A Storyteller’s Lazy Susan

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You know what a lazy susan is, right? Aside from this nagging question of why do folks think Susan is so lazy, I find myself coming back to a visual of one when I think about the stories I’m telling. The stories I’m writing. The ones that have space in my head. Some of them.

Years ago I had the pleasure of hearing the brilliant, award-winning playwright, Susan-Lori Parks, speak at a bookstore in St. Paul, MN.  She was so great. I’m just gonna take a second and sigh here.

I was a very new playwright working in theatre administration but filling my days with plays and workshops and soaking up everything I could from the more successful than I.  Which was pretty much everyone in my theatre world!  lol!  But to hear her speak was a thrill.

She told us that her plays, the projects she’s writing at any one time are kept on a lazy susan of sorts in her mind. I am completely paraphrasing this so there is no direct quote from her. She explained, though, how she would spin that lazy susan when she got ready to write and where it stopped, there would be the story she worked on. I think this was the part of her talk where she was sharing process. Some writers take one story and only one at a time, while others, like me and Susan, have multiple ones. (notice how that reads like we’re friends, me and Susan. We’re not but ya know… )

Since then I have learned the value of following the sage advice of having more than one story, one project, one script, one book, at a time because if the question from some producer, agent, publisher, director, investor is “What else you got?” then you have to give them something.  Shrugging and saying “Can I get back to you in a month…” doesn’t fly.

So some mornings, it’s the lazy susan that comes to mind when I sit down at the page. Which story is calling for me to “come on in, the water’s warm” or which character is demanding to be heard, to be seen.  Or which story is a murky fog on the page aching for some light to cut through.

This the curiosity of being storyteller.

Of course, this means there’s a lot of voices in my head and sometimes I look and feel a bit dizzy but it’s a good kind. A writer’s kind.  So, don’t worry about me. I’m really okay.

What I’ve Learned In 53 Years of Living

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That sounds pretty grand, right? Like you should sit down and ready yourself for me to drop some wisdom on you, right? Well, we’ll see. I’ll ask at the end of this what you think.

Some of these things have cultivated over the years. Some I’m still trying to fully grasp and work on them, daily or weekly or whenever I remember I need to. Some are so new I feel all fluttery in my belly even sharing them.

