For Bobbi Kristina.

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I hope there is a meadow and treetops without end where you are, the grasses beneath you so thick they catch and hold the voices calling out to you from your bedside. I hope you hear your mother, too, ululant on the wind. You are not alone; hear the voices. You are not alone; tell your demons. You are loved, even by us, the fickle, cruel-faced public. You are loved by the Maker you may be poised to meet. Wherever you are, girl, I hope you are climbing, and from an uppermost perch, I pray you can see clearly the truth of who you are.

We remember the girl you were, the woman we prayed you’d become — even if the becoming itself would’ve required a miracle. Instead, the miracle is that you’ve held out as long as you have. Instead, the miracle is that you still have time.

Over the years, we lamented your odds, raised as you were with parents whose wealth often waylaid their efforts to keep lucid and clean. We rooted for you in spite of them and rooted for them, in spite of themselves. We are still rooting.

But I also understand where you are: someplace distant and exacting. You are hanging from a limb that you are no longer gripping. The snag and the crack are conspiring. Soon that limb will turn you loose. There’s no telling where you will return. Perhaps you will be here, awake, surrounded. Your father weeping, your siblings sighing, your truest friends deeply relieved. Or you may open your eyes elsewhere, a flatline braying in the breeze.

I am unbiased. I believe you should float toward the sounds that bring you greater peace. I believe you should be where you feel you most belong.

I was 14 when you were born, the embodiment of your parents’ frenzied, fully public love. You were born under the glare and pop of flash bulbs, the light too harsh for your soft brown eyes. You were pulled toward center stage with pride, and you stood under the beam of your mother’s spotlight. But you were always timid there, waiting where she asked you to, unsure, but echoing the words you were told. It was clear that she wanted to build your confidence. It was also clear that you would’ve preferred those lessons to be meted out in the privacy of someplace sacred and silent.

I remember worrying, in those moments when it was most obvious that your parents were unwell. You were a family, laughing, traveling, spending. You were a family, unraveling. We all worried over you, some of us even voicing unkind predictions. Armchair clairvoyants that we we were, we saw your future forging itself with sorrow.

But this is not what any of us wanted for you. A tub, a tomb, like your mother’s. There are other ways to get back to her. There are other ways to get back at her. I wish you’d found the healthier ones. And maybe you may find them still.

If there is, in fact, a meadow, if there are towering trees and voices in the grass, if there, you can understand how much you are wanted, how imperative it is for you to be well, then where you are is where you should be. And when the bough breaks, may the arms into which you fall be loving, baptismal, and warm.

For Bobbi Kristina.

Ava Taught Me and First Impressions of 2015.

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I wrote something about Ava Duvernay and black women bold enough to interpret history — their own and others’. I published it at Medium, rather than posting it here, because it didn’t feel like it was a fit for this space.

Every January, I reassess what I want to do with this blog. Every year (for the seven it’s been in existence), it serves the purpose it’s meant to.  I was fortunate enough last year to have appearances and publications to announce, as well as meditations on news and culture to publish. I’m not sure what 2015 will hold. Maybe more of the same. Or maybe the landscape will change.

I just know this year has been strange so far.

First, I was paid an extra month’s salary for my last contract job. It was an oversight. But it was I’ve never been on the receiving end of that kind of financial oversight: a full check — directly deposited — for the entire month of December. I didn’t work the month of December; my contract ended on November 30. I really, really could’ve used the money. Seeing my account balance after its deposit really drove home that point. And it wasn’t clear how soon anyone in accounting would catch the error (if ever). Of course I knew I couldn’t keep the money. But knowledge and action found themselves briefly at odds.

The first thing I did was start telling people*. And the first person I decided to tell was a great friend who I suspected — but wasn’t entirely sure — would see things as I did. In situations like these, when I need a minor pep talk to prepare myself to be as ethical as I know I have to be, the people I consult have to be people who won’t tempt me. They can’t be people who’ll remind me that I’m not working or point to the bills I could pay with the money or spend a half-hour calculating an invented New Math about labor-to-time-to-worth-to-pay ratios.

