Please Baby Please Light My Fire

andy-warhol-love-affairWrit­ing used to come much eas­i­er for me. Thoughts invad­ed my mind late in the mid­night hours, obstruct­ing my sleep, beck­on­ing me to get out of bed, turn on my lap­top and get them all down on paper, in con­crete before they left me, nev­er to be seen or heard from again.

I used to enjoy it. Writ­ing in the still of the night, just the glim­mer of my lap­top illu­mi­nat­ing the keys, a cup of cof­fee on the night­stand to my right, always invig­o­rat­ed me. It gave me a sense of pur­pose and a pres­ence that was unmatched by any oth­er activ­i­ty ever. I used to write a blog and every day was a new adven­ture into the unknown. Which words and in which order would they make their way onto the page? I sur­prised even myself, com­ing back to some piece I wrote months or years ago. I’d say “Wow, I wrote this?” I was as enthralled to read it as the next man, hold­ing onto every word, watch­ing the sto­ry unfold, imagery paint­ing a men­tal picture.

Writ­ing gave me peace. It was my blan­ket after a heart­break, as if cov­er­ing myself in my sto­ry some­how eased the pain. It didn’t cut as deep because I put it on paper. And iron­i­cal­ly the words I could artic­u­late so eas­i­ly got stuck in my throat in the times I was forced to tell some­one out loud about my thoughts and feel­ings and why I felt the way I did. I don’t know why. I just do. To dis­cov­er the rea­sons behind my feel­ings would be a jour­ney that nei­ther you nor I can ignore. It’s got to be unrav­eled. It’s got to come apart or rather come togeth­er on a sheet of paper, in fiery words that both enlight­en the both of us and sus­pend time by look­ing inside of me at any giv­en moment.

Out of the heart, the mouth speaks, or rather the pen writes. Peo­ple say liquor is a truth serum because in a drunk­en state, one can­not lie. Well, a blank sheet of crisp white paper star­ing bold­ly at me through a com­put­er screen was my liquor. It begged the truth. In first per­son, or third, a  mem­oir, or fic­tion, what came out always, like vom­it from my bel­ly, was the truth, of which, more often than not, I was pre­vi­ous­ly unaware.

I call myself a writer because I write. And of the mass­es who have a cer­tain tal­ent with the pen, I con­sid­er myself one of the lucky ones because I’ve been pub­lished and paid. When I got my first thir­ty dol­lar check for a piece I wrote for Clutch Mag­a­zine, I was elat­ed.  It was some­thing to write home about, lit­er­al­ly, since I sent a mass email to the fam­i­ly announc­ing I was offi­cial­ly a writer. No more blogs that gen­er­at­ed no rev­enue and became a headache to keep updat­ed in those slumps that plagued me dur­ing bouts of writer’s block. I would work hard and make a liv­ing at this thing. And I did for a while.

I became a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor for by night and broke into finan­cial writ­ing for an invest­ment firm by day. $100. $500. $1,000 per week.  My life was my spring­board, writ­ing about my love affairs, my chil­dren, and my faith. And then, I got tired. My day job in finance took over, with the demands of the stock mar­ket, cor­po­rate insin­cer­i­ty, and mon­ey hun­gry scoundrels. This is not who I am. I’m gen­tle. I’m lov­ing, prob­a­bly to a fault. Cor­po­rate Amer­i­ca is hard…in tex­ture and in labor.

I quit my gig at after the Dig­i­tal Edi­tor edit­ed my words a bit too much. That’s not what I said. I didn’t feel that plat­form was rep­re­sen­ta­tive of my voice. And then, my mind went blank. My stan­dard for writ­ing had shift­ed. I’d read the greats, Toni Mor­ri­son, Khaled Hos­sei­ni, Wal­ly Lamb, Stephen Carter.  Their words glid­ed effort­less­ly onto a page, and pro­ject­ed a motion pic­ture onto the screens in my mind. They told a sto­ry with­out telling a sto­ry. They mere­ly pre­sent­ed the evi­dence and it was the read­er who con­nect­ed the dots. Their prose, so elo­quent. Their pace, pre­cise. Their mean­ing, deep, like it had been buried far beneath the earth’s sur­face, but was uncov­ered like a trea­sure chest through the unfold­ing of their sto­ry. Why can’t I write like that?

Pop cul­ture was pay­ing but I wasn’t inter­est­ed.  I don’t care who Bey­once wore at the last MET Gala. North West nev­er did any­thing for my soul.  Brangeli­na can’t change the state of race rela­tions in this coun­try, or teach me a les­son on self-love.  At least I nev­er saw them do it. Writ­ing what was pop­u­lar made my fin­gers hurt and when I strug­gled through the pain, what devel­oped was a less­er me, a piece that con­spic­u­ous­ly lied about my identity.

So, I took a break from writ­ing. It was sup­posed to be a month or two to reor­ga­nize my thoughts…wait until I was inspired again. But the months rolled by like a tum­ble­weed in the desert. My mind was dry. I watched movies, lis­tened to my favorite songs on repeat, med­i­tat­ed on my life’s occur­rences look­ing for that spark, that begin­ning line of a mas­ter­piece that gripped me in the brief moment between my head hit­ting the pil­low at night, and my mind drift­ing off to Nev­er Nev­er Land. I was on guard even in my dreams, look­ing in crevices and well hid­den places for a sto­ry idea, a beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten para­graph, even a pow­er­ful word. There was nothing.

There are real sto­ries of course. But, I’m not well enough versed on the Syr­ia issue to write about it intel­li­gent­ly and while I now find myself in love, I’m not ready to share that part of my life with the world. Although I am cer­tain he will be my hus­band in due time and our sto­ry is one made for a fea­ture film that would far sur­pass “The Note­book” suc­cess, the fact is we’re not mar­ried yet, and no one would trust the sto­ry to deem it a gen­uine Happily-Ever-After.

When I sat down to force myself to write, I stared at a blank screen and was occu­pied instead with what I should make for din­ner tomor­row night or how I was going to pay my bills this month con­sid­er­ing my cash flow had sub­stan­tial­ly dimin­ished.  When I forced my hand, my writ­ing showed it. I’d fin­ish half a page and read it over. This is crap, I’d say out loud. Noth­ing flows. The words are clum­sy, and I real­ly don’t even feel like doing this.

Writ­ing is not fun anymore.

I hate writ­ing. I find it to be an incred­i­bly ardu­ous process that stretch­es me to uncom­fort­able lim­its. But yet… I love hav­ing writ­ten. I love final­ly fin­ish­ing a piece that was back break­ing to write so much so that it could be eas­i­ly com­pared to hav­ing my teeth pulled, being set on fire, or hav­ing all of my nails ripped from their nail beds simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. The jour­ney is rough, but the prod­uct is beau­ti­ful. The prod­uct reminds me why I did it, lay­ing first eyes on a baby I birthed from my womb.

After a year of calm repose, it was this rev­e­la­tion that quick­ened me to be stern with myself.

You are a writer.

Writ­ers write.

So if for no oth­er rea­son than to exer­cise my men­tal mus­cle, I opened my lap­top up to a blank page and decid­ed to write about how hard it had become to write. Then I wait­ed to see what would come out.