I’m Back – Maybe

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One of my goals coming to Rwanda was to rediscover myself. I wanted to lose myself in a place a had never been, with people I never knew and hopefully find out who I really am.

One of the things I hoped to regain was my writing. Since before I can remember I have been in love with words. My mom describes me a chubby toddler, barely walking chasing after people asking them to read to me. In my faintest recollections, I can almost hear Ben (the man who helped on our farm and was the target of my requests) with his booming voice tell me the story of the Farmer and the Rabbit for the hundredth time.

I don’t remember learning how to read. But I do remember clutching books and hiding in secluded areas and sinking into different worlds. I would live in these worlds long after the pages of the books closed and could sit for hours just existing in these worlds. I read anything and everything I could get my hands on, the pure magic of using abstract symbols to construct breathable realities was a drug to my young and impressionable brain. I developed a habit I could not kick.

And a drug it was. Most parents beg their children to read more books but for me, my parents begged me to stop reading.

“Stop reading and do the dishes!” “Go outside and play” “Moses. Mooosees. MOSES!!!”

“Turn the light off and go to sleep. You have school in the morning”

I would sink so deeply into the stories, hidden in my reading nook in the basement that I would be deaf to the calls of my parents.

As I grew older the role books played in my life also changed. They became more than mysterious worlds for me to explore. They became friends. As a young boy in an accidentally nomadic family, I spent summers in the library with my friends. Falling in love. Hating. Accompanying. These characters became not only my friends but my teachers.

Art imitates reality. And even in a book about dragons and fairies, characters interact in human ways. From this, I learned how to socialize and interact with people. But this is a story for another time.

The point of my rambling is to say that I love words. Love so deeply and intensely that few relationships I have in real life measure up. I began as a reader. It will not surprise many of you to know that I soon picked up the pen and started to try my hand at crafting these magical words.

It started with the childish parroting of stories I knew. I was writing fan fiction before the term was coined. I created stories. Simplistic, childish stories. But stories nonetheless. I then quickly started creating my own unique worlds and characters. Breathing life into beauties like the assassin monkey and the superhero motorcycle gang. I still cry thinking of how much I lost when my younger brother erased the hard drive on the computer I had all my childish doodlings saved. Though my skills were rudimentary, my ideas were brilliant and whimsical in only a way a mind unfettered by the constraints of reality can be. I sigh thinking of what could have been if I had those ideas and the skills to execute them.

Then I went to school and was blessed by God to meet with teachers who taught me to harness my creativity and did not crush it. For the first time, I realized that my mysterious love could be understood. Her mystical charms could be dissected and that I could learn to speak her language. She was no less magical for it though. I fell in love with the exploration of her plot structures and dived deep into discussions about her themes. I spent many happy days like a mad scientist examining her from every angle.

In school was also when I first tasted the most dangerous drug; external validation from success in writing. I was reading at a “college level” in elementary/middle school and winning reading competitions by margins that could not be surpassed. My score has recently been broken which is amazing! (https://www.cantondailyledger.com/news/20180524/josie-harn-breaks-accelerated-reader-record?template=ampart) I won a poetry writing competition. Was able to defeat a teacher in a bet. Yes, I am tooting the horn of my childhood self but it serves a purpose.

I became driven by external validation. I would work hard and I would be rewarded by teachers fawning over me and students being flabbergasted. I loved it. Revelled in it. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was moving away from my roots. It was no longer about the words, the characters, the magic. It became about me. The words were simply the means to an end, the end being my ego being pumped up. I look back and I realize some people tried to call my attention to it but I simply was too high on success to listen to their voices. This continued even until college. I published some poems in school magazines and won some competitions and thought I was unstoppable.

Then I stepped into the real world and everything changed. I failed. Not once. Not twice. But many times. I submitted poems and short stories to competitions and heard nothing back. I wrote and wrote but I was not getting the validation I so desperately craved. My friends still told me that my work was wonderful but now their words sounded like empty mockery. I had heard of the stories of writers writing and getting rejected but somehow in my mind, I said no, not me. I am special. I am talented. I mean wasn’t that what I had been hearing my whole life?

I was crushed. More than I think people close to me realized. I have had my heart broken before and I will honestly say that this was worse for me in terms of the effects. I stopped writing. I still wrote some few things but the passion was gone. The magic had petered out with my lack of motivation. I was no longer gripped in the throes of passion where if I didn’t write I would explode. I would go days without a pen in my pocket. I told myself I was fine. That I didn’t have a gaping hole in my life. I stopped dreaming of being the world youngest Pulitzer in Fiction winner. I gave up on the blog that had gotten me through said heartbreak (patheticwithpotential.wordpress.com) and decided that maybe writing isn’t for me. Maybe I am only meant to be an appreciator of the beauty but cannot play a role in the creation.

I gave up on dreams I had not even fully articulated at the time. Dreams of crafting writing for people that look like me. Dreams of travelling the world on the back of my poetry. Dreams of being one of those names you hear. You know the ones. The names that shaped an era solely on the power of their words. But the most painful dream to give up was one I had since before I can remember. The dream of creating a world and characters that children like me could live in and befriend. I wanted to give back something because I am the person I am because someone else gave back.

I honestly don’t know why I wrote all of this. I will not edit. I will not change anything. I will let this stand as it is.

I want to write again. I am scared because it has been so long and like any unused muscles mine have atrophied. I am afraid that I will suck. But I guess I am more afraid I will die before my story has been written.

I hope this will explain why my blog has been so empty. I hope this will be the start of something new. I hope you will join me on this journey. I hope you will be patient with me as I try to remember how to dance with my lover again.

I would apologize for the awkward stumbling that is to come but one of my teachers told me that as long as the work is yours and is true then never apologize.

Most people won’t get to this point so if you have thank you, I love and appreciate you. Also, I owe you a cookie. Message me and I will send you a gif of a cookie or meet me in real life at some point and I get you a real cookie.

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Conversations

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They’re easier in movies, when speaking from your heart doesn’t hurt

and complex characters are developed in moment of magic

but in real life, spitting real truths hurts deep like toothaches do

like the love is too much, too sudden, real and all too tragic

so we get playing games, laughing at character caricatures of ourselves

fake relationships with deep emotions that are dammed up

not let loose to flow and wreak havoc but contained and constrained

so that when the water breaks and the we give birth to words, they’re messed up

to its time to fess up and clear the air with the unspoken syllables

the withheld words that hit harder than emotional damage and hurt worse

than back stabbings cause sometimes the truth set you free but freedom hurts.

Like the lack of reparations of the self hate we carry around like a purse.

Let freedom ring and truth fall always from my lips, replacing lip service

with truth serving cause sometimes we get to bloated on fantasy

and the only cure is a dose of reality served by the people who care about us

so listen when I sit you down cause I’m not trying to hurt but to heal,

sometimes lancing the boils hurts more than leaving it alone

but the only way to heal is to stab it with love and hope that the negative

drains out yellow like fear and green like envy and black like hate.

Hope that the flaming needle of my words can hurt so much that you

remember to love your purpose.

Life Sucks Sometimes

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Life can sometimes feel like you are drowning,

you struggle and flail until finally you break through,

your mouth open and gasping for sweet air,

only to realize you have been drowning so long

you forgot how to breathe.

It sucks, sometimes a lighting strike sinkhole

and other times inexorable and deadly as time,

the constant barrage of events

sure as rain and as fun as a flood.

Maybe something happened that warranted it,

a bad decision or simply a series of unfortunate utterances,

or in some case nothing but the oppressive pressure

so overwhelming and aching that it leaves you

spent and unable to fin

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Sometimes I hate myself. 
Nothing drastic,
Or overpowering like a rushing river.
That would be a relief, if
My hate were some savage tsunami
I could accept the crashing
but my hate is the drip drip drip torture. 
If my hate were a volcanic explosion
Spewing hot lava and ash
upon the skies of my life
Then maybe I would understand
This darkness.
But my hate is a tepid teabag
from fate or just my failure. 

If my hate were a shattering spasm of
the earth shaking and quaking
I could cower in appropriate fear
My shaking shoulders and shaky heart
Merely symptoms of the hate

I hate myself sometimes
A weak shadow hate that hides
In the sun of her gaze or his words
But unlike a tsunami or volcano
Or even the quaking earth
Which are tragic, overwhelming events
That destroy foundations and lives
The shadow simply is. 
Sometimes weaker, sometimes strong
But always there. 

In the Silence, Our Souls Speak

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In my writing I have always been interested in silence,

the unspoken sounds and the pregnant pauses in conversation.

Sometimes healing, like the silent rise of a loved ones chest

as they sleep or the unspoken bond of fingers laced and swinging in

the breeze. The silent crease of the lips and twinkle in the eyes.

Often silence can be dangerous and deadly like the eye of the storm.

Perfect peace in one moment only to be riotously ripped asunder,

conversation mine traps that lie dormant before exploding with force.

Silent like the soundless sighs of desperation in surrender to suicidal ideations.

Deadly like the encroaching plague of boredom and mundanity killing

the foundations of a marriage and crumbling the bedrock of society.

Sometimes silence is sacred, like the hushed moment of wordless prayer

in the secret hours of the day where we lay our pride, lust and malice on the altar

and sacrifice ourselves for a moment of peace before the Almighty.

Sacred like the pause in a preachers sermon where you can almost hear a heavenly

Amen echo the words sinking like anchors unto the tables of your heart.

And sometimes silence just is, existing beyond the realm of human comprehension

saying the wordless things we cannot bear to speak out loud.

Sometimes in the silence, our souls speak.

 

Black Enough

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I was 20 years old when I had my first chicken box.

I was 22 before I could say the N word without fear of not belonging

To this day I still can not dance any of the popular dances

But by 22 I had mastered shucking and jivingĀ for massa

smiling real pretty with my big white teeth, teeth that on

a dark night on a bus ride home from a soccer game,

were the only thing that fit in with the all white team.

My bright eyes the only thing that belonged in the all white school

as long as they weren’t looking at any of the pretty little white girls.

Cause niggers used to be killed for even looking at white girls

and we done moved on but sometimes you wonder.

So I led with my white teeth forward as a shield and my white eyes down

never achieving too much to scare anybody but just enough

that for a second everybody could forget that I am one of them.

After all I didn’t talk like them, I was eloquent and proper.

Oh I’m not calling YOU a nigger, you’re an oreo, I am talking about those people.

Imagine growing up and being taught self hate.

Raised to detest people who looked like you and love people whose parents

cannot stand the sight of you.

Making sure you weren’t too black but never being white enough.

Then breaking free and realizing that wasn’t even the worst of it.

After all you have been “raised white”, how will you ever be black enough.

I mean, you can’t dance. You can’t play basketball. You can’t even rap.

You like watermelon but prefer honeydew melons.

You speak “proper” and win speech competitions.

I mean you’re an honor roll student. You can’t be black.

The worst part is realizing that the insidious nature of racism

has painted your people into a prison of stereotypes.

I refuse that.

Blackness is not determined by actions, attitudes or culture.

Blackness is acceptance.

Blackness is becoming who you truly are.

Black is a color that contains within it all other colors.

When you are black you are free to be you.

You can be a thug or you can be a scientist or you can be both.

That’s your choice. That is what it means to be black.

I am proud to be black.

Afraid of Myself

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The pen pauses on paper, the words choked back like a sun dried-

raisin, rising in my minds eye reminding me that’s the only “black” poem I know

because that’s the only one that’s taught to me, like how I was taught to apologize

taught to appreciate condescending comments about my “eloquence” as if we, black

brothers didn’t invent the word flow deeper than the Nile and as wide as denial,

cuz I denied my heritage, a casualty of white guilt even though I’m not white

but I guess when you are casually called white long enough by white and black friends

you must bear the double burden of being hated for your color

and the fact that you speak proper and say ask instead of axe.

When you are both Romeo and Juliet in this tragedy that is America,

your facebook wall the scene of countless small wars between between you call friends

you learn to be quiet. Which is ironic because you never shut up

except you learn not to say much. How to chameleon your way through every conversation

how to choke down the bitter reality that if you speak up you won’t fit.

Won’t be black enough because you can understand white people’s frustrations

because not all of them are bad. Actually most of them are pretty cool once you get

to know them and in a lot of cases they don’t even know they are being racist.

But you also will never be white enough to make palatable to bring home,

or to be able to speak up about yourself without seeming angry.

So you shut up. Chameleon yourself like you were taught because if you blend

you can’t be hurt. So you laugh. Or ignore. Or just say something like smh.

And with each missed opportunity the DREAM is dying, a slow relentless death.

I am the one killing the dream. Not the awful depraved comment sections

or the rampant political ignorance. Me. With my unique perspective and voice.

I need to speak and stop blending. I need to be brave and step on toes.

This was supposed to be a poem but it turned into a terrible ramble.

But it’s honest. And real. And true. It’s me. Finally ready to speak and be heard.