Saying Goodbye to A Town Where Time Does Not Reside, Part 1

From age 4 to 18 I lived in the type of sleepy towns you read about in books, where people don’t always lock their doors, unless of course you’re us – the only non-white family around for many years. In that case your world is surrounded by Confederate flags in a state that was part of the Union but later became the central stronghold of the KKK, people who believe that immigrants are taking over jobs and that God does not call us to be in interracial relationships (but of course, that doesn’t mean their racist). A few months ago, I posted an article about how the people I knew in my childhood were friends of convenience and not true friends. I had someone reach out to me to say that article made them angry and that even if I thought that, they thought of me as a friend still. Nevermind that friendships do not work that way – that this man’s need to feel absolved from anything that occurred made him forcefully insert himself into my life. But the article rings true as it explains how as lone black children in white schools, you played with kids on the playground only to grow up and see the hatred they spew through social media and their lives.

Being in A Town Where Time Does Not Reside means you can be suspended in a moment to think, but it also means if you never leave, you are almost always suspended in these moments of the type of hate that has formed the foundations of this country. The type that people ignore because they think that racism looks like hooded figures burning crosses, and not the teacher who forces your mother to come into the school to demand that she holds you to the same academic standards as any other student. I’ve noticed that of the handful of true friends I do have from that time in my life, they have all left and found a world outside a sleepy one stoplight town. I’m especially grateful for my friend Emily who has been the type of friend who grows with you as you watch a nation disregard the lives of your brothers and sisters. I think of her comfort and happiness as the one white face in a sea of darker ones in my brother’s wedding photos, and I think of her strength in being willing to cutoff those who she confronts for their inability to understand that #blacklivesmatter.

See, there are those who message me to say they are ‘sorry’ for the constant loss of black life, and I have even been contacted by people who wanted to tell me that they wish they had been better allies when we were children. But I don’t need messages over a decade later or people who would private message me instead of publicly denouncing the anti-black racism of this world. No, I’m not scarred from my childhood. That town was filled with numerous anti-role models and those are sometimes just as valuable as role models. I have become all the things I wanted to ‘in spite of’ and ‘because of’ it.

My family began the process of moving in to a new home this past week. When I visit next month, it will be there that I stay. People have asked me if I am sad that I will no longer be going home to my childhood home. I laugh a little and shake my head ‘no.’ I’m grateful in many ways for that house and that home – but it was the world built within those walls that was home. My parents built a home in the midst of spaces that sometimes actively worked to break it down and passively often wanted to. With that love, they raised five children who knew what it meant to thrive in ways that we carry with us to every place we inhabit. As far as I am concerned, the best people that ever happened to that Town Where Time Does Not Reside will no longer be there. I will have no reasons to return.

On Leaving (Again) and Thoughts that Have No Words

“During the time between ending one project and beginning another, I always have a crisis of meaning.” – bell hooks

There are instances. Instances when I will stand still outside amongst the bustle of life and close my eyes and imagine that I am as alone as I sometimes feel. There is a deep well of emotions that is filled in such times. Wells that let you know that there are feelings beyond sadness in such solitary notions; that these are the very feelings of life itself.

I unpack my bags and learn new motions; memorizing the winding streets and voices of a new frontier. I familiarize myself with new smells and ways of being; footprints leaving paths to ‘home’. I pack my bags and wonder about unlearning new motions; I figure out the ways of being to incorporate, the ones to hold. And I begin to shed the others. I leave the keys and shut the door, and I begin again.

I have been writing. And I’ve been writing and writing and writing, and yet I feel as though there are things I have yet to say that rest locked up in the tips of my finger upon the tip of my tongue. They are swimming around in my thoughts as though I could not produce the words. there is language that has been stolen here, words that English cannot describe. They will tell you it’s your mother tongue, but it is foreign. My mouth rounds the words as though biting off brittle and bitter pieces of realities.

It is when I am forced to suspend myself in this place of timelessness that I find the seeds of rejuvenation. And while ‘funemployment’ for most involves traversing across the expanses of the earth, getting lost in adventures, I, instead, go home to be ‘found’—reading Nayyirah to put salt in wounds, hooks to remind me of practices of freedom, and closing my eyes to find the right words.

Choice Revisited: A Black Woman Reflects on Alice Walker and Returning Home

This was the first time that I did not begin a new journey with time spent reflecting in the Town Where Time Does Not Reside. I boarded my flight in London and came straight to this new beginning in Philadelphia, the weight of time zones and memories jarring the journey.

There was a moment on my celebratory vacation of finishing my MPhil in Greece, that I was standing on a rocky hill by a lighthouse on the island of Mykonos with a breathtaking view of the sea in all it’s blue-green majesty. In that moment I closed my eyes and felt the weight and wonder of the end of one journey and the beginning of the next wash over me. And in that moment I simultaneously wanted to cry, laugh, sigh, and rejoice for everything that was and was about to be. As I let myself feel all of these emotions swirl in me at once, I thought of what it has meant for me to be a black woman living abroad and what it would mean to return home to America. Again.

