silence for a moment, “I used to love it when it rained like it was raining earlier. Torrential rain.”

“Really?” She smiles, imagining a smaller, infinitely more endearing Saul running through puddles. “Why?”

“Me and my siblings used to build a dam around this little…um…little…you know those little tubes that they put under country roads? To make sure they don’t get rained out?”

“Like a drainage pipe?” Angela says quizzically as she unconsciously hooked a stray hair behind her ear. The ardent curiosity in her eyes when she listens to Saul makes him light headed at times. Sometimes Saul wishes he could see himself how she sees him. Interesting, engaging and full of a powerful wonder. He wants so badly to be man she sees when she looks into him.

Maybe that is what attracts me to her he thought. Besides the messy dark hair that always seems to need to be pushed past her ear in a habitual, youthful way. Maybe that is why he had asked her out on that first date two weeks ago, despite feeling assured that she had a million better things to do. She had an art show coming up next week. The Dirty Lemons were going to be playing at the 9.30 club on Friday. The diverse city grant was due tonight and he is pretty sure she had been meaning to apply.

Yet she makes Saul feel comfortable in needing a human connection, she makes him feel worthy of it. She scrunches her eyes together as if forcing her brain to think of another word for the pipes that ran under small side roads, just as a Kodaline song started to seep out the speakers on his night stand.

So you brought out the best of me,
A part of me I’ve never seen.
You took my soul and wiped it clean.
Our love was made for movie screens.

Saul feels an unusual overwhelming poignancy in the moment; so full of meaning as to seem fake. Yet encouraged by her openness, Saul forces himself to not over-intellectualize the moment and wade into the youthful buoyance of it. Both Saul and Angela smile as he leans back for a second and mouths the words:

But if you loved me
Why’d you leave me?
Take my body,
Take my body.
All I want is,
And all I need is
To find somebody.
I’ll find somebody.

He isn’t singing the words to her, not really, but the effect is the same. Angela takes in a deep stuttering breathe to steady herself. Saul begins to sway gently as the song continues, his knees softly pressing against hers as he keeps the beat. Each causal touch feels almost like an embrace, and both Angela and Saul could feel their heartbeats building faster than the tempo. Saul smiles a slightly cocky smile that he has no faith in, which Angela correctly presumes is full of the same mixture of heady emotional longing and fear and uncertainty that she herself feels.

“Yeah, a drainage pipe” Saul begins again as the song lingers on in the background. “It was one of those old country roads. When spring came, we’d have these giant rain storms. I remember loving the feeling of the pressure changing in the air. It felt like the whole world has building to something it couldn’t contain. Then there would be a flash of lightning and thunder that seemed to shake the ground and the sky seemed to overflow with water. Inches of rain every hour would come pouring from the sky like a dam had burst in heaven. It was moment that I wanted to last forever, and sometimes I feel like…”

“Weren’t you scared,” Angela interjected, breaking herself momentarily from his story “how old were you?”

“I was terrified, maybe like 10 or 11, but also excited, anxious and…”

“Where were your parents?” Angela is visibly concerned and partly incredulous.

“…That’s a good question…around, I imagine. Anyway, we used to build a dam around this drainage pipe. We would stack shovels full dirt until it was taller than I was. We would race to see if we could build a little temporary pond. I remember once, during a particularly bad storm, asking my brother if we could build the dam all the way to the sky and if we did what he thought we’d find there. He would smile and say, ‘the only thing that can stop you is your fear of heights kid, the land above the clouds is where your dreams lay waiting for you jump up and claim them…’”

“Your brother said that?” Angela asks.

“It was something my father used to say to him when was my age, I mean, when he was the age I was then.” Saul replies nearly absent mindedly, watching droplets fall from the tress, the last remnants of the summer squall that was now heading out over Virginia.

Saul sat with that memory for a moment, staring off into the window, half mesmerized by the droplets racing down while the other half of his mind wonders why that memory feels so pressing. Angela is too wrapped up in the story to let Saul ruminate on it for long.

“And your parents just let you guys do this?” Angela says, clearly enthralled with the story. Saul smiles at her concern for the safety of his younger self.

“In my head, I spent most of my childhood roaming the country side with my siblings but, yeah, I think my parents must have been around. They were pretty attentive parents, just not as interesting to me as my siblings.”

“Were you the Black Huck Finn?”

“What?”

“Running through the rustic country side, exploring the world with your best friend, bucking civilization for some nascent sense of the great beyond?”

“I’m not sure the story works if Huck Finn is Black…”

Angela laughs a hearty, full bodied laugh, and slides a strand of her long dark hair behind her ear again. Still smiling, they lock eyes.

“You know what I mean…”

“Yeah, when I was younger, I always felt pulled by a subtle but lingering sense of wanting more out of life; a desire to journey halfcocked at a whim. I always wanted to carry things over the edge and see a…something different…something new…a world beyond my own.”

“Over the edge?”

“Yeah. You know. See what was over the next hill. Take the next left instead of right and just ride off into the sunset. When I was a kid I would extend my ride home from school by hours, taking each route. By the time I went to college I knew every inch of the countryside by my house…But… I’m far too practical or practiced and methodic for that now. I have list of things to do, things to finish, things that keep me firmly here, with my feet on the ground…”

Saul’s words trail off as he suddenly realizes how much he misses that part of himself. He misses being the daring young child, fascinated by dreams of what lay beyond horizons. The world, his world, had seemed much larger then. He finds himself wondering what had pushed him from a budding cartographer to professional list maker.

There is another pregnant pause full of half knowing glances. Angela let’s Saul words sink into both her mind and into the room. She reaches out and places her hand on his arm gently, intuiting that he had inadvertently gotten himself lost in the past. They lock eyes as her warm knowing smile opens up a little space for him to process and just be.

