Grief, a series (pt. 2): a letter to my babydog, mink

She was more than my dog. She was my baby.

I saved her life at least twice—three times, actually. She was an omen. She was a friend. She was a pillow and a comforter. She was a burst of life and light on a leash. Expert pigeon chaser. Mercurial instruction listener. Face licker. Underwear chewer. High jumper. Shoe chewer. Book chewer (avid reader). Mattress chewer. Pen chewer. Table leg chewer. Rug/carpet chewer. Couch chewer. Plant chewer. Limit tester. Full-time unconditional lover. Therapist. Love sigher. Cuddler (laps, legs, same pillow too close to my face), burrowing under covers. Made me late to work because I couldn’t stand to leave her by herself being this dang cute. Witching hour hallway runner hunter. Nosey neighbor. Bossypants. Always returns home. Answers to her name and ‘treat’ and ‘walk’ and ‘outside’. Always returns bounding with a smile and tongue hanging out the side of her face.

Mink,

You taught me to trust you each time I let you off the leash and you came running back when you heard panic in my voice. You taught me patience with each carpet stain and each ruined thing I didn’t need in the first place. You taught me in-my-face-joy. Over and over and over again. I knew the lurch of fear and anxiety absorbing your pain anytime you were sick. I knew the guilt, the winding cycle of self-deprecation each time I couldn’t walk you because I was too tired or too depressed. The guilt of staying out late knowing you were waiting on me at home, alone. The relief of you loving me anyway. Of you being excited to see me anyway. The mutual joy of having a companion who never gives up on me. Never.

I am relieved and grateful revisiting the photos and videos of us. I loved you and you felt it. I loved you enough to see you in all of the small, tiny, precious things. The ants, the bees, the mice, the pigeons, every small thing took on your spirit (and continues to) because of my love for you. You have transformed my relationship to the world.

When I went in to the SPCA I was going to visit with dogs because I was more stuck and depressed and isolated than I had ever been. I had been trying everything to get out of it. When you came into the room and began munching on my hair, I couldn’t help but laugh. I knew you were mine. Despite the fact that five other people had come to adopt you while we played. Your love brought me back to life. Your energy reminded me of the joy and urgency of living. Of seeing things for the first time and accepting, even loving them, immediately. Your too-muchness made me build a relationship to my own too-muchness (that I’d kept pulled away and reserved only for solo sessions of target practice). I thought you were a burden because I was more concerned with how people would receive you. I also feared for you, a reckless puppy. At every turn you could have got off leash and into traffic or trapped under a fence or eat something you weren’t supposed to (like you had many times before). Like you did this time when you didn’t survive.

The first thing I felt when I got the call before 5am was—this is my fault. There’s nothing like getting a call at that hour—it makes me want to throw my phone into a fire just thinking about it. My belly turns just at the thought of a call before 5am. I was still optimistic, though. I asked my ancestors to keep you out of pain and to do what was best. I surrendered early on—praying for your health and recovery, admitting that I was so far away in New York and had so little control and wanted nothing more than to run from this situation—back in time, to our little home, to you prepping yourself for a comfortable spot for sleeping under me under the covers. Readjusting and warm.

When I got the call from the doctor they said you had staples or some kind of metal in your stomach. They said you’d gone into septic shock. ‘The prognosis was bad’. You most likely wouldn’t live. They recommended humane euthanasia.

I had been moving about the day shaking. But, I am an actress. I had my first-ever meeting with a literary agent and laughed on cue and made eye contact while my muscles made knots around themselves. While my stomach became a muscle that tied a knot around itself. I don’t even remember how the meeting went besides looking back and forth between the top rows of her shelves on either side of the room where she had standing copies of newly released books for authors she agented. She was a small woman and I remember only wondering if she’d stood in the chair I sat in to put the books up there. I came downstairs to receive the news.

You were alone there. I said I needed to see you before they euthanized you. A nurse said she could facetime me in. I was so afraid and so grateful. There was a wave made of white foam and a riptide. I saw your little batface—one eye blinking slower than the other. You didn’t seem to be in pain. They’d put you on pain meds by then. You were laying on your side, your head up and nodding. I said hi to you. Hi Mommy’s babygirl. And you weren’t responsive to my voice. What happened?  I was outside in midtown. Sitting on the wooden ledge of a café, making a seat out of nothing because I couldn’t do anything standing. People walked by as I crooned into the front camera on my phone. Hi baby and hi baby and hi my little baby dog until I said my last words to you.

I thanked you for loving me and for letting me love you. I thanked you for saving my life and being the bright light that I didn’t know I needed until I knew. I tried to forget that there was at least one stranger I didn’t know, listening to me say my last words to you, holding a phone so I could see you before injecting you with a liquid that would extinguish you, immediately. I said that I looked forward to seeing and knowing you and loving you in another lifetime. That I was grateful that I got to know and love you this lifetime. That I was so sorry for what happened, it was a horrible accident, a horrible accident, a horrible accident.

The vet let me know that he was injecting the liquid. Your head dropped immediately. Neck went limp and you were gone. I saw the vet for the first time from a weird angle, he repeated that he was so so sorry before hanging up the facetime call.

I bawled on the side of the street. I cried with a knot in my throat all through the street. I called my grandma and she cried with me (you were the only dog I’ve ever seen my grandma hold and pet and love and buy Christmas presents for!). I told all my friends that I was planning to spend time with during my brief visit about you immediately—they prepared to hold me in my grief. They made me tea and rubbed my back and hugged me and sat with me and held my hands as I made calls and made arrangements—to retrieve your collar or put words on a commemorative urn. They went to dance classes with me and checked in while they were at work on breaks and ate food with me and took me to the beach with a bouquet of flowers to make my offering. They lead me in ceremony. They lead me to the rivers they knew so that I could talk to you from thousands of miles away and at least one dimensional plane apart. They gave me stuffed animals to keep with me to talk to in your absence and reminded me of grief as a cycle and love as a part of the same cycle, and the act of honoring love by grieving. They texted me to remind me to eat food and drink water. They gave me sunglasses to wear on the train because I couldn’t ride a stop without hiccupping into a good cry remembering that you wouldn’t be home when I got back. They sent their love because they knew how big of a loss this was for me—because they loved you too.

You gave me the confidence to build strong community (you were the social one!). Because of it, I am held fully in my loss of you. Thank you for being my babydog. And for being so much more than my babydog. I hope you are enjoying life as a brilliant idea reincarnated over and over again and shared between loving people. I hope you are enjoying life as a lightening bolt or an electric current flying through as much space as you dare to inhabit. I know you’re wild and offleash like you should be. I’ll make sure to leave a few treats on my altar for you in case you ever have enough time to stop by for a moment to visit.

Love always,

mom

 

 

 

 

Grief, a series (pt.1)

I’ve decided that I will not be ruined this summer.

 

I’ve decided that I will not be jekyllhyded by grief

That I will not hide hurt from myself

out of fear

 

I look forward to going there.

I look forward.

 

I’ve decided,

I look forward to the time

letting sadness and longing

reel out of me

through my back

and into the floor.

 

I’ve decided to choreograph my own grief dance

 

I’ve decided to spend my time

(this time)

believing that healing is possible without being swallowed.

 

Without emerging,

by cutting myself triumphantly out of the belly of a great whale

after lingering in the darkness there.

 

I have decided.

That it does not have to be wholeconsuming

 to be real.

 

I have decided.

I can stop when it hurts too much.

 

Fold the corner of the page,

and return to it when I’m ready.

 

I have already decided.

I will not be broken in half this summer.

 

It’s too late to grieve the old way,

by way of being eatenalive.

 

Of ignoring the bleeding out.

Of becoming nothing

until I can’t taste my food.

 

I have decided.

to laugh at the audacity of humidity.

 

To let my anxious stomach

fall out of my butt

when it drops,

If it dares.

 

To love.

 

I have decided to love.

(in the present).

 

I have decided.

I can be healed by the medicine

spun by my own fingers

for the top of my own head.

 

I have decided.

that I am still curious

about joy

in the deep mist of griefjunglefloor.

 

I have decided.

In my own image.

I can dance with two lovers.

Laughing and crying.

With both feet

taking turns

then together

off of the ground.

 

 

what it looks like from here

I.

Life is lonely as a conduit.

Everybody thinking they love you because you got answers flowing through you.

Because you see them in a world where nobody ain’t too fond of looking anybody in the eye,

Really.

 

It’s lonely being a river that flows in two directions.

Everybody love your water ‘til they’re whisked away

And it’s your fault

for being a river in the first place

 

Even when you posted signs.

And told them,

When they got too close

To touching ground in the deep, rushing end

And you had to look at them sternly

And say,

“Be careful. I don’t play.”

 

Everybody got shit they want you to pull out of your chest for them:

“Won’t you go deep in that raspy spot behind that lung and let me know who’s gon’ win the game tonight?”

 

Everybody see your light and only want to play it.

Only want to use it ‘til it’s darkness.

Only want to take it.

Take it as an invitation.

 

Then complain about the fire going out

When they didn’t put no wood in the pile.

 

II.

Life as a myth is tired.

I spend my days too big to fit indoors.

 

Up on a high hill,

Listening

To the tired and tried prayers of men

With imprints in their knees.

 

I’m not supposed to tell them,

“That they wouldn’t have to be kneeling all the damn time if they dared do right by anybody but themselves”

But I be thinking it.

 

So what,

I spend my nights with my feet up.

Burping and picking my teeth

With their sorry offerings.

 

I bet if you weren’t supposed to live,

You’d be hungry enough to gnaw at the

Praying hands

Of sorry men,

Too.

 

III.

Living under the ground as several severed parts can be exhausting.

 

Some days my head

can’t even open my eyes.

 

Some days my fingers twittle

And I feel something

 

Maybe my other hand,

turning over soil in my palm.

 

And my ears can almost hear

the kiki-ing of my toes

finding each other

saying softly,

“I think I can feel it,

Can you?

Can you feel it?

I think I’m feeling it.

Can you?”

 

I used to walk

on top of the street,

before I was a cautionary tale.

 

I used to wear what I wanted

And hitchhike

And not answer to,

“AYE, AYE MAMI—YOU WITH THE LEGS”

from across the street.

 

I was baaaaaaaaaad.

Bad meaning good.

There was many a story

Told about me.

 

Ones where I ate men whole,

without regard.

 

Where I smoked

and drank

and cussed

and peed standing up

and sang at the table

and whistled

and burped

and ain’t cover my mouth when I smiled

and led us all to freedom.

 

And raised hell with two

Too-small hands.

And didn’t have the baby.

And couldn’t have the baby.

And let my hair grow,

until my locs turned to snakes.

 

And fed a million children

by way of miracle making,

(with no thanks).

 

And cured five million people of polio

And was still buried

in a shallow grave.

 

They got plenty of stories about me.

 

But they never get my laugh right.

And every few decades,

when they dig up a piece of me,

they never bother to be curious enough

to match one side of me with

the other.

 

Yeah.

They got plenty stories about me.

 

But ain’t nobody ever asked me which one was my favorite.

They never let me choose.

Even though I end up dead in all of them.

 

 

End Money Bail

Last week San Francisco's Board of Supervisors held a hearing on money bail. I was asked to testify about the harm of money bail. I recommend a swift and complete end to money bail. In it's place, I recommend community release based on a needs assessment that provides folks with the resources (preferably wraparound services) they need to thrive. Additionally, I recommend courts be replaced entirely by Restorative Justice processes and jails and prisons be closed altogether. Jails and prisons only address the symptoms of systemic harms and marginalization with violence. This vision is another essay entirely, so I'll just leave you with my testimony before I get carried away:

 

When my father was arrested, the bail was set at $500,000. My family was in a state of deep shock and distress. We didn’t have half a million dollars. We didn’t even have the 10% needed to pay to a bail bondsman. We barely had 1% of the bail amount. We had no assets, owned no property, were disenfranchised to the bone. Without having the 10% to pay to the bail bonds company, my father stayed in jail. In jail, my father missed out on so much—including my college graduation and his father's funeral.

Money bail is harmful no matter what—you hurt when you pay, and everyone hurts when you can’t.

It’s not just our family who has been hurt by this unjust practice. At least 46,000 Californians are affected by the harmful practice of money bail. According to 2015 Board of State and Community Corrections data, 46,000 people were kept in California jails, not because they had been convicted of a crime, but simply because they could not afford the bail for their release.

That’s 46,000 empty seats at graduations, at the sides of hospital beds of elderly loved ones, and at the dinner tables at every holiday family gathering. This past December, there was one empty seat at my sister’s baby shower. It was my father’s.

At the baby shower we passed a phone around the celebration gathering—to my mother, my grandmother, my sister, to each of my little cousins—to hear my father speak to us with a knot in his throat because he was missing out on becoming a grandfather for the first time.

Money bail is like a ransom note to women and families. When we can’t pay it, we are all punished. Freedom should not come with a price tag.

