Dear Swooney,

Dear Swooney,

I’m so glad to know that soon enough you will decide to be born. You probably won’t remember this but you came to me in a dream—you were speaking and eating ice cream and walking slowly beside me while balancing along a small two-wheeled bike. You had a lot to say but I’m not quite sure what you were trying to tell me, do you remember?

I am so excited to be my best self with you. Last week I was sitting at my desk at work and overheard a child trying to get her mother’s attention. She kept calling her Mom Mom Mom Mom until I wanted to answer yes in her mother’s place. I realized how much impatience we have on all sides. I hope you don’t ever have to call me more than three times to get my attention—I will try my best to remember I told you this.

Swooney, there is so much scary stuff happening in the world right now that I want to protect you from. I’m trying to find a balance between a) wanting you to see and feel it all so that you can make your own decisions and b) guiding you with conclusions I already have in mind. I hope to provide you with the conditions to reach out and grasp your own freedoms, knowing that your work toward liberation may be different than mine, and that they are so braided together. How exciting to be working on the same patchwork quilt before you are even born!

Here are some things you should know about your aunty: We don’t eat meat at my house. I chant (sometimes I chant for you!) and you’re always welcome to join me, I try not to wear shoes on the rug so that we can roll around on the floor as much as we want, I am a writer, I don’t think I will ever be done growing and changing (I’m made most hopeful by this), I love to travel alone (you’ll be invited once you get big enough!), some days are easier than others for me to get out of bed, and I absolutely love reading books! I am also unraveling some knots in our family karma. I am trying to create a clearer channel.

I remember as far back as kindergarten having the knot that lives in my belly. I was sitting on a bench during recess behind my classroom and worrying, like I had been all day, that the police would soon come to arrest me. The knot was so heavy I couldn’t even get up off of the bench to play. Years later I would begin to see the strings that made the knot. They became more and more visible on the arms and legs of my parents and other loved ones in our family—the strings that pulled them in this direction or that without their consent. When the strings held onto them tightly around the neck, none of us could breathe. The strings began to have names like childhood trauma, sexual assault, probation/parole, addiction, incarceration, low-income, ‘at-risk’, ‘system involved’. I am unraveling the knots so that you can continue to breathe easily through your belly many years after you’ve grown out of your crib.

The place in our family that we have prepared for you is big enough for you to outgrow our wildest dreams, collectively. The place we have prepared for you is not perfect. The preparers of the place we have created for you are not perfect. (We are not perfect).

Swooney, I will be healing while you grow. I know that your eyes on us will bring pressure to make things better and I hope that doesn’t make us phoney instead. We each have work to do in our own mirrors. Some of this work will require calling on the help of others. Some of this work will require adults talking about very difficult things that we do not want to. Some of this work will require forgiving without ever hearing an apology. Some of this work has been being done incrementally, quietly through courageous prayer and brave support. You may witness some things that are uncomfortable while we heal—but I vow that you will always be safe. You will always be loved. You will always be watched over and looked after and held in the high cradle of generations past, (some so far back that I have never even seen their faces), marveling and laughing over you and seeing their own smile in yours. You are so loved already.

The year is 2017 and the location is Planet Earth. The place and time that you are approaching is very sick, Swooney. It is not well. It has had a nasty cough for a really long time, before anyone alive in our family was even born. You will grow up experiencing a time in this place when the nasty cough has broken and the virus is beginning to pore out. It will be gross. But know that getting all the gunk out, can give us clarity, can help us breathe easier. Thankfully, your mother is a magnificent balm and a fierce warrior. Thankfully, I have made myself strong to carry you both on my own back through hell and/or high water (hot or cold).

Oh, Swooney, you are so precious.

I feel like I know you already. Like we were good old friends who used to play chess across from each other in a park. I’m not sure who used to win.

I look forward to this lifetime with you. Where we sing and dance when the spirit moves us to do so. Where I introduce you to some of my favorite ancestors. Where I invite you to close your eyes when there’s a horn or a piano playing and ask you what you see. Where we practice dropping the needle onto a record. Where we learn together how to grow our own food. Where we snark as we translate rhetoric on comfy couches like our own sport. Where we become and never stop becoming feminists/womanists. This life when we self care and seek refuge inside. I very much look forward to it all with you.  

