Lifestyle

Vials of Oil for Anointing & Souls Behind the Eyes: Exploring Spirit*

This biographical essay is written for the #52essays2017 challenge by Vanessa Martir.

I.  It is a brave thing to write about Spirit. It is much easier to write, solely, about God, or colonial Christianity, or even decolonizing Christianity. Yet, matters of Spirit are often unwieldy. We can theorize them, but even that comes with its risks. Keating’s exploration of the spiritual work of Gloria Anzaldúa notes:

After all, those of us working in academic settings are trained to rely almost exclusively on rational thought, anti-spiritual forms of logical reasoning….

We might admire Anzaldúa’s bold spirit vision yet fear that if we explore it in our work, we will harm our careers. Not only will our colleagues scoff at us, but we will have difficulty publishing such explorations. As Lara (2005) suggests, these fears can be intensified for Chicanas and other women of colors who are often already viewed as interlopers in the academy. (Keating, 2008, p. 55)

However, matters of Spirit are often unrelenting. They show up, most often, when I want to write fluffy, easily-shareable pieces. They are determined.

Whenever we speak of Spirit, or spirits, we are both aided and blocked by our language. “What do you mean by Spirit”? In the past few months, I’ve been asked this question in so many different ways. I never give specifics because it’s typically already been decided I’m in need of re-Evangelizing.

The women in my family are always negotiating spirit*. For the purposes of this piece, I define it as the essences / life forces which we cannot always understand… yet find ourselves either intrigued or repelled by.

The women in my family are brilliant and can intellectualize most things. Yet, I often hear behind the words, because I came from them. And there is much concern about holy & good spirits – “wait, do you believe in one Holy Spirit or many other spirits” – staying away from evil spirits. But then there are the metaphorical spirits* – the energies & memories of the things we’d rather forget or leave alone. There is always the risk of being blocked by language, of being misunderstood, of being seen as “at-(spiritual)-risk”. It is a brave thing to write about Spirit*.

II. My Gramma was always intrigued with the concept of exorcism. She chased the next revival services, healing events, and traveling “prophets” like ones who would chase a storm. Seeing where it began. Seeing how it ended.

She had a library of books on methods to keep evil spirits away. A hobby? A passion? A fear? All three?

As a child, she would tell me about these excursions of spirit. Sometimes, I could travel along to a service – if she felt it was safe enough. She kept a vial of oil, anointed for the task of both blessing and protecting – warding off evil & inviting in good. “Spirits ain’t nothing to play with”. She told me, “You’ll know when it’s a bad one. Your stomach turns. Your throat feels like it’s hot and dry. Look into the eyes. See if it looks like a soul is behind there“.

She often retired to the back room to pray. It used to be my play room, but I grew too big for the walls. I grew too big for the house, itself. I grew too big for the entire state, I suppose. Years later, she asked me to mind my size – and help her clear out that back room.

I spent hours on the dusty pink carpet, eating home cooked meals, pausing to look up at the sparkly popcorn ceiling, and sneaking journals full of Bible study notes from 1985 into the garbage bin. She would catch me, occasionally. “Grandma, I can type these up for you”. But she preferred the hard copies all around her like a shield. So, in one month, I could only clear one chest. After she passed, there was so much more clearing to do.

III.
“Mother, are spirits real?”
“Why are you worried about this?”
“I just am…”
“You’ve got God inside. You have nothing to fear”.

My mother’s jaw clenches when she is trying very hard to be patient. My Gramma often regaled her with stories about faith healers, far and wide. How much she was intrigued by them. My mother is a medical professional with complicated thoughts around faith healing (life sets up the most beautifully ironic situations). She listened carefully, because this was her Mother, and they were good friends. Only I could see, standing underneath her with my childhood body, that her jaws were clenched & her smile required effort.

IV.
I began getting bored with my church at 16 years old. How many more Sundays could I watch the parishioners march up to the altar, seeking more deliverance from the spirits which were real, imagined, a mix of both, who knows? I craved “something intellectual”. I was young and wanted more of everything, really. So, I took a sharp turn, tried out Reformed Calvinism. I was intrigued by their use of the word “eschatological”  , the thought that perhaps life could be figured out by a few “simple” tenets, and the added surprise of walking in to church with multitudes of handsome brown men. I was young and thought I knew everything.

I theorized everything then – the life of “spirits” didn’t seem to be worth as much exploration as the “doctrine of election”. I stopped dancing at religious services. I kept up with the rhetoric – until I realized that believing in “totally depravity”  left my soul dank & depressed. Until I saw how much violence it did. Until I realized that beyond my Black church, most of the prominent scholars in the denomination were White. They believed & taught that a spiritually elected-somewhat-Divinely-yet-arbitrarily-decided group would access heaven. The implications of that horrified me. I was young, and old enough to know I needed to get out.

V.
One of my favorite tarot cards is “The Hermit”.

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The Hermit, Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck

In the dark, deep, blue glow, the Hermit carries one single light and walking stick. They are walking across the cold, craggy mountains. They are looking down, inward. They are reaching deeper spirituality. Some people feel this card is a bit obscure (and sometimes, I agree haha). However, the Hermit is a guide – that sense of “knowing” inside of ourselves when we need a “container”, a “cocoon”, somewhere dark, quiet, and even a bit windy to shake up our previous understandings. A figure, resembling a Hermit, found me in a church in the middle of Nowheresville, Pennsylvania (population 50,000). I was living in the LITERAL, actual mountains during this time. “The Hermit” showed me that there was a healthier way of Christianity & of spirituality, itself.

Then, I moved to Smalltownsville, SC (population 9,000) to continue my journey in further shades of solitude. I spent time with myself. I didn’t write.

VI. It is now 2017 & a few conversations with friends have turned into a nonprofit organization which “centers the voices, teaching, practices, and wisdom of People of Color at the intersections of mysticism and activism”. It is interesting that it is built on Christian contemplative tradition, deconstructing what this means, and breaking open space to include indigineity & diasporic religious traditions – a chance to bring our ancestral knowledge out of “hiding”. Equal parts Howard Thurman, Barbara Holmes, Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, the saints, the Christian mystics, and our Grand-ancestors teaching us prayers, songs, and ways to invite God in. Equal parts “what we know” and “what we’re open to discover”. Someone inboxes and says it sounds like potential to the slippery slopes of “idolatry”.

I wish I could explain how western colonization has prompted us to see these practices as “idolatrous”. I wish I could explain how it was demonized… not inherently, demonic. I wish I could read them the quote I read today – from the long process of resource sharing we’ve undertaken. I would read slowly:

“Ostensibly, all women in colonial Mexico and Latin America, like their counterparts throughout the Christian world, were suspected of being witches on the basis of gender, but women of colonized groups were suspect on multiple grounds. Indian women, African-origin women, and racially mixed women—whether Indo-mestiza or Afro-mestiza—were suspect by virtue of being female, by virtue of deriving from non-Christian, or “diabolic” religions and cultures, and by virtue of being colonized or enslaved people who might rebel and use their alleged magical power at any moment. —Antonia Castañeda, “Engendering the History of Alta California, 1769–1848, as seen in Lara’s 2005 work.

Most of all, I wish I could explain that I see this as “spiritual activism” (Keating, 2008) – a way forward that allows us to get into deeper touch with God, self, & others, as we fight for social justice in this world.

But I sense their fear. I’m close to them. And I swallow these words with my morning tea. Perhaps, another time. Perhaps, never.

VII. 
The next night, I dreamed of my Gramma. First, I described the dream on Facebook (because #millenial). In this dream, I was preparing for my meditation practice. I wore bright yellow.

