Writing

“Her Sexuality Should Not Be Pathologized”, Found Poetry

Published in celebration of National Poetry Month, 2017

“Found poems take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems. The literary equivalent of a collage, found poetry is often made from newspaper articles, street signs, graffiti, speeches, letters, or even other poems” 1

(My source material included free writes, prose, albums, & documents curated and collected as part of a Beauty Breaks workshop, led by Imani Jackson, as well as quotes from my own, unused, draft material)
My parameters included:
1) Using phrases that referenced or envisioned “Grandmother”, “Grandma”, “Gramma”, etc.
2) Using phrases with a color in them
3) Using half of the sentence / phrase for each instance (the meaning was re-imagined through punctuation and / or lack of punctuation, where appropriate)

“Her sexuality should not be pathologized”.

Red and hot like that candy my Grandma loved
I feel you come closer and your blue energy cools me
And then she came, coffee skin, red hair –

more red

The whitest background you’ve ever seen
The velveteen blood orchid
Purple sounds so tasty like sweet and tart
Purple rain
I could still smell its sweet magenta rimmed message
Premonitions of a grown ass woman.

 

Whine Club Reading: On Hope (Video Content)

Last evening, I was so excited to be a Featured Reader at Whine Club: A Monthly Storytelling Series for Women, Femmes, & Gender Non Conforming People alongside other brilliant & powerful readers: Lakshmi Ramgopal (you can sign up for her newsletter), Bria Royal (check out the pocket healing zines on the site), & Katie Burke.

JTP Reading

Photo Credit: Keisa, @WhineClubChi

My good friend, Jené, is amazing and crafty and managed to get a good bit of the reading on video (without me even seeing her recording – which was quite good for my nerves lol)! So, now I can share it with you all. The full transcript of content is available below. Follow @WhineClubChi to stay updated on their programming! **Special thanks to all who came out & sat in the chairs & stood in the aisles, to Whine Club & Uncharted Books, & to Ramona – the bookstore pup ❤

Intro:

“I’m a bit of a pragmatist so when I was invited to read, I immediately picked out the two pieces I would do. And then, Keisa sent the theme… It was hope, so I was like, ‘(Expletive) I don’t even know if I’m GOOD at that!’ (laughs) So, I want to offer this piece for those of us who find hope to be ephemeral. Those who hold their hands out and stretch to touch it – finding it like holding snow in their palm – lasting for a moment of precious wonder but all too short lived.

Hope is a complicated thing.

I. Every other week, I show up to my therapist’s office (we’ll call her Khadijah)…

 

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Full transcript:

Hope is a complicated thing.

Every other week, I show up to my therapist’s office (we’ll call her Khadijah). I take a break from work and get on the train, head up to the 16th floor, guzzle her filtered water from recyclable paper cups, and try to talk about my feelings without theorizing them.

“Let’s try to take a deep breath in… aaaand out”, she says. “That’s good work for the day. I want us (by us… she means me), to get to a point where we’re embracing ambiguity & hoping in life a little bit more”.

She puts two books into my hands: bell hooks’ All About Love on top. And right underneath it was Pema Chodron’s The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times. She ain’t slick.

When I leave her office, I sigh in the key of East Coast born Black girl, wondering why the fuck she wants me to trust in life… to continue this activity of hope… doesn’t she know mass incarceration is real? Doesn’t she know the Orange Cheeto was elected? And I’m pretty sure I’ll have to be way more fastidious about cyber security now that *ding ding!

And the elevator open, goes down, deposits me back onto the first floor. Past the coffee shop. Out into the streets.

My therapist is convinced that I’m not bad at hope. I’m sure she’s right. I just have a hard time living into the Hallmark card, bootstrap theology version of what we’ve normalized hope to BE. My friend Ashon says that consistently showing up to therapy is a type of hope too. I’ll take that for now.

II. I went to church with my family every Sunday as a child. It was a nondenominational and charismatic church. I still remember the routine. Wake up. 8 am Sunday school. Praise and worship (for those who aren’t familiar with charismatic church spaces just know that during this section, we had to wait for everyone to catch the Spirit, shout, fall out, & get back up before it was all through) Then, there was the sermon. The altar call. (Where people might decide to pick up a shout again). After church conversations. Brunch – that was really around dinner time. Readying for school in the morning. Sleep. Nowadays, I recognize that it was the equivalent of a full work day. It took me a full 5 years post “adulthood” to sleep in on Sundays without it feeling like a crisis.

“Now faith is the substance of things HOPED for…”

I grew up feeling like hope was something I needed to ask for. Pray for. Wait for. Hope was expected to look a certain way. So, I got familiar with its mask. I smiled when I didn’t want to. I offered myself quick platitudes and Scripture when the emotional reality was too much. I was real inspirational those days.

On Sundays, I made my supplications at the altar and imagined warm light falling on me. Older women placed their thin, cool hands on my head and wrapped my body in white sheets. They put their hands on my belly and asked for spiritual fire to consume all doubts. I thought it could help me to be reborn.

