200 pages down.

30 Day Blog Challenge

I’m 2/3s of the way done with Pearl’s book. I’ve been on a first name basis with her since I began this journey.

parchment-23662_640Reading it makes me wonder how much wisdom gets lost because women don’t share their most intimate thoughts? Either aloud or in writing? Many of us live our lives, and simply figure out the hard shit as we go along.

Some read the self-help gurus say, and I’m sure there’s plenty of insight to be gained by doing so. Others bond and grow through occasional talks with a close friend.

But how many of us engage in a systematic effort to document (your real) life and the lessons it teaches you? Either for your own reflection and edification or for the express purpose of passing it on? If we are not the keepers of our stories, who should be? When our stories fade, our wit and wisdom fade also.

I’ve written before about questions I’d love to ask but can’t. There’s also this about the importance of family narrative. There’s so much learning to be gained in the living of life, yes, and eve more so in the telling and retelling of it.

Do you document your life? Why or why not? How do you or how would you if you started today?

Truth or dare

30 Day Blog Challenge, Personal Narrative

From Joshunda’s interview with Pearl Cleage:

A dual history of bias and internalized oppression has kept most black women from publishing their memoirs or journals, Cleage adds, for fear of emotional and economic reprisals. “After slavery ended, black women continued to put forward the idea that we were good, sexually responsible women, going up against the racist stereotypes that came out of the madness of slavery,” Cleage says. “But there was still the fear of being too honest around white people. I don’t feel that’s a legitimate feeling for me. I’m going to tell the truth to whoever is in the room.”

When I read truth, I feel courageous and emboldened. Powerful. Magical. Writing the truth, however, is altogether different. But when I do, that’s when folks nod. Say, I felt that. I needed that. I never knew that. Amen.

From Joshunda: Cleage says she drew her inspiration for the book from the diaries of Anaïs Nin, which she found liberating and inspirational, much like the work of Walker and Shange. 

Sounds familiar.  Truth is hard to come by in the pages of books, although I must admit I wasn’t exactly searching for it as a younger woman. Discovering it, though, was quite a revelation. Filling. There was that magic, that power I didn’t know I sought. Reading it encouraged me to write it, yet in the beginning I found it hard to lay truths on the page. They were there, but buried. Hidden in metaphor and verse. Rarely plainspoken and clear.

It’s less hard now. But this doesn’t mean easy.

It’s also slow at times, truth-telling is. Because there’s this contextualizing you have to do. Background building. Setting the stage and what have you.

And then there’s the crafting. Are you conveying what you really mean to say? Who might be hurt? Who might feel misrepresented? Are you true to you?

I did not want to be the traitor,  the teller of family secrets – and yet I wanted to be a writer. ~bell hooks

Once you’ve framed it and crafted it, then there’s the time set aside for doubting. Is it too much? Who are you to give voice to this experience? And on it goes.

Until finally you shout, or whisper, “Me, dammit! It’s my truth. I’m telling it!” And you press send or publish as the case may be, and try to move on to the next thing without agonizing so much on the last thing.

And perhaps over time it gets easier. I dunno.

I do know it’s always a digging in. A meditation. A labor of love. Truth-telling is.

It’s freeing for truth and for the one who told it.

It’s difficult. But perhaps no more difficult than any other act of love.

The Drum at the Gate of Thunder and other gosho to women

30 Day Blog Challenge, 30 in 30 April

One of my projects-in-progress is a review of Nichiren Daishonin’s gosho to women. Nichiren was a Buddhist monk who came of age in 13th century Japan, and a gosho is an honorable writing (go is an honorific prefix and sho means writings).

Nichiren wrote many letters and treatises in his lifetime, and the extant among them were translated and published with background about the recipient when it was known. English versions of his writings are in two volumes published by the Soka Gakkai International: Writings of Nichiren Daishonin Vol 1 and Vol 2.

lotus-150693_640Over the course of several years, I read all of the writings in volume 1 in chronological order. I thought it would be an interesting project to reread them in a new way, through a different lens. For instance, I know some people who have undertaken the study of all writings to Shijo Kingo, a samurai and physician, and arguably one of Nichiren’s greatest disciples.

