What did I learn in China?
1. I learned that I am not a sardine. I got on Harbin’s [metro] buses at different times over the 5 weeks and learned when not to take a bus and when to grab a taxi instead.
2. I learned to pay attention to my environment. Silence and close observation work well in unfamiliar spaces.
3. I learned that pedestrian rights aren’t really a thing in Harbin. I would be rich if I counted the amount of times I almost got hit crossing the street when the sign said, “Cross the street.”
4. The 12-hour difference between U.S. and China showed me what it means to enter a different time zone & realm. In truth, it represents time travel, which means I have experienced the science fiction genre [which is not fiction at all. Hhhmmm].
5. I do not like strangers coming up to me [paparazzi style] to take my picture, so being famous may not suit me well. But I’m not opposed to trying out 30 minutes of fame every so often.
6. I learned that having a small cute dog in the store, in the mall, on the bus, in the community…is similar to U.S.’s love for dogs. Some of these pups even wear shoes or socks or something similar to human coverings, which is why I think their dogs were actually humogs or hogs (human+dogs).
7. Big Lesson: When or if you receive rejection, make sure you have a 'go-to' spot [which may be a person, place, prayer]. And when you don’t know what your next step in life is, be grateful that you have a now-moment and breeeathe. Just breathe. Long deep breaths.
8. I learned that rice wine is soooooo good. So so good.
9. Trust what your body is saying to you. Look, I’ve eaten more spice and tofu than ever before. I’ve also consumed something (unsure what) that kept me in the bathroom throughout the night. TRUST your body. In my case, flushing it out with water was key. Water has been one of my greatest allies in China.
10. I learned that I’m not a comedian, but I think I’m kind of funny.
11. If you are in China or certain European countries, walk with tissue, especially when you have to use a public bathroom.
12. I’ve spent a good portion of my time depending on my teaching partner who knows way more Chinese than I do, who has a working WeChat app (mine stopped working a few weeks ago), who is adventurous and is traveling in Beijing and other areas in southern China currently. She has taught me to push the envelope and explore.
13. Make the best out of situations that don’t go your way. Do not travel with complainers. DO NOT travel with complainers. I am grateful for Tiffany Diebold (teaching partner). Here’s hoping I travel with others who are as adventurous, bold and spritely.
14. I didn’t pack much clothes, and even then, I still didn’t wear everything. I had to throw out one of my favorite pants because I wore it so much that a BIG hole formed on the upper-inner-thigh. Each trip shows me how very little I need.
15. I am a writer. I write. I love to write. In all my years I have questioned whether or not I had something to say on paper, and China gave me the answer: You do, Traci. You have a lot to say. You are a talker…writer…talker…writer…If to no one else, at least to yourself. DO NOT MUTE YOUR VOICE!
16. And finally, Home. I learned how appreciative I am to be home.
Goodbye and Thank You So Much, China.
p.s. So now that I am stateside, do I continue this blog or should I find somewhere else to go for another 5 weeks and do this all over again?
My friend who studies 4 languages and also loves crow’s feet inspired this poem:
I know a man who loves crow’s feet
he says the lines of maturation take on civility
the way we eat soft bread
sip sweet wine
drink thick soup
he bends his head to the left then to the right
and looks upon wisdom
in burnt pupils thinned eyebrows cotton skin
he calls on years of steadiness and experience as a golden rule to define
he stopped watching media long ago (which was only yesterday)
he wants to celebrate age
he wants to feed hunger
he wants to give grace
he wants beauty’s best
We, he says, become beauty’s best by being
benevolent bold and bedazzled
through our crow’s feet
Thank god I finally have my crow’s feet.
This poem is about age. One of my students talked about her favorite Chinese actor who appreciates crow’s feet. She told us the actor believes it conveys the sort of wisdom you can only attain when you have lived for a period of time. There is something to be said about fine wine (i.e. aged wine).
When I ask my mom for help and she agrees, upon completion she sometimes says, “I don’t think I offered you much. I wish I knew more.” That’s funny. Her 7 decades to my 4 decades tell me otherwise.
Do I believe every older person (however you define older) is wise? No.
Do I believe there are young people (however you define young) wise beyond their years or simply wise? Yes.
Age is a funny fickle thing. We are told not to speak of age and never ask a woman her age or weight. I guess it must be okay to approach men and ask them their age, which I have often done. Commercials advertise age and weight all the time. My body creams and facial cleansers boldly state ‘anti-aging’ components. My products, I suspect, are ‘against aging.’ Does that mean they can stop aging or reverse the process? I can answer that – I should demand all of my money back.
Curious, why is a woman called a cougar if she dates someone younger? How much do you know about cougars? I’m into cougars because they are from the feline family, and I have a feline at home. He’s 8 years old. In human years that’s 48, but he acts like a big baby and follows every person around in the house [maybe that's normal for some latter 40 year old humans]. Cougars are often referred to as mountain lions, panthers and pumas but they have roughly 40 other names as well. They are the most widely distributed feline species in the western hemisphere (North and South Americas), and they’re not quite endangered yet, but I wouldn’t put it past humans to mess around and do something that shifts this dynamic (I’m sorry, was that pessimistic?). They are said to be solitary animals although in truth, they have their own social system. Did you know that cougars give birth to a litter of 1 to 6 cubs, which are born blind. Sight comes roughly 10 days later. And their eyes shift colors – blue to yellow over a period of 6 months. Wow!
