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:
Motivated by Sojo, I’m considering participating in Diva in Demand’s 30 Day Challenge. Don’t get it twisted – I have no delusions that I will write 30 days in a row, but I will work through the 30 entries suggested. The problem however, is this first entry. What to say? What to write? I really am hard pressed to share anything new or novel, so I’ll share my I Am From poem, written in class one night a few years ago.
i am from nappy hair being straightened in the kitchen
i am from the middle class
i am from weekly visits to the library, and summers in savannah
i am from running through the water sprinkler and laughing with cousins
i am from heart break – parents who loved me, loved cards, and loved a good joke
i am from grandfathers who went to college
i am from high expectations
i am from all black schools with all black teachers
i am from scrabble and monopoly, the cosby show and a different world
i am from opinionated family members
i am from shyness and introspection
i am from listening and observing
i am from writing
i am from loud music on saturday mornings – the temptations, the four tops, and studio 54
i am from track, spanish, band, cheerleading, and dance after school
i am from marshmallows in the fireplace and blinking lights on christmas trees
The official record states May 25, 2003 as the date of death, but I know the truth. My mother took her last breath on May 24th after a heart attack earlier in the day. They thought she would make a full recovery. Doctors admitted her for a couple of days, you know, just for observation. I sat by her bedside that evening as she was supposedly sleeping, but even then I believed she had already slipped into a coma. I chanted nam-myoho-renge-kyo softly. A nurse overheard me and peeped in the room to ask what I was doing.
“I’ve heard of that,” she said. “Tell me more about it.” Just then, my mother sighed, her eyes opened, and the machine monitoring her vitals went haywire with falling digits. The nurse, unsurprisingly concerned about this turn of events, asked me out of the room and quickly urged others inside. I heard an unfamiliar voice announce code blue on the speaker. They were talking about my mother, I thought. I burst into tears. Afraid. Alone.
No one was in the hospital with me that day. My mother had insisted she was fine and didn’t want to needlessly stress anyone. I had told only a couple of friends but she was laughing and alert at the time. I’d told my dad, calming him down when he expressed too much concern. After all, everything was fine. She was admitted, but it was routine, I had told him.
A woman I’d never seen stopped me in the hall. Are you okay? She was worried I would hyperventilate because of the gasping. I mumbled something about my mother coding and miraculously found my way to a phone.
I called my father, barely able to get the words out. My mother stopped breathing, I managed to choke out. Twice, since he couldn’t understand me the first time. He assured me he was on the way. I sat in silence. Crying. Alone. I thought to myself over and over again, I’m all alone. I’m all alone. I’m all alone. I mourned for the husband who didn’t yet exist. For the best friend I couldn’t reach. For anyone who would be there with me so I wouldn’t be. So. Alone. I remember vowing at the moment, I would not be alone any more. I didn’t have to be, I reasoned. There are people who love me. I just need to connect. To reach out.
That was seven years ago. I think about that moment today because I am anything but alone. I just left my family reunion…I was able to see branches of my family I never knew about and recognize my ancestors’ faces in cousins from all over the country. I paid for nothing – not registration, not traveling, not even coffee and treats while I was there. My family took care of me. All I had to do was reach out and go.
Leaving the closing dinner, I felt full. Loved. People told me they were proud of me and loved me; that my parents would be so proud of me. They encouraged me to continue my journey to finish my PhD and then do whatever I was called to do next. They hugged me tight and long, and kissed me over and over again, wishing me well. Some of them have known one or both of my parents for as long as 40, 50 and in some cases 60 years, and they loved me on their behalf.
I don’t know how or why my life was in such a place as to feel so removed from love, but it was an illusion. The love is always present. It always has been, and it always will be. I was never truly disconnected from spirit, from love. It was up to me to seek it. And in so doing, I found what was always there.
I “happened” to be at the right place and time when I heard this question was posed. It’s not the first time I’ve heard it, although it was the first time in a while. It had the same impact it always does. It unsettled me.
When I hear that question I immediately feel a vibration. Tension. Something that lets me know I’m not quite in alignment. There’s something I should be doing, but I’m not. I always brush it off. Avoid it. Continue with whatever I was doing at the moment. Last night was no different, although I did eventually think about that question today. More on my answer in a minute.
As for the question, a friend seemed to think it’s all about fear. In other words the question really is: What would you do if you weren’t afraid to fail? But after some reflection, I’m not sure that’s all there is to it. The question I think is really: What would you be doing if you were living your divine purpose? If you were doing the exact perfect thing that only you can do? If you were contributing to the world exactly what you were born to contribute (and therefore could. not. fail.), what would it be? If there were ZERO chance of failure in an endeavor, what would you do?
When I consider the question from a standpoint of fear or avoidance – what am I scared to do because I might suck at it – the quick and obvious answer usually comes back as something related to creative writing. But when I think about it from the standpoint of purpose, I’m actually not so sure. I’m realizing that all of my talents and interests, although seemingly unrelated, all fit together in a perfect tapestry. I’ve spent so many years complaining I was a jack of all trades and a master of none, that I’ve never considered how they all complement each other.
