On Loving and Writing

August 12, 2018

Photo by Dalal Nizam on Unsplash

Originally published in Aug. 5 Sunday Kind of Love newsletter

I.
Loving you is something like swimming in still waters and driving with the windows down. Easy. Calm. Even. Smooth. I once believed that love was more of a roller coaster, with skyrocket moments and precipitous drops. Perhaps that is why I was so afraid of it, convinced that any sort of love would come complete with complicated emotions and an ongoing rumble of anxiety. I only ever knew relationships that involved waiting with bated breath for text messages that only sometimes arrived and squeezing substance out of small exchanges. My sole sign that things had crashed and burned came from a stream of silence on the other end—forcing me to read in between the lines, pour a glass or two of Cabernet Sauvignon, listen to SZA on an endless loop, and pick up whatever shards were left.

II.
But, then I met you. I used to think people were full of it when they would say “And then you just meet someone.” It seemed to oversimplify the kind of shift I imagine would only ever be tangled, difficult, and impossible to find. But, everything I once believed about love shattered and is now being to rebuilt. I’m still putting the bricks together. I’m still remembering to stop holding my breath or waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’m still savoring the taste of “I love you” on my lips. I’m still soaking up the way it sounds coming from your end. I’m still learning how to be kinder and softer, unarmed and not so sharp at the tongue. I’m still learning the responsibility that comes with holding another person’s heart in your hands. I’m still learning. My sweet love, I am still learning.

III.
I fell in love with you early on a Friday afternoon, in a one-bedroom apartment on the other side of the world. 74 Franklin Street in Adelaide, South Australia. It was gray and overcast, the kind of day destined for curling up in a ball and flipping through television. I would fly to Sydney later that night, but not before I sent you a voice memo, with the phrase “I’m falling in love with you” cutting in somewhere around the one-minute mark. We were two weeks in to the trip by then, with another three remaining before we would see each other again. The weeks we spent apart did not necessarily make us, nor did they break us. As we both would probably put it now, we survived and are glad it’s over. But, with an ocean and a 13.5 hour time difference between us, I learned that there is something unwavering about you. There is something that lifts me up and keeps me steady. Perhaps this is not the stuff that fairy tales are made of. But, I do believe it’s the stuff that lives are built on and upon which lasting commitments are forged.

IV.
The Buddhist says if you meet someone and your heart pounds, your hands shake, and your knees go weak, then that’s not the one. So often, my past relationships felt like walking across dilapidated drawbridges that could give way at any moment. High highs and ground zero lows. I’ve now learned that love is much more balanced and rooted. Love should not leave you flailing or fighting for air.

V.
I spent five years writing about heartache and aching for connection. It seems strange to say that finding love has now made it more difficult to write, at least in a public forum. It’s strange, but true. In fact I’ve been doctoring these words for a few weeks, afraid to relinquish them to any of the online spaces that I’ve abandoned for the greater part of the year. I’m trying to uncover where I go from here—how I transition from lovelorn to in love, from lost to a little more found—and still manage to tell stories that resonate, roar, and ring true. I’m not sure if I even want to tell some of these recent love stories, now that they have shape, soul, and another person I admire attached to the end of them. I want less of my life out there now. Some days, I wish I could collect every morsel I ever left on the Internet and take it all back.

VI.
And I wonder if some of the magnetism and magic of my writing from these past few years was because heartache is so easy to understand; pain is a story we’re drawn to because we can so easily identify it in ourselves. Sometimes I flirt with the idea of writing about past lovers just so I can still sound like the same girl and writer I used to be. I’m still learning how to write from the vantage point of the woman I am now, a woman who feels a bit more grounded, somewhat more judicious, and a lot less willing to surrender her life to the Internet. I’m uncovering the voice of a woman who is searching less and discovering more.

VII.
Joy and love aren’t always easy for others to access. But, isn’t that the work of a writer, to take any sort of human experience and distill it from abstract to accessible? Maybe that is where I begin again. Love is a much more complex language for me to write in—harder to learn firsthand, tough to scribe in, and even more difficult at times to understand.

