Gratitude

I’m in Alaska at my writing residency. It’s lovely here, and I feel extraordinarily lucky to be here. My tourist day in town — the day before I came up to the residency itself — was studded with random moments when I’d be walking around and suddenly “Thank you,” would just bubble out of me. Out loud. Literally just saying it aloud as I walked on the beach, as I stood in the museum, as I sipped mead, as I stared up at the mountains. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’ve never had gratitude burst out of me before. It’s a curious feeling. I’d like to experience it some more!

I’m here to write. I’m here, most specifically, to work on “Fat Talk” essays. I am determined to shape that series into a collection. And, while I haven’t been away from the project for long, I kind of have, too. I did some writing in November, but never cleaned it up and posted it. I’ve been thinking about the project, but haven’t gotten any words on paper.

So these two weeks are time to pull this project back to the front of my brain and see what’s what.

And that’s hard and stressful because a lot of what I want to write about it hard and stressful. Having to put into words the ways in which I have been mistreated is hard. Having to put into words the ways in which I have mistreated myself is harder. It’s good to be here to do this. To have time and silence to push through the rough pieces. To have a group of writers to sit with at dinner and feel embraced and heard. This. THis is why “thank you” just kept bubbling out of me on Saturday. The understanding and anticipation of the gift of this

I came up a day early so that I could recover from a 20-hour travel day and play tourist in Homer for a minute. I wish I could have come up a full week early. I enjoyed my day of wandering in the cold and rain, however. I was exhausted — arrived at 7:30 in the morning but couldn’t check into the hotel until 5, so I had to stay awake and do something all day. And I did. Walked on the beach, stared at the mountains, had a really good omelet, went to the very excellent and inspiring Pratt Museum — if you’re going to be in Homer, for-sure visit the Pratt. It’s small and lovely. After the museum, I walked over to the Sweetgale Meadworks to try mead for the first time. I sampled all the meads ( 😉 ) and even got pics of a visiting moose before it was time to head to the hotel. On the drive to the hotel, we passed a coffee klatch of bald eagles — six of them just hanging out on the beach. And then I discovered that I’m not too early for late daylight! I thought I’d miss the whole midnight sun extravaganza … and I will, but the sun sets after 10pm right now, so daylight just goes on and on. It’s magical.

Here are some pics from the last few days:

My first good look at Kachemak Bay, taken from the back deck of the hotel where I stayed the first night.
The flights of meads I sampled. The flight on the left had my favorites: Sweetgale, Nagoonberry, and Wildflower.
One of the two moose who came by the meadery as I was sipping mead.
The view from my hotel room … at about 9pm. Crazypants that it was still this bright out!
Hanging out at the Salty Dawg Saloon before heading out to the residency. (That Stella Cidre was good stuff!)
A piece of the view from my cabin window here at the residency. That’s Cook Inlet.
Running away to write. 10/10 highly recommend
A mated pair of Sandhill Cranes who were hanging around outside the main house when I walked up for breakfast yesterday.

And now it’s time to get back to work! ❤


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Under the Influence

Yesterday, a friend and I went to the New Museum to see the Faith Ringgold – American People show. Such an amazing, amazing exhibit. The show spans three floors of the museum, and as we were entering the second of the three, my friend said the most kind and impossibly-erroneous thing to me: “If you were a quilter and a painter, you would absolutely be Faith Ringgold!”

That is one of the craziest “if” statements ever made … and also a really beautiful thing to have someone say to me. When I burst out laughing, she doubled down. “You know it’s true. You tell stories the way she does, stories with pictures, stories in pieces.”

Again, crazy to think any work of mine would have any real thing in common with Ringgold’s … and again, a lovely, loving thing to say to me.

But what’s actually true is that there is a connection between Ringgold’s work and my storytelling with pictures, and I’m touched that my friend would have seen that through line. I mean, there are the obvious connections that I can think of now that I hadn’t considered in that moment … like my comics and the stories I write for my photographs. But then I realized there’s a deeper connection, one I didn’t see until I reflected on the show last night.

Thinking about Ringgold, and thinking specifically of Tar Beach and Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky, I remembered something my friend wouldn’t have known about but which absolutely draws a line between some of my storytelling and Faith Ringgold. I took a workshop many years ago about making paper quilts with students. The “quilts” were a kind of story quilt with images in some squares and text in others or images and texts in each square. I had forgotten about that workshop. I kept the quilt squares I made that day for years — I might still have them in my boxes of teaching materials.

The story I worked on that day was a nine-block quilt about my half-sister, about my sadness at knowing I have a half-sister somewhere in the world but have never met her. I’ve written that story a number of times since that workshop, but that was the start, that was the first time I put it on paper.

