Posted in Uncategorized

What We Mean When We Say Amicable.

I don’t regret it which, I guess, is the unrefined gold. I don’t regret it because he was good to me, because for a time we were so happy, we would giggle in the middle of the day and drink each other in till we were full to bursting, unabashed and grateful for the grace of having found each other. I don’t regret it because I get to carry the scent of him in a corked and slender vial, on the near-empty shelf of recollection I reserve solely for the things I wish to revisit.

Not regretting it is the parting gift I’ll give him. Because I know he doesn’t mean to leave me; he only means to leave. We should need ourselves slightly more than the ones we love. And when we feel ourselves fraying in ways no one else can restitch, it is wrong to stick around long enough to resent our significants for not being seamstresses. 

And aside, toward the end I saw it coming. I suppose that’s the parting gift he gave me, a gentle tearing away that felt like a slow unspooling, suggesting, soon, he would ask me to let go of the long end I was holding while there was still such generous slack and nary a hint of tension.

Posted in Uncategorized

Lessons Collected of Settling Dust.

Nothing feels quite as we expect it to. At intervals, a mental pinching is required.

We must be sure we did not dream what we lived. There were apocalyptic pockets: spots where suffering was disproportionate, whole families halved in a matter of hours, workers and students and childbearers whose entire ways of being were obliterated overnight and over months, for well over a year.

That happened.

It happened.

It is still happening.

But there was nothing so definitive as an Earth’s End. For many — for those who were not required by vocation or extreme need to place themselves at impossible risk for (often ungrateful) others — there was merely an extended suspending of animation. There was waiting and watching and facial obfuscation. We were told to vaccinate. A number of us did. We were told that when we did, we were free to move about the cabin of our country.

The fasten-seatbelt signs are off.

And we are moving, but through an existence molecularly altered, one we entered, perhaps, without children, and are emerging as parents. One we entered believing ourselves better off single and are emerging, peculiarly, partnered. One we entered not understanding the capacity of our bodies — their vital, unfelt functions, their threshold for thrashing and healing — and are emerging quite staggered at the daily deteriorating marvel of meat and bone, the dogged but delicate grind of organ and sinew.

Nothing is where we left it. In our tentative venturing, we’re seeking out our certain our points of origin and finding instead empty divots on a dirt road. We yearn to return to a place of precedents but along the planes of our new boundaries, not a single one is charted. We want the bearings of civilization, because we’re burdened now by knowing exactly where civility ends. Give us back our benign smiles, the ones that mask how well we know who wanted to move unmasked among our most vulnerable. Give us back the frivolities we cherished before we knew that what we failed to cherish would be what we’d be forced to mourn.

Of the opportunities lost to us forever let us forge new opportunities. May we cobble together something better than civility, something closer to lasting compassion. If we managed to build anything meaningful amid the ruin, may our structures be sturdy enough to shelter us even when we’re not confined to one place.

Let us ascertain afresh what it is to be alive. Let us make new. May we be made new.

Posted in Uncategorized

Survival Will Not Be The Lesson.

The world has gone both cacophonous and quiet, both chaotic and eerily still. Each person’s experience is wildly disparate. Contagion calls both for unanimity and for splintering.

If we are to live — not to stay alive, but to value life, not to test negative, but to live — we must all first decide that we are all worth saving; only then can we all reach a shared conclusion that sequestering ourselves is worth the effort. More than a median of us must agree that cottony muzzles cannot be avoided, that mouths must remain unseen, that breathing now requires a counterintuitive covering of our noses.

Those are our imperatives. For nine months, those have been our imperatives. But as a nation, as a culture, as a society, we are still too disinclined to meet them. It is difficult to reach the same conclusion — that we have some role in our own survival, that a force beyond our control may render our efforts moot, but we must still decide each day to make an effort — when the variables between us are so vast.

In the final accounting, I imagine we will not arrive at the same conclusion. Those of us who walk away will do so with far different precepts in their pockets. This is no fictive apocalypse where collective emphasis remains on survival. In a real population-altering pandemic, survival will not be lesson.

I know fewer than a handful of people who’ve tested positive. I know of people who’ve lost their parents and children and spouses. I have had the extreme privilege to work from home and supervise my daughter’s online instruction. And from home, for work, I have spoken with families who’ve sent their elementary schoolers to re-opened schools where teachers and children have contracted the virus and, in one case, where a principal has died. I have spoken to the custodial staff at colleges where adequate PPE was not distributed until COVID clusters cropped up on undisclosed patches of campus. I have heard the courage that crisis exacts from those already too accustomed to crisis.

