In Search of the Pear Tree

I’ve read Their Eyes Were Watching God almost every year since I was a sophomore in high school. Each experience grounds me deeper into my self, revealing new truths even after I left the last reading assured I learned all there was to know. This time around, I found the life of Janie Crawford drawing me closer to another woman in my life, my great-grandmother. The woman’s life hangs over my family like a legend. Much like Janie, my great-grandmother ran away from home at a young age in search of, I believe, that same pear tree that awakened Janie in her grandmother’s front yard. And like Janie, my great-grandmother paid a price for such curiosity, such fearlessness, such hope.

When Janie’s grandmother sees her granddaughter begin to blossom with the same curiosity, fearlessness and hope that ignited my great-grandmother, she cuts the young girl down with the reality that the negro woman is the mule of the world. I’m not sure if my great-grandmother had gotten that talk from her mother before she ran off, but I can imagine that life sure did to my great-grandmother what Janie’s grandmother did to her: “[take] the biggest thing God ever made, the horizon,…and [pinch] it in to such a little bit of a thing that she [Janie’s grandmother] could tie it about her granddaughter’s neck tight enough to choke her.”

I wonder often about the woman I’ve never met, but whose life story I can recite as if it were my own. I wonder what pieces of herself she had to hide, like Janie, in order to stay outwardly alive. What had fallen off her internal shelf and did she ever pick it up? Did she ever get to experience what Janie witnessed the bees and the buds of flowers did in that pear tree? Did she ever get time to pull in her horizon and look over what was caught in its meshes? How many of our great-grandmothers lived like Janie, or longed to? These are questions that sparked Alice Walker’s collection, In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens, and it is one that I think about each time I try to understand my own life. The freedoms, however little they sometimes seem to be, were paid for in gold by women like Janie, like my great-grandmother, who dared to follow their heart.

Their Eyes Were Watching God has, in some magical way, brought me closer to my great-grandmother as I find myself capable of looking at her story as something more than a larger than life legend and something tangible, tactile, like the textures of my own life that change with each new life experience. Though I imagine that a lot of my great-grandmother’s naive dreams were crushed after she ran away from home, I admire her the same way I do Janie Crawford; they were women who were not satisfied being anyone’s mule, women who believed that there was joy and pleasure and sweetness to be had from this life and were relentless in their search for it. They are both women I aspire to be.

Another reading of Zora Neale Hurston’s classic novel has left me eternally grateful for her own relentless truth telling. She has, yet again, brought me closer to myself. Closer to a self I was almost a century ago in Columbus, Mississippi who snuck away from the well and ran from home in search of that pear tree. Today, I am still searching, as I believe all black women are and should be.

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An American Marriage, review

At sixteen I thought I knew what romantic love was. Head over heels for a boy who turned my world completely upside down there was never a doubt in my mind that what we had was real. And what was real was meant to be held onto, no matter how painful the grip. The idea of “meant to be,” began to feel more like duty than destiny and that is the conflict that ties An American Marriage by Tayari Jones together. Celestine and Roy are two individuals who think they have this love and marriage thing figured out, but life has a way of showing the both of them that they don’t know the first thing about anything. Both their love and notions of duty are tested by an unforeseen circumstance that, while unfair to both parties, reveal truths that were bound to come to light regardless.

I will admit I struggled with the story at first, but the more I kept reading, the more I saw myself in both Celestine and Roy. I understood the duty that Roy and the other men in the novel tried to impose on Celestine, knew it because I felt a sense of duty to stick by the man I had committed myself to at sixteen even when I wasn’t sure he was worth it anymore. And I understood the need for liberation and autonomy Celestine was trying to explain to everyone in the novel who seemed to ignore her voice—it’s what ultimately led me to realize what I was holding onto wasn’t worth the sacrificing of my own life. What I love most about Jones’ novel is how it gripped me in a way I was not prepared for. She has a way of crafting a mirror that so clearly reflects truths people often hide from.

At twenty-five I learned how to let go. Just as Roy realized that what he was fighting for was a phantom of a dream, something that was worthless if it had to be forced. I looked into the eyes of a man I swore I loved and realized I didn’t know him at all. I realized that what I was fighting tooth and nail for was something that did not exist between us anymore, and maybe it never did, but I knew that regardless it was not worth holding onto. I do not imagine that he and I will ever get to the point of where Celestine and Roy find themselves at the end of An American Marriage,  but I can say, confidently, that I have learned something about love: it boils down to acceptance.

