Backsliding toward Bethlehem

I grew up quiet. I was docile, compliant, held my tongue when I should have spoken. This isn’t a thing to be proud of, and I’m not proud of it. I should have spoken the first time a man flashed me. I was eight. I should have spoken the first time a boy tried to pressure me into letting him touch me. I was nine. But I was a “good girl,” a seen-but-not-heard girl. So I stayed quiet.

Eventually—though not for many too many years—I realized that staying quiet is a form of self harm, that silence can equal death.

Writing ended my silence. When I started blogging ten years ago, I started posting things I didn’t say out loud, started telling stories I hadn’t told: the first time I was called a nigger, the night I was raped, the acceptance of my inability to have children. And when I wrote, people read. And I found I had more things to say. And more people read … and more and more, reading and reading and reading. Silence stopped being my default position. It became, instead, an occasional choice, a choice made to serve my needs, not anyone else’s.

In recent years, I have been anything but silent. My pain and rage have been loud and sustained. The steady drumbeat of devaluation and death that has been the storyline of Black and Brown communities calls up my voice again and again and again, has spilled across pages and pages, come to mic-ed spaces like this one to spill over audiences like you.

***

When I looked up “backslide,” I was surprised to have page after page of religious websites come up in the search results. At first I ignored them because nothing I think about when I think about backsliding has anything to do with religion.

I searched again. I was looking for something that might steer me away from the negative definition of the word that was dominating my writing. All my searches came up religious. Finally, I gave in and clicked the first site, “Ask a Minister” (seriously). And what to my wondering eyes should appear but definitions of backsliding that resonated more powerfully than the standard, “relapsing into bad ways or error.” Ask a Minister gave me:

Revolt
Refuse to harken
Pull away
Rebel

Suddenly backsliding looked like a badge of honor, something to which I could and should aspire. Biblically, of course, it’s all bad—backsliders were folks who “refused to harken” to religious rules, to the word of God. Okay, fine. But is that always necessarily a bad thing? Questioning authority—speaking up instead of keeping silent—can be exactly right, exactly the thing that saves your life.

And there it was—the memory of quiet, go-along-to-get-along me, and the memory of all the ways the stress and damage of my silence manifested in my health, in my bad relationships, in my fear of embracing my anger.

But no more. I have become a proud backslider. I have—to paraphrase my favorite of the “Ask a Minister” bits—refused to harken and turned a backsliding shoulder and made my ears heavy that they should not hear.

One. Hundred. Percent.

***

I was born on a Tuesday, and I used to like thinking about that old poem: Monday’s child is fair of face, Tuesday’s child is full of grace …  I liked thinking that I might ever be seen as even the least bit graceful. And somehow my silence was part of that.

When I mentioned this to a friend, she sent me the biblical definition of grace: the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. I do tend to think of myself as the recipient of the free (and generally unmerited) favor of God, so perhaps I’ve achieved gracefulness after all. This graceful backsliding is such a relief. Freedom, finally, to just be my own authentic, un-quiet, angry, rebellious, refusing-to-harken self.



This piece was written for the July 24th Big Words, Etc. reading, the theme for which was “Backslide.”

The plan for 2017 was to be on my #GriotGrind, to write an essay a week … except I’m MONTHS behind! I’m determined to, somehow, catch up, to write 52 essays by year’s end.
I’m following Vanessa Mártir‘s lead, she launched #52essays2017 after writing an essay a week in 2016 … and then deciding to keep going.

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A Woman of a Certain Age

As I was getting ready to head into Manhattan tonight, I overheard two folks talking outside my window. They’d run into each other and were catching up, a young-ish man and an older woman. They had a lot of crazy things to say and gossip to pass back and forth. They said their goodbyes and then there was silence as they walked away … then the guy shouts: “I just gotta say, you’re one of those people whose black don’t crack!  They both burst out laughing, and I almost did, too.

Today is my birthday.  Funny how fast these come around!  It’s my birthday, and I’m quite solidly middle aged now.  But I’m also one of those “uncracked” people that guy was shouting about outside my window.  Sometimes I feel every nanosecond of each one of my 52 years, but mostly not so much, mostly I’m well aware of how much I don’t look whatever people think my age should look like. I stressed out about my age a lot more when I was in my 40s. (Might have had something to do with all those younger men I dated … ahem.)  Now, I’m rude enough to tell people my age for no reason other than to make them tell me how not my age I look.  My vanity has done no mellowing over time!

Earlier this week, one of my neighbors asked me why she never sees me pregnant or with a baby (really, my neighbors will sometimes just say every damn thing!). I told her that time was past for me, and she said not yet, that I could probably have kids “up till you’re 40 or so.” Um, yeah. That time is p.a.s.t.

So that time is past, but now there’s time for about a bazillion other things.  This second half of my life is already shaping up to be very interesting — one knee surgery down, one to go, got fired for the first time in my life and have spent the last three months unemployed for the first time in my adult life, I’ve learned to spin, I’ve discovered a new writing genre to explore, I’ve reconnected with some old friends and started cultivating a gorgeous garden a new friends …

I’ve got work to do.  I’m only 52, but I’m already 52.  All kinds of clocks are ticking.  Think of how many crafts there are still for me to learn.  And how long is it going to take me to get over myself and stop hiding my grey hair with henna?

Time to prepare for embracing myself as the Crone, the wise, free, powerful me.  This non-working summer has given me a delicious taste of what the “free” can feel like — I have very much enjoyed my long days of reading, writing, strolling, thinking, seeing just how much I enjoy my own company — but I have a ways to go before I can pretend to wisdom or power.

I’ve got work to do.


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Hello to everyone who began following the blog after reading my last post.  I appreciate the follows and the comments.  You intimidated me just a little, I won’t lie.  I’ve started and dashed half a dozen posts since that one.  I worried about what kind of writing you’d expect each time you saw my blog in your inbox.  Well, the fact is, you’re here.  Stick around and you’ll see how non-linear and nonsensical I can be one minute, how focused and fierce I can be the next.  This is a theme-less space that is often left to grow over with weeds.  I’m only today remembering that I should have started a 30 stories in 30 days challenge on the first.  Maybe I’ll jump in with that tomorrow.  We’ll see.  I hope you’ll keep reading.  It won’t be praise- or comment-worthy every time, but I’d love to have you jump in and start conversation when you’re moved to do so.  Welcome to my tiny little corner of the internet!