Bassey's World:

Tales of An Underachieving Overachiever

F*ck Fear; Love Anyway

These were a series of tweets from over a year ago. A rant about this or that or the next. Someone compiled them and emailed them and that email traveled. It was sent to me a few times from people who didn’t know I wrote it. Someone on Twitter just mentioned it and I went looking for it. I needed to read it again. I needed to read it again. I needed to read it again.

I’m sharing it in case you need to read it. 

I have writing. Next week, I return.

love someone and mean it,

B. 

 

 

“Fuck fear. Love anyway.”
The goal is to be unafraid when you love.
To turn your shoulder towards the winds and push on.
To be relentless in your pursuit of it. 
To be fearless and unafraid.

We are so bold in anger and confrontation and so scared and meek in love. Quick to tell someone off or to give them a piece of your mind. Slow to place your heart in their hands and say, “Take care of this.” Fear is a trigger. I wish love was a trigger. I wish it was what made me tremble and took my breath and made me dizzy. I want to live in the cliché. I want to exist in the love song. Let me be mountain high and river deep. Not tabletop and puddle afraid. 

This has to change.

Something has to be done differently. The goal is to be fearless in pursuit of all things you love. To be loud and unapologetic. No more apologies for who you love and how you choose to love them. Fuck that. Love them until you don’t. If they don’t love you back, then cool. Let them live in fear of you and all your neon-colored love. Find someone who will love you just as neon and flashing lights. Leave these beige and understated folks to each other. Let them have this neutral. This safe. This without risks. This comfortable. Let them have these ankles barely wet with it. Give me a drowning. Give me up to my neck in it. Give me a boat and an oar. Let me love an ocean’s worth. Fuck this playing it safe. This afraid to be hurt. We hurt. and we live through it. Fuckfear. Love anyway. Meditate on that.

If I’m afraid you will take this heart and mash it to bits, then I have no business loving you in the first place. And you have no right to it. No reason to exist where I am. If I’m afraid to say it because you’re afraid to hear it. Then what good are we? Useless. Absolutely useless then. Nothing. Two people pretending to do something when all it takes is one move in the right direction. 

I pity you if you don’t love me. It means you wish for some tethered, close to the wall, hold on to the railing. I’m not that. I’m no tea party or cotillion ball. I’m juke joint. I’m speakeasy. I’m illegal in most states.
I prefer this. 

I want fucking everything. Fuck this settling. Fuck this, “I’ll take this because I can’t get that.” Fuck that. I want that and this. I will get this and that because I worked for it. I had the nerve to live despite the broken. That takes work. So fuck the silence. 
Fuck the “I’m not sure.”
Fuck the “give me time.”
Time is given. Take forever. There’s someone else who is standing at the edge waiting. I’m going to look for that guy. He gets it. He gets me. He’s neon and light-filled. And he exists. 

I’ve never been easy. I will never be easy. I am a mad woman. I love just as insane. I’m flourish and reckless abandon. I prefer this. Match it or balance it. But don’t fuck with it. Don’t get close enough to touch and the decide you need this to cool down. I don’t do cool. I’m fire. I’m heat. I’m match this or balance it out but get the fuck out of my way if you’re just trying to change it. Love someone and mean it. It’s just that fucking simple. If you don’t love, then leave. If you don’t mean it, then move. Someone will. I promise you that. We all have shit to work on but that shit doesn’t mean we don’t get to be loved right the fuck now. 
-Bassey Ikpi

Naija World Live: 4 Days and the Reality Sets In

The floor of my bedroom is a mess. A few days ago, using my UFYH App, I went through the process of organizing and straightening up. I wanted things to be orderly when I got back from my trip. At this point though, I hadn’t even begun to pack so why I thought I could clean a week before I went anywhere, I’m not sure.
So now, the floor of my bedroom is a mess. The same suitcase that traveled with me to South Africa lies on my bedroom floor filled with clothes and shoes; asking the same question, “What else?” I filled with every shoe I think I  might need. A few pairs of jeans. Dresses and dresses. underwear. Toiletries. Jewelry. Still it lies, there, mouth wide and endless, “What else?”
I respond, workout clothes. A Jacket. Another sweater. More underwear. Perfume. Lotion.
She accepts these quietly, even making room for them. I stand over her certain I’ve packed it all but equally certain I’ve forgotten something important.

She knows, she whispers this time, “What else?”

Courage. Strength. Reassurance. The unconditional and inescapable love of my baby. Hope. Whatever the opposite of fear is. Confirmation. Faith. Laughter. Peace. Calm. Whatever the opposite of worry is.  Support. Encouragement. Whatever the opposite of failure is.

