Yesterday a mentor of mine from grad school said the words “I call bullshit” to me. Now, while admittedly, my first response was the panic of bruised ego- one whose suddenly been made aware of itself- she was right. Minutes before, I had said the words “I don’t have any place to write” in response to the question why aren’t you writing? I had just told her that I had decided not to return for my second year of my graduate program, and together, we were trying to figure out why.

I started with a grocery list of reasons, ones you might give someone you only know in passing. It’s too expensive, I said. I don’t find my classes useful.

Once we waded through the bullshit, we got down to business. She asked me what it was that I wanted. Not just from grad school, from life. From a life as a writer.

The idea that I might have a “life is a writer” is one that, to this day, one small reach outside of my full comprehension. My dad is a visual artist  – has never been anything but – and my mom is a nurse who, in any other life, would have chosen to be a dancer. My parents have always supported my artistic endeavors. I count this as one of my many privileges. That said, I always thought I’d do something else.

I’ll could take you through all the brilliant things my mentor said, but there’s one that stuck:

You have to show up for your writing.

Almost every time I sit down to write, there’s a part of me that’s already halfway out the door before I even get started.  Writing terrifies me. Don’t ask me why. I could give you answers, but none of them feel like truth. Not even to me. I’ve done this for years; I make excuse after excuse.

It’s easy for me to not show up for writing. Writing it’s fucking uncomfortable. Writing is where I see myself the most; when my subconscious is most visible. It’s actually terrifying – laying out all the thoughts in your head.  Telling people what goes on in your mind is a vulnerable thing to do. Claiming that your thoughts are worthy of living outside of your brain is a pretty bold move.

My mentor called bullshit because – I’m guessing- she’s been here before. She’s been to that deep dark place of self-doubt. Of the crippling fear of your ideas and imagination not being “good enough.”

The first step of writing is showing up to do it. I scribbled this down in my journal as my mentor was talking, thinking it was some riddle I’d have to solve later. After a few days of  reflecting on it, I’m like…wait a minute. This is not a fucking metaphor.  You literally have to sitcho ass down in a chair and say, “Okay brain. Let’s hear what you have to say.” It’s like a business meeting…with yourself.

Important tangent: Two years ago, I decided I was going to try to be a writer. This decision came to me after spending a weekend at the Pink Door Writers Retreat- a [now exclusively POC] poetry writing retreat for women and gender-nonconforming folx hosted by (and at the home of!) the brilliant and delightfully witchy poet-mother-goddess Rachel McKibbens.

Rachel brought 40 of us out onto the lawn and had us pair up with a partner. We were instructed to stand face-to-face, maintain eye-contact, and say the words “You are powerful, and your work is necessary” to each other.  We were instructed not to respond, to simply allow ourselves to hear the words. After a moment of silence, we all had to say it back.  “I am powerful, and my work is necessary.”

It is perhaps needless to say that this was one of the realest moments of my life. Most all of us were a weeping wreck after the workshop, partly crying tears of joy and relief and being freed from the burden of believing the opposite, party mourning for the self who had waited so long to hear this truth.

I am powerful, and my work is necessary. I’ve repeated this phrase often to myself in times of distress, by which I mean, times when I have become paralyzed by my own ego. I say ego here and mean: that voice in your head. That voice whose only language is fear. Fear of failing, fear of not having enough, being enough.

I am powerful, and my work is necessary. Just take a minute and say that shit out loud. (No for real, do it.)

I am powerful, and my work is necessary.

Okay so all of a sudden, you’re asking yourself questions, right? How am I powerful? Why? What does it mean to be powerful? My work is necessary? What is “my work?” Who needs it? Why?

It’s taken me years to clarify, but, I’ve come to discover that my work is a journey towards consciousness. This is a lifelong journey. Lifetime work. I often get caught up in what it is that I’m doing, what it is that I’m going to do. What I’m doing with my life is trying to figure out the best way to live it.

I’m one of those woowoo’s who believes we all go on forever. YOLO was my actual mantra for like, at least two whole years. I only get to occupy this body in this lifetime once. Then, I’m on to the next life, the next form.

I often forget that everything I do is a journey towards consciousness.  What I mean by that is: I’m just trying to get free and to do so publicly so that other people might see me and give themselves permission to to the same.

