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.

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.

Revisiting 75hard

I got a reminder that today makes one year since I completed the 75hard challenge. There was a picture of a group strength training class and video of me taking my final–150th workout in 75 days. 75hard challenge comprised of 2 45-minute workouts, reading 10 pages of a personal development book, drink a gallon of water, no alcohol and following a diet of your choice each day for 75 days. It was both hard and helpful that the last 30 days of 75hard fell during bloglikecrazy.

The truth is that the reminder snuck up on me. I didn’t realize it had been a year. I knew it was close but 2020 has disoriented my sense of time and a sense of myself. During 75hard, I was planning on competing in a Strongman, training for the possibility of a Trifecta (three Spartan races) and for the first time, I saw a new thing emerge in me. An athletic me, a physically competitive me, the me who knew she would fall and never come in first, but was willing to shatter those perfectionist tendencies.

I want to find her again. I need to find her again. It would be easy for me to slip all the way back permanently. I spent 39 years never truly competing. Never willing to break down the body. I jogged, belly danced, took Zumba, water aerobics, yoga, hot yoga. I never knew dedication.

Now that I know I want her back, it’s time to do what I can at home or outdoors by my lonesome. Buy (and use) weights, kettlebells, go on walks, stretch and plan for a safe way to compete again (hopefully) in 2021.

What I’m Excited About

5 Things I’m Excited About:

  1. Time off the next few days without the expectation of going to work, a class or a meeting. I have days off but I regularly schedule appointments, meetings and errands. The only thing I am committed to is posting here until the end of the month.

2. Time to read. Octavia Butler’s “The Parable of the Sower” and “The Parable of the Talents” have been on tables and nightstands throughout my home. Started and put back down to write, sleep, work and binge watch to unwind. I am a better writer when I read and also far more inspired.

3. Taking a few more bike rides before it gets too cold. We haven’t out on our bikes in a while and I want to get back out there. I don’t believe I have ridden my bike through fall leaves since I was a little girl. I am looking forward to doing that again.

4. My upcoming workshop “Get Lifted: Using Music and Poetry to Find Your Light.” I keep finding songs and poems that seem perfect for it. I am hopeful listening, writing and reading aloud together will produce an experience that actually leaves us lighter and ready to try it again.

5. Seeing my family over Zoom tomorrow. It’s been a few months since we have all seen each other at the same time virtually and in person, years. COVID-19 has taken away so much but it cannot take this.

Jingle Jangle

I watched “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey on Netflix yesterday afternoon. It is the tale of toy inventor, Jeronicus Jangle, finding his way back to believing in himself with the help of his precocious genius granddaughter, Journey, many years after an apprentice stole his work that led to financial ruin. I knew it would be full of song, dance and Christmas cheer but I didn’t expect it to be the movie I needed to see in 2020.

It delighted me to see a Black cast expressing joy so unabashedly. It allowed me to indulge in this magical fantasy without racism lingering in the shadows. I loved seeing beautiful brown skinned children surrounding their grandmother (played by the incomparable Phylicia Rashad) clamoring to hear this story amid a crackling fire and Christmas decorations. The costumes were gorgeous. The idea of an Afro-Victorian fusion was genius. One of many highlights was a snowball fight and dance between Journey and Jeronicus and set to an Afrobeats song.

The acting was incredible and I would expect nothing less from Forest Whitaker, Keegan Michael Key and Anika Noni Rose but the children shone so brightly, too! I wasn’t taken out of the fantasy even once.

There were many messages delivered centered around believing in yourself but this by far was the most moving from Jeronicus to Journey:”Never be afraid when people can’t see what you see. Only be afraid if you no longer see it.” It’s one of those messages tailor made for everyone, but especially for those who may be on the brink of losing hope. Now that is something I believe we can also use a little more of in 2020.

Ascension

Last night, I cooked spelt spaghetti listening and intermittently peering into the living room to catch scenes from Solange’s When I Get Home visual album. I love the scenes with Black cowboys, riding regally down Houston streets.

I cut that part of my evening short to virtually attend Brooklyn Public Library’s event #SAYHERNAME, A Public Reading of Audre Lorde’s Need: A Chorale For Black Woman Voices, hosted by Sheena Wilson and moderated by my storytelling sister from University of Alabama, Tuacaloosa, Dr. Jameka Hartley.

There are times where you should be speaking and there are times where you should just listen. Last night was a time to listen. It was not because Jameka and her fellow poets, Keya and Liseli read Ms. Lorde’s work beautifully.

It was because I needed to learn.

During Jameka’s introduction, she mentioned she was moved to do this after the tragic death of the young activist, Toyin Salau, earlier this year. Need was written in 1979 after the death of 12 Black women in four short months in the Boston area. Sadly, we know why this is still happening.

