Seeing the monarch butterfly

A revelation

The last days of September were warm here in Boston. I spent as much time as I could in our back yard—a small, hidden spot of green growing things in our urban neighborhood. One afternoon, as I sat reading in the orange plastic Adirondack chair, I noticed a monarch butterfly make its way around the cyclone fence that separates our yard from the roofing business next to us. It fluttered above the roses, the hydrangea, and over to the butterfly bushes nodding in the wind. It landed on the single zinnia that was growing haphazardly among the Russian sage and the seed heads of black-eyed Susans. 

I watched it open and close its wings and then unfurl its long tongue to sip deeply from the flower. A gust of wind bent the zinnia to the left, and then to the right. The monarch hung on tight as it arced back and forth in the gusts.

I watched, mesmerized by its tenacity and its beauty. I thought about how it was just starting its 2,500 mile southward migration. My heart ached knowing that over the past two decades, the monarch population has steadily declined because of logging of their overwintering grounds, pesticides killing their food source, and the shifting weather patterns of climate change. As I watched the monarch cling to the flower, I felt great sorrow for what humans are doing to this fragile creature. 

Image description: Close shot of an adult monarch butterfly with orange wings and white spots on an orange zinnia. White siding and other zinnias in the background.

Suddenly, I realized I was seeing this creature only for its vulnerability, even as I was actually observing its strength and tenacity. I was casting a set of mental and emotional reactions over the reality of what I was witnessing in the moment: a tough and gorgeous butterfly getting its sweet drink on in a garden that my partner and I are stewarding as a place of respite and nourishment for many creatures. 

The monarch, as far as I could tell, was not dreading its journey. It was not mourning the loss of its species. It was very much alive, very strong, and doing what it needed to do to survive. And, by planting the zinnia seeds earlier this summer, I had done one small thing to help it survive.

In that moment, the monarch took off, and flew right toward me. It passed inches above my head and winged its way out of our yard, onto the next urban oasis that someone else in my neighborhood is surely stewarding.

Over the next few days, several other monarchs came to visit, often heading to the single zinnia in the back yard as well as the riot of the same flowers in the small garden on the side of the house. I said hello and welcome, told them to stay as long as they wanted and drink as deeply as they needed, and wished them good fortune on the rest of their journey. 

