My Messy Truth (On Being Bored)

I have always been proud to say that I hail from the last generation of kids who were given the order to “go outside and play!” Even when my family lived on the south side of Chicago (in the hood) where busy street traffic and neighborhood thugs made it dangerous to wander, the lack of safe surroundings never prevented my mother from ordering us outside.

Through her bedroom window, my siblings and I had access to what seemed to be a stadium-sized tar rooftop. Our rooftop was just as “backyard” to us as any fenced-in area with green grass and a rusted out swing set. And the level of filth we managed to achieve from a few hours of play on that tar rooftop would rival any full-day at a park or camp in any nearby suburb.

 

As a child, I was full of energy and wonder. The idea of sitting indoors all day was synonymous with torture: cruel and unusual punishment. From double-dutch and Chinese jump rope to hop-scotch, cops and robbers and hide and seek, there was ALWAYS something to do.

 

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As I got older, catching lightning bugs (technically called fireflies), playing Ding-Dong Ditch (which as it turns out, was a petty misdemeanor), Ghosts in the Graveyard and other organized sports, like kickball and baseball, became more popular ways to pass the time.

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Rarely was the weather an excuse to stay inside or to declare myself officially bored. If it was rainy or too frigid outside, playing school, reading books or building forts with sheets and blankets were creative options for staying out of the way. To be honest, that fort thing never went over too well for me. With no washer and dryer in our house, we had to drag all of our dirty clothes to the laundromat. So playing with (translation: dirtying up) perfectly clean linen was not necessarily encouraged.

 

Here’s the bottom line: I was not allowed to think, feel or say that I was bored! In fact, I exercised the utmost care to never utter the words, “I’m bored” within earshot of my mother or grandmother.  If I went even a decibel above a whisper, their response to my boredom would evoke sheer panic and horror–in everyone!

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“Did I just hear you say you bored?!? You bored?!? Ok, well, go clean up that room/fold those clothes/go to the store/mop the floor/dust the end tables/read a book!”

And the worst suggestion of all to cure my boredom?

“Take a nap!”

Nooooooooo!!!!!!!

Worse than being bored and unable to go outside was being forced (and sometimes threatened) into REM sleep while your mind and body wanted nothing more but to run and skip and hop and jump and flip and flop and …well, you get the point.

Watching television cured my boredom on those ‘stay-inside’ kind of days. Hands down-PBS was the best! From Sesame Street, Romper Room and Zoom to The Electric Company and 321 Contact, my mind was always encouraged to explore new thoughts and actually interact with the television. I didn’t just sit there and watch. I moved, shook and solved problems right along with the incredibly diverse casts,

 

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Remember these classics?!? Click on the links below for a YouTube trip down memory lane!

To be honest, Sesame Street taught me how to memorize things, Romper Room had me convinced that the television was a two-way mirror, Zoom piqued my curiosity about the annoying resilience of cats, and alliteration had a fantastically, fun flavor whenever Electric Company was on. I will never forget how  321 Contact ( with lessons from The Bloodhound Gang) urged me to experiment and discover that writing “invisible”messages on construction paper required the use of real lemons and not the lemon juice that we used to make lemonade or Kool-Aid with a little extra twang!

So, why the trip down memory lane? Well, outside of the fact that I truly enjoy reminiscing on a time that was full of simplicity and joy,  I need to call myself out on something that is difficult to admit, but necessary:

As an adult, I have become…(here it goes)…LAZY! Or, if I’m trying to be polite , I might use the word COMPLACENT.

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I’d probably adapt this anonymous quote a bit by adding “There are people with no legs out here training for marathons!” It’s true.

Just a few days ago, I uttered those dreaded two words: I’m bored! And would you believe that for a moment, I actually had the nerve to look around as if to expect someone to shout out options of things for me to do? Really, Tyra?!?

Now that I am adult, hell, let’s be honest- almost middle-aged- and have the power to do pretty much whatever I choose in my free time, it is rare that I even opt to go outside. When I do, what happens barely resembles “playing.”

