"This is a hard world. Indeed, it is. We have to hold our people accountable when they are wrong. We have to know how to act when we are right, and be strategic."
-My philosopher daddy, sitting on the back porch of the house I grew up in. He sits in the dark to get closer to God.
"Yes, I agree...somewhat. I agree that if this is a hard world, and indeed it is, we must remember how to be soft. How to hold the hardness of this world accountable. Isn't this how we build a new thing? In us? In the world?"
My dad says, "You have always thought way too deeply into things." We eat pizza. We laugh with my girlfriend about spices, his new toy car, and then go to our respective homes. The dialogue continues to do its work...on each of us, and I give thanks.
I became a writer because of my emotion. The ocean and thunder and the sky, swirling around inside of me until I would turn my depth into some strange gathering of letters and syllables. I remember crying when writing at a very young age. While writing can be cathartic, or it simply is, there came a time when I began to see outside of myself. I think this is when I became a writer.
This was different.
I was not simply shedding pain or making meaning of my own confusion. Instead, I was interpreting, rearranging, rethinking, and turning and turning and turning—my paper is clay.
When my writing began to alternate its aims and entered into a space of mutuality, I believe that is when I became a writer. It was when I began to desire that those who read or hear my poems were able to somehow see and hold themselves.
I am grateful for this writing prompt from Gabriela Pereira as I utilize her diyMFA Book Club to exercise my muscles. I am also grateful for The Watering Hole, an organization building poets of color from the ground up. It is where I wrote my first draft of an origin poem just a couple of weeks ago.
Where is the poem?
Somewhere telling me it is a draft and teaching me patience. ;)
That thing you do or have dreamed of doing that no one has seen done before? They may not like it, but do it anyway.
The way you approach it may be seen as unruly, seeking vengeance, or causing an uproar without action, but please do it anyway.
You may hear rumors of you beginning wars. You may hear rumors of attempts at, or even witness, a cloning of your offerings. Please, do it anyway.
The thing burning inside of you to come out, even if it sounds like a screaming banshee, let it out. Let it out.
The truth is in the evidence of what was once unseen, coming into form. Do not allow fear, shame, or stances along the sidelines to deter you from what you must do.
Even if it cannot be understood as a doing, please DO IT ANYWAY. I would rather risk your choice of doing allowing something unseen to come to life than for you to die and it was never done.
Do it anyway.
Your pain is not your only poem. Do not become one with what no longer serves who you are becoming.
Your healing is a poem, too.
Write it into the fabric of seen & unseen.
Rock yourself into remembering.
You chose to come here for a reason.
Your healing is a poem, too.
Your healing is a poem, too.
Your healing is a poem, too.
have this way of
to the needs of the people.
Serve it up, but remember:
So, real talk: working within teams is very difficult for me. Yup, I said it.
It absolutely has nothing to do with others. Simply put, within my head exist deadlines, administrative minutiae, and creative ideas that have no ceiling. It can get pretty wild in there! Funny thing is, it is by working with and leading a team that I am learning my strengths, weaknesses, fears, triumphs, and more. It is by facing the parts of myself that are difficult to live with, and by having a team to support me, that I am able to grow, heal, and soar. Over and over again. I am expanding!
I am an artist, an intellect, and an organizer of transformative spaces, and I also happen to live with depression, anxiety, and have mastered the class of self-criticism and judgment with perfect scores! Imposter syndrome? Yes, of course, this is absolutely a part of the cocktail!!! So, what is it that keeps me alive, focused, clear? What is it that moves when I cannot? What is it that challenges the aspects of myself that seek perfection, approval, or that become self-righteous in my pursuit of a fuller life? What keeps me in check, loves me, builds me, and catapults me?
Remember that thing I said I didn't like to work within?
TEAM. TEAM. TEAM.
The thing about Speaking Down Barriers is that while it does its work in the world, it also does its work within me and each one of our team members. I praise #SDBSquad for their commitment, their courage, and for sharing their gifts with me and the world.
You speak down barriers in my life. Forever, I thank you.
P.S. And my girlfriend & family are on a whole other level of support, ego-checking, and safe harbors. I shall "Be humble. Sit down." Love to my "yes and no" folk, telling me the truth to grow me.
