Self-Determination is My Bag, Baby!

... which is not to say that kujichagulia is an easy principle to master but it's definitely familiar. I repeat this same declaration of love for both kuumba and kujichagulia every year at Kwanzaa - to the point that I probably sound like a broken record. I mean, I am a Leo sun, Aquarius rising so the woowoo in me just takes it as no-brainer that creativity and a desire to strike my own path are pretty much built into my DNA. But self-determination also requires self awareness. A kind of seeing myself (or, in the case of Black liberation and well being, seeing our collective self) and making time to look inward that doesn't come easily. It requires a personal truth-telling that may be familiar but is never comfortable.


In March and April of this year I stepped out on a limb in a few big ways in order to strike my own path. I dropped a rather large rental deposit and secured a monthly space at The Movement Lab Atl for my book club, Hoo-Doula/Voo-Doula. Yes, I have a monthly book club. This would be the part where I look inward, perform a little mirror magic, and ask myself why I've had a book club for 10 months that I'm just now bothering to write about on my blog. Insecurity much? Hmmm.


At any rate, I'm really proud of all that Hoo-Doula/Voo-Doula has accomplished in its first ten months, to include: getting me back reading more after a temporary lapse. I actually did write a blog post earlier this year about the fact that I felt like I was buying tons of books but I wasn't reading enough of them. That's changed in a big way since then, in large part because I took the risk to evolve Hoo-Doula/Voo-Doula from the one-night-only syllabus discussion I coordinated at the Auburn Avenue Research Library back in 2016 to its current form. And, it's helped break me out of my introverted shell. I may be a Leo but it's no joke that umoja-esque comm(unity) building is really hard for me. I recently had my full chart read by a friend and even she confirmed it. So, yay to my hoodoo-voodoo-Black-femme-speculative-bookclub-baby for breaking down some of those walls!


I also made really significant time & monetary investments in the form of online classes, my first trip to AWP, and a few public poetry readings I participated in during these two months. But first and foremost, ya girl was awarded a scholarship to I.S. Jones' The Singing Bullet poetry workshop for National Poetry Month. Woo de woo!!! I also took several classes through Winter Tangerine, attended AWP Portland, and read my poetry publicly at two different venues in local Atlanta. I was putting in that WORK, y'all!


But, if I'm being honest with myself, all that work did come at a cost. I have Lupus and, though my free spirit nature hates to admit it, I can't just run off at every half baked whim the way I'd like. I'd been experiencing really weird, out of the ordinary, arthritis symptoms since Fall 2018 but they came to a head while I was at the Black poetry conference in February and ya girl was left out here looking like Peg Leg Sue because of my stubborn (read: ableist) pride and refusal to use a cane. I paid for that in March and April with multiple specialist visits, physical therapy, and the very real possibility of hip replacement surgery looming in my future. It's safe to say I had my cane with me at AWP.


Self awareness means I also have to admit, though, that while I course corrected at first, I quickly fell off track a few months later still trying to "put in that work." I've missed doctor's appointments over the Summer, worked myself into a mini flare up during the Fall, "forgotten" to take my meds regularly throughout the year, and this week I woke up to my old friend, the stress blister, known to appear on the tip of my tongue whenever I've worked myself into a neurotic tizzy and started ferociously rubbing my tongue against my teeth in my sleep. Long story short: my independent spirit has been writing checks my mind, body, and health can't cash. Also meaning my biggest goal for 2020 has got to include letting go of all the hard line goals I've set up for myself.


2019 has been a real breakthrough year for me professionally and personally. I'm really proud of the work I've done. But I'm trying to remember that Kwanzaa is about the fullness of the harvest, all the little moments that lead up to a successful season, and every day doesn't have to be a day of back breaking physical labor. Some days can be about watering and tending those seeds that have already been planted. And some days are about calling in help from the comm(unity) of other field workers. Still other days are about working strategically/creatively to get things done. Can we get a motorized tractor up in this bihhh??? Either way, something has got to give or I'm not being true to my own well being.


So, I plan to continue Hoo-Doula/Voo-Doula in the new year, and I'd like to read more of my poetry at public events, and I really really wanna go to AWP San Antonio in March but we'll just have to see how those things work out given all the other responsibilities I'm carrying at the moment. And that's okay. Self-determination means being self aware enough to know when I'm doing too much and need to go sit down somewhere. Maybe tomorrow's focus on collective work and responsibility (Ujima) will help me come up with alternatives.

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© 2018, Constance Sherese Collier-Mercado.

Atlanta * The Bronx * Chicago