Begin Again

After three years, I’ve decided to start dancing ballet again.

This is huge for me, because ballet is something I have associated heavily with New York. On weekends, and sometimes after my unfulfilling 9-5 in Midtown, I used to walk to Alvin Ailey for the beginner class. Ballet slippers and leotard tucked neatly into the bottom of my purse, I didn’t mind the long avenues and wide streets to get where I was going.

I loved dancing. I hated life in New York. Other than the vibrant Native community, it was suffocating and deeply isolating. I stayed, in all honesty, because I thought I should. I didn’t know what it meant to be myself in Providence; to have finished school and not yet settled into whatever was next. If I had to struggle with existential questions and quarter-life crises—which seemed inevitable—the struggle might as well, at the very least, have a veneer of importance.

I left three years ago now, but I fear sometimes that misadventure stripped me of my nerve, my boldness, my audacity. Loud noises startle me. Men make me nervous when they stand too close. The smell of bourbon turns my stomach. I hate when people tell me how busy they are. It’s like I’ve shrunken into the shadow of the courageous young woman I used to be.

But if you’ve been following this blog, none of this is new. Blah blah blah. Even I want a new storyline. My own discomfort has dulled into white noise, and my anxiety notwithstanding, I have to ask myself: what’s next? I am learning that sometimes things get better…and some things don’t. Maybe there is no existential solid ground; maybe the best I can do, for now, is to feel my way along the unease.

Last night, I fished my ballet slippers out of a box I still have not unpacked from New York. I placed them next to my bed on the rug I bought in Morocco (which features, if you are wondering, an Indigenous Amazigh pattern from Anfa, or so-called Casablanca). When I woke up this morning and looked down at them, I felt a twinge of indignation grip me by the spine.

Get up.

Take your life back.

I shook the old slippers loose. I tried them on—point, flex—and let my heart break. Again. I’m angry that I left. I’m angry that I came back. I’m angry that in all this time, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

I don’t know if it’s the anxiety, the wack antidepressant that hasn’t done anything for my pessimism, the weather, the back-to-back-eclipses. Some days I don’t feel brave; others I wonder sometimes if I’m wack. All I can do is put on my ballet slippers, show up, and try again. And again. And again. And again. And again. As many times as it takes until I feel my feet on the ground, until I break open.

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Visiting with grandmother 🌝🌱🌊👵🏽✨

(Things That Give Me Anxiety)

  • Sunday afternoons
  • The deadline to apply for our enrollment
  • Facebook ads
  • I can’t find the copy of my grandmother’s death certificate
  • How do I find my grandmother’s grave?
  • The humidity
  • I’m not fluent in my language
  • My tribal community is fractured
  • I don’t know how to tell the people around me my baseline is a state of panic
  • I don’t know how to stop panicking
  • Desiccated treetops in June
  • Empty bottles of vodka
  • Crowds of white people
  • When the neighbors park on the street overnight
  • I dropped out of grad school twice
  • Sudden noises
  • When people ask me how to pronounce my Indian name
  • When you tell me you drank too much last night
  • I don’t know how to stop panicking

 


 

I’m worried I’m forgetting how to write. I’m worried I’m developing a tendency to forfeit my honesty here for a more tailored presentation—one that belies a deep yearning to be authentic. In other words, my risk aversion and caution are maladaptive, not intrinsic because I’m an earth sign, a grad school drop out, a child of South Providence. My rebellion was turning down the fellowship and moving away: jumping out of the pond into the ocean. Maybe I peaked at 23, but if you had asked me what the hell I was doing turning down an opportunity to prove myself the exceptional NDN, I would have told you I am a coastal Indigenous person first. I am an iteration of water, a more complex but less flushed-out form. And I had no idea what the hell I was doing.

As it turns out, pantomiming exceptionalism is a fast track to despair. Cognitive dissonance. Risk aversion. Dropping out of shit you never wanted to do in the first place. Functional alcoholism. I returned home two summers later and tried to kill myself at 25. Though it’s possibly maladaptive to keep the hospital band from the night I overdosed, it’s a reminder that messing up is normal; but like, what the fuck. None of this is worth my life.