I’m so honored to be gifted the duty of carework by loving on you. I’m so grateful that you are a phoenix on fire in the dark. Thank you for bringing new life to me and my little sister (your mother). Together, the two of you have been my favorite teachers of love that I’ve been humbled to learn from and be loved by in this life time.

With fierce love,

Your Mimi, Tanea

be yourself and make them pay

I knew I was loved supreme when my mom called and asked me,

 “Can I come over and clean your house?”

She was telling me about her diabetes. And how two of the psych meds she takes name diabetes as a side effect. We were talking about eating healthy and drinking water before we both went into very sweet monologues about how we feel once we break a sweat. I talked about whining all the way to yoga and never making it to the gym (even though it’s EXACTLY two blocks away from my house). I told her that I always felt so relieved when it was all done—when I broke a sweat and endorphins hovered around me like those swarming packs of little gnats that come around you when its dark outside and there’s water nearby (are those mosquitoes?). She talked about the satisfaction she gets when cleaning her house. She said she often cleaned until she broke a sweat, then she cleaned some more. This was her alternative to “real exercise”. When I’d asked her what “real exercise” was, she said, “like power walking.” This is when she had told me that her bathroom and kitchen were already clean, and that she needed to break a sweat, and could she come over and clean my house?

   Who am I to deny anyone of their workout routine?!

So, it’s Friday night at my house and my eight year old sister is jumping on my couch dancing to “Off the Wall”. The album is playing from my phone in a cup in my living room while my mother mops my kitchen floor with a towel (she asked if I had a mop and when I handed her my swiffer, she covered her mouth before laughing). I got out of the way and worked on my mom’s resume. She had sent me an outline more than a week ago asking for my help to create it and I had been negligent, prioritizing my own writing and assignments from work over the resume. While she’s making due with my inadequate cleaning supplies, I’m asking her “what did you do when you worked at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter Online?” and “how long did you do accounts payable for Caltrans?” My mother’s last working experience in an office was sixteen years ago. I’m looking at a draft of the resume she sent me and I see that she has created a ‘personal’ section. Under the header I read “three amazing daughters”. I can’t mention it aloud to her because I’ll want to cry and I don’t know how to handle anything that sweet with other humans sometimes. 

As I’m asking her questions and crafting her resume I am realizing how different she is now. When I was a child she was very stern. She was stressed and exhausted from full-time work and raising two young girls. When she was my age, she had two daughters—I was six and my sister was four. I am in such deep gratitude when I consider the miracles in patience and love that she made. She made these miracles all while (what we didn’t have language for at the time) a severe mental health crisis was looming over our heads. I barely have enough patience to get through the two minute timer on my electric toothbrush, I don’t know how the hell she woke us up, got us ready for school, made us dinner every night, worked all day in an office ripe with microaggressions and racism (which we heard about often, and didn’t know what to do with), all while suffering from untreated depression.

I had a knot in my throat when she moved on to cleaning my bathroom. I was mad at the world for creating the perfect storm conditions for my mother’s mental health crisis. I was infuriated and swelling with grief and gratitude because she had survived. And we had too. And I was so damn proud of us.

Some weeks ago I was invited to share my story of growing up and graduating from SFUSD at an Our Children Our Families Council meeting in San Francisco. For weeks prior to the meeting, I’d had pieces of my life experience tossed around like hot food on a too-eager tongue, assessing it for trauma and ping points and evaluated for places where leaders in the city could recognize factors for city systems improvement. As I crafted my story, part of me wanted to just say “fuck it” and go rogue and walk in there and tell the department heads of the city that they were full of shit and I didn’t need to share my story for them to stop screwing over poor folks and Black people in this city. It makes me want to snarl and show my teeth whenever I suspect that someone wants to use me as a token or a sob story or respectable survivor of some sort. It makes me want to transform into a cautionary tale instead. But, I think it makes me so upset because I went for a long time not realizing that I was lightweight being exploited for my story. Each time I told it, I became more detached from the reality that what I was sharing had actually happened—to me, and it was hella scary and I actually don’t know how I survived without breaking sometimes and I do still fear that I am just breaking slowly and don’t know it. But when I told it, I had to be past it, for it to be a story of triumph. So I got numb about it.

