This past weekend I went to a couple of events for Richmond’s Lit Crawl. I participated last year and was excited to support fellow writers sharing their work from a multitude of genres. I also had the treat of attending a special interview featuring writer, director and producer Iris Bolling at the Black History Museum as part of their Inside Out Series.
My first event was the Friday evening Lit Crawl event at Valley Haggard’s Life in 10 Minutes. Since I read as part of Life in 10 Minutes last year, I was anticipating supporting the writers this year. The variety of styles and perspective was nothing short of spectacular. I love walking away from a reading, ruminating about a somber moment in a piece or chatting about the humor and animation of a writer’s delivery. They should all feel incredibly proud of the work they produced.
Welcoming us to Lit Crawl
The fabulously talented writers from L to R: Valley Haggard, Elizabeth Ferris, Cindy Cunningham, Sadeqa Johnson and Paige Fulton
Saturday morning started right with the Iris Bolling event. Inspiring is an understatement. Hearing her speak about how she started writing (being frustrated with the state of government), turning her books into movies and doing it all without established connections in the film and publishing industry was astounding. I was telling Hubby that I can think of no one in our local area with that kind of resume and gumption. One of the quotes that made me smile upon hearing was: “You never know what people are willing to do until you ask.” It resonated with me because while trying to grow my writing career, it’s something that hasn’t always been easy for me but I found it’s a necessity. Essentially, submitting is asking and asking a group or a friend to read your work leaves you vulnerable to “No” but it is an ask to make you better.
“You don’t have to wait for someone to green light your dreams. Green light yourself into dreams.”
She also stated that she loves opening doors for people. Ms. Bolling even holds Green Light sessions at the local libraries to help budding authors and filmmakers. The spirit of giving is alive and well in her but she emphasized that she wants the information and experiences she gifts to be tools for self- empowerment. “You don’t have to wait for someone to green light your dreams. Green light yourself into dreams.” I walked away from that session feeling a little more in control of my writing destiny.
After a quick stop at Richmond Wellness Center, Hubby and I made our way to another Lit Crawl reading the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The subject was social justice.
In the midst of times such as these, I was ready to hear every bit of what they had to say. Even though they read a variety of work from Op-Ed pieces to excerpts from their fiction work, I noted that a lot of their pieces and commentary weaved in Christianity’s role in civil rights, too. Since there was time left after the readings, there were several questions that kept the conversation lively about Richmond’s outdated and offensive monuments (and the timing of their erection) and how children are educated about slavery and civil rights. As they read, I found myself feeling a bit angry about some of the things that simply haven’t changed but grateful for the conversation it spurned.
Events like Lit Crawl and the Inside Out series at the Black History Museum are supposed to inform, inspire and bring awareness about the vibrant literary community here in Richmond.
I have been holding onto this recipe from shelikesfood.com for a few weeks. I have never cooked with enchilada sauce so I was excited to try. I also have been a little rice and potato heavy so getting back to eating more quinoa seemed like a good idea. I definitely took longer than the prep time indicated but I dice vegetables slowly.
1/2 cup dried quinoa
4 cup cubed sweet potato, about 2 large ones
1 red pepper, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 zucchini, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup corn kernels
1 cup grated cheese, divided (I used vegan cheese)
2 1/2 cups enchilada sauce
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
3 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
Optional garnishes: cilantro, red onion, tomato, avocado, jalapeno
Rinse quinoa and place it in a small pot with 1 cup of water. Bring to a simmer and cook until water is absorbed and quinoa is cooked through, about 15 minutes. Set aside.
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F. On a large baking sheet, toss together the cubed sweet potato with 2 teaspoons olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Bake sweet potato for 20 minutes.
While sweet potato is baking, add all the diced bell peppers, zucchini and onion to a bowl and toss with 1 teaspoon olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Add the vegetables to the sweet potatoes, stir and make sure they’re in an even layer. Place back into the oven 10 minutes.
Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees F. Place the sweet potatoes and veggies into a large baking dish and stir in the cooked quinoa, black beans, corn, 3/4 cup of the cheese, enchilada sauce, spices, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Top with the remaining 1/4 of the cheese and place back in the oven until heated through and cheese is melted, 10-15 minutes.
