So in the 52 Essays in 2017 challenge, I’m behind. Way behind. Behind like I was in rent when I got my first eviction notice. Behind like my period when my daughter became more than a daydream. Behind like I am in my dissertation. And usually, when I’m behind I give up on shit. I guess I chose those three similes on purpose. Because it’s time for some new strategies. And the reason I can’t give up on the latter simile is because the middle simile and I lived through the first simile and I am only now recovering the bit of sanity I’d held onto through these past few difficult years. And you should know that I have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder Inattentive Type. And you should know that this diagnosis is one reason I get so behind on shit. Like most people have these executive assistants in their brains who type their memos and keep them on task and shit and well, I fired all mine. I don’t know when they got fired. There are all kinds of theories. Childhood trauma, biological determinism, trauma or drug exposure in utero, learned behaviors… the list goes on and it’s not helpful. Because the bottom line is they’re fired. Every one of those nice executive assistants who was supposed to keep me functioning has sought new employment in someone else’s brain. Which means my brain is often an anarchist’s riot. Which means it’s fun. Which means it’s scary. Which means I start more shit than I finish.
But I’m about to teach my community (of remaining brain inhabitants) to finish some shit.
I think the first thing a community must do to heal itself is expose those members who are being harmful and bolster those members who are valuable contributers, yet insecure because of their subjection to the mistreatment of the harmful community members.
In an effort to accomplish the latter task, I introduce you to some members of the former group: my internalized hatin ass hoes (IHAH). IHAH go by different names. Rick Carson calls them gremlins. Some people just call the phenomena of their destruction doubt, as if IHAH aren’t some entity unto themselves. As if IHAH aren’t intentional saboteurs of success. IHAH think alliteration is for losers. IHAH don’t respect the Baptist preachers I got much of my writing style from.
So in an effort to rescue this challenge (and hopefully my dissertation and future earnings), I want to briefly introduce you to a few of the essays IHAH have killed in the past few weeks when I wasn’t strong enough to stop them.
This is my big brother’s third week in the hospital. He has heart failure (diagnosed in 2005) and he suffered a brain bleed that is related to heart failure in ways I don’t understand. The trauma has knocked something loose inside me that was once steady and together; IHAH think this is enough of a reason to quit the 52 essays project altogether.
Oh, let me introduce you quickly (I told you I had ADD) to another member of my community. She is a shapeshifter. She presents as a gentle, quiet muse. Her ears are open to ancestors in a way that my own can’t be, what with the anarchy in my head. She hears them in her dreams. She is sensitive and thoughtful. She turns a thought over and over and over, connecting it to other thoughts like a million-piece puzzle. She is patient. That’s one side of her. She is also capable of shapeshifting into a sword-wielding warrior. Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba. She’ll cut you with her memories and slice your head off with her words. She goes for jugulars with action verbs. She is a force to be reckoned with. She will erase the hell out of that cliche and give you a fresh image that will never let you forget just what she is capable of. You don’t want to fuck with her. Her only weakness is IHAH. She wants to be loved by them. Why? Because they’re familiar and conveniently near. Besides, IHAH have her believing that nobody will affirm her but them. Nobody will read what she has to say when she does take a chance and say it. Nobody gives a fuck, IHAH say. But I introduce you to her because I want you to know that she has been so busy these past few weeks that I haven’t kept up with the challenge. Everything she builds, IHAH tear down.
So here are just a few of the remnants of her stomped-on castles:
“Games to play in the hospital room while waiting for your brother to live.” This is a form essay shaped like a “how to” or Wiki article. It suggests counting games of observation. For example, count all of the white people. Count all of the vocal Trump supporters. Count all instances of flatulence. Count the tiles, the lights, the code blues over the intercom. Just don’t count how many brothers you have, as this is an unstable integer. IHAH told her she was being dramatic. This integer isn’t unstable; he’s just on a gotdamn ventilator for god’s sake and you’re acting like he’s death rattling. Get over yourself and get happy for your sister-in-law. IHAH said don’t be a pussy. IHAH don’t know that pussies are strong, that they give the best hugs, that they stretch to meet the challenges presented. That some challenges they labor through while others they enjoy. And when pussies cry because they are too full to keep doing what they’re doing, theirs is a beautiful and necessary release. IHAH don’t think describing squirting this way is appropriate for a lady.
“When Natasha Scott Met Basquiat in a Parking Lot” One of the things I did to avoid the waiting room was watch documentaries. I saw the Basquiat documentary filmed by his friend who’d told him she wasn’t going to publish the footage. She was a white woman. Everybody in the film was white except for Fab Five Freddy and the specter of Basquiat’s insane mother. And my muse wanted to know what drove her to madness. And she wanted to know if he’d ever asked her. And she wanted to know what elixher there may have been in that answer. And I wanted to save his life in the last fifteen minutes of the film when I knew the rest of the story. I wanted to save him by opening my heart and legs since the latter is often the prerequisite for the former. And my muse wanted to problematize this, to wonder with me why this narrative haunts me. Why I keep thinking I can save folks that way. Why I keep wanting to fuck broken people like they are the only ones who have decent stroke and stamina. She wanted to ask me gentle questions, like didn’t I know broken people had no staying power? And shouldn’t I be fucking myself if fucking can actually heal a person? And shouldn’t I think about my own ideas about black women as I project them onto an artist I couldn’t have known because he wouldn’t have seen me? She wanted to take care of me. To help me stop obsessing over my exes and their white partners. She wanted to ask the questions I needed to answer to work this obsession out of my system once and for all. Then IHAH came along. They suggested going to Lipstick Alley, where someone had posed a question similar to the one that shaped my musings: did Basquiat ever date any black women? And then the questioner got dragged for asking. And then the dragger got dragged for dragging, And my muse thought we could use even that– even that sisterly impulse to drag the dragger of the vulnerable girl who asks painful questions in public. But IHAH said that was bullshit. Nobody was going to read another girl’s whining over a phenomena that was statistically irrelevant. Most black folks date black folks. The number of those who don’t is dismissable as a racist fluke, according to IHAH. It wasn’t worth investigating.
“Some Thoughts on Howling” My brother is a Que. If you are an outsider, he would tell you he was an Omega Man. But as the little sister of a man who takes his fraternity very, very seriously, I have been exposed to the insider personas of men who call themselves dogs. And I have interpreted this in ways that it was meant to be interpreted by some women. I gave little attention to the pack mentality that also shapes this metaphor. That is, until all the Ques came to the hospital. My muse noticed the way that grown men left my brother’s hospital room and headed straight for the bathroom. They came out with red, watery eyes. She noticed the way they got themselves together before approaching my sister-in-law, offering her whatever she needed. She noticed what they needed– their friend to be alive and well. I began to interview the Ques on camcorder because my brother is under heavy sedation and I wanted to give him the gift of recovering what his memory might not let him retain when he finally gets out of here. I asked the Ques, when did you know you loved my brother? And nobody bristled at the question. And everybody had an answer. And their parting words, when asked if I’d left anything out, were variations of “I love you, man.” My muse wanted to take these four words and lay them out flat, compare them to other moments when Ques were being Ques. Crying men, purple thongs, an ex of mine cheating on me with his now-wife during a road trip too many years ago to still care. She also wanted to interrogate my own disregard for men in this organization. How “hypermasculine” is a curse word on my tongue. How all of this is being destabilized by stuff I’m reading about black men’s vulnerability, by revisiting some of the early black women’s liberation writings, and by watching these men leave my brother’s room crying. IHAH think this is too simple a setup. They make fun of my would-be premise: boo hoo, a butt biter sheds a few tears and now there is no such thing as the black patriarch. Which is not what I was thinking at all. But that was enough to shut her down.
IHAH say this shit is too long. They say don’t hit “publish.” They say the problem with my writing is that I have too many words. Don’t nobody want to read all that shit. IHAH speak in the voice of my little brother. Sometimes IHAH speak in the voices of my white professors. This isn’t academic enough. I expected more from you. You are approaching history with an ahistorical lense. How dare you compare Emerson’s nationalism to Baraka’s? You’ll never finish. You’ll never finish. You’ll never finish.
Well, I’ve finished this introduction to IHAH, and that’s one step toward my goal.