ANNOUNCEMENT: My 1st Collection Available Now

I’m thrilled to announce the publication of my first collection of poetry, What Us Is.  You can purchase here.  Paper and Kindle versions are available.  I made the decision to just put it out there as I’ve begun working on my 2nd collection and need to stop shying away from the risk of putting my words out there.

book cover

I’m proud of the menagerie of struggles, life lessons, stiff cocktails, sex, fear, and joy that brought this work to life. This collection explores the deep pain and profound joy of my journey thus far; from loving assholes to hating myself, from police brutality to partying in Memphis.

Oddly, I’m more proud of the cover than I think I am of the poetry. The cover is a print version of the mixed media collage that I created while home recovering from my breakdown. The piece features my grandmother, Oneida Felton, in one of my favorite images of her. I loved seeing her in her nurse’s uniform.  She was so stately and classy; always polished and prepared to drench any disappointment in faith, fragrance, or food.  Sometimes, even all three. I wrote a pantoum in her honor, “Grief,” that I included in the collection. Her spirit is ever present in mine because she literally wrote the playbook of how I learned womanhood and the art of sumptuous and soulful cuisine. Miss you, Granny.

I crave your support and your feedback on this work.  Also, if you buy the paper copy you can download the Kindle version for free.

Brown Betty out.

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Sick, Part I: Black Girl in the Psych Ward

Golf pencils. When someone asks me what comes to mind after my brief stint in the psych ward, that’s my response: golf pencils. I never want to see another one.  I likely won’t have to since I don’t play or even plan to play golf now or in the future. But even if I did by some chance find myself on a course pretending to care about dropping that dimpled ball into a hole far, far away, I swear I will use a crayon or a sharpie. Golf pencils be damned.

There were a series of steps that resulted in my admission to the hospital.  More phases than steps, I suppose. Survival. Functional dysfunction. Malfunctioning dysfunction. Deterioration. Denial of the deterioration. Detached zombie. Withering mess. Shaking and detached.

These are of course not technical terms.  Nor can I say that they happened in that exact sequence. I can say, however, that I will never be the same. There is something very permanent about losing your mind. Even after you begin to reclaim it, you are putting it back together using different tools. These tools reshape and reconfigure all the pieces, wires and bits differently than they began. That’s good and bad.  But you are indeed different.  Forever.

plath

I lost my shit approximately five weeks ago. Now when I say lost my shit, I am referring to a dismantling of the connection between my body and mind; a severance between me and the world. I was no longer an actor. I was only a recipient. Of thoughts, of pain, of symptoms and wreckage.  Nothing but contradictions: flurry and paralysis, fight and concession.

My breakdown was a mudslide of sorts. I call it a mudslide because 1) it was most certainly a natural disaster; and 2) I read this explanation on Wonderopolis:

Mudslides occur when a large amount of water causes the rapid erosion of soil on a steep slope.

And that, my friends, was like looking in a mirror. I was a disaster waiting to happen. The makings were always there, but I had managed to keep the precipitation and physics at bay. When it was getting too slippery I frantically worked to dry out.  Drying out in my case was isolation, withdrawing from everyone and everything, and escaping via words (books, writing, web) to avoid my reality. When I had retreated enough to choke back the dangers of being found out, uncovered, questioned by those who truly know me, I would re-integrate, apologizing to those I had flaked on, put off, rescheduled, ignored.

Shame is the real driver for me.  I simply hate my brain and its inability to function in everyday life. Function, independence, value-add, purpose; these are the qualities that lie at the center of my self-worth.  Even now I can’t shake the lessons of generational trauma, systemic oppression, and sexism:

  • Prove your worth through performance
  • Get up and push through
  • Us before you
  • Some things are not talked about
  • That’s something for the White folks

These phrases, along with others, run through my ill mind like ticker tape. And honestly, there is some truth to them. There are individuals who, if trusted with the truth, use it against you or very quickly want you to prove that what you are feeling is real, that you aren’t using it a s a crutch or excuse for bad behaviors. You know what? FUCK THEM. I am grateful that my brain goes to self-destruction and not violence to others because if it did, there would be some wounded ass naysayers around the 253. I would be going all Beatrix Kiddo unleashing the pain that their disbelief causing me and others fighting to remain functional. It would look similar to this:

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective) I turn my Hattori Hanzo sword on to myself, ripping the light out of my own life, saving all of my compassion for others no matter how they hurt me. I refuel with reality TV, hard liquor and prayer (yes, all 3 of the things go together!). And when I mustered enough will to get through, I’m at it again.

