Tribe

What does it mean? Tribe? Have I found mine? Have I found several? Have I always belonged?  One told me my skin, along a continuum of brown was beautiful. My Black is Beautiful.

Another tells me that lakay means home and Aux Cayes bears almost forgotten, almost sanded off imprints of my DNA.

Attached myself to a tribe of people who call themselves Greats and to another who picked up the Pen and put the Fears down.

So many names I have gone by:

Great, Black, Brown-Skinned, Haitian, American, Haitian-American, Writer, African-American, Christian, Woman, Wife, Sister, Natural.

I am a member. I fell in. I joined. I paid. I listened. I spoke up. I have shouted. I have risen. I have sat down. I have dreamed. I have cowered. I have fallen down. I have kneeled with purpose. I have prayed. I have cursed. I have written.

I was born.

Within this tribe, these tribes, I am human. I have found my humanity and I find myself extending my hand to touch yours.

A Time Gone By

Part of me disappeared. There was a pocket of time in my life where I spoke up in class. I made friends with people from all over the planet. I ran miles every day. I felt almost guilty for eating or even speaking to others until I got my run in. I wore glasses. I straightened my hair, continuing in the tradition of what I was trained to do with my own head.

I flirted too much. I had a group of guys who used to call me Ms. Mocha. I went to musicals and opera recitals. I danced every week. I did handstands in yoga class.

I fell in love with someone who never loved me back, someone who could make my throat dry and stomach flutter simultaneously. I traveled to Costa Rica. When I or a friend was heartbroken, we threw Chocolate and Champagne nights. I said goodnight in Japanese to my roommate. I spoke about August Wilson. Sometimes, I felt like I was sauntering for no good reason.

I had two close friends but had a sneaking suspicion I was the third wheel.

I was away at college.

 

A Proposition

 

I’m taking a class that is stretching every fiber, tendon, bone, vessel in my body entitled “Pens Up, Fears Down.” We were assigned to write a short story using three words we randomly picked from a bag. I haven’t attempted to write a short story in a long time but was thrilled with the challenge. Here is “A Proposition”:

I’ve just returned to the house after running errands and start putting away everything from his grocery list: apples, bananas, chicken breasts, broccoli spears, oatmeal, almond milk and his one vice: thick loaves of French bread. I spill apples on the kitchen island and quickly pile them in the mauve fruit bowl. I fish a water bottle out of my purse and take a long swallow.

            There is a nook with a pillowed bench nestled underneath a tall and expansive bay window. I sit there and unhook the clasp of my leather-bound journal. I begin to jot down things I wish I had the courage to say aloud. After a while, I snap it shut. I go upstairs, gripping the wooden railing with one hand and his dry cleaning with the other. I hang the shirts up in the guest room.

            I tiptoe into the bathroom, as if anyone is home to be disturbed by a heavy footstep. I strip off my clothes, leaving my heap of sale rack wears on the heated floor. I perch on the edge of the clawfoot tub, watching it fill up before pouring the Mango Butter Bath Oil into the water. I like the alternating cool and warm streams of air disrupting my bare skin. I pour two capfuls and ease myself in, relishing the luxury and the silence.

            About forty-five minutes later, I grab a lavender towel and wrap it around my body, cinching it at my chest. I peer down, admiring how the color compliments my skin. If he could only see me, I think, pleased at the image I was conjuring up. I lift the stopper and watch remnants of me swirl and disappear down the drain. I spray a cleanser over the porcelain, rinse the tub, and wipe it dry. I focus on my reflection in the mirror and turn my face, inspecting my chin and jaw line. I could use a facial. I shrug my shoulders, grab a body butter from a woven basket and massage it onto my skin, letting it seep into my pores.

            Once fully dry, I set off for the closet. It would be a haven for any fashionista. Swaths of fabric and color delight and overwhelm me. I finally choose the floral print summer dress with the flouncy skirt, cotton blend and Italian silk. I slip it over my head and watch it settle over the curves and angles. I twirl over and over again, catching my reflection in the full-length mirror at each turn.

