Featuring the story of Meysha Harville
"Change Ya Life Up if Ya Let Me" by Meysha Harville and Josh Ching
Theme song by Shelby Easley
Produced and edited by Linnea Ingalls
Shelby Easley (sung):
She is Fire
She is Flame
She has a Voice
She has a name
She is fearless
She has seen years
And if you don’t know
She is Fierce
CESSA: Hello and welcome to She is Fierce!
LINNEA: Stories from the female and gender queer perspective.
C: The podcast. In case you didn't listen to the first episode but are now going to listen to the second one, She is fierce: stories from the female gender queer perspective is a storytelling show that currently exists in Seattle and now is a podcast -
L: Oo lala!
C: Oo lala! And we tell stories of people who are female or gender queer identified individuals and those individuals tell their own stories in a way that makes sense to them. And they also sometimes get an opportunity to collaborate with different artists. And this is our second podcast episode
L: Welcome to our second podcast episode. Cessa - cessa, where are you at right now?
C: I am closet in Washington DC. And also in case you didn't listen to the first episode, my name is Cessa Betancourt, my pronouns are she and her.
L: My name is Linnea Ingalls, and my pronouns are she and her.
C: We are very far away from each other right now, Linnea, where are you?
L: I am not in a closet, but I am in Seattle, which is kind of like a closet. It's dark, it's dark here.
C: Yes it is. It's called the closet in the United States. So we're storytelling show. And now a podcast. And each storytelling show that we do live typically has a theme. And we did - our first episode was the entire show of our "Firsts", our very first show. It was all of the stories - but we're actually going to switch up the format a little bit. And now we're going to do one story per episode, so we'll get to release- release one story per episode and you'll get to sort of focus on one person at a time.
L: So for our very second episode we'll be sharing the story of Meysha with you all. Meysha is from Youngstown, Ohio.
C: Yes, Meysha Harville. She's absolutely wonderful. She's an educator, writer, musician and spoken word artists. And this story is from our "Secrets" show- the theme was Secrets- that we had in April 2019 in Seattle. And Linnea, what, what's resonating for you right now about the theme of secret?
L: Ooo. What kind of secrets do I have? Uhm, keeping with the theme of what I, you know, I talked about last time, which if you didn't hear the first episode, I talked about the first time I pooped my pants.. My secret when I was in kindergarten was that I thought that if I didn't say excuse me when I farted that God would punish me. And so every time I farted in kindergarten, I would whisper very silently to myself: "Excuse me"
C: Only for you and God.
L: Only for me and God. Absolutely. Hey, what is your - what's, what kind of secret are you thinking about right now?
C: That is amazing. I feel like, I feel like I - both of these themes have just made me think of childhood. And one thing that comes to mind, especially cuz it's Christmas time right now, or like holiday time, is that I get made fun of a lot because I believed in Santa Claus until I was like 13 years old.
L: I forgot about that!
C: But it's like a weird, it's like a secret that you keep, but to be kind to your child. It's like you're lying to them, but for a like, nice reason. And I remember I - it was because I had put a tooth under my pillow and I hadn't told my mom because I why would I? Cuz I thought the tooth fairy just knew. And then I was like, Mom, the tooth fairy didn't come! And she was like, Oh, I have to tell you something. And she like sat me down and was like, Well you're going into middle school so I need to tell you this. And she told me that Santa wasn't real and I was so devestated by that information. And little baby Cessa was just like weeping, and she just kept being like, well, didn't you like wonder at some point because both my siblings when they were like six were like, wait, Santa's not real, right and like, moved on with their lives, but I just kept believing. And my response was, well, I didn't think that you would lie to me. And she was - she just like was like, Oh my god, you're completely right. That's horrible.
L: That's betrayal. Wow,
C: It is. True betral.
L: And your mother is one of the nicest people I think that has ever existed on the face of planet Earth.
