April 15, 2019

Today is Monday April 15th, 2019. My last computer was stolen on Wednesday April 3rd, 2019. My landlord disconnected power at the shed on Monday April 8th, 2019. I refuse to let any of this discourage or define my life path and residency in DC. I resolved back in September not to leave the District of Columbia without my degree. In April, my resolve and mission are as strong and thriving as ever. They can steal my laptop, wallet, phone, the clothes off my back, they can disconnect my power and take away my access to water, they can even evict me within a short span of time. But they cannot break or contain me. I will not be downtrodden or crushed by the vicious cycle of life that I am in. I will rise up, meet the occasion of adversity with courage, and prevail over the bullshit that has been thrown in my path. I am Chase Duffy, the son of Patrick and Veronica Duffy. They raised a Goddamn fighter, and I am here to stay. Fuck the bullshit, fuck the power, fuck everything except what will help me continue and advance in this goal. I have lost a great many battles, but I refuse to surrender.

PWRLS

Powerless

Shut off and forgotten

How could you do this 

To another human being?

Still I remain blessed

Calling on strength needed often

Try to avoid the abyss

And push through to my Queen.

But I push through for me;

Till then, my greatness remains unseen

A lump of coal

Creating his own diamond sheen


Two Renditions of the Same Story

Over the past two months, the process regarding my now impending suspension completely overtook my thoughts, actions, and lifestyle. Throughout countless meetings and hearings and many sleepless nights I tried to keep a level and adapt as the decisions came down. I was able to do this largely through cathartic composition of stories and poems that helped me to rationalize and reason through the situation. In the following two pieces, I attempt to describe this process in a writing style that mimics F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jean Toomer. Each piece is radically different in form and content, though the styles mimic each other. Additionally, I have chosen to include a poem from another section on the site in the Jean Toomer imitation piece as I feel it is the best presentation of the story and representation of the artist I sought to emulate.

A Considerable Catastrophe (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

Perched atop an exceptionally comfortable rolling chair while my knowledgeable professor spouted literary fact, I remember flipping open the hard shell top of my laptop and launching my mail app. Right there, gracing a pile of junk mail, newsletters, and other unimportant trifles was a sinister message that would soon transform my entire life. All of the effort put in to get to this prestigious institution, all of the nights of sleep foregone in the name of academic achievement hinged on that email at the top of my inbox. “NOTICE OF HEARING” the subject line screamed, daring me to open it. The text of the email was succinct, wasting no superfluous words.

Mr. Duffy:

You have been summoned for a hearing in three business days. Please report to the Office            of Student Conduct panel this Thursday at 1:30. Your Notice of Hearing is attached.

In Truth and Service, [redacted]

I sat in that classroom, nailed to my seat as my racing heart beat out of my boney chest. I clicked back and forth between the attached notice and the email from the administrator. I had known this was coming for some time now. Over the past two months I had been through a grueling gamut of myriad meetings and appearances before councils. Quite the treatment for a student recently named to the Dean’s List, but I digress.

I remember the first meeting like it was yesterday. My heart was beating ten times faster than it was that fateful day of the email. I thought it was going to leap out of my chest as the first of the many administrators that I’d meet in this process walked in. Her rectangle glasses frames gave an initial impression of bookishness while her gorgeously embroidered skirt and jacket, heels, broad shoulders and gait caused authority to radiate from her body. As she rounded the desk and sat down, her eyes bored into my body, demanding answers and accountability for my actions. Her calm but stern demeanor and interrogation was very maternal, leaving me with a chastised yet reassured feeling as I slunk out of her office and up to my (now former) room. These feelings of admonishment proved lasting while the reassured feelings proved the opposite.

The email had paralyzed me. Dread coursed through my body like lactic acid coursing through a Marathon runner after a race. It seized my muscles, my heart and brain. I’d sit down to try and do homework, only to be unable to write a lick. The moratorium period ended up being a pointless seventy-two hours of furious avoidance. I did any and everything that was unproductive, foolishly choosing comfort food, dejected sleep, and useless leisure over the action that should have been taken. Foregoing classes, organization meetings and even a shift at work, I felt as if I was watching myself detonate my life.

Finally, Thursday came. I started awake at about noon, mortified at the thought that I might have missed my hearing. Scrutinizing the clock, I made out through the blurry veil of nearsightedness the numbers 12:03. Phew. I had missed my morning classes, but I still had plenty of time to make it to the hearing. Popping up off the stiff twin xl mattress I spent my nights upon, I made my way over to the bathroom, turned the water on and waited for it to heat up. I undressed in this time, then stood just outside the budget shower curtain with my hand snaked around and into the stream of water. I stood there and thought. The panel I was about to go before was a firing squad, and I was their chosen target that day. I had a couple of friends who had been summoned before the guns; few had survived without serious damage to their once prestigious academic standing or scholarship. Scalding water was cascading over my hand, something I quickly realized as I yanked it back and adjusted the heat down a little bit. I showered quickly, dried off and got dressed in slacks and my absolute best collared shirt, topped off by a sleek, business-like tie that signaled the seriousness of that day’s proceedings. I brushed my teeth and hair, grabbed my written statements of responsibility and dashed out the door, only fifteen minutes before from my appointed hearing time.