What can you learn about the practice of Buddhism and finding happiness in this world viewed through Nichiren’s encouragement to this one man? He received quite a few letters, and through them we learn about mastering your anger (Kingo has a famous temper); doing your best at work, even when your co-workers gossip about you (Kingo served Lord Ema and almost lost his estate due to this very thing); the importance of perseverance, and other timeless lessons.

A woman who embraces the lion king of the Lotus Sutra never fears any of the beasts of hell or of the realms of hungry spirits and animals.  ~Nichiren, The Drum at the Gate of Thunder

At a time and place when women were considered inferior to men, and indeed, were sometimes thought incapable of attaining enlightenment at all without first being reborn as men, Nichiren was decidedly more feminist. Basing his teachings on the Lotus Sutra, which celebrates the limitless potential inherent in all living beings, Nichiren praised women for their steadfast faith, and encouraged them with the same life-affirming wisdom he shared with men of the time.

All of the offenses committed by a woman in her lifetime are like dry grass, and the single character myo of the Lotus Sutra is like a small spark. When a small spark is set to a large expanse of grass, not only the grass but also the big trees and large stones will all be consumed. Such is the power of fire of wisdom in the single character myo. Not only will all offenses vanish but they will become sources of benefit. ~Nichiren, The Drum at the Gate of Thunder

Today I read The Drum at the Gate of Thunder, written to the lay nun Sennichi. This gosho is one of 46 written to women included in volume 1. Some women received multiple letters – Sennichi received five as did Shijo Kingo’s wife, Nichigen-nyo. I may share some of my notes as I work through the gosho.

Someday let us meet at Eagle Peak, where Shakyamuni Buddha dwells. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. With my deep respect, Nichiren. ~Nichiren, The Drum at the Gate of Thunder

 

The magic of “and”

30 Day Blog Challenge, 30 in 30 April

People are binary thinkers. They revel in the use of or.

  • You can be smart or you can be popular.
  • You can be a tall woman or you can be pretty.
  • You can be masculine or you can be a good parent.

It’s ridiculous to consider these things mutually exclusive, although some people do. And if we think about it, we can easily access counterexamples which prove “and” is possible in these instances.

I enjoyed this article by Katy Brand. In it, she addresses sexism and the people who sometimes unwittingly perpetuate it (including a man she once dated). She opens with a vignette about a wedding toast, and closes with a nod to Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the main subject of the piece:

Much has been made of Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s fantastic response to opposition leader Tony Abbott when he rather ironically accused her of defending sexism in the government. If you haven’t read it, please do.

She brought up good points, but I think she undermined them when she wrote, albeit tongue-in-cheek:

So I say balls to femininity – I want to grow a pair as big as Gillard’s.

I don’t think it helps the cause of feminism (the movement to end sexist oppression) to affix male-centered traits to a woman resisting sexism and misogyny.  In her piece, Brand explains the challenges of femininity,  but it would’ve been more in line with her point to say women can be feminine and {insert amazing things often excluded from the feminine label}.

The PM can have a “magnificent rant” and we can applaud her without noting the “balls” it took to do it.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard speaks her mind with authority!
Prime Minister Julia Gillard speaks her mind with authority!

I’ve seen the rant. (You want to see it, too). It truly is magnificent. And because she’s standing face to face with the very leader she rebukes, while a room full of people look on, one might also call her gutsy or brave.

Because she remains undaunted while Abbot smirks and laughs in response, you might say she was steadfast.

The PM backed up her assertions with direct quotes from Abbot’s record, so her rant was well-reasoned and  clear-minded.

She minced no words. She pulled no punches. She was fierce and direct.

Really she was awesome, and I was inspired that she fought back.

I did not see balls. I did see a feminine woman AND I saw bravery and rationality and a badass speech.

The magic of “and.”

Freedom Fighters

Feminist Thought, Politics, News & Notable

Freedom fighting, creation and imagination my favorite topics to mull. Last night I was  awake past my bedtime, and a trip down the rabbit hole known as the Internet led me to this great find.

