Oh, The Funky Art of Expansion (Tianna’s Creative). Oct. 31, 2020. 10:20PM.
Her response arrived as a text message on a Thursday morning.
“What is your gut telling you?? Like what’s your strongest urge telling you to do??? Because I feel like you already know what you’re going to do next.”
I stared at that text message bubble, placed my phone down, and stretched out on my couch.
d e e p b r e a t h.
I wanted to be a writer.
I wanted to continue writing on my blog. I wanted to tell other people’s stories in a safe space and learn about their experiences, notes and advice to a younger self, victories, and lessons. The more I was vulnerable with myself and others and I listened, I found that everyone was going through something. Everyone had a story. I spent the last year looking for community, a collective of like minds, so what if I created what I spent so much time searching for?
I wanted to write. I wanted to create art, finish the books on my coffee table, to listen to others talk about their joys, the books that they were reading, and music that they listened to first thing in the morning. I’d name my collective Shanel’s Creative, but family, friends, and strangers called me Tianna. Why was I hiding behind my middle name?
Why couldn’t I just let myself be a writer?
And when I asked myself in the mirror on Thursday afternoon, my response felt heavy on my tongue, in my mouth, and like it didn’t belong.
doctor, lawyer, business owner…?
And was that ego or pride? What made me want to move to D.C. or New York City to sit on rooftops while drinking cocktails with ingredients I could hardly pronounce while discussing fancy jobs that no one understood and going home to empty homes and…
and watching friends leave in search of more and wondering if I should too…
The truth is that I was looking to feel important and significant. The job came with prestige and inflated my self-worth.
Who was I when I stood alone?
I had gone home to far too many empty homes and found myself hundreds of miles away from myself. Oh, but to gain the whole world and lose your soul.
But what if I failed this time? This time that I actually did what I really wanted to do. It had all worked out before, so what was holding me back? Was it ego? Was it pride? Was it the way I spoke to myself?
“Be careful of the scripts you tell yourself,” she told me.
I knew I moved to the Dominican Republic at 22 and I hardly spoke Spanish. I moved to Spain at 24 and I had $100 in my pocket. I’d done this before, right?
Maybe it was my fault because I should have studied something else, but how would I have known? But… there was the dreaded student loan debt. At the time I thought a master’s degree was necessary, but again, was that ego or pride? I learned more in my community than in those 1.5 years. A degree didn’t make me more important or qualified than anyone else. I followed society and what I thought I was supposed to do without asking myself if that was truly what I wanted and the entire time I knew deep down that this wasn’t it.
Was it the embarrassment of unemployment, oh my God, unemployment? Deep down I felt lazy because did people think of me as that person that sits at home and collects unemployment? But wait… didn’t I pay into this system since I first started working?
I felt worthless, but I wondered why I felt my value and sense of self was directly connected to employment or lack thereof. And why did I feel so unproductive when I just took a break? When I took a nap and didn’t check my emails? When I took care of myself?
The realization that I’d tied so much of my identity to career, external possessions, and appearances made me sick.
Because I would have to admit to myself that it was time to move on. Forgive. Let go. Release… In order to get to where I was going.
This was the truth I struggled to face. Each week in therapy, my therapist asked, “why do you refuse to sit still?”
Because what would I find?
lot of space
space to design
space to be funky
space to be
space to heal
space to expand
space to take over the world
“I don’t know,” I told her. But I knew and she made me answer.
I thought it was “easier” to hide behind anger, trauma, and pain. I was heavy heavy heavy but who was I before this? I was never an angry person. I was never scared. I was joyful. I found adventure in my backyard and on the other side of the world. I met strangers that became friends. I didn’t focus on systemic issues and feel crushed by the weight of the world. I wasn’t heavy heavy heavy. I was upbeat and positive. So, was any of this easier?
What was I scared of?
I didn’t like who I’ve become and this wasn’t me being hard on myself. I was proud of myself for speaking up, but I didn’t like the way my face looked in the New York Times photo nor did I like how my voice sounded on NPR. I didn’t recognize myself. I was a victim, even though I would never admit that to myself but when I reread my blog posts, I sounded angry, victimized, and still drowning in trauma.
Was this me?
Was this who I was?
And this woman was in a considerable amount of pain, sleeping beside anger and disappointment, with all the shouldas, couldas, and wouldas in denial about something she believed she lost was-
s t u c k.
So instead of dealing with this directly, I spent my time applying to jobs, doomscrolling LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and wishing I too had a job and reaching for something else, anything else besides myself.
On a Tuesday, I excitedly called a friend to tell her about a job I applied to. Three weeks later, I opened my email inbox to find-
“We received an overwhelming response to the Social Impact Storyteller position, which makes us feel both humble and proud that so many talented individuals (like you!) want to join our team. This volume of response makes for an extremely competitive selection process. Although your background is impressive, we regret to inform you that we have decided to pursue other candidates for the position at this time.”
And then came the doubt. Full force. If I was such a talented individual, then why was I going on month nine of unemployment? I know I refocused on finishing grad school, but damn, here we were and I still didn’t have a job. My anxiety went through the roof. Was it covid? Was I not qualified enough? A friend recommended a resume writer. I openly agreed. I asked for advice. I listened. But was I not qualified enough though?
And there came the anxiety. I needed stability. I needed to have my clothes in one closet (not a suitcase) on color coordinated hangers, my reading chair next to my bed. I needed to water my plants on a Sunday morning with jazz music, to put food in my refrigerator, to walk my dog, and to have a home to come home to. I needed to not be in fight or flight or transit like how I spent the last two years. But could I afford it?