            I know I am daring to stay a little longer this time. But a single thought persists, feeding my tunnel vision: I belong here…with him. I hear a creaking sound which stops me mid-spin, my reverie interrupted. I put everything back in its place methodically, with deft movements I’ve perfected over the last two years. Jogging down the steps with the laundry basket and used towel in tow, I realize paranoia has gotten the best of me. No one is here. I shove the linens and detergent in the washer and start a new cycle.

            “Ronda?”

            “Hi.” I’m back here in the laundry room!” I call out. He appears in the doorway.

            “I have a proposition for you.”

            My eyes widen, filled with anticipation and longing. “Yes?”

            “What would you think of increasing your hours Monday through Thursday and in return, we give you Fridays off?”

            “That works for me. Thanks, Gabe!”

            “It’s settled then. See you tomorrow! Oh, and tell Michael I said hello. I am sure he will appreciate having his wife home on Fridays.”

            “I think so, too. See you tomorrow.”

Can you guess the three words I was tasked to use? Comment below.  I hope this encourages you to take a leap and write a piece in a genre that is uncomfortable or new to you.

Have You Forgotten How to Play?

This past fall, I was with my trainer at the park. As part of our workout, she asked me to climb one of the fitness trail ladders just off the path. I took a step up on the first rung and I felt dizzy.  I stepped back down, reeling but determined to try again. What shocked me was that this is something I would have delighted in as a child. I may not have been what anyone would have considered an athlete. My unabashed preference for Baby-Sitters Club books over playing organized sports was clearly evident every day of the week and twice on Sunday. But I also was a child who was fortunate enough to be born in the years before rampant screen fixation.

Seesawing in a summer dress

And that meant endless afternoons of freeze and cartoon tag, hide and go seek, four-square, sidewalk chalk art, foot races and bike rides. I knew what it meant to experience immediate joy upon the sight of a playground, ready to climb, flip, swing, slide and seesaw from the word go. It did not matter if I was in a summer dress, buttoned up in a winter coat or in my corduroys. But all the changes and responsibilities that come with time and age can fade those memories or the desire to renew them away.

I know there are many who never forgot. But I did. I had forgotten how to play. I thought the exhilaration of a simple climb only belonged to those who were already fit, always poised for an obstacle course. I am glad I discovered I was wrong.

Climbing 3

How about you? Have you forgotten how to play? Please share in the comments below.

Forever

You ever have a moment where your pulse quickens and then it all slows down and you find yourself in flow? Two weeks ago, that was how I felt as I approached the head of the table where I would be standing to read four pieces I had written. I heard myself pause, my voice inflecting, letting the words drive what the audience would hear and how they would hear it. When I was asked to read my work as part of RVA Lit Crawl (Richmond’s first), I don’t know how I saw it going but there was a feeling I could readily identify: boundless joy.

I realized I let the words drive the direction my eyes went as well. They took in my fellow writers at the table, my husband, my parents, longtime friends, newly reacquainted ones, and the pairs of eyes I did not know, sitting on chairs, couches, a bench and on each step in the staircase. I only once broke for a second, hearing the thunder and rain that made its presence known over my voice. I felt my face warm and burn between each piece, almost not knowing what to do with the applause and cheers.

When it was over, I sat down and let my breath go. I had been first so it was my turn to watch these beautiful people bare it all, make us laugh and tear up. I allowed myself to become enthralled with the talent I was witnessing. There were times where we were rendered silent with the sheer power, especially during the last piece when the writer erupted into song, effortless and gut-wrenching.

When it was all done, we gathered around for pictures. In each face, I saw the boundless joy. I saw the beauty. I saw the love in these storytellers. I mentally raise a glass to all who read and all who came out to support us each time I think about it. I could do this forever.

