The first time that I explored writing outside of an assignment or general academic expectation was in the fourth grade. I made my own short story library. Though my early years were ones where I concentrated on visual art (i.e. sketching and painting, like my father), that short story library is unique in that it is the only time in my life that I ever wrote fiction, or at least committed to doing so for more than a few sentences. In the fourth grade, I folded 8.5x11 white photocopy paper in halves so that they would look like books; I wrote the stories and illustrated the books as well. I created about 30 of these books. Sadly, they were thrown away long ago, perhaps during one of our “back to school” cleaning sessions; I am not sure when. I often forget that this is even a part of my life; I tell people that I started blogging in 2009, but clearly I really started writing in the fourth grade. I do not write fiction now; I usually feel that it is not my lane, but then I remember that it is the very first type of writing that I ever attempted.
I started blogging as an adult in 2009; if I include my extended rambles on MySpace, then this date is between 2006 and 2008. I started blogging because I felt that I had something to say. I never planned to be a writer though; my degrees are not in Writing or English; I do not assert that I am great at it. Even so, I paralleled my interest in writing with my professional photography (which I have engaged in since 2006), but on a different blog from 2009–2012. I was a guest writer on a few photography blogs and I was interviewed for a photography and social media textbook. At the time, some fellow industry peers engaged my photography blog for my writing even more than for my photographs. During this same time, I also wrote 3 photography eBooks. I wanted what I knew about writing, photography and design to merge. I now write essays in my new photography space, Drift Sojourn, which in 2013 replaced the 2006–2012 experience; different voice, different vision. My photography (and multimedia) experiences teach me a lot. About patience. And mistakes. About fear. And conquering that fear. Never completely. But enough to dare to write. This is more than enough.
The aforementioned phase of my life pre-dates Gradient Lair — the largest writing, curation and social critic work that I have ever engaged in; a womanist space that was live from May 2012 through October 2015 — so to most people it is not “real.” But I did exist before Gradient Lair and I exist after. In 2012 I wanted to create the type of space that I would have wanted someone else to create for me. Gradient Lair was born. Toni Morrison has said that “if there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” These words guide just about any creative thing that I decide to do. I did not feel like anything I engaged prior to Gradient Lair was quite like Gradient Lair (even if it had equal or often much better writing). I made my own. I created yet another space, writing the things that I wanted to read but had not been written yet.
I wrote over 1000 essays and other long form pieces on Gradient Lair. For a little over three years, I was the fourth grader again, making my own “library,” so to speak. At times, I felt I “had” to write the things that I did because as I described in my final essay for that space: “I explored some unresolved things within myself and though constantly under attack on a daily basis, I still experienced some healing and some clarity on things that I never thought that I would understand about myself let alone resolve. I don’t have any regrets in this regard. I am simply ready to move on.” I had to write on Gradient Lair when I did. Driven by self-exploration. Driven by acute awareness. Driven by uncertainty. But alas, every good story — in this case, Gradient Lair — comes to an end. The lessons that I learned from this story remain with me.
My writing interests have shifted to something else; on film and television with perspectives on entertainment, aesthetics, and sociopolitics. Due to experience with theorizing, creating, writing, and eventually ending Gradient Lair, I can take this perspective — especially since I did write about film and television as a part of my writing on Gradient Lair — to shape my thoughts on film/TV, hence my creation of Cinemacked only a few months before I ended Gradient Lair; hence other projects that I have yet to unveil. I am on a different journey now; not just in regards to writing; life itself is one long journey with many detours as well as emerging paths. I know when to flow, when to pause, when to quit, and when to move on.
I write about pain as a Black woman because it is real. I write about joy as a Black woman because it is radical. Being able to name, express and claim joy — through the written word — is radical and important to me. I never stop writing because of fear. I only stop writing at times where my silence is the story that I prefer to share. My silence is also a story. I write because I am brave and because I am afraid. I have some temerity from experience, but uncertainty about life itself. A perfect storm. I write to bleed and lay my pain out. I write to stop the bleeding and experience joy by affirming my own truth. I write to heal and to celebrate that healing. I write because I do not want to imagine a life where my own story cannot take up space. I write when I am compelled by an internal story that seeks permanence. The external narratives of who I might be is not my truth; I write as it allows me to shape and convey the reality of who I am.
(I originally shared these thoughts as a part of #WhyIWrite on Twitter on National Writer’s Day, October 20, 2015.)