YOUR RELATIONSHIPS ARE YOUR MIRRORS

We all have that one coworker, that boss, that sibling, that parent, that partner, that acquaintance ... who works our fucking nerves. They act a certain way we just can’t stand. They do something that really grinds our gears. They’ve got a habit that drives. Us. Mad.

Congratulations! Those people are your greatest gifts. They are your mirrors. Your relationships with other human being show you the inner workings of your own life. Whether romantic, familial, platonic, or professional —  ALL of your relationships with other human beings serve to reflect you back to yourself.

Understanding this concept is crucial to achieving your highest potential. Because 9/10 times, your complaint isn’t about someone else. It’s about you! 

Got an inconsistent friend who doesn’t show up for you when you need them? Ask yourself what you’re not doing consistently, and how you aren’t showing up yourself.  Is your parent or sibling not taking care of themselves the way they know they should? Ask yourself how you aren’t taking care of yourself in the ways you know you should be. Does your boss not communicate transparently? Ask yourself the ways you aren’t being honest, open, and communicative with the people in your life. 

If you fail to recognize your relationships as mirrors, you lose a powerful opportunity to transform yourself for the better. In Buddhism, relationships are understood as causes you made in the infinite past.  Your relationships aren’t random. (Don’t you get it by now?) There is no such thing as coincidence. You chose every single person in your life right now. And with good reason!! You knew that every single one of your complex, beautiful, messy human relationships would serve as a catalyst for the emergence of your highest self!

(👊🏾 You did that.)

Your relationships with people are the stages upon which you define and refine your character. Don’t miss a chance to play a leading role. You can either spend your time blaming others for their faults and failures, or you can use your dissatisfaction as information. As fuel.

 If you’re the journaling type, I encourage you to do a meditation on the the last complaint or grievance you had about someone else. (That was easy!) Ask yourself: What can I learn from this person about myself? How are they showing me to me? Am I waiting for them to change, or am I avoiding changing myself?

As always, this exercise will require courage. It is terrifying work to be honest about the ways YOU are keeping yourself in spiritual/emotional/mental bondage. It is difficult work to look at your life and realize you’re actually just looking at you. But if you’re willing to do it, you’re sure to make  profound discoveries. Look at your relationships as the clear mirrors they are. Change your perspective.

See what happens.

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DESIRES ARE ENLIGHTENMENT

Lately I’ve been doubting myself. I've been wondering why it’s taking me so long to have the wonderful life I imagine.

With all that's going on in the world, finding peace, stability, and security in my life feels more urgent than ever. In short: It's not a f*cking game anymore. I’m trying to shake this habit of NOT making moves, of procrastinating, of continuing to accept less than what I’m worth. As much as I want it, it’s hard to take even the smallest of steps towards the life of my dreams. Sometimes I feel like I’m nowhere close to where I want to be and not getting anywhere fast enough. 

Still, the lesson I keep learning these days is, “Do not accept anything less than exactly what you want.” 

Last week, at a Buddhist LGBTQ conference, I received guidance from Mira Gandy, a leader in the SGI ("Sokka Gakkai International," the world's largest lay Buddhist organization). I told her how wild this year has been for me, and how, now that the dust has settled, I'm eager to pick back up momentum. I told her that I want my career to take off.  I want to finally have savings. I want to not live paycheck-to-paycheck. I want to start planning for a family.  I want to travel. I want to own a house.

Mira listened, smiling and nodding, like she understood exactly what I meant. And then she said something that rocked my world: Your life has to be ready for your dreams. 

In Nichiren Buddhism, desires are enlightenment. What this means is that in order for us to get what we desire, we must first conquer the internal forces that stand in our way. We have to undergo a profound inner transformation (what we call “human revolution”) in order for our environment, and ultimately, our experience in this lifetime, to change.  Mira reminded me that I have to be ready to receive what I want! I have to do my human revolution, and my dreams will follow. I have to elevate my life condition before my visions manifest.

Well damn if I didn't need that reminder. It's so simple, yet so profound: Our wildest dreams require the best version of us in order for them to come true. We have to BE better in order to GET better. 

So. I am learning to forgive myself for wanting and wanting and wanting. I am learning to let go of shame about it. I am learning to celebrate desire (EVEN when it shows up as jealousy, or envy, or resentment, or sadness), and turn these moments into fuel. Because without desire, I'd have nowhere to go.

Pursuing the life of my dreams is so much more than simply demanding what I want, or even what I "deserve." Pursuing the life of my dreams is about seizing every single opportunity to become the best version of myself. Mira reminded me not to get caught up in "the gap," freaking out over how far I've got to go, and to be aware of the causes I'm making in the present for the future.

I share this with y'all because I want someone to remind me when I forget: We’ve got to silence that voice that calls our dreams “impossible.”  It’s THAT voice that keeps people stuck in suffering. It's that voice convinces people they don't have power. That voice nudges our spirits closer and closer to darkness, to hopeless, and tries to get us to stay. 

So don’t give up. Keep wanting. Want it all. Want boldly. Imagine the juicy details, and play them over and over in your head. No dream is too big. No desire too small or too silly. Whatever you want, GO GET IT. Because it’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey. If you want to change your life, you’ve got to change yourself, and that's the most profound and worthy endeavor there is.

On Distance & Absence from the Virtual World

Where do I even begin? I’ve been absent from the virtual world for the past few weeks (okay, so maybe it's months) and though it has been absolutely necessary,  it hasn’t always felt good. I feel a lot of responsibility to you, dear readers, which is why I feel both ashamed of my distance and simultaneously justified in taking  time for myself, without explanation or apology. 

I believe deeply in the idea of living by example. I know (because I have seen it in my own life, time and time again) that the best way to get people to change their behavior is to demonstrate that behavior for them. I notice that when I clean my room, my family members want to clean their rooms, too. When I drink water all day, the people around me stay hydrated. As of late, I’ve been needing to hibernate something serious. I’ve been going through a fucking lot. This whole year has been a lot. I’m in a huge transition phase, and it’s taken me a while to catch my balance. I’ve had to retreat and reflect in order to keep it all together. I’ve given myself permission to be present with what’s happening right in front of me, right now, knowing that doing so is ultimately in service of my community’s wellness, wisdom, and growth. 

That said, you all are constantly on my mind! I was given a timely reminder this weekend at a Buddhist study meeting that there is no such thing as the pursuit of happiness for oneself alone. We practice Buddhism so that we can manifest our life’s highest potential, and help others do the same.

It is with this spirit that I am moving forward — determined to shake loose the things that threaten to hold me back or drag me down, so that I can show the world it’s possible. So that you can do it, too. 

In the midst of what feels like a very human struggle, I’m gathering little bits of wisdom like seeds, and doing my best to nurture them. I am learning a lot about the heart, and how listening to it (and responding accordingly) changes everything about the way your life pans out.  I’m learning about courage, and how it never feels as valiant and glorious as it looks in the movies, but it is still always, always worth it. I’m learning (and re-learning) about grief, and how much information it has to offer if you just let yourself feel it fully.

For those of you who will wonder, I’m fine. Really...I’m okay. I’m still writing, recording my dreams and making lists of my life goals. I’m still taking care of myself, some days better than others. I’m still chanting, determined to really lean into Buddhist wisdom and put it into practice. I’m still making room for joy — dancing until I can’t anymore, delighting in life’s absurdities rather than being frustrated with them, throwing beautiful gatherings in my mama’s magical backyard.

I’ve got a couple part-time gigs to make some extra money for travel, which is my priority in the upcoming year. Working a “job job” really challenges me to use my non-working hours intentionally —  doing things that nurture, restore, and energize me. 

