Picture not so Perfect

Yeah…yeah, I’m guilty. I take multiple pics, and only show the world the ones I think I look the most vibrant in. I often delete the ones I deem less fitting for public consumption. Ha, doesn’t that sound completely ridiculous?! It almost seems like a cleverly disguised lie, but it’s the truth. I have perceived that the way my face or body looked in that moment wasn’t going to be seen as flattering to others – the ones that see me regularly and especially the ones who don’t. Those are the ones you really wanna look good for, right? Yet, I will march right out my front door, firm eye crust, ashy knees, barefoot and three day old disgruntled high puff and throw the southernly hand up to every neighbor and car going by that I see, on my way to check the mail. These people are equating their home value to the quality of the neighborhood, and its residents, but I’m worried about how I’m perceived on social media? How laughable is that? I recoil from the very platform because of the artificialness of it all. I hate that it brings that out in me. I hate partaking in it, knowing how much I despise it all. UGh!

The irony of it all, is that I love rocking a homeless chic, androgynous look. In my everyday waking life, I don’t care how much something looks on me as much as I care about how much I feel in it. I’m like that with my clothes and my hair. In fact, I usually wear make-up when I feel the most insecure or for special occasions when I think my everyday face isn’t fancy enough. The other 360 days/year, I may rock some lip paint and possibly a little highlighter. Usually, it’s just a mix of oils for my face to enhance my natural glow, and I’m done. If my face is looking unusually sculpted, it’s not weight loss, I’ve been slacking on waxing or tweezing my face, and my hair is adding dimensions. I’m low key in all the right ways. Yet, on social media… I become as fancy as I’ll ever be. In order to counteract the foolishness, I’m posting unflattering photos which I’ve posted their flattering counterparts.

The interesting thing about these photos is that some make my uneven eyes look even more uneven. I guess that’s still an insecurity of mine. One makes me look twice my size because of the Ankara style skirt matched with a bad angle, but another photo where I’m trying to show that very outfit, the entire skirt disappears as if I’m just a big pair of boobs. I suspect that’s an area of uncertainty of mine as well. She’s fat, but she has great boobs. Instead of, “I’m fat, with great boobs and…” narrative. Neither of those things are inherently bad to me, they’re just a small portion of me. (pun intended) But social media doesn’t give you much space to say that…unless it’s Youtube. Then, there’s the ones when the skin color is more gray than brown, or the hair isn’t as perfect as other natural hair days I’ve had, the smile isn’t consistent or it’s the same exact face I always make. The one of me with my port accessed is too real and vulnerable. Keep in mind, I posted the one where I looked super cute with a bunny on my Instagram though. But this one was worse, because for a month, they suspected the cancer was back. But no, that can’t be on social media. Too honest. Don’t even get me started on my RBF whenever I’m not smiling or smirking. See how shallow this all sounds?

Why I took each picture? 1) Re-did tub and tile in our new home. 2) Sitting on the throne of the last sweet 16 of the baby daughter of a family who took me under their wing in Orlando. 3) Another 4 months lived to the max. 4)Trying to capture the beauty of boho gypsy locs I installed myself. 5) Me sunbathing and enjoying only living 15 minutes from the beach. 6)Me hanging out with my twin sister and her fam. 7)I finally made it to the actual party part of their sweet 16 celebration. 8) I think I finally look like an adult during my office hours. I’m wearing serious hair. 9) I’m in Vegas, just went to my first literary award ceremony, this is my last night here and I’m taking it all in. All of these were taken between May-July 2018. What an amazing year, yet authentically sharing it seems near impossible. Yes, yes, I’m guilty of only showing the world pieces of me I deem are consumable in polite company.

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Relationship Recipes

I’m one who listens to my elders and learn from them, so that I may never make their mistakes. However, if I’ve somehow managed to wind up in a predicament unintended, I can always rely on the information I’ve ingested from others. I strongly believe that you should constantly surround yourself with people who enhance your marriage environment. The most important information I’ve heard from married couples is to never stop dating your spouse. We’ve taken it one step further, we also go cell phone free on dates. I collect this information in order to tweak my own relationship recipe.

