How Google Hangouts Helps My Marriage

When you have three kids, two full-time jobs, a household, and a marriage, sometimes one of those has to fall by the wayside. We have only 24 hours in the day, and kids have immediate needs, jobs have deadlines, bills need to be paid, groceries need to be bought, dinners need to be made.

But marriages seem to lack everyday demands. If my bills aren’t paid, I could lose my house. My job isn’t done well, I could lose my job. No food means starvation. Child neglect is not an option.

But my marriage is crucial to my well-being. I want to live in a harmonious home, where love is palpable, affection is given freely, and we talk to each other and not yell at each other. That requires communication.

Sometimes, my husband and I have NO time to talk at home. Our children are high-maintenance, in the best of ways — they love to talk and play games. But then they are high-maintenance in the worst of ways — they get sick, they need homework help, they fight each other. And, oh yeah — they require food and clothes. Every day. Bills don’t pay themselves. My job requires an incredible amount of brain power.

So what do we do to make sure WE are okay? To make sure WE are meeting each other’s needs instead of always only meeting other people’s needs, including our children? We use technology to our benefit.

My husband and I talk every day on Google chat. Every day. Multiple times a day. We talk about our kids, we talk about our bills, we talk about our jobs.

But mostly, we talk about each other.

We express gratitude when we didn’t get a chance to do it properly. If the morning was really rushed and tempers flared, our 2pm G-chat is an opportunity, with calmed down emotions, to discuss what went wrong and how we can change it tomorrow. The medium allows for some dispassion and requires us to actually listen before we speak. We can strategize about a child without letting them know we are talking about them. We can say sorry and give each other the grace we deserve, knowing that we are both doing our best.*

We can work on us and what we want and need and then save our face-to-face together time to put those things into action. We can give each other gentle reminders about who we want to be, as parents and friends and lovers. Today, we talked about how to get out the house better and faster without yelling or getting upset with each other or the kids. We talked about how we don’t want the morning to be so tense. I don’t want him to be passive aggressive and sarcastic with me or the kids. He wants me to light more of a fire under the kids. We talked about how to make that happen.

And we either of us feels a little talked out, we can bow out of the conversation gracefully by saying “I have to get back to work. Love you!” Unlike in face-to-face, no hurt feelings. Because jobs.

And tonight, when we are together, our bedtime can be used for more important things. Because sex lives. Because laughter and fun.

So if you are feeling like you are missing serious talking time with your partner, if you feel like the metaphorical ships in the night, try using technology. Get gmail accounts. Open gmail on your work computer. And talk to your homie lover friend.

Dr. Mama Esq.

* We can even get a little naughty. But I’m not going to talk about that part.

P.S. — It’s also a great way to leave your kids at home alone and have a way to talk and see them without them having their own phone or a house phone. 

dying in the streets

i wasn’t even going to comment on trayvon’s death. so many others have said so many eloquent things that i just didn’t feel the need to add anything. but then my son, my 6-year-old prince, made me see that silence is not what’s good in these streets.

i watch this news with my kids every morning as we eat our breakfast. i understand they may not “get” everything, but i want them to know there is a world out there bigger than them. well, this morning on good morning america, there was a story on the shooting death of trayvon martin.

my six year old son sees trayvon’s picture and asks – ‘who is he?’

me: ‘he’s a child – a 17 year old boy – who was shot and killed while walking down the street.’

him: ‘why? what was he doing?’

me: ‘honestly, he wasn’t doing anything. he was black and walking.’

him: ‘that’s just like martin luther king. he was shot because he was black too.’

my six year old son can recognize that this shooting of a black child is as suspect as the 1968 shooting of a civil rights legend. my six year old son can recognize that something is as amiss in our society today, with our black president, as it was when blacks were still fighting for our “rights.”


how many more trayvons do we need to see that race and racism is as alive today as it was 50 years ago? the means and methods have changed, but not the end results.

our peoples are still dying in the street in this war.

and i still need to teach my black son how not to become a casualty.

