“We did it! We survived Coviding as a 4th grader,” I told my son jokingly. There was just one more task to do, a final project or Passion project of his choosing. It was due sometime in the summer but, of course, we were gonna turn in ours early. He knows he has to work twice as hard as a Black student. My mother told me that, and I’ve told him. So, I was so happy to assist my son on his Neighborhood Toy and Book Exchange project. After a week of planning and rehearsing in the house, and putting a little friendly pressure on him to get this down quickly, we crossed the threshold of the front door and stepped into the world of sales — not really sales per se, because he was actually ‘giving/exchanging’ toys and books…through he soon learned that giving, like selling, actually takes effort..and everybody doesn’t value books.
After three hours of standing on the corner with him, holding up the big white board begging drivers to stop, peruse and exchange..yelling at the top of my lungs, “Free Toys!”, (I learned quickly to omit the ‘free books’ thing — it wasn’t serving us well,” we called it quits and shut down the business. We were both relieved…relieved because it was too hot, even for me, and most importantly, no one took Tigger or Aquaman. Satisfied and swetty, we both trudged up the stairs, leaving the abandoned merchandise and portable speaker by the first floor shoe rack and laid out of the living room floor.
My clothes were literally attached to my body. About 10 minutes later, I carried myself to the bedroom and main bath, turned on the light and gasped, as if seeing another woman in my mirror. “I done got TOO BLACK!”
I said it with an energy I didn’t think I had at the time. My black yoga pants and tank top clung to me like my son does when he’s being sappy and cloy. I couldn’t stand it. As I removed my garments I noticed the color gap between my previous honey hue and that black tank had narrowed. It shocked the heck out of me. I hadn’t been outside like this in months and Corona was keeping me light-skinned beyond my normal turn time. This was my thought process, for real.
A LEGITIMATE CONCERN
Shocked at the statement and even more shocked at this new-found energy, I sat on the toilet and quickly lamented. “Where the hell did that come from?” “Oh, that came from Momma..that came from every person whose name I can’t think of but I know they existed. That came from prior, public Black knowledge on the playground, in church, at the picnic, at Thanksgiving and at summer camp.”
This was a legitimate concern..even for girls darker than me. I’m most certain that this was more of a concern for the girls, than the boys, but I would be remiss to think this is solely a female thing. Colorism is real for African American boys and men. We know this because our men are speaking on this now and rejecting past ideals.
I thought all these things, just sitting, not using the toilet..because I had to sit in this and address the epiphany and shame after the thoughtless outburst. “We don’t do enough of this,” I thought…”policing ourselves..putting our own thoughts into captivity.” And in this era of Black Lives mattering and the messaging being given to me all day, every day by my folk and other folk like Proctor and Gamble and Target and the freaking CEO of Smoothie King, I thought about how important Black internal and external messaging was and is…what we tell ourselves and our children, matters.
Black Messaging Matters. “There’s a long list of things my people taught me, that I’ve got to unlearn.” This list could very well be called, “Getting too Black and other things I can’t control or should even be concerned about, especially as a damn child…” (if you don’t mind the title length.)
Also on this list…
Go outside and run, jump and play with your beautiful, wide nosed, black kids. Get Black…get real Black. Make your list This is a fraction of my list. What’s on yours? And here’s the thing…I’m not mad at the system or teachers of these untruths in my family and circle or even in society. A lot of these things were told to us to protect us, to better us, to brace us from the inevitable fall — to shield us from Truth’s mighty blow. But it’s your responsibility to #rewrite , #rethink and #relearn a personal constitution that uplifts and does not promote inferiority or fear or exclusion…A mindset and list of precepts and rules for yourself that celebrate your own Blackness and liberates you and your children to think freely and flourish as human beings with boundless potential.
That’s your job , not your mother’s or grandmother’s — the sooner you accept that, the less brainwashed you’ll be. Unlearning is way, way harder than learning. Do the work.
Make your list…and literally, check it twice. Those things will come up like puss-filled pimples and your kids will be color-shaming themselves in the mirror because they saw mommy do it. Black, ALL BLACK, ANY BLACK, is simply, BEAUTIFUL.
