Category Archives: Mama Outsider

Picture of back of Black girl's hair, styled in ponytails with ball ball elastics and barrettes on the ends.

Who I Be When You Look At Me: SOLHOT Part 3

“At that moment I just wanted to be there with the girls, as this is the primary investment of SOLHOT- to remind Black girls that we are right here with you.”
Ruth Nicole Brown

“…Dang!

                                                                                                             I said I’m almost ready I just

Got to

         Gotta

                                                                                                         Got to do

       Do

My

hair.

And if you don’t know this, then you don’t know nothin’.”
Ruth Nicole Brown

SOLHOT be
Braids, beads, barrettes,
ball-balls and Blue Magic
Bergamot between some
Big or Lil mama’s knees.

Mama/ Daughter Daydream 1
Girl: Mama, why do hair gotta tangle? Dang!
Mama: Daughter, it goes something like this. Your scalp be acting out the story of America. The Z pattern of West Africa resists the colonizing straight line of Europe and the way it gets along with the straight line of the indigenous strands depends on how those strands got there. Were your people the ones who met the indigenous and learned to live under the radar of white power in Maroon societies or were your people the ones who were bought and sold by people, Cherokee for example, who said, “Fuck it. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”? Sometimes, there is no way of knowing. My job, baby, is just to try to persuade all the people on your head to commune in some beautiful way. We can make something beautiful. I wish I could promise it would never hurt, but I can promise to be mindful of my own heavy hand and I can promise to be right here with you.”

Those who denigrate ball-balls, barrettes, and beads know nothing about protection or community or the protection of community. They pretend to learn everything they know about “protective styles” from internet blogs on “natural” hair. Our Mamas know there is nothing natural about the art on our head. They know it is jazz and they be makers of music.

They told mama
straight hair hurts less.
The lye burned bright.

I got my first perm when I was two years old. If you think this is an assimilation story, you know nothing about my Mama. You know nothing about tangles and tears, about dreaming of a daughter who does not have to cry as you cried, then finding her hollering between your knees, even your mechanisms of care perceived as weapons.

SOLHOT be
Ball-balls, beads, and braids.
Be navigators of necessary
pain. Be “ouch!” and “sorry!”
Be “that better?”
Be beaming “There.”

SOLHOT be
placing me back
between my mama’s knees,
be showin’ me how
to love this picture.

Mama/ Daughter Daydream 2
Girl: But mama, is our hair the only kind that tangles?
Mama: Hell no. These ain’t even tangles, more like cliques. I’m not detangling as much as I am reorganizing. Kinks and curls have the good sense to cluster for their own health and, with adequate moisture, are actually less likely to tangle than straight hair. Individual strands of straight hair meet at angles that make them more susceptible to knots. What any hair needs to avoid knotting are mechanisms to make contact less abrasive.

SOLHOT asks what conditioner is necessary for detangling (organizing)? Do it gotta be straight (middle class subjectivity)? No. Do it gotta hurt (petty-gogy of the oppressed)? Sometimes AND not always. Can it be fun? Yes. Show me how. Dance. Do yo thang, do yo thang, do yo thang for me!

The lie of all lye:
Apply it once and you’ll be straight.

It is not that the parents who place their children in the advanced program want them to be white. They trust white supremacy’s devotion to meritocracy. They hope that our approved (by whom?) applications will protect us from the disdain of teachers who see us as problems to fix.They do not want us to cry as they cried.

They could not have anticipated the lessons articulated by numbers alone. My school was in a predominantly Black neighborhood where most of the white kids were bused in for the advanced program. Hence, my only contact with white kids were with those who, like me, had tested in. Without this context, I let the numbers tell me this lie: if there are only three Black students in an “advanced” class of 24, and 17 Black students in the “regular” class, then it must be that most Black kids are “regular” and most white kids are “special.” I must be here by accident and someone is going to find me out. I begin to have panic attacks over new math.

Meanwhile, the “regular” students develop theories of power that rightfully implicate us in this lie. Outwardly, I begin to wear “special” as a defensive stance (a la Grant Hill) against the kids who accused me of thinking I’m all that because I walked to the white class. It was the classist tracking system that turned us against each other; it made the “special” kids year-long targets in the hallways, which made the “regular” kids lifelong targets of our bourgie theorizing based on a politics of advancement.

