I’ve been finding it really difficult to separate the idea of my “worth” and my self from the dollar amounts that people are willing to pay me for my work. At times, it’s so difficult to remember that institutions don’t really care about you as an individual, so that the fact that there never seems to be any money for increased hours or pay has far more to do with the fact that they are trying to maximize the amount of productivity for the most reasonable (read: lowest) cost, than it does with you in particular. It’s not personal, and never has been, but it’s hard to believe when your personal well-being and personal bank account are directly at odds with how hard and how well you seem to be doing your job(s).
With this in mind, I’m trying to step up my compartmentalizing game. Work is just a place, and I am a whole person who belongs not to that place, but to myself. I am a whole person who is permitted to make mistakes (as long as other people do not end up being collateral damage to those mistakes), including but not limited to; sending a late-night text that will surely go unanswered in an attempt to figure out the reason behind someone’s ghosting, deciding 9pm on a Sunday is the best time to wash my hair, and continuing to purchase knockoff earphones even though I already know they will only last for about two weeks.
My writing life is also sitting in its own little compartment where it is flourishing in it’s own slow and steady way. Over the past few months, the following *cool writing things* have occurred:
My essay “My Secondhand Lonely” was included on the Notable List in the 2018 edition of Best American Essays.
I interviewed Ayesha Harruna Attah about her book The Hundred Wells of Salaga as part of the Boston Public Library’s Author Talk Series. I love watching artists give lectures about their work/take part in the “in conversation” sort of thing; sometimes I play them in the background at work to stay motivated throughout the day. It was such an honor to take part in an event like this, especially with a Ghanaian woman author interested in the afterlife of slavery as Saidiya Hartman puts it [and the domestic trade of enslaved people in Ghana in particular]. She was a delight to talk to. I hope I did my secondary school English Literature teachers proud with my close reading and questions.
I was accepted to do a residency at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, which means in June I will have uninterrupted writing and research time, a huge luxury for any artist/writer trying to live life and pay bills at the same time!
I’m also trying to remember that even if none of these things had happened, and in spite of the rejections that have come in between these opportunities, I would still be a whole person worth more than the sum total of resume lines.
In my efforts to document not just my low moments, I must also report the following;
I took a trip to New Orleans (the place where I’ve felt the most at home in the US so far) with my mum. I’m back in Boston, but my spirit (and tastebuds) are most certainly not.
I’ve started going to a POC yoga class that apparently has been going on for about 5 years, a year longer than I’ve lived in Boston. It feels amazing to share that breathing space with so many kind people in a city that can feel rather stifling at times, especially when the cold weather drags on. If I may say so myself, I’m not half bad at it either. Every week, I’m surprised at how satisfying and freeing it feels to see how far I’m able to push my body in terms of the stretches and movements we are called upon to do, but not in a scary hyper-competitive way, just in a “ok, sis who knew we could do this” way.
Most importantly, I am reminded everyday that I am loved and not alone. Who knew that living somewhere for nearly 4 years would lead to so many meaningful and loving connections? Even when that somewhere is Boston, when the city’s latent and overt hostility to Black people and non-Black people of color and its high cost of living makes building community feel impossible.
Some of my snaps from New Orleans, including my mum living her best life at the Backstreet Cultural Museum and flipping her hair somewhere [on the quieter side] of the French Quarter.
Another important point: I am here. And choosing to keep on living.
still working on turning a loving gaze on myself, but it’s easier to hide behind abstractions than to write plainly some of the things that have been on my mind lately…
“What the author has[…] An aspect […] A misplaced photograph she finds at times in a mirror.”
-“Verso” pp. 172, The Blue Clerk, Dionne Brand
I stretched my left hand out of the mirror and towards myself so I could feel with my fingertips the point where self and reflection were indistinguishable, mostly because I was hoping it would burn or at least sting to look on and experience one’s own self with something other than contempt, maybe not exactly with admiration, but at least curiosity, or an openness to being.
So I stretched out my hand expecting to breach in some way the naturally cruel ordering of things in which I am to understand that my self is only able to exist in so far as it is pliable and easy to dismantle, but not too brittle or quick to crumble, just willing to endure the swallowing of small indignities daily, followed by certain destruction.
