Beloved, a reflection

Reading Toni Morrison is always a transformative experience, rereading her is even more so.

I had the pleasure of re-reading Beloved; a work I once found so impenetrable I was now, as an adult, able to enter with a steadier grasp that turned into profound appreciation. From the language to the characters, Morrison takes the horrifically triumphant tale of Margaret Garner and creates a world magnificent with complexity, sorrow, and healing. It was the latter that I newly discovered, which absolutely spellbound me by the time I reached the end.

This reading of Beloved gave me a deeper appreciation for Morrison’s emphasis on safe spaces. Beloved is full of them from Sethe’s keeping room where she does her introspection, to Denver’s secret garden, to Baby Sugg’s clearing space in the woods. Each of these women have a place that offer brief respites from the horror surrounding them. It reminded me that in the midst of turmoil, survival of the self is essential. These safe spaces allowed room for these women to be, to breathe, so that they could continue forth in a world rife with oppression, violence, and emotional trauma.

As equally important, Morrison also makes the case for the necessity of self-love. Baby Suggs is perhaps the best vehicle through which Morrison delivers this sermon. In that clearing space in the woods Baby Suggs urges for the black townspeople to love their heart, for “more than the lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your live-giving private parts…love your heart. For this is the prize.” Such declaration to former slaves and descendants of slaves is revolutionary as not only are they “legally” property and thought of to not be fully human, but they lived in an environment that did not breed neither love, nor joy, nor peace. And despite all of that, Baby Suggs tell all of these individuals to resists the temptation to be consumed by such trauma and, instead, rise in love.

Sethe and Denver both have to understand this in the face of their Beloved for whom they sacrifice themselves for. Denver’s discovery of her own self and the fight to preserve that self is what allows her to experience the most dynamic evolution of all the characters. It is also what helps keep her mother and sister alive. It’s a truth we’re reminded of by every flight attendant whosever demonstrated to you how to ensure the survival of yourself and loved one should the flight go awry—place the oxygen on yourself first, for without the preservation of yourself there is no hope for the survival of those who come after you.

In a novel filled with trauma, calls for self-love are laden throughout. It is what I believe to be Morrison’s call to action. Her definition of resistance is self-preservation. I’m reminded of such especially toward the end of the novel when, after Sethe has given almost life, limb, and sanity for her child who she defines as her “best thing,” Paul D reminds Sethe that it is her own self that is her “best thing.”

The testament of a truly remarkable piece of writing is when you can return to it at various moments in your life and extract different lessons along the way. It is also true that the right book will always find you at the right moment. Beloved did that for me and Morrison reminded me how important the self is and how, as Audre Lorde also says, self-preservation is the very act of political warfare.

Reading Challenge update: This is the second book I’ve completed in my challenge. I began with Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties.

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Women Who Write: Raven Starr

It’s been a long time, I shouldn’tve left you without a dope beat to step to, step to…

I’ve been gone for a minute, but I’m back with another profile on yet another brilliant writer. Raven Starr is a poet whose vulnerability is so authentic it will inspire you to be just as open. She’s raw, she’s honest, and she’s talented. Check out the amazing piece she shared with me, “It was 12 a.m. and I Thought I was a Rapper”

 

Mahogany

So, as you may know I’ve been working on a collection of short-stories (you can read about my experience here). The process has been extremely transformative and is nearing completion. I am excited to be able to share one of the stories, which you can read by following clicking this link.

A small excerpt can also be found below:

It was in the dead of night when headlights flooded a pale blue shotgun house rooted on modest land. The car stopped in the middle of the make-shift driveway. Margaret had been up for two hours, stirring a now lukewarm pot of coffee. She wasn’t thirsty but she needed something to occupy her hands. The rumbling sound of the engine was cut and the lights faded into the night. From the open window, she could hear two doors slam. Her heart picked up a few paces. Since her phone had rung two hours ago, she was a ball of tension. There was a rapt at her door and she jumped at the sound. She set the mug on the counter and went to open the door. Even in the blackest of night, Anne’s skin still glowed pale like the moon. Margaret didn’t say a word, she just simply stepped aside as Anne walked in, followed by her husband who was carrying a bundle of swathed cloth in his arm. Margaret shut the door, her ears had become hot and she felt an off rhythm thud in her left temple. She was stressed. Stressed after working twelve hours at the mill, stressed after coming home to find her husband still hadn’t returned, and stressed that a woman she hadn’t seen for thirteen years was now in her too small kitchen. Margaret struck a match and set the lit lantern in the middle of the table. She gestured for the couple to have a seat, her eyes still on the bundle in the man’s arms.

