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“When you first realize your blood has come, smile; an honest smile, for you are about to have an intense union with your magic.”
“from Marvelous Menstruating Moments in Ntozake Shange’s book Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo (As told by Indigo to Her Dolls as She Made Each and Every One of Them a Personal Menstruation Pad of Velvet)”
From Awkward to Abundant: A Community Supported Miracle
Next month my mother and I are launching the newest groundbreaking workshop in our Thicker Than Whatever: Unstoppable Mother/Daughter Relationshipsseries: LoveOverflow: Marvelous Menstruating Moments! This process has caused my mother and I to look deeply at what a black feminist personal political economy of menstruation might look like in our ideal communities. This workshop is our inspired practice towards transforming intergenerational silence and shame into action and power. We love each other too much to make the awkwardness of talking about bodies, sexuality, gender identity and blood a barrier to our fully expressed support and love! In order to make sure this beautiful day is accessible for free to the amazing visionary black mamas and daughters in our organizing community we are reaching out to our whole worldwide community to support the costs of this program. If you love this idea and find it healing that this type of space can exist we’d love your support! You can chip in here:
Beyond Books: Tangible Practices for Embodied Love
So when mamas across my organizing community in North Carolina started talking about their complex and juicy emotions about their daughters beginning their periods, often earlier than they had began theres and one of the Indigo Afterschoolers started her period afterschool at my house (how lucky we were to have Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo on hand to create a ritual right away!) what they spoke to was a need wider and deeper than a booklist.
Our Saturday program LoveOverflow comes from a core desire to create spaces to work through the questions, challenges and insecurities of all ages that the bright and deeply felt physical event of menstruation brings up in our communities. We need rituals of ongoing affirmation. So first Saturday in March my mom will be facilitating my mama comrades in working through the residual energy of their own early period experiences, their fears around their kids growing and changing and to create a mantra for everyday use that reminds them of their true love, passionate belief and inspired clarity about their daughters to refer to in hard times. And I will be facilitating the younger folks, using art practices to draw through their questions, excitements and fears and helping them to individually create their own embodied and spiritual definitions of their menstruation experiences and rituals for how they want to honor themselves and create safe space monthly from here on out. And THEN we will be bringing everyone back together for a ritual of affirmation, there will be circles and witnessing, lavender hand baths (our favorite), whispered poems and listening and love. I know that this experience will be memorable for the participants and profoundly healing for my mother and I.
Not (Always) So Marvelous
My mama and I are so excited to bring our love and commitment (and the generative genius of Ntozake Shange’s words) to the community of black mothers and daughters here in Durham who have been bringing up the drama of the period…period of puberty and asking for support! However when we started thinking about our own experiences blossoming into red, we realized that our first experiences and many subsequent experiences were not so marvelous, and for similar reasons.
I can’t quite remember my first period experience. I know that I was about 14 and just starting high school. Long ago in elementary school I had, along with my peers been giving a pretty illustrated book called “Period: A Girl’s Guide to Menstruation” and I remembered the affirming, reassuring and calming images from that book. My first period experience was pretty painless, but after that I began to have intense-wake-you-up-out-your-sleep cramps. I realize now that for years I ignored my own experiences of PMS, secretly wondering if I
a. needed a new life free from all of the people I knew
b. was experiencing the onset of one of the many mental illnesses in my mother’s psychology textbooks
Ultimately I assimilated my period as an intellectual experience without ceremony. Like many other experiences since, my period was okay, and almost understandable because I had read about it somewhere.
It’s only this past weekend that I realized that my mother’s experience was similar to mine. Growing up in Jamaica with an elderly grand-aunt who treated my mother’s period as something dirty to be ashamed of, my mother’s lifeline was a book that her mother sent. My grandmother was a domestic worker in England paid to mother privileged white folks, and my mother remembers being upset and disappointed that all she had to help her through her transition and the complicated belts and napkins that accompanied it was this book. She wanted her mother to be there herself to help her through.
And while I remember my mother being very sympathetic to the pain I endured (and continue to endure) on the first day of my period, we didn’t have many rituals or mechanisms to deal with the teenage angst and how impatient we could be with each other during period time at our house. Luckily, we’ve learned a lot from our volatile journey through my teen years, and my mom now has stories full of advice to share with her therapy clients, all ending with something like..see and after all that my daughter still turned out great and we have a wonderful relationship today!
The bottom line is what our composite intergenerational period story shows is that ceremony and presence are key elements of the growing time of menstruation that we both longed for and are excited to make more possible and accessible in the lives of young people and their parents today.
A Gender Diverse Approach
Even though the participants in our upcoming workshop identify as black mothers and daughters, in this workshop it is important for us to honor the fact that gender is in transformation and that while some people see their period as a symbolic opportunity to reflect on “becoming women,” becoming ourselves is a more complicated and gender diverse experience. Gender is unpredictable and people of many different genders can experience menstruation. We want the participants in this workshop, especially the youth, to have access to the knowledge that menstruating can be part of a process of becoming an intentionally creative person who releases negative energy and creates time and rituals for love of self, period. It does not have to be a feminine or feminizing experience unless that is what they want it to be. Towards this end we are in the midst of a wisdom drive collecting insights that people of many genders have learned from their experiences menstruating. If you are interested in sharing an insight for our LoveOverflow depth of wisdom pool please email us at [email protected] with the subject “LoveOverflow.”
Again…if you love this idea, spread the word to folks you know to donate their wisdom and/or dollars to the project!