I’ve agreed to tell my story to help raise money, help raise awareness, help make people feel better, help influence change, etc. But my father is still incarcerated, my mom is still not paid a living wage, and Black people are still getting pushed out of their homes in San Francisco everyday.

This is what was running through my mind as I considered the audience of the council (the department heads of nearly every San Francisco agency, in one room). A big part of me wanted to have, as I had once heard Miss Major Griffin-Gracy say ‘the best revenge’, which was to be myself and make them pay.

I cried and got nauseous and felt shame and experienced fear remembering things I had forgotten when I crafted my story. I felt it when I wrote it this time. And I felt better.

I am writing this because I have been trained in repeating my own story for good causes without receiving benefits or getting the support to do that heavy lifting and remembering. I will not let anyone make me numb to what I have experienced. I don’t give a damn what the cause is. People have deadlines and matrices and points to make with my life experiences, if I let them. I will not. I will not let anybody rewrite my experience in a way that makes me the victor, the innocent, the smart one, and anyone who I know to be a victim of systems of oppression and inequity the guilty, the bad, the lost cause(s). If they think of my loved ones that way, there’s no way I can be too far off.

I say this to say, I love my mama and my daddy. And I’m so goddamn proud that we made it. To wherever we are today. We all survived shit storms and I’m still in awe that we all somehow made it out, clean(ish). If and when I shine, it is a reflection of you and all the people you brought to the fore, to help raise me up when you couldn’t do it yourself.

I have made peace with the me that told my story before without regard for the me that was still experiencing the moving parts of the trauma. The me that agreed to play the role of the example and the exception just because I wanted admiration and acceptance. I accept and admire myself. We fiercer now.  

………..

These are some of the recommendations I named to the Our Children Our Families Council when I presented my story this Monday:

What might it look like to…

·      Have all hands on deck to create specific initiatives to improve the quality of life and the retention rates of Black San Franciscans who are being pushed out of our communities and our homes (San Francisco has the highest displacement rate of Black families since post-Katrina New Orleans)

·      Consider that youth know when they are being approached and dealt with like they are their problems. This problem based approach in schools discourages trust and authentic relationship building

·      Consider that art can be therapy, too

·      Yay free MUNI for youth! If it’s really free, youth should be auto enrolled and shouldn’t be receiving fare evasion tickets

·      Have trauma care plans be just as prevalent as IEPs, if not more, ask your youth how many of them have witnessed violence, have lost a loved one, ask them what they need to grieve

·      Serve low-income youth food at school that you would eat

·      Recognize that fines and fees assessed to adults are fines and fees assessed on the entire family, if you don't think so, try choosing between groceries and lights or school uniforms and gas for your car

·      Consider what a transit-first city is like for a family that lives in a community with a history of negligent transit systems to begin with (how do we make the T run down third like it does for the Giants games?)

·      Not send all your bills and notices to low-income families on the same day and make your fees based on ability to pay 

·      Give incentives to landlords who house long-time residents and low income families so that they can stay in the city

·     Making families prove over and over again that they are poor and low income to qualify for services is humiliating; use your data to talk to each other instead

·      Don’t assume that because someone is unemployed or doesn’t have money that they have time. Poor people spend most of their time waiting in lines and being told no

·      Reach out to youth in SFUSD who were failed by your school system. Who were pushed out. Ask what you can do now to make it right. Ask them what they needed. It’s not too late to meet that need as a city.

In this historical moment, the changes that need to be made, need to be done with care as if your life depended on it. For our undocumented neighbors, for our family members struggling with specialized care and mental health, for our Black neighbors just trying to remain alive and free in this city—our lives do often depend on it.

 

 

 

dream work

My mother knew my sister was pregnant before my sister told her.

She really didn’t know if it was me or my sister at first. So she called us both. I could barely get a “hello” into the receiver before she accused me in a joyful tone of being the reason she had dreamt of fish. I let her know that I was most definitely not the culprit. Within a week, my sister called me while I was in the middle of parallel parking on an incline to tell me that she was pregnant. There was so much excitement rising in me that I seriously thought bubbles might make their way up my throat and out of my mouth as I had my foot on the brake and waved my hand out the window for people to “go around” me.

