nostalgia mostly

I remember being picked up by my parents from after-school activities as a kid and just praying with every fiber of my being that they weren’t playing any of their Kenyan gospel music. If I was alone, it was only mildly annoying, but if I had a friend with me I simply could not handle the embarrassment of them hearing my parents weird tribal tunes.

It was even more of a horror story if I sat in the back seat with said friend and I had to reach over the drivers seat in order to shut off the music. I simply couldn’t bear the idea of being more of an outsider than I already was with my peers.

I spent a good portion of my youth running from my Kenyan heritage. I exhibited a mild curiosity from time to time but mostly I just wanted to be like everyone else at school. I didn’t want my clothes to smell like food all of the time from the spices my parents used in every dish. I didn’t want to be spoken to in our Mother Tongue, Kikamba, if we were outside the walls of our house. I didn’t even want to pronounce my name right because god forbid I should inconvenience the fragile American psyche with a goddamn double consonant.

I know it is pretty par for course to be embarrassed by your parents no matter what your culture but I wish I could turn back time and listen a little closer to my parents. I wish I could wear the clothes and jewelry they brought back for me from Kenya with pride to school. I wish I could talk to my dad in Kikamba in the car while he chuckled at my American accent.

I’m sitting here in my apartment over a decade later listening to Kenyan gospel music and smiling in the midst of a serious nostalgic episode thinking of all the things I wish I could go back and do over. How so much of my parents is alive and well in me somehow.  How I maybe never left my parents car and I’m still on a journey home…wherever that may be.

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personal belonging

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“Got 2 Get Through This” by Polly Nor

I thought I had reached a point in my life where I had become immune to cat-calling and leering glances from men on the streets but tonight I was jolted back into that self-consciousness and shame of street harassment by a group of sixteen year old boys. I was walking alone on the 606 down by Humboldt Park when I overheard this teenager chime to his buddy:

“Damn, that bitch is fine. But since I can’t pull her hair, I’ll just choke the shit out of her when I fuck her.”

I was so taken aback by the comment I almost tripped trying to get away from them. It was fairly empty on the trail at that point so all I could do was hurry up until I was surrounded by people other than the group of perverted boys.

Boys.

I didn’t think twice as I approached them but then the minute they began talking about my body I felt naked and as if they had taken away some part of me. I couldn’t enjoy the rest of my walk after that because of their comment. It made me question my safety and my sanity. But mostly it made me sad that these kids felt comfortable talking about a woman (a goddamn human being) in such an explicit manner and didn’t think twice about how their words would affect me.

To those kids it was merely fodder for their evening bike ride but to me it was a loss of security and another reminder that my body autonomy is so easily dismantled by simply stepping out my front door. Because no matter how much I like to think I am immune to the leering glances and the disgusting words thrown at me on any given street in this city, it eventually begins to wear on me.

No matter how many times I pump myself up and I am determined not to let others affect my day to day life and what I wear or where I go, it is still in the back of my mind. And especially as a young black woman. I can never truly feel as if I belong to myself. Some part of me will always be on guard because we live in a world where a child feels comfortable talking about choking me when they fuck me.

Because my skin, my gender, my goddamn life are somehow always there for someone else to comment on. To fetishize. To diminish.

how great is this god dream

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Kanye West in his “Power” video

I am currently bouncing back and forth between listening to Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam” and Chance the Rapper’s “How Great“. It is no small coincidence both artists happen to be from Chicago and the former has served as an inspiration for the latter (and perhaps vice versa). But what resonates the most for me in each of these songs is the decision to use church choirs and heavily incorporate biblical references in their lyrics.

I grew up with the Chris Tomlin song which Chance samples at the beginning of “How Great”.  I can recall singing it in church Sunday after Sunday hoping that at some point I would truly believe in how great God supposedly was. I prayed every Sunday that eventually I wouldn’t be lying through my teeth when I said I had accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

You can see the same sort of inner turmoil in “Ultralight Beam”. During a live performance Kanye can be seen laying face down when Kirk Franklin comes out as if waiting for a beam of light to wash over him and cleanse his soul. He turns over towards the end as the choir picks back up and I find myself wondering if Kanye receives the redemption he so desperately seeks.

It is not hard to see that stylistically incorporating choirs is a beautiful addition to any song but I have to believe that it goes deeper than that for each of these men. As someone who grew up in the church for over half of my life, I can personally say that trying to reconcile your every day life (which is oft viewed as sinful) with your spiritual life is a difficult task.

