Happy Endings

Tonight I saw Suzan-Lori Parks’ Topdog/Underdog. I never saw the original production with Mos Def and Jeffrey Wright. I imagine it was magnificent.

I’ve never known the story of this play, so tonight was entirely fresh for me. Still, I knew that people really shouldn’t have been laughing — or at least not quite so uproariously — at certain turns in the plot. I knew very early on where we were headed.

Knowing didn’t make the experience any less powerful. Maybe gave it that much more weight. There are so many reasons that this story resonated deeply for me. But, beyond the feelings of personal connectedness with this story (which, of course, could not be less like anything in my own life, but still), there was the beautiful revelation of the actors’ performances.

Not surprise that Corey Hawkins and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II are good actors. I’ve known that for some time. But the nature of the play creates such an extraordinary space for two talents to expand in, so much room to stretch fully into the roles, into the electricity of playing off one another, into owning so much real estate on the stage.

I left needing some connection, some … something to shine its light on me. Not a happy ending. I don’t always need a happy ending. But something. My walk from the theater to the subway had no magic, however, and folks on my train were very drawn into themselves. I mean, of course, but I needed some energy from them, some of the random connection this city often tosses up.

And then we pulled into Dekalb. A bunch of people left the train. A man jumped up and crossed over to a seat A young woman had just vacated. He was shouting … because she’d left her fanny pack on the seat. She was walking away from the train, not hearing him or any of the other people who began shouting for her. Whatever was streaming through her earbuds did a good job of keeping her focused away from the train.

Trains don’t sit long in stations, so there wasn’t much time. Some people in the car told the guy to toss the bag onto the platform. A teenaged boy and I had left our seats and were standing in the doorway. We shouted almost in unison: “Lady with the green hat!” And she finally turned around and saw the man waving her bag in the air from the next door down the car. She ran over and grabbed it, the doors closed, and we continued on our way.

Thank you, my city. It was what I needed. I didn’t want to feel so anonymous in that moment and New York conjured up some we’re-all-family business for me.

What’s more, I’ve been that woman in the green hat. Years ago, I walked off a tram in Budapest without my purse. I ignored the shouts behind me and kept walking. Someone on that tram made the decision to fling my bag at me before the doors closed. And that lovely soul had a strong arm and great aim. My bag slammed into the back of my head, very definitely getting my attention. I was that woman just a few weeks ago. I took off my backpack at the grocery store and was walking away after checking out when the man behind me smacked my arm with my bag. I have been that woman a number of times between Budapest and Foodtown. And always, someone saves me from my foolishness.

So thank you again, my city. We’re all family, and I’m not in this alone. Wrapped in one random moment on a southbound express train. I’ll take it.

Standard Operating Procedure

I had shoulder surgery two weeks ago. Today I went to get my stitches out. It’s a simple thing, really, but important. The PA who took them out was a nice young man who was chatty and had a good bedside manner. He did a great job: careful, caring, gentle. All of that should go without saying, right? Except that it doesn’t. I’ve had PAs rip out my stitches as if they were tearing threads from an old sofa, not dealing with a sentient being. It takes so little — so very little — to treat others with care. And yet it seems to get harder every day.

I told Nick — the PA — what a great job he was doing, and he seemed genuinely surprised that I would have had any experience different from the one I was having with him. And that’s as it should be. If your SOP is to treat others kindly and compassionately, you can’t imagine any other way of treating people.

I’ve had some decidedly unpleasant written communications with people lately. Okay, with one person in particular. This person started our friction with an insulting email chock full of misogynoir. At the time, I decided not to stoop to their level in my response, and it seems that decision has invited them to continue to write to me from a place of disrespect and pettiness. Swell.

Unlike PA Nick, this colleague doesn’t have a baseline behavior of treating other people with kindness and compassion. They use all the right words, the words we expect to hear in “brave space,” “safe space,” “inclusive” spaces. Meanwhile, their default response mode is to lash out first and then slip back into friendly SJW language, attempting to gaslight others into thinking they’ve imagined the rudeness. Except the rudeness is in print. It takes but a moment to go back and check, to confirm that the obnoxious comments you thought you’d read were truly the obnoxious comments you’d read.

I am slowly regaining the use of my arm, and Nick’s gentle stitch removal is a nice part of my move forward. I don’t feel as though I’m regaining my ability to be in cordial conversation with this email-writing colleague, however. I thought I was, thought I’d made clear that rudeness and disrespect weren’t acceptable. The message didn’t land. Now all I want is to slap this person upside the head, something I know I can’t do (and know that I wouldn’t do, even it were an acceptable response and they were standing in front of me right this minute).

What I need to do is remember. I need to remember how long it took to come back from this surgery when I had it done on my left shoulder … and that wasn’t even my dominant arm and hand!

I need to remember how to move slowly and carefully. And that’s what I need to do with this colleague, too. Slow and careful feels frustrating when I want to be quick, venomous, razor sharp. But patience is what wins here. I had to start working my arm with no weight, and then with the one-pound weight, and then with two pounds. It was painstakingly slow, just like Nick’s painstaking care removing my stitches this morning. Fast and sharp would not have been my friends then, and they won’t be my friends as I draft my response. I need just as much care in my writing as Nick used on my shoulder. So much care that, when he ran into some trouble and said, “I need to get a scalpel,” I didn’t freak out because I knew he would continue to work slowly, carefully, and gently.

I don’t feel a pressing need to be gentle with this colleague. The slow and careful is for me, not for them. Slow and careful means I can get through to the other side knowing I did my absolute best and put thought into my words, not disgust and anger. It’s all for me, for taking care of myself.

We’ll see how I do.


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Original Slicer - GirlGriot

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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Original Slicer - GirlGriot

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.


It’s the 15th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
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Original Slicer - GirlGriot

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!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot