Monthly Archives: July 2016

Superhero Earrings: Retirement and Call for Collaboration

Making earrings for money is not my calling. At all. So the following is my story, my project, and a request for participation.

The Beginning

In the beginning, there was Charisma Eclectic. She is a fantastic jewelry maker from Louisville who transferred images onto wood discs to make earrings (her website is down but I will tag it when it goes back up). I bought a pair of Foxxy Brown earrings from her and felt like a boss when I rocked them.

A picture of me pointing to earrings that are Foxxy Brown on a wood disc.

Earrings made by Charisma Eclectic in 2011.

I was living in Atlanta then and the boss of the local feminist bookstore asked me if I could make those earrings to consign at the store. I told her that I hadn’t made my own but that I knew I could. My superpower is an ability to learn all things crafty on YouTube. I can do anything with my hands and with practice, I can do anything well. That sounded seedier than I meant it to but I am talking about crafts.

I learned to make the earrings but never sold them to the bookstore.

I began to make gifts for my loved ones. Specifically, I used the medium to write love letters to SOLHOT, a group of Black Girls from Champaign, IL that changed my life in one performance and sent ripples through my life that show up in my writing, my art, my research, and my mothering. One of my first pair of earrings was for Sakia Gunn, a 15 year old lesbian murdered in New Jersey in 2003. I was too shy to take pictures of my own work then, but I laid her image over the words “know and remember,” which is one mantra of SOLHOT. I made and continue to make earrings with the ethos of SOLHOT.

Enter Money

This is what I’m supposed to think about money: Money loves me. Money wants to fuck me. Money wants to marry me. I attract money. I am moneysexual. Money gravitates toward me. There is enough money in the world for everyone to have some.

But the last line is the only thing I know for true, I’m woke to the people who are trying to make it untrue, and the rest of the money-attraction script reminds me of the Dave Chapelle joke about The Secret :

My truth is that I don’t like money. I don’t know enough about it and my relationship to it is one of need. I need money. I am not financially stable. I don’t have a place to live. My car needs work. Asali’s shoes hurt. I could continue, but I really want to believe in “The Secret” so I’m afraid that truth-telling is the same thing as cementing my reality as the only possibility.

But this background and my partial list is the reason that I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE. Excuse me… I’m not yelling at you. I’m yelling at the universe.

On Selling While Struggling

“Everybody out this way is struggling,” my little brother said on the phone to his friend last night. It was the first time that a description of my current situation didn’t feel like an indictment. Or a curse. In his mouth, the struggle was just an observation. And while it is sad that the struggle precluded us (in another post, I will tell you how good it feels to be included in “everybody out this way” unless my brother reads this and tells me in his own unique and hilarious way that I actually wasn’t) from participating in whatever offer was made, we were still okay. Having fun, even. Yesterday was a fun and brotherful day.

The day before was hell. I practically begged my daughter’s father for $10 for her food, I found out there’d been no movement on an expected contract, I got insufficient fund notices from my bank and, oh yeah, I posted pictures of a batch of earrings I’d made.

The night before hell day, my daughter had cried herself to sleep while I was unaware. To be fair, she’d had a pretty long day. But she was also afraid of the drill I use to convert the discs to earrings. I taught that day so I had to make the earrings at night when I was with her. By the time I finished the earrings, I found her huddled in a ball on the downstairs couch, dried tear tracks on her sleeping face. I held and rocked her feeling like Isaiah Washington’s mama in the made-for-tv story. This will all be worth it tomorrow, I told myself as if I’d just worked a 12 hour shift instead of making some earrings. Still, the stress of feeding a kid by yourself because someone else trusts you not to let her starve to death imbues even the most joyous money-making task with a level of fatigue and resentment.

The next day I posted the earrings and crickets. This is the part where selling earrings becomes fucked up for relationships and friendships. I radiate stress. I don’t want to look at any ancestor whose face I put on a pair of earrings and think about $15 or where it’s coming from and how soon.

Prince did not ask to participate in my narrative of scarcity.

Prince did not ask to participate in my narrative of scarcity.

Resolve

A good friend asked me to decide if my earrings were an art project or entrepreneurship. If I were financially stable, I would say the former without question. I would continue to make gifts on my own time and send them out to friends and loved ones whenever they crossed my mind. My earrings would be what they once were– a prayer for well-being, a dirge for those we lost too soon, a gift to the ancestors whose words still ring in my ears… I would only do custom projects for my friends and family who are honoring their own kin or inspiration with earrings. So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m shutting down the factory because there’s no real way to pay myself more than $6 per hour (I’ve done the math every way I know how) to create these earrings unless I exploit child labor (Asali really did have fun cutting circles in my lap, but she did four circles then ran off to play) or rush through production in ways that make it less than art. Which is not to say that my art is perfect– it’s not. But I’m explaining process.

