Procedure

rewriting (again) or reimagining this post I wrote a while back called “Recovery.”

***

“Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well?”

-Toni Cade Bambara, The Salt Eaters

 “–let me go mad, Grandmother. Let me bleed and be forever lost and no one.”

-Toni Cade Bambara from “The Survivor,” Gorilla, My Love

 The ones on the top row were the first to go.

I spat them out on a plate one day, next to the wrecked remains of chicken bones, and watched them sink into the orange oil smeared across the porcelain. I looked on, bored, almost as if they were not for me.

The wisdom ones went next, the irony so apparent it was almost nauseating.

They shattered into someone else’s mouth. The time has long come and gone, and they still can’t tell if that is grit or bone or me causing their jaws to grind and stick, worn down and rusty as an forgotten mill

Finally, it was right up front, on the left.

I missed the silent warning. The root perishing in place, turning the enamel outside slowly brown and darker still ’til the surface was crumb like the sugar I love in my tea.

How could you let it get this bad?

Well, I decided to crack and vanish myself little by awful little.

I have a little time–

At a Stranger’s Funeral

Speaking of “hiding” behind fiction…

I wrote the blog post below at the end of a very odd few months. I had moved to a new city two days after my college graduation, and would spend the summer working retail before my graduate program began in September. One of my closest friends, someone I had known since age 10, was on her way out of this new city as I was on my way in. She had also just graduated, and we only got to spend a few weeks together before she moved on to her own uncertain post-grad life. The only other person I had been close to was someone I had to keep convincing myself was best kept on the distant edges of my life, so as not to let him back in. I would wonder for months if that was the right thing to do.

I was drifting around this new city, a strange half-version of myself that I couldn’t recognize. I’m not simply attempting to romanticize my story, to riff on the lonely girl in the big bad city narrative. I mean this literally; I often felt like I was outside myself and observing me from a distance as I

sold beige clothes I couldn’t stand to (mostly) beige people I could tolerate only a little more, and was somehow good at it (?)

took the “T” to random places in the city and walked around to see what there was

wondered if it would really be so bad if I was no longer around to sell the beige clothes, or sit on the T, or take up space in the world

It may not sound like it, but I also felt a lot of moments of contentment, and being at peace, especially after spending 4 years always within arms reach of several people in college dorms, with hardly a moment to oneself.

This blog post eventually turned into a short story with the same title, recently published in the literary journal Blackbird. (You can find it here.) It was the first story I turned in for my first MFA workshop after my strange, isolated summer, and it felt a lot like dying to have a group of twelve or so strangers debating “What exactly is going on in this story?” because I couldn’t answer that myself. I would soon find out that most of graduate school, apart from the more scholarly and theoretical classes and sometimes even then, would consist of strangers picking through the disjointed pieces of your life you dared to share, to find out which bits would make for the best story with the highest “stakes.”

Now, I don’t think about dying as much I did then, or rather not in the same way. I’m again in an odd position, returning from the best holiday at home I’ve had in a long time, and at the end of my graduate program with a job I adore but will probably not be able to remain at beyond graduation. I have a recently found love for teaching as much as it can sometimes drain and exasperate a person. I have also found that my mind is not vast enough to contain the worlds and lives I have come to know and create through all the reading and research I’ve done. I need to get them out.

This post-grad uncertainty feels a lot more acute, against the backdrop of political leaders who are trying to killing us in many of the same ways others have before, but just more boldly this time. My main priorities are to do the thing that keeps me living– to write– and to find a way to use that to access the material things that make living possible, ie. to be paid to write, or to do something else that keeps me clothed and fed so I can write when I’m not doing that other work.

Even as I continue to focus on this writing I love with every bit of myself, it’s frightening to face all the external pressures that dictate the metrics of your success: institutions that place rubber stamps of approval on your forehead and on your novel pages, being followed/retweeted by the *right* editor in hopes of the much sought after follow up email, being recognized “at home” as more than someone begging for Western attention, and so on.

I don’t know how to talk about this without sounding as if I harbor bitterness for these things, because I don’t, not necessarily anyway. I knew going into graduate school would afford me access to people and places that I may or may not have had without it, but I am still frightened by the latent, ugly competitiveness, at times seeming like less of a community and more of a collective clamoring for elusive spots in the *right* journals or on the *right* podiums.

