how to find your voice as a writer

One of my enduring memories of living in London, from my early teaching days, is the icon red bus. Coming up Streatham Hill and terminating at Telford Avenue, where I was lodging, would be the 59 bus, my lifeline in and out of the city, in and out of school in Lambeth Walk.

Those were my bachelor days. I had fulfilled my childhood dream of becoming a teacher in an inner city London’s school where the kids were predominately black. I was giving something back to the system at the same time as changing kid’s attitudes about what they could become in life.

Today, I revisit London as a freelance writer and artist for a masterclass titled How to Find Your Voice, with Gary Younge, editor-at-large for the Guardian. I’ve been reading Gary’s articles for years, and have recently dived into his latest non-fiction book, Another Day in the Death of America. I’ve always admired Gary’s words because he doesn’t mince them. His writing is strong and bold. He has the courage to say what other people are not saying about a range of themes including race, America, killings, inequalities, South America, whistle-blowing etc.

I gave up teaching full-time, after coming back to the North-East, in 2003 to pursue a more creative life. In the short time I’d been teaching, the landscape changed so much that I wondered where the teaching had stopped and crowd control had begun. I fancied my chances in the creative wilderness so jumped without a net in sight. With nearly 15 years of hustling under my belt, I’m still questioning what the dynamics of my voice are. What is the purpose of my voice? Hence being drawn to this workshop with Gary Younge.

We do not have just one voice. We have a myriad of voices. Many voices for different contexts, shifting our register and tone depending on what we are trying to say; why we are saying it, when and to who.

Gary Younge recently interviewed Richard Spencer, leader of the emerging Alt Right in the USA for a Channel 4 documentary titled Angry, White and American. He received a lot of flak for giving this racist man airtime, people arguing that this interview was giving him a platform to spread his hate. Gary was of the mind that if you give this kind of man enough rope he’d hang himself. In his opinions, he thinks Richard brought the rope and gallows himself, exposing the absurdity of his thinking, forcing anyone thinking of joining his Nazi bandwagon to think again.

The workshop was illuminating. Things I knew already, but coming from Gary gave them added weight. We all have a unique voice and it’s our duty to bring it into the world. We should write what we want to write without thinking about what other people think we should write. We should get our voices out there and not even bother about checking back in with the reactions. Because we cannot control how anyone else is going to read our words, hear our voice. We can only control our voice; what we want to say and how we say it.

I had the opportunity to ask Gary what he thought was the purpose of his voice. His individual voice. His answer was simple and something I didn’t to hear. He said those words and they dropped right into my gut and got cosy and warm. As those words were welcomed home.

The purpose of his voice is trying to shift the lens. Simple. He’s in a position with a platform, which many people like him would not occupy. He uses his voice to shift the lens on the world to foster understanding and hopefully change.

Trust your voice. Trust your lens. I trusted myself when I left teaching and journeyed into the unknown. I’ve trusted my calling to becoming more creative everyday. Now, I’m getting out of my way to trust my voice.

Each day I am peeling away my former identity to live a more powerful, purposeful and authentic life. I’m a Goddess Queen holding a light, becoming self-aware and self-loving, becoming a wayshower for others.
The purpose of my voice is to shift the lens. It always has been since childhood when I questioned everything my father told me to do. I’ve known this but have been too scared to claim this. Thank you Gary for reminding me. It’s my voice and I own it.

“We younger negro artists who create, now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame,” writes Langston Hughes. “If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too. The tom-tom cries and the tom-tom laughs. If coloured people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn’t matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves.”

Missing Stories

You may have missed her story.
There’s a loud silence
when a black woman is brutalised/raped/murdered.
Front page headlines seldom carry outrage,
hardly carry a mention.
My heart catches fire every time
I have to decipher the details
through a pinhole of shadows.

I see her being followed home from that party.
Them two stalking her apartment
thinking she’s got money just by the way she holds herself.
Or at least her grandmother must.
They break in. Gag and tie her up in the basement
where they each take their time to beat and rape her.
What I remember from between the missing lines
is those bastards making off with a few dollars,
an iPad and a laptop after they set the house on fire.
You may have missed her story.
Let me tell you another story along the same brutal missing lines.

Little and often

IMG_5505.JPG10 lines. That’s all I’m setting myself to write each day.

I’ve been blocked and not blocked. Fearful and not. Holding back and remaining silent. Setting myself a little structure, and the minimum, hopefully will free me up to write.

10 lines a day. I plan to post one of these 10 line poems/ prose here every Friday for the next few months or so.

Let’s see how I go.

 

Talking about my practice

IMG_2904

This is a visual journal entry I completed a few months ago while continuing with my Creative Facilitator Training with Lisa Sonora

22/04/2017

It feels weird coming back to DOP ( Dreaming on Paper) after two years absence. I’ve tried to do it again but just didn’t get into it. But now I’m doing the Facilitator Training, it seems important to get back in. I need to post to the group.

Yes I’m skipping through at a pace as I still do the techniques I learnt back then but it’s good to be refreshed on the techniques I haven’t done in a while -like the stamping as well as the textured page, the wallpaper and marbled effect. I haven’t used a wet one in a while or the stripped effect so it’s good to do this and to not feel any fear but be comfortable with it – like second nature.

—————-

So yes weird but also reassuring that a lot of the habits and techniques have stayed and also how far I have developed since the beginning with flaps* and stuff, and extensions and tearings and pockets and stuff. I’m proud of myself I am, of my progress and practice. I’ve come a long way in the journey and I’m still on it. Thank God.’


*flaps = additional pages added to the journal, see visual journalling post for further explanation.


Technique:

The journals I use most frequently are the Pink Pig pads. I usually pick these up in town, not online, bought three at a time because there is usually a discount on them and they definitely have more pages in.

I prepare my pages with paint ahead of the time I want to use them. So when a journal is coming to the end, I start prepping the next one with paint, so it’s ready with no breaks in between.

I pick the colours that are calling to be at the time. Here for this page the dominate colour is bright orange. I use ready mixed paints, craft paints, kids paint and start with just one drop of paint in the middle of the page. I smear it across the blank page with a disused credit card. I love this part. The spread of colour makes me happy. A simple task, a simple pleasure but oodles of fun.

I’ve gone on to add pink and blue to the orange after this. Using the same credit card for each colour, sometimes all paint rubbed off before a new colour is introduced and sometimes not. I’m not doing this to be neat, to cover away all the white of the page. I like my smearing of paint to be quick and messy.

Sometimes I do right up the edges sometimes not. I prepare three double spread pages at a time and then leave them to dry, sketchbook open with a paint bottle propped between the pages either side so they don’t stick together.

Once dried, I can write on it. Gel pen was used here but ball point pen works just as well. Here I’ve added images of nature and travel and adventure at the bottom of the page. I use glue sticks. I’m not loyal to any particular brand either as long as it does the sticking. These were cut from a tourist leaflet about visiting Scotland.

The images I select usually tie in with what I’m writing, they talk to each other. While sometimes they don’t and this might because I’ve skipped ahead in my journal and stuck in some images to break up the page already. But all the images I include I love, I have an emotional connection to. I’ll talk more about that in another post.

After the writing, I return to the page and use the leaf shaped stamp. See what I did there? I wrote in this journal example about the techniques I haven’t been using in a while and rubber stamping was one of them. I rectified that here.

A Decision

“Life purpose is not a given —it’s a decision.” Eric Maisel

At the end of April, I declared to the world that I was taking a break from social media for the month of May, maybe longer. I didn’t say this to garner attention. I said this because I think it’s rude to be in conversations with people and then go silent. I was just letting my friends know the score; I was having a break.

I am having a break. I need a break. Something, in the past, I would have ignored. I would have just kept on trucking. I was the strong, independent black woman. I earned that label not because of who I was but what I did. I was super productive. I was everything to everyone. You wanted it, I’d get it for you. I was always trying to prove myself, to them, to others, to myself. Not anymore.

April was a hell of a month for good and bad reasons. April is the birth month of my children, so those were the happy occasions. A time to celebrate two beautiful people. But in between those dates, fell Woodland Leader training, project planning and implementing, launching the website and a whole heap of illness. Not for myself but for my mother in law. And that situation continues. But something had to give after that month of trials and tribulations. Emotional drains and scars. And it was me.

I’d spent the month propping everyone else up at the same time as fulfilling my own hopes and dreams and I just got burnt out. It got to the point that I had no more to give and didn’t want to give. One morning, I thought it would be a lot easier to not wake up at all. Of course I did face the day and the next as I’m that strong, independent black woman, right! But I had to release some pressure, cut myself some slack and coming off social media looked like a good place to start.

Now let’s get one thing straight, I don’t spend hours and hours on social media. But it is a constant stream of connections and conversations for me. At times, and I wish it wasn’t, a space for validation too. There was a time back in 2015, that I turned my back on Facebook and only went back to it because a course I signed up for was delivered through a Facebook group. I didn’t really get into Instagram until September 2015. Then I saw it as a good way to get the creative juices flowing again through sharing images. Words? Words were still scary for me. Off limits, came with too much baggage and damage. And twitter, well twitter was twitter.

However, the people I have connected with through social media have helped me immensely. And they might not know that. But they’ve helped me believe in myself again as well as the common good of humanity. I ‘thank you’ my online community. I do class you as my friends. And because of that, I know I can take the time to step away from social media.
No way do I see this as taking our relationship for granted. But more so of cherishing our connections to the point of feeling that I’m not really contributing anything if I’m struggling with myself. I feel that it’s okay with you if I have to step out of the room from time to time to retain my sanity. I know you’ll understand and support my well-being. I know I would do/be the same way with you.

It’s been 10 days since my last posting on social media. Some of those days have been a dark drag. I did lose my way there. Today is the first day, I am able to get out of bed at a decent time, and greet the day with a smile. I am letting go of my stresses a bit more. I’m factoring into my day meaning oportunities. I’ve gotten back into the chilly embrace of the sea. She was needed. Today, I’m appreciating the light a bit more and being grateful for the life I live a bit more.