A Discussion with Jordannah Elizabeth

Braving the Days, discussions

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Jordannah Elizabeth is an established writer, activist, and musician from Baltimore and has been a featured columnist with TERSE. since 2016. EIC M. Perle Tahat talked with her about the future of her column and also got a bonus reading list out of it. Check it out for yourself.

M. Perle Tahat: You’re a voracious reader and have blessed us with several reading lists throughout the course of your column. A difficult task, albeit one I will ask you to do–as I’m sure you could sense the lead up, is listing your favorite books from your repertoire. Would you mind telling readers your top 10?

Jordanah Elizabeth: Sure. My own library is pretty diverse. I actually have 15 favorites. My library isn’t that large, maybe about 150-200 books, give or take.  The order is not “favorite to least favorite” or vice versa. Some of these books have already been published in reading lists I’ve already compiled, but they are true loves of my personal library:

  • When and Where I Enter by Pauline Giddens
  • The Rosy Crucifixion by Henry Miller
  • The Secret Teachings of All Ages by Manly P. Hall
  • Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
  • Once by Alice Walker
  • Anarchy and the Sex Question by Emma Goldman
  • Masculinity Studies & Feminist Theory: New Directions edited by Judith Kegan Gardiner
  • Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines edited by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, China Martens and Mai’a Williams
  • This is How We Survive: Revolutionary Mothering, War, and Exiles in the 21st Century by Mai’a Williams (published January 1, 2019)
  • Hunger by Roxane Gay
  • Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human by Harold Bloom
  • Sound Figures by Theodor W. Adorno
  • Death Kit by Susan Sontag
  • The New New Journalism: Conversations with America’s Best Nonfiction Writers on Their Craft by Robert S. Boynton
  • Writing in Society by Raymond Williams

 

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M. Perle Tahat: What a holistic list. Your readings always vary widely and I learn a lot from what you share. On Publik/Private you present writerly encouragement and advice, introspection on topics you are passionate about, and generally allow us access to your intellectual and creative space. One of the reasons I admire you so much is your rounding of so many different spheres of life. You are also a traveling musician and local activist. What drives you to all of these pursuits? When did you start walking this path?

 

Jordannah Elizabeth: I’ve slowed down on touring and playing music for the last couple of years. It put a real toll on my body and I’ve taken time off to focus on my health and writing. But without the experience of being a long time, touring musician, I wouldn’t been a well rounded music writer. I can connect with musicians as a writer because I’ve lived the life and went through their daily struggles for a decade before I started writing full time.

I studied music history and classical vocals from age 16-21 and was always in choirs and chorus from grade school to high school. I don’t think I’ve ever shared this publicly but I played violin in school from age 5 or 6 to age 11.

As a singer/songwriter, I got my first guitar at 13 and played my first show around 17 or 18. I just took all I learned from school and from the music my family loved and made a name for myself as a musician just by sheer drive… of wanting to eat and have a roof over my head.  I also learned about promotions, booking and public relations, so I was able to promote myself pretty well. With all this said, writing and history have always been my main passion.

M. Perle Tahat: The bibliography of your writing career is a long one. If you had to direct readers to the favorite articles you’ve written so far: what would they be?

Jordannah Elizabeth

The Intersectionality of Believability

Sevens: Alice Coltrane – Transfiguration (Live, 1976)

Michelle Coltrane Is Glad Her Mother Alice’s Devotional Music Is Finally Getting Its Due

Dear Men of the Music Industry: You Can Do Better

The slow ascent of hip-hop and Black designers in the world of high fashion

 

M. Perle Tahat: In the past you’ve given us writings on esoteric topics, invaluable reading lists, and observations on social theory. What can readers expect from your column on TERSE. in the future?

