Making Up My Mind

Yo! It’s 2019. I am bad at regularly updating this blog.

From my last post, it’s easy to deduce that 2018 was a difficult year. As a good friend of mine reminded me recently: There are years that ask questions and there are years that offer answers. Whew, chile, did I have to confront all the messy, confounding questions in 2018. There were so many. So many. And for most of year, I couldn’t answer them for myself.

It was hard to give answers because I didn’t know what I wanted. It was hard to make decisions because I didn’t have the energy, time, or resources to do it very often. I spent much of last year working, but not knowing what I was working toward. And on a deeper level, I was often working against my own well-being, healing, and best interests. It was just plain hard.

But now that I’m on the other side. I have decided to provide my own answers. I am making up my mind about the things I desire, the things I’m willing to work for, the visions I want to bring to fruition this year.

I am writing. I forgot the magic and the meditation that is writing. I am taking risks. I am trying to be more positive. And when I can’t be positive, I’m at least trying to mind my business and stay in my lane. I’m being kind to myself. And I’m doing the inconvenient yet necessary work of learning how to care for myself, prioritizing my needs, and setting up boundaries.

I am committing to my dreams and my goals.

And you know what the gift has been? I have known peace this year. Tangible, golden, beautiful peace. It never stays for long. But it comes, which I don’t think I could say at all about last year.

I hope 2019 also brings you the peace and the joy and the wild dreaming it has brought me so far.

Let’s build, tribe.

A Learning Year

I've been needing to write this post for a while. I currently have two other drafts saved, trying and failing to write what I hope I can finally write here and now. I'm going to try at least…

I'm coming up on one year post-USC. This upcoming Saturday will the official one-year anniversary of when ya girl secured the MFA bag (while Hillary Clinton and Helen Mirren watched) from USC's School of Cinematic Arts and the John Wells Division of Writing for Screen & Television. I remember how stressful and exhausting and surreal that day was. I remember being so upset that my mom wasn't there, that it drizzled and my hair frizzed up, that I sweated my eyebrows off. I also remember feeling so proud of myself — maybe the most proud I've ever felt of myself. I had managed to get into the best MFA screenwriting program in the country, into the best film school in the world. (Fight on or fight me, bro.) I had received a graduate fellowship and wrote a script that awarded me a scholarship, so ya girl's student loan debt was cut in half. I had already secured an assistant job in Shondaland — that I started the very next day.

I was so proud and so happy. 

For two years, I had hustled and grinded my way to hard-won joy. I worked the hardest I'd ever worked. I went to therapy. I stretched myself into a larger and newer and better person. In some ways, I was still the same ol' bitch. But in a lot of ways, I wasn't. Going to USC was truly the best thing that ever happened to me. It was such a wild and big dream that I made happen. And it opened so many doors. It opened friendships. And it rooted me to myself in a way that I desperately needed. It was the best prayer that God ever answered.

And so, I think this first year out in the "real world" was always going to be hard. USC was not perfect. The school is mired in bureaucracy. It's an elite institution that rewards folks who already come from privileged backgrounds — myself included. It wreaks of the same stale (white) surface-deep liberalism that most universities do. But despite all of this, I found a home and a community there as a writer, storyteller, and artist. I felt nurtured and encouraged pretty much every day. I felt valued. I felt like my stories mattered. I felt like I mattered.

My first year working in the entertainment industry has often not been that. This first year in Hollywood was a lot of things. It brought up a lot of things. I spent most of the year exhausted, stressed, depressed, and sick. My physical and mental health deteriorated. And so did my self-confidence. My face broke out. I gained weight. Health conditions I have were exacerbated. But most significant: I didn't write. I haven't written a new original project in over a year. I couldn't. I was too tired, too sad, too paralyzed to write. Even now, writing scares me. 

What a lot of people don't know is that I've spent most of the past twelve months doubting myself so much, that I eventually deemed myself unworthy. I stopped believing that I had anything interesting or original to say. I stopped believing that I had ideas and a worldview that could be valuable. I stopped believing that my stories mattered. And because I'm a person who writes so much from her own experience and inner world, I stopped believing that I mattered. And that was my rock bottom. Once I decided I didn't matter, I became a person I didn't like. I did and said and thought things that were ugly and dark and petty. Many times, I felt less than human.

I began questioning whether or not this was my actual path. I wondered if I had made a mistake quitting two great jobs, adding an additional $65,000 to my student loan debt, and pursuing a career that most people fail at. Seriously. I considered applying for my old job at Planned Parenthood. And though I know that I my purpose on this Earth is to write and tell stories and create television & film, I still feel like shit most days. I still feel unworthy of this dream sometimes.

I spent a lot of time blaming others for my misery this year. I blamed my white friends and my wealthy friends for having privilege I didn't. Especially when they got things I felt like I also deserved. I blamed USC for not preparing us enough for the harsh realities of the industry. I blamed others for being entitled and demanding and thoughtless. And I blamed the many other successful people working in entertainment for perpetuating what is often a toxic, abusive, and dehumanizing industry culture — while touting faux-progressive bullshit about equality and justice. I blamed everyone and everything for the shitty state of the world, that often made it that much harder to feel like the work I want to do and the dreams I have are possible or consequential. 

I am still moving out of that place of victimhood, because I also know that I was and am an active participant in my own suffering.

In moments when I could've chosen to be better, I didn't. When I could've been writing, I was wallowing. When I could've been happy for my friends' success, I was jealous and mean. When I could've advocated for myself, I chose to shrink. When I could've held myself accountable for the ways in which I wasn't showing up for myself, I instead chose to blame and lash out at others. And so, as I prepare for my second season/year working in television, I am trying to figure out how I can be better and offer myself better.

I know it begins with writing. I've made every excuse not to write this year. I've found every reason why I shouldn't or couldn't. Y'all would be astonished how often I will avoid writing. I've literally rearranged furniture to avoid writing. But I'm a writer. To be a writer, I have to write. I have get over my own shit and write. I have to set aside my own fears and write. I have get over what other people have done or are doing and write. I have to be OK with my own mediocrity and write. I have to write terrible dialogue and scenes that don't make sense and scripts that my manager will flame the hell out of. I have to put in the work. Because that's where my career begins and ends: in my ability to put words to page constantly and consistently.

I also have to take care of myself. I'm still learning what this looks like. For a long time, I thought it meant physically taking care of myself. Like, drinking water and eating vegetables and exercising and doing yoga. I thought it meant losing weight. And it absolutely does mean those things. But it also looks a lot like self-parenting and self-sustainability. It means not agreeing to take on more than I can chew. It means being impeccable with my word. It means maintaining and budget and living within my means. It means waking up early, so I have more time to be productive in my day. It means going to bed at a reasonable hour, so I'm rested and energized. It means finding real and prolonged ways to manage my stress. It means going to the doctor and the dentist. It means finding a new therapist. It means disengaging from toxic people and spaces and experiences, even if that means my life and my world looks less full. It means apologizing when I'm in the wrong. It means being honest with others about where I am, and also how this means I don't have the capacity to be the friend or colleague or community member I used to be. At least, not right now. It means finding space for my spiritual practice, so I am grounded even when I feel like writing and work and the world are trying to uproot me.

And lastly, I need to practice gratitude. I spent so much of the past year being angry that I forgot that this is literally what I prayed for. I remember praying so hard that I would land in a writers' room, in Shondaland. I remember praying so hard that I would write a script that I loved, that would get me representation. I remember praying so hard that I'd be able to find a tiny, cute apartment in Hollywood somewhere, so I could be on my own. I remember praying so hard for everything that I have right now. Because I have so much good. There are so many people who have invested in this dream with me — friends, family, professors, classmates, colleagues, bosses, and so forth. There are so many people in this industry who have offered me kindness and friendship and mentorship and guidance and affirmation this year — real, abundant, intentional love and support when I couldn't give it to myself. There are so many people who have been patient and understanding. I want to be worthy of their faith and their encouragement.

I see so clearly now that this first year working in television was my learning year. It was my guerrilla grad school. I've learned so much — from others and from myself. I've learned what it takes to be successful, to have a sustainable and fulfilling career. I've learned the exact amount of hard work one has to put into a dream to make it come true. And I've also learned the exact amount of talent and luck and access and time one needs as well. I've learned that when you put such high expectations on people, they are bound to disappoint you. And I've learned that no person is as good or perfect or cruel or uncomplicated as we make them out to be. We are all messy, wild humans just trying to make sense of ourselves and our lives and our world. I've learned that there is an insane amount of skill and craft and genius and manpower and magic that goes into making just one hour of television — let alone 24 of them. I've learned that true friendship and genuine kindness are invaluable in this industry.

