Black Girl Writer

Creating Your Own Opportunity

Photos Courtesy of  Joshua Kissi  NYC

Photos Courtesy of Joshua Kissi NYC

The future is so unsure. Seems like nowadays things—people are so uncertain. Some of us are up then some of us are down, and we just fluctuate from being up and down then down and up again. I’ve noticed this since I’ve recently been deemed as whole ass grown adult that life is fluid. And, that at the end of the day we all have choices—whether we think we do or don’t. You have a choice and so do I. Doesn’t matter how bad or good something is, you can say yes or no. Perhaps, even maybe.

I remember in my teens and early 20’s that I longed for someone to tell me the “right” way to do life things. I wanted people of age to give me the answer, that golden truth of success and belonging in this world. For the most part, the people who knew nothing about me or wanted me to fall in their content with “whatever I’m given” footsteps told me what I should do, who I should be. I rebelled because if life looked anything like what they were handed, what they accepted then I wanted no parts in it.

For the few folks that I regarded with high esteem and respect, they would always tell me something along the lines of “create your own opportunity”.

I’d grumble internally, angry at the fact that they hadn’t given me the answer that I so desperately wanted, that I needed. I needed an adult to tell me what to say, how to think, and most importantly tell me what my voice was. What it sounded like. Where to find it.

“Create your own opportunity, Leah,” the voices of mentors echoed.

I couldn’t comprehend what they meant. I looked at the shit I had—which was zero and found it impossible to create something viable from nothing. These adults must’ve had it all wrong. Clearly, they’d been set up much more lucratively than I. I was never going to be the person I was looking for.

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I still never stopped asking myself as well as others about this so-called self-made opportunity.

Although hard-headed and rigid in my thinking, I’ve got to give credit to myself, I have always been curious. Curious to know how stories and narratives came to be. To exist. I’ve always been curious to know why some of us have and others have not. What characteristics does one have to possess to be on the other side of greatness.

To me, greatness was always something I’ve dreamed of, yet hadn’t known exactly what it entailed. But, I always knew it’d be good for me to experience.

I complained a lot about the resources I didn’t have. I’d explain my ideas to different artists and friends, and they’d be like, you should do it. And, I’d always reply, “I’m Black, I’m fat, and I’m a poor woman. You’ve gotta have resources to pull that off.”

There were times in my life where I hadn’t had shit. Like nothing. But, looking back, that’s not fully true. I remember one time, I had upwards of ten calls per day coming from bill collectors. My bank account was in the negative. Overdraft on top of overdraft. The phone calls were getting to me. I couldn’t pay them no matter how bad I wanted to. So, they continued to blow my phone up.

“I’m stuck,” I cried. As the tears rolled down my cheeks, I got up and opened the door.

I returned to the couch, sniffling and watching the clouds go by. I was angry that I was so educated and had no job. And, that the jobs that were paying were 8 and 10 dollars an hour. Which would only put a dent in my piling debt. I was mad that my husband at the time could only afford to hold down the rent and nothing else. I was mad that my mom was mentally ill and that my daddy wasn’t there. That my family hadn’t reached out nor was financially able to lift me out of the shit show that I’d created trying to educate myself in America.

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I cried and cried and cried some more.

After that, I asked myself a question: what can you do right now for free instead of crying and feeling sorry for what you don’t have?

I answered myself: I could probably write. I mean, I do like writing stories and I do want to be a serious writer one day. I could write for practice at least.

So, I wrote.

What else can you do for free? I can post my stories on Instagram.

So, I posted things on Instagram.

There were fashion events and networking events that I could meet people at. Some free and some not. For the ones that weren’t free, I emailed the organizers and told them that I had no money but would like to attend. 90% of them would send me complimentary tickets.

I created content and emailed people. When that batch was a fail, I created more things and emailed it to more people. Most of them were rejected or ignored. I had my times where I was like fuck this opportunity shit. I need a real job. My bills aren’t going to get paid from “opportunity”. Which meant that in-between jobs that I absolutely loathed I created content and emailed people.

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My thoughts were that if I kept doing this that one day someone would be like hey! She’s not only talented but diligent. For the most part, I would hang onto the hope that one day I’d get the yes that I was looking for. I knew that I was good, but I needed others in my fields to validate my talent on a larger scale. I couldn’t do it alone.

When I tell you to create your own opportunity, I am telling you something that has been said to the folks before me and will be told to the folks after me until the end of time. You might not get it right now and maybe you will not understand it, but there is so much wealth in that simple statement.

Opportunities are everywhere, all around us just floating around. Many of us don’t see it. Many of us miss it. Many of us allow them to pass because we are too scared that we aren’t qualified. That we will make a fool of ourselves. We get that “what will other people think?” syndrome going on.

But what would happen if you just did it anyway? Learned as you go. Grabbed that opportunity by the arm and molded it into something cool and great. Something with purpose.

Stop waiting for an opportunity to stumble upon you. Go out there and capture one.

 

xoxo,

 

Leah V

Leading the Resistance: Your Voice Counts

Photos Courtesy of  Eric Puschak  (Detroit)

Photos Courtesy of Eric Puschak (Detroit)

I wrote my first story at six-years-old. It was called ‘King and Queen’ and I was excited to send it to the Reading Rainbow Short Story contest. My love of words, stories, stringing sentences together to form legible thoughts to be conveyed to an audience was innate, I believe. Plus, Mom used to pop me with a thick comb if I hadn’t learned to spell at least ten words a day during homeschool sessions. Words and I became best friends. I read and wrote. And read and wrote some more. It was my outlet away from being daddy-less and watching our single, Black mother work damn hard to keep five kids together, off the streets, and fed. As you could imagine, she was there but then again, she wasn’t. She had too much on her plate to be everything we needed her to be. Stories became my life. And, 24 years later, it still rings true.

I’ve had many of rough patches, and will probably have many more if I live long enough, but one in particular almost took me out the game. Yes, a fucked up relationship stirred in with heavy mental illness and lack of family support and financial issues played a major role, but looking back on it, the major issue was that I felt as if I hadn’t had a voice in the world. I’d tried my hand at creating a blog and putting some fiction on there. It failed. The following year, I tried to start a trendy YouTube page where I talked about myself and celebrities. It was reckless. People bashed me. I embarrassed myself and stopped immediately. I made a public video where I basically had a mental breakdown on camera. Posted it. Again, embarrassing myself. I wrote tons of full-length novels. Four to be exact. Those got shot down by every agent in LA and New York. Started another blog. Failed.

I keep using the words ‘fail’ and ‘embarrass’ because that’s how I genuinely felt at the time. I had so many ideas in my head. Like some cutting-edge shit and no one (or not many) understood them. No one got it like I needed them to, so I was ignored.

Friends (well, not any more) would make fun of me. One time, in particular, I had wrote a quirky feminist poem. I was so scared to get on stage and perform it. I stumbled a bit, but I got up there and did it. After the applause died and I went back to my seat. She kept taunting me and laughing at the words I wrote. I sat there, confused. Wondering why was it so funny to overcome your fears and have the courage to say something, even if it sounded stupid to her. Why had she had to kill my moment? But, people like her, individuals who don’t have courage to fuck up, don’t have the persistence to keep at it, even though you’ve failed a hundred times just don’t get people like me or you.

I thought I valued myself, but I hadn’t. Not at all. I never saw myself as a writer. A creative. A creator. An artist. I deemed myself as someone who wrote words. Why? Everyone could write words. I made myself plain. Regular. I boxed myself in with the ‘normal’ people. The one’s who didn’t have any special abilities. I’d been told so many times that I wasn’t special that I started to believe them. I was the person who hadn’t spoke because it’d make people feel uncomfortable. There were stories I hadn’t wrote because I was afraid to stir the pot, make waves. Because of all the restrictions and limits I placed on myself, I became a drone.

The difference was that the inside hadn’t matched the outside which created turmoil like no other. I was fighting a silent battle that no one saw or heard. One that almost destroyed me. And, I am the only one to blame for that. But no one told me that I could be me. That it was okay to be unapologetic in my very own skin. I was always told to put on a face, be the bigger person, do what you gotta do to survive. And, I never questioned it. I watched the women in my life crumble because of that norm. They’d gone through the same battle as I was and suppressed it. They were stuck. I hadn’t and I don’t want to be stuck like my grandmother. Like my mom. Like my aunts. And my cousins.

I wanted to be free. Free of constraints.

I was told that it wasn’t possible. That I could never model as a Muslim woman. That no one would buy my work, my stories. That I could never write and tell the whole truth. That I could never be me. The real me.

I became resistant. And, man, was it a lonely road. When you truly figure out who you’re supposed to be, it makes others mad, resentful, uncomfortable. I had no friends. A husband that barely wanted to be there. And myself.

I still had myself. That was more than enough. We gotta be okay with just being. Ourselves.

The resistance grew. And grew and grew. I hadn’t cared about money. I stopped caring about success. I’d write. Every day. At one point, I was thinking about just living out of my car but as long as I had a notepad and access to a library then I’d be fine. As long as I could create. Then I’d be so fine.

The question I get asked a lot is how am I so raw with the pieces that I share? When you are good to yourself and stop placing limitations on you and what you put out, then you’ll become what you are meant to become. A lot of these limitations come from ourselves, first and foremost, and our perceptions of what other people will think of us. We are wrapped in holding up these facades that we don’t even know who the fuck we are anymore. We care so much about what someone who isn’t paying our bills or brushing our teeth that we don’t even try to step outside the box and explore ourselves.

It’s funny because I’ve become this sort of beacon for individuals who’ve had no voice. I’ve been deemed as this, I guess, motivational speaker and writer, almost. People actually come to me with their problems and their body image issues and we talk—chat and share stories. They throw words at me like ‘inspirational’ and ‘motivational’ and ‘innovative’. Each time, I’m in awe that they see me in those ways. I write for myself, for the most part. As an artist, if you don’t feel your shit then who will?

A few ladies came up to me after I accepted the Gilda Award last week, and grabbed my hand or my shoulders, and squeezed. Each one said, “You are needed. Your voice is needed. And you belong. Speak for us ladies that don’t have the courage to do so.”

xoxo,

 

Leah V.