Khoudia Diop, my favorite model
Check out my fav model. I simply love her. https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2016/11/20/501152390/how-khoudia-diop-learned-to-love-her-dark-skin
Catch Dark Girls 2 — so proud of this doc made by some of my hometown heroes (Nashville) http://www.oprah.com/app/dark-girls-2.html
Learn about Medieval POC and find a Black Renaissance Fair — https://blacknerdproblems.com/yes-there-were-black-people-in-renaissance-europe/
As I put the last entry into yesterday's food journal, I felt a certain kind of way, almost like someone was mocking me. I felt really weird. Me, a writer, who loves to eat when she writes, had to write what she ate in a day - not exactly my idea of epic writing. I've put about six days worth of data in this thing. The journal, only visible to me and my accountability partner, feels really accusatory like it has a long, crooked finger pointing at me from the screen, saying, "You made me do it..." like I was Tituba or somebody...reading me my reality.... two quesadillas, extra cheese, barbecue chips, fruit smoothie, veggie pasta with cheese (I failed to type, 'veggie pasta with enough cheese to build a small school out of cheese).
I don't like this truth...it is supremely inconvenient.
The act of chronologizing every meal and morsel of my day is a story I'd rather leave unwritten. Don't #writeon...is the advice I'd like to give to myself. So then I had to be real with said self, because feeling this way, isn't healthy, and furthermore...I have goals. Even farther than that furthermore, is the reality of a certain wedding dress that won't zip currently. It is requiring about ten pounds off of hips one and two to even consider zipping in July. The feeling I get when I see the list, is as unhealthy as what, when, and how often I eat, mostly. In my Wanda Sikes or Jennifer Lewis voice... "Accountability? Is that you girl?" That feeling, is a sandwich of guilt and accountability. Now, I should be able to look at the list and embody the boldness of yet another actor, Samuel L. Jackson (or known to Black folk as, Sam U El) and look at the list and say, "Yeah, I ate the cookies...I ate all the cookies...and they DESERVED to be eaten...and I'll EAT EM AGAIN." Because my dear, if you're gonna do something, right or wrong, you betta do it to the fullest hunny. Those cookies are persuasive but what they ain't, is violent. I neva seen a cookie with a gun. Now, if a cookie had a knife, and I was serious about getting in that BHLDN dress in two months...I could take it down...with my own bare hands. Naw, I was in my right mind when I ate all that stuff at 12:43 am, including the cookie. I need to own that, and the journal had receipts.
Now...maybe I don't own my rendezvous with the cookie(s), completely. Mindless eating while writing, typing, working, especially independently, definitely go hand and hand. Now, I've attached some research concerning the topic, and you can feel free to click on the link, buy books, watch fifty-leven videos and Ted Talks about it. I'm good luv... I've got a food journal. My eating habits are no longer 'mindless'. I've put my mind on them. You have my attention Food Journal! I've silenced my phone and stopped crunching on them Kettle Chips...I HEAR YOU.
I can tell myself why I ate the chips, why I snacked on the trail mix and even why I took the extra M&M's from another trail mix pack and added them to mine. It is my truth and since I met up with Accountability and her clingy ass, I'm doing the big girl thing today and owning that truth. I was the subject of my own fiction piece...a rather thick damsel in distress, confused as to why she cannot lose the weight..."I barely eat..I workout...I had two apples today (clinching pearls), I do declare," while omitting the milkshake I had after the apples, after the three minute 'workout' and before the cheese quesadillas.
See when it comes to food Sis, I just be lying...like a fiction writer, making up scenarios and characters and stuff. Sis, tell the story like it happened. Because these rolls (on my belly, not Sister Shubert's) are real. My stomach, Sus, is non-fiction. I eat real food and get real results...
I'm gonna save you the research my dear writer, my dearest fellow creative who's been nibbling on the sweet fantasy in a room with a muse who can obviously cook. My muse got arm fat girl, a bonnet and makes cakes from memory. My muse is only concerned about my comfort and space to create freely. She brings inspiration and chocolate. She keep a bottle of wine on her and she says skip dinner (because a sit-down meal will take me away from the process) and just have a bunch of 'little snacks' in the bed next to the laptop...this is professional eating for the professional writer. So since we have established who my muse is and her obvious love for me but misalignment with my ultimate goals, my advice is to trick her or train her. Maybe you're not hungry...maybe writing and putting something in your mouth, is a habit..it doesn't even need to be food. Maybe gum, or the water bottle will do the trick...I need more water anyway. Win. Wine....I mean, win... Maybe Ms. Muse needs to bring ONE granola bar to the office and a tall cup of green tea...that's it. Maybe the muse and you don't need to eat together At All...write after your meal, when you're full, if you can stay awake. The tea will help with that.
There's a white woman robot in my house named Echo. She sounds knowledgeable and authoritative. I let her tell me when to stop writing, drink water, get a snack... especially when my willpower is at level zilch for that day. She is courteous and I listen. Sometimes, she talks to my man and I don't like that, so I figure the more I involve her in my process, I can see what her motivations are, keep her close... like I asked her one day...Echo...Does James love Shaunna?, and she said, "Sorry, I don't know that..." As I was tilting the water over her to destroy her completely, I remembered that he would probably buy another one, and I remember that Echo, is not real (this is not up for debate beloved conspiracy theorists...)
She works for me. I use her for my benefit as a free, personal assistant.
Hunny, pack yo snacks.
Pack them, the right ones. Carrots, hummus, celery, one little bag of chips...whatever you will feel less guilty about on that food journal that I'm telling you to keep. Pack them and prepare. The more filling snacks like apples, carrots, broccoli - these will take away from your typing and make your jaws work way more than chips and pretzels, and you'll condition yourself to require less of those, even in consuming them. They'll also fill you up faster and last longer than the Twinkie (do y'all eat Twinkies?). I just felt in my spirit that I should type Twinkies...yes, I'm on your street.
Water, water, water...and mo' water. If you're not a fan of lemon water, please consider it. Lemons are high in Vitamin C, fiber and help you loose weight, keep your breath fresh and energy up. The pectin in lemons helps you feel fuller and maybe reduce your cravings for snacks. I start my day with a cup of hot water and lemon juice. Stomach be on flat flat girl... I'm awake, alive and ready to conquer the day. It also helps my body absorb as much iron through my diet, due to the vitamin C and citric acid. That's real important to me because I'm vegetarian and I know I'm not getting enough iron from my current sources. I also take supplements. So the water with lemon is just a simple thing that can really help your writing process because it's helping you, your body, your energy. I can't tell you how many times I've literally developed a headache writing a sermon, paper, poems in a long sit-down session, realizing now (that Accountability walks with me), I was dehydrated.
Listen, I'm certainly not here to tell you what or how to eat, to judge you on what you do in your home with your body, but I know too many sisters and brothers for that matter, who go, go, go in their respective crafts (or leisure activities) and don't pay attention to the truth of this particular matter. In the last post, I literally laid out all the things I 'needed' to write. Well I'm writing/righting that wrong, real quick. It is in the writing of the behavior, the habit AND the reading and reflecting of it, that we are challenged to correct it, monitor it and modify it.
Does this mean I won't have a pain au chocolat whenever we all get to go outside and write at our fav coffee house?....hell naw! It just means my food journal will kindly remind me about the escapade and I can then chose to do something, or nothing about the facts. That's power. Not just the knowledge, but what you do with it.
Write here, right here....Eat there.
Now, I want us to remember and value the importance of the real meal. This particular mindless eating habit can be resolved if we put it in perspective to the sit-down meal...it may also be the thing to help us as writers who are trying to find their schedules to write. Remember there's a time and place for everything, and you have the power to set your schedule to produce the greatest amount of success in your life. Make sure you bathe (some of you needed a loving, gentle reminder), listen to a joke, say hello to your family, workout, write, pray, write something that doesn't have to do with work, work and stop working, like forreal...all in different pockets of the day, in different spaces in your environment and sit down and have a real meal. Enjoy your food. As Maya's subtitle mandates in her book Great Food, All Day Long, we should mind ourselves to 'Cook Splendidly, Eat Smart.' All of this is about being aware and changing our habits and doing things, you know, smart.
Dinner is ready!
I'm encouraging you to cook, have a real meal where you can take time to taste and read the joy in each bite among friends and family, a meal that you planned and had forethought to prepare...without the guilt of what you snacked on during the day or night. Having the foresight about your meals, especially dinner, can help you in the day as you're making deliberate decisions about what you put in your mouth while snacking. Just have a plan sis and be prepared. You got this. As an incentive for you to be more mindful about eating habits and keeping a Non-Fiction based Food Journal, I've included a link to Maya's feel-good Banana Pudding recipe. I'm making it this weekend and will post the pic here.
!Salud! This is one of my fav words in Spanish, literally meaning 'Health'....whew, I love it. Whatever you eat...!Salud!
I want you to be healthy sis. I want you to be deliberate and intentional in everything you do. I want you to plan to work, and work your plan...I want you to prosper and be in good health, even as your soul prospers. I want you to #writeon with a muse who is in alignment with everything else that is important to you, beyond the piece, beyond the poem, who supports your healthiness and well being, all around. Best self, that's all...getting better and better every day, not having attained perfection but pressing towards the mark Sis...just keep pressing.
She said, "I'm most happiest being a writer."
Often I find myself envious of Maya and what I believed to be this wide open space she enjoyed in life to be one of the greatest writers in the history of mankind...my very biased opinion of course.
Writing for me often times feels like I'm one of the pieces in the Tetris game...perhaps the three pronged piece, not the bar or the perfect square..they are built simply and conform easily, but rather the I feel like the complicated z piece or that T looking piece that is running out of time and forced with figuring out where I fit in the many worlds of my one world. At the onset of the game, time seems to be on my side...the playing field is manageable and these great ideas promise me they will stack together perfectly into the greatest thing I ever wrote...the greatest story I ever told. I quickly experience writer's anxiety - which for me, is writer's block on Meth or Pcp and whatever else you could stuff down my throat or in my veins to cause me to fear my own shadow. These self-imposed deadlines, goals and merits topple the papers I have to grade, the car I have to get inspected, the relationship I know needs time and nurturing, and the miles that are waiting on me to run.
So why do I do this? Why do I continue to court this talent knowing I am not able to fully commit? Writing wants me to marry her, I think, but I have one foot on the single side of town..the side of town where I break appointments and leave the ideas to feast on the white silence of the loosest leaf sheet of college-ruled paper. The side of town where, sometimes, I whisper promises of settling down with Writing, but she knows I'm full of it, and secretly interested in film-making. She is tired of being stuck somewhere in an email I sent to myself, pushed down under the life insurance policy I have to sign, the email promising how much weight I could lose if I just try this program (as if all the other programs were faulty) or buried under one of the billions of emails from Bath and Body Works.
I found a poem idea that I had emailed myself over two years ago. I thought surely it would be bitter and turn on me today, and fail to produce anything with an sensible end...but, there's something about this whole process that oozes the idea of grace...I wrote from the idea something totally different than the intended sentiment and it came out well...tender, but well, albeit some of the passion had evaporated. But she, the ideas, the words, the experience, the cause...she still loved me, unconditionally and she let me write her.
