Welcome back to part 2 of my interview with Nichol Bradford, author of the novel, The Sisterhood!
For a bit of a refresher, please read Part 1!
In the second half of the interview, Nichol tells us more about her career and her vision for implementing aspects of video gaming into her work at the Willow Group, where she is developing her ideas of “transformative technology.” If you have not read Amiri Baraka’s “Technology and Ethos,” you should because I believe it gives a great context into understanding Nichol’s mission for the Willow Group and The Sisterhood.
5) You wrote that you are “fascinated by human potential,” and have “always been interested in how technology can help individuals expand beyond their perceived limits to develop and transform themselves to the highest level.” What is your specific definition of technology and in what ways can humans create innovations in technology and create a culture of technology that benefits and strengthens society more than harm it?
For me, technology is defined as any time human beings create processes or devices to do things. The baseline spirit remains the same whether it’s an arrow tip chipped from stone, or meditation, or a mainframe, or your iPhone. The key to understand is that “technology” is not going away, because the curiosity and experimentation of humanity is not going away. So fast forward to today, and the tech we have now, and it means get used to it, AND develop ways to live with it and specifically design technology to support our softer side – our psychology, our emotions, and our storytelling that reminds us what matters most.
” I’m a bit of a Trekkie, so of course I love the Holodeck. But if you dig beneath that concept, it becomes about using technology to explore our inner landscapes.”
This brings us to transformative technology, which at its core says harness that design for our internal betterment and not just our productivity. So this can be anything from a meditation app to bio-feedback to more intensive interventions like direct stimulation. The purpose of these specific examples addresses the essential part of our question, which is how do we create a technology culture that benefits society, and the answer is that we focus our extraordinary human creativity and curiosity on designing interventions that teach pause, reduce fear and thus fear based attacks, and allow us to become more aware so that we can choose our response rather than be dragged along by our fight/flight responses to life.
6) How did working in the gaming industry influence your writing, human psychology and social interaction? How does technology, psychology, gaming, storytelling and mythmaking, and social culture intersect and influence one another?
The thing that drew me to gaming was the intersection between technology and storytelling, and the idea that we could use this platform to understand and enhance ourselves. I’m a bit of a Trekkie, so of course I love the Holodeck. But if you dig beneath that concept, it becomes about using technology to explore our inner landscapes. The thread that runs from games to my novel to my adventures in meditation has been exploration for the purpose of freedom. True mental freedom – attaining this, enabling this, scaling this combines technology, psychology, gaming, storytelling, mythmaking, and social culture.
7) What inspired you to start The Willow Group and can you explain your idea of “transformative technology?”
The last decade found me exploring the idea of transformative technology in the video game industry, where I served as a senior executive with responsibility for strategy, operations, and marketing for games internationally for major brands that include: Activision/Blizzard, Disney, and Vivendi. Most recently I managed the operations of Blizzard properties, including World of Warcraft, in China. During this time, I also began to meditate and saw interesting parallels between it and gaming. Both enable delight, flow, and access to dynamic states of consciousness. Meditation, though, goes even further and can profoundly and positively impact well-being. It seemed logical to me that technologies that directly impact human experience could do so as well, but no one seemed to be seriously working on it. So, I left Blizzard to pioneer Transformative Technology.
For the last year I have applied my strategy and execution skills to creating and enabling these types of profound impacts via technology. I started by partnering with one of the largest academic research projects in the space and helping them take an experiment online. This provided critical data at a scale that didn’t yet exist regarding what was possible.
Next, I began to seek out and work with others who understood the potential. Together we started to form a nascent industry and its needed infrastructure. This has grown to the point that the first Transformative Technology Conference happened in Palo Alto this Fall.
My contribution to this burgeoning industry includes co-founding a transformative technology company, and a university research lab to create and produce hardware and software that will revolutionize how traditional approaches like meditation are updated and made more reliable and effective. Meditation has been proven to have a powerful impact on well-being, focus, and emotional regulation, especially during stress. The presence found in meditation is similar to the heightened flow states achieved in games or sports, except that it brings the sensation of flow more deeply into daily life. These products will bring the infrastructure of experiences like gaming to the adventure of personal transformation, and deliver it on a global scale.
