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.


Love Me Well: Tamm and Yalabe

Love Me Well is a limited edition multimedia series that aims to celebrate and elevate black love through the stories of 10 different couples. Each couple has showcased their love story through photography and either a written Q&A or podcast interview. This series was made possible thanks to photographer Jazzmin Awa-Williams, podcast producer Austin Weatherington, and 32 incredible crowdfunding campaign backers who invested in the production of the project.

I can’t think of a better couple to conclude Love Me Well with than Tamm and Yalabe. I have a special tie to each of the couples that have been featured in one way or another, but my connection to these two spans a good fraction of their relationship. From Yalabe pulling me aside back in February to tell me he was going to propose to sharing in their love by reading a poem at their wedding last month, it has been an honor to be their friend and watch them evolve. In the final installment of Love Me Well, Tamm and Yalabe bring us back to a core element of this series and its love stories – vulnerability.

Photo by Erika Layne
Photo by Erika Layne


When were you first truly vulnerable with one another? What did that feel like? What was most challenging about it and what was most freeing?

Yalabe: I was first vulnerable with her when I admitted that I was depressed and needed to seek professional help. For me it was very difficult to admit that being as I hadn’t even fully accepted it myself. I was very ashamed at first, but over time I believe our relationship has become a safe place to express such sentiments. Nobody wants to admit that they need help. For me it was getting past my ego and perhaps how I thought she may perceive me. All in all, it was more of a mental obstacle that I had to overcome.

Tamm: Early on in our relationship, I had to be vulnerable with him. I was already invested in him emotionally, but I needed him to know all of me. It was freeing in the moment, but when it came back up, that was where the challenge came. It’s challenging to let anyone into you in your truest rawest form for the first time, but it is even more challenging getting the feedback.

How has your perception of black masculinity changed because of your relationship?

Yalabe: My perception of black masculinity has changed because when you share such an intimate space with someone, you are forced to be vulnerable. You have to willingly show your scars, your hurt, your sorrow and even your insecurities. I grew up feeling like men in general had to always be strong. We always had to carry the world on our backs and no matter how heavy that burden was, we had to keep pushing through. So, to be in a relationship where you can be “weak” and those qualities are not accompanied with a negative stigma is refreshing. It allowed me as a black man to be me, in a holistic way.

Tamm: Honestly, I don’t think my perception of black masculinity has changed. I’ve always been around different types of black men – intellectuals, pastors, goons, hoteps, athletes, etc. They are not monolithic, and it would be a disservice to them for me to ever think they are. Because I’ve always had the mindset, I think my perception of black masculinity has been reinforced. There are different types of masculinity in our culture, even when the experience is shared because life molds all of us in varying ways.

Photo by Erika Layne
Photo by Erika Layne

What is one myth about black men you believed coming into your relationship that you no longer do? How has your love helped dismantle that myth?

Tamm: I can’t say this is a myth I believed, but it’s a common myth…they don’t know how to love in a healthy manner. I truly believe our love is healthy and balanced. Relationships are give and take; and, I realize and appreciate he’s done as much as I have to make our love, not just work, but flourish. I’ve seen men say they love you and dog you (not me, per se) over and over again, and then get passes for their behavior so much so that I understand some think this is normal. Fighting against this norm can be daunting, but you do not have to settle. Our relationship cemented the necessity of not settling because the love you want and deserve is out there. Maybe that’s more a myth about men than black men but in these situation sometimes the black version is more worldstarhiphop than others which adds another level of dramatics.

What’s one thing that’s special to you about black love?

Yalabe: Black Love is timeless. It is rooted and deeply seeded in a rich history. It shares so much culture and not just from the Americas. It can truly be the ultimate test of time, but for me it knows no end.

Tamm: Black people are regal, extraordinary and exceptional; therefore, our love is all of the above as well. We are people that have been put down and forced to struggle simply because of the color of our skin, but that has only made us resilient. As I said in the previous question, sometimes the black version of relationship discourse can be so dramatic, it seems like we cannot love without it. But, just like how we crush other stereotypes, we can do the same with our love. Our love is king, just like our people are royalty.

Tamm is an event planner by trade, still waiting on her “calling” (whatever that is). She loves to acquire new things, not necessarily shop, and eat, not necessarily cook – but she’s damn good at it. You can reach her on the twitterwebs, for now, @puregr8nesss, and Facebook, T S Fitzgerald. 

Yalabe is just a typical fun-loving nerdy bald black guy. A bit of an artist, a bit of a writer.

Love Me Well: Terria and Terrica

Love Me Well is a limited edition multimedia series that aims to celebrate and elevate black love through the stories of 10 different couples. Each couple has showcased their love story through photography and either a written Q&A or podcast interview. This series was made possible thanks to photographer Jazzmin Awa-Williams, podcast producer Austin Weatherington, and 32 incredible crowdfunding campaign backers who invested in the production of the project.

There is love you see and love you can feel. Terria (TB) and Terrica (TC) exuded that love you can feel. When we photographed them, it was nearly impossible to look away as Terrica’s soft demeanor balanced Terria’s playful nature. Over the course of the shoot, the two blossomed in front of the camera and they bring that efflorescence to life even more in their interview. In this Q&A, they discuss the value of true vulnerability in love and how their unique expressions of womanhood manifest in their relationship.

(L to R) Tea and Terrica photo by Jazzmin Awa-Williams
(L to R) Tea and Terrica
photo by Jazzmin Awa-Williams

How would you define your womanhood? Has how you define your womanhood changed in the context of your relationship?

TC: I think my womanhood is a work in progress. Everything about me is, at all times. To me, there is no “right” or wrong way to be a woman. Too often we hear about things women should and shouldn’t be doing, what it means to be a good and “respectable” woman, and the roles we’re expected to play. I reject all of that. I don’t subscribe to those notions of womanhood, and I don’t let others define my womanhood. Traditionally, the concept of womanhood is limiting. My womanhood is limitless and it belongs entirely to me. My relationship with Terria really just reinforces that for me. We bring to the table two completely different definitions of what it means to be a woman and both of those are valid and beautiful.

TB: I agree. The woman that I am now is not the woman that I was five or 10 years ago. Everyday my womanhood is growing and changing, and I can see the same in Terrica. Our similarities bring us comfort, but our differences help us grow.

What is the most challenging aspect of being vulnerable in a relationship?

TC: Vulnerability has always been a challenge for me. I’m a naturally guarded and private person – that’s what’s most comfortable to me. So the challenge for me is breaking down walls and barriers to allow another person to get intimately close to me. It’s scary. But when vulnerability is met with an open mind and understanding, it can be a beautiful thing.

TB: For me, the most challenging aspect of being vulnerable in a relationship is combating an internal feeling of being weak. I’m a nurturer. I like to be the one that is there for others, not the one who needs someone to be there for me. In a relationship, my partner is there to balance me and be strong for me when I am weak; I know this. Terrica always allows me to be vulnerable when I need to, and I love her for that. It’s just deciding on when to express that vulnerability that I find challenging.

What does it mean to be a woman in love?

TC: A woman in love is a woman who understands what it means to love and be loved. A woman in love is a woman who knows who she is and what she wants. It’s a woman who’s found, not the things she needs, but rather the things she wants and deserves in another person.

TB: Being woman in love means a lot of things to me. It means being strong, being the backbone that keeps everyone together. It means finding that delicate balance of being vulnerable without being seen as overly sensitive. It also means being treated like a queen and being taken care of in return for taking care of others. It means being cherished and cherishing someone else.

Photo by Jazzmin Awa-Williams
Photo by Jazzmin Awa-Williams

How does loving another person require black women to be vulnerable?

TC: For black women, the strength that we’re so lauded for (by some) is in a lot of ways a defense mechanism. And while strength and vulnerability aren’t mutually exclusive, the kind of strength we possess often requires a lack of vulnerability. So to be vulnerable means to let go of that defense mechanism and in a sense to be defense-less. And again, that’s fine when it’s met with love and understanding, but too often for black women, it isn’t.

TB: Loving another person requires black women to be vulnerable because it requires us to take down a wall that many of us have spent a lifetime putting up. Each time life knocks us down, we rebuild that wall stronger and more impenetrable…until the next person comes along that makes us want to take it down again. It’s a cycle. It’s a scary cycle. But it’s our ability to be vulnerable continuously, while still being whole on the inside that makes us strong and unbreakable people. Plus eventually, hopefully, you will meet someone who makes taking that wall down seem not so scary and that vulnerability will become a comfortable resting place.