At night, worry descended upon me again as I pulled the comforter up. I recounted the pending catastrophes – what might happen at school the next day, at church the next week, when I arrived home, when I got on the bus. I’m a Taurus, Aries-rising, long time maker of mental lists and plans. Yet, despite my lists, scribbled in bright neon post its around the bed, the anxieties followed me into dreams.

My Grandmother said I had a “sensitive disposition”. My father said I had “bad nerves”. My psychiatrist said, “She has general anxiety disorder”. So, hope is a complicated thing.
III. Reading tarot grounds me in so many ways. I’ve got a few favorites in the cards: The Queen of Cups, the Hermit, the High Priestess, the Nine of Pentacles. The Tower tends to make my hands shake. The Knight of Wands reminds me of the charm & the quick temper of my father.

I’m still working out my relationship with the Star. You could say she’s got the iconography of hope.

I invite her out for coffee in my mind on the rare occasion that the Star chooses to visit me. In the tarot, the Star comes after the Tower has fallen down – after all that they’ve known has fallen in fire & light. And here they kneel, drawing up water in the dim glow of the stars. They are naked.

“Don’t overthink this, Jade”, she tells me. As I hold the card between my fingers she reminds me, “Let’s start our work by drinking more water. Hope means relaxing into that which we do not know yet. And that’s going to take some hydration. Allow your body more time to be naked – this body, this chronically pained body, this sometimes-walks-with-a-cane body, this Black body – allow it space. The rest will come soon enough”.
IV. Hope is a kind of suspension. Sometimes, when I look at my lovers face, it morphs into the consummation of my vulnerabilities and fears. Anxiety makes it easy to spin their locs into all of the reasons that the moment is fleeting: brevity of life, emotional stress, the inevitability of death…you know, the light stuff. But sometimes, when I have enough rest & food & medicine & ancestor help… I can push pause on that tape. I can find enough space to choose another path and hold onto it for as long as I’m able to – until it is replicated again in this life or the next. Counting their locs, one by one, for the reasons I’m so grateful. I’m practicing. Hope.

Hope is easiest to do when I’m showing up for my written work, editing what doesn’t work, trying to create new language, & reclaim other language. Using a Black queer radical imagination to see new ways forward. It’s sitting my ass down, writing shit that doesn’t only – SOLELY – respond to Whiteness or ableism or homo-antagonism – stuck in a feedback loop: inciting incident, think piece, praises or hate filled comments, “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 so they don’t have to do their own work”.

V. This year, I’ve taken up the spiritual practice of allowing myself some room to dream and to tell my stories. I want to tell you that I come from a long line of Black American storytellers. You probably don’t know them… but my aunts, uncles, my 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, and friends who enjoyed pancakes, and how they needed to realize that both of those breakfast dishes benefit from 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 dialect– 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? You’re getting report, graphics, and likely 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” (snippet from: Because I’m Not Solely Writing About DT for the Next 4 Years).

A full blown cackle – might that be categorized as hope too? I’ll have to take that for now.

VI. On some Saturday nights, I bring my body to the dance hall and twerk like my life depends on it. My feet, cramping & swelling with chronic plantar fasciitis, hold me up for as long as I need them to – even if it’s just for a few songs. Ass up & down, defying the laws of physics, that’s a part of the way I hope too. And that’s gonna have to be good enough for now. Because that’s what I got. Showing up. Writing. Laughing. Dancing. Staring at my lover’s face. Drinking more water. Being naked. And understanding that while hope fuels the collective work of artivists & activists, it is also an individual practice.

VII. My therapists usually asks, “What are you up to nowadays?” I told her, “Writing about hope, isn’t it ironic?!” She wanted me to bring this piece in so we can discuss it. I will not. It’s for us. It’s for those of us, that are here, that find hope BOTH within & outside of reach – yet need it to exist in this world. If I remember to go to therapy next week, I’ll take out a piece of paper, and roll it out on her desk. It will read: I’m practicing it now… the shit is still complicated”.

Photo Credit: Ally Almore

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).

nells

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

Creation in the Time of Death

“They ain’t tryna’ to see me shine, shine
Bullet on my time, time
But fuck it, I’ll live forever…” -NoName, Telefone, Track: Forever

One of the hardest questions I’m asked is, “What is your creative process?” It’s even more difficult to answer from where I’m sitting in history today.

At this moment, I’m alive in a nation of police brutality and state-sanctioned violence. At this moment, #BlackLivesMatter is the rallying cry – the reality that we deserve to live and to thrive. This cry has consistently been met with the pithy and subversively racist #AllLivesMatter cry – diverting focus from those whose Black bodies are being ripped from our Black souls in these United States of America.

At this moment, I’m alive but grieving the death of Korryn Gaines – a 23 year old mother whose home was broken into by the police – after her on some bullshit traffic violations. This encounter ended with her murder, the wounding of her son, and her story obscured and picked apart.

