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.

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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

Are you a writer like me? Do you want to experience freedom through your words and unlock all the obstacles that might be in your way? I’m hosting a FREE (yes, free) live workshop next week on freewriting, one of the powerful ways I regularly use to get past creative blocks. Along with walking you step-by-step through the process I regularly use, I’ll also let you in the exact resources I utilize as well. Register now. 

five reasons why 2016 should be the year you solo travel.

solotravel

If there’s one thing you should know about me from reading this blog for the past (almost) three years, it’s that I’m a one woman show. I don’t wait for anyone to take my travel adventures. It’s been four years since I first started solo traveling and today, I’m at 11 countries and 30 cities traveled solo dolo.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Solo travel is not only an interesting conversation I can count on to dazzle a possible suitor or liven up shaky dialogue at an otherwise stale happy hour, but it’s also the one area of my life where I can directly credit a lot of my personal growth and refinement of my identity. Traveling alone put me directly in tune with my own thoughts, opinions and emotions. It has helped me to discover exactly who I was on my terms and not based on what everyone else has to say about me. And lastly, it has been a space where my penchant for adventure and exploring has been fed and rendered me joyful.

So, of course, I want to encourage each and every one of you to take a solo trip if you haven’t already. And here are my five reasons why 2016 should be the year where you make it happen.

 1.  It’s a leap year. Which means leaps should be taken.

The month of February has 29 days this year and as you all know, the years in which this occurs are referred to as leap years. Leap years occur on average every four years. Which means after this year, we won’t have another year with 366 days until 2020.

(I promise I wasn’t intending to make this a lesson on addition and calendar and years, but sometimes I get really into these kind of things and tunnel into a rabbit hole. And then I get really excited and start rambling and babbling and get really committed to the tangent, whether related or not, I took myself on).

Anyway, my point is, years like this year are extraordinarily rare; let it encourage and inspire you to take a leap of your own, that leap being committing to a solo trip before the year’s end. Make 2016 a year you will (literally) never forget and years from now, look back on fondly because you exercised your courage.

2.  There are places you want to see and you should stop waiting on other people to see them.

One of the main reasons I started solo traveling years ago was because I was tired of waiting on my friends to want to go somewhere with me because the idea of going alone seemed really weird, especially as a single woman with no kids. But after countless times of getting really excited about taking a trip after picking out a destination, starting to put money aside for said trip, booking a hotel on a credit card and then following up friends before booking a flight and being met with countless excuses such as — not having the money after all, not being able to get time off work, not as enthused about the trip overall as originally communicated — I was done. I was done waiting.

Which brings me to my next very crucial point and perhaps the best aspect of traveling solo…

3. Planning a solo trip is a helluva easier than coordinating for a group one.

There is so much freedom in traveling alone because planning is super easy. Only having to check in with yourself is what makes the difference here. You don’t have to check in about dates, the best day to fly out, where to say, how much you’re willing to pay (or not pay) for where you stay and innumerous other details. When it’s just you, you also don’t have to compromise which means you get the exact travel experience you want without having to bend to what a friend, lover or family member may have personal expectations.

4. Because fear isn’t a good enough reason to not solo travel.

Think of the most inspiring, courageous and brave person you know. It could be your mother, a dear friend, your partner, a coworker or neighbor. This person’s light shines indescribably bright and being around them is always a pleasure. They seem to be really in control of their lives and overall happy, peaceful and authentic to who they are at their core.  And they also seem particularly fearless and unafraid of what life may bring. Because for one reason or another, they are prepared for whatever life may bring and will stand unwavering, unmoved, unaffected, not completely blown over or shattered.

Now, know that this person, whoever they are, is probably always scared and the difference between them just being a person who is ruled by fear, as most people are, they act in spite of it. This is the true mark of a brave, courageous, inspirational person. They’ve made friends with the fear that arises in their lives and consciously work with it, not against it, and use it to propel them forward.

Being afraid to travel alone if you haven’t already is normal. When in your life has a new experience not been scary though? It’s scary because it’s outside of your comfort zone and realm of things you’re used to doing. Honestly, I can’t tell you from personal experience that you won’t feel that fear when you get ready to take that first solo adventure. But what I can say is letting fear paralyze you and keep you from embarking on what will ultimately be a transformative experience is how fear wins. It’s how fear becomes bigger than you. Does fear really deserve that much passionate, unrelenting, high strung dedication?

5.  Solo travel will change your life. Completely.

How could I know that traveling to Madrid, alone, four years ago would completely turn my life upside down, in a good way? Exactly a year after that amazing trip to Spain’s capital city, I moved there and called Madrid my home for nine months as I taught English. I’ve not been the same after living abroad for the time I did.

Saying solo travel will change your life isn’t a statement to be taken lightly. Your life will change. That is a promise. The question is, however, are you ready? Are you ready to shake up your life in all totality? Are you ready to be in touch with the grandest sense of personal freedom you’ve ever experienced? Are you ready to take the leap into the rest of your life?

Affirmations can be used for everything, including solo travel. Join the mailing list for Afros y Paella to get your solo travel affirmations andddddd updates about upcoming digital workbook Solo Sojourness: A Roadmap to Planning and Bravely Taking Your First Solo Adventure.  Click here to join. 

leaving and leaps.

Uncategorized

For months, I’ve had a recurring dream. In the dream, I’m racing closer and closer to the edge of a cliff. I can feel my heart beating in my throat. I’m panting. My adrenaline and anxiety skyrocket by the second. I’m panicking, trying to figure out what will happen once I’m faced with the edge of the cliff. Will I free fall to my death? And how is it that I’ve been met with this ultimate demise?

Then the edge appears, after all the building anticipation all the foreboding fear. And instead of there being craggy rocks on the other side there’s a pristine, gentle mass of feathers. Some are fluttering above the blanket they’ve made on the ground, all the more still, quiet, unmoved as a whole.

Feathers. A bed of feathers is my fate. A soft cushion for my free fall to meet me. Some sort of silly assurance to console me intended to ease my fears, my worries, my own concerns.

Yet, I’d be woefully dishonest if I didn’t admit this dream, intended to be an extended metaphor for my life, to let me know subconsciously that despite whatever leap I take it’ll be okay, that it’s for the greater (and higher good) it hasn’t stopped me from hesitating, from taking a leap I’ve long known I needed to take.

And that leap is leaving DC, for good. Which I am doing, today.

In June, it will mark two years since I bid adieu to my Spanish adventure in Madrid. Two years since I packed up all my belongings in two suitcases and a carry on and trudged on to the nation’s capital, chasing after love and a relationship I was convinced would make all the difference in the world.

Two years since I’ve been able to breathe. Two years I’ve moseyed around cloaked in the heaviest of bouts of unhappiness I’ve ever made my own. Two years of being broke. Two years of feeling lonely. Two years of struggling to fit in in a city I never liked that much to begin with. Two years of every type of dead-end career wise. Two years of fooling myself I still wanted the things I thought I did.

Two years of mistaking the goals, dreams and desires of others as my own. Two years of not being in touch with what makes my heart sing and letting that guide me. Two years of settling. Two years of not having peace. Two years of being joyless.

And it was only in keeping the representation of what the past two years have been for me here in DC in the back of my mind, that two weeks ago I decided it was time for me to leap, to put an end to what has been six months of back and forth and indecision of whether or not to just return to Atlanta. I decided I was going to just follow my heart and stop settling. Stop trying to plant myself in a city where nothing had borne fruit despite my valiant, forceful, desperate pleas and efforts.

This leap, this gamble, this risk, this unpractical decision as many have prodded me as being, is for me. It’s self-care. It’s preservation. It’s shouting to the Universe that I know my happiness matters and I’m willing to back it up with action. It’s a radical notion I don’t expect others to understand.

No, I don’t have a plan, at least not one that would make others comfortable and ease their worries, concerns, fears or projections. I don’t concretely know what going back home will hold for me other than knowing I will be able to hold peace in the palm of my hand again and that it will ignite my spirit ablaze once more. I do know I will be able to rediscover my joy. I do know I will be able to breathe and not feel like I’m constantly failing and suffocating. I do know that once I have these things, life will begin to flow again and I’ll be guided to what I need to know and what I need to do. This makes it all worth everything. My peace, my joy, my happiness, the ability to breathe, the ability to separate myself for just myself from everyone and their “stuff” is life or death for me.

I look over all the writing I’ve been doing about my hometown the past few months and it’s a wonder why I didn’t see this coming. Why it wasn’t apparent to me sooner that I was bleeding my heart and the aching for being back in Atlanta for everyone to see. Why I couldn’t just convince myself to go back home, even if it’s just like a bow and arrow, that I’m taking a step back to go back home, contracting into the past, before I’m launched forward into who knows what else.

But there’s a certain bit of grief that accompanies leaving. This city has given me so much along with all it has taken. Most of the memories I have of DC are tinged with ferocious, raging sadness. Despite the warring grief my time here has signified, I see the beauty for ashes.

I never anticipated being submerged in sadness could make me rise to knowing how deeply I matter, how I am enough, of being emotionally, mentally and spiritually healthy and strong. These are the impenetrable gifts I will cherish for the rest of my life. And they were born and came forth from melancholia.

I’ve journeyed through the hardest of times and the lowest of lows with my heart still in tact. It’s still beating and willing and wanting more. And it wants more for me, more than I can have where I have been.

And now, my heart will no longer ache for Atlanta nor ache for the peace I have needed.

why i travel.

inspiration, life, travel

Carmen Sandiego isn’t who I imagine myself to be, although wanderlusting, exploring all the corners of the world, measuring my constant quest for truth, wonderment and to know myself more, is who I am. That is the woman I have become and perhaps the woman I have always been.

But no, I’m not Carmen Sandiego. For one, I’m Black. I rarely get fancied up in a uniform, especially when traveling. I have an unruly, obnoxiously large afro with an agenda of her own. I wear glasses on most days and no makeup and chapstick, lipstick if I feel the need to feel like a prima-donna. I don’t scale the earth’s surface in the search of an adventure endlessly. Most days I spend staring listlessly at a blank Pages document willing the words to come. Often they don’t, and I’m left only with the resolve to try again the next day.

I don’t travel to take the snazziest photos of whichever destination I’ve decided to journey to. I don’t travel to get the most likes on my photos on Instagram and Facebook, to get the most retweets on Twitter. I don’t travel to be woefully braggadocious about that time I had high tea in London, ate croissants in Paris or sipped sangria while eating paella in Madrid. Travel is not the talking point I wager to make others feel inferior, less experienced or not as well-rounded as I.

Travel has always — and will always be — the instrument through which I save myself, over and over again. I’ve had my passport for seven years now and each time I recount the story for which I took my first international trip it makes me laugh. It happened on whim and I took a leap, one of those leaps I’ve become known for, because my heart’s stirrings told me to go. My heart told me I needed to go on this trip to Kingston, Jamaica with the church I was attending at the time. My heart told me that being a member of an orchestrated mission trip was what I needed in my life.

And my heart never hungers for the wrong things. It has never insisted on those things which my intuition wasn’t calling me to for a specific reason. My heart knows best. I trust it without question.

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Just like my heart led me that first international trip seven years ago, it led me to my first international solo trip to Madrid four years ago. It led me to moving to Madrid exactly a year later. It led me to leave Madrid after nine months and relocate to Washington, DC, another new city, almost two years ago. It led me to go to Scotland three months ago and have the most peaceful week I’d had in years. My heart led me to take a quick 24 hour jaunt to Philly in late November. It led me to being the repeat solo traveler I am today and to stop waiting on others to take all the trips I wanted to take. It led to me being scared just be that, me being scared, and not being paralyzed in fear where I forget my courage despite my fears and doubts.

You see, at this point in my life, where my intuition is strong, my clarity is clear, and I’m more in tune with myself than I have ever been, I simply cannot discount the wisdom and bravery that my heart’s messages and guidances instill within me. To not listen to my heart and to not take my heart’s leadings would be a grave self-inflicted injustice.

As I look towards an entire new year ahead of me, the year which I will ceremoniously bid adieu to my 20s, I’m thinking about a lot. I’m still reflecting on the wondrous year 2015 was. I discovered myself — my softness, my kindness, my bravery, my candor — and grasped I was enough for the first time in my life. I no longer waver on knowing that yes, I needed to heal, but no, I am not a broken person needing to be put back together. As is, just as I am, just as the way I was intended to be makes me marvelous. This wisdom informs nearly everything I do.

Travel is wrapped up in all of this. It’s not my fascination with travel — which I certainly have — that keeps me wanting to chart all over the world and to see as many places with my bare eyes, feel the warmth of the sun and smell the sweet scent of air everywhere, literally everywhere. It is a sacred, special, spiritual vow I made myself to allow travel to be the space where I expand and transform. This is my why. This will always be my why.

There are many places I’m hoping to see this year, some new places, some old. Some places where I’m familiar with the magic which resides here and others where I’ve yet to discover the flavor of its magic. But more than anything, I yearn to see how I will change and in what ways I will shift. How I will be different as a result of having been there. What emotions and wisdom become clear. What grace I’m able to extend to myself and then others, too.

And it is my hope that this year as I journey through these experiences, you’ll feel just a bit of the magic I’m processing along with me. August will mark three years of this blog’s genesis and so much has changed since then. It’s taken me that amount of time to be true to myself and true to this space I’ve cultivated. I’m also hoping this space can become a resource, too, a space not just to house my thoughts and inner stirrings but also where you can start to find yourself within the magic of traveling as well.

Here’s to 2016. A year full of wonder, bursting at the seams with promise and full of magnetic energy to manifest just a little more of the life of your dreams.

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spirit in scotland.

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I left my heart in DC bleeding, throbbing, still beating some weeks ago when I journeyed to London and then a four-hour train ride north to Edinburgh. I left a part of me back in the District, the place I’ve grudgingly called my somewhat home the past year and a half.

I left you there yet you caught up with me. The ghost of you traveled with me across the Atlantic and never left my side.

This was my first trip in a long time, 16 months to be exact. I know because I’ve been counting the days and lamenting my discontent with having to stay put in one place, having to stay put in one place where I never wanted to be. Watching airplanes whiz by above my head, dancing and mingling with the clouds as I rode the Metro on the way to nowhere. Seeing planes slowly became painful and a steady reminder of something I loved — travel — I could temporarily no longer do.

But it also reminded me of you, of how you were no longer in my life. How everything about you is just a distant memory, an afterthought, a realization I’m more comfortable stuffing down and repressing rather than reliving. Somehow travel became about you, too.

And so as I spent seven days surrounded by complete strangers from all over the States, people who in that short period of time I grew from becoming apprehensive and nervous about opening up to, sharing intimate parts of myself and bonding. I thought about how every person we grow to love, every person we let in our hearts and minds and lives ultimately starts off this way, someone we view with apprehension, unsure of if they’re worthy of a slither of authenticity, of our truest, nearest and dearest selves. I thought about how often the ones we love morph and shift back into strangers, how we go from effortlessly showing our ugliest shadows to not showing anything at all. To not calling, not emailing, not texting, not seeing each other anymore. No embraces, shared laughter, conversations into the wee hours of the morning. No more confessionals.

I thought about how I have nothing tangible left of you anymore. It’s like you were never here. Like you didn’t completely change me or my life. You’re just gone.

My first full night in Edinburgh, as I lounged in The Emmaus House, a bed and breakfast and spiritual haven for many, I shivered although I had on at least five layers of clothes and rocked back and forth underneath the plush duvet on my bed. My entire body ached and my head was the temperature of a thousands suns blazing. I imagined what you would say to me in that moment. If I had been sending you a flurry of Google Hangouts messages, like I used to do whenever I traveled and had a new adventure solo.

Nneka, get some rest. Drink some water. Take some medication. I’ll check on you in the morning. Goodnight. Sleep well.

I feel like shit but I can’t sleep.”

“I’ll talk to you in the morning. Bye Nneka.”

“-_-“

When I went to Lindisfarne two days later and walked along the dock as close as possible to the LIndisfarne Castle and atop the overlook point to look at the glittering, dazzling North Sea below, the wind violently whipping past my face, I thought about how I would’ve detailed how amazing that moment felt to you later on. How I might’ve dubbed it a “top life day” like I did last year in the short 36 hours I spent in Paris. I thought about how you probably would’ve wanted to hear my voice filled with excitement and get all the little nooks and crannies of all the details.

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The food. The glorious food. The fish and chips I had twice. The pints of hard cider. The cheap wine I drank while painting late at night. The delicious food at the bed and breakfast. Chips and curry sauce at midnight.The Nepalese food I had at a restaurant around the corner from the bed and bed and breakfast twice which rivaled any Indian food I’d had in months. The last dinner my last night in Edinburgh with the glass of French rosé and the awestruck views of Edinburgh up on Calton Hill late at night, sharing a sacred moment of singing and standing in silence with the bunch of new (spiritual) friends I’d made.

Lazy lounging. Sitting around the fire laughing and joking while drinking cup after cup of Earl Grey and eating Scottish shortbread. Writing very little and allowing my thoughts to settle. Letting my heart be as loud as it dared to be and silencing my thinking mind for seven days. Being honest with myself. Remembering a decision I made over a year ago to apply to a PhD program in London, not receiving funding to go this fall as planned and having to defer. Remembering when you told me it wasn’t right for me but I didn’t listen. Finally letting go of that dream because it was never quite the one I wanted.

Pentlands. The Pentland Hills. The roaring wind which made my eyes teary so that I could barely see the beautiful views and the cows. I wanted to go back to the bed and breakfast and sit lazily again. Sit on the couch, as I had been doing all week, and staring into space, letting the voice of my heart flood me over and over again until I drowned in beautiful truths and clarity. I stayed a little while, long enough to take a five minute stroll past a golf course, wooded area over a rickety bridge and into a clearing where I shared some of my heart’s deepest stirrings. Declared the clarity. Stated my desire going forward to live an integrated life where everything I do is a reflection of who I am, my heart, my interests, my passions, my zeal, my bravery, my courage. Letting go of resisting my calling as a healer. Feeling ready to fully step into that role and how it may manifest.

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How could I deny that you weren’t here in all these moments? You were here. Your spirit was everywhere. You were with me and perhaps you’ve never left in that sense.

People often talk about losing someone you love being something you heal from. Something you eventually get over and learn to focus on other things. But when your love for someone is so deep, so intricately etched into my heart as you were, I think the only compromise I’ve been able to make is a knowing, a deep knowing, that I’ve found my own ways to cope with my grief over the loss of you, your presence and the huge space and now void you’ve created.

I can’t call or text you anymore because you won’t answer. You stopped answering a long time ago. I can’t email you because my words will be lost in cyberspace never to be received. I don’t use Google Hangouts anymore because there mere thought of logging on and wishing and hopping you’d message me sickens me and makes me feel pathetic to a degree I’m not comfortable with admitting other than in these words.

I came back to DC after a renewing, restful week in Edinburgh and regathered my heart. I found it barely beating in a puddle of blood in the same place I’d left it. In gathering it I had to admit I don’t love you any less than I did before.  And also with gathering it, I had to admit that my love, my love for you, has faintly translated to an all abiding spirit that accompanies me, whispers to me in the stillest moments and wills me to remember that I am enough, I am cherished, I am worthy, just as you frequently told me yourself.