Week 14-Planting The Roses (Fall Break)

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“I think God gets pissed off when you walk past the color purple and don’t say nothing.”

-Shug Avery, Alice Walker–The Color Purple

 

Whew!

My Fall Break started with my oldest child being ill. So, my Fall Break officially started at 11:30 am Friday, November 22, 2019. This is also my maternal grandmother’s 91st birthday. I will be graduating on the 21st anniversary of my father’s passing. This semester has been chock full of hard decisions, scary thoughts, and the baby steps towards changing my whole life.

I am that much closer to my dream of completing my MA/MFA. I have met incredible people, started my professional network, and gotten my foot in the door with organizations which would allow me to work in a Creative Writing sphere.

I am a part of Sigma Tau Delta, the International English Honors Society.

I am researching Low Residency options for graduate school. I found out that my dream school from 20 years ago offers this option!

I have the option of getting into New York University. For graduate school. The joy? The absolute joy I have thinking of that–realizing that what I want, what I have worked for?

I can see it.  I can see it.

So for these 7 days? I am going to reflect. I am going to rest. I am going to recoup. I am going to write.

And…I am going to dream.

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I started writing at 8.

Ms. Constance Kelly at Lowell Elementary School, in Room 203 told me to keep writing.

Mrs. Annie Green taught me to respect my thoughts and write them down.

I gave up the dream of being a cardio-thoracic surgeon at age 12, to follow what I knew I wanted to do.

At 16, I wanted to go to NYU.

I knew what I wanted to do. I knew.

I knew.

Nursing was never my heart, it never was the forever. Words were. Writing as been what Queen Elizabeth I calls ‘a full satisfaction.’ This gift has been with me since my mother and father taught me to read at age 4. It is something about these 26 letters; about language; about this magic of teeth, brain and tongue that I chase.

That I love.

That I have to have.

The best lover I have ever had is the [American] English alphabet. No man could ever match that. I think when I ignored that passion, the thing most in me–of me–to do?

God was upset at me. I really do.

Remember the Parable of the Talents. (Matthew 25:14-30 King James Version)

One servant had 5, and made it 10.

One servant  had 2 and made it 4.

One servant had 1–and buried it. And the master cursed him for it.

24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:

25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.

26 His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:

This one talent–that I thought meaningless, that I thought I could cover with what was safe–I covered.  For other people. 

This experience, this journey, has been extraordinary. It has reignited me in ways that made me forget I was 22 years past 16. It made me forget that I am going to be 40 soon. That my dream, that writing, is not a hobby. It is a gift. It is a call…and I have not always respect that.

Due to what people thought.

This week? I am forgiving myself.  I am celebrating my 4-year-old self who loved books; the 5-year-old me that wrote her name to get a library card. I am celebrating the 16-year-old girl that knew she wanted to write. And wanted to go all over the world to see all see could. I am forgiving the 18-year-old girl that tried to please people, and chased something that didn’t belong to her.

It was in my late 20s-early 30s when I embraced the title of writer fully. More than I had due to the benefit of age. This is what I do; it is not an avocation. I am a writer- or a writer AND.

I am going to celebrate that this week…and plant my roses. I’m resting. I earned it.

 

Week 13-Belief In The Radical Self

Note:  This’ll be a long one. Get snacks.

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“Remember, all writing on some level, is prophetic.”

-Dr. Drucilla Wall

 

So, I got my cap and gown.

I got the stole that shows I am a daughter of a Kappa Alpha Psi–part of the legacy of the ‘Divine Nine’. I cried when I got it and showed my mother. Whom tried not a cry I’m sure. It made me miss my father so much. But what struck me was what my father said to my mother often:

“One day y’all we just sit around and talk about me.” And he would laugh. Often times, I truly do. And I tell my mother, “I’m telling my Daddy! Wait till I see him next!” But in that, this was the same man that made me amazing, and formidable, whom thought I couldn’t do it. Whom thought my talents were better suited to medicine.

Yet, here I am. Writing. Healing. Reminding other people to live.

I’m going to teach. I am going to instruct. I am going to be a gatekeeper, a way-maker and a light. This is something much more than I could have ever done as a cardiothoracic surgeon.

Yes, I wanted to be a surgeon.

This week, I had to wrestle with that–these two selves.

The portion of me that has always been creative, and loved words. Who wanted to be a college professor NYU. Who wanted to write for (never failing) New York Times. The self that knew since I was ‘making books’ at age 7, keeping my hardback copy of Sherlock Holmes (given to me by my father, mind you!) with me in my backpack, knew that writing was what I wanted to do. I knew that I was a writer. That same radical belief in self that Howard O’Brien (known through the world as Anne Rice) had.

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I thought about how I lost that. I wondered how I lost that. I wondered how I had been so willing to give it up.

This is the trouble in being a young, gifted and Black. People automatically want to steer you from the Arts. They disavow what you are naturally drawn to, enforcing their own selves upon you. I then realized when I lost it: when my father died. I was 17.

I was 17. Angry. And a high school Senior. My father died in December 1998, and I graduated in June 1, 1999, at the age of 17 years, 11 months and 23 days. I hadn’t applied to colleges anywhere! And I applied to nursing school out of necessity–of not wanting to be home. Nursing was what my father thought I should do. I had told him at 12 I didn’t want to be a doctor anymore, that I wanted to be a writer. The moment he told me, ”You can’t eat with an English degree!”

I hated him. I really did. I was livid!

How could the man whom had a father  that was damn near illiterate, with a mother with a third grade education, tell me I can’t write? How can the man whom he confessed his family laughed at him for an hour in my grandmother’s front room, tell me I can’t write?

Shouldn’t go to school to write?

Why would he tell me I couldn’t have what I wanted?

And he died with me hating him; the man that made half of who I am. I  was in that vortex for about 3 years. From 18-21. I stayed with a man that I never should have spoken to just so I wouldn’t have to be alone.

Nursing, medicine, never felt natural to me. I could do it, because I was smart. I could make the information stick–and spit it back. I could memorize, mimic and repeat. But it wasn’t a perfect fit. Not like words are and could be. I was taking 2000 and 4000 level English classes to take the edge off my nursing prerequisite classes! Who does that?! 

Me. ME. 

I needed the words, the writing to not go mad.

When I became a mother, I latched on to nursing because my ex-husband wasn’t reliable and I knew that he wouldn’t be the father he needed to be.

Spoiler: He still isn’t.

Nursing would allow me to write. You see, I was always going to get back to the writing–that is who I am. On a basal level:  I’m a writer. Nursing would give me the flexibility to write. The financial stability to write. It was my current husband that told me, upon seeing all my work, “College is too expensive to not do something you don’t want to do for the rest of your life.”

This is when the ground started to shift under me. And from that shift, I couldn’t give my focus back to nursing. I couldn’t do it. And when my financial aid ran out? That clearly was God’s way of telling me, ‘This is as far as I will let you go. You literally have run out of room.” In that devastation (my housing was tied to school–if I couldn’t pay for school I had to move), I turned back to writing.

I got my footing back.

My beloved cousin, Jason (whom is more brother than cousin at this point), told me, “You’ve always had that fire. If anyone was going to tell the family what they were going to do, it was going to be you.” And I grinned. One of the reasons why Jason and I are so close is because he, too, is an artist. He, too, is one that desired to do what he wanted regardless of who thought what! Jason was an anchor–and I loved him for that.

He believed in me. Always.

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From the footing, from the regaining both sight and confidence, I know–more than I did at 16–that I am a writer. Words are what I do. And I do them better than the average person! I own my swag. I’m not afraid to brag!  I worked hard to get back to this point.

I remember there were days I would cry because all I wanted to do was write. I wanted write. I would cry for it like it was my only love. Only other writers know that kind of pain. Only other artists know what it’s like to be bottled up, stopped up, and unable to get what is inside of you out. 

