To be revealed

After Alexis Pauline Gumbs, who writes beautiful reflective poems connecting to elements, ancestors, childhood, and more than human family on her website and on instagram.

I find a lot of photos, deep in the front closet, that turn my stomach a bit. That tender one, me, already trying to be … I find others where I am caught in a moment of authentic connection with the photographer, or with my inner world, with spirit, with Earth. I find photos made by me, as I found my way to the safe space behind the lens. I find photos that I am in, which I also made, family – human, tree – without which I would not be, bunched around me.

When I was photographing at p:ear, I would chat the young people up who spent time there, show them my camera, see if they were interested in touching it. The light, simple plastic quality of a Holga is a ready invitation: not familiar, also not intimidating. I would suggest a swap: I make an image of them, they make an image of me. 

One of my favorite youth to chat with – we, especially she, could run the words of daily pain, delight, hope and harm up the philosophy flag pole for hours – taught me a practice. She said when she photographs herself (describing dysphoria, grief, pleasure, attraction, a desire to present, a desire to be revealed – alllll the portrait wisdom), she can only get through the desire to run from capture… by taking a breath. Breathe in, breathe out, click. Tied together in the act of portraiture, we did that. Frame; breathe in; breathe out; click. She held the camera, we did it. I held the camera, we did it. 

She was beautiful. Dark eyes, pig tails, sharp jaw, torn plaid dress open at the chest. I was maybe a bit in love with her. While also holding my boundaries: mentor, adult. She kept hers too, in her way, quiet then brassy, on estrogen and off, housed and not. On days that I saw her there, I know my face showed how I felt. Her willingness to let everything else disappear for hours with me, her face when I understood, showed something too. Would those faces have showed in our photos?

Turned out the camera was set to bulb for rolls and rolls that I didn’t get developed until too late to know, before my time there ran out. So everything was unsalvageably blurred. We looked at the prints together; probably I gave her one to keep. We agreed that the movement of breath was visible.

Now I sit with this school portrait – studio session? at, maybe, seven, and see how I was holding my breath. Holding my teeth. Holding a smile. Holding a plastic log or edge of a piece of furniture. At the center of attention, warm lights on me, a formality, an excitement, a little urgency. Not yet able to feel the relief when it is over and my spirit slides back in. Not yet able to give myself permission to feel the relief. Heart in throat; throat in mouth. Sit up, look here. Apple cheeks, bright eyes.

Who was I looking at, with the lights in my eyes? Aware of being seen, but floating in the blank between me and whatever it is they see. Aware of the projection, caught in the dream of controlling the narrative by fulfilling it. Not yet aware of my own tightness, trying to present, hoping to be revealed. 

My face is the face of a secret. Mischievous. Holding my breath. The secret of relief, of expansion, of yelling, running, dress mussing. The secret of anger. The secret: nothing will please, everything will please. The secret of real mountains, real trees. Their bodies.

The knowing that this representation somehow matters. Like the collar: a merengue around my small neck, a wimple, a clown suit. Now I seem to recall, that dress a copy of one I had for my doll, something I asked for. In it, maybe I could love myself as I loved her? Ceremony of lights, sit up, smile, hold still. The display of a white girl child, hoping to look like a doll. Some armor I knew, from generations, how to live within, how to use.

A representation of aspens, clouds, mountains. Fall color frozen in time. A representation of childhood. A representation of a person with a secret, which is her own wild life.

Hello love. Hello me. Feel that breath? Step outside, let it free.

Parenting Practice 2

Begin in a moment when you feel relaxed and at ease in your body.

While sitting in a comfortable chair, holding the baby.

While the kids are breathing in their sleep and you have given yourself permission to rest.

While reading a book to an interested, relaxed child.

While on a walk, watching a toddler study the world with all their senses.

While witnessing an older child as they share something with you they care about.

Notice your feet in this moment.

Then your belly.

Feel all your skin; how you are contained by the air around you.

Follow that containment back into your belly.

In the bowl of your pelvis: the location where this child began, whether in your body or in another’s.

The place where their own future children rest now in possibility.

That place in your body has a tone, a pulse.

Has weight.

As you notice yourself here, can you imagine this place in your body getting heavier?

Can you imagine your gentle breath expanding in this place?