  1. Eat Chocolate as much as you can. Now, you have to define how much that is, how often, milk or dark, with nuts or not, in bars or cookies or off spoons standing in your kitchen. Just get some if you need it. I’m no longer of the “DON’T EAT [INSERT THE YUMMY FOOD HERE]”
  2. Same goes for sugar. Yes, this shit can wreck havoc on you so take that into consideration. If you can and like and want sweetness, get it. I can’t. I try with such might but I can’t. I’m officially in a mourning period about that. Fall of 2016 I was diagnosed with Crohn’s. I had ulcers and all these not-so-lovely symptoms that could fall under TMI for this blog. After a year of diet change, supplements, herbs and therapy for trauma and grief (my mom died Feb of 2016), my scopes revealed no more active Crohn’s. But I do have IBS. Yeah…chronic pain is bitch. And eating sugar or specifically dark chocolate drenched caramel popcorn is not a good idea for me. I hate being a fragile fuckin flower but there it is.
  3. Dance when you can. How you can. Where you can. Chair dance. Wave your hands in the air like you JUST DON’T CARE! Or car dance. I LOVE to car dance. Sometimes my back and joints hurt or I’m battling nausea so throwing down like I’m a MC Hammer back-up dancer like I used it isn’t always possible. BUT I’m still a proud member of the Rhythm Nation so you just know that I’m dancing when I can.
  4. Get cool about your gray hair. This is one that I’m really working on. I go back and forth about when to go gray. Or let the world see I’m gray underneath my black curls. I spend hours on Pinterest and Instagram looking at BEAUTIFUL gray haired women who share their journeys. It’s not easy. It takes time. And it means something. Of course, it does. Even those who say they don’t give a fuck what others say, THAT is a sentiment that has had to been developed, cultivated, honed and now honored. That means something. For me, I go a couple months and even declare I’m no longer dying my hair and then after spraying my roots to go out, which indicates that I’m not ready, I dye my roots and to be honest, feel like I’m letting some part of me down. Like I just did something to my own value as a woman. BUT THEN I tell myself to knock that shit off, focus my dramatic thoughts to the page and just get on with the day. There are just as many amazing women who don’t have gray hair, now or won’t ever. The point is, I’m learning to get cool with mine.
  5. Come to an understanding about “give no fucks”. This one I’ve been thinking A TON about. For a few years now. I have post-its on my desk and in my office reminding me of this. But there’s also a note by one that says “except for those who deserve all the fucks” cuz there are those. Like family, friends, sisterhood, brotherhood, those who are suffering, those lost in pain, those who have less, those who need more. There’s a list that deserve and have my fucks. I think the give none goes to those who hate me for my skin color, my race, my gender. Those who want to step on my neck and nail me to the ground. Those who don’t like me. Or won’t love me. I won’t ask for them to. I sure as shit won’t beg. I want to be seen, though. I want to be heard. But that’s not possible with some folks. Bigots are not going to be down with me. Trump lovers will hate me. Mansplainers, white folks coming at me with their privilege don’t dig me, either. I can’t make them feel any different [INSERT SERENITY PRAYER HERE] so those folks I don’t give a fuck about. BUT BUT…they are suffering, too. So, how do I remedy this? My need to cultivate kindness and promote peace and give them no fucks? What I’m learning is that it’s possible to give none to their opinions and be aware of their power in the fight, because we are in a fight. A fight for our lives.
  6. Be a warrior. And define that however you need to and want to. And know that being a warrior means protecting yourself so if that means taking breaks from social media, turning off the news, working out, or binge watching Netflix, sleeping in, or whatever you feel needs to happen for your mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health- then you’re fighting.
  7. And cry. Cleanse your soul. Honor the life you’ve lived when you’re pain because of the losses in it, the hard and lonely times. It’s okay to feel.
  8. Soak in some children’s laughter. If you can’t get in real life then find some online and play it loudly until you laugh, too.
  9. Do something creative. Every day. That doesn’t mean you have to write or paint. Or sew. Or anything you may define as ‘art’. Being creative is about using your mind to create something. Cooking, gardening. Singing. Caring for your children. Creating anything with your imagination- DAY DREAM! I was a big daydreamer as a kid and teachers would snap me back to class by calling on me to pay attention. Kinda hated them for that. Sure, I understand that I needed to focus on the lessons but the value of my imagination is immense. Yours is, too.
  10. Give hugs. Friends. Lovers. Pets. Pillows. When you give hugs you usually get one back.
  11. Pray.  

Okay, so that’s the 11 that are on my mind this morning of my birthday. I don’t think I’ve shook up your world with my thoughts. But thank you for reading. Thank you.

Peace and love

New Years Resolutions Can Suck It

Yup. I said it. They can suck it.

A couple days ago I sat down with my new bullet journal. Yes, I have one. Started it last January. And it was an ordeal that fed my procrastination monster (hmmm…I just realized that I may have to change that for the new year. IS procrastination REALLY a bad thing? What if I labeled it to Brewing Monster…or dropped the monster altogether and gave it the personification of … me. I’m not a monster. Maybe I like to take my time and during that time ENJOY Pinterest and deep dives into books and binge watching TV shows. Maybe all of these activities are when my work steeps, ya know, like a big mug of tea? How can steeped tea be bad?)

Anyway- back to the resolutions. I looked at the Resolutions I made last January. Two beautiful pages with elaborate borders of different shapes and color-coded lists. I realized that my box of stencils and colored pens is still under my desk where it’s been since February. And I didn’t look at the lists since I wrote them.

Reviewing them now? Well, they can suck it.

There are some that I see now were not just about me or what I could do. Things like “Sell Shipside”, which is a feature script that’s still in development. The selling of that script didn’t and doesn’t just depend on my writing. I need others involved to make this resolution come true.

Same goes for “Sell Mayberry Circle Club”, another script. This one is a TV limited series. Again- not just on me. Just like “getting an Agent and a Manager”. These resolutions require others to show up, too. So there.

The few I did accomplish were “Write Stands Alone”, the novel I did write. Sure, I still have revisions to do after hearing from my beta readers but I did write it. Book one of an epic trilogy. And I’m proud AF for that! I met other writing resolutions. Plus more. I have short stories now and drafts of Coasting On E and a new feature, Floating Girl, a suspense mystery about Missing and Murdered Indigenous women. I wrote more than I thought I would, so maybe that’s what I need to list in my new journal. Begin with what I DID do last year .

BUT…what about manifestation? If I don’t say “I’m going to SELL THE SCRIPT” then how can I put that out there to make it come true?

I don’t want to start saying “I’m gonna try to…” cuz yes, I’m trying to. I can continue trying to but doesn’t stating the resolution like that weaken it a bit? I should be stronger in my resolve, right?

And now, of course, the answers to those questions I’m getting in my head is “Chill, Stace. Resolutions can suck it”

Maybe the difference is that some of these are Goals. And Resolutions are things I have full control of, like…I resolve “To kick my own ass less”. No explanation needed on that one. “To tend to my health more often” which actually means no sugar or gluten, write my food diary and take my supplements for the Crohns and IBS, etc… BUT instead of “resolving” to not ever eat sugar again which is ridiculous and I just hurt myself rolling my eyes, “tending” to my health is about making healthy choices, which includes the supplements and diary, working out when I can, meditating and finally trying yoga. It’s also about my therapy and breathing. Yeah, breathing. None of these feel like hard MUST DO OR ELSE like resolutions can feel like. Except the breathing, of course. “Tending” just feels more gentle.

Another resolution could be about kindness and peace. Something the world needs so much more of and things I don’t have a lot of sometimes. I’m tired. And pissed. In this hard world with so much oppression, racism, attacks, violence against women, POC’s and children, immigrants, the queer community, led by the orange madman in the White House, I often find myself with not a lot of kindness. My righteous anger, my sadness, my outrage can often be the leading volcano of emotions I’m throwing up and out to the Universe. It’s often all I’m adding to the world, to the day. I can’t resolve to be kind to a bigot. I would be lying to say I’ll try. That’s not on the list but I can offset some of that hate thrown at us by generating more kindness when and how I can.

So, I’ll list my Accomplishments because I did have some. I’ll list Goals, things to work towards. And then I’ll list Resolutions which are about what I and I alone can make happen. And yes, I’ll try to erase the big “GO SUCK IT” that I etched across the two pages of 2018 Resolutions in my journal.

It’s a new day.

The love of a story prompt

I gave myself a goal this holiday. For the month that I am spending in MN with my family. That goal was to continue honing my prose writing chops by writing short stories.

I have a novel in works out to beta-readers so I’m sitting on starting revisions or the second book of that trilogy. (I CAN’T WAIT!!! And yes, imagine that in my best Oprah-esque voice) And I have all these characters sorta milling around in my head.

Okay, some of them are more demanding of their stories than others. They’re mostly cops. Female cops in gritty cities or small towns. Badass chicks who have to hunt down some evil POS and do right by the badge they hold dearly. Some are women fighting for their families, for their lives. For the world that may be kicking them in their asses but it’s the world they’re committed to save. So, I guess the image of them milling around, sipping tea and watching holiday baking shows in the afternoon doesn’t really fit them. (actually that’s me when the work is done…lol!)

I needed a way to get these stories to the page so I put the word out to my online writing friends- incredibly talented women who are so far ahead of me in the prose fiction journey, accomplished novelists and authors who have had stories published online in the top journals and in beautiful collections, just all around inspiring, talented storytellers. I found some sites that have prompts to jumpstart a story. And I’ve started popping in on an incredible writing session with book mentor, Ericka Lutz http://erickalutz.com. 

In her sessions, writers would gather in zoom room for a timed writing session. She’d give us prompts if we wanted them or needed them. Set a timer and we’d go. Aside from seeing these other writers at their computer, intense looks on their faces, sipping tea or staring off, however they were creating their magic on the page, I was seeing that they were doing it like me. One word at a time.

These prompts, though! They were like lightening in a bottle. BOOM! I had a line of dialogue that gave me a direction to take my undercover Native cop, Carla Killingbear, to the alley to confirm the dead girl was the missing girl. She and her partners disagree on how swiftly they had to move on a suspect she developing a relationship with but had no concrete evidence. Yet. This story, Skye Isles, will be a longer work of fiction. O MY GOD!! Another novel??! YUP YUP! I’m excited and so is Carla Killingbear. I didn’t even know she was waiting to tell her story until I got the prompt. Joy. Joy. Joy!