Is any of that TSA approved? I don’t know if it will fit in my carry on. I just need to it with me.

My bedroom floor is a mess. As I sit on my bed, writing this and surveying what’s been packed and what needs to be packed. The very 730 AM of this startles me. I’ve been awake for 2 hours. Lately, my dreams have been come more vivid and the push me awake at 5:30 certain that they are real. And I guess they are real somewhere. I’m just not sure why they’ve built themselves into 3-D image and sound now.

This trip to Nigeria is as much about connecting with my past as it is about building a future for myself and for my family. The last time I was there, I was 18 and newly graduated from high school. I was a few months from starting college and the world was prepped and ready for me. Then, I was innocent and young and naive. Never been kissed and unaware of the illness that would eventually cut my college career short.   Now, I’m 36, a single mother. I’ve seen a career skyrocket and then eventually stopped short by an illness that I am now treating and managing successfully. I have my good days and bad days but I’m just grateful I’ve had days. I’m worried about how I will be received. I’m worried that my extended family will see me as a failure and not the success story they predicted for me. I know this is all in my head but some of it is real. My life turned out nothing like I wanted for myself let alone the expectations of others. I’ve been doing a lot of work to push those feelings aside and affirm what I have done and who I am.
My therapist tells me constantly with exasperation and concern, “You are entirely too hard on yourself.” She says this every week and every week, I shrug and say, “I don’t think I’m hard enough on myself.” She’s right, of course. This journey is part of that. Trying to feel like I deserve the good stuff and stop being afraid that with the good immediately comes the bad. I’m not a pessimistic person by nature. I picked up this annoying habit around 6 years ago. It was on it’s way 3 years before that.
I don’t know where I’m going with this and I’m riffing right now but what I do know is that I’m ready. I’m scared. I’m nervous. I’m anxious. I’m not sure what the next few weeks holds for me but I’m ready.

I’m going to miss my boy but he has school while I’m gone. My sister will be here to take him. My family, as always, where he is concerns steps right in and fills the gaps. The other day, he offered me half of his UNO cards. He said, “I’ll  keep the other half so we can still play when you’re in Nigeria.” He then reminded me to keep my laptop and iPad charged so I wouldn’t be bored on the trip. “It’s a long, long, long trip”, He says, “I know you get bored sometimes.” That’s my kid. He’s annoying and talkative and can’t sit still but he’s a good person. He’s a kind, thoughtful, empathetic and compassionate person. And he deserves the best of everything and everybody he encounters. I’m doing this for him so that he will have everything he needs.

My bedroom floor is still a mess. My suitcase still wide and inquisitive asks me again, “What else?”

Nothing. I’ve got this.

Love someone and mean it,

B. 

 

In Which I Babble About Where I’ve Been and Talk About My Friend Erica.

It’s been months since I’ve visited this space. I’ve attempted to start a post ultimately abandoning it in favor of short bursts of thought on Twitter or opting to just keep whatever it was I wanted to say to myself. I’ve always prided myself on my ability to be open and expressive but had also figured out a pretty adept method of feigning transparency. I would give up enough to appear as though I was sharing (and I was) but I was also keeping enough to myself to remain properly hidden.  The last few months (maybe a year) has been no different. I’ve been thinking about coming back to this space but I didn’t know what I could say here without spilling everything. I have a tendency to talk too much and over share and then spend time worrying about who will read what and use it against me or who will read what and judge the punctuation or who will read what and read more to it than it is. The last few days, especially, I’ve had an urge to visit this place and talk as openly as I could without “hiding behind metaphors or similes”. I’ve put it off again in favor of short bursts of thought on Twitter and opting to just keep whatever it was I wanted to say to myself.

I started “blogging” before it was called blogging in 2001. I had a website whose domain was taken from me called http://www.basseyworld.com and there I had an online journal. On the journal, I would literally write pages and pages and pages every single day. Some of the posts were about the hilarious “only you Bassey” moments I faced while living in Brooklyn but a lot of those earlier posts, now lost forever, also were a window to my early struggles with bipolar II disorder. Before I was officially diagnosed, before I even understood what was happening to my mind and my body and to my emotions. I documented every waking moment hoping that at some point, it would all go away or at the very least, someone would read what I was writing and say, ‘Hey! That’s not that weird. It happens to me too.’ and I did get that. I was overwhelmed with the support and the “me too” I received in that space. But ultimately, as the years went on, I realized that maybe I didn’t want to be known as that person. I stopped using the word “bipolar” and started only saying “depressed”. I figured “depressed” made was easier for people to digest. I felt they wouldn’t be afraid of “sadness”.  After I discovered I was pregnant with my son, I realized that the internet was really not a safe space for me to be as open as I had been. My fears that people would read my words and personal feelings and hold it against me in some way were founded. And I was terrified of being told I was unworthy of love or understanding because of this illness that people refused to understand. I didn’t want to be that girl so I paused and went back to creating distance. I started writing about mental illness for other websites but was very careful about how I spoke about it. I kept it safe. Even as I became known as an advocate for mental illness, I still wanted to own the rights to my story and my privacy so I was selective about what parts of the story I would tell. My writing has suffered for it. I’m not a woman who is comfortable with secrecy. I’ve never been good at keeping secrets. I’ve always wanted to share and be heard and understood.

