Category: Musings

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.

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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