let’s evolve not erode our ancient practices of grief

When I was young we had no choice but to gather quickly & often after a loved one passed.  There was no social media or cell phones or google sheets or cash apps or texting.  Our peoples would gather immediately to assess the situation.  Make sure that those mourning were not falling ill.  That grief did not pull anyone else across to the Spirit realm.  Make sure that the weight didn’t break a family, especially if life had already been squeezing them.

Our elders would gather resources and divide responsibilities. 

When we were children, we were all stuffed into one room, unsupervised with no bedtime.  A big slumber party with all our cousins, blood & chosen.  As young teens the “girls” and “boys” were divided.  The daughters were deployed serving coffee & tea, short eats and meals, gently tending to those too sad to eat “at least try a mutton roll?”  We learned our rank in the kitchen.  Assessed: who would make the better wives. 

I’m not sure what the sons did…. Were they being recruited into swallowing sorrow?  Learning to loosen the muscles gripping the ache with sips of arrack?  Were you blessed with a man who taught you that grief includes unpredictable tears and laughter? Forgiveness and fissures?  Shameless song and dance?  Irreverence and scolding?  Were you shown how to move through the pain with care, tenderness, connection, and love.  Or were you shown how to numb and ignore it, welling up the weighted layers, floating silence? 

It was a mix for us deemed to the feminine sphere.  Swallowing, welling, silencing, weighing our own feelings, maneuvering in order to float others.  And there were also those who showed us how to wail, cry, scream, sing sorrow at the top of their lungs.   There were people of both ways that healed and people of both ways that harmed.  Both capable of shattering tight orders into starry spaces and simultaneously magnetizing worlds, solar systems away.

In my later teens I loosened loins gripped by patriarchy through clandestine frequency at the dance clubs.  Here was a place for my body & spirit to be free.  Allow myself to ease into my intergalactic ways– unbound by the gender and cultural norms of humanity at this point in history.  It is where I learned Gay, Queer, & Trans culture.   Back then we had to gather in person.  I didn’t have an email address, yet.  There was no craigslist or grindr or tinder.  There were personals in print newspapers.  The club was a quicker way to meet people.  Even if you weren’t into dancing, folks went to the club, because that’s where you’d go to be yourself, be free.  And that vibration attracted other free-thinkers & freedom-seekers.  We were a mix of cultures, experiences, ages, genders, orientations all dancing, mixing, fighting, loving, and exchanging with each other.

Our club elders in the their 40’s experienced the free love of the 70’s and survived the worst of the AIDS crisis.  They had learned how to grieve together.  Like my Tamil elders in the diaspora mourning loved ones at home, ravaged by escalating war, our peoples knew the roles– what needed to be done.  Phone tree the news, taking note of how it hit.  Make sure that all loved ones were notified.  Liason between blood and chosen, if such an opening was possible.  Coordination of tasks.  Those responsible ensuring remains and belongings are attended respectfully.  Those in charge of ceremony and ritual.  Those who ensured those in deep grief were okay.  It was a given that if you were in the life, that your blood families would not know how to honor you when you transitioned.  Even straight people got that.  Chosen family would make sure that our Souls were given the proper support and respect.

Sometimes early at the club was the best place and time to meet and figure things out.  Who has our beloved’s keys and can get the sex toys out before Grammy comes to help attend to belongings?  Folks hailing from all over merged the best of their ancestral ways of grieving, breathing life into collective wisdoms and ceremonies.   There would be rituals, potlucks, stories, poetry, home visits, and dance parties lifting up our new ancestors and caring for the ones they left behind.  Us young ones, we learned their names.  We offered our dollars and fives to the collection.  Witnessed our elders mourn, remember, celebrate, and honor.

In addition to mourning my beloved Andre.  I’m also mourning the erosion of a simple ancient practice of gathering in the midst of loss.  I’m mourning a New York gripped by capitalism.  Once upon a time in New York City, ancient peoples from all over the world came together, reuniting with their separated tribes to counsel, tell story, make magic, and live freedom—especially in the face of the violent & subjugating….