C: She's a true gem. But she did lie to me for 13 years and told me that large man came down my chimney to give me presents for Christmas. Because that's what we do to be kind to our, to our children. Anyway, so we're very excited to share with you Meysha's story. We hope you enjoy it here is Meysha Harville from our secrets show.
MEYSHA: Good Evening. I have some instructions for your journey & listenership tonight. Listen closely. Laugh when uncomfortable. You will hear a series of pieces written by a sad black girl about her obsession with death and the secrets it reveals. While sad, this sad black girl is multifaceted, so THIS is just a snapshot on. How do I know you want to hear this?
This just in: “Black deaths have gone up 78% in searches on every major search engine.
Lucky for you, you will only have to view this through the safety of the theatre, and the many screens you have at your disposal: tv screens, privilege screens, I don’t see color screens, and of course the ever necessary: “i don’t believe black women’s pain screens” But Please above all else. Remember this is NOT, this is NOT, This is not for your entertainment.
I forced myself to read my mother’s death certificate.
I had to read it over and over and over and over.
After a while I’d memorized parts of it. Would call them to mind randomly, not so randomly.
Time of death: 9:50pm
How somebody told me
that if she had not been shot in the head, her heart was strong enough to have made it.
How long it took her organs to decide that life could no longer fill her bullet riddled Body.
My mother taught me to walk before She died.
I know this because my sisters told me.
My mother with the strong heart.
I wish I could remember what being held by her feels like.
what her Heart may have sounded like
With my head pressed against her chest.
Alive and beating
Are you allowed to mourn your mother if you only have pieces of memories that are more borrowed than anything.
Imagine what I was doing at the exact moment her heart stopped
I wonder if I even knew.
No one bothers to explain death to a toddler.
They baby talk to you crying
No one explains dying.
There is a lot of sighing that happens around death
at 2 I took in a deep breath and held it.
For 20 years i have been holding my breath
What death does to the living is disgustingly and grotesquely fucked up.
And I am obsessed with it.
-i wish i knew the difference between when my secrets are being exploited and when i’m being genuinely listened to. As people we are naturally just so curious. That inevitably there are questions. Which means there’s also askers.
You’ve probably been an asker
You hear of someone having a loved one pass away and you immediately, without hesitating say: “how did it happen, if you don’t mind me asking” or “how did they die, if you don’t mind me asking”. You’ve never thought of it as rude or too pressing. It’s just your natural curiosity that leads you to asking. You want to know. I mean really know. I’ve gotten down my answer really good for the askers, but it’s taken me years of discomfort and anger to get it right. Now I say: “My parents were murdered. My mom when I was 2 and my dad when I was 7”.
I say it that way because when I just used to say that they died, folks weren’t satisfied. THey’d assume a dual accident of some sort took our parents from us. So I added that they were murdered, to be more clear. Since you have to with the askers. You owe them every piece of the story that they feel, once heard and explained would then answer or unlock some wondering or mystery about you that they’d been struggling with. Man, you cannot even imagine the fun I have had while people squirmed and twisted themselves around every question that they had ready to fire from their crusty, rude ass lips. “Wait, murdered?! Oh, I’m so sorry. Wait..how? If you…don’t mind..me asking??” They need to know. They just have to have that juicy information about me. It’s not real to them. The only real thing most people who have lived a life untouched by acts of violence and murder can connect my life to is a Law & Order episode. Or a movie.
Movies and books love to romanticize the story of parents dying. A fiery car crash is usually how it happens. Oh bummer! Now the protagonist in the story gets to have a coming of age tale while you read on satisfied with this bullshit portrayal of how the absence of parents due to violent means really fucking feels. It is a repeated pain that only dulls and then spikes but never goes away.
Kind of like a toothache. But more death filled. Less tooth achy, more death achy.
