Shortly before the start of 2018, I challenged myself to a “New Year’s Resolution” I found actually attainable: to write 3 creative lines every single day. I define “creative” as anything outside of my regular journaling practice, which is certainly important in my own healing, but I wanted a more intentional ritual. (Last year, I attempted the 52 essays in 2017 and only completed 14).
I was excited for the challenge, but as a first-time parent, concerned about my ability to keep up with it. As of today, July 18, 2018, I have remembered #3lines2018 every single day. For someone dubbed “Forgetful Jones” by their mother as a child, I am proud of myself!
I started out quite literally — only 3 lines per day, such as:
“good, i now know where it came from.
but — how do i get rid of it?
And as I progress further into the year, I often write things that feel like complete pieces, short of revision:
an ant crawled along the divide
in my notebook today, in search of a word to taste.
i will take it as a compliment,
but there’s no sugar in these pages.
sucking the nectar
out the ends of sweetgrass
seems a poor substitute for water,
but it tasted better,
made my butterfly lids flutter shut
as i threaded blades through my tooth gap.
this cool carpet
cushioned my dome up to behold
the pillow villages in the sky,
where i first met God
and my own tininess.
i awaited the changing guards day to dusk
with an open mouth jar
for flies of fire,
witnessed the air become the night sky.
and one floated in the stratosphere
of my cupped hands,
finding only darkness when they clammed closed,
still radiating through the cracks.
Now, a few months in, there are days where I will write 5 lines and others I will jot down 30, and times where I write more than once in a day. This practice has become a habit — the kind I want to keep, cherish. It is a commitment to myself to grow as a writer and human being, my automatic and meditative 5-to-however many minutes in each day.
I knew that I wanted to write every day, and I have accomplished that, but I’ve also noticed a whole host of other changes occurring inside of me and on the page: I am falling in love with writing again. I am turning back into my seven-year-old self, ecstatic and giddy with the possibility of words and their combinations. And, I am writing better because I am less concerned about what I will “do” with the final products — my only concern in the moment is upholding a commitment I made to myself.
That said, as I’ve gone back through the little written clippings of each day and notice themes emerging, I have generated new ideas for chapbooks or collections that I would not have without this challenge. At the start of 2019, I plan to sift through the year’s worth of writing to pull my greatest work and enter into a period of revision and reflection. I hope that all writers can find a daily practice that works for them, even if there is no actual writing that takes place. See more information below about my process and intentions for this challenge, what I write about, and more!
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What is the challenge? The challenge is to write a minimum of 3 creative lines (poetry, fiction, lyrics, etc.) each day.
Why did I give myself this challenge? To establish a daily practice, experiment in different forms and genres of writing, and create a body of writing that I may one day “do something” with.
What is my process? I have a specified notebook for the 3 lines. I put line breaks between each day. I often jot down ideas in the margins of the pages to return to. Some weeks later, I will play catch up and transfer each day to the computer, where some revision may take place.
What do I write about? Most often, I write about what is going on in my mind and heart in the moment I’m writing: observations about relationships, parenthood, the happenings of the world, etc.
How do I remember? I have a Google notification that sends me an email every morning. I will mark the email as unread until I’ve completed that day. The notification has become less necessary as the practice shifts into a habit, but I still like to see it.
How do I find time? It doesn’t take much time. It has not mattered if I was working full time and raising Glory full time, I have done it every day. Because it’s a realistic goal of 3 lines, sometimes I can do it in under a minute. More time tends to produce more lines, but on busy days I just make sure I have my notebook with me.
What if I forget a day or two? I’ll probably have a few pangs of grief and feel like my perfect record has been ruined. My partner or some other loved one will have to remind me of the 364 other days I completed. Maybe my 3 lines the next day will be a poem of sadness, but I’ll still be writing!
