The man whose head was resting on my shoulder was a stranger. A six footed, big boned stranger in a dark suit. I did not have the heart to nudge him awake. My book was open on my lap and I was comfortable, slowly settling back into my body after a day of negotiating the world; the maps and landscapes of Melbourne. All the physical, mental and emotional bits. Read More
My Mama never taught me anything about power. Not in the way Superwoman’s mother may have sat her down and said: “babygirl, this is how you use that power in your body and in your mind; how you become powerful; how you become superwoman”.
If my Mama had said those words I surely would have remembered them because they would have been etched on all the parts of me. Because for a girl who only ever dreamed of saving others, I was pretty powerless. I had tiny hands that couldn’t scoop up a lot of things all at once and tiny feet that couldn’t keep up with the big steps of others. Yet when my hands grabbed onto something or someone the grip was real, strong and tight. I held onto things and people like they were made to be held, and I, born to do the holding.
But I was never powerful. The little hope that remained pressed against my chest as a little girl that I was a secret superhero was blown away like flimsy stardust when the messages started coming in from the outside. You know, when the world begins to whisper in your ear about all the things that make you not quite enough or worthy. They were brutal and cruel. The whispers of what it meant to be powerful and the assigned cages that came with it. You had to be a particular person or do a particular job or be born into a particular family in order to be graced with an authority that determined how people treated you and how easily the worldly path would be laid out beneath you.
Unconsciously, I tucked my small hands into my pockets and stopped grabbing things. But we all go through life in order to learn and realise what it means to live. What it means to sort out the gold from the dross.
On Monday I missed a meeting.
I thought about the people that would have been sitting behind computer screens slicing through multiple time zones and geographical layers of space to be in one spot for a time, for this meeting. It struck me how powerful they appeared, these nameless and faceless people I was going to talk with for the first time. It made me think of the fallacy we share amongst ourselves – that power is something that is always in the hands of other people, never in ours, never in our hot, sweaty, clasping hands.
When I got to the office, I picked up my red pen and started crossing off days on my calender. There was something soothing about that act. The feel of the red ink sinking into the page, staining it beautiful made me warm inside. It surprisingly made me feel powerful. I have deadlines hanging over my head. There was trepidation and excitement that days are moving along and the question still remains:
What will you do with your wild and precious self ?
Chances are you don’t feel powerful either. Maybe you are caught in the nets of something poisonously draining like a toxic relationship. Or maybe you wake up every morning to go sit at a desk in an old, gray office working a job that pulls you in and withdrawn deep into yourself. And maybe you just don’t feel powerful, period. Whichever it is, I am thinking of you. And Im thinking of us, workers and lovers. People and humans.
We always have something to offer because of who we are. The way the particles that form our individual self come together is on its own an epic thing. And this is the priceless thing that nobody but each of us owns. You can patent it and take it to the bank baby. You own it. In every way that ownership is real and flesh. Tangible and there, sitting on your very skin. Because for as long as you are you, you will have something that no other human being has. This is the power we should be talking about. An authenticity that never blows its own horn to get others out of the way. Instead it reaches out invisbile arms and pulls others to itself. It draws others in by simply being. It sits in the chest, yours and mine, a bright burning knowing that it is absolutely fine to be us.
This is not a come as you are philosophy, it is a true grit becoming the best version of you there could ever be.
We like to think of power as so many things that have nothing to do with us, things that live in camps outside of ourselves. Money. Wealth. Privilege and position. But real power is how you sit within yourself. How you hold the reins of who you are and learn to connect all the parts of you in a tapestry that makes beautiful, not only your life but the lives of those around you. When you possess your soul – knowing where it has been and where it is going- and when you can hold together your core, you settle deeper and stand firmer. You create and give from that place that is not shaken by the winds of the world.
I think this is the stuff we need to be taking into our work, into our every day. The power that is much more than we think and realise.
14 mornings ago men arrived in my street. With their big trucks and heavy, metal drills. They camped out on all the surfaces in our little corner of the neighbourhood. It was so packed that we had to squeeze inbetween machines and bodies to get anywhere. It has been chaotic, disruptive and exciting.
On normal days Toward Street is quiet.
It sits atop underground swamps which release moisture when the ground is threatened. Long, long ago, when Australian land was barren, there was a river that went through this area or so the story goes.
Sometimes I leave my house at 12 o’clock in the afternoon and each step I take is treasured. I can feel my feet thinking with me as they meet the street beneath them. The silence always comes close. And mixed with the sunshine I always want to keep walking forever. There is this spirit to the street. A soul. And you feel it.