As a woman who used to be proud to call herself an avid reader, I am well-aware that I should pick up a book and read far more than I do. Yet, there are two books on my Kindle Fire and another two on my nightstand that have yet to see me turn past page 20. What’s the excuse? I can’t say that I haven’t had time to read because I have. What I can say is that for some reason, reading is no longer the default activity for me.

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When it comes to television, unfortunately, it is no longer PBS that keeps my attention. In fact, with the exception of the occasional documentary on Netflix, watching television has very little to do with being engaged or interactive!

I think I have been lying to myself. Telling myself that my subscriptions to NPR Podcasts equate to me being well-informed. I think my profiles on social networking sites have been a front that give me the appearance of actually interacting and socializing with the world at-large. Not true. Instead, these things have filled me with a false sense of intellectual and social stimulation.

So, here’s the thing: If I can admit that I am not yet living a fulfilled life and have not yet done what I should to contribute to the world, then what gives me the right to ever say that I am bored?

If I want lived experiences, entertainment or excitement in my life (and I do), then it is up to me to create, seek and discover ways to have them!

My messy truth is this: Being bored is a choice. And it is one that I have been choosing because I have lacked the motivation required to work toward my vision.

My messy truth forces me to admit that as an adult, saying I’m bored is not a statement that has the right to request a solution from anyone else. It is, however, an indictment of my own inability to understand, feed, follow and nurture my purpose.

I’ve got serious work to do but one thing is for certain: You won’t hear this girl saying I’m bored anytime in the near future!

 

 

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The (lost) Art of Dignified Restraint

I was recently blindsided by an experience that probably should not have caught me off guard. It happened when someone, with whom I have never had a negative interaction (and mistakenly thought I was developing a decent rapport), was exposed as referencing me in a way that, at its best, could be defined as stereotypical. Worst–racist (Please read up on racial microaggressions). 

 

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Since this incident, I have been deeply contemplating the (lost) art of dignified restraint. 

Michele Obama spoke of this so eloquently during her 2016 DNC Speech when she shared the advice she gave her two daughters during the unprecedented ugliness of the presidential campaign. She told them,  “When someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is, when they go low, we go high.”

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I admit that I am suspicious about the prevalence of dignified restraint in our society, hence my reference to it as a “lost art”. For most people today, it can be a difficult, even unnecessary concept to grasp. Social media sites make it less desirable to exercise any restraint, let alone in a way that could be classified as noble. Everyone has unlimited access to a free, world-wide platform that makes us feel like what we think is of great importance. We can use these platforms to build up or tear down at-will. If I’m being totally honest with my readers and myself, I can also admit that my blog has the same capacity, though I try to suppress that by provoking meaningful discourse, critical thought and self-reflection. 

For some people, the ability to “go high when they go low,” comes quite naturally. You probably know at least one person who possesses this ability. More than likely, you have either admired them as (s)heroes or looked at them with eyes of wonder (what the fckness?!?). Perhaps, you have even accused this person of being a bit of a coward for not having the backbone to stand up to their offender(s).

Science tells us that in situations which evoke the strongest emotion and greatest stress, our response is based on our instinctive need to survive or overcome that stress: Fight or flight.

When I find myself in physical danger, that fight or flight response happens without a second thought. I am in danger, so I will either try to fight against that which threatens physical harm or I will escape the danger by any means necessary.

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When it comes to a threat that is emotional or psychological in nature, however, dignified restraint provides us with an alternative response that can also be highly conducive to our survival. See, to be composed and self-controlled in the way we respond to acts of cruelty or hatred is not synonymous with being apathetic or complacent.

It does not suggest that we condone the inappropriate behavior and no–it does NOT require that we remain silent about the act that is so clearly intended to harm or demean us. It does, however require that we take time to contemplate and assess, thus enabling us to remain true to our desired values and decorum.

Dignified restraint enables us to maintain control in a situation that is designed to force us to relinquish it. 

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My pen will always be mightier than any sword a person chooses to use against me. I am secure with who I am and will always choose to be dignified in my restraint against a person’s attempt to undermine me.  In this situation, I have decided that opening a dialogue with the person who sponsored the micro-insult against me would be highly unproductive. Insecurity breeds contempt and I have no time or desire to entertain that.