Our parents could not have anticipated our addiction to advancement, the way we strove to “touch up” our achievements like perms on new growth lest we be found out. They couldn’t have anticipated the way that some of us would be undone by our strivings, the ways we would be scarred by lye. I develop a fear of hallways and classrooms– a fear of violent contact with those who have not advanced, a fear of violent contact with those who doubt that I deserve my advancement. 

SOLHOT wrecks this. I am not a basket case tonight. I am a tender-headed girl who spent a lifetime in fear of snags, who began to think of my hair in terms of false attributes rather than analyzing its condition. “Dry” rather than “in need of moisture.” “Tangled” instead of “in need of reorganization.” A girl who learned to lean into the lye and let it burn like some holy ghost come to save me from my own flesh.

Still, the beauty of SOLHOT’s Black girlhood is neither inherent nor natural. In Hear Our Truths, Dr. Brown writes, “When identity is premised on sameness and Black girlhood premised on shared oppression, organizing Black girls’ spaces may surely replicate the same kind of disciplinary measures of control and surveillance strategies that Black girls have long since manipulated and outsmarted, foreclosing the kind of solidarity SOLHOT depends on.” Even in my SOLHOT-as-hairstyling metaphor, I am clear that homegirls are not about taming, controlling, or manipulating Black girls. Dr. Brown reminds us that black girls have already outsmarted these unnecessary patterns of control. Rather, the SOLHOT homegirl/ girl “we” is about stylin. Black girls choose the style because they have already figured it out: they gon’ think what they gon’ think. Which is the beginning of freedom. Because if they can think what they think, can blindly adhere to false evidence like measured (by whom?) skulls and standardized (by whom?) tests, then we can/ must do the same. We get to name what we see and decide to celebrate it. As a construction of freedom, Black girlhood is not essential to Blackness, but it is essential for surviving Blackness as somebody else’s construction. It is the promise, no the dream, that we can do more than survive our reflection in a broken mirror. SOLHOT carries their own mirrors.

In the middle of the performance, Dr. Brown and her ride-or-die homegirl, the one who said, “You mean Dr…” bring me a purple hand-mirror. In sharpie, someone has written “You are SOLHOT. We see you!” alongside hearts and names and encouragements that all drown in tears. I am baptising myself and it will take years to come up out of the water. When I do, I will be holding the hands of girls and homegirls.

SOLHOT be
mirrors
handheld
passed ‘round
talking back  
talking Black
singing a Black girl’s song:
SOLHOT, SOLHOT what do you see?
I see a Black Girl looking at me.
Black Girl, Black Girl, what do you see?
I see freedom looking at me.

Chart of uses of verb to be.

Who I Be When You Look At Me: SOLHOT Part 2

 

In the colonizer’s English, “be” is an intransitive verb, meaning it does not describe an action, but a fixed equivalency. Note the passive “fixed” and ask yourself fixed by whom? And if you ask yourself “fixed by whom,” then you join the daughters of Bambara, Jordan, Malcolm, and now Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown in critically thinking about how you came to be who you it is you think you are. Perhaps you will get to a point where you begin to wonder about who you are being and if you still all wrapped up in the colonizer’s game of fixed subjectivity- being one stable thing at any one stable time- then the shit might make you loopy. Which is to say the kind of woman who would walk around town in a dress so ill-fitting that it won’t zip up in the back. And then people might start wondering out loud about your dress and, if you don’t have a sense of humor because you have to breathe to laugh and you can’t hardly breathe in your too-little dress, well then you might just get defensive. Saying stuff like this is the proper dress and this is the right thing to wear and it wasn’t designed for just one kind of somebody and this is what everyone is wearing and if you (who look at me) can’t see that, then you must be the fools and I worked hard to get into this dress and I’ll be damned if I let one of you (spit that word with mad disdain) make me feel bad about it. Well, then you will be thoroughly Americanized.

Which isn’t to say that “be” in AAVE is inherently freeing. It’s used to describe habitual actions. Things that you do again and again. As in, we be compulsorily educated and still don’t know what we about. The habitual “be” can become an identity marker only inasmuch as it helps with familiarity– root word family. As in, She’s the one (of us) who be singing. Or she’s the one (of us) who be joking all the time. She’s the one who be snapping pictures. She’s the one who be hiding over there in the corner. She’s the one who be dancing. Stability isn’t a necessity. Especially when your folks have many talents and they don’t always be doing the same thing. Like, the one who be snapping pictures also be dancing.

