I #StandWithOrlando...But I Am Culpable, Too

I have spent the days following the massacre in Orlando searching for a way to express my grief and anger over not just another mass shooting and taking of innocent lives, but also over the fact that those lives were queer and Latinx. They were targeted specifically because of their identity, orientation, and race. 49 people dancing in a safe haven on Latin Night during Pride gone. Over 50 more injured. Families and a community forever altered by domestic terrorism. I honestly spent the first 3 days not even knowing what to say. As a straight, cis identifying woman, anything I could say beyond a text of love and support to a LGBTQIA friend or loved one felt feeble, weak, inadequate, and empty. Hollow. I may be treated and viewed a certain way because of my race, but I am privileged in that I am not also attacked, targeted, or denied civil rights because of my sexual orientation or gender identity. No one is passing laws to ban me from a bathroom that matches who I am. I am not denied employment or face discrimination, or lacking adequate healthcare because my gender and expression of it conforms to what society deems acceptable. I can walk down the street and hold my husband's hand without fear of harassment. My church and family never disowned me because who I love and who I am attracted to fits what's heteronormative. I carry a form of privilege that keeps me safe and one that is not afforded to my friends and loved ones in the LGBTQIA community. I've learned this, I know it, and the massacre in Orlando has forced me to reckon with it in a new way, one that has left me at a loss. 

 

The truth is...I don't really have words that are appropriate. Thoughts, prayers, tears, words demanding politicians take action to protect citizens they're elected to serve-they all feel ineffective and frankly useless in these moments. They felt useless a year ago after hate and an assault rifle took 9 Black lives in Charleston, and they feel empty now that it has taken 49 lives of queer people of color and injured even more. I do not know what to say, but I also can't stay silent. So all I have is my experience to share. 

Since Sunday, I've thought about my uncle, his husband, and their children. Their smiles, my uncle's laugh and how he always understood my deep affection for Prince-so much so that he gave me his VHS copy of Joffrey Ballet's Billboards, a ballet done to Prince's music when I was 7 or 8. I think about how he's an accomplished organist, a child prodigy, and how empty the world would be without his artistry and contributions to music. I think about the comfort I always felt in his presence, and how his eyes light up when they see me, how I always, always, always feel SEEN when he looks at me. 

I think about dear friends past and present who I can't imagine not loving. Friends who have taught me by proxy how to be a better human, a better believer, a better parent to my children, a better partner to my husband. The ones who allowed me to attend my first Pride with them in DC, Baltimore, and VA when I was in the military. The ones who entrusted me to help them keep from being asked so they wouldn't have to tell and lose their careers. The ones who took me to their safe spaces to dance, the ones who helped me see beyond my own ignorance around gender and sexuality. The ones who educate me even though it is not their job to do so. The ones who have taught me about real faith, and love. 

I've also remembered my ignorance, biases, and bigotry. I've stared my complicity in the face and have been ashamed for the way I have treated others in the past in the name of a distorted interpretation of Christianity, in an errant interpretation of the Bible. Despite my own questions, I spent years as a Christian "loving the sinner but not the sin". I've spent years being conditional in my love and affirmation of people different than myself. I have spent the last 6-10 years working to disavow myself of it, but I am still culpable. I think about my best friend in 7th grade who I turned my back on when she first came out to me and started dating her girlfriend because I was a new Christian and everything I had been taught about sexuality was rooted in flawed, narrow understandings of gender and sexuality.

I've recalled the day I was driving home about 5 years ago after a friend shared her story with me about how our local church had mistreated her and her family because they were immigrants struggling to make it. I wasn't completely surprised but I was still horrified. I was nearly halfway home when the words "It's about Love. That's it. You're called to Love, A'Driane. You've been doing it wrong" punched me in the gut and pierced me in the side. I literally sat in my car on the side of the road in between New Jersey and Pennsylvania sobbing, repenting, and determining to disavow myself of any dogma or theology that wasn't rooted in love or demanded that I negate any part of a person's humanity, or deny them their full personhood. I went back and read Jesus' words with new eyes; abandoned the belief that love comes with a condition, that Christ does not accept and love us as we are, regardless of who we are or who we are naturally inclined to be attracted to. 