What’s one thing that’s special to you about black love?

TC: We live in a world where we’re constantly taught to hate ourselves. Whether it’s our hair, the color of our skin, our bodies – we’re too this, and too that, but not enough of this. Black love is special because it flies in the face of all that. It’s choosing to love ourselves despite the world telling us we aren’t worthy of love. Black love is affirmation.

TB: One thing that’s special to me about black love is how transcendent it is. Our people are all different shades of brown and come from all over the world with every background imaginable, but our love, our black love, is nothing but beautiful.

On Writing: The Year I Left It All On The Page


Book Launch 5

The words don’t arrive as quickly as they once did. For awhile, that troubles you. It leaves you wondering if maybe one day you will just run out of words to write and stories to tell. Yet, somehow, they keep coming. You keep proving writer’s block wrong. And you realize the words aren’t arriving as quickly because you have started reaching to the bottom of your heart and the pit of your belly. The essays that strike others as so effortless take you hours to brainstorm, write and revise. See, writing that appears effortless takes a whole lot of effort. The words don’t arrive as quickly because you care about them more now. You tinker with them more now. You switch them around more now. It’s not enough to just publish something now. You abandon things in the Drafts folder more now. You delete sentences more now. As they say in writer speak, you’re willing to kill your darlings more now.

You’re never a good writer. Because even when you believe you have gotten good, you know you’ll revisit your work three or four or five years from now and cringe at the sheer awfulness of it all. Except you aren’t really cringing at the awfulness. You’re cringing at an undeveloped spirit, untapped talent and uncharted waters.

Maybe you’re never good. But you become more confident. More faithful in your audience. More sure of your voice. Less concerned with hits and retweets. Less focused on hitting 500 words or 700 words or 1,000 words. More concerned with conviction and connection. You become more consistent in how you make your words tango and sashay. You get acquainted with your writing weapons of choice, whether those are stories or similes, satire or stream of consciousness. You get a signature style. People immediately know what they will digest when they arrive at your page. They don’t even have to look at the menu. Maybe that’s what good writing tastes like.

You get brave. You grow wings. You surprise yourself. You harness a fearlessness you never knew you had. And every time you sit down to spill, you summon that fearlessness. That fearlessness peeks out from behind the corners it is conditioned to hide in.

You tell the same story in 12 different ways because it’s not about the topic, it is about the lens. It is not about the concert, it is about the exact view from section 500, row H, seat 10. No one knows your view from your section. No one can do your story justice in the ways you can. So you stop tallying how many times you’ve written about the ugly and jagged pieces of your life. You begin to honor the ugly and jagged pieces, and just how much they transformed you into the writer you are.

You give up the self-righteousness. You check yourself. You don’t try to sound like a know-it-all. You stop taking pride in side eyes and entire posts dedicated to telling people about themselves. Instead, life has humbled you enough to know that you do not know it all. The vestiges of assholery that used to pepper your work start to fade away. You decide that f-bombs aren’t as much the mark of a signature style as they are a way to punctuate your sentences and underpin your point. The work gets sweeter. The paragraphs taste better. You remember a writer’s greatest asset is her heart on her sleeve.

You revisit a blog post you wrote in the first inning of 2015: “I know my biggest challenge this year as a writer will be to balance strength with vulnerability. Temper privacy with transparency.” You read that line and you smile proudly, less because you intentionally did that and more because the Universe knew your trajectory even back then. It’s uncanny how much people prophesize through a pen.

You publish a book. You win an award. You feel and peel the fruits of your labor. You thumb through the pages of your memoir so far. And some bittersweet part of you whispers that this wild and gargantuan year represents both an end and a beginning. You know you are bidding farewell to the days where you sat down just to get something on the screen. You know you are filling trash bags with every moment you hid behind your purpose, in a rush to simply click “publish.” You know you are going out back to the big dumpster and chucking every time you could just skate by or walk away from a page without leaving your soul on it. You know the Universe will require you to pour out so much more of your heart while gingerly deciding which parts to protect. You know you are stepping into a new era, one with big shoes and high stakes.

