Without a doubt, these last few months have been the hardest of my life. Someone told me in December that I would be walking through a shadowy time but nothing could prepare me for the impact. I didn’t know I was living with a necrotic gallbladder, 2 surgeries were coming, and we would lose people we loved. I rarely am able to sleep a full night but it leads to levels of exhaustion that make me feel aged. I haven’t written since my poem for my grandfather and this afternoon was the first time I wanted to write anything. I thought here would be the best place to start. I am thankful a few people in my life have reminded me that it’s ok to take breaks. A friend suggested I am creating a new body.
God, I hope so.
I am missing joy so much. I could cry at the thought of it.
I wanted to follow up that last sentence up with something about gratitude but I am going to let that one stand. Because it’s the truth. It’s a bit hard to see there’s another time coming—a stretch where pain is a faraway memory, Hubby has gone through the procedures he needs and we are vacationing on the other side of the world, taking pictures, recording the beauty in the small notebook I keep at the bottom of my purse.
So here are the questions I am putting out into the world, the void, and God:
What is the best way to hold on until the other side unfolds?
How do I put pride aside to ask for what I need and actually accept it? (this is a particularly hard one for me as I worry about being a downer, a nuisance, and do not have family nearby).
There’s a part of me that knows I am already doing some of the right things: counseling, keeping doctor’s appointments, working and saying no when I need to. But those things don’t produce joy. And the small pockets I get it in—reading, hearing my grandmother’s voice, watching TV or going on a long drive with my husband and the very occasional outing to a friend’s—they’re good and needed. But I know my soul is crying out for more.
So this is me. Coming up for air, struggling to exercise patience and trying to answer my soul’s cry.
Last month, while my sister and brother-in-law were over, I became I’ll with what I thought was food poisoning. A few hours later after not being able to hold down water, my husband took me to the ER. I threw up right in the lobby which made me terrified for whatever was happening to me. I was given meds for pain and after a few hours and a CAT scan, was misdiagnosed with appendagiatis (not appendicitis) which can mimic those symptoms.
I have a need to understand what has been happening these last couple of months. Writing or talking it out with family/friends/therapist or praying or crying alone and distracting myself with good TV and books is usually gets me where I need to go. But this has felt like a ride I cannot get off.
I was told I could go home and take Ibuprofen. It would all be over in a few days. I was given water. After a couple sips, I was back to writhing in pain. When I asked how could I go home and not drink water, the doctor asked me “So you want to be admitted?” I said yes even though he clearly didn’t think my condition warranted it. He made mention of having seen over 40 patients that night and having 12 minutes left on his shift. He did however agree to let a doctor know who would want to evaluate me for admission before beginning their shift.
It was strange and sad and infuriating not having my pain taken seriously by him. After the next doctor came in, she correctly suspected it was my gallbladder which was confirmed by an ultrasound. However, she made sure to show me a picture of my uterus, telling me “I had to take a picture of it.” I was thinking for what and are you planning on showing someone? I told her I was aware of my fibroid situation and my embolization was actually originally planned for the next week. She said she believed I could have both surgeries in back to back weeks because they are “different organs.”
I don’t know who needs to read this but we are not a series of parts. My body or anyone else’s should not be treated or spoken about as if we are a game of Operation. Healing and rest are essential. Taking your time is vital.
The decision was made for me to remove my gallbladder. There was no chat about drainage of the infection or anything else. Through a morphine-induced haze, I asked about medical nonsurgical intervention and she waved it off. The next day I was in pre-op and the doctor came to see minutes before being wheeled back. The anxiety I felt was unparalleled. I thought she was there to explain what was going to happen and provide a bit of comfort as this would be my first major surgery.
Not so much. She started one of her sentences by saying “This may not be the right time” and launched into pressuring me into getting bariatric surgery. I was flat on my back, panicked about going under anesthesia and praying for peace of mind. I was flat on my back having to turn her down and defend my decision not to undergo bariatric surgery.
I was exhausted, angry and felt powerless. My trust was broken. I trusted her to see me as a person in a vulnerable position, not some kind of defective set of parts or an amorphous blob. The nurses could see me and treated me with kindness and respect. This is what still infuriates and haunts me. Even though the surgery went well. Even though the rooms were clean, food was fine and my love was by my side in recovery.