Habitual “be” is freeing only when you embrace instability. As in, the one who be crying on all the skits might one day be the one who be laughing and dancing with us.

Tonight, I am the one who be crying on all the skits because SOLHOT is showing me who/ how/ what it is possible to be when they look at me.

  • It is possible to be poet and scholar. I make the mistake of calling Dr. Brown “Ruth Nicole” to one of the other homegirls because a mutual friend told me to tell Ruth Nicole she said hello. The homegirl snapped, “You mean Dr. Brown ?” and I corrected myself and mentally used the colonizer “be” to permanently fuse this person, my homegirl’s homegirl, with this title that frightens the shit out of me because I am being shown by my professors on a weekly basis that it’s a title I must cut my limbs off (and grow somebody else’s in their place) to fit (as in, “we expect more rigorous work in a graduate-level course). But here Dr. Brown is on stage doing spoken word about the “dirty work” of making a safe space for Black girlhood to be (as in exist) and I know that this is rigor. This can unapologetically (and without permission) be my work. 
  • It is possible to be a thick dancer. And I’m not thick. But I am other things that do not fit the images of dancing bodies that I have been consistently fed. Fed– another passive verb begging me to ask “by whom?” Which is to say that you can and should bite the hand that feeds you– often– to see if it is real. Because when possibilities are being fed to you, you can confuse “should” for “can only.” As in, “Hip hop video dancers should have small waists, big titties and huge butts” can transform (if you are not careful and if you stop keeping company with girls who be dancing) into “dancers (this loss of specificity is an end goal of product merchandizing) can only have small waists, big titties, and huge butts.” And when some yoke as heavy as this gets broken in a routine involving teenage girls and adults (I should also say this showed me that it is possible to be an adult dancer), well all you can do (all I can do) is cry.
  • It is possible to hold tension between theory and praxis. Chamara, Chamara, Chamara. That girl is something else and I trust that you know what I mean. Chamara is unpacking nonviolence as theory and praxis and, in doing so, breaking all the rules somebody else made up about being with Black girls: Be a mentor, as in be more knowledgeable than they are about everything. Show them “the way” to where you find yourself, especially if you have multiple degrees. Teach them not to cuss, not to roll their eyes, not to talk back, not to fight, not to do any of the things they need to do to handle their problems with the tools they already have. Gift them with the tools of middle class “civility.” Tonight, Chamara wrecks all of this with love. When you love the person who is making herself vulnerable to you (as in, If I don’t fuck this girl up, then she’s going to keep bothering me), you don’t judge the choices she thinks she needs to make. Part of loving Black girls (as intentional practice) is letting them be. 
  • It is possibly to be many things or anything. It may or may not be true that every time the song bird returned to the stage, I cried. I was overwhelmed by her freedom to do it all. To sing, dance, and act. To poet. To open herself up to the scrutiny of strangers. I began to ask myself the questions that have shaped the last few years of my life. What are the conditions necessary for this kind of freedom? What are the conditions necessary for this kind of confidence? What are the conditions necessary for this kind of joy?

To Be Continued…

Singer whitney Houston circa eighties holding microphone to her mouth mid-song.

Who I Be When You Look At Me: SOLHOT Part 1

March 2012

My daughter is one and a half and she is just fine after having had heart surgery five months ago. Six months ago, my father narrowly escaped death and we do not know that he has just one year to live. I have been in my graduate program for four years and I am just beginning to conceptualize my dissertation topic. I am dating a man who is stirring up my latent queerness with his incredibly long hair, his repetition of “no homo,” and his refusal to connect on an emotional level. My relationship with a family member I’ve depended on is on the precipice of disaster. I don’t intellectually perceive any of these things, but I must know them somewhere deep, some unknown and liquid place that erupts in a moment that is supposed to be celebratory.

I’m sitting in a performance with near strangers at a conference on Black girlhood. This is my first conference as an invited speaker and I’d bombed the night before. I wasn’t myself because I was still trying to figure out who I was as an artist turned academic. There were things I knew that I wasn’t prepared to defend– namely, that Black girls were okay, that Black girlhood could be a space of freedom, that dancing freely (even sexually) is spirit work.

