#Write31Days – Days 14-16

1/14/18 – “Aware”

On an average day I’m so aware
of my hips and how they fold
gently over the top of my jeans,
or my eyes and the way they’re
disproportionate to my face
if I don’t wear the right makeup.
My head goes through all the reasons
I’ve been a bad friend this month,
chastises me for my impatient driving,
and how I don’t give people grace enough.
I’m constantly criticizing
the amount of time I spend on netflix,
the hours I wasted when I could have been
cleaning
exercising
calling my mom
writing more
reading all the books I spend my money on.
I think, I’m a terrible sister,
I didn’t ask them how their days were,
or my husband must be sick of me
leaving dishes in the sink and
always seeking validation.
I’m so aware of
all my mistakes,
the ways I could have done better,
where I fell short of perfect.

But on the days I seek Jesus
I’m so aware of His love for me
that I forget everything
except the cross.

1/15/18 – “Move”

He said,
you can move mountains.
but what about
the pebble in front of me.
can we just start there?

1/16/18 – “Little”

“Tell me about when you were little,” he said, half his voice muffled by the pillow. She groaned. “No, come on,” he pestered, laughing, like somehow even her defiance was funny.

“What’s there to tell?” She turned, meeting his eyes. Something in them said he’d take any story she gave him, like his desire for her didn’t end with her body. It scared her, but still she started talking.

“When I was little my mom took me out a lot – she hated being at home. We’d go to the farmer’s market and she’d feed me fresh peaches to keep me entertained while she’d flirt with the vendors. We’d drive 3 hours just to go to an art festival, even though we never bought anything. I was always bored after 15 minutes, so my mom made up stories to go along with the weird paintings. There was a reoccurring character – Ricardo the horse – why do so many people paint horses? – and I loved him so much she bought me a stuffed animal of him. At night we’d visit the pond by our house, sit on park benches and eat the bread that was meant for the ducks while we looked at the stars. She didn’t know any of the constellations but told me names for them anyway. I think she had whole galaxies made up in her mind, and she’d visit them whenever we had to stay inside.”

She blinked, looked back into his eyes.

He looked away.

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Today Matters. Especially now.

These are just some words on a page I couldn’t keep to myself anymore. Unedited and unadulterated, unmasked from the feelings of adequacy and politeness that keep my pen chained to my lips, where I have to give it permission to say something.

I’m tired. The levy is breaking.

I remember the first time I learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. I was in 3rd grade and we watched a movie, 20 kids crowded around a 20-inch computer screen squinting at the black and white images as they tried to teach us a history we couldn’t understand. I felt the weight of it sitting on my chest as the story progressed, recognizing the building waves of tension that swelled before my little eyes. I knew it mattered on a scale I couldn’t see yet, that something in his words had shifted the whole of America, but I couldn’t understand why.

There were only two black students in our class. I was the only white one who cried. It felt like I was watching his death live, this man I’d just fallen in love with ripped out of the world only 30 minutes after entering mine. It felt like they’d assassinated hope itself. My 8-year-old brain refused to accept that this man with his strong words and refusal to give up could somehow not be on the earth anymore, and the dream I had of joining him on his journey to justice—wherever it led—collapsed in my lap.

But the heavy reality of what I learned did not remain on me. Distracted by recess and lunch and my white life, I forgot about the unforgettable man I learned about that day. I never asked my parents why it mattered so much what he did. I did not swallow the whole truth of lynching and the KKK and police brutality and white supremacy and segregation when they taught it to me in school. I turned my eyes away from this ugly history—easy to do when it didn’t affect me. I was a college student before I remembered the heavy weight that 3rd grade video left on me a decade before, before I blinked my eyes and stared for a second at the reality of racism.

Ashamed, I admit that this year is the first year…maybe in my entire quarter-century life, that I have really thought about Martin Luther King’s day, what it means for history, what it means for the present, what it means for so many people in this country and around the world. The way it must make some grandmothers sob to remember how he had a dream, and how it seemed to be torn from them when he was killed. The way it must enrage parents to see that, despite his dream being 50 years old at this point, their children are still treated differently for the color of their skin. I cannot begin to fathom how today makes black people feel. Because me, with my white skin, I was privileged enough not to have to think about what today means for 25 years. I am privileged enough to forget what color I am when I go out into the world, because I’m the “right” color. The only experience I know is privilege, and it took me 25 years to know to call it privilege.

I went to Williamsburg, Virginia last week. At Colonial Williamsburg, I toured a house that was built in the early 1700s, owned by a man named Peyton Randolph. The tour guide, dressed in 1700s-garb, explained that while Randolph was fighting for the freedom of America, he owned close to 1,000 black people. He and his wife went so far as to have “manservants” who attended them 24 hours a day, William Henry and his wife. William and his wife slept on mats outside of the Randolph’s bedroom in case their white masters needed a drink in the middle of the night. The tour guide explained that working inside the house was actually worse than working in the fields, because you never got to rest. You never got to take the mask off. You were a slave every hour of your life, not even your sleep was your own. Do you know how we know that they had manservants, or how many slaves they owned? Because they had to mark them down as inventory. Next to how much sugar or coffee or tobacco they had, they had to write down how many people they owned. Because of the snow, we didn’t get to go into the backyard to see where the slaves slept and worked. Really, I don’t know if I could have stomached seeing it.