As I walked out into the world, the cold air slapped me across the face and constricted my body like a powerful boa from a far off jungle. I braced myself against the frigid early winter air and made the short walk to the Office of Student Conduct. Looking up at the seal on the glass as I entered the building, I felt like a criminal peasant visiting the royal palace. I had imagined some sort of bench with a panel elevated above myself for my judgement. I was sheepishly surprised when they put me in a regular conference room and informed me the panel would only be a minute. The three administrators entered after a brief wait, all with pens and pads of paper. One of them carried a voice recorder and all three carried a serious and ominous air. The recorder was set up, copies of my written statement of responsibility were passed out, and the hearing began. In an alternating format, we each took turns speaking. They explained the ramifications of my hearing there before the panel that day, then I was allowed to speak, an allowance akin to allowing a man to dig himself out of a hole. They followed this futile floundering of a statement with a firm and somewhat fiery response, rebuking my words. After a few of these back and forth exchanges, I looked up from the pit that I’d created out of the hole I started in and listened distantly to the words being spoken to me. “Based on the evidence, your testimony, the student code and a myriad of other reasons, we have decided to suspend you for the entirety of the 2019 school year.” I heard the bells tolling the hour outside, remember thinking they sounded like funeral bells that particular day, then did my best to save face and walk out of the room with the shreds of dignity left to me. The realization of all my worst fears felt bittersweet, a loss of one worry and an addition of a cornucopia of others. For the time being, I just wanted to sleep.

 

Pain  (Jean Toomer)

Guillotine

I climb the gallows and place my head down

The coppery smell of blood and death assaults me.

It won’t be long before I leave this town

A departure of spirit, if not bodily.

 

The executioner steps forward, his hands on the lever

I plead “Have mercy, Doctor, on my humble life”

Mercy doesn’t live here though; this is the end of my endeavor

This man is a reaper, the guillotine his scythe.

 

All at once, the lever is pulled

The blade quickens towards my neck.

My future I once marketed to these merchants and sold

Now all I can do is sit and wait for their beck.

 

These pinings shall soon end though

With the swift slice of my throat.

The breaking of bones, sinews snapping to and fro

And a gush of blood as I choke.

 

My head will bounce and they will applaud

“Another bad egg removed, we’re closer to purity.”

If I had known they thought me so flawed

I would have never sold them my destiny.

 

In the end, it doesn’t matter. It’s all life anyway.

Though I really do wish I could stay.

It’s too late for all that for on this executioner block I lay

I’m all out of time now, here comes the blade.

Hope

In life, struggle is inevitable. Parents struggle each day to provide the best future they can to their children, people struggle each day to better themselves, their situation and stance in life. Sometimes struggle is chosen, other times it is completely chaotic. It is a bitter, yet rewarding part of life. To be fifteen hundred miles from home on scholarship at school, then lose that student standing, is an event that would try anyone. But, if you have the grit, the desire and the drive to fight, you don’t have to give in to life. I’ll stay in the city, won’t go home with my head hung low. I can go back when I’ve done what I came here to do. There is hope in every situation because there is hope in all human beings. These thoughts raced through my mind as my hands methodically packed up my belongings. The eviction notice has been given, suspension handed down; shock continued to reverberate throughout my body as my mind raced. Keep going, keep creating and learning. Go publish a piece of your writing, get a job to pay your new rent and tuition, buy a shed to live in. So many thoughts, following one right after the other. Life has always thrown curveballs and given raw deals. Are you going to feel sorry for yourself or put in the work necessary to make this right? That is the true question. Resurfacing momentarily from the haze, I realize I’m done packing. Loading the basket like a tetris screen, I wheeled it down to the uhaul. Rounding the corner, her lovely figure comes into view, a rush of love and affection floods my body and I remember the true reason I’m staying. Her dazzling brown eyes twinkling in the gorgeous face that has made me fall so deeply in love. The reason for my hope.

 

Technological Warfare (Mock Epic)

This mock epic was originally posted in the poetry section of this website. However, due to the poem’s length and its distinct differences when compared to the other included poetry, I have chosen to include it on the essay side of the site.

Technological Warfare 

Attention and honor, both battled for

As man’s sweet ways are lost in bloodless war.

Gorgeous people and malignant machines

Wage their small war every day, unseen.

And yet, for these men I still do grieve

Like God did the Fall of Adam and Eve

Or fleet-footed Achilles did his heel

When that fated arrow’s hard tip of steel

Pierced through and brought him to his knees.

Virgil, Milton, Homer I aim to please

And every bard and poet of mankind

With this amazing tale of fate by design.

Those malignant machines forged in white fires

Taken from Hades, sold to keen buyers.

Grace and kindness from fair Calliope

A muse so wise, eloquence bestow me

as I compose this epic tale and sing

Of the pitfalls such a small thing can bring.

