Photos by Taylor DeClue
Rooftop, Downtown New Orleans: Passion has been the word of the year for me . Tensions have risen high this year whether it be from the excess of murders i’ve had to witness to black men and women at the hands of police, the emotions of hate from these coming elections that have made racial tensions even higher and most of all taking a personal break from photography myself it has been one emotional roller coaster. I was so happy to have heard from Denisio and Mwende again. They are two inspiring women who i enjoy shooting. I chose the rooftop downtown because it has been a thinking spot for me in the past few months. I’ve felt like i had been losing my passion for photography through all these mental barriers that I’ve carried. But in the past few weeks i realized passion is what makes us who we are .And if not expressed enough it can be detrimental. As an artist to suppress our emotions would be to suppress ourselves. Though i hadn’t shot anything in months it was so freeing to have a morning talk on the rooftop and exchanging ideas and thoughts on the world. That passion for life and love and our people is what connects us best and what will keep this crazy world flowing in my opinion. Most importantly the talk that morning helped me to realize life is not worth living if you’re not putting your heart into what you do every single day.
Denisio: I’m treating this post like a true free-write and setting a timer for 20 minutes. No lifting my fingers off of the keyboard. No stopping. Real stream of consciousness shit. Its going to be crappy writing but I need to feel more comfortable with sharing things even if I don’t feel they are up to par. Wow. I feel like I’m in my freshman writing class again at W&L, only with a nicer laptop and about 40 more pounds on my body. To be honest most of this post will probably be about my body and about personal shit because that’s honestly what I like to talk about. I don’t think it comes from a place of being self-absorbed (though, do self-absorbed people really know that they are self-absorbed?) but rather me wanting to talk about black women’s issues I don’t hear about that often. I like to write candid posts on the innanets, partly because its cathartic and also with the hopes of reaching other black women going through the same shit and letting them know they aren’t alone. Like eating disorders. Black women don’t get eating disorders right? Well, I did. And I’ve had one for most of my adult life. One summer while in high school I ballooned up past my normal athletic weight of 130 to about 150. The gain was noticeable to me and to other family members. I felt incredibly aware about my body and the space it was taking up and because this awareness was foreign, it felt bad and wrong. I was use to my small breasts and tiny waist but now they had shifted and it disoriented me. No one told me what to do, it came to me like an instinct. One evening I excused myself from the table, took myself to the upstairs bathroom, turned on the water in the tub and puked up my dinner in the toilet. I felt instant relief and a weird rush. I felt lighter.
That went on for some years, purging, nighttime workouts, restricting calories. I never became extremely skinny as I have a naturally sturdy frame so my disorder went relatively unnoticed. Most people who met me would probably have described me as being in shape or fit. Slender but not skinny. I had abs. My legs appeared lean but strong. I had well-defined arms. No one knew the work and subsequent damage it took to maintain that illusion.
If I’m going to be honest in this free-write and I think I should, I didn’t let go of my eating disorder until recently, as in two years ago. Something about my my thirties has felt like a shedding of all of the unnecessary shit and unearthing the real Denisio and it has been simultaneously painful and wonderful. Maintaining my 130 suddenly felt like too much work. I had begun to have issues with my knees and hips from all of the frenzied morning jogs and improper weight lifting and, strict raw food diet. So I just stopped. Part of it was from the euphoria of moving to a new city and falling in love with both it and my spouse. I’ve now reached my heaviest weight at 160 which, as I’m typing it, honestly doesn’t even sound “heavy”. What is heavy? Shit, 40 pounds is heavy to my arms!. As recent as this past week, I’ve come to the realization that hey, my body doesn’t look so bad at this size at all! I purposely chose three body-conscious halloween costumes to wear because these days I have not been so comfortable with showing off my body. I tend to wear oversized shift dresses and shirts partly because I like them but also because I worry about the small pot in my tummy that has formed or the fact that my thighs now touch. I tape my breasts a lot in low cut items (even the dress in this post) because somehow that looked “neater” to me. As though the largeness of my breasts was somehow messy.