You would probably click out of this page if I said I didn’t care if I was read or not, because me and my writerly ego definitely think my work is worth reading. This blog wouldn’t exist otherwise. I’m writing for myself, but I love that my mother and aunts read me, that old school friends I haven’t spoken to a while read me, that acquaintances and internet strangers alike see echoes of themselves in my words. But that’s more than enough for me.

I simply want to be left alone to do this thing that I love, this thing that keeps me living, to write, and to do it as often as I can and need to (which is everyday) and to do it as well as I can.

she who writes reality

The back of the pew is the only thing holding up your spine, and so you bear the discomfort in silence. The sounds of mourning hang around your head like the sheet of hair you chopped off that day you decided you were looking for a reawakening. How does it feel to attend a stranger’s funeral? It feels like someone close to you died and everyone forgot to tell you, so that when you got home and saw the slippers still perched at the threshold of the door and Our Daily Bread folded on the bedside table you didn’t suspect anything. The deceptive warmth of the mug of coffee in the kitchen and the indent in the cushion on the left side of the sofa led you to believe that this did not happen. This is what it feels like to attend a stranger’s funeral. It’s something like waking up…

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Sometimes, Teaching

About halfway through my first semester teaching “Introduction to College Writing,” I remember making an offhand comment to my students about how I would like to include writers from “more backgrounds” than I had at the moment on my syllabus. I forgot about it until it was time to look at my course evaluations, where one student pointed out that they enjoyed the readings, but also thought it would be good for me to follow up with my desire to add different writers to my syllabus in the future.

I’m not sure whose backgrounds I was referring to, but I know that comment came from my persistent anxiety that I would be called out for teaching “only” Black women in a writing class that was ostensibly only about the writing, and not a “niche” topic-based seminar. I believe I was trying to pre-empt resistance from my students, who I imagined would be a lot less receptive  to me and my approach before I had the chance to meet and engage with them.

I also felt as if I had to prove that it was possible to teach  students how to be generous and bold writers and readers from a Black feminist and womanist perspective. I was apprehensive because I thought I would have to prove that I didn’t assemble a syllabus of Black writers and artists simply because they look like they could be my aunties and sisters. I felt pressure to demonstrate that Black women and femmes write and produce knowledge  about the craft of writing itself, and about language and its potential for destructive power, as well as for imagining and constructing better worlds.

Ultimately, no-one ever asked, “What would you say if the reading list was majority white men, the way yours is majority Black women?” Even if they had, I would have been ready with some discussion of false equivalencies, and probably a lot of bitter and incredulous laughter. I’m mostly proud of the work we did, and I no longer feel the misguided need to prove the merits of Black feminist writers and thinkers who definitely don’t need me to justify or validate their brilliance.

I wrote semi-regular reflections about my teaching experience, some of which I shared with my students, some I kept to myself. I would love it if you took a look at some of my work from the fall semester here.

Brand New

***In the spirit of “fresh starts” and finishing my master’s degree, here’s my first post for 2018. And if you have any connects with Sallie Mae, please let a girl know. Being a broke artist is only cute in novels and on TV.***

I’ve spent the first days of this new year much like I spent the last few weeks of the old, fatigued, irritable, and most of all guilty and self-loathing for not being more grateful to be alive and mostly healthy. Whether one is a skeptic that enjoys pointing out that “the new year” is artificial and arbitrary, or a conspiracy theorist who thinks that the New Year’s fervor is manufactured by the calendar and gym industries to con people into spending money they don’t have, the yearning for a fresh start to avoid last year’s wrongs and hurts is almost inescapable. (I clearly haven’t left unnecessarily long sentences behind in 2017). This pursuit of newness is probably what fooled me into thinking that a different date would somehow provide some respite from a condition that I am still in the process of learning how to manage, and hopefully overcome.

I would love to focus this post on affirmative statements, on writing into existence things I would like to see happen over the next few months (figuring out a concrete post-graduation plan, preferably one that includes me living, working and writing in New Orleans), but positivity feels hazy and a little out of my reach at the moment. What I know for sure, is that I no longer have the desire or capacity to juggle other people’s emotions, and to help them painstakingly sort through their chaos while sinking in the middle of mine. I’m no longer interested in being anyone’s panic button, on-demand, therapist or cheerleader, nor can I continue playing mother to grown people when I can barely take care of myself on some days. I’m trying to be comfortable being someone who isn’t always available on the first ring or seconds after the latest text. My phone number cannot continue to be an emergency hotline that only works one-way.

