a life of my own.

freedom, life, solotravel, spirit, travel, wholeness

The streets of Oaxaca City were quiet and I a stranger sleuthing through the quieted darkness in May of last year, the eve before my 31st birthday. I’d arrived at the Oaxaca City airport a half hour before exhausted yet wide awake.

I felt like I could breathe again after drowning for most of the year: a traumatic event affecting a family member, a romantic relationship I knew deep down was wrong for me yet couldn’t let go of because I cared too much; the severing of once close turned draining friendships, discontent with my home environment, a loneliness which began with a longing to be understood and seen.

I told the Universe out loud I wanted a reprieve from the depth of all I had been feeling and cognitively churning through. I wanted a chance to exhale and not have to focus on coping from all the bad, all the drain. I’d been dreaming since early January about Mexico with an eerie amount of specificity.

I’d dreamt I was walking the streets with a warmth in my heart I hadn’t felt for a long time. By early April I’d booked a one-way ticket to Oaxaca City with a vague idea of when I’d return. It seemed crazy then and maybe it still is now looking back but I was being guided. My request for a reprieve had been heard and honored.

And so here I was, sleuthing in the dark. Dragging my suitcase up the stairs in the Airbnb I’d booked. Dropping the suitcase in a spare corner with a groan and flexing my fingers. Sighing while collapsing on top of the bed fully clothed.

Then I was asleep. And then it was my birthday. I woke up with text messages and my first thought was to memorialize this moment. I took a photo of the room as the sun was rising with the curtains still closed.

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I went to lunch with a large group of women within walking distance from where I was staying. A vegetarian restaurant. The company and conversation drained me. The food was decent enough. Before we’d completed our meal, it started raining. The light drizzles met the top of our heads, our fingers, our arms, then our plates. Speed of the rain slowly intensified. Not a light, afternoon rainstorm. A torrential monsoon.

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I looked down at my floral dress and my sandals and said a prayer. I walked back to my Airbnb only to remember I’d left my window open. My suitcase in the corner was sitting in a puddle of rainwater.

 


 
I write, talk and think about freedom a lot because I’ve never really known what it means to be free. Certainly not as a child and lesser so as I’ve grown and matured into a woman well into my adulthood. A few weeks ago I was sitting in silence on the couch before I turned the TV on the watch a show on Netflix when I thought to myself that I felt suffocated and perhaps had always been under the burden of expectation. I’ve felt suffocated because of my parents.

Being the daughter of a Nigerian immigrant is something I’m immensely proud of my. My Nigerian heritage is so much a part of who I know myself to be and often intersects in what I write about as well. But even things like my beautiful name, the name I’ve struggled to accept and love, came with responsibility I never wanted.

My name is given to the oldest girl in a Nigerian Igbo family. In English, it means mother is supreme and is in homage to what the mother is and acts as in the family — the nurturer, the glue, the person who holds the unit together through love and care. In so many words and conversations, my father, who is also the oldest in his family, explained to me my role, my responsibilities, the things expected of me.

The pillar I was expected to always be. As a child, especially as a child who was born and growing up in (Black) America, I lacked the cultural context for why this was important and why I needed to step up. I vividly remember being told in an ominous way that since I was the oldest I was to be the example and that my younger sisters were watching me. It was up to me to be without blemish.

The mother is the resting space, a space to return even as you grow and age. The mother is synonymous with home and never forgetting from whence you came. My name is not just what I am called and known as. It is a responsibility. To be seen as the role I hold in my family and within the greater fabric of this world at large — to care, to help and encourage others to heal, to encourage others to return home, whatever or wherever that may be.

My presence, my existence, the fact that I am here, a living breathing entity means I am here to be home to others. I have never felt at home to myself.

I didn’t want the responsibility it meant to carry my name. I didn’t want the weight of expectation. I didn’t want to have to shoulder the burdens and cares of others. But as I learned as I grew older, as the conditioning was deepened, this was who I was called to be. Holding tradition, humility, sacrifice, obedience, duty and obligation close as dear, treasured friends.  

The past five years have been an unrelenting tussle between me trying to find a way to juggle all these things, what they mean as far as family, honoring and respecting them, and how to honor and respect myself. For the most part I didn’t find a way. I simply gave in. I collapsed underneath all the pressure. I played it safe because I lacked the bravery or conviction to do otherwise.

And sadly this is what I’ve done most of my life: the practical, logical and wise thing. I listened to my parents. I heeded their guidance of what was best for me. Their insistence of how I should lead my life meant at the age of 26 I had two degrees. I’d worked hard. Paid my dues. Done everything perfectly.

And I was miserable and empty.

There had to be more I told myself as a refrain muttered often. After graduating from Journalism school and before I started graduate school, I fluttered from paid internships to shitty part-time jobs. At one point I worked as a receptionist for a tax preparation service. I spent my time at the front desk bored and scrolling websites looking for writing jobs, emailing editors asking them to give me a chance. Nothing worked.

When I finally got my first full-time writing gig at a local newspaper in the metro Atlanta area, a full two years after I’d graduated from college, I let out a sigh of relief. I was sure this was it and I’d finally feel fulfilled. Six months into that job I found myself wondering if there was more. And when I finished my Masters degree two years later, that feeling only intensified.

There was more. I found the more in Spain. In the capital city of Madrid. I found freedom.

I found the space to figure it out. Start over. Piece together who I was thousands of miles away from home with zero distractions. Zero nudges of guidance from parents. Zero of the insistence of doing it their way, the way that had worked for them and wouldn’t work for me, distracting and confusing me. I owned my voice. I claimed my power. I began to have an inkling of what I was incarnated on this planet to do. And it was not, and had never been, dulling or ignoring my heart or my inner voice.

It involved listening to my own guidance, my own voice, my own desires. It involved…me. All of me. Only me.

 


 

This time feels different. This time setting out on a wandering journey away from home, the home I always knew, the only home to ever exist before it dawned on me home is a spirit inside of me, feels different because it is different.

I am different.

I am not doggedly packing up all I own into two suitcases and convincing people I’m brave to leave it all behind when I’m instead terrified and unconvinced in the person I am. This is not then. I’m also not running as fast as I can away from my life and expecting to meet a new version of it and me once I’m there.

I know, this time, my life never stops turning and I never stop living it no matter where in the world I may be. And I know this is the right decision for me and I remain unmoved of any negative feedback I may get. Although, surprisingly, there has been none this time around. And even if there was? I wouldn’t care. It would not move me.

My journey starts in Oaxaca City. I’m returning to the very city, as a starting point, which breathed life into a dormant version of myself full of this reminder I received in response to an email. An email I might add I wrote to the very man who had the courage to end the relationship I mentioned before that wasn’t right for me. Turned out it wasn’t right for him either. We both cared too much.

But he said this one-liner to me and it has stuck with me since. Hearing it from him, in a way, gave me a permission to take a leap:

I don’t think you should get too down on yourself about your life. It may not be perfect, but it’s yours. Finally.”

My life is my own. Finally. All the ebbs and flows, ups and downs, disasters and exhilarations. It’s mine. All mine.

