50 Shades of Grief

I finally watched the last 3 episodes of This is Us. Amazing show, by the way. Fans of the show had long awaited this last season to see how it would end, but it wasn’t the final episode that had me bawling. It was Episode 17 that gutted me. I knew I was going to cry regardless; the writers had been preparing us for the big heartbreak since last season. But it tugged at my emotions in a way that I didn’t expect. I found myself choking up for maybe half the episode, because everything surrounding Rebecca’s last days looked the same way as it did for my grandmother, who recently passed away in April.

Whew. This is about to be… personal.

The interesting thing is… I felt like it would be really ‘on brand’ for me to make a blog post about my grandmother after she passed. When we knew it was close and we just didn’t know when, I literally thought to myself a couple of times, “Man, I already know I’m gonna write a crazy, ethereal, deep ass post about dying on my blog after it happens…” So the day came that I got the call. I flew home and stayed a week with family. Attended the services and flew back to Atlanta. A week passed, then a month, now another month after her transition, and I have yet to come up with that brilliant emotional narrative about my relationship with her. I was so sure the sadness and pain would have made the words flow. But now when she crosses my mind, there is no wave of sorrow. If my eyes water, it is only for a second. It is almost like my bereavement process has failed to launch.

Or, perhaps my mourning started well before she died. It could be that I had felt grief for my grandmother ever since I left home in December 2020, and now there’s nothing left of it.

Shortly after I got settled here in Georgia, my mom called to let me know that my grandma had fallen. Instant panic, right? We all know what this usually means for an elderly person’s health. And she was 95 at the time. But after some updates, it seemed like the fall wasn’t so bad. No broken hips or such. But before this happened there were little bouts of confusion that started to become more frequent. She could no longer stand up without her walker, for balance. Some months later she had a stroke, but recovered as best someone could for her age. She no longer walked throughout the house, only to the bathroom, until she couldn’t do that either. Later she got a touch of pneumonia, and was sent home only to have to go back shortly after for the same thing. She always sounded tired on the phone and didn’t want to talk as long. She was sent home with medicine that made her sick, and the doctors didn’t seem hopeful that a change would make a difference. It’s all kind of a blur now. Everything seems to mix together in time. All I know is there were multiple hospital trips. Other falls. With each update from home, I would worry more. And underlying that worry was guilt. While I was working from home at my mom’s, I was also helping assist and care for my grandmother. Hearing about her health challenges made me curse myself for leaving. And it was frustrating to see how it affected my mom, who was still working full time while being her caregiver at home. I thought, “You were so hell bent on moving out before the end of the year, but you could have just stayed and helped longer.” I didn’t think it was my fault that all of these things were happening to her, but I felt like if I stayed, I could have stalled it somehow. I remember once when I was younger, my grandma was recovering from something else that landed her in the hospital. I sat across the room from her, and she was wincing. I asked her what was hurting, and she sighed and said “Just in pain, Leslie. When you get old, everything happens.”

When she was sent home on hospice, I flew home right away. The hospice nurse was going over paperwork with my mom when I got to her house. Usually when I visit Memphis and I walk into my grandma’s room, her eyes widen and her mouth drops. “Leslie?!” When I laugh and confirm, she starts laughing. This time, I walked in and she squinted at me. Once I nodded, she only had enough strength to smile weakly. But she knew it was me, and she stretched her arms best she could to give me a hug, and proceeded to ask me about my trip. I sat and talked with her for a little while before leaving to go somewhere with my dad.

That was the last day I experienced her with the strength to carry a normal conversation. It took me a while to get over that, because I felt like I should have made it count.

I thought that I would have one of those spiritual encounters that people speak of when a loved one dies. I almost anticipated it. I was so sure I would have a dream about her, or feel some kind of referred pain or physical sensation of release before or during her passing. But I didn’t. I cried at the wake, the funeral, and the burial, as expected [that first walk to the casket was brutal]. And I returned home and… returned to my life. The first day back at my apartment was empty and slow moving, but getting back to my job quickly threw me right back into the old routine and… I haven’t really cried since. Whenever I think of her, the only memories that stick are the ones of me watching her struggle in her last days.

When people on hospice begin to transition, it is common for them to do a lot of moaning and crying out, repeatedly. However, it is not due to them being in any real pain. They moan and groan as a method of comfort, because by now, usually they know what is coming soon. Before the hospice nurse told us that, I was terrified at hearing my grandma make these sounds. I thought she was in pure agony and it made me emotional to watch her in this state. On one of my last days with her, I asked her. “Grandma, I asked what was hurting you and you said you weren’t in any pain. So why do you keep making that noise?” She caught her breath and took a long dramatic pause before replying:
“I’m not making that noise because I’m hurting, I’m doing it because I’m scared of what will happen.” In my whole 32 years of life, I can say that I’ve never known my grandma to fear anything. Or at least to not admit to it. When she said that, I knew the shift had started.

