Dimensions of Black Womanhood: The Free Spirit and The Artist

We write because we believe the human spirit cannot be tamed and should not be trained.–Nikki Giovanni

GG: The Free Spirit

Photo credit: @jazzthenoise
Photo credit: @jazzthenoise

I’ve tried to hide my heart for most of my life. It always seemed to beat too loud and break too easily. I remember being a child in church, trying to stay calm while the choir sang. The music created electricity in my veins that made me want to dance up and down the aisles one minute and fall out bawling on the pew the next. I was a quiet ball of intensity, infatuated by the contrasts of joy and pain, trying to be happy, but always questioning.

I imagined myself an old soul, a captivated free spirit, having been here many times before. I knew how to change the mood in a room, to uplift and relieve tension. How to contain storms that were constantly rising and falling inside of me without breaking a sweat. I don’t remember what it felt like to be a light-hearted, uninhibited child. I always had to be careful. My home life was strange and we had secrets. So I learned how to pay attention to make sure we appeared normal. I worried about what would happen to us, to me, if anyone found out.

Read more of GG’s story here.


 

Kesia: The Artist

Photo credit: @jazzthenoise
Photo credit: @jazzthenoise

I’ve always been a storyteller. In middle school I came in every Monday with a story to tell my friends as we sat on the windowsill in our homeroom. At the time, my mother was in prison. I was sharing a small room with my younger brother and living with a family that had three daughters, girls who had been my friends for years. I remember once my half-sister came to visit from Florida. She was an only child who lived with my father and her mother. She marveled at the fact that all us kids lived in that small house. If it appeared fun to her, that’s because, most of the time, it was. This is the thing about being one of the “unfortunates”: If you survive, it’s because you learn how to spin gold from the thread life has given you to hang yourself with. That’s what storytelling is.

Read more of Kesia’s story here.

Dimensions Of Black Womanhood: The Artist

Photo credit: @jazzthenoise
Photo credit: @jazzthenoise

I’ve always been a storyteller. In middle school I came in every Monday with a story to tell my friends as we sat on the windowsill in our homeroom. At the time, my mother was in prison. I was sharing a small room with my younger brother and living with a family that had three daughters, girls who had been my friends for years. I remember once my half-sister came to visit from Florida. She was an only child who lived with my father and her mother. She marveled at the fact that all us kids lived in that small house. If it appeared fun to her, that’s because, most of the time, it was. This is the thing about being one of the “unfortunates”: If you survive, it’s because you learn how to spin gold from the thread life has given you to hang yourself with. That’s what storytelling is.

In that house we all wrote stories. We were the children of Caribbean parents who had pushed our noses into books so young that when they stopped pushing, we just stayed there. Writing was naturally the next step. Bringing these stories in to share with my friends at school followed.

I didn’t think anything of it. I didn’t join the school newspaper. I didn’t submit to the literary journal. That was for those kids, the poetic ones. I didn’t end up sharing any of my work with strangers until my senior year of high school. As a final English project, we all had to write a story. I shared one about a young girl who found a stray dog and although pets were not allowed in her building, the apartment manager, recognizing the loneliness of the girl, allowed her to keep it. I didn’t think it was all that, though I had spent a lot of time on it. But when I finished reading the teacher was smiling and one kid said, without raising his hand, “That was really good.”

I’ve seen that kid since then, when I was working in the food court during my sophomore year at Boston University. He was studying at Harvard. We spoke briefly and I wondered if he remembered what he told me. Probably not, but I doubt I’ll ever forget it. These are moments artists keep tucked away, and back then I had not had many of them.

I left the university at the end of that year. Despite long hours in the food court and two summer jobs, I did not have enough money to return. But the time away benefited me immensely. I was able to take my first creative writing class at Howard University, complete a novel and work to save enough money to return to BU. Though I could not major in creative writing at BU, I was able to take some creative writing classes. I felt myself improving at what I now considered “my craft”. I was developing my own voice and as it turned out, my classmates were entertained and engaged by it.