Are you wondering why I am giving you this information? I just want to know why women are called cougars. I’m still trying to make a connection. I did learn that there was a Canadian website called cougardate.com which targeted older women and tomboys who weren’t looking for commitment. Also, there was a sitcom called Cougar Town, but the name cougar was clearly well established by the time this 2009 sitcom came out. Maybe we can venture back to 1967 when The Graduate came out. Cougar-licious!
Did you know that cougars average a lifespan of 15 years and can live up to 20 years in ‘captivity’? One more interesting piece of information: there is a hybrid species that is created from cougars (i.e. pumas) and leopards mating. They are called pumapard. I wonder if this is like wolves (a.k.a. lycans) and vampires coming together to make some sort of lycire or lycampire breed (i.e. lycan + vampire. Yep, I’m into such creatures).
*Another thing, my brother named me Tiger. Yes, I am from the feline family. Either that or I am a witch with a tabby-cat.
Back to age. If women can be called cougars, then men should be called what? Nothing is coming to me. Maybe men are called Normal (sarcasm).
Another question: Why is it important to have flawless skin? And does ‘black really not crack’? This is an odd statement: “You don’t look your age.” What age is that? Is that not a comparative statement? If I am 40 and 40 looks this way, then in actuality, I do look my age. If I am 18 or 54 or the fortunate age of 90 and people constantly say, “Nooooo, you’re kidding me. Stop lying!” What other factors are in place for me to look my correct age? Isn’t it possible that 90 and 54 and any age you pull from the sky look good (whatever ‘good’ is)?
When I taught spoken word, at some point I would ask students to describe what they look like physically? The general descriptions are short-tall; big-small; black-white; brown-blue eyes. But I needed more because as one knows, we generally size people up before they open their mouths. Example, I have a light faded black birth spot under my right eye, and under both eyes the skin is darker brown in the shape of a falling half moon [maybe the sign of age or wearing glasses]. I can tell you the size of my hands and the pulsating veins that stick out, depending on how I flex and bend my fingers. I can talk about how my body reshapes itself in certain clothing, and I can share more stuff about my face. We definitely love to concentrate on the face. Is it true that attraction begins with physicality? Because if so, I am clear as to why many of us have self-esteem issues.
I wish the idea of getting older would be celebrated not by an endless amount of candles and the fact that ‘you aren’t dead yet.’ I wish we could sing praise to our changing bodies: Every soft curve and added line to our visage is a mark of inner/outer intelligence; and a gathering of wrinkles is an opportunity to caress. We become squeamish to the thought that people of a certain [elder] age kiss, make out, hold hands, and we balk at our youth liking each other at too young an age. We are also very particular about how our skin unfolds in the public, so we do an enormous amount of private work - sometimes, dangerous and destructive private work. We contort ourselves in harmful ways because we are listening to something/someone outside of ourselves. But what if we said, “It’s skin.” Not that it’s just skin, but that it is skin. It layers our organs; serves as a shield; it adjusts to the environment; it outwardly manifests the shifts that occur inside our bodies; it is malleable, pliable, flexible, supple, stretchable, yielding. It has fight club moments, but thank god it can heal itself under the right conditions. It is worth touching softly, kindly without additives and preservatives. It does preserve though. It can hold the best of adornments (i.e. tattoos, piercings, and more). It walks into each day acknowledging the phases in life, but it is not aging towards death. My pre-menopausal/peri-menopausal/post-menopausal does not apply OLD (although 'old' is a word in the dictionary). It isn’t something that I should hide from, right? This 'condition' does not affirm that I am incapable of creating another being. I know the medical field has its purpose and is praise worthy for all the diagnoses I’ve had over the years. And again, my one-step-further into this earthly experience is something to be in Aaawwwe of. Therefore, I nod at the one-two strands of silver that streak my forehead; and I smile at the sunken indent in my cheekbones that wasn’t there a decade before; and I stretch a little more due to stiff muscles and an aching back; and I freely hand out long thick sanitary napkins to other females who cleanse monthly [opinion: we must talk descriptively about the menstrual cycle more]; and indeed I give thanks for the coming crow’s feet that welcome a new version of myself called, Beauty’s Best.
In graduate school I was in a theatre production on Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. I played a slave woman whose child was snatched from her. One of two lines that I spoke in the play was, “My baby! My baby! Don’t take my baby!” I hated that role but I thought, “This is my big break.” I recall sitting with the director, who seemed quite fond of me. His appearance was a cross between actor John Hammond and director Steven Spielberg. I remember once this director said to me, “You will always play the sidekick. Your roles will be someone’s best friend.” Nothing more, maybe something less – like the slave woman who screams, “My Babyyy. My Babyyy. DON’T TAKE MY BABY!”
Guess what? I don’t want to be just someone’s best friend, sidekick or playing a slave woman screaming after her child. I have best friends and I happen to be pretty damn good at being one. Question: have you ever noticed how we differentiate best friend with good friend with just-a-friend with acquaintance with colleague with ‘crush’ (crush: often someone you barely know, which begs the question: what are you crushing over?).
