For artists who are sensitive about their shit.

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I think of Phyllis often. Have her on my wall, in fact.
She possessed this measure of magical beauty.
Not because her skin was golden. Not because her hair was fine.
But, because, when she spoke my truth came pouring out.
The truth that talented women know.
It’s not easier having gifts.
Talents are tokens draping heavily around the neck.
People need you to be their star until you feel real.
Billie knew this. Whitney learned.

They lived in shadows, with them anyway.
And died in them.
People always say if Phyllis only knew
How much she was loved….
Maybe she knew and still couldn’t stay.

Sweet Girl, Don’t Take It Personal

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Sweet Girl,

It wasn’t that he didn’t want you,

believe me when I say he doesn’t

understand how grateful he should

be. You could have chosen someone

else. Don’t take it personal. He hasn’t

figured out his own worth so how can

you expect him to recognize yours?

Thoughts On My First Mother’s Day

 

“In a child’s eyes, a mother is a goddess. She can be glorious or terrible, benevolent or filled with wrath, but she commands love either way. I am convinced that this is the greatest power in the universe.”
― N.K. JemisinThe Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Bear with me for a moment. I’m going to open the seams on motherhood on this, my first Mother’s Day as a mother. Dream’s mother, or Ma-ma–she calls me this in the midst of a tear-filled adorable tirade against Mr. Sandman, and when in her quest to discover the parameters outside my lap, her head meets the hard surface of the floor or a table. The mother in me bears that fall, swallows the fear that I don’t want to share with her and coaxes her back to her own two feet.

This is something that happened very naturally. Mothering. Instinctively. I feel uncertain ten thousand ways everyday about myself but I never question myself as a mother. Ever. I actually wish I had the same certainty for myself in my own life. There must be some biological trigger once your child is born. I have no other way to explain why I push forward when I’m tired and empty. No way to define the feeling that comes over me when Dream rolls over with a genuine smile every morning. Her eyes say, “I knew you would be here.” Her chattering, though unintelligible, says, “I trust you.” Her taking a breath every morning is God saying, “I love you.”

In all the essential ways Dream was a planned child. I very much wanted her, even when I was unaware of this. I knew her in the places that recognized her once she was here. I saw her in secret dreams and translated those secret languages. I spoke her into possibility, into existence. That’s why it feels as if she’s always been here–because she has. I only had to open up to receive the gift that she is.

A great deal of my teenage years and twenties were wasted thinking had I had a different childhood things would be different. You know things, right? I’d be happier, healthier, wealthier, prettier, and such. If I had different parents I’d be Mrs. so-and-so and live at such-and-such lane, driving a blah blah. It’s true that having different parents would have meant a completely different life. But I have mine; and they have me. Perfection is unattainable most especially in parenting.

I’m learning.

The transformation from child to child who becomes a parent is astoundingly invisible. I now understand the words: I did my best. I still hold adults accountable for their actions, but I am willing to extend compassion where before I had none. You would give everything plus your life to make your child’s world beautiful. I mean so in an artistic way, but also in a practical way. There was a small part of me that always felt unmothered; that felt very ugly to me. It’s ugly feeling as though you didn’t receive something that rightfully belonged to you. It’s sad, sometimes oppressive. But the beautiful part of becoming a mother is that you can heal the little girl who didn’t get all that she deserved by mothering your child–imperfectly, of course.

I don’t search for replacement (better) mothers anymore (I used to do that and had really beautiful women be mother-like in the moments that I needed them). That part of myself is healed. Now I build relationships with women to cushion this journey instead of leaning on them to be pulled along.

I am my own best thing.

I do hope that I instill all the courage and love that will help Dream along in life but if I fail a little, I hope there are women who will be mother-like to her when and if she needs it.

I won’t need any Mother’s Day cards or gifts, Dream is everything. She is enough.

 

 

Neon Nails

Dreamy,

Your mother is the kind of mom who wears neon polish on her nails. I’m writing with them now. A color called Barbie Pink. They’re a little chipped, but radiant like steaming antifreeze. Why am I telling you this? Well, because when I was a little girl I wasn’t brave enough to wear polish that others might find offensive. You’ll learn soon that many people feel confident, even justified, in sharing the things that they deem offensive, things that you unknowingly do to offend them.

In our family, there are rules. (Don’t worry about these rules.) Women did not wear red polish or lipstick. Only women with questionable morals wore this color. Soon you’ll realize that there will be conversations going on around you; these might be about you, but you are not always required to participate in them. I realized this as a little girl. It’s when I started to listen. It was where I overheard the outdated wisdom of the color red. What I did was internalize this rule as one that I should follow. I knew women who wore red nail polish. In church, they didn’t sit with other women—even those wearing the same polish or lipstick. They were off to the side, usually in the back pew with their eyes circling the room. Daring anyone to sit beside them or speak to them. They didn’t have husbands or children. Their legs were thrown over each other revealing the fleshier parts of their thighs. What did they have to lose?

Nothing.

