That Tangled Something That You Feel

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Buried somewhere in my email inbox is an eight-message thread from February 18, 2013. A few thousand words. A mothership of emotions. Line after line exposing my bluff.

I liked him. A lot. More than I should’ve. More than I said. And it’s easy and almost irrelevant to state the obvious now, but somehow it wasn’t so simple then. Back then, I wanted so deeply in my gut to be unbothered. Untethered. Unaffected. Unattached. I wanted every part of my identity steered by a prefix that meant “not.” I yearned not to be so many things that I never took stock of everything, every bit, and every broken piece that I was.

I’ve been thinking about that girl I used to be a lot these days. I’ve been thinking about how the distance between what she feigned and what she actually felt spanned for acres. I’ve been thinking about that email thread. Ive revisited it on occasion. Sometimes for inspiration. Sometimes for a jolt to the joints. Sometimes for a reminder of how far I’ve come.

I don’t know where in the web of dating women begin to suppress themselves and shape shift into people they are not. I’m not sure who teaches us to tone it down or play it cool or pretend to be something we simply aren’t. I’m not sure when we begin to contort and curve so as not to seem too much of this or too little of that. But, I know that we do these things. And maybe we do them for so long that then we have to fight to undo them. We have to untwist our limbs. Unleash ourselves. Lay waste to all of walls we fought so hard to build.

That is where I am now. Untwisting. Unleashing. Laying waste. Making peace with the deluge of emotions I bring to any relationship. Appreciating that I am not a woman who is easily contained.

And while the hard truth is that I am still somewhere in between frozen and thawed out, I’m done shape shifting. I’m done accepting fragments of affection. I can no longer just get along with a love that’s only good enough. There comes a point where you grasp that grown women learn to stop playing pretend. There comes a point where you connect with another human being on this planet and begin to honor that tangled something that you feel.


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.


The Mid-Twenties Battle Cry

mid twenties battle cry

You’re waiting for the day when it doesn’t feel like you’re fighting to keep your head above water. You thought by this time you would have things figured out. Or at least you would have something figured out. You would be more settled. Happier. Freer from the bullshit of your early twenties. But, you’re creeping past the mid-twenties mark and some days, it doesn’t feel that different from 21. It still feels so uncertain and you still feel like you’re walking across this rickety drawbridge bound to break at any second.

You want to stop being such an emotional ass all the time. You see older people who remain unruffled by most situations, and you wonder why your fuse always seems to blow before you can will it to do the opposite. You wonder how much energy, time and emotion you’ve wasted mustering up all of the exasperation you have and releasing it. Over and over and over again. You know you’re not as much of a whiny prick as you used to be, but some days you still have the propensity to be an unabashed and self-absorbed asshole. Hey, at least you recognize it.

Every now and again, you let yourself tumble down the rabbit hole of social media that says you should be on some sort of path to marriage and babies by now. You see the same people you threw back shots with only a few years ago bringing home little Baby Chelsea with a giant bow adorning her bald head. And all you can think is that maybe, just maybe, it’s time to stop hooking up with that guy you never loved and never will. Maybe, just maybe, you should stop texting your ex. Maybe, just maybe, every friend with benefits has his expiration date. Maybe, just maybe, emotional masochism is ruining you. Maybe, just maybe, there is this hidden and tender part of you that’s ready for the alchemy of love.

If it’s not happy hour or brunch, it ain’t happening. Why on God’s green earth are people still inviting you to things that start past 9 p.m.? Sleep is manna from the gods and people need to start treating it as such.

If you believed in clichés, you would say this is that awkward metamorphosis when you go from a caterpillar to a butterfly. Except you don’t believe in clichés, so you just feel all out of sorts in situations and relationships where you were once comfortable. You are watching things change. You’re watching the layers of your early twenties shed. You are having a head-on collision with the reality that this is the point where everyone’s paths start to diverge and friendship is not as effortless as living three doors down. So, you fight to forge common ground. And you reluctantly begin to grasp the truth that you can’t nourish relationships from the vestiges of good old memories. You know now, more than ever, who is in it for the long haul. Even if things change. Even if the layers shed. Even after you’ve had a head-on collision with the reality that paths are beginning to diverge.

