Honoring Stevie

“I want to honor people this way when they’re alive”. ~ My comment after Prince’s transition.

George Michael has been on my mind. I loved his songwriting. Ladies and Gentlemen: The Best of George Michael got me through some formative years. “Flawless” is an anthem of mine. I read that he was a bit reclusive in his later years. I wondered if he knew the unintended reach of his art.

In the last few weeks, one of my happy places has been designing honoring ceremonies for artists I love, who have given me so much. So we catch them when they’re alive. Think VH1’s “Janet Jackson: Icon” special they did for her a few years ago. Beautiful.

I’m on Stevie right now.

We would begin with a youth performance of Fingertips, with the stage invoking images of the early 1960’s. There’s a mash-up of popular 1963 hits so we get a sense of the times - think “Heat Wave” and “You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me”.

I want a historian to comment on the power of an artist like Stevie, and how he influenced R&B over 50+ years. I want a movement-style speech about ways his music intersected with the Black Power movement in the 70’s.

I want Stevie lovers in the R&B and Soul world to perform hits he wrote for other artists, so we get a sense of the breadth and depth of this man’s influence. Two of my faves: “Tell Me Something Good” (Rufus) and “I Can’t Help It” (Michael Jackson). That’s actually my favorite Michael Jackson song, so there’s a way I owe some of my love for Mike to Stevie.

Part of the concert would be in total darkness, so we could experience his music the way he does.

Black artists from all over would come together for this. Grandparents and children - everyone across the years who’ve been influenced by Stevie. This would be an event for the ages.

Regenerative Systems, Regenerative People

Regenerative Systems, Regenerative People. That’s me (us).

The last two days have called me into a deeper level of practice.

The night before last, I woke up at 3:30am. I chose to set a prayer circle and meditate/pray. I tantrumed about being awake. I prayed some more. I watched my mind. 

Didn’t fall asleep, but I fo SHO got sleepy at 7am, right when I needed to get out bed. Used breathing exercises as my morning caffeine. 

Spent the day discussing the future of work; the next few decades of the solar power industry; re-designing my logo/website/newsletter; how to ensure co-creative strategy in the development of a healthy food system. 

As I packed for my trip to Oberlin (Ohio) last night, I spoke with a (beautiful black man) family member about life, love, and the things he carries. The specifics would distract from the implications: what does it take to witness, reflect, and hold space for what brothas carry? I let him know that I love him, and that love goes deeper than the sum of his experiences, his triumphs, his fears, his hopes, or his demons. It is pure, and it has been with me (him) since the day he was born. 

We hung up the phone, and I sat on the floor and cried. I CRIED. Until there were no more tears. In the prayer of those tears, I committed to crying when he cannot. My body can be a vessel to alchemize. I cried until the pain my chest released, and I could feel (deep) breath. Space. Freedom. Move it through, and it becomes medicine. Hold it in, and I stress my body (container).

Galen was home, but I chose to do this work on my own. He carries so much, and I have resources. I’m flying to Oberlin with one of my teachers/colleagues, and she will support me to continue processing. I asked her to come with me for a bit of extra support back when I first planned the trip. In creating this extra space for myself, it allowed me to create extra space for Galen.

I walked out of my bedroom, pressed his head against my chest, and continued to breathe. We talked about Luke Cage, how I will NEVER again get a line up on my front hairline, and whether he’s going to let my chicken go to waste or freeze it if he doesn’t eat it all. Love. Connection. Regeneration vs depletion for us both. 

Up at 4:45am to catch this 8am flight. Candles around the yoga mat, gently introducing my eyes to light. Good home cooked food packed for the day of travel.

On the plane a few minutes ago, I listened to Solange talking about rising, creating things for us by us, and I smiled with joyful tears in my heart. I looked out the window and watched the sun ascend. 

We are so beautiful. I am beautiful. Practicing being a full participant in the cycle of creation, sustaining and destruction (creation, sustaining, destruction, etc) is beautiful. It requires strength I do not know I have sometimes, and even that is beautiful.

