“All My Life I Had to Fight": When WoC Turn On One Another, Nobody Wins 

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I don’t think there’s a Black American woman alive who hasn’t seen The Color Purple and doesn’t remember the scene where Sofia comes charging through a field to confront Celie who had advised Harpo to beat Sofia into submission. I don’t think a single one of us hasn’t quoted that line at some point in our lives, even if just internally, in a laugh-to-keep-from-crying sort of way, when confronted with scenarios that feel like nothing we do, even when we know we’re doing everything right, ultimately appears go in our favor. 

In fact, I muttered this to myself in the original spirit of the line first thing this morning when a homegirl of mine sent me a screenshot of a woman’s post who blocked me on social media yesterday, citing that unprofessional people will be deleted and blocked. I won’t mention this sister’s name and I won’t name her organization, because I do believe that many of the women who attended the conference which I was invited a year ago to deliver the keynote address this past weekend, did benefit from the experience. But I’m writing this because my experience is a symptom of a larger problem, and the culture of silence surrounding Black women’s experiences in the U.S. helps no one. So, I’m lightweight blowing a whistle here, no doubt. But, hey. Silence is compliance. And over the past few days, it has taken everything in me that I have committed to compassion, empathy, and leaving the world in better condition than the way I found it, to not publicly go H.A.M. (which I would have been well within my rights to), over the fact that this sister did not honor our contract by paying me. 

Mind you, I’m used to waiting on checks. But not getting paid at all is a first for me in twenty years of gigging. And it pains me that the first perpetrator of a violated contract isn’t The Man, but someone who’s actually supposed to be fighting alongside me in the same trench. And for the last few days, after compiling a paper trail the length of two CVS receipts where she and I discussed specifically when and how my fee would be paid, I keep asking myself: How could this have been avoided? How did it come to this? Why didn’t I see this coming? Why did I so readily give her the benefit of the doubt? Come to find out, after having privately disclosed what’s going on with a few of my trusted sisters-in-arms who’ve had encounters with her in the past, this isn’t her first rodeo with fraudulent behavior, which inevitably ended up in them being deleted and blocked too. To my knowledge, I am the only one she straight-up hasn’t fully paid according to our arrangement—she did cover my deposit, albeit several weeks late.

But one of my sistren alluded to the fact that she probably lost money on the conference which is why she couldn’t pay me, and she probably just thought I had it like that given my profession as a university professor, so why am I bothered? I mean. Apart from the fact that there’s a huge discrepancy in what people think professors make and what we actually make (which warrants its own separate blog including everything I’ve had to do, and I do mean everything short of selling drugs or my body to stay afloat as well as kick the deeply entrenched poverty consciousness I’ve cultivated as being a teaching-artist over the last twenty years), that’s not the point. The point is, A) You agreed to my fee. B) I signed your contract. C) You did not pay me. 

The more sisters I’ve talked to over the past few days, the stories they’ve confided in me about their own experiences in similar circumstances have been utterly shocking about Black women turning on one another, not in Corporate America or as Real Housewives, but intentionally instigating rivalries as community organizers, arts administrators, executive directors, and change agents. I’ve heard now about everything from whisper campaigns to vicious gossip to outright blocking another Black woman’s progress in order to curry favor with the gate-keepers in far-too-few coveted positions of leadership. Hearing all that, I guess I’m lucky that this is just now only my first experience with this behavior in this context. It’s not even so much about the principle of not paying me that stings so bad, it’s that this woman purposefully benefited from using my name and reputation to boost attendance at her conference, cut communication completely off when I asked her to settle up both in person upon completion of my address (which the contract stated she would) ignored subsequent correspondence, and then immediately began painting herself as a victim.

So, why is this the case? Why is that Black women, who have been so historically marginalized and oppressed, “de mule of de world,” to cite Hurston, turn on one another? My theory is that it’s because generally speaking, wounded people wound people. And when we are talking about generational wounds where the resources and the opportunities to acquire them are too few and far-between, we go immediately into survival mode—fight or flight. Her flight triggered the impulse in me to fight. I mean. I am wired to fight anyone who stands in-between me and my own socioeconomic survival because, wait for it, all my life I had to fight

I assume total culpability for assuming our shared experiences were something she might have understood, identified with, and valued as a so-called sister-in-arms. And that’s my mistake for assuming that the person who looks like me and struggles like me would automatically want for me what she wants for herself—peace of mind. But why would she when she stands to gain more by throwing me under the bus? I’m eerily reminded in this case of Lacan’s “Mirror Theory,” the part where a person sees you as whole, but they view themselves as fractured, so they both resent you and covet what you have. The problem isn’t that they view you as whole. The problem is that they don’t see themselves as anything but broken. 

So, theoretically speaking, her actions make sense to me. I, too, am well acquainted with self—sabotage, a fear of failure or being viewed as a failure, and the impulse to block out my problems. That indicates a deeply wounded inner child who acts out because no one modeled to them that they weren’t unconditionally loved. I always say the most overtly driven people in the world aren’t running towards something, they’re running away. At a subconscious level, humans make choices out of only one of two places—love or fear. Even if you’re deemed successful, at some level you may still be running away from feeling a lack of self-worth as well as shame that you won’t live up to others’ expectations of you. It’s a childish impulse I recognize in how she handled this situation, because unfortunately, I also recognize this impulse within myself. 