At this moment, I’m alive but grieving the deaths of Joyce Queweay, who passed because her boyfriend and his friend thought they would teach her a lesson about “submission” to male authority. She was murdered. And at this moment, I’m grieving the death of Skye Mockabee, a transwoman, murdered and left in a parking lot.

My sisters are being murdered. My brothers are being murdered, too. And everyone’s fighting about the fucking details.

And someone’s asking me about what my creative process is. Now.

I’ve never been more sure of the importance of writing, rapping, singing, sharing personal and cultural pain, joy, healing, lament, and strategy. I’ve never been more convinced that the writers of color are called to be the griots, healers, and purveyors of cultural / ancestral knowledge. There is necessity of creation in the time of death.There is something healing about the practice of wrangling cohesion from chaos – even if the healing happens only in the Self.

But this shit is heavy. It gets heavy. And it BEEN heavy.

“What’s your creative process?”

These days? Cry a bit. Write. Wipe tears. Cry a lot. Stop crying. Feel numb. Writers aren’t made of numbness. Stare out the window, and look at what is alive. Trees. Birds. The moth that just settled on the window. Write a bit. Stop writing. Allow my sisters to sing and speak to me…

“And I’m afraid of the dark
Blue and the white
Badges and pistols rejoice in the night
And we watch the news
And we see him die tonight” -Noname, Telefone, Track: Casket Pretty

Allow my sisters to write me through:

Erica Thurman’s, Black Folks Are Dying and I Just Keep Buying Lipstick. And Crying: On the Emotional and Economic Expense of Existing Through Trauma
The Churched Feminist’s, Litany For Black Children Who Became Collateral Damage
Brittney Cooper’s, Connect The Dots: For Korryn Gaines, Skye Mockabee and Joyce Quaweay
Nicole JhanRhea’s, Korryn Gaines I Speak Your Name

Try really hard not to play the videos or recount the events. End up doing both of those things anyway. Hoping that somehow they could live forever. Knowing that they will, somewhere, even if in the Remembrances of their Stories and the Saying of their Names. Lavishing sisterly love on them, carefully listening for the lessons they want to teach me, and wishing them well from the other side – from this fucked up plane of reality.

 

Non-Traditional New Year’s Manifesto

I appreciate that for many, New Year’s Eve / Day signals a reset in some ways: new goals, fresh starts, upcoming excitement. However, it is my least favorite holiday. The hands of New Year’s Eve clock often feel heavy with promises we don’t keep, breakthroughs that may or may not come, and changes we could have made the year before. In past years, I got around this heaviness by surrounding myself with positive distractions: people at church who might be able to help me believe that THIS year was MY year, friends whose optimism might rub off on me, confetti, glitter… the works.

But this New Year’s Eve, my original plans included baking a cake and enjoying close relationships. On a deeper level, I knew that in order to progress successfully into 2016, I had to get quiet and look back… which is counter-intuitive to SO many notions we have about what a NEW year represents. On the second day of the new year, I had the chance to do just that.

Those who know me well, know that I’ve kept a journal from ages  9 to 22. In the years that followed, my journaling practice has been on and off, so I bought a new book and purposed to get back on track. However, since I was back in my hometown, I pulled my high school and college years down from the shelves and re-read. (No journals from grad school or after because… #life).

I smiled (laughed occasionally). I cringed (a lot). I analyzed. I empathized. But most importantly, I meditated on loving the “me” in those pages.  That was radical and life-changing for me.

I allowed the “Me” of today to grieve the heartbreaks of the “Me” of then. I got honest with the “Me” of then… there were so many things I was not willing to admit to myself. I cheered myself on when I proactively made good choices and even when I stumbled upon good choices after-the-fact.

The “Me” of today was able to discern that, in many ways, I spent a great deal of my past in fear.

Fear of messing up.
Fear of doing things ‘wrong’.
Fear of not being heard.
Fear of being unloved.
Fear of being unworthy.

So, my past coping responses were geared toward achievement. Go. Do. Prove. Learn the terms. Play by the rules.

I discerned what I needed to do in 2016 by looking back, and purposefully accepting myself & my evolution. I needed / need to embrace my own terms.

While I don’t have the details of how this will play out, I have identified a few key areas that I’d like to work on. These include:

  1. Refining, embracing, and articulating my own voice through my art & professional endeavors. I am a blend of analysis, story sharing, advocacy… and sheer, friggin, shenanigans. It’s okay to reflect all of that. Those are my terms.
  2. Communicating my terms in regards to wealth & profit from my creativity. Rihanna put it this way, “Pay me what you owe me. Don’t act like you forgot”. My terms.
  3. Making room to add or subtract relationships, projects, and professional goals. Shame and fear can keep you playing solely by other people’s terms. I’ve learned that is just not an efficient or peaceful way to live.
  4. Committing to explore what my terms are for engaging God and people, for creating art… for living.

I’ve lived rubric-style for long enough. It’s time to begin using the resources I have to create my authentic curricula.

Image Credit: Createherstock.com

Blog-A-Versary: Lessons Learned from My 6th Blog!