The next prompt I used in another session was a place. Ericka said country store and I immediately saw Becky’s. A dusty place Off The Highway in New Mexico. And I saw Stella, a young Native girl, in old guy Coozer’s truck as he raved about how much he loved Becky and that she would be able to help Stella get her car fixed that died on the highway. Stella was on her way to California, on a grief healing journey after her mother’s death. What they didn’t know was who else was in that country store and the murder that was going to happen. BOOM! I WAS SO HAPPY! That prompt opened up a whole new story world with these incredible characters! A short story that moves with intrigue and suspense. More Joy, Joy, Joy!

If you’d like to connect with Ericka, you can find her on Facebook at Spark the Second Fire https://www.facebook.com/groups/sparkfire/.

If you have other links to writing prompts, let me know!

Write On!

The much needed cheesy of Holiday movies.

While lying on my couch watching a Hallmark holiday movie yesterday, knowing full well that the renovation of the old inn, the connect with the hot lost love, the distance with the parents, and whether or not the grand Christmas show would happen were conflicts that were all going to be resolved in one beautiful shiny package, I wondered why these films are so important to me. 

I write crime thrillers. Stories about badass female cops taking on white supremacists. Women who may be living tragically trying to survive. Adults trying to heal what haunts them from their childhood. My multiple tabs of research on my computer include weapons and FBI profiles on the psychology of killers, impact of intergenerational trauma, history of slavery and how Native tribes grieve losses, the impact of extreme alcoholism on the nervous system and death. I also have tabs opened about shoes, Goodreads, the perfect boyfriend cut blue jean, Facebook and holiday cashmere sales.  And my Pinterest, of course, which is all beautiful homes of the southwest and inspirational photos of nature, or rocky canyons showing how light plays and dances on horizons.

So, maybe I just answered my own question about why these movies.

Maybe it’s because the grief of the missing parent is slight. Dusted like the powered sugar on the cookies. The lead is a widow with perfect hair but has only one or two moments of near tears about her grief. Or one of her parents is dead but she only remembers him or her by staring at an ornament for a second. Just a second.

Maybe it’s because after the hard work where she’s overlooked or almost betrayed by a co-worker or has a tiny but not crushing or memorable even, aggression from her boss, she always has it worked out so the bad guy gets fired, she gets the accolades, the promotion, and the next big gig. 

Maybe it’s because the tiny towns are filled with nice folk who hand out gingerbread cookies and cakes and the trees are decorated so beautifully, I can only sit in awe at the production team, the designers and art department. Maybe it’s because these movies are shot in a bright light so even what could be a shadow is washed out and can’t hurt us. 

Maybe it’s because the music is that sweet mix of musak, pop and holiday classics and since it’s past Thanksgiving I can hear it but come December 26th it must all go away. 

Maybe it’s because I have a new excuse to eat chocolates because they go perfectly with holiday movies. 

Maybe it’s because my childhood Christmases weren’t anything like the trials of the kids whose single parent finds the perfect new step-dad who turns out to be Santa.  

Maybe it’s because these films are about belief and God’s plan woven with sparkly threads of  hope and maybe we need all that these days. And that’s why I’ve made the commitment to watch at least one a day. 

“Of course, #metoo.” says millions of women. Me, too. Excerpt from Stands Alone.

I had a moment of what must be courage…Holy shit…I posted on Facebook about the sexual attack that happened to me my freshman year of college.  I’ve been thinking a lot about that night that… fuckin awful event…for years. And no, not just when the #metoo movement began…so many of us have been in that movement for decades.

Recently though, what pushed me to go to the page was the attack on Dr. Ford and the slimy mutherfucker Kavanaugh is… an gut observation I made days before information about his drunken wild ways of hurting women came out.  He set off a trigger in me (and in many of my friends, too). He’s THAT GUY. The one at the party to stay away from. And I’m sad that it was true. Sad and angry as fuck that it is true.

So with that in mind I made a small post, “I wasn’t 15 but I was 18…I don’t know my attacker’s name but we know hers…”  And immediately, my post was met with love and support. So much so it left me in tears. I LOVE my FB community. And I value how much they’re a part of my survival.

I’m writing a novel called Stands Alone. It’s about a detective who with the help of her ancestors takes on a white supremacist who starts a race war.  The detective, Tanner Stands Alone, is half Black and half-Native. And yes, of course, I am so working out some ish in this book!   It’s supernatural and dark and gritty.  Not for the faint of heart but let me tell you, if you’re a chick of color surviving in this world, your heart definitely ain’t faint.

