Category Archives: Ravynn

New Decade, New Me: Post-Student Life and Embracing Candidacy

January– the start of a new year and a new semester. This semester is a little unusual for me because this will be the first semester since I’ve started graduate school that I have “off.” The deal is that if you are a teaching assistant (TA) or a teaching fellow (TF) one semester during the academic year, then that semester of work for the entire year. This is absolutely an institution-specific thing, a program-specific policy even. I have friends in another department at my school who have some sort of graduate assistant duties each semester, no matter what. However, they’re guaranteed at least one full year of funding where they have no obligations except to write. It all varies.

So much feels like it’s changed since I last wrote. Last semester (Fall 2019) seemed like the end of an era in a lot of ways. It was the first, and likely last, time that I’ll be a teaching assistant; the next time I set foot in a classroom for an extended period of time, I will probably be teaching my own course. It also marked the end of a series of trials and tests; with coursework, comps and prospectus behind me, as well as the experience of getting my feet wet with pedagogy under a tenured professor, I finally feel ABD (all but dissertation). I feel like everything I do from here on out is for me, on my time, on my terms, and I can begin to craft my career the way I want to, as opposed to satisfying the whims of others.

 

I’m not a student anymore.

And that means I’ve been spending a lot more time than usual thinking about how I want my career to look, studying the careers of others, reaching out, daydreaming, and hustling. A lot of things have been put into motion that I can’t necessarily say much about at the moment, but in the last few months of 2019 and into this first month of the new decade, I feel myself finding my footing as I begin to walk in my purpose.

The one thing that’s abundantly clear is that I want to write. It seems so obvious to say, but nothing feels like writing for me. Nothing feels like the moment when I get the first words down on a new document or in a new journal; nothing like working through rounds of revisions; and nothing like seeing those words find a home and make their way out into the world.

An important note is that I want to be a writer with range; I recently got to see Lamar Giles in conversation with Meg Medina and the discussion about range has stayed with me. My scholarship, my blogging and my essays are starting to find homes and an audience. I want that for my fiction, too– my novels and short stories. And one day I want to write a comic. I would love to write lots of comics, but let’s just start with one. (I won’t say who I’d want to write but let’s just say her initials are LL.)

One day, I’ll write a post about how I balance all the different types of writing that I do/want to do. For now, just assume I spend a lot of time juggling and dropping the various balls.

As I get further down my path and closer to aligning myself with my own goals, I have come to resent grad school less and less. Yes, I could write a book about what’s wrong with higher education as it stands, but the time I got to hone my thinking, develop my writing, read widely, meet people– specifically, authors and writers…those are skills I can take with me, no matter where I end up. I don’t think I ever would have wrote the novel I drafted last summer if I hadn’t been in grad school, day-dreaming about digital Black girlhood, blogging and writing. I maybe wouldn’t have made the time, or perhaps never even had the idea.

Things happen for a reason, and they’ll reveal themselves in time.

At any rate, there’s still the practical business of having a semester off. What will I do? Well, I still have plenty to do. I still have a whole dissertation to write, research to do, stuff to read to get there. I’ll be making some appearances at conferences: Chesapeake DH in February, SXSWEdu in March and the Lemon Project Symposium later that month. I’m still the graduate advisor of the Africana House on campus so I’ll be working a little more closely with the students this semester. Of course, I’m already back to yoga, but I’m adding in a new cardio class for fun. And I’ll probably be writing across the internet (I’ve already had pieces in Black Youth Project, Wear Your Voice, and ZORA) in addition to my dissertation work and noveling.

I have some cool projects and news dropping soon, too, so stay close to the blog (and Twitter) to be the first in the know.

I’m so glad I’m finding my magic in this liminal space between life as a student and a lifetime as a scholar.

The End of the Road | The Cookout (Season Finale) Recap

Well, dedicated viewers of Black Enough, we have made it to the season 1 finale, “The Cookout.” And it was just as vibrant as we could have imagined.

Taylor Lamb, Black Enough’s Digital Media and Marketing Producer and Meagan in the show, tweeted this short, sweet and effective summary of the finale episode of the season:

Everyone is getting ready for what appears to be the hottest party of the semester– the perfect opportunity for Amaya to show off her new look and all her growth over the course of the season. Viewers may believe that Amaya is still a wallflower from the way she glues herself to the wall at the start of the episode, but it just takes a quick exchange with Tryston to squash that notion.

After struggling to come up with something to say about Amaya’s new do, Tryston pivots to feeding Amaya some lines about where his head’s been recently and attempting to chart out a “future” that includes both of them– a move that makes Amaya recoil. And once she declines Tryston’s offer to dance, Amaya lets him go like the rest of her relaxed hair. It’s a decision that makes the viewer believe she’s on her way to shedding her doubts and insecurities, but is not crystallized until her friends pull her into the sea of dancers and she starts to let loose. Is it the same release she feels when she’s dancing alone in the studio? Maybe not, but it looks like our dear Amaya feels good.

