2014: A Year of Questions and Answers

This post is an excerpt from Twenties Unscripted: A Journey of Womanhood, Writing, and Relativity. The full essay is available in the book, which is currently available for pre-sale here.

Zora Neale Hurston once said, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” I’ve been reflecting on 2014 ever since October and I still don’t know if it was a year that asked questions or a year that answered them. If it were the former, it would have asked, “Who are you really trying to be as a woman and a writer? How are you going to let your work evolve from a twenty-something just telling everyone her business to staking your claim as a voice who has earned the right to be heard? And, are you going to let the bullshit stop you or fuel you?”

And if 2014 were a year that answered those same questions it would have said, “You’re trying to be a woman and writer whose convictions and truth will always transcend the ephemeral trends of the day. You are going to let your work evolve by setting boundaries when it comes to your personal life and pushing limits when it comes to your writing style. You will stake your claim as a voice who has earned the right to be heard simply by speaking up and believing that indeed, you will be heard. And, you are absolutely going to let the bullshit fuel you. You’d be a fool to respond in any other way.”

 

 

Stay Woke: Your Blog, Your Brand And Not Burning Your Bridges

A few weeks ago as a bunch of us sat on a rooftop following Erica’s “What Binds Us Together” brunch, the blog fairy godmother Bené Viera started to drop some wisdom. We zeroed in on a conversation about authenticity, personal brands and what we choose to say or not say on social media.

“I would say don’t curse in your tweets,” Bené advised.

Many of us, self included, cocked our heads to the side. We weren’t so convinced. Let’s be serious: up until recently, “f-bomb aficionado” was a descriptor in my Twitter bio. But, Bené continued by saying we probably do not know what opportunities we are missing because of the things we may have said or the image we may have projected on social media. We may not know what publications have glanced over us because of our online profanity. We simply do not know how we may have arrested ourselves because of the impulsive beast we choose to feed on Twitter.

I felt a tiny part of my heart break because dropping the f-bomb, on social media and elsewhere, started to become a part of my “brand.” It was my thing. It was partly how I created an entire event based on the term F-Bombs. But, I took Bené’s advice to heart because it’s not like I conjured up the term “fuck” all by myself. (I still curse in my writing–more on that in a bit.) I did not add “fuck” to the English language and lexicon. So, it’s a bit absurd to think my brand hinges on that one word alone. If tossing some of my favorite words out on social media means I could pick up more opportunities, then hand me the trash bin stat.

I still opt to swear in my writing because I believe profanity has a special place in writing. Yes, I’ll probably lose some opportunities because of that belief, but in my posts, I have a chance to tell a full story. The profanity doesn’t just hang out in thin air–it’s attached to sentences and paragraphs. It serves as its own form of punctuation, whether I’m trying to bring one of my hyper-philosophical moments back down to Earth or I want to lighten the mood or I want to underpin my outrage about something.

So, I’m telling this long, convoluted story to tell a bigger story because I see my peers thwarting their own potential because of how reckless and unabashedly stupid they get on social media. I get it. We’re young. We’re millennials. Everything we have to say is of the utmost importance and it is of the utmost importance right-fucking-now. This is who we are. This is us being authentic. We don’t want to sell out. YADDA YADDA YADDA CRY ME A RIVER.

But, I think you can still be true to who you are while having discretion. You can still be opinionated and think before you speak. You can value authenticity without burning your bridges. You can keep it real without being a flaming asshole. You can be you in all of your you-ish glory and not be a sell out. And, let’s face it: to paraphrase something else Bené said, you can’t sell out when you have not yet even sold anything. You can’t sell out when you haven’t even broken even off this thing. Selling out is not a term up-and-coming bloggers have room for in our vocabulary; we better hustle and get those coins.

This blogging game is about relationships; I have learned that both the easy and hard way. You hold on to your allies. You respect the people ahead of you. You reach out, you reach back, you reach forward. You do not shit where you eat. You do not say something, especially not publicly, to damage someone else’s reputation. You keep your disagreements and disdain quiet. You save the pissing matches for closed spaces. You take online spats offline. You do the little and big things to build bridges. You always show love. These, my friends, are the Ten Commandments of Blogging Relationships.

