for Bailey

for Bailey

For my friend Bailey Pittenger’s birthday I am sharing one of the flash stories I’ve written based on our blended childhood memories. “We Were Visiting a Beach” was written from Bailey shared with me of a young Bailey and her cousins at a beach standing around an animal washed up on the beach. I wrote myself into that photo, and turned that photo into a narrative. This is one story in a series of flash fiction stories is told using only 500 words.

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Influential: UNCG's Faulk Visiting Artist Carrie Mae Weems

Faulk Visiting Artist Series
UNCG
February 7, 2019

 

Right at the pivot of an L—that angle, just there. Flip it upside down in your mind and place it under the jaw. Lift your chin. Align the pivot with the angle of the throat and just there, right there is a sound. It is whole, it digs itself up from history, expands like a balloon in the mouth, and from its dark helium consonants sing and vowels bow like our consciousness before mountains.

Only black women after 40 have this voice—if you’re lucky. Some wisdom-mixed magic unlocks it and you now have the command of anything.

138 images. Vaginas, color blocks, film stills, buffalo, Spike Lee, movie posters, Mary J. Blige, museums across the world, kitchen table interrogations, a woman in a low bun and a black dress exploring sound stages and TV sets, paintings, photographs, architecture, themes of power, the historical gravity of being the “first black woman to..” or “the only living artist to..” or “only African American to..” showing us images from the cannons and libraries of many artistic disciplines and aligning it with new work.

The topic of conversation? Influence and getting out of the way of ones own work.

framed5 carriemaeweems.jpg
 
 

I was too captivated to take notes or even to record but what I remember vividly is the impressive mental library she had of other artist’s work—vividly conceptual minds whose practices she collected, referenced and folded into her own—without appropriating, but with a keen respect for communicating expertly and artfully. I remember thinking: I don’t consume as much as I should, read as much as I should, view as much as I should, be weird as often as I should.

What I also remember vividly was Weems speaking on the misfortunes of making work for an audience—which is something one should never do and instead of snipping away at loose threads within a body of work, chasing the threads and exploring them as their own subject. In this exercise, no work is every truly complete.

 
 
 
 

Before the lecture, I saw her sit down two rows in font of me and thought to point her out to my friends. Instead, I took a moment to observe her. The age in the side of her face, the fuzz of her curls, and then the youthfulness of her ascent to the stage, the tick of her “th”s on the way out of her mouth, the fluidity of her arms to urge her words into power.

I remember thinking, “I want to be her.”

I remember thinking, “I’ve got a lot of work to do and got nine years until I can speak like a mountain.”

 

məˈtərnl

məˈtərnl

There are so many rivers that can flow into maternity. Interchangeable are the words friend and sister; To be a sister is to be a friend to an exponent—and vice versa. And within that exponent is the infinite.  I have stood in the gap for my own mother to care for younger sisters. I have been cared for in maternal ways as a sister. I love my friends as a mother would because to be a woman is oftentimes an instinctual need to rescue, protect and guide to safety—a responsibility to see love through which is a sometimes weary yet satisfying service. 

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Unconditional Love: An Afropunk Story

Unconditional Love: An Afropunk Story

Regardless of the curious hairs on the back of my neck what's more important than anything, is knowing that there is space for droves of unapologetic brown people at peace inside themselves among others. Hair in every chroma, brown bodies in a myriad of forms exposed in a myriad of ways. Ancestry, support, freedom, enterprise—a dramaless communal mecca.

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