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.

 

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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: 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 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 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 Repost: Read Zora Neale Hurston’s Powerful letter to W.E.B Du Bois About Honoring the Ancestors

Written and posted by Because of Them We Can

Zora Neale Hurston was putting on for the culture long before the phrase came into existence. Raised in the culturally affirming environment of Eatonville, Florida (the nation’s first incorporated African American town), she was exposed to Black excellence on a daily basis.

She went on to attend Howard University and later become Barnard College’s first Black graduate. As one of the leading lights of the Harlem Renaissance, she used her voice to advocate for the rights and protection of African Americans – as well as challenge her peers.

In doing so, she wrote a letter to fellow luminary W.E.B. Du Bois, the Dean of American Negro Artists, asking him why there wasn’t a cemetery for influential African Americans and challenging him to establish one. See for yourself.

 

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Continue reading

P / P Reading List: 10 Books To Help Those Who Are Healing Through Grief

The holiday season can be the hardest time of the year for those who have lost loved ones. I myself, have friends and family who are going through the grieving process and it inspired me to share some information about how to heal consciously, radically, transformationally and through love and patience. We are all living this life together as human beings. At any time, one of us can exit this Earth, leaving the people who love us sad, but able to keep us alive in their hearts and memories.

I hope you all have a happy holiday season and that you have inner peace, peace with your family and the self love to go on and grieve for as long as you need to. It can be a lifelong process. We at Publik / Private are here to encourage your healing in any way we can.

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Radical Joy for Hard Times

by Trebbe Johnson . North Atlantic Books

It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand

by Megan Devine. Sounds True; Unabridged edition Continue reading

Publik / Private at Baltimore Book Festival 2017

Publik / Private will be hosting two panels at Baltimore Book Festival 2017

Black Existentialism Lends to Dystopian Afrofuturism
Friday, September 22, at 5:00pm
At the CityLit Stage

With so much emphasis on the Black body – police brutality, photographically dense explorations of the inner city, stories of reformed criminals, death and loss within plot lines of Empire inundating American culture, the exploration of Black consciousness, and the navigation of the Black perception of life has been nearly nonexistent in media.

Authors Jordannah Elizabeth, Jason Harris, and Olufunmike Woods (Olu Butterfly) will speak about Black consciousness and existentialism in writing and how it lends to dystopian stories and plot lines in Afrofuturism. The discussion will explore why Black consciousness, perception and relationship with the Western world should always be relevant in conversations in literature.

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Black Voices in Music Criticism Are Essential w/ Greg Tate
Sunday, September 24, at 4:45pm
At Red Emma’s Radical Book Fair Pavilion

The panel would consist of renowned authors and music critics/scholars, Greg Tate, Laina Dawes and Rashida Braggs, who will share their perspective on commentary on Black music criticism, how they were able to succeed and create space for themselves, Black music in mainstream and alternative white media and how their work navigates the segregation of Western Contemporary music history. Jordannah Elizabeth will serve as moderator.

“Many prominent Black music critics and editors tend to go nearly anonymous to their general readership. If you do choose to pursue this career path — which, to be very honest, is arduous and full of rejection — share your entire being with your readers: Use your image, your thoughts, and your craft to inspire and equip other Black writers and readers to embrace literary and cultural criticism. This will ensure that Black voices will be expected — not just yearned for — in white alternative and mainstream music media.” -jordannah elizabeth, Black Voices Are Essential In Music Criticism Continue reading

Publik / Private Interview + Mixtape #11.11: Joel Gion

Mixtape Curated By: Joel Gion
Written By: Jordannah Elizabeth
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 Photo by: Raynie Alexandria Vratari 
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PUBLIK / PRIVATE MIXTAPE #11.11 ~ JOEL GION MIXTAPE

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We have so many years on this Earth and only have one life to live. I am glad that in my during lifetime I can say I have interviewed Joel Gion. Gion can be considered the sweetheart of the now prolific, internationally adored rock and roll band, The Brian Jonestown Massacre.  He’s been the loving saving grace, the purveyor of astoundingly timed, humorous one liners and a cherry blossomed persona that could sooth any fan from the panic of star struck nervousness. I remember in my younger years, he walked passed me at a show in some city (I’ve seen BJM a number of times, never in the same town), and I quietly said “I love you, Joel.” out of pure innocence and admiration, and he turned around before he walked backstage and blew me a kiss. Continue reading