Hubby and I loved it! We chose to garnish it with avocado. It blended together well and it came out light. While we were eating it, I thought it would be interesting to add mushrooms, too. I definitely look forward to making it again.
On Saturday, I was back at Afro-Caribbean dance class. It had been a few weeks because of holiday, cancellations, illness, etc. I was ecstatic to join the group of smiling faces for the last class of 2017. Towards the end of every class, our instructor has us gather in a circle. Some people get out in the middle of the circle and dance while the rest of us clap and cheer them on.
One of the fabulous dancers settled next to me at one point during this time. We were both smiling and clapping at this gorgeous little girl who couldn’t stop herself from throwing herself in the middle and jumping around with her parents. Nothing but pure joy. The woman next to me leaned in and said “We all have a little girl inside of us just like her.”
And that’s when it hit me. I have learned not sit on the sidelines with my writing in 2017 but the woman who used to embrace the center of the dance floor has not made an appearance in a long time. Anyone who really knows me remembers that I may not have always been the first person on the dance floor but I was certainly never the last. If I was feeling the music, that was it. All she wrote. I don’t know if it’s my island roots (Ayiti!) or the fact that my family was never shy about burning up the dance floor when I was younger. Til this day, watching dancers makes me tear up. The type of dance has never mattered to me-belly, ballet, modern, African, jazz, hip-hop. The fluidity, the sharp and precise movements and the grace of the dancer has always spoken to me.
Anyway, after she leaned back and the music continued to pulsate throughout the circle, I found myself drawn, not all the way to the center but away from the sidelines and let the beat find me.
And even if only for a few moments, the little girl inside of me made an appearance.
I wrote recently about resolutions, birthday resolutions specifically which got me thinking about whether I wanted to make New Year’s Resolutions this year. I only made one at the beginning of 2017. My husband and I resolved to go see more live music. Last September, we went to a phenomenal concert. Corinne Bailey Rae and Alabama Shakes at the Portsmouth Pavilion.
That night rocked our worlds inside out. I had only seen Corinne Bailey Rae once in Maryland (she opened for John Legend years ago) and I have the fondest memories of sitting on the grass, swaying and swinging along to her first album with my cousin Kim.
With those memories, I knew to expect greatness. However, this time there was a freedom in her performance. She owned the stage. Her figure could easily be described as wispy but I saw power as she sang and played her guitar, bringing me back to listening to countless hours of her first album, Like A Star, on replay, thinking “Trouble Sleeping” was written for me and spellbound by the lyrics to “Enchantment”: “I’d tightrope walk with a blindfold on my eyes.”
Brittany Howard, front woman for Alabama Shakes, blew me away with her guitar solos, singular rock-gospel goddess voice that made me ashamed for not knowing all of the words to her songs. After we left the concert, we vowed to have more nights like this, to make what felt like necessary room for nights like this.
And a little over a year later, we have been to several shows, a couple whom we weren’t even familiar with and plan to see the legendary Ms. Jackson next month. But what stays with me is the night we saw two women, two beautiful Black women, one Southern, one British pour their light out and reawaken the childlike spirit in me that just needs to sing along until my throat dries up and dance until my legs fold beneath me.
When I was at the Summit of Greatness in September, psychotherapist Esther Perel gave advice to a man seeking to repair a romantic relationship: Send her a handwritten note.
Outside of the obvious things anyone should be doing to win someone back, maintain a friendship or romantic relationship, that was one of the best pieces of advice I had ever heard. I was sure I was not the only one because the whole theater was buzzing right after she said it.
It also caused me to think about two things: The last time I received a hand-written note and the last time I sent one. I write extra notes on greeting cards to my mother and father (my husband and I do not exchange gifts/cards..we plan experiences with each other for our birthdays/holidays). Outside of those occasions, everything is typed or texted.
And since then, a co-worker and a good friend from my writing group have given me cards with handwritten notes on it. Even opening them immediately lit me up inside. It also conjured up memories of a small poem my husband wrote me when we were first married and my participation for a short time in moreloveletters.com which encourages people to leave anonymous uplifting letters tucked away in public spaces. The content almost never matters. For me, it is the time taken.