You lose nothing in being yourself. There is no dignity that anyone can take away from you. If I had known that at ten, I would have left the comforts of the acceptable women pew in my church and gone to sit with those daring red women. I would have risked the whispers and the looks. I would have taken the hand of the scorned and squeezed it. We had reduced the worth of these women because of the hue of a bold color.

I didn’t know it was wrong to look at another with scorn and judgment for simply being. That judgment turned so easily inward. When you can look at someone else and find fault in who they are, and what they do without reason, you can do so to yourself just as easily. Be careful with judgment. Be careful with following rules you didn’t set for yourself. If it’s at all possible be who you want to be; in fact, make that your only option.

You’re six months now. You have no idea how the world is all ready throwing judgment at you. I’m guilty of it, too. Except, I’m only guilty of wanting you to be as radical and uncompromising as I wished I had been. You are gorgeous and smart. You haven’t learned to walk or sit completely on your own yet. You still need help holding your bottle and keeping your behind dry but people have expectations for you. They say, “She’s your daughter. She’ll like reading just the way you do. She’ll be a nerd, too.” I smile as politely as I can. You might not know it but those words are meant to be a compliment. Even while you were inside of my belly swimming around in the dark, they were saying how you were destined to be as studious and artistic as your mother. All of this piled onto a little baby who hadn’t even breathed a fresh water-free breath.

You don’t have to worry. You can grow up and become whatever you were meant to be. I can’t protect you from judgments but I can cushion their impact. You have to learn to stand up in your own humanity, to own it and be unafraid to face down those who try to destroy it. It’s important to understand that you own everything inside of you. Your feelings, emotions, reactions—everything. And you can’t be afraid of them. You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable at times because Pumpkin Pie not everything you do in your life will be acceptable, not even with me, the unbelievable hip mom that I am. You can’t be afraid to wear red polish. You can’t be afraid to take the hand of a scorned person and squeeze it until they understand that you are standing with them. You have to be yourself. As a matter of fact, I insist that you wear red polish.

Maybe I’m doing this wrong?

The Women of the Harlem Renaissance: If they did it, so can I.

I’m being hard on myself. I know it and still, I can’t force myself to let up. I was born with high expectations. They weren’t forced upon me–I wish they had been. I sort of cultivated this expectant attitude after being around those who weren’t exactly trying to live with any sense of expectation. So maybe it was forced upon me. I don’t know.

I was blessed enough to attend a truly inspirational writing program with high achieving individuals. Writers. People yearning to be published; people who have been published. Writers writing. Isn’t that what I’m supposed to be doing with my life? That’s what everyone asks after the, “So what are you going to do with a writing degree?” question. Gals and guys, I write. I also read, mother a willful 5-month old alone, and search daily for a job. But I’m doing something wrong.

My loving writing mentor, a woman I call friend and guide, tells of writing by candle at five in the morning while the babies sleep. I used to be able to do that. I used to have phenomenal concentration. I could slide so easily into a city I’ve invented on the page and dwell there for a couple of hours. I used to read, find inspiration, and go into a writing fit that would rival any other writers writing practice. I had the mind of a hungry writer thirsting to be better. Now, I have the degree. I’m doing something wrong.

I just assumed it would be easier. I assumed I could write things, you know, crawl into my emotions and churn out these amazing stories that tell the truth. I hoped for some of the kind of discipline that other writers manage to have. I secretly wished for it to be easier. You know what I’m learning: I’m the biggest threat to my writing. I am the one who can or cannot do this. I know I can. I’ve seen it plenty of times. I’m going to steal an Aaron Sorkin line: “You’re blessed with inspiration.”

There are things I wish I had done when I was 23, but I knew fear too intimately then. I’m now 31 and fear has lost its grip. Maybe it’s been replaced with doubt but I had a conversation with my grandmother last night that reminded me of faith. There are things I will accomplish now because I’m not 23 any longer. I don’t fear failure; I fear never trying. I’m still trying, but I’m sure I’m doing something wrong.

Confessional

Sometimes you want to say things without explanation.

The Red Hat by Kanayo Ede

I think that Anne Sexton didn’t have it altogether wrong; Sylvia Plath wasn’t confused. James Baldwin was braver than a whole legion of guardian angels. Zora Neale Hurston lived the road map for black women writers. Toni Morrison grew up in Ohio simply so I could say that we share geographical DNA. Oprah is just that divine. Meryl, too.

That black women don’t want to be single mothers. Black women want to be married. Black women are afraid to admit how uncooperative life is for the majority of them. Black children learn values. They learn them under the misguided damaging psyche of parents. Society has not been kind to Black children. Black children have no idea how lost they are. It does take a village to raise a child but some children can barely have contact with two parents. The village can be filled with monsters. The monsters wear angel’s masks.

I’m absolutely everything I have in the world. My daughter has too much responsibility in her life all ready. My family is unable to simply be what I need. Minding my battlefield is killing my spirit. Being hurt and thrown away is less painful when it’s happened before. Too many women learn too late.

Sometimes, I just want to say things without having to explain why I think them.