“Can I get ya’ll something to drink?” She asked

“No, no, we’re fine, Margaret. Thank you,” Anne refused in her crisp, elegant, northern accent.

“Well, follow me,” Margaret picked up the lantern and lead them through three doors that shot straight to the back room where a bed laid and not much else besides a wooden chair, a tin bucket, and a nightstand. 

“This will do fine, Margaret. Thank you,” Anne said. 

Margaret set the lantern on the nightstand.

“I’ll be in the kitchen if you need me,” she walked out of the room.

Margaret began making a fresh batch of coffee. She didn’t have much to offer her guest, food-wise, and though they refused her offer of coffee, bustling around the kitchen kept her mind far away from the mysterious bundle in Anne’s husband’s arms. The light from the lantern partially illuminated the small room, throwing shadows against the lit wall. Margaret peaked over her shoulder at Anne. She got a good look at the woman: tall, slim, and dressed in an expensive black pants and shirt outfit. Her hair was pushed out of her face and her eyes were bright and demanding to be looked into. She was a far cry from the Anne that Margaret had known.

“It’s a fresh pot,” Margaret gestured toward the coffee.

“No, thank you,” Anne smiled, taking a seat at the table where she placed the lantern.

“Margaret, do you remember George Stowe?”

“Sho do, how could I forget?”

“Remember when he used to pick on me for being white?” Anne laughed. Margaret kept quiet.

“One day, you finally punched him in his mouth and said, ‘she as black as you and the rest of us,’ he never messed with me again.”

“What you getting at?” Margaret wasn’t one who enjoyed digging up the past.

“Margaret, have a seat. Please.”

Margaret’s heavy feet dragged a deep groan from the floor as she took the chair opposite from Anne.

“What I was trying to say is that I wish I was as strong as you.”

Margaret huffed.

“No, really, Margaret. You weren’t ashamed of anything. I wish I had been more like you.” Anne was staring hard into Margaret’s eyes.

“You protected me back then and I never thanked you,” Anne reached over and placed her delicate hands over Margaret’s calloused ones. Margaret looked down at those dainty pale fingers. Did she really drive all the way out here to thank her for something she did almost twenty years ago?

“I want to ask you something,” Anne said.

“Ok.”

“It’s a favor, a big favor. I know I’ll owe you forever.”

Margaret inched back into her seat. She didn’t like the sound of Anne’s voice or the pleading look in her eyes. 

“Will you do it?” Anne asked

“Do what?”

“Will you…I need you to keep my daughter.”

Margaret sighed, she had imagined having to do something far worse.

“Of course,” she smiled, “for how long?”

“Forever.”

Continue reading here

“Writing a Novel is Terrible…”

In September I decided to write a collection of short stories. I had a very distinct theme that was appearing in my creative narratives and I thought, “I should really hone in it and try to create a small comprehensive body of work.” In the spirit of Shonda Rhime’s Year of Yes, I said, “Yes! Let’s do it.”

It is now December and I am ready to bury my head in the sand. Probably because I’ve expanded my project to include multimedia elements, but not really. It’s the writing. The writing is so hard, especially when you’ve spent a good couple hours typing away at the keyboard thinking you’re “in your zone,” and you stop to re-read only to find a bunch of mess that you wouldn’t show anyone.

Toni Morrison admitted to taking three years to write a novel, that is not my plan. I began this journey thinking I could do four short stories with some multimedia complements and be done. As January approaches I am coming to terms with the fact that one does not simply agree to write and it be done.

Instead, it is much like how Flannery O’Connor described:

“a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay.”

My teeth are still healthily situated in my gums, however, I am not too sure about the state of my hair or sanity.

How do people make a career out of this?!

