We had the good fortune of connecting with Misha Agunos and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Misha, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I have an interesting and evolving relationship with risk-taking. I remember the first time someone called me spontaneous, and how that seemed to keep following me through college and beyond–especially while doing the things I was passionate about–dance, psychology, romantic relationships, friendships. It felt so strange because I didn’t actually relate to feeling like a spontaneous person at all. It was such a surprise every time I heard it because it felt like I didn’t do anything without painstakingly overthinking everything to account for possible mental, emotional, physical, or social risks. I considered myself very risk-averse, which seemed the opposite of spontaneous. In hindsight, I think (or at least like to think) that people meant to say brave. Because even though I felt the restraint and heaviness of my plans B through Z for so many things, I still tried the things I was curious and passionate about. In all those internal deliberations, I also weighed the question “how much will wondering what could have been weigh on me if I don’t at least try?”
And it’s only recently that I look back on how this started in a time in my life where I was ignorant to the roles that race, class, and privilege played in my experience of risk. I very much operated from the naive place that things would work out if I cared enough, planned enough, and executed with enough skill. I was still living in the illusion that I could “excellence” my away through something, and that if something didn’t work out, it could only be on me.
Knowing what I know now, I’ve actually been giving myself a lot of permission to take things slow and not dive headfirst into risk. Not that I take no risks, but I’m listening to when my body feels stressed or bristled or unsure and, as much as my environment and needs and responsibilities allow, I’m choosing to not push past those moments just to bring resolution to a situation.
I feel like I’m allowing myself to deconstruct conditioning around “high-risk, high reward” and to operate from a place of “how can I grow a foundation and community of safety so that I can better recognize the risks that are worth taking for me, and feel supported in doing so?”
“How can I deconstruct the urgency and fallacy of capitalism to always and only be measuring ‘reward’ in money or productivity?”
“How can I cultivate connections and projects in which ‘failure’ is still a viable, valuable, and celebrated option if it means composting our original plans into something new that serves us better in this moment?”
When I think about the role risk and risk-taking has played in my life, I think about how untreated anxiety had me viewing everything as a risk. I think about the choices I made flippantly because risk felt inescapable. I think about how constantly managing risks in the present had–and sometimes still–made it difficult to envision what I want my future to look like because who knows if I’ll even still be around.
When I think about the role risk and risk-taking has played in my life, I think about all the little things I still think about as I do my every day things. Wear this bright pink hoodie instead of this black hoodie when you go out walking or to the store because you don’t want to be ‘mistaken’ for anyone by the police. Look for the exits and places to hide when you go grocery shopping or to a store or attend any queer community gatherings. Be hypervigilant about your partner’s/friends’ driving to avoid getting pulled over for any reason. Stay away from situations that could put you in the hospital (including all the lack of masking during a still very real pandemic) because you for sure wouldn’t be able to afford the expenses, and being a Black woman in a hospital is dangerous. I won’t even go into the literally hundreds of microassessments that were happening at any given moment when I worked in an office.
These are the risks that I don’t really have a choice in navigating. So much of the risk I used to navigate was involuntary. Mandatory. Void of choice. And so many of the spontaneous things that I did–leaving a job, taking that class, speaking my feelings–were all partially rooted in this conditioning that I likely wouldn’t be around long enough for it to “eat at me for the rest of my life” in any huge way. And while those choices served me in the moment, that relationship with risk was directly related to constantly being in an environment of not feeling safe enough to rest, take my time, get something wrong, or even assert boundaries. A lot of what felt like major risks were to burn bridges to places I wasn’t going to go back to anyway.
I take my time as a way of reclaiming my time. I ask questions to be as informed as I can before making life and career choices. I choose to interpret any person or entity that would rush me or keep information from me as a good sign that we’re probably not a good fit. I have a regular practice of observing what feeling safe looks like in my body, and I go slowly or not at all into places where I don’t feel that. I have a regular practice of checking in with myself when I do feel pangs of apprehension, uncertainty, an anxiety, as well as taking time to understand whether it’s coming from me, from what’s around me, or some combination of the two. A long time ago, this approach would have felt risky in all of the opportunities I’d be “leaving on the table.”