You learn in school about slavery, but I don’t carry around that history on my back. I carry my privilege. It is so disturbingly easy to go about your life and never think about the reality of slavery. In just 100 years after slavery was made legal in the colonies, the state of Virginia alone had over 100,000 slaves. Black people were over half of the damn population, you guys. This happened, and it didn’t even end that long ago. The Civil War was in the late 1800s! That’s how long it took us to choose human freedom over money! Walking around that house, seeing the mats they would have slept on, looking at the sitting room where Randolph discussed how to gain freedom from Britain while his manservant stood in the corner, waiting to attend to him… Suddenly, I have a glimpse of why today matters so much. Why #BlackLivesMatter matters so much. Because I cannot fathom anyone thinking less of me because of the color of my skin, and the least I can do is recognize that black people do. They do.

Racism is real. I am racist. We are all racist, whether we realize it or not. We’ve been raised on stereotypes and taught by the media to believe certain things about certain colors and have seen mostly white princesses, TV stars, movie stars, presidents, have been subconsciously made to believe that white is better. I know it’s a hard pill to swallow, but it is real, just like our white privilege is real. And we need to be able to stare in the face of this reality in order to change it. This past Sunday my preacher talked about how a white guy approached him after one of his sermons and said, “Man, when you talk about all that race stuff, it really feels like you’re white-shaming me.” And my preacher said, of course we feel shame. Because sin always leads to feelings of shame, and our treatment of blacks is DRENCHED in sin. You know why this post is probably making you feel outrageously uncomfortable, why I used to turn my eyes away from the truth of white supremacy? Because racism is real, and we feel the shame of that and we respond by either denying it or hiding from it.

I’m done hiding. I will never, ever know what the black experience is like. But I am done pretending that we’re all the same, that we all have the same opportunities, that we all treat each other the same, that there is no racism. If we’re going to make any difference at all, we need to at least be willing to recognize that Martin Luther King’s dreams HAVE NOT been realized and it is OUR JOB to make them a reality. Black and white and brown and HUMAN, together, together, recognizing the hurt that has been caused and owning up to the fact that we see color and we spread stereotypes and we are privileged and desiring to reconcile, to fight for equality, to care about our black brothers and sisters and listen to their stories, their experiences, what is offensive and what is real.

Today matters so much. Black lives matter so much.

If you’ve read this far, please, please, stop listening to this little white girl who knows nothing and read the following quotes from Black speakers and artists and actors and really feel their words. Stop for a minute and believe them, let them resonate. And let this be the beginning of listening. Because there is so, so much more that can be said on this, but we need to start somewhere.

“We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.” – Martin Luther King, Jr., I have a dream.

 

“We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our God-given and constitutional rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say “wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos, “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger” and your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and when your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodyness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.” – Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail

 

“Police brutality is all in your mind
And the tactics that they use only look worse in rewind
And people die everyday, you should get used to it
Hands behind yo’ back, face down, and still say you shootin’
Can’t breathe
Knee where your neck be like why you movin’?
Kids in your car, headed home like what you doin’?
Like why you chillin’? Fuck yo’ feelin’s
Why you smilin’ when I’m so serious?
I hate patrolling your space, like why you livin’?
Stop asking questions, why you filmin’?
You look suspicious, I think you dealin’
Step out the car, fit the description
Someone I fear, I need to kill it” – Kenneth Whalum, Might Not be OK

 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident
All men and women are created equal
Including black Americans
You know, you know, you know,
One way of solving a lot of problems that we’ve got is
Lettin’ a person feel that they’re somebody
And a man can’t get himself together until he knows who he is,
And be proud of what and who he is and where he come from, and where he come from” – Common, Black America Again

 

“In 1964, I was a little girl sitting on the linoleum floor of my mother’s house in Milwaukee watching Anne Bancroft present the Oscar for best actor at the 36th Academy Awards. She opened the envelope and said five words that literally made history: “The winner is Sidney Poitier.” Up to the stage came the most elegant man I had ever seen. I remember his tie was white, and of course his skin was black, and I had never seen a black man being celebrated like that. I tried many, many times to explain what a moment like that means to a little girl, a kid watching from the cheap seats as my mom came through the door bone tired from cleaning other people’s houses. But all I can do is quote and say that the explanation in Sidney’s performance in “Lilies of the Field”: “Amen, amen, amen, amen.”” – Oprah Winfrey, 75th Golden Globes Speech

#Write31Days – Day 9

1/9/18 – “Post-It”

Post-it note sized
reminders of why it’s good to be alive

i. the smell of the ocean
lingering on your body
salty kisses
stuck in your hair

ii. the crunch-sound leaves make
the liberating sensation as you jump in a pile
and it catches you
like your mom used to
when you were lighter

iii. fingertips sliding along your bare skin
like ice skaters
goosebumps shoot up like ice flakes
and under your skin there’s
the warmth of a fireplace

iv. the way a body curves
its hills and valleys
how skin stretches to hold us
no matter our shape

v. words and their endless material
the infinite universes out there
waiting to be created
and the gift we all possess
to make them

vi. I’m so loved;
when my phone rings because my mom is calling
when he rubs my back for no reason
when I sit across from a friend with coffee in our hands
when Jesus came and hung on a tree for me
the love swells and
no post-it note can contain it

#Write31Days – Day 7

1/7/2018 – “You”

I wrote several poems to You
back in 2007
Seems fitting that 10 years later
I’d pop in to say hello

How have you been?
Still lying to all of your friends?
Still tricking girls into loving You
and then disappearing on them?

You really gave Houdini
a run for his money
Your disappearing acts at least
always had me buying another ticket

The older I got the more I realized
every bit of it was fiction
You’re a story-teller, Aaron
I should be able to forgive that

You just couldn’t help spinning stories
I understand the appeal–
spinning stories is how I got through my teenage years
Stories that you really loved me
or our song wasn’t one you played
for every naïve 14-year-old who’d listen

You
You had me
and I promised that last poem
was the final one for me

I guess breaking promises
is another thing we have in common

Author’s Note: I really did write several poems titled “You” for this person in my teenage years, so it seemed appropriate to go back to that theme. I know it makes it less relatable for readers, but hopefully you all enjoyed it nonetheless.

#Write31Days – Day 6

1/6/18 – “Silence”

There used to be nothing but silence
between us
An expanded canyon filled with
all the times you lied and
all the times I let you
I couldn’t speak over the echo of that silence,
the weight of it on my chest

Now you tell me to say how I feel
don’t hold anything back,
you can take it
You practice honesty and I
do my best to believe you

But sometimes
in the back of my mind
it still echoes, “Shh, shh,
you’re safer in silence”

#Write31Days – Day 4

1/4/2018 – “Brew”

When I was 7 I had a dream
we owned a restaurant
and in the back kitchen worked a witch

She had warts, clammy skin and
a pointed hat, all the things
a 7-year-old would expect to see
from a witch working in her parents’ kitchen

Back then I had a real fear of witches
thanks to Roald Dahl and that
terrifying 1990 “kids’” movie they made
So when I saw that witch
brewing who-knew-what
in a cauldron suspiciously the same size as me
dream changed to nightmare and I woke up

My body shook, cold with sweat, but that scrawny,
short-haired, tenacious 7-year-old decided,
this dream wasn’t over
And forcibly went back to sleep

I returned to that kitchen,
potions still brewing,
and scrawny, short-haired,
tenacious dream-me explained to the witch
why it was bad to be bad,
and good to be good

I told her we could be friends if she’d just
quit with the brewing and
be a nice witch instead

And that nightmare shifted so fast:
warty-witch became good,
brewing station removed,
and I guess our restaurant
gained a new cook

17 years later and I still can’t get over
how simple little me made it seem
to take a terrible nightmare
and turn it into a dream

I wish real-life witches
could be talked out of it
so easily

#Write31Days – Day 2

1/2/2018 – “Paint”

I painted my room once. I was 13 and wanted to be cool—at 24 I can admit that now. I stole my mom’s unused paint set, some forgotten cans from the clutter of the back porch, laid down sheets like the responsible kid I was. I had no real idea of what I was doing, just a pounding sensation insisting I do something with the conserved energy housed in my tiny body from all the times I refused to scream back. So I dipped pilfered paint brushes into forgotten canisters and threw the color against the sky blue wall until it forgot what shade it really was. I danced across my carpet whipping reds and greens and blues through the air, watching as the wall was dressed in splattered patterns.

When the paint dried and the pain remained I took some sharpies to that plaster and marked it with lyrics from all the emo songs I thought conveyed my angst. I think, even now, most of them had meaning. Except for the time I scribbled words about hating my mother after our throats had gone raw with screaming at each other. When my parents split up I had a lyric for it, made sure my walls wouldn’t forget it. When my grandma died I painted half a wall red to remember her. That red hung over my bed till I moved out, a picture of the fact that everything changed when she left. A signature at the end of my four-walled mural, I painted my hand black and slapped it on that sky-blue wall so hard it nearly cracked. The only way a teenager could leave an imprint.

Five months ago he repainted that room. There wasn’t a discussion, a final look or some pictures taken. My teenage years got swallowed whole by brushes covered in beige paint – just the right color to smother out the memories. I know erasing me wasn’t the point, but, bravo either way.

Author’s Note: I want to be honest and admit that I definitely edited this one a lot after my five minutes were up. It mattered a lot to me, so I wanted to make sure it was at least decent. I know it’s a little short and the end comes quickly. Maybe one day I will write more on this topic.