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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

Chance the Rapper Got Oil*: What I’m Learning about Faith via Coloring Book

Oil* – (working definition) The concept of ‘having oil’ occurs in many Black church contexts and is attached to both the practice and the praxis of anointing someone with oil. To ‘have oil’ means to carry a special anointing or grace to do whatever it is that you have been charged to do.  Although this is primarily used in scenarios where people are offering musical gifts (singing, playing an instrument, etc), this also could mean that a certain person has a particular way about them that facilitates freedom, openness, and joy.

Chance the Rapper got the oil.

Chance the Rapper released his newest mixtape, Coloring Book, last Thursday, and suffice it to say that I was. HYPE. There are two rappers, currently, that have my unending support. These two rappers that could release an album, a literal coloring book, a designer line of Sharpie pens, a recyclable fork (you get the gist) and I. would. buy. it. Those two rappers are Kendrick Lamar (whom I’ve already written a considerable amount on) and Chance the Rapper.

I appreciate Chance’s overall musicality, the way he hears songs and how it is evidenced in his interpretation. I appreciate his flow and how he communicates emotional realities alongside clever rhymes. However, I also appreciate Chance…

Because churchy folk know churchy folk like real recognize real.

Let me give you an example. When my partner played Chance’s ‘Good Ass Intro’, from his previous Acid Rap mixtape, I immediately noticed both the piano stylings and the shout / bump track looming in the background.

praise-dance

^My FIRST inclination, when I heard the Good Ass Intro – you cannot deny the ring-shout realness.

In his SNL debut of Sunday Candy, Chance was both musically signifying a Sunday church service and alluding to a sacred text, namely John 6:51, where Jesus tells the people to eat the bread that symbolizes his flesh.

But Chance reached oil* status with Coloring Book. Let’s talk some specifics:

On the record, Chance channels a practice of many Black church spaces by taking a mainstream Christian contemporary tune and adding on vocal / cultural / musical signifiers i.e. re-interpreting  Chris Tomlin’s How Great is Our God . (I cracked up because my previous church sang it with those exact harmonies).

It was an intentional choice to feature Kirk Franklin, one of the absolute game-changers of 90’s gospel music. We also saw Chance add the lyrics on Fred Hammond’s chorus of  Let the Praise Begin to his song, Blessings.

Chance demonstrated some of this oil* in his lyrical content, which explicitly acknowledges his understandings of the Divine:
“Jesus’ Black life ain’t matter / I know, I talked to His Daddy”
“I do not talk to the serpent / that’s that holistic discernment
(Come through, Chance, and channel the favorite word of church mothers across the States).

Discernment

Apart from these specifics, Chance has oil because he can teach us a great deal about faith and spirituality. I find in Chance’s Coloring Book, a creative and freeing way to engage with the Divine – outside the proverbial lines of how Christianity (as an institution) prescribes. It is, in my opinion, a healthier way.

I grew up in a church context that loved to focus on  “going right or getting left”. For those who are unfamiliar, this meant doing things the “right” way, according to the standards and edicts of the church or being abandoned in the case of a literal rapture. Needless to say, I was a bit stressed in my youth about what it meant to be a ‘good Christian’.

In 2010, I begun a very long crisis of faith. By 2011, I realized that you can’t just pray those things away. You can’t just place a few Scriptures over your already crumbling theological frameworks. There aren’t enough church services or pithy sayings to adequately address the angst of reconsidering your expectations of the Divine. By 2012, I realized that relationships between humans and the Divine have always been complicated (to say the least).

So, in Coloring Book I hear Chance the Rapper alluding to a comprehensive understanding of what it means to be a human in relationship with the Divine. Coloring Book invites us into a conversation about a faith that affirms us. Through this lens, we are not just spiritual misfits waiting to be judged – but that there is the possibility and reality of mutual love and respect. As one example, Chance offers:

I speak to God in public, I speak to God in public

He keep my rhymes in couplets

He think the new shit jam, I think we mutual fans

Blessings, Repraise

Coloring Book illustrates a faith context that has space to dialogue about the sexual, the juke, the twerk – the sensual, the drink and enjoyment – the social, intimate relationships, family, romance, geographic context – and the transcendently spiritual. Coloring Book is a working theology of what it means to live.

