Writing is like breathing is like loving is like mothering is like exhaling is like speaking (out) is like dancing is like exploring is like living. It’s like freedom. That I must have. #WriteMeFree
The Universe moves in such mysteriously correct ways. Over the past few weeks, She has sent me several messages that require that I listen.
I received the first message during a vacation to the Dominican Republic. My partner and I rented a condo at the beautiful Alsol Resort in Punta Cana. We spent time relaxing by the pool, partying with the local citizens at Carnaval, and attempting to navigate the country with our limited Spanish. Because much of Punta Cana caters to tourists, many of the restaurants lacked the authentic food that we craved. So we rented a car and drove to Santo Domingo where we enjoyed asopao de camarones, arroz con pollo, mofongo, and asopao de pollo. We also spent time on the beautiful beaches of Punta Cana, and it was during the trip to Juanillo Beach that I felt renewed. I am not a swimmer – partially because I nearly drowned as a teen when a cousin tried to teach me to swim at a family reunion (in 10 feet of water) and partially because salt water, chlorine water, etc. burns my contacts when I have tried to swim – but after relaxing for a while with my face to the sun, I ventured into the water. With splashes of miniature waves hitting my breasts, an energy consumed me that I can only describe as the feeling I had when I was first dipped in a baptismal pool as a teenager. I started to cry and speak – reciting random poetry, narrating lines to the beginning of the book I’ve been writing in my head for quite some time. There was a spirit of newness surrounding me.
The second message came as I was researching information on substance abuse, and the phrase ‘self-silencing’ caught my attention. Self-silencing is a term used to describe people who suppress their feelings, thoughts, and needs…especially when doing so is an effort to protect others. For example, Flett, Besser, Hewitt, and Davis (2007) contended:
People high in self-silencing are self-sacrificing individuals who keep their distress to themselves in an attempt to maintain or improve interpersonal relationships. Their distress often takes the form of unexpressed anger (see Jack, 1999b, 2001). People high in self-silencing conceal their true feelings out of desires to maintain relationships and obtain the approval of significant others. (p. 1212)
Anger is not an emotion I experience often, but occasionally self-silencing leaves me disconnected and emotionally flat. Anger gives way to numbing indifference.
The third message came through Facebook. Scrolling through my timeline, I was stopped by a reposted blog on For Harriet’s page by Zakiya Brown. In the blog, Dancing to My Own Drum: How Embracing My Authentic Self Set Me Free, Brown wrote that the deaths of her mother and grandmother along with a move to a new state encouraged her desire to let her soul dance to music she selected. I identified with this post in so many ways. Although I have not encountered the losses that Brown has, I know the implications of faking good and dancing to music that doesn’t move my spirit.
For Black women, the intersection of self-silencing, self-sacrificing, and inauthentic living is a place of exhaustion where we become more susceptible to mental health issues. Yet, we view our strength as our defining characteristic, our badge of honor that masks any perceived weaknesses. We are Superwomen. This rationalization of the silent, sacrificial Superwoman makes being strong synonymous with quietly coping with hurdles that challenges our physical, emotional, and mental well-beings. [We are forever jumping hurdles.] Then as much as our resilience is our savior, it can also be our batterer. Finding the space to be resilient and vocal and authentic without being wholly sacrificial of ourselves can be a challenge. Lifelong internalization of using quiet strength while we mask our hurt takes great energy and support to unearth. But we have to engage in the process…
Bag lady you goin’ hurt your back/Draggin’ all ’em bags like that/I guess nobody ever told you/All you must hold on to/Is you, is you, is you… Each day has to be a process of putting down our bags and holding on to ourselves.
It is not that Black women have not been and are not strong; it is simply that this is only a part of our story, a dimension, just as the suffering is another dimension— one that has been most unnoticed and unattended to. —bell hooks, Talking Back
We must talk back, write back. So I receive the messages that the Universe sent me and will address them the only way that I know how – to write. For too long, I’ve been a writer…that doesn’t write. I narrate the stories in my head but refrain from putting them on paper, on screen because that makes them real. That makes me visible. And to borrow Brown’s contention, I would be Open. Raw. Authentic. And that’s a scary feeling. I always have been an introvert, satisfied fading into the background. But like I was told during a conversation on tenure and the academy, “You have to put yourself out there. Your name should come up in these conversations.” That, too, is a scary feeling. Yet, no matter how frightening being open, raw, and authentic can be, the only other option is to remain in this space of numbing indifference. To remain in this space where I literally canNOT breathe, move, grow. A place where I canNOT live or be free. I must Write.Me.Free.