The Space We Take Up.
Sunday Harvest. December 11, 2022
One thing about writing, more specifically, journaling, is that it creates a sort of canon of wisdom. Or as writer and visual storyteller Nneka Julia says, "an archive of understanding."
I have written that one of the reasons I write is so that I can remember what I know, where I've been and what I've journeyed through. Writing is sometimes an act of recollection, a re-collecting of learnings which I often forget.
My mother has this saying, "We come into our preciousness by way of what we have lost, what we have given up and what we have gone through." And it is this word, "precious", that always catches me in a particular way. It's not a word that is often used by others, let alone ourselves, to describe who and how we are. And while it is a soft word I also find it to be incredibly affirming. It affirms this deep, and necessary tenderness that we possess which allows for our capacity to love, to care, to fight, to withstand, and to sustain, despite everything that is thrown at us and onto us.
The letter I had planned today is now sitting in the drafts because these words told me they needed revisiting. They come from a reflection written in the summer of 2021. Thoughts centered around "space". Specifically the space I take up and the space I have relinquished and given away.
I, for a long time, have been one to relinquish the space I naturally take. Being a Black child, an African American child, growing up in a predominately white environment, my space was constantly being encroached upon. My space was judged and threatened and, in many ways, used against me. Outside of my home, my space was not protected or safe. And so I learned that in order to be safe, I had to be less seen, less noticed, I had to take up less space. I learned how to play small. But then, I was given these gifts which made small implausible.
First, I was a dancer. A ballerina. 5’8 with, as they say, “legs for days”, and arms which give me wing span. I cannot, not take up space. And yet, for all the years I danced, I tried. My thoughts on space and dancing lead me to this memory of being in one of the studios at Dance Theatre of Harlem, moving across the floor, practicing combination and feeling Artistic Director, Laveen Naidu, behind me, on my heels, chasing me, saying, at first quietly, “Move, Isis” and then louder, “MOVE ACROSS THE FLOOR”. And then, he’d usually push at my back or stand in front of me and pull at my arms forcing me to be bigger than I felt I was. Forcing me to take up the space I’d learned to relinquish.
There have been, are and will continue to be so many levels to this growth journey. This coming of age journey. This self love story. This returning. This shedding and releasing of old versions and the pains they carry. So much of the journey thus far has been about choosing, daily, to no longer do the things I have always done, to recognize habits, acknowledge and give gratitude for the ways in which they may have served me then, but are no longer warranted or needed now. One of my greatest unlearnings has been unlearning the need to feel and be small. To pull the walls closer into me so that there isn't even any space to be relinquished. But, this also means there is no space to grow. No space to explore, to wander and expand.
I know now that I am the space I take up, the space I make safe. And the more space I make safe, the more peace I create.
This is what I do with the space I take up. I make peace. I make room, not just for me, but for us, to take, to hold and to create more of whatever it may be that we need to be safe. — ẹniafẹ isis