Thinker Thursdays - Come Along and Ride on Fantastic Voyage!
Happy Thursday Readers and Writers! It’s Amli, your everyday Lightworker from the Life-in-10 Minutes Community.
Life in 10 is an actual (and now virtual) space where readers, writers, thinkers and be-ers from all over the world commune to manage…wait for it… life!
Usually, I give my followers here on Medium (and in the Life in 10 community) some thing to think about; and I ask that you write about it for 10 minutes. (Like we do at Life in 10 Minutes!) But today, I am doing a lil something different. I got a story here, (kinda spooky, true too!) that I started at life in 10. This story is a major part of my healing journey.
I’ve always used my writing as a tool to heal from childhood traumas and family traumas, (which are really ancestral traumas.) When you begin studying your ancestry (as I have on Ancestry.com and other places), you begin to recognize certain ancestral patterns. You are able to, (as the Shrinks say) reframe them, or as Erin Lesson Mahone would say restory them… in 10 minutes!
Well…here yall go! Enjoy this Fantastic Voyage!
I am not an adventurer by choice but by fate, and feeling nowhere so much myself a stranger as in my family and country
- Vincent Van Gogh
Come on y’all, let’s all take a ride
Don’t say shit just get inside
It’s time to take your ass on another kind of trip
Cause you can’t have the hop if you don’t have the hip
You got to have heart though, if you wanna go
Watch this sweet chariot swing low
Ain’t nobody crying, ain’t nobody dying
Ain’t nobody worried, everybody’s trying
Come along and ride on a Fantastic Voyage!
Prisons and Plantations
I had been in prison…a psychological prison of my own creation…and finally I was getting out. My crime? Ego tripping a little too hard. Power blows up the ego and destroys the soul.
It was my brother who had constructed this invisible prison for me. Perhaps he was trying to help me. I got that idea from Stacey, my girl who can work the fuck out of a tarot deck. She suggested that the cards said, Orion might have done me a favor.
I don’t know what kind of favor that could have possibly been. Damn near burning down my house, trying to destroy my dreams. That hardly seemed like a fucking favor to me. But what did I know?
Life is just so strange and mysterious. We never really know what’s going on, because there is the surface, that we can all see that pretty clearly. A house on fire is a house on fire. But there’s also all this unseen, that we hardly ever notice, unless given proper direction.
Erin, the official warden, made the announcement: Time served. You’re free to go. Angelia, Sandy, Melissa, Julie and Suzanne had been deputies effectively guarding the entrances and exits. They opened doors and they closed them, but I never got to walk through any of them. Apparently, though, it was time. Angelia jangled some metaphysical keys, clicked my door wide open and handed me a basket of tomatoes, saying, “you’re going to need proper nourishment for your trip.” Sandy, said, “don’t forget what I taught you, make proper and meaningful lists.”
Suzanne offered this advice, “Mothers are the trickiest, but still, they deserve their due.” And Maya, who came from outta nowhere, quietly whispered “the door to the 4th dimension is open, walk that way, if you’re ready.”
Clearly I wasn’t ready. My phone was dead, and I had no way to get home. At this point in my life, I wasn’t even sure where or what home was anymore.
But Melissa, ever the helper, offered me a ride to the place where I was staying. And she said, “I’m going to go through the park, because that’s probably the best way.”
And this park! I’d never seen it before, but it was compelling to me.
I asked Melissa, “What is this place?””
She said, “Byrd Park.”
I made a note of that, and I would be back and soon. It was important. I didn’t know why.
Once I settled in at my place, I was stunned by the feeling of emancipation. What to do with this freedom? Earlier that day, my girlfriend Tamika, from Woodbridge had called. She wanted to come down to Richmond because it had been a hard day, hard week, hard year. So I told her sure! Come on!
When she arrived in Richmond, I said, “I know just the thing! There’s this exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts: Awaken: A Tibetan Buddhist Journey Toward Enlightenment.
We met at the museum. I was excited to give her this little bit of relief, or distraction, meditation, whatever you want to call it. The exhibit was a strange combination of many things.
There was chanting, other worldly sounds, illusory images of our alleged real world…like the Plato cave allegory. Digital bits against the wall or in a fractured reflection. Next, there were all these weird Tibetan Gods, with their skull cups filled with blood and guts. They held daggers and axes and violent things in their multitude of arms, standing on multiple legs, usually with a female sister God riding them. In a new styled, Andy Warhol type of Tibetan Pop art, I found a blue penis. I pointed it out to Tamika. She hadn’t even noticed it. I wondered how she missed it. These strange Tibetan Gods were all arms and legs and body parts and sex and the confrontation with the ultimate fear, that took many forms and faces — but it was always death.
Could death be defeated? That was the ultimate question.
Then, there was a bright white room… with nothing. Nothing except and the buddha…it was surreal.
And then, after all of that, there’s just you, just you. Like Wow.
Tamika enjoyed the exhibit. I think she even liked it more than me…
Upstairs they were featuring a live jazz performance. I was feeling it! I just wanted to sing and dance and cry! I was finally free!
But…this day wasn’t supposed to be about me. Tamika was insistent.
“I’ve got to get to that Aquarian bookstore, and it closes in 25 minutes, can we go, now? I need to get book on contacting the ancestors.”
Voodoo Hoodoo and What Ancestors?
Oh boy…I hated when black Americans wanted to go down this rabbit hole. I wanted to tell them, Fuck our ancestors. If they could have done a goddamn thing for us, they would have, certainly by now. The smart ones flew the fuck back to Africa and left the rest of us for dead. But, she’d had a hard day, a hard year, a hard life, just like every other black woman in America…and I was her friend, so I would humor her with this bullshit.
Back in my car, Tamika found a tarot deck that I’d been meaning to send off to Stacey.
“Oh Look! The tarot, do you mind if I take a peek?”
Actually, I did. Because technically, they weren’t my cards. I’d damaged a few cards in Stacey’s deck, so I needed to replace them. But Tamika’s hands were all over what was supposed to be Stacey’s new deck…and as serious as Stacey took her witchy shit, I could not give her a deck that had been touched by a stranger. So, I sighed and replied,
“Sure, have at it”
I really didn’t believe in this stuff, tarot, witches, contacting ancestors. It wasn’t that I didn’t think life was metaphysical…I did. I just didn’t need any of that stuff., I’d been studying A Course in Miracles, for many years now; and I knew how to get a miracle. Study that text…it works.
I just had to love. No really. I mean truly, purely, unconditionally love, just like Jesus did. It’s that simple. But girl. Keeping that kind of love going…in this world? It’s nearly impossible.
Tamika and I entered the Aquarian…I too loved these quirky kinds of stores. The crystals, the metaphysical books, the wind chimes. This stuff was my kind of thing, I eyed a Tibetan bowl, as I noticed a young black girl, rushing in with purpose.
She ran to the back of the store, to this area that I imagined was supposed to look like a voodoo shack on the side of a dusty Louisiana road. I had noticed it that last time I’d been at the Aquarian. That section was filled with candles, incense, ridiculous potions. Some voodoo Santa Maria shit. I didn’t believe in any of that stuff…it was just ridiculous, so I shifted my attention back to the books and bowls. The girl had bought something….she walked slowly to the front entrance of the store, but then, she quickly doubled back to the shack in a panic, and asked,
“But what if I don’t want him to go!”
Then I heard this voice say,
“Girl! You betta make up yo mind!”
That voice reminded me of my grandma, my mother’s mother…who would say things to me like,
“Girl! If you don’t, you betta!”
I was a smart ass. So when my grandma would say this to me, I wanted to say,
“That don’t make no sense grandma. It’s a stupid thing to say.”
