Word of the Week – Unfurl: v. to make or become spread out from a rolled or folded state, especially in order to be open to the wind; to release from a furled state.
I’m a relatively reserved person in public settings. At church, I’m a “sway and cry” praiser, rather than a runner or shouter. When I went to a Lizzo concert over the summer, I oscillated between a sway/two-step hybrid and a slight twerk, while my sister full-out danced with her hands in the air. On the very off chance that you catch me at a party or club, I’m the person who you can’t get a read on, as to whether they’re having fun or counting down the time until they dip. *whispers* It’s both.
And yet, over the weekend, I was slightly leaned over an auditorium balcony, screaming at the top of my lungs–and filming–as I witnessed one of my close friends (DOCTOR Clyde Barnett, III) being acknowledged as a PhD graduate. Frankly, I was so in the moment that I didn’t even realize how extra I had been until I watched the video back after sending it to him. Ya girl was shouting all of the Standard Black Gas Ups™ (SBGUs), including but not limited to: “Yasssss,” “I see you,” and “PERIODT.”
*KeKe Palmer voice* Sorrrry to the random people sitting by me who were visibly unsettled by my display.
I couldn’t help it though. I was proud as hell of my friend, and for good reason. My friend did a thing. A major thing. A thing that only 2% of Americans have done. At many points, he did the thing while holding a whole entire full time job, which was beyond demanding. He exuded tenacity at every phase of his journey, and collected myriad presentations, publications, accolades, and academic coins along the way. To revisit the aforementioned SBGUs…he DID that. I was constantly inspired, and frankly, in awe.
Although I’m sure that it had been in his (extensive) vocabulary for quite some time, there was a word that Clyde began to use frequently as he found himself within arm’s length of the finish line: Unfurl.
“Listen, I just had to unfurl in that meeting, and let them KNOW real quick.”
“Wait until I finish up here, and really unfurl in my field. They’re gonna wish they hadn’t let me get this degree.”
If you don’t know by now, I appreciate a petty yet intellectual use of a word. I enjoyed Clyde’s use so much that when I hugged him after the ceremony, I said “UNFURL ON EM, FRIEND!” Honestly, I would like to make a motion that “unfurl on em!” be added to the SBGU collection. If my motion is properly seconded and goes to a vote, I’ll let yall know the results. In all seriousness, though, I truly loved that. Especially because it was a reminder to me that time is up as hell for being the opposite of unfurled: furled.
As is my custom when I enjoy a word, I looked up its etymology, or its origins and iterations over time. Bear with me for a second while I get nerdy.
The etymology of furled, is that it comes from the Anglo-French word ferlier (to fasten). That word is derived from two Latin words: firmus (tight) and lier (to bind or tie). Lier has ties to the Latin word ligar, which is a more intense means of tying; it is meant to bind to the point of immobilization.
I SAID BEAR WITH ME. We’re getting there.
Ligar is where we get “ligature,” or “ligature marks on the victim,” like our good sis Olivia Benson often says on SVU. One Spanish derivative of ligar, is used to reference the act of tying up sheep to strip them of their wool; go deep with that one if you feel so inclined. (Fun fact: Ligar is also part of the etymology of the word “religion” but that’s a whole other post.)
At some point while navigating the Merriam-Webster rabbit hole I’d fallen into, I found myself asking what was clearly a rhetorical question: “Girl are you..are you furling your own self?” Shocker shocker: The answer was yes.
We all know (or should know, frankly) about the powers that be which compel people–marginalized folks in particular–to “furl.” To tie up, wrap up, bind up who and what they are, and what they are capable of, to avoid shaking the table (hi, LHH fans). To sit, immobilized, on incredible gifts because imposter syndrome would have them believe that said gift is mediocre, unremarkable. That’s a given; a thing I understand generally as a person with intersecting marginalized identities, but understand most saliently as a Black woman who has the unmitigated temerity to *gasp* take up space and assert her worth.
The thing is, though, I’ve been in a position to step out from under that logic and acknowledge it as bullshit, for quite some time. More specifically, I know that I am damn good at writing. That it is a thing I should do more often, and a thing I should do in the form of a book. I’ve known the latter for nearly 4 years and here I am, still. Sitting on my gift. Questioning it, picking it apart, judging it as too inferior or too raw to be put forth as widely as I’d want it to be. And thinking this way despite having been a writer since I was 9, and having written seriously (on and off) for nearly 10 years.
Meanwhile, people are out here unfurling half-baked musings, and slanging poorly-written self-published books at the bar that have the phrase “close as coochie hairs” on the back as part of the story’s description. That is a true story, told to me by a friend who bought said book while drunk as a skunk. (She has agreed to buy two of mine upon release, to make up for this transgression.) So WHO AM I EVEN to sit here and not write, to not hone my craft and disseminate my work? A whole entire fraidy cat joke, who actually has nothing to be afraid of except self-sabotage.
A couple days after Clyde’s graduation, we were texting about some of the things I hope to accomplish over the next year or two. I stated that I was hesitant to pursue those goals because it made me really nervous. His response?
“What tf are nerves? Because these mediocre mfs…”
A two-sentence sermon, honestly. Truly. And with that, it’s time to unfurl. Keep an eye out for what’s to come in 2020.