Hair Therapy

When she was a young girl, Little M dreaded having her hair groomed.  Sure, disentangling and combing her kinky hair would require some uncomfortable pulling and tugging, but she feared something much worse than the rough feeling of her grandmother’s hands in her hair: the even rougher tone of her grandmother’s words in her ear.  Ordered to sit still on the floor while her grandmother unbraided, combed, and re-braided her hair, Little M endured a stream of insults and negative assessments.  Her grandmother stretched the hair-combing sessions out as long as possible, so that she could maximize the time spent telling her granddaughter about all the things that were wrong with her; all the inappropriate gestures and language she had used; all the problematic requests she had made.  With each charge of bad behavior, Little M’s grandmother painfully pinched her cheeks, or wrung her ears.  Grandmother’s hands left behind smears of hair oil on Little M’s face, like a scarlet letter broadcasting to the world just how inadequate she was.  As she walked away, finally dismissed from the session, she felt shame and inadequacy; she believed that she was worthless.

Half a century later, my mother combs my daughter’s hair everyday.  Together, they have a ritual.  Little K runs to retrieve her booster seat, places it on the table, and asks to be seated in it.  Ninnine unbraids my daughter’s hair, as my daughter begs her to comb it into her favorite style—an afro.  My mother tells her, “non, mon amour, Mommy does afros; Ninnine does cornrows.”  My mother starts the French DVRs that they watch during the sessions, and together they fall into the rhythm of the language lessons.  “Strawberries!,” my mother will say; “fraises!,” my daughter will respond.  “Bread!…du pain!”  “Cake!…gateau!”  “Oh, my little Kisou,” my mother ultimately says; “I love you all the time!”

When I come home from work, my daughter runs to the door to tell me about her day, and to show me her new hairstyle.  “You look beautiful, K,” I tell her, and she responds, as she does everyday, with “Ninnine combed my hair!”  I feel grateful that my mother manages my daughter’s kinks and coils in this way, and I admire the intricate rows and patterns of braids my mother has created with my toddler’s hair, like a crown.  Deeper than beauty or convenience, however, the hairstyle and accompanying ritual are symbols of the bond my mother and daughter are creating with each other.  I like to imagine that each cornrow represents a long line, stretching from my mother, the dispirited little girl, made captive to words that hurt and tore her down, to my daughter today, the spirited little girl who is repeatedly assured of her worth.  Along that line lays a path of healing.  My mother, no longer trapped between her grandmother’s legs on the floor, has released the pain and indignity of those hair sessions so long ago, knowing that her caregivers didn’t really know any better.  Our mothers and grandmothers don’t always realize that their good faith–but old-school–attempts to discipline us can inflict wounds that we are later compelled to re-inflict on the vulnerable in our own care, just as little children act out their abuse on their dolls in an attempt to make sense of it all.  Ninnine, however, has broken the cycle, using her power during hair sessions today to build Little K up, rather than break her down.  Each flick of my mother’s wrists weaves a new hairstyle and a new connection, conveying to Little K just how adequate, indeed just how inherently worthwhile and perfect, they both are.

they learned it from watching you

My four year old is the only black girl – hell, person – in her preschool. Last year this wasn’t the case, as her brother was there with her. But this year she is all alone.

Last year, there were some problems with “mean girls” – yes, in preschool. They would exclude Little A, and if there is one thing Little A cannot stand is being excluded. Even when children tell her they won’t be her friend, she replies, “Well, we don’t have to be friends to play together.” Yeah.

So imagine how pissed I am that now children in the preschool are still excluding – but making it explicitly about skin color, eye shape, and hair texture.

What is the school doing about it? Well, first they discussed it with the kids, pointing out how the teachers (none of them black, but two white, one southeast Asian and another east Asian) are all different but they all like and love one another. Next they plan to consult with folks who have experience handling this in early education. They also talked to a few parents, three of whom have a child of color and the other a parent of a white child, because “those were the names that came up.”

Will there be a parent meeting about this? Well, yes, but no date has been set. And their next step today in this conversation? Talking about animals.


This whole situation pisses. me. off.

One, this is not a new issue, so I’m quite annoyed at the school’s reactive posture. This should have been seen as a possible problem from what happened last year with exclusion, and me specifically bringing up the problem of race and racial differences. Why they are unprepared for this blows my mind.

Two, why only have conversations with the children most negatively affected – the conversations should really be with the parents of white children. They are the ones doing the excluding. They are the ones acting out racial prejudice.

Which leads me to my last issue – having the teachers address it in school is fine with me, but let’s please recognize that these children learned this behavior at home.

They learned racial prejudice and exclusion from watching their parents.

Young children emulate their parents. They think their parents are the best thing in the world. And in thinking so, they copy what they see their parents doing. I know, because my kids, at 5 and 4, are copying me all the time. My son wants to “wear pajamas like Mommy.” My daughter tries to match my clothes each day. They talk like me, use the same idioms as me.

