Black Men Are Only Good When We Are Exceptional…Or Dead.

Black Women's Silence Has Never Gotten Us Free, Love.

 

All of this talk about Jay-Z has, not surprisingly, made me feel some kind of way.

I remember getting a call from my friend a few months ago, a Black woman, who lived in the New York at the time. She had been on my mind because she is a fountain of joy overflowing with the strength of truth telling. I wanted to talk to her because someone I cared about had just been sexually assaulted and I needed help processing it. I needed help figuring out how to be supportive.  Before I got a chance to talk with her about my friend, she told me about getting sexually harassed on the subway and she wanted to talk it through with me.

I listened to her story and tried, as best as I could, to be supportive of her. Eventually, she got to the point that all the Black women in my life get to in stories like this. The point where they say “but I just didn’t want to say anything because I feel like Black men are already so attacked right now, you know?” I had heard it before. It was the same reason that the person close to me did not want to report what had happened to her.

I was immediately filled with rage.

The rage of my friends being unsafe. The rage at understanding that these assaults are not isolated incidents. The rage at the reminder that they had just killed Philando Castile and it was not safe to be a Black man in America. But mostly the rage that my persecution was used to silence my sister. Rage that Black men could simultaneously be so monstrous that we need to put down for caring a pen and so fragile that talking about street harassment would tear us asunder. Rage that rage was the only feeling I knew how to feel.

I told my friend the only thing I could: “Black women’s silence has never gotten us free, love.”

To which she replied “But we keep trying it, don’t we.”

We do.

 

“If you are silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it.” –Zora Neale Hurston

 

Black men have survived the middle passage, slavery, sharecropping, Jim Crow and lynching. How have we gotten to the point where we think Black men can’t survive the truth? Black people need Black women to break their silence.

Patriarchy, like all forms of oppression, breeds in isolation. Black people cannot get free if 51% of our people are in chains of a Black man’s making. AND, at the same time, I can’t shake the weight of the reality that Black men are only good when we are exceptional…or dead. And let’s be honest, usually only when we are dead.

I wonder sometimes. Did anyone ever call Mike Brown a good kid to his face, when he was still alive for it to matter? Did we tell Eric Garner he was a good father for doing whatever he could to bring home some change before his daughter told us to organize? Did people tell Trayvon that he had a bright future before a white man robbed him of it? I doubt it happened very often.

Black men are mostly talked about when we ain’t shit, absent or dead. Oh, there’s Idris’s too fine ass or Jessie Williams before he started dating white women… but they are exceptional. We only talk about them in contrast to other men, especially other Black men. The serial rapist Bill Cosby had more Black people capping for his lying ass than any Black man I know personally…because he was exceptional. He used to be exceptionally respectable and now we know he’s exceptionally fucked up.

Again, Black women hold me down. They always have and history has shown that they probably always will. In private, Black men support me while holding me accountable. Yet for the most part, besides my chosen and blood sisters, even the Black women who support me, praise me for being exceptional. I’ve done “the work.” I read bell hooks. I support the women in life in visible ways. I have mastered performative solidarity. I’ve learned how to be what my friend once called “a safe nigga.”

It’s rare that I am told that I’m still worthy of being loved when I’ve fucked up, especially from other men. It’s rare that people remind me, when I come home tired and angry from walking through a white world, that I’m still worthy of being loved. Like my uncle used to say, ain’t no body going to thank you for paying the bills on time, but they sure do holla when it gets shut off.

There is some sad truth to the old Chris Rock joke that niggas always want credit for some shit we supposed to do. Imma be honest. I really need that shit. Part of my on-going journey in overcoming patriarchy is to be in touch with my pain and be real about my needs. I know I am responsible for meeting 80% of my needs myself but that other 20% can be so crucial. I need, and I think Black men as a whole need, some public validation that even when we are alive and unexceptional, we are worthy of love. We need it from Black women and Black GNC folk but mostly, I think we need it from each other.

I think honestly I’d settle for the recognition that these social expectations are literally killing me. Paying the bills on time is a struggle when the bills are more than you make every month.

Sometimes I wish people recognized that the way I used my overdraft protection and post-dated checks like credit is Black boy alchemy. Me and my brothers are stretching a week’s pay to a month’s electricity like an old testament prophet.  I wish people realized that my ability to remind my sisters that they are beautiful despite what society tells them is the art of Black male healing that my grandfather taught me.

I wish that I had been taught that my desire to push people further, to realize their full potential, could be sacred masculinity; that I didn’t have to tear folks down to build them up. I wish we talked more about Black men who didn’t need to drag Black women over the coals in order to heal and get their shit together. I wish we could have a holiday to thank all the Black men whose aggressive posturing towards white people on street corners is the only reason I can afford to live in my neighborhood.

Sometimes I’ve wished that there were more writers like Langston Hughes and James Baldwin. I wish there were more writers who could express their love for me. I wish I could tell all the little Black boys jumping rope and being carefree that they are the real MVP. I wish I was better at telling my own father that I love him. I wish everyone knew him like I did.  I wish I could explain that I forgive him for being so tired every day when he came home…cause the bills were always paid on time. I wish we knew how to do that while recognizing that my mother paid more bills that he did.

I wish there was way to be real about the fact that my mother learned how to carry all that weight and still smile and play puppet games and that the difference in their capacity for affection is real and fucked up and still doesn’t detract from the fact that my dad loved me and showed it. He showed me he loved me in the only way he knew how, until he learned to show it better, to say it better, to apologize for not showing it in healthy ways and do better to love by building us up without tearing us down. I wish we knew how to praise him for learning how to love without losing sight of the system that never taught him.

I believe, and will always believe, that Black women need to speak their truth and their pain. The truth of all those 0-4:33 women show us how much work we have to do. It forces us to be better. But I need our politics to tell the whole story: that we are still good while we are trying to get to better.

I need a politics that acknowledges the Black men who stay, who hold families and communities down. I need a politics that acknowledges the Black men who show up and quietly do the work. I need a politics that can praise Black male charisma as divine and beautiful and necessary even as it challenges its centrality. I need a politics that can hold the reality of rape culture in one hand and the capacity for Black men to address harm without causing more harm in the other. I need a politics that can hold the capacity for violence in Black patriarchy and the reality of Black male growth.

I need a politics that can hold all of me and love me even, maybe especially, when I’m not exceptional.

I need a politics that can love me before I’m dead.

Femminist Reflections on My Spritual Sabbatical pt 3

Headed Towards the Light: An Itinerant Cartographers Unfinished Guide to the Poetics of the Movement for Black Lives.

My thoughts coalesce in long walks.

I take long, slow and steady strolls throughout the city examining the network of disparate thoughts that float through my mind. Each step makes a critical connection. Each street corner reminds me of another data point. My mind elongates in tandem with my strides, expanding to compute a thousand daily concerns and musing.

Over the past month I have walked through several valleys of understanding. I’ve taken a really long and hard look at how I’ve been operating over the past year. At first, it was difficult even to focus on it all. Every action, speech, rally and interaction with police was blurred together in one side splitting mental imprint of stress, anxiety, hope, rage and fear.

As I strolled through city blocks in DC and Brooklyn, I unpacked these dense imprints to examine the impact this year had on me. As I unpacked them, I could feel myself decompress and a weight slowly begin to lift off my shoulders. Unencumbered by these chains of constant anxiety I saw a bit of my former self start to return.

I began to remember how much I enjoy playing the dozens with friends and family. I remembered how calm I used to feel before the hurricane of constant organizing. I began to be able to appreciate, for the first time in a long time, how truly wonderful, amazing and beyond my wildest dreams this past year had been.

Despite the pain and agony of constantly reacting to another death, another sign that we are not meant to survive this system, I realized that I have been blessed with a wonderful, radical and radically supportive community. I have been blessed with an increased faith in my abilities and decreased need to prove my worth. I have been blessed with a spiritual awareness of the world and my place in it. I have become more acquainted with my internal power and more comfortable standing in it.

With each step, I was able to gain more and more of this perspective and more and more weight fell off my shoulders. Yet something has been missing. There has been an almost indiscernible feeling of internal lacking, of waiting from something to enter my life and complete my sabbatical.

I realize that I’ve been waiting, somewhat foolishly, for my old self to return. Yet the more I reflect, the more I realize that he no longer exists. Part of him grew up over the past two years and part of him was buried in Baltimore. In his place is n older, more patient, more jaded and more self-aware blend of echoes of my father and the person I was as a kid.

