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Some Notes on Not Feeling It
Feelings of boredom have left me overwhelmed these last few weeks and I have really leaned into hesitation. It’s a go-to [in]action of mine. And it feels like the more I aim to reject the realities of inertia and ennui, the more present these states become in my life. So, fuck it, I’m going to have to honor these conceited circumstances. It’s tough, in the same ways I find a sense of relief in writing the act can be excruciating when I’m attempting to locate and hold on to hard-to-identify emotions. So, it’s been the exertion of these forces that bring me here today.
Technically, we’re in the beginning of the year- with two new years’ celebrations under our belts: the first, timed with the Gregorian calendar and the latter being the lunar new year, made famous – at least to me – by the elaborate Chinese cultural celebrations that happen in New York City’s Chinatown. And now, on this first day of February begins a new year for those of us Colored folks living in US. Happy Black People’s New Year! This is when the new year starts for me anyway.
Fighting the conditioning to pen goals, or to resolve to be better in some ways, I’ve decided that what I’ve been doing is just fine and that it’s best continue on my path until the inspiration to reorganize my life emerges. I guess I’m honoring the spontaneity of that creativity. Also, mercury retrograde, and its accompanying shadow period have been enough for me to wait until the celestial coast is clear to start making plans for the next cycle of my life. This is a departure from my usual new year song and dance. There’s this cultural drive to reset when the calendar does, to commit or for many people to recommit to promises. Most of the rhetoric is fatphobic, orthorexic, and demeaning, and with that it’s been easy for me to shed an attachment to that line of thinking. There too much hyperbole meant to discourage the kind of rebellion that encourages gently unfolding into a new year. As a naturally cavalier human, I’m down with this kind of resistance, it feels like a departure from what is expected. So, why do I feel bad about it?
My inner critic is why. These last few years on this journey of unabashedly calling myself a writer has been a roller coaster, with the low of the low being an unceremonious end to a demonstrably rigorous ivory tower academic experience. My inner critic LOVES the academy and the harsh and rigid standards and schedules it props itself upon. I know consistency is important, but there’s no scenario that I imagine creating through burnout to be meaningful. Half-baked ideas, insincere ideology and mid prose is all I can expect from that kind of output. I am not a machine. But school will have you acting like one. One of my mentors, a seasoned writer, called the MFA process a rite-of-passage. I think that was his code for hazing. Still, the confines in which I spent most of my creative-writing life have been lifted and though I’m free from the boundaries of that time and space, the undoing of it all has left lots of room for doubt. For one, I’m in the phase of my creative process where I’m unsure of the validity of what I’m doing.
My static feelings are only surpassed by the disharmony I feel with my finished works. I’ll have an idea of how I would like an essay, or play, or poem, or workshop to be, I’ll work towards that end but what comes out will be something else. On a great day it’s close to what I’ve imagined, and I’m satisfied. But on other days there’s a distance between what I intended and what is actually there. I scratched my head, observing this repeatedly. I would, plan, take my time, research – setting up the ideal environment not to feel rushed and I would be left – still- with that feeling of discord. I procrastinated, often, and still (though funnily enough I find more satisfaction with that drafting process). For a minute I thought this was due to my lack of experience, and that I would have to wait more years and endure these feelings of dissonance until I arrived some place, where I am a perfect artist. But this isn’t a phenomenon unique to me.
It helps to chat with other creative people who aim to make a living from their imaginations. It keeps me from spiraling into a void of negative possibilities. My nail technician, who is by all means an expert in her field, when I asked her about her creative process – shared that with her work, most of the times what she makes pales in comparison to what she’s imagined. My spouse, a painter, who – no cap – is a genius in her use of form, color, and narrative – told me a similar thing. I think those of us who choose the unpredictability of creative expression are often met with the limitations of the material world. I’m curious if others have this experience, or not. This is not something that can be workshopped, no matter how you try. It’s deeply personal.
It’s annoying how haunted I am by the critiques of some of my vapid classmates. I get angry thinking about the bootcamp nature of how I even imagine a writing practice. It’s even embarrassing to write this, to share this with an audience who ostensibly trust me, and what I’m doing. But it’s true. The little white man on my shoulder has equipped himself with a megaphone and is so loud that the points I try to make get lost in the nagging questioning of my authority. Which is doubly frustrating because without a doubt I know I’m the authority of my own story. I know I possess the intellectual fortitude to beat him, but in my soft emergence into my new year, it’s been a hard fight.
I thought the decompression phase of my education would have been quicker, but it’s not. I’m not alone in this either, my one friend from my cohort, expressed having a similar kind of exasperation. It’s not that she’s blocked, it’s something else. She’s a brown Asian immigrant veteran, and a lot the commentary around her works (from our schoolmates) expressed an urgency to be polished – as if her stories, her writing only belongs in a particular place in time and if it’s not completed within this arbitrary window, it will somehow lose its relevance. Wrong. Wild, these critiques are almost never imposed upon white cismale writers who cannot seem to stop writing about the fucking past (where many of their stories belong). She and I share a kinship in our commiserations and in having to remind one another that our value is not nor will ever be determined by a marketplace or literary trends.
This is not isolated just to those of us trying to gain our footing in the literary world either. I have friends now, all brilliant, all capable and all with so much to share and say who are struggling with a collective malaise when it comes to this writing jazz. There's something in the air I suppose. Capitalism, and the scarcity of resources made available to and for queer, Black, femme writers has built a fortress of urgency around working that has the ability to slow down the creative process. Self-hindered, timorousness.
In a world that expects so much visibility, it feels like everything can be a competition. I’m not competing so much with my peers but with the very in-your-face expectations of a particular kind of visible, fiscal, media driven success. Everything should be the material for a book (sellable), and that manuscript should get you a book deal and then you should be a staffer somewhere publishing regularly. This is a dream for many, but I question who laid this out as the only way to exist? Sure, a book deal is nice, but my book should be as close as possible to something that is representative of who I say I am. For me, it’s about connecting with the work and making something I love, am proud of, and in school, and in this post-graduate life there isn’t always time for that. Industry is like a goddamn Rihanna chorus. And I cannot transpose the tony aesthetics of content creation onto how I try to write.
The world is on fire and is flooding. People are being shot en masse, the state is actively enacting its wholistic approaches to genocide on its citizens, especially Black people; and I live in a city that, was once very Black but is now becoming less Black. And still there are glimmers of beauty in some places, there is new life being cultivated, the sun still on, the lights too. And I’m caught in the midst of it all, observing, piecing it together. What’s important, is that I show up, regularly, something that can’t always be measured the same way every day. It quiets the inner critic, sometimes. There is no writing without commitment, so do with that what you will.
Despite what tone these notes may suggest, I’m very happy to be reunited with all my subscribers, paid especially, and hello to all the new folks. If you haven’t already please sign up, and consider a paid subscription, and feel free to share this post.