And as I did a little more research into monarchs, I learned this year was a particularly good one for these butterflies. I also learned that their numbers have been slowly rising over the past few years, although they are not out of the woods by any means.. 

~~~

I find myself thinking at times about Mrs. Johnston, my high school chemistry teacher who wore purple polyester pant suits and blue eye shadow. I never did end up understanding organic chemistry, but I deeply internalized what she told us about global warming and the effects it was having on the planet. 

That was 1991, and I was 17. With the conviction of a privileged young person in the Global North, I assumed by the time I was an adult, scientists and politicians would have figured out how to fix it. 

Today, I know that as Mrs. Johnston was teaching us about global warming, the fossil fuel industry was pouring billions of dollars into the dissemination of junk science, misinformation, and deception to prevent politicians from even considering implementing policies we needed to “fix” global warming. 

Now it is 2019, and I am 45. Each year, more and more people are killed, lose their homes, and are forced to migrate because of climate change. We are in the middle of a mass extinction of creatures and plants. 

We are also in the midst of some kind of revolution. 

We are here with our rage, sorrow, grief, and fear. We are also here with our strength, tenacity, brains, hearts. With our ability to plant seeds and create community. Our ability to be humble and learn new ways of relating to each other and the world around us. Our ability to organize and be organized to put these very human qualities into action—in order to counter the other very human qualities of greed, competition, and fear that have led us to this place.

To be sure, it’s not always sunny afternoons of monarchs, zinnias, and revelatory insights. We operate within structures of oppression: We hurt each other, we get hurt, and we get worn out. But here we are. 

I don’t think it’s an accident that I am here right now. I don’t think it’s an accident that you are here reading this. There are so many people on this planet at this moment—I think many more than we feel or know at times—doing this work of transforming the systems that are breaking us and destroying the planet. We are a community—wildly diverse, each with our unique gifts, perspectives, and ancestral support, as well as our many flaws and mistakes. We are doing the hard work, by necessity or choice. We can, and do, feel all sorts of ways about that from day to day and year to year. We don’t know what the results will be.

But here we are. Doing our best to see the monarchs for what they are, ourselves and each other for who we are, and what this moment asks of us.


Prompting

Thanks to all of you who have been on the journey that is Starlight & Strategy with me! I’ve been writing this newsletter for seven months now; I’m curious about how it’s landing with you, and I’m thinking about what comes next. So, I’ve created a short survey to see what you think. As thanks, I will: 

  1. Randomly pick 3 people who fill it out to send a care package! 

  2. Send everyone who fills out the survey a special prompt.

Browse on over to take the survey. Thank you!


Engaging

What else I’m reading/listening to/thinking about:

I’m always learning how to better use language as a tool to create the kind of change I desire. I deeply appreciate queer black editing’s Instagram posts for their education, affirmation, and joy.  


Community / announcements

  • I’m excited to be part of Su Hwuang’s launch tour for her powerful collection of poetry, Bodega. If you’re in Boston, join us at the Brookline Booksmith on November 7 at 7 pm.

  • My friend Alli Chagi-Starr, an amazing Bay Area organizer, is helping to promote a book called Merge Left. It lays out a strategy build the supermajorities that can actually enact bold progressive agendas: call out division as the main threat, and cultivate cross-racial solidarity. Check out the promo video for more. 


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Intuiting our way into transformation           

An offering

This Friday, I’m presenting on a panel called “Spelling: Poetry as spell-casting” at the &Now Festival of Innovative Writing in Bothell, Washington. As I was preparing my remarks, I found myself hyper-conscious of how I use the word “thinking.”

I use this word a lot. I use it to mean processing information as a way to understand the world around me. For all of my life I’ve valued being a good thinker, a critical thinker, smart. And I’ve valued the work of other people who think critically, who I think are smart—by which I have meant they have sharp insight and can articulate themselves with clarity and nuance. I felt that becoming very good at this kind of knowing and communicating was critical to my full development as a human being and a social change agent.

I still very much value clear and nuanced thinking. But I’m beginning to understand that relying solely on thinking is a severely limited way of processing and knowing the world around us. Here’s how I put it in my remarks for Friday’s panel:

I see now that this is like me, as a sighted and hearing person, walking around with horse-blinders, earplugs, and gloves. This might help me see very clearly what is in front of me, but it leaves out other ways available to me to know and be in the world. It prevents me from experiencing the knowledge that can come to me from—in this analogy—the information on the periphery of my vision and the sounds and textures of the world around me. So I’m learning, slowly, how to take off the blinders, earplugs, and gloves in order to understand the world differently. I’m learning to trust my intuition and emotional intelligence; learning how to engage in reciprocal communication with plants, animals, stones, and other beings; learning how I might perceive and work with the divine forces that surround me and are within me.

But it’s not easy. There is a strictly enforced hierarchy of knowing deeply ingrained in me. Even as I recognize the falseness of this hierarchy, I feel hesitant to trust anything other than my analytical brain. I feel nervous to even write these ideas for fear of being ridiculed, not taken seriously, and perceived as “not smart.”

And no wonder. Intuitive knowing—trusting our gut, our bodies, our spirits, nature—has long been associated with femininity, indigenous cultures, and communities of color. Methods of perceiving and understanding that fall outside scientific rational thought and investigation have always been a threat to the power and control of power constructed by capitalism, white supremacy, and heteropatriarchy. And therefore, they have been degraded and dismissed. 

Altar for the full moon in Pisces and poetry as spell-casting. Image description: Altar with poetry books, shells, stones, starfish, coral, pearls, candle, and High Priestess and Moon cards from the Collective Tarot.

Today, I believe more and more people in the U.S. feel somewhere in their guts and hearts that things are not right. That the balance of power is wrong, that the way we are taught to scramble to get on top in this society is deeply damaging to ourselves and others, that the way we have divorced ourselves from the rest of nature has hurt us in ways we cannot even name.

I also believe that many people have probably been feeling this for centuries, to one degree or another. And, to be sure, many people have acted on those feelings – but just as many, probably more, have not.

But what if everyone who felt that things were not right in the past acted on these feelings? What if all the factory foremen early in the industrial revolution refused to treat the workers in the ways the owners wanted them treated? What if all white people in the U.S. who felt even one wave of sickness at the treatment of enslaved Black people acted on those feelings? What if all the scientists working on the atomic bomb in Los Alamos listened to the quiet voice deep in their hearts telling them to stop the creation of a weapon of unimaginable destruction and suffering?

We would be living in a very different world.

And what if, today, all the people who feel that things are not right trusted that feeling? And I mean trusted our deepest feelings—deeper than the anger, hate, and divisiveness being stirred by today’s demagogues bent on cementing even deeper injustices; deeper than feelings of overwhelm and apathy.

I believe the vast majority of people trusting their deepest feelings would act from a place of love, abundance, and connection. And we could forge a very different future.