Saul takes a shallow, quick breath and stares into Angela’s eyes for a few long and solid moments while slowly beginning to feel a their shared warmth and a new confidence. There is still a tension in the air, and shared anxiety and nervousness, all of which Saul decides, at last, to ignore.

He feels the pressure in the room build as he holds her gaze. Her clear dark amber eyes reminds him of the late afternoon sun breaking through storm clouds. He wants to say something. He wants to harness the courage of his younger self. He wants to push the moment over the edge. Saul wants to make the sky break open and rain. He wants so much but it’s been so long since he’s felt this way that he is unsure what to do next.

“Can I kiss you?” She asks him.

Saul begins to lean in even before he has fully registered the question. As their lips touch, out of practice, he is in a daze, in unfamiliar territory. The pressure that had been building becomes uncomfortable, like the room can’t hold it all. They break and Saul resists the urge to touch his lips and is left with a lingering sense of disbelief. Like an anxious man wondering if he locked the door to his house, Saul replays the moment to himself several times while staring into Angela’s eyes.

She laughs nervously and anxiously to break a bit of tension. She leans into it and him, resting her head on his shoulder and breathing audibly as if she has opened a pressure value. Saul comes-to slowly. He breathes deeply as he struggles to get on top of all the unexpected emotions he feels abruptly surging inside of him; joy and elation and desire mixed with a fear of the unknown and embarrassment at his detachment.

More expectant moments come that wash away bits of stress with each breath. Soon, the pressure of the room begins to equalize and Saul wraps his weightless arm around her. Angela slowly wraps her arm around his waist, and settles for a moment, peering out the second story window watching droplets of rain race down.

The moment nears a certain perfection, a symmetry that Saul is finally too fully immersed in to make a mental note of. Angela loses the world in the moment and finds herself with alone in the microverse they have created.

A rare sense of shared energy fills the room and suddenly everything was possible.

After a minute, Angela sits up and straightens her back. She looks at Saul and smiles warmly. They sit in the calm as their hearts beat steady synergetic thumps in tandem. Their breathing calms slowly. The weight of the moment is still there, but the room stable. As Saul’s mind clears he is left with that unfamiliar feeling of wanting more; of wanting to lean in and feel what happens when the pressure breaks. He imagines himself leaning in for another kiss, sense its possible completion of the moment so vividly but habit forces hesitation and he says “that was…yeah.”

Angela beams a soft smile of both disappointment and also a relief that surprises her. She turns to watching the droplets race down the window sill for a moment, breathing in step with Saul, letting the pressure build again.

“As a young girl,” She begins in an anxious tone, as if she is starting the story in an attempt to relieve the immensity in the air, “I used to wander the woods behind my aunt and uncle’s house. There was a trail that went from their back door to this pond. It seemed massive to me as a kid but it was probably only 40 feet across. After a rain storm, the pond would over flow and there would be a million little streams that would begin to flow from it. I used to run along the streams to see where the water ended up. I’d get to where one stream ended in a little puddle and then run back to the pond to find another stream I could follow. I used to think that I could follow them all to end. I’d be running all afternoon in the damp woods, until it was too dark to see the streams anymore. Then I’d vow to come back the next day…”

Angela stops in mid-sentence and her demeanor changes as if she suddenly recognizes why she is telling this particular story. Instead of finishing, she stares off through the window. Saul sees the sorrow and disappointment in her eyes and waits for her to continue while slowly rubbing her back. She expects Saul to make a joke, to laugh away the awkwardness of her tangent. Yet he stares intently into her eyes, waiting for her speak. It displays intensity and focus that makes the moment more intimate than she is prepared for. She feels herself exposed and vulnerable but safe and confident as the tension blossoms haphazardly in the silences.

“You can only take so many paths…”

“I’m taking the job in New York,” she says curtly, ended the conversation with a sense of finality that surprises them both.

There is a flash of pain and regret in Saul’s eyes and his mouth stays open briefly as the unfinished sentence tumbles from his mouth unsaid. Closing it, he forces his mouth into a smile.

“Congrats. It seems like the perfect job.” Saul’s face takes longer than he wants to soften from regret to sincerity, “I’m really happy for you.”

Saul is uncertain if all this building tension would end in relief or if he would be carried away by the torrent. Yet he still finds himself wanting more. Saul wants to pierce the tension that is building with the rise and fall of their chests but isn’t sure if he can handle what comes after.

Angela recognizes the panic and uncertainty filling Saul’s face. She leans in and gently runs her fingers through his dreadlocks almost as if she is absent mindedly trying to calm herself along with him. Saul responds by wrapping his arms around her waist and lets his would-be lover hold him. With his ear pressed gently over her chest, Saul thinks he could hear another slab of mud being added to dam holding back their emotions. He listens to the bricks being laid in their shared silence, building themselves higher, haphazardly towards the sky and beyond.

Saul begins to wonder whether this night is the start or end of something new. He wants to check his watch, to find some measure of certainty and control in the squall. He begins to understand how vulnerable he is being held by the smaller woman. Part of him remembers that this level of intimacy on a second date is dangerous.

He can sense that he is teetering on top of a towering structure built in haste for an unsound reason. He feels partly foolish for letting this much pressure grow. Yet most of him, including the part of his soul that feels connected to Angela’s, even that the part of him that knows such connections are rare but not unique, wants to push back the feelings of vertigo and leap.

So he decides to embrace the uncertainty and the fear and jump into the moment. Saul looks up into Angela’s eyes for another endless second before leaning in to kiss her again. Saul remains slightly detached from the moment for a few seconds, lips still unpracticed, still not sure the moment is real. Remembering something of his former self, he decides to close his eyes and lean into the curve. The gently pecking punctuated by bits of nervous laughter quickly build into a torrent of passion. Angela senses Saul’s passion and reciprocates, kissing him more fervently.