As I've sat with the grief and heaviness of what has happened and have once again recognized the role that religion has had in breeding the hate that triggered the attack in Orlando, I've come to two conclusions, both as someone who has been a believer of Christ and as a human being: 

I'm not a scholar or a theologian. I've taken classes, I've read a variety of texts, and I've been reading the Bible since childhood. I'm not an expert and I have no desire to spend time doing an exhaustive exegesis of Scripture to argue with anyone over this. But here is where I'm at. If God is One who cannot and does not affirm and love the wholeness, personhood, humanity, and dignity of LGBTQIA people, then what hope do I have for Him to do the same for me? I am a woman and I bleed monthly. I am Black, my ancestors were once enslaved. My brain chemistry is wired in a way that it's classified as a disorder. And my children? They are not "neurotypical".  The Bible, with all of its racial, gender, sexual, able-bodied, and ethnic biases damns us all. If the Father and the Son do not embrace and love those who are not heterosexual and gender conforming, then They do not embrace and love me and the full expression of myself either. Or my children. Or anyone. They can't. If LGBTQIA people are not worthy and deserving of life and life more abundantly as they were made and created in God's image, then neither am I...and if that's the case, then I have to conclude that Christianity and religions like it are nothing more than man-made constructs designed to oppress, marginalize, and kill. I refuse to be a believer of it, espouse its virtues, or evangelize any of its tenets as beneficial to anyone. Ever. It's either God is LOVE or there is no God...or if there is, He's awful and I'd rather spend my days in hell hating the kind of God He is...than an eternity in a heaven where only certain kinds of souls are allowed to worship and commune with Him. 

Unfortunately, as I've watched the hateful response from religious people in the wake of the massacre, the only other conclusion I've come to is that the hate being espoused and used to terrorize, brutalize, and literally kill LGBTQIA bodies and souls is unconscionable. Completely and without question. It is unconscionable to hate a person or community because you think their humanity is so different than yours. To think they have less value and worth than others. To do nothing to protect them and deny them their inalienable rights. To hate. Having access to weapons that kill is unconscionable, but so is harboring such hate for people that you refuse to affirm their whole person and right to exist, thrive and be. To not disavow yourself of beliefs, biases, and systems that don't completely and unconditionally affirm their humanity and dignity. It is immoral to do anything less. It is immoral to pray for them in the wake of this but also declare that they deserved it. 

It is unconscionable and until we dismantle this, we will continue to be culpable. Blood will continue to be on our hands. As a person and as a citizen of this country, I am committed to doing what is necessary to protect the LBGTQIA community from hate and enable their liberation. I am committed to teaching my boys how to do the same. My question and challenge to you today, especially if you are a Christian, is what will you do

 ***

“Hate may have visited our community. It’s taken the lives of innocent people. It has shaken us to our core and broken our hearts. But, hate will not define us. And, hate will not defeat us. Because we are ONE Orlando.”
- Mayor Buddy Dyer

Following the horrific tragedy at Pulse, there was a tremendous outpouring from the community seeking to provide financial support. In response, we announced the formation of the OneOrlando Fund. In the days since this tragedy, we heard from the community and our donors that there is a need for victims to receive direct funding support.

To ensure that funds are dispersed in a timely, accountable and transparent manner, we have formed a OneOrlando Board that will provide the oversight and guidance needed to support the victims of the Pulse tragedy and their families. I am pleased to announce the OneOrlando Board will be chaired by Orlando Magic President Alex Martins and will be comprised of community leaders including those in the Hispanic and LGBTQ communities most directly impacted.

As we move forward with the OneOrlando Fund we are consulting with victim fund expert Kenneth R. Feinberg, who served as the Special Master for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001, the Claims Administrator for the One Fund Boston, the Virginia Tech Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, the Aurora Victim Relief Fund and for the BP Oil Spill Claims Administration as the Compensation Fund Administrator.

We recognize there are victims in need of support now, and we ask for your patience as we ensure we are able to assist these victims in an open, transparent and equitable manner. In the coming days and weeks we will share more with you on this process and how the community will have a voice.

Thanks to the generosity of thousands of people and our lead corporate donors from across the country, we will be able to meet the needs of victims and provide the valuable services they will need in the days, weeks and months ahead.

