Making the Most of Family Time

Thanksgiving Day. Hungry and losing patience before dinner.

This year, my spouse and I spent Thanksgiving with my mom in North Carolina. My sister Kimi and her husband and kids came to my mom’s house, as they do every year. This year, my mom was adamant about inviting my brother, Al (her ex-stepson) and his wife and kids, so the house was extra full, and it was wonderful!

The best part was that, with all of them under the same roof, I could ask them questions about things that happened when I was growing up and they could correct me if I remembered something wrong. My brother is ten years older than me (actually nine and a half, but I round up), and my sister is nine years older, so they remember things from, say, pre-1990, much better than I do.

“Do you remember that one time we went Easter shopping?” My brother asked.

I had no recollection of what he was talking about.

“Yeah, ya’ll came up from New Jersey and we all went Easter shopping,” he continued.

He and my dad were living in Rhode Island at the time (spring 1988, before my parents were married), and apparently, Mommy, Kimi, and I came to visit for the holiday. My dad was going to bible college and was really active in the church, so there was no way we weren’t going to go to church. I guess they wanted us to look extra nice.

“I remember,” Al said, “they found me this suit. It had white pants and green jacket, and I said, ‘That’s ugly! That’s something somebody in the marching band would wear. I ain’t wearin’ no marching band pants.’”

I laughed, realizing that my brother hadn’t really changed over the course of almost 30 years. I appreciated his consistency.

“That was back when you were really into that song, ‘Breakout! Don’t stop to ask…’ You’d be singing, and I would just say, ‘You sing it, Netta!’”

I laughed again. My family had told me that I loved that song when I was a toddler, but I really just don’t remember at all.

I’ve lived at least 350 miles away from my family for my whole adult life. While I enjoy having a separate life and, to be honest, don’t always look forward to going home since it sometimes fills me with dreadful memories, I love talking to my family about the past. I love knowing that, at certain times, we were actually all one unit, even if some of the members didn’t want to be there. I love knowing that they loved me enough as a kid to remember my silly actions, including how I sang and danced to a popular song that I didn’t even remember at all until someone mentioned it when I was a teenager.

I hope my family will be happy with the story that I’m telling. I want to make them, and their memories, proud.

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I’m Reclaiming My Brain from the President-elect

I struggled with what I would blog about today because, frankly, I feel like our president-elect has sucked up all the oxygen, commanded all of our attention, and demanded that we react, positively or negatively, to absolutely everything for the past week.

While I was eating breakfast Sunday morning, Sunday Today came on on NBC, and I immediately changed the channel. I couldn’t bear to hear any more about the results of the election or the litany of already-broken promises spewing from the president-elect. I turned it to CBS Sunday Morning, a show that I have always found to be a little bit boring, but also soothing. Jane Pauley informed me that there had been a hugely destructive earthquake in New Zealand, and that it was the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks in Paris and that Sting was going to play a concert at the Bataclan as the concert venue where so many people lost their lives that night re-opens.

I wondered what else had been going on in the world while I and so many others were mourning the loss of honor and integrity in our country. So much had transpired over the past week in the far reaches of the world. The news normally covers these things, at least tangentially, but not this week. It was as if the world stood still while we rose our demagogue into his place.

While the president-elect chose a known white supremacist and anti-Semite as his right-hand man, ISIS continued to execute bombings in Baghdad. A supermoon took up an inordinate amount of the night sky. Scientists declared 2016 would be the warmest year ever recorded. Frank Lampard, renowned English footballer, retired from the New York City Football Club. More migrants lost their lives as they crossed waters in hopes of finding safety in unknown lands as they flee from the homes they adore.

I’m not saying that what the U.S. did is not as important as these other things, or that we don’t deserve a moment of focus; I believe we do, because the implications of our vote will have global ramifications.

What I am saying is that I have grown exhausted of appeasing this man-baby: he whines, we run to give him our attention. He does something stupid that he knows will upset us, we get upset.

I just want time to breathe and to remember that the world is still turning.

Basically, I want to talk about something else. At least until my brain has been relieved of a little psychic stress.

I’m still a champion for calling out injustice (such as and including appointing said known white supremacist and anti-Semite into any position of power), but I want to take a moment and remember that the world is still a beautiful place, that art is still transcendent, and that novels still heal the mind.

I don’t plan to talk about the election or the actions of the president-elect on this blog any longer (unless something really egregious happens). I will instead talk about writing and books and memories and the process of writing a memoir.

When I was growing up in church, people would say, “You can’t let the devil steal your joy. Reclaim your joy from the devil! Get thee behind me, Satan!”

Well, I’m reclaiming my brain from the president-elect. Get thee behind me, Trump!

I Will Be Light in this Darkness

I wept for two hours yesterday morning as I watched America continue to show me its true colors.

When I asked myself why the tears wouldn’t stop rushing from my eyes, my whole being—my mind, my heart, my spirit—responded, “This hurts. I’m hurting.”

It hurt as a Black woman living in a land where, at one point, I could be raped whenever the white man who owned me wanted to assert himself.

It hurt as a future mother, seeing Black men and boys shot dead in the streets for reasons not befitting death as “law and order” is interpreted through Wild West hermeneutics.

It hurt as a Christian, seeing the love of Christ spat upon in favor of laws that would have been propagated by Pharisees, who—need I remind these Christians—had Jesus murdered.

It hurt as a Republican, seeing capitalism trampled upon in favor of isolationist policies that are actually contrary to the party’s basic tenants.

It hurt as a global citizen, seeing America hermetically seal itself away and close its eyes to the beauty of the world’s people.

I almost believed that because we’d voted for a Black president twice, America had come so far. Yes, we no longer consider human beings property, and we, in fact, outlawed that idea. And, yes, women can vote and children can’t work in factories and companies can’t sell poison without labeling it as such.

