i updated this issue to give more space to bell hooks. <3
hey there, reader,
welcome to another issue of returning to the Source. we are nearing the end of Sagittarius season, but i am still feeling the fiery charge! i haven't ever been anything but a Sagittarius so call me biased, but this is quite honestly the best time of year. it's a time for making mischief, asking big questions, and conspiring with chaos. ain't nothing like being a truth-seeking child of fortune, plus look at the real-ass company i keep! besides several of my closest friends sharing this season with me, i'm also in the same club as trailblazers like Yasiin Bey, Tina Turner, Janelle Monae, Angelica Ross, DMX, and Jimi Hendrix, just to name a few. i celebrated my 26th birthday on the 11th, so i'm devoting this issue to a few of my favorite things from my 25th year.
(i intentionally excluded pictures of my face because this ain't that, ykwim?)
image description: i hold a handpainted note that reads "EVERY NIGGA IS A STAR" over a table. my nails is did. on the table is a bowl of fruit salad, a plate of cookies, a lit candle, and another handpainted note.
context: Tobi and Jas hosted a Black Futures Dinner at their place in February, and me, Isra, and Micah came through to break bread and share in the joy. it was a beautiful, love-filled, Black ass day!
image description: a spider sprawled across its web has been tattooed in my elbow ditch above the tattoo of the phrase "nostalgia for the familiar." a lighter is in the waistband on my boxer briefs, and an unmade bed is behind me.
context: in anticipation of my departure from Ohio, i went on a solo trip to Detroit and Chicago in August (since they're within a 6-hour drive of Central Ohio). i got this tattoo in Chicago from Quori at Archer Ave Tattoo. the decision was fairly spontaneous, but spiders, along with the figures of Anansi/Esu/trickster spirits, kept showing up for me in the spring and summer. this tattoo symbolizes my return to Black and African spiritual technologies, the connections between webs and storytelling/care, as well as my ongoing readjustment to oft-reviled creatures.
image description: taken through the windshield of a moving truck, a black sign with white letters that reads "HELL IS REAL" looms over a green field across the highway.
context: i took this from the moving truck with Sarah, Charlie, and Zara at my side as i left Ohio for good last month. this is the sign you see when you're heading southbound on 71, and it has somewhat of a reputation across the state for its sudden, foreboding presence. anytime i would pass this sign in the past, i would joke that Hell isn't just real, it's empty and all the devils live in Central Ohio. it's funnier now that i don't live there anymore!
image description: intersecting lines of plane exhaust intersect in the sky. there is a small house and lightpole in the foreground. twilight approaches.
context: i took this on my first full day alone in Georgia after Sarah and Charlie left. i went skating at the tennis courts in my neighborhood, and i happened to meet the Spirit at the crossroads right as the sun set. they were a child and they wore all black, save for the red patch dyed into their fro. i won't say much more about the experience here, but i know that was a message from the Divine meant to welcome me back home.
image description: a black t-shirt features two images bell hooks framed by her name and lightning.
context: for my birthday, my dear friend Avalon sprung to get me The Black School's wearable homage to Black feminist critic, educator, and writer bell hooks. the shirt arrived on the 14th, and then she passed over into the ancestral realm the following day, leaving behind a vast legacy that we can only hope to honor. originally intended to be a celebration of her living presence, the shirt has shifted in significance, unexpectedly moving into the Black tradition of creating RIP t-shirts to memorialize our fallen.
i've written before about the life-saving impact hooks has had on me in the past, and i regularly revisited her work this year (namely Sisters of the Yam and Black Looks), still needing that salve and guiding light. this loss is a chasm, but bell hooks is a bedrock who will never truly leave us. may she rest in all the love she gave the world. may her memory be a blessing, a lesson, and a call to action for the living.
i've been rooting for Lil Nas X since he took the world by storm with "Old Town Road," and my celebration only grew louder with the arrival of MONTERO. MONTERO is a Black queer reimagination of the Hero's Journey with Lil Nas X as the protagonist. the album cover itself is a gleaming oculus into the lavish world that Lil Nas builds as he weaves an expansive tale of exile, identity, and personal awakening. he covers ample ground on this project, dexterously spanning numerous genres and soundscapes, from catchy pop-rap ("SCOOP," "DOLLA SIGN SLIME") to pop punk ("LOST IN THE CITADEL," "SUN GOES DOWN") to stripped-down ballads ("TALES OF DOMINICA," "AM I DREAMING"). bravado equally matched with dejection, Lil Nas X flexes with the strength that undue adversity brought his way. for example, the triumphant mood of "DEAD RIGHT NOW" almost belies his professions of familial alienation throughout the song. something similar could be said for the titular track or "THAT'S WHAT I WANT," two upbeat anthems that hone in on the shame-laden yearning that comes from being loved in secret. he presents his struggle with a flourish, not to champion his pain but simply to be honest about it, and it's this raw openness that draws me in every time. i could still run this project up back to back and not get tired, and i know this isn't an uncommon sentiment. with MONTERO, Lil Nas X has asserted his place both in the music industry and our hearts.