I finally got to speak to someone who knew Andre & I’s relationship when we were young.  She said that she imagined me so devastated that I couldn’t get out of bed.  That it must have been one giant slumber party of crying, cuddling, and comfort.  On the contrary,  the week after Andre passed not one person in New York even offered to come over and give me a hug.  I wavered through the world, unable to collapse.  Much needed to be done.  The roles once divided by many were suddenly all mine.  Wailer, care-giver, coordinator, liason, gatherer.  A friend recovering from a traumatic brain injury, living over five hours away, left her partner alone with their toddler to come see me 6 days after I received the news.  She was the first to come visit my home.  

New York— BROOKLYN, I almost broke up with y’all over that.  I thought there must be some place in the world where I would be better attended to during my time of need.  I thought to myself, New York, I don’t really need to tell Y’ALL that Andre is my brother, do I? That I am mourning the loss of a family member?  After-all, y’all witnessed us for 18 out of 20 year relationship.  Now, don’t let those words hit you like poison.  We’re all hurting enuf.  I get it.  I love you.  And even tho culturally I experienced that first week as neglect, I know that y’all love me, too.  Let my truth be an invitation.  For us to resist these corrupt forces not only by fighting,  by not only preserving what so quickly eroded— but also deepening & evolving what it means to be community.  

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Praises Royal Ntozake Shange

What an intense and devastating time to be losing & regaining-across-realms such powerful souls.  I lift up the Phenomenal Unparalleled Mother, Grandmother, Sister, Aunty, Elder, Conjurer, Poet, Playwright, Novelist, Collaborator, Catalyst, and Humanity Shifter Ntozake Shange!!! Sending deep deep love to her magical brilliant daughter Savannah, her daughter’s partner Kenshatta, her granddaughter Harriet, and all those in close circle who supported, journeyed, collaborated with and loved Queen Ntozake.  I recognize that y’all are on a very different timeline & process of grief, pain, intentions, and transformation.    May you be cocooned by conduits of wisdom, comfort, nourishment, healing, understanding, empathy, protection, and magic.  Thank y’all for sharing Queen Ntozake with all of us.  I am mindful of how intense this time must be.  Ntozake Shange changed the game for EVERY writer and thus the world.  By exploding open the hostile bigoted doors of the theater— by rooting specifically in the life-saving complex truths of Black Women and Black Communities, Ntozake Shange served as a vibrational catalyst that is still shifting the essence of humanity.  The space that she created for Black Artists to channel truths opened space & challenged ALL Artists to be more honest.  I have deeply benefited from Queen Ntozake’s work & legacy directly from her words, performance & theater, but also from the incredible communities of Black Feminist Truth Tellers & Spiritual Creatives she affirmed.  I literally owe my life to these communities.  Thank y’all for giving me reasons to remain on this earth within a humanity ruled by such horrific greed, exploitation, bigotry, and violence.  As we painfully gain Ntozake Shange as ancestor/spirit form/angel, all the parts of humanity she shaped is pulled upon to evolve & shift.  It is most excruciating for her most intimate loved ones and collaborators. At the same time Blessed Ntozake Shange is still healing, collaborating, conjuring, and channeling even more powerfully from the other realm.  This is our time to lift her up in story, poetry, performance, song, ritual, prayer, love and light.  Praises to The Royal Ntozake Shange!!!! #FlyInFreedom #RestInPower

For Our Andre Alexander Lancaster

My dearest friends, family and community, it is with deep loving sorrow I share that our beloved Andre Alexander Lancaster, our Andre, our Dre, our brother, prince, revolutionary, saint has passed onto the other realm. His soul is free.

 

I recognize that the pain of this profound loss is incredibly deep for many of us. He shaped the core of so many. As he transitions, all the parts of us he touched will reverberate, and we ourselves will also transform. Our sorrow honors Andre and reis a testament of how important he was and is to us. So feel the pain. We must grieve lovingly, however, and not let this pain become a poison that is harmful to ourselves or others. Be present with whatever pain emerges, let the tears flow, and interrupt toxic thoughts. Try to turn regret into wish, desire, and invitation. These moments are openings for us to transform, become wiser, and renew. Putting ourselves down gets in the way of that. Recognize the regret, allow yourself to transform and release it. Anger is a natural part of grief—an expression of pain. Allow this force to help clarify your truth. Find the desire beneath the anger. The mystery of grief is a fertile, murky, magical place to manifest from. Center your LOVE and let the energies of accountability, fairness, and justice flow from there.

