When you eat an arepa like Dona Berta’s arepas, it’s as if you were eating at your grandmother’s. It’s a direct reference to emotion, to nostalgia.
Did I ever tell you about the time a Caribbean fruit smoothie revived my soul?
Ok so I had a nervous breakdown in the late 90s, dropped out of college and came back home a hot mess. My mother took me to Trinidad, her birthplace, for a change of scenery and I was still pretty miserable for most of it but there was something that happened to me there that even in the midst of my fragmented existential inner torment I could not deny. And it stays with me to this day. I can never forget it.
My mom had a friend in Trinidad who made fruit smoothies from the patio of his house, a bright colored wooden house with a yard that brimmed with abundant fruit trees. All of the fruits and ingredients who used were locally sourced from the island. I remember going there with my mom and another friend of hers to get a few tall frosty blended fruit drinks before we got in a car to drive to the beach. Somewhat just as determined to remain as miserable as I actually was, I took the drink in my hand with no sense of gratitude and then I took a sip and my insides were dancing frantically against the will of depression. The taste was so joyful, so pure, innocent, open, unapologetically present and delicious.
These were not just flavors. This was the taste of something connected to spirit, something I would never taste again, something that could not be duplicated, the edibility of hope and life itself. I felt high and yet I was stubborn and inclined to stuff it down because it just didn’t go along with the heaviness that permeated my being at the time. But I felt it like a bolt of lightening and I know that drink made me want to live again. Taste made me want to live again. The seed was planted. Ridiculous? Maybe. But the reasons that truly let us know we’re alive don’t have to make sense to anyone else.
I found very important the idea of the body passing through space, and the body’s movement not being predicated totally on image or sight or optical awareness, but on physical awareness in relation to space, place, time, movement.
This Memorial Day weekend, I celebrated my birthday by taking a day trip to Dia Beacon Art Center in Hudson Valley with a dear friend and co-worker, another fellow Gemini whose birthday is this month as well. What I looked forward to seeing most was an installation by Richard Serra called “Band” which I saw in the Social Media feed of a friend of mine a few years ago.
Dia Beacon is not like a traditional museum per say. It’s really built for large scale installation pieces, several of them inviting viewer interaction and participation. All of this is exciting to me. It checks all my sensory, discovery and sense of play boxes. My appreciation of abstract and modern art has expanded over time. I don’t try to understand anything intellectually at first. I just tap into whatever feeling a work gives me and go from there. I felt Richard Serra’s sculpture immediately. I felt it all those years ago seeing it in a friends IG feed. I never forgot it. It’s funny sometimes, the things we silently file away in our minds. Things we never mention or talk about that pop up years later as opportunities to engage, unfold and make connections.
You can find a description of the “Band” anywhere online. What’s harder to put into words for me is the feeling of entering, approaching and taking in these mammoth cylindrical iron structures. For me, it was dark in nature (but not in the stereotypical negative way usually connoted by darkness), immensely soothing, calming, harmonious and just filled with an intense kind of presence I can’t put my finger on. I loved it.
There were other pieces I liked there as well but Serra’s was my absolute favorite. It surpassed my expectations and I was so glad we went out there to see it and just hang out and talk, laugh break bread and enjoy the silence and nature. Even the train ride there with my GemBae was a fun adventure. It was so refreshing to get out of the often draining confines of our work environment and enjoy each other’s company in a space that inspired a different kind of contemplation, introspection and exchange.
For the last 5 or so years I’ve been drawing a blank when it comes to thinking about what I want for my birthday. Objects and material gifts, though I would never refuse them, are not really my thing anymore. This weekend made me realize that what I really want are experiences. Experiences that challenge, inspire and sharpen with people I love and enjoy being around. I want more of that.
Like so many things I cherish, Esther Perel was shared with me by our dearest Khalilah Brann. Esther Perel is a therapist and psychologist whose primary focus is relationships and erotic intelligence, which I think is so dope. Erotic intelligence. Just think about that term for a minute. What comes to mind. What do you think it means?
I watch a lot of Youtube y’all. A LOT! And I can click on just about anything where Esther Perel speaks and be completely engaged, enlightened, enthralled and just wowed by her wisdom and intelligence and understanding of human sexuality and relationships. I always think I have some idea what she will say on a particular topic but she always ends up saying some truth I never knew I always knew! LOL! And in a way I never could have imagined. In other words, she surprises and empowers me at the same time. Since that doesn’t happen very often, I know when it’s real.
In the latest Esther Perel video I happened to click on randomly, she talks about how a woman has to be turned on by her own self before she can feel like she wants to have sex.