I’m babbling because I don’t know how to get to the point and the reason why I’m sitting here tossing poorly punctuated run on sentences at whoever in the world still visits me here.

My dear friend, Erica Kennedy is dead. I wish I had more sugar for it but they’ve melted with my tears. Erica Kennedy is dead. I “met” Erica about 5 years ago via Facebook. She sent me a friend request one day out of the sheer blue and having known her name and that beautiful face of hers in this small online writing word, I was immediately starstruck. She was everything I hoped to be she was funny and intelligent and snarky and sarcastic and talented and aloof and beautiful and well liked. She reminded me of the older sister I’d always wanted but was also scared to death of not measuring up to. Over the first few tentative exchanges, I would come to learn that Erica and I had far more in common that I would have liked. I’m not here to tell her story because she was fiercely guarded and private and I will honor that forever. But in sharing with me her story and her journey, I was encouraged to face mine. Erica Kennedy is the reason that my work and my writing and my life with bipolar II disorder was taken off this little blog and put on The Root and My Brown Baby and Ebony and Huffington Post and all the other places you’ve seen it in writing. Her ability to tap into your fear and then allow you no excuses to shy from doing “it” (whatever “it” was) was a gift. She was a visionary. She was revolutionary in the way she approached life and work and friendships and networking. Erica and I would have long conversations about everything under the sun. We would laugh until our sides hurt and then with one word she would have my heart aching so furiously that I wouldn’t be able to see the sun if it asked for me. Then out of nowhere, just a quick turn of phrase and I’d be back to laughter. She knew how to motivate and encourage and challenge. She asked the tough questions and dared you to avoid answering them. She was abrasive. She was distant. She had a way of appearing and changing everything you knew to be true about how you liked to  live your life and then disappear without a word. But she’d be watching. And every once in awhile, you would get  a message of encouragement or pride or a suggestion that made that thing you were working on sit up just a bit higher. And she always knew someone to connect you with. I remember a conversation that started with just a g-chat message, “Bass. You’re so fucking funny. Why are you wasting it on Facebook. You need to be on TV.” and then she was gone.  Until the next time she’d hit me up in some other forum. She encouraged me to write about illness. She shared with me alternatives to the medication that was taxing my pockets and my spirit (www.omegabright.com). She was the first to make writing a book something that could actually happen. I protested and all I got from Erica was, “I don’t get it. Why not? You’re a writer. Write.”. She had no room for excuses or reasons why not. “Just do that shit.” And can we talk about the network of fly and talented women she looped me into? She created a secret group and invited these dynamic women who on the surface had very little in common with each other. All she knew is that she thought they were amazing and wanted to know what would happen if she let us loose with each other. And boy did we happen. I won’t get into that because we be on some bitchy YaYa SiSTARhood math but all I say is that, “Erica be knowing”.

Erica knew.

When I finally met her face to face in Miami. I was struck by how incredibly beautiful she was. We sat on the beach for hours one day talking about life and love and everything we could. She was trying to figure some things out. When we went to her tiny apartment near the beach, she reached into her closet and handed me a dress. “Here. This would look nice on you.” I’ve never worn that dress. It was far too long for my 5’3 frame but at this point, I might never take it off.

I’ve been vacillating between disbelief and tears and rage and tears all day. I watched as the news started to trickle out slowly over the social networks. I saw how far her reach was and the impact she had on so many people. The girl was loved. We might not have known her as intimately as we would have liked, she was like a butterfly or hummingbird that way but her importance to this world is undeniable. I’m sorry she couldn’t feel that when she was here. I have stories of her sadness and her quiet moments but as I said earlier, that’s her story. What I will say is that I hate this thing. I hate it with everything I own. And I will fight it until there is no air left. Fuck shame. Fuck stigma. fuck you for judging anyone who lives with this terrible thing. You have no idea. None. I’ve said it before, anyone who judges anyone for treating or dealing with illness has never done a brave thing.

