Go Where Your Heart Is: On Stepping Back From My Annual Showcase

 

showcase collage
photography by @jazzthenoise

I will look back on 2016 and remember that this was the year I made peace with quiet. With open space. With blank canvases and untouched paint brushes. I will remember this as the year I stopped hearing the sound of the treadmill beneath my feet and listened to that of my beating heart instead.

I knew it when I climbed into a hotel bed in Crystal City back in March. Clad in my “See. Speak. Feel.” t-shirt that night after the show, I let my bare legs kiss the sheets and I told myself that something would have to give. I didn’t know what and I wasn’t sure when, but I absolutely knew that something would have to give. As spring melted into summer, I never felt quite right searching for new showcase venues. I let follow up emails from event coordinators grow stale in my inbox as I shied away from scheduling site visits or sharing any details about the budget.

Sometimes your heart offers up answers long before your right mind is willing to accept them.

My heart knew that I needed to take a step back ever since that night at the hotel in Crystal City. My heart knew that after three years of cultivating a cornerstone of my brand, I needed to catch my breath for more than just a season. My heart knew that I could not breathe life into something if doing so another time around would only leave me begging for air.

Choosing not to host “See. Speak. Feel.” in 2017 is both a simple and complicated choice, one that births questions I often times do not have answers for. When I have shared the news with those close to me, the first reaction has always been, “Well, what will you do instead?”

The answer is always, “I don’t know. The Universe will send something my way.”

I’ve learned to believe in the Universe’s timing. I’ve learned to listen to my heart. I’ve learned to make creative decisions unapologetically. I’ve learned that if something ceases to inspire me at any given moment, I am free to step away and savor the silence that remains. I’ve learned that if something is truly mine, it will always come back to me, often times better than how I left it.

“See. Speak. Feel.” will come back to me, more than likely in 2018. I know that this step back will give way to clarity, elevation, renewed energy, and a vision I could not have conjured up by simply remaining on the treadmill. This show sits in the most precious and sacred groove of my spirit, and I want to see it grow leaps and bounds. I trust that this break is only the prelude to that growth.

The biting cold of this upcoming winter will nip at my ankles more than it has in the past three years. I know that one day, sometime in the dead of January, a few sprinkles of sadness will shower me when I think about the call for artists I would have been working on or the opening act I would have been fighting to lock down. But I also know that in place of that work, something else will materialize. A project. A trip. A complete overhaul of my apartment. Whatever. That is how evolution works–it happens when you leave just a few lines on the page blank. It happens when you make the powerful and complex decision to go exactly where your heart is.

Xoxo,
Tyece

 

Making Peace With The Uninspired Place

part of being creative

I keep waiting for the spark to strike. For the first time since I started producing “See. Speak. Feel.” two years ago, my energy for the show has flatlined. I’m going through the motions. Proofing content for the program. Emailing people with reminders and details. Thanking sponsors. But, it’s as though the fire has faded. I keep squinting my eyes and peering intently to find my “why” in all of this.

These words do not just feel like facts or statements; they feel like a confession. They feel like this thing I should only say in hushed tones or to close friends. Because “See. Speak. Feel.” is my offspring. It’s this very public thing that I’m tied to. And, I’m not simply responsible for pulling it off. I’m supposed to light the fire for everyone else in the show to feel. True to my purpose, I am supposed to embody the spark. It seems foolish, selfish, and short-sighted to confess that right now I just can’t find my flame. But, for the first time, I’ve wondered what the future of this show will look like. How will I truly grow it and elevate the vision? What am I doing that is so different from the next woman with only a few dollars and way too many dreams?

See, that’s what happens. The stakes get higher. The standards raise. And, the pat on the back you once gave yourself for simply pushing something over the goal line is no longer enough. Sweet as it is, success is also maddening and insatiable.

So, yes, I keep waiting for the spark to strike. I know it’s there. I know that my “why” is buried somewhere underneath the calories I’ve burned pushing this boulder uphill. I also know that it’s counterproductive to lug around ten bricks of guilt simply because I do not feel inspired or charged or awakened yet by this show. And I am learning that part of being creative means making peace with the uninspired place. Part of being creative means giving yourself license and freedom sometimes not to create. Not to inspire. Not to ignite. Part of being creative means freeing up enough mental and emotional space for the inspiration to reach you. Inspiration struggles to strike a cluttered mind or a chaotic heart.

These are the things we do not always tell you. And, by we, I mean this anonymous glob of writers and entrepreneurs and artists. As much as we craft narratives from our mistakes and humanity, we shy away from bringing you into our doubtful and dim places live and direct. We tell stories in past tense and own up to our blunders in retrospect. And, there is something special to be said for those stories. But, we aren’t supposed to tell you about the mental mud and mess behind the things you see us building in real-time. Someone somewhere would tell me that’s bad branding.

However, here I am. Mud and mess. Less than a month to the biggest and most important event I produce every year without my spark and waiting pretty impatiently for it to show up. But, I am  going to make peace with this uninspired place. I am dropping off my ten bricks of guilt on the side of the road. Because if the spark doesn’t appear, I know where to find sticks and where to buy matches. I know that the most important part of being creative is learning how to start your own fire.

