By Joycelyn Moody - JMoody's Musings
Note: I initially wrote this post on recognizing and honoring loving friends in mid-February, when the coronavirus first began to touch citizens in China. As Roxanne and I post this issue of the WellAcademic newsletter, the world is in upheaval, social media is abuzz with paranoia, and national borders are closing tightly. Since I’m drawing strength from sister-love to stay grounded during these first days of the World Health Organization’s declaration of the pandemic, I offer my blog post as solace to you; even in quarantine, we can remember we are cared for and we can support each other with kindness, laughter, and encouragement.
On an afternoon in my campus office when I felt down—it was the day after I submitted a long-haul multivolume book project to the publisher and submitted my annual review using cumbersome online forms and the vexing software program Digital Measures and taught my 3-hour evening seminar—I texted a good friend, one I knew I could count on to reply with wit and hope.
Sure enough, two mountain ranges and a national forest away, she came through with sisterlove, and even ended her text with the opening lines of Gwendolyn Brooks’s poem “To Those of My Sisters Who Kept Their Naturals” (1991). Brooks’s title wasn’t the operative part, so my friend (who has kept her hair natural) didn’t include it. Instead, she typed these lines to me:
I love you.
Because you love you.
Because you are erect.
Because you are also bent.
In season, stern, kind.
Crisp, soft—in season.
And you withhold.
And you extend.
And you Step out.
And you go back.
And you extend again.
This gift moved me. So perfect, so timely. So resonant with appreciation for a whole lotta my women friends, especially my Black women friends, I’ve been feeling lately—lessons from my meditation practice. This particular friend has, as we say, a lot going on: a mother who knows her some days but not all, a husband in a city 100 miles from the bed she sleeps in on weeknights, office struggles, money’s tight.
But trust her not only to find the one pearl in a heap of oysters, but to extend that pearl to a gloomy sister. In my post-heavy push fatigue, receiving Brooks’s poem as a gift from my dear friend made me aware more deeply of how loved I am by so many sisters when I “Step out” and allow myself time to reflect, when I open my heart to receive a wide spectrum of gifts without doubts about my worthiness or the giver’s intentions.
Last month, when I read Roxanne’s inspired invitation to name my year to remind me of aspirations I’d set, I decided on the Year of Love. So often, I feel sisterlove cradling me and guiding me, keeping me buoyed and brave. I’ve felt a keen sense of love for some months now—ever since one of my friends became my new interim dean and another my department chair, since our WellAcademic retreat reunited me with Roxanne, Nichole, and the beloved friend who typed out Gwendolyn Brooks’s lines to me in a text, and with our WellAcademic retreat sister community on the mountaintop last November.
I am privileged to be loved by many amazing women. The Black and Brown women I know who have my back where I live now, who show me in myriad, steady, and hilarious ways they love me “because [I] love me.” The badass women involved in the enormous book project I’ve just come through—and the sisters still hanging tough with me as we complete the remaining volumes. Black women like my cousin, older by four years and still showing me a righteous way, as she did when we lived on the same block in Mobile. Sisters I got to know better at academic conferences we all attended recently. I am loved by women in Seattle, Philadelphia, Boston, Tucson, Champaign, St. Louis, Houston, and beyond; I am wildly fortunate.
Early last January, stepping out from an academic conference, I had dinner with one of my earliest academic mentors, a brilliant Black poet who now lives half the year on the US West Coast and the other half of the year Down Under. This frail, elderly, and bold woman’s current dual residence speaks volumes about her adventurous spirit: half-a-lifetime ago she insisted I cultivate a yearning for possibility. Be lionhearted, she said, pushing me toward audacity with two firm brown arms, with uncompromising love and a big old laugh.
As the spring semester reeves up and makes more demands, I’ll need to remember to pause and remember my sisters care, they are close. Consciously recommitting to the Year of Love, I know I will find my sisters waiting, as Brooks says,
In season, stern, kind.
Crisp, soft—in season.
Throughout this year as well, I pledge in turn to be a woman sisters can look to for love and grace whenever they need.