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Nothing could prepare me for the process of seeking medical help for my mental health crisis. No amount of research, anecdotes, or second hand stories prepare you to be humiliated, dehumanized and disregarded by the system. Seriously, it’s the shit that nightmares are made of.

I’ll break the whole sordid affair down in part 2. And explain why golf pencils can go straight to hell.

Our Lovely Lady Lumps

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I full intended to post this earlier, but you know how it be. I don’t want to lose another sister to this cancer shit. It is tearing through generations of our women and it pains me deeply. NO, the situation is not simple. There are very significant systemic barriers of access and affordability of care and culturally competent providers. However, women, and women of color in particular, continue to struggle with self-care. We will push, even nag, our partners, kids, even clients to be proactive in getting check ups, eating right, and even resting. Our resourcefulness and creativity in helping other organize their schedules and priorities to make time for wellness is uncanny. Unfortunately, we get a big fat fail when it’s time to take care of our own precious selves.

This shit is played out.

I lack eloquence in communicating my feelings on this because my frustration around it is off the charts. Martyrs can be poetic and all, but guess what? They become martyrs because they’re dead. Gone-zo. And in many cases, there is a point at which we can actively and consistently participate in the prevention of breast cancer. But we ignore it in the name of nurturing others. This shit has gotta stop. I have the honor of participating in a project wih the Carol Milgard Breast Center (CMBC) focusing on outreach to Black women. We’ve held 6 listening sessions examining the barriers to breast health for Black women, young, old, and all ages in between. The sessions were both inspiring and heart breaking. More than one session involved stories of a granddaughter, aunt, mom, and grandmother all impacted by breast cancer. Women avoiding mammograms only to be diagnosed in the very advanced stages of breast cancer. And as we pushed even further, we uncovered some of our very real distrust of the health care industry. The aftermath of scientific experimentation, betrayal, and humiliation by doctors/nurses are at the core of generational aversion to critical office visits. The even trickier issue of faith was prevalent in every group. Recognizing that it is reliance and belief in God AND honoring God’s gift of medicine is an imperative in the fight to save our sisters. And make no mistake, it is a fight. CMBC’s recent report indicates that Black women in Pierce County are dying from breast cancer at a higher rate that other ethnic groups. It will take a concerted, loving, determined effort to stop this trend.

Check your breasts. Self-image is keeping us from becoming comfortable and familiar with our bodies. We must know what feels right to recognize when something is wrong. Honor your body by learning and responding to its needs.

Each one teach one. Instill the value of self-care to your younger siblings, nieces, and mentees. A girl’s first period is an opportune time to discuss wellness in its totality; womanhood from head to toe.

Twerk it and work it. Nobody can move like a sista…you know I’m right. Walk, stretch, kickbox, do the damn wobble…just get in some exercise. Every day. Errrr day,hear?

Get a breast buddy. Take a support person with you to your office visit and/or mammogram. It can help to have someone else there, asking questions, telling you a joke or two, helping you fend off the nervousness and fear. And in return, serve as a breast buddy to someone else.

CMBC has a great list of prevention tips here. Read it. Apply it. I’m struggling to reduce my alcohol intake (my favorite vice) and stay out the drive thru (my go-to solution to a long work day). But I’m trying. Show Betty some solidarity.

I have immense respect and love for the hospitality and trust extended to us in the name of this project, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart. More importantly, I lift up Jackie Ostrom, Executive Director of CMBC, for her commitment to invest money, resources, and social capital to improve the health of underserved women in our community. Not only is she garnering support to ensure long term impact, she is not afraid to turn over the power and trust women from the community to lead the work—not a common approach for many well intended but ineffective organizations.

