Posts Tagged ‘fixing what’s broke’

… all of the things, apparently.

I pulled a prompt out of my writing prompt envelope tonight, and it said: “What I never tell anyone is …” I started my freewrite and the first thing on the page was, “I never tell anyone how scared I am pretty much all the time. Of so many things.” That wasn’t what I was expecting to write, but that’s what came out.

I wrote for about 20 minutes … and uncovered a whole host of fears I wouldn’t have imagined myself to be carrying. Mostly I’m afraid of screwing things up … whatever those “things” might be — my job, my friendships, my health. I’m afraid of being too quiet, too loud, too clever, too dull, too serious, too frivolous. I’m afraid of the spotlight, but afraid of being ignored.


This isn’t something I’m aware of 24/7, but then I’ll suddenly notice it, notice how tense my shoulders are, how tense my jaw is … and I’ll have to force myself to unclench.

What is that? Why am I so constantly afraid? And of such just-live-your-life things. And have I always been? I know we have a family joke about how fraught with tension I was, even as a small child, but is that real? Have I always been afraid?

People who’ve known me a while might point to things I’ve done that seem “brave,” whatever that means. I’ve traveled alone. I’ve done a lot of public speaking. I’ve read my work in front of audiences of people who aren’t just my family and friends. I stood up to a surgeon and his staff who wanted to sterilize me.

Okay, all of that is true. And more. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t also afraid. I’m terrified every time I have to read. I’m often afraid when I’m traveling. I was entirely afraid during that hospital experience. I was so afraid during one of my surgeries this past summer that I cried through almost the whole pre- and post-op period. I may be able to do “brave” stuff, but that doesn’t erase the fear.

And I certainly don’t want to get rid of fear all together. There are plenty of real things for me to be afraid of.

Job security was a big one in the mass of fears that spilled out in my freewrite. That surprised me, but it’s real. It’s something I would have dismissed before the debacle at my last job. Seeing how quickly and easily I could be cast out was a real eye opener. Seeing how casually someone I’d worked with and thought I could trust could knowingly sacrifice me for her own gain was shocking. So this fear of about safety on the job is new. And rough. I hate worrying about whether I’m giving ammunition to the wrong person, not making myself useful enough to the right one. And yes, that’s in my head … but in my current job, it’s also real. I see that happening around me all the time. Feh.

So, fear. It’s hard to admit that I have so much of it, that I carry that stress with me regularly. And that it comes in many forms and from many directions. Yesterday, walking away from a friend’s house, the first handful of blocks of that walk had me tight with worry because people hadn’t cleaned their sidewalks, and I was so afraid of slipping and falling and messing up one or both of these bionic (but still breakable) knees of mine. I carry that fear — of slipping and falling — all the time. When I’m going up or down a flight of stairs or an incline, when I stand up on the subway or bus, walking down the street. Yes, I’ve had this particular fear for many years, since my knees were first damaged and a bad slip or fall would put me in bed for a few days, unable to do more than hobble slowly and painfully around my house. There was a brief, shining moment after my first knee surgery when I forgot about it, forgot to worry about falling. That was glorious. It was a revelation — Oh, this is what it feels like not to be disabled! But it didn’t last long. Less than a year later, I was in pain and moving toward my second surgery, back to worrying about uneven pavement, every flight of stairs, the slippery tiles on the subway platform.

Carrying fear all day every day has to be chipping away at me, shortening my life. Certainly making me curtail my movements, my plans. Fear is what makes me bite my tongue in conversations — and then feel frustrated when someone else says the thing I’ve been thinking all along. Fear is what has kept me from expressing my feelings again and again — God forbid I should tell someone how I feel and get slapped down with rejection. Of course, I’ve had plenty of rejection even when I haven’t put myself out on any limbs, so have I really protected myself by not being honest about my heart?

In The House on Mango Street, Esperanza’s mother talks to her about shame, about how it holds you back. And that’s real, of course. Shame has played a big part in my life, too. But I think fear has played a bigger role, a more dominant role. How sad is that?

So, what do I do with this realization? What’s the next move, the next step? How do I shut the fear down? Is that even the right goal? Should I be investigating it to see where it comes from? Is that the secret to releasing it? Do I acknowledge it and then crush it harder and harder until it’s compressed into diamonds or coal? And then what? Does it somehow become valuable to me?