And now, I’m finishing up my powerpoint for the Next Economy Conference. Soil health + carbon sequestration + economic development + job creation + shifting capital + improving government narrative + leadership development. I’m going to expend a lot of energy in the next few days, and I feel prepared. 

Blessings. Abound.

This Week In Blackness: Purple Lemonade, Whitney, and All Our Screams

I finally cried yesterday morning. 

A mixture of grief, joy, fear of change, excitement for the future, loss, freedom, purple lemonade…it was too much. It needed to settle. Manifestation requires time.

Prince’s influence on me is indescribable. He was woven into my life from the beginning. 1984: Purple Rain. I made my mom leave the theater because I bounced so hard in the womb. She went back a second time, and it happened again. I’d found a soulmate. 

High School. I liked the obscure version of him. I saved my after-school job money for three months to buy tickets for The Rainbow Children. I was probably the only high schooler in the audience. In the 10th grade, I drew the symbol, in purple, for my visual poetry assignment. It hung on the wall in Ms. Smith’s class on large butcher paper. 

On April 21st I received a dozen text messages from people in all corners of my life. They knew what he meant to me. In recent years, he funded the organization I became the Executive Director of in 2014, Green for All. He anonymously funded many other organizations as well. His gifts offered healing.

Yesterday’s tears unleashed the grief of losing genius, and celebrating its new form. He played 27 instruments. The greats of my childhood were…GREAT. Who will be the greats in 20 or 30 years? I prayed on this. Created a heart song around it. Where does the unapologetic, complex, fearless, raw, pure Black expression come from now? Who evokes in me, as an adult, what Prince evoked in me then, as a child? 

Two days later. Lemonade.

That level of total expression is what I needed to soothe the pain of losing a legend. Others do, and will exist. Exist in splendid, evolved ways - the black juju woman. The actual, factual weaving of creation, sustenance and destruction through sound and image. The things I am afraid to say, to scream, to even see within myself - all on screen. 

Yesterday’s tears: for the Black tragedies about which I have kept silent. I haven’t known how to be raw, shatter, and trust I will re-form. 

Yesterday’s tears: for Whitney. What if she could have created something like Lemonade? Would this childhood hero of mine have found a way to turn the screaming outside, to let it escape and transform? What if Bobbi had too? Beyonce expressed a crippling, can’t breathe, womb-contracting level of pain - with transcendence. This week I have been breathing it into being. I have found that pain/transformation/place within myself and cried, so I don’t turn those screams/that rage/teeth gnashing into a demon that will one day stop my heart.

Yesterday’s tears: for our pain. What if it was regular practice to witness and create space for the raw, unfiltered, soul-shattering “HE! HURT! ME!”? Even if Lemonade had stopped before Sandcastles, I would have bowed to the revealing of the real. Resolution cannot occur before the pain is witnessed. Felt. Expressed. Believed. Held. I sobbed for sistas that have had hearts/bodies/souls violated, and have turned those screams inward. I released for my own daily micro-violations that I perpetuate upon my own body; for the emotional abuse I absorb through my dark skin; for the times. I. Didn’t. SCREAM.

Beyonce screamed out loud. And I was thus able to scream out loud. For Prince. For Whitney. For Bobbi.

For me. For me. 

As my breath hitched in the quiet moment after my waves ceased, I heard Blue’s paternal grandmother talking about making Lemonade from lemons. I felt my grandmothers, both of them, reaching from the other side to wipe my tears. We have practices and tools. Within the courage it takes to shatter is the opportunity to become more beautiful, more whole. 

With every Prince and glass of Lemonade, I find more of that courage. This week in Blackness, I am gratitude.

Nourishment Challenge: Day 9

Days 5 – 8: Silence. Watching. Listening. When I’m reminded that the world is on fire in a way that touches my particular compassion cord, I encourage myself to be quiet. And then I encourage myself to grieve in a way that honors loss of life and the often subsequent othering of the perpetrator. What does my grief look like? Screaming? Crying? The biblical gnashing of teeth? If I can take the time to give myself over completely to grief for a short time, I can connect to the beings that are suffering. I can be present.