In the story, Tanner’s mother, Kate, is Black, a character who has her own story of when she felt the brewing of her ancestors in her blood.  See…this is why art must always be supported and valued. Through my writing I am able to tell what happened to me, changing some details for the sake of this fictional narrative but giving me space to process this.  It was 33 years ago.  33. And thinking about it today still twists my gut and kicks my soul around busting the wounds open again.

That’s what happened when I watched Dr. Ford’s testimony. So much of her assault she survived rang true to mine. The hallway. The bathroom. The shoving into the room. The drunk monster on top of her. Of me.

And last Friday, it took me 48 minutes with my shrink to finally get to the “I didn’t deserve what happened to me.” And then I rushed back into a fog in my head that she helped me find my way out. I was safe. I am safe. But then Saturday another memory rose up and I finally answered ‘yes’ to the question: “If I was even a little bit scared and just let him fuck me quickly so he would pass out, was that rape?”

That will be another chapter in another book.

We’re stepping out of the darkness. As we can. When we can. How we can. There is light. There is healing. And this is how I’m doing  mine.

So, here’s an excerpt  from Stands Alone :  (I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M SHARING MY PROSE…)  Please share.

Kate – excerpt from Stands Alone by Stacey Parshall Jensen

She was late again. Getting across campus always took longer than she planned. She didn’t like to be late. And really hated the feeling of always trying to catch up. Be present. Kate Rogers believed punctuality was necessary for order. And she was trying really hard to get order back. Get more. She knew she had lost her way her first semester at Mankato State University. It was overwhelming when she arrived. Not that she questioned her knowledge. She worked for her high school top grades but she didn’t work too hard. She knew that college would be different and that she might have to put in more time, more focus. But she liked that. She was interested. And curious. And liked being smart. It was a value to her. To her family. Her father, Harold Rogers worked many years in a garage he eventually owned but only found success because of order. He impressed that work ethic into Kate. Ran their home on a clock. On clear expectations and goals so that they could get ahead of surprises. He didn’t see the dark fog rolling into their lives that sucked up his wife, Jerilyn. That dark mist that surrounded her long enough for her to get lost and wander off, leaving him with two little girls to raise. Kate was 6 and Calypso was 4. And then ten years later, Calypso did the same. He wasn’t going to fall to pieces and that was what he told Kate she better not do. And that required order.

But when the fall semester began there were thousands of students on campus who didn’t just ignore Kate, they didn’t even see her. She lost count how many times she was bumped into, when a passing student’s shoulder would bang into hers with no regard. Or when doors would fly open, hitting her in her face. Or when she’d be in line in the student union to order food or a coffee and someone would walk up and step right in front of her. Or on her feet. Sometimes she would make her presence known by saying something or pushing back a bit, but not ever too much. And sometimes she’d get a look of surprise. An occasional apology. But this felt like something permanent was happening. That she was going to fade away and be lost to nothing but the air that lived around other people.

On the other end of the scale, she had girls in her dorm whose open piercing fascination with her left her feeling exposed. All the time. These girls were the ones with long blonde hair and flat asses who reached for Kate’s curls. Stared hard at her dark skin. They would openly look at their own breasts in the community showers comparing the shades of brown on their nipples to her black. They didn’t even try to hide they were doing this. They didn’t say anything to Kate’s face but after she fought the urge to run, she would finish her shower and leave the room with some shred of dignity, their voices would rise up with astonishment and even glee. “Did you see her ass? It’s so round. So high. And her nipples? O my God. How can they be even darker than her skin? But her bush? Wow! That’s a bush!”

To avoid this fantastic show she seemed to be starring in, she eventually got very early and took her shower. Or in the middle of the night when the dorm floor was quiet.

She was the only Black girl on her that floor. And one of only four in the whole building. The other three never spoke to her. Or to each other, as much as she could tell. They kept their heads down. Moving in the shadows.

It was different for the Black guys, though. At least those who were football players. They got celebrity status but Kate knew that was more than how good they were on the field. She knew the fascination was there, too. Riding up close to an angry brewing of twisted envy that could explode into hate very quickly. She didn’t talk to any of them, either. Maybe their status had to include the beautiful homegrown Minnesota white girl on their arm. Maybe they too were just surviving.