Talking about aches and pains always reminds me of my grandmother. She’d say had ol arthur, when talking about her arthritis. She loved to tell me about her new aches and pains. She’d say: “don’t get old like me Meysha child. I got arthur in my hips, my knees, and my neck been painin me. “ but man...She had this strength. Ooowee. Well you know. Everyone always talks about us black women. And how strong we are. If i’m being honest sometimes I feel i’m betraying my people because of how strong i’m afraid i’m not. Not like the women in my family who held secrets so strongly you’d think they were competing for who could hold more. And sometimes. I worry, like alot of people probably do, that i might be becoming my grandmother.
I’m basically becoming my grandmother
like daaaayummmm. I grew up and became Albertaaaa Woolen.
She would sing her name on our voicemail every time she called in case we didn’t know who was calling.
It was Grandma.
And she was always in a housecoat. I don’t know what they’re actually called but I’ve also heard them referred to as ‘moo moos’. They were made of what seemed to be linen and had faded patterns of once bright floral scenes. Most of her house coats had large side pockets on either side of the opening. I loved that she’d always put her hands in her pockets. I noticed it because we’d always been discouraged from putting our hands in our pockets. My great aunt would say it wasn’t ladylike, or that it would make us look shiftless if we’d walk around with our hands in our pockets or behind our backs. But, at my grandma’s, I knew I was free to dig my hands deep into the pockets of any jacket or pants I’d chosen specifically to wear over there.
Because my Grandmother did it too.
my Grandmother lost her mind
when my mom was murdered.
or that’s what i was always taught to tie it to.
and it makes sense. one day she told me that she knew my mom was going to die before it happened.
she had stormed out of the house that day after one of my Grandfather’s mistresses called the house again for the umpteenth time that day.
the woman on the other end of the phone would say “is Ernie there”.
His name was Ernest, I thought only Grandma called him Ernie. )”
she’d ask that, and my grandmother as patiently angry as could be would say: “No.”
in an almost quiet yell and hang up the phone with an aggravated sigh.
I have a few ideas as to why she continually answered the phone. But I don’t think I really need to explain them.
sometimes love is fucked up in how it fucks you up. and that’s fucked up. alright?
I loved my Grandma.
Most folks I know do, so I don’t mean to sound as if i’m so exceptional or like i’m the shit because my grandma was amazing, but I swear on everything. she was bomb.
and so ain’t it just perfect that i’m becoming her.
but not the parts i admired.
the ones that made me shake with second hand embarrassment when “is Ernie home” would call and Ernie was actually home. and Alberta Woolen would hand over the phone to her husband, knowing full well that the mother of her husband's other few kids was on the other line.
Ain’t that some shit?
I can’t believe I let myself get cheated on. I can barely laugh now about the irony of reading a text on my ex’s phone a few years ago that
read “i’m glad she thinks all we did was kiss, that’s all she needs to know”. with the cutest wink face emoji that 2010 technologies could muster.
I’m not bitter about that anymore. I only needed to tie it in here to show you how this is all sooo ironic and whatnot. You follow?
Everyone in my family called my grandmother Sis. Even her mom, my great granny. Her nieces and nephews called her Auntie Sis. Ernest called her Sis. I never thought of that as weird. I have no idea who started it. I’m assuming one of her 5 siblings. And everyone embraced it.
My best friend Brian calls me Sis. That nickname feels right to me. It feels like the warmest, sweetest, drippiest memories of long muggy Youngstown summers. He’s never been to Ohio but I want to take him someday so that I can take him to the good parts. The parts that don’t remind me of where there was a blood stain for the longest time of my mother and her friend’s bodies where they were killed on the Eastside.
I don’t know if its still there. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s been replaced with some other bodies. Somebody’s? You know what I mean.
I talk a lot about death. You’ve noticed.
and I guess that’s another way I’m becoming my Grandma.
She said she knew that my mom was going to die because two black crows came and told so her that day that she’d stormed out of their house on Sunshine Ave.
Grandma said that she heard the door clatter close behind her. That door always refused to slam because it was a weaker storm door than could weather an even weaker marriage. But she’d tried anyway. To slam it hard. To release a flood of anger into the rackety door and rattle the house enough to shake out the devil. She never did.
