Naming what I want, and actually following through, feels like I’ve gotten away with something. It’s fascinating how attempts at centering myself feel like stealing. I’m still getting used to getting my way sometimes, for asking for what I want and unburdening myself from what I don’t. I have all of this creative freedom right now. I don’t write in any one publication, for any one editor, or maintain an exclusive working relationship with any one company.
Honestly, I wish that wasn’t the case. Even though I very much like, and work hard to maintain the way my life currently operates, I wish there was a place where I could stand still. I would love to build those consistent professional relationships, my writing could truly benefit from such a thing, and there’s so much I want to do aside from writing.
I want to make more podcasts. I want to work on documentaries and with video again. There are so many things I want to try or learn to do better where a professional learning environment could really take my shit to the next level. I’m not sure that place exists for me. Not that I’m special, I just don’t thrive under the authority of corporate environments, like a lot of people.
It’s usually not the workload as much as the constant need some bosses have to feel like Bosses. Every once in a while you have to let them step on you a little so they still feel like their job is worth having, their next promotion worth seeking. What does the hierarchy mean if there’s no one to step on? A promotion means being able to step on even more people! And that’s how you know you’re successful!
For a certain amount of dollars per hour, day, week, or year, I feel like I’m supposed to be okay with being stepped on. Well, I’m not. I know that’s not always actually how it works, but that’s how it usually felt to me. I also always want to work on a different kind of project, or in a different medium. Sometimes that opens up my options. I don’t think many employers like knowing when their employees have options.
I’ve been able to make enough money (for now) that my work-related decisions don’t have to be primarily concerned with earning potential. (Don’t play with me about these rates and invoices though.) At my best, the work I decide to take on is backed up by a natural curiosity and desire to make or learn something new. But sometimes I’m just doing it for the money. Especially if there’s no moral issue at hand. Sometimes, it’s an easy gig with a decent price tag, and I can’t justify turning it down. Not while I still have student loans.
Those gigs go one of two ways: Surprisingly well OR everything about it is hell. In the middle of slogging through an assignment, wondering what possessed me to say YES to the request in the first place, I realize the answer is, “You said yes so you didn’t have to think about how to say no, or figure out what you actually wanted.” It’s true, Other Me, but I’m having a hard time figuring out exactly what to do about that.
While some might say I had low expectations for how the course of my life would play out, I would say I simply had modest dreams. When I think back to the life I fantasized about having one day, I want to hug my child self, assure her she doesn’t want too much like she believed she did. In the grand scheme of things she didn’t want much at all. I know that now. But back then, everything I wanted seemed so big and far away.
None of my dreams, not one fantasy, felt small to me. They still don’t. I think that’s why saying no is getting easier. I’m remembering how much I don’t need, and never wanted. I’m beginning to understand what I’m working for and I’m trusting myself to hold my boundaries close. I don’t work with people who can’t respect me, and sometimes saying no, is showing respect for us both.
When you get to a certain age—late twenties/early thirties for me—your older family members start dropping family secrets on you like it’s nothing. Bombshell after bombshell with the nonchalance of an update on their local weather. You’re left asking, “Wait what?!” The worst is when they reply with that little, “Oh, you didn’t know that?” If I already knew, I wouldn’t seem this surprised, would I, Cherylene? Stop playing games and cough up the facts.
Often, once I hear the whole story, I understand why it wouldn’t have been easy to share with a child. I still wonder what gets lost in the decision not to have these hard conversations about personal family history. I’m worried about how many times nobody got to grieve because they had to focus on how and where to hide the truth. Did the children really benefit from the lack of information? Maybe they did. Maybe we did.
Here’s what I know: I always suspected there was suffering happening around me as a child. I felt it, and even when the adults in my life denied it, part of me held onto to what I knew. I couldn’t be convinced I was dramatic or “crazy,” even though I worried about seeming that way. I didn’t know then how far back the stories went or how deep a well of suffering had been dug into our family’s name. Now, I know it’s all more than I could have ever imagined. And I’m not always sure I want to know more.
