This self drag brought to you courtesy of my therapist + my musings on memoir writing.
If no one bears witness, Did it happen?
For context, I was sharing about my changing relationship with visibility when she posed this question. A question which had me re-evaluate the ways I need certain moments witnessed before they feel like a complete moment to me.
Which made me ponder the writing of my memoir, a project I’ve been working on for years.
Lately I find myself wanting to relinquish writing and seeking publication of that work. I feel myself wanting to withdraw from sharing more of my “in real time feelings” on social media…but I also feel a pressure to validate my stories and experiences through documentation.
I am not ashamed to be a kid who grew up finding community on the internet, an immigrant kid who through the corners of blogger was able to connect to other immigrant kids trying to find words for our shared experiences, who built community through naijapals and Facebook and many many aol emails exchanged back and forth. It feels like a huge part of my experiences around coming of age, both the glamorous and the awkward, were witnessed by people who were for the most part strangers and yet embraced me more than a lot of the people in my local community.
Sometimes the people in closest physical proximity to you just don’t know how to hold the complexity that is you.
Which brings me to my changing relationship with visibility.
When you’ve been witnessed in ways that feel validating by strangers, how do you impose boundaries around your experiences without feeling like you are depriving your own self of a sense of belonging?
I don’t really know the answer you guys. Which brings me to my original question: “if no one bears witness to it, did it happen?”
Obviously duh. It did happen. And own our witness is important in validating our experiences even if no one else can hold space for it. This is what I’m affirming myself with when I feel that angst. Also I’m reminding myself that unlike my teenage years and even my early twenties when I was still fighting to find community, at this big age of mine, one of my biggest blessings is that I have my people. The ones who I am sure enjoy me and want to journey with me. They are not out of reach.
So to the part of me that feels like if I don’t write and publish my coming of age memoir then its almost as it I never came of age, well girl, that’s ridiculous. Because obviously you did. Maybe one day you’ll be feeling more inspired to reflect on and turn your reflections of the journey from girlhood to womanhood into a book and on that day, it won’t be from the fear of being erased, but from a deeper place.
I am grieving the openness with which I once moved through the world. As I navigate the first few months of my 26th year around the sun, I am reminded daily that the world at large is a harsh place to be as a young woman coming into her own.
Last April I quit what felt like a dream job at first but slowing revealed itself to be somewhat of a nightmare. I won’t go into all the reasons I walked away but ultimately I realized that there was nothing I could do to fix the toxic dynamic with a supervisor who had all sorts of blindspots about their own abilities and politics. My exhaustion with the toxic dynamic finally led me towards quitting. Initially my frustration was only with my former supervisor, but as I slowly unraveled all my feelings around leaving, I realized that there was a bit of rage towards the management of the organization who knew how multiple women of color felt working under that individual and yet did not do anything to protect me from a similar fate.
Before the pandemic hit, I was laying in bed with my best friend in the first few days of 2020 sharing with her how I felt my life would only go from good to better. I was in a good place personally, professionally, relationally. I lived in a city I loved, was making enough money to spend New Years on a warm beach town in West Africa, was healthy, felt like my social and financial capital was rising, my family was good, my friend circle felt solid. I was almost certain my dream school in my other favorite city would accept me as their doctoral candidate in Legal anthropology – on track to have two doctorate degrees before I turned 30. Even though I was romantically unpartnered, I still had a lot of hope and very little disillusionment about finding my person.
The other shoe had not dropped all of 2019 so I felt like I could stop waiting for it to drop.
Just a few months after I stopped waiting for the other shoe to drop and settled into the goodness of my life, we were hit with a pandemic. My dream school rejected me. My good job became even more toxic and hopeless, forcing me out. Everything that was a sure thing was no longer a sure thing. I moved back to my family home temporarily hoping I could wait out the pandemic and very quickly salvage a life that was falling apart, only for more things to crumble. And the crumble culminated in the loss of my last living grandparent.
While still grieving the loss of a grandparent, I watched my friend circle slowly shift in ways I could not have anticipated – my best friend asked for space, another close friend switched up on me in a way that felt like a painful rejection. My relationship with my father shifted from a once close and intimate relationship to one where we merely acknowledged each other, through no fault of my own. A few romantic prospects that gave me reasons to smile in the midst of a really difficult year ended up leaving my heart more bruised than it was before those encounters.