There was a black iron railing that circled the front porch of the house. Apparently, these birds landed right in front of her. And they were the biggest birds she’d ever seen. One was silent, the other was shrill and cawed my mother’s nickname, Leenie. Like lean-e.
Grandma said she heard it clearly. It’s hard to believe because she was legally deaf and rarely had batteries in her hearing aid that wouldn’t beep and whine every few minutes.
I don’t know how the bird saying my moms name translated into her and her best friends being killed the next night, but it did, and Grandma never liked birds after that.
I’ve always been afraid of birds. In fact, I hate them. In twos they always look like death to me. One that’ll announce itself, and the other, that’ll come when you least expect it.
Like my Dad, 5 years later.
And you know what
There’s something to be said for my having had no idea how my father was killed. Not a clue. I asked multiple people over the last few years, and I’ve been met with bits and pieces of a story that sounds too crazy to be true. I used to be too afraid to look into it myself.
But I decided to anyway.
Because I’m becoming my grandmother
and I’m obsessed with death,
and people know and recite stories about their living, breathing parents all the time,
and so I figured I should at least know how it happened.
for the askers.
That’s another story.
And I DO mind you asking.
CESSA: Thank you. Tell us about your relationship to this story and performing it.
MEYSHA: Yeah, well, it's, it's my story and my secrets. It's... I've just been kind of writing chunks of it over the last couple years and wanted to... the first thing I wrote was the piece about my grandmother and kind of, I think it was like I had a memory one day about her in her house coats. So my connection to house coats and my grandmother just the stories kind of came out and I thought it would be really funny if I could like encapture, like this, Alberta Woolen and how she complains about her pains and stuff like that, because in our family, it wasn't ever like a making fun of her thing. It was just sort of like this comical thing that my grandmother would do. And we always be like, oh, what about your neck? Oh, what about your knees? I know, I know, your wrist is hurt. Oh, yeah, your ears is hurtin. And, you know, there's that whole thing. So it's a personal story super personally, these real folks in my family.. it's my story.
C: What was the experience like doing it for She is Fierce?
M: Um, it was, it was difficult for me, because I didn't... I wasn't sure how to put it on it's feet. I didn't know how to turn it from it being on a page and just being this story that I was like, reading to my friends and then sharing it dramatically. So I think what helped me a lot was she is fierce Cessa and Linnea, like letting me doing it with y'all a couple times and like get the feeling of saying it to people who don't know that this is my story and what that impact looks like and how to linger in the words and how to like to make it a little bit more dramatic and stuff, but it felt healing to me. Like it felt like I had to do that. I had to just get it out there so that I could get past the fear of what are people going to think? Or are they going to understand it?
C: Yeah, I think they did. We had a lot of people come up to us being like, I think I told you this, they were like, Who is that amazing human? Yeah, and the and the performance of it - For people that didn't get to see it - Meysha like transformed into all of her characters, and it was awesome. Um, what makes you feel fierce or like, powerful?
M: Ooo, a lot of things. I would say I feel most powerful when my body feels strong. And I, during this year's performance, I brought out the guns, aka my arms, in my tank top. And I feel really strong when I can like workout and exercise. But I also feel really strong whenever I'm able to just like, take up space in places that people like me typically don't, like the gym, for example. There's not a lot of black woman I see powerlifting. But when I go into the gym, I'm not asking for permission. I'm not asking anybody for help. I'm going in there and slinging weights and that feels good to me. And when I'm wearing like a fresh pair of shoes that powerful to me.
C: Meysha she has the coolest shoes
M: Hey, shout out to my shoes, what up shoes - (little voice) "hey Meesh!"
C: Was that their voice?
M: That was them - (little voice) "hey Meysh, you're wearing me" Anyway um I feel powerful when I'm like working out and working my body and like feeling powerful in my body and then I feel powerful in a fly period kicks. I just feel powerful when I'm ever able to be. And just exist safely in a space. Yeah.
C: Thank you for doing this.