Once I was close to being married. Very close. We ended it a month or 2 before the wedding date. I was going to walk down an aisle. I purposely wanted the wedding in Italy for a few reasons:
This is what I know about myself and more traditional wedding-like characteristics. I don’t like white. White dresses. White laced dresses. White laced satin dresses. White long laced satin dresses that require heals. I do not want a whole bunch of witnesses watching me walk down any aisle. I do not like the wedding song. I do not like the two aisles indicating bride’s family and groom’s family. I do not like wedding cakes or layered wedding cakes with lots of icing. I do like these things for my friends and family, but for me - Nope. I do not like public displays in such a ceremonial manner. And I most certainly do not like being photographed as the center of attention for such a ceremony. But I love the idea of being the photographer for someone else’s wedding.
What do I like: Being arm-in-arm with my dad walking me to the justice of the peace, mom on the other side as well (both as witnesses) while I exchange poetry to the air (and the person I am marrying). And I would agree to this because I think my parents would enjoy the brevity of such an event. But truth, I really don’t think my parents care. I have the type of parents who [at this point in life] just want me to be happy - married or not.
My parents have been married for 48 years. We (humans) celebrate decades of marriage. We glory in the amount of years people have been together, but do we know what happens behind closed doors? Do we know the changes that occur over short and long periods of time with the two who have committed themselves to each other? Are we encapsulated by this hallmark moment that swirls center stage? Do we return to this sacred vow-exchanging moment when the shit hits the fan; when the shit reeeally hits the fan; when the shit is just shitty and you can’t use air freshener, patchouli incense or wide-open windows to bring the two back to those vows?
I met someone from China who expressed a desire to be married as a way out of her day-to-day routine. I met someone from China who said wearing makeup here is a sign of respect. I met someone from China whose parents stressed, “Be a biologist, not an artist. How will you make a living?” I met someone born in China who told me the purpose of getting married is to procreate. I have met so many different opinions about marriage and love and makeup and making up…I am reminded as to how we make life up one day at a time.
My cousin in NY would make fun of me for speaking to people on the street. A stranger might look at me, I would look at him/her, eyes meet and I would say, “Hi.” The unwritten rule is that you don’t speak to NYers, unlike other people in other U.S. locations. It's a given to say "Hi" to strangers down South - that's not strange at all. But I refuse to obey this [NY] antic. I’ve always said “Hi” to people in the public, especially if they are glancing my way. In China, the stares are evident. And if they are boring a hole into my skin (i.e. which is everyday here), I break the trance by saying, “Ni Hao.” Some Chinese people nod, some speak and some look a little shocked. But alas I have walked by 3 or 4 very brown people. In every instance, we make eye contact and before I can open my mouth, they have beat me to the punch, “HI!” There is glory in familiarity. We know. We just know. We know and nod to the knowing that this place has very few of us who wear brown naturally. That is not makeup. But it is funny how the impression of lightening this natural brown suit is a desire to attain some sort of make+up+world. Lightening the skin may offer something more desirable for some (in China and other places), possibly an apple pie hopefulness with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. The color white is not my choice because it is everywhere around me [without actually being everywhere around me], and it symbolizes something false. It is a binary concept. A construct. If you aren’t white, you are black. If it is not day, it is night. If it’s not dark, it is light.
I, however, look for color. I look for bright and bold and stripe and checkered and polka dot. I demand a splash of paisley and throw some albinism in the mix (which I would argue is not a lack of anything). It is a special coloring that we must credit with power. If you question my words, read Akata Witch and Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor. I am light and dark and everything in between. We cannot be separated. I repeat, we live on a continuum.
I look for insatiable patterns and textures thrown together that occur in the moment when two (or more) are gathered. And when the shit is rough, we call on prayer or chant or elemental callings (fire, air, water, earth). Maybe I am calling on love or lovemaking. This lovemaking looks nothing like the scenes we see in the movies. I’ve watched some pretty convincing lovemaking scenes but I have yet to see lovemaking at its greatest height that does more than satisfy the moment. What I imagine can’t be put into a movie scene or television show. A matter of fact, it is pretty hard to write about. But I sense it. I feel it. I can reach out and almost touch it. I can whisper it into the air, and Lovemaking hears me calling. And that is the contract I believe I am calling forth. A contract that doesn’t count the amount of years we’ve been together, especially since people keep preaching there is no life guarantee tomorrow. It shows up in the moment and it knows my name. It does not misspell or misunderstand or misinterpret. It does not mistaken. It may rearrange the letters in a word; it may even remove a few letters. It always journeys with me through the good and bad and again, everything in between.
I end this blog with this: I can be many things - a mother, best friend, sidekick [and other assigned roles] - but namely, I align myself among the stars as a star, and as such, I must not settle for make believe, makeup-ing, mistakenings. I must lovemake, make love, love-in-the-making to humbly & honorably be called
I was at a professional development workshop earlier this year and the facilitator (who identifies as gay) said he couldn’t stand the word queer. It is offensive to him.
For those who might not be familiar with the letters in the title, you won’t get the answer from this blog, but please read on anyway. I will provide a link further down.
Queer is like Weird
is like Whoaaaaa!
is like Whaaaaat?
is like Wait a minute!
is like That’s fuuunneeey (emphasizing the ‘uuu’ and the ‘eee’)
is like a raised eyebrow because it’s just not quite the norm
is like not befitting to what I’m used to
is like you aren’t feeling my tattoos (which by the way are quite normative these days) or my fifty piercings or my afro puffs or my underwearlessness or my hummingbird status or my pronoun choice or my…[I could go on forever]
Why am I writing about Q?