Start I will with our tales’ lovely young maid

Whose beauty was unmatched, edges ever laid.

Her figure was like marble chiseled by

The deft hands of Rodin or Brancusi.

Her soft skin, ever-shining in the sun

Was aphrodisiac to anyone.

And her dazzlingly-dominant eyes

Lovely, soft, demanding respect yet wise.

These eyes held the power of fire and ice

Crafted by Allah before birth and life

He placed in her head these mighty brown orbs

To shiver men’s souls when in her gaze they’re absorbed.

Nunc, the dazzlingly-dominant eyes

Flitted from malignant machine to guise.

A guise of heeding and comprehension

One that hides a gross lack of attention.

Arenas of people, all shouting at

Once. Entertainment in any format.

Here, the unseen war wages on longer

Though, our lovely Heroine is stronger.

Abandoning arenas, she returns

To wealths of Knowledge before class adjourns.

Twenty, maybe thirty minutes remained.

In this time, with malignant machine tamed

She turned her attention to note-taking

She drank in the knowledge, brain awaking.

The lecturer ranted and roared, spewing fire

Facts were kindling, and class was his pyre

Through all this, her pen spewed flames on her page

Saving the embers, capturing their rage.

And those eyes, so powerful and so strong

Now split between board and paper, along

The same line of vision once split between

Lecturer and her malignant machine.

Though, soon enough the teacher’s fire ran out

Everyone packed up and went about

Their daily lives and drab, boring routines.

Our divine maiden strode out like a queen

And yet, not twenty paces from the scene

She went to check her malignant machine.

Not all things it brings are negative though

Messages from her love made a smile grow

And spread ‘cross her cheeks, illuminating

Her face, causing a light, bright and blazing.

So bright that commoners briefly lost sight

That returned to them once she took her flight.

Onward she went to her lover, soon wife

As she glides on clouds, no hint of strife.

And yet, Hades’ fire still burning inside

The malignant machine, begins to rise.

Now, a crow flew in a perfect nosedive

Breaking its beak, neck, no chance ‘twas alive.

Not but five feet from her lovely figure

She stopped and thought on this grisly picture.

Did shake our fair and lovely heroine

But ‘twas not ‘nough to keep her from machine.

An arena she went to, yelling ‘bout

The odd thing she saw, almost out of doubt.

All of a sudden, from this arena

She’s snatched, finding herself ‘mongst hyenas.

In this lair, the pit of hell beneath

Crossing the styx, a witness to demons.

Pain, death, narcotics and other vices

Danced across the screen, all naming prices.

Seeing harlotry, drugs and heads removed

The worst of technological abuse

Our heroine, shocked quickly abandoned

Through ivory gate, horn gate long cancelled.

For everything down here had long been false

Nothing true enough, all riddled with faults.

Back from the land of the dead and depraved

Her ecstatic mood was markedly caved.

But restored upon sight of her lover

None other could have helped her recover

So drastically quick from sudden horror

Seeing her was the utmost restorer.

And yet, while technically in the same space

Our heroine’s love had like guise on face

To the one our beautiful heroine

Had worn at her class’ early beginning.

Her dazzlingly-dominant eyes flared

And with her long gaze, her lover she dared

To break looks, turn to malignant machine.

Her lover held, then twitched away it seemed

Before truly fixing her eyes back on

Our heroine’s mighty look full of brawn.

This battle of attention ‘tween the two

Has fated value, for me and for you.

And of course for our heroine, her lover

Too. For we are doomed to truly suffer

If we can’t give our loved one’s attention

Then Heaven will be out of contention.

But her dazzlingly-dominant eyes

Do not allow that option to arise.

She wins over her lover and her soul

Not bending to the Apple or fool’s gold

Now, war-weary and tired from travel

Our fine heroine starts to unravel.

Falling into her lover’s outstretched arms

She picks up her cell phone and turns it off.

Emotion and Experience: The Two Es of Art

A week or so ago, I read two books from completely different authors. One was The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, a sprawling familial narrative that took place in the United States and the Dominican Republic and utilized elements of magical realism and a distinct voice. The other was Black Dogs by Ian Mcewan, a story that traces a British couple’s lives throughout Europe after World War II through the lens of two conversations that the main character had with his in-laws. The thing that most struck me about these novels was the authenticity and literary excellence that was being achieved. It made me think about how I could imitate this same literary excellence. These books were both very different with some stylistic similarities. Both were fictional stories set in real world places. Both are first-person narratives. But Junot Diaz writes in a playful and conversational tone where as Mcewan’s writing style is much more formal and serious. Mcewan writes his novel with a linear progression of time, and yet he leaves out large chunks of time. Memories from the past are just that: memories, offered up by a character in the story about his or her past. Diaz, on the other hand, bounces around a timeline that spans almost a century, throughout the Dominican Republic to the United States, and he eventually provides a complete and elaborate tapestry of family history and life. His timeline follows no rules, and his characters often experience supernatural occurrences in both DR and the US. These creative decisions: tone, structure and plot among others, are what make authors distinct and wonderful to read. But a few things, writing’s ‘nougat’ if you will, are present in many pieces of great writing. A couple of these aspects are the author’s experience and the emotion that he writes with. These two things often go hand in hand and help to create great pieces of art, especially writing. They are present in almost any great piece of literature, film, or dramatic performance.

