When I started my thesis, I had this idea for a collection of short stories. Neil Gaiman is a heavy influence on my writing, and I really love the personification of things and the idea that our collective belief and experience can give birth to these entities. But the past few years, I’ve been reading nothing but blackness, and this has seeped into my writing. When I was thinking of this idea, I noticed a few other artists doing the same thing: Lupe Fiasco does it with his Michael Young History Saga with The Streets, The Game. Nas does it with the idea of beef in the song…”Beef” in King’s Disease 3. One of my favorite poets, Steven Willis, does it with “The Hustle.” When I started working on my thesis, I was (still am) coming into my voice and vocation of a writer and what that means to me as a Black American. So I started thinking about things that I considered core to the Black American experience and how they might have manifested themselves. I wanted to write something that was very me, which means mythology, magic, and centering black voices, and something that reflected a lot of the learning and growth I’ve been going through the past few years. My advisor said that sounded really big, and maybe to focus. It was good advice. It’s a huge idea that needed more research and work than would have been possible in the time frame in which I wanted to complete my thesis. So I wrote my short stories about Dre and Lia and a literary framework centering black authors, and it was great.
The idea about this Black pantheon never left me, and ideas started coming to me in their voices. An important aspect of this story is that it not center Black suffering and pain. I want to write stories that speak to how beautiful, how resourceful, how creative, how funny and talented Black people are. But, if there were these deities, I thought, then they would have found their creation in slavery since chattel slavery and its legacy is something unique to the Black experience. But I didn’t want it to be about how awful slavery was and is, but how Black people manage to create culture, story, songs, music, and happiness through it all. I have a poem titled “Diamonds” and the last few lines are Black people are the building blocks of society/Carbon atoms necessary to create/ Anything American/ So Is it any wonder after all of this pressure/That all blackness can create/ Is diamonds? I wanted to write a story around this idea and I kept thinking of what some of the core elements of the Black American experience might be, if personified in a story, and what the name of the Pantheon might be. Neil Gaiman has The Endless. I came up with The Signified, something that, I think sounds dope, and is supremely Black. I’m very happy with this. Right now, there are six, which might change as I write and edit: The Culture, The Hustle, The Song, The Fear, and Joy. The book will be structured similarly to American Gods, where there is the main narrative, and then these interlude chapters detailing a moment where they appear or are given form.
So, after a year of no sustained writing since defending my thesis, I decided to do NaNoWrimo this year. It’s been 5 or 6 years since I last tried it. I’ve only managed to “win” once, and that was over a decade ago. I knew it would be hard…I mean, it’s a lot of writing, I’m pretty busy, I started a new job, etc. But I’m really, really excited about this idea and wanted to try. Even if I didn’t get 50k words, I figured it would be a good start. I usually get to like 25k before I either peter out or make some other excuse to stop. I’ve got a lot of potential novel ideas with about 25k words, haha. But this felt very different from the outset. I’ve rarely been so excited to write, and when I did, it came so very easily. I finished Nano on 11/23, a whole week early. I ended up writing about 2.1k words per day on average. The novel, and how pretentious it feels to say that, is nowhere near complete. It’s so very rough and early. I started thinking it would be a collection of connected short stories and was playing around with POV and different voice, but as I got deeper, I decided it would be a more traditional novel with different character POVs throughout.
Now that I’m done, I’m going to ask a few friends to read what I’ve written and give me some feedback. I’m going to do some character work, some research, and some plotting. The general direction of the story is becoming clear to me, but it’s not quite there. I’m going to set a much more reasonable pace of about 1k/words per day starting in December. I’m hoping to be done with the rough draft around March or April, but until I really get into the weeds and have the story figured out, there’s no real way to know. This idea is huge and intimidating, and I want to make sure I get it as right as I can.
2023 will be the year that I try and get published. I will be applying to PhD programs soon, and I want to look as impressive as possible on paper. That’s part of the reason I took a job teaching. Now my personal and professional goals are going to be overlapping. I’ve suffered from imposter syndrome for a long time. I have a tendency to downplay myself, my writing, my poetry…just myself in general. So 2023, I’m going to believe the people around me I trust instead of the small voice that wants to minimize my presence.
That”s what I’m thankful for on this day. The people in my life that have constantly pumped me up even when I want to slide into the background.
