My mother read the first entry from this blog. i went to visit her yesterday, and she mentioned to me that i should be a writer.
This means a lot to me, coming from my mother. i honestly do not know what has held me back all of these years, because certainly i love to write. it’s one of the things which calms me; and i am a much better communicator in this medium than i am verbally (though i also do video commentaries)… It’s not even the work/job conflation that holds me back. Then again, it is.
i still have difficulty seeing that something i love to do could be a ‘potential business opportunity.’ You see articles everywhere saying, ‘make money off your blog!’, or ‘increase your brand’… While i would LOVE to not have to clock in at a job, i (once again) do not have an entrepreneurial spirit. i still want to be free to be able to do work without meeting quick deadlines, or dealing with overhead. Somehow, i cannot see past that part.
It’s only in the past few months where i began shifting the idea of myself as a writer. Whenever people would ask if i were a writer, i’d tell them “i like to write.” i was uncomfortable with the title of writer, just as i was uncomfortable with the title of artist, despite studying photography in college (a student of the great Roy DeCarava (RIP)- we would have several conversations about our love for jazz. One thing he told me, i will never forget. i asked him if a piece i was working on was any good. He asked me if it was something i would hang on my own wall. After i told him yes, he said, “then it is a good photo.”)
Despite the many years of painting i’ve done; despite all the collages, the picture books, the fanzines (yes, i’ve done those too), the text for comics, the drawing for most of my tattoos, the public access television, the playing in bands, the songwriting, creation of music recordings… i have had trouble with calling myself an artist, a musician or a writer. Despite doing all of these things, i had difficulty with the concept of ownership of these things- linking it all to the concept of a brand. The anticapitalist in me (since the age of 15) wanted to share my works with people, without thinking of… overhead. ‘Major’ projects i have done were used to donate money to different organizations.
One thing i’ve learned though, is that it is crucial to think dialectically, and not to speak lack or loss into the universe. While a profit motive is not the main goal, simultaneously, to say “no, i am not an artist- i just make art” is minimizing my own power to reach people in the way i want to. i have had several people in my life who encouraged me to not give up writing; but it was Lorraine Hansberry who contributed to the altering of how i saw myself as a writer.
It wasn’t just her ability to convey narratives that reflected realities of many people of African descent; it was the ideological conversations she had with herself (and others) that were the impetus for said narratives. She developed an anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist analysis that fueled her work.
Of course, anyone doing this kind of work (of creating art, or even organizing around it) has mulled over the contradictions at some point. That would be impossible NOT to do in a capitalist society. One of the many things she asked in her journal writings was “Do I remain a revolutionary? Intellectually – without a doubt. But am I prepared to give my body to the struggle or even my comforts?… Comfort has come to be its own corruption.” She also said of herself, if her health were to improve she looked at traveling to the South to organize amidst the turmoil, “to find out what kind of revolutionary I am.”
The great Nina Simone (who of course was inspired by Lorraine Hansberry, as Lorraine Hansberry was inspired by Langston Hughes) spoke of these same contradictions. She once said, “We don’t know anything about ourselves. We don’t even have the pride and the dignity of African people. We can’t even talk about where we came from. WE DON’T KNOW!” In another interview she stated: “My job is to somehow make (African people) curious enough… persuade them, by hook or crook, to get more aware of themselves and where they came from, and what they are into, and what is already there… Just to bring it out. This is what compels me to compel them. And i will do it by whatever means necessary.”
She also says in the same interview that the work she does “completely takes all (her) energy, unfortunately”; however, because she recognizes the magnitude of this work by acknowledging the “kids who come backstage afterwards, who want to talk or who are moved… Sometimes they are moved to tears…” She took time out despite being tired, “perhaps to hear some of their grievances, or just to make them feel that they’re not alone.” She adds, “The most important thing is, they are our future! It’s an investment, as far as I’m concerned. When I invest time in young people from colleges, I know that I’m gonna get that bread back. You know, bread cast upon the water comes back. Because when i see ’em doing their thing one day, and I’m too old to do anything but sit and look at them I’m gonna say, well, I was part of that.” She saw it as her, and other artists’ “duty to reflect the times… How can you be an artist and NOT reflect the times?”
Lorraine Hansberry speaks of the same sentiments. Amidst her illness, she stopped to visit a group of young people who won a national writing contest: “I wanted to be able to come here and speak with you on this occasion; because you are young, gifted and Black. In the year 1964, I for one can think of no more dynamic combination that a person might be. Look at the work that awaits you; write if you will. But write about the world as it is, and as you think it ought to be and must be. Work hard at it. Care about it. Write about our people. Tell their story.”
In terms of the contradictions, Nina Simone said: “if I had my way, I’d’ve been a killer. I would’ve had guns, and i would’ve gone to the South and gave ’em violence for violence; shotgun for shotgun… if I had my way. But my husband told me I didn’t know anything about guns; he used to teach me. And the only thing I had was music, so I obeyed him. But if I had my way… I wouldn’t be sitting here today. I’d be probably dead (her emphasis) somewhere, because i would have used guns during those years. I was never a nonviolent person.” She would have discovered what kind of revolutionary she was, had her husband not discouraged her. The contradictions (and evidences of misogyny) definitely lie there, in that such a strong-willed woman was coerced (or forced) by her husband to not fight for her people, or against injustice in the matter she wished to.
This was not unlike what happened with Lorraine Hansberry. Her husband colluded with doctors and others, to not inform her of the magnitude of her diagnosis, exacerbating her inability to heal in ways she most likely could have, had she been informed.
To be able to fuel my art (whatever form i take on) as a means of reaching and inspiring people (as well as myself) is work; and i do not have to perceive it as a burden (or a job) to get a message out, based on whatever analysis i have about the society i live in. If i am to truly stand on the shoulders of these two phenomenal women (who are also ancestors); if i am to continue the mission they sought out to do in terms of their creative journey, i have to alter how i look at what i do.
i am a writer.
A human that has the capacity to receive love, and to love back.
(Image: Trounce- Wikimedia Commons)