The horror itself is a Rorschach. Our perception of what is inked individuates. For some, the blot is incompetence, an infection of avarice and callousness made sentient. For others, the blot is community spread, a natural disaster exacerbated by our bottomless craving for closeness. Long before this, we knew that we cannot exist alone. And now we know there is at least one circumstance where we cannot exist together. Not safely. Not without risk far too intense for the taking. The blot is an unending grief unfurled. It is carnivorous. It consumes futures. The blot is an instigator, an organelle of pointed fingers, an unending mitosis of blame. The blot is biological warfare or else a hoax; a conspiracy that mutates among the most dogged deniers, even as confirmed cases continue to climb past the millions.

We are told we have rounded a corner. Competing companies vie for bragging rights to the highest percentage of their vaccine’s effectiveness. We are told they will offer it at cost; that we can all begin to have it as early as March. I have little choice but to believe it, just as I believe that no plague lasts forever, just as I believe that as stubbornly as some humans have elected not to protect themselves and those they know, others are just as stubbornly committed to protecting perfect strangers.

That is the infuriating paradox of our species. At our most susceptible, we behave as though we are invulnerable. At the very moment when Life decides to prove that nothing we’ve amassed can protect us from its ravages, we intensify our sense of entitlement.

What I will remember was that no one protected us from each other. No one protected us but each other. What I hope is that when God created us, if indeed He did so in His image, God was as much a contradiction as we are. And it is that contradiction, rather than any temporal consensus or uniformity, that will work to keep what’s left of us alive.

Posted in Uncategorized

We’re moving soon.

giphy (5)

You were born in a Grand Rapids hospital, a midwesterner by birth but not temperament. You spent infancy in Michigan — the full first year of your life — but Baltimore is where you have grown into a semi-autonomous girl. It is the only place you remember living. We have been back here, in the city where I was raised, for nearly nine years.

This was not my initial intention. I thought we’d remain here a year or two at most, long enough for me to regain my footing as a worker in an East Coast market, long enough to transition away from the bowels of academia (which is where a full-time adjunct will surely languish, for as long as she lets herself), long enough for me to figure out how to earn more while being present enough to parent you.

Baltimore is where I learned how to mother, to the extent that I have learned how to do it at all. Good parents, I believe, are always a bit uncertain. We know better than to get comfortable; our children never do. You’re always changing, always extending yourselves further into a world where we will not be able to protect you, elasticizing. My role as your mother, at this point in your childhood, is so much less about cradling and shielding than it is about making the discomfiting stretches toward adolescence and adulthood stop just short of causing you to snap. It is complex in its own way, distinct from what it’s been like to teach you to walk or speak or read or listen. Now that you speak, you must learn to masterfully communicate. Now that you read, you must learn to understand. Now that you listen… well. We’re still working on listening.

Life is full of risk. You will hear the adults in your life say this often, but when we say it to our children, we are often only thinking of ourselves. We do not want to imagine what risk looks like for a generation with more access and proximity to imminent danger than we could ever comprehend, do not want to ruminate over the intricacies of risk assessment for children whose technology surveils and records and talks back, children who can glean information at a rate much faster than they can healthily process it.

We are far more comfortable thinking of our own leaps and landings; at least the impact of those on our children is something we can delude ourselves into thinking that we can control.

You and I have been so fortunate to have grown up as mother and child in a household where risk was low. We were not the only mother and child at home. My mother was with us and hers was, as well.

It’s true that when we moved to Baltimore, it was in part because I could no longer afford my one-bedroom apartment in Michigan, while trying to support a newborn and my mother, who’d lived with us to help me care for you, in the long 13 months after you were born. But it was also about an ever-inching fear that I couldn’t handle raising you alone, that I’d too often retreat into myself and my silence, that I’d make you as melancholy and quiet a child as I was.

I thought I needed all the help I could get, and whenever I need that kind of help, I seek out the women who raised me.

But the home of a mother’s youth is no place for her at middle-age. The home of a mother’s youth is not necessarily where she should raise her children. Not for long, anyway. Not for nearly this long.

I somehow forgot while I was away in my 20s that home is a runway from which you are meant to launch but it can just as easily become a holding pattern around which you may ceaselessly languish.

We have been circling and circling. For nearly all of 30s. I’d convinced myself we were safer on the ground.

Though I spent most of it underemployed, the decade has not been inert. I grew as a professional in Baltimore. Attended conferences and trainings held at MIT, Duke, and Yale. I traveled to New York to hear my work performed by an actor, to speak on panels with people I’d never imagined I might meet, to retreat with the some of the country’s most heralded artists. I’ve gone to Oregon to get serious about writing a novel. I slipped into the side doors of the Smithsonian’s many museums, to tell audio stories. I’ve worked on a national public radio program for just over a year in D.C. I even returned to Paris.

At home, I do not mention much of this, though I often wonder how much of it I would’ve been able to accomplish if I had not lived at home, if there had not been somewhere I believed was as safe as my womb to leave you for the week or the weekend I occasionally spent away.