“…During this time, I also began to meditate and saw interesting parallels between it and gaming. Both enable delight, flow, and access to dynamic states of consciousness…”
8) What future plans do you have for yourself, your writing career and The Sisterhood? Do you plan to have a sequel?
The Sisterhood is a part of a trilogy, all of which are outlined. I’m focused on getting part one out to as many women as possible and then will hide myself away somewhere and write the sequel.
Stay tuned for my review of The Sisterhood!
Syncing up with my work as the literary director of the Queens Book Festival, my first official return post is my long overdue interview with Nichol Bradford, author of the novel, The Sisterhood!
Nichol Bradford has had an accomplished career, first as an executive in the gaming industry, and now as founder and CEO of the company, the Willow Group, developing what she calls “transformative technology.” While, yes, we humans have been innovative when it comes to technology, I can’t say that we have been as innovative psychologically, socially and spiritually. I see Nichol’s work as part of the legacy of Amiri Baraka’s questioning of modern technology in “Technology and Ethos.” The Willow Group’s mission is to use “effective technologies for creating permanent positive shifts in peace of mind, mental balance, life satisfaction and happiness. From ancient practices to cutting-edge science, our programs help you assemble a personalized program to reach your goals.”
As an explorer of human potential, and how technology can bring about transformation in our everyday lives, helping us to expand beyond our perceived limits, Nichol has combined her knowledge from business, gaming industry and her work with The Willow Group to write her first book, The Sisterhood! The Sisterhood follows the story of an organization of the same name led by nine black women. The book opens up with the death of its visionary leader, Vivian Delacroix, and how the remaining leaders cope with not only her tragedy but also moving on with the organizations mission to develop sciences and technologies to empower communities, of especially women, all over the world, confronting Cocanol drug cartels, corrupt governments, secret societies and a media circus surrounding Vivian’s assassination, and dealing with their own personal lives.
We see what these women are willing to sacrifice to create break the mental chains of society and create a better, more whole future for others. At a deeper level, The Sisterhood is a blueprint for how to make changes in one’s life, how we can use the principals of visionary planning, financial literacy, science, technology, martial arts, leadership, spirituality, community service and responsibility to change our world.
Sometimes you get lost in the chaotic whirlwinds of life and need to find your footing again….
If you were wondering where I have been for the past several months, that I went off the grid, it is because I have been putting much of my energy into working on the Queens Book Festival, as previously the literary coordinator, and now director.
Although I am dedicated to the project and I am happy to announce the launch of our Indiegogo campaign (which you can contribute to here), I realized that in putting so much investment into the festival, I had neglected this space here.
Therefore, this official return is my attempt to try to find some sort of balance between these two projects (amidst the other projects I am working on, which I will tell you about another time). And this return, I call it the reinitiation.
First, I felt my blog needed a makeover, so I changed its look. Looking at it, I am reminded of the cave, where mysteries and initiations were held, and the mysterious paintings on cave walls. I wanted to invoke that with my logo and the stony background image. I hope you like it! Let me know what you think.
I will push myself to post as much as I can (most likely, a few times a month), but it won’t be as frequent as before.
Thank you everyone who has supported my blog and I hope you continue on this new journey with me!
Coming Up Next Week:
Interview with author Nichol Bradford (“The Sisterhood”) and my review of her book the week after!
Sorry I have been away for a while; I was working on a big book festival project that was supposed to be scheduled for this year, but due to unforeseen conflict, has to be postponed to next year. So, now I have some time to make a comeback, including an upcoming recap of the Afrofuturism conference I attended last weekend at The New School (that will be posted next week).
So my first post will be some great music that has come out since I was gone, some music to take you to a higher level! But first, here is a small tribute to Ben E. King who wrote one of the greatest love songs about a love that could survive even apocalyptic situation, and also a love that is “supernatural.”