Answer: When I look around Harbin, the physical world appears homogeneous. And then I meet the cab driver who stands outside his taxi with his t-shirt hiked way above his round thick belly, standing there desperately waiting for a customer. Clarity: this is not a fashion statement, nor seemingly about sexual orientation. It’s a weathering-the-heat statement. His non-uniform did not make me want to enter his cab, although I did anyway. And voila, I am safely here in my apartment. How about while grocery shopping I see a few more men with high rising shirts right below the breast-line allowing a faint breeze to settle on sweaty skin, because it certainly is hot this week. Are they G? I suspect not. Might they be like/is like Q? I don’t know. I am reminded though that most stores in the U.S. have a rule that you must wear shirt and shoes on the premises. How much of the shirt should be on your body is up for debate. We women can get away with belly poppin’ t-shirts, but men, not so much (depending on your U.S. geographical location).
We do love our identities, do we not? I know I do. I love my
Quack quack quack, AFLAC (yes, like the insurance commercial)
Poetically noteworthy reminder, these words [above] are not what LGBTQIA stand for. Please click on the letters for more information.
Change in subject.
There is a stench in/outside my window. I’ve been told it’s the bathroom water pipe and/or the industrial lines linked to the factory that I see beyond the campus walls. The stench is not always there. But often this lingering whiff is evidence that something formidably rotten layers itself throughout the day during a mid-wind drift that occurs inside the apartment and sometimes right beyond my window sill.
On campus I see people walking with masks over their mouths and noses, namely women [not a lot, but a noticeable quantity]. In the United States when I saw someone wearing these particular masks (usually someone Asian – not knowing where exactly in Asia they were from), I used to think the person was sick (do not judge me right now). Being here, I am told that there is pollution in the air. Given the growing industrialized economy in China and the use of burning coal causing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, there is a major health concern. I am now reading about China's efforts in transitioning to natural gases to address this environmental issue. It's funny how it takes me coming here and staying longer than a tourist-minute to be a bit more WOKE.
I am extremely conscious of this in the United States (and have been for quite some time), given the fact that the current President removed the United States from the Paris Agreement in 2017, stating that this agreement interferes/undermines the U.S. economy. Hhhmmm. No comment.
When I was waiting to get on bus 21 to go see the endangered Siberian tigers, there were three women cleaning the outside of the bus. They were literally wiping it down and keeping this big yellow bus shiny. I was in awe. We don’t do that in the U.S. [definitely not in front of other people waiting in line to get on the bus]. When I was on bus 21, I was a sardine. Have you ever opened a can of sardines? If not, try it and look inside. The sardines are tightly packed into the can, on top and next to each other. No air between them. It takes a fork to pick them out, and they don’t scoop out individually whole. They are packed in so tight that the sardine comes out in pieces. I could barely breathe in that space. I’ve done this still-posture before, during rush hour in NY on an A or C train, but somehow I recall space though, because Americans are serious about personal space, even in sardine scenarios.
bell hooks in her article choosing the margins as a space of openness reminds us that “language is a place of struggle.” And she speaks to this in reference to space and location and the pain it holds physically/verbally/mentally/spiritually. It is important to evoke her presence in this blog, as well as the blog subjects, melancholy and celie syndrome, because we are taught to be careful careful careful with our words, our bodies and/or our presence. One important sidenote: hooks wrote about marginality in the late 80’s, but how interesting Trevor Noah’s humorous description of Soweto in his book Born A Crime [which I am currently reading] mirrors those experiences she speaks of. ALL of our brown stories live on a continuum.
I titled this LGBTQIA because the identity implies something in particular. It is a declaration, a linguistic moniker, a gender based/sexual orienting acronym that may mean something different a hundred years from now. It is the pantheon of letters that pushes me to talk about how I move in my body as a cisgendered being. Aha, C for cisgender. [I really love letters – who, btw, plays the game scrabble?]
I’m way beyond this gendered body though. Often I feel as if we morally and religiously assume much about gender and contemplate less on the phrase, spiritual beings having a human experience. From my estimation, who I am seems of little importance in this particular space because I feel no pressure to impress or embody a specific physical identity. And I think that is because I do not speak the language, thus I do not talk/explain/say much to others. 3rd week in - I barely do my hair. I put on whatever is in the closet with little deliberation. My goal is to simply shower, get dressed, nourish my body, take lots of pictures and offer advice and navigational strategies to these students who are going to the U.S. for the first time. A matter of fact, seeing ME may be the greatest service I can offer these students. I get to represent DIVERSITY, right?
My friend Eric says, “Do you see me?” I would offer a response that is not linked to the outerwear of his existence. I would consider his question a 3rd eye pondering. Maybe in each other's presence we don't engage in a verbal discourse. Instead we sit and bask and possibly smile every so often, if the moment calls for it - all 5 to 6 senses awake. However, we haven’t tried this, because when we get together, there’s so much to say.
But honestly, do we [as human beings] sit in the quiet, in each other’s presence and see one another? No acronyms. No lettering. No talking. No sardine experiences. Definitely no masks.
And again he/I ask, “Do you truly see me?”