#OrlandoUnited

Donate here

 

The Girl on The Seesaw

I haven't been able to write about Prince's death. I still can't. I'm still struggling to process it, and the only comforts I've had are celebrating his music, the flood of videos online of performances-some of which I remember watching a young kid-and the stories being told of his philanthropy. 

I don't think I could ever face it in its entirety by trying to sum up all his life and artistry have meant to me during my 33 years of being a Purple Army member. I don't think I can pay tribute in just one piece and then move on. Just writing those sentences above has left my heart shaking. But I think what I can do is share it in pieces when the words come like they did just now. 

So. 

I'm currently working on this and it (the colors) reminded me of the Around the World in a Day album cover. I started playing the album. Got to "Paisley Park" and started sobbing as I sung it. It happens to me every time I hear it. Since I was a little kid. I don't know what it is about THAT song that breaks me open and builds me up at the same time, but that's the kind of relationship I've always had with it, since I was very young. When I was like 5 or 6, I used to dream about being the girl on the seesaw and walking around Paisley Park with a balloon. Free. Safe. Dancing with wonder and magic. Feeling music course through and lift me with each step. I still do. 

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Yes, I Would Fight a Mountain Lion To The Death For Them

Hiked a bit through the Purisima Trail in Half Moon Bay this morning, and at the entrance we were met by these warnings: 

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I'm supposed to fight a mountain lion if it attacks? BRUH. I can't even stomach walking past Banana Slugs! 

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It was a beautiful hike though. California continues to surprise me with its wide variety of natural glory.

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And yea...I may lose my guts to a banana slug, but I'd definitely fight a mountain lion to the death for these 4, because, legacies must continue.  "IWouldDie4U"-no question. 

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#100DayProject Day 24: Washes

24 days ago I joined artist Elle Luna's #100DayProject Instagram challenge to make or do something for 100 days. Participants are doing all kinds of marvelous things, but I decided to focus on either writing or painting (#100DaysOfWordsPlusPaint). One of my creative goals for 2016  I started off strong, but then got sick for a week, so I'm a bit behind. I haven't decided if I'll make up the days I've lost along the rest of the way, or just let them be what they were (days I couldn't do a damn thing) and silence any self-inflicted guilt I have about it. 

At any rate, today is day 24 and I'm easing my way back into the studio by continuing to experiment with with washes-a technique I started exploring before The Plague hit. 

Wash= Water + paint, mixed, spilled and splashed across a surface...guide it with the brayer/hands/brush/tilt of the paper or canvas, lay flat, wait for it to dry, repeat with a new (or the same) color. Effect: intriguing stains of color. 

Artist who piqued my curiosity and sparked my desire to give washes a try: Heather Day

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Here's to trying new things and pushing myself and my creative process to go farther than I think is possible.  

Am I Enough?

I've been reading through think pieces, texts, and comment threads the last few days and while somewhat enlightened and challenged to think a bit more critically about the systems of patriarchy and oppression, I've also questioned if I'm "feminist" enough. From what I've been reading, (and quite possibly, according to bell hooks and other 2nd wave feminist ideals and theory) the answer is no. 

I wonder, then what would it take, to be enough...of anything? Of every identity I embody? I honestly don't know. What I do know is that I've spent nearly every day of my 33 years not feeling

"Safe" enough

"Good" enough

"Black" enough

"Feminine" enough

"Thick" enough

"Thin" enough

 "Smart" enough

"Nice" enough

"Pretty" enough

"Woke" enough

"Radical" enough

"Progressive/Liberal" enough

"Woman" enough

"Mother" enough

"Wife" enough

"Christian" enough

"Mentally stable" enough

"Old" enough

"Strong" enough

"Brave" enough

"Educated" enough

and on and on and on the list goes.  

In this moment of frustration and weariness I feel like lead in my bone marrow, I just want to know when will I be enough? Is enough attainable? Is liberation attainable? If so, for whom? Is it for the Black, straight, able bodied, cis woman and stay at home mother living with bipolar disorder who enjoys sex when she isn't exhausted, being feminine, wearing make up, and looking fly as hell for herself and her man, who ALSO grew up with abuse and dysfunction in her childhood? If I'm not able to be enough, and I can't get free, how can anyone else who's far more vulnerable and has less privilege than I do?

