This is my Prayer.

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.

Let’s Try This Again

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.

Honor

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.

You Won’t Break My Soul

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.

It costs nothing.

And yet saves so much.

Memories

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.

Outdoors time at the cabin with the chickens

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.

Signing a book for my friend Latifah!

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.

Rollercoaster

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.

Precious Child

I am my own precious child.

I am my own precious child.

I am my own precious child.

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.

With Author and Podcast host, Arvat McClaine
With Poet and Author Lindsay Young

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.

The Kind of Writer I Want to Be

The rest of my year is shaping up to be full of writing activities, time with family, work and moving regularly. I am actively exploring Kemetic Yoga and dancing around in my own house for these options. I also decided to spend more time reading. One of my current reads, “Rockaway: Surfing Headlong Into a New Life” is about a 40-something journalist and divorcee who challenges herself to become a surfer. It reminds me of my goal to continue competing as a Strongwoman. This is no surprise as reading has always made me want to dip my toes into worlds I have yet to explore be that with travel, athletics or activism.

I have a tendency to pile on but letting reading take me somewhere else never leaves me feeling like that. It inspires me to write better, look for the detail and cultivate understanding. I attended James River Writers Conference over the weekend and served as a ShopTalk expert with the topic “How to Own Your Story: Getting Your Truth on the Page.” It was invigorating to listen and dispense advice to other writers and part of me wished I could jet off to the future to hold their finished works in my hands.

Right before my first ShopTalk session on Saturday morning

We were told at the conference that being a literary citizen is writing, reading is writing and good conversation can be writing. I believe this to be true because when I am engaged in any of these things, I find spirit lifted and I feel nudged to get to a pen and jot these experiences down.

I am hosting the second session of the virtual open mic poetry series “From the Page to the Mic” with Henrico County Public Library this Saturday and the last on November 13th. I am attending a showcase at my sister’s pole studio next weekend and an author’s signing in December. I will be bending, stretching, dancing, writing, reading, listening, supporting and watching others’ art. I can’t think of a better way to grow into the kind of writer I want to be.

They were waiting all along…

These past 2 weekends have been filled with some of the most beautiful people, poetry, truth and art. I had the honor of co-facilitating a writing and yoga workshop entitled “Our Whole Black Selves” with my dear friend, poet and yogi Kisha Hughes on September 12th. We had planned this event for well over a year. When COVID hit, our plans came to a standstill but they were not forgotten.

We held it at The Baresoul Yoga studio with the Well Collective (gorgeous space!). Because it was a BIPOC yoga only event, the space created was void of the tension that comes with having to explain yourself and of apology. There is such a special freedom in spaces like that and I am proud Kisha and I facilitated it. The event was 45 minutes of yoga (which I desperately needed to focus and center myself) and the rest of the time was devoted to journaling, sharing and witnessing the truths spoken from each of the women who attended. Each participant was given a copy of my book “She Lives Here” and two of my pieces were read and served as inspiration for journaling prompts. On the drive back home, I felt many things but this overall: an overwhelming sense of gratitude.

Throughout the week, I held onto small moments of the event: the sound of our collective breathing, knowing smiles from one woman to the other and the smell of the herbs and flowers wrapped in twine gifted to me and Kisha.

I held on as I prepared for the next event—a vision I had since early spring—to bring an open mic poetry event to my local library. In March of 2021, celebrated poet Brian Voice Porter Hawkins reached out to find female poets to honor Women’s History Month during his event “Bards and Brews” with Birmingham Public Library. I answered the call and my exchanges with Brian and the lovely experience of the event inspired me to forge ahead with my idea to bring an open mic to our library. It was of the highest importance to me to have poets (both novice and veteran) share their art in an open, supportive, uplifting and diverse environment.

After the library said yes and months of planning, our first session in the series, “From the Page to the Mic” made it’s debut this past Saturday. This was my first time hosting an open mic so the nerves were present but I trusted all the work, prayer and good intentions. It surpassed all expectations for me. All of the poets were celebrating one another and read personal, powerful pieces. I now have an even deeper understanding of how vital it is to bring a beautifully inclusive community together to honor the art of poetry.

Now that the first session is over, my excitement is only building for the next 2: October 16th (amplifying BIPOC voices) and in November 13th (work reflecting our origin stories) with Henrico County Public Library.

In the midst of this, I am also honored to participate in the James River Writers Conference for the first time answering questions about “How to Own Your Story” as a ShopTalk presenter. As I give all of you these updates, I am remembering a shyer, slightly quieter and less confident version of myself who chose to only dream about these realities. I am not reaching that far back. I hope this serves as inspiration to stand in the truth if who you are, who you want to be and rest with the knowledge there is a community of people who were waiting for you all along.

Pine Needles

It’s been awhile.

I hope the next post I write here doesn’t start off the same way. The last 3 months—which I believe is the longest break I have ever taken from writing here—have been a whirlwind. Some of the biggest things that have happened are this newly redesigned website, I am partnering with my local library to host a fall poetry series, more interviews for my book of prose and poetry, She Lives Here, I was featured in Richmond Bride Magazine, (first magazine feature) for my E-book, What I Love About You: A Guided Journal to Writing Your Proposal, traveled to see my family (vaccinated, double-masked with goggles on the plane—not playing with COVID) and I have taken some measures to address my physical and mental health.

At the beginning of June, I took a couple of days to visit my niece in PA which ended with me in the ER dehydrated and panicked. I was already on the road to addressing how to handle taking better care of myself but I did not realize how working, planning for more non-stop and still stressed about keeping me and my husband safe had taken a toll on me. I think when you are lying on an ER bed with your heart feeling like it is threatening to leap out of your chest, it’s time to make all the changes. It is time to slow down, abandon the shame that creeps up when you sleep too long, spend some time in the sun and stop pretending like you can push through everything on your own. My norm had become work, panic at any given time, planning for writing events, endless breathing exercises, and cleaning up after my psoriasis riddled body on every surface in the house.

In Florida with Hubby
My first magazine feature!

I was accepting all of THAT as my norm. It wasn’t until I read in the literature provided by my dermatologist that a study found that psoriasis can contribute to anxiety and depression by sending certain messages to your brain that I decided to stop the madness. If I thought I could make it as a raw foodist who does yoga and swims in saltwater pools everyday, maybe I wouldn’t have decided to make the changes I did. I am on new medication that has started clearing my skin, reducing inflammation and I can finally make it through the day without fearing I am approaching the edge.

I also went to a couple of Strongman training classes. I have hurt my back and my wrist but I will hopefully be back next week. It was a shock to the body to be back deadlifting such heavy weight but if I keep at it, I know it will feel like me again.

While I was at one of my lowest days a couple of months ago, I took a drive. I started to have thoughts I can’t bring myself to write here but they were not healthy. What I realize now is that I couldn’t see it for what it was at the time but I remember something that snapped me out of it—the smell of pine needles. My windows were down and I could smell something natural, strong and real after cooping myself up in the house for days. It reminded me how much I love being here, awareness and how much I wanted to fight to always feel that way. Outside of the ER visit, that was the turning point for me.

I spent so much time afraid of taking chances with doctors that I wasn’t giving myself a chance.

I was robbing myself of choice.

This past year and a half showed me that my world could be bigger. I could unapologetically share my truths. I am grateful that I realized I was limiting myself by not taking those chances.

I don’t think God made Kristina a limited being. A flawed one—yes but not a fearful, limited being.

That’s what I hope to express more here—an expansion, curiosity and exploring more of what’s to come.