Author: blackbrarian

Saturday Nights

Saturday Nights

It’s all supposed to be so glamorous, isn’t it? Saturday nights. Some version of me is attending a poetry reading, serving up Chucks and lips stained matte merlot. You know. Just cool. Or I’m at the club, lost in a sea of brown queer women, grinding up on my wife, and feeling free to move like I do when I’m at home. Or we’re at our friend’s house, having wine (or something harder), laughing and reveling. Soiree-ing.

Sometimes that happens. Or at least, parts of it manifest somehow someway. My lips could indeed be popping, weep-worthy, because I got it like that. And I do wear Chucks on the regular. And I am up for some good old-fashioned revelry.

But the reality right now is…quiet. Still. The cats are asleep, and the TV is on mute from when I called my parents. I’m listening to a Sampha playlist on Spotify, and it’s all really nothing special.

It’s easy to look at the Instagram accounts of people I know and wonder… Their lives look amazing and fashion-forward, Afrofuturist and free. Some people post landscapes, some people do selfies, and others offer snapshots of their goal-worthy squads.

And I know these folks have kids and bills to pay, so it’s not all laughter and beautiful moments frozen in time. I know this, and yet it’s easy to fall into the trap.

Of course, they have Saturday nights that are the stuff of legend, experiences that are the payoff of all that wishing and hoping we did as teenagers: “When I grow up…”

This is the struggle. We all have it in our heads, that we are supposed to have cool hobbies, interesting quirks, and by God, stories about our Saturday nights. Stories that confirm that we are “real” adults, stories about how we drink hard liquor, and make unfortunate decisions sometimes, and boldly have uncomfortable conversations. “Real” adults have social calendars filled with the things we never quite imagined ourselves doing, but still expected of ourselves anyway (art gallery openings?!).

All I got right now is that Sampha is giving me life. I’m happy I got a chance to see one of my closest friends today; we had a quick bite to eat and some good conversation. We didn’t go bungee-jumping, or snowboarding, or laser-tagging. We didn’t go to a burlesque show.

We had chips and salsa and Arnold Palmers.

And now I have to figure out what to cook for dinner.

From Detroit

From Detroit

I asked my partner how my Detroit comes out. She threw the question back at me and asked me what exactly do I mean when I refer to myself as Detroit Red.

“Unapologetic. Keeping it 100.”

But that wasn’t quite it. I had just told a friend of mine that there’s some intangible thing that marks us Detroiters, some quality I couldn’t name, but wanted to.

She said, “You have this way about you. It’s really different.”

I groaned. “Oh no…you’re about to get all insightful on me.”

“There are moments when you’re just like…’And?!'”

“What does that even mean?”

“I don’t know. You’re just unbothered. Unimpressed with people’s bullshit.”

I argued that could be said of a lot of other folks, particularly from the East coast. But Detroit isn’t Chicago. Isn’t DC. Isn’t New York.

She said, “You have a steeliness about you.”

We talked about the appropriateness of using steel as a metaphor for the Detroit spirit, given the city’s industrial and automotive history. We bend, but don’t break. We are indomitable. You cannot outdo us.

And yet, for all that steel may be seen as cold, it has to be forged. There’s heat to us, a warmth and sense of welcome underneath our toughness like a vein of something precious and valuable.

Steel may be simple and bare, but Detroiters still have serious flair. Have you seen what we can do with primary colors, both with our clothes and our hair? (I didn’t mean to slip into rhyme, but I guess that’s just the Detroit in me.)


I haven’t lived in Detroit since I was a teenager; I know my city today is, in many ways, not the city I grew up in. Lately, I have felt called home to spend more time reacquainting myself with it like it’s a friend I used to go to school with that I’ve lost touch with over the years.

That friend may have gained weight, or have three kids, a husband and a good government job. They go to a different church, and they hate horror movies now. They’re pre-diabetic and politely refuse your offer of a piece of cake after dinner. And you understand.

You have a lot to catch up on, but you still see how dope they are.

That’s how I feel about Detroit. Lots of people have pride in their hometowns; I’m not foolish enough to believe that we’ve cornered the market on that. But I can only speak about Detroit pride: how we proudly rep which side of town we’re from; how we ask where you’re really from if you say you’re from the D, and the side-eye we give you when you tell us you’re actually from Southfield. How we roll our eyes when all people associate with Detroit is Eminem (puh-lease) and ruin porn. Come holler at us about the African World Festival or Hitsville U.S.A. or the golden age of Belle Isle or any of the number of things that that framed our authentic experiences.