A week after turning twenty four, I had a dream that a small child was standing next to my car trying to get my attention. The child was standing near the front tire, pointing at the driver’s side of my car. I woke up and added “put air in front tire” to my to-do list. Two weeks later, I parked my car in front of a bike shop so that I could stop in to grab a lock (which I have yet to use, actually). As I was getting my receipt, I heard a horrible crash right outside. There was a group of kids that were hanging outside of the bike shop when I parked. Now they were swearing and laughing in disbelief. I rushed outside to see what happened. My car had been hit by an AC Transit bus. The bus was turning into a designated stop and completely smashed in the front driver’s side of my car. I hadn’t yet put air in the tire but there really wasn’t any need to by then.

Dreams are important. (For my witchy family) They are a place to interact with the ethers. Dreams take me back in time. They allow me to be a fly on the wall in situations I’ve never experienced, they let me hover over places I’m not even sure exist. They make the curtainveil between real life and the spectacular or the frightening-as-hell seem thinner and thinner. Especially if you dream as vividly as we do in my family.

In my dreams I have made peace with people who have passed before their time. I have been shot to death by loved ones. I’ve fallen (A LOT) off of steep things. I’ve lost teeth. I’ve lost fights because I suddenly have muscles made of molasses. I’ve held onto things in my jaws, bitten down and not let go (I’m an avid jaw grinder in my sleep, actually, it’s pretty despicable). I’ve looked into many mirrors and seen someone who I know to be me in the dream, not look like the me that is the real me. Once, I was even rescued by the Zapatistas and they made it look like a kidnapping for my own safety. Needless to say, I try to stay off of the internet before I go to bed, but, well, some days are easier than others.

Dreams are the places where messages arrive. They are the resting place where I find solutions to problems I don’t understand. They are the place where I ask myself for help undoing a knot that I’m too tired and frustrated to find the loose end of. They are the place where my Lola visits me and she’s laughing and glowing and smoking a cigarette with one knee crossed over the other and leaning in to hear me say something juicy. Dreams are where my grandpa shows up in the faces of other people and reminds me that his spirit is everywhere, jumping from the belly laugh of one and the southern drawl of another and the food smell of country ham. Jumping and landing on everything like a tic(k) just stopping by to visit.

Dreams are a look at the not yet. The not past. The not future. They’re like a cocktail of all of these places. A trippy one, where I get to fly in my favorite ones and lose a limb that I can’t seem to find anywhere in others. Where I get to see and know other versions of myself.

It is wild to think that all of the jungles and ruined towns and problempeople and watersnakes are created by my own mind. Wild to think that my mind is still chewing on something it may have taken in without my even noticing and showing me while I rest. It’s kind of sweet and creepy at the same time.

This past week I was having horrible dreams about the inauguration. I startled myself awake by talking while sleeping, I was saying, “they’re making stupidity legal”.

I’ve been in a kind of walking-dream throughout the entire election process, where half of me is (continually) disgusted and not surprised by the system that bred this fascism and the other half of me is in an Octavia Butler novel.

I have to regularly remind myself that summer will still come. More specifically, I regularly remind myself that it will not be winter for four years. However, “the campaign for torrential winter forever” threatens to take away so many things that keep us warm and happy and alive. In this crucial ass moment, dreaming is a godsend.

Dreaming affords me space and license to get free despite. Aids in escape from capitalist modes of production and utility as I rest. Dreaming serves as a mindmap and blueprint for plotting and manifesting revolution.

For me, it used to be that when I was severely activated in a state of heightened stress and anxiety that the only thing I wanted to do was lay my head against something and take a nap. Crisis and noise could be swarming all around me and I would burrow into a sleep. I wonder now how much of that was hopefulness to dip into a solution within myself, through dreaming.

When I can’t imagine another way to get under, over, or through, I’m hitting ‘snooze’. If I don’t get anything from a dream, at least I will be rested enough to call on my active imagination for some help to get unstuck. Because, Lorde knows there is nothing I dislike more than being stuck. Well, being stuck and having an old dusty white dude tell me what I’m not gonna do.

