Well-behaved women seldom make history. White women always make history while we are told to dress professional wear heels under 4 inches and keep our nails under 1 with our hair in one of just a few pre-approved styles. Don't act unprofessional. Show up on time talk quiet and use correct grammar. In order words, don't act like yourself at all. I don't know what to be more angry about: The fact that society made you this way or the fact that you bought into it. Mama, did you not make mistakes? Did you not totally love the dirty sensation of your heart against your trainer bra as you snuck out of your window and let the humid summer air curl the hair on your head and between your thighs? Did you not taste something forbidden in the dorm room down the hall inhale something sweet and dreamy and wake up in regret the next day swearing never again every time your head struck the toilet seat? Did you not drop an f-bomb in a staff meeting only for it to barely sputter amongst the dead silence in the room and cringe in regret when your boss came into your office and closed the door behind her? Do you not have faith in my mistakes? That they will bless me dress me in determination and resilience when I have been stripped of pride and confidence? Do you not know that your mistakes have already taught me what you never knew? I don’t have to wear your shoulder-padded Mothballed hand-me-downs tumbled-dry in your judgement and concern to do well in this life. I don’t have to separate my selves or trade them in for something more inviting or subjectively appropriate because Mama, well-behaved women seldom make history, but I will.
I am super excited to share a friend’s thesis project in the form of a self-care for activists online zine. I wrote a poem for the piece, which I’ve copied and pasted below, and there is definitely a wealth of perspective from her and others also included. Take a look! I may post more poetry in the coming months. It seems to be a more effective vehicle for me to express these days.
The Truth Anger and joy coexist but only one is incontestably unequivocally alive Anger is the tangible sensation of my accumulated experiences It is only one version of the truth Anger suffocates me yet I sometimes succumb and I bring in a breath of it and then I notice I still can’t breathe Anger is rooted It can grow and incite perpetual strife but it is not life giving I sometimes misunderstand my inherent joy as an undeserved indulgence Because anger is a lack of freedom and joy must be equitable But joy is not abundance and it cannot grow in the shadow of guilt but it is resilient and boundary-crossing Joy is not even happiness It does not discredit anger and when anger is near it is merely slightly diluted Joy is not perfection It is the belief that I am worthy It is the confidence that I can negate my own fear It is the willingness to discern what is to be gained from pain Joy is a self-effulgent essence It is an omnipresent nectar that drips from both my smile and my tears It is the most patient part of my soul that seeks to distinguish The truth
My poetry usually describes my thought processes or current beliefs. In seeking a higher understanding of self and the world, my mind is constantly evolving. It took me quite some time to arrive in a place where I felt deserving of joy, peace, and space. As a woman of color with other privileges I have often experienced guilt for wanting to be happy or feeling hopeful about the future. This poem illustrates where I am now, in part because of cathartic personal growth, but also as a result of tremendous support from friends and family and (what I see as) an increasing emphasis on self-care and celebration within marginalized and activist communities. I hope this piece will help others consider if and how we can hold space for anger and pain without discounting the beauty of life.