PurposeFULL

In the past few days I have been getting gentle reminders from the universe that I am on the right track. I was watching an interview Oprah did with the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) on her lessons from her life in career leadership and personal development. I had two major takeaways the first was her admission that she got to where is today by listening to what she felt was true for her.  I felt absolute chills when I heard her say this because it was just last week when I sent the following sentences in a note to my mentor about deciding to pursue the nontraditional path of writing as a career after pursuing my PhD:

“But how”

It is a lingering question that namely attaches itself to provision. But how will you eat? But how will you live? But how will you afford to travel? But how will you repay your student loans?  [Many] of these questions are what drive me to continuously pursuing careers in academia.  Positions that I could do and sometimes feel I should do for the sake of all the logical answers.  However whenever I seriously consider it, I feel a sort of deep seeded unhappiness that I can only imagine feels like Azkeban.  I know it is not for me and yet I am so scared that I may choose this option for fear of a lack of courage to sustain me through the anxiety of answering all the “But how” questions.
It is perhaps the fear I have of regret that keeps me thriving towards my end goal of fully pursuing my artistry. I do not want to live in regret especially when I can see so clearly what my calling is, I can hear it, I can feel it.  Oprah articulated that her purpose was to raise people to a higher consciousness. Mine is…. well I wrote this of my purpose last summer,
Inside me resides the crux of a gift blessed upon me to open people up, not to me but to themselves. How did you know? People have asked. I didn’t. God did. I am a vessel of movement of communication. The spirit of the entire universe uses my words to speak to others. That is the purpose of my words…Of my being. I do not have to compose to be a writer. I am a writer walking down the hallway. I speak with smiles and the sway of my arms, the shift of my hips and the click of my heels. I make music in my motion and the entire composition is a song. A poem set to rhythm and the pulse is a life given to be lived courageously.
Just over a year ago I was having the same “artist’s plight” and I wrote very similar words to the first:
If I’m honest with myself I just want to write. I want to go places, photograph strangers, and write the stories they elicit for me. It’s what I do anyway. I’m inspired by people, places, words, things, and sometimes nothing I can put a finger on. And I want to talk about it, only verbally I’m no good. I want to create the art space of the thing I’m studying. How the things out there show me pieces of me, in here. And vice versa. How I’m both painter and subject in this world. It sounds romantic and Parisian, complete with a diet of baguettes dipped in Merlot…It’s an opportunity. To design the life that’s calling me, and to have enough stability for my ego but enough freedom for my soul. That’s the thing about listening, you can never unhear. The voice is clear, distinct, and unmistakeable; it rings and resounds like the bells of Notre Dame. And maybe one day when I hear them, I’ll laugh at the grossly exaggerated comparison. But maybe not.
Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 11.07.18 PMI know it. I capital “K” Know it. Art is my medium, it provides my stage. Written prose is my monologue, my talk show, my power ballad, my solo. I feel so blessed in this moment to get such joy and such peace from the thing that also allows me to connect with others. I am at home in words. The way Beyonce speaks of herself on stage, she said she comes alive there. Here is where I live, in these words and in these spaces. My purpose is intertwined very intricately and very deliberately with my voice.
Writing is the thing that soothes my soul. It is where I can suspend the judgment of the world. It is where everything makes sense even if the words don’t. It is where I can close my eyes and simply allow. Oprah said there is no doing without first being. Writing is how I Am. It is my neutral, it is my breath, it sets my Ohm. It saved my life at a time when I saw no point in living and it gives me the ability to talk to all the parts of myself. The part who loves, the part who cries, the part who hurts, the part who is feminine, the part who is masculine, the part that is a hermit, the part who loves a party. It showed me my madness, my mania, my shadow, my cruelty.  It shows me my light, my goodness, my hope and my love.  It is my complete salvation and if I couldn’t do this. As I do this, for me and not for anyone else. It would be like losing my breath.
That is purpose full.
**I finished this piece with my eyes closed and tears falling. It was perfect.

Barefoot at the defense or Call of the Torchbearer

If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.
~Audre Lorde

I was reading a book I’d checked out from the library about women of color in academe. I could tell it was one of those books I wanted to read immediately and without interruption, and I could also tell that it was a book I would need to constantly stop reading and make notes about. I was ready to dive. On the introductory page written in italicized letters was the word “Fuck”. I knew then that I’d been very right about this book.

