Hey Speakers! The In Search of My Own Gardens Podcast is HERE! Check out episode one, and tune in next Friday at 5pm for episode two! Make sure to follow!
Damali Speaks Xx
Hey Speakers! The In Search of My Own Gardens Podcast is HERE! Check out episode one, and tune in next Friday at 5pm for episode two! Make sure to follow!
Damali Speaks Xx
I’ve been a reader all of my life. I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t read or didn’t pick up a book intent on sopping up the words written inside like a giant sea sponge. Books helped me to understand voice. As the descendant of enslaved peoples who were forbidden from reading as well as a grandfather who only went to 6th grade because he was needed to work on the farm but read the New York Times every week, my mother insisted that we read instead of watch television. Reading was revolution and believe me, we did it well.
I remember reading Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” one summer. I was 13 and had just gone through a traumatic rape the summer before. Unlike Pecola Breedlove, there was no unexpected pregnancy to broadcast my shame and I hadn’t told anyone, not even my mother or best friend. I remember sitting with this book in my hands and feeling as though I could escape to a better world. Was it true? I still don’t know. What I do know is that books have saved my life. In high school through to college and even now after “entering the real world”, I find myself caught and enthralled by the words of black women writers. Audre Lorde and Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and Ntozake Shange, Toni Cade Bambara, L.A. Banks and Mia MacKenzie.
What is it about black womxn writers? We’ve found a way to save ourselves, to continue to use our voices even though to know your own voice is revolutionary in itself, and to transmit that voice is power. But lets back up, because as usual, I fast forward when I talk about black womxnhood because I get excited.
Reading is one thing, writing is another. I’ve never really been a good writer in the conventional sense. I hated writing papers but I’ve always kept journals from childhood to present day. Something about academia and the way it sought to stomp out my individual tone rather than build it up gave me intense anxiety. I am a procrastinator by lack of spirit at the right moments and while I intend to to do things in a certain fashion, if inspiration doesn’t hit, well then I’m stuck there in front of my computer wishing and waiting for the writing gods to bless me. I don’t do well with deadlines and finality. But isn’t consistency, key? In the polarities of life, how am I finding my voice?
Voice changes. Literally. Our vocal capacities change with time. It’s proven. Sometimes our voices get heavier with time, raspier, etc. As our voice changes literally, does it change with perception as well, our artist voices a mirror of what our physical realities offer? Reading young Maya Angelou is very different from reading the seasoned woman. If we continue living, our views should continue changing right? We continue to adapt to the world around us or we die. I keep finding myself in states of aporia, where everything I thought I knew is actually what I don’t know at all. I’m constantly back to the beginning. I may not be a huge fan of old Socrates, but he was definitely on to something with the method of Socratic questioning that he learned from his African predecessors. Yes, I had to sneak that in there.
Learning my own voice is a constant state of questioning. Nothing is final. What I love today, I might despise tomorrow. Everything changes just as the seasons do or don’t. #ClimateChange. But seriously, what is my style today? Who is it that I am today? What helps me to find my voice? In the midst of a world in turmoil, how do we, black womxn and on a larger scale, human beings find our voices? How do we reach those who need the physical help, and soul soothing needed during times of pain and struggle?
Damali Speaks Xx
Hey Speakers! Some healing for the day Xx
“If you are silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it” – Zora Neal Hurston
I don’t really remember the moment that I knew I was queer. I just know that I knew. I had a crush on Josh* and Helen* and I liked them both equally. I wanted to be close to both of them always, hold them always, play “Duck Duck Goose” during recess and all the other cute things that children desire to do with crushes. I remember being asked if I had a crush on Josh* and never being asked if I had a crush on Helen*. Queerness in whatever form it came in seemed to be something that was silently made fun of and only okay if you did it on the terms of straight people, if you adopted their ways, if you picked a side of either masculine or feminine presentation. I remember those silent and unspoken rules vividly.
I’ve always dressed weirdly. Kudos to those who find true expression. I love the feel of clothing, just as I love the feel of removing it. Clothing is expression to me. I’ve always loved the idea of androgyny and the reality scared me. I’m not shaped like a boy and most of the views of androgynous people that I see are with those who have a very “boy-like” shape. But my androgyny exists outside of those boundaries. I love experimenting with what my breasts do in mens clothes, and just how I can both accentuate and disguise my hips and ass in various wears. MY androgyny is based in inclusion and experimentation. Just how many new ways can I find to fuck up the binary?