I use my marriage as an example, but every relationship recipe is unique. No one relationship will ever look like the other, because you are starting with different ingredients. You may still end up with a pound cake whether you use the sour cream recipe, the traditional recipe or the 7up recipe, but they are all unique pound cakes. And as time goes on, and you find ingredients that enhance your recipe, or perhaps ingredients that were in the original model you realized aren’t adding any value – just empty calories – to the mix, you can always subtract, add, replace, exchange or substitute. The same is true of your relationships. You don’t have to throw the whole thing away because of an off flavor.

As the people in the relationship grow, as the tastes change, the recipe needs to be tweaked to accommodate those changes. I cringe to think what my taco game would be like if I still had my 10 year old taste buds. I hated onions, I didn’t understand cilantro, tomatoes were aight… but not all that. I wasn’t even refined enough to understand the power of lime, avocado, fish, slaw and fruit salsas!!! I was basic! The same is true of my first relationship, and even the woman I was when I first entered this one. I grow daily. My recipe for my marriage starts with new ingredients daily. Although, it will still create the same product – a strong marriage – I don’t mind restructuring it in order to maintain it.

In the last 2 years, our marriage has matured into the boldest, most well-rounded, full bodied, full-flavored recipe I never imagined. We graduated with our Masters degrees, conquered cancer, I found my dream job which takes me out of the home during the week, we bought a house and we are continually adding to that growth. That’s just two snapshot years of what has been a 12 year relationship. I was 19 when I began crafting this recipe. Each day, my sushi roll of a marriage is spitting out something worth trying to understand; something different than it was the day before. And I allow it to deviate from the safety of a California roll – happily.

I hate the idea that a marriage must look like this one blueprint, when the people are so different. It has been my experience that the people holding on so much to what they had on day one are the unhappiest in their marriage. Change and growth are not bad things. Don’t allow your flame to be smothered under the weight of your complacency. Actively encourage your relationship to evolve. If you’d never tasted anything except milk and water (baby, to adult necessity) would you consider tea too radical? What about fruit juices? Nay I ask what a daiquiri would rate?

In the same breath, don’t look at someone else’s finished product and try to make the same thing. Can you happily feed a vegan if all you have to offer them is fresh killed meat? What they would deem unethical, you would consider organic and fresh. The needs of one relationship will not satisfy the needs of someone else’s. You are starting the recipes with two different sets of ingredients. Understand the rules in your kitchen before you take advice from others. Always, always, always leave room for dynamics to do what they do… change.

GCLS: Vegas

Calling all gay, lesbian and queer female writers, you have to join Golden Crown Literary Society (GCLS) as soon as possible. It was the most welcoming and educational writing adventure I’ve ever been on. Despite not being much of a Vegas person, this conference definitely made it worthwhile. Going in, I thought it was going to be the adult, all girl version of summer camp. For the most part, I wasn’t wrong.

The camaraderie: Untouchable. I knew absolutely no one, and found myself never sitting alone, despite my tendency to do just that. I met my first conference pal literally by the water cooler. I also got to hitch a ride to a cannabis dispensary with another group of ladies, and rode to the airport in style with a member of the board and another con virgin. Since there weren’t many young writers there, we kinda all eventually awkwardly nodded to each other before saying hello. The handful of black writers all came together for brunch on the last day, but definitely made sure to get to know each other throughout the conference. The society is making an honest effort to increase diversity. From what I understand, this is the most diverse it has ever been.

The environment: I have never been in all female spaces. Ever. I cheered with guys and had a male coach. I played softball for male coaches. Maybe in daisies… But I was unaware of the female energy on any level. I knew I was in the right place when one woman walked into the men’s restroom without a second thought. We had an entire hall and conference area, so it was only our group using those facilities. In fact, we occupied both the male and female restrooms. It was also nice to be in a situation where I didn’t have to worry about the crazy things that occur in a stereotypical scene of a solo woman in Vegas. No one tried to get me drunk, sleep with me, pit me against another woman, get me naked…at no point did I worry about my safety. I wasn’t worried about being deemed attractive, or even attractive enough. I had the opportunity to just be.

The learning: This was the most phenomenal learning environment I’ve ever been in. It was relaxed, yet orderly. We received a schedule of the time, location and description of all of the master classes, panels and workshops being offered. All you had to do was attend. There was no lengthy sign in/up process or anything like that. Because of this, I was able to do at least three classes/panels a day. Since I’m a person of limited energy exchanges, I found myself drained after three classes. Some of it was adjusting to the 3 hour time difference between Florida and Vegas. The exercises though, were genius. Every day I spoke with my mom, I gushed about how much I’d learned, and how many people I’d met. You think you know stuff about writing until you’re in a room filled with writers.

The networking: I met tons of editors, other authors, publishing house contacts, show producers and so many others in the industry. I was intrigued by the beta readers who provide feedback on all of the lesfic the society members put out. They were the ones fangirling over the authors. It was pretty amazing to see how the authors mingled with everyone, almost oblivious to the positions they held within the community. As someone who unknowingly writes lesfic and  stories with LGBTQAI characters galore, I was completely unaware of the lesfic following and movement. After last week, I will never be in the dark again. I look forward to adding more of these works into my teaching curriculum. Especially since I know, and have conversed with, these authors. They will surpass the canon writers in my classroom. I’ve managed to even create a writing group, where we can beta read for each other. I left feeling like I’d conquered being a writer more in one week than I had in all my 20 years of writing.

Overall, I was stunned by all the advice, techniques and budding friendships I acquired. I look forward to joining GCLS in Pittsburgh next year. If you are a woman a part of LGBTQAI community interested in being an author or reader of lesfic, come join us. You won’t regret it!

 

Yearly Expectations

I’m not one who dabbles in New Year’s resolutions or says things like “new year, new me.” However, I have been known to get together with one or both of the young women I grew up sharing a birthday with and give the expectations of the year. Usually, these expectations revolve around things we want to achieve, spaces we want to conquer or visions we want to finally realize. In speaking these goals aloud, we somehow, give them breath and life. At the end of all of us disclosing our list, we find that there is always an overarching theme. This year we focused on career and family.

It has amazed me how many steps I’ve taken toward those two goals. Somehow, they’ve seemed effortless. I’ve moved all sorts of metaphorical mountains and crossed literal seas in order to strengthen and conquer these two spaces. The universe seemed to have opened up in order to assist me. Yes, there are always pushbacks, but my focus has been unwavering. I’ve never been wrapped up in a goal where the outcome seems to be as apparent and tangible as this year’s have been thus far. So, let’s talk process.

  • The first thing I did was write my goals in a goal book. I’m constantly on my search to find 500 goals in life I want to achieve. Surprisingly, I’ve completed more off of my list this summer than I could have ever imagined. I guess this is my version of the vision board.
  • Research things that will get you there. Don’t try to follow someone else’s formula to a “T,” but be aware of the necessary directions that get you to your goal.
  • Be deliberate in your process. Don’t accidentally stumble into things. My careers are writing and educating. I’m currently at a writing conference, I’m taking two classes for professional/faculty development at work and I’m working on expanding my curriculum with other professors, in order to write and publish an educational paper on what we find. I’m not just hoping someone sees me and thinks I should be a writer or a full time educator. I don’t want to just look the part and cross my fingers for success. I’m deliberately putting things in motion towards my goals.
  • Since you are starting with different ingredients, know that your recipe will be uniquely yours. Quit trying to judge what you’re doing and your successes against others, regardless of how much you envy what they have. I can’t say I envy people, but I can say I’ve tried other people’s routes to success with so much failure. I’m grateful for that, because it taught me who I was and what I wanted. I know how to congratulate and encourage others without losing focus on my process and intentions. My struggle now is to find out how to market outside of social media, because frankly, I’m not very good with maintaining social media. I’m not even great at being consistent with social interactions on a daily basis. So, I have to carve out my finished process from the ingredients I’m working with. Like sushi and tacos, there are a variety of ways to make them great.
  • Sow, grow, don’t get low and never let go. Put in the work. Learn things that strengthen your process and bring you closer to your final product. Although you will often feel as though what you’re doing isn’t working, or it isn’t enough, don’t be discouraged. Don’t allow one moment of defeat turn into depression. Most importantly, never give up on the process. It’s like any recipe. You keep tasting it, adding seasonings, more liquids,  or cooking it down until you get it right. If that slow and steady roast doesn’t turn out as expected the first time, you know exactly what you did wrong, or what you’d change the second go around. Sometimes, that becomes 10 rounds of tweaking the family recipe until one day…it’s way better than the original. The next time you’re whipping that baby up, you have some music playing, a glass of wine in your hand, and your soul tells your hands what to do. The same is true of your goals. Once you find your recipe, everything else will fall into place.
  • Each year, your goals should grow as you should have reached new levels from the year before. Even if you didn’t accomplish the exact target to the extent you wanted, you have gotten closer, therefor your new year requires more growth. With this mindset, you’ll realize that you have to put in the work daily in order to impress yourself. I don’t know about you, but I’m my hardest critic – hands down. It could be because I’m the only voice I can never shut down or disconnect from. With that in mind, every day I have to impress myself, because yesterday’s Danielle raised the bar higher than ole girl from the day before.
  • Understand the difference between making moves in place and making moves in a direction. I’ve been guilty of working so hard on something, only to realize it’s taking me no where. I’m literally, moving in place. (Me and social media.) You can be the hardest worker in the game, but you can still never grow in your purpose. This goes back to being deliberate and understanding what you want and what you have to work with that is uniquely yours.

By the next January 23rd, I will have gotten closer to creating and completing 500 goals. Although my steps look insanely different than my peers, even in the same field, they are bringing me closer to my perfect recipe.

People of Precedent

I’m one of these wild people who has the audacity to stand up for myself and create boundaries of a precedent nature. For instance, let’s say I’m in class discussing respect and the standard of maturity in class. Somehow, someone will bring up adult workers during the course of my class. It happens from the material we read discussing a vague performer in Vegas or the way we view beauty in America…something comes up which leads us to sex workers. It amazes me how in that moment, someone wants to say the things they’ve been taught to say in public. “What will her kids say?” “I don’t know how she looks at herself…” You know the remarks. Her kids will probably say thank you for always providing food, once they get old enough to realize the amount of money their mom OR dad brought into the house. I’m sure she OR he looks at themselves with the same thoughts we look at ourselves with daily; some doubts, some pride, some questions, some concerns and then the resolution of this is me. I politely, yet firmly ask my students to silently answer whether or not they have indulged in any work a sex worker has been a part of. If the answer is yes, they have no place to judge. If the answer is no, they still have no place to judge. This may be at the far end of the spectrum just to discuss the varying levels of respect for employment, and the expectations that come along with it.

My mom is a nurse. She has told me that when working with veterans, older gentlemen in their right mind or wealthy men, they think it’s ok to inappropriately touch the female nurses without them saying anything back. In fact, it is often frowned upon when newer nurses make a “big deal” out of getting groped by this demographic. And we wonder why this country, in every industry, has such an enormous sexual assault problem. The generations of people who came before us didn’t set a precedent of respect. Do they really expect us to pass on the same apathy and then wonder why sexual harassment continues to run rampant? From the repeat students I had last semester in my 1102 classes, I saw the elasticity of behavior take place. A student said something inappropriate in class, before I could hear it, another student said, “Professor D. doesn’t play that. Don’t let her hear you.” I have no idea what was said. But I do know this conversation occurred in several classes I had. Guess what, we had a blast letting loose together.

