Turning Points

Last fall, a group of women whose ages spanned six decades gathered every Monday evening for four weeks to write, explore, and share in a safe and supportive community. Out of these gatherings came a booklet of deeply personal and moving poems and essays. Below is one of the short essays featured in this collection. To read more, email rcwmsnc@aol.com to order your copy of the Turning Points booklet for $5.00.

If this type of experience sounds appealing to you, consider signing up for Seasons of Our Lives, another intergenerational writing workshop RCWMS is offering this October. Contact rcwmsnc@aol.com for more information. Let us know what you think in the comments!

-Rebecca Welper

by S. age 40

I have had three pregnancies. Each was so distinct, from the symptoms and complications to my emotional response.

The first time, it all seemed to come fairly easily. We were ready, we’d planned and hoped, and taken the right classes. Our baby was small but mighty and made her way into the world through a C-section, because, despite my best efforts, from the traditional to acupuncture needles in my toes, she wouldn’t turn around. So, three weeks early, angry, skinny, and precious, she came into our lives.

Three and a half years later, after much anticipation, my second pregnancy was utterly uneventful. The boy was head down, developing nicely. He was fine, but I was exhausted.  This time, being pregnant while keeping up with work and a three year old left me ready for him to come on out and join us. My labor was stunning and fast, and although he was “on time,” we couldn’t keep up. I was relieved that I didn’t deliver on the highway. Twenty minutes after arriving at the hospital, he joined us, tumbling toward the center of the universe amidst blood and screams and complete disbelief on our part. He was a little small, (but) perfect, and very real, despite our incredulity.

My third pregnancy came as a deep blow to my gut, panic and tears and a complete fraying of all my edges. I spent a week talking and weeping with my husband, trusted midwives, and closest girlfriends. I imagined and researched the size of an embryo at five weeks. I drew a little dot in my journal. I felt connected to a relatively silent sisterhood across time and space that faced this same reality. I called to make the appointment for a medical abortion.

Between the time of the phone call and my scheduled appointment, still wracked with raw nerves and bewilderment, I miscarried. I relied on the same allies and loved ones as before.  I felt the loss, but I also felt powerful relief that my body had ended this early pregnancy… gratitude that my body was aligning with my spirit.

Reading Race

A couple of years ago a small group of us at RCWMS took up Ta-Nehisi Coates’ challenge to followers of his blog at The Atlantic to read and discuss Michelle Alexander’s magisterial book on mass incarceration, The New Jim Crow. (You can read a brief review on our Words and Spirit blog: wordsandspirit.tumblr.com) The discussions about the book made us want to further explore how racism and white supremacy have profoundly undermined our ability to between-the-world-and-me-940x540imagine and move towards the world we want to create. For our second book we took on Coates’ brilliant and moving letter to his son, Between the World and Me. In this book Coates eloquently describes what it is like to live in America, in Baltimore particularly, in a Black body. He insists on the centrality of embodiment to the Black experience. He also introduces us to the notion of people who “believe themselves to be white,” a phrase that he borrowed from James Baldwin. Throughout our subsequent reading we have continued to explore the implications of this provocative phrase.

Our conversations about these two books helped to deepen our understanding of these vital QzoVQE1issues, but also showed us how much more we have to learn. So we invited a few more people to join us and kept going. During this past winter and early spring we read three books that focus primarily on the Black experience: Citizen, by Claudia Rankine (also with a Words and Spirit review); Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; and Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson.

Rankine, a poet, presents essays and prose poems that are part memoir and part social commentary, including an eye-opening essay on the gender and racially-tinged politics around Serena Williams. The words are complemented by stunning artwork; the whole book is a work of art.

In Americanah we follow the journey of Ifemelu, a young woman who travels to America from her home in Nigeria to attend college. Through Ifemelu, and Adichie’s beautiful prose, we get an intimate portrait of what it is like to encounter America’s racial complexity as an African immigrant. And via Ifemelu’s blog posts we get a pointed commentary on race in America.

The third book, Just Mercy, documents the recent history of the death penalty and the work of the Equal Justice Initiative that Stevenson founded in Montgomery, Alabama. In the book Stevenson intersperses chapters tracing the case of falsely-accused death row inmate Walter McMillian with other chapters outlining the larger politics and issues surrounding the death penalty.

In the past couple of months we have been focusing on whiteness. We started with Jennifer Harvey’s Dear White Christians, a book that makes a compelling argument that churches, and by extension other institutions, make a fatal error when they focus their anti-racism efforts on the laudable goal of reconciliation. Harvey argues that before there can be any hope of reconciliation, we must do the slow and arduous work of confronting the white supremacy that permeates our society. She calls for repentance and a “reparations paradigm,” building on the work of the Black Power movement and its challenge to white-dominated churches.

Most recently we discussed Dog Whistle Politics by Ian Haney López, which traces the use of thinly veiled racist language in presidential campaigns since the days of George Wallace and Barry Goldwater. He makes the compelling case that dog whistling (using racially charged images such as “welfare queens,” and racially coded language such as the war on drugs or being “tough on crime”) has made possible the unraveling of middle-class prosperity through the deliberate actions of those who would shape the world to their own advantage. Not to mention its devastating impact on people of color.

Our conversations have opened our eyes, taught us many things, and helped us to understand how much more we have to learn. After a summer-long hiatus, we will resume in the fall.

Marcy Litle is a member of the board of trustees of RCWMS.