A Knowing So Deep
Words On Not Writing And Writing In The Same
Hi and happy spring-like March Monday,
Every morning, around the same time each day, I leave my kids’ drop-off, place fancy earbuds in my ears, and walk six blocks to stand in line with a bunch of people and their dogs to grab a coffee. Chances are, I already made a small batch of coffee when I woke up around 6:30, reluctantly tip-toeing around the house, pouring dry food in bowls, turning on The Wailers, Sounds Of Blackness, Sea of Love–or the news (not in that order). Walking to buy another one, no matter how wasteful of money or time it might be, is a necessity. There is nothing I believe in more than doing things you need to do to start your day well.
I digress, because this letter isn’t necessarily about getting coffee or the pit in my stomach when I pay three hard-earned dollars for the extra one. It is about feeling accomplished and unaccomplished at once.
The other day while in line, as I listened to Arooj Aftab on the loudest safe setting in my ears, a reader (hi!) stopped me to say she loved my writing. Although New York City is big, it's relatively small, and this isn’t a novelty. Part of my work, which is part of a series of frequent anomalous scenarios, is being “recognized.” This happens after you’ve been publicly writing, working, or whatever for a decade. But also when so much of the meat of that work happens in a relatively small town environment like New York City. Someone’s cousin or their uncle’s mother saw me on a commercial once, and I was stopped by a car in the street to be told. I’ve always associated this with having a website, a blog, for lack of a better word. An internet presence to be specific, not as an association to my life as a writer.
But as I blog less (or not much at all), which has been notably freeing and confusing, my identification as a writer has shifted. Mostly because my writing is happening behind closed doors, is unpublished, unread, and, oftentimes, stuck on a screen. I wonder if I’ll ever finish my book (I have to). I wonder if the kids book with Amanda will plainly trace back to my love for language and the joy of teaching children (and families) to love their hair and that they’re welcome everywhere. Not writing publicly, for better or worse, makes me feel less-so like a writer. And I don’t feel at all like an advocate, much much less like a teacher.
Of course, this particular calamity has made me think about the pretense of display. How much of my own journey these last two years is about moving away from the window box. The juxtaposition of welcoming a warm “hello” from a stranger in a coffee line, but uncomfortably, tuning the volume lower on anything that puts me in that window for more than just one brief greeting. Of course, one day, I’ll go on tour, I’ll explain my work, I’ll even put my signature on things again. The discomfort in those instances turns to a low simmer when I realize the fair is mostly about the book, and not at all about me. In those hours, I think, I hope, I’ll feel less like the show and more like the mother.
Maybe more difficult than writing quietly, is writing as a pandemic moves to a murmur and a war in Ukraine (and many wars before this one with people who look more like me) asks mothers, children, shopkeepers, grandmothers, students, and on, to shuffle on buses and trains across borders. Knowing that the years of research I’ve dug up for that aforementioned book points to generations of trauma when it comes to home, the one they left behind and the new one they must make. There are a lot of takes on this, none of which I can succintingly write, war and migration isn’t new news to the United States either. But I’ve been tormented by the layers of the War On Mothering. Not only in Ukraine, where surely, husbands, partners, fathers, have and will continue to die fighting armed militia, some of their own brethren. To a similar effect, the upheaval on anti-trans legislation right here on our soil that seeks to attack parents for not performing some kind of conversion theory.
Choosing love in a sea of bad actors feels extraordinarily laborious.
A Knowing So Deep
Last week, I listened to live readings of Toni Morrison’s work by a collection of multi-talented creators, writers, and thinkers, many of whom were friends of Morrison’s, but also students of her art. Author Tayari Jones's words began the evening. Her voice smoothly rotated over the mic, through the speaker, peppered between the sound of my drill puncturing holes in the old cabinet that I was determined to make new with an assortment of vintage knobs.
Tayari read Morrisons words, A Knowing So Deep, which first appeared in Essence magazine May, 1985.
“I know the achievements of the past are staggering in their everdayness as well as their singularity. I know the work undone is equally staggering, for it is nothing less than to alter the world in each of its parts: the distribution of money, the management of resources, the way families are nurtured, the way work is accomplished and valued, the penetration of the network that connects these parts. If each hour of every day brings refresh reasons to weep, the saem hour is full of cause for congratulations: Our scholarship illuminates our past, our political astuteness brightens our future, and the ties that bind us to other women are in constant repair in order to build strength in this present, now.”
Like millions of people, I am weighing the war of the world with how to actually be of the world anew, tender, and grounded. Having a handful of artistic, generous and kind girlfriends fill your home on rotation, willing to stay up all hours of the night doing and talking, helps put things (so many things) in perspective. Saying yes, to the offer surely did. Or possibly, that a quick hello, or drilling those holes and caulking those corners, shooting that set-up, to have a new business model emerge alongside a passion for giving, means that I am more than just not writing. I am doing. Teaching, to be specific. And according to Morrison (not in this piece above), you can’t write and teach. They’re different brains. Different hearts. And so, as Tayari continued to read Morrison’s piece, I began to reflect not only on the lessons I’ve imparted on my children, who themselves partake in renovation and design labor with gusto, but in the many coffees, quick wines, dinner dates, and several hour-long phone calls with friends sewing in the belief that they too can. But maybe more than that, they can honor their way in this world to make the thing they most desire, while living a life they most need, in the little corner of which they have.
What I found in that hour of listening to various readers, but particularly in A Knowing So Deep, is likely the answer,
“Our scholarship illuminates our past, our political astuteness brightens our future, and the ties that bind us to other women are in constant repair in order to build strength in this present, now.”
How’s it going on your end?