Category Archives: Projects

Learning Limitations

June was a personal trial for me. The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the resulting protests and national uprising alone were enough to resurrect my panic attacks. The feelings were at least twofold– rage at these lives cut short and relentless fear for the lives of protestors, given the unbelievable reality that we are still living through an unprecedented global pandemic.

I spent the first few weeks of June trying to unravel the knot of difficult feelings that had taken up residence in my stomach, trying to breathe through waves of panic, trying to do anything other than spend most of the day crying.

Because while the world burns, Academia and publishing continues to ask of me, asking for my time and labor and thoughts. In June alone, I edited a book chapter, wrote a book review, wrote most of a journal article, edited my graphic novel manuscript and drafted a freelance reported piece. Many of these pieces popped up near the end of May/beginning of June– I only had a reasonable window of time to complete two of them…if we weren’t living through a pandemic and an uprising.

And while I got everything done in a reasonable time frame, as the month comes to a close, I’ve had some time to reflect on my own limitations.

I have to deal with the fact that though I am someone who likes to keep unreasonably busy– a result of both anxious energy and occasionally hypomania– there still has to be a limit to even my madness. I often come across a quote that says, “You can do everything; just not all at once.” Reflecting on that quote has meant really sitting with my ideas and asking questions of them and of myself: Do you need my immediate attention? Should I let you marinate a while longer? What’s the worst that would happen if I didn’t do this thing right now? How can I slow down? What can I let go of to help me balance this new thing?

 

The last question, What can I let go of to help me balance this new thing?, is very important. If you don’t make a conscious decision, then your work will make it for you. In order to get these side projects done, I had to put aside my dissertation for the month, a decision both my advisor and I thought practical. Practical or not, I was still frustrated that I couldn’t do all the things. I became increasingly agitated when my body wouldn’t cooperate when I asked it to keep pushing and working and going, producing in spite of the all consuming rage I was working against.

 

Finally, I had to stop.

I had to ask myself: Why is it so important that I do everything, right now?

 

And though I frequently talk about this impulse to push and go that is driven by a need for control, I’m always still surprised when that’s the answer that comes to mind.

I need to feel like something is in my control. The thing I’ve always been able to control is my productivity. When circumstances made it so that I was unable to even control my own output, I spiraled out of control.

After some emergency sessions with my psychiatrist, a consultation with a new therapist, an appointment with a somatic practitioner, new medication, more mindfulness apps and a frequently broken social media break, I started to feel more like myself. I was sleeping again. Food didn’t taste like sawdust in my mouth. The pressure that was threatening to burst out of my body had subsided.

I broke down my work into manageable chunks, giving myself plenty of reasonable daily and weekly goals, worked only a few hours a day, and spent a lot of time tending to myself. These days I have found a lot of joy in making art and accompanying my mom outside as she waters her plants in the morning while I enjoy my coffee. I watch Jeopardy! every evening and read for pleasure for about twenty minutes every morning and night.

I’ll be turning in the last of my June projects this afternoon and the marathon writing month will be over. But I have learned a valuable lesson: Know. Your. Limits.

 

The difficult part is that you don’t always know what your own limits are until they’re tested. And I went into June believing that juggling three too many projects was my personal brand. While that may be true, it’s true under very different circumstances.

Moving forward, I think my rule of thumb will be:

  • Only work on a MAX of 3 different writing projects at a time
    • One of them must be the dissertation
  • Stagger deadlines if possible and if you cannot say no to a new project
  • Work according to what your body is telling you it can handle, not what your mind believes your body can handle.

Valuable though the lessons learnt this month may be, I sure am glad it’s over now.

Spirituality, Dance and Magic | #BlackGirlMagicPotion Recap

This week’s episode of Black Enough, “#BlackGirlMagicPotion,” explored the relationship between dance, religion and/or spirituality, and magic. The magic of Black girlhood, we see in this episode, lies in your daydreams, in your deepest desires, in what your core essence is made of. And for Amaya, the expression of her very essence is dance.

This is made clear from the beginning of the episode, when a blaring alarm abruptly interrupts Amaya’s otherwise peaceful dream in which she dances alone in a studio. The interiority we see with Amaya is matched by a few shots of 16 mm film featuring a figure playing in substances that we might understand as physical manifestations of Black Girl Magic. The 16 mm scene provides an autobiographical, personal touch that is complemented by the vulnerability of the interview that overlays it.

The Amaya’s narrative then moves forward to her dorm room, where a conversation with Lena is put on pause by a knock on the door. Vaughn, the president of the BSU, and, Amaya’s BSU “Big Sis,” is there, encouraging Amaya to join the BSU. The scene cuts to a hilarious and cringe-worthy sequence of Amaya’s attempts at engaging in the representations of Blackness that she has seen throughout her life. She wriggles around her room, trying to milly rock, and trying out backwards baseball caps, before stumbling over saying “my nigga.” We feel her discomfort and our heart goes out to Amaya when she goes into evasive maneuvers to avoid the invitation.

But she does, in fact, have somewhere to be: church.

Although Amaya seems to understand, at least to some extent, that dancing constitutes the basis for her personal brand of magic, there is still some fracturing of identity that occurs. The religious part of her, the exterior, the diegetic narrative (or the narrative we follow in the storyworld of Black Enough), is depicted through the digital film. It is clear and bright, but we also know that there’s something deeper. This is when Amaya’s “spiritual practice,” her dancing, her rich inner life, begins to infiltrate the image of self that she puts forth to the world while she’s attending church.