Second Church

I would drive to the bookstore, a place I used to call second church. I never had to kneel in second church. I think my gaze held such reverence for my environment that it did all the kneeling, hand clasping, and shouting Hallelujah for me. I don’t know if there ever was a casual visit. I walked through the doors, let my fingers trace designs on covers, read synopses that made me want to burn my notebook. I warmed my body by sitting in the café, sipping coffee and enveloping myself in a story so epic it asked me to go home and pray for a tenth of the talent it took to write such beauty.

 I know I should have no idols before Him but surely words that emanate from His created beings can make me want to worship Him more. 

Second church was more than escape. I was allowing myself to transcend beyond paper and print. I was literally surrounded by palpable courage, men and women who not only told a story but revealed a truth, did not sit idly by, who punched through a wall of gutless fear and laziness, who showed it all, bruised and battered and bloodied, daring people to critique and laugh and cry, who knew one day someone would pass their work and not give it a second look or one look at all, who knew their words could transform and inspire, or one day be hauled off as garbage, sit in a corner of a dusty bedroom or be used as kindling in a fire.

Or forgotten.

And when I felt like I was being pushed over the edge or pushing myself over the edge, this is where I went. Put myself in the center of it all. Trying to find where I fit, where the me-shaped piece went. One place that held so many questions and answers in its grip at the same time.

My hours were never wasted.

I always left second church restored.

The Butterfly and the Lion

Right now, I am thinking of burning it all down. I am thinking of torching it and watching its splendid ashes float to the ground. Every time I step outside of my chalk-lined box or circle forever made around me. That is what I am doing.

I am lighting the match. I am knocking down trees with my bare fists, not caring how bloodied my knuckles become. Because I get to be the bulldozer and not the bulldozed. You may think it takes an act of gigantic proportion but to me, it is whipping around Manhattan on tired feet last week or opening my mouth and letting the words fall out, letting them hang and sit for my sister to hear, the words I have longed to tell her for almost 2 years—I miss you.

The act of taking this class and not apologizing for sitting here on a Wednesday morning. Every new thing, everything I hadn’t seen myself doing burns it down, slays a monster, feels like I could give a butterfly the strength of a lion.

Butterfly mosaic

It closes the curtain of who I thought I was, what I “should” be doing, fear of what someone would say or how lost I would become.

That curtain doesn’t get to come back up.

I am not a walking color.

I am not a walking color. I am not a walking color. I am not a walking color. I am not a Black robot that walks and talks. I am a Haitian-American woman, born in Queens, New York. Hearing two languages spoken around me was my norm. Rice and beans are my norm.

I became a Southerner by moving to Virginia Beach at age five. I never became a Southern belle. That is not me. I cry when I pray. I laugh so hard I snort. I dance by myself. I played pretend. I built forts with my brother and took pictures on the beach with my sister. I crushed on boys who didn’t like me and avoided some who did. I have gained and lost hundreds of pounds.

I am married. I am madly in love with my best friend, my husband. I fear for his health sometimes. I joke and tell him we are going out of this world together, hands clasped together on the same bed, Notebook style. I will be 100. You will be 110. Them’s the rules! I joke in an awful country accent.

I wear an afro. Reading was my first love. I have swallowed more rage than I can recount since I was a little girl because to some people, I am a walking color. I am a walking color.

I just want to be seen as whole, flawed and love.

I want you to see the God in me.

I see Him in you.

A Whim

In January, I started a workshop called Life in 10 Minutes. I placed a bid on a whim at the James River Writer’s Conference after attending one of the last sessions. The women who worked the table enthusiastically encouraged me to pick that one specifically. I was a bit hesitant because I saw that the workshop’s focus was non-fiction. I had been so wrapped up in writing my book that I hadn’t given other genres of writing much thought.

I arrived to the first day of class, with my notebook and pen in hand, completely unaware of much else. It was a group of us, all women being guided by Valley Haggard. We all introduced ourselves and I was one of two newbies to the group. The rest had shared pieces of their lives with each other for at least a year. Everyone was welcoming and smiling but I couldn’t help but feel the tension that comes along with exposing your thoughts for the first time to a group of complete strangers. Valley explained we would write ten minutes at a time, and immediately read our unedited work aloud to the group.