But this election result hurt because it exposed America’s spirit: underneath the veil of progress lies a serpent that vomits racism, sexism, and hatred, soiling the tapestry. The manifestation may change over time, but the spirit is exactly the same.

America elected a man who brags about sexually assaulting women, who had to have his Twitter privileges taken away because he couldn’t speak to people respectfully, and who demanded to see the first Black president’s birth certificate but refused to release his own tax returns.

And that hurts us all.

No, it is not the end of the world or the beginning of the apocalypse. But it is a time in which we’ve shown that we value disrespectful speech, sexual assault, and white supremacy over life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

But I will still stand firmly on the principles on which America was founded. Although these principles did not apply to Blacks or women when the country’s seminal documents were constructed, I still believe in democracy, I still believe in equality, and I still believe in freedom.

Last night, my writing instructor told our class, “I’ve always thought of writing as my calling, and a calling is a gift. It is a gift to be a writer in dark times. In dark times, we bring light.”

So, I will bring light.

I will be a voice for those who can only whisper.

I will put into words the collective sigh.

I will write past the pain.

I will write until it no longer hurts, and even then, I will keep going.

As I do, I will set free the hearts and minds of the people in the country that I love, even as it continues to turn its face from me.

Just Go Vote, for the Love of God

I know that, as a writer, I’m supposed to wax poetic about current events. I could pontificate about why I chose the candidate I chose, but too many emotions have been expressed about this election already, so I have nothing to add. Today, I’m just an ordinary, anxious American who is ready for this election to be over, so please, go vote and then pray. That is all.

I Want to Possess My 14-Year-Old Body Today

How many times have you wanted to go back in time and change a thing or two?

That is one of the most frustrating things about writing memoir: you relive all of these memories, but you can’t change a damn thing.

Lately, I’ve been reading my old journals to make sure that I’m representing my voice accurately in the age that I’m currently writing about. It’s taken all of my strength to prevent me from vomiting while I read—my 12-year-old thoughts were so freaking cringe-worthy!

I captured nothing remotely relevant in terms of emotional depth or anything that would actually help me write my memoir now, unfortunately. For example, when my parents got divorced, I didn’t include how I felt about it or what implications I thought the event might hold on my future. I legitimately only wrote, “Daddy sent the pink slip. But I’m okay with it.” Then talked about some boy! *Eye roll*!

There’s so much shyness, awkwardness, beating-around-the-bush-ness in these pages that I wrote over 15 years ago, that I—31-year-old Vonetta—want to jump in and say something. I don’t want to go back and re-do things that 15-year-old Vonetta would do; I just want to possess her body like a spirit and say whatever 31-year-old Vonetta would say now.

When I was 14, I had a mutual crush with a guy who went to my church. We told each other in letters passed by other people that we liked each other, but we never went out or dated like normal teenagers. We could barely even speak to each other. For example, I recorded on Sunday, June 11, 2000 that “we had lots of almost conversations” at church that day. It wound up being the most words we’d ever speak to each other and consisted of the following (and, yes, I was that creepster who kept detailed records of conversations with boys, but not of her feelings about her parents getting divorced):

Conversation #1
Guy (whispering): Tell my sister to shut up.
V: Girl, your brother said shut up.

Conversation #2
Guy: What time is it?
V: Huh?
Guy: What time is it?
Sister: 12:10.
V: 12:10.

Conversation #3
V (thinking aloud): That’s what I forgot.
Guy: What?
V: I forgot to eat dinner last night.

31-year-old Vonetta wants to ask the guy to pick me up from my house and take us to the mall, where all the normal teenagers hung out in the late 90s/early 00s. I’d also hold him to his promise to buy me a watch for my birthday and demand that it be a damned nice one because I was turning 15 and didn’t want no Mickey Mouse rubbish (and I’d do with atrocious subject-verb agreement and the double negative). I’d sniff his shirt after he had played basketball and tell him he smelled good because I thought he did, even though to every other nose in the immediate vicinity, he smelled horrible. Instead of tapping his arm to get his attention, I’d hold it in both hands and scratch his skin lightly.

BUT I wind up sighing and reminding myself that everything that I didn’t do as a teenager helped make me into the cynical so-and-so I am now.

Without silence, I wouldn’t have so many words. Without hurt, I wouldn’t be able to laugh so hard at myself. Without awkwardness, I wouldn’t have confidence. Without my dreams, I wouldn’t have had a “type” to see if could be found in real life. Without so many unrequited crushes, I wouldn’t have realized that I am a diamond-in-the-rough weirdo who was worthy of being loved by the right one (presumably, my spouse, the only man who ever thought I was cool in spite of my inherent weirdo-ness).

I started writing fiction around the same time I started journaling, in seventh grade. Middle school is a time when a lot of things happen to kids, internally with puberty and all, and externally with everyone reacting to puberty and all. I didn’t know it then, but fiction was a way for me to create the reality that I wanted.

No guys were seriously interested in me until I was 22 (which I didn’t know when I was 12, obviously), but through writing, I could create whatever relationship I wanted with whoever I wanted, typically someone who didn’t exist. That might sound unhealthy, but I think it helped me create healthy paradigms. The relationships around me—my parents’, my sister’s—were crumbling by the minute, and my mom watched way too much Lifetime, so my foundational idea of relationships was considerably warped. Going into my mind and allowing God to re-create what was never there was ultimately healing for me.

For over two years, a fictional character has been sitting with me in the recesses of my mind. I know she’s begging me to write her in a novel. I think she’s some version of me, 20 years from now. Maybe she will be my escape from the reality of memoir. After reliving my past for months and months, I think I readily welcome the future, even if it’s not real. Yet.