 

I believe that this time over the next 30-40 days is a very important time for our beloved Andre’s soul. That to gather, share story, lift up his love, genius, visions, and contributions supports his transition. I highly encourage those who knew Andre to meet with others to honor his presence and legacy– even if there is only one other person in your town who knows him. For those of y’all isolated, call or video chat with folks. Or as Andre taught us heal through creativity—write, sing, dance, draw or read. Andre was reading James Baldwin and Hanya Yanagihara before he passed. He was also an avid Octavia Butler fan.   As we comfort and support ourselves and each other, we also support Andre.

 

We will definitely have a celebration of Andre’s life in NYC. Please be patient as we figure out details.

 

I also want to recognize that while I was one of Andre’s primary supports over the last few years that there are other folks in his support network I don’t know. If you have been supporting Andre especially over these last 2 months, please please direct message, email, or call me.

 

Thank you to Andre Alexander Lancaster’s beloved mother Josie Coleman for birthing this precious soul into this world and along with his father Clyde Lancaster, brother Jerome Lancaster, sister Malika Lancaster, and all his Aunties and Uncles for raising this incredibly good hearted, brilliant force and gifting him to us and the world. I’m sending you so much love for this excruciating time. Thank you to Chrystal and Jamie for caring for our beloved Andre in your homes and loving him up so good. Thank you to Andre’s and my teachers Sharon Bridgforth and Amparo Garcia Crow for guiding and affirming me in such a way that I am able to offer these insights to y’all. And most of All, Thank you Andre for being my best friend, brother, collaborator, and inspiration for these past 20 years. I really thought we’d have at least 40 more. And I know that you are still with us lovingly caring for us and blessing us with such powerful gifts.  You are sewn into my being. And your impact on this world is eternal. I love you so much.

 

(I’d love if y’all could write in the comments below how you knew him and a memory you have of him)

On Mia’s documentary and more Tamil Stories

I went to see the preview of MIA’s documentary Matangi/MIA/Maya Thursday & I do want many of the people in my life to see it. And I also want y’all to watch No More Tears Sister–a documentary featuring the feminist Rajasingam & Thiranangama Sisters that have mentored & supported me. I also want you to watch Dheepan–which won the Palms d’Or at Cannes and stars brilliant actor and writer Antonythasan Jesuthasan– also know as Shoba Sakthi. No More Tears Sister has been uploaded onto youtube below.

I believe deeply in more stories, perspectives, and discourse within the Tamil Diaspora and our Fam about what a deeper vision of Tamil Liberation looks like. What would it take for all Tamils– regardless of gender, religion, class, or caste– in the North & East as well as throughout the Island –to live with dignity? Realistically, if we are to address the economic as well as ethnic exploitation and subjugation of Tamils on the Island, what skills, solidarity, strategy, vision, and alliances are needed? Can we have true Tamil liberation without decolonization, gender equity, and the eradication of caste?  What is needed to cleanse ourselves of the anti-Blackness, casteist, & colonial mentalities pervasive throughout our communities? Can Tamils model the pluralism we wish for the Island as a whole? What does true Diaspora solidarity with Tamils and other persecuted communities in Ilankai look like? How does our solidarity with caste privileged patriarchs fail our Tamil Fam fighting against the forces of castism, gender violence, economic exploitation, and ethnic bigotry?

While it wasn’t as clear in the film or what we see of her in the media, during the talk back, I saw MIA opening to questions around new visions of liberation and the economic challenges of China.  And that small opening gives me hope that we in the diaspora can allow ourselves to have higher standards of liberation than what was dictated to us. For our Tamil community who are deeply in touch with the limits of Tamil Nationalism– to those who lost loved ones to or were exploited & targeted not only by the Sri Lankan Army and Government but by the Tigers, paramilitary, and or gangs– MIA’s blindspots can feel frustrating to say the least.