But I keep listening.
In February 2016 I traveled to the Lake District in England for a story I was working on for the now defunct Ladies Home Journal magazine. One of the stops was Skipton Castle in North Yorkshire. I was given a tour by the man who’s family owned the medieval castle and he still lived in a private part of it. I asked him what it was like living in a castle.
“Awful,” he replied honestly. His candor about how much it sucks to live in a castle was my favorite part of the tour. Don’t get me wrong, visiting a chapel built in 1130 is pretty cool. Listening to how the rightful heir of the estate was a woman whose father sold it out from underneath her, and how she fought to get it back, was amazing. But listening to a lanky, bespectacled Englishman explain to me how you have to constantly vacuum the carpets to warm the floors was delightful.
No part of me ever really wanted to live in a castle, but after an hour with that gentleman, I felt bad for anyone who did. Earlier in the trip I’d visited Beatrix Potter’s farmhouse and saw the copper pan she would have filled with boiling water and run over the sheets before getting into bed in the winter. It seemed more like a cozy ritual than the desperate heat-seeking of running a vacuum cleaner over the rugs covering the cold stone in the foundation of a 900 year old structure.
Some spaces can be made warm through small innovations and routine. Some spaces will never be warm enough.
This is the week I start hustling for blurbs for my book. It’s nerve-wracking and affirming, and makes me so excited to be even closer to putting it out into the world for anyone who wants to read it. Do you want to read it? You can preorder it here. I’ll also be reading the audiobook myself, if that’s the kind of thing you’re into. I am.
This is going to be a long road toward publication. I’m trying to make sure I’m mentally and physically well enough to take whatever’s coming at me in response, good or bad. Or both. I’ll keep you updated here.
Are there things you want to know about my memoir writing process? I don’t promise to have answers, but I’m happy to hear your questions.
Every day a friend or a follower sends me a local house listing. I don’t mind at all. It’s nice to have people to be excited with about where I’m going to live next, what it might look like, where it might be. Because I’ve been less cagey and more confident about sharing what I like, people are sending me homes that are actually right up my alley. (Well, the people who have been paying attention when I share the design elements I enjoy.)
For a few different reasons, I most likely won’t be finding a place to buy via Instagram but it’s nice to know what’s out there, and having a few dozen people pretending to be my nonexistent real estate agent makes the looking more fun. And I’m always looking. Like any older millennial, Zillow is a treat for me. Or it’s torture. Depends on my mood.
Earlier this week, a library was on sale in a small town in Indiana. My messages and texts blew up with the listing for this old building, and I have to admit, I fell in love with it a little. The town is one I’ve been to before; it’s a town I went to with friends in college. One of them lived there and his parents were going on a trip, so we planned a little party out in the country. I wanted to go because he had goats, and a big backyard, and I felt like I needed to be close to all of that.
We went straight to his house because the rest of the town wasn’t safe for me because I’m Black. Everyone just accepted this as thing, including me, because this is how people live their lives. All I did was spend a lovely weekend drinking cheap beer with my friends, listening to their not great music, and petting a couple of mean ass goats. Everything ended up fine, I even went back a couple more times, though the friendship that brought me there eventually dissolved (for non-racist reasons). It never stopped feeling like I was at least a little bit in danger there, but at that time…I think I wanted to feel something. Even that.
I guess what I’m trying to say is it doesn’t matter how much I love that library because I’m not the kind of person who would go to that small town anymore, let alone live there. No one who sent me that link would have known about my experience in this place, and no one who does would have sent me that link. Every day Black people are deciding between owning a dream and living in a place where they will be unwelcome.We make the choices we must, but as long as I get to choose for myself, I’ll live where the love is, and no place else.
I keep thinking how funny it is that a town that doesn’t like Black people has to sell a library. I think it’s hilarious, but I can’t make myself laugh.