As for me, one thing I will take from this and remember is that I will tell my story while I’m here. My silence serves no one. I started The Siwe Project because of Siwe Monsanto. I continue it for women like Erica Kennedy. For Phyllis Hyman. These are my inspirations. For the nameless and the faceless.  For everyone who suffers in silence. For those who are often accused of strength. For you. For me.

Fuck fear. Love anyway.

B.

PS. I apologize for the rambling and how poorly written this was but fuck it. My friend is dead and I don’t give a fuck about judgments right now. I give a fuck about life and love and living it and loving it. And doing the very best we can to be okay in this world that constantly threatens are happiness.

Thank you, Erica, for all you’ve done for me. I will honor your life and your legacy by yelling from the center of the universe, “I REFUSE TO LET THIS THING TAKE ANOTHER FUCKING LIFE!”

Free Write: Apology To My Brown Boy


About ten years ago, a  few years before I became a mother, I wrote a poem called Apology To My Unborn about my fears for my then unborn son. My son is now 5 years old and has been asking me about Trayvon Martin. I’ve done the best I can to answer him in ways that make sense to him but I’ve become incredibly saddened by the weight of it. The fact that there are conversations that I’m going to have to have with him as he gets older that go beyond normal parenting upsets me. I hate the fact that there are rules of conduct for boys of color that are meant to keep them from being murdered senselessly. It pains me. The fact that despite these rules, it takes just one person to act out and stop their life, infuriates me. But at the end of the day, my job as a parent, is to make sure that my son doesn’t carry the weight of society. I can’t raise him to fear. I won’t. 

I have been unable to write about Trayvon Martin because there is so much more to this than what I have the space to comprehend. I don’t know what to say. Tomorrow will be a month. 

This morning, I did a free write on my son and Trayvon and questions and parenting and I revisited my poem Apology To My Unborn and used it as a writing prompt. This is more or less something answering myself as my son is now older and my fears have changed. This is not a work in progress because I don’t think I can stand to go back and edit and shape it into something that makes sense. I can’t let this fear and pain affect how I raise my child. I won’t. 

My love and prayers go out to you and yours.

Love someone and mean it. Please.

B.


Apology to my brown boy

You don’t sleep
you take nightfall as suggestion
welcome most morning before the sun
you dimpled face and brown
run on both solar and lunar energy
before you came, this was my only worry
that you would watch morning from the wrong side
that you would be all moving parts and jump starts

I wish this was my only fear for you
Now that you no longer occupy my womb
you have taken over my heart
so how do I protect you from this world?
How do I convince them that you are still
more chubby cheek and wide-eyed
than scowl and suspicion?

in my eyes, you are still preemie
still five pounds, 3 ounces of wrinkle and yawn
you eventually grew
into first laugh
into flurry of knees over hands
into first stumble
into unsteady steps
into first words
into always moving
into always talking

until

you are five years into this life journey
each day your body grows towards manhood
each day your legs lengthen
each day your face shows traces of the men that share your dna
each day you become consumed with what manhood means
each day you mother swallows her heart

I wish I could freeze you in these moments
keep you young boy and safe forever
I don’t trust this world
but I don’t want you to own this fear
you smile before your eyes open for morning
laugh with strangers
call them friend before they give you a reason not to
call them friend even when they do
why can’t I keep you like this?
why can’t the world see you like I do?
innocent
worthy of life
perfectly human

You ask me about the boy who face still
holds the soft roundness you recognize
ask me why his mother is on TV crying
ask me why his father won’t smile
ask me why they are all talking about this boy
ask me why they’re marching
why is everyone so sad, mommy?
What happened?
Who is Trayvon?
Why was he killed?
Do I have to stop wearing my favorite jacket?

What do I say to you?
How do I answer your questions
without inviting you to my fear?
How do I make sense of this for you?
you smiling, brown faced boy
you lover of candy and soft drinks
and hooded sweatshirts that make you feel big
and tall like your uncles
you who runs when scared
fights back when cornered
how do I protect you from this?
How can I teach you to  love this world
when I’m not convinced this world will love you back

My Boogie
my baby

there are thousands who love you sight unseen
but I can not bare the thought of losing you
if just one refuses to see your light
I wish this wasn’t a possibility

and it doesn’t get easier
I come to you every morning wishing it would
wishing I would have the words to save you
tell you that it is as simple as what you wear
or how you sound
or who you hang with

When the hood isn’t safe
but it is
when the suburbs aren’t safe
but they are
when the best schools won’t help
when the worst ones won’t teach you
when it’s not about who your friends are
but also about what company you keep
when it’s everything and nothing

when there is no reason
No justification
no apologies to turn to dust in their mouths

when none of the answers make sense
and the questions keep coming
what do I say to you?

