There are things we say aloud, and then there are the things we think but don't speak. Much of what I communicate externally is NOTHING at all like what I am thinking internally...Thank goodness (for me or society---depending on the day)! Sometimes even when I am trying to communicate the 'sanitized' aloud version, my face communicates my internal monologue.
Here is a list of some of the things I have said this week coupled with the subtitles:
"Okay, so I'll say it again."
"I need a change."
"As one of the only black (insert any applicable noun) ..."
"Yeah, you can go."
A punch in the gut. I was not expecting the letter to start with, I regret to inform you, instead of Congratulations. Certainly not. I had envisioned it arriving in a gold lined envelop with a single ivory sheet--CONGRATULATIONS scrolled atop in curly calligraphy. Not so. I regret to inform you, instead.
Deflated. I read the first line nearly 10 times never moving beyond, I regret to inform you. After read #10, I tossed the flimsy, thin, single, colorless paper to the side and grabbed a long stem glass. Not sure if I expected the line to change after a number of readings or if I was just waiting for it to crystallize for me. I regret to inform you the thing you really wanted is a NO.
Breathe. I had to tell myself, but the spiral began anyway.
What the hell? WHY?
What now? I regret to inform you ...
How dare they? WHY?
They will rue the day! I regret to inform you ...
WHY?! WHY?! WHY?!
Nobody puts Keisha in a corner! I regret to inform you ...
Panic. Fear. Angry. Sullen. I shut myself up in my bedroom for the weekend, spoke only in grunts to Marcus and the kids, and ate every meal in my bed while flipping between Bravo and HGTV. Feeling sorry for myself did not heal or help.
Picking myself up. Meant facing the failure. No excuses. Real self-talk instead of corny cliches like everything happens for a reason. It meant taking a long look inward and asking myself what I really wanted. And awaiting without fear and without filtering what might come. I got some surprise answers. Answers only I regret to inform you could have elicited. Being told "NO" means I am going harder than ever after my real "YES." Get ready to CONGRATULATE me (a few times)! I am failing forward.
*Loved this message from Will Smith & thanks to Nicole V. for introducing me to it and inspiring this post.
Out of pure insanity, there also comes pure genius. Take Kanye, for instance, he might be batcrap crazy, but sometimes he's also brilliant. Lately, I'm vibing with Yeezus.
I am at a point in my life where things appear batcrap--straight insane. I thought I had life figured out, and then a bump in the road came AND derailed what I thought was a perfect plan. And I like a plan. Give me a goal and some post-its or a journal and your girl goes to work. Derail my plans, and I get lost in an abyss of my own doubts and fears. That's a scary place ya'll!
Am I being melodramatic--absolutely! Don't you know that about me by now (if not see previous posts)? But I have received some blows that knocked the wind out of my sails. Sails I planned on using to ride right off into the sunset on. Yeah, it's a gut punch. I could let this serve as a warning to stop my foolish dreaming and be humble OR I could totally embrace my inner Kanye and go totally South side, fellow South Shorer to be exact, CRAZY! I choose the later being humble (having or showing a modest or low estimate of one's own importance) does not rate for me because like Yeezus I believe I am a GOAT. Before you judge me, shouldn't we all think this about ourselves? Our belief about ourselves is what should propel us.
As a result, the setbacks in my plans have only caused me to think bigger. Plan B will be better than Plan A (that thought is also insane) because I am birthed from big dreamers who pulled and tugged their dreams into existence. My parents, John and Bev, have done things people from their humble beginnings only dream of because they first created the reality in their minds and then waited and worked for the second reality to hit. Try to tell them No; they'd simply find a way to a better Yes.
I am finding my way to a better YES because that's the stock from which I come--brilliance, determination, hard work. There is no NO.
Yep, call me crazy! That, that, that don't kill me make can only make me stronger. I need you (dreams & Plan B) to hurry up now cause I can't wait much longer ...
I found these while doing some last minute Christmas shopping (never again will I shop outside of the comfort of my home--online shopper for life). They are the kinds of antiquish things my mother would love. I bought them for her for Christmas.
My blog has a theme as of late: GRIEF. It has consumed my writing because it has consumed me. There are other things happening in my life but none as powerful as the force of grief. The time heals all does not seem to apply to me. This season has been a rough one. I've tried to mask it and to even use the coping strategies I've learned in therapy to no avail. Writing once again about it is a last ditch effort to relieve some of the sadness.
