first world

what it first meant was:

the strongest buildings still announce bomb shelter

sturdy tan boxes where

before i was born

my parents cousins possible friends

learned to hear sirens and crouch under desks

 

what it really meant was a blue for freedom

like the seas between us

an arbitrary line drawn in bullet or tank track

red over there, for blood we still desire

 

what it means now is that a children's tv show

told me to save water.

i choose not to i like the fizz of its pressure,

white with excitement after brushing my teeth

& after the first spit, i cup my hand,

lower my mouth

lips to the water,

ah! how tasty how endless beautiful clean & free

that brief beautiful bubble when i was (we were) rich by osmosis

I was an impressionable child, overimaginative. I caught the sadness of anything near me, even if it was supernatural. After my dad told me about yajuj and majuj, and how Allah made humans of fire (jinn) and light (malaikah), I would idly look for angels in filtered sunbeams or listen for the voices of jinn leading me on--although I'd been told they were not at all like shoudler demons from cartoons, that they were most interested in minding their own business. Still, my dad was so sure that the end of the world was near that I looked for signs as a sort of impulse I still haven't entirely kicked.

Once, when Deadheads in town, my mom got lost on the way from the hospital and I cried of fear that she'd wandered into some other world, taken by ghouls or zombies. I didn't know what Deadheads were. I pictured something like a roving band of conjurers who worshipped the late Jerry Garcia, a baccanal Wild Hunt devoted to a 40-year old rock band. Maybe they even revived him during concert ceremonies--hey, I didn't know what their concerts got up to. All I knew is that the smells and looks of the nomadic van-living dreaded folks who overtook my familiar neighborhoods overnight made it feel as if a gate to the other world had opened. And mightn't Mom have wandered into it?

When Tupac died, I was torn between thinking he would haunt us or that he would rise again. I lived in San Diego while Pac lived and died in Los Angeles, but the mythology around the man was too large for a single city or county. I felt that the fate of the West Coast was tied to the fate of Tupac. He was our lamb and lion, while The Notorious B.I.G. was the martyr for the East Coast.

I didn't understand the difference between Tupac and Makaveli but the fact that Makaveli's album came out after Tupac's death was reason enough to believe in his return. The video for "Hail Mary" was a warning: the spirit of Tupac could act through others and punish those he loved, punish the state he loved for failing him.

The West/East rap rivalry took place largely through lyrical snipes and diss tracks, but I hadn't heard the songs in question. I saw the West/East rivalry as a cross-country gang war in which an underground network of color-coded national alliances, claimed territories, clans and dons and secret passwords. My brother had to assure me that Tupac wouldn't haunt us, that we hadn't betrayed him--because anyway we liked West Coast rap better, right? It was better.

(Well, even now, I prefer Odd Future to the A$AP Mob.)

So I refused to listen to Biggie to preserve my soul, and (when I became less superstituous) as a matter of pride. Total Request Live didn't care about my soul, however, and I couldn't help hearing and seeing the hits from Biggie's Life After Death. I wondered how his greatness had shaped his half of the country. B.I.G's posthumous album sounded not like revenge but like a celebration of a buried harchet. His best friend Puff Daddy mourned with Faith Evans but then they all popped champagne and went dancing in outer space. It sounded like and end and my brother verified that yes, Tupac's and Biggie's death meant the end of the West Coast/East Coast war.

(We would watch the videos for cameos that signified alliances. When Snoop Dogg signed with No Limit, that was irrefutable proof.)

So I wasn't particularly concerned about the y2k bug (we didn't yet own a computer when everyone else was panicking), the year of 1999 was beautiful to me. The apocalyptic symbolism of it, the magnitude of what it could mean... The zeitgeist had shifted from the 90s to the 00s: we'd gone from the hard-knocks and poverty of gangsta rap to the money, power, and sex of party rap.

