Monday, July 25, 2005

finding breath…


divorce can make wildflowers wilt
make weeds of themselves
bend and crack in the winds of woe
and words spat in the heat of child support and
who gets the tiffany vase
the cd collection and
the solid oak dining room table
we stopped eating at long before
i stopped cooking


things i am smiling about in this moment

my sweeties (sweet girl and sweet boy and sweetie bubu)

day lilies and
the scent of flowers
memories of kisses
kissing poems
raoul midon’s new cd
moving into my new apartment
coffee (luvmesumcaffeine)
juicy red grapes
MY hat
dangly earrings
fine dark chocolate
eye lashes

abrazos y besos,

Thursday, July 21, 2005

i found my heart in boston…

my younger brother asked me months ago to do the honor of officiating his wedding... yes, like the character joey on the sitcom “friends.” okay, bad example. but you know… the official person who says, “two people should not enter into marriage unadvisedly…” and “is there any one who objects; let them speak now…” and “do you take her… do you take him…” and "you may now kiss the person you will live with and commit to loving for the rest of your days.” once i finally stopped laughing… then crying… to realize he was serious, i agreed and accepted the challenge. no matter where you are, or where you think you are, in your life, somehow, when or if you are ever asked to perform a role anywhere remotely similar to that of an imam, minister, rabbi, WHATEVER, it’ll make you rethink your whole constitution. to think that my brother and his fiancée thought my love and understanding great enough, even with my impending divorce (at the time), that I could actually deliver words to walk into this new life with… WHAT an honor. what an honor.

that’s what my trip to boston was about in the first place. and i have to say that any and all of the struggle i experienced around the trip could never have overshadowed the wonderful event that took place. his request is the kind that makes one feel the kind of deep connection we strive for in this life. to feel understood and have someone know that you understand. what an honor and a privilege. what a journey. and i guess no lesson happens without challenge. rainbows don’t happen without rain. shoes don’t shine without polish. muscles don’t form without work. i didn’t realize how much muscle i was growing on this journey until the rigor of this weekend.

from the very start, logan airport in boston was bad news. we arrived in boston at midnight on friday morning (7/15). my younger sister’s pick-up attempt, that began at least an hour prior, never landed her at the airport. boston streets warp in ways that make driving no easy task, even for locals. they circle around squares and detour into road rage, honking horns, lineless lanes and confusion. it looks very much like what i imagine driving in another country must look like. if you ever visit, expect to get lost at least twice per outing, even with directions.

by the time my brother and his fiancée arrived just after 1:30am, my children were delirious with the kind of sleepiness that had them in a raucous of clashing luggage carts and running like banshees from pillar to post. all i could muster toward these once beautifully behaved sweeities was a strained glare and threats i hadn’t the strength to commit to. before we left, we picked up one of the bridesmaids from another baggage claim area. then, like a circus act, all six of us piled into the honda civic and headed back to the chaos of boston streets that eventually led us to my brother’s house. there, a groomsman, my other brother and my three-year-old nephew, another bridesmaid, and two cats clamored for space and sleep under fans in the humidity of boston in july.

the waking hours of friday found most of us recovering from jet lag. (do you get jet lag traveling east to west or west to east, or both?) congested, my brother’s house was crawling with people and congested with suitcases, wedding gifts and miscellaneous wedding preparation supplies. by 11am, we headed to the beautifully organized bridal shower at the posh birch street bistro in roslindale village put on by the bride’s sister and friends. while my brother, dad, and several groomsmen went to fenway for day’s red sox game, the next few hours found various assortments of us in a beauty shop for eyebrow waxing, getting nails "did", getting a new do for my daughter (the flower girl), me--working and re-working the sermon for the wedding, and in a nearly too-late dash to sears for dress shoes for my son… whew!

