Two months ago, an 11 year black girl walked into a creative writing course I was co-facilitating. She was a beautiful young goddess with skin as rich as soil and eyes that shone with a luminosity like that of a new moon. Her demeanor was very withdrawn, her manners personified timid and shy.
It wasn't until I passed her a notebook and her pencil made contact with the page, that I was able to see the fire that raged within her small frame. She wrote a one page story about war, loss, love, community, and manifestation. I remember it to this day word for word and it continues to be a constant catalyst in all that I seek to facilitate.
She was the inspiration for this digital art series. I started and stopped so many times, re-envisioning and resurrecting.
Once upon a time there was little girl from Bed-Stuy who loved to read. She was entranced by the dynamic sway of the written word: its ability to transport the reader to lands that could never exist, its insight into the workings of minds that would frighten most, and most importantly, the freedom; it was a universal freedom that could translate to any number of things in the hands of all manners of people.
It was ultimately how I got free. It was the only way I knew how, and my understanding of this knowledge would inevitably become the weapon of my revolution.
Long story short, I dig the written word. I feel the written word and have found no closer ally than the printing of passion to paper. And so, as I became concretely aware of my need to indulge my lust for expression, I began to seek out platforms upon which I could speak freely, in the vernacular that was truest to my soul.
First, I wrote for a sex toy website, reviewing toys and sharing intimate stories (I used an alias back in those days, so don't bother goggle-ing that shit). I loved it, I loved that the editor only changed grammatical and syntax errors, you know just made it pretty, but the voice...the attitude...was still me. Following this first step into the world of writing, I explored different venues and subject matters. My favorite topic was and shall forever be sexuality, whether it my sociological mind examining the relationships of sexual beings or my good ol' fashioned primate brain just looking for the next great nut.
Now wait, my vision is not even remotely that short-sighted. One of my professors called my writing "political, without a shred of sympathy for politics", he inferred that I had given up on the government and therefore declared all that they said as lie, without granting them the courtesy of research. So, I was a angry, radical Black girl who wanted to dismantle a governing body, so what? I bet your childhood wasn't all roses and daisies and shit either!
So I spent and still spend a good chunk of my time rapping about that. Then, came my queer identity: exploring it, (un)defining it, and adorning the fuck out of it. I wanted to build community based on the absence of gender boundaries, and I could think of no better way to do so than with the tip of my pen and quickness of my lips. I submitted my work to both well-known publications and lesser-known publications, whether they were blogs, zines, or websites. I was delighted to find that my literary voice was appreciated because it was gritty. The head honchos in charge praised my openness, my colorful language, and the descriptive manner in which examined the topics which engaged me.
Alas, it has not all been "Go Tie! Go!" In fact, in the last couple of years, I have found that my voice has been stamped out, smoothed out, and often times dismissed altogether. And I must confess that this has been damaging. Let me just state that I am a fan of criticism, I take it all with a smile because I realize that I write with a particular type of community in mind, and that my particular verse may not translate to the more....let's say 'bougie' factions of my people. I totally get that, if I need to be polished up around the edges from the time to pacify the masses, cool, I am in it for the progress not the popularity.
All that aside, mama must admit that adapting my ways of being seen have been taking a toll on my peace of mind. It always has. It's essentially the reason why I fuck not with the corporate world, I would much rather work for non-profits, help build impassioned ideals into sky-scrapping dynasties, and engage in the empowerment of my community...if that means I have to work twice as hard, then so be it. I LIVE FOR IT!
Anwho, this entire barrage of text is to say that I am finding that my less-than desired transition into the pressed and prime is really fucking up my equillibrium. I mean, come on, yo...today for absolutely no reason at all, I sat down in the middle of a fairly empty park and felt tears creeping up in my eyes. What the fresh fuck, yo?!!? Sure, I have endured a number of tragic and debilitating losses in the last two months or so, but there are tears of grief and then there are tears of desperation. These shits were the latter. I wanted to cry because I was without my peace, I wanted to cry because her absence was noticeable. These tears wanted to remind me that everything was not OK. A piece of me is being snuffed out and damn it all to hell, I am letting it be done. The issue here is that I am deeply committed and feel dearly for each of the organizations, publications, and digital platforms for which I have pledged my words to. They are not things that I can part with without losing an even deeper part of my being. And so, here I am, a Black queer woman with a voice who defines sinking as silence, yet consciously links herself to endeavors that seek to throw her overboard.
UCH!! and that has been tonight's episode of "Rants With Tie".
Labels: rants and reflections
Allow me to open with a disclaimer:
Before this past Afropunk Festival (that took place at Commodore Barry Park, BK on August 24th & 25th), I have only attended the event one additional time. So, my words are based on a fairly narrow comparison, but fuck it I feel a way, so here we go.
When I first heard about AfroPunk, I was a fairly green sprout (you know, just beginning to embrace the glory of my 'fro, build networks/relationships amognst my queer brown brothern, and fall head over heels with the harder-cored factions of music outside of my beloved hip-hop). So, it goes without saying that the idea of brown skinned ragers, rockers, and all-around badass expressionists congregating in a safe space in the heart of Brooklyn (in this context meaning, devoid of police harassment or societal judgment) was something like a slice of vodka infused nirvana for me. I did not attend the first Afropunk that I knew about because, well I was a chicken shit who didn't want to go by herself. The following year, however, no fucks were given, and I went out in my destroyed jeans, flannel button up, knee high combat boots, and a bandanna encasing my then ruby red naps. MY HEART EXPLODED AGAIN AND AGAIN that day. I was surrounded by beautiful kindred people (and yeah, I'll say it, not all of them were brown); it was one of the few occasions in life where the commonality was devoid of background/culture/race, we were each there for the music, the dope bikers, and the atmosphere of rage and roar).