The other day, I sat with a family member who asked me, “Why can’t you be Queer quietly? Why do you have to broadcast it?” In the moment, I rationalized the sting and said something rehearsed, but I also thought to myself about why I do “broadcast” my Queer, my Polyamory, my Self. Well, because that’s who I am. It is just as much a part of me as is my sex, my skin complexion, my eye color. Who I love, how I love is important because love is what makes the foundation for a world worth living in. Frankly, I’m out, because I can be. I love myself enough to be all of me, whether that’s privately or publicly.
With the invention of internet and apps, we have much less privacy now than we did 10 years ago. What’s your personal threshold? How often do you broadcast your life and what do you choose to keep to self? It’s a constant wondering for myself. I don’t like to put out all my business but I do choose to display some of it. Is there a right and wrong in that? Does it matter?
I’ve always been a creator. I would create clothing/crafts/songs/poems/plays/ etc. as a child and it all seemed to carry over into adulthood. I occupy space in this world as an actor/dancer/singer/director/designer/singer/songwriter/advocate/activist/writer/etc. I am the slash in a world where the slash is confusing. But isn’t that the fun of the all? How do we manage? How do we fall? How do we choose to fly? Confession: I have not gone a single audition in months. I have no desire to. There’s nothing that grabs my heart and truly makes me want to be a part of it. I am not just an actor. I’m an artist. I want to create space where there is no space. I remember being in school and being taught how to manage and maneuver auditions because it would be “so much of life as an artist” and I wanted to vomit. If Nina Simone had spent all her time auditioning, would she have written Mississippi Goddamn? Maybe, maybe not. Let me make this clear, I am not judging those who choose to audition frequently. I’m simply stating that for me, it’s not the way.
Currently, I’ve done a lot. I released an album, finished a play, started on two projects, got asked to do a few more with some wonderfully talented artists and am simply living, teaching and learning. I’m content with the world and growth that I see from my life. I can see a pattern, a place, a space to occupy. As a millennial, I feel that I have to make the space. I not only don’t want to, I am not willing to endorse the system that doesn’t work. If it’s broken, don’t hop on it and try to ride. I’m not here to apologize, to be nice, to participate in so far as abiding by rules that are clearly messed up. Be bold in seeking your truth. Be brash. Be loud. Make mistakes. Make corrections. Find new ways to love both yourself and others. I’m here to re-frame, to burst through, to hold space, make space and take space.
To all my wonderful fellow beings,
I see you. I support you. I live you.
Damali Speaks Xx
I’ve been glued to Issa Rae since The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl. I was in the early years of college or maybe late years of high school, I don’t really remember now. I do remember being glued to my computer screen thinking, “Oh shit! She knows my life!”. I loved everything about Issa, her style, her awkwardness, her confidence, her work. The joy I felt at watching not only that series, but the appearance of a whole YouTube Channel eclipsed anything else that I might have wanted to watch. My friends and I would call each other up or message each other post episode drop, “Oh snap girl, she finally gave White J some!” and we would launch into laughter and recalling of our own lives, sighing in relief that we finally were feeling and being seen. It wasn’t just a dream. There was nothing to wake up from.
When Insecure was finally announced on HBO, I remember doing a happy dance in my bedroom. I had moved on from being a semi-awkward Theater & Africana student to a semi-confident Education Intern at one of the best theater companies in the US and yet still felt like so many things were missing. I was one of the very few people of color in most spaces, including my living space and I was hungry. I oftentimes found myself in situations with either queer men of color who could and would shut me down and desire my silence or with white women who wanted to empathize but not actually do any work required for change. These people all wanted change to happen at a comfortable pace for them, but I needed to see and speak with people in the entertainment world who looked like me and who were visibly making change. I needed to know that it was possible, that all of it was possible. I didn’t have to choose between being an actor and writer. I didn’t have to only put down director or producer on my resume. But at the same time, I didn’t have a black theater/film fairy godmother to guide me along. So I looked to Issa. Issa always got me through. The first episode of Insecure, Season 1 found me hunched in front of my computer screen yet again, and having finished an entire bottle of wine, I don’t remember much, but I do remember screaming “TAKE THAT LENA DUNHAM!” and then falling off to sleep. As Season 1 rolled into Season 2, I continued to watch, joy filling me at the fact that the 20s are just messed up and I’m just normal and that black people look gorgeous in all shades, sizes, sexual positions and hilarious anecdotes.