Each morning,
the sun storms unwelcomed through my window
and a killer is still free
when every year there’s another story
another murder
another bloodied body that owns your face
and they are never sorry

How do I tell you to  keep smiling?
To keep living?
To keep breathing?
I just do.

I keep the names of the dead firmly beneath my tongue
I hope this prevents you from turning hollow with my fear
prevents you from losing your love of candy

and if they come for you
they will know they took the heart from the lion
but they didn’t make you eat it
so forget the news
turn it off
ignore it

go play.
go laugh.
go  live the life you were intended

let me deal with this
I will make sure you have a morning worth rising for.

RIP Whitney Houston


RIP Whitney Houston

 

I have a series of poems about famous women who have “broken” in the public eye. The first poem was for Britney Spears, then Phyllis Hyman and the last was for Lauryn Hill. The third poem, was more of a triumphant trumpet for Whitney Houston,  woman who came back from broken.  I remember being in tears watching her on Good Morning America. She didn’t sound the same. She didn’t look the same but she was alive and I found so much strength in that.

RIP Whitney. Your voice was a praise song.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

WIP: Not Built To Break (A Praise Song For Whitney Houston)

While watching Oprah interview her, all I could think was, “Wow. We should all be counted out and left for dead… then rise and reclaim what’s lost.” No we don’t look the same or sound the same or act the same but how could we possibly? With adversity comes change. What matters is the fact that the you continue to breathe and live and move and stand and crawl… whatever.

This is a work in progress. I wrote it in like 15 minutes while watching the DVR’d second interview today. Will clean it up as time goes on… or not.

What a powerful reminder to keep going.

Love someone and mean it,

B.

They said it was over
Gave you permission to curl into yourself and drift
away
they mourned your legacy
your life
your voice
they turned you into dust

for years you were whispered about
counted out
the butt of jokes and prayer circles
alike

tell them, whitney
tell them
you were not built to break
tell them that they
make martyrs of people too soon
throw still sweet scented bouquet onto funeral pyre
lament what they could have been
cry for the broken bones caused by leaping off of pedestals
the wings caked in mud
and self loathing

weakened but undefeated
tell them that you are still here
show them that you would gladly
trade your voice
for your life
you don’t need the pity
the aching disappointment that
the voice is no longer there

remind them that you are still here
mourn what you were
praise where you are

so what if your voice is no longer
this delicate crystal shelled trinket
neither is your life
own your rough edged growl
own the way your notes bounce in smaller range octaves
own the way you stand like the worst is behind you
sing like you were promised a thousand more tomorrows

this is your testimony to strength
that is what your song is now
teach them about perseverance
teach them about resilience
wrap a song around hearts that wish to die

praise the thing that still beats
and bleeds
and bruises

and teach them about pressing on
teach them about dragging yourself out of bed
about lifting yourself from the fog and smoke
about leaving the things that kill your spirit
about how it’s never too late to start loving the
best and worst about you

tell them it’s never too late to heal
and press forward
tell them, Whitney
tell them you weren’t built to break

You have been through hell back
own the scars
own the hoarse and cracked
lament nothing
tell them that any sound from this body
is a joyful noise
it is a living noise
it is a healing noise
tell them, Whitney
then tell them again
and again
and again

tell them so they know that you will
that you did
that you live
that you are here
and with us
tell them so they know that the end
is never the end
that the truth is that no matter how many times we fall
the body still has the strength for one more stand
for one more attempt at morning

Day of Letter Writing Challenge (crush)

I started a secret blog. It’s where I’m putting most of my writing. It’s private and locked so nobody can find it. It’s better this way. I want to return to this every day of writing. Before too many eyes and opinions and strangers convinced me to hold myself a little quieter. In order to get myself back in the habit, on that blog, I’m doing the letter writing challenge that I abandoned on the 7th day exactly a year ago. The challenges became too personal so I quit. Now, I can put them in a place that no one can see.

I’m sharing this one because I like it. *shrugs* That’s the only reason. Please keep in mind, that these letters are not written like I would really write someone. They’re all poetic license everything. No slave to punctuation (like I ever am.).  Please don’t think I would really send this to my crush. I wouldn’t. It’s creepy. But this is what I would say in my head if it weren’t absolutely too much. That’s a long disclaimer. I just don’t want you to walk away thinking, “Damn. Bassey is a stalker.” I mean, I am. But not because of this.😉

I’m stalling because I’m nervous. I think I’ll put it behind this cut. Oh! Also, this was a free write. I set a timer for 20 minutes and only used that time. They will all be free writes so I don’t talk myself out of it because I don’t have the time or I can’t think of anything to write.