I had a melancholy moment the other day. Let me refer to the 2008 film Medicine for Melancholy. When I first watched the film, I didn’t fully appreciate the storyline. It follows two main characters, Micah and Jo, in a 24-hour span. The story felt unmoving. Slow. Long, but not long enough. A few years later I watched it again and thought about how one moment in time can change every single thing you predicted for yourself. The film is the right length. No buildings are exploding; no one is planning an 8-person heist; no neck-biting and transforming into something beyond our vampiric imaginations; no saving countless lives on ice covered mountains in remote areas of the earth; no fifty shades of climactic ridiculousness leaving a person either disgusted or wanting. None of that.
I honestly never predicted being in China. I predicted traveling all over the world, but somehow I skipped over this country. I apologize, China.
We go about our daily lives and then something, someone, some place happens to us. Or maybe we happen to them. I am unsure right now.
I’m at a crossroads (although I swear I say this every few years). This crossroads feels like the Matrix. I play a few roles: Trinity, Oracle and Spoon Boy. Trinity supports, Oracle offers and Spoon Boy simply “Is”. I’ve tried being Neo and he’s way too much responsibility. However, I am the protagonist in my own story, so a bit of Neo does exist, especially when I have to decide which pill to swallow.
Writer, Elizabeth Gilbert, gave a SuperSoul Session talk about being a hummingbird or jackhammer. She says a hummingbird dabbles. “The hummingbird moves from tree to tree, flower to flower, field to field…cross pollinating the world,” offering a perspective that is anew, planting seeds and creating pathways that others may not otherwise consider. The jackhammer is a steady, headstrong bird. The jackhammer is focused, efficient and clear about what it is supposed to do. Not-quite-the-dabbling songbird. When I was in film school I was being trained to be a jack of all trades. The end of that phrase is ‘master of none.’ There is something to be said about knowing a little bit of everything versus a lot of one thing. We praise efficiency in this world. As one matriculates in school, one learns to major in, minor out and master directively. However, if your experience [on and off paper] looks like a hummingbird, where might that lead you and who will understand the power of dabbling? I didn’t come out of the womb wanting to be a specific thing for---ever. The word forever is a very long time, ya know? But deeply rooted in me is passion…forever. Do not ask me, “passion for what?” Let’s just start with the word, “Passion” [full stop].
Is it possible to be a jackhammer and hummingbird simultaneously, Elizabeth? Can I be a little bit of both? And can I come back to this question every few years to reassess my bird status?
This blog offers questions and acknowledges the uncertainty of life. It says, “It’s okay if you don’t have the answers today. And it’s okay if you are a little sad for not receiving a specific answer. It’s okay moving here and there and god knows where [next]. It’s okay playing multiple roles in your own story. It’s okay if the map isn’t clear or maybe it’s okay that you don’t know how to read the map...right now. It’s okay. It’s okay. Stop listening to people who say, it is NOT okay. It most certainly is Okay.”
The first class was last week Saturday. My students are attentive and hypersensitive to speaking English. Their English is better than the Spanish, Italian and French studies I’ve done in all my years put together. One student asked, “How do you master a language?” I thought, “Is that what you think I’ve done?” Distinction, I’ve studied, not mastered. And I barely speak these languages. My friend V speaks 4 languages. When he is talking to a native speaker in a specific language he still says he doesn’t identify as being fluent, although he has been actively studying and speaking for 30+ years. What I call fluent he calls proficient [at best]. My response to the student: I haven’t mastered anything, but if I want to get better I have to push through and talk, read, absorb, risk-take and talk some more.
Confucius: “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”
Higher Learning has a way of playing mind-tricks. We use terms like “Expert, Scholar, Genius” after one has amassed a certain amount of degrees and a bit of experimental research. I believe there are some experts, scholars and geniuses but those words play games of worthiness in and out of the academy. And for those who are self-taught, for those who were not allowed to attend school for lawful/lawless reasons, for those who do not have access, for those who do not participate in the privilege circle, for those and them and that kind, this type, thereof/therefore, there and their beyond…to whom do they belong?
My students belong to each other. They belong to a culture. They belong to a country. They belong to their phones, their families, their tests and scores. They belong to themselves...in ownership, possession and mental/physical confinement...sometimes they belong to Liberation.
I visited a small Confucius Temple the other day in Harbin. I watched people light very tall thick incense sticks, then kneel on a square wooden bench, nod a specific amount of times in front of the Confucius statue and then walk forward and place the incense sticks in a big pot filled with earth (dirt/sand). Honor. I believe they belonged both to the moment and to Confucius, who seemed to be present every time someone lit an incense stick and bowed.
I met another foreign teacher named Di. Di looks Chinese, speaks Chinese, is Chinese…but not. He is from the United States and China, but not. He belongs to the Midwest...yet and still, he does not.
He belongs to politics and trump dialogues that combat erasure and mass gatherings of people identified as illegal or alien or unlawful.
He belongs to learning like learning belongs to baby birds taking their first flight.
He belongs to prestige and un-conformist ways of thinking and conforming ways of being.
He belongs to electrical skateboards on massive campus grounds that make you do your 500 steps daily, if you want a campus meal.
He belongs to Atari and Star Wars (80’s style).
He definitely belongs to WeChat-it-up and pay-by-phone and online purchasing.
He belongs to philosophizing about why men don’t get therapy…why Asians don’t get therapy…why Black folk don’t get therapy…what in the hell is therapy?