Xoxo,
Tyece

 

Dimensions of Black Womanhood: The Free Spirit and The Artist

We write because we believe the human spirit cannot be tamed and should not be trained.–Nikki Giovanni

GG: The Free Spirit

Photo credit: @jazzthenoise
Photo credit: @jazzthenoise

I’ve tried to hide my heart for most of my life. It always seemed to beat too loud and break too easily. I remember being a child in church, trying to stay calm while the choir sang. The music created electricity in my veins that made me want to dance up and down the aisles one minute and fall out bawling on the pew the next. I was a quiet ball of intensity, infatuated by the contrasts of joy and pain, trying to be happy, but always questioning.

I imagined myself an old soul, a captivated free spirit, having been here many times before. I knew how to change the mood in a room, to uplift and relieve tension. How to contain storms that were constantly rising and falling inside of me without breaking a sweat. I don’t remember what it felt like to be a light-hearted, uninhibited child. I always had to be careful. My home life was strange and we had secrets. So I learned how to pay attention to make sure we appeared normal. I worried about what would happen to us, to me, if anyone found out.

Read more of GG’s story here.


 

Kesia: The Artist

Photo credit: @jazzthenoise
Photo credit: @jazzthenoise

I’ve always been a storyteller. In middle school I came in every Monday with a story to tell my friends as we sat on the windowsill in our homeroom. At the time, my mother was in prison. I was sharing a small room with my younger brother and living with a family that had three daughters, girls who had been my friends for years. I remember once my half-sister came to visit from Florida. She was an only child who lived with my father and her mother. She marveled at the fact that all us kids lived in that small house. If it appeared fun to her, that’s because, most of the time, it was. This is the thing about being one of the “unfortunates”: If you survive, it’s because you learn how to spin gold from the thread life has given you to hang yourself with. That’s what storytelling is.

Read more of Kesia’s story here.

Dimensions Of Black Womanhood: The Artist

Photo credit: @jazzthenoise
Photo credit: @jazzthenoise

I’ve always been a storyteller. In middle school I came in every Monday with a story to tell my friends as we sat on the windowsill in our homeroom. At the time, my mother was in prison. I was sharing a small room with my younger brother and living with a family that had three daughters, girls who had been my friends for years. I remember once my half-sister came to visit from Florida. She was an only child who lived with my father and her mother. She marveled at the fact that all us kids lived in that small house. If it appeared fun to her, that’s because, most of the time, it was. This is the thing about being one of the “unfortunates”: If you survive, it’s because you learn how to spin gold from the thread life has given you to hang yourself with. That’s what storytelling is.

In that house we all wrote stories. We were the children of Caribbean parents who had pushed our noses into books so young that when they stopped pushing, we just stayed there. Writing was naturally the next step. Bringing these stories in to share with my friends at school followed.

I didn’t think anything of it. I didn’t join the school newspaper. I didn’t submit to the literary journal. That was for those kids, the poetic ones. I didn’t end up sharing any of my work with strangers until my senior year of high school. As a final English project, we all had to write a story. I shared one about a young girl who found a stray dog and although pets were not allowed in her building, the apartment manager, recognizing the loneliness of the girl, allowed her to keep it. I didn’t think it was all that, though I had spent a lot of time on it. But when I finished reading the teacher was smiling and one kid said, without raising his hand, “That was really good.”

I’ve seen that kid since then, when I was working in the food court during my sophomore year at Boston University. He was studying at Harvard. We spoke briefly and I wondered if he remembered what he told me. Probably not, but I doubt I’ll ever forget it. These are moments artists keep tucked away, and back then I had not had many of them.

I left the university at the end of that year. Despite long hours in the food court and two summer jobs, I did not have enough money to return. But the time away benefited me immensely. I was able to take my first creative writing class at Howard University, complete a novel and work to save enough money to return to BU. Though I could not major in creative writing at BU, I was able to take some creative writing classes. I felt myself improving at what I now considered “my craft”. I was developing my own voice and as it turned out, my classmates were entertained and engaged by it.

One thing you’re taught in creative writing classes is to “hide the threads.” The reader shouldn’t be able to detect how much work you’ve put into the story. It should flow like water through their hands. This is something all artists do. No one knows how hard we work.

The word “art” is something the West has never understood. Art is supposed to be a part of a community…it’s supposed to be as essential as a grocery store… that’s the only way art can function naturally.” Amiri Bakari said this and I’m not sure if truer words have ever been spoken.

In school, the smart kids were the math wizzes and the science nerds. If you were good at something artistic the response was basically, “Great, but what else can you do?” Everyone interacts with art regularly. We’re all happy to have music to listen to on the way to work, or coloring books to throw in front of our children after an exhausting day, while we watch a television show writers, actors and directors slaved over creating. Still, society does not have much respect for artists, other than the select few that are acknowledged as having “made it.” But artists know there is no final destination; art is an unending journey. You spend your entire life working on a craft that you know you will never perfect. No one ever has and no one ever will. That’s part of the beauty.