I wish I could say all this is coming out of some re-dedication to caring for myself, but it’s really because “burnt out” has been my default state for months. If I may extend the metaphor a little too far, I would mostly be a pile of ashes at this point. I don’t think that I’m in any way more deserving of joy than the next person, but here’s to hoping that I can find a little more of it to write and to live this year.

she who writes reality

The window was sealed almost permanently; hinges caked over with rust and dirt, glass obscured with cobwebs and stained with raindrops from last season’s monsoon. But she had been gasping for air too long  and the supply of oxygen was frighteningly low and her throat was itching to the point of being raw and- she knew that inhaling rations of air in pitiful lungfuls would soon turn fatal. So she sucked in one last breath, formed a fist and smashed through the grimy glass that had kept out light and life for far too long.

One brave sunbeam burst into the room and swept the sinister shadows from each corner. A shriveled imp stirred suddenly and shielded its one good eye. Today, the characteristic glint of malice was absent from its eye; the sun’s glare had overpowered it completely.

And yet, it persisted…

“Not even that kind, selfless, deserving, intelligent…”

“Not today…

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I, Wild Woman

I wrote this almost exactly two years ago to this day, so naturally some parts of it now make me cringe. I’m reposting anyway, because it’s been a long while since I’ve felt this bold and this wild.

she who writes reality

A few days ago, the kind of thing happened that tends to happen when you dare to swell and fill more space than has been allotted to you. Person who is black/brown/anything other than default setting, you must have been confused in thinking that your role involved more than absolving people of their ancestral guilt by assuring them that your gods are no longer angry. On behalf of you and all your people, all has been forgiven. Don’t worry, we’re good.

A classmate giving a presentation expressed her opinions concerning the imposition of “political correctness” as a tool for certain students to deny writers the right to tell the “truth.” This was a graduate-level class about travel literature, a kind of writing that happens to follow a long tradition of people from the West journeying to and turning a colonial gaze on far-flung, God-forsaken, dark places, where they encounter savages who only…

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Safe House

I’m sharing this again with a special dedication to those of us who are strangely fixated on “The Africa They Don’t Show You.” Even without going full pretentious writer with the “let me deconstruct real quick,” I’m really just curious…what exactly is it that we’re trying to prove? That brunch cocktails taste the same in Osu as they do in DuPont Circle? (It’s also possible that in addition to my writerly concern, I’m a little salty because my bank account says I can’t afford brunch in either of those places.)

But again, I ask, what are you trying to prove? To who? And why do you think they care? That our swimming pools gleam with the same kind of blue as that one delightful boutique hotel in Portugal? That we too know how to do social inequality with the best of the other “global citizens,” with the right amount of class and an extra healthy offering on Sunday to thank God for all the blessings our parents “worked so hard for?”

At the same time I know it’s difficult for you to look down at those new suede boots and see that you are using them to stand on someone’s back, or that your penthouse apartments and island getaways are paid for money that a rundown clinic somewhere will never see. We’re all held up by the collar, yes, you too in the Prada, some far more tightly than others, so what can you/are you going to do?

I’m not interested in any kind of “global citizenship” that doesn’t acknowledge how much further a blue passport will carry you than a green one, and why that is (or carrying both, as I do), nor do I want to become numb to the sound of European cars rolling over the hands of “those people would make it too if they studied and worked hard like we did.” Aren’t you horrified? Do you not think you lose little slices of your humanity when you see and treat others as less human too?

I also do not mean to suggest that you deny yourself enjoyment for the good of those whose suffering props up your comfort. After all, one missed club night will not magically redistribute resources and recognize the humanity of every single person across our country. But be responsible. Or rather, be honest with yourself, no matter how much it stings to look at yourself without the veneer of wealth as virtue, virtuous wealth, that you have been wearing all your life.

I want to add that with the following piece, “Safe House,” I imagined the persona I was addressing as a straight man for various reasons. It’s true that may women who have access to education, healthcare, social status among other resources are able to wield their power in terrible ways. Most of the time though, at least from what I have seen in my short life, this power isn’t enough to remove these women from the reach of what Flora Nwapa’s Efuru recognizes as a “conspiracy,” the patriarchy, quite simply, where men can harm and destroy and somehow evade accountability altogether.