Xoxo,
Tyece

The Allure of the Mess

June 5, 2018

I wanted to believe that we could live somewhere above labels and the law. When I think of it now, it all seems so juvenile and silly, two adults with deepening feelings for one another and a refusal to put definition around them.

“We’re both adults; we know what we’re doing and not doing,” I told you on our second date. But by the eighth or ninth date, only one part of that sentence remained true. Yes, we were both adults, but I no longer had any idea what we were doing.

Somewhere in the realm of 1 a.m. Australia Central Time and 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time, my boyfriend and I dig through my jagged relationship history. I tell him about you. I mention you and the lawyer who lived in the basement and the guy who flew in for the weekend. It’s the end of my first week in Australia, and he and I are on one of our longer calls, not limited by the confines of one of us needing to go to work or go to bed. He doesn’t understand it, the way I’ve willingly subjected myself to emotional mazes, mixed signals, and dead end roads with most of the men I’ve dated. I don’t quite understand it anymore either.

“Why are people drawn to messy situations?” he asks.

I try to explain it, almost in the interest of defending myself, until I realize that there is not much more than a heaping pile of dirt and bullshit to defend.

And yet, there is something alluring about the mess. At least that’s what I once believed. I believed there was something beautiful and boundless about an obscure relationship that still contained all of the vivid emotions of a defined one. I don’t know if I lived in the grey by choice or by default; looking back on it, I’m sure it was some combination of the two. Either way, that amorphous spot became my home and fueled the narrative I wrote repeatedly for five years. The mess became the magnet of my writing over the years, a gravitational pull for all of the women who had fallen for someone among a field of red flags. There we were, united on common ground with the burned love letters of half-baked lovers shredded beneath our soles.

Maybe we stood on that ground because we so hopelessly believed in sparks, even after they subsided and turned to ash. Maybe it was because we were convinced we could change people and the way they were wired, firm in our belief that the connection we forged with them would compel them to commit to us. Maybe it’s because we fell in love with the idea of bad boys, even when they proved they were still years away from being good men. Maybe it’s because the emotions pulled us under and we didn’t know how to come up for air. Maybe waiting for texts and holding our breath became reflexes, and we couldn’t learn how to live any other way. Maybe it’s because we scoffed at monogamy, realizing how on trend it was, and still is, to remain detached while sifting through an endless assortment of options. Maybe we were scared to admit that the idea of one life with one person sounded beautiful or terrifying or some blend of both. Maybe we were afraid to let someone in and show them our scars; maybe we only ever knew how to be someone’s sweet escape. Maybe we were even more afraid that our one life with our one person would never come.

I’d like to believe I redeemed myself from the mess. I’d like to think I walked away and bid it farewell because I became a stronger woman, resolute in what I wanted and the kind of affection I was willing to wait for. This is the story I like to tell myself.

But, I never really escaped the mess. Something greater and more solid just found me first.

Xoxo,
Tyece

Do Not Dare To Dim Your Light (A Note To Self)

March 19, 2018

On a drizzly Saturday evening, you’ll walk into European Wax Center and the sign on the door will catch your eye. “Walk in, strut out.” You’ll roll your eyes a little bit at the marketing and how women are supposed to have an extra pep in their step after they’ve had hair painfully ripped from their bodies. But before you can digest that thought, the woman at the front counter will ask you your name, and you’ll tell her who you are, full government. You still won’t think much of the exchange until she comments, with the slightest bit of toxin in her tone, that you “strutted in here like you owned the place.” You’ll laugh and say “I’m just here for a wax,” but the irony isn’t lost on you. After all, how dare you strut into a setting that you are merely supposed to walk into?

People hear it in the click of your heels and from the first note off your tongue. They see it in your eyes. They read it on your lips, sometimes nude and other times painted a deep burgundy or a playful purple or an unforgettable red. But maybe more than anything, they feel it when you step into the room and somehow the energy shifts in a way that is palpable. Visceral. Unexpected.

This is called your light.

Some days it is a spark. Other days it is a wildfire. But most days it is slow burn, one that you emit in a quiet and powerful way that cannot be contained.