I defended my thesis. I was on the verge of a legitimate panic attack right before it started. And then, it did start, and my screen wasn’t sharing and my thesis chair and spouse were texting me like, “Yo, dude, something’s wrong.” and so that didn’t help.
But what did help was the absolutely massive amount of support I had in the form of friends, colleagues, and faculty. I even had a couple of students attend! Students! I think I had like 25 or 26 in the room for my defense. That’s absolutely absurd, and I want everybody to know it means the world to me that anybody would take time out of their day to come watch something like this.
I read a story about Dre’s gramma, and the only reason I didn’t cry was because I had 3 or 4 times while reading over the story, and because I stopped at the hardest part.
This was for you, gramma.
Thanks, everybody. So, so much. I’m gonna play some vidjagames.
I’m writing a collection of short stories. The characters spawned from one I wrote for a class last semester called, “After the Accident.” It is the first piece of fiction that I felt encapsulated who I am now as a person and writer. For years, education has been teaching me that my voice has very little value. It does so in ways that are so hard to see. It’s the way that I’m often the only Black student in my classes. It’s the way that the reading assignments rarely, if ever, feature people that look like me. It’s the way that bringing this up has a way of creating awkward silences. For a long time, I internalized this. I instinctively avoided writing anything that would cause this silence. In my degree(s), I didn’t really come into contact with Black authors. I grew up reading white authors, and when I tried to write fiction, emulated them. It is only in the past few years that I realize that the characters I want to write didn’t fit the narratives I absorbed and tried to recreate. A lot of my non-fiction/memoir stuff has gotten lots of positive feedback. With non-fiction stuff, I didn’t have to worry about the type of feedback I’d get from my all white cohorts. If they had issue with the Blackness of the story, then I’m sorry you have an issue with how I present my life. It’s easy to defend my decisions when it’s coming from a real place. But, I realize now, the problem has always been knowing on an unconscious level that if I write things from a place of honesty about the types of characters and lived experiences I would write about that I would need to defend them. In my last class, I wrote five stories across different genres and ideas all centered around Black characters and I was told some of it was overtly political or “on the nose.”
And I was like, “Fuck that noise.” The shit I’m writing doesn’t need defense or explanation or validation from people that can’t handle stories not centered around their experiences. Fuck em. I’m enjoying what I’m writing more than anything I’ve done before. Even better, now that I’ve had this epiphany, I have so many ideas for stories that I just…can’t stop writing. It’s the best feeling.
The other part of this thesis is all of the reading. The past few weeks I’ve read:
The Office of Historical Corrections – Danielle Evans
Playing in the Dark – Toni Morrison
Black Leopard, Red Wolf – Marlon James
Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies – Deesha Philyaw
The Antiracist Writing Workshop – Felicia Rose Chavez
A friend gave me “The Secret Lives of Church Ladies” for my birthday. I devoured it. Philyaw’s stories, voice, and characters all vibed with me in a way I haven’t experienced. I felt people I know represented through the book. Some turns of phrase I know I’ve heard but had long since forgotten that made me smile and laugh. It reminded me of the things I’ve lost through time and education that need to be remembered and valued. It’s such a great collection and I wish her continued success.
I’m starting “The Only Good Indians” by Stephen Graham Jones and “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paulo Freire now. And I’ve got one short story about 1/2 done and a solid idea for another. Hoping to be up to eight completed stories by the end of this week. I want to revise and edit throughout July and hopefully defend in August.
Also, I wonder if proclaiming that I’m writing something will ever not feel pretentious af?
Also, my wife got me one of those cakes that don’t look like a cake. It was Red Velvet, which makes me less mad about it, and it was delicious, but also, stop making cakes that don’t look like cakes. Thanks, for making my 40th awesome.
Update: After thinking about it, I realized that I couldn’t just let this slide by. I was an employee comfortable enough in my knowledge that I belonged where I was, and so was able to calmly provide what was requested. But the thought came to me that I could have been any Black student there on a day close to finals, tired and stressed because it’s the end of the semester. I’ve shared the event with people at work and have been gratified by the response from my bosses and other agencies on campus.