Part of getting free, for me, is getting past fear. Not being fearless, but being brave. It’s taken me a long time to understand what it means to be brave. I’m still figuring it out, but I’ve learned that it’s just simply doing it afraid.quote-when-i-dare-to-be-powerful-to-use-my-strength-in-the-service-of-my-vision-then-it-becomes-audre-lorde-17-89-27The biggest threat to artists is myth that our work is not necessary. (Don’t even get me started on what happens when you add in the words woman, queer, and/or POC to the mix.)

Every time I sit down to write, the entire time I’m writing, I hear a voice in my head going “Huh? This doesn’t even make sense. Where is this going? This sounds like shit.”

It’s unpleasant, to say the least. The exercise is to show up for that discomfort. 

Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 11.04.55 PM

Being brave is all about giving yourself permission to struggle. Struggling IS the work. If not making forceful efforts to get free, then what am I doing?

~

A friend that I’ve known since high school just finished the first year of an MBA program. When talking with her about how the hell it is I plan to make money in my life, she said to me, “If you want a successful business, you have to fill a need.”

The thing about being a writer is… there’s a whole world out there that tells you that your writing isn’t necessary. That what you’re doing is extraneous. That it’s some kind of luxury.

The exercise, then, is believing that what you’re doing is powerful and necessary. I’ll wrap this up. This Ira Glass video keeps popping up on my newsfeed:


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/24715531″>Ira Glass on Storytelling</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/thedak”>David Shiyang Liu</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Basically, the only way to be a writer is to write.

I guess what I’m trying to say is: Here I am. Okay?  I’m trying.

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in the morning,
i am a whole song
loud,
and unfolding.

i am a warm body,
i am mouth-full
i am everything
i am
all at once

in the morning

the air crawls
through the window
like a secret
lover, she says:
welcome to this day

you are alive, now
and the sun has not yet
opened its mouth
wide enough to swallow
anything

who knows where i’ve been
while i sleep?

she knows
i get lost and am looking for home always
i am trying to be be everything
that might
lead me back
to myself

i am am a lighthouse
& the shore &
a map, unfolded

good morning,
i am alive, now
and i am remembering
the stars
and the moon
and the song she sings to the shore

this song
is mine
it is my first language and
her body, dark and endless
like mine
is just another
mouth open to the sky

today
i can be everything

i am trying to be
every part of something that might
remind the world
to remember the morning
to sing the song of wind
with an ancient tongue

i am the sun, glistening
with the promise of light

i have chosen this body
because it knows
how to find its way home.

Today I opened a window and it smelled like Winter. Today I poured cream into a cup of coffee and watched it bloom. (What an honor to the audience to such a delicious dance). This morning, the sun shone through the window and the shadow it made the fire escape made on the curtains was every kind of amen. This morning, the color of my lover’s skin was the reason I believe in God.

All this, I think,
is what I mourn for you the most:

The no-more-ness of simple pleasures, how you will not smell Autumn this year, or roll down the window to taste the wind on an open road, how you will not know a new season is here from the smell of a sky before it is
cracked open by rain
again.

Sandra,
I hope your life was full of delights.
I hope someone loved you
and knew each of your pleasures
by name.
I hope they always gave you
the window seat,
the last bite. I hope they kissed
your mouth in public. Hope they read
your favorite books to you
out loud.
I hope they got you flowers.
Not all the time, just
when it mattered.
When they really, really
meant it.
An orchid, or lilies, perhaps
a bouquet in half-bloom,
to leave room for the opening.
I hope they prayed for you,
even if they did not
call it
prayer.
I hope they told you to
stop smoking.
I hope you tried.
I hope they held
your hands. Let you sleep
in. I hope they loved you
hard and full and
without flinching.

But most of all,
I hope they said
your name.

I hope they said your name
and the sound of it was yes
their native tongue
the only home they knew
a promise worth keeping

I hope your name was
nourished and full
a heartbeat in the quiet
a deep breath in the noise

I hope they said your name
and the sound of it was gospel
the string section
a perfect harmony

I hope your name
was a crackling fire
a child’s laugh
a match, struck

I hope your name was
wind through the leaves
waves licking the shore
a grandfather clock, loud
and unafraid of time

I hope your name was
the first bite of a ripe peach
a wind chime
a page turned
a rolling boil
–steady and opening

Sandra, I hope
your name
was a ballad
a blessing
amen
hallelujah

I hope the sound of your name
in their mouth
made you feel
like the first day
of Spring.

