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.
When I was in my 20’s (years ago) I remember working for a summer camp in Harlem, NY. The day’s activities included being at an outdoor park. I can’t recall much else besides the 10-year old boy who called me a bitch because I told him he couldn’t do something. And no, I don’t remember what I told him he couldn’t do. Back then I was mild-mannered and a bit nervous. The boy could read that energy on me. He read it well. So very well.
Recently, I had a 3rd grader say to me, “Hey Dog, can I…” I can’t recall what he was asking me. I think I blanked everything else out, because all I focused on was “Hey Dog.” I began having a dialogue in my head on how to read him carefully without yanking him up the way my father would…[which would only get me arrested]. I yanked no one up that day. I did read him, along with other students who did nothing wrong. It was simply a warning.
I’m a small woman. Petite. Brown woman. Hairy. It seems important to note the hairiness that comes with being in this body, especially since it was recently a discussion among my male students who felt that women should not have hairy legs, hairy arms, hairy underarms and wherever else you choose to imagine hair grows. It’s not worth revisiting the dialogue we had in the middle of the hallway while teachers and staff walked by every so often. However, I will note that one of the 3rd grade males asked me if I had hair on my chest. My response? Please return to the 2nd paragraph in this blog.
This year I spent my days with youth. I thought I was teaching drama. I wasn’t. I was being taught drama. I was a student [with a teacher’s title]. I was a rebellious student. A student with Calm at the helm until waters rumbled. I learned this year that I know how to scream, holler, borderline cuss people out without using ‘the language.’ I learned how to think slow and fast. I learned that my intelligence is emotive and emotional and courageously spirited by intuition that comes “after the fact” but not during a situation that is spiraling out of control. I learned that humans don’t always have control externally even when we think we do. I learned to ‘Let Go.’ I learned to love my students at the crossroads.
I have spent days lying on the big red carpet in the school’s drama room, asking every ancestor to come forth and whisk me away…I did a lot of God-talk. I have siblings, although I was brought up the only child in my adolescent years. So I know what it’s like to have imaginary friends – full blown conversations with beings, Creator and alien forces – both while my mouth is and is not moving. I’m past the age of feeling like being weird is awful. I embrace weird. That shit is more normal than normal. And I suspect, teaching our students that weird is ok, might be the route I am more interested in, especially after this year. Caveat: as a libra (balancing scales) and a shapeshifter, I know how to fit in. Some of us call it code switching. I used to think that this skill belonged to namely brown bodies on U.S. soil, but I’ve learned that other folk do it to fit in as well. Funny (but not really).
I leave for China in 1 week. And I will teach again. And I will write. And I will explore. I will poetry myself for 5 weeks. I will use verbs as nouns and nouns as verbs, just because I am giving myself permission to do so. I will Audre Lorde this experience…and possibly be a Sister Outsider. Or maybe not. Regardless, I will Be.
Lesson: The power of language is to simply USE IT. How else will we ever know if our message of communication is being received?