I wore a hoodie today. I don’t often wear one to work. I’ve got a stock of sweaters that make me look like a teacher. Meaning they’ve got leather patches on the elbows. But today, because it’s snowing, we live in a world where Sam Wilson is Captain America and I’ve got a super dope hoodie created by a black woman writer (shoutouts to Stephanie Williams and “But What If, though”), I wore a hoodie to work today. I also had my wallet on me. I don’t always. I frequently forget it in the glove compartment of my car. I’ll pull it out of the glove compartment and put it in the drink holder so that, if I were to get pulled over, the cop doesn’t see me reaching for something. I like to have it in plain sight. But, my point is, I often forget my wallet in my car. This will become relevant.
But today, I had to go to the bank. There’s one on campus, which is convenient, and so I walked down there in my “I’m the Captain Now” hoodie, listening to Black Leopard, Red Wolf as I strolled. My transaction with the cashier was pleasant. She remembered me from a previous interaction. I did my business, and headed back to my office. I walked through the library on campus. In another building, I waited for the elevator. Got to my floor, and started toward my destination. Now, I’m listening to an audiobook, but it’s not super loud, so, I think I hear somebody behind me, but I don’t turn to check because I’m on a college campus and there’s people talking and the book is good, so I just keep walking.
But then I hear the voice grow more insistent. I turn, and a cop is flagging me down. I’m immediately nervous, but I’m in public, on a college campus where I work, so I’m cool. Scared, but not freaking out.
He asks me, “Are you a student here.” I reply, “No, I work here.”
He asks if I have ID. Now, as I said before, it’s a fair chance I wouldn’t. There’s a good chance on any given day that my ID is going to be in my car. But, luckily, I had business at the bank. I pull out my wallet and happily hand him the ID that signifies that I’m staff. He looks it over. Glances at the picture, looks at me, looks at the picture.
He asks, “Do you have a drivers license.”
I do. I give him that.
He takes it from me and calls in my name and birthday to dispatch. I haven’t been told why I’ve been stopped, and at this point I’m nervous enough and don’t want to rock the boat enough that I don’t ask.
While he’s waiting on whatever info he’s waiting on, he asks, “Have you seen anybody walking around?”
I’m on my way to my office, in an area I’m not always around, and it’s a college campus, so I’m not sure what info the cop is looking for, so I say, “No.”
And he then he says somebody in dark clothes, a hoodie, tall, might have a backpack. The cop is describing any number of students. I say, “No.”
“You sure?” he asks. “Yes, I’m sure.”
At this point a faculty member that recognizes me, and comes over and vouches for me. The cop hands over both my IDs. Myself, the faculty member, and the cop start walking the way I was going.
The cop continues on his merry way. The faculty member tells me that a tall, thin, black man with thick locks, and a hoodie has been squatting around campus. Apparently going through fridges and maybe sleeping on campus has been a cause for concern. So the faculty member called the public safety office. Public safety sent somebody over. The cop found me.
I’m not sure why my staff ID wasn’t sufficient. Or why the cop needed two forms of ID. I’m not sure why they needed to call down to dispatch to check on my name and DOB after I’d provided an explanation for my presence and proof of employment. I know that I’ve been working here for 6 or 7 years now, and aside from the time Trump came to campus, I’ve never felt more out of place. I’m glad I had my ID, although with how the cop responded after I provided them, I’m not sure what the purpose was. Or what would have happened if I didn’t have them.
I thought about filing a complaint, but I really don’t want to become a target. I’ll probably tell my boss, but I’m afraid of hearing something along the lines of, “They were just doing due diligence.” or “Making sure to check everybody!” Basically afraid of hearing somebody okay the fact that I was profiled.
I’ve watched Rocky 1-4 about 100 times each. They’re the kind of movies that I can just have on in the background and not pay attention to while I’m doing other stuff. I used to think the first couple of Rocky movies, specifically 1 & 2, were about as close to perfect as a movie could get. The arc of down on his luck sports guy that just needs a chance is the perfect fodder for these kinds of movies. I loved the message at the end of the first Rocky, after losing, showing that just trying your best is its own kind of victory. When I was younger, there wasn’t much wrong with these movies. And before Creed, I didn’t really bother thinking about them outside of being a good boxing flick.
