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Goddess Lessons #2 : Kali : On Dancing With Your Darkness


Kali (Kaa-lee), also known as Kali Ma and the Black Mother, is the powerful Hindu goddess who presides over darkness, death, and regeneration. She is the foremost of the tantric Wisdom goddesses known as the Mahavidyas. Some fear her because she is so fearsome looking, but Hindus love and adore her as their Great Mother Goddess; she manifests power that is fierce, potent, healing, and loving. She is shakti (female energy) incarnate and the manifestation of primordial power. As the darker consort of Lord Shiva (who is also paired with the milder Parvati), she is often pictured dancing wildly with his form beneath her feet. She brings life, death, regeneration and rebirth…”

From The Goddess Pages: A Divine Guide to Finding Love and Happiness by Laurie Sue Brockway

A common misconception about self love and journeys toward deep inner healing is that you can skip over your darkness. 

Or check it off with a handy dandy checklist with a life coaching program that promises Deep Inner Healing in Six Weeks!

Darkness, that point of seeing our shame, our habits that keep us stuck, the people who have hurt and keep hurting us, is not an easy process. 

It is not pretty. It does not follow “logical” or linear patterns.

It is not something that will look good on your Instagram feed or Timeline. 

But exploring our darkness is absolutely necessary to grow into the Women we want to be. 


I’ve been reminded of this lesson very deeply these past couple of weeks. Eclipse season has heralded in many endings and changes within my vocational, relationship and inner life. I’ve had to confront how my daily habits are not bringing me closer to the woman and writer I wish to be. I have to see the ways in which my insecurities and need of external validation keeps me trapped and stifled and unable to connect fully with the good people in my life. I have to face that the way I eat and rest and schedule my time are still mired in my addiction to being in an incessant hurry.

And there have been many times I’ve wanted to ignore the hard shit that these changes have brought up. “Sometimes I just don’t wanna feel those metal clouds…”

But, Kali does not run away from darkness. She does not villify it like our current Western world which has assigned words like “black” and “dark” to all things bad. 

She dances with it. She befriends it. She is It.

Darkness and those times of inner and outer struggle are not evidence that we are being punished or that we are wrong. 

We need these times and spaces of darkness and confusion and truly seeing ALL aspects of ourselves as much as we need the Light.


I have decided to let my “negative” thoughts shout their protestations and their blame. I am journaling a lot more. I sit and do nothing sometimes. I fully face the ways I have deluded myself and reinforce the self-negating aspects of my past. I am doing my best to listen to people. To put my phone down, to slow down and wait.

What is the darkness you are running from dear one? How can you slow down and face it? How can you enlist support so that you are not alone in this endeavor?

Ideas:

12 Step Groups. Journaling. Community yoga classes. Meditating. Naps. Taking a walk. Starting or going back to therapy. Dancing to a curated playlist that takes your feelings into account. Making a list of all the people who’ve hurt you and what they did and speaking it aloud and then burning it (repeat until you don’t want to anymore). 

The biggest recommendation I have is to stop dancing. Take inspiration from the great goddess Kali and face who you are in this moment. It may not be easy. 

But you are worth the time.

Onward,

Hannah 

Chiron in Gemini or How to Express Yourself When No One Gives A F*


“It made me sad when I caught myself pretending that everybody out there in cyberspace cared about what I thought, when really nobody gives a shit. And when I multiplied that sad feeling by all the millions of people in their lonely little rooms, furiously writing and posting to their lonely little pages that nobody has time to read because they’re all so busy writing and posting, it kind of broke my heart.”
― Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being

I love and geek out on astrology (I’m an Aries, Moon in Gemini, Aquarius Rising). And recently after dinner with some friends, the topic of Chiron came up. For you astrology virgins out there, Chiron is defined as, “…a comet with a unique and erratic orbit. In the natal chart, Chiron is symbolized by the “wounded healer”. It represents our deepest wound, and our efforts to heal the wound. Chiron was named after the centaur in Greek mythology who was a healer and teacher who, ironically, could not heal himself…”

You can find out where your Chiron is placed by doing a free on-line astrology chart. And while Chiron tells you where you may have been hurt, it also shows you where you can offer the most help and aid to others.

My Chiron is in Gemini and also in the 3rd house. A double whammy of Fun since Gemini rules the 3rd House.

Gemini is a sign associated with new ideas, the nervous system, and most especially communication–expressing oneself via writing, speaking, dressing and any other means of saying Hello World, this is who I am and what I believe.

Which is interesting because…

If there was one word people would use to describe me as a kid (besides tall) it would have been quiet. Like super, good-girl, we-didn’t-even-know-you-were-in-the-room quiet.

I was terrified of expressing what I had to say. I would ruthlessly edit my replies to conversation, trying to weigh it for possible approval from who I was speaking to. I was sure that my voice sounded stupid and dull. I was perfectionistic about my artistic expression. Whenever our art teacher Ms. Schulz came to teach us to paint some fourth-grade recreation of Van Gogh or Monet, I would annoy her for I always requested to start over. I was never satisfied with my first creation.

It was frustrating being quiet. I felt like I had so much to say, that despite my tranquil and silent external persona I had “fire shut up inside my bones”.


And yet, I was always that girl who people repeatedly had to ask to speak up. The girl who would go on outings with new friends and not utter a single word.

I’m definitely not as quiet and inhibited as I used to be, but there is still a fragment of me that carefully weighs all that I have to say and write, who scans through any post on social media with an eye for editing. Who still wonders if her voice is stupid and dull.

Now, there’s nothing wrong or weird about being quiet or shy or introverted. We simply live in a space and time which values extroverts above all.

But, I do know how it feels to be trapped by merciless self-criticism and doubt, to feel that you have so much to say but feel boxed in by your past quiet moments and the nagging fear of what People Will Think.

In our noisy day and age, with the advent of Influencers and YouTube personalities and bloggers making millions, it can sometimes seem that our voices don’t matter at all. Why speak up if we’re not being followed by thousands?

Who really gives a fuck what we have to say?

And then there is the rampant criticism and oftentimes manufactured outrage: at times even the most progressive, open-minded, whole-hearted person cannot speak truthfully without offending someone’s personal political philosophy and identity and getting dragged for it.

I don’t know if your Chiron is in Gemini, but I do know that we all have moments when we are terrified to speak our deepest truths or even, hell, afraid to speak period.

We don’t want to hurt anyone. We recognize the difference between action and impact. We know we may still hurt people—even if we really didn’t mean to.

And yet.

We long to express ourselves.

We are not sure if anyone out there is even listening or cares or wants to dig deeper into our work or know more about us, be our friend.

And yet.

We long to express ourselves.

We can shout that we “don’t give a shit what people think” but as Brene Brown so eloquently says, “Pretending you don’t care what people think is its own kind of hustle.”

I think the people most loudly proclaiming they don’t give a fuck actually give lots of fucks. Like they are throwing their fucks out like Oprah. I think that people who are truly centered in their personal truth, just speak and express themselves.

