As late as the year 2000, according to Alabama law, my husband and I could not lawfully be married in that state because he is white and I am black. Of course, lawmakers reassured interracial couples from Alabama that we had nothing to worry about. No one would actually enforce such a law, but the bottom line was the law was on the books. Any racist cop with an agenda could have locked us up just for kicks. Since then, mercifully, the law has been changed.
Today, gays and lesbians await news about whether or not their love relationships will be recognized by the courts of the land. Through the years, just like with the interracial relationship issue, this civil rights issue has been made a religious issue. It should not be. In 2011, the Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church in Kentucky voted not to allow interracial couples into their flock. You know, I don't have a problem with that. Any church that wouldn't allow my husband and me to worship with them is not paying homage to the same God that he and I do anyway, so our feelings would so not be hurt if the ushers did not welcome us in with open arms.Trust and believe, your congregations are "safe" from the likes of us.
Many of my gay and lesbian friends feel the same way. They don't want to “invade” the churches of those who don’t want them there. They don't seek to force you to marry them, if you speak hate against them. They have no desire for you to Baptize or Christen their children if you feel those children are somehow not as good or deserving of God's grace as say, a child raised by heterosexuals. In most cases, those gays and lesbians who believe in God already attend churches that are welcoming and affirming of their relationships and their families anyway. They simply want the same freedom that heterosexuals have which is to fall in love, get engaged, get married, have a family, retire, grow old together, and then, when the time comes, say goodbye to each other when it is their time to transition to the other side. They also want to be able to have children together and not worry about custody becoming an issue because they are not legally wed or one person in the union is not the biological parent. They want to be able to file their taxes together and receive the same write offs that heterosexual couples receive. They want to insure their loved ones because they work just as hard as heterosexuals do on the job and their loved ones should be entitled to their benefits. They want to die and know that their loved ones will be taken care of during a time when no loved one should have to worry about inheritance taxes or “eligibility to receive benefits” issues.
So, I write this not to change anyone’s mind. Instead, I write this post to simply urge people to love who you love and allow others to do the same. It really is that simple.
Soon after I was violated by an adult “posing” as a family member, I started thinking about ways to protect myself. I was too afraid to tell what really happened to me, so I knew I had to come up with my own ideas for keeping me safe. My body started “sprouting” womanly features at a very early age. I was what some folks would call big boned or thick.
By the time I was eleven, when the abuse took place, I was no longer wearing a training bra, but instead, I was wearing at least a B or C cup. So I knew my first task was to change my body. Nerd that I was, I decided I would “research” how to lose my excess body fat so that I could look more like an eleven year old. I went to the library and checked out diet and exercise books and I then tried to embark on a healthy path towards losing weight…not easy when your dad is an ex-Navy chef. Daddy was always cooking amazing foods, and I was always a sucker for his barbecue ribs, coleslaw, chicken and dressing, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, fried chicken, and the list goes on and on and on. At first, I allowed myself all the water I could drink, six or seven crackers for breakfast and lunch, and at dinner, I would eat whatever daddy cooked. Well, not so smart because by dinner time, I was ravenous. I ate everything in sight, and daddy, the quintessential southern gentleman, thought it awesome that his biggest fan loved his cooking so much that she ate seconds, thirds, and sometimes, fourths of whatever he cooked. Little did he know that I was dying inside, knowing that every bite I took added more temptation to my hips, thighs, breast and backside. Then, I discovered purging.
My discovery of purging actually happened by accident really. At this point in my life, there were no stories about Anorexia or Bulimia, so I didn’t have a name for what I was doing. The Karen Carpenter story had not been revealed, so for all I knew, I was inventing a new way to cope with food. The beginning of my food phobias and addictions began one night when I ate way too much, and within an hour, I was violently sick. I don’t know if it was in that moment or later on that I developed the “bright idea” to continue purging after every meal, but either way, that became my way of dealing with my desire to eat and my desire to get smaller so my body wouldn’t be attractive to anyone, particularly lecherous old men who messed with little girls. During high school, my weight fluctuated. There was a time when I was as low as 110 and as high as 135. No one ever knew my pain because I kept that part of my life secret. Just like the abuse. The weight of the things I carried just kept getting heavier and heavier.
I continued this behavior for several decades –throughout all of my twenties and half of my thirties. When I met my husband, I was down to about 110-112 pounds (not a healthy weight for someone who was 5'5"). Pictures of me at that time are extremely scary. I looked sick, and I was. I rarely ate, and when I did, I picked at my food. My husband is an amazing cook, so I would make sure I ate but I chewed my food for so long that no one really noticed that I barely consumed anything. I began to rely on booze to help me deal with my demons. I was functioning, but just barely. I held down a job. I mothered my boys as best I could. I tried to be a good wife. But inside, I was dying. And to add insult to injury, I felt like the worse black woman ever. I mean, weren’t we the divas who celebrated our hips and thighs? At that time, white women were beginning to get butt surgeries and breast augmentations to add on the very parts that I despised when they were on my body. I hated the catcalls. I hated the dudes who “stepped to me” and said things like, “Them thighs are looking hot, mama.” Their words alone, made me feel violated. But I hated that I felt that way. I wanted to be the upbeat chick who had a quick comeback. The chick who celebrated their words instead of feared them.
I grew up with Queen Latifah singing about our beauty and talent and our need for self-respect. I had a daddy who always, always said I was smart and beautiful. My husband, Robert, told me every day that I was the most beautiful woman in the world, but for some reason, their words didn't compute. I felt like a freak. An anomaly. The more I tried to stop my destructive behavior the more I found myself binging and purging. I got to a point where I would only eat foods of a certain color and each food had to be organized on my plate in a certain way. At that time, I gave up meat completely. It didn’t fit in my color scheme. Then I went vegan. I wanted no animal byproducts in my system at all. Now I am back to being vegetarian with the occasional fish.
The good news – I have stopped binging and purging. I am working on my diet and exercise, but it isn’t easy. My years of abusing diet pills and laxatives have cost me a lot physically. My metabolism is shot. But I am not giving up. I am healing. Hopefully, this post will help others. Hopefully someone out there who reads this post will realize that they are not alone and those of us who did survive are all in this recovery thing with them. That is my hope and prayer.
IF YOU HAVE AN EATING DISORDER, OR YOU KNOW SOMEONE WHO DOES, PLEASE CONTACT THE NATIONAL EATING DISORDER ASSOCIATION BY CLICKING HERE.
A few posts ago, I encouraged writers to read their work. There is something so scrumptious about tasting the words of your characters in your mouth. You become the conduit through which they are heard and felt. I have always loved performance art. Perhaps, if I didn't have such difficulty memorizing dialogue/lines, I would have auditioned for the stage. Maybe the fact that memorization is a chore for me, I instead focus on getting the voices of my characters just right. I know I will never perform in a play (unless I am the character who enters stage left, nods at the people in the audience, and then walks off stage right). Therefore, I must allow my creative process to help me engage my characters orally. My ultimate goal is, after I've "written" and "talked" my characters into existence, someone who reads a story written by me will "hear" the voices of the characters as if I or the character herself were speaking them out loud. So, below, I share with you my reading of my short story, "Something in the Wash." This story is part of the thesis I wrote entitled Wade in the Water. Please feel free to leave comments below about your writing/reading experiences, or just talk about writing with me.
I will never forget that July morning in 1979 when, at the age of eleven, my innocence was stolen away from me by a madman, disguised as a “member of the family.” He married into the family but obviously didn’t realize that sweet, little girls with pigtails were off limits. I’ve battled with how to deal with those demons my entire life since this tragedy occurred. It feels like, at times, that I can’t shake the fear, the shame, and the disgust over that incident, all of these years later. In a poem that I wrote called “History,” I say the following lines:
[T]he anger is still there
Most days I can control it, suck it up and own it
But it is still there
All these years later
It is still there.
Those words express for me how I sometimes feel about being violated and then told to ignore it and/or pretend “it” didn’t happen by someone in my life who should have been my protector. This person, I still have trouble forgiving. Sometimes, this person feels more like the violator than the violator.
Sadly, that one incident has affected me and everyone who has been and is a part of my inner circle. Sometimes I am distant. Moody. I pull away. I detach myself. I attempt to be “the life of the party,” as sung by Smokey Robinson, but really all I want to do is to be swallowed up by floor. I shy away from affection. I desire it but it also scares me. I am a control freak. The list goes on and on. And the worst of it all is I still, sometimes, blame that poor little eleven year old girl for what happened to “us.” The adult me scolds her for not being smarter. Why did you let him in? Why couldn't you see that he was drunk and out of his mind? Why didn’t you tell our daddy, so he could have fixed things? Why didn’t you protect us, dammit!?!
So the question is, why am I revealing all of these details about my life now in such a public forum? Those close to me know the details. I’ve spent years in therapy rehashing the story over and over. My husband, who is my lifeline and best friend, deals with these demons right along with me day after day, year after year. So why put this story out there? The simple answer is, I want to be free. At times I think that I am free, and then something happens. My senses pick up on scents that I relate to that morning – the smell of beer, Cherry flavored Kool-Aid, cigarette smoke and stale Pork rinds – and then just as “fast as lightning,” little Angela is catapulted back to the summer of 1979. But I am ready to stop this madness for good now. I am trying to adopt the mindset that I must speak and/or write the words that bind me so that I can be free.