A couple times, two of the nurses would either not not give me my full dosage of pain meds or just Tylenol. Yes, I had stitches and painfully practiced walking down the hall and had to press a pillow to my stomach not to scream when I coughed or laugh.
But I made it home. A few days later, my beloved grandfather died. A week after that, a friend who brought my husband into my life, passed away unexpectedly. Grief is a wild animal, feral. I have no idea when it will creep up and in floods fond memories, what ifs and the gut punches that sent me sinking into the floor.
The optimist in me wants to look for the happy for every sad: the service was beautiful, I felt strong enough to write a poem for him, I got to reunite with my father’s side of the family, all of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren were there, at least my surgery was successful and we flew to and from Florida safely, I applied to be my city’s next Poet Laureate during my recovery, met virtually with my Rainbow Fund writing group, and when my car didn’t start this week, we had another to drive Hubby to the ER (he is ok) and he is healing through a particularly painful flare while at the end of a stomach virus.
Tomorrow, I am facilitating a full class entitled “Our Whole Black Selves” and I have the opportunity to write and discuss our joys, strengths and triumphs in a safe space with other Black people. I need this time. Part of me wants to crawl out of a deep soaking tub and into the comfiest bed to sleep for a week. It sounds great but being in community, writing and releasing is truly where I need to be.
I should add I did confront the surgeon at my post-op appointment. Her apology was more of an excuse as to why she said what she said and in the vain of “I’m sorry you felt that way” and congratulated herself on the gallbladder catch. I wanted her to hear me when I told her but if she couldn’t ever really see me, why did I think her ears would decide to open? I told her I hoped this would make her a better practitioner and that her larger patients already know they are big. We have mirrors and other people regularly pointing it out. I emphasized that I never asked her about weight loss—not even once. I also dealt with a back up for my primary who was rude and blamed the onset of my PCOS on obesity. I was 12 and not big in the slightest. His bedside manner was atrocious.
I am unsure outside of filling out the hospital’s survey and speaking to my real primary if there much to be done. My fatigue is real but so is my hope and will to open eyes.
I love myself enough to know when to enforce boundaries, advocate, embrace peace without shame and search for the joy.
We all need it.
I am craving it.
I love myself enough to acknowledge it’s healthy to mourn lost loved ones like my dear Papa Ze and Ms. Tina Zapata and allow myself to move through it all even when it’s ugly —especially when it’s ugly.
When coming back from a trip, especially one as momentous as the Her Spirit Retreat in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I usually take a few days and then post a recap. I returned last Thursday and it’s taken me a bit longer to write this. First, I needed the time to process the experience and the next, to contemplate how and what I wanted to share.
I’ll start here. I officially heard word that I received a generous partial scholarship on 11/20/22. Her Spirit started on December 4th. I had little time to make plans, take the time I needed from work but I was determined to figure it all out. Hubby had just undergone a heart procedure to explore some unexplained weakness the week before my acceptance. I wondered if I should have been so determined to leave but my resolve strengthened a few days later.
As I have written here, I have been experiencing chronic pain for several months. I start going back to physical therapy at the end of October. I discovered a possible reason for this pain could be growing fibroid tumors affecting my mobility in my lower back. I set an appointment with a radiologist who confirmed my suspicions after reviewing an older MRI. Because of that and not wanting to live with large uterine fibroids period, I chose to move forward with a uterine fibroid embolization. Everyone in the clinic was kind and thorough which made my decision easy. After the appointment and in tears, my mind was made up to leave.
I no longer felt guilty about my husband because I could see he was fine, working and walking around. It was time to take myself out of my everyday, meet new people and open my energy up to this opportunity. I was at a dinner with a friend a few days before leaving and she encouraged me to make rest a priority as well. I took it to heart.
I booked tickets the evening of the appointment. I remember shopping and packing carefully, not wanting to feel rushed or overwhelmed. The flights were smooth and even though the altitude attacked my lungs as soon as I landed, I was aware of another scholarship winner, Catrice Greer, on the flight. We connected at the Santa Fe airport and she kindly offered me a ride to our hotel.
After checking in, I rested and got ready to meet the other winners on the rooftop floor. We sat in a circle with our chairperson Jane Sibbett, Chief Officer of Diversity, Candace Blust, faculty members Liz Hines, Rebecca Bloom and Rosa Salazar. We were lauded for our work, given thoughtful gifts and made to feel special. The other women were dynamic and from all over the country and across the pond in the UK. I also appreciated their attempt to make us aware that we would be the diversity in a group of over one hundred mostly white women.