The process of trying to find a new job in the middle of a pandemic was so brutal and dehumanizing that to preserve whatever shreds of professional confidence I had left, I chose to try my hand at entrepreneurship again. Something I had not been too successful at in 2016 and promised myself not to do again any time in the short term.
For the first time since I emigrated at 13, I had the opportunity to celebrate a birthday back on the continent. Between school and work, having a birthday in early November makes for such awkward travel time so I have always celebrated my birthday in the U.S. It felt so memorable that 13 years after I left West Africa, I would have the opportunity to celebrate my 26th birthday on the continent. I was excited to do something special while observing covid protocol. Instead I spent my entire birthday week so sick I thought I was dying. Turns out a combination of salmonella, malaria, and liver inflammation was my birthday present from the universe.
Surviving 2020 felt like a full time job! One that has left me too exhausted for much else. And now faced with a blank slate of a year, it feels very daunting to feel hopeful for something beautiful. My therapist says facing the ruins will help me rebuild again and I trust her. But rebuilding feels like such hard work when there are no guarantees. Maybe one day I’ll look back and realize that in 2021 goodness visited me and stayed.
10 weeks ago when the first cruise ship landed in San Fransisco with Corona Virus patients, I made the decision to work from my Oakland home and not go into my SF office to protect myself and the people I love from potential exposure to the virus. I could never have anticipated that 10 weeks later I would still be sheltering in place, back in Alabama, with my whole life turned inside out.
These days I live somewhere between acceptance and annoyance, between grief and gratitude, between feeling responsibility for our collective wellbeing and selfishly wanting to live the California life I worked so hard to create for myself.
Somewhere between week 2 and 3 of the virus getting into the U.S, I talked to my brother, who lives in China. He convinced me to go shelter in place where I would feel the most safe and supported before borders starting closing up. I didn’t think it would be that serious, but I decided to get clearance from my job to work from home in Alabama, instead of Oakland. I packed a small suitcase with a couple of weeks worth of clothes, only my favorite cant-live-without skin care products, books, and personal items. Fully intending to only spend about 3-4 weeks in my Alabama home with my family. Its been 2 months of being in Alabama with no return date in site.
Somewhere between week 4 and 5, I transitioned out my job. Turns out doing social justice law and policy work is excruciatingly more difficult during a pandemic when people want to rush to solutions without fully understanding the nature of the beast. It dawned on me that in the middle of a pandemic, my tolerance for stress was really low and my need to remove myself from any space that didn’t prioritize my emotional wellbeing was at an all-time high. Unfortunately this meant leaving my job. I was very sad to leave, but very proud that I choose myself. I started writing poems again, hosting virtual salons, calling old friends for long chats. Started to decipher what I wanted to do next with my life. Committed to replacing afternoon zoom calls with daily midday naps.
Somewhere between week 5 and 7, Spring transitioned into Summer. I realized I had no summer clothes in my family home and all my skin care things were gone. I began shopping for new clothes, decided to stop living out of my suitcase and realize that maybe I’m here for the longer term. I changed my mailing address on all my subscriptions things to Alabama instead of California, that made me sad. I bought some cute new summer clothes. Spent way too much money on makeup and exfoliants. That made me happy. On one random Friday afternoon when I felt really happy, I made my brother take pictures of me so I would have documentation that there were really good moments even in the middle of this pandemic.
Somewhere between week 8 and 10, I realized that living like I was on a perpetual vacation was not working for me. I decided to start incorporating routines and rhythms into my day. Step 1, have a bedtime that is earlier than 2-3am. Step 2: Talk to my therapist about the angst I’m feeling that I have no language for yet. Therapist says I should make a list of all the things I’m missing from my California life and see how many of them I can incorporate into my current routines. It is working. I am feeling bit more at ease. More often than not accepting this new reality. Other times really annoyed to be living through it but committed to finding pockets of connection and shared humanity through it.
It’s the 11th week. I am the designated family grocery shopper. I am really enjoying spending time with my family. Wearing a mask out in public feels like second nature. I am finally putting together the pieces of what I would like to do for work. I feel ready to contribute in a substantive way to the healing and wellbeing of the collective, mostly because I’ve spent time tending to my own angst and anxieties around the virus. I am inspired by our resilience as a species, but I still miss being out at my favorite Afrobeats club in Oakland grinding up on somebodies son with my girls gassing me up. I look forward to being able to do that someday in the future again. 😁
She moves slowly Takes her time to really enter a space. She is not careless, but her vibe is CANNOT-BE-BOTHERED.
