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.

Guest Writers Week | Lies My Grandmother Told Me (And The Truths I Extracted From Them)

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By Roconia Price

1. Sam Price

She said his name was Sam. And in my imagination, he was the spitting image of Ossie Davis. And Gram was his Ruby Dee. I pictured him, all smiles and silver hair, with big, meaty hands that would comfort my grandma whenever she was upset. In my mind Gram and Sam were supposed to live happily ever after, on a breezy porch, while the sun set, like a Country Time lemonade commercial. One morning I looked at Gram’s bed, at the side by the window, the space in which I was welcome whenever thunder rolled or my parents argued. Seeing Gram alone there with no sunset, no lemonade, and no Sam got my seven-year-old mind to thinking.

“Grandma, where’s your husband?”

“Gone,” she said, fussing with her AM radio.

“Gone like dead?” My eyes grew wide with simultaneous wonder and horror, and Grandma took advantage of the opportunity to spook her curious grandbaby.

Throughout my years of asking the same question at Grandma’s knee, Sam Price had been stabbed, mugged and murdered, thrown through the windshield of a car on a rainy night, and had just plain vanished without any reason.

One day in second grade, I brought home a family tree project with the moniker “Sam Price” written across the space marked “my father’s father.” Daddy took one look at the project and brought it over to Gram. I followed behind him, my backpack smacking the backs of my thighs with every hurried step.

“Who is Sam Price, Mama?” Daddy said, trying to stifle his amusement behind a bold demand. I couldn’t see my father’s face, but I caught the twinkle in Gram’s eye. They’d shared a moment; one of those mother-baby son things that I, as a female middle child, would always recognize, but never understand. They both exploded with laughter.

The truth was that Sam Price never existed. If you ask the state of New York, Sam Price came up from Georgia on the bus with Gram and their three children in 1941. If you asked Gram, she’d tell you that she called her imaginary husband Sam “’cause ‘Survival’ ain’t sound right.”

The truth was that, in 1962, “Sam Price,” or the version of him that fathered my father, gave my Gram the “me or them” when her daughter disappeared, leaving Gram with six new sticky mouths to feed. Gram gave Sam the “them” and Sam peaced out, only to make a very brief reappearance 13 years later and then be gone again forever.

The truth was that Gram never needed any Sam. She pushed eight children into this world, nurtured ten more, and buried six of the eighteen before she died herself. The truth was that she didn’t need big, comforting hands, the sun would set wherever she was, with or without a man, and she didn’t care much for lemonade anyway.

2. “Nobody wants a nasty girl.”

“Get cho frock tail out the air!” Gram shouted this line at my sister and me whenever we performed acrobatics across the living room floor. The command would start as a low rumble in the Georgia region of her belly and by the time she got to “air” she’d gone full-on Brooklyn on us.

With bits of carpet in our hair, my sister and I would sit up and beg Gram to explain what a frock tail was. I deduced that it was obviously a vagina (because why else would Gram care what I was throwing in the air?).

At any rate, when our frock tails were no longer way up and feeling blessed, Gram would shake her head and utter a stern “Ladies don’t do that.”

“It’s not nice. It’s nasty,” she would say. “And nobody wants a nasty girl.”

Over the years I’ve discovered that plenty of people want a nasty girl. Over the years I’ve also discovered that Gram just wanted us to have to the option of being labeled nice.

As a black woman in 1930’s Georgia, Gram couldn’t afford the requirements necessary for being labeled nice. She said not nice words like fuck, shit, and piss. She dipped butterscotch snuff and had a designated spit can. She kept her cornrows straight back and her speech straight up.

Gram knew, however, that suburban girls in the 90’s could afford the finer things. Though being nice felt restrictive at the time, we were ultimately given more freedom. We fit into a world that Gram never would. We could afford not to carry knives in our bosoms and pistols in our stockings. We could afford to be ignorant of how to bury a body, how to threaten a stepfather, and how to earn a man’s fear and respect with a whiskey bottle and a fireplace. We could afford to be nice.

3. “Middle finger is fine.”

I was in seventh grade when Gram finally trusted me enough to trim her chin hair. It always seemed to be a Tuesday when she would request that I reach into her drawer, retrieve her heavy metal scissors, and cut the gray wiry coils that hung like little bats under her chin.

“Remember when you told me I could put my middle finger up?” I asked one Tuesday. I snipped a coil and let it fall into the napkin in her lap.

I was four years old. I must have seen the middle finger go up somewhere, but when I tried it on my brother, Gram’s beloved snitch, he told on me.

“Ro put her middle finger up!” he said triumphantly. He held me by the arm at the foot of Gram’s chair.

“So!?” Gram shouted in an animated voice. “I sticks my middle finger up. See?” She produced a long, bony middle finger. I smiled triumphantly.

“I can put my middle finger up?” I asked.

“Well, sure!” she said with a nod. “Middle finger is fine.”

And with that, I had all the power. Case dismissed, Sucka! I stuck my tongue out at my brother and scrambled back to the basement. The finger was now mine to use freely. The next day in preschool I was condemned to the blue timeout chair and later sent to Mr. Wilson’s office for my extravagant use of the middle finger.

“But, it’s not bad!” I protested, “Middle finger is fine!”

“This is a Christian academy,” said Mr. Wilson. “Middle finger is not fine.”