He belongs to relationships and relational dialogues that end in a cognac nightcap and heavy bantering.
He belongs in spaces that feed him well…a preponderance of the truth…push the envelope…that sweetened pot of gold…happiness and joy…lovemaking to procreating.
He belongs to careful conversations…critical thinking…pontificating over class divisions.
He belongs to swirling synergies…no time for complaining…stop complaining…stop bitching for one solid moment.
He belongs to the greatest of possibilities.
There is a belonging we seek as humans. My twin asked me the other day, “What and where is home for you?” Often my answer has been connected to wherever my parents are, but is that true? My parents often say, “Take flight.” If that is the case, then home may be the idea of carrying people wherever I go. Yesterday, when we had dinner in Di’s apartment, it was home for a moment. I had watched this scene before but I hadn’t been in the scene until yesterday. I had watched people of a particular age and of a particular persuasion, in a particular field, spend their late evenings clinking glasses with a fingerful of brandy and 2 ice cubes, jargoning over politics and purpose. I watched them on tv and they all looked like professors who professed a whole bunch of…
And last night I became the television show (slight variations, of course). It was gooood. It was homey. It was comfortable. It is what we do when we risk-take, talk and let go.
I woke up this morning with India Arie’s Hour of Love on my mind.
I walked around the apartment – bright white walls, white marble floors, white doors, white drawers, white couch with dark brown trimming, white kitchen/living room table tops, white kitchen counter, white desk, white iron heater, white headboard with dark brown wooden border and white & dark brown bedroom closet doors with 4 silver handles. The bed sheets are sea blue background covered with green leaves, red-pink flowers and hot pink flamingos. Also, the 4 chairs around the kitchen table are grey.
White white white grey
White white white blue-hot pink
White white white dark brown
White white white white white…
I am particular about the space I live in. I like space. Less furniture offers a clutter-free environment. My preferences: Colorful handmade pillows; hard wood floor; mobile carpets that can possibly take flight if necessary; a wall of books or built in bookshelves; artwork on the wall; definitely fresh flowers (whatever is in season); a ceramic bowl of snacks; and candles for thunderstorm effect or creating a mood (whatever the occasion calls for). I am not opposed to a walk-in closet (although I don’t have many wearables for such a space), a deep-seated tub to climb into and an area for instruments. Music is important in the space. I sing. Not quite like my girl, La Shaun Phoenix who offers raw nature to the space when she opens her mouth every single time. I sing personal lullabies. I make them up. They are offerings to the space. I sing to very few people. Very few. And that’s because they create what India describes as a Sacred Space for note-reaching moments. They allow music to be meditation, prayer and healing. Or actually, they just allow me to nina.simone my way through vulnerable times.
Today’s adventure – Central Street, Campus Exploring, Foreign Exuberance. So today I was taking photos of everything – fried grasshoppers and centipedes, signs of McDonalds, lots of stacked sausages, human size Garfield dolls in a mall that has all the stores I see in the U.S. - H&M was the first I noticed. A long walkway of canopied trees, greenery…lots of greenery. Stoned walkways and puddles of water everywhere (rainy day). Amaaazing. Or as my friend would say, “AmazeBall!”
While we were touring Central Street and photographing our surroundings, someone took a photo of the other English Immersion Program teacher…because she is “foreign.” The word foreign is common here.
“You are foreign teacher right?”
“You are foreign here?”
“You are foreign, from where?”
Yes, we are foreign [from the U.S.] and additionally we look nothing alike. She’s taller, thicker, long dark hair, white skin tone, Hawaiian facial features. She is ready for the photographic world because she enjoys taking photos of herself in this environment and sharing them with family. Simple enough. Apparently, some of the Chinese people here co-sign some of her photographic sentiments. Hours later, in the campus store she was going about her business picking up basic household items. To clarify, I only got stares and whispers on Central Street, and I recall a little boy pointing at me, but no one approached me. In the campus store though, she was approached. And then I was approached. And then…
Wait for it…
Wait for it…
The cell phone camera came out and I was asked or told or asked or [I don’t know] to be in the picture. I thought the person (a female economic student from Harbin) wanted me to take the photo, so I explained I would do that. No no no. I misunderstood. She was so excited about our foreignness. She asked questions, smiled a lot and wanted this Kodak moment really baaaaddd. For those who know me [or not], would you like to guess how I responded? I should just end the blog here and let you ponder. Yes, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll come back another time and tell you what happened.
Ni hao Harbin, China!
The sun rises in the early morn while people are entering their REM sleep. You appear - blowing through my cracked undraped bedroom window at 4:00AM. Wow - quite unexpected! I’m not complaining. I’m just noting, you start pretty early, pretty hazy, pretty lit in your morning guise. By the way, please tell me about the rooster I hear off in a distance. Either I have super sonic hearing [being on the 27th floor] or that rooster is extremely loud.
No complaints. I am glorying in this moment, knowing that I don’t see or hear this in the states.
With that being said, I acknowledge your statement about my appearance. I know I’m a Wolverine look alike - thick locked sideburns, hair sticking straight up, a kempt stubble, and languid eyes (still adjusting to the time difference). I’ve been feeling myself lose weight because I keep my apartment stocked with ginger tea and sardines. I’m still adjusting to when/what/where to eat and how to honor my body as an energy system. My routine looks like early-to-rise, ginger-turmeric tea in a small silver bowl and lots of Vitamin D peering through the apartment windows. 2 meals a day and raw cashews or other nuts in between meals.