Their not-giving-a-fuck is evident in their actions, not their proclamations.

It may sound banal, but the keys to our more authentic, spontaneous self-expression are already with us. They are inside. We may take courses, read books about public speaking or confidence building. But, we truly don’t have to buy our voice.


We just have to bring it to light.

First, we need to do the hard work of looking at ALL the shit that made us quiet and afraid to speak in the first place. When did we first learn that our voice didn’t matter? Who did not listen to us? When did our words hurt someone—even when we really did not want them to?

This process is not easy, nor is it neat. We will have to look and sit with the pain of these moments over and over again. But, to speak openly and honestly from our hearts, we must look at what made it difficult for us to do this in the first place.

If it was easy for us to believe our voice mattered, to not overly worry about possible backlash, we would be doing it. Those tender parts that learned the opposite are still living in the past.

We need to bring them to the present.

The second thing is to practice. With yourself. Make a secret IG account, Tumblr, blog and post whatever the fuck you want on it every day. Record videos of yourself dancing alone or lip syncing in your room that you do not share with a soul. Practice expressing yourself with you first. As you get comfortable with your own damn self, it will make it sooooo much easier to express yourself around others.

The “final” thing is to just do it. Say what’s on your mind at the next cocktail party. Post that insight everyone is glossing over. Perform karaoke in front of people. Write, Speak, Express Yourself openly and honestly and realize that a) you can do this b) it’s okay if it isn’t perfect c) no one died when you did.

We catastrophize the “what ifs” of expressing ourselves not because we are dumb idiots but because our fears are rooted in very real (albeit usually young and limited) ideas of the times we did speak up and shit hit the fan. This is why I stress really sitting with our initial stories of why we are hesitant to speak. They are powerful and have such a bearing on how we act in the world today.

Now to be sure, this process is not some 1 2 3 BOOM = You are the most confident, loquacious and self-expressed person on the planet. We will wrestle. We may be awkward and receive zero attention for our words. We may get made fun of and be misperceived, disliked, even ostracized.

But, we will know the effervescent freedom of being in line with ourselves no longer laden with a million untold truths.

I am still wrestling with my own Chiron and move between the steps almost every time I choose to speak a truth. I’m doing it as I write this blog post. It is not easy for me to be open about myself and who I am, but I do it anyways because I know how the alternative feels and well, it sucks.

I am choosing to speak and to write and to express myself no matter how many people “like” me.

May you find your voice.

And use it.

Onward,

Hannah

We Need More Black Love


Says the black girl with the white boyfriend.
But, I am serious and I believe it even more now than I ever have: We need more black love.

The primary images under #blacklove are flamboyantly attractive men and women oftentimes intertwined in some erotic embrace. Sometimes they are wearing crowns. Sometimes the man is holding up the earth or a house as his woman and offspring look upwards in stupendous wonder. Sometimes there are two black bodies intertwined so closely that I recall the song Brown Skin by India Arie.

I believe the popularity of these images speaks volumes (On another post I may go into the crazy intense heteronormativity and their traditional gender role affirming nature of these images, but not today…)

Black people are generally subjected to images where they are hurting each other, hurting themselves, or away from each other, all pointing to the real instances of hurtful separation folded overtly and covertly within colonialism and white supremacy.

These days, we may see black people loving on screen but oftentimes these images are interracial in nature. And yes, even I am a little questioning of this.

Why is it so difficult to imagine black people loving each other?

When I saw the graffiti’d mattress leaning forlornly against a house in Pittsburgh, it both made me laugh and broke my heart cleanly down the middle. The way the mattress had been gutted to show its Styrofoam flesh. The word “bitch” lazily scrawled adjacent to it. Was this some sort of cleverly placed art installation? A call to do differently?

What I know is: black people do love each other. Even amidst the craziness of racism and homophobia and sexism and family dysfunction, black people have always been winning in the show some love department. But, sometimes I think we all need reminders.

I think the time has come for white people to take up the majority of the work of in eradicating white supremacy. It’s been that time for quite awhile honestly, but I think the call is even more salient today.

But what about us?

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine made a really vulnerable Facebook post where they talked about the nature of their mental health and the ways in which the anti-blackness of the world had factored into it. It intensified my thinking about the nature of self-help and emotional wellness today. How so much of it erases the real lived realties of different marginalized groups to settle on some vague promulgation of resilience.

It’s not just a personal “defect” to be unwell in this society. Many times our individual experience of stress, of anxiety and depression can be obviously tied to systems that tell us we do not matter.

Anti-blackness is not just a faraway political thought that we can sequester to history books and graduate studies discussions. It affects the real lives of black people in deep and pressing ways each day: the bombardment of black death, the anxieties inherent within a workplace that was never built to consider you, the constant barrage of images that suggest you are not enough at the deepest level of your body. Over and over and over and over and over again.

We need more black love.

I say this in a way that does not mean we add yet another checklist to Shit I Need To Do Today. I say this as a thought that hopefully can buoy us. And I do I see black love being practiced every day. I see it in with people checking in with their people. I see it in the loud ways black people claim admiration for body features often seen as less than. I see it in events like Black Girls Rock and social media campaigns like Very Black.

I hope that the next time I search for #blacklove I see these images too. Images of queer black people, fat black people, quirky black people, conservative black people, hood black people loving the fuck out of one another.

I endeavor to look for more black love, to showcase love in a myriad of ways towards blackness besides the romantic. And if I can’t find another real black person to love on in reality, I will look in the mirror at my own black face and love it fiercely for what it is.

I refuse to be sucked into the madness of these times and to start doubting the power of true, revolutionary love. I refuse to constrain my activism to what I see on my social media feeds.

Black love, real black love, in a way that speaks to my own soul, is part of my revolution.

I wish you the same in a way that works for you.

Onward,

Hannah

#blackgirltragic : the art of embracing your inner loser

Serena
I am letting myself be a loser.

Sometimes.

It has become a part of growing up.

If you are a black woman in this country, then it is very, very likely that you have had The Talk.

The one that Procter and Gamble is getting a lot of flak for because they made a tidy commercial about it

Comedian and actress Jessica Williams recounts hearing from her mother:

She looks at me and she’s like, “You, my daughter, will never be average. You are never allowed to be average because you look like me. And because you look like me, you will always have to work 10 times harder than somebody else who will get more for doing less work. You will never ever be average. Do you understand me?” …
There is no room for middling for black women.

When I think of the constraints of perfectionism and hyper-success, I don’t think of some white lady in a smart pencil skirt choking down mouthfuls of Valium.

Now, I know this is a face of perfectionism, but it is not the only one.

Social media snapshots are a TERRIBLE predictor of real life. I mean, I know I don’t stand in pretty places in pretty clothes, arms akimbo 24/7.  And I do more than eat pretty food and visit pretty places.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about  hashtags in the vein of #allidoiswin #blackgirlswinning, #blackgirlsrock.

I love them, I really do. But, I also know that no one wins all the damn time.