But all of that doesn’t erase the fact that I still haven’t gotten paid, and it doesn’t appear she has any intention to do so. When I asked a mentor of mine what he does in scenarios like this, he said, “When US cross me, I treat ‘em like a THEM.” And so, I’ve been advised to take this to small claims court where no doubt, this is going to get very expensive for both of us. Which means both of us will now have to deal with court costs, legal fees, and whatever we have to make up for coming up out of pocket to handle what should have been handled. I’m not saying every Black woman needs to hold hands and sing songs and share candy and stuff all the time, but what I am saying is that what we certainly don’t need anymore of in the world are more battle-weary WoC who are obliged to wear their armor to bed on a good day, squaring up against one another. Not when we’ve already had to fight all our lives. Because nobody wins in this situation except the system which didn’t even have to lift a finger this time since it was designed to keep us fighting among ourselves in the trenches in the first place. 

Dear Lukewarm Liberals: I Can't Shed Your Skin For You

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Okay, I’m done. Like—DONE done. I’m done talking. I’m done trying to make people—even people who look great on paper and are, for all intents and purposes, folks who have nothing but the best intentions—feel better about themselves when they are in error—particularly with regard to socioeconomic issues. I’m done handing people the cheat sheet for propriety—what to say, what not to say. We live in a post-Gutenberg Press world, man. There is a virtual mushroom cloud over the planet thanks to the Internet, and it is absolutely LOUSY with information and resources. If you don’t know the answer, look it up. Like I tell my students, “Let’s not guess. Let’s know.” 

Over the past couple of years, there has been a straight-up rash of Anglo men and women coming to me for advice about how to create safe spaces in their communities for people who have been marginalized and oppressed. I wrote an op-ed you can read here, about why they feel comfortable coming to me. But what I’ve been reminded of over the past year amidst a turbulent transition to a new town and job and socioeconomic culture is that making people feel comfortable throughout their own discomfort with change is akin to helping a snake out of its skin. 

In my research for this Medusa project, I have come to learn a lot about snakes. The snake was one of Athena’s totems, in fact—Athena even used Medusa’s head to adorn her shield after Perseus beheaded her. Thanks to the lore and probably in part to a long legacy of ritual masks used during ceremonies to ward off malevolent entities, the Gorgoneion icon is used to this day to indicate danger or denote safe spaces. Warriors used them on their armor. Women wore pendants around their necks to pray. The name “Medusa,” in fact, means “Protectress.” Perseus’s story continued after Medusa’s as he flew over the Libyan desert, the venomous blood creating more serpents in its wake,  and as he flew over the ocean to rescue Andromeda, coral reefs were created. Even the ancients knew that you can’t have creation without destruction. An old way has to go before a new one can enter. 

Tangentially related, when a snake is ready to shed, because it’s grown an entirely new skin beneath the old, it can grow irritable. Its eyes become cloudy, it can’t really move at its regular pace, therefore it can’t feed itself. Isolated from a previously familiar environment, it finds a rough patch—the bark on a tree or the surface of a boulder to create friction in order to free itself from a condition of its own devising. If it didn’t endure this period, the snake would never grow. I saw a video recently of a captive snake that had somehow trapped itself in its own skin, and moved for hours in a circle trying to maneuver its way free. The videographers and owners did not free the snake. You know why? Because by intervening, they would cripple the snake’s ability to realize it could free ITSELF. And you know what? Eventually it did. 

There are three layers of the brain that come with being human. We have the top layer—the neocortex, good for problem solving and analysis and recognizing patterns. The limbic system stores our thoughts, emotions, and memories. And the center layer of the brain—the one that controls our breath and blood? It’s called the reptilian brain or R-complex. It’s responsible for dominance, aggression, procreation, acquiring food—essentially survival. The other two layers evolved around it in order to become more efficient at providing the R-complex what it needs to survive. Just because we live in a white collar world, doesn’t mean what’s running the show is any less interested in protecting one’s own neck. The paradox here is that just as much as the R-complex is going to try and censor us from uncomfortable scenarios that seem to threaten our peace of mind and consistent worldview, as we evolve, it is also responsible for creating space for us to challenge what it already knows. Rough patches like uncomfortable interactions with people who are nothing like us in order to teach ourselves that we have outgrown a formerly useful paradigm and we need to grow up. 

To return to my original statement, as the paradigm shift currently upon us continues to develop, the internalized dominance that Robin DiAngelo speaks of in this essay, "White Fragility" (required reading in all of my classes btw), can manifest in people you know shutting down, crying, accusing, and basically throwing often very well-articulated temper tantrums about being confronted with the fact that they aren’t in control. Heads up—if you pushed that button, Other or not, be prepared to bear the brunt of their retaliation. You and no one else in their lives now represent their own secret fear of disempowerment—I won’t get into the Lacanian theory behind that phenomenon at the moment, but yeah. Don’t be surprised when that happens. 

There is a subtler form of this I am becoming increasingly familiar with—the quiet storm tantrum of the lukewarm liberal who is “just trying to help” and “doing the best that I can.” Usually this is a person who may be very woke on one level and aware of socioeconomic discrepancies in their culture, and they may even be highly active in their communities. They may protest, dig in with the Other to fight the power, etc., but for whatever reason, they decide to go rogue. I have encountered more kickback from liberals who are supposedly on my side, because y’know—they be knowin’. They have multiracial/multi-gendered friends or colleagues or mentors or compatriots. They feel they have a front row seat to the struggle. They can point to resistance to change everywhere but in themselves. 

The problem with these people is they think they don’t have any more work to do on themselves. They vote appropriately. They post to social media their outrage about systemic oppression. They march. They protest. They go to bed at night their noggins throbbing with all that is left to do. And then they contact me to get me to cosign on something they said or did or didn’t say or didn’t do. They got so eager to provide a voice for the voiceless because the oppressed aren’t moving fast enough for them, they forget to ask what the voiceless want to even say. And if the voiceless don't ask/want them to say anything—heh. Good luck keeping that trap shut. Or maybe it's because this person has their own struggles to keep the lights on, they feel they’re a good person and just want an Other to validate that their heart is still in the right place even if they don't say or do anything to educate themselves further. In either case, this is a problem—you know why? Because essentially, these people are asking me to assist them out of an old skin. They think that knowledge and being woke has a finish line. The only finish line to life is a coffin, okay? I have no use for people who don’t think they have any more room to learn and defend their actions or inactions or just a simple inability to listen because they suppose they’ve heard it all. 