*Noteworthy moment, every classroom should have windows so children can look outside. No, it’s not a distraction. It’s a teachable moment. Children should learn about outdoor gazing (i.e. daydreaming) and in the process, get some good ol’ fashion Vitamin D.
Again, Thank You, Harbin, for my early morning greetings and intermittent napping experiences. So, this is what I’ve learned thus far in this space:
i believe in touch. i believe in your touch. i believe in the power of hands on hands. the entangling and intertwining of skins meshing together, so as to remind the self that hue +man come in tangible fingerprinted Psalm mantras like ~ I will praise thee in thy works of creation...marvelous...audacious… something of air, earth, fire, water and magic. And we are touched.
To be clear, “Not everyone is allowed to touch.”
She: From Nairobi?
Me: No, I’m coming fr…(didn’t get to finish my statement)
Me: No (as I grab my airplane tickets from my pocket)
She: Not Nairobi? Bangladesh? Where?
Nairobi and Bangladesh, along with other places in the world are listed on the board. But she finally realized [according to my ticket] that I’m coming from the states. She kindly directed me to a security checkpoint line. I was humored by her insistence that I should be coming from Nairobi. I think I should’ve just said YES and see where that would’ve taken me. Maybe, back to Nairobi.
And so, the adventure continues. I am leaning in, with a wink and a slight nod.
I’m at the airport and my head is hurting. It’s a tension headache that says, “You have 5 hours + 13 hours + 4 hours of flight time.” And this does not include the layover in the other two airports.
I travel. I came out of the womb traveling. I have traveled to different continents and back. I have crossed the Atlantic with my parents, before I even entered the earth realm. I am a traveler. I travel through time, space and energies. I travel and travel and travel some more. [By the way, this paragraph is my traveling mantra – my way of saying ALL IS WELL WITH THE WORLD AND ME IN IT].
Before leaving for the airport I was watching the CBS news program Sunday Morning. The segment focused on Gloria Gayner. This Grammy Award winner didn’t just sing, she saaang this 1978 timeless hit I Will Survive.
At first I was afraid, I was petrified
Kept thinking I could never live without you by my side
But then I spent so many nights thinking how you did me wrong
And I grew strong, and I learned how to get along
And so you're back from outer space
I just walked in to find you here with that sad look upon your face
I should have changed that stupid lock
I should have made you leave your key
If I had known for just one second you'd be back to bother me
The lyrics are actually funny. Outer space, changing locks, pain in the anus…YES! Some of us can relate to those two stanzas. But I am moved by the first two lines in the first stanza, because there is a thickness hovering over my chest right now – anxious, sickly jitters traveling to my frontal lobe and causing a nagging ache.
“Yep, I am petrified to fly across continents today…but then I thought of you.” I have mentally moved from my mantra [above] to thinking about people who offer me warmth and a bit of humor during turbulent anxious moments. I believe we can train our thoughts, and in turn train our bodies. [I did not say I have mastered this. I am simply saying, I believe this to be true.]
FREEZE – I am being asked a question by a man sitting next to me in the airport.
Lapse in time…lapse lapse lapse…and I am now on the plane [in the air].
I met a man named Daniel [who evidently was watching me type the first half of this blog]. He is with his family, and they are on their way to Madrid Spain. He turned to me and asked, “What are you writing?” I went blank. His question appeared so utterly difficult to answer. It’s an interview question, “What is your 10-year vision for the department and how do you propose to manifest this vision?” Do I respond honestly, “I’m typing a blog”??? The 4 words seem insufficient, but I told myself that this blog is part of my truth-telling experience.
I responded, “a blog”
At this point I feel like I owe this stranger an explanation, although he didn’t push for one. I found myself covering my mouth again. Damn it Celie, do not regress! (for those who have read the previous blog)
And then I said, “A teaching blog.” It’s not quite that, but that’s what stumbled out of my mouth. He asked, “What do you teach?”
And I started to share, "Public speaking…China…immersion program...students…barely know mandarin…my life is a mess…what was I thinking…I am having a midlife crisis” (don’t worry, I didn’t say all of those things). Daniel alluded to my uncertainty though. He asked if I have taught before. With great certainty I said, “20 years.”
“Well then you got this.” And the conversation opened up.
Engagement is a seasoning. And with any seasoning, it offers flavoring to the food we eat. I remember this phrase from my new curious friend (no longer stranger) who every so often turned to his curly-haired daughter who was holding a purple ‘my little pony’ [Side note: I had a ‘my little pony’ when I was a child. It was also purple]. Daniel said, “There is a strong correlation between humility and humiliation.” Suddenly he transformed into my brother Len (again, referencing previous blog).
Daniel: “You can either lean in and be humbled by the experience or you can fight it every step of the way and walk in humiliation.”
Lean into love
Lean lean lean – body yourself forward, cock your head to an angle, perk your ears and lean into the experience. He humbly engaged.
Daniel mentioned that he taught college students for one quarter – web design. I made a comment about the one quarter, and then he said he ended up marrying one of his students. He mentioned there was a 2-year difference in age and then he cracked a joke, “Never put a 26 year old in a classroom…” And 15 years later, 2 children and a wife who successfully works in web design.
