Thursday, July 24, 2014

Response to Kimberly Foster’s Why I Will Not March for Eric Garner

Last week, shielded behind the numbness of my computer screen, I, too, watched Eric Garner take his last breath.  I watched a large, vibrant man’s resolve, self-worth and basic human right to stand up for himself squeezed out of his body in a matter of minutes.  I watched him struggle inside a police officer’s elbow and fall lifeless on a dirty, concrete street corner.  Like many, I shed tears but inside, I bled.  All I could see was my husband’s large build, my brothers’ dark skin, and my beautiful sons’ blind belief in their own freedom. 

At the time, my sons’ played in our playroom.  They chatted incessantly about what superheroes they would pretend to be and what adventures they would take throughout our house as we waited for the rain to stop so we could go outside.  I wiped my tears away and regained my composure, more resolved than ever to be present.  To soak up every drip drop of their beautiful life.  To love them with every piece of myself.  To ensure that I do my part to make the world a better place for them. To make them better than this world.  

You see, almost seven years ago, when the doctor handed me my first beautiful, golden boy – in the midst of the overwhelming love I felt for the new soul placed in my arms, I saw an opportunity.  I saw an opportunity to raise the type of man, I had always hoped to encounter.  The type of man I had unexpectedly found in the man I chose to marry.  Men who didn’t throw bottles at women who spurned their advances. Men who didn’t expose themselves to high school girls on subway platforms.  Men who didn’t call women bitches and hoes.  Men who didn’t chalk up a women’s worth to her reputation or sexual appetite.  Men who valued the little girls they helped create.  

The arduous steps I had taken to that hospital bed had hardened me but holding that innocent life in my arms, I realized who he would be was yet to determined.   I could fight to make sure he was better than the type of man I had once endured.

That afternoon, as I watched Eric Garner’s life slip away from him, all I could think of was what kind of man his mother had dreamed he would become.  Had she watched him play in the house on a rainy day?  Had she loved him with all her might and worked tirelessly to make sure he was a “different” kind of man?  Like me with my husband, had his wife been challenged by his kindness… by his respect? Had his children felt the wholeness of a father who valued their lives? Had his daughter been one of the few brown girls I’ve ever known to call herself “Daddy’s girl”?

Fact is, I don’t know.  The NYPD didn’t stop to question what his mother’s dreams had been for him.  They didn’t stop to ask whether he mattered to his wife or his children.  They didn’t stop to ask whether he had ever objectified a woman or argued for her humanity.  They saw the same dark brown skin I wear every day and decided it didn’t matter.  They saw the same black life, I, as a black woman, have created and took it.  Yanked it away on a crowded city street.  

I do more than shed tears for Eric Garner, I bleed for him.  I bleed with him as I would for my sons.  My husband.  My brothers.  For all the beautiful life born to a black woman’s womb.   As long as black women create black boys and black men create black girls, I will bleed.  Our separateness is a divisive fiction.  A fiction no clearer than when I held my new baby boy in my arms.

Marching for him is the least I can do.

Love and Light,

Saturday, July 19, 2014

I was watching an interview recently where Pulitzer Prize winning author, Junot Diaz was asked if he had any advice for young writers.  True to Junot, he initially scoffed at the question, making no qualms about his disdain for such a clichéd question.  However, his disdain seemed to stem from his resentment of the professionalization of the writing craft... as if artist as a profession was like professionalizing one's humanity or thought or thirst.  He said, "There is nothing about our craft that needs to be pursued with such Talmudic concentration. But what does need to be pursued in our culture, which does everything to discourage us, is a passionate engagement with the world." He concluded, looking out into the audience and resting his eyes on the young question-asker, "The "you" that spends most of her life living not writing will be the "you" that writes the books I want to read."

I thought a great deal about those words in the days that followed.  Words, speech, or any communicative art form has a way of satisfying your thoughts in a way you didn't know they needed to be.  The quote soundtracked something I had been feeling for quite awhile.  I always felt my best writing followed a truly contemplative period.  Those periods where the world had smacked me around and I needed to make sense of it.  Or, maybe not so much make sense of it but figure out how I felt about it.  Those periods where I felt so deeply passionate about something or someone that I needed to give birth to something more than touch, or tears or anger... When my brother died, I needed to see it, in splashes of black ink beneath my fingertips or collections of letters against a white computer screen.  It made my feelings tangible... present... real. Even in fiction, I find escape.  I'm still there... just disguised, and pretty, and hiding in those in between spaces.  That need... to create... feels so intrinsically weaved into who I am, it is part of my human experience, like thought or thirst.

It's interesting that the young writer asked because I suppose the real question is how do we make "creating" our careers?  How can passionate engagement with the world and the product of that engagement sustain you? How do we become one of the lucky few that avoids the mind numbing ache of 9-5 realities, awkward elevator rides, and 30-year mortgages? I think the torture in being a writer, or any artist, is the urgency with which that desire consumes you.  It gnaws at you like a hunger pain or dirty sore.  There are days where my mind feels frantic.  Like my muse is pounding at the door, rattling my thoughts. Especially these days where my social, moral and cultural outrage seems fueled by my Facebook feed and i-Phone. This beautiful, flawed, unjust world is right at my fingertips, and I'm feeling some kind of way about it.  About it all. And I want to retreat with my words and some tea and the abundance of love I give and receive for every meal.  It's all I want.  Not the 9-5 or crummy elevator rides or 30-year mortgages.

But I wonder if the parts of my life that I'd rather not experience are a part of the contemplation.  If they are a part of that space before the art comes.  That place before its great.  What if "passionate engagement" comes not from getting everything that you want but getting a healthy dose of what you don't want.  How can I write about the beauty of feeling loved without knowing what it feels to be hated?  How can I fantasize about freedom without knowing what it feels to be caged?  How can I know the value of gratitude without loss? Maybe what Junot was saying... or what I'm going to decide Junot was saying (because let's face it, only Junot knows), is that we need to experience the ride.  Not just get through it.  But taste it.  In all its bitter and sweet.  In all its rotten and fresh.  The beauty in the breakdown.  I mean, whether you are able to professionalize your art or not, that kind of experience births wisdom.  And wisdom quenches the thirst of my art better than a dollar ever did.

Eh. Maybe Junot was just talking about reading. Young writers should always do more of that.

Love and Light,

Saturday, July 12, 2014

I saw this speech a few weeks ago and can barely find the words to articulate how deeply I identified with it.  I'm not alone.  It has been shared, tweeted and discussed by thousands.  I'm putting it here for selfish reasons (so I can hug it and squeeze it and make it mine) but I am also putting it here for anyone with a dream.  I hope you find the same inspiration I did.  These past few months have taught me the value of opportunity, preparedness, individuality, and flexibility.  Your dreams may not be turn out exactly how you anticipate but if you work hard - sometimes they turn out better than you ever imagined!

Love and Light,
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