Until next time,
Joycelyn Moody - JMoody's Musings
“It’s coming on Christmas,” as the song says, so, of course, as a mature Black lesbian, I am facing a dilemma, not to say a crisis. What to do during a bereavement visit with my father that falls close to Christmas but wasn’t meant to be a Christmas visit? How do I handle the inevitable painful memories of past Christmases and my family’s coercive reinterpretation of my trip?
Against my goals, I’m going “home for the holidays.” The last time I tried to visit my parents for the holidays, I was warned the door would not be opened for my life partner, Lorraine, and me because “Christmas is a time for family, and she’s not my family. If you come, you’ll be sorry.”
Based on past incidents, I believed Lorraine and I really would be sorry, so, as badly as I yearned to see my mother that last time, I changed course. The year was 2009.
At Christmas 2018, after taking fresh stock of my values, I sent my father a white-handkerchief greeting: I forgave all, and I asked forgiveness. He granted forgiveness. We’ve spoken a few times since, superficially only until he endured a health scare last September, then a series of deaths in October and November. Because I couldn’t attend those funerals with him, I’ve taken the first opportunity to visit him and my mom. That’s this Not-Christmas visit I'm anticipating, as I write this.
Since 2002, when my only sister first hosted family Christmas but declared “no room in the inn” (Luke 2:7) for the 2 of us, Lorraine and I have made—or not made—Christmas in myriad ways. Sis’s daughters were ages 8 and 4 then, and she told me she didn’t want to expose them to lesbianism, for she considers it unchristian and ungodly.
The thing is, I meant my forgiveness last year expansively. I don’t want to hold onto old grudges. At the same time, I will not walk knowingly into an abusive situation—or remain in one. I dishonor, rather than honor, my beloved elders and ancestors when I allow myself to be abused.
Recently, watching this short video on neuroplasticity, I wondered if I could reimagine my upcoming visit with my parents, transforming it from a dreaded re-immersion into unbridled African American homophobia into opportunities for me to practice compassion for elders and self-compassion.
I know it’s distorting the point of the video, but I trust watching it often enough will help me resist traumatic family patterns and triggers and instead shape-shift as needed from a sad and “queer” daughter into a grown Black person eager to honor their 85-year-old parents. May it be so.
The video reminds me of the many tools in my kit. Just a few:
I also just finished teaching Roxane Gay’s Hunger, which stirred dormant feelings I’ve had as an African American queer academic and Black feminist daughter. Besides arousing sorrow and anger I’ve felt as weird, isolated, recalcitrant daughter, Hunger reminded me of the power of the written word. It reminded me of what efficacy writing, journaling, self-expression and self-representation can endow. So, two tools more: reading and writing.
How will I care for my father and myself on this bereavement trip that happens to fall on a holiday laden with grief for us?
Until next time,
Joycelyn Moody - JMoody's Musings
I really hate it when my therapists leap out of their seats. I’ve had leapers before. I have a leaper now. Earlier this week, my therapist—first man in many years, a straight white guy at that—leapt out of his seat when I thoughtlessly uttered, “I’m seriously overcommitted.” He was on his feet in seconds, and I was kicking myself.
“You’re the last person I meant to say those words to,” I groaned. He was actually pacing.
“I thought we were in re-cu-per-a-tion mode,” he chided. Stern voice. I scrunched lower on the lumpy sofa.
I did wonder how I have gotten back to this place in my professional life again so soon. It seems I blinked and my calendar filled itself.
Nah, I’m taking full responsibility. In August, I returned to campus from eight months off. Last November, I fell ill and spent the winter and spring of 2019 recovering. My current psychotherapist specializes in rehabilitation from physical ailments producing significant emotional and psychological effects. I’ve had the good fortune to be his client since February last.
Besides my fall illness, I have a deep trauma from institutional racism I’ve endured, witnessed, and fought on my campus, so my therapist and I spent the past summer working on my return to campus and to teaching.
Over the summer I also completed and submitted a book manuscript draft that had been long overdue. Because the manuscript had hung over my head so long, in August, I felt true liberation to wave goodbye to it, even knowing it’s eventually coming back with demands for many editorial changes.
The send-off elated me, filled me with the illusion of “bandwidth,” the prize the project’s editor had held out as the plum for completion.
The thing about my being overcommitted isn’t simply that I caved in to the illusion of having more time than I do, now that the book manuscript is momentarily gone. It’s that I returned to work (in a toxic workplace) already overcommitted.