You’re impatient and antsy and never quite satisfied when it comes to your dreams. And like so many other aspects of life, you feel like it’s time to shit or get off the pot. Stop talking about it and be about it. Take some sort of step or giant leap toward the dream that you just keep talking about when the conversation turns all philosophical at happy hour. Now you’ve gotten hungry for it, and you realize that this is the time to cement the foundation. This is the time to put in the work.

You’d like to stop being such a nimrod when it comes to your money. You recognize that money is simply a tool, a means to an end. Money is not the weekend treasure you have squandered for years. Money is a huge part of how that dream you talk about when the conversation turns all philosophical at happy hour becomes a reality.

You wish someone would have told you that your mid-twenties are still your twenties. The drawbridge is still shaky and the wine is still cheap. The tunnel is still dim and the progress is still concealed. The music is still blaring and the men are still buffoons.

But, now you know. You know that adulthood sucks on some level and blesses you on another. You know the double edged sword of independence. You know that Sallie Mae is really not playing with you. You know who you once were and, if even on a small scale, you know who you would like to become. You know when you’ve tested your limits or when you have royally fucked something up. You know when you owe someone an apology, even if it still takes you some time to utter it. You know you need to stop taking shots. Period. End of story. You know when you want to say yes and when you want to say no. You know that keeping $30 dollars in your pocket usually beats agreeing to go out. You know that he doesn’t love you. You know that you’ll always love him. You know that it’s just the natural order of things.

You know yourself and the world around you an iota better than you did five years ago. And that counts for something. My God, in the grand scheme of this rocky and roller coaster existence, that counts for a hell of a lot.


Guest Writers Week | The Older You Get…

jelisa quote

High school was chock full of daunting college applications, fleeting friendships, and hype pep rallies. For most, it was exciting, but I was always counting down the days until college happened. In high school, I cared too much about what others thought of me and I longed to go to a place where I would be accepted. My days were spent (in between studying of course) feeling badly about sitting at the lunch table alone, working tirelessly to impress a guy or following the path laid out for me to the letter. I was afraid to speak up in class for fear that I would be called a nerd, so I spent most of my time hiding so that others could be comfortable with me.

Sure, I was a star student, involved in many student groups and poised to head to a top college. But on the inside, I let what my peers thought of me or what I thought they thought of me rob me of the freedom of being unapologetically me.

That “dull your own shine” attitude followed me into my college years.

I’d miss interesting events and speakers because I was afraid I’d be the only Black person there or worse that I’d have no one to go with. I didn’t join certain student groups for fear of being ridiculed. I didn’t pursue my dream of writing because of the people who told me that it was not a substantial career. When you tell people that you are a Theatre and Latin American Studies major, their blank stares, piercing disappointment, confusion and replies of “Oh” can dim your spirit.

I wanted to impress. I wanted a “You go, girl!”

Instead replies went something like this…

“Why do you want to do that?”

“What are you going to do with that?”

“Why didn’t you study business?”

“You will never make it.”

Because I didn’t get the affirmation I sought, I forced myself to pursue other interests. I focused on my backup plan so much that I didn’t get anywhere near my dream.

It took conversations with my mother during my last year of college to realize that what others say or feel about your path should not matter. The infinite “Oh” that I receive when talking about my purpose is just a result of other people’s fear. It should not be mine. You would think that the revelation would have happened sooner, but you can’t rush progress.

And that has been my goal: to stop basing my life and decisions on other people’s expectations.

Every day, I ask myself the questions:
What do you want to do?
What is your purpose?

And I follow that with my whole heart.

The older you get, the less you care. Or maybe you just come into your own. No need for “Amen” and “You go, girl” to compliment your dreams (unless they are praying for you, then you need all of that you can get). You live everyday so that you can look back on it in fifty years with few regrets. You don’t need a co-signer. You don’t need to explain or give everyone a play-by-play of how it is going to happen. The older you get, the more experiences you have and the more you realize that you don’t care what people think about you. You begin to live life to please your Creator and yourself. You follow your dreams with a gusto and magic that is contagious. That magic inspires others to do the same.