I’ve been working on developing a better relationship with my anger, feeling it, living with it, embracing it, using it. Clearly there’s some equally serious work to be done with fear. Okay. Here we go.


In 2017, I’ve committed to writing an essay a week. It’s only Week 3, and I’m beat!

It’s not too late to join if you’re feeling ambitious! Check out Vanessa Mártir’s blog to find out how!


Click on the badge to check out today’s Slice of Life posts at Two Writing Teachers!

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It’s the ninth of April. That means it’s time for another in the line of birthday poems I’ve written for my god daughter, my lovely, lovely niece. She is 16 today, a fact that fascinates me as much as it freaks me out.

Sweet Sixteen

Too old to call “baby.” In my heart, you’re always that two-year-old flirting with the mirror, who already knew what I have yet to fully learn: that she was everything, was enough. I mark this moment of your arrival. This sixteen-year love. There is only this wonder, this devotion, this all-I-have-is-yours. Sixteen years in love with your cleverness, your laughter, your imagination, your charm. Sixteen years. I watch you — taking notes, learning from your lead. Sixteen years. Every truth of you expanding my heart.


Are you writing poems this month? Where can I see them? Let’s share this craziness!

As I did last year, I’ll be following along with the Poem-A-Day challenge at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides Blog. Today’s prompt is to write a work poem. Well, not today. Loving my niece is anything but work! You can post your daily poems on Brewer’s page. The top poem from each day will be included in an anthology later this year!

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… which is just to say that I didn’t use today’s Poetic Asides prompt: “dare.” It’s a great prompt, but I needed a different distraction, needed to sink my brain in somewhere else tonight.


I my dream, you are laughing. Your head back, your long neck exposed. I love you. Or want to. Even dreaming, I know you, recognize how easily you will turn away, how quickly your laughter will cut, will fade. But your laugh is full, your broad shoulders are shaking. I love you. I can feel the weight of you against me, the strength of your embrace. This is the sweetness, the reason to believe. I savor the sound, the hidden pain. I wake myself slowly.

I have to say, the bloom is definitely off the rose for me and this form. I’m not throwing it over. Not yet. But I seem to have peaked way too early. And now I’m scrapping the barrel bottom every day. Sigh. Maybe tomorrow’s prompt will set me on fire. A girl can (dare to) dream, can’t she?


Are you writing poems this month? Where can I see them? Let’s share this craziness!

As I did last year, I’ll be following along with the Poem-A-Day challenge at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides Blog. Today’s prompt is to write a dare poem. I don’t actually know what anyone might mean by that, but there it is. You can post your daily poems on Brewer’s page. The top poem from each day will be included in an anthology later this year!

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Too many things I don’t have the ability to write about.  Really just two.  Really just one.  How long will black women have to live in the world before we are seen as valuable, before we are no longer reviled, ridiculed, devalued, dehumanized, dismissed?

I can’t write about Chibok’s kidnapped daughters because my impotence chokes me.  I can’t find any way to talk through my horror and sadness, my spitting, explosive anger, my inability to do anything.  Anything.

Which you’ve heard from me before.  When Sean Bell’s killers were acquitted.*  When Trayvon Martin’s killer was acquitted.  When Abeer Qassim al-Janabi’s killer got life instead of a death sentence.  Because that is always the problem for me.  These horror stories so demoralize and enrage me with their ability to show me a) just how little room there is for me in this world and b) just how little I am able to do about it.  And so I rail and cry and then, eventually, I shut up.  Because I still don’t know what is the thing I can do that can actually make a difference.  Because my pain floods with so much rage that I can’t form coherent thoughts.

Chibok and all those missing girls are resting on my heart, weighing me down, filtering into everything.  How could it not?  Hundreds of children taken, a government barely rousing itself to acknowledge there might be a problem.  I thought of those girls this weekend, as I spent time with my 15-year-old niece.  Every time I looked at her beautiful, half-baby, half-grown-girl face.  And again, my pain is flooded with rage.  Because I noticed.  I noticed that, although the girls were abducted on April 14th, reporters — when they finally started talking about it — kept saying April 22nd because that’s when they first bothered to make note of it.  I noticed that, even though the number of girls taken was closer to 300, the number immediately became “more than 200” and “some 200” … as if that was somehow less terrible, less something we should be paying attention to.  I noticed that, the minute the stories began about selling the girls to Boko Haram members, reporters started referring to them as “young women” … as if calling them “women” instead of “girls” would make it okay that they were being sold into sexual slavery.  I noticed that it wasn’t until lots of people in this country held rallies and made #BringBackOurGirls trend that mainstream media finally decided there was something to talk about.  And I noticed that those stories all started by talking about the surprise of the trending hashtag and the number of rallies and not about the girls, not about their families, not with enough of the accurate details such as how long ago those children were stolen.