Besides probing psychotherapy these past 11 months, I’ve relied on cardio workouts, personalized gym training, and meditation to heal. In other words, the grandiosity of a professional calendar expansive enough to contain and accommodate multitudes flowed from all the endorphins aroused from both physical exertion and emotional quieting. I thought I had it made.
In the meantime, though, two more things in my life of late have brought reality full slam into my growing awareness.
One is my Bullet Journal: it’s known by some as BuJo®, founded by Ryder Carroll, and rooted in David Allen’s Getting Things Done. It’s a personal calendar-cum-diary system that works exceptionally well for me. My handwritten accounting of the things I’ve sworn to do and the dates they’re due is the first chronicle ever to shock me into no-ness. I literally see the price of yes will simply be too high. It’s made me able to recognize and utter to a therapist I knew would leap: “I’m seriously overcommitted.” It’s made me aware.
The second thing that’s happened is the accumulative effect of my daily meditation practice: I’ve gained a higher level of self-awareness through this means, too. Not enough yet to keep me from becoming overcommitted, I hear you saying with me, but I’m thrilled by the insight itself and the self-compassion it inspires. Insight. Self-compassion and hope.
Let him leap. Awareness is its own reward, and, like Robert Frost, I have miles to go before I sleep.
Until next time,
Joycelyn Moody - JMoody's Musings
I have parents again. Don’t misunderstand: I’m exceptionally fortunate that all seven members of my immediate, formative family are still alive. Still, because my intersectional identity includes queer, I didn’t have parents in my 50s—not a father anyway. I’ve always had a sorta mom. I lost my only sister, 13 years my junior, in my 30s. I have two brothers still, having lost the eldest about 10 years ago. But all of a sudden, I have parents again. I think other lesbians, especially Black lesbians, especially middle-aged daughters of respectable, southern-born African American Protestant parents, probably know exactly what I mean.
When folks ask me in one way or another about my family connections, I generally reply, “My people don’t do lesbians.” Since most of the population where I live identifies as hetero, my answer often brings quiet, and then a change of the subject.
My immediate family simply can’t accept queer identity and queer (self-)love. From 1994 until I stopped a few years ago, I pleaded with each of my four siblings for any one of them to denounce the incomplete “family” gatherings from which my partner-since-1997 and I have been barred. But they insisted either I was welcome if I’d “stop choosing” my queer lifestyle, or I “just should ignore Daddy.”
Instead, I stopped fighting for a place at tables where my wife and I weren’t welcome. (My wise, beloved son had years before shown me how crucial this act of self-compassion is.) I dutifully continued calling my mother monthly, when my heart felt up to it. I sent her holiday gifts. I was there for her cancer surgery. Where my father had been, an abyss opened.
Then, two days after my father’s eighty-fifth birthday, I suffered a health crisis. (He didn’t come or call.) Then, as part of my rehabilitation, I made a significant choice: I chose to study Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a scientific meditation practice focused on compassion, forgiveness, and awareness. I’m aware of righteous shortcomings critics of MBSR have made. But in seminar with me were a married couple: Latinx lesbians and, like me, critical race feminists who believe that syncretic meditation practices have a fierce role in collective healing.
Recently, I went for a visit without My Dearest and stayed five days with my parents in the lovely suburban home where my partner and I are not welcome together. This time, parents and I were on our best behavior, for which I’m grateful—even knowing how different things would have been had Sweetness been with me.
I’m thankful, too, my parents look good. Physically, they are not frail. My father gardens daily and plays golf several mornings a week. My mother’s graduated from her walker to a cane she half uses and on the wrong leg. Their daily energy shone remarkably. And yet, of course, in their mid-80s, their health is compromised, and they are each needful in their own way.
I know some persons reading this post will feel me on the issues overt and implicit here. Issues like the weight of African American respectability politics and Black Protestantism. On the shock of seeing time pass on our parents’ faces in ways we can’t trace on our own. I know the choices I face(d)—to keep coming out as queer, to try to live authentically, to lose or loose the dearest of family—are choices some (Black) queer readers will have faced and will face again. Trust me, knowing we are legion keeps me standing.
