lady in red
i waz missin somethin
lady in purple
somethin so important
lady in brown
lady in blue
a layin on of hands…
-from for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange
I’m now throwing away most of the things people have tried to teach me about art and writing and story structure and how things must be done. There is too much grief and too much death, too much misery for me to continue to use writing as another way to punish myself for my shortcomings; to hyper-fixate on the use or utility of my work to the point of inaction; to point out all the areas of failure, all the evidence that these words have no transformative or radical potential; or, how nobody cares to hear from another African international-school-to-abroad pipeline person who thinks their third eye has opened wide enough and thinks themselves brave for saying what must be said about other such people on this pipeline, power, neocolonialism, and incompetent, bigoted officials who wouldn’t know what “our culture” was if it came like an ancestor slapping them awake at night, yet still believe themselves just and traditional for calling death on the heads of queer Ghanaian people. There is too much misery, and I’ll get neither the approval nor the permission I crave from the speakers in June Jordan’s poems, the speakers in Ama Ata Aidoo’s poems, Toni Morrison’s unwavering eye from beyond this plane of life, my great-great-grandma who I endlessly seek in dreams, old friends and classmates, people who condescend to me at work and in leasing offices, black women artists I admire and follow on Twitter.
My plan is to be precious with these things called art, and by precious I mean in the Ewe sense of “listening to one’s self too much” and not precious as in growing so self-indulgent that I abandon all rigor or empathy in my work. I am just in pursuit of writing something lush and sweet for my self because I’ve been missing this sweetness all along. I’m going to repeat images because they are nostalgic and pleasurable to me and do whatever I want with sentences and flow. [This is no act of defiance. I am still lacking courage in so many of the most urgent ways. I’m just now realizing I can say or do anything I want with these pages while I’m still breathing.] This may sound elementary if you didn’t know I was bringing all kinds of neuroticism to the writing desk: what is useful and urgent and unflinching and what will liberate me or us or what will get the attention of the right contest judge or agent—all these things can’t be true of one piece of art at once because if we were all free and materially and spiritually abundant, then the art would be too, and the contest judges and agents and editors would all be out of a job.
Because I am ashamed and totally exhausted with my own self-deprecation and cynicism, moving forward, I will be practicing earnestness, sappiness, anything that is almost too much but not too far past the line that so that it seems insincere. I’m going to keep talking about my one aunty’s gold tooth and another aunty’s jade bracelet because my adoration for them and their quirks continue to expand the longer I am away, though I was already obsessed before I left. I’m going to write images that don’t make rational sense just because I love the way the sentences sound, like comparing forced laughter between a doomed couple to coins hitting a sticky restaurant tabletop, laughter ringing so sharp and loud that it turns into coins pocketed by one half of said doomed couple. I’m going to write about how much I love it when a black man with a New York accent refers to himself as “the kid” or when people from New Orleans say anything at all, about people going to work on Friday mornings in Dakar and how their clothes are still flawless white at 7pm that day. I’m going to do all this because I can.
The only point of view that matters is whatever self-indulgent one will allow me to write pages about ice lollies melting to a drip and then to a stain on my 4-year-old self’s dress and about my 7-year-old self in my first swimsuit on the way to the beach with my uncle. I resolve to be incoherent and illegible except to the initiated who inhabit the land beyond glamouring and who have an understanding of the sublime that only we can see and feel. I want to make my writing a series of unending ecstatic experiences just because I can, but also because I am in desperate need of some respite.
Desperate is the word, because of the state of our current world, and because my self-loathing passed joking on the internet about depression a long time ago; instead it took the form of denying myself food, new clothing, a social life (unless there was no cover, and even then) or anything that didn’t feel as essential as rent, bills, and T fare, because of the deep fear of coming up short, and because I believed everyone (read: classmates, “higher-ups,” performance reviews, manipulative exes, headlines spelling the impending murder of anyone like me) who reminded me that I wasn’t worth anything enjoyable in this world. Desperate is the word, because I’m trying to remember what my favorite food is and the kinds of dresses I like to wear in hot weather, and I’m tattooing myself so that I may believe my self a canvas worthy of adornment.
I want all my writing to feel like [re]-reading Ntozake Shange when I want to feel slices of said ecstatic experience. I want to stop picking my self apart on paper and calling it introspection, only to cast about in search of the discarded pieces of self, pretending it isn’t unhealthy self-absorption, whole time we’re all sinking slowly into the sea. I’m tired of caring so much what will be well-received by whoever I imagine is looking at me or at this—no one is looking—which presents the perfect conditions to do my work and revel in the process of its doing. The conceit of this is that I do actually care what anyone and everyone thinks, contrary to all these preceding lines. I care so much that I’m still typing. I have written more condolences and robotic emails about work assignments than I have about what 4pm on a Saturday feels like when your mum comes home smelling like the hair salon, like high perfume and something about to burn; about cold water hitting your scalp in the right places, or about the hyacinths spilling purple all over the side table I bought because it looked like something my grandma would have owned in the 70s. I resolve to change this.