we slept that night at the hotel with my brother’s mother (my dad’s second ex-wife) and my younger sister. after what felt like way too little sleep, we woke the next morning, dressed in a hurry and drove to the campsite where the wedding was to be held. for a person used to “traditional” weddings, this whole thing was a new venture for me. i waded most of the morning through the words i had prepared for offering to my brother and his wife-to-be. the day’s weather was perfect. the bright sky and soft rippling lake just over the lodge's balcony (where the ceremony would take place) played well with the periwinkle satin of vests and ties accenting the groomsmen's tuxedos. beautiful bride and bridesmaids. and me in a very open head and heart space, ready to meet the challenge of officiating the marriage between my brother and his fiancée.

as i paced the reception area, going over my notes and trying to commit at least the rhythm to memory, a gust of wind blew the figurine of my brother off of the top of the cake. my first fearful thought was that it was some kind of omen. that is, until i saw my brother who seemed like putty on a warm day. the entire morning, he struggled unsuccessfully with holding back his tears; to keep himself "together." he and i are like spirits. highly emotional libras always accused of being overly sensitive and wimpy. needless to say there were bets from our family on who would break down first. and, whether or not i’d even make it through the wedding sermon. but when the figurine fell, i knew i had to muster everything i could to support him. and when i went to the space where my brother and the groomsmen put on their final touches, my brother looked away from my loving gaze with pensive welling eyes. i knew i needed to breathe and anchor myself in preparation to steady the boat on the waters of this day for him. weddings always manage to bring out the best and worst in people. but no matter the family drama that always does manage to play itself out in the days leading up to the wedding (this one included), on this day, the beautiful ceremony managed to overshadow all. suffice it to say the ceremony went extremely well. and the universe undoubtedly delivers us to the places and spaces we need to be in when we need to learn particular lessons about ourselves and about our lives.

my aunt’s sweetie man friend and his band played all of the music for the wedding. another gift that made this wedding amazing. and they played as we ate brunch: a buffet of cheese eggs, grits, turkey sausage, turkey bacon, belgian waffles, and your choice of home fries or hash browns. and for those needing food that was more lunch than breakfast, there was chicken, pasta and tossed green salad. this was the first time i’ve had breakfast at a wedding. it was brilliant.

after the wedding, the willing ones of us went to the lake in borrowed swimsuits and hotel towels, took the party to the lake and jumped in. the happy couple returned to their car, now bedecked in wedding wishes, large lip prints and announcements like “just hitched.” around sunset, we all caravanned back to our hotels and planned out our evenings, for those able to muster the strength to head out again. i crashed. and for the next couple of nights, spent time with my dad and my brothers to make up for time lost and away.

my deepest and most sincere thanks to my brother saleem and my new sister-in-law beth for inviting me to participate in this journey with them. even further, i appreciate the invitation to push me beyond myself to realize things about myself i forgot i’d had… critical things i didn’t even know i needed. i am still wading through all of what i learned about myself, my family, my world in that day. but i know i am forever changed by it in ways i haven’t even discovered yet. i did realize that despite the rigors of divorce, my heart is intact and beating stronger than ever. i also realized that loving is who i am so how could anything take away from that. i am grateful for the loving that i witnessed between my brother and his beautiful wife. and i am grateful for the loving that has happened in my life, that brought my children to this world, and that keeps me going. for the love that i inhale and exhale. (breathe...) i am thankful for every jolt that woke me up. for every kiss of wind that sends me to rest to endure another day, another lesson.

home sweet home

have you ever seen those movies about some person or family and their calamitous travels. you know the ones… every impossibility happens while they are trying to get to some event or return home from some event. well, that was my life coming back from boston this weekend. following are the journalings of my return home. just thought i’d share. I am back at work today. another day, another penny that I owe the government (i hope you enjoy the ride more than I did.) now that i have shaken this ordeal off of my skin with these writings, tomorrow I am going to share the details of my brother’s wedding which was gorgeous and wonderful. (I am so proud of him.) anyway. here we go… (REWIND)...

