28 – “Annotation and Redaction,” Part 1

“Shards of glass can cut and wound or magnify a vision. Mosaic celebrates brokenness and the beauty of being brought together”
― Terry Tempest WilliamsFinding Beauty in a Broken World

At the beginning of this year in January, I thought that my cosmetics and skincare products were turning against me. And I was panicked and confused by the red scaly patches of skin that would form where once there was smooth and glowing skin. It was strange and otherly – this feeling that your body that you feel you intimately know can suddenly become a stranger. This life that you purposefully piece together, could betray you. I refused to believe it, so I kept layering the old products on. That’s how I ignore pain. I layer on pieces of what I know so that everything on the surface looks right. But that, of course, did not work, and eventually, after rounds of doctor visits and consultation, I found out that I have a contact allergen to beeswax, an ingredient found in the vast majority of my beauty and skincare products. It was time to realize that sometimes the norm just hides things we don’t want to see, despite the labor involved in changing things.

But who gets to tell these stories of our lives? My life? For black people, even on the personal level, our lives are often imaged for us and beyond us. In her groundbreaking (and life-changing for me) book In the Wake: On Blackness and Being, Christina Sharpe describes the type of “woke work” black people must engage with as we live in the wake of slavery – a past that is not yet past. In the book, she refers to one type of this wake work as the process of Black annotation and Black redaction. Because the images that exist of black people serve to confirm already held views of the black body and even repetition of these images (even when people claim to do so that others can see the violence enacted) does not bring an end to violence. The work then is to edit out the appropriation of black suffering and transform the narratives with messages of our own making. Sharpe describes it as the work of trying to really see ourselves, each other.

This past year then has been one of doing that work in my own life, where I fully embodied the words of my favorite poem by nayirrah waheed:

You do not have to be a fire for                                                                                                                                   every mountain blocking you.

you could be a water

and soft river your way to freedom



So I danced. I picked up my feet and I lifted my arms. I re-developed an intimate relationship with my body through the motions. It didn’t matter if I was good, only that I took up space in ways that I only later realized I desperately needed to take. I took deep breaths, and I asked for help.

Redacting. Annotating.

In her speech at the Glamour Women of the Year awards Solange–who has so often sung the words I have felt in my soul–said:

…Someone said to me you’ve got to shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land amongst the stars. Well, I wasn’t interested in either. I was interested in the journey there. How does one shoot for the moon? Do they just levitate as a celestial being or do they get there by mothership? Did these stars find each other before they became constellations or did they slowly evolve into the divine beings that they are by just existing? And were they afraid? As I’ve journeyed into my own evolution I’m grateful that I’ve never felt the answers, and grateful that I probably never will. I simply stopped needing to know. And I think we as women, we are told from the second that we come into our own that we not only need to be shooting for the moon, but we must hold the moon in the palms of our hands, turn it until the sun comes to morning, nurture all of the rings around our orbits and look and feel like a goddess with crowning glory while doing so. And that has not been my journey. My journey has been a rise and fall. It’s been ugly. It’s been loud, it’s been disruptive, it’s been long. It’s often been painful, but it has been free. It’s been beautiful. And it’s been mine.

Hers are the words I turn over and over again as 28 comes to an end. It is okay to be in crescent phase. And maybe crescent isn’t full, but it still shines. It still makes its way out each night despite the darkness.

It wasn’t until I came to this confrontation of self, where I was forced to see the shards and wounds, that I finally began to see past those pieces to the vision. I am the mosaic, and God is the artist. And does not the artist know their material?

The hardest part is not knowing what lies on the other side, but I will embrace the rough strokes that are found in the middle, as one who does not need to know the answers right away. And while I am waiting I will do so with a prayer, a song, and the confidence that I am approaching a vision. Twenty-eight has taught me that I have nothing to fear when being made anew. I just have to embrace it, and in the words of Solange, say to that fear, “You have met your goddamn match.”

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