Really? 

How’s that working out for you? Because if you were coming to this activist/liberal lifestyle with humility as opposed to wanting someone to validate your participation in someone else’s struggle because you don’t have an authentic one of your own, you wouldn’t be bothered when someone chin-checks your approach. If you had no guilt and no ego attached to speaking out of turn or not educating yourself when you sense an imbalance of power, you wouldn’t be offended when I don’t endorse your behavior or your thought process. I’ve enabled far too many well-meaning people at this point to stay stagnant because they think they can call on me when they need a morale boost. If you truly feel that you’ve done all you can, then stop talking about it and just go live your life, man. I don’t know what else to tell you other than to go read Thich Nhat Hanh’s How to Love as many times as it takes for it to stick, where he talks about organic love, self-acceptance, equanimity, compassionate listening, and most pertinent to my own stance at the moment, is saying “no,” to others when continuing to say “yes” creates suffering within yourself. Can’t do it anymore. Won't do it anymore.

One of the most important points he makes is that if you want to love your neighbor, ask them how so we avoid wounding them. You wanna know how to love me, Neighbor? Then understand this. I love you too much to cripple your evolution anymore. Change and growth is messy and uncomfortable, especially when it's an outdated version of yourself. But you'll be thankful with this new perspective, I swear. Just don’t come expecting me to ease your discomfort as you attempt to break out of the confines of your own skin.

Unbothered is the New Detached

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One of the tenets of Buddhism I have found most useful over the past few years is learning how to let go. That’s a fairly trendy (and very old) notion that finds itself most at home all over the ‘gram and Pinterest with attractive backgrounds and nice font. But detaching oneself emotionally from people and pursuits we’ve invested in always seems easier said than done—particularly if you have a background of codependency (being raised by or surrounded by folks who attach a point system to devotion). Shaking free of the mental carousel of caring what others think is very difficult in American culture because it’s a narcissistic culture. There are plenty of resources out there that detail the increase in narcissistic behavior and worldview by young people in the U.S., because wounded people wound people. Heritable memory is not just relegated to physical traits. If someone raises you to feel like you have to look for validation outside of yourself re: your sense of self worth, guess what? You’re going to project that mentality onto others, constantly comparing yourself to your friends, your partners, all of the Internet, then constantly juggling what youshould” be doing versus what you’re actually doing, and then beating yourself up constantly because even you are not able to live up to your own standards of achievement which in actuality are not your own. Round and round the mulberry bush, anyone? 

You guys might check out the Secular Buddhism podcast series by Noah Rasheta. He’s got an excellent episode (#57) on “what should be” versus “what could be” and the relation to all-pervasive suffering. I would also recommend Louise Glück’s treatise on the matter in her collection of essays, American Originality. The first two essays I’ve found particularly useful if you work in a creative field. You could also just enter ‘narcissist’ in the search bar on YouTube and watch your computer screen explode with all of the lettered and unlettered opinions about narcissism. This one is my favorite and one of the most succinct by Derrick Jaxn. Another really succinct crash-course article is from Psychology Today.

I spend a lot of time wondering about what motivates narcs because there have been so many in my own life of all varieties, most recently, the covert narcissist (usually the ones you least expect…a loner type who wears her or his self-deprecation like a badge of honor but who makes you feel special because you make them feel special—not all loner types are narcs, and of course, we all have some gradation of ego/narcissism to work with just because of the culture we’re in), but spoiler alert, the narc cycle of love-bombing and discard, the hiding away of the True Self, the lack of empathy—that doesn’t change with a covert narc. It’s just harder to detect at first). I’m like a walking salt lick for deer when it comes to attracting them. The reason why is a much longer story than I have time for at the moment, but I’ve become much better at protecting my own interests, shall we say, by hoarding all my effs. 

Hey man, the older you get, the fewer effs you get rationed anyway. I can’t just pass them out willy-nilly anymore, so I’ve become very astute at budgeting my effs for reciprocal partnerships and pastimes. Which, going back to my original point, means I’ve had to learn how to not detach from people so much as the shame, fear, and guilt that comes with walking away from people. It’s a process, for sure. Especially when most folks around me seems to really, really care about what other people think. But like any narcissist, American culture keeps moving the goal posts and gaslighting its victims. It’s why you can go through a decade of grad school, painstakingly work your way up like an indentured servant for a company or institution, turn around, and some girl from high-school now has 300K followers on IG and gets free swag for endorsing it as an “influencer.” She lives out of a van and travels from festival to festival for a living, posing in dramatic sunsets the entire way. Riddle me how that’s fair, Batman. Well. To detach means you’re gonna have to figure out how not to give your effs so freely to that girl’s experience either. 

Detached is such a well-trod out buzz word at the moment, I glaze over when I hear it now. Being a wordsmith, and as you are now probably aware, being a fan of pop culture and slang, I have come to prefer the word “unbothered.” It’s so much muchier. Lemme put it like this. To be detached is like the Borg. To be unbothered is like a Vulcan. Vulcans have feels—they’re distant relations to Klingons and Romulans, remember? They feel all the feels that we do. It’s just, after thousands of years of mindfulness meditation, they’re unbothered by them. To be detached to me, feels like just unplugging your emotions altogether. Moriarty on Sherlock was detached.