3:00pm-ish EST

flying these days requires a whole different level of faith and patience. air travel has proven impossible over the last couple of days. our original flight out of boston was scheduled to leave yesterday (monday), but hurricane emily is ripping the shit out of anything east. all connecting flights on our route, through chicago, were grounded/canceled so i resigned us to staying an extra day in beantown. cool. what better excuse to be with my brothers, my nephew and my sister-in-law? and i finally get to walk around harvard and harvard square. it’s amazing how much money must be floating in the pockets and bank accounts of the students because the stores and boutiques in and around the square are pretty price-taggy. in fact several shops i couldn’t even venture into on my current income. so never mind being a college student and shopping in them. anyhoo… it all balanced out by the activist efforts working exhaustively just outside the stores’ exit doors, pulling and prodding patrons and passers by for attention; the get bush out of the white house campaign; the stop child abduction in south america effort; the donations to the special olympics; and brother-can-you-spare-a-dime-from-the-$5 latte-$4 gourmet cinnamon bun you just bought-to-better-my-personal-life cause. funny how in some ways, as an artist and activist, i felt much more connected and comfortable among them than i did in surrounded by the ivy-covered brick walls housing the abercrombie and fitch-hilfiger-wearing, prada tote carrying silver spoon fed babies of harvard. okay, so there are more stereotypes and assumptions than i’d care to acknowledge in that last statement but whatever. we all have our issues, right. so before the tour is done, my daughter asserts that this is the school she will attend when she gets older. just like her uncle. somehow i don’t doubt that she will have this school among her roster of picks. that makes me smile… and cringe at the same time.

i also finally got to meet up with nicole from cc. she is gracefully earthy. the kind of woman who is so connected to the herself and earth that she never looks out of place or uncomfortable. just seeing her fully engaging smile (like “the last spokes of sunlight”… one of my favorite lines from a poem of hers) brought back the daylilies and the sound of kwame’s guitar and a host of other cc memories. it’s amazing how you can meet people at cc and, though it is intense, you only spend a week with them and emerge loving them like family and liking them even more than some of your family members, right? she perused the shops with us, watched the constant negotiation between my two children and me. today’s debates were about why the beanie-baby-esque $4.95 harvard t-shirt wearing bears were the better economic buy than the only slightly larger more furry ones for $8.95. these two, my children, are destined to be lawyers or tax accountants because they are masters of arguing the points for their expenses. i finally asserted that the bottom line was that i wasn’t paying twice as much for bears that would surely become one more item to lose or juggle on our trip home. and, that it would be those bears or they could take their chances and choose curtain number 2. they went with the bears. good choice.

5:15pm EST
we are finally on a plane that is supposed to be headed homeward, from boston to dc to austin. but for now, we are grounded. apparently there is issue with flying over new jersey, at least for the next 25 minutes. the weather map shows a large swirl of gray, yellow and orange patches that culminate into a large red blotch over the gulf coast and i realize it to be emily. and i realize only a woman on her cycle could do as much damage and have as great an affect on things as she is right now. i hear you sista, em. i hear you. i feel exactly the same way sometimes!

our delay has extended itself by more than 2 hours now. they told us not to but i brought the kids back outside security so they could play in the kids’ area. did they really expect children to not go insane in the waiting area by the gate? hell, most of the adults are on the brink. i am trying not to stress but i really can’t afford to miss another day of work. (that’s an entirely different blog.) anyway, the kids are having a great time. but this whole dynamic is so interesting. what people will and won’t allow their children to do. what children decide they can and cannot do. how they interact. my children become fast friends with a cute age 8-ish italian sounding, puerto rican looking boy. an obese girl of about 6, maybe 7, it’s hard to tell, wants to join in their play but can’t. the woman who lent me the ivory soap smelling pen that i use to write in my journal, sits next to me, sighs for the girl. says, after a triple suck of her teeth with thick caribbean accent, “poor ting.” i don’t see her for my writing but i imagine she also shakes her head, purses her lips. her energy feels familiar. the little pink gumball of a girl watches the kids run wildly around her. she wants to play too. i can tell. poor thing.

three asian people, 2 women, one man, sit in the white wooden rockers that face the large picture window where flights take off and land every now and again but mostly swim on the runways. they are engaged in lively conversation. i wish i knew another language.