Experience was the first thing that struck me about these two novels. The descriptions of city squares, smells, sights, and what the people existing in these two books felt were too genuine, too accurate regionally for an outsider to have written them. Mcewan himself spent almost twelve years in Germany while his father, a General in the English army, was stationed there during the occupation after WWII. His entire adult life has been spent in England and enriched by trips throughout Europe, Asia and Africa. Black Dogs follows the main character’s family from his home in England throughout France to Berlin, right as the wall is falling. The novel is chock full of vivid imagery of France’s mountains, the harsh and tense nature of Berlin in that time, and a very euro-centric lens of the world and the goings-on in it. Conversely, Junot Diaz is a Dominican-American citizen who immigrated to New Jersey when he was six years old. He received his degree from Rutgers University and has lived in New York since the late nineties. His novel The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao follows a family throughout the Dominican Republic, New Jersey and New York, with the main characters all attending Rutgers because of its convenience (to them? or Diaz? Both?). The narration of Oscar Wao is very Dominican, referencing fuku and Trujillo over and over again and refusing to shy away from the blatant colorism present in Dominican culture. This all adds up to two great authors writing about places and voices with which they are very familiar. This familiarity, this experience, is key to great writing. Without it, a story loses both credibility with locals and the sense of realness that can only be imparted by an author who knows the place he is writing about. Without experience, art is often flat and one-sided. This is the reason why people should be able to tell their own stories. White images of black pain, like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, are often offensive and shallow. The same can be said about gay characters written by heterosexual authors, rural characters written by people in cities and women written by men (though none are usually as offensive as the first). The point is, the best realistic fiction writing first comes from one’s experiences. You have to know what it feels like to not only exist but truly live in the place that you’re writing about and from. Be able to describe the taste in the air, the streets, what the houses look like, how you feel as you walk home and out into the city, how you would talk, and what *could* happen here in this fantasy universe that you’re creating.

Emotion is the other key aspect that writers must be able to communicate to readers. When I read The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao I was struck by the depth and realness of the emotions Diaz was writing about. Rather than ignore the rebellion and anger that his characters felt throughout the novel or water it down, he accentuated it and indulged the reader in descriptions of feelings anyone with a mother, brother, sister, or lover could identify with. And with that anger came the inevitable yang, the love his characters felt for each other. The wide range of human emotions that Diaz captured in the novel was truly amazing to me, and I do not doubt that he has experienced all of these emotions himself. The writing was too real, too truthful for me to doubt that. It was almost like the first time I saw Manchester by the Sea. I could not stop myself from crying, overwhelmed by the depth and truth of the actors and actresses’ pain on screen. Like The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, that film’s authenticity of human emotions, raw and out in the open for the reader/viewer to see, was powerful. Likewise, authors like Stephen King and Gillian Flynn deftly use emotions like fear and suspense. Because of this, novels like IT and Gone Girl are exponentially better. No one wants to read about a killer clown that doesn’t scare the reader, or a missing wife that doesn’t put the reader on the edge of his/her seat. This is the reason why emotion is so important. You could write the most flawless narrative ever, with authentic spatial details, realistic events, and a well-developed plot. But if the reader can’t feel the emotion behind the words, if they don’t feel what the characters do, then the magic of great art is lost.

It is for this reason that I want to live in as many places as I can, work as many jobs as I can, and experience as many emotions as I possibly can in this life. It’s all in the pursuit of having a happier and more full existence and bettering myself as a writer and storyteller. If I can live in twenty different countries before I die, work blue and white collar jobs, feel joy, fear, pain, love, boredom, disinterest, anguish, and jubilation, I can maybe sniff the coattails of these great authors. This is why I want to watch my first child come out of the womb, why I hardly ever pass up an opportunity to climb a mountain, and why I have not once denied my body the love that I felt inside. To say “that’s too gross” “that’s too hard” “that’s too much” to any experience in life is something I’m going to try to avoid for the rest of my existence. Nothing is “too much” life for me; I want it all.