I struggle a lot with public visibility and recognition. My whole life, people have approached me with a trust in my thoughts and opinions and views on things. And, I’ve been passionate about so many things that have turned out to be incredibly harmful and even appropriative at times. Even though I’ve done all I can to repair when and how and where I can, I think that’s a place I’ll be healing a long time–trust in my ability of discernment. It’s similar to how even making friends feels risky, simply from my experience that I lose friends every election season after they decide to double down on something bigoted in response to it being a hot topic in the news. Going forward, it’d be great to feel like I can be more open and celebratory about my interests and connections with people. I’m still working a lot on that.
All of this is to say, my relationship with risk in my life and career is both messy and transforming. As a Black, queer, mixed-race woman, I live in a society where recollecting pieces of myself and asserting boundaries can, by very real metrics, be considered risky to my mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. As an act of self-compassion, I’m not trying to push myself into any more risks than I need to unless it feels good, makes me feel more like myself, or is absolutely necessary. And I’m leaning more into asking for help whenever I can.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Right now, I work as a few different things. I’m a program coordinator for Critical Mass Dance Company–a non-profit that focuses on teaching trauma-informed, community-based embodiment practices. I write a column called “Tango for Liberation” in association with Oxygen Tango, a dance community centering connection, belonging, and accountability towards a more equitable world of dance. And, I’m a Resilience Toolkit Facilitator–helping folks develop trauma-informed, evidence-based, and ecologically-conscious stress navigation skills. To be really honest, lately I’ve been focusing less on what sets me apart from others and more on the question “for whom would I be a good fit?” I don’t know if that’s splitting hairs, but I don’t need to frame myself as “better” than other folks out there, or for it to even necessarily be a competition. I think we need a diverse array of healers because a diverse array of people are healing from a diverse array of things. The people who would feel most supported by me might not feel as supported elsewhere, and vice versa, and that’s part of nature.
I work best with folks who are looking for the right questions instead of the right answers. By that, I mean that I’m flexible and diligent. I know how to support folks for whom experimentation and adjustment is a necessary part of their process. I’m probably not a good fit for someone who doesn’t like to be asked a lot of questions, or who expects their mind to be read, or who puts a lot of stock in “industry standards” over creativity and prioritization of physical and mental health. And I approach accountability with courage, humility, and integrity. I know that I won’t always get it right, and I hope to always be an example of how to commit repair if I’ve gotten something wrong.
What I’m currently most proud of is how much time and space I’ve been giving myself to rest, for things to be messy, and to focus on my mental and physical health. I’m grateful for all the support I’ve had, and I’m happy with how I’m getting better at asking for help.
I’m honestly most excited to to make a living wage without ever having to set foot in an office position ever again. Not that office positions are terrible, just that a lot of the trauma I’ve had came directly from office culture.
I think where I am today is more reflective of a practice rather than a destination, and it hasn’t been easy. I basically ended up doing what I’m doing now because I loved dance, I was involved in a lot of unsafe, harmful dance spaces, and I wanted to do better going forward. That’s pretty much it. I’m still learning to ask for help, to take it easy on myself, to make rest a bigger a part of my life than working, and to make my work more about impact and less about productivity for productivity’s sake. As much as I can cognitively understand that I can’t do it alone, the biggest part of healing my relationship with work and labor is cultivating a community in which I feel safe and supported–body and spirit–in asking for help, especially when I feel overwhelmed. I learned that the hard way over the past 5 years, during which I worked for blatantly racist, capitalist, misogynistic people and organizations who felt ok letting trauma happen in their workplaces if it helped their bottom line. I was sick of being of being a casualty to places that hid their grifting behind being “mission-based” front.
What I want people to know about myself and my story is that I will never perform “having it all figured out” for the sake of appearing certain about something, or to appear more knowledgeable than I am. I’d rather we figure it out together.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Ooh, this very much would depend on the friend and what they were looking for–because LA has so much of so many things. I actually would keep it mostly super local, I love where I live in Leimert Park. In my opinion, the most fun, interesting, exciting places are places where I feel safe enough to have fun. I also find the most interesting places are where down-to-earth folks have made a business doing what they love and doing it simply and well. And I’m always looking to support businesses that actively practice community involvement, engagement, and allyship.