Following that one day of uninhibited madness and magic, annually I would make conscious plans to go back but alas, circumstances were not in my favor and I missed out. As the years progressed, although I knew before hand that I would be in attendence, it didn't stop me from keeping a close eye on who would be gracing and/or wrecking the stage. I began to notice a change in the lineups as Afropunk became more popular amognst the hipster multitudes. The changes went from being subtle (i.e. the occasional underground hip-hop artist or mainstream neo-soul-esque songstress) Now, none of these changes were a problem, personally I dug the shit out of the idea of fusing the many branches of lyric and message. Sincerely dug and still do this day.
This year, I was on hand at the fest, not for personal enjoyment as I was for my first experience but playing a more professional role. It had been 6 years since my first AFROPUNK and although, I went in with an air of utter excitement, as the day progressed the very soul of my inner rocker began to wither and wilt in the 90 degree sun. The AFROPUNK that I once knew was no more and although I understood why it could no longer exist, it did not heal the pain just itching to escape through the seams of the cool and collected facade that I knew I had to keep up. I sat behind my desk, inside my tent, wanting to scream but knowing that it would fall upon deaf, uncaring ears.
MOSHING: also referred to as “slamdancing”, is a style of dance whose participants push or slam into each other. It is most associated with “aggressive” music genres, such as hardcore punk and numerous styles of metal. It is primarily done to live music, although it can be done to recorded music. Variations of moshing exist, and can be done alone as well as in groups. Moshing usually happens in a “pit” (sometimes called a mosh pit or “circle pit”) and is intended to be energetic and full of body contact.
The reason why I took the time to define the aforementioned word is because the perpetrators inhabiting this once free space, didn't seem to know what the fuck it was and more importantly, didn't understand that by complaining and acting out aggressively against those participating in the moshpit, they were the ones misbehaving. The beauty of AFROPUNK, is in the title, itself. You can be both Afro & Punk, they co-exist, one does not negate the other, they are not opposing facets of one's being. You CAN NOT be at a punk affair and be pissed that someone stepped on your brand new shoes....bitch, why are you wearing stilettos in a public park at a day-long event that takes place upon a grassy patch of Gaia's goodness? Yeah, that opens up my second issue with the (de)evolution of this once amazeballs festival. When did AFROPUNK become an outdoor fashion show? Yes, I said fashion not style. Afropunk is a style, it encompasses kente prints with converse, it combines vintage threads with dull spikes, it pools the collective consciousness of bare flesh and flower tiaras. Hell, afropunk can even be portrayed in UNIF Hellbound platorms and a backwards Brooklyn Nets hat, but only if your intention is expression of personal style, not personal exposure. It just puts out the message that you are there to be seen, not to interact...to well, be punk. That's the part that I could not give half a fuck about. Now, don't get me wrong...the beautiful throngs of gorgeous feminine entities clad in skin-tight fits and perfectly painted lips were a joy to behold, it was the delicacy of their demeanor that upsets me. If you are shooting daggers with your eyes at every person who brushes against you (in a crowded ass park, might I add) then hunnyboo, you probably should have just stayed your fine ass at home. Or maybe save that outfit for the After Dark part of AFROPUNK.
Oh, and a brief verse on the twerk contest that went down on the stage. It is no secret that I am so incredibly pro-twerk; there is always a reason to bust out a quick twerk and its nobody's fucking business when and where you choose to pop your ass and express your sense of self. Hell, I am an avid twerker in the supermarket when my favorite goodies just happen to be on sale. In a recent article featured on Racialicious, the writer speaks out against the inclusion of a twerk contest at a festival that is meant to provide entertainment for all, regardless of age. Although, I felt the message that the author was laying down, I was not as sympathetic to the light that she shed on the act of twerking. Was the twerking contest an unnecessary addition to the affair, possibly...but if Big Freedia, the queen of bounce, was next up to perform, its inclusion was not that surprising. Now, should that audience have been hipped to the contest beforehand? That I would have to say would have been a good idea. There were younger individuals in the audience and parents should have been allowed the convenience of removing their children from the atmosphere if it was their desire.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, I understand why the festival is no longer the punk sanctuary that it once was. It is the same reason why sex went from an intimate sharing of passion and pleasure to a marketable spectator sport: MONEY. The pursuit of profit will always win in the fight against originality. The festival wanted to expand its reach, and in order to do so, it had to take on sponsors, cater to a larger audience and ultimately morph into a multi-faceted, far more inclusive space. I tots get that and I am all for upward mobility, especially when the premises is based on the universality that is a love for music and community. I am not angry at her evolution, I am sad for her loss. Unlike the famed phoenix, AFROPUNK will not rise from the ashes, she has been set aflame and when the flame eventually runs its course, nothing will remain but a few all-access passes in a trampled field with a a handful of crushed Mac lipstick cases half-buried in the remnants.
In one of my fav. poems, Robert Frost said, that "nothing gold can stay", a truth which once only pertained to relationships for me, has become a quote of eternal relevance. Not even, punk is safe, it too must lose its resplendent hue and subside to day. *sad fucking face*