Jelisa Jay Robinson is a writer and playwright from Houston, Texas. She enjoys traveling, singing 90’s pop music, belting out Enrique Iglesias songs with friends, and reading a good Junot Diaz novel. You can find her musings on being a bilingual Black American on her website Black Girl, Latin World. Feel free to follow her on twitter @jelisathewriter.

Guest Writers Week | How to Be a Girl in the World

liz furl quote

By Liz Furl

Others may be women, but I still think of myself as a girl. A married girl. A girl with mental health issues. A girl in her t-shirt and skinny jeans and hiking shoes she bought for her honeymoon. A girl wearing aviators she found in the street.

Women are stable creatures, even in their instability. They wear clothing made of linen, and maxi dresses when it gets warm. Their winter coats are made of wool and lined with silk. Their boots are pristine because snow, sleet, and rain haven’t touched them. They carry umbrellas or good shoes in their bags.

Women have taken out their nose rings and a cut and color isn’t a splurge for them. They have healthy nails without dirt beneath them. Their hands and arms aren’t crossed with cat scratches, or knife scratches, or oops-I-fell-down-again scratches.

Women have savings accounts, even if nothing’s in them. Women plan for families, even if they don’t include children. Women have achieved dignity and grace that girls don’t possess.

I’m that girl with dirt under her nails, and I use my canine teeth to get it out. My clothes are made of cotton, unless I’m going for a job interview–then they’re second-hand. My peacoat is dotted with pills and greyed by cat hair. The velvet on my JCPenney boots has worn off.

I’m the girl who just got her nose pierced and wants to Manic Panic her hair purple. Instead of carrying an umbrella, I just get wet. I’ve never been inside a Sephora and all my new clothes come from H&M or my mother’s consignment shop. I wear all of my husband’s old skateboarding sweaters.

I’m the girl who has plenty of scars on her legs from shaving too quickly in the sink. I have a job, but am on disability from it, and hate it besides. More than anything, I’m a writer, but I question the worth of my words every day. I’m questioning these ones now.

My husband is 11 years my senior, and has been where I am. He wants me to wear skirts when I’d rather wear jeans. He tells me writer’s jealousy is unattractive. He questions how often I’m on Twitter. (I’m also the girl who’s constantly tweeting.) He loves me very much.

But I feel like a grown girl, with the bills and responsibilities of a woman, but an imposter trapped inside. Who let me have a credit card? Don’t you know I’ve never read Joyce?

I’m the girl who swims like a frog because she never took lessons. All that kicking seems beside the point. I’m the girl who can cook miraculous things, but has just tasted cottage cheese and doesn’t care for it much. I’m the girl who feels like she repeats herself too many times, that she doesn’t have what it takes, who has nightmares like a child.

To some, on some occasions, I may seem like a woman. I earn money. I get jobs. I have (some limited) wisdom. I landed a man. In those moments, I feel like an imposter, a little girl in her mother’s oversized shoes, pearls hanging too low, lipstick bright and smeared at the lip line.

I once felt like a woman, but whoever she was got lost somewhere. I’m not sure she’s me, or if I care to find her. If my roots show, they show. If there are holes in my clothes, there are holes. If my fabrics are cheap, I don’t apologize.

Eventually, I’ll look in the mirror and see a woman there, but today the reflection is a girl. Not “just” a girl. Not “only” a girl. But a fully-formed, work-in-progress, mending-my-own-pieces girl.

She’s into fashion and good film. She’s read (and loved) Infinite Jest. She’s created a business and breathes life and love into it every day. She’s unhappy and uncertain, but finding a path.

She’s a girl who isn’t spouting excuses or proof, or yearning for some glamorous version of womanhood. She’s putting foot in front of Converse-donned foot.

She’s moving on her way.

Liz graduated from the University of Rochester in 2011 with Honors in Creative Writing and Distinction in English. She currently works as a freelance writer for Rochester Magazine, The Liberty Project, and Ravishly, among other publications. In her free time, you can find her working on her first novel, some vaguely misshapen scarves, and through most of the stacks of the Rochester Public Library. She hopes to one day be a full-time freelance writer, and published novelist. Follow her on Twitter @LizFurl.