What I’ve been reading;
The Desperate Journey of a Trafficked Girl, The New Yorker
Slavery’s Last Stronghold, CNN
Italy Holds Funeral for 26 Nigerian Women Drowned in the Mediterranean, Reuters

she who writes reality

There is no home to go to. Where do you think you’re going? Right now you are living in the Western Hemisphere regional branch of a corporation that built itself up on bodies that looked very much like yours that were snatched at night, that were dragged from terrified families, that were traded for some schnapps, that learnt to endure because there was no other option. The right side of the sea for you is a place where the same monster breathes down your neck; it’s breath just stinks a little differently.

But there, your 4×4 smells like abroad. It is pristine and you can yell at the driver for leaving oily fingerprints on the steering wheel covered in beige leather just like the rest of the car interior. And you can use that car to roll over the hands and feet of the people on crutches and in wheelchairs…

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Benediction for Black Madonna

“The immigrant artist shares with all other artists the desire to interpret and possibly remake his or her own world. So though we may not be creating as dangerously as our forebears—though we are not risking torture, beatings, execution, though exile does not threaten us into perpetual silence— still, while we are at work bodies are littering the streets somewhere. People are buried under rubble somewhere. Mass graves are being dug somewhere. Survivors are living in makeshift tent cities and refugee camps somewhere, shielding their heads from the rain, closing their eyes, covering their ears, to shut out the sounds of military “aid” helicopters. And still, many are reading, and writing, quietly, quietly.”

“Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously. This is what I’ve always thought it meant to be a writer. Writing, knowing in part that no matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere, someone may risk his or her life to read them.”

-Edwidge Danticat, from “Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work.”

Today, the news broke that *someone*’s president has decided to end Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for nearly 60,000 Haitian people who have been building lives in the United States since the earthquake in Haiti in 2010. I usually have a strong aversion to opening up thoughts with statistics, mainly because I find it easy to unsee each important and individual human life when they are presented to you as marks on a graph. Yet, I feel as though it’s important to have the facts clear.

When the earthquake hit, I was still in high school in Ghana, and the only other information I knew about Haiti was the story of Toussaint Louverture’s triumph over French colonial rule, recounted in my history teacher’s booming voice. I didn’t yet know that I would spend most of my time in graduate school tracing links and fractures in that story from my own Ewe people in Ghana and Togo, and our Fon cousins to Haiti and Louisiana. I didn’t yet know that the more I would read and study and listen, the more I would find reasons to quit writing and do something else.

What use can my stories possibly do, when the people I claim to care so deeply about, those to whom I’m trying to draw closer in my clumsy cobbling together of folklore, vodou and favorite foods, are being targeted all the time for daring to exist, for continuing to choose life where death was the pre-selected destination. These questions have been chewed over and crumpled up into balls of waste paper for as long as writers have sat alone in rooms in need of airing, in the back of clothing stores between shifts, on freezing park benches, trying to write because they had something vital to add to the world. Edwidge Danticat’s words are a clear admonition and encouragement, “write anyway.”

I have reached a point where I must resolve to stop turning always back to my self in this way, what does it mean for *me* to do this, who says *I* can, etc. The best I can do is write my care and concern for all of these Black people across diaspora, those I know personally and those I love only from afar, into my work. The best I can do is to bear witness, to keep looking and to turn my readers heads to look as well, even when we are inclined to look away. The best I can do is accompany my imagining and writing with direct actions that may take a little less time than it does to edit a novel; calling or faxing whichever government official I need to contact (dubious results?) giving up time and money as often and as generously as I can, impressing upon my students just how high the stakes have always been, not just “now more than ever.”

UndocuBlack Network and Black Alliance for Just Immigration  are two organizations working persistently for justice for Black immigrants. Please visit their sites to learn how you can contribute to this cause in time or financial means, and to find out about direct actions and rallies that they organize.

“There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” -Toni Morrison

she who writes reality

I’m stopping by briefly to share this work I turned in to my poetry workshop last semester. This poem is related to my thesis, but as usual, I can’t give more details than that because it feels like bad luck (?) to share information about something that is still so…scattered. I feel very protective of my project, and it’s not because I think I’m Beyoncé on some surprise album drop type of thing, because who am I??? (Ok maybe a little bit Beyoncé *twirls in Lemonade yellow*) Still, I’ve only talked about this work in detail with a few people. I cringe a little when people make definitive “when it’s done” statements, or when someone says, “Oh I told so-and-so about your work and they think it’s really cool!” I get that excitement can be contagious, but talking about it too much out loud before it’s anywhere close to ready…

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