Nothing sexier than that vein bulging out of your neck because a Prius cut you off. #52Essays2017 Day 9
I don’t know what changes. I don’t know what it is about climbing into that moving, metal container of space that makes me more susceptible to demonic forces, but I suddenly turn into an unrecognizable version of myself behind the wheel. It’s something that I’m consciously aware of when I’m not in the car, something that I know is bad for my emotional health and the health of those around me, and yet it feels almost impossible for me to get a handle on.
It started off as road irritation - a simple smirk or sigh when some other diver did some idiotic thing - but now it’s graduated to a full-fledged, demon-possessed, road rage.
I’m blaring the horn (though, to be fair, only when someone is in danger of hitting me); waving my hands in some desperate attempt to clear slow drivers out of the way; flying around people who make it their personal mission to go 60mph in the left lane; and talking/yelling at other cars as if they can hear me through the windshield. Shit, it’s gotten so bad that I’ll start fussing at people when I’m not even driving - just a passenger - and my loved ones can attest to that.
But today I hit a new personal low in the road rage records: sensing that someone was going to cut me off because they were in the wrong lane, I slammed my foot on the gas pedal and let them get within inches of my car before giving up the fight and letting them cut in front of me. Now, despite the fact that the person intentionally cut me off because they didn’t feel like waiting to get over, I felt out of control with how pissed it all made me and continues to make me. I haven’t gotten to the point of following down my window and screaming at people because I don’t think I’ll like getting shot, but in my own head and my own car I was calling that person all kinds of names I don’t even believe in saying. Bitch-ass, pussy-ass, I feel better when I scream at you-ass.
All to say - I’m pissed when I get behind the wheel because I’m pissed in other areas of my life. Pissed at the state of the world and the entitlement washing over this here Bay Area. Now, my being pissed at the world doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be accountable for turning into an animal behind the wheel. But when people feel important enough to go around everyone who’s waiting and cut them off like they’re better than all of us, well, I’m going to make it my personal mission to leave them no stretch of road to do so. (…I don’t think this is the type of “defensive driving” I learned about in school).
The thing is, I know that none of it matters. None of it is going to matter. That “bitch-ass” that cut me off ain’t thinking about me, and really could be a lovely individual who believes in smashing the patriarchy as much as she believes in smashing cars. And not only does it matter that other people drive like dicks, I’m doing my own self a disservice by letting it get to me. And I know all of this on a conscious tip. We’ll see what happens tomorrow on 35th street before the freeway, where no one seems to know which lane leads to which freeway because they drive for Lyft.
I don’t put all of this out there because I need strategies on how to manage road rage or clear out the negative energy in my car - I’ve already read those self-help articles. But I write this as a reminder to myself of what I value in my life, and what stresses me in my life. A reminder to myself to relinquish control and focus on my own behavior and my own choices. A reminder to myself that toxicity breeds more toxicity, especially in a four-door, sealed, metal container. I may suffocate myself with all that negativity.
I’m not going to stop my demonic road rage tendencies all in one day, but I’m drying. Deep, deep breaths. And at the very least, I’ll stop listening to Knuck If You Buck while on the road.
“…in order to participate in and demand a society where people help to create each other instead of too often destroying each other, we need to look at the practice of creating, nurturing, affirming, and supporting life that we call mothering.” -Alexis Pauline Gumbs
You used to write freely as a child. I mean, wildly and freely. There’d be scribbles on scraps of paper and restaurant napkins, on the margins of books, everywhere. You used to write everything, everywhere.
It didn’t need the thought that you put into it now – that hyper-concentration that ends you up with nothing written at all – you just sat down and did it. (Of course, you often did it instead of your math homework, but that’s a story for another time.
What I mean is: I miss seeing you free and wild and giving birth to all those words. What happened, baby? I think I know, but what do you think? Where did the freedom go?