In California, the median California bail is $50,000. That’s five times higher than the national average. San Francisco’s bail average is one of the highest in the state.

Women bear the greatest burden of this failed system. Today, 1 in 4 women, and 1 in 2 Black women, has an incarcerated loved one in prison. Women make up more than 80% of family members primarily responsible for covering court-related costs. As Black women we already make pennies on the dollar for grueling work because of pervasive wage inequality. This is much of the reason as to why I am not joined by thousands of women in this room this morning. Know that I stand here today representing at least eighty women (nieces to great grandmothers) in my family who have had to navigate the money bail system through bail bondsmen, giving hundreds of thousands of dollars over time. This is money that we will never see again. We paid this money in order to have our loved ones get a fighting chance to show up to their trial in a suit and not an orange jumper and shackles. To meet with an attorney and not have to guess when the next time they see their public defender will be (if at all, before court).

I urge you to do everything in your power to end money bail. We have a long legacy of conflating data visibility and transparency with accountability in this city, which makes no difference in the day to day lives of people suffering from issues like the harms of money bail.

I urge you to also start upstream, tying police accountability for their proven bias (via the DOJ Report) with the representation of Black residents (as 3-5% of this cities population) as over half of the entire jail population. I urge you to tie the prevalence of desperate plea deals in San Francisco to the inhumane conditions (proven via numerous official city reports) of people living in 850 Bryant for over a year waiting to see trial (like my father did) just because their families can't afford bail.

Once and for all, it’s time to end the money bail system. People like me who have been impacted by the bail system are locking arms with advocates and leaders across the country to pressure states to dismantle the brutal money bail system that forces people to buy their freedom. I urge you to link arms with us too.

Money bail actually began in San Francisco. This is the perfect place and the perfect time to end it.

so far away

It’s been weeks since I felt clear.

I am trying to make sense of it but it’s a pretty nonsensical time.

I’ve had a pressure headache nearly everyday for the past few weeks. Sometimes I can sense other muscles (like my belly or my neck or shoulders or even my butt) causing the tension in my head and I have to go completely limp throughout my body in order to ease the headache.

I can’t remember what/if I pressed something (an emotion, a trauma) down in order to get to this depressed place. It’s usually brought on by something like that.

I spend the moments when I’m not feeling depressed half enjoying being able to breathe through my nose and see things clearly and half stifling air through my throat and tensing my belly afraid that I will be sucked back into depression.

How the fuck did I get here?

I didn’t realize that I’d worked more than 40 hours a week for three consecutive weeks until I book two flights for the same time on the same day. And didn’t realize this mistake until nearly a full week after it happened. Then spent hours on the phone trying to explain to someone how such a thing could be an honest mistake. An honest mistake.

Psychic stress had it so that I left my keys in a car on my way to the airport and didn’t realize it until I landed in New Orleans and was so overwhelmed by things I couldn’t see that I unpacked and repacked my bag for no reason and noticed my keys missing. A net of community would have it so that I could call the driver and arrange with many thankyouthankyouthankyous for him to return my keys to my neighbor for her to hold for me until I got back from my trip a week later.

I hope this doesn’t sound like shaming. I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m apologizing. I am moving toward a place when I don’t feel ashamed to be depressed. I am moving toward a place where I don’t apologize for not being present during a spell of dissociation. ‘Cause I don’t feel sorry. ‘Cause I don’t feel much of anything.

Psychic stress would have it so that I locked my keys in my car on the day of my birthday celebration. A net of community would have it so that my best friend could go to her house and get my spare key to go to my house to get my spare car key (which I’d made for the first time in ten years of having this car) to unlock my door and get us to my birthday celebration (where I was surrounded by music and good food and my family and friends in one place for the first time since my sixteenth birthday).

Psychic stress would have it so that when I slept I only dreamt of stress and woke up with a body wound up too tight and a jaw clenched with teeth bracing on top of each other.

I felt a blur over everything. A film over my eyes. My fingers and hands touched things and I felt nothing.

My dishes piled up and there was still powder to vacuum on my carpet and solution to scrub sitting in my tub.

I confused my days.

I had no desire to do anything, especially not move my body, which is what I needed to do most.

Deadline after deadline held the front of my head. I met them all. #highfunctioning #deadlinesbedamned

In the midst of being overwhelmed I had made the decision (over and over) somewhere in my mind that deadlines were more important than taking care of myself. Everything followed suit.

In this particular bout with depression and dissociation I recognized how good I’ve gotten at high functioning and keeping it moving.

In this particular bout with depression, I pretend less. When people asked how I was, I didn’t lie as much.

When people asked, I told them I was moving through it.

I moved quickly through hyper-sensitivity and dissociation with high spirits on my birthday.

Why does it take so long to come back?

I know my tools and I hate them when I’m depressed.

I trust me with myself (even in the middle of this quiet shitstorm) and that feels good.

I tried. Lighting my candles. Looking people in the eye. Using a massage ball on my sore muscles.

I didn’t want to answer my phone, was overwhelmed and over stimulated by everything, flakey, anxious, apprehensive.

My gift of sensitivity was off.

My mind was foggy, which felt like a deliberate curse.

Most of my good habits were off/forgotten.

Last Wednesday, I felt that I had calves and shins and didn’t remember the last time I remembered that I had calves and shins because I felt them.

It deeply irritated me when people said things like, “the stress isn’t worth it/positive thinking will change things/you have to meditate and get outside.” I KNOW (in my quietest voice, ‘thank you’). When I’m depressed these things sound impossible, improbable and work to push me away from people I love. It doesn’t feel useful unless someone is making a plan with me to go on a walk or somehow making it easy to do self-care and be accompanied in it.

I had a talk with myself. I said I’m ready to start feeling stuff again.

I have enough energy to make (what feels like big), difficult decisions for myself that just wants to stay inside in bed all day.

Yesterday, after turning my car around three times I made it to Congolese dance class, alone. I’d been avoiding it because I had in the very forefront of my mind that I did not want to be watched or criticized. I was grateful warming up when I told myself over and over under my breath that I came to class for myself. When I told myself that I didn’t possibly have the energy to grade my performance and be concerned with what anyone/everyone thought about my dancing and dance at the same time. That I should just dance. That I should just break a sweat and let that be enough.

 

 

 

the things they carried

When Tim O’Brien wrote “The Things They Carried” I can guarantee you he was not watching his younger sister pack up all of the things she might need to take her breast-fed two month old to visit his grandfather for the first time in prison.

 1. One transparent coin purse, maximum two compartments, maximum size of 6" x 8".
2. Fifty dollars per adult visitor and twenty dollars per minor visitor, coin or one dollar bills only.
3. Two keys on a ring with no other attachments.  

One (1) transparent diaper bag, six (6) disposable diapers, three (3) factory sealed jars of baby food, any combination of the following:  two (2) factory sealed serving size, ready to feed bottles of baby formula or two (2) transparent plastic baby bottles, either empty or containing pre-mixed formula/milk/juice/water, two (2) factory sealed, single serving size packets of powdered baby formula, one (1) change of clothes, single layer baby blanket, one transparent pacifier, factory sealed baby wipes, one baby feeding spoon (plastic), one burp cloth, and one infant carrier. 

…….

 Last month my dad celebrated a birthday. As a late birthday present, I drove my sister and nephew four hours to visit my Dad in prison. I drove this route so that my Dad could see his grandson for the first time. So that my nephew could meet his Pop Pop for the first time.

My sister sat in the backseat with my nephew. He demanded her full attention. Over the course of the ride he hollered to be fed, whimpered if she didn’t pay him enough attention, let his diaper talk for itself when it was time to be changed (he’s particularly talented in the art of pooping up his back. He’s a gravity bender).

We had a late start, having already committed to a day of events before driving down in the early evening. When the night came on the road and I felt every part of the day weighing on me, I imagined what I needed to listen to on the radio in order to stay awake and drive us the rest of the ride.

Persevering down a dusty dark road with nightbugs flying recklessly and smashing against my windshield and cows smelling through the air vents for miles, I sang along low under my breath to the Hamilton soundtrack so as not to wake my nephew. Only a story could keep me awake for this ride.

I bet when they wrote the Hamilton soundtrack they didn’t visualize two sisters and a small infant rolling down the middle of a dusty California road to see their father be a grandfather for the first time behind high, sharp gates.

……….

I hadn’t seen my father since 2012. Five years is a wicked amount of time to spring on anyone. I couldn’t believe that much time had passed. 

When we got into the motel in the town in the middle of nowhere we found out that it was actually a town that was founded on top of the largest pile of horse shit on Earth. In fact, it smelled like the mountains in the distance were made of it, the roads paved with it. I honestly feared I might get pink eye just from being outside.

When we got in the room and settled for the night, my nephew was awake and ready to party. My sister set out all of the things that would need to go in a transparent zip bag for the next day—a larger one for my nephews belongings and a small transparent coin purse that I’d brought for each of us. The two smaller bags had lived different lives as bags from some promotional biotin vitamins I’d gotten from a clinic some years ago. The larger zip bag for my nephew’s things was probably home to a sheet set, initially. I bet these bags didn’t know they was ever going to see the inside of a prison.

We tiredly modeled for each other and talked through why each of the outfits we packed would be acceptable attire and would get us in to our visit with no challenges. Right?! We both knew so well the urban legend story of the woman who had brought extra clothes in her car just in case and got her visit cancelled because she went to change into them in the parking lot. We didn’t drive four hours for something like that to happen.

We were aware of the level of discretion and control that is everpresent when visiting a loved one in prison. It’s in the stagnant air.

We both knew the sounds of people talking about us over our heads. We both knew the touch of learning that someone had made a decision about us by what they were already doing to punish us—patting down between a bra, denying eye contact so we don’t know who they’re talking to, wearing other people’s clothes, having delinquent tickets and being denied visitation for it. I’ve never met anyone so petty as the CDCR.

Luckily, this visit was not as difficult as the other ones and things were mostly easy sailing. Besides the hassle of packing and jostling a two month old around a small visiting room or ‘outside’ in a barricaded corridor made of stone and topped with a grated gate with barbed wire that made the natural light come in as just shadows.

………

For anyone who feels any type of way about an infant visiting a loved one in prison (apparently there are a lot of y’all), forever hold your opinion for yourself. I can guarantee you that it is of no value to me, my family or anyone who has an incarcerated loved one. The incarceration of a loved one does not take away the validity of our decisions, tinker with our moral compasses, dumb down our common sense, or serve as a giving up of our rights to steer our own ships. My sister is a phenomenal mother who has managed to navigate systems and fight fiercely to create a bond between my father and his grandchild despite incarceration, despite distance, despite literally walls made of stone and sentencing laws made of trash. All while feeding an infant on her breast.

My dad is a good grandpa (Pop Pop). Part of the worry about the visit was that my nephew is only breastfed and will not take a bottle. We were terrified that he would throw a fit during the family visit because he was hungry and my sister would not be able to respond or do anything about it because breastfeeding is not permitted in the visiting room. Bathroom breaks are every hour or so and take about 20-30 minutes to get ushered back in and out.

It was like moving a chess piece across a board. Hungry baby in a place he can’t eat. My sister pumped milk at night and again in the morning while he was feeding on one side. It was a source of worry—that we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the visit because the baby might be hungry and fussy and unable to actually eat during it. My sister packed the bottle unoptimistically but it was a gesture of hope—my nephew had taken a bottle from her maybe once since birth.

When we got to the visiting room, there were no more buffalo wings in the refrigerator vending machine. I rotated around twice until it began to witch and rotated on its own. There was one vegetarian option for me—it was a little cheese pizza that cost too much money. I wondered if my dollars had ever been in a prison before.

A woman lined up her food by the microwave one pizza behind one plate of barbeque wings, behind one hot dog on the counter to save her place in line before going back to sit down with her family—they were all women, visiting her little brother.

Even though I’d never visited at this prison, all of these people looked familiar. There was a father there with a toddler daughter who didn’t want to hug him or sit by him or hold his hand and I wondered what messages she’d already received from the world that her father was a bad person because she could only visit him on the weekends in a small room. That she could only walk outside with him in a confined space that you couldn’t even feel a breeze in. That wasn’t outside at all.

Everybody was watching the guard watch everybody. When they moved toward any of us we all froze up. They were coming to give back the ID cards to certain people. That meant that they would be called to leave their visit during the next transition.

………

My nephew has our eyes. Eyes like my father. Cunning and knowing and glinting with joy and light and life. As a young mother there are so many people dead-set on telling my sister what she should be doing, without her ever soliciting. I’ve never seen anything as perfect as my Swooney’s eyes meeting my sister’s with deep love over and over again.

This meeting of eyes happened in a different, beautiful iteration during the visit between Pop Pop and Swooney:

When the baby fussed, Pop Pop stood up and walked around the small room. Talking to the baby about why he might be upset.

Pop Pop fed the baby the bottle like a pro. He was the only one the baby would take the bottle from.

