I first heard this song in college on a set of stone steps. It was the first time I’d ever heard Charles Mingus, and it was glorious.
The way that first set of notes from his bass hit my ears you would think it was the first time I’d ever heard notes played in sequence. I was enthralled by the quickening pace that would get slowed by story. So full of risk it felt like I was breaking the law just listening to it, I did my best to cling to it for as long as I could. I learned later that this is a classic example of the bold, hilariously risky stuff that makes Mingus great. Who in their right mind does 12/8 like this? Charles does. Take us to church, bruh.
Today is for risk takers. For people who are breathing new life into old rhythms, inciting mental riots, and being nasty women and bad hombres and crooked media.
It might makes sense to listen to this glorious track in the moment… or something else. Or nothing. Do you.
Let’s start by recognizing our breath. Feel the in and out, filling lungs, emptying lungs. At this point I love to listen for wildlife. Sometimes you get a surprise you weren’t expecting, like an (escaped) yellow bird in your driveway,
As we focus on nothing but air, let’s slowly add bodily functions. How’s our gut? How is our heart? What beats and churns inside that we don’t recognize? Let’s spend some time allowing those rhythms in that we pretend to ignore, even as we build entire galaxies with their raw materials.
Now that we’re sitting in our own 12/8, let’s check in.
Have our basic physical needs been met today? Water? Food? Sleep?
Have we taken care of our minds today?
How is our spirit?
What hurts? What does that hurt want?
What feels great? What feeds that good feeling?
Assess what is broken and if you can, tend to it. It’s your time, whether you want to admit it or not. How will you spend it?
Either way, have a glass of water. Possibly two.
The hits just keep coming.
… and a sick asshole who can’t stop Tweeting about himself that we are literally paying $89.71 an hour to be anything but a sick asshole.
Some days it’s enough to tear out your hair. We are adapting poorly, but we are adapting.
Podcasts are timestamping their broadcasts because news comes so quickly.
Bars offer drinking games to make sure we can at least get plastered while the bastards screw us.
We make jokes and live life. But we still feel it and it is wearing us down. I can tell because I see people slowing down their activism. I am watching fewer phone calls get made, actions get smaller and more local, and people are whispering to me that they are burnt out but don’t want to tell anyone. Our mouths writing checks that asses can’t cash. Not that I think everything that has been happening with new activist energy is great… just saying what I see.
Chronic conditions force adaptation in ways that are often unpredictable. Dealing with living as a person who has permanent mental health concerns feels very different than addressing an acute symptom. It’s definitely better (holy shit yes) but not without serious costs and I can say with certainty that at first it was all about crisis management. I wanted to avoid hypomania so I focused all of myself on that. It helped in the beginning but became less tolerable later.
I think the turn was about power. I’ve talked about these times before but the real surge started when I approached the problem as one of agency and vision. I had to stop being against illness and start to be for wellness with dignity and power.
How can I manage what is going on while getting what I want and need?
That time really changed my relationship to organizing work as well. I still love a tight commitment, but I’ve stopped demanding comrades sacrifice every waking moment to shaking the earth. I now recognize organizing as less rapid fire, Bisquick pancake meal and more insistent, slow stir of a roux for the dopest dish. I can’t do it sick and frantic. It’s just no longer what my mind will tolerate constantly. Why would I expect that of people I claim to love?
We can’t replace that sick man with another sick man and call it progress. It’s the same with a sick system or a sick culture. Being well means acknowledging that the new wine can’t be held by the old wineskins. So what we do needs to be impacted by our wellness too, even when it hurts.
Hustlers, don’t stop hustling because it’s how we do and there is joy in it. But recognize that the humanity we fight for is mortal, complex, and full of need and desire and hunger. It’s why we fight, so don’t push back against it. Get some sleep. Visit uncles and aunties and tetas and nonnas and mop-mops. Swing on back porches and catch fireflies with your folks. Feel that summer heat (stay hydrated tho) and live life. Recognize that you are a human in humanity as well.
But when rested, fight smart. Because when we fight, we win.