I should be honest in sharing I was aware of this beforehand. Previously shared group photos of last year’s retreat on social media confirmed it and as a Black woman, I do feel the need to prepare myself for what I may be walking into to protect my physical safety and my mental health.
The mixer, the Native blessing, and the Zoom keynote speech by Friends and Grace and Frankie’s co-creator Marta Kaufman set the right tone. My intentions to connect and rest felt right after that night. I relaxed with some room service and although I didn’t sleep peacefully, I had no regrets and was ready to face my full Day 1.
I was comfortable enough to share vulnerable pieces right from the start. I learned about telling the truth and our faculty’s experiences in their respective industries. Even with altitude sickness, I could not ignore the beauty of La Fonda as I trudged up steps. This historic hotel was full of art, shops and pieces you could never find anywhere else. During dinner, I connected with more winners and other attendees, listened to the live country band and watched a couple of them grace the dance floor.
Later on that night, there was a diversity panel, readings, and another featuring documentarian Kate Blewet and director Beth Broday. During the diversity and inclusion panel, I leaned into my desire to affirm our need for well-written and acted representation. I have no need to shame anyone for their opinions or not articulating them well. I knew what was right and I am proud I spoke up. The rest of the evening brought us to tears as we viewed clips of Kate’s work that showed dying and impoverished children and the elderly from China and Bulgaria to the UK and Beth’s directed performance of Sting in Italy on September 11th, 2001. I stayed up late, in a few small circles in the lobby, cozy and curled up, decompressing from the evening, revealing dreams and laughing.
The next day I had the chance to sit in on my first table read and heard actors read from four pilots amogst other sessions. I took in the plaza outside of La Fonda’s doors and met artisans, perused art galleries and jewelry stores. That night, I attended a dancing hands meditation led by Jane Sibbett.
This is where it all changed. We were back in the rooftop room La Terraza. I walked up to the edge of my mat and within seconds, my calves and thighs quaked and I began crying. I sobbed throughout the entire hour. Within the circle, Jane approached each of us with direct eye contact, in her language inspired by Spirit but I could make out words like “love” and “hug.” The energy was thick.
We huddled closer together afterwards and upon my asking about what she felt or saw, Jane used the word ancestors. I had an intense need to remove my bra and sit in the moonlight. Instead, I joined a couple friends at the bar and as they snacked before dinner, all I could do was take breaths and drink water. I wanted nothing to do with food for a bit but eventually enjoyed a dinner. I spoke about the meditation, we mapped out a show for one of our fellow winners and headed to the open mic and to watch a Hallmark Christmas movie one of our faculty members wrote.
The next day I was drained. I honored the need to rest as long as possible before the first session. I did learn valuable tips with New York Times bestselling author Julie Cantrell about character development and bonded over our connection with one of my writing teachers Sadeqa Johnson. Brooke Warner gave many useful actionable tips for our author platforms. It was the last night and there was a beautifully lit final ceremony. The energy again was thick and as lovely as it was, I had an intense urge to separate myself from the ceremony after a few minutes. I left the room, sat in the hallway, short of breath and I let tears fall. I couldn’t go back. I retreated to the outdoors on the first floor and eventually to my room. I caught my breath, packed half-heartedly and sent some messages to make sure no one worried about my hurried exit.
I spent the last moments of Wednesday evening with a new friend, Babs and Liberty, an awesome young woman who has the capacity to make some real change in the world. I got the laughs I needed and the shared venting was absolutely vital. I woke up and got to breakfast early, a first for me. Our table got crowded as people said their farewells and we squeezed each other tight, almost hoping to take our essences with us on our flights home. I was encouraged, unexpectedly prayed over and walked back to my room feeling lighter than I had in weeks.
Catrice, Joany (the sweet mother of all Christmas movies) all said our goodbyes in Denver. As I walked away from our gate, I drowned the world out with the Lemonade album and started my trek to my gate which ended up being almost 80 gates away. My expectation was to have to stop for my back and hip, drenched in sweat every 5 minutes. That wasn’t what happened at all. I walked, only stopping once to check the gate change. I had to force myself to stop overcompensating by leaning on one foot. I didn’t understand what was happening.
Had I been healed?