My people migrated from the south (my daddy really is Alabama, but my mama ain’t Louisiana) and settled in Michigan. So the place that’s so much a part of me is a coincidence of sorts. My parents could have made a home in some other part of the Midwest, or some other part of the country. And then would I be talking about how Cleveland shaped me, or Naptown made me, or Baltimore molded me? And what would that narrative be?

Maybe it wasn’t coincidence. Maybe it was planful. Or ancestral. Or diasporic. I am interested in genealogy and family history, in the pathways and moments that led my family to this place, to this time.

I haven’t lived in Detroit for about 20 years. I don’t know if I will ever move back. In the meantime, I carry it with me always.

Fierce. Proud. Fly. Unyielding.

When in doubt…

When in doubt…

…try gratitude.

Today, I’m thinking of a dear friend. Years ago, we had a conversation about #MakingAMovement: about changing our lives, coming into ourselves, about living real, living large, living happy.

The Movement we talked about about was personal, professional, creative, spiritual, health-related…holistic.

That conversation over IM has never left me. I think I have it saved somewhere in either electronic or print form. I don’t need the exact words because I can tap into the spirit of it.

Today, I’m tapping into it as I try to remember – again – that creativity is essential for that Movement to take place.

I’m also trying to reconcile the dream of creativity (inevitably glamorous and cool and makes for a great story when gathered with equally glamorous and cool people) and the realities: sometimes, it is slow.

Sometimes (most of the time), our endeavors are not rockets. They’re on some winding road type shit. There are the moments when you say to yourself, “Why can’t everybody see how amazing this is?!” You feel frustrated because something doesn’t have enough likes, or isn’t creating enough “buzz.” You ask yourself, “What is the point?”

I’m having that moment with a project right now. Everything feels plodding and slow, especially while I watch friends and colleagues seemingly ride their rockets into the stratosphere (which is not what’s really happening, but…perceptions).

But then I remember our conversation about #MakingAMovement, and I remember why I started this project in the first place. And it’s happening. It may not “blow up” (whatever that means), but I’m still excited enough to see it grow and change for as long as it needs to.

It doesn’t have to be forever, but it is right now. And I’m motivated by that.

So I wrote this post straight off the dome, as a way of saying thanks to the homie. That conversation all those years ago was truly epic and we’re making movements. Thanks, sis.

Strut / The Tower

Strut / The Tower

Sometimes, we have to borrow our confidence. Or extract a little from the environment, draw it from the air like moisture, open up and replenish ourselves.

I like the way I feel when I’m listening to “6 Inch” from Beyonce’s Lemonade album. From my first listen, it was one of my favorite songs. I like walking through buildings with my headphones in while I listen to it. It feels like the moment of triumph when you finally learn how to walk in heels: your shoulders are back, your hips adjust to the new angles and configurations of your bones and your limbs. You discover what it means to glide, to roll. You master the art of the stroll with purpose. Because, dammit, you are determined that these heels will prop you up, not bring you down.

When I listen to “6 Inch,” I strut. I feel like there’s a forcefield around me, and I wish I could see myself full on. I wonder what my face and my eyes are communicating to people around me.

This morning, I drew “The Tower.” I am learning that, in tarot, “The Tower” symbolizes disaster, upheaval, sudden change, revelation, etc. Sometimes I draw cards I don’t understand, or that don’t really resonate with me, but this one does. There’s been a lot of change in my life in a short period of time.

What’s wild is when you can feel the change and upheaval in your body and in your spirit. I feel myself stretching to accommodate new ideas, emotions and realities. Sometimes, my body lags behind. Now that I reflect back on other times of serious and sudden change, I can see that my body struggles and is often late to get the memo. I usually end up getting sick.

“The Tower” also signals liberation and renewal. In my own life, I feel myself trying to mend the disconnect between what’s going on inside with what’s happening outside; what does the path to wholeness look like?

People often talk about Lemonade as representative of a journey through grief and pain to resilience and healing. I imagine that, for everyone, the turning point in the journey is different.

For me, “6 Inch” / the “Emptiness” chapter is the crossroads of the album. After your tower has been torn down, there’s a moment before you start rebuilding. Sometimes, that’s a literal moment. Other times, it’s a day, a week, a month, a year. And really, we’re all simultaneously destroying and rebuilding, which makes things complicated and frustrating.

