Thinking About Audre Lorde And Ferguson

I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. That the speaking profits me, beyond any other effect.

–Audre Lorde, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”

Last night, sick to my stomach, I watched the “Prosecutor” of Police Officer, Darren Wilson, explain to the town of Ferguson and the world why the life of the unarmed teen, Michael Brown was not worth a trial (See yesterday’s post, “Ferguson on My Mind”.) He explained why Wilson was justified in shooting him five or more times, two of those shots were to the head. I was disgusted by how much the Prosecutor sounded like the Defense Attorney for Wilson and not the one responsible for making sure he went to trial.

Immediately following the announcement that Wilson would not stand trial for killing Brown, I watched Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, in pain as she heard the verdict. I cried for her and I cried for the families of other black victims whose lives were not worthy of consideration from the American judicial system. Michael Brown never had a chance in that court room.

I hugged my daughter closer to me because unarmed black girls and women get shot by police officers and racist citizens, too. They, too, can be victims of a judicial system that does not recognize their humanity (See the story of Marissa Alexander in The Root.) I cried because for way too many people in this country, black lives have no value.

I watched President Barack Obama talk to Americans about our country being built on justice, and all I could think was “no, it wasn’t, it was built on thievery and slavery.” He continued by telling Protesters that he is standing by the statement given by Michael Brown’s family to protest peacefully.

His sentiments felt shallow because not only has he failed to admonish the behavior of police who racially profile and carefully carelessly snuff out the lives of black youth, but he also failed to connect with the Brown family in a meaningful way. He couldn’t even offer as simple of a statement as he gave Trayvon Martin’s family when he said, “If I had a black son, he’d look like Trayvon Martin.”

I asked, “How do I write about this? How can I write about this when I am in so much pain for the future of our children?”

Twitter IThis morning, I awakened to the heaviness of the night before, still feeling ill. I picked up my phone and immediately got on Twitter. I read the Tweets from the activists in Ferguson and noticed a significant number of white people spewing anger and hate at the activism in the area. They wanted to silence the voices in Ferguson. They called them hateful names and wished bodily harm on them, but Ferguson activists ignored their comments and continued to address their ultimate goal: to make #blacklivesmatter.

As I continued with my morning routine of dragging Nina out of bed to get her dressed for school, I still pondered TwitterIIhow I would write about Ferguson. Between the news media using language like “rioting” instead of “protests” or “social unrest” and others on Twitter attacking the activists for the work that they were doing, I was utterly disturbed by the way in which the narrative was being told. The story of black people protesting the systemic victimization TwitterIIIof black bodies was being constructed by the mass media as deviant. It was sick and twisted to watch people stand up for the protection of property in ways that they would not stand up to protect a teenager’s life.

Meanwhile, Nina came down stairs and picked up her pen and finished working on whatever she was writing the night before. She was upset when I told her that it was time to go to school. She told me that she needed to write.

I thought to myself, “What would Nina do if she were confronted with some type of struggle in her 7 year old life?”

She would definitely write.

So, as I walked her to school this morning, I became determined to write/right a story of Ferguson.

During this walk, Nina and I talked about writing. I told her that she may not understand what I mean right now, but she must “right” the world with her writing. I reminded her of her magical powers and that everyone doesn’t possess the ability or desire to write as she does. I told her that she needed to use her writing powers for good: She must tell the narratives of people who don’t possess her magic to write. She must tell their stories because other people needed to hear her truth. Because her truth is important. Her voice is important. Never stop writing.

I needed her to hear these things, on this day in particular.

We have a responsibility to write/right the stories that are being told about Ferguson. Audre Lorde said in the “Transformation of Silence,” “We share a commitment to language and to the power of language, and to the reclaiming of that language which has been made to work against us. In the transformation of silence into language and action, it is vitally necessary for each of us to establish or examine her function in that transformation and to recognize her role as vital within that Transformation.”

I know that when I am no longer around to be the voice for people through my writing, I know someone else who will continue in my place.

#BlackLivesMatter

How Do You NaNoWriMo?