What is the work required to make something out of nothing and everything?
What is the work that requires a deep searching of self? Of yourself within the world? Of purpose and meaning?
What is the work that grabs you by the heart or calls your name?
What is the work that tells us who we really are?
What is the work that opens you up to perspectives never seen or heard before?
What is the work that breaks the world open while carrying history, courage, beauty, & truth upon her back?
What is the work that transforms the world?
I believe this is the work of transformative art. I also believe this is the work that we do not believe we should be paying for. Even more unfortunate, this is also the work that many artists themselves believe they should not be paid for. Crazy right? I know. I have believed it, too. "Oh, I will just find a grant & try to cover the match" or "I will fund what I love by doing what I hate". You know how we talk crazy talk! Lol!
Do we consider that if all of our energy goes to something we hate, we do not have secret reservoirs of energy just lying dormant and waiting for us to strap them on? I disagree with the ideabthat art is not work or the notion that when we value art, we feed capitalism. We live in a capitalistic society connected very deeply to genocide, slavery, & oppression. As you work within it to survive, artists live here and work, too. There is a bigger picture to see, I believe.
Artists are asked to show, speak, share, and give anywhere & everywhere. Fundraisers (at times charging healthy $$ per plate), churches, community events, special life events, holidays, vigils, rallies, and the list goes on. I find it ironic that patrons often return to these exact events the following year simply because of what they remember the artist offering. Yet, artists choose to walk away without compensation often believing they will receive their "blessing" elsewhere or slowly feeding the seed that their art is without value within the world. I believe very much in Alice Walker's statement that "activism is my rent for living on this planet"; however, I also believe that sustaining one's basic needs is necessary for effective, transformative art and activism.
In a conversation with my best friend & urban arts curator, Shemu'el Namaste, he said it pretty clearly, I believe:
"We never ask finance folks, attorneys, or even our veterinarians to prove their worth time and time again. We never ask them to work with us for exposure."
I am paraphrasing here, but this is something worth considering over a length of time. We have to ask ourselves a couple of questions:
Many artists I know either make risky attempts at full-time artistry, are successful full-time artists who heavily criticize those who have not yet "made it", or work within schools, community centers, or nonprofits, barely making a life for themselves and their families. I do not believe that these outcomes rest solely on the shoulder of the artist, simply because we do not live in a vacuum.
Take a moment to imagine or visualize a drain without a stop. Imagine water flowing through this drain. Imagine this water flowing for hours and days and months and years. No stop.
This drain is your local artist, funneling creative energy through themselves and into the world for $0-$350 on average per offering. Meanwhile, we have likely flown in a speaker and spent way too much of our budget on tablecloths or grills or even t-shirts! So, let's just be real and honest with ourselves:
We very regularly choose to give artists a t-shirt or a mug for their time and most artists have no idea about how to value themselves. Collectively, both community and artists, we are attacking the vitality of transformative art.
When we decide to do something that matters for the people, the community, or any event, we must start the practice of adding a budget line for the art you believe will move the people. If we align the movement of our money with what is transformative, what beautiful gifts might fully emerge within and all around us? What depth of transformation will be unleashed?
To my fellow artists:
No human being or institution will give you permission to show up and stand up for yourself. We, moment by moment, have to choose to do so. Art transforms the world & it is in high demand. Create. Create. Create. Know who you are. Value yourself. Create some more.
Modern day witch hunts come for those who offer unfamiliar ways of existing, much like back in the day.
We come for the people who make us think or feel or believe that there is more to this world beyond what we think or feel or believe;
we come for those who consistently face down ego-based fear and offer innovative transformation & healing;
we come for the people who interrogate the dangers of capitalism & its direct links to ongoing oppression;
and we come for those who work to utilize resources in ways we have never seen, based in abundance rather than scarcity.
In this world, we treat the people who lean into discomfort & tension as if they themselves created it. Injustice exists whether someone speaks of it or not. For some of us, our role is to speak. For others of us, it is to create, connect, and so on. Our gifts come out of us in this beautiful way, complementing one another & offering wholeness to us all, if we will allow it.
