A few months ago, I posted on Twitter about my longing for home and asking others to define what home is to them. That tweet resonated with so many as it spawned a discussion that lasted for several days as well as I received private messages from folks sharing their thoughts.

Like most things, I filed it away and only brought it out periodically to mull over it. Give it shape and form ending, inevitably, in frustration.

I’m ready to give it form. What has taken me years of thinking was unraveled, dissected, and made clear in the span of two therapy sessions (+ the two weeks in between sessions).

Home is my peace.

Let’s breakdown that down. Home, contrary to how I originally thought, isn’t a physical place. I have felt “at home” in places that I only resided in temporarily (i.e. less than 3 years). But once I untethered it from a physical place, then what is it??

In order to understand what home is, I had to understand what it isn’t. Home, growing up, was tumultuous. There were bright spots and even fun but it was fraught with tension and abuse. I distinctly remember standing in the driveway of my childhood home wishing for the day I would leave it. I was 15. When I went away to college and experienced that first taste of freedom, it was a new sensation filled with hope. As I began to live on my own, it was a space where I did what I wanted and when I wanted, from impromptu solo dance parties, trying (and failing at) a new recipe, and having friends over to catch up. 

So what is home? Home was, first and foremost, mine. Something I create. Something that reflects who I am. Even when I had roommates, I needed to have the capacity to retreat to a space that belonged to me. I became it’s gatekeeper. A veritable “abandon all hope ye who enter here” a la Dante’s Inferno.

My domain. My peace. My sanctuary. 

But to preserve it, I have to protect it from the things, people, and circumstances, that seek to compromise it, a holdover from childhood trauma. 

Two examples come to mind. First, in my current home, I have only invited a handful of people over. These are people I genuinely like. There is conversation and laughter over food, drink, or both. Conversely, there are people who haven’t seen it and will likely never set foot in it. Why? Because I don’t like the energy they put out in the world. They bring me down and put me in a negative headspace. 

Secondly, since home is partly an environment, I am more attuned to neighbors. Anyone who follows me longer than a month or two will, undoubtedly, see me lament my current situation. Why? I am living in close proximity to highly negative, toxic people. That seeps in. That compromises. That disturbs the peace. If I hear neighbors arguing all the time, with little concern that others can hear them, that sets me on edge. I internalize it whether I mean to or not. I start snapping at folks and my fuse is short.

As someone who is a self-described sojourner, it is freeing to name “the thing.” To call it what it is. But also opens me up to be less afraid that I will never find “home.” Home isn’t a particular locale. I carry home with me (along with my cat Thaddeus and my belongings). I create it every time I leave and settle somewhere. I enjoy it with others who bring a measure of peace, love, and fun with them. In this created space, we have fun for as long as we can while I’m there as long as I will be. 

Then I will say my goodbyes, pack it up, and create it again. Even as I write this I realize I’m in a cycle of birth and death, end and beginning, creation and destruction. And there’s a beauty inherent in that. Maybe I’ll explore that bit at a later date. Who knows.

I feel settled in this realization. 

Still Processing: A Career under Review

As a follow up to my May 15 and May 22 posts, I am still processing my career and what it means. The thing about processing is that it occurs in stages.

A few weeks ago, I experienced several epiphanies that uncovered hidden feelings about my career, my current position, and where I would like to go. This came to a head in my bi-weekly therapy session last month. Funny how the biggest revelations seem to occur in the lead up to my Saturday sessions.

For twenty laborious minutes, I explained these realizations and mapped out my reflections on them to my therapist. And, I shared my vision of the type of life I want to live. I articulated my frustrations about moving toward that life now. What I love most about my therapist is that she is very hands-on. No passive listening. She glanced down at my notebook, the black one I carry only to therapy. She directed me to open it for a writing/thought exercise.

First, she had me draw up a chart, essentially my life in a week. What were the things I felt were missing from my life? I jotted those down. Then, I charted out approximations of what time I woke up each morning, went to bed, work and other activities. Time is finite but it became clear that I wasn’t using my time all that well. Yet, I had convinced myself there wasn’t time to do the things I love. Well, there it was in black and white to say otherwise. 

She encouraged me to meditate on that to which I did (and still am).

Second, she directed me to create another chart with two columns:

Archives Then vs. Archives Now

Archives Then became an expression of what drew me to archives. What were my motivations? Also to think through how my past tracked (or didn’t) along with those motivations. Admittedly, in talking about it, I felt that excitement building up inside of me. Like waking up from a dream and remembering where you are or, in this case, who you are.