______________________________________________________

Walking is one of the few things that can slow the torrent of coupled thoughts that often race through my mind. It is one of the few forms of meditation that brings me to the particular sort of calm in which I feel the most myself. It is a reflective, active calm like the mind of an athlete ready to jump. Even though the blood begins to rush into my hands in anticipation, unlike an athlete, my movements are entirely metaphoric.

It is perhaps ironic then that after my walks I could not describe to you much of what I saw nor could I give you directions to where I went. I have no mind for mundane details. I remember only the slight details a painter might use to accent a work or the descending notes a composer uses to let you know the piece was ending. I tend to only remember the details useful for storytelling.

It might then be even more ironic that I have come to think of myself as a verbal cartographer. I cannot, for the life of me, tell you how to get from point A to B but I could describe, illustratively and in exquisite detail what the journey will feel like. I could point out to you, if you were interested, the history of significant ruins you might encounter along the way. I would end each map with a key explaining why the journey is so viscerally important. Yet I’m very bad at directing folks to where I feel they should go because it assumes a specific singular destination.

I think this is why I prefer poetry to prose.
It’s easier.
A rarity of words,
Increases impact.

Like a lover,
leaving the ring on the counter,
in lieu papers;
communicating more in questions begged,
than answers given.

But I digress.

I have, over the past year, developed more interest in complicating journeys than prescribing destinations. Perhaps it’s fatigue. Perhaps it’s uncertainty. Perhaps it’s a begrudging humility. Likely it’s all three. Either way, I’m more interested in poetry than prose.

“I speak here of poetry as a revelatory distillation of experience, not the sterile word play that, too often, the white fathers distorted the word poetry to mean–in order to cover a desperate wish for imagination without insight.”
Lorde, Audre. “Poetry Is Not a Luxury.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches.

In another life I would have been a cartographer.

I can see myself devouring the latest missives from the “new world.” Immediately incorporating them in my maps. The outlines of coasts getting more and more accurate as times goes on. The descriptions of the people and culture getting more vivid and useful.

But the edges of the map, of the known world, would always be illustrated with the myths I felt to be true. The gryphons of the cold wintery north, dragons of the distance east, the giants that laid waste to the northern desserts. Over time we will discover the eagles, the alligators, the massive blue whales and giant squids that looked like krakens and myth will turn into science and we will pretend that we understand the world.

These are the many tensions in my soul. The observed and the felt. The diagram and the dreamscape. Different understandings fueled by a desire to know and explore, driven by the most ardent curiosity. A deep sense of the world in its totality but lack of understanding.
Of it’s beauty.
Its wonder.
It’s terror.
It’s Poetics.
Dialectical, symmetrically assembled choreography of masses, forces and networks of consciousness that I feel a deep, ethereal connection to.

I will forever be in debt to writers like Audre Lorde and Octavia Butler and Adrienne Maree Brown and Alexis Pauline Gumbs  for giving me language to explore and illustrate the edges of the map. I will be in debt to thinkers and spiritualists like Erika Totten and Omolara Williams McCallister for reminding me that there are many levels and kinds of understanding and multiple dimensions on which to know a thing. It is debt shared by all the Black Queer Feminist in my life whose power and energy inspire me, especially my sisters who taught me how to dream.

This is all to say, after a month long spiritual sabbatical, I wish to share with you a map of the edge of my understanding. I wish to illustrate, in the best medium I have available to me [poetics], the uncharted territory that my movement family and I have been exploring in the past year in the Movement for Black Lives.

A Unfinished Map Towards Liberation:

The topography is vigorous,
A land of dynamic forces.
Energies that are both waves and particles:
ideas,
impulses,
neurons firing in our brains
and chemical reactions to historical, economic, existential and social stimulants.
There are forces of beauty and wonder,
forces of oppression and human limitation.
There is bondage and emancipation.
Growth and decay.
Blossoming and withering.

These forces etch themselves unto the landscape of human experience, craving systems of opposition, obstacles to forward paths and valleys of understanding.

The west side of the map is our past: clouded in the fog of war, myth and dogma.

In the middle lies our present: dense, humid and warming.

Towards the east is our unknowable future: shrouded in mystery and wrapped in anticipation.

To the north is the observable world of facts and figures and

in the south lies the equally true world of dreams, feelings, imaginations, the science of living and other knowings.

 

Liberation lies to the SE of our present location.

“The man who knows something knows that he knows nothing at all.” Erykah Badu – On and On

 

As we travel towards liberation, we must ensure we are equipped for the journey. It is a rough road for the ill-prepared. We could not climb the mountains of true understanding without collecting the theory and analysis of the north and weaving them into the dreams and internal knowings of the south. Unfortunately, our species is not yet equipped to walk a straight path towards liberation. It will be meandering journey of starts and stutters.

On the frayed edges of the map are the metaphysical oceans where the forces of the land coalesce and pool. The rocky bays that connect these rivers of forces to the oceans of power filter out the impurities of domination, hierarchy, and inequity. Still, the depths of these oceans are dangerous to the unpracticed swimmer. The call of God is a siren to the unlearned ear, pulling you into these jagged rocks and in these oceans lay a terrifyingly transformative power.

Notes on the oceans of power:

From my travels in the south, I learned to bottle my dreams so that I can access this power. I see my sisters access it at protests. I drink from it nightly and feel it overwhelm me when I speak truth to the world. I sense is flow through me as my mind flows unto the page.
I intuit that this emotional energy, this transformative power, has the capacity to shatter this land.

I can access it at any time.

Sometimes, when I allow myself to access this power, shutting down highways, testifying in the Wilson building as knowledge coalesces effortlessly in my mind and flows freely from my lips; I think that the power is right when it suggests that I should break the world.

 

I am terrified, infatuated and addicted to this embodied power.

  • My movement family and I access this power together.
  • Collectively we both heighten it and hold it accountable.
  • I believe that this power is our salvation.
  • I have recognized this power as my birthright.
  • I have invited you, before I was even aware of what it was, to drink from my dreams and stand in this power with me.

 

 

“I see protest as a genuine means of encouraging someone to feel the inconsistencies, the horror of the lives we are living. Social protest is saying that we do not have to live this way. If we feel deeply, and we encourage ourselves and others to feel deeply, we will find the germ of our answers to bring about change. Because once we recognize what it is we are feeling, once we recognize we can feel deeply, love deeply, can feel joy, then we will demand that all parts of our lives produce that kind of joy. And when they do not, we will ask, “Why don’t they?” And it is the asking that will lead us inevitably toward change.

So the question of social protest and art is inseparable for me. I can’t say it is an either-or proposition. Art for art’s sake doesn’t really exist for me. What I saw was wrong, and I had to speak up. I loved poetry, and I loved words. But what was beautiful had to serve the purpose of changing my life, or I would have died. If I cannot air this pain and alter it, I will surely die of it. That’s the beginning of social protest.”

“Audre Lorde.” Black Women Writers at Work. Ed. Claudia Tate. NY: Continuum, 1983. 100-16.

The Movement for Black Lives is not asking for special treatment for Black people. Nor are we only asking for our needs to finally be meet after centuries of erasure or myths of pathology.

Rather, activists are returning from the edges of the known world, pointing out the holes in the dominate logics and inviting the world to stand with us in the light that shines through. We are shouting to you that this light is proof that this world is under ground, buried beneath a capitalist system of dominance maintained by patriarchy and white supremacy.

The movement for Black Lives is reminding all of us that we need to head SE towards liberation.

Years of being underground, submerged in this system, has dimmed many of our faculties while studying our surroundings [even in dimness] has brightened others. Yet all told, we have lived only in the north for far too long. We have become stagnant in our civilizations, forgotten our migratory nature and carved out pieces of the earth.

As if we could own it.

As if it didn’t own us.

We have lost much of the accumulated wisdom of the south. We have forgotten about how to be, to live in harmony with our selves, to seek to learn from the world without destroying it.

The M4BL is asserting that the particular position of Black people [especially Working Class Black Queer Women] in the system and the history invasions that forced us to flee periodically to the south gives us the second sight to help guide humanity out of the darkness and into the light.

We are giving you fair warning before we drag this whole system, amid its suffocating totality, into the above ground world we have been forced out of and almost forgotten.