Yeah. Still stalling. Here. You can blame Adele for this shit too.

Beloved:It is morning. The sun casts an uncharacteristic shadow at this hour. Unlike the brash and arrogance of summer, winter sun rises wearily. Cautiously. Without fanfare or prediction, she just appears. Like jilted lover, she refuses us warmth. Punishment for how we complain about her heat in summer, I suppose.
This is relevant somehow. Not sure if I’m sun or winter or summer or jilted lover. Perhaps neither. I wish you could tell me.

I think of you often. I wonder about your face the second light hits it. I wonder about your hands, what the fingers do when they grip tightly. Is there a difference between doorknob and caress? Coffee cup and anger? I imagine there is.
I think of you often, wonder about your voice. More often than I should probably admit– I cobble together the few sentences I’ve heard you speak. Stitch them carefully so I imagine what my name might sound like after it’s lived on your tongue.
If you saw me, would you  know? Would you fall quiet and walk away swiftly. I don’t blame you. I am  a thing you must to prepare for. I am a hurricane of a woman. I am flood. You will be swept away and drenched in me. I know. You know. So this is okay. You must be prepared for this. Gather rations and supplies. Come armed. Come ready. Come.

Are you aware of your beauty?  Not in the way that invites vanity, a mirror could tell you all you wish to know. I mean, are you aware of your beauty? The you that exists outside the glare of attention that surrounds you. There is something your eyes that suggest you don’t. That every camera flashing leaves you confused. Every single time, I imagine you hesitate and wonder, why? I’ll tell you. It’s because you glow.
That’s all I have. Just your glowing image in my mind. Perhaps, it’s best that we don’t speak. I want to hold this. Remember you this way. No knowledge of the hearts you’ve broken. The women you promised to call after. The way they waited and waited and waited longer than they are proud of. I don’t want to know you regular. Flesh and bone, pain inducing ex-lover. Someone’s horrible ex-boyfriend. I need your glowing image.
I have my own horrible and broken to contend with, I refuse to add you to the collection.

So I suppose, I must will myself to forget you. To dismiss the possibility of breath on cheek. Hand firm and gentle on small of back.  I refuse the draw of your face. Invite famine rather than imagine making a feast of your mouth.
Even, I, a glutton for creating my own heartbreak can not justify the way you haunt my dreams. The way you follow me into morning. The way mid-day conjures up thoughts of you. Night offers no solace from the oppressive always of you on my mind.
I must create a farewell song that exists only for me.
You, however, are welcome to find me. Prepare yourself for the flood.

Always love,
B.

Allow Yourself Morning

Allow Yourself Morning

I was kind of quoted in the Chicago Tribune.

If you knew the kind of “time” I’ve been having the last few weeks/months/years, you’d understand why the traffic of The Root article and now this Tribune quote means a lot more than it probably should. No matter how much we like to think that what others think doesn’t matter, it’s just not true. I’ve never believed that. I choose whom to believe and about what but it does matter. And feeling appreciated and understood and treasured by others when you can’t manage it for yourself is important.

At least to me, anyway.

My motto the last few days has been, “Allow yourself morning.” People who have any form of depression should understand what that means. It means, wait until tomorrow. And it means forgetting you said that yesterday and saying it again today and tomorrow and the next day and the next day until something helps you out of bed. Then out of the door. Then somewhere that is safe and helpful.

No matter how bad it gets— and it does get bad— allow yourself morning.

Things aren’t suddenly spectacular because of reasons but yesterday, I got my hair done. Today, I got my eyebrows done. Tomorrow, I’m going to Target to buy moisturizer and I’ll probably leave there with a talking trash can and 85 things that “only cost a dollar!”  but forget to buy the moisturizer completely. Then on Monday, I’ll have to go back to Target to get it and a salted caramel hot chocolate from Starbucks. And then Tuesday, there will be another reason to put a foot in front of the other.

Allow yourself morning. Even if it means, you stay in bed because you don’t trust yourself to get out of it. Give yourself that day to do that but the following day, find any excuse- any excuse— to get out of it even if it’s just for 5 minutes. But all you need is permission for one morning and then the next and then the next and then the next.

This thing can be roadblock or sliding door. That sliding door could be made of stone and barbed wire and jagged glass teeth but it can be moved.

