Lately, I have been reflection on inspiration. On being inspired. I started reflecting on what inspires us, inspires humanity.
Inspired – in spirit; filled with breath, life, energy.
Art inspires me. I recently redecorated my piano room. It had been decorated like a study – some pictures of my brother at the White House with President Clinton and Obama, with my mom and me. A picture of a poster from his concerts. All appropriate, because he is an incredible mind and artist:
There was also a picture of a newspaper article, framed from when man landed on the moon that was in my childhood home in the basement.
And then, I decided, I needed to redecorate. I found art from Emmanuel – still available for sale at emmanuelaopc.com– and I put it up. IT COMPLETELY CHANGED THE ENERGY OF THE ROOM.
The blues had a different hue; the energy of blue.
And, then yellow and orange, and green
Inspired. A different spirit.
In the corner, a CD Player. I put on Mahalia Jackson. Something testimonial authentic and genuine about her voice, calming.
A song she sings: “If I can help somebody, as I travel along this way then my living has not been in vain. If I can help somebody, as I pass along; Then my living shall not be in vain.”
Her voice is so powerful, strong. Her music changes the mood and energy.
And then, this morning, I played “This little light of mine” There is something comforting and familiar with playing and listening to the piano. 88 keys that can be combined in a way to create beauty.
And, then, I redecorated the living room; moving art around, putting up a quilt. It is a quilt my grandmother made. My uncle’s wife gave it to me shortly after my mother died. What I love about the quilt is that I can look at the patterns of the squares: a large middle square, surrounded by four rectangular patterns, and four little squares on each corner. Many of the patterns are almost the same, but none are. Every square is different.
I think often of an old Black woman’s hands — once picking cotton, and then cutting cloth pieces, making patterns, and stitching little pieces together. The quilt takes up almost half a wall. It shifted the energy of the living room.
I have a fire place in my living room. I moved a few sculptures, including one my husband made, a man, meditating, with his knees pulled up, his head in his knees. I put him in front of the fireplace. And then, a huge stone with the words Serenity that I placed on top of sheep’s wool from New Zealand, and then serenity prayer dish. The Serenity Prayer is a prayer written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
Sculptures. They inspire me.
This Black power fist my husband scuplted out of wood decades ago. I cherish it. It inspires me.
Books, they inspire me.
I’m reading Howard Thurman’s Meditations of the Heart, again; I’ve read it often throughout my life. A brilliant writer and theologian. His meditations are essays that push, and challenge and interrogate the world from another lens. The other day, I read two essays that have remained in my spirt.
In one called “Enthusiasm and Self-Sacrifice, he says, quoting Albert Schweitzer, “that nothing of real value in the world is ever accomplished without enthusiasm and self-sacrifice.” He says, “there are times when a man gives up his rest, his peace of mind, his health, his personal ambition, his security and even his very life, because of his enthusiasm for something else which he holds more significant than whether he lives or dies.”
And thus, the new civil rights movement can be seen as a time when we, who care about social justice, are giving up our own comfort and peace to protest, to speak up, because we realize there is a greater cause of justice for which we must sacrifice our own contented state of wellbeing for.
And the second essay, also relevant to the moment, is called, “the seed of the jack pine.” This essay, oh, my goodness.
Jack pines – a pine tree, has cones. And the cones hold seeds. The seeds, however, only open under an unique circumstance. The unique circumstance that compels the cone to open is often “sustained and concentrated heat.” Typically – a forest fire and then “in the midst of the ashes” the seeds are exposed, and they grow and become shoots, and eventually the “majestic glory of the jack pine.”
In typical Howard Thurman fashion, he draws a powerful analogy: “it is not too far afield to suggest that there are things deep within the human spirit that are firmly imbedded, dormant, latent, and inactive.” And these seeds within us remain until our core within experiences a “forest fire.” Symbolically, this “forest fire” could be “some moment of agony in which the whole country or nation maybe involved.” And the experience, the pressure, the fire, releases a seed that has been hidden and locked up. The essay concludes: “If it be something that calls to the deepest things in life, we may, like the jack pine, grow tall and straight against the sky.”
