The Unbearable Weight of What If

There are some things still tangled in the boughs of your belly. Memories. Mistakes. Mayhem. Men. You’ve been carrying them around with you not realizing that these are not just things, but instead they are bricks. Weighing you down. Collapsing your core. Holding you back from the freedom to fly.

You will not know it. You will not know that every time your mind flickers to that memory or dances with the devil, your center of gravity sinks. You will not know it because it is so easy, or so it seems, to walk lightly even as your insides are cloaked in the weight of what if.

What if? You hardly ever say it aloud, and yet the idea still sprints through your mind, a stampede of fantasies you can’t quite seem to surrender. What if you reached out again? What if it never happened? What if you didn’t say that? What if you destroyed the memories of what was and penned a new story on a crisp set of blank pages?

And, perhaps most poisonous of all, what if he still thinks about you too?

This last one is the brick that weighs one ton, a theory you have dressed your heart in for months on end. It is the reason why you have grown cold and left your soul in limbo. It is the boulder pulling you down the most.

What if?

You will not know the toxin of what if until reality replaces reverie, and you aren’t left to wonder anymore. You will not know just how much what if was weighing you down until you let out a loud cry on a Sunday evening, your skin and hair still drenched from the shower, a hot pink towel wrapped halfway around your body. In that moment, there will not be anymore what ifs. There will only be you, your boundless curiosity, and the photo of him with his arms draped around another woman.

This is not what if. This is what is.

This moment will become your redemption song, a severe but necessary jolt to bring you back to what’s true. What’s real. What is yours and yours alone. This is your baptism by fire. Your blend of blind rage and breakthrough. This is the flash that will finally give you the freedom to fly once more.

You deserve a life that does not hinge on hypotheticals or doors only left halfway ajar. You cannot breathe off of sheer possibilities; you require much more air than that. You are the sum of stars and moons and entire galaxies; can’t you see how much love you have to give? You cannot fit gallons of your heart into a test tube of a man. They will spill over, only for him to tell you that you are the one who made this mess. You are not a woman who has to settle for fractions of affection; the totality of someone’s love is your birthright. Know that. Honor that. Cherish that. Preserve that. Do not spend another moment of this life overloaded by the weight of what if.


Dimensions of Black Womanhood: The Dreamer

Photo credit: @jazzthenoise
Photo credit: @jazzthenoise

By: Sheryl Leigh Robertson

I have been in love no less than 15 times. They were all passionate relationships with red-hot touches that both thrilled and terrified, summertime walks around DC’s monuments as the sky draped itself in purple at sunset, and winter dinners by fire, the crackle of orange flames filling in the pauses of our conversations. My feet have roamed narrow cobblestone streets and dusty village roads in more than half of the countries in this world. I have laid a blue, cotton blanket across lush green quadrangles on the campuses of 10 universities, legs crossed and laptop open as I pounded out short stories for my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing.

But that was all in my head, a kaleidoscope of dreams to match my heart’s desires.

In real life, I have only been in love twice and infatuated more times than I can count. The relationships were passionate, but they were also inconvenient with messy gray areas that made me apprehensive about love. We had some romantic moments in picturesque locations, but mostly unforgettable memories in regular settings. In real life, I can count the number of countries I have been to on two hands and the state of my bank account may suggests it will stay that way for a while. In real life, I received rejection letters from each of the 10 MFA programs I applied to five years ago and have not have written a single piece of fiction since.

After a string of dashed dreams, my first instinct was to abandon dreaming altogether. I vowed to deal only in reality, to stop fantasizing about a nonexistent world. No imagining my future, no more getting my hopes up.

However, I came to realize that I cannot abandon dreaming any more than I can peel off my black skin, step out of my womanhood, or walk away from God. Dreaming is a part of who I am. My brain prefers writing love stories with me as the star, picturing me next to world landmarks, and creating stories to tell. My mind is hardwired to dream and I would be denying a part of myself if I tried to override the system.

Once I was able to accept my dreaming nature, I knew that I had to find the courage to dream again. However, I also knew that in order to protect my heart and sanity, I had to take a different approach. I decided to dream in black and white, and live in color.

Photo credit: @jazzthenoise
Photo credit: @jazzthenoise

We are often told to dream in color so that our dreams will become real to us. If dreams are alive in our heads, we will believe it only a matter of time before they come to pass.

I agree that dreaming in color makes our dreams real – so real that I have sometimes attempted to live life in my head. I became so focused on the dream before me that I failed to live the life unfolding here and now. I was living in black and white, going through life on auto-pilot: driving without viewing the landscape, holding babies without inhaling their scent, eating without savoring the flavors, singing lyrics without hearing the music, greeting people without seeing them. As I learn to dream in black and white, I walk freely among the clouds, but the color of life pulls me down to reality when I am on the verge of being carried away. If the dreamer within me is going to be fulfilled, and the living, breathing person I am is going to be sane, I have to learn to walk the line between the real world and my imagined one.

