Do Not Dare To Dim Your Light (A Note To Self)

On a drizzly Saturday evening, you’ll walk into European Wax Center and the sign on the door will catch your eye. “Walk in, strut out.” You’ll roll your eyes a little bit at the marketing and how women are supposed to have an extra pep in their step after they’ve had hair painfully ripped from their bodies. But before you can digest that thought, the woman at the front counter will ask you your name, and you’ll tell her who you are, full government. You still won’t think much of the exchange until she comments, with the slightest bit of toxin in her tone, that you “strutted in here like you owned the place.” You’ll laugh and say “I’m just here for a wax,” but the irony isn’t lost on you. After all, how dare you strut into a setting that you are merely supposed to walk into?

People hear it in the click of your heels and from the first note off your tongue. They see it in your eyes. They read it on your lips, sometimes nude and other times painted a deep burgundy or a playful purple or an unforgettable red. But maybe more than anything, they feel it when you step into the room and somehow the energy shifts in a way that is palpable. Visceral. Unexpected.

This is called your light.

Some days it is a spark. Other days it is a wildfire. But most days it is slow burn, one that you emit in a quiet and powerful way that cannot be contained.

To whom much is given, much is required. You will recite this to yourself sometimes sitting at stoplights or right before a big meeting at work. You learned somewhere along the way that God does not give us light without also giving us responsibility. Weight. A duty to carry out. A purpose to fulfill. It is not enough to illuminate; you must also show up in every space and burn brightly.

You’ve learned that light is not a universal language. There are people who will gravitate toward it. There are people who will fight to darken it. There are those who will dismiss it and those who will bring even more of it out of you. There are people who were once enamored by your rays who are now hoping for your sun to set. This is all par for the course.

You will spend a lot of time and energy thinking about how you can protect your light. You will learn who deserves it and who does not. This is a lesson of trial and error, one you will get wrong many times before you get it right. You will ignite for men who can only manage to flicker for you. You will guard your blaze intently so others can not snuff it out. You will come to realize that when it comes to light, sometimes it inspires and other times it intimidates. Most times it does both in the same day.

And yet, I still dare you not to dim your light. Not for the sake of others. Not for their comfort or their acceptance or their ease or their insecurities. I dare you not to dim your light even when it seems like the road would be more easily trodden should you just go along and shrink a few sizes. I dare you not to dim your light even when it feels like the odds are against you and it would make everyone else’s life much more simple if you just stopped shining. I dare you not to dim your light even when you lose some people you loved, even when spreading your light poses more risks than it offers rewards, even when you want to close the blinds and shut the shades.

You are both lighthouses and torches. Sunrises and lanterns. Dawns and daybreaks. The entire Earth is somewhere inside of you ready to beam. Why won’t you let it?

On a drizzly Saturday evening, you’ll sign the receipt at European Wax Center and the woman behind the counter will make it a point to tell you there’s some lipstick on your teeth. You’ll thank her and smile into your iPhone camera to fix it before you go. You’ve learned by now that some gestures are born from kindness and some gestures rise from strange and insecure places. It’s often times hard to parse out the difference. You’ll chalk this one up to a woman who saw you dare to strut in, so she wanted to make it a point that you only walked out. But you will strut anyway. Because this has nothing to do with your stride. This is called your light.

Black Girl, Interrupted

Something about him gives me pause and makes me drop my fork mid-bite. He’s standing at the soda machine, pouring cup after cup of water and gulping it down. I don’t want to feel uneasy or afraid – maybe he is just a thirsty guy in need of some hydration after a hard day of work. But, I’ve lived long enough to know that my gut is an accurate compass. It hasn’t ever led me astray.

When he drops the cup into the trash and exits the restaurant, I breathe a silent sigh of relief. But once it’s my turn to leave, I catch a glimpse of him again, this time standing at the bus stop. My feet move more briskly; my strides become intentional. And then I hear “Hey!” Short pause. “Hey!” Again. This time louder. My heels start hitting the pavement faster. Click. Click. Click. Clickclickclickclickclick. “Hey, Fantasia!” (I presume because that’s his closest reference to a woman with a haircut like mine). By the time he yells it again, I’m jetting down the stairs to the metro, peeking over my right shoulder to ensure he’s not there.

