the floating feather

Terrors are turned upon me; they pursue my soul as the wind; my welfare passeth away as a cloud.

~Job 30:15

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Once I took a creative writing course.

One of our assignments was write a short but comprehensive story about a character of our choosing. I wrote about a girl from the hood that married well and ended up pampered housewife.  At the end we had to share our assignments with other classmates and give each other feedback.

“How is it that your character grew up in the most ghetto neighborhood and none of that rubbed off ?” One student typed to me.

Her question surprised me because the girl in my story was a lot like me. I was writing what I knew and all I knew was that perspective. My character didn’t identify with the overzealous bravado of the hood. She read books and watched movies about elegant places. Like me, my character wanted to be surrounded by gleaming white walls, crystals, brunch, and fancy centerpieces.

I realized early that I was a lonely girl.  Part of my loneliness was my desire to disconnect from the lifestyle of being stuck in the ghetto. Being black is hard enough but being poor exacerbates your blackness. I felt ashamed for pulling away. Am I one of those monitories with self-hatred?  But the thing is that I don’t mind being black. I just hate what it means to the world. I hate the history. I hate the politics of it.  Every culture and color has their own brand of stigma to live with. Black people aren’t the only folk trotting around the beaten path. But still, there is so much to consider. My womanhood and my skin are too of the most complex concepts to swim through.

I reach out for peace but can’t quite grasp it. It is the core of my loneliness and it makes me feel a sense of loss as if I was born with a sacred human connection but lost it somewhere in my childhood. I remember playing and being happy as kid then vastly confused and hormonal as a teenager and finally resolved and lonely as an adult.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot going for me: Husband, kids, mortgage, SUV, and all media crap packaged as the American dream. Except of course my dream is a bit more complex because I am African American so it is not a standardized euro-American dream.  Being both in and out of the world is confusing and it makes me feel so disconnected. Sometimes I feel like I don’t fit anywhere. Then I realized that this can be a good thing. By not conforming I’m being true to myself and perhaps even true to the universe. But this inner bond that I’ve made with myself does keep me away from others and this is where the problem lies.

When my mother died in 1998, the sense of loss spread in me like an overlay of butter. I tried to block it out with work, church, and dating but eventually the sense of loss turned into feelings of abandonment. Whatever I lost in my childhood was compounded with the loss of the only arms that I felt safe in.

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the psychosis of marriage

Prior to my marriage, I hated horror films.  I disliked all the blood, gore, and deep spooky music that made goose bumps scale on your arms.  Witnessing a beheading was a barbaric act and all those who found human mutilation entertaining were mildly psychotic.

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Then I got married.  I married a great guy, handsome, responsible, a good provider and in all of his goodness, there are also complexities that I cannot even begin to understand.  As I irritate him with my tendency to leave half empty glasses of water around the house, he irritates me with perpetual condescending questions.

As we tried to talk through our differences but sunk deeper into frustration, I began to feel anger building in my stomach.  I couldn’t understand why he felt the need to remind me seven times to mail the mortgage check and he couldn’t bare to see yet another forgotten glass on the nightstand. The tension in our talks sucked all of the air out of the room.  We could no longer breathe so we stopped talking.

Each day we go through the motions of daily living, caring for the children, running errands, reporting to work, and still I feel the bridge between us grow wider because we don’t take the time to discuss our grievances.

I know that our petty aggravations must be stress reactions put upon a fast-paced young family. Our fights are either stress related or they are motivated by some deeper issues that we would need a therapist to uncover.

The days rush by and we continue to plug away at our domestic duties in our suburban shell and I can feel the resentment tank filling to my chest now.  After helping the kids with homework, making dinner, giving baths, cleaning the kitchen, and prepping for morning, the house is finally quiet besides the snore of my spouse. I plunk down the sofa and take a breath.  I realize as I flip through channels that I could do with a little blood right now, and a healthy dose of gore would do me some good.  With all my frustrations and tensions, I can witness a beheading without wanting to gag.  I can yell at the foolish young girl who trips on purpose as her stalker gets closer.

A chopped off head symbolizes the severed bulk of connectivity in my marriage.  The monster hunting the teenage campers and slashing them one by one is the same evil that comes into my marriage flinging its machete causing chaos, confusion and unnecessary pain.

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Elegence

Blackness and femininity is an oxymoron.  Blackness is attributed to civil rights, maltreatment, death, confusion, power, pain, night, evil, darkness, slaves, prejudice, and a whole slew of other negative concepts. But blackness and femininity together in the same sentence feels revolutionary.

 

Whenever I sit down to write, I find myself scribbling compulsively about the black female condition.  The urge just comes to me like a rush of hypnosis.  I just have to say something about my place in society.  My position in America sometimes feels like no position at all.

What I know of me is that I feel pressure to be hard and laced with bravado.  Because I am black, female, and middle-class, I must have lived a childhood full of brutality and sexual atrociousness.    People look at me assume that my life somehow resembles that of Celie from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.

Reading Bell Hooks Remembered Rapture: the writer at work,I learn that I am not alone in my thinking about assumptions of the black female childhood, she writes, “…many stories of black girlhood are filled with lurid tales of sexual abuse, incest, rape by strangers, and unrelenting violence that this has come to almost to represent in the popular imagination what black girlhood is (p. 93).”  This assumed mistreatment produces a flagrant toughness that decreases feelings of elegance and femininity for the black female.

In order to have some feminine visibility many black females resort to sexual prowess.  Stripping and other acts of exhibitionism are desperate attempts to prove that we are women. Still there are some black women who reject full-fledged exhibitionism but turn to promiscuity as a way to confirm their femininity.

Black women who denounce all forms of blatant sexual exhibition are invisible or seen as charming maternal figures – basically modern day mammies.  Mammy is a black female caretaker.  Many white authors adore this black female caricature feeling compelled to write about mammy in their fictional tales and languishing memoirs that evoke feelings of nostalgia.  Mammy’s roots come from caring for white people but she will willingly foster anyone with her nurturing spirit and bosom. Although mammy is feisty, loyal, and accommodating she is also asexual.  While she has some admirable traits, mammy does nothing for black femininity and elegance.