There is another reason for dreaming in black and white and living in color: life’s inability to live up to my dreams. Because I had painted with painstaking detail the moments or people that would comprise my life, I expected real life to look exactly like the one I dreamed. Yet I have learned that since people and things outside of me help to create the world around me, real life will not unfold exactly as I pictured. My dream man might be 5’10” in real life rather than the 6’3” I imagined, my travel might be primarily domestic for now, and my first book might be a collection of poetry and personal essays rather than the novel I planned. The only way I can embrace my dreams when they appear in real time is if they are originally drawn in black and white, allowing situations and circumstances to color them in as God sees fit.

Tempting as it may be to live life in the clouds, they cannot hold the weight of my reality. When my dreams drop me – and life has taught me that they will drop me, I need a colorful life on which to fall. I need to have made a home among the trees covered in orange and gold leaves, among sun-kissed faces and bright smiles that venture off the script I’ve written. I need a life of color to remind me that in order to dream I must also be. I need to have prioritized life in such a way that everything I have and everything I need is right here, right now, in living color.

Sheryl Leigh Robertson is an author, blogger, and spoken word artist in the Washington, DC area. Her first book, Promises & Epiphanies: Life Revelations Through Poetry and Prose, was released in June 2014. She is the pen behind Sheryl‘s Pearls, a blog offering pearls of wisdom on life, love, and faith, and she is among the voices of the Christian poetry and spoken word movement True Voices DC. Her writing is available at


Cry Your Ugly Cry.

No one ever told you that serving as a light

You should find your new favorite corner. Stare at it for a few minutes. Contemplate if you even want to go sit in that corner because you know that once you slide to the floor, a pent up brigade of tears will march.

You should go sit in that corner. Legs curled up to your chest. Face in your knees.

You should cry your ugly cry. Eyeliner smudged. Cheeks puffy. Eyes red. Mascara demolished.

You deserve to cry that cry.

See, no one ever told you about this part. No one ever told you about a Thursday night, drinking wine on an empty stomach, wondering once more if this success is even worth it. No one ever told you that serving as a light to many would require your own pitch black moments. No one ever told you that success does not, and never will, equal happiness. No one ever told you that you would attain the very things you once hoped for, and you would still be left with cracks and craters in your spirit.

No one ever told you that you can’t keep snorting lines of success without eventually overdosing. You can’t keep conjuring up ideas hoping to drown out the demons in your own head. You can’t keep going on like this.

No one told you that you shouldn’t have quit therapy; you shouldn’t have so quickly assumed that you were whole. What someone should have told you is that when you experience a seismic shift in this life, you never go back to the old life. You can’t pray yourself back to the old life. You can’t work your way back to the old life. You can’t reminisce back to the old life. This is the new life with all of its blinding bullshit, bedlam and blessings.

So, you’re going to have to deal with you and all of your mess. And you’re not going to be able to hide behind your writing or your brand-building or your pretty poems and paragraphs. Everyone else does that shit; you do not have the luxury of doing that shit. Have you not seen how many times and in how many directions this life will whip you? You do not have the luxury of only scratching the surface. So you can’t just sit on Dr. Jones’ couch a few times and assume you’re good. And you can’t just meditate a few times and believe you’re whole. And you can’t just drop down at an altar once or twice and tell yourself everything is fine. Oh, no. This is slug-your-feet-through-the-mud kind of healing. This is every-day-all-the-time kind of revival. This is bid-the-old-life-farewell-once-and-for-all kind of living. If you want to crawl out of the abyss, you’ve got to let your fingers bleed.

But, see, when your fingers bleed, they tell stories. Someone else needs those stories. When you want to give up, as you so often do, that is your savior: someone else needs your stories. If you do not tell those stories, they will die at your beautifully bloody fingertips.

But, for now, cry your ugly cry. Cry for everything you still crave and every crater in your spirit you still have yet to fill. Cry for all of the blessings and all of the bullshit. Cry because wine stopped working and good sex stopped doing the trick. Cry because it’s never, ever going to be the same. Cry because you know the road ahead is long, and it is just as beautiful as it is calamitous. Cry because you always prayed for the light, but never realized there would still be downpours of darkness. Cry because you are fortunate beyond what you deserve. Cry because you survived. Cry because you are here. Cry because “here” is still 1,000 precious miles from where you ever believed you should be. Cry because of forgiveness and amazing grace. Cry because there is a tribe that has stuck by you even when you were an outright jackass. Cry because you want more out of this life than accolades and retweets. Cry because some days you don’t quite believe you’re worth more than accolades and retweets. Cry because every now and again, your soul and spirit just need to cry their ugliest cries.


Overloaded and Underwhelmed by Online Inspiration

I want you to stop telling me to grind. I want you to stop telling me to follow my passion or build my brand or live for today. I want you to stop digging for quotes in the morning so you can add inspiration to my timeline. I want you to stop with the love and light shit. I want you to stop trying to inspire me.

I want your life to inspire me. I want your authenticity to inspire me. I want your truth to inspire me.

I want you to tell me the truth. Finally and for real.

I want you to tell me that you’re broke or burned out or in desperate need of repair. I want you to tell me you took something strong to medicate the pain. I want you to tell me about the ugly part and how you survived it. I want you to stop playing the highlight reel, and I want you to show me all of the lost footage. The places no one has been to. The scars no one knows about. The turmoil and tumult you’ve been hiding for years.

