American Utopia

Black t-shirt with white text that reads Here's The Connection encircling an image of a human brain in yellow.
“Where’s the Connection?”
American Utopia Unisex Brain Tee $40

I love David Byrne and it was a joy to be able to share the experience of live theater, live music– performance with my son, getting out to see American Utopia last night. Grateful for that opportunity AND a deep sadness and frustration still hanging around today. Even anger, disappointment if I’m honest. Part of it was having to navigate all the drunken stupidity that fills the city up round midnight on a weekend in Times Square: all the bridge and tunnel folks in for a good time.

Only it’s not just around Times Square, there was lots of bullshit around 34th street and 14th street and all the kids around West 4th and Washington Square. It’s everywhere. Stupidity and recklessness and unchecked rage. In our neighborhood on Friday night 16 people were injured in a house fire including a 4 year old and up the block a fight broke out in one of the building lobbies (two up from the one that used to be the gang building) and a kid got shot and died. I love people but I deeply hate the ignorance, hatred and delusion that fuels us. The whole city connected this weekend with drunkenness and violence, with pain and loss and all the ways people try to numb and distract from having to feel that pain.

Watch out, you might get what you’re after

I was so looking forward to seeing the show. L & I did catch Merry Wives in the park, which was fantastic (called “a celebration of Black joy and vitality”) but T hasn’t been in a theater in years. It’s one of the things that makes living here great, live theater, music, art. Or that’s the idea anyway that art still happens here; that the city runs on hopes and dreams, on magic. The artists create art, musicians create music, the poets craft their poems and together we create a vision of the world anew. New York City pulses with the energy of our dreams, it’s what connects us. That’s one of the fantasies believed true about this place, it’s become a marketing strategy. (Believe it and I’ve got a bridge for sale you might be interested in…)

American Utopia was aptly named. I loved the first half, singing along inside my mask, David Byrne within spitting distance. Closer to me than the air filter that helps me breathe here now is. That close! All those old favorites– songs I loved and listened to on repeat when I was my son’s age. Familiar songs, sounds, familiar gestures bringing me back to pleasant memories. My kid doesn’t really know from the Talking Heads and when I asked him if he knew any of their songs he kept offering me up Rolling Stones titles and Psycho Killer. Not sure if he really thinks that (Stones = Talking Heads) or if he was just fucking with me. 

Sympathy for the Devil

Black face mask with text that reads Here's the connection in white and yellow print. Text beneath the mask reads American Utopia The Connection Face Mask $15
Where’s the Connection?
American Utopia Face Mask $15

At a certain point though, like with all art, the enchantment slipped and I lost the magic. Reality broke through the fantasy and I was no longer mesmerized. There’s an I Ching hexagram that speaks directly to this, #16: art weaves a spell of enchantment, remember yourself. One Oracle offers this interpretation: “This is the power of theatre and art to create an artificial reality to which an audience will willingly surrender…We need to be able to step back from our own fantasies and those of others… As an artist you have a responsibility to be sincere in your projections and then return the audience to their lives without abusing their enthusiasm. As an audience, you have the responsibility of not replacing your reality with an illusion beyond the enjoyment of the spectacle itself.”

Up until that point I’d thoroughly enjoyed the dream. I was onboard with the conceptual framework, he was speaking my language, talking about brain development, the process of narrowing that happens and he didn’t say it, but I knew we were moving toward neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity, David Byrne, that’s what you’re getting at, that’s what you’re talking about. The vagus nerve— I know shit about this, this is part of what I do. Change is possible! Growth is possible! Healing and repair are totally possible. I teach this! Only that’s just where I was going, not the final destination for everyone in the St. James Theater last night. Byrne and the amazing cast made it clear, more than once, that we were— in fact— just on a Road to Nowhere

Say something once, why say it again?

He talked change and sparked imagining with the minimalist set, the amazing sounds, the freedom of movement and connection between the people on stage. All the same (oneness) in their grey suits and barefoot except for the Canadian woman who wore stockinged feet with toes drawn on. Leaning into the implication that the connection extends out to everyone in the audience. You, me, everyone. All of us. Connection. Possibility. It’s a beautiful dream isn’t it? Utopian in vision, just like it said on the playbill.

