Stumbling Is Not Falling

For six months an overwhelming struggle has clogged my throat choking the inspiration from my bones. The pursuit of happiness and purpose gets muddied when surviving in what can sometimes be a soulless city of 8.3 million. Some mornings it takes everything in me to get out of the bed only to find myself dealing with the invasion of my personal space, the deranged guy on the train hurling a loogie in your direction, the teenagers who rob for the $200 iPhone your Dad bought you for Christmas,  your landlord who won’t answer the phone to fix your non-flushing toilet or your co-worker who throws you on the bus for no other reason than she is hella pregnant and “frustrated.” With all its flaws, just like a breathing person you share a connection with, you love NYC anyway.

It’s not NYC, it’s me.

Before the oversized exposed brick apartment in Brooklyn, before the job at The Network, before praying for sister-friends in the city I’d moved to in 2010 without knowing more than a handful of people, there were sleepless nights daydreaming about what I eventually got, but what was now not enough.

I feel guilty for not being able to marvel in blogging for a fancy network, interviewing artists, partying (and drinking) at the look-at-me-I’m-industry events for free. Because after all, this is what I wanted, right?

One of Oprah’s daily prayers for years has been, “Use me Lord.” Look at God! Won’t He do it? Used her He did. I too, want to be used. More than wealth or worldly success I want to live a life of purpose. What did I do to change the world while I was here? How many lives did I touch? Did I use my talents/gifts to help people? Those are the things that really matter when it’s all said and done.

I don’t live or breathe entertainment news. My insides don’t tingle during brainstorming meetings when listy ideas about things with which to bedazzle K. Michelle’s vagina are presented. My idea of living a purposeful life doesn’t consist of beginning my day searching gossip blogs for content to post. Knowing the ins and outs of the housewives-of-whatever-the-fuck serves not one solitary purpose in my life or the world. It pays the bills, though. My heart is in human interest stories and women and love and race and pop culture with a social angle. Follow your passions. They say. It will never lead you wrong.

I have a significant other whom I love deeply. Only months after we started our Brooklyn love affair writing for myself became non-existent. I’d try to type the thoughts in my head, but I couldn’t get past the lede, let alone the first graf. What was once a resilient mind eager to make a name for herself in this industry became the chick who was anti-industry. And more importantly a new woman emerged who hated everything she wrote.

For the first time in my adult relationships I was dating my career equal. The love of life, a writer like myself, holds a coveted title at an indelible magazine. His career trajectory (and overall greatness) hasn’t been easy to accept. It crippled my ego to have to ask  him for help. Knowing that he wrote better than me was a huge blow to my now humbled ego. You’d have to be a writer or artist to understand. Around this time his ex girl of over a year started acting out erratically with crazy, bitter ex-girlfriend bullshit directed at me instead of the person she was truly angry with. This continued for months. Publicly, I never said a word. As a writer, one I’d once admired for her pen game, I took the higher road, one that I’m not prone to taking. Secretly I’d wonder what he thought of her as a writer even though he’d never mentioned her in much of any capacity let alone professionally. And in thinking her wordplay was one to reckon with I started to believe my own ink was not worthy of the blank white pages in front of my eyes.

She was writing feature stories. I was writing FOB pieces. She was well known and (presumably) liked in the industry. I was the underdog who’d rather be respected than BFFs with a bunch of industry heads. She’d held a coveted job at a magazine, something I’d moved to NYC to do but hadn’t yet achieved. In exhausting my brain with comparisons I didn’t write anything for myself for six months. The day after she sent me an apology email for her behavior, I wrote.

Facebook has a way of making you believe people’s lives are much grander than they really are. Since I rarely log in I was shocked at my own tears after seeing so many brown women I admired opting to pursue their true passions in lieu of the 9-5 cubicle life. Everyone was moving on with life happily by doing what they were passionate about. If it didn’t work out at least they’d gone balls-to-the wall pursuing it. Meanwhile I sat staring at my barely there vision board. There were not any magazine pictures I could carefully clip out with the words ‘I have nothing to put on this vision board because I’m still figuring it out.’ What the hell did I want to do and how was I going to do it? I’d not heard of a lucrative career that intertwines my passion for race and women and diversity in the media. If I was so passionate why wasn’t I doing what I loved on the side until someone paid me to do it?

That bitch named complacency. Sending out hundreds of resumes for 18 months (how long it took me from the time I moved to NYC to land at The Network) with rejection after rejection didn’t feel good. It took a toll on my self-esteem. To finally have a nice salary in comparison to the days I didn’t have the fare to catch the LIRR into the city will make one get comfortable. When ‘kill what you eat’ was replaced with stability, the hunger subsided.