- - - - -
What you mean, ‘where’d it go?’ Have you looked around lately? Do it look like they want us to be free? Creating? Giving birth? Dreaming of realities beyond this world?
It went away when I had to open my eyes to the realities of what’s around me. And when I’m preoccupied with how I’m gonna make money, or what Black baby got shot down, or if humanity will even survive long enough for my children to open their eyes… it’s hard to make babies in that environment. Stress takes over the body and mind and I can’t produce. Just staring at blank notebook lines, empty canvass, empty shell of self - trying to get back to that wild freedom.
That’s when the freedom went. When I was forced to deal with the realities of this world. Well, that and when the babies I was birthing came under fire - from the world around me and then from my own internal voice: “That child ain’t got enough color or life to him,” or, “there’s nothing in that boy’s head.”
Hard to create freely with that level of critique and that level of oppression and that level of pollution clouding the sky.
- - - - -
You trying. Huh. Do you know what, where, who you came from?
- - - - -
- - - - -
You know that they sang songs to the heavens while their feet were bound and fingers bleeding? Dared to give praise and glory to the most High even while their backs were broken open?
- - - - -
Look, I get it.
- - - - -
Were fed by blowing through trumpets even when their stomachs growled? Delivered powerful words in the house of God after the Devil himself had bitten at their ankles?
You know. I know you know.
- - - - -
I do. I know.
- - - - -
Tsk tsk tsk. You say the pain is what keeps you from creating freely. You say it is the pollution. You say you cannot give birth in this world, but how do you think you got here? Pain is not the enemy of creation, it is the source. It is the answer.
Our people saw the end of their times a thousand times, and a thousand times over. And still they birthed.
- - - - -
I know, I know.
- - - - -
- - - - -
- - - - -
Well, alrighty. Why are you still sitting here, then?
“One day, you’re gonna have children that treat you the way you’ve treated me, and you’re gonna be sorry.”
I don’t know if this quote was taken directly out of the black parenting handbook, but I heard it quite regularly growing up, and many of my friends did, too. It was like Miss Celie’s curse when she put up her two fingers – til you do right by me! – it made me shut up and act right (at least for that moment).
I had a good heart, but I was wild for a while. Almost nothing could get through to me. Like a lot of young people, I felt starved for affection and was being bullied at school, so I knew that getting attention - even though poor behavior - was a guarantee. Screaming my head off, throwing tantrums, refusing to go to school, sneaking out of the house, racking up truancy notices.
I was protesting. It’s pretty normal for a teenager to disagree with and even despise their own parents for a while.
And while I credited certain gifts I was given by my parents – like writing from my mother and music from the both of them – I hated other qualities of theirs and vowed to never be anything like them. When I was bold enough to respond to my mama’s Celie curse, it’d be something along the lines of, “well I’ll be a better parent than you.”
But I don’t know. Sometimes the new parts of myself that I don’t recognize are from my parents. I will find myself cursing and descending into rage at incompetent drivers on the road (mom). Or standing at the back of a room because crowds make me uncomfortable and I need my space (dad). Or rearranging the cash in my wallet so that it’s all facing the same direction, larger bills outside (mom). Or neglecting my own needs to do anything and everything to make my loved ones happy (both). While I have my own traits and habits as an individual, it’s still all their fault that I am the way I am.
It’s their fault that I am a thoughtful, sensitive, and deeply caring individual. That I am both fragile and resilient. That I have a deep sense of connection to my roots and a love for storytelling. That I recognize the value of solitude and self-reflection. That I am creative and expressive and intelligent and analytical.
That I will be a better parent than either of them were, because they taught me to always struggle for those you love.
And I do hope that my children are like me. Because I am like my parents.
Edmund Wallace II was irrevocably convinced that wickedness was a gene that could be passed down through generations.
You either had the gene or you didn’t. But once it caught, it could spread down your family tree like a wildfire, torching some or all of the branches in its path.
There was evidence of the wickedness everywhere, though never in his own family tree. But in his ex wife’s, there seemed to be no end to it. He prayed that the fire would end with her, but it didn’t.
He saw wicked in the face of his reflection – his youngest child – and wished he could smash the mirror. But it wasn’t the child’s fault. The wickedness had deep, tangled roots.
Before this reflection was a man, he was a boy-girl, and before it was a boy-girl it was Edmund’s one and only daughter. Before she was his daughter, her mother, now Edmund’s ex-wife, was wicked; and before his ex-wife was wicked, her uncle was a little on the fence. Yes, the wickedness originated in his ex-wife’s bloodline. Not his.
It wasn’t the wickedness itself that bothered him. It could be stomached. It was the flagrancy of it – the “in your face” flagrancy that forced itself into his otherwise comfortable four walls. It was the audacity to let the wickedness run wild in the streets and to declare itself boldly. It was that boldness of his youngest child, his own reflection, now staring right at him, barely blinking. There, in the front pew, the wickedness taunted him, dared him to challenge it.
He’d grown so startled by the young reflection that he’d almost forgotten where he was in that moment, on the fourth most important day in his life. He shook his head as if he could blink away the apparition, and snapped his eyes back to the bride, whose eyebrows were raised and furrowed tightly in anticipation.
“I-I do,” he proclaimed in a booming voice, a forced smile stretching its way across his face and then melting genuine as he stared at this woman.
He cupped her face with strong brown hands, met her lips and braided his strong arms around her back amidst thunderous cheering and stomping and shouting. The two looked at each other, her teary-eyed and smiling, him still shaking the fog in his head, and pressed their brows together.
They turned to face their loved ones, all dressed in their Sunday bests and hooting and hollering. Tambourines rattled the heavy air and Edmund’s eyes scanned everywhere, everywhere but that front pew. Grinning, the betrothed grasped each other’s hands, took a step forward, and in a great unison leap, jumped over the broom in the center aisle.
The cheers and shouting crescendoed and the two slowly made their way down the aisle, a newfound pep in their step. Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” rang out of the church speakers - her choice, not his - and the two sashayed down the road, Renata, ecstatic about the future sprawled out before them, and Edmund eager to leave the past in the first row pew.
Edmund’s raisin fingertips told him that he had been sitting in the hot tub for too long. Just a few more moments. It was cold out and he didn’t like the shock. So he just sat there shriveling up, lost in thoughts, only a few, scattered ones which included his newlywed status. No, his mind was much more preoccupied, as it often was, with the image of a bruised and blackened family tree.
In the rising steam he saw the face of the familiar stranger, his own spitting image, which had so audaciously attempted to make itself known on the fourth most important day of his life. The cafe au-lait skin, the large, deer-like brown eyes of thinly veiled emotion, the tense and strong jawline now sprinkled with stubble, the lips turned downward in uncertainty, dark eyebrows knotted as if pondering.
It was as if he had been staring at a younger version of himself. That thought made his stomach knot. He blinked away the thought, staring again at his crinkled raisin fingers. Sighing, he contemplated getting out before his wife grew suspicious of his whereabouts, but she had already appeared on the patio.
“Ariel... you’re thinking about her again,” Renata said, not asked, in the sing-songy voice she used when she was concerned. ”Why don’t you come inside? It’s late, babe.”
The headscarf on Renata’s head told Edmund that it was, in fact, late, at least 11:30 if not midnight. “Him,” he said uncomfortably, the knot in his stomach tightening, correcting her. “Yea, I was thinkin bout him.”
Renata’s lips lifted into a sarcastic half-smile. “Really, babe?”
“I know you ain’t down with all that PC shit,” Renata laughed, now smiling fully. “You ain’t gotta act like you are.” She rubbed away an itch on her scalp with the tips of her fingers.
“PC’s got nothing to do with it,” he snapped in a tone too harsh for the conversation. His voice rose like a wave without him knowing why. “He wanna be a man then he’s gonna get treated like one. He wanna be called ‘he’ then I’ma respect it and call him ‘he.’ And so are you.”
He slowly rose from the heated comfort of the tub, the cold hitting him like a sac of ice to the chest. He shivered heavily, either at the cold or at the conversation. “That wicked shit,” he said, wrapping a white hotel towel around his waist, “that didn’t start with him.”
It’s Sunday morning, and I’m laying in my partner’s bed doing nothing of consequence - listening to very old songs from my childhood and unearthing the memories attached to each of them.
The “Heartbeat Reggae Now” album, which is way more politically radical than I could understand as a child, comes with hot, sticky, sweet associations of riding around Philly in the back of papa’s truck. Hot because we’d always visit there in the middle of a blazing summer. Sticky and sweet because we’d pick up Rita’s at every opportunity. That’s what the Bay Area doesn’t have: good water ice. Not that snow cone shit, but the kind made from fruit juice and frozen bits of lemon and cherry.
Those were the only two flavors I’d get - the cherry staining my whole mouth and my white K-Swiss sneakers red, or the acidic lemon leaving my tongue tingling. The one time I encountered water ice in Mosswood Park during the Pan-African Festival 15 years later, you woulda thought I’d found the path toward world peace. Elation and the unearthing of sweet memories. Sadly, the company that sold it was in town only for the festival. Devastating.
I’ve been digging more lately. Digging in the crates for old music my dad used to play, digging through old stories I used to write (I finished a novel at 14 - it’s actually pretty legit), digging and digging. Singing my mother’s songs to my older brother when he gets sick. Reliving something, I’m not sure what.
It’s not exactly to escape the fact that I somehow am now an adult with adult responsibilities, because adulthood has its own sweetness and adventure. I guess it’s to honor where I come from, to hold sweet onto the memories that are my foundation. To exhume them and place them next to the new, fresh ones that I create each day. To continue the tradition of storytelling so important to my family history. Digging for memories like the greedy dig for precious stones.
Memory seems to transcend all sense of time and space. I can see the scenes of my life like photographs when I smell oil from a mosquito lamp, or feel the hot humid air, or hear a high trumpet not from a 60-year old Miles Davis album on Sunday morning. And it doesn’t matter that I live over 1,500 miles away from each of my parents - when I put on Fela or sing my mother’s songs, they are in the room with me. Weekends are especially poignant and sacred time for unearthing, for quiet reflection. For the comfort that memory brings. Something that I used to run from, I move towards my history with open arms and open heart.
But I’m still in search of good water ice.
I have a lot of scars on my body from when I was a child. I was a rumblin tumblin shorty and got all scraped up everywhere, but the scars aren’t from when I first got scraped. They’re from me repeatedly ripping my scabs off over and over again. I never liked how healing over scabs looked, and I had an anxious tendency to pick at them until the fresh, bright red blood would ooze out. Even as I was causing myself pain - wincing as I ripped off the brown, crusty scabs - something was satisfying about it. So, I’m scarred.
I recently received a parking citation that felt something like ripping the scab off a healing wound.
Confused because I rarely get tickets and pay them promptly when I do, I angrily punched in the ticket number to look up the information. The citation was from a year and a half ago, when I was out of town and had loaned the car to a friend at the time. She didn’t tell me about it. Livid, I found myself mentally racing through the long list of harms I’d experienced over the course of our relationship. I got mad all over again about things I thought I’d moved past.
That’s the thing about forgiveness - it’s a cycle. It’s not some magic moment where all transgressions are forgotten, it’s an ongoing process like most things in our lives. If I’d truly “forgiven” everything in the mainstream sense, I would have been able to hold all of the hurt and pain that I’d been caused and move on without further judgments about this person’s character. But I couldn’t. Or wouldn’t. Because the wounds have not fully healed. And because they were not fully healed, that one parking ticket turned into “yet another” example of how I’d been wronged, just like the time that yadda yadda yadda.