There is a call for people to be more “authentic” online. And while it is sometimes refreshing to see people let down the mask and show us their “jiggle” and the after effects of a panic attack, I really don’t think true transparency is ever possible. We are always performing, if only for ourselves.

So please: this blog post is not a clarion call for black women to showcase the nadirs of their lives within online spaces.

For this too can be another type of performance.

I‘m just wanting to be a little more honest: sometimes I feel more #blackgirltragic than magic. I feel more #flawsandall than #flawless. Sometimes I honestly don’t want to care about “winning” or “being so good they can’t ignore you”.

Sometimes I just want to live and have the freedom to lose.

Serena2

I remember when Serena Williams was set to get the Grand Slam, to win all four major tennis titles in 2015. I always admired how vocal she was about not feeling pressure to win, even as every sportscaster asked her the same damn question Just how nerve-wracking is it, Serena?  I love how she erected such a powerful boundary against the vicarious hopes of others.

She lost that year to a comparatively much lower ranked player.

Serena Williams. The G.O.A.T.

Most commentators blamed the overwhelming pressure placed on her.

Some blamed Drake.

And though it was obvious that she was upset after the loss and wanted that win, Serena Williams’ explanation for her loss was much less dramatic: she just had a bad game.

Serena Williams is one of the most winning athletes ever so it may seem a tad simple-minded to compare her losses to the more mundane ones we face. Most of us don’t have coffers in the millions to return to when we lose face. We aren’t getting photographed by Annie Leibovitz or twerking alongside Beyoncé. 

What we do have in common is this: we are not immune to the siren song of winning. Of beating out the White Girl. Of being Number One always.

Sometimes I will lose. And it doesn’t mean I am letting the “race down”  or that my self-worth has diminished in any way.

I wish society was aligned with my belief. But, I’d be lying if I was to say that the standards of not winning are the same for everyone.

They are so, so not.

If I have kids, I’ll probably give some version of The Talk.

But, I hope to also overly emphasize that I love and see them no matter what trophies they bring home.

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And make no mistake, I know that this call to be better than the best has served us: So many of us out there being Firsts. Earning multiple degrees. Starting world-renowned non-profits. Being the fastest growing percentage of new entrepreneurs.

Black women ARE winning in so many arenas and I abso-fucking-lutlely love it.

The dark side of all this winning (and trust, I love winning! I’m an Aries!) is the belief we can do it all the damn time. That we need to berate and castigate ourselves if we don’t come in first place. 

We are not machines.

It’s okay if you feel more tragic than magic some days. Shit, it’s okay to feel like a giant-ass loser. It’s okay to fail publicly. To not beat the white girl.

Even when you’re a black woman or girl.

Once in a while, even we can loosen the death grip of #alwayswinning and embrace our messy human-ness. I know we may not always feel safe to do this “out there” (I definitely don’t always feel safe to do so) but we can relax and the sky will not fall. I promise 😉

And, I do hope you have someone or better yet, some people, who will still look at you sans diplomas, sans memberships, sans the pretty outfit and think you are fucking stardust in woman-form.

We all deserve that and sometimes the best place to start is looking at our own faces in the mirror with that kind of beatific acceptance.

Part of me growing up is finding ways to celebrate myself when I don’t win, to see my losses not as devastating failures but further evidence that I put myself out there and I tried. I did something.

57 Awesome Quotes by Black Women on Owning Your Weird, Dreaming Big, and Creating Art

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Weirdos, dreamers, and artists have been my saving grace. They have made me feel less alone and misfit-y. They have buoyed me with their words, especially in the form of quotes.

Quirky/weirdo/alt/goth girls of color are having a moment right now. At least they are on my Instagram feed. But, weird isn’t just an aesthetic, constrained to dying ones hair teal or thrifting at Goodwill.

Weird to me is being true to yourself no matter who is watching. It is playing with creative expression. It is giving voice to the stubbornly unnamed. I have been a weird black “girl” when I was wearing a Navy khaki uniform. I know dreamers who serve in the military and artists who swear they are not creative. It is all about the spirit of what we embrace—not necessarily how we appear.

If you are ever looking for inspiration on owning your weird, dreamy, artist self, look no further:

  1. “Don’t wait around for other people to be happy for you. Any happiness you get you’ve got to make for yourself.”

-Alice Walker, Writer

2. “I do have–and I am unafraid to say it–a very distinctive, clear vision of how I want to present myself and my body and my voice and my perspective. And who better to really tell that story than yourself?”

-Solange, Vocal/Performing Artist

3. “People have to start respecting the vagina. Until every man is fighting for our rights, we should consider stopping having sex. I love men. But evil men? I will not tolerate that. You don’t deserve to be in my presence. If you’re going to own this world and this is how you’re going to rule this world, I am not going to contribute anymore until you change it. We have to realize our power and our magic.”

-Janelle Monae, Vocal Artist/Actress

4. “I am not going to die, I’m going home like a shooting star.”

-Sojourner Truth, Activist

5. “If you are living a life that feels right to you, if you’re willing to take creative chances or a creative path that feels like it’s mostly in keeping with your sensibilities, you know, aesthetic and artistic, then that’s what matters.”

-Tracy Chapman, Vocal Artist

6. “For some people it’s never enough. You are never going to be enough, you are never going do enough, so fuck ’em.”

-Samantha Irby, Writer

7.”I was never interested in the bit where {fairy tales} became amazing, and everyone was like, “you’re so amazing.” It was the falling and getting up, and the falling and getting up, and what changed between each fall and each rise … that was the real story for me.”

-Helen Oyeyemi, Writer

8. “If you copy, it means you’re working without any real feeling. No two people on earth are alike, and it’s got to be that way in music or it isn’t music.”

-Billie Holliday

9. “I believe that telling our stories, first to ourselves and then to one another and the world, is a revolutionary act. It is an act that can be met with hostility, exclusion, and violence. It can also lead to love, understanding, transcendence, and community. I hope that my being real with you will help empower you to step into who you are and encourage you to share yourself with those around you.”

-Janet Mock, Writer/Activist

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10. “The thing that makes you exceptional, if you are at all, is inevitably that which must also make you lonely.”

-Lorraine Hansberry, Playwright

11. “For a long time, I wanted to be a different person. I wanted to have my shit together, I wanted to have perpetually clear skin, fucking remember to moisturize. I wanted to not talk too much, slow down and not stutter. I didn’t want to have ADHD. I wanted to be a normal person. And I think that craving and the editing of myself hindered me, so I just stopped editing. And that was all. The embarrassment of being me still stands and exists all the time, every moment, but it’s also learning the acceptance part and also being down to see where me takes me is the part that set me free.”

-SZA

12. “Art hurts. Art urges voyages – and it is easier to stay at home.”

-Gwendolyn Brooks, Writer

13. “I had something I was trying to say and sometimes the message is an easy transmission and sometimes it’s a difficult one but I love the power of saying it so I’m gonna do it whether it’s hard or easy.”

