We have been holding our breathe for Amanda Gorman’s book since January. We finally got a copy of it this part Friday. The title: Change Sings. It begins with a little girl holding guitar, strumming a tune, as if to begin belting how change sings, how not to fear too for its coming. Next, we see her walking through a prism of colors and words that inspire change. There is even an image of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr as the little girl dreams with the cries of true dreamers. And so the story begins. The little girl slowly assembles other young people just like her hoping for a change that sings, long for it’s it’s mysteries, it’s history, collective strength and light that each day brings. We awaken to love when change sings, to courage when change sings, to tolerance of differences that roar and springs when change sings. But the beauty of this story is that change has always been there, inside of you and me, growing like a seed, something the world needs, something we too can sing along too, for change, it’s gifts, it’s mysteries, are all ours when we give it a fighting chance. Clearly we love this book. Keep a change that sings for you and me.
My son has begun to leave traces of his drawings and coloring everywhere. He loves drawing these days because Mo Whilems taught him how to draw a pigeon trying to drive a bus. He also loves coloring because alpha blocks are zesty and full of colors. They taught him how to color within alphabet known as blocks. It’s as if he has begun an endless hunger for art. But it’s his art assignment at school that has me mesmerized this morning. Coloring or drawing didn’t come naturally or easy to him. Here is a boy for whom coloring between the lines or within spaces was a chore. There were assignments full of coloring that he never really completed, never really understood, and saw as a waste of time, if as things to assign. The colors he placed rather haphazardly disturbed nothing, moved nothing too. From then on, coloring became a chore, another thing to do, another thing, often described as boring, this thing that we bore into him.
Until this summer, our summer of light, our summer full of discoveries. It was this summer, one with no therapy, that my son discerned for himself, the intimate sustained surrender to art for art’s sake. In the absence of demands, through frames that are separate, yet particular, a pigeon, alphablocks, and now the Virgin Mary, this thing that was once boring, complements his minds’s many dazzling ways, deepening an enduring desire to do more, be more, involved yes, but consumed more with what he creates with his own hands. A pigeon, alpha blocks, even the Virgin Mary all pry open the pages of his intriguing mind. His art, has become now, more important, than his silence, more important than days where his mind frays or melts down. This is a keep worth reliving over and over again, one where his art is becoming life, one frame at a time.
I asked him, why he even painted Virgin Mary brown. Most depictions are of a fair lady, fairer than the white of snow. His is only 7 years and I am fascinated with how he depicts humanity. His response as clear as a sunny day: because she is supposed to be brown. I don’t take this response lightly. His mind is a puzzling masterpiece to all of us that know him intimately. To see this journey, to watch as he follows his path, through art, through colors, through people, is to see possibilities with minds on a spectrum. All of us that are typical have so much to learn from children on the spectrum, whether from their thoughts on pigeons, or alpha blocks or Virgin Mary. Don’t wait for society to tell us how they should act or speak or even react to ways that are untypical to a typical mind. Each of us are destined to use the skills we have to meet minds that dream of days were dreaming is life’s streaming, this beaming in need of more esteeming. I am learning each day that those of us with the privilege to see how the brain works differently are the lucky ones. How each coloring, each drawing becomes a thing worth keeping is my prayer for you, for me, a desire for what to come when we all keep coloring. Keep it, because it’s what you, we, are all supposed to do.
I waited a day to write this. I waited to see if anyone would remember. I searched Google. The local news in Birmingham didn’t forget. It was the 58th anniversary. 58 years of flowers that could have bloomed, yet cut too soon, gone too soon. The youngest among them, Carole Denise McNair, only 11 at the time of the bombing would have turned 69 this year. Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, and Carole Robertson, all 14 at the time, would have been 72. There lives were cut short because of hate. And 58 years later, only 3 sites, 2 of them, local news sites remembered. These are times when words don’t come. Yet for the sake of history, these are times when words are all we have, since their story, their history, are cut from books that should have their stories. We still live in times of hate, where lives so fragile, are cut so soon, with so many gone too soon, that we fail to remember where the sun set to soon. Yet their memories, even their stories of flying and sailing away to soon, to a place, to love that replaced hate, something so unfamiliar to date, is the keep I choose to remember in this space. Their lives may have been short, their deaths even quick, but none of that was in vain, Toni Morrison wrote in her book ‘Remember.’ I agree. I so agree.
I have been writing and deleting the start of an imaginary book yet unwritten. As if afraid to walk into my moonlight. Yet, fear is the last thing on my mind. So I keep writing. I call it ‘Black Mom Light.’ A coming-of age memoir for rising as a black mom from darkness to light. An anti-racist memoir on being a black mother in today’s America. I also call it ‘Brown Mom Listing.’ The second name is from Jacqueline Woodson ephemeral memoir in verse, ‘Brown Girl Dreaming.’ If her memoir were full of poems that were profound and moving, mine, are full of lists, a keep list, equally profound and captivating. I am obsessed with the style of her book that it inspired name number 2. I imagine my keeplists, what you read here every day as listing or the act of putting words, or stories into lists to keep. I also envision them as being focused on what truly matters and keeping that for myself, for yourself, for my people, for your people, for humanity. These lists span my days like a wide bridge, wild butterflies too, forever ready to spread their wings and fly, forever ready to move to new heights, to new places, so many wonders to see, in the words of my daughter, my forever muse.