Patsy Holman was Kate’s first roommate. A quiet small-town girl who claimed at first that her job would keep her away from their dorm room for most weekends which eventually turned into her coming back to change clothes and belongings until all her shit was gone. In one month. No harsh words. No racist comments or even weird stares. Just a going away. In fact, Kate wasn’t even sure if her being Black was the reason. And she didn’t complain. Her room became hers alone which was good but the flip of the privacy was the sadness of solitary living. And even after Patsy things were all gone, Kate kept her own belongings to her side of the room. She had declared her major in anthropology and had begun to create a work space that fed her curiosity. Her studies. But only on one side of the room.

Kate’s life was class and work-study at the library. She heated soup on her burner in her room. Made popcorn and drank water and tea while she studied the leading minds in Black anthropology. She knew her own mind was expanding. She could feel it actually growing. Pressing up against the inside of her skull.

Sometimes, to her shock, she’d read something that not only ignited a new thought or pushed a low brewing one to a burning height, she’d feel her blood rise up in her body and she’d get a flash of a vision of a life that felt like hers. Before hers. It was odd and scary. It was being awake in a dream. Not floating but existing in that dream. Not just point of view but seeing. Seeing. Feeling. Being in the dream.

The contradiction that made Kate finally run from her dorm room one night was feeling alive with more memory and more story than her tiny body could hold and being invisible in this college campus world. How could her feelings be so profound, so necessary when no one was seeing her?

She threw a sweater on over her long sleeve blouse so worn the cuffs were frayed and the elbows soft. She wore dark corduroy slacks. Big flared legs. Black beaded belt to hold them up. Her boots were tan and like all her clothes, worn. Nearly used up. But she didn’t care what she looked like. She needed to get out of the room.

She left campus, walking away from the tall buildings, the stadium, the students hanging out in rooms sharing their lives, their dreams. The weight of feeling she didn’t belong was crushing her and if she didn’t move fast and far enough away it would kill her.

At the corner behind the gas station was a bar. A club. The Road Runner. She had seen it before from the city bus she sometimes took to go exploring the city. But never paid it much mind. That evening though, walking past it, she heard the music first. And then she saw the people streaming in. Young people. Dressed for the disco. Afros were big, glistening in the neon lights of signs in the window. Some were dancing in their boots before they even went in, bumping and grinding. Laughing. Loving each other. Loving life.

Kate wove her way through the crowd at the door intent on passing by. But the big bouncer in his black leather jacket, his tight flared jeans, one gold ring set high on his knuckles, called out to her.

“Hey, baby girl. Where you going?”

Kate shook her head, smiled and kept going.

“You know you wanna dance. Come on, sweet thing.”

She slowed down and turned to face him. She couldn’t help her smile because his was contagious. “Nah. I have to get back to….my studies.”

“What you study, girl? On a Saturday night?”

She checked his expression to see if he was teasing her but he checked the licenses of the squealing girls and let them in. He looked back up at her.

“Anthropology.” she answered.

“Sweet. What better place for some research, right?” This time he laughed.

Kate had to laugh, too. More young people parked and headed to the door as Sly and the Family Stone started playing inside. She heard the roar of cheering and then the voices joining in to sing along. She realized then that she had just seen more Black people in the last three minutes than she had seen in one month on campus.

 

The DJ spun Sly into Parliament and from there to Earth, Wind and Fire, Wild Cherry and Brick. And she danced. She started slowly, sipping a drink by the bar. Watching but moving slowly. She knew beat. She thought of the dance parties she’d have with her dad. So few but they were the best nights. When he’d be nostalgic for some life he didn’t tell her about but could be convinced to turn the record player up and they’d dance. She missed those nights. She missed him.

The night went on and drinks flowed. Dance partners gladly bought her more. That’s what the men did.

When the lights came up and it was time to go, Kate’s blouse was drenched. Her face glossy with sweat. But so was everyone else as they headed to the door, spilling out into the night. That’s when she felt her buzz. The cool air tickled her body. She shivered and tried to put her sweater back on. At some point she tied it around her waist but untying it proved to be more difficult. That’s whiskey sours.

One of her dance partners, Joe, laughed and helped her. Her knees were shaky. She stepped back with a loud “Whoa!” He caught her arm. He, too, was sweat covered. His Afro cut short and close to his smiling black face. “You okay?”