I know that your life isn’t perfect. I want you to stop just saying that, and I want you to show me the imperfections.

I want you to stop saying things you don’t mean and posting things you stopped believing in a long time ago. I want it real, raw and uncut. I am so tired of the pretty pictures. I am so tired of your eyebrows on fleek and your face beat and your hair laid. Give me something else. Give me something more. Give me something to grab on to. Something to see. Something to believe in.

Tell me your story. Start from the beginning. Tell me that you cried until you threw up. Tell me that it still sucks, whatever it is. Tell me that you are healing. Tell me that you are a work in progress. Show me the scar. Take off the bandaid. Let it bleed. Let it sting. Let it hurt. Let it suck.

I want you to stop pretending that you have arrived. I want you to cut the bullshit. Chop it off at its knees.

I want you to reveal your beautiful disaster. Your gorgeous mess. Your impeccable chaos.

I want you to know that the mess is what gives everything layers and depth. The mess is what adds dimension to the journey. Shit, the mess is the journey. The mess is the true inspiration. Not some quote you found from Anaïs Nin.

I want to see you. Naked. Exposed. All the way fucked up.

That’s when I will be inspired. When you start telling me the truth.



You Are Not Carrie Bradshaw, He Is Not Big And This Is Real Life.

Let’s just get the obvious statement out of the way: Sex And The City did a lot to fuck with the minds of women. There. I said it. I don’t have the time, energy or desire to write a dissertation about everything that was wrong with Sex And The City so I am just going to let that blanket statement cover it. That is not to say that I don’t love the show or watch it any time the syndicated episodes pop up on E! (Insert the word hypocrite here.) But, I do hate what the show did to romanticize and glamorize women’s bodies, relationships, sex lives and careers.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine sent me an incredibly long article entitled, “How To Pick Your Life Partner–Part 1.” If you are stuck in an airport with a delayed flight or just happen to have some time on your hands, I suggest reading it. I finally got around to it last week, but I forgot about Part 2 until yesterday. Part 2 of the series is the part I will tell you that you absolutely, positively, no-questions-asked must read.

If you’re still not convinced, let me drop an excerpt:

From afar, a great marriage is a sweeping love story, like a marriage in a book or a movie. And that’s a nice, poetic way to look at a marriage as a whole.

But human happiness doesn’t function in sweeping strokes, because we don’t live in broad summations—we’re stuck in the tiny unglamorous folds of the fabric of life, and that’s where our happiness is determined.

So if we want to find a happy marriage, we need to think small—we need to look at marriage up close and see that it’s built not out of anything poetic, but out of 20,000 mundane Wednesdays.

Marriage isn’t the honeymoon in Thailand—it’s day four of vacation #56 that you take together. Marriage is not celebrating the closing of the deal on the first house—it’s having dinner in that house for the 4,386th time. And it’s certainly not Valentine’s Day.

Marriage is Forgettable Wednesday. Together.

Take that wisdom. Soak it up. Put it in your pocket. You’re going to need it someeay. Shit, I know I am.

My favorite quote in that piece is “We’re stuck in the tiny unglamorous folds of the fabric of life, and that’s where our happiness is determined.” Too often we calculate happiness according to the heavyweight milestones. We overlook the goodness of ordinary days and replace them with the power of the birthdays, the anniversaries, the holidays. But, here we are. Wedged in the unglamorous folds.

I don’t say “You are not Carrie Bradshaw and he is not Big” to be an asshole. Ok, maybe I did kind of say it to be an asshole, but I have a point. I say you are not Carrie Bradshaw because, well, you are not. For starters, you do not sustain an expensive NYC life on the salary of one column a week. But, beyond that, this is real life. This is YOUR real life. And, real life does not always include a barrage of red balloons on your birthday or a man who will sabbotage you 100 different times in 100 different ways and then suddenly become the love of your life. That Carrie/Big model was fucked up with a capital F.

And, just like the aforementioned article said, relationships are not always steak dinners or rooms at the Four Seasons. Relationships are work. They are gritty. They are exhausting. Whether relationships launch or fail is a formula hidden in the very small and simple things, not the grand gestures or the giant moments.

20,000 Wednesdays. One person. Every day. For the rest of your life. If that does not scare you a bit, check your pulse and make sure you’re still alive. This is the part where I tell you that I still believe in the power of earth-shattering love and monogamy, for others and myself, lest you think I want to be alone forever. But, still, let’s not glamorize that forever. 

We aren’t Carrie. Our mates won’t be Big. Some days we will cry, some days snot will drip from our noses, some days we will be fire-breathing dragons. Some days life will deplete our energy, our tolerance, our bank accounts. Some days work will suck, some days we’ll wake up too late, some days we’ll have a random pain in our right knee or a zit pop up on our right cheek. Some days we’ll be fresh out of black underwear when we need it for our outfit or fresh out of toilet paper the minute we plop our asses down on the porcelain throne. That is what life is, the sum of some days. We are real people left with the very real and not-always-glamorous bits of life and love. Those bits are where our happiness either breathes or dies.