I just returned from hearing Rita Dove, poet and professor, read from the published Penguin Anthology of 20th Century Poetry (which she edited). She is full of fun and laughter and sarcastic good humor. I would be her best friend if I could. She signed my journal and left a blessing: “Fill these pages with your songs.”
Thinking a lot of academy thoughts this week. Reading Telling Histories: Black Women Historians in the Ivory Tower.
Dr. Brown just articulated better than I ever could what it is like being a College Educated Negress:
Where can students of color get intellectual validation that does not require them to so fully assimilate that they lose the best of themselves, their families,and their cultures? It occurred to me that through grade school and high school we had learned to compete, to keep up, but not to surpass; to stand alongside but not in front; to fit in but not to reshape.*
Standing alongside you begin to know the discomfort of ghosts.
And that pressure to assimilate, to choose between where your family is and where you are…well.
That feels a lot like the dissonance of being raised under the determined, near frantic optimism of a colorblind, post-Movement, Puerto Rican mother and an African-American father seething with internalized racism in cocaine80s Chicago.
And that feels a lot like wanting things and not having them and striving for things and not getting them, and dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s and still watching the goal move further away again and again and again, and picking up Piri Thomas for help and picking up Cherríe Moraga for help and picking up, good gawd, and picking up and holding close and hugging Gwendolyn Brooks for help and good heavens almighty, it feels like picking up Octavia and picking her brain and reading every word and holding her hand when things were too much….
And it feels a lot like frustration and tastes bitter as blood. Because Piri is dead now. And it took over 24 hours for an obituary to post. And I never had a chance to tell him what his work meant to me. And Gwendolyn is dead. And she lived in Chicago. And I, knuckle-head high schooler I was, missed the chance to tell her what she meant to me. And Octavia is dead. And she lived half a country away and I was never gonna get to tell her what she meant to me but damn if only I could have.
And it feels like the cold that sweeps across the back of your neck when you realize a mentor you loved like a father…his facebook page is still active. Active. Alive. Living. And you want to post something but you can’t. Because how do you tell someone that you are also active.alive.living now but only because they lived? How do you tell someone that you have survived this far in part because of what they were and that you are remembering them all the time and regretting every phone call you didn’t make and even that doesn’t make you feel better because you know they knew that they knew that you knew you were loved anyway. That nothing you could do could lose their love for you.
And it feels like ……..
But is also full of promise.
After all, here I am. Writing stuff. Grateful for things like Facebook profiles and black Latinidad Twitter communities and emails from mentors that affirm that “yes, I check it too” and voices who check in with me from across social media to say, “Hey there. Hey. Hear my voice.”
I am still here. Writing stuff. Thinking thoughts. I haven’t disappeared yet.
*Leslie Brown, “How a Hundred Years of History Tracked Me Down,” Telling Histories: Black Women Historians and the Ivory Tower, 262
weeks months, I’ve been trying to do a Thursday Readin’ post on Nisi Shawl’s short story “Maggies.”
“Maggies,” from speculative fiction author Nisi Shawl’s 2008 Tiptree award-winning short story collection Filter House, will make any self-respecting Sable Fan Gyrl cheer and vomit at the same time. Set in the future-verse colony of New Bahama, the narrator is a young, gender-neutral protagonist sent to live with their father after their mother falls ill.
Like it or not, ‘The Help’ is the talk of the interwebs. Some folks love it, many folks hate it, others just don’t know what the big deal is.
In case you have yet to read the Association of Black Women Historian’s beautiful, eloquent and concise statement on why ‘The Help’ is problematic, faux-Civil Rights history, you should check it out here (Zora Walker also posted it to Tumblr, for your reblogging ease and pleasure). Reblog, repost, re-Facebook the statement EVERYWHERE. They are the experts. They paid their dues. They know what they are talking about.