But aside from the uncomfortable slip and slide of the mirror’s surface—old toothpaste-tainted water and fingerprints marked in hair oil—our meeting was basically painless. The slickness of the mirror’s [un]clean meant that I didn’t really feel the pieces of glass burrowing into the most fleshy parts of my palms. She did though, and she frowned at me, or at self, or together, as I continued to climb out, hardly taking an eye off our face except to avoid the wet places on the countertop so I wouldn’t fall.
“And both of them, all they could do was give birth to fragments of possible selves and then more fragments of themselves would sit in a window…”
-“Verso 2.3.1” pp. 18, The Blue Clerk, Dionne Brand
There was no splinter in the continuity of space and time; the sound of the neighbors now crying, then laughing continued in that muffled way like they were screaming into pillows, the on and off clicks of light switches in the next room went on with their usual sharp efficiency, engines stuttered and growled outside, fighting the freeze of February air. There was nothing monumental about this sort of reflection, this deliberate self-regard.
Your vision is blurry because when the tear film is dry, the light scatters.
-optician’s office on a Monday afternoon waiting to hear how much of my sight neglect may have cost me
I, (the reflection), and me, (the self of whom I am the imperfect likeness), had in the near past been spreading out and searching for the fragments we were wherever we could. We sought glimpses of our self in the glass of someone else’s eye, shining with want and momentary care that lasted only until the want subsided or was sated. We caught our self in refractions between spots of rust on a silver door handle, and again in the water-stained window of a store we would never think to enter—
“La façade en miroir d’une vitrine me renvoya le reflet de mon visage. Je n’en crus pas mes yeux […] Oui, j’étais une étrangère et c’était la première fois que je m’en rendais compte.”
–Le baobab fou, Ken Bugul, pp. 59-60
In pieces and not enough, we began to despair. I, reflection, watched me, self, turn against us. She pressed a powder compact into our palm so fiercely its glass shattered and dripped grainy brown and red sliding to a stop at our wrist. I shouted at me to stop, but our scream was one and the same. She could not hear. We scoured our wound into the sink and scoured our mind for people we knew we would not ask for help for fear that they saw us too clearly—
…but I guess I was tweeting hoping someone would reach out. Thank you for always seeing me
I see you, my brilliant child. You’ll be okay.
So, I and me, we have decided to turn to our self. We are new to our self, maybe even a little infatuated. Knowing that the world will not halt its terror and its magnificence neither for me nor for I, we turn to our self with kindness, and as if we know we are the most miraculous thing we have.
“-Don’t you go nowhere, mirror bitch.
-Where imma go?”
-Insecure Season 4, Ep. 4, “Fresh Like.” (1:19)
(Images by me: my bathroom mirror featuring the incredible Carrie Mae Weems, my reflection in a glass case holding a mask from the DRC at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, an old mirror selfie after a haircut I hated)
I was planning to write to you about some things I’m bringing into 2019 that I wish I wasn’t, things like shame and insecurity and other such emotional experiences that often feel awkward to explain and almost untouchable when presented in front of other people. I was going to describe my teetering between constantly feeling guilty for often failing at being the compassionate and capable friend/daughter/colleague I would like to be, and trying to be more conscious of the effects of my actions on others without making myself the center of or solution to their problems when I am not.
Or more daunting; the guilt of seeking pursuits just for the sake of my personal joy, like writing, and dreaming; for potentially letting my mum down if I don’t make her work worth it, followed by the guilt of passing back over the same insecurities for the thousandth time, and the shame of not being over hurtful words and actions that are now years old.
you always use your emotions to justify your bad behavior; you’re selfish; you care too much what other people think; you were trying so hard to be perfect, weren’t you; you’re being irrational; you can’t handle someone like me; your feelings are less important to me than hers; you’re acting like this after a few weeks, how do you think she feels; you know I’m a bully, right?
More daunting still, the guilt of daring to look down on myself after all my foremothers have been through to give me life, for my weakness next to their fortitude, as though they would be ashamed of me if they could see how easy it was for my self-worth to be tossed around on the tides of circumstances and the changing whims and opinions of other people.
I would continue by detailing all of my flaws I am deeply aware of, (I won’t because I’ve done so over and over on this blog, as you know) the missteps, personal and professional, that in my mind have proven that I am an irredeemable mess. All this followed by the guilt induced by Toni Morrison’s disapproval, definitely imagined because of course I don’t know her in person. I assume she would disapprove of my incessant chorus of “I’m terrible and unworthy, and here are all the reasons why” because I once heard a clip from an interview where she explained how she would tell her students that she doesn’t want to read about them or their grandmas, encouraging them instead to inhabit and write about the lives of people very different from themselves, to build empathy and to concern themselves with human experiences beyond themselves. But instead, here I am doing this, fixated on the tip of my own nose. So, I’m also failing the “What Would Toni Morrison Do” test in my mind at least.