Dreaming is a concrete tool of legitimate resistance in a place where there seems to be no possibility/possible-ness. Nights when I’m tired from fighting, I hope for dreams that will show me a new way to get free. I luxuriate in possibilities to turn some mixed message into reality and plot to make it happen. How tricky and powerful we are. Try as they might, they can’t get to us when we are dreaming.

Suckas! 

i ain't your unicorn.

“You know what we call you guys, right?”

I knew immediately that this was heading in a direction that I wanted no parts of. Before I could decide if I wanted to play dead in the backseat, he answered to amuse himself.

“Unicorns.”

I was in an uber. I had spent hours at my friend’s house in Lake View, a small community in San Francisco, where my parents grew up and where I was raised. I was taking an uber from her house to Balboa Bart station where I would take the last train home to Oakland.

My driver was from a place he had to mumble the name of. I had just told him that I was born in San Francisco. Before I could say my usual “and so were my parents and my parent’s parents,” he’d interrupted me to say the unicorn shit. I felt anger building in my chest when I realized that they call us unicorns because there are so few people who were born here, still here.  Still being visible. So rarely seen that a sighting of us is considered mythical.

I could have kicked something if I weren’t being conscious of my budding non-violence practice (which is still deeply under construction, so please don’t test the infrastructure heavily, I am still a student of the “my Mama ain’t raise no punk” school).

Don’t get me wrong—I’m totally a unicorn. I’m quite queer. I’m Black, fiercely. I live a colorful life (not just as revenge). I enjoy frolicking and being magical as hell. And I give myself permission to marvel in the benefits of my work toward self-actualization. But I ain’t your unicorn.

And I damn sure ain’t going to be called no cute little name while my people are violently being disappeared from our homes. I won’t let the process of gentrification and police violence (that literally erases my community) be formed into a process of myth-making and laughed away.

Long before anyone in my family arrived here, this Ohlone land was called Yelamu. It would be invaded and colonized by the Spanish. It would go on to be called Yerba Buena. In 1847 it would be named San Francisco.

My grandmother grew up in San Francisco. In Hunter’s Point. She was 10 or 11 when she first saw a white person that wasn’t on television. It was the first time she had gone downtown in the City. She said it felt like she was in a dream. Her grandmother had come over from Port Arthur, Texas. She’d moved to San Francisco to join other family members working at the naval shipyard in Hunter’s Point. She migrated for a better life for her children. If you’d called any of them “unicorns” today, you might surely be backhanded.

When I was growing up in this place, the trains turned from orange to silver one day on my walk home from school. As I got older they only let us in five at a time at the 7-Eleven on Ocean St. When I was in high school I happened upon white neighborhoods that looked like houses made for dolls and couldn’t believe this was the same city I lived in. I experienced the losses of first Capone, then years later, Antwanisha and so many more becoming mourned younger and younger as I somehow managed to get older each year. When I was growing up in this place I danced in African print to gospel music for school assemblies and performed the Huki Lau in first grade. I went on a field trip to Alcatraz when my dad was fresh out of prison and my belly felt afraid the entire time I was there. I played a slave in a school play and didn’t know, until I was older and saw a picture of myself, that the repetitive motion I was taught to do simulated to the audience that I was picking cotton.

................

San Francisco has the highest displacement rate of Black families since post-Katrina New Orleans.

 There’s an estimated 3-5.8% of us left in the City. This sometimes looks like tightly hugging people (whom I didn’t get along with in middle school) because I am glad to know that they are still alive. This looks like driving through my old neighborhood past certain houses and remembering that someone who used to live there had a mother who passed away some years ago. Then remembering, with greater devastation, that they themselves had been killed not long afterward.  This looks like being the third generation to organize for a goddamn grocery store that sells affordable fruits and vegetables that aren’t rotten anywhere in District 10. ANYWHERE. This looks like a very sad dating pool, ‘cause I literally know everybody. And their mama. This means that when I remember my city--the place where I learned me before forgetting, I am remembering a place that no longer exists.

Sometimes, it’s like walking through a hologram.

We have history here. We are not unicorns. We are in danger. Erasure does not make us into myth.

 

* If you were born and raised in San Francisco and you find yourself to be in the back of an uber, approaching your destination and feel anger rising in your throat, remember this: 1) you ain’t nobody’s unicorn. 2) if you choose to be your own unicorn, then know this—unicorns are not easily defeated. They get to be beautiful and have a sword on their heads to protect their magic from anyone who dare come too close.

