To Honor Your Becoming and Unfolding

A letter to my 23-year-old self

The year is 2013 and you are starving for everything. Success. Connection. Authenticity. Love. A sense of belonging. A tribe you trust and treasure. Yes, right now you are starving for everything, and no matter how much you grab at the shelves, it feels like the cupboards are never stocked enough.

There is something about being 23 years old that makes your eyes bigger than your stomach.

You want all of the things, but there are only specific morsels and people and experiences that you can digest with ease. Your spirit will reject everything you crave that was never meant for you.

You are floating among three points of a triangle. One point is you shedding your old self, crawling out of a tunnel with walls built from tragedy and roads paved from despair. The second point is you finding yourself, learning what it means to stand tall in the rich soil of being a black woman.The last point is you holding steadfastly to the things you believe to be true, so steadfastly that sometimes you stunt your evolution.

You don’t yet know how resilient your heart is because you never give her a chance to bounce back. Instead you continue battle testing her, crushing her underneath the weight of unrequited love that breeds bloody slashes. It will take some years and some broken glass to master how to protect your most vital organ.

I can only write this letter to you now, four years later, as I bear witness to the way other women your age both break and blossom. When I see them, I see you, and I remember all of the tightropes you crossed and tug of wars you fought to get here. I remember all of the things you believed about yourself that no longer hold water. I remember your relaxed hair and your defiance about having children and all of your convictions that now feel like lost islands. When I see them, I decide that there are five beautiful and tangled lifetimes that occur between ages 23 and 27.

I write this now to honor your becoming and unfolding. Stay the course and discover the beauty in each of your cracks. That is the only way you will arrive here, four years later, dancing beneath moonlight and carrying your whole heart.


Something About Turning 27

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My feet are on a different sidewalk of solid ground. I don’t know when it happened. It seems foolish to say that there was something about turning 27 a few months ago that picked me up from the rubble of earlier days and dropped me in this newfound place. Because there is hardly anything special or magical or definitive about turning 27. I am still new. Green. Young. Impressionable. Prone to making mistakes. I’m still following a compass that sometimes sends me into deep seas and dark oceans.

So, yes. It seems foolish to say there was something about turning 27 that reshaped the world and my precious place in it.

And, yet, there was something about turning 27.

There was something about driving up to the sunset of this first decade of adulthood, something that has pushed me to trim the fat, face the facts, and apologize less for the spaces I inhabit. There was something about this age that yanked the curtain up on the woman I am instead of the woman I spent one too many years trying to be.

There comes a point where you can’t run away from yourself; that point both liberates and elevates you. Maybe that is the something about turning 27.

I’m through with running away from myself. I am through with sitting under dim lights as I lean coyly over the table, saying one thing to a man while my spirit screams another. I am through with barricading myself behind walls and praying they won’t crumble. I am through cutting emotional deals with the devil or pouring gasoline on my wildfire heart just to keep up appearances. My portrayal of the cool girl while I was in my early twenties deserves a standing ovation, but she has performed her final act.

Sometimes knowing what you’re not is just as important as knowing who you are.

I am dense and intense, fragile and flammable, a woman with her heart turned up two volumes higher than recommended. I am the sum of all of the goodbyes I ever said and all of the scars they ever left. I am equal parts concrete and shattered glass, whole and broken, complete and wildly unfinished.

And, yet, here I am. Because there was something about turning 27 that summoned me to start singing all of the notes on my staff.

I want to fall hard. I want to dig deep. I want to dive under. I want to taste love on my lips. I want to live big. I want to apologize less. I want to take up all of the space the Universe already carved out for me. I want to stop wanting and instead start soaking up the distance in between then and now, before and after, the things that were and the things that will be.

Maybe therein lies the sweet something about turning 27.


My Beautiful Dark Twisted Pregnancy

dana postA Guest Writers’ Week post by Dana Sukonatarak 

Two months ago today, I had emergency surgery to remove my left Fallopian tube. My baby started growing there. She never made it down the water slide and into the wave pool. The slide had unreported structural damage from a long-past chlamydia infection, and was full of hostile fluid and debris. My reproductive infrastructure was a dilapidated ghetto where my poor baby was stuck, lonely and sad and quickly outgrowing her ectopic home.

At six centimeters, my lime-sized baby threatened my already fucked up tube, my future fertility, and my life. She would never make it into the world. And if she grew any bigger, I could’ve been on my way out of this world.

I had the clap seven years ago, courtesy of a promiscuous boyfriend and a naïve disposition on sexual health and liberation. It’s my body, I’ll do what I want. I wish I knew back then that what I really wanted, what was most important, was a healthy, fully functional body from head to toe. I treated the infection, but it wasn’t cleared entirely. Nothing was ever amiss until this year, when I began to have a sharp pain in my left side and a very light period that lasted for weeks. A first doctor suggested it was a cyst, and to see a specialist. By the time I saw the second doctor and found out it was an ectopic pregnancy, I had to immediately check into the hospital for a salpingectomy.