So, as many of you know, Realist and I are participating in National November Writers’ Month, which challenges writers to write 50,000 new words by the end of November. We decided that maybe if we share what works for us, you WriMos could offer some advice to us. So, here goes…

Da Hype 1

No word shaming

No Word Shaming!

1. I prepare for NaNoWriMo by creating a working outline. I try to start a couple of months in advance so that I can add ideas here and there as they emerge. I use vague terms and ideas, with hopes of exploring them throughout the writing process. Most ideas make it in the actual draft, while others don’t. Sometimes, I explore the ideas in ways that I never imagined. So, be flexible.

2. I write on Google Drive, that way I have access to my documents on my laptop, tablet, and smartphone. This helps me mostly when it comes to my outline. This way, I am able to add an idea or two to my outline whenever/wherever I am.

3. I don’t “word shame.” Sometimes I reach my word count goal, other times I do not. I really try to make 1,666 words each day, but sometimes I just can’t. Fitting 50,000 words into your month is not an easy fete. If it were easy, everyone would have written a novel. I don’t make myself feel ashamed about not being able to accomplish my goal, I just work extra hard to find time another day to make up for the time I lost writing.

 

Da Realist 1

Image Courtesy of Simon Howden at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Image Courtesy of Simon Howden at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

As you can see, Hype is really organized when she writes. She gets her outline in order before she begins. She also made a spreadsheet (that she shared with me) to log the number of words that she has written each day. Although I marvel at her process, I #NaNoWriMo quite differently.

Having tried my hand at novel writing in previous years, I am convinced that I am no novelist, but I did want to participate. I decided I would modify the process by making it nonfiction. When I tell stories about my family, I always crack people up. (Well, maybe just Hype, and she may be a bit biased.) I decided to write about my grandparents. I was fortunate to have known my grandparents and most of my great-grandparents and to have had special relationships with all of them. I’ve wanted to do this for a while. If you think about it, it’s still NaNoWriMo–National Nonfiction Writing Month. But guess what, someone has has already thought of this. (Click the links for more info.)

I wish I could say there is a specific method to my madness, but there isn’t. I’m not even sure what I will do with stories/histories/thoughts/feelings I am recording; I just feel compelled to write them. I just get out my little notebook and smooth writing pen, think about my loved ones, and I write. I write longhand rather than at my computer. I enjoy writing like this. For me it feels more thoughtful and creative and less like work.

So, 2 Dope followers, that’s how we do it. How do you NaNoWriMo?

 

NaNoWriMo My Way

NaNoWriMo setupI like a challenge, especially one as gigantic as writing 50,000 words within a month. This is my fourth year participating in NaNoWriMo and I intend to win this year by reaching my writing goal. The first year I participated, I wrote about 25,000 words (24,409 words to be exact). For me, I was bothered by the fact that I did not complete the task of writing 50,000 words, but it was pretty amazing to have accomplished what I did on the first go around.

That year, I utilized all of the tools that were provided to help writers become successful. I attended the write-ins at my local Panera and participated in the virtual write-ins as well. They were both an integral part of my success. The Panera write-ins had leaders encouraging us to write, and they gave away small gifts like pencils and erasers. The atmosphere was wonderful: everyone was in the spirit of writing and it diminished the loneliness and isolation that the writing experience often creates. The virtual write-ins also worked because of the writing sprints that were used to push writers to accomplish their daily writing goals.

I remember falling off the writing wagon once Thanksgiving came around. Not only is this time of year hectic because of the impending holiday and all of the preparations that come along with making a family happy and full of turkey, but this time of year is particularly busy for college professors, like myself, who are busy grading papers and getting themselves ready to submit final grades for the semester. So, for those 2014 WriMo newbies, prepare yourself for the business of Thanksgiving.

I am not exactly sure what happened the second and third years, but the writing barely got off of the ground before I quit. This year, however, I’m in the game. I’m barely in the game, but I am definitely playing.

Da Realist 1 wrote a little bit about NaNoWrimo in her post, “Partners in Crime.” In the post, she says that writers are encouraged to write approximately 1,666 words a day. So, when I started writing on day 5, I was already behind by approximately 8,330 words!!