Listening to "Mo Money, Mo Problems" felt like being in a national sweepstakes: I'd get a car, you'd get a car, they'd get a car, we'd all get cars! I thought that when Diddy said 'we' he meant 'black people,' not just his friends and labelmates. I thought he was wishing into being a world that finally loved black people. I had seen enough Mo-Town documentaries to know the history of black music, and I knew that we were often copied, unpaid, uncredited, erased. But here we were, front and center, successful and loud, top of the charts! Brandy's "Top of the World" told me where we were headed. Mya's Ghetto Superstar" was written with me in mind. The world finally loved black people.

Missy, JanetTLC wore armor and jumpsuits to summon the future with love songs, bye songs, and synced dances. Computer graphics was younger but came closer to replicating our world with every new game and film. Cell phones were still yet twinkles in investor's eyes, and all technology shone with hint & possibility. Black people were front and center in the media, happy and copied and admired by the world. And yet...

I don't know how much money my family had at that time. I know that we moved to the East Coast (Providence, Rhode Island, to be specific) around that time, and we seemd to have moved right into the music. I was ten, tuning my ear to hear the production differences between Swizz Beatz, The Neptunes, and Timbaland. Some part of me knew I would be rich someday, I knew it, because I was a good person and a hard worker--A student without even trying). I was creative and I was young and it was about time. I had everything the world said I needed to be rewarded.

The world was new and new and new no matter where we went and I would be one of those pretty naked girls in Cancun one day, no doubt! I wasn't allowed to wear swimsuits and show that much skin but it would be a matter of course that I would meet Carson Daly.

This was just before politics mattered to me, when everyone was corrupt in a way that didn't matter because everything was fun and everything was fine. Who cared!? The future was coming on. I don't remember how long we were second-hand rich, how long I had the future. I do know that it was gone by the end of 2001. By the end of that September, definitely, it was gone.

Even now, I am one of those impressionable, overimaginative people who think there might be an alternate world in which Bowie and Prince are still alive, a world with more balanced energies in which Trump was not elected. In that world, the FBI caught the hijackers when they were simply names on a watchlist, Bush was not a wartime president and thus not re-elected, the nation that Obama inherited was not a limping thing but a spritely hyperpower arcing towards peace & progress, there was no housing crisis or Great Recession or need for Occupy, and the world really did love black people and the hiphop hit party never ended.

there are things blackness hasn't touched

or doesn't touch

or will or should, like

 

the cork-hat or the cork-hatted man,

his sons: Irwins, Kratts, Hanna

in safari tan, all.

 

or the mother of watching, who crouches

hidden recording & watching a band

or family troop or community that--

(how does she rank them? a step above us? me a step below her?)

in the light of the college's chapel

what did she think when i raised my hand and voice:

'i think their rights are not as pressing

for now'? or the plant-fed girls seated around me

 

or the father of altruism, sitting tenured

over his envisioned drowning child,

hands forming professorial barrels

around something like 'liberation'

--i want to say he stole that word

just as his young infiltrate a farm quicker than a prison,

free cattle sooner than a man

 

before all that, i lay before the tv

(9 or younger

(legs swinging

(hair still braided)

with my animal books & a notepad

sketching the photos of roseate spoonbills

pallas cats

fennec foxes

endangered and extinct:

that whales this pigeon that tigers

i am not Black yet

when we are all beasts

 

a human onscreen talks of warmth and breasts

& i realize my mothers (& my own someday)

but i don't yet weigh men's bodies

against dogs or lions;

link the wildness of the Motherland

to my own blood

or recognize the yokes or cages & colonies in it no

 

i learn somethings of Human Nature,

build my morals it brick by fact by brick

they tell me something about tooth and claw

violent innocence green wonder

black theory has yet to address

my search for the great homeschooled novel

Back around 2011, when I bought an up-to-date Guide to Literary Agents and did market research while sincerely believing I could sell a middle grade book despite my utter distance from the literary market, I read that there was a gap in the market for book about homeschooled kids.

As a homeschooling grad, I thought (and still think) I could fill that gap. But not right now; right now, I don't know what the Great Homeschooled Novel looks like. I'll probably be fumbling towards that as I continue to write, for adults as well as for kids.

