My mother wanted me to be a writer. I wanted to do nothing of the sort.
I wrote poems as a child. I read novels under the shadowy shield of my covers late into the night. The constant punishment of a somewhat unruly, curiously independent child was the restriction from my books. It was the only thing my parents could take away from me with any sort of reaction. I spent my allowance on books. I rode my bike furiously before curfew to the local library. Even as a young adult, I broke down in tears at an airport terminal when the grave realization hit that I would have to pay €230 in overweight charges due to the amount of books I had purchased abroad. I consumed words, stories, histories as if they were keeping me from starvation.
The death of a force in my life at sixteen propelled me to write my first eulogy. As macabre as that sounds, I’ve been writing them for loved ones ever since. Most recently at the passing of my grandfather where I stood, a bit timidly, before all the people in my life who have raised me, supported me and have loved me since my very first breath.
For me, writers wrote books. I thought the only manner I could be a writer was to write one. A daunting task when employers set deadlines, bank accounts need proper funds and time is dedicated to the people and places surrounding you.
Yet today’s virtual arena gives way to various outlets of prose – content copy, social marketing, B2B sales – an entire world of concise, fluid text is needed. A writer’s platform is no longer constricted between the pages of a novel.
Writing is one part advertising, one part honoring and engaging the human experience. Each is something I am throughly interested in – when coupled together, not only big players but small, grassroots ideas can grow, extending their reach by a mere voice.
In a college English course, we were put to the task of defining the meaning of art. I was honored with a university award for my essay contributing the successful presidential campaign of Barak Obama to contemporary street artist Shepard Fairey’s image of the Presidential nominee executed in a patriotic palette with the slogan “Hope” underneath. I believe this to be the most brilliant marketing campaign I have seen thus far in my lifetime.
It was powerful. It was telling. And however we individually feel about Obama’s presidential reign, I think that we can all remember the evening in 2008 when we sat in our homes (or ran about on the rowdy streets of San Francisco, as I did) across the United States glued to our televisions as images of Fairey’s poster were held up at gatherings across the globe – Beijing, Paris, Mexico City. “Hope” extended the world over. In a lot of ways, this single word and image elected the 44th president of the United States. This single word inspired communities of minorities to do something they have rarely, if ever, done. Vote. And therefore, on that early January morning in 2009, our first African-American leader accepted the challenge.
This seemingly insignificant college assignment spoke volumes to me. Not only did I learn the greater impact words can have, they also, when put in the correct context, can propel millions of people to mobilize. Words have power, and I want power. (In actuality, I really just would like to effortlessly speak every language on the planet, a gaggle of puppies at my feet, free airline tickets for life and a pair of baby pink Chanel sunglasses. But for this post, let’s say I want power.)
Writing for me developed suddenly. With the eulogy at sixteen; a $50 first place cash prize win for a Black History Month poem I wrote at 17, the former Yale professor who tried to push me into the Creative Writing department instead of Humanities. What happened more suddenly is the realization that words can undoubtedly enact social change, cultural curiosity and serve as a way to connect with human beings you will never meet. It is unabashedly exposing. Every word you write comes with a transparency, a vulnerability of immense proportions. And for some of us, it is the only manner in which we allow ourselves this luxury. When people engage with your text you are almost always addressing an abstract audience. For every one of these harrowing yet rewarding reasons, I write.
Today, as projects come before me, as I accept the daunting task of evoking the imagination through text, I can no longer deny that quite possibly, my mother was right.