What is productive, however,  is to share my experience and open a dialogue with my readers. So, I’d like to hear from you, readers. How do you choose between fight, flight or dignified restraint when some aspect of your identity is under attack?

 

 

Quirky Me: Honoring My 4’s!

The truth is: Belonging starts with self-acceptance. Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you’re enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect. When we don’t have that, we shape-shift and turn into chameleons; we hustle for the worthiness we already possess. — Badass Researcher and Philosopher Brene Brown-

Today is my 44th birthday and if you know me personally, you know just how much I love this day! My birthday is a time when I can reflect on my past and set new intentions for the year ahead. On my 43rd birthday,  I set my sights on making it a year of transformation, beginning with my incredible trip to Curacao in January. On January 6, 2016, I posted the following Facebook photo with this message:

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So very grateful for all of the bumps and bruises and every test (and person sent to test) that I have had to endure along the way. I have Over-come and I have Be-come because and despite! See, I know my own strength, but can also embrace my vulnerabilities…I choose to LOVE myself flaws and all! I am the Tyra you have always known yet I am in constant transformation! Show me and watch me; teach me and learn from me; Inspire and be inspired by what you see in me (even when it drives you a little nuts!); lean in and stand back: Watch the way I Capricorn!!! #2016yearofthe9s#onepluseightplus2016 #43in2days

As I predicted, 2016 was indeed a whirlwind of change. Not all of the change was easy but every bit of it has been valuable: Necessary and productive toward me living a more authentic life. Shape-shifting is overrated and quite frankly, it exhausted my mind and body to the extent where it became difficult to move.

Ironically, though, NOT moving was crucial to my transformation. There is power in being still. It enables me to allow life’s “matter” to land wherever it will. It affords me the opportunity to assess, collect, clarify and strategize. In doing so, my actions are less susceptible to the pressures of being defined by any given situation. This gives me room to make decisions that are congruent to living life as the vulnerable, beautiful soul that I know myself to be.

 

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2017 is the year I allow myself to be settle into the comfort and security of being STILL.

2017 is my year of 4’s–my off-season, if you will. I am not anticipating a  year full of heavy change or life-altering realizations. Instead, I set my intentions on learning to settle into the comfort and security that my new life holds. This year, I want to just be happy and surround myself with others who want the same thing for themselves and me. I’m convinced that this is NOT an impossible dream. The reason why is because in my year of 4’s, I commit myself to the following 4 truths:

1) I am not in control of all things at all times: Relinquishing the need to be in total control gives me the freedom to allow God to move in my life. I cannot tell you how many times I have messed around and blocked my own blessings by thinking I knew a better, quicker, more instantly gratifying way. Now, when I begin to feel like I am not in control, I don’t give in to the anxiety and fear that goes along with it. Instead, I honor that feeling and step out of my own way.

2) I have faith that the The Universe is on my side (and is conspiring in my favor): The message between the lines of this truth is GRACE. I believe in and have benefited from this sort of favor. In times when I have made terrible choices, a power that is greater than me often steps in to reshape the situation so that it works to my benefit. Grace is not earned or deserved. It is something that just is given and, in my belief, is closely connected to the truth I will speak of next: Purpose.

imag17973) I believe that my life has a greater purpose: There is more to life than meets the eye. If I am not mindful, I might be tempted to think that going to work Monday through Friday, paying bills and getting a new pair of shoes or jewelry is the definition of living. It might be easy to confuse my ability to love and be loved with happiness and purpose. There has to be more. For me, that purpose is lived more fully when I write. When I deny myself the necessity of creating, I am denying my soul the opportunity to live with the greater purpose for which I was intended.

4) Once I acknowledge my quirks, then I can laugh and live freely:  While I am indeed a flawed individual, I have learned to better distinguish between an actual flaw and what might be better described as a quirk. In my view, a self-proclaimed flaw is a negative attribute that I work hard to change or outgrow at some point. A quirk, on the other hand, is an attribute that may seem peculiar to others (and even myself) but will not likely disappear. I have a list of quirky things about myself that I have decided to embrace. And yes…I will share just 4 of the many:

Quirk #1: Ringtones and notifications startle me!  Seriously, I have been known to physically hold my heart and gasp or jump whenever my phone (or anyone else’s) rings or dings or whistles or otherwise makes a loud, sudden noise. As a result, I am that person who will rarely answer the phone when you call. Not because I don’t want to but because my ringer is perpetually silenced and I cannot hear it ring.  My voicemail notification icon is disabled on my phone, so for the same reason, if you leave a message when I don’t answer, I probably won’t get around to hearing it until at least a month later. 