But the student loan the student loan the student loan.
what would I do what would I do what would I do.
Trying to find that next job that I thought would make me happy. But in these nine months, what had I found? I repeated a cycle that was no longer working. I searched for jobs that would only feed my ego and my pride. Jobs that got me further away from what I wanted to do.
You see, it was “easier” to do for others than myself. It was “easier” to give than it was to receive. It was “easier” to struggle alone than it was to ask for help. It was “easier” to put on that pant suit immediately than it was to sit down and heal myself. I looked for distraction and external validation when I needed to feed my own soul. And I ignored all advice that I’d outgrown this way of functioning and moving around the world.
And I needed to forgive myself so that I could be free.
But… there was no quick fix, no book that had the answers, no one person who knew it all. I took everything with a grain of salt, but it was quite uncomfortable that most opinions from others were identical perspectives and none of these people knew each other.
And I found the healing journey wasn’t linear.
It was all-encompassing and messy and easier said but done but so so so worth. It was 3AM crying sessions and screaming in the car wash and venting to family and friends and torn pages in journals with fine point pens and weekly therapy with my therapist pushing me to a whole notha growth level.
i was exactly where I needed to be.
When I sat down I found myself back in the beginning like Santiago in The Alchemist, Joan when she quit her job as a lawyer, and Maya when she wrote Oh Hell Yes.
I wanted to be a writer.
I started my blog in 2016 when I was living in a closet in a two-bedroom apartment in Madrid with friends and paying 200 euro for rent. I had nothing but my backpack. I spent my time in underground salsa clubs, on Couchsurfing sleeping on strangers’ sofas in new cities, and wearing out the sole on a pair of sneakers I purchased at the street market. I was published in December 2016. How quickly we forget.
And things had worked out then. In the last four years, I kinda figured out commas and semicolons. I had a writing style. I created a space where I felt safe. And sometimes I didn’t care for edits and I liked to ramble and I started sentences with the word and. And my blogs were written just for myself.
Wasn’t I writer?
When I sat down and talked to a new friend, I wondered if I really lost something here or “did this get you closer to your purpose?”
And when I tore those burdens down and I was honest, I realized that it was time to let go. I couldn’t hide behind rehashing trauma and repeating pain because hadn’t I already told my story? What else was there to say?
Wasn’t I more than my trauma? What was I doing before my last job? And before that? Who was I then? And before that? Why had I allowed myself to remain s t u c k instead of allowing myself to move on? Who was I without the anger and trauma? I asked myself these questions, but wondered if I believed myself when I answered. Was I listening to myself? Why did it take a new friend calling bullshit instead of me holding myself accountable?
What was holding me back from asking myself what I wanted my future to be like?
The blank vision board was on the kitchen table next to a glue stick so why hadn’t I created my future, just like I’ve done so many times before?
I’d have to step out and do something new. Something completely new and unknown and walk a path that I would have to create.
but I was ready
I was so ready
so, in the
I wanted to write. I wanted to write in coffee shops and return to myself. I wanted a different quality of life that might not exist in America. I needed to heal myself. I wanted to start a collective, a community. So, I put up two blank pages of paper on the wall and wrote-
and below I wrote-
“A storytelling collaborative dedicated to empowering voices and communities that deserve to be heard.”
I wanted to play play play like the sticky note on the refrigerator at the AirBnb in Flushing in 2018. That weekend I danced and laughed at Afropunk with friends and with community.
and underneath I wrote –
“Using the power of vulnerability, honesty, and storytelling mixed with creativity medium (art, music, podcasts, writing and essays, video, and interviews) to create meaningful change in this world.”
In my blog I found vulnerability and storytelling. I wanted to share community and create it in the process. I wanted to spend my time tinkering with life. I wanted to learn Premiere Pro.
And I wanted to play play play.
This next level of my life would require me to be honest with myself. I’d have to hold myself accountable. I needed to journal daily and write about my feelings, feel my emotions, read, meditate every morning, stretch, and move my body. I needed to go within to find the space to think my own thoughts. I needed to get out of my house and outside of my comfort zone. I needed to set time limits on social media or delete my accounts completely.
I needed to not hide behind this version of myself that I’d outgrown a long time ago.
And when I opened the graduation present from my friend, I cried. In the bag was a card and a tote bag that said “Shange, Walker, Anzaldua, Lorde, Hurston, Sanchez, Hooks, Clifton, Smith, & Morrison.” At the bottom of the bag was a black t-shirt that said “Writer.”
So, after weeks of hesitation, I calculated financial costs, decided on a launch date, created a website, and a GoFundMe. I watched friends, family, and strangers support my idea. On Day 3, I realized that this was part of the journey. On Day 4, I had people pour into my life by showing up and I accepted their advice. I released that I didn’t have to do it all alone.
This was a new version of myself that I was growing into.
This was me asking for help. This was me being open. This was me creating with whatever I had. This was me letting go.
This new version of myself was funky, it was radical, it was healing, it was expansive.
I had to stop asking others to show up when I hadn’t committed 100%. I needed to do the work. I needed to put myself out there. I needed to welcome new opportunities. When the opportunities did or did not arrive then regardless I would continue to create. I could do this. Accountability stung, but I needed the push and was grateful for it. Thank you.
In 11th grade, my Creative Writing teacher grabbed a dry erase marker and, on the board, he wrote-
“There are years that ask questions and years that answer – Zora Neale Hurston.”
He sat in silence, staring at the whiteboard, and placed his hand under his chin.
Oh the years.
Oh the years.
Oh the years.