I don't mean to whine or complain as much as simply express my exasperation with these standards that seem to always be out of reach...with this constant barrage of messaging both within patriarchal systems and academic schools of thought that imply nothing I do or am will ever be enough. Nor will anyone else unless you got their ideals and standards and live out the "truth" according to how they've constructed it. (Or maybe this is just a big whine. Whatever. I'm being honest. Snark away. These are the thoughts ruminating on a loop in my anxious mind as I attempt to fall asleep at 12:04am.) 

There are just these moments when it is overwhelming to take in and the tension of bearing it suffocates. I'm committed to working to disavow myself of as much bigotry, bias, and conditioned bullshit as possible...but I have to be honest and admit that there are moments when I question if it'll ever be enough-for myself or for anyone else and their freedom. How CAN we get free? When will women (all who identify as such) have the grace, compassion, space, autonomy, and agency to simply just B E? 

It feels like a pipe dream.  

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Painter Selfie

I've worked really hard over the last 2 years to believe I am an artist, a painter, a woman who communicates stories, ideas, and messages about living through color and brushstrokes. 

I believe it. I own it. When people ask, I reply with "I'm an artist, I paint"-not stay at home mom, not veteran, not even writer. I am all of these things, of course...but at my core, I am an artist and I've finally gained the confidence to no longer doubt it. I might be a terrible one, or perhaps one day I'll be one who is considered "good" and widely known, but I'm much less concerned about either, and just reveling in feeling so grounded and secure in who I am. I grew up with so little self agency or autonomy so this season of being rooted firmly in knowing who I am  feels like undulating liberation. I'll take it. 

To celebrate this victory, I took a selfie. As you do. 

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Art as Protest: Nate Parker's 'Birth of a Nation' Trailer is Here

After stunning the crowds and critics at Sundance, winning The Grand Jury Prize and Audience award, and garnering a record breaking $17.5 million deal from Fox Searchlight, Nate Parker's Birth of a Nation has had folks like myself eagerly awaiting a trailer. It's the story of Nat Turner's uprising in Virginia before the Civil War, a story that Nate himself said he wanted to tell, to #ReclaimTheNarrative around the history of slavery in this country.

Credit: JAHI CHIKWENDIU

Credit: JAHI CHIKWENDIU

The first teaser trailer was released today and...well...intense is an understatement. It instantly had me as Nina Simone's cover of  "Strange Fruit" plays over and in the background of the scenes. Take a look...

I'm sitting here with chills. Initially I wasn't sure if I wanted to see another movie about slavery and Black pain...but when I realized who did the writing and directing...and that it was coming from our perspective, I decided that yes, this is a movie I need to see. I'm all for #ReclaimingTheNarrative and for those of us in the margins having the means to tell our histories-silent and otherwise-free of White washing and concern for White comfort. I'm grateful to artists like Nate who are using their art to challenge, uplift, and foster dialogue around critical issues of injustice.  

 “I made this film for one reason, with the hope of creating change agents. That people can watch this film and be affected,” he said. “That you can watch this film and see that there were systems that were in place that were corrupt and corrupted people and the legacy of that still lives with us. I just want you, if you are affected and you are so moved, to ask yourself, ‘Are there systems in my life that need attention whether it be racial, gender?’ There are a lot of injustices.”-Nate Parker

 Birth of a Nation is set for release in October of this year. 

Coping With Rejection and Mixed Episodes (Part One)

I've been pitching my words + art to various publications and places almost weekly since January. Some incredible opportunities have come my way over the last few months from simply sharing my work + process out there on Instagram, but I've yet to have a pitch accepted. Overall the rejections haven't impacted me too greatly. I've only had two really hit me in the gut and one of them came to my inbox yesterday. 5% of it what was mentioned about the paintings I submitted was constructive. 95% of it wasn't and that 95% crushed me unexpectedly when I read it. 