Quirk #2: I wear socks to bed every night. It does not matter if my feet are hot or cold. Yet somehow, I manage to wake up sock-less each morning. The weekly rescue of the multiple pairs of socks stuck in the tuck between the top sheet and the fitted one is an ongoing source of amusement in my house!

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Quirk #3: While I am obviously NOT not a 65-year-old man who has worked in the corn field his entire life, my rough ass hands have obviously not gotten that memo! For that reason, I avoid holding hands…at all costs! This used to make me anxious whenever I began dating someone new, (which is why when I met my husband, I lead with the story of these rough hands. More on that in another post!). This could also be the reason why going to church has always been somewhat of a nightmare for me. It never fails, by the end of the sermon, someone always wants to hold hands to pray.  In my defense, some of the phobia about holding hands has to do with witnessing folks sashay directly from the toilet to bathroom door without stopping at the sink to wash. 

Quirk # 4: Large groups of people with matching outfits that are NOT uniforms…Yeah, that weirds me out! I am not a person who gets excited about a white-out or black-out event. I take an exception to being told what color to wear and unless we are all planning to take a group photo, I cannot understand why everyone must have on the same color.  So yeah, I’m that girl at the event with a splash of pink or yellow or red …just to be certain that I am not conforming to the dress code that exists for no real reason.  

I guess what I am saying with this last truth is that embracing my quirkiness has been made easier by my ability to laugh at myself. I recognize that my quirks are part of what make ME uniquely ME!  The ability to shake my head in a manner that is somewhere between annoyed and slightly amused, comes from the fact that I know I am well worth that smile– even when it shows up while admitting how beautifully messed up I am! Laughter makes me more comfortable with being vulnerable and authenticity resides in the creases of vulnerability.

My journey toward self-acceptance is paved with faith, grace, purpose and laughter.  May you all be encouraged to consider the things that you believe in, acknowledge your own grace, recognize and honor your greater purpose and by all means…LAUGH YOUR ASSES OFF while doing it!

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An Open Letter to My Sister…

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“Will I Ever Leave You? The Answer is No, No, No…”-Original Painting by SalkisRe

In August of 2012, I posted the blog, Come on! Let’s Play Cards.  At the time, I was contemplating  forgiveness and how key my siblings (and birth order) were in the way that I learned to forgive.

Recently, my thoughts about forgiveness have forced me to dig deeper. Lately, I have been forced to consider: What happens when forgiveness does not heal a fractured relationship and your only other option is to let it go?

Letting go reaches a greater level of complexity when the relationship with the person you must let go is one that you have known your entire life. The following open letter to my sister is my attempt at unpacking some of the emotions involved with this difficult (but necessary) release.

Dear Sister,

It has been over a year since you abandoned our sisterhood. After opening my home to you when you  moved back to the Midwest, you packed your things and left a mess of my home and my heart. Shortly after you left, I fell into a bit of a depression that no one, including me, could understand. I sought therapy to help me through and to numb the sadness of knowing that our sisterhood could not withstand what I believed was a basic disagreement.

It has taken some time for me to get to this point but I know…it is time! I have to release the need and desire for a bond with you and can no longer seek answers from you. I want to engage in dialogue with you, but instead I will write this letter to say goodbye to what has been a lopsided and largely unhealthy relationship.

A part of me is tempted to say that writing this goodbye letter comes as a surprise: something I never imagined I would want or need to do. I wish I could say that your unwillingness to forgive or talk through a disagreement is new to me. It is not.

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Christmas, 2014: I had to beg you to take this picture with me. So typical.

Growing up, I remember paying you money (or candy and Doritos) to end your days or week-long silent treatments for reasons that, once they ended, not even you could  recall.