One thing you’re taught in creative writing classes is to “hide the threads.” The reader shouldn’t be able to detect how much work you’ve put into the story. It should flow like water through their hands. This is something all artists do. No one knows how hard we work.

The word “art” is something the West has never understood. Art is supposed to be a part of a community…it’s supposed to be as essential as a grocery store… that’s the only way art can function naturally.” Amiri Bakari said this and I’m not sure if truer words have ever been spoken.

In school, the smart kids were the math wizzes and the science nerds. If you were good at something artistic the response was basically, “Great, but what else can you do?” Everyone interacts with art regularly. We’re all happy to have music to listen to on the way to work, or coloring books to throw in front of our children after an exhausting day, while we watch a television show writers, actors and directors slaved over creating. Still, society does not have much respect for artists, other than the select few that are acknowledged as having “made it.” But artists know there is no final destination; art is an unending journey. You spend your entire life working on a craft that you know you will never perfect. No one ever has and no one ever will. That’s part of the beauty.

Yet, despite the lack of appreciation, artists keep at it. I couldn’t tell you the number of breakdowns I have had after returning home from my full time job, not because I will have to stay up late just to get a few hours of work in on my passion, but because of how much time I have to spend working on someone else’s passion just to have a place to live. Artists are stereotyped as lazy, but my artist friends are the hardest working people I know. When my boss goes home, he kicks his legs up and has a drink. He’s satisfied with what he’s done for the day. I am not. How could I be? I go home to work. If I don’t work for him, I don’t have food to eat. If I don’t work for myself, something inside me will die. That something is the only thing that has kept me going through it all. Without it, I’m nothing. This is something artists know.

Despite all that binds us, artists have a freedom that many will never experience. It’s not that they couldn’t but our society limits those who were not born with the vision, as Amiri Bakari pointed out. For artists, our escape is both in consumption and creation. It ain’t easy, but it’s what we’ve been given. If you survive, it’s because you learn how to spin gold from the thread life has given you to hang yourself with. That’s what art is.

Kesia Alexandra is a 25 year old writer from Washington DC. She is the author of “It Ain’t Easy” and “Eating off the Floor”. She can be found on Twitter @kesialexandra and on Instagram @kesialexandr.a .

Dimensions of Black Womanhood: The Lover

Alexis_06
Photography by @jazzthenoise

By: Alexis Wilkins

One of my guilty pleasures is reality TV…well, more so an obsession rather than a guilty pleasure. And one of the more ridiculous shows that I love to indulge in is RuPaul’s Drag Race. What could be better than watching 10 drag queens vie for the title of “America’s Next Drag Superstar”? I’ve watched it for a few seasons now and yes, the crazy costumes and drag queen drama sessions are entertaining, but there is one part of the show that resonates with me no matter what season I am watching. At the end of each episode, Ru’s tagline to the queens is “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you going to love anyone else?”

I have spent the good part of the last year finding out what that really means.

My friends always joke about how “I love Love.” My mother has always described me as her most “lovable” child. All of my Barbies had a Ken for companionship, even if that meant dressing up the women dolls in men’s clothes so all of them could have a partner. I stop whatever I’m doing on a Saturday to watch The Titanic when I see it’s on TV. I’ve always seemed to have some kind of romantic interest. I can remember my first crush in first grade to my high school sweetheart, to my stream of college hookups to my stream of early twenties hookups. There always seemed to be some part of me that yearned for a love interest.

I’ve always heard people say your twenties are the time when you really start to learn about yourself. You learn the things you like and the things you totally despise. You learn that drinking an endless amount of sugary alcoholic drinks will indeed make you vomit. But, most importantly, you start to really learn about yourself. This was and is not some overnight process. I’m 27 going on 28, and every day I feel as though there is always something new I recognize about myself when I look in the mirror.

