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. 

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remembrance and reflection.

life, spirit

By nature I am a reflective person. I’m constantly looking back for lessons I might’ve gleamed over for things which were once nonsensical, to have some sort of clarity deriding from them. It just so happens that Monday’s date, August 24, inspired a sort of wholeness as I look back.

Two years ago I was just a week out from starting a new chapter in my life — relocating to Madrid, Spain. It was a decision which I ran from initially but then once I fully entertained the idea of moving abroad, something I’d always wanted to do, it seamlessly worked itself out. By Thanksgiving of 2012, I scarily held an acceptance letter for the intensive TEFL certification program I was in my first four weeks in Madrid. I told my mother first, who reacted strongly and was quite unsupportive. Some weeks later after I’d graduated from grad school and gathered at a Persian restaurant in Buckhead among friends for a celebration dinner, I shyly told all my friends the news I’d been holding to myself.

The almost year that followed my declaration was a palpable doubt and anxiety as I weathered through the visa process blindly. I quit my first and only reporter job completely fearful despite knowing quitting had to be done almost a year prior. And those fears never completely melted away. I only traded them with the hope and optimism for the international journey I was embarking on. I had so many thoughts about what the new chapter of my life would look and feel like but instead…life happened.

This space has allowed me to step into writing my most authentic thoughts, of exploring how transformative travel has been for me already and will continue to be for the rest of my life. Because really who would I be if I hadn’t started traveling back in 2009 once I got my passport?

When I posted my first blog here two years ago, I was doing my due diligence in terms of the blogosphere. Whenever you move to another country, you start a blog. That’s just what you do. I’ve had countless blogs since I was a teenager (Xanga and LiveJournal anyone?), most of which were either forgotten, deleted or abandoned. I had no expectations that this blog would be any different. I had no expectations I would feel the need to keep writing in this space. But here we are.

Expectations are often weighty, naive silly things to cling to. They are a way of looking at the life ahead of you in an idealized manner, without taking stock that sometimes life experiences are meant to happen in other ways. To live is to expect the unexpected and to know the unexpected often is the best way for things to unfold.

A week ago, after doing training for a new gig I picked up, I was astonished to discover where I was sat on the bank of the Potomac River. That day I’d brought that familiar brand of anxiety with me, tailing behind my otherwise sunny disposition, worried about one of those things outside of my control. I knew I had to find peace with it and as I sat on a bench by the water, the whispers of conversations from lovers and friends brushing past my ears and the wind brushing past my face as my eyes slowly closed, I could let it go. I could own I had done my part and it was up to the Universe to do what it would.

river3

Then I got up and drove home and started stewing in anxiety again.

My body writhed in anxiety for hours — a racing heartbeat, quickened shallow breaths, my face warming as the anger rose. The air went out in my apartment. I was sweating. I was furious. I was uncomfortable.

And it dawned on me all this was pointless. Why was I choosing to be so angry over something I literally could not do anything further about? I knew I was being called to wait and trust it would be all worked out.

Hours later it was and I wasn’t even aware at that point because I had detached from it all, texting with friends, tweeting and drinking brandy in that night’s cup of earl grey. I was oblivious and distracted when my resolution to my issue came. It was as if the Universe was waiting for me (with bated breath) to just relax and let things be before a seamless turn of events resulted. And things were okay.

In today’s reflective state about what the past two years of my life has been and how it has taken so many unexpected turns, this instance speaks volumes to me now. The timing of our lives is not something we can control. We can push and fuss and fight and clamor and try to escape when we don’t have the answers in an attempt for our life to feel less tenuous and groundless. We can waste precious energy on being enraged on why things aren’t different.

Or we can simply detach. Trust that everything is unfolding in exactly the way it has intended to. And be present enough to see the gifts instead of being bogged down in frustration from things not presenting to us in the way we would like.

I’m not sure what the timing of my life is up to now. I don’t have this blissful state of clarity radiating from my being. I don’t have a froufrou response about how now I feel enlightened and sure and everything has worked out.

But I do have peace. I do have trust. I do have the utmost certainty that right now where I am is where I am supposed to be. I do have the sense that things will start to flow now that I’ve stopped fighting and am choosing to be. And really that’s all I need. That is enough.

river4

oasis in oporto.

Uncategorized

Flickers in my mind of my two grey Liz Claiborne suitcases, freckled with black cheetah spots stashed in a corner, of what used to be the beloved Spanish flat I shared with two Colombian roommates, crossed my mind over and over again. I thought about how there were a few things I needed to stash inside of either suitcase and my stuffed zebra striped carry-on I swiped from my mama during Christmas break to bring back shoes, dresses and other clothing because the majority of my clothes were too big.

I thought about how nervous I was about the new roommate moving into my old room. She gave me a weird vibe. She’d been uncommunicative, and I was afraid she’s screw me (or both me and my old roommates) over in terms of rent and the deposit.

I thought about how my Spanish journey was really coming to a close in a matter of days. No more strolling on the sprawling streets in awe of the beautiful buildings and the lull of Spanish I barely understood breezing past my ear. No more being able to grab a fresh baguette for 35 cents after work to go with a heaping bowl of pasta I prepared over the tiny stove in my kitchen. No more mousing over beautiful produce I could grab, as much as my two arms could carry, and paying no more than 3 Euros for it…and it lasting for two weeks. No more 1 Euro cafe con leches as I dashed to the Metro late and needing a quick pick me up because I stayed up late Skyping and Facetiming people from back home.

No more feeling inferior because I was a Black woman and being stared at everywhere. No more having to explain myself, how I look, my name and everything about me because I was a woman of color at every juncture. No more feeling like I couldn’t breathe. No more waiting for a spare minute, second, moment to exhale and let it all out. No more fighting (and pretending) to prove Madrid, as a city, in totality, wasn’t a good fit for me.

But then as I got ceremoniously swept away in the cataclysmic sea of thoughts which tend to rattle in my brain when I’m unsettled. When I’m unsure. When I’m scared. When I’m fearful. When the unknown is creeping around the corner and I don’t know what the hell to expect.

I paused.

I paused and became present. This wasn’t the time for me to overly analytical, making myself sick with all the different iterations of angles and possibilities and crevices and possibilities.

I was here, in Oporto. I was here, sitting on a concrete wall with my back resting on a vibrant yellow house, a man working carefully and quietly just around my neck, dusting and squeaking to clean the antiquated window which looked as if time and consequence had dirtied it and prevented a reflection from gleaming through.

And to my right, the Douro River glittered underneath the overcast sky. The tops of buildings and homes and stack houses and wineries and boats and people walking and sidewalks. And I quit thinking. And my chest started to slow heave, in and out, in and out, just as a needle and thread would slowly weave through soft fabric between the hands of a seamstress creating a new garment or finessing her craft.

And precipitation fell from my tender eyes. My raw eyes. The eyes which were bloodshot red if you dared to look closely into them without trepidation. The eyes which hadn’t seen a good night of sleep in more than a month. The eyes which had seen three new countries and four new cities in only three weeks. The eyes which ached to see American soil yet hated to admit it. Hated to be that girl, that American. That person who put their home country above all the ones they had seen and witnessed and grown enamored with after being there for a short time.

I wasn’t staring at a new landscape before me. I wasn’t that crazy girl sitting on a concrete wall amazed at what was before her and trying to ignore the hoards of noisy children outfitted in fluorescent hats on a field trip who were screaming and skittering and carrying about. I was looking at my future. I was staring into the threshold of a new beginning. The rest of my life. And I was crying because I could tell, despite the fear, the hesitation, the many questions, the process that repatriation could bring that I was doing okay. I was getting there. I was headed in the right direction, and it was more, it felt more, it seemed more, it appeared more, than I could have dreamt for myself.

I thought about how in the past I was so afraid to think that my thoughts, my feelings, my words meant something. It was far more comfortable for me to hide beneath the shadows of others, to hide in their thoughts, feelings and words. To convince myself theirs were more important, more worthy, more principled.

But I do matter. I matter. I always mattered. My thoughts always mattered. My feelings always mattered. My words always mattered.

And I was always enough. Just me.

I was always.

I was always enough.

home and hearts.

Uncategorized

My hair fluttered in the wind behind as I walked, the leather jacket I’d purchased at Zara on a street minutes away from my flat in Madrid briskly brushing past my hips and tailing my body. I rolled my suitcase with my right hand and clung to my black carry-on bag as I exited the Marta train station, where my mother waited for me in the family car–the car I  had driven many a time when my car was in the shop or decided it was having an off day. 

I had arrived home, in Atlanta, for an almost three-week stay. Coming home had been a loaded gun and for the most part, I was exuberant and giddy with enthusiasm. The last week before I left Madrid had been one filled with bouts of sorrow and the resolve I would most likely not return to Spain after the Christmas break. In fact, somewhere deep in my mind, I fathomed I would only return, as my roundtrip ticket I had purchased months before was non-refundable, to gather my belongings and shed my woeful attempt to living abroad and starting a life full of travel and adventure. 

Maybe I had not been fit to make it here, I thought over and over again before boarding that 10-hour flight to Atlanta. I looked around at the sights, the long Metro ride to the airport, the nearly two-mile trek to the gate to board my flight and imagined how life would be if I just gave up, if I just said goodbye to a long held dream of mine. 

And so I pondered these possibilities, how giving up must feel and knew it had to be like this, as I rode home and half-way listened to my mother gab about the goings on in the neighborhood, my mind elsewhere. Giving up sometimes doesn’t follow a lack of attempt, but instead a good fight which withers into situations, people and leaps that just don’t work. What I didn’t have the answer to is just how life would feel back in my hometown after having such an intense three-months away from the comfort and sameness which had characterized my entire existence. 

But twenty minutes later, after almost running into the gray stucco home I had grown up in, the house where life as an adult strangely mirrored my growth and development as a child, I stared into the room previously known as mine, my mouth agape. My mother thought my speechlessness equated to my gratitude for what was a complete remodel of my room, but it was the finality of how much had changed, how life had continued to zoom ahead without my presence there felt real, tangible. And it was horrifying. And isolating. And strange. 

Over the next few days, I visited with friends, people who I felt like I used to know but instead only felt an eerie amount of distance from. They talked to me about their jobs, complained about gas prices and the latest drama in Atlanta. They laughed and smiled at me, asked me questions here and there about Madrid, but only, it felt different. I felt like I was just a visiting friend, someone who didn’t belong and an outsider to even the people I knew the most. 

These sights were familiar. The smells were familiar. The people, the faces were familiar. 

But the only difference was I wasn’t the same. Only three months had passed since I was no longer in the United States living my day-to-day, drab, monotonous, predictable and lackluster life. In that short time, I had shifted. I had become more conscious. I had become more in-tune with my spirit, my soul, my emotions, my conscience, what made my inner-being smile. 

My life was no longer about grasping to make ends meet between rising gas prices, the bills that never seemed to end and overpriced nights out in the city, but instead about rushing to the Metro to catch the train before I had to wait another three or four minutes. Or rushing to the bank to deposit my money before they stopped accepting deposits at 2:30. Or shopping for one at the grocery store and separating meals into tupperware containers so I didn’t have to cook during the jam-packed weeks. Or staying up (and out) too late on the weekends and sleeping until three or four in the afternoon, the taste of alcohol lingering on my tongue when I awoke and memories of a fun night out reverberating in my brain along with the slight throb of my head from a hangover. Or lesson planning for all my classes, laughing at my students when they laughed at my shoddy Spanish. 

Life had become about me, about marching to the beat of my drum and doing what felt best, in every moment. Authenticity. My life had authenticity, something I no longer felt the need to prove to anyone, even myself. And reflection. Slowing down. Basking in the moments of silence. Pausing to have a cafe con leche in that extra five minutes versus being glued to status updates on Facebook, new videos or pictures on Instagram or my Twitter timeline during my lunch break. 

In that time, I remembered why I began writing in the first place, why it had become so important to me and I knew leaving behind Journalism was never the answer. The answer was pursuing writing that always meant something. To be true to myself and to remember my words had a higher purpose than scoring me validation, admiration. 

So, I knew, almost instantly that leaving Madrid behind wasn’t the answer. There was still so much to uncover about myself left. Because home isn’t necessarily a geographic location. Home can be within the warm embrace of a person. Home can be a temporary setting away from the norm. Home can be anywhere your mind feels free, where you feel you can best breathe, whether it be a spare closet you escape to in stolen moments or the high rise condo overlooking a metropolis.  

So here I remain, here I will be, here I will live until I know, without a doubt, what makes sense for me, for Nneka and no one else. 

I am home. 

Image

Sunrise in Conde Casal from my morning commute to work.