The street is wide and fat, stretching on all sides as if she is a lady who could eat more. And I would willingly indulge her. But 14 days ago, men came to break her belly and dig her insides. They are doing something to our water pipes. I have become used to having these men there, in their blue and yellow uniforms and white hard hats. I have grown attached to them and their work. And so I know the street will feel strange when they are gone, until that strangeness grows back into the usual quietness again and it no longer feels strange.
The work they do – the digging, drilling, shovelling, cutting and patching up dry ground, the fixing of water pipes and of finding a path for them under the earth; it is not work my mind or body knows intimately but its beauty I can see and its value I can appreciate. What would we do if there were no men or women who behind the scenes pieced things together so when we turned on the taps water actually gushed out in all its liquid glory, magnificent and abundant?
I stood in front of a panel yesterday. My job was to convince them that my dissertation was making a worthy contribution to the annals of human knowledge. As I stood there in a conventional room with conventional lighting and projectors, I knew I could not occupy academia the way I occupy my soul. This knowing was sharp and it pressed in the insides of my mouth forcing other words to come out. Words that I had prepared to speak in defense of my unconventional thesis. As soon as they left my mouth they proclaimed me doomed and free all at the same time. Free in ways I do not yet understand.
Unlike the men in my streets, the work I do is not as visible. I collect things and patch them up together, stringing meaning and heart to the things that beat with life. I live in nostalgia. I stand and observe. Take in and then give it all back. Sometimes in words and sometimes in a touch. It is a quiet work, the work that sits behind the visible.
And this is how precious work is. It begins before it begins. We each bring reasons, hopes, dreams and expectations to what we do for work. It is never a blank page, and it is never worthless.
Tonight as I walked home, my street was quiet in the dark. The sky above was flooded with stars, the kind that make you smile and wonder about all the other people who are seeing them at just the same time as you. I felt the cold air in my face and spread out my arms to embrace and be embraced by nothing and everything. The big machines that flanked all the edges of the street pressed me on all sides directing me home.
One day this work will end, I think to myself. And the men with all their big tools will leave and go dig up another part of the earth. I think of work and what it is meant to do in the world. But what I see instead is a toiling out of necessity that governs our lives. And how it holds us prisoner within the limitations the world sets on us. I feel for all of us.
Maybe it is time to reimagine a different relationship with work. A bubbling need to go back to the basics; to the appreciation; to the falling in love with the pieces of the puzzle we each hold. For work is the place we get to hold our piece and turn it around in the light to notice all the ways it is wonderfully formed. Work is the space we can stitch our piece to another’s piece to create something beautiful.
Maybe it is time to reimagine.
I will start with a need, a need so strong it is pressing against my ribs and the only thing keeping me upright in this moment. I need you to hold me. To hold me so tight it doesn’t matter if I won’t be able to breathe. Reach your hand from the future and grab me. Clasp your fingers with mine. Intertwined and sacred. Trace this moment and outline it, for I cannot make sense of this path. This part of our life is called uncertain.
Remember that childhood knowing that sat so dominantly in the chest? That we were somehow meant for great things? I think I remain unconvinced. The dots should have aligned by now and our empire taking shape. But instead we went walking through deserts, barefoot on the blistering hot sand. We climbed in and out of trenches. This has been no straight path. Nothing at all like the flower garden trails I imagined as a girl. The pictures in my head were crystal clear and full of vibrant colour as I skipped through girlhood and through that long, dry grass that covered miles of space behind the house. My body was 6 years old but my soul was ancient.
33, beloved, I know where I’ve come from, how far and deep that place is, and so forgive me for the doubts now. It’s just that…it’s just that nobody said how hard it would be, how scary it would seem to put one foot in front of the other on a road less travelled. A path everyone secretly and publicly thinks you shouldn’t be taking. Certain roads should only be taken by certain people – this is actually a rule in this world. Nobody will own to it but nobody has to because everybody knows that is the way it is.
I know you think this is a load of crap and that is why I love you. Why I need you. You are a woman with the wind beneath your sails. Your eyes are grown and wise. You see life’s beauty and her sorrow and you find a place for both. You are a celebrator of life, the drumbeat that vibrates at the core of her.
I need your courage and strength more than ever. That little girl skipping in the long, dry grass with an old soul keeps calling out to me. The dreams we had then cemented in ink and yet I feel so far from them now, so far from the sap that energised them and sweetened them.
This is a hard job – expressing what many are afraid to acknowledge as being their very own thoughts, echoing the cries of other people’s hearts, reflecting them back to themselves. Sometimes I want to tell you that we should have picked an easier job but I know we didn’t choose this work. It came imprinted on the heart that beats in the chest. The same heart that beat in our 6 year old self.