JadeTPerry.com is on the cusp of its one year anniversary! #Turnup

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I’m really in awe regarding a) the support that I’ve received and the people who have encouraged me along the way, and b) the fact that I blogged consistently for a year (don’t judge me).

I’ve always kept a journal. Writing helps me to work out my thoughts, current events, and other parts of the world that I inhabit. Somewhere along the way, I let my interests drive me to contribute to other people’s platforms, which was and is an amazing experience. Yet after about 4 years of doing this, I realized I had invested nothing substantial into my OWN platform. People had nowhere to GO after reading my work on other sites.

Before JadeTPerry.com, there were 5 other blogs or microblogs. This is the one that stuck. The 6th time was the ‘charm’. In this past year, I’ve gotten a lot of requests for blogging tips or lessons I’ve learned. So, I find this to be an appropriate time as I celebrate this year’s blog-a-versary.

1) Finding a mission / an intention for writing can serve as fuel.
Let me tell you a bit about the site’s name. It’s my government name. The reason for this is not because I think I’m fabulous…

although clearly…
xdxwg3.

😉 The reason that this site is named after me is because I initially intended it to be a portfolio, of sorts. I wanted to carve out a space for people to get information about me that would represent an authentic version of myself & my work. I envisioned that I’d talk about career topics in mainly higher ed. Then, I wanted to write about careers, in general. But as I stuck to 1-2 topics, it began to feel a lot like getting out of bed on a cold, wintry Chicago morning.

So, I took a class… thinking I just needed to work harder to be more consistent. By the end of the process, I realized, that the intention I had for this space did not align with what I wanted at the core. So, I began questioning what my mission was, on a broader scale. After 2 weeks of asking friends, writers, and professionals about the themes they saw in my life AND comparing it with my own self-assessment, I came up with a mission that fit:

“to offer information, ideas, & counter-cultural narratives that will empower readers to thrive and to lovingly & creatively challenge secular and sacred systems toward greater levels of inclusion”.

It’s broad enough to encompass the various topics I like to write about. It weaves these topics together. It allows space for guest contributions from people who might see themselves / their work reflected in this mission as well. What helped JadeTPerry.com to ‘stick’ this year was having a core mission and intention.

2) “Not your Thinkpiece Hand-Maiden” aka Your Platform, Your Content.

Let me tell you how much I love a good thinkpiece. A good friend of mine sent a personal inbox message to me on the day that Damon Young from VerySmartBrothas.com wrote “Sh*t Bougie Black People Love: 23. Thinkpieces”, (pause… it’s satire… don’t get in your feelings). They said it reminded me of them AND cited the quote that MOST reminded me of them, which was:

“The thinkpiece — when a writer spends several hundred words articulating a smart-sounding angle on either a topic everyone is talking about or a topic no one has ever talked about — only ranks behind “the bottomless mimosa” and “Melissa Harris-Perry” when listing inventions most crucial to Bougie Black life, as it gives them four different ways to show everyone how smart they are. They can write one, comment on one, reference one in a regular conversation (“Did you read Coates’ piece on croissants this morning?“), and even just post one on their Facebook page under the status “Exactly!”

Guilty. Because JadeTPerry (the name and the platform) has think pieces on Kendrick Lamar, on why purity certificates are WHACK, on mass media’s re-imagining of Toya Graham, and the list goes on. HOWEVER, there came a point where my inboxes were being flooded with, “Have you seen ____? You need to do a think-piece on _____. Don’t forget to do a piece on ______. Have you heard _____?” It became a game of catch-up and it wasn’t a game I wanted to play. Think pieces work best when… oh, I don’t know… you’ve given considerable thought to something.

I was talking with an E-friend about it in the middle of the year and she wasted no time in responding with, “Tell them to write those words themselves. You aren’t anyone’s think-piece handmaiden”! (I cackled). In other words, if it’s YOUR platform, then YOU dictate what’s important enough / relevant enough to go there. Sometimes, it’s a narrative. Sometimes, it’s a thinkpiece. Sometimes, it’s a list. Sometimes, it’s feature. Your platform? Your content.

3) What I wanted to write about… and why I no longer care about that.

At a very naive point in my life, I believed there was a formula for everything… and that if you knew the formula, you could avoid shenanigans like heartache, unemployment, rejection, lost hope, crises of faith, not-being-cuffed-up-during-cuffing-season (kidding), and more. Then life said…

I’m a helper, by nature and by profession. So, my writing (in the 5 blogs prior to JadeTPerry.com) was very formulaic in nature. Because if I’m honest, I like getting things ‘right’. But life… and writing… isn’t all about getting things right. Sometimes, there is a road map that is only LOOSELY marked. You get on the road and realize it may not have been the best choice. What starts off as an existential crisis becomes an opportunity to re-route. What ends up as a substantial blog-body of work… starts off as ‘wingin’ it’. So, while I still care about helping, I no longer care about neatly packaged premises in 500 words or less. And that doesn’t sell as well… but I feel like that’s a lot more ethical.