Grandma was the first woman to show me what the empowerment of womanhood was. The truth about Grandma’s fibs is that womanhood today is about options. And she knew that. I can keep my frock tail down. I can keep my middle finger up. I can grow old with a man, or invent a Sam. I can be single without a story. I can be nice and nasty. I can choose whiskey over wine. I can get my eyebrows shaped regularly, or I can grow a cave full of bats across my chin and trim them every third Tuesday. And whatever strands of life I choose to include, they will always braid together to fit my unique definition of womanhood.

Roconia \ruhCONNuh\ (n.) The creator, root, & Roco of eversoroco.com; A beautiful balance between blessed and broken. A unique situation. Roconia is a writer first, blogger second, living in the DC area. You’ll learn more about her from her blog, www.eversoroco.com or Twitter (@eversoroco) than you ever will from a short bio.

Spotlight: The War on Black Women’s Bodies Contributors

This is how it all started.
This is how it all started.

Tomorrow concludes what has been a four-month journey of writing, researching, storytelling, interviewing, growing and evolving as I finish up The War on Black Women’s Bodies. I keep waiting for the tears to come (and I’m sure they will) as I really consider what I’ve done and accomplished with this piece of work. What started back in September as a simple blog post transformed into a multi-faceted project that took on a life of its own. I am forever changed and so is this blog because of The War on Black Women’s Bodies. For those wondering what’s next, just know that if you know me, “next” has already been envisioned and planned. I do not plan to abandon this project, the community we’ve built around it and the momentum the idea has gained. Stay tuned, that’s all I can offer for now.

But, before the project wraps up tomorrow, I want to take some time to spotlight all of the beautiful, smart, complex and insightful women who contributed to the series. I completed 25 individual interviews, coordinated a photo shoot and partnered closely with several women on the branding and editing of the series. All of these women brought their experiences, truth, talent and vulnerability to the project, adding layers to it that I would have never been able to create myself. Much applause and love to each and every one of these women for contributing to a body of work that has brought me pride, joy and renewal. I hope each of you feel that same pride, joy and renewal when you consider what we have achieved together.

Series Editor: Denni Cravins
Denni has been the unsung hero behind this series. From pulling articles to reference to dealing with each draft sent bit by bit (usually very late at night), Denni made sure the series was polished, informed and ready to get published every Wednesday. I may love writing, but I am the shittiest of editors, and that’s where Denni’s expertise and insight really came in to play.

TU-BodyWar-FBGraphic Designer: Kalani Hillman
When I decided to move forward with the WOBWB as a full series instead of a blog post, I knew it would need some sort of branding  to really anchor the concept. My friend and graphic designer Kalani Hillman stepped in, offered several options and didn’t even fight me too much when I insisted on using hot pink instead of red for the word “War.” (Hey, Twenties Unscripted branding, what can I say?) She created a design that I was happy to inundate Instagram timelines with week after week.

 

Series Finale Photographer: Jazzmin Williams
I almost feel like I can’t say much about Jazz because I just want you to see her power and talent at work in the photo gallery series finale tomorrow. When my sister Alexis (another unsung advisor for this project!) first suggested a photo shoot for the series finale, I ran with the idea like a madwoman. The concept came about around 5 p.m. and by 11 p.m. that night I had worked with Jazz and we booked studio space to set the idea in motion. Jazz is the first person I ever met because of my blog. We’ve come a long way since that first brunch at Busboys and Poets, and she continues to lend her photography talent to Twenties Unscripted and her friendship to little old me.

The following women have all contributed to various parts of the series through the interviews I conducted. I can’t begin to tell you what it meant to sit on the phone with each of these women as they shared their wit, told their stories and shed their layers. Ladies, I’m forever indebted to you:

Part 1: Media & Pop Culture
Morgan Pitts
Cicely Rue
Khrysta
T.S. Fitzgerald
Chaédria LaBouviera

Part 2: Sexuality & Sexual Assault
Lamoi
Noëlle Cuvilly
Nikita Brown
Ariel Leconte
Jenai

Part 3: Domestic Violence
Erica Nichole
Tiffany Curlee

Part 4: Healthcare
Brenda Fadeyibi
Jocelyn Triplett

Part 5: Mind & Spirit
Briana Ford
Theresa Thames
Dr. Joy Harden Bradford
Curvy of CurvyCEO

Parts 2 and 5–Sexuality and Sexual Assault & Mind and Spirit
Yetti

Parts 4 and 5–Healthcare & Mind and Spirit
Devri Velazquez

Finally, get ready to TURN UP for the beautiful women who modeled as a part of tomorrow’s photo gallery finale, The Revolution: Celebrating Black Women’s Bodies!

Raven
Alexis (my sister!)
Martha (my mommy!)
Dejah
Dziko
Kerin
Lindsay
Hermela
T.S.
Kalani
GG Renee
Kayla
Niecy
Cassandra
Denni
Jasmin
Charmayne

Thank you all for supporting this project. Women from every shade, age, shape and size. Thank you for believing in this project. Thank you for the emails, the tweets, the Facebook shares, the text messages, the words of encouragement. There is not any other major creative note I would want to end 2014 on. After something like this, you can’t go back to just writing blog posts. You can’t go back to just saying “NEW POST, FOOL.” You can’t go back to a few good events. After something like this, you realize there is beauty and fulfillment in doing the difficult, tough, nearly-impossible and revolutionary work.

Thank you all. Times 100.

Xoxo,
Tyece

Celebrating Black Womanhood promotional flyerTOMORROW IS THE BIG DAY! The War on Black Women’s Bodies will conclude with a photo gallery that you don’t want to miss. You’ll laugh. You may cry. You’ll think. And you will appreciate the complexity and beauty among black women so much more. See you for the finale!