9 min read

What it Takes to Break and Heal My Heart: Spring/Summer Newsletter

What it Takes to Break and Heal My Heart: Spring/Summer Newsletter

“As long as you keep secrets and suppress information, you are fundamentally at war with yourself.” – Bessel Van Der Kolk, Author, The Body Keeps the Score

I spent the better part of April walking around with a TENS unit glued to my lower back, in near-constant pain. I’m much better now, attending to the moral/somatic injury of being complicit in genocide at the societal level. The body does, in fact, keep the score, and this body made it very clear that this situation is intolerable. So I’ve been tending to my body-mind and spirit through cultural work and activism.

Besides that, I’ve just been locked in my room doing all this homework that I gave myself (AKA manuscript research). I haven’t read this much since grad school: books on books, maps, Ancestry.com, family obituaries and every type of media about Ghana from the 14th century to now. This manuscript is like a spaghetti monster of words, flying between google docs, MS Word, and my SmartEdit software.

Recent Appearances/Publications

AWP? That did happen…!  It feels like a million years since I attended the Association of Writers and Writing Professionals Conference (AWP) in Kansas City, MO and I still haven’t done a real recap (I promise I will!)! I’ll share a few pics for the time being:

Image: collage of six pictures from Atena’s trip to the AWP conference

Terrible Things and Redemption at UU Society of Amherst: I was invited by the community of the UU Society of Amherst to read from my book, Incantations for Rest and to deliver the message during a Sunday service. I talked about the famed ‘First They Came For’ poem and it’s author, Rev. Martin Niemöller, a privileged Nazi sympathizer who eventually spoke out for what was right.

Here’s a post with links to video of my talk!

Reading at/Reading My Alma Mater: I had the opportunity to return to 37 S. Wabash where I spent most of my undergraduate years as a student at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. A friend who works there invited me to participate in an end-of-the-year event she was hosting for the school community. I had a chance to read from Incantations, but I was mostly grateful to be able to speak directly to the students, staff and administrators about how proud I am of the group of students who bravely took a stand against genocide by planning and executing a direct action at the Art Institute on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago.

Image: selfie of Atena at the school of the Art Institute, standing in front of the information desk

Administrators and school leaders are generally not on-board for disruptive protest, and I get it. Also: read the room, people! The status quo is causing egregious and irreparable harm; something needs to be done to restore our collective humanity! Rules? Break them! Risks? Take them! If that’s what it takes to remind us that killing in the name of greed and sociopathic power hoarding is unacceptable, so be it.

I spoke to SAIC students about being a cultural worker and applauded those students for taking steps into that important work. During times like these, this is the mandate for creatives: Witness! Tell the truth! Harness the unexpected to remind us how we are human! The very nature of this work is to be unpredictable and eschew convention. Go ahead and make a list of every piece of art you know about that was made by strictly adhering to policy and avoiding risk. Now throw it in the trash, BECAUSE IT DOESN’T FUCKING MATTER! These young artists are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing: holding up a mirror and calling out the truth. If your policies reflect a status quo that tolerates genocide in that mirror, then your institution needs to self-examine and either course-correct or cease to exist. ISWIS.

Current Publications

Mid-Atlantic Review - My Black Heritage Poetics: It’s wild: I finally sent in enough submissions to lose track! Hahahaaa! I have two poems published in the current issue of Mid-Atlantic Review online as part of their special Black History series. When the acceptance email came through, I couldn’t even remember sending in this submission! Once I was done being confused, I was delighted, especially to see that Dr. Khadijah Ali Coleman was among the selecting editors! She hosts the Hurston/Wright Foundation podcast, and I have a special place in my heart for Hurston/Wright Foundation since it was my first all-Black, weeklong workshop experience and happens to be where these two poems were first conceived!

Dionne’s Story, Vol. IV - Voicing Gender-Based Violence: Dionne’s Story is a journal dedicated to work that gives voice to writers impacted by domestic/gender-based violence - a collab between Carlow University’s Madwomen in the Attic Creative Writing Program and their Project SAFE initiative. I enrolled in a very good poetry writing class in the Madwomen program in 2022, and I’m grateful to have two poems accepted into Dionne’s Story, Volume IV. Click here to learn more about Dionne’s Story

Cultural Work 

Resisting Fascism - A Blossoming Garden: A couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation with my younger son that surprised me. I’d said something not-entirely-charitable about our town mayor because of his lack of support for a local ceasefire resolution, and D started asking follow up questions. I expected my nearly 15 year old would be operating under misconceptions and would likely need me to fill in some gaps about government, good intentions, and capitalism… Instead, we talked for about 20 minutes and shared thoughts about politics, leadership, and the responsibility of leaders and organizers in the face of violence. I was astonished, delighted, and brought into a new awareness of my kids intellectual capabilities. That evening we visited the Northwestern University student encampment together and volunteered in the medic tent. Talk about bursting with pride!