I just need someone who will calmly confirm what I need to do. In this case, I chose the right person and set about doing the right thing. (If that pays off in any obvious, estimable karmic way in the future, I’ll let you know).

What the incident reminded me is how closely we have to monitor our ethics, how intentional we have to be about listening to our consciences. People always talk about listening to your inner voice — and/or to the still, small voice of God — but that isn’t always the immediate, logical response. You have to quiet worry — which is loud — and your propensity for sketchiness, which can be quite imperceptible at first, in order to follow the suggestion of your conscience.

The only other big thing that happened this year is that, in catching up with a friend I rarely get to talk to, I accidentally texted the very person we were discussing. And what I was saying wasn’t glowing. It was hurtful and infuriating to the unintentional recipient and it severed an already taut, hair-thin cord we’d both been working hard to hold up at its ends.

What that incident is teaching me is that I am not the same person to everyone. To some, I’m caring and kind and generous and fair; to others, begrudging, bitchy, and patently unfair in my characterization of them.

As a person who often wants more than anything to please and to remain unobjectionable and inoffensive — even at high personal cost — it bothers me a great deal to know that I can be hurtful and nasty, ferociously unlikable. It scares me, in fact, because I am inclined to believe the worst about myself. If I know that someone I care about finds me hurtful or given to betrayal of confidence, or inflexible or unforgiving, even cruel, I worry that he isn’t the only person who sees me that way — or worse, that I’ll eventually reveal myself to be that way with everyone I love.

But what’s real is that every person views us a bit differently than the next — which means that each encounter with any of them gives us a new opportunity to be the version of ourselves we hope (but often fail) to be, with everyone. We have an inexhaustible capacity to be incredible for some and deeply offensive to others. And when we have been the latter, there may be no convincing the offended party that we can be better to them than they’ve experienced us to be in the past. Sometimes, we have to settle for being someone’s personal definition of terrible.

I apologized. The jury’s still out on whether or not it will be accepted, but I think in accidentally revealing what’s frustrated me, I feel like a more genuine, if less likable, person. Losing my place in a person’s high esteem feels worth it if, in the end, I’m not pretending to be better than I actually am.

… At least that feels like the lesson today. Check back with me in a week or two, and I may sound like someone else entirely.

Read the DuVernay piece. I’ve been told it’s not too shabby. I hope you’ll be able to concur.

* I tell someone nearly everything about myself. I don’t know why; the reasons change. The person changes. It’s part accountability and part confession/absolution. Sometimes I just need confirmation that I’m not irrational — or that I am. I’m not a talker, by any stretch, but as someone who spends as much time close-lipped as I do, I’m a near-full discloser. Secrecy, in my personal experience, has proven overrated. Discretion, on the other hand, has value beyond measure.

Ava Taught Me and First Impressions of 2015.

This is a Year for Divining.

2015.
2015.

I was at home, in the gilded glow of our living room. My daughter was near me, warm and giddy, conducting such energy, we jolted when we touched. She is beautiful, I thought, as she held her shallow of cider a brandy glass. She is mine to raise another year. My God, what mercy, what miracle.

I will make myself more worthy of her. I’ll be braver, wake early enough for her to do the things I’ve been doing for her when we’re low on time. She will not be so short-changed. I will not be so enabling. She is four and already it is past time for her to learn that a woman must care for her own body, her own mind, her own desires, her own rest. A woman must learn to stand guard at her own gates. While men sleep, while they wander, here she and other women will be: in a home, at a border, standing on some sacred, secret promise that must be protected. This year, she will read. This year, she will bike. This year, we will understand each other better.

My mother is newly in love and spent the moments immediately following midnight cooing into her cell phone. There are secret things I want this year, as it relates to my relationship with my mother. May I find the words for all those things. May they be given voice and wing.

Nana fell asleep curled into her loveseat, Meghan Trainor stiffly dancing while cheerily singing about a liar on the television in front of her. She is growing older, getting tired, but she’s also still quite spry and in remarkable health. She deserves an unencumbered home, grown folks and small children as visitors rather than residents. I want to be able to move this year, so that the composition of all her rest and noise and quiet will be hers to conduct. We all have our own symphony of self-care, with intricate sections to balance. May ours be less discordant with hers this year. May we all be better attuned.