My partner works in production on films and always has the best tidbits around film history all over LA, so I think that’d def be part of our city tour.
For food, I’d def have them visit the following places:
-Hotville Hot Chicken, Leimert Park
-Post & Beam, Leimert Park
-Simply Wholesome, Leimert Park
-Sip & Sonder, Inglewood
-New China Mongolian BBQ, Leimert Park
-Milk Crate, East Hollywood/Thai Town
-Papillon Bakery, East Hollywood
-Sushi With Attitude, Pico-Union
-Phillip’s Bar-B-Que, Crenshaw
-Bludsoe’s Bar & Que, Fairfax
-Taco Mel’s, Leimert Park
-Tierra Mia cafe
-Antigua Bread, El Sereno
I honestly haven’t had a single great bar experience during the pandemic, especially with people choosing not to enforce masking, so no dice there 🙁
I tend to like chill, peaceful places–constant noise and big crowds and tight spaces aren’t super fun for me (unless it’s a dance studio). I’d probably do a lot of local outdoor spaces:
-Norman O. Houston Park
-the Park to Playa Bike Trail
-Stoneview Nature Center
-Doris Japanese Garden
-Cliffs of Id rock climbing gym
-Oxygen Tango (obvs)
-El Sereno Community Garden, El Sereno
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Shoutout to Lumos Transforms and their Resilience Toolkit group facilitators, to the Certification trainers, and to my cohort of folks who took on Certification with me. Especially founder Nkem Ndefo, certification trainers Arrowyn Ambrose and Devika Shankar. In practicing the Toolkit, I felt like my time was my own for the very first time in my life. This was one of the few spaces in my entire experience as a learner where I felt safe. Thank you all for your vision, commitment, constant action, and consistent emergent adjustment in our collective endeavor to cultivate more softness in the world.
Shout out to my family–thanks for standing by me as I continue to figure it out and for being so open to unlearning things with me; thank you for being such a supportive foundation and a constant inspiration to change the world via changing the communities we’re in.
Shoutout to my partner–I have never felt so safe, loved, and cherished; thank you for always encouraging me to take my time, for reminding me of all the work I’m doing, for reminding me to go easy on myself. Thank you for helping us hew our haven from the solid foundations of our relationship. It’s been one of the most healing spaces I’ve ever been part of.
Shoutout to my pandemic pod–Ana Garcia and Ever Galvan. Thanks for creating so much room in our friendship for safety, growth and joy. Thanks for cultivating our connections in a way that reminds me that I’m a person who exists in the world, who is capable of being part of a community.
Shoutout to Ty Givens and Dana Thompson of The Workforce Pro–getting to work in a Black woman owned and led company was so healing on so many levels.
Shoutout to Anna Marburger, my work-wife-for-life–thank you so much for working to bring equity and fairness to everything you do–in the office and amongst friends. Getting to learn and grow together in navigating our relationships to work and labor gives me so much hope for the future. Thank you for reminding me that there’s so many things about myself to be hyped about, and for indulging in treat flights and games with friends and just getting to enjoy the earthly delicacies of life.
Shoutout to the Oxygen Tango community–especially Magan Wiles and Dave Lampson: my confidence and growth and engagement with my identity as a writer took hold in the real world here when you asked me to write for y’all, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to be part of the community in this way. Magan thank you for always going out of your way making me feel so welcomed and valued and affirmed in the community, especially through all the major shifts in my life that made it hard to commune in person.
Shoutout to Critical Mass Dance Company–it feels like such a blessing and a privilege to work together. Thank you for showing me what trauma-informed practices could look like in a work relationship; thank you for affirming my creativity and for trusting in my inspirations. Thank you for encouraging me to ponder and dream, thank you for being a soft place to land in my movement practice after so much trauma elsewhere. Thank you to founder Sophia for inspiring so much heart healing and heart opening in all of CMDC’s endeavors. It’s truly an honor to get to collaborate with you and the team.
Other: Tango For Liberation column: https://oxygen-tango.squarespace.com/forliberation Other infrequent writings: https://medium.com/@mishaagunos
Cat Freeman Israel Jimenez V Rocio Hernandez Oxygen Tango