As always, I turned to books for comfort and advice, not wanting to bother anyone else with problems I believe are imaginary or “not that serious” on most days. In her latest work, Womanish: A Grown Black Woman Speaks on Love and Life, Kim McLarin writes about what it means to be a Black woman who loves herself and is fully in possession of that self, about what it means to be womanish. She also has an essay aptly titled “On Self-Delusion” which I have returned to several times since finishing the book in just over a day. Following a series of “I” statements she refers to as “self-deceptions” that include “I am more misunderstood than the average person,” “I am angry but my anger is righteous and thereby justified,” and “I don’t hurt others, others hurt me,” she writes,
“These seven sentences share a common theme and a common word: I. This both is and is not egotistical, in the sense that all human beings are egocentric and all writing is egotistical…and yet, if that writing is worthwhile, it endeavors to point to something true beyond itself.” (Womanish, pg. 103).
This passage means so much to me because it arrived in a moment where I seemed to need to read it the most, as most of Kim’s words often did when she was my thesis advisor. I don’t think I’ve ever told her how I would re-read her writing on her mental health when I felt most like it would be better for everyone else if I wasn’t around, and even on days when I didn’t feel that way. She recognized how low I was feeling in grad school as I continued to sink lower, and she printed out things for me to read, sent me a therapist’s contact information, and gave me her cellphone number. I knew I wouldn’t use it because I didn’t want to be a bother, but it was a huge comfort to know that she saw me. I definitely haven’t told her that I was always wishing I could prolong our thesis meetings beyond the one-hour we had just so I could hang out with her— Did you see that article? Oh God did I tell you what this classmate said to me?
Maybe “her advice was right on time” is a little cliché, especially when she is the person who has given me some of the most vital guidance about the sort of writer I want to be in the world. But that’s how it feels, especially coming from a woman I admire who is actually grown, and not what grown looks like according to my *yikes-I’m-three-years from thirty-and-still-a-mess* perspective. I’m trying to learn how I can re-orient the ways I think about myself, to be honest to myself without being cruel, and to use my writing “to point to something true” for those who read it. (The intensely negative thoughts and self-perceptions might be delusions too.)
So instead of continuing to dwell on how I’m failing as a person, I’m deciding to think about Barry Jenkins’ film adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel If Beale Street Could Talk which I saw with a dear friend recently, and about how much Jenkins loves Black people through every frame, and about how I felt loved in each moment as I watched, and how I want people reading my work to feel loved in the same way, and about how I want the light in every scene of fiction I write to be as perfectly illuminating of beautiful and painful parts of Black people’s lives as the lighting in Jenkins’ work. I want to show to myself and to others the same kind of fortifying love that Ernestine shows when she says to Tish, “Unbow your head, sister.” Even as much as I allowed myself to be caught up in the beauty of the film and its soundtrack, I’m also thinking about Baldwin’s portrayals of women, and about how Kim, who knows more about his work than anyone else I know, loves him enough to recognize that the women and mothers in his work are somehow incomplete, their images distorted through the patriarchal lens that even Baldwin saw through.
Thank you for reading, and for letting me know that you see something about yourself in what I write, and for bearing witness as I attempt to turn that loving gaze on myself while lying to myself (and to you) a little less.
So, I graduated with my masters, but this won’t be a long, dramatic post. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with drama, not in the slightest. I mean, you read this blog. You know. I’m only trying to be as concise as I can be because I fear that if I go on too long I will only allow the usual fear and self-doubt to take over. I will start to spiral into the usual sequence of unproductive (and untrue) thoughts that follow any significant accomplishment; I could’ve worked harder, written more pages, been kinder, been far better at keeping in touch, been a better person overall.
My entire last semester was characterized by constant apprehension about the near future, and now that I’m here– or there– it’s really not as scary as I anticipated. I’m here, and pretty proud of myself, considering all the simultaneous chaos that often seemed to run me behind and beside me during the past three years of working towards my MFA. I’m also incredibly grateful and lucky to have had several mentors and professors who let me overstay my welcome in office hours or use up their lunch breaks with my latest teary dilemma. I’m also thankful for friends and family who endured my long-winded explanations of my research and writing projects. Self-deprecating commentary aside, it means more than I’ll be able to explain here that so many people I love and admire see me and are actually there for me, since I’m somewhat “allergic” to asking for help.