But here’s the kicker. I can’t tell you how to be unbothered. I can only tell you how freeing it is to be increasingly unbothered over the course of one’s life. I’m still deeply empathetic towards others’ struggles, but I don’t let their struggles become my own to the point where it derails not just my whole day, but my whole outlook on all of it. Ever notice that? That one friend who never has anything positive to say? They stay complaining and worrying about something and before you know it, you’re doing it too? Man, I gotta work to keep this piece of mind (pun intended). All anxiety about something outside of my control (like all of it) has gotten me is chronic gastritis. And anxiety essentially stems from me wanting something I can’t have but think that I should because someone convinced me to want it. But I don’t have it yet, so how do I know that I do? If I don’t even know what I want, why should I let someone else to tell me? What right do they have? How have they earned it? Are their motives in my best interest or just to make themselves feel better about where they are? As you can see, I am made of existential questions now when someone tells me what I should be doing. I quite frequently verbalize these questions, and before long, I usually make someone else very bothered—because then they don’t know what they want something that badly either.

What I like best about being unbothered is that as I continue to allow myself to feel no guilt or shame for walking away from pathological thought patterns built to reinforce suffering through a poverty consciousness or a mentality of lack, it makes it glaringly clear who and what in my life can stay and who and what’s gotta go. The most difficult part about becoming unbothered though, is radical self-acceptance. I can’t figure that part out for you. I wish I could. The most I can do is to encourage you to pursue becoming unbothered in bothersome situations when other peoples’ success surpasses your own or people talk about you or criticize you or when everyone at work or among your friends is freaking out and tossing all their effs into the burning barn that is mass hysteria, not realizing they’re actually fanning the flames—well. All I can say that to be unbothered, even some of the time, is worth the price of admission. Spoiler alert—it’s free.

Woke AF: The Paradox of Staying Woke

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In my opinion, there are two types of being woke: Woke and Woke AF. 

“Woke” is slang for being on the level, knowing what’s up, being cognizant of the context(s) that contribute to a certain distribution of power. It’s most commonly used in the U.S. to refer to a person’s awareness of the current socioeconomic climate, particularly with regard to anyone who identifies as Other/marginalized/under-served/oppressed. An example of this is understanding that the level or rate of police brutality towards Black people in the U.S. is a symptom of systemic racism. It’s an awareness that race, sexuality, gender, economic status, and whatever else contributes to a person’s privilege, or as an alternative term, what Robin DiAngelo calls “internalized dominance,” exists on a sliding scale grid of intersectionality (s/o the Combahee River Collective, Patricia Hill Collins, bell hooks). 

Woke AF, to me, has come to mean something a bit less obvious than the skin suits we wear. To be Woke AF means you understand we’re all running around wearing skin suits. This does not undermine the necessity of understanding those factors that contribute to systemic oppression. It just means that a person is also interested in what we can learn about the skin that we're in from, say, a different angle. Being Woke is like driving on the interstate. Being Woke AF is like going down the highway but at a drone’s eye or even a satellite’s eye view. Both vantages have their perks as well as their setbacks. If you’re too confined to the perspective in the car, you really don’t see the potential for all the different routes you could take to get to the same destination. Spend too long up in the air and you miss the scenic view and the random stops and conversations and playlists along the way that contribute to the unique time capsule that is a road trip. 

I think about the labels of technical identity I’ve been assigned by other people, and to be fair, I usually just go along with these because it makes it easier to get by. I’m a woman, I’m Black, I’m heterosexual. I’m an English professor. I’m a writer. I’m a visual and performing artist. I’m a registered Democrat. I’m INFJ. I'm a Virgo. I’m divorced. I’m an activist. And so on and so forth. All of those labels seem to help other people become more comfortable around me, but they also limit peoples’ perception of me.

What makes it weird is when they start to get know the other parts of my personality that defy definition and start to involve a lot of dashes and parentheses. I like trap music—in fact, the trappier the better. I can read tarot cards and astrological natal charts, and I believe that crystals are like, ancient forms of technology. I use "like" a lot. I love poetry—not always a huge fan of poets though (too much time as an editor—also, have you met poets??). I don’t consider myself a feminist. I’m celibate by choice, but my ego needs me to clarify that it’s not for lack of opportunity. I believe in past lives. I do not believe in one heaven or soulmate to rule them all. I do believe you can have multiple soulmates—romantic, platonic, familial. I believe any of those can operate as divine partnerships. Sometimes, I get the feeling that the universe might just be holographic. I do not like playing Game of Thrones: The English Department Edition. I believe in the law of attraction. I believe the Dogon re: the Nommos and Sirius B and astral travel. I think a lot about the multiverse. I believe we are extensions of the cosmos and the natural world, and you know what? We’re still Big Bangin’, man, so how could we possibly mess any of this up? I subscribe to multiple modalities of spirituality and faith, primarily Buddhism (but not very well). I meditate and I've gone on vision quests through shamanic drumming (awesome for one's inspiration, btw). Despite my letters, I am in the process of trying to escape the feast-or-famine poverty consciousness of a career artist (read: trying not to freak out on a daily basis about residual debt). I sometimes see a therapist. I often like the idea of people more than actual people. I kinda hate my arms—as in, how they look. I blame myself for every botched relationship or friendship that ended because I should have known better or seen it coming. I hate admitting I’m wrong as much as I enjoy not knowing anything about a subject. My arrogance can be scary, as in, I’m coming for Neil Gaiman’s, Shonda Rhimes’s, and JK Rowling’s throne. Despite my love for mermaids, I haven’t been swimming in 26 years—not since we left Florida. Despite my affiliation for Kentucky, I’ve never ridden a horse. Also, I have a temper. A bad one. Which I have to work very hard at keeping in check. I can be mad bougie. I love slang and AAVE, and I code-switch a lot, even while teaching. Sometimes, I resent my students for having too many excuses. Sometimes, I resent my neighbors for their obsession with lawn care and having real extra barky dogs. Sometimes, I don’t know how to bring closure to a situation (read: be honest) other than just—pulling a Houdini—as in, yep. Sometimes, I ghost people.

Those latter bits contribute to some of my best writing material and some of my greatest regrets. They are the ever-evolving paradox that is my life. I know how I’m supposed to appear to people—my students, my clients, my friends, my family, my colleagues. I feel a lot of pressure to be consistent. To be declarative. To just get it. To know. And the part of me that feels certain a lot of the time about how it is, because people expect me to act like I do, is completely ego-based.

But being Woke AF allows me to understand that I don’t know anything about any of it, and what’s more, I shouldn’t expect to, and I shouldn’t expect others to, no matter how famous or learned. We are all walking Gordian knots of stories—the stories we are taught and those we live, even if other folks' narratives have been projected onto us—as in, we’re living the lives they didn’t or couldn’t or won't. Being Woke AF is the willingness to slice that sucker open and see what’s at the core, so we’re not confined to our stories (and subsequently our labels) anymore. We can blend. We can blur. We can shape shift. We can expand. We can change. Which is all any of us were put here to do.

Deep Song & Tiffany Pollard

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Each time I read Lorca's treatise re: duende, I become emotional. These emotions do not come from the same tributary as when I watch Neil Gaiman's MIT commencement speech from several years back, "Make Good Art." If I'm having "a day," both of these texts help me get back on the bucking bronco that is making a lifelong companion out of art. Both speak to endurance—Gaiman emphasizes creating art despite one's circumstances, but Lorca emphasizes what drives—no, what haunts—one’s art. It's more of a worldview. It is understanding the intrinsic value of navigating life as both anchor and the sea. 

I find that Lorca's essays pair nicely with Audre Lorde's "The Uses of the Erotic.” Lorde defines the erotic as generative, a creative germ particular to women that is often labeled pornographic because men can't really wrap their heads around it. The erotic is meant to be pleasurable, open, satisfying, full, reciprocal. Unnamed and unnamable. The erotic is a feeling space. Emotion and intuition are a kind of intellect, a kind of analysis that has long been overlooked and disqualified as legitimate because it cannot be corralled or explained or measured. Therefore the erotic is most often limited to physical coupling. And anyone who comes off as even slightly empowered by her sexuality (even as an extension of her spirituality) is then limited by her organs. The deep resonant joy of living fully to the point of ecstasy (I believe the French word for this is jouissance), is cured by hard facts, data, evidence, pie charts, works cited—and yet, the patient rarely survives this cure—it’s too extreme. The erotic then becomes something like a phantom limb—a primordial memory of possessing something that seeks expression, but that’s hidden itself under thousands of years of unrelenting suppression. Women who retain/explore their erotic power are criticized most ardently by—surprise, surprise—other women. And yet—I’ve talked to thousands of women who wish they could be so empowered, so capable of confrontation, so content to take the reins of their own joy. 

There is a kind of woman—she’s a breed of seducer Robert Greene labels a Siren in, The Art of Seduction. This is a Cleopatra, a Marilyn Monroe, who can compel all manner of man with their ability to arrest his attention—drive him to distraction—she becomes his addiction. It is her sensationalism, her mystery, her pirouette on the edge of sex, madness, and death—her use—no, her manipulation of the erotic—her duende—that makes men mad because they won’t ever entirely be able to possess her, and yet, they can’t not try. These women occupy a liminal space. Theirs is Lorca’s deep song—their voices those of Homer’s sirens—they are water women. Water is soft, yet given enough of it and time, it will erode a mountain into a canyon. 

I’m fascinated by women who exude deep song in the 21st century, an age of Instagram and “influencers,” a trend kicked off by the Kardashians and Hiltons—socialites who don’t really appear to do anything except seek pleasure and the next selfie opp. They somehow seem to capitalize on the erotic without (always) being pornographic—they’re shocking, not always well-behaved, unafraid of spontaneity and risk, mysterious, unashamed of their excess and theatrics, and as much the Divine Feminine as say, Michelle Obama. I’m fascinated by what fascinates us abut these women. Why can’t we quit them? What is it about them that we sometimes/oftentimes envy? Is it their lack of restraint? Or is it our inability to tame them? Their lack of apology for being themselves? Or is it that they are free? 

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how people seduce and attract. I have a young artist friend (@lewhitefox) who has lately gotten me on a kick re: Tiffany Pollard aka New York, who crash-landed onto reality TV during that MTV show, Flavor of Love. I remember being in my late teens watching in real-time, Tiffany yelling, shoving, jeering, eating, kissing, moving through the world like a coked out tornado. I think the kids call this having "no chill." To this day, Tiffany's wholehearted expressions makes for the best GIFs. And as much as reality TV can make a person into a caricature of themselves, there’s something about Tiffany that rejects even the platform that made her famous—there is something so raw and guileless about her that you just feel she’s the real deal. It’s like that Kendrick song off the Black Panther soundtrack, X, Tiffany seems to live on ten. Her ability to occupy the eternal present is an enviable quality that if you read enough material on Buddhism, you could argue that Tiffany is a low-key Zen master.  She represents the paradox that is the deep song of any creative force—she has an innate understanding of the erotic, but you get the sense that she could flip the switch into danger at any moment. And maybe that’s why we keep watching her and people like Tiffany—the tension is what keeps us locked in—the never being fulfilled, the never completely arriving though we may come close, the inability to define or defy someone’s impact.

Of Demi-Gods and Men

I’ve been working on getting my word count up with Medusa again this weekend, but I keep getting lost in The Great Cosmic Mother by Monica Shoo & Barbara Mor—every time I crack that sucker open, I read something else that helps me refine the more esoteric concepts I’ve been trying to nest like Easter eggs in the work. Today, I was reading a chapter, “The Moon Tree” which discusses the difference between matriarchal and patriarchal consciousnesses. 

It is notoriously difficult for me to write male characters, as for twenty years now, I just naturally gravitate towards the narratives and voices of women. Despite being relatively close to my dad, maintaining strong friendships with men, and also having been partnered with the same man for almost ten years, I confess, I still don’t understand how they think. The closest I got was when, while still in grad school, I was assigned to a campus counselor after I passed my comps, because I’d burnt out on all of it and didn’t know if I’d finish. Dr. M explained the three layers of the brain starting with the R-complex, which is the first time I truly understood that what motivates someone's choices is primarily dependent upon their survival instincts. Now, how those instincts are informed over the course of their life is a whole ‘nother blog, but suffice it to say, it made me want to understand the intentions of the people in my life more efficiently and to not take their choices so personally if they did not go in my favor. 

Now, because I’m working on a noncommittal male character who’s got demi-god sized Daddy issues, talking to my male friends about why they do or don’t put on the emergency brake in their careers and relationships still baffles me. I’m tearing through everything from Freud to The Twilight Zone to relationship coaches on Youtube to try and understand why men prioritize their lives in such specific ways. Even though I don’t completely agree with my character’s choices, it is my responsibility to represent his voice authentically, and cobbling together the experiences of my friends and past partners isn’t enough—his motives come through as hollow and then the plot just sags, to say nothing of the dialogue.

Last night, I was watching one of these Youtube-famous coaches, and he described how women’s EQ is like driving down the Autobahn and men’s is like driving down a two-lane road. I will set aside the J in my INFJ tendencies, and not harp too much on instead of focusing on how women need to shrink their lanes to accommodate a dinky little backroad, why don’t we just expand the backroad to make travel easier on everyone (duh)—for now. But I heard him out and I considered his analogy at length holding it up to the men currently in my life and those who’ve been excused from it. 

Reading this chapter from TGCM this morning confirmed that there is definitely a battle going on—it’s not a battle of the sexes, though. This battle manifests most obviously through roles denoted by gender and sexuality, to be sure, but pretty much anyone can be restricted by a limiting belief, right? What I came up with is that patriarchal consciousness/matriarchal consciousness (terms used by Sjoo and Mor) is that patriarchal consciousness is either/or oriented while matriarchal consciousness is also/and oriented. 

So, I’d like to submit a scenario as to how this can play out in a micro-setting. Today, I sat down to write, and next door, my neighbor’s riding mower roared to life. This mower is a monster that could probably mow down a highway median, but he gets his little half acre done in four minutes. A couple of weeks ago, this man (who I've heard is a judge), who hasn’t spoken but literally a sentence to me in nine months, comes up to my door, and asks if he can mow my front yard because he can tell my landlords aren’t helping me out. To me, I read that as noting how short-lived the expression of joy on his face was when he stopped tearing up his own lawn, and he wanted to keep playing with his new toy—the man likes his motors, let me tell you. Monster truck. Sports car. Luxury motorcycle. And now—bulky riding mower. 

I said sure, and we got to talking. I told him I’m a professor and a writer, and right now, my head is wandering around the Parthenon all summer, and that yes, after nine months, I’m just now unpacking my place. So, he happily mows my front yard in seven minutes. All good. Mission accomplished. He mentioned in passing that my backyard was getting pretty bad too, and I remembered that he had been out of town in the spring when the dandelion tufts had gotten knee-high. So he hadn’t seen me let my backyard turn into something of a science experiment, which I eventually took my electric mower to and had a lot of fun, actually, pushing it around in sedate, uneven lines to mow until everything was trimmed. He said he’d mow the back if he could get the thing through the back fence, but I said, eh. It’s fine. I’ll get around to it sooner or later, but first—I had a date with the Acropolis. 

He seems to be on vacation for a few weeks, and from my reading nook, I’ve seen him disassembling the Jumanji of his own backyard, and a couple of weeks after our conversation, upon noting that I’d still not mown, decided that today, he is going to just get 'er dun. When I realized why the mower sounded suddenly so close, I just chuckled, turned up the opera, and went back to writing, inspired. As if on cue, here was patriarchal consciousness quite literally in my own backyard, mowing my matriarchal consciousness down to the dirt. 

My neighbor thinks like this: Either the lawn is of an acceptable length (according to his criteria) or it isn’t.

I think like this: I am fine with the length of my lawn at any state—I will get to it when I get to it. 

I have to admit—maybe it’s what I’m reading, but the act, which I thanked him for two weeks ago and felt genuine when he offered, did feel slightly invasive today, because he didn’t knock this time. He’d clearly gotten annoyed with waiting for either me or my landlords to address the length of the lawn according to his standards, which he hasn’t cared about until literally now, almost a year since I’ve been in this house. He figured out a way to maneuver his mower on through the fence anyway—even though he has no vested interest in my lawn other than it’s there and appears to be “bad” (read: unruly, unkempt, wild, untamed, etc.). You see where I’m going with this?

At one point, he even walked very close to my reading nook window through which he could see me working, and waited for a few moments, like I should lift my head to acknowledge his act as favorably as the first time. I didn’t. Because that’s what I felt he wanted me to do. Apart from my own issues with authority, as a single Black woman in a rural town, I confess—my drawbridge is necessarily raised against unsolicited acts instigated by Anglo men. I’ve had too many run-ins with at-first gentlemanly neighbors who then get to acting out when you don’t give them whatever it is they feel entitled to that day.    

So, now I feel like my peace of mind has been disturbed. This whole lawn business has now become a thing. I didn’t ask him to mow my lawn, but I’m also wired to believe he’s going to want something in return eventually, especially if he mows it again. Because either/or consciousness is dogged/assertive at best and relentless/aggressive at worst. I’m just hoping we can go back to studiously ignoring one another’s comings and goings. But for me, this scenario encapsulated everything that motivates patriarchal consciousness—it’s not just two lanes of emotions. It's two lanes of intellect. It's two lanes of motivation. It's two lanes of dominance. Everything is played out in terms of binaries. Either this will kill me or it will cure me. Matriarchal consciousness integrates—understands innately that you gotta add a little bit of whatever could kill you in order to get to what can cure you...eventually. And out of necessity, that process needn't be rushed—you might miss something important—like someone else's needs/desires/worldview not being less important than your own.

 

Why Pretty Hurts

Why Pretty Hurts

In my research for Medusa, I’ve been studying ancient religions and spiritual practices quite a bit. I wanted to know more about why and how the archetypes of Greek goddesses seemed to so easily overlap over the centuries not just with one another and the Roman versions later on, but with other deities around the globe. I wanted to know where they came from and what purpose they served in interacting with one another. 

I started with the Greeks, for the purposes of the play, and chose to read The Goddess Within: A Guide to the Eternal Myths That Shape Women’s Lives, which includes a quiz where you can see which of the goddesses are most active in your life out of several archetypes. My results were Aphrodite, Persephone, and Athena showing up as the most vocal in my life and the least were Hera and Demeter. That makes sense given my professional, creative, and personal pursuits. But the authors encourage readers to not just look into our most active archetypes. They encourage us to explore who we’re leaving out because that could be the key to creating a more integrated life. The concept of "home-making" was so far removed from me at the time, my house, nine months after I'd moved in, was still mostly unpacked. I stayed there rather than felt like I lived there. Maybe it was the timing of the book along with summer break, but in learning more about what motivated Hera and Demeter, box by box, room by room, my place began to tell me how it wanted to take care of me while I wrote and researched and played with the cats. 

I’ve always been attracted to diaspora-based deities like Mami Wata, Yemoja, Oshun, Erzulie. Whenever I incorporate their energy into my work, it feels like a personal relationship. Like they’re my closest friends/aunties/mentors. In recent years, I’ve also come to appreciate Lakshmi and Kali, the original monstrous mother…and how these goddesses, whatever their culture, seem to work together—be parts of a whole. I ordered The Divine Feminine Oracle by Meggan Watterson, and was thrilled by how she included so many real-life women from all over the globe I’d never heard of before in addition to the deities—53 cards in all—including the "Cosmic Egg” which were each thoroughly researched and expertly written about in the accompanying book. It’s a vibrantly illustrated and incredibly potent deck which has helped infuse my writing process with the kaleidoscope of characteristics of the DF I want to imbue into my protagonist. That deck is so lit, I call them the “honeys.” 

In When God Was a Woman, which is so much of a page-turner, I assigned it as required reading to my Women & Writing class in the fall, Merlin Stone serves as a time-traveling tour guide, starting around 7500 BCE, to describe how the first organized faith on the planet was that of the Mother Goddess. Another top-notch text is The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth which makes some of the connections I didn’t find with the Stone—in that it’s obvious that the Mother Goddess religion originated on the African continent.

Anyway, all of these texts and more were starting to confirm what I’d been feeling personally, as well as witnessing in the lives of my friends and acquaintances and family members for the last few years. Too, I'd been observing how at the macro level the paradigm shift rebooted with marches and hashtags like #metoo and #wastehistime. This groundswell reaches from the ‘gram to Hollywood to the courtroom is as we speak in the process of reorienting popular opinions about everything from the current presidential administration to reproductivity laws, from the gaps in wages to “F boys,” making it abundantly clear that something is happening to women. 

We’re remembering. 

We’re remembering who we were—who we are. The fact that the first religion on the planet situated women not just as head of the church, but also head of the state and household, means the tremendous innate power it took to shape socioeconomic structures and cultures was a given. There's a reason for women's original power being stripped away and most records of this power having been destroyed. For a long time, coitus and conception were not viewed as related, so women were credited with having sole creative and regenerative power. Their status reflected their apparently divine ability to create new life. And when warmongering invaders burst onto the scene to dominate other more agrarian peoples, they brought bloodthirsty male deities with them. Chieftans married high priestesses and over time, their gods began to assume some of the qualities of the Mother Goddess (who represented all of it—creation, destruction, sex, pleasure, grief, prosperity, lack, the environment, cycles of birth and rebirth, ancestry, etc.) were chipped away until only a handful of elements remained to be split into shades of herself. And as she became fragmented, so too did women’s status and power. Thousands of years of subdued women’s voices and subsequently personal and political power, no wonder we are having an identity crisis in the 21st century. 

This goes way back beyond our mama and aunties an ‘em. Like—way, way back. The pendulum is swinging in the other direction again, and women are struggling not against men per se, but against outdated narratives and models passed down from thousands of years of disempowerment. But we're waking up at the cellular level. And we’re knitting ourselves back together. Pretty hurts because it’s not enough if all there is is pretty. It’s never been enough to just see ourselves as any one or two things. The reintegration process, however, will not only see fewer restrictions on women, but also relieve restrictions on men who feel they have to hide their vulnerability so they don't expose their own need to seek the strength and grace of surrender and receptivity. 

It’s tricky because these are such deeply-seeded neurological trenches, most women I know think they have to do something to earn their keep. They’ve been situated in the position of a codependent for so long, or hoisted up onto a illusion-based pedestal by their parents and partners, they have forgotten that the real power is in being able to compel what they need to them in divine timing. In fact, working so hard to produce a narrow spectrum of material-based results is so completely egoic and antithetical to how the universe actually works, which is mostly to do with flow and frequency, play, and co-creation with other elements, that I think many women make their lives more miserable because they feel love, respect, abundance must always be earned, and if they don’t possess those things and demonstrate them in very specific ways, they are a failure—there’s something wrong with them. But like—what if—there’s nothing wrong with you, Woman? 

What if you went an entire day, just as an experiment, pretending like you were the physical embodiment of the Divine Feminine? And your gut, your sacral chakra, is where not just human life but all life originates? How distinct are you from the cosmos and natural world? I mean, really? Just because we are not rooted down like a mountain or tree does not mean we are separate from the pulse of this planet. I feel like embodying this knowing, even if for only a day, would not straighten out a spine so much as it would allow someone the ability to recline—to lean back—to receive. Pretty hurts because pretty is imposed. Imposters only impress other imposters. True freedom is letting go of those sorts of folks along with their misguided projections and expectations of you. Too, the effectiveness of pretty has a shelf life. Certainly, pretty can feel like a person is standing in a kind of power. But that only lasts for so long before the glamour wears off. But sitting in one’s power? That’s so gangster to me. First of all, it means you conserve your energy so you don't exhaust yourself running around after out-of-sight-out-of-mind people. Second, to sit in your power means to be anchored in it. After all—the most powerful people on the planet have always stayed seated while everyone else stands. 

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When You Collab w/a Conceptual Artist, Set Phasers to Stun...

I've been collaborating off and on with conceptual artist, Natasha Marin, since 2012. I've quite literally never met anyone who thinks or dreams like her. As an artist and compatriot, I have so much respect for her visions. She's one of those folks who, when they write to ask if you want in on something, you don't even ask what it's for. You just nod emphatically and send back a string of ecstatic emojis. In other words, game recognizes game. 

Natasha's currently co-curating a series called, "Black Imagination," which will debut a third installment re: ritual objects at the Virago Gallery in August. At present, I'm not at liberty to discuss openly what-all's involved—that's another thing. Aries women are kinda like Valkyries—masters of the attack-from-above you never saw coming—but definitely check out the premise behind the exhibition here

What I will mention is what happened when I was coming up with my part of the collab. Each artist was given a specific theme and invited to explore our own approach to that theme. That's another sign of an excellent project manager—they don't micromanage. I chose to do what I initially thought was a fairly simple exercise—something I have my students do quite frequently in workshops—I'd print out current events articles and redact the text to create found poems.

These weren't just any current events articles—they were articles that reflected the 21st century Black American experience. I chose articles about Serena Williams, Kanye West, Claudia Rankine, the Bill Cosby trial, Neil DeGrasse Tyson vs. B.o.B, Patricia Okoumou, Confederate monument removal, and more. To provide a little context about this process, you should know that I am currently on a social media hiatus. I'm so out of the loop, it took me almost a week to find out about Anthony Bourdain. 

And even when I'm on social media, I'm not really clicking headlines. I don't watch the news. I don't keep up unless it's completely unavoidable online or someone tells me about it. So far, that's worked out well for me. I stay abreast of current events, but I'm not enslaved to needing to know about them. So, this exercise was much more challenging than I realized. 

I wanted to find hope in articles that were talking about sobering or depressing topics. I wanted to sift through the shadows and ash for embers of pleasure—of joy. It was tough going. I dedicated almost an entire day to selecting articles, and then going through each one, maybe 150 pages total, redacting any words that contributed to trauma. By the end, I was exhausted. I was drained. My shoulders ached, my neck was sporting a couple of knots, and I was irritable. I'm pretty much used to sitting in one place for long periods of time reading and writing, so I can't peg the discomfort on that—it's kind of what I do for a living. 

But article after article, I found that even reports about positive events were couched in contextual trauma to indicate what we should be celebrating as Black Americans and why. The words I found repeated across several different news and media sites were as follows: Black, U.S., America, assault, violence, rape, history, decades, oppression. "History" and "Violence" were repeated the most, almost orgiastic in some cases, throughout a single article. It became clear that I was imbibing upon triggers. I was being physiologically and psychologically triggered by a codified arrangement of words. I was being spellbound. The process felt Herculean towards the end, and the resulting pieces were frantic, shorter, more fragmented. 

This process was very edifying for me, and I am indebted to Natasha for unwittingly helping me break through the sound barrier about what bugs me re: current events reported about people of color. It's what I teach all the time—words manipulate readers. They activate subconscious drives and reactions in readers that they may not even be aware of. It's strange to think that I can't celebrate triumphs of Black America without also being coerced into mourning the challenges of Black America. No wonder so many of us continue to feel like outliers, suppressed, powerless, and quite frankly, insane. American culture is narcissistic (and not in a healthy way—in the pathological sense), and in true narcissistic fashion, gaslights the codependent, then says there's something wrong with them

I don’t know what to do with this information. I’m glad I went through the process. I’ve become adept at eliminating as many sources of negative stressors from my life as possible because stress ages you and shortens your homeostatic capacity in both physical and mental health. So, when something newly stressful enters my life, it’s pretty clear to me what it is, and I can then determine if the end-goal is worth the stress. But it’s worth considering not just how we consume our media but the literal subtext of what we are consuming, particularly if only one-dimensional truths are being touted like they are the truth. Also, consider how much we allow ourselves to consume. If the reactions in us are nothing but negative, that might just be our inner GPS saying, “This is a boundary. Why am I crossing this boundary? Why am I intentionally triggering myself? What am I trying to prove or disprove and why?” 

If we can't answer those questions other than we feel an urgency to continue reading because we need to be kept in the know, maybe it's because we're hooked on our own supply. 

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