4) Share!
In the first months of this year, I had no idea how to ‘blog’. I knew how to write. I knew that I had things to say. However, I assumed that I’d put it into the WordPress ether and somehow, someway, people would find me.

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I was initially very fearful of sharing my work, especially since there was no one target demographic. So, I started with the people that knew me personally. Then, after I’d gotten a bit braver, I shared it with colleagues I trusted. I used tags to categorize information, so that the WordPress system could easily recommend it to others. Then, I shared it on Twitter and after that, I shared it in Facebook groups I was a part of. Sometimes, it was well received. Other times… shudder. But I began to make a plan to PREPARE for critique, to understand it, to use it to become better.

Now, when I contributed to other platforms, I shared the site’s url as well. I select posts to become public so that friends can share with friends. The nervousness doesn’t / hasn’t gone away. I’ve just decided that I cared more about my own development in this platform… and for me, that requires sharing what’s written.

I’m grateful to everyone who has clicked, read, shared, followed, retweeted, and reached out to me via comments / inbox. I look forward to the offline and online dialogues we have about ideas and concepts. I appreciate the support, the initial push to blog, and I look forward to spending another year with you all!

Image Credit: Createherstock.com

“Sensitive About My Shhhh…”: Communication & Critique in a Digital Age

One of my favorite quotes from Erykah Badu is from the beginning of her song, Tyrone, where she explains, “Keep in mind that I’m an artist, and I’m sensitive about my sh!t…” It was the first time I’d heard someone acknowledge the connection between our art and our heart, so explicitly. In that way, this simple declaration affirmed me as a sensitive soul, as well.

I was a bright, loud, but sensitive child. At the time, I thought that sensitivity was a detriment. As I grew into womanhood, I learned to be responsible with my emotions and learned that fierceness and sensitivity aren’t always dichotomous. But I knew that I’d still have to work through being “sensitive about my sh*t” in an age where our thoughts, art, and work exists on public spaces… or can easily BECOME public through shares and screenshots.

You should know (especially if you’re a new reader) that I’m no stranger to critique. I started in Theater (*flashbacks to training that included 30 seconds to convey a convincing character and 2 minutes of critique if your character choices were whack or nonexistent). Then, I got a B.A. in Integrative Arts (no one knew what that meant – it involved Writing, Communications, Theater, Theater Makeup, Sociolinguistics, some other random things, conversations with the Dean about how should explore without pressuring myself to do it all, a balance of support and concern from my folks, and a lot of asinine questions about what the degree equipped me to do. To which I answered, “Integrate some art”).

The side-eyes grew ever-increasing when I graduated in the midst of a recession with my newly minted degree, created a fledgling independent project that involved painting art onto shirts & apparel…

Betty Boop Shirt

… did Background Vocals, volunteered in campus ministry (diversity initiatives), worked for a data entry company (because …credit card interest), and started writing for a magazine start-up. I knew my path included getting an M. Ed to work in the field of College Student Affairs (not many people outside of the field knew what that meant either! And when I had to shift from creative writing to academic writing… the word ‘critique’ won’t even begin to tell it all. That first paper feedback sent me to bed at 6 pm).

I became passionate about identity conscious initiatives in Higher Ed, started 5 blogs, got scared or complacent, shut them down, started a 6th one, and began to contribute to more public platforms. I was finally putting my words into the world with some measure of consistency. Along the way to balancing life as an aspiring scholar – practitioner – creative soul, I fell into the wormholes of comments sections. Every artist that’s ‘sensitive about their shhh’ needs a plan for what to do with critique, comment sections, and general communication in a digital age.

So, this post is for those who put art, scholarship, practice, and work out into the world. This post is for anyone who is navigating communication in a digital age. In many senses, this post is for me… and if you are helped along the way, we should grab coffee and encourage each other more often!