She does what one is supposed to do to feel close to God: she goes to church, she prays, she reads her Bible. She’s religious in those moments, following a set of practices that inform her worship. However, when she’s dancing, she is more spiritual–it is the purest form of religiosity in some ways, more freeing. Her particular spirituality is an expression of her religious nature. This, dancing, is how she shows God she loves Him and how God is working through her. Dancing thus becomes a spiritual practice in that it is less about rules and guidelines and more about connectedness, more about feeling.

Circling back to Black Girl Magic and the potion Amaya is concocting on her mirror, I believe it is safe to say, though she likely does not include it on her list, that dancing is one of the ingredients in her potion. Part of the magic for some Black girls is this feeling of infiniteness when you know God loves you. As Elder Ntozake Shange once said, “I found God in myself and I loved her fiercely.”

There’s a spirituality surrounding Black Girl Magic, which I love to think about because it further points to its uniqueness. Everyone’s brand of Black Girl Magic Potion is tailor made to their specifications and unified only by the fact that we all have a bottle, no matter how different the contents. Religion sometimes implies that rules and order regulates worship–spirituality can be the freedom of expression of what you believe, the freedom to dictate and design your own love, in the same way that you brew your own personal brand of Black Girl Magic Potion. So for Amaya, dancing is the purest expression of her spirituality, and by extension, her magic.


Further Reading:

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf, Ntozake Shange

Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo, Ntozake Shange

Jezebel Unhinged: Loosing the Black Female Body in Religion and Culture, Tamura Lomax

 

“Double Consciousness” Recap: “What Makes Up a Black Girl?”

“Stamped with a magic so spiritual that angels and colonizers alike wanna get like us.”

The long-awaited webseries, Black Enough, which premiered on Sunday, begins with a question: “What makes up a Black girl?” As the narrator lists the many things which she believes may make up a Black girl, we are treated to visual texture. The movement, the 16 mm film and the substance (which might be a tangible representation of Black Girl Magic) juxtaposed with the spoken poetry inform the viewer that this experience will require engagement and critical reflection.

After all, when was the last time you wondered what makes up a Black girl? For me, it’s a daily ritual, akin to a prayer, to daydream about the magic from which we are created. I find wonder in our quotidian experiences, like focusing on the details of the protagonist, Amaya’s (Tiffany Gordon), college dorm room, getting to know her, and learning her uniqueness. While she’s at peace in her own space, we begin to see her fractures: Amaya is unsure of herself around Lena, her friend from home; at least somewhat interested in making friends with her white roommate who has no home training; and searching for something.

When we see Amaya later in the episode watching a Brownskinned_Barbie (Brandi Jaray Mcleain) YouTube video, attempting to do her hair, viewers understand that she is reaching for this idea of Black Girl Perfection. There is a desire, however slight, to be like Brownskinned_Barbie– pretty, cool, and popular with 4a curls that act right after a single spritz of water. But more than that, Brownskinned_Barbie represents a crucial piece of Amaya’s identity struggle: her hair. Maybe Brownskinned_Barbie is not perfect, but she knows how to make her hair shiny, defined and moisturized– a Black Girl Superpower Trifecta I have yet to perfect. Amaya begins to connect her identity as a Black girl to the appearance of her hair, believing that her hair and her soul need to be in alignment. (For more Black women writing about hair as an extension of self and self-expression, see Tanisha C. Ford’s work, particularly the chapter “Jheri Curl” in Dressed in Dreams.)

Her self-doubt spirals even deeper as she sits in on the first Black Student Union, led by the seemingly perfect Vaughn (Branika Scott). Vaughn’s “welcome speech,” which details the history of the BSU at Weston and finishes with a poetic embrace of all her “brothers and sisters of the Diaspora,” unsettles Amaya. Only when Vaughn chuckles and says, “You’re already Black so you meet all the requirements, right?” does Amaya leave, feeling as though she did not meet the requirements.

The experience prompts her to create the recipe for a “Black Girl Magic Potion” on her mirror, as she tries to find the secret to a supposedly inherent alchemy we are said to possess. One of the last scenes of this episode is of Amaya circling “Go Natural” on her Potion/list, foreshadowing challenges to come.

Amaya’s story and the poetic narration are woven together with interviews with Black women and girls who reflect on their own experiences with our magic, including words from Hanna Watson, Stephanie Crumpton and myself. Altogether– the poetry both spoken and visual, the story, the interviews, the texture of the 16 mm film with the digital– creates a quilt of different pieces of art that are woven together to create a cohesive story, that wraps you in warmth. The warmth is the result of feeling seen and understood as beautiful. Black Enough leaves you feeling whole, and you, the viewer, want that for Amaya, too.


Further Reading:

Dressed in Dreams: A Black Girl’s Love Letter to the Power of Fashion, Tanisha C. Ford

The Souls of Black Folks, W. E. B. Du Bois

More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say), Elaine Welteroth

Hair,” Elizabeth Acevedo

why you cannot touch my hair,” Eve Ewing


Feature image courtesy of Jeremy Rodney Hall