Turtle Transformation Story: Aurora Levins Morales

© 2015 Linda Haas

© 2015 Linda Haas


Your name: Aurora Levins Morales

Pronouns: She/ Her/ Ella

Job Title/Radical Purpose Roles: Prophet, Wounded Healer, Elder, Thrivalist

Describe your radical work:

I receive insight through listening to the ecosystem, its people, my body, and by doing research, and then, through writing, speaking, ritual, and eldering, I craft and share the stories and ideas that heal trauma and open imagination, possibility and connection, in order to help humankind transition from extractive societies to reciprocal societies.

How long have you been in the Turtle Tank Collective Incubator?

2 years

What brought you to Turtle Tank?

Intuition. I saw a Facebook post by M’kali-Hashiki and was intrigued. I knew I needed help figuring out a more sustainable way to do my work, and that the advice I saw around me was embedded in capitalist ideas and in whiteness.

Turtle Tank was led by People of Color who cared about social justice, about being radical in the world, and who clearly drew from other cultural models, rooted in connection and pleasure. I desperately wanted to know how to turn my substantial "social capital" into livable income. I wasn't sure Turtle Tank would help me do that, but the combination of qualities it offered seemed worth a shot. Something in me just said YES. Try this.

What challenges were you facing before you joined Turtle Tank and how were they affecting you?

I was really struggling. I'm a well-known writer, but that didn't translate into enough money to live on. I was overextending myself trying to change that, and it was impacting my health. I have chronic illnesses and disabilities that have really limited my energy and I was exhausted, and struggling to finish a long overdue book manuscript. I had just returned to California after five years away. I had built myself a safe, accessible house on wheels, but had nowhere to park it. I was chasing small gigs that I didn't really want to do, trying to make ends meet, and I didn't know really what kind of help I needed--just that I needed some.

What other solutions/options did you try out or consider?

As I said above, I tried chasing a lot of small gigs. I read about how to market books and looked at what other writers were doing to make a living, but it all felt pretty grim to me. I was also chasing arts grants, reshaping what I would write to fit the guidelines, instead of staying with what I most wanted and needed to write.

Why did you chose Turtle Tank?

I knew I needed a different approach, and that the usual strategies writers are told to pursue were not for me. I knew that I needed help putting myself at the center of my own life, and I knew, even though it was scary, that the only life worth living was one in which I was true to my real purpose. It looked like Turtle Tank shared that belief and would support me to keep that faith with myself.

Did you have any reservations about joining us? If so, what would you say to yourself knowing what you know now?

I had very little money and was scared to commit to paying for this unknown thing for three whole months, and agreeing to devote precious time to the work. It makes me laugh now. And it also makes me sad for my earlier self. I was so terrified to spend anything, but not spending it wouldn't have helped me either. Money was still going out and not much coming in. Something had to change. I would tell myself that you have to plant seeds to get a crop. I would have told myself to go ahead and plant some of that scant money.

What tangible results have you created out your work with Turtle Tank?

  • I stopped doing work I didn't want to do and focused on work that really inspires me. That meant that I stopped teaching writing workshops, which take a lot of energy and don't earn me much. I committed myself to having the writing itself at the heart of my work, and I turned down and even cancelled some gigs. I'm actively working on finishing books and it makes me very happy.

  • I got help, and built my Patreon page from a tiny dribble of I think $35 a month up to more than $900, and am actively building that community. After wrestling with it for several years, I finished my essay manuscript with much less agonizing than before, and my book will be out in March.

  • I made the decision, TWICE, to spend money on brain injury treatments at Cognitive FX, an amazing clinic in Utah, which is a sign of putting myself at the heart of my own life. I just finished my second round of treatments and after many, many head injuries, my brain is now functioning better than average! I also asked for and received a scholarship for the second round.

  • I'm returning from a six week residency in New Orleans that was 100% Desire-driven. I turned down a class visit I didn't want to do, modified my writing project to fit my evolving ideas and needs, built in a trip down the Mississippi I'd always wanted to do and did it with the perfect companion. I also reached out to young Jewish activists in New Orleans and suggested they hire me to mentor them in strategic thinking, and they did, and it was a blast.

What insights led to those results?

That investing in myself, putting myself first, really reduces the levels of struggle and exhaustion in my life. It energizes me, leads to my doing really good work, gets more people engaged with me, interacting with me, supporting me, and as a result I earn more.

Also that what I most want to do is also the best thing to do. That conventional advice about how to "make it" as a writer is based on a lot of assumptions I don't share, and has nothing to do with enjoyment. Also, that if something I'm trying to do is a struggle, not just difficult, because difficult work can be a joy, but a real struggle, then there's something wrong with the goal, not with me.

What was your experience of the Radical Purpose tool?

I've known what my purpose was for a long time, although I am able to articulate it more clearly now, but the how of it was still very jumbled. Using the tool to clarify which paths (or roles) were the right ones, the ones that fit me well, that I could walk for a long time--that was the breakthrough. I was able to discard roles I was taking on just because everyone said that's what writers do, and clarify how I (underlined) wanted to enact my purpose in the world.

If you feel comfortable, please share your Radical Purpose statement and roles:

I'm a storyteller. I listen to the natural world, to people, to my body and I research what others have figured out, in order craft and share stories and perspectives that heal trauma and open up imagination, possibility and connection, in order to help humankind transition from extractive societies to reciprocal societies.

I hesitate to say this in public, but to me, the role of revolutionary poet is the same as being a prophet--speaking necessary truths with the most powerful language I can find.

Elder is definitely another role. Figuring out how to turn my experience into good soil for the next generations of radicals.

I am also a thrivalist, someone who invents, adapts and models ways of collectivizing our individual struggles into systems of living well in apocalyptic times. This role draws heavily from the things I know as a "wounded healer," someone whose traumas have taught me a tremendous amount about surviving and healing.

My last role is what, for the moment I'm calling Milkweed--the part of me that casts seeds to the wind and makes sure my poems and essays actually reach people.

How has this tool changed how you work and live your life?

It's created a huge shift for me. I no longer seek out projects to do. I stay centered in my purpose and open to opportunities to exercise it, and see what calls me.

For example, my poems have been increasingly used in services by radical synagogues. As I've become more involved in organizing Jews of Color, and my own synagogue has taken on both indigenous solidarity and anti-racism work in a real way, I've been able to bring more of myself there. And suddenly it became clear to me that there was an opportunity to do something important that totally aligned with my purpose and with some things my ancestors fought for. So I proposed that a bunch of these new synagogues join forces to create a poet-in-residence position for me to create new sacred language and revise the old, so that our liturgy matched our principles and the demands of our time. The project took me by surprise, but I was clearly called to it.

What would you say to anyone who’s considering working with Turtle Tank?

Do it! You'll be scared. You'll think it's moving too slow and that you need results right away. You'll wonder if you can really afford it. You'll think nothing is happening. And then you'll notice that bit by bit, everything has changed. Turtle Tank honors your life purpose and the principle of joy as the source of dedication and will help you craft the life you've always wanted, although its shape may surprise you. But you'll be guided toward that shape by your own deepest nature, not by anyone else's formula.

Learn more about Turtle Tank’s newest offering:

The Radical Purpose Deep Dive: a 6-week virtual workshop for Radical Creators and Radical Entrepreneurs. Learn more and apply here. Deadline to apply is: Thursday, December 13th at 11:59p PST.

Learn more about Aurora’s work and Patreon page here.

Watch Aurora’s #MeFirst story here.

#MeFirst features the stories of inspiring radical creators and entrepreneurs who share about how living their Radical Purpose and putting themselves first revolutionized how they live and work. Start watching now!