We do not believe that when we return to the light we will return to a previous way of life. We are futurist not primitivists. We have chosen to be Diasporic Cosmonauts not earthly refugees. What is past is prologue, it needn’t be destiny nor our chosen destination. We believe that once in the light we must still journey east towards liberation, onwards to a new world that is better than we have ever experienced or can currently imagine.

The Movement for Black Lives believes in the fundamental ability of our imaginations and dreams to store and share transformative power. The power that we need to overcome the totality of capitalism and logics of dominance. The same power we will need to climb the mountains of true understanding.

 

We, beautifully flawed humans that can neither tolerate a world order that, in thinking we are worthy of its oppression, is beneath us nor wait idly by as it consumes itself, are headed towards the lands filled with the glorious black light of the power contained in the ocean of human imagination. We will not merely content ourselves to observe the effects of its absence.

Ours is a long march of trials, falters, tribulations, celebrations and lessons.

We are unlearning that all struggle must be painful and that all pain is wasteful. We are relearning the elation of change, the euphoria of spiritual endorphins that comes from exercising new muscles of self-determination.

Our wanderings in the south have taught us to embody old stories in new ways. We have become updaters and remixers not needless iconoclasts. We are Christ like in our imperfect divinity and utilizing of love, Mohammedan in our submission to the divine and commitment to study and like Moses we lead the captive, sometimes too content to settle near the lands of the pharaoh, on the long march to emancipation.

We are workers building class consciousness and harnessing the science of revolution in a new economy. Mothers who are also teachers and nurses smashing the patriarchy and midwives birthing a gender fluid world. We are the Ebony skinned neo-abolitionists delivering the supersedants to zion. We are anarchist fighting against the alienation of our transformative power. All while being queer as fuck and refusing to let these histories, texts or identities define us.

If this way of being destroys your idols it is collateral damages of a fluid world in motion.

Notes on the Underground Landscape:

“Alienation is the gap between desire and what is socially valued, between our potential to transform the world and the theft and parasitic use of that power by capital and the state.” Anonymous

 

 

Capitalism became total, and blotted out the sun, when it began selling us deficits instead of just commodities. We now have a culture of deficits and inflated spiritual debts. We are too ugly. Too Black. Too poor. Too femme. Too foreign. Or too queer to fit in. We must work, buy, sell and scrape to get closer to an unattainable able-bodied, symmetric, fit, white, wealthy, male ideal citizen.

What we have is a global system of perverted forces that create false scarcities and deficits before providing draining resources we are told will solve them. It is as if we are desert people living in a glorious oasis but being sold salt water and taught that to live is to hydrate.

The long buried truth is that the vocation of all humans is to live fully and in communion with their needs and shared desires. We are the intellectually nomadic bards of our own histories and songs, living well in order to share our stories with each other. The fullness to which we aspire is a facet of our species’ current and progressing social and economic development which in turn shapes our desires.

Yet we are told that in order to live we must work and observe and buy.

 

We are told what we must do in order to be.

The options given to us in the cold calculating north, these shadow life vocations, constantly place us under the control of others but out of relationship with ourselves and each other. Most revolutionary ethos in the west merely seek to change the ruling class without changeling the idea of ruling. Others merely put forth hollow and solitary images of individual self-determination.

Our journeys southland, to our dreams, have taught us that instead we must reframe our whole realm of living. We must stop wasting our spiritual energy tweaking the details of our alienation from our true vocation–cultivating a land we were never meant to settle in–so that we no longer have any opinions on its totality.

 

“In a caricature of antagonisms, power urges everyone to be for or against Brigitte Bardot, the nouveau roman, the 4-horse Citroën, spaghetti, mescal, miniskirts, the UN, the classics, nationalization, thermonuclear war and hitchhiking. Everyone is asked their opinion about every detail in order to prevent them from having one about the totality.” Basic Banalities — Raoul Vaneigem

 

Yet our goal cannot be as narrow as ending capitalism. This map leads to liberation, not merely away from our past. While this global society serves our bosses more than us and they exhibit more control over it, the system does not really serve them either. The same way that proximity to power is not power, having the system geared towards you does not mean it fulfills you. It does not allow the wealthy to fulfill their full vocation. Their true vocation is not power. Yet their options are limited by their determined gaze at their feet on our backs.

They are merely favored captives chained by their fathers and forced to stare at shadows of the forms on the walls of the cave; convinced that it’s not prison because they have box seats. The same gaslights they use to tell us that America is not a prison because we have cable in here.

The same can be said of emotionally stunted men and emotionally fragile whites too chained to their positions above those they oppress to run freely and gaily southeasterly towards their true vocations.

This does not absolve them [or us] of their [or our] complicity, it merely goes to show us that switching positions with them or raising everyone to their standard [as if this would even be possible without destroying the very system that enshrines and maintains that standard] is not a solution.

Reform is not revolution.

Equity is not liberation.

Notes on the Roads to Liberation[s]:

There is no one path to Liberation. The straight course from our current position to liberation is perilous and we are not equipped to take it.

We must use the analysis of the north to identify the systems of oppression that alienate us from our true vocation. We must use the dream materials of the south to dismantle them and create space for our evolving work that approaches authentic fulfilling human vocation. We must synthesis the techniques of the north and south to heal ourselves and our communities in order to clear our collective imaginations of the miasma of oppression and fog of trauma that clouds our vision. We must work together to build a new world aligned with our new vision in the shell of the old world we are dismantling. All of this must happen at once.

Yet this work does not happen in a vacuum. In order to work collectively we must address the systems of oppression; white supremacy, patriarchy and xenophobia, which has thwarted journeys in the past. This path is hard and healing will consistently be needed. The way forward is dark and we will need our theory to guide the way, our historical experience and the wisdom of our ancestries will guide us through forks in the road. We must develop spiritual practices and spiritual farms [beloved communities] that will feed us as we crawl through the darkness headed towards the light.

This is the unfinished map of the Movement for Black Lives. It is for this vision we are dragging our society kicking and screaming through the darkness and into the light. We may stumble, we may falter, we may get lost but we are committed to our task.

We fight even for those you would not fight for us. We fight even for those who would stand against us. While powerful, we are not large enough to hold this society on our backs without dropping or fragmenting parts. We cannot hold enough of it in our consciousness to ensure that precious parts of it are not forgotten. So those of you who share these visions, dreams and analyses must carry your load of the world with us.

  • Only collective liberation is strong enough to carry all of society into the light without tearing it asunder.
  • Only collective liberation can provide enough guidance to show us the way to the light, without it we can only fight against the darkness unsure if we are headed up or down.
  • Only collective liberation can plant the spiritual fruits complex enough to feed the army of sojourners needed to bring this society into the light. And only in the light and we build the true world.
  • Only in the light can we see and be our true selves.

So I invite you to drink from this cup of dreams, to stand in this power with me.

Together we shall create a revolutionary communal praxis able to wield our new analytical dreamscapes through story and song, organizing and building, through destruction and creation and ultimately: rebirth.

So Many Started Things Need Finishing

Do the Laundry
Vacuum my room
Cook Diner
Buy Groceries
Loss Five Pounds
Update Work Plans
Finish Action Planning
Figure Out How To Convince the Workers to Accept the Settlement
Re-write Short Story Ending
Record Poems
Finish Reading the Mayor’s Budget
Finish Reading Sister Outsider
Figure Out How To Say Goodbyes…

So many started things need finishing.
Saul checks the watch his cousin gave him in Chicago two years ago. The one with the chipped glass that he had made plans to fix on Friday after work and before the panel on gentrification he still had to prepare for. It was 9:32. That means it had been almost an exactly 20 minute ride from the restaurant back to his house, assuming that they had only spent 5 minutes in forced pleasantries with his roommates downstairs.

Tomorrow he would have to check in with Karen and ask her about her day. He had been too anxious to ask when he walked in with Angela. He could tell that she wanted to talk with him. He feels bad. He also needs to remember to ask her if they picked a date for the townhall so he could start making turn out calls.

His gluttonous mind was acutely aware of every detail of his room. The union pin reminding him to finish up the grievance form, cross it off his infinite to-do list. The crumpled up draft legislation on the floor reminds him to push out some talking points tonight. He’ll just re-write the ones from last year.

Dirty underwear laying on the floor reminds him he needs to finish the essay he had started on Tuesday instead of doing laundry. He should have cleaned his room before he brought a second date home. She probably doesn’t have enough affinity for him to overlook the filth. Though in fairness, he thought, there is no way he could have predicted this date would end up in his room. Oh, right, he remembers, the date that is happening now.