But I wonder… is it death that we fear or what comes after it? The only reason we wish to hold on to people we love is because we don’t want to face a life without them. How do you pick up the pieces to your life and put them back together when a huge part is missing? Well… you can’t. It’s impossible to live the same life after experiencing deep loss of another, because a piece of you goes with them. They say all the time to people who have lost a parent or child or sibling or spouse: You never really get over it, you just learn to live without them. I’m realizing in my own periods of growth and sadness that this is true to life in many ways, not just when you lose a loved one.

I think the truth is that my grandmother mentally and spiritually left this place at least a month before her physical transition. And when I would look at her lie in that hospital bed, I told myself that this was not the Eva I knew. And I would cry. Because I wasn’t quite sure where she had gone, or when it happened, but it frustrated me that I didn’t get to say goodbye before she left.

It also frustrates me that I’m seeing my mother and father get older too.
It frustrates me that I haven’t lived and built a life that allowed me to retire them early.
It frustrates me that continuing the creative endeavors I thought would lead me to that life suddenly seem uninteresting or unattainable.
It frustrates me that now I don’t really know what I want to pursue in life.
Ironically, my grandmother has always had immense pride and admiration for everything I’ve done in my life, while I remain obsessed with the need to do more in order for my life to count.

Maybe I have no room to grieve her death because I am too busy grieving my old life, and the current one that hasn’t really taken off in the way that I envisioned.

I think many of us spend a great deal of our lives reminiscing about the past, worrying about the outcome of current things gone awry, and anticipating better things and impeding doom to come in the future. And once it all ends, we wish we would have appreciated the present more. Death trumps everything, for a moment. It is always a big, jolting, painful turning point in life, and the grief that comes after is like something you wrestle with. I know there are 5 stages of grief, but I feel like there are so many moving parts to it. Grief is also loneliness. It is also laughter. It is defeat. It is shame. Guilt. Growing. Failing. Jealousy. Healing. Unlearning. Falling short. Finding light. It’s a fight that you win AND lose at. But at some point its up to you how it ends. You either wrangle your way out of the ring and into the next beautiful chapter of life, or get pinned down by this ever-present sorrow that follows you for years.

I’m trying so hard to end the fight with grief. I hope for a future that is abundant. I pray for my parents’ health and happiness. And I anticipate seeing my grandmother in my dreams.

Peace to you.

Thinking Critically

I remember, very vividly, what it was like to do social studies homework in elementary and middle school. From about 3rd grade on up, you could almost always count on the same assignment: answering the questions listed at the end of the chapter. And I hated social studies, by the way. It was my least favorite subject. Nothing was more disinteresting to me than learning about the cycle of America’s wars, treaties, laws and speeches with racist white men at the center. I didn’t mind those end-of-chapter assignments though, because I quickly learned that you didn’t actually have to read the whole chapter to find the answers to the questions. Each question was linked to a certain subsection, so all you had to do was find it, then look for key words/names in the question until you found your answer. So I would do my homework in confidence, having learned this ‘trick’, until I got to the very last question. The “critical thinking” question. I would flip and flip through the pages until I damn near ended up reading the chapter, and I could never locate the answer. I would call my friends for help and they would all give different answers, but it didn’t ever seem like they had a hard time figuring it out. I always felt dumb for struggling while everyone else just seemed to ‘get it’. Many times I would just skip the question altogether or find something in the book that seemed related to the answer.

None of my teachers had ever actually taught us how to approach a critical thinking question. I knew that ‘critical thinking’ meant that these questions were somewhat deeper, perhaps harder to answer than the others. It never dawned on me that the answers couldn’t be found in the book.

Nobody ever told me that.

Do you ever sit up and think about the things that we aren’t taught or shown? The things that people assume are self-explanatory or common sense? The things people expect you to just pick up on or know innately?

Somewhere right now, a black person exists who doesn’t know who Malcolm X is. One day they will hear his name, ask “who is that?” and get berated by the other black people in the room. Somewhere else, there’s a smelly kid in class, who does put on his Degree every morning, but doesn’t realize how hard you have to scrub off aluminum deodorant in the shower. One day, the class bully will shame him in front of the whole class for having raw pits, and everyone will laugh at him. In another place, a couple will get a flat tire. They will call Roadside service because he has never changed a tire, and the mechanic will shake his head at the young man for not knowing how to do it himself.

Because everyone should know who Malcolm X is. Especially if you’re black; it’s just common knowledge. And we all should know how to scrub thoroughly when we bathe because that is how we are taught. It’s common sense. And all men need to know how to change a tire. Its just a man thing.

But honestly, it’s not. Everyone finds out at least one thing much later than others, simply because nothing in their life path led them to a place to find out about it beforehand. Common knowledge can be fairly subjective.

I’ve learned that with ‘knowing’ or figuring out things, there is always an exceptional case, and it’s hardly ever singular. How did I learn that? Because I’ve often been pointed to as the exception. I tout all the time that I’m a late bloomer compared to my peers. And some days I really struggle with that.

Today is one of those days.

I am frustrated because I’ve never been a career oriented person and I probably never will be. I want to get married like all of my friends but I have yet to meet anyone who I think I want to spend the rest of my life with. I’ll be 32 next month and all the goals I made for myself suddenly seem unattainable, uninteresting and unfitting. Because of this, I struggle to make plans. You can’t achieve goals without setting said goals. You can’t set goals when you look around and realize you don’t know what you want to do anymore. Living in the present and taking it day by day is easy advice for that type of thing. Take your time until you figure it out.