Our deep-seated fears of being wrong or criticized distort our beauty & deepest transformative power. Out of fear, we have hunted or brutally murdered people for standing upon lighthouses within storms & pointing out more difficult, yet potentially beneficial, paths. People like the beloved Dr. King, Assata Shakur, & Medgar Evans. People. Human beings just like you & me.
We are the hunters and the hunted within a web of oppression that we did not create, but we are alive.
I thank God & the ancestors for the people who choose to shine their unpopular & peculiar light, knowing that in us all exists the fear of being hunted. May we concern ourselves, possibly even more, with the awareness of the hunter that lies within as well.
Shine the light you have, even when people believe your beautiful light dims their own. In a world that profits from your fear, do not let your silence fund destruction. Injustice does not serve the collective, and we must say so.
Speak. Speak. Speak. Then,
let the tribe around you
We can either write poems in the ivory tower or come down to Earth and let the poems do their deepest work.
We can either compete with envy & hidden knives amongst ourselves or we can be vulnerable.
We can either criticize the work & sacrifice of another or be quiet, get clear, and do our own.
I love and hate poets. Truly do. Mostly love. When you choose life over intellectualization, shade, & attempts to 'qualify' whether someone is a poet, we can truly get to work & transform the world.
By a young friend of Writers Well Youth Fellowship
Have we asked ourselves the important questions?
If US history tells us that the structures of our society come out of oppression, genocide, and slavery, will calling your legislator, a representative of the State, be effective? Possibly. But, we may not want to put all of our eggs in one basket.
For some of us, it is hard to accept that history is a pattern still in operation today. So, we scramble to do something, but we cannot see clearly in the dark on our own.
"I just need to do something."
This is true. It will not be perfect. It will not be easy and, yes, you need to do something. We all do.
Another question: Before our current administration, were you comfortable?
For me, absolutely not. The status quo has killed people like me for a very long time. The current administration is a loud representation of what has been hard to see for many not in proximity to those who have been marginalized for centuries. Those who cannot change their skin. Those who have chosen not to shapeshift their sexuality for the comfort of others. Those who were told how they might live here "legally" and then were detained in airports.
Our current administration is not new. It is a pattern. But, it is now that many can hear it, see it, and even deeply be afraid of it. And on the thing of action, we must act--even through the fear.
But, we must listen more--
or we perpetuate the very thing we think we are dismantling.
Grab the roots.
Be quiet. Move with people who were working to transform this world before the election. Listen to them. Join them. Don't move too fast. Because you, like me, just might have your own self-work to do.
What I am saying is:
STOP FREAKING OUT. STOP BLAMING. JUST STOP.
Movements for human lives have taken place ever since the first European slaughtered the very people who cared for him on this land. Connect with them. If there is no hierarchy of oppressions, then we must stop and realize that there are thousands of people all around us who have been waiting for you. They have been waiting on you to speak. They have been waiting on you to move. Some have simply been waiting on you to just be quiet and listen.
I am one of them.
I have been shouted down over racism, homophobia, and sexism for quite some time. When the people who have watched you be shouted down, do nothing, and then become the people who now want to lead in liberation, it makes me very nervous. Very cautious. When the people who tell me they are so happy for our work fail to consider that I, like so many others, could be dead right now, it makes me nervous. This tells me that they do not understand the depth of this work. Fighting oppression is not glamorous.
And here we are. It's after the election and people, still only a portion of this country, are completely freaked out. They want to do something. They want to act. This is one of those events that tends to wake people, even if it is just for a moment. But when privileged, yet marginalized, people (i.e. women who are white or men who are black) engage liberation movements, there is much listening you must do in order to see a fuller picture.
To undo the oppressor within you.
To hear voices of groups marginalized much longer, or even worse, than you.
Because the assumption that you with all of your unchecked privilege can liberate anyone is in and of itself oppressive.
Find someone who says #BlackLivesMatter, find an indigenous person, find the person who seeks sentencing reform, find the modern day abolitionist, find the artist that conveys resistance in every stroke, find the ones who have been seeking liberation for centuries. Start there.
Be quiet and listen.
Read Audre Lorde's Open Letter to Mary Daly.