And what is more beautiful than words? Words have the power to bind wounds, to nurse the place where it is broken and to heal the things that need to be healed. Words give wings to fly. They pour courage into our hearts and hope into our laps. And when we extend our words into action, they literally save us. What higher power is there?
“In the beginning was it not only the WORD and from the WORD worlds born?”
Clasp your hands with me, dear 33 and remind me of the sacredness of this work. Remind me that the art itself is bigger than my doubts. If you say it I will keep showing up on the page. I will keep showing up to work. Until one day I morph into you, and you into me. I will become you. You who are full of grace and wisdom. And even when you cry and are pierced with sadness, you keep walking. You get what this is all about. It is not about building castles and altars to oneself. It is about service, about faith and about love. Man can never reward you for these beautiful things.
So clasp your hands with mine and walk me though this. I need you so.
We went to see a musical, my best friend and I.
It was a musical about seeking light. Sitting in the dark next to her, this girl whose heart beats as full as mine, images of India came flooding back.
I had left Delhi two days earlier. Boarding that plane that would take me far, far away from India was the easiest thing I had ever done.
See, India broke my heart.
She knocked the wind right out of me. She took my beating heart in her hands and squeezed. It hurt. A pain I will never find full forming words for.
From the start, my intention was pure and my mission clear:
I was going to India to observe, to listen and to learn. I was going to India to experience her. An old land of history and culture. What I ended up experiencing was myself. In all my folds and crinkles. With all the light gone out of me.
I had the audacity to go with my candle. The moment I landed at the airport and stood at the immigration counter, my light was forcefully snuffed out.
“Where are you from” they demanded to know. That was the question that started it all and the question that I have tucked underneath every corner and every furrow of my body.
They wanted to send me back. They did. On account of my passport. My Zambian passport. I had become a spectacle even before I had opened my mouth. And it went downhill from there.
When we took to the streets, in the nooks and crannies of new and old Delhi, I was a walking, breathing anomaly. With my dark flesh and brown eyes. The stares I received were dehumanising. Constant accusations of why I wrought myself in this body. It was suffocating. It was overwhelming.
I found myself walking around with my head bowed as if in mourning. I was unsure of how to hold my body upright. Every ounce of confidence in me had been sucked dry.
But sitting in the dark of a theatre in Singapore, next to my best friend who holds my heart in her own breast, India close yet so far, I watched as the characters on stage danced the story of seeking light. They sough it from themselves and from each other.
It suddenly dawned on me that I had allowed the world to crowd in, to become so intimate with me. I had allowed myself to accept the ugliness it works so hard to reflect onto me: tales of dark flesh that was wrought in dark coalmines. Deep underground. Where light does not reach. Years and years of hearing this had stencilled it onto every fibre of my being. It had made me walk like a slave, my knees buckling the deeper I went into the core of the world. I had folds on my skin to prove it. Scars on my heart. Bundles of hurt hooked to my shoulders.
The world. The way it is structured. The way it moves. The way people view people who look like me. The perceptions. The stereotypes. They have tried hard to convince me and everyone else that I am part of the darkness.
But the truth is even more frightening for some, uncomfortable for others:
I am part of the light. I am part of the rainbow that forms because of the light. I am created to belong in the spectrum. It is not your choice or mine whether I stay or go. I was created.
I have work to do in this rainbow. My job is to be here. To exist. To disrupt your fantasises. To make you think. To make you uncomfortable.
My job is to be light.
It is the most silent yet most powerful thing in the world. When it arrives, there is no noise, no drum rolls, no fuss. But it holds the whole floor by its presence.
It penetrates the murk.
It chases away the darkness.
It forms molecules of beauty that match every part of its essence.
Light is life giving. It is nourishing.
And this is part of what I have been called to be. I knew this, yes, but I did not understand it. Understanding means I lift my chin off the ground and I let this light unfold all the folded parts of me. It means I tell you when we are not being properly human.
It means I say NO to the darkness the world wants to shove into sacred spaces of human beings.
To be part of the light, I must seek it. This I know for sure.
There is something magical about doing what makes your heart sing. I don’t know what it is for you but for me it’s writing. the raw, rough-on-the-edges kind. the deep & soulful kind. I leave traces of my heart in every syllable . always. It begins & ends there for me.
The comfort I find in writing is like no other. there is no naming it. It’s like this pure force that moves right through me, is in me & surrounds me, enveloping me in a cocoon of light. bright & warm.
there is no lying or masquerading when my pen meets the page. it’s like two long lost lovers finding their way back to each other. Into the solid arms of love. there is no room for not trying. because this relationship is worth life itself….