A Working Draft for Sensitive Souls Navigating Communication in a Digital Age

    1. Be clear that things shared in a public sphere are up for critique.
      I know you may have intended an outcome with your art or work… but it won’t always be received it that way. Embrace the fact that work is up for critique the moment you push ‘Publish’. It’s a part of the package. Embracing this empowers you because you aren’t side-swept and surprised every time you experience critique and you can learn what feedback is useful and what is trolling.
    2. Understand that a critique and a clap back aren’t the same thing.
      In a status to my Facebook-cousins-and-friends, I noted something that I knew I needed to share here:
      “Every critique is not a clapback. Both can sting. But you will know which is which by its ‘fruit’.You can take critique and grow. You can inquire about the person who gave the critique and when it’s healthy, they can and will offer expertise and wisdom. You can even discard critique when necessary (critiques vary in usefulness, based on many factors).If there’s anything I’ve learned from grad school and writing in public forums, it’s that critique and clapback aren’t always the same thing”.I’ll add here that clapbacks are fiery rebuttals. Critique can be multifaceted. Critique can follow a clap-back (ask me how I know :)), so it’s important to discern when there are differences between the two.
    3. Get feedback from people who know a great deal about the topic you are writing about.
      Since 2015, I’ve been sharing more of my writing in spaces where there are women of color who are a great deal more established than I am. We are from all walks of life, span multiple fields, and hold the knowledge of quite a few generations. Words cannot describe the joy I feel when someone who knows a great deal about what I’ve written, affirms my work. Yet it is also VERY valuable, when they give me the…giphy
      They care enough about me to not have me ‘in these streets’ looking a fool. And for that, I’m grateful.
    4. Get feedback from people who know you personally!
      They are your cheerleaders and advocates. They can help you to ensure that the voice you’ve presented in your work, art, etc. really sounds like you. And if it’s a really good friend, they can also help you to…
    5. Check your intentions for creating.
      Sometimes, I have small moments of clarity after a long night’s drive. On one such occasion, I micro-journaled, “Many times, we have already set a conscious or unconscious intention when we communicate i.e. to share information, to express a question, to inspire, to posture, to manage perceptions, etc. It’s okay to check in with and explore those intentions. Because if, at any point, our great, DEEP need is to be lauded as ‘right’ then we’ve likely shut ourselves off from transformative dialogue and a possible learning experience”. Understanding why you’ve created or proposed a work in the first place helps.
    6. Finally, understand that some people just won’t understand or appreciate your work and that doesn’t mean you should stop working. (Or as my Mother would say, “Toughen up and carry on”).
      Learn how to filter all of the external feedback that you get. Some of it is useful. Some of it is not. Some of it you probably shouldn’t have read in the first place (ask me how I feel about most comment sections). There is great temptation to hide when we feel our work is misunderstood. However, there is also the opportunity to hone our craft a bit more, learn from others, to exhibit resiliency in moving forward, and most of all… to reap the internal benefits that come from creating.

Since this is a working draft, let me know what you would add to this list! How do you navigate communication & critique?

Image credit: commons.wikimedia.org, Post inspired by Ms. Badu

On Chronic Illness, Thriving, & Taking Breaks

Many of my consistent readers will notice that it’s been almost a full month since I’ve done a full post on this site. But I’m back so heeey ya’ll! 🙂

Now, my hiatus doesn’t mean I wasn’t up to anything – in fact, I was over at the Mudroom & YoungBlackFeminist.com telling my entire business and writing / talking about authenticity, womanhood, self care, academic success, and more. However, I was also in the process of slowing down due to something I have only briefly named on a public forum…

This month has been a month of intentional rest and healing for my body. During this time, I’ve gotten REALLY acquainted with both the hilarity and reality of Chronic Illness Cat and have also been highly reflective on chronic illness, thriving, and the importance of taking breaks.

As you know, the overall mission here is to “offer information, ideas, & counter-cultural narratives that will empower readers to thrive and to lovingly & creatively challenge secular and sacred systems toward greater levels of inclusion…”. And that hasn’t changed. In the past few months, I’ve written about style & style politics, current events & media representation, mental health, and more. But I realized that I can’t fully embody that mission if I don’t touch a bit more on the subject of Chronic Illness, in a broader sense, as it is directly tied to issues of a) thriving and b) inclusion.

Living with chronic illness/es can be intense, especially when it’s something people feel compelled to hide away or pray away. In my experience of living with chronic illness (which will not be named ’cause I do have SOME business I can’t splash on the interwebs ;), I have found that the pressure to hide comes from within AND without – as people admonish you not to share any health struggle at ALL, in order to avoid stigmas. Yet I have also found that when we hide, we sweep the responsibility away from folk to actually practice empathy.

From the genius that is Chronic Illness Cat *Full link below

We sweep away the expectation that inclusion an empathy IS a very real possibility in human interactions, in work places, in sacred spaces, etc. We deprive ourselves of acknowledging and affirming that battling chronic illness (of any kind and to any degree) while fulfilling any other responsibilities you have takes some true kicka**ness. Also, in my personal experience, hiding has showed up in overworking and stretching myself beyond reasonable lengths.

So, for the past eight years I’ve navigated the very tricky space of what to share & what not to share. Because my chronic illness is invisible, I’ve had to craft appropriate responses for when people say things like, “But you LOOK so healthy… but you are so YOUNG… but you DO so many things”.

From the genius that is Chronic Illness Cat *Full link below

Yet, I also acknowledge that because of the invisibility of it, there exists a “passing” privilege (meaning: undue benefits, rewards, and / or centering of experiences due to the fact that at any time, though I have a chronic illness, the invisibility allows a choice to “pass” and benefit from a construct of perceived ableism. This gets sticky especially because ableism is the very construct that assumes that every disability is visible). So, with that said, this month has been dedicated to two things. The first has been using opportunities within my personal life to speak to / about chronic illness using creative means, as I find that it challenges stigmas and creates deeper understanding.

For example, my partner and I ran a quick series of posts that talked about Dating w/ a Chronic Illness & other experiences. A few favorites from that include a quick rant:

… If I have to explain one more time that chronic illness doesn’t NECESSARILY mean that a) it will go away, or that b) you haven’t seen various doctors, specialists, gurus, reiki masters, acupuncturists, yogis, meditation specialists, masseurs, and your Gramma’s deliverance & healing service… I SWEAR TO BOB!

