Practice as a portal
Shoutout to everyone learning to delight themselves. Shoutout to every artist. Shoutout to practice.
Good morning, or dusk, or whatever time it is that you’re opening this digital love letter. It’s been a beat. I hope wherever you are, you’ve gotten to talk to someone you love lately, or that you’ve eaten something that makes your heart and stomach hum in satisfied unison.
So much has happened in the past few months. We’ve eased into a new season: Fall, the time of change and preservation. I wrote a book: Tenderness, An Honoring of my Queer Black Joy and Rage.
I’ve been thinking about how some plants require fire for their seeds to sprout. Releasing my book has felt like a needed fire for remembering why I create. I struggle with taking my art seriously, by which I mean about six times a day I have to pull the reason why I create back to my memory. I create to get free. And I really mean that. I deeply believe in art as a window into my infinite capacity to love and change. Art is how I remember the universe is perpetually unfolding with miracles. Art offers liberatory possibility in suggesting alternatives futures to the ones white supremacy demands. Art is a vehicle through which I can feel the intangible.
And all these lessons in why I create get lost on the daily to…p much the caterwauling the late-stage capitalist economy I live in that drones on and on about what being an artist is and is not. It’s like this invisible finger wagging at me to not believe in the magic of art and to not give it any care unless it’s serving some institutional idea of what being an acceptable artist looks like.
If I could, I would scroll onto a million tiny strips of paper and send in bottles to every artist that’s in the depths of doubting their craft:
Artists! Artists that are artists but feel nervous calling themselves artists! Artists that haven’t created for a long while! Secret artists! Just creating to delight themselves artists! Artists that are crafting their own definitions of being an artist! Artists that are struggling! Artists that haven’t felt like an artist for a long time! Artists finding their way! I have so much love for you and for us!
It is so hard to get out of my own way, to not second guess myself and how and why I create. It’s hard to not get lost to the pressures of what being an artist means: to have a following, to produce work at the speed of “relevancy,” to have a list of residencies and publications and gallaries and awards, to have a “brand,” to make art that’s digestible. (when there’s really no rules one has to follow to be an artist and whoever says there are I prolly don’t want to hang with).
So often all the bullshit around what being an artist means and doesn’t mean causes me to freeze at months at a time. There’s a difference for me between taking an intentional pause with my creative practice, and being stuck in fear of creating. I’ve been thinking about how I can gently pull myself out of the noise, and towards remembering that art is a means for tapping into my infinite capacity to love and change.
What I’d like to believe is that the pull to open the doors of my curiosity through creation is ultimately stronger than my fear that tells me not to create.
Praxis is the process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, embodied, or realized. To me it essentially means living the lessons I hold important. Not to just recite them in my head, but to show up to them with concrete action.
Lately, I’ve been sitting a lot with what it means to practice. To practice my art without an end goal, without this pressure to get “better,” or to be productive. But instead simply as a means to follow the trail of my curiosity, to be in commune with spirit / universe/ God/ the web that connects us all.
For the past two weeks, I’ve been practicing writing 30 minutes every day. Sometimes, the only thing I write for 30 minutes over and over is: pls i don’t want to do this I just want to watch great british bakeoff pls why. But the other day, I wrote a poem! The first poem in a year of not writing poems! The surprise I felt seeing that poem on the page, looking back at me all evergreen and brimming and new. The quiet delight I felt in doing something that I’d been telling myself I’d “lost” the ability to do, when it had always been there, just waiting for me to arrive before the page.
There is something to tending to the practice of delighting yourself, of remembering your creativity can shapeshift into manifestations you would never know are possible otherwise. Practice is a portal: it’s full of unknowns, there is no certainty in the outcome, but in that uncertainty, so much is eagerly awaiting us with open arms. Practice is trust: it’s confidence that I can meet the unknown with compassion. That I can be fluid, that I can be water. It’s trusting that the page always welcomes my voice, even when it’s thick with hurt, even when I’m uncomfortable, even when I’m fucking over it. Practice is betting on myself: It’s being brave enough to be a beginner at something, and loving enough that I let go of the shame, rushedness and defeatism that makes practice unsustainable. Practice is rejecting that I have to wait for “inspiration to hit” until I create, and embracing that creation is always within me, even when it’s quiet, even when it’s camouflaged into something I can’t recognize until I look a little more gently. Practice is wonder: it’s confidence in the endless depths of myself and the world.
I’ve been rereading this note by John Coltrane over and over and over: “There is never any end. There are always new sounds to imagine; new feelings to get at. And always, there is the need to keep purifying these feelings and sounds so that we can really see what we've discovered in its pure state. So that we can see more and more clearly what we are. In that way, we can give to those who listen to the essence, the best of what we are. But to do that at each stage, we have to keep on cleaning the mirror.”
Shoutout to everyone cleaning their mirrors. Shoutout to everyone learning to delight themselves. Shoutout to every artist. Shoutout to practice.
An exercise to experiment with this week: Practice something for 15 minutes with no end goal. Just sit in presence with whatever you’d like to practice. Truly, anything. Begin anywhere.
4 things that made me feel joy 🌸
1. This line from the poem “No Better Life,” by Alice Walker
2. New Negress Film Society, a collective of Black women & non-binary filmmakers, is hosting a virtual conversation series that features scholars and filmmakers amplifying communal forms of filmmaking while centering the political act of collectivity.
3. Learning about the existence of Ernassa Sanguinolenta Tiger Moths. The way nature continues to stunt on us all!!
4. This gorgeous recipe for purple cauliflower soup that I will definitely making to impress both myself and my friends. Praise for the return of soup season. 🍜
3 designs I’m 😍 over
1. I’ve been gagged and gooped over the upcoming release of Salehe Bembury’s Crocs for months. Rumor tells that they’re dropping this December 👀.
2. The decolonizing, [or puncturing, or de-Westernizing, and SHIFTING], Design Reader, 2021 edition, is chockfull of knowledge on expanding possibilities for resistance within design.
3. I designed the back of a shirt for my dear friend Vanessa to help them cover the costs of their top surgery. The shirt was created as a reflection of a world in which the needs of Black trans people are at the center of communal care practices. Front of shirt designed by Ariana Garland, inspired by Kamra Hakim’s personal library of care materials. Purchase a shirt to help support!
2 sounds that make my brain hum sweet songs 🎶
1. I’ve been OBSESSED with @modernbiology on Tik-Tok, who uses the bioelectric changes in mushrooms and plants to trigger note changes on synths.
2. A fav DJ of mine, Stonie Blue, put out this house mix that I’ve been grooving to across the week.
1 piece of nonsense
My book is here! 💌
I’m so excited to share with you that my book, Tenderness: An Honoring of my Queer Black Joy and Rage, is now available.
Sending you much love 🕊.Drink a glass of water after reading this email
Thank you so much for being here.
This newsletter is free - but if you are wealth privileged and regularly find value in my work - I’d love if you’d consider becoming paid subscriber or sending a tip through Paypal. If you are already a paid subscriber, thank you. 💌 Your investment makes it possible for me to keep this newsletter free for marginalized folks, and allows me to keep writing.
15% of all monthly support is also donated to an organization I love and that y’all should love up on too. This month’s investment is going to Freedom Community Clinic.