But still, in all of that visibility and glorious blackness, messiness and realness something was always missing for me. I’m Black, Womxn, Queer, Pansexual and Polyamorous and I want to make work that highlights the art, realness, and humanness of the spaces that I find myself in. Most often, the shows and web series that I find center either white women or drama. The L Word, was the first show that I watched that featured queer women. I remember sitting in front of the computer in college thanks to Netflix and binge watching The L Word. Although it made me feel invisible because of my blackness, it made me feel seen because of my queerness. I’m not saying that the world of queer womxn of color isn’t dramatic, cuz it certainly can be at times, but people don’t need to be murdered for a following to build. So then, what’s the point?
The point is that visibility is possible in all it’s variables. We already know that POC make money. No one wants to see all white anything anymore unless it’s the Bordelons dressed in all white on Queen Sugar (Cuz that was black people magic on all levels). But the thing about production that bothers me is the who. No matter what, are we always engineered by white men because they are the ones with the bank? Literally. How many Oprah’s and OWN Networks are there? Right now? Oprah. That’s it. She’s got it. But even in that, there’s a closed door. I love Oprah, but Oprah isn’t queer, poly or foregoing the idea that GOD isn’t the end all be all for the black community. Don’t get me wrong, I grew up going to church, but at this point in my life, I choose to believe that there’s a lil bit of truth in everything but that doesn’t mean that I have to subscribe to it. So what’s next?
I’ve made it my mission to center varying art forms alongside black, womxn, and queer. I know that’s what I want to see. So why not make it? It’s hard. My biggest obstacle so far is capitalism. I need a team. I want a team. I want to work with artists who are just as hungry as I am. But most of the time, that means money and at 20 something, who has money? But where there’s a will, there’s a way. Right? If that’s my only obstacle, then I’m doin pretty damn well. I also want to highlight theater.
I don’t work loudly. I work mostly in silence. You don’t see that I’m doing work until the work is done. So often, my friends and I sit and dream and plan for our future world where there’s artist housing that’s cheap, studios to work in that houses various forms of art and a collective of beautiful people that just get us. Isn’t that the dream? As good as all this visibility and dreaming feels, how good will it feel when we finally get further along in our process? Maybe that’s the whole point. That it’s never ending and each moment is in fact a process to be savored. I used to say, “I’m the next Oprah”. Now, I simply say that I’m the best version of me, day to day, I’m working towards elevation and building and creation and art.
Thank you Issa for pushing me to be better. Thank you for being visible. I may never meet you and you may never read this, but know anyway, you’ve helped more than one black womxn to find her purpose, just by being you.
Damali Speaks Xx
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As I am right now, sitting in a coffee shop in the heart of New Orleans, I always imagined myself much like Baldwin or Cleage, writing something that would challenge the male ego or enlighten the ways of queerness and my attraction to women, men and those outside the binary. Here I sit, grown as I know how to be, with no money but a $1.50 tea warming my hands. The air is sticky with new smells of rain, Wynton Marsalis plays in my ears and life seems oh so simple. Free Spirit and Artistry inside, life is wonder full. Everything comes in it’s own time and travel shows me so much more of my self. This Saturn year isn’t so bad, after all.
It’s been little more than a week since I left New York City with it’s tall buildings and teeming centers of human beings with uptight energy that propels one forward. For the first week, I found myself in Atlanta, Georgia with a collective of queer people of color as we embraced what might seem odd. For me, I always feel odd, even with queers and people of color. My identity has always been just different. I don’t like clinging to a label in the queer community. I’m attracted to men, women and others who reject the binary. My ancestry has roots and branches from all over the country and world. I am a young, black, queer woman and I hold a certain comfort in being able to maintain fluidity.