Collage of Six pictures from the Northwestern University and Depaul University student protest in encampments

The various student encampments and protests have restored my faith in humanity more literally than I have ever experienced. We visited the camps at Northwestern and DePaul; those spaces and the protests nationwide have given me a desperately needed surge of hope and motivation! Their commitment to learning, community and beauty are still a balm on my soul. Speaking of which… 

SAIC Students for Palestinian Liberation: The School of the Art Institute of Chicago hasn’t had a strong culture of organizing (don’t get me wrong - there has always been activism going on, just not at the same level as you’d see in a more typical university campus setting. There aren’t the foundations of full departments of Gender Studies, Black Studies, Social Sciences, etc. that would stoke more ongoing, generational activist energy). So imagine my delight a few weeks ago when I found out SAIC students were attempting to establish their own encampment at The Museum (SAIC doesn’t have campus space: no quad, no blocks of insular property covered with school postings, no fields of any kind)! Unfortunately, they were arrested before I could get to their camp. 

I connected with a few students and faculty when I showed up to jail support for the 60+ students and supporters who had been arrested and I think my heart grew three sizes that day! Student co-organizers, faculty and staff were there, and folks from the local organizing community showed up to offer jail support in solidarity. I admit that it was challenging to pull back on my Big Mom Energy, but I managed to engage with student organizers as capable adults, using all the mindfulness gained from practicing with my adulthood-approaching teens. And they were capable: organized, adaptable and moving with great care for each other and their shared purpose. One young woman in particular rose to the challenge of coordinating jail support and communications and I was inspired by how well she handled and shared the work that landed in her hands. I resisted the desire to point out every opportunity, sing everybody a liberation lullaby and feed, feed, FEED everyone. Instead, I mostly kept quiet, asking questions, offering support and allowing myself to feel so much care and pride watching young organizers work and learn in real time. 

The less we take over, or insert ourselves, the more there is to be proud of when learners come into their lessons. I am excited to keep in touch with some of the students and support their organizing!

As for myself, I have been navigating the minefield of planning a teach-in at my place of employment. The topic is ‘Responding to the impacts of mass-violence on children and families.’ Sounds pretty uncontroversial, right? It certainly should be. I am trying to be like water: to be myself in whatever vessel I flow into and to hold faith that we can learn more and do better.

Image description: collage with Atena wearing a black and white keffiyah on one side, and a close-up of Atena’s watermelon style shoes and green chrome painted toenails on the right side. Repping solidarity in the workplace, bit by bit.

What and How I’m Writing

Recovery from Manuscript Slog: Being in intense pain and actively resisting the normalization of genocide have taken a toll on my writing but I am getting my groove back! Writing through all of this has been a bit of a swamp slog (think Atreyu and Artax). Fortunately, re-activating my blog and being inspired by the activism of the season has brought the color and shine back to my writing life, and I’ve been fortifying that energy by showing up to my weekly community writing and feedback sessions: writing on Tuesdays and Thursdays are for review. Between that and the rigorous feedback and brilliant masterclasses of the Anaphora experience, I am well on my way.

What and How I’m Reading

God Bless and Keep Public Libraries! Did I mention that I’ve been reading a lot? Just call me Ms. Interlibrary Loan! Here are a few that I’ve been studying to get my writing to the next level:

African Folktales, edited by Paul Radin

Aftican Voices of the Atlantic Slave Trade by Anne C. Bailey

Revisiting the Elegy in the Black Lives Matter Era, edited by Tiffany Austin, Sequoia Maner, Emily Ruth Rutter, and Darlene Anita Scott

The Age of Phillis by Honore Fannon Jeffers

The World According to Fannie Davis by Bridgett M. Davis

The Love Songs of W.E.B. Dubois by Honore Fannon Jeffers

The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton

What’s coming up? 

Writing and More Writing: I will let you know when Dionne’s Story becomes available. Most of my energy is going into writing and currently any upcoming gigs are facilitation-related but keep an eye out for announcements about readings and appearances. 

I will leave you with images from Birds of Gaza, a wonderful project I got to participate in over the past 2 weeks. 

In gratitude and solidarity, 

❤️‍🩹 Atena