Heartache

Everybody form a circle
Put your left foot in
Your left foot out
Your left foot in
And shake it all about
You do the hokey pokey
And turn yourself around…
The times we face leave no room for the naivety of our childhood,
while we learned to prance around, black boys of nine learnt the realities of their blackhood.
It’s life and death
(1 foot in, 1 foot out)
No hokey pokeying, they’ll just frisk you
(1 foot in, 1 foot out)
No hokey pokeying, just put your hands where they can see them
(1 foot in, 1 foot out)
LITTLE JOHN: But momma, why? Why can’t I play like the rest of the kids?
MOTHER: You might be my Little John, but a lot of people call you something else instead.
(1 foot in, 1 foot out)
MOTHER: John, are you listening to what I’m saying? When you turn 18, you cannot wear whatever you want. You’ll need to make sure to look respectful and conventional. And don’t make friendly conversations or smile too much on the street.
(Little John at this point stops trying to learn the hokey pokey and begins to cry)
LITTLE JOHN: But why, momma, why?

A scene in my head inspired by some online readings this past week of black peers and individuals sharing their experiences growing up and the specific treatments they’ve faced:
– walking on the sidewalk and having women cross the street to purposely avoid them
– refusing to borrow a girlfriend’s bag that was pink out of fear of being assumed to have stolen it
– having to have conversations with young sons and daughters about public behavior, how to behave if police ever approach them, about avoiding trouble

Learn, Reflect, and Fight for Love & Justice

Short Articles that are teaching me more about Black Americans’ experiences:

Additional Quotes for Food for Thought:

“The righteous are willing to disadvantage themselves to advantage the community; the wicked are willing to disadvantage the community to advantage themselves.
We do justice when we give all human beings their due as creations of God.” – Timothy Keller
“The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.” – James Baldwin
“One discovers the light in the darkness, that is what darkness is for; but everything in our lives depends on how we bear the light. It is necessary, while in darkness, to know that there is a light somewhere, to know that in oneself, waiting to be found, there is a light. What the light reveals is danger, and what it demands is faith.” – James Baldwin

For Anti-Racist Newborns:

To act on our desires to live and model an anti-racist life, we must relentlessly pursue all manners of self-evaluation, reflection, and self-work. Whenever I find myself having to challenge a long held and incorrect, but strong view of myself, another, or a thing, I find myself having to do some self-talk. This means literally repeating regularly, daily, a different narrative or system in my head internally or out-loud (folks from various disciplines/walks of life will refer to similar cognitive behavioral concepts with words like affirmation, mantras, visualizations). Sometimes this takes months— sometimes years.
On a brain level, studies employing MRI scans have shown that when study participants receive or confront strongly held views at variance with their own such as their views on policy or race, the parts of their brains related to self-identity and negative emotions flare up.
It’s reasonable to expect that we will meet resistance and feel tension as we strive to become anti-racist in our lives, transform our communities, and be true peers of Black Americans, but we sometimes forget how often that resistance can come from our minds, our hearts— our own selves!
Changing the racial narratives and constructs of whole societies calls first for firmly, and radically changing the racial narratives in our brains.
I encourage you to take this note as a friendly call to action to begin some much required self-work as you begin to respond and and take action to support this movement.
I will look forward to continuing to do so as well.

A Prayer for George Floyd’s death, the protests, the racial, social, and economic unrest in America

A prayer for the racial turmoil and general unrest in our world:

My God, I pray for a change of heart, an absolute 180º, a world that wakes up for the plight of our Black American brothers and sisters.

Mon seigneur, je prie pour un changement du coeur, un revirement absolu, un monde qui se reveille à la situation déplorable de nos soeurs et frères noire américaine.

하나님, 이 세계에 모든 아픔을 감싸주세요, 정부에게 보호를 못받는 제 흑인 형제들과 자매들을 대신 하나님이 보호해 주세요. 온 세상의 완악한 마음을 가진 인류들… 그들의 마음을 재발 변화시켜주세요.

예수님 이름으로 기도합니다.