-Faith Ringgold, Visual Artist

14. “Sometimes you’ve got to let everything go – purge yourself. If you are unhappy with anything… whatever is bringing you down, get rid of it. Because you’ll find that when you’re free, your true creativity, your true self comes out.”

-Tina Turner, Vocal Artist

15. “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”

-Maya Angelou, Multi-hyphenate

16. “I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying–trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself.”

-Roxane Gay, Writer/Critic

17. “I wanted to be a superstar. They thought I was the class clown. But I was like, ‘I’m going to be a superstar.’ So when I would get in my room, it was like, if y’all don’t see it, I’m going to create it myself.”

-Missy Elliott, Vocal Artist/Producer

18. “I’m always rebelling. I don’t think I’ll ever stop.”

-Grace Jones, Everything

19. “Should” has so much shame in it. There’s nothing good. ‘You know what you should do?!’ It’s awful! As I get older, I’m having fun being me for the first time. My ability to be present has gotten better.”

-Traci Ellis Ross, Actress

20. “The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is—its to imagine what is possible.”

-bell hooks, Scholar/Writer

21. “I found God in myself and I loved her . . .
I loved her fiercely.”

-ntozake shange, Playwright

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22. “There’s an idea that you need to be a perfect feminist, you need to be a perfect womanist, you need to just not say this or that, and I think it really is kind of honoring yourself and what your internal compass is.”

-Jessica Williams, Actress

23. “When I dare to be powerful—to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

-Audre Lorde, Writer

24. “I’m free. I just do what I want, say what I want, say how I feel, and I don’t try to hurt nobody. I just try to make sure that I don’t compromise my art in any kind of way, and I think people respect that.”

-Erykah Badu, Vocal/Performing Artist

25. “You could either go the traditional way or the other way. I went the other way.”

-Macy Gray, Vocal Artist/Actress

26. “I’m just a loud-mouthed middle-aged colored lady with a fused spine and three feet of intestines missing and a lot of people think I’m crazy. Maybe you do too, but I never stop to wonder why I’m not like other people. The mystery to me is why more people aren’t like me.”

-Flo Kennedy, Activist/Lawyer

27. “The more I wonder…the more I love.”

-Alice Walker, Writer

28. “I used to be afraid of that practice, of constantly trying different things and being all over the place. But I think that, as a young artist, it helped me, so I don’t mind oscillating between all of these different forms now.”

-Mickalene Thomas, Visual Artist

29. “I don’t think life is about the I-could-have-beens. Life is only about the I-tried-to-do. I don’t mind the failure but I can’t imagine that I’d forgive myself if I didn’t try.”

-Nikki Giovanni, Poet

30. “People ask me a lot, Do you have any regrets? Heeeck naw. If I hadn’t done all the things I’d done, I wouldn’t be the amazing human being I am today.”

-Chaka Khan, Vocal Artist

31. “You can’t have relationships with other people until you give birth to yourself.”

-Sonia Sanchez, Poet

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32. “Create the highest, grandest vision possible for your life, because you become what you believe.”

-Oprah Winfrey, Oprah

33. “Feminism is freedom. It’s the freedom to be who you are and not who someone else wants you to be…And science fiction? People ask me–Why have you stuck with science fiction? First of all I say I’m not sure I have–I go wherever my imagination leads me. But second, science fiction is wide open. You can go anywhere your imagination can go.”

-Octavia Butler, Writer

34. “I thrive on obstacles. If I’m told that it can’t be told, then I push harder.”

-Issa Rae, Producer/Actress/Director

35. “I’m a black woman who is from Central Falls, Rhode Island. I’m dark skinned. I’m quirky. I’m shy. I’m strong. I’m guarded. I’m weak at times. I’m sensual. I’m not overtly sexual. I am so many things in so many ways and I will never see myself on screen. And the reason I will never see myself up on screen is because that does not translate with being black.”

-Viola Davis, Actress

36. “This is the world you have made yourself, now you have to live in it.”

-Nina Simone, Vocal Artist

37. “Someone yelled at me once, ‘You never write about yourself.’ People used to get so mad at me for that. But my definition of myself is completely up for grabs. I’m everywhere, just like we all are.”

-Suzan-Lori Parks, Playwright

38. “My purpose is to inspire people to get to know themselves, and then they can get to know the world in a different way. When I see art that I love, I get this tingly feeling, almost like you’re in love. The flutter in your chest. That spark is what changes a person. It’s the whole point of existence. I would love it if my music could make anybody feel like that.”

-Santigold, Vocal Artist

39. “I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else’s whim or to someone else’s ignorance.”

-bell hooks, Scholar/Writer

40. “We danced too wild, and we sang too long, and we hugged too hard, and we kissed too sweet, and howled just as loud as we wanted to howl, because by now we were all old enough to know that what looks like crazy on an ordinary day looks a lot like love if you catch it in the moonlight.”

-Pearl Cleage, Poet

41. “I ain’t good-lookin’, but I’m somebody’s angel child.”

-Bessie Smith

42. “I feel very connected at a fundamental level to every other person I’ve ever met. I know that it sounds really hokey and strange, but it’s a familial relationship to the true sense of that. The ‘human family’ to me really is a concept that I live with every day.”

-Sarah Jones, Playwright

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43. “I do not feel inhibited or bound by what I am. That does not mean that I have never had bad scenes relating to being Black and/or a woman, it means that other people’s craziness has not managed to make me crazy.”

-Lucille Clifton, Writer

44. “I’m not going to give you one story, because I’m more than one thing. Whatever I feel like painting, I just paint it. For me, nothing is off-limits.”

Nina Chanel Abney, Painter

45. “At certain times I have no race, I am me. When I set my hat at a certain angle and saunter down Seventh Avenue, Harlem City, feeling as snooty as the lions in front of the Forty-Second Street Library, for instance. So far as my feelings are concerned, Peggy Hopkins Joyce on the Boule Mich with her gorgeous raiment, stately carriage, knees knocking together in a most aristocratic manner, has nothing on me. The cosmic Zora emerges. I belong to no race nor time. I am the eternal feminine with its string of beads.”

-Zora Neale Hurston, Writer

46. “I always thought of my mother as a warrior woman, and I became interested in pursuing stories of women who invent lives in order to survive.”

-Lynn Nottage, Playwright

47. “A violinist has his violin, a painter his palette. All I had was myself. I was the instrument I must care for.”

-Josephine Baker, Dancer

48. “I cannot tell the truth about anything unless I confess being a student, growing and learning something new every day. The more I learn, the clearer my view of the world becomes.”

-Sonia Sanchez, Poet

49. “We must reject not only the stereotypes that others have of us but also those that we have of ourselves.”

-Shirley Chisolm, Congresswoman

50. “It is important to redefine what sexy is. To redefine style . . . It is important for women to be [in control], especially when gender norms and conformity are pushed upon us. Women automatically are told that this is how you should look. This is how you should get a man. This is how you should get a woman. You need to fit into all these boxes to be accepted. I don’t subscribe to that way of thinking. I don’t think we all have to take the same coordinates to reach the same destination. I believe in embracing what makes you unique even if it makes others uncomfortable. I have learned there is power in saying no. I have agency. I get to decide.”