Like you were a garden
and everything was in bloom.

Like you were a seed, once
and the water, and the soil.

Like you were the sun. The light
over everything,

Like you
could make anything
grow.635727141030450897-Sandra-Bland-071715

A friend tells me she was denied service at our school’s cafeteria.

She went in for breakfast with a white classmate who was served quickly and without question. After waiting for her order to be taken,

waiting
and waiting

She says, I’d like to place an order, and she is told that breakfast is no longer being served.

But you just served her, she says, and though I was not there, I can feel her voice rising to match this ancient memory rearing its ugly head.

The employees throw up their hands. Shrug their shoulders. Walk away.

When she tells me, I think: No way. 

Maybe they ran out of breakfast ingredients. Maybe you really just got there at the cut off time, and they might get in trouble for serving you. Maybe… Maybe… Maybe they didn’t see you until it was too late.

I say none of this, and though I’m sorry that happened to you is one of many thoughts running through my mind, I cannot quiet the noise of its company.

More often than not, my response to racial microaggressions is to give people the benefit of the doubt. To consider every possible alternative other than racism.

All of this is about survival.

My first year at Burning Man, I attended a workshop entitled “Being Black on the Playa.” One of the workshop leaders—another Black woman and a several-year Burning Man veteran—encouraged playa virgins to release whatever attachment we had to narratives about us being unwelcome or out of place there. She offered a manta that helped her navigate her experience as a Black woman in primary white spaces— one which allowed her to exercise a sense of agency that is so often denied us: The world does not happen to me.

When I heard these words, I felt relief. For so much of my life I was told—and believed—that I had no choice but to be a recipient of the world’s injustices.

This little phrase empowered and liberated me. I realized that, more often than not, I do give the world permission to affect me.

And who does that serve? Whose power does it uphold when I allow other people’s thoughts about me to become my own?

I carried these words with me and wore them like a shield during unpleasant encounters – reminding myself anything that seeks to destroy me can only do so if I let it.

~

 

Ultimately, I want to live in a world with fewer sharp edges. Where I don’t fear that every non-Black person is thinking the worst about me. Where I can go out on a Saturday night and dance and eat and laugh and not be reminded of how the world sees me, or worst: doesn’t.

~

The other night I went out with a girlfriend of mine in downtown LA—barhopping with some business school friends of hers. We end up at a faux-dive bar, a typical scene: dim warm lights, music no one has ever heard on the radio, hipsters with pints in hand moving in and out of the shadows.

We go to order a drink, and as we wait, I survey my surroundings. The bartender isn’t old, but he is older than me: thin, white, bald, and an appropriate mix of friendly and cavalier. I order my drink and as we wait I notice a small fishbowl full of assorted condoms and matches on the bar. Remembering an old boss’ impressive match collection, I dig my hand in. The bartender sees me and immediately turns away, feigning obliviousness—

Take what you need! I won’t look he says, with one hand covering his eyes.

Oh, I say, shaking my head. I don’t care. No shame here.

I pull out a small rectangular box, and slide the cover back to reveal a bundle of of bright-green tipped matches. Swoon.

I love match boxes, I say. So classy.

Right? He agrees, and I don’t doubt his sincerity.

My friend comes up behind me and peeks over my shoulder at the fishbowl. Whatchadoin? She asks.

Getting matches, I say.

Of course, she responds, and I love her for knowing me.

She’s got good taste, the bartender offers.

Oh, she knows, I say, smiling.

Do you know who Oscar Wilde is? He asks.

My smile disappears. (If I was a white girl, would you be asking me if I knew who the fuck Oscar Wilde is?) I give him my standard “are you for real?” face, which comes, at this point in my life, more as an instinct than an intentional response.

Of course I know who Oscar Wilde is, I say, my head cocked to the side, my words pointed, too many drinks in to fully process –and reign in—my offendedness.

Okay, okay, he says, throwing his arms up in surrender.

But why you gotta do me like that? I ask him while looking directly at my friend, a coded way of asking anyone around to witness: “Is this what I think it is?”

I was just going to say, the bartender offers, diffusing: There’s that Oscar Wilde quote, “I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.”

I narrow my eyes at him, purse my lips, hum a not-so-neutral mmhmm and walk away, over it.

My friend and I make one round of the venue, and though I’ve never been here, I know this place well. It’s getting late, I’m hungry, and now experiencing a general and un-noteworthy agitation.

