Today I had the great privilege to attend a virtual writing session with the great Veronica Montes, author of Benedicta Takes Wing and Other Stories, a collection of short fiction. Ms. Monsters opened the class with a quick introduction and then an overview on flash fiction. I always find flash fiction to be difficult; I love words- the more, the merrier. So it’s always a challenge when I have to write with a word count restriction. In this case, flash fiction is usually 1,000 words or less and it must be a full story, meaning a beginning, middle and end– and with an arc.
Our first prompt was to write one sentence that tells a character, setting and conflict. We had 10 minutes to write. Here is one sentence I wrote:
In the bathroom, Joyce saw a thin strand of blond hair tangled in her husband’s hair brush, even though everyone in the family had dark hair.
Our second prompt was to take a character from any of our sentences and write more about the character. This time we had to take three consecutive letters or numbers and write no more than three sentences that explains why each letter or number is significant to the character.
This was our example:
This is what I wrote:
1 is the number of abortions Joyce had. Even though it was 20 years ago, she could still remember the crushed velvet curtains hanging in the waiting room and the surgeon saying “sweet dreams” before the anesthesia kicked in.
2 is the number of times she made the dean’s list in college. To celebrate, she got her right nipple pierced. To this day, she still can’t drive with a seat belt over her chest without getting aroused.
3 is the number of times she performed CPR on someone. Once on a student in the middle of her class. The second one to a man who collapsed at the gas station. The third one was her father, who she never was able to resuscitate.
I definitely need more practice with writing flash fiction, but I’m thankful for the experience today with Ms. Montes and I look forward to improving in the craft.
Today I attended the Pinayista Summit — “a weekend gathering of pinays in the hustle filled with speakers, panels, lightning talks, interactive workshops, music, sporadic dancing, and meaningful connections.” I wanted to join this summit because I’ve had a trying and challenging 8 weeks at work I needed space to be held by a community and creatives. I desperately needed this experience.
There were many moments in the summit that were valuable and memorable, but one in particular was during the Healing Racial Trauma In Our Bodies & Bloodlines workshop with Chanel Durley from 33 and Rising. Here’s more about the workshop:
“For many of us, the last few months has been triggering on a deep emotional level. As we commit to learning and doing the inner work of being Anti-racist, many are feeling paralyzed by the emotions and realizations that are coming to the surface. The fact of the matter is, we can’t talk about Race without bringing up Trauma – The Trauma of old memories, past lived experiences and the Generational Trauma that has been passed down to us from our Ancestors. But if these traumas can be passed down, so can our healing. In this workshop, we will dive deeper into Healing Racial Trauma in our bodies with a focus on Identity. We will explore the effects of White body supremacy mindset, and how we are all complicit in adopting this mindset in society. We’ll end with a short active Breathwork meditation. When we heal ourselves, we heal the generations that have come before us, and the generations that will come after us. This workshop will arm you with innate tools and knowledge to integrate healing in your body as you continue on in this Revolution.”
As you can see, it was a very deep and transformative session, one that literally left me shaking and breathing deeply, in healthy and healing ways. At the onset, I called my ancestors Lolo Imo and Lola Connie to help me prepare for the moment. I didn’t necessary grow up with Lolo Imo and Lola Connie. but I have pivotal memories that included them during my primal years. Lola Connie lived with us when she was diagnosed and battling Cancer. Father Imo died in his sleep one morning in the summer. I was the second person to find him. The first was his wife, my grandmother, Lola Tad, who shook me awake and asked me to “wake up, Grandpa.” When I saw him lying on the bed, mouth slightly agape, I instinctively knew something was wrong. Minutes later, when the ambulance arrived, they couldn’t resuscitate him and pronounced him dead. M grandmother, with her limited English, didn’t understand. It was one of the hardest, most difficult, most traumatic memories in my life. Till this day, my husband is still not allowed to sleep before me, an agreement I set early on in our relationship since my lolo’s death has ultimately triggered the way I view sleep and rest.
I bring this up because one of the statements that Chanel brought up was:
“You are your ancestors’ wildest dream”
I don’t know if Chanel is the original person to have said this quote, but I heard it the first time from her, so I’m giving her full credit.
When I think about the purpose of my life and the achievements, large or small, I’ve achieved in my life, I wonder if that is what my ancestors, specifically my Lola and Lola had in mind as they fought cancer, as they slumbered and took their last breath. Am what I’m doing now worthy of their life struggles? Did everything they did in life to guarantee the success of their children, which led to the trajectory of my life, honor them by the way I lived my life? It’s a question I’ve asked myself before Chanel’s workshop but given the quote and wisdom Chanel shared, I examined the answer a little differently.
According to Chanel, she said that we must release this burden from ourselves.We must replace that burden with acknowledgement and full sincerity, meaning we have to let go of their survival and acknowledge that your ancestors did this for you to be here today! In those words, I reckoned with this guilt and shame that I carried in my body, specifically in my lower belly where trauma and stress live. I realized that my lolo and lola didn’t put any expectation on me to carry out a certain fulfillment. Besides, I don’t think there’s anything I can do to honor the sacrifices they made in life, for the sake of my and my family’s well- being. I can be successful and be a millionaire yet that still doesn’t seem like the most apt and significant ways to honor my ancestors and their struggles. This also doesn’t necessarily mean that I shouldn’t apply myself either. When I look at my life, sure there are many aspects that I can work on — like owning a house, having a child, saving more money. But overall I’m thriving. I feel it in my body and in my heart. I have a safe space to call home. I have a loving and supportive husband. I read and write, and at times I have the privilege of sharing my work in places I never dreamed to be a part of. I have a few things published in the literary world and hold a graduate degree in Creative Writing. I mention these things not to gloat, but rather to recognize that for a person who’s entire family spoke a different language and attended school at a certain grade, it is quite glorious to be able to say that in my small ways I carry my ancestors through words and wisdom. These might not equate to monetary success, but I am remarkably valiant and hopeful that my ancestors are proud of me.
They say death comes in threes, and today I was gravely reminded of this omen. When I woke up, I scrolled on Facebook and saw that a friend’s sister had gotten her tombstone engraved. The headstone said that she was a mother, nurse, sister, daughter and friend. I didn’t know her well, but I remembered her bright smile and silky black hair. Then in the middle of the day, when I had a few minutes between meetings, I scrolled on to Facebook again and saw that a fundraiser had been organized for an 11-year old boy who recently passed away. He was diagnosed with cancer in February and fought through the doctor visits, sleepless nights and unbearable pain. When I clicked on the link, the $25,000 goal was near its target, even only having a day’s notice. I didn’t know the young boy, but at 11- years old, he could have easily been one of my future students. Then later that night, as I was winding down on the couch, I scrolled on Instagram and saw that Chrissy Teigen and John Legend had lost their baby. There were complications that forced her to go to the hospital, and after severe bleeding, their son didn’t survive. I stared at the black and white picture of her sitting on a hospital bed with the starched sheets wrapped around her tiny son in her embrace while John sobbed into Chrissy, his head pressed against her eyebrow, his lips on her arm.
The news of death in one day certainly puts things in perspective. Today, I experienced one of the most challenging professional days in my career. In short, a principal complained to my directors about his dismay about my performance and lack of support. My director called a meeting and ultimately offered her support, but I know she was disappointed in me and expressed that I needed to listen and focus to repair the situation. This weighed heavy on me all day, as this was the first time I’ve felt “reprimanded” for a job I felt strongly about. I felt shame and discouragement, letting the situation overcome my thoughts. Even when my sister, her boyfriend, niece and brother came over for dinner, I didn’t feel present– the trepidation from the day clouded my mind.
Yet, as I write this and I think about the three omens that anchored my day from this morning, to the late afternoon, to the evening, I’m reminded that a “bad” day at work is nothing compared to the loss of a sister, a student or a son. Sure we all have heavy, troublesome days, we might even be chided by our superiors, but when I think about the days that others are fighting, I’d be remised if I didn’t acknowledge their strength , their struggles and their loss. Yes, there’s many things I can certainly complain about, but a loss is not one of them. If I did, I wouldn’t have anything to gain.
I didn’t follow your career closely, but I remember seeing you light up the screen watching Black Panther and thinking then how fortunate the world was to witness your talent and the long standing career we were going to be lucky to witness. Then I saw videos of you during interviews, commencement speeches and award shows and heard your message about living with purpose and how it was not tied to a career but rather sharing the gift that God has bestowed on you.The wisdom and talent you displayed on and off the screen cannot be measured. How can they? You were immeasurable, as an actor and as a man, through and through.
My heart is heavy today mourning your loss. You gave so much in such a short period of time– more than many people accomplish in a lifetime. You influenced us with your art, your words, your glorious soul, even when you were suffering in pain. How fortunate to be in such resilient company. I pray that you are resting peacefully and powerfully, and may your reverent spirit and Wakanda live forever.