Kate grounded her feet and forced a deep breath. She wasn’t a drinker. Didn’t much in high school. Had a few beers at her graduation party her dad threw her at the garage but not much after that. Her head felt light. Like it could float away.

Another big guy, this one wearing his MSU Maverick football t-shirt joined them. “We’re rolling at Walkers. Let’s go.”

“Sweet! Come on.” Her dance partner steered her towards the flow of people heading around the corner of the bar down the parking lot. Tucked behind the club was a sprawling apartment complex. Mostly students lived there, packed into well-worn units. They were cheap. Close to campus. And close to the Road Runner. All that any student needed.

“Nah. I should go back to the dorms. But thanks—“ Kate pulled away from the guys.

“No, Come on, girl.”

Kate looked again at the young people. How connected they seemed to be to each other. Hugging. Holding onto another as they walked, sashayed. Danced down the parking lot. Three girls, all Black, all beautiful and like Kate, sweat-covered, came up behind them. “Joe! Joe! Joey!” They singsonged, dancing around Joe. He took them in his arms. “This is my new friend, Kate who needs to keep dancing but won’t admit it.”

The girls expanded their circle drawing Kate in.

 

An hour later, the students packed so tightly in the living room of the tiny apartment, moved like one grooving beast. One grinding monster. Those there to drink only stood guard over the keg in the kitchen. Those there to get higher were against the walls, passing joints. But the dancers met the bass of the funk with abandonment. A freedom that Kate had never known. Walker, Joe and their friends were all football players and partied like this as often as they could. That’s what the girls told her on the way to the apartment. They all worked hard and deserved this. No one wanted to discuss their studies, their classes, which professors were cool and which needed to retire. No one asked where she was from or if she felt she fit in. They just brought her in.

She was still dancing as she made her way down the hallway to the bathroom line. Her buzz was heavy in her body. But dancing kept it moving. Surging around her body, away from her head. She thought water. She should get water. That’s what she actually said out loud when his big chest met her chin. He towered over her. He was white. All muscle. Red face like a boulder, rugged. Jagged. He pushed her backwards into a bedroom across from the bathroom.

Kate stumbled. She tried to get her footing but for all his bulk he was swift. He knocked her back on the bed. She fell hard, eyes on the ceiling. She sat up to see him shove an easy chair in front of the door. It was overstuffed. A knitted afghan over the arm. Torn upholstery on the seat.

“What? What? What are you doing?” She was able to say. She thought she said.

He didn’t answer though. He showed her.

He pushed her back on the bed and crawled on top of her. Pressed his big knees on hers. She struggled against his chest. She hit him. As hard as she could. Like smacking a brick wall, she left no mark. Caused no pain. He grabbed her wrists and pinned them over her head.

Kate was sure she would vomit. She tried to kick. To get some strength. To sober up but he was stronger. Bigger.

She felt the blood in her body surging. Scrambling to race away from her skin. To get to her brain to help her escape. She started to cry. But he had moves. He had skill. He was able to knock her back, pin her down and get his dick out of his pants at the same time. With his height. With his strength. He was a swiftly moving monster.

He kept his knees on hers while shoving his dick on her face. She gritted her teeth. Locked her jaw. He grunted and pushed it harder on her mouth. She couldn’t cry out because if she opened her mouth he would win. He would get what he wanted from her. And what she wanted was…to kill him.

In that moment, in those gut-wrenching moments of terror, the vision of biting his penis off quickly, surgically, with her teeth, sharpened by the weapons of her grandmothers, their force raging through her body, came over her. Came through her. He could bleed to death. She had two seconds of clarity in the fog of the attack to see. To feel the rage. Killing him wouldn’t be just for her, or for the women caught in his way in the future. It would be for every man who used his dick as a weapon because he believed it was his right to do so. For every man who used his power to wrap his hands around the necks, the wrists, the ankles of women before her. Those men who threw punches, broke ribs and faces and then in the bloody mess they created, they raped. She felt the fight rising in her blood. Saw them. Her ancestral grandmothers fighting back. Poor Black and brown woman terrorized in alleys, in warehouses, in factories. She saw them running the long rows of the cotton fields. Digging their way across the dirt floors of sheds and barns. In tenement houses. In alleys behind bars. In schools and churches. There was no place to hide, no place to heal. She felt the skin on their backs being ripped away as their insides were ravaged by the prick of a powerful white man. One who believed they were only animals created for his violent taking.

But she could kill for them. For herself.

A growl rose up on Kate, rushing to escape her with blood and bile from her innards, with the vomit and booze choking her.

The door opened, banging against the back of the easy chair.

A Black guy, another football player, peeked in. “Oh, sorry, man,” he said, pulling the door shut.

That second of him opening the door was the second Kate hollered. “No!” She wanted to shake the walls with the pitch of her scream. Her mouth opened and she tasted the monster’s prick instead. But this was the seconds she had. The seconds she was given. She could bite now. She could gnash his dick off now. She could kill now. Or she could run.

This was also the second he looked back over his shoulder to the door. The second that he let up his grip on Kate, just a little.

She shoved the beast of a man away from her, scrambling to get out from under him. Still screaming. “No! No! No!”

The football player at the door pushed it open wider. He looked surprised. Helpless. He didn’t seem to realize that he didn’t just save Kate but he saved the life of the man crushing over her. The attacker. The monster.

Kate screamed more. And more. Like a feral animal. Wrongly caged. She ran at the easy chair. One foot on the seat of it, the other on the top, she tried to fly over it. She was flying away. She was escaping.

She tumbled into the guy at the door, knocking him into the hallway. The music was loud. Thumping but her heartbeat was louder. She tore at the football player she landed on, not wanting to be touched by anyone. She pushed on him and got up. She didn’t know if the people waiting for the bathroom, smoking weed, making out, hanging in the hallway noticed her. Or knew what had happened. She didn’t see their faces. They were just obstacles in her escape.

She shoved her way through them, bursting back into the living room. Tears ran down her face but no one did anything. No one saw her. They still didn’t see her.

She made it through the dancers, past the flowing cups of beer laced with rum, passed the joints and the pipes. She ran past the booze-laced gazes of the other players, past the women they were grinding on and out the door into the courtyard.

She burst into the night, her soul twisting with pain. Her belly alive and inflamed. Her blood rushing to her ears with the cries of her ancestors. The loudest came from a vision Kate saw in her mind. An African warrior, a woman as dark as the night sky, her eyes bright and fearless. It was Ke. Screaming in Wolof. “Dangi! Dangi!” Run.

 

 

 

Vanity, Prince and Jesus

So I saw the news last night about her death and watched a video of Vanity 6 singing “Nasty girl…dance, dance, dance…” on Youtube before I fell asleep. This morning, I read this beautiful homage Prince made to his dear friend, to one of his first loves, to Vanity… to Denise.
Screenshot 2016-02-16 14.41.51
 
I remember hearing about Vanity being born again. Of a scary health incident. I don’t remember what she had but I  knew it was related to her years of partying hard. I knew that the toll was taken on her body and at some point, when it was dying I thought I read that she saw herself floating above it.  Her soul was leaving but Jesus appeared to her. And she was given a choice. And she chose life.
 
For all my partying years I didn’t “do” drugs. I tried them (someday I’ll write about those experiences. They’re kinda funny if I tell them from the perspective to support that point of view. Notsomuch if I’m being honest) but for sure I was always so afraid I would like them and I knew there would be no turning back for me. Even in my boozy haze I knew that much.
 
But I remember giving Vanity, Denise’s, rebirth a lot of thought. I wondered how she could turn her back on what had to have been a really amazing life, right? She was a Prince chick. One that he loved. And she was dancing and singing and everybody wanted her, right? Doesn’t that make for a fabulous life?
And then I wondered about what it really meant to see Jesus.  What does He say? Is it scary? I used to have a tenuous relationship with God. And therefore with his Son so I was curious about what happened to Vanity back then. 
And then I wondered if I was going to have a “come to Jesus”. I wondered if I was worthy of one or if I needed to hit my rock bottom and o my, was I scared of what that bottom would look like. There would be wreckage. Irreversible, I was afraid.
I was lucky, though, that my “come to Jesus, it’s time to change your ways” moment came wrapped up as a child. And Lanee Bird changed my life.
 
And now, years later, when we say Rest In Peace to another singer, another celebrity, …people I don’t know in real life but I grew up with, I’m thinking of how they laid the soundscape of my trying years, of my angsty years, how they soothed me or moved me during the time I told the lies to claim  I knew myself so I didn’t have to admit I didn’t have a clue.
 
Prince. Vanity. So much funk.