Do you want to get food?

YES, she says, and I’m thankful for any reason to be somewhere else.

We dip out of the bar, past Oscar Wilde’s biggest fan. The night is surprisingly cold (surprising in the way that any weather below 50 degrees is surprising in LA), so and we lock arms for warmth and begin our search. A bougie pizza place to our right—nah—but a taco truck a block away. Yes.

A cardboard sign with pixelated photos of the menu options reads:

TACOS   QUESADILLAS   PUPUSAS   HOT DOGS

A small Latina woman has her back to the sidewalk, and consequently, to us. She is pushing onions and shiny green peppers around on the grill with a giant spatula, turning hot dogs over to reveal artfully browned undersides.

Ooh, pupusas, I say, like I’m hurt.

Cuanto cuesta una pupusa? I ask, empowered after a few drinks (typical) to communicate with her in Spanish.

No tengo pupusas, she says, her body now half-turned, dividing her attention between us and the grill.

No tienes pupusas?! I whine, dramatizing my disappointment even though I’d happily tear up anything on that menu.

Want to split a hotdog? My friend proposes.

Duh. I say. Everything on it?

Duh, she responds, and I revel in the delight of shared delights.

How much is a hotdog? She asks.

Five, with soda.

Oh, no soda. Just the hotdog.

Four.

As the woman prepares our food, my friend digs through her purse, pulling dollar bills from various pockets and folds. A white woman steps up beside us and orders a hot dog, everything on it. Arms still locked, my friend and I sing a chorus of  as the woman piles on onions, mayo, mustard, and ketchup—the works—onto a thick, glistening piece of meat.

She picks the hot dog up with tongs and places it gently into a little cardboard boat. My friend and I break apart, both preparing to receive our bounty.

She turns and hands the hot dog to the woman in line beside us.

Oh. Didn’t you guys order? She says.

Yes, we respond in unison.

Oh… I think that’s—she begins to say to the server, but the hot dog lady has already shoved the hot dog into my friend’s hands and turned back to the grill.

My friend and I exchange a look.

Thanks, she offers to the white woman.

No problem, she says.

That was so nice of you, my friend continues, and I am simultaneously irritated and grateful that she’s never been one to fail to recognize someone’s kindness. Most people would have just taken it.

 Well, you guys were here first, our hotdog ally sort-of laughs, and I can’t help but wonder why this fact mattered so much to us and not at all to the woman behind the grill.

We’re used to it, I say, in a learned tone—an attempt to make her feel better about witnessing what we live every day.

We pay, and eat our food on the sidewalk. The hotdog is cold.

~

We go back inside the bar and now that my hunger’s been quieted, I’m aware of my body’s other needs. I have to go to the bathroom, I say, and lead the way to the back of the bar.

On the way to the bathroom, we pass a photo booth. I notice a wallet has been left on the seat. It’s pink and spotted with polka dot hearts. Someone left their wallet, I say, looking around for its owner. My impulsive empathy for the party girl and my “I don’t want to deal” vibe bump heads. I decide to leave the wallet there, in hopes that its owner is somewhere around and will find it soon—or someone else will see it and make the philanthropic gesture of returning it to the bar. I continue on to the bathroom.

There’s a line. Of course, as always. We wait, and wait, and wait. When we finally come out, I check to see if the wallet is still there.

It is. God dammit. I can’t tell if I feel empathy or guilt now, but I go to the photo booth and pick up the wallet, hoping a photo ID will make it’s owner quickly apparent. I open it up, and shuffle through some receipts that have been placed in the middle. Before I can get much further, it is snatched from my hands.

WHAT THE FUCK!? A short white girl is looking at me with panicked, angry eyes. She storms away, wallet in hand, hair trailing behind her as she disappears around a corner.

I wasn’t trying to steal it, I say to no one, and I am all of a sudden exhausted and ready to go home.

~

These three encounters all happened within the span of half an hour. They all happened. All happened to me.

And yet, when my friend tells me she was refused service in the caf, my heart stumbles over itself to get to a reason that is less painful than the one I know to be true.

My mind knows that any of these instances could easily have been simple misunderstandings. Unfortunate coincidences. (Maybe the bartender doesn’t have a lot of literate or educated customers. Maybe the taco truck employee got confused and thought we were all eating together. Maybe the woman who snatched her wallet from my hands just had too much to drink and would have had that response to anyone.)

I am aware of how much energy it takes to conjure a new reason for each of my life’s many inconveniences.  I recognize how absurd it is to call these “inconveniences,” as if they’re minor hiccups in an otherwise smooth experience.

My lived experience as a Black woman in this country compels me to understand that these are not isolated incidents. These are the front-line effects of a terrifying and invisible system.

Is not letting the word happen to me just pretending that the world is not happening?

~

I’ve been reflecting on the words of Toni Morrison, who explains that racism is a distraction.

“It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and so you spend 20 years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says that you have no art so you dredge that up. Somebody says that you have no kingdoms and so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary.”

How do I not let racism distract me? What does that look like?

To consider microagressions as minor annoyances that I can choose to dismiss is to deny the daily psychological battle Black (or any “othered” person in this country) has to face. It puts the onus on me to respond to systemic injustice with forgiveness and grace, instead of holding the perpetrators accountable.

We are expected to let racism slide off our shoulders—to continue chatting it up with the bartender (it’s okay), to still tip the taco truck generously (don’t worry about it) to find the white girl and apologize for her confusion (I’m so sorry; it’s not your fault.)

How do we not let racism distract us without silencing ourselves? How do we tell the truth about these experiences? To name them without spending every minute cataloguing the day’s injustices? How do we take these moments seriously without letting them destroy us?

I don’t know the answers yet, but I know that I’ll never find them if I don’t ask the questions.

 

 

 

 

 

12299334_10205326627750842_861036241077893522_n.jpgToday I’m thinking about my sweet Meredith Leigh.

Why she didn’t want to be here. How she didn’t know how to stay.
What was happening in her head that made this life so unbearable?

I never tagged Mere in this photo, because her neck is freckled with stitches, and as much as I couldn’t ignore them, I wanted to pretend they weren’t real.
I wanted her to want to be here, and selfishly didn’t want any reminders of a reality that didn’t have her in it.

I want to curse death, for taking her, but how can I when she had her hand out to it for years?

I curse myself, instead, for pretending like I didn’t see her reaching. For being one of countless people who take advantage of the comfort we get to maintain when someone else’s sickness is invisible.

I have remind myself, daily, that mental illness IS real. That it’s an illness, like any other. That, like cancer, even if it allows its victims moments of normalcy, it’s always there. A bully-ghost. Always around a corner, waiting to fuck shit up.

I have to remind myself that if someone I love was suffering from pain in their body, I would wish it away with all the prayers I own. But if that pain were stubborn or cruel, and stayed, I would pray for their suffering to end, even if it meant not having them around.

I have to remind myself that just because I could not see her pain doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.

So I recognize that this grief, mostly, is for myself. For never being able to share poems with her again, or have her read me stories beneath weeping willows in the park that raised us, for not being able to hug her neck again, or kiss her sweet face once a year, at least, when we’re both home.

~

I don’t understand not wanting to live.

I give thanks that this reality evades me.

I do not take my desire to be here for granted.

I celebrate that every day, something has tried to kill me, and has failed.

I realize that knowing how to stay here is a privilege.

That my mind, unhaunted, is a gift.

I recognize that my silence is compliance.

I don’t know what it means, anymore, to “stand in solidarity.” I suppose, for me, it is to say: I understand what it means to live in fear, and to be feared. I understand what it means to grieve a senseless thing; to use every fiber in your body to try and understand what cannot be understood.

My heart aches for every country that is being torn apart by fear, hatred, and violence, including the one I occupy.

Reflecting on how to use myself to put light into the world in the face of so much darkness.

Reading, listening, thinking.

Giving thanks to every god and spirit I know to be alive.

It’s hard not to become depressed about writing. Or about not writing, which is mostly my case. The thing I am struggling with the most, right now, is not feeling like an artist, and wanting to desperately to claim the title. Not because of some self-righteous reasons, but because the medium in which I am working (text) feels so far from the people I am trying to reach (who are they?)

I submitted a proposal for my documentary strategies class (on pleasure as a radical and revolutionary act, specifically the documentation of pleasure using image and text) and the feedback I got was, for the most part, useless. I feel like I always get the ‘have you read this author?’ feedback, when my white counterparts get actual analysis of their work. Of course I’m exaggerating, there were some comments outside of recommendations of artists and writers I should know, but I still feel like these comments are coming from a place of overwhelming whiteness. I am not making art for white artists and writers, and yet those are primarily the people who are critiquing and analyzing my work.