I had already prepared for the month by outlining, but life continued to get in the way and it prevented me from starting on time. I had a job interview for which I had to prepare, too many papers to grade, and my daily responsibilities of chauffeuring my daughter around from one activity to the next. I just could not fit in NaNoWriMo for 4 days.

On the 5th day, I contemplated giving up as I did the previous two years, but then I changed my mind and got in the game.

Somehow, this weekend, I closed the deficit by about 5,000 words. I decided that I may not make 50,000 words by the last day of November, but I will have started a project and a routine of writing that I will not want to give up.

The truth: fitting 50,000 words into your daily routine for a month is challenging, but there is something about having a goal in sight that promotes the act of writing for many of us. By the end of this past weekend, I realized that my ability to write is a super power, and that many people are not capable of doing what I did in one weekend.

Press on WriMos, and keep writing.

***

For more information about National November Writers’ Month, click on this hyperlink for their website. They do a great job of preparing writers before November and encouraging writers all year round.

Partners in Crime

IMG_1005 (2)Have you ever had a friend who is always getting you into. . . (ahem) “things”? Well, I do.  I’m looking at you, Hype 1. I wouldn’t say she gets me into trouble, but we do have adventures. She has a unique ability to get me to try new things, sometimes dragging me along kicking and screaming because I am essentially a “stick-in-the-mud” kinda girl. Hype has gotten me hooked on various podcasts and persuaded me to get a Kindle years ago. She also introduced me to Goodreads, Twitter, and Pinterest. Part of me thinks that she gets me to try new things just so she’ll have a “partner in crime.”

A few years ago Hype asked me casually, “Are you going to participate in NaNoWriMo this year?” I asked, “NaNoWri Who?” Seriously though, I’m pretty sure I asked, “What is that?” National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) happens every November. It is a national challenge to write a novel in a month, spending time each day in November writing, in an effort to reach the goal of a draft of a 50,000 (an average of 1,666 words per day) word novel by month’s end.

Hype is a literary scholar; she also writes fiction– short stories and novels. So, it’s not surprising that that NaNoWriMo appeals to her. Even though I am a historian, she seems to think I can write a novel because of the funny/crazy true stories about my life and my family.

Although it wasn’t quite kicking and screaming, I have agreed to participate in this year’s NaNoWriMo with Hype. I thought it would be good opportunity to write down some of my stories and get back into blogging. We’re a little tardy to the party, so I’m suggesting that we write from November 3 to December 3.

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year, let us know. If you think you’d like to try but need more information, check out the National Novel Writing Month website. Happy writing! 🙂

We’re Baa-aack!

Back to Work!

Back to Work!

It’s been a long time, we shouldn’t have left you

Without a dope beat to step to, step to, step to, step to. . .

~ Try Again, Aaliyah

 

We’re baa-aack! The 2 Dope Sistahs are coming back at ya with posts “hot and fresh out the kitchen” starting Wednesday, June 18. Please come back tomorrow and see what’s cooking. 🙂

Wacky Wednesday: The Best Moments of 2013

Da Hype 1

Black Twitter at its best

Black Twitter at its best

Do you remember Paula Deen from 2013? Do you remember the controversy surrounding one of her employees who sued her, and as a result, a number of accusations emerged, claiming that she and her brother used racist language often at work? Well, that was not my favorite moment in 2013, but the #paulasbestdishes hashtag on Twitter that followed did. Black Twitter came alive and brought to the media’s attention the story that was otherwise falling off the radar.

This hashtag showed so many how powerful Black Twitter is, and it has been a platform for a resurgence of black feminist politics as well. My best moments in social media in 2013, all involve Black Twitter.

Da Realist 1

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti/FreeDigital Photos.net.

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti/FreeDigital Photos.net.

To be honest, 2013 was not a great year for me. So, good riddance! I was glad to see it go. Life wasn’t working out the way I planned it. The job market has been tough. I lost one of my best friends. I felt isolated because I live far away from my sister-friends.

Then, one day I was talking to Da Hype 1 on the phone (as I do pretty much every day), and we came up with the idea of starting this blog. I don’t remember who suggested it  (probably Hype), but I knew it was time to try something different. Blogging was something that I’d thought about before. In fact, my husband had encouraged me to blog, but I had absolutely no idea how to start.