There are a couple of things that resonated with me as a homeschooled grad, and I feel like these influences will bring me closer to figuring out how to portray the experience:

  • Where the Red Fern Growswhich struck me as a kid as familiar and vivid and adventurous, same as it would strike any other kid, right? There is a scene where the wild boy protagonist comes face-to-face with a normal schoolboy from town, and someting in that scene make me realize that I was the wild boy and not the schoolboy.
  • Captain Fantastic, which I had been dying to see since it came out but have watched only recently. Based on the childhood of the director Matt Ross, the family in the movie has a particularly White Anarchist back-to-nature philosophy, but so much of it rings so true to my life. It would be easier to list the differences:
    • That we were seven siblings, not six
    • That my dad plays flute and drums, never bagpipes
    • That our mobile home wasn't a renovated bus named Steve, but a brougham of some sort
    • That my dad doesn't make fun of christians, not that much
    • That my dad would never buy us knives (wth?)
    • That we didn't celebrate Santa OR Noam but Ramadan
    • Oh, and my mom is still alive
  • The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which I haven't seen yet. I know the show covers themes of innocence/shelteredness that I am afraid I will relate too strongly. In my mind, the set-up is too close to the narratively-ironic innocence of Room, which gets way into the darker side of seculsion from society, way into abuse and neglect. I haven't seen that either, and don't really want to...
  • Similarly, Dancer in the Dark, and the rest of Lars Von Trier's Golden Heart Trilogy. The sweetness/darkness of Dancer in the Dark resulted in it being the only movie that's ever made me cry. Having Bjork portray an immigrant who believes in Broadway musicals but gets screwed over by America is just too cruel. I haven't seen the others in this trilogy, but I got into his unfinished American Trilogy through Dogville, which smacked the martyr out of me and also killed me a bit. (It was a good idea to watch them both entering the nonprofit world! 🙂)
  • On a lighter note, I loved The Wild Thornberries, or anything else where the kids live in an RV and learn from books and nature but not teachers. That show gets special bonus points because Nigel Thornberry's job is the one I once wanted. (RIP Steven Irwin, forever love and admiration for you and your wife and your kid 💙) This was one of the few kids cartoons I could watch not set in a school, but there should be more. I like to think the lack is what drove me to anime like Pokemon, which featured preteens running wild, free of all institutions, and learning about fauna and flora.
  • I occasionally read up about the Quiverfull movement, although I have been shy of watching or reading too much about the Duggars or Jon + Kate, because of all the hate aimed at them. A lot of the homeschool movement is Christian, though, so I'm obligated to know about them as well as the anti-establishment hippies, I guess.
  • Speaking of hippies, Sufjan Stevens, but also anything related to Wardorf schoolsMontessori schools, or other kinds of alternative education. Since I really don't know how to portray school in fiction, I really have no choice but to set my child characters in settings where they have more choice, freedom, or democracy in how they learn. Oh well.
  • Anything Jaden And Willow Do Or Say Or Think Or Make Or Sing, on a similar weird-schooling note.
  • And last but not least, J. D. Salinger's Glass family stories. I can't and won't say too much about how this series affected me for fear of spoiling an upcoming project, but I know me and my siblings bonded over this series. It's already providing me a roadmap for how to write my life.

poems about particles and/or waves

GLORY

to the dumped me

someone quoted that a good love

is one with someone who thinks the sun shines

out of your ass.

 

well i think everyone is made of starstuff

(gay enough to want to be liked by every pretty girl)

but i have once or twice seen a body where light burst unbound

from every orifice

rays freed shone enough to bask in,

irradiation that made me high

 

& the sources so?

or thanks my wife saw it first, or sees it brighter

or i don't believe you and ran

 

hey me too,

i don't yet believe i (woodhued clayborne gangly thing)

speak anything but dioxide poison

prove me wrong i tell the wait

& listen for someone's awefilled gasp

at what cosmic timeless light i hold

(of a bird) to wave or open and shut (its wings or tail) with a quick flicking motion

i am a little bit dense

of a girl, teasing out love's phonemes or quanta

to destroy implication.

i like must never mean i will sleep with

nor should a yes to dinner.

i wonder how to make words mean only meaning,

would sentiments expire?

how often should we renew?

