what’s your medicine? 

[content notes: mentions of violence, transphobia, ableism]

I have been thinking about this question often in the last few weeks (and months and years, as I do). What’s my medicine? What’s my magic?

We are in a moment. I don’t feel that I need to describe the moment, per se — we see it, we feel it, we see how it’s impacting our people, we feel how it is landing with our loved ones and the earth.

In the last three years, I have applied for the same residency for organizers where they stick you in the woods so you can’t do anything but rest and recharge. The essay asks about your vision, why you need rest in this moment, what you hope to get out of a three-week break and how that will push your work forward. When I didn’t get in the first year, I felt like I wasn’t tired enough, or that I hadn’t earned a break, even though I was very much at a breaking point — and had been, for more than a year by then.

I knew I needed rest, and I knew I needed to take a break from organizing to be able to move from a place that felt grounded and centered and integrated. And then there was a major event in LA that involved a lot of people I loved and required a lot of meals for a lot of people, and my friends and I got those meals together. And then the pipeline. And then the election. The ban. The border. The femmes of color whose childhood and adult traumas and femme labor and holding and surviving led to many different types of ways their bodies needed to be cut open.

I kept pushing.

I applied for the same residency, looked at my application from the year before and was, like, “Ok, so same burnout, and also now I have PTSD from that time a car tried to run me over at an action, which I didn’t even process as trauma until Heather Heyer was murdered.”

Last summer, finally, I left my job. It was a dream job I had imagined years ago, and I got to talk with youth every weekend about what we could do to make things different. I got to hang out with nonbinary and baby queer kids and be an alive trans, nonbinary, very queer, very gay femme of color who has community and friends and joy and hope. But I was exhausted, and it wasn’t the right job, and for two (ten?) years, I struggled in nonprofit jobs where I couldn’t actually be my whole self, where I had to explain my gender, my pronouns, my body, my access needs over and over again to coworkers and intervene in microaggressions and see myself as a barrier between younger queer folks and other people who could cause some pretty significant emotional damage.

I remember a conversation with a peer, after leaving some icky-feeling funder space, where we talked about what our responsibility was: Were we shielding our youth by being in the spaces we were in to get funds to allow our programs to move forward, so that youth could have services, or were we teaching them that this is all we could expect, that being a queer elder meant sucking it up so that younger folks could get what we need, until they were old enough to also muscle through these spaces and redistribute resources?

The conversation didn’t feel resolved then. I didn’t have an answer, and I like knowing things and fixing things, and so for another two years, I kept struggling, until my PTSD and my access needs and my very loud internal call for more freedom, more liberation were all too loud to ignore.

I left my job. I promised myself I wouldn’t take a full-time nonprofit job again for five years. I started a business with my friend, and now we set our own hours and get to spend time with the families we are creating, and now, a full three seasons later, I am finally feeling aliveness in my body, most of the time. (It wasn’t gone before, and I have been blessed with community and deep friendships and love and support and joy and interdependence amid some really hard and dark and scary and stressful experiences, but now, this is how I feel most days. I wake up. I decide what I do with my day. I am in charge of me.)

My body feels different. My sense of hope is different. My ability to discern what is capitalism work and what is my work is sharper — and I am moving toward only doing My Work. Making space for ancestral healing. Recognizing that empathy and deep listening are my movement work. Making space for storytelling and channeling and sharing/creating/collaborating. Helping people to hold hope.

We are in a time. We need to be building and creating and finding and sharing water for the fires that are here and that are coming. Please, take your moment. Listen to yourself. Find your medicine. Find where you need love and attention and healing, and direct your energy toward getting what you need. Listen. Know what your medicine is, and invest your energy in shaping and growing it.

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Poem recognize poem

Oh, hey there. It’s good to see you again. I really appreciate the feedback on the last post; it’s led to a lot of great follow-up conversations, and I can’t begin to quantify the healing power of knowing that I can surround myself with people who understand both the stakes and complexities of social justice issues.

This post is decidedly more upbeat, as it’s about the joys of that surrounding effect — definitely a related topic. Whereas the last post was all about the distinction between being nice (and/or polite) and being good, it is quite nice to know that I get to spend a hearty chunk of my time with nice, polite, wonderful — and good — people, working for, toward, and through social justice.*

Last night I stage managed Tuesday Night Cafe (time-lapse!),  fulfilling a decade-long dream of getting to introduce myself to people as “stage manager.”** I suppose I could introduce myself as anything, to anyone. And maybe I will. Anyway, it was a fantastic experience, learning and otherwise. I particularly enjoyed the moment where we were in our pre-show circle and I realized that one of the artists was missing — you know, one of those minor details that just magically works itself out. (He showed up, like, two minutes later.) This was our second collaboration with Common Ground, an excellent group of excellent people.

Look at all these beautiful artists! Posing post-show on May 1 in the JACCC courtyard. Sorry this is such an obvious FB screen cap. Not fixing it! Photo by Steven Lam.

As I was sitting back and soaking in the third set, Claudia (a totally dope poet, check her out with Duende!) caught me off guard by dedicating her second poem to me, because it was inspired by one of my poems. I will note that this is not a humble brag — it was an entirely humbling and inspiring moment, and it was exactly what I needed after all of the nonsense I mentioned in my previous post.

Two posts ago, I wrote about how excited I’ve been to be around live poetry and music, and to be spending chunks of time with artists who constantly surprise and challenge and inspire me. Two Wednesdays ago, I came home from a MidTones Open Jam at Bar Nirvana, and I could not go to bed because I was so excited about how excited I was to be alive at that moment in the exact place where I am  in my life, having spent the day working at a nonprofit I love, followed by a meeting with the aforementioned surprising/challenging/inspiring artists, followed by a couple of hours of musicians rocking out and having fun. (I will also admit that I realized, “Wow, my life right now is cooler than I thought it would be.”)

Anyway, long digression. Back to poems. Also a few weeks ago, I was at LAnguage, a spoken word show at The Last Bookstore curated by Mike the Poet (co-curated that Sunday by Traci Kato-Kiriyama, of Tuesday Night-founding fame), and a bunch of poets I admire were reading poems about their fathers.***

As Traci was reading “Rain,” I started scribbling a few lines of what I hope will some day grow up to become a deeply personal account of my relationship to my own father. Right now it’s an awkward teenager and doesn’t want you to look at it. Unfortunately for poem, I need to share this part of it:

Two of my favorite poets read about their fathers today
with words that reached straight into some part buried within me
striking chords
reminders
echoes

I panicked for a moment, felt guilty

When you go, what pieces of you will I hold tight to?

Claudia’s poem includes the stanza (among other, excellent stanzas, which I have! Because she let me keep the copy she read last night!):

I told my mom I heard a poem once
About a girl who was ashamed to be ashamed of her culture
I told her I felt like that was me
That’s why we have to keep it alive, she said
That’s why I still practice this language with you
This isn’t the same poem, but
Today my heart will send a postcard to my mother
Because love and apologies transcend these zip code barriers

The last three times I saw Claudia perform, I a) wanted to call people up and say, “Hey you need to see this!” and b) wished desperately that I had a teleporter so I could whisk people in to experience it for themselves. This time, I was just trying to keep it together, not just because I was moved by her dedication, but also because there is something profound about having another person articulate the secret parts of yourself that you are still searching for.

Art is a bridge, and a mirror, and a whole host of other metonyms about seeing self and others and connecting. It is also, wonderfully, a catalyst for change, dialogue, questioning, and more art. I have said it before, and I will say it again. I am so damn lucky to get to be part of this community of artists. Thank you for reminding me that I love people.

* I apologize that I keep lumping together complex, intersecting issues under the broad umbrella of “social justice,” without having really defined how I’m using it and my own relationship to the term. Topic for another post. (“Topic for another post” being a strong contender for tagline to this blog.)

** Once, in high school, I was offered a stage manager role for the spring musical, but then the drama teacher found out that I was also in mock trial. Sigh, art and law — never the twain shall sit down for a cup of coffee and hash out their differences.

***(Hey, also, you should buy Cara Van Le’s “A Roof & Some Refuge.” I can’t find a public link and don’t want to post her contact info sans permission, but maybe if you think really hard about chapbooks, she will appear in front of you with one in hand. Ordering information!)

Number of tabs opened while writing this post: 15. Number of references I decided to save for another post: 2.