This past summer, I was dealing with a particularly painful bout of sadness when I received an unexpected package. I was intrigued by what it could be, but one look at the label made my heart flutter: "Looking Glass Gems".
I don't know if anyone else gets the flutters when they get "happy mail," but it was the most excitement I'd had all week. I was fortunate to be a recipient of a Black Joy Sparkles! stipend, and the rhinestones I picked out had arrived much earlier than anticipated.
I laid the stones out on the bright orange and pink fabrics I'd recently purchased, watching how they captured and reflected the light. The way they twinkled reminded me of dancing under stage lights, and nostalgic tears came before I could stop them. While Bebe Bardot, my burlesque alter-ego, was born to dance in this sparkling costume, I felt like absolute crap. My alter ego glittered and glowed for adoring audiences... she was very far removed from the pajama-clad, teary-eyed woman that cried over the half-finished costume laid across my bed.
After my tears came clarity and a deep sense of gratitude to Looking Glass Gems. I may be sad and not performing even half as much as I used to, but my burly persona was born by my hand and my creativity. She was born of my need for freedom and joy. Even at my lowest, she is one of my greatest weapons and a great source of empowerment for me. Nothing - no person, no pandemic - can take her away because I built her myself, over and over, sometimes out of thin air. She's a big part of my art and my joy.
Nona Narcisse, founder and co-owner of Looking Glass Gems, Reigning Unicorn of the Crescent City Burlesque Weekender, and woman-after-my-own-heart, says that "expressive joy and beauty can be profound forms of resistance while they help us remember our constant ability to grow resilience."
Resilience is a funny thing, how it can spread and grow through the mail that way. Soon after receiving that package, I scrawled "Remember who you are" across the white label of a Looking Glass Gems bag of Garnet ss12s. While rhinestones don't make me a better performer -- any entertainer worth their salt knows that, and it'd take a LOT of Garnet ss12s and at least three other shapes and colors to make me shine enough for my liking -- it's just nice to think of myself as a sparkling gem even when I'm at my lowest. I wanted to remind myself that I'm a performer, and at times I'm glamorous or wacky or eccentric or avant-garde. The rhinestones help me flesh those characters out, whether I use ten gems or 10,000.
Black Joy Sparkles! is special because it openly acknowledges the unique pain Black performers endure while trying to create works of art in a society that actively devalues us. For its recipients, these gift certificates are a gentle nudge to keep at it, don't give up, keep sculpting and conceptualizing and growing our artistic personas.
Of the mission behind Black Joy Sparkles!, Nona says, "[We give] Black artists the space and tools to create. To experience joy is essential to our collective human experience. We are reminded by art and artists our capacity for understanding, love, growth. Artists teach us. Joy boosts all of our human immune systems and helps combat pain and stress."
As I delve into rhinestoning my first 100% handmade costume, I am certain that Nona is right -- every time I feel a bout of sadness, I start to sew, or dance, or rhinestone, or write. The creativity keeps me going. It's my fuel, and I am thankful that Nona has opened this initiative to provide fuel for other Black artists as well.
If you would like to donate to Black Joy Sparkles!, simply sign up via the Looking Glass Gems site to help foster creativity in Black artists all over the world! It really does make a difference.
Until next time, with love,