But let’s say you still don’t see what the big deal is–or you loved the book/movie and you just want to be well informed on all perspectives. Or you just need help understanding the whole history. Never fear! Zora Walker has your back. Click away and get your mind right. Then decide for yourself how you feel about Stockett’s work.
#MacheteBehavior after the jump:
“It is not something you just let happen. Your body knows how to do it, but you still have to do it. Nevertheless, as it is when one is good at something, I enjoyed the effort because in many ways the effort was effortless. I spread my wings and took to the sky. No one heard from me for an hour.”
I wish I felt as confident as Onyesonwu, the sorceress-heroine of Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death. She just took flight. Me? I need a blog post to mark what I already feel.
Time to take flight.
So many new things were happening, are happening, that I didn’t even have time to do an update. With the help of the Shawty Got Skillz/INCITE Women of Color crew and YOU, my lovely & loving donors, I finally attended the Allied Media Conference. I met activists, artists, bloggers, and organizers I’ve admired for years. Years. With @MdotWrites there in spirit, we rocked a session on using safe and critical use of Twitter. I smanged some delicious pasta and radical POC conversation and made friends I hope to have for-ev-er (Dancing on Embers, I’m looking at you). Care packages, skill share materials and more are on their way so make sure I have your contact information if you donated, purchased the skill share gift package, still WANT to purchase, etc. (More info on this to come, don’t worry. You will get reminders!)
And if you want to follow along with what the Shawty Got Skillz sharers are doing now or catch up on the back tweets, follow @ShawtyGtSkillz (no “O” in “got”) on Twitter, head over to the Shawty Got Skillz Tumblr, or search the #SGSZ hashatg.
I also moved back to the District. I’m still soaking up the spectrum of sights, smells, and tastes I’ve missed for so long. No, I didn’t romanticize you DMV. Even when you’re ugly (#streetharassment, #Gentrification), I love you, because when I look into the worst of you I know I’m looking into parts of myself. And I know that black & brown folk regroup and rebuild. We will make it through this. I can’t wait to re-join the fight.
I moved in with Mr… (Moment–
–go on and get that out of your system)
…which has been a lesson in love, patience, sexual stamina, money management and all the rest. I’ve been officially banned from posting about it (what I wanted to do was make a new Tumblr because you know how I do) but I will be posting informal updates as the adventure unfolds (Hint: #LivingWithMr on Twitter).
And even though I’m back, I’m practicing a little bit of self-love & solitude. Yes, even with Mr. here, because in a lot of ways I’m letting him take care of me. According to Little Sis, this is my Year of the Hermit; I’m either going on a journey, sola, or I’m coming back from one. She’s the numerology guru but I do feel it. I’m reaching out less. I’m micro-managing my real life social networks less. I’m mothering less. I’m journaling more. I’m crafting stories and considering submitting them. I’m making plans for Nuñez Daughter and iwannalive productions and focusing inward on what my dreams for the next two, ten, twenty years will be. I’m babying myself. And I’m learning quite a bit about myself and my relationships as I go along. Good and bad. Ain’t that always the way?
Maybe most important, and the reason for the title and the image, I’m also in the last stages of writing my dissertation. There is a kind of death that this process requires, an execution I have been afraid to face–death of childhood, death of adolescence, death of certain radical dreams, death of certain assumptions about myself and life in general–but the time is nigh. Not because I feel like the research is over–in fact, there is a world of documents I can’t wait to dive into. But because circumstances demand that I move on to the next stage of my life. And the more I discuss my state of mind with colleagues and friends, the more I realize most dissertations aren’t written because the writer feels the research is complete–they are written because the writer feels that something has got to give. It may be financial or emotional, an impending job offer or a big move or a new marriage or a new baby or a death in the family. Or the death of a mentor. It may be that the sun shone through the window a different way that morning. But if the effort required to write a dissertation is quantifiable, I’d guess that only 40% of it is the work of researching. The other 50% is just mind & drive & courage. That last ten? Typing that b*tch out.
When I left the Little Town in New England, Asian Dancer put it just right. In paraphrase, she said, “You are setting yourself up with the most perfect situation you could ever imagine, the best situation possible to finish this thing. You’ll be in a city you love, with people you love and a man-piece who loves you for you to lay on. You are going to write all day. And then you are going to have sex all night. You’ll have no excuse not to. You’ll even want to.”
She’s right. I do. After all:
“…something must be written before it can be rewritten.”
This blog is about to be sporadic in updates. And when I do write, expect to get an eye-full of ranting and raving about bad coffee and loud cafés, obscure requests from committee members and last minute dashes to the archive. Along with learning more than you ever wanted to know about bondwomen’s reproduction, labor, market work and higglers, sex across the color line, libertines and debauchery, dances, tignons, 18th century birth registers, slave castles and poor soldiers, Afro-Atlantic maroonage, and other permutations direct from the experience of women of African descent during the period of African slavery. I’ll also be throwing in the usual Sable Fan Gyrl, pop culture, day-in-the-life, political ranting riff-raff that is my escape hatch. Can’t get too serious, right?
If I haven’t updated recently and you want to know where to find me, chop it up with me on Twitter (@KismetNunez). It’s public so you can always lurk my timeline but I’d love to e-meet you so please sign up. Or poke around the Confessions of a Sable Fan Gyrl Tumblr and leave a question in my Ask box (the really juicy, cuss-word filled ranting will be done there). The WOC Survival Kit & my other friends will be updating on a regular basis.
In other words, I’m around. I’m married to the E-Game, after all. I’m just cheating on it with Ms. Diss. Respect my mistress.
Follow my footnotes.
So why not kick off Thursday Readin’ with a few final reflections on Dolen Perkins-Valdez’s novel Wench?
The Cool Kidz Book Club (@fortyoneacres & @Mdotwrites) started and finished this book last year. And I won’t even pretend I read slow. I don’t. But I do read with careful attention to violence and danger. And since I research women & slavery all day, everyday in the Flesh, I need to watch how I enter that space when I am reading for pleasure.
Lucky for me, Valdez got me in and out safely. She pushed me but she didn’t burn me up and she didn’t leave me with the happies. She left me just where I should be after a book about enslaved women negotiating for their lives–disturbed, invigorated and ready for battle.
Reading Wench Part 3 & 4 after the jump….
Reblogged from Dissertation Brat (can you guess who THAT is?):
Sometimes I believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast:
1. There’s a potion that can make you small.
2. And a cake that can make you grow.
3. Animals can talk.
4. Cats can disappear.
5. There’s a place called Wonderland.
6. I can slay this dissertation. #fallback&watchme
& as further inspiration, #nowreading books 1 and 2 of N. K Jemisin’s (@nkjemisin) Inheritance Trilogy, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Broken Kingdom.
My fangirl lust is making me a bit silly over Jemisin. Her stories are accesible, deceptively simple, and will haunt you through the days, weeks, and months between the next installment of the series. She is nice with social media; her blog is full of regular updates (not something many published and publishing authors can say), pretty pictures, podcasts, sample chapters, teasers….serious silly, I am, serious silly. She tweets. She discusses race in science-fiction and fantasy in the same breath as gender. She lives in New York. She is a woman of color. I know some might say it remains to be seen, but she is, quite possibly, our 21st century Octavia Butler. I kinda want to be her. #noreally I’d start with meeting her…can anyone help with that?
Also finishing Ntozake Shange’s Liliane: Resurrection of a Daughter, a lilting story about a girl, her therapist, and her nine lives. Performance art captured in text.
This is how I train to slay the
*winds while the beat drops*
*minor spoilers ahoy*
“Learn well Jake Sully. Then we will see if your insanity can be cured.”
~Mo’at, Avatar (2010)
Overwhelmed with the need to write about Wench, I began this post on my iPod Touch notepad, on a flight from from New Orleans to Chicago. New Orleans, a city where, once upon a time, “wench” meant, as Dolen notes, “a black or colored female servant; a negress” but also where the ritual of sexual access, sexual labor, property in human bodies, domination and re/production ground to its ultimate conclusion. By the antebellum period, New Orleans hosted the largest slave market in the continental United States, an attendant continent-wide sexual traffick in “fancy” girls or light-skined female slaves, and le plaçage, a sophisticated social apparatus which paired affluent white men with local free women of color as consorts.
For years, the ghosts of slavery walked the bend of the Mississippi, whispered from the balconies of the Vieux Carré and slipped up through the steamy cement in Uptown or Marigny (they still do even though Katrina washed many into the waiting arms of their kindred at the bottom of the Gulf). I finished Part One in this context, on a weekday and in one swoop.
Afterwards, I forced myself to take a break. It was tempting to keep going because it was easy to look, hope and pray for the happy ending. But if Dolen continues to tell a story true to American history, or true to black women’s relationship to said history, then a happy ending may be long in coming.
There is a scene of visceral brutality near the end of Part One. Normally, I remember these scenes for the pose they strike within a story, the carmine brutality my mind plays and replays over and over. When this happens, the cerebral vanishes and I find it difficult to recall emotion or personality. I feel dizzy, a heavy pressure at the crown of my head. Or I want to vomit.
But I don’t remember this scene for that. The physical reaction remained, yes. But under Dolen’s careful and unassuming hand, the violence of the encounter became less about the contours of a particular moment and more about the impossible choices women as slaves, as mothers, as raced bodies, as workers and as lovers, were/are forced to make over the course of their lives. Instead, the betrayal erecting the scene took my breath away as much as the result–the terrifying and impressive power of a slaveowner’s retribution.
That power being necessary to maintain a system–in this case slavery–against the daily permutations of resistance and rebellion enacted against it–breaking dishes, brewing love potions, running away–but which seen in its raw form is still shocking. And effective. I empathized with Lizzie. I know that she weighed every move she made against the threat of violence against her light-skinned son and daughter back in the South. But a part of me also felt deeply for Mawu and affirmed her desperate fight to escape the regime before her stamina for resistance faded. And I know I may never forgive Lizzie for her betrayal. But I will want to. To choose your owner, your lover, the father of your children over your colleague, your sister, your friend…but don’t some of us do that every single minute of every day without feeling any need to justify it? That slavery as a legal institution in the United States ended in 1865 is beside the point. Segregation ended as a legal institution in the United States in 1964. And a contract, a law, a signed piece of paper does not unravel centuries of customary relations between white and black, male and female, mother and father and child.
Just as New Orleans “stank of the arousal of rape,” an aroma resplendent throughout the institution and which climaxed within the city’s boundaries, so does the history of slavery unpack our current gender relations, sexual relations, color politics; strip us bare, naked, and raw; break the fetish down into its constituent parts–bone, teeth, hair, blood, earth. Dolen’s Wench reminds us that sex across and within color lines is never devoid of politics, never left to some amorphous feeling called love. And kinship is work, forged against all odds to save your own life because the consequence of failure is brilliant in its savagery. Love itself is political, is contested and is a battlefield.
I won Evelyn Alfred‘s book give away. Which means a copy of Ernessa T. Carter’s 32 Candles will magically appear in my mailbox just in time for Labor Day Weekend! Happy Monday to me!
*sigh. One day, I will be an older, stronger, well-seasoned blogger who gets free books sent to her too. And I will return the favor with book giveaways galore. But until then, I’m gonna tear this one up. Sixteen Candles was my first Molly Ringwald movie and remains a classic.
Watch the book trailer and read the synopsis here:
Visit the 32 Candles website.
Hang out over at Evelyn’s place.
Dance it out. *flounces out of the room to “If You Were Here”*