(he also reposted a funny tweet to his TikTok that accurately captures the album's vibe if U need a laugh)
i originally wanted to keep this list 100% Black, but this album did go platinum in my phone, so it'd be dishonest of me to leave it out! i've been a fan of metal, hardcore, punk, and most adjacent genres since i was in middle school, and that industry has consistently been 95% cis white men; the younger me is gagged off the strength that a woman of color can be the creative engine for this trio. building upon the foundation of Judeochristian mythos from their first LP Created in the Image of Suffering, King Woman revisits similar thematic territory on Celestial Blues. Kris Esfandiari breathes life into the travails of condemnation, heartbreak, and redemption, creating an otherworldly atmosphere with the crushing gravity to match. her voice is melodic yet mournful, soft yet rough-hewn, much akin to the sensation of running your finger against velvet's grain; she is buoyed in the dark by the doomy, meticulous ministrations of drummer Jospeh Raygoza and guitarist Peter Arensdorf. she hypnotizes us with the Luciferian lullaby "Morning Star" before breaking the spell with "Boghz," the sense-scattering single that features Esfandiari whispering and then wailing in the throes of co-dependent love. besides "Boghz," i replayed "Golgotha" the most from this album, which follows the path of the ouroboros with the site of Jesus' crucifixion in its serpentine center ("And it never ends/and it never ends/The snake eats its tail/we return again/to/this hell"). here, she presents a metaphor for the hell we encounter when we repeatedly make decisions that diminish us, before "Coil" confidently claims resurrection, a new path. Esfandiari disposes of metaphors on "Ruse," trading stigmata for the equally-bloody wounds of betrayal and infidelity ("Oh, and it hurts and it hurts and it stings/Oh, and the knife it twists and turns"). i've definitely screamed and punched my steering wheel to this song because it resonated for...reasons (LMAO). though King Woman shied away from explicit mentions of tarot on this project, i couldn't help but think of the Three of Swords, except if it were possible for the betrayed to extract one of the blades and turn it against the one who pierced their heart. the album ends with a beginning: the story of Adam and Eve's Fall from Eden. Esfandiari murmurs somberly over sparse guitar notes, overcome by her severance from heaven, but with every fall comes an opportunity to rise, and we can be sure that King Woman will ascend to heights unseen.
Aloe Vera floats like a butterfly through the pains of individual, interpersonal, and collective transformation on her latest project Opaque. with quick-witted punchlines and assonance as their assets, Vera is graceful and incisive with the ready sword of their tongue as they cut down their demons. neither naysayers nor capitalists stand a chance against Aloe Vera on "Krillmonger Pt. 1: Black Forces" where they boast their multitudes over a blistering, bass-driven beat (which is to be expected because yalreadyknow that any track that starts with carefree laughter means that somebody's finna pop they shit in the booth!) they remain just as relentless on the effervescent "Demon Slayer," which has some of my favorite lines to quote like "most niggas is opps/but if i got a Judas/that means i'm true to this" and "the tea is well made/i'll take a sip/then piss on your grave." it must be noted that Aloe Vera isn't taking up arms just for the sake of it. the fight central to the album is meant to ensure a world where softness and safety are afforded to all, where niggas can show up fully and authentically, where "ain't no seat at no table, we're able/to have something more/we'll sit on the floor/as long as we're eating together" ("Stardew Viewfinder"). Aloe Vera takes care to bridge between braggadocio with tender, varied appeals to intimacy before their fierce resolve reaches its pinnacle on the album's denouement. soaring guitar riffs and a whistling refrain give an airy feel to "Long Past Strange," as Vera finds themselves suspended in an abyss. they acknowledge that there may be no ground to break their fall; still, they place a "knife to their noose," promising the listener that giving into the unknown is far better than tethering ourselves to the oblivion of a slow death. the worlds we deserve are directly at hand, the openings for rebirth are ours for the making. like its creator, this encyclopedic, future-oriented body of work is opaque in the way mirrors are: reflective of infinite possibilities.
