Sometimes I Make Art For All The Wrong Reasons

Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, and then for a few close friends, and then for money.

-Moliere

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I read a magazine article the other day.

(Though sometimes, I don’t even know why I pick up glossies; since 89% I will look up from their artsy pages thirsting for culottes ((And I don’t even like culottes! but they were in the Spring issue and the model wearing them was striding down some urban landscape looking all mod and confident, so…)) and wanting to try some diet that involves cantaloupe-mango shots.)

It must be the pretty pictures.

(Advertisers are the devil.)

But, my recent perusal netted me this idea for a blog post, so there’s a positive.

I was scanning through the Essence Black Women in Hollywood issue and came across Lupita Nyong’o’s gorgeousness and an accompanying full page quote. I can only paraphrase now (since I was cheap and read the magazine in the store) but it was something about how Nyong’o never worried about being famous or well-paid, she was always just looking to get lost in good, meaty acting roles.

Lupita Nyong’o is a Piscean goddess who was probably birthed from a large seashell as King Poseidon and a host of black mermaids swam by singing in falsetto.

I bet the woman can heal the sick and communicate with cats.

My name is Hannah Eko: And I sometimes make art for all the wrong reasons.

I make art to get noticed. Barely caring that it will do Good or Inspire Others.

Continue reading Sometimes I Make Art For All The Wrong Reasons

Wild

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On a random whim, I went to the zoo. Zoos are already sad but on days with a high of 25 degrees Fahrenheit and snow on the ground, even worse.

The animals seemed slow and tired and most of them were sequestered away indoors.

I spent a lot of time in the elephant barn because it was warm and elephants are graceful and just emit this wisdom from their all watching black eyes. But maybe I am making this up.

They were in a space way too tight for their mammoth frames. Bars cut their bodies in half from my view. One elephant, Tasha was alone because she was rumored to be a bit of a “bully” according to the zookeeper.

And I thought: I’d be pissed as fuck too if I was trapped in a place that toned down my bigness and fed me stupid carrots and kids gawked at me and I really wasn’t into the other elephants I was around.

And then I thought: maybe that’s why I’m pissed in some ways too. Because there is something wild and weird and spontaneous inside that I keep shut up. Maybe we both just want to be free, maybe we just need more space. Maybe we’re not bullies after all.

I left the exhibit with a heavier chest and heart but it helped me to really see something I’ve been dancing around my entire life: the cost of not being free. Of trying to downplay my bigness.

I don’t know my next move. I’m learning right now to just be with this question and to open up to the wild, sometimes illogical impulses that seem to be calling to me.

May you find space to let yourself be as big and wild and messy and you as possible. Especially in a world that rewards Good Girls and Quiet, Non-Complaining Black and Brown People.

For me, I am tired of the inner and outer bars.

I am ready to be inwardly Free.

Onward,

Hannah

 

Why I Quit The Trauma Olympics

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(This post contains some graphic descriptions of bodily injury, so if that’s not for you, stop reading now.)

On the first ship I was assigned to, the Sealand Florida, one of the longshoreman lost a finger. It may have been two. We were arriving into port, I think it was Houston or Beaumont and suddenly there is a frantic call to the bridge via radio.

Some mooring lines, the ropes that tether ships of exceptional tonnage of large container ships like the Sealand Florida to a dock, can become so tense when stretched that if they should snap, they have been known to cut a man’s leg clean off with machete preciseness. They can carry so much strength that if you accidentally get your fingers caught against a bulwark and the line, your fingers will leave a mangled, bloody mess.

They sent me, the lucky deck cadet down to escort the injured man via elevator upstairs to the medical room. I remember that this particular longshoreman was one of the youngest members on board, not much older than my nineteen years, and that the space where his fingers should be looked like squished tomatoes. I remember he was crying.

In my shock and thinking words were useless, I said nothing as we rode up the several flights. I just prayed and wished the elevator would go up faster.

I still regret that. That I said nothing.

But, what do you say to someone in that situation?

Sorry? I hope you feel better? It’s going to be okay?

The Trauma Olympics is when people assert their trauma as a justification for terrible behavior. It’s when people belittle someone else’s pain because it isn’t as large as their own or doesn’t meet their staunch criteria of Things People Should Be Hurt About. 

It’s that friend who when you tell them of a recent heartbreak says Well, you should hear what happened to me, trust me, you don’t know heartbreak…

Or

I mean, she’s over here complaining about her family, but I can tell you my family is much worse…

Continue reading Why I Quit The Trauma Olympics

Not All Black Girls Know How To Eat #2: An Interview with Jennifer Sterling

Hello Beautiful People,

Welcome to: Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat #2. (For Part One, here ya’ go…)

I’m constantly searching and scrounging around for personal growth stuff, especially in terms of eating. I entered the self-help world mainly through my haphazard, strained relationship with eating and my body.

I wanted a life free from constant body dissatisfaction and eating my feelings through the portal of Cadbury Roasted Almond Chocolate bars.

I found many wellness coaches, eating disorder specialists, health gurus and body positivity warriors. Many of them white women. And while I gained a lot from their level of mastery, I wanted a more culturally nuanced view.

Someone who got why if “eating clean” meant forsaking jollof rice, I was, um, not gonna do it.

Enter Jennifer Sterling. Jennifer is the Holistic Nutritionist and Wellness Coach of my fucking dreams. She’s a former pole dance instructor, went to culinary school, and is well-versed in black girl wellness. Her weekly emails about healing from trauma and learning to nurture ourselves with food instead of numb ourselves, buoy me upwards every time I read them. She doesn’t believe in diets or that health only comes in one size. She is also the founder of the Black Girl Healing Project.

She is amazing and has gracefully agreed to be interviewed here. I hope you enjoy and definitely, definitely check out her site! You won’t regret it.

Jennifer Sterling
Jennifer Sterling

Please tell us all a little about yourself, Jennifer. What are three things we would not know about you just by looking at you (weird, random factoids welcome!)

I am a Holistic Nutritionist, plant-based chef and creative arts therapy candidate. I help women learn to eat intuitively and nourish themselves physically, mentally and emotionally. Three things that no one would know about me by just looking at me? I taught pole dancing for about 8 years, I owned an allergen-free baking business for about 6 years, and I play the alto saxophone.

What led you to become a holistic nutritionist?

My interest in nutrition came from a desire to heal myself. When I was in college, I started experiencing recurrent yeast infections, headaches, and fatigue. I saw several doctors, and everyone swore there was nothing wrong with me – my blood work came back normal and it appeared that everything was fine. After a few years of feeling like I was getting nowhere, I decided to take my health into my own hands and do a little research on my own. As I was researching, I discovered that the way I was eating was contributing to my symptoms. I changed the way I was eating and many of my symptoms disappeared – discovering the power of food for myself, made me want to share it with others, especially since it was never mentioned anytime I saw a doctor. I didn’t want other women to have to suffer for as long as I did.

What issues do you find particularly affecting women of color with eating/body image? Are these issues being addressed in your opinion?

The issues I see affecting women of color have more to do with bigger societal issues – the thought that women of color can’t or don’t suffer from eating disorders, and women of color feeling as though they have to look a certain way based on societal norms.

There are some conversations that are happening around these issues – some acknowledgement that anyone can have an eating disorder, no matter what their shape or size. Sometimes, it is assumed that only a thin person can have an eating disorder, and this is not the case.

I think with the anti-diet movement that’s happening now, a lot of body image issues are being addressed – as more practitioners come to understand the dangers of dieting for weight loss, there is more talk about body kindness, self-love and acceptance. I think these conversations and understandings will be helpful for all women.

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What is the one piece of wisdom you would offer to a woman wishing to heal her relationship with food?

Let go of dieting and everything that goes with it – counting calories, weigh-ins, etc. – and focus instead on the needs of your body. There is no one size fits all diet and 95% of people who diet end up gaining the weight back plus some within 5 years – learning to eat in a way that makes you feel good physically, mentally, and emotionally is much more sustainable and supportive of your overall health than eating to control the size of your body.