Think of it like Denzel Washington (Blue) in Mo’ Better Blues when he blew his horn when Spike Lee’s character was getting beat up in that alley. That’s what it feels like. Audrey Lorde said that one is only given a little fire:  you have to believe you have it though.

And this week, I believed a little bit more that I have it.

I am going to decorate my cap, a picture of Jean Grey as Phoenix, with her face brown with these three quotes:

“If you surrender to the air, you can ride it.”- Toni Morrison

“I am deliberate and afraid of nothing.”-Audre Lorde

“If they don’t let you in the front door, go around to the back. If the back door is locked, buss a window and jump in.” – Dr. Richard L. Bush

There are three weeks between now and the next step–that being grad school. The GRE. An MFA. Writing samples. Doctoral programs. Professional Mentorship. Going to Las Vegas for my first Sigma Tau Delta meeting next March.

It’s time I soar. But to do that, I had to give up all the stuff that weighed me down. And sometimes that is the hardest thing to do…the weight can be comfortable. But that don’t mean it ain’t heavy. The weight held my wings…but not anymore.

I fought to get these muscles, this sight, this talent back…I’m not giving it back. I’m not turning around. I cannot help but be excited about where I am going next. I have surrendered to the air–and will ride it.

Here goes everything…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On The Matter Of #7.

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When I heard Kap would have try-outs this week, I was skeptical. Not because of his skill (the man is good!), but because of the pretense! I know Hue Jackson will be leading these try-outs, and I know 11 teams will be attending.

Okay. Cool. Bet.

My brother and I even talked about where we would like Kap to settle at!

With that said, I have a shaky joy about it. Do I want Kap to get a career, to do the thing that he desired to do-that he was paid well to do? Yes, yes I do. But, what I cannot shake are the optics. This doesn’t look right.

I know not everyone boycotted the NFL, just like not everyone didn’t boycott Netflix for Mo’Nique. The nation is in a second wave of a Civil Rights Movement. I know that, at present, Kap is and does occupy a unique spot:  pillar, figurehead, template.

Yes, I am aware that Eric Reid participated in the Anthem protests. I am aware there are other NFL players whom are aware of what it means to be monied, Black and male in this country. I know they get it. But how many lost their jobs over it? How many were willing to lose their jobs over it?

I’ll wait.

I am watching this closely. I have an uneasy peace about it. I want Kap to take his money, take his health, and just enjoy his life. I want him to not think he has to prove something. But, I also understand there is a need man to prove people wrong. To show people just why they where wrong about you. I can’t, I won’t, take that away from Kap.

The thing is this: I know when he get’s his shot, the problem doesn’t vanish.

When he gets his contract, he is still Black–and property–to the NFL.

Nothing is ‘solved’, nothing is over. Regardless of what Shawn Carter says, ‘the issue’ is not rectified, and there is no solution, aside from the dismantling of White Supremacy. Hiring Colin Kaepernick doesn’t solve ‘the issue’. It may even hedge and hide ‘the issue’ further.

I know Shawn is focused on the bag, and nothing else, so lemme help you.

‘The issue’ is police brutality, coupled with the willingness of White law enforcement officers to kill–not maim–unarmed African-American men. With the defense of, ‘I feared for my life.’

‘The issue’ is the fact a member of the National Football League–Colin Rand Kaepernick, #7–broke rank and dared to bring light to this issue; using the vessel of his celebrity and visibility to call attention to ‘the issue.’

‘The issue’ is professional football is a $2.3 billion juggernaut–whose owners are almost all White. These White men don’t want ‘their bag’ shortened, shorted by dissension in the ranks. Jerry Jones adopted this overseer mentality (which was probably there all along, frankly), saying ‘his players’ would be fined or cut if they decided to engage in the protest of ‘the issue.’

Make no mistake, I want Kap to win! He deserves to do that which he loves to do, we all do! But don’t lose sight of ‘the issue.’ There is not a big enough rug to hide, ‘the issue.’ There is not enough shenanigans AB can come up with, Mother Board outfits Cam Newton wears, or vapid, goofy facts Tom Brady can spout that will cover up ‘the issue!’

