Thank you so much for being willing to record a conversation with me. I'm really looking forward to whatever comes next in the next period of time. Excited to be here, looking forward to our conversation. I think I will start us off with one of the questions that we had brainstormed beforehand. If there's a story of someone's life or lived experience that has shaped to growing up, that you'd be willing to share? That could be a conversation with a relative or a fictional or non-fictional texts, a song, anything that comes to mind. Yeah. For all of these, I just want to say that what I started with was the first thing that came to mind. I hadn't really thought about this question before, I've never been asked that question, I don't remember it. When I saw the conversation with a relative, I actually began to think about my father and I was raised by my mother, primarily even though my father was always in my life until he passed in 2011. I thought about my expectations of fathering, I thought about what I want it from him and got and didn't get. I thought about how much I've learned about his childhood as I became an adult and realize that he'd lived up the street from his siblings, or at least the siblings who I called aunt and uncle for my whole life. Because he was raised at a time where it was considered bad for the marriage to have children who were not of the husband living in the house. His mother's parents raised him up the street safely away from the new husband of his mother. I think that part of why I think about that story today is, it was really important and I don't know that I feel like it should have been, but it played a huge role in my being more compassionate and understanding about the limitations of my father in terms of what he could give me and how he was understanding family and his obligations to me as a daughter. When I understood more about how he grew up, especially as I got this from my aunt or other people related to that side of the family. I think that I really began to think about, I guess feminists compositionality or how our particular set of experiences shapes the angle of the world that we have. It helped me to appreciate his parenting in spite of the gap between what I was receiving and what I was wanting at the time. It helped me to understand him better and to also develop a greater appreciation for her limitations. How our experience can grow us, but can also limit us in certain ways. Speaking you wonder how you'd learn more about his life if was from him directly, from other people. The ways that stories get passed down with words but also not with words. Not from him is the short answer to all the questions. He was a storyteller, but not the kind that held close to the facts of the case. He was an entertainer, known for being the life of the party, spent a cool decade and undergrad at Howard University. I think that he didn't probably think it was that important to give those details. I think that I probably learned this from his sister, my aunt and I was always learning things. I found out, I'm going to say maybe even at someone's funeral about siblings that he had on his father's side that I didn't know anything about. I think that he thought those details we're really not that important and especially for children. At the time I think that he thought other things were more important. Maybe coming from a man I think he was traditional in the sense that he thought financial support was an important part of how he showed that he was a good father. I think that physical presence well, but also both of the presence showing up and being somewhere, but also he was someone who gave gifts and showed up for holidays. That was interesting for me because I was looking for other things that actually resulted in me having a resistance to get. I didn't want gifts because to me gifts replace something else that I wanted. But the stories definitely came from other people because most of his stories were designed to entertain. There was a punchline, there was a long joke and entertaining recurring theme or something like that. Well I have heard that different story got shared by loved ones. The different forms that can take, and sounds like these are entertaining, performing. Sometimes there's some hiding there too. If you look at this and you don't see. Absolutely, I mean, I think it was important for him six-foot three black man raised and lived in Georgia, not to seem weak or vulnerable to his daughter in spite of being raised in what was certainly hostile enough environment that I knew that there were a number of times when the community got together to send people away so that they wouldn't be killed. I don't think that he wanted to share the harshness of that. [inaudible] Use some more context and understanding at a funeral and the ways in which I know in my own family who also come from Georgia. There's ways in which I have gained a lot of other perspective on my parents and my relatives through those moments where they're reflected through another family member. It's making me think about the ways that memory and families and stories are intertwined. I've had some hard lessons there. I write about this. There's a piece I'll share with you. But when I was pretty young, I wouldn't guess eight or nine. I was visiting my grandparents. My grandmother was a seamstress, among other things. I feel like that's always important to add, but these folks do all the things they need to do. I was helping her out. I think it's fair to say that I was a pretty sensitive child. At some point, possibly slightly displeased with something I did, she told me I wasn't worth a shit. It was crushing. I started crying. I was inconsolable. I call my mother to come and pick me up. My vacation ended early. I didn't talk to her for years after that. The same odd years later, I told her the story with the wait and pain of it all. She laughed and I wonder why she laughed and she said, oh, she said that to everybody. She's like you were her favorite. I couldn't have imagined that. It's something about the language of a place, how people speak in different environments. The issue was that my mother and father came from different worlds and my mother was incapable in spite of her intentions of translating what had happened with my grandmother. It was the thing that people said in that context to encourage a kid, and it wasn't designed to harm or be hurtful. But that split really hurt