But, I didn’t dare. Whenever I spoke to my grandma sassily, I’d get in trouble. I’d be told I had too much mouth and would get slapped in it, if I didn’t watch it. I was being disrespectful.
“Respect your elders!”
It was a blasphemy to do otherwise. And besides, I knew exactly what she meant…if you don’t you better meant: don’t do that…or by all means you must do that. It actually depended on the context and her tone….and I actually liked the paradox of the phrase…if you don’t… you better.
I wanted to see this woman who reminded me of my Grandma…long since gone…I’d be lying if I said I missed her…our relationship was, well let’s just say, complex.
“I’m gonna whip ya, now go and get me a switch, off the tree.”
Even though I was only five, I was thinking, like, who does this! Who tells a five-year-old, that they are going to beat them, and demands that they go and get the instrument that will inflict the harm? Honestly, I thought my grandma was fucking crazy, but in a large extended family, at that time about 50 members deep, I seemed to be the only one. My grandma was revered, like she was a queen…I often tried to play the role of jester, in grandma’s court…and while sometimes it worked…many times it did not.
I looked into that section of the store, and initially I saw no one. No one at all. But I knew what I had heard. So, with a little bit of trepidation, I walked closer to the voodoo shack, and noticed a woman sitting behind a counter. She actually looked nothing like my grandma. She was heavy set, holding a big wooden bowl, stirring something up in it. She was wearing loose, humble, peasant type clothing. She seemed to be blind, with other health issues as she was toting around some kind of medical device that was offering crucial assistance, I think oxygen.
I was intrigued… was this for real? It couldn’t be real! Initially, I thought the voodoo shack thing was so hokey…but this lady, looked like she was straight off of a Hollywood voodoo film set…and yet…something about her seemed 100% authentic.
Tamika began asking her questions about conjuring. I wanted to interject, for the love of God, Tamika, would you stop with this shit! The woman began asking Tamika all kinds of questions in return, and when it became clear that Tamika had no idea what she was talking about or doing, the woman replied,
“Chile, you need a teacher, or you’re gonna hurt yourself!”
I nodded emphatically, yes, agreeing with Ms. Voodoo lady. I mean, I don’t believe in this stuff, mainly because I don’t understand it. But I also think that you should not play with things that you don’t understand either.
The bookstore was closing, and Tamika and I gathered up our purchases. We went to the register to pay for them. Tamika was pleased with her Voodoo book, and said to me,
“I’ve got an idea, why don’t we go somewhere peaceful and use the tarot to try and contact the ancestors.”
What? What was all this we stuff? I didn’t want to talk to my ancestors. I had written all those fuckers off long ago! I was getting defensive. I wanted to be a smart ass and say something along the lines of:
“How in the hell are we gonna contact our African ancestors using this Pagan, European, tarot.”
And I didn’t like the European tarot. It was so fucking creepy. We now lived in a world where we had an endless array of choices, and there were all kinds of tarot. Our mutual friend Nichii had at least 20 decks. She’d say to Tamika and I, “find one that speaks to you.”
We’d all get together, with a bottle of wine, write down our burning questions, and pull cards from a multitude of decks, trying to get answers; Should I date this guy, or that one? Will I marry again? What should I do about the problems in my marriage? When is my business really going to take off? Should I buy a house? Will I get that new job I really want.
You know those kinds of questions. Pretty basic shit.
But, now Tamika, was taking things to this whole other level. I did not want to do this, contact the ancestors, African voodoo shit, with those weird ass, European tarot cards. The traditional tarot had stuff in it that looked like those scary Tibetan gods. They were all death and sex, and fear and pain. No thank you, I wanted to say to Tamika. Instead, I said,
“I know just the spot”
The African Drums
I put Byrd Park in my GPS, and took off. What can I say, I’m a good friend. We arrived at the park at dusk…I spread out a blanket and looked around. This place seemed mystical.
As we sat down on the blanket, Tamika pulled out the tarot deck and began shuffling. Somewhere off in the distance someone was playing some African drums. I thought to myself…what an odd coincidence. Tamika said,
“Do you hear those African drums?”
Awe struck, I responded, “I do”
Tamika shuffled the tarot cards, and asked me,
“So, what do you want to ask our ancestors?”
I wanted to say, Tamika, I don’t really have nothing to say to them bitches! Tamika knew the issues that I had with my mother, and my mother’s mother. I really didn’t want to get into it, but instead I said,
“I don’t know where to start, so let’s just do a basic pull, past present and future.”
We ended up pulling the Knight of Cups, reversed, Five of cups and the Knight of wands.
Tamika asked, “Does this mean anything to you?”
I had no idea what any of these damn cards meant.
“I think these messages are for you.”
Tamika pointed to the first card, which was supposed to represent the past and said,
“Okay well, take out the book and see what that one means.”
I did as she instructed.
“It’s the Knight of Cups. You sure you want to hear this?”
She asked anxiously,
“Well what does it say,”
I hesitated before reading it to her, “Disappointment, mourning, loss and sorrow, lingering gloom and heartache”
Tamika interrupted me,
“Stop! just stop, stop right there! I can’t take any more bad news.
And see this is why I didn’t like fucking with the European tarot.
“I been pulling cards all week, and they all look like these cards…and yet intuitively, my ancestors are telling me, we got you, so chill bitch, surrender to the flow.”
I responded, “Well, Tamika that sounds like what you should do…the more you try to change the cards by pulling them, the more frustrated you will get.”
I was relieved. Now maybe we could do something else, like wish upon a star. Tamika said,
“Let’s reshuffle, I want you to talk to your ancestors.”
Jesus! She was so fucking determined to talk to some African ancestors…she didn’t even care whose they were. But I did.
“Look Tamika, I don’t want to talk to my ancestors. They were all I mean bitter bitches, who ain’t gonna never have nothing nice to say to me.”
Tamika was shaking her head, “It couldn’t have been all bad Amber.”
“Yes it was! Let me tell you this story about my grandmother…she used to watch us, all the grandkids, and but she would stay seated in this big reclining chair, where she kept herself surrounded with all these goodies, like bags of Peppermint patties, and fruit candies, sodas, and of course her switch. Do you know what she would do when I would ask her for a peppermint Pattie?
“She would unwrap it, take a bite, chew it slowly, swallow it and respond — no.”
Tamika thought this was hysterical. I was annoyed,
“It’s not funny Tamika! It’s crazy.”
“It sounds like she was power distancing.”
That sounded interesting, I asked,
“What the fuck is power distancing?”
“You know it’s when someone tries to make you feel like, you’re beneath them, or that they are better than you. You’re not on their level.”
“Yes! That is exactly what she was doing! And like who does that? To a child, no less. And it really made no sense to me as a child because, at my grandfather’s house, on my father’s side, there were literally candy dishes all over the house. I was free to grab a handful of chocolate candy whenever I wanted. I could not, for the life of me understand why that woman was being so mean to me”
“Well at least you had balance. Why don’t you ask your grandmother about this? Pull some cards on it.”
Tamika was beginning to really annoy me. But okay, fine, we’d play her little game.
I asked aloud, very sarcastically,
“Grandma…why were you such a mean bitter bitch to me?”
I pulled the cards; and she was answering me the way a mean bitter bitch would. The cards showed two children groveling at the feet of an adult, and a green Empress, looking haughty.
“Does this mean anything to you”?
Yes! It’s the same shit Tamika! This is just who she was or is. I mean she’s dead and she’s still being a mean bitter bitch. Like God! Enough.”
“Just because people die, doesn’t mean they change who they are.”
I signed heavily, I was so tired of carrying the crazy dysfunction of both sides of my family…bipolar crazies on one side, a slave plantation on the other…
Jesus! When would all of this end? Not even in death, apparently.
“Look, I see you aren’t happy with these cards, why don’t you pull some clarifying cards.”
I did…but it was just more. The cards were showing, conflict, strife, greed, corruption…the tower, fuck! The tower is one of those cards you really don’t want to pull…and then justice.
“Do these cards make sense to you?” Tamika asked.
“Yes. I somberly replied.”
“Well it’s the same shit I’ve been battling my entire life. I don’t need these cards to show this shit. I know it already. I’m sick of it.”
“Well…at least you got the justice card, that’s good right?”
“No, because that’s me! I bring the justice and I’m sick of it.”
“Well, close your eyes…and ask them why are they like that, Amber, surely they must have their reasons.”
So, I closed my eyes and I thought about all those female ancestors, living and deceased, I thought of my mother and her two sisters, Mittie and Judy. I thought of my grandma Rose and her two sisters Artie and Anne. They were actually bringing me answers, but I didn’t like them.
I opened my eyes and sighed. I said to Tamika,
“I want out of this family.”
“Well what did they say?”
“They said yes, were were mean bitter bitches, but no, we are not sorry. We did what we had to do to survive.”
“Well that makes sense.”
I screamed back at Tamika, “No it does not!”
Somberly, she replied, “Yes it does.”
And then Tamika looked at me, very pointedly, very direct, almost like my grandmother used to, when she wanted to make herself very clear about something. And then she said,
“No one is going to be sorry for surviving.”
Okay…I’d had enough. I said to Tamika,
“I gotta get home. Tomorrow I have to drive to North Carolina for my family reunion, which is being held on, get this, an actual slave plantation…because just psychologically being there wasn’t good enough. And so…I need to get some rest for the drive…and prepare myself mentally for all the bullshit.”
We said our goodbyes and promised to meet up again and soon.
A Praying Mantis Means What?
I went home, went to sleep and got up the next day dragging I really did not want to go to this event…I never did, and my husband asked me,
“So why are you going?”
The answers were complex…obligation, responsibility, expectation, trying to do the right thing. My mother is my mother. Despite all the insanity and dysfunction, she had sacrificed a lot for me. I did owe her something. I just wished to God I could figure out what.
I went to wash myself up, but as I opened the bathroom door, , “Aaaaaaaah!”
My husband asked,
“What the fuck is wrong with you?”
I pleaded, “Come look at this…and then make it go away!”
It was huge…it looked like a five-inch-long grasshopper…except it was bright green…instead of a dirty brown.
My husband said…”That’s a praying mantis.”
“Why is on the door and so damn big?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, aren’t you going to get rid of it?”
“I’m not messing with that Amber!
“God, you’re such a punk!”
We really didn’t believe in killing things, if we could help it…so I just had to move it, certainly there was a nice, nonviolent way of getting rid of this thing.
I just needed to ask the real oracle of our day, Google. As I popped Praying Mantis into the search engine, I came across, a website, California Psychics — Angel Guides and Praying Mantis sightings.
Angel guides? Now that sounded interesting…I clicked on it. It said praying mantises were totem animals with special meaning, especially in Asian culture. According to Asian folklore seeing a praying mantis meant that you needed to chill, relax, slow down and meditate…cause something was up, and you needed to be prepared
But in African culture, the mantis had a very different meaning. I almost got chills as I read it. For the Africans, finding a praying mantis in your house meant that the Ancestors were present.
This really did happen in August of 2019. That weekend of my family reunion, my ancestors were present. I had an extremely powerful spiritual experience with them, that I have only barely begun to put into words. I had to process it first.
I intend to write about the experience in short story collection, entitled, The Fantastic Voyage. I began this short story at Life in 10 Minutes, and those mentioned at the beginning of the story are my Life in 10-Minutes classmates and teacher, Erin. They did in fact see me off on a magical metaphysical and mystical journey. Come take a class at Life in 10, in fact come take it with me! Finding Yourself and Your People: Exploring Identity and Ancestry, starts February 24, 2021 at 7 pm. Sign up and You just might get sent on such a journey too.