So maybe forgiveness isn’t a magic moment where healing happens immediately and everyone skips off into the sunset. To me, it exists in the space between our healing - when it hurts. I became angry because I’d never allowed myself to feel hurt to the extent that I actually was. I shoved it down, kept it hidden away, and wrote people off - all to hide the fact that I was still bleeding. I have to give myself space to bleed and hurt and grieve about my boo boos.
Because when I don’t, I collect small offenses and tuck them away in my back pocket for later use.
Two or three weeks ago, I took my older brother to see Tower of Power at Yoshi’s, a famous jazz club in Oakland. I had been a year previously, but the powerful horns and irresistible soul are worth experiencing each time. As we filed into the cramped space, an older gentleman at our table remarked, “you guys are a little young to be here,” with a small smile. “We were raised on the right music,” I responded with a raised eyebrow that ended the conversation. And we were.
Flash forward to now. I am at Xan’s house, listening to Blitz the Ambassador, who reminds me of my father, who I miss in the 2,000 miles that separate us, but who I feel connected to through music. (I think it’s supposed to be “whom” I miss, but fuck it).
I don’t need to miss his presence because he has always lived in the stereos to me. After my parents divorced and he left when I was 7, I would listen to this Eric Clapton cassette tape he gave me – “Pilgrim” was the album – and “drown in a river of tears,” as the song goes with its soothingly sad blues hook. “My Father’s Eyes” was another tear-jerker for my young little self. Music was (and is) the gift that my father gave me to keep connected to me in the space between Michigan and Illinois. (Even now, I can’t listen to those two tracks without the water rising).
Never one for many words, my pops gave both me and my brother the gift of music. We used it to fill the long road trips between our home and his - a grand total of over ten hours driving time for him. Electrifying jazz would rattle the truck windows as we sped down the highway. When we’d inevitable hit traffic in Gary, IN, he’d break out the blues and a cigar. And today, he shows up through my stereo now in Miles Davis and Jill Scott and Wynton Marsalis and Fela Kuti and in Eric Clapton records I can’t listen to without dissolving into saltwater.
Though I always considered myself closer to my mother in bond and time spent together, I know that my father taught me the things that he could not put into words at the time. And so now, I text him telling him to check out Blitz the Ambassador. When I visit him in the summer and winter, we sit and listen to the blues while peeling the greens. I listen to the stories of our people. And when I am alone in my house and Fela’s beats come over the stereo, so does the smell of charcoal and ribs and barbecue sauce. My father’s eyes.
1. “Don’t Talk To Strangers” - Chaka Khan
2. “My Father’s Eyes” - Eric Clapton
3. “River of Tears” - Eric Clapton
4. “You Gotta Be” - Des’ree
5. “Ain’t Nuthin But A She Thang” - Salt N Pepa
6. “All Blues” - Miles Davis
7. “Flip Fantasia” - US3
8. “Squib Cakes” - Tower of Power
9. “Water No Get No Enemy” - Fela Kuti
10. “Fight the Power” - Public Enemy
11. “Big Poppa” - Notorious B.I.G
12. “Reasons” - Earth, Wind & Fire
13. “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” - Frankie Lymon
14. “Heat Wave” - Martha & The Vandellas
15. “Papa Don’t Take No Mess” - James Brown
16. “Miss Maybelle” - R.L. Burnside
17. “Hard Chargin” - Buckwheat Zydeco
18. “Wombo Lombo” - Angelique Kidjo
19. “I Stand Strong” - Winston Rodney
20. “No Educated Woman” - Guitar Shorty
21. “Great Big Love” - Bruce Cockburn
22. “Daughter” - Pearl Jam
It is wild how early gender socialization starts.