And you’re scared. You know even though we all step into new eras, we often times stumble through them early on. You know you will mess up and probably destroy it all. You know you will have to once again wrap your arms around the uncertainty and hug it with all your might. But you know that in this new era, just like every one before, you will commit to the kind of writing that rises from the rock bottom places. Heart on paper. Mind spilling through the pen. Soul stretched in between the lines.

All you ever knew was how to be a writer. All you ever knew was how to leave it all on the page.


Dimensions of Black Womanhood: The Visionary

Photo credit: @jazzthenoise
Photo credit: @jazzthenoise

The summer of 2011 tasted like cough syrup caked at the bottom of a Cabernet bottle. Sour. Bitter. Unwelcome. One bad surprise after another, the kind my mother insists make your left eye twitch. Except these weren’t just surprises, they were grenades. And bad wouldn’t describe them, but harrowing and hellish would. That summer sprinkled cyanide into my sweet glass of burgeoning adulthood and summoned me to take a sip.

I should have died. But it would be unfair to say I wanted to. If you ever want to die, I imagine you must feel something, if nothing more than the pitch black desire to leave this planet. Instead, I went numb. My mind went blank. There are whole months I do not remember. I took a passenger seat in my own existence and let the devil on my shoulder drive me straight into oblivion. We cruised through fog for hours. I fell into a hard sleep. Didn’t wake up until 2012.

That’s the thing about being a spark for others to reach the best, bravest, and boldest parts of themselves. You don’t become that spark until you learn to fly above your own fire. You do not get crystal clear about your future until you wake up from that comatose moment, the one that convinced you there was nothing left to salvage from the ruins.

I could have vanished into becoming a victim after that summer. Instead, the Universe positioned me to become a vessel. The Universe sat me down one evening in the white hot heat of Plano, Texas and decided that light would still spill through my heart’s broken windows. Twenties Unscripted was conceived from my spirit’s beautiful cracks. But, I wouldn’t know it until much later, after years of penning half-baked love stories and recounting dating horror tales. I wouldn’t realize just how much my life’s purpose underscored that sincere, sassy and sometimes smart-assy take on growing up. Hell, I wouldn’t know just how much I would grow up. Evolve. Blossom into the kind of woman and writer I once assumed was left in summer 2011’s rubble.

But, it didn’t always feel good.

This is the part where I’m supposed to tell you about nights that antagonized me as I stared at the ceiling, contemplating how to turn a dream into a dollar. But, those nights are only a sliver of my narrative. Instead, there are entire chapters dedicated to the insecurities I had to relinquish. I had to learn how to love a body I believed had betrayed me. I had to find and nurture a spirit that got lost in the wreckage. I had to quiet a mind that remained convinced everyone was out to get me or rip me to shreds. I had to make peace with my past, one inked with handwriting from other people’s demons.

Photo credit: @jazzthenoise
Photo credit: @jazzthenoise

I am still doing the work.

I’m still climbing the skyscraper toward radical self-love. Still clawing my way toward unwavering confidence. Still demanding my feet to find comfort in the big shoes God asked me to fill. Still throwing nine hours of my day toward fulfilling someone else’s dream. Still running to catch the bus. Still canceling events. Still wondering where in the hell is my Michael B. Jordan? Still losing money from rushed ideas. Still growing up in ways both wildly different and eerily similar from that girl who started a blog one night in the white hot heat of Plano, Texas.

Yet through it all, I see a future packed to the gills with opportunity, even if I’m completely unsure how I will get there.

Because I’m crazy enough to believe I have the power to live off of my name. Wild enough to declare that I will use every centimeter of talent the good lord gave me to pay bills from my purpose. Relentless enough to pursue and perfect my craft. Brave enough to keep leaving my heart wide open on the Internet. Convicted enough to see my dreams all the way through.

Fall 2015 tastes like the first sip of medium roast coffee on a rainy day. Warm. Refreshing. Restorative. Just what I need to put my mind at ease. I earned this cup of joe. It’s what you receive when you rise from the ruins and turn mayhem into manna. It’s what happens when you build a beautiful stained glass window from your shattered bits. It’s what happens when you do not crumble into becoming a victim, but instead rise to the occasion of being a visionary.