He’s not.

And, then I begin to tell myself that maybe I just made it all up. Maybe it was all in my head. Of course he wasn’t going to hurt me. Maybe he wasn’t even talking to me. But, then a more strident internal voice disturbs my misgivings. That voice tells me what I know to be true.

My gut is an accurate compass. It hasn’t ever led me astray.

I don’t feel relaxed again until I’m on the train, unwrapping my scarf and settling in for the trip to Eastern Market. But, by then, my evening has been both punctured and punctuated by that memory. All of my excitement to go on a solo date and attend Morgan Jerkins’ book signing has disintegrated into thin air.

Later that night, Morgan talks about being a black woman in the world. I lean over in my chair, nodding and smiling, trying to inhale all of her black girl magic for a moment in the future when I know I’ll need it. She tells us about a time when she interviewed Claudia Rankine and asked the poet how she deals with microaggressions and other weights of black womanhood. What is her armor made of? How does she wake up every day and get ready for the world?

“It’s not that I have to prepare for the world. It’s that the world interrupts me.”

This is what Claudia tells her. It’s the first time during the hourlong book talk that I whip out my phone and type the two sentences into my notes section.

Because isn’t that what so much, too much, of being a black woman is? Interruption. Intrusion. Folks sticking their feet out and tripping you while you are simply trying to hit your stride.

I’ve been deep in my thoughts and thick in my feelings lately, stuck in my own head and unsure of how to spill it out on paper. I’ve been thinking about my womanhood–how I strive to move through the world and how often that momentum is thwarted by people who never even think twice about it. People who don’t care to think twice about it. People who don’t have to think twice about it.

Perhaps my presence is radical. It upsets the balance.

Perhaps my presence is enigmatic. It defies understanding.

Perhaps my presence is infuriating. It incites enmity.

Perhaps my presence is majestic. It demands respect.

Perhaps my presence is worrisome. It unearths insecurity.

Perhaps my presence is overlooked. It paralyzes compassion.

Perhaps my presence is human. It reflects the world.

Yes, I yearn to glide through this life without any more of the breaches or bullshit. But, now I know that there is no armor or bulletproof vest that will save me. There is no formula or process to follow. There is not one way to prepare for the many interruptions to come. My momentum is predicated far less on preparation and far more on resilience. Perhaps that is both the power and plight of being a black woman.

Xoxo,
Tyece

For Brown Girls With Sharp Edges and Stories to Tell

Photo by Christian Fregnan on Unsplash

The world will continue to shout that you should be softer. You’re not quite sure when you began to hear this demand, but somewhere along the line you did, and it started soaking up space at the pit of your stomach. Somewhere along the line someone told you that you needed to dull your edges if you ever stood a chance of being loved and understood.

For a brief moment, you believed them. You wanted so desperately  to be adored, particularly by black men. You wanted to be a woman who felt warm and inviting, someone a man would be more inclined to stroll over toward during a balmy evening at a rooftop bar. So you worked hard to shrink yourself. Temper your confidence. Tone down your strength. There you were, a shell of the woman God created you to be, trying to shatter this angry black woman stereotype that you never birthed in the first place.

Yes, the world will continue to shout that you should be softer. It is an echo that will reverberate in the back of your ear for the rest of your life. On conference calls. In boardrooms. In bedrooms. On first dates.

Measure your tone. Speak slowly. Sprinkle some sugar on your words. It is an unwritten decree that will find its way into many conversations, both solicited and unsolicited.

But then you will remember sitting in the back of an Uber one night and asking a man–a man who you fought hard for and lost big for–what he thought of you. And the first thing he’ll say is “You say what you mean and you mean what you say.” It will become one of the highest compliments you’ve ever received, and you’ll never care to be called beautiful again. You’ll want to be known, and loved, for saying what you mean and meaning what you say.