 

can it work if a kiss does not mean union

does not means future

does not mean only

just why not? or that you are deft or pretty,

have trust or flavor.

must a held hand contain a therefore

& because & if i'm beautiful, yes thanks but so?

that doesn't tie me to you

(sometimes you are beautiful & i never want to touch you)

 

there is no space in love to fit forever,

we can announce each tomorrow

instead, each whens calms me

more than touch yes each

plan is a palm stroke

promise makes the back arch

 

is coffee coffee?

or simply your place--no

but i want to hear it:

my home my body my ownership 

(which is still no certainty

what is in your bookshelf?

or game or film or meal instead)

 

the last boy's language was a reclining

& a firm claiming; a want that grew

when passed from body and back

to body and back to body

in blameless animal language

 

say, what muscle, of eye or lip

led you on as you claim?

what red what flash what fever

sorry. i am a little bit foreign of a girl, to all customs

the only mating dance i know i have written for myself

poems i wrote in my head while biking through the black side of town

WHAT WOULD BROKEN WINDOW THEORY SAY

about the time we tied a jump rope to a glass door.

(it was fun for a while) to play single-dutch,

young limbs too unsynced to share.

would it say something other than to beaver's stray baseball?

 

or to the frisbees collected on the white gravel

of the roof of our lopsided yard, 

on our hillsided street;

tossed back to californian blond(e)s,

on a scale from oops to neglect, just what

 

or while biking through the black side of town

( an immigrant home also wanted by gentry) 

i spy ahead, the tremor of the filament in a broken taillight,

wondering what depth or death is rattling there

 

here i see dandelions,

a sidewalk that threatens a spine,

parallel parking just a little too ascrew

& if i get lost drop or spill or mistake out here

alone (i hear censure whispering feel eyes)

how would Broken Window Theory judge it?

alternative lineages for black folks who prefer democratic representation

Welcome, melanated ones. We live in a democrative republic, yes?But the Democrats and Republicans do not want us; what now? Should we return to Monarchy? No, let's keep the equality of all but instead of kings and queens, try reaching into your blood, your past, to discover who you are. Your great grandfather and great great grandmother and their greats were Great, no doubt. And you, descendent must be....

Defenders & Warriors: You who hewed the path, warscarred, fireblooded, loyal. You body was toned, reflective black tendon beautifully tensed and trained. Your Greats and Greats stood shoulder to shoulder, vowed and expired. Your bones remember some betrayal. But also, pure strength: an arrow twang, a spear's thud, the many of a home kept safe, yes, even now.

Healers & Doctors: You know the body, as those before you knew theirs and their lovers. Blood is in your blood, inured against pain. There is magic on your tongue, wise saliva. The Black grey matter from your Greats and Greats, you have been handed, to save.

Givers and Lovers: You are the reason you are here, so great is your empathy. You cannot harm because you hurt when you hurt. You must give care. Your tears grow forest. Your Greats and Greats grew shells and so must you, callouses to save you. Love flows from you, an unbroken chain from the past to whom? You must choose wisely where to give.

Artisans & Crafters: Your Greats and Greats had nimble fingers, birthing hands, whose children Oppressors and Others might erase. But look! That column, that cake, that carriage! That melody, that road, that garden. That mansion is your mansion. Even unsigned uncredited, it all is yours. Your fingers know as they whittle or carve. Whether they clench clay or marble, it is home.

Thinkers & Teachers: You knew another name for Anamnesis. Some other tongue will unlock the memory of your Greats and Greats, who may have failed to record. They stored their findings in the minds of the young, abstract seedlings passed down and down to you. Whatever is not known to you, you have been made to learn or relearn, but most of all, regive.

Explorers & Heroes: Much of the new doesn't feel so, to your blood. Your Greats and Greats found the whole world, the first world, before. Strangers just repeat. You must go farther, longer, deeper, more; to the moon, the wandering planets, the sun. You will live forever if it saves the day.

Storytellers & Seers: You can see the past if you wish, a closed-eye-view to your Greats & Greats but moreover, you must see beyond. Can't you feel it? In dreams or in songs? Whatever is not given, you envision to make. You must tell others to turn the vision real.