Graffiti and The Dance of Power Relations
From its beginning almost 40 years ago, Hip-Hop culture has had afrofuturist tendencies, from costumes and sounds of artists like Afrika Bambaataa and Ramellzee to later Missy Elliot and her videos with Hype Williams; to the hacking of street lamps to power sounds systems and other innovative rewiring to create the music; to the otherworldly movements of breakdancers and the artwork of graffiti. Well, choreographer and leader of the Renegade Performance Group, Andre M. Zachery, decided to pay homage to that spirit of Hip-Hop culture highlighting the power and politics of graffiti culture through dance. In the first work of Renegade’s AFROFUTURISM Series, called The Inscription Project, the piece takes inspiration from the art and philosophy of Ramellzee; it seeks to reignite the original purpose of the art movement as a politically empowering means to give voice and shed light on those who are on the margins of society and the social injustice they face everyday.
On Thursday and Friday, Brooklyn-based artist Aisha Cousins will present her work-in-progress, Brer Rabbit The Opera: A Funky Meditation On Gentrification, at BRIC House Ballroom as part of their Fireworks residency program. Directed by Letitia Guillory, and in collaboration with Greg Tate and Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber, the production follows “…a black middle aged cool marketer, at the tipping point in his battle to claim the American dream, mov[ing] into a notoriously dangerous black neighborhood that just happens to be at the tipping point in its battle with gentrification.” Confronting the modern issue of gentrification through the lens of legendary black folk hero, Brer Rabbit, and his home in the Briar Patch, Cousins’ production explores “tricksterism, techno-anismism, and urban survival techniques” through “music, performance art and community engagement.” Below is my interview with her about her upcoming opera:
1) Can you tell the readers about her background and how it contributed to the development of Brer Rabbit: The Opera?
I write performance art scores (do-it-yourself instructions for live art projects) that engage black folks from different cultures and backgrounds in exploring their overlapping experiences. So one of my favorite projects for the past few years has been this fictitious holiday I developed called “Brer Rabbit Day” where individual black folks make up their own holiday based on their family history with or personal connection to Brer Rabbit stories. When my collaborator Greg Tate and I were trying to figure out what to propose for BRIC’s Fireworks Residency, he really resonated with that project and said we should do an opera about it.
For the first post of the new year, here is a short manual of lessons I was able to tease out from reading Toni Cade Bamabara’s The Salt Eaters. The Salt Eaters is a novel about a small Southern community of Claybourne who are searching for the healing properties of salt while also preparing for a carnival. The book centers on two characters, Minnie Ransom, the community healer and leader of a group of healers, and Velma Henry, who has suffered a nervous breakdown and near suicide, undergoes a healing session. At its base, The Salt Eaters is sankofic its nature — looking back, moving forward and every other way weaved in between. If you want to read more pieces about Bambara’s work, The Feminist Wire recently did a tribute forum for her.
1) “Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well?” The opening question of the book and warning from the healer Minnie Ransom, reminds us that healing and moving forward takes work; it takes processing through a lot of hurtful trauma. Healing is proactive not reactionary. Not only that, when you are well, you are not done. There is responsibility after that (“a lot of weight when you’re well”) (10).
2) Everything is interconnected. One of the characters said, “the material without the spiritual and psychic does not a dialectic make” (64). All parts of life intersect and shape one another (laws of reciprocity, attraction and repulsion, supply and demand on 133). One of the reasons The Salt Eaters is a difficult read is that it cannot be read like a traditional linear novel. The book works more like a webbed-matrix, interweaving in and out of various stories, people, and signs who are all connected to Velma, the main center. The entire community is an extension of Velma and Velma is an extension of them, as we journey through the “master’s mind.” Velma’s healing will affect the entire community It also interweaves various aspects of life from myth to spiritual ritual to science that underpin the book as they are versions of each other and shape each other. If one area is sick or lacking it impacts the others.
