On birthdays, and not only birthdays

I had a birthday recently. I’m thirty-three now, a pleasant enough number with its stacked, repeating curves and its proximity to thirty. I like birthdays, generally. I like celebrations, and parties, and cake, and presents, and special days, and since my birthday is made up of two twelves, it is fun that my age is now two threes.

To tell the truth, though, I was depressed in the weeks before my birthday. It had to do with my birthday, and it didn’t. I was on my period; I walked around with tears at the ready, waiting for any or no provocation. I worried about a lingering health issue. Everywhere I looked there were reminders of pain and suffering — a sign in a window, a shared link on Facebook, the nightly protests — or worse, there were none, as if this pain were invisible to the world at large.

There is a catharsis at funerals, if conditions are right. I went to one last week, of an elderly family friend whose time had come. There is an emotional cleanness to this kind of mourning. We tell people of our loss; they offer sympathy, support, casseroles, days off from work. Those who need to come together to hug each other, to say goodbye, and to cry — perhaps hideously, perhaps unreasonably, perhaps uncontrollably — have a space set aside for doing exactly this. Afterward there is some kind of rebuilding, mostly in private, but with the approval and acknowledgement of those in our community. Grief makes an unweaving in our lives. People know this, and though we all process differently, we recognize that the processing is necessary. We make space for it, for each other. We honor it, and there is comfort in that honoring, in the reminder that we are all mortal and life is precious.

For those of us mourning the loss of Black lives in this country — mourning as well, perhaps, the corrosion of justice and safety and trust — there has not been this catharsis. There has not been space for the grief and the anger, and when people have tried to make that space, they have been met with resistance and force, from authorities as well as from loved ones. I have seen so much ugliness, and what I’ve seen is nothing compared to what others have told me about. I think that we, as a society, are afraid of this kind of collective grief, and of Black grief particularly. I think we realize that we do not know its magnitude, and that if we were to allow it the space it needs — if we were to honor it — the unweaving it would generate could take down everything. As it should, perhaps, but that doesn’t make it less terrifying.

I had a massage the week of my birthday, the longest massage I’ve ever had (an hour and a half). I expected it to be relaxing, which it was, but when it was over I found myself nearly consumed by sadness. I didn’t expect it. But it was so deep and strong and full that I knew it must have been there for weeks, if not longer. I have been getting to know it and have found it a patient and wise teacher. There are so many questions I’ve been asking myself for months and months, and lately, thanks in part to this melancholy, I have finally felt myself moving toward meaningful answers.

I think there is going to be a lot of change for me in the coming year. I welcome it. One of these changes — or more likely a byproduct — you’ve probably already noticed here on the blog. It used to be that this site was my first and primary outlet for all my creative work, as well as my main venue for documenting my life. In the past half-year or so I’ve been posting here less and less, not to mention responding less quickly to comments, and I suspect this will continue. It may be that I’m going to try to get more work published or exhibited. It may be that I’m going to write about trickier topics that require more thinking before I make them public. It may simply be that I’m going to allocate my time differently, and won’t have as much time to blog. I don’t know. But you know I will keep you posted.

I live in gratitude for my creative supporters, my friends, my family, my life, my world. And I act in service to all of the above, that I may do some good every day to all those whose lives I touch.

a sketch from a day when I felt particularly down:

Dec 9 - View from back deck


doing a portrait of my friend Adwoa, on my birthday, at Manifesta salon (photo from Manifesta):

Dec 12 - Adwoa (from Manifesta)


stream-of-consciousness doodle the night of the Eric Garner non-indictment: