3 things I learned from my writers retreat

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Last month I went on an intimate writing retreat with one of my best friends. We are both writers working on our debut books and wanted to create a space where we could focus on our writing for an entire weekend. It was lovely and hard and absolutely wonderful.

Here are a few lessons I learnt about writing from that retreat:

  1. Writing, in particular personal essays, sometimes feels like fighting yourself. There were so many times I had to push past so much resistance in my writing to get to the real answers. And to push past the BS answers we give ourselves to cope with life feels like OKAY ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO GO THERE BCOS ONCE YOU GO THERE YOU CANT BS YOURSELF AGAIN?

2. Writing is messsyyyy – you basically get on paper and let your heart bleed there so why do you expect it to be neat and clean? Because its so unorganized and its not a cute process. I like clean lines and sentences that don’t run on, and paragraphs that are easily digestible…but baby that’s the editing part. Right now, the writing process will not give you that. Thanks. 

3. Writing is a deeply uncertain journey – you have to trust that the things will come together because there are so many times in the moment that I’m writing and just feeling like “QUE???? That makes no sense and I don’t even know why these words are coming on the page right now” and an hour later it dawns on me that I needed those earlier words to access the words that make sense now. 

Anyways I love writing and I love even more that i’m on this writers retreat with one of my best friends because to have your person as your writing partner is a sweet blessing. 

Being sensual in public

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I walk a fine line between trying to combat the hyper sexualization of Black girls and accepting the fact that for me personally presenting in a sensual and sexual-adjacent way comes really easily and naturally. And it sparks joy.

The way I present is definitely not an invitation. And yet I am a brazen woman. Who wants what she wants. And often goes after it in all aspects of life.

I know that because society doesn’t really teach us how to pay attention to the nuances of Black women’s interior worlds some people, including other women, will miss it. Won’t be patient enough to sit with my multitudes. Instead will make sweeping comments and generalizations and judgements. Will want to put me in a box. Consistently trying to figure out “is she a hoe or is she holy.” Men constantly trying to figure out “can I take her home to my mom or is she someone to just have fun with.”

My womanhood is making peace with the fact that this happens.

My womanhood is firmly rooted in the truth that the only gaze that matters is my own.

My womanhood is a tapestry of many different things that appear to be contradicting but only the patient ones, the curious ones, the attentive ones will see that somehow they all have found harmony in me.

Ultimately it doesn’t really matter to me anymore how people perceive the ways I present when I’m out in public. Or in the digital streets. I am myself and living as a sensually embodied being is a huge part of what matters to me right now. In this present iteration of myself.

What I learned from the snail: A Poem

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Sometimes I let the world see the softest parts of me. In return I receive flowers and poems that water me.

Other times I let the world in and receive a harsh coldness that makes me immediately retreat into the softness with a promise to never make us go out there again.

In those times I remind myself that there is nothing wrong with being a sensitive and sometimes fragile Being. With boundaries that sometimes feel so porous.

I pour warmth back into myself and stay in my cocoon until it feels safe to venture out again.

What is living if not a constant tug between staying protected and going on adventures?

Mid twenties mood board

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My presence is a gift

I have so much to learn but also lots to offer.

I have learnt the art of walking away from people and spaces that don’t see my majesty, and I did not die.

The world has felt like it was collapsing in on me many times and yet i came out victorious.

I don’t know what the future holds fully but I know I can always find my way back to being ok.

I enjoy my solitude and my community.

There are people who think of me as an answer to prayer, a good thing, a necessary ingredient to their human experience.

There are people who enjoy me simply because i exist.

My world is expansive!

I am comfortable inside my own skin.

If no one bears witness to it, did it happen?

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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.

No Longer At Ease

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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.

Covid Chronicles: Somewhere between Acceptance and Annoyance

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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. 😁

The sensual woman: A Poem

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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.

Recovery looks good on you: A poem

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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.

POEM STORY:

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.

cultivating self love as a practice

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Someone asked me recently how I cultivate self love and self compassion, here are a few things I shared about my personal practice:

  1. Seeing myself as someone deserving of tenderness and gentleness
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. I wanted to become a safe person for myself, someone I could trust with all the extremes of my emotional depth