It took 1.1 seconds for me to know this to be true but I’ve always thought that this quality in me was narcissistic and wrong because of the messaging I get from society about the evils of that kind of “self pleasuring.” But Esther doesn’t mince words. She’s not here to judge. She’s just saying it plain and she even uses the word narcissistic. But she’s not saying it’s bad. She’s just saying this is what it is that women need. We need to feel like we are sexy in order to have sex. “If she doesn’t want to make love to herself, she won’t let anybody else do it either.”
Cut to another woman Khalilah turned me onto, a Sistah named Nerissa Nefeteri, the self acclaimed “FemHealth Activist” whose Nene Feme Yoni wash stays in my bath time and shower rotation, the Sistah who brought us Yoni Poppin. I follow her on IG, another social media tool I am immersed in as much if not more than Youtube. Nerrissa will post a sexy random photo of herself and or her and her man (father of her beautiful children) in whatever position, wearing or not wearing whatever, whenever she sees fit. I can tell she gets off on herself but it’s not remotely similar to anything I would compare with pornography because she does it for herself, and not a male gaze. She could give a shit about what men are watching, though she know fully aware that they are. But these images are for herself and she shares them with us in an effort to promote a self awareness in Black women that really challenges notions of how we feel about our own bodies, both physically, spiritually, emotionally and practically.
I’m not gonna lie. I sometimes will catch myself feeling like damn! I wish I could use visual mediums to be that bold and liberated about my own sexuality but I do worry about what people will think and about having to ward off harassment and other unwanted attention. Because I think this kind of expression is truly beautiful and sexy as fuck in a deeply transformative way. Any super sexy photos I have taken stay strictly between me and my husband. But there are times when I wish the world was not so inclined to the violence and perversity and destruction of the unleashed female imagination.
Thanks to women like Esther Perel and Nerrissa Nefeteri, and Cardi B (did you catch her Grammy performance?) I don’t feel quite as ashamed of needing to feel sexy or seeking pleasure in my own sexiness as I once did. It’s okay for us to be in love with and creative with our own sexual power. As to sharing that with other people, social media has seriously changed the game on that front by providing permanent as well as temporary options to express our exhibitionist qualities whenever the mood hits. In this Snaphat seflie thirst trappy culture, the average person can’t help but take at least one or two sexy photos of themselves that go out into the internet galaxy. The option to keep it to yourself is also always a sexy option. The idea is not to feel pressured to express your sexuality in any way that does not make you feel…sexy and safe, to understand truly what sexiness means for you.
My hope is for a future that continues to evolve into a place where women can continue to be sexually fearless. Because our sexual liberation, self care and being comfortable in our bodies usually leads to pleasure, joy, creation and community for all.
Reading a “Americanah” on a device in my pocket makes me more and more sure that effective communication has the power to transcend format and that exploration of a multitude of accessible formats with this purpose in mind is worth investing in. Reading “Americanah” over the weekend, I also became aware of the nearly miraculous ability to perceive the interior of someone else’s experiences through literature.
I was not aware of this in such a way when I read voraciously as a girl and a teenager. I was so embedded in the world of books that it was normal for me to constantly be either in life or in books about 65% of the time. I was allowed to spend a lot of time in my imagination so I never really understood how the imagination can sometimes be a luxury until recently. Over time I have come to understand myself not just as a vessel through which dreams, communication. art and expression flow, but as a person in relationship to others in ways that effect change, that provoke thought, that shift, perpetuate, inform and create perception whether I like it or not and in ways I may never be aware of. I think this is why I have always loved reading because for me, it is the way in which I consciously allow my own perceptions and world view to be effected without fear of judgment. Without a fear of judgement there is total attention and only with complete attention can the ability to learn truly exist. When I am genuinely engaged with literature, I feel like I can allow my imagination to co-create my reception and comprehension with complete attentiveness.
To be able to temporarily move from one reality to another by simply reading someone’s words, for me this is a form of dimensional travel. When I’m reading, my mind is open in ways that it is not during day to day interactions, conversations, at work, in commute or even just walking down the street. There is in that openness, the potential for retention in ways that affect my consciousness even at a molecular level and I have always cherished it. When I get to the end of a good book, I feel that I have come out on the other side of an experience that is now somehow an indelible part of me, like when someone introduces you to a musical artist that you come to love. And then years later you can’t even remember the first time you heard the song. All you know if how much you love it, how it makes you feel. Something which at one point in time you had never even known existed is now an intimate part of your life you cannot imagine living without.
When we are engaged with whatever we choose to read, the feeling of connection over time and space, culture, condition, race and gender is like a slowing down of time, a moment where all things fleeting or jumbled fall into place. It is a feeling that stabilizes, re-informs, supports, enlightens and challenges. I don’t believe that the importance of the ability to access the fertility of the mind can be overstated. The tools with which to look critically at that which we consume so often below the line of consciousness is something which great writers like Adichie have a firm grasp on. More on that in my next entry.