Lean in. Lean into the experience. He told me, “You seem to be off to a great start.” His statement co-signs what my twin text me, before I mounted the plane, “Fill the space with your presence, Sis. China is in for a treat.”
Back to Gloria Gayner - Gloria, whose name is rooted in Glory, which is rooted in a number of praise worthy meanings like splendor of God, praise offering, magnificence.
So, I am allowed to be anxious for a few minutes. Then I think of my covering, my loved ones, my mantras, my new friend Daniel who was there to remind me to lean in…lean all the way in and take up space, magnify and glory in this moment. I’m not here to survive. I’m here to thrive in this leaning in journey.
One of my brothers, Len, talks about the importance of love as an offering. He says, “As an offering we lean into the moment, the person, the cause. We do not lean on. We lean in. If I am leaning in, then I am observing you as you are.” Not as you wish to be, not as you hope to be, not as you used to be. I am loving you right here and right now…no extra toppings or additives…no future predictions or desires or expectations. You are who you are. Present tense.
The Celie Syndrome
I love Celie.
Celie is purple. Filled with glory and royal blood, unknowingly.
Celie looks down.
Celie keeps her eyes to the ground. [not ‘on’ but ‘to’...the ground]
Celie shu’ is uuuugly.
Celie covers her smile.
Celie contorts in her dark+ness. She is pushed into place. She moves in and out of spaces in silence.
Celie is and forever shall be…until she is not anymore.
Celie can’t talk to nobody but God ‘bout her life…her 14 year old ravage-bodied life.
Celie has been impregnated by…
And she “gon’ do what her mammy won’t do” cuz Celie is without
Celie is only 14. And she is the color purple.
And that’s just the first page of Walker’s book.
I love Celie. I love her dearly. She looks like a few of the girls I see in school. Ominous and without. She reminds me of me, sometimes. I covered my smile for the longest time until someone said, “Stop.” How odd that we wait for permission to change our narrative.
I have a bestie who performs Nettie-and-Celie scenes with me. We see each other after years and we run towards each other and play the hand game. We speak the language of these two sisters and become Celie and Nettie interchangeably. That same bestie explained that she is Celie as much as she is Nettie. We are a bit of both, although I never thought much of pretty Nettie. Pretty dark chocolate Nettie whom Celie protected. She told her baby sister Nettie to ruuuuuuun. Sometimes we protect others by telling them to run like the dickens. “Don’t turn back! Just RUN!” And how many of us have told others to run, knowing that we couldn’t run with them?
I happen to believe that people aren’t ready to love who Celie truly is. She is a syndrome. She is the inexplicable expectation to be and do [synonymously] as she has been told because that is the lot she has been given in life.
Eureka! That’s the narrative you’ve been told, and now you own that ‘woe is me’ tale. And every so often, you warn others not to live that life. RUN! And don’t look back. RUN!
I thought I was going to give birth to a baby girl. I don’t know what her name would’ve been, but I know she would have my features the way I have my mom’s features. She would have crystal brown in her eyes; thick untainted curls that you could barely comb because she has 4C textured hair. She would be knock kneed like her mom. She also might have to wear special shoes like her mom did as a child. She would enter the world a full 8 lbs., a very thick skinned jiggly round sun-brown baby. As she grew, she would thin out. She would eat kale all the time because that’s what her mom would feed her. Kale and potato chips. Kale and brownies. Kale and her grandfather’s oxtail. Kale and her grandmother’s cornmeal dumplings. She would even turn a smidge green on rainy days (the after effects of a kale induced diet). She would be her mother’s child the way I am my mother’s child forever. She would also call on her other mothers the way I call on other maternal womyn.
There was a moment…a moment in the air where I thought I saw my daughter. I saw a glimpse of her. I may have been standing in the mirror, fully extended round belly, carrying conversations underneath layers of skin. Or maybe I was walking and felt her touch my face on a cold autumn day, for she would be an air sign as well [like her mother]. Maybe she appeared in my dreams late at night.
My daughter did not enter this world though. I believe she met Celie along the way and decided to choose another path. There are moments when I think she, my daughter, is watching over me giving me the okay to be a mother anyway. She is reminding me that giving birth happens in so many different forms.
So during this school year, when I walked into the Pre-Kindergarten room and met a beautiful brown small PreK girl who runs up to me whenever I come through the door, I thought my daughter was somewhere in that space watching. This little girl is quiet, homely and becomes sad for no particular reason. She does not clean up her playing space when it is time for the children to clean unless I ask her to. She plays with herself (and possibly an imaginary friend). She stares into the air and looks like she is leaning into something that can’t be seen or heard with eyes and ears. When I enter the space she asks me over and over again to play with her. She won’t stop until I give in and say, “Yes.” She is my little Celie-TC. She is my unborn child for an hour and a half Monday through Thursday.
In Maya Angelou’s “Letter to My Daughter” she reminds her daughter(s) that she may not control all the things that happen to her in life but she does not have to shrink or be reduced by them.
I’m not a mother, but I am. I am an offering of love. I get to be an offering, in the same way I get to be Celie and watch a whole bunch of Celies around me. Somewhere along the way, I had to change the narrative though. A syndrome is a syndrome if you keep using the word syndrome, get me? So today, I’m purple. I am glory and royal and I shu’ is pretttttty. Pretty brown Celie with a lot of daughters to love.