Grab your glass. Take a sip. Savor the story.
Grab your glass. Take a sip. Savor the story.
During my time in Greensboro, NC., I “found” a mannequin that quickly became my friend and healing spirit. I place “found” in quotations because I truly believe it was more a matter of divine connection and magnetism than a simple ‘stumble upon’ that is generally associated with the word “found.” Before I dive into my relationship with I-Sis, the name of my (wo)mannequin, let me share a quote that lends academic credibility to a spiritual connection that is difficult to capture in words:
“Thing-power gestures toward the strange ability of ordinary, man-made items to exceed their status as objects and to manifest traces of independence or aliveness, constituting the outside of our own experience. I look at how found objects can become vibrant things with a certain effectivity of their own, a perhaps small but irreducible degree of independence from the words, images, and feelings they provoke in us. I present this as a liveliness intrinsic to the materiality of the thing formerly known as an object.” (Bennet, 2010, p. xvi)
Photo credit: Jordan T. Robinson
The Date: Week of 9/13/2021
Without knowing the exact day, I do remember the exact moment I met I-Sis.
While looking through the vintage clothing, for our Residency #109 photoshoot, I found something sticking out of the VERY back corner. It was buried under a pile of clothes but the energy of this “object” could not be hidden. After removing the pile of shirts, coats, and dresses, I saw her. She was black. She was naked. She was beautiful. And, she deserved so much better than this - an afterthought to be discarded an buried as something insignificant.
I brought her back to my room and sat her in the chair next to the window. During the rest of my residency, I watched her watch the sunrise and I escorted her to the fire escape so we could watch the sunset. Just like Bennet pointed out, I-Sis “manifested traces of independence and aliveness.”
While personally dealing with inclusionary isolation during my residency, her presence represented companionship; the kind of companionship that created spaces of healing and divine knowing.
The Name: I-Sis
Closing with Bennet
After reading about new materialism, I now have academic language to support my experiences with I-Sis. I also have a foundation in which to promote such experiences when communing with Mother Earth. Additionally, while exploring my research question, “how is nature experienced as a site of learning and self-restoration among Black womxn,” I can also pull from literature that supports the power of the more than humankind.
Now, I fully acknowledge that my relationship with I-Sis did not solve the problems associated with inclusionary isolation, but they did make them more bearable. Just as Bennet wrote, “Such a newfound attentiveness to matter and its powers will not solve the problem of human exploitation or oppression.” When operating in this space, I will be mindful to point this out to other Black womxn. It’s just nice to have an alternative way of knowing and being. THIS is one of the permissions that is lacking in the Black community.
A fusion of two reading responses for Social Foundations
Reading Response “A” - Bloom Spaces
I MUST open with this quote:
“All the world is a bloom space now. A promissory note. An allure and a threat that shows up in ordinary sensibilities of not knowing what compels, not being able to sit still, being exhausted, being left behind or being ahead of the curve, being in history, being in a predicament, being ready for something—anything—to happen, or orienting yourself to the sole goal of making sure that nothing (more) will happen (Kathleen Stewart, 2010, p.340).”
This quote vibrated at the cellular level! I am in a bloom space with my artist identity! I am in a bloom space with my divine assignment - “to create and hold spaces of self-restoration and healing for Black womxn.” I am blooming!! I truly can’t sit still which is ironic because my whole mission is to invite my fellow Sista Queens to sit and be present with self, others, and nature. This call to action is also echoed in Kathleen’s words because I have come to understand that a lot of Black womxn are feeling exhausted. That metaphorical cape associated with being the Strong Black Womxn is strangling the life from us.
Unlike the authors words of “being ready for something - anything - to happen,” I am making something(s) happen and those things are directed by the Divine. Check out Reading Response B.
Reading Response “B” - Thinking with Cinema
After reading Carol A. Taylor’s article, “Mobile Sections and Flowing Matter in Participant-Generated Video: Exploring a Deleuzian Approach to Visual Sociology,” I immediately thought about how powerful visual storytelling is the the creator AND the audience. It is one thing to be able to communicate with words, but the combination of words and visuals double the impact.