The ball-drop itself was a blur; I didn’t quite watch. I was snapping photos of the girl, sending texts to friends, recording the moment rather than residing in it. Perhaps there will be less of that this year. I may just close my eyes before crossing all my new thresholds. I may take deep pulls of the scents draping the air. It’s important, isn’t it, to be able to say in the moment, This is how the world smelled before your life changed: of yeast, of urine, of garlic, of leaves.

I couldn’t have missed it, I’ll be able to say this year, in the recounting. It was all so distinct.

After midnight, I read a novel and wrote a friend to say: I see you and I love you and I care. This is the person I most want to be: one who exhorts, one who senses whorls of magic around her and reaches out to pull others into its path. I do not want to go alone. If I am meant to progress this slowly, I want all of us — as many as can — to go together. It’s my hope that in practicing these parts of my purpose as my first acts of 2015, the balance of this year will be spent bearing witness to beauty, wishing its regenerative breath upon others, being better to myself and to others than I often believe that I am.

Our pasts lay like salt slicks behind us, bitter, and hard and preservative. They’ve been lived, taken down to our souls, given residence. Now we must leave them behind. Even the lessons. Even they should be revisited sparingly. Neither our failures nor our victories are intended to be caressed as regularly as rosaries. We are meant to make all things new. We are meant to love, not by rote and not from the root of some bygone memory, but by virtue of what is happening right now. We cannot place old emotion into the casks of our newly resolute hearts. We cannot revive the life that’s been laid to rest.

All we can do, granted the rarity and wonder of another year, is spend it awake — to our flaws, as well as to our particular strengths and powers. All we can do, given the grace of a 2015, is find whoever may need us and determine whether it is best to deny them or draw them near. This is a year for divining, for being as perceptive as possible. It is a year to grow strategic and wise. What you’ve needed is nigh, if you’ll learn where to look, far nearer than when you first believed.

This is a Year for Divining.

The Hope of Christmas in an Hour of Oppression.

The story of Mary, Joseph, and the newborn Christ deserves graver contemplation this year.
The story of Mary, Joseph, and the newborn Christ deserves graver contemplation this year.

As Christmas nears, I am remembering not the miracle of the virgin birth, nor the pageantry of an angelic announcement. Not the damp stench of dung in the manger, nor the frankincense and myrrh that staved that stench from the newborn Christ’s skin. Days before the holiday, I am remembering Herod the Great.

He has come to the fore of my Christmas contemplation, because we have too often overlooked his part of the narrative. This is a time to revere a messiah, but it is also a moment to mourn the massacre that followed his arrival.

This year, cruelty has been charging forth, unpenned, throughout cities across the nation. As our annual gift-shopping frenzy ensues, protesters are pretending to be dead in the halls of commerce; they are splaying themselves on unyielding concrete, channeling ill-fated ends. Children are raising “Am I next?” signs over their heads when black citizens die unjustly at the hands of police. And now, unions of officers may be seeking street retribution for the killing of two of their own. Now, they are declaring war on communities they once swore to serve and protect. Now, they are equating the shooting of unarmed children with the possibility of death in the line of duty, as though the latter is not a known and accepted hazard of their chosen profession.

It is fitting, then, to recall the cruelty of King Herod during this holiday season, as carols seem inadequate and shopping is more an act meant to numb than to heal. This year, the wintry air, which often feels more fit to breathe when it’s this icy and crisp, is oppressive instead, as we chant reminders that breath, for some, is no longer regarded as a unilateral right but a luxury.

I am thinking of what happened after word reached King Herod that a new heir had been born, one without earthly father or the scourge of human sin. I am thinking of the soldiers the king sent forth wielding swords, all the mothers whose sons were ripped from their arms as they cooed, boy-children beheaded before their eyes. This is a message. This is a message. This is the message: There will be no savior. Your plea for mercy will go unheard. The lives of your children do not matter.

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Herod meant only to protect the institutions he’d raised. He wanted to preserve his own rule. If it meant the bloodshed of every child with the potential to grow up and challenge his authority, he reasoned, it was a small price to pay to keep his peace.