I feel like a functional addict: moving aimlessly from one moment to another just waiting for the feelings to hit me and to succumb to them letting the tears flow and the guttural scream out. Like an addict, I am getting good at fooling people and sometimes myself that all is good; I can work and smile and laugh on cue in the midst of my desire to retreat and grieve and in my alone moments I am hit hard with the sadness starting in my belly and welling up to the surface inundating my thoughts and dreams. At every turn there are reminders motivating my desire to exist only in my grief--picturesque family photos shared whole and complete, well wishes of happiness and joy, the discussion of menus for Christmas dinner, questions of what gift to give mother or grandmother or even just the mention of those titles. Words spoken and translated by me with all the memories and love that accompanies them and yet are absent in my present existence.
I've decided being home for the holidays is maybe not a good idea for the next few years. I need a distraction something to push the perseveration aside. I know the cycle of grief is not linear and it ebbs and flows. I know my grief is different than others and comparison is futile. I know, I know, I know.
I should be focusing on the people in front of me. I should be reveling in the light snow falling outside my window creating the perfect backdrop for Christmas Eve. I should be rejoicing Kayla is on her way home and we get to spend Christmas with her. I know, I know, I know.
I also know, know, know that I miss Ma and Grandma like crazy and reconciling all the knowns is very difficult.
There is no neat bow to wrap up this piece and end it so you and I both feel better nor is there a finite end to my sadness. I leave my thoughts here hoping to return to them when I have thoroughly unwrapped my grief.
Marquel, the thinker, at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in June 2017. Marcus Jr. & Jaiden are below.
My nephew, Marquel, made the varsity chess team as a freshman! When my Dad shared the news with me, we lauded Marquel's old man wisdom and his confidence. He's a brain and a baller; a black boy, yes, that is important, who rocks his middle school championship chess sweatshirt as much as his basketball jersey. Dad and I laughed that his other grandsons of age, Marcus Jr. and Jaiden, had little patience for the game.
Then we went wordless. We knew we had to leave space for Nina. Tears well up in my eyes, now, just thinking about it.
This is what filled our silence: Ma was the one who decided when her grandsons were in about the 4th grade that they needed to take chess lessons. She harassed me (and if you knew my mother, you know her mastery of this skill) about bringing Marcus down to her house, so her three grandsons could take lessons together. She drove them and took them additionally to play with old men in the park. Marquel, she always contended, was a natural like her brother John. She bought each of her grandsons a chess set for Christmas that year. Marcus Jr used his to play checkers ...once. Marquel continued to play because Nina told him how good he was at it. He played Dad who was at that point the best player in our family until he decided Poppa was too slow and was only taking so much time to make his moves in an effort to avoid inevitable defeat.
Important detour: In the educational equity world, there has been much talk and research about access (something I am so interested in and hope to make it part of my future doctoral thesis). Access to opportunities and learning beyond a textbook or a basketball court (not that those are not vast and important learning experiences) is vital to young people of color. Access opens doors and broadens horizons.
Ma's large/loud voice: No one opened doors like Beverly Ann Bradley-Flanagan. I thank God for the access she provided so many but especially me. She opened our home to Natalie who was an exchange student from the south of France. She and my Dad sent me to France as a French exchange student in high school. This gave me a world view. She always said I came back more refined whether that was true or not I believed her and held tightly to that notation of self. It has allowed me to exist comfortably and combatantly (yup, I made up that word) in spaces I might otherwise feel intimidated in, but for the voice of my mother in the back of my head reminding me I am a refined, world traveler.
She provided jobs (GOOD JOBS) for so many people I can't even begin to count; giving us access to people and experiences outside of the confines of what was typical. Moving clear across the country to Cape Cod is a prime example of access for many. We lived less than 7 miles from the Kennedy's compound, and I sometimes felt the Census Bureau only needed to come to our house to count the black population of Cape Cod outside of Martha's Vineyard.
In her leadership position at Cape Cod Health System, she provided access for the people of color in the organization then and those to follow because she exuded intelligence, poise and confidence while maintaining her blackness resulting in a cult following of those who loved and others who hated her power. For friends and family back home, my parent's East Coast home was an open door, and they had a revolving door of visitors. Ma made sure everyone who came got to experience "the Cape" always introducing them to something new and encouraging them to try something beyond the Southside of Chicago or the cotton fields of the South. ACCESS!
Tejay has more stamps in his passport and more confidence than most because of the access Ma provided. Camps, colleges and support abound. ACCESS!
Kayla, my oldest and the oldest grandchild, got her first pair of golf clubs from Nina and Poppa when she was 3 years old. She played golf all four years in high school. ACCESS! Nina bought her horseback riding lessons in middle school. ACCESS!
Katie's stacks of diaries and opportunities to write big were because of Nina. ACCESS!
Jaiden's knowledge and confidence of the multitude of his talents including but not limited to baseball, basketball and an innate sensibility are because of Nina's support and ACCESS!