A soft gaze reserved for her lovers. A stern gaze for all others. Her love is not unconditional She makes no apologies Fueled by 2 parts love, 1 part rage Her hair holds history her hips hold mystery She is not to be possessed. She is not your mule. She is not your mule. She is not your mule. She will not be your salvation she will not be your rehabilitation She will not be your expectation She is not yours.
Her body is hers to own Her intellect is hers to enjoy She belongs to herself Enjoy her while you can She will not always be here.
Story behind the poem:
I’ve been trying to capture what sensuality means for me into words for the better part of a year. It feels like an ethereal quality, a presence that can sometimes be confused for barely there-ness…but the reality is you are observing and taking things in. Noticing everything. Sensuality to me feels like enjoying myself. Like self ownership. Like indulgence in love, pleasure, passion and intellect.
Writing “sensual woman” was a reminder to those who try to possess her that she was never theirs to possess – only to be enjoyed.
I struggled with writing this poem a bit because these days my sensuality shows up as more loud than muted. I’ve been allowing myself to be seen more. More cleavage. More words. More real time access into my thoughts, and yet I wanted to writed to write about a more muted sensuality. The core parts of what sensuality mean to me. So I tapped into my ancestral wisdom. Specifically to my maternal grandmother Affiong. The firs few lines pay homage to her. A sensual woman who never really was showy or the loudest voice in the room.
“she moves slowly takes her time to really enter a space”
Anyone who knew my grandma knew this to be true about her.
After I embodied her, it became easier to talk about myself. I became conscious of the ways I move through the world embodying my own sensuality, her sensuality, and my mothers sensuality. Three generations of women. Who show up in the world in completely different ways but have the same thread of sensuality flowing through them.
Join me on Patreon for content all month long around being a sensual, self loving woman.
To you, still healing from a theology of self denial:
Maybe you over correct sometimes and give yourself everything you want.
Maybe that’s how you teach yourself the new way – that God delights in your joy.
Maybe indulgence is the cure to the venom shoved down your throat time and time again.
Maybe gluttony is how you unlearn starvation.
Maybe one day you’ll wake up and no longer see scarcity.
I wrote this from a very personal place a few months ago. I am still in recovery from all the ways a theology of self denial buried itself so deeply into my subconscious mind and shapes the way I moved through the world. I had been doing the work of unlearning for sometime and this time it just felt like I was moving to close to indulgence. Almost like I needed a season of my life where I could indulge for all the times I was deprived. That concerned me a bit so I wanted to write something to a version of myself that felt anxious at how much I was just letting myself live in freedom. In reality freedom can feel too expansive when you’ve been caged for a while. So I had to remind myself that this freedom. A normal part of the recovery process.
Grace, peace, and freedom to all of us unlearning theologies that taught us that the only currency we had to access goodness was self deprivation.
Someone asked me recently how I cultivate self love and self compassion, here are a few things I shared about my personal practice:
Seeing myself as someone deserving of tenderness and gentleness
Being honest with myself about how berating myself isn’t a productive way to bring about growth and change. All things need light, patience, and kindness to bloom, including us humans.
Going back in time and writing letters to younger versions of myself. I realized that in retrospect I was actually really proud of those versions of myself even though at those times all I could focus on were the things I didn’t like about myself. I never want to look back in 30’s and feel bad about how I treated myself in my 20’s.
I wanted to become a safe person for myself, someone I could trust with all the extremes of my emotional depth
Baby, when two souls actually connect? It’s a magical thing.
Souls connect for a variety of different reasons, with a variety of different intentions, and varying intensities. But a moment of connection is always something to be grateful for. If you live in a world that mirrors mine, your reality is that you may often feel isolated and othered, but a moment of connection will serve as tangible proof that you are seen, that you matter, that you are less alone. So I hope you never take moments of connection for granted. Whether those connections last a moment, a lifetime, or fizzle shortly after.
The connection is the God-part, the unraveling and decoding of the connection is the you part.
Remember when I said souls connect for a variety of different reasons and with different intentions?
Some connections can be trauma bonds, some can be there to remind you of parts of yourself you miss, and some are there to journey with you. This is your work to unpack.
And baby, this requires bravery.
This requires a strong foundation of self assuredness, to know that no matter what comes from this unpacking, you will be okay because you have yourself.
Baby, I don’t know much about romantic love at this point in my life. But I do know love well. I know heartbreak well. I know the art of nurturing connections, of interrogating connections. I know the joy of seeing a thing bloom from a shy “hello” to a million inside jokes. I also know the pain of going from a million inside jokes to “someone I used to know.”
What I do know for sure at this point is that love requires a continual investment in connection. It is in the unpacking of these connections that you will be led to love. But this part is not for the faint of heart, and you don’t have to take this on until you are ready. Even when you are ready, you don’t have to risk your heart for every connection, only those ones which feel safe enough to make you want to put your heart on the line.
Be grateful for the connections but prioritize the softness of your heart baby girl.
You are loved, you are love herself, and you will always be loved.
I didn’t expect to greet 25 with the high levels of insecurity and fragility I currently feel.
And yet I find myself here.
I did not realize I was here exactly until I spent some time with one of my 13 year old cousins in Nigeria. She is so self assured. So confident. Smiles brightly. States her opinions with such passion and fearlessness. Takes up space unapologetically. Being in the same space with her took me back to a time when I was exactly that – self assured, confident, unapologetic, loud and boisterous.
I do have moments when I feel these things but it isn’t my default state of being. And I want to get back there.
It’s almost as if the 24 year old version of me knew I would need reminders of my own magic and gifted me with the insight to ring in the first few weeks of my 25th year with incredible gifts to myself – a boudoir photo shoot, brunch with my closest girls in the Bay Area, time with my mom, a complete self care package, tickets to West Africa for the holidays to spend time with my extended family, and sister friends.
Settling back into myself after all these amazing treats has been a gentle reminder that I internally need to do some work to rebuild my confidence this year. Things like professional gaslighting, rejection from romantic interests, not being set up for success in general in different spaces I have found myself, loss of friendships and a spiritual community have added up into the cumulative effect of slowly eroding my sense of confidence.
Just the general business of living life can have an eroding effect on confidence. Coupled with some very specific experiences, its no wonder that I find myself here without the self assuredness I had always hoped would be my lifelong companion. But I have a plan to build back up my confidence levels this year.
My Three Step Plan:
Reaching out when I need support: In a moment of vulnerability this week I told a few of my friends I was currently sizing up myself against a woman one of my exes is currently with, and I felt like she was more impressive than I would ever be. They stopped in that moment and reassured me of my own magic, reminded me that I was deserving of someone who really saw all the magic in me, and that his preferences had nothing to do with me. That felt really nice. So more moments of reaching out to people who love me when I needed to be reminded of why I am special. Knowing my mom and Elias, my most affectionate brother, will always be ready at any moment to express a million and one reasons why they love me.
Find spaces that allow me to showcase my skills and celebrate them: My natural tendency for improvement has meant that much of my life I have chosen to be in spaces that always require me to be better without celebrating where I currently am. And alternatively, I’ve spent less in times in spaces where I was celebrated for my natural skills. This year I want to lean more into spaces that allow me to do things that come easy for me and to be celebrated for them.
A couple of weeks ago I went to an open mic night and performed one of my poems (that was rejected from a publication I really wanted to see it in), the reception of it was so deeply moving to me. People loved it. People responded to my words in real time, and that was powerful for me to take in. Folks came up to me afterwards to talk about it. It felt like redemption particularly because the rejection of my pitches over the past year had finally made me internalize that maybe I just wasn’t a good writer. I am a taking a break from always having to choose the hard thing.
Stop giving away my power: As much as external validation feels good, I have realized that it is a form of outsourcing my power to rely on other people to be the building blocks of my confidence. I suppose the ground zero of rebuilding my confidence is a great place to train my brain to place my voice as the primary voice of validation I need. I would like the foundation of my confidence to be rooted in the fact that I am worthy. That at the end of the day even if no one sees me or tells me I did a good job, or celebrates me, I want the fact that I saw myself, and celebrated myself to be enough to sustain me. To seek the support of the people who have proven themselves loyal and caring to be the secondary source of validation. And slowly detach from a pattern of seeking the validation and approval of those committed to misunderstanding me, dishonoring me, dismissing me, or ignoring me.
So that’s my plan!
I am excited about where I will be by my 26th birthday.
Any additional things that have helped you in rebuilding back your confidence levels?