-Janelle Monae, Vocal Artist/Actress

51. “I have fallen in love with the imagination. And if you fall in love with the imagination, you understand that it is a free spirit. It will go anywhere, and it can do anything.”

-Alice Walker, Writer

52. “I want to say, one of the things that drives me is the fear of failing. But the good thing about being the kind of artist that I know I am, is that even if the ground fell out from under me, I would still make art.”

-Mickalene Thomas, Visual Artist

53. “Do not live someone else’s life and someone else’s idea of what womanhood is. Womanhood is you. Womanhood is everything that’s inside of you.”

-Viola Davis, Actress

54. “I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”

-Audre Lorde, Writer/Activist

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55. “To write for PC reasons, because you think you ought to be dealing with this subject, is never going to yield anything that is really going to matter to anyone else. It has to matter to you.”

-Rita Dove, Poet/Essayist

56. “Young folks will call you names and grown folks will call you names. It’s ok. one day you will name yourself, and that name will belong to you. It will not be the ones they ordained: crazy, ugly, attention-seeking, weirdo. I really hate to tell you this, but sometimes you will still get called these things as an adult, except you will actually embrace some of them. You will learn that these are just words. Words that only have power if you choose to give them power. Every once in awhile they will hurt, but you will choose to turn those words into a symbol of beauty.”

-Solange, Vocal/Performing Artist

57. “The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.”

-Toni Morrison, Writer

I know there are many weirdos, dreamers, and artists NOT on this list. So, please, share away! I’d love to add some more quotes to my vault :)

Onward,

Hannah

Art:

Nyanza D

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Rewrite the Story of Your Body and/or Mutombo and Me

“Each individual woman’s body demands to be accepted on its own terms.”

-Gloria Steinem

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In high school, I found out my nickname was Mutombo. My sister was the one who told me. She had heard a couple kids at our school use it. In case you do not know, Dikembe Mutombo is a 7’2″ former NBA all-star who heralds from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was a defensive dream and holds the second highest record overall for shots blocked.

It of course hurt to hear that this was my nickname. I wasn’t exactly Ms. Confident about my looks in high school and to know that this nickname came from the black kids at my high school hurt even more, it was both likening me to a man and making fun of my African heritage. 

For most of my life, I have carried a pretty complicated relationship with my body. On one hand, there was a deep, albeit small nucleus of belief that I was in fact beautiful and enough. I liked my dark skin, my thick hair, my almond-shaped eyes.

But, then there was the lack of attention from guys my own age.

The magazine covers of women half my size and considerably lighter.

The fact that I was hardly told I was pretty or cute by my family growing up.

Much of the time, I learned to invest in my humor, my smartness, my athletic gifts. I thought prettiness was the domain of a very specific type of girl and I was not her. I learned to make a lot of self-deprecating jokes and pretend that the insensitive words of others barely bothered me.

For many years, I lied to myself in this way.

But, then I couldn’t take the constant inner circus of nervousness, the way I was holding myself back from fully considering myself beautiful. And so, just out of graduating from college, I dove head long into all things feminist theory and body positivity.

It’s been a good ride, which does not mean easy; I’ve had to mine some deep, deep wounds over the ways I’ve been hurt around beauty, but I have discovered a sincere level of comfort and pride in this body that I have.

A couple of months ago, I was invited to take part in a Nasty Woman shoot by a friend. It was a small gathering. Women of all sizes and shapes. And even though I was the only black woman in attendance, I felt a deep kinship with these women.

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After hearing Donald Trump’s disgusting words against women (grab ’em by the pussy, etc, etc) and being inspired by a rugby women’s photo shoot, my friend teamed up with a Oil City, PA photographer  to create a photo series documenting the power of rewriting body stories.

We started the day with a journaling activity, wrote what we most wanted to embody during this shoot on a glass rock. My rock said “Re-write My Story”. Then we stripped completely naked and started to paint each other. It was awkward at first (at least for me) but over time, I almost forgot I had zero clothes on. Each woman was directed to write the derogatory words and phrases we had personally faced regarding our bodies, as well as any cultural beliefs.

Hearing the words these women have faced was alarming and so, so sad. Sometimes all we could each do was shake our heads in incredulity at the cruelty that women too often face about their bodies. There was one of us who was told by a stranger that she had “good dick sucking lips”, another woman whose father would call her “porky”, a new mother who was told that her breastfeeding in public was disgusting and gross.

On my body, there were words like “man” and “pretty…for a dark-skinned girl” and “there goes a big bitch!”. Across my back I had a woman write “Black women aren’t pretty, it’s science” to account for all the reductive pseudoscience garbage, all the Most Beautiful lists that negate black women, all the ways in which apparently black women are seen as less than.

We took a series of pictures and then we washed off the paint. Amidst the faded colors, we started to write the words we saw in each other. Words like “strong”, “beautiful”, “enough”, and “sensual”.

The new words mixed in with the paint of the old stories. Despite our washing off of the old words, part of their messages still lingered on us.

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It was a good lesson of the path of deep body love and satisfaction. For the initial part of my life, I chose to ignore the words and ideas centered around my body. As I started my healing journey, there was a part of me that just wanted to blast these stories away, erase them for good.

But, it rarely works that way.

Those stories will always be there. They are a part of my prologue and to make them disappear would be to erase just how much they have deepened my compassion for myself and for others. I have to see the pain of those words to truly heal. “Thinking positive” and forgetting are band-aids, short-term forms of assistance. It is the reckoning with our pasts with eyes wide open that truly instigates the deeper healing. 

I am so, so grateful I got to take part in this series. Admittedly, I am still a little apprehensive of posting my naked pictures on the internet, but I hope that one day I will have the courage to do so. They are beautiful images. (Another friend wrote a beautiful blog post about the experience and you can find some of the images here.)

I think the reason body positivity has become such a popular movement is because so many people, women especially, crave a space to redefine their body stories. We are given so many messages about our level of worth as dictated by our bodies. And we have had enough.

Of course, you don’t have to participate in a naked photo shoot (unless you want to!) to rewrite the story of your body.

Here are three ways to Re-Write the Story of Your Body :

  1. Free-Write : Go somewhere quiet with a journal and pen. Set a timer for 15-20 minutes. Write as fast as you can with no attention to syntax, spelling, or clarity about your body story. After you are finished writing, read the page. What images/memories arose? Which one is most plaguing you today? Commit to healing the idea that is the most salient for you.

2. Pick a body part that you have a hate/hate relationship with, perhaps one that others have remarked negatively about. For 30 days, spend 1-5 minutes praising its merits in the mirror. Notice how difficult this may be. When mean-spirited thoughts and objections arise, notice them too and let them go. Continue anyway and know that you can always come back to this act.