I am here at Blue Door Cafe in Berkeley, an enjoyable spot to write and get some work done, and there are two single-stall bathrooms, one clearly marked “men” and the other “women.” I tend to use whichever is unlocked at the time, since they’re both literally identical. Since I just have to pee regardless of the sign. Since they could very easily change the sign to be an all-inclusive family restroom for less than $20. I’ve considered asking the staff why they haven’t yet - I’m not sure what stops me.
I remember not too long ago on a hike through Muir Woods, there were gender-inclusive restrooms with people of all genders coming out of either door. A little boy who was in line with his father ran away from the doors, confused about where to go, his nervousness not assuaged by his father’s explanation that “boys and girls” could use the bathroom. The boy finally and reluctantly followed his patient father into the restroom, still in shock that “anyone” could use it.
Public restrooms (and, well, anything public) have been a symbol of shame and repression for many groups of people. In seeing Hidden Figures this weekend, I was reminded of the struggles of segregation and racial oppression. In several scenes throughout the film, Katherine is seen sprinting nearly six blocks just to relieve herself - there were no bathrooms “for her” in any of the nearby buildings. The separate restrooms not only reinforced white superiority – they spell out in no uncertain terms the disgust white folks felt (and feel) towards Black bodies – that we are dirty, unclean, unsafe to share facilities with.
The need to relieve oneself is one that almost all humans share, unless you’re a superhero. But it’s a painful experience for many - for Katherine who had to run half a mile and back, and also for people who are transgender or don’t fit neatly into the gender binary. I have personally lost count of the amount of times I have been given looks, or been told I am in the “wrong” bathroom, but it’s enough that I’ll often just wait until I get home. A 2015 study found that 6 of 10 trans people have “held it” in public spaces, and that 8% of those have developed UTIs or other bladder conditions from long term effects. Harsh legislation in states like North Carolina have forced transgender people to use bathrooms that match their birth-assigned sex, rather than their gender.
While I don’t think the comparison between segregation and trans people being kept out of bathrooms is the same - there are similarities. Black people, and Black men in particular, have been seen as predators of white women - this fear led to accusations of rape and subsequent lynchings, and the fear of Black people plays into the segregated facilities - again, that we are unclean and unsafe.
The majority of rhetoric concerning the issue of trans people using the restroom has painted the community as predators: “men in dresses” will go into bathrooms to prey on innocent girls and women. And worse - with fatal consequences - that trans women “trick” cisgender men. Despite the fact that there have been little to no recorded instances of trans people preying on people in restrooms, and the fact that they are much more likely to be targets of violence rather than perpetrators - lawmakers and citizens alike have perpetuated the idea that trans people (and especially trans women of color) are preying, malicious, and evil - thereby justifying their murders and exclusion. Fear and oppression go hand-in-hand.
Fear strips our ability to grant human dignity. Even something as universal as needing to relieve oneself can result in ridicule, harassment, and even fatal violence. It seems to me that the very least we could do is change the signs on single-stall restrooms so that people can use it without the threat of harassment of violence. And examine where our fear comes from.
lim-i-nal; adjective, technical:
1. relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process.
2. occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold.
The Bay Area is full of bridges, all of which I’ve been apprehensive about crossing at some point in my life. Growing up in Michigan until I was 13, I didn’t see or cross bridges until we moved here, and I didn’t like them very much. I’m not fan of heights, especially man-made heights, especially suspended over water, especially in an area where there are earthquakes, especially when there is traffic.
It’s not surprising, then, that I started to have nightmares about bridges at least once a year. I would get them every once and a while, calm myself down, and say a prayer every time I had to cross the Richmond-San Rafael to get back up to school. Back then, the dreams would come every once and a while. Now they come every couple months.
The dreams have always varied slightly, but they always end up the same way: with me in the water or narrowly escaping a fall. I never get to the other side.
Last night, I had a long conversation with a friend about the one year anniversary of the Bay Bridge shut down, held on Martin Luther King day. As we reflected on our own activism and lessons learned, the image of the bridge was imprinted in my mind. And in the early hours of this morning, the bridge dream (nightmare) came: I was driving (maybe racing) along, eager to get off the bridge, when another car read-ended me and purposefully pushed my car over the guard rail. I climbed out of the car just in time to jump and reach the bars, pull myself up, and watch my red jeep plummet and submerge into the bay. I tried to walk my way across, but the bridge started to collapse.
I never got to the other side.
And there have been dozens of these narrow escape dreams over the past year, increasing in frequency. There was another where I was driving along, police officers on either side of my car, and I was forced to drive off of a gap in the middle of the bridge. In another, I was cruising and was warned that the bridge would collapse. I had to climb down to the bottom, where whales were waiting to carry me to safety (yes, really - it’s a dream!) In each and every dream, there’s some diversion or catastrophic event that keeps me from completing my journey or reaching the end destination.
I never get to the other side.
I think these dreams are about many things to me and I learn something new from them each time. Sometimes, I view the dreams as signals to stay on my path (or to get clear about what my final destination is), but after this morning, I think more about my gender journey and how I have always felt between two places that society has defined. The start of the bridge is from birth - a “beautiful baby girl,” and the other side would represent a full transition of body and mind, or becoming male. (I never get to the other side).
In the dreams, beside the initial panic of narrowly escaping death, I am never upset that I didn’t get to where I’d been headed. I’m just happy to be alive. Maybe the dream is about accepting this stage of liminality where I reside, and re-defining the process and “end goal” for myself. It is about being able to distinguish external pressures that want to box me in or push me along, versus my own inner voice. And it is about survival under forces that never wanted me alive to begin with. It is about breathing into the threshold and fully living, not just focusing on the destination.
I never get to the “other side” because the “other side” has always been decided for me.
But I get to decide.
There are conscious thoughts that come through our minds, in our own voices. They help us keep track of the endless lists of life’s to do’s, process what’s happening immediately around us, warn us about danger, and race around from topic to topic. We all have those voices. I have a very active mind, and it isn’t always a clear train of thought, carrying one idea to a conclusion that makes sense. It’s more like a teleporter - I often have no idea how I arrived from one place to another. It’s jumpy, anxious, moving.
I like the running, scattered narrative in my head. It’s imaginative and makes me laugh with its randomness, its repetitiveness. It will tell me the same jokes, retain the same memories and sensations, tell me the same stories. And that’s where the damage is. The same stories.
The story, the original one from where all the others branch, is the same, effectively: “You ain’t shit, and you ain’t ever gon be shit.” Harsh, powerful, and repetitive. And with nothing to counter it, the story seeps into my bloodstream, leaks out all over my body, weighs down my head and shoulders. Depression. You ain’t shit.
For a long time, ever since I was young (six or seven), I wrote to escape hearing that story. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I would write stories as my own therapy. I was painfully shy and withdrawn so I didn’t talk, but I wrote as soon as I could hold a pen. I wrote this novel about dragons and all sorts of fantastical creatures at the hormonal age of thirteen. Back then, I wrote to escape reality; now, I write to confront and process it.
The thing about “you ain’t shit” as a narrative is that it’s effective. That’s good storytelling - it convinces whoever is reading or listening by coming up with sub-plots and all the examples why it’s true: “You ain’t shit and I’ma tell you why.” It’s convincing, and it’s the story I’ve gone with for a long time now. But, it’s a lie.
2017 and beyond is my time for purposefully, thoroughly, and masterfully crafting a new narrative for my life. The story I have been listening to has never served me - it’s like a nasty piece of gossip that gets passed around, destroying reputations. No, it is time for a new narrative. I am committed to penning my greatest literary work yet: the story of self love, acceptance, and power.
2017 is the year of Re-Writing My Narrative. And I am already thriving.
musings of a Black, queer and genderqueer activist, educator, musician.