Saul lets himself go as he forgets his laundry lists of concerns, tasks and anxieties. The tension slides from dangerous ambiguity to excitement and elation. With each kiss, each caress, an unchecked task fell from his back and lands on the dam that had been building. Saul can feel the structure cresting in the sky just as the gravity of the instant began to crack it.

Angela feels hope growing in the pit of her stomach. The promise of something new, something magical was stirring and racing its way to her brain. The sensations were using her spine, strong and proud and now tingling with sensations, like an elevator shaft. Just before the sensation reaches her brain, just before she recognizes its purpose and communicates it to Saul in their shared languages of kisses and silences she is reminded of the 8 am plane flight that needs booking, of the empty boxes in her apartment that need filling, the good-bye’s letters to finish, thank you notes to sign. She remembers all of the started things that need finishing, the tasks that this dam of emotions they were constructing would not let her complete; the future she was planning that would swept away when the levees failed.

Angela stops, stiffens, and gently pushes Saul off of her just as Saul feels the last bit of stress fall and land on the embankment, shattering it under its own weight. The emotional release should have felt climatic but the distance between them makes it overwhelming. Saul moves away slowly but decisively, now trying to stop himself from being swept away.

They sit in muddled silence now. Saul slowly rubs Angela’s back in a daze as they both catch their breath. Saul tries to read the silence through the torrent of emotions flowing through him. He tries to understand it and her while fighting back a bitter-sweet joy. Each breath is filled with the sweetened remnants of intense satisfaction and the smoky tinge of disappointment. But the language of silence they had shared is gone, and in its place the laundry list of tasks and little anxieties begin to return.

“I just…It always happens like this. We can only follow one path at a time and only so many paths before…before…” She tries to explain, though the words sound dull and incomplete to her.

Saul hears her, nods, and continues to rub her back without really comprehending. The emotional world that their caresses had contained came flooding back in, incomprehensible to him. Sounds and thoughts and plans rushed in and mixed with the joy and ineffable sense of loss too quickly for either of them to decipher. The feeling of standing on top of the unfinished rampart, so close to the sky; a feeling that had been so real just a moment ago that it could only be communicated in silence, was distant and hazy and half formed. As the time passed slowly, he began to wonder if any of it had been real. He only knows he feels the undeniable sense of wanting more.

“How tall did your dams get?” She asks.

“When I was I kid?” Saul responds, remembering the moment when he stood so high on the mound of wet dirt that he seemed to tower over his older siblings. He remembers thinking he could have seen across the entire prairie if the rain hadn’t obscured his line of sight. The feeling of power and certainty felt so visceral and alien and welcomed to him in this moment.

“Unbelievably high” he answers wistfully, happy to be focusing on anything but the present moment “higher than I ever thought I was capable of. Higher than I’ve ever been since….”

Saul laughs, upon hearing himself speak, yet never had a hyperbole rang so true.

“Maybe 5 feet once or twice, but it felt like miles” he admits, “when was the last time you followed the paths behind your aunt’s house?”

Angela smiles, watches the last rain drops trickle down the window and says, as if to herself, “Is that not what I’m doing now?”

The silence that follows is hollow and filled with the remnant emotions of opportunities aborted. Their hearts both beat quickly and in time with their own breathes but no longer in time with each other’s. Now each out of step breath seems cheap and appears to be pushing them apart.

Eventually, Saul and Angela wade through the water logged remnants of their earth worked dam as he walks her to the door. They mumble lies about seeing each other before she leaves and Angela tries to summon up the words to say they should get together again the next times it rains. Instead she leans in, kissing Saul one last time on the lips, and tries to press as much meaning into it as possible.

She tries to tell him how much she wishes she could follow his love till it ran out. She tries to tell him that New York is a short trip away. She tries to tell him that this night meant more to her than the list of to-do’s that forced it to end prematurely. She tries to tell him how badly she wants to jump beyond with him. She tries to impress her new found need for the previous emotional excellence. Yet, as she opens her eyes and they lock with his she sees no sign of comprehension.

As he closed the door behind her, Saul unconsciously felt his lips, feeling like she had left a message on them in braille. Yet his fingers and hands and arms were too heavy and clumsy to decipher it now. He watches her walk away slowly, breathlessly and aimlessly to her car. Then, staring at the broken levees at his feet, the piles of clutter around his house, and remembering the laundry on his bed, Saul began to plan.

The rain drops falling on the window remind him of his younger self. He remembers the feeling of wanting more. The feeling of her lips on his gives him the courage to ask for it, even if her message failed to deliver. He begins to pick up the clutter strewn around the room, making expansive plans for the future as he cleans.

Buy the laundry detergent that makes his cotton shirts feel like silk across his skin.
Clean his bedsheets of the remnants of the night’s mud so that he can awaken afresh in the morning.
Vacuum the dirt off the carpet so that he can feel the soft wispy fabric between his toes.
Buy peaches from the farmer’s markets, sweet like the late summer night, and share them with Karen.
Write a vision statement for my work that ensures I’m heading towards the light and not just fighting back the darkness
Re-write work plan to fit vision statement so that I can feel rejuvenated by my daily work
Write a short story about the tower of Babel
Write a novel about my vision for Black Liberation
Write more poems about melted kisses
Tell her I loved that moment in the sky when I felt closer to an unknown god than ever before
Learn to get better at saying goodbyes
Find Reasons to go the New York.
Fall in Love again.

There are so many started things that need finishing…

#IfIDieInPoliceCustody

#IfIDieInPoliceCustody don’t say I was an organizer. Don’t talk about how I knew what to say when everyone else was too shocked or too scared to say anything. Don’t say I was courageous. Don’t say I was smart. Don’t mention all the work I did for “the community.”

Tell them I was too busy bein’ Black to worry about being good. Describe for them how I danced down the street with my headphones blasting the soulful sounds of Nina Simone into my brain. Tell them that the feeling of her voice bouncing off the cavernous walls of my skull is the closest to feeling liberated I ever get.