There are police officers in this nation whom kill unarmed Black men and women–with impunity. What is the use of visibility or celebrity if it cannot be wielded for the betterment of those whom remain and are unseen?

Someone needs to let Shawn know that we see, ‘the issue’; tell him when he gets done counting zeroes, we out here seeing cheeries we can’t eat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Week 12-Reaching For Stars

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“No woman has ever written enough.”

-Bell Hooks

 

In 4 weeks, I will be a college graduate. In 4 weeks, I will be headed towards taking my GRE, with laser focus on graduate school. All while trying to a mother, a wife and a writer always.

This week, I had a bout of serious self-doubt. I mean, serious self-doubt! Not even for talent, ability or time. I thought it would be safer to not apply to the doctoral program–and just apply for my MFA. Writing is clearly my destiny, teaching is something I am good at–but all I could think of was, “What if I don’t get in?!”

Then, in stepped Dr. Drucilla Wall.

On Thursday, while looking over, analyzing the work of Flannery O’Connor, Dr. Wall, in the way the Galadriel, the Elf Queen in Lord of the Rings helps Frodo, she reminded us of the responsibilities we have–we have!–as writer. Dr. Wall told us about how Willa Cather burned the rest of her work, and her partner may or may not have saved some of it. I was reminded that Margaret Mitchell asked her husband, Dennis, to burn the manuscript for Gone With The Wind. I thought of the Black women writers whom were looked over twice because of things they were unable to control:  sex and race.

Dr. Wall reminded us to write, to value what we create. Value thought, making time for the mind as her husband, Dr. Amon Wall says. It was then, that I decided upon my passing, that I would have to leave record. I would have to keep my journals (electronic and written). My drafts. My poems. I, once more, was encouraged by Dr. Wall’s words. Which means, I will be reaching out to my professional mentor, Dr. Kimberly Welch.

There is a longing in me that desires to create, to be heard–stretching this gift to its capacity. I also know that there are things which I still struggle with in regards to my academic destiny as well. At 16, I wanted my doctorate in English. That is now within striking distance.  I know that teaching at a collegiate level was something I wanted to do. And still desire to do. But what cannot be dismissed is I am still a writer. I still have more to say. I need to say more.

I am taking a deep breath. I am putting faith in God and self, and going forward. I am looking at doctoral programs. I am going to give my writing sample. I am in all in.

I am all in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Here To Eternity–‘Harriet’ And This Pushback

It has been 24 hours since the release of the Kari Lemmon’s film ‘Harriet’ . In my hiatus from Facebook, I peeked back through my personal Facebook this afternoon. And I wish I hadn’t.

In reeling from what is a powerful movie-going experience, I have seen people, be there own movie/literary/history  critics. This is to be expected through:  this same mob did the same thing when the MCU movie Black Panther was released. Granted, King T’Challa is not Harriet Tubman Davis! T’Challa is from the imagination of a team of writers and artists, two being Stan Lee and  Christopher Priest.

In looking through my timeline, I found a Facebook friend whom is an activist, an agitator and one that encourages people to think and look deep. The things that I saw which were jarring was the historical holes being drop kicked into the movie.

The main historian found was a White woman (Oh?!)

They thought the movie was too sympathetic to White people. (How?)

They didn’t think that Black bounty hunters were a thing, and one young woman tweeted this same historian, asking her about the incident of Black bounty hunters and how rare there were in the time period and location they were at. In turn, this historian blocked her.  (Aight, sis.)

Let me say this. And let me be hella frank.

Movie making, especially for biopics, of anyone–especially period pieces like this—is hard. It’s hard. And then you have this little matter of Reception Theory. Most things in media are run through this lens, consisting of three parts: the age of the audience, the mood by which they will watch/read what is to be criticized, the viewer’s/reader’s expectations.

These things are unavoidable.

Now, with that said, let me offer this as well.

Do I think the historian, or main historians of this film should have been White? No.