Well, Da Hype 1 and I put our heads together, and 2 Dope Sistahs was born. Although it has sometimes been hectic, some of my best moments of 2013 have been related to working on this blog.

Wacky Wednesday: What Artist, Song, or CD Inspires You to Write?

Da Realist 1

When I am working, I prefer complete silence–no distractions from the television, no music, just quiet. Of course, complete silence is pretty hard to come by unless you happen to be up at 1:00 am (as I am right now).

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

When I decide to go to the library or to Starbucks and write, I listen to music help me concentrate. No rap, hip-hop, R&B or even jazz for me though. I’d never get any work done because I’d be singing, bobbing my head, and dancing in my seat. The perfect music for me is classical. In the seventh grade, I had this very eccentric math teacher who always said, “Mozart and math go together.” Students made fun of him then, but now I think he had a point. Mozart goes well with writing also.  Although I could hardly be considered an aficionado, Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,” is probably my favorite. Rock Me Amadeus!

Da Hype 1

220px-LaurynHillTheMiseducationofLaurynHillalbumcover[1]So, I guess my readers are going to think that I am obsessed with Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill . . .  yep, I am. This is one of the most creative works I have ever listened to, and her work makes me want to be a better writer. The lyrics in her songs are chock-full of metaphors and other types of figurative language and it reminds listeners of the value of well thought out lyrics. I think L-Boogie is an amazing writer, artist, and singer, and I am never tired of hearing this CD.

Writing with Courage

Harriet Jacobs, author of The Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Harriet Jacobs, author of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Too often, we allow our daily responsibilities to stifle our creativity. From the journal writer to the published novelist, I believe this statement to be true.

I often reflect on the writing of those who came before us, particularly women and people of color who wrote in the face of extreme danger and potential death. Writers like Harriet Jacobs, an escaped slave who wrote the Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, addressed in her writing the harsh realities of slavery. The publication of Jacobs’ narrative, as well as others works like Frederick Douglass’ The Narrative in the Life of Frederick Douglass, put them at risk for recapture or death, as well as risked the lives of the slaves who still remained in bondage.

Fast-forward more than a century to 1997: When I entered graduate school, I met a woman who we will call Janice. After raising her children, she decided to return to school to finish her bachelor’s degree. Over time, her husband became jealous of the time she spent in school studying and writing about literature. To show his dissatisfaction with her love for all- things literature, he burned her books and threatened to harm her if she stayed in school. Thankfully, she got out of that abusive relationship and eventually received a PhD in English.

Frederick Douglass, author of A Narrative in the Life of Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass, author of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Though real, Jacobs, Douglass, and Janice’s experiences are some of the worst examples of how people have written (and in Janice’s case, still write) in the face of fear and danger. Although I have never had to write under such circumstances, I still know what it is like to write in fear. For me, like many of you, we write with the fear of failure.

I had a professor tell me once that I was not a solid writer (in words that were not thoughtful). At another time she said that I was so bad that she didn’t know how to work with me, so she would have to step down from my committee. While working with her, however, she criticized my writing (and in some cases me as a person) to such an extent that I felt incapable of constructing a coherent sentence. In many ways, my interaction with her silenced me as a writer.

It is this type of criticism of my writing that I often hear whispering in my ear every time I pick up a pen (yes, I still write drafts out!). I recognize that I do not write in the face of potential death as many people who came before me did. And, I do not write in the face of abuse as some still do today. It does, however, take courage for me to write. Each time I write a blog and hit the post button, it will feel as if I have taken one step forward to freeing myself from the negative academic past that has been an impediment to me finding peace and happiness in writing.

Write on . . .

Tell me, courageous writers, what are you overcoming to write?

Activism through Writing: The Power of the Pen

The Runaway

The Runaway

Over the years, I have studied various slave narratives like the Narrative and the Life of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Whenever I teach them, I remind my students of the purpose in which these narratives were written: to have a written account of their horrible experiences that would lead to the eradication of slavery. The authors of the slave narratives sought to tell their stories and the stories of those around them, but they had to do so while maintaining the anonymity of those still enslaved and those who aided them to freedom.

