A Few Thoughts on Self-Love and Self-Respect

I’ve written and talked to friends about how I don’t believe in the idea that “no one will love you until you learn to love yourself”. I firmly believe that you can be loved even when you are struggling to love yourself. It may just be a matter of being able to accept it and not turn away from it. It may just be a matter of whether you internalize it, embrace it, learn from it. You may just put up with not being loved well until you learn what it is like to be loved or until it seems possible and real.

Then, it can be hard to turn back or settle for less.

Today, I’m thinking about self-respect, too. So much of my struggle over the past few years in Greensboro has been over issues of respect and not always knowing what it feels like to be respected, taken seriously, or believed in. I have felt for so long that I am a joke to many people around me. And I am. There are many people who do not respect me in their actions and words and attitudes and it serves me nothing to continue to give them the benefit of the doubt and pretend that they are. I learned self-respect through realizing I was tired and feeling unhappy and opening up to my therapist and established loved ones about my hopes and dreams for my life. When I thought I loved and respected myself enough, people who learned how to love well before me showed me what “better” is. I learned that how I had been treated was unacceptable. I could be treated better. Sometimes, I didn’t know what “better” was until “better” happened to me and I felt something in my heart that feels like peace or pleasure.

Being treated with respect helps you to learn that you *really can* be respected.

Self-love and self-respect is sometimes a matter of knowing how, more than it is sheer will. You can’t “sheer will” yourself when you don’t know or can’t fathom it. Sometimes, you just really do not know what it’s like until you experience it. Sometimes love and respect feel imaginary until you are touching it.

A loving community is so important. We have to show respect to each other.

 


 

In the beginning of the year, I had a “vision board” party with my friend Alicia. After being so disenchanted with all of the tables lacking respect and love that I had stayed at in 2018, I knew that I was longing for more love in 2019.

But I was afraid to say, because it doesn’t feel like a “concrete” vision for how to make the world better – and I of all people, The Explainer, the Lover of Grounding Bigger Pictures with Specificity – must be concrete. A good friend, however, is someone who you can be honest with. “I want more love in my life.” Friendship. Community. Lovers. Thankfully, she reminded me that to dream and hope for love to grow and for love to stay – this is a good enough dream.

That Death Might Lose to God’s Memory

“I know that I am a thought in God,
no matter how insignificant I may be – the most abandoned of beings,
one no one thinks of.” – Oscar Romero


 

Something about the fact
that birds are chattering brightly
even though
the temperature oscillates
like a stressed out needle
or a worried woman pacing a room.
Something about that fact,
the birds going about their day with no plans
keeps me hoping
we’ll find a way out of this mess.
Even if the world ends
(even if our world ends)
and the chattering stops
it mattered that they were here.
(Did it matter that they were here?)

This is not a romanticization of death.
All things decay
or pass away.
I am terrified
that all things change.
I want to know that something wonderful will outlive me
that God remembers and holds the infinite dead
and watches Her own tears scatter the universe like stardust.
If, like stardust,
Her grief will last millions,
billions of years.
When Her thoughts slip away from Earth’s face
I imagine the chorus of roars and laughs,
chirps and groans,
bubbles and rustles
that She’ll miss
echoing throughout eternity in the Divine’s ear
in that burdensome, turned tolerable way
in which those we love never quite leave us.

A Sudden Hunger for Stories

I keep waking up with a persistent desire to read stories. I am still battling the “shoulds” that become default in my brain. “You should read non-fiction and learn more about history” may be the response my brain tells my heart any given morning. I have been watching dramas instead: dramas about immigrants, dramas about women falling in love with each other, dramas about the lives of other vulnerable people, moments of life, snippets of story that humanize all the urgent issues of our time.

My brain tells me I am “lazy” and “being unproductive” and”useless” for caving into these dramas and stories so often.


 

I’ve been thinking about my own life, and whether I take enough time to see my own life stories. If someone was to ask me about myself, would I be able to tell them my stories? How much do I distance myself from my own life experiences and the emotions that flavor them by trying to rationalize everything that I go through? Or how much do I apologize for telling my story — that feeling that I am sharing too much and ought to be more mysterious and cool and intellectual? Writing and publishing poetry on this blog has been both so refreshing and kind of scary for me. I am learning not to apologize for having real emotions and wanting the things of real life. I am learning to not place my identity on how woke others expect me to be.

(What hurts so much about the expectation to be “a woke queen” *insert eye roll* is that “wokeness” never ends because learning is endless. Yet, learning has been commodified in a competition to “be the most ‘woke'”. The “wokeness” quest is fruitless, painful and emotionally paralyzing, much like the pursuit of perfection). I digress. My point is that, I am only human, and I want to connect with others as such.

This impulse to make my intellect or my ability to engage in social justice discourse my identity is NOT only in my head. I worry that I am only as necessary to people to the extent that I am “woke”. I worry that people do not come here for stories, for me, and they only come here for “hot takes”, especially in a culture where black women and girls are already painted as undesirable or disposable. But, so much of the analysis that I have developed having to do with race, gender and sexuality I have acquired from my own life experience and for survival. They have been acquired through my own experiences of joy and pain. It isn’t just an intellectual exercise for me. And yet, I worry that an intellectual exercise is all most people who interact with me want from me. An intellectual exercise over real connection. Perhaps the reality that so much of my thoughts on race, gender, sexuality come from my life and isn’t just an intellectual exercise for me is too much to bear for some people. I make people uncomfortable if I show them how young I am or if I tell them I am mourning having to leave a church I once loved.

Inside my hunger and search for stories — stories with people like me — is the desire for permission to be a vulnerable human and to find comfort and joy on the other side of the vulnerability. I dream that my own vulnerability might be met with warmth and connection instead of pain, loss, emotional abuse and neglect — which seems to have characterized so much of my first 20 or so years of life.

If I take a risk, if I decide to be brave, will something joyful happen to me? Can joyful things happen to black girls that choose to be brave? Will someone laugh with me? Or will they turn me away? Will the send me the message that my vulnerability, my brave is ugly?

So often, when I look to the stories in popular media, black women have to be sexy, knowing, confident, composed and strong to be desired and worthy of connection. But, what is there for black women like me who are goofy, unsure, care-too-much, and bumbling through real life and real relationships?

The pattern that I usually see myself in is this:

  1. Rachel meets someone and has a polite and cordial relationship with them.
  2. Rachel’s feelings about the connection begins to grow and Rachel will want something more, perhaps to connect more often, to provide one example.
  3. If Rachel shares feelings or a need, the person that Rachel shares her feelings with will be terrified and the relationship will end.

With that pattern so engrained in my mind and body, it is hard to imagine an alternative — that the relationship doesn’t necessarily have to end because I express a want or a need or a desire or feeling.

I don’t give myself enough space to think about relationships, especially if it has anything to do with family, close friendships, dating, or sex. The voice in the back of my head tells me that if I try to assert my desire for closeness and connection, that everyone will laugh at me. “You?” followed by chorus of scoffs and laughter. I have already been pegged in by so many people as a “social justice writer”. Rachel isn’t allowed to take a break from this. Rachel isn’t allowed to spend so much time and energy into enjoying and mourning relationships. That pressure, whether it’s coming from outside of me or inside of me creates so much shame in me.

So much of my writing that has to do with life outside of social justice activism is met with silence. The world isn’t interested in black girls dreams, or friendships, or romances. This has been a season of my life where I think to myself “what is the point of writing if I am not writing about the intersection of politics and faith? Why the heck would anyone read or support my writing if I don’t write about social justice?”

So, I want to practice asserting my whole self in my writing. I know it will be challenging, but, I have to start somewhere.

I am Rachel.

I am an artist, not just an analyst.

I am not your “woke queen”.

I care deeply about nature, and poetry, and friendship, and adventure, and video game lore. Yes.

I write songs sometimes. I belt out covers of my favorite songs in my bedroom. The instruments are my children. And so are my cameras.

My worth as a human being is so much bigger than whether or not I write about race/gender/sexuality. I am worth more than my intellectual production.

I crave stories, because I want to be braver to live out mine. I don’t want to hide behind theory and analysis anymore. I’m choosing to reject the people and the forces that push this on me as an identity. (One time someone came up to me at a party and told me that they had a huge crush on me because of the analysis I share on Facebook having to do with race and gender and sexuality. I remember feeling distraught because I felt so unseen in this moment. I think about that moment often when I think about how little I feel seen).

When I die, I don’t want to be remembered for what I produced.

I want to spread joy and be a reason that others feel joyful. I want to live a joyful life. I want to fall in love and be loved in return. I want to go on a lot of adventures with my friends and enjoy the sky and the birds chirping outside of my window. That is why I do anything that I do. I want to live.