Can you feel yourself settle down – warm, heavy – into this place, as a baby settles into sleep in your arms?

Stay with this sensation for as long as you like. Revisit it as often as you like.

Notice when it is hard to access this feeling. Notice if you are avoiding this place in your body.

I’ll suggest that, regardless of how you relate to yourself, this refuge is always there.

Can you check to see if this feels true to you?

Parenting practice

Here is a practice:

Observe your child enter the room

Say nothing

Consider yourself at your child’s age

Say nothing still

(If they ask you a question or request something, respond

minimally, just enough – you might have to put off the practice

for later – there will be many chances, believe)

Feel the back of your body

Sense your soft liquid self going right to the back

Still, remain quiet

Imagine what the person you were (and still are)

might most have wished to know about themselves

when they were constantly under the scrutiny

of the person who provided house and home, life and limb

Consider the privilege of knowing

this person, in front of you, now

who’s choice will, inevitably, be

to go away from that scrutiny, so that they can expand more fully

Feel again, the full volume

of you – how you have made this space

for yourself

to live in

Feel how your eyes/ ears/ tongue/ hands

can turn and soften, to touch within

There is that younger you,

just there – feel, where?

And, across the room

is someone entirely else

Can you look with new eyes?

If you do:






A Day of Mourning


A Day of Mourning

I want to sit down and grieve
Sit in the snow
Feel the cold settling of 
Futures cut off
Back, front, inside, below

The cat cowers beneath 
A threat he feels, we cannot see
Less confident, less relaxed
He found out about the world
Yet we call him crazy?

We actually once joked, 
About the cat
Another white male in 
This house
Man spreading, balls out

What if - we welcome the
Cold breath of the trauma
Like we revel in close-warm ignorance?
Pendulate, harmonize
Sweat, shiver, move, expose

Don’t look away, 
witness frame to frame
What some bodies already know
Know like - what we’re made of
Not like: they can hold

In the forest, 
Brokenness makes a loud sound
Just the once: open tree to sky
Smashed branches spread lichen
On the earth

Where the Wea people grew
Corn, hunted bison and elk
Danced and sang in ceremony
A Black man lives each day 
23 hours in solitary

He - crochets
The Chinook nation: Clatsop, Willapa, Wahkiahkum, Cathlamet
Sent a letter every day
While Obama’s lead pardon attorney 
In protest, gave his job away

9000 un-communted sentences
245 un-recognized tribal nations
Children, ancestors, graves
Breathing souls with hopes,

I want to lay the broken branches
Over my face today
Fill my mouth with rain
Here: I share the nourishment
Why not share the pain

Grief and Grounding

I’ve let so much fall away. 

Have you?

I don’t think there will ever be an end to the grief.

Which feels like a relief – 

You know?

I can step into the stream, anytime I need.

I took an online class

Maceo said 

If the only thing we can do with 

Agency is 



By choice.

Then, consider how you might 

Arise again

In choice, 

As the self you have

Only now become. 

Let’s do this together, ok?

Grief and Ground

A three-class series

Saturdays 4 – 5:15

Dec 5th, 12th, 19th

Live on the internet, recording available afterward

We’ll rest, move, breathe, honor change, and cultivate connection to the great abundance.

RSVP for link at

Pay $35/ $45/ $55 as you can (let me know if you can’t) 

Venmo @Devon-Riley-9

Healing the learning

When I wrote my most recent newsletter back in June, I said that I would make a list of de-colonial, anti-racist, collective liberation resources available on my website. Then I didn’t do it. That I still didn’t do it when I finally sent the newsletter, months later, let me know that that promise had been hollow – what I felt was a No.

Instead, I’d like to offer some encouragement – specifically for white people, but not exclusively – around letting go of the list, getting curious about how you student, and decolonizing your relationship with wisdom.

There’s something killing about a list, you know? Reductive, capitalist. A list for the grocery, ok. A list of things to pack for camping, yes. I don’t want a list of the plants that grow in my garden.

Currently, I have a list of individuals imprisoned in Oregon (supplied by the good people at CRPDX) who I am writing letters to. The list is needful; in the absence of relationship, it lets me know what is mine to do. But what I am getting from writing the letters is not in the list. There is no cookie for completing it. I breathe in a single name. Sometimes google to see what the system blamed as it claimed that name for itself. I describe my reasons for writing: what in my lived experience pushed me to embrace abolition? I practice being visiblemaking the value ever more personal.