Despite my parents’ expressed feelings of anger, disappointment, rejection, betrayal, and sadness by my “choice of lifestyle” since the 1990s, and the fissures between us that keep deepening, to my astonishment, I now have parents again. Their lives slowing, they remain as vigilant as ever of their Presbyterian, respectability values. I, too, remain steadfast in my struggle for only relationships based on mutual respect and honesty.
Honesty is what my coaching clients, graduate students, sister friends, lover, and son reveal they most desire. These people trust me most perhaps, and they mirror back to me what is most important in human relationships and within the individual person: fidelity, kindness, empathy, evidence of self-compassion.
In my journey as a student of MBSR, I strive to offer lovingkindness to all. I strive to free myself from the burden, the weight of my own despair. I acknowledge the privileges undergirding the quality of health my parents and I enjoy, and I honor the family members who paved our way. I honor this day, the present, this moment, which is all we have.
Until next time,
Joycelyn Moody - JMoody's Musings
My December column about planning physical and mental rest included this sentence: “Folks, I am finally what not saying ‘No’ often enough, what being one soldier in a tiny army waging war against anti-Blackness, looks like.”
This month, I want to reflect on some of the ideas I crammed into that packed sentence. I’ve felt vulnerable since publishing it. The sentence has stayed with me; it’s crept into my driving quiet, and eased into my meditation. I feel like the image of “not saying no often enough” has me looking rough. My partner says I still look all right. But since Thanksgiving, I’ve had one respiratory illness after another, so I look and feel tired.
Treating my chronic fatigue ironically adds three 2-hour training appointments to my week: I’m working out like a dynamo to increase my energy level. If I want to be a soldier in anybody’s army, I need more strength. Anyone who plans to fight against xenophobia and inequality needs a hella lot of strength. And a lotta big sticks.
Thankfully, I’m not alone in this army, outnumbered though we ultimately are. Other minoritized faculty women—and our shrewd allies—are also fighting against race-based hatred. Sistah-soldiers share their stories of struggle and grief with me all the time. Most are overcommitted in the ways that led to my own need for deliberate rest. which is to say, they need rest, too.
An insight I’ve had recently—and I realize I’m late recognizing this point—is that I keep forgetting that our army is tiny. I probably forget it because we are so mighty. We are powerful. But for all my own literal and figurative strength-training—physical therapy, home, meditation, massage, sister-friendships, and so on—I wore myself out trying to multiply myself on the job, trying to do the work of five faculty sistahs when I am only one person.
There aren’t enough of us minoritized feminist academics. There are not enough faculty women of color to represent us in all the classrooms and boardrooms, on all the committees and platforms where we want our collective perspectives and issues to be raised.
A friend reached out to me the other day. I’ll call her Sheila, though that’s not her real name. Sheila is a Black woman professor who desperately wanted to assist another mutual sistah-colleague of ours.
Aside: Our numbers are so small that it’s actually hard to narrate this experience without worrying that I’ll inadvertently include some details that will reveal the identity of one or the other of these dear friends. In fact, that’s a worry Roxanne and I experience each time we publish a WellAcademic™ newsletter: will our anecdotes unwittingly disclose the identities of the professionals who trust us, given that our focused readerships are so small?
I first became aware of progressive feminist research into this area circa 1995, and I’m discouraged that the demographics of educational institutions remain pretty much the same. It’s a shame that the minoritized women in the academy I know are separated by maybe four, hardly six, degrees. Many of us know each other by name and lineage. We are each other’s teachers, students, mentors, coaches, coauthors, and kin. Systemic poverty and racialized evil keep our numbers low. (One way of generating more of us would be the development of more pipeline programs like the African American Literature & Culture Institute. Call that self-promotion if you want, but I call it begging you to do what you can to replicate yourself, too.)
Back to Sheila. She is a proud person who rarely speaks her stress levels, but in a recent phone call, her voice was strained and tight. Even more oddly, she actually ticked off out loud some of the faculty tasks almost overwhelming her. The year is young—it’s still January as I write this post—so I’m worried about Sheila, concerned she could be following me down the road to chronic fatigue.
And now Sheila was calling on me to bless the fact that she’d agreed to support another sistah-colleague. Been there, bloody heart in both hands extended and determined to help.