What mainstream nutritionist advice or guidance do you find problematic, especially in regard to women of color?

That you need to be or have to be vegan to be healthy. I see this a lot on social media, especially on accounts run by women of color. Being vegan is great, if it works for your body – if you feel energized, satisfied, and well when you eat that way long-term. It’s not the only way, however. For some, eating high-quality animal protein is helpful.

In general, I find any nutrition advice that only focuses on one way of eating to be problematic. We’re not all the same, and we don’t all have the same needs when it comes to food and eating.

What is your favorite meal? Dessert?

My favorite meal…that’s a tricky one! I love mac and cheese, pizza, and tacos. What can I say, I’m a nutritionist, but I love comfort food. Who doesn’t!?!

My favorite dessert. Hmmm….sweet potato pie!

And a curiosity of mine: can you give us your inspiration behind your sign-off, “hugs and curves”?

For sure! It was inspired by the years I spent as a pole dancing instructor – so much of that work was about helping women to celebrate and appreciate their curves. That sign-off is meant to be an extension of that work – offering support with a hug and a little encouragement to embrace your curves.

So, please remind us again, where can we find you?

You can find me on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook @jennmsterling or visit my website: jennifersterling.com for more info about me and my work.

Thank you so much Jennifer!

I hope this interview has helped some of you out there. Eating does not have to be a struggle and I am learning this along with you. I too have succumbed to notions that there is a “right” way to eat and look, but I am happy to say, that this type of thinking is fading away. I truly hope all of us can find the freedom to be our best selves in our bodies, and that we can learn to treat them with grace and love through the way we eat.

Onward,

Hannah

 

Redefining Sexy

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It kinda all started when Blake Shelton was named Sexiest Man Alive 2017 by the authority of authorities on sexiness, People Magazine.

So me and a friend started talking about what has been universally accepted as sexy these days: What images proliferate in our media. Think pieces on how Beyoncé, Kim K, or Rihanna have “changed” the way women experience their sexuality and sensuality. Does personality count? The ways in which strip club culture has altered the conversation on Sexy.

Lately, I have been paying closer attention to my body in the world. When it expands. When it contracts. When I feel that anxious tightening in my chest or clamping down over my ribcage. When butterflies start. And stop.

During our text conversation, I felt my body constrict, like a dozen thin ropes were wrapped around my mid-section. In the past, I would have ignored this tell-tale signal and blustered forward in intellectual conversation. But, yesterday, I stayed with my body.

I started to think about what I had been told was sexy, the images and attitudes that came into sharper focus once I got to junior high. I thought of Beyoncé in the Baby Boy video. I thought about rappers comments about their love for “honeys with the light eyes” and the current hyper-fascination with big asses. I thought about duck faced selfies and hour-glass silhouettes. I thought about how American-made porn dictates much of what the world is supposed to find sexy.

Sometimes, I think about how I should “already know this”.  Shouldn’t I already have accepted that what I believe doesn’t always jive with what the culture sees as sexy? Haven’t I read enough feminist theory, books about sexuality, blog posts by sensuality coaches? Haven’t I browsed Babeland and She-Bop enough in my lifetime? Shouldn’t I already have an expanded view of sex and sexuality and how I fit into it?

Earlier this week, I read this quote from Bethany Webster:

“Cognitive understanding is very important but it isn’t enough to transform us and create lasting, meaningful change…Concepts are like seeds of transformation, that when dropped into the body can take root and begin to transform us on the deepest levels. When we gobble concepts it is a superficial action. What creates lasting transformation is fully digesting the concepts and allowing them to sink deeply into our bodies, where the alchemy takes place.

Transformation has its own organic timeline that is out of our hands. It cannot be rushed. We cannot control or predict it. This truth can be hard to swallow, especially because our culture sends the message that success is equivalent to control and timely “results”.”

I had been “eating” up the truth about what sexy was for a long time, but the deeper understanding of it was not connected in any real way to my body. So while I was espousing a belief that sexy was more than gyrations and “acceptable” hip-to-waist ratios and long hair, etc. etc., the truth was that deeper in my body, I didn’t really believe it.