And while being an overt racist will probably lead to racist kids, you don’t need to be a verbal racist to show racism in your life. You don’t need to say that black people are bad or Asian people are weird for your kids to learn racism. They learn it through the daily experiences of our lives, from what we watch on TV to the people they see on the street everyday. And most importantly – who you hang out with, who you invite over, who are obviously your friends send messages to kids about what you value as a family. For my kids, living in an area that is 2% black, we practically have no choice but to live truly multi-racial and multi-cultural lives. We have white friends who come over, who are obviously mommy and daddy’s friends. We have babysitters that are white. We have good friends of practically every race. And our kids know they are our friends because we talk about them, we hang out with them, they have a constant pressence in our lives. So our kids don’t get any idea about excluding children based on race or appearance.

For (some of) these white kids though, their lives are white. Their parents don’t have friends of other races – they don’t have to. Their kids witness their parents having mono-racial ideas of who is worth hanging out with and who is not. And while kids may not, at this age, put an inherent value on thing like skin color, hair type, and eye shape, they do recognize difference easily enough to see that the only place they interact with people not like them is in school. And they make an inference that if Mom and Dad don’t hang out with these people, then I shouldn’t either – for whatever reason.

This is a nasty lesson to start learning at 4 and 5. I’m determined, however, to make this a teaching moment for all involved, especially the white parents.

Childhood Independence and Child Murder

A few weeks ago, my son asked for permission to walk around the neighborhood by himself.

When pressed for details about where he wanted to go, he couldn’t state his planned route, and couldn’t name the streets and avenues he would be walking.  I encouraged him to lower his sights from taking a stroll around the block to just walking to the corner, crossing the street by himself, going to the next corner, and coming back home.

Even this abbreviated route gave me pause. I live in a very busy section of Harlem. My teenage daughter goes out alone with her friends, but my son, at 10, is not nearly as street-savvy as she is.

But I let my son go on his excursion. The joy on his face when he returned, safely, was palpable.

“I did it!” he shouted.

The illusion of independence fell with the news of Leiby Kletzky, the 8-year-old Brooklyn child who was murdered and dismembered by a stranger the first time his parents let him walk home alone from summer camp. My son greeted me with the news when I came home from work:

“Mommy, a boy my age was taken and killed.”

My son knew all the details of the case. He even compared it to the case of Etan Patz. A family friend, Lisa Cohen, wrote the book After Etan, about the abduction and murder of 6-year-old Etan Patz in New York City in the 1970s. My son learned of the Patz case through Cohen’s book. Two cases, a generation apart, sharing eerily similar details.

My son made the connection.

“Guess I can’t go out by myself anymore,” he said.

My son is two years older than Kletzky and four years older than Patz, but he sees the two little boys as “his age.” As a mom, it’s hard not to hear a story about an abducted and murdered child and not think of your own.

Cohen wrote an op-ed for the New York Daily News, in which she encouraged parents not to change their parenting solely because of the Kletzky case. Because I know Cohen not just as a writer and filmmaker, but as a caring mom, I spent a few days thinking about her op-ed. I thought about how scary news stories about child murder help parents explain “stranger danger” and many other evils.

When I was in middle school, an old perv in the apartment across the street from my bus stop would shake his penis out his front window at us schoolgirls waiting for the morning bus. We told our parents, and for a few weeks, our dads waited with us for the bus. But we had to keep taking the bus to school. We had to learn how to deal with it – and to stop looking.

And so I decided Cohen was right. Kletzky’s death, though tragic, was no reason to stop letting my son go out alone in the neighborhood. I talked to my son about not living in fear. But I also decided he needed to know his surroundings better.

Now, I make him listen to and repeat subway announcements. I point out to him the subway express and local stops. I grill him on neighborhood landmarks. I have told him how to know when he is facing north (uptown) and south (downtown).

Recently, I let him go to the neighborhood drugstore by himself. I made sure  he knew what to buy, reminded him to count his change, and gave him responses to some basic “what to do if” scenarios. I was nervous until he came back safely, with correct change and no horrible experiences to report.

It’s too soon to let him go completely. He admits he’s not ready to take public transportation by himself. We have time to prepare.

The best we can do as parents is arm our children with information and the tools to develop good judgment. We have to teach them to be responsible, and ready them for independence. We can’t always protect them from the consequences of their choices.