My Grandmother sat where my teacher usually sits. She wore white and gold. She said to me: “I want you to meditate on this mantra ‘I ain’t got time’.
(Let me pause here to say that everyone who is familiar with AAVE / African American vernacular English understands all of the nuances of that statement. It is not concretely translatable in Standard American English. ‘I ain’t got time’ means something between “I have time, but refuse to engage something”, and “Something is distasteful to me and / or hazardous to my health, so I will reserve my time for the things that help me to thrive”. This is a loose translation).

I cackled, as per usual. She smiled and said, “Yepp, say it, ‘I ain’t got time”.  Sometimes in your life, there will be giant pizzas rolling toward you – moving fast…”

This was very typical of her – to take a somewhat random object & work it into a life lesson.

“In that moment, you have to decide. Do I want to take a bite out of that? You can only take a bite with it moving that fast. Do I want to knock it down and share it with friends? That’s an option too. And sometimes, you’ll say to yourself, “I don’t even WANT pizza” & just let it roll by. That’s when you say to yourself, “I ain’t got time”.

I woke up to the Twitter-news that Mercury was in Pisces & that my dreams might hold some keys for deep learning at this time (@starheal). It’s funny how that works.

VIII. 
I believe that art allows us forms of exorcism – appeasing the spirits of things our families, sociocultural histories, and personal journeys leave us with. Moreover, it invites us to welcome in all that is “true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious” (Phil. 4:8-9, The Bible).

My Gramma’s lived in enough awareness of what could be bad. These days, she’s telling me “She / we / I ain’t got time”. And the only spirits* I deal with are good ones.

Resources & Further Reading

Keating, AL (2008). “” I’m a citizen of the universe”: Gloria Anzaldúa’s Spiritual Activism as Catalyst for Social Change”. Feminist studies (0046-3663), 34(1/2), p. 53.

Lara, I. (2005). BRUJA POSITIONALITIES: Toward a Chicana/Latina Spiritual Activism. Chicana/Latina Studies, 4(2), 10-45. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/23014464

Image Credit: Createherstock.com

Feature: Sojourner Zenobia, Healer & Performing Artist

I met Sojourner Zenobia during one of the community events she curates called Stillness: A Meditation for Women & Femmes of Color. It was my first time engaging in group meditation (of any kind) and it was certainly my first time seeing something so targeted towards my own sociocultural identities. This was back in July… and I have barely missed one of her meditations since that time. Sojourner has helped to facilitate for so many women / femmes of color (myself included) “a spiritual return”. From Sojourner, I learned that there was space to dig deeper into my individual self, spiritual self, and sociocultural self – at the same damn time!

It is in this moment, given the shit-show of this current election season and all of the feelings that are surrounding the upcoming inauguration, that I find Sojourner’s words to be incredibly helpful and timely. So, I want to e-introduce ya’ll to a woman who has become a sister and teacher to me this year. [Text below is largely her own, to preserve the intent behind her words].

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SOJOURNER ZENOBIA began practicing Samatha (peaceful abiding) meditation in 2004 at Naropa University a Buddhist inspired school. In 2006, Sojourner received a BFA in Interdisciplinary Performance and a minor in Buddhist studies. She has studied vipassana (insight meditation) at Amaravati, a Theravadan Monastery in England. She currently a resident artist at Life Force Arts Center in Chicago where she studies energy work through strengthening ancestor/guide relationships and vision journeys. She facilitates a bi-monthly meditation for women and femmes of color at the Shambhala Center in Chicago’s West Loop.

As noted above, her work  in both guided meditation and performance art centers women and femmes of color. She notes:

“I have been in ‘spiritual’,’New Age’ communities since 2004. These communities, more often than not, are populated by white people who have no consciousness of anyone else’s experience but their own. Spiritual practices tend to center the individual – this leads to the valuing of one’s own bliss over dismantling any ingrained perceptions and actions that are oppressive to marginalized groups. Since there are generally only one or two token people of color (POC) in these spaces it might seem that there is no need to expand ones understanding of spirituality beyond a personal agenda – which is projected onto the world as a “saving grace”. Often, if token POC have anything to say about their personal experience (and sociocultural realities), they get into a cycle of having to convince masses of white people in this community that a) they are telling the truth and that b) the white spiritual bubble will need to change completely in order to actually have an impact on anyone other than themselves…

I left these communities highly traumatized and with a damaged sense of self worth. This is why I create spaces where ain’t none of that”.

*(This is where your friendly narrator-blogger pauses to snap and YAAAHHHS all over the screen)
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Sojourner finds inspiration for her performance art and meditation practice through / from formative life experiences:

“I grew up in white spaces. I had one particular ‘last straw’ experience and I looked around saw that I was surrounded by whiteness. I was very hurt. I read bell hooks’,Rock My Soul: Black People and Self Esteem and it revealed everything I had ever felt about being the token black my whole life. I embarked on a healing journey that included the trauma of my mothers lineage around self worth and power. I decided that I wanted to cultivate my art and my spirituality to hold space for my black self. In doing this, I can offer my findings to black and brown femmes who are deepening their own self healing work.

The Stillness Women and Femmes of Color meditation is a place where women and femmes can come and workshop themselves. I do have very clear ideas about the mind. I do believe that silent meditation is a clear and effective way to know how our minds work. When we can see that, we have more options beyond habitual patterns. However, I also don’t like telling people what to do in regards to their spirituality. I think there are infinite ways that people can talk to spirit. No person has the same experience of being in a body. So, this combination of training the mind and opening to spirit gives us access to our inner worlds.

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Sojourner Zenobia, in performance mode!

I think our bodies hold all of the wisdom! All of the secrets! In our world, we (especially brown and black bodies) are forbidden from going inward unless it is in a way that is super controlled through religion or media. I want to give our bodies back to ourselves. I hold spaces where women and femmes can listen deeper than we ever do to “The woman who whispers”- Luisah Teish. We sit in meditation, light candles, draw our hearts, ask questions to grandmothers, write letters to past selves and fall in love with breath. I hope people will grow this space of creative self and community love. It will give us ways, never seen before to protest, love, express, resist and evolve.

Her advice to readers is something I will also follow – ESPECIALLY in the weeks, months, and (4) years to come. It is:

Pause.
Slow down.
Cut your pace in half.
take your bath.
restore…
These slower places are where spirit comes to us.

dismantle busy-ness. If possible, make self-care a part of what is making you “busy.”

The inner voice will scream.
Loud
everyday, telling us what we need.
If we never slow down, listen with them, create with them
we lose the opportunity
to become who we came here to be.

To learn more about Sojourner Zenobia and her practice, visit http://www.sojournerzenobia.com/

Click here for more information on / to get involved with Stillness Meditation for Women and Femmes of Color.

Because I’m Not Solely Writing About DT for the Next 4 Years

I. I had so many disclaimers when this topic wouldn’t leave me alone (and if you’re a writer, you know exactly how it feels to be gently pursued by – or completely annoyed by – a topic or idea):

What would I write about if our dreams of justice were realized and I didn’t need to write specifically about (insert social justice issue here)? Why would that thing be important to say?

My first disclaimers served as comfort blankies… faux “brand protections” for a landscape that’s already so shaped by the think-piece culture.
Here’s how that story goes: a) See instance, b) Write on instance… first (hopefully), c) Be ‘yaaaas-ed’, d) Likes and shares, and e) More work comes until… a) Next instance, b) Write on instance… first (hopefully).

Endlessly responding.

To be clear, it is important to write specifically about social justice – now more than ever. It is important for us to respond to the ways that this capitalist state, this militarized and increasingly militarizing state, impacts the lives of those who are marginalized. It is important for us to respond when patriarchy threatens to crush our dreams, regulate our reproduction, mansplain us away, and stalk us into silence. It is important for us to call out the system of racism for what it is – White supremacy. Now, more than ever, with the threatening rhetoric AND action (let’s be clear) of 45 – we’ve got to resist.

But it is also important for us to continue telling our stories… to our audiences. It is important for us to take respites from the White gaze that pursues us upon each waking moment – especially in the realm of our writing & dreaming spaces.

II. I think about Toni Morrison whenever I’m hopelessly stuck with writer’s block. I have no shortage of things to write about. There is no shortage of things to say. It’s just that there’s so much noise:  links subtly dropped into my inbox with the not-so-subtle hints to do more, work harder, “Say both your words AND mine-for-me. Give me digestible works that I can quickly share with my (racist, ableist, homo-antagonistic) facebook friends”. Chile…

This has only increased with the rise of DT aka 45 aka Trumplethinskin”.

But I know that balance is important – especially if we’re going to find sustainable ways forward. I know there’s another way to exist in my creative & dreaming space – largely because Toni Morrison already said there was:

“The function, the very serious function of racism, is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language, so you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly, so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary. There will always be one more thing.”– Toni Morrison, “Black Studies Center public dialogue,” Portland State University, May 30, 1975

You can literally google the words Toni Morrison and ‘white gaze’. It won’t be long until you realize that she’s not here for it. She’s not here to write under it. She’s not here for it to hang over her head, endlessly bossing her into writing. If we could have coffee, I think she would tell me that I could do better than chaining my writing to such a rickety carriage – heading down such a dead-end road.

And so…

I want to advocate here, kinfolk, for us to continue sharing our stories and realities. This doesn’t mean that the landscape of those stories won’t include the social justice issues of our time – but it is important to also resist being denied the space to tell the fullness of our stories – imagining, as Toni Morrison did, our creative works without speaking directly to an all-consuming gaze. It’s a petrifying and exhilarating exercise… but if I did it…

III. If I did it…

I wouldn’t worry about standard grammar. Seriously. I wouldn’t. I try not to police my writing on this platform, as it is. But after this point, I would give negative fuxx.

Because the speech that comes from my bones, while socioculturally informed, sounds just like music, has different rules altogether, and sits somewhere between the verbal and the nonverbal. It’s the side-eye that tells us what the deal is. It’s the spot between text and
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I would talk with Toni Morrison, August Wilson, and Zora Neale Hurston about writing in dialect, studying how to write Philadelphian AAVE dialect with both precision and beauty. I would diagram North Philly dialects, using Philly rappers like “It’s a cold winter, ya’ll ***** bettah bundoo up” . Then, I would do an analysis of how my speech morphed from:

LAWUHN (Philadelphia) to
[lawn?!?!] (living in the Southeast. I was sociolinguistically all over the place) to
LOHN (Midwest)

I would tell more of my stories. I come from a long line of Black American storytellers. My aunts, uncles, and father can roll their trip to the grocery store into 45 minutes of entertainment with a life lesson at the end. For example…

My family was fighting at the 2008-2009ish reunion. I don’t remember why. I do remember that my cousin processed this issue by telling a story about friends who enjoyed waffles, friends who enjoyed pancakes, and how both of those breakfast dishes needed syrup. Therefore, it’s wise to share your syrup if both parties want to stay away from dry ass breakfast dishes. It’s also wise to choose your fights when it comes to family, if you can help it.

I would tell ya’ll the stories – in my own tongue – about how I’m always doing the most. This is not self-deprecation. I’ve taken a poll and most of my friends… and coworkers… agree. Doing the most… is what I do. You want a report? Chile, you’re getting report, graphics, and a sequined outfit when I present the report to you. I could literally have a series of “Doing the Most” Chronicles. I would always have something to write about and we would both be cackling.

I would talk about how my students are always teaching me. Last week, I learned that references to the popular 90’s / early 2000s group 112 don’t go over well with younger millenials. Last quarter, I learned about a student’s analysis on the process of gentrification to the ethos of Manifest Destiny. (Chile, my students come the f*** through with an analysis).

I would take one week to do an ethnography of nail fashion trends in all the places that I’ve lived. Because, this is how I do. Also, my nail tech and I are tired of ya’ll asking for French manicures and boxy ass filed nails (nells– as we call them in Philadelphia).

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Nails done by @luxurinails, Jewelry by @mashallah_us

And outside of the gaze, and if my Momma slash employers didn’t also read this blog (I think?? Chile, idk) – I would write more readily about how I went from purity culture chastity maven to throw it in a circle ten times past Sunday life. And still get blessed.

So, #52essays2017 is an exercise to “build my writing muscle” indeed. It’s also a chance for me to stretch into the fullness of my human experience, tell my stories, and resist 45 taking up all of the creative oxygen in the damn place.

Featured image credit: Createherstock.com

Dating with Chronic Illness(es) Pt. II: “Let’s Talk About Spoons, Baby”

It has been so wonderful talking with you all about dating with chronic illnesses. I send my deepest appreciation for the ways you have exhibited community, solidarity, and reflection!

In my last post, I promised a follow up and I was able to chat with Jene again and a few other good friends about this topic. Please read this information responsibly, knowing that this post does not speak for an entire community. Let’s get into it!

“Being well can get expensive” – Jene A. Colvin (JAC)

There can be significant costs associated with the treatment of chronic illnesses. Visiting Dr.’s and specialists costs money. Getting tests done requires money. Insurance deductibles… money. Medicine… money. Vitamins and supplements… money. Appointments for therapy… money. ER visits… money.

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Photo Credit: Chronic Illness Cat

You’re probably sensing a theme.

“Budgeting for your illness when you share finances or just respecting your partner’s health budget is important when dating with a chronic illness. We might not be able to go out on the town… because I just got my doctor bill” (JAC)

So, it’s important to ask good questions about what a date might entail. Discussing the financial and physical commitments to the time clears up expectations.

Re-imagining Dates and Netflix & Chill

One of the most swoon-worthy moments I’ve experienced is when a partner looked deeply into my eyes and said, “Is today a Netflix & chill kind of day?” Originally, we’d planned to go sightseeing downtown. My body had other plans.

I tried to ignore it for the better part of the morning. I wanted to follow through with these plans. I knew they were genuinely interested in the sights we planned to see.

There are days that I can lovingly encourage my body to come along with me. I give it tea and medicine. I give it warm baths and light stretching. I give it orthotics, a meditation practice, and bland foods for digestive upset, as needed. Yet, there are some days where none of this will work. I needed a way to spend time with my partner, while being attentive to my body’s limits. So, Netflix & chill it was.

My good friend Athena (1) talked to me about her experience with this, and I paraphrase it here with her permission:

I’ve had dates set and then would suddenly have to change them (due to illness). I got the feeling that I seemed like a flake, because I didn’t feel comfortable disclosing my illness. Many people would lose interest because it would take me so long to get back to “normal”. It can even make friendships hard, because I have to make plans with a contingency. “If I get a nap before… maybe I can go out” or “Let me rest a day before and we’ll see”. Or I just become an entire recluse – sick and shut in list.com. Scheduling almost makes me itch because I’m so organized. I like things to work. I get really frustrated with myself because people expect me to be the one who has to change

Dating (or even maintaining friendships) with chronic illness(es) means being flexible. In my own experience, most of my physical energy goes to my professional life and supporting myself in that area. After that, I’m looking at my wellness goals. Somewhere in between (not before or after), I’m thinking of ways to consistently show up for those relationships and partnerships that are important to me.

In my life, I’ve seen that it can be done. But sometimes, well planned dates require a change of plans. Sometimes, my body needs my throw blanket, hot tea, Netflix, and legit… chill. It’s important to remember that honoring the limitations of others is a hallmark of romance. #bodyroll #ifmybackisuptoit 😉

Paperwork, Pills, & Emergency Processes

I don’t particularly love talking about this part (sigh) but it is important to ensure that there are emergency and contingency plans. In the case of an emergency, you’ll want to know if your partner equipped with information about medical needs, allergies to medicine, signs of an illness flare-up, emergency contact information (if it’s not them) etc. to come through in the clutch. Let me be clear, whatever you disclose or expound on with your partner is. YOUR. business. I know how sensitive these things can be. I simply want to call into the e-space that a plan for paperwork, pills, and emergency processes is helpful and oftentimes, essential. Because “shit gets real when everyone else is asleep and ya’ll are at the ER” (JAC).

Doing Your Research, Suspending Assumptions, & Curating Language

Yesterday, Jene talked about using a light / color system to communicate about chronic illness. I resonate deeply with some of language around the Spoon Theory, originally created by Christine Miserando (read it here) (2). It’s not perfect, so I pair this with Johanna Hedva’s Sick Woman Theory. In my life, it’s important for baes and potential baes to have this kind language – to know that through my daily activity, I’m negotiating energy through the lens of whatever physical limitations I have aka “spoons”.
Yes… last week, I was twirling with you to vintage Prince cuts.
Yes… the other day, I waited with you in line to get to that new brunch spot.
But it helps if you know that I’m negotiating with my body to do these things. I’m enjoying myself but I might also be looking for a seated area. I’ve bought along an assistive walking device. I have my orthotics on inside of my get-em-gurl shoes. I’m stopping to stretch and to rest. I’ve saved my “spoons” – I’ve cut out another activity so that I could be present in this activity. I parked close to the venue, because I may not be able to walk back without significant pain. Or I could have to cut out an activity (or multiple activities) to recoup from being present in this activity. Again, I’m negotiating “spoons”.

So when I say, “I have about 4 spoons left”, I need bae to have done the research & have a reference point for that. ‘Cause bae can’t be out here saying, “But, if you did [fill in the blank] yesterday, why can’t you do it today?!” (Answer: I had a different amount of spoons).

Ending Notes & Points of Dialogue:
1) Athena is the pseudonym I chose for my friend. She said “Make it a spicy one so I can chuckle”. I told her I didn’t know if I could do spicy, but I figured the name of a goddess might suffice.

2) For those who are unfamiliar with this language, please do take the time to read Christine Miserando’s Spoon Theory. It does not reflect an intersectional approach to chronic illness (imagine I said that twice, for emphasis). So, read through it, take what works, and leave the rest.

For a more intersectional approach, I suggest following Spoon Theory up with Johanna Hedva’s Sick Woman Theory. There are a great deal of resources (limiting it to two here for word count) and if you find any that you want to share with me, as well, leave them in the comments below.

What language do you use to talk about chronic illness with bae or potential bae? Do you use a light / color system? Spoons? Something else? Feel free to let me know in the comments and / or through the contact form! I’ve enjoyed hearing from you all.

Perhaps, we can also talk about baes & holidays (because – whew!), sex & sexuality, and more. If you want to get in touch with me about these things, contact me here!

Image Credit: Createherstock.com

Dating with Chronic Illness(es): Healing Conversations with Sister-Friends

The constant, chronic pain hummed at a 3 in the electric wiring of my body. Through each city block, my body spoke to me, “Okay, slow down”. First, an uncomfortable warmth in my feet, hips, and lower back. Then, a distinguishable ache. Finally, sharp pain. We got to the bakery just in time for me to sit and re-group.

Our double date was wonderful in every respect – good food, great friends, in a city that we love. Yet, when we sat down with our pastries and coffee, our conversation pivoted quite a bit from those things.

“Yo, I’m not sure many people understand what it’s like to date with a chronic illness that isn’t visible”

This conversation was called into the space by my sister-friend, Jené  Colvin (whose awesomeness really does surpass words). It was the conversation that engaged us until the bakery closed for the night. It was a time to vent, to acknowledge this reality, and on some soul-level, to continue healing. Our partners sat in (mostly) quiet reflection, open body language, and a few knowing nods along the way.

This was the start of a brainstorming process for the things we’ve learned about dating with chronic illness(es) along the way. We want to share those things with you.

It’s important for you to know that we present our knowledge and lived experience to you with both anticipation and trepidation. For me, it is the continuation of a project I started (got scared of, and then stopped) a year ago. Typically, we both tend to be extremely reserved about the life cycle of our romantic relationships. Yet, through our conversation, we’ve realized that this is the moment to open up about this.

As a note, for the sake of “not all our business needs to be out on these Internet streets”, I will not directly name the chronic illnesses involved – unless it serves a key point. Jené’s comments will be marked with JAC, and my comments will be indicated by JTP. It is my great hope that this information is helpful for you as you reflect, adjust, engage, (and – lowkey / highkey – dismantle ableism).

Disclosing Chronic Illnesses

JTP: I’ve had some very interesting first date scenarios when it comes to disclosing an illness. Let me say from the gate, I still haven’t found a rigid, catch-all rubric for disclosing a chronic illness in a romantic setting. For example, the first time I met up with V in person, I knew that I would have to disclose some potentially uncomfortable things. I honestly didn’t know how that would sound:

“Yes, I’d love to go out to eat with you! But because of a chronic illness that impacts my digestive system, we just might end up going home a little earlier than anticipated if my body decides it just isn’t having it”.

“A walk around the park sounds lovely! Also, I’ve got chronic plantar fasciitis in both feet and this impacts my overall gait. So, if I stop in the middle of a ‘moment’ to stretch, then that’s why…”

“I promise I’m so excited to be with you right now! Yes… that’s exactly why I’m breaking out all over. My body has an interesting way of processing adrenaline…”

Sometimes, my body decides to be incredibly kind and sweet. Other times? Well…

chronic-illness-cat

Photo credit: Chronic Illness Cat, Facebook page

With V, I ended up disclosing very early on in the process because of the circumstances. In other situations, I waited a bit longer. There have been times I’ve disclosed and ‘potential bae’s’ have looked at me in shock, surprise, and even… fear. (Needless to say, they didn’t last very long). There have also been times I’ve disclosed, expecting fear, and have been met with deep understanding.

It takes a lot to disclose because of the stigmas we have around health. In a society that hinges itself on capitalism and production, saying, “I have chronic illness(es)” can be seen as a detriment. Oftentimes, people go immediately to, “Have you tried (insert random healthy thing here)” – going to the remedy. Understand that chronic illness means… chronic. That’s not to say that there is no possibility of wellness or even complete healing. It just means that most chronic illnesses happen and will happen across a long period of time, or even a lifetime. (And yes, I do have to say this because too many people ask, “Are you better yet”?)

I don’t have a ‘thesis of disclosing’, and I’m not sure that a neatly-written script is possible in every case. What I’m here to share is that since we are all temporarily able-bodied (read up on Johanna Hedva’s Sick Woman Theory and get clear on that), disclosure is a very real part of life. So, it should be met with honor, care, concern, and confidentiality (when we share something with you… we’ve shared something with you).

Going Out!

JTP: In my experience, going on on dates has been great, as long as we think creatively and carefully about everyone’s access / accommodation needs. (Which, honestly, is just good general practice. You should be doing this even in friend outings. I try not to use a lot of ‘shoulds’ in my writing, but really… it’s 2016… like… think about people’s accessibility needs).

It’s important for both of us to be mindful: is there seating around a particular venue? How long is the walk to the venue? Should I bring an assistive walking device? If someone approaches me about my handicap placard because I don’t “look sick” (yes… it happens… a lot), who will deflect the individual that day so that our date isn’t spoiled? Whose got the medicine? What does the menu look like (for dietary needs)? In the event of an illness flare up, what is our emergency plan?

Perhaps this doesn’t sound sexy. But knowing that someone cares about your safe and enjoyable access is body-roll-worthy-do-you-hear-me?!!! It’s important to extend this framework to anyone that you’re planning to go out with (in any capacity). Practicing equitable relationships and bae-ships includes being mindful of accessibility and accommodations.

Communication Ain’t a Game

JAC: You might have to come up with your own language for what is going on so that communication is easy on bad days. It’s been really helpful for my partner and I to use an alert system for anxiety. For example, “We’re having a red / orange / yellow day” (as opposed to a ‘green day’).

It’s important to share that and to share what helps / what hinders in communication. As an example, being told “It’s okay” can be the worst thing to hear at times. It’s nice to know that your partner isn’t mad at you, doesn’t blame you, still loves you, and understands the situation. But “It’s ok” really may not be the best way to communicate that. Sometimes, “It’s okay” is like nails on the chalkboard.

It might be okay for you that we can’t have sex because fibroids are making me feel like my body isn’t mine this week – which peaks my anxiety – which makes sex too hard to engage in. You might not be mad at me for that. Yet, I might be furious and frustrated that I can’t be intimate in that way, at that time. I’m not okay. So, I don’t want you to tell me it’s okay.

In regards to overall communication, you should be able to talk to your partner about chronic illness. But you won’t always be able to talk to your partner about your illness
you just won’t. Sometimes, they won’t get it. Sometimes, it’ll frustrate you. So, you’ve got to have some other folks to lean on. You also don’t have to expend extra energy making someone else feel okay about not being able to fully understand.

JTP: Right, and that’s why I appreciate the community I’ve found with other people who suffer from chronic illnesses. I’ve found a lot of this community online, in the humor of Chronic Illness Cat. There are some things that my partner doesn’t understand, but it doesn’t mean they don’t care about it.

I’ve found that asking, “Can I help” and then, “How can I help” gets us to solutions fairly quickly. There are times that my body is just going to do whatever it wants to do. So, “Can I help” is just a good starting point. From there, we can decide what needs to be done. Sometimes, it’s as easy as, “Please put your hand on my back so that I can have a bit more support”, or “Please pass me the Motrin from my bag”. It sounds over-simplified when written but in times where my body is being very… demonstrative… it’s an efficient practice.

Maintaining Balance and Respecting Boundaries

JAC: It’s important to figure out what still makes you feel like partners. There will be times where they are caring for you because you just can’t. It’s already hard feeling like a grown ass person when your illnesses tell you, “You can’t”. But your relationship shouldn’t make you feel like their child, the burden, or diminish your dignity.

There has to be mutuality in the relationship.

JTP: Right, and these can be practical things. Often, standing for long periods of time can take a toll on my body. This means that household chores such as doing the dishes can be a bit taxing. Mutuality means that I’m being honest about those things and contributing in the areas that I can, when I can. Mutuality also means that the limitations of my body are being respected and that I’m respecting the limitations of my partner’s body.

JAC: Healthy boundaries also include getting acquainted with the ways we apologize for our illnesses without saying the word, Sorry. Sometimes, we can apologize without using words (by overextending ourselves). When we don’t take care of ourselves, shit can get out of hand very quickly! Arguments and fights are often at the end of that barrel and often, you don’t even know how you got there. So, try to gauge the things that you do with / in / through your body as a way of trying to ‘apologize’ for an illness.

On Intimacy #Bodyroll

JAC: Sex requires SO much communication and your needs will CHANGE. This is true of sexual interaction in any relationship, but it’s also real when you have to juggle your desires with what your body is actually capable of.

JTP: That definitely requires some concentrated unpacking. So, perhaps a Pt. II blog post would be best. I think it’s good to rest here and pick it up again later. At this point, I’ll also open this up for my other spoonies, friends, and family who live with chronic illnesses. If you’re interested in unpacking what dating, intimacy, life, etc. with chronic illness is like, please do contact me here! I would be honored to hear your stories!

Click here to read pt. II.

 

 

 

 

Toxic Concepts I (Un)learned from Church (and How Rituals Helped Me) – Pt. II

In a previous blog post, I unpacked “3 toxic concepts that I (un)learned from church, and why they were important to name”. I intimated that I would pick up with these concepts at the end of the initial post, so  I’ll do that in this post!

My religious context began with a church-of-origin situated as a nondenominational Black church (with Pentecostal leanings). Its doctrine was fundamentalist and there was the perception that we were Biblical literalists. This sentiment was offered every time a new member stood for our welcome. Leadership told them, “We believe the Bible from Genesis to Maps & References” (which were often offered in the back pages of the King James Version Bible). It was a space that was often given to charismatic movements of the Spirit, which taught me a great deal. Yet, when I became a teenager, I longed for a practice of Christian faith that I THOUGHT was more intellectual.

So, I started rockin’ with Reformed Calvinists on a quest for urban missions.

One of the tenets of Reformed Calvinism is total depravity. When I arrived to this place of worship, much of the framework was centered around the notion that humans came into this world ‘totally and morally depraved’. Thus, now that Christ had saved us from moral depravity, we were now to sift all of our thoughts, intentions, hopes, dreams, relationships, friendships, etc. through a rigorous process of self denial and spiritual questioning.

To that end, I learned how to distrust myself.

I offer commentary from John Piper (deep sigh… Lawd) to help illustrate my point of this particularly type of teaching:

Not relying on God in any action or thought takes power and glory to ourselves (1 Peter 4:11; 1 Corinthians 15:10; Galatians 2:20). That is sin, even if the external deed itself accords with God’s will.

An example might make this radical indictment of much human “goodness” clearer..

So, in this post, I will unpack just one more toxic concept that I (un)learned from church and that is, “My thoughts, my body (my Self) is inherently flawed and not to be trusted”.

I. My Thoughts

Years after I’d left formal fellowship with a house of worship, I sat in a meditation group with other women and femmes of color. Our facilitator, Sojourner Zenobia, guided us with care throughout the process. In the beginning, my thoughts were all over the place. I would try to concentrate very hard on ‘meditating’, my thoughts would wander, and I noticed that it was almost a reflex for me to think badly… about my own thoughts.

After quite a bit of fidgeting, I’d gotten to the place where I could be STILL, in every sense of the word. In the space, I heard our guide tell us, “Develop a ‘thank you’ relationship with your thoughts”. In this moment, I realized I needed to unlearn what I will name here as ‘thought penance’. A quick Google search of the word penance brings up the definition that it is “voluntary self-punishment inflicted as an outward expression of repentance for having done wrong”. Thought penance, for me, was a reflex learned over many years and many times of hearing that even my good thoughts were not necessarily good. Even after YEARS of abandoning (and critiquing) a Reformed Calvinism faith practice, I found myself at meditation group still distrusting all the things that came into my mind.

“I shouldn’t be thinking about that! I should be meditating! Oh forgive me!”