Saul tries to be present as the remnants from the early spring shower are dripping slowly and soundlessly on the window. The street lamp’s dim light is refracting within the moving droplets. If you are watching closely, you can see a million tiny rainbows on the windowsill. It is what his mother had always called exquisite sacred beauties, the ordinary places where god showed up.

Saul finds himself wondering if other people sees these little things. The play of light on bedroom windows after a storm; the patterns of creases on the bed sheets; the semi irregular assemblage of nobs on the radio that looked like Morse code; the creases on the corners of her lips that came from excessive laughter.

He wonders how she can sit there in front of him like she is not the most beautiful woman in the world. It always amazes him how otherwise observant people could be oblivious to their own beauty. He knows most men would have pointed this out to her by now instead of sitting in silent admiration. Yet Saul feels a deep comfort in the silences, even if they were partly a response to an intimacy that had developed perhaps too quickly in the course of two dates.

Part of him knew that a lot was being assumed about each other in these silences. That their relationship thus far had been laying out their hearts to each other, without discussing all the connective tissues that really made them who they were. With her he experiences silence as an endless series of pregnant pauses giving birth to something magically mundane. He felt an almost meditative calm begin to wash over him. Saul notices that the rhythm of Angela’s breathing was starting to match his own. He was beginning to feel that each deep, almost luxurious breath he took was drawing them closer. It makes the silence seem almost metaphysically productive.

Saul checks his watch, out of habit, but quickly forgets the time. Each moment of silence seems to grow in importance to him. Like sitting here poised precariously between the towering clutter of laundry that still needed to be folded and papers that still needed to be sorted, was the most important thing he could be doing.

Angela communicates volumes in these silences. Straight backed with a naturally proud poise, she exudes a vibrant confidence, even in moments like this. The ease of this moment is part of what Saul likes about her. Her openness always seems so organic, like a warm invitation to an intimate space that she is waiting to walk with him. Her warm solid vulnerability was the first thing he looked for in her eyes but the last thing he wanted her to see in his.

“When I was a kid,” He says stepping into the silence for a moment, “I used to love it when it rained like it was raining earlier. Torrential rain.”

“Really?” She smiles, imagining a smaller, infinitely more endearing Saul running through puddles. “Why?”

“Me and my siblings used to build a dam around this little…um…little…you know those little tubes that they put under country roads? To make sure they don’t get rained out?”

“Like a drainage pipe?” Angela says quizzically as she unconsciously hooked a stray hair behind her ear. The ardent curiosity in her eyes when she listens to Saul makes him light headed at times. Sometimes Saul wishes he could see himself how she sees him. Interesting, engaging and full of a powerful wonder. He wants so badly to be man she sees when she looks into him.

Maybe that is what attracts me to her he thought. Besides the messy dark hair that always seems to need to be pushed past her ear in a habitual, youthful way. Maybe that is why he had asked her out on that first date two weeks ago, despite feeling assured that she had a million better things to do. She had an art show coming up next week. The Dirty Lemons were going to be playing at the 9.30 club on Friday. The diverse city grant was due tonight and he is pretty sure she had been meaning to apply.

Yet she makes Saul feel comfortable in needing a human connection, she makes him feel worthy of it. She scrunches her eyes together as if forcing her brain to think of another word for the pipes that ran under small side roads, just as a Kodaline song started to seep out the speakers on his night stand.

So you brought out the best of me,
A part of me I’ve never seen.
You took my soul and wiped it clean.
Our love was made for movie screens.

Saul feels an unusual overwhelming poignancy in the moment; so full of meaning as to seem fake. Yet encouraged by her openness, Saul forces himself to not over-intellectualize the moment and wade into the youthful buoyance of it. Both Saul and Angela smile as he leans back for a second and mouths the words:

But if you loved me
Why’d you leave me?
Take my body,
Take my body.
All I want is,
And all I need is
To find somebody.
I’ll find somebody.

He isn’t singing the words to her, not really, but the effect is the same. Angela takes in a deep stuttering breathe to steady herself. Saul begins to sway gently as the song continues, his knees softly pressing against hers as he keeps the beat. Each causal touch feels almost like an embrace, and both Angela and Saul could feel their heartbeats building faster than the tempo. Saul smiles a slightly cocky smile that he has no faith in, which Angela correctly presumes is full of the same mixture of heady emotional longing and fear and uncertainty that she herself feels.

“Yeah, a drainage pipe” Saul begins again as the song lingers on in the background. “It was one of those old country roads. When spring came, we’d have these giant rain storms. I remember loving the feeling of the pressure changing in the air. It felt like the whole world has building to something it couldn’t contain. Then there would be a flash of lightning and thunder that seemed to shake the ground and the sky seemed to overflow with water. Inches of rain every hour would come pouring from the sky like a dam had burst in heaven. It was moment that I wanted to last forever, and sometimes I feel like…”

“Weren’t you scared,” Angela interjected, breaking herself momentarily from his story “how old were you?”

“I was terrified, maybe like 10 or 11, but also excited, anxious and…”

“Where were your parents?” Angela is visibly concerned and partly incredulous.

“…That’s a good question…around, I imagine. Anyway, we used to build a dam around this drainage pipe. We would stack shovels full dirt until it was taller than I was. We would race to see if we could build a little temporary pond. I remember once, during a particularly bad storm, asking my brother if we could build the dam all the way to the sky and if we did what he thought we’d find there. He would smile and say, ‘the only thing that can stop you is your fear of heights kid, the land above the clouds is where your dreams lay waiting for you jump up and claim them…’”

“Your brother said that?” Angela asks.

“It was something my father used to say to him when was my age, I mean, when he was the age I was then.” Saul replies nearly absent mindedly, watching droplets fall from the tress, the last remnants of the summer squall that was now heading out over Virginia.

Saul sat with that memory for a moment, staring off into the window, half mesmerized by the droplets racing down while the other half of his mind wonders why that memory feels so pressing. Angela is too wrapped up in the story to let Saul ruminate on it for long.

“And your parents just let you guys do this?” Angela says, clearly enthralled with the story. Saul smiles at her concern for the safety of his younger self.

“In my head, I spent most of my childhood roaming the country side with my siblings but, yeah, I think my parents must have been around. They were pretty attentive parents, just not as interesting to me as my siblings.”

“Were you the Black Huck Finn?”

“What?”

“Running through the rustic country side, exploring the world with your best friend, bucking civilization for some nascent sense of the great beyond?”

“I’m not sure the story works if Huck Finn is Black…”

Angela laughs a hearty, full bodied laugh, and slides a strand of her long dark hair behind her ear again. Still smiling, they lock eyes.

“You know what I mean…”

“Yeah, when I was younger, I always felt pulled by a subtle but lingering sense of wanting more out of life; a desire to journey halfcocked at a whim. I always wanted to carry things over the edge and see a…something different…something new…a world beyond my own.”

“Over the edge?”

“Yeah. You know. See what was over the next hill. Take the next left instead of right and just ride off into the sunset. When I was a kid I would extend my ride home from school by hours, taking each route. By the time I went to college I knew every inch of the countryside by my house…But… I’m far too practical or practiced and methodic for that now. I have list of things to do, things to finish, things that keep me firmly here, with my feet on the ground…”

Saul’s words trail off as he suddenly realizes how much he misses that part of himself. He misses being the daring young child, fascinated by dreams of what lay beyond horizons. The world, his world, had seemed much larger then. He finds himself wondering what had pushed him from a budding cartographer to professional list maker.

There is another pregnant pause full of half knowing glances. Angela let’s Saul words sink into both her mind and into the room. She reaches out and places her hand on his arm gently, intuiting that he had inadvertently gotten himself lost in the past. They lock eyes as her warm knowing smile opens up a little space for him to process and just be.

Saul takes a shallow, quick breath and stares into Angela’s eyes for a few long and solid moments while slowly beginning to feel a their shared warmth and a new confidence. There is still a tension in the air, and shared anxiety and nervousness, all of which Saul decides, at last, to ignore.

He feels the pressure in the room build as he holds her gaze. Her clear dark amber eyes reminds him of the late afternoon sun breaking through storm clouds. He wants to say something. He wants to harness the courage of his younger self. He wants to push the moment over the edge. Saul wants to make the sky break open and rain. He wants so much but it’s been so long since he’s felt this way that he is unsure what to do next.