Untitled

The roses bloomed elegantly in the makeshift vase on the desk. The petals curled outwards toward the sunlight like welcoming hands as their gentle cayenne-orange color filled the area around the bouquet with a brightness only nature can add. The energetic tones of Miles Davis’ trumpet played over the cool, relaxed beat laid down by the saxophone, horns and drums, all drifting out from the bathroom. The blankets on the bed droop lazily as if they are tired from a long night of work. A male bird bellows a mating song in the ancient trees growing up next to the apartment windows as the female birds chirp their approval. The whole spectacle almost sounds as if nature is showing love to Miles, a man so smooth even birds groove to his songs. A gentle wind comes through the window, rustling the blinds against the many different objects that the lovers have placed on the windowsill. The cans of air freshener and deodorant harmoniously add to the beautiful noise in the room when they are struck by the blinds. The sweet, pungent smell of shrimp, crackling in hot butter and olive oil in the kitchen wafts in through the door, mixing with the comfortable smell of blunt smoke. The sun goes behind the clouds, dimming the room ever so slightly and throwing soft shadows on the walls. A candle burns, crackling over and over again as if it is trying its best to be a fireplace. It reminds the man of Simba’s feeble attempts at roars in the beginning of the Lion King.  On the desk is a jug full of water, a representation of good intentions and bad execution. It sits next to a small lamp that is both insignificant and modern. The man gets up, crossing the cold hardwood floor gingerly as he finds his slippers, brushes off his feet, and slides them on. He then pads over to the lamp, yanking the cord and flooding the corner with light. A spotlight falls on the top of the dresser and the back of the chair at the desk, both overflowing with clothes. They are clear indicators of the transient nature of this apartment and these people, and their lack of space. The man then shifts his attention to the roses. Drawing his face down to one, he inhales deeply and is given a breath of sweetness. He picks up his notebook and thumbs through the pages. Each note brings him back to the place he was at when he wrote it. First he is in the courtyard, surrounded by trees and shrubs and feeling a deep sense of calm after the days meditation. Then he is on the metro, sitting in the back corner of the train as it hurtles toward the center of the city, writing over the noise of the wheels on the tracks and the tunnels whooshing by. Then, a park, the smell of the city and nature mixing to form a weird blend the both calms and unnerves him at the same time, then a plane traveling back to his home, and finally right back in the chair he is sitting in. He closes the notebook, looking at the cover for a moment as he does. “Huh.” He places it gently back on the desk and turns his attention to the full jug of water. Picking it up, he uncaps it and tips it upside down over his lips. He drinks in giant gulps, one every two or three seconds. After about a half a minute, he rights the jug and places the cap back on it, now almost empty. As he sets it down, he jumps as if he has been startled by something. Turning around, he climbs onto the bed and opens the essential oil diffuser. Taking the second lid off, he pours the remaining water into the tank of the diffuser, being careful not to spill on the blankets. Capping the empty jug, the man puts it down and grabs the case of essential oils. He picks up the lavender and eucalyptus bottles, dropping ten drops methodically into the water from each bottle. The surface of the water becomes oily and fragrant, and the sweet smell of the oils float up to his nose as he put the cap and lid back on the diffuser and pressed the start button. Within a minute, the entire room was filled with the sweet aroma that only the man had been privy to just seconds earlier. He took a deep breath in. As he let it go he saw a bright light outside of his window. Thinking the sun was coming back out, he walked over to the window and opened the blinds. The sight he saw made sheer terror and anguish course through his veins. His skin crawled like a fear factor contestant on hard drugs as he gawked at the ever expanding mushroom cloud that was coming from the city. He began to scream for his love, who had gone into work not but four hours before. But he didn’t realize how fast the light was moving towards him. He had seen a mushroom cloud just a second ago, and now all he saw was a sinisterly dark white light, rushing towards him. He felt his breath catch in his throat as his window smashed to pieces and the light enveloped him. The roses in the vases disintegrated into dust behind him as the carnage rolled on.

The Woman of My Dreams

There she is. She keeps walking back and forth between beautiful, translucent pieces of purple silk. All I can focus on is the distorted outline of her glorious figure. Her hips sway irresistibly as she turns to me. The gaze she fixes upon my body would have frozen 10 million charging armies dead in their tracks; I don’t stand a chance. She pushes her braids aside and gives me a small smile. I feel my entire body below my collarbone melting into the floor as my head bursts with fireworks. I start to ask what I can do for her, anything for her, but she speaks before I can say anything and I am frozen.

“Come,” she says, then turns and walks away.

My mind and body in unison immediately, I start to run after her. But when I reach out to push the silk aside, I trip. The next thing I know I’m falling… and falling… and falling… Every so often I catch a glimpse of her, falling along with me, but whenever I try to reach out to her she disappears. The fall goes on for what seems like forever to me. My chest begins to burn and burst with sounds like heavy artillery shells exploding. I feel an overwhelming mixture of love, excitement, terror, and confusion as I continue to spiral endlessly down. And then, just as quickly as I started falling, I land scraping my elbows on the coarse ground as I do.

I stagger to my feet and look around, getting blinded by the sun. Surrounded by miles and miles of sand dunes, the sun beats down strong and hot on my shoulders. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth like the first bite of a peanut butter Wonder Bread sandwich, and I feel my primal survival instincts kick in. “Water” my body screams to me. And yet, my heart is whispering for something, someone, else. The wind picks up and with it comes my answer. The faint yet irresistible smell of lavender and her fills my nose; I follow it, manifestly. As I top the first dune, another gust of wind blasts me with the sweet scent. Staggering back, I reach up and find my nose bleeding. “_______!” My mind screams as I take off sprinting in the direction the wind came from, panting and wheezing up the next dune. As I crest the top, I feel all the hurt of the heat and my dehydration falling away. I am a snake shedding all of my old, unneeded skin, born anew. And there she is. My muse, my love, my baby. She stands expectantly at the bottom of the second dune, waiting. Her eyes on me is all I need. My heart feel like its pumping rocket fuel through my veins as I hurdle down to her. My head throbs, I feel like I’m going to lose my mind if I don’t reach her soon.

Then as suddenly as I began falling and found myself in the desert, I was there with her, next to her, close enough to touch her. “I was looking for you, babygirl” I say. “I know” she coos back. I can’t control myself any longer, and she knows it. The next moment I’m kissing her, gripping her body, never wanting to let go. I drink her entire being in, savoring every drop. In between my worship, I pause and tell her “I was falling forever, girl.” “You’ve never stopped” she whispers back to me. I should be confused, I know I should be, but every word she speaks resonates in my body and mind as true. I nod in agreement and return my attention to loving her. But as I kiss down her neck, her body turns to water and falls through my arms. Within seconds, the water is all around me. I’m floating, no sight of the ground or sky. Just water for as far as I can see. I look around and search for the panic that I know I should feel, but I can’t find it. The only emotion I feel is a deep and lasting sense of calm. Realizing that I can still breathe, I take a deep inhale through my mouth and let my exhale reverberate throughout the water. My heartbeat is low and slow in my ears. Every muscle releases its tension. As I sink deeper and deeper into the calm, I’m jostled by something that brings me closer to the surface.

I feel my subconscious try to begin sinking again as my conscious brain stirs. One more bump takes all of the water away. The only thing I can see now is darkness. I open my eyes and there she is, crawling into bed with me. “How was work baby” I muster, groggily. “Okay” she says, “not nearly as nice as here though.” I put my arms around her, kiss her shoulders and tell her how much I love her. And as I fall asleep, I smile. I have finally found the woman of my dreams.

Inspiration and Creativity

When I made this blog, I was amazed at how much effort it took to write about things that I wasn’t passionate about. In its first months of existence, this blog was meant to be my online journalism portfolio. The pieces of writing varied from reviews and interviews to personal essays, but the feeling that I didn’t like this kind of deadline writing persisted. I eventually switched my major from Journalism to English, and mythoughtproject.org went completely dark at the same time. My second semester at Howard was even better than the first. I was finally studying material that excited me in the same amazing environment I had thrived in first semester. My friendships were amazing, and I was blessed to fall head over heels for Tendai Fara Musora, a woman who is even more beautiful and entrancing than her name. And yet throughout all of this life and love, this site remained in the back of my mind. Whenever I thought of it, though, I assured myself that I would take back up the writing as soon as inspiration struck. As time went by and I continued to wait for this inspiration to visit me, I became less and less confident in my own creativity and ability as a writer. Recently I either stopped lying to myself or had an epiphany about “inspiration” and “creativity”. I figured sharing these thoughts as my first post back would be a nice way to return to regularly posting on this site (and motivate myself in the future).

Inspiration: More Like a Pedestrian than an Uber

Finally tired of waiting for inspiration, I went out searching for it. And I found it. What I realized about inspiration is that it’s there, you just have to put in the effort to find it. Inspiration is a fun friend without a car. If you tell them to come over and wait for them to arrive, you’ll be waiting forever. But if you drive over and pick them up, y’all will have the time of your lives. Inspiration is the same way. Whether you’re a writer, painter, musician, producer, photographer or anything else, you often don’t find inspiration by just laying around. But if you get up and CREATE, it’s well within everyone’s grasp. And that’s the other thing about inspiration: it is not exclusive. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you create. Everyone has the originality and substance within themselves to come up with fresh concepts and pieces of art. Now I’m not saying that inspiration is abundant or easily reached. Quite the opposite actually. But if one really WORKS at something, they will find inspiration eventually. And if you don’t love the work, I advise doing what I did and shifting your focus.

Creativity: Another Product of Work

Like inspiration, creativity is another one of those elusive aspects of the process. The thing that sets them apart, at least for myself, is my faith in each as time goes by. The writing slump that I found myself in this last semester was quite long. At different points, as I mentioned, I hoped for inspiration to strike. And yet I never lost any confidence that it would. In that same time period, I saw my creativity go from a character trait I emphasized and identified heavily with to something I wouldn’t even mention to people when getting to know them. I did not see myself as a creative and would have rated my creativity as a one or two out of ten. But now that I’ve started writing and reading recreationally again, I see how wrong I was. Creativity is just like inspiration: you have to put in work to get it. Without effort, these two things hardly ever come to one who wishes to create. To expect creativity and inspiration without the work is like expecting a paycheck without it. They are the fruits of your labor that help creatives to labor better.