~~~

But how do we get there? How do we break out of the grasp of hyper-intellectualism and learn to value and trust our deepest intuitions?

I don’t have a grand answer. I know there are many people working on this problem from various angles across many ways of knowing. But for me, one way that I am approaching it is through poetry.

Reading and writing poetry is a way for me to engage with language (and therefore thinking) from a nonlinear and emotional approach. It’s a way for me to make the leap from thinking to feeling to intuiting and back again. Poetry casts a spell on me, and gives me spell-casting powers. When writing poetry, I can let go of the need to control meaning through language, and let deeper truths emerge in a way I don’t have access to when I’m trying to make meaning with prose. And I think that when people read poetry, if they allow themselves to not need to “make sense,” they are able to step into a kind of altered state where understanding flows from somewhere beyond the sole realm of the brain.

We learn from the myths, stories, and folktales of many cultures that great transformation can happen suddenly and by magic. But we also learn such magic doesn't happen without groundwork—whether that groundwork is a person wishing and dreaming, going on a great journey, going to the aid of another creature, or casting a spell or two.

I see my poems as doing a small part in laying down this groundwork: visioning and spell casting toward an eventual great transformation of society.


Prompting & engaging

To use in journaling, writing, meditating, tarot pulling, etc.

This three-part poem-spell prompt is inspired by Eve L. Ewing’s new book of poetry,1919; the Incantations folio in UnMargins; and a common three-card tarot spread.

Find a quiet place and get comfortable. Have your writing materials ready.

Take a few deep breaths. Call up a situation that you wish to transform. It can be big and systemic or deeply personal—trust whatever comes up for you. Describe it in a phrase at the top of the page.

The past: Imagine the roots or beginning of this situation. Now, call up a rhyme scheme or rhythm from your childhood—it could be a nursery rhyme or commercial jingle. Don’t over-think any of this, just trust what comes. Write three lines in that rhythm or rhyme about the roots of the situation. (If the rhyme scheme requires four lines, write four lines.) Try to engage with this in the spirit of play; don’t worry about explaining or making sense.

The present: Write three lines about the situation as it currently exists. You can do this as plainly or as mythically as you wish, but try to convey the heart of the situation as vividly as you can.

The future: Write three lines that embody a powerful transformation of the situation. You don’t have to know exactly how that transformation will occur. Imagine what that transformation might feel like or look like—and try to evoke those feelings and images. You might want to return to the rhythm or rhyme of the first section, but alter it somehow. Again, don’t worry about explaining or making sense. Make is as magical as you want.

If you have a tarot or other deck, you might want to pull one card for the past, present, and future, and let each card inform the imagery of that section.


Invitation

If you are attending the &Now conference, I hope you can join me and my fellow poets and spell-casters. In addition to discussing the concept of poetry as spell-casting and reading our poems, we’ll be leading the creation of a collective poem-spell for liberation. I’d love to see you there!

Spelling: Poetry as spell-casting

&Now Festival of Innovative Writing

University of Washington, Bothell, DISC-252

Tamiko Beyer, Destiny Hemphill, Tatiana Figueroa-Ramirez, Lisbeth White

Friday, September 20, 10:45am - 12:00pm


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Beauty is not a luxury   

A praise song                       

The other day, my love told me how much she appreciates the way I make things beautiful, how I create beauty in our lives and in the world.

This made me happy; it made me feel good, seen, and loved.

And then, almost in an instant, my very active inner critic flooded my brain: Beauty is nice, but it’s not going to change the world. There’s so much terror, hate, and suffering—you should be spending your time doing more serious things.

So I took a deep breath and began naming where my inner critic learned this.