The night before, I’d made sounds blowing out of my mouth and fluttering my lips, rocked that baby until my arms were sore. Jiggled. Pat his back. Rubbed his back. Rocked. Sang until he finally went to sleep.

Pop Pop put him to sleep FOUR OR FIVE TIMES in the course of one family visit.

…….

Nearly all of the people visiting their loved ones in the prison that day were women. All of us had driven roads and paid for gas, and booked hotel rooms, and pre-paid for pictures with our loved ones during the visit, had bought food in the visiting room, paid the toll to cross bridges, broken water in half to see our loved ones for too little time. We all left without them that day.

 

 

 

 

ancestors watching

Last month I stayed on an old plantation in North Carolina.

Before it was a retreat center, it was a school campus. Before it was a school, it was sharecropper land. Before it was sharecropper land, it was a plantation. A site of terror for the breaking of unruly slaves.

I traveled to this place with other healers and organizers from all over the nation for a Healing & Safety Council Retreat for Black organizers with BYP100. An email had been sent out to the group prior to our arrival giving key information about the space. Honestly, I’d just left my job the week before and when I opened the email and it said ‘The water smells strongly of metal here,’ I stopped reading. I didn’t get to the part where it explained that the site of the retreat would be an old plantation. So, when we pulled into the grounds and I saw an old house that was that old, I knew where I was immediately and regretted not reading the email in full.

In addition to the water smelling strongly of sulfur, the land itself carried a very high vibration (and I’m not just saying that with good old Bay Area ‘woo’). For a solid portion of my time there, I walked around very quietly as if trying not to upset a baby. I felt like someone was trying to talk to me.

The healing work we came together to learn was about transformational justice. About working inward to make calling the police an obsolete option. We know that the harm that police cause in our communities, to our children and families is an act of terror and rarely (if ever) ends well for Black people (and that’s putting it lightly). We planted seeds together to build the technical strategies, the harm reduction approaches, the first-responder responses, and the flexibility to address instances of harm within our communities without ever calling the police.

Prior to doing this work we were grounded as a group in the knowing that we are all the answer to an ancestor’s prayer. There were several times throughout the material and our group grounding activities where I could’ve fell out and cried and caught the spirit—this was one of them. I thought about all of the times I walked around with my head down or full of doubt. I thought about my harming others instead of asking for help or grace. I thought about Black people, my people, every single one of us being an answer. I don’t have the words for what shifted in my being but I changed my mind. I think I had decided not to stifle the love that flows through me abundantly. Instead, to let it all wash over my people, each one an answer to a prayer. Each of us bearing the weight. Each of us, myself included, needing this outpouring of love that I was given and had been damming up for fear of fear (this is another essay in itself). 

When everyone else felt the haze too, the heaviness that is ancestor spirit being in the room, we loved each other almost immediately. I’ve never seen so many loves of my life in one place.

I wanted to be as free as I could on this land. Feeling the spirit of these ancestors who toiled and bled and died and were separated from their families and their children on this land. I felt them inviting me to put my toes in the dirt. To be mad for them, spit and pull up things out of the ground in spite. But mostly to be free.

…….

Every time I come together with my BYP100 family, I remember the importance of having spaces that are all-Black. Without my conscious inviting of a de-cloaking of all parts of myself weathered by the beating and harsh winds of the outside world, I began talking to people I’d never met the way I talk to my family. I began laughing and smiling without consciously covering the side of my mouth where a tooth is missing. If I was curious or upset or feeling strongly about something, it came out readily. For the duration of the retreat, I did not compete for anything and I felt whole and loved. This is also freedom.

I’ve been really shy and self-conscious/insecure about singing since I stopped being guided by my bursting heart (8 or 9 years old?) but in this space, on this land, I let it out, I let me out. I sang loudly and made music until early in the morning with other healers and organizers. Went inside of an old old schoolhouse on the grounds that had been half eaten by time and termites. Learned about the mightiness of tiny chiggers (not too personally, thankfully).

Throughout the retreat, healers of all talents talked about sensing things and even seeing things on the land we were on. I felt a little bit of jealousness beginning to creep up under my feet. I shook it out. I wanted to see stuff and hear stuff from the ancestors, too.

At the end of day two, I was overwhelmed by jetlag. I drank coffee, then water, then hot water. And when I couldn’t stay up any longer unless I was to become short and unkind to others, I excused myself for a nap. This nap would be the beginning of the floodgate of clear message dreams sent to me while I was on this land. I’d forgotten for a moment too long that this was the way I received my messages.

I dreamt that there was a fire. I only knew that there was a fire because I saw smoke. I walked out of my room (inside of a house where I lived but didn’t recognize as my own in my waking life) and saw smoke and the back of a small child as she was running and busting out of the swinging kitchen door, presumably to safety.

In the dream, I had things in my hand and turned back toward my room to grab things before getting out (I had my laptop and my backpack in mind to grab). I stopped almost as soon as I’d turned around toward my room telling myself calmly and clearly, ‘No. There’s a fire. This is a fire.’ And I left everything behind. According to my dream journal, I did grab a small precious thing (I don’t remember this part of the dream now).

I moved calmly and deliberately through the house as whitegrey smoke came into the kitchen, crawling up the ceiling. When I made the decision to leave things behind in order to get out, I woke up before exiting the house.

I woke up from the dream in a panic because I’ve had several foreshadowing dreams that have come true within a matter of weeks. I was afraid that literally this might be a warning about a fire in my home. I made a reminder for myself to check my fire alarms when I got home, to remind my loved ones to do the same, to be careful burning candles, to check my insurance policy, etc.

Returning to the group after the dream, my belly was still anxious. Even after making the list of things to check on to best protect myself. I talked with the healers in the group about it. Someone said that the child was my intuition. Someone said that smoke without fire means that I am afraid—could be with the new life changes I’ve made for myself (leaving my job without securing another one first). Someone said I’m having a hard time making a decision. I tried each one on to see which one might make my belly less queasy.

Reading my waking journal after the dream, I see the half asleep handwriting of a scrawled question, “Am I the fire?”

By the time we packed up to leave, I had made several offerings to ancestor spirits on the land. While waiting on my ride to the airport, I took a long walk out to the fields as far as the land extended in one direction. The old houses, the main campus, where the big house would be, were small from there. I thought about the distances that kept my ancestors (who I don’t know, but who feel like loved ones) apart. Even in a distance that took just fifteen minutes to walk. I thought about the invisible control that kept and keeps us from loving each other. I thought about what clever ways and subtle movements of eyes and hands had to say ‘I see you, I love you’ when communication was forbidden. When love was forbidden. When freedom was forbidden.

In this site of disaster and devastation, I felt the resilience of ancestors who would not ever break. Who gave and continue to give the spirit of indestructibility and possibility to us. I am eternally curious and grateful for their guidance.

 

 

 

Re: Bring on the Bayview (An Open Letter to Sarah Burchard)

Tanea Lynx & Juana Teresa Tello

On April 13th, the SF Sounds newspaper made the mistake of publishing an article written by Sarah Burchard, entitled Bring on the Bayview. From what we’ve gathered, Sarah Burchard is a white person who is not from San Francisco. As people born and raised in San Francisco and Bayview residents, we find Sarah’s article overtly ignorant and flat-out offensive. The article blatantly disrespects residents and our experiences in the current social, economic and political climate that has caused the violent disappearances of working class families from our city.

It is clear that Burchard didn’t write her article for Bayview residents, otherwise she may have thought twice before submitting such distasteful and racist opinions about our home. As a historically Black community tucked in the southeast corner of San Francisco, the Bayview has been home to many Black families for generations since The Great Migration.

Since the article was published, some backlash has taken place which has resulted inthe article being removed from the SF Sounds website. A note from the publisher has been posted online in its place:

 “Note from the publisher: It has come to my attention that the article “Bring on the Bayview” published in SF Sounds was problematic in tone and intention.The reason for writing the article was to help local businesses in the area and the people that live there. As the publisher and acting editor, I instructed the writer to be more gritty and funny. This was outside the writer’s writing style and resulted in the article that was published. Unfortunately, the article was published without editing resulting in an outcome that was not intended. I apologize to the people that live in the Bayview area and promise to do better in the future. In doing so, SF Sounds will write more articles in the next year that shine a positive light on the community and the people that live there.”

 The publisher and editors of SF Sound should be ashamed of themselves for claiming that this piece was a result ofinstruction to be “more gritty and funny”. Additionally, the excuse that the piece was “published without editing” speaks to the level of carelessness, mediocrity and misplaced trust in privileged people who seek to “help the people that live here”. The audacity of Burchards’s tone and the stereotypes her narrative perpetuates about our community are not only privileged and entitled, but cause for direct response. We feel there should be no “future” of published articles in this paper without a public apology to the residents of the Bayview. And, for the record, the Sarah Burchard-types of the world are not welcome in the Bayview.

These white-privileged opinions, in the current state of crisis in Bayview, are representative of the white supremacy that continues to prevail in our society and in concentrated forms in our city. Blatantly racist, classist and rife with colonial perspectives of dehumanization of Black and Brown people, Burchard notes that she now feels safe “taking her skinny white girl ass down to the Bayview”. She says that she feels safe because “a lot has changed over the last couple years. As rents increased in the city artists and blue-collar workers moved over bridges and farther down 3rd street. That corner of 3rd and Newcomb, local rappers used to sing about, is now surrounded by several respectable places to eat.” (rappers usually rap, not sing, but okay). Burchard goes on to make several grammar mistakes while naming eateries she likes that local Bayview residents don’t eat at (in fact, we had to look up more than half of the places she mentioned while reading her article). Trying to polarize herself as different from techies and pretending to recognize the strength of our community, she writes, “people down here just really seem stoked to be serving you.” So, no editors and publishers--no editing could have undone this. This entire piece is one large ‘edit, undo’.

Burchard boasts about her ability to walk freely in our neighborhood comforted by her white privilege, while the youth of color who live here are criminalized on a daily basis by the police. It is disgusting to read that the cost of her “safety” is funded by the $35million budget increase for SFPD to police Southeast neighborhoods like Bayview. The increase of such costs only make for the detriment of Black residents--such is true for Kenneth Harding Jr., Mario Woods, and Jessica Nelson Williams, all Black residents killed by the San Francisco Police Department. We ask the question to Burchard, “Safety for who?” The new police that come with the coffee shops and yoga studios and restaurants are the precursor for “redevelopment”, and always result in long-time residents and natives being racially profiled in their own neighborhoods. Such is the story of gentrification and police violence that resulted in the murder of Alex Nieto by SFPD.

Perhaps Burchard has no idea how her words contribute to this form of modern day colonization and land grabs that take place in our city. But we have experienced nothing less from a capitalist society that upholds its power with state sanctioned violence against the Black and Brown bodies it exploits to built its wealth. Such is the case for the last remaining 3-5.8% of Black residents left in the city of San Francisco. Too many Black residents have been disappeared by forced displacement, police violence/murder, and jails in this city (Black residents are 3-5.8% of the population but more than half of the entire jail population in the city). We see the hypocrisy within our local government that prioritizes profit over people and neglects the undeniable needs of their constituents, especially for affordable housing (with formerly 100% affordable housing communities being redeveloped into “mixed income” developments).

While Burchard wasted her sad (presumably paid?) time writing this article, the average median income in San Francisco as a city, steadily rose to over $88,000. The average median income for the Bayview, however, has yet to reach $40,000. While she submitted this atrocious piece of elitist, neoliberal trash to be recognized, edited, published and put into print for readers to see, Black residents in the Bayview continued to experience being stopped by police disproportionately, to have their licenses suspended for inability to pay tickets, to be killed or brutalized by police, to experience the adverse health impacts of environmental racism and food desert zones due to generations of redlining and to be up to our ears in court debt.

Sarah Burchard wrote about restaurants in a neighborhood that is a food desert. Where many residents cannot afford to eat out at restaurants at all. We know that her words are representative of many perspectives of our community. For years voyeurs and settlers have come to enjoy our neighborhood while ignoring our existence. In fact, sometimes they call it Sunday Streets. For years we have been referred to by our deficiencies, from low birth weights, to crime statistics, to lack of transportation service and inequitable parks. But when does the mirror turn back to people like Sarah Burchard? Back to the city of San Francisco that has maintained our community in this state so that we are organizing and making demands to change the same things that our grandparents organized to change? This gives us reason to be skeptical--we question the quality clean-up prior and during construction at the shipyard, as there is proof of tampering with soil samples from the Superfund Site. We worry that several storefronts are currently blighted, and given the recent trend, we fear they will soon be occupied by white settler businesses to cater to the residents of all the luxury housing developments northbound on 3rd street leading into Mission Bay’s new UCSF hospital, AT&T ballpark, and the future home of the Warriors. The T-train itself is a symbol of neglect as it only provides useful service to the AT&T Ball Park on game day even though it is situated in a public transit-dependent community.