I’m coming to understand, and I think deep down some part of me knows the answer, but I’ve never been still enough long enough to discover it. My work now is to really figure out the true answer to the question, and then actually do it. After all, failure really isn’t an option, but I at least have to get started, no?
Although my mother didn’t do this knowingly, I am named for the Goddess of Victory. And in fact, my name and my mother’s name both mean Victory, or Victorious One, or Victory of the People. The victory part, I always got. This goddess thing is new. And serious.
A little background is in order…At the end of last year I found myself wanting to bring in the new year with some kind of serious spiritual reflection. I usually chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo on New Year’s Eve with the intention of empowering my goals for the new year, but this year I wanted to step it up. After much stalling mulling, I realized I wanted to do an extended program of sorts, kind of like the ones Sojo does. And thus was born my 60 day plan: Rebirth: A Celebration of the Divine.
That program is a post all onto itself, but I want to make it clear – doing it was the start of a new life – a new me. One of the tangible outcomes? I’m embracing my role as a reiki channel of divine energy. One of the intangible, but more important outcomes? I’m open to receiving love and guidance that deepens my connection to this mystic universe.
Today’s post is a testament to that. In the past week, I have started to read about and think about the divine feminine. I’m getting visions of peacocks and explosions of (what must be divine) energy, and urges to just BE. Be beautiful. Be sexy. Be powerful. Be FULLY ME.
Thinking about the divine feminine has stirred something in me. It feels important. Exciting. This idea of powerful, creative, sensualness – this is what is totally moving me today. I wanna be somewhere in a bath with oranges and honey, rose petals and cinnamon, and candles. I wanna be strolling in the world, fierce in power, confident in word.
That’s where I am today – all up in that. No, I don’t wanna be worshipped, but I do want people to respond to my power. I want other women to embrace theirs as well. I want to more fully awaken this divinity within me. She is truly a goddess. But she feels neglected. Silent. Quiet. Shy. She wants to be nurtured. Loved. Open. Alive.
Today I write because I FEEL her stirring. It’s deep. Exciting. It translates as sexual energy, but it’s not about sex at all. It’s about SENSUAL in every possible sense.
It is divine. It is feminine. It is ME. She wants nothing more than to more fully express herself. So to the world I say, watch out.
Yesterday I really had the blues. I’m still not quite sure why. I felt like a visit to the ocean was in order, even though it was a cloudy, rainy day. It was also a pretty cool day…very unlike the high 90s we’ve experienced lately. Still, water beckoned and I went.
A wedding was just ending, but I wasn’t in the mood to scope out the happy couple or offer fake smiles to the guests, so I drove past my usual spot and parked a tad further up the lot. I snatched an area pretty close to the water and sat down. And listened.
I started to journal just in time for raindrops to fall. I looked up at the sky asking the clouds if they were serious? I mean they appeared to be breaking up and yet here were the drops, threatening to ruin my journal.
No one around me seemed phased by the drops – which didn’t phase me in the morning as I ran in them. I embraced the rain just a few hours earlier, but sitting, trying to commune with the ocean, I was on the edge of annoyance, willing it to stop. I wasn’t happy about the idea of retreating to my car to sit out weather, but no one moved, so I held firm too. That is, until I had the overwhelming urge to go stand in the water. Really it was more of a command. As I sat there trying to talk myself out of it, I suddenly popped up and found myself heading to the shore. As soon as I stood there, I knew it was the right thing to do. The tide was coming in, and as I waded in a bit, the waves started splashing higher and higher up my legs and thighs.
I knew I had to go to the car and break out the emergency swimsuit. I returned to the water just in time for the rain to stop. I alternated sitting and standing, as the waves also alternated crashing down or gently rolling in. Twenty minutes in the water, and I was as good as new. I let the salt water take those blues away and fill me up with determination to keep moving forward. And more importantly with the fortitude to remain open, as my spirit guides keep reminding me to do.
After my romp in the water, I sat back down in my chair, enjoying the sunset. The clouds broke apart to show off the gold, orange and pink rays, and even exposed a hint of blue sky for the first time in what seemed to be a week. The sunset was literally the brightest moment all day. I came home feeling like myself, grateful for the simple magic of the elements.
I hate it. I’m ALMOST finished with my degree. It’s ALMOST time to move. I ALMOST have an idea of my next steps. But nothing is clear, or in focus. Nothing is right now. Or at least, that’s how I feel about it today.
For the past several months this has been perfectly acceptable. Today, it makes me sad. I’m confused. On the one hand, I’m more open than I’ve ever been in life – I’m looking inside and around my life to understand my divine gifts and divine purpose. I’m starting to embrace the fact that maybe (maybe) I’m a healer, and can be a channel of healing for people in the world. I’m starting to consider the fact that maybe (maybe) my teaching is not really about K-12 or K-16, but about communities and families and life beyond traditional school/higher ed boundaries.
But all of this is in the budding stages. And rather than be excited or happy about it, I’m sad. Confused. Seeking clarity. Begrudging the not knowing. Today there are no skittles or rainbows or bright lights. Today there are tears, and inward looking, and silence.
Yesterday, this tweet touched me: “Amiri Baraka said that writers don’t write because they want to, they do it because they have to. It’s like breathing.”
That tweet broke my heart because it’s true. And it’s no longer true of me. All my life I wanted to be a writer. I always pushed it to the back, planned to cultivate it later, etc. But now, I miss that person – the writer who almost was. I’m in mourning about it. A friend of mine said it’s probably a good thing – meaning maybe it’s time for the writer to reemerge. I suppose.
I just know a part of me is missing and I don’t know how to get her back. Or when I can even really try.
I was sleeping. I normally don’t dream or at least don’t usually have memories of dreams. This night was no different. It was maybe a year or so after my mother died. In any event, I was sleeping. Soundly. Suddenly, I woke up with this idea. It wasn’t an idea I wanted to have. It wasn’t an idea I had been mulling or chewing on. It was an idea that showed up, fully formed, in my consciousness. It demanded I wake up and write it down.
Efforts to ignore it and go back to sleep were wholly ineffective. It came with its own adrenaline rush and there was no pushing it off for the sake of shut eye. So there I was, in my office, trying to capture this idea that didn’t come from me, but was certainly coming through me. I remember feeling desperate to get it all down. And when it was all typed out, I felt as if I had just given birth. Having never actually birthed a human, I can’t be sure, but that’s about the closest I can get to describing it.
I knew at that moment I did not have the resources to make this idea a reality (yet). I thought then that it was at least 5 or 10 years in the making. I went on with life, not giving much thought to the idea.
This was around 2004 or 2005.
Since then, every two or three years, the idea gently resurfaces, as if to remind me it still exists. But earlier this year when it resurfaced, it was LOUD and demanding! Some aspects of it had changed, and it wanted me to know. I’m talking about it as though it has a life of its own. It does.
I felt scared because it seemed as if the time was getting closer to bring it from the world of the formlessness into the world of form, but I’m. Not. Ready. At least so I feel. Felt. Feel? I don’t know. It felt urgent. Like hurry up! Interestingly, there are still many pieces I don’t possess. But recently I realized that’s okay. Since I need help, I’ve now asked for it. I’m praying to meet a mentor who can help me. And I know that if I am truly a vessel for this, as it seems I may be, the path will be illuminated if I will just start walking.
My dad was easygoing. He was one of those people who always said, “Don’t give me gifts! Just be a good girl!” or “Just be happy.” And he actually meant that. Stuff was cool, but peace was better.
My mom on the other hand? She wanted STUFF. Flowers, jewelry, gadgets, whatever. Just make sure you got her STUFF. Preferably, wrapped goodies she could shake and pinch and guess about, then unwrap, ooh and ahh about. Me being the (sometimes) good daughter, I’d shop, and wrap and give her stuff for Mother’s Day. We’d also go have brunch somewhere that required reservations and stockings. Such was our tradition leading up to 2003.
But that year, I wasn’t feeling it. I called her up and suggested a movie instead, fully prepared for her to laugh me off the phone and ask what time I was picking her up for brunch. Instead she readily agreed.
We ended up seeing Bringing Down the House, the silly movie with Queen Latifah and Steve Martin. She laughed so hard during that movie, I remember being glad no one could see us in the darkened theater. She laughed from beginning to end, and all I could do was snicker and shake my head.
Afterward we had a late lunch at Applebees. We ate well and then ordered a dessert we’d normally never get. Some kind of cinnamon crisp, apple something or other that was surprisingly delicious. More laughter, although I can’t recall what on earth we talked about. She was glad we broke “tradition” and didn’t seem to mind that she didn’t get stuff, but laughter and smiles instead.
Two short weeks later, Memorial Day weekend, she was dead. A brain hemorrhage, a result of the clot buster doctors gave her to stop her heart attack, was the culprit.
Shock and devastation inadequately express my emotions at that time, but I remember being so glad we shared that time and laughter, rather than stuff. I was especially glad because my mother and I did not always get along. Especially during my teenage years. There were many ugly moments that I’m sometimes embarrassed or sad to admit we had. I remember being grateful we had the time to work through our shit (because that’s what it was) before she died.
When she first died I tried to whitewash those bad memories – pretend they weren’t as bad as they were. I cursed her. I yelled at her. At times I hated her. But I realized it was wrong to try to wipe that away. It happened. It was us. And we made it through to the other side.
They really made me appreciate our laughter so much more – those ugly years. It’s the totality of our experience together that makes me a better person. A better daughter. And hopefully, when I am so blessed, a better mother.