When we talked about this as adults, your response was, “Well, you were stupid to pay up. Nobody made you do it!” In fact, to the Come on! Let’s Play Cards post,  you commented, “No apologies here…lol.”

That comment spoke volumes. For as long as I can remember, my pain has been a source of amusement for you. And when, in a rare act of courage on my part, I stood up and said, No! Not this time!, your default act of revenge has always been to shut me out and punish me with your silence.

When your children were young, you knew the best way to get me to do exactly what you wanted me to do (when and how you wanted me to do it) was to threaten to keep my nieces from me for weeks or months on end. You knew how much I loved your girls and how badly it hurt me every time you took them away.

Sister, I bring up these examples to make this point: You have never seemed to be able to understand or respect my desire to love or be loved. You have classified my transparency of these human traits as a sign of weakness, while choosing to see your own manipulation of me (and others) as a source of strength and control. Looking back, it dawns on me that perhaps you’ve spent your entire life confusing control with love and acceptance.

Regardless, a part of me has always known that this exact moment would come. When we were in our 30’s and I was still dealing with your occasional episodes of the silent-treatment,  something inside me feared that you may never outgrow the need to be right and to be in control. Yet, I was relatively certain that, one day, I would outgrow that pesky little sister desire of mine to gain your approval.

I have to admit that it bothers me to witness you carry yourself in the community with the persona of a big sister and friend to all: A woman who knows and embraces the value of unity in her community. Yet you treat me as your enemy and do not show any willingness to heal whatever has been broken between us. Where is our unity? Where is our sisterhood? Where is the forgiveness when it comes to me?

These are questions to which I can no longer hope to gain answers.

The more I show you that your silence bothers me, the more  you persist. No more. From now on, I declare that your silence against me is your loss, not mine. I will be 44 in less than a week, and while I still feel young, I know that life is short. Too short to allow you (or anyone else for that matter) to steal even one more ounce of my energy. I no longer give you the power to rob me of my joy by mistreating and disregarding me or my efforts to communicate and forgive.

So, for that reason, I am not only saying goodbye, but I am saying good riddance!

While these emotions may not have happened in the proper order, I have mourned the loss of you as my big sister and now I will bury the hope of ever rekindling that relationship again!

Instead, I will learn to live with the void of my #3 sister until (and unless) you are willing to embrace a dynamic that will offer enough space for us to be equals.

With more love and respect for myself than ever,

Tyra

 

Everyday Should Be a Good Day to “Come Out…” (Part 1)

I wanted to dedicate a couple of blogs to honor my many friends and family who are proud members of the GLBTQQI community. Last January, I was invited to attend the movie Pariah with a group of friends, most of whom were Lesbian. What follows is NOT a movie review, but my initial reaction to the movie. To my readers who have not seen the movie, I implore you to go rent, purchase, or pull it up on Netflix (http://www.focusfeatures.com/pariah). Those of you who have seen it, I invite you to comment as to how you experienced the movie.

My next  post will be a far more personal glimpse into my life as an Ally.

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“I am not running. I am choosing:” My reaction to the movie, Pariah.

It isn’t often that watching a movie will inspire me to want to write. It’s even more rare that watching a movie forces me to feel so full of emotion that I have to write. Pariah was that kind of movie viewing experience for me. So here I am, at 6:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning: Writing. Reacting. Feeling.

I am like a lidded pot of grits on a hot stove-so full of emotion that my entire body slowly bubbles and my soul is on the verge of boiling over. I am compelled to get this out quick, so it will not contain literary perfection. Somehow, I feel that is fitting. Perhaps later, I’ll compose a review-style response to the movie. For now, I just need to write.

Initially, I thought I would enjoy the movie because it told the coming-of age story of a young, Black lesbian girl. I supported this because I know the transformational power of stories and I understand how crucial it is to have every voice represented. I’ve never heard this story voiced on the big screen and I wanted to offer my support, financial and otherwise.

To my surprise, I found that my laughter, tears, anger, confusion, and triumph had less to do with the idea that Alike, the main character, was a lesbian, and more to do with the fact she was a pariah who made the brave choice to create her own space in a world that refused her. In so many ways, I was Alike. As far-removed as it seems I should be from that 17-year-old self, I still remember her: lost; confused; lonely; simply wanting and needing to belong-though not quite sure to what or whom. In the end, Alike chose. In her words, “I am not running, I am choosing.” In the end, I chose. In the end, we all have the power to choose.