But I’ve actually been ‘figuring it out’ since 2019. All I’ve really done since then is graduate, cry and relocate. I don’t even feel the passion I once felt for my artistry. I write anyway though, because that’s what they said you’re supposed to do.

This isn’t my shiniest post. It’s mostly me venting and unfortunately there is no clever epiphany at the end to wrap things up on a positive note. I’m probably just in my feelings. But writing it down is always helpful, and sharing it feels necessary. So here we are.

Just like in elementary school, I’m looking around and I’m starting to feel like everyone else in the class knows something I don’t. Or they have something, the stuff of something, that I don’t. A certain boldness. A certain hustle. A certain mentality or knowledge. That propels them forward.

I feel very much like the exception again, when it comes to finding your way in life.

Nobody told me it would be this difficult to carve your own path. And I’ve been flipping, flipping, flipping through pages and I can’t find what I’m looking for. No book, no podcast, no scripture and no speech has shown me the answer.

I wish it was common sense, but it’s not. And I’m having a hard time.

Peace to you for reading.

An Ode to My Lover

Thursday night I took some time to listen to music and let it affect me. I started off my evening showering and doing my nightly routine with Big KRIT’s newest album, Digital Roses Don’t Die, then I pivoted to a radio station based off Sam Gendel’s song BOA, and mentally, I went somewhere else. For the next couple of hours I lied on my back to just be one with the music, and it wasn’t long before the synths, saxophones and guitars ushered me into a peaceful stillness. Not an emptiness. My thoughts are still swimming and colliding, but they’ve slowed. Instead of the daily worries that bombard my head, I fall into this silky web of philosophy, metaphysics, and the good kind of “why” about life.

Every now and then I’ll feel compelled to be still with music like this, or throw myself into moving with it – free movement to songs that put me into my body (that nobody, except my living room walls, will probably ever see). I try to stretch these moments of calm as far as they can go, because as a naturally anxious person, they don’t come around too often. But aside of these occasional 5-hour blissful love affairs I may have with a Spotify playlist, music is a big part of my every day life. Like most everyone in the world, I listen to it while I drive, while I work, while I travel, while I chill. Unless I’m reading or doing something that demands laser focus, I kinda can’t stand silence. Why sit in a silent room when you can have music in the background to set a mood?

I’m not a singer. I’m not a producer. I’m not a musician. I couldn’t identify the names of most of the sounds and beat patterns that drive me crazy when I hear them in songs. I can’t really justify why I have to listen to a song on repeat because of what it does at the :51 mark, for 17 seconds. Yet and still, music kind of powers my life force. It sometimes seems like my heartbeat. This is going to sound cliche and dramatic, but I don’t think I can live without music.

Music surrounded me as a kid. One of the things I remember most vividly about my childhood days is the old record player my parents kept in the big den of our house. It was about as tall as I was. The top had a turntable, underneath were two slots for cassette tapes, and the lower bottom half was a storage space for records with a glass door. Cassettes or records, I could always count on my mom to blast some O’Jays while she cleaned the house, and I could always count on my dad to play Michael Franks, or Al Jarreau when we were riding in the car. This is the kind of music I first fell in love with. Oldies R&B and Jazz.

Now, most people think they have good taste in music. We all feel like our personal playlists are top tier for anyone’s listening enjoyment. But I’m really for real when I say I have a good ear. Whether you agree with that is none of my concern, but I will say that I cannot take full credit for how this pristine ear formed. So let me take a second to talk about my dad. Because we are probably kindred spirits when it comes to music, and without his exposure and influence, I’d never know to look beyond radio for good music.

My dad was the type of person to find an album or song he liked, and play it on repeat for days to weeks on end. Literally. But his favorites usually became mine. And if they didn’t, man did they get beat into my head. I remember spending one weekend with my dad (after my parents divorced) and he played Cher’s ‘Believe’ ALL WEEKEND LONG. Same song, over and over. He had literally bought the CD single, which had about 4 or 5 remixes on it too, but he just played the extended version, every second of every minute of every hour that we were in the car or at home. I could not understand what he liked about it, but to this day, if I ever hear that song, I just have to sing the chorus because by God that’s all I heard for 48 hours of my life at a point. There were actually many weekends we spent together where the soundtrack was one song, because he had just found out about it or it popped into his head. Including, but not limited to: 50 Cent’s “In Da Club”, Mary Jane Girls’ “In My House”, Toni Braxton’s “Just Be a Man About It”, The Roots’ “Break U Off”, Kelly Rowland’s “Stole”, Temptations’ “Stay”, Leann Rimes “I Hope You Dance”, and Bob James “Raise the Roof”. And now I do the same. I’ll hear a song and fall into an addiction to it. Chasing the feeling I get from the way the snares hit, or the nastiness of a guitar solo, or the calm of the strings or piano. Just like my dad, it’s not until play #46, or #92, that I’ll reach my quota of feels. Until tomorrow. 🙂