I both wanted to encourage Sheila for her willingness to help our sister and to throw up the STOP sign. How to move forward in moments like this is always complicated. Do we take care of ourselves? Do we care for our sistahs? No easy answers--only hard questions and harder answers.
So, I offered Sheila a few suggestions for ways she might assist our other friend, a sister who—needless to say—genuinely deserves the support she was seeking. Sheila responded with gratitude but also with dismay. It was her groan that prompted me to reassure her she could relieve herself of the commitment; she could, in fact, she should, say no to our girlfriend this time because there aren’t enough of us.
“You don’t have to do that for her now.”
Saying no would be more than all right; it would be best. It would save Sheila to fight in our stalwart army another day. And saying no would help keep our numbers rested and ready.
There simply aren’t enough of us yet, no matter how much we want to support each other’s projects, to assist each other in the work we do for the ultimate goal of exposing injustice and righting the immoralities of the institutions where we work. We educate our hearts out to produce an intelligent, informed, and righteous citizenry, but our numbers remain low anyway. We are not to blame for our small populations.
A surge of relief surprised me head-to-toe when Sheila readily embraced this last suggestion. She’d already intuited we minoritized women faculty owe it to ourselves to say no even to each other from time to time.
Such a choice is rarely simple in the injurious academy. Our socialization teaches it’s “selfish,” maybe “unsisterly.” Yet I don’t want another woman faculty of color ever to feel herself a doleful image of “not saying ‘No’ often enough.” Careful self-preservation will remain essential as long as there simply aren’t enough of us.
Until next time,
By Joycelyn Moody - JMoody's Musings
Innately, I’m a thinker and planner. As an academic, professor, researcher, author, editor, and entrepreneur—not to mention mate and mother—I’ve designed plans for all sorts of institutions and organizations. I’m also a coach in part because I love saying, “What I/we/you need to do is….”
But it turns out I don’t know how to rest. Recently, I happened on Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s book Rest—OK, OK: “I admit I am powerless over lay productivity studies–that my obsession with happiness psychology and neuroscience for amateurs has become unmanageable.” Until Pang, I didn’t even know one needed to plan to rest. For all my knowledge as a teacher and scholar and as a professional coach, I have to learn how to rest if I’m going to restore my energy. Which I now admit, too, I need to do.
I was in the bookstore a few nights before Christmas to buy a Scrabble™ game. A friend had agreed to try out a new ziti recipe for me if I’d also let him beat me at Scrabble. I’m lousy at most board and parlor games, so I’m inured to losing. Stunningly uninspired to fight to win. The ziti was my prize, so getting whupped at Scrabble™, Shit Happens™, Spades, any game—well, yawn.
Once upon a time, I was competitive. I’d be like, “C’mon!” and “Bring it!” Once the poster child of high accomplishments, I am worn out. Folks, I am finally what not saying “No” often enough, what being one soldier of a tiny army raging against anti-Blackness, looks like. I couldn’t take on another task if I wanted, and in the haze of this malaise, I don’t want to. I’m shedding responsibilities like nobody’s business (that’s a pun). You couldn’t pay me to _____. If my life depended on it, I couldn’t _____. You get the idea.
And now I am even saddled with the work of planning deliberate rest, if I am to follow what seems the common sense—wisdom, really—of Pang’s book, Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less. (Note my critiques, though: Pang, who cites the restoration processes of numerous White, male creative persons, doesn’t seem to have met even one poor or Black person or working woman ever, and throughout Rest, mind-wandering is advocated more than mindfulness; notably, meditation doesn’t appear in the index.) I urgently need to return to the Elohee Center and Bald Mountain and our WellAcademic retreat in the worst way. And I’ll get back there next May.
Meanwhile, I am resting and wrestling with Pang’s concepts of “deliberate rest” and “deep play.” Pang defines the latter as sustained rest in scheduled creative activities involving physical movement such as sailing, skiing, landscape painting, foreign traveling, or mountain climbing. Uh-huh, my new hobbies might be more like finally creating a household budget we can stick to and dragging a Black woman friend with me to join the local group meditation center, to recover from over-exertion, to rehabilitate.
Deliberate rest takes the less costly form of planned, conscientious, significant time away from whatever constitutes one’s work, again rest being a conscious and active goal. Pang offers one example in Charles Darwin’s afternoon walks of several miles, around his own back yard, after his morning labors. Now that I can do.