Zambian-born, Montreal/Ottawa-based musician and producer BACKXWASH weeps, moans, and gnashes her teeth for the entirety of her second full-length album I LIE HERE BURIED WITH MY RINGS AND MY DRESSES. the album opens with a didactic voice advising that "The purpose of pain is to get our attention that something is wrong, protect us from further damage, and to request care. It's in this sense that a little bit of pain is a good thing." the recording repeats but then distorts immediately, breaking the atmosphere of fragile ease as the multiple voices slip past each other in a disorienting, arrhythmic echo. the bone-chilling monologue presents a hidden question: what do we make of the pain that can't be quantified, the pain that compounds and overlaps until it's almost too much to bear? for the rest of the album, BACKXWASH answers by unleashing pure hell. incorporating (and then subverting) religious motifs, BACKXWASH makes palpable her anguish at living in a world that aims to vilify and destroy Black trans women. the album hits its first fever pitch with the titular track, which multiply speaks to the violent conditions she has to navigate alongside her sisters. it's almost like she spits the second verse through gritted teeth, her grief threatening to swallow her whole as she imagines her own premature death ("Should I point and blast it at a open casket/With the roses as fresh as the sky/Will the mourning laughing/And the crocodile tears/Expose all my willing to die"). her litany for survival continues on as she turns up the heat with "TERROR PACKETS," her collab with fellow Black transfemme Censored Dialogue, where both artists furiously recount the ways they've had to cope and survive ("Back then I took a bump in the face/To feel dead like my government name"). another favorite of mine from the album is 666 IN LUXAXA, an ode to BACKXWASH's birthplace of Lusaka, Zambia, as well as the traditional religions that existed there prior to the arrival of colonial Christian missionaries. (she also calls Justin Trudeau a fucking racist on the song, and i love it whenever someone names things as they are!) the pyre ignites to unforeseen heights with the final track "BURN TO ASHES," ending the album in a blaze of glory and purgatory. BACKXWASH unfurls a clarion war cry and death wail as she orchestrates her own baptism by fire. self-immolation often serves a political or religious purpose, which redirects us to the imperative in the first track. we may not be able make sense of immeasurable pain, but the duty remains to provide heightened care, attention, and protection to those bearing that pain, namely Black trans women. may BACKXWASH's rage be a galvanizing reminder of the commitments we must make, and may she live on to experience decades of joy and creation too.
i'm technically cheating since Zora's Daughters is hosted by two people**, but this is a singular podcast, and it has been fundamental to my learning this year! Brendane Tynes and Alyssa James brilliantly distill Black feminist and anthropological theory into critical, accessible, and thought-provoking discussions. i would be hard-pressed to pick a favorite episode since each one is a treasure trove, but i'll start with an episode they actually released last year: "Ain't I a Woman?"
as a Black gender-marginalized person who experiences misogynoir, i've long been familiar with controlling images/archetypes of Black women, but their breakdown further bolstered my understanding, especially regarding Hortense Spillers' concept of ungendering. i also really connected to their exploration of climate collapse and Christina Sharpe's In the Wake on "The Climate is Anti-Blackness." Alyssa's and Brendane's intellectual contributions on (and beyond) this show are principled testaments to Zora Neale Hurston's legacy as a griot, spiritualist, and ethnographer. i can't wait to keep nourishing my Black feminist praxis with this podcast as my aide!
**please trust that i'm not treating Brendane and Alyssa as fungible like Dr. Kiona did in her anti-Black response to their critiques on her work -- peep "The Empire Claps Back" if U wanna know what i'm talmbout!
i don't remember the first time i encountered Jade's work, but i am so grateful that it happened! she is a Black queer disabled femme and self-described "churchy mystic" whose work is devoted to the "holistic healing processes of Blackfolk, Queer & Trans Black & Indigenous People of Color (QTBIPOC), and disabled and / or chronically ill folks within these communities." i had the distinct pleasure of joining her summer intensive "Tarot Bridge-Building & World-Shaping" not long after i opened my books for the first time, and her framework for decolonial tarot praxis challenged me to assess gaps i hadn't even considered. i had an enriching and engaging time reflecting on my Reader's Root System, JTP's own five-pronged model for a ethical and grounded tarot practice, alongside her theory of Trauma-Aware Tarot Work. during the intensive, she mentioned a few times that the weekend curriculum was simply an introduction to the pedagogy she created for the Cecilia Weston Tarot Academy, a four-month cohort-based tarot training program. she encouraged us to apply for the fall 2021 cycle, so that's what i did, and i was BLESSED with a full scholarship to participate in the Christmas cohort. over the last four months, i've gotten to share virtual space with wildly insightful, intuitive, almost-exclusively Black diviners while reflecting on the ways tarot can be a tool for liberation (read: ending this world). it's a rarity to encounter accessible, safe spaces where multiply-marginalized Black folks can exchange wisdom on our healing technologies, and i'm so grateful to have found that space in Jade's work. she's currently accepting applications for the next CWTA cycle until December 22nd, i encourage U to apply if you're either starting your practice or wanting to expand it!