Imagine a casual system where we set boundaries of what is appropriate behavior in a particular setting like nurse and patient interactions, audition rooms, classrooms, religious gatherings, restaurants… the list goes on. By the time the younger generation gets to their 30’s, their likelihood of being a silent target will be reduced. Yes, there will still be those few jerks. But baby, you better be loud about it when it happens. In that moment, make them feel as small as they are attempting to make you feel, in an effort to discourage that person from engaging in that behavior against anyone else. “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” -Alexander Hamilton

Then and Now

I try to dig into social issues with grace and grit. After the latest scandal to distract America, Kanye has become the most quoted person in a while. Making sure to keep my pulse on the reasons we are currently being distracted (Thanks Childish Gambino) I continued to think through the multiple responses to Kanye. In my expertise in over analyzing everything, the only thing I came up with, is that perhaps Kanye hasn’t considered the psychology of slavery and oppression on all of the players involved. Like any great game, everyone has a role, whether they know it or not.

Imagine being in a strange land. Sounds fun, right? 2018: I can’t wait to travel the world with my closest friends…or maybe even strangers, so that I can fully immerse myself in the culture. During slavery: We’ve been stolen from our homes, raped, killed, practically starved and living next to bodily wastes and dead people on the way here. When we got here, we were sold away from our family to people we don’t know, to do work in a strange land we’ve never experienced. We don’t know what we did to deserve this, but whenever someone gets out of line, they cut off parts of their body, whip them or even kill them and display their bodies for us to see. Sometimes for days.

Starting a family in 2018: I mean, I don’t know if I want to marry and have kids or just live my life. Do I want to be tied down like that? I rock mommy status better than anyone I know. I even have a blog about it to go with my vlog on Youtube. During slavery: After being raped, I bore my third child in 4 years from the master. This one is lighter, but she’s a girl. Will she be sold and raped as well, or will she work tirelessly in the fields? Which is the better life? If only I could raise her instead of the kids of the ones who own us. What I’d give to be able to nurse my own child, care for my own child, live with my own child…protect them. What is a mother without her child?

Dating in 2018: Man, I don’t know if I like him “like that” or if he’s just a friend. Race doesn’t matter, I just hope I don’t get raped or killed. Girl, I’ma shoot you a text with his info just to be sure. I’ll also post on social media so you know what he looks like and judge how much fun I’m having. During slavery: I was captured with my husband, but someone else bought him. I was told he died a few years back. Right around the time he found out I gave birth to the master’s second child. I hope he knows it was rape. Maybe he’s better off dead.

Religion in 2018: I was raised Christian/Catholic/Witness/Muslim/Seventh Day/ but now I’m finding my own way. The more I learn, the more my views change. I’m exploring literature and customs of different religions. Man, I wonder how my African ancestors served before colonialism although my family tells me only the way I’ve been raised is the right way. Something in my soul disagrees. During slavery: We can’t praise in the ways we did before, yet they are telling us that according to their religion, we are supposed to be their slaves. They teach us their religion, but they won’t teach us how to read. We can’t hold a service without them. They tell us, we aren’t allowed to be saved either. We aren’t human enough for salvation. This is the only religion my children will grow up knowing.

Colorism in 2018: Girl, you out here sunbathing, knowing good and well the guy you are trying to talk to only likes light skin girls. My melanin is popping, don’t come to me with the foolishness. I bet she thinks she is cute because she is light. What are you mixed with? You look so exotic. I’m black. During slavery: If you’re dark, you’ll be working in the filed, but at least you are less likely to get raped. Less likely, but still highly likely. You’re more likely to get killed, though. I’m mulatto, and it’s the worse of both worlds. I’m hated by the slaves outside and the whites inside. How could my own father sell me? He knew what would happen to me. If only I could pass for white and escape. Where would I go?