America is not my homeland of birth, as I often explain to people. It is my homeland by the choice of my parents to make it our homeland, as they believed it to be the place where their children–especially their daughters–would be able to realise things about themselves and become everything they wanted. Long ago too, however, my ancestors came across oceans. Some as indentured servants from India, some slaves from the Gold Coast of Africa, and others still the explorers who first cast the stones of ‘difference’ towards the other parts of me. I am all of those stories in one, and while much of my childhood was marked by those who wished to convince me I was the ‘exception’ of my people, if my time in America has shed light on one truth it is that there are no exceptions when it comes to black bodies that assert their right of humanity through the means they themselves deem fit. While I could sit in a room and smile and make conversation with those who did not look like me, I was all the while “black girl dangerous.”

Is it love and admiration if they only love and admire you within a particular lens? Or only when you stay inside the boxes they created, the spaces that they have named? Though America is the site of some of my most painful memories, it is also the site of many of my greatest triumphs. While I was in many ways forged by its fires, and spat out with a new “birth certificate” in hand, I often felt anxious, as if surrounded by walls that were closing in. I wanted and needed to see what lay beyond this country, what different ways of being and currencies in life were sought and fought for on other lands. I think that’s why I love the red dirt of Ghana so much. I feel the centuries of feet clamboring across the land, the strength of women carrying physical and emotional weights of home and family. My first time, though, leaving the country after my family’s first arrival, was when I was 17. I spent a summer at Cambridge, the very place I am not returning from. I had received a spot at a summer program that was designed for children of wealth. Upon gaining access I explained to them my financial situation, and they offered me a partial scholarship. I told them I still could not afford to attend, and they then offered me a full scholarship. I used the money I had earned from my after-school job to pay for my food and activities while I was there, and I spent the summer pretending to be just like all the other kids. For a moment I wanted to forget free lunches and the necessity for bargain shopping. That summer, I was not Delia the working class black girl who shocks everyone in her community by being intelligent. I was just Delia the summer program attendee who was a great dancer and had a knack for making up funny poems. There was one moment when one of the RAs almost blew my cover by commenting on my scholarship, and my eyes pleaded with her to not break the illusion. I have come to love travel for so many different reasons and have since put years behind me of masking my humble background, but in that moment my love of travel was borne out of something I reflect on still: the ability to view my life from the outside looking in. It gave me clarity to see what it was that made me unique and the spaces I was crafting in my life on a daily basis. I was hooked on travel from the moment I set foot back in America.

We often romantacize leaving. We label those with the wanderlust and means of taking a plane ride across oceans to countries others only dream and read about. We imagine them escaping the racism and emotional and mental turmoil of being black in smoke-filled cafes with a drink in one hand and a pen in the other, writing pages of prose about their epiphanies abroad. However, we forget about those who leave with just the money they have in pocket, or those who take on financial burden for the sake of finding out what else lies beyond the confines of the New Jim Crow and pre-determined narratives.

Sometimes leaving is about not being able to breathe. Beau Taplin on love wrote, ““No, I do not want to be loved unconditionally. I want to be shown when I am treating you less than you deserve. I want you to leave if I ever start making you promises I do not see through. Love me for my flaws, yes, but don’t you dare ever allow them to hurt you.” As black people, we carry the burden of the effect of years of blank checks and psychological warfare. We have allowed such hurt to cloud our vision toward thriving, and we cannot remember if we love or hate this land. As a black woman, love often comes in the form of a radical journey. Journeying to find love of ourselves–our bodies, our hair, the way we carry ourselves when no one’s ill will is watching–and searching for love from our black men, and seeking love from those who do not look like us around us. Loving the land is no difference. In her essay “Choice,” a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Alice Walker recounts the history of dispossession that black people have endured in America. Such dispossession she writes leads to people leaving the land of their birth in order to preserve the good memories they have of it. But for Walker, land belongs to thsoe who have buried the dead there over and over again. While such land is sacred to families, land and space should also belong to those who live it, whose bodies shape its existence and who have been shaped by it as well. Walker thanks Dr. King for the return of the skies and smells of her homeland, and the ability to invite family members to visit and stay, and moreoever, stay herself. She wrote that the only ones who had previously stayed were those who could not afford to leave or those too stubborn to be run out. While more and more people are returning to their roots, to sow seeds they had previously taken elsewhere, there are those who go and return, and go and return, in cycles that allow the passage of air to flow through the lungs more easily.