The world has decided that women without sharp edges are easier to consume. And it seems like sometimes that’s all this world wants to do –absorb you without ever getting to know you. Devour you. Digest you. Make a meal out of your brown skin and beautiful eyes. But if you are sharp and if you have stories and if you speak with the conviction of a firm-and-brimstone preacher, then the world can’t eat you up so fast. It can’t figure you out. It can’t just suck you up and sit satiated while you dissolve at the bottom of its belly.

You were not handcrafted by heaven to be soft. You were not designed simply to be consumed. You are not here to live a miniature sort of life or assuage the insecurities growing like wildflowers inside of others.

Shout. Be loud. Stay tough. Take up the space. Allow the walls to crumble for the people who are worth letting in. Protect yourself when you need to. Dismantle your fear when you should. Let your energy rearrange the room and let your laugh suck up all the air.

Your sharp edges do not preclude you from being fragile. They do not mean that you aren’t sensitive or complex or affected by the way tides turn. Your sharp edges simply mean that you stopped being afraid of your own strength a long time ago. You quit apologizing for your sunlight. You decided to claim more space.

Not everyone believes in just eating you alive. Know that and believe it. Keep it somewhere in your back pocket for a winter’s night when it feels like love always proves to be a losing game. Some people will dare to peel back your layers and savor you one story, scar, and sharp edge at a time.

Xoxo,
Tyece

To The Man On A Friday Night Who Insisted That I Smile

You are not thinking about this anymore. You have taken scores of footsteps since that moment. You’ve probably downed a few more beers. You’ve slept and worked and laughed and done all of the things simple people with simple lives do. But, I am almost certain that you are not thinking about this anymore.

But I am still thinking about this. I am thinking about this enough that I jotted down notes about our interaction one night while lying in a hotel bed somewhere in the Financial District. I am thinking about that five minute exchange between us that left me with too many words I should have shared that night.

I did not smile as I leaned over and asked the bartender for another glass of Sauvignon Blanc. More specifically, I did not smile at you. I did not smile at you because I did not want to, and that should have been enough. It should have been adequate. It shouldn’t have called anything about me or my character or the tone of the night I was having into question.

But it wasn’t sufficient for you. A woman electing to keep her countenance solemn was not OK because somewhere written in your book of life, “Pretty women should smile.”

And when I still did not smile because I was acute enough not to merely bat my eyelashes at a backhanded compliment, you asked why I had an attitude. I told you that you were misusing the word, that an attitude is simply a feeling, and every human being has an attitude at any given moment of any given day. I shared that I am a writer by nature and a communicator by trade, so words matter. If you wanted to chat about attitudes and such, I required you to come more correct than that.

I still did not smile.

And the last thing you said to me is what’s been burning in the back of both of my ears. The last thing you said is what’s left me replaying that conversation and gritting my teeth. Because “Pretty women should smile” didn’t work and “Why do you have an attitude?” also crashed and burned, you tried a new conversational tactic. You told me that these situations–where men engage with me and insist that I smile–would happen often in life. You told me I should just get used to them.

I told you to have a good night.

But, what I wanted to tell you is that your so-called wisdom didn’t translate. It didn’t seep somewhere deep into my psyche and galvanize a change in how I respond to men like you. You can’t teach me the things I’ve already learned and experienced. See, I have known how some men think some women should behave since the moment my hips began curving like Coke bottles.

You are not the first man who insisted that I smile. You absolutely will not be the last.

I have been told to smile on street corners and in the same breath been called unkind names. I have crossed the street at intersections that would not lead to my destination in order to avoid head-on collisions with men I don’t trust. I have worn the war paint of averted eyes coupled with straight lips. And in spite of all of these things, some days I still lose the battle of making my way through the world as a person and not a possession.

i know these things are nothing new. These words are a drop in the ocean of how women who do not smile upon command feel. Women have had the seemingly innocent sins of men stuck to them like gum on the bottom of good sneakers forever.

But, today, I had to get your gum off of my good sneakers. So I penned a few sentences. I did not fancy them up. I did not paint them in my poetry. I did not do them the artistic justice they probably deserved. Because pretty women should not necessarily smile. But they should let their words take shape before something uglier inside of them does.

Xoxo,
Tyece

On Being a Corporate Creative

I’ve teamed up with State Farm® as part of their Color Full Lives campaign, an initiative that promotes positivity & empowerment and celebrates all women in the African American community through a multitude of experiential and digital engagements. You know how this works-views, opinions, and musings of the unscripted kind are all my own. 

Somewhere along the line, I threw away either/or and picked up this and that. Somewhere along the line, I quit trying to commit to just one, linear, easily identifiable road and instead started making sense of my identity as a corporate creative. To paraphrase a tweet I recently read, I started to realize my plurality. I began to understand that the path I’m sculpting is complete with twists and turns, but it does not necessarily include some sort of fork in the road that will require me to choose one route.

My heart doesn’t vibrate accordingly to one passion. Instead, I am an assortment of layers. Interests. Skills. Talents. I am equally invested in my career in corporate communications and my creative journey as a writer. So, these days, my mindshare is devoted to everything from considering heading back to school to get my master’s to outlining what’s in store for my second book. And while I’d like to think this path, its consequences, and its sacrifices are unique, they are not. Instead, more women–both those close to me and those I observe from afar–are balancing multiple businesses, deriving income from various sources, and leaving their mark in more than one way.

I listened to strong examples of women like this in the latest “special edition” Color Full Lives podcast episode. As you may recall from this blog post last year, the Color Full Lives podcast, sponsored by State Farm, combines the influential voices of American radio personality Angela Yee, self-proclaimed “Duchess of Tech” Tatiana King Jones, and lifestyle influencer Francheska Medina, known for her brand Hey Fran Hey. The ladies are back with a limited edition run of the show, and they kicked it off by giving us a glimpse into how they’re running businesses, taking risks, and making headway on their goals.

We reunite with the ladies just as Angela has recently opened a juice bar, Fran is planning an 11-city wellness tour, and Tatiana is beginning work on a science fiction novel. Outside of these key projects, they are all also nurturing their personal lives, developing self-care and wellness regimens, and growing other professional endeavors. I identify with each of their demanding balancing acts and gleaned several gems from their conversation.

 

On writing“You have to allow yourself the slot to write, but allow yourself the slot to think. There will be times when you set aside time to write and that whole time, nothing comes out. ” – Tatiana

While I once considered writer’s block to be a complete cop out, Tatiana’s words now ring more true than ever for me as I work on my second book. Curating a body of work from the ground up is equal parts thinking and writing. A book is ultimately just as much what the author thought and felt as what that person ended up pouring on to the page. I’ve learned how to be more graceful with myself so that the thoughts and feelings have time to take shape, trusting that the words will always follow.

On understanding your worth and the value of your work:  “You can’t work for free forever; it’s just not sustainable. But how can I do that and still be fair and still be a businesswoman?” – Fran

This was one of those quotes that stuck with me long after I listened to the podcast. Fran, like many other bloggers and online content creators, has offered tons of quality content for free for years. She’s now transitioning to offering services at a price. It can be a tough and uncomfortable passage to move from free content to paid products and services, but I have found most people, myself included, usually reach that tipping point. It’s a natural evolution if whatever you’re offering is filling some sort of void in the universe. So, I’ve learned it’s important to confront your value head-on and stand firm in what you know you’re worth. When you do that, your magic reaches the right people.

On remembering to show gratitude:  “With the people that work with me, I just like to make sure I’m very grateful…when people mess up, we’re so quick to get upset, but it’s really important when people do things well to let them know they did a great job.” -Angela

I’m a sucker for handwritten notes, and thank you notes are no exception. I just recently sent out a slew of them for everyone who participated in the Love Me Well project and also dropped a few on my colleagues’ desks after a big event we hosted last month. It’s easy to move through life at hyper speed and forget to thank people along the way. But, I’ve never seen a boulder pushed uphill without at least three or four pairs of hands behind it.

I’m unsure where my windy corporate creative path will take me. I can’t quite pin down what’s next or even what it will take to get there. But, I do know that there are timeless tenets like allowing myself time to think, acknowledging my value, and remembering to show gratitude that will always keep me lifted and move me through.

This post was sponsored by State Farm, as part of their Color Full Lives campaign. For more information, or to contact an agent, please click here.