Careless Love: Thriving Among Micro and Macro Aggressions


An excruciating pain ran along my lower back, down the sides of my legs, and exploded in an agonizing jangling of nerve endings on fire. It began just before a five–hour plane ride and later, a four–hour drive to a writing residency. I had this travel with grueling pain on my return. A doctor diagnosed sciatica. The treatment was pain killers that made me sleepy and foggy, ice packs, and lying very-very still in between workshops, performances, and master classes. The excruciating pain began to recede slowly in the weeks after I returned home. I was delighted when I was able to restart my swimming regimen, forty-five minutes each morning, five days a week.

On my way to the pool the first day the sciatic pain allowed me to, Bessie Smith sang on the CD player in my car. When she began singing Careless Love, inexplicably, I began to cry. I pulled the car over to compose myself. I puzzled over why I was crying. I pushed a button and placed Careless Love on repeat. I listened to Bessie Smith sing this song three more times. The piano holding the melodic line and swinging the pace along lulled me close to this altar of sound. The trombone growling low and keeping syncopated time with the high sound of the trumpet repeating and embellishing Bessie Smith’s voice, opened and washed through me.

I’ve heard this song in the background of my life in New Orleans. I listened on thirty–eight records, albums, blues and jazz radio stations, instrumental jazz versions played during jazz funerals and street parades, and in blues and jazz night clubs.

Love, oh love, oh careless love.

You fly through my head like wine.

You’ve wrecked the life of many a poor girl

And nearly spoiled this life of mine.

My throat and chest kept tightening and swelling. Tears kept spilling and dripping to the edge of my grief and rage. I knew this song. I knew the places the sounds and emotions came from. The song of was of betrayal but worse self– betrayal.

Love, oh love, oh careless love.

In your clutches of desire

You’ve made break a many true vow,

Then set my very soul on fire.

On that February morning in 2016, I felt betrayed by my country, betrayed by what Donald Trump represented as a nominee for the president of the United States of America. But much–more elementally, I felt my ancestors, African slaves and free people of color, had allowed themselves to be seduced and duped by the ideas and promises of the United States Constitution, all of its amendments, declarations and pledges, along with all its Judeo Christian morality.

Bessie Smith’s voice, the wail of the trumpet, the moan of the trombone, and the melodic swing of the piano uncovered layer upon layer of the consequences of the United States of America’s carelessness within me. Promises of acceptance and equality coated in beguiling lies and inducements that were wrapped in forced dependence, self–exploitation, and unspeakable violence waiting at the ends of guns, billy clubs, fire hoses and ropes. I imagined generations of slaves and former slaves lying twisted and shattered or hung while smiling faces spoke to the terrified bereaved of boot straps, resilience, the healing power of forgiveness, and the faults and responsibilities of the vanquished for their degradations and deaths, those never fully human, those never white.

In the water, my first day back, I felt physically, emotionally and spiritually connected again. The searing electric pain I had been experiencing had dimmed to a faint whisper. I looked forward to the peace and rest of my sweeping movements propelled by my breath and heart.

Before I entered the pool, I saw the white woman, whose name I didn’t know, who had insisted, I shouldn’t be allowed to have access to the lap lane. She wanted to occupy it alone even though she didn’t swim laps. The woman came to the pool with swim shoes, swim gloves, a buoyant device wrapped around her waist, and exercised in one corner of the lap swim lane. She had ranted and raved with the life guards when they refused to remove the divider that made the lap lane. She had fumed and pouted when she was told that the lap swim lane could be used by whomever got to the pool first.

That first day back the woman was talking to a life guard, I walked to the graduated entrance to the pool and entered the lap lane. She began her tirade. Her hands and arms gestured and pointed my way. After almost fifteen minutes of listening, the life guard placed his elbow on the arm of his life guard chair and his chin in his hand. His face was set in polite attention. She appears to be in her sixties, like me, and not much more than five feet tall. She has a grey-white-curly hair, a pleasant grandmotherly face, a strong shapely body that has squared in the waist and hips, and plumped up in the thighs and calves easing into a gentle aging. I began my silent and vigilant forty-five minutes prepared at any minute to be interrupted by one of her intrusions.