Making that story quilt reminded me of Duane Michals’ photo stories, which I’d discovered by chance in the Paris MOMA and fallen in love with. I spent some time making stories with my photographs after seeing Michals’ work. I enjoyed doing it, but it didn’t feel exactly right, not yet.

Years later, when I started taking pictures for IG, I immediately went back to stories. That was my whole reason for joining IG — to take pictures and make stories to post with them. And every time I’ve participated in the 24 Hour Project, that has been my way of doing the project, writing tiny stories for each of my photos. The pictures and stories I post now feel right, so much more what I had in mind than the stories I wrote back when I first discovered Duane Michals.

My museum friend — whose name on this blog is Grace — saw that connection, one I hadn’t even seen myself. I’d drawn the direct line between Duane Michals and my IG storytelling, but I’d forgotten about those paper quilts we’d made a lifetime ago at the Literacy Assistance Center, forgot about sitting with a room full of adult ed teachers, reading Tar Beach to each other and talking about how the story works in Ringgold’s book and how we could take a story from our own lives and distill it down to a handful of collage images and sentences. It’s a way of storytelling that settled into my head and heart, and it continues to bubble up and out all these years later.

I love Grace, but there is no world in which I would have grown up to be Faith Ringgold. Faith Ringgold needed to be Faith Ringgold, and the world needed her to be. But I like seeing the connection, seeing the way her work touched me and settled in me, so deeply I didn’t need to think about it, just needed to let it push me forward.


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Back to YouTube University

I thought I should get back onto YouTube and watch some of the 87 gazillion videos about care and styling for my 4C TWA (super kinky teeny weeny afro). Since I haven’t had short hair since forever, that seemed like a good idea. It didn’t go as well as I’d have hoped.

I should have taken a few things into account.

1) I am not patient. Despite having a reputation for being the soul of patience, I am actually extraordinarily impatient in most situations. Watching all these cute youngsters fussing and fighting their way through doing their hair, all the while telling me a lot of things I don’t need to know and pausing to mug for the camera and do length checks … No.

2) I haven’t forgotten all that much … because natural hair care is natural hair care, and I’ve been taking care of my hair forever, so what do I need to learn? This was why I got annoyed with my barber when she began to tell me what I needed to do to take care of my hair. I hadn’t walked into the shop with relaxed hair that I was having cut down to the new growth. Just as she irked me, listening to these babies give sage advice — half of which they will unlearn and move on to better methods as I did over the years — wasn’t a good use of my time.

3) I am a terrible student. I love learning things, but I don’t so much love to be taught things. I like to read ahead, or read something else, or just start trying it on my own, or daydream and doodle while the instruction is happening. Yes, I am a jerk. So watching these videos got on my nerves because I already know a lot and I don’t want to sit and watch someone play with their hair when I could turn that foolishness off and play with my own hair.

If you’re rolling your eyes, join the club! And feel free to point out that this take-myself-back-to-naturalista-school has been an epic fail due to my ridiculously bad attitude.

Of course, what’s actually true is that I have any number of things to learn. First, there are new products. I’ve been pretty set in my ways as far as what I use on my hair. I’ve got the couple of brands I love, and I stick with them. I’ve tried new things in those brands, but I don’t stray off the path much. Some of these adorable kiddos are using brands I haven’t heard of, and I should be paying attention and then doing some homework.

Also, there are new tools, and some new ways to use old tools. I haven’t been a regular tutorial watcher in ages, and I have no idea who makes the best picks, and maybe, with short hair, I might actually want to use the fabled Denman brush that I hated when my hair was long.

My foray into YT hasn’t been all snarky inattention, however. You’ll have noticed that I referred to the women making the videos as children. And that’s because, with very rare exception, they are all quite young. And, in spite of my crotchetyness, I’m actually really happy to see all these young-young women making these videos.

I was first introduced to the YT natural hair tutorial world 11 years ago. Even then, I was much older than the ladies making videos. I was fascinated. There had been nothing even remotely like those tutorials when I first went natural … because there was no such thing as YouTube in the late 80s. There wasn’t even public use of the internet yet. And, too, there weren’t tons of Black women cutting off their permed hair and growing out their kinks and coils. And even fewer people were celebrating anyone who made that decision. We didn’t call it a “Big Chop” then. We were just cutting our hair, and sometimes having to fight with barbers and salon staff to get it done.

I loved watching all those early stars of the movement showing us different styles and care tips, teaching us how to make products and how to use them, showing off how comfortable they were with their natural hair and how fabulous their hair was. And I’m just as pleased to see all these young women making videos today. It’s more common for Black women to wear their hair natural today than it was 30+ years ago, but (as I mentioned in my “it’s only hair” post) Black women’s hair is still strictly policed, and it’s hard to unlearn all the negative stereotypes that have been attached to our hair over time and which persist. There are still plenty of women who need to see how versatile and fabulous their hair can be no matter how they choose to wear it. There are still plenty of girls who need to see all these natural hair role models, who need to be aware of all the choices they have.