You have to write now, right now...I always told myself this thinking that if I operated in a space with some pressure, I would produce. The whole 'diamond' concept. I would shift and change and all the things under my purview and care, even my own self perception and self worth as a Creative, would simply fall into place, with a little or a lot of maneuvering. After all, the reward is so freaking rewarding. The fruit of this labor is so satisfying and juicy and self sustaining. So I still maintain the sentiment. Write now, right now dammit. Even if it is garbage in your over-critical, hypersensitive mind, even if all you could give it is five minutes. It doesn't take long to get pregnant but the labor might last for over 20 hours. Your writing experience is bigger than the initial thought, the implantation of the idea. Concerning the birth, some of us (ME, put your hand up Shaunna), opt for the Cesarean experience over the natural push and scream. I will caution you that you may not want that every time. That shit hurts and you cannot control your rate of recovery. Some pieces are ripped out of you because of pressure, time or impatience or divine providence, and these exercises require lots of rest and salve afterwards. Get ready to do the work. Get ready to be written and read yourself as the mirror turns away from your protagonist, to you. The pen will also turn on you...but like scripture, if it is authentic and your truth and divine, it will eventually heal.
I've sat in a dark room and typed a whole bunch of stuff into a piece where, the literary magic and technique wasn't top notch, but I spilled my guts onto the keyboard successfully and me and God had to clean it up. It's a nasty, painful, invasive thing at times...That moment, I'd wished I had a midwife, a literary Doula or writing partner who subs as a clinical therapist, to help me...to help clean the mess in the margins...every writer has a mess in the margins that you don't see.
So when Maya says, "I'm happiest being a writer", I don't know if I can feel her, each time. The pressure to please myself and my reader, to try to monetize this gift, to balance this talent with all the other demands of my life and to try to emerge SANE after I give my all in this erratic courtship...'happy' may not be the word that comes to mind...but 'necessary' is.
I have to write.
What I know now, after having been with 'her' for over a decade now, seriously, whatever seriously means....is that she is always there. She is faithful and when I show up, as committed as I could be, she answers the call.
I need music, salty chips, peanut M&Ms, a host of satisfied bodily functions, a cool room and my printed works around me to show up fully cocked. I need other writers and probing prompts. I need Flying Lotus and Erykah. I need Maya. I need Lonnie Liston Smith and I need compliments for the other stuff I wrote. I needs (with a quintessential Black culture 'added' S, nonplural plural) Moses Sumney and Jacob Collier. These writers are better than me by my scale. I need a goal. I need inspiration and mentors. I need lemon water. I'd like(s) a Stella Artois Hard Cider on occasion. I definitely don't need(s) a world pandemic like Covid-19 but I will take advantage of the space and silence and fresh air being breathed all over the world.
I need to live inside the metaphor brought to me by angels the previous night for the entire day, put that to a soundtrack of some deep and pensive songwriter with dope melodies behind it and walk in that poem for a while, branching off that heaven-sent, almighty metaphor without distractions. I'm a pit bull guarding this process sometimes.
Find your rhythm and your light and your why and guard it. It deserves some level of commitment. It may change weekly, with time; it may change with the project. It may change depending on the season you're in. I'm wondering are other writers using this #stayathome time 'wisely'...but I caution you to consider what 'wisely' means to you. It might be wise for you to rest and reset and set a schedule for writing. It may be wise for you to make a deeper commitment to your gift and use this time to establish rules for this relationship and good, consistent writing habits.
I think before that we consider the weight of the 'deed', it is the 'thought' that must be cultivated and stabilized first - the thought that you are worth the pen, the pain, the pleasure and the process. Turn off the timer, get out of the Tetris world of unspoken, unrealistic expectations and just let this thing flow through you. Be present.
They are just words. You are in control.
I leave you with a question and encourage you to respond here.
Is your voice important to you? How do you allow it to be heard, really?
Check out what Maya said...
What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks “the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.” And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, “Okay. Okay. I’ll come.”
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. Making a decision to write was a lot like deciding to jump into a frozen lake. Talent is like electricity. We don’t understand electricity. We use it.
Tell the truth and not the facts.
If you are going to write autobiography, don't expect that it will clear anything up. It makes it more clear to you, but it doesn't alleviate anything. The writer has to take the most used, most familiar objects—nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs—ball them together and make them bounce, turn them a certain way and make people get into a romantic mood; and another way, into a bellicose mood. I'm most happy to be a writer. I see a yellow pad, and my knees get weak, and I salivate.
Poetry is the strongest language we have.