The truth is that my views are very much aligned with what the culture has declared as Sexy.

Even now.

This can be traced to living in a culture that devalues women and their experiences. If we are taught that men are superior to women, then it follows that male opinion is more important than what women opine. It is therefore imperative to focus on what men, especially the most powerful men, define as desirable and good and oh-so-sexy. Women must take their cues from their desires and fall in line.

And so, if the idea of Sexy is Kim K and women who look similarly and a handful of Victoria Secret Models and the “hot” yogi or what have you, then this is sexy. End of story.

The rest of us are just there.

I do know that sexuality and sensuality and attraction to who we name as the Sexiest People in our society isn’t a neatly drawn line between women and men. I know that “not all men” find the same women sexy.

However, I also know that there is still a very narrow definition of what constitutes sexy: it is young and immaculate and usually white-or-near-white looking. It is often performative. It is frequently divorced from how women actually experience their bodies. It is sterile and open mouthed and always eager to please.

Part of my journey in revising my relationship to my body, untying myself from the patriarchy is really digging deep in the most common assumptions I make about the world. This includes what I have define as Sexy.

Taking a moment to center.
Taking a moment to center.

The largest leap I made when entering the world of burlesque was not physical. It was not the tassel twirling or the hip shimmies, the bump-or-grinds or the standing split (which my ass can’t do without killing myself anyways.)

It was learning to see myself as a sexy woman.

More importantly, it was feeling sexy.

For so long, despite my reading of Audre Lorde’s Uses of the Erotic, I had pretty much accepted that only certain types of bodies and women could be seen as sexy. I was more comfortable being funny and theatrical, because that was where I saw myself. Girls and women like me, weren’t seen as inherently sexy and feminine.

Intellectually, I knew this was bullshit, but I would literally find myself unable to do certain movements or flirtations in burlesque class due to these mental formations. And when I did, I felt stupid and silly. I was afraid people might laugh at me, that they would smell my awkward display of sensuality a mile away.

I felt like some kind of impersonator, that I was behaving like what Sexy “should” be. A kind of sexy that had no real connection to my living, breathing body.

But, I kept going. The first time I took a burlesque class through Brown Girls Burlesque, I stood in awe of these women of varying shapes and shades who so proudly flaunted their erotic personas on stage. I went to a ton of burlesque shows. I let myself feel awkward as I winked and circled my hips and was fully alive on stage. I danced alone in front of mirrors at home. I journaled about the hard truths about how I had defined sexy before. I expanded my media intake. I asked myself tons of questions:

Where did I first learn about what sexy was? How would my views on sexuality be different if I had never seen music videos or porn in my life? Why am I so tied up to mainstream’s definitions of sexy? When do I feel the sexiest? Who’s the sexiest person I know in real life? Which celebrities do I actually find sexy and which ones have I just been told that they are and reluctantly agree?

I’m still asking myself these questions, but the answers are taking on a deeper level of cognition because they are not just located within my grey matter. I realize that I can’t just “gobble” up these redefinitions. They will take time. The journey is not about what everyone else is doing or how others experience me or even their own sensuality, it is about my own truth.

So.

 I am sexy. I know that Perle Noire is my sensual hero. I know that mainstream attitudes about what constitutes sexy will probably not change much in my lifetime. I know that it is my experience and definition of sexy that matters more than People Magazine’s. I think that sexuality can be spiritual. I know that there is true power in the erotic.

I don’t know if Beyoncé or Kim K or Rihanna have really changed the conversation on women and their sexuality. Perhaps for some women, they have. Still, I think our experience of sensuality and sex is still too firmly tied to the most superficial of attributes. I want more.

I would like to see women talking more about their sexual journeys toward wholeness after experiencing trauma, I would like to hear about how women who aren’t the mainstream definition of sexy still experience themselves as very sexual beings, I would like to see a diversity of bodies of varying ages and abilities and sizes full embodied in their erotic power (but not just in a social media campaign), I would like to hear how black women have redefined sexy amidst racist and sexist expectations. I would like to hear how women came to love and enjoy their natural rhythms and love the most disparaged parts of their bodies; their periods, their menopause, their pussies.