 

 

 

 

  

wildness and freedoms

why 2017 (and every year after) is my year of wildness and freedoms. 

The germseed started in 2015, really. I ended that year in Maui hanging out the window of a three door rental car with one of my best friends, driving down a road with copper streetlights and no other cars in sight. I was crying and laughing and spitting (and completely sober!) out the window. My hip bumped agains the window frame the more wild I got hanging out against the wind. 

I had just made the decision to quit my job and live on a loan for the remainder of my six months in graduate school. After making the decision, the tension in a knot at the top of my head relaxed and I felt high. I had made the decision for myself to be free of something that was depleting me. We had driven to a nude beach for a Sunday party--we'd missed it because I was crying and babbling in the car about the job. People began to emerge from the beach parking lot, letting us know that the party had ended. I had made my decision. I am blessed to have this friend, who didn't ask questions when I half-way apologized about something I needed to do that might make her uncomfortable while she drove. This friend who turned the music up for me to match my volume when I shouted with my throat and my chest outside the window alongside Kendrick Lamar. Me and Kendrick both said we was gon' be alright and I imagine a lot of Maui heard us and was convinced. I felt accomplished at the end of the song. The wind had dried my eyes, my braids had whipped my face several times, there was drool and snot. I felt a buzz all through my body. I had made the decision to be wild.

On my last day at work, there was cake. Half of it said, "Good Luck Tanea" while the other half of the cake said a happy birthday message to a new co-worker. I chose to admire the level of pettiness (instead of..). Throughout a go-round, coworkers gave me acknowledgements about my "headstrongness" and other characteristics that are often code for shade about how you're hard to get along with. 

I had diamonds for eyes. It was incredibly difficult to leave this work and yet so evident that it was my time. I cried as people talked about me because I realized that I had honored and validated my wildself by following through with my decision to leave. People sitting next to me rubbed my back while I cried and had no idea why I was really tearing up. I was leaving this place because I no longer wanted to be there. I was leaving to work on a novel I had started the year earlier. I was bustin' loose and I was happy enough to cry about it! 

Over the course of the next 6.5 months I would go on to learn to climb for protest, to be so deep in the reality of my fictional project world that I woke up in the night like one of my main characters, to fall off a rock into a river while hiking and laugh through my nose rising to the surface unscathed (entirely. it was a real-life miracle), to get my IUD removed and have a first real period in years, to be accepted into VONA and feel life a real writer for the first time in life after having been rejected the year before, to graduate with my Master's degree, to be so depressed and devastated by the murders of Black people by police that I couldn't tell if I was real and didn't leave my house or talk to others for a while, to come to myself in dreams with loving messages, to get a darling dog with healing powers, to break and let a little light inside, to burst all the way open with bright joy afterward, to write my book (to know it like the best lover), to answer this calling that graciously keeps calling no matter how long I leave the phone off the hook. 

In 2016 I didn't know the degree to which I was demanding the terms of my own inside-outting. But the stakes.was.high. I leapt like a motherfucker (sorry for cussin' on the internet, grandma). I was real wild. And it was the most growingest shit I ever did on-purpose. I felt everything. Running through me like water. 

I traveled to New Orleans. I was out at a party and a girl came in with a sweatshirt that said "I am my ancestors wildest dream". I had to leave and take a walk around the block with friends and hold on to something and cry. I cried a lot at beauty in New Orleans. During an Easter Sunday second line I had to put on my sunglasses because I was bawling seeing all my people dancing through the streets of their communities (anyway/despite/in spite of). This was the germseed of a recurring lesson I learned--my favorite one in 2016: joy is yours, it is given to you as a gift from your ancestors, it is your right/rite and it has a mystical power and ability to actually fight back by laughing (and dancing in praise of each other and of music) in the face of evil. 

2017 (and every year after) is my year of wildness and freedoms because my sensitivity became my super power in 2016. The softer I became, the stronger I felt. When I was anxious I breathed in and felt inside for my gut (who is always sending fire alarms, often without signs of any smoke). I learned to fill my belly with air so I had less room for anxiety. I reminded myself readily and often that no one turns me to dust so easily.