Sidenote: I will never ever ever ever ever ever ever get my Black or Africentric jewelry or clothing from the hair store again. Now that I know exactly what it takes and the ways ppl are making fashion statements for folks like me who can afford to make fashion decisions by working for less than half of minimum wage. They can miss me with that. Which is another pair of dream earrings on the horizon.

Project (More Info Coming Soon)

I have been playing with a letter project for 2 years now and I’d really appreciate your help. I still want to make your earrings. I just want to find a way for us to gift each other in the process.  This project has gone through so many iterations but here is the latest:

This is a freedom project. How are you getting free? Who taught you your method? Please tell me the story of that by way of a letter to your freedom star. Here is an example:

Audre Lorde earrings. Paper on wood.

Audre Lorde earrings. Paper on wood.

Dearest Audre,

Look at you looking cute in your Kente stole. Hand extended, jaws taut, you teach me that generosity need not be sweet. You teach me that teaching may be uncomfortable. You teach me to choose my arena, sit with my rage, then find and create spaces to recharge with my own people.

Black feminist, lesbian, poet, mother, warrior, I am everything you are. You taught me to name the things I am and the things I want to be. You taught me how to fight. You taught me how not to implode. You taught me the real cause of cancer and you are teaching me that death as rest is a cure. 

I wish you could have rested more while you were here on this side. I wish there was not so much work to do. I wish you well and 82. I wish I was making your favorite drink and sitting at your feet. I wish I could twist your hair and pretend to be a fly on the wall listening to you kee kee with your girlfriends. 

One more thing– Remember the day you heard the story about the cop killing the boy on your radio and you had to pull over to the side of the road to write the notes that made “Power”? Because of the internet, this happens to me almost every day now. It’s no longer just the babies in my city I rage for (blessings to Mike Newby and Gynnya McMillen), but state-murdered babies around the country reach me in a newsfeed generated by my friends. How long would you have lived if you had Facebook?

In “Power,” you wrote:

“The difference between poetry and rhetoric

is being ready to kill

yourself 

instead of your children…”

Sister Outsider, I’ve become a poet and I have you to thank and my country’s government to blame. With the gifts you’ve left behind, you are teaching me to use the anger, do the work, and make the art. I wish you so much rest.

In love and honor,

Asha

What I Need

  1. Letters to Earring Subjects: Will you please participate in my freedom letter anthology  in exchange for earrings of your choice? The subject of your earrings can be artists, musicians, activists, and especially the local and personal relatives and friends that have authored your liberation. You send me the letter and the photo and I will send you the earrings.
  2.  Patience- I am hopefully starting a full-time job soon so the turnaround won’t be swift. The letter project will keep us accountable to each other.
  3. Money for startup- The way my checking and savings is set up… I don’t have the money to order the supplies I need for this project. If I can get ten participants to buy in at $10 each, I can start the project sooner than later. I’d like to have at least 30 letters/ sets of earrings, but to make the project cost-effective, I’ll need to raise the funds before I start the art portion. If anyone with more Internet savvy than me wants to help me add a Paypal link to this post, that would be awesome. For now, the email address associated with my PayPal account is ashafrench@yahoo.com
  4. Well Wishes and Love and Light- These earrings have always meant something to me. My brief experiment with mass production has taught me that I don’t have the constitution to do things without love. Any love you can send to this project, even if you can’t participate, would help to move this project forward and add a little more light.

 

Thank you for reading this far!!!

