Travel & Triumph: Thoughts on Traveling to the South and Selfhood

As I am right now, sitting in a coffee shop in the heart of New Orleans, I always imagined myself much like Baldwin or Cleage, writing something that would challenge the male ego or enlighten the ways of queerness and my attraction to women, men and those outside the binary. Here I sit, grown as I know how to be, with no money but a $1.50 tea warming my hands. The air is sticky with new smells of rain, Wynton Marsalis plays in my ears and life seems oh so simple. Free Spirit and Artistry inside, life is wonder full. Everything comes in it’s own time and travel shows me so much more of my self. This Saturn year isn’t so bad, after all.

It’s been little more than a week since I left New York City with it’s tall buildings and teeming centers of human beings with uptight energy that propels one forward. For the first week, I found myself in Atlanta, Georgia with a collective of queer people of color as we embraced what might seem odd. For me, I always feel odd, even with queers and people of color. My identity has always been just different. I don’t like clinging to a label in the queer community. I’m attracted to men, women and others who reject the binary. My ancestry has roots and branches from all over the country and world. I am a young, black, queer woman and I hold a certain comfort in being able to maintain fluidity.

I now find myself in New Orleans. We drove down from Atlanta, a small queer group of us. The heat of the south is different. In New York, it almost knocks me over with it’s force and humidity. I sometimes can’t breathe as it engulfs my senses and threatens to destroy my will to want to live through the moment of all encompassing heat stroke. The south has a fluidity to it. It’s hot, but not unbearable. I sweat, but not in buckets. I suppose it is a lazy way of being. In moments like this, I remember just how little time I’ve spent in this body on this earth. How little I know, how big and at the same time small the world seems. I remember my mortality. I hold it close to my chest and take a deep breath in. I am here. Today, maybe tomorrow, and I want to be here. The world holds so much surprise and culture. The unexpected seems blessed. I don’t need much. I can and do actually go without a lot. I don’t have much money and though I find myself worrying about it in intervals, right now, I’m not at all bothered. I planned this trip for a week and I have so little clothes and yet, I’m so incredibly comfortable. Life without a lot of materials is actually quite freeing in its’ organization of need vs. want. I’m a minimalist by nature and so living with few materials isn’t ever a surprise to me and feels in a way refreshing.

While here in New Orleans, I’ve been the utmost of a tourist and yet, I somehow feel my ancestors with me more now than ever before at this juncture of life. I’m the only black queer person in our group and that never before bothered me until today. My ancestors speak so loudly and there seems to be no one to share it with. I feel them at my back, my front, my sides, below me and above me. While here, I’ve gone to visit a plantation. The Whitney Plantation, originally named The Haydel Habitation. This one being different than others that are restored in the area because it focuses specifically on those enslaved here in it’s operational duration. While on this ground I felt all kinds of things. I felt anger, fear, helplessness, hurt, joy, etc. The heat felt welcoming and warming as the sun beamed down in an oppressive way. I sought remembrance. I didn’t seek peace or wholeness, just remembrance. In my blood, I remember a time when this, the enslavement of my people was normalized.

Alongside the great pain, I’ve found great pleasure. Moments of feeling seen and held by art. I’ve gone to visit an exhibition called StudioBe by artist Brandon Odums. The exhibit is an a huge warehouse with painting and artwork all throughout, dedicated to blackness of all kinds as well as to New Orleans. In the beginning of the exhibition, there’s a huge written work called “Ephemeral, Eternal” and he talks about those two ideologies as inspiration for this entire piece. Ephemeral is fleeting. The love you feel for a short time, while Eternal is everlasting. What does it mean to be both and a little in between. Human life for me is just as much about the short and the long, the close and distant, the journey and the destination. It’s in the center of all that I find my grounding, my home. Home is me, where and how I occupy space. It gave me pause. I want a big warehouse space with which to do my art. An impossible goal. How do I go about accomplishing it?

Writing in a new place, existing in a new space, brings with it such an air of separation and truth. The question I’ve been asking myself, “what are you worth, darling girl?” I’ve always called my inner little girl, “darling girl” and as she and I continue to deconstruct and learn more about the inner workings of my heart and soul, I find that she answers in mysterious ways. Worth. What a strange idea and reality. How is it measured? If I was not defined by my interactions with others or through my capitalist existence, by the art I create or the way spirit flows through me, what would I be worth? What is my worth on this earth? Why am I here? I could spend time answering it, but to me, it’s more about the journey than the destination. So ask yourself. What are you worth?

Love Always,

Damali Speaks Xx

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