Back when I was working at a school, I had a list on the computer of all the students who were meant to be in a class. I needed to mark them present or absent. This was not, in my experience, an act that brought me into deeper connection. The youth knew that they were being counted: a reminder every period, all day – the system is watching you; sit down, stay.

As we approach the end of the first quarter of remote schooling in which students will be fully graded in the PPS system, I am alert to our systemic addiction to the deadline assessment. As the narrative goes, on November 3rd, we will – as a collective body – suddenly know a great truth about ourselves and our future. Two days later, everyone involved with public schools across Oregon will have their willingness and effort to connect, communicate, comprehend, and demonstrate their process (on a set of topics not chosen by them, on a screen, from whatever they have for home, in a pandemic) reduced to a set of letters. This will go down on your permanent record

There is a colonial fantasy that a list, a deadline, a rigid limit will make things fair, visible, objective, clean. In my body, a list makes me a machine. I notice a brittle scarcity around the binary of present/absent; done/still-to-do; known/unknown. The point of a list is to get through it.

The learning contact I have sought and received from brilliant, radical Black educators over the last six years… is a whole universe. An Alvin Ailey dance. A Nikki Giovanni poem. A fugue of survival and a hymn of resolve. It is not a list item. It is not something I ever want to get through. The rage and shine of Black femmes opens me up; I learn not by doing what I’m told, but through love.

More: to make a list is to leave out all the the deeply intimate teachings which these professional educators prepared me for, opened me to. The colonized mind sees authority in abstraction: having studied oppression makes you a scholar; having lived it makes you a schmuck. This kind of education dissociates to indoctrinate. But we evolved to learn from people closest to us! From those whose direct experience gave them something to share. It is one of the triumphs of the racist program still running in the US that so many of us are deprived, daily, of contact with people who could actually show us the truth of ourselves. Seeking out this contact and orienting to the wisdom of lived experience is potent medicine – which requires a steady practice in slowness and humility that can’t ever be represented as a list item.

Finally: I saw A Lot of Lists in the frantic shock-woke socials-posting that happened after George Floyd was publicly murdered by the state. The toggle between the black square that declares I know nothing and the re-posted assignment list of how to be a good ally… left me cold. I am no authority here. I am an engaged neighbor, a companion, an elbow, a raised eyebrow, someone who will insist that this shit be talked about. But I can’t tell you that if you do certain things, you’ll be good, you’ll be fine.

The toggle for me in collective liberation work is this: notice/accept; divest/invest; heal/heal. The process and conditions of learning are inextricable from what we learn. This is why I love to learn about race from Black women who take no shit. Boundaries are visceral learning. We learn to act from how people let us act.

Spiritual practice is premised on being able to get more free than we feel in this moment. Activism, organizing, and social movement practice is premised on being able to get more free than we feel in this moment. Moving with an awareness of freedom means being open to feel what we cannot yet feel, while staying oriented to the sensations of support and connection that we need as organisms.

An arc of increased empowerment and personal accountability supports us through the pain and grief of association to dehumanization and calculated destruction. Cultivating curiosity and humility helps us check performativity. Also: honoring the cycle; sourcing joy; getting skin in the game; being called in and up and out. (There’s a list of actions for you.)

I use the term toggle, and learning can look like a back and forth: teacher-student, outside-inside, reflect-express. But in every possible binary, I see a wheel to turn: a cycle of seasons that, in balance, will self-fulfill. Getting curious about how you student can feed a process of healing the hurts in your own learning cycle. Who supports you? What is the self-talk? What’s your healthy pacing? Where do you tend to flinch, to fall off? How can you let go of how it looks and make the process more accessible – for yourself?

Every kid needs to learn about how they learn. Instead, for many years, we mostly learned how close or far we were from the goal, the ideal. We have all had our desire for community and belonging co-opted. We have all cut off our natural urge to explore because we were shamed for it. We have all learned – and here I see how our conditioned identities create major divergences in strategy – what manipulations of our essential energy we can adapt to: how we can conform.