my grandmother and we were never really close after that. I never quite got to the point where I understood it and I spent enough time being socialized by my mother's family that it was just chorus of that's not how you speak to a child but they really again, had no means of understanding the language of my grandmother. In these latter days, I've learned to reconnect with her and her words in a way to reconnect with her, and in her words in a way that honors her language even though I didn't have a way to translate it when I was a child. That's a powerful spiral. Understanding, coming back around of a repair even if loved ones are no longer with us. That's tough. Well, I guess depending on how one thinks about death there will always be things that we can't quite get back, and so that can be challenging to lose that opportunity to understand, to experience more of that love. Maybe you may have actually read it. I think that that might have been in the revolutionary modeling piece. It's a powerful story thinking about the ways that love looks different and that what is offered is not always what is wanted. Also is this idea I often criticize, critique the foster systems, Disney presentation of family and when they talk about forever homes. What is forever really? Such a weird thing to sell to children who've already experienced enough transition and precarity to know that very little if anything is forever. To get them high on these forever home dreams is really a set of cruel twist. But I have definitely come to appreciate later in life the love that isn't so dressed up, that's uncut, a bit more lower and can be challenging to hear, but is also more revealing in the end often. This makes me think about your other grandmother, your mom's mom because you've written about her as well in that same piece and about her Alzheimer's journey and what that's meant for all of you in terms of the shift in her memory. I wonder if you'd be willing to speak a little about that. That's again, it involves all these multiple layers of people because I find myself in this situation where my mother and I are caring for two different people who inhabit the same body, and I've written this piece about that experience. In fact, I do it through this series of vignettes that I wrote while sleeping in my grandmother's room. It would be prompted from things that she would yell out or say during the night, conversations she would have. One of the things that's really challenging, especially I think for my mom around this relationship is that my mom is very much trying to hold on if not hold steady to the mother she remembers. I am traveling with my grandmother so that she's always accompanied, and so in a way we're going in different directions temporarily, maybe spatially. My grandmother's perpetually in a place called Southern Pines North Carolina. Which is a real place, but it's a place that mostly exists in her imagination. I mean, the place she remembers doesn't map exactly onto the place that exist. I'm thinking that relationship, it's hard because my mom doesn't like it when I travel away with her mom. She's trying to hold it steady and ground in something. Part of what I think about is, are the big people who we interact with. Our tolerance for divergent narratives don't map one to the reality that we think exist. It's really a thin line, before we say that someone is crazy or delusional. It's been tricky for me also because I have friends and family who have struggled with mental health challenges, and so I can hear people when they are saying that they want not to have that traveling, not to see the world in those different ways. I know that my relationship with my grandmother is making me less normal and I don't value normal in the way that people might expect me to. When my mom says things or tries to pull me back or pull us back or keep a steady. What I'm realizing is that I'm not committed to steady. I'm committed to together, and together may change us forever and change me forever in ways that won't be respected or won't be cared for in some places. But if I can find a way to get to places where that divergence is appreciated I've probably found a better place for me anyway. But that can be scary. People will say things like no, you shouldn't talk like that. You should indulge these fantasies. You don't want her to believe that I'm thinking. What makes you think? I don't believe that 98 percent of the people in your day will affirm, exactly the sense of reality you have. This is table, this is chair that is photo. You've got one person who's talking about a dog in the the window. Let it go, like leave my grandmother alone, let her play with her dog. I know that for some people it's like no I shouldn't be encouraging it, but I don't think it's encouraging or not. For me, especially without the memory, it's an acceptance of who's here right now in a particular moment. I think that in a way, we're fighting over future grandma impasse mom. Wow, I love that sense of questioning, what would it mean to make space for divergent narratives and for there to be space for your grandmother to have the reality that she's in and maybe those come together at times and maybe they don't. But it seems like there's so much that we can learn from these multiple perspectives, right? It's, it's de-stabilizing when there's more than one narrative. That's why I think we all grip so tightly to certain stories or certain experiences. Some of us can grip, right? And so if you can't grip, then people give you a pass. But if you've could grip and you don't, then people really come for you because they often want you to be a part of the gripping. I'm thinking you've got 95 percent, can't you leave me and my three percent alone? I'm saying I've got one grandmother who occasionally will ask if I can take her out to the man who's been waiting for in the car. I'm say, let it go. We have all kinds of interesting conversations about it. In this new piece around morning, I talk about a time where my grandmother talks about a ring. She talks about she says, he brought me a gift. He never brings me gifts and it's pretty clear to me, whatever that means. That this is my grandfather, that she experiences, that my grandfather just brought her a gift. That's really meaningful based on what I know about their relationship. Well, my mom digs into the past and she says, "Is it this ring?" She actually goes and produces a physical ring, and asked