But anyway, back to this record player. It seemed like once cassette tapes became the new popular medium, my parents stopped buying records and started playing tapes. Both of my parents had tapes that they couldn’t get enough of, but I was still curious about those records that sat dormant behind that wide glass door. One day I flipped through them and decided to listen. I started with Willie Hutch’s album ‘The Mack’, which I had heard him play a few times, but not as often as the others. I remember my dad only needing to tell me once to be careful with records. I placed it on the turntable, and positioned the needle with medical precision. Vampin’ comes on. I wasn’t familiar with this song in particular. But it sounded intense. Like something was coming after the song went off. Then Theme of the Mack, which starts off slow and sorrow-filled and still brilliant. But I recognize this song, from when my dad played it. And because I’m such a kooky kid, I start moving around the room in slow motion, as if my limbs are heavy and extended. And after a little while, the tempo switches into this fast, lively beat that sounds chaotic to me, so I start running around the room, flailing my arms around and dancing. Because that’s what it seems like you’re supposed to do. And I continue throughout this whole album, either sitting on the floor and just listening, or getting up and moving around like I’m on TV. And by the end I’m like, How come he wasn’t playing that record like all the other ones?! Then I found The Jacksons’ Victory album, recognized Michael in the middle of the photo and put it on. And through the journey of that album I wondered why my parents didn’t play that one so much either, and why the Jacksons didn’t let Randy sing more often, because “One More Chance” sounded so sad, but also so beautiful to me – even though I couldn’t quite understand what he was saying all the time. From that point on, I knew that there was more to music than just words and sounds. Over time I played all of the records that sat in that bottom compartment of the record player. Some I didn’t like at all, and none I liked more than the two I just mentioned. I got lost in it sometimes, I’d even be brought to tears & not understand why. As young as 4 years old, I had formed this sudden obsession with the effect of music and it would only grow bigger.

I got my first set of cds and a stereo player/walkman when I was in the 4th grade. My parents did their best to just buy a general set of what was on the radio and seemed appropriate for a kid – mostly pop and R&B. No rap, because my dad forbid me to listen to it.

LOL. Anyone who knows me knows I love hip hop – I can even be a bit of a rap purist sometimes – so it is funny to think about the fact that my dad wanted me nowhere near it as a child. I remember being at one of my cousin’s house and they would always blast rap music through their speakers, and I would instinctively cover my ears and cringe because my dad told me I couldn’t listen to it. He didn’t even have to be around but in my head it seemed like it was possible that he would hear it, barge into the room, grab me, and rush me out of the room to get me away from it. But as overprotective as he was, its honestly not a far fetched idea. It was deemed ‘bad’ because of the profanity, and I don’t know if I ever knew much rap music that wasn’t played at an insanely loud volume, so mentally I kind of grew to think it literally hurt my ears. My cousin Christian told me that sometimes I would even cry when someone turned it on. But the album that changed it all was T.I.’s Trap Muzik. I first heard this album in my sister’s car. It was 2003 when buying a new CD and unwrapping it in the car was one of the most exciting, yet fleeting moments you could live. A lot of people would buy CDs and skip straight to the radio single, but my big sister always played the CD from the intro, with the speakers blasting. I think I asked to hear the radio hit and she firmly said “NO. You’re supposed to start the CD from the beginning and listen to the whole thing in order.” And I nodded and took this as the gospel. I was also a little afraid of her and didn’t want to argue. I fell in love with rap, then yacht rock, then electronic, then house music, then alternative, then indie folk, and whatever else I was led to via myspace, percussion lab, bandcamp, soundcloud or spotify. And music and I, well we’ve been growing together and thriving in a very happy marriage.

But seriously though.
In my honest opinion, music is just a transference of emotion.
Like, that’s probably not ACTUALLY what music is, but speaking as a sensitive soul who sometimes feels like I’m made up mostly – if not entirely – of feelings, is this not a theory that makes you nod and go ‘Hmm’?
Do we not listen to certain types of music when we are in or want to be in certain types of moods? When I want to relax I listen to jazz, and it brings about a quietude. When I miss home & the comfort of childhood I listen to oldies, and I feel like I’m with family again. When I’m feeling nostalgic and reminiscing about middle school and high school days, I play rap albums from the early 2000s. When I’m feeling existential and without a need of purpose, I listen to airy instrumentals (or old Alan Watts lectures). When I work out I listen to rappers from my hometown because UGH, I don’t wanna do cardio but Young Dolph & Three 6 Mafia gon put fire to my ass because I just can’t resist this grungy ass, crunk ass, classic ass MEMPHIS music. Whatever I choose, I’m choosing it because of the feeling.