These stories ARE happening, don’t get me wrong. I read about them. I listen to podcasts about them. New paradigms are being created. I think the journey towards redefinition starts when just one woman hears a common patriarchal “law”, tilts her head and names her own experience as valid.

Kudos to People Magazine for prodding me along.

Questions for further reflection: What do you define as sexy? When do you feel the sexiest? What struggles have you encountered in defining yourself as an erotic being? Who would you pick to coach you around feeling sexy if you could pick anyone in the world? What gets in the way of redefining your world?

Onward,

Hannah

 

How Being Corny Saved My Life

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It’s funny, but I didn’t really take the deep, deep dive into Self-Help Land until I got to NYC.

Funny only because I had lived the previous three years of my life in Portland, Oregon, Lair of the Happy Hippy.

New York City was where I upped my yoga practice, did shamanic breathwork, visited mediums, went to the Open Center, started going to weekly meditation classes.

The New York City subway system is where I read a plethora of self-help books.

I often hid the titles of these book by the cover of my lap.

Because reading You Can Change Your Life! replete with a smiling white woman and 80s neon colors was the definition of Corny. And this was New. York. City. I couldn’t have the random passerby who could care less that I existed think about my uncoolness!

Amidst my desire to outgrow unhealthy habits and modes of thinking, there was still an ever-present need to be cool.

There was only a certain cadre of my friends who I shared my self-help leanings with. And then I would usually follow up with some random aside about the literary novel I was reading or the nugget of political news I had discovered that week. (Did you hear about the call to restructure the electoral college?)

These asides were not some esemplastic mode of expressing my total truth as a person.

Nah.

I added these asides so I sounded “smart” and “cool” and “deep”. Because: I was really, really embarrassed by the often corny nature of changing one’s life.

There are some people out there who gain emotional and mental wellness via 18th century philosophers, ancient mystics, and deep study of archaic religions. When they talk about their journeys toward depth, they sound intelligent and sharp and use tons of three-syllable words.

But, these weren’t the places that usually worked for me.

What worked for me were things like affirmations and dialoguing with my Inner Child and blindfolded screaming in yoga studios with strangers. What worked for me was reading O Magazine instead of some fashion glossy and books with titles like The Disease to Please. What worked for me was going to Soul Camp where we had an OM off (which group could hold their yoga OM the longest) and a “tug of love” instead of a tug of war. What worked for me was asking W.W.M.D? (What would Maya Do?) and having cumbaya sing-a-longs with Kombucha drinking Wiccans and carrying citrine in my pocket. What worked for me was dancing my anger out to Tubthumping and visualizing the future I wanted via Desire Lists on hot pink paper.

What worked for me was corny as fuck.

There was no way to make this stuff cool.

And I hated that.

Why did all the things that actually worked for changing my life seem so silly?

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There were times when I’d look around at the strangers beaming around me, the people who used phrases like “heart opening” and “shadow work” and talked about their chakras with as much seriousness as people talk about their mortages and I’d be like, how the hell did I get here?

I have been sarcastic and self-deprecating since forever. It runs in my family I think. I did not grow up in a household of hugs and effervescent happiness. I and my siblings often show our love for each other with our ironic teasing and deadpan observations of life. Both me and my sister have been told that we have “dark senses of humor” and that our sarcasm confuses (and scares) some people.

I often laugh at things that are truly not funny.

And yet, I really desired to change my life. I knew that the way I was living: constantly chasing perfection, lingering in self-doubt, being constrained by old stories, vituperating my very existence was NOT going to bring me to the life I desired to live.

But, I also wanted to be cool. I wanted to be known as deep, intellectual, razor sharp, a woman of the mind.

What was a sardonic black woman to do?

*

I will call her Eve. She was the owner of Lucky Lotus, the yoga studio I often went to for meditation and creative art classes in Fort Greene.

She was loud, flamboyantly in love with life, unafraid to dance and laugh with gusto. She was a tall, white lady who once trained to be a Yoruba priestess and now led shamanic breathwork classes where she walked around beating a handheld drum. She was enthusiastic about everything.