Finally.

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broken in bogotá.

life, solotravel, travel

Before heading to Bogotá a few weeks ago, I’d heard nothing good. In fact, I heard much of the opposite. Stories of about how wayward and conniving the taxi drivers there could be. Warnings to not ever hail a taxi from the street lest you be overcharged and swindled. How dreary, cold and overcast the weather generally is there. The high altitude which can assault those not accustomed to it with migraines, aches, pains, nausea and fatigue.

I wasn’t exactly excited about going there. Although I was excited about eating my way through Colombia at the up and coming Bogotá Wine and Food Festival. It was, after all, why I was there instead of continuing to hang around Medellín , where I had spent a magical few days prior to exchanging a city with “eternal spring” for one where I’d need to consciously layer.

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Brrrrrr.

And its coldness, the wind and the clouds hanging low in the sky, drifting beneath the golden green mountain peaks assuredly met me, a mere two days into the total five days total I planned on spending there. I was at El Chato surrounded by food writers and chefs. We were passing shared plates around the shared table, with the sound of a chorus of oohs, aahs and pleased food moans.

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Towards the end of the lunch, I finally connected my phone to WiFi after being disconnected and offline for most of the day. As I often do, I pressed my thumb against the Gmail icon and did a cursory scan of the subject lines. The name of a friend popped out to me most. The name of my dear friend along with the words “killed in a fatal auto accident.” My breath left my body. Then I froze.

A heavy plate teetered in my hands and eyes darted back at me. I wasn’t sitting alone at the table and those around me, the strangers around me, wondered why I was acting so strangely, why it looked as if I was practicing a balancing act with the plate in my hands motionless. A nudge and gentle laugh from the person sitting next to me jolted me back to the present, to which I shared robotically, ignoring the compassion I received. I excused myself to the restroom. I didn’t have to pee.

Instead I sat on the commode, blinking ferociously, feeling nothing and everything at the same time. I held my phone in my hand, reading the subject title of the email over and over again, willing to believe the truth. I had a friend who was dead. A friend of mine, one who I had vulnerably shared bits and pieces of my life and heart for the past seven years, was dead.


 

The first time I met my dear friend, Precious was her name, it was the fall of 2010. I was 24-years-old in the first semester of my graduate writing program. She sat next to me and seemed to be scribbling on her notepad notes from our professor who rambled in circles for the entire three hours of class. I didn’t speak to her for months. And later when we became friends, she admitted she thought I was unapproachable, although we often caught each other’s eyes as two of the few Black women in our class.

Turns out, she wasn’t scribbling notes on her notepad. She showed me some months in the semester her sketches she spent her class time creating. She was a gifted artist aside from being a brilliant, fluid writer and poet. She was a year younger than me and wiser than me in so many ways. Her quiet strength moved me as she talked from her eyes and her heart.

She was and still remains the most extraordinary person I have ever met. Her friendship healed me after years of losing friends due to people telling me I was too exhausting, required too much and was too sensitive and feeling to keep people in my corner. I never gained that sense from her from the moment we became friends. She was open and honest, friendly and warm. We talked about our lives, our families, our joys and passions, our deep-seated and hidden pains.

Even after I graduated a year early and no longer saw her on campus during the week, we still kept in touch. Our friendship wasn’t predicated on frequency. Often we went weeks or months without seeing each other before we reconnected. But when we did? It was like no time had passed at all. It was as if, once again, I could pause all the tunnels, noise and distractions and be heard, be loved, be affirmed, be enough.

I never told her this and now, I wish I had but she was my shining star. I looked to her with seedy admiration because of how she channeled all her pain and past hurts into moving forward. Her shining example enabled me to do so again and again. After breakups, after disappointments. After moving to Spain, leaving Spain, moving to Washington, D.C. and leaving Washington, D.C. She remained my friend through all the changes and ups and downs, all the drama-filled phone calls and texts about my latest meltdown. And she never let any of lapses in judgments lessen the strength of our friendship.

The funny thing? She once told me she thought I was braver than her. I never agreed. I still don’t now.


 

Today marks three weeks since her death. Because we were those types of friends who didn’t depend on seeing or talking often to keep the love and nurturance of our friendship alive, sometimes, most times, most days, most moments, I can busy and distract myself with the lie she’s somewhere distantly still alive. That life hasn’t changed. That she didn’t die alone on the streets at night.

It works most times.

And other times the truths ripples over me and I ruminate. I turn it over and over again in my mind and still can’t come out with any shining truth. She is dead and intellectually I know this. Emotionally I wrestle with despair and disbelief.

The day after I’d learned she died, I opted out of morning outdoors yoga and a group dinner. I stayed buried underneath the crisp, white duvet in my room and ordered room service: a cheeseburger, french fries, tomato soup, a slice of cheesecake, an ice cold coke. My food arrived minutes later and as the TV blared in the background, I sipped the tomato soup spoonful by the spoonful. Then my chest heaved with heavy tears.


 

My last full day in Bogotá I balanced filling grateful with broken as I stuffed my face with at least five different burgers and Colombian artesanal beer. The day was uncharacteristically sunny and cheerful and the sun’s rays bounced off the full, blue sky. I still wanted to cry. I still wanted to ball my hands into two ardent fists and box with the shadows of the Universe until I had answers.

Instead I ate. I sipped beer. I had conversations with the families that sat around me and watched as they looked onto me in amazement when I told them I wrote, that I was there to write about their city and their country.

Then I gathered all my things up and left. I went back to my quiet, dark and lonely hotel room. I packed up all my belongings. I prepared to leave Bogotá and I pledged to never return. To never revisit the site of when I communed with the ghosts of grief and grief fully entered me.

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dwelling in the dominican republic.

freedom, inspiration, life, spirit, travel

I journeyed to the Dominican Republic 71 days ago but I couldn’t bring myself to parse together any words until now. I’ve held the words, memories and reflections I had from the seven days I spent in Punta Cana inside me like they belonged in a coffin, waiting lonely and inaccessible from the outside world.

Some trips change you. Some trips are more than a period of time spent taking beautiful snapshots to share with friends and strangers on social media. Some trips are more than a series of things to do and places to go and things to eat and experiences to be had. Some trips remain etched on your heart and leave footprints on your spirit long after you’ve departed. The week I spent in the Dominican Republic was one of those trips.

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When I stepped foot outside of the airport and the sound of one of my favorite languages danced near my ears, I was hot. Really hot. I shed a couple layers of clothing as small beads of perspiration began to form on the small of my back. I twitched and scratched the nape of my neck. I shifted my weight nervously from one foot to the other. One foot to the other. One foot to the other.

But then I exhaled and breathed in the sweetness of the breeze. I smelled the ocean and trees although I couldn’t see them. I felt their presence through the smell. I exhaled and the heaviness from a draining Thanksgiving lifted away from my body. My eyesight sharpened. I laughed to myself. I thought about how you often don’t realize how long you’ve been holding your breath, bracing for the next blow, waiting for the next thing to come tumbling down, until you steady yourself and exhale.

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Until you decide to pause and let go.

I floated through most of the week I spent surrounded by influencers, photographers and fellow writers mostly pondering my worthiness. Through each experience, through each thing offered to me, through each meal, through each interaction, through each excursion, through each check-in at a luxury resort I wondered why I was there. I smiled on cue, I laughed when it was apropos all while mentally churning these thoughts, all while I wondered if I deserved any of what I was receiving. I was just an ordinary writer penning ordinary stories and doing ordinary works. I didn’t have thousands of followers like many of the others. I wasn’t a much sought after social media personality. I was always and have always been a writer concerned with honoring my heart first and foremost and telling the stories which felt most genuine.

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And those questions still stick with me months later as I navigate through yet another transitional season of my life where all familiarity is being stripped from me bit by bit. As the things which I once held near and dear fall away in a gentle fashion and I’m left to only contemplate the void they leave behind. Do I deserve any of this? Do I truly matter? Does living my life the way I see fit, veering the very opposite of a life of conformity, truly have any merit? Am I just a crazed person for thinking I have it, in even some small inkling of way, all figured out?

I pondered my worth as I floated in the pristine, almost crystal clear waters of Saona Island. Myself and the others in our group unloaded off our private yacht to have Cuba Libres (rum + coke) poured for us on demand as we splished and splashed, marveling at the beauty of the moment we were present in. Starfishes floated at the bottom of the sea floor and while there was excited talking and chatting, I took the moment to float on my back in the water, my leopard print one-piece bathing suit acting as a marker since my voice had disappeared from the chorus of chatting. There was a stillness I felt as I floated, my ears taking in the soft whooshing of the water and the soft lull of the waves moving my body back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth.

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I mused as I chomped on lobster a half an hour later and sipped on white wine after spending a short time wading in the water and participating in photo opps. I reflected as I fumbled in my tote bag for money to buy a fresh coconut to drink coconut water from. I silently prayed I wouldn’t be forgotten, that I wouldn’t forget myself my needs or desires, wishes and wants, my highs and lows, my heart and my spirit, as I stumbled to get back on the boat to take us back to the resort at the end of the day, my skin a bronzer tone than it had been before the day had begun.

I continued to reflect and muse and internally ponder as the rest of my time there progressed. As I spent free afternoons wading in beach waters. As I ate food prepared by an amazing chef in a private villa. As I partied at Coco Bongo on a Saturday night and drank far too much rum. As I peered at the beauty of the Dominican Republic from a bird’s eye view up in a hot air balloon, lamenting how my ankles and calves and toes had been attacked by mosquitos of the morning dew of grass in the wee hours in the morning, after sunrise painted the sky in hues of azure, pink and violet.

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Certainty is a treasured idea and notion but often in life, we don’t have it. We wade through the waters, seas and tributaries, lakes and streams, baby ponds and vast rivers, wishing we had it in each moment because it would make rising with the tide, and not fighting the tide as it rises, touching the shore more and more ferociously as the moon orchestrates all motion, a helluva lot easier. It would make our steps more measured, steadier, more sure, stronger, more dauntless.

But in thinking back to the seven days I spent in the Dominican Republic, communing with the water, willing to be healed in the nourishing way that water often can, there’s a truth I can have and hold until whatever comes next. Until whatever clarity I need shows up. Until the shores of it reaches my feet and takes a bit of stand gripping at my toes with it.

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And that truth is shrouded in being present. Fighting the temptation to rush ahead ten thousands steps because being sure would feel more comfortable than being perpetually unsure and having to collapse into the current of uncertainties and I don’t knows.

A wise person knows to be human is to not know. To hang along the edge of simply weathering the plane of many questions, of wearing a jacket clad with questions marks willing to be answered but instead, coaxing the answers that are unknown to just be. To exist in their own space. To level out into something which is undiscoverable and unanswerable. And to be okay. To be okay with not knowing and to find the grace to live within despite.

To live knowing all will be okay. To live. To live knowing all will be okay.

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This trip and experiences from the trip to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic were made possible and sponsored by the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism. 

the surprising reason solo travel changed my life.

inspiration, life, madrid, solotravel, spain, spirit, travel

Because solo travel has transitioned from just something I do to a way of life, all my solo travel experiences have become a blur. I don’t mean that to say I have forgotten all of my solo travel adventures I’ve taken.

How could I forget my solo trip to Milano where I had a couch surfing experience from hell and a dear friend saved my ass and salvaged what could’ve been a horrible trip? Or the 36 hour solo trip I took to Porto, Portugal and the time spent sitting on a cottage along the Douro River crying because I was verklempt? Or being stunned into silence by the view of Eiffel Tower?

I’ll never forget these experiences. Not for the rest of my life. It’s just it’s been four years of solo traveling. Four years and as of now, 11 countries and 32 cities full of my wanderlust taking me to corners all over the world solo dolo. When it becomes a way of life, it’s sort of unconscious. It becomes who you are and how you see — and experience — what and those you encounter. The beautiful conversations you have. The scenes which beg to be photographed. The culinary bites which you either love or hate vehemently.

Solo travel has changed my life. As a woman. As a Black woman. As an African woman. As a daughter. As a sister. As a friend. As a lover. As a writer. As an artist. As a creative. As an empath. As a spirit-filled and spirit-led person.

I read a lot. A lot of blogs, a lot of tweets. There are more and more women taking solo trips. Which means there are more and more people writing about these experiences. Although most of the written are vaguely surface-level.

 Yes, solo travel will teach you to enjoy and love yourself in new ways and to not fear being alone. Yes, you will emerge from a solo trip with a newfound sense of wonder and confidence. And yes, every woman should have the experience at least once in their lifetime. 

Can we go deeper though? Can we talk about how solo travel creates new neural pathways and shifts you emotionally, mentally and physically?

For me, the most unexpected and surprising reason solo travel has changed my life is how it instilled within me the treasure of still truths. A knowing that it’s okay to start completely over and to not have a plan. Solo travel taught me it’s okay to break the mold and veer off the path lain in front of me that isn’t really mine but instead is one that’s always been taken.

Traveling alone — without friends, family and a significant other by my side — inadvertently taught me how to be who I a truly am, the person I spent most of my life running from. An individual. A woman who lets her heart guide her. A woman who isn’t fearless like most people think she is but instead, a woman who is almost always afraid but is brave and courageous simply because she works with the fear in her life that arises.

I did not have that sense until I dared to start doing things alone. And not just travel either. I mean doing everything alone, from the mundane to the magnificent. To spend a lifetime not listening to your heart and what it wants and deferring to the voices of others, is like living a life chained. A life which is limiting and has limits. A life which can’t expand, grow wings and fly away and reach new heights. A life which is rife with too much comfort, too much familiarity and too much of the same.

A life which wants to change but is afraid to change and rather than look the fear square in the eye, quiet it by staying put.

Solo travel, surprisingly, handed me the rest of my life, my life which was waiting for me to awaken to it, to say I was ready to accept the great challenge and calling I was born and named for.