So I wore tight skirts, low cut tops and pum-pum shorts for halloween. I let my breasts spill out of bras, I forgot to tuck my tummy in like my mom taught me. And you know what happened when I walked around and went to parties and posted pictures on the gram? Not a godayum thing! People told me how amazing I looked. And a funnier thing happened. I started believing it.
A weight has been lifted. I don’t feel this weird pressure to get these extra pounds off. I think the pounds have found a home they love and want to buy it. They seem like nice enough neighbors. I think I’d still like to workout a little because things like walks and Kemetic yoga do make me feel amazing and help with my depression but I’m no longer on some weird plan to be some weight I was when I was miserable and starving. Y’all don’t even know what kind of relief it is to be free of that pressure.
What else is going on. This summer has honestly been one epiphany after another. I think I’m hitting my stride. There are still a lot of moments of feeling overwhelmed and like I could be doing more. My writing has been suffering the most, as I’ve been so busy designing and vending as festivals. I’ve also gotten a little gun-shy about sharing my work, for fear that it isn’t good enough or that I’m not as good as I once was. Words don’t come as easily to me anymore. I find myself struggling now in this ferret to come up with the next sentence. Fuck. Well whatever I have to keep typing. I’ll post some of my recent poems at the bottom of this post because: filler. But also because I need to feel more at ease with sharing things even though they might be mediocre or not my best work.
I gotta keep writing, not sure how much more time I have. I still want to publish a collection of poetry and prose. The saddest part is that I have enough material to do so, I’m just being ridiculous about it. [Time Ended]
We drove to the river
the radio in her ancient car
silent for years.
through dense reeds
four brown legs damp from dew.
four brown eyes searching skies for more water
from early summer
I sat by the water,
it was cooler there
clicks of her camera.
talks of invitations
white chocolate organza
and hydrangea pomanders
her next sentence.
she said “I wanna ask
you something but
I don’t want you to get upset”.
I made the promise
knowing it would be
“Do you think
I thought of him then
His perfection, his stability
I thought of my family
Who fell in love even
faster than I.
“No.” was all I said.
Now a decade
and divorce later
I know exactly
what my friend
was trying to say.
Not settling for a
less than man.
but rather lessening
myself for a world
I’d never quite belong in.
Mwende: Fun fact…most of my freewrites start about reflecting on my writing soooooo why should I deprive yall cuz this one’s public…The last couple of months (and by months I mean like 36 of them so like…years lol) I’ve gone in and out of writing for various reasons. Most recently, I’d felt a sort of uncertainty whenever pen hit the page (or sometimes finger hit the keyboard). In my head, the words and stories flowed and create themselves freely, but something about the concrete act of committing my thoughts to paper was making me hesitant, and so I would spend time exercising my creativity, but not capturing it.
I’ve always struggled as a writer with the seeming finality of words (which is probably why I gravitated towards spoken word…my words change as I see fit because I get to speak them, even when reading from my book I often edit when doing a reading). On the one side, they’ve served as life rafts when I’m drowning in my depressions and insecurities by allowing me to name and move forward, but sometimes, when the waters are calm, I hesitate to write and tempt the storm back to shore with its memory.
Looking back, a lot of my writing in the past year its been quite…dark. And not dark like 2014 Mwende who was writing all about Blackness, but dark as in bleak. Theres a lot of tracing of searching for and not finding parts of myself I had taken for granted and not knowing how or who to express that to, or how to be honest with myself about it. When I was in Kenya this summer, I didn’t write as much as I wanted to, and part of it was because I was busy for the first time in a long time a character in my story, a happy story, instead of an absent narrator in a dreary tale. And I was OK with that.
I had a talk with my roommate and their partner the other night about self expectations. I have a tendency (probably genetic due to the inherent over-expecting nature of Africans that has been repeated so much over generations it has altered our brain chemistry** -_-) to set incredibly high standards for myself, then beat myself up for not achieving them. You know that saying, “shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”? Well I was always the kind of person who shoot for another galaxy, land on the moon and spending my days devastated because its full of craters and like really, how much fun can you have with a bunch of craters????
(I’m not saying this argument isn’t logical, cuz craters get real old, real quick, but I’m saying, the view from the moon is also great and I would never have seen it because I would have found the largest crater and filled it with my whining).