This year has been packed with a lot of ups and downs, but it has also open a few unexpected doors for me that I cannot wait to see come into form next year. So here is a list of my favorite posts I did this year, so you can look back too before we head into the New Year. Thanks for joining me on this ride.
If you have been following the news, you most likely have heard about Azealia Banks’ interview on Hot 97, in which she gave an honest critique of appropriation of the cultural forms that originated in black cultures: “I feel, just in this country, whenever it comes to our things, like Black issues, or Black politics, or Black music or whatever there’s always this under current of a ‘Fuck you.’ Like ‘Fuck y’all niggas. Y’all don’t really own shit. Y’all don’t have shit…Like you’re trying to smudge out…it’s like a cultural smudging is what I see. And when they give these Grammys out all it says to White kids is ‘You’re great, you’re amazing, you can do whatever you put your mind to.’ And it says to Black kids, ‘You don’t have shit, you don’t own shit, not even the shit you created for yourself.’ And it makes me upset in that way (Source: Madam Noire.).
She continued: “What bothers me is when you have the media [which] is really evil. I told you that undercurrent of like “fuck you” and the sensationalization that comes around it. There was this time in the summer where I picked up the New York Post, and the cover was ‘Hip Hop Is White.’ They do that on purpose. They’re trying to erase us. They’re trying to erase all of our books and scripture. Everything that we’re supposed to know about ourselves is gone. Completely fucking gone. Never to be seen again.
The fact that metallurgy was started in Africa – agriculture, all those things that created the world are ours. It’s really upsetting when you read your social studies textbook and all you see is stories of you under some White person’s foot or you failing… I don’t wanna share [Hip Hop] with y’all. I’m sorry I don’t…This little thing called Hip Hop that I created for myself, that I’m holding on to with my dear fucking life – I feel like it’s being snatched away from me. It’s not, but they do that just to fuck with you. Why y’all trying to fuck with me?” (Source: All Hip Hop).
But as others have said before, this is nothing new. We have had to confront cultural exploitation for a while now. The only issue I had with what Banks said is I wanted her to continue putting it in a larger context of the twinning of white supremacy and capitalism not give personal attacks. White supremacy favors whiteness over everything and everybody else, and with capitalism, it can suck dry the cultural traditions and productions of local cultures like an invasive species, breaking them from their origins and deeper meanings for empty shell trends to sell to the highest bidder. It is through these erasures of origins and decontextualization of cultural art forms that we have difficulty claiming our cultural traditions, that they were cultivated in our communities. The mainstream will quickly disregard our right to claim and benefit from them for their own greedy, personal gain. As Greg Tate said “black culture matters” and so does black contributions.
The Azealia Banks interview fit well with a recent panel I attended about our communities moving forward our presence into the future, whether it is our art forms, our rituals, our values, or our institutions, and below is the recap from the event:
Futuring the Presence of the Blackness in Arts by the Renegade Performance Group
I met Janluk Stanislas at a recent Caribbeing event and found out about his 2005 Caribbean futuristic short film, Trafik d’Info. As someone of Afro-Caribbean descent, I am always looking for speculative works from the Caribbean and so this excited me. Trafik d’Info, known as the first science fiction film from the Caribbean, centers on a 20th century organization of rebels who are illegally trading information despite censorship from authorities. One of the agents of the organization, Jouwa, hunted the militia, is attempting to save important information so that people in his generation and future generations can receive it. Later in the film we see the effects of the efforts of this organization in the future. Below is my interview with Stanislas about the film:
1) Tell us a little about your background and how it influenced you to be a filmmaker.
I’m French Caribbean, born on the island of Guadeloupe. I’m part of that generation that grew up with the values that our parents and grandparents instilled, but also grew up with the beginning of advanced technology. My parents had a TV when I was one, and I remember going to the movies with my father later on every weekend. My mother influenced both my brother and I to play the piano and always found a way to document the family. I guess that the essence of my art form today was always surrounding me since my young age.