Day 9: Black. People. Because Obama popped off, Patti’s pies, and Missy.

I am deeply nourished by the fierceness of my people’s urge to laugh, to be fully expressed, to celebrate life in the face of hurricanes. When the President of the United States uses the phrase “if folks wanna pop off” in reference to ISIS strategy, when a brotha transforms into Patti Labelle while eating her pies in a video review, when my girl Missy Elliot casually drops FIRE after years of not being on the scene…we are truly magnificent. Breathing in the rawness and sass and funk and soul and swagger and love of black people gives me life.

Nourishment Challenge: Day 4

Music and friendship.

As I write these words, I’m listening to my “Umi Says” Pandora station. Smooth, old school hip-hop accompanies me while I answer email and fulfill other professional commitments. There’s something hot chocolate and cinnamon kinda delicious about adding a lazy shoulder and hip sway to my work environment while thinking about national organizing strategy and statewide agricultural policy.

Friendship and music intersect with my signing partner, Christopher. We’re both the children of strong familial musical legacies. When we met, we connected around the tender, sometimes fearful, always transcendent way we approach our voices. For years now, we’ve met weekly to support each other in our song. So much nourishes me about our music. He is one of the most important people in my life. We have seen each other through marriage, heartbreak, and life change, while chronicling the whole journey through song.

Today, we spoke about our mutual friend in hospice (the one I mentioned yesterday, who’s also a dear friend of Christopher’s). The sweetest riff came through me to begin our composition, and I was holding our friend in my mind as I sang. After Christopher contributed a few harmonies, I added lyrics about looking into my friend’s eyes, seeing the sky, and saying goodbye. I cracked wide open. I let the hacking sobs roll through my body as the music finished with us. Both of us were speechless when the song was finished. It was a lullaby, a prayer, an intention to honor the life of someone we love. Our music becomes more like ceremony as we become more committed to our vulnerability. 

Nourishment Challenge: Day 3

I attend a weekly training in the Yogic Yama/Niyama, the Chakras, Gestalt Psychology, Shadow work and Organizational Development. The focus of this seven month session is on coaching and supervising. I've been engaging this curriculum since mid-last year. It came into my life when I was ready to dramatically deepen my reflective practice and discover new ways to take it into my professional life. I love the participants, and the deeply intimate way we exchange with one another. I'm glad for more than half a year of commitment to practice with one another. The themes today: the difference between longing and belonging; holding everything as sacred; guardedness with ourselves and others. 

I went to visit a dear friend in hospice this evening, on the heels of this deep reflection about the way I bond with others. I sat with him, held his hand, and looked into his eyes as he skirted the other realm. I love him and his wife dearly - they have been like godparents to Galen and I. The privilege of being with them in such a tender time is nourishing for me. The profound way I felt his love for me brought me to tears. His vulnerability brought me to tears. As I walk steadily toward my own threshold of child conception, to see him on the brink of exiting this world with such grace and courage grounds me in the cycle of life. That cycle is laughter, grief, passion, sadness, and ecstasy all wrapped up into one. That cycle brings me closer to the oneness of life. I hope to always create the space to honor both doorways to life: the first time the eyes open and the last time they close. 

Nourishment Challenge: Day 2

Amaranth porridge with dried cranberries and pecans. 

Spotify has a series of interviews with Alanis Morissette about Jagged Little Pill, her thoughts and reflections (along with her co-writer) about each song. I had a long drive home this evening and listened to the whole thing. It brought back that time in my life. Middle school, emotion, my jilted teen years. The rawness of it nourished me. The ability to use voice to scream things that are too significant to be said in words. She does that beautifully.

A moment last night when my head was resting on Galen's chest. My ear was directly to his heartbeat, and my torso rose and fell as he took each breath. It was a moment of overwhelming gratitude for an indescribable love. His presence allows me to see things about myself that I didn't know existed - and this continues to happen every year. I'm bigger, fuller, more glorious because I am loved so exquisitely by this beautiful human being.