Rebels & Tricksters: You are alive for the same reason as ever: outsmarting someone. Maybe the taxman, maybe death. Maybe Oppressors or Others, you've dodged. They are bigger but you have money in your shoe and butter on your tongue. Your Greats and Greats played cards with the devil to win you skills; be careful! Don't singe yourself when you burn things down, take someone with you against the Way-Things-Are. You are a cool fire, quicksilver or lava.

Muses & Mystics: Everyone watches you. They are hungry, for how you set their lives aflame, ineefable. Inspiration in your lungs, they want to kiss or lap it up, to suck and gain. Your Greats and Greats knew the unknowable. Even god was jealous, let alone man. You will be chased, as they were, but you are forever just beyond and will never be caught.

Guides & Seekers: You carry a torch, never lost. Your brothers and sisters huddle to you, whispering in the darkness, which you do not fear. Your Greats and Greats made peace with darkness, with unknowing and wayfinding. True North is deep in you, stars look like family's faces. Your love of the sun becomes language, it tells you where to go. Or it doesn't, and you blaze the path.

Dancers & Artists: Being is most being to you than anyone. The uncreative life is no life at all. You have the most of it, more and more of it, until it makes your body move. It bleeds out of your fingers, words or colors. Or streams out of your mouth, lyric and rhythm. Your Greats and Great were thought mad, so full of newness and More and Making. You are beauty itself; you are all the above.

You melanted one, are one of many, equal to all and master of a niche that the Greats and Greats carved out for you. And yet, you can choose to change. Give and break and carve something new, for those who come from you someday. Farewell.

a community story

Fun facts about my apartment complex:

  • It's a nonprofit. A lot of their actions, I know from the other side of the table. Their community-building exercises are transparently an attempt to decrease crime within the building. [community volunteers chosen by staff and they get special keys and stuff]
  • It's a tough job, and I can tell because there's a lot of turnover. I really like the current staff, though (actually, I liked all the staff, but they had variable levels of competency ). One of the staff members had a hardass bootstrappy approach to the lower-income tenants in the building, and it almost seemed justifying given her experience and success.
  • It may be gentifying. I started seeing more and more cute young people in the building. A black dude moved in across the hall from me. I met a cute black girl on the stairs that I'd never seen before. I gave a Puerto Rican boy advice on moving into the area. One day I saw a student-looking white boy in the building, and I thought it won't be long now.
  • I got them a card recognizing their hard work because I could. Unfortunately (and unbeknownst to me), this was shortly after a body was found in the building. Oops.
  • I was being sexually harassed by one of the top community members, although I didn't realize at first, because I was good at deflecting it and putting my foot down. But when he came to my door with a rumor of me being male... Shoot, these facts aren't fun anymore, aren they? Oopsy!

The harassment is fascinating to me because it was basically my worst fear. It happened for the reasons I expected it to happen, reasons that could happen to anyone.

  1. TIME IS CAPITAL: I was too stressed/overbooked busy to be part of "the community" whereas he was retired with the time to clean the stairwells in the middle of the workday. So he was trusted and I was not.
  2.  AGE IS CAPITAL: I had only been in "the community" for a year or so, whereas he'd been there for who-knows-how-long.

Recently, I've been coming to terms that this is one of my greatest fears: people with greater social capital using it to dominate me. I feel like this colors my experience with community, especially my hatred of call-out culture. 

I see a lot of advocates talk about centering those most in need, but I wonder what it looks like to center the homeless and not the community organizing celebrities. Some organizers I have met (My gratitude will never wane towards a certain CEO who took time out of her day to speak with me at Sammy's Eatery.) treat everyone as equally valuable, but sometimes I see people positioned as The Voice for something and it scares me. Landing on their wrong side due to my ignorance or missteps scares me. The replication of hero worship scares me.

in thirteen years (part 1/2)

In thirteen years, there will be a new fad: love languages expressed through colored collars: red orange yellow green blue / gift touch time praise deed. On February 10th, the fad will begin--quietly, on blacktwitter or fairykeitumblr or youngartistinstagram or somewhere else that will never receive credit. Some raver kids of color who are into wholesome memes and celebrating each other will craft them out of kandi. A post will go viral, and the community that follows the bright young lives these kids express through photograph will adopt their trend in their own cities.