Featured Image Credit: Youtube.com, Cover Art for Album by Brandon Breaux 

 

Eating Alone

I’ve recently discovered the work of writer, Vanessa Martir a few days ago, and deeply appreciate her thoughts on what she calls ‘story block’. (It’s WELL worth the read, especially if you’re a writer). Reading her work has prompted me to think about what gets my stories ‘stuck’. In my case, that has everything to do with being called to deeper vulnerability in my writing.

I started off in Creative Writing, and deeply excavating self was inescapable. However, in this “think-piece-and-click” era, it’s become a subtle expectation that writing worth reading always pieces together a logical “argument”. Let me be clear, it takes DEPTH of thought and SKILL to write in this particular format. I know this intimately. Yet at this point in my journey, I know that was me story-blocked is not a lack of things to write or to think about. So, I’m slightly pivoting for a bit. I hope you’ll be able to trek with me! Today, I was inspired by author Nike Marshall, and will share from the prompt: Eating Alone.


I. Someone close to me should have told me that I was losing too much weight, too fast. Perhaps they did. Perhaps I couldn’t hear them. I was exercising for at least two hours a day, but hadn’t coupled it with the intentionality of eating regularly. It was 2011 – 2012: the year that I faced a long season of unemployment, a crisis of faith, and love lost due to emotional abuse.

JP Skinny

II. The most vivid thing I can remember about my initial drive to Chicago were all the corn fields we drove through to get there.

My graduate program required that we finish an internship at two separate sites. So, in the summer of 2012, I packed my bags, ended my lease, drove to IL, and moved into a dorm room to work at a religious college.

I was constantly surrounded by religious iconography: a cross in each room, nuns and friars walking around the campus ground. There was one particular picture that haunted me. It was a portrait of The Last Supper. The figures ate their meals with solemnity. Judas looked as if he was on the verge of a panic attack. His face haunted me because I was on the verge of one too.

III. The college gave me a stipend to have meals on campus. Those meals were restricted by the summer schedule. If you missed 9 am breakfast then you’d either have to wait or buy a cold sandwich from the downstairs food bar. The sandwiches made me sick. Or perhaps it was just profound grief.

Each day, I’d get off at 3 p.m., take a long nap (catching up on all the naps I missed during my course schedule periods), and wake up again around 5 p.m. One day, during my nap-routine, I woke up ravenous.

It was a type of hunger that I had not felt in a very long time.

I needed thriving food, which is very different from “It’s-six-o’clock-and-you-should-eat-something” food. So, I got in my car and drove a while…

IV. I have a tendency to move to places without knowing a soul there. I knew (and loved) my coworkers at that time, but there wasn’t anyone I’d felt particularly close enough to to share a meal with. Especially not a meal this important.  In order to get what I needed, I knew I’d need to venture out alone.

I chose a place that was only 7 minutes away from me, because I knew that if I drove too much, I’d think too much, and likely talk myself back into the all-too-familiar dining hall line. I was seated by a man who (perhaps unknowingly) looked around for ‘the rest of my party’. I half-whispered, “It’s just me”.

“Would you like to sit at the bar?”
“No. I want to have an entire table”

It was the first time, in a long time, that I’d allow myself to take up that much space.

I ordered a wood fired flatbread pizza and watched them knead the dough at my seat. I ordered a glass of sangria (red), a pot of loose Jasmine tea, a lemon gelato, and a mini cheesecake. And something in my soul shifted.

V. There are a couple of places, moments, persons, and things that have saved my life. Learning how to eat alone in Chicago is included in that. Since that day, I’ve explored countless restaurants, both alone and with company. I’ve gained weight. Lost it. Gained it. Took my ‘demons’ out for nice meals. Until they and I could get ourselves together. Then, I recovered my appetite.

Image Credits:
Featured Image – Createherstock.com
Additional Images from personal collection

 

 

#Lemonade: Was Bey in My Art Therapy Sessions? (Also Titled: Beyonce Did That, Also Titled: “Who The F*^% Do You Think I Ih…”)

“Let’s try not to discount anger as a valid emotion…”
“Expressing anger is okay. How can we do that with color and imagery?”
“Let’s try to answer: How did the emotion of anger assist you in the moments that you needed it to? Did it protect you from something? Did it make you aware of something?”
“Let’s talk about why you choose the image of the woman’s clenched fist for your collage?” – My art therapist.

“Who the f&&% do you think I ih….?!” – Beyonce, Don’t Hurt Yourself

Ya’ll. Ya’ll.

I think sitting with art is important. Reflecting on art is important. Unpacking the nuances of art is so important… and Queen Bey has given us A LOT to unpack in her latest work, Lemonade. I will refer to Evelyn from the Internet to break that down for you briefly:

The strong imagery and the odes / poetry / healing songs for Black women that she presented in Lemonade are still dealing with me at a heart-level at the moment. I would love to write an intellectually-based thinkpiece on how meaningful this work is in the entertainment industry (you can read Dr. Birgitta Johnson’s reflections on that here). I would love to break down all of the images that she’s used to signify to and conjure for Black women (you can learn about that by following #LemonadeSyllabus on Twitter). Yet the response that’s come up for me has been a very personal and emotional opening.

It would take countless hours to express my feelings about the entire project. This project was about the interpersonal and sociocultural relationships that Black women hold. This project was about healing and wholeness for Black women. This project was about finding ways to rebuild. However, what spoke to me the most was Bey’s expressions of anger and grief. The songs and imagery for ‘Hold Up’ and ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’ are still dealing with and working on me.

Here’s why seeing that was so powerful for me:
I was raised churchy church. (I’ve written that sentence at least 4 times on this platform). I was raised within a setting that taught that we were to be “slow to anger”, that “fools give full vent to their anger”, and that “anger resteth in the bosom of a fool”. It was a bit more socially acceptable to see men giving voice to their anger, both inside of that context and given the patriarchy that America so adores. However, it was not as socially acceptable for young girls and women to express emotions of anger, rage, wrath. These were seen as destructive and out of place.

So, I learned to stuff my anger. I learned to swallow it whole and throw up smiles and forgiveness without accountability. I did this most often in my romantic relationships. #TellYoBusinessThursdays

“When you play me…. you play yo’self” -Beyonce

It’s taken years of learning ways to nuance Scripture as well as art therapy to learn how anger can be an absolutely important emotion. This emotion tells you, “Something is wrong!” It tells us when someone has been mistreated, duped, left behind, or taken advantage of. It moves us to action on their behalf or on our own behalf. It reminds us that when one of us is mistreated… it doesn’t often bode well for any of us.

“Who the f&&% do you think I ih….?! You ain’t married to no average b!tch, boi…” – Beyonce

I joked with a friend that I wanted to get that quote re-interpreted as a tattoo so that I could walk around and people would immediately remember who they were talking to.

Petty flowchart
Image Credit: @PettyFlowcharts, Instagram aka my petty side project

It’s no secret that women of color are often ‘presumed incompetent’ (Gutiérrez et al, 2012). We have to prove what we are saying is valid in our professional lives and our personal lives. Our brilliant work is often quoted without citation or attribution. Our labors of love are often taken for granted. We are often expected to bend into painful shapes due to toxic masculinity, racism, sexism, classism, ableism, and other forms of oppression [see: for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, The Color Purple, Salt Eaters, the entirety of #LemonadeSyllabus, and the oral histories and lived experiences of Black womyn].

While it may seem that ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’ orbited around the storyline of romantic betrayal, Beyonce was crystal clear in incorporating quotes from Malcolm X. She is also speaking to a palpable, documented, and lived sociocultural reality on a broader scale.
Before Bey showed us images of healing, she showed us images of anger and wrath. I appreciate her for that.

Blogger, writer, and scholar Ebony Janice has always said, ‘Beyonce knows‘.

I’ll add that Bey knows that mis-recognition and mistreatment by American society and by those who claim to love us brings about grief and anger. Through Lemonade, she shows us that anger is an absolutely valid emotion to feel and to express after being mistreated. She also shows us that finding space to express anger is a step that cannot be skipped on our journey to wholeness. We cannot simply rush toward reconciliation without dealing with what ‘is’. Before you can see the possibilities of lemonade, it’s okay to find healing spaces to lament over them sour @$$ lemons.