Tonight is the main event of the conference, the performance of a movement from Champaign, Illinois called Saving Our Lives, Hearing Our Truths (SOLHOT). Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown built the movement on this vision: Black girls are free and Black girlhood is freedom. Tonight, I will begin to learn the things I need to know to live free in this world. And as I reach for language to describe who I am in this moment, I realize that we don’t have language for emotional vulnerability that isn’t tied up in the concept of the enlightened and completely rational Western subject.

My impulse is to call myself a basket case, a term with ableist origin that was first used around World War I to describe quadruple amputees who may have been transported in baskets. I want to dwell for a moment on the impulse to create a derisive slur to describe interdependence– especially interdependence that is reparative for some trauma. The disdain we harbor for interdependence has to be a projection of guilt for the way that we have, as a nation, behaved toward other human beings. Hence, independence becomes the  defensive stance of the abuser who knows he deserves neither a shoulder nor a hand from most of the people around him.

What kinds of people turn mechanisms of interdependence into insults? Welfare, Affirmative Action, literal or figurative baskets, or hands, hands, for goodness sake!!! According to the logic of extreme independence, a scholar who needs hand holding isn’t a scholar at all. What kinds of people denigrate holding? Denigrate babies? Do we not see how fucking happy babies are when they are being held? Do we not see that they are showing us how to live?

I am in need of holding tonight. I sense that I can’t hold myself, my world, my relationships, my family, together by myself and I haven’t grown comfortable in that truth yet. That’s why I am bawling on the shoulder of a stranger who lives out her name, Angel.

Angel and I begin to cry when the first teenage girl sings Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.” Whitney had just died a month before. So much of her story was wrapped up in my lived girlhood and my notions of girlhood as a site of repression. I’d grown up hearing that Whitney’s addiction was a result of her choice in lovers. “Don’t date the wrong kind of man or he will fuck your whole shit up” was the lesson. Many years later, I learned that she didn’t have a real choice, that the real love of her life had been disallowed. American darlings can’t be queer. The yoke of that disallowance was broken in death, so maybe freedom brings the water to the surface. Freedom for Whitney, freedom for the brown girl singing her song like she knows what it feels to love a person you can’t hold forever. I keep learning how it feels.

I can’t stop crying. I try.

To be continued…

On Dancing Naked While Bumping “Cell Therapy” w/ the Drapes Open

Two black girls, maybe teenagers, dancing together.

Camille Brown’s “Black Girl: A Linguistic Play”

 

It seems apropos that as I face this page, I am anxious about where to enter the metaphor of personal writing as nakedness. Black girl nakedness makes everybody anxious for exactly that reason. Who will enter and how and who will be blamed when the entering changes the girl into something she hadn’t planned to be?

I’ll back up. This writing started as a daydreamed response to an article I read the other day about the cheapness of the personal essay. Apparently, writers are being exploited for clickbate and paid less than those who are “true” journalists in that they interrogate others instead of themselves. It’s curious (but not surprising in a capitalist society) that access is confused for cheapness (see, for example, the way that the essay is denigrated to “think piece” just as folks have more access to publishing on their own terms). It’s curious (but not surprising in a sexist society) that everybody wants to tell women what to do with their terrible stories, especially if it involves suppressing the very narratives that might set them free. It’s curious (but not surprising in a racist society) that the life writing of Black women is dismissed as a too-heavy reliance on identity politics that isn’t rigorous enough to be respected as a way of knowing. And so, the article says, take your time and write a real essay. Take your time and do real research. As if writing the self is not useful research. As if writing the self (especially when that self is dismissed and denied access) is something cheap. A woman scribbles in a journal in one room while Montaigne essays on sheets of fine rice paper in another. Fuck outta here.

To write the personal is to get naked and to get naked is power when folks be talking under your clothes no matter what you wear. When I write my life, I am beating to the punch the people who might write about my broke black single mama life and its influence on my more “serious” work as a scholar, poet, or novelist (enter “Nikki Rosa”.) There are too many untrue stories about my type for me not to write naked. Which is not to say I write in defense of myself, perched on the veneer of respectability and issuing demands to be treated as royalty. I am writing to remind myself that my truth doesn’t fit dominant frames, that the abuse I receive is because of the way this threatens folks. I am writing the story that will save my own life.

But I don’t do this without fear. I am afraid of what will happen if the wrong people see me naked, if they think my nakedness is an invitation to the very discourse that erases me. The other trying to fit my body (of work) into a framework that she understands well. I thought the answer to this was to always be writing inside a frame.

