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My neighbor’s kid is brilliant. He’s nine and because he’s all-knowing and misses no opportunity to remind us of it, he tells his mom one day as she’s taking a swig from her water bottle, Hey mom, did you know you’re drinking dinosaur pee? When my neighbor relayed that story to me, I laughed, thinking her son was being cute and wanted to hold her attention by making her laugh – and maybe, think.
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One of the first items I created for this site was the About Me page. By the time I finally sat down to write it, I had already spent weeks in my head—months, really, if you include time spent as a deer in headlights—composing the entry that would project a reasonably accurate image of who I was and clearly explain what I hoped to accomplish with Honey Help YourSelf. Nevermind the fact that I still don’t really know what I want this venture to ultimately do, but, since when is indecision a reason not to go for it?
Setting up that first page was tough because I realized it would have to somehow set the tone for everything that followed. No pressure, I just needed to explain who I was in a few hundred well chosen words so that it made sense to those who knew me and to the many visitors I would never meet in person. The gist of that introduction was to be well-reasoned, welcoming, and intelligent despite the fact that I sometimes find myself running low on those sparkling traits.
Inevitably, I thought, those visitors would be forming judgments about me based on what I wrote. And while it’s not that I mind those judgments so much, what concerns me is the challenge of presenting as clear a picture of myself–and my ideas–as I could.
So, in an attempt to break that task down into a bite-sized, doable assignment rather than an impossibly large and unpindownable one, I started in with the most basic question of all: Who am I anyway?
I liken the consideration of this question to pulling that loose strand of yarn at the tail end of a homemade scarf. Once you start tugging at it, the initial urge to keep going wears off. Still, you persist and the whole thing unravels, leaving you wondering what it is exactly that you’re left with. Do you salvage it? Do you toss it altogether in favor of a warmer, fuzzier scarf while pretending not to have trashed the original? Or do you poke at that pile, marveling at the relative ease of pulling apart something that took so long to create?
Such is the case with identity. Whether we’re aware of it or not, we spend lots of time creating the pictures we present to the world. Don’t get me wrong–families, friends, society, education, and all of the cultural isms play their part in shaping our identities too, but because this site is dedicated to the individual, I’ll try to leave the group dynamics alone.
Here’s how it went: When I started pulling at the loose ends of my own metaphorical identity scarf, I was surprised to find that all of my seemingly conflicting parts could co-exist and even compliment each other every now and again without leaving me strung out in a heap on the floor. Usually. This little exercise left me with lots more appreciation for the complexity and quirkiness I embody and even tweaked my take on how I fit in the bigger picture.
I drew up a list of identifiers, a few of which I’ll share with you here. I’ve used and may still use these at various points in my life, and, man, I’m thinking Chaka Khan and Whitney Houston were on to something when they sang, I’m Every Woman (with emphasis on every). Which leads me back to an earlier question, which I’d like to present to you as well: Who do you think you are?
BLACK: Actually, it’s more like fifty years ago I would have been ‘black,’ and a few years before that, I’d have been ‘colored.’ Track back to the turn of the last century and I would have been identified as ‘Negro.’ These days, it’s been decided I’m African-American. By whom? Sharpton? Jackson? (I’m so not talking about our dearly departed King of Pop.) Add to that the contingent that deems me ‘not black enough’ and those who’d define me as ‘too black,’—on top of the folks offering sideways compliments that I’ve transcended race altogether and that, gee, they didn’t even notice I was/am black—and damn if I know how black I’m supposed to be after all that!
AMERICAN: Whenever I travel abroad and people hear me speak, it’s a pretty clear I’m from the good ole U S of A. However. I’ve had several instances of conditional acceptance from ‘foreigners’ on that point. Like the Parisian waiter who pulled me aside and said, ‘Vous? Americaine? Ohhh, but zees is not your fault.’ Within these borders, it’s a different story. I often draw the attention of West Indians and black Africans—or would they be called African-Africans, Continental Sub-Saharan Africans, or what?—and they’re hungry to know where I’m from as if their assessment of me hinges on my response. We could lease a truck and drive it through the stunned silence that almost always follows my flat reply of ‘Virginia.’