“Can I kiss you?” She asks him.

Saul begins to lean in even before he has fully registered the question. As their lips touch, out of practice, he is in a daze, in unfamiliar territory. The pressure that had been building becomes uncomfortable, like the room can’t hold it all. They break and Saul resists the urge to touch his lips and is left with a lingering sense of disbelief. Like an anxious man wondering if he locked the door to his house, Saul replays the moment to himself several times while staring into Angela’s eyes.

She laughs nervously and anxiously to break a bit of tension. She leans into it and him, resting her head on his shoulder and breathing audibly as if she has opened a pressure value. Saul comes-to slowly. He breathes deeply as he struggles to get on top of all the unexpected emotions he feels abruptly surging inside of him; joy and elation and desire mixed with a fear of the unknown and embarrassment at his detachment.

More expectant moments come that wash away bits of stress with each breath. Soon, the pressure of the room begins to equalize and Saul wraps his weightless arm around her. Angela slowly wraps her arm around his waist, and settles for a moment, peering out the second story window watching droplets of rain race down.

The moment nears a certain perfection, a symmetry that Saul is finally too fully immersed in to make a mental note of. Angela loses the world in the moment and finds herself with alone in the microverse they have created.

A rare sense of shared energy fills the room and suddenly everything was possible.

After a minute, Angela sits up and straightens her back. She looks at Saul and smiles warmly. They sit in the calm as their hearts beat steady synergetic thumps in tandem. Their breathing calms slowly. The weight of the moment is still there, but the room stable. As Saul’s mind clears he is left with that unfamiliar feeling of wanting more; of wanting to lean in and feel what happens when the pressure breaks. He imagines himself leaning in for another kiss, sense its possible completion of the moment so vividly but habit forces hesitation and he says “that was…yeah.”

Angela beams a soft smile of both disappointment and also a relief that surprises her. She turns to watching the droplets race down the window sill for a moment, breathing in step with Saul, letting the pressure build again.

“As a young girl,” She begins in an anxious tone, as if she is starting the story in an attempt to relieve the immensity in the air, “I used to wander the woods behind my aunt and uncle’s house. There was a trail that went from their back door to this pond. It seemed massive to me as a kid but it was probably only 40 feet across. After a rain storm, the pond would over flow and there would be a million little streams that would begin to flow from it. I used to run along the streams to see where the water ended up. I’d get to where one stream ended in a little puddle and then run back to the pond to find another stream I could follow. I used to think that I could follow them all to end. I’d be running all afternoon in the damp woods, until it was too dark to see the streams anymore. Then I’d vow to come back the next day…”

Angela stops in mid-sentence and her demeanor changes as if she suddenly recognizes why she is telling this particular story. Instead of finishing, she stares off through the window. Saul sees the sorrow and disappointment in her eyes and waits for her to continue while slowly rubbing her back. She expects Saul to make a joke, to laugh away the awkwardness of her tangent. Yet he stares intently into her eyes, waiting for her speak. It displays intensity and focus that makes the moment more intimate than she is prepared for. She feels herself exposed and vulnerable but safe and confident as the tension blossoms haphazardly in the silences.

“You can only take so many paths…”

“I’m taking the job in New York,” she says curtly, ended the conversation with a sense of finality that surprises them both.

There is a flash of pain and regret in Saul’s eyes and his mouth stays open briefly as the unfinished sentence tumbles from his mouth unsaid. Closing it, he forces his mouth into a smile.

“Congrats. It seems like the perfect job.” Saul’s face takes longer than he wants to soften from regret to sincerity, “I’m really happy for you.”

Saul is uncertain if all this building tension would end in relief or if he would be carried away by the torrent. Yet he still finds himself wanting more. Saul wants to pierce the tension that is building with the rise and fall of their chests but isn’t sure if he can handle what comes after.

Angela recognizes the panic and uncertainty filling Saul’s face. She leans in and gently runs her fingers through his dreadlocks almost as if she is absent mindedly trying to calm herself along with him. Saul responds by wrapping his arms around her waist and lets his would-be lover hold him. With his ear pressed gently over her chest, Saul thinks he could hear another slab of mud being added to dam holding back their emotions. He listens to the bricks being laid in their shared silence, building themselves higher, haphazardly towards the sky and beyond.

Saul begins to wonder whether this night is the start or end of something new. He wants to check his watch, to find some measure of certainty and control in the squall. He begins to understand how vulnerable he is being held by the smaller woman. Part of him remembers that this level of intimacy on a second date is dangerous.

He can sense that he is teetering on top of a towering structure built in haste for an unsound reason. He feels partly foolish for letting this much pressure grow. Yet most of him, including the part of his soul that feels connected to Angela’s, even that the part of him that knows such connections are rare but not unique, wants to push back the feelings of vertigo and leap.

So he decides to embrace the uncertainty and the fear and jump into the moment. Saul looks up into Angela’s eyes for another endless second before leaning in to kiss her again. Saul remains slightly detached from the moment for a few seconds, lips still unpracticed, still not sure the moment is real. Remembering something of his former self, he decides to close his eyes and lean into the curve. The gently pecking punctuated by bits of nervous laughter quickly build into a torrent of passion. Angela senses Saul’s passion and reciprocates, kissing him more fervently.

Saul lets himself go as he forgets his laundry lists of concerns, tasks and anxieties. The tension slides from dangerous ambiguity to excitement and elation. With each kiss, each caress, an unchecked task fell from his back and lands on the dam that had been building. Saul can feel the structure cresting in the sky just as the gravity of the instant began to crack it.

Angela feels hope growing in the pit of her stomach. The promise of something new, something magical was stirring and racing its way to her brain. The sensations were using her spine, strong and proud and now tingling with sensations, like an elevator shaft. Just before the sensation reaches her brain, just before she recognizes its purpose and communicates it to Saul in their shared languages of kisses and silences she is reminded of the 8 am plane flight that needs booking, of the empty boxes in her apartment that need filling, the good-bye’s letters to finish, thank you notes to sign. She remembers all of the started things that need finishing, the tasks that this dam of emotions they were constructing would not let her complete; the future she was planning that would swept away when the levees failed.

Angela stops, stiffens, and gently pushes Saul off of her just as Saul feels the last bit of stress fall and land on the embankment, shattering it under its own weight. The emotional release should have felt climatic but the distance between them makes it overwhelming. Saul moves away slowly but decisively, now trying to stop himself from being swept away.

They sit in muddled silence now. Saul slowly rubs Angela’s back in a daze as they both catch their breath. Saul tries to read the silence through the torrent of emotions flowing through him. He tries to understand it and her while fighting back a bitter-sweet joy. Each breath is filled with the sweetened remnants of intense satisfaction and the smoky tinge of disappointment. But the language of silence they had shared is gone, and in its place the laundry list of tasks and little anxieties begin to return.

“I just…It always happens like this. We can only follow one path at a time and only so many paths before…before…” She tries to explain, though the words sound dull and incomplete to her.

Saul hears her, nods, and continues to rub her back without really comprehending. The emotional world that their caresses had contained came flooding back in, incomprehensible to him. Sounds and thoughts and plans rushed in and mixed with the joy and ineffable sense of loss too quickly for either of them to decipher. The feeling of standing on top of the unfinished rampart, so close to the sky; a feeling that had been so real just a moment ago that it could only be communicated in silence, was distant and hazy and half formed. As the time passed slowly, he began to wonder if any of it had been real. He only knows he feels the undeniable sense of wanting more.

“How tall did your dams get?” She asks.

“When I was I kid?” Saul responds, remembering the moment when he stood so high on the mound of wet dirt that he seemed to tower over his older siblings. He remembers thinking he could have seen across the entire prairie if the rain hadn’t obscured his line of sight. The feeling of power and certainty felt so visceral and alien and welcomed to him in this moment.

“Unbelievably high” he answers wistfully, happy to be focusing on anything but the present moment “higher than I ever thought I was capable of. Higher than I’ve ever been since….”

Saul laughs, upon hearing himself speak, yet never had a hyperbole rang so true.

“Maybe 5 feet once or twice, but it felt like miles” he admits, “when was the last time you followed the paths behind your aunt’s house?”

Angela smiles, watches the last rain drops trickle down the window and says, as if to herself, “Is that not what I’m doing now?”