In that moment, I heard (literally like… from our meditation guide lol), “Develop a ‘thank you’ relationship with your thoughts”. While I had intellectualized that my thoughts were good, this called me deeper – to embody this knowledge.Each time my mind drifted from meditation, I began to say, “Thank you”. Even when my thoughts got a bit… interesting… I showed gratitude to the mind that created the thoughts. I started off awkwardly. There’s no immediate switch from thought penance to thought gratitude. But by participating in this ritual, I decided that my days of reflexive thought penance were over. I decided to be mindful and learn to hold positive emotions around my thoughts.

II. My Body

I also learned that my body was not to be trusted as a girl in these worship settings. Countless sermons rolled down from the pulpit (and were further enforced in the mouths and sentiments of church parishioners) that my body – my curves, my legs, my lips, my thighs, and ESPECIALLY my vagina – were inherently dangerous and filled with lust. In these settings, a woman’s body could cause men to “fall from grace”, to become irredeemable. So, I learned to cover myself. I learned to overthink my wardrobe choices in sacred spaces (to read more about that, click here). I’d heard that sexuality was only appropriate in a marriage context, but also that my body could not even be trusted to “make it” to that social institution. So, I shied away from all things sensual.
Needless to say, for those who’ve followed my work here, I am NOT about that life anymore. LOL! I am clear that human sexuality is good and is a gift. Yet, I am ever-embodying that knowledge #bodyroll.
In a guided meditation practice, we were led to practice loving touches. We began with the third eye (the space a bit above your eyebrows, middle of your forehead) with gentle, loving, light touches. Then, we went down our body, exploring our neck, limbs, thighs, hands, feet and learning to extend kindness to our bodies.
I thought about how my past context taught me shame through pulpit preaching and through touch as well: the pulling down of my skirt, the covering of my shoulders, thighs, breasts with a scarf, the pulling of my shirt closer over my cleavage. Yet, until that moment, I had not noticed it. Unlearning the distrust of my body began as an intellectual journey (resources for that are below). However, it was essential to continue the unlearning process by being open to and receiving loving (platonic and sexual) touches from my self and from others. These rituals have been helpful and effective.

(For more notes on church, women, & sexuality, please read Ebony Janice’s ‘A Love Letter from an Erotica Goddess: Because the Body is Not an Apology, and Candice Benbow’s A Church Girl Confession: How Embracing My Own Sexuality Made Me an Ally)

Closing Notes

One day, I was sharing all that I’d learned with an old friend who was at a different stage of their journey. Their face projected a look of concern:“Well… are you angry? Angry with the church? Angry with God?”

My instant and most authentic answer was:

“No, I’m just clear”.

I’m clear that the church can be so valuable and helpful when we acknowledge people in holistic ways. I’m clear that the feelings that I get in ‘my gut’, those truths that I ‘know in my Knower’ are valuable and effective for my everyday life! I’m clear that the God that made me, made me good and desires my wholeness. I’ve also learned that it is important to name that which I’ve learned and that which I’ve unlearned on this journey.  That means, these types of posts will be flexibly-ongoing! In the mean time, check out my first blog post on this subject. If you’re in the Chicagoland area, you can check out the formal panel called #DetoxifyChristianity which will be taking place tomorrow evening. (Shout out to Alicia Crosby & Pierre Keys for letting me know about it!)


This post marked the beginning of a larger series, which can be read here.
Image Credit: Creatherstock Photos, Isha Gaines’ “Black Women in Formation”

Notes on Survival & Advocacy: Reflections from the Goose

It’s been quite a while, and I’m so grateful ya’ll are still rocking with me! This post will feel more like a stream of consciousness for a LOT of different reasons. So, it’s important for me to be up front about at least one of them in the beginning.

America’s history of White Supremacy is still snuffing out Black Lives and the lives of People of Color in this state.

I was preparing to co-facilitate a session on Re-Encountering Beliefs & Forging New Faith Identities at the Wild Goose Festival when I heard the news about the state sanctioned murder of Alton Sterling. (Pause. Collecting breath. Breathing deeper). While I was there, the news about the murder of Philando Castile broke. I was out in a mountain town, in the woods of Hot Springs, NC, which meant I had limited wifi and could not see the videos. Yet, the grief that I felt… that most POC (people of color) felt… at yet another life killed, brutalized, and terrorized by White supremacy was overwhelming, consuming. (Pause). Grief, disappointment, anger, and pain hummed as both an internal monologue and as a community dialogue in the midst of the teaching we had to do, the life we had to live, and the outpour of ideas & stories about faith, spirituality, & justice.

“People of color see spirits where others don’t”. 

I said these words friend as I walked through the beautiful landscape of Hot Springs. It was quiet and night was falling. I sat between peace and grief. Peace at the comfort that nature often brings. Grief that this land was stolen from Indigenous Peoples; that their stories have been misconstrued and the names of their landmarks fundamentally changed. Grief that these trees had likely marked sites of death for Black bodies. Grief that I would go home to the streets where blood was still crying out. Spirits.

I usually have to do some type of small ritual when I’m entering a new space, and Hot Springs, NC was no different. Although I grieved, the space also felt sacred, holy, blessed. (I don’t think that was a coincidence as there were so many ministers, shamans, contemplatives, and healers there). I needed to learn how to decolonize this space in my mind, so I focused my intentions on doing that when I arrived on the first night. In this tension between grief, struggle, and enlightenment, I learned a lot of valuable lessons about inward (and outward) survival and the conditions necessary for life in the times of death. So, I’ll share as much as I can remember and articulate.

Goose

Notes on Survival

  1. Feeding the Body. Engaging the Body.
    There are so many great resources circulating about both self care AND direct action for people of color and accomplices who are doing the work of justice during this time. Yet, one of the things that I have yet to see is a gentle reminder to feed your body. (This is not to say that it doesn’t exist… I’ve just not seen it yet). Wild Goose Festival held a LOT to see, do, talk about, respond to. As an extrovert, my first instinct was to immerse myself in the talking & doing pieces. However, there was a gentle nudge to sit with my schedule and prioritize feeding my body as a non-negotiable, for as much as I was able / had the resources to.

    Like many, I work in the 9-5 hours. Then, I go home and work in the evening hours on other projects. On the weekends, I’m off supporting a friend or trying to take time to do all-of-the-things. So, oftentimes, feeding my body is an after-thought or completely neglected altogether.

    I have a very interesting relationship with my body, as I live with chronic illness. Yet, I gained a very real physical balance once I committed to feeding my body and REALLY listening to what it wanted / what it was telling me. If it was time to eat, I ate. If my body felt like it needed to be engaged in a walk (despite chronic pain in my feet), I did what I could to engage it in that way (stretches, medicine, and loving touches to the areas I felt the most pain). Engaging with my body in this way felt very radical to me for two reasons. The first is that it gave me a moment to de-compress from the effects of capitalism on the body, which scholar, Johanna Hedva (love. her.) talks about in her work with the Sick Woman Theory (2015):

    Sick Woman Theory maintains that the body and mind are sensitive and reactive to regimes of oppression – particularly our current regime of neoliberal, white-supremacist, imperial-capitalist, cis-hetero-patriarchy. It is that all of our bodies and minds carry the historical trauma of this, that it is the world itself that is making and keeping us sick.

    The construct of capitalism-over-personalism means that often times, we see our bodies as “good” when they are able to produce at high levels, at all times. This, I believe, is what makes us skip meals, work past times of work, and push our bodies to dangerous spaces for the god of productivity. This, I believe, is what makes practices such as touching our bodies lovingly seem superfluous and unnecessary.

    The second reason why this was so powerful as a survival strategy hearkens back to Baby Suggs’ sermon in The Clearing, written by Toni Morrison (Beloved, 1987):

    “Here,” she said, “in this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh.