MIDDLE-AGED: When I look in the mirror these days, I still see the same woman who wanted to run marathons, travel the world, love deeply, learn a foreign language, and sip wine, and have sex on at least four continents. Despite having ticked many of those items off of my list, I still seek adventure. I still watch the occasional cartoon and wear tight clothes, too. Heck, some folks still call me ‘the baby’ when they learn I’m the youngest of four. Now, setting aside any obvious graceless traits that may appear in those moments when I’m called upon to be mature and insightful, I ask you, how can a forty year-old woman—me/I!—be a baby? (Don’t answer.)
WRITER: So I write. But not all the time. And what kind of legitimate writer doesn’t write? Even when I was handing in articles every four weeks for a lifestyle magazine, I didn’t consider myself a real writer. (Real writers don’t cover the latest fashion trends and packing tips for desert dude ranch vacations do they? They don’t gush in print over ridiculously expensive pocketbooks and lo-fat recipes either, right?) Then I got published by a literary journal and felt quite accomplished for all of three weeks, despite their having spelled my name wrong.
One way I know I’m feeling more comfortable with the writing craft these days that I don’t fly into a tizzy at the thought of sharing my work with the world. Because one thing being a writer means is I need readers. And that I’ve got to produce. So, for better or worse, taaaa daaaah! here’s my work. Toward that end, I think William Faulkner makes a great point: “Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.” Amen, Honey!
Making this partial list reminds me that I exist beyond the confines of titles I wrestle with—especially those that have been chosen for me. Ever wonder who you’d be beyond the layers of your own labels? Without them, would you even recognize yourself?
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Instead of having a gentle mother-daughter conversation about the birds and the bees, I got a fire and brimstone sermon: You think this feeling is love, but it ain’t. Love comes through Jesus. Those knuckle-headed boys don’t want nothing but to ruin your life and the only reason they come around acting like they like you is because they want to get in your pants. They don’t like you. They don’t want you either. And once they get what they want–after they’ve used you and taken something you can’t never get back–where will you be?
Three days in and I’m only now realizing it’s National Poetry Month. This revelation wouldn’t be a big deal if it weren’t for the fact that a fellow writer and friend made me promise to exchange a poem a day with her for the whole month. Sure, I said, clueless to the fact that my agreement to drum up an original poem for every last day in April included me in a much broader celebration of this literary artform. I mean, I knew there was a month dedicated to poetry just like I knew there was a week dedicated to hot dogs and volunteers. I just didn’t know when. Nor was I aware of how big it was—the poetry celebration, not the hot dog and volunteer bit. Want to learn more? Look here.
So. Now that I’m aware of what I got myself into, I’d like to share the fun with you. Don’t say I never gave you anything!
Because this exercise arrives as an opportunity to stretch the bounds of my comfort zone yet again(!), I decided to list each of my 30 poems on this page for the month of April. Feel free to share yours, too. Stretch your mind, I dare you. Use your words and tap that creativity, honey! Best of all, cancel any reservations you might be holding about what makes art art. Instead, just do it. Oh, and don’t waste time worrying whether your stuff’s good enough to be seen by the masses…I sure ain’t.
DAY 30: Last words on the patio like everybody
some of us looking up at stars
take wing into an awareness that
I’m a stranger to myself
think break leave
a hard place between the rocks
I wake a common mess worn, discovering
frantic as hell – rushing like life
I’m hungry and horny and staring blankly past your empty mug returned home to a cold bed of denial
what to say to neighbors
I climb the walls, rotting I am a hot mess, clean me up
thrust from nest to next
my hands chafed by the grace of God we trust past my line of sight
in a dry hot room
I replied that’s crap, you pantywaist, jiveass of a fast-approaching deadline
glimpsing my scraggled self
straddling the universe like late-day sun in mountains
when the mood hits