A few times I’ve met people who told me something like “I don’t really listen to music,” and I just… didn’t understand. I would assume they were empty people or had some kind of disconnect. Now I just tell myself that perhaps they didn’t grow up with it or hear it much, so they just didn’t know what they were missing. Music is so vast. One person can hear a song and be filled with awe and passion, while the next person can’t turn it off fast enough because it sounds terrible to them. There’s something for everyone. And there’s so much of it. When people ask me what my favorite song is, I struggle… because it’s just impossible to pick one. I’d have to narrow it down by genre, then by artist, then by year, month, week, day, what I ate for lunch that day and how I was feeling at the time. I’ve written this whole post, there’s 10,000 more words I could write in amendment to it, and I’d still feel like I couldn’t articulate my full adoration. I don’t know… it just really improves the quality of my days. It makes me cry. It makes me laugh. It makes me think. It helps me believe. It cheers me up. It fills my soul! I love it so much that I sometimes wonder if I’d be better suited in a career that revolves around it – like a DJ or producer – but instead I just keep these ideas in my back pocket on a list of ‘alternate careers for another life’.

Music has cemented some of my best and worst memories. Playing a certain tune always transports me to the exact same place, or smell, or moment in time. And I think that’s the coolest shit ever. Powerful, even. As a creative, I’m so grateful for all forms of art and the way they can shape or re-shape the world. But there is something about music and how it behaves as this cosmic string that threads everything and everyone together, even if only for 3 short minutes.

I fell in love with music the first time I heard it. It’s so central to my heart and very being, and it’s no doubt the unsung hero of my life.

Peace to you for reading.

I know that ain’t who I think it is! [A vague & scattered overview of the past 10 months]

Hey boo. Let’s skip the part where I talk about how I intended to update this blog at least 4 more times by now and jump right into the WTF that has been my life.

Currently I’m posted up in an Alpharetta coffee shop that is seemingly exclusive to motorcycle buffs and college kids, sipping a soy matcha latte. This is where I come on the weekend sometimes to plug in for about 4-6 hours and get my writing done, despite being an obvious outcast to the regular crowd.

Oh, writing, you say? What is it that you’ve been writing?
Bits of everything, really. In March I took a TV writing course with Lamont Ferrell, who has written on Girlfriends, The Parenthood, Moesha and few others. After writing my first short film in Portland, I became interested in writing for the screen, and I wanted to take a class to understand formatting and story structure. And through this effort, I wrote my second pilot. To the average ear, this sounds great, right? Because wow, that means technically I’ve written a first pilot. Which means wow, I’ve written two whole TV episodes. And maybe this is a great thing in some people’s eyes, but to me, a writer, who follows and is inspired by so many other writers who are doing much bigger things, it doesn’t seem like much of an accomplishment. Especially once you get the full context:
Yes, I’ve written two pilots. The first one I submitted to Hillman Grad Productions in hopes of being chosen for their apprenticeship. The fine print is that I wrote this pilot before taking a writing class so it was actually a very bad pilot that would have never made it to TV, and alas, I was not chosen for the apprenticeship. The second pilot I’ve actively been making edits to, but it’s not at a point of marketing to networks yet. So to me, they are just files on my computer. The only accomplishment in my opinion is that I wrote something with a clear beginning middle and end – which has always been very hard for me as a writer! So if I find pride in any of this, it’s that part. Other than that, it just feels like its not enough.

And that is probably the biggest thing I’ve wrestled with since moving to Atlantafeeling like I’m not doing enough.

As soon as I felt settled into my apartment, BAM. Here comes this huge omnipresence looming over me, sort of demanding that I hurry up and ‘get to it’. It’s a gray cloud made up of an immense amount of pressure to get booked for a role or create and produce a significant piece of art, and it doubles as a reprimanding entity, hovering above until I do. People ask me all the time, “Have you gotten cast in any shows yet?” – “What are you working on?” – “Did you audition for Tyler Perry yet?” My answer continues to be “No”, “Not yet” or “Nothing”, and it just feels lousy because I never have anything to report after all this time. I’m coming up on my first year in a new city, the one I moved to because of the rumored plethora of opportunities for black actors. But here we are at the end of 2021 and I have pretty much nothing to show for it except a few self tapes and written pieces that never made it past their home on my laptop.

Sometimes it doesn’t seem like such a huge fail if I consider the times we’re in. Right? We are still living in the Covid-19 pandemic (that I caught in June, btw, after being fully vaccinated). That has had an effect on everyone, in some way or another. The film industry has started back up for the most part but the theatre industry is still catching their bearings. Plus, I think it’s safe to say that a lot of artists struggle with fighting the urge to be hyper-productive. Everything stopped in 2020, so the world was forced to take a break. Now, in 2021, we’re trying to rebuild, so God forbid we use ANOTHER year to just slow, sit back and focus on what’s important. I also try to consider my personal circumstances that challenge and alter my progress. I’m in a new city, I only know 2 people here, so I don’t really have a community. I didn’t feel like this would affect me when I made the decision to move, but it really has. People always call me brave for moving somewhere where I don’t know anyone, and now I guess I get why. This path gets lonely!!! Plus, my anxiety has gotten a lot worse since living alone. I don’t feel unsafe in my neighborhood, but I’ve grown really apprehensive about hanging out in the city by myself after hearing repeated stories of crime, specifically towards women. Being kidnapped, followed home, stabbed in the park, etc. I still push myself to get out and go to the city to do things. But even with knowing I can’t live in fear, it keeps me on edge a bit. I also still have the same job, which has gotten a bit hectic in the past couple of months, so I’ve been working later days and I’m just drained through the week. I have no creative energy left after a work day. By the time the weekends come I just want to chill. Sometimes, auditioning just feels like more work to do. But then, I’ll scroll Instagram or facebook and see that one of my peers is advertising a show they’re doing, a film they’re shooting, a job they booked, a project they’ve created, and BAM, I’m right back to feeling like I’m failing.

