how discovering a gift for writing unlearned my eyes to see beyond the here & now
i started writing my first novel when i was 8 or 9 years old.
i vividly remember writing neatly lined words onto a yellow notepad of a story about a little girl who runs away and forges an adventurous life on her own.
it was the summer time and i was spending several weeks at my grandparents’ house in greenwood, mississippi. besides languishing in the oppressive jim crow-esque heat, there was nothing to do except sit in the front room and listen to the tick-tock of 60 minutes or the gospel messages of john hagee - my grandfather’s favorite shows to watch while he was sleeping soundly in his folding chair.
i’m sure i could have changed the channel - browsing 1 of the 10 tv stations available - but i knew the moment the sounds echoing from the tube did not capture the same hypnotic rhythms that had lulled my granddaddy to sleep, he would arise from his slumber and demand the tv be restored to its rightful channel of c-span, tbn, or cnn. in those days, granddaddy was the ruler of the house and all that was in it was under his sovereignty. his word - often times turse and lacking empathy - was always final.
so. we (my brother and i) got used to making ourselves scarce and/or small. and in the absence of entertainment that made any sense to me and without the ability to play outside due to skin-melting temperatures that caused everything to look wrinkled in snake-like vapors, i created a story-line, characters, and themes that transported me to a place where i could make decisions, take risks, and make-believe other people whom i understood and who i could pretend understood me.
writing gave me license to be big. it gave me the agency to be the commentator of my world rather than a passive participant in a world controlled by others. i miss that feeling. the feeling of at-oneness that i get when i feel most like myself and more and more like a piece of God with every passing moment. the feeling that comes over all of us when it seems like the stars have aligned and the sun is shining brightly on the bare of our backs.
“writing gave me license to be big. it gave me the agency to be the commentator of my world rather than a passive participant in a world controlled by others.”
in the year that queen mother (toni morrison) died, that feeling rushed back to me. and asked me to consider why i had neglected her for so many years.
when i read the bluest eye for the first time in my #womanist literature & ethics class while in divinity school, toni morrison awakened my 8/9 year old self. and reminded me of the world that little black girls inhabit and run all by themselves. as claudia, freedia, and pecola make sense of a world that turns all of its poison into vitriol flavored cereal that the most vulnerable members of society are then forced to eat day in and day out, i wrestled with messages about black life and humanity that had been sugared, spiced, and spoon-fed to me by the systems that be.
messages that say:
men are allowed to rage, to wreak havoc, to exist in the fullness of their humanity, while women should remain dainty and demure at all costs.
black women are seen as the lowest form of humanity to everyone except other black women/children.
black suffering, black death, and black cannibalism are profitable to everyone except other black people.
and, lastly, black life will *possibly* always be circumscribed by and relegated to the white gaze.
these damning messages were not just communicated to me by society at-large. they were transferred to me, at times, by the people charged with loving, raising and rearing me. not because my parents, grandparents, and elders didn’t know any better. but because their experiences of a death-dealing hegemony that pillaged black lives in pre-civil rights, cotton picking, share-cropping mississippi had necessitated a way of coping with reality that included accepting the nasty truth that there was a special place in hell for those who built and are/were complicit in the maintenance of white supremacy.
in light of this, to this very day, i believe my granddaddy died still believing that there was neither a heaven nor a redeeming quality for white people. that systems of oppression would always exist - even though he was hell bent on burning them down bit by bit (more on that later).
well. contrary to what this current political climate tells us, this isn’t 1960s mississippi anymore. and i refuse to accept this hellish reality to be all there is to life. more than that, i will absolutely not resort to the belief that black life, black thriving, and black love are reserved for exploitative consumption, thus reducing their tangible rewards to figments of our apocalyptic imagination. (*for clarity/nuance: i am not suggesting that all black life has revolved around navigating oppression. i am, however, uplifting that there is more to black life than suffering.*)
“i will absolutely not resort to the belief that black life, black thriving, and black love are reserved for exploitative consumption, thus reducing their tangible rewards to figments of our apocalyptic imagination.”
instead, i exhume the ghost of my childhood. i energize the feelings of grandeur that i left in the parlor of my grandparents’ house. i tune into my own divinely commentated experience. and i write of new soils - that nurture seeds of liberation instead of bearing strange fruit hanging from poplar trees. i write of the blackest places untouched by the white gaze. i write the language of our ancestors’ dreams instead of their terrorized nightmares. i write the work my soul must have.
(def'n of eschatology: a part of theology concerned with the ultimate destiny of humankind)
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