Creed movies are better than the Rocky movies. I don’t know if that’s a particularly controversial take, but, if Creed III comes out and sticks the landing, there won’t even be any competition. The directors behind each Creed will have taken the, admittedly very solid, foundation, and crafted a story from the racism of every movie, the jingoistic Rocky 4, and created characters that feel far more lived in than any of Balboa’s films. I have three major criticisms of the Rocky franchise in comparison with Creed.
First, nobody really feels like a whole character outside of Rocky. They’re all there as either motivation for Rocky (Adrian) or obstacles (every opponent boxer).
Second, Apollo Creed was done dirty and didn’t get his flowers until the Creed movies set the record straight.
Third, some not so subtle racism throughout the franchise as Rocky is constantly paired against braggadocios Black men.
During COVID, I rewatched the Rocky series a more than a few times. One of the first things that struck me is how Rocky harasses Adrian. She’s quite obviously not interested in him. Tells him no several times when he asks her out. He looms over her several times, and she shrinks away from him. It was uncomfortable to watch. And then, finally, when she is coerced by Paulie (who is a racist piece of shit) to go out with him, it doesn’t feel, to me, like she actually wants to be there. It colors their relationship in an entirely different light. She might eventually come to like, love, and adore The Italian Stallion, but it wasn’t a position she seemed to want to ever be in in the first place.
Adrian has no real arc in the Rocky movies. She’s there only when Rocky needs a pick me up. When he needs motivation for a fight. Does anybody know what Adrian did after she left he pet store? Did she have a career after Rocky got famous? Did they ever mention it? Compare that to Bianca, who from the outset makes it clear that she doesn’t have any space for somebody getting in the way of her goals. When Donnie lies to her, she calls him out. Tessa is beautiful, and so is Bianca, but we see Donnie really falling for her when she’s performing. Theirs is a relationship of mutual respect and trust, and Bianca as a woman and a character wouldn’t have it any other way.
Bianca’s shows after Donnie’s first fight that she’s not happy that he won, but she’s happy that he’s good. I couldn’t imagine Creed 3 where Bianca’s career takes a back seat or isn’t mentioned because it’s integral to their relationship and to do so, without talking about it, would feel like a betrayal to the character. Adrian can disappear in the background and only show up to say Rocky shouldn’t fight, and then be happy that he wins (again), and nobody bats an eye.
Apollo is probably the only opponent that gets any development in the Rocky movies. It’s unfortunate that this development is wrapped up on problematic tropes (more on that later). Apollo, though, in every appearance, charismatic, flamboyant and talented. After his win by decision in Rocky 1, he is torn. “I won, but I didn’t beat him,” he says. Because he’s a true champion, and he knows that first fight could have gone either way.
But some of us know that when you’re Black, there’s no room for a split decision. You have to be perfect, and until that moment, Apollo had been. Rocky admits that there was never a better fighter. But none of that matters when you leave a crack for doubt to seep into. It’s this that makes Apollo a great character, and when, in Rocky 3, he agrees to train Rocky, it’s a really cool moment, because he’s come full circle, but it also shows how incompetent Rocky is as a boxer. Apollo had that man out there just doing some basic footwork drills and Rocky couldn’t do shit. What was Mick doing with this man? Rocky is about as incompetent as a boxer as I’ve ever seen. His strat was pretty much just try and tank hits for 12 rounds and hope he could haymaker his way into a W. The man had tons of HEART but he ain’t got no fighting skills at all. Dude was running around the ring with his hands at his waist just taking shots to the forehead. No wonder his doctor told him he had brain damage (Oh, and even though he had brain damage in Rocky 4, still went on in retirement to keep coming back for a couple movies after…but Apollo was a has-been. Boy, please).
And YET, Apollo was able to get this man looking like a real boxer. If Rocky weren’t protected by main character status, Apollo would be undefeated. But I digress. I’m just saying, Apollo got to be a whole ass character in the Rocky movies, even if it was to do him dirty in part 4.
In Rocky 3, Mick knows that Rocky ain’t about that life. Rocky stops training. He’s taking easy fights. And up comes a challenger. Clubber Lang. He calls Rocky out on TV. He does it in the newspapers. He’s the #1 Contender, but Rocky ain’t budging. Won’t take the fight, and Mick tells Rocky straight up that he’ll get killed if he takes that fight. So Clubber takes the action right to Rocky.