  1. Patriarchy: Beauty is feminine and therefore not important.

  2. Capitalism: Beauty for the sake of pleasure and delight doesn’t produce anything and is therefore worthless.

Then I called to mind the women workers who led the 1912 workers’ strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts: We fight for bread, and we fight for roses, too. And anarchist Emma Goldman, who declared that she didn’t want to be part of any revolution that wouldn’t let her dance. And Audre Lorde, who inspired the title of this essay:

If what we need to dream, to move our spirits deeply and directly toward and through promise, is discounted as a luxury, then we give up the core—the foundation—of our power, our womanness; we give up the future of our worlds. 
—“Poetry Is Not a Luxury” in Sister Outsider

I opened the pages of Pleasure Activism by adrienne maree brown and read the words of Taja Lindley, a multi-media performer

…I really appreciate beauty because, for me, beauty and pleasure are freedom rituals. Sexual and sensual self-expression is a part of it, but taking my body and telling my own story with it, especially inside of a state, a nation that is concerned with writing my histories and writing my body as legible in certain kinds of ways or illegible in certain kinds of ways, it’s powerful.

And I listened to the podcast Code Switch, about the protests in Puerto Rico and the ways music, spectacle, and pageantry were all a vital part of the successful movement to force the governor to resign.

Especially when we are surrounded by hate. Especially when we feel terrorized for being who we are: our race, gender, sexuality, where we come from or what passports we hold or don’t hold. Especially when we are suffering or witnessing others suffering—we need beauty.

We also need organizing and resistance. We need speaking out, marching, boycotting, direct action, and more. 

But we need beauty to fill our cup, nourish our souls, inspire and fortify us to fight another day.

Beauty is a gift from the universe. The ability and inclination to make beautiful things and make things beautiful is a gift and a blessing.

All you artists, poets, playwrights, writers, dancers, choreographers, actors, performers, gardeners, cooks, knitters, embroiderers, quilt makers, flower arrangers, collage makers, sculptors, origami folders, tattoo artists, jewelry makers, potters, printers, painters, designers, decorators, singers, composers, musicians, percussionists, taiko drummers, weavers, basket makers, carvers, cleaners, muralists, bakers…beauty makers of all kinds—I see you. You are valuable and your work is essential.

And to all of you, dear readers, I offer these gifts in the name of beauty: flowers from my garden, a poem I wrote, a recipe I made up.

Flowers from my garden, vase made by a new friend

Image description: A bouquet of yellow and purple flowers in a blue, white, and grey vase, in front of a window and four blue glass jars. A heart-shaped stone is in the bottom left corner of the photo.

The Flood

In the theater of the former capital, dancers and musicians swept bullets and rotten wood off the stage.

On the night of the performance, their costumes fluttered, rags in the updraft.

Rigged lights flickered like intermittent birdcalls, then steadied.

The audience breathed—a single, taut animal.

At the curtain’s rise, the hard knot in every one of our throats burst, caught fire, became a wail.

The dancers raised their arms in unison.

A slow procession of tears flowed from our eyes to chins to laps.

The drummers drummed.

Our tears pooled on the floor, lapped at our ankles.

Wind and string instruments winged through bullet holes and hunger.

When we all finally swallowed the last note, the theater was a salty lake.

Folding chairs became boats on which we floated into the night, our bodies strangely light: mirrors to the stars in the cloudless sky, wings unfurling on our backs.

A previous version of this poem was originally published in Hysteria: A Collection of Feminisms, Vol. #2, 2014.

Summer tacos

Inspired by produce from my garden and my box from Movement Ground Farm, a social justice CSA. (It doesn’t get better than that!)

These vegan tacos are filled with a comforting black bean and squash mixture and topped with crispy kale and a tomato and ground cherry salsa. Measurements are all approximate. Taste often and adjust as needed. 

Tomato and ground cherry salsa

(If you don’t have ground cherries, try substituting tomatillos or cherry tomatoes.)

A cup of ground cherries, husks removed
A cup of cherry tomatoes, diced
2-3 scallions, white and green parts, chopped
¼ cup chopped cilantro
Jalapeño to taste
A lime
Salt

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Turn the broiler on in your oven. (I did this in my toaster oven.) Spread the ground cherries on the baking sheet. Broil until they blister in spots—15 minutes or less. Cool.

Toss together the roasted ground cherries, tomatoes, scallions, and jalapeños. Add lime juice and salt to taste.