And we can’t destroy ourselves with guilt if the bad thing we are afraid might happen, actually does happen.

Mothering Without Shame

Photo credit: thinkloud65

Written by CocoaMamas contributor Rachel B.

“I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did.”

There is not a black mother on Earth who has not said those words to her daughter.  They are said in anger, resignation, frustration and guilt.  We, like any and all mothers, want the very best for our daughters.  We want them to explore every possibility and to experience things that were beyond our reach.  We also want them to avoid the pitfalls, the traps and the trick doors that we befell us.  Instead of imparting to our daughters wisdom, we often give to them our shame and regrets.  We tell them if only we had listened to so-and-so, not gone to that place, stayed there, or hung out with those people, our lives would be radically different.  We are so quick and so sure that the blame lies entirely with us despite many of us being aware of our unique position at the intersections of gender, race and class.  If we had turned left instead of right or had looked up instead of down, life as we know would not be so hard.

We say these words to our daughters knowing that both black and white spaces endanger a black girls’ journey to self-fulfillment.  We know we are judged by a different set of rules.  Our actions, whether positive or negative, acquire a supernatural ability to exalt or demote the entire black race.  We are also keenly aware of the pervasive double standard that still in full effect in our own communities regarding the actions of black men/boys and black women/girls.  Black respectability politics have placed black women as the gate keepers of our culture although many of us resent it.  While teaching our daughters how to navigate a world that has a morbid fascination with our degradation, we seem to follow one of two paths; hanging our heads in shame or distancing ourselves from our pasts.

“I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did.”

What are those mistakes?  More often than not, they are sexual in nature.  We feel that we gave it up too soon, too easily, to the wrong person at the wrong time.  We tell our daughters’ we were hard headed, naïve, foolish, stupid and spiteful.  We found ourselves in a position where our private vulnerabilities became public shame.  We are so quick to assume and claim responsibility; we ignore the other very real circumstances that lead to make those choices in the first place.  It is painful to even remember that we had to have sex for survival, that those were in positions of power and authority took advantage of our lesser position.  If we had just listened, we never would have been in that car, in that room, at that party, with that boy, with those men.  If we had just listened, everything would have been ok.

If we are not using our shame to deter our daughters, then we are holding up as an admonition to our daughters those who seem to shamelessly embody the loose morals and decay of our culture.  The baby mamas, poor women, junkies, and the sex workers are plentiful and disposable warnings to keep our girls on the straight and narrow.  We point to them to illustrate what will happen if they don’t heed our warnings.  We may have pity, arrogance, condensation, disgust in our voice but the end result is that for our daughters these women and girls cease to be complex and complicated people and become caricatures.  Their “mess” highlights our accomplishments, refinements, education and position.

It is tempting to believe that if you just follow the rules, somehow you will be protected or at the very least buffered from the sexualized racism that is so omnipresent now.  We see the billboards stating that we are a danger to our children, read the “studies” that declare with  authority that we are not desirable, hear at any given time “hoe” and “bitch” out of thumping cars, while walking down the street, or as a “joke”.  We feel the pain, hurt, confusion, and helplessness though we do our best to be as dignified as possible.  We have to be dignified because we know that we are always being watched.  We look into our daughters’ eyes and see sweetness, innocence, intelligence and curiosity.  We watch them as they run and laugh impervious at the moment to the harsh realities of the world.  We as mothers want nothing more than to let our daughters have those moments but we also know the world will not allow such frivolity.  We don’t mean come off as harsh.  We don’t mean to be so judgmental or to suck our teeth at the girls who we determine to be “ghetto”.  We really don’t mean to hiss that “she” is a “fast ass” and predict she’ll end up in “trouble”.  When communications between ourselves and our daughters is at its worst, we yell out in frustration “You want to end up like her?!”

The reality is that no matter what we do or don’t do, black women and girls will continue to be under attack.  Although Mrs. Obama is accomplished in her own right, she continues to be exposed to some of the most vicious racist and sexist attacks.  A maid who was recently sexually assaulted in New York by one of the most powerful men in the world, bravely reported the attack, and underwent an invasive exam afterward has had her honesty questioned, her identity and that of her daughter exposed in French media and her role as the victim questioned.  Even where she resides has been tarnished as an AIDS building.  Even in death, black women and girls have to prove our worth to have justice served.