Bev's best moves:
Dad and I sat on the phone wordless for at least a minute. A moment of silence to honor all the access my mother gave to our family.
"Beverly did that. She would be so proud," brought us back into conversation. "Yup!" is all I could manage.
Marquel's accomplishment is AWESOME and we could not be more proud of him, nor of my mother for blowing the doors off so many things for us and so many others.
I sit with queens
Feet curled beneath me
Head back laughing
Comfortable but not conforming
Ready to laugh the big laugh
And dumped out
all the secrets of the Nile
under the weight
or lack thereof
Or past tense
Spoken & affirmed
No questions to answer
No explanations needed
Talk talked of intellect
and trivial pursuits just the same
The laughter does not change
Demolition of mankind
Construction of humanity
Demands and expectations
not our own
A conscientious ownership of power
Ready to laugh the big laugh
At the fools
who think we show our teeth in vain
We show our teeth
Not needing to grin & bear
But bare all
Original sins told
No posters hung
or milk cartons
or songbird to carry away
a redraft of the original
With new verses
Left open to curses
Given no commandments or small prayers
to guide inner demons
Heads thrown back
Ready to laugh the big laugh
Paul Laurence Dunbar was the first poet I ever slept with. His faded blue, tethered book worn white in some spots tucked neatly under my pillow. His words were exotic and romantic like foreign films. I was quickly and easily seduced even though and perhaps because I needed a translator. My mother had been the one to introduce us. He was not her first but one of her favorite lovers, so at around 10 years old she thought it time I met his acquaintance. I was in love.
After our introduction, my mother tasked my cousins and I to commit Dunbar's poem "In the Morning" (found here) to memory and to act it out. This meant we had to understand the poem's meaning and decipher its complex dialect. There was no bothering her to ask what this word meant or how to pronounce that. We were given an important assignment. She told us she loved the poem, and she knew we would do it justice.
We read and re-read--silently and aloud. Rehearsing and changing intonations to make it flow and match the meaning. We read other poems in that blue book to help us. It took awhile for us to all to be stage ready, but when the time came we performed our hearts out to unbridled applause.
That is the memory I have of my mother one year after her death.
She always challenged my cousins and I to be thinkers. As youngsters, we were unaware of the depth of the intellectual pursuits she challenged us with. We simply thought it was entertainment and we loved (as did she--being a true thesbian) to perform for an adorning audience which she always was.
I can still remember all the words and scenes we created for "In the Morning." To this day, I often breakout into poetic verse with ease ... we wear the mask that grins and lies ... but am not limited to Dunbar. Shakespeare's works, T.S. Elliott (The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock was one of her favorites), and lines from her beloved David Copperfield roll freely from my tongue. Every word of "The Raven" nevermore is in my lexicon because of my mother. She set the stage for my love of learning and words. It is because of her example that I am a teacher today. Her education of a world of words and characters inspired and challenged me. I never wanted to let her down in life and now in death.
Today, I recited "Lias, Lias, bless the Lord ..." in honor of the smartest woman I will ever know. She'd want to be honored no other way!
Blasphemy! Heretic! Heathen! Sound the alarm (some already have--your distance speaks volumes. To "like" one of my pictures does not automatically link you to my religious ideology or lack thereof) religious zealots!
For the past year, I have not been on the best terms with the big Guy. I have questioned the hell out of Him. I have seriously asked multiple times why He hath forsaken me.
He was not listening to me and oblivious to my wants and needs. I needed to put some distance between us. That's what you do when you're in a relationship with an absentee partner, right?
The odd thing is He and I had a good thing--a really good thing. I could depend on Him and He always came through and most times exceeded my expectations. We talked all the time and understood one another.
Then my mother got sick, and that seemed to come between us. I was angry. I needed to focus on her. Even when I tried to make time for He and I, it wasn't the same. I withdrew, and it seemed He was giving me the cold shoulder. The feelings just weren't there anymore.
It's been hard to not be in that relationship; I am not sure it will ever be the same. I have been really resistant to taking Him back. If I am being honest, the trust isn't there. I have had people try to hook us up again, but their words of wisdom come off as canned and insincere (stop telling me I must, I must, I must increase my faith). It's like people just see His side of it and I am supposed to ignore feeling ignored.
I am working through the pain of multiple losses, and that's some heavy stuff. Maybe I have complicated a simple relationship. Maybe I put too much blame on Him. Maybe it's not Him but me.
Right now, our status is it's complicated. Sometimes I want Him back, but others times I think of the hurt and those feelings of abandonment and I am okay with our relationship limbo.
If it is meant to be, we will find our way back to each other.
Documenting my evolution by filling in space and matter one word at a time.