I don’t think there is anyone who doesn’t want to belong to something or somebody. Not ownership belong to but be a part of belong to. Even me. I say even me because I’m a natural, albeit ironic, loner. Ironic because I’m a twin and we make two of five sisters. Ironic still because there are also many cousins that are much like sisters and brothers and I’m part of a large and relatively close extended family on both sides of my DNA. We are legion. So I’ve always belonged as it were but I live an adult life fairly on the other side of belonging. I’m pretty anonymous.
This week at the Furious Flower Poetry Center’s Legacy Seminar we’ve been discussing quilts and assemblage as we consider African American poet Nikki Giovanni and her body of work which overtly and subversively makes use of the quilting metaphor. Her poetry reflects the cultural propriety of quilts—they belong to the African American tradition. Her poetry reveals quilts to be all that we know they are: useful, actively engaged in the work and act of love by loving and being loved. They belong to somebody; are needed by somebody; are made by somebody—other ways of belonging. And of course, as we saw at an exhibit of a memoir-in-quilt made and described by Val Gray Ward, they are assemblages. The pieces of a quilt are a curated collection. Each piece belongs to the larger body lest the larger body be able to exist.
Mrs. Ward is one of the Wintergreen Writers Collective of which Nikki (you know calling my fairywordmother by her first name is awkward but this is how she requested to be called), is a member. We also explored the quilt of camaraderie and sisterhood through the lens of her participation in the intuitively selected group of women who have convened for over thirty years thanks to the quintessential community builder that is Dr. Joanne Gabbin, also the conjurer for the Furious Flower Center for African American Poetry and its expansive community. The women, whatever their other professional, social, or familial affiliations belong to the Collective and therefore to each other.
Last year this time one of the one people in the world with whom I had come to share this kind of kinship passed away unexpectedly. Over years, we were as many giggles as scholarship between us. We were creatives and scholars who grew each other; both one of a crew of biological sisters who never felt the tug of belonging that seemed ubiquitous in the world around us; independent women; and yet we were coming to decide that we could use somebody to borrow that Kings of Leon chorus. So we were dreaming up our Wintergreen. Then poof, she was gone and so was my Wintergreen. Wherever will I find it again? It took so long to find the kind of trust it takes, at least for me, to call a friend a friend. And I think that doing that–there is vulnerability women like us don’t like to claim–that builds confidence, conversely, to be able to lay that kind of claim. You belong to family because, DNA.
You belong to others through curating and discernment. It is a spiritual belonging which is why, maybe, it’s so compelling. Many in the audience the women how to curate and manage a Wintergreen—I doubt it’s as much work as one would think.
My friend’s death came days before the anniversary of the arrival of Zinzi, my pacemaker/ICD. My friend, Tiffany, and I were planning to celebrate the occasion together and because it marked a new chapter for me, to use it to launch our Wintergreen, a new chapter for both of us. The chapter wrote itself differently.
Zinzi will be two years old at the end of this month. I belong to her in a way I thought I could do without. She’s taken Running from me—well she represents the diagnosis that has. Running was my ace. In running I had a friend who built confidence I didn’t know I lacked. I thought I was a decent writer; okay critic yet I remember how I couldn’t understand why Tiffany would invite me to sit on scholarly panels and ask for my critiques of her work like what I offered was valuable. I remember feeling okay with my health too: I was managing a healthy lifestyle and happy with running a few miles a day before I got really involved with Running. Things we don’t even know we need show up. We had giggles and encouraged each other—on the early morning asphalt or with Tiffany, sitting up all night catching up between visits. Then, poof, gone.
This week, I’ve met a few people including a fellow from Saudi Arabia who shared something her doctor told her about managing a condition that similarly threatens her life. Make friends with It, the doctor told her, because It will always be around. Why should I believe that anymore I thought as I sat in the funk of two of my closest friends dissipating and doing it so abruptly. It’s taken time to claim a relationship with Zinzi that’s anything more than utilitarian. I remember, though, how my relationships with Tiffany and Running began too. I knew them on the periphery—Tiffany, a college classmate I knew but never had a conversation with until a decade after graduation and Running, an activity I knew but rarely engaged. Over time, kismet until we were actual factual friends. So maybe as Zinzi and I face our second year together that will happen.
Many in the audience of a panel of Wintergreen women asked about how to curate and manage a Wintergreen. Mostly the fast friends here who are mostly cliques and giggles. It could be grief, could be sentimentalism, bitterness, or a rare moment of clarity that makes me anxious to answer what my elders surely know better.