Approximately three years ago, I became more serious about filmmaking. (I’m not at the hardcore level, yet. Just more serious than I had been.) I have always enjoyed public speaking, but I never thought about taking this talent and creating films with it. When I watch these shorts, I return to Kathleen Stewart’s words, “Anything can feel like something you’re in, fully or partially, comfortably or aspirationally, for good or not for long. I want Black womxn across the nation to “FEEL” like they are in these sacred spaces of joy and healing. I want them to “FEEL” like they are not alone. I want them to “FEEL” the strength of our Queendom.
I guess I was actively engaging in Affect Theory before I even knew it was a “thing.” Please check out some of my past and present work:
>>Submitted for Social Foundations * Revision #2<<
On 9/12/21, I wrote two bullet points:
Both of those statements are accurate nearly 30 days later; however, I am more excited about the inclusion of I-Sis into this storyline for my final project. When I observe I-Sis, I witness a lesson in stillness and presence. I also feel a sense of healing.
I-Sis is the (wo)mannequin that I bonded with during my time at the Elsewhere Museum in Greensboro, NC. She helped to heal my pain from a feeling of inclusionary isolation. Now, when I think about sitting, I think about the act as a form of communication and healing. It is also an invitation to be still.
Revision # 2 w/video supplement
Post-position as of 10/13/21
Post-position as of 9/12/21
Pre- position as of 9/12/21
It is with great pleasure and divine timing that I write this response to Merri Lisa Johnson and Robert McRuer’s article, “Cripistemologies: Introduction.”
Disability is a term that causes an uneasiness in my soul. It is the first three letters that make it uncomfortable: d-i-s. The definition of this prefix is “the opposite or a sense of.” These three little letters already frame the letters to follow as something less than or dismissive. Well, there’s that d-i-s, again. I personally prefer the language of “differently abled” when it comes to describing people. Additionally, the term disability tends to conjure up feelings related to one’s body. As a person who deals with a different ability, I take up this conversation from my own personal experience - an experience that does not manifest itself in a physical form that others can see.
During the last year of my Master’s program, Fall 2018, I was diagnosed with GAD - Generalized Anxiety Disorder. There’s another d-i-s word. This diagnosis immediately changed my able-bodied status to a differently abled reality. I could still physically walk around classes, sit at my desk, read my coursework, and even communicate with others; but, the pressure to excel took a toll on my mental health and resulted in a new label. A label that reappeared as recently as October 4, 2021.
According to the Social Security Administration, anxiety disorders qualify for disability benefits. I have not applied for the SSA benefits , but it is worth noting that the hoops one must jump through to apply speaks to the difficulty of being diagnosed with something that cannot be seen. To pull from the reading, the author wrote, “Driving or flying long distances hurts (Johnson & McRuer, 2014, p. 136).” The author has scoliosis. The pain related to this “dis”ability cannot be seen outwardly, but she can feel it. The same is true with GAD. I am fairly confident that the author and I are not the only two with something that can be experienced but not seen. With that being so, let’s look at what to do in these spaces.
I choose to take this reflection in the direction of permission granting. I revealed a personal truth that outwardly cannot be seen. You never would have known about my mental health diagnosis that qualifies for disability, if I would not have shared. My sharing is not for YOU to share your truth (unless you want to); rather, it is about creating a space to look at disability differently. It is to grant a permission to be okay with how your mind and body operate rather than trying to conform to a set expectation of being. Or, as the authors wrote, “Sometimes comfort comes from relaxing into debility instead of frantically scrambling away from it (p. 136).”
When I learned to say yes to myself, I learned to minimize the frequency of GAD occurrences. Yes, “minimize” not eliminate. This intentional slowing of life created spaces of great peace and joy; however, when I pushed and was pushed beyond these borders, my differently abled mind reminded my physical body that THIS shit is real. Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a label that allows for a conversation about performance and pausing. We MUST “change [our] perceptions of personal responsibility to engage capacity in the service of …(p. 136).” How you fill in the blank is up to you; I choose the following:
I will change my perception of my personal responsibility and intentionally choose to engage capacity in the service of joy.
How would you complete the sentence?
Greetings, Souls of Love & Light!