The silence that follows is hollow and filled with the remnant emotions of opportunities aborted. Their hearts both beat quickly and in time with their own breathes but no longer in time with each other’s. Now each out of step breath seems cheap and appears to be pushing them apart.

Eventually, Saul and Angela wade through the water logged remnants of their earth worked dam as he walks her to the door. They mumble lies about seeing each other before she leaves and Angela tries to summon up the words to say they should get together again the next times it rains. Instead she leans in, kissing Saul one last time on the lips, and tries to press as much meaning into it as possible.

She tries to tell him how much she wishes she could follow his love till it ran out. She tries to tell him that New York is a short trip away. She tries to tell him that this night meant more to her than the list of to-do’s that forced it to end prematurely. She tries to tell him how badly she wants to jump beyond with him. She tries to impress her new found need for the previous emotional excellence. Yet, as she opens her eyes and they lock with his she sees no sign of comprehension.

As he closed the door behind her, Saul unconsciously felt his lips, feeling like she had left a message on them in braille. Yet his fingers and hands and arms were too heavy and clumsy to decipher it now. He watches her walk away slowly, breathlessly and aimlessly to her car. Then, staring at the broken levees at his feet, the piles of clutter around his house, and remembering the laundry on his bed, Saul began to plan.

The rain drops falling on the window remind him of his younger self. He remembers the feeling of wanting more. The feeling of her lips on his gives him the courage to ask for it, even if her message failed to deliver. He begins to pick up the clutter strewn around the room, making expansive plans for the future as he cleans.

Buy the laundry detergent that makes his cotton shirts feel like silk across his skin.
Clean his bedsheets of the remnants of the night’s mud so that he can awaken afresh in the morning.
Vacuum the dirt off the carpet so that he can feel the soft wispy fabric between his toes.
Buy peaches from the farmer’s markets, sweet like the late summer night, and share them with Karen.
Write a vision statement for my work that ensures I’m heading towards the light and not just fighting back the darkness
Re-write work plan to fit vision statement so that I can feel rejuvenated by my daily work
Write a short story about the tower of Babel
Write a novel about my vision for Black Liberation
Write more poems about melted kisses
Tell her I loved that moment in the sky when I felt closer to an unknown god than ever before
Learn to get better at saying goodbyes
Find Reasons to go the New York.
Fall in Love again.

There are so many started things that need finishing…

Letter to My Niece [and All the Black Girls Struggling in America]

Dear Jadie [and all the other Black girls growing up in a world that erases them and still expects them to carry a nation on their backs],

Keep your head up. Keep your back straight. Keep your eyes open. You have your grandmother’s eyes and the world needs that light to guide it out of the darkness. But don’t do it for the world, keep your eyes open for yourself. You need to keep your eyes open to see the beautiful Black woman you are becoming.

You need to keep your eyes open to see how you are shaping the world with your powerful presence. You need to keep your eyes open to see the beauty the world has to offer. You need to keep your eyes open to learn from my mistakes. You need to keep your eyes open to see the beauty of your mothers, aunts and sisters in the struggle. They will help show you a way to be, though not necessarily your way.

And yes, you need to keep your eyes open to avoid life’s pitfalls and dangers.

We are living in dangerous times. Our oppression is real. Your pain is real and you did nothing to deserve it. Do not hide your head in the sand but don’t let you pain define you. Organize, agitate and speak out to liberate yourself and those around you.

There is power in utterance and as Audre Lorde said, “your silence will not protect you.”

As you sit in class thinking that weight of the world is on your shoulders, know that you don’t carry that weight alone. Know that you don’t have to fix all the world’s ills. Know that you don’t have to climb America’s racial mountain to be successful.

The fate of the world is the responsibility of all of us, just as with the destiny of Black people, it is not your cross to bear.

Please, know that idea of “destiny” is as false as the voice in your head telling you to quit. Know that you are not just a statistic. At the end of the day success is subjective and we build our own happiness.
Know that while we cannot always control the plot of our lives, we can construct our own life narratives.

You must be the heroine of your own story. Whether your life is a tragedy or a comedy is entirely up to you.
Know that there is no proper way to be. Know that everything gets easier when you accept yourself for the beautiful, flawed and worthwhile human you will always be. Know you don’t have to do anything but thrive and continue to grow to make your family proud.

I know it may not seem like that. I know our family placed a lot of that weight on your shoulders. I know we told you to prepare for the worst. I know calling you queen made you think you had to rule. I know we taught you be wary of asking for help.

I know we told you to be strong but taught you to be hard. I know that despite what we may have said, we taught you to bear it all alone till it breaks you. I know we sometimes forgot to model for you how to ask for help before it got to be too much to bear.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry you are now old enough to understand how cruel and hard the world can be. I’m sorry that the world will not pause for you to be able to figure it out. I’m sorry that you will have to live your life at full speed.

I’m sorry you are old enough to know that adults are not always right but still too young to not rely on us for almost everything. I’m sorry for all that I did, and still do, to place this weight on your shoulders.

I’m sorry we told you that you have to work twice as hard to get half as much. I’m sorry we narrated your life in terms of deficit and debt. I’m sorry that I told you lead then called you bossy for showing initiative.

I’m sorry it’s so hard to be a Black girl in America.

I’m sorry for not telling you are beautiful, just the way you are, every day. I’m sorry I still told you were beautiful more often than I told you were brilliant. I’m sorry for every time I forgot to tell you how proud I am of you.

For every time I forgot to mention your genius, your talent, your strength; I’m sorry. I’m so sorry for every time I didn’t have the patience to explain my frustration to you. I’m sorry for every time I made your mistakes seem like a reflection of who you are or could be. In reality, it was more a reflection of my fear for your future.

I wish I could take your pain away. I wish I could explain that there is not one way to be Black. I wish I could teach you how to love YOUR Blackness. I wish I could teach you love it without being defined by it. I wish I didn’t teach you to talk about “those Black people.”

I wish our family had figured out a better way to prepare you to thrive in world that doesn’t respect your humanity. The truth is, we are as imperfect as we seem. But we are trying.

And we belief in you. Even though you don’t always hear it when your mother and I tell you, we love you and are so proud of you.

Your poetry blows my mind. Your talent inspires me. Your voice gives me hope that maybe our future is brighter than I imagined.

We won’t understand all the choices you make, but your grandparents didn’t understand ours. We are terrified that we will release you into the world unprepared, but your grandfather still calls me to make sure I’m sleeping and am taking care of myself. So, while we don’t know what you will do with your life, but we can’t wait to see it.

You are powerful. You are brilliant. You are an amazing young woman. All you need to do is you. You don’t need to strive to move mountains. You don’t need to plan to carry the weight of the world on your back. You don’t need to stress over ensuring that you do amazing things in the future.

Love yourself unconditionally.

Make mistakes at full speed.

Reflect early and often.

Grow.

Speak out.

Fight the fights that need fighting.

Learn to ask and accept help.

Don’t lose faith in other people’s humanity and don’t waste your time with people who can’t see yours.

Do this, and you’ll shine to brightly to notice anyone’s shade.

Do this, and you’ll be too busy living to worry if you are successful.

Know that I love you for everything you are and everything you’re not. I love how much of my siblings I see in you. I love much of you is unique and wonderful. I love that you are a beautiful self-creation just beginning to realize your own power.

Keep doing you!

An Argument for Operating with Love

I love

*If you are looking for the speech I gave at Sixth and I please click here*

I was reminded today that there is no cosmic scale weighing the oppression of Blacks in America.
There is no ledger listing the wrongs that have been done to us.
There is no mystic reckoning that will bring wholeness.
There is no justice in this world beyond that which we make.
Power concedes nothing without demand and I fear it will be a long time before our demands are met with anything but violence.
So I will no longer allow my life to be defined merely by struggle or pain.
If we are to walk to Calvary like Sisyphus,
bearing our cross up this racial mountain only to have out feet taken from under us
Or if we must continue to build national idols to freedom that mock our bondage
I will love each and everyone who bears these thorns and stones with me.
I will love each and everyone who feels my pain.
I will love each and everyone who wishes this death march to end.
I will love, despite all my pain, because it is only while experiencing love that I feel truly human.
I will love, despite all my rage, because it is the most radical political act I can convenience of.