I’ve got so many projects and ideas floating around in my head, and I’m soooooo ready for them to get out of my brain and into the world. Thank you all for listening, for staying here, for loving me, for being my cheerleading squad from wherever you you are in the world.

I hope you all are doing the things you need to do to be great, staying hydrated and eating fresh things, and telling the people you love them that you love them, even if your ego tells you not to.

With love, gratitude, and adoration —

Jamila

On Complaining

Even if it's just in your head, it's a dangerous habit. You've been taught (by centuries old systems of power and privilege) to be angry without action. You've been socialized to believe that you can't do anything to change the things in your life that you don't like. You've been trained to believe that your happiness depends on forces outside of yourself. 

Clearly, this training does not serve you. So you can let it go. 

The truth is: You are responsible for everything around you. Your life is YOUR life. The people, places, and things that surround you are not just reflections of you — they ARE you. Complaining obscures the truth of this reality. Complaining is taking the easy way out. By complaining, you denounce your responsibility to do the difficult work of transforming the experiences that cause you suffering. Instead, you point fingers. You slander. You blame. You name all the ways everyone and everything (except you) need to change. 

If you delude yourself into believing the things and people around you are not YOUR responsibility — you risk missing out on opportunities to cultivate a life of extraordinary purpose. You give up your power. You relinquish your role as the captain of your life's ship, and become merely a passenger. 

The truth is: You are SO powerful, and your words and thoughts are powerful causes. Pay attention to them, and be careful. If you notice yourself complaining, stop and consider exactly what you are manifesting. Ask yourself, "What am I conjuring with these thoughts, these words, this energy?

If you find yourself stuck in a place of hopelessness about a situation or experience — if you hear yourself thinking, "This person, this thing, this experience will NEVER change," know that YOU are an active participant in making that true.  

Let me be clear: No one is telling you not to be angry or annoyed at things that are fucked up and worthy of frustration. Quite the opposite. Be mad! Feel all of your feelings! You have every single right to feel and express your dissatisfaction. But you can't stay there. Let  your dissatisfaction inform your action plan. Let complaints be valuable information, and nothing more. If you don't like something, DO something about it.  Complaint without action is evidence that you have either forgotten (or are afraid to use) your magic. It's fear of taking responsibility for your own life. Let it go, let it go, let it go, beloved.

This life is too precious and too sacred and too fleeting. Make it into what you want. 

On Finding Out My Dad Has Cancer

I am in the middle of an experience that is growing me — that has catapulted me towards a wisdom I have been seeking.  Three weeks ago, I found out that my dad has cancer. I was sitting at my dining room table in my apartment in Los Angeles, drinking tea with milk and honey and writing about being from the South, when I got a call from of my dad’s best friends.  Words fail to describe the feeling I felt when I heard the word “cancer.”  I wept and wept and wept and wept and wept.

Two days later, I was on a plane home to Charlotte, North Carolina, riddled with fear. I spent every day and every night with my dad at the hospital, taking breaks only when someone was able to relieve me.  Staying in the hospital was emotionally and physically exhausting, but I stayed because I felt that not only was it my responsibility to protect him from the dangers of the Medical Industrial Complex, but because I wanted to be with him if those were to be his final days.    

Fast forward three weeks. My dad’s in rehab now, working on rebuilding his strength and gaining enough control over his body to live independently again. My partner tells me I saved his life. I’ll hold off on claiming hero status until his cancer is in remission, but I will own that my presence contributed to him getting well enough to leave the hospital.  

I kept (and keep) having to remind myself that my life hasn’t been suddenly and unrightfully “interrupted." I keep having to tell myself that this moment — my dad’s cancer,  being his caretaker while he’s sick, being ripped suddenly away from the comfort of the life I was building in order to help my father fight illness — is my life itself.  “My life” is not being put on hold. My life is progressing at rapid speed. I know that this is one of those experiences that makes you who you are.

Nichiren Buddhism uses the symbol of the lotus flower to represent each human being’s innate capacity for happiness, despite challenges or circumstances. The lotus flowers seeds as it blooms, representing the simultaneity of cause and effect. The lotus flower also blooms in the mud. This experience is my mud.  Using Nichiren Buddhism as my guide, I am trying to create value out of what is proving to be one of the most difficult experiences of my life.

Despite how hard it’s been, there have been beautiful moments. My parents are speaking again after almost two decades of silence between them. I am getting to know my father better, and discovering things about him that I may not have known otherwise.  I am re-learning the value of self-care, after having no choice but to prioritize my wellness so that I can show up fully to care for him. I am realizing how fortunate I am to have such amazing loved ones and friends.  I am remembering not to take my life for granted, and determining to fully understand what that means. 

On Not Letting Fears Become Realities

It is with a mix of emotions that I enter this new year — relief about moving forward, fear and anxiety about how I plan to spend this year. In less than two months, I’m moving to New York with my partner, who will start graduate school. I feel daunted by this move; the list of things we have to do to prepare ourselves to move across the country is a small cloud that hangs above me. I've heard that moving is the second most traumatic life experience after death, so I’m letting myself grieve and feel whatever I feel so that I can move on from it.

This morning, I wrote in my journal, Why do I feel so sad? Usually, my sadness is really fear — I find myself mourning something I haven’t yet lost. So what is it that I’m afraid of losing?

I've moved all over the place; I've lived in more than a dozen homes in the past eight years. Each move I've made has been in pursuit of some kind of freedom, has been an attempt to get closer to "the real me," — to the life I'm supposed to be living. Each move has served it's purpose; I have gotten closer to what feels like a fully-realized me and a more authentic way of being in the world.  But moving with a partner? For a partner?  That's uncharted territory.

A few years ago, I would have laughed Eartha Kitt style if you’d asked me if I’d ever pack up my life and move across the country for a relationship. I would have self-righteously explained that any relationship that asks me to compromise my own purpose is no relationship I want to be a part of.

So why am I doing it now?  I’ll be honest with you, I don’t actually want to move to New York. As in: if my partner weren’t moving there, I absolutely wouldn’t be either. But I'm doing it because I know that I don’t want to be without her. That I feel so powerful in this partnership. Capable. Safe. I feel like we've got a lifetime ahead of us, and I truly can't imagine the next two years of my life without her by my side.  I'm madly in love with the life we’re building together — with the dreams we share. I don't want to give it up.

Deep in my heart, I know it's the right move for us. Then, of course, my fear pops up and asks, "But is it the right move for you?" After living in Brooklyn for a year and then practically stumbling over myself to get the hell out, I said that New York is a place to live only if you have a good reason to be there. 

But what's a "good reason?" I blame feminist movements and capitalism for my self-judgement, for my shame and sadness around this move. Certainly partnership IS reason enough, but there are some stories I'm holding onto that are trying to tell me otherwise. 

I'm afraid that moving means I'm putting my own dreams on hold. I'm afraid of not holding myself accountable to my purpose. I'm afraid of choosing a small life for myself in the process of helping my partner expand her life. Of course, this is all my ego. This is what Nichiren Buddhists refer to as "fundamental darkness" — the inner-workings of my mind which keep me bound to my unhappiness. The sadness I feel now is clear evidence of hopelessness; my own mind telling the story of my failure before I have a chance to speak for myself.

The truth is, I'm afraid of the me that spent years holding tight to excuses — a me that has stood in my own way more than anyone or anything else ever has. I'm afraid that I'll get to New York and slip back into that old self; that work and the demands of city life will —  as they have in the past — take priority and stand in the way of the big, delicious life I so badly want to claim as my own.

