What Solange’s ‘Cranes In Sky’ Is Still Teaching Me Years After Its Release
"Ideally, pain is loud and obvious, but realistically, pain is far and quiet."
"Cranes in the Sky" by Solange Knowles has played every day on shuffle since midnight hit and I turned 24.
"I tried to change it with my hair."
It was the first song I heard as a 24-year-old woman and it played like a sick premonition over the next few weeks of my life, when I did all the thing she admits to trying in her song.
"I slept it away / I sexed it away / I read it away"
If only it was possible to box up all your feelings into a pretty little f**ked up box, put a postage stamp on it and send it the f**k away — because it is love that brings us pain, isn't it?
Crane #1: Pain
Are you staring?
You feel pain because you don't love your job. You feel pain because you love your job too much and got denied a promotion. You feel pain because the boy that you love does not love you back, or worse, died. You feel pain because you don't have any friends, and you feel pain with the absence of love and with the presence of too much love.
Recently, I drowned myself in pain. I then sat comfortably in my ruins, in the bottom pits of hell I was, when I suddenly got up from the fire and looked up towards heaven and thought, "Maybe, I did all this because I was in pain, and I didn’t know how to handle it or express it in a healthy way?”
CC: untalked about mental health issues.
"And it's like cranes in the sky."
Ideally, pain is loud and obvious, but realistically, pain is far and quiet. Sometimes your pain is crushing you, not because it's unbearable but because you won't even acknowledge it's there. You won’t even look at the crane of pain. You live your life in a perpetual unfazed numbness. Numb out. I feel you; I've done that too. But it's time to start looking up so you can get to the bottom of who you are.
"I tried to keep myself busy / I ran around circles, think I made myself dizzy"
I am a frazzled and a prone-to-bad-luck sort of person. I tend to feel like at any moment my life is going to fall apart.
I misunderstood my advisement email and I ended up missing my appointment. I went off on a teacher because I believe she's a racist. I went on a date, said I'd pay for my own food, and my card declined.
I misread my schedule, leaving a student without a teacher for an hour. I piled my plate high with food, then I got to the cash register and didn't have enough money to pay for it. I humbled myself and went groveling to Dunkin' Donuts for a cheap sandwich, though I hate cheese .
I went hiding to the bathroom one hour away from a meeting with my bosses who will probably say I am way too mentally frazzled to handle this job and fire me. I have my forehead in my palms, constipated from a nasty ass sandwich, not caring about the millions of microorganisms forming from the toilet seat.
My clad Black ass.
Crane #2: Damage
"Sometimes I don't want to feel those metal clouds"
You wouldn't know from looking at me that internally I cry because I am a Black woman. Therefore, I am a pro at shielding my emotions and making sure they don't show. My emotions are not allowed to be strong in this world. As a Black woman, I fear people seeing me wrong and that's not something specifically geared in all Black women, but that is something that is specifically geared in this one.
In the professional world, I wear my face in an impenetrable mask. Neutral. Simply existing. Feeling as if no one, aside from my community (Black people) can handle my true existence. I cannot be myself around you because you can't handle who I am. Instead, I try to pretend to be nothing.
I think about how my ancestral past (being Black) has shaped who I am into a confusing mess of cobwebs and I wonder if I was born to be this way. Bitter. Forever indifferent to those who had at least one parent who stayed safely within the box of caregiver, never drifting to the box of soul-taker, hunger-breaker, ethereal or responsible parent.
A caregiver gives love and support. A responsible parent gives money and lectures. Most Black parents don't have time to be both, but if you're lucky, you get both. And if you're not so lucky, you get one. When you're straight up bad luck? You get none. If you felt unloved as a teenager that sense of no love never leaves you.
The case being: Its near impossible to grow up when you're so worried about who your parents are or how you’ve never met them. Some kids just never get a chance to get some closure in that department. Damage.
"I tried to let go my lover / thought if I was alone then maybe I could recover"
Still, I think damage is beautiful. I think being broken is wonderful. The way it takes one thing and turns it into another while still retaining its use. Damage is like a crumpled piece of paper that you scribble a number on in a hurry, but doesn't straighten out as it should. Like the crumpled piece of paper that you can still write on, even with all your damage, you still work, my beautiful people.