Describe to them the subtle shifts in my shoulders, the gentle sway in my hips, the way by feet shuffled softly when I was listening to “Feeling Good.” Tell them how easily I lose my self in song.

Tell them about how animated my face gets when we organize. Tell them how my brain never stopped working. Tell them that I never let it all turn me bitter and jaded [at least not for long]. Tell them how much of me there was to contain in this one beautiful Black body. Tell them about all the Black joy that was just bursting from the seams.

Tell them about the way I would stare off into the distance and cry at the mystery and wonder of it all. Tell them about how much I loved my family. Tell them how proud I was of my niece, how excited I was to see her grow up.

Tell them how I looked just like my father. Tell them how I learned to stand up for others because of how he stood up for me. Tell them how my skeptical face is my mother’s dual eyebrows raised reaching to the sky, head cocked confidently to the side, and the smile, a smirk, turned slightly to the left.

Tell them that I was a lover not a fighter but sometimes I just loved the fight.

Tell them that I secretly loved the struggle. Tell them that for the all blows and lashes it gave me, my Blackness made me stronger than I ever imagined a person could be. Tell them that my oppression gave me the gift of second sight.

Tell them that my Blackness let me envision a world more vivid, more visceral, more real, and more charged with the glorious energies of a life well lived than this one. Tell them that I envisioned a world in which Black lives blossomed; where our greatness, our resilience, our magnificence burst into the world with tears of a joy so full of mirth that our whole body shook in collective ecstasy. Tell them that through the veil I am able to see the glory of that liberation.

I can see a world in which we have all have reclaimed the erotic; where we can feel our power and joy in the marrow of our bones; where the very fibers of our being feel the vibrancy of love coursing through them. I can see a world where we love without reservations; a world where we know we deserved to be loved. I can see a world where Black self-determination is an eternal block party where we sometimes vote on our budget. I can see a world where justice is love and love is a process and a praxis taught in schools.

I believe in a day when the power of own full authentic selves will not scare us.

Tell them I also believe in Sundays spent sipping lemonade on porches; in playing the dozens as our neighbors shoot dice. I believe in rapping Black so hard that time just melts into the asphalt; that the only constant is a gentle cool breeze that wipes the sweat from our brows; that the sun forgets to set but the moon can’t help but rise.

Tell them I believe in dancing each and every time the beat hits my body. Tell them I believe in dancing like the sensual swivel of my hips is the only force capable of keeping the earth spinning. Tell them I believe in experiencing so much joy on the dance floor that our bodies start speaking in tongues, begin jerking, and hyping, and locking in a simultaneously divine and carnal syntax.

When I die, tell them that I loved Black women. Tell them that I was amazed by #BlackGirlMagic. Tell them that I would have followed my sisters to the ends of the earth and back. Tell them not to host any marches or rallies or riots when I die.

Tell them that I wanted you tell your mother you loved her. Tell them that I wanted everyone who knew me to shout #ILoveBlackWomen to the universe. Tell them I want my brothers to pour out 40oz of patriarchy whenever they mention my name. Tell them that my only regret is that I never got to see Black Liberation smash the patriarchy.

When I die, don’t cry for me. I’ll be watching gun smoke with Buddy Boy.

When I die don’t cry for me, cry for yourselves.

Cry for everyone who never got to see my brilliance. Cry for every white person whose racism meant that they will never be able to see how my soul couldn’t be contained. Cry for the police officers who were too afraid of my power to see its unlimited potential for transformative change. Cry for the people who would never get to see the way my face lights up when I sing along to the sound of music.

Cry for the songs I wouldn’t get to write. Cry for the poems you’d never hear recited. Cry for the children I’d never bring into the world. Cry for the world I never got to build. Cry for the gifts of genius that I would never give you. Cry for the all the people who would never be able to be loved by me.

#IfIDieInPoliceCustody: Cry if you must-but don’t cry for me.

Meditations On Liberation

IMG_6651

Liberation is ultimately an internal, self-reflective process even if it requires years of systemic change and collective action to be possible. Liberation means tearing down the barriers between who we are now and who we could be. Liberation is both a state and a process, each barrier destroyed, each chain broken, brings us closer to it.

Liberation means breaking the chains that limit our human potential and cultivating a communal nirvana. Liberation means believing in ourselves enough to love each other without limits. Liberation means trusting our strengths and bonds enough to be vulnerable to each other. Liberation means unlocking our greatest most authentic selves together.

Liberation means pushing ourselves past fears of inadequacy rooted in internalized oppression and into a realm of self-love which is the well-spring of communal self-determination. Liberation is not struggle even if struggle is necessary for liberation. Liberation is fully realizing that you are beautiful and together we are powerful beyond measure.

Liberation is celebrating our shared humanity through action. Liberation is making out between protests. Liberation is a meal between friends. Liberation is feeling loved, making love, spreading love, finding new love, rekindling old love. Liberation is preparing yourself to handle the soul bursting joy that healthy communities produce. Liberation is a block party, a birthday party and a wedding that can’t begin until everyone has the means, the time, the support and the invite to join.

Liberation is not dancing like no one is watching; Liberation is dancing like the world is cheering you on. Liberation is dancing like the movement in your hips is all that is keeping the lights on. Liberation is dancing like you were made to dance, like God is divine musician that just needed an audience.

Liberation is the life we lead in the narrow spaces between our oppressions. Liberation is the intimate moments where our full selves show up. Liberation is when our identities are not barriers but starting points; holy departures for interpersonal exploration; prologue not destiny.

Liberation is that good shit.

It comes in spurts and stutters and rarely all at once. It can be temporary, fleeting, and elusive. So we chase it, we long for it and search for it. We create gigantic mechanisms and machines to try and produce it yet Liberation can neither be found nor created. Liberation is all around us, we need only create space for it.