The thought of what to keep, what to list each given day is a treasure for each passing day. They give me strength for days when none is left. They help me attend to other things too, like my other obsession, grant writing. Every lists carries my heart and my thoughts to somewhere. Maybe flowers. They are also my forever muse , forever brilliant, forever of use. Maybe trees. I have no names for all I see, but they too help me attend to all I need to do. Tall luscious trees and their graceful abundance are bound to make you dance as the make me dance. Maybe my children. My forever muse. Not a day goes by without being caught in their spell, their wants, their blissful gifts, that lift to new abyss. But hidden at the root of all I choose to keep is a desire for legacy, for light, for rising above what society says we should or must do as parents, as professors, as people. Yet for every thing I keep, there are some I still don’t share here. Some written even at the same time. Like the one written right before I shared this one. Those ones are part of what I describe as my extraordinary lists. We are all extraordinary people in the end. No one else exists as me, with thoughts like mine. I would rather I live life in extraordinary ways than ways destined to be ordinary. I wasn’t made of ordinary. So this list is my attempt at that. One keep at a time. The destination remains unknown. We are moving beyond the rigidness of your vision. If this is our first meeting. Welcome. The vision for this keeplist is extraordinary. Every list is in place of the vision society may have for women like me. A keep of sorts, of conversations we are not having, of refusals to be silent. This woman maybe black or brown. But her voice is shrouded in light and with each day, she walks out into moonlight to touch her power.
Something about a new school year keeps me hungry and restless to learn something new. A new strategy, a new framework, a new innovation, a new story. This school year, I am taking lessons from the master storyteller herself. Though she is gone, Toni Morrison’s many many literary treasures continues to teach and inspire and help me soar to new heights, new possibilities, new dreams. Today, I am dreaming of a time when schools began the tumultuous journey to integration. Many may take it for granted that black and white children can go to schools together today. But there was a time this wasn’t the case. Toni Morrison’s book ‘Remember’ is a historical work for young people, full of archival photographs that depicted what happened after the U.S Supreme Court declared segregation in schools unconstitutional.
Through a fictional account of the dialogue and emotions of students who lived through the era, Morrison reminds us all to remember because and as she noted, ‘it’s the mind’s first step towards understanding.’ And so we begin a journey towards remembering, towards a time where there was as much hate as there was love, as much anger as there was hope, as many heroes as cowards. This fictional account of ordinary people living ordinary lives takes us to new journey, new friendships, new kinds of fear, and old kinds of emotions. A wide road maybe ahead, but the path towards it was narrow, often closed, before we even see a path. This was also a time when children had to be braver than their parents, when pastors, priests and rabbis walked with strangers. It’s this time that I choose to remember. Not because of the difficulties of this period, but more so for the path that unfolded, the brave people, brave children that walked through them, through closed doors into possibilities that make today glimmer with hope. We cannot forget this time and I urge whoever you are reading this to keep remembering too.
I was greeted by roses today. Crimson-eyed ones. China ones too. Each had a story to tell. A symbol to sell. Crimson-eyed ones are precocious, full of color, full of life, a colorful life. China ones are love personified, plus full of happiness, full of beauty, a beautiful happiness. Such was my Monday morning. A wish for life that is colorful. A prayer for life that is beautiful. A wishful prayer so precocious, so lovely. My prayer for you. I was greeted by roses today. Crimson-eyed ones and China ones too. May their beautiful colors, keep your life full.
I cherish the boisterous Black Angel that drives me. It’s ups and downs help protect the place where my power rises. Today, I let it rise beyond the sources of pains it’s leaves behind, sources of grief too. I let it eat, the few things that sustain me, like smoky hot party jollof rice and deep fried croaker fish. These details are not for you to be misled. They are for me to remember to keep what sustains me. To keep the memories from what passes through, the people who pass through too. This weekend, it was our bosom friend from Georgia, Tony. We met back in 2017, shortly after baby number 3 was born. He had a bad case of respiratory viral infection and he was only 2 weeks old. We met in the emergency room too. We have been tied in the hip ever since. This weekend he came all the way from Georgia to pay his condolence visit. To know him and his family, is to know love. A deep love, that is forever eternal between our families. We may not see for years, but when we connect, his love sustains, like smoky hot jollof rice and fish. These are the people that matter and this weekend I learnt once more to keep what sustains me. We are forever keeping Tony and his family in our hearts.
It’s time for new dreams, new stars to pursue, new light to seek out in this mysterious pulse we call life. I started to write a reflection piece yesterday. About auto-ethnography as lists and how it changed my life. Then I let the words speak and they spoke as they wanted too, highlighting unsuspecting dimensions, just as gentle as soothing breeze.
I did then and now still believe in the power of words, their power with pushing forward the highest in us, including all we inhibit inside our minds until they come to the surface. Starting this list of things to keep literally changed my life and for the better. It spoke to my joys and my hurdles with being a mother in academia. It also spoke to my doubts, and of course my fears, but mostly importantly circles of thoughts completed, many of which were like melodies from heaven for many unmeasured silences of being a mother, being black and being female in academia. In the end, these lists helped me to stay focused on what matters to me. The rhythms of life well lived on one’s own terms. Not the accolades, not the grants, and yes not even the papers or work. All of that is minimal in comparison to the blessings, the legacies that outlive what we do, long after we are gone. And we are all going to leave one day.
So this list is more so about that inner dialogue we all have within ourselves, I had within me, a private journey to my own truths of what matters to me, what I want to be known for, and how somethings, some people, some ideas, some hurdles, all of them combined, helped to restory my life one list at time. All of that combined helped to raise the possibilities of storytelling for me, hence why it’s time for new dreams. The talented and prolific author and poet Ben Okri is my guide and his profound and enchanting book of the same title is my inspiration. The destination, as with this lists, remains unknown. But I look forward to exquisitely crafted ideas that speak to the beauty and triumph of a being a black mom in light.
The words rise up. I note them. They come on their own, with their own nodes, own goals, that unfold one note at a time. They come with their own meaning everytime. I am obedient to the sounds that flow, the insights that grow, within minds long in need to ignite, in need of light. I am light. Like a tree that grows higher, and higher, branching out in different directions, like thick branches with lush green leaves full of water. I am green. I sit, listen, and let the words sway like trees on a windy day after hurricanes that stroke with water-like canes. Still these tree rise up and grow. For where trees grow, water flows. I am water. So to are my words. I have been discovering for the past year that where words flow, stories flow. I am stories. For one year, the stories in my mind, in spaces and boxes I once carved as private, have been flowing like a river. I am a river. A naturally flowing river, in search of an ocean, or a sea, a lake or another river. I have arrived at my destination. Words are my water, collected now in a river that flowed through a complex meandering path I called keep lists. There were no short paths. Every thing that mattered were loosened and dislodged like the rocks along the sides of river beds. I became loose with words that deepened my riverbed, eroded my hard phases, and elevated my soft places, all with grace. I am grace. An amazing grace, once blind but now open to all the spaces that make me whole. I poured myself into this space, poured my soul to the possibilities of this phase, of writing something to keep, words to keep, in a list to mold and shape as my own, in a list to own. And through this list, my words became fast-flowing. A source of energy, of life. I became soaked in the opportunities and form of each word, each list of things to keep. I am a list.
I have been reading a lot lately about lists, about why people use them in the first place. Most people write lists, to-do lists for example, to stay organized. Some write lists to stay in control, ticking things off when completed or moving things around to track completion. The first time I saved a list was in the middle of the pandemic. There were nothing to do with my lists. Nothing to track or even complete. My lists were focused on what to keep. A keep lists of experiences. The only objective: to write one list a day. The list was expected to make sense of life as a mother, a black working mother in academia with four children, one born in the fifth month of the pandemic. There were no organization necessary. No length was too long. Or to short. Everything was allowed in the lists. My thoughts, the news, my work, my family. Writing long lists was gratifying. So too were short ones that cut right to core. But lists about meaningfully people in my life, like my children, my students, my mentors, even the experiences of my husband on the frontlines or the last days with my sister in-law and her battle with cervical cancer were extra fulfilling. The pandemic and it’s impact were intense for all families. It was also equally frustrating, equally challenging, yet equally mesmerizing, and equally joyful. Not for the illness it brought or the deaths or sorrow it left behind, but for the discoveries, unexpected ones, like making a list, a virtual keeplists of time in a pandemic. There were no end in sight too. The pandemic held us all in a tight grip. And so the list grew and moved beyond the pandemic itself to capture life as we lived it one day at a time, all to preserve and protect all that mattered in a time where living was truly fragile.
Today marks the one year anniversary of this list. Words still do not fail me. They have become my everything, my hope, my joy, my hurdles, but yet my triumphs. I thank all of you that have read anything I wrote here. I thank you for coming on this journey with me. There is still no end in sight. Only that where my words still flow, my stories will surely flow.
I asked myself today, a question most mothers ask themselves everyday. How the hell do you do this? Today was the first time in close to three weeks I had a day to myself. Not an entire day, more like four hours for me. I have been running a nonstop marathon even with kids in school. A little after they all went back to school in mid August, they all became sick, one after the other. We thought it was Covid, took a test and it wasn’t. Just a nasty viral bug that meant sleepless nights and restless days. It all finally cleared up over the weekend and today, even my one year old went back to daycare. Just as I left his daycare, I took a deep breath and asked myself those seven letter words, that many mothers ponder everyday. My eyes immediately greeted Dahlia’s planted outside the daycare. A symbol of best wishes. It was as if it wanted to offer some to me. To wish me well at this moment I called my own. How does it swirl in this way I asked, with finely carved petals, that hang together neatly, as if painted by hand. I stopped and stared at them for a brief moment, took in the air and said a little thank you. How the hell do I do it? By his grace. His sheer grace. I am nothing on my own. I shudder to think that I can go through life on my own. We are not meant to do this thing called life alone. That’s how I do it. By his grace and it’s truly sufficient for me.