I am hoping for this. That this moment in America with a pandemic and a new civil rights movement – are the forest fires – burning, destroying, yet ultimately releasing, I hope, seeds of justice, equity, health care reform, compassion, kindness, selflessness, the true meaning of humanity. I hope that this moment releases ultimately the best in us, in humanity, to care more deeply about others, about the environment, about the world. That the pressure creates a shift.
And then, I have a habit of occasionally mindlessly watching Hallmark movies. So much so, that my daughter got me a Hallmark movie watching sweatshirt for Christmas one year. As a hapless and hopeless romantic, I love knowing there is a happy ending and a final kiss at the end. It is almost always with generally somewhat cute White boys and girls. I wish there was more diversity, though, I did see the first LGBTQ couple recently, and there has been a few more characters of color. Usually, though, they are the “best friend,” the “trusted advisor.” I want us — Black women, women of color — to the the princess that gets the prince.
Well, in one of the episodes that I have seen several times, one of the main characters has a life motto: “Go boldly in the direction of your dreams and live the life you have imagined.” I looked up that “life motto.” And I found it is from Henry David Thoreau:
I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
I want to build castles in the air, and then work on the foundation under them. I feel that is what I am doing at Virginia Tech – working to create a more just and inclusive world, starting at Virginia Tech. That is the castle in the air. The foundation – working with amazing colleagues at Virginia Tech, to build the foundation through InclusiveVT – our institutuional and individual commitment to Ut Prosim (that I may serve) in the spirit of community, diversity, and excellence.
This week at Virginia Tech is InclusiveVT week. Our castle in the air and our programs on disability and race are small foundations to help us reach that castle.
And, my new manuscript that I #amquerying, is another castle in the air.
A recent agent’s response: “unfortunately, I must pass, as your project reaches too far outside of my wheelhouse, thus I’m afraid I don’t have the category expertise needed to help you turn this project into a success.”
I appreciate this response. I had begun to wonder given the predominantly White literary agent world, how many White agents can actually understand and represent this work, blending genres. Her honesty reflects the reality.
In fact, another response from a press:
“While the subject matter is generally a fit with other titles, our books are generally more straightforward with simpler narrative structures, even when dealing with complex issues. This description, for example makes me uneasy about our ability to properly publish it: “As told through 45 years of journals, poems, and letters in a genre-blending creative narrative nonfiction memoir.” As does this one: “A Wild Womanist Journey is the performance of my life in acts, stages, and scenes.” These are not attributes that fit well with our list, or expertise. On the surface of it, I think the book needs either a large literary press, or a more literary small press, or a publisher specializing in either African American literature, or women’s lit.”
Again, I appreciate the response. Yet, where can the voices of Black women and girls find a home? Where can the spiritual journeys of Black women and girls find a home? Is our only home with Black and female publishers? Is the dominant paradigm, the canon reserved for men and White writers? Surely, the only home for my work cannot be with the very few presses that “specialize in either African-American literature or women’s lit?”
These responses – continue to cause me to ask –
I ask because this journey takes me back to my first book.
It took such a long time to find a press that understood my undertaking of blending law and sociology and transdisciplinary work and analysis. It was difficult finding a press that could understand my desire to integrate multiple disciplines and analysis. And if you are pushing boundaries and borders, which we must, those of us who seek transformation, we struggle to find a home for our work.
Yet, write on, I must. For as an artist, it is an obsession, a compulsion, a must. A commitment to the craft, to the work, to the discipline, to pushing boundaries, to imaging castles in the sky, and trusting the universe to send those to help you reach it.
As Howard Thurman says, we must all determine what contribution we can make with our “little lives.” Ideally, our lives should inspire ourselves and others.
Rocks inspire me. I bring them back from trips across the world.
This one, in particular is special to me. A beautiful scholar
who died last week asked me what could she bring me from her trip to Nepal many many years ago. I said a rock. and she did. It inspires me even more to try to carry on for her.
Nature inspires me.
These dolphins at sunset made me breathless.
Emmanuel’s pictures from Exuma, often of the ocean, inspire me. The ocean inspires me. Its power; its beauty; its energy.
May we all seek moments of inspiration, in our daily lives, in our little lives, in big and small moments.