I imagine how many opportunities I would’ve had to decline if I’d moved away much earlier, to a city where I knew no one and had no family.

I suppose I will find out now.

In three weeks, we will relocate. We will live in a city where I know very few people and have no family. I have, at last, found a full-time job and, better still, it seems one I will actually enjoy. I can leave the precariousness of part-time and freelance and contract work behind.

Friends have asked if I’m excited, but it is hard to feel anything much, from under this avalanche of relief.

When I told you about moving, I worried. I thought you would have grown too attached to your school and your friends, to the stable rhythms of our matriarchal home, to everyone we have within the distance of a short drive here in town: your father and stepmom, your paternal grandparents and relatives.

But we will not be very far from them, a few hours by car, a flight that takes 40 minutes at most.

And it turns out, at least on the surface, at least as far into your truth as you’ll allow me to peer and to know, you are even readier than I am to go.

I’ve made promises to you, you see, and it is time for me to make good on them. I have told you you would have your own room before you entered fifth grade. I vowed that we will travel together. I have said that, when I earned more, you would have access to more.

You’ve remembered.

It is, for sure, a retrofitting. Just as it is ideal, whenever possible, for couples to have worked out their relationships with one another before becoming parents, it is also ideal, whenever possible, for them to have a home of their own before having a baby. I understand the first ideal because I’ve not quite lived up to it. I understand the second ideal because, at least for the first year of life, I did.

We are headed farther south, which I never would’ve imagined before now. The northeast corridor has long been my comfort zone. It is beautifully Black in Baltimore, strange and mercurial in its beauty. During this most recent stint living in this area, I’ve been in no great rush to leave it.

But about six months ago, I began concentrating my job search beyond Baltimore, DC, and Virginia. I started thinking of what life might look like if I stopped believing it had to occur within quite so confined a physical (and emotional) radius.

Just what would it look like if I my eyes left their level? What signal would I see if I’d only look up?

I took the steps and weighed the cost and wondered.

I might’ve known this much earlier if I’d not been quite so afraid. I might’ve discovered it sooner if I weren’t self-doubting, so presumptuous about what would happen if I took you away from our current circle and tried to create a new one.

But up above our heads, the signal had long been there, blaring and unanswered.

Up above our heads, we were always cleared for takeoff.

Posted in Audio, hope chest, Uncategorized

Hope Chest: Ep. 5

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that it’s been over six months since I’ve produced a new episode of my Hope Chest podcast. For those new to it, Hope Chest is an audio essay series I started earlier this year. It mostly deals with parenting as a Black single woman. I write, narrate, record, and edit it solo, at home, in a closet. It’s quiet and meditative and very deeply personal. Arguably too personal, a lot of the time, and this episode certainly represents that.

I’m holding onto the transcript, as I’m trying very hard to write a collection of essays about these very subjects, and it wouldn’t make sense to publish each one when I’m actively in pursuit of a book deal. Apologies if you’re someone who needs/prefers a transcript when dealing with a long piece of audio like this. Maybe the book will be a better fit for you… provided it ever drops.

Love until next time,

Posted in Current Events, Nonfiction, Race, Uncategorized

Sackcloth Farewell, Inauguration of Ashes.


It is just that wistfulness is no longer a luxury I can afford. It isn’t personal. The man, his wife, her mother, their daughters: in my life, there has been no Black family who has been more beautiful more consistently, under an eight-year glare of a chronically dissatisfied public. In my lifetime, I’ve not seen a president more cerebral or more trusting of the average American’s ability to keep apace with his intellectual rigor. I’ve not seen a First Lady whose look and whose life I’d want my own daughter to emulate more.

I will not soon forget the sense of ease I felt under their governance. What I expect most from a president is a quiet confidence that the democracy will not collapse during his employ. And until now, I have always been able to rely at least on that. During most presidencies, that bottom line — that finish line — was my point of clearest focus.

But through its steadiness, growth, openness, and stability, the Obama Administration drew me in, encouraged me to invest in ideals that had never been more than abstractions. The closer attention I paid, the more I relieved I felt. Dissent was encouraged. It could be handled. Even if blood flowed in classrooms and airports, in malls and churches and streets, the bow of the country would not break. The president would work with us and weep with us, even when Congress would not do the same, and somehow, we would remain a functional republic.

I will not soon forget how accessible the inside halls of the White House felt while the Obamas were its hosts, when I could watch Esperanza Spalding visit at least once a year to finger-pick her bass while her finger-picked afro swayed along at its 9-inch circumference or when De La Soul came through to sing “Me Myself and I” at a BET-hosted ‘House party or when new administrative appointments were announced and an unprecedented number were Black, brown, Native, disabled, LGBTQ+, a two-term litany of first-evers, a two-term reassurance that the richness of the country’s differences would be recognized, respected, trusted, celebrated.