I won’t be spending too much time down the rabbit hole of YT tutorials, at least not right now. I’ll be refamiliarizing myself with my short hair on my own. But I’m happy to see that Naturalista World is alive and thriving, that there are so many new YouTubers out there shepherding the next generation of big-choppers into the fold.


It’s the 15th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
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Triggered: Musing on Misophonia

My last post has me thinking a little more about misophonia. In case you missed that post and need a definition: Misophonia is a neurological disorder in which sound cues are misinterpreted within the central nervous system. The word means “the hatred of sound.” People have misophonia are triggered by specific, entirely mundane sounds, responding with irritation, rage, panic, the need to flee. People describe it as feeling as if they are being driven mad.

Me. I am “people.” I’ve been dealing with this for decades. In responding to comments on yesterday’s post, some new thoughts came up for me.

First is the inherent meanness of misophonia. It’s bad enough that common sounds make misophones feel as if they’re going crazy. But it also makes them feel like bad people. They must be bad if they feel such violent rage — often toward beloved family members. So you don’t just suffer from the trigger, you also question your inherent goodness as a human. And then I responded to Ramona’s comment and realized that, on top of suffering from the trigger sound, if you aren’t always able to control your response, you might lash out at the person making the sound, and that person would have no idea what they’d done or why you were acting so irrationally. Thanks, misophonia.

Misophonia was only made an officially recognized disorder in 2000 or 2001 (sources disagree). Twenty years ago! How in the world is that possible? People have surely been suffering from this for about forever. I’ve been dealing with it since I was a kid, and that was a thousand years ago, so … where was the medical profession all this time?

But it makes sense, right? It would never have occurred to me to say to anyone, “Oh, you know, when you make that sound, I want to grind you into dust.” Because who would ever say that? And because “that sound” was usually something harmless and normal like taking a breath or whispering. So being set off by a trigger sound is maddening and makes you feel like a secretly-homicidal person. Who wants to talk to the doctor about that? And as I type that, I realize that I’ve know about this for years, and I’ve never once mentioned it to my doctor!

I need to do a little research, find out how this disorder finally made its way into the light. I joked in last night’s post about misophones uniting and shouting, “We’re here! We’re here!” like in Horton Hears a Who, desperately trying to get the attention of the world’s doctors. Of course, that wouldn’t have happened, because so many of the sounds involved in that mass uprising would have triggered more than half the assembled crowd, and everyone would have fled. 🙂

Disorders are “discovered” all the time — quotation marks deployed because in most of those cases, people have been suffering for any number of decades and it just takes a while for medicine to catch up, but damn. That’s so cruel.

Lakshmi commented that living in a city must make it harder to deal with misophonia. Do you know, until I read her words, it had never once occurred to me that living in this huge, many-peopled city must absolutely have made this disorder worse for me. Just from the greater number of people I encounter in a day, the triggers would increase exponentially. And, by the same token, the fact that I’ve spent so much of the last two years alone in my house has meant that I’ve had significantly fewer run-ins with trigger sounds. How have I not seen that?

One of the articles I read about misophonia talked about ASMR helping people calm down triggered. Um … no. Not me, at any rate. That’s for certain. ASMR is a trigger. That whispery nonsense makes me want to slap the speaker. Ugh. Calming? I mean, if “calming” is another way of saying “setting me off.”

I really do feel as if I talk about misophonia a lot. I haven’t posted that much about it here, but I think I’ve posted a number of times on FB. Each time I write about it, there are many people who comment that a) they’re learning about it for the first time as they read my post, and b) that they or someone they know suffer from it. Meanwhile, all the articles say how rare misophonia is, that only 15 – 20 percent of the population deals with it. It’s unlikely that I just happen to know a huge number of that small 15 – 20 percent. I’m not buying it. What rings more true is that most people have never talked to their doctors about it. Misophonia makes us keep the suffering to ourselves, so the number of folks who have it is dramatically undercounted. I mean, I’m a total over-sharer, and we’ve already established that I’ve never mentioned this to my doctor. Definitely a serious under-counting.

Does it matter that people don’t know about misophonia? What difference would it make if more people were aware? Well, for one, more sufferers would know they aren’t evil and insane. Yes, that’s a big one. But also, people who don’t suffer from it would (maybe?) be more understanding when a misophone snaps at them to stop yawning so loud, stop shuffling their feet, stop chewing with their mouths open. Maybe. Or at least they might not take it so personally. Well, except for the open-mouthed chewing. Please take that personally. And stop. Stop right now. People, THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO REASON TO CHEW WITH YOUR MOUTH OPEN!!!

