We all have this playlist
Hello ghouls and gals,
Feliz Dia De Los Muertos!
I just want to say that I saw y’all showing out yesterday at the parties, on the streets, and on the ‘gram! You looked GOODT. For the record, this is an actual photo of me yesterday:
I’m a huge Halloween from afar fan. I love guessing what other people are dressed up as, calculating the annual percent increase in sexy cowboys, cops, and cats year over year, and getting free candy while I’m at a boozy brunch or returning my rental car. I just don’t ever get around to dressing up. Or ever have a small child around to take trick-or-treating while I secretly scope out if I have any hot neighbors. That ish takes planning, and what if the night-of I actually don’t want to be Al Roker and want to go as a mermaid instead? It’s all too planned ahead and I’d rather just send heart-eye emojis from bed to those that put in the effort. You deserve.
This Week’s Story
Ah, happiness. That finicky thing we’re all in pursuit of, but can be so hard to pin down. In this week’s essay, writer Amber Dodd takes us through a “Cranes In The Sky”-esque journey to finding her happiness. Is it tucked in the books of her love for Latin? Is it in the ratchet streets of Atlanta and unashamed Blackness? Maybe it’s on the lips of a past lover whose familiarness is tempting. Let me just say this, happiness is fleeting. It’s a choice you make, not a feeling you can rest in. But when you find it, you fight to hold on to it and you try to grasp it when it slips away. It’s worth fighting for and feels oh so good when it decides to stay for a while.
PS – We’re hosting another Insecure chat on Twitter Spaces today at 5pm PST/8 pm EST. It’s an audio-only conversation so no need to get cute. The last one was a ki! Don’t miss it.
EIC of Carefree
Who the Hell is Happy?
By Amber D. Dodd
June 5. I was in a scarlet, off-the-shoulder short summer dress. As I was on my parents’ deck with my childhood friends, amicuses I made working at Target and my close cousins, I felt a firm hand press against my naked left shoulder.
“I’m about to go, Chocolate Ball,” My uncle Vernon, who gave me that nickname since my skin color came in after jaundice, said. “Just wanted to let you know I’m leaving out.”
He became a preacher a few years earlier (another family event I missed as a college student at Mississippi State).
“Can we pray?” I asked.
Uncle Vernon opened my back door, sliced open the net-knitted screen split by magnets to catch flies. He led me to my front porch.
“Let us bow our heads,” He said to me loudly, as if he was hovering over a church mic. Bass vibrations from the party playlist hummed as background noise. We bowed. “Father God-”
I squeezed my eyes shut like an anxious church child, excited to eat after this last prayer. Here I was, soaking in my last moments with my mother’s side in Maryland. Though Uncle Vernon was praying away the negativity soon to reach me across the country in Washington as a race reporter, I smiled. With this prayer and other Black protective ones from my mom, my mom’s mom, and my mom’s mom’s mom, I knew I would be protected, could be happy. But, who? Happy? What is happy?
I cannot comprehend happy.
In my opinion, happiness is scary because it feels like nothingness. Happiness is freedom. It requires the mind to glide. Smell flowers without the alarm of buzzing, stinging bees. Tongue that man as if he is yours to take. Know that Justin Tucker will make that game-winning field goal. There are mental muscles to flex, to get past trauma to inherit happiness. There is a worry-free card that you must have in your possession. Quite frankly, Life has left me a little bankrupt. At least with anger, I can feel my chest burning, my eyes cutting, my temper shortening. Sadness has a common feeling of drowning in your own sorrows, up the creek without the paddle. I can feel embarrassment too, smell it actually. I fart when nervous.
But happy? Happy is light. And as a Black woman, there tends to be hella heaviness before big wins. Before you swell up in bewildering disbelief.
On Cinco De Mayo, an edible was literally whipping my ass, so I napped. There was a missed call from a 509 number; it was Joe letting me know that they were impressed with my resume, my interview, and my portfolio. They offered me the position. Happy came quickly. I drove to work jolly, got there at 12:01, put in my two-weeks notice at Target at 12:04. Two nights later, my parents asked me if I was going to my cousin’s wedding.
“I’ll go, but only for one reason: I got a job in Washington.” I’d work in the WNBA as a journalist for the Washington Mystics during college summers. It felt like I got ganged up on this DC PR firm I interned at after college.
“Oh ok gre-”
“But not that Washington!” I interrupted them. “..the one on the other side!” I said, jumping for joy, hanging out with Happy again. After two hours of my parents swallowing their hard love, trying to out-tough their tears through traveling and housing advice, I did not sleep that night.
During my shower, uncertainty, shock, and fear crept in slowly, surely. In less than a month, I’d be moved across the country, in a job meant to report on race and equity in a place where the Black population is only two percent.
It was suddenly July. There I was, waiting for emails about things I misconstrued in my reporting. Expecting the white supremacist who always emails me, always picks something from the middle of a story, to drop something really disgusting about the Natives in my email. Who was going to leave some explosives outside my doorstep to prove a point? Or that I deserve hostility in my humble abode? Who would kick out my happy? One recent night, a man came up to me, bumrush-like.
“Do those words still mean something to you?!”
He was pointing to my navy sweatshirt that read “DOCUMENTING DEMOCRACY.” He didn’t know that dude, it’s just a cold ass Monday night and I am more of a nonfiction writer than an outright journalist. I didn’t know, though abrupt and clearly stronger than me while asking me questions, he was a huge supporter of my work. It scared me shitless still. I find myself waiting for a phone call about one of my grandmothers, my mother or father, my brothers in the past tense. I find myself seeking, basking in fear since she is a familiar friend of mine.
But all because I don’t know Happy doesn’t mean she can’t know me. So, by September, I decided to seek out things that once made me happy: language, love, and Black people.
I credit Latin as a lifeboat and a language preserver. The dead language lets me know why English is alive. Please, if you get the chance, learn some Latin. It will help you learn through English, not about it. Why would I hold English to a standard when bought and drought sound nothing alike? Have you read that red book that taught you how to be kept fed? Look at that damn sentence and make fun of those who are still learning English, I dare you.
After writing a few features about the new hires for Gonzaga University’s Arts & Science department, I found myself itching to take Latin classes. I was riled up by the two threads of the Jesuit university: antiquity and language. I recognized St. Ignatius’ statue during the tour the Arts & Sciences dean gave me. Ignatius, ignis, fire. Sparks flew like I was a college sophomore again. I reached out and asked the Classics department if I could just at least sit in. They agreed.
“Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I won’t be available until like noon,” I told my editor. “Is that ok?”
She allowed it.
I packed my plaid-red bookbag, my trusted confidant since eighth grade with my third purchase of Cassell’s Latin dictionary and Hansell’s Latin grammar, ready, ecstatic to fetch my happiness back.
Throughout that week, I found myself yearning for another college chapter: my year and a half relationship with my college boyfriend. I asked God to show me who was in my life, for whatever reason on a Friday. My friends, boyfriend, or consciousness were eliminated by the next Sunday night. This is another symptom of not claiming your happiness all the way: the fear of it being stolen from you. Sometimes it is you breaking into your heart’s safe.
Snapchat had been jump-starting my memories of us being young and happy and in love. There were 5-year-old “My Memories” videos of us giggling, melting into one another, unafraid of our newness, excited for our beginnings. In 2020, we had our reconciliation convo two years too late, but there was still something there, a familiarity I was fetching; that happy teenager with tiny titties dangling, eyes glittering at her boo behind the screen in 2016.
“I wouldn’t mind getting back together.” I flat out admitted Thursday before my first class. “But I know, since I messed up, the ball is in your court.”
“Wooaahhhhhhhh,” He said. A man of few words he is. “That’s outta left field.”
“I’d be open to it.”
But this is how time traps you, a willingness to return to old versions of you, to retrieve happiness that once existed but does not anymore.
For my first Latin class, I wore a brown beanie, a blue-and-brown plaid cardigan with a gray TDE shirt under it, khakis, and gray chucks. That fit was very 18.
By the end of that class for Βατραχομυομαχία1, I felt not the spur of nostalgia, but ticks of regret while relearning archaic declensions. I felt myself trying to paint my current life with stale colors.
“Unfortunately, our meeting times twice a week fall on Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 to 10:30 a.m.,” I said of a project already approved before class inquiry. “Due to the scheduling conflict, I will no longer be available to take Latin classes.”
I quit Snapchat that day.
Then came the trip with my college best friends. From the moment the woman with blond locs helped me find my bags, I could smell the fresh, welcoming nigganess in the air. Everything was ripe with us. On the other side of the Trap Museum, a group of women started shaking ass, the security watched in a trance of lust yet caution. The fake pole wouldn’t have been stable enough. While getting tattoos, they were rolling dice outside yelling about the failing Atlanta Falcons. The DJ of the tattoo parlor played some Isaiah Rashad while we played Atlanta bops on a Spotify playlist, called, of course, “ATL Shawtyyy.” The four Black women heard us saying “1996” or “1998” while filling out our consent forms and fell out in exaggeration.
“Bitch, we old as hell,” She said to her friend, a cousin maybe. The parlor filled up with multi-generational laughter.
Before our Ponce City Market night, Sid, our cheapskate computer science Dad, took 15 minutes for a CVS membership and $3 off soda. On Sunday, I stuffed myself with mac and cheese and yams, greens and two crisp pieces of lake trout, tried to down a huge red velvet slice in one sitting. I missed who I was around us.
I stayed another day but spent it booed up with Nick’s play cousin, another Black writer. I can only pray the Memphis Man charm, killer comedic timing, and our matching Venus in Aquarius placements aren’t cause for concern. But, here I go, praying against, not for. Uncle Vernon did not bless me to question God writing Happy in this chapter.
From Atlanta to kissing my best friend’s cousin, to dropping Latin and other hideouts to cocoon in, I think the answer to Happy is letting go. I think. Being free, I guess.
Feeling certain that you’re not getting “happy” but you’re just going. Moving. Progressing. That’s it. I am not feeling nothingness, I am feeling a calmness of working through all that’s been. That’s happy to me— peace. Faith in these unknowns but still smiling, hoping there’s more to this than what I’ve had. I’m no longer desperately excavating Happy off my insides. I won’t keep tally. I won’t keep receipts. I will laugh at my boo’s jokes and get turned on at his explanations for how he tied scenes together. Because this is my life, one that does not rely on Happy but invites her. Even if this shit is scary. This is my life, an abundant one. One that makes me shine and smile, one that makes me glitter.
Amber D. Dodd is the Race-Equity Reporter for The Black Lens and The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington. She’s also an assistant nonfiction editor at Sundog Literary Magazine. She currently writes Extremely Unimpressed, a Substack column. Her work can be seen in CP Quarterly and Stellium Literary Magazine. She is the founder blaQplight, a visual storytelling platform for the Black and queer community. Amber still wants to know the salon Cisely got her hair done at and is likely wearing brown the day you read this.
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