Good News | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy

30 Day Blog Challenge, Personal Narrative

I am so proud of my friend, Oliver. He’s the mayor-elect of Miami Gardens, Florida. It wasn’t a matter of luck; it’s been a dream of his for years. His dad, his name sake, passed away two years ago. “He really would’ve gotten a kick out of this,” he said.

~

I miss my parents. Sometimes the longing appears as a whisper, barely heard above the din of every day. Other times, it’s a bit more demanding. Louder. I hear daddy’s voice. Picture his shoulders shrugging as his body convulses with giggles. There was always a hint of sarcasm. Teasing.

Mama comes bearing warnings and stories in equal measure. Reminds me to tie up loose ends. Flashes me scenes of days past.

I miss them, especially her, most, when there is good news.

Starting a new job, completing a degree, earning an accolade, I want to call Mama. Her happiness would surely top mine. But then I remember, I administered her estate. The phone was long ago disconnected. She’s not there to laugh, to exclaim, “Really!?” There are no follow-up questions, getting all the details to share with all her friends.

“They’re with you in spirit.”

Yeah.

It Counts (Trigger Warning) | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy

30 Day Blog Challenge, Politics, News & Notable, Sexual Violence

So this happened:

And aside from the fact the man sounds ignorant – he wants to enact laws about pregnancy when he doesn’t know how it works – he qualifies rape. If there is legitimate rape, it must follow there’s such a thing as illegitimate rape. And one wonders what that might be, exactly?

Akin has issued an apology video, trying to make amends for his word choice, yet one wonders if he still believes that some rapes are real, while others, are somehow fake? If only he could express the concept more artfully?

Jezebel documents and simultaneously mocks this dangerous discourse here. Tanehisi unpacks the power and privilege underlying the claims here.

Rape is rape. Full stop.

It becomes a stranger invading. It becomes a thief stealing. That is not intimacy any more. You have changed it. It is something else. It is something brutal and violent and mean…

This is from a much longer work-in-progress. In it, I recount a dysfunctional relationship, echoes of which still reverberate in my consciousness decades later. It’s appalling, really. The idea that such an assault is subject to scrutiny – not on whether it happened, but on whether it was legitimate. Whether it matters. Whether it counts.

It counts.

It counts even though it was not with a stranger. It counts even though the perpetrator was my boyfriend, whom I loved at the time. It counts even though I only show up in the “underreported” statistics because I never reported him. I was too busy trying to convince myself that my feelings were legitimate. That I mattered. That I counted.

And I do.

Forever Changed | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy.

30 Day Blog Challenge, Personal Narrative, Sexual Violence

What is one thing that left you forever changed?

I stumbled across this question while sitting, browsing and mulling – the trio known collectively as my process. Even when I have an idea in mind (I did) I often have to go through this period of germination. I embraced it in grad school, but I kinda want things to move a little faster.

But this is me stalling.

As soon as I read that question, an answer came to mind. I was inspired to respond, completely disregarding my initial plans to write about student ingenuity and punishment. Though as I began to type, I wondered how much I should or would share.

I’m still deciding. I’ll ease into it and see what comes out.

I experienced the first love of my life in high school. I went in with an open heart and came away damaged. Not just bruised. Way beyond heartbroken. Soul shattered perhaps, and I’m not sure that even captures it. For years, literally two decades, I was unwilling to consider the trauma I underwent. I hid it from everyone. Even me.

It left me secretly distrustful. Occasionally dizzy in torrents of “what if.” Subject to mini-meltdowns in intimate spaces.

Last year around this time, I began peeling back the layers, exposing the truth. To myself, at least. During that process I truly began to understand the transformative nature of narrative – the dramatic shifts in understanding that can occur in studying episodes of your own life history.

I was forever changed by the relationship. I was forever changed yet again, in the telling.

I hope my path of facilitating transformation through narrative can help others; but that’s a story for another day.

Tell Your Story. | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy.

30 Day Blog Challenge, Personal Narrative, Writer's Craft

I tweeted this out of frustration surrounding the coverage (and lack thereof) of Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas. It isn’t the first moment to inspire this response, yet I’ve only recently begun to affirm this for myself.