Ahem. <pats hair back in place>

The unfortunate truth is that there isn’t a lot anyone can do to help someone who has misophonia. I mean, I have my self-soothing tactics, and sometimes they work. Interestingly, one of the things that helps the most is recognizing what’s happening. Having the lightbulb moment of knowing that I’m responding to a trigger doesn’t erase the sound’s power … but it sort of does, too. It can make me feel less out of control. And that helps me remember to use other tools to calm myself. I can listen to music or white noise. I can walk away from the sound, from the person making the sound. I can engage the noise-maker in a different way so that they stop doing whatever it is that has me wishing an anvil would fall on their head.

There are a number of studies being conducted — there’s an International Misophonia Research Network, for example, and a Misophonia Research Fund. It’s encouraging to see that people are working to find treatment options. One interesting treatment I read about was wearing hearing aids that play a relaxing sound. There is still the DIY treatment of reducing stress and getting more sleep. That’s what I’ll be focusing on. That and remembering that throat-punching is generally frowned upon.


It’s the 15th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
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Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Triggered: Misophonia Redux

I’ve written about misophonia before. And tonight I need to write about it again. Calling it out, naming it, can help sometimes, can defuse some of my anger response. A quick explanation:

Misophonia, or the hatred of sound, is a disorder. People who deal with it — people like me — are set off by specific sounds. And the response to hearing those sounds can be irritation, rage, panic, the need to flee. It makes sufferers feel as if they’re being driven insane. Fun times, right?

So yes, misophonia. I have it. Or, most accurately, it has me … has me tied up in knots and twisting in the wind. I might be happier if my response was the need to flee, but no. My response has always been instant rage. Zero to infinity in a nanosecond. A shaking, head-exploding rage. Picture me the way anger is depicted in the movie, Inside Out.

I have a long list of sound triggers. Mouth noises are my kryptonite, but knuckle-cracking is also pretty horrible for me. Loud yawns, certain voices. Yes, driven into a rage by the sound of someone’s voice, something they cannot control and certainly can’t be blamed for.

I finally learned that misophonia was an actual, for-real disorder about 10 years ago. And it’s only been a named and recognized thing since 2001. I’m picturing a crowd of misophones somehow finding one another then banding together and fighting to get the medical establishment to recognize them. I see them taking to the streets, shouting, “We’re here! We’re here!” like in Horton Hears a Who. You know, or something.

Learning about it was as glorious as the sun breaking through the clouds after a storm. Learning about it meant I wasn’t imagining it and that I wasn’t the only person suffering from it — if people were writing articles about a problem I had that I’d never mentioned to a soul, that meant other people were having the same problem, and I wasn’t alone in my craziness. Most importantly, misophonia being a real thing with a name meant I wasn’t the horrible person I’d lived my whole life believing myself to be, a monster who got crazy-angry at people when they made everyday noises that shouldn’t have inspired violence in my heart.

I’d spent decades fighting myself to keep my reactions to myself. My responses were unreasonable, so I’ve always worked hard not to show how I was feeling. I mean, I still fight to keep my reactions in — it would really not be okay to punch people in the throat because they yawn loudly. But at least now I know I’m not actually losing my mind, just living the life of a misophone, dealing with a trigger sound. And recognizing that I’ve been triggered actually helps me calm down. I can do little things to put out the fire — listen to music, make noise of my own to drown out the trigger, breathe deeply and do a mini body scan to distract my brain.

When I wrote about this the first time, I had just read an article that suggested reducing stress and getting more sleep could help. I liked the sound of that, and I like the sound of that now, too. Unfortunately, I haven’t done a very good job on either front (and writing slices at midnight isn’t really helping, is it?!).

Why am I thinking about misophonia today? Because the first zoom of my day included a meeting participant who triggered me big time. BIG time. A trifecta of horror. He 1) cracked his knuckles, 2) started eating some kind of squishy scrambled egg burrito business, 3) chewed with his mouth open.

GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

To put it mildly.

I had to turn off my camera. I was literally grabbing fistfuls of my hair and pulling it.

Open-mouth chewing is … the worst. I was truly made insane by that guy. So insane that, for the first time in my life, I actually tried to do it, to see why that might even be a way anyone would ever chew anyhow. Yes, this is as nuts as it sounds. I took a piece of my muffin and tried to chew it with my mouth open.

I was quite comically unsuccessful. I didn’t know what to do with my muscles to have my mouth stay open while I was chewing. I’m serious. I was chewing r-e-a-l-l-y s–l–o–w–l–y trying to get the mouth-open thing. Not only was I not able to chew that way, I wasn’t making any sound at all. What gives? Are the open-mouth chewers wilfully making those disgusting noises? Are those sounds not a natural byproduct of chewing with your mouth open? Has the cruelty been the point all along?!?!

I have spent the rest of the day trying to make any of this make sense. I’m triggered anew just remembering that meeting.


It’s the 15th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot