I struggle going back and forth between doing what I think I should and doing what I want. I wonder what my “purpose” is. I write some days and paint others. I pick up the violin every now and then. I frequent yoga classes and pour my heart into long conversations with friends. I sometimes worry that I can be too intense and other times can’t stop being goofy. When my mom tries to have serious talks with me, I smirk until it becomes a childish giggle. I am a kid again. I am present on Mondays and pensive on Tuesdays. Wednesdays I am boisterous, and on Thursdays, I create. Fridays I am indecisive. Saturdays, I hold my head high and proud because “I know who I am.” Sundays, I run errands. Every day is different, and that is OK. I am unique and so are you. I can’t confine myself to one interest, mode, or destination. It wouldn’t feel right. How I define myself shouldn’t be a contrived identity or a bucket full of labels. I look at the world through my lens and I am fascinated. I want to know everything and everyone and be a part of it all. I want to open myself to the world, do something big and important without the illusions of my ego’s approval or self-fulfillment. I recently realized that it’s ok to be up front and that it’s also ok to be angry. I’ve spent too much time trying to keep the peace, but suppression is worse than enduring a storm and also unfair. Let it out. Breathe. Scream. Sing. Do what you have to do. I am getting to know myself, my soul, laughing at thoughts that might be cliche but are still true to me. I don’t envy anyone or anywhere else. I am here, and here is my destiny right now just as much as it will be when I am gone and in those moments in between. This is only the beginning. I realized that those with the answers may not be what they seem. We are all discovering truths every second – good or bad. Pain is real and so is bliss. Hopelessness exists and so do miracles. Roles are false and assumptions are rarely to be trusted. I am learning as I go. So let’s keep going and see what happens.
Two years ago, I got the word “evolving” tattooed on my inner bicep. I was heavy in my Erykah Badu phase at the time, and when I saw her walk naked through the streets of Houston, Texas for her “Window Seat” video with the word “EVOLVING” tattooed on her back, I was set. The word was so bold, so timeless, so absolute. For me, it was perfect. Watching the video, gazing at her bare body sway through the streets with puzzled onlookers was so powerful. It was beautiful. Simple, but complex. Vulnerable, but effortless. It was Erykah. And in my eyes, Erykah was queen. I was a senior in high school at the time, bouncing from the business of beer pong and gossip and yearning to explore something bigger. I delved into my music as a form of escapism, so much so that it became my world. Some artists came and went, but Erykah was there to stay. Baduizm was my Bible. But, Mama’s Gun and New Amerykah Part One and Two had me just as much hooked. Worldwide Underground? Equally as D-O-P-E. It didn’t matter, really. I knew every word, every rhyme, every afro-pickin-rimshot-gettin’ lyric. Common used to love H.E.R.? Well, I still did.
Needless to say, I was set on this tattoo. Not only did I admire the source, but more importantly I aligned with the word. And that word stood for something more than anything I, you, or anyone else could fully articulate. It was a symbol of eternity, a stamp of surrendering to inevitability. When I thought of evolving, I thought of my life. My fate and my destiny. What did it mean to me? How would it apply? Would this be something I would want forever? At some point, I just said yes. I set aside the extraneous questions, sat myself down in that Santa Barbara tattoo shop, and let the artist dig his needle deep into my skin. The ink burned, but I was proud to wear my bandage around town as thin lines of blood dripped from the fresh sketch. My 13 year-old sister was with me at the time, as was my best friend. Both watched me and held my hands as I cringed heavily in the chair, snapping photos of me that looked as if an exorcism was taking place – Watery eyes, stiff limbs, teeth clenched tightly. We all got a good laugh out of it. The outcome? “Evolving”.
After the fact, I found myself either readily opened or inferiorly insecure about it, depending on my audience. When grandparents were around, I would try to hide it with crossed arms or long sleeves. With friends, I would sport it around town with tank tops, flinging my arms about until someone asked. I was hyper-aware of the tattoo-to-onlooker relationship, but eventually that became exhausting. I stopped caring, and with a move to LA and hop-skip to college, so did the people around me. It was just something that was there, not as mentally prevalent as it once was. More like a beauty mark than a fatal illustration of permanence.
Two years later, I look at my tattoo with admiration and humility. It is a constant reminder of the natural process. Of course, I have gotten my fair share of inquisitions (“oh, so you’re into labeling?”), but the underlying concept is the universal truth that we are evolving every second. Each moment arrives as a new experience, a small slice of the holistic narrative. I didn’t need a tattoo to tell me that, but I’m thankful that everyday it does. Even when I’m sleeping. I think about the concept often, and what it means to subject myself to the natural forces. When I make a fool of myself or when I do something not as perfectly as I would have liked to, I think about what it means to grow.
Who I am today may not be who I am tomorrow. My perspective as a twenty year-old will not be what it will be as a thirty year-old. I can’t rush the process, be who I am not, or define myself by a rigid identity or what the next person wants me to be. I am evolving. I am changing. And that is OK. Thanks to Erykah Badu, the music that rearranges my molecules, and the concept that has forever been implanted into my everyday thought process, I sway through the streets with that same sureness. I’m not singing “Window Seat”, but I’m riding that same bus.
On June 14, 1965, Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. reminded the students of Ohio’s Oberlin College to stay awake. However, his message was far from trivial. To a crowd of coming of age ears, Doctor King blew forth the “wind of change” that would ignite the betterment of generations to come. Sweeping away the detrimental dust of yesterday, Dr. King extended his voice to those who not only listened but preached, not only looked but embraced, and most importantly, to those who would not dare sleep through a great revolution. This time was not one for the weary eyed.
The 1960‘s introduced an elevated consciousness both politically and communally. The Supreme Court had outlawed segregation in public schools, Lyndon B. Johnson’s Civil Rights Bill of 1964 had become an authentic enforcement, and a “new voting bill guaranteeing the right to vote” was a work in progress. Yet, despite the advancements, war was still a rampant force. Citizens pressing towards peace kept a vigilant eye on the struggle overseas in the Vietnam War and a close presence to those like Dr. King who stood in the face of injustice at home.
While scientific progressions borne a brighter face for America, social schisms stung a nation’s Soul. The ego outweighed the heart. Brotherhood was still broken, and even when free, men were shackled. Highways had been “carved…through the stratosphere for a trip to the moon” but humanity dared not drive to face that which cried outside of their front door. Dr King states that “anyone who feels that our nation can survive half segregated and half integrated is sleeping through a revolution.” He continues on, “We must get rid of violence, hatred, and war.” Birthed under the same nation or not, what barriers were preventing man from becoming One under God?
King quotes, “we must all learn to live together as brothers – or we will all perish together as fools. We must love peace and sacrifice for it. We must fix our visions not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but upon the positive affirmation of peace. We must see that peace represents a sweeter music, far superior to the discords of war.” Like Ghandi, who too revolutionized a struggle without the weakness of weapons, King sang to freedom and faith. “The goal of America is freedom,” says he. Even those asleep could not help but be shaken.
What kind of man would reject such an ambition? What kind of man would hoard such a notion whose intent is to encompass all? Surely, not someone who is awake. For, he would alert the presses. He would stand in the courts. He would not sleep until every single breathing being received the Freedom he deserved. Like Doctor King, he would see not the illusions of superiority and subservience but instead, the Truth of Togetherness. In this light, a new America could to be born.
As the great jazz poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron once said, “the revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.” On June 14, 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would encourage the students of Oberlin College to take the wheel. Into the midst of a storm, they must be willing to steer. With eyes peeled and feet on the pedal, they dared not fall asleep. No matter the time, nothing could eclipse the destination. For, at the end of the journey, Freedom was waiting.
I asked to borrow yesterday’s tomorrow
But just for today
Before time slipped away
I promised to return it
as soon as i saw the moon
As the stars reached full bloom
So when I saw the speckled sky
I didn’t need to ask how or why
Because yesterday’s tomorrow
Had whispered the truth of today
I rediscovered a poem
And wanted to tear it to shreds
It reminded me of you
And let’s be honest, you suck.
I didn’t know if I should hold onto it
Or throw it in the flames
Was it a memory I wanted to keep for later on in life
Like, as a timepiece?
People do that.
I do that.
There’s something about you that I think is kind of gross
And that’s not something I would usually say
But it’s true
Even the energy of this poem is a waste
And negative, too.
Is this some form of closure?
I don’t even miss you.