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A Black Girl in Sweden

My husband and I have done something fairly reckless. We pulled up stakes and left America for a new job opportunity. . . In Örebro, Sweden. Noah is teaching at city’s university as their new Rhetoric professor while I plan to write full-time.

Toledo, Ohio is in our rear-view mirror as a closed chapter. My days of teaching Freshman Composition have also come to a close. From now on, I’d really like to spend my days writing more blog posts and editing my NANOWRIMO novel (possibly publish it this summer/fall). Not working will be strange, but I believe I’ll have more opportunities for adventure and fulfillment elsewhere. Exploration in Örebro will be easier when everyone walks, bikes, and ride buses.

So as I acclimate to a new land, my blog posts will probably be more frequent and revolve around my traveling experience as a black American woman in Sweden. While I understand my husband and I probably left the United States at a perfect time, there will also be challenges regarding race and nationality here in Sweden. I will report on those as well.

All in all, your girl is a unemployed, non-Swedish speaking wanderer. Please wish her luck, lol!

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Post #Nanowrimo Depression


I’m depressed because I wrote a book. As I write this, I’m listening to Pink Floyd’s “Brain Damage/Eclipse” and feeling sluggish. This doesn’t make any sense. I’ve accomplished the thing I set out to do and I’m punishing myself for it. I had ample warning though. My husband reminded me, “When you finish #Nanowrimo, you will feel depressed.” I believed him because this is how I react during transitions. The blank period in between stressful moments is typically confusing and aimless for me.

There is an uncomfortable blank period of stillness between November 30th and January’s editing phase. The early coffee-driven mornings and the late-night writing session are suddenly over. You are done. If you actually wrote a novel in one month, you’ve been through the emotional/mental wringer. Now can you turn your brain off? That’s the question.

The first couple of days of December consisted of me resting on my fucking laurels. I could say that I was a goddamn novelist. I printed the book off and put it in a paper box, weighing it in my hands and running my thumb across the pages to hear the rustle. I created this thing, I could hold my work in my hands and feel its heft. I built this.

A week later, I started to ask the familiar questions: What’s next? What should I write now? When can I start ripping my manuscript to shreds?

That’s part of the reason I’m writing this essay. I can’t let my Protestant Work Ethic rest. There’s a full-on Calvinist flogging in my home right now. I SHOULD BE WORKING! MY LABOR WILL SET ME FREE! IDLE HANDS ARE THE DEVIL’S WORK! The pressure, that I’ve unnecessarily placed on myself, is worse now that my semester is over. I don’t even have that work to keep me distracted.

I have fifteen days before I can even touch my manuscript, so I’m forcing myself to rest. It feels odd to admit, but I’m conducting a forced shutdown of my brain and returning to the things that make me happy. Here’s a short list of how I’m combating Post #Nanowrimo Depression for the month of December:

  1. I started reading again. The constant writing prevented me from looking at anyone else’s work. Of course, there was the fear of another author’s voice popping up in my own work. Also, there simply wasn’t time for me to enjoy the act of reading. Now that I’m done with #Nanowrimo, I’ve already read two mysteries, skimmed through a literature anthology I plan to teach from, and started an audio-book. I’m hoping the cool down period of reading will help me with the January editing process. I’m looking at examples of dialogue and description that I neglected in my own writing (speed and quantity over quality) and finding inspiration.
  2. I started watching documentaries again. “Time: The Kalief Browder Story,” helped me get back into that groove of learning while I watch. Since I’m a visual learner, I benefit from getting a snapshot of humanity through these films. I even watched about “The Greely Expedition” on PBS’s American Experience. I have no idea how this will help me in my future edits or writing, but now I know how fucked up the Bronx judicial system is and how to NOT sail to the North Pole without a plan.
  3. I’m learning a new language. I’m trying to set aside a little time each day to learn Swedish. I’m afraid I can’t say why that particular language, but it can say that it’s keeping my mind limber. Language acquisition is not easy for me like my linguist husband, but the challenge of memorizing words and phrases, does block out the obsessive thoughts I have for my novel.
  4. I’m taking more walks. I didn’t exercise for the entire month of November. I either sat in the study or on my couch, hunched over a laptop, clacking furiously. Obviously, some kind of cardio activity will combat depression. I don’t like it, but I know it works.

I’m sure there’s something else I could be doing with my free time, but I’m starting with these things and trying to keep my shit together before the next stressful period. I realize I shouldn’t over-think the idea of RESTING, but I’ve been taught that it’s only for the wicked. I’ve got a ways to go.

If you’re experiencing the depressing come-down from #Nanowrimo, please comment with your own remedies. How are you taking care of your fried brain? What does your self-care routine look like?  


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Sitting in Ceramics Class

Colin Kaepernick protest

I can remember not wanting to stand for the morning pledge in my Ceramics class. I’m certain that it was my junior year of high school, but I can’t recall what set me off. In my first class of the day, I challenged myself to remain seated while the morning announcements crackled throughout the school. The faceless administrator may have started or ended with the Pledge of Allegiance, with boiler-plate business in between, I can’t remember. I just remember sitting nervously as my white peers stood around me. Their gazes pointed in the general direction of a flag, hands on chests, chanting in unison.

My Ceramics teacher didn’t notice, until 30 second in, that something was wrong. We locked eyes, me sweating behind the bust of Nefertiti that I was trying to recreate and he, behind a twitching mustache. I understood that twitch to mean that he was angry. It only twitched when he pulled student-made “smoking devices” out of the kiln. “Who made this??” he’d demand, gripping a crudely made bowl.

He waited until the pledge was over and students sat down to chew me out. “Halliburton! You get on your feet for the pledge.” It sounded like he wanted to end that statement with a clipped “dammit.” I remember taking a breath before I replying: “Until that flag lives up to its promise, to me and my people, I won’t stand for it.” Admittedly, my voice was hurried and shaky because I don’t do conflict. It makes my face hot and my eyes tear up.

The hush in the room was noticeable. The white students stared at me with wide eyes; some frightened, some confused. But all were coming to the quick realization that: OH SHIT, THIS IS A RACE SITUATION. My teacher’s mustache was shaking off the Richter Scale. “If you can’t stand for the pledge,” he spit out, “you can sit in the hallway.”

I didn’t say anything. I quietly began working on my Nefertiti, sculpting her nose like the one in my encyclopedia. The class eventually settled into its normal shuffle, chatter rose and mingled with the 70’s Gold FM our teacher played every morning. However, under the sweet melodies of Bread, the mustache and I understood that we were engaged in a stand-off.

The next day, I remained seated while the pledge sounded off. The mustache told me to “GET!” And I got. The pledge is only about 45 seconds so everyone could see that my little trip to the hallway was silly. When it was over, I returned to work on Nefertiti’s smug smile. Karen Carpenter sang while the mustache crossed his arms in simmering rage. We kept this up for a full week. Mustache, Nefertiti, and Me, quietly lobbing the ball back and forth while Crosby, Stills, and Nash strummed their guitars.

Eventually there was a quiet concession on behalf of the mustache. I stopped going to the hallway and he stopped saying anything about it. Students continued to chant the pledge while I sat amongst them adding clay to Nefertiti’s receding chin.

The only event that got me to my feet was when the Twin Towers fell the following year. In my senior year of high school, I was still going strong in my new first period class, Food and Nutrition. I sat quietly and it seemed that my teacher didn’t mind. On September 11th, 2001, New York City was on fire. The fine particles and acrid scent would reach Suffolk County before the day was over. I stood for the pledge after that. My heart wasn’t in it but I stood because we were NEW YORK STRONG.

I even stood while brown kids were getting harassed and beaten in the streets. The Indian restaurant my mom and I went to closed for the week because the owner’s son was curb-stomped by patriotic white kids. I stood for a flag that would lose its shit during a national crisis. I hated myself for performing a feeling that wouldn’t last longer than a year. I understood, at the age of 17, that those planes weren’t the magic bullet to end racism and forge solidarity in our long-broken nation. I hated myself for giving up my sit-in for white students to freely say things like “towel head” and “we’ll put a boot in your ass.”

Years later, I would sometimes recite the Ballad of Not Saying the Pledge, misremembering that I maybe I was kind of an asshole. I’d tell the ballad to friends, laughing at the shit-stirrer I was back then. After watching Colin Kaepernick take a knee before playing football for millions, I realized that I had it wrong. I certainly was not an asshole kid who liked to stir shit. I was actually quite timid and wanted to be liked by everyone. But there was something about me that shifted, something that made me angry about performing for white people every day. I found out that nothing changed after 9/11. The flags we quickly bought were just tiny bandages desperately covering a festering wound in our history.

Fifteen years, hundreds of police shootings, and a maniacal president later; the Klan and the Neo-Nazis are back. A football player has taken on the wrath of an entire nation who still believe the lies of a Band-Aid flag. Kaepernick’s only crime is his simple attempt to clean the wound that has grown poisonous over centuries. Instead of performing for white America, he kneels.

I’m obviously not sorry for my small-scaled high school protest. I’m a teacher now and I hope that I meet a young version of myself who is not as timid as I was. I hope they that they continue to hold a mirror up to a nation that still makes false promises. And if they have to be dismissed to the hallway, I hope they go proudly. I’ll join them.