For years, I had connected storytelling to a sort of pathology. The stories that truly needed telling were riddled with pain and misery. The only important stories showed tremendous triumph over tragedy, rags to riches, or some variation that X was hard and I overcame it.

I never experienced my life in those terms; therefore, I didn’t have a “story.” There was nothing particularly grueling about my life – a smattering of speed bumps – so there was nothing to tell.  But your life, however you experience it, is your story, and it’s worth telling. And not just for your own sake.

Each person’s story adds a new layer to our collective understanding. It offers nuance and possibility. The differences from one life to another remind us there is no single story of women. There is no single story of Black people. There is no single story of southerners. Nor is there a single story of Buddhists. My story, with its myriad chapters, stands at the intersection of these and fathomless other circles of life.

Just to be clear, the benefits of sharing your story are not simply reserved for everyone else. Powerful allies known as affirmation and self-reflection, come to you in the telling. Even (and I know this from experience), when the only person you’re telling is yourself. Your story is your victory. Claim it.

Today’s post is my first entry in the #30in30 challenge. I aim to write 30 posts over the next 30 days. In July, I deemed August a month for writing, and it seems the universe agrees. Tayari’s #WRITELIKECRAZY encouraged me to develop concrete goals. Initially they were comfortable, easily manageable goals. #30in30 pushes me outside my boundaries (posting everyday!?). But lately, I’ve found it invigorating to be a little uncomfortable.

Join us. I’m positive you have a story to tell, too.

An Alpha, #3.

Personal Narrative

An Alpha,
#3.

That’s how he always signed his missives. Something I’d managed to forget until I stumbled across one. I was in the midst of searching for something completely unrelated in my box of “treasured stuff,” when there it was. His elaborate signature. I wept at the shock of feeling I honestly didn’t know was still present over a decade later. I wept for had been. For what could have been. Most of all, I wept for him.

An age ago, he was my boyfriend. Me, 21; a junior in college. He, a couple of years my senior; a graduate student in psychology. He was warm and loving and thoughtful. He’d fix me lunches: homemade sandwiches, heated and sliced down the middle. He was also organized. Everything had to be exactly where it had to be and no.where.else.

One might reasonably guess him to be an athlete. Slim and toned. Tall. Six feet to my five four. He was “high yella” with hazel-green eyes and a disarming smile. His skin betrayed a heritage he’d just as soon ignore. Who wants to look in the mirror only to be reminded his ancestors were raped? He volunteered with African-themed youth programs. Wanted to do more of that. Planned to develop and implement his own curriculum. Maybe create an organization.

We were together until we weren’t. A few months? Maybe up to a year. I loved him (I can admit it now), but there was always something. I didn’t have the language to articulate how I felt. Usually he was sunshine. But at times he’d be haloed by clouds. After weeks of joy, we were suddenly weighed down by a heaviness I couldn’t name. I felt it, but I couldn’t exactly see it.

This is difficult. I’m trying to share a tongue twister with my mouth full of peanut butter. Words, thoughts, memories mushed. Stuck together. Stalactites in the roof of my mouth. I’ll keep trying.

I knew I couldn’t help him with it. Hell, I didn’t even know what “it” was. He acknowledged it was something. Wished he could explain. Wished I could help. It was an abstract painting in a poorly lit room. We both wondered, what was that? What did it mean? Just a blur of confusing colors splattered on a canvas.

And it was over. And I graduated. Moved back home to Atlanta. He wrote letters from time to time. Signed in his distinctive way…

I returned one weekend and reached out to him. A laughing voice invited me to dinner. The conversation was all smiles, except for his comparison to his brother. Light-hearted jokes, until the admission of overspending to impress his mother. He said he was happy. Or trying to be. He’d suffered a recent heartache. The new girlfriend had complained about the clouds, the heaviness. It remained nameless. I’m working on it. I see it’s really a problem. Still no words for what “it” was. I assumed “it” was feeling as though he were not enough. Always competing. Always wishing he were richer. Darker. Something.

