P / P Poetry: Free (Facing memories)

Romare Bearden, “Baptism, 28/50” (1975), serigraph on aper, 32 x 45 inches (image); 36 1/2 x 49 inches (paper), edition of 50 (all images © Estate of Romare Bearden, courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York)

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Editor’s Note: Well, art is one of those things. The sweetness of Spring comes with blossoms and tulips. The sweeping of Poe’s words reveal the love of Spring and the knowledge of what life can be: misty grey days, the loss of a heartbeat in the street. He laid there, drained by the days. He is praised in hindsight… and as I thought about the artist,  Romare [Bearden] as I have Poe, I wondered what they said while they here: tangible, touchable. They wrote and painted until they could not. My inspirations, I wonder, during their days – were they able to smile?

Free (Facing memories)

Let love be free

Let me be free

The deeds I’ve given have all been hidden

The love I’ve been given has been hidden

Let love be free

Let me be free

All I’ve given has all been hidden

Everything I’ve been given has all been hidden

Let love be free

Let me be free

My heart cannot break

Many see a snake

But all the love I’ve given has all been hidden Continue reading

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P / P Essay: Another Look at Grief pt. 1 (For Brittany)

Image from Harvard Business Review, “Making Your Workplace Safe for Grief

Editor’s Note: I found out I lost a close friend of mine yesterday. Her name was Brittany. She was gregarious homeless floater, an African American trans woman who, over the years I’ve seen smile, hug, love and survive through horrible experiences. There was a time some men broke her leg because she was a “faggot.” I would give her money when I could, I always told her she was beautiful and she me. She was beautiful. Not just on the outside, but what really drew us all to her was her heart.

I could not attend her vigil for my own personal reasons, but I am grieving her. And because I couldn’t be there, the least I can do is dedicate this essay to her.

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A few months ago, we released a reading list entitled, P / P Reading List: 10 Books To Help Those Who Are Healing Through Grief, but yesterday, I was faced with another more intimate look at death and loss. I honestly, don’t remember what made me put together the reading list. I believe I have the ability to feel what others feel, grieve when others grieve, become affected when people are close…or even far away. If I can be deeply honest – I’ve never written this publicly, but there are times when I feel so much empathy and love in my heart, I am overwhelmed.

Through study and writing I’ve learned about experiences of people all over the world: people who don’t have clean water, experience FGM, girls who are married off at 11 years old and people who have lost a parent or close friend.

I had to learn to be cautious about complaining about the plights of being an African American woman. It is not that I don’t experience systemic problems that derive from the roots of slavery and racism in this country – by the way, Paula Giddings’ When and Where I Enter is a book that opens one’s eyes to Black women’s history from the moment African women stepped onto American soil to the 1980s. It teaches about the prolific Black women who helped make our culture what it is today:

It wasn’t only after reading that book and writing for Ms. Magazine that taught me about the different ways women navigate life around the world, but it simply helped me learn how blessed all of us are in America. Black women can get an education, we can speak what’s on our minds, we can share our stories, we can get published, drive cars and have access to massive amenities that most the people around the world could not fathom receiving. So, there is a blessing in grief when it comes to where I stand in life – but none of us, not one human being is able to escape death and loss.

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There are a few things I needed to take time to understand and assess within myself – there is a very good chance I cannot ever have a child, which is a grief that is slow moving. Also, my friend, Brittany passed away recently, which was abrupt and happened too quickly for me to truly have time process. There are several losses I have experienced in a short amount of time – which have had tremendous consequences on my life.

Public / Private Consequences of Loss

While making sure it is important be cautious about complaining about the wonderful privileges, blessings and opportunities this country affords me, this entire globe has rules, sets of limits, social realities and boundaries of diplomacy that I, while steeped in my grief, have inadvertently crossed.

It’s been a scary, painful and an enlightening experience. I’ve been invited to lecture about topics that are very serious in regards to women and human rights, and I will not express whether mind have or have not been violated, but I have lost a certain currency because of grief. It took me a long time to realize this, maybe too long. I continued to keep my head in books and words, thinking I could be very vulnerable, not understanding the world was watching.

I can’t call myself naive or aloof, but I had been invited to lecture, sing and get on a stage for being myself for so long, no one ever taught me the rules and the seriousness of my presence. No one ever told me how things could change for me. I know there are many who are angry at me for writing openly and being myself, but it’s been hard for me because I always felt accepted for being just who I am and I guess there are realms outside of my cultural, historical and entertainment work that saw me as something of a bad thing.

It is painful – I was unaware.