As we push ourselves silly toward professional and personal goals, let’s hold each other up, hold each other accountable to love our bodies. Love our beatiful bodies by caring for them diligently and without apology. Take the self-care challenge and share your experiences; successes, challenges, ideas, all that. Nothing changes if nothing changes. Let’s do this.

BB

Steppin’ Out on Faith, and Trying Not to Vomit in the Process

How I’ve missed you all!!!  Post-vacation, I was in the major throes of a work transition and spending real quality time with my babies.  Having re-focused and almost re-centered, I’m here to blow you chocolate kisses and dive back into the exquisite mess of this life with you by my side.

With the encouragement of a dear friend, I have been participating in a project called Voices of the City.  Sponsored by the Broadway Center in Tacoma, its purpose is to cultivate storytelling for Tacoma’s residents.  Its purpose is to gather folks that normally wouldn’t work together, much less speak to each other, in a collaborative and creative journey which culminated into a series of stories from each participant.  Although the big performance isn’t until October, we have the opportunity to practice rough drafts of our work over the summer. Last night was my night to do a run through of my piece.  I’m getting nauseous just recalling it.  Yes, I’ve written poetry for a long time. However, I rarely, if ever, read it out loud for others.  However, in my very real desire to push myself, I chose to perform my piece as spoken word.  I was daunted by the possibilities, mistakes, and blunders.  But you know, my lovelies, I was far more excited about the victory, the triumph of overcoming a creative and personal barrier that had stifled me for a long friggin’ time.  When I began to be overwhelmed by anxiety, I remembered this quote:

“When we are succeeding — that is, when we have begun to overcome our self-doubt and self-sabotage, when we are advancing in our craft and evolving to a higher level — that’s when panic strikes. When we experience panic, it means that we’re about to cross a threshold. We’re poised on the doorstep of a higher plane.” ~Steven Pressfield

Shit, who doesn’t want to be on a higher plane? Betty sho does. Here’s an image along these lines; I just love it:

So I slammed an incredibly  strong Captain and Coke, and took to the small stage on the 3rd floor of the Pantages.  Check it out: 

I took a deep breath and let it rip. And it was fan-fucking-tastic. Yes, I got some work to do to really make this what I want; get it to its best.  But for once, this was a risk I was so glad I took.  Instead of taking a risk on others, I bet on myself; I bet on Betty. And I hit the jackpot like a fat rat. I feel braver and lighter, as if I’m coming home to myself.  I just may buy another ticket on this lightning fast ride to self-actualization.

Are you gonna go my way?

BB

Finding some damn peace (and quiet)

“To be at one with God is to be at peace …
peace is to be found only within, and unless
one finds it there he will never find it at all.
Peace lies not in the external world. It lies
within one’s own soul.”
—Ralph Waldo Trine

Peacemaking will always begin at home for me. And when I say at home what I mean more specifically is that when I seek peace, I must first seek to find it in myself. I believe the battle for peace within drives the causes, movements, relationships, and interactions we seek out—or conversely, the ones that we don’t seek out or even avoid. I find that the very thing that has the potential to fill the cracks in my heart is precisely the situation from which I withdraw. What is it within us that causes us to deny ourselves peace; why do we ignore the opportunity to heal? The opportunity I speak of is the one to engage with the world around us. Not simply offer commentary on global news or the latest YouTube sensation. But to actually step across the line to bump against, comfort or be comforted, laugh with, empower, learn from or teach, the kid with the cornrows, the refugee, the entrepreneur, the single mom, the holy and the fallen—these acts of faith in our humanity create space for peace to grow where fear and pain once dominated. It need not be a mission or an elaborately planned expedition across the world. Look right out your window, across the hallway at work, and on the sidewalk of every neighborhood in our city, and you will see a need for peace. More importantly, look in the mirror, and be honest about what you see. Set aside doubt and divisiveness, and put trust and inclusivity in its place. Reserve judgment and see the potential in the most unexpected place: within. Fear and the drive to individualism allow us to forget that we need each other for peace to be a reality. The gift of peace cannot be fully experienced if we keep it to ourselves. Peace cannot be achieved apart from community. The sweetest surprise, however, may be that the key to peace within is submitting to the interdependence of our community and owning our place in it.

Stay up, sisters and friends.  Fight for your peace.  I’m with you all the way.

BB