I have been back over a week, in physical therapy twice and outside of a bit of tightness and pain my left hip, I can walk again. I have been hesitant to claim it because I have been living this way for so long now but I have to believe what is actually going on right now. My PT suggested there has been a reset of my central nervous system’s response to pain and my husband and parents believed I cried out the tension at the dancing hands meditation.
As for reflecting on the actual retreat, there has been enough time for me to say I would happily go again. I am also glad I went in with my eyes open about the lack of cultural diversity. I didn’t have to experience the burden of shock. And yes, there was a stereotypical statement made about Black people and a few could not tell the difference between myself and another Black woman although we look nothing alike. I was hurt and made jokes with a few who understood my plight. Although I didn’t love having to speak up about the need for quality representation at the panel, again I remain proud I did. I can report apologies were made to me and many privately told they were grateful I possessed the courage to use my voice. I was also offered opportunities to work with others and buoyed by an acknowledgement that I taught others in the room that night.
I will never be able to shed the challenges that come with entering these spaces in this skin but I would never want to be anyone other than who I am. I get to tell stories, love freely and passionately and proudly in this skin. I look forward to what’s next working and building friendships with these women as part of the Storyteller Foundation.
Special thanks to Alva for checking on me, to Freddie for your kind words, and Becky Strom for hearing me that very first day and blessing me on our final morning.
I want to say a special thanks to my fellow Rainbow Fund Scholarship winners: Catrice Greer, Babs Cheung, Shari Williams-Andrews, Sylvia de la Sancha, Ava Adams, Donna Pope, Tana Stephenson and Celeste Keplin-Weeks. Without all of you talented souls, I would have experienced an unwelcome loneliness I am grateful to have never felt. And to Jane Sibbett, Candace Green Blust and Liz Hines: thank you for your part in making our dreams closer to our reality.
I returned yesterday. Last night. Yet here I am, excited to write about these last few weeks especially about my first out of state book signing and festival: The Louisville Book Festival. Physically, I have brought my body to the brink whether it’s been from lack of sleep, air and car travel and exacerbating my spine and hip (deadlift) injury walking wherever I needed to be. I am at rest now with my PT appointment set for tomorrow and I can honestly say I have no regrets.
It all started with a surprise. My sister asked me to visit a day earlier. We had free tickets to see Lizzo! Floor seats, too! The only down side was floor seats means standing only but close enough to almost slap the stage. This usually would be an amazing thing but for me, it meant standing until I had to lean over the railing for back relief. I was a few feet away from the main action during the opener (Big Latto) but COVID is still alive and well so my masked up self did not have a problem with that part. But I didn’t like knowing my back and hip were taking the choice away from me. I want it to be my decision not to be in the thick of things. I tried to convince my sister to join her friends (one of whom generously supplied the tickets) but she refused to leave my side. I was and am beyond touched that she stood by me while I was in pain. She eventually found a manager who gave us amazing seats. My sister and I hadn’t been to a concert together in 15 years and I will cherish every moment of our time together.
We we were also there to attend Pole Body and Arts Halloween Showcase. I was so impressed with my sister’s command of her business and the rapport she has with her partners and members. I may be biased but if you knew her, I promise you would say the same. The performances were showstoppers and it reminded me yet again how important it is to commit and invest in what makes you happy and therefore, free.
I capped off that weekend after a handful of hours of sleep (my body was so keyed up) with a powerful class taught by Paula Akinwole entitled Writing About the Body. This was the class I have been waiting for all along. I was challenged by the exercises and produced a piece I may include in my next collection. I didn’t even realize I had any qualms with writing about my body until I was asked to describe it vainly using three words. No qualifiers and no excuses. I needed to talk about it because it has reminded me so often of what’s wrong I don’t often celebrate what is beautiful.
There’s no rest for the weary so a few days later, I was off to Louisville, Kentucky. I slept a total of 30 minutes the night before my brother-in-law took us to the airport. Note: Waking up at 3:30am is the actual devil. After crashing most of Thursday, I was ready for the festival on Friday to include a presentation with fellow poet Elizabeth Decker-Benjamin. That was a meeting I was looking forward to. Beth and I planned our presentation “This Poet’s Life” over Zoom for 2 months because she lives in Ohio and I am in Virginia.
We clicked beautifully and our presentation went off without a hitch. It was sparsely attended because the location of the speeches were not widely available. However, I am a firm believer in whoever needs to be there will show up.
My second surprise of these last couple weeks was the amount of children that came on Day 1 of the festival. They came from 4 schools and since She Lives Here isn’t exactly for little ones and they weren’t buying, sales started out a bit underwhelming but some teachers and nonprofit professionals came through and bought some books. I also got the chance to read some poems to the middle schoolers (that were appropriate, of course) and they asked thoughtful questions and indulged in the candy.
Day 2 was on a Saturday so the expectations that more adults would show up was fulfilled. I had time on Day 1 and a bit on Day 2 to chat with other authors. I felt at home with them and it didn’t matter if their genre was sci-f, rural crime fiction or poetry like mine. We work hard, love what we do and believe our stories should be told. On Day 2 I had a chance to speak and read to many attendees. For the people I chose to read to, it felt like I was giving them a real chance to hear my intentions. One woman told me she even came down there because she saw my picture on Louisville Book Festival’s IG stories! We talked about everything from books and TV shows to work and travel. I shared my Strongman journey with a woman who was convinced to go back to training which I certainly plan to do when I am healed. Her friend said she saw my book on a Facebook page. All of that happened after I sold out of all the copies I brought (there will be copies sent to them). I am grateful that I made the decision to stay or I wouldnt have made these connections. I also spoke with a social worker who wants to write a memoir. I sincerely hope she does it.
At the end of Day 2, resting in Hubby’s arms and unsuccessfully trying to not sob while watching From Scratch, we paused the show. He shared that he hasn’t seen me so alive. He knows how much I love readings and being in the company of other writers but he had not seen it on this level.
When your partner who knows and loves you sees you this way, you cannot deny the truth has been spoken. It was life-affirming. It was not until we were driving home from DC did I remember I had another job to go back to. I was focused. I want to continue to live in a way that honors this truth and the kind of focus I had. This is my prayer.
I had the honor of celebrating love twice over the past month. My brilliant and beautiful niece and one of my favorite people in the world, a sister from another mister, got married. It occurred to me how often we start over—whether it be in the form of a union like marriage, a career change or something seemingly minute as trying a new hobby.
Over the past few weeks, I was in a writing class. While there is nothing wrong with the class and the teacher is absolutely lovely, I found myself pacing during part of the first class (Zoom class and off camera, of course), missed the second due to illness, needed to leave halfway through the third and felt a lot of resistance about the fourth class so I sat that one out. I could not figure out what was going on. The people were great and the opportunity to write in an open and kind environment was there. My husband simply said maybe you just aren’t feeling it right now and it’s ok to stop. I started to protest but what was I protesting? If my body prefers rest on a Tuesday evening, then that is that. There does not need to be another reason. The other thought that has been challenging me lately is that I have grown and though I still need a writing space that centers kindness, I also need one that encourages critique. I have looked at listings for classes where the focus is on fiction. I still have poems I want to share. There is another book of poetry in me but there is no denying that I have started to yearn to write fiction again. This would not be my first class—more like my third fiction course. I know there’s nothing stopping me but myself and I can easily acknowledge I have a fear of not doing it well.
My expectations are realistic and I have been reminded that if my dreams don’t scare me, they are not big enough. I am scared so I am letting fear lead me down the path to share new poetry (aloud) and register for a class where I might want to scratch my own eyes out after reading early drafts.
That’s ok. It’s worth trying again instead of wondering what may have been. Regret has never looked good on me anyway.
In the past month or so, I have been doing my best to honor what’s within me. I needed to engage in what was in front of me and quiet the urge that often comes to immediately write about it afterwards.
One of the best things that happened was spending time with my nephew. He spent the week with us and I got a chance to take him to his first poetry reading (and hear me read for the first time, too), cook us a meal and watch him help my husband build a bookcase. He also was in a camp to make art out of stained glass! After sixteen years of being his Auntie, I was witnessing how he was growing into a young man, an individual: his creativity, his interests, his potential and the magnitude of his focus. There is so much joy and beauty in recognizing this.
I also had my first in-person reading at a bookstore. Chop Suey Books made the experience delightful and their staff was so engaged and friendly. I couldn’t have asked for a better setting for a signing and a reading. I felt moved to read several pieces that I have never read publicly with a few who had never heard them. There is a sense of freedom in giving voice to the hard things. When I read those pieces out loud, shame couldn’t rise over the sound of my voice, over the sound of the truth.