Being able to balance telling the story and maintaining anonymity required the authors to stealthily navigate the racial terrain of America, which included violence that was supported by the legislature. The Fugitive Slave Law, for example, created an atmosphere in which slaves attempting to escape their conditions could be found by bounty hunters who were at their leisure to brutally beat or kill them. This is the risk that Douglass and Jacobs faced when publishing their works. If they were found, they could have been killed. Yet, they risked their lives to tell the stories of the many slaves who were still in bondage, incapable of reading and writing, or who had no way to articulate their pain and suffering for the world to know. This is why they wrote.

They were brave and fearless to risk their lives to write about the pain they themselves endured, but they were compassionate to articulate and give voice to the pain of others.

I, too, write as a way giving voice to others. And, while I bet this argument may have been made a hundred times before, countless others are still rendered silent each day by the pain of their experiences. And, so the writer becomes the conscience of the people; the pulse, if you will, of the experiences that people encounter every day. Imagine what might have happened to the narrative of Rachel Jeantel in the Trayvon Martin case, had writers of all types not come to her defense? She would have certainly been rendered silent.

I find writing as a form of activism, that works simultaneously with the work that I do. Change has always occurred with the aid of writers.

Noticing the Daisies: Lessons from a Five Year Old

daisiesMy five year old, who I will call Nina, has a busy schedule. Within a calendar year, she takes dance, gymnastics, and swimming. She also plays soccer.

At five, she is fearless in trying new activities. She always gives each activity 100%, has a great time while doing them, and is determined to meet new friends. She never worries that she looks silly–she is silly at the appropriate times and is unapologetic about it.

There are a bunch of other activities that she enjoys. She writes books, for example, where she asks me to staple pages together. Once, she decorated a piece of cardboard by coloring it and placing a blue ribbon on it. She then placed the cardboard on top of the pages where she wrote her story and asked me to staple it together. That work of creativity was the cover of her book.

She is also a singer, writer, and composer who creates songs that sometimes make absolutely no sense to me, but songs that are always funny. My favorite song is “Sparkly Doodie.” It’s about a Princess who ate glitter and poops sparkles. That is both clever and hilarious! (And, the tune is catchy.)

The other night when I put her to sleep, she threw what I thought was her normal before bedtime fit, where she tried everything in the Kid’s Book of Avoiding Bedtime to stay awake. This night was different, though. On this particular night, Nina did not ask for another drink of water or one more goodnight-kiss from daddy. She did not beg for the opportunity to re-brush her teeth or watch another episode of Doc McStuffins. This time, Nina argued that she had not been given a chance to write ALL day. “Mommy,” she cried. “I cannot go to bed before I write!”

Now, that was music to a writer-mama’s ears. This night, I gave in to her desires to stay up simply because she was staying up to write. After all, I, too, know how important it is to sort things out in my head through the motion of putting pen to paper.

The lessons I have learned from my 5 year old:

1. Try absolutely EVERYTHING, and have a good spirit as you do.

2. Always give 100% and have all of the fun that you can possibly have while doing it.

3. Be open to meeting new people; it makes participating in the activity even more exciting.

4. Do what makes you feel good as much as possible. It keeps a smile on your face.

5. Don’t lay your head on your pillow without haven written something for the day.

kids playing soccerWhen my husband suggested that Nina play soccer, I insisted that she wouldn’t be interested. She is a Princess and loves “Princess Things!” This child refuses to walk down the stairs in the morning for breakfast until she is has on her princess dress and tiara. Surely, she would be on the soccer field picking daisies.

I was wrong. I had a limited view of princesses, particularly my princess.

So, her first soccer game was finally here. She played well; she stayed in the game and was very focused. When we left, she noticed some flowers outside of the sports complex. “Look at the beautiful flowers mommy!” She then proceeded to pick them, never thinking that playing soccer and enjoying flowers had to be mutually exclusive activities.

The most important lesson I learned from my five year old: Doing the things that interest you most doesn’t have to be in conflict with each other when you have fallen in love with all you are doing.