Image Credit: Youtube.com, Beyonce “Lemonade” Preview Review

*Please be sure to download the #LemonadeSyllabus! It is a resource, curated by Candice Benbow, that holds 200 resources (including books, articles, music, film, etc.) to further unpack the themes of Beyonce’s Lemonade. I’m so honored to have been asked to contribute to this work and encourage you to download and share!

Download here: www.candicebenbow.com/lemonadesyllabus

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Kendrick, Bey, the Dragging Fest, & the Think-piece Machine (also Titled “Have We Looked at The Art Yet”?)

It’s been uncharacteristically quiet here at JadeTPerry.com, so let me explain why. On February 6th, 2016, Queen Bey released her latest (and in my opinion, most epic and socially conscious) video, ‘Formation’.

Suffice it to say… I was hype…

Beyonce was making a very clear statement. Her video was simultaneously a celebration of Black life & joy, a cry out against police brutality, a nod to Black culture specifically as expressed in New Orleans, a photographic hearkening  to the ways government failed Black people in Hurricane Katrina. This video incorporated Black queer culture, encouragements for Black femmes to #slay, and THEN ended with the drowning of a cop car.

Yo.

It didn’t take long for both the think pieces and social media critiques to begin:
Beyonce was problematic because [insert diatribe about her support of capitalism given the line “the best revenge is your paper”, insert diatribe about the ways the lyrics “did not match” the imagery, insert diatribe about…] There were some very solid critiques / analyses offered in regards to the art (favorites including Shantrelle Lewis’piece for Slate.com, Dr. Yaba Blay’s work on Colorlines.com, Dr. Zandria Robinson’s post on NewSouthNegress.com)

However, meaning-making patterns around the art and the artist have seemed to morph into what I now identify as a “dragging-fest” (forms of continual one-upmanship through written word, gifs, memes, etc.) Yet in the busy-ness of cranking out critical analyses and peppering pages with “reads” (pun intended), it seemed we (myself, included) had not given more than a few days (hours, even) to actually sit with Beyonce’s musical choices and / or artistic work. Moreover, I had not seen much of this work being done by artists, musicians, and creatives.

I took a couple of days to let the social media blocks simmer down and to discern whether or not it was worth adding my .02 to an already saturated topic…

But then…

Flash forward to the 2016 Grammy’s where Kendrick “Chakra Balancing” Lamar performed. for. his. life. (And if you haven’t seen it… pause, and view it)

Again, suffice it to say, I was hype. Let’s be honest: most of my readers already know how I feel about Kendrick Lamar Duckworth. There is an in-the-works series happening on this platform to discuss To Pimp a Buttefly. I knew Kendrick was going to come with art that, as Nina Simone described, “reflected the times”. But I couldn’t have guessed what that interpretation would look like and when I saw it, I was absolutely moved.

When I woke up the next morning, there were additional critiques on the work he’d done, why it was problematic (to the tune of: a) Kendrick primarily situates Black men in his work, and b) Kendrick signifies a lot of respectability politics in his music / performance art). There were also (let me be proactively clear here) valid questions about how misogyny gave Kendrick a “pass” from the dragging-fest and shade that Beyonce received for Formation. Peers, colleagues, and friends raised (again) these points and questions; conversations that need to be furthered as time goes on. But again, I realized that it didn’t take more than a couple of days to begin analyzing. Very little commentary took a multi-faceted look at both pieces of performance art sans the other. In comparison pieces, very little commentary looks at the respective arcs of both of their careers and how that may have impacted the reception of both performance art pieces. I have yet to see a piece on how the mediums (film versus live performance) affects our reception of the messages. We could look into why hip hop / trap music genres work for these kinds of messages (cue L.H. Stallings, 2013). There was little on what musicians were saying about the music industry itself in their art. The musical and theatrical purpose of the band’s placement seemed overlooked after K.L’s live performance, though they were also an integral part of the imagery that Kendrick was asking us to sit with. Those notes become clearer if we choose to engage the art and dialogue with artists.

We consume media and artistry and the focus becomes thinking about it before feeling it.

We consume media and artistry faster than we can actually sit with it and let it speak to us.

We consume media and artistry faster than we have respectful dialogue to understand what the artist’s messaging is and seeing how our reception of the message depends on (but is not limited to) the artist, the medium (live, film, etc), the genres, and the arc of that artist’s respective career over time (not to mention our own mood and ethos at the time).

We analyze media faster than we can learn the lyrics to the media we’re analyzing.

The voices of the artists, the creatives, and those that write primarily about arts & entertainment often get lost. It feels rushed and hurried at the low end of the spectrum and disrespectful at the high end.

India.Arie writes about a time she was “dragged” in a series of essays surrounding what she calls SkinGate2013: the accusations she faced regarding skin lightening / bleaching on her SoulBird album cover. While the circumstances are vastly different as Kendrick or Bey, what these artists have in common is that they create art that speaks to their own sociocultural identities and also signifies to the Black community. What’s also common is that they are all performing artists. India.Arie writes about her experiences:

“The most important artists, the most creative, the most imaginative artists, are the most sensitive, and they are generally self-medicating just to MAKE IT through! True artists have MAGIC and LIGHT that people are rightfully drawn to. When too many hands grab at such a delicate thing, the light is extinguished…”

How do I know this is true? Because I know what it is to be an artist in my own lived experience. Of course, I’ve never reached the caliber of Kendrick & Bey! But in order to give an authentic response to their work as of late, I have to call forth that side of myself as well. In a recent and public Facebook status, I mused:

“I was trained in a Theater tradition where being the “triple threat” (singing, dancing, and acting) was the lens. I was a Creative Writer, focusing on Poetry, before I ever wrote a think piece.

And here is what I know about art: Your art reflections where YOU are in your internal process and evolution, and your art is a byproduct of love for self and love for your community. It’s amazing to read the analyses and critiques, but at the same time I’m sitting with their contributions as artists and as the primary makers and creatives of the content we’re critiquing.

As Rev. Dr. Lee Butler Jr. states(1), “Black rage is expressed in Black creativity”, and if we don’t want anyone policing what our Black rage looks like, I’m not sure why we’re so interested in dragging Bey or Kendrick for what it looks like in their lives.

“Our faves can be problematic”(2). And I’m grateful for the ways that that is lovingly & creatively ‘called out’. But there’s a difference between asking for accountability and dragging folk”.

So, I want to pivot here just a bit from the artist themselves. I want to hear the thoughts of other musicians, art historians, ethnomusicologists, creatives, artists, singers, and makers (I know many are still breaking down the performances and that’s okay; we actually can wait). I want to pivot here and ask a few questions that I hope you will engage: When and how do we find constructive ways of holding artists accountable in ways that don’t dissuade them from creating in ways that attempt to speak to us? When and how do we also find constructive ways of holding  other consumers-of-art accountable in both their analysis and their appreciation of artistic works? Finally, what weight do we give expertise in writing specifically for and about musical and art itself?
(1) Butler, Lee. “Black Rage”. Visionary Care: Black Mental Health and Economic Justice [Conference]. Chicago, IL. 12 Sep. 2015.
(2) From a public post by Danielle Stevens, Visionary behind ‘This Bridge Called Our Health’

 

Image Credit: CreateHerStock.com

 

For Colored Gurls Who Consider Blogging & Glitter When Chronic Illness Gets Too Real, and Waiting Rooms Get Too Stuffy, and Folk Don’t Have No Act-Right

“Sick Woman Theory redefines existence in a body as something that is primarily and always vulnerable…”- Johanna Hedva, Sick Woman Theory

Trust me. I’ve spent some time being sick over the course of my life. The first few weeks of my new year were spent recovering from acute bronchitis (non-chronic), coupled with a really sexy flare-up of one of my old illnesses.

I believe in cosmic irony: I was raised by a medical health professional. This means that I am acutely aware of my body and how it works. This also means that I’m acutely aware of the medical health field in general, how absolutely frustrating it can be, the five million questions you have to ask in phases before diagnoses AND after diagnoses, and so on. I’ve spent a lot of time in Urgent Care centers, in (what my primary care giver calls) “Doc-In-A-Box” Pharmacy Wellness centers, university health centers, and ERs that smell of disinfectant & sound like buzzing fluorescent lights. I’m pretty clear on the fact that “existence in a body is vulnerable”for everyone. 

I’m well enough to go to a traditional workplace every day from 9 to 5 pm and fulfill my duties as assigned. I take a LOT of pride in my professional identity and the work that I do.

14370371_10111670471962524_6712258485314506476_n

Feeling like “Mama, I made it”! Receiving an award for some of the work I do.

I also have to acknowledge what sociologists call my “passing privilege”. In this case, I mean that my ailments are largely invisible and so, I would have to intentionally disclose. I want to acknowledge that early on so you can understand the sociocultural spaces I’m writing from.

Yet, there is a constant and persistent pressure to be silent about chronic illness and sickness. I argue that this pressure is especially salient for those who work in externally-facing fields which hinge themselves upon overall productivity & prestige (writers, bloggers, media reps, fields of business, academics, artists, etc.). So the relationship that must be negotiated is “How should / do I engage the concept of illness and chronic illness on my platform… (and what do I stand to lose by simply acknowledging sickness)? 

I’d been thinking about that for quite some time when I came across Johanna Hedva’s beautiful, game-changing, and brilliant piece called Sick Woman Theory (2016). She offers a construct which I believe is helpful for understanding WHY there is so much silence and misconception around sickness and chronic illness:

“Sickness” as we speak of it today is a capitalist construct, as is its perceived binary opposite, “wellness.” The “well” person is the person well enough to go to work. The “sick” person is the one who can’t. What is so destructive about conceiving of wellness as the default, as the standard mode of existence, is that it invents illness as temporary. When being sick is an abhorrence to the norm, it allows us to conceive of care and support in the same way.

Care, in this configuration, is only required sometimes. When sickness is temporary, care is not normal.

In a capitalistic society that places mass and over-productivity at the forefront, people with chronic illnesses have to:
a) get creative about their work & how it is done
b) get creative about whether to / how to disclose their illness(es)
c) wade through constant misconceptions about their abilities to “produce”
d) deflect the sickness-sleuths who (for whatever reason) believe you take pleasure in mis-reporting where your body is & what it needs

Hedva’s (2016) piece came to me when I was collecting my own bravery in regards to chronic illness. It came at the end of a month-long trajectory of weighing the pros and cons of addressing this topic on my public platform. (It’s not like I write anonymously). What I realized was that all too often, silence quenches the space where we should and could call for deeper inclusion and understanding. The pressure to stay silent gave way to the belief that we can learn, grown, and benefit from shared stories. I believe that we can find some “act-right” (defined here as the ability and the desire to live into better actions & decisions) when we know the following things:

1) Illnesses (and their symptoms) exist on a spectrum:
There are some illnesses that require intense care and may lead to not being able to work. There are some illnesses that allow for work with accommodations. There are some illnesses that, with proper management, do not get in the way of what we perceive to be traditional work. While there are certain markers and similarities of type of illness, the ways it affects individuals are varied. So, let. people. live.

DO NOT SAY “You aren’t well enough to be (insert location here: at this concert, at work, outside, etc)”. Instead, develop a rapport so that you can genuinely ask, “How are you feeling today / in this moment”? Understand that in many cases, people with chronic illnesses and / or their caregivers understand both their abilities and their limitations, and will communicate them with you, as appropriate.

2) Wellness and care looks different for everyone.
Chronic illness is not just a physical process. There is meaning-making that needs to happen on an emotional level, on a cognitive level, and many times, on a spiritual level (here’s where you can get really existential about the meaning of life and why there is human suffering, but… I ain’t gone do it in this blog post). This means “care” is often multi-tiered. For me, “care” looks like doing paying work that both satisfies my spirit and offers benefits that pour back into my wellness. Care looks like getting enough rest, going to the Dr., and taking my medicine as prescribed. Care also looks like going to the nailery (that’s Philadelphian AAVE dialect for “nail salon”).