    With this passage, Toni Morrison goes on to articulate the effects that racism has on our bodies. You need only look at the news to see how racism kills the physical flesh either immediately or chronically (through healthcare discrimination, chronic anxiety and trauma). Thus, our intentional choice to feeding the body, take it for walks (if possible), stretch it, and listen to what it needs are powerful practices of love and survival. Being in the physical space of the Wild Goose Festival this year really drove this lesson home for me.

    Death_to_stock_photography_Vibrant(6 of 10)

    Image credit: Createherstock.com

  2. Feed Your Soul
    One of the things that I appreciated the most about Wild Goose was that it gave so many opportunities for us to feed our souls. There were sessions on all types of topics: justice, spirituality, theology, etc. There were prayers offered throughout the day and a station for spiritual direction. There was engagement with nature – water, earth, trails, hills. Yet, I found that my soul felt the most “fed” in brilliant conversations with new friends and in the times I purposefully spent alone, reflecting or walking. [Sitting in silence was hella uncomfortable at first, but I learned to appreciate it]. There are a great deal of resources on caring for your body and soul, so I’ll offer just a few of my favorites here.

Black Bodies Need Love Too: 7 Resources for Self Care, Amani Ariel, 2015
8 Basics of Self Care, Nicole Jhanrea, She Blooms Black
Caring for Ourselves as Political Warfare, Adrienne Marie Brown, Adaku Utah, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha and Susan Raffo

Notes on Advocacy & Action

  1. Speak. 
    Before co-facilitating the session and doing the work that I was there to do, I needed to re-read Audre Lorde’s words in Sister Outsider.

     “What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?”

    This is a passage I come back to over and over again. One of the things I wanted to talk about at the festival was honoring the spiritual practices that the Black church taught me that help me to thrive, daily. Yet, I also wanted to talk about what it felt like to move away from strict, literalist, non-inclusive theologies & practices as well. That was what that particular moment called for.

    This particular moment in the blog-o-sphere calls me to speak on what helps me to survive and to do advocacy, in the hopes that this provides helpful frameworks for others. The more you challenge yourself to speak, the more you push back against those voices that silence you (internally and externally). This is not a new concept, it’s simply one that at least I need to be reminded of very often.

  2. Reflect on the space of advocacy that you can contribute to.
    Two of my favorite recent pieces of writing have been ’26 Ways to be in the Struggle Beyond the Streets’ (Anderson, et al; it’s brilliant) and Candice Simpson’s ‘We All Have Work to Do in the #BlackLivesMatter Movement’. Seriously… read those. 

    One of the things that has been so disheartening is language that suggests that we all need to have our physical bodies on the streets. This is something that has really been hurtful as someone who would love to be on the streets, yet has chronic illnesses that make that pretty difficult to do. So, while appreciating and supporting the essential work that people are doing in the streets, I’ve also had to find what advocacy looks like for me – in relationship to what is going on elsewhere. Two of the things that I’ve found powerful are 1) holding safe spaces for people of color (in my case, this happens most often digitally), and 2) sharing our thoughts / stories and adding my own thoughts / stories when appropriate.As a writer and someone trained in Theater, I understand the deep impact that stories have. One of my favorite African proverbs is, “Until the lion has (their) own storyteller, the hunter will always have the best part of the story”. The intellectual and artistic work that we do to create, reframe, reinterpret, and even critique stories is SO important. To be clear, these stories do not have to be shared to PROVE our worth. These stories have to be shared, written, reflected upon because they hold our collective and community wisdoms. These are the things we’re talking about, reflecting upon, critiquing and improving. Advocacy, for me, includes sharing the writing, the art, the scholarly work, the notes, etc. of people of color because it amplifies our voices in a general context but it also provides spaces of mirroring, recognition, and wisdom. (I found it very serendipitous that the theme of the Wild Goose Festival this year was Story, as I began to think about what advocacy looked like for me). Sharing the stories of others also checks the ego. It’s important to actively remember that liberation requires the contributions of many people. It’s not just your work that needs to be centered, because your work doesn’t hold all of the collective wisdom.

C26

Image Credit: Createherstock.com

Reflections from the Goose:
These days, I’m honing in on practicing gratitude in the midst of grief. So, I want to end by saying, ‘Thank You’. For those of you who contributed financial resources to ‘Get Me to the Goose’, thank you. The session went well and I hoped to have made you proud of your investment in me. Thank you to all of the speakers, storytellers, musicians, mystics, and contributors who gave of their time and their expertise. Thank you to the people of color who held space while we collectively grieved and planned. Thank you to the allies who stood at the perimeter to make sure the space was uninterrupted. Thank you to the Mystic Action Camp, who allowed me to share a creative, magical, and healing lodging space with them. Thank you to those who invited me to speak. And finally, thank you, readers. Ya’ll are the realest and the trillest.

Image Credit, Createherstock.com

The Vulnerability of Writing, Speaking, & Asking for Help

Soooooooooooooooooooooo…

I did a thing, ya’ll.

These days, I’m working on a collaborative project that’s got me thinking deeply about why I started this site, what my writing style is like, and what topics I gravitate towards. For over one year, I have written on topics such as social justice and spirituality. For over one year, I have been making sense of both my sociocultural identity and my spiritual identity through sharing those small truths and gems I find along the way. Writing is so interesting because it’s an activity that I do, mostly, in solitude & quiet. Yet, it’s easy to underestimate how your voice can carry to spaces that you never thought possible. Speaking, on the other hand, very different from this.

I’ve studied Theater and Communication Arts/Speaking; these are activities where you not only visualize your audience beforehand… but you actually see them in the room. You can see glimpses of the impact you’re having on the faces of people – Sometimes, for better. Sometimes, for worse. There is access to both your mind and your voice, embodied. For these reasons, I am unspeakably excited to share and co-facilitate a workshop on Re-Encountering Beliefs and Forging New Faith Identities at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, NC. The Wild Goose festival is a 4-day Spirit, Justice, Music and Arts Festival that is open, affirming, and “rooted in a progressive Christian tradition”.

Writing and speaking are activities that require a great deal of vulnerability, especially in this case. These are vulnerabilities that I’m quite often ready for, equipped for, and even formally trained to do. However…

I am still trying to master the vulnerabilities of asking for help.

Co-facilitating at Wild Goose allows me “to live more fully into my mission and vision”. However, to cover the costs of getting there, I’ve had to ask for help. I’m still asking for help.

I chose to do that through GoFundMe and it’s been an exciting and terrifying process… especially because of the “What will people think” minions prancing about in my mind. Their song gets a little weaker each time I ask, so I’m learning something very important on this journey. I’ve been able to ask for help from family, friends, and (what I like to call) e-cousins. [Note: E-cousins are the people I’ve met online who are not a part of my biological family, but I would be best cousins with them if they were]. Now, I’m taking one more step. I’m putting my request here. In my public writing space.

[Also, can someone get Brene Brown on the phone because all this #vulnerabilitylife liiike… Lawd!… I need a snack…]

First, I want to thank everyone that has helped me to cover these costs through my GoFundMe initiative. I also want to express my thanks to those who have left kind notes along the way! They have been such pleasant surprises and reminders that the work can continue on, with your support.

I’m almost at the halfway mark of the journey, and I’m so excited to be heading to ‘the Goose’ in one month! If you’re so inclined and able to give, I would greatly appreciate it! You can give here on GoFundMe. If you’re wondering more about the details, and how funds are being allocated, click the link to read more! Or if you’ve done anything like this before / like the writing you see here and want to leave a note of encouragement, please feel free to do so in the comments.