In 1910, Jack Johnson won a championship, which put white people on edge. The sport of boxing was considered the white man’s domain (just like pretty much all of America), and the belt around Johnson’s waist was an affront (just like Black people existing in front of them, especially in the 1910s). And so a reporter and novelist, Jack London, wrote that, “Jim Jeffries [the previous champion] must emerge from his alfalfa farm and wipe that smile from Johnson’s face.” Johnson was known for “speeding in expensive cars, frequenting gambling rooms, and worst of all, coupling with white women.” He was a Black man, good at what he did, and enjoying the fame that came with it. And so white people called on a boxer out of his prime to beat this uppity Black man. Does this sound familiar? Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang, and even Mason Dixon are cut from these pieces of history. Mason Dixon in Balboa isn’t even considered a “real champion” since he’s so much better than the rest of the competition.
Well, in the case of Jim Jeffries, trying to beat Johnson didn’t go too well.
After this DECISIVE victory, America went crazy. Johnson’s victory sparked one of the worst race riots in American history. Jeffries was supposed to be “the great white hope,” putting Johnson back into his place. That didn’t happen. But in movies, white people get to write history and stories however they want, and we can see through Silvester Stallone and Rocky the story they envisioned.
Clubber Lang is played off as a villain because he’s loud, brash, and he likes to flirt with white women. But the thing is, he’s right. Rocky has been ducking him, even if he didn’t know it, and when he does get the fight, Rocky gets absolutely demolished, and the only thing that saves him is Apollo’s tutelage. It’s unfortunate that Paulie has to go along to keep showing how racist he is. The throughline from Johnson to how the Black boxers appear in the Rocky franchise before Creed are very clear. Racism is very rarely creative. It just keeps pulling from the same well of tropes and stories.
This is can be seen in how the Rocky movies handle the career of Apollo. By Rocky IV, Apollo is, apparently, a retired champion, far past his prime. He wants to take the fight with Drago just to show he can do it. He’s a has-been, and people apparently think he should hang up the gloves, retire, relax, and enjoy being wealthy. But he doesn’t want to do that. In Rocky IV, Apollo is 43. Rocky Balboa is 39.
I want to repeat that.
Apollo is 43. Balboa is 39.
Apollo enters the ring draped in American iconography. James Brown singing “Living in America.” He literally has a golden calf idol. The imagery is not subtle. But the message might be. He’s a Black Man claiming to be American. Claiming to represent America. He’s doing so with all of the cockiness and braggadocio that other Black athletes have been condemned for.
And he’s killed for it. Multiple people could have stopped the fight at any time, but they don’t. Apollo Creed is tossed aside to give Rocky something to fight for in this movie. He’s tossed aside at the age of 43. A has-been. And when Rocky wins in Russia, he doesn’t even mention Apollo. He gives some nonsensical speech about everybody can change.
In Balboa when Rocky fights Mason Dixon, a fight which is, by the way, inspired by a videogame simulation, The Italian Stallion is SIXTY YEARS OLD. So what the franchise is telling me (pre-Creed films) is that an Apollo Creed, fucking CARL WEATHERS IN HIS PRIME, is washed at the age of 43, but Stallone can go toe-to-toe with an undefeated champion who has decimated the heavy weight scene. Ultimately proving that the people in the movie were right: they don’t make champs like Rocky no more.
That’s why the Creed films are great. The second movie opens up with the aftermath of Rocky 4. Drago and Viktor live in Ukraine. They’re poor, and their training regiment is rugged. What was a ridiculously jingoistic piece of media for Rocky has real consequences for these characters. None of the accoutrements from Rocky are present. Drago suffered, and now so is his son. This intro does more to humanize both Drago and Viktor than Rocky ever even attempted. There are real consequences from the Rocky movies. The Dragos were thrown aside by their country left with nothing. When Adonis and Viktor fight, there’s a weight and importance to the bouts that make them feel like they matter more than the feats of physicality and training montages the series is known for. These are characters that are choosing to fight, and it means something in Creed’s world that it doesn’t in Balboa’s.
But mostly, the Creed movies finally give Apollo his flowers. The last vision we’ve had for Apollo for decades has been that if him dying in the ring at the hands of Drago. But Coogler changes this. He gives us commentary acknowledging how Apollo is seen in the world of boxing later in life. Gone are the racist trappings that defined him in Balboa and now he’s a father and preeminent boxer that he should have always been. We’re left with a much better image than Apollo dying.