3. On a piece of large construction paper, draw an outline of your body, big enough to write in. Write all the negative stories you’ve internalized and heard about various body parts, your worries and fears. Use a red pen if you can. Crumple up that paper, burn it (in a way that doesn’t result in accidental arson) if you so desire. Then get out another piece of paper and draw an outline of your body and write the stories/words you’d like to really inhabit. Pin this somewhere you can see everyday. Practice giving yourself what you need.

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Mutombo and Me

Rewriting your body story will probably take time, so commit to being patient with yourself during this process. It’s hardly ever a one shot deal.

When I was living in New York and active duty Coast Guard, I volunteered for an NBA Cares event in Brooklyn. And who walks in but Dikembe Mutombo. His voice is as raspy and big as you’d expect from those Geico commercials, and his presence made grown adults act with the same fervent delight usually reserved for toddlers. I was already about six years deep into my body healing journey and when I posed with him, I thought how funny it was that I got to actually meet the same dude whose name had plagued me so in high school.

I instantly thought backwards to teenage Hannah, so unsure about who she was, so willing to let others dictate how she felt about her beauty and worth in the world. I did not and do not hate that girl. For it was her kernel of belief in something better that has gotten me here today. 

Here’s to rewriting our stories and giving a big No-No Mutombo finger wag at anything that gets in our way.

Onward,

Hannah

 

 

3 Ways to Find the Goddess That Don’t Involve Instagram Hashtags

“An uneasy reaction to the word Goddess is common among women. Thousands of years of repression, hostility, and conditioning against a Divine Mother have made a deep impression on us. We’ve been conditioned to shrink back from the Sacred Feminine, to fear it, to think of it as sinful, even to revile it. And it would take a while for me to deprogram that reaction, to unpack the word and realize that in the end, Goddess is just a word. It simply means the divine in female form.”

-Sue Monk Kidd, Dance of the Dissident Daughter

Oya inspired art I made
Oya inspired art I made

I used to think the only way one could incorporate the goddess into your life was to don clothes of the white toga variety, be a woman who wore flower crowns in the dead of winter and frolic around in green pastures a la Julie Andrews.

I have written about how I had to face some difficult truths about how I shallowly tried to embrace the Divine Feminine (here, here, and here) in what I called my Divine Feminine Fallacy.

But, how does one incorporate more Sacred Feminine energy into their lives beyond a t-shirt screen-printed with the word Goddess Is Me in Helvetica Bold or creative hashtags on Instagram? How do we go far beyond pure commercialism, “buying” our goddess energy as it were, instead of being in it? Learning about it?

How we start to unwind from the conditioning we have all faced in terms of this word and its associations?

There are times I fear the we are having a reoccurring “girl power” moment, one where we shallowly praise women and barely graze the deep-seated misogyny that undergirds most of our society. We make peace signs and yell GURL POWA and call it a day.

I want more. I want this damn world to be transformed by this energy. And part of that change starts with us.

This is by no means an exhaustive or total list, but I hope it can be a guide for you, Goddess. I really do.

  1. Explore and Accept What You Truly Feel When You Hear the Word Goddess

Do you cringe? Sideways laugh? I remember having to stifle a major orb shifting eye roll when I would first hear the word goddess. Granted, I was living in Portland, Oregon AKA Land of the Rainy Earth Mother. I was working with a holistic health counselor who was based in NYC and when she started incorporating goddess stories into her telephone work with me, I was like Et tu, Brute?

I was a girl who played basketball, went to military school, a black woman who was often expected to be tougher than who I was. I heard the word “goddess” used to describe beautiful women, but could not see how this word actually related to my day to day existence.

Now, I see that my inner discomfort at hearing this word was revealing some deep seated stuff. The ways I felt estranged from fully inhabiting my femininity. The ways in which I was raised to see God purely in masculine terms. The ways in which I equated anything associated with the Feminine with a certain brand of weakness and silliness despite my feminist leanings.

Yemoja inspired art by moi
Yemoja inspired art by moi, those boobs are shells

So, be honest about how the word makes you feel. Write it out. Talk with your friends about. Dig deep. Does it feel gimmicky? Do you worry your priest will find you in your new neighborhood and dole out 500 Hail Marys (how ironic) if you were to use it? Sit with your feelings. Notice what emerges. Live the answers.

2. Explore Your Own Cultural Path of the Goddess and read some books 

Part of the reason I was a little disenchanted with the Rainy Earth Mother Goddesses of Portland, OR was how some of these women seemed to be picking out goddesses to “invoke” like they were putting together a celestial grab-bag: A little Kali over here. A dash of Brigid here. A smattering of Athena and Hera over there. And when I heard there was a small group of uninitiated women who were worshipping the deities Oya an Osun, I was even more annoyed.

This is not to say one cannot study or learn from goddesses that do not necessarily “belong” to your culture. I will forever have a crush on Greek mythology, I love the stories of Amateratsu and Guanyin and Isis.

As a second-generation Yoruba woman, I know that my lineage contains stories of Oba, Osun, Oya, and Yemoja to name a few. They are not necessarily goddesses, but they are divine and they are female. Not every black woman in the diaspora has the gift of knowing where she came from, but there are many goddesses to  know (Abiola Abrams has an awesome starter pack of Goddess Cards only featuring those of black/African descent!)

Still, I am clear that I do not worship any of these deities. I do not invoke them or make altars in ways that are solely for the initiated. Perhaps one day this may change, but as of now, I am okay with being a student of the goddess.

What’s your lineage and what are the stories of feminine deities that are located in your own history? How do those stories make you feel today?

And if you like reading, well….

A Couple Books All About the Goddess/Sacred Feminine : Finding Soul on the Path of the Orisa by Tobe Melora Correal,  The Chalice and the Blade by Riane Elser, Pussy by Regena Thomashauer, Woman Who Run with the Wolves by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, When God was a Woman by Merlin Stone and Divining the Self: A Study of Yoruba Myth and Human Consciousness by Velma Love.  (Just to name a few!)

Osun inspired art by Hannah Eko
Osun inspired art by Hannah Eko

3. Find a Your Own Goddess Journey and Walk It

When I first started reading about the goddess, I wanted to ape the journeys of women like Sue Monk Kidd or Meggan Watterson or Clarissa Pinkola Estes. I didn’t think my journey was all that interesting. I needed to travel to an ashram, become some sort of priestess, have the same exact synchronous mystical experiences as these women did.

I could not be a tall blerd* reading Dance of the Dissident Daughter on the R train and journaling in 54 cent composition books.

No, that was not intense enough.

But, really, the Goddess is wherever we are. Some find a closer relation to her by examining the demographics of their churches. Some find her by getting in touch with their bodies though a Wednesday gentle yoga class. Some find her when they are walking home from a party and take care to notice their breath and the ways they are connected to all that is life. Some find her by exploring their sexuality or reading female empowerment stories to their grandchildren of any gender.

There is no special certification or pre-requisite for exploring the Goddess. No timeline or six-week course. You don’t have to wear a toga or change religions. You can be who you are, committing to explore the Goddess in a way that works for you. You can be any gender and any age.

You can be you.

In my gradual acceptance of who I am, I have been able to host goddess groups with willing (yay!) friends, performed goddess ceremonies twice this summer, and last year I went to Nigeria FOR FREE to study (but what else?) the goddess in the form of Oya, Osun, and Yemoja. I have talked to strangers about the assumed gender of God and about once a month, some person I barely know calls me a goddess.

That girl on the R train who was aching for a deeper connection to the Sacred Feminine would be so proud. But, I didn’t know HOW any of this would occur. I just wanted it.

And here it is. Right on time.

I wonder what your goddess journey will look like for you. :)

Onward,

Hannah

 

*black nerd. (And proud.)

 

 

 

 

I’ve Got That Summertime Madness : Happy Summer Solstice

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My favoritest season is here! June 21st marks the Summer Solstice for us people in the Northern Hemisphere and is a time for truly shining forth, being outward directed, and getting moving.

It’s hard not to love Summer. Summer is often the arena of vacations, lazy days binge watching Netflix san guilt, and enjoying the deliciousness of being outdoors. I love Summer so much that I can even recall my summer school experiences from third grade to my first-year at military school with a smile. (And I got my bottom wisdom teeth pulled and was taking Calculus during my last summer school experience.)

In Taoism, Summer alongside Spring are the two “masculine” energy oriented seasons. This does not mean that there is not room for more inward dwelling feminine energies, but that Summer is the time to take action: Publish shit. Travel. Bring that new project to life. Date like a hedonist. Meet new people.

In Fall, we start to shed what doesn’t serve us and slow down.

In Winter our roots grew deeper and stronger and we go deep.

In Spring, we probably saw the first evidences of our winter introspection and took more muted steps toward action.

In Summer, we go all out. We get out there and let the world greet us as we are. We are unashamed about listening to our pleasure as a guidepost to living with meaning.

I wish you all a bountiful, beautiful Summer my friends.

Here are some questions and prompts for summertime reflection.

cartoon of black woman with natural hair and dark skin, butterlies land on her and she is wearing multicolored bracelets

Summer Questions for Reflection:

-How can you show up big and bright for summer?

And “big and bright” is totally your definition. Summer is a time to shake things up, move far beyond the tried and true and show up as our outrageous, quirky selves. We all have things (please let them be at least sorta legal) we’ve wanted to try and be. How can you honor what small pictures of growth you saw in Spring and shine them even larger during Summer? Is it wearing something a little risqué? Going to a concert solo? Finally telling that sort of toxic friend you’ve let hang on for too long to fuck off? Channel the largess of a mid-1990s diva and take up space this summer in the beauty of you.

-What is the biggest thing you learned from Spring?

Growth can feel sorta spurty and half-there in Spring. But, trust: you learned a lot if you just look for the lessons. Sometimes you have to look extra hard, but too often we rush through life without any real time of reflection. This is especially true for those of us who have said goodbye to the time-markers of graduation and end of semester days. What did you learn in the space from March 20th (the Spring Equinox) to now? Write it down. Honor that shit 😊

-What is one daily or weekly practice of showing up can you commit to?

Summer is all about outward directed action and launchings of all kinds.

This is the time to start Acting As If. Act as if you are publishing all the stuff you want to. Act as if you love your body and think you’re the sexiest person in your region. Act as if you already take exquisite care of yourself. Act as if you are the parent, teacher, student, candle stick maker you so wish to be.

Again, summer is about taking bold (see what I did there?) steps my friends. Sometimes you may feel kinda silly Acting As If. Acknowledge it. Then continue to Act As If and you’ll be surprised at how natural it starts to feel.

Watercolor painting of Lauryn Hill gazing upwards to large yellow sun with large hoop earrings against green background

-How can you bring in more nurturing, slow energy for Summer?

Much like Spring, it is still important to slow down on occasion during Summer. I enjoy just sitting, not looking at my phone, but just sitting in public shaded places staring into space like a weirdo. (Try it, you’ll love it.) I also am starting to fall back in love with naps. Another thing I do when I remember: before rushing from one location to another, I pause for three seconds. I hold my key to the door of my apartment or I purposely sit an extra five seconds in my car before I start grocery shopping. These tiny instances of pausing can do WONDERS for your day.

Happy Summer everyone! Stay safe and beautiful.

Onward,

Hannah

Art: Simone Digital, Akeisha Walters, and Annelie Solis

 

Feelings Are Not Milk

“There is one thing that, when cultivated and regularly practiced, leads to deep spiritual intention, to peace, to mindfulness and clear comprehension, to vision and knowledge, to a happy life here and now, and to the culmination of wisdom and awakening. And what is that one thing? It is mindfulness centered on the body.”

The Buddha, from the Satipatthana Sutta

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What Happens: Your very close friend of forever tells you with happiness that she is engaged to a Good Guy.

What You Want to Feel: Exuberant joy and effervescence for her good fortune.

What YOU Do Feel: Bitter, slow churning anger in your gut. A heavy dollop of sadness that coats your entire chest. A severe jealously that you are 100% sure is blaring from your eyes and forced smile.

What You Do: You hug and congratulate your friend. Joke about ugly bridal dresses all while entertaining a raucous inner dialogue of Why Am I Such a Bitch? Why Can’t I Feel Happy for My Friend? What is Wrong With Me?

And maybe you go home and you try to shake these bad emotions from your mind as if they are raindrops along an umbrella. You reason: you should be happy. He’s smart and deep and treats your friend with grace. You love your friend.

Still the feelings persist no matter how much you talk yourself out of them. They follow you from bridal shower to wedding day, only dulling with time but never truly moving.

We all have feelings that seem to land on us from out of nowhere. Emotions that are ways away from what we want or expect to feel. A gleeful happiness when a colleague announces they didn’t get a prestigious grant. A welling of grief when we say goodbye to that one really toxic friend. Comparing ourselves to supermodels even when we know it’ll only depress us.

Sometimes, I think we forget that feelings are not milk.

They have no shelf-life, no labels detailing how many servings to ingest. They don’t stay neatly inside a container.

Emotions have a wisdom of their own–even when it feels like quite the opposite.

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In our feelings-averse, feminine-hating society, emotions get a bad rap. Especially the strong ones. Especially the strong ones when experienced by women: Jealousy. Anger. Grief. Frustration. Raucous joy. Sexual abandon.

We are told to “calm down”. To “think positive”.

(As if that shit always works, as if it is healthy and wise to stuff down our most intense emotions with twee platitudes of JUST BE HAPPY.)

What we not told is that feelings are truth. We don’t need to act on them, express them (like, yeah, no need to tell your newly engaged friend I HATE YOU BITCH AND WISH IT WAS MEEEEEE!!!!!!). We are not told that once we began to greet our feelings with curiosity, openness, and a hello, we start to learn and engage in the world more honestly.

So, how do we do that?