When I first heard the song, I was captivated by the way she repeats “She grinds from Monday to Friday, works from Friday to Sunday.” That line is everything, evoking women’s historical and contemporary realities of coming home from work, only to take up a second shift in the home. It also feels like every black woman’s story ever – the way you can work and work and work at your day job, and sometimes the fruits of your labor are just more work, usually on behalf of everybody else.

It reminded me of the way we can, for good or for ill, sometimes use work and “stacking our paper” as distractions from emptiness.

Emptiness can be painful, and rebuilding is long, hard work. But emptiness also contains within it a seed of liberation, and in those silent moments where you feel like you are buried under the rubble, you can also rebel. Rebel through surrender. Embrace the truth that just because “The Tower” has fallen, it doesn’t mean that you’re irrevocably broken.

“6 Inch” is the warrior goddess song. (I don’t care what anyone says: “Don’t Hurt Yourself” isn’t the warrior goddess song. It’s an invocation of wrath. Warrior goddesses are certainly familiar with wrath and make use of it, but that’s not the only thing in our arsenal, IMHO.) The song reminds me of my own my capacity to breathe through it all and emerge on the other side. Sometimes, I tap into it, and it gives me a little more strength to embrace chaos and uncertainty and face destruction head-on.

“6 Inch” is a testament to the fierceness of black woman vulnerability and power. I’m not talking about tired “strong black woman” frameworks that erase the pain that comes with our lived experiences. And you can also miss me with romanticized narratives about black woman trauma being some kind of noble rent we have to pay for living. I do not aspire to Atlas-hood. I need to shrug off the sky sometimes.

No, I’m talking about wisdom. And a fortitude that shines from beneath our skin, the life force that can be a whisper or a roar. That. That’s the thing that I hope people see in my face if they bump into me while I’m in the zone with my headphones on.

the tender gravity of kindness*

the tender gravity of kindness*

It feels like a year ago that a friend asked me, “How do people forgive themselves?” We were talking about how our 30s are like a process of unknowing and unlearning all the toxic shit we’ve brought along for our whole lives.

Their question has stayed with with me. I didn’t have an answer then, and I don’t really have an answer now. I don’t know how we forgive ourselves. “it is an intrinsic human trait. and a deep responsibility. i think. to be an organ and a blade.” (Nayyirah Waheed)

Over these past months, I’ve been considering what it is to be forgiven by someone else. Being forgiven will break you open. In ways that you don’t have words for. Maybe this is what some Christians feel when they talk about Jesus and being saved and forgiveness. It feels like a lancing brightness, and a tremendous weight. It feels divine and mundane.

Forgiveness is tough and sweet, and it will rock you. It’s an enormous kindness, which makes it sound like a privilege. But I actually think that we all deserve it. We all need it.

We hold back a lot on forgiving ourselves, though. I don’t know if we just don’t know what we don’t know. Maybe we don’t have enough role models to learn from.

Maybe it feels surreal to forgive yourself. Perhaps we feel like forgiveness is reserved for the other, not the self. To give ourselves this gift feels…selfish? Indulgent? I don’t know.

There are a lot of things that I work on forgiving myself for – from the smallest infractions to the much bigger trespasses. I know that it’s getting easier as I get older – where some things are concerned, anyway. I don’t know why.

Is withholding forgiveness like holding your breath? Does the body and the spirit just tap out after awhile, and say, “No more?” Is forgiveness an act of relaxation? A way to let go and admit that what we’ve been doing isn’t working, hasn’t worked, and because we are still here, we are entitled to some reprieve? We can take a moment and loosen the restrictions we place on ourselves?

There is a connection between kindness and forgiveness for me. I think forgiveness comes in those sometimes tiny moments of kindness to ourselves when we can say, “It’s OK that this happened,” or “It’s not OK that this happened.” I think it happens when we give ourselves permission: to fail, to hurt, to try, to wonder, to love, to be unresolved.

Sometimes you’ve been through so much shit that kindness and forgiveness feels like the only thing left. And until then, you don’t know how to reach for it. After that, maybe it becomes easier to draw it to you, to recognize it as something you’re worthy of.

I know some people go whole lifetimes without ever feeling the necessary fracture of forgiveness. All of us have some degree of the unsettled inside of us. I don’t know how we forgive ourselves.

But we must.

*from the poem “Kindness,” by Naomi Shihab Nye