Judge. me. if. you. want… but my body needs to be dipped in glitter. Regularly. My body can experience pain as well as pleasure. I’m intentional about cultivating pleasure in this way. (Also, trust me, safely venting with my nail tech keeps folk from gettin’ cussed out when they say inappropriate things). Speaking of which…

3) If you’re not a doctor, it’s generally best not to comment about someone “looking or not looking handicapped / sick / ill” etc. or try to “diagnose” their symptoms based on a case you’ve seen before.
It’s 2016. We gotta do better. A few days ago, I went to dinner with a good friend and took the train. I got lost on the way and ended up walking quite a ways past my pain threshold. After dinner, I decided to take an Uber home so that I wouldn’t further damage or tear the fascia in my feet. When I asked my driver to pull up to the handicapped parking spot, here is how my Uber Driver responded:

Uber Driver: They let you do that?
Me: Excuse me??
UD: I mean, you’re not handicapped, are you? You don’t look it.
Me: I’m not sure what you mean. Do you see the placard? A doctor has to sign off for the placard. So…
UD: Oh!!! YOU POOR THING! What happened honey?
Me: *blink*

Although this was one of the milder interactions I’ve had surrounding an ailment, it was still inappropriate. (Here’s a point to take home: people can be both well-meaning and inappropriate). If you have a rapport with the individually, then sharing and asking well-placed questions may be okay. In the best scenarios, the individual will freely share about their ailments if they deem you safe and / or it necessary. But if not, just let. people. live.

If you’ve gotten this far into the post I don’t want to leave you without resources that facilitate “act-right”, further understanding, and clarity. Two absolute must reads on the topic of chronic illness(es) are Christina Miserandino’s Spoon Theory and Johanna Hedva’s recently published Sick Woman Theory. I also cannot overstate how much I value the community at Chronic Illness Cat. It’s a healthy blend of encouragement and humor. (No glitter… but that’s why I go to the nail salon). Because Lord knows, there’s got to be a little space for all of it.

  Image Credit: *Quick shout out to my nail tech (@luxurinails) who always keeps me in glitter!

Note: The title of this post is an adaptation of Ntozake Shonge’s choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf

The Wiz Realness Recap!

Last night, the melanin pop-age was present and accounted for on NBC’s live airing of The Wiz! Shanice Williams made her debut as Dorothy and the cast was star-studded, including Uzo Aduba, Queen Latifah, Ne-yo, Elijah Kelley, Amber Riley, David Allen Grier, Mary J Blige, (Mutha) Stephanie Mills, and Common. Seeing the representation of Black Theater, Black talent, and Black culture live on NBC… gave me my life! It was a magical 3 hours.

As a note, this recap is written in dialect, unlike many of my other pieces… because only AAVE will do it justice. #SayinithowIfeelit. Also, this recap will show the pieces that stood out to me the most (so don’t get in your feelings if I don’t mention your favorite part).

First, I will admit that I was skeptical at the beginning. You have to understand that many-a-weekend during my childhood was spent watching the 1978 version of The Wiz with Diana Ross, Nipsy Russel, and Michael Jackson. (Don’t judge me… I needed my Ease Down the Road Realness Levels to be stable).

However, from the moment that Mutha Stephanie Mills (who originally played the role of Dorothy in the 1975 Broadway debut) opened her mouth to sing “The Feeling We Once Had(written by Charlie Smalls), I knew it was going to be a great production. And when that WIND got to blowin’?!?! TWIRL! Erin Logan, writer for Blavity.com, said that “the tornado sequence and everyone’s reaction to it” was “#2 on the list of a definitive ranking of the 8 Blackest moments of #TheWizLive”. Erin is right. I literally started shouting when they came out.


Giphy.com

One of my FAVORITE moments from the show was Amber Riley’s performance of He’s the Wizard. It’s one of my favorite songs in the show (those movements… yes) and Amber Riley came to sing the damn song with that fierce blue lippie that I actually need in my life (does anybody know where I can find a dupe?). Sheridan Watson wrote a Buzzfeed article about the greatness of Amber Riley’s facial expressions alone… and you need to read it after this because it’s hysterical. #SINGAMBER 

NBC – #MOOD when you know you about to sing the house down

Now, before people think I’m throwin’ shade, let me speak on Shanice Williams, who played the role of Dorothy. She can sing. She has a key soprano that fit in well with the grandeur of this production. But her tone isn’t one of my favorites. With that said, I’ll repeat what I told my Facebook cousins yesterday:  “I ain’t mad (at her) tho cuz she’s up there and I’m spectating so… #gogurl”.