“i’m too ol’ for dem to be lookin’ up in my ass. what you tink i am a teenager? i’m a ol’ woman.” auntie is on her cell. i hope she never reads this blog and discovers i’ve eavesdropped on her conversation. i will tell her i am grateful for the pen then leave her to her conversation about her old lady parts and their boundaries.

8pm EST
we finally reloaded the plane. a long day and my children are folding and fussy. i pray we last to austin.

okay, so before i turn this off as i am being instructed to, i must mention amos lee and raoul midone who are playing on the plane’s radio station. i first consciously heard raoul midone on david letterman. heard amos lee when he was in austin for sxsw. he opened for john legend when jl did the free concert at starbucks on the drag. anyway, if i had a recommendation, besides common’s latest joint, it would be them.

gotta cut off all electronic devices. finally, we’re going home!!!

midnight – give or take… EST
well our 6.5 hour delay has turned into what i expect will be a sleepless night at dc’s dulles airport. and as many people as i know in dc, i don’t have a single number on me. now would be a good time to have that cell phone i am, more often than not, relieved not to have. credit card calls are something ridiculous like $5 per call and the numbers i do have are to people’s cells so i can’t even call them collect. so, i will type for as long as i can. maybe do some jumping jacks and crunches when i feel sleep creeping up on me. (yea, right) my sweeties are outstretched on seats next to me under rice paper thin airline blankets. i am completely spent and not at all interested in writing so i think i will bid this blog adieu for now. hopefully the morning is more promising than this day has been.

7/20/05 so late i don’t want to look at the time… CST
i am not one to refer to myself in these terms but in the infamous words of taraji henson’s character in john singleton’s movie baby boy, “how much can a bitch take?” (and you know you have to suck your thumb when you say it.) so rather than really try to type all of the details of the last 24 hours, here are the remainder of this day’s details…

4:55am woke up from airport benches to get kids to new flight on delta.
5:25am(yes it took that long to reach the gate) we are told we cannot get on the flight because--the short of it is--united didn’t give all of the necessary documentation
5:35 am break up a sibling spat between my daughter and son
5:55 am got stuck in an elevator
5:56 am got out of the elevator
6:10 am break up a sibling spat
6:15 am made it back to terminal to get new flight from united; told to go to customer service
6:35 am stood in line at united customer service desk with tens of other irate customers
6:36 am break up a sibling spat; kid fall asleep
8:05 am finally got tickets straightened out and had to run to catch 8:30 flight at another terminal
8:06 am drag kids from their sleep down the terminal, lugging all my shit and their shit; my son crying for most, if not the entire trip
8:20 AM FINALLY board flight for home
8:30-11:00-ish break up several sibling spats; try to sneak in cat naps but it doesn’t work
11:00-ish FINALLY GOT TO AUSTIN… minus 2 bags that only made it here at midnight.

WHEW! i need sleep, for real…

Friday, July 08, 2005

in the mourning

i have been in the throes of emotional turbulence this week. writing in this blog with any (daily) regularity proves a challenge on so many levels. but most immediately, it’s hard for me to forge the kind of time i want/need to pen my opinions and concerns, thoughts and feelings in an honest and thoughtful way (and not just in a way that makes you all like me… really like me). ;-) but in the honesty and reality of my joys and pains. this is my freefall and my fluttering flight to and through life. i want to use this space to challenge myself toward the kind of courage it takes to stand vunerably near nude in the imperfection of my six-years-post-baby fat, surgical scars and still seething emotional/physical/spiritual wounds. the amount of material i want/need to cover over this past week alone overwhelms my spirit. luther. terrorist attacks on london. my recently finalized divorce. (now, as i’ve written them in succession like that, there is a “death” theme happening. maybe i should go with that. the death of people. things. of legends. of people on subways and a double-decker bus. of a marriage. and the memories; what remains in the wake.) a part of my problem, right now is too much thought. so, i will click away from this space of mourning and see what comes out in my testimony.