Thing is, by the time we got about halfway through the show, he got on the mic and said that the theatre allowed dancing but the fire department required us to keep the aisles clear. If there was really a fire, any dancers in the aisles would have an unfair advantage and segued seamlessly into Burning Down the House. That was it for me, enchantment well and truly over. I couldn’t see anything but how surrounded by middle aged white people I was. This was their anthem. All the knee taking and fist raising and Say Their Name-ing that populated the rest of the show was lost on me: hollow words signifying nothing. 

Pull up the roots

Anybody who’s been here a minute– here meaning awake, aware, lucid– knows that we need to get underneath of our issues collectively: all the wounds, the harm done, the poisons that now permeate all of life. Learning to care and nourish and nurture each other, this planet, to love must become our primary way of being. Being human means to anchor what’s divine in us (if only in our hearts, minds, imaginations) anchor it into the earth, into our relationships, into our neighborhoods, our institutions. Another interpretation of Hexagram 16 is Providing for– collect what you need to meet the future. Not just shadows and dreams, but materially, practically. Get real and get ready. Part of that includes harnessing the power of song and dance, of joy.

Utopia is utopia because it’s never a place that gets arrived at. More process or vision, aspiration than destination. (What did David Mitchell say? “‘Utopia’ means ‘no place’…That’s the paradox. It’s unattainable.”) It’s the dream that unites us, the beautiful vision we row our boats toward. But if it’s not grounded at all in some raw practicality it’s not much different from that spiritual bypass that plagues our movement and spiritual communities. Let’s make it real. I thought that’s what we were here for. Let’s have some action items, let’s embrace and embody this beautiful vision of connection and oneness, not just pretend at it with matching suits and wall shadows.

Making it real requires honest reckoning with the poisons of greed, hatred and delusion. Seeing them for what they are, getting underneath them, understanding them and then planting different seeds. Tending the soil. There is no dead earth that we are the saviors of, it’s just that sometimes we’re in need of care. All of us. Concentrated care. Attention. Kindness, compassion. Love. 

Where’s the connection?

That’s what I need anyway, I’ll speak for myself. In that theatre last night surrounded by white folks getting turnt I felt that familiar Otherness keenly, deeply. This connection we’re supposed to have, where is it? I don’t agree with the American Utopia swag that connection happens in the brain. (Plus, why would I pay $40 for a t-shirt??) If anything, I think the brain may be the heart of the problem! The thinking and conceptualizing is what fuels the feelings of otherness in me. My connection with the people in the theater wasn’t from our thoughts because I’m pretty sure we were thinking very differently.

The fact that we have brains, that our physical experiences on this earth connects us, that’s true. I can get behind that. We were all born and we’ll all die, we’ve got that in common. We are all breathing the same poisoned air, that’s true too. But what truly connects us in ways that can move us forward to the Utopia in the songs and poems, the place of manifesting oneness, that happens through the heart. Through an understanding and experiencing of suffering that’s characteristic of being human, the suffering along with the compassion that can grow from it.

Every day is a miracle

Like I said, I heart David Byrne and appreciate him using his platform to try to help spread awareness, political consciousness, engagement. They had headcount out in the lobby, but the ushers filtered everyone out the side doors when the show was over. Byrne tried to make people understand the importance of voting, of active participation in the electoral process, k cool. But I don’t think telling people works. Telling folks we are connected, telling us what to do. Lecturing never really works. I had this realization and you should have it too. Nah. Fuck outta here with that, son. Can’t tell me nothing. People need to feel it. Need to experience connection, experience oneness. Who feels it knows it. Music and art and performance is one way that can happen. Our hearts beat as one with the drum, the original pulse, the heartbeat of creation.

Everything is divided / nothing is complete 

Maybe that feeling of connection happened for people last night, but I suspect if it happened it was white people feeling connected with the people who looked and dressed and acted like themselves. It’s easy to resonate with folks you feel similar to. Moving people’s hearts to open to more, embrace more: the neutral people, the strangers, the difficult people, the “others”– that takes more effort. It may take conscious practice and discipline. They can’t work to dismantle racialized systemic oppression if they still can’t even recognize themselves as white. Can’t and won’t. 