We need only destroy the soot and oppression and grime and hate and stand back as Liberation seeps into the vacuum. We do not need to destroy the old world in order to make space for the new. We do not destroy institutions of oppressions to wipe the slate clean and build a more just society. We destroy the systems of oppression because they are taking up the space where Liberation would naturally be.

Humans were not simply born free; we were born before the concept of slavery. Liberation is what will exists when slavery, privilege or rape are no longer options. Liberation can take many forms and it is not defined by its aspects. Liberation is simply the lack of social limits; it is unchained, untraumatized humanity flexing its communal muscles of self-determination.

Liberation is not an end, rather it is the most beautiful of beginnings…

A Complex Argument For Love

Silence

 

Below is a copy of a speech I gave  at a Jews United For Justice Event on Black Lives Matter. It was a great night and I’m really proud to have been a part of it. It was hard to come up with the words to use to express my feelings in the right tone: both healing and producing productive discomfort. I do believe that it is not the duty of Black people to teach White people how to not be racist and it is not our duty to prove our humanity to them. Yet, my 26 years in America have taught me that White people need to have the pain of being Black made real to them in order to take actions to stop it.

It would be easy to dismiss White people for this were not for the dozens of White feminist who articulated their pain to me and explained to me, in great detail, my own privilege as a man. I recognize that my thoughts and analysis on gender is rather half-baked, flawed, often rambling and sometimes to focused on me so I am willing to forgive White people for the same. Though to be honest, mostly still begrudgingly.

What I enjoyed about the night most of all was lending a hand to my dear friend Rebecca who planned the event. Working with White allies can be frustrating, infuriating and tiring but it can also be incredibly validating. Working with Rebecca reminded me that we are all in this together, fumbling along the path towards righteousness, as unsure of where we are headed as we are of how to get there, making mistakes, asking for forgiveness, lifting each other up and rebuilding stronger bridges…hopefully eating fried food and singing along the way.

 

A Complex Argument For Love 

Good evening.

I am at once honored, saddened, angry, hopeful and deeply ambivalent to be here this evening. It is eerie to see the pain of your internal emotional universe reflected in the faces of so many strangers particularly when you are used to spending so much mental energy debating whether or not that pain is justified. In fact, it is in many ways profoundly frightening.

Everywhere I turn in America I am faced with an unavoidable specter of whiteness. As I walk through the streets of downtown D.C. I am acutely aware of every white woman who clutches her purse when I am near, every white person who walks straight at me and refuses to acknowledge my presence expecting me to step aside. I am aware of every police officer that slows down to get a better look at me. I am aware of the eyes of our society watching and waiting for me to prove them right.

I am also acutely aware of the times I have pointed this out to white friends only to have my concerns explained away. She was just cold. That’s just how business people are or, the police stopped to look at me too!

Here I am always torn. On the one hand, I am upset that once again my experience is so easily explained away. On the other hand, I want so desperately to believe them. If every look held malice; if every time I am called “articulate and well spoken” is the testament to low expectations; if every eye is waiting for me to prove them right–how can I possibly exist in this place without being torn asunder by the unbearable whiteness of it all?

So to be here, in front of this crowd, speaking to this issue is profoundly unsettling for me. As nervous and anxious and angry as I am, I’m going to talk to you today about the necessity of love. As I see it, love is the only practical way forward. But I want to be clear that my arguing for love, for forgiveness, for restorative justice does not nor cannot negate my pain nor absolve white people of their complicity. Tonight I would like to make a complex argument for the pragmatic necessity of love.

What you have to understand about this movement, this fight to make an America so infatuated with a blind justice system see the humanity of Black people, is that it is not actually about police brutality. Police brutality is terrible but it is a symptom not a disease. Militarized policing is only part of the problem. Anti-Black racism is the illness that rotting away the foundations of our illiberal democracy.

Michael Brown was not just simply gunned down. Before he was shot he was forced to live in city in which the majority of the population was Black and the vast majority of city officials were white. He was forced to live in city that preyed on low income Black residents by ticketing them for minor offenses at outrageous rates.

Then he was executed.

Then he was lynched by the media and by the politics of respectability.

Like the strange fruit that used to hang from trees in the Bayou, or still hang from North Carolinian porches, Michael Brown’s public lynching was a message, a warning, to all Black people. Every time this teenage boy was called a criminal, “a grown man robbing a store” or a demon was the sound of the noose tightening around his neck.

His body hung in the public conversation for over 120 days before the white powers that be decided that no crime had taken place.
It is difficult to describe the level of anger and pain I felt over these past few months. White people whom I knew and cared for were participating in this public shaming. Even when they didn’t, it upset me how easily they could go about their day knowing that this conversation was not a warning for them. It would have been easy for me to let my rage turn into hate. It would have been easy for me to let that hate build a wall between me and everyone else.

In that moment, I saw a cold dark path open up before me. A path through which I could cast off my connections with the world in order to limit my accountability to it. I could embrace hate and welcome the solitude that it would bring.

You can only be wronged by a society if you accept the premise that you need to be part of it. It would be so easy to walk away from that idea.

I was tired of holding in my emotions, of processing them, and analyzing and checking them before I shared them or fear that I would be seen as just an another angry Black man. I just wanted to rage to express the part of me that was hurting.

The part of me that wanted to stop thinking, that wanted to succumb to the apathy and give up the moral complexity of being human. To give up building relationship with people who may hurt you and disappoint you. Give up with building empathy with people who will be hurt, or striving for an inclusive community, all for a break from being restrained by a concern for building a tomorrow.

In that moment, I choose love.

I didn’t choose it because it was easy. I didn’t chose it because it sounded nice, and soft and familiar. I chose love because I knew that hate or apathy would tear me apart. I knew the unbearable weight of it all would crush me if I was full of hate.

Hate, for all it’s bluster, just isn’t not strong enough to keep the world at bay until it destroys your humanity. Without that humanity, without the ability to love, and laugh and grow, nothing else matters.