One way I have been learning to engage with my feelings in a real, tangible way is dancing.

Yes, dancing.

I don’t slip into choreography the minute I have a feeling, cuz, well, I do need to keep a job and my students might be just a bit confused if I started to gyrate in the midst of a lesson on writing closing arguments.

I have playlists for certain emotions.

Pissed AF.

SAD!

Hey, Jealousy.

Perk Me Up.

(One of my favorite tasks in the world is making themed playlists.)

I put on my music. Loud. If my boyfriend is sleeping soundly or I am away from home, then I slip on my ear buds. And I move.

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I got this technique from Mama Gena and Jess Grippo, two women who know that our feelings are nothing to run from or interrogate away.

When I first started Dancing with My Feelings, I felt all kinds of silly. Sometimes when my boyfriend would amble out of the bedroom all bleary eyed to go to the bathroom, I would freeze like I was caught doing something indecent.

No more.

Sometimes we forgot that we are not just heads attached to clouds. Emotions are called “feelings” for a really good reason: they show up in our bodies. This is part of the reason we try and run away from them, the discomfort is not solely located in our racing thoughts and attitudes, but in our chests, stomachs, shoulders, backs, and jaws.

Dancing helps me to move with the feeling. To give it a language beyond reasoning and meditation. I let my hips circle through envy and my arms snake their way through confusion. I get on my knees and pound the floor with my anger in beat to a headbanger.

We are not taught to do this. We are taught to bottle up and be Appropriate, to be a Nice Girl, and to pretend that all we have what Mama Gena calls a “vanilla emotional life”.

I say no more.

When I hear of another unarmed black person shot, I dance out my feelings of powerlessness and fear. When I am mired in creative self-doubt, I take a break to shimmy. When anxiety threatens to dull my message, I close my office door and I dance.

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I think dancing with our feelings is especially important for black women and women in color in general. We have to police our emotions even more vigilantly in a racist society that refuses to see us as full human beings.

Dancing can help us be truthful with ourselves, to give ourselves a gift of deep honesty.

And usually, something beautiful happens: my feelings reveal their wisdom to me. They tell me of my deepest insecurities, they speak of actions I can actively take, they assure me that I am still worthy of love and celebration.

Sometimes I end up crying. Or laughing hysterically. Or I sit in a quiet self-satisfied glow.

Everything is welcome. I may look crazy but I feel so free I don’t really give a shit.

The next time you experience a feeling you “shouldn’t” be feeling: dance that shit out. It will feel counterintuitive at first but whatever your body is called to do, let it do. You don’t have to best Ciara or even dance on beat.

If you want to sink to the floor in despair and shake your wrist limply, because you feel like a loser compared to all your “30 Under 30” friends, do that. If you want to twerk in front of your hallway mirror after seeing your ex all hugged up on someone new, do it. Write big and loopy in a journal in blood red ink. Wind up the windows in your car and scream like a banshee.

Let your body lead.

Feel.

Move.

Onward,

Hannah

Art: Oresegun Olumide, Mahmahmoud Said, S.C. Versillee, Dion Pollard More

Loving the Unloved Girl

geraldsanderspicture

One day I went on a weekend bike trip in Ohio with my boyfriend. It was all awesome and good until he pointed out a deer and I looked a bit too long, crashed into his bike, and fell to the ground.

I wasn’t badly hurt–mainly just grumpy, but I could not wait to soak in our hotel’s whirlpool and ease my aching shins, arms, and ego.

Once at the hotel, I lowered myself into the bubbling hot tub, probably even emitted a long soda-commercial “aaaaahhhhh” as the water enveloped my entire body. It was late and the swimming pool area was completely empty.

Seconds after I entered the steaming waters, a woman knocked at the window. I groaned. No way did I want to exit the whirlpool, but she stood there, waving at me from afar. I sighed loudly and left the pool, the cold instigating goosebumps along my arms and made my way to the door. I cursed the lady under my breath for forgetting her hotel key and quickly wrapped a towel around my waist.

As I got closer to the door, I realized the woman was not a woman.

It was a little girl, probably about eight or nine years old.

Immediately, I felt bad, and wondered if she had seen my pissed countenance the entire time I had walked toward her. I softened my face, tried to offer a welcome smile and opened the door.

merryjayepicture

The little girl had her hair wound in the same candy-ball baubles my mom used to braid my hair into when I was her age. Her skin was dark brown and radiant in the way that only really young children can shine. But, her face carried a faint quiver, she had clearly seen how I had looked when I got out of the pool and her fear was evident.

“I just wanted to say hi,” she said softly.

She tried to smile.

“Hi,” I said. I offered the widest smile I could.

Her smile grew more. She waved again and then she walked away.

I am thinking of this story a lot lately. How I mistook that little girl for a grown woman and was set to open the door with an attitude. Once I realized how young she was, I quickly decided to treat her with compassionate kindness.

There are times when the unloved and unwanted girl within me speaks and I treat her like a grown woman. I am short with her. Annoyed, sometimes even downright angry. I wonder why she can’t just get it together. I reason with her, lecture, ignore her. I withhold all manners of compassion.

The unloved girl who reaches for instantaneous fame, sugary foods, negative thoughts, stale friendships is not a grown woman. She is a girl. She does not react to “reason” or “logic” for she is pure, raw feeling, as children usually are. All she wants to say is hello, to have me welcome her and ask her what she needs in that moment.

fulltenpicture

It is tough to do this. We don’t exactly live in the Age of Introspection. We are taught to beat our “badness” into submission.  But I am getting better. I know there are ways in which I learned to reach for substitutes for true love and instead of being afraid or dismissive of these impulses, I am now choosing to say hello.

There is reoccurring theme in many meditation circles of holding our pain, greeting it, letting it be as big as it needs to be. Of saying hi how ya? to our anxiety, jealously, procrastination, grief, and anger. Some meditation teachers even liken it to sitting down for a meal.

That little girl at that Ohio hotel taught me something so profound that day and I am still digging deeper and deeper into this lesson. I forget the lesson and then I remember, I circle lower and lower into the healing this teaching requires, growing the entire time.

It all comes down to being where we are. Greeting our pain with open arms and offering ourselves what we did not get as children. For some it is a gentle reminder that it is okay to be different. For others, it may be permission to set boundaries, to eat slowly and mindfully, or to love ourselves even when we fuck up.

For me, it’s a bit of all the above.

I am learning to greet all my selves with a hello and to love that unloved girl within me. Every time I take the minutes to acknowledge her presence, to tell her that I still love her, that I hear her cry for attention, care, celebration, or connection, her cries lesson.

In the end, all she really wants to do is get my attention.

My hope for you: that you greet your pain and unloved portions of your heart with open arms. Journal, take a walk, cry, listen to sappy songs, do whatever makes that little unloved girl (or boy) feel heard. Ask them what they need for you to do.

And it all starts with a simple hello.

Onward,

Hannah

Art: Gerald Sanders, Merry Jaye, and last picture attributed to fullten