Other times, I’d aim for elevently-seven galaxies and make it halfway to all of them, then run out of gas in this spaceship I am calling my body in this extended analogy, then, when I did, I would just sorta float around space hiding in the dark, avoiding the astroids of my incompetence.
(OK quick moment to high five myself for following all the way through with that analogy).
These days I’m working on setting fewer, more realistic goals and working diligently at them and remembering that I’m only 25 years old, and if I want to stick around long enough to do all the stuff I want, I should probably pace and start taking more intentional care of myself.
But of course, one of the things I struggle with the most is taking care of myself. Even when I’m feeling perfectly fine, I am so much better at taking care of others than myself because I honestly don’t feel like I need much, or I’ve conditioned myself to not need much and do alot for others (…still figuring this one out). Like sometimes I wake up and see the disaster my room is in, especially after travelling a lot, and just go downstairs and pretend its not there. But let a friend say they are coming over to watch a movie and all of a sudden I turn into Brandy from Cinderella in my own little corner, except I’m not dancing with a broom in a chair, I’m finally fixing the chair thats been broken for like 3 months and sweeping up that plant that fell over 2 days ago. Or like, I eat fairly inconsistently when it’s just me (I think I’ve lost like 10 pounds since coming back from Kenya…my clothes are fitter a bit looser), but if my roommate or a friend is coming over, suddenly I have the energy to raise free range chickens and the time to pluck them in my yard.
The cooking part has always blown me because I know how to cook, love cooking, love a good meal and I’m a picky eater. I used to help my mom cook since I was little in some sort of way. Even if I wasn’t cooking per se, I was setting up all the cooking things or cleaning up afterwards. I’m not so sure actually that I love cooking or I love the connectivity to my culture and family and nostalgia it brings me . Growing up we didn’t eat much American food or go out much to restaurants. Ugali and sukuma, chapati and stew, dengu and more were all staples of my diet growing up. I don’t actually know how to cook many American meals well (I think part of it is the specificity they need and nothing was ever measured or necessarily timed in our kitchen)…It was to the point that I didn’t realize for a while that the foods I was eating at home were Kenyan, I just thought everyone was eating like that at home (though I do remember my friends telling me to pack extra food for lunch…).
I remember once when I was just starting to live on my own and I went to the store to find some ingredients for the stew I used to watch my mom make. I was looking for dania and searching up and down the aisles for it and asked like 3 folks who worked there who also couldn’t find it. I called my mom when I left in frustration and told her the story and she started laughing. She proceeds to tell me that dania is actually called ‘cilantro’ in this country and joke on me for asking them for Dania (*SPOILER ALERT: It’s not called Cilantro here. It took me another couple of years and some confuse grocery folks to realize its called ‘Coriander’ in English. My mom just be shopping at those international markets so I eventually told her with a smirk on my face).
The last couple of weeks I’ve been practicing keeping my Sunday clear just to prepare to take care of myself for the week. That means committing to cooking large meals for myself to last throughout the week because cooking every night is an ambitious and unrealistic goal, but cooking just enough on Sunday for most of the week so I’m eating a home cooked meal each night, is quite manageable (…except when the folks in the office started to pick up on my cooking habits and asking for my stew *cough*Desiree and Deon*cough*, JK love yall and food is my love language just lemme know on Sundays so I can factor you into the pot size ;D ).
Speaking of love languages, food isn’t really isn’t mine, its a nutritional manifestation of it. My real love language is doing. Which is why I know I struggle so hard with self love/self care because I struggle hard to do things for myself. But, I’m working on it, and it’s going well, or at least, it is by the achievable standards I’ve set it is.
And that’s all I can really ask of myself.
(which isn’t a poem, it’s an actual conversation,
but whatever, my people speak in stories):
My Sister’s Question
My sister asks,
Would you rather be a cop or a firefighter?
My father responds,
I think what you’re asking,
is whether I’d rather be
or an arsonist
**not scientifically proven. At all. You should know better than to take my facts serious by now, cmon fam.
Noirlinians is a love story by two wandering Daughters of the African diaspora