People underestimate the power of watching. As I watched Alike being rejected by her mother, (the most hurtful and profound rejection anyone could ever receive), I cried. But these tears were not only for Alike. I cried for my many friends who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer. So many of them have experienced (or are still experiencing) rejection, simply because they are not running, but choosing.

I cried for my 17-year-old self who made the courageous choice to choose education over fear.

I cried for my 19-year-old son who, though outwardly confident , is also struggling to make that same choice.

I cried for my 15-year-old-son because as a teen with autism, he often feels like the walking definition of a pariah.

I watched Pariah and experienced the power of something much greater than the sum of its parts. Yes, Pariah was a movie about a Black, lesbian girl. Yet it was so much more than that. Pariah induced a raw vulnerability in me that could only be felt from watching: eavesdropping and bearing witness to another human come into being. I cried because I watched. And through these tears came a cleansing that I didn’t even realize I needed.

Thank you, Dee Rees, for being a watcher and for passing along your power to see what others choose to ignore.

Writers Write.

I love it when the universe conspires in my favor. Last week, I had one of those completely unexpected life experiences.  I would be exaggerating just a bit by referring to it as life-altering, but it was an experience that, without any warning, invited me to think and change.As part of a field trip excursion, I was welcomed into the host’s private art studio. The host, a high school art teacher, amazed me at how prolific he was! Well over 500 paintings in his studio: most of them complete! On top of that, he was working on several commissioned pieces he was creating for family and friends.

In awe of the depth of his creative body of work, I inquired, “How do you make time to do all of this?”

I didn’t know him well, but what I knew of him led me to assume that “free time”was not something he frequently enjoyed. As a teacher with a wife and children, it seemed the only time he would have to paint would be weekends or perhaps summers.  He confessed that his weekdays were busy. He said that most of his creations came to life on the weekends, while listening to music or using his frustration (often with the Minnesota Vikings’ lack of defense) as inspiration to simply focus on something more positive: his art.

Me, 2001: English teacher at Arlington High School, St. Paul, Mn: Always working to instill the love of writing in my students.

It was one of those moments I wish I could have captured on video. But not the normal kind of video. The kind of video of the future, where what is seen by the viewer is narrated by the innermost thoughts of the person taping the scene. The camera would pan around the old, rustic barn studio and you would hear:

Wow. This man is a real artist. I know this because his body of work is tangible, right before my eyes. He is practicing the same kind of art that he teaches his students to create.  He is nurturing the art that feeds his soul.

 I call myself an artist too: my body of work? A collection of words. Strokes so carefully painted across my page to elicit images just as clear as those seen on each canvas before me.

If I had a studio, where my words could be displayed for all to see, would it be this beautiful?

Prolific?

Inspiring?

Would I even be proud enough to invite others in to see my work?  

Certificate from my first Young Author’s Conference, 1984. 5th grade. I found this in my Grandmother Meme’s belongings when she passed away in 2006.

My attempt at answering those questions would leave me unable to deny the difficult truth. As a self-proclaimed artist, I have not been nurturing the art that was meant to feed my soul.  I have been neglecting my spirit and instead, have allowed myself to make excuses for not living up to my artistic potential.  No more.

A year ago, my brother said something that directly relates to my most recent experience. Seeing my colleague’s studio brought my brother’s words to a concrete level of truth that was necessary for me to witness.  My brother said, “T:  intellectuals think. Prostitutes f*ck.  Writers write. You cannot call yourself a writer if you are not writing.” While I laughed at the crude humor inserted in his statement, in all of its simplicity, it was quite profound.

The man who invited me into his studio is an artist: a painter. He paints. Daily. Weekly. Yearly.

He has a brick and mortar studio where he can display his body of work; where he can tune out while tuning in. I do not have that kind of private space, so I must learn to create a studio in my own mind: A space where writing becomes the only thing that matters. My studio must begin inside of me.

Am I a writer? Well, I am today.

And tomorrow, I will let the words speak for themselves.