I know that I have to be intentional about not letting my fears turn into my reality. I need to spend some time clarifying the life I want so that I can be courageous about saying no to things that don't get me there. 

On Living in a Trump Era

This election has renewed my investment in using my life as a site of resistance — making the way I exist in the world a radical response to systemic oppression. As a queer/black/woman living in the United States — where every day my body is at risk of being targeted by homophobia, police terrorism, and violent heteropatriarchy — I am compelled to ask, "What does it mean to be free?" "What is freedom, and how will I know once I've got there?" Asking these questions feels like on-the-ground work. A grassroots effort.  I have chosen to dedicate myself to the pursuit of liberation. It's literally fundamental — I am attempting to return to a state of being that is unmarred by the mental, psychological, and physical violence committed against me.

This election has encouraged me to ask questions like, "How do we begin to liberate ourselves from false truths?"  "How can we design our lives according to the true laws that govern us?" Spiritual law. Cosmic law. Laws of the Universe. We hold on too tightly to political and social laws. Laws created by the powerful to maintain their power. Laws that don't serve us. Laws that convince us that we must do this, wear this, say this, believe this, be this. We forget who we are and what we've come from. We are divine beings having a human experience. No one can disconnect us from our power unless we give them permission to do so. No matter what happens in this election, I know who governs my life: Me.  Buddhism teaches that everything in the universe is dictated by the Mystic Law of cause and effect. We create the world around us by making causes. Everything you see and experience are effects of causes made by other human beings. Though you may not immediately experience the effects of the causes you make, they are happening as soon as you claim them as yours.  

In the midst of all that which threatens to steal my joy, I am making a cause to live joyfully. I have come to understand that joyful life is a liberated life. When I make causes for my happiness and the happiness of others, I am fighting for my freedom. My ancestors fought for my freedom, and I am doing the same for myself. I am doing the same for my descendants. I am making causes in my own life as a future ancestor. I commit to doing the work of self-cultivation — to be rigorous in my pursuit of consciousness, presence, enlightenment, absolute happiness, freedom — as my mission to contribute to a peaceful, joyful, liberated world.

On What to do if Trump Wins the Election

What will we do if Trump wins the election?

This question has been the name of my fear for the past few months. Admittedly, I removed myself from all conversations about this year’s election, citing self-care as a reason to detach myself from the nonsense and noise of politics. But here we are, the day before the election, and question remaining, my silence haunting.

I have heard people joke about moving out of the country. I have heard people making actual plans. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous of my friends with dual-citizenship. I, too, have the impulse to run away from it all. To silence it forever. To go where I can forget.  At the end of the day, if I’m being honest with myself, I don’t actually want to spend my life running away from my problems. I don’t actually want to leave people to clean up the mess of my absence. As much as I’d like to do it, I know that moving out of the country doesn’t make me exempt from being engaged with what happens to it.

So what will we do if Trump wins?

Asking this question has revealed a deep fear: Not being self-determining. My fear is that if Trump is elected president, I will lose the freedoms that my ancestors have fought so hard for me to have.   This election has revealed so much of America’s darkness. It has always been there — this ugly side—  this election has just brought it to light.  My fear is that this ugly side will suddenly have permission to show it's face. I imagine how the whole world will turn upside down — how we will regress, suddenly, into the past and be forced to navigate a world more full of explicit violence. 

What will we do if Trump wins?

I have asked the question, and heard the silence after it reverberate for days.

What will we do?

Fear reminds me to take control over my experience. I picture myself in a boxing ring, blinded by lights, standing face-to-face with my fear. Fear is an opponent whose only role in the fight is to help you learn new strategy. Fear helps me recognize when I need to change my own behavior — when there’s something within me that is begging to evolve or transform.

Yes, I am deeply afraid of what will happen in this country if Trump is elected president, but I am even more afraid of becoming a person who willingly hands over her freedom. Who is silent about her pain. Who accepts what she has been handed. Who throws her hands up at the sight of a war-torn country and says, "I voted. I did all I could do." 

This election has helped me articulate an urgent determination: I refuse to be a person who chooses fear over freedom.  A civil rights song gave me the language "Before I’ll be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave.”  If Trump wins, I will continue to fight for my freedom the same way that my ancestors have been fighting for centuries. I will continue to educate myself, to take better care of myself, to deepen my understanding of my inherent value as a human being. I will continue to make loving myself an act of resistance.  If Trump wins, I will throw more parties. I will open my home to a wider community of family and friends. I will be intentional about facilitating and participating in critical conversations about how to make this world a better place. I refuse to let an elected official keep me from my growth, my learning, my pleasure, my joy.    

If Trump wins, we will keep on fighting. When we cannot change our environment, we must change ourselves. We will commit to doing the work of personal growth and transformation. We will keep on showing up for each other. We will become better listeners. We will be more aware of the places and people that could use our magic and energy. We will focus harder on our purpose.  James Baldwin wrote,The point is to get your work done, and your work is to change the world.  

 

No matter who wins, this much is clear: We have work to do.   What happens tomorrow will not make or break us. Only we define our destiny.

I have been silent about the election for months because I have seen how heavy it weighs on people’s spirits. I have removed myself from watching the debates and reading the articles, because it makes me feel hopeless, and I have come to understand hope as some of our most powerful magic.

If Trump wins, I will not be discouraged— I refuse to give up hope about what’s possible for the future.   I will remember that we give away our power by believing that we don’t have any-- that giving too much power over to our politicians makes us forget what we are capable of on our own accord. We have always been fighting for each other. We have always held our own morals and values up against those mandated by law.  If Trump wins, we shall go on. We will each other deeper, harder. We’ll stop being so goddamn afraid to speak out against injustice. We’ll feel renewed in our commitment to be agents for change. 

I refuse to let what happens tomorrow determine the course of my life, and if it tries, I’ll spend the rest of it fighting back. 

On Being A Freelance Writer (AKA Unemployed)

I'm coming up on a full month of unemployment in Los Angeles, and I’m starting to have questions. I moved here to be a writer, after dropping out of grad school* and determining that the only thing I needed to do to launch my writing career was design a life that supported my writing, instead of getting in its way. I lamented my lack of productivity; I pointed fingers at part-time jobs and the hustle of East coast cities. I work too much. I'm too tired to write. I can't think clearly in this loud city. My brain feels so crowded. I turned the excuses over in my mouth like hard candy. My favorite of them all: I cannot do my best writing when I am thinking, all the time, about survival. 

Last week, I had three interviews at restaurants I hadn’t heard of before I applied. I spent the week prior glued to my couch in my still-new apartment, scouring the Internet for jobs.  A few actually seemed promising —  Busy mom with four kids and one on the way seeking help in the afternoons, Real Estate blogger looking for co-contributors (the wordsunpaid buried somewhere in the fine print).  I Googled how to write compelling email subject lines; I got a background check on Sittercity.com to make myself 95% more hirable. I even went to the Career Center at the school from which I’m taking a leave of absence. (*A year of grad school had it’s benefits, but I stepped back when I realized the price I was paying to be there was changing my life more than my classes themselves. I haven’t completely opted out yet, but I probably won’t go back. I’m determined to find a way to study my craft without the burden of being financially enslaved by loan repayment.)  I updated my resume; I finessed my cover letter. I called upon the wisdom of The Secret and visualized an unsaved number calling my phone, and me clearing my voice before answering, then feigning surprise as I gasped, "Oh! Hi, yes, this is she. Thank you so much, Yes! I'd love to work with you, too." 