Through this uncertainty and violence, we take care of each other in the Bayview, because no one else does. We support our local businesses when we can. As these changes transform our community right before our eyes, we’re clear that these changes are not intended to benefit those of us who have been here. And we will fight back. Sarah had one thing right -- the community is strong here. She asked for it loud and clear in her title, “Bring on the Bayview.” So here we are. Here it is. Don’t come to Bayview if you can’t come correct.

*A note to the editor: If the purpose of the article was to write about food in our community, why wouldn’t you ask someone who isn’t afraid to be here (instead of inviting an inexperienced, racist writer whose only qualification is that she eats food)? Additionally, if you wanted to bring business to eateries in our community, why wouldn’t you encourage a writer to visit places where we eat--legacy businesses that are owned by people of color with delicious food that hire locally? If you’d like to encourage people to support our community, educate them about Candlestick Park, which had been formerly public land under the jurisdiction of SF Parks & Recreation before city government privatized it by giving it to the dirty developer Lennar (now known as FivePoint Holdings). Lennar has intentions to profit at the expense of our community members, with plans to redevelop the toxic superfund site into luxury water-front property.

A Black Womxn's Guide to Traveling Alone Pt. 1

Never in my wildest imagination did I think I would cuss someone out at the top of the Eiffel Tower.

As I ascended the final steps to the top level, I felt someone touch my hair (which says a lot about the aggressiveness of the touch because my hair is VERY thick and I often don’t feel light touches—in fact, one time my very mischievous younger cousin, Khalil, clamped a chip clip to the back of my afro and I rode all the way home with it on BART and didn’t feel it until I lay my head down for bed on my pillow that night -___-).

It was someone who had been walking beside me in the opposite direction on the small staircase. They were descending as I was ascending into my moment of glory on top of the Eiffel Tower. They’d reached out and touched me—a fucking stranger, as I was passing them. To pet my hair.

Before thinking, I reached up and swatted a hand away from my hair. Full stop on the staircase. There were people behind me also ascending. I’d been doing the work of being in my body on this trip and didn’t concern myself with what the people behind me might think. Thankfully I wasn’t worried about their perceptions; otherwise this lasso-hand stranger danger ass white tourist might think it okay to go around violating the personal space of other people all around the world (presumably a trait bequeathed—no shade, it’s history).

So I swatted her hand away and in the Queen’s (Raenette Sanders, my grandmother) English, I said “Don’t you touch my mothafucking hair. This is not a petting zoo. I’m not an animal. You’re a fucking STRAN-GER.” She was shocked. The look on her face was one of touching something hot on the stove when you were confident the stove was not on. The look on her face was one of complete startle-ment. The face of sincerely believing that you had the right to access a lifeless, humanless, rightless thing. It was like going to grab the handle of a door and finding it snatch her hand first. Or better yet, running her fingers along the stone of a gargoyle at the top of Notre Dame to find it’s stonedead head moving in close to her, ready for a snack. She didn’t know that I was alive. She didn’t know that I was precious and that I appreciate my personal space and bite back. She found out on that day.

If anyone was bothered by the interaction they did not direct their comments to me in English or otherwise. I ascended the last steps to the top of the tower when I was done telling her about herself. I walked around slowly, soaking in the sun and the seine on one side, the wind and shade and view of the gardens on the other side. When I was looking out across the river, I felt my entire family there with me. We were all enamored. This was the longest trip I’d taken alone.

I took my long armed selfies and got got at the champagne bar. If I came on this flight all the way around the world and climbed all these stairs to the top of this structure, I was for-surely going to have myself a (too expensive) bubbly adult beverage. I was celebrating. I wanted to call everyone in my phone and tell them that I was calling them from the top of the Eiffel Tower. I wanted all of us to experience it. This place had only existed in my imagination of movies and photos and television shows from my childhood, with slow accordion sounds in the background.

I took my phone off of ‘airplane mode’ and facetimed my friend, Rheema. Girl, I’m on top of the mothafucking Eiffel Tower. I did a panoramic view from where I was. We didn’t talk for long because #straightouttadata.

Before I left, I found a little cove within the deck where people had tagged their names and the dates or years they’d visited. I generally don’t feel no ways about tagging but let’s just say the name of an ancestor is there and it got there with my Sharpie.

Descending from the Eiffel Tower, I felt the buzz of fulfillment. I’d been exhausted and jetlagged before going up—I’d taken a power nap in the grass below the tower with my bag hooked on me in two different places, and when I woke up I was ready to make the journey to the top of the tower. Now, coming down, I was floating with elation. I met two girls from Indonesia on my way down whose elated faces looked like mine. We were over-courteous to each other, ready to strike a conversation on anything. We couldn’t believe we’d made it to the Eiffel Tower. We agreed, having just met each other minutes before to get dinner together. For the next few hours we took mid-air jumping pictures of each other with the tower in the background, ate Chinese food at a restaurant where BEYONCE HERSELF had eaten (unclear whether or not the pictures of her were well photoshopped). Talked about our families and the communities we grew up in. Said pay me back later at least twice. Talked about how real pick-pocketing was—our admiration and fear for the stealth of the skill (one of them had nearly been pickpocketed during their visit. I figured putting my money in an empty carton of cigarettes in my bag would keep anyone from pickpocketing me ‘cause everybody smoked and nobody was going to steal cigarettes. It worked out ‘cause I was right or ‘cause I made it a point to look unfuckwitable on the train while reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X). After dinner we walked the street and waited for the hour to come when the lights would sparkle on the tower. We went into a market and got chocolate snacks and a tiny bottle of cheap wine that I opened with a key (this is top 5 in ‘skills that I am proud of’). We went back and sat on top of the stairs facing the Eiffel Tower, one of my huge hoop earrings fell out and I couldn’t even be mad—it was a reminder that I was me, in Paris in front of the Eiffel Tower, waiting to see it sparkle for me. I cried like the movies when it did. And when it finished, I went and got my earring back.

I remembered how much I love walking around cities at night on that trip. I broke down all of my fears around this. Nearly every place I travel alone gets a dollar of my money for a box cutter so that I can do my practice of walking around alone at night. Paris was no different. Walking with peace is possible when I walk without fear.

On that trip I rode a public bike in the street. I learned to swear in French. I sent my food or coffee back if it was cold or not right (or left the establishment altogether). I recognized racism in several languages I couldn’t understand and chortled thinking of why this didn’t make the list of all the generic universalisms. I bought conditioner and hair grease even though I couldn’t read the ingredients. I cooked for myself. I wore my headwrap and was furious and anxious and not bothered in the end—although I don’t wear hijab, I couldn’t predict the level of extremism(s) that existed for women of color in head coverings and prepared myself for the worst. I ate all kinds of the best bread I’d ever eaten and stayed two doors down from a bakery. I pondered everyday with my tiny cup of coffee and a sizeable croissant why and how the demonization of carbs came to be. One day, on the way to a café for lunch and some writing, I was stopped by a young guy who said in some English, ‘I like your face. Where are you going?’ I said I was going to a café. He said that he had coffee at his house that he could make me and would I like to go there? My head tilted itself to the side in an ‘are you for real?’ way. Creep is creep, even when it sound like hospitality—men are creeps, it’s universal (no shade, it’s history). Before I could say anything, he persisted. I gave a strong Black American ‘nah’ and kept it moving. I learned a lot about how I had a practice of extending politeness to others as I was actively being made uncomfortable—I undid years worth of study in that practice.

Recently, I revisited the journal I kept during that trip, here’s what I wrote on my last day in Paris: “Do you want to grow? Yes. Adjust yourself accordingly, boo. Getting free really is so simple and so damn difficult. Stop holding on to dead shit. If you want to be free for real. Take some of those rocks out of your pockets and let them go.  Let it go. Get your teeth from grinding it, holding it tightly in your jowls. Let that dry bone go. In order to have freedom, I can’t hold on to things that keep me dying. Things that aren’t growing, are dead things. And dammit, I’m alive. Let this be a mantra: Free up yourself and let go. Love big and let go. Hurt for a little bit and let go. Get fucking wild and let go.” -9/8/15

 

 

i can't make you stay.

I wrote this piece in the reflection of the ugliest relationship I've ever witnessed--that between gentrification and police violence. I wrote this for those who are being disappeared from their neighborhoods and communities to places far away, to prisons and jails, to graves. I wrote this in reflection of Jessica Nelson Williams and Mario Woods and Alex Nieto and Kenneth Harding Jr. and all those named and unnamed who have been murdered by the San Francisco Police Department.  

I read this piece for the first time at STAY, a QTPOC (Queer Trans People of Color) Oakland Resilience Festival last year. I read it again last night in San Francisco at the Red Poppy Art House as a part of a series put on by Art Responders called Anti-Viral. 

I can’t make you stay.

But I can tell you why I’m still here.

One day not that long ago I found myself wearing jeans and a sweater in the South Light Court in San Francisco City Hall doing Zumba on my lunch break. I had been walking around for several days considering whether or not I had a head.

I had been wondering how my feet had carried me to places without my knowing.

As the clock said “twelve” a co-worker asked if I was going to the dance class being offered that day. I wasn’t. I was going to wonder about my head. And my feet. Until l I had to get back on the clock to worry about things other people were not paying me enough to worry about. She insisted. My feet carried me over. I don’t know how, but all of a sudden I was in the back of the class:

5,6,7,8

Elbows and knees and mid-body roll when I felt my sweater sticking to me and my jeans being irritated about all this bending.And then, out of my perspiration, I learned that I had a head because my great grandmother appeared in it.

She was laughing.

She was enjoying me dancing and seeing how silly I let myself be and she was laughing.And she said, please don’t stop.

So I didn’t.

Sometimes I think I stay close so that my favorite ancestors can reach me.

I was born in San Francisco. I was born a sad baby. A bad luck sad baby. My parents were married the day before my mother gave birth to me.

My mother had on a white pants suit. Her belly was far out over her feet. My father was dressed in all orange. He had just been sentenced to his first strike. She was 9 months pregnant with me. I was almost a witness. I was in the room. The same judge who sentenced my father came down from her high seat and used the same power vested in her to banish us and bring us together in limbo matrimony.

I always start there. I always start with the court-house. Somehow it feels like a beginning and an end.

But really I started way before that. Before I was born in UCSF a practicing hospital for people trying to learn to get it right. Before my mother was born at General. Before her father was strangled to death by the San Francisco Police Department before she could walk into his arms on her own.

If I track back to where I started I probably wouldn’t even recognize it. Probably wouldn’t recognize me. Have you ever felt like you were created from a feeling? Sometimes I think I was born from the feeling of going fast. The feeling of hanging out of a window on a warm night with rust street light color on you. Sometimes I feel like soon I will be too old to feel this and I get sad because I just want to go fast. Am I too young to want to be young forever?

I can’t make you stay.

But. In this land of knives dull and sharp. Let talking story be a mirror shard. To reflect the times we are living in:

We live in a place where there are prisons for children. They reserve the long ends of guns for our children. Some of our children only know life as children for a very short time. There are several assortments of boxes. All made for our children.

They come in many too small sizes.

In the middle of the night. Pink men break down our doors and drag us from our grandmother’s worn warm quilts. They take us in front of our children. They take us in front of our lovers. They take us away to meet their numbers. The numbers say “we built a bed for you when you failed that test back in the second grade. And now it’s time for you to lay in it.”

They make us talk to each other in money. They make us miss the dirty green paper like it means something. They make it mean something to us.

They make us pay our papers and our plastics just to hear each other’s voices on the phone from that far away place.

I can only hear my voice echoing on my end but it says we’re connected.*Talking through a tunnel named after a funny man. I remember visiting my father on early San Quentin weekends. Wearing other people’s clothes. They say we’re connected.* And it’s costing me by the minute but I can’t hear you. And I’m really glad you called. I’m really glad I caught the phone in time. Because I’ve been having this acid bubble come up in my throat. I’m afraid I can’t remember your laugh. And what’s worse is I’m too sad that you’ll be too sad when I tell you. And what’s worse than worse is that I have nothing funny to tell you so I can’t hear whether or not I’ve gotten your laugh right or forgotten it for real.

I can’t make you stay.

But I can hold up a mirror while you’re here. I can swoon you. Let my light reflect on surfaces they said would never shine. Let it show how mighty and gentle. How powerful and soft. And brilliant we are. How our background of well greased machines looms over us but the sun lets us cast a shadow just as big.

I can’t make you stay.

But I can tell you about a little bit about how I discovered loneliness.

Yelling full force while driving on the highway alone, I was envisioning myself breaking everything in my path. I realized the name for the rage I have—it’s called loneliness. I realized the anguish of loneliness. It was around me. And I wondered why I met loneliness this way. How did it get in my car? How did it make me so angry? Angry enough to want to break everything. Break myself. What did loneliness do to me?

And then I remembered my mother. Remembered seeing her bent over on herself like a knot. I remembered her anguish and I knew it was mine too. When she was lonely, the rage threatened to break her into at least two pieces. So she broke her China and good glasses instead. And I’m not quite sure if the worst thing was 1. Us small children (my sister and I) averting glass approaching her to ask her if she was okay while she wept or 2. if she had to sweep up the mess herself after she’d made it.

Each time I saw her breaking I wanted to cast a spell on each of her lovers. Who had left her.  Stepping over shards of glass I wanted to shout about my mother to the men who broke her up. I wanted to twist my neck at them in her honor yelling: YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW THIS ABOUT ME. But you were wrong. You thought you knew I was smoke vanishing.  You thought you knew I would wilt in the sun. You thought you knew all the places my body could break. I wish you could see my water meeting fog. What a big fuss everyone makes over me. Wish you’d witness me burst open inside out and sew my own self back together in an afternoon of high sun. Would love to see your face when all my bones break and crack, crunch all over the tops of each other and I still take the long way home. You thought you knew the flintfire of two stones smashing, creating danger in my glance. Thought you knew my heart when it beat against your lungs wanting to make contact with yours. My heart beat like this all the time. You don’t get to know my fire.  

But casting spells was strictly prohibited. Prohibited like all the beautiful, scary things that are too good. Like revenge over men that are bigger than you. Like revenge over situations bigger than you. My mother caught me manifesting fire in the middle of many nights over these men, a child with the rage to huff and puff and burn a grown man’s house down. But she caught my small powerful hand and told me not to use my magic. She didn’t say “use your magic for good” “Don’t use your magic for bad” just don’t use it. So I had to pretend it didn’t exist.

I can’t make you stay but I can tell you this before you go.

Your sensitivity is your gift. Your revenge. Your spite. Your love despite. Is your magic. And I hope you spend each night you’re away working on that fire. I hope wherever you are, people see the light flashing from under the cracks in your doors and know not to fuck with you.

I can’t make you stay. But I can tell you why I’m still here.

I can remember when I first caught my own eye in a mirror. I had been practicing my spitting out of my bedroom window. Sitting over the sill with a little foot dangling over the edge because my mama wasn’t watching me. She was in her bed. Covers up under neck. Sick with another heartbreak. Aretha Franklin was playing a rose is still a rose is still a rose is still and the phone was off the hook.

She called me in to the room. Ordered me to bring her a glass of wine. Not a cup. I left the room and caught my face in the mirror. Caught my face in the mirror. Caught myself in the mirror. Caught my own small face.

That was when I first realized I was a human. That this was my body. And I laughed at myself and at the world. I felt so cunning and brilliant. It was the first inside joke I’ve ever had with myself and there aren’t really words for the punchline. But sometimes I can remember it if I look close enough.

 

 

 

 

nesting and manifesting

At the end of the day, after giving my two week notice at work, I took the train from downtown San Francisco to my parked car in Oakland and drove directly to my local incense/stone/candle shop. I dressed a white candle with my intentions. I bought a small bundle of sage and some sticks of Nag Champa. I drove to Trader Joe’s and bought some olive bread, goat cheese, red wine and coffee ice cream. I hummed and sang under my breath and tried not to dance too flamboyantly while waiting in the handcart line. I went home and listened to music with powerful horns.

My phone had died while I was en-route after work and I’d missed a call from my boss. She told me later that she had called in an attempt to convince me to change my mind, to get me to stay at the job. She got my Erykah Badu voicemail song instead. I couldn’t be convinced, anyway.

There was dim light on me when I dutifully bopped in my living room giving my altar some new attention and lighting my sage.  I had a generous clump of goat cheese on my olive bread and still couldn’t help trying to hum as I thought about how grateful I felt. How peaceful the buzz in my body was, having made this decision. It was with this powerful peace that I began nesting for the new future I wanted for myself.

Over the next two weeks of completing my job, I was working overtime in my home to make room. I pulled open every drawer. I combed carefully over shelves. Stood on top of things to get to the backs of cabinets. Digging, pulling, washing, turning over things I no longer needed or wanted. The more (belongings) I prepared myself to part with, the better my vision became of how big my new future would be. I found myself making sacrifices—I held up a long chiffon button down shirt that I’d had for years. It was sleeveless, bright blue with yellow flower-like shapes all over it. I’d worn it as a casual dress, a fancy shirt with a sweater, a dressdown shirt with my arms out. Even thinking about it now is making me want to wear it again. When I held the shirt in front of me I saw one of the buttons hanging off and another button place that had been replaced by a safety pin last year. Looking at the shirt, I remembered that I no longer liked the way the shirt fit, now tight around the hips and therefore bunching in other places. It had been time for this shirt to go a long time ago.  Even in the condition it was in, it felt like a sacrifice to give up this thing. I was glad to put it in the ‘to-go’ bag sitting by my front door if it meant that I now had room for something in its place that fit me well/better.

Growth always requires giving something up. This is not easy. (Talk to any toddler you know about what it was like to give up their favorite item of clothing once they’d outgrown it. Talk to yourself about what’s still in your house even though it doesn’t fit you anymore).  In addition to giving up things in my house that I had not touched, worn, or looked at in the past year I also gave up some old attitudes when I gave myself permission to make room for something new and better. Leaving my job without securing another job first (on purpose), the first thing I gave up was fear about my finances. I have to let go of this fear at least once a week. I let the fear go that is tangled in my stomach or stored in a muscle on my left side that leaves one hip clenched and higher than the other. I let it go so that new breath can live in the contracted places, so that new possibility of movement and circulation can take place with my permission and encouragement. I gave up my old thoughts of inadequacy. Choosing to focus my attention on how possible the new me is and how powerful and brave I must be to jump like this so that I can fly. I give up doing shit on autopilot (I choose to give this up several times each day). I give it up in order to make room for curiosity and possibility.

I’m the new baby I’ve been nesting for. I gave myself permission to start over (again). I have to remind myself of this commitment to starting over every. single. day. I’m preparing myself and everything around me for the long haul of anew that I am pulling in right now. It’s big and needs a lot of space, this new thing. I’m curious about it and I’m sure it is curious about me.  

How I make room for my new life//how I celebrate my new life as it is on its way:           

Write my intentions, Visioning: see my goals/dreams/intentions, Empty my refrigerator/fill it up with good food, Take out all of my trash, Clean my house (disinfect, polish, the whole shebang), Vacuum, Iron all of my white shirts with starch, Wash my dog, Play music with horns, Take a bath (preferably with a little coconut oil so I can scrub dirt from under my skin), Celebrate how the old has served me/throw a party to welcome the new!, Light incense, Wash my face/hands/hair/head, Charge up my crystals, Smudge my house, Organize/ clean off surfaces, Open my windows and doors when I clean, Let my neighbors hear me singing Beyonce without shame, Stretch the old out of my body, Look at my capable hands in appreciation, Put my feet in the ocean, Sing a self-song ("Don't you forget all your lessons,"), Call my mother, Caress my own face.

sorry i'm late.

I’m probably going to be late to my own funeral.

I actually want to be cremated and potted with a tree and grow into a tree that turns C02 to good air. That digs deep with roots into the ground and is patient. And serves as a home for the birds and the fungi and the squirrels and the worms. That provides shade and rest/relief.

But anyway, if I had a funeral, I’d probably be late to it. ‘Cause I’m late to everything. I was late to being born (almost over two weeks after my due date). I’ve been late to nearly all of my first days of school. Even in college. Even in grad school. I’ve been late to GRE class and job interviews. Nearly all first dates. I’ve been late to speak at meetings, to family dinners, therapy appointments. I had to wait until the end of the first act of a play to be seated because I was so late, once. I had to wait an hour and a half to be squeezed in for the next appointment slot with my doctor (more than once). I’ve been side-eyed stepping into the back of churches, classrooms, and yoga studios. I’ve been questioned about how I even got in to certain places because the door is supposed to be buzzed but I waited like a scavenger to enter as someone exited and slunk in like the Grinch. (I’m coming for you (late), Yoga to the People).

In senior year of high school I was told to stand outside of the door to my first period classroom and not to knock, just to stand there and wait so as not to disturb others with my lateness.

I’ve been late to weddings, baby showers, birthday parties, and funerals. I regularly miss my morning BART train.

All this practice being late, you might think I’d be comfortable with the practice of repercussions of lateness.

The stares, eye rolls, attention eyes landing or dancing all over me (especially when my afro is at full mast). I’m not, though. It makes me so anxious to be seen walking in late that I’ve chosen not to walk in to certain places at all and have missed some things altogether. I have rushed cross town (even traveled to other cities), made it to the parking lot and noticed myself being late and just said ‘forget it’ because I can’t even stand the thought of being watched as I come in late. If my going to heaven is contingent upon my timeliness, I might not make it.

And it’s not that I don’t try. I do. I’ve tried waking up earlier. Getting my clothes out the night before. Took my shower at night. Saw myself (visually) in my seat before anyone else. Meditated on driving directions. Skipped meals, showers, paid too much for parking just to try to be on time. But it never lasts long. Before I know it, I’m right back into my practice of being late.

Why the hell does it take so much out of me to be on-time?!

I mean, to be fair, there are those things that I don’t want to be at so I take my time getting to them. Take my time rapping in the mirror or drawing on my eyebrows or staring into space during my shower until a thought of shame approaches and attacks me or talking to my dog about the anxiety of being late.

How do I fix it, though? Do I commit to being at less shit so my chances of being late are fewer? Do I make a commitment to being early? How do I break this cycle?

I realized I was addicted to the drama of lateness very recently.

I take pride in being drama-free—a communicator that diffuses drama but doesn’t shy away from conflict. So you can imagine my surprise when my addiction to the drama of lateness made itself known to me.  

I’m addicted to the big drama of racing against the clock. To getting in that last thing I can possibly squeeze in before the pressure is on. The last sweet wink of sleep. The final errand before I’ve got to be somewhere across town. The latest possible second before my train arrives. How much can I squeeze in to get myself running (behind)? What’s the deadline? How close can I get to it without missing it? These are questions that were most quietly working against me (within me).

Clearly, I need more healthy thrill-seeking opportunities. Clearly, there are other ways to find drama and excitement in life. The good thing and the problem may be that it’s the perfect bad habit. Stakes are high but repercussions aren’t deadly. The underlying issue is that it’s an expensive habit, being late. I pay more for parking, late fees, other penalties, get way more doses of shame (real and imagined) than I should and my adrenal glands and nerves are eternally giving me an exhausted, fixed judging nudge.

……….

Since writing this I’ve made a new commitment to commitment. I’m doing the work of transforming my life. Part of that includes changing my relationship to timeliness. If you are a person who is particularly good at being on-time:

How did you learn this skill? Where did you learn consistency? Where did you learn about schedules? When is a time you took care of yourself and managed to not be late/still on time? How did you learn to calculate/account for travel time?

Feel free to send me your best practices and recommendations!

one day i will have a lover

One day I will have a lover who I surprise with a train ride.

Who I wake up lovingly with their coffee and help them pick out their clothes in their sleepy haze and take on a train as the sky turns//wakes up//becomes alive (again).

One day I will have a lover they raise the bridge(s) for. They will wait in their cars as we pass through, on our smooth sailing boats. We’ll look at the underbelly of a bridge turned inside-out—going through the trouble for us.

One day I will have a lover. A good one who knows me. Who sees me. (Because) I will let them. And pulls all of my selves out slowly; inviting each part of me out like a snake charmer. Like a circus clown, each pallet of cloth full of color easing up and out of my throat and neither of us can stop giggling and admiring (all of) me.

One day I’ll have a lover. Who goes through the trouble like its warm sand between their toes. We will explore cities and wastelands by night. Walking in the street. Learning sleepytowns and quietly making trouble with our imaginations.

One day I’ll have a lover. Who loves red light on me. And does not trip over my raised roots. One day I’ll have a lover just my size. And speed. We’ll see entire dynasties passing from our moving train window. Passing then gone.  We’ll know the dining car and each other’s hands.

I will have a lover.

Who settles in quietly and says my name. Says it enough that it feels both alien and home all at once. ‘Til we both return to dust. I will have a lover. And we will stay in houses when we travel. And we’ll jump into water warm or cold. And we’ll pack light and be well acquainted with morning and how warm the pitchblackness of night can be. We’ll reverse our afflictions with darkness by poring over it. Together. By rubbing on menthol salves and pulling tar from inside our chests and seeding through it for—what could possibly ever make this beautiful thing, despicable?

We will.

Be exhausted in/by love. I will find respite in your shelter cave of collarbone. Weary travelers of ancestors’ time doing the work of escaping (again).

We make time. And savor it, umami. And lose it. And get lost in it. And forgive.

Hurry. If you blink, you’ll miss it.

Will we ever run out of stories? I become afraid. If we do, we’ll trust each other and work backwards and sideways telling each others stories back to one another as we heard them the first time. How does that sound? To you?

One day I’ll have a lover.