In other words, I am a recovering overachiever. And at 27 I’m just learning how to be myself.

Five Years Later

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It did not become real for me, I think, until that morning. It’s a moment you think about a lot until the very moment you arrive, and then your stomach is in knots and your mouth is dry. No matter how neat and orderly your plans are, no matter how much you think you control time, in that moment, your mind goes blank. And you ask yourself: What’s next?

My college graduation itself turned out to be strange and, in some ways, unremarkable. The morning was overcast and unusually humid, which was, of course, a bad omen for my curls. At the time, I was seeing some idiot guy one of my idiot guy friends had introduced me to; and because he was older than me, deeply insecure, and going through his own quarter-life crisis, he’d called me up drunk at 3am — just a few hours earlier — to project all of this on me on my graduation day.

I don’t remember what was said. I do remember telling him to go fuck himself; dozing off, somehow, shortly after for a few hours; and waking up as the sun was rising. My carefully ironed gown hung on the door of the closet. I remember the cords — one for Summa cum Laude, one for College honors — and the bright purple sash.

I worked for this.

As far as I was concerned, this was accomplishment because it was an accomplishment I wasn’t supposed to enjoy. I had gone to prep school, and when my first choice college didn’t work out, I resigned myself to a state college. This, of course, was not just taboo, nor was it simply a cardinal sin: it was the cardinal sin. It signaled that I had squandered the opportunity of a lifetime, hadn’t worked hard enough, hadn’t shrewdly navigated the college process the way an ambitious, non-trust fund, ambiguously brown kid from the wrong side of town should have.

I don’t think it’s projecting to say I think I was supposed to be ashamed.

I was told I’d hate going to a state school. That I was smarter and better prepared than my peers; that I’d be bored; that I’d transfer, anyway, to a “real” college.

And, probably because God has a sense of humor, none of that happened. My college experience was transformative. On the morning of graduation, I remember shuffling uncomfortably in the itchy gown, touching the bobby pins holding the mortar board in place, straightening my cords, the purple sash. So, I had done it. And as the sun broke through the clouds, lifting the uncharacteristic humidity, I remember the first sharp twinge of unease.

So, what’s next?

I started grad school that fall; and ten days later, dropped out. I moved to a big city, and I moved back. I started jobs paying more money than I could have imagined, and I quit. I dated (more of) the wrong guys, and I dumped them. At many of these junctures, I remembered my graduation day with a twinge of sadnessas if these failures had meant I had failed. As if walking across the stage, somehow, was mystically supposed to have changed everything.

Five years later to the day, I’m writing this reflection because, regardless how cynical I’ve become, I hold that morning close to my heart. I’ve struggled enormously finding my place in the world. I write this because that morning did not in fact change everything, but in some ways, it changed me. It’s taken me five years to understand that it was magic because I say so.

I’ve finally settled into a routine. I enjoy what I do for a living. I’m surrounded by good people. Most importantly, I know what works for me, and I’ve learned how to walk away from what doesn’t. I no longer hold myself responsible for figuring out everything. I no longer hold myself to account for other people’s shame.

And as it were, five years later, my younger brother’s college graduation is the very same weekend. It’s a moment I’ve thought about a lot since the late summer day he left home, the summer after I finished undergrad. It feels like a few weekends ago, and somehow, like another lifetime.

I’ve learned that what matters is not the chronology, but the synchronicity. Time is not linear, and if you’re paying attention, it will come back around to show you what you missed: when my brother came home last week, he told me he wants to wear my sash.

But…don’t you have one from your school?

No, he said. This is more important.

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I couldn’t imagine a higher honor.

Yalitza Aparicio Appreciation Post

Also, can we talk about white supremacy in Indian Country?

So, first thing’s first: Indigenous actress Yalitza Aparicio has been snatching edges since her debut in “Roma.” Most recently, she was giving the rest of us something to aspire towards on the cover of Vogue México. And let’s be honest—we are not worthy.

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Underneath her name, it says “a star is born” in both Spanish and Mixtec. I Stan. (Vogue México)

I haven’t seen “Roma” yet, but obviously, Yalitza is life goals. And her ascent onto the world stage has been hailed as a win for Indigenous womxn. It has been refreshing to see an Indigenous womyn who looks like me (e.g., brown AF) being appreciated for her talent and her beauty. And while Native folks all over Turtle Island are souped, I do think Yalitza’s meteoric rise presents the perfect opportunity to acknowledge white supremacy in Indian Country.

This is a conversation I do not like to have with other Natives, because, to be totally transparent, I don’t want people to misunderstand my point or think I’m bitter. We balk to acknowledge privilege of lighter-skinned and white passing Natives, never mind that said privilege is just an iteration of white supremacy. 

But it matters. How often do we talk about Indigenizing work, but in the same breath, marginalize brown (and I’m talking brown) Indigenous folks? Much to the chagrin of light-skinned Indigenous people, I contend that one cannot actually Indigenize anything without first naming, confronting and reconciling the ways in which we perpetuate white supremacy within our community. We are deeply invested in colonial constructs around Indian blood, but we are quick to center and uplift the lighter among us without critiquing why: most the Native folks who are really out here with big platforms and any amount of social capital (Instagram Indians, as my Maya Kaqchikel friend and I call them) are light, bright, and damn near white.

And that is a large part of why I think Yalitza, and her visibility, is so important. I am over the moon for her. And her dizzying rise to stardom presents many questions that get to the heart of Indigenizing work. After this moment, will we continue to uplift brown- and darker-skinned Indigenous people, particularly womxn, gender nonconforming/gradient, and Two Spirit folks, in our communities? How can we be critical of which Indigenous voices we center? How do we appreciate Yalitza without fetishizing her?

And, most importantly: how do you say “you better slay these ungrateful hoes” in Mixtec?

On Struggling, Sharing, and Authenticity

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Am I the only person who feels like an epic fuck-up sometimes?

Like I just can’t get it together, and I’m destined to be a hot mess forever?

Like I will eventually die alone — and/or with lots of cats?

I’m guessing not. Last night, I got into a particularly self-deprecating funky funk that precipitated a panic attack. If I’m totally honest, I’m still partially in denial about panic disorder being a real thing for me, despite what my therapists and doctors have told me. Anyway, I had been feeling sad earlier, so I went to a coffee shop to write (and drink a well-deserved, boughie holiday hot chocolate).

It worked for about twenty minute before the panic gripped me again. At that point, I went to my car and proceeded to freak out in the parking lot for another half hour.

“Going to the coffee shop made things worse,” I texted my best friend when it started to subside. “I’m just a failure at life, and at this rate, I’ll never be happy.”

After chiding me for my self-deprecation, he responded with something I wasn’t expecting.

“I’m drinking and I feel like shit. I feel alone and like no one wants to be with me.”

I immediately went into best friend mode because (not to brag) my best friend is truly amazing. His confession snapped me out of my funk, but it also made me realize I’m not the only one who feels like they don’t have it together. It made me feel like less of the overly sensitive fuck-up I tell myself I am.

Of course, I was not happy to hear my friend is also struggling. (#SchadenfreudeSunday. Just kidding. I was really proud of myself for coming up with that). Nor was I necessarily seeking someone to commiserate with over wine and bad Christmas movies (though we did some of that, too).

Of course, neither of us has figured it out. Will we get the promotions and pay raises? Will we always be overworked and underpaid? Will those boys call us? What if 2019 isn’t better? I don’t know. So why am I sharing all this?

Because not doing so is what isolates and ultimately kills us. Sharing our vulnerability, deep insecurities and fears helps us to see that they are not so unique to our lives. It makes our suffering seem less personal and pointed. I’ve learned there is great power in honoring the struggle, in not rushing to qualify it or cover it up. And not only that, along the way I’ve found out I’m not the only anxious, overcommitted, just-above-broke millennial out there.

Cheers to authenticity? Idk. We’ll figure it out, netompaûog.

I don’t care what anyone says I love this song.

Thanksgiving Thoughts from the Land of First Contact

Thanksgiving Day in New England: always strange, convoluted, fraught with intersectional complexities.

On one hand, it’s a day my family gathers, cook traditional Black foods, and fellowship. Holiday dinners are some of the few times of the year, in fact, that I feel unequivocally Black in a way that no one can contest or take from me. Surrounded my by relatives, lots of laughter, and stories, I once again understand myself in the context of the Black community of Rhode Island.

But what lingers, too, is the sadness around this holiday for those of us who are also Native in the family. So before we gather, I’m holding space for my Wampanoag relatives, as well as my Pequot relatives and ancestors.

And in light of my own disconnection and reconnection from my Pequot family and lineage, that is very difficult for me to engage with. I resent deeply much of the way people talk about the brutality my ancestors endured: It’s a holiday that celebrates genocide, killing off all the Native Americans and kicking them off their land. Well-meaning folks have said this to my face as if I’m not still here, on my land, fighting to be seen. As if I do not carry a special, pointed sorrow at being 26 and just now becoming conversational in my language. As if I am not acutely ashamed of the ways in which I have been disconnected from community and culture.

These are layers I don’t expect everyone to understand, and in the grand scheme of things, it’s nothing to become maudlin over. Far be it from me to police anyone’s tone. All I can do is endeavor to be as authentic as possible and offer loving suggestions when I think we can do better.

To my Wampanoag and Pequot family, I see you. To my non-Native friends, I see you, too; and I’d invite you to do your own work and not rely on Native people rehashing their trauma for your enlightenment. In telling “real story” of Thanksgiving, I invite you to hold space for the fact that living Native people in New England are still grappling with the effects of this particular act of genocide.

It’s not about policing; it’s about shifting your frame of reference. I say this in love. I say this because I think we can do better.

Happy Thanksgiving. Or not. Here’s to family, to friends, to remembering, to healing, to our futures.

Happy Indigenous People’s Day…From My Couch: Rest as Resistance

I did not partake in any celebrations this year: instead, when I finished my work today, I rested. As Indigenous people we believe we have to be 10x better, that we always have to be “on,” ready to educate and engage. We exist in a society that links self-worth to productivity inside of a settler colonial/capitalist narrative. So here’s a gentle reminder to all you fine Native people out there to take care of yourself, because you’re poppin and you deserve it. Happy Indigenous People’s Day, netompaûog 💗✨

Poolside Epiphanies

For the first time in a long time, I’m happy with my life. By 26, I wanted to have my Masters (in what, I had no idea); be married or at the very least heading in that direction; and live in a big city. But instead I dropped out of grad school and left New York to work in the Native community back home. The last year especially has been particularly trying and transformative. So here I am, a few pounds heavier, a lot less worried about what other people think, grateful to be surrounded by wonderful family and friends, open + receptive to the weird and wonderful adventures life brings me. Here’s to self-love and late summer poolside epiphanies for no particular reason 🍻

Resistance & Revolution

Last week on the Fourth of July, I was asked to partake in Resistance & Revolution, an awesome program at the Robbins House in Concord, MA. In addition to participating in the readings, I was there to acknowledge that Concord is on stolen Massachusett and Nipmuc land. It was powerful to be able to bring the reality of Indigenous displacement and dispossession into the conversation about Independence Day. 

Also, the history of the house—and the free Black family that built and inhabited it after the Revolutionary War—is beyond cool. Go visit! The story of the site resonated with me particular because there is a myth that there are no Black people in New England. But the reality is that we’ve been here since the beginning, and our families have long and rich histories of resilience and survivance here. I feel very connected to the Robbins/Garrison family, the ancestors who once lived in this house, and grateful I could be part of the work we did at the Robbins House today 🙏🏽🌀