Instead of raising my defenses that morning, I asked myself to see her, to see past the hate in her eyes, past the white privilege she was insisting on at my expense. I kept asking myself to let go of my fear, my anger at the disruption of my sense of belonging and my self–admonishment, that I must not express my feelings for fear of not being believed, of police being called because of her experience of me as other, as dangerous, as a threat to her.

Once submerged the water muted all sound. When I emerged from beneath the water the walls echoed the sounds of splash, slap, stroke, a coach’s whistle, and the shouts of swimmers training and exercising. When my forty–five minutes were up, I got out of the pool feeling at peace and headed for the locker room

Just as I ended showering, I heard faint sounds of crying. At first I thought it was laughing until, I was sure it was crying. I finished dressing and looked under a bathroom stall door to be sure, I was right about where the crying was coming from. I knocked gently on the stall door.

“Excuse me,” I said, “You don’t know me, but I hear you crying. Sometimes it helps to talk, even with a stranger, when we’re upset. I’m going to sit on the bench by the locker for a bit. If you want someone to talk to, I’ll be there.”

She didn’t respond.

Crying continued.

I packed my swim bag, put my wet towels in the bin waiting for them, and sat on the bench waiting for a crying woman, I did not know, to come out of a bathroom stall.

Soon, I heard the stall door open and a very short woman with amber hued skin came toward me weeping. I stood up. She walked into my arms, all four foot something of her strong round frame. When we parted, I sat on the bench. She sat down next to me. I waited for her to speak. She told me that she had come to the center and found that all of her swim gear had been removed and thrown away by mistake. She had come to have a place of peace and acceptance. She had come to begin to lose weight and now, she felt not cared for, less than, defeated, her hopes of self–care dashed.

I told her my name.

“My name is Jennifer,” she said in a surprisingly low lilting melodic voice.

I told her how long it had taken for me to commit completely to my own care, to come to swim consistently, to do it for myself, because I had come to the knowing, I was worth it.  I told her about the white woman whose name I didn’t know, how I had kept my place at the pool, and had disallowed everything that would cause me to give up my swimming, to give up on myself. I supported her to talk to the swim director, to request that her belongings replaced. I hoped her request and their positive response would help restore her trust and her place at the swim center. When we stood to say goodbye, I held her face in my hands and bent to kissed her forehead. She wrapped her strong arms around me.

I left her gathering her things to go and talk to the swim director. When I went to the car, I cried in complete gratitude that I had not been careless, at least not with the amber hued woman whose name was Jennifer.





A Writer’s Life Wellness and Writing Practice


Nonfiction–Fiction–Novel–Memoir–Short Stories–Essays

 Supporting writing – work life balance, wellness, and

building writing partnerships and community with:

Individual Writing Wellness Sessions – Writing & Workshop Classes – Writing Groups – Writing Camps


Andrea R. Canaan, MSW, MFA–Nonfiction, MFA–Fiction

Verve Wellness Studio

1231 Cortland Avenue at Nevada Street

San Francisco, California 94110

415- 415-660-6536

Image: Sculpture by Amana Bembre Johnson


A Writer’s Life Women of Color Writing & Wellness Group

A Writer’s Life Women of Color Writing & Wellness Group



First, Second and Third Sundays 11:00am-1:30pm

Beginning: December 2, 2018

Wellness Leader & Writing Teacher:

Andrea R Canaan, MSW,MFA

Location: Verve Wellness Studio
1231 Cortland Avenue
S.F., Ca 94110

RSVP: 415-660-6536




  • Each One Teach One
  • Meditation
  • Movement
  • Writing Partners
  • Create
  • Share
  • Workshop
  • Read in Community
  • Publishing
  • Holding Each Other & Lifting Each Other Up

Sculpted Imange: Amana Bembre Johnson


A Writer’s Life Philosophy


I became a writer after I contracted rheumatic fever when I was in the seventh grade and began to imagine the world through the window of my second floor bedroom window. We had no medical insurance even though my mother work as a nurse aide at Charity Hospital and as a ward clerk at Flint Goodridge Hospital. It was my mother’s friends and colleagues at Flint who helped provide doctor visits, EKGs, and medications in Flint’s emergency room without charge my mother. It was an amazing pediatrician, Dr. Segre, who treated me without charge and placed me on a year’s bedrest. My teachers sent my homework by my friends who visited me before and after school. My neighbors brought me breakfast and lunch. The radio brought me forbidden blues and jazz. An old oak tree filled with birds, squirrels, flying roaches, and the sights, and sounds of Sixth and LaSalle Streets liberated my imagination. I began writing stories in my head that I still remember today.

I have been driven to tell the stories of my family, my neighborhood, my church, and my life as a black–lesbian–feminist–mother and writer to explore and abrogate the cross generational transmission of trauma that is my experience as a black woman in general and more specifically and historically in my family transmitted from my grandmother to my mother, from my mother, to me, and from me to my daughter. The histories and stories of brutal racism, sexism, and classism along with the effervescent resilience of friends, neighbors, community, spirituality, music, books, art, food, and family has made my personal recovery from internal and external emotional, physical, and sexual harm possible. I wrote about the cross generation of trauma in a Memoir, The Saltbox Box House on Bayou Black. The memoir chronicles the trauma that was rooted in a traumatic event that happened to my grandmother, her siblings, and parents on Bayou Black, near Houma, Louisiana.  However, much of that trauma origin story is shrouded in protective mystery. Covered up for the perpetrators. Shrouded in silence and mystery to protect the victim from furthering harm as well as from the truths of what happened to them. I wrote a historical novel, A Thousand Crowning Sorrows to imagine and explore the Post Reconstruction and Jim Crow lives of my family only hinted at during wakes, funerals, wedding, and holiday celebrations.

I worked  and put myself through college and graduate school while being the primary breadwinner for my mother, grandmother, and my daughter. When I worked for a state agency, The Louisiana Bureau For Women, I was fired, was evicted from my apartment, and for a time, I was judged  harshly by my family and friends for saying I was black, lesbian, and feminist during a work staff meeting and later into television cameras and microphones. With the support of the ACLU, I sued the State of Louisiana and later appealed the state’s decision to the Fifth Circuit of Appeals and sort of won. I won case law, that the state had indeed fired me for saying I was Black, lesbian, and feminist, and that my speech was constitutionally protected speech. However, the state convinced the court it could have been fired me for cause and the state prevailed. I moved away from New Orleans with my daughter. Although, I have returned to New Orleans often, I have never been at home again. I moved between New Orleans, the Bay Area, and Cambridge, Massachusetts for twenty-one years. I have now lived in San Francisco, California for the past seventeen years, the longest I have ever lived in one place.

I have been a part of a women’s writer’s group in every community I have lived in since my mid-twenties. I have developed and maintained writing partnerships for over forty years. I have been and done all of those things with only fragments of time and space to write and make a living for myself and my family.

At sixty–years old I decided I wanted a writer’s life and made a decision to pursue an MFA in nonfiction at USF. The major product of that learning was a memoir, The Salt Box House on Bayou Black, now in the process of moving toward publication.  As I completed the first drafts of the memoir, I realized that the core of the erased history story of my family’s experience in South Louisiana could not be captured in memoir, but had to be imagined in fiction. Only, I didn’t know how to write fiction. I knew I didn’t have the time to teach myself fiction in the organic ways I leaned nonfiction and, I decided to pursue another MFA. I enrolled in Goddard College and earned a MFA in fiction. The major product of that learning is, the historical novel, A Thousand Crowning Sorrows, which is also moving toward publication. After earning a MSW, a MFA in fiction and nonfiction, and having gained the skills and experience I required of myself, I am now fully living a writer’s life and practice I asked myself for. I am writing, continually learning, build writing partnerships and community, and launching a writing wellness practice .

When I imagined and began to put into place the practical foundations for a writing and teaching wellness practice, I thought about the teachers and philosophies that influenced me and inform who I am as a writer, teacher, and healer. In my life experience, a teacher is a rare gift that transcends educational theories and educational programs, and systems. Great teachers transform students into lifelong learners by their example and the content, structures, the contexts of their teaching. When I think deeply about teaching, I think of Elizabeth Vondy, as I do whenever I have a writing conundrums or decisions to make, like guiding a memoir and historical fiction novel to publishing and beginning to launch a liberation–feminist–healing writing practice. I took her English class at Louisiana State University in New Orleans in the fall of 1969. She was a white southern woman with neat permed and bobbed hair, pearls and matching sweater sets, low heels and stockings, a briefcase, and a good leather handbag. In the classroom she was no nonsense and in charge. Mrs. Vondy was clear that her students would not pass if we did not participate fully, complete all readings and assignments on time, if we plagiarized or allowed others to do our work, and if we missed more than three classes. Her syllabus was clear and her directions were precise, what to read when, what assignments were due when, when exams were, and how she would grade.