3 things I learned from Big Magic

BigMagicFinal

I was listening to NPR’s Here & Now when I heard Elizabeth Gilbert–the woman who wrote Eat Pray Love–talking about how someone wrote the exact novel she was planning to write. As a writer/creative nothing cuts deeper than seeing someone else produce the work you believe you were supposed to. But instead of sharing that anguish, envy, rage, Gilbert did the exact opposite. Instead of believing she owned that idea for her the novel, she believed

“Ideas are these disembodied life-forms; they don’t have a form but they have a will and all they want is to be made manifest, and they circle the world looking for human collaborators to work with” – Elizabeth Gilbert

In summation, Gilbert believed that creativity, or inspiration, had left her and found its true home in the other writer, who she holds no ill-will toward and is even friends with. As she discussed this strange situation she began to talk about creativity and what it means to live a creative life beyond fear. Of course I did exactly what Gilbert wanted listeners of that show to do–go out and read her latest novel, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear–and I learned quite a bit, but here are three key things:  

1. Don’t ask permission

“You do not need anyone’s permission to live a creative life” – Elizabeth Gilbert

Fortunately, creativity is not something you need a special license to practice. There is no specific amount of training, there is no ordaining ceremony, there is no piece of paper necessary to permit you to create. According to Gilbert, creative living is “a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than fear.” Fear is that voice giving you every reason why you shouldn’t follow your curiosity, it’s that feeling that you can’t because you don’t have a fancy degree, or someone already wrote that, or you’ll never be as great as so-and-so. Creativity takes courage to register your fear and persist beyond it. You don’t need any priest, teacher, etc. giving you permission, but if you feel you need some sort of written permission, Gilbert is happy to give you one, scribbled “on the back of an old shopping list.”

2. Be entitled 

No, not the self-absorbed, arrogant entitled, but rather the unwavering belief in the value of your voice and your life as a creative.

“Creative entitlement simply means believing that you are allowed to be here, and that–merely by being here–you are allowed to have a voice and a vision of your own” – Elizabeth Gilbert

It is this belief that is essential to creating anything worth-while. You will never be able to take creative risks, to soar new heights, to unlock the hidden treasures of your own capability if you do not first believe that your existence and your work have value.

3. Success is not the point 

Oftentimes the one thing that stops us from creating is this fear that we won’t be “successful.” Success, like Life, is a concept whose meaning causes constant debate. If success, to you, is excessive monetary gain and notoriety then no, you may never achieve that, but it should never affect your willingness, your need to create.

“You will keep making your work, regardless of the outcome. You will keep sharing your work, regardless of the outcome.You were born to create, regardless of the outcome. You will never lose trust in the creative process, even when you don’t understand the outcome” – Elizabeth Gilbert

I often thought of Frida Kahlo as this point of “success” began to come up in Big Magic. Frida Kahlo was an artist who created with an intensity so desperate it appeared as if painting was second to oxygen for her. She created because it was natural, because it was her way of exploring her curiosity. She did not die a wildly famous artist, though her work was certainly known and revered, but she did not create for that reason. Success in the sense of notoriety and fortune did not directly affect her need to create. It is that trust, that love, need, and curiosity with which you must persist to create.

In a perfect world our creative passions would be able to sustain our rent/mortgages, utilities, and shopping expenses; our own responsibility would be to follow our curiosity and create from there. Gilbert isn’t giving you advice on how to pursue your creativity in a perfect world. She is giving you tools on how to persist with your creativity in an imperfect world with the existence of fear and adult responsibilities:

“this is a world, not a womb. You can look after yourself in this world while looking after your creativity at the same time” – Elizabeth Gilbert

While there is a magic to creativity, ideas, and inspiration Gilbert continues to remind her readers that creativity does not exist to support you; it is a collaborative effort between you and the genius who visits you. Now go make stuff!

Toni Morrison on Motivation for Writing

In this #throwbackthursday post, check out Toni Morrison talk about her motivation for writing her first and critically acclaimed novel, The Bluest Eye.

Toni Morrison on Motivation for Writing

In this #throwbackthursday post, check out Toni Morrison’s motivation for writing her first and critically acclaimed novel, The Bluest Eye.