Affirmative Action

Recently, discussions surrounding affirmative action and its fairness have become more and more frequent. On Twitter, I often see the ignorant argument that it isn’t ‘fair’ because a more qualified white student may be passed over for a slightly lower-achieving person of color. But I was shocked after recently being pulled into an argument about affirmative action with my own cousin. Though I knew the children of this particular aunt had taken to their father’s conservative views, I didn’t know the indoctrination was so complete. As I gave evidence, from redlining, Jim Crow laws, and mass incarceration to wealth’s impact on academic performance, I was met with anecdotal evidence from him. “Well, Indian immigrants don’t have a problem attaining prosperity so…”, “A black guy was valedictorian at my school…” , “We’re Irish, and the discrimination we faced…” were all responses I heard. First of all, I would like to say that the United States has a population of 330 million; for any situation, an anecdote to refute the norm will exist. That is why stories are not accepted as good argumentation. They appeal to one’s emotions while statistics and facts appeal to one’s logic. That said, I’d like to put forth evidence based on logical reasoning for the existence, continuance, and amplification of affirmative action.

First, I’d like to start with the Irish claim. The Irish, Germans, Jews, and Asian-Americans are often pointed to by the white majority as examples of upward mobility. This, however, ignores multiple facets of the argument. First, it has never been illegal for any of those four groups to be educated in this country. Many first-generation immigrants were skilled craftsmen and professionals, and were able to immediately start creating wealth when they arrived in America.  We did not enslave anyone from any of the groups. And the Irish, German, and Jewish were able to blend into the white majority when open discrimination against them was deemed politically incorrect. Suggesting that the situation is the same for African-Americans, that they have only failed to succeed because of themselves, is both offensive and ignorant to our own country’s history (and your privilege if you are a part of one of the groups). The existence of Jim Crow laws, redlining, and mass incarceration all have contributed in major ways to our oppression of African-Americans and subsequent need for affirmative action.

African-Americans, when compared to white Americans, are more than twice as likely to live below the poverty line (kff.org). Unemployment and infant mortality rates among African-Americans are more than double the rates found in white America (Understandingprejudice.org). Legal discrimination against African-Americans just ended in 1950, with schools like Ole Miss, UT Austin, LSU and Charlottesville’s own UVA admitting their first African-American students as late as 1962 (complex.com). In addition, the practice of redlining created recurring problems with wealth and credit for African-Americans that persist today. An appraisal of Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn stated bluntly “[c]olored infiltration a definitely adverse influence on neighborhood desirability ” (NYT). This left no room for misinterpretation; the policy was racist and unfair to the African-American community. Lines labeling black neighborhoods as hazardous discouraged investment and made it much harder for residents to obtain a loan. Additionally, the VA used the lines to determine who qualified for a housing loan; at a time when many family’s generational wealth began, African-Americans access to the equity and profitability of owning a home was cut off (NYT). With loans being nearly nonexistent, predatory lenders moved into the communities and further drained them with high interest rates justified by the same neighborhood rating that crippled the community in the first place. Only in 1968 did the Fair Housing Act actually abolish the practice. The legislation was strengthened and given the ‘teeth’ it needed to be enforced when it was amended in 1989. With property tax being the main source of funding for education, the system is inherently discriminatory. Poor neighborhoods invariably have less to offer students for education, therefore poor students are more likely to be unprepared for college. Today, our public school system is even more segregated than it was forty years ago when segregation was legal (WashingtonPost.com). This only furthers the point that the lines drawn were “self-fulfilling prophesies” (NYT) that condemned neighborhoods as soon as red lines were drawn around them.

Now that we’ve gone through the recent history of oppression by the United States, we’ll now move into our current history of oppression. One in three African-American men will be imprisoned in their lifetime, a rate more than five times higher than the rate for white males (Sentencing Project). Similar to males, black women are more than five times as likely to be jailed than white women. With felons losing the right to vote, travel abroad, bear arms, be employed in professional fields, or take part in social welfare programs like Social Security, food stamps, and government housing, the age of mass incarceration is the modern day tool of oppression that America has chosen to decimate the African-American community (nap.edu).  With the War on Drugs coinciding with deregulation and the loss of factories in major industrial cities, many African-American males were forced into lives of crime to provide for their families; three strike laws, mandatory minimum sentencing, and the special treatment of crack all helped to decimate the black family, leaving single mothers to raise children. It is no coincidence that, when legal discrimination against African-Americans was outlawed, the prison population grew almost five fold, from 161 persons per 100,000 in 1972 to 767 persons per 100,000 in 2009. The negative effects of imprisonment are well documented, and yet we currently jail a quarter of all imprisoned people in the world. With a disproportionate amount of those prisoners being African-Americans, the motive behind mass incarceration and the War on Drugs is clear: it is the next wave of legal oppression of minority groups, black people especially.

For all of these reasons, affirmative action must exist. If a person succeeds in a system that is working against them, and has been for generations, they deserve to be rewarded. We have pushed an entire group of people into communities that we deemed to be the worst we had; we did not allow them into our schools, and we starved their neighborhoods of economic investment and growth. We’ve abandoned integration efforts, and our school systems reflect it. And we are currently locking African-Americans up at rates unseen by any other group in any other country in the world. If a black student gets admitted to a school with lesser qualifications and you feel wronged, just think to yourself how much that student and his/her family has overcome. It is not wrong or unfair to take all of these factors into consideration; in fact, I would argue that affirmative action doesn’t go far enough. We have three hundred and fifty years of legal, unbridled discrimination and about fifty of “equality”.  Reparations in some form must be extended as an acknowledgement of our past actions as a country. More must be done to right the scales and lift up African-American students and at least make the playing field even. A good start would be the impeachment of Donald Trump and the end of the mass incarceration era.