After the first class a third of the students dropped out. By the last day classes could be dropped, the class was half if its original twenty–six students, especially after she called out one student for plagiarism and two others for submitting work that was not their own. After I turned in my first assignment, Mrs. Vondy invited me to her office hour and we talked for nearly two hours. She told me my spelling and grammar were horrible, but my writing was very promising, that she would continue to mark my errors in red, but I was to never let my educational deficits or another’s opinion stop me from writing or diminish me as a writer.

In our last office hour, Elizabeth Vondy admitted that the learning environment for lack students at LSU was set up to confuse, dehumanize and fail us, and blatantly advantage white students. I believed her. She suggested I find a better learning environment for myself. Elizabeth Vondy’s words helped me make sense of my learning experience at LSU and the larger experience of making sense of the sexism, classism, and racism outside of the segregated black communities I had grown up in, as well as inside of pseudo–integrated equal ones. I took her advice, transferred to Southern University in New Orleans a traditionally black university. Elizabeth Vondy’s example of a teacher’s responsibility and accountability to and for their students bonded me to her for all my life.

Three teaching philosophies and practices that inform my vision, structuring, support of powerful and productive writing practices. The first teaching philosophy and practice I embraced for teaching was Each–One–Teach–One ,an African American educational philosophy. This practice began during slavery when educating a slave was a crime. Slaves who learned to read and write subversively shared that knowledge with slaves who did not have any access to learning. They engaged in learning and teaching knowing the consequences could be death.

The practice of Each-One-Teach-One continued from slavery through the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Civil Rights eras in the U. S. This philosophy, value, and practice was taught in African American churches, schools, and around kitchen tables of my childhood, and those of my parents, and grandparents. The Each–One–Teach–One Philosophy and values taught that the education earned by a black person did not belong to them alone; the education and achievement was shared by the entire community; and it was the duty and privilege of those who earned an education to teach others. Each–One–Teach–One, also taught that people who had less formal education, even those who were illiterate, were in fact intelligent, skilled, and knowledgeable, and they too had the duty and obligation to share their knowledge and skills. This philosophy’s core value and practice taught that all black people had something to teach and formal education, achieved and shared, was the most prized and respected of accomplishments. When I looked to find citations for this philosophy and practice, I found brief mention of this concept ascribed to a white southern missionary, Frank Laubach.  I claim authority and witness to its origins, teachings, and functions inside Southern African American communities, and my lived experience inside those communities.

The second teaching philosophy I reach for when thinking about teaching practices is Paulo Freire. I was introduced to the writings of Freire during my MSW training at Tulane University. I was particularly attracted to his idea for a model of education based on the liberation of those being taught. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire insisted that Western education forced teachers into the role of forcing students to become receptors of colonization. In his analysis, teachers were colonizers and oppressors, while students were the colonized and oppressed. Freire called this type of education, “banking education.” Freire proposed a “problem–posing education” that could be a function of liberation and a practice of freedom. Freire defined the “problem posing education model.”

The teacher is no longer merely the–one–who–teaches,

but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the

students, who in turn while being taught also teach.

They become jointly responsible for a process in

which they all grow. (61)

Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed acted like a battering ram against the racist educational regimes I had been subjected to and had been resisting during my education and training. Freire’s writing resonated with my cultural educational heritage of each–one–teach–one and thrust me further into deconstructing race and class.

The third teaching philosophy I reach for is the feminist perspective of the teachings of Bell Hooks. In Teaching to Transgress, Bell Hooks, while crediting and honoring Freire, also addressed the major issue he did not address: women, their power and value, and the importance of their liberation to the liberation of all. In “Engaged Pedagogy,” Hooks writes about how the teaching ways of Freire and the Vietnamese Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh informed her progressive–holistic–engaged–feminist pedagogy.

Thich Nhat Hanh always speaks of the teacher as healer.

Like Freire, his approach to knowledge called on students

to be more active participants, to link awareness with practice.

Whereas Freire was primarily concerned with the mind, Thich Nhat Hanh   offered a way of thinking about pedagogy which emphasized wholeness, a union of mind, body, and spirit. His focus on a holistic approach to learning and spiritual practice enabled me to overcome years of socialization that had taught me to believe a classroom was diminished if students and professors regarded each other as “whole” human beings striving not just for knowledge in books, but knowledge about how to live in the world. (14)

In Teaching to Transgress, Bell Hooks combines the theories of liberation education, education as a holistic practice, and feminist theories applied to education to formulate her own didactic. Progressive, holistic, “engaged pedagogy” is more demanding than conventional critical or feminist pedagogy. For unlike these two teaching practices, engaged pedagogy emphasizes well–being. That means that teachers must be actively committed to a process of self–actualization that promotes their own well–being if they are to teach in a manner that empowers students. (15)

My early teachers taught me that each student must also teach, teachers must be available for and open to being taught, teacher’s capacities to succeed and excel are directly correlated with their levels of compassion and professional accountability, their commitment to education as a practice of liberation, and education informed by the practices of feminist, progressive, and holistic engaged teaching and learning practices.

I am embracing my success in gifting myself with the writer’s life I have hungered for  and needed. I have pursued advanced learning. I have filled a writing tool box with excellent experience and skills. I have completed two books that I’m moving toward publication. I have a daily personal writing and wellness practice. I am launching a service to provide writing wellness and teaching services to encourage, support, and celebrate the creative health and success of other writers and artists. I am truly fortunate and joyfully living a writer’s life.



Re-turning & Re-launching: A Writer’s Life


IMG_0588Since I was very young all I wanted was a writer’s life, a life lived in my imagining, reading, listening to words and music, observing, remembering, telling stories, learning, teaching, and putting it all on paper. I wanted to be in this delightful space of powerful, positive, and productive work. I decided to pursue a writer’s life to sustain me both creatively and financially in 2013. In the five years since I’m succeeding in building the writer’s life I envisioned.

It is said you can never go home again. This can be translated into any kind of going or any home or any returning. It isn’t that you can’t ever go home or return to a place that holds your history, memories, and foundational connections. It’s that both you and the place will have changed in both easily perceived and imperceptible ways. I am returning to this webpage, formerly Black Magnolias, after a three-year absence. This is a terrifying return, no hyperbole. Writing, communicating, creating, connecting, and engaging on social media causes me to clean my closets, cook and bake for the freezer, repot the plants, and alphabetize the books on my shelves, almost anything, before returning to this social media home. Give me the phone, a small intimate gathering of family friends or strangers, a classroom, an auditorium, a microphone in a crowded recording booth at a radio station, anywhere else. Yet, here I am returning to this space changed, renewed, and living the writer’s life I promised myself. Here I am renewing my invitation to you to share my thoughts and imaginings, my meditations and prayers, my writing, my accomplishments and my procrastinations, yes, I’m inviting you into a writer’s life.

I am now launching A Writer’s Life Teaching and Wellness Practices in order to complete my cycle of remembering, telling, meditating, praying, recovering, healing, sharing, honing my craft, and teaching that have saved, preserved, and propelled me into joy. Launching A Writer’s Life and re–launching this website is truly scary for me, yet after each time I clean or wash or organize something and come back to these pages, fear recedes and my delight and joy at each small step and accomplishment in my own learning and healing is worthy of the fear filled journey. On these pages I will be: sharing excerpts from my writing projects-reviewing the best places for writing away from our desks-sharing writing meditations–contributing writing prompts-reviewing books–discussing authors and books that inspire and teach our craft-speaking to writer’s self-care and wellness-providing writings and supplying images of art, music, photographs, and other subjects and topics that support thinking and writing creatively and, insisting that we: think-write-revise-share–rest-care for ourselves lovingly and deeply-return to the writing-revise-revise again–publish–share even more-write even more.

Come join me and visit A Writer’s Life Blog, leave a comment, share with writer friends and like my Facebook Page. Please be on the lookout for upcoming A Writer’s Life Writing Classes and Workshops and Writing Camp.