There is a feeling of empowerment one feels when you realize that you have made the conscious decision to live. Few people ever get to experience that feeling but I’d be hard pressured to call myself lucky to be one of them. I remember standing on top of tall building overlooking the courtyard of my college. I remember thinking how easy it would be to step off. I imagined feeling the wind flow over my body for a few seconds that would seem an eternity. I remember thinking it would be so quick, so easy. I had battled suicidal thoughts before, but never had the thought of ending it seem so easy. I chose then to live, or many reason I have talked about before. I made the conscious decision to continue living.

This moment, in retrospect, was a watershed moment in my battle with mental illness. It was a moment, a memory, that shepherded me through the darkness. It reminded me, when the would seemed cruel and pointless, chaotic and thoroughly beyond my control, that I  at least had chosen to continue living it. I recognize now, as I did then, that it is in many ways a false choice. Living is all I know. Equally important, it was not in reality, that choice that made the pain bearable. It was the perspective that narrative gave me. I constructed a narrative that gave me power and I used that power heal myself. Time and hours of self care later, the teenager who stood on the roof top feels like another person.

Earlier this month, I was reminded of that boy again. I was walking away from a massive protest, one that I had been waiting for for weeks. I was filled with rage. The tinge of injustice pulsed through my vein with such force that I felt on fire. I wanted to scream, to shout, to break, to shatter the world  in a vain attempt to ease the pain. My hands started to tingle as I balled them into fists. My body tensed with a desire to fight something concrete, something physical, something as visceral as my despair. I have learned over the years that little good comes from such rage left unchecked. It must be processed rather than merely released. So, I made the decision to leave and take care of my own emotional health. As I was walking away, I caught the eye of good friend who smiled and waved. I did not wave back. I did not, and do not, feel bad about not waving back.

In that moment, I saw a cold dark path open  up before me. A path in which I could cast off my  connections with the world in order to limit my accountability to it. I could embrace hate and welcome the solitude that it would bring. You can only be wronged by a society if you accept the premise that you need to be part of it. It would be so easy to walk away from that idea. I was tired of holding in my emotions, of processing them, and analyzing and checking them before I shared them or fear of the response. I just wanted to rage. I’m not talking about just rioting. Rioting is a way to communicate something you can’t verbalize or refuse to process. Rioting is the language of the unheard. It is the way we communicate to a society that otherwise ignores us. I’m talking about giving in to the part of me with no concern for justice. The part of me with no need to heard by jury becuase it doesn’t have any stock in the idea of peers. It’s part of me that I like to pretend isn’t there. The part of me that wanted to stop thinking, that wanted to succumb to the apathy and give up the moral complexity of being human. Give up building relationship with people who may hurt you and disappoint you. Give up with building empathy with people who will be hurt, or striving for an inclusive community, all  for a break from being restrained by a concern for building a tomorrow.

In that moment, I choose love.

I didn’t choose it because it was easy. I didn’t chose it because it sounded nice, and soft and familiar. I chose love because I knew that hate or apathy would tear me apart. I knew the unbearable weight of it all would crush me if I was full of hate.

Hate just isn’t not strong enough until it destroys you.

I knew that the only part of life I have ever found worth living were the connections I made with other people. I knew, that all I really wanted was to not be alone in my pain anymore. I knew that for all my rage, for all of my politics, I want America to want me. It’s a hellish false choice, but I knew that in choosing hate I would be the demon they think I am.

In choosing love, I stepped back from the ledge. I chose to take responsibility to help change the world. I choose to love this nation that hates me, not for my slice  of the America dream or out of some Obamaesque vision of the American family. I choose to love this nation because as James Baldwin said “We are here and to be here means that we can’t be anywhere else.” I had to love America because America is where I find myself. Loving America (as a community of people not a patriarchal nation state) is a messy, inelegant solution but it is best I’ve got.  I have no other home.

I choose to love my fellow humans, to feel their pain as my pain, to feel their injustice as my injustice because in that love I am elevated. In that love I am able to transcend some of the pain. In that love I can laugh. In that love I can create, and learn, and grow. In that love I can hope. In that love the pain doesn’t go away completely. In that love their hate isn’t vanquished. The oppression doesn’t cease. The killings don’t stop. But in that love when I articulate my humanity loved ones validate me by articulating theirs and suddenly it all feels worth it.

It is, I know, ultimately a false choice. One made out of a need to survive this with some measure of my humanity in tact. But it is the narrative that I choose to arm myself with. My love is not magical. But like that moment when I decided to live, this narrative, my love, is powerful. That power is transformative. It gives me the ability to continue on. It gives me to power to stand to those who seek to set themselves above me. It gives me to power to speak truth to power and not concede an inch for half measures and compromise. It gives me the fuel to carry on, watering the seeds of justice planted before my. It gives me the clarity to take the time to plant my own. Love gives me the perspective to hope that one day, when we reach the mountain top, we will not be sent tumbling down, with nothing but our cross to break the fall. Maybe this narrative with be replaced later. Maybe time will change my tune. But for now, in this moment. I will love. I will love, despite the pain, because it is only through the experience of loving that I have ever felt truly human. I will love, despite my rage, because it is the most politically radical act I can conceive of.

“It is our duty to fight

It is our duty to win

We will love and support one another

We have nothing to lose but our chains”

A Mantra of the Black Youth Project, based on the words of Assata Shakur  

Strip

This latest poem is less a poem and more a audio art experience? The Poem is called strip or remover of difficulties or the things they ask you to strip away. It’s new, its different, it complex. Listen to it twice and let me know what you think!

Strip away the paint and the decorations and a house is a just a shelter.
A physical space for us to be protected from the elements.
Pieces of wood and steel and brick that allow us to live our lives.
That is the purpose it serves and it can only be judged by how well it serves that purpose.
You remember the first time they asked you to strip. They didn’t know what they were asking but your mother had taught you when to know. Your slave like hands slowly began to undo the braids on your head. You undid your history with each row you took out; rows of fertile hair where your identity grew unraveled. You reached your ash black hands towards your mouth and stripped away the taste of mother’s cooking. You used your degree to strip the pigment from your skin and hoped that it bruised white. The act of bleaching stung at first but you would get used to the feeling, you would tell your son that it’s what it feels like to successful. You knew what purpose you needed to serve and you had learned to serve it well.

Strip away the paint and ornaments and a car is just a vehicle.
An instrument to carry us from one place to another.
Pieces of steel and leather and rubber that allow us to live our lives.
That is the purpose it serves and it can only be judged by how well it serves that purpose.

You remember the first time you asked her to strip for you. Neither of you knew what you were asking but she did it anyway. She stripped herself of her ideas first, letting them fall seductively to the floor. She removed her desires slowly, concealing enough of her wants to be mysterious. Her delicate and child-like fingers unlaced the rope that held her self-esteem together just like her mother taught her. Her movements were easy and provocative but unnatural. She stood in front of you, naked, left with only her tentative will to clothe her, ready to shrug it off if you asked. You wouldn’t learn to ask until college though. On the surface it felt right and you repressed the part of you that knew it was wrong. The act of repression stung at first like shaving the skin off your soul so that it could harden when it heals. Soon you would get used to that feeling; you would tell your son that it’s what it feels like to be a man. Her eyes ask you if she served her purpose well and you are unsure how to answer.

Strip away the flavor and the spices and food is just energy.
An organic fuel to give us sustenance.
Pieces of the vegetables and animals and minerals that allow us to live our lives.
That is the purpose it serves and it can only be judged by how well it serves that purpose.

You remember the first time she asked you to strip for her. She didn’t know how much it would hurt. You pulled back the emotional curtain as she sat across from you. She watched in silence as you used the knife to strip off the mask, the temporary fix that, over the years, had been permanent. You ignored the bleeding and locked eyes with her, studying her reaction. She didn’t realize it hurt until you started crying. She rushed over to tell you that you could stop but you kept carving. Once the mask was off and the tears had washed away the blood she said you were beautiful. The act of accepting her love stung at first like your pulling off the scrabs of your scarred soul. Soon you would get used to feeling, you would tell your son that this is what is should feel like to be a man. You ask her if you served your purpose well and she answers:

Strip away the clothes and the history and a person is not just an animal.
We are more than the gold and cotton and paint that covers our flesh.
Pieces of the earth we use to enhance our beauty.
Our purpose is not to serve and so we cannot be judged by how well we do.