I remember when my period was like a special surprise, a greeting card from a stork carrying an empty baby blanket. No kid for you this month. Yay! Periods were a relief. I did not want to be pregnant, especially by some 19-year-old that worked at Jerry’s Sub Shop part-time. Even after Mr. Claptastic, when I’d been with my then-boyfriend for years, I did not want to be pregnant. I wanted to enjoy my youth and unstretched belly, with reckless abandon and the knowledge that babies could come whenever I wanted them, on my terms and at the “right” age, after marriage, whatever.

Now, I am 27, and armed with just one Fallopian tube, whose end is scarred and hardened and blocking the entrance to baby’s first crib. Doctors say that in-vitro fertilization is my only choice if I want to bear a child. That’s no death sentence, of course, but hearing it has robbed me of a distinct degree of humanity. My newly discovered reproductive disability made me feel like less of a woman and more of a science experiment. Left to my own devices, I would only be able to produce more tube-trapped babies.

The sudden transition from avoiding pregnancy like the plague to praying that it happens one day is a sobering one. We sometimes live carelessly with the assumption that everything will be okay. Everything will be okay. But it will be hard, harder than it would’ve been if I’d been more forward-thinking in my self-care.

Health is something people tend not to take seriously until they are forced to. Think of your future self – they are your present self. If I could go back to my early twenties, I would eat salad instead of Baconators and drink water instead of soda. I would use condoms even though it obviously feels worse than raw dog. I would do everything I could to reduce the chances of realizing too late that there is something wrong. I am doing all I can now to make it right, which is a host of things including vitamins and oils and raw vegetables and yoga and acupuncture—and a belief that the body has the power to heal itself. There are no units of measurement for my progress, but I’m feeling better these days than I ever have before, and that’s a success entirely of its own.

danaDana is a writer and editor based in the DC metro area. She’s the author of Men, a collection of personal essays about love and relationships. Connect with Dana on Twitter @peachesjordan.

The Dilemma Of Hope

kelly post

A Guest Writers’ Week post by Kelly Macias

I turned twenty on my knees. Well, not quite literally, but close enough.

I turned twenty in 1998. And I spent New Year’s Eve 1997 at my grandmother’s house with my cousin. At 11:45pm, my grandmother (a lifelong Catholic) announced to us that she had a tradition to pray from 11:59pm until 12:01am. The prayer signified the ending of the year that passed and asked for health and prosperity in the new year to come. As the first-born grandchild I had a special bond with my grandmother and was always terribly afraid of disappointing her. So I agreed to indulge her tradition. And at 11:59, I found myself on my knees praying, even though I’d probably only ever prayed a handful of times before.

I remember it like it was yesterday.

Pajama-covered knees on the tiled floor of my grandparents’ basement, gripping my palms tightly and squeezing my eyes shut. I was excited that in just a few months I was going to no longer be a teenager. I was even more thrilled that in just a few weeks I would be leaving my hometown to spend the semester of my junior year in college studying in Spain–a very big deal for a girl born and raised in Baltimore by a single mother. There was a lot to be grateful for and so much to look forward to. I was supremely hopeful. And so I prayed with fierce determination that all of my dreams would come true. I prayed that what I felt was a very ordinary life would be magically transformed and made extraordinary. I prayed that I would find happiness, fun, adulthood and maybe even romance in Europe.

And that’s how I would characterize the decade of my twenties–spending a large part of those years in an attempt to hold on to a desperate, outwardly seeking, optimistic and innocent kind of hope.

For the record, I did find some happiness and fun in Europe. Weekend trips to Paris, Lisbon, London and spring break in Dublin were dreams come true for a young woman who had barely been on a plane before. And while I had my share of hook-ups with (mostly European) men, I didn’t really find romance, but I did find excitement. But looking back, as I recall that time, what I reflect most on is that I most certainly found adulthood.

Having been in predominately white schools for the majority of my school career, I knew what it was like to be something other than white. In fact, most of my friends were white women, though I did have a sprinkle full of friends of color from various parts of my life. My friendships at that time were a microcosm of how I understood the world. If I were nice to someone, they’d be nice to me; and anyone and everyone had the potential to get along–regardless of differences. While I was very aware of race and racism, my understanding of it was limited to individual acts of meanness instead of a complex system of structures resulting in the marginalization and oppression of people of color.

Though my time in Europe was not the first time I’d experienced racism, it was the first time it manifested itself in a way that caused me physical harm. I was touched by well-meaning strangers wanting to feel my hair and skin, I was grabbed on the street by men who assumed I was a prostitute, and I was even kicked by a skinhead one day as I was taking the metro to dinner with a friend.

It was a lot to take.

There I was, living the adventure of a lifetime, having some amazing fairy tale moments in beautiful European cities, coupled with very real, dangerous experiences that reminded me that I always walk the Earth as a woman in a Black body. It was difficult to grasp the idea that no matter how much I loved and accepted everyone, not everyone loved and accepted me. It was made worse by well-meaning white female friends who, as much as they might have tried, did not have a clue about what I was experiencing.

