All posts by Leelee Jackson

More Archival Notes on a Global Pandemic

by Leelee Jackson

Before mandated self quarantine, I was already a homebody, which can be alarming to most people because I come off very charismatic and social. I ask questions in panel discussions and volunteer for my work to be read first in workshops. I dance hard at nightclubs and sing loud at musicals. I take my food back when it’s not what I ordered and ask to speak to a manager when I’m not being treated well. After all, I am an Aries ram. A wall is nothing but a challenge, an obstacle I will run though headfirst (often with very little consideration). Energy is in me. And yet, that does not make me an extravert. I’m a hard core introvert. As I’ve gotten older, I realized that I prefer to preserve my energy alone. I went from throwing big gatherings (for no reason at all) to inviting two or three friends over to watch The Office and talk about books we’re reading. During undergrad and grad school, I’d be fully engaged in the lecture, only to rush home immediately after class to watch The Office. After wedding ceremonies, I leave right after the cake is cut, pretending as if I had some big project to complete but really, I’m just rushing home to watch The Office. I need time with great tv and solitude.

However, that is all I have been doing for the past five weeks. I want to see a play. I want to produce a play. I want to go on a hike and meditate on a rock bigger than my apartment with my good friend Alicia. I want to go dancing with my housemates and go out eating with my friends. Go on a date to a museum or the movies. But I can’t do those things no more. No one can. It wasn’t until week 4 that felt it – the longing for social inclusion. At first, I didn’t understand what I was feeling to be honest. I thought I missed someone or a sweetness I haven’t tasted in a while. But even the taste of nectar couldn’t satisfy this lull. I wanted all the things I could not have and did not cherish when I had them. Was the last time I had them even memorable? I don’t know.

In yin yoga, Alica (aforementioned friend and yoga instructor) has us do this thing sometimes where we work our bodies for a while. No big movements but subtle moves in our cobra or cat/cows that we hold a few minutes longer than the other poses, long enough for our bodies to feel it and sometimes even work up a lil sweat. However the sweat is not the goal but what happens after. When I work my body to the point where she feels as if she cannot move any further, when there is no other option for her but to fall, give up, it is then when Alicia says my favorite release, “Now you can go ahead and settle into savasana.” This is the part when we lie on our yoga mats for deep restoration. “Allow your body to take up space.” And I do. I spread my arms and legs off the mat as if my limbs were actually wings. I lie there on the hardwood floor, grounded with the earth who offers solace and refuge.

I decided I’d go for a walk the other day. I didn’t feel like it, but I didn’t want to do anything and that feeling made me nervous. I didn’t want to lie in bed or watch tv or write or dance in my room. So I decided I’d do the thing I wanted to do the least, which that day was walking. I put on my face mask only enough to cover my mouth, so the moment I stepped out of my apartment and was slapped in the face with a smell so sweet, I could have gotten a sugar rush had it lingered even a second longer. But it sped by me so fast as if the sweet smell was also excited to be out of the house, too. It was familiar but I couldn’t even remember what kind of sweet it was. Vanilla? Citrus? Cinnamon? What was that smell and where the hell was it going? I continued, wondering what else I’d get to experience. This is a technique my therapist has been getting me to do lately. Acknowledging my senses and surroundings in order to stay grounded in the present. I walked south which is the path that is less than desirable. Hills to and fro. Unlike walking north, which is flat. Or east which is only a hill walking there, but walking home, I have to stop my body from being pushed by gravity to run home. My favorite path is walking west. It’s challenging enough with the hills and merciful with flat pavement at the exact right moments. But my senses led me south, where I spotted the prettiest white lily hiding in a bush. I took in her smell and was greeted with a kiss right on my nose. Prior to the introduction we had only seen each other in passing, not acquaintances or even strangers, yet now we’re friends. The sun was going down and I wanted to go home before cops started looking for trouble. But water called me. It was such a tease considering the fence that separates us but still, I gave the little creek my attention until the sun left us both.

What did it feel like now? Looking down on that pond and feeling the sun disappear, setting west down my skin? To now have to lean on the universe more than ever before, beckoning for energy I couldn’t muster on my own? The sun, the water, the smells and bugs I once swatted away, all still there with total integrity and the best of intentions all met me with grace and released me with energy when I needed it most: savasana.

Happy New Year!

by Leelee Jackson

Celeste once told me, “Leelee, your life change every week.” 

She said this after our sociology class when we learned about the perpetual violence of the prison industrial system and I said, “The reading for today’s lecture changed my life.” And it did. However, I hadn’t realized I said it so often but my dear friend (who listens to me even when I don’t listen to myself) picked up on this pattern. And it’s true, I do change a lot. I think my life changes every day. And to be honest, I enjoy that flexibility. Change is valuable. Change is good. That sounds common, chiche, easy, but it is so true. However, change is very hard. Sometimes, I want to change and can’t and other times, I don’t care to change yet I am completely transformed. The most consistent force of change I’ve experienced in my life (other than death) has to be reading. When I read a good ass book, article, or essay I start to think different and talk different and to me, it feels so damn good. I’m offered language and gain insight from someone else’s discovery of new and old worlds. I also gain insight to myself, insight that I would not have access to without spending intentional time with words. And it’s hard to change someone. Most people will say it’s impossible.

“You can’t make someone change if they don’t want to change.” 

But that’s not true! I’ve approached books as skeptic, critic. Prepared to find error with all the skills I paid handsomely for in the university. I’m never trying to change, I just do. I didn’t read as a child. To be honest, I didn’t know how to read. I would remember books by heart. Books like The Stinky Cheeseman. I’d study every page intensely, grateful for illustrations (and it’s a paradoy picture book about how stupid fairytales are, even for kids). I remembered each story from times teachers or daycare staff read it out loud (after I demanded of course). But I don’t have strong memories of reading the words myself until I came across the book as an adult. I didn’t know how to read. Not really. I could read words but in 3rd grade, I read at a 1st grade level and my comprehension was shot. It was so bad my parents figured I better get checked out. They weren’t sure if I was just actin’ up in class or if this was serious. I was diagnosed with ADHD. That explained why it was so hard for me to hold information. Why I would struggle to read a sentence out loud and forget it as the words escaped my mouth. Gone, as if it were never there. 

And then it happened. 

13 years old, I met Lorraine. 

It was in Oakland California at Calvin Simons Middle school. Though the copy of A Raisin in the Sun had no photos, I remember deviating from my normal group of friends and retreated to a desk in the back. This class was like Sister Mary Clarence’s music class from Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit  but before she turned it around. It was wild. But I found something… someone. And she had changed me. I have no idea why I took to that book more seriously than the others our english teacher tried to get us to read. It would be another 9 years before I picked up a different  play (Doubt by John Patrick Shanley). I had no relationship to theatre at the time nor had I ever read a book on my own. But, Hansberry demands attention and I had no choice but to give it to her. 

ADHD: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder 

She achieved what I had been told was impossible. She held me and my deficiencies and showed me I’m wasn’t alone. I can be alright even when things ain’t… alright. At the time, me and my family were living with my grandmother and cousins. A bunch of us slept on the floor in the small three bedroom apartment. In total, there were 9 of us there and this book gave me the space I needed at that time. I read about a family who lived with family. No space, but the 5 of them still managed to have hope, dreams and love for one another. I remember reading some of the scenes faster than others because I wanted to get to the parts with Beneatha. I wanted to be Beneatha so damn bad. My hair, like hers was thick, course, nappy and there was something about her acts of resistance that drew me in and reminded me that it is okay to claim the nappy. Embrace the nappy. That nappy hair is okay. 

Even if you’re judged for it. 

Change is good. 

Most recently, I’ve been changed by Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and now I’m preparing myself for the revolution and apocalypse.  I’m currently being changed by both Gloria Anzaldùa’s book Borderlands La Frontera the New Mestiza and SOS- Calling All Black People: A Black Arts Movement reader. I take it personal that all of this work was not only created for me to enjoy, but also to grow, learn, and forever be changed. 

Establishing Boundaries

This relationship is difficult.  
The one between you and I. 

And I know I’m supposed to be used to it by now. I’m all over the internet. It would take so little effort for you to find a baby photo of me just by typing my name in a search engine. It’s unsettling that now I have a consistent platform to express thoughts and I suddenly can’t think of anything to write, which never happens. Something’s wrong. I must be suppressing myself or thinking too much or just uncomfortable but either way, there is something in me that feel the way I did as a child. Confronted by my mother or father and afraid to tell the truth with fear of getting my ass beat or worse, shamed… so I’d lie. 

That is the feeling you evoke in me because even though you may know me you don’t know me like that. 

No one does. 

Not even me. 

I’m not a child no more though. I don’t have to lie to get my way, I have words now. Words that I did not have access to when I could have used them way back when. But communication is a luxury I do not take for granted. That is why I said yes to the opportunity to write on this public form alongside a community of very talented writers who have deep thoughts and something to offer. I have to make an active choice to believe that I too have something to offer. That I deserve a seat at the table. 

But you must understand something, I’ve sat at a lot of tables that were unstable with chairs that can’t hold me. Opportunities that I worked hard to be invited to just to get there and realize that it’s not cracked up to what I thought it would be. I have to approach tables with apprehension and chairs with suspicion just because of who I am. 

Black. 

Fat. 

Queer. 

Anxious. 

Some of you can imagine the pressure I must be under all the time. A seat at the table has the capacity to sucks the life out of m when everyone wants a sip, a bite, a nugget of knowledge.Wanting me and not wanting me at the same damn time. But I don’t grow on trees.

I am the tree. 

And before we move on in our relationship it’s important to establish boundaries. I need you to know that to cut me down is a threat to the entire earth and humankind. And yes, the wood provides. The dining table, chairs and a crackling fire to keep you warm, but I’m not ready to be cut. 

So I ask that you are patient with me. I will be using this platform to share plays that I write, thoughts that I have, and most importantly, to wander. 

APPROACH WITH CAUTION!

by Leelee Jackson