And like I said, there were whole numbers in the show with knee-taking and fist raising and dude monologued a little bit about all the violence and how it’s not new, but he thinks all the protest means possibility for change. Go on, David Byrne, all old and shit. It’s cute that you think that. I’d tapped out by then and it struck me as just shallow, hollow, nothing. (Like Góngora’s line “… en tierra, en humo, en polvo, en sombra, en nada.“) Just shadows on a wall.

However well intentioned, it was signifying. David Byrne realizing he’s white and maybe complicit in some ways in all of the violence and oppression, maybe he’s benefited from it. Was he realizing that? I’m not sure. Were any of the 50-something white people drunk in their Homer Simpson masks and tight little black dresses holding it all in with Spanx, in the city for a good time, bouncing up and down awkwardly to the party anthem of their youth getting it? (“If I could dance better, well, you know that I would”) I don’t think so.

The black and immigrant cast banged their drums and cried out “say their names, George Floyd, Eric Garner, Emmet Till…” but what was anyone hearing? How did it land in their thinking minds? In their hearts? What did it even mean, really? Hell you talmbout up here on a Broadway stage? The black women crying out “say her name Breonna Taylor, say her name Sandra Bland” to a room full of almost entirely white people who’d paid— what? How much did they pay for those tickets? For their big night out? 

After the money’s gone 

Our tickets were free, we got those give-the-awkward-seats-up-front-to-broke-students-so-the-house-looks-full tickets. It’s not Hamilton, but tickets must start at $60 or $70 a pop, let me check… No, I’m wrong: orchestra front center, where the people my eyes kept landing on being rowdy AF and cringey, their tickets started at $350 a seat. So there you go. Cash does rule everything around me. They were there to party. Nothing in their demeanor, their movements, their responses indicated that they gave any fucks about the murder and violence unleashed on Black and Brown bodies in this country.

They could give no fucks because they’re burning down the house. Right? Not in a revolutionary way, not in a raze this poisoned structure to the ground so we can build anew with equity and justice way. Not really about Land Back, or Black Lives Matter. Of course I don’t know what they were thinking, what their lives are like, what’s in their hearts, I can’t know any of that. I just know how they were acting, what they said and did. And I shouldn’t be surprised. I shouldn’t even be angry, sad or disappointed. How revolutionary you gonna get on Broadway? Not revolutionary at all.

This must be the place

I salute David Byrne for sharing his gifts and for trying to use his platform to offer what awakening he’s experienced with others, but some people are not trying to hear it. Maybe you did just realize you’re white and you’re just seeing the genocide and oppression and violence at the roots of this American Utopia, just now seeing the racist ideas and policies, the structural oppressions that prop this system up.

Maybe we can dream another way, dream our connections into being meaningful and nourishing, but the artists who dream and the activists, parents and workers who make dreams manifest can’t afford to live well here anymore and haven’t for some time. Who was in that theater last night and who wasn’t? Follow the money, look at what it takes to live here, to breathe. Who’s entitled to entertainment and relaxation, rest, connection and joy and who isn’t? Who has the leisure, the time and space, is nourished enough to dream our new worlds into being? This Broadway show is just a celebration of the idea of dreaming, of its possibility– a lot like the set: light and shadows playing across the wall. Intimations of connection, of movement, of possibility but actually just darkness and light. A room full of people sat in the dark, hearts beating together with the drums, breathing the same air through masks for a couple hours with no intermission.

September

I was thrilled to see this image for September in my calendar from Nikki McClure. I love everything about it: LIBERATE, all the books… Perfectly aligned for me with the time now. September marks my official return to the library world. I’m so happy to be back in the library where I belong. Most of the work I do in the world is related to helping people find the resources they need. It’s beautiful to see it illustrated in this way, LIBERATE. Finding freedom, finding a way out of no way, finding inspiration, finding tools and information, finding what’s needed, finding resource.

September from Nikki McClure's 2021 calendar. Image description: black and white image of books stacked floor to ceiling against yellow backdrop with a person in the distant center gazing at them, standing on yellow ground.
September from Nikki McClure‘s 2021 calendar
Image description: black and white image of books stacked floor to ceiling
against yellow backdrop with a person in the distant center gazing at them, standing on yellow ground.

