Blog

Permission

I do not have to write about what I said I was going to write when I woke up this morning.

I do not have to write about what I was writing about yesterday.

I am allowed to not finish what I start.

I am allowed to keep something in a draft for years before I finish.

I do not have to write about my job.

I do not have to write about something that is interesting to someone else.

I am allowed to write about something that is painful to me but I do not have to.

There is room for my words in the world.

The only rule I want to follow is that I should try not to do harm.

Telling the truth or hurting feelings are not the same as causing harm.

I do not have to write special words.

I do not have to write magical, lyrical prose.

Nothing I write has to be “good”.

I do not have to publish what I write, not in a blog, not on social media, not in a Medium post, not in a publication.

I do not have to subject what I write to critique if I don’t want to.

I have the right to ask for criticism and I have the right to ignore it.

I do not have to write fiction because of always writing fiction before and I also do not have to write poetry because of never writing much poetry before.

I do not have to follow the exercises in the book.

When I write my three longhand ‘Morning Pages’ I am allowed to say whether they will be front-to-back pages.

I can write about things that other people might think are not worth writing about.

I can write about things other people find disgusting, like toenail fungus or cleaning out the refrigerator.

I can write about things that feel like telling people too much, like sex and shame. Here’s to airing dirty laundry.

I get to say what is worth writing about. I don’t have to care if anyone agrees.

I deserve a creative life. I deserve to set the terms of that creative life.

I am what Yoda said: “luminous beings are we; not this crude matter.”

I am allowed to love and care for myself through writing. I am worth writing down.

July 4 and Invisible Onlys and Alsos

Saturday was July 4 and I am unsure how I was supposed to celebrate it without at least ambivalence, if not outright cynicism. Links to Douglass’ ‘What to the slave is the Fourth of July?’ filled my timeline. Racial inequality, white supremacy, and American hypocrisy are more collectively salient than they have perhaps ever been, and it is not a pretty backdrop for a celebration of nationalist pride, if such a thing exists.

This year I’ve been thinking about the things that we say and don’t say and where we put our implicit ‘onlys’ and ‘alsos’. Someone on Twitter commented that Black Lives Matter shouldn’t be a controversial statement and that All Lives Matter is not a valid counterpoint because the invisible word in ‘Black Lives Matter’ is not ‘only’ as in ‘Only Black Lives Matter’ but is actually ‘also’ as in ‘Black Lives Also Matter’. I like the elegance and simplicity of this explanation. But I’m not naive enough to think it would appease the majority of detractors, because most are not making their arguments in good faith to begin with.

Despite this, the ‘alsos’ are still deeply needed. The invisible alsos are not there for the detractors. They are there for the people who have been walled in by onlys. The ones in all of our precious founding documents: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that [only white men] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…’

In a little over a month, on August 26, this country will mark the centennial anniversary of its nineteenth amendment. For my entire education, 1920 was held up as an example of progressiveness and activism at work in its securing ‘suffrage for women’. In the timeline page of the National Women’s History Museum website, they describe the event this way: ‘American Women win full voting rights’.

(I tweeted at the museum to ask them to edit this page. Feel free to do the same.)

The ‘only’ in here is at the front. ‘[Only white] American Women win full voting rights.’ Suffragist heroines like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony opposed the fifteenth amendment, which conferred suffrage rights to Black men, and white suffragists turned their backs on their sisters who were still disenfranchised after 1920. I am dreading the insulting corporate feminist pink-washing that I know is coming next month on the anniversary of white women’s suffrage. It is an insult because ‘all women’ still can’t vote in this country.

This is why we shouldn’t tolerate the slightest whiff of ‘All Lives Matter’ bullshit. Because it was never the people saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ coming with ‘only’. ‘All Lives Matter’ is subtext in ‘Black Lives Matter’ and has been all along. The sanctity of all life is a core value baked into the DNA of Black Lives Matter. It was the rest of us, it was white people, white Americans, our white founders, our white founding principles, written with ‘onlys’ from the very beginning, that made this a conversation about ‘only’. And this was not an accident or an oversight but by design.

Two books are helping me develop my understanding of the historical and current context to racial justice and intersectional feminist issues: Women, Race, and Class by Angela Davis, which taught me about the racist history of the white women’s suffrage movement and the damage wrought by the concept of white womanhood on Black people specifically; and Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom, which reflects on how the modern construct of beauty is a tool designed to uphold capitalism, racism, and whiteness, and in which she shares a damning account of how the medical system failed her and her baby as a lens for examining the dissonance between the care afforded Black and white bodies.