With Love to You All,

Jade T. Perry

Image Credit: CreateHerStock.com

Gramma & Me: A Re-Telling of Religion & ‘Right Minds’

“(God) woke me up this morning, (I was) clothed in my right mind” – based on Mark 5:15

I. My Grandmother (Gramma) is the most sophisticated and complicated woman I’ve known. She was known for her quick wit, generous heart, impeccable sense of style, and solid taste in music. She’d thrown out most of her ‘secular’ records after what she referred to as ‘getting saved’. But it was still my favorite thing to sing a few bars, watch her face light up, and hear her say, “Whatchu’ know about Sarah Vaughn?!”

Recently, my Gramma transitioned from this life. The calendar tells me there are only 29 days left until the anniversary of her passing. I’ve struggled to find my words for 1 year.

As Gramma grew older and she took on leadership positions in our family church, I think that folk glazed over her complexities to see only the service, just the love for God, only the way she rocked their babies to sleep in the nursery, only her encouragement, just the times she’d play piano and organize a service for those in the nursing home.

These things have a deep impact and should be remembered. However, my Gramma was a full person. Although I could only see fractals, I know that those fractals are “infinitely complex patterns, self-similar across different scales”(1). I knew her as a woman who grew up in the Jim Crow South and found ways to survive and thrive. I knew her through the stories that my mother and I shared.  I realized that through her relationship with my siblings. I realized that when I went back to Pennsylvania to help clean her home. Re-telling a life is complicated.  To present her as one dimensional seemed dehumanizing.

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Source: Family photo albums, College graduation at PSU

II. We sat in an office and sipped filtered water as the sun went down. A researcher and I were discussing equity for LGBTQI* persons within a Christian context along with some of our personal experiences. However, the conversation wound around a few sub-topics as we began to share. “I’ve noticed a trend of deep anxiety in these stories about religion…”

Anxiety about hell. Anxiety about punishment. Anxiety about being unloved / unwanted. Anxiety about being attacked by spirits. Anxiety about just… not getting things “right”.

I think about that conversation often. Because I know, from watching my Gramma… from knowing my ‘ownself’… of the delicate dance: the balance between religion (at least, the type my Gramma and I knew, the kind I detached from in some respects, the kind she leaned into) as both a coping mechanism and a source of stress.

My Gramma sung hymns when she was stressed and overwhelmed. This got her through an incredibly difficult relationship. She recited Scriptures from moment to moment. I’d catch her mumbling prayers on our many trips to West Virginia together. She carried anointing oil in her bag – for commemorating new beginnings, for healing sick grandchildren, for warding off spiritual darkness. For managing anxieties about the things that could and could not be seen.

III. My Gramma and I had a lot of things in common. She would often take me with her on her shopping trips. This was where my love of sequins, furs, and fabulous-ness was perfected. I would accompany her as an assistant; helping to choose Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday’s best. I’d go with her to the nailery (as we say in Philadelphia). I watched her long nails shaped into almonds and painted mauve. I hated the smell of the chemicals in the shop… but I loved the glamour.

Gramma and I both shared somewhat complicated relationships with the Divine. Where she leaned in, I critiqued. What I critiqued, she often would not understand. But we both knew it was complicated. It was the complication of temporal and divine relationships marked by love and disappointment.

Gramma and I placed a high importance on ‘safety’. These days, I open my mouth and it’s uncanny how quickly I find one of her key phrases: “That’s risky!” She played movies about being safe from temporal dangers: strangers, getting lost, falling down, being poisoned, etc. She watched shows about being safe from “spiritual dangers”: hexes, (certain) secular music, the Seven Deadly Sins, and more. I didn’t know there was so much to be afraid of. Though her face didn’t show it… I often wondered, “Is Gramma scared, too?”

IV. We were between declarations of ‘clothed in my right mind’ and profound internal anxieties. We were between the salves of whispered prayers and travails of ‘warfare prayers’. It was her house that told me that. It was cleaning her house that reminded me of my own need to let fear subside.

V. My Gramma had a deep interior world, of which I will never fully know. Yet, there are times when I see its connections through our ancestry. There are times when I see it through the presence and brilliant testimonies of her neighbors, students she taught, children she’d soothed (now-grown), women she’d mentored.

What I wish is that she could see this for herself.  Cleaning her house was discovering her psyche. Journals holding pages full of desires to get closer to the Divine – feeling that she had fallen short. I learned that in my adult years, she had given up understanding me (especially my spirituality). So, she decided to love me instead.

I realized how much we were alike – in complexity, beauty, and humanity.

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Cuts & Coconut Oil: New Phases in Hair History

Last year, I was featured on CurlyNikki.com with voluminous hair, pulled into many different styles. In the feature, I talked about my natural hair journey as someone who has always been ‘natural’ (meaning: the curl patterns of my hair were not altered through chemical treatments).

My hair history is far from simple: an unfortunate snipping of my two-strand twists, damages from constant flat ironing, how stress impacted my hair follicles, and… more… *sigh.

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This picture pretty much sums up my hair trials, tribulations, dangers, toils, and snares…

However, I learned to take care of my self and my hair over time by using a minimalist approach. So, while this is not a beauty blog… I really, really enjoy talking about hair both formally and informally.

I’ve recently gone through yet another milestone in my complicated hair history. I decided to cut my hair very, very short.

Online Cut

I’m deciding to write about it today since I’ve a) been writing about some relatively heavy subjects lately, and b) been getting lots of questions about the process. Here goes!

  • How long had I been growing my hair and what prompted the decision to cut it
    I’ve always gravitated toward billows of hair because my MuvaIcons include Chaka Khan and Diana Ross. So, it never really crossed my mind in any serious capacity before now. In 2009-ish, I found myself at the very unfortunate nexus of hair loss (stress + hard water in the Pennsylvanian mountains) & braids-gone-wrong. My stylist gave me that look that said, “You’re about to be in your feelings…”, explained the damage, and had to cut my hair to a shoulder length bob.

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    B.C. (Before Coconut Oil) Memories

    I’d been growing it back out since then, getting trims here and there. My hair care process was relatively simple: make sure it’s moisturized and do whatever is easiest. So, it grew back out without too much drama.

    Flash forward to the year of our Lord, 2016…

    I loved my big hair. At the same time, I wasn’t really doing anything with it on a frequent basis. I made sure it was clean, detangled, and moisturized. I would wear it out for about 3 days out of the week and then, up it went into a high ponytail or into a head-wrap. The thought of cutting it crossed my mind quite a few times. The decision was cemented after one particularly aggravating detangling session that lasted approx 25 minutes. My partner and I gathered the scissors and clippers and the rest… is now in a very pitiful looking bag of hair that I really ought to take out of my bathroom. (Overshare orrrrr….?)

  • How long will I keep this? Am I growing it back out?
    I have no idea. It depends on how I’m feeling down the line.
  • Pros? Cons?
    I’m smiling when I wake up to take off my bonnet! I’m stressed when I wake up in the middle of the night because the hair-to-pillow ratio is really off and I’m not used to it yet. I’m excited to see what my hair is doing at its root level. My scalp can feel things: wind, the sun, the chill in the air. I’m not a fan of hats but my scalp and neck are crying out against me in this Chicago wind. I’m saving product and the muscles in my arms are thanking me. I will probably have to get shape ups very frequently because my hair is already growing back in spaces. Finally, I’m getting reacquainted with my face, earrings, and have big plans that involve shoulder pads… *mischievous grin 

I’m still learning in this process. So, all of my naturalistas with short hair, please tell me about your hair journey in the comments below!