Do I think that Black bounty hunters exist, and existed in the North? Yes. I believe this just like my father believed that there were Black people on the Titanic! Just because something is rare, does not mean that something did not occur. The fact this historian blocked someone that asked a question is ridiculous. If you stand by your work, you should be able to answer questions about it!

Do I think that the film is ‘sympathetic’ to White people? Not at all. There is a brutality that is depicted in the movie that breaks up the romanticism some Black folk have with slavery! Not everyone wanted to be free. Not everybody wanted to run. Not everyone was built to run. Not everyone trusted a woman to lead them to somewhere they had never been.

Case in point:

On her first mission in the movie where she had to leave John in Maryland when she found out he had taken another wife. Her brother didn’t want to follow her, because she had ‘spells’, and didn’t trust her to follow her through the river water!  Now, in the myriad of books written about this woman in century following her death, you cannot tell me something like this might not have happened! What is known is in being a Conductor for the Underground Railroad, and one of the few women whom were a Conductor, she put her life at risk over and over and over again!

Let me also defend the this work for a moment. Do I believe more could have been done for the success of the movie? Yes. I think Kari Lemmon’s took artistic license with the movie, and that is to be expected. However, with the tweets of Cynthia Erivo–a Black British woman–regarding Black people in America, while being chosen to be cast as the most famous Black woman in American history outside of Ida B. Wells Barnett, Michelle Obama, Toni Morrison, Mary McCleod Bethune, that, too, is disconcerting.

As a director,  Kari wanted Cynthia. So, Cynthia stayed.

Do I think that what Cynthia said was appropriate? No. Do I think that should have eliminated her from the running to be Harriet Tubman? No.

Cynthia Erivo needs to understand that we as a people, on these lands and shores, do no play about our culture, or our heroes! It is obscene for her to say what she said, and for her to think no one would have anything to say. This is HARRIET TUBMAN we are talking about!

In the historical scholarship, and the researching, and who wanted to be a part of what–we can Monday morning quarterback this all we want. Just like with the Black folk on the Titanic, there may have been people whom did not want to be a part of this project. This is a reality when it comes to literature, art and film. There may not be people who could, and may have pulled out. However, the offers should have been made to historians whom were Black first! This film should have been as Black as humanly possible–from the director and financiers to Craft services. 

With this said, what y’all not about about to do is kill Mother Harriet all over again!  Y’all not about to try and drag Cynthia Erivo for what she said (and has apologized for), and discount this incredible performance. Y’all not about to shade this movie because you cannot fathom that there are folk–enslaved folk– that didn’t want to ‘go to freedom with Moses’! Whom history swore up and down could not have been a woman, let alone a Black woman, whom was a runaway slave!

Y’all are not about to discount this work because there are details thought too broad to accept–like Black bounty hunters. Like God couldn’t have possibly been talking to her during these ‘spells’.

Is ‘Harriet’ problematic? On levels, it sure is. Film-making often is. There will always be controversy. In my opinion, it’s not sympathetic to White people either!

Just like you all come for Kari Lemmons, come for Martin Scorsese when he was using ‘nigger’ boldly in his early movies (namely Taxi Driver and Mean Streets; these are considered classic movies!). That is problematic, too.  Come for your Baby Mommas whom you say is crazy, but you still sleep with her. Come for your Baby Daddy that you say ain’t shit, but you still give him tax money. You go to your problematic job, because they pay you when all matter of shenanigans is happening around you!

Keep that same energy.

Come for those whom are immediately problematic in your circle, before you reach outside of it!

Moreover, let us examine why there are theaters right now–after the nationwide release—aren’t even showing ‘Harriet’! One of these cities in San Antonio!

In the area of media (the arts, film and literature) do lack diversity in the areas of directing, actors and production. This can only be changed through opportunities given to those able to create media willing to support Black art in all its endeavors! For once, can we as a community mean what we say when we say support!

Mean what you say, and say what you mean.

Go see the movie. Go support Black writers and directors. Go see ‘Harriet.’

 

Happy Halloween!

 

Trick-Or-Treat!

Here is my take on The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving.