To whom much is given, much is required. You will recite this to yourself sometimes sitting at stoplights or right before a big meeting at work. You learned somewhere along the way that God does not give us light without also giving us responsibility. Weight. A duty to carry out. A purpose to fulfill. It is not enough to illuminate; you must also show up in every space and burn brightly.

You’ve learned that light is not a universal language. There are people who will gravitate toward it. There are people who will fight to darken it. There are those who will dismiss it and those who will bring even more of it out of you. There are people who were once enamored by your rays who are now hoping for your sun to set. This is all par for the course.

You will spend a lot of time and energy thinking about how you can protect your light. You will learn who deserves it and who does not. This is a lesson of trial and error, one you will get wrong many times before you get it right. You will ignite for men who can only manage to flicker for you. You will guard your blaze intently so others can not snuff it out. You will come to realize that when it comes to light, sometimes it inspires and other times it intimidates. Most times it does both in the same day.

And yet, I still dare you not to dim your light. Not for the sake of others. Not for their comfort or their acceptance or their ease or their insecurities. I dare you not to dim your light even when it seems like the road would be more easily trodden should you just go along and shrink a few sizes. I dare you not to dim your light even when it feels like the odds are against you and it would make everyone else’s life much more simple if you just stopped shining. I dare you not to dim your light even when you lose some people you loved, even when spreading your light poses more risks than it offers rewards, even when you want to close the blinds and shut the shades.

You are both lighthouses and torches. Sunrises and lanterns. Dawns and daybreaks. The entire Earth is somewhere inside of you ready to beam. Why won’t you let it?

On a drizzly Saturday evening, you’ll sign the receipt at European Wax Center and the woman behind the counter will make it a point to tell you there’s some lipstick on your teeth. You’ll thank her and smile into your iPhone camera to fix it before you go. You’ve learned by now that some gestures are born from kindness and some gestures rise from strange and insecure places. It’s often times hard to parse out the difference. You’ll chalk this one up to a woman who saw you dare to strut in, so she wanted to make it a point that you only walked out. But you will strut anyway. Because this has nothing to do with your stride. This is called your light.

Black Girl, Interrupted

February 7, 2018

Something about him gives me pause and makes me drop my fork mid-bite. He’s standing at the soda machine, pouring cup after cup of water and gulping it down. I don’t want to feel uneasy or afraid – maybe he is just a thirsty guy in need of some hydration after a hard day of work. But, I’ve lived long enough to know that my gut is an accurate compass. It hasn’t ever led me astray.

When he drops the cup into the trash and exits the restaurant, I breathe a silent sigh of relief. But once it’s my turn to leave, I catch a glimpse of him again, this time standing at the bus stop. My feet move more briskly; my strides become intentional. And then I hear “Hey!” Short pause. “Hey!” Again. This time louder. My heels start hitting the pavement faster. Click. Click. Click. Clickclickclickclickclick. “Hey, Fantasia!” (I presume because that’s his closest reference to a woman with a haircut like mine). By the time he yells it again, I’m jetting down the stairs to the metro, peeking over my right shoulder to ensure he’s not there.

He’s not.

And, then I begin to tell myself that maybe I just made it all up. Maybe it was all in my head. Of course he wasn’t going to hurt me. Maybe he wasn’t even talking to me. But, then a more strident internal voice disturbs my misgivings. That voice tells me what I know to be true.

My gut is an accurate compass. It hasn’t ever led me astray.

I don’t feel relaxed again until I’m on the train, unwrapping my scarf and settling in for the trip to Eastern Market. But, by then, my evening has been both punctured and punctuated by that memory. All of my excitement to go on a solo date and attend Morgan Jerkins’ book signing has disintegrated into thin air.

Later that night, Morgan talks about being a black woman in the world. I lean over in my chair, nodding and smiling, trying to inhale all of her black girl magic for a moment in the future when I know I’ll need it. She tells us about a time when she interviewed Claudia Rankine and asked the poet how she deals with microaggressions and other weights of black womanhood. What is her armor made of? How does she wake up every day and get ready for the world?

“It’s not that I have to prepare for the world. It’s that the world interrupts me.”

