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.

D644F325-6D85-41D9-BD0E-761F2CC820A1

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.

FullSizeRenderFullSizeRender (1)

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.

FullSizeRender (2)

Advertisements

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.

dsc01751

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.

dsc01762

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.

dsc01764

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.

dsc01786

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.

dsc01761

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.

 fullsizerender-2

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.

dsc01756

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

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.