If you go to church, you can’t drink alcohol. If you go to church, you can’t swear. If you go to church, you can’t make out with people. If you go to church, you can’t have any goddamn fun.

Or so my particular brand of religion taught me growing up. And that was difficult to come to grips with so I left. Because I would rather have fun and be a happy heathen than miss out on any part of life.

But what these men managed to do successfully in both of these songs is marry the two. They have married the spiritual and “sinner” sides (rap culture) to create something truly unmatched. While Kanye is a bit further on his journey and Chance is merely in the Jesus Walks phase…they have both managed to capture a brief moment in this cultural revolution that is quietly occurring.

By choosing to incorporate faith and God in their albums, each of these men have essentially made the statement that there is no “us” and “them”. We are all sinners, we are all flawed, and we are all looking for some form of redemption. There is no definitive way in which that is achieved and to believe otherwise is limiting and too heavy a weight to bear.

None of us know if God or Jesus or angels exist. None of us know if any of what we are doing holds any meaning in the grand scheme of things. But we are asking the questions, we are singing the words, and we are creating art which may only be beamed out into an empty void but at least we are doing something which brings people and worlds together.

short memory/long life

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“Riding Death in My Sleep” by Wangechi Mutu

There are three things my brain has a short memory for: heartbreak, depression, and period cramps. It is as if every time each of these three things occurs I am experiencing it for the first time. My brain neglects to retain the memory of the pain attached and I am continuously in this loop of remembering and forgetting ad nauseam.

I don’t even think my short term memory loss can be limited to those three things, I could probably think of at least ten more things which my mind conveniently forgets. I used to get really upset with myself, opting to scold myself for not taking preventative measures to avoid pain. Why didn’t I drink more water to prevent a hangover? Why didn’t I work out more to lessen my cramps? Why didn’t I stick with therapy in order to keep from bottoming out again?

And it’s true, when I’m in the moment with depression or yet another failed relationship, it is all I can do to think about what I could have done to keep it all from winding up with me in pain. Because that’s human nature, right? We look to see what we can do to avoid a catastrophe.

But I don’t think that’s the way life works, or at least my life, and perhaps my flighty memory and inability to retain painful memories is how I stay alive. Perhaps it is how I, and many others like me, have managed to continue on long after we wanted to give up.

If the mind allowed some of us to readily recall our deepest pain and our greatest heartbreaks, would we ever get out of bed? If I could remember the night my father passed away with such vivid detail, would I ever be able to stop crying? If I remembered the Sunday my first boyfriend broke up with me, would I ever go on another date again?

I think there is a trade off which each of us must accept in this exchange. I am content for now to accept that each new painful moment will feel like the first and worst just so long as the interim is blissfully free from the rest.

is #depression trending?

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In Your Dreams” by Polly Nor

I am not sure if it is just me but lately I feel as if the topic of depression has been more prevalent than a few years ago. Maybe my internet’s algorithm has detected my own clinical depression and has tailored my experience to mirror my life. But I can’t help but shake the feeling that maybe it is just trending and that terrifies me.

And I also can’t help but wonder that even if there is a supposed awareness of depression, then why, why do I still feel so goddamn alone?

For example, I can scroll through hours of Twitter, and be bombarded with links to essays, articles, and mere tweets alluding to depression itself. But I feel as if that brief moment of connection, of slight relief from the isolation caused by plummeting serotonin levels, is over almost as soon as it started. And just as soon as you click “refresh” the world is onto another conversation and you are left as alone as when you hit the power button.

Perhaps it is naive to expect to find some sort of comfort in a world of carefully curated exchanges, manufactured expressions, and flickering attention spans but then again maybe it is not entirely unfounded. This is the future after all.

So then what, what can we possibly do with all of this glorious future at our fingertips? How can we take something so life-altering as depression and make it an ongoing conversation? How can we improve the quality of life for countless people who are constantly at war with their minds?

At one point or another we all experience depression to some degree but for some it is not a brief period of inactivity and inexplicable sadness, it is our life. And it is most certainly more than a hashtag and carefully edited article in a counterculture mag.


 

Here is an article which I feel accurately captured the current climate of Mental Health for Black Women (obviously the conversation is more vast than this but for the sake of narrowing my scope I am focusing on my personal experience and those similar).