On February 19th, a bullied eighth grader reads a silly manga online and decides to test the world in a leap of faith in humanity. She dresses in all orange, collar included, arms himself with a 'Free Hugs' sign, and skips school for a bus ride downtown. The bus driver is a twenty-something with an orange collar, and she is just the first. No one asks why she's not in school. They just hug her. Someone buys her a meal (blue, though). At some point, she works up the courage to raise, and use, her sign on a busy street. At some point, she start crying and doesn't care because it's a good kind of cry, carthartic and joy-tinged. Kids get out of school and even her own neglectful classmates run to hug her. It becomes a minor news story, but only the young understand the significance of her coloring.

On February 23, a group of five high schoolers will go to a barlike restaurant (it must kick them out at 10pm) to exchange compliments. They all wear green collars, of course, and they all agree it would be fun. They talk like many youth do in that tone of sincerity that is played up to the point of laughing at itself. But they're still sincere, wearing their favorite outfits, having pre-gamed before if with access to alcohol, pretending to grow drunk on sodas, improvising talents, and praising and praising and praising each other. It feels good every time. Some of their dates are present, some of their dates are more masculine, less emotional, and without collar. They complain: it's a circlejerk taco party. One of their dates is masculine but emotional and says what's working with circlejerk? An ego feast? A lot of what they say is true as long as they believe it. He asks some the dates if they know their colors, because obviously they aren't being fed by this.

By March 3rd, everyone at a small southwestern grocery chain store will have a color. The clerks will have a system of tapping in or out based on customer reputations: here is the customer that loves to take his sweet time and you're the most patient, aren't you? or here is that customer who always needs help and you love to help, don't you? or here is that customer who loves to flirt, so let me handle her! On breaks, the ones who can, smoke as they all chat. There is an ongoing debate on whether listening to someone vent counts giving quality time, providing words of affirmation, or performing emotional labor. This blue green or yellow? one says. Why not all of them? So the topic switches to multicolor collars. 

On March 7th: An instafamous celebrity displays a red collar with the tag #diamondsareagirlsbestfriend. An indie artist with a semi-popular Etsy specializing in 8bit kandi sprites immediately starts tagging her color collars with the celebrity's name. Of course it takes off. An aspiring journalist and part-time political astroturfer drafts up pitches the very hour, hoping to be the first to explain the trend to adults.

By March 26th, even preschoolers are wearing them. There is a whole class whose eager clamours convinced a teacher to begin the day with color collar activities. They learn colors and matching actions: sharing on red day, hugging on orange, helping on blue, and complimenting on green. Every day together is a yellow day, their teachers says. They are too young to know their favorite love language, and so most tend towards the rainbow collars popularized by Target.

On April 11th, two private school buddies hatch a plot to wear all yellow until their parents notice. Their parents do not wear colors, but the friends concluded that they are all red due to rough upbringings. But who wants to be a lawyer or banker, just to make money? Who wants another dumb car? They loiter together, dressed down and skating on the hills by the beach, drinking slurpees with the same straw, lying in the park grass and conjugating new cuss words. They notice the green on the poet at an open mic, and cheer extra loud, bang the table. They notice the blue of the young mom pulling a personal shopping cart uphill and convince her to give some weight away to their healthy young bodies. They notice the red of a sticky toddler wandering too far from her cousin's birthday party, and they stick a roll of twenties in her back romper pocket with hushed giggles. The toddler dives for the first drops of candy when the cousin's pinata receives its first rupturing crack, and the two private school buddies laugh at the cuteness of greed in such a tiny little body.

[tbc...]

how i overcame my fear of the women's bathroom

With that title, this sounds like a gender dysphoria story. To some extent, it is: there was a period in my life where I rejected feminity. I styled myself a tomboy and wore only pants, but I also wore a hijab, and if you can imagine for a second, a blue-jeans-wearing hijabi playing Pokemon Yellow on the bus... But still, I was the kind of being-person who would read about Susan Pevensie and think, serves you right! Piss off with your nylons and lipstick and invitations! Something like that.