I was talking with friends yesterday about the differences between doing our soul work/heartwork/living our dharma: being on the path, being in alignment– it’s called many different things– and doing what we have to do to survive. The differences between what that heartwork is and what we do to survive as physical beings living within a system of Capitalism.

My life’s work, my heart’s work isn’t always what I do to help pay the bills, to put food on the table. I think for a long time I thought that it had to be. Like if I was truly living my truth, committed to my spiritual path I would only do work that matched that ideal. Like if I was doing anything other than teaching yoga and meditation and writing poems it was defeat/failure/sell out. Why did I think that? Where did that idea come from?

Meaningful work

Right livelihood doesn’t mean having to extract enough payment for my own survival from the things that I love. That takes the joy out, infects love with some desperation and anxiety for me. It seemed cool to make a living doing the things I love and value, why wouldn’t I want that? More power to folks who make enough money doing the things they love to survive and thrive. It doesn’t always happen though. I think it may actually be quite rare.

What happened for me with poetry years ago (why I never wanted to teach, why I dropped out of the scene a bit) has recently happened again with dharma and mindfulness practices. They are vital to me, essential for my own thriving and liberation AND I cannot have them coupled with my physical survival. I can’t have my ability to eat and pay bills and care for my family dependent on whether people want to read my poems, buy my books or sign up for my classes.

It’s possible that I suck at marketing or I haven’t tried hard enough– that may be true. Also, I prefer not to. I don’t want to have to hustle in the marketplace to share tools for liberation. What I am doing right now is feeling immense gratitude that another path opened up for me. I get to fall back on another of my loves: libraries. I’m grateful to have options. I know not everyone does. I appreciate how lucky I am to have many loves.

Love

Anybody who knows me knows how I love me some libraries. They have been essential to my own survival and liberation in a way that’s not so different from dharma. In fact, there’s a lot of crossover the way I see it. I was comparing insight dialogue with informational interviews and they’re not all that different: pause, relax, open, attune to emergence, listen deeply, speak the truth… Helping people identify the questions beneath the question, what they’re really asking, what the need is. (Not so different from Nonviolent Communication either, come to think of it.) The adventure of setting out on a path of discovery, of finding out for yourself what’s needed, what’s true. (Ehipassiko, see for yourself.)

Worldly concerns

It’s been ten years since I was last a librarian: librarian as role, task, job, identity. I was one of the librarians at Occupy Wall Street and it felt important and transformative. As much as I tried to stay off the radar, I did get some attention for it and just like the Buddha taught, I was tossed by the worldly winds: where some people praised me, invited me to speak at their conferences and gave me awards, others blamed me, attacked me, sent me hate mail and stalked me. While some people loved the People’s Library and were inspired by it, some took offense. Whether it was objectively true or not I felt low-key blacklisted in the library world because of my participation. I didn’t/couldn’t get another library job until just now: ten years later.

The air outside is getting a little bit cooler, it’s chilly at night. NYC public school starts tomorrow. September finds me digging out my cardigans, adjusting my glasses and totally giddy about the opportunity to be back in the library again helping people find what they need. Whether folks are looking for liberation, looking to transform oppressive systems or just looking for the bathrooms, I’m happy to help and grateful for the opportunity.

Fall MBSR offerings

Beginning next month, Fall offerings are available. I’m offering two cycles of the 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course online.

Thursday evenings: September 9th through October 28th 6-8:30 pm EST
Friday afternoons: September 10th through October 29th 12-2:30 pm EST

The practice day for both sections will be on Sunday October 17th 9am -5pm.

What is MBSR? Originally used with patients experiencing chronic pain, MBSR has been of enormous benefit to people in addressing everything from routine daily stress to stress experienced as overwhelming. The majority of people who complete the 8-week program have reported a range of positive results from increased coping ability and decreased pain levels to greater energy and more joy.

MBSR online with Betsy Fagin Sept 9- Oct 28, 2021.

Through a variety of formal and informal mindfulness practices, participants will learn to bring awareness to thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations to cultivate the resources necessary to move through stress and reactivity with greater presence and ease. Creating opportunities for space and flexibility in order to respond to life more fully.

MBSR online with Betsy Fagin Sept 10- Oct 29, 2021.