It’s a podcast in two main parts. The first features Angela Davis and Grace Lee Boggs speaking at the Empowering Women of Color Conference. The second features an excerpt from Daniel Rasmussen’s book, American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt.

The cast is from 2012, but conversations about freedom are always timely.

Shout out to Renina Jarmon for the recommendation.

My Lover Kissed My Belly

Feminist Thought, Personal Narrative, Women's Health

I wrote a piece for the Body Narratives, a project founded and curated by Hana Riaz. The project creates space for women of color to reclaim and share their experiences. It’s a beautiful platform, and I’m honored to have a piece included in this body of work.

Here’s Hana’s introduction:

Our bodies are often physically and emotionally tied, and yet the disconnect experienced, the gap between the two can often seem overwhelming, painful, difficult. In this moving and deeply honest piece, nicole d. collier talks about living with fibroids and the body as a site of trauma.

Read the piece here.

At dusk, I’m thinking

Feminist Thought, Politics, News & Notable

It’s Wednesday and the sun is setting. I’m enduring a rare headache. It has not drowned in water nor drifted away in sleep, despite my best efforts. I guess it’s here to stay a bit. I’m due to stay up this evening and watch American Horror Story. I’m not normally a night owl, but I’m doing it this one time in solidarity with Sojo and Ms. Smart so we can do one of these. Just this one time though…

I’m thinking about compassionate capitalism. I imagine such a thing exists. I want you to imagine it, too. I aim to find it, and write about it, as to expand our understanding about what’s possible in a loving society. 

I’m thinking about practitioners of restorative justice, especially those in Georgia or in the south. I want to know more about what they do and what impact it has in their respective communities. I want to interview them and document their stories. 

I’m thinking about abolitionists. Those who would abolish the death penalty as well as those who would dismantle the prison-industrial complex. Although some states still murder prisoners, others are slowing and/or stopping the practice.  Meanwhile, budget cuts are forcing states to question caging as the default response to nonconforming behavior. In many states it costs more per year than college tuition. With no restoration and no education. Just revenge. I want less revenge. More evolution. More solutions. More healing. More love.

I’m pondering the ways these elements are interwoven. And the fact that any discussion of these ideas must eventually include public schooling… from the zero tolerance policies leading to the school to prison pipeline, to the capitalist ideals underpinning school policy and curriculum.

Things I’m thinking about this Wednesday evening. What’s on your mind?

Spelman’s Wellness Revolution: Let it roll!

30 Day Blog Challenge

There are quite a few 18-year-olds walking around Spelman College in 40-year-old bodies. This and similar data pointing to a culture of “wellness illiteracy” helped Spelman President Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum launch a Wellness Revolution.

Dr. Tatum spoke at the 3rd Annual Black Women’s Life Balance and Wellness Conference on September 14-15, 2013. She opened with the story of a Spelman graduate turned lecturer who died at the age of 34. She was well on her way professionally, but her life came to an untimely end due to obesity related complications. Dr. Tatum then linked this experience of a former student with the lives of her current students.

As entering freshmen enroll, the health center collects medical and wellness statistics so they will be prepared to meet their needs. About half the women in the class of 2016 were found to have chronic diseases such as hypertension and Type II diabetes.

When the class of 2017 enrolled, similar statistics were gathered. These women were also weighed on a scale that computes body age as well as weight and fat. That’s when she discovered that many of the teenagers were living in bodies double their chronological age.

Dr. Tatum considered the purpose and mission of many HBCUs, and the milieu during which they were founded. Black illiteracy was extremely high, and it was the early graduates of many of these institutions, including Spelman, who helped increase the literacy rate among Black Americans in very short order. She felt the problem of wellness could be framed similarly – as an issue of illiteracy about how to design a healthy lifestyle. She reasoned, if she could help influence the health and wellness choices of the 2000 young women on her campus, they could go out into the world and be activists and change agents for wellness.

Using funding previously allotted for NCAA programming, she has enhanced Spelman’s focus on wellness. She felt it was important to focus on sports and fitness avenues career women were likely to undertake. (Shameless plug here: Rashan Ali’s Sporty Girls is a great nonprofit for younger girls in metro Atlanta interested in non traditional sports.)

