Dear 30, Love 29

In my bedroom, I have a framed poster that reads “Trust Your Struggle.” To me, those words are about knowing in my bones and my being the things that I know to be true. They are about caring about the process and not just the product, and all the ways that becoming is a necessary state of upheavals, twists, and turns. As I make my way around the sun for another blessed year, I know some things to be true:

  • Sometimes you ask of people things that they cannot actually provide you – perhaps because they don’t know how – and it’s okay to still love them and to accept that without compromising yourself.
  • Healing is the hardest work. It takes sitting in a truth and finding your way back to it when you doubt yourself. It takes not letting others put you out of self, and to reclaim your spaces, your voice. I keep going, and the way gets more clear, more solid and easier to follow.
  • My love practice – as my dear friend Tabias calls it – is continuously informed by my close tribe: Amber, Tabias, Preston, Moses, Alexandra, Vina. Our trips this year were life-giving. The things we build together are built with the foundations of care. I name people not to exclude others who are also important in my life, but to continue the practice of naming specifically when someone has been critical to my existence.

In my 29th year I traveled to multiple states with close friends, wrote more, read more, traveled out of the country with my sister, spent wonderful visits home in Indiana with my family, co-founded a business, produced an incredible storytelling show, and got a book deal. Even in the midst of so much joy, there are the weights of the world that come crashing down. As a black woman in this world, it is hard to escape the feeling of death and sadness all around. It weighs your body down, and sits perched, claws sinking in, on your shoulders. Living in the wake of death that always seems to lurk around a corner, is a particular type of work.

I asked friends to send me handwritten letters/postcards for my birthday this year. Sitting and reading them has made me laugh and cry and smile, and has been a reminder that even when that heaviness comes to sit on my shoulders or I feel like I’m behind on life milestones, that I am loved and I am doing the work to live in the wake of death. 29 taught me to honor my wake work. To solidify my joy practices. To keep drinking water and to remember to breathe.

29 was about making commitments to myself, and not just saying them, but living them. I spent a necessary evening with my dear friend Amber, and we walked through the things we wanted for ourselves; the commitments we were holding ourselves in love to follow through on. We don’t spend enough time in the midst of affirmations. I appreciate her reminders and the reminders from others that I am here and that I am loved. So each morning I read my commitment that I wrote with a marker on my closet mirror – the first thing I see each morning – and I say to myself “I am a commitment to my heart and the things I need to feel loved, wanted, hopeful, safe, and help me to grow. Those are the things that I let close to my being. And I will not allow the rest to put me out of self.”

I end 29 with the same quote I began it with. I was reminded of it again in passing and then reaffirmed that it was speaking to me when a friend sent it to me a few days ago. Not everything is equal. My love, the love others have for me, and the work I am creating is an abundance. It is multiplied over and over and over again. May the harvest continue to be plentiful in this new decade.

“divide by the deaths you had to metabolize yesterday. divide by the shot echoes in your dreams. divide by the sleep you didn’t get thinking you had to hustle harder. divide by the water you didn’t drink either. 

multiply by every pore touched, every memory made skin again, every word of love and the lips that share them. multiply by the sound of children. the sound that never stops. exponent of the will of the ancestors which will be dreamt. but not slept through.

all things are not equal.

wake up.” – alexis pauline gumbs 

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Creating Myself to Freedom

When I was younger, my mom would always tell me to write when I felt confused or hurt or angry. She would say that once I could start putting everything inside of me into some language that made sense to me, that in the creation, I would start to understand myself more. I often think of this as ‘creating myself to freedom.’

In this creating, I have found that I can ground myself. I feel angry so often about the state of things in the world. And if I were to rest myself in that anger, I would stay in a space of destruction. It’s too exhausting to sit in a space of destruction. It eats away at health and happiness. Instead, I focus on creating. This grounds me in a space of building. I have always found the arts to be a site of healing and resisting for me — healing from pain and resistance of all the world throws at me that is aimed to harm me. Some people march, I move through creating art, whether it’s on a page or on a stage. And I want that for others as well. A few months ago, I had a thought about doing a show that would be a series of 5minute one-woman shows on the theme “this is my body”, and I shared that idea with two friends who loved it. So we decided to produce the show. We now have 11 amazing women who have committed to perform in the show.

Last Monday we met those women for the first time. I knew it would be a fun evening of getting to know each other, but I was blown away by their presence. They were not only incredibly engaging, but also entered the space with a level of vulnerability that astounded me. There they were, opening up about their fears, their hopes, failures and successes with a group of strangers. I have to believe that is the power of creating together. The best art comes from the spaces of we weave together with the most honest of threads.

I recently started fasting on Mondays with a friend from church. We share reflections from our focus on prayer and meditation for the day. In my reflection after meeting the women who will be in the show, I said to my friend, “Today I felt God lifted my spirits. I heard His voice on a day that seemed like it would be quiet, and yet He sent me these extraordinary women to share this show with. I’m strong because I’m lifted up by people who remind me to keep going.”

If you are in the Bay Area and want to check out the show, check out the Facebook event page for more details: https://www.facebook.com/events/168976710391016/

 

Imagining Freedom.

If I believed that this world gave trigger warnings to black folk, I might ask for one before each time they show me you, Tamir. The way the ground comes out from under me, and my throat tightens. I sit around thinking about the lethality of existence and hope to God that there are playgrounds in the afterlife. I remind myself that it is not so crazy at all to believe in a world where you would be free.

Breathe because he cannot.

I’ve been having a recurring conversation lately and have been hearing people speak in the same ways. These conversations mainly happen in liberal spaces with people who would identify themselves that way as well. It’s about what they view as progress, and what they feel necessary to convince me is a world that is better for black people. And when I push against that they often react defensively, spouting out changes in the law and believing that they must convince me to have hope.

I don’t need these people to convince me to have hope. It’s the single greatest factor that gets me out of bed each morning. In a panel on black minds at church, an academic named Tiffany spoke of Cornel West’s idea of the difference between hope and optimism. Optimism keeps us trying in situations even when it is clear the conditions are not right. Hope allows us to let the suffering speak. The only way we can bring about meaningful and lasting changes is to ground ourselves in suffering. When I push and push and push, it’s not because I think we have not moved – black people have survived and moved forward despite the climate of anti-blackness – it’s because I need people to understand just how much work they need to do and how much has to be sacrificed for there to be an end to suffering.

At an equity training last week in Oakland, a woman talked about understanding how large the problems are and that there would always be black boys in the principal’s office, but hopefully, there would not be as many over time. I looked around to see some people nodding along, clearly identifying with her sentiment. A wave of emotions washed over me, and I spoke after her about radical imagination and the necessary work of being able to work toward something we do not know yet what it looks like. We have to push ourselves to imagine what we’ve never known.

In those conversations, in that woman’s statement, is a “middle space” that they wish to rest black bodies in. The kind that measures the world by a measurement created by them so ‘good enough’ feels like winning. It wants us to stay nestled in spaces where because some black people are alive and well, then it’s a sign that all is well. My entire being rejects this.

I don’t want to live in a world where there are black boys sitting in the principal’s office. And we don’t have to. We can bring about a different world. I remind myself that it is not so crazy to build a world where Tamir would have been free.

Grounding.

For all I am
For all I’m feeling
I will be true and
I will seek
Gave away my pain
And all the chains
‘Cause I’m no slave
Yeah
For I am King
For all I am
My ancestors tell me so
My blood it tells me so
My being it tells me so

“I Am King,” Ray Hodge

While I was on a work trip to Providence, Rhode Island last year, my Lyft driver was a very friendly black, immigrant man. At one point on the ride from the train station to my hotel, he started talking in earnest about the beauty of black people across the globe and our immense strength. He marveled at the legacy each of us is born into, the courage and strength of thousands of lives who envisioned better for us and each generation. How we were taken far away from our homelands, across seas, toiling in the sun day after day, and yet here we are. He paused and shared a small smile with me before stating that he did not believe that any other group of people on earth could have endured what our people have for centuries and still find ways to survive and thrive. I agree.

Last week was hard. I couldn’t find a single area of my life that I thought was smooth sailing. My spirits were low, and I felt drained of energy and inspiration. It’s during weeks that those that I ground myself in what I know to be true:

That there is nothing I cannot do through the creating powers of God.

That I am not bound to this earth.

That I am more than I can produce in a day, a week, a month, a lifetime.

That I do not have to cling to my pain.

That I am the descendant of magnificent kings and queens who may have lost their land, but never their purpose.

That I am the daughter of two visionaries, who crossed an ocean to build the type of home that goes with me wherever I am.

That I am loved.

And love.

And continue.

Breaths and Promises and the Quiet Whispers

“there are feelings. you haven’t felt yet. give them time. they are almost here. – fresh” 
     –nayyirah waheed 

Two weeks ago the sermon in church was about how God starts beginnings, the ways He takes nothing and makes it into something. He breathes life into a void and sprouts new life. Pastor Mike posed the question that it might be that there are no limits to the creative and powerful possibilities for the Children of God when they tap into that life-giving breath. See I like the imagery of God breathing something into nothing, because it means that I don’t have to have all the makings of who I will be now for God to put me in the places I need to be, to do the work that needs to be done. It’s easy to see all the things we aren’t, to get anxious that there is so much to learn and become, and to get impatient in what often feels like waiting spaces.

