to my first post.
Like many stories, mine starts in the middle. In the middle of my twenties. In the middle of a pandemic. In media res: I was wondering what I was going to do for the rest of my life. I had a degree in English, but was currently furloughed at a dead-end job and beginning to feel the fatigue that accompanies listlessness. I thought school and work would be the stepping stones to the next thing. I thought that after I got my Master's, I'd have a better understanding of what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Where I wanted my career to go. What my goals and passions were. And then, on May 25th, 2020, an innocent man named George Floyd was murdered in cold blood.
It was like the world pressed pause for just a moment. The air stilled. The house was quiet. And I was angry. But I had no idea what to do.
It was like the world pressed pause for just a moment. The air stilled. The house was quiet. And I was angry.
At first, I felt a need to escape-- crawl into a place I felt safe, and ever since I was little I had always felt safe inside the comforts of books, where I could be enveloped in a blanket of words that rejected the turmoil of reality. I felt like I needed something to hope for, plead for, fight for, and yet, instead of turning towards another fantasy novel for the hundredth time, I found myself turning to James Baldwin's personal collected essays.
Baldwin spoke with fire, the kind of intensity built on the need for social action and the desire for societal change. I will never forget when I was introduced to him during undergrad, in a class dedicated to him and Langston Hughes, leaders of the Harlem Renaissance, and how on the first day of class, my teacher informed us that we were about to be made very, very uncomfortable. We learned about the Scottsboro Boys. Emmitt Till. The KKK. Black Wall Street. The image of Emmitt Till's body in his open casket with his mother weeping over him is something that I don't think I will ever be able to forget.
The image of Emmitt Till's body in his open casket with his mother weeping over him is something that I don't think I will ever be able to forget.
All of these memories came flooding back on May 25th, 2020. I began to wonder how the world would change because of this irresponsible, heinous, tragic event. Protests would start, undoubtedly. Calls for reform and governmental change would be demanded. Justice would be sought. And amongst all of this, I wondered what I would do in response. So I did one of the only things I knew how to do: I wrote a bad poem. In it, I penned my feelings in response to George Floyd's death, explaining how I wrote, "because James Baldwin told me to," and because I didn't, "know what else to do." In it, I quote Mr. Baldwin:
"I love America more than any other country in this world
James Baldwin said
And exactly for this reason I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually
I criticize her because I love her:
I thought we could get past this
I thought we were better
We are not past this
We are not better...
We must grieve past this
We must be better."
Despite feeling lost, confused, and angry, I wrote candidly how I hoped for things to one day get better. That if I were to have a Black son one day, I hoped that he wouldn't need to be afraid of the police targeting him for the color of his skin.
That if I were to have a Black son one day, I hoped that he wouldn't need to be afraid of the police targeting him for the color of his skin.
I tell this story not because of some desire to re-live this tragedy, but rather to express how for artists the art of writing and the ability to rationalize, contextualize, and come to grips with the harshness of reality is sometimes the only things we can do against such inconceivable and inexplicable loss. Art is sometimes the only functioning mechanism still available for us to try and cope when we try to rationalize the irrational. I felt lost. Angry. Betrayed. And I still do even eight months later. We are so far from the future I wrote about in my poem. But for me, it showed me the future I hoped for. And that that future was worth fighting for. The poem was the first step. Art (and more specifically, poetry) was the outlet to release my frustrations against the seemingly infinite void.
That is why I write. To give a voice to the things that I cannot even begin to understand. It is my hope that someday someone may read this and find it in themselves to try and express what is otherwise inexpressible to them. To tell the stories that are not told by those who were not allowed to tell them. For people like George Floyd, whose narrative was cut tragically short. To fight for that hope, that better future, or as the poet Dylan Thomas would say, to, "rage against the dying of the light."
Let us not go gentle into that good night. Not without telling our stories first.