At the same time, as a Tamil Creative who has Aunties who raised their children on their own and refugee family I adore who grew up in council estates, there was something really sweet and soul touching about watching a Tamil refugee girl from Jaffna & London raised mostly by her single mum rise to pop stardom. May our stories cease to be ammunition silencing other stories and placing us in opposition to each other. May our stories weave us a path to dignity and liberation for all.

No More Tears Sister:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C803NOvmTqk

A 2018 Commitment

I have a sadness, ache that can sneak from the deep center of my chest– the part that is so utterly alone and so deeply connected to all. This ache weaves up my breath and stretches across the skin below my mouth. I ignore it mostly. It’s indeed comprised of feelings I “don’t have time to feel,” but still wish to be felt. I’m skilled at skipping feelings to problem solving and divining. It has been a useful skill during a rigorous year attending to crisis and hardships stirred by widespread exposure and cultivation of deeply corrupt, violent, exploitative, and poisonous intentions, words, and deeds. Then on stage or on the dance floor– I feel, release, move through, express, align, and become present with the joy, love, magic, pain, anger, blessings, and struggles. Through performance and hitting the dance floor, I connect with the Divine, Ancestors, Spirits, Universe, Ancient and Future and find Peace. In 2018, I am committed to listening, attending to, and being present with my pain outside of performing. To be present with the fears that commitment invokes. To listen to my deeper desires. And from the powerful mystery grief allows– conjure love, healing, and delightful possibilities. https://youtu.be/mX7PVif75MU

How I bring Arrack to NYC

In response to the orientalist imperial post
How Mesh & Bone Brought the Rare Sri Lankan Spirit Arakku to Chicago 

We wrap our bottles in churidars & long skirts. Pack them tightly in our suitcases where the presents had once been. Let the shop owners believe we are bringing the drink home for our uncles and fathers. Afterall their eyes do sparkle with the teary scent of home in their glasses. But these are for us. To celebrate with friends who travel 9000 miles through bordered applications, qualifications & evidence to toast in our apartment and then slip in gaping absence from our touch. These spirits are to soothe us, after weathering the tantrums to our bold & honest ways. The bottles will empty, reminding us it’s been too long that we’ve been gone. There are graves to visit, children to see, trust to be restitched, and promises to fulfill. We fill the bottles with water and plant cuttings, letting roots grow– calculating the dollars and days till our return. This is how I brought Arrack to New York City.

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I would have been your darling

I would have been your darling.
Y’all would have posted my poetry and videos
on your facebooks. Afterall, I am skilled.
Bragged about me to all your friends.
Blessed me with gifts for my journeys.
You would have anointed me your ambassador.
My fame would not have been contained by the edges of
Tamil poets, truthtellers, healers, and witches–
The darkest skinned beauties who do not give a fuck
those who would fearlessly come to my defense
when you threaten, intimidate, undermine, manipulate, and shame me,
and I was so sweet and obedient, too.
Eyes sparkling with thoughts of liberation.
One who served you so well.
Appedi idinkringal Aiya, Enna vitampa? Taetani, copee venama?
Pal m chinni Oda? Maricurry mutumma?! Amma’da mutton puriel irrukathaaa.
You would have helped sharpen my tongue.
Encouraged my mothering of children.

I would have been your Eelam Princess,

If I hadn’t loved the sex of bad gen(d)erous warlocks
unbound by the toxic of humanity–
those who actually have control of their fiery tempers.
I would have been yours had I hadn’t been the type
unafraid of speaking the stories of scathed privileged men
who take advantage
of those who love and serve them.
Do you know when we sweet obedient ones
become unstrangled by those who ration
their kindness for when they are pleased by you
and abandon you at the mercy of their rage
when we question or challenge you,
giving us no choice but to shrink?
Do you know what happens
when we choose to heal
and seek nourishment?
When we can finally experience
pain without wishing to die.
Do you know what happens
when instead, we wish to thrive?

Well, we’re about to find out.