Yesterday, on See Jane Write’s Facebook page, I saw a prompt asking us to describe our idea of a perfect Girls Night Out. Ideas floated around for a few minutes and reminded me of what I’ve been thinking lately: I haven’t had a real Girls Night Out in years.
Yes, I said it. Years.
Before anyone points fingers or starts pearl-clutching, I have been to plenty of lunches, dinners and events with friends but it’s usually been with one or two of them at a time. It hasn’t been on purpose. Weeks turn into months and months turn into years and before I knew it, I am sitting in a movie theater watching Girls Trip with my husband, laughing but also asking myself like the R&B group 702 in the 90’s: Where My Girls At?
As many of us know, wellness should be whole–physical, emotional and spiritual. Part of the journey should be a commitment to getting together and even better, getting away with your friends. Phone calls, text messages, email and the random lunch/dinner should not be enough. Time away to unwind, laugh and let it all out builds us up and strengthens our relationships. I guess it’s time for me to start planning!
Since I wrote about it and I promised I would do it and I talked about it out loud where other people outside of myself could hear it, I went. I don’t mean to sound reluctant. It was just fear..fear of not being in good enough shape, not catching on fast enough, not being able to keep up.
So like I said, I went. I attended my first Afro-Caribbean dance class just as I declared I would in my last post. And it was exhilarating! I probably looked like a scared toddler creeping up to the door but there was no reason to fear. The instructor was kind, immediately asked if it was my first time and welcomed me with open arms.
For an hour, we danced and I felt that good sweat! If you have ever been so engaged in an activity, you don’t even realize you are drenched until it’s time to take a break, then you know of what I speak. I missed letting my body speak the words that have been muted for so long. I loved seeing my joyful, vibrant, moving reflection in the studio mirrors. I didn’t even think about my psoriasis scars on my arms, not even once.
There was comfort being in a group of people of all sizes, shapes, colors, ages and skill level smiling and popping their bodies and bare feet to the beat. We danced in lines, mimicking our instructor’s movements and enjoyed the eclectic variety of music played. I was on a high doing African-inspired movements to the classic “Mama Said Knock You Out” by LL Cool J.
I guess there is no need to ask if I am coming back.
There will be no languishing in the dark, underneath the covers this Saturday.
It included a lot of walking, work and trying to stave off coughing fits. I even went shopping, trying on a few things that made me feel pretty. I am not one for shopping. Any one of my friends, family or husband can attest to that. I like fashion but I just like to buy what I need and hightail it out of there. It is completely different shopping for books. I enjoy settling in and burying my face in several books before deciding which ones get to take the trip home with me.
This evening it’s just been cooking. I am trying something new, a quinoa and sweet potato chili from Whole Foods along with vegan mac and cheese and green beans. Later, I am going to outline post-challenge goals. My birthday is November 16th and I return from the Summit of Greatness on September 16th. I am thinking my writing and wellness goals will have something to do with those 60 days. Off to eat dinner but excited to share more of my takeaways and the next leg of my journey tomorrow.
There was a turn of events this morning. My husband didn’t feel well so I sent him back to bed instead of going to church. So, while he slept the day away, I drank my green smoothie and read more of The Hollywood Commandments by DeVon Franklin. You know that feeling when you are reading a book and you can’t grab the highlighter fast enough. That was me this morning. I am all about his “Pray and Prepare” motto. I spent so many years wishing and praying for things to change, not fully realizing God is not going to help me do the things I am perfectly capable of doing myself. I can lean on Him for inspiration, guidance and comfort but the work? That starts with me. I view every blog post, pitch email, query, sentence written in my book, fellowship application, poem, short story and published piece as preparation for what is to come.
Green smoothie with nectarines, apples, hemp seeds and coconut water
Continuing to read “The Hollywood Commandments” by DeVon Franklin
I am learning how much it doesn’t matter whether or not each attempt ends in a positive result. The process is worth it.
I mentioned yesterday I had a guest post to write and submit. I wrote it and sent it off! It was one of those pieces that I felt some frustration with when I started but once I put earphones in with classical music, the words poured out of me. Regardless of the outcome, I am proud of the work.
I felt ready to take on one workout today. I did a walking video. There was some coughing, so I slowed down. Afterwards, I stood outside on my balcony. I needed to spend time in the sun, taking in fresh air. It was a good day.