I still got pissed off when I was referred to as "he" by the boys I played Yu-Gi-Oh against in the comic book store. I wanted the admiration due a girl, as well as the respect/usefulness/competency/confidence/freedom that belonged to men, I guess.

I suppose. This experience made me aware that I talked from the wrong part of my body however.  Chest voice? Head voice? I'm not sure what it's called, but I later trained myself to speak in a higher tone--although I still laspe into my tomboy voice when too comfortable.

In any case, I was a homebody whose my parents raised them not to use public restrooms if I could help (they were filthy! You couldn't do istinja in them unless you felt like running out to wet the tissue.) They, like many things not in my house, inspired a sort of foreign fear in me. Just as the cardplaying boy mistook my gender, I would be misgendered by the women in the restroom, chased out and attacked. Or worse, I would enter the men's room in confusion and...something bad would happen. I didn't know what.

Public restrooms made me anxious, for years and years, until I joined the Conservation Corps and learned to pee outdoors and wipe myself with leaves. Digging my own poopholes (proper term: latrines) made me feel like an very accomplished cat, and squatting myself small down among ferns and bushes was often very relaxing. I considered buying a shewee. I kind of still want one.

In many, many ways; the great outdoors was gender-neutral.

I finished my half-month Americorps term with confidence in so many other areas, but the restroom anxiety stuck with me. I was no longer afraid of bars or liquor or distance from my home or so much else.

I think I was at an airport when I decided to innoculate myself against the "something bad" of public restrooms. An airport, maybe a mall where the women's room had a line or was full, and the men's room was empty and hidden in a corner where no one could stop me entering with a funny look. I'd read about women who used the men's room when the women's was full. I'd decided to become one. Maybe my failure to perform femininity would serve as camouflage to help me avoid wetting myself.

The men's room was exactly the same as the women's but with a urinal. Of course. But what was so forbidden about seeing a urinal? The single-occupancy ones were so similar, I really didn't understand the seperation.

In any case, after learning firsthand the banality of baños, my anxiety towards them was gone. 

One of my recent jobs had two genderqueer restrooms. On one of its last days, I remember exploring the men's room on a celebratory drunken buzz. I think I shouted in joy, "I'm in the men's restroom!"

My coworkers probably thought I was joking. But ah, they have no idea what it took for me to get there.

 

more on sad black girls: nervous black girls

I know it's lame to explain a piece, but still I will: There aren't many avenues for black people to express negative emotions other than anger.

Black sadness is fairly easy to find: we had blues, we have afropessimism, and even Cornell West talks a bit about black sadness. But when Chester Bennington, I saw many tributes that positioned him and Linkin Park as a necessary outlet for kids of color who didn't have similar outlets in their cultures.

This is why Kid Cudi, who helped my brothers cope with depression, had to go to rock. This is why Kanye, who helped usher a confessional form of backpack rap into the mainstream, had to come from elsewhere than the streets. #niceguy #sadboy canuck Drake is half-Jewish, so of course he's got a lot of non-black influences to draw upon when he's not borrowing slang from Toronto's Somali community or borrowing beats from the islands.

Odd Future is full of sadness, and it's been affirming for me. From Earl Sweatshirt on Burgundy to Frank Ocean's existential despair over California's consumerism. Now Tyler is on some #selfhatinggayshit and I've been listening to it on repeat.

I'm the loneliest man alive But I keep on dancing to throw 'em off

He might be gay or bi or pan or queer, who knows? I'm not super into speculating about people's labels. He'll either identify as something, or he won't, or he's just clowning, or he can do what he wants so long as it hurts nobody. Who knows?

I TRIED TO COME OUT THE DAMN CLOSET LIKE FOUR DAYS AGO AND NO ONE CARED HAHAHHAHAHA

I could go on and on about queerness and loneliness in the OFWGKTA family (I haven't mentioned Syd yet) or other sad rappers who have sustained me (like Bino. Or even Jaden's pop-philosopher androgynous-ass, who's been featured by Bino, Cudi, Tyler, and remixed Alessia Cara's introvert anthem. And then Logic goes and makes a suicide hotline song with Alessia Cara & Khalid...)