I'm also experiencing my first mixed episode in months. Cycling through slight hypomania (which for me usually manifests as agitation & anxiety) and depression simultaneously is unsettling. My thoughts form, splinter or fracture into bits, then fuse together repeatedly and trying to get anything substantial done is damn near futile. I always feel untethered and raw, like an exposed nerve ending when I experience these types of episodes. I'm assuming that's why yesterday's rejection landed like a sucker punch to my soul instead a slight but bearable sting like the others before it. 

To cope, I did two things: abandoned my To-Do list and allowed myself to get lost in painting without thinking. It got me through the day and served as my oxygen mask.

That's what painting has become for me...the oxygen I need to survive.  

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Paint and Meditation: Audre Lorde's "Uses of Anger"

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"Women of Color in America have grown up within a symphony of anger at being silenced at being unchosen, at knowing that when we survive, it is in spite of a world that takes for granted our lack of humanness, and which hates our very existence outside of its service. And I say symphony rather than cacophony because we have had to learn to orchestrate those furies so that they do not tear us apart. We have had to learn to move through them and use them for strength and force and insight within our daily lives. Those of us who did not learn this difficult lesson did not survive. And part of my anger is always libation for my fallen sisters.

Anger is an appropriate reaction to racist attitudes, as is fury when the actions arising from those attitudes do not change. To those women here who fear the anger of women of Color more than their own unscrutinized racist attitudes, I ask:  Is the anger of women of Color more threatening than the woman-hatred that tinges all aspects of our lives? It is not the anger of other women that will destroy us but our refusals to stand still, to listen to its rhythms, to learn within it, to move beyond the manner of presentation to the substance, to tap that anger as an important source of empowerment. I cannot hide my anger to spare you guilt, nor hurt feelings, nor answering anger; for to do so insults and trivializes all our efforts. Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since it is then no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge. Yet all too often, guilt is just another name for impotence, for defensiveness destructive of communication; it becomes a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they are, the ultimate protection for changelessness."

-From Audre Lorde's "The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism", 1981

MOOD: Desperately Seeking to Break Out of This Cycle

When I open my eyes in the morning: "I'M GOING TO PAINT TODAY. I WILL be in the studio, to hell with everything else on my to-do list."

9am-7pm: *Do (Most/Some/A couple) All The Things on said to-do list*

7:30pm-8pm when the kids go to bed and I've crawled into mine: "I didn't paint today. #%!?$&@! And I only accomplished 2 out of 5,437 things on my to-do list. The studio is too messy. I didn't spend enough time with the kids. Shit-I left a load of laundry in the washer all day. I forgot to call Kaiser. I didn't order those supplies. Forgot to hit send on 5 text messages to friends, and respond to that email. Also forgot to sign that contract. I hope I got into bachelor completion program. WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF I DID?! I wrote nothing today. Did Brennan take his meds? Wait-did I take mine? Why am I so tired? <insert random thought/worry/concern/guilt> WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?!" *cue anxiety attack*

11pm: *scroll through Instagram one last time*

2am: "Damn that dream was odd as hell. Oh, the baby's in the bed with us now. What time is it? Why is Morris Day and The Time's "Jungle Love" stuck in my head? OMG THE SNORING. Don't check Facebook."

4am: "OMG I KNOW WHAT TO PAINT NEXT." 

7:00am: "I'M GOING TO PAINT TODAY. To hell with my to-do list, TODAY THERE WILL BE PAINT." 

Rinse and repeat for the last 2 weeks.  

Must. Paint. SOON. When I go too long without it, my mind and mood become untethered, un-centered. Gotta get anchored. (This is getting ridiculous, Life. Back off.) 

Beyoncé on Feminism, Art as a Vehicle For Protest, Women's Mental Health, and Empowering The Next Generation of Female Artists in Elle

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While I've enjoyed Beyonce as a performer/artist (and have had my criticisms of her over the years as I've grown up with her-we're the same age), I've rarely regarded her as a quotable person...or an artist I'd expect to hear something substantial from regarding politics or social justice matters. I've also not always been a fan of her past interviews; I feel that while they gave us insight into her as an artist or entertainer, we weren't given insight into who she is as a person and what she thinks about the world or culture, beyond Beyonce The Brand. They all felt very...standard. The few she's given since the release of Beyonce, however, where she's expressed her thoughts on feminism, motherhood, and being an artist in a slightly less guarded way, have been intriguing reads for me though. I've found myself identifying and relating to her words and experiences in a way I haven't in years, probably because I see some of my own growth and journey with these same issues in hers. I see her evolving in her understanding of them, much as I have over the last 5-6 years, and honestly respect it, even if it's considered by others to be "simplistic". (I've never taken a women's studies or feminist theory course, so I consider my own understanding to be simplistic too-there's still much I have yet to learn.)