I am thinking of those who would run, Mary and Joseph among them, fleeing in time for the census, back to a place where they believed they could keep their newborn safe, a place where his birth would be counted, a place where his life would matter.

And there were, in fact, serene years. Years their son Jesus spent in prayer and in study at temples, years of learning a meaningful trade, years of wedding feasts and thousands of unthreatened births.

These are the years on which we meditate when Christmastime is nigh. But there has always been a pall cast over my heart as I regard the infant in his swaddling clothes; for Easter will also come, and with it, the annual reminder that our Christ was kept safe for over 30 years just to die at the hands of a government as treacherous as Herod the Great’s.

When we celebrate the promise of salvation rushing forth into the world, we do it with full understanding that salvation is not an unbloody enterprise.

This is the time of year when we commemorate the emergence of promise in a desolate time, hope in an hour of intense oppression, faith that must be guarded amid palpable terror. At no other moment in recent memory has this nuanced facet of our celebration been as relevant as now.

The symbol of our belief knew well this tension, this peril. He knew what it was to have parents who feared for his safety whenever he left home, who warned him of how best to interact with authority in order to preserve his life. Of course, our Lord was not here for self-preservation. He came not to bring peace, but a snare. He came to die.

This Christmas, we must remind one another that the emergence of a savior is not the end of the story. It is the beginning of terror for the mothers of countless firstborn sons. It marks an era of martyrdom, both witting and unwitting.

But it is also when we ask the most essential questions. Why do we continue to believe? How do we continue? I cannot speak for anyone else, and even my own answers vary year upon year. Today, I believe because there are far more people patterning themselves after Herod than after Jesus. There is far more tangible evidence of terror than of salvation. And this is all the more reason for me to hold fast to the hope that I am not here alone. I am not fleeing to a land that does not exist. I am not praying for the safety of a black child whose ill fate is already sealed. There is still the hosanna to sing. There is still breath to declare a glory as yet unseen. There is still someone waiting in the celestial wings, with knowledge of a world yet to come. I believe because this — the deaths of Tamir and of Eric and of Dontre, the deaths of Rekia and Tanesha, of Ramos and Liu — is not the first massacre of innocents. It will not be the last. And still, each year: tidings of great joy.

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end.”

I believe because these words, recited, return to us each December, even as so many of those we love do not. I believe because there is comfort in their recitation, in the tradition of their endurance. Something else is coming, something that succeeds us all. For a moment, this stills my trembling. For a day, I welcome all that we will never understand.

The Hope of Christmas in an Hour of Oppression.

A Crazy Half-Week and a Today Show Appearance.

2014-12-16On Monday night, I recorded a segment for The Today Show. But that wasn’t even the craziest part of that day. I’d spent much of the morning and afternoon in a job interview (of the type where you have to actively fight the urge to pinch yourself to ensure that you’re even there and also fight the urge to take photos of the building front like a tourist). The next day, I had a phone interview for a different job. And today, as I type this post, I’m headed to New York to interview for yet another position.

I’m not someone with a history of multiple job interviews at once. I’m someone who doggedly applies to things for months at a time without many bites — or with bites that never make it past the first or second round of “quick chats,” tests, and interviews. I’m the person who cobbles together a living, out of multiple part-time or freelance gigs, painstakingly chosen to allow for the most time I can spent with my kid. This? This is new air for me. And it is a mighty, rushing wind.

I don’t know what will come of any of this. But I know that it bears out all those adages you hear about there being no overnight successes and how slow and steady wins the race and what happens when consistent practice meets opportunity.

I never get used to succeeding at things. I always enter new opportunities a bit uncertainly, more than a little awestruck, even as I carry with me all my previous wins. That’s because, alongside those wins, are the more vivid memories of losses. Risks that didn’t pay off. The job offer I wished I hadn’t taken, the poorly-timed personal life choices. The Am I capable? whisper never entirely fades.

But I do feel more capable than I did when I made those choices or took those risks or accepted the first offer of employment, because I really didn’t know what else would come or how long it would take. A willingness to bet on yourself, a refusal to undersell your skill set, doesn’t emerge from the ether one day. Self-confidence doesn’t come solely through outward affirmation (though that helps and certainly, it’s helped me, when it’s come in the form of readers like you, who leave sweet, honest, encouraging comments on this blog). But ultimately, that kind of temerity comes best in the form of work. It comes simply through proving yourself to yourself. It comes from questioning yourself until your “yes” is less mumble than shout. yes, i am capable. Yes, I can do this. Yes, I have the clips to back this up! YES; I AM CAPABLE!

Life is a loom at 35, all loops and snags and corrective weaving, brake pedals. Once patterns come together or reveal themselves to be ill-advised, it seems obvious, and I unravel, cut, stop, change pace, begin again. But at this point I know how the loom works. I know what it takes to make something sturdy and beautiful.

The loom is still large and intimidating, every new idea comes with a yard-length of questions, of doubts. But now, there is less hesitation. Accomplishment is becoming part of my muscle memory — even if it doesn’t reoccur as often or as quickly as I’d like. Even when I don’t feel ready, I’m confident that I can get ready. Fast.

The Today Show producer called around 6pm. I’d barely made it back to town after my job interview. She asked if I could come to the studio at 30 Rock. I called back and said I lived in Baltimore. I can’t. Without any hesitation, she said I could tape here in town. In 90 minutes. To discuss news that’s broken while I’d been stuck in traffic. Did I have an off-the-cuff opinion? Could I process potential implications and parse problems — right then? Yes, I said right away, remembering a time when I would’ve been too intimidated not to just echo my previous can’t. Yes, I repeated through a few more logistical phone calls, I can.

It’s the briefest clip and I know I have a tendency to romanticize small and fleeting moments, but I’m there. In it: the moment, that clip. Ready in a way I would not have a been two or three years ago. Ready, even now, traveling north on a train, in hopes to present my most competent self to potential (amazing) employer, and reminding myself all the way: I can, I can, I can. .

A Crazy Half-Week and a Today Show Appearance.

More at Buzzfeed, on Beauty and Sorrow.


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It’s been a really rough week and I’ve written three hard pieces. One is hosted here, about Tamir Rice and his far too untimely, unjust death). Before that, I wrote about how the role of makeup has changed for me after becoming a mother.  That was published last Sunday at Buzzfeed Ideas, but I don’t think many people had time to read about that between all the national tragedy we’ve been managing in the days since.

Then the night of the announcement that the St. Louis grand jury would not be indicting Darren Wilson, despite his testimony about why he murdered Michael Brown sounding like something straight out of D.W. Griffiths’ Birth of Nation, I started writing this piece about how the women in my household were processing the news. It went up the next afternoon. (As an aside: I really like writing for Buzzfeed Ideas, and that’s largely because of Doree Shafrir, who edits my work there. Pitch to her, writers.)

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I think I was so busy trying to write something about the announcement that I didn’t immediately process it. I also think that because I was so deeply invested in the outcome of the George Zimmerman trial and I’m still not entirely over his acquittal, I couldn’t put much stock in the outcome of this grand jury consideration of an indictment. It’s been clearer with Ferguson. Every agency of authority in the state of Missouri has conspired to protect the shooting officer here. And that’s been terrifying for every day since August 9.

Anyway, it’s the day before Thanksgiving and I’m trying to hold love and hope and gratitude in the same crowded heart that’s already so swollen with anger and defeat. So I’ll let what I’ve already written speak to what I’m currently feeling. I wrote about Michael Brown and Ferguson six times this summer. Not much has changed there.

On a cooler note, a Twitter friend told me that my very first Buzzfeed Ideas piece, on parenting and empathy, is now available as an audio-read at Umano.

More at Buzzfeed, on Beauty and Sorrow.

For Tamir, Who Was Stolen.

Photo: Fox8.com
Photo: Fox8.com

The first thing I am pocketing is your name. Tamir, like something uttered in prayer. We will all be saying it so much in the days to come, it will sound like a chorus of hushes in a holy place, a sacrifice, not of praise but of sorrow. I am drawing it close to me now, listening to the sound of it on my lips first, before all our commentary turns you into a cause, foreign and distant.

