Where Do You Go When You Go Quiet?

These words from Solange have held me together in the past months.

The titular phrase is one of my favourite sentences in any piece of literature or art.

I’ve always wondered if Warsan Shire, the brilliant poet behind it, could have been referring to a form of dissociation.

A common observation a number of people in my life have made is that I seem to move as if I am a stranger without a sense of belonging. I don’t argue because there is a level of truth to what they say. Sometimes, when I stare at my reflection, I begin to feel my own body and mind unravel, a biting sensation as my mind divorces my body, because of an overwhelming sense of change. I (think) that over the past year, I’ve begun to look very different. Any relief this should provide is dented by the sweeping sense of stagnation in the other aspects of my life, and the fact that suddenly feeling like I look different might be a sign of my constant inability to recognize myself.

2021 was a smorgasbord (my friend, Olly, taught me this word) of many feelings for me. Loneliness, a gaping emptiness, and a “healing” of the sort, were the biggest of these.

When we obsess over our identity and try to answer the “who am I?” question, we do a disservice to ourselves because we are constantly evolving and being. I like to say that there is more than one self, and these selves are evident in any fleeting moment, emotion, action or reaction. We’re never “the one thing”. Life bends us in ways we can’t always control. The important thing to always think about is to try to be our most honest and compassionate selves in any situation.

Joy is a dish best served when everything else is cold and unwelcoming.

Friends are often markers of change. Growth. I sometimes say to myself that they get 10% of the credit of how much I’ve began to love myself. Now I think of it differently. Maybe they’re a consequence of personal decisions to accept love in my life.

I think of my friends as pillars. Proof that I can be kind and gentle and evidence of my own awareness that I am worthy of receiving love and capable of giving it.

“Why are you afraid of love? You think it’s not possible for someone like you". One of the most poignant lines from one of my favourite pieces of art of all time, Beyoncé’s Lemonade, a visual album interspersed with poetry courtesy of British-Somali poet, Warsan Shire. Maybe the answer to that is I’m aware of my own brokenness. Mine and that of the people in my life. Consequences of decisions that have caused them to lose the parts of themselves that could just sit and watch the world and it’s occasional beauty. Maybe that never existed. Awareness of the influence of “maybes and what ifs". Life is after all, a game of time and chance, one in which we’re given the short, frayed edges of the stick. We are “supposed” to lose. And the knowledge of that makes me writhe in fear. Wither in pain. Awareness of my inadequacy and my potential to be all the people I want to be. Awareness of the results of my behaviour. I now lack the cushion of the “teen" suffix that protected me from many consequences.

I’m afraid I’ll never experience many things. And that scares me (more than anything).

The problem is that the line between contentment and complacency is so thin, and the cost of not branching out because of the risk of discomfort is regret.

I’ve found that the past year has had me shrink myself into something I don’t particularly recognize. I’m putting on a performance, and nobody is even watching. I can’t exactly say what the problem is—or if the problem is an individual thing or a result of larger, invisible forces, but I don’t really like who I am now. I envy people with the courage to assert themselves and reject society’s boxes. What to look like, what to be like, what to feel like, who we’re even supposed to like — we live in a world that requires us to follow a script—and you get punished at the slightest sign of deviation. The certain and weary loneliness that comes with choosing yourself is talked about with a fearful silence.

The concept of resistance, of creating a life you want for yourself regardless of expectations, makes many people uncomfortable. They cannot wrap their heads around the idea that there are those who will desire a path for themselves and chase it, and so they scream and panic and grovel and argue, as if the lives of the people that cause them so much imagined anguish and moral panic, are things to be held with disdain. Some people are also just miserable and do not want to entertain the idea of others experiencing the life that comes with… living. This is why I have tried to be radical about tapping into joy wherever I’ve sensed a whiff of it. In our draining society, it is important that we invest in communities and places where our growth, love, and joy, can thrive. Joy is a dish best served when everything else is cold and unwelcoming.

The desire to constantly reinvent the self is only as good as the will to be intentional, but intentionality can be difficult in a place of lack. When people are busy trying to survive and come out of situations where they have to pick between joy and reality, the usual result is that they find that they have become something they may not understand. In the end the struggle can feel worthless.

I have found myself in a place where I have become terrified of opening up myself to anything that looks slightly uncomfortable in the hope that my current state of “contentment” is not lost to the despair of reality and struggle. The problem is that the line between contentment and complacency is so thin, and the cost of not branching out because of the risk of discomfort is regret.

Something I look forward to is discovering my self — hobbies and interests — outside of Judeo-Christian culture and values. The money problem does rear its ugly head [hobbies are expensive], but I am only slightly concerned about that.

I’ve been trying to write a short story about a boy named Bẹwaji. I’ve been afraid that anything I manage to come up with will be void of substance, and that it will reveal that I’m not the writer I want to think I am. And maybe the problem is that I write to fish for validation, to hear “you’re so good at this". This is where self awareness has its limits because I don’t think realizing this matters if I’m not ready to do anything about it. Plus, if my need for validation helps me write, maybe it’s not such a bad thing? I also like to tell myself that I am simply not ready to write things that will require me to do the deep work of addressing a number of silly notions I have internalized.

Whenever I am in my head and struggling with thoughts of my inadequacy [which is honestly most of the time], I have started to remind myself that I am where I am supposed to be. I hope this can be slightly helpful to you too.

Here’s a poem I wrote about wanting things:

desire is a hot knife
she holds it in a warm embrace
a tight grip

she looks down on you with a grimacing stare
you’re a victim of your life
she sears the edge along your jaw
your stubble singes with the fiery flames of angst
and when she gets up
you remain. you cower like a child
the edges of your lips tilt up in a near-grin
you like it here now. your eyes robbed of their delight
into something more menacing
she draws a line with her knife
between contentment and complacency
and brands you

I wanted and it killed me,
are the words on your chest

I have been thinking about starting a newsletter to ease the pressure of formality [and make it easier to write]. I’ll (hopefully) update you when the time comes.



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