Yet, I have seen up-and-coming bloggers like myself bash the giants, the blogging OGs, the people and publications who have been in the game long before we even knew what a fucking blog was. That is not opinionated; that is foolish. That looks silly. Respect the giants. Even when you don’t respect the giants…you respect the giants. Because you never, ever know who is watching. You never know who saw what you said and immediately blacklisted you as a result. And, if you are above that, if you are too “true to yourself” to care about being blacklisted, this blogging shit ain’t for you. If I’m blacklisted, let me go down kicking and screaming, vehemently defending an essay I wrote that I undoubtedly believe in. Let me go down for something I created in my own space with intention, not something I created in Jack Dorsey’s space off impulse. Let me go down for 1000 words; don’t let me go down for 140 characters or less.

Again…relationships. Bridges. Build, do not burn. The livelihood, life and longevity of your blog and brand all depend on it. They will depend on you humbling your sweet little ass long enough to not confuse stupidity with authenticity. Stay woke.

Xoxo,
Tyece

Self-Promotion: A Budding Blogger’s Best Friend And Worst Nightmare

“Have you thought about getting a flyer that highlights everything you do with writing and performing?”

That’s the question a coworker asked me yesterday when I mentioned I did a show last weekend.

“You need something that shows off the blog and the performing,” he said.

And, that is how the words, “Tyece postcard” got added to the never-ending list of projects on deck for this summer.

After my show last Saturday, I started talking to another girl who performed and toward the end, I handed her my business card which felt far too formal for two women talking about poetry. Plus, it didn’t really say anything about, well, my poetry. My coworker was right. I needed something beyond my cards.

“Did you plug the blog before you performed?” he asked.

“Nah, not really,” I replied.

“Yeah, you’ve gotta always plug the blog.”

I’d venture to guess for most budding bloggers, writers, artists, performers, entrepreneurs and whoever else that self-promotion can be both a blessing and a curse. I know in the writing community, there are people who turn their nose at it and believe their work should speak for itself (I do not subscribe to this school of thought.) Honestly, I am sometimes extremely shitty at self-promotion, at least in person. A few months ago I was at a show and I had the postcards to advertise my showcase, but when the host asked if I wanted to get on stage and plug the show, I paused until my friends urged me to do it.

“This is your primary audience; you better plug it,” one of my friends said.

It’s a strange feeling–being proud of your work and always teetering the line of proud blog mama and complete narcissistic prick. I know that at least 70% of my social media content is about the blog, my events, performing, etc. But, it doesn’t mean I don’t think before I blast things or feel weird doing it. Just today I hesitated to post the promotional flyer for my upcoming brunch on Instagram for the second time. But, bitch gotta meet that food and beverage minimum.

When it comes to social media, I make a conscious effort to retweet people more (and actually retweet them, not be one of those people who jumps through extra loops to copy/paste someone’s tweet and put “RT” in front of it so I can get credit. There is an entirely separate blog post for those types of goons.) I share articles and quotes I find interesting. But, still, there will always be a “NEW POST, FOOL” somewhere in the arena of 8pm most nights, followed by a series of quotes from that new post. I figured if people get sick of it, they can click unfollow and we can all live happily ever after.

The early stages of building a brand or making a name for yourself are tough, exhausting and expensive. You often times feel like the kid in the class waving your hand erratically and shouting “Look at me, look at me!” while the teacher glances your way and then calls on the next kid. You worry that your constant promotion is falling on deaf ears. There is a lot you do that goes unnoticed. And, there are things you do that get noticed, but you never know. Last night a high school classmate sent me a Facebook message and said she reads my blog virtually every day; that’s not something I would have ever known if she hadn’t jotted down those few lines. You reach an entire population of people who are just readers. They are not commenters. They are not tweeters. They are not congratulators. They just read. They see what you’re doing; they just don’t say anything. And, those people are no less important than the people who share your work profusely; because, ultimately, they are all reading.