I’ll give more detailed information about MBSR’s history and an overview of the course in the free orientation sessions. There’s also more information available here. Attendance at an orientation session for these Fall offerings is required to participate in the course. Orientations will take place Thursday September 2nd 6-8:30 pm EST and Friday September 3rd 12:2:30 pm EST.

Pricing

There are many things to consider in establishing a pricing scale. I value the course highly and have seen the benefits of the practice in my own life and in the lives of many others. For that reason, I want to make it available to as many people as possible. I also value my own time, training and have life costs that need to be met. Balancing these considerations, I’m currently offering tiered pricing for the 8-week course on par with other offerings in NYC. Fees (including materials and all-day retreat) are $600 – $500 – $400.

Paying at the supporting side of the scale subsidizes those who may not otherwise have access to the course. Please reach out if the regular pricing tiers are not accessible to you right now. I offer at least one free space per course, based on need.

To register for the course or attend the free orientation session, contact me at double.earth.mindfulness@gmail.com.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR): 7/29/20

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
Free Orientation: Wednesday July 29, 2020 | 6:30 – 9:00 pm EST
(required if you intend to register for the class)
Course Sessions: Wednesdays, August 5 – September 23, 2020 | 6:30 – 9:00 pm EST
Practice Day: Saturday, September 12, 2020 | 9:30 am – 5:00 pm EST

What is MBSR?
Originally developed for people with chronic pain, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)’s applications have been thoroughly researched and are well regarded. Benefits have been reported from people dealing not only with serious illness, but also the day-to-day pressures and anxieties of modern life. Research over the past 35 years indicates that a majority of people who complete the course report a range of benefits including:

-a greater ability to cope more effectively with short and long term stressful situations
-an increased ability to relax
-lasting decreases in physical and psychological pain
-a greater energy and enthusiasm for life.

description: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction online with Betsy Fagin. Orientation: July 29 6:30-9 pm EST Classes: August 5-September 23 Wednesdays 6:30-9pm EST All day Practice: Saturday, September 12

What To Expect:
This course is not group therapy and it is not a healing circle. It is not offered as an alternative to traditional medical and psychological treatments, but as a complement to these approaches.

MBSR is a guided, experiential investigation into our relationships with stress and the habits of our minds. MBSR uses meditation, yoga, and inquiry to support people in relating differently to the stresses in their lives. We will practice paying attention to what arises in daily practice and together we will explore our challenges and how we meet them through self-reflection and group discussion.

Participants are supported by recorded guided meditations and are expected to practice 45 minutes of formal meditation daily in addition to various informal practices. The course will be held online on the Zoom platform. To participate fully, a stable internet connection, a computer, tablet, or recent smartphone and space to participate in mindful movement exercises are required. We will be engaging in all the practices included in the in-person course.

Tuition: Sliding scale $350/$250/$150
Includes materials and practice day.
Course fees have been adjusted. Please pay at the highest level you are able to support the participation of others with greater financial need.

Free Orientation Session:
Wednesday July 29, 2020 6:30 – 9:00 pm
Zoom link will be sent upon receipt of registration.

Attendance is required at the orientation session. If this is not possible, arrange to speak with me before the first class. Register for the orientation session or the entire course below. Please feel free to reach out with any questions to double.earth.mindfulness@gmail.com.

untethered grief

May 5, 2020 2:18 am I’ve been up half an hour at least because L was silent screaming in her sleep– fair enough response. Mourning rippling through the collective. We should all be screaming at the top of our lungs now (those of us who can). This is a nightmare we’re living in, a fucking nightmare.

I keep pondering the absolute lack of ritual. There’s zero collective mourning happening. Next to none. I see Lincoln Center with Union Theological is hosting concerts every week. I see facebook has added a couple emojis to indicate CARE. Individuals light real and virtual candles, but where are the altars, the shrines, the tributes? Where can we cry out, shake out, celebrate the lives of those who’ve passed, move grief through our bodies? Savage Remix ain’t it. It’s bothering me.

Responding to a twitter post from Kristin Rawls, the importance of collective mourning has been gnawing at me.

collective mourning

Grief– this grief– is collective. Treating it as an isolated experience, compartmentalizing it as individual suffering isn’t just wrong, it’s lies. That’s not the truth of how things are.