Lament, grieve, feel disappointment. Then turn to hope. We must continue to breathe [fresh air] so we can help others to breathe who cannot.//

“new every morning”

 

 

This was my earlier prayer of disappointment, fear, and help:

Dear God,

In this season of crazy grief, pain, anger, lament, fear, anxiety, and tension, I remain steadfast and faithful in your promises. I will stand on the faith of this firm foundation, the firm foundation I believe my community hit hard by the Coronavirus have access to, and the firm foundation my Black American brothers and sisters stand on too.

I pray to a God that I believe can do the things I cannot do, that for us as humankind seem so insurmountable.

 

“I will crush every disappointment

turn all of my fear into praise,

I will crush every disappointment and break every chain”

Anything is Possible by Bethel Worship ft. Dante Bowe

Reflecting on Christina Baker Kline’s a piece of the world and Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World

I was inspired to read this poem by Emily Dickinson after finishing a piece of the world by Christina Baker Kline:

Learning From The Homes Of Famous Writers

“This is my letter to the World that never wrote to me”

“This is My Letter to the World”, goes like this:

This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me,–
The simple news that Nature told,
With tender majesty.
Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me!

Kline’s a piece of the world revolves around the life of Christina Olson, the subject of Andrew Wyeth’s most renowned masterpiece, Christina’s World (you can find it at the Museum of Modern Art, 5th fl). Margaret Steiger, a fellow peer and art lover, also my supervisor at MoMA!, recommended me this book as she knew how much I loved Christina’s World.

Christina suffered from a life long illness (initially thought as having polio, modern day neurologists believe she actually suffered from Charcot-Marie Tooth (CMT) disease, which causes progressive loss of muscle tissue and touch sensation) that started to render the nerves in her arms and legs pretty much kaput as she entered adulthood.

In this novel, the character Christina (will now move forward referring to novel’s character as ‘Christina’ and the real Christina as ‘Christina Olson’), coming into her teenage years, and with a body severely limited in movement from the effects of a mysterious illness’ onset at toddler-hood, begins to develop a curiosity and ferocity of mind, and this coincides with her discovery and subsequent exploration of Emily Dickinson’s words at school.

Excerpts

“I agree. Rest is stupid. I am tired of this narrow bed, the slice of window above it. I want to be outside, running through the grass, climbing up and down the stairs. When I fall asleep, I am careering down the hill, my arms outstretched and my strong legs pumping, grasses whipping against my calves, steady on toward the sea, closing my eyes and tilting my chin toward the sun, moving with ease, without pain, without falling. I wake in my bed to find the sheet damp with sweat.”


“MRS. CROWLEY TOLD me once—the nicest thing anybody has ever said to me—that I’m one of the brightest students she’s ever taught. Long before the others, I have finished my reading and arithmetic. She’s always giving me extra work to do and books to read. I appreciate the compliment, but maybe if I could run and play like the other kids, I would be as impatient and distracted as they are. The truth is, when I’m immersed in a book I’m less aware of the pain in my unpredictable arms and legs.”


“I’m so tired of this mutinous body that doesn’t move the way it should. Or the low thrumming ache that’s never entirely absent. Of having to concentrate on my steps so I don’t fall, of my ever-present scabs and bruises. I’m tired of pretending that I’m the same as everyone else. But to admit what it’s really like to live in this skin would mean giving up, and I’m not ready to do that.”


“’Some memories are realities and are better than anything that can ever happen to one again.” Maybe so, I think. Maybe my memories of sweeter times are vivid enough, and present enough, to overcome the disappointments that followed. And to sustain me through the rest.'”


“My chin drips blood, my wrists throb, I am facedown in the wet, soiled dress it took me weeks to sew. The skirt is bunched up round my hips, my bloomers and misshapen legs exposed. Lifting myself slowly on my elbows, I survey my torn bodice. All at once I am so tired of this—of the constant threat of humiliation and pain, the fear of exposure, of trying to act like I’m normal when I’m not—that I burst into tears. No, I am not all right, I want to say. I am fouled, degraded, ashamed. A burden and an embarrassment.”

On Christina’s first experience with love:

“It feels as if my life is moving forward at two separate speeds, one at the usual pace, with its predictable rhythms and familiar inhabitants, and the other rushing ahead, a blur off color and sound and sensation.”