Even though the early days are tough, exhausting and expensive, part of me thinks they are the most rewarding. Everything feels like a victory because it’s unprecedented. The first time Demetria Lucas retweeted me, I thought it was the coolest shit ever. When Evette Dionne highlighted my blog on Clutch Magazine, I beamed for a full week. Hell, when the first person applied for my summer internship, I couldn’t believe it. What I think people don’t know is that every time I do something new, whether it’s search for an internship or host an event, I never know if it will work. Of course, I hope it does and I put my total energy into making it happen, but there is still that tiny part of me that wonders, “Would people actually take this seriously?” And, then I have to remind myself that I don’t work this hard or care about this blog this much  for people not to take it seriously.

Xoxo,

Tyece

Young, Wild And Free…Or At Least Trying To Be

Today I received this email and asked the author of it if I could reply as a blog post.

I often read your blog, as you can probably see and I truly do admire how carefree and honest you are. I know it sounds a little silly, but since I realized I was reaching a large group of readers and they’ve all expressed their likes and dislikes, I find it really hard to stay true to me. What was once an outlet slowly started to feel like a job, a job that consists of pleasing the masses and shielding the world (and family) from the truth and drama that is my life.

How do you manage to stay open and honest? Have you mastered the balance of what to share and what not share?

Three years ago on a mild spring day in New Orleans I got the word “Free” tattooed on the right side of my body. The ink rests on a small patch of skin typically covered by my bra. For those who have seen it, it’s often mistakened as being my name because of the swirly and somewhat unidentifiable cursive it’s written in. 

Look closely enough and you'll see the "Free" tat. It's sort of like Where's Waldo.
Look closely enough and you’ll see the “Free” tat. It’s sort of like Where’s Waldo.

It was the last day of my junior year spring break and we all decided to get tats on a whim. Because that is how tats work–you either have some grand and philosophical motive for getting them or you get them on impulse. I didn’t know precisely why I wanted that word on my body, I just knew it was an adjective to which I aspired. Free from worries. Free from caring about what others thought. Free from a lot of the bullshit. So I got a physical manifestation of something I could only achieve mentally. Makes sense. Or not.

When I read the email earlier, I was taken aback in a flattering way because I certainly don’t consider myself carefree. Honest? Sure. But, carefree? Probably not the first word people would use to describe me. I live in my own overanalytical mind where things hardly ever happen without planning, thought or consideration. I am not the kind of person who books a weekend trip on a Friday afternoon. Hell, I’m not the kind of person who takes a trip without a complete list of things I need to do before leaving. I always pack extra underwear. I don’t like impromptu sleepovers (nope, not even those…) I like to know the details of anything before saying yes. Carefree? More like neurotic.

But, it’s a little different when it comes to my writing. And, I guess that’s what we’re talking about here.

I lucked out in the sense that I had a good year to build this blog before anyone really knew or cared. I’ve been blogging in the same “sarcastic but always with a message” sort of way since college and it went virtually unnoticed. So I had time to find my voice and get into a groove without being vulnerable to the responses of others.

Last summer, right as the blog picked up its first bit of serious attention, I finally told my parents about it. Not just “Oh, yeah, I have a blog.” But, “Here is the URL if you want to read it.” And now they do. Pretty much every day. Soon after I introduced them to it, we had a few slightly contentious conversations about my chosen topics and my frequent drop of the f-bomb. My parents know I love them and I value their input. But, my writing is not something I really budge on. I listen to feedback. I read comments. I hear people. And, then I still do exactly what I want to do with this space. You can love it. You can hate it. I’m still going to speak my truth.

In terms of what I will/will not share, the two things that are exclusively off-limits are any specific details of my 9-5 life and my sex life. For the 9-5, I need to remain gainfully employed. Duh. And, as far as my sex life, I just think it’s implied that I’m a big girl and I do what big girls do. Not much of a need to discuss it beyond that. Not that I have a problem with people who do. It’s just not what I’m about on this blog. Whether or not anything else is off limits is pretty much on a case-by-case basis. But, yes, as a blogger, you need boundaries. You need the things you keep for yourself. Otherwise you’ll lose your damn mind because people will think they can assume some really shitty and inaccurate things. They’ll think they have some right to jump to conclusions about your life all because of one sentence you wrote. Draw the line in the sand.

Perhaps this is all a lengthy way of saying own it. Own your space. Own your brand. Own your voice. Own your shit. There are few things I will hold back about on here because no one wants to read some sugar-coated bullshit. People want to see other people. They want to see the mistakes, the screw-ups, the wrong decisions. I expose my wounds because I really would not be half the person I am without them. I write my insecurities because it’s the only way I can wrap my mind around them. And, if people don’t like what I do on this blog, well, there are a million others out there that they can read. That’s like a customer threatening to stop giving its business to a company; that company doesn’t actually give a fuck. That company has a bunch of other loyal customers who will support it. I am forever grateful for my small but loyal army of supporters.

To my email friend, if there’s anything else I would say, it is that you started blogging because no one else can say what you say quite the way you say it. That is why you started. Remember why you started. Because no one else can speak your truth the way you can. If that truth makes people squirm or shout or shun you, it means you are doing something right. If your words make people uncomfortable or angry, it is a reflection of them, not you. It is a projection of their own reality. You were just the conduit to them looking at themselves and their lives and some people don’t like that. They don’t like when they read something and it suddenly uncovers all of their life’s ugliness that they have tried for so long to mask. But, good writing is not a kum bah yah kind of sport. Good writing doesn’t always make people feel warm and fuzzy inside. No, good writing makes people think.

Remember why you started. Please, remember why you started.

And then keep going.

Xoxo,

Tyece

Beyoncé: The Brain, The Brand, The Boss

beyonceWhen Beyoncé’s self-titled visual album dropped last Friday, I tried my hardest not to get sucked into the vortex. I’m not a stan or a member of the Beyhive or whatever else her die-hard fans like to call themselves. Musically, I’m drawn to lyrics (writer…words…duh) and I’ve never found her lyrics to be show-stopping (dodges bullets from all of the stans.) But, as an entertainer? Yes, she’s world-turning. That is not a question; it is a fact. And, it is a fact which I completely respect.

So, I gave the stans a few days to get off the ground from their Holy Ghost fallouts after Beyoncé was released before I listened to, and essentially watched, the entire album.

And, then last night, into the vortex I went.

I had watched a few of the videos, or as she calls them, visuals, this past weekend. But, it was the 30-second snippet of the “Haunted” visual that pushed me to spend $15.99 on the full album. Soon enough, 8 p.m. became 9 p.m. and 9 p.m. became 10 p.m. Still, I sat behind my laptop bingeing. I was late to work this morning because I spent 10 minutes dancing in my undies to “Blow” on repeat while getting ready for work.

This blog post started off with the title, “Beyoncé: The Beauty, The Brand, The Boss.” And, then I realized, I really don’t care about Beyoncé’s beauty. Yes, she is beautiful. Obviously. We all have eyes. But, that isn’t precisely what I admire about her or why I spent nearly three hours last night rocking out to her music. Instead, it is who she is as a businesswoman and as a brand that truly inspires me.

You’ve read 100 essays about Beyoncé and feminism. And, if you haven’t, just Google those two terms; there are about 1,770,000 results that will pop up. I didn’t want to debate that. Because, to me, what’s more and probably most evident about this woman is the business savvy she has shown during her career. If Beyoncé doesn’t uphold some narrow brand of “feminism,” well, then, fuck that brand.

I don’t love Beyoncé because I can shake my ass to her tunes in the club, or in my bathroom mirror for that matter. Of course those things are all fine and dandy. We all need solo dance sessions to survive this life. But, I love her because she is a woman in control of her art and her brand. She is versatile and no holds barred. She knows what she does well and therefore, she just does it.

The artist and brand she has evolved into is a model that I think works for many women, not just budding celebrities. I certainly look at her and want to emulate some of her model in my own infant brand. Make people uncomfortable. Switch it up. Own your brand. Protect it. Do everything well or don’t even try it at all. Stay smart. Fight to remain authentic. Get naked and show your audience your whole self–scars, sexiness, mistakes and all. Do not shy away from the very fragile and imperfect shreds that make you a woman; use those things as the details for your art. Make no apologies–for your body, your voice, your desires, your thoughts, the makeup of your life. Work so that people do not only see you, but so that they also see themselves.

Beyoncé may not be my favorite lyricist, but it is the words from “Mine” that I hope sum up who I am, the brand I’m building and the existence I’m clawing toward:

Stop making a big deal out of the little things

Cause I got big deals and I got little things…

Xoxo,

Tyece