Living My Own Narratives

What does it mean for something to be mine and not yours? what “right” do I have to a space, a land, a boundary? Maybe I’m the “good” immigrant to them. The Ivy degree, no criminal record, “good addition” to this country checkboxes. I think about the first time someone told me that I should distinguish myself from American-born blacks. “You’re not like them,” they said. They were attempting to sell me what they thought of as a dream –no, a nightmare. An acceptance based on placing my foot on the throats of another; an unholy union with whiteness.

But I look into the mirror, and I see brown skin and eyes that are haunted by ancestors crying from unmarked graves and the bottoms of the oceans both east and west.

Is it love if they only love you if you present in particular ways? If your story is one they can exploit to vilify another? We cross oceans in search of a different story, and find ourselves forced into another we did not author. I became an “immigrant story” –which gets your family featured in the local paper under the title “The American Dream.” Sometimes though you dream of things and wake to find that they are empty of any promises that keep you whole. That’s when you realize the sacrifices it takes to pen your own story. To be you, not a trope, not a one size fits all existence.

Not the “good immigrant.”

But a person. A person who crossed an ocean in search of the room to build a different story.

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The Difference Between Resting and Stopping

“No might make them angry but it will make you free.”
― Nayyirah Waheed

If I said that I was someone who typically overcommits in their life, the people who are close to me would smirk at the understatement. While I am not a competitive person by nature, I am often deeply entrenched in a race with myself. What were the deadlines i set for myself? What was the timeline that I had written to hit particular life milestones? And what comes of that is people take advantage of you. When people know that you can and will get things done, even if the work is not for you, it will somehow end up on your to-do list. My workplace describes itself as a “yes, and” culture, and on any given day I can find people using that sentence structure. I am constantly reminded in this environment of a passage from Claudia Rankine’s Citizen where she writes, “You are reminded of a conversation you had recently, comparing the merits of sentences constructed implicitly with “yes, and” rather than “yes, but.” You and your friend decide that “yes, and” attested to a life with no turn-off, no alternative routes.”

We should be able to steer in different directions and to find the places of rest that provide us strength to keep going. We dread pauses because they are presented to us as stops, as losses, as setbacks. Instead of what they really are: necessary respite.

I have found this nature of needing to react and respond present especially in our current political and social climate. There are the constant demands to show up to protest, to respond to every social media post that one disagrees with, to read every piece of news that is spat out. I have people who send me videos of people denying white privilege or telling people to ‘Get out of our country’ first thing in the morning, as if to let me know that they would never do this or they are acutely aware of America. If we were all in fact so aware, we would not need as much respite.

And I have started to say ‘no’ to these things. NO to the constant barrage of hate news. NO to the demands that I react in words and action to every racist thing that is said or presented to me. NO to other people’s necessities. There is a power in ‘no’ that roots you, gives you the ability to set your own boundaries, and be in control. It’s not that I have infinite privilege to ignore the world around me, but rather it is my right to engage at the levels I want to, and to find the alternative routes of my survival.

I started a Creative Resistance Collective because I wanted to hold space for those who wanted to pause. People who had told me that they never had time to reflect because they were constantly being asked to react and analyze. One cannot nourish one’s soul on fire alone. The world goes on even if we spend a day sitting in our pajamas, eating ice cream, and re-watching episodes of Parks and Recreation. That is a life with turn-offs. Because it is not a turn-off, it’s the difference between resting and stopping, which is the difference between truly living and slowly dying.

The Year of Becoming

My girl is holy, is sacred, is pure

is clean, is loved, is whole, is beautiful

is worthy, is okay, is alone, is just fine

just the way you are girl

just the way you look babe

with that dirty mouth

and those hands, wherever they have been

and that sadness, whatever caused it

and that anger, wherever it came from

and that fear, who ever brought it

you are my girl, girl, you are me

-Warsan Shire

Maybe everyone has that path-changing/forming year, and this year was mine.

It was a year of becoming. The becoming of me to be exact. It isn’t that I had no idea who I was before, or had muddled views and values. No, it isn’t that at all. In a way, it was a form of unleashing and becoming. The unleasing of restraints on years of pent up thoughts, kept locked away in the name of peace and ‘wearing the mask.’ The becoming of an academic who tries to push the envelope in what is accepted voices to use in discourse and discussion. The unleashing of the remaining remnants of feeling the need to please others with the decisions I make, even if it hurt me in the process. The becoming of a fresh woman, with the baggage of past relationships slipped off her shoulders and left far behind on a road never to be traversed again. The becoming of a woman capable of taking the clarity and lessons of moments and grasp the complexities of their significance. The unleashing of a spirit unshakeable enough to go headfirst into storms and reach across divides of space and time to grasp strongly to the things she wants. (Because nothing is as sweet as the things we want most, no matter how hard they are to come by.)

It was also the year I angered or offended enough people on my social media for them to unfollow or unfriend me. The year I was told by varying faces in varying places with ferocity and contempt that I was single, getting old, angry, wrong, a crazy liberal, a feminist, an agitator, a white hater, a reverse racist, bougie, privileged, and ‘too much.’

In the midst of years of becoming, there are always the voices who try to undo.

Some labels are true, and others untrue. It’s figuring out the ones to embrace and those to throw aside that’s pivotal to the becoming.

In a year marked by fledgling threads coming undone, I stooped to sew together the pieces into a promise:

I am okay. I am just fine. I am imperfectly progressing through life, washed in the perfecting waters of God’s grace and delight. I am loved. I am whole. I am beautiful. 

As I stepped one more year deeper into my mid-20s, I had become the woman I set out to be–even when I did not know she was who I wanted to be. Sometimes scared, sometimes angry, and sometimes fearful, but always, always, always, me.

I’m not quite sure what it is that I have figured out. I just know it has been turned on. Perhaps it’s the ability to live a bit more loud, a little more unapologetically, and a lot more purposefully.