Black women are still invisible. Our pain is ignored. But when we speak up a little too loudly about our pain or organize coalitions, birth movements, we are a threat–to colonized mentality, to governments, to whatever “status quo” is deemed to be.

I found myself typing and then erasing in the chat “Black women are invisible and perceived to be a threat simultaneously. It is infuriating.”

I erased it because I just wanted to listen and for that night to be about these scholarly sisters honoring Audre. Another one of my storytelling sisters spoke up about the adversity she’s encountered in her quest to secure quality mental health resources. This led to a discussion that included solutions in the form of a “kitchen table”, a close knit group of people with whom you can be vulnerable, calling on an ancestor and “dating” therapists until you’ve found “the one.”

There was commentary from the one man in the room about his need to protect his own sister and other Black women. Recognition of the fight of queer women like Audre Lorde and the founders of the Black Lives Matter was discussed.

At the end of the night, powerful poetry was recited for us. It was the perfect closing. After logging off, my husband asked how I felt. He heard my rejoicing and saw my head nodding vigorously throughout it.

He knew how I felt. He knows I want to be in a real room with those people. He knows I now want to close the door behind me with a stack of books written by Black women and do my homework. I want to write and read and shift my perspective.

I want to ascend.

So last night started with a pot of boiling pasta, being awestruck at Black cowboys and transcendent music and ended with Ms. Lorde’s work setting something ablaze inside of me.

Moving on

Hubby and I recently started talking about moving. I bought my home 13 years ago. I loved knowing I was a single woman in my 20’s buying property for no one but herself. I wasn’t waiting for marriage or for anyone to save me before making the leap, either. I have fond memories of my realtor walking me through the house, loving the layout, my walk-in closet and getting excited about being less than 10 minutes from work and the city.

I was so proud on the morning of my closing. My family and friends (except for one who was patronizing towards me) were happy for me. I felt like I had won, especially when I gripped the keys in my hands for the first time.

All these years later, I still feel a sense of pride for that young woman but I am also ready to say goodbye. I am at a stage where I know that although Hubby and I haven’t physically grown out of this place, emotionally we have moved on. I also realized there’s no permission needed to no longer hold on. I don’t need a security blanket.

We are slowly but surely making the changes we need. I am in no hurry to go. I am at peace with our decision even if we don’t know where we’ll be in a year or two.

I think this is what is called acceptance.

24 to 40

When I was 24, I graduated from college. Two years later, after a failed stint in a grad program that didn’t fit me, I moved back home and bought my first condo. Five years after that, I got married. A year later, I left my job which started me down a path to figure out what I was supposed to do. Two years after that, I enrolled in a different grad program and left after a successful semester of classes. By this time, every family member I had left the state, I developed fibroid tumors and psoriasis on most parts of my body.

A few months after leaving grad school, I knew if I was going to make anything creative work, I would have to do more writing than talking. I started writing a novel and had one article published. I joined a group of people trying to structure their lives and focus on goal setting. A couple of months later, I pitched said novel to an agent. The pitch went well and she requested pages. I sent her pages she did not love.

I kept writing this novel that seemed to go nowhere. I started a blog upon the suggestion of an agent at the writer’s conference where I pitched my idea. I took creative non-fiction and fiction writing classes, went to book signings and workshops and met other writers. I worked a few more jobs that had nothing to do with what I love most but you know, money.

When I was 37, I had a series of panic attacks I didn’t see coming. I thought working a soul numbing job, blogging three times a week, stressing about my husband’s health, writing a wedding vows journal and trying to keep up with life in general was a lot of things that were no big deal until I couldn’t breathe in the bed and then in front of my computer.

About a month later, I was let go for the first time from this job. I got back out there again and found one that was close by. At this time, I was still writing but not sure where any of it is going. I applied for a storytelling project for women of color. I actually get it. I fly to the University of Alabama. I feel myself coming to life again. My voice seems to be audible where it felt so quiet before. I had spoken a couple of places and published more but this was different.

I could be Black, insecure, awkward but vocal me. It didn’t matter I hadn’t found my footing professionally. In Alabama, I was surrounded by Black women who were excelling in every field from education, activism, music to law and social work. I could have felt less worthy but it didn’t matter. We all had stories to tell.

I flew back home and kept writing. I start working at a non-profit whose values more closely align with mine and eventually start facilitating creative non-fiction writing sessions there. I keep going to counseling and start weight training. I see myself as an athlete for the first time as a Strongman competitor. I keep writing because now it’s 2020 and I can’t hold back anymore of my rage, anxiety and frustration at the state of the world. I need to be free.

My writing becomes more honest.

I become more honest with myself.

I start thinking about turning this honesty into a book.

I receive a phone call. I am offered the opportunity to compile my work into a book by a publisher.

In a few days, I will be 40. I am just starting.

Because my life will always be a series of beginnings and endings.