When we move quickly we’ll stay in-tact, leaving no parts of ourselves/each other behind. We’ll know rivers and music. We’ll know each others’ voices like the sound of our mothers’ keys approaching the door. We’ll know each others’ voices like rivers. Tones washing over you and not missing even the places they always miss. I will have a lover who knows (me).

Is there a version where I am wrong? Where I surprise you with a train ride early before the day is ready and I sit us on the wrong side of the train and we miss (the view of) the water? Where I forget the coffee at home? Where we don’t both see the two birds timulting across water reflecting, disappearing into the ripples when our eyes trick us as we roll by on the track. Is that real too? Is love real? Are the houses on the hill real? Would this water be any less great if it were a lake made by men? If it had an old rusty tug boat sinking in it? Would you still be my lover (then)? If the water bordered a refinery that breathed fire and smoke all day and we were stuck on the side of the train with the destruction-of-man-view instead of the water? Would you get off at the next stop and go home? What if it was the wrong route altogether? And eventually, the man-made-view took up both sides? Would you still be my lover (then)? Cross the bridge when we get there. Would you get up and move your seat away (from mine)? Will I miss you when you go?

Will the tangle of time tug at us instead? Will we forget how fast we can go on a train? How we can ride through entire towns in moments. How we can still see the beauty of everything without holding too tightly.

It’s okay to blink. We will not miss it.

 

On Becoming a Professional Quitter

I trust that I have known enough suffering. That I know the difference between suffering and the discomfort of growth.

I have known enough of both to know when I need to go slower and when I have had enough. This knowledge is what has made me a quitter.

I’m a quitter because I trust myself and can distinguish lesson-discomfort from suffering that is unnecessarily painful. And I make my choice.

I put in my notice at work on the 15th. This Friday is my last at work.  I quit my job because I was ready to be done suffering in this specific way—it was affecting my growth (I wasn’t growing enough there). I was consistently recoiling from racist microaggressions. I was working within a system that had harmful approaches to the work. I was working alongside people who exercised their power(s) in ways that were a problem. (I’m being nice, read: among other things, my manager literally threatened not to sign my timesheet and accused me aloud of not doing the work after I communicated that I needed a deadline for a project).

Here are a few reasons why I quit this time:

1)   I was being used to represent the voices of people denied access to this work that were actually at the center of the work itself (read: doing the work of ‘helping’ poor People of Color as the only POC on staff ((2) in the lowest paid position), without consulting with, meeting or listening to said People of Color). 3) The damned commute (how the hell have people not revolted yet(?!) and why aren’t there any improvements to BART service after all these years?).

I’m a self-taught quitter. No one really taught me how to quit—to respectfully approach my limits and draw the line. I grew up hearing that perseverance and hard work and never giving up were the key to success. But, truth be told, I’ve encountered a lot of shit ripe for quittin’ (from childhood to twentysomething adulthood). I didn’t have a class in school called ‘how to know when enough is enough’ so I didn’t know what was the average suffering. Or when I’d had enough or how close I was to breaking. How much were other people suffering?

I got good at quitting when I was underneath a dentist drill. I was trying to breathe through the pain of cavity filling without having been numbed sufficiently. I had spoken up saying that I could feel what was happening. My dentist had proceeded prepping, saying that the numbing would soon set in. It did not. I have a lot of practice disappearing while bearing pain. I was in the middle of my new practice of noticing pain and doing something about it. The dentist had caught me on a weary day. Very firmly I said (again) with a contraption between my teeth that I was not numb. Once the piece was removed I sat up and looked my dentist in the face and had a very clear talk about pain tolerance and what I was absolutely not going to tolerate that day. I had that talk with my dentist for every gynecologist I’d ever visited who didn’t talk me through a speculum insertion. And every doctor who had given me unsolicited personal advice instead of the medical advice I sought, because I apparently know nothing about myself. I know pain well because so very many people expect that I do not feel it.

Before I started quitting I had a story about suffering that included knowing it was enough when: there was blood, when suffering was done with me, when I had been dismissed, when the job (literally and figuratively) was done. I could teach a master class on leaving my body by the time I was a freshman in college. When I started quitting I built a relationship to pain based in me. I am a human being and require a humane relationship to pain. I mean pain of all kinds (emotional, physical, psychological, etc.) ‘cause they all hurt.

When I quit, I make a decision to make space for myself in a place that is too small—I choose to set myself free.

If it makes me feel small, I quit.

If it does more damage than good, I quit.

If it’s not in-line with my core values, I quit.

If I don’t get to be growing toward being my full self there, I quit.

If my humanity (in all of its beauty and imperfection) is debated, denied, or questioned there, I quit.

When it no longer serves me/I’m not valued/my energy is not valued, I quit.

I quit jobs when I’m not sufficiently compensated for my labor. When I’m talked down to. When I realize that I’m holding on to more of the sweet dream than the sour reality of the situation. When there isn’t room for me to fly. And when, eff’ it, because life is short and that’s enough, dammit.

I’ve quit all kinds of shit: relationships (friendships, partners, etc.), jobs (I’m almost a professional profession quitter), conversations and arguments (I’ll walk right away), ideas, worry, situationships full of stuckness and/or unnecessary lasting uncertainty, relaxed hair, long-term commitments, you name it.

If I’m quitting, odds are, I got myself into something I didn’t sign up for and I changed my mind. I was going to write about the difference between being flakey and being a good quitter but it all boiled down to someone else’s perception and that really is not what’s important to me when I make a decision that better suits my needs, so shrug.

Apparently, to envision a worklife where you are compensated well for your labor, treated how you would like to be treated, acknowledged for your expertise, respected, not tokenized, and challenged healthily to produce work that you are proud of is indicative of very high standards. Welp, so be it. Here’s my letter of resignation:

Hello Team, 

It is after much deep reflection (and some quiet suffering) that I have made the decision to leave (insert job). It has certainly not been an easy decision to depart from (work I was previously doing). 

I have made the decision to leave for several reasons. One of the main reasons I have decided to leave is that I, quite literally, cannot afford to work here. Due to taxes and fees attached to my salary, I am making nearly $20,000 less than my projected annual salary of (not enough). After bills, food and costs of commuting, this is the third consecutive month that I’ve had to dip into very meager savings to pay my rent. This is perhaps the most tender reason because of the nature of the work we do on this team. In addition to this, the severity and frequency of racial microaggressions that have come up have made my experience unpleasant in a way that I did not expect and can no longer endure. These issues combined have begun to take a toll on my physical health, presenting in the forms of chronic tension/ "stress" headaches. 

I will finish out the month here on the team and transition out on the last day of March, leaving my work in the best shape possible. 

Best,

Tanea 

BONUS: My favorite words to say after quitting are “my work here is done.” And I genuinely mean it.

BONUS BONUS: If people don't want you to write about what they've done, they should behave better. 

 

 

 

self-care (and other buzzwords that eventually mean nothing)

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve ever learned about self-care, is that there is no time for it. You’ve got to steal time for it.

The first time I heard the phrase “self-care,” I was in college. I had the honor of living in a beloved intentional housing community of fellow students who were working toward social justice. We spent a lot of our time showing up at protests, showing up in classes, showing up for each other, showing up for house meetings, etc. All while trying to succeed in a hostile academic environment, rife with racial micro aggressions and class(ed) privileges galore. It is no coincidence that I learned about self-care here. Without it, many of us may not have survived.

After hearing the phrase for the first time, it stuck to me. I began hearing it everywhere. It was being tossed around like this thing that everyone (except me) had a shared definition of. I even started saying it, knowing damn well I had very few context clues to actually understand what it meant. At the time, I was also more ‘know-it-all’ than ‘curious’, so I didn’t do too much asking around about it.

I started off undergrad as a pre-med student (LOL!). I’d received high grades in Science in High School so I thought my passion for taking care of others, my determination to get my immediate family out of a system of poverty, and a few medical-focused programs for high school students back home would make me the perfect candidate for pre-med studies.

I failed miserably. Several times. Literally. I failed quizzes. I failed tests. I even failed a class that I took as pass/fail (just realized that was still tender to me when I wrote that, ouch!). I was distracted. I didn’t know my own learning style. I was not prepared to do the level of math nor science that was expected of me. I did not know how to study. I was afraid of ever-looming crises happening back home that I was not present to fix. I was also partying for the first time—I remember coming back to my room drunk one night before a chemistry test (that I had given up studying for) and stepping on something to jump up on my too-high extra long twin bed. The next morning when I awoke from my sleep having snoozed my alarm twice, I gasped out of my dream, threw on any old thing, pulled on my jacket and ran all the way to the lecture hall for my exam. It was not until I sat down in my seat and took my coat off  (I was warm from all that cross-campus hangover/still drunk running), that I realized I had stepped on a banana the night before and it had been smashed onto the back of my jacket leaving a VERY SUSPECT, very noticeable stain on the back of my black jacket. Mortified is a word I am very familiar with.

Anyhow, your girl was on a downward spiral, but it was, like, a fun water slide with clear liquor instead of water so…shrug.

I’d ran all the way across campus to fail this test, just like I had failed the others. I’d been buying myself clothes online whenever I got the exam results back, to make myself feel better. I was very fly when I failed. I realized (not that long ago, actually) that I was trying to balance what was quickly becoming low self-esteem.

I don’t want to meddle too much with the past by over-analyzing decisions I made just to talk about how I came to know self-care, so I’ll just tie it together here: buying myself nice things was my way of taking care of myself, but it didn’t last. I needed other things (from myself) to take real care of myself. In order to find out what these things were, I had to do the work of sitting with myself. And connecting.

Unfortunately, I don’t remember the first time that I heard myself telling myself what I needed. I can say, though, that once I focused on what I heard myself saying I needed, it was like I was attuned to a different level of activity happening in the world. I learned that an integral part of taking care of myself, was listening for what care I actually needed. (Isn’t that hella basic?! Like, duh.) However, listening requires being quiet. Listening requires slowing down. Listening requires sensing and feeling.

Sensing and feeling are perhaps the most difficult things I have ever worked to do. Having been at points in my life where I can’t taste my food, feel my own feet on the ground underneath me, or even acknowledge my chronic pain until it wares on other parts of my body to wipe me out, I didn’t have much practice with knowing what my body was feeling or giving it what it needed.

The most basic utter I always return to when things are too noisy, are my hunger and my need to use the bathroom. If I know when I need to eat or make my way to the toilet, then I can, at the very least, hear these needs and take care of myself by feeding myself or finding a place to excrete some waste.

I struggle with self-care every single day. For the past three weeks (I can’t believe it’s been that long), I’ve been struggling with a nasty pressure headache that trolls me every damn day. Sometimes it menaces and takes on the shape of a knot at the top of my head. My least favorite is when it feels like a baton is emerging right through the middle of my brain, just wedging itself in no particular direction. My memory goes too. Prior to the headache, I’d been multi-tasking with too much on my plate and found myself typing out a very important email about something I forgot right in the middle of doing it. Once I remembered what it was about, I forgot the name of the person it was to—even though they are a very close friend.

Even though my body is very loud about the things that I need, sometimes I’m still not being attentive enough to listen. Or I’m not valuing myself enough in the moment to take (literally take/steal/borrow/commandeer) the time that is necessary to address my need through self-care. Because there is never time for self-care. This is also something that was a big part of the mysterious puzzle of self-care that no one mentioned while they were so busy doing it—you have to steal time to make it happen because there are so many factors that prohibit us from doing it.

In fact, a huge part of my self-care process includes giving myself permission to exist outside of an inhumane pace that doesn’t work for me (‘cause I’m human and shit). I need time to look at my (emotional/spiritual/physical) reserves and pore over/ pour into them so that I have room for clarity and movement. I need time to notice what it is that is draining me so that I can stop it. When I am overwhelmed and undersupported, I need time to lay down and feel my back on the ground, to see my belly raising up and down with breath I create to keep myself alive. I need time to remember that I am a human being, living in a rat-race moment, that I have a choice to participate in or say, “nah, this shit is not for me (ever, right now, etc.).”

Without stealing this time for self-care, I am suffering. I have experienced enough spiraling to know that in times of deep depression and heightened anxiety I need quick, simple, easy (simple and easy ain’t the same at all) access to self-care. It’s like I’m hella dehydrated and I can’t move, so I need a really long bendy straw to reach me wherever I’m at so that I can sip a little bit of water at a time from my static position of not being able to move.*

*THIS IS NOT EASY. I eventually had access to enough emotional resting places and eventually enough emotional support (shout out to somatic therapy, for real) to build up reserves for times of crisis to be able to avoid spinning out every single time I experienced anxiety or depression. This took money, this took time I didn’t have, this took the help of others, this took access to transportation and language.

Which leads me to my next point about riding the self-care horse. If I have to have the right riding outfit, the strength to pull myself up onto the damn thing, the know-how to tell it where I need it to go and how to make it listen to me, then the likelihood that I’m even making my way toward the stables is very low. (does that make sense?)