Have you heard people use the terms un-learning and re-learning? Have you considered how like re-parenting they are? I am here to insist that actually, none of you is free of the social burdens of school and childhood – despite the messages that you may have received, that surviving that time is enough, and that if you don’t have any children currently in your home, you can just move on.

As a teacher, I can confidently say that the children we can support best are the ones who act through us, all the time. Young people would love for us to be able to handle our own inner children. This is the true indicator of whether a substitute teacher will increase chaos in a classroom or be a fun break for the kids. I know, I’ve done both. If you haven’t read James Baldwin’s A Talk to Teachers, here you go.

Learning – real learning – changes the function of our cells. A growth edge is where each of us – and groups of us – are available to be changed. As Baldwin says, “The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to change it and to fight it—at no matter what risk. This is the only hope society has. This is the only way societies change.”

If you made it this far in this post, there’s probably curiosity. Care. Some sense of reflection. Hi. Hello.

I take such comfort in knowing that there is lineage everywhere. The connections between ideas are connections between bodies: love threads of meaning and visceral recognition that carry through time and space. Feeling the pull, following the threads, reaching out in curiosity, settling in with humility to receive: the process honors our ability to grow, as it honors those who tend that growth. 

If you know where your learning is happening right now, please: celebrate it. If you would like a single resource to draw you in and out and up – send me an email about what you’re noticing about your learning process and I’ll pick one especially for you. If your anti-racist process is feeling like a list, take a look at your teachers, take a look inward, and feel for where you can kneel: slow down and show some respect.

A list can pick a few key points out of a swirling world of possibility. It can be a place where we set down repetitive thoughts. It can let us know the shape of enough, so that we can step toward our purpose: rest.

But the list does not hold the wisdom. You hold the wisdom. New perspectives, fresh information, a well-timed invitation to reconstruct the map – these are seeds that must meet soil in you.

Which is why paying your Black educators is so important. More on that, next time.


The last few days, Clara has woken me with the snakey touch of her cold naked body. In this heat, she and Jeff are sleeping downstairs on the couch and thai mat, respectively. Today we played a familiar game

(The seed and the gardener … I carefully bury her curled form in pillows, wishing sweet growing wishes. I water the pile with dancing fingers, tell how the sun shines down. In time – a sprout! Her body slowly grows from the pillowy soil; I water; the sun shines. She grows to her full height. Sometimes I harvest and eat; sometimes I smell her flowers; sometimes I lay in her shade. Then we laugh and it is my turn. As I grow from the warm dark soil, I look out the window to see the tops of my kin all around. Hello! Hello!) 

before we went downstairs for toast.

At night, Z and I lie naked in the bed, our bodies expressing their tender transitory expressions 

(nipples, pubic hairs, labia, shoulder blades, toe nails, eyebrows) 

in the yellow-black summer air as we twist on top of the quilt with our heavy heat-damp books. 

She likes a lazy head-scratch from my hand that’s not holding a book as much as her dad does. I like to weave my hand in and tug slowly on the roots – a firm touch in a world of not-enough contact for our animal selves. Our hair, tangled from drying under hats after river swimming, mingles on the pillows. 

A few days ago, in the wake of the inevitable announcement of the extension of online schooling in our district, I decided to revisit some old blogs I used to follow about project-based un-schooling. Despite the rotten taste in my mouth as I read an entry from 2017 

(in which the writer loudly rolls her eyes about suggestions she’s received that she might be able to do more good by having her kids in school and bringing her remarkable energy to bear on the system for the benefit of all kids in her community)

I got a journal out and tried a thing she suggested: just make notes of what your child is interested in, help them see patterns, look for a project together. 

Zelda was willing. I asked questions; made notes. Soon enough, she suggested that this process was not revealing anything to her – that she already knew the things that I was asking. She used a descriptor I often use: “It just feels like an interview.” 

I stood up for my sense that something needed to happen in these long aimless days – a project, a process. I said that without other adults providing structure, investing time in her learning – I felt that she needed more support. I said that the variable endlessness of the rapidly refreshing digital social scene is always available, always tempting us – usually without giving us the kind of personal, relational context in which challenge can reveal or satisfy. I said – too much. 

Zelda let me know, with a tight voice, damp eyes, that I had gotten on the whiteness train again. 

No, she did not say: whiteness.