We say, "well, we can't ever find love until we fix our shit, until we're not so damaged."
Aren't we all a little damaged? It's just that some of our stitches look better than others. I think there's simplicity and beauty in the rawness of ugly. I think there's wonder in being a frazzled mess. I think it is the culture in 2019 to hide the parts of ourselves that are not appealing to the eye and to put away the parts of ourselves that are dark with worry and covered in misery. But don't let the fake eyelashes, nice ass, long weaves, foreign trips and foreign cars from Instagram fool you; there's nothing wrong with being in need. Our hoods have been taken and poor Black kids are being ignored for rich Black kids with enough money for Instagram likes or the latest iPhone.
There's no one looking up at the crane of damage, at the kids that are damaged. And they must be right? There must be Black people still living in poverty, right? They just probably don't have wifi since their affordable housing got torn down in favor of a Starbucks, and you can't really post pictures of poverty on Instagram anyway, right?
The "frazzleness" in me stems from the give and pull of that idea vs the reality of perfection I view on my phone. The identity crisis comes from having to present to the world an image of yourself that you do not always feel. So suddenly you don't know who you are anymore because on Instagram you are one thing, but in real life you're another.
Black as hell. With hella problems.
Crane #3 Grace
The sight of my best friend Yaya gave me anxiety on sight because I looked at her and saw the sea of my ungratefulness coming towards me as clear as rain coming down from tormented clouds. I felt the presence of my ungratefulness as clear as day, as dark as night.
"To write it away / or cry it away (don't you cry baby)"
"Away, away, away, away, away … away"
On the day of my birthday (April 4), I ignored the crane of grace while "Cranes in the Sky" played depressingly in the background. I ignored Yaya's call. I instead focused clearly and fixedly on the other cranes: pain and damage. It is so easy to get wrapped up staring at the pain and damage cranes in the sky that you no longer see the most important one: grace.
On my birthday, I wrapped myself up in a ball of pain, refusing to remove my eyes from that Crane. I then folded under the next crane, damage, seeing it as all that is me. Never did I turn my head and look to the crane that is clear as day — grace.
We can let our pain cripple us. The sun doesn't shine as bright, because we are full of pain. Your negative thoughts are starting to choke you in your sleep and when you wake up unable to breathe, it is not because you are crippled, it is because you are choking yourself. Don't let your pain color your entire world with negativity. Don't let it make your world dark where you can't see any life. Your soul is not a reflection of what the world actually is. There are some people who live their lives happy as hell! And they're Black! So what does that mean? That's when you should turn and look at the closest crane, grace.
My teacher embarrassed me in class. I didn't want to go to class. I was alone. I was already depressed. I should've called Yaya back that day, but I didn't. Not until the day had already weighed heavy on my back, making my words sound empty of promise and empty of hope. After it was too late. After I was already on the train home from a mope that my sister Joyce desperately tried to stop. She made her boyfriend to take me out to dinner with them, treating me to an expensive but authentic Chinese restaurant that she hated and I loved. But still …
I didn't want to speak to her. I was already angry at her — at all my friends, at the guy I was talking to, at the guy that I missed and at all my problems. I was pissed. And there was Yaya , with her hands stretched out open, trying to get me to take it and I missed. Yaya is raising Maia and I am so focused on everything I don't have. I have a beautiful niece and a friend who wants to love you. I need to take it.
Once you get up,
Look all around you,
At all that you have ,
The little that you have,
And thank Grace.
And get out of your head. If you keep focusing on everything you don't have, you're gonna always not have them. You're in your head too much when you stop being grateful. "God doesn't give to the spirit of fear," the wise first lady at my church in South L.A. once told me.
It's OK to be confused. It's OK to make mistakes. It's OK to not get that many likes on one picture. It's OK to feel lonely, depressed and misunderstood, most of the time. It's OK to feel like you're traveling the world blind with no one guiding you. It's OK to feel that way. Your confusion is who you are; you don't have to pretend to be anyone else. The longer you go on pretending, putting on a face at work, school and on the internet, the longer you will be confused on what your soul needs and is asking for. And that's who you are.