Robin Roberts, the news anchor at Good Morning America, recently said she will “turn [her] mess into [her] message.” I like that. I will strive to do that and release myself of the “noose of child sexual abuse.” And that is what it is. The longer those of us who have suffered from child sexual abuse continue to swing in the trees of torment and despair, we continue to give our assailant the power. We must cut ourselves down from those trees and be free. I will continue to talk about this issue, because there is too much silence about it. Too many little girls and boys have been violated and they are too scared, even as adults, to tell their stories. Well, this is my story. And I say to this violent portion of my history, “I rebuke you.” You will no longer be my mess, you will, instead, be my message. I will write about this issue. Talk to young girls and boys about this affront to our youth and innocence. I will not allow another boy or girl on my watch feel as if the shame is theirs. I will stand up and speak out until it is the violators who will fall on their knees and cry “Mercy.” For their sake, I hope mercy will be granted. Simply put, I claim my freedom…Today.
For more information about child sexual abuse and organizations that can help children and families, click here.
“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” ~ E. L. Doctorow
Because I was raised as an only child, hearing voices was a normal occurrence for me. Before I could even read, I invented elaborate stories about my stuffed animals, my imaginary friends, and myself. And no matter what the story, I always had a particular voice for each stuffed bear, each long-legged Barbie and each imaginary prince who was coming to sweep me—his little brown-skinned Princess—away to some fairy kingdom.
And when I wasn’t creating my own voices, I would often times sit (well hidden so as not to be seen or disturb the storyteller) and listen to my Dad and his brothers and friends tell elaborate stories about people they knew, and always, always their stories were accompanied by the voices of the person they happened to be talking about. And as a result, these people became more than words out of the storytellers’ mouths, they became living, breathing people who embodied the very soul of the oracle relating the story.
As a result of my “voice-filled” childhood, it became second nature for me to hear the voices of the characters that I would create in my own writing. And until I heard them, until I could hear each character’s individual personality radiate through every word of dialogue, until I heard the very timbre of their voices, my characters did not exist for me.
The voices in your story are the DNA makeup of your characters. The voices are what makes your characters tick. I like knowing all sorts of details about my characters. Things like: Date of birth. Time of birth. Place of birth. Parents names and ages. Siblings names and ages. Etc. I also like to SPEAK OUT LOUD the dialogue of my characters. Speaking out loud is so very important for developing the voice of each character.
If you hear your characters, then you can more easily catch when you’ve written dialogue or action that doesn’t fit with your characters. So, ask yourself: Does your character speak fast? Slow? Does she stutter when she’s nervous? Does she have a drawl or does she speak with the clipped cadence of a Northerner? Walk around. Embody your character – mind, spirit and soul. Ask questions that will allow you to get as deep into the psyche of your character as you can because there is where voice resides. So here are some potential questions you can ask your character during a pre-writing interview. And really act this out. BE the character. Not the writer. Not the reviser/editor. But the actual character from your story. Some of the potential questions you can ask are:
Question 1: What is your earliest memory?
Question 2: Which of your parents showed you the most love? In what way?
Question 3: What type of people did you hang out with in high school?
Question 4: Who was your first sexual partner? Did you enjoy it or not?
Question 5: What is the worst thing you ever did to a person that you loved?
Question 6: What is the worst thing that was ever done to you by someone you thought loved you?
Question 7: How would your family and friends describe you?
Question 8: What is something that you have done or said that you wouldn’t want your mother, father, spouse, and/or children to know about?
Question 9: Are you living your best life? If not, why not?
Question 10: What is the most interesting thing that has ever happened to you?
Question 11: What is your most pressing need right now and what would you do to get it?
As much as I adore writing, there are days when I feel too blah to do it. I’ll have great characters, an amazing plot, and a clear direction on how I will marry the two together, but the blahs take over. So, I came to realize that preparing to write has to become as important as the actual writing sometimes. So, here are some tips that can help writers avoid the writing blahs.
1. Take a walk or do some yoga before you start writing. Get yourself in the right head space.
2. After your walk or yoga, take a shower/bath and spritz yourself with your favorite cologne/perfume. Put on something nice AND comfortable. Treat writing like it is a date you are about to go on.
3. Set aside two times a day to write. That way, if you miss the first time, you won’t beat yourself up because you know that there is still another time slot available. A groovy plus that can happen is – you write during BOTH time slots. If you can do that a few times per week, well, you will really feel good about yourself.
4. Reward yourself if you accomplish your weekly goal. Now, I’m not saying go out and buy yourself some Prada every time you write 750 words, but I am suggesting that you go buy yourself a nice Gourmet Cupcake if you keep your writing goal for a whole week. Or go Goodwill Hunting or Consignment shopping in the fancy side of town and see if you can find that jacket that would normally sell for $75 for a huge sigh inducing $9.
5. Create a writing retreat in your writing space. Buy nice candles and a miniature waterfall that sits on your desk. Splurge (even if you must save for months) and buy a nice, comfy chair. Go to a supply store and buy all of the cool pencils, pens, folders, highlighters, Post-its, etc. that make your desk look ready for creating. Make sure your lighting is perfect, and for goodness sake, make sure that you are not sharing that space with someone else. If it is shared space, try to make appointments for the space so that you aren’t in the space at the same time as someone else.
6. Finally, at the end of the day, return the space to its previous order. Don’t leave it messy. That way, when you go there the next day, it will still be inviting and enticing.