Allow yourself morning.

And candy.

The Siwe Project

Over the summer, I wrote about Siwe Monsanto, the amazing, beautiful, talented 15-year old daughter of my friend, Dionne. I wrote about what  a wonderful human being she was. I wrote about how funny she was. I wrote about what a wonderful mother Dionne was. I wrote about how sad Siwe was at times. I wrote about how she took her own life. Since Siwe’s death, I’ve been struggling with ways I could do more as a human being and someone who loved her. I’ve thought about ways that I could use what few talents I had to do something more to honor Siwe’s memory and to prevent deaths like hers. In August, just 2 months shy of Siwe’s death, I came up with the idea of The Siwe Project, a global non-profit whose aim was to spread mental wealth awareness and education in the global black community. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it. I’m only a writer. I have no admin experience but I knew it needed to be done so I began talking to some people. It’s been said before but now it goes unquestioned that I’m surrounded by some of the most amazing human beings in the world. Friends, family and strangers both here and abroad rallied to offer support, guidance and encouragement. They all agreed that this was necessary. The last 6 months have been a serious learning experience for me. I’ve been tested and I’ve been encouraged. I learned that when I am overwhelmed and confused, there is an army of people prepped and ready to offer guidance and lend words (and actions) of support.

I can not tell you how grateful I am to announce that this Wednesday, December 14th in Washington, DC, The Siwe Project will launch officially. This is just a soft launch, we will be sharing our mission and plans for the future. We will announce our slogan and photo campaign. We are starting small in order to stay focused and on task but we hope to do big things. We need to erase the stigma of mental illness from our communities. We must learn to love and cherish our mental health as much as our physical health. We must encourage and support those with mental illness so that they may manage and seek treatment without fear or shame. These are imperatives. Too many of us our dying or the walking dead. This isn’t about pushing medication or specific forms of treatment on anyone. What works for me, may not work for you. But find something that works. Face it. Treat it. Then live.

The following video was directed by my good friend, Pierre Bennu. It is a version of my poem, Choices, which was written about my personal early struggles with illness. I’ve had my ups and downs. I’ve had my setbacks and falls but I’m still here and I couldn’t ask for anything else. I want the same for all of you. We can do this.

Choices For The Siwe Project

Don’t let it or anyone else define you. Seek treatment and live your best life. Mental illness is not who you are. It’s what you have. 

Come out support and celebrate. http://thesiweprojectafterparty.eventbrite.com/

Best,

B.

The Lost Ones.

Sometimes it seems that the going is just too rough
And things go wrong no matter what I do
Now and then it seems that life is just too much
But you’ve got the love I need to see me through

 

I’ve been a little down lately. And by lately, I mean about a month or longer. I know what triggered it and I’m a little embarrassed to admit– even vaguely– that I was so affected by it. When it happened, I acknowledged the sadness and the disappointment. I inhaled and held it. And as the days went on, whenever I was threatened by a flooding over, I would inhale and hold and inhale and hold and inhale and hold. Until there was no breath left. Until my lungs were full. Until the air stopped moving around me. I felt numb to it. “it” whatever it was. It had iced my veins. I thought this was better than the flooding over. It was better than that drenched in it. This feeling nothing.  This wide-eyed and sleeping. This going through the motions.  I’ve been planning and creating and building this organization. We launch on December 7th and I’m scared. And rather than allowing the fear to take root, I inhaled. And held it. So somewhere in that breath was fear and disappointment and sadness all mingling and codependent.

I thought quiet was better. I thought silence was better. And sometimes it is. I didn’t/don’t have the time for  navel gazing and exploring. There’s too much to be done. The world doesn’t pause because you need a moment to catch up, Bassey.

And catch up I did. All the years I’ve felt disconnected from came rushing back. I’ve never felt “my age”. I’d look around at people the same age as I am and wonder why they were so grown up. Why the lived the lives my parents do. When did we decide to get husbands and mortgages? I’ve always felt a few years behind. I blamed it on the years I spent on tour. I blamed it on the illness. I blamed it on the New York City that I loved for encouraging arrested development. I felt this disconnect.

Creeping towards 40. And what to show of it? A few clips on youtube. A smattering of freelanced articles online. An absurd amount of tweets.

A frowning, yawning bank account.

I want the years I lost back. A proper do-over. There is no regret here just a lamenting. I just know a lot was expected of me. I know that I had been given so much. I know that the distance between what I’ve been given and where I am are disappointing to those who saw promise.

I saw my favorite college professor and he said what I know many have thought:

“Wow, Bassey. We thought you were going to take over the world. What happened?”