I’m trying to say that self-care has to be accessible. Self-care should not be a privilege. Self-care should not be a phenomenon among the likes of coconut water, kale and hot yoga. Things that have always been good for you but are kept out of reach, appropriated, made costly—abstracted, tabooed and associated with whiteness. Emotional well-being is not a white privilege. 

Here are things I ask myself when I’m doing self-care: When is the last time I drank water? When is the last time I ate? When is the last time I moved my body in a way that felt good? Do I have a name/connection to what I am experiencing? Is the thing I need accessible to me right now? If not, how soon can I give it to myself? And what can I do while I wait to access this thing I need?

Unfortunately, it’s a goddamn privilege to say that if I have nothing else, I have my breath (Eric Garner). To say that I can give myself water (Flint, Standing Rock). To say that I can move my body in a way that feels good (people confined by prisons, jails, state control).

I need self-care to survive in this world. In this time. It gives me possibility in an impossible place. It makes it possible for me to be a better ally, to take care of others in a way that actually suits their needs (because I’ve practiced listening/being attentive), to show up with more of myself, and to be flexible and agile.

One time Audre Lorde said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

 Even though I wasn’t there (and probably wasn’t even born yet), I say from my place in my struggle, "damn right!". 

 

 

Dear Swooney,

Dear Swooney,

I’m so glad to know that soon enough you will decide to be born. You probably won’t remember this but you came to me in a dream—you were speaking and eating ice cream and walking slowly beside me while balancing along a small two-wheeled bike. You had a lot to say but I’m not quite sure what you were trying to tell me, do you remember?

I am so excited to be my best self with you. Last week I was sitting at my desk at work and overheard a child trying to get her mother’s attention. She kept calling her Mom Mom Mom Mom until I wanted to answer yes in her mother’s place. I realized how much impatience we have on all sides. I hope you don’t ever have to call me more than three times to get my attention—I will try my best to remember I told you this.

Swooney, there is so much scary stuff happening in the world right now that I want to protect you from. I’m trying to find a balance between a) wanting you to see and feel it all so that you can make your own decisions and b) guiding you with conclusions I already have in mind. I hope to provide you with the conditions to reach out and grasp your own freedoms, knowing that your work toward liberation may be different than mine, and that they are so braided together. How exciting to be working on the same patchwork quilt before you are even born!

Here are some things you should know about your aunty: We don’t eat meat at my house. I chant (sometimes I chant for you!) and you’re always welcome to join me, I try not to wear shoes on the rug so that we can roll around on the floor as much as we want, I am a writer, I don’t think I will ever be done growing and changing (I’m made most hopeful by this), I love to travel alone (you’ll be invited once you get big enough!), some days are easier than others for me to get out of bed, and I absolutely love reading books! I am also unraveling some knots in our family karma. I am trying to create a clearer channel.

I remember as far back as kindergarten having the knot that lives in my belly. I was sitting on a bench during recess behind my classroom and worrying, like I had been all day, that the police would soon come to arrest me. The knot was so heavy I couldn’t even get up off of the bench to play. Years later I would begin to see the strings that made the knot. They became more and more visible on the arms and legs of my parents and other loved ones in our family—the strings that pulled them in this direction or that without their consent. When the strings held onto them tightly around the neck, none of us could breathe. The strings began to have names like childhood trauma, sexual assault, probation/parole, addiction, incarceration, low-income, ‘at-risk’, ‘system involved’. I am unraveling the knots so that you can continue to breathe easily through your belly many years after you’ve grown out of your crib.

The place in our family that we have prepared for you is big enough for you to outgrow our wildest dreams, collectively. The place we have prepared for you is not perfect. The preparers of the place we have created for you are not perfect. (We are not perfect).

Swooney, I will be healing while you grow. I know that your eyes on us will bring pressure to make things better and I hope that doesn’t make us phoney instead. We each have work to do in our own mirrors. Some of this work will require calling on the help of others. Some of this work will require adults talking about very difficult things that we do not want to. Some of this work will require forgiving without ever hearing an apology. Some of this work has been being done incrementally, quietly through courageous prayer and brave support. You may witness some things that are uncomfortable while we heal—but I vow that you will always be safe. You will always be loved. You will always be watched over and looked after and held in the high cradle of generations past, (some so far back that I have never even seen their faces), marveling and laughing over you and seeing their own smile in yours. You are so loved already.

The year is 2017 and the location is Planet Earth. The place and time that you are approaching is very sick, Swooney. It is not well. It has had a nasty cough for a really long time, before anyone alive in our family was even born. You will grow up experiencing a time in this place when the nasty cough has broken and the virus is beginning to pore out. It will be gross. But know that getting all the gunk out, can give us clarity, can help us breathe easier. Thankfully, your mother is a magnificent balm and a fierce warrior. Thankfully, I have made myself strong to carry you both on my own back through hell and/or high water (hot or cold).

Oh, Swooney, you are so precious.

I feel like I know you already. Like we were good old friends who used to play chess across from each other in a park. I’m not sure who used to win.

I look forward to this lifetime with you. Where we sing and dance when the spirit moves us to do so. Where I introduce you to some of my favorite ancestors. Where I invite you to close your eyes when there’s a horn or a piano playing and ask you what you see. Where we practice dropping the needle onto a record. Where we learn together how to grow our own food. Where we snark as we translate rhetoric on comfy couches like our own sport. Where we become and never stop becoming feminists/womanists. This life when we self care and seek refuge inside. I very much look forward to it all with you.  

I’m so honored to be gifted the duty of carework by loving on you. I’m so grateful that you are a phoenix on fire in the dark. Thank you for bringing new life to me and my little sister (your mother). Together, the two of you have been my favorite teachers of love that I’ve been humbled to learn from and be loved by in this life time.

With fierce love,

Your Mimi, Tanea

be yourself and make them pay

I knew I was loved supreme when my mom called and asked me,

 “Can I come over and clean your house?”

She was telling me about her diabetes. And how two of the psych meds she takes name diabetes as a side effect. We were talking about eating healthy and drinking water before we both went into very sweet monologues about how we feel once we break a sweat. I talked about whining all the way to yoga and never making it to the gym (even though it’s EXACTLY two blocks away from my house). I told her that I always felt so relieved when it was all done—when I broke a sweat and endorphins hovered around me like those swarming packs of little gnats that come around you when its dark outside and there’s water nearby (are those mosquitoes?). She talked about the satisfaction she gets when cleaning her house. She said she often cleaned until she broke a sweat, then she cleaned some more. This was her alternative to “real exercise”. When I’d asked her what “real exercise” was, she said, “like power walking.” This is when she had told me that her bathroom and kitchen were already clean, and that she needed to break a sweat, and could she come over and clean my house?

   Who am I to deny anyone of their workout routine?!

So, it’s Friday night at my house and my eight year old sister is jumping on my couch dancing to “Off the Wall”. The album is playing from my phone in a cup in my living room while my mother mops my kitchen floor with a towel (she asked if I had a mop and when I handed her my swiffer, she covered her mouth before laughing). I got out of the way and worked on my mom’s resume. She had sent me an outline more than a week ago asking for my help to create it and I had been negligent, prioritizing my own writing and assignments from work over the resume. While she’s making due with my inadequate cleaning supplies, I’m asking her “what did you do when you worked at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter Online?” and “how long did you do accounts payable for Caltrans?” My mother’s last working experience in an office was sixteen years ago. I’m looking at a draft of the resume she sent me and I see that she has created a ‘personal’ section. Under the header I read “three amazing daughters”. I can’t mention it aloud to her because I’ll want to cry and I don’t know how to handle anything that sweet with other humans sometimes. 

As I’m asking her questions and crafting her resume I am realizing how different she is now. When I was a child she was very stern. She was stressed and exhausted from full-time work and raising two young girls. When she was my age, she had two daughters—I was six and my sister was four. I am in such deep gratitude when I consider the miracles in patience and love that she made. She made these miracles all while (what we didn’t have language for at the time) a severe mental health crisis was looming over our heads. I barely have enough patience to get through the two minute timer on my electric toothbrush, I don’t know how the hell she woke us up, got us ready for school, made us dinner every night, worked all day in an office ripe with microaggressions and racism (which we heard about often, and didn’t know what to do with), all while suffering from untreated depression.

I had a knot in my throat when she moved on to cleaning my bathroom. I was mad at the world for creating the perfect storm conditions for my mother’s mental health crisis. I was infuriated and swelling with grief and gratitude because she had survived. And we had too. And I was so damn proud of us.

Some weeks ago I was invited to share my story of growing up and graduating from SFUSD at an Our Children Our Families Council meeting in San Francisco. For weeks prior to the meeting, I’d had pieces of my life experience tossed around like hot food on a too-eager tongue, assessing it for trauma and ping points and evaluated for places where leaders in the city could recognize factors for city systems improvement. As I crafted my story, part of me wanted to just say “fuck it” and go rogue and walk in there and tell the department heads of the city that they were full of shit and I didn’t need to share my story for them to stop screwing over poor folks and Black people in this city. It makes me want to snarl and show my teeth whenever I suspect that someone wants to use me as a token or a sob story or respectable survivor of some sort. It makes me want to transform into a cautionary tale instead. But, I think it makes me so upset because I went for a long time not realizing that I was lightweight being exploited for my story. Each time I told it, I became more detached from the reality that what I was sharing had actually happened—to me, and it was hella scary and I actually don’t know how I survived without breaking sometimes and I do still fear that I am just breaking slowly and don’t know it. But when I told it, I had to be past it, for it to be a story of triumph. So I got numb about it.

I’ve agreed to tell my story to help raise money, help raise awareness, help make people feel better, help influence change, etc. But my father is still incarcerated, my mom is still not paid a living wage, and Black people are still getting pushed out of their homes in San Francisco everyday.

This is what was running through my mind as I considered the audience of the council (the department heads of nearly every San Francisco agency, in one room). A big part of me wanted to have, as I had once heard Miss Major Griffin-Gracy say ‘the best revenge’, which was to be myself and make them pay.

I cried and got nauseous and felt shame and experienced fear remembering things I had forgotten when I crafted my story. I felt it when I wrote it this time. And I felt better.

I am writing this because I have been trained in repeating my own story for good causes without receiving benefits or getting the support to do that heavy lifting and remembering. I will not let anyone make me numb to what I have experienced. I don’t give a damn what the cause is. People have deadlines and matrices and points to make with my life experiences, if I let them. I will not. I will not let anybody rewrite my experience in a way that makes me the victor, the innocent, the smart one, and anyone who I know to be a victim of systems of oppression and inequity the guilty, the bad, the lost cause(s). If they think of my loved ones that way, there’s no way I can be too far off.

I say this to say, I love my mama and my daddy. And I’m so goddamn proud that we made it. To wherever we are today. We all survived shit storms and I’m still in awe that we all somehow made it out, clean(ish). If and when I shine, it is a reflection of you and all the people you brought to the fore, to help raise me up when you couldn’t do it yourself.

I have made peace with the me that told my story before without regard for the me that was still experiencing the moving parts of the trauma. The me that agreed to play the role of the example and the exception just because I wanted admiration and acceptance. I accept and admire myself. We fiercer now.  

………..

These are some of the recommendations I named to the Our Children Our Families Council when I presented my story this Monday:

What might it look like to…

·      Have all hands on deck to create specific initiatives to improve the quality of life and the retention rates of Black San Franciscans who are being pushed out of our communities and our homes (San Francisco has the highest displacement rate of Black families since post-Katrina New Orleans)

·      Consider that youth know when they are being approached and dealt with like they are their problems. This problem based approach in schools discourages trust and authentic relationship building

·      Consider that art can be therapy, too

·      Yay free MUNI for youth! If it’s really free, youth should be auto enrolled and shouldn’t be receiving fare evasion tickets

·      Have trauma care plans be just as prevalent as IEPs, if not more, ask your youth how many of them have witnessed violence, have lost a loved one, ask them what they need to grieve

·      Serve low-income youth food at school that you would eat

·      Recognize that fines and fees assessed to adults are fines and fees assessed on the entire family, if you don't think so, try choosing between groceries and lights or school uniforms and gas for your car

·      Consider what a transit-first city is like for a family that lives in a community with a history of negligent transit systems to begin with (how do we make the T run down third like it does for the Giants games?)

·      Not send all your bills and notices to low-income families on the same day and make your fees based on ability to pay 

·      Give incentives to landlords who house long-time residents and low income families so that they can stay in the city

·     Making families prove over and over again that they are poor and low income to qualify for services is humiliating; use your data to talk to each other instead

·      Don’t assume that because someone is unemployed or doesn’t have money that they have time. Poor people spend most of their time waiting in lines and being told no

·      Reach out to youth in SFUSD who were failed by your school system. Who were pushed out. Ask what you can do now to make it right. Ask them what they needed. It’s not too late to meet that need as a city.

In this historical moment, the changes that need to be made, need to be done with care as if your life depended on it. For our undocumented neighbors, for our family members struggling with specialized care and mental health, for our Black neighbors just trying to remain alive and free in this city—our lives do often depend on it.

 

 

 

dream work

My mother knew my sister was pregnant before my sister told her.

She really didn’t know if it was me or my sister at first. So she called us both. I could barely get a “hello” into the receiver before she accused me in a joyful tone of being the reason she had dreamt of fish. I let her know that I was most definitely not the culprit. Within a week, my sister called me while I was in the middle of parallel parking on an incline to tell me that she was pregnant. There was so much excitement rising in me that I seriously thought bubbles might make their way up my throat and out of my mouth as I had my foot on the brake and waved my hand out the window for people to “go around” me.

A week after turning twenty four, I had a dream that a small child was standing next to my car trying to get my attention. The child was standing near the front tire, pointing at the driver’s side of my car. I woke up and added “put air in front tire” to my to-do list. Two weeks later, I parked my car in front of a bike shop so that I could stop in to grab a lock (which I have yet to use, actually). As I was getting my receipt, I heard a horrible crash right outside. There was a group of kids that were hanging outside of the bike shop when I parked. Now they were swearing and laughing in disbelief. I rushed outside to see what happened. My car had been hit by an AC Transit bus. The bus was turning into a designated stop and completely smashed in the front driver’s side of my car. I hadn’t yet put air in the tire but there really wasn’t any need to by then.

Dreams are important. (For my witchy family) They are a place to interact with the ethers. Dreams take me back in time. They allow me to be a fly on the wall in situations I’ve never experienced, they let me hover over places I’m not even sure exist. They make the curtainveil between real life and the spectacular or the frightening-as-hell seem thinner and thinner. Especially if you dream as vividly as we do in my family.

In my dreams I have made peace with people who have passed before their time. I have been shot to death by loved ones. I’ve fallen (A LOT) off of steep things. I’ve lost teeth. I’ve lost fights because I suddenly have muscles made of molasses. I’ve held onto things in my jaws, bitten down and not let go (I’m an avid jaw grinder in my sleep, actually, it’s pretty despicable). I’ve looked into many mirrors and seen someone who I know to be me in the dream, not look like the me that is the real me. Once, I was even rescued by the Zapatistas and they made it look like a kidnapping for my own safety. Needless to say, I try to stay off of the internet before I go to bed, but, well, some days are easier than others.

Dreams are the places where messages arrive. They are the resting place where I find solutions to problems I don’t understand. They are the place where I ask myself for help undoing a knot that I’m too tired and frustrated to find the loose end of. They are the place where my Lola visits me and she’s laughing and glowing and smoking a cigarette with one knee crossed over the other and leaning in to hear me say something juicy. Dreams are where my grandpa shows up in the faces of other people and reminds me that his spirit is everywhere, jumping from the belly laugh of one and the southern drawl of another and the food smell of country ham. Jumping and landing on everything like a tic(k) just stopping by to visit.

Dreams are a look at the not yet. The not past. The not future. They’re like a cocktail of all of these places. A trippy one, where I get to fly in my favorite ones and lose a limb that I can’t seem to find anywhere in others. Where I get to see and know other versions of myself.

It is wild to think that all of the jungles and ruined towns and problempeople and watersnakes are created by my own mind. Wild to think that my mind is still chewing on something it may have taken in without my even noticing and showing me while I rest. It’s kind of sweet and creepy at the same time.

This past week I was having horrible dreams about the inauguration. I startled myself awake by talking while sleeping, I was saying, “they’re making stupidity legal”.

I’ve been in a kind of walking-dream throughout the entire election process, where half of me is (continually) disgusted and not surprised by the system that bred this fascism and the other half of me is in an Octavia Butler novel.

I have to regularly remind myself that summer will still come. More specifically, I regularly remind myself that it will not be winter for four years. However, “the campaign for torrential winter forever” threatens to take away so many things that keep us warm and happy and alive. In this crucial ass moment, dreaming is a godsend.

Dreaming affords me space and license to get free despite. Aids in escape from capitalist modes of production and utility as I rest. Dreaming serves as a mindmap and blueprint for plotting and manifesting revolution.

For me, it used to be that when I was severely activated in a state of heightened stress and anxiety that the only thing I wanted to do was lay my head against something and take a nap. Crisis and noise could be swarming all around me and I would burrow into a sleep. I wonder now how much of that was hopefulness to dip into a solution within myself, through dreaming.

When I can’t imagine another way to get under, over, or through, I’m hitting ‘snooze’. If I don’t get anything from a dream, at least I will be rested enough to call on my active imagination for some help to get unstuck. Because, Lorde knows there is nothing I dislike more than being stuck. Well, being stuck and having an old dusty white dude tell me what I’m not gonna do.

Dreaming is a concrete tool of legitimate resistance in a place where there seems to be no possibility/possible-ness. Nights when I’m tired from fighting, I hope for dreams that will show me a new way to get free. I luxuriate in possibilities to turn some mixed message into reality and plot to make it happen. How tricky and powerful we are. Try as they might, they can’t get to us when we are dreaming.

Suckas! 

i ain't your unicorn.

“You know what we call you guys, right?”

I knew immediately that this was heading in a direction that I wanted no parts of. Before I could decide if I wanted to play dead in the backseat, he answered to amuse himself.

“Unicorns.”

I was in an uber. I had spent hours at my friend’s house in Lake View, a small community in San Francisco, where my parents grew up and where I was raised. I was taking an uber from her house to Balboa Bart station where I would take the last train home to Oakland.

My driver was from a place he had to mumble the name of. I had just told him that I was born in San Francisco. Before I could say my usual “and so were my parents and my parent’s parents,” he’d interrupted me to say the unicorn shit. I felt anger building in my chest when I realized that they call us unicorns because there are so few people who were born here, still here.  Still being visible. So rarely seen that a sighting of us is considered mythical.

I could have kicked something if I weren’t being conscious of my budding non-violence practice (which is still deeply under construction, so please don’t test the infrastructure heavily, I am still a student of the “my Mama ain’t raise no punk” school).

Don’t get me wrong—I’m totally a unicorn. I’m quite queer. I’m Black, fiercely. I live a colorful life (not just as revenge). I enjoy frolicking and being magical as hell. And I give myself permission to marvel in the benefits of my work toward self-actualization. But I ain’t your unicorn.

And I damn sure ain’t going to be called no cute little name while my people are violently being disappeared from our homes. I won’t let the process of gentrification and police violence (that literally erases my community) be formed into a process of myth-making and laughed away.

Long before anyone in my family arrived here, this Ohlone land was called Yelamu. It would be invaded and colonized by the Spanish. It would go on to be called Yerba Buena. In 1847 it would be named San Francisco.

My grandmother grew up in San Francisco. In Hunter’s Point. She was 10 or 11 when she first saw a white person that wasn’t on television. It was the first time she had gone downtown in the City. She said it felt like she was in a dream. Her grandmother had come over from Port Arthur, Texas. She’d moved to San Francisco to join other family members working at the naval shipyard in Hunter’s Point. She migrated for a better life for her children. If you’d called any of them “unicorns” today, you might surely be backhanded.

When I was growing up in this place, the trains turned from orange to silver one day on my walk home from school. As I got older they only let us in five at a time at the 7-Eleven on Ocean St. When I was in high school I happened upon white neighborhoods that looked like houses made for dolls and couldn’t believe this was the same city I lived in. I experienced the losses of first Capone, then years later, Antwanisha and so many more becoming mourned younger and younger as I somehow managed to get older each year. When I was growing up in this place I danced in African print to gospel music for school assemblies and performed the Huki Lau in first grade. I went on a field trip to Alcatraz when my dad was fresh out of prison and my belly felt afraid the entire time I was there. I played a slave in a school play and didn’t know, until I was older and saw a picture of myself, that the repetitive motion I was taught to do simulated to the audience that I was picking cotton.

................

San Francisco has the highest displacement rate of Black families since post-Katrina New Orleans.

 There’s an estimated 3-5.8% of us left in the City. This sometimes looks like tightly hugging people (whom I didn’t get along with in middle school) because I am glad to know that they are still alive. This looks like driving through my old neighborhood past certain houses and remembering that someone who used to live there had a mother who passed away some years ago. Then remembering, with greater devastation, that they themselves had been killed not long afterward.  This looks like being the third generation to organize for a goddamn grocery store that sells affordable fruits and vegetables that aren’t rotten anywhere in District 10. ANYWHERE. This looks like a very sad dating pool, ‘cause I literally know everybody. And their mama. This means that when I remember my city--the place where I learned me before forgetting, I am remembering a place that no longer exists.

Sometimes, it’s like walking through a hologram.

We have history here. We are not unicorns. We are in danger. Erasure does not make us into myth.

 

* If you were born and raised in San Francisco and you find yourself to be in the back of an uber, approaching your destination and feel anger rising in your throat, remember this: 1) you ain’t nobody’s unicorn. 2) if you choose to be your own unicorn, then know this—unicorns are not easily defeated. They get to be beautiful and have a sword on their heads to protect their magic from anyone who dare come too close.

 

 

 

 

  

wildness and freedoms

why 2017 (and every year after) is my year of wildness and freedoms. 

The germseed started in 2015, really. I ended that year in Maui hanging out the window of a three door rental car with one of my best friends, driving down a road with copper streetlights and no other cars in sight. I was crying and laughing and spitting (and completely sober!) out the window. My hip bumped agains the window frame the more wild I got hanging out against the wind. 

I had just made the decision to quit my job and live on a loan for the remainder of my six months in graduate school. After making the decision, the tension in a knot at the top of my head relaxed and I felt high. I had made the decision for myself to be free of something that was depleting me. We had driven to a nude beach for a Sunday party--we'd missed it because I was crying and babbling in the car about the job. People began to emerge from the beach parking lot, letting us know that the party had ended. I had made my decision. I am blessed to have this friend, who didn't ask questions when I half-way apologized about something I needed to do that might make her uncomfortable while she drove. This friend who turned the music up for me to match my volume when I shouted with my throat and my chest outside the window alongside Kendrick Lamar. Me and Kendrick both said we was gon' be alright and I imagine a lot of Maui heard us and was convinced. I felt accomplished at the end of the song. The wind had dried my eyes, my braids had whipped my face several times, there was drool and snot. I felt a buzz all through my body. I had made the decision to be wild.

On my last day at work, there was cake. Half of it said, "Good Luck Tanea" while the other half of the cake said a happy birthday message to a new co-worker. I chose to admire the level of pettiness (instead of..). Throughout a go-round, coworkers gave me acknowledgements about my "headstrongness" and other characteristics that are often code for shade about how you're hard to get along with. 

I had diamonds for eyes. It was incredibly difficult to leave this work and yet so evident that it was my time. I cried as people talked about me because I realized that I had honored and validated my wildself by following through with my decision to leave. People sitting next to me rubbed my back while I cried and had no idea why I was really tearing up. I was leaving this place because I no longer wanted to be there. I was leaving to work on a novel I had started the year earlier. I was bustin' loose and I was happy enough to cry about it! 

Over the course of the next 6.5 months I would go on to learn to climb for protest, to be so deep in the reality of my fictional project world that I woke up in the night like one of my main characters, to fall off a rock into a river while hiking and laugh through my nose rising to the surface unscathed (entirely. it was a real-life miracle), to get my IUD removed and have a first real period in years, to be accepted into VONA and feel life a real writer for the first time in life after having been rejected the year before, to graduate with my Master's degree, to be so depressed and devastated by the murders of Black people by police that I couldn't tell if I was real and didn't leave my house or talk to others for a while, to come to myself in dreams with loving messages, to get a darling dog with healing powers, to break and let a little light inside, to burst all the way open with bright joy afterward, to write my book (to know it like the best lover), to answer this calling that graciously keeps calling no matter how long I leave the phone off the hook. 

In 2016 I didn't know the degree to which I was demanding the terms of my own inside-outting. But the stakes.was.high. I leapt like a motherfucker (sorry for cussin' on the internet, grandma). I was real wild. And it was the most growingest shit I ever did on-purpose. I felt everything. Running through me like water. 

I traveled to New Orleans. I was out at a party and a girl came in with a sweatshirt that said "I am my ancestors wildest dream". I had to leave and take a walk around the block with friends and hold on to something and cry. I cried a lot at beauty in New Orleans. During an Easter Sunday second line I had to put on my sunglasses because I was bawling seeing all my people dancing through the streets of their communities (anyway/despite/in spite of). This was the germseed of a recurring lesson I learned--my favorite one in 2016: joy is yours, it is given to you as a gift from your ancestors, it is your right/rite and it has a mystical power and ability to actually fight back by laughing (and dancing in praise of each other and of music) in the face of evil. 

2017 (and every year after) is my year of wildness and freedoms because my sensitivity became my super power in 2016. The softer I became, the stronger I felt. When I was anxious I breathed in and felt inside for my gut (who is always sending fire alarms, often without signs of any smoke). I learned to fill my belly with air so I had less room for anxiety. I reminded myself readily and often that no one turns me to dust so easily.