Alexis_08
Photo credit: @jazzthenoise

I hit the lowest point of my life in early 2014. In August 2013, after countless terrible financial and moral decisions, I had to move back home with my parents after less than a year of being on my own. By April 2014, there was no more faking it with my friends and with myself. I was finally being forced to lie in the proverbial bed I made. And I laid in it bed for months. I pulled away from my best friends. I pulled away from my family. I was fighting with my parents on a weekly basis. My weight seemed to be getting to a point that was uncontrollable. I was dating random guys from Plenty of Fish so I could feel some kind of love from the outside because I didn’t have any for myself on the inside. There were more nights than a few when I would cry so hard it hurt before I drifted off into some unconscious state.

As the New Year approached, I knew that something had to give in 2015. There was no way I could bear to go another 365 days feeling the way I had felt for the past 365. Laying in that hotel room bed with my resolutions still resounding in my ears and the Instagram meme I had posted about them, I made the conscious decision to take back control of my life. And since that moment things have changed for me.

I started working in a field I love where I get to be surrounded by love every day as a wedding planner. I trained for and successfully completed my first half marathon. I saved for and moved into my very own place in the city that I love. I got my relationships back on track with my family and friends. But the most important thing was that I could finally bear the sight of myself in the mirror. Not just because of a physical change but because of a spiritual one. My spirit is the most beautiful it has been in my 27 years on this earth. I have fallen truly, madly and deeply in love with myself and it’s the absolute best feeling in the world.

So I may not be one of Ru’s drag queens, but now more than ever, I know her words are true.

Alexis lives and loves according to the mantra that “if your dreams don’t scare you, they’re probably not big enough.” She loves people, pink, a good glass of (red or white) wine, weekend brunches, karaoke and all things Baltimore. Connect with Alexis @lex_wilk and learn more about her wedding planning work at birdofparadiseevents.com.

Series Premiere: Dimensions of Black Womanhood 11.10.15

 

dimensions promo v2“never 
trust anyone 
who says 
they do not see color. 
this means 
to them,
you are invisible.” 
― Nayyirah Waheed

When people ask me if Black women are the target audience for Twenties Unscripted, I always say no. It’s a question I get more often after last year when I finished The War on Black Women’s Bodies. But, I still say no. I write for women. Smart women. Unconventional women. Observant women. Glass-filled-to-the-top kind of women. Pick-up-the-phone-and-call-me kind of women. Colorful women. No-bullshit women.

I write for women.

But, I do celebrate Black women.

I shed light on Black women. I uplift Black women. I fight to untangle the stereotypes that Black women can only fit into one suffocating crate. Some days that means putting on my boxing gloves and taking a few punches. Other days that means just summoning enough courage to be myself–moody, regal, silly and luminous.

See, that’s the beauty in this platform being for all women. Because all women need to see and understand the complexity that is Black womanhood. We are revolutionaries, powerhouses and rebels. We are artists, dreamers, thinkers and visionaries. We are lovers, nurturers and free spirits.

But, I’m not the only Black woman who can exhibit that. That’s why over the next six weeks, nine other women will join me for Dimensions of Black Womanhood (DOBW). DOBW is a series that will provide each of us with the chance to shed light, share stories and show our scars when it comes to various layers of our identities.

Every Tuesday and Thursday throughout November and December (with the exception of Thanksgiving), I’ll publish an essay from each one of the women featured in the series. Each essayist chose one word that she felt summed up a prominent part of her womanhood. Like everything else on Twenties Unscripted, this series is no holds barred. Honest. Real. Shot from the hip and scooped from the soul. I hope you’ll dig into the layers and complexities that these incredible ladies will offer by way of their experiences and narratives.

I also partnered with the immensely talented Jazz Williams (@jazzthenoise) who shot all of the photography for the series. We had a hell of a time on Oct. 17 photographing all nine women as they embodied each of the words they selected.