Also, I was very serious about staying grounded and accessible because I have worked with celebrities for so long, I did my best to keep my own life as private as possible. I also tried to balance things by teaching free and inexpensive classes so anyone could come talk to me about anything they wanted. I could give advice to those who needed it and give a hug to those who were hurting.

As I wrote in my last piece, I will never forget where I come from.

Publik / Private exists and is free and available for everyone because I wanted to share the blessings I have been given.

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I moved to my hometown because I wanted to walk down the street and get that beautiful Baltimore smile that is usually followed with a “Hello,” “How you doin’ miss?” “You have a pretty smile!” by people of all creeds, colors and genders.

More importantly, my biggest fear was to lose my freedoms and have my family become affected negatively by harsh criticisms  my work. My number one biggest fear is having my family having go through the agony of seeing their daughter in pain in public…or living privately in public as some may perceive. 

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Returning to my point, grief makes us behave in ways that we just have to walk through.

And working in the public since I was 17, I’ve had to walk through the hardest times of my life in front of others. I had to become a woman in public. It was very awkward. But at this point, at my age, with a few health problems, bills and family responsibilities, it’s different.

When things hit you later in life, you can’t just pick up and go. I can’t just run to the beach (which I have done), drop everything and abandon your responsibilities no matter how ugly you look, how messy, how misunderstood, how lost, how stupid others tell you you are.

At a certain age, you’ve got walk through grief, there is no escaping it. People depend on me. Do I wish I was 22 again? No. Is this a new phase of my life where I have realized I cannot do the things I was able to do with privacy and anonymity? Yes. And it is ok. I accept it. But it took me a while to understand that things will never be the same and grief is of no consequence when you are accessible to people who can’t sit down and speak to you and get to know you.

The way my body smells, which I love. The way I interact, the way I live, it’s all there for people to interpret.

I have to let go accept it.

Surrender to it.

Because I can’t control anyone but myself

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Just like our reading list, we are here for you all, no matter who you are. I am here to write and talk about the things people can’t easily express. This blog is not a testimony, this blog is not a tactic, this is a place for people to go, to read, to connect and to be let known that they are not alone.

I will end this essay here. But experiencing loss and mostly likely facing more (I pray I don’t), I will continue my thoughts during another time. This is part 1.

 

P / P Essay: The Blessing of a Sense of Humor

Coates with his son, Samori, in the summer of 2001. Photograph: Ta-Nehisi Coates via The Guardian

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It’s been a tough few months and there’s nothing funny about being a woman of color who struggles with the external pressures and intimidation of life.

Nonetheless, I had my first funny dream in a long time this morning.

The last time I saw my best friend, she told me, “You used to be so funny, light-hearted and goofy,” (I don’t take being called “goofy” as an insult. I like to make my friends laugh.) She continued, “you used to have a light in your eyes and it’s not there anymore.”  At that moment, I heard her and I knew what she meant, but I figured back then, life has good days and bad ones – not to belittle anyone who has experienced any sort of loss or tragedy.

Trauma will do that but this morning, I had a sweet, funny dream. I don’t remember what the dream was about but I woke up remembering who I was, who I am, and the pain others have caused me, the intrusion, the insults seemed to roll off my back at 5 in the morning while I had to deal with people outside my window, taunting and enjoying the peril of my discomfort…before my first cup of coffee. Because of that dream, my heart was light as I changed out my filter, filled my coffee maker with espresso, and then fixed the curtain that keeps falling down in my office. My day to day felt a little nicer, and it came from me – not a compliment, not a phone call or a cool opportunity.

Get over yourself, Jordannah.

All I have is myself. If I get over that, me, what is the point of life? What would I do? The outside world, the world around me, Between the World and Me (shout out to Mr. Ta-Nehisi, another Baltimore born author who grew up understanding what I understand, and probably lives as an adult author knowing much more).

My very simple point is that my subconscious, without being direct, without giving me some deep message and booming male voice relaying some heavy prophesy or decree telling me about my future, simply made me laugh.

And I needed that. Continue reading

P / P Essay – An Open Letter to Mother Abbey Lincoln

Photo credit: Enid Farber

Editor’s Note: I am a young writer. I’ll see my 33rd year in October. Recently, I became inspired by a few pieces that I’ve written about artists that have passed away, artists who mean something to me. While working on a piece about Ms. Jeanne Lee (January 25, 1939 – October 25, 2000), I read that jazz singer, Abbey Lincoln was one of her biggest influences. Reading that made me stop and reflect. Ms. Lincoln is not only an influence of mine, but a spirit guide. I recently wrote about African American, folk singer, Odetta here on P / P who I called…or wrote out to for guidance as an elder. 

In this instance, I realized Ms. Jeanne Lee and I ha(d)ve something in common when it comes to our admiration for Abbey Lincoln. Ms. Lee, Odetta and Ms. Lincoln are all relatively unknown jazz musicians in mainstream America. Their quiet, powerful souls didn’t ask for much and didn’t get much at the end of their lives. I believe they deserve more. 

All I have to do is tilt my head a few degrees at this very moment to see my vintage vinyl of Ms. Lincoln’s 1981 album “Golden Lady” watching over me. This is not about religion, superstition or ideology. This is about lineage, connection and realizing that these women were not alone, even if they were lost in history. They make me feel like I am not alone either.

Golden Lady – Track List

1. Sophisticated Lady
2. Golden Lady
3. Painted Lady On The Stage
4. Throw It Away
5. What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life
6. Caged Bird

Continue reading

P / P Essay: Dear Elder Odetta

Photo Credit: Odetta: A powerful woman of the 60s

Dear Elder Odetta,

I need your guidance.

Much like the days when I needed James’, Angela’s, Toni’s and my grandmother’s guidance and strength. Today, I specifically need you. I need you and your guitar songs. My guitar was my best friend for so long. Now, I need an elder’s acoustic guitar.

Old spirituals and work songs that you sang and recorded course through my bloodline – my tiny blue veins running through my faint, seemingly thin skin. Right now, to me, my skin looks like paper. It looks like paper thin, pale African American skin. No, not that colorism paleness, but tiny blue veins residing under a soft layer of flesh that needs more sun. My veins intertwine with muscles, arteries and small bones and move my blood to my heart. 

My elder, my ancestor, Odetta – I ask for your wisdom and prayers. And if you can spare one song, even just a rhythm and one chorus, you can send it to me and we can write the song together. I’ll add a hook and a chorus, and you can write the bridge and final chorus? Oh, that would be a dream. It would be healing.

Elder Odetta, your wisdom, your prayer and a song is requested because I need your help. I recently asked elder (Romare) Bearden in my thoughts and in my writing a short time ago for help to learn how to survive through the hard times. Continue reading

P / P Essay: Toni Morrison’s Self-Regard and Women’s History Month

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Photo Credit: forgotten

Hmm, The Source of Self-Regard. With respect to my trans and female identified sisters, I was born a girl child. My DNA mixed and combined from my parent’s connection birthed body. It just happened to be what Earthlings call “a girl.”

I have no desire to go on about what a woman is or how I own this body that was circumstantially delivered into this realm in Baltimore City in 1986. I am more concerned with my spirit. I am more interested in my consciousness. My body will continue to change just as it has since the day I was born.

Self-regard, what Merriam-Webster describes as the “consideration of oneself or one’s own interests…” I personally like google’s description, “regard or consideration for oneself; self-respect,” is something I don’t think about consciously, but in my subconscious it defines the way I walk, stand, speak, interact and the decisions I make. I mean, there are many different circumstances that determine that, but I was inspired just by seeing the title of your new book.

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Today is the first day of Women’s History Month. This history or Herstory of again, a circumstantial body defined by beings long ago is recognized, if not celebrated today beginning today and throughout the month of March. Am I proud to be a woman? I don’t know. Like I mentioned, I don’t think about it much. It does not define me, but our stories, particularly Black women’s stories fascinate, excite and inspire me. Continue reading

P / P Master Class Three: Affordable Hacks When Investing In Your Writing Career

Now that we’ve gotten passed lesson one and two which covered Time Management and Surviving Rejection, I still believe before we get to actively searching for jobs, pitching stories and writing proposals, it’s good to make sure we know how to make small investments in our home office and career to have the tools needed to have a stable foundation for your career.

I am pretty sure I have written that I usually work from my home office. I work also on site when I am teaching or in meetings. I also have some newsroom experience. But whether you are looking for a staff position or a sustainable full time freelance/contract career, an office is an office. It’s great to be organized where ever you are.

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Photo Source: Source: The Writing Cooperative

Make sure your office is mobile.

It’s a great idea to invest in a backpack, a decent laptop bag or large purse so you can carry your laptop and other tools in order to be able to write and take notes wherever you go. You can work or write on a train or plan while traveling at a coffee shop or in offsite meetings.

Building your home office and library.

Once again, whether you want to have a full time freelance writing career or a staff position, I can promise you, you will be getting emails and edits back from your employers and editors after regular work hours. My advice is to have a designated place for your books and desk so you can work on projects from home.

Why having a collection of books is the most important thing you need as a writer or creative person.