Our daughters will be the next generation that will be under attack.  They will be the ones who march, speak, protest, write, dance, paint, sing, and pray in creative protest.  They will have at their disposal their own talents that will enable future generations of black women to reclaim their narrative.  What will not help is shame or separation from their sisters.  When we insist that the fault was all ours, they internalize our shame.  When we use those who are the most vulnerable to as a deterrent, we make those girls the other.  What our daughters need is for us to be tender with ourselves.  When we look at our past with soft eyes, we do the same to others.  Our daughters will see that and not accept debts that they did not incur.  When our daughters are witnesses to our healing, they in turn will learn to do the same for themselves and others.

Tell Me Lies

At a brunch to celebrate my graduation from law school, I opened gifts in front of my friends.  The ritual made me so uncomfortable, I gushed excessively over every gift, and closed the brunch with an overwrought thank-you speech in which I forgot to thank my then-future husband for organizing the event in my honor.  At my wedding shower a year later, the process again made me nervous, causing me to forget to hug one guest after opening her gift, despite having hugged all the other guests in thanks for their gifts.  Two years after that, I flat out refused to publicly open gifts at my baby shower; my husband did the honors instead, dutifully modeling board books and newborn clothing so attendants could “ooh” and “ahh.”  By the time my daughter’s first birthday rolled around, I wasn’t taking any chances; the invitations read, “please, no gifts.”

I recently thought about these experiences when reading about why children lie.  Apparently, we don’t properly teach them the value of truth-telling, insisting on punishing them when they are truthful about a misdeed, instead of being happy that they told the truth.  The second reason that kids lie, however, is because they see us lying. Even young children, not yet adept at effectively masking their disappointment, know from watching us that they should act happy when receiving a pitiful gift like a bar a soap.

My thoughts turn, then, to the value of social lies.  Even though we feel obligated to tell them, social lies don’t make us feel very good.  Those young children are unable to look researchers in the eye when asked why they like that bar of soap.  And my discomfort regarding the lies I feel obligated to tell when receiving gifts is what drives me to avoid the situations all together.  Although I may be grateful for a particular gift, it is often the case that the value of the gift pales in comparison to the value of the gift-giver herself.  Accordingly, I just don’t get very excited about it.  Opening gifts at parties just amplifies the lie.  For me, celebrations are about being witness to the moment of joy we can share right now through song, dance, and laughter; not about your gift.  Nevertheless, I stress out over my “thank-you performance,” often replaying the scene in my mind afterwards, fearful that I wasn’t “happy” enough.  I wish I could just say, “thanks for whatever it is you got me; now let’s go dance!” instead.

I’d like my daughter to learn to mark milestones through warm memories, but the truth is that people who love her will also mark her milestones through material things, and my responsibility is to teach her to receive such things graciously, even if she has no need or desire for it.  My responsibility will be to teach her to lie.  I’m not sure how to feel about the lies I will be encouraging by teaching her to “act happy enough” even if she doesn’t want, need, or like a gift.  Given my particular incompetence in this area, I’m not even sure I’ll do a good job.

Social lying seems to be part of what we are expected to teach our children to do.  Does it have to be this way?  What social lies do you encourage your children to tell?  And is it worth the mendacity the encouragement cultivates?

A Legitimate Question, I Think

I’m going to act like a a martyr in this post. I apologize in advance for that. People who act like martyrs have always rubbed me wrong. For one, I was raised in a suck-it-up kind of a family in which you might get some measure of sympathy if, say, there was a lot of blood or a broken something or other. But anything short of those two and you were more than likely on your own. And it was not until I met my husband—who comes from a quite sympathetic family—that I realized anything may have been out of the ordinary in my upbringing. At my husband’s urging (and particularly since we’ve had kids), I’ve tried to be more “compassionate” about complaints that I would have been laughed out of town for when I was little. (Let’s just say there’s a lot of “I’m so sorry your feeeeelings are huuuurt” bandied about in our home and I even manage to not say it sarcastically.)

In the last ten days or so, most of us had that big flu slash respiratory sh*t storm that seems to be going around lately. First my daughter, then my son, then me. We fell, one by one, like dominoes. When my daughter got sick, I was there 24/7. When my son got sick, I was there 24/7. And then when I got sick … well, there I was. My two beloved girlfriends helped me out with rides here and there, but for a couple of days there I had to slog through about eight hours of the most essential chores, including driving (and trust me, I had no business behind the wheel), when all I wanted to do was collapse under the blankets. And given how much school my kids had missed when they had been sick, not going to school and a half-dozen after-school classes was not an option.