This is my second week into the self-posed challenge of writing a minimum of 3 lines per day, every day in 2018. I'm happy to say that I've written every day in 2018 so far ;) The challenge has also had an unexpected (but good) surprise: the more of a routine I get in, the more and more I am writing. Multiple times a day. They are coming out something like poems. Here they are.
i want to cradle my face
in the deepest crevice of your neck
and sigh into the heavens of the collarbone,
the homecoming that you are.
the latest company
to drape a black boy in the word
monkey. . .
i will burn them down
on behalf of my son.
a lump jumped into my throat bump
the other day,
somewhere between West Oakland and embarcadero.
pins and needles joined it as company,
lighting flame into my shoulders and curving to trickle down into my spine,
the cacophony of wheels on rails
the soundtrack to this horror flick.
i could’ve been be sick but i reached down
until i exhumed calm.
as i settled into an unmarked corner
of a beloved restaurant
with a journal in tow,
the bronze-tinted waitress greeted me with,
“you’re the one - with the pretty handwriting,” and a timid smile.
some months later, another brown skinned woman remarked,
“your handwriting should be a font.”
: yes, tender nimble hands take care to curves.
i have grown several extra limbs
to love you with,
and some extra sets of nerves -
sometimes it is more than i can juggle.
feel the sweat gathering like morning dew on your skin
utter your deepest desires to my parched soul
crescendo and again and again until the four walls vibrate to shatter
know yourself then let me know you.
and you look at me
with a universe in your eyes
and lift your mouth into
a crescent moon –
this is what it is to feel alive.
i hear what you are saying, i do.
but i do not know
if i can hold it.
i was born so full of water
an ounce more of truth and i may overflow.
when i was 13, it was James Taylor’s October Road (and particularly the track “September Grass). i would arise early in the morning on a Saturday, walk down the hallway to the kitchen to brew some coffee, then back down to my room, where i would sit at a now-ancient Macintosh computer. the bubble kind. click open the document containing my last chapter, skim a few lines to recall where i’d last left my brave protagonists, and begin clattering away at the keyboard.
time would melt away as i sipped at too-sweet coffee which crystalized at the bottom, and the world did, too.
it was as close to a routine as i could get at that age, and resulted in the only novel i’ve ever finished: 150 single-spaced pages of action-adventure packed with dragons and magic that only my eyes would see. (i still have it saved on my computer and will go back and read it for an occasional laugh or dose of inspiration).
it inspires because it reminds me of a time when i was free, but dedicated. daily writing and finishing my project was the only thing i was disciplined about. i had the time.
as i sit today, in a beanbag chair in a corner of a very expensive room in Oakland, CA - i have time but maybe not permission. maybe i have not given myself the permission to dream, to stare out of windows with my head tilted to the side, to not pay attention at work.
as a child writer i did not need, nor did i ask for, permission. i literally wrote on walls or anything i could find the moment the words came to mind. teachers would smirk at me and confiscate my notebooks, i placed in the high ninetieth percentile for writing and reading (despite not doing my homework), and lived in worlds as i created them.
how do i find that person? today, i am often depressed and unfulfilled. crushed by the weight of responsibility and obligation. of money making and baby making, which leaves little energy - not time - for story making.
but i know that losing this part of myself would be a slow spiritual demise, and to survive it, i have no choice but to make routine. even when the pen-to-paper practice exhausts me, even and especially when someone else needs me, and even when i think that i have nothing to say.
this is not what i do, it is how i breathe. the writing is not optional.
and so tonight - sipping green tea and accompanied by Kaki King and Radiohead - i plant the seeds to grow a new routine.
It was just a speck at the beginning. A speck enveloped in a black blob on the monitor. My hungry eyes snapped all over the screen for a flutter or a movement, for anything. The technician, who was focused but purse-lipped and not too compassionate, moved the goop around in a determined fashion.
We sat around in what felt like suspended silence. Just the night before we had been at a similar appointment, where the obstetrician could not locate a heartbeat. My partner’s emotions were unreadable, her mother encouraged us both that all was well, and I found back tears, later dissolving on the phone with my own mother. The speck had already orchestrated an emotional rollercoaster just six weeks in utero.
“Ahh, there it is,” the technician sighed, the smirk melting into a slight smile, “there’s the heartbeat.”
It was just a glimmer, like the shine that a coin has in the sun, but it was confirmation. Life. Expansion. “Viable pregnancy.”
Our two faces burst with elation and cooing, and Xan’s anxious leg shaking finally ceased. In that moment, all was well, never mind the long journey ahead. All was beautiful. Life in formation. I already marveled at this tiny miracle, the speck, fluttering on the monitor before our eyes.
In my relief and joy, I squeezed my partner’s hand and exclaimed, “look at our baby!”
“Well,” the technician interrupted, returning to her somber demeanor, “it’s not a baby yet, it’s still a foetus.”
Ah, yes. Please don’t forget to remind us. It is not technically a baby. We shouldn’t get our hopes up. After all, we could barely see the heartbeat, and it could be a complicated pregnancy. Yes, you’re right. Let’s not get too happy, now.
I often refer back to this moment bitterly, and as one of many in this journey where I bit down on my tongue. At the same time, as beautiful as the process of witnessing the speck’s expansion has been, it has also been full of uncertainty, pain, fear, and wonder.
At 23 weeks, the speck in Xan’s body is now an eggplant. And it’s not alone in there. The eggplant shares a room with multiple uterine fibroids. It’s a common experience for many pregnant Black people, and a painful one - if the baby’s hormones cause the fibroids to grow, they can crowd the insides and push up against organs. If the fibroids shrink due to losing their blood source to the baby, it is ideal, yet excruciating.
For my partner, it has been mostly excruciating.
There have been so many nights along the way where she has not been able to sleep because of the agony. I have drawn up countless baths trying to get her to be more comfortable. I have pressed warm cloths with lavender oil and fresh prayers against her womb. She has collapsed into a ball of tears not just out of the pain, but out of the crushing fear that “Glory” - our nickname for the baby - may not be alright. And I, largely a spectator and supporter but not the vessel, have felt helpless and useless at times, wishing I could take some of the pain for at least a little while.
With that all said - let it be known that, on August 2, 2017, with the palm of my hand on Xan’s belly, I felt the baby kick. We all know that I cried tears of joy, but more than that, of wonder. This baby is a fighter.
Belief in the Divine, or something greater, has not only been important to us in this process - it is almost impossible not to have. This power is not solely about miracles for me, it is also about giving us the strength to cope with the uncertainties we are given throughout this process and life in general.
Not knowing, and therefore feeling out of control, is one of the hardest parts of human experience, but it is as it is. The only certainty I have is that life is uncertain. And that I already love this child more than can be conveyed here.
The speck. The eggplant. Our baby.
To the daughter of Diamond Reynolds, girlfriend of Philando Castille:
I do not know the sound that innocence makes
when it is shattered.
I don’t know if bodies dipped in earthen tones
can even be seen as innocent.
But I am so, so deeply sorry
that this town is not safer.
I know that the ancestors have gifted you
with an unspeakable strength and calmness,
but still it stings the corners of my eyes -
the smoking gunshots singe my nostrils
and an age-old white hot rage threatens to awaken
but I choke it down like refused vomit
so as not to be seen
They will ask you to contain it, honey child
you have already known how,
that crying can get you killed,
that moving can get you killed,
that breathing can get you killed –
You have already seen the crosshairs trained on innocence.
But maybe innocence cannot be shattered
when our children – have never been children.
I wish this town was safer.
Yes, that was me - I was the one at 4 years old who tip-toed along the perimeter of a dark room at my own birthday party, fearing the center of attention, hot-faced and sweaty at all the smiling eyes on me. Yes, that is me - struggling to pull myself out the house to reconnect with people who I love dearly but who probably don’t know it because I am caved into myself so much of the time. Yes, I was the one who hid behind my mama’s leg at the sign of a new stranger who tried to speak to me. Yes, I am the one who enjoys studying people more than I do talking to them. I listen for the influx of emotion in their voices and the way their eyes crinkle in delight or disdain.
Yes, that is me, who cannot always decipher between solitude, or isolation; who cannot tell if depression cycles are due to the absence of people or to the absence of me-ness that comes from pleasing them. Yes, that is me with adult cousins in they 40’s who can’t step foot outside the house into the big scary world, or tell apart the voices in they heads. Yes, that is me who still, unconsciously, tip-toes along the sides of the room or walks as far away from the crowd as I possibly can get at the event I didn’t want to commit to in the first place. Yes, that is me - the one cantankerous at unannounced company disrupting the waves of quiet and stillness, and with they street clothes still on no less.