>> Submitted for Narrative Inquiry <<
Refresher: (taken directly from Story Log #2)
“I was right. Correction. My spirit was right! As I continued to read, I learned that SAM was an acronym that represented Sun, Stars, And Moon. WOW!! Grandma communicated with nature!! She was told to rest so that she could receive the wisdom offered by the cosmos.”
Continued: “… I cried because I knew that Grandma was institutionalized at the Topeka State Hospital - an institution for the care and treatment of the mentally ill. Then, I was angry because I felt that her ability to communicate with the sun, stars, and moon ultimately cost her her freedom.”
Story Log #3
It is 7:16pm on Sunday, September 12, 2021. The sun is radiating a mesmerizing burnt orange hue with a purplish pink aura. I squint to see the exact colors but it's impossible without running the risk of blinding myself. I’ll just remain grateful for the quick glimpses.
Within three minutes, the sun has now touched the tops of the tree in the distance. The silhouette of trees is a masterpiece within this peaceful moment, but why does it seem that time is moving exceptionally fast now? I’ve been out here for 45 minutes and the sun didn’t appear to move. It was bright, bold, and breathtaking. However, now, nearly half of the sun is playing peek-a-boo with me. But guess what Mr. Sun? I can still see you. Please don’t go away.
I feel robbed. The forecast said the sunset would not occur until 7:30pm. I still have eight minutes. If I “paid” for the whole show, I wanna see the whole show. Where are you going? Now, your whole body is behind the trees and all I can see is the glow of your beauty. Well, at least I can cast my eyes directly on you now. PLEASE Slow down. Please. I want to watch you. I want to take you all in. I couldn’t see you earlier because you were too bright. Now, you are nearly disappearing.
Wait! Why am I feeling sad? Why are my eyes getting warm? What is it about this particular moment that is so emotional for me? You are almost all gone. It is only 7:23 pm. I have seven more minutes. Please don’t go! Shit!! I am really crying now. Why are you leaving me!? You are now beneath the trees and it is just a tiny sliver that I see of you. You will be gone in 5...4…3…2 (I pause my typing to simply be in the moment and watch the sun of September 12th come to an end. Rest my dearest sun. You’ve performed your job well. You shined on us. You allowed us to shine. For you, we are grateful. Rest easy. So shall the will of the Universe be, I will see you in the morning. Ase.
Forty-eight minutes of recording boiled down to 47 seconds. The final seconds were the fastest. What can I learn from this? Do we live our lives in hyperlapse? Can there be a theory of counter-hyperlapsicity? Perhaps I need to start a movement to slow down and simply be? Perhaps observing nature becomes the main method of this movement. I JUST might be onto something.
# # #
In the above paragraph, I asked, “why am I crying?” That was a more rhetorical than actual question. I know why I cried. I cried because the observation of the sun was the same as the observation of life. If so ordered, we will rise every morning. If so ordered, we will have 12 hours, or longer, to share our shine. If so ordered, we will rest and engage in an extended period of restoration. However, there comes a time during the observation that time speeds up and the day, one’s life, is over.
I watched the sunset for my Mama on March 31, 2016. Actually, I even captured one of the final sunsets from her hospital room less than two weeks before she transitioned. I witnessed the eclipse of my Dad’s sun when he was diagnosed with COVID-19. I had never seen my Dad like that. He stayed in bed most of the day with his eyes closed while he was wide awake. He ate his meals at the table with his eyes closed. He even sat in his favorite recliner with his eyes closed while fully comprehending what was going on around him. (I didn’t capture an actual picture of him, but the mental picture can never be erased.)
In my last story log I wrote, “I am interested in writing about my relationship with nature and how this informs my walk with eco-spirituality. Thanks to our class on Wednesday, September 8, 2021, that is no longer the case. Your words made me ask, “What is my work REALLY about?”
Jeff, when you gave us the story about your interest in art classroom arrangements and how this interest quickly changed to social capital, I found myself diving deeper into my own interest. I still want to research nature as a site of learning and self-restoration, but I strongly feel that it becomes more about spaces to slow (observing nature - sunrises, sunsets, gardening, etc.) as well as spaces to become and grow (gardening).