I now find myself in New Orleans. We drove down from Atlanta, a small queer group of us. The heat of the south is different. In New York, it almost knocks me over with it’s force and humidity. I sometimes can’t breathe as it engulfs my senses and threatens to destroy my will to want to live through the moment of all encompassing heat stroke. The south has a fluidity to it. It’s hot, but not unbearable. I sweat, but not in buckets. I suppose it is a lazy way of being. In moments like this, I remember just how little time I’ve spent in this body on this earth. How little I know, how big and at the same time small the world seems. I remember my mortality. I hold it close to my chest and take a deep breath in. I am here. Today, maybe tomorrow, and I want to be here. The world holds so much surprise and culture. The unexpected seems blessed. I don’t need much. I can and do actually go without a lot. I don’t have much money and though I find myself worrying about it in intervals, right now, I’m not at all bothered. I planned this trip for a week and I have so little clothes and yet, I’m so incredibly comfortable. Life without a lot of materials is actually quite freeing in its’ organization of need vs. want. I’m a minimalist by nature and so living with few materials isn’t ever a surprise to me and feels in a way refreshing.
While here in New Orleans, I’ve been the utmost of a tourist and yet, I somehow feel my ancestors with me more now than ever before at this juncture of life. I’m the only black queer person in our group and that never before bothered me until today. My ancestors speak so loudly and there seems to be no one to share it with. I feel them at my back, my front, my sides, below me and above me. While here, I’ve gone to visit a plantation. The Whitney Plantation, originally named The Haydel Habitation. This one being different than others that are restored in the area because it focuses specifically on those enslaved here in it’s operational duration. While on this ground I felt all kinds of things. I felt anger, fear, helplessness, hurt, joy, etc. The heat felt welcoming and warming as the sun beamed down in an oppressive way. I sought remembrance. I didn’t seek peace or wholeness, just remembrance. In my blood, I remember a time when this, the enslavement of my people was normalized.
Alongside the great pain, I’ve found great pleasure. Moments of feeling seen and held by art. I’ve gone to visit an exhibition called StudioBe by artist Brandon Odums. The exhibit is an a huge warehouse with painting and artwork all throughout, dedicated to blackness of all kinds as well as to New Orleans. In the beginning of the exhibition, there’s a huge written work called “Ephemeral, Eternal” and he talks about those two ideologies as inspiration for this entire piece. Ephemeral is fleeting. The love you feel for a short time, while Eternal is everlasting. What does it mean to be both and a little in between. Human life for me is just as much about the short and the long, the close and distant, the journey and the destination. It’s in the center of all that I find my grounding, my home. Home is me, where and how I occupy space. It gave me pause. I want a big warehouse space with which to do my art. An impossible goal. How do I go about accomplishing it?
Writing in a new place, existing in a new space, brings with it such an air of separation and truth. The question I’ve been asking myself, “what are you worth, darling girl?” I’ve always called my inner little girl, “darling girl” and as she and I continue to deconstruct and learn more about the inner workings of my heart and soul, I find that she answers in mysterious ways. Worth. What a strange idea and reality. How is it measured? If I was not defined by my interactions with others or through my capitalist existence, by the art I create or the way spirit flows through me, what would I be worth? What is my worth on this earth? Why am I here? I could spend time answering it, but to me, it’s more about the journey than the destination. So ask yourself. What are you worth?
Damali Speaks Xx
” Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” – 1 Corinthians 13
It’s so cheesy of me to take this passage that so many people use, but I went to an art display recently and I found it staring back at me and as someone who is not religious at all, but very spiritual, I find that there’s a little bit of truth in everything. Welcome back to #BlackWomxnWorkThroughTrauma’s last week. This week, I wanted to focus on Learning Liberation surrounding “Love” not as an idea, but as a reality.
When I think of the word love, what immediately pops into my head is what I’ve been conditioned with by society. Films, tv shows, ads, church and familial expectations, peer pressure, etc, these all help to inform my personal view of what giving and receiving love looks like. One thing I realize is that up until this point in my life, I’ve been searching for love but never really established just what love is and looks like for myself. It’s one thing to know what love feels like and to know especially, if you’ve experienced some sort of abuse, just what love is not. What about what happens when love looks and feels like abuse because that’s what we’ve been taught? I am not a fan of gender roles or traditional relationships in the form of monogamy, because I really do believe that love should always be free, honest, and communicative.
I put 1 Corinthians 13 up there because I realize that through this month of #BlackWomxnWorkThroughTrauma, I’ve been working through each week myself as well as with you all and what I’ve come to realize is that the definition of love starts for me with how I choose to love myself. Just how do I affirm my selfhood? Am I patient and kind with myself? How do I protect myself? How do I trust myself? How do I guard my truth? If I can’t answer those definitively, then I haven’t been truly loving myself as I deserve. I deserve the highest amount of love from myself. We all do. Love isn’t the superficial. Love is depth.