Reading is the basis of success to writing, point blank. There’s no way around it. Having non-fiction books on history, writing, biographies of successful people, best seller books on business book and marketing, books on topics of your personal interest and studies gives you an important set of references besides just using Google. I know we are in the digital age and you may find yourself working on more digital platforms, but writing and creative work will always be an intellectual, vulnerable, fast paced career. Continue reading

P / P Bookmark Reads – Diverse Articles for the Eclectic Reader

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I always promise to send friends and family articles, books I’ve read and music I’ve listened to during lively conversations about art and life. I try to go through my bookshelves and music and remember links of articles I’ve forgotten the title of to share on the weekends. All this rummaging and forgetting made me realize, I should probably find a way to organize all the things I like and promise to share.

This caused me to create a “Bookmarked Reads” category in my email folders so I don’t have to rack my brain. There are maybe 30 articles in that folder right now, but here are nine that I think are important to share.

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NPR.org

JAZZ NIGHT IN AMERICA: THE RADIO PROGRAM

By: Sarah Kerson and Nate Chinen

Women In Jazz? For Artemis, It’s Bigger Than A Cause

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Essence Special Report

Essence Special Report: Sex Trafficking In The Black Community

Written By: Donna M. Owens

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Ram Dass Blog

The Consciousness of Saints

Written By: Ram Dass

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Pitchfork Review

Michael O’Shea Michael O’Shea

Written By: Andy Beta

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Photo: ALLCHIVAL • 1982

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P/ P Essay: Black History Month Begins Today

Today, Black History Month begins.

In our inner circles and connective conversations, particularly with Black men, the answer to the simple question, “Are you Martin or are you Malcolm?” will shape an African American’s life in relation to how they navigate systemic racism.

I personally like to think of myself as Coretta Scott King. Until writing this piece, I did not feel it appropriate to begin to associate parts of myself that connect with Betty Shabazz (Betty X). But it made me think, maybe I have attributes of both women within me. I learned a lot about her as Mrs. King was an active feminist, she was always available to me in that we had that connection, which I consider to be an important part of my identity.

I wouldn’t be surprised if an African American answered the Martin and Malcolm question with, “I’m a little of both.” But those who truly know themselves know if they are water (Martin) or Fire (Malcolm). We know ourselves pretty well as our natures are easy to access on a primal level. Continue reading

P / P Influencers: Laiona Michelle – A Connection Through Fate & Failure

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Laiona Michelle as Nina Simone for the new play she wrote and stars in “Little Girl Blue: The Nina Simone Musical,” which opens at opens at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, N.J., Jan. 29, 2019 and runs until Feb. 24.

I met actress and playwright, Laiona Michelle out of fate and failure. I interviewed her a few weeks ago for New York Amsterdam News.  When I went to transcribe the recording of our interview, I realized my recording device malfunctioned and I lost our original interview. As a journalist, losing your interview recording is pretty embarrassing. I had to admit my mistake to her publicist and my editor and humbly re-ask for an interview with Laiona to make sure we got her story published in time to promote the opening of her new play. She was kind enough to oblige.

The second interview was early on a Saturday morning and our conversation was much more light-hearted and fun because we were, at that point, familiar with one another because of our first interview. She was incredibly inspiring, intelligent and kind.

Laiona spoke about her new upcoming play which she wrote and stars in, Little Girl Blue: The Nina Simone Musical:

The show is speaking to all the little girl blues out there in the world. The ones that have the desire to do something that may appear to be unreachable. I know when I was a little girl, I was always drawn to Shakespeare. I remember going to see my first Shakespeare play, which was Romeo and Juliet, and I saw that Romeo was a Black male. I was so shocked. I thought, “I didn’t know we could talk like that.” I thought it seemed so far from me, and I became more attracted to [theater].

When we think about art, oftentimes when you’re young it feels like it’s unreachable. For Nina, in particular, I picked the title because she always wanted to be known as the first Black classical pianist. She was born a child prodigy, and she recognized [musical] notes as a baby. So, that’s all she wanted, and that was one of her biggest heartbreaks. I think the walkaway for this show is for young people to feel, you can have that, too. Art is for everyone. Whether you want to be a ballerina or in opera, art is colorblind. She lived in a time where, it just wasn’t like that. I think now, the word “inclusion” is everywhere, which is very important.

I’m talking for all those little blue, Brown, Black girls and boys out there, or whoever identifies with wanting something that seems unreachable. -Laiona Michelle

Read my full interview with Laiona at New York Amsterdam News here, where she talks about overcoming the entertainment industries resistance towards Black brilliance and playwrights when she was beginning her career.