you’re the dealer and the stoner with the sweetest kiss I’ve ever known

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from The Kitchen Table Series by Carrie Mae Weems

If I had a choice I wonder if I would choose to be a black woman from the beginning. I wonder if I would choose to be an immigrant, an artist, a marginalized part of society. I have learned so much walking around in this shell of blood and DNA and madness. I have learned so much and become more empathetic as a result of my experiences.

But I have also learned that people don’t want me to ask questions, to speak up for myself, or to exist confidently. People preferred when I was insecure (I still am) and I was crippled by the uncertainty of my existence and the world around me.

I have been called more terrible things by people now that I am living authentically. Now that I won the war inside my own head I am now stuck in a war against the world.

But you know? I am not worried about it. I am prepared to learn and fight and grow in whatever way the universe needs me to. I am not phased by the haters. I am not worried about people who want to tear me down because I have worked hard to build myself up from a very dark place.

I expect to still have darkness come creeping in. I know there will be some days where I will cry nonstop and the world will be unkind and try to make me participate in its insanity but for once I don’t need to let it into life.

There are a lot of people who have incredibly awful things to say about me. And I have made my mistakes, sure, but I am more than the sum of my parts. I know that. No, actually I believe it with every fiber of my being.

I won the war in my mind (for now) and I am at peace with myself.

The rest is just white noise.

grieve so that you are free to do something else

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art by Jenny Holzer

I remember the night my father died and the doctors let us in to sit with his still warm corpse. It was only hours before he and my mother had returned from vacation in Kenya. I came home to see them and celebrate the holidays at a family friends house. I remember coming home from the friend’s house and my dad going into the garage and leaning up against the tool shelf.

He was clutching his chest and he told me he had to go to the emergency room.

And then a few hours later he was gone. We all sat around his corpse in the sickeningly bright room as my mom wailed over and over as she pressed her face into my dads still chest. I remember I was so embarrassed at how deep and tangible her pain was. I wanted her to stop crying, for my dad to get up, and for us all to return home like every other time my dad had a heart attack.

But this time he wasn’t coming home and we were not returning to the home that we knew before. My sisters eventually showed up from their respective parts of the city and suddenly all of us were in that room with the grief and the pain and the discomfort and we didn’t know what to do with ourselves except continue on with what remained of our lives even though the biggest part of it was being prepared for burial in a morgue.

I listened to my dads voicemail for weeks after he died until my boyfriend told me it wasn’t healthy. Until the university turned off my father’s voicemail and gave his office number to someone else as if he hadn’t worked there and lived there and loved there as he taught preschool teachers.

And when we went to Kenya and we were met by my Uncle Gideon and a whole crowd of friends and relatives at the airport, I was still embarrassed. I was embarrassed that my pain was now on display and that people were taking time away from their lives to grieve my father. I was ashamed of my grief.

I remember being so hot out in the village standing in the house waiting for people to pay their condolences and pretending like I remembered any of my hundreds of relatives. I remember grimacing when people said that my father’s death was for the best and that he was in a better place now.

A better place than with his wife and daughters?

And as they lowered his casket into the grave and people shared their countless memories of my father’s beautiful life I swayed a little in the heat and I felt my heart close in on itself.

My aunts held my mom up as she collapsed under the weight of the grief. And I looked to each of my sisters hoping one of them would show me how to behave. How to move forward when a piece of my heart was being lowered into the ground and covered with dirt and cement.

I still don’t know how to move forward. Some days I think that I have made a little progress but then other days I go to my mom’s one bedroom apartment and I am reminded of what we all lost.

I look at my niece and think about how my dad would be so in love with her and show her picture to all his friends whenever he got the chance.

I look in the mirror and I relax my face and I see my father looking back at me.

I laugh and my eyes crinkle the same way his did.

I am still grieving and I know that I will never be done doing so but at least finally, I am using that grief to do something else. Something my father would be so, so proud of.

Grieve.

Wail.

Break.

And then get up and do something else.

get you a girl who can do both

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art by lora mathis

I suppose it would have been easier to sit quietly and maintain what little peace of mind I have left. It would have been easier to change the channel or turn the page rather than bombarding my psyche with all the violence that rains down upon black bodies. It would have been so much easier to post a music video with lyrics under the guise of sharing my feelings through the words of another artist.

But I have a voice. I have something I been dying to say for quite some time. I have something inside of me that is aching to escape.

And before I would have held myself back and not tried to stir the pot in an effort to make people see what a sham this entire existence is but then I only ended up doing myself a disservice in those instances because I internalized my trauma and it compounded my mental health issues.

I realize doing what I did in an effort to open a few people’s eyes was quite risky. It was quite the gamble on my personal well-being and my relationships with various people.

But I have said it before and I can only continue to say it again until I can no longer utter a sentence: If you are silent about your pain they will kill you and say you enjoyed it. Zora Neale Hurston wrote that decades ago and it is the only sentence I play over and over and over in my mind when the world comes stampeding onto my heart.

Was I hurt yesterday? Of course. Did I consider getting drunk to just overcome the sadness? Did I consider causing myself harm in order to escape the pain?

Of course. How could I not?

I am only human.

But I chose a few weeks ago to take care of myself. I chose to start running again, cutting down on alcohol and instead opting to be lucid for whatever this world has to throw my way.

It hasn’t been an easy journey but I am finally strong enough to handle the experience. I am finally strong enough not to be broken by broken people.

I know who I am and what I stand for and that is all I need to make it from sunrise to sunset. Well, that and the love and support of countless friends and family.

Everything else that attempts to hold me back is merely that, it’s just “attempting” to extinguish my fire and flame. I am the one who determines how I feel and what I allow to come into my mind and heart.

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.

 

 

 

i hope you know i tried even if you refused to see it

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art by lora mathis

people are so odd. i could spend the rest of my life trying to understand and i would just be lowered down into my grave as confused as the first day i discovered the universe.

before i learned to take care of myself i internalized a lot of negative energy from the people around me. i often wonder if i am even truly depressed or i’m just awake. perhaps it is a combination of both.

but i have been working hard on accepting the world and my eventual role in it as a storyteller and artist and human.

and i am saddened by the reality of this existence but i am not disheartened as soundly as the first time i realized the truth.

i am on the more indifferent end of the sadness spectrum if that makes sense.

and i am trying not to let that indifference make me shut out people who are trying to navigate the world in much the same way that i am. people are trying and failing and breaking and laughing and loving like i am trying to do.

i am trying not to let the hate so completely engulf my soul that i don’t create and express myself after years of editing myself and being sidelined because of the color of my skin and the chromosomes i had no control over.

i am trying.

i am trying.

 

you accumulate garbage and it makes you beautiful

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art by lora mathis

i’ve been feelin’ brand new lately, feelin’ A1, feelin’…myself. i don’t know when everything shifted but i am eternally grateful that they have. for the longest time i would read books and poems and prose and wonder when i was going to make it through the proverbial storm. i would be anxious and worried that the status quo was indeed the status quo and i was doomed to be a thotpiece forever and ever.

but somewhere between the vomiting and the depression and the drugs and the insane manic episodes everything fell into place.

the stars aligned and my shoulders began to feel a little lighter. my heart wasn’t as empty and cold and my eyes could finally see something besides the paralyzing sadness.

i have been nonchalantly joking that it’s only a matter of time before a meteor crashes down and ends this bliss. and honestly that would be totally fine. totally.

but i hope it waits a little. i hope i get a few more years before i am burned to death while covered in coconut oil.

i spent so many years hoping i would be happy. that i would be less depressed. less drunk. but i realized that happiness isn’t a feasible goal. yes everything is A1 but also i am sad. i am sad and angry and overwhelmed by this entire human existence.

and that is what humbles me. that is why i know i am finally ready for whatever comes next because truly, how strange, how goddamn strange it is to be anything…at all.

so i will keep one eye out for that meteor but i also fully intend to enjoy it while i got it. whatever it is, it is truly, undeniably, absolutely strange and wonderful and broken and real.

that’s real.

 

i lost my mind and gained a little peace of mind (funny how that works)

 

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lisa frank nihilist

I tried for years to fit within the parameters society and my family set for me but I have come to accept that I have failed them all gloriously and that is just absolutely, completely fine by me. Because finally, for once, for a brief moment in this dreadful existence I like who I am. I am okay in my skin. Yes, of course I want to die. I don’t actually care if I die later tonight, if I’m being completely honest, but for once I would prefer if I didn’t. I would like to see what happens tomorrow for me, my friends, my family. I want to know if perhaps my life has some meaning (I am almost certain it doesn’t).

But either way, that’s okay? I am just riding this wave…the good, the bad, the manic, the semi-sane moments I can manage to hold onto.

My father always responded to any inquiry with, “Because of many becauses.”

Because of many becauses.

Because.

Why am I still alive? Because.

Why are you still alive? Because.

Because because because.

It’s been almost three years now since the first time I was admitted to the psychiatric hospital. Weird. I always knew I would end up there. I guess you could call it a sixth sense. I remember watching Girl, Interrupted and knowing those were my people. And similarly when I read for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbo is enuf I knew. I knew deep down in my heart of hearts that my kooky mind would probably land me in a psychiatric ward.

I am not ashamed to admit that now. It is a part of who I am. Just like my exes, and the drugs, and the booze, and the questionable life choices.

Ah, it’s all beautiful and sad and real and…me.

I can say with absolute certainty that I paid my dues. I have done the heart work and I intend to continue doing more of it as my life continues on. I am excited about it even.

Weird, huh?

This could go on but I want to go do other things (there is so much life out there, I gotta go see it my dear!) so I will leave you with this last anecdote: every so often I am riding the CTA and I see one or two of the folks I was in the psychiatric hospital with and we talk briefly. I am often saddened because a lot of them have returned to John Madden Mental Health Center (it is a real place and it is real, real scary and underfunded and exactly what you would imagine a shitty BARELY state funded mental health facility to be like) since our stay but also a lot of the folks are happy and healthy and doing the same heart work that I am currently doing.

And that’s real. That’s what we’re all trying to do.

I am doing some real heart work and I am real proud of myself. And I love myself.

Truly. I love who I am. Who I was. And who I have yet to become.

Because of many, many becauses.

the heart of the matter

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Nine by Polly Nor

The shift was imperceptible, much the same as the first, and all of those that came after. I had all but accepted the way things were. I had resigned myself to a life of crippling depression and endless disappointments. But then one day I tilted my head to the side and decided that couldn’t be it. My life was not supposed to be one hangover after another or me continuously being a Grade A douchebag at the mercy of my emotions.

No, nope, not a chance.

And so the shift took place and I’m still making moves and treading water every day because even if you are prepared for war you will still get knocked down a few times.

I don’t know what happens next but I can say that I am excited for life for the first time in what feels like eons.

I know I can do this life thing this time around because I’ve seen the sad broken parts of myself, I’ve looked down the barrel of the proverbial gun, I’ve willed my own death so many times that it’s almost laughably redundant.

Stanley Kunitz once wrote: “…the heart breaks and breaks and lives by breaking.”

Ernest Hemingway reminded us that, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”

I am living proof of the words these men once shared and I urge you to take them to heart. Even if your heart is broken or breaking, I promise you’ll get to the other side, wherever the other side is. And if you don’t, well, there are worse things than dying so enjoy the sweet release.