Enter Goodie Mob’s “Cell Therapy.” A chorus I’ll never forget. “Who’s that peeping in my window? Pow! Nobody now.” I am 13 years old in 1995 when I hear Cee-lo’s alto reminding me of a deacon’s prayers. It’s been three years since I saw Spike Lee’s Malcolm X in the theater with my father and my best friend. We were a militant pair in fifth grade, refusing to stand for the pledge, admonishing our peers to stop playing cowboys and Indians, wondering aloud why we had to wish for white Christmases. For that reason, for the magic of us, two Black girls figuring out the world together, for the memory of my father standing up in the theater and dancing to “Revolution” as the credits rolled because he understood what I am only learning– that sometimes you have to snatch some joy from the ether when there is nothing but sadness all around–, I merge “Cell Therapy” and the classic image of Malcolm X with a gun in his window in my mind. Who’s that peeping in my window? POW. Nobody now.

In this merger, the interior is that which should be defended against brutalizing others who are literally trying to blow your shit up. The (window) frame is the incessant naming of the systems that oppress you. But what does the marriage of this image and this song mean in the age of the internet? When trolls have so much access, when they are the ones who linger and say “Nigger, I dare you to show your face,” every time you part your drapes? What happens to the work when you write as if there is a gun in your hand, when you lean so much on the frame that you forget to enjoy the interior? Who’s that peeping in my window? If I care too much about the answer, I couldn’t write soul-open the way that I want/ need to write.

My muses don’t hang around when I decide to claim my right to be naked and get all jittery about who w ill be watching at the same damn time.Ms. Lucille is one such muse and today she showed up to save my life with this poem:

 

if i stand in my window

naked in my own house

and press my breasts

against my windowpane

like black birds pushing against glass

because i am somebody

in a New Thing

 

and if the man come to stop me

in my own house

naked in my own window

saying I have offended him

I have offended his

 

Gods

 

let him watch my black body

push against my own glass

let him discover self

let him run naked through the streets

crying

praying in tongues

 

(from Good Times, 1969)

 

Come through, Ms. Lucille! And thank you for the last stanza, for the way that you elucidate the real fear of coming upon a black woman naked in her own home: what truth will her nakedness speak about you? In what ways have you put on the wrong clothes in your quest for civilization? In what ways do the ideals of Western enlightenment actually make you less human? Less connected to the earth, to each other, to the ever-elusive self?

An aside: Mab Segrest, in Born to Belonging, is also helping me figure this out. The introduction (or 1st chapter?) to this book is an amazing history of the enlightened self that betrays the sadness of the Western subject—the way these lonely men got it dead wrong.

Which is to say that I’m doing something different than getting naked to press my breasts against the glass. I’m winding. To wind is to exercise muscles you didn’t know you had until you started to move. It is to get progressively better without instruction in the top-down way that we think of education. This is black girl cipher-speak. An invitation to show up and watch me show out. An invitation to do your own dance for me, to show me that things I had never imagined are possible. It is to learn and teach in chorus. Yelling, “Yes!” and “Get it!” and “Okay!” and “I see you!” and “Do it!” and “Werk!” It is the glory of being seen by folks who find joy in the seeing. By folks whose desire is not dangerous. This is clearing work. Dancing as if there are no cracks in the trees.

And what if one decides to step outside of the clearing? For money, no less. Does it negate the protection of the clearing? Can I still hope for relative clearing safety when I am stepping outside? It is true that I have chosen to dutty wine in crowds that weren’t created for me. To do that is to take on the danger of being misunderstood, or worse, fixed by people who are afraid of what this naked dance stirs inside themselves.

But dancing outside of the clearing is also to imbue the hips with hope. That there will be enough clearing members in the crowds to save you should shit go terrible. That the people standing round won’t all be terrible. That the commonality of your humanity will move someone. Maybe.

If not, I hope my girls will still come through, form a hedge around me, and dance with me wherever I am. Won’t you come?

Jay Z in a hoodie and black sunglasses.

On Jay Z and Bragging Rights

The Blueprint 3 kinda sorta saved my life. That’s dramatic. It really just helped me keep my chin up during a moment I thought was the worst of my academic career that was actually pretty tame compared to the worst.