M: Thank you. I love y'all.
C: We love you!
"CHANGE YA LIFE UP IF YA LET ME" BY MEYSHA HARVILLE AND JOSH CHING
LINNEA: So that was Meysha Harville. And we actually have a little special something for y'all. As you know, she's a musician. So we're going to play one of her songs. This is her song - it's called "Change Ya Life up if Ya Let Me". It's a collaboration with fellow artist Josh Ching. So please enjoy.
Smooth Taka over the beat
staring at the blank page
i’m so sick and fucking tired of blank page
looking for answers at the end my pen like the ink i’m writing with
came from an old sage
i hope to die of old age and not from being afraid of this life that i made
talking to my mom in my mind everyday
trying to imagine what advice she’d say
pat me on the shoulder for the boulder of
This life i carry every day
because i’m young black and gay
look but don’t play, sometimes ya’ll look @ my feminine ways , as a joke
they be ‘theming’ me, joggers be condemning me,
they snicker when
siirring me, and himming me,
and honestly some days i feel masculine
and some i feel fem
don’t want to be a casualty of your hers or your hims
i’m just me,
i’m from the east coast
i ain’t no beast though, hella soft, often casually strolling rolling, taking green back, like you owe me cash
life rolled me past greener pastures
stuck me at the bottom, had no parents
somebody gotten, & shot em,
Got no fam
Got no ends
A few friends
and if ya stilll listening
and i guess i’ll start my story over again
and i’d like to begin and say hey hi
i’ll be ya teacher.
if you let me i promise you won’t forget me
you won’t regret me
Change ya life up if you let me
Struggling to find another verse
I think I’ll self destruct again
Ain’t heard from my fam
Cause they say the life I’m in’s a sin
I’m the sin
ain’t no way that Imma win
So fuck it then
Had this curse since birth, tried drownin it out
Clowin it out, keep me something to laugh about,
It’s crazy how
Life made me now
I made me how
A young lady
Came from something shady,
became somethin amazing
And don’t you see it
Don’t make me repeat it, triple threat.
Y’all just ain’t heard me yet
But I’m a vet
Life’s a war
It called for a higher purpose so I served this verses assorted
Stupid ideas aborted
The silence I can’t afford it.
Forfeit on keeping up appearances
For people who can’t stand
Namely my family
And anybody else who stuck me in the box on they shelf
Not searching for wealth I’m
Searching for self
I wanna be well.
It’s so hard, but I ain’t gone fail
and i’d like to begin and say hey hi
i’ll be ya teacher.
if you let me i promise you won’t forget me
you won’t regret me
Change ya life up if you let me
L: If you want to learn more about Meysha and follow her work, and you can go to our website meysha.com that's M-E-Y-S-H-A dot com. If you want to find out more about us you can find us on Instagram, Facebook, you can go to our website - thats sheisfiercestories.org. Insta is @sheisfiercestories. And Facebook is She is Fierce stories. Pretty easy to remember.
C: We try to make it easy.
L: And if you like us, please please please feel free to donate directly to our Patreon - sign up, become a patron. Support female and gender queer stories. We're really trying to change the narrative and expand what it means to be female and gender queer and all of the beautiful stories that make up those identities. So patreon.com/sheisfiercestories.
C: Yeah, if you want to see more of those stories, we need more money to make it happen more often, which we would love to do in many different places. We're trying to potentially make an East Coast show and make more podcasts and -
L: We got big dreams!
C: And broaden broaden the team!
L: So take a look out for more podcast episodes and live shows in the next few months. And if you want to get involved, definitely sign up for our email list. You can do that on our website as well then you can know when our submissions are open when we have new podcasts out... So check it out. Oh, and a very special thanks to Shelby easily for her fantastic music and our theme song. All right, babies, stay fierce!
C: Stay fierce!
L: Stay fierce!
SHELBY EASLEY (sung):
And if you don’t know
She is Fierce
EPISODE TWO: MEYSHA
Meysha Harville in "Secrets"