I just came back from a networking mixer and arts showcase for Sisters in Harmony hosted at Mama Sunshine’s Treasures in Inglewood. Surrounded by striking, eccentric, colorful Black art, I listened to writers that made me not just clap but actually want to buy their chapbooks, for the purpose of actually reading them, not just for good karma. It was a funky, warm-spirited harmony of fly and holistic sisters in African jewelry, curve-swathing dresses and fierce shoes, who I knew immediately that I could speak to first without getting snubbed, of brothers who would compliment my work and ask me about myself without asking for my number.
I usually hate networking functions. The pressure to introduce yourself, the struggle to find things to talk about with people you have little in common with, the awkward pause when a subject, not very good in the first place, has worn itself out, the anxiety of judging when you have talked to one person long enough and it is time to move on, the collection of a pile of business cards that you will keep and most likely never use. I had to do this frequently as Miss Black California, with pains shooting up my legs from 4 inch heels, the bobby pins holding my crown on stabbing straight into my scalp, and whatever gourmet (which to me translates as really little pretty food made of stuff that doesn’t go together) rumbling my stomach. I became very good at it, but since that year I have determined to never play the networking game without knowing, explicitly my purpose and what sorts of people that I am interested in engaging. Such was the case last night; I was going to this event to promote my book to people who promised to be like-minded and creative. I got my pens and cards together, summoned energy that I didn’t have, and planned to leave after an hour. I ended up staying until the end, meeting some definite potential soul sisters, and seeing my life more clearly.
Every woman there was talented, was pushing through to share her passion despite anyone who doubted her, and every one of them was a slash. Writer/poet/therapist/educator, writer/teacher, writer/actress/public speaker, writer/motivational speaker/editor/consultant, the list goes on. All of them had other commitments: day jobs, graduate school, relationships, families, activism, that they were juggling alongside their multiple artistic and entrepreneurial pursuits.
For several weeks now, I have been feeling very guilty, perplexed and overwhelmed about my own slash existence. As I set myself firmly on the path into academia, I have been plagued by fear on whether I am making the right decision, on whether I can be successful in all of the things that academic life requires: publishing, research, teaching, committee work, and still do those things that keep me human and sane: creative writing, dancing, engaging in the community. As I watch friends around me earn degrees in more obviously practical fields and get started with well-paid grown up lives, while I head into another four years of advanced study likely to bring me little additional earning power, I feel jealous and unsure of my path. As I look at my various accomplishments and projects I have a difficult time taking pride in them, because of a constant, paralyzing insecurity that I am not quite good enough at any one thing that I do. I realize that this is irrational, but this fear has plagued me for years. I often feel isolated in these feelings; my mentors and friends in academia seem quite confident about their choice in career, my family does not understand why I am doing it anyway so I don't open myself up for their doubts to compound my own. I have no plans to go backwards, so I don't like to complain. I don’t like to reveal my vulnerabilities. I don’t like to damage people’s image of me. I live in several different worlds, and find I often have to be a different person for each one.
Sisters in Harmony reaffirmed for me that multi-dimensionality is a gift. I determine the course and quality of my life, no one else. I have to comfortable in my inability to fit into anyone's fixed box. I have to give myself permission to be passionate about dance and scholarship and poetry and education and the arts and the community. I have to live and prove this passion through finding sustainable ways to balance my time and give each of my pursuits the commitment and excellence that they deserve. No one can decide for me what I have time for in my life, and where my loyalties should lie. I may have to streamline, I may have to prioritize, I may have to delegate, I may have to find creative ways to combine my interests, I may have to backburner and revisit projects from time to time, but I do not have to choose if I don’t want to. No one can cut out part of me, and no one can make me feel inferior, without my permission.
I know I wrote too long this time, but these are thoughts that I had to get off of my chest. Check out Sisters in Harmony, http://www.sistersinharmonystore.com/id1.html . This organization is a truly womanist undertaking that has given me an incredible gift in just a few hours. Also make sure to support Mama Sunshine, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Mama-Sunshines-Treasures/232399190131187. In providing a venue for experiences such as this, she is sure to become a force in the greater LA Black Arts and business communities. I will be reading my novel at Mama Sunshine’s Treasures on August 4.