He was weeks away from finishing his degree. Over dinner, we discussed his next steps. Maybe he’d come to Atlanta. Maybe we’d reconcile.

Maybe.

He seemed somehow different that night. Needy? Open? Please don’t leave. If only you understood. I wish I could explain. Just stay. Yet somehow the same. Still warm. I’ll run your bath water for you. Still distractingly meticulous. I don’t want this to hang here. I’ll fold it and move it there.

He cooked breakfast before I departed in the morning. He had insisted. I thought I’d see him again soon. He was weeks away from finishing his degree. Maybe he’d come to Atlanta. Maybe we’d reconcile.

His frat brother called. Do you know K? I frowned at the complete ridiculousness of the question. Of course. I was just with him two days ago. Irritated with this beginning, I neglected to register concern about the call.

He’s dead. They said it was suicide. Gunshot wound to the head.

I stammered a response before I hung up. Spent the next several days in shock. Couldn’t sleep alone. Confused. Muddled. Peanut butter for brains. Tears.

I wish I knew what transpired in the intervening hours. He died the day I saw him last. He was weeks away from finishing his degree. Maybe he’d come to Atlanta. Maybe we’d reconcile.

I write this because I didn’t know. I didn’t have patience for what I didn’t understand. I couldn’t explain. I didn’t have the language. I just knew it was something. I don’t know what, if anything, I could have done differently. Not the last day of his life, nor the year before. But maybe, by contributing my remembrances, it may trigger someone to wonder. To dig deeper. To recognize. To seek help.

I am Nicole D. Collier, and I have #NoShame.


Writing Publicly

Personal Narrative, Writer's Craft

One of my goals/determinations for 2012 is to write and publish meaningful, well-received pieces. My first one (yay!) is linked below. I had the pleasure of working with a brilliant editor, Kelly Virella, and I’m deeply appreciative of her guidance and wisdom. I hope to write many more personal essays, advocacy pieces, and other works throughout 2012. Here’s to the first one!

Mama’s voicemail sounded an alarm. “I’m not feeling well. Call me back.” I returned her call right away. No answer. Heart pounding, eyebrows raised, I left a message in return, chiding her for scaring me by leaving mysterious messages and then refusing to answer the phone. In my nearly 30 years of life, I’d never heard her say anything so ominous.

Minutes later, I headed to our rendezvous point – the emergency room. She’d enlisted a neighbor to drive her and she’d arrive shortly. “I don’t have a good feeling about this,” I told my best friend’s voicemail. “I don’t think this is going to turn out well.”

Keep reading…

Wounding. A 20-year lesson.

Personal Narrative, Sexual Violence

A thief made off with a prized possession
Me
Snatched from sacred promises of love everlasting
Held hostage
Imprisoned
A cage of my own hand
Tortured
by hurt invisible,
choking out life, love

Twenty years I spent
Captive to that pain
Yet blind
Ignorant of my own walls
Fences

Wondering why you couldn’t reach me
Wouldn’t reach out to me
Feel me
Know me

None had eyes for well-hidden pain
Buried
And I with it
Trapped
Cowering behind a guarded heart
Safe
From you

Wishes escaped on wings of prayers
Floating beyond boundaries
of consciousness
Sneaking through cracks
Disguised as discarded hopes
Rising above barriers
Taking flight
A call
A song
in my key
Imprisoned heart unlocked
Responding
Wishes as balm
As pathway to freedom
Story as star
Illuminating the road home

Love

Moms and May

Personal Narrative

A friend’s tweet about his mother’s passing triggered memories of my own. It feels selfish to talk about it, but I’m owning my need to write, so I am writing. I’m also challenging my fear of sharing, so I am sharing.

Mother’s Day does not bother me too much. My mom’s birthday does not either. Even Memorial Day weekend, the anniversary of her passing, doesn’t make me feel any kind of way. Rather it’s random things that make me think about her, feel her, miss her. Sometimes it’s a song, a picture, a saying… today it was a tweet.