I return often to these words: “Above all, trust in the slow work of God.” But now I return to those words, and I can add that we also do not know when God’s breath will show up to breathe new life into us that starts us on a journey, even if that journey is long and slow. Two years ago when I was reflecting on my 27th year of life, I wrote about how it was in the quiet that God shouted his messages to me the loudest. I shared that with a friend the other day who is weighing his own life transitions. I still close my eyes and hope to hear the quiet whispers of God’s answers and promises in the night. And sometimes it still feels lonely when I believe I cannot hear it. But maybe this year is about feeling hands leading me even in the darkness.

I used to mark my years by the tragedies, the pains, but a few years ago I started to mark them by the promises. And they’ve both turned out to be spaces where God has been.

 

Revisiting.

About a year and a half ago, before I even had a  year under my belt living in the Bay, I went to a conference held by the National Association for Adventurous Black Women. The keynote speaker that day spoke on a message that I still return to and meditate on, and it recently came up for me again in a conversation with a friend during our day-long writing retreat. Her message was about how as young black girls, we learned to put aside and hide certain parts of ourselves or certain dreams. That someone had said the things or set in motion the events that made those parts of ourselves retreat, and we learned to continue life without them. And now we are adults living ‘whole’ lives, but they are lives that are lived in absence. So the speaker challenged us to reach back for that girl and the things she was, the things she wanted, that others told her to let go/to hide/to minimize, to even destroy, because they were convinced she had to for her to be sitting in that room today. But they weren’t things that were killing or hurting us –they were just the things that society did not want to see or honor. She challenged us to reach back and remember that girl, and to begin the hard work of loving and wanting those things again.

Who were we before the world said no?

I don’t think it’s ever too late to find out. I always loved the stories of people who went back to school, or who started new hobbies. One of the best advice I ever got was to never let anyone tell me I could only be one thing.

My friend’s word of the year was ‘truth,’ and if I were to choose one it would have to be ‘revisiting.’ I spent a good part of the holidays thinking about my ancestry and reading stories from my mother’s childhood. In this revisiting, I hope to tell myself the types of stories that make up who we are because they’re in our very blood; the types of stories that continue to reach back and pull out the pieces that bridge the divides to now.

“Black Museum” and the Precipices of Death

In the last episode of season 4 of Black Mirror, “Black Museum,” the realities of black suffering and torture on the precipice of death is front and center. I’ve read several interesting pieces on the episode that discuss a range of topics from black torture porn to black revolt. For me, it isn’t just the imprisonment of Clayton Leigh’s mind in the museum that is disturbing, it is repetition of his electric chair-driven torture that brings him to the precipice of death day after day, hour by hour, each visitor who sees it as a chance to relive the pain of someone who is viewed as non-human in this operation. Leigh’s pain is seen as normal, a passing entertainment and attraction for others, where they are drawn to black pain, black body suffering, and moments of possible death. In fact, Leigh’s story was building in the background throughout the story, presented in news clips to build sympathy for the missing woman.

In a world painted in anti-blackness, one of the most significant markers is the claim to ownership of where and when death occurs. It’s the same marker that leads to street executions and migrant drownings. The state exercises power over black movement and lives, dictating through laws and societal acceptances who lives and who dies – which is often directly related to ‘use.’ Leigh presents a clear use for Haynes, a man who presents his belief in Leigh’s guilt as an excuse for the entrapment of Leigh’s mind. As people lose interest in the museum and Haynes turns to selling longing moments with the torture switch to more sadistic museum-goers, it’s almost as if we are meant to believe that these latter set of visitors are worse than the former. There is no difference in participating in active or passive torture porn, as the levels of satisfaction in seeing the pain, the harm, and collecting the souvenir to constantly return to relive is the same. Only the pulling of the handle is longer, and at this point, Leigh is already the silent and shell version of this ‘self’ that we see in “Black Museum.”

That was the hardest moment for me to watch. The growing silence and disorienting of Leigh. A silencing and disorienting so familiar and intimate. And so often, such events go unspoken of, with no one to bear witness.

Clayton Leigh doesn’t have a past that is presented to us in “Black Museum,” but as Christina Sharpe reminds us, we as black people live in the wake of slavery – a past that is not yet past. In the wake of slavery, we constantly find ourselves on the precipice of death. A position that if we let it, results in new ways of engaging with one another and the world. While Leigh does not survive this episode (another topic that my friend Preston reminds us is necessary to discuss), we see the love that Nish has for her father that centers her in her journey to free him from the continued precipice of death. In the wake of this reality, she found a new way to bear witness to the present and the final death of her father.

In this way, “Black Museum” perhaps suggests one way to confront intergenerational trauma. When Nish sets the museum on fire, it is revealed that she shares the spaces of her consciousness with her mother, who voices pride in the acts of her daughter. Acts that she would have been able to witness and voice opinions on as Nish engaged with Haynes, much in the same way that our triumphs and our traumas are complex threaded weaves of connection from one generation to the next. While such trauma writes itself onto our very DNA, perhaps in deciding where and when particular traumas end allow us to move forward in new paths along and beyond the wake.