For the last post of #BlackWomxnWorkThroughTrauma:
“Hit me and it’ll be the last thing you do.” I saw my father hit my mother one time. I was young, maybe 3 or 4. Previous to that moment, I had watched them fight only verbally. They would spar with words like boxers before a long awaited fight, ducking and dodging each others’ blows, some landing with fierce force and others just glazing and narrowly missing the tender skin of their face or neck. The one time I remember physical blows being exchanged, she went after him with a bat, the cops were called and I remember her saying that if a man or woman ever hit me, I had full permission from God above to beat them to within an inch of their life. They probably don’t remember this moment themselves, or maybe they don’t remember that I remember. It’s funny what sticks in a child’s brain, isn’t it?
How do we, keep ourselves safe in a world marked with active bombs ready to detonate at any minute? Maybe the bigger question, concerning the reality that black womxn are currently being killed at higher rates than anyone else in the United States, is how do I as a part of that targeted group, preserve my mental, physical and spiritual self in the midst of a war? Today’s topic is on the many forms of abuse that are slowly killing black and brown women in the world and how we maintain our selfhood in the midst of it all.
I didn’t think it would ever happen and so I didn’t think I would ever have anything to worry about. I also didn’t ever think that I would experience any kind of abuse. But as I grew older and first physical, followed by sexual, then on to emotional and secured by verbal abuse arrived into my innocent bubble of comfort, I realized that abuse is insidious and can take many forms. It makes me heartbroken to realize that my truth isn’t singular. So many of my black womxn peers have experienced the same and worse across boundaries of sexual orientation and gender identity. Just as black men are guilty, so are other people. Domestic violence happens so often in queer relationships. Let’s not forget it.
I was in college when I discovered the writing of Pearl Cleage and her essay called “Mad at Miles”. In it, she talks about black men and women who were known abusers, mainly Miles Davis, but also including Bill Withers and even more. How is it that Pearl Cleage can write about so many forms of domestic abuse in 1975 and it still rings so true in 2017?
The idea for this post came from a bar in New Orleans. I sat and enjoyed the music being played until “Use Me” by Bill Withers was played. I stopped and my blood turned cold. I wondered if he had written the song after beating a fellow sister, or maybe after she left him, refusing to be continually abused by someone who claimed to love her unconditionally. As “Use Me” played on, I thought about what a cosmic oddity it was that I, a black queer woman could dance and enjoy this tune written by a man that would and could have easily beat me into submission before I could have ever enjoyed the loud and yet lilting sounds brought forth by black struggle.
In this week of approaching and now waning eclipse energy, I thought a lot about what it is to be a black womxn that is healthy, centered and working. If I don’t have my mental, psychological state in check, I can work all I like and make no headway at all. In order to thrive, I have to first establish my center, my groundedness, my spiritual self, my emotional well-being, etc. How often do fellow black women allow ourselves the space and time to self care? How often do we even get the time to evaluate? It may seem cliche, but it’s necessary. If we don’t put ourselves first, how can we hope to move forward? Black womxn have always been the background of movements here in the United States and elsewhere. Without us, there would be no past, present or future and yet we’re dying at higher rates. Black womxn are the most likely to be sexually assaulted, abducted and abused starting at younger and younger ages. How do we distinguish foe from friend?
Abuse isn’t always obvious. I do think that it comes in many forms and facets that may actually be difficult to spot and even harder to call out. I do think that it’s easier to approach abuse if I truly love myself. When I truly do care about my own investment in self and security, I can choose to truly engage with the best and worst parts of myself from balance while at the same time, choosing the best that I see in others who only mean me well and not ill. I choose to actively engage in self care and moments that speak to the best parts of my soul and reality.
The narrative isn’t that we’re victims. I don’t wish to bring forth energy that says that we all must pity the black womxn her plight. I want us to mobilize for black womxn like we do for black men. I want us to engage with the problematic and hurtful narrative that keeps vulnerability from entering a conversation honestly and openly. I want to talk openly about toxic masculinity, misogyny, and patriarchy that result in the emotional crippling of both black men and womxn in our communities. We can’t talk uplift until we talk unlearning.
Damali Speaks Xx