During this time, I was in a battle of wills with someone backed by the power structure that is the university system (aka “the official”). The official wanted me to TA a class that was unrelated to my teaching interests. Back in the day, I thought exploitation was what happened to people who didn’t speak up. So I spoke. And I was labeled a problem. My reputation preceded me, so when the white woman I TA’ed for thought I was giving attitude, she called in the dogs.

I was a second year graduate student in a PhD program. Every week, someone was writing about the shrinking job market, the lack of opportunities, the cut-throat world of academia. My success seemed unlikely even with white allies and impossible with white enemies. Students in my department were whispering about the drama; they were saying I was stupid, irresponsible, not worthy of the fellowship I’d received. In short, I was afraid. Terrified, even.

Enter B3. That year, “swag” was only beginning to be a cliche and the album dripped with it. I became one of the students who stomped the yard with my headphones in, always looking straight ahead. Zoning out was a strategy I’d learned from other students of color at PWI’s. I hadn’t needed this strategy when I was a student at Howard. The yard was full of friends or at least people I knew. To walk the yard was to risk losing track of time, as running into a friend could derail your plans. It was love.

I was a second year graduate student and I hadn’t learned to find the love in white spaces. The blanket of whiteness terrified, then choked me. I didn’t know enough to hang around the Af-Am studies department, chatting with the secretaries who had saved and salvaged some of my friends’ academic careers.  I didn’t know enough to find the black staff across the university and stay close, or at least identify the spaces in which I could recharge. Whiteness is draining for Morrisonian scholars who daily read about the brutality of which white folks are capable.

I spent the hour after that meeting listening to Jay Z while crying on the bench outside of the library. I listened to “Thank You” on loop, trying to absorb some second-hand swag. I got the feeling that the lyrics were about haters, a middle finger to those who’d doubted his potential. He was thanking the former naysayers from a high throne and the gratitude was a storefront church, belying the shouting that went on inside. I went inside the church, imagined myself on a pulpit thanking the white woman and the official.

The reason I am reaching for this memory now, seven years later, is that I’ve descended rather than ascending. Both of the professors involved have health insurance. I don’t. Both of them have homes. I don’t. The official’s children go to private school that he can afford and they have certain futures, paid for by the university whose gates were so difficult to climb. My child’s future is a question mark that haunts and terrifies me. It robs me of sleep. And I’m struggling with this: what right does a poor mom have to swag? On what is it based?

Here’s Jay’s list of bragging rights from “Thank You:”

  1. Balcony seats at the Opera
  2. A Black tuxedo
  3. Media popularity
  4. Sitting close enough to a Pacquaio fight to get snot on himself
  5. 10#1 albums while rapping on a likely 11th
  6. Successfully selling kilos of cocaine
  7. Having enough money to tip the waiter $100
  8. Putting cocaine on street corners
  9. Popping champagne with beautiful women
  10. Selling much more music than his rapper rivals/ killing their careers

I don’t remember what perch I’d imagined on that bench 7 years ago. Perhaps success as a writer? A finished PhD and an appointment somewhere 1) enviable or 2)safe? Maybe just distance from the fateful meeting?

Weeks later, the official wrote me to encourage me to enjoy the holidays. He said that things have a tendency to seem bigger than they are when your world evolves around the university. I wasn’t ready to see the truth in that email or recognize the olive branch for what it was. My brain is trauma-trained to believe catastrophe both inevitable and ever-present. Unlike me, he was married with children. His wife was a non-academic. His world was richer than the university, and he had no way of knowing that the university was my only safe space. Outside of it, my father was dying, my brother was facing a prison sentence, another brother’s heart was failing, and I had trouble maintaining hometown relationships over the physical and emotional distance I’d created to protect myself. The official had made my safe space unsafe and I felt my walls caving in. Swag borrowed from an unpredictable future seemed the only way out. And now the past is asking me to pay up, to cash in on the swag I borrowed those years ago and my hands seem empty.

Resilience doesn’t seem like enough of a downpayment, but it’s all I have right now. The fact that I’m still alive. That my daughter laughs every day and doesn’t seem to know how broke we are. The fact that I’m still writing. The gift of hindsight– the fact that I can see an earlier version of myself crying on that bench and tell her that she belongs on that campus. She belongs, I belong, we belong anywhere and everywhere we want to be. Perhaps that is a bragging right.