Before we close, we get a glimpse of where some of the cast has ended up: Hadiyah appears to be studying under the direction of Professor Rekia; Ember is still on her weight loss journey, as evidenced by the green juice she’s drinking at the party; and Lena is pledging!

But this isn’t the only surprise “The Cookout” has in store– in the final moments of the episode, Amaya pulls a sheet of paper out of her pocket, faces Jaheem and says something incredible: she has feelings for him.

*

So what makes up a Black girl?

What are the ingredients?

It is confidence? Bravery? Strength? Love? A dash of cinnamon and brown sugar?

The answer: we don’t know. At the end of the day though, I’m not sure that it matters that we don’t know exactly what it is. As I said in my interview that was featured in this episode, “I tried.” And Watson tried. And all of the fabulous women interviewed, the cast and crew tried to articulate the magical essence that is Black girls and as LaToya Fox Obasi describes, we’re all part of a picture, and it’s the togetherness that makes the magic.

I believe they were successful, but I think they were successful not because they tried to articulate an end product necessarily, but because they found love and magic in every part of the process. You could see it come through and shine in every episode.

So no, it’s not one thing that’s easily communicated or packaged (though we use the Black Girl magic hashtag every day). We may never know exactly what comprises Black Girl Magic because every individual Black girl also has her own specific brand and it’s hard enough to try to understand the essence of ourselves, let alone the many.

But still…I’m happy to keep chasing, discovering and learning my magic every day.

Further Reading:

Read Black women’s work. As much as you can.

You’ll find magic. I promise.

Ravynn K. Stringfield is a Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at William & Mary. Her research focuses on Black women and girls as creators and protagonists of futuristic, fantastic and digital narratives in new media. She often likes to say she writes about Black girls flying. When she’s not researching, you can find her writing for her blog, Black Girl Does Grad School; learning new yoga poses; or bullet journaling.

The Big Chop | Beneatha, 2019 Recap

In the penultimate episode of Black Enough’s first season, “Beneatha, 2019,” Amaya has finally worked up the courage to do what has been on her mind since she first concocted the idea of a Black Girl Magic Potion in episode 1: The Big Chop.

For those that are unfamiliar with the term, The Big Chop refers to the haircut one gets to go from relaxed hair to natural. The Big Chop comes in a variety of packages. Some folks transition for a few months (or a few years) before cutting off their relaxed ends; some make the decision and the hair is gone days, even hours later. Some people go into salons, and some do it themselves in the bathroom mirror.

The reactions to chopping one’s hair is equally varied. It stirs up feelings of joy, release, anxiety or shame– sometimes all of the above and more. As Watson has explored over the course of this season, there is a lot of value and significance tied up with Black hair. It was never just hair. And for some of us that eventually undergo the Big Chop, we do so because we realize that we have little or no memory of our hair in an unaltered state. Though it’s unclear from the narrative, one might assume that Amaya falls into this camp.

As she waits for her turn in the salon chair, Amaya pulls out Ntozake Shange’s Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo to read while she waits. This choice is all too appropriate. Amaya is about to undergo one of the most important, most magical transformations of her life, and she holds in her hand a book about and made of magic. (Remember that first line: “Where there is a woman there is magic.”) Shange’s novel, like much of her writing, weaves together forms and stories to create Black women’s narratives so that we aren’t run into the ground under the weight of the narratives society tells about us. It pulls together pieces and bits to create something new, much like how Amaya has been quietly adding and crossing off ingredients to her Black Girl Magic Potion over the course of the season.

The salon becomes a cocoon, an incubator, for Amaya, as does the book. Both are spaces of retreat and refuge where one might turn inward, but also that of unbecoming in order to transform. When Amaya steps out of the salon, she is not, and cannot be, the same person she was before.

And that feeling of knowing that you can’t turn back is heavy. It’s mixed with things you didn’t even know you could feel. Amaya has to sit with the realization that she is different, the feeling of not immediately recognizing yourself when you look in the mirror– and dealing with why that is.

Anyone who has ever Big Chopped knows the struggle. It’s that awkwardness of trying to make your outward appearance match what’s going on in your head and in your heart. It’s that discomfort of stepping out what you knew and into the unknown. It’s the realization that you’re going to have to learn yourself all over again.

It’s all of that and more.

It was never just hair.

Further Reading

Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo by Ntozake Shange

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry by Imani Perry

“My daughter is the reason I wear my hair curly,” Taylor Harris, Washington Post, Feb. 2017

Ravynn K. Stringfield is a Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at William & Mary. Her research focuses on Black women and girls as creators and protagonists of futuristic, fantastic and digital narratives in new media. She often likes to say she writes about Black girls flying. When she’s not researching, you can find her writing for her blog, Black Girl Does Grad School; learning new yoga poses; or bullet journaling.