Archives Now was an exploration of where I am now. What are my motivations now? How had things changed or stayed the same. 

As I looked at the chart, it became clear my frustrations and the source of my crisis-turned-angst. Crisis signifies to me the part of me that operated in the middle of depression. I made, if we’re being honest, suspect decisions about my life and health. Those decisions popped up in my Archives Then vs. Archives Now in my chart. Now that the crisis has abated (several months and counting of no depressive episode), a deep anxiety has settled in its place.

What the fuck am I doing? And why do I feel like I am living on auto-pilot in life but most especially my career?

This writing exercise also exposed the deeper reason by my dissatisfaction with my current position. I should preface and say that my job, by all tense and purposes, is not bad. It’s a solid job and recent institutional changes have hearkened to an even brighter, positive future. But the realization looming in front of me, staring me square in the face, is I’m pretty certain I’m not the person for that future. 

In my vision of my future, I firmly believe I will chart a life that infuses archives, history, teaching, and project-based work but, most importantly, it will be outside an institutional setting. It will nourish me in a way that I need while enabling me to critically engage with others.

Now how I get from here to there is still in progress.

Stay turned.

I Am

In a recent therapy session, I related to my therapist that I struggle with reconciling the different parts of myself. I’m a woman of many interests and passions. Even in expressing that frustration, I simply said “I know I’m suppose to do more.” I interwove this explanation with my faith.

That is when she hit pause. For several agonizing seconds I waited for a response. Here is a summary of what she said:

God is limitless. By placing limits on God, what he or she or they can do or be, I reflect those limitations on my own life. I limit myself. I am all of those things: an archivist, a writer, an activist, etc. So why am I telling myself that I have to be one thing? And in order to be that one thing, I convince myself I have to cut off all the others. Cut off a part of who I am. God is. I am.

The ultimate challenge: Sit in that realization.

In that revolutionary statement, my therapist challenged me to rethink how I view myself. I am.

I am an archivist. I am a writer. I am an activist. I am a daughter. I am an auntie. I am that bitch too. I am all those things at once. That I do not have to nor should I have to “give up” any of those identifiers. I exist within all of them and sometimes one of them may take center stage for a spell.

Here, my therapist introduced me to the scarcity mindset. After some independent research, I’m starting to understand how this way of thinking contributes to the limits I place on myself. Whether I like to admit it or not, I go through life seeing things as fixed. That the broader strokes of my life are determined and that to change it, whether it is toxic, problematic, unfulfilling, or flat out boring will cause too much of an upset. It also triggers within me this concern for how it will look for me to seemingly shift gears or drop this thing. What happens is that I keep trying to make the untenable situation work. It only ends up depleting my energy and undermining my self-esteem. At the point of mental collapse is when I concede that it is time for change.

Life is fluid and beautiful and messy and chaotic and joyful and heartbreaking at times and at the same time. The point is it moves.

I say this because I feel things beginning to shift. I am leaning more into my artistic endeavors. When I think of the things I would like to accomplish and do in the coming years, it leans heavily into writing.

I want to write for Bitch Media, specifically give life to the ideas, concepts, frustrations, and hopes that swirl around in my head. Don’t get me wrong, I love my blog but there is comfort and safety in it. It is speaking to those who know me and who think similarly to me. I’m ready to grow and stretch beyond that. I also want to use writing as the catalyst to embrace new experiences outside of my norm and create a dialogue with new people.

I want to write this Southern Gothic story. This story is, in many ways, my love letter to my experience growing up as a black girl-turned-woman in Georgia. I meant it when I said in my bio that it took “leaving the South for me to comfortably say y’all.” By that I mean, embrace fully being a child of the South. I have lived all over this country and even traveled outside of it. There is a sweetness and familiarity to the South that I cannot underscore. I want to see the people I know represented on the page for all to see.

I want to apply and be a part of the 2020 Jack Jones Literary Retreat. I first became aware of the retreat about 2-3 years ago. At the time, I was still in my writing rut but deep down I knew I wanted to give this an honest go. I’m partly emboldened now by the fact I wrote, finished, and published a short story in six months this year. And, this is a space for people of color to gather together and share our work….and also meet publishers, editors, and agents.

I am a writer. I have found the most freedom and liberation in the written word. And now, she is calling me like she hasn’t before. I write fiction. I always have but the last 14 years has seen the slow creep toward nonfiction, autobiographical, etc. I can trace the moment to sitting by my mother’s hospital bed. On a whim, I had purchased a journal. I had so many things swirling around inside me as a 20 year old that putting it down on paper was the only thing I could think to do. So I did. 14 years later, countless journals, and two websites later, here we are.