My narrative research genre approach will blend Bildungsroman and digital storytelling as I ask Mother Earth to inform my becoming - my becoming an artist. In the margins of page 12, I responded with hearts and stars after reading that,”Bildung is concerned with nurturing or fostering the self to become somebody, which goes beyond the simple acquisition of knowledge and skills (Biesta, 2002).
I am ‘becoming’ an artist. Or, should I say, I am allowing myself to call myself an artist. And, this ‘becoming’ is happening as my sun sits halfway in the sky and my Dad’s sun is closer to setting. My work needs to nurture my self while honoring my Dad in a way that allows Mother Earth to be our teacher.
>>Submitted for Social Foundations <<
Passages to inform the revision:
As I sit here reflecting on what transpired during the Artists’ Talk at Elsewhere (READ Portfolio Piece), I am comforted by Christina Sharpe’s In the Wake. The following passages form the foundation of my revision:
The day before, I read Sharpe and learned about the work of sitting. Although Sharpe referenced sitting (together) in the “pain and sorrow of death,” I took that passage literally and thought about what it meant to sit with someone. To be present. To be inclusive.
On the night of the 13th, I found myself sitting with people and still feeling alone. There was a singles, conversational ping pong match that dominated the space. Additionally, I, as the oldest person at the table, just could not connect with some of the references. I have kids that are nearly the ages of those around the table.
While walking back to the residency, I knew something had shifted. I knew that my scholar identity had shifted to address feelings of isolation among Black womxn and how sitting (together) can represent a form of wake work. I felt my artist identity being birthed. And I felt that this new awakening and subsequent revision would cost me an extra semester in the PhD program at Florida State University.
Even with all of that occurring, the exposure to Sharpe is becoming instrumental to my identities. I would go as far as to say that it is even instrumental to my spiritual development.
*rationale listed above
>>Submitted for Social Foundations: Reading Response<<
It is 12:17pm on Wednesday, September 8, 2021. As I sit to write this response, I am finding myself still hyped from the group discussion of hegemony* and religion. Never did I think that I would willingly enter spaces of conversation that address such “hush hush” subjects like religion. But here I am. I’m holding my own. I’m listening with an open ear and heart. I am not just speaking my truth, I am walking in my truth: the truth of eco-spirituality.
*Before we proceed, hegemony is a word that I would NEVVVA use in my everyday discussions. Nevva Evvva. My working definition of the word refers to a power structure. A domination of one group/practice over another. A system of power. If you need more than that, you can click here.
If you’ve read my other work, you already know a little bit about how I arrived at this space of spirituality versus religion. As a quick recap:
>Submitted for Story Log #2 in Narrative Inquiry<
During the Fall of 2020, I was asked to write a subjectivities statement in my arts-based research class with Dr. Sara Scott Shields at Florida State University. This was the first time I was ever asked to clarify who I was in relation to what I was studying. It was rather exciting to figure out my own why. Through this assignment, I was led to open my family bibles to find inspiration that supported my divorce from the dominant Black Baptist narrative.
On that day, I opened my personal bible and the pages were crisp. Sad to say, my bible did not get much mileage. I opened my Mama’s bibles and saw more engagement but not a lot. The first bible had a McDonald’s Monopoly game piece in it; I think we won some fries. I wonder if there was an expiration date on it? Nuthin’ better than some good ole hot fries and cold Dr. Pepper. In her second bible, there were dog-eared pages and highlighting. Now that I had a chance to explore our bibles, the significantly smaller of the four, it was time to open the master bible. The family bible. The big ole coffee table type bible that belonged to Grandma. What I found on the first page would be the frequency that would carry me into a true and grounded space of eco-spirituality while granting me permission to release my inherited religion.
How did I get here? (Revisiting and refining Story Log 1)
On April 16, 1973, 607 days before I was born, Grandma wrote the following words on the inside cover of her bible, “Never be afraid of trees. We will never leave you.” In another paragraph she wrote, “Rest. Uncle SAM will tell you more.” I do not know all my family members but I never remember hearing of an Uncle SAM. With black folks and our quickness to “adopt” people, Uncle SAM could have been a blood OR bond relative. Who knew? But there was something in her writing that made me wonder if her reference to this uncle was not a reference to a person at all. My spirit felt that there was more of a link between my use of the term Mother to respect Earth, a term that definitely did not reflect the person who gave birth to me, and her use of Uncle to respect SAM.
I was right. Correction. My spirit was right! As I continued to read, I learned that SAM was an acronym that represented Sun, Stars, And Moon. WOW!! Grandma communicated with nature!! She was told to rest so that she could receive the wisdom offered by the cosmos. I was absolutely floored to learn of her connection to eco-spirituality because all I ever knew was that she was a super devout Christian. Grandma documented each time she finished a chapter and literally knew her bible inside and out. But that wasn’t all she knew; there was another side to Grandma that I never knew and no one ever talked about.
Reading Grandma’s words put me in a very emotional state. It made me sad to think that it took over two decades to open my family bible. I was disappointed in myself for not keeping Grandma in my immediate memories. I cried because I knew that Grandma was institutionalized at the Topeka State Hospital - an institution for the care and treatment of the mentally ill. Then, I was angry because I felt that her ability to communicate with the sun, stars, and moon ultimately cost her her freedom.
I am interested in writing about my relationship with nature and how this informs my walk with eco-spirituality. I know that Mother Earth is here to teach and I am ready to be her student. I am ready to absorb her wisdom. I am excited by the opportunity to share this wisdom with others, especially Black womxn. My research question is, “How is nature experienced as a site of learning and self-restoration among Black womxn?”
My eco-autoethnography involves trees, plants, bodies of water, flying and crawling spirits, and any other storyteller of nature.
This narrative inquiry is important because it serves as a significant space of permission. It gives permission to those looking for a different form of spiritual engagement, especially Black people looking for an alternative, or even supplement, to the dominant Black Baptist narrative. It grants permission for relationship building with the more-than-human kind. It creates a space of acceptance for a tribe of individuals who once thought they were alone or even questioned their sanity. Most importantly, my eco-autoethnography honors a freedom that was denied my Grandmother.
https://www.wibw.com/video/2021/04/30/chris-omni-tedx/ 3:22 - 4:15
Homework submitted for Jeff Broome's Narrative Inquiry
Greetings Souls of Love & Light,
In 1974, I entered this world through the vessel of a Black womxn because of a union with a Black man. Mama intentionally spelled my first name, Christal, with C-H-R-I-S-T to represent her religious foundation and belief that he is in ALL of us. Secondly, my dad named me Mischelle. Mischelle comes from the Hebrew name Michael meaning “Who is like God?” This question is answered by my last name, Omni, which means “All.” When placed together, “Who is like God? All,” the answer gives voice to the power of god being neither womxn nor man. Nature can be god.
Being raised with Black Baptist expectations, I found myself fearful of fully exploring the reality that there were alternative avenues of spirituality. It was not until my Mama took her final breath on March 31, 2016, that I felt a new freedom to explore a spiritual practice that made me feel whole and connected. It took some time, nearly two years, because I was still afraid of what she would think. Nonetheless, this journey has revealed powerful messages provided by Mother Earth that have assured me that this path IS for me. To paraphrase the words of Janelle Monae, I have “Embraced what makes me unique even if it makes others uncomfortable.”
Besides the permission offered by Monae, I have received additional confirmation of my decision to explore and accept eco-spirituality while observing and listening to my dad. Dad, just like my Mama, identifies as Christian and constantly gives thanks to Jesus Christ for granting his current healing from a life-threatening bout with COVID-19. However, Dad also attributes his healing to a deep desire to return to his favorite playtime – gardening. I believe Dad is also an eco-spiritualist although he would never admit it.
Today, I stand firm in my own spiritual practice – Eco-spirituality. This practice centers me through communing with Mother Earth and more specifically through the art of gardening. In this space, I honor the legacy of my ancestors – truck farmers five generations back on Mama’s side and sharecroppers two generations back on Dad’s side. Now that you know how my name speaks to a pre-determined walk in the land of eco-spirituality, let’s look at what happened when I “physically” got here.
Chris Omni, MPH