I’m writing this post from a flat near the center of Madrid, Spain. Almost four years ago, I took my first international solo trip here. No one was excited for me when I announced that I was taking this trip by myself. I was met with endless questions about how safe it would be for a young woman like myself traveling with no companion. People asked me if I spoke Spanish. What I would do if I got lost. If I would run out of money. If I would be able to use my cell phone.

The almost two weeks I spent in Madrid were spent carrying those questions, holding the projections of others near and dear to my heart. At a certain point during my time there, I wanted to enjoy myself without my brain being flooded with other people’s stuff. 

Then was when the magic began.

As you can imagine, being back here in Madrid I am filled with nostalgia from those moments (and others) and remembering. Remembering what my life used to be like when I lived here years ago and how much time has passed. How it seemed so automatic that I needed to relocate my entire life here, my entire former existence, to a foreign country and city after a short period not even equaling two weeks.

I’m also reflecting on the great surprise of how solo travel began much needed healing. Solo travel unlocked my heart. It gave me myself. It told me to not fear, to shake off shrinking myself and settling for good enough. And it told me, with a gentleness, a kindness, it was okay to dream while awake, with my eyes wide open, in my waking, moving, everyday life. To not have to wait until it was night and the stars danced in the sky.

My heart. It told me to lean into my heart and trust. Lean into my heart and leap. 

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Considering taking your first solo trip soon? Join the Afros y Paella mailing list to get solo travel affirmations to accompany you on your journey and to get the scoop on my upcoming workbook Solo Sojourness: A Roadmap to Planning and Bravely Taking Your Solo Adventure. Join my mailing list here.

coming home to myself.

inspiration, Joy, life, Uncategorized

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Everyone thought I was fucking crazy.

They thought I was making a decision on whim in January when I bought a one-way ticket back home, to Atlanta, two weeks out. I’ve thought a lot these past six months about the exact moment when I knew I needed to take a leap. About how my fear of the unknown and the uncertainty about where my latest leap would land paled in comparision for the aching of discontent I’d been nursing.

I needed to come home. I needed to return to Atlanta, a city where my heart had remained for some reason, a city where I thought I’d never need or want to return after leaving three years ago for the Spanish adventure of a lifetime.

But what has become abundantly clear these past six months home, in Atlanta, it wasn’t the city itself I needed to revisit and take lessons from. It wasn’t about becoming reacquainted with old memories and emotional and mental sensations which were familiar. It wasn’t about meeting all that made me feel like I wasn’t just passing through in yet another city, bidding my time until I was gone and on the quest for home once more.

It was about committing to the next leg of this never-ending healing journey called life. It was about looking at my demons I’d been too afraid to face. It was about vanquishing the embers of forgotten self-worth, self-trust and self-determination. It was about knowing and accepting the home and heart within myself.


Being back in Atlanta has been odd and nothing short of what I expected. I feel like an outsider. I’ve spent the larger part of my time here tucked away in the suburbs, living alone in the huge family home I grew up in. My days and evenings are cloaked in silence, save for the murmuring of the TV in the background I turn on to distract myself from the fact that I am alone.

On one hand, being as alone as I have been this past half year hasn’t been awful. Alone time soothes me hugely. But being as alone as I have been has once again hammered in that there was nothing left for me as I originally thought; that returning here was only a resting space for me to launch myself elsewhere in the world. A time for recalibration.

Each day in this house I’ve faced my past with a piercing honesty. I’m finally able to see my childhood and life up until now for what it has been — a sequential period of me not possessing enough self-belief to trust if I stood facing the world on my own two feet, just me and God, that I’d be okay. Instead it was much easier to default to leaning on my parents — financially, emotionally and mentally — to carry that torch of lacking self-belief for me. And it has severely hindered me in fully growing up and being an independent and self-sufficient woman.

I’ve never really lived on my own as an adult. When I graduated from college, I moved back home, to the family home I live in now alone, with my parents and my three sisters.  It took me nearly a year to find a job as a reporter where I would actually be using the expensive ass Journalism degree I earned from a private university. That job paid me very little as opposed to job I’d had prior for a huge nonprofit that I was fired from after six months. But I told myself that being happier and fulfilled at work was worth the severe pay cut I took.

My parents supported this decision and did what they have always done — filled in the money gaps. They paid my phone bill, my car note and insurance. If I ran into a (financial) bind they’d bail me out, no questions asked. In their own way this is how they show love — by helping. But there are costs for everything and their ever constant help came at a great one to me and of course, as with money, it came with strings.

Moving to Madrid would not have been possible without my parents. To qualify for my student visa, I had to show a certain amount of money in my bank account that I didn’t have. My parents transferred the money to my account so I could show that. And when I got ready to leave, they gave me more money to ensure I’d be okay my first few months since I wouldn’t be working right away and had no job lined up. When I was fired from a new job I had taken in January of 2014 it was my parents who helped me make my rent because I didn’t have any savings.

Once things settled a bit more for me and I found a better job, it was the first time in my life I was living as an adult on my own. I paid my own rent from money I made. I took care of myself. I felt free and capable. I felt like I could handle my life. Which is why when I decided to move back Stateside after just nine months, I knew I’d been exchanging this sense of freedom for something else.

When I decided to move back to the states after nine months in Madrid, I landed back at home with my parents. I spent two miserable years in DC. During those two years, I struggled to find work and flitted between jobs I hated. I quit jobs often without thinking. My parents had been giving me money every two weeks, so I’d grown complacent. If shit didn’t work out, I knew my parents would be there to catch me. But within the past few years, this has become a battleground and a space for me to be controlled and not treated well; to be helped and had the help hung over my head or thrown in my face at any given moment.

Each day in this house serves as reminder of the state of affairs, as far as my relationship with my parents. It reminds me of living with a mother who stopped at nothing to criticize and pick at me, explaining that her cyclical verbal vitriol was out of love, and me naively believing it. It reminds me of a living with an emotionally absent father who was far more interested in watching CNN marathons than getting to know me as a person.

In many ways, these shadows of my both of my parents haven’t changed. My father is still somewhere off in the stratosphere. He tries to be more present but his attempts are foreign to me. My mother still treats me as a mass of projections and life regrets, using whatever time we’re around each other to denigrate me. The words no longer hurt me like they used to because I accept that is who she is and all she is capable of being. What hurts is to know I’m not respected as a whole person deserving to be treated well to her and that, once again, being at the whims of money she can provide subjects me to more poor treatment.


Everyone thought I was fucking crazy when I purchased a one-way ticket to Atlanta just six days in the year. But knowing I was looking towards a year filled with more chosen misery, I had to leave. It was a means of self-preservation and reclaiming my joy. And although I landed, not exactly on my own, because I do live rent free in a house my parents own, it was a (temporary) compromise I was okay with making.

I’m not a jealous person. People are often jealous of me and it has many times been the reason for the demise of a friendship. Because it’s not an emotion that registers for me I’m oblivious each and every time it happens and only get it when someone else points it out to me. There’s one thing I can say I’ve long been envious of others for — tapping into self-belief enough to land on their own two feet and to live an independent, self-sufficient life as an adult. I ask myself why it has taken being in a new decade for me to realize this needs to happen, why I’ve been afraid of stepping out and consumed with failing and falling flat on my ass out in the big world.

But I realize my fears about stepping out into the world aren’t unfounded and they aren’t individual, specialized fears. Every person who has ever stepped fully into adulthood has felt and thought these things, but with each step they took, they became more determined, more sure, more trusting in both themselves and God/the Universe, to have their back and provide for them. It’s radical trust. It’s radical faith. It’s free-falling into uncertainty and not knowing, all the millions of questions which remain unanswered yet somehow knowing in the end, it’ll all turn out just fine.

Now it’s my turn.

The end of April I received notice that I’d gotten into a creative writing workshop hosted by Callaloo Literary Journal of Texas A&M. The workshop will be held at The University of Oxford all of next week. When I first got in, I had no idea how I’d finance this amazing opportunity (and they were no scholarships available) but less than 24 hours after launching a crowdfunding effort, I had enough money to pay the registration fee. I hesitated to pay it because I had no idea where the rest of my funding would come from.

Well, it all came. And I have followed my heart and extended my time in Europe through the end of August. Not everything is planned. I’m going to allow things to flow naturally as they should. I’ve never traveled this way all the years I’ve been traveling. And I’ve also never fully financed it all on my own either. I’ve spent the past two months working very hard to do this all on my own dime. Without Mom and Dad sweeping in and saving the day. Without completely abandoning my self-belief.

It’s safe to say I’m terrified. It’s safe to say I’m turning over in my head all the billions of unfortunate scenarios which could go wrong. But then I’m also thinking back to that woman, that woman who three years ago was so fucking determined to be free and chart the course of her life, despite how terrified she was. And how it all worked out in her favor.

This woman uprooted her entire life to move to Madrid, Spain, where she knew no one and didn’t even have a job lined up. She rented a room out a flat from a woman personally recommended that was on Facebook. She navigated culture shock with a nonexistent support system in both Spain and back at home.

She weathered a rough almost year in another country and returned to the States more in power of herself, more sure of how she wanted the rest of her life to go. She somehow was able to stay the course during a hard two years in Washington, DC and didn’t give into conformity. She left DC when she knew her joy was still to be captured and it couldn’t be where she was currently. She found more of herself back in Atlanta, her hometown, and was able to look joy in the face again and slowly begin to gather bits and pieces of self-belief. She got into an amazing writing workshop to be held at the prestigious University of Oxford.

That woman is enough. That woman is braver, more courageous, more sagacious and tenacious than she could ever know to everyone around her. That woman is an inspiration. And that woman, that woman who is almost always afraid of the newness that is thrust in her direction yet leaps anyway, will be okay and taken care of.

And that woman is me.

self-love + creation

inspiration, life, Self-love, spirit, Writing

When I say I love myself, I don’t mean it in a vapid, surface-level, timid, infantile way. I don’t mean I look in the mirror and am pleased by my physical aesthetic. I don’t mean I’m free from what people think about how I look, the presence I create when I walk into the room or how others feel about me.

It means I’m uncompromising about how fiercely I cherish myself and how I demand others who I am in relationship with — friends, family members, lovers, other writers, artists and creators — do as well. It means with everything I do and with every aim it is to ensure I am radiating that soul-deep cherish, the cherish which permeates through the center of my being.

My love, my self-love, is intimate, introspective and sustains me. It reminds me, on those days, those days when life itself, circumstances or other people are unloving, cruel and unfair that I have myself and I have my love and my love, my self-love, can truly be enough.

When I say I love myself, I don’t mean I love my talents, skills and abilities although all these things make me who I am and make why I am, why I am a living, breathing member of this world essential. Loving myself means I trust my spirit and treat it as such, as a sacred entity in and of myself. It means my intuition is treated as a fine companion that is guiding and guarding me from all unnecessary pain, suffering perils and should be heeded as such. It means my joy and peace are at the forefront and constantly unraveling and clearing away any of the things that rob me of either is work I must do.

Yes, I do, finally, look in the mirror and see a woman I adore, a woman I am in awe of, I see the beauty in her eyes, the big, abundant frog eyes she was teased about as a child, and I see them as even more wondrous when they are sparking and full of glee. I see my curves, luscious lips and nappy hair as things of beauty and things to be appreciated.

But when I look in the mirror, I also see my heart. I feel the essence of my heart, too, and I hope others who come into contact with see and feel my heart, too, which is why being gentle and kind with it matters — and is another way I extend love to myself.

It’s no mistake when I dared to selfishly love myself, when I dared to give myself the nurturing, the gentleness, the kindness I had ached for all my life, the things I desperately wanted from my parents, lovers and friends but seemed to only be caught in a perpetual cycle of getting the opposite, the spring of life flowed through me. It was the genesis of returning to self, of being who I was created to be.

When your self-love becomes transformative, when you feel yourself starting to shift, when how you love yourself becomes the standard for how you will be loved in every situation — your work changes. How you approach writing, artistry and your creativity changes, too. It’s as if you are breathing new life into the process and it becomes a true way to get in touch with yourself undisturbed from the outside world. You lose yourself in the work. Creating no longer is looked at this laborious chore but instead a welcome escape, a place to become swallowed whole by the ingenuity of the core of who you are.

A writer, an artist, a creative — a creator — is often looked at as someone who is only as worthy as what they create. The finished product. We are often judged as the caliber of our level of execution. But what about the journey there? What about what it takes to rise to create something? What about how sometimes it can be more desirable, much easier, to capitulate to the obstacles — doubt, paralyzing fear, procrastination, lack of confidence, insecurity — and yet we find the courage from within, somewhere within ourselves, to create anyway? Does that not mean anything at all?

There is so much which can stop us from getting there, from the finish line, in that finishing becomes even more of a victory. But the road getting there, fighting to get to the finish line, all the preparation, perseverance and grit leans in and acts as its own degree of glorious valor. Our work means so much more because we triumphed above all that could’ve prevented us from completing. And self-love is wrapped up in all of this. Because we dare to love ourselves, because loving ourselves is an act of courage in itself, it demonstrates why love can change everything.

Love, self-love is beginning, middle and end. It is the why. It is what has gotten us here in the first place and it is why, we will keep fighting, keep dreaming, keep producing, keep creating, until the very end.

The world needs your love. The world needs you to love yourself. It is needed in the greater collective. 

teacup

a love letter to madrid.

inspiration, life, madrid, spain, travel

A mi Madrid, mi corazón,

Seems nonsensical to have such a deeply intimate relationship with a city. You are not a person. You are not in human form, with a body. And yet, who you are, the beauty of you, has changed me forever.

My journey with you, my relationship with you, began when I was in middle school. I was told I had to pick a language to start earning foreign language elective credits. I picked Spanish because French seemed too hoity toity and German — well the sound of it I liken it to an angry making, impassioned squabble. I wanted to learn a language which, in some way sounded magical to my ears and sounded marvelous leaving my lips.

Learning Spanish was easy, almost too easy. And perhaps this points to my destiny, my fate and how I would ultimately meet you, how I would ultimately decide to change the course of my life, and move halfway across the world.

It was fated from the beginning. We were fated from the beginning. It was kismet.

You, in all your splendor and glory, were like the most compassionate of teachers, forgiving, always sending reminders that life could be life-ing but that I’d be okay. Like, how when I had the shittiest of days, walking from teaching an English class, missing home (and all the familiarity it entailed) and I’d look up and see an awestruck cathedral and be moved to tears.

That’s just who you are.

But also, you’re firm, you’re a bit rough. You had hard lessons to teach me, too, on the importance of being almost deathly observant and detail oriented. Remember the time when I went to get my formal Spanish identification card and on my paperwork confirming my appointment there was the phrase billete de avión, scrawled in barely legible handwriting with a permanent marker? And remember how time I sat down to that appointment, the phrase, scrawled in barely legible handwriting, was pointed to? I was supposed to bring my plane ticket with me. I had to come all the way back on another day, and I left crying and cried all the way home and took the wrong Metro home three times.

You taught me about perseverance, to an upteenth degree I never knew was possible. From you, I learned sometimes things are not easy to adjust to, sometimes we have to suffer until we can grasp and hold the beauty for ourselves. Sometimes things are just bad. Sometimes we can’t prettify them or reframe or be optimistic. Sometimes the gift we must cling to is the gift of acceptance, of accepting our now so that our future, a better, brighter future, can be had.

The value of a dollar — or should I say Euro — is something else you gently showed me. I learned from you, while living in a city not making a lot of money, I really don’t need a lot to thrive. I learned a full refrigerator often equals a full heart, too, because cooking and nourishing my body is connected to nourishing my soul.

Timing is everything you taught me, and often, the things we want most need a little more time to manifest and enter into our lives. And that time is not on our time or within the realm of our (limited human) understanding of all the things which need to slide perfectly together for the right things to come into being. You taught me that as things not happening or moving oft inspires a rage within me, that fighting what is beyond me, what is not yet ready, benefits me none. That resistance actually stalls the goodness more from being apart of my life. And well, what sense does it make to block my blessings?

People and some friendships and relationships are temporal, you taught me as well. I learned I’m so hungry for people to stay, for as long as possible, because I know in too familiar of a sense the emptiness that people leaving, being abandoned, feels like. I want so badly to prevent myself from experiencing that despair that often I fight like hell for people who have imparted their lessons, wisdoms and love and are slated to leave and move on to what’s next, for them, for the next person they’ll help inspire and heal. And you taught that sometimes, the shortest, most random, most intense people and relationships, have the power to shake us up and change us the most. And that’s certainly no coincidence.

DSC01202

Outside the Royal Palace of Aranjuez, where I spent time with a friend who, in many ways, changed my life.

You taught me, chiefly, that following my heart has to be a way of life, without compromise, if I want to feel free and come into more and all of who I am. You stressed to me on several occasions the reason I often feel the propensity to take huge leaps and scare the shit out of everyone around me is that I ignore the smaller callings of my heart, those moment to moment, day to day minuscule heart stirrings. Those minutiae decisions which seem ordinary but instead if overlooked mount and build into a massive snowball I have no choice but to take a grandiose leap to surmount it. You taught me life can be different, that life can be filled with ease, if I always listen and trust I will be taken care of when it’s hardest to listen and obey.

Missing you seems like too trite of a sentiment to express. You are etched and embedded into chambers of my heart and the fiber of who I am. When I left almost two years ago, I mourned you for quite a long time. It’s why adjusting to Washington, DC was such a struggle initially. I didn’t want to let you go. I wasn’t ready to.

But as in every relationship, in every bond and every connection — body, spirit and mind — made, there’s an art to honoring the lessons, beauty, the laughter, the growth and transformation offered and parting ways. Honoring what was had enough to create distance. Honoring what was to let go.

I can let go now.

I can let go while reflecting back, seeing the woman I now am because of you, with unceasing gratitude for how the shifts and growths you started, the things you taught me, the love and beauty you never failed to show.

And I can rest the aching, the dull ache, I’ve somehow tried to quiet all these years, with a knowing, a deep knowing, that I ever where to return, if I ever longed to be in your presence one more in the future, you’ll be there to welcome me with open arms.

Besitos,

Nneka

writing as joy.

Joy, Writing

Joy has always seemed to be an elusive concept to me. Like a mystical state of being I’d never be able to reach. Joy wasn’t for me. Happiness wasn’t for me either. Perpetually just being on the precipice of something greater, that next big thing, just the right circumstance which would make me, or life, better or fulfilling has been the existence I lived. And wanting to rise beyond waiting for life to affirm my joy and my happiness was where my desire to be in touch with my joy and joyfulness was borne from.

Two years ago after a whirlwind nine months in Madrid filled with ups and downs, I moved to Maryland. My father had moved to Maryland, right outside of DC, for a new opportunity the year before, and because I knew moving back to Atlanta would be akin to starting over, I figured it made the most sense to start over in a new city versus an old city. I was also taking a huge chance on love and hoping a new relationship would blossom as a result of me relocating.

My relationship with my father at that time was distanced as best. We were complete strangers to one another although I’d lived with him my entire life. My father has always seemed ambivalent about parenting and me specifically, other than when he felt I needed a lecture or any other instance when he could put me in my place. He was a disciplinarian and a rule enforcer. He was not someone I could trust to care about my heart, my feelings, my happiness, my joy. Instead he was a wielder of inadequacy, criticism and shame. And living with him, one-on-one, without my mother, his workaholic tendencies, CNN marathons and my sisters to act as a bridge and distractions between us only magnified who he was and what he thought of me.

And also what I thought of myself.

I didn’t intend to live with my father long. Before I left Madrid, I’d made a semblance of plans to get a job within the media and resume being a journalist once again. I’d even started applying to a few jobs and letting friends and other people know I’d be relocating to the area and to keep their eyes out for opportunities I’d be great for. My first few weeks, I had several interviews and my plan to only temporarily share the same space with my father seemed to be on the up and up.

Until it wasn’t anymore. The job interviews stopped rolling in. And the heaviness of depression took its place. The new relationship had fizzled at this point. The little amount of money I’d saved from my last teaching check from Madrid was dwindling. I had no friends and no new connections nor did I have any interest in meeting new people. I started to spend an inordinate amount of time — from my bed — ruminating over my joblessness, lack of money and lack of friends and discontent over how this new beginning was shifting into a period of bleak hopelessness.

The conversations with my father certainly didn’t help. A year later when my mother moved into the apartment with us, things only worsened. Not only was I steamrolled with constant criticism about the state of my life in terms of career with repetitive lectures from my father, but I was also receiving the criticism about my appearance, my mannerisms and everything in between from my mother. The areas where my father didn’t touch, my mother seamlessly picked up the slack.

I was being triggered on a daily basis at this point, sometimes multiple times a day, by people who claimed, almost ritualistically they loved me, and wanted the best for me yet the vitriol spewed at me proved otherwise. I was a full-fledged adult but it felt like I’d stepped back into the throes of my childhood which had been much the same, navigating emotional grenades lest they blow up and obliterate my emotional reserves. To make matters worse, because I couldn’t find a job, I was stuck with having to accept their financial help, including for my bi-weekly therapy sessions which were the only thing keeping me afloat. I needed their help but resented it at the same time. And there seemed like no way out for me. I was tired and struggling and suffering.

Last fall, I took a job at a coffee shop. It was a dream of mine to be a barista, and I was excited about the chance, but not really. A few weeks before I’d been ceremoniously threatened by my father to be kicked out of the apartment I was living in with them and the financial help they’d been providing me with was revoked. This declaration followed a huge blow-out between the three of us, and honestly now I can’t remember because I blocked it out of my memory.

I had less than $100 dollars to my name.

I was scheduled to see my therapist a few days later but could no longer afford it. I canceled my appointment and cried for hours. My lifeline had been taken from under my feet.

But taking that job — despite how much I hated it and drained me — put me touch with a sensation I hadn’t ever felt before: joy. It was just a little sprinkling of it but it felt good. Money is control and I’d been controlled, my strings pulled like a puppet, so to take the control back and to not feel so powerless as I had felt for years felt like breathing again. I was no longer being held against my will underwater by the heaviness of suffering and lack of joy.

The month of December last year was spent resting from all the drain and chaos I dealt with for two months as a pseudo barista. I spent Christmas alone as I chose no to go home to spend the holiday with my family for the second year in a row. I  spent the morning meditating and soaking in a bath by candle light and for dinner, made a pot of spaghetti and drank glass after glass of merlot while watching Christmas movies on the couch. The quiet was overwhelmingly needed and nourishing to my spirit and led me to a greater truth — I had to prioritize my joy. Going back home — to Atlanta — to stay in the family house which would soon be empty was an option.

And the morning after picking up my parents from the airport at the conclusion of a quiet few weeks for Christmas, I booked a one way ticket home  leaving in two weeks and told no one.

Once again, I had less than $100 to my name.

The criticism I faced from my parents had relented since I’d started working at the coffeeshop. But it dawned on me, when I announced to my parents I was leaving and going to stay in the house, and they responded with sordid expressions on their face and asking what they would do without me there, it became clear to me.

I’d unknowingly shouldered the suffering and stress and miseries of my parents when I moved back home and started living with them again. I’d made all their suffering, their health issues, their discontent with the state of their lives, facing their mortality, coping with their roles as parents changing as their children grew older, my own. I’d created a space so huge for sorting their own “stuff” and unconsciously enabling them, I’d forgotten that there was a space for my joy, my happiness, my peace, my self-care, my self-preservation.

I forgot about me. I forgot I mattered. And because of this it made damn near hard for me to write, to create, to be the fullest version of myself. To live in my truth. My parents— and being so physically close to them — were a huge creative block for me. They represented everything I negatively thought about myself.

Being back home in the house I grew up in, alone, without my mother and father, without the noise that comes from living with a huge family has been odd but at the same time freeing. I’ve been on a creative high for the past few months I know I wouldn’t have reached without taking a leap for myself, a leap for my joy. Writing feels good again. Writing feels like a high. Writing feels like ease. Writing feels like…joy.

Joy and joyfulness are slowly shifting from being abstract, unfamiliar concepts to me yet the newness and fragility of infusing them into my life are felt. The shakiness of accepting that suffering and struggle don’t have to coexist with joy and happiness is something I toy with almost every day.

I’m acquainting myself with a deep truth which is daily transforming the fabric of my life. I hope if I keep remembering how deeply I matter and how deeply I am needed in this world, creating an altar for joy along with writing, artistry and creation will become a central pillar to my being.

writing as wholeness.

wholeness, Writing

I was born into brokenness, a generational pattern on both sides of my family of people not believing in being whole or even chasing after wholeness. No one in my family, on either side was familiar with what being and living as a whole person meant, what it looked like. My example, my life example, was brokenness. The type of brokenness which on surface appeared like I had it all together, that I was a mass of perfection and knew what I was doing and who I was. But beneath the surface I was a mass of insecurity, doubt, fear and negativity; I was the sum of all those things for myself and all the insecurity, doubt, fear and negativity of generations before me.

Brokenness became like a curse.

Reflecting upon my childhood, I can’t think of one period where I thought highly of myself. Low self-esteem and sense of self has been my default for as long as I can remember. As a child, when I wasn’t hiding away from the world reading or writing, I was crouching from the world because I didn’t feel good enough, worthy of being loved or that I mattered. And the messaging I received from nearly everyone I interacted with reinforced my core beliefs.

When I was nine years old, my father took a trip to Lagos, Nigeria, his hometown. I remember that day like it was yesterday. Standing at the airport gate. Giving hugs. Being reassured he’d be back before I knew it. Being told to help my mother and that my role as the oldest all of a sudden was super important. I remember the car ride back home after the airport.

And I remember not seeing my father again until four years later.

I remember the silence that followed all those years, not knowing what was going on. I remember the many questions I had which were always silenced or ignored or slyly given a non-answer. I remember the many letters I sent my father and how those letters made me realize how much I loved writing. I remember the routine phone calls early in the morning before school. I remember being nine years old and shouldering the not knowing, the stress, the fatigue, the exhaustion, the inner turmoil my mother felt those four years. I remember feeling unloved, forgotten and discarded. I remember not being treated like a person, my childhood being prematurely snatched away from me, and being angry I wasn’t given the consideration of knowing. I remember being too in touch with my mother and her narcissistic tendencies and having no choice but to remain close by, to be her narcissistic supply, because she needed me. I remember the heavy weight of abandonment.

This was my version of brokenness. And this is the brokenness I’ve carried with me closely on my person, all these years. I carry a brokenness which is riddled with deep regret and a longing to understand why, why I wasn’t told then and why, still to this day, I’ve been offered no explanation for my father’s absence. How do you forgive and move forward when you have no understanding whatsoever? It’s no wonder why I struggled to see and love myself all this time. And it’s no wonder not seeing or loving myself translated to attracting people who didn’t see or love me either.

I often feel like a failure in terms of love and relationships because I am a massive failure in that regard. Almost all the relationships I’ve been in have been abusive, not physically, but in every other way imaginable otherwise — manipulation, gaslighting, stonewalling, verbal insults, nasty put downs, cheating, dishonesty. I was trying to fill a giant sized hole in my heart my father created when he left when I was a child. And because the feeling of abandonment made me feel unloved, unwanted and unimportant I only loved men who made me feel those exact emotions.

But at a certain point, brokenness became trite. Four years ago, six months away from graduating with my Masters degree, it was if something clicked or shifted within me. My awakening began at that point. I became acutely aware I didn’t know myself on any level. I knew intimately at that time, for the first time in my life, that who I was and who I had became was just a shell of the person I was. Instead I’d grown and matured to be the sum of the projections and indoctrination I’d been fed. Realizing I didn’t know myself was scary.

My awakening coincided with my first international trip to Spain in September. The same trip where everyone in my life, including my mother and father, thought I was crazy as hell.  But I felt called to go on that trip. My spirit called out to me and I answered. I don’t know that I wouldn’t be where I am now — in a place where I truly love and cherish myself, see myself as being wondrous, valuable, enough and mattering — had I not taken that trip.

And writing about my experience in Spain alone (I wrote about it here if you want to read) became the space where I began to heal a childhood and life as I’d come to know it as filled with brokenness. I wrote my way through healing. I wrote all the things. The things I was too ashamed to say out loud. The things I knew would sound bad if I said them out loud. So I wrote them instead.

I wrote while crying. I wrote while seething in anger. I wrote while depressed. I wrote while anxious. I wrote while suicidal.

Writing breathed new life into my despair and translated my despair into a hope I had not ever experienced. I’d become accustomed to only living expecting the other shoe to drop and expected to be left and expected to not be good enough and expected to being shitted on. To actually see life as being filled with opportunity for unlimited things to go right and well was a huge leap.

Brokenness used to be a generational curse, on both sides of my family, but I decided four years ago, inadvertently, it would stop with me. And nearly a year ago when I started therapy to begin my healing journey with a companion, it was another nod to saying it stopped with me as well. I’ve learned what it means to care for myself. I’ve learned that it’s okay to be selfish, to say no, to enact boundaries, to cherish myself by frequently and consistently checking-in on myself — psychologically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. I’ve also learned how integral writing has been and will continue to be as I heal from all I’ve endured and all the wounds I’ve gathered, all the emotional trauma I’ve normalized but must, in some way, begin to make peace with. I see how writing has contributed directly to knowing my intrinsic value and seeing myself as beautiful and a valid and a needed contribution to this world.

It’s no mistake I was created to create and write. Our gifts breathe life into both ourselves and others. As I continue to heal, I hope to inspire others to heal, too. To step out on faith when it’s scariest, to confront the shadows of your soul. And to write. Write your entire way through it. Write your way through inching towards being whole.

drbombaby1

writing as freedom.

freedom, Writing

I used to be a reporter. I used to find the utmost pride and splendor and telling the stories of everyone else. The tattoo on my right wrist is testament to how much starting out as a reporter when I was 19, almost 11 years ago, meant — the first headline to the first news story I ever wrote is emblazoned on my flesh.

The story of how I started reporting is equal parts hilarious and a whirlwind. Although I grew up hungrily devouring the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the big newspaper in my hometown of Atlanta, and even stashed away iconic covers of the AJC — Coretta Scott King’s funeral, Princess Diana’s funeral, when the Summer Olympics were in Atlanta in 1996 — I never considered writing for one. Funny thing is, I should’ve known the Universe would’ve guided me to my vocation, my calling, of writing and the artistry it entails. After all, I’ve been writing all my life.

Most of my spare time as a child was spent writing fictional stories. It was the easiest way I could forge some semblance of a relationship with other human beings, the same human beings who in person often terrified and intimidated me, the younger, socially awkward and prone to panic attacks in social situations, me. My characters were my friends, my soulmates, my confidantes. They were real living and breathing people. They represented people who would never leave me and were as alive as I wanted them to be, as long as I kept my pen moving, kept it interacting with a sheet of paper.

In third grade, I wrote my first book. It was about a princess. She was isolated and felt chained to her royal existence, unfree. Through the window in her tower bedroom, a window where she could see for miles around the kingdom, her kingdom, she shouted down to the only friends she had. They played games. They talked. They laughed. But eventually they had to leave. And eventually she was left all by her lonesome once again.

My first book was cut into the shape of a princess and my mother, a talented seamstress, found pink, shimmery fabric to overlay on the book for its front cover. I outlined the dress with silver glitter, making a mess with clumps of glitter and white Elmer’s glue on one of the tables in our library. I entered the book in the school-wide media festival. I knew at a very young age how to swell with pride once a work you created had been released to world. And yet, from then on, all the things I wrote were borne and bred and shrouded in sacred secrecy.

Many years later as I was in college and found myself in a newspaper story meeting, knowing nothing about reporting, what it meant to report, AP Style or even the inverted pyramid, I felt I needed to be there. I was there and I volunteered to write a news story.

And it was awful — the news story that is. I turned it in late. It was barely 100 words. I had done zero research and spoke to no sources. I vividly remember the editor who had assigned the piece to me dragging me to the rest of the editorial staff. She told them I was not a good reporter, not reliable and to not bother working with me.

Her indignance over my lack of talent only fueled my desire to prove her wrong. Week after week, I showed up at the story meetings, took multiple stories. Before i started researching and reaching out to sources for interviews, I judiciously studied the previous editions of the paper and noted carefully how the other reporters had written their stories. And somehow from those study sessions, I was able to emerge with my own style.

I taught myself how to be a reporter. At the end of that first year as a reporter, I was asked to join the editorial staff as a section editor. Months later, I changed my major to Journalism.

Being a reporter, a real reporter for the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The LA Times, The AJC, became the dream. The ultimate goal. Much to my surprise, two years after finally landing my first reporting gig, six months in I was growing increasingly dissatisfied. Reporting no longer seemed like enough. It felt like I had plateaued and my dreaming had amounted to nothing but sand passing through the glass.

Around this same time, I started grad school in a writing program and in the most fascinating turn of events, I found myself hungrily devouring a new side of writing — personal writing — through my homework assignments. It felt like home. It felt right. It felt like freedom. I felt free. I had begun to taste how deeply what I had to say mattered. How my life experiences and how they changed me could be powerful. And I knew, at that point, I didn’t have to hide behind being a reporter and only telling the stories of others.

I could tell my own.

It took me nearly three years after starting that reporting gig to walk away from it all, including walking away from an old dream which had been met and served its purpose to walk into my destiny, my fate, where I had been fated to be all along. And moving to Madrid away from everything I’d always known — including my idea of how writing would manifest and what space it would occupy in my life — is inextricably tied to all this.

When I think about freedom, especially in terms of how writing has made me feel free, how writing has enabled me touch, taste and feel my own version of freedom, I think of resistance. I think of resistance and fear. I think of colliding, hard, into all these realities and truths which are uncomfortable and yet, at the root of it all, there is peace, there is room to expand, to fill, to fit into the truest, most authentic, most resonating version of myself.

Writing is a gift, for those to read, for those to accept, and it is mine, too. Because without writing, without the ability to express myself with my words, without the ability to see myself time and time again, even in the most undesirable, grotesque ways, those undesirable and grotesque parts of myself, I wouldn’t be me. I wouldn’t be able to rest in what is my calling, what is my truth and what is an honor.

I see myself in my words but I also carry the hopes, the dreams, the fears, the frustrations, the shaky, scared courage of so many others, of my ancestors, of those who have warred and lost before and those still fighting to win. I see those yet to exist, I see the collective spirit of those willing to live and rest in the vibrancy of their being.

And I see freedom. I know freedom. I am freedom. And writing, the hardest, most frustrating, most beautiful, most innate, most exhilarating thing in the world I’ve been gifted to do, is the lasting source and conduit.

Nneka07

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