And the dating checklist:

Dating w/ a Chronic Illness, Pt 8: The Date Decision Checklist

a) Is there seating at or around this venue?
b) How much walking / standing is required? Are there wheelchairs to rent? Should I rent one if people are gonna act weird about it?
c) Will u push me if I rent the wheelchair?
d) Is it weird to bring my own lawn chair? Is there space to do that?
e) Would you be willing to carry the lawn chair, if needed?
f) Do you have the medicine or did I put the medicine in my bag already?
g) Should I take my medicine before we go or when we get there?
h) What does parking look like? How far is parking from the venue?
i) Is there a menu? Are there any dairy free options?
j) Is there immediate access to a restroom in case of accidental ingestion of a triggering food?
‪#‎Nosurprisedatevenuesplease‬!

This may sound like an incredibly complex checklist of things, but what’s underlying this relatively funny list are concerns about ACCESS – spaces where my body & being is welcomed, and spaces where I will have to make physical sacrifices to be a part of. Also, chronic illness does not function or exist in a different world,  from my other sociological identities. It is a very distinct thing to be a woman of color with chronic illness and / or disability. Navigating the ways that these identities intertwine with each other requires us to remember that when we challenge stigmas, we are rarely challenging just one. For example, in Carolyn Tyjewski’s brilliant essay on advocacy, disability, and intersectionality she writes:

Yes, the “Strong Black Woman” is a dangerous and limited trope. However, it is also used within the Black community to revere Black women, problematically or not. And if one looks at the historical figures that are most often called forth as the quintessential “Strong Black Woman,” most are Disabled Black Women.

Harriet Tubman had severe epilepsy. Sojourner Truth had a disfigured arm and hand. Audre Lorde was not only legally blind and a cancer survivor, she was a lesbian. And being a lesbian during her lifetime was unfortunately seen as a medically diagnosed psychological disability. I highlight the latter not because I agree with it. Disability is a social construct that shifts and changes over time, space and place. And one’s disability quite often disappears when one is a significant figure within history.  So, while I dislike reminding people of a recent medically created nightmare (re: Sandra Bland’s treatment), I wish to draw attention to the complicated nuances of and between Disabled people and the reading/naming of disabilities.

This is an appropriate reminder that when we talk about these things it behooves us to take a nuanced and sophisticated approach.

The second thing this month entailed for me was claiming the right to rest, heal, thrive, and to take care of myself in those areas where I needed to. This really wasn’t anything that I set out to do intentionally. Yet between working full time, blogging, and contributing, there is a great deal required from my body and from my mind. So, this month was a time to simply focus on the full time gig as we ramp up for a new season, and to let my blogging muscles take a short break before refocusing on new content. My ability to thrive depended on this. So, with that said, I’m happy to continue the dialogue and work that happens in this space and encourage you to check out the following works, in the mean-time:

To see what I’ve been up to during the break, check out my interview in the Meet a Young Black Feminist series.

All memes above are from Chronic Illness Cat, Featured image is by Createherstock.com.

Finding Our Voice By Using It

Today, Nikki Carpenter from Nikki and the City published “5 Ways to Tell You’re Growing As a Blogger,” and posed the question: What are same ways you’ve grown as a blogger? As I reflected on her question, I realized that I’ve grown the most as a higher ed professional, a writer, a critical thinker, and a person by owning my thoughts and realizing that

The way to find your writing voice… is to use the one you’re already working with.

Here’s what I mean:

At the beginning of the year, I decided to re-invigorate my quest to find my writing voice’. I’ve been writing ever since I can remember, and my ‘voice’ has evolved as much as I have in those years of exploration and growth. However, I realized that I was saving all of my best work for outside pitches and submissions. I appreciated the exposure, but realized in the process that my ‘readers’ had nowhere else to refer to: no home base to find my work, until I created JadeTPerry.com.

When the site was created, I felt under so much pressure to infuse profundity into each and every post. [And if you’re skimming and reading ahead, just know, that’s not how any of this works…] It was very easy to feel stuck. It was also very easy to deduce that the REASON why I felt stuck was because I needed to do more work on finding my voice, as a writer.

So, I took a course. It helped in that it gave me a vision, an imagined audience, and a context. But after some time, the question resurfaced: “How can I communicate my full and authentic voice”? How can I make my ‘voice’ match my ‘brand’?

As I was wrestling through a piece, I realized that for me… and so many other writers / bloggers… the notion of ‘finding my voice’ can be used a crutch for not wrestling with, clarifying, coaxing, and using the one you already have. Nikki also alludes to this in her post.

Let me put it this way: I have been singing for even longer than I have been writing – filling in background vocals as needed, directing choirs, working on small projects here and there. My vocal coaches gave me an exercise and eventually, I’d be expected to sing it. I did not find my singing voice through deep contemplation or thinking about my brand. I opened up my mouth, and I sung.