Who really knows what I am doing in here? Who really can tell us apart? Who really knows how far down I extend to, or the meditations of my heart? What is, “joyous solitude?” Who really understands. The effort that it takes. And what is joyous solitude?
Yes, I am the one. The one. And only. Solitary. Party of one.
Yes, that was me - I was the one at 7 years old who started bangin out stories on our centuries-old Macintosh in the scary dark basement. Yes, that is me who, from time to time, gets lost on perfect purpose on some backstreet that’s way slower than the freeway, just to stay in my own head a little while longer. (What is joyous solitude?) Yes, that was me - I was the child who rose up early on weekend mornings to bring my mama’s coffee and sit quietly in her bed next to her. Yes, that is me - I am the one who knows myself so damn well like the words to a favorite poem - what happens to a dream deferred? - that when I fuck up, I go to my own corner for a time out to lick my own wounds and return to you the sweetest being that there ever was.
Yes, that is me. I am the one. And I think I will take myself out. Explore a little while. Get lost in some shitty diner coffee and listen to the influx of raisin voices around me. Which I can decipher from my own.
When I was an undergrad student waiting with baited breath to hear back from graduate schools, time stretched on and on - seconds became hours became years. I remember the first acceptance coming from Loyola University in Chicago. I was walking home when the email come across my phone screen, and I let out a long exhale, knowing that I was going somewhere, no matter the nature of fates that were sealed in letters from other programs.
Looking back at that time, I realize I was set up falsely to believe that the world was mine - I received acceptances to all 5/5 programs I had applied to, got my top graduate assistantship, and landed a number of other leadership opportunities throughout grad school. It’s not that I expected to get everything that I wanted, but I also rarely anticipated the sting that comes along with rejection.
I would feel that sting regularly and more intensely in the years that followed. Just recently I was sent a rejection notice from one well-known writers’ retreat, and was waitlisted for another after having been denied last year. I was accepted into the Kearny Street Interdisciplinary Writer’s Lab for the summer, and will spend my Saturday mornings in writing intensives.
But back to the rejection. When I was rejected last year, I immediately teared up, began to question the quality of my writing, wondered what the point of even trying was anymore.
This year, as I smiled sadly at the email stating that I had been placed on the waiting list, I thought, “well, that’s better than last year.” When asked by a loved one why I posted an image of the rejection email on social media, I responded that I was proud that I had tried. Small gestures representing my growth and maturing in handling rejection.
The difference between these past few years was felt everywhere in my body. There was no hollowness in my chest or wringing of hands. I did not question my skills in writing - I acknowledged that I applied to a program along with the best in the craft. I allowed myself to feel the disappointment that was appropriate for the moment without telling myself stories about my worth and capabilities.
I am learning to embrace rejection as an important part of life - which is helpful as a writer, I’m told, but I know that it doesn’t just apply to professional endeavors. There are plenty of people in the world who will not care for me for whatever reason, and I won’t be able to do anything about it. They will reject me, and even though it’s hard for me to not feel liked, it isn’t often about me (and when it is, I know it). I will be rejected by dream jobs, by publishing companies and writing retreats, by lovers and friends, and so on.
But what does rejection teach me? What is the sweet part, the gift?
The gift is realizing that I get to continue to grow and push myself to be better for the next time around (if there is one). The lesson is learning to remain present while waiting with baited breath. The sweet part is knowing that I am still worthy.
For Philando, for my pops, for all Black parents.
nearing father’s day,
she watched the world do nothing
for her daddy’s blood.
I don’t remember the exact age that it sunk in that there was something about me and my family that would leave us with targets on our bodies. I just remember a string of memories and the feelings in my father’s voice. The rage he tried to keep controlled like low tremors before a massive earthquake.
Like when he and mama took us to see a house in some suburb of Michigan where the real estate agent with translucent skin and a stretched, terrified, and empty smile told us we “weren’t what she expected.”
Like on one weekend he had us and tried to take us to get pizza. And we stood waiting for ten, fifteen, twenty minutes in the Pizza Hut lobby before he stormed us out.
Like when we walked through the parking lot back out to his truck where someone had written “nigger” in the dirt and grime.