Yet, despite the lack of appreciation, artists keep at it. I couldn’t tell you the number of breakdowns I have had after returning home from my full time job, not because I will have to stay up late just to get a few hours of work in on my passion, but because of how much time I have to spend working on someone else’s passion just to have a place to live. Artists are stereotyped as lazy, but my artist friends are the hardest working people I know. When my boss goes home, he kicks his legs up and has a drink. He’s satisfied with what he’s done for the day. I am not. How could I be? I go home to work. If I don’t work for him, I don’t have food to eat. If I don’t work for myself, something inside me will die. That something is the only thing that has kept me going through it all. Without it, I’m nothing. This is something artists know.

Despite all that binds us, artists have a freedom that many will never experience. It’s not that they couldn’t but our society limits those who were not born with the vision, as Amiri Bakari pointed out. For artists, our escape is both in consumption and creation. It ain’t easy, but it’s what we’ve been given. If you survive, it’s because you learn how to spin gold from the thread life has given you to hang yourself with. That’s what art is.

Kesia Alexandra is a 25 year old writer from Washington DC. She is the author of “It Ain’t Easy” and “Eating off the Floor”. She can be found on Twitter @kesialexandra and on Instagram @kesialexandr.a .

Dimensions Of Black Womanhood: The Free Spirit

Photo credit: @jazzthenoise
Photo credit: @jazzthenoise

I’ve tried to hide my heart for most of my life. It always seemed to beat too loud and break too easily. I remember being a child in church, trying to stay calm while the choir sang. The music created electricity in my veins that made me want to dance up and down the aisles one minute and fall out bawling on the pew the next. I was a quiet ball of intensity, infatuated by the contrasts of joy and pain, trying to be happy, but always questioning.

I imagined myself an old soul, a captivated free spirit, having been here many times before. I knew how to change the mood in a room, to uplift and relieve tension. How to contain storms that were constantly rising and falling inside of me without breaking a sweat. I don’t remember what it felt like to be a light-hearted, uninhibited child. I always had to be careful. My home life was strange and we had secrets. So I learned how to pay attention to make sure we appeared normal. I worried about what would happen to us, to me, if anyone found out.

The first time my mother accused me of trying to see my father naked, I felt a sharp sadness cut through me, a hopelessness that chilled me to my bones and never went away. I was about nine. That day I lost my innocence, my carefree relationship with my parents, and my belief that I was a good person. I’d been told that bad things don’t happen to good people. I thought we were good people. And yet, something was tragically broken. I blamed myself for always imagining and being too curious. I decided that somehow I caused this growing unrest in my mother’s eyes. I tried to tuck myself in tighter.

GG_02
Photo credit: @jazzthenoise

Her accusations and episodes only escalated from there. One minute I was her baby girl and we were dancing together and the next minute I was trying to seduce her husband and make her fall down the stairs. I was both fascinated and horrified by her chaos. Over the years, I silently watched her unravel herself and part of me with her. I kept this part of my life in a locked box, in a secret room, in a hidden part of my mind. I didn’t talk about it. It took root and grew in the dark, wrapping itself around my heart. I decided I was born this way, as my mother’s child, for a reason. I was here to absorb her pain. Somehow I thought I could save her.

Being emotionally traumatized and pretending to be fine is the heaviest cross I have ever carried. It’s like walking around with a thousand pounds on your back that no one else can see.  Underneath my skin, the sadness grew. It spread to my stomach and my throat. It showed up in my movements, my touch, the choices I made. I couldn’t feel joy without also feeling this despair because I’d nurtured them both together for so long. I began to feel swollen, unable to release the intensity, and I struggled with it every day as I grew into a woman. Eventually I reached a point where I couldn’t contain it anymore.

Rock bottom is a place where courage is born. In that place, all the things that once seemed so terrifying become the only path you can see. They are the stepping stones that you lead you up and out. Letting my storms all rise up and pour out of me was the most transformational thing I’ve ever done. Years of repressed emotion and creativity released, shifting my whole consciousness. I know now that all I ever really wanted was to let go. To dance up and down the aisles and fall out crying when so moved. To not be afraid of my own light, my darkness, my mistakes and the way people would see me if I stopped trying to make them comfortable. Until I allowed the free spirit inside to come out and speak and create and live, I might as well have been holding my breath, under the illusion that I was somehow helping, leaving more air for everyone else, while I suffocated.

I’ve learned to surrender. I’m a free spirit because I trust the electricity in my veins that moves me and the quiet voice inside that guides me. I’ve decided to make my life about growth and explore each mystery as it unfolds. No more hiding. No more shame.

GG Renee Hill is an independent author, blogger and creative coach under the influence of three children and a passion for soulful living. Her blog, All the Many Layers, is a resource for women who crave meaning, honest dialogue and inspiration for the joys and challenges they face everyday. GG published her first book, The Beautiful Disruption, in January 2014 and her second book, Wallflower, shortly thereafter. Both books were written to inspire creative, introspective women to embrace their journeys and express themselves more freely. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram daily talking about creativity, consciousness and the art of being a fully expressed woman.