 

I applied to three writing fellowships in the past three months, which shouldn't feel as noteworthy as it does. The thing is, I've only recently gained the confidence to try and get my writing published; as such, I've only recently discovered how little I know about what it means to be a writer. These fellowships offer mentorship, publication, conversations with editors and professional writers, workshops, panels, feedback, and guidance on making a manuscript.  These things combined are my own personal lottery.I can still be a writer if I don't get the fellowship, I remind myself to avoid being paralyzed by an emotional attachment to the prospect of failure.

I am not ashamed to say I prayed over an application.  I kneeled in front of an altar and asked the Universe to pick me for a miracle.  I don’t know if such things work, but if they do, I want to be the first to say, I believed it all along. 

This morning I wrote in my journal, I suppose I am officially "freelance." This is what I wanted, isn't it? Why doesn't it feel good yet? 

For four weeks I have sat in front of my computer, my body riddled with dread, trying to find a job. “What sort of work are you looking for?” friends and well-connected acquaintances asked. “At this point, I’ll take anything,” I answered, hearing myself say the words and hating how true they were. I had reached a point of desperation around finding a job. I found myself standing at the open mouth of a rabbit hole,  overcome with urgency about designing a life that would allow me to put my writing first. I need some consistency, dammit, I thought to myself, a schedule to follow with intentional space carved out for writing, just enough money to buy a small desk to put by the window downstairs.

In the middle of a last-minute application meltdown last week, I reached out to a writer-friend of mine, who lovingly reminded me that half of our work as writers is putting our work into the world. I always seem to forget this, even though I know it to be the thing about writing that is the most true.  Fear quite often tricks me into believing that what happens once my words leave my brain is up to fate or one of many gods. My friend reminded me that the opposite is true —  that being a writer means joyfully committing not just to the writing, but to the work it takes to give our words a home someplace other than our notebooks and laptops.

At the end of this conversation, a thought occurred to me: What if I stopped looking for a job and spent those hours reading, brainstorming, writing and pitching ideas to magazines and newspapers? What if I abandoned the task of trying to find part-time employment, and instead committed to pursuing nothing other than the thing I want the most?

For years, the idea of being a writer felt like a lifetime of walking down an endless hallway, knocking and knocking and turning all the handles trying to find an unlocked door.  After spending what already feels like forever looking for part-time jobs that will "support my writing" — even though I know my search has just begun — I’m compelled to ask myself what I might be able to manifest if I spend as much time and energy actually pursuing my career. What would happen if I denounce my employment search entirely in favor of spending all my waking moments writing? Will that mean that I’m officially a freelance writer with no boss but my damn self— the thing I want more than anything in the world— or does that mean I’m just …. unemployed?

My brain ran wild: I have a list of places that accept pitches and pay contributors. A few even pay up to 200 per post. Just four paid published articles a month could cover my rent and humble groceries. I'd rather spend 40 hours a week researching, writing drafts, pitching and pitching and pitching until I got published often enough to not have to do anything else!

Thrilled by my own bravery, I started making plans: I’d wake up at sunrise and begin each day with tea, prayer, thirty minutes of journaling, a warm breakfast, and then: writing, writing, writing. Just as soon as the image of myself and my new life flashed across my mind, so did fear. A little voice in my head interrupted my fantasy to say, "This could be the beginning of something wonderful, or it will be one the dumbest things you'll ever do in your life."

So here I am, trying to figure out which one of these things is true.

Most days, I believe in the impossible. On others, impossible is all I can believe.  I know it’s not either or — I can work three part-time day jobs and still prioritize my writing. I can work a full-time salaried job and still prioritize my writing. I can be unemployed, and still prioritize my writing.  I think about Lucille Clifton, and how she raised six children and still managed to write and publish books while doing so.  If she could do it in the seventies while raising six children, certainly I can do it today, without any. The question for me has always been how. This has been my question for years, and I am finally starting to understand that no one can answer it but me.

Being able to write for a living, by which I mean being able to make a living from writing — to not have to do anything else but write — is a privilege for which I pray daily. I believe that miracles can happen only if you think that they will, so I'm trusting the Universe to hold me down on this one. I say all this to say: I've been waiting for this miracle to fall into my lap, but I'm starting to wonder if it's been right in front of me all along. If it's up to me to simply choose it.  But what do you do when the choice to pursue your purpose feels as foolish as it does wise?  I promise I’ll let you know when I find out. For now, my wisdom tells me to just keep writing. My wisdom tells me that if I choose my purpose, it will choose me back. My wisdom tells me to do whatever I need to do so that when people ask me what I do for a living, I can tell them, "I'm a writer," and have no doubts that it's true.

On the Public's Response to the Death of Korryn Gaines

Yesterday I found out about the death of Korryn Gaines, a 23-year-old Baltimorean women who was shot and killed in front of her 5-year-old son in Baltimore Maryland. Korryn was an activist in her own right, speaking out on social media against racism and systemic failures of the justice system. Her stance on the nature of militarized police is communicated in her poem, "The Vampire Theory," below. 

"They hunt the kings and queens with crime. Used to hang us up with strings to trees and other things, now they tote guns with beams and wrist rings, same old ankle chains, still beating us the same, ain't nothin' changed." 

Korryn's social media activism and "mysterious death" reminds me so much of Sandra Bland. In the video below, Sandra tells us, "Social media is powerful. We can do something with this. If we want a change, we can truly make it happen."

There are many details that have yet to be confirmed about the circumstances surrounding Korryn Gaine's death, and even if they to be were confirmed, I can't say that I trust news media to tell the truth, especially when it comes to the death of black people at the hands of police.

What I do know to be true is that Korryn posted video on her social media accounts (Instagram and Facebook) of her and her son on the floor of the living room, with an armed officer from a SWAT team standing at her front door with a gun aimed at her. 

The Baltimore County Police Department admits reaching out to Facebook and asking them to them deactivate Korryn’s account during these “negotiations,” but a one-minute video of the incident remains on her Instagram. The caption reads, “My son is not a hostage. He wants to be here in his home with his mother.” 

It’s said that police were at her house to serve an arrest warrant for failure to appear in court for a traffic violation. It’s said that an officer showed up to her house first to serve the arrest warrant, and --after Korryn didn’t open the door-- they went to the rental office to get a key. It’s said that they opened the door with said key,  but a chain-lock prevented them from entering the house. It’s said that they saw her sitting on the floor with a gun, and they kicked the door down. It’s said she had a gun aimed at them during a several-hour stand-off, and they shot her after she threatened to kill them if they didn’t leave. Like always, there's too much speculation and not enough evidence.

Korryn has a history of recording her encounters with the police. She recorded this video below after she was pulled over by Baltimore County Police for failing to have proper tags on her car, which she explains were stolen by the government.

As I read more and more of Korryn's posts, my mind was swimming. She was so unashamed and outspoken; she refused to comply with having her rights violated by police, she told them "I don't participate in that." 

She was doing and saying what so many of us claim we should do: Speak up! Fight back! And still, Korryn's death hasn't been met with the same public outrage as the other tragic deaths at the hands of police Why? Is it because she had a gun?

Artist/Activist Sonya Renee Taylor spoke out about the incident last night on a Facebook live video, responding to the nature of the conversations being had about whether or not Korryn contributed to her own death. She said that these conversations are misdirected, and that we're questioning the wrong things. 

That statement put the incident into further perspective for me, as I, too, had found myself questioning Korryn. “Why did she have her son in the room with her? Why did she threaten to kill the police? Why didn’t she just answer the door when they knocked? Why didn’t she tell her son to record the video? Why didn’t she put the gun - if she even had one- down, and walk away with her hands up?  

Sonya’s statement checked me, and reminded me to question not the actions of the person who is dead, but the policies and actions of the people that were complicit in her death.

Why aren’t the police trained to de-escalate hostile situations? Why are officers granted permission by law to forcibly enter a citizen’s home without their consent?  Why didn’t they walk away? Why didn’t recognize the situation as dangerous, and do everything in their power to ensure that no one was hurt or killed? 

Instead of questioning Korryn and her actions, I am reminded to question systems in place that make the death of a black woman at the hands of police possible. I am reminded to question: What is the role of police?

Baltimore County Police Department’s states that their mission is “enforcement of the laws and ordinances of Maryland and Baltimore County; the protection of life and property; the prevention and detection of crime; preservation of the peace; and protection of the rights of all citizens.”

If the mission of police is to protect life, prevent crime, preserve peace, and protect the rights of its citizens, then I can think of at least ten other ways they could have engaged with Korryn on that day to uphold that mission.  

If the police aren’t serving their mission, What are they doing?

I understand the human impulse to make sense of these ongoing murders; a lot of people have questions about the incident; are trying to understand who to hold accountable for this untimely death. A lot of people are saying that Korryn was complicit. That she should have backed down. A lot of people are saying things like, She had children! Why not just comply? Why succumb to pride and prove a point? Her kids and her survival should have come first. She should have surrendered. That she shouldn’t have put herself on the front line. Her feelings on police injustice could have been better directed. She put herself in a dangerous situation. She wanted to die. 

I refuse to engage in conversations about how a woman who was shot by the police caused her own death. Korryn didn’t cause her own death. She was shot by an armed officer with military equipment.  Her death was caused by thefailure of the government and the police to protect citizens of color. The ACLUexplains,  “If police forces across America continue to militarize and treat communities of color as the enemy, they will increasingly be seen as an occupying army.” 

Instead of talking about what Korryn could have done not to get shot, we should be talking about what police can do to not shoot people. Instead of asking people of color who are consistently brutalized, terrorized, and murdered by police to take accountability, we need to be thinking critically about why Korryn Gaines felt that she had to have a gun in her house to protect herself from the police.

If I have yet to observe the police serving their mission to protect my life, How and why should I be expected to trust that they will? How and why should I be expected to engage with them as if they are?  

On White People Doing Black Dances

Last week, a video of a bunch of white kids doing a choral version of Silento's Whip/Nae Nae in their (virtually all-white) middle school music classroom made its rounds across the Interwebs. A lot of Black folk reposted this video with some variation of “WTF” as the caption, and I, as a gesture of emotional and psychological preservation, dismissed it as another highlight from the neverending virtual archive of "white-people-doing-white-people-shit." 

Despite my initial refusal to indulge my curiosity; I couldn’t shake the feeling thatsomething about this video was off.  I gave in to the clickbait and watched it.

There was something about the video that confused and disturbed. Something about it that made me sad. A kind of sadness whose source I couldn't name. The kind that sits with you for a few days until it forces you to deal with it.

So here we are.

~

This video was yet another reminder of how Black culture— and, by virtue: Black people— are only seen as valuable when that value is accessible to  and benefits white people. You know that saying, “Everyone wants to be Black ‘til the cops show up?” This is a prime example.  For decades, Black culture has been universally disseminated, adopted, co-opted and appropriated.

White people stay slicking down their baby hairs and getting cornrows on vacation, rocking durags and timberlands as if "urban streetwear" is a new trendand—  as our present example illustrates—  dancing in unison to the latest radio-acceptable hip hop.

Non-Black people appreciating Black culture isn't the problem, and certainly isn't new. The problem is that too many of the same people who exalt Black culture when it serves the purposes of their own comfort, pleasure, and enjoyment are the same people who are silent when Black people are hunted and shot down in the streets like animals. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I'm all for "kids just having fun" and "kids just being kids."  I'm all for opportunities for human beings of any age (and race, for that matter) to be collectively and joyfully self-expressed. And kudos to this instructor, honestly, for trying to be relevant. Really. God bless them. We need more teachers who are keeping up with what young people are listening to, talking about, and interested in.  We need more arts education that is less pretentious and more playful.  

That said: Watching a room full of white kids do the Whip and NaeNae made me wonder if any of these same 50+ young white people have ever had one single conversation about the worldwide civil rights crisis happening right outside their doors.  About the present ongoing struggle for social and institutional recognition of the value of Black lives.  About why there are so few Black kids in their school, and why their absence matters.

I have and continue to experience a selective muteness from non-Black folks about issues that affect Black people, from microagressions that compromise our ability to move with ease in the world, to systemically imbedded laws and cultural practices that target our bodies and psyches —  that are intended to maintain out status as second-class citizens of this country.

It's not that I don't want white people to share in Black culture. I just wish more of them would draw the connection between the immeasurable contributions that Black people have made to this world and why they, too, should be raising their voices and shouting Black Lives Matter through the streets.  

It's not that I don't want white folks to do anything a Black person does first. I just wish more white people showed the same enthusiasm that they show towards Black music, Black fashion, Black language and Black dance towards Black people as human beings whose lives are worthy of being protected.

It’s not that want white people to stop consuming, enjoying, or "appreciating" our contribution to popular culture . I just wish more of them would see us as valuableoutside of it, even when we aren't dancing. 

On Identity as Performance

I want to throw a party for queer, trans, gender nonconforming people of color where everyone comes costumed as their autobiographical mythical character. Like on some real life Zami meets Comic-Con type stuff. Everyone brings something to simultaneously obscure and reveal their true identities: a homemade mask, or (if your life isn’t set up such that you have time to casually be doing arts and crafts during the work week) a mask made in a special Arts & Crafts room before you enter the party. There’d be tables and walls covered with brightly colored wigs and feather boas and fabrics and body paint and bedazzled bralets so people could adorn and mask themselves before you walk in.

Let me give you some context. I’ve spent the greater portion of my life feeling like, 95% of the time, at any given time, I have to suppress  at least one part of myself. As a queer black woman born and raised in the South, ya girl learned to code switch faster than a mothafucka could say so articulate. The only time I felt like Ididn’t have to, at least in some capacity, pretend to be someone else was when I was hanging out with my sisterfriends-- girls (now women) who stayed by my side over the years and continued to love me as I tried on different versions of myself.


A few years ago, I read this this essay that said Black women wear masks with everyone except for their sisters. This resonated with me on a deep level, as someone who, for a significant portion of my life, was convinced I’d never get married in favor of cultivating long-term platonic partnerships between me and my best friends.  

In the company of sisterfriends was the only time I felt like I could be fully myself; the only time that I didn't feel like I had to perform. I think there’s something inherently valuable about those rare moments in which we are given permission to be fully self-expressed. When I say, ‘are given permission,’ perhaps I mean, more specifically: ‘are in rare environments in which we don’t have to fear of the varied and violent repercussions of our full self-expression.’

I’m sure most of us can count on one hand the number of people around whom we feel like we can be our true, full selves. People who occupy bodies that are marginalized, demonized, and criminalized are so often forced to engage in day-to-day performances to gain respect, resources or sometimes, at worst: as an act of survival. 

I started thinking about all this two years ago, when I gifted myself a bright teal wig for my 26th birthday. I bought the wig at a wig shop/beauty salon called Fifi Mahony’s in New Orleans, per the recommendation of a drag queen I had met at a party. Of course.

 

I wore the wig out around New Orleans the first day I bought it, and it was like a veil had been lifted. I felt strange and magical. Magnetic. Sexy. I couldn’t walk into a room without everyone noticing I had entered. I felt powerful. Alive. Putting the wig on was like stepping into character. I indulged this fantasy of immediate transformation, and eventually found myself becoming more and more like the confident, carefree woman I was pretending to be.

For the next few months, I wore the wig on every single first date I went on. I don’t know what came first -- my altered self-perception or other people’s altered perception of me -- but wearing the wig literally made me feel like I someone else. After a while, I realized that character I was so easily able to slip into and out of wasn’t someone I was pretending to be; that character was just… myself.

Growing up consuming media in which Black women were consistently erased (or, if present, were relegated to playing sexless Mammies or over-sexualized Jezebels), it was easy to internalize the violent lie that what a Black woman can and should do with her body is determined by everyone other than the Black woman herself. 

For many years of my young adult life,  I felt disconnected from my body, and subsequently, when I got older: from my sexuality as well. It wasn’t until I started coming into my queerness (at the age of 23) that I really started to see and understand myself as a sexual being. Shortly thereafter, I started to see how deeply terrified the world was of a woman who claimed her sexuality -- how much systems of power and oppression are rooted in women feeling in control of her body.

I felt shamed not only by images and narratives in the media, but by friends and loved ones about my sex and dating life-- made to feel like my sexual thoughts, desires, and impulses were unnatural. Wrong.

Wearing this teal wig allowed me to, for a moment, give myself permission to be the person I suppressed in front of anyone who had ever dared to shame me for being me.  

I'm not saying that wearing wigs out in public is the answer to all of our identity problems. Really, I'm not just talking about wigs and masks here, but anything that allows us to feel like we can express ourselves as we choose. Anything that remind us of the broad spectrum of our humanity. What would it be like to reclaim the performance of our own complex identities?  To step all the way into it, and to do so on our own terms? I forget sometimes, how necessary this is. How crucial it is to give ourselves permission to bring all of us into the room. 

On Being Careful with Your Life

1. On April 4th, 2016, at an AWP offsite event called 'The Making of the American Essay,' American essayist John D'Agata was said, by one of his mentees,  to be a teacher who "made students feel taken care of." During the Q&A, I asked D'Agata what it meant, to him, to take care of his students. He answered in two parts. One: Give them the sense that they should have faith in their own work, and Two: Test that faith. He explained, We have to be honest with each other as an act of care. It helps to have people read you in uncomfortable ways.

2. Be careful, my friend gently scolds me last week, her voice a mother's, when I move too fast in her kitchen. We are cooking dinner together and I have just sliced my finger open trying to dice tomatoes. Slow down, she says, and I can't help but hear it for days.

3.  At a gathering for our dear friend and classmate who had, days prior, made the transition into her next lifetime— brilliant poet, teacher, and eternal student Doug Kearney said to us: Care is not the same thing as control.  Care has to come from a place of love, he explained, not from an expectation that it can change someone or something. Huddled around a bonfire, our faces stinging from salt, our feet buried into the sand, we heard him say it again, in a voice that made us knew that he wanted us really understand: Care is not the same thing as control.

~

Usually, when the Universe wants to tell me something, I hear it three times. I could call this coincidence or magic. I choose— because it makes my life easier—to call it the latter.  

What sustains me through life's many traumas is a deep faith in the idea that everything happens for a reason. It would be foolish to call this idea truth. There is no way to prove it. But believing in it with no evidence other than faith makes the pain hurt less, and so it is what I choose. 

Having experienced three sudden deaths of loved ones in the past year alone, I have come to understand grief as some of the Universe's most powerful and bitter medicine. 

Indulge me, for a moment, with a metaphor: Imagine a great, big house.  This house has many floors. An attic. A basement. Contained, inside this house, is all of your infinite wisdom. Certain keys unlock this house, like love, like courage. Sometimes, you can stand in the front yard and look through the windows to get a small glimpse of what's inside. Sometimes, you're on the front porch with your ear pressed against the wall.  Grief, however, kicks the front doors down. Lights a match to the curtains so that you are forced to run inside screaming, trying to gather everything you can.

A few weeks ago, after learning of Prince’s death, I wrote, You can't feel grief and not be forced to ask yourself, "What do I need to do to not feel this way anymore?"  I called death an "opportunity to step your fucking game up." I suppose —because here I am again with my body full of this familiar ache — that I should elaborate.

Grief is an loud and unapologetic wake up call. A cosmic opportunity for us to run, panicked, inside of our own wisdom to gather whatever we can to make sense of things.   I am convinced that this state of critical inquiry—a deeply engaged attempt to make sense of that which is senseless—is a scared space to be in.  

This urgent desire to shake off your own suffering— the heightened sense of needing so desperately to put your own healing into motion— is a sacred space that we, as we maneuver through this lifetime's many traumas, cannot not take for granted.

~

When someone you love takes their own life, you can't help but ask yourself, What could I have done to make them want to stay?  You know it not your fault, but a small voice inside your mind blames you. This voice says, You should have checked in with them more often. You should have asked how they were doing.  You should have loved them more fiercely. You should have listened to the things they did not say. You should have paid closer attention. 

These "should haves" can destroy you. And they will, if you let them. But guilt, I have learned through drowning it, is nothing more than ego in sheep's clothing. Guilt is a frivolous emotion. Instead of spending all that energy punishing yourself for the things you should have done, the more productive question is: What must I do now? 

~

With the doors of my heart flung open by grief, I am compelled to figure out what it really means to be careful, to "take care" of ourselves, of each other. 

Care, I think, is all about paying attention. It's about paying attention first, and then responding accordingly. Being careful is a kind of close listening. It's about opening yourself up to hear what you have not been able to hear—about looking closely for what you have not been able to see.  

Death makes the truth so obvious: How brief this life is. How un-guaranteed. Though I am haunted by this lesson's unforgiving clarity, I am made brave by it. I choose to believe that my friends deaths — and the grief that has followed — is the Universe's way shaking me out of whatever sleep I've been content to stay in to say,  in that unmistakable cosmic voice, "You literally. Do not. Have time. To waste."

I feel a sense of urgency to make this brief human experience expansive. To live a live so full that it transcends this human form. I feel a sense of urgency to manifest the kind of life for myself that I wish Emi could have lived— one full of generous love, gentle care, and abundant joy. 

When I start to give my life the same care and attention I wish I would have given my loved ones when they were here, it becomes clear to me that so many things have to change.

I return to this quote by James Baldwin time and time again: "The role of the artist is exactly the same as the role of the lover. If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don't see."

These words seem to make their way into my life for various reasons at various times, but this go around, I've heard it anew. The greatest act of care—of deep, radical love—is consciousness.  To be careful with your life is to become aware of how you exist within it.

If you ask yourself: If I die tomorrow, would I be happy with my life? and the answer is anything other than an enthusiastic yesit's time to make some changes.

All those things that you would have done differently? Start doing them. All the things you know you want to change? Start changing them. Pay attention, and respond accordingly. Life is too short for anything other than this kind of diligence.  If we do not keep our hearts and ears and eyes open wide enough to hear the truth — if we are not cautious with our own lives—we might reach the end of our time here having not lived fully.

To my dear sweet brilliant friend, thank you for this reminder. I hear you. Loud and clear.

Life is a delicate and precious thing. We have to be so careful. We have to be so, so careful. 

On Staying Woke and Self-Sabotage

ou sit down at your computer, ready to face the beast of your own mind. You've done all the bullshitting you can do, and now, it's time to write. You're hydrated, you peed, checked Instagram, had your caffeine, answered the phone, called so-and-so back, made the bed, ate, checked Facebook, peed again.