I knew that the temptation was going to be to compare Elijah Kelley’s rendition of “You Can’t Win” to the incomparable Michael Jackson. But for me, Elijah Kelley has been bae since his role in the film version of Hairspray so #youcanttellmenuffin. So, shoutout to his interpretation of the song. Shoutout to the fact that he busted out a back handspring and then proceeded to sing the dang song. Shoutout to the scarecrows who were in. character. the entire time – come through head tilt and wing span realness! Who’s mad? Not me.

Do you have an older relative, an uncle perhaps, that always regales you with tales of how they were ‘back in the day’. You may have believed them. You may not have. But then one fine day, at the family gathering, they just bust out with whatever their talent was… and they kill it.

That’s that David. Allen. Grier. Realness.

He came to sing. He came to dance and body roll. He came to give us the lipshakesnarl. He came to win. And he won. (Also, because I’m churchy, I was tempted to do a medley from “Be a Lion” into Donald Lawrence’s Encourage Yourself. Click the links later, hear it, and cackle. And if you do it on Sunday, I’m expecting a shout out).

Speaking of church, Common did a good job as the quintessential church usher… I mean, Emerald City bouncer.

Credit: Karlton Humes aka @notkarltonbanks on Vine and Instagram

Quick recognition to choreographer Fatima Robinson and the Poppies whine-up-ya-waist-and-werk sequence.

OH but when they got into the Emerald City (cue Hammond B3)… VOGUE REALNESS was being served! Not only did the ensemble cast come to dance, strut, and vogue, the costume designer Paul Tazewell did his GOOD work. If anyone wants to get me the geometric jumpsuit with the triangle hat for Christmas, I will wear it gratefully.

NBC

Next up… the Queen! I SO appreciated Peter Tazewell’s decision to nuance The Wiz’s costume. On NBC News, he describes it as “androgynous, angular, a showman (showperson?) and definitely GREEN”. Come through inclusion. Queen Latifah did an awesome job and she’s no newcomer to the musical scene. I was proud of her interpretation of the Wiz and proud of that mean side-step she did on her song “So You Wanted to See the Wizard”. Also, pit orchestra for the win.

I haven’t forgotten about Ne-Yo as Tin Man but you’re probably wondering why I waited until now to bring him up. I was surprised by Ne-yo’s performance. I didn’t love the character choice he made with the accent but that really doesn’t matter because when he opened his mouth to sing “What Would I Do If I Could Feel”… #SINGTHESONG #CONVEYTHETEXT. He performed that song and I allllmost shed a tear.

In the spirit of transparency, I was low-key worried about Mary J. Blige (and I do love her).

I was so scared the Mary-bopness would take away from the character, but I have to give it to her. She made BOLD choices with Evilene’s character. She sang. the. dang. song. (Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News). Her braids were on point. And Mary won. She just won. Because when she said, “This lil’ gurl think I’m still playin with her…” I realized she was talkin’ to me for lowkey doubting her. Come through, Mary! LOL!

Everybody Rejoice / Brand New Day, originally written by Luther Vandross, is another one of my absolute favorite songs in the musical, and I appreciated the gospel choir backup, and Elijah Kelley’s distinct harmonies (they thought they were slick and were going to slide that in like we weren’t gone know). But from that entire scene, I have to take special notice of the ensemble member with the bald head and the beard. Does anybody know his name? I didn’t get a progrum… He took those 8 seconds and said “I have to come to hold this note and who’s mad…”?!!! Sing, sir. Somebody send me his name so I can thank him for that.

Uzo Aduba. OH MY STARS. That tone. The smoothness. The richness.

Finally, I need to know who is responsible for this:

Black Twitter has NO. CHILL. I laughed hysterically because of the amount of #FreeToto and ‘Where’s Toto’ posts I saw!

WHOOO is responsible?!?!?! LOL!

So, when he popped out the side at the end, my heart was filled with joy unspeakable!

All in all, it was an absolutely wonderful production and I’m left with so much pride and joy! Many of you know that I went to a Creative & Performing Arts High School and majored in Theater, so this production meant a lot to me on so many levels. I appreciated every note and nae nae, and you better believe I’ll be re-watching and singing along at my earliest convenience. #BlackExcellence!

Featured Image Credit: Createherstock.com