Jordannah Elizabeth: My column, “Braving the Days at TERSE. allowed me some freedom to write about anything that was swirling in my subconscious in connection to my interaction with the outside world. I just plan to continue to do that. Sometimes, when you’re really thoughtful (meaning you think and observe a lot), it’s best not to overwhelm people close to you with your thoughts by always verbalizing them. Many times, people want to help or resolve a problem or give advice, which is a kind and natural thing to want to do for people you care about. But having a place express myself freely without fear of criticism, being misunderstood or worrying others is nice. I’m learning as I get older, saying less is more. Writing more…well, for now, it’s something that gives me some solace.

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A photo of Jordannah Elizabeth
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“Surface Tension” by Gary Hartley

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Image: Tracie Cheng

The oil has spilled and we know it is coming. It will not be contained. There will be no expertise right there where it happened and none when it arrives, because it is us here, just us, with no expertise. Beaches await dark blankets and dead feather beds.

Over there, the robots are heading our way, from inland and on planes and from the places that the majority can only describe in terms like ‘nowhere’. We have made eye contact but not acknowledged each other meaningfully. We reap some benefits at this point of course; they have not pulled their guns and we might well venture to imagine that they never will.

We comment more and more on things, often with tenuous-at-best grasp of said things. Mute, we type everything out. We ensure there is no nervous tension this way, no silences for our eyes to take in.

Soon, the water shadow is upon us, part of our lives. We cannot sit on beaches and sip fizzy drinks and hope for, if not the best, not the absolute worst things all at once.

Smaller and smaller issues we find worthy of commentary. We let nothing go unexpressed; grasping opinions and acceptable formats from what was once dead air. As we tap tap we flick glances at colleagues and rivals and that’s, naturally, the same thing.

The once-living creatures and the floating plastic bottles are now the same sort of ephemera, croutons in abandoned soup that no service industry staff member will be seen dead collecting on a tray for improved aesthetics.

We see the briar pit and we want so badly to stick in it, for the experience firstly, then to tell friends and strangers and strangers as proxy friends, maybe go on to pitch it as a long-form work. The effect of the sun’s rays on the semi-liquid blackness is beautiful in a way. We do not vocalise, mouths stuck in rigid ohs as we ponder the lexicon of disaster.

There will be no humans coming to take our jobs, nothing that convenient. We will not be able to shout at their strange languages and funny clothes. Hard loss pollutes memories, but there will be some recall of this as the epoch when we could have done the solidarity thing, but dodged it for reasons that seemed practical at the time.

Near-dead bird can’t fan off the gloomy gloop, wings now in the hands of those flight non-experts that can be bothered with ideas as old as intervention. Solvents in the water, nothing ever solved but we pass comment, of course. Takes so hot the soles of our shoes melt, molecules creeping towards a water-bound family reunion of sorts.

Slip slapping in as ever, the sea, stoic in just another of its doomsdays. They say the ship’s been plugged. The robots don’t mind either way as they stare into mirrors, aspiring for more convincing emotional reactions. Their makers say the loving machines will clean up messes in future, there will be nothing like this, this all-too human thing. Their creations nod and smile; practice could possibly make perfect. The only sticking point might be price, but we’ll cross that smart bridge when we’ve coded it.

It never mattered that we had no expertise. That ship had sunk and the library had long shut. Not in my day, those thoughts and words that came before, those laughable irrelevances. Speak now or forever something bad. We comment and comment again, wondering if there’s an economic angle to this paragraph or the next. Everyone else is thinking the same thing. We might write about that too – shrink-wrap the new news, string it out to whatever word count is vogue.

It is what it is and a dozen or so other stock phrases for courage. Keep eyes closed, leave all communication devices on the sleeker-than-ever-before sand and do what’s necessary. The time for stepping in was yesterday and you blew it in a long, bad conversation – the only way is out. We walk into the oily water, watery oil, first ankle then waist-deep. The gloopy weight feels a bit like armbands, meaning it’s that time again. It’s time to wonder if it’s OK to feel reassured.

ENDS

 

 

 

 

Gary W. Hartley is from Leeds, but has lived elsewhere for some time. He used to co-edit The Alarmist magazine, and has a book of poems out on Listen Softly London Press. He communicates into the digital void via Twitter: @garyfromleeds