She was simultaneously someone I wanted to emulate and also the most intense stereotype of Hippie Seeker I had ever met in real life.

I really liked Eve. Initially I deemed her to be just another client, no way did I expect the owner of this successful, beautiful yoga studio to be so wild and outspoken. We often would talk after yoga and breathwork classes and she listened in a way that is kind of hard to find these days: never discounted my experiences, never lost that childlike joy.

Over time, she revealed more of her story. I won’t go into details here because that is her story and not mine, but this was not a woman who had a simple, la-di-dah existence. She had demons she had faced down—and was still facing. Her entry into this world of spirituality wasn’t some navel gazing pastime. It was her route from a rock bottom and frenzied existence.

She talked about how affirmations had literally saved her from the brink of suicide, that if she wasn’t saying these words of positivity to herself during her more precarious times, she would not be here talking to me.

One day, she and I went to Fort Green Park. We bought a bottle of bubbles from a local bodega and set ourselves atop a grassy hill. We meditated and then spoke aloud of all the things we wanted to let go of and what we wanted to be in life. And then, we blew bubbles. Like kids. And I watched those sensitive balls of light float away into the spring sun. I half wondered what we looked like to the people passing by, two grown women sitting cross-legged and blowing bubbles. Afterwards, I felt lighter and more buoyant than I had in a very long time.

I felt that a life of true joy and happiness was possible. Of course, the feeling did not last forever (it never does….this is another lesson), but I started to approach the corniness of the self-help world with more openness.

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I started to own my corny. And my sarcastic streak. I started to see the ways they could co-exist.

Not long after, I rode my bike over the Manhattan Bridge listening to the Grand Dame of Self-Help Herself Louis Hay (may her soul rest in peace) deliver syrupy affirmations into my ears. It felt good and I felt good. And that was all that mattered.

I started to become more open about my love of goddess culture, didn’t lie about the fist-bumping You’re-Okay-I’m-Okay-We’re-All-Okay! conferences I was going to, blogged more and more honestly about all the sorta-weird self-help things I was doing.

Because as much as I still wanted to be known for my dry wit, I wanted to live a life of love way more.

If that meant that I was going to be corny and do corny things, so be it.

Oftentimes, our assigning certain self-care practices a signifier of corny or silly or stupid is just another clever mode of resistance. It is us clinging to the very behaviors that are harming us. It is our fear of change and being cast out of our friend group. It is our fear of doing something different.

We may have decided that happiness and health are only for certain types of naïve or shallow people. We may even decided it’s only for people who grew up in nice homes or white people or the lucky few. We decide that we are not those people and therefore, happiness and salubrious living is out of the cards for us.

In some ways, our culture is deeply afraid of true joy. We call it immature and stupid, as if wallowing in misery and being incessantly down on life makes someone smarter or more sophisticated, assigns them depth.

No, it usually just makes that someone a boring, bitter jerk.

Cultivating emotional and mental wellness, embracing our joy, being vulnerable with those we love are not easy modes of being. It’s much, much easier to be impenetrable and unkind and closed off and make snarky comments about shiny-happy-people. (Ask me how I know…)

But, we don’t get close to the lives we want this way.

So, if you’re worrying about being too cool for self-help, I hope you reconsider. Everyone has their own flavor of what calls out to their hearts and I hope you can be with how silly and weird it feels and really decide that your happiness is worth the struggle and being uncool.

Let’s be cornballs.

Onward,

Hannah

It Is Okay To Be Happy

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Today started out in a good, good way.

And I was instantly suspicious.

I have been noticing this tendency in myself over this past year—my commitment to suffering, to melancholy, the deep safety I feel within chaos and misery.

Today, I had a tasty protein heavy breakfast. I and my boyfriend joked before I headed out the door. The air was slightly warm while waiting for the bus. My students laughed at my jokes and we talked about Junot Diaz. I had lunch with a professor who was kind and engaging.

And all throughout the day, I was awaiting for the piano to fall. For the stomachache to start, for the mean person to cut across my path, anything, anything, anything, that would ruin this sweet blessing of a day.

I know today, to pay attention to such feelings. To sit with them, to jot them down on my phone or a nearby notebook.

Why is it that happiness and feeling good simultaneously make me feel so ill at ease? Why does a heavy cloak of foreboding feel ever present, on the edge of my consciousness anytime my life starts to go well? Why do I expect bad shit to happen to me?

Sometimes it feels obscene to be filled with anything resembling joy in a world like ours. Especially in the last week with the horrific (but oh so sadly predictable) shooting in Las Vegas, the devastation in Puerto Rico, the fact that DACA is being phased out…what right do I have to call myself happy?

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I worry it is yet another form of American propaganda, this cult of happiness, and that I am falling into it, that I am another hippy-dippy privileged woman who is unaware of the real pain in this world.

But, I know this is not the complete story. I know that my fear of being happy and well-adjusted are not just social or national concerns. I know that my misery or depression does nothing to alleviate the depression or misery of another person or nation. I know this but…

When I allow myself to dig deeper, I see something else: I see a little girl who was well used to being on edge, tense, anxious, and afraid. I see a little girl who has immigrant parents who work and worked so damn hard and were not always rewarded for their efforts. I see a little girl who was taught that it is not “if” things go wrong, but “when” they go wrong…

I see the way this little girl has a limited understanding of happiness, that she truly believes her happiness and well-being is a betrayal to the people whom she loves. These belief are bone deep, not exactly conscious, but always there.

Last week, I did a vlog about the story of trauma as told by Bessel Van Der Kolk in The Body Keeps the Score. One of the main machinations of trauma is a tendency to repeat the painful patterns that keep us stuck in the past. We almost can’t help it. Such behavior is hardwired into our brains and into our bodies.

We want to eat well, but stay feeling shitty on processed foods.

We want to date people who care about us, but find ourselves attracting emotionally unavailable people who ghost or leave us every single time.

We want to go for our entrepreneurial dreams, but we stay stuck in comparison and afraid to take the action to make our dreams a reality.

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We want to be happy but find ourselves self-sabotaging our well-being time and time again.

To be sure, there are things we cannot control. Life is life. We don’t get to call all the shots. We will never be able to control other people’s behavior. Ever.

But, I think we can be curious about our patterns, especially in relation to self-sabotage and being stuck, especially if we notice that feeling good makes us feel uneasy.

Unless you are a sadist, I think it may be useful to know why we tend to distance ourselves from happiness and keep ourselves mired in misery.

I’ll admit it: there is something about chaos and sadness and disappointment and being alone that feels oddly comforting to me. These are feelings and emotional states I have an almost sisterly connection with. I have had many experiences of being let down, of letting my heart open only to have it crushed with severity by those closest to me.

So, it makes perfect sense that when I have good days, when life seems to be handing me lemonade with extra sugar, I start looking upwards at the blazing blue sky waiting for the piano to crash upon my head.

It makes sense that these are the days I am most likely to pick fights with my partner, to eat something I know my digestive system will hate me for, to laze around so that I have to hurry and rush before an appointment even though I had more than enough leisure to be on time.

Part of me is absolutely terrified of being happy.

And I can love that part of me. I can slowly, gently, but always assure her that she deserves good things, that she can open her arms to more than the basics in life. I can let her know again and again and again that she not only deserves to survive, she has full permission to thrive.

It will take time to stop looking for falling pianos, this I know.

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So, if you are a Queen (or King) of self-sabotage, I urge you to take a holy pause to remind yourself that you deserve to feel good. I suggest you sit with those parts of your soul which are used to being left, being sad, being alone, being pulled in seventy directions and let them know that your new normal can be peace and love and ease. It will take time. It will take patience.

I am right there with you, trying to learn that being happy is not sin or a sign of immaturity or selfishness or a betrayal to those I care for. Being well-adjusted is a gift we can all pass on to those who follow us.

And I urge you to remind yourself as much as you need to:

It is okay to be happy. 

It is okay to be happy.

It is okay to be happy.

I will do the same.

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.

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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.