I won’t forget how the White House became a destination scores of Black folk I knew longed to reach — and how many I’ve known personally who actually did reach it, either to attend a ball, take their children Easter egg-hunting on the South Lawn, conduct a news interview, or work for the administration.

So, no, that numbness I felt watching the Farewell Address last night, that slow-blinking sedation that crawled through me… it wasn’t personal.

I do not know what the Obamas will become to me — to us — as civilians. But I am certain, whatever their role, it will be just as deeply felt. I know they’ll still be with us and, because I know, I don’t lament their leaving.

All I could hear last night, as Obama remained ever the optimist, ever the imparter of bipartisan rhetoric and calls to personal achievement as much as political action, were the sounding brass and cymbal that tinnily echo in a room where love will no longer dwell. I could not stop thinking of his successor, how much it still must confound and annoy Obama to hand over, along with the keys and lease, that hard-earned quiet confidence that the country will not collapse under its new management.

Before, what it had always meant to be Black here was that no presidential administration would be thinking precisely of us when proposing policy that would make the nation economically, academically, or culturally richer. It meant that if policy would be enacted to acknowledge, defend, or protect our civil rights, it would be in response to centuries of outcry, pressure, and petition. It would not likely be passed from a place of true compassion or justice but rather as part of some broader strategy intended to protect our white male founders’ interests.

Knowing that, voting with it ever in mind (once we were finally allowed to), always made previous white presidencies bearable. You can only brace for what is well-known.

This incoming administration, however, seems decidedly unbearable. It appears that it is my generation’s turn to experience firsthand what it is like to live under the governance of a white man who doesn’t understand or respect American governance, who is, in fact, quite eager to unravel it, despite never in his life having had to thread a needle, let along restitch the very fabric of a democracy. Gone is the quiet confidence in the country’s ability to survive its leader. This is a leader disinterested in the concept of a free country, agnostic to its better angels, appealing instead to its crudest evils.

And he’s 70. And he’s aggressively anti-intellectual. And he’s already confirmed that a critical mass of Americans will support him, even with a vocal, easily searchable record of institutional and personal racism and sexism.

This is not a reality for which I can brace. This is terrifying. It’s terrifying in ways that would permeate indifference, apathy, and ambivalence, if those were options still available to us. They are not.

All of this has absolutely impeded my ability to fete the first black president’s hard-won farewell. It’s impeded my ability to function “normally” at all. I cannot rely on even my most apolitical patriotism, that ever-present white noise that has always whispered: America is America is America.

And without that, I do not want to hear anything else.

This is the eeriest irony: I had never felt more hopeful in America than when Obama campaigned for the presidency the first time and, remarkably, spectacularly, miraculously won it. And I have never felt more hopeless as an American than in these weeks he’s spent preparing to transfer his presidential power.

Never in my 37 years have I felt so exposed, vulnerable, targeted. Never have I felt as aware of all the other marginalized Americans who must be experiencing their own acute and distinct iteration of this susceptibility.

It is the quickly cracking limb on which an idealist never wants to find herself. But on this perch I can still recite a mantra: Progress has come before. Progress can come again. Resplendent pride in the office of the presidency was so strongly felt before. I will protect its memory now. The mettle of a democracy is most accurately assessed under the threat of dictatorship. So we must rest well. Study hard. Use the past and present as primary texts. And for the love of all that is salvageable, even if no longer holy: pass.

Posted in Current Events, Faith, Nonfiction, Pop Culture, Uncategorized

Surviving the Game. 

Each generation faces crises that convince them the world will end while they are still alive to witness it and when that end feels nearest, the people turn in toward themselves and face their God (or the Exceeding Nothingness they believe awaits). They slide the Great Abacus of Days, take account of their stewardship over time and resource. They reckon with what’s left of the ailing planet. (The other stars and any societies they may harbor will have to fend for and contend with themselves.)

If there were more films about what it is like to be Black on the brink of apocalypse, everyone would understand how I am so calm and so quiet, weeks away from our stateside seat of power changing hands, years away from the total erosion of the tundras that have kept so much calamity at bay, surrounded by those who deny things are as bad as all manner of evidence suggests. 