Clockwise from top left: Lloyd, my brilliant and kind Laura, and Katerina and Erika, two of my absolute favorite people at Emerson.
Keenah boo! (photo by Melissa, who managed to escape taking a single photo with me that day *side eye*)
I used to think that when I got older, my self-esteem would somehow become healthier. My idealistic notion of what it meant to “grow up” involved me turning into someone who thought of herself more highly than I did at the time, someone who was self-assured and belonged to herself wholly. Essentially, I hoped to turn into the kind of woman my mother is. I’m still pretty young– bill collectors and student loan services appear to disagree– but I am unfortunately as down on myself as my insecure past self has been.
Arriving at the other side of next, that is, after the graduation fanfare has subsided and all the work is momentarily “done,” also means realizing that I have no idea how to be still. I have calculated my worth by tallying completed tasks against what is left “to do” in my agenda. I never feel enough for myself, let alone for anyone else. I don’t know how to give myself room to just be, considering that there is so much I urgently need to write about, so many events more complicated and more monumental than my usual anxieties. I don’t know how to let myself just be, without feeling as though I’m not worthy of breathing up all this air and taking up space on earth, unless of course I’m working hard, and unless that work is mostly to benefit someone else. This may sound a little hyperbolic, and I know “objectively” that none of it is true.
I’m trying to learn how to be kinder to myself. My self-esteem has been subterranean for quite some time, and I would love to bring it above ground, at the very least. I would love to experience some joy, even against the backdrop of so much horror and so much uncertainty in the world. You can find me in the sun these next few weeks, breathing up all the air (and pollen), and writing as if my life depends on it.
So much for brevity and no drama…
I wrote the following post about halfway through the semester but didn’t feel comfortable posting it at the time on the off chance that any of my students came across it and felt as though I was teaching them with a bad grace. I put in all the effort and care I could muster to make space for them to express and debate their ideas and to grow as writers. My restlessness had little to do with them and more about the impending uncertainty of postgrad life. I realize now that it reads a little like a riddle, an effect I wasn’t going for at all and don’t much care for. I guess it’s an indication of how confused and outside of myself I was feeling. In any case, I’m here. I made it!
My Self Every Elsewhere
I feel as if I’m living everyday on a deep inhale, except without the promise of an exhale’s sweet relief at the end. I am not present. Some of me is sitting in my grandma’s living room watching the fan waving around with the same content laziness I feel as I sink deeper into the flattened foam of the sofa cushions. Another piece of myself is waiting to cross the street somewhere in New Orleans where I would love to be living, scattered with potholes and lined with shaded verandas that might as well be Accra. There is also the no-place I’m longing to be, one that exists only in my imagination, or at the crossroads of my favorite novels and scholarly writing about the African diaspora.
Everywhere else but here.
I wouldn’t be so concerned about this longing if I didn’t have 18 students expecting me to be with them for 3 hours and 45 minutes a week, and an immense and unspecified number of additional hours on email, or online reading, grading, fixing, always giving. I would hate for them to have the slightest feeling that this is about them, and that I am staring over their heads and into a distant elsewhere that is most appealing at the moment not because of what it is, but by simple virtue of the fact that it is not here with them. Wherever I am, it is definitely not 9:26 on the green line in Boston where I have just lost my ID card as well as my eagerness to stand with a smile fixed on my face as I try to cajole the class into understanding Zora Neale Hurston’s genius (and the importance of citing one’s sources!!!)
My restlessness starts on the same spot towards the back of my scalp, where I scratch between the once-precise parting for my braids until the skin feels raw and bruised, until I am convinced I am one more scrape away from coming away with blood under my nails. I am ashamed of it, because it fidgets and jostles my careful mask out of the way, intruding into every conversation I have about what I plan to do next.
The part of my attitude that troubles me the most is that I am trying to wish away the unbearable present, marking time like a teasing metronome or a clock that is always trying to catch up its lost minutes. I’m trying to wish away my now as if I know that what will come next will somehow be more satisfying, when I can’t actually know that for sure.
I feel like the bratty child I never was, whining at the more-than-enough spread out before me, before pushing it onto the floor with sticky, greedy hands, the same hands I try to grasp at the better time everyone else seems to be having.
When we say “I can’t wait for this to be over,” the implication seems to be that whatever lies at the other side of “over” is more desirable, but that just isn’t true. That should be my consolation.
Yet, I’m wondering where else I have to go if both now and the latter side of next are equally uncertain and even terrifying–
Photos courtesy of the man, the myth, the broski, Lloyd K. Sarpong, some selfies, and other people I was too excited to remember unfortunately!
I had nothing to do with this cap except for wearing it. Laura and Jeeyoon designed all the little details and I just held the glue gun and passed them scissors etc. Katerina came up with “Best revenge is your pages” based on the line from “Formation” All my own ideas for cap phrases were (more) rude/confrontational song lyrics…
The list of PMDD symptoms on the clinic’s website are clearly separated with bullet points marching down the page like ants following a trail to their nest. “Psychological Symptoms: Anxiety. Feeling overwhelmed or out of control. Sensitivity to rejection. Social withdrawal. Physical: Abdominal bloating. Appetite disturbance (usually increased). Sleep disturbance (usually hypersomnia.) Behavioral: Fatigue. Forgetfulness. Poor concentration.”
The list may as well be a roll call of old friends from my contacts list. They explain why I have been known to snap my reply to my roommate’s simple question, “Are you the one boiling water?”
I am becoming increasingly fixated on and disgusted by my bloated belly during the weeks leading up to my period and remain unsatisfied when it reverts to its usual and lesser roundness in proportion to the roundness of my hips and thighs.
I got home early from work a few days and was driven by this latest preoccupation to spend all afternoon trying on all the fancy dresses I wore during my graduation season in 2015 to make sure they still fit.
I spend entire days in deep sleep and unable to complete the simplest of tasks when I wake– send that email, reply that text message, braid your hair, take a shower. Every single mundane obligation seems to require effort that I can’t find in any corner of myself.
The dependable memory I often brag about feels more like a mosquito net with huge holes in it, details of stories I heard just days before immediately escaping after I hear them; Ah, didn’t I already tell you this?
My messier, more complicated states of mind defy the order of any list. The minute I start searching old text messages and emails for hurtful or unprofessional things I said, no matter how many years have passed since, I can bet my entire student debt that it’s two weeks before my period.
Two weeks of picking through past mistakes obsessively, the time I was a terrible student leader and sacrificed a team member’s well-being for the “reputation” of our organization, or when I ended up hurting and losing a friend for venting about ways she irritated me to everyone but her, or the time at morning assembly circa 2010 when I made a rude comment about a girl’s outfit loud enough for her to hear. I now feel compelled to provide a disclaimer that I’m not rolling out these memories in some complicated attempt at self-deprecation, to paint myself as the supremely self-aware person who has grown for her past mistakes.
The kind of guilt I feel at these and a multitude of other mistakes sits on my chest at night like a bully daring me to get up, to fight back, knowing that I do not have the strength to. The list of wrongdoings extends before me, off the edge of my bed and into the shadows of my room; like the time I missed several office hours meetings with a professor I respect greatly because I just couldn’t make it out of bed and didn’t fully understand why at the time. I’m just burnt out, I thought. Senior spring after all, I thought.
The bully’s voice gives way to a more sinister one, something like a hiss, working hard to convince me that this collection of evidence affirms what I ready know, that I am undeserving of care or even the right to exist at all. Where do I fit these on the approved symptoms? How much of this is regular human obsession over cringeworthy moments? How much should I worry?
Again, I feel compelled to interrupt myself, to point out that I use metaphor not simply to grab your imagination, but to express that I hear myself being hateful to myself, sometimes like a schoolyard enemy, annoying but mostly harmless, sometimes like something much more cruel and dangerous. I’ve taken to carrying out painstaking scrutiny of my past self, dedicating whole essays to tearing down my half-formed politics from years past. (I’ve done that once here, and there are a few other posts I never put up on this blog.) Mean-spirited navel-gazing, if you will. I mean, girl. how can you claim any kind of radical feminism when your CV includes an organization founded by THE feminist imperialist herself, and another named after Woodrow Wilson? How? And those study abroad blog posts you wrote, girl…
This song improves my mood almost instantly and motivates me to get work done, despite containing the lyrics “Who needs a degree!”
Paranoia is another state of mind that refuses the precision of a bullet-pointed list.
Are the whispers in the next room about me? Did I do something? What did I do?
This is why you are trash.
What does this text message really mean? Was it clear that I was having a hard time, or is this person being dismissive because they can’t pinpoint the gravity of my tone?
This is why you’re trash.
Am I breathing too loudly in this elevator? Did I seem interested enough in that conversation? Am I talking too much? Am I wasting their time? Why aren’t they talking to me? Did I do something?
This is why you’re trash.
Was that story too personal for this setting? Have I used the term PMDD too many times in this conversation? What is self-care, and do I deserve it?
The conclusion to all these unrelenting questions is always, I’m trash, and everyone is just pretending they don’t already know. See? This is why.
What scares me is not being able to draw a straight line through all these elements, to categorize what is “normal” for my at times scattered emotional experience and what isn’t. I would hate to find out that there are more acronyms and names previously unknown to me that describe some other mood disorder. (Is it presumptuous of me to even hint at a self-diagnosis so casually? Am I being too casual?)
It’s been a while since I decided to leave the curtains open to my performance. I offer full access to what happens behind the scenes in the name of full disclosure. I’ve been trying to transcribe the terrible questions circling around inside my head like some nightmarish carousel. In this spirit of full transparency, a few more realities I’ve been trying to share instead of hiding–
I sometimes cancel plans because I can’t bear to leave the house again once I return from work, and not because I have too much homework to do. I’ve chosen to say hidden in my room, hungry and thirsty because I can’t bare to face any human being, purposefully isolated but wishing someone would check in on me. It’s so frustrating to feel completely stuck, craving company and flinching from it at the same time behind my closed bedroom doors. I once spent an entire weekend in intermittent panic, self-loathing and bouts of crying because I felt so awful for not finding it in myself to be as welcoming to a person dear to someone dear to me as I was expected to be. Selfish. This is why you’re trash.
I detest the saying “something’s gotta give.” Of course, I can manage. Keep in touch with everyone, run your errands, calm your nerves if you need me to. I’ve only recently realized, after dropping some of the many conversation threads and obligations I’ve been juggling, that more often than not that “something” is me. For every time a friend reminds me that someone or something in my life is demanding too much time and energy, or is being neglectful and careless, I am often left confused when that friend isn’t able to apply those boundaries to their own actions. “Prioritize yourself, except when it comes to me. And if you don’t hear from me, well. I’m sure you’ll be fine. You always are!”
I almost resisted at this point, but am inevitably giving in to the guilt of how selfish the preceding paragraph may read. What’s even more upsetting is that these voices, or symptoms, are working their hardest to convince me that hardly anyone has noticed the slip in my act. No-one is wondering where you’ve been. No-one will wonder if you’re gone. And again, the guilt reminds me, I am trash for expecting…what? Round the clock attention? For my friends and family to be punching bags for all my emotional twists and turns? To avoid me or hover and fuss at my whim? To drop everything they’re doing and pay attention to me? Whose job is it to do all this? I don’t even know what I want or need. One of the few things I’m sure of is that I don’t expect to get away with hurting or neglecting others because of my chaotic internal life. I can hold myself accountable, I just need to express how much time I spend hating myself just for living.
For the moment, I’m done explaining. I think I’m now generally a more tolerable, maybe even interesting, person than I was when I was an insecure teen torn between the respectability politics flying around my head and the carefree irreverence my mother was constantly nudging me towards, cover up those thighs (or don’t), get that extra piercing (or don’t) ladies don’t curse when they’re angry (but they do), do as you please so long as you are comfortable (your body is a temple).Very soon I must write about how my mother fiercely held on to her agency and autonomy in a male-dominated field that punished her for daring to do so while being brilliant and the best at her job. I will never be as amazing as she is.
I’m off to go write about that, among other things. I’m taking a break from this blog, because I have a thesis to write and joy to catch up to even as it may continue to elude me. There’s so much important work to be done, and I’m trying to ignore the guilt and fear of empty self-indulgence long enough to get it done. I’ll be back to post updates if anything exciting happens in my life that I may want to share. Wish me joy!
[Initial thoughts from 2:40am, essay for school abandoned hours ago in favor of watching and rewinding Lemonade and taking notes feverishly]
I’ve seen a few attempts at “Violence isn’t the answer” responses to Rihanna’s latest music video for her song “Needed Me,” similar to the critiques of her videos for “BBHMM” and “Man Down.” I won’t be the least bit surprised if the same cries for “why don’t we hold hands and sing kumabaya instead of protesting loudly and hurting each other” come from the white feminist camp and the coalition of all people who can’t let black women celebrate themselves after Beyoncé’s hour-long history lesson/poetry reading/letter to every ex/African diaspora vibes epic “Lemonade.” Visuals and lyrics like what these women have given us leave one feeling incredibly badass for lack of a more literary term. Actually, on this blog, badass is a perfectly acceptable term. Canonical, even. (Not exactly the right use for the word “canonical,” but I make the rules around here.) I’m readying my eye rolls for the next article I see that tries to condemn media that “glorifies” violence, as if black women grabbing the barrel of the gun and turning it outward is a new phenomenon.
I don’t imagine that the women in the Haitian revolution sat quietly at home with their hands resting in their laps waiting for the men to return, or that during the rebellions led by enslaved people all over the Americas the women just remained on standby with warm cloths for their husbands’ wounds. There were entire armies of women in Dahomey who were renowned for their military prowess, and in Ghana Yaa Asantewaa didn’t just say: “Ok oooh, I hear. Let’s not fight. We can’t beat them anyway.” Musicians, and artists in general, may not be picking up real guns and overturning oppressive government systems themselves, but they are inspiring all those watching to lead rebellions in their own fields, throwing away the fear of being perceived as being too aggressive and chewing and swallowing the bit of forced humility we have been clenching between our teeth for years.
One can argue that we have a legitimate problem of making violence appear sexy and glamorous in film, music and video games etc targeted at young people, but when I see black women swinging baseball bats and shooting no-good men in the back of a strip club, I’m not compelled to go and pick up my longest knife and hurt the next person that tries to hurt me, and I don’t think that’s the message these artists are trying to send. It’s very convenient to forget that a huge component of the colonial project was brutal violence and suppression, bending people -body and soul- to submit to the authority of the master arbitrarily justified by his supposed superiority. Black women continue to face violence at the hands of the police, militant groups, relatives, romantic partners, and strangers who feel threatened by women’s queerness and trans identity. Do not ask us to “rise above” and sway softly to hymns and quiet songs for peace when our art provides us the perfect space to spit back the violence inherited as an unshakeable birthright.
My badass and my revolution looks like writing late into the night to make sure no one cuts of my tongue and my fingers, excusing their actions with a dismissive shrug. Zora Neale Hurston put it best when she said, “If you’re silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” These portrayals of black women blowing gunpowder in the face of respectability and fighting for the right to exist unapologetically are not new. You just forgot, and we’re here to remind you.
Razors for Breakfast
This isn’t something new I have just added to my diet. Neither is it a trend, nor another shortcut to the kind of beauty that mocks and berates those who don’t possess it, one that taunts from screens that sting tired eyes with their glow late at night. My jaws have been galvanized for this very purpose, teeth fixed in place like steel bolts in the neck of a crossbow, a roar for a voice like a high-powered engine.
I have always kept razors in my mouth, turning them over and over with my tongue, but long before me, there were women picking thorns out of their palms, bringing back royal heads wrapped in a tattered tricolore. They soaked gunpowder in hot water and rubbed it into aching muscles, and used it to wash their feet crusted over with mud and the crushed souls of the enemy. These women dragged timid men to war and trampled the pages of a history that forgot their names, their strides drumming up the same dust that will eventually settle on the books I will write and leave behind.
This isn’t something new I’ve recently learnt to do. Neither a twisted party trick, nor an illusion to make you squirm and wonder how I made it look so effortless. The blood dripping from the point of my chin onto my chest is yours and not mine, theirs and not ours. It is the last remaining hint that we once sliced them in half and licked away the evidence. Today I had razors for breakfast, and the taste of victory still lingers on my lips.
The work of one of my favorite poets, Warsan Shire, serves as a beautiful backdrop for Lemonade. Here is my favorite quote from her. I’m sure I’ve posted it on this blog before, but I still love it just as much, so here you go!
“If you think I’ll be the dark sky so you can be the star, well the sky is vast and have you seen the sky in the morning? Have you seen how it looks against the sun? I’ll swallow you whole.” -Warsan Shire
Another favorite quote of mine:
“No, I do not weep at the world. I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.” -Zora Neale Hurston