I had nothing to be worried about.

It was more than a safe space. To me, it became a space to be free. Freedom space? I fell in love with writing, spilling, gushing, declaring, confessing ten minutes at a time. It pushed me to say things aloud to others that I was unable to before.

I wanted to carry these feelings with me and sprinkle its essence on my husband, family, friends and strangers. It feels funny to think of it as something I signed up for on a whim. I was probably hurtling towards this all along.

My Why

I didn’t think I was looking for “greatness” when I was searching YouTube for podcasts to listen to one afternoon. I happened upon Eric Thomas being interviewed by Lewis Howes, host of The School of Greatness podcast. I listened intently. One thing I know about myself is when I am connecting with whatever I am reading, listening to or watching, I find myself nodding. 

It is almost imperceptible, but it’s happening.

The next thing I know I am subscribing to the channel, receiving emails, listening to a live webinar, entranced during an amazing visualization exercise. As contrived as that might seem to some, it was transformational for me. A girl like me wears doubt and suspicion like a favorite pair of jeans. For some reason, my guard kept slipping down. Although I give much credit to Lewis and The School of Greatness team for their content and execution, there was something greater at work.

It was the thing that God planted in me, part of my Why for being here.

I always knew I was supposed to be a writer and as each year passed, I became more irritated that I hadn’t done anything about it but write unfinished work in the privacy of my own home. Something about setting goals, having a routine, finding mentors and group accountability made my soul want to rise to the occasion.

I had already signed up for the James River Writer’s Conference and a slot to pitch my work to an agent there. I knew there was something else that would propel me forward, help me speak and move in that space with the confidence I needed. I found it as a student in The School of Greatness Academy. In the midst of the class, I bought tickets to the first Summit of Greatness that took place in Columbus, Ohio this past September. Although I wasn’t sure I was going at first, one experience changed my mind.

I was at a book signing for Jennifer Weiner and I saw the only other Black woman in the room, just as engaged as I was. The academy’s lesson that week urged us to meet more people. As my friends and I stood in line, I noticed the woman was right behind us. She was wearing a beautiful skirt and better than that, a smile. I complimented her on her outfit and she encouraged me to go for my writing dreams, as she had overheard our conversation moments before. It turns out this woman is a successful author in her own right and I ended up going to her book signing just a couple of weeks later! (She is now my writing workshop teacher but that is a story for another time).

That was all the confirmation I needed to move forward with my trip to Ohio. I am not sure how to describe it without exhausting clichés but Lewis Howes said he wanted it to feel like Christmas morning. He nailed it. The speakers were amazing. I met Stacy London, someone whose nurturing, humor and confidence I had long admired while watching What Not to Wear. I even stood up, in the midst of hundreds to tell her so. I was proud to tell that I was pitching a novel and I was not going to let weight or psoriasis play any role except for background extra while attacking my dreams.

She had tears and I believe I blanked out a bit as I was sharing and spilling remnants of my heart for all to see.

There was so much more to the experience: dance workout, Top Chef Fabio Viviani, super athlete and motivational speaker Kyle Maynard and the speech and music provided by DJ Irie.

I was bowled over most of all by the love and the energy that being in a room full of people who were not in the business of excuse making could create. They were giving away hugs like candy and were as accepting as they were motivating.

So when I got home and came down from that high, one could have expected me just to go back to status quo but it was impossible for me. I went to the Writer’s Conference, pitched that agent, garnered interest and signed up for a writing class for the first time in my life. I am still at work on my novel, have taken two sessions of that first class and I am currently enrolled in a third where I am already growing from the feedback I have received on my novel. I have met a few writers in my local community whereas before the fall, I knew none.

I am most excited about the fact that this is just the beginning. The fears that eased its way in, wrapped its serpent-like body around my soul and settled in for the duration has found a new home. I know it still likes to swing by and see if there is still a vacancy but my light stays shut off, even when I am tired, frustrated or anxious. There is no rest for its weary head here.