Alice Walker wrote that our (black) mothers and grandmothers more often than not handed on the creative spark that was like a sealed letter they could not read, what they hoped for but often did not get to see. My mother loves to read, and she reads about places and their history. She has a list of places she hopes to one day travel to, and when I travel I think about how I am an extension of those dreams. She is always the first I tell about my journeys. I think about her own journey as a mother, and the home she asserted her right to create for herself and her family. In the midst of everything that tried to claim this power from me, I had the spaces my mother formed to forge an identity of my own creation. It is the type of space and identity that I can carry with me to other lands and other countries.

Blackness abroad is in itself a counternarrative. I have often been in circles of other women of colour while we discuss what it has meant and means for women of colour to assert their existence at places such as Cambridge. But to me, even more than the importance of existing in spaces that have typically not seen the existence of those like myself, is the ability to choose my own spaces of existence–those created for me in order to sustain me, where my creativity flourishes without being in direct relation as ‘the other’ or forcibly creating an ‘other.’ Alice Walker spoke of the choice Dr. King gave black people to remain in the South and return home. I revisit choice as this: the ability for home to not be just one space, but rather a myriad of real and imaginary spaces of creations. The type of radical spaces my mother created that allow me to return home. For there is no continuity of place without continuity of the body and mind. It is with those that we make and remake the spaces of our existence. We cannot have place, we cannot have home, without space. We cannot ask for it, nor can we spend our lives preoccupied with the need for others to acknowledge us and those spaces.

I am choosing to create. I am choosing to exist for my own love and my own well being, and to see that love spill over. I am welcomed home because I have named it so.

It’s Home, Even if It Is a Bit Messy

Last night I turned on to an all too familiar street and felt the usual bubble of laughter rise up in my throat as I glanced at the cross streets of my apartment: Bruce and Wayne. One can’t help but love living at the corner of the Dark Knight himself. It’s just one of the many things I love about my life in Miami. But I also have a love-hate relationship with this city.

Maybe it starts from the feelings of this being such a temporary city. It’s less that my program is for two years and that the entire vibe of the city, it’s focus on tourism the lack of a built-up pool of young professionals, makes Miami resonate with the fleeting nature of something that is here today and then gone tomorrow from your life. And then there’s the feeling of excess. The inflated looks of superficial body parts enhanced at a whim and those who make South Beach and its neighboring islands their playground, next to some of the most have-not panoramas in southern America. It also doesn’t help how worked up I can get over Florida education policies that I see fall flat almost every day in the classroom.

Yet, Miami is also the site of a building filled with children who have taught me some of my greatest lessons in life, and reaffirmed my career ambitions. It’s the current home of people who proved to me that some of my closest life-long friends could still be made post-college. It’s the city that reminded me that life begins again in the summertime and how to fall in love with the ocean.

That’s why Miami will always stick with me as one of my homes. Miami makes me feel. I’m not passive towards this home. It makes me shout and curse and rest and relax all in a single roller-coaster day. Miami’s dichotomies are its pain and its wonder. And as my second year of teaching begins next week, I’ll once again begin the job of figuring out just how this tumultuous relationship will work itself out, as it always, so magically, seems to do.

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A Farewell to Home and Vacation

This morning I packed my bags and marveled at how I had come home with half a carry on bag full of clothes and was leaving with a huge checked suitcase and a very full carry on bag. I said goodbye to the snow and hugged my family goodbye, and hopped on board a plane packed with college football fans bound for Florida. The Colts lost and I gained 50 degrees back. It’s nice to be back in Miami. But the switches between spaces are always moments of readjustment. Leaving Indiana always reminds me of a poem I wrote when I left for college, which was the last time I have lived long-term in Indiana, and most of it still rings true for every visit since:

 

REFLECTIONS OF HOME

The sky is gray in the winter

But the spring brings lovely green

While summer burns with a lover’s touch

And the fall takes away big dreams

 

–But it’s Home

 

There’s no place like Home

As the old saying goes

But what do you tell all the people

Who make it their home

Because they do not know

That there’s a world beyond the pastures?

 

–It’s my Home

 

I want to tell the people that hating is not the answer

I want to let them know that the world is so much bigger

To let the children know that there are options

That coming back is fine, but only if it’s what you want to

I have to let them know

 

You loved me once, though I am different

You love me still, though I went away

I went away to find the answers

To the questions that you gave me

And now I’m back with open eyes

To see Home all the better

 

–My Home

 

I hear the gossip of the women ready to tell you your worst news

I feel distant from the girls who married after school

Jobs and husbands and bills are not my life

And I watch the face of she who recently became pregnant

The eyes of all follow her as she walks down a lonely street

But what do you expect when you give pressure to the girls

To find a love by age sixteen and marry off come graduation

 

You there, girl I knew when I was younger

Is this the life you chose or the life they made for you?

Did you ever wonder what it would be like to go off to college?

Or even just to see who else could claim your broken heart?

