Book Review “I am Soul” by the imcomparable Yecheilyah Ysrayl #RRBC #RWISA
FOREMOST, It has been a long time my friends but I hope you all have remained safe and healthy. This is a crazy time we are living in right now. I have fallen behind in reviewing some incredible books and collections due my work life as a Social Worker and Inpatient Program Manager. I wish to thank everyone who has reached out to me or sent warm wishes during this health scare that is surrounding us all. I do apologize if my silence has worried anyone or caused them concern.
My first review is a beautiful poetry and prose anthology by the beautiful Yecheilyah Ysrayl. I happened upon her through the wonder Rave Reviews Book Club #RRBC and #RWISA.
Before I go into my review, please read more about Yecheilyah Ysrayl and her collection “I am Soul”
Poetry was the cry of a caged bird
Inside, imprisoned by walls, she built herself
Her chest heavy with questions she did not have the guts to ask
felt her voice was too secret
her mission too silent
her purpose too underground railroad
and ain’t nobody wanna be free.
So she sang poetry
and the walls melted like liquid honey.
It was startling how her voice vibrated the air
and she saw her skeletons, ugly and raw
a graveyard of insecurities locked inside the cages of her mind
She was not dead, but something else was
she saw the struggles of her voice
the agony of a quiet storm in a world full of noise
Her mind was a Civil War, and she wasn’t sure who would win,
the enslaved or the free
So she sang poetry
and the shackles melted like liquid honey.
There was strength in her lungs
she could not tame the lyric
there was no trapping the gift
no caging the courage
no binding the song.
There was freedom in her fingers
and a revolution in her pen.
Paper was a bloodbath of truth
and writing a sanctuary
Fear didn’t live here,
only wings that lifted her above the ground
a canvas of silver linings across the sky
a colorful reminder that her struggles were stepping stones
that her flaws were flawless
and her mistakes, miracles in disguise
these were her confessions
a resurrection written in ink.
Poetry was the cry of a caged bird
who learned to sing poetry
until the bars melted away
like liquid honey.
If there is one thing I have learned in both my personal and professional life (to include blogging) is that change is inevitable. One day you will look up and the people who were rooting for you, in the beginning, are not rooting for you any longer. As I’ve said on this blog once before, you can look up and see an entirely new group of supporters/readers.
Just as quickly as COVID-19 has swept over the world, people will pack up their support and leave you dumbfounded. What happened? What changed? Am I no longer interesting? Is the content no longer quality?
It’s easy to blame ourselves. It’s our blog, our book, our product. And while we are conscious enough to know that sometimes our circle will decrease in size, we must remind ourselves that while the support might decrease in size that doesn’t mean it doesn’t increase in quality. A lack of interest sometimes has nothing to do with us. Although it may feel like it, it’s not personal.
But as I’ve said, we are human with feelings and thoughts and emotions. We cannot help but wonder. These are the times where we will need to pick up our faith, hold on to those gifts and hold our heads higher than we’ve ever held it before. I can’t tell you why some people leave, why they unsubscribe from your life or what you did to influence this decision. What I can echo are the words from one of our favorite poets and one of my favorite quotes:
“People will forget what you did, people will forget what you said, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
These are such powerful words to me because it’s a two-edged sword. Whether you make people feel inspired and empowered or whether you make them feel discouraged and disheartened, people will remember it.
People will leave when they’ve served the purpose in your life it meant them to serve and some of them will even forget what you’ve done. What they won’t forget is the impact you’ve had on their life, the imprint you left there and how you made them feel.
Entrepreneurship, authorship specifically, is hard and I know that in this climate “hard” doesn’t seem like a strong enough word to describe what it’s like to endure this, but I hope this message and Angelou’s words were not only encouraging for you today but that they help you persist in the troublesome areas.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned was understanding the state of my mental health is much more important than my career because my level of self-worth and self-love is what will drive the work.
A text I received from Ms. Edwards (pictured) inspired this post; how good it felt to know someone was thinking about me. So whether it’s a text, phone call, email or DM, it doesn’t take much to be kind. Since we are all in the same boat right now, with the time you have, be sure to reach out to someone who has made an impression on you and show them you appreciate them.
Since the meat of book one focuses on what life was like for a little girl, and then a young woman, growing up in slavery, the bulk of my research had to do with reading slave narratives and studying enslavement through the eyes of women and children.
Between Slavery and Freedom centers on Stella’s enslavement on The Saddler Plantation in Louisiana. As I introduce us to the first Stella, she is a six-year-old girl enslaved with her mother, Deborah. At this age, she is not aware that she is living property, which was typical for some enslaved children in their early years. She plays with the other children, including the slave owners’ daughter, but she does not yet understand the value of her flesh, that she could be bought, sold, traded, transferred, deeded, and gifted. Stella describes the plantation as a “big family.” She loves running through the dirt and the way it feels on her toes. She talks of childish things like eating sweet cakes, playing with Miss Carla, and trying to convince Mama, she touched the sun.
