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.

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.

Alive

I have been trying to stay away from the news, the endless trauma reel of Black life being taken senselessly.

I had to turn my camera off in a Zoom staff meeting because I saw I was beginning to cry when a friend spoke about his lady’s fear for his Black body.

It reminded me of all the times my flesh, volcanic in its tremor, quaked for my love.

The times where I wanted to dig my fingernails into his arms, lock my thighs around his torso so he couldn’t leave and expose himself to a world not nearly good enough for him.

My breasts swell and ache.

My face grows warm.

My pulse wants to free itself from my body and pound on concrete, dirt.

This is me.

This is me being alive right now.

When I Wrote Myself True

The day before the launch of She Lives Here, I took a writing class entitled “Write Yourself True.” When I enrolled, I knew I wanted to focus and write about something other than my book and matters related to the impending launch.

By the time we got to the third prompt, I felt like I was in a place to write without judging myself. Perhaps it was the meditation leading up to the prompt that silenced the noise. During the meditation, we were asked to close our eyes, picture ourselves on a path, encountering someone walking towards us—an older version of ourselves. Here is what came from it (unedited):

Maybe I should have known the person, the presence walking towards me would have been me. I could feel myself smile when I heard it. I immediately wanted this older, wiser version of myself to hug me. Her hair was gray, curly and cropped close. She was wearing all white as if a future me would be this celestial figure floating down from heaven to meet me on this path (which was on a beach by the way).

She is taller than me and when she enfolds me in her arms, I am home. She kisses me like my mother does. Her skin is clear, smile bright and wide.

As we are hugging, she whispers to me “You’re going to be OK. You will be happy.”

I ask her, face still buried in her neck “Did it have to be so hard?”

She doesn’t answer. Maybe it’s something I have to answer for myself. Is it all in the way I look at it? The infertility struggle, the painful psoriasis struggle, the anxiety struggle, the fibroids, the PCOS…

I felt like she was gifting me with peace.

If I had the opportunity to find my 20-year old self on this path, I would hug her too. Let her know it can be survived, questions will be answered, honest love will be found.

I just thought:

I wish the three of us could speak to each other all at once.

******************************************************

My hope is to remember that the first thing I wanted was a hug from my older self and in turn, wanted to embrace and comfort my younger self.

The Launch of She Lives Here

This past Friday, my new book She Lives Here was celebrated virtually on Life in 10 Minutes’ FB page. I have been asked several times since then how I feel. I feel relieved, excitement, hopeful and more at peace. I didn’t even know how much anxious or nervous energy my body carried until Saturday night, where I slept for well over 9 hours. I was even full of adrenaline Friday night. I paced the room,. feeling like I should be going somewhere but where do you go to let loose in a pandemic?

The launch party itself was a lovely experience—the introduction, the reading and the Q&A. The L10 Press team and I logged on a few minutes early to get settled and prepare for showtime. I am glad we did because it gave me time to breathe deeply and mentally ready myself to read into the Zoom void. I chose 8 pieces to read and decided to end it with my last piece “She Lives Here” because I wanted to emphasize leaning into joy. I wanted to end feeling triumphant.

During the reading, the only visible audience I had was my publisher, Valley who fist pumped and pantomimed claps enough for 10 people. Her muted presence spurred me on. What was unexpected is the emotion that bubbled up when I read one of my more vulnerable pieces entitled “The Rules.” The first time I ever read it aloud to my husband, I teared up. I have read it to myself a handful of times since so when I found myself choking back tears, there was a sense of surprise but I pushed through. I knew the pieces that make me feel more inspired were coming and I would find refuge in reading them.

Launch party night!

After it was all over, I had time to respond to messages and watch the playback. One of the things I treasured most was reading the comments. There was so much love in that virtual room. I knew they could feel me. It was what I wanted more than anything. For my words on the page to be taken to another level, an understanding that cannot be matched in someone else’s voice.

I look forward to doing more readings, interviews and sharing more of my heart with readers. I hope more of you can join me as I continue to choose joy as She Lives Here makes its way out into the world.

If you would like to order your own copy, please go to https://www.lifein10minutes.com/unzipped-issues/unzipped-issue-2-she-lives-here or for a digital copy, it’s available on Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

Look at me. Look at my face.

In the past month, I’ve had the opportunity to speak a couple of times about my new book She Lives Here which will be released on March 15th. I have been grateful for it and it came with some realizations.

At the start of the new year, three words would not leave me: open, unmask and free. I knew if I was going to give my all to the process of writing this book and promoting it, I would have to embody these words. I was going to have to stop saying things like “I’m not the look at me, look at my face girl” because it can’t be true if I am leading with my voice and my words. My voice and words are coming out of me, literally coming out of the mouth that’s on my face.

While I may not be the woman who takes 50 (or even 2) selfies a day, I cannot pretend I don’t yearn for recognition and that I am not proud of the work I’ve done. I actually admire women who do put more of themselves out there. I admire the confidence and the willingness to shut out the noise of others’ judgements about how they express themselves.

I have written about being seen (despite any insecurities I may have about psoriasis flares) or not waiting until something is my version of perfection before stepping out of shadows and into the light. Right now, I feel like it’s the perfect time to call my bluff. If perfection is impossible, what is possible?

That is what I would like to lead with in my life.

The possibilities. Exploring them, giving voice to them and making myself wildly uncomfortable in them.

She’s Here!

I asked God to make me like water. It’s a sentence I have written down several times over the past few weeks as I have been preparing for the release of my new book of prose and poetry “She Lives Here” with L10 Press (Issue 2 of Unzipped, their new literary magazine subscription service).

I am proud of this book and am in love with the cover art created by Alexandra Antoine.

I have been writing about God making me like water because while I know overall this process is a joyful one, there will be moments of overwhelm and frustration. Since perfection doesn’t live here (or anywhere else), I will make a mistake while being interviewed, find a typo or someone I expect to support me decides not to. Even though my nature is to try to control these outcomes, the truth is that these things are inevitable. I want to ride this wave of gratitude for everything that has gone right.

When I was 11, I wrote about what kind of writer I wanted to be. I dreamed of being a novelist and writing for TV. Although the description doesn’t quite match the reality at this time, there is a part of me that wants to reach back 29 years and tell that little girl, “We did it!” A friend of mine asked me how it feels to know you wrote it down as a child and didn’t let the dream go. I didn’t have the words. It means I didn’t forget about her. I didn’t let alternate career choices, other people’s expectations, my own fear, anxiety, perceived ideas of “what should happen” stop me from trying.

I also want to let things flow like water, be water, is because I cannot control any reaction to my work either. As I wrote, I tried to embody the Nikki Giovanni quote: “You must be unintimidated by your own thoughts because if you write with someone looking over your shoulder, you’ll never write.” It took a couple drafts to get there but I trusted in the value of not holding back. I am thinking back to how I placed some of my more raw pieces in the middle of an earlier draft as if my publisher and editor wouldn’t be able to find it. I had to trust in the healing my relationships went through so I could open up about traumas and disappointments experienced in a real way. I know what has been worked through so I could write without deep fear of being disrespectful.

I ultimately wrote with freedom and love.

While writing, I gained clarity on why I made certain rules for myself, how, what and who I love, my capacity for forgiveness and the value of accountability. Writing “She Lives Here” has created space for me to be more of who I am—a Black woman who chooses to dream, live, and write with joy.

With joy, I would like to invite you to the virtual launch party of “She Lives Here” on Life in 10 Minutes’ Facebook page on March 19th at 5pm EST!

If you would like to pre-order before the official release on March 15th:

https://www.lifein10minutes.com/unzipped-issues/unzipped-issue-2-she-lives-here

I hope you all enjoy “She Lives Here” and find pieces that inspire or speak to you.