Who presents this bride?

Personal Narrative

Today makes eight.

For years I went to bed early. As an elementary school teacher, I had an extensive morning routine involving exercise, prayer, and a 30-minute commute. I arrived at work by 7 a.m. – well before the kiddos who often wanted to share household news as soon as they said good morning.
Because I require 7-8 hours of sleep to function well, I observed a strict bedtime of 9 p.m. My friends knew this and generally avoided calling past 8 or 8:30. From time to time an acquaintance would call too late, so I turned off my ringer at night just to play it safe.

That is, until Daddy admitted his health was fading.

It was shortly after Mama died. His prostate cancer wasn’t a secret, yet he seemed to be doing well. But y’all know how (some) men like to hide shit. Reality didn’t exactly align with appearances. I told him in no uncertain terms, he wasn’t allowed to die any time soon. His reaction, some mixture of exasperation and acquiescence, was disconcerting. He said okay because that’s what I wanted, but he hinted there were no guarantees.

I began leaving my ringer on at night.

Daddy and me. Wasn't he sharp?
Daddy and me. Wasn’t he sharp?

My parents eloped when they were 23. As a little girl my mother offered me several thousand dollars if I eloped, too. I can’t remember what prompted her to mention it at that moment. The only possibility that comes to mind is Princess Diana’s wedding, grand affair that it was. I was too young to have heard about the bride’s family footing the bill for weddings or other such traditions. I’m serious, she said. I shrugged. I tucked it away for later.

As a teenager I thought I’d get married shortly after college. My 20s came and went and I remained single throughout. I was grateful, honestly. I hadn’t met “Mr. Right,” and by the time I hit 30, I’d evolved into a completely different woman.

My dad did his best, as much as one can wield control over such things. He held on another three years. My phone rang just before dawn. I sighed awake, already shaking my head. No good news comes at this time of day. The voice on the other end was Daddy’s but softer in tenor. I instantly recognized my uncle, Daddy’s identical twin. Did I call at a bad time? he asked. I pressed him to spill the news. Daddy was en route to the hospital. He wasn’t breathing on his own.

Daddy reading aloud The Night Before Christmas circa 1976.
Daddy reading aloud The Night Before Christmas circa 1976.

I arrived at Grady Hospital eight years ago today. I didn’t see Daddy that morning. Nor any other since. Following my uncle’s lead, we both left without seeing his lifeless body.
 I wanted to say goodbye, but I did not want the image of death burned into my memory. I had made that mistake with Mama.

Toward the end of my 30s, I met my future husband. When we spoke of marriage, I told him I didn’t favor a big wedding, and, in fact, eloping was fine with me. I was down for a courthouse ceremony, or a small gathering on the beach. I don’t think he believed me the first few times we discussed it, but the seed Mama planted nearly three decades earlier bore fruit. I had never planned or even considered a “fairy tale” wedding.

A few months after my 40th birthday, Blue proposed.

I remembered the brides who cried in the days leading up to their weddings. I vowed not to be one of them. As spring melted into summer, we played around with wedding dates, sizes and locations. Nearly every Friday from June through August, we considered jumping in the car and heading to the courthouse. In September we settled on an intimate October affair.

first lookIf we had eloped, we would’ve escorted each other during the ceremony. But the venue we selected encouraged something a little more traditional. I decided Daddy’s twin, my “DNA Daddy,” might be the perfect choice.

He later told me it was one of his greatest joys.

During our ceremony, we invoked ancestors and loved ones who were not present, and that, of course, included my parents. Although neither were present in body, it was a loving comfort to hear Daddy’s voice and witness his smile through his brother.

Said our officiant, Who presents this bride?

My uncle replied, I do. 

Who presents this bride? I do!
Who presents this bride? I do!

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?

The deeper business of being beautiful inside.

Love, Politics, News & Notable

Blue and I saw 12 Years a Slave as soon as it was released in Atlanta.

The film was stunning.

We dined afterward and talked for hours about the the movie and the myriad topics it inspired: slavery, racism, privilege, wealth, the power of story, literacy, critical literacy and public schooling. We discussed the stories that get told or lost. We noted, with a healthy dose of cynicism, who “history” deems worthy of remembrance.

We retold scenes to each other. Relived predictions, twists. What made us look away, hold our breath, or more tightly to the other’s hand.

The writing, directing and performances were brilliant. And yet as moved as I was during and after, it was Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey who brought me to tears:

At some point I want to truly express what Patsey meant to me, but this post is about Lupita.

I’m overjoyed she has received accolades during this awards season, including the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. She is being honored for being herself. Not a shrinking violet of herself, but a lantern. A ray of sunshine in what can sometimes be the the darkness of Hollywood. She overcame a childhood of self loathing to become someone who, quite literally, puts herself on stage, on screen, on view, for all the world to see.

Lupita relates her story in a loving response to a young woman drawn to her light. Watch it below:

And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside. ~Lupita Nyong’o

Dereliction and Fire

Text Talk

Narrative of Frederick DouglassI debated the merits of crafting a preamble to this excerpt, and as I begin typing, I honestly haven’t decided what to say about it. So we’ll see…

I read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Early on in my reading, I became angry. I graduated from a high school named after this man. We did not read his words. At various points, teachers or administrators recited quotes of his, or summarized the “highlights” of his life. Our mascot, school paper and yearbook were all symbolic of him. But we did not read his words.

We did not spend time in an English class, nor a history class, nor an extracurricular making sense of his life. Glaring omission seems too quiet, too meek, too gray to describe it. Dereliction of duty is how I framed it in a brief note of complaint to a friend. And perhaps it was our fault, incurious teenagers that we were, we didn’t seek him out on our own accord.

I don’t know why it was not mandatory for incoming freshmen at the very least. Not just to find out more about Douglass as a historical figure, but also to help us begin to understand his fire to free both his mind and body. For him, the two were interconnected in ways that may not seem as obvious now. But we needed that. We need that.

I don’t know whether its apathy or rebellion, but it seems the fire has gone out in many quarters. Whether we blame government mandates, institutionalized oppressions, our families, ourselves, somehow we must at least acknowledge that smoldering embers and cooling ashes are often found where fires once roared.

I have more to say on the matter, but for now let us read his words:

Very soon after I went to live with Mr. and Mrs. Auld, she very kindly commenced to teach me the A, B, C. After I had learned this, she assisted me in learning to spell words of three or four letters. Just at this point of my progress, Mr. Auld found out what was going on, and at once forbade Mrs. Auld to instruct me further, telling her, among other things, that it was unlawful, as well as unsafe, to teach a slave to read. To use his own words, further, he said, ʺIf you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell. A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master‐‐to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world. Now,ʺ said he, ʺif you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy.” These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of thought. It was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty‐‐to wit, the white manʹs power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom. It was just what I wanted, and I got it at a time when I the least expected it. Whilst I was saddened by the thought of losing the aid of my kind mistress, I was gladdened by the invaluable instruction which, by the merest accident, I had gained from my master. Though conscious of the difficulty of learning without a teacher, I set out with high hope, and a fixed purpose, at whatever cost of trouble, to learn how to read. The very decided manner with which he spoke, and strove to impress his wife with the evil consequences of giving me instruction, served to convince me that he was deeply sensible of the truths he was uttering. It gave me the best assurance that I might rely with the utmost confidence on the results which, he said, would flow from teaching me to read. What he most dreaded, that I most desired. What he most loved, that I most hated. That which to him was a great evil, to be carefully shunned, was to me a great good, to be diligently sought; and the argument which he so warmly urged, against my learning to read, only served to inspire me with a desire and determination to learn. In learning to read, I owe almost as much to the bitter opposition of my master, as to the kindly aid of my mistress. I acknowledge the benefit of both.

~Frederick Douglass

Settling. Not yet still.

Personal Narrative

I’ve missed this space.

I’m finally settling into my house. I haven’t spent much time there yet, and we can now add renovating to the purging, reorganizing, unpacking mix. Seems it’s time for a new roof. Lots going on, suffice to say. Cousin Big Sister and my SO, Blue, have been amazingly supportive. I love and appreciate them.

I’m excited about  my Creating Room. I’m not sure that name’ll stick, but it’s basically a thinking/collaborative space. Or it will be. It was most recently known as the Everything Room – a dumping ground for miscellaneous or mislabeled boxes, and soon-to-be-purged items/furniture. It’s clear now, except for the closet, and after a fresh paint job and some intentional (inexpensive) furniture selections, I think it’ll be my new favorite place.

I’m getting clearer on professional goals and timelines. It’s just about time to move out of this thinking/planning stage and into the doing/being of it all. I’ve heard verbatim encouragement from two women I trust, and related words of support from friends and loved ones. Next steps…

Misogyny and rape culture. Vengeance. Fear. There’s plenty of work to do. Systems to help dismantle. Healing to facilitate. Plenty of stories to tell and investigate.

It always comes back to the stories. 

There is plenty of room for yours…

What do you want? #rapeculture #vaw

30 Day Blog Challenge, Personal Narrative, Sexual Violence

NaBloPoMo March 2013People who have witnessed the recent steps on my journey have sent me good wishes and hopes for the outcome I want. Truth be told, the healing, the outcome I wanted for myself, happened long ago. But I’ve started to talk publicly about it. And I recently told my ex my thoughts about our past. This has inspired the following question from many corners:

What do you want?

I want to agitate.
I want to make people feel uncomfortable.
I want to counter rape culture.
I want people to stop blaming victims.
I want to add my voice to the chorus of survivors.
I want partners to question their entitlement over another’s body.
I want people to talk. Especially men to their friends and brothers. To their sons and lovers.

Rape culture is allowed to fester, in part, because of our silence. So I am speaking up, speaking back. I want to speak more often and with more eloquence. I want to help survivors speak, too.

I want to make a difference.

On family narratives. #NaBloPoMo

30 Day Blog Challenge

The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.

This line comes from a recent New York Times piece about the importance of understanding from whence you came.  The more you know about the characters, settings, and other elements that contribute to your life story, the better prepared you are to make intentional choices about your own life.

You can be a more sophisticated author of your life if you have a strong sense of your biography:

Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know where your parents met? Do you know an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family? Do you know the story of your birth?

Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush asked those questions of four dozen families in the summer of 2001, and taped several of their dinner table conversations. They then compared the children’s results to a battery of psychological tests the children had taken, and reached an overwhelming conclusion. The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.

Both of my parents are deceased, but as child and young adult, I did have a lot of access to family history. We had dinner table conversations as I was growing up, and I spent quite a bit of time around relatives in various cities. I had a good sense of who we were as a family on both sides. But I didn’t find out everything. There are gaps in my knowledge, some of which may never be closed.

Gaps aside, Drs. Duke and Fivush speak about the importance of a more global understanding of the family’s development over time. Specifically they mention three types of narratives:

  • the ascending narrative – think rags to riches, or nothing to something;
  • the descending narrative – we had it all and lost it; and
  • the oscillating narrative – we’ve had good times and bad times, but here we are.

Dr. Duke said that children who have the most self-confidence have what he and Dr. Fivush call a strong “intergenerational self.” They know they belong to something bigger than themselves.

What about you? Do you know your family narrative? Do you have a sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself?

Excerpts from The Stories That Bind Us.

No means no* #NaBloPoMo #vaw #fem2

30 Day Blog Challenge, Sexual Violence

NaBloPoMo March 2013At times boundaries are rendered ambiguous, when in actuality, they’re sharply drawn. In rape culture, this means no is sometimes given an asterisk: No means no* when your partner says it three times. Or no means no* when your partner hits you in protest. No means no* when (fill in the blank).

No means no. It means no when it’s a stranger. It means no when it’s an acquaintance. It means no when it’s a family member. If it’s your spouse, significant other or otherwise longterm partner, it still means no.

Rape culture perpetuates the myth that perpetrators of sexual assault are always scary men with ski-masks and guns, hiding in the bushes for the easiest target. Or maybe they’re burglars who break in to steal your electronics and get the woman of the house as well. And on it goes. People who commit sexual assault come in all shapes, sizes, ages and circumstances. Statistics show that 73% of sexual assaults are committed by non-strangers.

Today I’m sharing an episode of The Cosby Show spinoff, A Different World. In it, Freddie falls for the handsome star athlete, Garth. Dwayne, who has reason to question Garth’s intentions, seeks guidance from a trusted mentor and tries to protect Freddie from Garth’s attempt at sexual assault. Media portrayals like this show that men can counter narratives of masculinity that imply potential partners must be coerced or forced into changing their no into a yes.*

Stories of Sexual Violence #NaBloPoMo #vaw #fem2

30 Day Blog Challenge, Personal Narrative, Sexual Violence

NaBloPoMo March 2013I am a survivor of sexual violence.

I’ve never stated it publicly, but I’ve hinted about it here and there. I’m tired of hinting.

It’s risky, claiming survivor status out loud. It’s old wounds ripped open and sprinkled with salt. Once-dried tears, bubbling up, spilling over. Heart racing. Doubts. Anger. It’s triggering. Digging into that history, thinking about it, remembering it, and sharing it is triggering.

One could reasonably wonder why do it?

I’ll tell you why: to counter rape culture.

Telling my story gives other survivors permission to tell theirs. It opens a channel for dialogue, healing and transformation. It creates a space for would-be perpetrators to see the effect of sexual violence and potentially make more loving choices. It adds to the public discourse about sexual violence, masculinity and shame. It gives survivors a face and a voice, when so often we are silent. And invisible…

Sexual assault happens over there, to other people. To someone. In reality, it’s probably happened to someone you know. It happened to me.

The person who violated me was someone I trusted. More than that, really. I loved him. He was a long-time intimate partner who did not respect my decision to say no.

I never expressed to him how broken that experience left me. And for a very long time – years – I didn’t realize the extent of the trauma. But over the past two years, I’ve been getting clear on why my story of sexual violence needs to be told. Through telling, I’ve learned about love and intimacy, most importantly, I’ve learned about myself.

I want to help other women and teenagers learn about love and intimacy and self through their stories as well. I’ll share more when the time is right.

Saying Hello

Personal Narrative

I’ve been writing here and there, on sticky notes, mobile devices, and the like. I have many posts in draft form, and lots of prompts for others, but I’m finding it difficult to polish a piece (or a thought) for public consumption.

I know why this is.

My professional life currently takes up a lot of resources. For better or for worse, this will decrease in the coming weeks, and I hope plan to be more visible here.

Despite my lowered profile around these parts, I’ve committed myself to begin working on my book/workshop project in earnest this month. It’s a birthday gift to myself, inspired by Joshunda’s act of self-publishing her book for her birthday this year. I hope my work helps women and girls find, claim and refine their voices in powerful ways. At minimum, I hope it will help at least one.

With that wish in mind, I want to share something with you. It was an activity for the Red Clay 2011 Summer Institute (SI) – UGA’s affiliate of the National Writing Project. Early on, I blogged about it, and at the end of the SI, I created a digital version of “What I Want My Words To Do To You.” It’s low resolution, so bear that in mind. I think it encapsulates who I am, and what I hope to accomplish: