While reading this, you might stop and ask yourself, "Where is this going? What does this have to do with writing?" But stay with me...
For Juneteenth, Janelle Monae posted a video to her Instagram encouraging Black folks to center joy and she closes the video by saying her collective believes you don't just live once, you live twice. She doesn't explain if she means via reincarnation or multiple lives within one lifetime or on multiple planes. But I believe her and I believe we live more lives than just that.
This was my last week as a professor and the director of a college creative writing BFA program.
I have quit many jobs in my life. Left cities. And men. Friends and loved ones. Slid from one life into the next not quite reborn but ready to reshape and reimagine. My life has not been linear nor unbroken, but I gather the shattered bits and I fit them together into something both wholly – holy? – familiar and new.
I've begun to accept in life that when that restless feeling takes root in me, it won't release me until I invite in the change that's waiting at my door. I can't always change and grow in the ways I need to change and grow within the context I already exist in. This is not to say that much can't be learned by figuring out how to exist and thrive within predetermined parameters beyond our control, but some lessons require sprawl, require you spilling beyond the bounds of who you believe yourself to be, require that you understand there are no bounds. Insist that you believe in alchemy.
Cherise Morris one of my favorite minds and spirits, posted a "Celestial Reminder" for Juneteenth (You can support her artwork as she returns from maternity leave by joining her Patreon or by making a donation to the Venmo/Cashapp she shares in her post).
In the reminder she talks about Black transcendence and alchemy and how the history of Black folks in this country has necessitated that we "alchemize scarcity into abundance," she reminds us that in physics "blackness" is boundless and that this country has never succeeded in destroying us. We continue to be. We continue to create.
I think if you don't have faith in your ability to transcend and transform, you fall into other traps or dwell in unhappiness. Much of the "Grind culture" that's falling out of favor was a work around for those too afraid to reach toward their dreams without something tangible to do. At the beginning of my writing career, I definitely ground it out, sometimes at my laptop for 16 hours straight, working full-time as I also built up a roster of freelance clients. I hustled because I believed that's what I needed to do to be financially successful as a writer. But. That's not what I needed to do, it was not the one and only path, it's just what was required of me at that specific time for that specific objective. Other people will find other paths and I don't need to return to that grind to "level up," it's not a must-do, a mean to every end.
I'm not currently in that same season. I have to be just as willing as I was to grind to relax and dream and be in quiet because that is what my writing is asking of me right now to draw me closer to my dreams. If I were to take on a bunch of work to make a bunch of money, I would just be distracting myself from what actually needs to be done. I would not be doing what life is asking of me, I would be doing what feels safe and what will be approved of by others. What is comfortable because I've done it before and received the results I wanted. We believe people have to witness us working hard so that they will believe we deserve our success and that work has to look a particular way and we have to sacrifice so much of ourselves in that performance, but that's a real capitalistic framing to put around our art, depositing our souls into a bank account.
I believe this what Akwaeke Emezi means when they say we need to give up our illusions in their new memoir Dear Senthuran, from the "Execution | Dear Nonso" chapter,
Illusions are the best things to burn, I think but some people consider such fires to be threats, and those who start them even worse.
This is a fire.
That chapter is a spell for receiving all that you want and often those things are just on the other side of doing the writing. This week, I read the chapter to my students, then I asked them to do as Emezi does and write down what they want from their lives without shame or fear of judgment or that they are undeserving of all that they ask for. Ask for it all. And I instructed them to consider what small steps they can take now toward the lives they want. I would encourage you to do the same.
I did something similar and recently, I was struggling with a situation and came across my list. The situation I was wrestling with did not at all align with what I had listed that I wanted for my life. I was surprised that I'd forgotten so quickly what I'd asked for and I was thankful for the reminder. It's easier to let go of things once you've been reminded they are not what you want even if they are what is most immediately within your reach.
When I was younger, I didn't quite understand the advice not to take things so personally. Everything felt so personal. Now, I see that so much of how others engage with you actually has very little to do with you. It's their baggage and their trauma and whatever is happening in their lives outside of you. So, why internalize any of it? You become happier because you can move along versus exerting energy trying to change someone or some situation.
This week, I've also been considering the inverse. So much of how we engage with others has very little to do with them and everything to do with us. This is also thinking that has brought me some peace because understanding when I'm not actually connecting, I'm projecting, is equally helpful in understanding which people and circumstances belong in my life and which do not – If I'm just going to be behaving as if I'm talking to myself anyways, might as well be at home staring into the mirror lol. This thinking also centers what you can control – yourself – versus you pushing to control others, which you cannot.
And it allows us to see just how valuable our true connections are, those moments when you and someone else are pushing beyond yourselves to see the other person. It's just as important to cultivate these relationships as it is for us to cultivate our relationships with ourselves. Just like we are often thrown off by how there can be so much difference between how we imagine ourselves, how we see ourselves in the mirror, how we're captured in a photo or a video by someone else, the same thing happens with our sense of self. We have an understanding of who we are but can be warped by social media or someone else's opinion of us or what our culture says we must be. I'm forever attempting to reconcile these distortions of the self through my writing.
For this week's writing prompt, meditation of on the distortion of self you're feeling most deeply right now and how you can set fire to that illusion.
You can also read this beautiful piece about a man who shaped himself to fit his understanding of his absentee father and then when reunited with his father learns none of those things are reflective of who his father is, but that there are so many their identities are tied together. It's a fascinating look at self-creation and what we inherit and how we inherit it. What is meant for us will find a way to be ours.