And my husband did his best to be helpful but ultimately he had to go to work and even though I wanted to beg him to stay home because I really, truly, could not move, I didn’t. I felt guilty.

I even tried to hire someone but as it turns out that is not so easily done: (a) at the last minute; (b) on a short-term basis; and/or (c) on a budget.

So here comes the martyr part: I want to take a moment and ask a question. I really need to know the answer because maybe I’m missing something here: When anyone in the family’s sick, mama’s looking out for them. But who exactly is looking out for mama?

BP and Me

I cried when I read the NY Times account of the last hours of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig. I cried out of frustration regarding BP and Transocean’s seeming disregard for safety procedures and maintenance of the oil rig, even though it put lives in danger.  I cried as I remembered the pictures I saw of dead turtles washing up on the shores of the Gulf; of beautiful birds covered in oil that would ultimately kill them.  I cried for the human lives lost in the terror of the explosions on that rig and for the survivors who will always be emotionally haunted by memories of leaving loved ones behind, even as they desperately clung to hopes of survival for themselves.

I often wonder, when hearing figures of how many barrels of oil ultimately escaped, or reading about how disastrously safety procedures failed, whether anyone—anyone—in the long chain of command responsible for monitoring the well stopped for a minute and said, “guys, this is not a good idea; something bad might happen if we don’t do what it is that we’re supposed to do.”  Judging from the size of the catastrophe in the gulf, and the emerging evidence of appalling quality and safety control failures on the part of everyone from the Obama administration to BP management, apparently not.  But, how could this be?  How could so many people be so disconnected from nature, from life, and from the fragility of the awe-inspiring ecosystem that sustains our planet, that they systematically subordinated any concerns about the environment and the creatures living in it, to the pursuit of profit?

I want to raise a child who is more comfortable with the outdoors than I am.  Even though I was raised in a suburb, Long Island is not the countryside.  I’m essentially a city girl, preferring asphalt to azanias, sidewalks to grass, and air conditioning to fresh air.  I want to want to take my shoes off and feel the soil between my toes; sit underneath a tree without scanning furiously for ants and spiders; enjoy the feeling of rain on my skin.  But all that wanting has not made me more comfortable outside.  And as I read the newspaper account of the oil-rig collapse, I knew I wasn’t the only one.

Instead of trying to co-exist with nature, we try to control it.  In our efforts, we ignore the lasting, irreversible impact we have on our environment, and the other animals we share it with.  In our hubris, we forget that Mother Nature is more powerful than us all; oil wells cannot always be contained, and if we are not careful, it spells disaster when she unleashes her full force.  If more of us could remember, however, that we are just one species among millions, sharing God’s green earth, subject to natural forces that are ultimately out of our control, maybe catastrophes like this would stop happening.  And perhaps it starts at home.  If I raise my own daughter to revel in the natural world, then maybe she will one day be the employee who says, “hey, guys, this is not a good idea.”

When I take her outside for her daily walk, my daughter crashes into bushes, completely oblivious to the sharp branches sticking her face.  She brings me leaves and sticks to examine, without any concern about the dirt on her hands, or the little critters that accompany her discoveries.  When she runs toward me with a smooth rock she’s picked up, her hands muddy, but her eyes bright and inquisitive, I do my best to hide my discomfort.  My dreams of digging my toes into the soil in delight will probably never be realized, but like so many mothers, I push my dreams off on my kid.  I pray that she’ll learn to love and protect her world better than my generation, and the generations before me, have.

When Women Write . . .

When women write there are a number of walls that surround them. It calls into question not only the established science of geometry but also all the aesthetic parameters and creative possibilities of architecture. Because women live in so many rooms at once, including their homes, their jobs, their schools and their very bodies, the interconnectedness of these spaces defies necessarily separate designations.

I once lived in a room in Philadelphia, a one-bedroom apartment, with my son, my former fiancé, my books, my bed, and all of the odor and noise and silence of inner city high rises. I didn’t know it then but I very much lived inside my body, with everything I did, and thought I was, sort of layered on top of it like winter clothes. This is including the room.

