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.

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.

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.

Year 4 of Bloglikecrazy

Today is Day 30. The last day of bloglikecrazy challenge. As predicted, there would be times where I didn’t feel like it or I was grasping at straws to find just the right thing to write. As I promised myself at the beginning, there was no beating myself up if I couldn’t finish this or anything else.

At the beginning of the month, I started Miracle Mornings, rising just before 5am to learn more about morning routine, entrepreneurship and exercise. I realized I was left a mess on most of those mornings and gave it up halfway through the month. I have no regrets. I acknowledge my limits and abide by them.

I also had a rough draft to turn in. I did and although I have plenty of work and writing left to do, that first part is over. I also led a self-care workshop for co-workers and am in the midst of planning my first community workshop for this weekend.

Some of my greatest joys from this month came this last week from an invigorating walk, seeing my family over Zoom and a couples Zoom game night with my sister and her husband. I remembered how much I loved our game nights in their kitchen. My sister can attest to me being a little loud (especially when I win) and competitive but all in good fun.

I rejoined the See Jane Write Collective. The virtual write-ins were integral to me getting work done on pieces I hadn’t fully developed yet. I also had a post inspired by a podcast interview with Lewis Howes and Pulitzer Prize winning poet Jericho Brown, “Make a Plan”, retweeted by the poet himself!

December will bring lots more work, classes and aching to see my family. I am not even mentally prepared to be without them on Christmas Day. My husband and I will have to start our own special traditions.

Each year, I ask myself if I will participate in bloglikecrazy again. I always end up saying yes. November becomes my month to pay closer attention to the wisdom I hear, the beauty I see and the love inside and around me.

I get to walk through this process with See Jane Write sisters. I learn about their traditions, families, businesses, art, healing and passions over 30 days. It doesn’t leave me with much of anything to say “No” to. I am proud to say year 4 is done and year 5, I look forward to you.

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.

Wrestle

I’ve been wrestling with words lately. West African Lutte traditionnelle. Senegalese Laamb. Greco-Roman. Sumo.

Writing in print, needlessly in and out of cursive, striking keys, struggling to fit the words that already told me they don’t belong, deleting, violently scratching out the black ink, the blue ink, erasing the graphite, turning phrases over in my mind, a cycle so dizzying I shut my eyes only to open them again and start anew.

I have worked on 5 different versions of the same piece. I decided to walk away but when my mind wanders it comes back to the same story, waiting to be told. This may be obsession but this also may be necessity.

It feels as if I am on the brink of being bested but a part of me is confident, when the time is right, I will let go.

Allow myself to play on the page and trust what will be is the divine order of things.

Esther Belin

Today, I want to do something I haven’t done in awhile here. Shine a light on a poet.

Esther Belin is a Dine writer and multimedia artist based out of Colorado. She is the author of “From the Belly of my Beauty” and “Of Cartography: Poems.”

I chose “Night Travel” simply because of the way it connected me to memory especially here: “we’d be hungry for travel and for being almost home.”

I have been there. If you ever took a long car ride at night, Dad at the wheel, you’ve been there. Even if those are not your memories, Belin invites you to be a passenger in her daddy’s truck, reliving the darkness and the road with her.

Night Travel

BY ESTHER BELIN

I.
I like to travel to L.A. by myself
My trips to the crowded smoggy polluted by brown
indigenous and immigrant haze are healing.
I travel from one pollution to another.
Being urban I return to where I came from
My mother
survives in L.A.
Now for over forty years.

I drive to L.A. in the darkness of the day
on the road before CHP
one with the dark
driving my black truck
invisible on my journey home.

The dark roads take me back to my childhood
riding in the camper of daddy’s truck headed home.
My brother, sister and I would be put to sleep in the camper
and sometime in the darkness of the day
daddy would clime into the cab with mom carrying a thermos full of coffee and some Pendleton blankets
And they would pray
before daddy started the truck
for journey mercies.

Often I’d rise from my lullaby sleep and stare into the darkness of the road
the long darkness empty of cars
Glowy from daddy’s headlights and lonesome from Hank Williams’ deep and twangy voice singing of cold nights and cheatin’ hearts.

About an hour from Flagstaff
the sun would greet us
and the harsh light would break the darkness
and we’d be hungry from travel and for being almost home.

II.
I know the darkness of the roads
endless into the glowy path before me
lit by the moon high above and the heat rising from my truck’s engine.
The humming from tires whisper mile after mile
endless alongside roadside of fields shadowy from glow.

I know the darkness of the roads
It swims through my veins
dark like my skin
and silenced like a battered wife.
I know the darkness of the roads
It floods my liver
pollutes my breath
yet I still witness the white dawning.