Now. It's time. You get your laptop, open it up, and search for the document you've been meaning to work on for days. The document should be in your drafts page on the new blog site you just paid $12.00 a month for as an effort to show up for your writing, like your mentor told you to. Like you said you would.

Hmm. You don't see the draft. You refresh the page. Still, no draft. You refresh again. By this time, you realize what has happened but there's still a glimmer of hope. You recognize this hope as delusion, and still, you google "Recovering deleted posts on Squarespace." You can tell by the first three search results that it's over, it's all over, but you click on the first page anyway. The internet tells you, in not so many words, "Damn, homie. That sucks."

You didn't save your writing.

~

The above scenario has happened to me more times than I can count. It's one of those things that, every single time it happens, I'm like, "Really? For real? This again?"

It's getting old. Like, really really old. (And Beyonce just put out Lemonade, so I have no excuse not to make a conscious effort to step my game up.) So. Here I am, trying to unpack this shit. 

~

In 2014, I decided I wanted to be a writer, which meant, for me: making moves to to pursue writing as a viable career and not just "a thing I did in undergrad."  I committed to self-publishing a collection of poems I had been trying to muster up the courage to share with the world for the past, ohidunno, ten years? I spent months editing the poems; sending them out to friends whose minds and hearts I trusted, staying up late, working on edits. I hired a someone to design the cover.  I gave up on the whole project, I picked it back up. I gave up again, I picked it back up again. This went on for a while, until finally, after much self-inflicted emotional turmoil, I printed 75 chapbooks at my local print shop. They weren't perfect (I should have used card stock for the cover- eye roll, duh) but they were finished. I took them all home in a box and put them on my bookshelf. 

Bravery had me feeling myself so I decided to book some poetry readings. For my first one, I planned to bring - and hopefully sell!- a handful of never-before-seen, hot-off-the-press chapbooks.  I put them in a plastic grocery bag, wrapped them up tightly like a delicate package, and put them in my backpack.

After the reading, I reached into my bag only to discover that the coffee mug I could have sworn was empty and didn't even mean to bring with me wtf had turned on it's side and spilled all over my bag, staining my  beautiful new chapbooks with the sad brown fragrant evidence of my own self-sabotage.

I went into the bathroom and cried.

I was more than disappointed in myself, I was terrified.  I was shaken by my own lack of self-awareness. What was I thinking? ClearlyI wasn't thinking at all. I felt like my conscious brain had up and walked out of the room and I didn't notice it was gone until it was too late. 

But...where did it go?

~

For years I have subconsciously manifested "reasons" that I'm not sharing my writing. I spill old coffee all over the chapbooks I'm supposed to hand out to strangers who ask to read my work. I "forget" to print my poems before open mics, risking shitty wifi and/or a dead phone. I "accidentally delete" drafts of my work on my computer.

The list goes on.

I consistently self-sabotage my own work and I don't even know I'm doing it. If there's one thing I've learned about ego, it's that it's one sneaky motherfucker.  Ego will show up dressed like fear, looking like jealously, sounding like procrastination, acting like self-sabotage

Ego, no matter the form, is invested in controlling and maintaining a false image of the self.

My ego doesn't want me to be a failure, and so it minimizes opportunities I have to fail. ("If a poem I wrote sucks and no one reads it, does the poem still suck?": A Memoir.)

Not being careful with my writing is glaring evidence of an unchecked ego, and it's a habit I have to break.  Here I am again, in the wake of another tragically unsaved file, looking at myself like...I don't even KNOW YOU.

It's scary to realize that you've been moving through the world in a state of - dare I say? - possession.  

I use the phrase "stay woke" quite often, and though I usually throw it in as a playful hashtag after news or specific opinions I think we should pay close attention to, it's so much more than that. Staying woke, for me, refers to this big idea of consciousness: a deep, heightened sense of awareness of yourself, the world outside of yourself, and what's really real when it comes to both.

~

Self-sabotage is a defense mechanism - I'm protecting myself from the fear that I will fail at something that I so desperately want to be good at.

But fear - if not rooted in any actual concern about your health and/or safety- is just ego. (FEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real!) Nine out of ten times, fear is just your ego creating false truths and tricking you into thinking that those fear-based fantasies are real life. 

("If people read bad poems that I wrote, nobody will respect me and I'll never get paid to be a writer and be forced to work a low-wage job doing something I hate for the rest of my life!"

... Like. WHAT? My ego just be going off. It's so far from the truth that when you say it out loud, it's almost funny. 

Almost.)

Ego and consciousness can't coexist. Ego takes over only when you give it permission to; when you momentarily allow yourself to drift into a state of unconsciousness. Staying woke is about maintaining awareness of what's real- keeping all eyes open for false realities. 

When you're present- not reliving the past or worrying about the future- it's easy to see how you're getting in your own way. It's easy to see that your work is so much bigger than yourself.

THAT SAID, I'm bullshitting as we speak. I really should be working on rewriting this short story I just let disappear into the ether.

So. Yeah. I'm going to go do that.

And you, dear reader, whomever you are. I love you. You got this. Whatever that thing is that you keep doing to get in the way of your own work? Lovingly and respectfully: Cut that shit out. I'm telling you this as I'm saying it to myself: It doesn't serve you, and it certainly doesn't serve the world. We need you. Let's do this thing together, okay?

On Using Death as an Opportunity to Step Your F*cking Game Up

It's hard for me to admit this, but: I wouldn't necessarily call myself a Prince fan. I've always admired Prince and his music, but it would be dishonest of me to qualify myself as a "fan." (Maybe you could blame my parents, but I'm also totally willing to imagine a reality in which my cultural taste was severely compromised by how much time I spent around white people growing up.)

Anyway. The point is: Yesterday, when I found out that Prince Rogers Nelson had passed, I cried. 

A sisterfriend of mine came to find me on campus. We hugged and she held my hands and wept as she said, "I'm starting to feel like this world isn't sustainable for us." This broke my heart wide open. Whitney, Michael, Prince. Our Black cultural icons are disappearing in front of our eyes, and we're wandering around, hands out in the dark, looking for someone who might fill their shoes.

I mean, thank God for Beyoncé, honestly. At least we have Beyoncé. But - no shade- Bey's nowhere close to being half the musical genius or revolutionary that Prince was.  His music transcended. Beyond that, his presence on this planet was culturally and politically radical. The way he lived in the world - how he literally embodied a radical politics- gave so many people permission to do the same. 

What my homegirl said to me stopped my in my tracks. I thought about it all day. This world does start to feel unsustainable, doesn't it? Why is this planet so damn difficult to occupy?

The thing about Prince was: he found a way to live in the world that was sustainable for him, and he did so without apology. I think about Prince and I think about how badly I want to to change the world, how much work I'd have to do to make an ounce of the magic he made while he was alive. 

I cried for Prince and had to check myself.  My subconscious was like "Excuse me? Girl, why are you so pressed? You couldn't even name two of his albums!" I realized that I was mourning not because I felt like I had suffered a personal loss, but for a sense of what the whole world, myself included, had lost.

I came across a post by the brilliant Bomani Jones, who said, "We haven't lost Prince. Energy doesn't die, it transforms."  Y'all. The truth shall set you free. I had kept reading and using the word "loss," but couldn't help but feeling like this was the wrong language. There was something that felt not just dishonest about it, but like we were doing Prince a disservice to say that we had lost something he so abundantly and graciously gave. 

Bomani is right. We haven't lost anything. Just because the source of light is gone doesn't mean we have to sit in the dark.