Self-promotion and all the talk of building a brand also wore me out. Tweeting, Facebook sharing and Instagramming felt like begging people to read my work. Writers must brand themselves nowadays. It’s how you get opportunities that eventually land you in front of TV cameras. If I never heard the word brand again it’d be too soon. So many people talk about their brands, but where is the work? I always want my work to speak for itself.

I lamented to my lover about not having a niche. Every writer–specifically journalist–whose name you know has a niche. Toure does race. Kevin Powell does music. Vanessa Grigidorias does profiles. Lola O. does entertainment. Elliott Wilson does hip-hop. I do…I felt like I lost my readership now that I worked at The Network because they didn’t care about fluff. They became followers of my work because I wrote thought provoking commentary on issues that were controversial or at the least that had significance. My significant other (because aren’t we too old to be boyfriends/girlfriends?) used the analogy of an artist who goes mainstream abandoning their core fan base for a wider audience. I think he was on to something.

My one and only internship was at VIBE magazine in 2009 under Danyel Smith. As a 25-year-old grad student I was the oldest intern of the crop. Brad Wete, who was an editor at the time, was eight months younger than me. I’d decided I wasn’t working hard enough. With that determination I moved to New York in August of 2010 with one goal in mind: To make it as a writer.

A month or so ago I ran into DSW at a listening session for Kat Dahlia. When my homegirl who works in marketing for Epic Records invited the crew to what would be music, open bar and food–we were so there! Here we were, DSW and I, four years after my internship, chatting as if it was the day in ’09 I met her at the Wall Street VIBE offices. Danyel will never know it, but her candor that night, I’ll remember forever. “Give me an insecure writer over an arrogant one any day” was only one of the many gems she dropped. If a woman who has accomplished as much and writes as beautifully as Danyel truly understood the agony writer’s have with loving the words that flowed from our heads to the page, I knew I’d be ok.

Believing in yourself is only half the battle. It’s true: Your thoughts become your reality. Relentlessly following your passions and allowing the Universe to lead you is another half, so I’ve heard.

The other part? To keep writing. No war has been won by the person who gave up. As I stare at my Twitter feed at 2:34 in the morning my hero, Malcolm X, reminds me, “Stumbling is not falling.”

* Written January 24, 2012
** It took me five months to publish it for obvious reasons
*** If you’re referenced in this blog in an unflattering way, behave better.

  • RealGoesRight

    *stands up and claps profusely*

  • OMG. This post struck so many chords. We have to get to a breaking point to reach our full potential. Going after your dreams and making your heart smile, can sometimes mean losing everything. In fact, it isn’t really losing because your exchanging one ideal for another. I definitely know the struggle on how defeated it feels to be on the inside of that huge “corporation.” I think your “network” is just a stepping stone for greater things to come. You have to sometimes be uncomfortable to achieve that greater level of peace.

  • Dawnavette

    I read this. Thrice. GURL. I abandoned my old site when I finally got a “job” and have been a miserable (closet, albeit) writer ever. Since. This post was EVERYTHING to me, and pray that I use it to motivate into some action…instead of get sad I’m still stuck in “stagnant” mode. Stay beasting!

  • Jen Phillips

    Wow…This is a beautiful post. Your candor and openness are an encouragement !

  • Kamilah

    BEST FRIEND, Sister, Cup of Tea! I embrace you and continue to walk beside you, giving you the nudge and BFF embrace! Keeping walking, moving, and living Forward! Hugs…with meaning!

  • angie writes

    This was beautiful. Salute.

  • AmericanBoi

    This was great. Im so glad you’re writing again. I’ve always been a fan. I’ve been following your work for a while now and i sometimes wonder how you feel now that you work at that great network vs when you were struggling. I started following you because you were so articulate and opinionated so i kinda thought you didn’t blog anymore b/c it might be a conflict of interest with your new job. You’re honesty is refreshing. I always think i can be a better writer no matter how many ppl tell me how much they “enjoyed my last blog post” (which i havent on in over a year now) so to see such an amazing writer like yourself be somewhat self conscious is alarming. But i guess we all are. Like you said, you have to be a writer or artist to understand. You’re an amazing writer. Amazing. Definitely one of my favorites. Glad your back to your blog.

    • writtenbyBene

      Thank you so much for this comment. This was sweet of you. Also appreciate you reading and supporting. Keep writing, man. 🙂