I suppose I should ask myself “Well, then, who are you creating art for?” and the answer is, simply, I don’t know. And that’s where I get stuck. Because I’ve spent my whole life consuming art and writing and television and movies and popular media that didn’t have me, as audience, in mind. I don’t know if this is a universal concern; are my white peers asking themselves this question? Perhaps they are, but there’s something that feels particularly specific, for me, like I’m doing this on behalf of some greater good. I feel so strongly about using my writing to set people free, using my ideas—and my capacity to communicate them—as a means by which to liberate the masses, the black/poor/queer/fat/ugly/disenfranchised/colonialized.  I feel an impulse to do this work for people who don’t had my middle-class upbringing, traumaless past, and access to higher education, but I don’t know who they are, how they talk, where they go, what they read, or how they’d come across my work. Of course, the time and energy I spend considering all of these things take a comfortable front seat to my doing any actual writing.

My graduate workshops feel, on the one hand, like an opportunity to indulge in a writing process, to develop a  piece of writing in a specific way, but they also feel like a danger-zone, like I have to keep all the feedback at arm’s length. I have a cardboard box full of responses to a piece I submitted a few weeks ago. I am too afraid to look at them. I am afraid the ideas will get into my head and I’ll never be able to un-hear them. I’m afraid I’m writing for an audience of white people who don’t get it. I’m afraid I’ll start writing so that white people get it. I’m afraid white people don’t understand the value of my work, because white people are who decide what’s valuable. I am angry that my brain is filled with these one-sided conversations with myself, instead of ideas about the art. I’m angry that their white brains get to be filled with ideas about art, and not about who is consuming it, because they’ve been privileged as consumers of art. I have to think about my audience, because nobody thought about me.

I know the answer is to give myself permission to not think about the audience, to just make the thing, or write the thing, but that feels wrong. Dishonest, in a way? So then, maybe the answer is to write for myself. What do I want to hear? What do I want to see? Which is to say, how do I write privileging a woman, black, queer, conscious, middle-class, educated audience? (I know that’s what I need to do, but let me just say that I am actually terrified that I am not capable of producing the kind of art I’d want to consume. Let me also acknowledge the fear of all of this being a waste of time—that I’ll find myself on the other side of this MFA and go “what the fuck was I thinking?”)

And then how does grad school, work, then, if I am my intended audience but I am the only one of me? (Or, to be fair, I should say, one of few.) It’s difficult to engage with learning when academia has been a place that has taught me a lot I need to unlearn. (Why didn’t I think about this before agreeing to the whole thing?)

I feel like I’ve reached a dead end here, so I’ll stop on this note: I must approach my writing FUBU style: for myself, by myself, which is not to say alone, but as the producer and the consumer, the performer and the audience, the teacher and the student.

ASHE.

Four years after graduating from college, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. (Disclaimer: I wasn’t worried about it.) I dodged a serious bullet by not getting into grad school right out of undergrad, and spent the next four years living in the world, indulging in your standard “Oh, shit! I’m grown” adventures: Moving away from home, dating for the first time, playing, playing some more, playing again. (Disclaimer: It’s fine.)

What’s that saying, “no idea is a new one” or something like that? The decision to get a writing degree was undoubtedly an influenced one; I was dating an English professor (every nerdy girl’s dream), it was my first (and last) year in New York (so being a starving artist was a more pressing concern than it had ever been), and the increase in incidents of police brutality against Black people left me turning, time and time again, to writing as a way to process, grieve, and heal.

Writing, for me, exists at the intersection of pleasure and purpose. I chose to pursue an MFA in writing because I love to write, and I want to use my time on this Earth to help people get free.

It made a lot of sense to use the former for the latter. I’ve been writing since I knew how to hold a pencil. It sustains me. It’s when I feel most present, most connected, most in flow.  It just never occurred to me that I could do it as a job. 

In the summer of 2014, I went to Pink Door, a women’s writing retreat hosted by the brilliant and badass Chicana poet Rachel McKibbens. Spending a weekend in the company of other women writers was the only evidence I needed: I could do this for real.

Once I gave myself permission to claim the identify writer, I thought, If I’m going do this – if I’m going to really do this- then my writing needs to  sharpened. Fine-tuned, greased-up, on point, and powerful enough to change the world.

So:  grad school.

In my personal statement, I wrote: To occupy this body in this lifetime is not only a sacred gift, but also a privilege; I am able to see what many cannot. I understand that in order to change something, it must first be recognized. Writing is how I show the world itself. As such, cultivating my writing is as much my pleasure as it is my responsibility.

If you’re considering grad school but don’t know where to start, ask yourself the following questions:

What’s my biggest delight? What do I love to do? (I mean really love, I mean not the thing you have been doing, but the thing you really want to do.) When do I feel most present? When do I feel like I can bring all of myself into the room? What do I feel called to do? Why am here on this Earth, in this lifetime? (There’s no wrong answer.)

These are no small fish to fry. But if you sit with them, you can discover a lot.

Once I had arrived at the conclusion that grad school was for me, I had to figure out how to get there.

~

I didn’t think about student loans before I applied.
I didn’t think about student loans before I applied.
I didn’t think about student loans before I applied.

I skimmed the Financial Aid pages, and saw myself going down a mental rabbit hole I didn’t want to go down. I  know myself; If I would have indulged my fear of debilitating hardship, I would have never gone through with the applications.

I wanted to kill two birds with one stone (moving to the West Coast after having been on the East Coast all of my life and going to grad school), so I hit up Poets&Writers Creative Writing Programs Database, narrowed my search down to schools in California, and went from there.

I asked myself these questions:

  1. Is the program interdisciplinary? Does it allow me to write across genres?
  2. Are the faculty interesting people doing interesting work?
  3. Will I feel mentally/emotionally/psychologically safe while I’m there?
  4. Will this program provide me with the resources I need to navigate a career as a professional writer?

I applied to three schools, and decided on CalArts because the answer to all of those questions was yes.

Tuition is $43,400 a year, and living expenses make the cost of attendance a horrifying $58,000. I got a $20,000 scholarship from CalArts, took out a $20,500 loan, received two privately funded scholarships (totaling $2,750), got a $2,000 work study award, and worked four jobs to save $7,000.

I know. Yikes. I decided it was worth it, because if I cant indulge in what brings me joy, then what’s the point?

~

Yes, grad school is expensive, and terrifying, and all of the things that people say it’s going to be. It’s also really fun, sort of like summer camp, where you get to spend two to there years of your life doing the thing you like to do the most. (Or, at least that’s how I think it should go. Ask me in two years.)

I’ve just passed the three-week mark at CalArts, and when people ask me if I love it, I say yes from the bottom of my throat. Yes, I love it.

I love being surrounded by artists. I love having the space and time and support to write. I love reading about writing. I love the ideas I’m getting. I love that I have permission to dive, head first, into this thing that sustains me. I feel my voice getting stronger and my vision getting clearer. As cliche as it sounds, grad school (for me, at least) was not a means to an end, it’s a part of the journey.

I may feel differently when those loan bills start to roll in, but for now, I’m enjoying the ride.

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Composed with text from Jose Luis Borges’ The Immortals | 09.26.15

1442805460_viola-davis-lgOn the night of the 2015 Emmy awards, several friends texted me asking if I had seen Viola Davis’ speech. I try to disconnect from television as often as possible, so I had decided not to watch the show. My friends know me well (there’s nothing I love more than a Black girl killin’ it), so I logged on and watched Viola’s beautiful speech.

Viola Davis became the first Black woman to win an Emmy for best actress in a drama. This moment is our moment. Black girls around the watch Viola tearfully; we indulge and share in her glory because when one of us wins, we all win. There is a shout heard round the world— a call and response led by black girls who say “When I see you, I see myself.”

When we don’t see black women on TV, in movies, in magazines, literature, we are told – and worse, believe – that certain experiences do not belong to us. When we are erased, we are told that our presence isn’t valuable. When we do exist, we do so in service of white people: to nurse their babies, to clean their homes, to wipe their tears, to stand behind them, to ensure their success.

When Viola says, “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there,” she reminds us that our absence from the roster of winners has nothing to do with our merit and everything to do with a cultural fiction which tells us we have none.

So we cry when a black girl wins because we’re not only being recognized for our excellence, but because we’re being recognized at all. We cry when a black girl wins because her success is our potential. We cry because the world is one step closer to knowing the truth- that “the only thing that separates women of color from everyone else is opportunity, – and goddamn, all we want is the truth.