This is not to say that we shouldn't mourn. Au contraire. I'm a firm believer in feeling your feelings, even the more unpleasant ones. But the thing about grief is that it's an unsustainable emotion. In many ways, it's a call to action. You can't feel grief and not be forced to ask yourself, "What do I need to do to not feel this way anymore?"

Bomani's post rocked me, hard. I realized that when someone who offers a gift to the world is no longer here to give it, it's simply an opportunity for us fill up the space that they left.  What would happen if we collectively shifted our understanding of death from "loss" to "opportunity?" What happens if we decide to create and sustain whatever it was we are so afraid of losing?

My friend Meredith died in November of 2015. She had battled mental health issues for years, and finally decided she was ready to not be here anymore. I met Meredith in high school, and even at 15, you could tell she had demons that some of us will never even be able to imagine. Still, she was such a light. She was unapologetically herself; she loved what she loved and she made it a point to surround herself with things that brought her joy.  

I spent days on her Facebook page  after I got the news of her passing; needed to fill myself with memories, to have something to ground myself with.

Reading through the posts, I came to see that the thing that most of us who loved Meredith remembered about her is how hard, how fiercely, how deeply she loved us. When I think of Meredith - when I remember she's gone- I feel a dull, dark kind of grief in my body. An unparalleled sense of fear.  What are we going to do without that kind of love?

After Meredith died, I made a list of all the people I wished I said "I love you" to more often. I called or messaged all of them to let them know that I wouldn't be able to forgive myself if they didn't know how much they meant to me.  It made me want to love people as strongly as Meredith had loved me.

When I look at Prince, how he absolutely SLAYED every look, every album, every performance; how he refused to live within boundaries; how he committed his life to living his politics... It makes me want to do the same.  I see how the whole world is coming together to celebrate his life, to say how much Prince meant to them, how their lives were changed because of his.

So, I guess I say all this to say: I want to be more like Prince. I want to be someone whose courage and audacity gives the world permission to be brave. I want to see what kind of world we can create when we step the fuck up to fill the space he left. When we refuse to allow his death to mean that now we have to live in a world without his kind of light. 

We've got some big shoes to fill. Let's go.

On What's Happening in My Brain

Okay. So I couldn't decide if this should be:

talking about the spiritual experience i have while listening to drake

unpacking "intellectual property"

explaining why black girls are mad about kylie jenner

being queer & black & woman & lowkey flirting with my sisterfriends: a thinkpiece

why i'm not following the election, a listicle

the first bit of a short story i'm working on about a blkboy who works valet in a parking lot

& anyway, here it is, 12:36 in the morning and outside, crickets are chirping and the sprinklers are going off even though there's a drought here. oh! i almost forgot why i came here. i want to start a school..- oh! this is when intellectual property came in. i want a place to put all these ideas. (dang! you really can literally follow your thoughts. the brain is incredible. humans beings are magic. i should actually map this shit out. like, make an actual map. uh oh. okay. um. oh! the school!) -

i want to start a school that is also a collective that is also a commune. i want to buy property and rent out affordable housing to black & brown & qpoc & [im]migrant & working class artists. because how revolutionary is home? having somewhere to be belong? 

someone remind me to write that post. 

*oh, i almost forgot: intellectual property- i had a brief moment where i was like I WANT TO TELL PEOPLE ABOUT MY SCHOOOOOOOL and then i was like wait maybe i shouldn't post my school idea because what if someone steals it, and then i was like, wait a minute, that's a little anti-the mission statement, whatever that mission statement will eventually be, right? cause the whole idea is that knowledge is revolutionary and belongs to everyone. yes. that's the idea. learning should not be a privilege. if you are human, it is your birthright. so like, i don't want to say "fuck intelletual property" because obviously white people have been stealing the ideas of POC for years and profiting off of our brilliance and magic while we're still fucking disparaged and fucked up, okay, i didn't even want to go here - what i mean is like, i don't want to be afraid of losing something by offering others what i know. i feel the fear in my body, but like, that's what the enemy does best, you know? it makes you feel it. 

ANYWAY.

(would "a midnight train inside my brain" been a better title??)

!  i want to devise a curriculum with artists & creatives & thinkers & healers whom i've met along my journey. i've had such a journey. i want the world to know what these people know, because what these people know is actually magic. (omg. what if the school was actually like a school of magik, like a blkharrypotter real life village of people working to get closer to their magik, wait omg omg omg) -  i want people to start thinking about their lives as their art, to start designing their human experience with intention and rigor and focus and delight. dear god, please, always with delight! 

(do you know that i actually think the words "emoji prayer hands" as if it's an actual expression?"

 

 

 

 

 

 

) in this short story i'm writing, this kid works valet in a parking lot. he parks cars for rich people and spends all day getting high in their expensive cars. he's lowkey a badass and you really fucks with him but there's something humble and sad to him. one of those people who always look tired. who you want to take care of. 

that's really what i want. i want to do things that make people want to take care of each other better. (YO. i'm fucking starving, but i'm afraid if i go downstairs my ego will give me things to do until i'm too tired to write anymore. lol. does that ever happen to y'all? you swear you about to do something and then your subconscious be like "nope," and three hours later you're standing in the kitchen eating cereal from the box watching videos on vine.

omg y'all. my brain right now. this is real life right now, guys)

*i used to be a person who was all "can you guys not use the word guys?" but i also nvr really understood why i was saying that, it didn't bother me but i heard it bothered some other people and i didn't want to be an asshole so i was like, yeah, can you not? anyway the other day my brilliant & beautiful blkboybrotherfriend austin monroe was like, "you ever notice how white feminists are lowkey racist when it comes to language?

is that what he said? ugh i have to open the text to show y'all- literally everything he texts me is epic, i should make a book

*someone remind me to make a book about austin and our friendship

(for real, i could probably create a curriculum based on the things he's been working through and sending me for the past - damn! how many years has it been, now? 2006? 2007?)

my computer is so slow, i've been trying to open imessage for like eighteen days

(*edited to add- lol omg it took so long that i actually forgot to go back to this thought. only catching it now, in the final pre-post read through. phew! talk about a journey! lol. y'all curious as hell if you made it this far! i fux witchu)

oh, - a message just popped in from my sisterfriend (the one i lowkey flirt with, lol) asking me about a picture i just posted on instagram of me & my new ???girlfriend - i'm still feeling meh about the word, i really need to unpack that*

*somene remind me to unpack that discomfort

---a mightnight train to my brain? to my brain? to my brain?

i could also write a post about how being queer is still lowkey highkey terrifying and how i'm really having to like, step into discomfort about it in an effort to get more free because the devil is a liar, y'all, the matrix is real and deep out here and you have. to. stay. woke. 

*someone remind me to write a post about what i actually mean when i say stay woke

ugh *scrolling through text messages* someone please teach me how to not be passive aggressive with people who drain me 

oops

i did it again

y'all pray for me, i'm really working on myself. (& i really do like my new girlfriend. emoji terrified face.) melissa harris perry makes me want to work on myself. beyonce makes me want to work on myself. rihanna, dear god rihanna. can *i too* just be out here on forever-vacation, slaying the looks for black girls all over the world to see how damn BAD we is? 

*someone please tell me how to get iMessages to not pop up in the corner of my screen because IT IS THE DEVIL every time i am trying to do something all i can see is messages messages messages and I'm like "i don't want to be rude and not answer but also it's rude to my damn self if i interrupt my own writing, you know i'm trying to make a serious committment, here

 

and

do you see where this is going?

do you need a map?

i'm hungry now, for real,

i've got to wrap this up

i've got text messages to answer 

lol

okay

goodnight

i love y'all

stay woke

...

1:35am.

lol. i almost forgot!: