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.

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.

Apology

I will not apologize for taking up space.

I will not apologize for taking up space.

I will not apologize for taking up space.

I uttered those words to myself during a yoga class last night as instructed. I must spend a lot of time apologizing for the space I take up because I choked up every time I freed the sentence from my mouth. I must have been apologizing internally while shifting on the couch or the bed or scooting past someone on a trail or a sidewalk without even realizing it. Or every time I said or wrote or posted something that had the possibility of upsetting or making another feel discomfort. I like to think of myself as someone who wasn’t apologizing or shrinking but I am not that good of a liar.

And I shouldn’t be.

I don’t want to get good at lying or suppressing the truth to myself. It all begins with me. It all begins with how I choose to talk to myself.

How I choose to take up space.

In class last night, we spread our arms wide. I moved my outstretched arms and open palms left to right in my darkened guest room. I forgot about all the other people in virtual community with me on the screen and felt the wind from my back and forth motions.

I set my intention to be free for 45 minutes.

Even when my arms trembled from strain. Even when my breasts and belly blocked my view of the screen. Even when grace did not find me.

I chose freedom.

I chose me.

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.

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.

Go See This Film

On Saturday, a friend of mine asked me to go to the movies to see Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am. My friend and I had tears in our eyes by the end. I scooted to the edge of my seat several times as if I was at a thriller. It has taken me a few days to process what I was feeling. Inspired? Challenged? Convicted?

I don’t have all of the right words that won’t be a regurgitation of scenes from the film.

So I will just say all of this:

It made me feel like I could write anything or work on one dream while lifting up the dreams of others or raise children or write from a place that doesn’t take the white male gaze into account or be unapologetic about wanting to be celebrated and unapologetic about my Blackness or my faith or turn down the volume of doubt in my own head or from others or be fiercely private or lay it all out there for the world to see and hear. Embrace the sunrise as I put pen to paper. It made me want to… everything.

 

 

 

 

Full Circle

I had a full circle moment this morning.

I sat in my car after Afro-Caribbean dance class and recorded a quick video about how I felt. I was tired, flushed and revealing a bit too much nostril but that was alright. More than alright. It was real. I was grateful to be engaged in an activity that was just for me. It has nothing to do with furthering my career, no one was making me do it and I hadn’t enlisted any of my friends to come with me.

It’s not that I wouldn’t welcome company because I would. Sometimes, I think we all need to give ourselves permission to try new things without any expectations or opinions from others.

Go it alone.

And that’s what I’ve been doing. This is a need I’ve had for some time. I wrote a piece about it a few months ago. If you would like to read more about it, here is the link: Epiphany

When I had this epiphany a few months ago, I started crying. That’s how much I missed taking dance classes, moving this brown mass of a body rhythmically around a room, in a line, smiling, sweaty, even shy and nervous with others. Collapsing in the car this morning, I recognized I had made it happen. I made the choice to put away my silly fears about being too big, fretting about the psoriasis scars up and down my arms and moved from stillness into action.

Like I said, I had come full circle.

And I’m not going back.

Day 5

This has been the hardest by far. If I had a word for today, it would be resistance. I am not sure it is worth trying to figure out why. My husband and I went to a late movie last night and didn’t wind down until almost 2:00am. I had a great time and I don’t regret it. However, I am sure in the deep recesses of my mind, I am sure I told myself the lie that I would get up before church and walk. I slept until the very last minute and then some.

My husband and I stopped by a juice bar which was refreshing but I knew I needed to drink some water. I got home and still didn’t do it. I ate and ended up passing out on the couch without a drop to drink. When I woke up, I was determined to make up for my laziness earlier. I felt achy and tired and my mind was screaming for this to be the day that I blog about the one day I failed and I would just wake up tomorrow and try again. But that is something I am used to telling myself.

I went out and walked twice as long and have finished about half of my water intake. And I will workout with my 5lb weights in a couple of hours. I just don’t want to slip up unless there is an absolute real emergency. And as I write this, I am reminded of how much I have been given. I have breath, arms and legs, presence of mind and I am safe.

There are so many others who cannot say the same. I am thinking of those trying to escape flooding in Texas, those who struggle with debilitating physical and mental health issues, those children who live in food insecurity and so much more. I am taking all that I have and making it into something good. Something worthwhile. I owe it to myself. I cannot even give more of myself, to my husband, family, writing and the community in which I live until I do that, live up to all that has been given to me.

I am releasing this spirit of resistance. It certainly does not serve me well.

Stay tuned for Day 6!

Comment below on how you combat resistant thoughts.