One of the many lessons we learn in opening our hearts is that all beings are connected not only through love and joy, but also profoundly connected through pain. Recognizing our connectedness in suffering is one of the ways we can recognize our common humanity. Fronting like we must bear the enormity of this pain alone is an offense– a moral offense and an affront to our humanity.

Reading the above twitter thread, there were many folks who wrote that they didn’t want to acknowledge all the suffering of this moment because it’s still unfolding, it’s not over yet. It reminded me of what Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote, “the Buddha says that there are few who are stirred by things that are truly stirring, compared to those people, far more numerous, who are not so stirred. The spurs to awakening press in on us from all sides, yet too often, instead of acknowledging them, we respond simply by putting on another layer of clothes to protect ourselves from their sting.” (Meeting the Divine Messengers)

Death is considered one of the four heavenly messengers in Buddhism, offering us opportunities to reflect deeply, re-evaluate our lives. Confronted with the mass death we’re surrounded with in this moment, it makes sense to me that “we must make drastic changes in our existential priorities and personal values. Instead of letting our lives be consumed by transient trivia, by things that are here today and gone tomorrow, we must give weight to “what really counts” (Meeting the Divine Messengers)

Moving forward, we need care and nurturance built into the very systems that support society. Care and connection– acknowledging our interbeing must be centered in the framework of our societal structures. They’re not now. Not here. Right now we’re still collectively operating out of this myth of the solitary hero, the lone wolf, all those pick yourself up by the bootstraps narratives– it’s all lies based on an outmoded worldview of power over, of us vs. them, of exploitation for profit, of individual vs. collective freedom.

Those times are behind us. I see building power with, all of us together, a culture of nurturance and care. Moving forward we build together, we care for each other, we mourn losses together acknowledging that all belong, all are worthy, all are loved– all beings above and below, seen and unseen, heard and unheard, living, passed and yet to be born.
All beings without exception. No one left out.

some reading:

Rebellious Mourning, Cindy Millstein ed.
“The Opposite of Rape Culture is Nurturance Culture,” Nora Samaran
We’re Still Living and Dying in the Slaveholders’ Republic,” Ibram X. Kendi

Those We’ve Lost, The New York Times
Faces of the Dead, The Washington Post
Mourning America

boundaries: new date

NYC Transformative Justice Hub How to Communicate Your Boundaries Postponed to 4/11

The NYC Transformative Justice Hub’s upcoming event, How to Communicate Your Boundaries has been postponed to April 11th. It will be held at 60 Washington Square South NYU Kimmel Center Room 802 from 12-2pm, wheelchair accessible. Details are available on the NYCTJ Hub website.

communicate boundaries

How to communicate your BOUNDARIES NYC Transformative Justice Hub Saturday March 28th 12-2 pm
How to communicate your BOUNDARIES NYC Transformative Justice Hub Saturday March 28th 12-2 pm

On Saturday March 28th, the NYC Transformative Justice Hub will be offering a workshop on How to Communicate Your Boundaries from 12-2 pm. I’m excited to be holding space again with friends to support the event: meditation & mindful movement will be on offer as well as supportive teas and space to chill, process or whatever is most needed.

Learn how to effectively communicate boundaries. More information about the workshop is here. From the NYCTJhub website: “This political education workshop will offer space to reflect on our habits and practice boundary-setting with peers. Participants will be invited to engage in reflective and interactive activities and bring examples or experiences from their own lives into the space. You can RSVP here. If there are not tickets available and you are from New York or are BIPOC, please contact our Hub Coordinator at nyctjhub@gmail.com.”

I’m posting this toward the beginning of the month, right now lots of events and gatherings are being cancelled due to the spread of COVID-19. Change is happening rapidly, so please check in with the TJ hub website closer to the time for the most current event information.

why do you want to apologize?

Apology Lab was deep. It was moving to be with so many folks ready & willing to explore vulnerability and undertake the process of accountability with themselves & their communities.

image of flowers. text reads: accountability is a practice, not an end

From lab notes, “Accountability is a practice not an end and it is a continuous process rather than an individual act.”

The work in the Apology Lab was based on Mia Mingus‘ framework of accountability.

She separates the accountability process into four parts: self-reflection, apologizing, repair and behavior change.

Read all about it on her blog & help build a culture of right relationship. Part one of her essay “How to give a good apology” is here and part two is here.