If more white folks read books from the Black perspective of Armageddon, no one would bother wondering why we who have long had our vote denied and suppressed do not loudly panic over impolite elections. We who have been enslaved whenever white men grew desperate do not feign shock when white people unveil their retrograde racism and comfort themselves with “humor” and faux-ironic observation because they, individually, cannot detect any racial animus in their hearts. It would seem quite natural for those who have been threatened and intimidated to grow quiet and guarded as another would-be oppressor ratchets up his bluster. 
Outside of America, some of the world’s Black nations have come closer to an end-of-days than most. If only anyone here had paid close attention, when machetes and machine guns felled hundreds of thousands in Rwanda or when the earth cracked open, swallowing so many Haitians whole and survivors struggled for years to rebuild, only to find their progress washed away with the arrival of angry gusts and torrents. If only anyone here had learned something from the nations that successfully resisted white colonization then found themselves expelled from their homeland amid decades of civil war or from armed men razing villages and stealing over 200 girls from their school dormitories while their parents waited helplessly for whim or boredom or the dull blade of conscience to prick the murderous infidels who took them, compelling them to return a few haunted souls at a time.

We are quiet because all we have ever had is us — and even among us, there is considerable treachery.

This isn’t a lesson to be gleaned only from examples abroad. When the first waves of crack and heroin capsized once-stable black communities and Lady Justice supplied the scales, microcosmic apocalypse made its way these shores. We who have seen the gradual transformation of lives, once carried out with love and even temperament, into something closer to feral than civil, something at times barely recognizable as sentient, will have little trouble devising a plan for survival when the so-called zombies come. Those who know firsthand what happens when trained civil servants with the power to protect us increasingly make the decision to protect only themselves will recover quickest from any shock when we are truly on our own as a culture and years of debate over bearing arms will seem a distant memory.

* * *

I came here to write about simple things: my byline made it into the New York Times (after a few failed attempts). I’ve adapted my last blog post, written back in July, into an audio essay and my friend John featured it on the Season 2 premiere of his amazing podcast, Scene on Radio. After angst and disappointment, I’ve landed my first-ever (and hopefully only) literary agent (though the circumstances sureounding that development are a story for a different time). My daughter is thriving in kindergarten, thereby affirming everyone’s decision to delay her entry by a year. I have finally escaped the clutches of an old, worn love (though that has only left me pining for love anew). The Rise of Charm City will likely live on for a second season, though it will take quite a bit more time and fundraising effort than I’d anticipated. I’ll have to find work that allows me to live decently in the meantime. And there is an election afoot I’d just as soon forget until November 8th. Easy things. But whenever I’d sit down to find some lovely way to write them out, I’d find myself frozen or indifferent or listless.

All of that would’ve been more than enough to fill an entry. I didn’t intend to begin with musings on apocalypse today. But aren’t we ever inching toward an end? Ours, singly, will likely come before the whole of society’s. But there is little difference in how we should respond. Contribute what you can to the world while you and it are still here. When it becomes unrecognizable, contribute still. It is meaningful now, no matter its impact later. Vote whenever the opportunity presents itself, even though you are aware that, no matter who ascends to power, the cards will be stacked against spades. Be stingy with your survival plan; it will be worthless to those who’ve refused to acknowledge your years of tactical practice. Share it only with those who’ve long understood why you have it, who trust the validity of your Black experience, who know full well how you’ve identified every remaining exit. 

Posted in Current Events, Nonfiction, Parenting, Prayer, Race, Uncategorized

Prince and Philando and Futures Untold.

1. “Don’t worry. I only want you to have some fun.”

It depends on the mother. But some begin to lose themselves in the fleshy, post-birth folds around their waists, in the feeling of excess blood, decreasing and slowly recalibrating its flow, in adjusting to the less taxing burden of one body again, instead of the heft of two.

It depends on the mother. But for some, childbirth is beset with instability, the worry attendant to a partner’s precarious presence. Now you see him, texting in the delivery room, now you don’t, at the 3 in the morning beside the changing table or hunched over the diaper pail.

He is at once flesh and apparition, at once as essential as the braided DNA inside the baby and as intangible as desert air. One too many complaints and he could slip away for good. One too many worries voiced and he will.

He does.

It depends on the mother. But at least one of us will will herself numb, regardless of whether the father ever returns to help her care for the child they both conceived. If he returns, she will betray nothing. They will transact — the child, the details, the money, if any — and he will become more business partner than best friend. He will become rook to her queen: merely two pieces on a board, trying not to take each other out.

If he never returns, the old wounds callus quicker.

In either case, soon — perhaps sooner than she’s ready — she’ll be able to imagine a life, a family, a more durable, enjoyable alliance with someone else. The thought will become a meditation, a light toward which she is determined to travel.

The things we do not know about Diamond Reynolds are manifold. But we know she has a 4-year-old daughter. And we know that she had a boyfriend.

We cannot confirm how she chose him. But I can imagine. Philando: a name that sounds like a dance and could, when pronounced with a certain inflection, make castanets of a tongue. Paired with the surname Castile, a word reminiscent of the gentlest, most versatile of soaps, Philando likely seemed able to cleanse any sorrow. Philando may have seemed able to scrub away the residue and see what lay at her core: calmness, strength, a desire for a far less complicated life.