This is what Claudia tells her. It’s the first time during the hourlong book talk that I whip out my phone and type the two sentences into my notes section.

Because isn’t that what so much, too much, of being a black woman is? Interruption. Intrusion. Folks sticking their feet out and tripping you while you are simply trying to hit your stride.

I’ve been deep in my thoughts and thick in my feelings lately, stuck in my own head and unsure of how to spill it out on paper. I’ve been thinking about my womanhood–how I strive to move through the world and how often that momentum is thwarted by people who never even think twice about it. People who don’t care to think twice about it. People who don’t have to think twice about it.

Perhaps my presence is radical. It upsets the balance.

Perhaps my presence is enigmatic. It defies understanding.

Perhaps my presence is infuriating. It incites enmity.

Perhaps my presence is majestic. It demands respect.

Perhaps my presence is worrisome. It unearths insecurity.

Perhaps my presence is overlooked. It paralyzes compassion.

Perhaps my presence is human. It reflects the world.

Yes, I yearn to glide through this life without any more of the breaches or bullshit. But, now I know that there is no armor or bulletproof vest that will save me. There is no formula or process to follow. There is not one way to prepare for the many interruptions to come. My momentum is predicated far less on preparation and far more on resilience. Perhaps that is both the power and plight of being a black woman.

Xoxo,
Tyece

For Brown Girls With Sharp Edges and Stories to Tell

January 17, 2018

Photo by Christian Fregnan on Unsplash

The world will continue to shout that you should be softer. You’re not quite sure when you began to hear this demand, but somewhere along the line you did, and it started soaking up space at the pit of your stomach. Somewhere along the line someone told you that you needed to dull your edges if you ever stood a chance of being loved and understood.

For a brief moment, you believed them. You wanted so desperately  to be adored, particularly by black men. You wanted to be a woman who felt warm and inviting, someone a man would be more inclined to stroll over toward during a balmy evening at a rooftop bar. So you worked hard to shrink yourself. Temper your confidence. Tone down your strength. There you were, a shell of the woman God created you to be, trying to shatter this angry black woman stereotype that you never birthed in the first place.

Yes, the world will continue to shout that you should be softer. It is an echo that will reverberate in the back of your ear for the rest of your life. On conference calls. In boardrooms. In bedrooms. On first dates.

Measure your tone. Speak slowly. Sprinkle some sugar on your words. It is an unwritten decree that will find its way into many conversations, both solicited and unsolicited.

But then you will remember sitting in the back of an Uber one night and asking a man–a man who you fought hard for and lost big for–what he thought of you. And the first thing he’ll say is “You say what you mean and you mean what you say.” It will become one of the highest compliments you’ve ever received, and you’ll never care to be called beautiful again. You’ll want to be known, and loved, for saying what you mean and meaning what you say.

The world has decided that women without sharp edges are easier to consume. And it seems like sometimes that’s all this world wants to do –absorb you without ever getting to know you. Devour you. Digest you. Make a meal out of your brown skin and beautiful eyes. But if you are sharp and if you have stories and if you speak with the conviction of a firm-and-brimstone preacher, then the world can’t eat you up so fast. It can’t figure you out. It can’t just suck you up and sit satiated while you dissolve at the bottom of its belly.

You were not handcrafted by heaven to be soft. You were not designed simply to be consumed. You are not here to live a miniature sort of life or assuage the insecurities growing like wildflowers inside of others.

Shout. Be loud. Stay tough. Take up the space. Allow the walls to crumble for the people who are worth letting in. Protect yourself when you need to. Dismantle your fear when you should. Let your energy rearrange the room and let your laugh suck up all the air.

Your sharp edges do not preclude you from being fragile. They do not mean that you aren’t sensitive or complex or affected by the way tides turn. Your sharp edges simply mean that you stopped being afraid of your own strength a long time ago. You quit apologizing for your sunlight. You decided to claim more space.

Not everyone believes in just eating you alive. Know that and believe it. Keep it somewhere in your back pocket for a winter’s night when it feels like love always proves to be a losing game. Some people will dare to peel back your layers and savor you one story, scar, and sharp edge at a time.

Xoxo,
Tyece