Today is my 34th birthday. I was born at 2:25 pm. My mom was watching a basketball game just before pushing me into the world. That was a long time ago.
33. This was my Jesus year and while I'm not sure what to make of that, I want to share with you things I might have kept close to my chest this year. Most of this didn't show up in my work or on social media but it happened. All of it. I release it all here. You are my witness.
Just before my birthday last year, the Donald became a daily reminder of all the terrible things in America, a horror show just beginning. I remember sitting at my friend Christen's loft in sheer horror on election night. I stayed there longer than I intended to, my spirit was stuck. Nothing felt safe anymore. It seemed like we had returned to a time I had only read and hear about.
My semi-serious relationship had recently ended but we still talked most days. We weren't ready to be done but both knew it would end. That relationship in many ways did not bring out the best in me. I don't recommend dating anyone who begins to make you feel uncomfortable in your skin or is subtly controlling.
I spent most of November and some of December in New York. I slept in my friend Venessa's bed for a month. She was gracious as I overstayed my expected departure. I rarely went outside, I was furiously attempting to launch a fundraising campaign and Venessa lives in a 5th-floor walk up and it was cold AF outside. I'd find out on that trip that my sister's marriage was ending and my good friend's boyfriend had betrayed her. When I arrived home in mid-December I was in full-on fundraising mode for Sister Support, the non-profit I am President of. I had a new board of amazing women to guide and a year of programming to plan. I was excited and overwhelmed, full of pride and scared AF that I couldn't pull everything I was working on off. I worked tirelessly. There was so much going on. Over the next few months at the Warehouse on Prime (HQ of Sister Support and my home), we hosted so many events. Trybe for an 80 person Shabbat dinner, Traci fest- where over 250 people showed up to celebrate poet, Traci Akemi Kato-Kiriyama's clean bill of health after fighting cancer. We did an event around body love called "In My Skin" and celebrated ourselves, these bodies, in a community. We partnered with Culture Honey and screened "13th" and hosted a dynamic panel discussion. In March, I met Elias Matar, an international volunteer, and filmmaker, who shared his experiences and the stories of those stuck in the Syrian War. My heart cracked open. I spent countless hours strategizing on how to aid him in his mission to return to Lebanon to sustain a village of 800 people. I spent so many days thinking about that for $30 a family of six can be fed for a month. I found myself frustrated that my community here seemed to be glazing over from all the crazy going on in the world. There has been so much to mourn but we are still living.
I met Shana Tucker. This brilliantly kind soul who feels like home. Shana plays cello and sings something wonderful. We became fast friends and collaborated to put on a concert benefiting Syrian refugees. She gathered a group of amazing musicians and the show was everything I hoped it would be.
Summer: I declared summer17 my "summer of fun." I made a calendar and invited folks to fill it up. This was prompted by the realization that I'm a fun person but I rarely do fun activities. My whole life is my art and while it is moving at times... fun it not really a way most people would describe the things I create. So I went to sky zone and hung out with boys I would typically ignore. I went to nearly everything I was invited to. I let life get less structured and there was something lovely about simply going with the flow.
I started producing a web-based series, Key Dialogues. Kidogo, Devonna and I dedicated hours to mold educational conversations about race and gender. I decided to no longer wait for someone else's money to fund a project but to make the shit I want in the world.
My car couldn't pass smog because, well... a 16-year-old Volvo that I rarely maintained needed some love that I didn't give it. It couldn't be registered. Suddenly, I needed a new car. I wanted something affordable, great on gas and not old. My mom and I searched, we found nothing acceptable. I finally decided I wanted a Prius but couldn't find one. Frustration was beginning to set in when my mom calls and says "I have good news, I found your car and I'm buying it for you." LIKE WHAT? We went that day and I drove off the lot in Attitude Black. A few days later, I joined my favorite gym, Everybody. I got an offer to join Street Poets, as their lead Teaching Artist. I was in a groove, I was feeling my inner power bitch blossoming. Everything had come together and then the following Friday I was coming back from the gym and there was a note on the door of The Warehouse saying we had 30 days to move. The Warehouse was my home, my creative space, a community hub, a space I had manifested and built and suddenly it was all being displaced with no explanation and no communication.
I lived every single second of the following weeks. I barely slept. I was furiously trying to gather information and strategize an uncertain future. Every plan had to be pushed to a future I could not promise. The Sister Support Board jumped in, we all worked together to pack everything up and move our belongings to storage. We moved out 16 days early, there was no point in staying some place the owner wasn't even decent enough to have a conversation after 3 years of our loyalty. I felt so betrayed, the space was no longer a place I felt safe but like a place I needed to race beyond.
I found us a new home, a beautiful community space but it would not be ready for a month and a half. It was not a live/work space so I needed to find a new place to live. I found a place around the corner from our new office but it would not be available until mid-December... so home to my family I went.
For the last month in a half, I have shared my childhood home with my mom, sister, four-year-old nephew and two-year-old niece. Every aspect of my life is new or in transition. My room is small and overfilled with all the wonderful things that have made my life comfortable. It is rarely quiet. My creativity has no space to form. My desk is too small for all my ideas so I've put them in boxes, hoping soon I'll get to come back to them.
Today is my birthday. I have come to accept that my life is unconventional. I don't have medical insurance, I have no desire to have kids nor does marriage interest me. I like working in the middle of the night and going to sleep at 7 am. I crave freedom and creativity. I love long drives with the windows down and the music loud. I don't know if I'll ever fall in love again but my 20's gave me so much. Everything is in transition right now. I have no idea where most of my possessions are. My mother tells me she thinks I'm brilliant, my niece yells my name with her arms above her head like I'm her favorite person, I haven't written a poem I'm proud of in months but I'm alive, you know. I hope at 34 I get to kiss someone that makes my skin come alive. I hope I reconnect with friends that I love but have become too busy to maintain a relationship with. I hope my career becomes breathtaking. I want to work on things that truly matter. I want to use my voice, these gifts, my time to make the universe proud. I want a lover I want to call, a lover who looks at me like I'm incredible, a lover I proudly hold hands with in public and share truths with in private. I want real, good times, with real good people. I want to be invited places by people I respect and admire. I want to amaze myself. Next year at this time, I want to say "damn, girl you did all that and more."
Thank you for being on this wild ride with me. Thank you for your positive thoughts and messages. Thank you for sharing my work. Thank you for buying my poetry and supporting my work. I'm so grateful for all the ways I am loved. I hope to grow beyond my wildest dreams and yours for me.
Mine and yours,
Natalie J. Patterson
November 13, 2017 - Los Angeles.