I’m a writer. I don’t get paid to write, at least not regularly, but writing is inextricably linked to my identity. To say that I have a Love/Hate relationship with writing is like saying that Donald Trump is White America’s pubescent wet dream; it’s the understatement of the millennium.
Sometimes my fingers caress the keyboard with a lover’s touch; lingering keystrokes on a questionable turn of phrase and punctuating like a thrust on the downbeat when the words make absolute sense.
On other occasions, you can’t even bring yourself to read someone else’s work. Reading reminds you of writing, and we can’t allow that to happen because me and her ain’t even on speaking terms right now, bruh.
Every writer of any skill level or notoriety knows just how daunting a task it is to sit in front of that keyboard and produce. Writing comes just as quickly as writing goes, we fall in and out of love with each other like two drug addicts in a co-dependent relationship. The act of writing has the capacity to bring more euphoria to a writer than any drug known to man.
The writer’s high is akin to the runner’s high in that it eludes you when you intentionally seek it and rewards you when you least expect it. Just getting to that point is more guesswork than science, more crude stabs in the dark than a methodical craft honed over the course of a lifetime.
Bukowski told me once that Hemingway once told him that you had to write while standing in front of the typewriter; you had to do physical battle with the damned thing. Whoever heard of a battle fought from the seat of your pants? You had to be on the balls of your feet, ready to react to your opponent.
You had to approach the beast like a bullfighter: with your life on the line. You went into that stadium knowing that only one of the two of you would be going home to see their family that night.
I remember back in the day, I think it was the winter of 2009, I had a conversation with a black photographer friend of mine named Sean. It was a typically gloomy Seattle afternoon, the ones in the very heart of winter where the so-called Sun sets before 4 P.M. and the rain finds ways to seep into the very core of your being. I was inside his basement studio apartment, helping myself to his refreshments while he edited photos for a project he was curating.
He had asked me to submit a piece to go with the theme of his project, a spoken word piece printed onto a plain white paper and 12 Point Times New Roman font. How the fuck do you read spoken word poetry from a piece of paper if you’re not the one who wrote it? How would you know where the emotion crescendos and on what cadence the piece is written to? Ain’t no time signatures for writing, my nigga. That’s asinine as shit.
But I digress.
I was so unsure of so many things in my life at the time, and my writing was nestled somewhere near that top of that shuddering mass of incoherent emotions inside my head. I constantly sought validation by asking questions that would lead the person to answer “yes” or risk hurting my feelings.
Do you think I could be a model? Do you think I could make a living off of my writing? Do you think I’ll ever be a nationally recognized poet and published author? I’m sure you get the picture, beloved reader. I was fishing for compliments about my writing because I saw myself in my writing more than I did in my actual self.
If someone validated my writing, they would indirectly validate my entire goddamn humanity. They didn’t know this, or at least they couldn’t put it into words, but they definitely felt the vibes. There was no way to mask the self-conscious pleas for constant validation of a person who’s been conditioned to believe in their own alleged worthlessness.
So there I was, in 2009, sitting in my boy’s modest studio basement apartment, sipping on something with a bougie name and a matching price tag. Eating crackers with cheese or some other such shit.
I turned to him mid sip, and like I had done on so many occasions before it, I asked him about my writing. The thinking was that since he was a freelance, black photographer managing to make a living in racist ass Seattle, he might give me some sound counsel. He might illuminate a path in my eternal darkness.
“So, Sean, what did you think about the piece that I sent you for your project?”
Sean slowly rotated in his utilitarian office chair, a look of concern already creasing into his forehead.
“I enjoyed the shit out of it, bruh. You know I’m a fan of your work.”
Not quite good enough to validate my existence, my guy. Not what I was looking for, not by a long shot. I was forced to rephrase my question and dig a little deeper.
“Yeah, I know that, Sean. We’ve had this conversation before. I mean, do you think that piece is good enough to be published? Do you think I could make it into a poetry anthology and use that as a springboard for my fledgling career?”
Sean gave an exasperated sigh and removed his glasses long enough to pinch the bridge of his nose between his thumb and index finger. He replaced his spectacles, paused just long enough to compose his thoughts and let the unadulterated truth rain down upon me. Much like white people in 2016, he was tired of pretending.
“Said, man, listen. You need to find your voice, your writing voice. As far as your writing goes, you haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of it. Art is not science, but you have to work at it just the same. You have to work on yourself.”
I took a second to absorb this altogether unwelcome news. Nigga, that’s not what the fuck I wanted to hear. Before I had a chance to object, he hurried through the rest of his dissertation.
“Once you know more about who you are as a person, then you’re voice will get stronger and stronger. Until you find yourself, though, I mean until you find who you really are DEEP down inside… You won’t ever find your writing voice.”
Talk about hitting too close to home, the spacious apartment was feeling entirely too crowded all of a sudden. Sean kept spittin’ that truth, though.
“Whenever you write, it’s like your speaking directly into someone’s mind. How can you speak to me if you have no voice to do so? I’ll hear your words, but without your unique voice carrying them, they won’t make much of an impact in my life. If I can’t pick you out from the millions of other self proclaimed writers in this world, you won’t ever make it past a publisher’s inbox.”
Stunned into silence, all I could do was sip my Bougie Brand beverage that I had pilfered from his fridge earlier. My mind was trying to find a way out of this unintended truth trap when he recognized my body language and quickly changed the subject in an attempt to brighten my mood.
“Now quit asking me all these fuckin’ redundant questions, my nigga. Take off your shirt and put on this fur coat that the last model I shot with left as a gift. I feel like taking some avant garde photographs and you happen to be here.”
Sean always knew I liked taking avante garde photographs, even if my self confidence was so low that I resembled a modest mouse on film. Thank God or artistically inclined black folks. Who know where we would be today without each other. Probably trolling the comments section of a racist Facebook video just to agree with the delusional white folks for likes and validation. God, I hope the fuck not, my nigga. I’d much rather write the shit out of my system.