Protesting in 2018: They out here being fake woke and complaining about everything like America owes them something. Serves them right they got shot. They should have done this, that and then third and maybe they wouldn’t. But they weren’t doing anything wrong. They just wanted their choices like every other people. They were exercising their constitutional rights. It was never written for them; nor was the police made to protect them. Do your research and you would know that. The second amendment must be defended at all costs, especially in the hands of the police. Dead if you do and dead if you don’t unless you reach a certain celebrity status. Then they tell you not to protest because those are no longer your realities. During slavery: If any slave escapes, bring them back or kill them. Where would we go? We don’t know the area. We don’t know anyone. We’ve seen the bodies of the ones who have escaped. I hear some have made it out, though. Do I attempt to live and die trying, or do I just live dying daily?

Same outcome on some despite the change in times. There was no choice. There is just 400 years of fighting. Each sacrifice is hopefully one step closer to equality. Although this may not be every person of color’s reality, then and now, don’t misunderstand the psychology of the institution.

I Love Her Forever

Don’t find solace in my body, because it will let you down.

It’s fickle. It changes like the wind, and I love it enough… I love her enough to accept all of her waffling, yo-yoing, hue and texture variations. She doesn’t promise me one size forever. I’m not sure if I’d love her as much if she did. Nah, I still would. I love things about her that aren’t even her yet and anymore. I love how she curve(s)(d) around him, her and them; like her skin could heal the soul. I love the way she opened up her arms knowing she’d have to let go. Although she asked you not to, you did it anyway. You found solace in her, but she’s different today.

I’ve spoken often of body image, my struggles and watching those around me. I’ve even discussed the different phases of my body changing withe autoimmune diseases and cancer treatment. What I’ve never discussed was the hesitation in the freedom of labeling my body as both art and sexual. I think of the human body as a piece of art first and foremost. I’ve learned I’m a fan of faces with pieces that look like they don’t fit. An oversized nose that disrupts symmetry, uneven eyes, an old scar that adds character…things of that nature. I’m obsessed with chaos on the human body that causes it to be uncomfortable to look at. This brought me to my bucket list. I have a journal inching toward 500 goals I want to do before I die. Post cancer, I, like many other survivors asked why I lived and others died. In an effort to justify it, I’m striving to be as fearless and authentic as possible. One of those things was creating a beautiful photo shoot.

I’ve shied away from calling myself sexy with any seriousness, because of the implications it held. Would others agree? If they did, did that mean women would be uncomfortable with me around their husbands and vice versa with my own husband? If they didn’t consider me sexy, would they laugh at me behind my back? Throughout most of my life, I’ve relied on being considered cute. Cute is non-threatening and easy to pull off. Cute goes with dimples, no matter how the rest of you looks. But now, after all of my trials, I’m marrying my art to sexuality. I’m going to be as comfortable in that pairing as I am in everything else; unapologetically. I was asked, what if the pictures got out and affected my career choice? If all that I have accomplished and overcome can be ousted by a part of my therapy I take so much pride in, then why am I trying to be a part of that position? Why do I want to represent that environment? I’ve worked for companies that didn’t align with who I was in my youth, but now, I am my own in every way. Here is why I love this series of photos:

  • My port is displayed without reservation. This – to me – is still the most vulnerable part of me.
  • My scar is as breathtaking in this photo as I see it everyday. It adds to both the art and sexiness of my body.
  • My fingers… gosh… I have six broken fingers cupping the topic of controversy. The same nails which had been chemo stained and discolored are now perfectly contrasting with the melanin around them.
  • The bald head I once wore with confidence is spilling over with my natural curls.
  • My smile is cute, sexy and beautiful all in the same frame. I never knew I was capable of that; let alone capturing it here.
  • The simplicity of this photo allows everything to be absorbed in an authentic way I can’t get over. Thank you Thomas Fox Photography!

I did partner photos, but those will not be shared. This session was 100% about me living boldly, and challenging my own perception of myself. The best moments are always those where I step outside of my comfort zone in order to step into the spaces I’ve been too reserved to claim. I’m owning these pictures. I’m controlling the narrative around them, and I’m not going to allow a single day to go by where I don’t enjoy them. I want to remember her in this moment of beauty as she continues to create more. For even the woman I was when I took these photos last week is slightly different than the woman I am today.