And I noticed that today 8 more girls were kidnapped from another Nigerian village.

We’re close enough to April, that I’m still connecting my thoughts to writing poems. And, too, I’m remembering Sonia Sanchez talking about using form poems when your emotions are running you and you need some way to harness the chaos.


Their lives
used as pawns.
This is a game
played too many times.
girls. Ours —
our hearts, our
lives, our last hopes.
Thrown to the fire,
will come
for them now?
Who understands —
to us they are all.

And I also can’t write about Leslie Jones. Tressie McMillan’s piece about Jones gets it so right (despite her title), right in a way that I still can’t get it. Kimberly Foster gets it equally right. Yes, yes, Jones is supposed to be a comedian.  Yes, comedians make jokes about uncomfortable things, or uncomfortable jokes about difficult things … or difficult jokes about ugly things …  Yes, I understand.  But even through all of those lenses there was something wrong with Jones’ Weekend Update sketch.  Deeply wrong.  And her response to the criticism is almost more disturbing than the SNL piece itself.

And I can’t write about any of it.  Can’t. Because what is there to say, what can I say that will lead to any kind of desired result?

Years ago, I went to a Marx Brothers film festival.  In Paris.  There weren’t many people in the theater.  I was there with a friend, and we laughed and laughed.  One or two other people laughed along with us, and I realized that they must be English speakers.  Fluent English speakers.  Because the film was subtitled, and how can you subtitle the Marx Brothers?  You would have to keep freezing the frame and inserting long explanations: 1) this is what he said, 2) this is what it meant, 3) this is why it’s funny.  Who has time for all that explication?  How can anything be funny at the end of all those annotations?

That’s how I feel about Leslie Jones’ SNL skit.  If it needs this much context-setting, this much explaining, the joke isn’t working and I don’t see how anyone can find the funny in it.  And Jones’ inability to acknowledge that there could be a possibility that she took a wrong turn, that she was playing for the wrong audience in the wrong moment is maddening.

For now, I’m still in Arun mode.  It surprised me when I was thinking about these stories today and poems kept composing themselves in my head.  But I’m going with it, letting them loose:

No temple
this. Not in your
eyes. You only see brown
hair, full lips.
You think you know
something about me.
watched your
tarted up
master-slave tales,
had your Saartjie dreams.

My temple.
Full of wisdom,
heat, contempt for
you think
you know. I
once listened, let
you tell me what to
No more.
That’s over. I
don’t need your leave
to see my fine self.

And I keep trying to work on my comic, and I keep trying to find a way to sustain real conversation about race.  And I keep getting slapped in the face with … well, the reasons that I need to keep doing my work.  Nearly 300 black girls can be swept away in one moment and the world barely blinks.  The FBI’s list of missing persons is 40% black women — 65,000 wives, mothers, daughters, aunts, sisters, friends, cousins — and yet we almost never hear about any of them.  My heart is heavy tonight, and I don’t have the space for any of this.


SOL image 2014
Slice of Life Tuesdays is hosted by Two Writing Teachers.

* That first time, I kept thinking that if I tried to speak, I’d find my way.  I tried again and again to process, to find a path. Eventually, I retreated to silence.

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So before Seagram’s got me all upset, it had been nearly two months since my last post.  And I hadn’t been doing too much posting before that long break, either.  What’s that about, you ask.  Truly, I’m not entirely sure.  Or, rather, I’m not sure which factor carried the most weight.

I’ve been having a bit of an identity crisis for the last year.  Once I stopped teaching, I had a hard time figuring out what my blog was supposed to be.  It wasn’t all teaching all the time before last December, but my teaching definitely informed who I was here.  I was afraid that, without having my students’ fabulous stories and all the things I learned from them, my blog would become the place for me to rant about racism, sexism and my wholly uninteresting pet peeves … and if you look over my posts from the last year, that’s mostly what you’ll see.  I was so busy trying to figure out who and what I was if I wasn’t “teacher lady,” I stopped writing entirely.

Add to that the self-imposed gag-order on writing about the work I left teaching to do.  It’s still true that I don’t want to talk too specifically about my work because doing so will give up the last little bit of anonymity I like to kid myself that I have here.  But, like teaching, my work is so much of what I’m doing.  It’s the reason I was in Detroit last month, the reason I’m having a whole other, off-blog kind of identity crisis right now … and yet I still feel I can’t write about it.  I know that anyone who reads here can easily figure out who I am.  There are so many dots to connect that lead right to me, and yet I still hold back.

In two months, this blog will be four years old, and I’m questioning whether I should just shut it down and move on.  I don’t think I want to shut down, but I’m still feeling stuck.  Certainly it’s true that there will always be things that annoy the crap out of me, and I’ll always be ready to rant about them, but I’m really not looking to just be pissed off online all the time.  So what am I left with?

I could tell you that today, in honor of their election into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (and because of the nice memory the song always calls up for me), I had the Beastie Boys’ She’s Crafty playing on a loop on my iPod.  And I could tell you that I know Fox must be pleased that Guns-n-Roses was voted in — in their first year of eligibility, no less.  And you might wonder: Guns-n-Roses?  And I’d say: yes, they’ve been Fox’s guilty pleasure the whole of their 25 years.

And then we’d all say: so what?

Yeah, exactly.  In any case, Seagrams forced an end to my silence.  We’ll see what happens.

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On the 51 bus back to Brooklyn, I sat across the aisle from a man who rode along peacefully and quietly … until his phone rang.  At that point, I and everyone else on the bus, was treated to his bizarre one-track side of the conversation.


Oh, I forgot.  I-forgot-I-forgot-I-forgot.  How could I forget?  I can’t believe I forgot.  I-forgot-I-forgot.  Thank you for calling me because I forgot.  I f***ing forgot.  I-forgot-I-forgot-I-forgot.  I really forgot.  What could have happened for me to forget?

I know, I know, but I forgot.  I f***ing forgot. It’s so good you called because I forgot.  I forgot!   I-forgot-I-forgot-I-forgot.  Oh my God, how could I forget?  But I did.  I forgot.  I forgot.

I can’t believe I forgot.  It’s so good you called me.  I didn’t even know I forgot, but I forgot.  I-forgot-I-forgot-I-forgot.  I really forgot.

What is that?  There has be a name for it.  It must be some kind of disorder, right?  I’ve never heard anything like him.  He went on much longer than what I’ve written here.  I can’t imagine having to make conversation with him for more than twelve and a half seconds.

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I like checking the search terms that lead people to this blog.  I continue to be shocked and angered by the volume of racist searches that drop people on my doorstep (“why are blacks like animals?” “nigger animals” “why black people act nasty” …).  At the same time, I am pleasantly surprsied by how many people search for me specifically (“girlgriot kin blog” shows up a lot).

And then there are curious searches such as the one that makes the title of this post: 10 magical words to make a man love me.  It is both utterly ridiculous and completely sad all at once.  And how does it lead anyone to me?  Well, Google sent this searcher to one of the posts I wrote when I thought my friend Kenrick had died.  The connection? I added the wonderful Inuit poem “Magic Words” to that post.

Poor searcher.  What a disappointment my post must have been.  But no fear.  There were plenty of other worthy search results: an ebook that promises to teach readers how to make anyone fall in love with them, an article detailing the four big signs that will help you gauge whether or not your boyfriend loves you, and any number of articles on how to win back an ex you still love. Oy.

If only there were ten magic words, right?  How easy things would be.  I started writing this post earlier today and was headed in a whole other, sillier direction.  But tonight I came home to a teary phone call from a friend telling me that her husband has left her.  Her husband of nearly twenty years.

I want those ten words right now.  I have other words I’m thinking I’d like to say to him, but she is hurting, she is still in love and wanting to find a way back to being a couple with this man, so I want those ten magic words, want to give them to her right now, tonight, want her to find the secret that will bring him home.

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