I am eager to present my book outside of the state for the first time. I was accepted to the Gaithersburg Book Festival in May but I got sick right before and could not participate. I said there will be another opportunity and it came! I was accepted into the Louisville Book Festival in Kentucky. This fall I will have the chance to share She Lives Here at a conference founded by a Black woman and explore a city I never have before.
There was a time, especially years earlier, that I would feel guilty for resting. I have since learned that guilt equates to wasted energy. Working, writing, posting, keeping up with everyday life will always be more than enough. The energy is precious. I want to spend that precious commodity being in my life, showing up for my life and letting the awareness in when I am not doing those things. I have lost a member of family recently and a couple others were hospitalized. This is a reminder (though unfortunate) to allow the people, the activities and the work I value to occupy this energy. And to honor one of my highest values—my peace.
Many of us have experiences that cause us to slow down, examine how we react to things, and start making changes. Over the last week, I had two.
While in physical therapy, I chatted with a new friend as we were both left to do some independent exercises by our therapists. She and I made plans to go to an “Aqua Strength” class at her gym. She also offered to teach me some stretching techniques afterwards. I was moonwalking on air when I came home from the session. As we get older, it can be harder to establish new connections and I had made one with a bubbly, helpful person who is healing from the same injury!
After the class, she and I worked one-on-one with for almost two hours in their warm water pool. Now, here is where the first revelation came: she constantly had to remind me to put my shoulders down. I fully realized my natural state (when engaged in activity) is to have them hunched up around my ears. Although I was present with her, that realization was never too far away. It instantly conjured up a memory of an initial visit to an acupuncturist where he observed I hold my breath often during conversation. Between the shoulder and stifling of my breath issues, it’s as if I am in a near constant state of bracing myself for something to happen. It is as if my body is preparing for trauma.
Here comes number two: Many of you know outside of my writing I have worked for several years in the human services field. Yesterday, I spoke with someone who was having a particularly hard time which is nothing new because of the nature of my position. However, due to the intensity of the call which almost led me to trying to meet them for a moment, I had another flashback. As I was hurriedly throwing on clothes to dash over there, the mode I was in felt eerily familiar. I had just done this when taking my husband to the hospital just over a week ago (he is home and healing). The rush, the sadness and adrenaline pumping at the same time, and this urge to say “Forget about yourself because you know what you have to do ” enveloped me. Some of this is completely natural but the urge to grind a message of tossing myself aside into my being is unhealthy. While tending to and being of service to others is ultimately about that person, perhaps the message to myself in the midst of these emergencies needs to be more “I am scared but glad I am here to help right now. Let’s go!” and less “forget about you..you don’t count right now.”
All the bracing and unhealthy internal messaging sounds like one tight ball of trauma. It doesn’t sound like the woman who has been dancing in the shower to Beyonce’s “Break My Soul” all week and actually giggled with glee driving from home a shopping trip a few days ago (I usually hate shopping).
But it is the same woman.
I am both.
I am all.
As I take the time to breathe in and out, I release my shoulders. They don’t have to carry it all. When I am in “go mode”, I can be a bit kinder to myself.
I am not sure if I can say enough about the memories I made over the last few months. My husband and I spent a couple nights at a beautiful cabin, walked through stables, chatted with the chickens, cuddled through a storm and caught up on Bridgerton. It may be the best time we have ever spent together. All four walls were our own. There was absolutely no expectation to do anything or be anywhere in particular. It felt like we were dating and getting to know each other all over again after almost 10 years of marriage. It was a delight to feel that way again.
In writing news, I had an essay published. I sold copies of She Lives Here to The Valentine Museum and The Library of Virginia. I also had the honor of presenting She Lives Here at The Book Break at The Library of Virginia. The crowd was small but full of people I knew who really listened and appreciated how the words came to life in person.
A couple of months ago, I decided to have my first in-person celebration of She Lives Here. I waited a year because of COVID. I had a few moments where I thought maybe it was too late but I am grateful I shrugged those doubts off. The support and love at my party did eradicated all of those thoughts. Just because I have been living with She Lives Here does for over a year it does not mean others have. It is not like everyone has read my book, my essays, listened to podcast episodes and readings. And even if they had, it wouldn’t matter. There are no rules regarding when it is your time to be celebrated, to stand in the sun and shine a bit brighter. There was so many hugs, tight and deep, grinning faces, people who drove, my mother who flew and tears that flowed. If I had listened to the most insecure parts of myself, I would have robbed myself of this. Of that light, of that love, of that warmth.