I was raped in that room, lying, forced down, on a bed with no sheet, with my jeans ripped open and a torn Princeton Day School sweatshirt. I met him when I was just a baby. He was five years older then me and I had only just graduated from high school. He forced a pillow down over my face. Our son was screaming in the middle of the dining room. I remember him holding our son upside down by one ankle. I remember praying.

Yvonne Vera remembers,

“I learned to write when I was almost six and at the same time also discovered the magic of my body as a writing surface . . . Using the edges of my fingernails or pieces of dry grass broken from my grandmother’s broom I would start to write on my legs. Here we wrote near the bone and spread the words all the way to the ankles. We wrote deep into the skin where the words could not escape. Here, the skin was thirsty, it seemed, and we liked it.”

Although Vera insits elsewhere in this same article that the “best writing” is “ungendered,” I would argue that her own early experience with writing, outlined in the passage above, is dependent upon her arriving into girlhood and her discovery of her feminine form. Just as she learned as a girl to write her own history on her body, black women map their lives, single and collective, onto their body through writing and other forms of artistic expression. Film, is one of these forms, that is interconnected with writing and the body, particularly in the case of black feminist works. The black female body is a template for ideas, hidden and exposed, documented in diverse mediums.

Remembering writing, as Vera demonstrates, is an exercise intimately tied to the body. It involves imagining the body of the writer, and this is how race, gender and class become imposed on writing, as well as digesting writing inside your own form. I remember the writing of James Baldwin first; the forcefulness of The Fire Next Time, compounded with the eloquence of perfectly flawless lines and logic wrought from the body of an intensely marginalized, courageous man. I remember Krik? Krak!, the collection of short stories by Edwidge Danticat that I found in a high school book fair, right before she became my second-favorite writer. I re-mem[ber] Beloved and Toni Morrison, the kind of academic I want to be, like Lorene Cary and Toni Cade Bambara. I remember these writings/writers in a roll call that reflects our shared cultural heritage. This is in fact how I write.

On the pages of their writings, or “bodies of work”, I find my own. “Word!” “I don’t know if it’s that deep!” “So he does believe in God, he just believes that God is White and that is why Blacks have been given the shit end of the stick.” “My point exactly!” “Can I write like this someday?””If I ever write something major to be published I am going to use “she” as my pronoun throughout.” “memory.” “history.” “history + memory.”

My earliest memories of writing are set in my elementary school librarian’s castle, a maze of wooden bookshelves with a rectangle of desks and chairs in the middle, adjacent to an office, covered in frogs. I remember writing “L.E.V.E.R.E.T.T.,” while reciting it in a singsong, over and over at the front desk; so proud to be the early reader and expert speller Mrs. Leverett pegged me to be. I remember Frog and Toad and Little Miss Bossy, and that my current investment in teaching, first, before any other occupation, has everything to do with a history of exemplary educators, fully committed to seeing me reach my full potential, starting with Mrs. Leverett.

In and between these memories is the realization that writing, even more so than speaking, for black women, gets at that intricate dance that black women do in order to negotiate their private and public selves. If silence, as Katherine Dunham, has noted, is a necessary component for achieving a total self, then my work has to both speak and listen, and in this sense it is not only a platform, but also a conversation. “We need to be able to be quiet too.”

Being silent as a writer is enabling, and here is where my other self, as a documentary video and photography artist enters in. The experience of standing in rooms, behind the camera, opening up the opportunity for subjects to share their own voices is a valuable experience for a writer/educator. I see this as my opportunity to be totally silent, to pull myself out of the room and into my body in order so that others can speak, uninhibited.

I do not know why the experience of witnessing is similar to the one that both myself and others have lived through during rape, but I know it must have something to do with this paradoxical need that black women have for being silent and finding a voice.

Survivor, Salamishah Tillet, recalls in NO! that during her rape,

“[She] became emotionally numb. [She] withdrew from the experience. [She] didn’t want to be there, and [she] didn’t scream. [She] didn’t know how to scream. [She] was just there, kind of numb, dead, watching it happen to [her].”

I prayed during my rape because I was afraid of being killed. I thought that if I was silent I could not make him any angrier. I probably thought that to a certain degree my mouth had gotten me “into that trouble in the first place.” I was silent because if I stayed alive then I could make sure my son stayed alive also. I was silent because I feared that this might be the night that he decided to silence us all for good.

Writing this, right now, means that I have learned as a black woman to voice myself, even when no one is listening because while our voice should not ever have to be confined to the body or walls we have surrounding us, we have to know that we can speak there too, always.