The beginning of the first Corinthians scripture about love are probably the most popular, but the line that sticks with me the most is, “Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.” I have come to understand that love is not possible without accepting the truth of who someone is just as it is not possible without revealing the truth of who you are. When Celestine and Roy are able to finally see each other for who they are—not who they want the other to be—they are able to accept one another and unlock a freedom that wasn’t possible before then. I have experienced this in my own life and I don’t believe it would have been possible without my foolish first attempt at love, just as Celestine and Roy would not have been able to arrive at their final destination without going through the journey we watch them navigate throughout the novel. The brilliance of Jones’ book is so unassuming it sneaks up on you toward the end, instantly making you want to start from the beginning again. It’s a feat so astounding I see why Oprah chose it for her book club.

If you want a light read that packs a meaningful punch, I highly recommend An American Marriage. It will stir some dormant questions in you and make you look at love, destiny, and duty in a different light. 

Updates

Beautiful people, how many times do I come back to you apologizing for my hiatus? Too many times to count. Yet, here I am again, apologizing for my absence, but I come bearing updates!

  1. I have a website. You may be thinking, you run a blog isn’t that already a website? Correct though you are, I have made a website dedicated to housing all of my writing, which you can check out by clicking this link to StephanieMayolee.com

2. Short stories. For over six months I participated in a writer’s residency that really              got my creativity and discipline in line, and you can see what all that has manifested into by checking out a short story I’ve just put on my Catapult page.

Though I’ve been MIA, know that I’m still reading (you can keep up with exactly what I’m reading on my Goodreads page) and writing. Hello to all the new followers! And thank you all for your continued support!

 

 

Sunday Reading: CoRregidora

It’s nothing short of a blessing when you can devote an entire day to reading a book, or when a book is so compelling it requires your undivided attention until completed. That was my experience with Gayl Jones’ CoRregidora. Not since I was in high school had I experienced the giddy feeling of curling up and fervently turning the next page, needing to know what happened next. CoRregidora isn’t as suspenseful as it is spellbinding. Jones’ quick pacing, perfect dialogue, and gothic themes transfixes you until you’ve realized you reached the end. And what an impactful ending it is.

There is no one that explores the sexual, emotional, social, and physical trauma of slavery on their descendants like Jones. She perfectly melds the past and present showing how we are a single thread on the spool of time, merely continuing what has already transpired before our existence. It’s dark and uncomfortable, but it’s the truth of Jones’ work that will resonate with you and shake you to your core.

I’ve been a huge admirer of Jones’ work, and CoRregidora, edited by the great Toni Morrison, is a necessary staple that should be on everyone’s bookshelf.

Issa Reading Challenge

The National Book Awards finalists for 2017 were announced today, which presents no better time to strike up a reading challenge. Two finalists for the Fiction category–Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body & Other Parties and Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing–really sparked my interest and, to my surprise, were available at my library (newly delivered aka I’m the first person to lay hands on them)!

I also have Ta-Nehisi Coates’, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy. Coates wrote the forward for Toni Morrison’s, The Origin of Other, which is also on my list. And, speaking of Toni Morrison, I will be seeing America’s greatest author for my birthday at Just Buffalo Literary Center (how lucky am I?!) and she will read from her classic, Beloved, which tops off my reading haul/challenge.

So, I’ve never done one of these before, which means I’m going to completely make up my own rules.

These 5 books I’ve selected will, realistically, not all be read by the end of this month which is why I will classify these as a fall reading challenge, giving myself until the end of the season to complete. I’m not sure what I’ll do upon completion, perhaps published a reflection piece about what each novel taught me.

Either way, I’m excited for fall and excited for new books! I hope you all are challenging yourselves as well. What books are you looking forward to reading?

Well Read Black Girl festival

Last weekend I had the privilege of attending the Well Read Black Girl’s inaugural festival.

The WRBG team have done an incredible job of creating a space for black women writers and readers to join in support and fellowship.

It was an amazing experience. Check out my recaps below!

 

 

BookMates

*taps mic* Is this thing on?

Hi everybody,

It’s been a long minute, huh?

Well, I’m excited to say I’m back and I did not return empty-handed. For MONTHS I’d been working on a web series that took many twists and turns and has finally evolved into what I’m so thrilled to share with you all.

BOOKMATES is a series following two book-loving friends and the situations bibliophiles find themselves in.

They’re short and sweet skits that I hope you enjoy as much as I enjoyed making them.

The teaser is below…catch all the fire names we dropped in just 26 seconds!

Comment below, I wanna know what you guys think!