do U ever postpone something because you're waiting for the moment U can truly savor it? that's what i did for months with Akwaeke Emezi's novels, choosing instead to marvel at the other ways they maintained a bold stance at the margins as an ogbanje writer. i knew reading their work would be deeply life-affirming for me, and they didn't disappoint. i finally pulled the trigger while on my solo trip to Chicago this summer. i sat up in my borrowed bed one day and instinctively zeroed in on my homie's copy of The Death of Vivek Oji. i pored over it for the rest of the day, taken in at once by the mystery of the murder, before becoming enveloped in a tale of love, secrets, and the towering costs of authenticity. i took it with me to my tattoo appointment (where i got the one pictured above), and i had a hand over my heart as i flipped through the last pages in the lobby, devastated but enlivened by how loud love can speak from beyond the grave. i've since read Emezi's spirit memoir Dear Senthuran and i recently started Freshwater, but their young adult novel PET truly settled under my skin and made my blood sing. PET is a prismatic display of Emezi's politic and storytelling prowess, and it cast iridescent light onto so many concepts that are already dear to my heart, like angels, transness, revolution, and care. (i finished the book in two hours flat, that's how much it resonated.) Emezi imbues their venture into speculative fiction with extra magic as they imagine a post-revolution world where cops, billionaires, politicians, and all other monsters have been purged for the greater communal good. Jam, our protagonist, is a young Black trans girl peaceably living in the utopian town of Lucille until her oasis is unsettled by the arrival of a sinister creature, bidden forth from her mother's painting and a drop of her blood. now tasked with hunting a monster in a world that says they no longer exist, Jam is in a race against time to find the danger lurking in plain sight. through her endeavors to "see the unseen," Jam discovers it's one thing to say that "we are each other’s harvest, we are each other’s business, we are each other’s magnitude and bond," and it's another thing entirely to actively tend to this commitment. this novel leaves us with important questions about truth, responsibility, and repair as we attempt to architect the world we deserve to live in; much like the angel at the center of Pet, Emezi is here to impart divine messages with a brilliance that is almost too bright to regard but that still invites our rapt attention.
Annika is Dreaming by Annika Hansteen-Izora
their newsletter is a "digital garden" where they cultivate intimacy, joy, and stillness, particularly for Black and queer folks. his newsletters are always a timely breath of fresh air. i really enjoyed her issue 20 Friend Dates -- i shared it with my bestie Sarah and we've been moving through some of the date ideas at our own pace over the last ten months. their playlist game is also on point, so make sure to follow one of them if you're in the mood to explore new music! they just made one for calling in ease, but the one i spent a lot of time with this year was "it's the end of summer and you're tending to your heart."
The Utter by Yrsa Daley-Ward
plain and simple, Daley-Ward's newsletter puts the saying "food for thought" into practice. she consistently churns out fodder for self-confrontation, drafting small windows into her world and warmly embracing us as we remain outside, the place from where we look in. from there, she guides us back to the homes of ourselves, insisting on our strength, worthiness, and everyday magic. my favorite issues so far have been the thing about dreams and writing is not only for the writers pt 2. i also plan to regularly journal on the viscerally revealing questions she poses in this issue!
Me, nigga. (in the tune & tone of Shalissa)
i'm one of the funniest people i know, i'm gorgeous, i'm adventurous, i have a way with words, what i lack in ass n titties i make up for in heart -- the list goes on and on! in all seriousness though, i (mean all of the above and) want to add that i'm really proud of myself for making it through the last year. i went through some significant life changes and opened up ample space for my continued healing and growing, which includes the newsletter you're reading right now. returning to the Source turned 1 last month, and i have to acknowledge how meaningful it's been for me to grant myself the permission to share my work on my terms and at my pace. i'm a lifelong truth-teller, armed with my voice and my pen, and there's so much more of my destiny racing to meet me.
in the new year, i'll be:
visiting + hosting loved ones,
deepening my tarot praxis,
writing + reading,
exploring new ways of sustaining myself outside of a 9-5,
strengthening + stretching my body,
increasing my capacity for giving + receiving love,
building the archives,
feeling my feelings,
tuning into my breath,
living my dreams.
i send U my most sincere thanks, dear reader, for coming along with me on this journey. may the light of today's full moon illuminate your own path forward.