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

CROWN in the House

A national CROWN Act passed the House this week, passed on Friday. Its name has changed slightly, acknowledging that discrimination against kinky hair and Black hairstyles isn’t limited to the workplace. The new CROWN is an acronym for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.”

I like the edit. It’s good to be clear about the fact that this discrimination doesn’t only happen at work. It was never only happening at work. All those stories about children being bullied and abused by their teachers, coaches, and schools make that clear. Bosses shouldn’t be able to discriminate against Black people’s hair, but neither should wrestling coaches, school principals, TSA agents …

And I need to correct my error from my last post about CROWN. I said the CROWN Act had passed in seven states and that a similar law had passed in an 8th state. That was mostly true. Illinois passed the Jett Hawkins Law, which banned discrimination against kinky hair in schools. But since the passing of Jett Hawkins, Illinois has gone on to pass the CROWN Act. In addition, I neglected to give the nod to four other states, states that added CROWN provisions to their existing anti-discrimination laws (or — in the case of Maryland — CROWN became law when Governor Hogan decided that any bill he hadn’t vetoed could just become law, and CROWN fell into that bucket with more than a dozen other bills). Twelve states. Twelve only. That’s better than seven or eight, but still a pretty small number. And this is exactly why we need a national law.

So CROWN has taken an important step forward. Obviously, passing the House doesn’t make a bill a law. We’ve all watched Schoolhouse Rock … and the process of our annoying af legislative branch. But it’s still great that CROWN passed the House.

It didn’t pass unanimously, which should surprise no one. Nearly 200 Representatives couldn’t see their way clear to saying that it isn’t okay to discriminate against people based on the kind of hair that grows naturally from their heads. Couldn’t see how it was a good idea to vote for a bill protecting people from being discriminated against for growing their hair naturally. One hundred eighty-nine of our elected Representatives care little enough about the rights and lives of Black people in this country that they were entirely comfortable making their disregard of Black people undeniably plain by not supporting this bill. That’s some serious comfort in their prejudice, comfort in their ability to flaunt their bias and not worry that they’ll face any consequences for it.

It’s 2022. It’s 2022, and it’s still not “just hair” when it comes to Black folks’ hair. And 189 nay votes for CROWN on Friday tells me how far we are from it ever being “just hair.”


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