“One time, I made it where I touched the sun. It wasn’t even hot either. It didn’t feel like nothing but air. I told Mama the sun was tricking us.
“And how it do that?”
“Cause Mama. I touched it, and it ain’t burn my finger none. It feels hot, but it ain’t really.”
– Stella, Between Slavery and Freedom
Historically, enslaved children who had a “childhood” in this way realized their status gradually. Their awakened consciousness may have been signified by seeing a family member sold for the first time or being sold themselves. The research points to ten as the age where the enslaved child knew and understood that he or she was property, except in the circumstances, as I have mentioned. As soon as they were old enough, the enslaved child’s life changed, and they realized that their lives as enslaved differed greatly from the lives of the white children they once played with as small children.
Slave-owners raised southern white youth as enslavers in training. Sometimes slave-owners gifted their children an enslaved person as a pet (sometimes it was the same child they played with). Literature also played a role in the training of southern youth to not only accept slavery as a regular part of society but to prepare them to own slaves of their own. Examples of such books is The Child’s Book on Slavery; or Slavery Made Plain. In a chapter called The Duty of Learning about Slavery, it states:
“if slavery is good, we ought to help it forward…”
In a chapter called Does Color Make Slavery, it states:
“Moses and all his people, I have said, were slaves in Egypt, but they were not colored people.”
This explanation was to try to explain to the children that slavery wasn’t based on skin color, and it is a lie. Egypt is in Africa. Moses and his people were “people of color.”
In a chapter called What is a Slave, the author compares the enslaved to a horse, saying:
“Perhaps your father has a horse. That is his property. He has a right to make the horse work, only he should treat him kindly and give him good food. If the horse is his, nobody has a right to tell him he must not use the horse so. And then, if he thinks it best, he has a right to sell the horse to somebody else. Nobody has a right to forbid him. He need not go and ask even the horse, if he may have him plow the garden, or draw the wagon, for the horse would not understand him, and could not speak to him, and will never grow so old or so wise, that he can understand our words, and talk himself.”
Speaking of literature, another part of writing book one was reading many slave narratives, including Frederick Douglass An American Slave, and Up from Slavery. Other books included When I Was a Slave: Memoirs from the Slave Narrative Collection, Bullwhip Days: The Slaves Remember, and Remembering Slavery: African Americans Talk About Their Personal Experiences of Slavery and Emancipation.
Cane River Creole National Historical Park
“Some people have to take the cotton and pick out the seeds, and others have to spin and weave. They don’t do nothing but spins and weaves. Some people even had to turn the weaves into threads.”
– Stella, Between Slavery and Freedom
More profound than this is my visit to a former slave plantation at The Cane River Creole National Historical Park in Natchitoches, Louisiana.
You might ask yourself why anyone would want to visit such a place. I was writing about people living on a slave plantation and what better way to get inside their heads than to visit one.
Originally called Bermuda, the founder of Oakland was Jean Pierre Emmanuel Prud’ Homme, who began farming the land in 1785 and received a Spanish land grant in 1789. The land’s first cash crops were tobacco, indigo, and cotton. The Prud’ Hommes were the first family west of the Mississippi River to farm cotton on a large scale.
“Down in the quarters, every family had a one- or two-room log cabin. Mostly one room though. We had mattresses filled with corn shucks. Sometimes the men build chairs at night. We didn’t know much about having anything, though. There were a lot of cabins for the slaves, but they weren’t fitting for nobody to live in. We just had to put up with them.”
– Stella, Between Slavery and Freedom
After the Civil War, sharecropper and tenant farmers continued to live on the land until the 1970s, and slave quarters became homes to sharecroppers later. The people worked twelve hours a day, six days a week. Seeing this with my own eyes put it into perspective how the south had reconstructed slavery by returning land to former slave owners and putting former slaves back into the fields under another name. Slave codes designed to control the enslaved became black codes intended to control freedmen, and cotton pickers became sharecroppers.
Finally, part of my preparation for book one also included where I was living at the time I started writing these books.
At the time I released the first book in this trilogy, my husband and I lived in an old house owned by our elderly cousin on 40-acres of land. Over the years, we planted a garden on the property, built a chicken coop and raised chickens, owned several dogs, goats, and even a horse. My grandmother-in-law also recounted stories of when she and some cousins picked cotton on this land.
The elderly cousin and her father built the house we rented many years ago. It was an old house and an old land. It was easy for my overactive imagination to envision what it would be like if we were not renting this house from our cousin; if we were not free to live life on our own terms; if this was not the 2000s, but the 1800s, and if we were not free but enslaved. I walked the property, breathed the air, and looked up at the trees. I had dreams of black people hanging from those trees and visions of people trying to escape.
We lived on that land for five years, eventually moving away in 2015, and I had a completed manuscript.
Last week, I planned on introducing a new Black History Fun Fact Friday. I also planned on revealing the cover to the poetry contest magazine to my social media (which I will do tomorrow, time permitting). This was a busy week for me (more than usual). This isn’t to say that “busy” is a measure of importance, but last week was a hectic one for both my personal and professional life. But also, it was a good busy (more like a focused busy). I got a lot done and gained some clarity. And although I still have emails, I haven’t responded to and travel to prepare for I am sitting down in the few hours I have here before running errands to talk to you guys and send an important message to my email list.
I find that how we direct our focus determines what will show up based on how we have prioritized. Those things we put first or last will naturally manifest in our life and align based on what we give more or less attention. If I know I have coursework due on Wednesday, for example, but I scroll social media until the final hour of when the work is due, chances are I won’t do well, and it won’t be because I am ignorant or incompetent. It will be because I did not set my coursework as a priority this week and give myself time to think through the assignment. Instead, I scrolled social media, which means I have set it as a priority over my coursework and are thus reaping the consequences of that choice. It doesn’t make it social media’s fault, and it doesn’t make social media an evil entity, but it was not the proper decision on this day.
I use social media because it’s an easy example, but I believe this can apply to anything from business practices to relationships and friendships.
What are you sacrificing?
I realized that whatever we pay attention to means sacrificing something else in its place. If we focus too much time on gossip and negativity, we are sacrificing something else in its place. If we spend too much time on social media, we are sacrificing something else in its place. Sometimes the sacrifice is not all bad; it makes sense depending on what is a priority at the moment. Sacrificing an hour of work to sleep and refresh is not a bad thing because, with rest, we can have better clarity to do the job. Surrendering a TV show to post something of value and substance to social media that will help someone else is not a bad thing. You see, I also learned this week that our priorities might change from day to day. What was most crucial yesterday may not be most important today.
From this point forward, I will be more conscious of what I am sacrificing when I am spending my time doing something because I know that whatever I focus my attention will manifest based on those things of which I have set as a priority.
Instead of saying, “I don’t have time,” I will say, “what am I willing to sacrifice to get this done? What am I willing to give up to do this?”
You don’t have to mention my name
Waste, not your resources
Carving my initials into the ground
Or on street signs and buildings
Not near corners
where future Martin Kings
Will sell dope and brawl
Until their quarrels leak
With the accidental stench of death
Over dice games
I’m sure King didn’t expect his memory
To be synonymous with the street
At which the next ghetto is named
Remember me not this way
Not on the front of your t-shirts
And flowers as if my nose can still
In your thoughts
You don’t even have to say my name
Build no fancy statues for me
Sing no sad songs
Remember me in ink
No need to write me down
Just write me down in ink
Admit that every time
I opened my mouth
the earth moved
that I did not sugar coat
the splitting of the sky
when it birthed the rain and that yes,
I drowned a time or two
be sure to mention my mistakes.
But at least you can say that with every base in my voice
I played the truth
and that with the thrashing
of every keyboard my fingers
exposed the secret
why every heart
If you are just following this blog (first, heeyyy shout out to you!!) you may not know that we had a blog podcast going on a couple years ago …
…but I noticed something devastating just now.
Okay, not that devastating. Obviously, it’s not that serious, haha
No, but okay. It kinda is.
Some of our episodes are missing!
In fact, I can’t find the FIRST episode (which was kinda the best one.)
What in all the world.
Soundcloud. That’s what.
I started this blog podcast as kind of extension of No Whining Wednesday, where I encourage you to not whine, criticize, or complain for a 24-hour period. (learn about that here)
The podcast was a series of inspirational episodes with each message no longer than 5-15minutes so you can listen and digest the message while driving home from work or doing daily tasks. Designed to be an audio version of the blog, I hoped to spill some hope into your life, one podcast at a time.
But I stopped…
I put a halt on the podcast because I didn’t see a big enough demand to justify paying for more space.
Sound cloud’s basic plan only allows for so much space. I was also paying to have the episodes distributed to iTunes and other platforms.
But I am now noticing that some of the earlier episodes are missing.
So blog, what should we do about this?
Should I relaunch the podcast and just promote it more?
At the moment there are 18 episodes linked to the podcast page but you will find some links won’t work. SoundCloud has removed those episodes to make room for more space. If you think I should continue, let me know!
Keep in mind that I am already over my limit by 15mins so I physically cannot upload more eps unless I upgrade to the Pro Account. This means the demand for this to continue must justify me paying for more space. If not, things will remain as they are.