Unsent Letter To All The Girls I’ve Loved

bell hooks on love

[Below is an unsent letter to every female friend I’ve been secretly in love with whom I sent really long e-mails to or hand written notes to after/before I went to college/when you were studying abroad/when I moved back to Falcon in 2008/when I moved to Colorado Springs in 2010/when you moved to a coastal city once I made it back to Chicago/when you went to grad school/visited your family for Hanukkah/ moved with your significant other [sometimes another female friend I had also once liked] back home/I moved to D.C.  If this sounds remotely similar to a letter I once sent in you in one of these moments then this was probably the first draft of a letter I wrote and decided not to send for one reason or another. I realized that this a recurring pattern in my life that I need to analyze…so I did…and what better way to process self-analysis than self-parody?]

To All The Friends I’ve Loved,

[There always start with some  overwrought and florid metaphor for whatever I’m unhappy about in the moment. In most of these letters it is my hometown] I’m not sure if a tree makes a sound when it falls in the forest with no one to hear it but I know from experience that the speed at which it falls is in direct proportion to number of observers. Falcon is not a place for me to write. Falcon is where writers are born. It is where the bigotry and backwardness drips from the lips of neighbors destined to be characters; cold as molasses and twice as black, pumping sweet visceral into an author’s creative glands.  Falcon will serve as the time capsule I use to write of time so long ago that it never really existed, at least not in the way I remember it.

In my stories I call it Mesa Valley, my Yoknapatawpha County [always includes an oblique reference to writer whom I feel an unjustifiable though visceral connection to. Sometimes I’ve only read their shortest published work but count them among my favorite authors] I write about the villains and saints of my childhood in this Mesa Valley so that the fictionalized grandiosity of the moment evokes the same emotion as the tonnage of years of microagressions and mini miracles. Put simply, the events are lies but the emotions are real. My neighbors will undoubtedly protest but I imagine my fame will soften their protest the same way their privilege softened mine. Their bigotry bit into my psyche layering trauma upon trauma [I actually had a pretty chill childhood but I thought for a while that I need to be a tortured artist to be a good artist.]

Is life so miserable? Is the darkness seeping in, encroaching on my happy moments? No, I suppose not. [almost all of these letters start the second paragraph with a refutation of the overwrought opening metaphor…insecure much?] In reality life is bland and it is that blandness that frightens me. Like Oscar WildeI live in terror of not being misunderstood. [quote is purposefully out of context. In an example of hipster letter writing, it serves as an illustration of my meta awareness] Drama and vibrancy are my heroin. In their absence I fiend for the thematic like a smoker turned niciderm addict. I lust for action with all the gusto and impulsiveness of a sex addict.  In the late hours of the night, when time seems to drip like a leaky faucet in a silent kitchen instead of flow, I try to figure out why this is. I have always had an overactive imagination and I have always been vicarious reader, living the lives of the characters as I read them. If you had asked my 12 year old self what I wanted to be when he grew up he would have said “a living legend.” Yet no childhood trauma or tendency could explain this burning desire of mine in its maturity [though, when I was 8 I used to scream “I’m going through a stage!” at my family when my siblings complained about my parents bending over backwards to not accommodate my latest fixation. I heard my parents discussing my habit of hiding eggs around the house and whether it was a “stag” or ealy onset mental illness one night and decided to use the phrase to justify my weirdness…jury is still out about early signs of mental illness]

There is an answer to the question. And yes, that is the short one. I’m doing fine. [you are supposed to assume the unasked question “how are you?” Man, is this guy meta or what?] Living with my parents has been interesting though not ideal. I am doing what I can to not waste way. When the monotone hum of prairie life turns into a tempest of passive, almost inert, aggression that threatens to overwhelm me I try to think of you and your adventures in [insert study abroad program, grad school, or new city her]. I imagine your [insert distinguishing feature] as you [insert activity that can I think can only be done where you are]. How is it in [insert colloquial/pretentious nickname for current location]? How is the air? What are you thinking about? What things are challenging you? Forcing you push your limits? What do you know now that you didn’t before? [still not sure where this habit of asking these sorts of questions to people became a thing that I do…constantly… but I can remember doing it as early as middle school]

I know you are probably laughing at my intensity. You mention that intensity often and each time I want to tell you how I really feel. [this when I show my insecurity in a self deprecating way. This portion is usually added to qualify previous or subsequent statements that were overly florid or ridiculous but I found too well phrased to delete.]  I spend so much time trying to calm that intensity for fear of scaring you away yet sometimes restraining my love for you seems more intolerable than your absence. I want you too know, finally, that I love you fiercely. [this is the part that is ALWAYS cut out of the final draft. The unspoken longings off…ugh…I’m doing it again!] When we take our walks through [insert significant place in our friendship] I’d be convinced that my feet never touched the asphalt if hearing you about what’s one your mind this week didn’t make me feel so grounded. I love the way your mind unravels in those moments. Your thoughts are distinct and intricately laced like braided steel cables supporting intellectual bridges from Kafka and Morrison to Weber and Du Bois [I always reference Kafka but never actually read Kafka until like 6 months ago.] Sometimes I am too mesmerized by how an individual thought of yours develops that forget how your smile gives me butterflies.

Your wild and frantic idiosyncratic hand gestures that increase in their assertiveness as the topic turns from history to your theory of how we constructive our identities through narratives remind me of the awkward girl I first met and not the poised woman I know now. As your passion burns through your light brown eyes I’m tempted to believe that my world has the same golden haze has its reflection in your gaze. In these moments I want to tell you that I love you. I know you would just smile and say “I know.” I know that I would have to hold your heart-wrenchingly beautiful gaze longer. I would lock my eyes with yours to add weight to my words; to tell you this was that kind of the love. The kind of love that causes me to fear that I’m losing myself in you, the terror of thinking that maybe falling so hard for you that I forget who I am sounds more like heaven than white clouds and halos. [who says that…seriously….I mean…it has a nice ring to it though…reminds me of this poem I wrote about my first “real” love]

Instead, I smile and hold my tongue. We walk miles through this city, you and I, with the secret of my love between us like a warm invisible sea. Swimming through it is the most exhausting endeavor of my life but living without it seems dry and barren in comparison. When we hug goodbye I wish I could wrap my hands around your soul instead of your waist and I pretend that my sadness is contemplation and not the awareness of the inevitability of your departure. [this would typically get re-written to something about missing you but not loving like THAT.]

[I feel like some of my friend must have suspected that I was not so secretly in love with them. Yet, I still write letters to some friends like this, long after I’m crushing on/overly-dramatically in love with them so I think most of friends probably just think its par for the course…and I guess it is par for the course. I love all my friends dearly, male or female and I’ve had a crush on like 95% of the women I’ve met who are no more than three years younger or 10 years older than me. I think if I had to put a number on it, which I don’t but will anyway, I’ve been in love with about 30% of my good female friends at some point in my life. I don’t actually think I’m using the phrase “in love” lightly here either. I have a natural tendency to love easily, deeply, quickly and fiercely. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been with a female friend and thought “we should just get married…like… right now. Why wait.” Yet for most, the timing was off or I was too shy. By the time either changed, we had changed.   But I’ve been in love with almost 1/3 of my female friends even if only for a moment and while that might seem pathetic and laughable…well…it might actually be laughable…it is not pathetic. I feel very fortunate to have befriended such amazing and beautiful women in my life.

I’ve been blessed to love women who have pushed my intellect, who have encouraged me to follow my dreams by pursuing theirs, who have shown me what it means to live by your principles, who have become teachers, and mothers, and executives and dancers and writers and organizers and PHd candidates. They are the unofficial therapist of their friends, the shoulder to cry on, fierce advocate for justice, level-headed and practical guides, the uplifting jokers and gorgeous wordsmiths of my world. I have learned and grown so much from these friendships and am so glad that we got  through the infatuation, the puppy love and the romantic love to richer and more sustaining and truly platonic love with my friends. I feel that with a few of my friends our relationship has matured into something greater than any romantic love I’ve ever experienced; we’ve learned to “love each other well.”  So to all the girls I’ve loved. From the playground to county fair to the main quad and whether I loved you for a conversation, a week or since the moment we first talked about our passions, I’d like to thank you teaching me, for bearing with my florid passion and intensity and, most of all, for accepting my love even if you were unaware of its true form. Know that every letter I send and note I write expresses the truth of how I feel about everything, even if only a part. Though honestly Erin, if you are reading this, my offer of marriage still totally stands. My romantic love for you is eternal and forever enriches my platonic love for you which is equally eternal. So, uh…call me, Maybe?]

With love [in all its varied forms and meanings],

Aaron

True Love