I do love that hiphop, and therefore blackness, is having this open and public conversation about LGBT identity and mental health struggles. I was watching as Cudi went to rehab and low-key hoping it would have an effect on my dad's view of psychiatry. I've been praying for Cudi since Just What I Am, and those prayers are mixed up in my prayers for my own fam because God can multitask like that.

But.

I don't have depression. I've struggled with it before, yes, but I would say that the underlying issue is trauma, which black culture still doesn't even know how to address in the mainstream.

My main symptom, main illness is social anxiety, which still seems to cast as a White People Thing. Quick, think of an anxious black girl? Came up with nothing, right? Because we're supposed to be Strong or whatever. Black girls, I feel, are not allowed the delicacy to be afraid of people, so I have to turn to other cultures for understanding and comfort. I'll never be able to knock my love for manga as long as they make so many stories about having bad social skills that I can't find in American media.

I wish there were a place to connect all the anxious black girls so we'd know we weren't alone. Do we even exist in great enough numbers? Do we need to build that place?

On that note, I just remembered that I intended to subscribe to Doll Hospital.

[songs for normals] & guerilla poetry

On Monday, I sent out 19 of 24 poems I challenged myself to write as part of a GoFundMe reward. It's a super rewarding experience, and I may have just doubled the number of poems I've written in my whole life. 🙌🏾

The [songs for normals] project is an idea I had maybe 10? 7? years ago. I kinda hate love songs because they have nothing to do with me, so I wanted to write a couple dozen songs (not poems) on feelings that were not romantic love. My dream was to go all Sufjan/chamber pop with them, using glockenspiels and thumb pianos and timapanis and marimbas and violas and tablas and anything but the normal boring rock set-up. But I can't play music in the first place lol so it might never happen.

The theme was overlooked emotions and situations, everyday life instead of Hollywood hyperreality. So instead of ooh baby i love you i want you i miss you you hurt me we're over we're done i'm sorry i want you back i know you want me you were made for me etc etc etc; what about following the train tracks and finding an abandoned side of your city you'd never noticed before?

What about the second thoughts you have about changing jobs on the day after you've put in your two weeks'?

What about the feeling of waiting in line at the grocery store? (Especially if the "the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating.")

Maybe this project is actually about mindful. idk I just know that God comes up a lot no matter what I'm talking about b/c pantheistic belief system or whatever.

I have also been working on a similar project called All Flowers for Other Lovers, where I'm challenging myself to write a 100 love poems, in which the breadth of the definition is so that I can include things like storge and caritas/charity. Those are the kinds of love I know.

I'm supposed to give out non-roses with the non-romantic poems, and that's not quite how the pilot went... I may make the poems into 100 business cards, although I'm not sure when I'd give them out. Still thinking about it.

The kicker is that I don't consider myself a poet and probably never will. Why?

  1. I didn't study poetry other than writing "songs" for anime I wished I could make and idolizing Emily Dickinson (#foreveralonegirlcrew) and e. e. cummings
  2. Fiction will always be my main love and submitting fiction is enough work. My submitting poetry almost never happens.
  3. I'm not interested in publishing chapbooks because I generally don't like the insular side of the lit world. I don't want to make anything that I wouldn't be able to find were I not in this world.

For those reasons, most of my poetry will be given freely.

My relationship to poetry is kind of like a Poetry Popularizer, I guess. I want to bring it to unexpected places. It can be on my blog, it can be in my pocket, it can be at an arts festival, it can be in your email or snailmail, and it will sometimes be onstage. But a collection won't ever happen, I'm sorry, and I think that precludes me from ever being a real poet.

oh well. 🤷🏾

the giver of life / the giver of death

a catholic once told me

that as a child

he knew the shape of god:

a frail man, wounded

the method of his Horture

appropriation of His death

 

ah, then i think my god has always

been calligraphy,

golden names or virtues

whispered in circles

a perfect number just beyond

another tongue's abstraction

everything so close to nothing

as spied in jabir's gyre