And boy, the one who told me all your secret dreams

Did they let you out to find them,

Or tell you till the land and pull the weeds?

 

–Our home

 

And I wondered long why you closed your gates

Why you were so scared of imminent change

If you never meet your neighbor

How do you know that you really hate him?

Do not let the older generation beat you down in hate

There are no gates where we live, so open up your hearts

 

I feel your eyes upon me when I make my way back home

I hear you whispering about me,

Asking why I left and where’d I go?

You don’t believe that I could ever be happy elsewhere

You don’t believe that I can make it out there

 

But I can

And I am

 

–And it’s Home

 

Despite the fact that no one looks like me

Despite the fact that your business is never your own

Despite the fact that it’s the sight of bittersweet memories

Despite the fact that once you leave, it’s hard to find your way back

 

–Do you want to? Do I want to?

 

But I never want to come back and feel like this is not home

I do not want to lose these feelings of connection

But I can come back home to see just how far I’ve come

 

I made it, despite everything else

I triumphed and am thriving

Because I can always remember

That where I’m from and where I’ve been

Is not who I am or where I’m going

Once Upon a Time in a Treehouse

There’s nothing like being trapped in a mini blizzard to get your mind reflecting on all kinds of subject. One such subject that has been on my mind recently started when I moved to Miami. I have gotten used to the question of where I went to school, but I never realized that I was also used to the question of what house did I live in, until no one asked it any longer. Away from the world where people are familiar with our housing system the question doesn’t come across the minds of those who now wonder where I received my degree. So when I mention Currier House now, I have to explain how freshman year we all live in The Yard in the dorms. Then, we choose people to “block” with and get, in a way, sorted by the Harvard sorting hat into the House where we will live for the next three years. Freshman year I longed to be “quaded,” meaning living what I would describe as a bit and others miles and miles away from the main campus in the Radcliffe Quadrangle, better known simply as the Quad. So I was immensely excited and satisfied when on Housing Day my blockmates and I got the message that we would indeed be living in the Quad in Currier House. I think my blockmates at the time were a bit angry at me that I would ‘wish us into quad,’ but as time went on, we all came to love it in our own way. I had wanted it because I wanted the separation between school and home, adored the beautiful houses around the Quad, and thought the Quad had the better part of Mass Ave at its beck and call. And while Currier officially became my House after Housing Day, by the end of my four years at Harvard, the college was my house while Currier became my home.

The only way I can describe this is through a song and a saying. Harvard is the house that built me, while Currier is where my heart is. So if the college was a large part of who I am today, Currier was the mother that made sure I was warm, was fed, and was loved, during those changes. Currier was home to some of the greatest personalities I ever met on campus in years above me and below me, whether it was the eclectic combination of the G Force boys the year above us or the knocks on our door for 3am beer pong from the Junior Boys (one year our juniors). Currier gave me lavish House Masters Open House, the greatest house tutors and resident dean, and a dining hall fit to do hours of work. It also gave me my love-hate relationship with the side dining room and the Poker Room, both places that I did hours and hours of studying, writing papers, and my dreaded lock-in of February 2011 in order to finish my thesis. And even through Stockholm Syndrome from study rooms and that crazy room invader our sophomore year, there was still the birth of so many traditions from Passover Seder to the Gossip Girl Club that any even slightly unpleasant memory seems obliterated by all the amazing memories contained within that single entry door. Currier was my adult tree house and these are only some of the ways I can even begin to one who has not lived it, to explain why it will always be home.

And here’s a taste of nostalgia in picture:

Only Currier is bold enough to run half-naked through the Yard on Housing Day
Only Currier is bold enough to run half-naked through the Yard on Housing Day
Currier welcomed our tradition of epic themed parties. Here you can see our High School Stereotypes party
Currier welcomed our tradition of epic themed parties. Here you can see our High School Stereotypes party

 

 

 

The Quad had ample space for an Easter Egg Hunt
The Quad had ample space for an Easter Egg Hunt
Currier welcomed two years of my need to have lots of food served at my birthday.
Currier welcomed two years of my need to have lots of food served at my birthday.
And forged new friendships
And forged new friendships
Who else could rock out on a boat three years in a row for formal?
Who else could rock out on a boat three years in a row for formal?
And bring the party back home every Currioke
And bring the party back home every Currioke
Only this we-still-don't-know-why-it's-there centerpiece to the dining hall could provide a fake jungle during Passover to hide the afikoman
Only this we-still-don’t-know-why-it’s-there centerpiece to the dining hall could provide a fake jungle during Passover to hide the afikoman
As the only house named after a woman, Currier maintains unique strength from the other houses
As the only house named after a woman, Currier maintains unique strength from the other houses
And although we will always miss THE tree, this lovely small courtyard always provided beautiful photos
And although we will always miss THE tree, this lovely small courtyard always provided beautiful photos