Yours truly will close the series out on Dec. 15.

You can’t suffocate us. You won’t label us. You shouldn’t limit us. Our curves are bulging far too much and our spirits are bursting far too bright for us to fit into your teeny tiny boxes.

But you will hear us roar through our writing. You will see us for all of our dimensions.

Xoxo,
Tyece

The Perfect Storm: She Who Believes Recap

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The Tribe at She Who Believes

The storm has brewed inside of me for some quite some time. Winds have roared, rain has poured and entire houses have been blown away. Everyone likes to say there’s a calm before the storm. But this is the storm before the calm. That day I walked into She Who Believes was the day thunder shook everything in my not-so-distant past. It was the day I couldn’t summon my storm to be quiet any longer. It was the day I had to toss my umbrella aside so I could get drenched once and for all.

But, first, rewind. Rewind to Wednesday, July 1 in the “living room” section of Founding Farmers when I sat with Roconia having dinner. Rewind to a moment when She Who Believes was simply an idea penned across several pages in a notebook. Roconia and I sat at dinner for almost two hours before she started divulging the gems about what she planned to do and precisely how she planned to do it. I quietly applauded her for protecting the vision that long. I rooted her on and I did that thing I do where I get way too revved up in a public place. I remember telling Roconia that I planned to attend another event on that same day, but I promised to be there in spirit.

Little did I know on Wednesday, July 1 just how much my spirit would need to be there on Saturday, September 19.

Fast forward to She Who Believes, an event with a simple objective: help women visualize our way toward our ideal lives. A simple objective, but a boulder of an undertaking when you consider the complexity of womanhood, the fragility of our dreams and the moving target of our ideal lives. Fast forward even more to halfway through the event when life coach and motivational speaker Ayana Coston commanded the room’s attention. I instantly liked her. Her energy. Her pacing. Her bright orange pants. She was someone I wanted to listen to. So, I did. And when she started outlining her idea of a successful life, I noticed just how much her definition contradicted my own empty one. I wanted the kind of success she alluded to, the kind of success rooted in peace, joy and freedom.

Ayana locked eyes with me for all of five seconds, and that is when I felt the storm.

I let the wind roar. I let the rain pour. I let all of the houses blow away.

I let myself be that awkward girl at the event who cried her hideous cry and required someone (thank you, Yetti!) to bring her tissues. I let myself buckle over and feel shittier-than-shit. I let myself finally acknowledge that the way I’ve done things hasn’t always worked. The things I’ve believed haven’t always yielded happiness. The goals I’ve fought for simply haven’t always been worth it. I let myself surrender to the storm and I told myself that it’s been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come.

There are moments that allow us to break chains we didn’t even know existed.

I gave Roconia the nickname R Squared for Revolutionary Roconia a few weeks ago. What she created with She Who Believes was nothing short of revolutionary. Since those few hours on Sept. 19, things in my life have been set into motion. I’ve felt a new blend of courage getting stirred inside of me, one that has propelled me to grasp things I shied away from just months ago. I I said yes to a spoken word opportunity that only a month ago I deemed myself unqualified for. I sit with my legs crossed in the dim hours of each morning silently preparing myself for the day.

I’ve committed to living my most fulfilling and creative life. Not an entrepreneurial life. Not a powerhouse life. Not a boss life. Not a life that looks great on the outside but feels hollow in the middle. But a solid, vibrant and creative life. With family. And friends. And things that make me feel good even when they’re not tethered to any sort of perceived success. A life rooted in the things Ayana mentioned–peace, joy and freedom. So, I wiped the slate clean of many of my upcoming plans in favor of spending autumn focused on just being happy. Creating the things that mean the most to me. Spending time with people who mean even more to me. Not holding my feet to the fire. Not kicking myself in the ass. But instead, enjoying the calm after the storm.

Thank you, Roconia, for starting a revolution and sparking my evolution.

Xoxo,
Tyece