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Her new interview with Elle Magazine for their May "Women in Music" issue is her best yet, in my opinion. In it she discusses her thoughts on feminism, motherhood, the backlash to "Formation", her desire to use her art and voice to speak to issues that matter, supporting and empowering younger female artists, and the importance of women taking care of their mental health. (A high profile Black woman who is a global star specifically mentioning mental health? I spent much of yesterday shouting "THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT!" and fist pumping after reading it) 

On feminism...

"I put the definition of feminist in my song ["Flawless"] and on my tour, not for propaganda or to proclaim to the world that I'm a feminist, but to give clarity to the true meaning. I'm not really sure people know or understand what a feminist is, but it's very simple. It's someone who believes in equal rights for men and women. I don't understand the negative connotation of the word, or why it should exclude the opposite sex. If you are a man who believes your daughter should have the same opportunities and rights as your son, then you're a feminist. We need men and women to understand the double standards that still exist in this world, and we need to have a real conversation so we can begin to make changes. Ask anyone, man or woman, "Do you want your daughter to have 75 cents when she deserves $1?" What do you think the answer would be? When we talk about equal rights, there are issues that face women disproportionately. That is why I wanted to work with [the philanthropic organizations] Chime for Change and Global Citizen. They understand how issues related to education, health, and sanitation around the world affect a woman's entire existence and that of her children. They're putting programs in place to help those young girls who literally face death because they want to learn, and to prevent women from dying during childbirth because there's no access to health care. Working to make those inequalities go away is being a feminist, but more importantly, it makes me a humanist. I don't like or embrace any label. I don't want calling myself a feminist to make it feel like that's my one priority, over racism or sexism or anything else. I'm just exhausted by labels and tired of being boxed in. If you believe in equal rights, the same way society allows a man to express his darkness, to express his pain, to express his sexuality, to express his opinion—I feel that women have the same rights."

On the "Formation" backlash and using her art as a means of protest: 

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On mental health and the cultural messaging that can keep women from prioritizing it: 

"Women have to take the time to focus on our mental health—take time for self, for the spiritual, without feeling guilty or selfish."

On supporting (and signing) younger female artists via her new label:

"I want to take all my resources and give these artists the support of the best, to nurture them and allow them to be who they are really are."

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Her new artists... 

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I can't lie-I know folks will have their criticisms to share, but it thrills my feminist and artist heart to see Beyoncé really stepping into her full power as a woman, artist, and entrepreneur. Watching her evolution over the last few years has been challenging and liberating for me and my own artistry in ways I didn't expect. She's using her voice and art to foster conversation around issues that impact people of color, and women and girls in new, bolder ways and I'm here for it. And just as she's done in the past by employing an all female band, she's now amplifying the voices of other female artists by creating spaces for them to share their art with the world. (Much like Janelle Monae is doing for artists with her Wondaland label, and Solange with her Saint Heron label and shop) As a woman, mother, and artist trying to do the same as I navigate my 30's, I respect it and find her grind motivating. 

I see you, Beyonce. Salute, sis. <insert power fist> <get in formation>

You can read the cover story here

 

 

#WorldBipolarDay: I'm More Than a Diagnosis

I was diagnosed with "rapid cycling bipolar disorder type 2" in July 2011.

Since then I've tried combinations of 7 different medications at varying doses in an attempt to find a medication regimen that's effective. Under the guidance of an experienced OBGYN and a psychiatrist with a background in pharmacology, I took 2 out of 3 of medications during my last pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Lamictal has always been the stabilizer that works the best and is my favorite. It's the only medication that's given me minimal side effects. Last year I ditched Prozac for Lithium, and while I still cycle between episodes of depression and hypomania, adding Lithium has 1) made them milder than what I'm used to and 2) given me longer periods of stability between each one. 

I've had 2 therapists and 3 psychiatrists. I was hospitalized in October 2012 for suicidal ideations.  

My greatest fear is that despite treatment, this illness wil still find a way to take me from this life before I'm ready.

HOWEVER.

I'm an artist. 

A mother.  

A wife.  

A USAF Veteran.  

A survivor.  

An advocate.  

A devoted Prince fan.  

I may grapple with the symptoms and reality of this illness, but I'm not ashamed of it. It defines parts of me but not others. It is a part of who I am but I am not it. I'm more than this diagnosis, and day in, and day out, I make a conscious choice to fight for my life and my health every day. 

So here's to 5 years since I walked into the VA mental health clinic in Philly with my baby strapped to my chest, sweating and anxious, ready to end my life, but walked out with answers and a treatment plan instead. 

Here's to those of you doing what you can to stay healthy and present in your lives every day as you manage this beast of an illness. We can do this. I believe in us.

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*Last year I was privileged to share about my experiences living with bipolar disorder for a new website for patients and caregivers called  More Than My Diagnosis.  There you can find videos from actual people living with mental health conditions discussing topics such as self-care, treatment, managing day to day life + relationships + working, and what it's like to live with a chronic mental illness. It's an incredible resource-check it out and share it with someone you know who might benefit from it!* 

Surviving, Living and Thriving Within White (And Other Oppressive) Spaces: A Visual Study

"An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times. I think that is true of painters, sculptors, poets, musicians. As far as I’m concerned, it’s their choice, but I CHOOSE to reflect the times and situations in which I find myself. That, to me, is my duty. And at this crucial time in our lives, when everything is so desperate, when everyday is a matter of survival, I don’t think you can help but be involved. Young people, black and white, know this. That’s why they’re so involved in politics. We will shape and mold this country or it will not be molded and shaped at all anymore. So I don’t think you have a choice. How can you be an artist and NOT reflect the times? That to me is the definition of an artist." -Nina Simone

I had a friend ask me last week why I was turning down an opportunity to write for their publication, and why I don't use this space to adamantly speak out against issues of injustice as I used to. Why am I not writing words about Trump and the impact of the GOP's racist, xenophobic rhetoric beyond a an occasional Facebook status? Why am I not sharing more of my thoughts on the near daily incidents of brutality against Black and Brown lives, or continuing to speak out on racism's impact on our daily lives? From her perspective it seemed to her that I've grown quiet, and she was curious to know why. "You seem more focused on painting, which isn't a bad thing...it just seems odd," she said. 

Well...she's right. I have gone a bit quiet here. I don't write about racism and brutality like I used to. At least not here, and aside from an occasional election related status on Facebook, I've cut back on doing so there as well. Where she's wrong is in her assumption that my going quiet means I've stopped caring or paying attention. I haven't. If anything, the swelling tide of ignorance, violence, and injustice churns and crashes into my consciousness daily. I'm still "woke", and couldn't close my eyes or heart to what's happening to our bodies and within our society if I wanted to. As a Black woman, an empath, and as an artist it's impossible, and even if it were, I would still encounter and bear the social construct of race upon my being. Short of leaving this life, it's inescapable. 

I mentioned before that I've been struggling to put words to what I'm witnessing. That's still very much true-there are days where I simply do not know what to say, and any words that do appear feel...inadequate. When this happens I make the choice to share and amplify the words and brilliance of others above the noise instead of adding my own. I also make the choice to follow my intuition and turn to paint to process my thoughts. 

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am more focused on creating a statement on paper or canvas than on a computer screen. Paint...feels more natural to me right now than words do. I'd much rather allow it to speak for me those things I can't quite verbalize or translate into something intelligible you'll understand. So that's what I've been doing. I've shifted my focus from the oppression and brutality we experience as marginalized people to the impact both have on us, challenging myself to communicate it visually. What does it do to our psyche, our spirits, our health, our bodies? What does the point of impact look like? What occurs inside of us as we encounter oppression, fight to survive it, and dare even, to thrive in its pervasive shadow? 

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Internal processes. That's been my visual focus and exploration as I take in the news each day, or experience something that reminds me I am an Other. As a result, much of my latest work has involved me using lots of white space. With each piece, I'm thinking about what it looks like to thrive and be unapologetically Other in white spaces, and questioning what those internal thought & heart processes look like. 