Dr. Tatum masterminded and actively participates in Spelman Wellness. She encourages 30 minutes of exercise each day, and checks in with students as she sees them on campus. Just as she holds them accountable, they do the same in return. She’s proud to be able to say “Yes!” when the ladies ask her if she’s moved today.  She closed by sharing footage from the first Spelman Founders Day 5k.  Enjoy it, and remember:

Other ways to serve

30 Day Blog Challenge, Politics, News & Notable

Prompt from BlogHer NaBloPoMo:

Would you ever want to run for public office? Why or why not?

No, I don’t have interest in holding public office, much less going through the stress of running. That being said, I am interested in politics and I would consider being more involved in the political process if the opportunity arose. It’s been on my mind a lot lately:

My tweets mention local politics in particular, but I believe smart, progressive women need a voice at all levels.  You can’t get to those larger platforms without standing on smaller stages first, and quite a lot of important decisions are made at the state and local level.

As for my involvement, there are a few things I would consider, albeit behind-the-scenes.  To begin with, I would compile research for key issues, conduct briefings, or write speeches within my areas of expertise.  I also think it’s important to contribute to the broader discourse on complex societal issues. To that end, I would like to work for a think tank, or design and/or conduct research. I want to understand and amplify stories that are often marginalized, and help those who would most benefit from forward thinking, heart-centered policies.

Although I have no intentions of throwing my hat in any rings, I will look for ways I can help create a more loving society.

NaBloPoMo September 2013

…but how do you want to feel?

30 Day Blog Challenge, Personal Narrative, Productivity, Temple Building, Women's Health

I’m home, after a day of inspiration. And like I’ve been for the past few months, I’m tired. I’m not bone tired or weary, but I’ve just noticed that I’m not as energized as I used to be. There are many very specific reasons for that, but they all boil down to one: change.

One day after work, I did handstands and cartwheels in this grass.
One day after work, I did handstands and cartwheels in this grass.

Over the past several months, I’ve changed a lot and so has my environment. From my zip code to my job responsibilities, to aspects of romantic and platonic relationships.

Personal goals and professional goals have shifted. Exercise habits have changed. Food. The amount of time I spend in the sun or the ways I engage nature. The amount and type of sleep I get. It’s all been one massive ball of change.

Some changes have been on purpose, and others were the result of circumstances. But it still amounts to the same thing: a whole lot is different right now.

It reminds me of the time I was a classroom teacher. At the beginning of every year, I started routines and rituals. I got to know my students, and in some cases new curriculum, new materials, new administrators, and/or new colleagues. All I could do was work my heart out each day and come home and sleep. And sleep.

Sometimes, at the start of school, I’d be asleep well before sunset (not kidding) and I wouldn’t move until daybreak. And that would go on maybe two or three weeks.  Suddenly, I’d get in the swing of things. I’d be on it. Everything would run smoothly at work, and I’d have plenty of energy to plan ahead, or dance, or date, or take classes, or whatever.

But it always took time. And even though it happened every year like clockwork, I had to be gentle with myself, and do what I needed to do to reach a state of equilibrium with my surroundings.

Except for exercise choices, which are primarily seasonal, my recent changes have not been cyclical. They’ve been positive, yet progressive and persistent. One month after another, there’s been a new spin on things. And I haven’t been very good at stopping to reflect. To do the inner work to harmonize fully with all aspects of my life.

Today’s keynote speaker, Akilah Richards, asked us to consider,

…but how do you want to feel?

And I took the time to sit with that this morning. I journaled about it. I sat in the sunshine. I mulled. I want to feel energized and accomplished. Cheerful. Not superficially, or for a few hours in the morning, but I want these feelings to pervade my day and influence my environment.

At the core I want to BE energy and BE productivity and BE good cheer. I’ve felt that way before. I’ve been those things before. I know how to be that person.  I’ll learn how to be those things again, in my new place and under my new conditions.

Clarity is a critical first step.

Mindful action will be the second.

Stay tuned.