The Over-Parenting Trap

There is something about coming of age that is universal. It spans across cultures and time periods, stretching into all facets of humanity. Tribal cultures often marked this transition with a rite of passage into adulthood, whether that be a solo hunt, retreat into the woods, or a Sundance-like self-emasculation ritual. In Eastern Uganda, a rite of passage called Imbalu is practiced. This is a public circumcision taking place between the ages of 16 and 25 to pass into adulthood; one must remain stoic and show no signs of distress during the circumcision to be considered a man. Even the Amish and Mennonites, cultures which historically reject modern technology in favor of a simpler life, recognize this transition. The tradition of Rumspringa, meaning ‘running around’, is a time when adolescents in the community go off into the modern world and experience all of its pleasures and pitfalls. Some return to the community, completing the rite and reentering as an adult. Others opt to join the modern world, knowingly leaving everything they’ve ever known. Whatever the rite, whether it be grizzly, challenging, or enjoyable, the end result is the same; maturity. The United States is no exception when it comes to these transitions into adulthood although the vehicle through which this transformation is undertaken has changed over the years. It used to be war, as it was for many societies, but since WWII it has transitioned slowly to college. And it’s in trouble.

As I sit here in the Airbnb rental I booked for move-in weekend, I can’t help but be reminded that I’m not yet a professional at being an adult. Entrusted with booking the flights and reservations, I decided to be frugal. All of our flights went smoothly, but we hit a hitch in the road at the Airbnb. My choice to use the popular app for our stay was a big point of contention between me and my mom. She had heard horror stories from friends of their terrible Airbnb experiences, and she told me these stories over and over. I always countered that I’d just used it in Seattle with my brother and that our host and house were both exceptionally nice. I eventually convinced her by comparing prices of hotels to the Airbnb. But when we pulled up to our place in D.C., I was forced to eat my words from before. Though more expensive than my Seattle rental, this Airbnb was remarkably terrible. There was still garbage left from the last renters, the host was at least a little drunk when he came downstairs to greet us, half of the furniture was busted, and the guy was moving furniture into the floor above us until 11:30 pm. For myself, this place would’ve been fine, though I might have been mad at how rundown it was relative to cost per night. My mom, however, was understandably flustered by the conditions, and I could see her holding back the “I told you so” that was on the tip of her tongue. And yet the moral of the story isn’t to let your mom make your reservations; the moral is that she entrusted the travel itinerary to me in the first place, and I got it done by myself. It may have been rough, but we survived.

I’m currently staring down my own rite of passage. In seven short hours, I will move in to the Mecca, Howard University. I feel an exhilarating sense of adventure and excitement mixed with sadness at leaving my family. I am ready though, and I am ready because of my upbringing. Over the last three years, my mom has slowly given me more freedom and responsibility, a process that I feel is superior in preparing one for adulthood. Paired with my father’s independent spirit and a desire for self-sufficiency in life, I have grown into an adult. I mentioned earlier that college as a passage into adulthood is in trouble; I believe imbuing kids with a desire for independence and slowly giving it to them is the antidote to this problem. Julie Lythcott-Haims, former dean of Stanford and author of How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success,says that the young adults she saw coming into Stanford were still profoundly child-like in their reliance on their parents. She argues the merits of self-efficacy and independence as a person and attributes the loss of this to parents who handle their children’s every need. Unheard of thirty years ago, Lythcott-Haims says the trend began to emerge and become more prevalent as Millennials came of college age. The blame for Millenials’ lack of independence ironically lies at the feet of the uber-independent Baby Boomer generation. Obsessed with personal achievement and competition, the Baby Boomers transformed their children into a means through which they could compete once more. Test scores, accolades in sports, and admission into a prestigious college all became symbols of one’s success as a parent. This transition has shifted the ambition from the student to the parents; it has changed parenting by making it exponentially more involved, with helicopter parenting becoming more and more prevalent.

The point of this post isn’t to bash parents who are involved in their kids’ lives and futures. I simply want to convey that, like anything, parenting can be overdone. If parents aim to raise functional adults, they would greatly benefit from treating their sons and daughters like able-minded adults. Allow your kids to make mistakes, test out adulthood, and feel the freedom little by little instead of keeping close tabs on them until they leave your house. Don’t constantly harp on them about homework. This may lead to some bad grades, but the adult who realizes the value of hard work on her own is much stronger than one who worked hard in high school simply to keep his parents off of his back. Allowing your children to learn by doing, making mistakes along the way, will let them emotionally develop in a complete way. If parents, and my generation when we have kids, stop this obsession with achievement we can restore our kids’ confidence and independence in life.