Facebook Page:

This web page was designed and constructed by Suma Nagaraj. She was my classmate and became my beloved friend while I earned my first MFA in nonfiction at the University of San Francisco University in 2015. Suma returned to her home in Bangalore, India and this website has not been updated until now. I am forever grateful to Suma for building this social media home base for me out of love and her belief that I would return to this space an re-launch A Writer’s Life.


Promise by Amana Brembry Johnson, Sculptor


Saturday Morning

This is an excerpt from an early chapter of my upcoming memoir: The Saltbox House on Bayou Black.

017Saturday Morning

Along with my brothers, Dwight and Jesse, and my sister Jean, I watched Roy Rogers on a black-and-white console TV our grandfather, Peter Samuel Ransom, Ditty, we called him, had won at a raffle for World War I veterans. He had it shipped to us because he and my grandmother, Martha England Ransom, T. Martha her family called her, didn’t have electricity in their saltbox house on Bayou Black. As I watched the cowboy show, I imagined the colors of a desert sky, rock, cactus, and low sparse trees. We sang along, and my throat and chest swelled with delicious trilling when they sang, while riding into the sunset: Happy trails to you, until we meet again. Happy Trails to you, until we meet again. Happy Trails to you, until we meet again.”

My brothers and sister rooted for the good guys, white men in white hats, and against the bad guys, white men in black hats. I rooted for the Indians. When we played, I was always an Indian. None of us were the prissy white women whose dresses dragged in the dirt or the floozies who hung out in saloons, leaned all over strange and drunk men, danced the can-can, and let men follow them upstairs to their rooms.

I wrapped the belts from Jesse and Dwight’s trousers around my chest and shoulders. They turned into quivers to hold my arrows. To overcome the driver of the stagecoach, I climbed to the top bunk. I pushed Dwight off onto blankets and pillows below. I took over his reins and spread my feet across the narrow space between the two sets of metal bunk beds in our bedroom.

The bed’s metal frames became the backs of wild horses stolen from their lands, and I was coming to the rescue. I pounced on the bottom bunk, dragging greenhorns and gringos from the coach. I hooted and howled and smashed and slashed with tomahawks fashioned from wooden spoons.

Breakfast, an extra special treat, was delivered express to our Wells Fargo stopover in our Magnolia Project room by our mama. We demolished the eggs, grits, biscuits, and grape jelly. Milk chalked on the sides and hardened to rich soft–yellow cream circles on the bottoms of our jelly glasses. We dashed down the hall and into the kitchen to hurriedly scrape and stack our dishes. We scurried, pushing, shoving, and laughing between cliff–hanging scenes and during commercials advertising Tide, Ivory soap, Hoola Hoops, and Brylcream. We honored the special breakfast treat our mother had made for us with this rare retreat from the TV.

One day without warning, while we scraped dishes, I felt heartsick. My brothers and sister suddenly turned mean, too rough. They pointed and laughed. A cappella and in harmony they sang: “Crybaby, crybaby, suck ya mama’s titty. Always rooting for the Indians. You betta get tough girl. You betta know the right side to be on.”

This Bridge Reading: University of San Francisco

bridge cover

Thirty–four years ago, two Chicana women anthologized twenty-nine women of color writers in This Bridge Called My Back: Writing by Radical Women of Color. This book has become a touchstone of academic, social, and political thinking, study, and activism for two generations. My name is Andrea Canaan, M.F.A. class of 2014, and I am one of the contributors to the historic 4th Edition of This Bridge Called My Back, co-edited by Chérrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, SUNY Press, New York, 2015. When we contributed to This Bridge, we urgently hoped our writing and social justice work would become literal and figurative bridges from 1981 to now. This Bridge editors and contributors can all say that our urgent hopes have resulted in our work having become of powerful, positive, and productive use in our world. Imagine my joy at spotting a student reading a copy of This Bridge in The Market one day only to learn that it was being used as a text in her Gender Studies class.

I am so proud as a woman of color writer, an activist, a USF alumnus, and contributor to This Bridge, that the USF, MFA in Creative Writing Program has agreed to sponsor a reading of This Bridge on Wednesday September 16, 2015 from 7:00 to 9:00PM. Come join us.