Creed 1 and 2 are stronger than Rocky 1 and 2, and with Majors behind the antagonist in Creed 3, I have no doubt that Michael B. Jordan’s going to pull the hat trick. Creed already has better fights, better boxing, and better training montages than Rocky. It just needs more movies in the franchise.
I don’t know if people realize the fear and anger that I live with everyday. I think about what I’m wearing to work, to the gym, to run outside. I think about where my wallet and phone are when I get in the car. I think about how I would react if I were pulled over. I think about the “Siri, I’m being pulled over” command I’ve programmed into my phone. I think about how I interact with my colleagues and my students. I know it would only take one misstep, one wrong comment, one poor interaction for my life to become more difficult.
I don’t get many chances to escape the reality that I’m a black man in America.
So, no, I’m not gonna watch that lynching. I’m not going to spend too much time thinking about how quick white people are to share a video of a black man getting brutalized when they wouldn’t do the same thing for a dog.
I’m going to spend my day relaxing with my spouse. I’m going to eat pizza. We’re going to watch movies (currently watching a Korean film called The Gangster, The Cop, and The Devil). I’m going to lay with my cats. I’m going to ignore work. I’m going to watch Tiktoks and read comic books. I’m going to do what I can to protect my mental health. I’m going to love and appreciate the people who want to help me do that. And I’m going to pray for a world where more people try to protect the Black people in the world from everything trying to kill their peace.
Tyre Nichols deserved that. I wish he could have another day like the one I’m having. I didn’t watch the video, but I watched some videos of him skateboarding. I wish that was what I meant by the video. My man had a wonderful smile.
Rest in power Tyre Nichols. My deepest sympathies to his family and friends, the community, and everybody impacted by this murder.
There’s so much out there trying to reduce us to nothingness, file us down like teeth until everything is sensitive and the slightest touch is agony. That’s what that video would be. We deserve to live. We deserve to thrive. We deserve to be seen and treated as people.
I love personification of large ideas, concepts, or themes. It’s what draws me to a lot of Neil Gaiman’s work. Especially Sandman. Lupe Fiasco has a series of songs about a character Michael Young History, in which he encounters The Game and The Street. Lupe’s Michael struggles with a mother addicted to drugs, he turns to selling drugs, and eventually is killed.
One of my favorite poets, Steven Willis, has a poem titled “The Hustle Speaks.”
Willis is a fantastic performer. His voice, his presence, it all makes me think, what if The Hustle were an actual person? A deity, or god? I think the idea of belief is very powerful. The idea of a shared culture so strong that it we will things, ideas, people, or events into being. I’ve been thinking of a Black American pantheon. What things are so strong in our culture, our history, that they could be brought into reality. And, of course, if these things can be brought into existence, then that creates enemies opposed to them.
So, I’m probably not going to do NaNo, but I’m going to start writing during November. This idea is going to need fleshing out, and I’m gonna need to do lots of research. A lot of that research is what I’ve been working on throughout my MA. I think a lot about voice now, and what that means to me. What our language means to me. It’s definitely something that I want to explore. The ways that we move through society, changing how we speak, or not changing how we speak, and what that means in the spaces we inhabit. I think about Frederick Douglass tricking little white boys into teaching him new words and how to spell. I think about how The Brotherhood used Ellison’s narrator to try and control Black people in Harlem. I think about how the ways historians like Nikole Hannah-Jones, Ibram X Kendi, Keisha N Blain, and Michael Harriot take up space and provide context that not only includes us, but shows how we have shaped this country. I think of a white interviewer asking Toni Morrison why she don’t write about white people, and a look that says you’ve never asked a more foolish question before answering, “I wonder if you realize how racist that question is.” There’s so much power in our words, our actions, our gatherings. And since I love personification, I can’t help but wonder, what if that power created something. Someone?
What would they say?
One phrase keeps repeating itself to me when I try to think of the beings I’m trying to will into existence:
You know me, I keep hearing in my mind, and when I put my pen to paper. You know me.
So, not trying for 50k this month, but I’m gonna edit my manuscript and start trying to be a consistent writer. We’ll shoot for 30k this month. 1000 words per day.
