Stepping into our power and its pleasures
in a global pandemic
|Tamiko Beyer||Apr 7|
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Postcard on my sweetie’s bookshelf [Image description postcard taped to a wooden background. The image on the card is of a Black woman in front of a microphone holding her hands up, palms open. The text reads: “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” - Audre Lorde, February 18, 1934 - November 17, 1992]
In 2002 I was 28 and living on San Francisco’s not-yet-gentrified Mission Street. My tiny third-floor studio apartment sported a dirty carpet and peeling paint. The hot water heater took up half the kitchen. In the evenings, I’d climb out the window onto the fire escape and watch the sun set over the flat roofs of my neighbors.
I worked at San Francisco Women Against Rape and sometimes took the overnight shift for the 24-hour crisis hotline. When the phone rang, I'd trail the cord behind me to sit on my kitchen floor. I’d stare up at the poster I had hung there of Audre Lorde wearing a garland of leaves and flowers and half a smile, raising her arms to the sky. And her quote:
When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.
Mostly the callers just needed someone who believed them, someone who validated their feelings. They needed to talk through their pain and rage, the awful things that had happened to them, their grief, and their fear.
It wasn’t always easy to be present during those calls, but I knew that’s what I needed to do. Audre Lorde helped us in those midnight hours. I took deep breaths, listened, and reflected back to the caller the strength that I heard. I affirmed their worthiness, their inherent power.
Outside of that small, dark kitchen in the middle of the night, I didn’t often trust myself. I needed endless external validation to confirm I was a good person, a successful poet, or down enough with the revolution.
And when I left San Francisco for New York City, I rolled up that poster and stored it. I spent many years searching for my vision—trying to figure out what I was meant to do in this world. I never fully trusted where I landed—or even that I had landed.
But recently, my partner bought a postcard version of that Audre Lorde poster. The image felt so familiar, etched into my brain from all those hours of staring at it. And I suddenly realized that almost 20 years since those midnight calls, I am finally stepping into the truth of that quote. I believe I have a vision worth sharing in this political moment. I am daring to be powerful in the service of this vision.
It is definitely scary to step into my power. But there’s also something else. That slight smile on Lorde’s face. I think it’s pleasure, and I know how it feels.
I’ve learned that when I dare to be powerful in the service of my vision, my body is flooded with a kind of joy and confidence I rarely experience. My blood flows, my breath deepens, my heart rejoices. It’s almost like dancing.
With the COVID-19 pandemic bringing so much fear and uncertainty, I am thinking even more about what it means to connect to this power and its attending pleasure. I don’t have answers, but I have some observations and questions.
Over the past few weeks, I have felt most anxious when I don’t know what to do. How do I best keep myself and my loved ones healthy? How do I shop for groceries safely? How do I best respond and act in this time of great inequity?
And I have felt most grounded when I pull my attention and energy back into my body—through dancing, yoga, walking along the river. It’s in those moments that I have the most clarity about how best to move through this time: with caution and common sense paired with abundance and love.
Centered and grounded in this way, I’m able to be my most powerful self as I do what I can: taking part in local mutual aid groups, helping distribute food, participating in virtual organizing drives for the release of people being held in detention, etc.
As many people have observed, this pandemic is revealing all of the ways our systems and structures have been and are failing people. And we are outraged. We don’t want a society so inequitable, uncaring, and unjust. This moment is also revealing how it’s absolutely possible for society to make swift and drastic changes for the good of the whole.
We have opportunities in front of us now to create a world grounded in care toward liberation. To make permanent all the beautiful actions and ideas rising up in this moment: mutual aid, universal health care, paid sick leave, decareration, and more.
But it won’t be easy. There is still much suffering, struggle, pain, and fear ahead as well. So it seems to me that the more rooted we can each become in our own power—and the pleasure that comes with it—the more equipped we will be to engage in the struggle ahead.
This is a moment when we are paying extreme attention to the fact that we are bodies—porous and mortal bodies. I wonder what would it look like—as we wash our hands over and over again, as we try not to touch our faces, as we pay worried attention to our breathing—what would it look like for us to also take note of where we are strong in our bodies? Where we feel steady and good. What would it mean to do something pleasurable each day in our bodies within the confines we find ourselves in: sitting/napping in a patch of sunshine, opening a window and feeling the how the air touches our face, dancing in the kitchen?
Could we use those moments to connect to the power inherent in us? And could that connection help us in the weeks and months and years ahead do the hard work of transforming our neighborhoods, cities, states, nations, and the world into communities of care and justice?
Where is your power located? What does it feel like? What does it sound like? What does it taste like? How do you move your body in power? How do you use your voice in power?
Pull out the Strength card. Below it, draw three cards:
1) Where is your power located?
2) What is blocking your ability to use your strength in the service of your vision?
3) How can you better connect to your source of strength and power?
What else I’m reading/listening to/thinking about:
If you’re not inundated already with recommendations on how to spend your time in your house, here are a few things that have brought pleasure to my heart, mind, and body lately:
From the Asian American Writers Workshop: “You Don’t Say No to Yuri Kochiyama,” about one of my heroes, Yuri Kochiyama, her political development, and her bad-ass work with political prisoners. (Side note: I will forever remember the one time I saw Yuri Kochiyama—in San Francisco in that same period I describe above. We were protesting the Iraq war. She was wheeled through a muddy field in a wheelchair and handed a megaphone. If she was frail in body, she was fierce and powerful in her presence and speech, fully embodying Lorde’s words.)
From the Long Distance podcast: Before listening to Larry Itliong and the Great Delano Grape Strike, I knew vaguely there was a Filipino organizer who worked with Cesar Chavez on the farm worker boycotts. I didn’t realize how crucial Larry Itliong was to the success of the farm workers movement—and how his legacy has been erased.
Natalie Goldberg first taught me that writing is a practice. If you are a fan of her, too, check out this delightful (if slightly rambling) dharma talk on how structure helped her write and might help us as we stay in our homes.
A Long Petal Of the Sea, by Isabelle Allende. This novel reminded me that people have endured all sorts of terrible societal upheavals and survived. It beautifully illustrates how love and relationships are key to surviving and flourishing, even under civil wars and dictatorships.
I’m dancing with Debbie Allen on Wednesday afternoons via Instagram. You can, too!
I’ve found this database of COVID-19-related resources to be super helpful.
Get Radical Boil Roots is my go-to right now on herbs and food for keeping my immune system strong.
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