For the sake of discipline I'm going to try to dive back into this writing challenge. I'm no longer committing to all of it because that last hiccup reminded me that I'm grown & if I'm not feeling something--& if it ain't puttin no food on my table--I really don't have to do it.
The thing I've enjoyed most about being on break from classes (until tomorrow) is that I've had time to read books that are in NO WAY related to my course work. All advisors & every professor I've had thus far has said to immerse myself in print related to my field of study. I can't speak for everyone but I can't breathe when I'm surrounded by nothing but 1 thing. Hence the need for a break in the first damn place. Anyway, this love of reading & my excitement about being able to get back into it led me to jump around on the list of options on the writing challenge & land on 1 close to my heart: what is your favorite book & why does it speak to you?
OK...OK, I'll try to contain my excitement about this & simply respond. I think, for fun, I'm going to freak this interview style cuz I originally set off on this challenge in hopes of finding ways to challenge myself as a writer. So, lets go.
Her: You know the question, but I'll ask it anyway; what's your favorite book?
Me: My favorite book is The Autobiography of My Mother by Jamaica Kincaid. It was published in 1996, & for the life of me I can't remember what year I began reading it, but I've read it at least once a year since.
Her: Really? You read this book annually?
Me: Yup. & like a good Hip Hop song, I find something new in it every time. I call this book a women's bible. It's a sad story of love & fear, family & abandonment, it's about loss & coming into yourself as a woman. It's set in Dominica & follows Xuela Richardson from childhood to adulthood. Isn't Xuela just the coolest sounding name? Zweh-lah. It feels beautiful.
Her: I see you're hype; from the character's name to the story. Now that we know how to pronounce Xuela's name, what is it about her life that moves you so much?
Me: Get ready. This is where I drop excerpts like bars. & there's so much, so you're gonna have to stay on top of me. So, at various points in my life different parts of the book mean more to me than others. Xuela's life is anything but easy & the hardships she endures shape her as all our experiences do. But what Mama Kincaid does so expertly in this book is to school us in the ways we can all see the light when we're floundering in the darkness.
I had, through the use of some words, changed my situation; I had perhaps saved my life. To speak of my own situation to myself or to others, is something I would always do thereafter.
This is EVERY. THING. It brought to life words I'm sure I'd heard in some way from my own mother or the other mamas in my life but it didn't resonate in the way it did thru Xuela's voice. I'm responsible for how my story is told. But it's telling is also in the living. That means I get to decide how I handle shit, on MY terms & I don't have to do it how anyone else does it or feel it how anyone else chooses. That was big for me because I'd been swallowed by depression, or felt like I was being swallowed by it, & I didn't know how to regain control. Deep sadness is a muthafucka & damned if it doesn't feel like quicksand. The difference is that people tend to panic when in quicksand, & force themselves down faster. For me, depression was more like a blanket. It kept me warm, but it was a heavy blanket so it also held me down. After a while, I ceased even wanting to get up because trying to was exhausting. HA! Now I know that I got the book when it came out, in '96, cuz that's when I was on my way out of the darkness & this book helped with that.
Her: Deep. So you're attributing a fictional character with helping to deliver you from depression?
Me: Looks that way, doesn't it. Well, not in totality. Xuela's story alone didn't do it, but it helped me connect certain dots that I was struggling with by putting the power squarely in my hands.
This new experience of really leaving the past behind, of going from one place to the other and knowing that whatever had been would remain just so, was something I immediately accepted as a gift, as a right of nature. This most simple of movements, the turning of your back, is among the most difficult to make, but once it has been made you cannot imagine it was at all hard to accomplish. I had not been able to do it myself, but I could see that I had set in motion events that would make it possible.
That's exactly what I was in the process of teaching myself to do when I read those words. & then I knew that I would be successful in learning it. From me. Because it literally felt like a matter of life or death. Not in the sense that I would kill myself, but that I was essentially withering away from the inside out. My life would be worth NOTHING if I didn't get it together. So, I did.
Her: If there were ever a campaign for literacy, this would be it. Read a book, save a life. (laughs)
Me: Which 1 of us is gon' get up on printing that shirt?
Her: Who'd wear it?
Me: True story. I guess just me...& you.
Her: You got me wanting to read this book now.
Me: Wait, Imma seal it for you. I don't know if you experienced this, but questioning what you're supposed to do or be as a woman? I don't know when that typically happens but for me it was at the age of 15 when I realized my whole fertility situation was different from most. One day I was just a girl & then I was a girl with some 18 letters long diagnosis with a bunch'a consonants & too many syllables to even roll off the tongue to tell the story. So I didn't; not out loud anyway. I went over it in my head, for YEARS, tryna figure out who I was if not a woman. Clearly, I wasn't a woman at 15, but based on what I'd learned about me, it honestly felt like I wasn't going to be 1, didn't have the right to ever claim it. Do you know what that does to a girl?
Her: No, & I'm not even sure I could do it justice to imagine it.
Me: So, I'm reading the book & get to page 159. Jamaica Kincaid, through Xuela, laid down these words:
I was a woman and as that I had a brief definition: two breasts, a small opening between my legs, one womb; it never varies and the are always in the same place.
Simple writing, right? That doesn't say anything real deep, does it?
Her: It's pretty straight forward. So, why does it speak to you? Perhaps I'm asking what does it say to you?
Me: At that time it stamped me as a woman. Legally, when I read this book the 1st time, I was. I was 21 but I didn't feel like a woman because where she said, "it never varies," I had a variance. There was no womb there. & I as far as my understanding of what distinguished a woman from a man was her parts & what she could do with those parts. It's all rather melodramatic, looking back on it, because I've known women without children my whole life. But I pitied them too as I was pitying myself. I think part of the problem is having been raised in an African-centered community, motherhood & womanhood seem to be synonymous. You couldn't be 1 without the other. So I was tryna figure out what I was, what options I had for who I was going to be. Jamaica Kincaid's simple words broke a woman down so simply that it helped me see that a woman was the exact opposite.
Me: I mean more. Much more than those 2 breasts & that small opening between my legs. A woman is a complex being. I'm not suggesting that men aren't, but...
Her: I wanna make sure I'm hearing you correctly. Through Jamaica Kincaid's very minimalist offering, you discovered women's complexities?
Her: OK, I'm sold. Can I borrow a copy of the book?
Me: I wish you could, but if there was any book on my shelf that doesn't leave out, it's this 1. There are only 2 people, thus far, in the world who I'd let borrow this book: my cousin who I've helped raise & is like my daughter & my [god]daughter who I've also helped raise. I think the messages in the book are good for both & sure that they'll be at very different points in their life when they'll need to read it. My copy...it only gets loaned out once, so if it resonates with them, they'll have to get their own copies & get in on reading it on their own schedule.
Her: Well, you definitely got me feeling like I need to read it. I'd say you've done your job for today. Too bad you won't get paid for it.
Me: Story of my life.
Her: (sigh) I know this life. Thanks for sharing with me today.
Watch [us] move.