I’ve become adept at this, arriving at the scene early, committing key details to memory. After I turned your name — Tamir — over on my tongue, I Googled it. It means tall or owner of dates or palm tree or wealthy. Your father says you were, in fact, tall for your age. You were, in fact, wealthy in the ways that wind up mattering: of spirit, of intellect, of creativity. Twelve and already embodying the meaning of your name.

I will need to remember this, and it won’t be hard. I am sure you had heard of the boys and the girls before you, all gone before their time. I am sure that, by twelve, you may’ve had some sense that cops are not kind to black boys who are tall for their age. In death, you have joined an innumerable host of witnesses, carrying the truth of your final moments with you into eternity, while the rest of us spend years parsing speculation.

I’ve a system for marking tragedies like yours. I have taken to following your mothers on Twitter and checking your siblings’ Instagram accounts and listening to your fathers’ interviews, all for more insight into you. And I sigh with strangers and cry with strangers and try to conjure you as someone three-dimensional, someone whose breath I can imagine feeling on the back of my neck as you let out a raucous laugh with friends, while sitting behind me on a city bus.

You need to remain real for me, Tamir, because you were real and you were twelve and you had every right to reach adulthood, tangible and talking and marveling that you made it.

We all marvel at where we wind up when we’re grown. We think: Unbeknown, I could’ve gone to the mall with the shoplifting girls or rode in the backseat of an idling car whose driver had hopped out to rob someone.

I could’ve been pulled over by a cop while on a date with a guy who keeps an illegal gun and weed in his glove compartment.

I could’ve been asleep in my living room as SWAT raided the wrong black family’s house (or the right one’s). I could’ve been whiling away an afternoon in my yard or at a playground, like you were, when cops arrived, ready to shoot.

I could’ve made too little money to live in a safe community.

I could’ve lived in the “safest” community there is and still been black and still been murdered and still been blamed.

I could’ve made bad choices or had my good ones go unrewarded.

This could’ve gone so much worse.

Then we breathe deeply and honor the moment as it is: a better outcome, a sparing, a miracle.

We remember children and women and men like you most acutely in these moments, how maybe you were just minding your business, just daydreaming or playing pretend. Or maybe you were pleading to be seen as someone real.

Maybe your eyes begged: Before you unholster your weapon, look at the nubs of my fingernails. See how I chew them down till they bleed, how the pads of my fingers puff around them so that it’s hard to pop the tab on a soda can?

Before you disengage the safety, look at my left shin and the half-foot line of brown slashed across it. That’s where I wiped out on my bike when I was seven and tried not to cry because my boys were watching.

Before you rest your finger on the trigger, look at these waves in my hair. My uncle taught me how to brush along with the grain. Before you shoot, my daddy is around.

Before you shoot, I make my mama laugh. I am real. It makes me proud to make my mama laugh. I am human. I failed science. I am real. I stole a candy bar once. I am human. I might’ve planned to shoot this BB gun at birds. Before you shot.

We will never know what you were thinking, if you had time to think. We’ll never know exactly how afraid you must’ve been. You, specifically. Tamir E. Rice, twelve-year-old boy who died the day after being shot by police at a playground in Cleveland. You, whose eyes in the first photo released to the public, are soft and kind and so age-appropriately childish, the kind of eyes that couldn’t have known what else to do with a toy gun than play with it. We will never have the privilege of knowing you as anything other than teary anecdotes, than memories offered up to the court of public opinion as closing arguments.

But God help us if we ever stop imagining you, Tamir. Have mercy on our souls if we stop trying to resurrect you with vivid, near-futile envisioning. I am touching my hand to the tenor of your name in my pocket. Tamir. I am thinking of you as taller still, as wealthy in the way that should least matter. You are rich, and you are grown and, now, your eyes are more discerning. But there is still wonder in the glint of them as you marvel over where you’ve wound up. You think: I could’ve been mistaken for menacing. I could’ve pulled my airsoft pistol in a moment of play, and police may’ve been present, poised to kill me. Wouldn’t that have been wild? Wouldn’t that have been my family’s worst horror? You think, in your house made of crystalline air, your home in the Great By and By: Thank goodness I live in a world where things like that never happen.

For Tamir, Who Was Stolen.