In Search of the Mountain

A short morality tale written in 2017 is illuminated in a new light by "A Space for Dreaming Abolition," and a major edit occurs as a means to reorient

Dear Family, Comrades, and Neighbors:

This month has been…full. There’ve been multiple fabulous workshops full of vulnerability, creativity, joy, and love. I’ve taken moments to rest, find stillness, and to dream. I’m even keeping up with my chores (mostly).

And I am still finding myself hella stressed and anxious at times. It is hard trying to sort out what is truly what. Media, both social and mainstream, distorts absolutely everything and trying to find some meaning or truth in it feels so laborious that it’s just exhausting, depleting, and, ultimately, depressing. It feels like all of media is simply poison sold as significance by advertising algorithms. Ugh….

This poisonous landscape, of which even the platform that hosts this site is a significant contributor, seems ever present on my mind, as if it is taking up all of the space inside my head. Even when I have a glimmer or a dream of something else, something I deeply know to be true, the poisonous landscape comes sharply back into focus whenever I touch my phone, open my computer, turn on my television.

It’s all a bit overwhelming, and while I know this poison to also be a truth it is not the dominant truth I want occupying my mind, my thoughts, my dreams. Too much obsession with that poison makes anything I create just a reflection of it. And it spreads.

In finding ways to reconstruct this story, Nadïne LaFond has invited me, through her Reclaiming Stories, Dismantling Narratives workshop, to look back at what has been and find ways to bring those things into the present in new forms with new contexts and to see how they may change.

So I took that invitation to look back at old work and see what sparked. I found a short story I crafted in 2017 that at the time was called “When the Mountain Is Whole.” I wrote it after my trip to Appalachian Media Institute in Whitesburg, Kentucky, to facilitate workshops with youth media artists and educators. As part of my trip, I got an oral history of the area that showed its complexities, its beauties, its tragedies. It took over seven hours, and I cried and laughed and raged through it all.

When I got back to Yelamu / San Francisco, I started writing this morality tale. I wanted to capture what I felt and experienced and heard. And once crafted, it sat in a folder on my computer.

I reread it today, and I was astounded by how much it reflected “A Space for Dreaming Abolition,” which was held on Wednesday, November 17, 2021, and was co-created by Philly-based artist Keyssh, Richmond-based artist Crystal Mason, Portland-based artist Kapi’olani Lee, and me. During the creative process, a phrase of “smashing boulders” was included in our poem, which then seeded our dreams. During the sharing of our dreams, another Philly-based artist and organizer commented that for them abolition included decentering humans and focusing on all our relations.

There was a line in “When the Mountain Is Whole” that went, “We means you and me.” As I reread it, I knew it needed to change. I could hear my comrade’s voice in my head, “That is too human-centric. You are writing about a mountain.”

So I went and changed that line to, “We means all relations non-human and human.”

This is going to be my mantra today and over the whole holidaze season. This feels like a bold truth, one that deeply resonates and can be my north star. It feels strong enough and bright enough to not drown out all of the shit, but illuminate it such a way that I can see it, recognize within it all of the pain & trauma & fuckery, and hold that I am in relation to all of it and way, way, way more too.

I am also in relation to the cosmic, to the spiritual, to the plants & minerals & animals. I am in relation to the mountain.

Which brings me to a shift in title of the morality tale. No longer can it be “When the Mountain Is Whole.”

Rather, I am “In Search of the Mountain.”


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“In Search of the Mountain”

There is a mountain, and it is whole and beautiful.

You cannot fully comprehend it in one viewing. You must travel around it, up it, into it in order to fully grasp its magnitude and even then you cannot not fathom its majesty. 

There is someone, though, and He sees money in that mountain. 

You watch Him blow it up and see boulders slide down its sides. You weep for the mountain for you feel its pain. You know deep down that it has forever changed; it has lost its majesty.

That someone tells you, “Look at that boulder. It is as beautiful as that mountain. More so, in fact, because it can get you some money, and you need money to live.” 

You think what He said to be a lie, and you know money to be a truth. You look at your home and your family, see how money can make both just a little bit better. His words hit a nerve.  

He says, “Help me get more boulders, and I’ll share my profits.” 

You bristle at losing more of the mountain and are taken by “share my profits”. You pick up a pick and go where He tells you. You focus on the boulder, your family and home. That boulder becomes beautiful for it gives you the means to share profits with your family. 

He pats you on the back while stealing money from your pocket, says, “Take these pills they’ll make your body less sore, make it so can get even more boulders.” 

Your shoulders ache and knees creak. The profits you hoped to share seem smaller than expected. You take the pills and go back to work because you still have a family and home for which you need to provide. The boulders, though, have become rocks, and it takes you twice as long to collect half as much. And the pills take their grip, make you forget the mountain completely. 

Meanwhile, that someone got rich, built Himself a nice home far, far away. And He tells the world, “Look at these poor, dirty people who toil so hard and still can’t make a living. They are mountain people. It is just who they are.” 

You hear His words on His campaign trail and they mirror your view. You do toil, are from the mountain; it is who you are. It, too, is not all of who you are. You have your family and your home, and your dreams for them seem so far away. You believe He can make it better for He’s given you so much and tried to take away some pain. 

He sees the mountain getting smaller and smaller, knows soon it will be gone. He’s terrified of those He’s exploited seeing how He’s extracted their labor and land. He says, “These mountain people are sick. They need help to fight addiction,” and He shifts attention away from the pain he has caused to the pain inside each person. And this mirrors how He once shifted focus from the mountain to the boulders to the rocks. 

You know His words to be true for you have witnessed too many relatives lost to addiction. You feel fractured; you long to be whole. You have a memory of the mountain, but its majesty is missing from the landscape. All you can find are pebbles for even all the rocks have disappeared. 

He continues to peddle His lies and misdirections saying things like, “We will be great again,” and hoping no one will discover He stole the mountain.

*****

There are Keepers, though, of the mountain. They have not forgotten its beauty for it flows through Their blood and it grows in Their bones. Through songs sung around fires and dances danced in squares and stories told in circle, They share reflections of its majesty. 

You have heard Their stories, danced Their dances, sung Their songs at twilight. Each time, you remember a bit more of the mountain, feel just a little bit more whole. Still, you cannot fathom its magnitude. It seems just a bit too big. 

These Keepers continue to tend the mountain by gathering neighbors together. They know the mountain’s beauty, magnitude, and majesty can only be found in each other, that the whole is only in the Whole. 

And that We Means All Our Relations Non-Human and Human.  

*****

He fears these Keepers. He knows Their truth is more powerful than His extraction and exploitation. So He continues to lie and misdirect and peddle and steal trying to make everything smaller and smaller and smaller. 

*****

And there is now a choice for you to make: 

Will you continue to look only for pebbles? 

Or will you go find the mountain?


Timelapse Video

Here’s a short timelapse video of my hand lettering the phrase, “We means all relations non-human and human.”


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