My writing muscles want to flex, expand, and move.

At the same time, there is a vision of my life unfolding. As I get older, I have a clearer idea, not necessarily of what I do, but how I want to feel as I go through my day. That vision is so strong that, not surprisingly, I had to write it down in my journal. Even the act of writing it, declaring it on the pages filled me with calm and a sense of a life lived on my own terms.

I don’t know how I will get from where I am to where I want to be. That is part of the journey. It is part of what I patiently tease out and give shape to. It is in the work of realigning my mind and my heart to think and truly believe the following:

I am (full stop).

And anything is possible.

Embracing What Is

On a Thursday night, on a whim, I purchased a bright yellow curve-hugging dress from Forever21. This form-fitting dress was, and is, outside of my comfort zone. Yet that sale cost of $10.99 had me willing to risk it. The last time I purchased something from them, I ended up returning half of the items because of bad fit and incorrect sizing. I didn’t want to make the same mistake so I ordered the yellow dress in a 2XL. I reasoned that a bigger size meant less cling. Hey, I could always return it.

I continued scrolling through their offerings when I saw another dress, similar cut but shorter and $7 more. No 2XL but they had 0XL and 1XL. I decided to take another risk and order a 1XL.

A few days later, the dresses arrived. A mix of guilt and trepidation filled me. Guilt because I impulsively bought two dresses which is a habit I’m trying to break, especially since I put myself on a budget. Clothes are not a mainstay of said budget. I find bi-weekly therapy sessions more important. The sense of trepidation due to the fact I now had to contend with these dresses vis-a-vis my body.

At first, I put the package down, resolving that I would try on the dresses after my menstrual bloat + upcoming work trip (and not-so-clean eating as a result) had passed. Even as I thought these things to myself, I knew they were excuses. I opened the packages, examined the dresses, and pressed them against my frame. The side seams lined up with my sides, a shot of optimism reared its held. Maybe, just maybe, these might actually fit.

I retreated to my bedroom and tried them on. First the yellow dress. I remember looking down and, rather than see how the beautiful yellow complimented my skin, picking up its golden hues, I saw only my rolls. My stomach, F.U.P.A., and thighs.

“Look at those rolls,” said that all-too familiar voice in my head.

Those mounds of flesh slightly painful reminders that despite my weightlifting work that there were parts of me that were just “extra.”

I don’t have a full-length mirror so I improvised the next best thing. I balanced on the edge of my tub in order to see myself in the bathroom mirror. When I stand on the tub’s edge, I can see from under my boobs to mid-thigh. I checked myself out. What I saw first was the way the dress emphasized my rolls, then the slightly ill-fitting top. Not so much that I should return it but a realization I need to wear a good bra when I actually wear the dress. Once I got down from the tub and saw my face did I notice the yellow. How my skin seemed to sing in the color.

In the space between trying on the yellow dress and the black dress, a shift occurred. When I slipped on the black one, something clicked. I saw the same rolls peeking out but how I felt about them had changed. So suddenly and without warning.

Standing on the tub’s edge, now wearing the black dress, I saw myself and my body differently. I even did a little dance. My body hadn’t magically changed in the three minutes between dresses but my mind had. A different voice had come in.

“This is your body,” it said.

You’re probably wondering how is that liberating? Friends, it was a revelation. My thoughts took ownership of my body, reclaiming it from the daily assault from society that it was never good enough. Too lump, too dumpy. In that simple statement, I realized and accepted that my body will never be an hourglass because it isn’t. That is OK. I will always have a little extra in my hips, thighs, and butt. And, since entering my 30s, a little extra in the tummy area. That is the way my body is designed. Sure I can tone and slim those down with working out but they will always hold a little extra there.

In that moment, I let go of what my body could be and traded it for what it is.

I decided to write this because the first step to self-love is self-acceptance. It is letting go of this illusive, aspiration and frankly damaging image and grounding yourself in who you and and what your body is. I can’t say that I’ve shaken that extra critical eye but it was a pleasant surprise to discover a newer voice speaking over the criticism. The one that said in that knowing, lilt,

“Girrrrrl, just look at it.”

And I did. I looked at this body of mine and I smiled. I shimmed around the house to the bemusement of my 10 year old cat Thaddeus. Honestly, I didn’t want to take the dress off once my perspective shifted. I remember thinking, “fuck wearing Spanx underneath. This is the body, y’all gon get and y’all will deal.”

Learning to accept my body is a process and a crucial step on the path to self-love.