As if the fortune of his name were not enough, there was his profession: school cafeteria worker, a position he’d managed to hold for most of his adult life. It was not just the job but the pride he took in it, not just the stability or the wage, but the care with which he fed the children who could not so easily afford it, the off-the-clock study it must’ve taken to differentiate which meals would aggravate which student’s hidden allergies. These suggestions must’ve compelled her to believe that he could earn the privilege of proximity to her daughter.

Castile. Cleansing. Simple. Soothing. Philando. Unusual — and alluring because of it.

It depends on the woman. But for some, simplicity is sexiest. It’s the hand reached across the armrest to squeeze hers on a ride to pick up groceries that doesn’t result in a “routine” traffic stop. The blanket tossed over a hill to watch the fireworks on the fourth of July. The intimate high of a joint sparked to mark an occasion, a buzz passed and pulled between them like a lingering kiss. Simple, like the look he’d sometimes get in his eyes. Don’t worry, it assured her. I only want you to have some fun.

2. “The sky was all purple; there were people running everywhere./Trying to run from my destruction, you know, I didn’t even care.”

A pall has been cast over our country, beyond the reach of even our savviest astronauts, a dark and ominous sheet has been fastened into place: a great gulf fixed between heaven and earth. We can still be heard when we pray but it’s hard not to believe that our voices are distorted and muffled.

We can no longer grieve in the ways to which we have grown accustomed. The deaths come too quickly for adequate contemplation.

The marchers need their vigils: congregation and comfort and candle. The rituals gird them. The rhythm of walking steadies their pulse and reassures the observer that someone is always fighting alongside us when we feel strong enough to join them and for us, on the occasions when we do not.

This is a discordant year, when disruption is disrupted by the rattle of even more bullets, when officers who should have protected and served civilians are endangering the officers who are protecting civilians. And all who are bearing arms are endangering all who dare take to the streets in hopes of regulating where and when arms can be borne.

We can no longer adequately enact the stations of loss. No one’s role can be performed as written anymore. We are all exhausted of acting. And even the writers cannot keep apace with their elegies. When I started this, it was to honor five Dallas officers. I am ending it two days after four more officers were slaughtered in Baton Rouge. And the civil rights lawyers on social media are warning activists to stay indoors, as the public square increasingly becomes a shooting gallery and the protections generally offered to the civilly disobedient can no longer be consistently ensured.

Perhaps we can outrun what’s coming. But running clears the mind. Do it long enough and we all forget distance, impetus, and destination. Do it long enough and running becomes the only goal.

3. “Life is just a party and parties weren’t meant to last.”/”I don’t wanna die. I’d rather dance my life away.”

I’ve wondered where Philando and Diamond were when they heard about Prince. Were they together? The news of his collapse alone in an elevator inside his own home, did it wind them? Did they hold onto one another till they caught their breath?

I can’t imagine that black Minnesotans took the Purple One’s passing the way the rest of the world did. He meant something different for them. Falcon Heights, after all, where Philando drew his final breaths and Diamond recorded it in hopes to avenge him, is a mere 40-minute drive from Paisley Park.

Prince, aloof and amusing and untouchable as he was to many, was quite literally accessible to the people in his state of birth. That he was both black and one of the most famous residents there had to have been a particular point of pride for the black Minnesotans who make up a mere five percent of the state population.

Had Philando and Diamond ever ridden past Paisley Park, marveled over what-all must’ve gone down inside?

I’ve wondered too about how Prince would’ve responded to the news of Philando’s death. Having seen him sing to Baltimore for hours, weeks after Freddie Gray lost consciousness and the use of his limbs alone in the back of a police van, I know Prince would’ve made his displeasure over Philando’s death in Falcon Heights known.

That this happened near his own hometown would’ve only heightened his response to it.

I think Prince would’ve reached out to Diamond, would’ve asked if there was anything her daughter needed, would’ve given to them in abundance and in silence.

Even a few months later, I do not like to think of how we lost Prince, privately self-medicating, pretending to the world that agony could be built into his aesthetic. No more pirouettes-into-squats on stilettos, rather Prince and a pared-down piano, rather The Myth and his trusty guitar. A painful limp and cane passed off as mere cat daddy swagger.

Perhaps Prince would’ve understood better than anyone Diamond’s instinct to pull out her cell phone and record Officer Jeromimo Yanez’s rehearsal of his post-shooting lines.

The show must go on, no matter who it hurts (and almost certainly, the person it will hurt most is you). And sometimes, the show is the truest and only real justice to be granted or received.

Prince, like Diamond, knew how and when to perform to expectations. Prince, like Diamond, knew that there will never be a ceiling on how high expectations of their performance can be set.

Consider how the world critiqued his exit: “He wasn’t supposed to go like that. I was expecting something more spectacular: extreme old age or a blaze of glory.”