In choosing love, I stepped back from that path. I chose to take responsibility to help change the world.
I choose to love my fellow humans, to feel their pain as my pain, to feel their injustice as my injustice because in that love I am elevated. In that love I am able to transcend some of the pain. In that love I can laugh. In that love I can create, and learn, and grow. In that love I can hope.

In essence: in that love I am human.

In that love the pain doesn’t go away completely. In that love their hate isn’t vanquished. The oppression doesn’t cease. The killings don’t stop. But in that love, when I feel my humanity resonate in soul of another, suddenly it all feels worth it.

It is, again, ultimately a false choice. One made out of a need to survive this with some measure of my humanity intact. I do not believe that all of those that I choose to love deserve it. But it is the narrative that I choose to arm myself with. I know that my love is not magical. But my love, my commitment to see the humanity in others allows us to work together.

In this way, this narrative, my love, is powerful. That power is transformative. It gives me the ability to continue on. My love for other Black people gives me to solidarity to help shut down streets. My love for my fellow man allows me to see past all the whiteness and work with allies.

It gives me to power to speak truth to power and not concede an inch for half measures and compromise. It gives me the fuel to carry on, watering the seeds of justice planted before me. It gives me the clarity to take the time to plant my own.

I will love, despite the pain, because it is only through the experience of loving that I have ever felt truly human.

I will love, despite my rage, because it is the most politically radical act I can conceive of.

So, this speech is statement of my love for all of you; a promise that I will never stop seeing your humanity; a promise that I will never allow you to deny mine. I promise I will never stop agitating you. I will never stop pushing you to see the errors of your ways.

So I leave you with this call to action, understand that I call you to rise as strangers whose inherent humanity I find beautiful:

 

If we as a nation cannot all agree on the simple fact that All Black Lives Matter, regardless of gender, age, sexuality, ability or religion, then we can never be whole; we can never heal this gaping wound across our nation. This festering sore that is one of America’s foundational sins will continue to grow, to ooze and to infect every institution of our nation.

Because I choose to love my fellow Black people, I will no longer allow this infection be contained to Black bodies.

No longer will Black people be the ones who bear the weight of their oppression by shucking and jiving on the razor thin edge of white racial sensibilities.

No longer will we let the tonnage of white racism sit on our chests, crushing us slowly while we pretend it isn’t there.

No longer will I dismiss white people as monolithic mass of privilege.

If this movement is anything it is based on the belief that all of you can and must do better.

It is the articulation of a promise that if we can’t breathe, you can’t either.

So all of you! Get off the fence. Join the struggle.

An Argument for Operating with Love

I love

*If you are looking for the speech I gave at Sixth and I please click here*

I was reminded today that there is no cosmic scale weighing the oppression of Blacks in America.
There is no ledger listing the wrongs that have been done to us.
There is no mystic reckoning that will bring wholeness.
There is no justice in this world beyond that which we make.
Power concedes nothing without demand and I fear it will be a long time before our demands are met with anything but violence.
So I will no longer allow my life to be defined merely by struggle or pain.
If we are to walk to Calvary like Sisyphus,
bearing our cross up this racial mountain only to have out feet taken from under us
Or if we must continue to build national idols to freedom that mock our bondage
I will love each and everyone who bears these thorns and stones with me.
I will love each and everyone who feels my pain.
I will love each and everyone who wishes this death march to end.
I will love, despite all my pain, because it is only while experiencing love that I feel truly human.
I will love, despite all my rage, because it is the most radical political act I can convenience of.

There is a feeling of empowerment one feels when you realize that you have made the conscious decision to live. Few people ever get to experience that feeling but I’d be hard pressured to call myself lucky to be one of them. I remember standing on top of tall building overlooking the courtyard of my college. I remember thinking how easy it would be to step off. I imagined feeling the wind flow over my body for a few seconds that would seem an eternity. I remember thinking it would be so quick, so easy. I had battled suicidal thoughts before, but never had the thought of ending it seem so easy. I chose then to live, or many reason I have talked about before. I made the conscious decision to continue living.

This moment, in retrospect, was a watershed moment in my battle with mental illness. It was a moment, a memory, that shepherded me through the darkness. It reminded me, when the would seemed cruel and pointless, chaotic and thoroughly beyond my control, that I  at least had chosen to continue living it. I recognize now, as I did then, that it is in many ways a false choice. Living is all I know. Equally important, it was not in reality, that choice that made the pain bearable. It was the perspective that narrative gave me. I constructed a narrative that gave me power and I used that power heal myself. Time and hours of self care later, the teenager who stood on the roof top feels like another person.

Earlier this month, I was reminded of that boy again. I was walking away from a massive protest, one that I had been waiting for for weeks. I was filled with rage. The tinge of injustice pulsed through my vein with such force that I felt on fire. I wanted to scream, to shout, to break, to shatter the world  in a vain attempt to ease the pain. My hands started to tingle as I balled them into fists. My body tensed with a desire to fight something concrete, something physical, something as visceral as my despair. I have learned over the years that little good comes from such rage left unchecked. It must be processed rather than merely released. So, I made the decision to leave and take care of my own emotional health. As I was walking away, I caught the eye of good friend who smiled and waved. I did not wave back. I did not, and do not, feel bad about not waving back.

In that moment, I saw a cold dark path open  up before me. A path in which I could cast off my  connections with the world in order to limit my accountability to it. I could embrace hate and welcome the solitude that it would bring. You can only be wronged by a society if you accept the premise that you need to be part of it. It would be so easy to walk away from that idea. I was tired of holding in my emotions, of processing them, and analyzing and checking them before I shared them or fear of the response. I just wanted to rage. I’m not talking about just rioting. Rioting is a way to communicate something you can’t verbalize or refuse to process. Rioting is the language of the unheard. It is the way we communicate to a society that otherwise ignores us. I’m talking about giving in to the part of me with no concern for justice. The part of me with no need to heard by jury becuase it doesn’t have any stock in the idea of peers. It’s part of me that I like to pretend isn’t there. The part of me that wanted to stop thinking, that wanted to succumb to the apathy and give up the moral complexity of being human. Give up building relationship with people who may hurt you and disappoint you. Give up with building empathy with people who will be hurt, or striving for an inclusive community, all  for a break from being restrained by a concern for building a tomorrow.

In that moment, I choose love.

I didn’t choose it because it was easy. I didn’t chose it because it sounded nice, and soft and familiar. I chose love because I knew that hate or apathy would tear me apart. I knew the unbearable weight of it all would crush me if I was full of hate.

Hate just isn’t not strong enough until it destroys you.

I knew that the only part of life I have ever found worth living were the connections I made with other people. I knew, that all I really wanted was to not be alone in my pain anymore. I knew that for all my rage, for all of my politics, I want America to want me. It’s a hellish false choice, but I knew that in choosing hate I would be the demon they think I am.

In choosing love, I stepped back from the ledge. I chose to take responsibility to help change the world. I choose to love this nation that hates me, not for my slice  of the America dream or out of some Obamaesque vision of the American family. I choose to love this nation because as James Baldwin said “We are here and to be here means that we can’t be anywhere else.” I had to love America because America is where I find myself. Loving America (as a community of people not a patriarchal nation state) is a messy, inelegant solution but it is best I’ve got.  I have no other home.

I choose to love my fellow humans, to feel their pain as my pain, to feel their injustice as my injustice because in that love I am elevated. In that love I am able to transcend some of the pain. In that love I can laugh. In that love I can create, and learn, and grow. In that love I can hope. In that love the pain doesn’t go away completely. In that love their hate isn’t vanquished. The oppression doesn’t cease. The killings don’t stop. But in that love when I articulate my humanity loved ones validate me by articulating theirs and suddenly it all feels worth it.

It is, I know, ultimately a false choice. One made out of a need to survive this with some measure of my humanity in tact. But it is the narrative that I choose to arm myself with. My love is not magical. But like that moment when I decided to live, this narrative, my love, is powerful. That power is transformative. It gives me the ability to continue on. It gives me to power to stand to those who seek to set themselves above me. It gives me to power to speak truth to power and not concede an inch for half measures and compromise. It gives me the fuel to carry on, watering the seeds of justice planted before my. It gives me the clarity to take the time to plant my own. Love gives me the perspective to hope that one day, when we reach the mountain top, we will not be sent tumbling down, with nothing but our cross to break the fall. Maybe this narrative with be replaced later. Maybe time will change my tune. But for now, in this moment. I will love. I will love, despite the pain, because it is only through the experience of loving that I have ever felt truly human. I will love, despite my rage, because it is the most politically radical act I can conceive of.

“It is our duty to fight

It is our duty to win

We will love and support one another

We have nothing to lose but our chains”

A Mantra of the Black Youth Project, based on the words of Assata Shakur  

Unsent Letter To All The Girls I’ve Loved

bell hooks on love

[Below is an unsent letter to every female friend I’ve been secretly in love with whom I sent really long e-mails to or hand written notes to after/before I went to college/when you were studying abroad/when I moved back to Falcon in 2008/when I moved to Colorado Springs in 2010/when you moved to a coastal city once I made it back to Chicago/when you went to grad school/visited your family for Hanukkah/ moved with your significant other [sometimes another female friend I had also once liked] back home/I moved to D.C.  If this sounds remotely similar to a letter I once sent in you in one of these moments then this was probably the first draft of a letter I wrote and decided not to send for one reason or another. I realized that this a recurring pattern in my life that I need to analyze…so I did…and what better way to process self-analysis than self-parody?]

To All The Friends I’ve Loved,

[There always start with some  overwrought and florid metaphor for whatever I’m unhappy about in the moment. In most of these letters it is my hometown] I’m not sure if a tree makes a sound when it falls in the forest with no one to hear it but I know from experience that the speed at which it falls is in direct proportion to number of observers. Falcon is not a place for me to write. Falcon is where writers are born. It is where the bigotry and backwardness drips from the lips of neighbors destined to be characters; cold as molasses and twice as black, pumping sweet visceral into an author’s creative glands.  Falcon will serve as the time capsule I use to write of time so long ago that it never really existed, at least not in the way I remember it.

In my stories I call it Mesa Valley, my Yoknapatawpha County [always includes an oblique reference to writer whom I feel an unjustifiable though visceral connection to. Sometimes I’ve only read their shortest published work but count them among my favorite authors] I write about the villains and saints of my childhood in this Mesa Valley so that the fictionalized grandiosity of the moment evokes the same emotion as the tonnage of years of microagressions and mini miracles. Put simply, the events are lies but the emotions are real. My neighbors will undoubtedly protest but I imagine my fame will soften their protest the same way their privilege softened mine. Their bigotry bit into my psyche layering trauma upon trauma [I actually had a pretty chill childhood but I thought for a while that I need to be a tortured artist to be a good artist.]