my grandmother if it's this ring and of course, my grandmother is confused, and it's like, "How did you get the ring? What's going on?" It disrupts the story of the gift that was just given, and she's like, "You took this off and you gave this to me?" She's like, "I don't know what you're talking about." It's a completely other memory, a memory that goes into the past instead of one that just reaches out. I believe, I think belief is the right word, that my grandfather is very present for my grandmother right now in ways that he wasn't when he was alive even. Sometimes, she says his name out of her sleep in ways that make me think that he's present. If it matters, and I don't know if it matters. I'm not necessarily thinking of what people might understand as ghost in some way. I think that these are questions of ontology. [inaudible] I was having that same thought of ontology and epistemology of these ways of knowing, and these ways of how we are often taught to think about and categorize story and what's real. I think a lot about the phrase, something can be real and not true or true and not real, and there's a whole lot of gray area in between that's just discarded. I think that we exist as much in the mind of others as we do in some physical casing. When people talk about people living on in history, they're talking about in the memories and actions of other people, and so I think there are lots of ways that people can live and so I just want to clarify that. I don't have clear beliefs, ideas about where or what happened with the essence of my grandfather to be clear. It was this moment where I was watching my mom fighting for something. I was watching my grandmother fighting for something and I was thinking these two will never meet. They are walking in different directions. But the difference is that my mom has a million people to corroborate her story of the history and she's got documents, but my grandmother is alone, wandering without a memory, and so I choose to accompany her. Even though I know it will change me. Even though I know on the other end of this, I may have absorbed, received so much of her that I can't be fully recognized as the me I was before her. If that even makes sense, but it really doesn't. She is the woman who birthed my mother, so there is no me before her. You know what I mean? You couldn't take her out of you. This is making me think about interpersonally, but also at larger scales, the ways in which being attached to a story takes us in one direction and being open to the unfolding of a story allow something different. I've learned so much from my grandmother. Even when she had a memory, but especially now, we were talking a little bit before we started the recording about Buddhist practices and teachers, and she feels like a teaching to me. I remember early on in her disease that I realized that she was the perfect social experiment. That social sciences are based on the fact that you can't go into the lab and do a perfect experiment, so everything is set of imperfect approximation, but as compared to chemistry or physics lab. But I realized that I could go in and say something to her and if it didn't go the way that I wanted, that I could leave the room and re-enter and try again to be a better version of me. What a gift. Wild. I've never heard anybody talk about relationships with someone all times in that way. That in fact, all this stuff about how you can never have a perfect social experience. No, actually you can. It's with this population of people who we've mostly disregarded and decided are not really worthy of any true engagement, for the most part, need to be protected from themselves and the things that they see that we can't see. In the early days, you don't want to go back. I was taking advantage a little bit, but I just thought I could do better. I would leave and I would have exactly this conversation, but tweaking it because I just thought I think I did at this part I said something that upset her and I would apologize and then I'd leave and I come back and try it a different way. I think that was an early practice that helped me in later times currently where she is I think speaking a little bit less. Well, speak a little bit less to those who are physically present. I think that I'm learning from other things that she does. I think that I'm learning from, and I mentioned this earlier, I believe, but her forgetting when I make mistakes because I'm helping her off for the day and sometimes I'm not doing such a good job of helping her up and we have a little bit of a bump somewhere here or there. I will sometimes watch as the scowl disappears and she forgets that it happened. I'm just like what if every time something upset me. I just like let it pass. I didn't try to hold onto it as if I were going to need to react or punish or relive that I just let it go. That's a dangerous thought to have because I realize that as my mom is playing these games that are supposed to help improve memory, I've decided that I don't really need to be attached to my own memory, which is shifting my relationships with people. When somebody recalls a story between us, like something, I just assume that it's true or not big T true, but I assume that it's what they remember and I don't need the input because actually that's not what we're talking about anyway. We're talking about what they remember. I've almost stopped using my memory, which has to be dangerous. I wouldn't [inaudible] In the sense of loosening that attachment that the things I think I remember are big T true and instead this loosening. It's not even just the big stories. I have tools, you know, I write things down, I have things posted in places, but so somebody will say, especially my mom would say, "Do you remember that story on it?" No. "Why don't you tell me about it?" But she gets frustrated because she wants me to recall it with her. But I let it go. I think that it is frustrating for a good portion of people to see an experience that I'm not keeping an archive. How much fear that brings up for folks around wanting to document around loss, around grief. My mom has gotten me a shirt that I think it was probably from an aquarium or something or a zoo. All who wander are not lost. You covered, I didn't know, perpetual present at this point in the past is present for her in different ways, maybe two. It makes sense to me that that would be a great experience of unlearning, being able to