Like when during one of our road trips, a trucker spewed out something about “blacks” or “niggers” and “silver back gorillas” over the CB radio and papa spat back, “you are the ones covered in hair and flat lips - so actually you are the monkeys” and slammed the radio down. And the hot asphalt rage could melt away the frame of the truck. And we all sat in silence.
Like when my father gave my brother dashikis and kente cloth to wear and they called him a monkey. Like when he taught us about how Black folks invented blues to channel our hurt. Like all the times he brought laughter to our hearts even though he was sick to death of this shit.
And so when the spirit breaks again, like stained glass, it almost comes as a surprise that we can still feel it breaking.
Like when I touched down in St. Louis to see my father for Thankstaking and we listened to our “justice system” reach a non-indictment verdict for the officers that killed Michael Brown. And I looked over at pops with tears in my eyes to find him solemn as the grave, unsurprised, calm. And then I looked to the window, where my seven year old brother was jumping up and down excitedly, and something inside me broke beyond repair to know that he is not safe.
But I stretched a smile and picked him up in my arms and held him close while I walked into the house. Miles away, Ferguson erupts in hot asphalt flames of rage and despair. And white families are quick to point out the “savagery” they somehow failed to see in leaving a slain 18-year-old Black boy on the street pavement for hours.
And a year later my father silently drives me down W. Florissant with the same look on his face. Quieting the rage of centuries of this fucking bullshit. And I know. I understand.
At some point the heart keeps breaking until the scar tissue around it becomes numb to touch.
When Alton’s youngest son broke into tears of unimaginable loss. When Philando’s baby tried to soothe them with words of calm and comfort as he bled out in the front seat for all the world to see. And she is far too young for broken spirits but somehow will learn to carry on with one.
nearing father’s day,
she watched the world do nothing
for her broken heart.
“I don’t know how to love myself, so how can I love you,
the way you want me to?” -Priorities
I wrote those words four years ago now, guitar in hand and tears in my eyes. I was a graduate intern posted up in a dingy little dorm room at UC Santa Cruz, and had reached a breaking point with someone I had been dating. When I wrote the song, I had imagined it from her perspective as a way of trying to understand what she was feeling, but the song was about me. It has always been, and still is - about me - this need to get my priorities right. I wish I could say it was a new lesson, or one that I won’t struggle to learn even now and in my future.
Years before “Priorities,” I was nineteen and heartbroken (for the very first time) when my mom first told me about the spiral. I was distraught over my first girlfriend, who had lied to me and cheated, but I was also frustrated with myself for not moving on faster. “When it feels like I’m over it, I think about something else I’m right back to where I started.”
Mama explained that I wasn’t “right back” where I started - but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t still hurt. She said that it’s like a spiral, you start at one point and come back around to the same point, but further away each time. You may be coming back around to the same lesson over and over again, but you have more perspective each time that you make it back around. That has stuck with me every since as one of the most important pieces of advice she has given me (not to mention a beautiful visual metaphor as well- she’s a writer like me, after all).
The origin of the spiral for me, the lesson that I always loop back around to, is: I must learn to love myself and see myself as worthy and deserving. Not only are fruitful relationships destined to fail without me actively valuing myself, but my very own happiness is at stake. I’ve gone round and round with this lesson for what feels like forever, so the prospect of it being a lifelong lesson feels exhausting to me. But I’m not going in circles, ben when it feels there is no progress. I’m gaining knowledge, experiences (scars), and perspective that moves me further from the source of my hurt and closer to embodying the root of the lesson.
Now, in my late 20s, I will embrace what feels like stagnation and realize how far I’ve come and how much growth is left to come. I will be tender to the younger parts of myself that are closer to the original wounding, and give them the love and attention that they deserve and need. And from that place - fulfilled, self-nourished, and grateful - I grow and thrive with love for others.
“How can I hold myself completely?”
By realizing truly and deeply that I am my own starting point, that everything else I do depends on the strength of my relationship with self. By soothing the pieces deep down in my soul that are in need of healing. By living in radical, unapologetic, loving truth of who I am and who I want to become.
By allowing myself to grow. And spiral back around with fresh perspective and deeper self knowledge.
musings of a Black, queer and genderqueer activist, educator, musician.