I think on the page. I lay my burdens on the page. I love on the page. I am defiant on the page. I am a warrior on the page.
I write because the pen fits perfectly between my fingers & my heart and mind whisper such tender poetry to each other that it is impossible to ignore. I was born to write. plain & simple. the world, other people & I, myself may push me in all kinds of directions but this is the home I come back to. my default existence.
I hurt at what’s become of the world – the constant competition, the branding of everything including ourselves. the elitism & cliques of creatives breaks my heart. I understand the natural churning of the soul to make a writer’s name for herself. I have that too. I wrestle with that too. The world doesn’t make you forget it’s there. For what is a writer without an audience? It taunts & jeers.
The truth is, I am a writer even on the days I do not get LIKES for my writing.
It’s the getting back to the basics. the saving of the music only my heart can make.
I don’t know why you do what you do but when you have it figured out, i hope you hold it closely dear to your heart; that you will squeeze every essence of it into your being that there will be no telling where you begin & where it ends. you will become your purpose.
It’s the getting back to the basics. the saving of the music only your heart can make.
She just walked up to me & talked to me.
A Caribbean girl, beautiful & awkward in her stride, in her manner. As though the world was not quite a steady place. I could sense her soul, open & exposed to the elements. She needed no words for me to know she was craving. needing. love. connection. human interest.
She told me how lonely it was being a black Caribbean woman in Australia. My heart clasped & enfolded itself around hers. I understood every unspoken word she said, every bated breath that escaped from her body.
I had vowed to myself to never speak of race or culture on this blog. Even though these are the things I’m knee deep & thickly steeped into. for my doctorate & for my own every day. They interest me in a deep, under the skin kind of way.
The thing is, I have been afraid. Sucker punched in the gut kind of afraid. of offending. of being judged. of being thought of as overly sensitive.
Talking about race rarely goes well in our world. Other people are sensitive too. Emotions come spilling out. Hurtful words gush out of our mouths. Wrong perceptions are formed & dig their fangs into our conscious like leeches.
I’ve had people question my racial experiences or make excuses on other people’s behalf. I’ve had people tell me my experiences are not unique, that everybody has something that gets drawn out of them & for me it just happens to be the chocolate brown colour of my skin. & so I shouldn’t be asking for more. After all, the world carries on as it always has.
I have been shaken to the marrow every time I’ve born witness to this kind of thinking & talking. Did I say so? No. My heart, my beautiful heart trembled in its fear. Fear of confrontation & having that conversation that cuts deep.
Maybe every tactic in the world has been tried & tested. We can’t change the world anyway & so we go along with whatever is championed as the norm; as the superior culture. & the norm is definitely not the face or body you see when you look at me. Or so I’m told.
I find it funny how we all act as though we stood in a queue before we were born and God said,
“Alas! What shall I make you go as?”
“Well, now. I’ll take the blue eyes, blond hair & porcelain skin, thank you very much!”
No, people, it didn’t go down like that. God didn’t give me the choice to be born black or white. & so I find it deeply disturbing when people act as though they had something to do with evading the black skin; as though everybody else who is covered in skin that is not pure & white made a poor choice.
A lot of us wash our hands off race. with soap & all. Because let’s face it, it’s just too hard. too messy. & maybe we feel it has nothing to do with us.
I’ll break it down for you; EVERYONE. Every single, breathing, walking person is affected by race. For some it is positive & affirming. For others it is painful & frustrating. I know both as some of you might.
There is something really terrifying about living in a world where some people are rendered sub-human. The thought process behind that craziness makes me shudder.
I’ve had to come face to face with my fears. I sat down woman to woman with my own inferiority complex. the one that was stamped on me by virtue of being born, black, African & a woman. & the one the world tries to shove down my throat every single day. I’ve had to deal with my own prejudices & perceptions about myself, about black people, white people, asian people, island people, nationalities & everyone in between. & because I can personally do these things, I can ask others to do the same thing. I never talk about things I’m not willing to do myself. That is akin to hypocrisy & in my life there is no room for that.
The fear that has held me prisoner in the past is fading & I have a mission to make life better for at least ONE person in the world. Someone has to benefit from my existence. I have a mission to talk about race in a way that connects people to themselves & to others.
Because when we take away the fear, race remains in its beauty. The way God intended. right. good. & perfect.
I hope I can grow the courage to lay this beauty over girls who walk up to me & speak to me of fear, loneliness & craving. Thickly wrap them up in the truth of race. & love.