luther and
so amazing and
superstar and
if this world were mine ...
i would place at your feet all that i own
luther, you been so good to me... and
give me a reason and
there’s nothing better than love (WORD!) and
a house is not a home and
so many other songs that inspired love-making and conception
and the mending of marriages and
houses that are no longer homes in london and
fatherless/motherless children whose parents
were simply going to work and
parents in pain over the deaths of their children
and the peril of this world and
break downs and
break ups and
loneliness and
court and
testimony and
tears and
time and
fear and
wounds and
fear and
healing and
that’s all i have your honor

exhale… wow, that felt good. i also feel a bit queasy and at the brink of tears which means that’s enough for now. maybe at lunch, i’ll go have a good cry. that always helps.

abrazos y besos...
shiaSHABAZZ (still grooven...)

Friday, July 01, 2005

last friday, an old neighbor, we’ll call her “sam,” called to ask if i could watch her daughter “tanya” overnight because she had work and other commitments to keep. sure. it’s not like the child, mature beyond her nine years, and her seven-year-old inquisitive, handful of a sister, "stacy" hadn’t stayed with us before. but when my napping son and i arrived to the bus stop to pick them up, i realize how things have certainly changed since they left the four-plex across from ours and the pot-bellied-pig-wanting-ex who still lives in it.

when i caught up to sam and tanya, i realized how immediately plain hindsight becomes. how much clearer distance makes things. sam’s incessant fidgeting. the reflexive wipe of her nose after every other noun, verb, adjective, POST allergy season. her deliberateness in looking away.

sam looks good in spite of her demons. the kind of good women find after liberation. but there also seems the pain of another kind of imprisonment in her eyes, her over-zealous voice. we embrace and catch up a bit. she fills me in, tells me post inquiry, that stacy was admitted to a “facility” to get her “fits” under control. that she and tanya are doing well and visiting often. that they live low key, don’t want/need other people nosing in their business. i say a silent prayer to the universe before i drop sam off at the gas station near their apartment complex to get cigarettes. they’re cheaper there.

upon leaving, tanya tells her mother to remember to do yoga before bed, to not stay up too late, to have a good night at work. the girl appears quietly mature, and at the same time curious and forthright. she is eager to show me her drawings in her spiral notebook. i smile at the doodling and notes. will someone please fall in love with me? written in large letters on one page. she snickers, flips by that page quickly. i pray again.

the night and early morning go well, save the sibling banter and bickering between my children and the occasional collision of prepubescent girl hormones. by early afternoon, my daughter and tanya find separate corners and activities to occupy themselves; my daughter with her bratz dolls, tanya with my computer.

in my household, i promote talking. i wanted desperately to reach out to tanya in case she needed the time or space, but I didn’t want to force her from her space or intrude on her life. so i watched and waited for questions and conversation that never came.

if my children have questions, i pray they ask them. (and, no matter where we are or who we’re with, if they have a burning question, to my relief and chagrin, they usually do.) as i watch them grow and try to teach them to be a fierce warriors and active participants in their own lives, i try not to overwhelm them with my fears or anxiety about their safe journeys in this world. as i watch them discover themselves in many ways, on many ways, i know i am particularly in tune with and affected by the changes in their sexual growth and the curiosity that comes with understanding sexuality. so, it is not so much the fact that tanya is curious, it is that she had knowledge of how to access porn sites the information on the web that surprised and saddened me. i am not exactly sure what she successfully saw, but, were it not for her bad spelling in her search for sites like brest .com
and her lack of internet savvy, she might have successfully gotten to www. boys privets .com" or www. neked
boys .com (notice the spaces). when i happened behind her, she switched to and i was none the wiser… at least not for a few days when i realized the sudden clamoring of pop up ads that finally ground my aging, already sluggish system’s start-up to a halt. my freelance graphic design projects have been, thus far, set back by 36 hours and this blog, that i have been itching to get back to, has transformed itself into this new, necessary writing.