witness and accompany her. Yeah. It's an experiment but not a controlled one, you know what I mean? It spills all over the place. Sometimes I ask for more detail, I've recorded some of what she said, for awhile I was doing some video recordings. I haven't figured out what I'm going to do with it because in part, I imagine already all the protest of all the people who knew her when she had memory. But there's something else that exists now, and I don't know a lot of people who are appreciating it. But the version of her that exists now is really helpful to me. In a way, she's become my primary teacher in a tradition that I think was not her own, which makes sense because the first in a tradition we never raised in it, but it is. What does it mean to love what is? And let go of the ideas of what it was, what it will be. That's beautiful. It is counter-cultural, I think. I think that part of it is flipped. The ego take can take up so much space. It's like how much people need to be affirmed all throughout their day. I'm like, haven't you been around people all day who just going affirming your sense of reality? Didn't you just walk over here? This is just like 101 year old lady. You could just keep on walking if it's that uncomfortable for you. But the power in that, in a different story. I think part of what's been so striking is how many people can do it. They can't just be with her. They'll look to me like, oh, that's so cute, she's so interesting. They're always deflecting. They're talking about her on the side, but if I said your practice for today will be to be with her for 10 minutes, however she is, whatever she presents, just stay with it. It's exactly how things are. That is really hard. It's really hard for me sometimes, it's really hard culturally, I think. Yet there's so much freedom there. It can be there. Once you realize you can choose to accept, what is, a lot of things get a lot easier. It doesn't even mean you have to like the things. That's not what I mean when I say accept. Just reign in your notion of what you think you should or can control. Exactly. I'd be thinking about ideas about the self. This is something I've been thinking about for this course in particular, the ways in which we have these stories about who we are, these identities, these imaginations of who we are, and also how subjective, context-dependent those are. The ways in which other groups and peoples over time have seen their selves, including their mother, or certain close family members or the whole planet, the land, as an interrelationship of self. I'm really thinking about how much we can learn through loosening those ideas ourselves. How much less suffering there could be. [inaudible] I've been thinking about concepts of no self. I will say that I don't think of myself as the most important person in my life and I know that that can be a controversial way to answer conversations in the U.S. But even though I think that in many communities, people are focused around some central roles and a lot of people support those roles. My relationship to myself or lack of relationship to myself ends up being quite challenging for others especially when they're doing a comparison. When they're wanting me to be more concerned with myself so that they feel like I'm not judging them about how they're caring for themselves. That's right. How do you think about because it seems like there's sometimes this tension and multiple truths of letting go of the idea of a self and our own importance or our own positions in the world. Then this very also real experience of needing to advocate for ourselves when there is an economic system like this, when there is racial oppression like this, gender oppression. I think about holding both and it's not an easy thing to even hold them in my mind. I think that often, I think in terms of roots and systems. Even though I'd say that my sense of my individual self is quite weak, my group sense of self is quite strong. I'm in many groups and I'm advocating for all of them. I want to create structures where the groups that I'm in and the groups that I'm not in can survive each other in the world. That to me feels like the natural starting point. It's a chicken and egg thing is individual or group. Does the individual lead to the group or the group lead to the individual and part of what is useful for me in thinking about groups and group protection or group survival is processes that allow us to articulate what is required for our shared survival, humanity, respect, dignity and that I feel clearer about it, I have a sense of that. I was cultivated in a sense of that socialized in a particular context around that work into the extent that I feel that my life is long. It's because it's connected to legacies around that work. I'm thinking about ways in which we need stories and the ways they bring us together and have some shared meaning and understanding. The ways that stories can be acts of resistance, holding onto a sense of truth or justice that might be inside of us, that may be outside groups or forces are recognizing and also the ways that letting go certain stories brings a lot of freedom. Thank you so much for this conversation. I could imagine it's just continuing to follow many directions, but there's so much that I'm appreciating and all the ways that we've gone. Is there something that you'd like to come back to or that reverberating from earlier on that you'd like to speak to? Of course, because you just said it I'm thinking about what you just said about the stories that we hold onto and the stories that we let go, and part of another piece that I see there is the stories that get modified over generations. There is something that happens when stories they captured by the archive. They resist the set of natural modifications that happen when people understand the context of a story and adapt them to the current age. I think about the living story, the living narrative, the one that is both pronounced and prominent but also is adaptive and responsive. I think about that in the context of my grandmother's forgetting because I think about that is the story that can be forgotten, and remember, and retold, and passed on, and regenerated. For me I think that my deep steady right now is with that story. A story that doesn't stand still. I love to hear that. Stories that are moving. Thank you so much Melchor. Absolutely. Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure.