Memory: Maya Angelou

In “Maya Angelou showed how to survive rape and racism – and still be joyful”, Tayari Jones reminded me why I stopped short of crying when a friend informed me that Maya Angelou had died: too much to remember that I did not want to remember.

The older I get, however, the more I tell myself: I can choose what to remember and what to forget. I can re/create myself as many times as I want. As I enter the second half- century of my life, I tell myself I have earned this right.

But today, I allowed myself to remember and cry just a little as I participated in Day 8 of the Black Feminist Breathing Chorus Meditation: Give Me a Song of Hope and a World Where I Can Sing It (honoring the work of Pauli Murray).

Memories of the slave trade come in the “slide of my feet against wood floors”.

Memories of my childhood come when honoring the life of Maya Angelou.

At a time when I had learned to eat my voice in order to stay alive, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings gave me permission to speak about what had and was happening to me through the pen and page. It gave me courage to reclaim a voice I had lost during the Middle Passage and when I was six years old.

I came into possession of this book almost ten years after it was first published. I was not yet a teenager. It would be years before I would have the courage to read my poems out loud to audiences.

I would do this only after getting permission from Mary Webster, an amazing elder. She came to my house to read my poems, to testify that I was not alone as a “survivor”, to pray with me that I would always have the courage and support needed to speak a truth that would help heal others.

Unfortunately, once I began to share my work publicly I would discover that the number of girls and women who had survived sexual abuse and rape were more than I was prepared to imagine. And, this was just in the community of women I knew.

Maya Angelou gave me the courage to scream out loud. Since then, I’ve learned to turn my screams into a keening that transform into songs of hope for a world where young girls and women don’t have to be afraid of anything, even the things they can’t see in the dark.

I have not been afraid for some time, at least not that kind of afraid that physically paralyzed me at various times, or made me afraid to be with other people. But, I am afraid in other ways.

Today, May 30. 2014. Headline: “Malaysian teenager gang-raped by 38 men”. In my rather understated way, I can only say: By far one of the most disturbing of the day. So disturbing that typing this, which forces me to think about what might have happened and what will happen to this young woman, makes me want to disassociate, something I never did as a child.

But I won’t. Maya Angelou made it possible and necessary to remain present to confront my own fear and anger when reading or hearing these stories, to be present for the young girl or woman without judgment or pity. And, she made it a life-long mandate to not remain silent about the stories that most move me to anger and action.

Memory comes whenever it wants to, which is of course never on my schedule, and at rather prosaic moments that make their ways into poems. For example: A discussion of Boko Haram leads to a remembering or re-experiencing of the African Transatlantic Slave Trade and young girls being stolen and sold in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The older I get, more of my elders and mentors die. Even with the right to choose what I want to remember and forget, I know that I don’t want to forget some things, especially the painful things.

I want only to be able to choose how I interpret and make meaning of what happened to me.

Thanks to Maya Angelou, from the beginning, even before I knew that letting my voice free would mean choosing a life-long war on injustice, I chose to be joyful, whole. I chose to Love. I chose to heal.

And, I chose to teach others to do the same.

In doing so, I am following the path that Maya Angelou and others hacked clear with a machete, not even a sharpened one at that, with their own bodies, their own souls.

The other reason I stopped short of crying: There are not enough tears I could ever cry to express my gratitude.

Memory Keeping: Contemplating Digital Entry

It will seem strange, perhaps, to some of you that I would talk about Facebook here after not posting anything for months.

But what better space for a Memory Keeper to contemplate what it means to remember and create memories in the age of digital and social media?

After much resistance to joining Facebook, I was finally persuaded by members of the birthing community to “just do it”. So, I made a promise several months ago to my postpartum doula sisters that I would join by the end of May. No need to tell you when: Facebook records all.

After two days of learning how to begin, and then beginning and seeking advice from friends, I find myself overwhelmed by the amount of information I encounter every time I access my page. There is so much happening in the world! And I can’t possibly find it all by myself.

I find myself greatly pleased with reconnecting to people I have not spoken with for months and years, even learning about personal triumphs and challenges. While my initial desire is to send a sympathy or birthday card after reading an announcement, I have stopped to ask myself: what am I doing with all those cards I’ve archived for years?

I’m also connecting to others I’ve never met through the community I am rediscovering.

This has been fascinating: quotes, photos, music, books, projects – new ways of thinking and dreaming. I can comment or not. I can like or not. I can share without comments. I can ignore. Or, I can spend 5 minutes meditating on a beautiful photograph posted by Karma called “Fire on the Mountain”.

Choices: I always like having choices.

Despite all of this, however, yesterday I realized in a moment of quiet on the bus that all this connecting and information access was not what fascinated me most about my new venture.

What fascinates me most – at this moment – begins, quite literally, with my “birth”. The announcement of my Facebook “birth” coupled with friend requests has marked the start of my FB life. I’ve been welcomed by friends who know the labor it took for me to get here.

Everything appearing above “Joined Facebook” will document my thoughts/life and the thoughts/lives of my friends by date, time, month, and year. I can delete or hide what I don’t want. A fluid, ever-changing time cloud capsule.

True, we many not be posting our deepest thoughts that we once wrote in a journal or told to a good friend over a glass of wine – or maybe we are – but we are posting what we think is important at any time, any moment – now – this time in our lives and to the lives of others.

You can meditate on a lot at a stoplight.

By the time the light turned green, I felt the need to be very selective and careful. As a Memory Keeper, I am awed by my freedom to choose. So often, what I remember is not always up to me. As a Reiki Master and Healing Facilitator, I have learned that what the body remembers is everything and nothing, neither which is made available to us when we desire. But now at the tips of my fingers, everything is available to me when I want it.

Now that I have a choice about what to remember, when, and with whom, how do I choose? How much time do I spend deciding what is worth remembering this moment in time, and for whom am I choosing? How much time do I dedicate to seeing what my friends are choosing to remember? How do I want to remember it? How do I want others to remember it? Audio, visual, literary, performance? What role does my remembering and memory play in social justice? Breaking silences? Creating empowering spaces? Learning to laugh? Choosing to love?

These are not questions I’ve ever had to ask or answer – this life or past life. Memory has always settled where it chose, where there was a wound or space. It has always come “…in the slide of me foot against wood floors…” [link to poem].

What I do know is that this life, I get to choose, even, the groups of people with whom I want to remember. I get to choose my memory and how I want to remember.

I don’t need to remind myself that my ancestors did not have this choice, nor did other Memory Keepers. We were loaded on ships: strangers. We exited those ships: enslaved, struggling to hold on to memory to remain Human, Spiritual Beings. We would learn to forget to live. And, we would create new technologies to re-member and reclaim what we were forced to forget.

I know: As an orisa devotee and egungun priest I don’t always have this choice when spirit is involved, when my destiny meets me along the road I’ve taken or tried to avoid.

But, in this new realm and venture, I am reminded that memory and remembering come with responsibility and respect. M. Jacqui Alexander. I return to her question: “How are you putting your privilege to the service of what you believe? How are you using it to achieve your destiny?”

In this age, it seems, I am much freer to think and choose what to say out loud and what to give to others. Already, I have learned so much about what is out there. Unlike my ancestors, I don’t have to feel alone in what I do.

But like them and chess players, I have to think before I move/post. I’m a slow mover, procrastinator even. Deciding what is important for me is a lengthy process. Hence, my Facebook page may remain noticeably empty for periods of time while I learn from others, make sense of everything, and contemplate what bears repeating and generating energy in the world. By me.