But you can’t do that. Comparison is the thief of joy, you’re thinking.
And yeah, I know. Cuz it’s definitely taking all my shit on the regular. And this is still something I’m unpacking with my therapist, but I know that the only person putting pressure on me is me. I’m under the illusion that not having any exciting updates is making other people see me as a failed artist, but other people don’t really care. It’s me who puts the pressure on myself. And I’m the only one who is disappointed. So that’s what I’m trying to get to the bottom of. I feel like I’m not a real writer if I don’t have a published book or literary journal spot to show for it. I’m not a real actor if I’m not getting booked as the lead in someone’s play or scoring an agent that gets me cool commercial gigs. But why?
–Why is it that I don’t feel like a ‘true’ artist if I don’t have tangible evidence to show and advertise on social media?
–Why am I sometimes hardly motivated to audition if I feel like I’m so behind?
–Why do I gauge my own success based off the success of others?
–When will I 100% stop caring so much about what others *might* think of me?
–Why do I feel like I’m not enough if I’m not actively doing something?

I don’t have the answers to any of these. Or maybe I do, and I’m just not ready to say them aloud...
I notice though, that I didn’t have any of these questions until I moved. Whenever I visit Memphis, I always feel like a hometown hero. Because at home, I’m far more than enough. There are no expectations for me to be anything other than who I am. I’m surrounded by people who love me; I can relax and just be. As soon as I cross the soil into Atlanta, the switch flips. It’s just me, and it’s back on the grind, back to the hunt for significant success, and every second spent on anything other than that seems like wasted breath and wasted time.

But don’t worry about me. Because
A – I know that isn’t true, and
B -The one thing I can and will say aloud is that I’m constantly ignoring self on this widely advertised journey of self-discovery.
After a heartbreak and a period of major depression, I told myself that I would migrate to a new environment and really get to know me, but lo and behold, I’m still caught in the throes of external validation. What a disservice to myself! I can’t even ‘do me’ correctly. The hell??

I’ve known people who started off wanting to be serious artists, and ended up dedicating their lives to something completely different, all because one day they decided that they wanted to change their minds, and so they did. And I think it’s great! I love hearing stories about how people went through years of law school and multiple bar exams, only to discover that they hated it 2 years in at the firm. Fast forward, and they’re a fitness guru and a plant enthusiast. One of my friends is an amazing dancer and is has started her own cupcake business. Another is in LA moving with the wind & probably has no idea what will happen next in her life, but she is actively figuring it out and she does it with such a spellbinding grace that I know she’s right where she needs to be. The older I get the more I realize that life really starts to hit in your late 20s and early 30s, and many of us just don’t really know what we’re supposed to be doing and what life means. Like, I have a full understanding of that. I’m cheering for and smiling at everybody who is operating out of a reality of being uncertain. Yet and still, holding space and having that same patience for myself feels like pulling teeth. How is it that I have the utmost respect and admiration for people who are doing the exact things that they want to do, and none for myself?

A friend asked me, what would you call this chapter of your life? At first, I said ‘In Bloom’ – because this season of growth for me is akin to that of a flower. But then I changed my answer to ‘Recalibrating’ – because… I don’t have an exact plan but I know I gotta modify some things. I do think operating from my heart is a better standard for future planning than operating from logic. Now I am getting comfortable gravitating towards my actual interests, versus what society says I need to be interested in, and I feel my shift coming in my life. I don’t know when it will happen, how it will happen, or what it will look like, but it’s near. I’m changing. I’m growing. I can’t put it into words, but its spiritual. All I know is that I feel things very very deeply, I feel distant from close friends, I desire to connect with people rather than impress them, I’m challenging my biases, I’m much more aware of my ego, people are constantly telling me I have a healing energy, and I’m relating to a LOT of eastern philosophy and Buddhism. I don’t know what the universe is cooking but the pot is definitely stirring.

I’ve been taking frequent breaks from social media because as I mentioned, when I’m in the wrong headspace, it’s hard to see other people’s successes without feeling bad about my lack thereof. But there is one classmate whose posts are my favorite… because I think I want to be just like him? Lol. His posts give a direct snapshot of him enjoying life. He posts pics and vids of his medium sized marvelous afro, homecooked meals of steak, pasta and cute wine, cigar lounge trips in nice suits, and warm smiling selfies. Technically this is the same as what everyone else posts, ‘Hey I look cute’ or ‘Hey look what I’m doing right now’, but there’s something that just seems genuine about his posts. He doesn’t do it to brag or show off, it feels more like he is sharing his enjoyment with us. He doesn’t try to appear larger than life, or more successful than the next. Of course, he dreams of winning millions in the lotto just like the next man, but there’s no pressure there to do anything other than whatever the hell he feels. I always see his photos and smile. I’m happy that he is happy, and this is the level of contentment that I hope to have, too.

And I think the meter is slowly moving on that progress. Very slowly, but moving nonetheless. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the things I used to do and how I want to revisit them: piano, dance, improv… things I want to do more of: traveling, seeing shows… things I’ve never done but have curiosities about it would like to experience: directing, photography, beat making… I’ve been thinking of alternative careers I could try for paying the bills, since corporate America continues to be a dull and draining environment that I know I don’t belong in. And I really want a puppy!!! I keep thinking of something my friend Kaleb told me a couple months back, when we were talking about the reality of infrequent gigs. He said “You don’t have to just do one thing. Do everything you want to do!” So. I think I will. I’m going to just… do what I want, if time and budget allows. And if it doesn’t, I guess that’s the change I need to make next. I don’t know where I got the idea that you can only have one title in life – feeling like you have to find your one thing and pick it, but it’s got me in a chokehold. [Let me out, lil bih!]

Even though this gray cloud of false expectations still emanates in the background, I am finding the light. I am grateful for family who calls and checks on me. I am appreciative of friends who send me money on cash app for help with unexpected things or just because. I am deeply moved by the kindness shown to me by people who see me and want to support me. I am thankful for Portland directors who have given me opportunities from afar, even though I am no longer a resident. I am happy to ignite and inspire other people. I am blessed to have friends nearby who believe in my writing and my acting, and invest their time into what I’ve created so far. I deserve and desire much love and intimacy, but I am fully aware of the love and support that I already have. As I travel on this journey, I hope to pour that same love and support into myself.

I am talented. I am worthy. I am intelligent.
I am an actor. I am a writer. I am a visionary. I am a force.
I am not solely defined by one of these things.
I may lose people on this journey and I may lose myself also. But this too shall pass.
Things will change. I will change. And I have to get comfortable with this concept.

Peace to you for reading.

ATL Heaux: Another Move, Another Journey

Greetings from Atlanta! (technically Roswell)

I finally made that leap – again. On the day after Christmas, I rolled out with my sister, my parents and a moving truck. Days later, I brought in the new year in my first solo apartment. I decided that Atlanta seems like an ideal place to be: Closer to home, more affordable, and more opportunities for a black artist compared to Portland. It was a simple decision. Or one that was made hastily, I guess. Even though Atlanta did stick out to me as the most ideal compared to other cities, I can admit now that restlessness was also a driving force behind me making the move. I wanted to find an apartment as soon as possible. And as long as I was out of Memphis before January, getting my own place could still count as something, perhaps the only thing – I successfully accomplished in 2020. I made the cut with 5 days to spare.

Here I am, finally face to face with nobody but myself, and I am discovering so much.

  1. Living in Atlanta isn’t as cheap as cheap as the online wage calculator says.
    So… I did the math on cost of living comparisons for cities I was considering. By math, I mean I used some cost of living calculators on the internet. Chicago, Houston and Philly made it to the finals, but were ultimately either too expensive, not as abundant on acting opportunities, or both. Atlanta came out being almost as affordable as home (Memphis), so I was excited to get started on looking for apartments. Until I saw ROACH INFESTATION in almost all the tenant reviews of apartments in what I thought to be nice, semi-affluent areas. One bedroom apartments had awful pest issues, despite being upwards of even $1200 for monthly rent. [And let me add for context, while I do still have my day job, I most definitely ain’t got it like that. I cannot afford a $1200 apartment yet, but I just wanted to re-iterate that the roaches are a real issue up here, even in good neighborhoods, and I still can’t understand why.] Luckily, or at least so far, I think I lucked up on an apartment community with little to no bug complaints. However, the rent I settled on is still more than I’ve ever paid, and the due diligence of being a new resident provides additional assault on my wallet. I’m used to paying like $108 to renew my car tags in Memphis. That ad valorem tax put me at $350 to transfer to GA plates. To some of yall, that’s nothing, but I’m not in that tax bracket yet. Thank God the renewal fee is just 20 bucks.
  2. Softbox lights > ring lights.
    Thanks to a kind friend and old castmate, I have a brand new set of soft box lights and I set them up last weekend. I’m not going to tell you how my old self tapes looked, but let’s just say I only got cast from one of them, and it wasn’t because the acting sucked. I purchased a backdrop, microphone and ring light a couple weeks ago, thinking these were basics that would make-do for much better submissions, but after flipping on these softboxes, I see the light. No pun intended. The ring light will come in handy for selfies and the vlog that I will eventually start. For self tapes, its only right for the room to look like a photo shoot.
  3. It’s really just me out here.
    I don’t have any family in Georgia. Home is just a 6 hour drive away, but small things are really making it solid for me that I’m on my own. Buying a single piece of furniture? Better be able to carry it into the door yourself. Need to lift something heavy? Too bad. Need someone else to hold this piece while you nail the other side to the wall so that it doesn’t fall or break? Best to keep the walls bare. Flat tire on a cold dark night? (god forbid) Better renew that AAA membership on dad’s joint account. Need a reader for a self tape submission? Let’s hope a call to a friend on speakerphone is loud enough in the final edits. [I could solicit a neighbor or stranger for all of these, but let me remind you that I am a woman, and most importantly, I’m black. It’s just not something I’m inclined to do, for reasons I don’t need to mention. Hopefully.] I do have a few peers here, but most are married and doing other things. Besides me wondering if we’re ‘close’ enough to ask certain favors, I often make the assumption that they would be too busy to help with what might seem trivial. I’ve always been in a position where I have close friends or family members to help with random mishaps or projects, so perhaps it is time for me to learn to make a way on my own.
  4. There is no blueprint, and I wish there was.
    I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m a person who needs some level of structure to function. Being an artist literally has none. You can go the professional or indie route or anywhere in between. You can support yourself financially by having a day job, a part time job, 3 jobs, or be broke and completely available for art with no separate job at all. You can do film or theatre. You can have an agent or not. You can take classes or not. You can make your own skits. You can write your own films. Or you can try to get put in someone else’s. You can get a studio job and shadow someone. Or you can go to work and watch tv. It’s literally your choice. I think it’s not the choices that overwhelm me, but all the different ways you can go about them. I wish there were some type of instruction manual on this path. I’m completely new to film acting and writing’ sometimes I have no idea what to do first. Headshots? An agent? Recording monologues? Casting submissions? Classes? I still have no idea where to start, but I’m just going to dive in and be thankful I have a lifejacket.
  5. Social media is applying that pressure.
    Not the good kind. At a point, seeing other people succeed made me feel inspired. Nowadays, on the wrong day, it makes me feel inadequate. I can’t shake the idea that your work means nothing if it isn’t tangible. You’re not really a writer if you haven’t been published or won an award. You’re not really an actor if you haven’t booked any gigs or starred in something that you can showcase to other people. I know that isn’t true; this is just me being easily intimidated and hard on myself. But it feels that way. People talk about imposter syndrome and I would love to feel that at least. But you have to have the actual accolades before you feel like you don’t deserve them. After I get my professional page up and running, I’m logging out of all of my personal social media. Besides the self loathing it ensues, there’s a lot of baseless shit that I’m just tired of seeing.
  6. I probably can’t afford this.
    This may be too personal for this blog but again, I don’t want anyone to think I got it like that, cuz I don’t. Now, I mentioned that rent costs a lot more than I’m used to paying. But damn, its rent added up with everything else each month that makes it evident: I probably need a higher paying job if I want to keep this up. I’ve also accumulated more bills just by moving. I’m ending my gym membership since I now have renter’s insurance [I haven’t been back to PF anyway because I’m weary of cleanliness due to covid]. My car insurance is higher because, Atlanta. I’m finally paying for medical insurance through my job and its as much as a phone bill payment. Honestly, if student loans weren’t at a halt right now, I’d be in a tight spot. I tend to have a stubborn allegiance to jobs even if I’m bored or unhappy with them, so its tough to begin looking for something else. But I know eventually I will have to, because having two separate ones just eliminates all time and hope for creative pursuits. So in the meantime, tell your uncles I have feet pics for sale.
  7. I’m gonna need some time to adjust.
    Social media isn’t the only thing putting fire to my ass. It’s people – friends and associates who ask for updates once they find out I’ve moved to Atlanta. Since I’ve arrived I’ve felt this crazy pressure to hurry up and jump to it. Have you been in movies yet? Are you going to audition for Tyler Perry? Have you been to Tyler Perry Studios? What plays are you doing? What auditions have you done? I’m even slacking on being a new resident. You been to any parties? What all have you done in the city? Have you been going on dates? You need to get out and do something. You need to explore…
    Yeah, I haven’t done any of that. I’m trying to ground myself in my new space. I haven’t even acquired all my furniture pieces. I’m more concerned with curating my new place of comfort and enjoying the me time that comes with it. I’m trying to remind myself it’s okay to go at my own pace. I can start whatever, whenever I’m ready.
  8. I’m lonely but I also like it that way.
    Some days, I do feel like I’m going crazy from lack of human interaction. I’m always excited to get phone calls and facetime calls from friends and family. Without them, I would be reduced to chatting on discord and reddit to people I will most likely never meet. But aside of the occasional loneliness, I’m enjoying the isolation. I can finally do as I please without the criticism or questioning from others. I can cook without having to clean up someone else’s mess first, and if it doesn’t come out right, there’s nobody around to crack jokes. It is an adjustment; sometimes I have to remind myself that I don’t need to sneak or hide. I don’t have to make sure nobody is around before I walk around naked. I don’t have to play my music at a lower volume. I don’t need approval or permission to weep because I watched a movie that touched me or because I felt sad for reasons I couldn’t explain. I can move the furniture to one side of the room because I felt like dancing. I can eat pie for dinner. Or breakfast. I can adjust the thermostat from heat to cool in the course of 4 hours. I can burn incense because I’m the only one who will smell it. I’m free to do whatever. I guess I can’t really put that feeling into words. But I’m grateful to finally reach the point where I can say I know what that feels like.

Peace to you for reading.