She said: I feel like this thing with the notepad makes it so it’s not you and me talking anymore. It’s like this is for someone else who doesn’t even know me. She said: it hurts my feelings when you talk about the things I’m doing that you don’t like, to try to get me into your idea. She said: I think I hurt your feelings when I said your questions weren’t helping me, and so you got defensive.

I sat back, took a breath. Let her know: you’re right, that I felt somehow offended. You’re right that I wanted to defend my idea. But the wild truth is, it wasn’t even my idea. It was for someone else. 

What was the feeling that drove me to the old blogs where I used to take comfort in a vision of learning and family that seemed protected – separate – from the mechanical grind of 9-5 and systemic education? 


The idea laid alongside, called up through the announcement of more online school: that she is not getting enough, that I am not giving enough, that we are not doing enough. Here’s this feeling: scarcity. Worry.

And then, so quickly, here is whiteness: a fix for this. 

I can hear the voices: why is this whiteness? 

The central urge of the cultural energetic of whiteness is to dominate. The proliferation of ways that this urge manifests in individuals, communities, policy, structures and systems has been one of the primary activities of white culture over the last several hundreds of years. If you are curious about the concrete historical scholarship of this, please read Stamped from the Beginning, by Ibram X Kendhi. If you want a nuanced inquiry into the ways whiteness shows up in individuals, turn to Layla F Saad’s book, White Supremacy and Me. 

One flavor of whiteness I am especially susceptible to is the exceptional opt-out. Public charter schools in Portland are full of this kind of whiteness. I know, because I’m there, too. The ironic rant that I found on the project based unschooling blog was a perfect example of this kind of whiteness. The central thesis is: I am different. And the truth is that we are all different! Something to celebrate! But when the core urge of dominance gets a hold of this thesis, it becomes: I am different, and I can and should use my power and privilege to prioritize the preferences of my (segregated) community ahead of the collective.

One big way this gets facilitated, in my experience, is fear of what will happen if we do not use our power in this way. I connect the exceptionalist voice in my head with class – the fear of the aspiring middle class that if we continue to identify with and care for those among us who remain in poverty, we will be dragged down. Those with more power than we have are using it to get ahead, to meet their own needs, to hoard resources – so we must too! But exceptionalism is clever and says, but we would never do it the way they do. Once again: I am different. Still, the fear under the aspiration makes using the power of separation, of mobility, of access and identity, almost… self-defense? There is a perpetual tinge of victimhood to the exceptionalist in me: she will be obliterated by dominant culture if she does not pull away.

I cannot overstate the role of fear in all this. Despite having an open channel with my kid, and checking for her willingness; despite my overall parenting practice, which is not overtly coercive, the way I approached Zelda was not rooted in connection. I did not start with questions and feelings. I did not start by checking in with my own emotions. I started with a vague worry, and added a sprinkling of internet, the guidance of someone operating transparently from unexamined privilege (privilege I also have benefitted from), and came up with an imagined goal, which I carried to the body of my kid to try to plant it. 

I want to be so clear: this is normal! This is nuanced! I am not monstrous. I am a caring parent. And, Scarcity is monstrous. Scarcity makes those with power believe they need more. 

And, she felt the third party. The way my body was half turned, hoping for some imagined approval from an audience that will never truly love me.

She felt the seed I had in my hand and its questionable provenance. She asked: did Gaga do this kind of thing with you when you were a kid? I said, no, because we didn’t have a pandemic. But my mom did really focus on my education, making sure I was challenged. She moved me to a private school when the public school was utterly boring and remedial; she signed me up for adult writing classes when there weren’t ones for youth; she made sure that I took the dance classes and the swim lessons. 

Zelda asked: How did that feel for you? 

And I had to admit that though I always felt challenged, and loved the feelings of being immersed in learning, in the flow of movement, of being recognized, given opportunities to learn, given privilege – I knew, too, as kids almost always do, that there was something happening that was bigger than me, not really about me, or at least not only about me. That mysterious third party sat at my mother’s shoulder as she corrected my essay, looked over my grades, hustled to pay for my extracurriculars: an unnamed external whose eye was everywhere, whose energy could suddenly be unleashed at any time. 

The quest for a space in which whiteness is not watching – is not operating – is a common theme in Black American narratives. 

I saw a meme this week that said, Whiteness expects everyone to deal with whiteness except white people. This quote was attributed to Sonya Renee Taylor, who I deeply honor. Generally, I assume Black people know much more about whiteness than I do, because of how important it has been in my conditioning for whiteness to remain unacknowledged and invisible. And. As I sense into the presence of this omnipresent but unmentioned third party – who came to a meeting I had with my daughter yesterday by making what could have been a conversation into a meeting, by suggesting I would need a notebook to do it right, by making me an executor of my daughter’s intellectual and creative estate, by gripping my body when she questioned the necessity of the meeting, so that I undermined her so-far resilient response to a global and very personal loss of structure, predictability, and physiological intimacy with her peers – as I sense in to this possession that I accepted but that she rejected – I know that whiteness actually expects white people to deal in whiteness all the time. It expects white people to plant the seed of whiteness into themselves and into each other and into our children – every day. 

I processed this experience with a good friend who does non-profit work with organizations that support communities and individuals who are systematically oppressed by US economic and social policy and practice. She connected the whiteness showing up in my meeting agenda with the whiteness of the whole non-profit grind – a drama layered so thoroughly over whatever deep wish to help, to reverse the damage, to support the vulnerable … that there is no dance left for all the feet getting stepped on. My friend named the best outcome of the best work possible in their office: to turn to the most impacted and ask what they need, and then to work to unconditionally meet that need. 

Which, considering the fear, is really radical, right? The fear that we – the moderately privileged, the white working class, women with education, first generation college grads, alternative thinkers, escaped from religion – will be thrown back in with the most oppressed if we actually attend to them. 

How does this connect to parenting? 

We have all learned to employ power-over. It is the status quo. For those of us who wave the educationally exceptional flag, desiring a world where our kids are co-creators of their own learning experiences, the tools of power-over find expression in the quest to maintain and protect their opportunities. 

My friend pointed out that actually asking what the most impacted need – showing up in our bodies, slowing down, staying present while they seek an answer in themselves and staying present when and if that answer changes shape – is intensely vulnerable. Because we do not think we can supply what they need; we have not been given the tools. Which is why we try so hard to convince them that they need the things we have to offer. 

I see both these vectors coming together in this current moment, and in the project conversation I had with my kid. 

My desire to better support her; my fear of TikTok being an insufficient resource for a whole year of socialization needs; my wish for accessible models to engage her interests in a structured format; my desire to be right in there with her in her learning – all of these are real, true, ok ways to feel. And, whiteness says that if we do not employ power over, we will suffer. We will fail. Exceptionalism says that if we don’t get to do it just the way we want, we will suffer. Our difference will be erased. 

Pause with that. Do we really want to deform another generation to desire only what they have access to in a system designed to steal land and labor for the benefit of a few? Do we want to teach them to seek what they can gain access to by aligning with power and tacitly cooperating with oppression? 

This comes down to the inevitable scrambly moment. In my own conversation, the ability to pause and receive Zelda’s refusal to accept the pill, was the turning point. I relinquished the power of the notepad, the plan, the vicarious online authority. I became a learner: vulnerable, willing to be seen, questioning myself. We held hands on the couch, and talked about screens and social media, about the pandemic and the uprising. She suggested that if I feel afraid that she’s not getting enough, she is totally up to talk about what we could do differently. But, she said, “it’s better for me if we make that about you.” 

So here’s my check-in. As we flap our hands about school. Online, offline, masks, in person, pods, full-on drop-out, standards and skills, social-emotional, health and survival. How does that show up for our kids, in our homes? How does the particular way we worry manifest in the particular solution to the particular scarcity we encounter in the guise of our own powerlessness? (If you are thinking, “I don’t have kids, so I don’t have to think about school,” how is this exceptionalism segregating you?) How, in this process, do we double down on the harms we encountered as children, when our sovereignty and intrinsic value were demeaned by the adults who sought to support us to assuage their own fear? 

And, essentially, can we root our security in the abundance of actual sensory information all around us that assures us that our children – and the children of our neighbors, and the children of those who live in neighborhoods we do not covet – are deeply, inherently valuable? We do not have to do anything to them to make them valuable. We merely have to treat them – and ourselves – as the whole, worthy humans we already are.