I have been asked to take part in an open mic project where writers from different backgrounds headline their work in two, 20- minute segments. As an undeclared writer, being invited to share my work as “a writer” is a little weird because writing has never been about writing as the end. It has been about writing as a means to an end. It has been about writing as a part of a larger process for healing, self-discovery, strategy, and development.
To get in front of a room full of people (mainly other writers) to share my work seems a little out of character. To stand in front of them as a writer, not as an educator, a social scientist, a social change agent, makes me confront a private-me and make her more visible.
Funny, I have been writing for as long as I can remember. My first writing experience was a daily journaling practice where, at age four, my mother would ask me about my day and then would write down what I said. Now, technically, this is not when I started to write. But, it is when I began to think and to reflect… when I learned the value of putting thought to paper… to return and experience the inside me in an outside kind of way.
So, when the day came and my mother told me she would no longer write my thoughts—that I would have to do it, I became acquainted with writing as a form… not as a reflection. And I had to start thinking about the rules of writing… the imposition of someone else’s preferences for style on my preference for expression. And, while at age four I clearly did not have the mind of a critical pedagogue, I fully believe that I had the heart of one. I was unwilling to chisel away pieces of me in order to accommodate an outside power structure. So, as I learned the rules of writing, I chose to continue my personal style of writing in private. And I learned to publicly submit to the master’s language in my academic/professional life.
I was unwilling to chisel away pieces of me in order to accommodate an outside power structure.
As a clearly established introvert that has discovered that I have a moderate level of extraversion within (where I have started gravitating to people in new ways), I accept that the weirdness of being asked to share my work as a writer is not about sharing my thoughts in front of people. It is about getting in front of them with an identity in which I am not familiar. And, when I am in front of people talking (as much as my inner extraversion delights in coming out), the introvert in me needs the comfort of a familiar me… the educator, the social scientist, the advocate for social justice and social change– the social entrepreneur. The me as a writer is just not part of that familiar terrain. Publically, the writerly me is a stranger… a foreigner… and I have never had to confront her until now.
As discussed by Juanita Rodgers Comfort, Cornell West describes a condition of Black inferiority that is enacted by cultural authorities governed by a “Eurocentric (masculinist) cultural framework” (2000, p. 4). He further states that, for the black diaspora, this framework promotes invisibility and namelessness while, at the same time, we struggle “for identity, dignity… and material resources” (p. 4).
It is a struggle that is real… not just at the personal level, but at the structural level as well!
See, I have credentials that give me “credibility” to be an educator, a social scientist, and a social justice advocate. I don’t have the credentials to be the writerly me– the writerly me that engages, in a unique form, as a radical stance of my own authority. And, I know how the public looks for those credentials while at the same time looks upon the body as evidence (or not) of credibility. So, while my body does not shout credible in terms of being a curator of new knowledge (as does a white man), my PhD does. Yet, my private writing style does not honor my academic training. And that is by choice. And trying to get the world to understand my willful disruption of my training and, at the same time, see the physical (black-female) me as credible is one hell of an under-taking.
So while I am out doing the work of #empowermentstartshere (the work of social change, social justice, and social entrepreneurship as both an educator and a social scientist), I have kept the real writerly me in the closet… a practice for radical writing that is for my private world only.
But, recently, I have started experimenting with ways to break free… to come out.
Mary Mariah, my latest blogging platform, allows me to merge my two worlds… the inner me and the outer me… the public and the private. Here, I can do whatever I want with my words. I can write in complete sentences. I can write in fragments. I can use academic words and I can use slang. I can use properly formatted sentences. Or, I can use one big juicy run-on.
Yep. My platform. My prerogative. The private in a public space.
I have kept the real writerly me in the closet… a practice for radical writing that is for my private world only.
So, as I think about this invitation to share my writings with other writers, I see it as an invitation to formally come out.
You see, under my Mary Mariah, the names of my foremothers, I have not been exactly anonymous. I have used this pseudonym so as to protect my brand– the public me and the public work that I do. But, I have not denied me in the process. I just have chosen to not link my professional name to the work. Knowing that I professionally belong to a world that does try to make black bodies (even more so black-female bodies) invisible and nameless, my professional name must publically stayed married to a Eurocentric (masculine) world—and all of its Eurocentric (masculine) rules – for a little while longer.
But, as I prepare to publically introduce myself in the flesh as the writerly me amongst other writers and their writerly selves, I will dip my toe in sharing and merging the private. To cause a level of disorientation to intermingle the informal with the formal… the illegitimate with legitimate, the black-female inside of the white patriarchy that this audience pretends to not uphold.
Because this introduction, a disruptive orientation, is where the political me resides.
To cause a level of disorientation to intermingle the informal with the formal… the illegitimate with legitimate.
Political disruption. It is what constitutes the educator, the social scientist, the advocate for social justice, and the social entrepreneur, public- me. And, it also constitutes the private, writerly me. It always has. Now I am finally bringing it all together and making it public.
Feeling strange but feeling good.
The private writerly me going public—a new level of political disruption.