Consider how the world critiqued Diamond’s instinct: “Why didn’t she call 911 with her phone instead of using it to livestream?”

Consider, in light of how brave they had to be, that neither of their choices deserved scrutiny.

There is no tour de force in the face of death, no right way to handle an untimely exit. We confront it the only way we can: without much choice.

4. “… My body says prepare to fight. So if I gotta die, I’m gonna listen to my body tonight.”

God bless the streets, where blood runs freer than the people to whom that blood belongs.

God bless everyone brave enough to keep record. Ramsey Orta of Eric Garner. Feidin Santana of Walter Scott. Tywanza Sanders of the Charleston Massacre assailant, just before he was killed by him. Abdullah Muflahi for Alton Sterling.

Where would we be without evidence, even when that evidence doesn’t formally, judicially indict?

There would be an Away left to look to. We wouldn’t realize that the truth had us so thoroughly surrounded. We wouldn’t know there is no other way forward but to fight.

5. “Mommy, why does everybody have a bomb?”

People who want children someday romanticize their unborn. They use them as rhetorical devices, as the captive, poetic audiences to whom we voice our worst fears, our most desperate optimism, our apologies for the history preceding them and for our own contributions to it. We all believe we need someone invisible to answer to, and it’s simply easier to imagine accountability to a child we created than to an all-knowing Creator. We want to believe we will live to see ourselves become someone’s ancestor, so we pre-write an account of the ancestry we hope she will never contest.

But when our children cease to be hypothetical, when they are rigid, sturdy limb, encrusted mucus, a firm, tiny foot pressed to your face in the night, there is nothing flowery about the fight to protect them, nothing romantic about the gauntlet we face every day in hopes to hold onto their innocence for just a few minutes more. There is no time and no reason left them to write to them. We are living out the only record they will remember as true.

And yet we write to them anyway, because we want answers as much as they will. We want proof that we sought them right up to the end. And so I will say this to my daughter now:

I am glad that, at nearly 6, your precocity confines itself to countless configurations of miniatures. I am relieved that you intuit how others are feeling but still have so little idea as to why. I’m grateful you have not begun to inquire after those complicated whys and that no one in your classes, having overheard and understood better their own parents’ compound angst, has encouraged you to.

I do not know what will be left for you. From where I stand I see a lot of what our own black forebears struggled to build crumbling under the weight of what this country has never repaired. Bigotry, poverty, and denial are an apocalyptic confluence. And all three seem to be racing toward their apex now.

I hope you find this. And in the event that you can’t, I hope it finds you. By the time you read it, I hope you already know who you are. I hope you’ll still know what this country is, that you’ll still recognize something of its promise. I hope that when you’ll read this, Prince’s “1999” is softly playing in the distance, and if it is, you’ll remember that the world did not end in the decades after he recorded it, that every generation struggles to truly comprehend the limits of its time, and that we owe it to whatever future remains to celebrate and repurpose what rises from its rubble.

Posted in Uncategorized

County-City Chasms (or The Gaps Between In and Of).

Tyriece “Lor Scoota” Watson
Of course it is possible to be raised in Baltimore, black and lower-middle class, black and occasionally beset by situational poverty, and to never know the agony of losing the people we love to guns or to drugs. I imagine it may be rare — rarer, possibly, than I’d like to admit. But I know for certain the possibility because I am its evidence. I imagine the others relatively unscathed are like me: County-dwellers, suburbanites — or else quite unlike me: affluent city mainstays whose income or inheritance have extended them insulation.

For these seeming exceptions, there exists a tacit divide between those who find themselves managing grief every day and those of us who would scarcely know how, if it were suddenly required.  Ease widens that divide — and how easy it can be to remain willfully ignorant of such grief in the cul de sacs, side streets, and enclaves of Randallstown, Owings Mills, or Pikesville. If one wants it to, the “harrowing” reports of Baltimore’s violence and despair that make their way to national media can feel a ten-hour drive away rather than a twenty-minute one. It does not take much turning away when no sidewalk in a six-mile radius has a makeshift teddy-bear shrine to a murdered child and no corner holds ominous congregants dapping crack or lean into the hands of fiending clients. 

I am a person who braces for what I consider to be “the worst,” though nothing truly awful has ever happened to me and — right alongside my petitions for the continued strength of those to whom it has  — I pray, albeit idly, that nothing awful ever will.

It seems a selfish supplication, though I have every reason to hope for it. I’ve a daughter yet to raise, in a world that has always been unsafe for women, in a country that has always been unkind to its black citizens. But it’s a prayer that leans hard on privilege, too; life in low-crime communities has bettered my odds. And I am no more deserving of this lot than my neighbors eight miles south are deserving of their poorer ones. 

I pray for personal mercies just the same, and I hope the people I love, who’ve fared far worse in this life than I, won’t think ill of me for it.

It is this conflicted self I carry into the city, the self that is rarely onsite when the harassment and standoffs, protests and arrests begin, because their inciting incidents are rarely at my own back door. If I am present at all, it is to breathe lives in and to write them out.  If I am there at all, it is to admire the wisdom to be found on their blocks — wisdom I do not and cannot possess, understanding as I do that the wisest residents smong them would trade some of that prudence which circumstance bestows, in exchange for a less treacherous lot.

I know, at heart, there is no interpreting, no distilling, no genuine deference to their experience that I can succeed at offering from the outside. I know that even the writing is seen as a kind of charity, and that charity is more often perceived as pity than as a gift.

And yet I am unsure what other alms I can offer. I find it disingenuous to march in the streets against neighborhood-specific atrocities I cannot begin to fathom. I find it empty to picket there, knowing well that I can go home and that home is a place apart, a community of picket fences. There, under the warmth of that hearth, I am no less an ally, no more a peer.

I knew nothing of Lor Scoota before he died. I doubt this is true of many young black folks who’ve lived within city limits over the past three years. Last week, as I watched the sorrow of hundreds spill into the streets to mourn him, I was reminded yet again of how surreal it can be to live in the County, mere miles from the triumph of any city resident’s sense of industry, mere miles from any day’s anguish when the hope he offered is extinguished. I was reminded of how often in Baltimore the dialect of loss that most often emerges at the intersection of resistance and grief is dance.

When I am most honest with myself, I admit this is not a dialect I long to learn and were I to try, this is not a dance I could master. But even as my distance may be cause for some secret relief, I don’t not presume it enviable. In this city, where grief abounds, ingenuity swells up to meet it. Hardship may encroach for what seems an eternity but so will laughter, so will rebellion, so will romance and filial love and glee. Someone will actually recover in an overcrowded, under-resourced clinic. Some parolees will remain free upon release. Some homeowner will dote on a yard in a block that’s avoided boarding-up. Some community will always follow up a vigil disrupted by riot-gear-clad police with a truly peaceful one. Against odds, more bodies will make their way back home than those that will fall by the forces of bloodlust and bullets.

That hardiness, though admirable, is not enviable, either. It is simply life being borne out as best it can be, given where it is conceived and delivered, given where it has no choice but to be raised.

And if the gaps between a sense of relative safety and one of imminent peril can be narrowed by comprehension, I will ever work toward making sense of what some claim is senseless and identifying roots where some claim there is mostly rot.

Posted in Baltimore The Rise of Charm City, Uncategorized

Did you hear Baltimore: The Rise of Charm City today?


Last month, I wrote a post about my new job as an independent radio producer on “Baltimore: The Rise of Charm City,” a new half-hour audio documentary funded by AIR with additional support from the Corporation for Public Broadcast as part of Localore: Finding America, a 15-city hyper-local storytelling project.

Today, our first episode premiered on WEAA 88.9 FM. You can hear it here:

I’m relieved to have gotten one episode done (there will be 12 total), excited by the stories we can tell in the radio medium — and how creative we can be about telling them — and I’m also just really exhausted. lol

I want to share some of the anecdotes about the show, audio clips that didn’t make it to air, and stories about learning how to read narration and writing/editing it on the fly. But I really feel like I’m about to doze off writing this. So all I’m going to say here is: when I went to New Have for Thread at Yale last summer (thank you again to everyone who helped me fund that through Indiegogo), Glynn Washington of Snap Judgment advised us that if we wanted to break into podcasting, having never done it before and with no tech experience, the best advice was: “Surround yourself with geniuses.”

I’ve definitely done that. I’ve got Ali Post, a field producer who’s a quick thinker, a troubleshooter, a fire extinguisher, an astute story collaborator, and a sounding board. I’ve got Mawish Raza, who exudes calm under ridiculous deadlines, makes magic out of photographs and video footage, and has already lost sleep ensuring that we had our show packaged for today’s 11:30am start time. And I have Marsha Jews, who knows Baltimore’s black history and exactly who we need to talk to about it, who is a voice of reason when I’m quietly freaking out, and who gets things done. Period. Fast.

And of course, it must be said: none of us would be able to do any of this important work without our grant from AIR. Funding makes all the difference in the scope of the narrative work you can do. So many people are already telling Baltimore’s important stories in various media on next to no budget. We’re honored to join their ranks — and very fortunate to be doing it with some financial backing.

Strong team, strong show. Well, wait. We’ll let you be the judge of its strength, listeners. Let me know what you think after you’ve heard it!

In the meantime, here’s our video trailer for Episode 1, which I didn’t get to share here in advance of the show, because: mile-long to-do list.