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.”

Found Poem – Chicago

Things happen in the blink of an eye
I pray to keep him out of harm’s way
I pray to keep him until he’s grown
But there’s a target on his back
And a gnawing hunger in his eyes
No prospects no jobs no hope
I pray to keep him close
I pray against police and gangs
But shots are fired shots are fired
No respect for humanity

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flâneuse

She is the wanderer, bum, émigré, deportee, rambler, strolling player.  Sometimes she would like to be a settler, but curiosity, grief, and disaffection forbid it.” – Deborah Levy, Swallowing Geography.

When I come to think about it, I’ve always been a flâneuse. I’ve always enjoyed travelling to new places and part of my process of getting to know a new city is to walk it. Walking the streets aimlessly, eyes wide open, taking in the newness, the dark corners, the urban green spaces. I usually have less responsibilities while away so I can stroll, wander really till my heart’s content. And I observe the life of the place, observe from the sidelines; an outsider, an ‘other’.

I didn’t see myself as doing anything special, as someone who gets to know the city by wandering its streets, but apparently it is special.  As I am a woman. A black woman.

From the French verb flâner, the person doing the walking is usually male, well to do with time and leisure on his hands.  Born out of the beginning of the 19th century, women walking out in the city streets alone was not possible. And if they did so, they would pass unnoticed, to a certain degree.

I’m interested in why I am a flâneuse. Why I do it? What are the benefits? I’m interested in exploring the streets of my neighourhood with these questions in mind. I would like to get lost down streets that I might have taken for granted or never really noticed before. What would I find I wonder while I wander? And what could I stand to lose in the process?

I begin a new photography series around this practice. Why? Because this is a revolutionary act.

“These women came to the city ( or perhaps they were born there,
or came from other cities) to pass unnoticed, but also to be free to
do what they liked, or as they liked.” – Lauren Elkin, Flâneuse: Women Walk the City.