Those experiences, however, did not dampen my hope and optimism. In fact, I consider my study abroad as one of the most transformative events in my life and remain grateful for what it taught me about the world and myself. I spent much of my twenties trying to get back to Spain and Europe. I continued to hold out a delirious, almost childlike hopefulness that I would find happiness, fun and adventure and that the world would accept and love me for who I am and not for what I look like.

As I near the end of my thirties, I realize that the outwardly seeking, optimistic hope I once possessed has been replaced with a more bluesy kind of hope. It’s the kind of hope that I often see in other Black women and saw in the older Black women in my family; the kind of hope that a woman gets after embracing all of her lived experience. It is a hope that is optimistic but measured, grounded in reality and infinitely more practical. It is a hope that is resilient in times of tragedy and one that also finds great joy and jubilation in moments of triumph. Although I now have many years of travel under my belt, I still have fantasies of traveling the world and finding new adventures. Those dreams are now coupled with the knowledge that there will always be perceptions of me as a Black woman anywhere I go that I can’t control; misunderstanding, hatred and indifference directed toward me that I can’t explain.

And yet… hope urges me to push on. To continue to forge a life that is fearless and intentional and brazen. And, no matter the challenges, that’s just what I’m doing.

After all, hope is hope. No matter what form it takes.

kelly maciasKelly Macías is a writer, trainer and consultant whose work explores the intersections of race and identity, communication and conflict. She is the founder of the blog, Conflict Undone (, where she writes about the experiences of undoing life’s many conflicts in order to live a more authentic, transformative life. When Kelly is not working or writing, she is interested in supporting Black women’s storytelling and testimonies as a way of healing. She can often be found working out her own life’s conflicts on her yoga mat. 



Life Happens In The Ampersand

FullSizeRender-8Nayyirah Waheed, Karen Civil, and Hannah Brencher. If you were to ask whose Instagram accounts intoxicate me with that poisonous brew of admiration and envy, I would list those women for you, in no particular order. Those are the first names I’d offer when someone tells me comparison is the thief of joy and I have to fess up to why my spirit’s house has been ransacked.

There’s Nayyirah who never needs to adorn the words with anything, who has what so many female writers, self included, struggle to attain: esteem unattached to how she looks and reverence based entirely on her words. There’s Karen who I saw at St. Louis International Airport once as we were both on our way to the same speaking engagement. Her travel attire struck me as effortless and chic as she glided up to the gate, making me all too aware of the hole in my leggings and the pretzel crumbs in my lap. There’s Hannah who seems to thrive in a life I’ve only dreamed of, living off of her writing, teaching, and speaking. It’s the kind of life I relegated to an alley in my boulevard of broken dreams, the kind of life I somehow convinced myself I won’t ever have because of student loan debt and a fear of the unknown.

Nayyirah. Karen. Hannah. See, it’s easy to paint the story of my insecurities in broad strokes. It’s much more gut-punching to fill in the final details and tell you the names of the women whose Instagram accounts sometimes become land mines for my sense of self. It’s more gut-punching, but it’s also necessary. It’s necessary to reveal dark truths just as evenly as beautiful ones, to undress the most fragile parts of our humanity and face them head on.

It’s necessary to tell you that this year I’m treading water instead of competing in the 3M springboard competition. It’s necessary to tell you that I am starving for permanence, for something in my life that feels lasting and true, but no matter how much I attempt to enjoy the fruit of my labor, nothing ever seems to fill me quite enough. It’s necessary to tell you that I’ve never done well with silence, and right now there seems to be a blaring amount of it. It’s necessary to tell you that these days everything I want feels like a moving target, and I just can’t seem to position myself properly to fire.

Maybe it’s because this is the first year I stopped dressing my voids in designer brands of denial. It’s the first year I am not buying boom boxes of distraction. This year I am trying in earnest to let the silence speak, even though many days I’m unsure of what she’s hoping to say.

So, these are the days I crave summer sun, Cheryl Strayed, and Cabernet Sauvignon. These are the days that Brave Enough becomes a religious text for me and I find God in between quotation marks. These are the days I have to be most gentle with myself, looking less at how much the road ahead spans and more at how far the one behind me stretches. These are the days I assure myself it’s not a sin if I forget to sweep up cat food crumbs or if I save that pile of laundry for another day. These are the days life points out that self-love is not a seasonal kind of sport, but instead it is perennial–every minute, all the time, 365 days a year, especially when your feet are stuck in the shit. These are the moments I’m reminded that some of the most beautiful and pivotal morsels of a woman’s life happen in the ampersand, in the undefined place, in the bridge between the life she knew then and the life she’ll know soon enough–if she would only give the life she has now its fair chance.


INCYoutubeCover1This post was written with love and chutzpah as part of Yetti’s Certified Words campaign, an initiative that aims to show society how women absorb negative words spoken upon us, how these words manifest themselves within our everyday lives, and how we’re working to reverse the harmful impact of these words. 

You can learn more about Certified Words here, and be sure to check out the first episode of the Certified Words web series. Thank you, Yetti, for having the courage to live out your purpose and the resolve to see this vision through.