Enjoy, dearest ones. Click here to listen to The Deacon’s Girl.

Click here to follow Nightlight:  The Black Horror Podcast. The podcast is available on Google Play and Apple Podcasts.

 

Enjoy!

Listen to the end to hear the interview I have with the host, Tonia Thompson.

 

Image taken from NASA:  this image of the sun was taken this week! It looks like a jack-o-lantern.

Week 9- Catch Your Breath, And Keep Going

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“There are more tears shed over answered prayers, than unanswered ones.”

-Truman Capote 

 

I almost had to quit school.

I was within 48 hours of having to withdraw from my program–with 8 weeks left to go.

My financial aid was non-existent. There was no one that I could borrow the money from.

Then, God stepped in.

 

Let me back up.

 

I had to get about $3700 together by October 10. I had paid $100 towards my tuition. This semester I haven’t been working, because my classes have all been day classes. Working nights is not possible because of day classes. So, every week–EVERY WEEK–has been done in faith.

Last week, last Thursday I was told by my school (University of Missouri-St. Louis) that I had to pay this money by that Friday, October 10th. It was Thursday, October 9th. I all but cried to the nice young man on the phone, pleading with him not to drop my classes due to non-payment.

Non-payment.

This phrase has haunted my academic career! Haunted and hunted it. This is the crux of the BAB (Broke And Brilliant). My school told me that if I couldn’t come up with the minimum of $1888 (no without other unsaved activities–aka hoeing!) I could come up with $950. Which was knocked down to $850 after I paid the $100 on my bill. I had until 10/16 as the ABSOLUTE LAST DATE to pay this $1888.

I had to fight tears. I was so close, am so close. I am due to pick up my cap and gown in 2 weeks. I have been allowed to wear my father’s fraternity stole (Kappa Alpha Psi)! But I didn’t have the money. I talked to my best friend, assured her it was not a joke–I was on the verge of being put out–with mere WEEKS to go!

I was enraged!

My best friend said if she had the money, she would give it to me. I told her I wouldn’t ask for this. “But if you got $40, I’ll take it.” I was half joking. And then she sent it to me…

I talked to my Facebook girlfriends, Freck and Kellz. Freck told me to put my CashApp up and be sincere. Kellz told me to keep the faith. In that, with that, I got mad. I was stirred with this holy boldness–I made the appeal.

I asked my Facebook friends to help a chick stay in school. Meanwhile, I called everyone I knew! My sister, my mother, godmother, adopted aunts–anyone that I could get any money from! I was desperate. I didn’t want to quit.

I was scared…

My CashApp notifications started. My PayPal lit up. My fundraiser got traction. And a benevolent benefactor stepped up and paid the entire balance.

All $3678.46 of it. ALL OF IT!

I cried. I wept. I wept because there were people that saw my gift, my drive and my heart and gave towards it. Which rarely happens to me–I normally don’t get that kind of support. To to have it? Amazing.

With it paid…I went to class on Monday.

The monies given? They were funneled to the Be A Torch Sponsorship at The Ideal Firestarter. The blog I have run since 2016. Click here to become a Torch.


Dr. Jennifer P. Harris.

This title is, was, has been a secret I have kept in my heart. Since I was 16.

As a Junior in high school, I wanted to be an English teacher. I wanted to go to NYU. I wanted to be a professor. And I had really told no one. It just so happens, after everything that happened with paying tuition, I met with Dr. Kimberly Welch. The Monday after almost being put out.

She told me that I should think about grad school. And I had–and I had no idea what this meeting would hold. Or how deep it would go.

We spoke for an hour. Over an hour really.

I found out there is another way to get to my Ph.D. from my BD–without a MFA or MA in English. The greater part?  I have a professional mentor–Dr. Welch.

I know have to prepare to take the GRE. Prepare a writing sample. And push my gift, strengthening my academic writing. My Achilles’s heel. But the talent out weights the anxiety.

My career is not my call and the call my career.

I wanted God to give me guidance in this process…I wanted help to do this right.

And the Creator of the Universe and all therein, answered me.