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.

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.

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.

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.

Halfway Once More

A few minutes ago, I sent the first rough draft of my chapbook off to my publisher. I also connected with a talented artist friend of mine who will work on the cover. I know there’s plenty of work to do but getting this step done, pressing send at this point lifts a bit of the weight. It is fitting that halfway through bloglikecrazy, this part is finished. I made sure the load I was carrying never felt too heavy. I took advantage of the time I had at Miracle Mornings, weekends and a designated writing session with the See Jane Write Collective to get here.

I also have time to reflect on what many consider a big birthday. Tomorrow, I turn 40. I am currently not allowed to peek at our guest bedroom because there is supposed to be a surprise waiting there for me. I have the day off of work. I get to sleep, snuggle with my husband and be grateful to celebrate, even in a pandemic when I am missing my family.

Compared to most of the internet, my idea of celebrating my birthday is low-key at best. But outside of wishing I had a group of close family and friends to safely gather and watch me struggle to blow out my candles, I am happy. I can wait until next year. Maybe by then, I will be flying away from home, ushering in 41 with a new stamp on my passport.

What I Took For Granted

During a (socially distant) outdoor get-together a few days ago, a friend and I talked about what we missed about the pre-COVID-19 world. As we were talking, it quickly turned to what we had actually taken for granted.

  1. Going out to eat indoors at a bustling restaurant. I haven’t gone out to eat anywhere since March–even outdoors. I always enjoyed the occasional long lunch or dinner with my husband or friends. It was our time to shake off the cycle of going to work, coming home, watch TV/read/workout and sleep. I even miss looking over at other tables to see what they are eating, the clang of plates, forks and knives and the multitude of aromas floating from the kitchen.

2. Concerts. I hope I never say “I’ll see him/her/them next time they come” because now I don’t know when “next time” will be. The energy of singing along and rocking my body to a live performer in an arena or club with other fans is the kind of connection I miss sorely. It cannot be duplicated online.

3. Travel. I know some are masking up and taking the risk to fly but that isn’t for me right now. All those times I searched for flights to London, Ghana, to go back to Aruba but dismissed it, just knowing we would go later now seem like missed opportunities. I know there will be a time where it will be a safe reality again but I really didn’t know what I had until it was gone.

4. This one is big for me–time spent with family. All of my immediate family and cousins live hours away from me and out of state. Since my household is immunocompromised, taking the risk definitely isn’t worth it. There is an ache within me I know will only be soothed when I get to see, hug and kiss them safely again. If I could go back in time, I would have been in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, California, New York and Florida more often and never put it off because I thought the time would always be there. This virus has even taken away my husband and I being able to safely pay our respect in person for the loss of my beautiful Auntie in New York. I took for granted that I would see her again at another family function, a familiar and loving presence.

5. The feeling of safety. As a Black woman married to a Black man in America, safety isn’t always a guarantee but I never imagined the feeling of security would be robbed from me in this way. No one did. I can take all the precautions I want but if I don’t feel safe, it doesn’t matter. I won’t have peace.

Nothing is worth sacrificing my peace.

All I can do is watch and wait and work, connect with who and what I love and breathe.

And forgive.

Forgive myself for taking these small pleasures and great joys for granted.

Keeping my Promise

I missed my Miracle Morning session today. Some version of me woke up at 4:45am, shut off the alarm and passed right out.

I made a promise to myself that if I missed a day of anything (even bloglikecrazy), that I wouldn’t treat it as if the world has suddenly come crashing down on me. I am going to keep that promise and focus on what I feel grateful for today.

  1. Being able to sleep a full night. That is not always possible for me but especially not the last couple of days. Between anxiety, general restlessness and the state of the world, I tend to let my thoughts run me ragged until consciousness gives way for a few hours. Even with prayer. Even with deep breathing. Even with counting as if I have a residency on Sesame Street. Last night was peaceful and my journey to sleep was swift.
  2. My self-care writing session with my co-workers yesterday. Saying yes to vulnerability and the willingness to express how they combat loneliness were acts of bravery. I was facilitating but it was still one of those experiences where you say to yourself: “I got to be in the room for this.”
  3. Receiving a picture of my precocious and beautiful niece, masked up and ready for socially distant kindergarten. I am sending all of the “Auntie loves you. Auntie is proud of you” vibes I can.

Maybe there should be more but that is all I want to recognize today.

Even finding one bit of joy is enough.

An Offering

I don’t want to talk about me.

I want to talk about her.

She is mother’s mother

Matriarch and Patriarch

She is ancestor.

She is mortar and pestle on the kitchen counter.

Mayi moulen simmering on the stove

Floral and paisley painted on her skirts

Chanel lingering on her skin

Morning stretches in a pink mumu

Gazing at the miracle of Mother Mary on the wall, clutching her rosary.

She is a survivor who crossed oceans so the world could see

Her.

Throwing her head back while laughter and music floated from her throat

Joy unearthly

And we are tiny hands massaging her feet during Dallas and Falcon Crest on Friday nights

And sitting between her legs as she greased, parted and braided many a crown.

She is slicing with deft hands, avocado as an offering to us. 

the shape of her mouth as she said Ah-vo-ca-do

Haiti never left her.

Her presence made brothers and sisters out of cousins.

Her essence made brothers and sisters out of cousins.

She rests.

And I offer

These words to her.