Irene, Erykah and the Stuff after Storms

2 Sep

When Irene whistled, I listened to Erykah. Curled on a daybed in the dark, I rummaged for ways to salvage stuff in the midst of a hurricane when Badu pleaded to the self-proclaimed bag lady on a drained battery to let it go.

This summer, I returned to my Virginia hometown to weather a different kind of storm. Separated from my partner and seeking a homeplace to complete research for my “tenure” book, I found myself searching in a cardboard box—a time capsule, which housed old academic awards, articles, and origami-folded, water-stained yes-no-will-you-go-with-me love letters that date back to the 6th grade. I sifted through old things to seek some form of validation or affirmation after being told by faculty unfamiliar with women of color knowledge production that my work was too little, and being told by my partner familiar with yes-man women that our relationship was too much. Retreating home to recover and write felt right until I had no electricity and I began bumping into that box and all of the baggage that I brought back with me.

And then, the hurricane came. The hurricane came when I realized the amount the stuff I carried. There was the physical stuff dispersed in offices, storage facilities, my car, my “hobo” purse, and other folks’ houses; the virtual stuff that needed constant attention lest I risked losing data or (meaningful) connections; and, the psychic stuff of growing up poor, black and female and feeling the pressure to do more and be more so that others would see me as equal.  The weight of stuff seemed to be all-consuming.

Our stuff is a product of living in a consumer capitalist culture, which encourages us to accumulate things to feed the economy, and to feed our feelings of alienation and dissatisfaction. Shows, such as Hoarders, Storage Wars and Pawn Stars represent a new genre of reality television that captures how we deal with it in our lives. After experiencing one day without electricity, my father fueled a generator for a few hours to power deep freezers, a George Foreman grill, and a portable television because we didn’t want to lose the already thawed food or the chatter that cut the silence when we ate dinner. We sat together, yet we experienced emptiness.  It was as if the room had to be filled with something other than ourselves.

Before Irene, it would have been difficult for me to imagine voluntarily moving to a new space with a single suitcase. Today, I am abandoning the bag lady for the kinda (self) love that Badu, Bambara and Crunkadelic said would make life better. It might not be the easiest thing to do, but shedding some of the stuff that I have held onto for years might make handling life’s unexpected disasters lighter.

Power restored.

7 Responses to “Irene, Erykah and the Stuff after Storms”

  1. T. Dixon September 2, 2011 at 1:48 PM #

    Thanks for this post. I’m coming up against this so strongly right now. I think all of the voices expressing such similar stories may mean that I should not be trying to walk this journey and fight these monsters alone: the “imposter” symdrome; the “not-enough” pox; the “hostility” coat that I don’t wear, but that others keep trying to throw onto me. Daily I read another story – it’s like I can see my fellow brown, black women wading in the mud, but I can’t quite reach their hands to pull each other up and out. I’m going to keep wading closer, though until I do get close enough.

  2. sheridf September 2, 2011 at 2:14 PM #

    There is so much in this post that points out the work we have to do for ourselves and each other. You are right. There is so much that I have to let go of, make time to let go of, and too many things that I perceive as big that must be appropriately re-sized. I want to send you the hug that I have been holding for you. The kind of hug I got a few weeks ago from a crunk sister, where she held me until the tears that were so pressed down could be released and then she held me some more until I felt I could stand on my own knowing what I needed to do for myself. Power restored! Yes.

  3. Asha September 2, 2011 at 4:44 PM #

    So strong and true. Thank you for sharing. I am definitely thinking about walking lighter and restoring power. And I am also sending love and one of the hugs Sheri described.

  4. Cal B September 2, 2011 at 4:47 PM #

    I liked this one- I shall try to share it with my Aunt, especially since it is devoid of the profanity that she is reluctant to download into her spirit [go figure].

  5. rboylorn September 2, 2011 at 9:23 PM #

    Power. Restored.

    This post reminds me of my pseudo awareness of carrying around heavy and weightless invisible things that people can’t see (sometimes burdens, sometimes fears, sometimes insecurities, sometimes successes)… so they attempt to pile more (work), take more (dignity), expect more (patience), and demand more (time). And while I am pulling from the energy source your beautiful and wise words have provided, I am reminded that Erykah warns “you’re gonna hurt your back…” Bambara asks “are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well? And I hear them. And I hear you. Sitting here in the quiet, with your words/voice speaking to me softly, I hear you! And I, too, am going to make this bag of weight I am carrying lighter, and fill my lips with no, and wrap my arms around my self with care… because I don’t want to hurt my back (anymore) and I am sure (finally) I do want to be (physically/emotionally/psychically) well!”

    Power (in all of its manifestations and from all of its hiding places) restored!

    CF, sending you love that restores, energy that heals, and the power already manifested but hidden in the crevices of your body. PowerLoveHealingFaith. Restored!

  6. f. September 3, 2011 at 3:25 AM #

    Good stuff as I prepare for a move to a new city… I won’t make it down to a single suitcase but I am shedding off anything and everything I don’t need. Hope you are weathering the storm in all its forms.

  7. wish0upon0a0star September 7, 2011 at 10:48 AM #

    This is something I can relate to.

    I am a young single mother of a beautiful 4 year old daughter. I grew up in Oklahoma, very poor upbringing actually. Sometimes I want to resent my childhood but then I realize growing up with nothing has helped me appreciate every small thing that I am blessed to have in my life now, as well as learn to live without.

    I will never be a bag lady. I know my mind is clearer, I breathe easier, and sleep better knowing that I keep as little baggage as possible. My life is better for it because in the back of my mind, I believe that if something happens and I lose my possessions, I would only need to replace the bare minimum and be content.

    I’ve learned to let my mental burdens go. Now that my daughter is in my life, I have made her my concentration. If whatever I’m doing/learning/working on/spending time on does not or will not benefit her first, me second, and my family next, then it’s not worth it. I refuse to continue spreading my precious mental resources around.

    As I’ve grown–and mind you I’m still 21 and young/naive, however I assure you, I’ve grown!–I’ve taken into account what everything and everyone in my life means. My ears have opened and I’ve become more receptive to wise womens’ words, such as Erykah’s. A few years ago the message would have blown over me! Now I understand, and thankfully engage in such conversation with other sisters!

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