it is said that adulthood is simply a state of recovery from childhood. it could therefore be said that success as an adult might be measured by our success in recovering things lost. as an incest survivor, i find my greatest means for recovery in activism involving plights of women and young girls. as a single mother, i constantly to negotiate, even calculate, what i can offer to those efforts to the outer world. most immediately, my quest is to raise a healthy daughter and son who survive their childhoods unscathed… aside from the counseling sessions they might spend recovering from birth order issues, my divorce from their dad, and the failings of the american economy. so, needless to say, i do understand tanya’s natural progression and inquisition about sex/sexuality. but i struggle with whether or not her engagement is the product of a natural curiosity of a child born in this over-sexed, over-stimulated society or if she is showing signs of dysfunction imposed on her from a more direct, more immediate source.

i did alert her mother to the incident and i plan to have a separate talk with tanya about trust. but there are painful questions and answers that might only be answered over time. i, again, pray that the battalions we’ll call “tanya”, “stacy”, “sam” don’t become casualties or POWs of this never-ending war upon us. my prayer is that we find ourselves within ourselves, lace up our bootstraps, put on our armor and fight.

i wrote and co-performed the following piece --under the facilitation of anchor artist sharon bridgforth and the direction of laurie carlos--this past spring with the kick-ass sisters of the austin project--a collaboration born of dr. joni l. jones/omi oshun, between scholars, artists and activists to create art for social change.

be fierce, lovelies. be fierce.



“Although rape as a weapon of war has existed for as long as war, in today's conflicts around the world it is taking a particularly heavy toll on women.”
--from the article “Rape Now Taking the form of Genocide,” The Japan Times, August 14, 2004

this girl
eight the first time
she evaded her skin
retreated from her bed
to camouflage herself
in midnight corners
that harbor her fugitive
from her own innocence

this girl
unaware of what pieces of herself are lost
which limbs will grow back
what syndrome will thwart her growth
what it means anymore to not know

it is this girl

not the failing economy
not the fatigued and fatherless households
not the flailing red white and blue ribbons on car antennas
or affixed to beds of pick ups and minivans

but her
this girl
she reminds me
that we are at war.

war looks different these days

some trenches resemble tract homes
tree -lined drives
½ acre lots with 3 tree-lings on each


single/multi/extended families
sectioned eight ways
between liquor stores and Baptist churches
shrapnel lining streets
where shoeless vagrants pine for pennies
will work for anything edible

soldiers are
pre anything adult
who learn to live with a lack of

these soldiers
bury themselves nightly
craft foxholes of flannel and linens
prisoners of war
praying from morning to morning
submission silence amnesia
tactics for sub/urban warfare where
survival means more than memory

they plead for stays from sexual execution
for just one more day
to trust
before wounded and dying wolves
in sheep’s clothing
feed on their need
brothers uncles fathers steps and grands
cousins once removed
sisters aunties mothers grand and steps
friends of the family
wolves, for whom real love is
as distant a memory
as a mother’s womb
as distant as living

living names plaster newspapers and war memorials

this girl
this Eve, this Elizabeth, this nine-year-old girl in El Cajon, this Jessica, this fifteen-year-old boy in school closet, this Ida, this Kimberly, this Adam, this eight-month-old baby in Africa; this Edward, this Ryan, this ten-year-old boy in Tampa, this Jane Doe, this six-year-old girl on school bus in New Mexico, this JonBenet, this ten-year-old girl in Arizona, this Polly, this Samantha, this John Doe, this Jane Doe, this Jimmy, this Bonita, this Shia

this girl and
this girl and
this boy and
this eight year old girl

my daughter is eight
she is consumed with bratz dolls
finally fashion
she covers her eyes when bodies go bare
still finds shock in four-letter words
giggles at what grown ups do
asks too many questions
she knows what private parts are
what boundaries mean
i pray her wits are about her
or a letter opener near
the day some dreamy eyed creeper
with a safe sounding biblical name
joseph, michael, john, david, abel, samuel or frank
tries to persuade her into submission silence amnesia
cajole her from being
“Salihah”; the pious, virtuous, upright one

she came into the world
eyes open, engaged
I knew
she had been here before
she would never walk alone
her roots are far stronger than the world
above this earth she belongs to
she will not wilt

this girl
my girl

i will teach her to fight

©2005 by Shia Shabazz Barnett