I hit some bad notes, and I was corrected. At times, you could hear the nervousness I felt all throughout my vocal chords. At times, I took the safe route and sung from the most comfortable places within my range. But I would have never been able to truly hear my voice – its strengths, growing edges, tone, quality, and range – if I only sat there thinking about what my voice SHOULD sound like.

So, when I think about my growth as a writer / blogger, I’ve reasoned through the following things: I am a deep appreciator of critical thought & academic tradition (I will use a citation in a Facebook status if you let me…). I am also a #CarefreeBlackgirl who studied Theater and Integrative Arts. I was raised in a charismatic faith tradition (and there are certain points during my writing where I WISH somebody would pull out a Hammond B3 organ so I can ‘write it how I feel it’). I started off ’bout this writing life as a poet and spoken word artist, went into journalism, and am finding the mix between the two through blogging. I studied sociolinguistics briefly and refuse to privilege Standard American English forms over African American Vernacular English dialects on the site or in this space. All in all, my ever-elusive writing voice is a mash-up. It only makes sense when I USE it.

Unbought & Unbossed: Writing to Self-Author

5 – 7 MINUTE READ

Writing is a hard and valuable practice. At the end of the day, what makes it so hard is not the exercises in grammar, the content creation, or the edits. The hardest part is learning to actually own your thoughts. Author & blogger, Allison Vesterfelt, constantly address writing as a practice that is internally healing & challenging. The arts (creative, written, or performance) has a way of exposing our deepest thoughts and truths; in these ways we can physically see our thoughts exposed ‘on paper’. It is about naming and claiming: writing down thoughts and saying, “Yes… I take responsibility. Those are mine.”

Often times, it’s a lot easier to let someone else speak for us. We can hide behind their words, choose the bits we agree with, and criticize / deconstruct the bits that we don’t. But when it’s our work, there is a sense of stepping up to the plate… “Here I am… with my words.”

If you watch Scandal, you’ll remember a particular scene between Papa Pope & Olivia Pope, as he tries to convince her to leave D.C. He spoke the sentiments and realities of many people within marginalized communities: you’ve got to do twice as much, you’ve got to be twice as good… to get half the credit. Papa Pope’s advice was all too familiar. As a Black woman, growing up in Philadelphia, both parents taught me the same lesson, while insisting I master Standard American English and navigate the systems of academia with excellence. I thank them for that, because it’s real. In her book, Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay (2014) cites a similar message in her own upbringing. Research explains:

“Solorzano et al. (2002) found that one response of students who had their abilities doubted was to work doubly hard and show their peers and professors that they belonged. Successful Black students interviewed by Fries-Britt and Turner (2002) shared that they often encountered students who made comments based on stereotypical images of Blacks, and that they felt that they repeatedly engaged in a “proving process” to establish themselves as worthy and academically able both in and outside of the classroom.” (Fries Britt & Griffin, 2007, p. 511-512)

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. This phenomena extends past the halls of colleges and universities institutions. It finds me when I sit down to write. There are the all too familiar, “clutch your pearls moment”:
Will what I write be brilliant enough to actually be cited and recognized, especially when a man is interpreting / presenting on my work?
Will what I write be brilliant enough to establish professional status, when I am marginalized by age?
Will what I write be so brilliant that I cannot be denied?
As someone who carries a few marginalized identities… this stuff can get complicated.

And then, dear Allison Vesterfelt tells me that “writing is not an exercise of the mind. It is an exercise of the heart.” (I believe her and I don’t believe her at the same time. I think she’d be alright with that).  In my experience, writing is an exercise in self-authorship. It’s a clarify my thoughts, understand what is important to me, and then stay true in owning that (Baxter-Magolda, 2008). Writing is an exercise that compels me, encourages me: Own your thoughts. Own their brilliance. Own their shadows. Own your story. Unbossed. Unbought. It requires me to be different from even the people that I look up to in a variety of fields. It requires me to be an active participate in my own process.

When I was in graduate school, my professors led me to a similar lesson: Own your work. Defend it. Protect it. Grow from it and grow through it. Learning to freelance is that Lesson 2.0.

Image courtesy of Paul at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Resources:
Baxter Magolda, M. B. (2008). Three elements of self-authorship. Journal of College Student Development, 49(4), 269-284. doi: 10.1353/csd.0.0016

Chisholm, S. (2010). Unbought and unbossed (Exp. 40th anniversary ed.). Washington, D.C.: Take Root Media.

Fries-Britt, Sharon, and Griffin, K. (2007). “The Black box: How high-achieving Blacks resist stereotypes about Black Americans.” Journal of College Student Development 48.5: 509-524.

Fries-Britt, S., & Turner, B. (2002). Uneven stories: Successful Black collegians at a Black and a White campus. The Review of Higher Education, 25(3), 315-330.

Solorzano, D. G., Allen, W. R., & Carroll, G. (2002). Keeping race in place: Racial microaggressions and campus racial climate at the University of California Berkeley. Chicano Latino Law Review, 23(Spring), 15-112.

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Unbossed & Unbought: Writing to Self Author by Jade Perry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.