Ours was an interesting relationship to say the least. By the time she died we had learned to express our love for each other in productive and traditional ways. We made it through the tumultuous years when I was filled with rage toward her most of the time. Genuine rage, even when I wanted desperately to feel otherwise.

These memories – snapshots of our complicated relationship – these are the things I’m exploring these days. When I mention writing as inquiry, or truth-telling, I’m talking about writing to understand why couldn’t we say I love you to each other. Why did I threaten her with bodily harm? Why did I think horrendous thoughts about her in the dead of night and how did we get past it? Why didn’t I hug or kiss her the times I wanted to? And why did distance, space, time, and indeed my writing, bring us closer?

We had a happy ending, but was it luck? Or the lesson I needed to learn in this lifetime? Or?

When the doctor announced she was brain dead, I was immediately grateful for the healing that had taken place between us. I was elated that rather than “stuff” for Mother’s Day just a couple of weeks earlier, I had given her laughter and time and love.

My mother was pretty fabulous in a million ways, but I can’t act as if our past didn’t exist. All of it – the good, the bad, and the truly ugly. On days like today, I swallow the lump in my throat and write, and think, and feel.  And I miss her, and I love her and I wonder…

They Will Find You

Personal Narrative

be still and let them find you/they will come when they are ready ~ruth foreman

So says Ruth in a poem featured in Flat-Footed Truths: Writing Black Women’s Lives. She is talking about your words, your stories. They come to you and through you at the anointed, appointed time. I am finding this to be true in my own life. It has been quite an evolution really – moving from wanting to write my life to becoming ready to actually do it.

The more I read from women who are unabashedly unafraid to narrate their lives, the more I feel the urge to do the same. This has gone through various manifestations over the past two decades:

  • I want to be a writer!
  • I should write, but I have nothing to say. (This one for 10 years).
  • I have things to say, but to whom?
  • I should write, just because…who cares who reads it?
  • I’m afraid to write.
  • I need to write to explore, inquire, and grow. (But I’m still afraid to write…).

This last place is my present positioning. I am beginning to view writing as a tool of understanding and simultaneously as a tool of empowerment. As we write, we have the opportunity to reflect, but also the chance to rewrite our trajectories. As we write the past and the present, we have the opportunity to also write our futures.

We have a say. Writing gives voice to thoughts and makes them visible. In their visibility they become tangible: A memory becomes a guiding light. An amorphous thought becomes a pathway, a next step. It becomes something I can touch and do. Through writing, thoughts can become action.

I found myself reading Audre Lorde, Anaïs Nin, and literally breathing in their words. They refresh me; quench a thirst I wasn’t sure existed. Why? Because they are me, only they are brave. They write about the complexities of their lives, being honest and open about things others of us would rather keep secret. They hold uncomfortable memories up to the light, turn them round and round and draw the truth out, painful (or joyful) though it may be.

When I read their words I always have to journal or jot down the memories I’ve pushed away. The secrets I’ve kept hidden. The lessons I’ve left unlearned or unchallenged. Reading their bravery pushes me closer to my own.

In 2011, I am fearless. And so it goes, one word, one page at a time.

be still and let them find you/they will come when they are ready ~ruth foreman

The Danger of the Single Story

Personal Narrative

I really appreciate Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk: The Danger of the Single Story. She reminds us that we are all “vulnerable in the face of a story.” The lesson is that we should realize there is always more to the story or that there are other stories not represented in what we assume to be true.

We assume we understand a relationship because we’ve heard all the stories from our friend’s point of view. But that collection of stories is still a single story. It is the single view of a given situation (further, only as it is narrated by one person). And that story isn’t a permanent one as the situation or the persons in it change over time.

The same is true with our own lives. The overarching story of us, the story we tell (or understand) about ourself, is often grounded in other single stories or assumptions. This is limiting. And it’s quite possible we can never get the “whole story” as it were, but I think we can always strive to move beyond our narrow conceptions of reality through our grasp of single stories by seeking to understand (and write) other stories.

So here’s to realizing the danger of the single story, and to striving toward a broader reading of life: