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What The Kudzu Taught Me About Gratitude

Image: Janet Moore-Coll

Outside the window of my apartment what should be Fall still wreaks of Summer, in the moment I am sure that there is a magic here in Mississippi by which nothing that should be dead is. This is of course, deeply untrue, but gratitude has a way of magnifying a moment until only the gratitude is true regardless of context. Anyway both me and everything outside my window are alive and I’m grateful for that as the wind stirs a tree covered in Kudzu until even the tree drowning seems like something holy.

Funnily, it is less the cotton that shocks me about my recently transplanted life here in the South than it is the Kudzu, “the vine strangling the South”, this benevolence that grew thousands of wanting teeth. I mean to say that Kudzu, like me is also an migrant to this place that is not perhaps our place. Unlike me, the Kudzu does not care, the broad green leaves are everywhere taking up all the sun, making everything look alive. The kudzu is how I fear I have always looked (hungry, ungrateful, ambitious, a whole lineage of “too much”, so decidedly “not from here” that the light can sting your eyes) and it is a fear that is magnified here in the South, in the program, in my mind this place that is not my place historically.

I mean this, even when I am welcomed somewhere I feel uneasy, out of place, like a very pretty strain of weeds. I do feel welcomed here but I am still learning how to welcome myself. I have spent a long time coming to this conclusion and it is something I revisit time and again as friends from back home text or call and ask how “everything is going” here so far. In the moment I am a spectator to my own voice, I say “Everything is great, I’m so grateful to be here” before I can even finish registering the question. For the most part, everything is, so it is not a lie but I say it even when I am trying desperately to make sense of how I can be both grateful and exhausted by all my responsibilities.

I am even now as I write this, afraid to look ungrateful when I am just so aware of how lucky I am to be in the room even when the room is mine and has always been mine. I have been struggling with how to say “No, I can’t do that right now” or “No, that’s not what I want” or “No, I don’t want to go” for fear of looking like the ungrateful Black kid I’ve been called directly and indirectly. My mouth is the kudzu and the tree all at once; how could anything that green, so far from home, ever not being saying “thank you” all the time?

I said in my last post for the MFA Years that I have suffered from depression, anxiety, white spaces that did not want me and now I have a predominantly, historically white space that wants me and I don’t know often what to make of that some days. I am thankful but I have never known thanks without shrinking like something aware that it will be plucked when its body becomes inconvenient. Scarcity is a hell of a drug. And perhaps that is the core of it, I still am reconciling the kid who got kicked out of college for being inconvenient to help and being the grad student that still tastes foreign as an introduction to who I am and what I do now; I have been two people this year and neither is dead in the heat of what still looks like Summer.

I am trying still to find my rhythm here, to let myself be tired when I am tired, turn off my phone on Tuesdays to spend the day reading and researching and be honest about when I am sick. I have had success in unlearning the narrative that I am arrogant for saying what I need in order to be successful, to let a few side hustles go because they’re not what serves me. I am learning more and more how to make that a priority, this serving of myself. I don’t know what success looks like, but I know the process feels like the good strain of a pair of legs devouring miles on a road wreathed by unapologetic leaves.

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