I do not need to write about how fleeting our time with the people we love can be but it’s worth repeating. A close friend of mine lost her parents a few weeks ago and it was a reminder to hold those people close, not to hesitate to say I love you and to put aside the small things that may have caused cracks and fissures.
These memories are the best example of what it means to be alive—grateful, loved, in love, raw, transparent, afraid and brave.
I choose to be, I am blessed to be alive and know the meaning, the power of it.
These last couple of months have challenged me to define what being on a rollercoaster means to me. Since I last wrote, I was invited to be a writing juror for the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards, went through the absolute worst psoriasis flare I have had in years which caused me not to be able to travel to see my family over Christmas, chopped off a great deal of hair, as a wellness experiment for a new doctor was advised to eat meat again, banish soy and remove grains temporarily after 4 1/2 years of a plant-based diet, delivered a keynote speech for the awards and asked to teach for a couple of organizations.
While some of those things I absolutely love (hello haircut, writing awards keynote and teaching), dealing with a flare after months of progress and medication was tough for my psyche and eating meat again felt like an abandonment of my lifestyle and and created a small disconnect with my husband as we no longer eat the exact same meals. While none of that seems earth shattering, I have to be careful not to minimize my feelings, constantly seeking to compare my woes to others whom I perceive to be in much worse situations.
If I fall for the trap of comparison, I fail to do the one thing that is a catalyst for healing: Acknowledge the pain. It’s beneficial and it is healthy for me to acknowledge how painful it is trying not to scratch my skin, bloody sheets and clothing, reinstituting the daily sweeping of my dead skin from all over my home and being robbed of the joy of seeing my family on Christmas day. It is beneficial and healthy for me to acknowledge how awkward and uncomfortable it is to cook separately from my husband and eat animal products again as have always been united in how we choose to nourish ourselves.
I also need to acknowledge it is beneficial and healthy to look for the highs and not to dismiss all the good news even in the midst of the pain. I read and viewed writing and art that inspired me to work on my next project, I attended the grand opening of the first Black-woman owned bookstore and wine bar in my city and I never have to worry about the people in my life trying to dismiss me or drown me in the turbulent waters of toxic positivity when I need to speak my truth.
I acknowledge the pain, the pleasure, the heartbreak, the hope, the disappointment, the glee, the inspiration, the frustration, the light and the darkness.
I believe if I accept that the rollercoaster is inevitable but not insurmountable, I’ve accepted a truth that will guide me the rest of my days.
This is my mantra for this new season in my life. The season where I put every aspect of my health first. It was pointed out that if I had a child, my own precious child would I feed him/her anything that would hurt them. I took it a step further and asked myself the same thing of how I speak to myself. The abuse of children has always been and will remain one of the most heinous acts to me—in any way. To make a child feel less valuable or to tarnish their innocence strikes a chord within me that makes me want to cry at the thought of it.
I was once a precious child.
I was once a precious child.
I was once a precious child.
I seek to honor and protect the woman this child has become.
So much has happened over the last couple of months. I celebrated a birthday where I spent many hours outdoors, letting saltwater and sun caress my skin.
I finished hosting my first poetry series with the library, had my first author signing and spent time at a school with children unexpectedly. During this time, I began experiencing an outbreak of psoriasis all over my body that could have caused incalculable grief but I chose, am continuing to choose to find answers to heal myself.
One thing that allowed me not to spiral was the experiences I was open to having even if nothing was perfection. During my last session of the poetry reading, my internet went out and it took a few minutes to log on and resume my hosting duties. I was on my way to a birthday lunch and stopped in to my mother’s school and was asked to speak to two classrooms. I had nothing prepared but something inside of me wanted to be present for these 6th and 8th graders. The answers to the questions they asked flowed freely and the teachers all made me feel welcome. A couple days later, I had the pleasure of meeting one-on-one with a student, a bright, inquisitive, creative girl who made me want to go home and write and bear 10 children just like her.
A couple of weeks later, I was at my first author signing with Chop Suey Books. It was a dream for me to speak with other authors about their work and meet curious readers who may have wandered into the event from the brewery.
I have a few new things coming for 2022 (including more Strongman training) but none of those things will matter if I don’t make and take the time to honor myself, to treat me like I am my own precious child.