It Was All a Dream

I have lived this day before. In a dream. Shortly after my father was diagnosed with a terminal illness, I began to pre-grieve. If you  know me, then you know I have type-A characteristics and it should make sense that I would immediately try to perfect grief. But months after his diagnosis, a dream slowed this impulse down for me: I dreamed that I was in my family’s bathroom and crouching to clean out the cabinet. I came upon my father’s toothbrushes– the no-frill ones that had his family dentistry business information stamped on them. These were the toothbrushes I used most frequently growing up, and the meaning of the dream was immediate: Soon, these toothbrushes will be what you have left of your father. For now, you have the real thing just feet away in his room. Get up and live.
I woke up and immediately Picture of my father with me as a baby. We are laying on the bed and I am laughing. We both look into the camera. 10277548_10104047529300699_5061307054517493345_napplied the dream to my life. I became present more with my father, willed myself to push the end of his life to a corner as I enjoyed his company. I didn’t always succeed but he lived for 8 years after cancer and I laughed with him more than I cried for him during those years.
I believe time is cyclical and the dream was a premonition. Today I cleaned out the cabinet in my family’s bathroom and found the last two remaining toothbrushes from my father’s business. I wept like I did in the dream but this time there was no waking up to a reality where he was actually there. I can’t feel his stubble anymore when I kiss his cheek and he is not here to tell me my head is too big to lay on his shoulders. Maybe the dream was this moment’s version of myself communicating with the girl I was in that eight year span that was neither BC (Before Cancer) or AD (After Daddy). I needed to be present in those limbo years and I’m glad I found a way to give myself that heads up. But what of today? How to be present with grief?
I am a big, grown Daddy’s girl and today I had to go looking for him in the wind. What I did to find my Daddy today:
1) Cry in public.
This morning, I posted a long, emo post about the struggle of being in the red again when my daughter asks for toys. I felt like my father. He frequently cried in public and only jokingly called it allergies. The difference is that he was very private about financial matters. Although he struggled under the weight of Reaganomics while raising 4 kids, I doubt he told anyone but his closest friends. Hell, I didn’t even know how much he struggled until the limbo years. I wonder now if it killed him. Slowly. The worry over the collapsing American dream (the one Trump’s wife plagiarized)  building like cancer in the blood. There are so many other things worth dying for. I will not die in service to the American dream. My first name is not Horatio. My last name is not Alger. I have no investment in this fiction. So I cry about it in public unashamed.
2) Hold a baby.
When my father was first diagnosed with cancer, the meds made his hands shake and he couldn’t work for a while. Dentistry was integral to his identity not because he loved it (he didn’t) but because it was his livelihood. He struggled in those days to feel a sense of worth as he wasn’t contributing as much financially and this society paints financial contribution as the only way to participate in full humanity. I call bullshit and so did he… by holding my godsister everyday. He shared his diagnosis with the family in December and she was born in May. During the first months of her life, he visited her ever day. He held her to stare at her and sometimes he cried.  I know that holding her and holding others is what kept him alive longer than his diagnosis. He was given 1 – 5 years and he lived for 8. Today I held my godsister’s baby sister who is a month and a half old. I held her and wondered if my father also meditated on the fragility of human life– on the fact that we were all once this dependent on others to live. On the irony that a few tiny cells gone haywire could render us this helpless again.  Back then, he told my godsister’s mother that when the baby smiled in her sleep, she was talking to kinfolks on the other side. He wondered out loud who she could be talking to. Today, when I held the sleeping baby in my arms and she broke into huge grins, I didn’t wonder. I knew.
3) Let people feed me. 
Daddy was as much his Momma’s boy as I am Daddy’s girl. During the limbo years, he took long lunch breaks at his mother’s house and she fed him and let him sleep. Daddy was good at being company. He wasn’t funny about other people’s food and he was everybody’s welcome guest. One of his favorite stories is about the only sentence he knows how to speak in Spanish, “La comida es muy buena.” He learned it in dental school when he went home once a week with a colleague whose mother cooked for them. He told me that he said it every week and she always laughed. Today I was my Daddy’s daughter and people fed me and my daughter all day. It was humbling and new and joyous and my new shit. My Daddy was a magnet for “Come on over” friends but I am just growing into this comfort with interdependence… I’m no island. Peninsula maybe (shoutout to Andre)… Being fed by people teaches me to feed folks. I have new dreams for my future kitchen, my future space. I imagine making big pot dinners like the ones my father used to make. I imagine stretching meals like he used to so I can accommodate people who drop in. I imagine people dropping in. Letting loved ones feed me today has helped me imagine my own home. My own couch. My own table.  Since I first moved back into my mother’s house, the dream of my own space has grown more vague with every failed attempt to “get on my feet.” Today I know that there is joy to be had even before you are able to walk. And I know that when I am able to afford my own space, it won’t just be my own space.
4) Write a messy blog as if with horse hooves.
Daddy was a musician. He played the piano, organ, and the bass guitar. He read music and played by ear. He listened to songs over and over and picked out their tunes until he learned them. He had a piano and a Rhodes, the first in the living room and the other in the den. What I am trying to day is that my father didn’t have a “piano room.” A place to practice and fumble in private. He worked out his songs in company. Once when he was preparing for a church concert and wearing out a chord that he was trying to get right, I joked that he sounded like he was playing with hooves. He laughed and kept hoofing. By the time he got to the concert, he’d grown enough to play the song he heard in his head. Today I have decided to write like my Daddy played the piano. While it is true that music is both his talent and passion, it is also true that he wasn’t immediately great at every song he tried. He gave himself permission and humor in flubbing and he found joy in practicing– even before a critical audience. This blog post in particular feels like Daddy fumbling through that song. The right way to say this or that hovers just above my head, which is cloudy with grief and exhaustion. This blog post is not the way I like to write. There is little poetry and craft is all over the place. I am trying to get at something and I’m not sure what it is. I am writing to learn, much like my father played that jumbled chord over and over until he learned to control his fingers, perfect his timing, and match his imagined sound to his real one. I am tired of the writer’s room, the lonely coffee shop and the journal corner. I am the daughter of a Baptist pianist. I play to bring on the shout, release the tears, and punctuate the part of the sermon that promises to set you free. But this is living room practice, so I appreciate your hanging around as I fumble through it.