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Sometimes I have an idea, and an image will come and imprint itself upon my consciousness, quietly (or loudly) telling me its story. Other times I simply have no idea what's going to come out-it just becomes a matter of listening to my intuition and trusting where it's taking me as I work. 

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I'm still here and I still have much to say. Like Nina, I believe as an artist, it's my duty to continue using my voice and creative expression to speak to issues that are a matter of life and death for us. I have no choice but to reflect these times in my work, be it written or visual. I'm just consciously doing so these days in a different medium, still hoping to cause others to pause and think critically about what they think they know about themselves and Others. I believe in the power of visual art to spark and foster conversation around these issues just like words do. 

I could use words, sure...but it's just more liberating to process and study with paint. For right now, this is my activism and how I choose to be involved. I think as artists...it's less about the medium, and more about using what we have to create those things that challenge, empower, and set free. Write, paint, sculpt, sing, dance, orate, document a moment or event with a photo-whatever it takes. I think it's about yielding to wherever our creativity leads us intuitively. Our challenge is to reflect and give voice to the times we're in. Like Nina, I think anything less is a waste. We have nothing to lose but our chains.

"  It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains."- Assata Shakur

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Easter 2016

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My Easter reflection this year comes from Rev. Broderick Greer. It is honestly one of the best messages about faith and the Resurrection I've ever read/heard, and I don't say that lightly or because he's a leader and teacher I follow. It's a message I desperately needed today, and perhaps you do as well. 

   "Resurrection does not happen outside of death, suffering, and trauma, but in the middle of it. In a world still marred by sexual, racial, gender, and economic violence. A world in which our loved ones still die. A world in which the middle and working classes are being forced out of their neighborhoods at alarming rates.

A world in which - without a moment’s notice - terrorists disrupt workaday life in places like Brussels, Paris, and Charleston, South Carolina. Easter isn’t the erasing of our individual and collective traumas, but the gathering of our glooms and transformation of our traumas. It is God staring us in the eyes and saying, “Death, oppression, and grief are real and so are joy, love, and resurrection.” 

Read the rest: "Fire, Water, Bread, and Wine" 

Happy Easter, friends. 

Throwback Tuesday: 1982-1983

My mother sent me these photos last night via text that I've never seen before. I've seen and have so few photos from my infancy & toddlerhood that to see myself just days old has been quite a shock.  

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It's also been surreal because as I sit here looking at myself, I see my boys' faces and expressions. I'm transported back to when they were each placed on my chest and looked into their eyes for the first time. They looked just like I did!

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I think of Brennan and Alex during their toddler years and Austin now as he's going through his and I see my smiles, my cheeks, the way my eyes would light up when I was happy or being mischievous.

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My mother said at birth I looked just like my mother did when she was born. That makes me smile because I only met my maternal grandmother once before she passed. I have no memory of it and she has only lived on in pictures and stories through my mother and other family members. 

At a baby shower for my cousin during a visit to my mom's hometown of Philly. It was the only time I met my grandmother before she passed. 

At a baby shower for my cousin during a visit to my mom's hometown of Philly. It was the only time I met my grandmother before she passed. 

There's so little I remember from these years. Being able to catch new glimpses of who I was back then has been a beautiful surprise. I  even feel inspired to open the draft of my memoir and put down some words, something I haven't been able to do in months. Sometimes the inspiration we need the most comes in the most unexpected forms, doesn't it?  

Smudging

I went into the studio this morning looking for bubble wrap. When I realized there was none to be found and I'd have to take an unplanned trip to Target I grunted something unintelligible out of frustration. On my way out I passed by this piece on paper I've been re-doing over the last week. Without thinking much of it, I started to gently smudge the lines of charcoal and pencil I'd made. It was quick, perhaps not even 5 minutes from start to finish...but it calmed my mind, released the tension I felt piling up in my shoulders, and released the pressure valve that always gets stuck on Monday mornings when I'm trying to B-E PRODUCTIVE and flailing haphazardly  in the process. 

I think I can say this piece is "done". I still haven't washed off the smudges.

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