And I need to, to regenerate not so much to rejoin the too-tiny righteous army but to be able to remember how awful depletion and over-commitment feel. I need deliberate rest now because I am in fact joyless. For my many self-care rituals have proved inadequate against the number of heavy stressors I’ve faced recently. My habits of daily meditation, regular massage and reflexology, acupuncture, sufficient sleep, an 80% vegetarian-Mediterranean diet, investment in hobbies such as reading for pleasure simply haven’t been enough to sustain the physical and emotional power I believe define me.
So, I must rest. But first, I must learn how to rest.
Until next time,
By Joycelyn Moody, JMoody's Musings
Last Sunday I met a radiant sister Black professor who teaches at another university in town (I’ll call her “A” to protect her anonymity). A thrilling oddity in San Antonio (seventh largest US city), where the population of African Americans has remained a constant 4% since I moved here over a decade ago. Sister professor, possibly a new friend. Unlike me, though, this other professor is also an Associate Dean. That position adds a whole other level of stress.
Still, Dean A cast a pleasant, vibrant demeanor. When she mentioned having served her institution for over 20 years, my research background and the many, many conversations I’ve had with other women of color in the academy kicked in: she’s undoubtedly suffered from the toxicity of injustices and “interlocking systems of oppression” that relentlessly plague academic sisters. Our conversation proved me correct, unfortunately.
My first inclination as a way to sustain connection with Dean A., to help her cultivate a wider network of not only Black academic women’s support but also minoritized educators of all ethnicities, and to envision her having the extraordinary experience I’d had recently among WellAcademic retreat participants: I invited her to attend our 2019 retreats for women of color faculty.
More than anything, what Roxanne and I want for those we encounter—as WellAcademic coaching clients, as retreat participants, as newsletter subscribers, as readers of our blog posts, in on-campus workshops—is to share our unique strengths and gifts as feminist scholars of the African diaspora. As our mission statement announces, we have dedicated our own professional lives to providing others, especially academic women of color, with enriched productivity through reduced life stress.
Meeting Dean A last weekend, I immediately imagined her as an ideal WellAcademic retreat participant, someone who’d almost certainly experience some of what I had in early October 2018.
When Roxanne and I held our first retreat on Bald Mountain at Elohee, I performed two roles: (1) WellAcademic coach and (2) retreat participant. In preparation, 14 retreat participants signed up for 20 to 40 minutes of private coaching with me. At Elohee, heart after heart opened to mine in trust, humbling me. I’ve flattered myself a creative thinker, tactically intuiting when to go deep and rapid fire versus when to work more contemplatively and long-view. Moreover, I’ve savored my research into self-improvement, rereading and applying it through Black feminist theoretical lens.
During my WellAcademic coaching sessions, I felt rejuvenated by the individual connection with clients seeking to regain their paths. At the same time, I gained a new solemnity, a serenity, about my skills while coaching clients. With them, I was experiencing both dynamic personal growth through the incremental “Breakthrough Sessions” Roxanne had crafted for us—then gently led us through—and developing the precious intimate group bond emerging in our sister circles.
We’d accepted Roxanne’s call to Elohee for insight and renewal, for sisterhood and rejuvenation. Having participated in numerous workshops with my astounding business partner before, I knew the other participants and I would inevitably have an extraordinary experience. Whatever the others expected, my own expectations were truly exceeded. The difference lay in the fact of community: while Roxanne was our indisputable fulcrum, magic lay in our collectivity.
I doubt many of us anticipated the powerful experience we’d create together.
Almost each retreat participant arrived with trepidation about WellAcademic’s deliberate timing at institutional midterms. Most divulged the challenge of permitting herself to break away for her own revitalization just when others feel free to demand more from us—make-up midterms at students’ convenience, belated committee meetings on chairs’ timetables, and so on. Even retreat participants “on leave” arrived almost panting, as if we’d run the distances from Cincinnati, Madison, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Miami, doubled over by the demands we make on ourselves and we face (or face down) from others who claim power over us.
I’ll close with two short lists.
What I expected:
What I gained/Hadn’t imagined receiving:
Until next time,