Crispy kale

A handful of kale leaves, washed and tough stems removed.
Oil
Salt

Heat your oven to 250 degrees. Tear up the kale into bite-size pieces, toss with some oil and salt. Spread the kale in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes or so until crispy. 

Black beans and summer squash

1 small onion, chopped
1 patty pan squash or other summer squash, diced
1 can of black beans
1 teaspoon or so of cumin
1 teaspoon or so of chile powder
½ a jalapeño or other chile, diced (more or less as desired)
1 tablespoon of neutral-tasting oil
Salt to taste

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add the onion and cumin. Sauté until onion is soft. Add the squash and the salt. Cook until squash is soft. Add the jalapeño, stir for a minute or two. Add the beans and chile powder, cook until it is the consistency you like. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Assemble the tacos:

Heat corn tortillas and fill with black beans and summer squash. Put a spoonful of salsa on top. If desired, add a spoonful of sour cream or drizzle some crema. Sprinkle a handful of crispy kale on top.


Prompting

To use in journaling, writing, meditating, tarot pulling, etc.

Spend one hour or more making something beautiful. Or, spend one hour or more enjoying something beautiful. Be present. Breathe. Take it with you, leave it there, share it, or give it away.


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Reparations: the U.S. presidential race

Imagine with me

After the first Democratic presidential debate, I had a thought: What if all candidates except Sen. Kamala Harris threw in the towel for their own candidacy—and put all their fundraising and campaigning resources, policy smarts, and passion into getting Harris elected?

~~~~~~~

I believe that for the U.S. to become a country that is truly just, democratic, and equitable, reparations must be made to Black folks and the Indigenous people of this land. It is a necessary starting point in addressing the legacy of slavery and genocidal colonization on which this nation is built, and it is necessary to begin to heal the deep wounds embedded in the nation’s psyche.

Lots of people have ideas on what reparations might look like—including Harris herself. I am in favor of a comprehensive system that truly addresses the harm caused to generations of Black and Indigenous folks. I know that won’t happen during this presidency. But I think it’s important for us to exercise our imaginations about what reparations could look like in the meantime.

~~~~~~~

I should say here that I agree with many of the Democratic candidates’ positions and disagree with as many. I know that our work as a movement for social and climate justice will not be over once we get a Democrat—even a Black woman—in the White House. We will still have a very long way to go.

That said, I would be over the moon if Harris became president. I’ve always admired her integrity, intelligence, and compassion. And although I’m sometimes impatient with her pragmatism on issues that I think need a more radical approach, I can see how her approach could get a whole lot of shit done. And I know we would need to continue to work to keep her accountable, as we would with any president.

Image description: Sen. Kamala Harris standing at a podium with a microphone, smiling. She is wearing a black suit and a double-strand pearl necklace. The sign on the podium says “California Democrats State Convention.” Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, creative commons.

Just imagine what would happen if all 25 candidates and the whole Democratic National Committee put everything into Harris’ campaign. If the current candidates, particularly Biden, Warren, and Sanders went around the country talking with their supporters about the ways a Harris presidency would make their lives better—and meaning it. If the DNC amplified her voice and perspective through all their channels, with all their resources. 

Just imagine how they could build a kind of unified focus and power that the left has only dreamed of in recent times. (And just maybe it’d inspire House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to step aside and support Rep. Ayanna Pressley, or  Rep. Ilhan Omar, or Rep. Gwen Moore, or Rep. Barbara Lee, or any of the other amazing Black women in the House to be Speaker.)

Of course any political pundit would dismiss this idea as utterly foolish. But I am interested in the power of our collective imagination to move far beyond what talking heads and pundits believe is possible or practical. I believe that, as adrienne maree brown has said, “what you pay attention to grows.” I believe that visioning and visualizing the world as we want it to be is the first step to creating that world.

So imagine with me, how such a move by the Democratic candidates and establishment would build incredible power, would demonstrate a kind of moral force and authority we need to get the current occupant out of the White House. How it would get a powerful and smart woman into the White House. How it would be a step toward this country coming to terms with our shameful history and to right the wrongs of the colonizing and enslaving ancestors of this country. How it would be a step toward the liberation of all of us.


How are my gifts my responsibility?

Due to a technical glitch/Mercury retrograde, some of you did not get the last edition of the newsletter in your inbox. If that’s you, I invite you to browse on over and check out the essay that meditates on the concept of our gifts and our responsibilities being different sides of the same coin, as Robin Wall Kimmerer writes about in her amazing book, Braiding Sweetgrass.


Engaging

What else I’m reading/listening to/thinking about:

Re-humanizing immigrant communities in the age of Trump: 5 language practices. If radical imagination has the power to move us toward a different kind of future, language has the power to shape it. Radical Copywriter Alex Kapitan’s latest post investigates the ways Trump is using dehumanizing language—and how we can counter it. It is an important and timely—not to mention beautifully written—piece.


Thank you, and please share!

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Our gifts, our responsibility

Toward rooted action

I learn more and more about the experience of people being held in concentration camps at the U.S. southern border. Children ripped from their families, taking care of infants they’ve never met, falling sick with no one to care for them. Women abused by guards. Thousands of people denied basic necessities. I am filled with horror and feel called to act.

~~~~~~~

I monitor the sky every day. I compare this summer’s weather to last year’s, this year’s wild rose blooms to last year’s, the number of butterflies in our garden this year compared to last year. My senses confirm what my brain knows: We are in climate catastrophe. I am filled with dread and compelled to act.

~~~~~~~

I watch the bully in the White House engage in reckless and incomprehensible acts of aggression toward Iran. I read about his insistence on tanks at the 4th of July event in the capital. I read his hateful tweets directed at women of color in Congress. Images of Nazi military parades run through my mind; the atomic cloud mushrooms behind my eyelids. I am afraid and moved to act.

~~~~~~~

But what does action look like, for me, in this body, in this moment, in response to the specific atrocities carried out by those in power and the intolerable conditions of the world today? It feels almost impossible to know what to pay attention to in any given moment. And my inability to consistently channel my horror, dread, and fear into effective, collective, meaningful action fills me with impotent rage.

I also know all this is deliberate. In 2008, Naomi Klein wrote a book about it. This is the shock doctrine in practice, deliberately designed by men who run governments and corporations to create chaos, to disorient people, to prevent us from coming together and fighting back hard. Their end game is dominance, profit, and power. They believe we are disposable, easily conquered, insignificant.

But I know we are not.

So I search for a way to resist the disorientation and helplessness that comes in waves. I search for ways to come home to my power, in the hopes that it will guide my way to action.

Robin Wall Kimmerer’s gorgeous storytelling and brilliant writing in Braiding Sweetgrass sinks straight into my heart. Every chapter is a root-map to a deep and wordless connection to the land under my feet. Every chapter encourages me to understand and act on that connection in a way that’s authentic to who I am as the great-granddaughter of settler-colonialists who arrived in this country from opposite sides of the globe: Japan and Germany. Every chapter asks me to reflect on the love I have for sentient and non-sentient creatures of this earth, how they might love me back, and what my responsibilities are to them.

Early in the book, Kimmerer writes of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Thanksgiving Address:

The Thanksgiving Address reminds us that duties and gifts are two sides of the same coin. Eagles were given the gift of far sight, so it is their duty to watch over us. Rain fulfills its duty as it falls, because it was given the gift of sustaining life. What is the duty of humans? If gifts and responsibilities are one, then asking ‘What is our responsibility?’ is the same as asking ‘What is our gift?’

~~~~~~~

A few days later, I receive Lori Snyder’s Writer’s Happiness Challenge, in which she encourages writers to tap into what is most authentic to ourselves—to write what only we can write, do what only we can do:

Somewhere deep down, I think we all know that the parts of us that are most us are exactly what we need to cultivate, not just as writers, but also in every other aspect of our lives. In these times where so many of us feel paralyzed by all the things we think we should be or do, it can be really easy to forget how important it is to spend our time and energy on whatever it is inside of us that exists nowhere else.

~~~~~~~

In her June podcast, Tarot teacher Lindsay Mack talks about the invitation for all of us to find our rootedness, acknowledging that for so many of us we have been cut off from our root(s), or that our root(s) have been appropriated by others. She defines our root as whatever it is connects us to our ground—the literal land under our feet or the universal ground that holds us.

She calls it the “wordless root,” and I imagine a strong taproot slowly growing from the soles of my feet, sending out tiny tendrils, digging into the New England dirt of my garden—a root only I can grow, a root that is the essence of me and the complex history that has brought me to this land at this moment.

Image description: A huge oak tree reaching up into the sky. Beneath it, there is a green picnic bench where a woman with dark hair and light skin (me!) sits, wearing a black tank top and maroon pants, looking at the camera.

These are gifts I receive from Kimmerer, Snyder, and Mack from across space and time. They return me to myself in the midst of the chaos and horror—not to shut out the world and stay gazing inward indefinitely, but to listen closely for my gift, and therefore my responsibility—so that I can then turn back outward, fortified and ready for action.

I ask myself: What have I been given? What skills, talents, blessings? What do I wear easily on my skin like a gorgeous gown, all sea green silk and sapphire? What takes me through the swift and dangerous currents, keeps me dry and safe as a seal? What did I never ask for but has accompanied me with murmurs of love and devotion all of my life?

The answer comes, as it always does, patiently, as if for the first time. As if I have not asked myself some version of this question all my life, and have been too afraid or full of ego or full of doubt to listen carefully and act decisively when the answer comes. Or as if I have not abandoned the path laid out for me time and again because of my fear of failure or because it didn’t feel like it was “enough.”  

The answer comes to me, gently and maybe with the sense of hope that this time I am ready to listen well and stay the course.

My gift, and my responsibility, is to write. To write what I see as the truth, in the face of enormous power that attempts to destroy all that I love and believe in. To try and tease out and clarify what needs to be said in this moment. To write what will move people to action, what will shape change.

To write what will inspire people who are sweating it out at the border, in the streets, in the halls of power to keep going. To keep doing the work to transform systems that are designed to break us all.

To write to remind ourselves of our power, how we won’t be broken, how we have each other. How there are so many of us who are doing the work to understand our gifts, and understand our responsibilities to each other and the land that holds us all.


Prompting

To use in journaling, writing, meditating, tarot pulling, etc.

This prompt is meant to help return you to your power, to help you identify your gifts and responsibilities. If going outside and moving around isn’t possible or comfortable for you, you can do it as a visualized meditation.

  1. Go somewhere where there are things growing—be it a forest, a park, or a strip of grass along a sidewalk. If you can go somewhere that’s meaningful to you, that’s great, but it’s not necessary. Take a notebook and something to write and draw with.

  2. Walk or move about as long as feels good to do so. Then stand or sit still.

  3. Feel the air on your skin. Look up at the sky above you. You might take off your shoes so you can feel the ground beneath your feet. Take a few full, deep breaths.

  4. Close your eyes or relax your gaze. Imagine yourself as a tree. Imagine your roots—your own and no one else’s—reaching far down into the earth. Imagine your legs and torso as a trunk—sturdy and stable.

  5. Imagine your arms as branches. You might lift your arms and reach them to the sky. Imagine leaves, flowers, fruits blooming from your branches: gifts that are uniquely yours to offer to the world.

  6. When it feels right, take out your notebook. Whether or not you consider yourself artistic, I encourage you to draw the tree: your roots, your trunk, your branches and their gifts. Don’t worry about what it looks like; make it as simple or as elaborate as you want. If this doesn’t work for you, skip to the next step.

  7. Incorporate words or phrases in the drawing, or freewrite/journal what comes to you as you look at your tree.


Engaging

What else I’m reading/listening to/thinking about:

Rest as Reparations with Tricia Hersey of The Nap Ministry on the Healing Justice Podcast. I loved listening to this delightful and profound conversation between Tricia Hersey and Kate Werning about the intersection of white supremacy, capitalism, and rest. Hersey’s Nap Ministry seems like a perfect example of using your gift to fulfill your responsibility (in this case, her gifts of artistic creation with the responsibility of resisting white supremacy and capitalism).

Tsuru for solidarity. One thing that is inspiring me in this moment is how the Japanese American community has come out definitively against the imprisoning of migrants at the border (and, previously, the Muslim ban). Obaachans, ojiichans, obachans, and ojichans who were imprisoned in U.S. concentration camps as children (and younger generations as well), are showing up to protest and make their voices heard. As we all seek ways to resist and build, it feels important to pay attention to how our people do it, what is right for us—as well as to grow and learn from each other. To me, this Democracy Now! footage at Fort Sill where a blustering military officer unsuccessfully tries to stop an elder from speaking captures something of the nature of our resistance that feels exactly right in my Japanese American bones. For more on the significance of tsuru, this beautiful essay explains a little about our practice of folding cranes as resistance and revolution.


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