I've learned that I am just at the beginning. I have room to grow — and growth is not always joyful or beautiful or pleasant. Sometimes, it's ugly and painful. I'm still learning myself and this dream. I'm still learning the geography of these answered prayers.

I'm Fine... No, Really.

Yesterday, I woke up at 5:00am because my stomach felt like it was trying to rip its way through my abdomen, Alien-style. (Or is Predator? I've never actually watched either of those movies.)

I was mostly OK. I threw up. I pooped a lot. I slept a lot to curb the vomiting and the pooping. (Wow, I'm really into TMI.) I missed work, which I felt guilty about because I work in ~TV~, even though I'm a production assistant and like, things were probably just fine without me.

This isn't a story about my 24-hour stomach bug. This is a story about the ways in which I continue to fail and abuse my body. This is a story in which I'm crying at 9:30am on a Saturday, because I'm really scared that if I don't learn how to take care of my body, I'm going to kill myself. 

I've written a lot about my body in the past. I have a whole blog about it, within the context of my journey to lose 100 lbs. 4.5 years ago. (Spoiler alert: I lost 25 lbs., gave up, then gained it all back + some.) I have essays about my body all over the Internet. (I'm not shy. TMI is kinda my thing.) I even have a few good Twitter threads about it.

I write about my body, because I don't know how to live in my body. I write about my body, because I struggle to take care of my body. I write about my body, because I don't love my body. And I really, really, really want to. But I don't. Not yet.

And it's a real shame, because my body is incredibly strong and resilient. I have an incredibly high pain tolerance. For most of the summer, I've walked around with a very painful condition and most people don't know. Because I hide it. Because I don't want people to know just how bad things have gotten. I mean, the only reason I didn't go into work yesterday was because of the vomiting. I have a "No Vomiting at Work" rule. And it's mostly because I commute, so it's more of a "No Vomiting in the Car" rule. 

I have done very unkind things to my body for almost 20 years. And still, she's mostly well and able. But I know that won't always be the case. Sometime soon, it will be more than just a cough or a stomach bug or painful skin condition. It might be diabetes or heart disease. And that really does scare the shit out of me. But what scares the shit out of me more is that it might take diabetes or heart disease to finally be the reason I learn how to take care of this body.

My body is my biggest challenge (no puns or fat jokes intended). I have done pretty amazing things in my life. I repeat them to myself regularly, to remind myself not to give up when things are tough. I'm the kinda woman who makes shit happen for herself. And sometimes, other people as well. Almost every goal or dream I've had for myself within the last 10 years, I've achieved it. Seriously. Do you know how crazy of a batting average that is? 

But alas, the one wilderness that I have not been able to find my way through is the wilderness of my body. In her new memoir, Hunger, the indomitable Roxane Gay calls her fat body that has survived through trauma an "unruly body." I know what that is like. I know what it is like to live in an unruly body. Sometimes, I wish I didn't. I think I would've learned to overcome or accept the fat thing... if it wasn't for the trauma. If one night, when I was 19, my body hadn't been taken from me by someone I trusted and loved. And again, at 20, when I realized something had been living in me that I did not want there.

And like, don't get me wrong. My fatness and my aversion to taming (is that the right word?) this body is all on me. I was fat before I was sexually assaulted. But I didn't weigh as much as I do now. And my body felt like mine. My body felt like something I held dominion over and within. My body was something that belonged to me -- not the man who used me. 

And I know I'm supposed to be over it by now. I know I've had so much time to heal and forget. But I can't forget. I can't help going back to being 19 and that was the last time I felt possible and powerful in my body. Everything after that feels like aftermath. My body feels like aftermath. When your body feels like the site where a terrible thing happened, it is hard to want to take care of it. It is hard to say, "Oh, I want to lose X amount of pounds." Because that's not what I want. Not at all.

Rather, I would like to feel safe in my body again. I would like to feel as if I haven't spent the past 8.5 years trying to run away from a thing I'm trapped in. I would like to feel as if my body is a thing worthy of being loved, of being taken care of, of being protected. 

God, this thing really escalated from poop and vomit, didn't it? I'm sorry. But I'm not. I'm sorry if you're reading this and didn't know this is something I'm still surviving. Or if you're one of the many people in my life who feel I should move on already. Or at least, lose weight because acknowledging my trauma is hard for you. Or if you're one of the other people in my life who have pinned all your Strong Black Woman fantasies on me, so it's hard to see me vulnerable and small.

But I am, sometimes, vulnerable and small. I get tired of being everyone's Magical Black Girl Mammy. I get tired of being strong. Of using humor to obfuscate the fact that I am still hurting, still healing, still struggling to be whole. Of having to disguise the reasons I'm still fat and haven't learned how not to be.

I spend a lot of time thinking about how I may die too early and too fat. And it won't just be because I didn't learn how to eat more vegetables or go to the gym or lose the weight. I know how to do those things. I've done them before. I may die because I never learned how to inhabit this body after someone made it foreign, made it some place I don't want to be.

How Far We've Come

In six days, I celebrate another birthday. (God willing.)

As always, I'm getting nostalgic and sentimental. I'm ~reflecting~ and diving deep. I'm taking inventory of all the good and the bad, the magical and the ugly, the challenging and the joy-giving. I'm thinking of all the big and small changes that have happened in my near 28 years on this Earth.

And you know what I can't help but think?

I've had a good, good life. I mean, I have gone through my fair share of trauma and struggle and suffering. (Don't we all?) I'm still a Melancholic Black Girl. But all my days, I have been loved and held up by an extensive tribe of family and friends and colleagues and collaborators and kin spirits. I have gotten to pursue some of my wildest dreams. I have laughed so hard, I've peed myself. I have cried because the joy and beauty and grace this world has offered me has been overwhelming. 

Like, ya girl is so good.

And I think I forget to take a moment to rejoice. I forget about the time I quit my job to follow my dreams and got to work from home in my pajamas for two years. I forget about the time I hopped on a plane to Europe to visit my best friend and fell in love with Paris. I forget about the time I hopped on a plane to New York and got to break my own heart open in the best city in the world. I forget about the time some friends and I created our own grassroots community organization, our own theatre production, our own web series. 

I forget that I am bold and fearless and ambitious and driven when I want to be. I forget I have the magical ability to dream what I want and go after it. I forget I have the tenacity to get myself unstuck when I feel like I've become stagnant. 

As I move into 28 and as I conjure more dreams, I just hope I remember to stay grateful and mindful of this all. 

Endings // Beginnings

I'm kinda depressed.

I know I'm not supposed to be. I know I am supposed to be full of joy and excitement that I have completed my grad program and graduate next week and am gonna go out and scream, "Here I am, Hollywood!"

But really, I am emotional and get annoyed with everyone and spend most of my time sleeping. And yes, I promise that I'm excited too. I'm proud of myself. I'm full of joy. But I'm also pretty sad. No one talks about how sad leaving film school can be and they should.

For the past two years, I've invested everything I could into USC's John Wells Division of Writing for Screen & Television. I was a student worker. I was a departmental assistant. I took extra units. I obsessed over every script I wrote like they were tiny kittens I loved and wanted to raise to adulthood. (I'm a cat lady, not a baby lady.) And almost anytime someone asked me for anything, I said, "Yes." I said, "How could I help?" I said, "I would love to."

Because I really have loved it.

I've never felt more myself than these past two years. I've never been happier or worked harder than my time at USC. And it's because I really love it here. (Still refuse to talk about it in the past tense.) More than I ever expected to. I love my cohort mates. I love my professors. I love my classes. I love my jobs. I love that everyday, I get to be a writer in a community of writers. And not just a community of writers, but the perfect community of writers for me.

I found my tribe. I found my village.

But now I have to walk away and I just don't want to.

I realize that I sound kinda whiny. I realize that this isn't some Big Terrible Ending. It's a Wonderfully Dope Beginning. I have so much to look forward to after commencement, I really do. I'm not lamenting my future. But I do think I'm grieving the end of a very beautiful, very magical time. And also a very stressful and emotional time too.

I mean, I put all other aspects of my life on hold so I could throw myself into this MFA program. When non-school friends (is it sad I call them that?) would ask me, "So what else is going on?" I would just stare at them blankly. What do you mean? For two years now, I haven't had anything else going on. I ate, slept, and breathed grad school. I'm not sure that was always the healthiest choice. But it was the one I made. I'm happy I made it.

I have no regrets. 

I got to live out my dream every day for two years. And if I am lucky and work hard, I may get to live out my dream for the rest of my life. I know that is a rare thing that is promised to no one. So in all of my whining and fits of crying, I'm trying to remember I shouldn't be sad. 

I should be grateful.

I got to do something I love with people I love everyday for two years. And that's more than most folks get in a lifetime. So yeah, I'm sad. I'm excited. I'm full of joy and hope.

But I'm also a grateful heart.