Reflecting on Christina’s World

I’ve always felt a deep connection with Christina’s World, ever since I first encountered Christina’s World as a university student.

20200524_091845

The work is an incredible sight and experience; numerous people from all over the world will tell you so as well: There’s painted a young, youthful girl painted in stark contrast against the muted landscape of a field and barn/farmhouse. Your eyes settle intensely on the seemingly feeble, yet remarkably dignified, stoic, and bold girl in pink dress.cri_000000165457

Personal Reflections

I was very sick when I was 13 and in my teenage years. The utter prison I felt like I was in, of not being able to wield my body at will, not being able to do things other kids do nor be carefree was a formative experience in my youth.

Thinking about my future was scary.

The picture my mind drew of my life was monstrous; It was only filled with more ifs, doubts and and despondence from wondering whether I’d ever be able to live the life I wish I had instead of living through it with a body I abhorred.

The memories do not go away easily //

Having to stay a couple nights in the St. Judes hospital deprived of sleep and watching Shakespeare in Love and The Man in the Iron Mask with my mother who bravely tried to stay awake with me and laid on a cot bed by me.

Stubbornly demanding and begging I get my license like all my other high school friends and be allowed to drive with my parents in car, and my father finally relenting, only to find myself losing control of the wheel, with my foot off the pedal and my hands fallen to their sides [and off the wheel] one day driving my family.

Blacking out, crossing the road and as I started to begin to feel time slow, seeing my dad not far behind me running so he could catch me before I fell.


I was engaged with this painting before I had learned of its background story and the life of Christina Olson.

Looking at her was as if I were seeing myself. Or seeing what I’d have liked to see in myself back then: a portrait of strength, boldness, and ferocity– dignified living.

I stood staring at her for a very long time.

And I’d come back to it again, and again, and again. As if I was drinking from a well.

Fast forward to 2020, having finished this book, which was a light and lovely spin-off and depiction of Christina Olson’s life, I find myself glad to be seeing Christina again, anew.

More Excerpts

“The House of the Seven Gables. ‘So much of mankind’s varied experience had passed there that the very timbers were oozy, as with the moisture of a heart.’”


Andrew Wyeth & Christina Olson:

“‘ I wanted to show the contrast with your skin. To highlight you sitting there.’

Now that we’re having this conversation, I realize that I am a little angry. ‘I look like I’m in a coffin with a lid half shut.’

He laughs a little, as he can’t believe I might be upset.

I stare at him evenly.

Running his hand through his hair, he says, ‘I was trying too show your…’ He hesitates. ‘Dignity. Solemnity.’

‘Well, I guess that’s the problem. I don’t think of myself as solemn. I didn’t think you did, either.’

‘I don’t. Not really. It’s just a moment. And it’s not really ‘you.’ Or ‘me.’ Despite what you think.’ His voice trails off. Seeing me struggle with the heavy oven door, he comes over and opens its for me, then slides the baking tray of biscuits in. ‘I think it’s about the house. The mood of it.’ He shuts the oven door. ‘Do you know what I mean?’

‘You make its seem so…’ I cast about for the right word. ‘I don’t know Lonely.’

He sighs. ‘Isn’t it, sometimes?’

For a moment there’s silence between us.

I reach for a dishrag and wipe my floury hands.

‘So how do you think of yourself?’ he asks.

‘What?’

‘You said you don’t think of yourself as solemn. So how do you think of yourself?’

It’s a good question. How do I think of myself?

The answer surprises us both.

‘I think of myself as a girl,’ I say.”


“EVERY WEEK OR ten days a thick letter in a white envelope with a two-cent stamp arrives in the mail. He writes from the library, from the dining hall, from the narrow wooden desk in his dormitory room, by the light of a gas lamp after his rugby-playing, gin-guzzling roommate has gone to sleep. Each envelope, a package of words to feed my word-hungry soul, provides a portal into a world where students linger in wood-paneled classrooms to talk to professors, where entire days can be spent in a library, where what you write and how you write it are all you need to worry about. I imagine myself in his place: strolling across campus, peering up at thick-paned, glowing windows at dusk, going to expensive dinners with friends in Harvard Square, where the waiters wear tuxedos and look down their noses at the unkempt students, and the students don’t care.”