I don’t know.

The Siwe Project is my way of giving back these years I’ve wasted. At least without me here, there will be a legacy besides the brown, big headed boy who deserves a better version of this world.  The only thing I have fit to pass down (to you) is this heart of a dreamer…

“But I want you stronger sooner/ want you kind and brave/want you unafraid to fight for what you believe and need/want you beautiful and free/want you nothing like your mother…”

I’m fine. I just need something to puncture my lungs.

I need to get this air out.

Return feeling to my limbs.

Free Write: On Ringing Phones and Persistent Good Byes

Immigrants know it too well– the way these phones ring at these ungodly hours. The way they jar you out of sleep. The first call can be ignored. It can be dismissed as a cousin wanting money or an uncle confused about the time difference only wanting to say hello. The second is an annoyance. The frustration of being shaken out of bed by the shrill and electronic scream of a telephone. You hear the answering machine click and the echoed “hello? hello? awilo-oh? Hello?” then a dial tone. You roll over to check the time. 3AM. 4AM. 5. Your heart races a bit but you tell yourself that it’s just a cousin wanting money or an uncle confused about the time difference only wanting to say hello.

Then it rings again. It screams again. The answering machine clicks. The echoed hello. the dial tone. You know that this can not be ignored. Good news is never this persistent. Good news leaves a message. Good news announces itself. This is not good news. You lie in bed and listen. Your body stiff and unforgiving. Your breath a facsimile of itself. Your mind races. Remember both your brothers went out separately last night. You allow yourself the strength to lift your body out of the bed. Shuffle to the window. Count the cars. The boys are safe. You picked your sister up from the train station hours before. You know she is safe. Your mother and her grandson share a bed on weekends. This slumber party ritual of The Game Show Network and bedtime stories. They are safe. Your father is away on business. You do not give yourself permission to think of anything but his safety. For a moment, you forget yourself. Find your face in the dark allow the headache that has been threatening your evening to flood over. The pain reminds you that you are safe.

Staring out into the early morning dark and cold of this suburban America, you hear the phone again. The click. The hello. The dial tone. Finally give yourself permission to remember Grandmother died 2 months ago. PaPa left a little over 2 years ago.  You have been in this country for 30 years. You have watched your father answer the phone at these ungodly hours. You have stayed in the shadows and caught the words you understood. You have pretended not to notice the tears. There was the cousin you barely remember. Your favorite uncle. The auntie that fed your  you sweets and an ice cold bottle of Fanta. Your parents have been on the cold end of the receiver. They have ached about the lives they’ve chosen. The one that keeps an ocean between their bodies and their hearts. You start to feel the disconnect between the faces that shaped you and the country that raised you.

The phone rings again. You’ve lost count.

Make your way down the stairs. Forget your glasses. Forget the light switches. Feel your way through the hall and into the kitchen. Taste the cold of winter rushing in way way too soon. Your vision is blurry. Remember your glasses. Feel your way through the kitchen. The red eye of the answering machine blinks silent and furious. Eight. Eight. Eight. Eight.  Press play. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Play.

“Sista, awilo-oh…” Press stop.

If you leave now, you can still convince yourself that it is a cousin wanting money or an uncle confused about the time difference only wanting to say hello. You decide to stay. You hear the music of a language that haunts you quietly. When you were 4, it was the only thing that made sense to you. You are 35 now, it is just music. A tune you can’t connect with. You stand in the dark and force a blurred stare into the speaker. The words surround you, you swear you don’t understand but you know. The only question is who. Who now? Who?

It rings again. It screams again. Before the click, you know your mother has heard this. Has gone through her own ritual. She is prepared to pick up this time. You watch the words “line in use” flash for a few seconds, then freeze. Then click. Wait a few seconds before you gather what brought you here and make your way upstairs. When you get to the top wait a few more seconds to search  your brain for who.

Make your way to your mother’s door. Knock softly. Wait for her to ask you in. It’s nearly 6 now, the clock making a steady march towards a reasonable hour of the morning. Open the door and wait for her to say something. Anything.

“Nyono, my father died.” You nod.

“are you okay?”

“yes.”

You turn to leave. You know the history of this one. You’re not sure if a hug is appropriate. You know that there will be no poetry. No fond memories. This is only a reminder that we must heal and forgive before the next phone begins ringing.  So ask again. This time make sure she knows what you mean.

“Are you okay?”

“yes.”

Immigrants know it too well. The way these phones ring at ungodly hours. The way these oceans divide our bodies. The way these good byes rush in before you have had a chance to settle and steady.

 

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