Is life so miserable? Is the darkness seeping in, encroaching on my happy moments? No, I suppose not. [almost all of these letters start the second paragraph with a refutation of the overwrought opening metaphor…insecure much?] In reality life is bland and it is that blandness that frightens me. Like Oscar WildeI live in terror of not being misunderstood. [quote is purposefully out of context. In an example of hipster letter writing, it serves as an illustration of my meta awareness] Drama and vibrancy are my heroin. In their absence I fiend for the thematic like a smoker turned niciderm addict. I lust for action with all the gusto and impulsiveness of a sex addict.  In the late hours of the night, when time seems to drip like a leaky faucet in a silent kitchen instead of flow, I try to figure out why this is. I have always had an overactive imagination and I have always been vicarious reader, living the lives of the characters as I read them. If you had asked my 12 year old self what I wanted to be when he grew up he would have said “a living legend.” Yet no childhood trauma or tendency could explain this burning desire of mine in its maturity [though, when I was 8 I used to scream “I’m going through a stage!” at my family when my siblings complained about my parents bending over backwards to not accommodate my latest fixation. I heard my parents discussing my habit of hiding eggs around the house and whether it was a “stag” or ealy onset mental illness one night and decided to use the phrase to justify my weirdness…jury is still out about early signs of mental illness]

There is an answer to the question. And yes, that is the short one. I’m doing fine. [you are supposed to assume the unasked question “how are you?” Man, is this guy meta or what?] Living with my parents has been interesting though not ideal. I am doing what I can to not waste way. When the monotone hum of prairie life turns into a tempest of passive, almost inert, aggression that threatens to overwhelm me I try to think of you and your adventures in [insert study abroad program, grad school, or new city her]. I imagine your [insert distinguishing feature] as you [insert activity that can I think can only be done where you are]. How is it in [insert colloquial/pretentious nickname for current location]? How is the air? What are you thinking about? What things are challenging you? Forcing you push your limits? What do you know now that you didn’t before? [still not sure where this habit of asking these sorts of questions to people became a thing that I do…constantly… but I can remember doing it as early as middle school]

I know you are probably laughing at my intensity. You mention that intensity often and each time I want to tell you how I really feel. [this when I show my insecurity in a self deprecating way. This portion is usually added to qualify previous or subsequent statements that were overly florid or ridiculous but I found too well phrased to delete.]  I spend so much time trying to calm that intensity for fear of scaring you away yet sometimes restraining my love for you seems more intolerable than your absence. I want you too know, finally, that I love you fiercely. [this is the part that is ALWAYS cut out of the final draft. The unspoken longings off…ugh…I’m doing it again!] When we take our walks through [insert significant place in our friendship] I’d be convinced that my feet never touched the asphalt if hearing you about what’s one your mind this week didn’t make me feel so grounded. I love the way your mind unravels in those moments. Your thoughts are distinct and intricately laced like braided steel cables supporting intellectual bridges from Kafka and Morrison to Weber and Du Bois [I always reference Kafka but never actually read Kafka until like 6 months ago.] Sometimes I am too mesmerized by how an individual thought of yours develops that forget how your smile gives me butterflies.

Your wild and frantic idiosyncratic hand gestures that increase in their assertiveness as the topic turns from history to your theory of how we constructive our identities through narratives remind me of the awkward girl I first met and not the poised woman I know now. As your passion burns through your light brown eyes I’m tempted to believe that my world has the same golden haze has its reflection in your gaze. In these moments I want to tell you that I love you. I know you would just smile and say “I know.” I know that I would have to hold your heart-wrenchingly beautiful gaze longer. I would lock my eyes with yours to add weight to my words; to tell you this was that kind of the love. The kind of love that causes me to fear that I’m losing myself in you, the terror of thinking that maybe falling so hard for you that I forget who I am sounds more like heaven than white clouds and halos. [who says that…seriously….I mean…it has a nice ring to it though…reminds me of this poem I wrote about my first “real” love]

Instead, I smile and hold my tongue. We walk miles through this city, you and I, with the secret of my love between us like a warm invisible sea. Swimming through it is the most exhausting endeavor of my life but living without it seems dry and barren in comparison. When we hug goodbye I wish I could wrap my hands around your soul instead of your waist and I pretend that my sadness is contemplation and not the awareness of the inevitability of your departure. [this would typically get re-written to something about missing you but not loving like THAT.]

[I feel like some of my friend must have suspected that I was not so secretly in love with them. Yet, I still write letters to some friends like this, long after I’m crushing on/overly-dramatically in love with them so I think most of friends probably just think its par for the course…and I guess it is par for the course. I love all my friends dearly, male or female and I’ve had a crush on like 95% of the women I’ve met who are no more than three years younger or 10 years older than me. I think if I had to put a number on it, which I don’t but will anyway, I’ve been in love with about 30% of my good female friends at some point in my life. I don’t actually think I’m using the phrase “in love” lightly here either. I have a natural tendency to love easily, deeply, quickly and fiercely. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been with a female friend and thought “we should just get married…like… right now. Why wait.” Yet for most, the timing was off or I was too shy. By the time either changed, we had changed.   But I’ve been in love with almost 1/3 of my female friends even if only for a moment and while that might seem pathetic and laughable…well…it might actually be laughable…it is not pathetic. I feel very fortunate to have befriended such amazing and beautiful women in my life.

I’ve been blessed to love women who have pushed my intellect, who have encouraged me to follow my dreams by pursuing theirs, who have shown me what it means to live by your principles, who have become teachers, and mothers, and executives and dancers and writers and organizers and PHd candidates. They are the unofficial therapist of their friends, the shoulder to cry on, fierce advocate for justice, level-headed and practical guides, the uplifting jokers and gorgeous wordsmiths of my world. I have learned and grown so much from these friendships and am so glad that we got  through the infatuation, the puppy love and the romantic love to richer and more sustaining and truly platonic love with my friends. I feel that with a few of my friends our relationship has matured into something greater than any romantic love I’ve ever experienced; we’ve learned to “love each other well.”  So to all the girls I’ve loved. From the playground to county fair to the main quad and whether I loved you for a conversation, a week or since the moment we first talked about our passions, I’d like to thank you teaching me, for bearing with my florid passion and intensity and, most of all, for accepting my love even if you were unaware of its true form. Know that every letter I send and note I write expresses the truth of how I feel about everything, even if only a part. Though honestly Erin, if you are reading this, my offer of marriage still totally stands. My romantic love for you is eternal and forever enriches my platonic love for you which is equally eternal. So, uh…call me, Maybe?]

With love [in all its varied forms and meanings],

Aaron

True Love