I defend my Master’s Thesis tomorrow. I spent most of the summer reading and writing. Submitting to my chair, and then editing. I read a lot of stuff. A lot. I wrote a lot. I wrote so much that my Prof has said more than once, after I’ve trimmed as much as I thought I could, that “It could be tighter,” which is to say, that when I submit my final edits, it definitely should be tighter. And now, I sit here in front of a PowerPoint presentation severely doubting whether or not I can do this. Imposter Syndrome will never go away. I am on the verge of an MA, and still, I can convince myself that people are lying when they say that my writing and scholarship are good.
Logically, I know that’s not true. If only because, me being at this point is a reflection of my committee chair. But, also, I know that I’ve done some good work while in this program. I wrote a collection of short stories centered around a character named Dre. Like me, Dre struggles with what it means to be successful after a life full of trauma and loss. You can sabotage your own happiness with the scars of your upbringing. There are eight stories in the collection and every single one is a piece of me. Some are entirely made up, and others are pieces that borrow more than a bit of truth surrounded by more than a bit fiction. I’d guess that’s true of most writers. One of the stories, “The Same Road,” is about my Gramma. I knew I had to write about her, and when it came to fictionalizing the experience of being with her during her final days, I couldn’t bring myself to change her name. She’s Judy Ellen in real life and in my story.
Tomorrow is also the three year anniversary of when I lost her. I chose the date because I know she’d be proud of me, even if she didn’t totally understand what I was doing. She’d know I was getting an education and trying to do better with my life. I’d call her after and say I passed my defense and she’d say, “Hey baby, well that’s alright,” and then she’d laugh the way she always did, like she was trying to hold something back, or somebody was in the room and she didn’t want to be too loud.
I’m very proud of the work I’ve done. The stories, I think, are almost all very, very good. Some of the best writing I’ve ever done. The academic portion of my thesis is about the impact of the white gaze on my development as a writer. It’s been an interesting journey to think about. From my Associate’s Degree where I felt like I didn’t belong in school, was unsure of my place, and had a lot of anti-black sentiment surrounding language and education, to finishing my MA, and firmly in the camp of June Jordan and James Baldwin (amongst many others), that Black English is an a thriving and valid language. I’ve spent the last 2.5 years centering Black voices in my scholarship. When I was assigned white authors, I forced a Black perspective into the topic. I read and cited Black women. I got to present a paper about James Alan McPherson to the MELUS 2021 conference. Over the course of my degree, and especially over the summer, I read so many books by Black writers, that I truly feel freed from white narratives. After completing my thesis edits, I have ideas for at least two novels, and a collection of poetry centered around Superheroes and Social Justice. For that, I want to find an artist to draw the poems in comic panels. I think that would be most cool.
I truly feel as if I’m coming into my own. My voice feels more authentic, more “me,” than it ever has. And so, even if my mind is trying to play tricks on me, I can legitimately feel how different I am as a writer and scholar than I was when I started. My goal is very clear: Center people who look like me in my conversations. Write about people who look like me. Cite people who look like me. Lift up the people who look like me.
I know that I’ve done that, and so I’m pretty happy about it.
And after, I’m going to spend some time writing about the things I’ve read. Stephen Graham Jones, Deesha Phillyaw, Colson Whitehead, Marlon James, Toni Morrison, Danielle Evans, NK Jemisin, Honoree Fanonne Jefers, Yaa Gyasi, Ibram X Kendi.
Five or six years ago, if somebody asked me what my favorite book was, or to recommend an author 9/10 times it would have been a white person. That’s almost never going to be the case anymore. And I’m going to spend all of my time and effort in academia making sure people who look like me have the opportunity to feel seen in the classroom in ways that I never did.
And now, I go to sleep and get a solid 8 hours of rest.
Tim Scott, the lone Black GOP Senator, said last night that America, the country built by slaves, while murdering its indigenous populations, while writing laws that left out anybody with black skin, that forced Black people to protest in order to be able to vote, that forced Asian people into literal internment camps, that had a president spouting rhetoric that is impacting America’s Asian citizens across the country, that has a law enforcement population that mobilizes more quickly after they murder a Black man than when white people literally stormed the capitol, that is passing laws in conservative areas of the country saying it’s okay to hit protestors with cars, isn’t racist.
Seen here is Tim Scott, the Lone black GOP senator, dancing for his bread crumbs.