I interrupt myself to add a bit of context. Today I went to the dissertation defense of one of my classmates and pseudo-cohort members. I internally and externally–as evidenced by my lack of critical questioning–cheered for her successful defense and all the while deeply considered the pending arrival of my own.  I studied her body language, her notes, her slides, would my slides be the university standard Torero blue? I made a mental note that prior to my defenses I would need to buy a wireless clicker to maneuver my slides. I wondered what type of suit I would wear and I got down to her heels and I asked myself what type of shoes would I wear? It was then that the words that first began my initial doctoral class rang deafeningly though my head, “How would you like to begin?” Before I  could think about it I answered myself and said, “By telling people exactly how I felt, acknowledging whatever emotion was there and I would like to be barefoot.”

As a read the second story of From Oppression to Grace I came across a metaphor introduced by Menthia Clark but derived from work by Smith ((sidebar, I tried desperately to find the whole name of this author but unfortunately the citation only lists Smith, D. and the internet isn’t too fond of ambiguity.  I see this as a major flaw in the system, APA….major flaw)).  Smith states that, “I work hard at staying in my mind and not allowing spirit to visit me as I speak about critical education theory, womanist/feminist theory and pedagogy or qualitative/ethnographic research.  It is the dis-dancing with myself that creates a kind of distancing from the southern Black girl/woman who enjoys spirit-filled conversations that push the boundaries of a different kind of intellectual life.”  When I read it my breath left me, temporarily.  I felt this way. About spirit and particularly about art.

Much of my research is about connection, authenticity, feelings of belonging, vulnerability and all of that for purposes of facilitating innovation. AND much of my degree has been running through mud trying to make space for both my artist and my academic selves. I’d long sense surrendered a battle I foresaw with my department over doing a non-traditional defense. Partly because I was not sure the fight would create more heart-ache than hedge-way and partly because I conceded to do both the traditional defense and a nontraditional option.  However, in completing research on facilitating innovation, everything in me scoffs at the traditional defense with black words on white backgrounds and an hour of intellectual hazing.

Get me get me out of this box I feel so claustrophobic in here...

Get me get me out of this box I feel so claustrophobic in here…

How far can I push the boundaries, I wondered? Again, I answered myself lamenting that if I were going to dare to buck against tradition, I better damn well know my shit.  How is it that the sole purpose of the doctoral degree of philosophy is to promote new ways of thinking, and being and yet the process by which we go about it is, to some extent, archaic and riddled with binding rigidity?

Clark recalled a story where she asked a classmate what she, a Black woman, should wear to assert power. He laughingly responded “a power suit.”  She pointed out the illustration of westernized patriarchy in the subliminal suggestion that a woman must wear a “power” suit in order to assert power as if she could not any other way.  And the very fact that for women it is called such supports the social construction (and thus, to some–large–extent the consciousness) of such a remark.

I struggle with idea that I am working within the confines of a system that was not designed with me in mind.  And for as much creativity, forward-thinking, innovation, and imagination that we (the academy) claim to foster, there is only but so much the system can handle before it begins to reject it entirely.  It is kind of like what I’m studying.  In explaining my research earlier to a colleague I wrote to her the following: If the leader’s vision is not in alignment with the values of the group the leader will quite literally be destroyed like a parasite or a virus.  The group acts like a body and each individual is a white blood cell working for systemic stasis.  If a host upsets that stasis then it is attacked. However, my understanding is that what they call the leader I also see as this intermediary.  It does not make the leader a person, but a role, literally then the one exercising leadership in the moment and the person who is holding both the “human community of individuals” and the “greater collective system” at the same time. However because of the danger of any such group requiring this of one person, and repeatedly, that model is not sustainable over time.  In this sense, sustainable leadership requires individuals to each hold a piece of the leadership responsibility.

Herein lies both the problem and the solution.  If I chose to throw out too much of the tradition, the process, the standard way of going about my dissertation I would be treated like a parasite, a virus and the body of academia would destroy me.  However, if I am able to work within the system.  Both sharing the responsibility of creation and connecting with others who are working towards the same end, the perhaps I might survive.  In either case, it just won’t sit will enough with me to go along to get along. That has never really been my style. Fitting as such, my current facebook cover photo is from a professor in my program that perfectly summarizes exactly how anyone willing to fight against convention must do so…

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 7.09.05 PM

Such is the task of a torchbearer.  “Jessica.” I think, almost daily, “You have to just do it your way and forget how hard its going to be or how much longer it will take.  You have to go with your gut.”  It is a gift and a curse  to have such a vocal and ardent inner voice. But she has gotten me this far and we have many more miles to go.

The Arrival

I have struggled for a while with the idea of my dissertation. At the same time, I’ve been salivating at the idea of having to produce this major body of written work. I consider myself a writer–actually I consider myself an artist with the written word being my favorite medium of creating. So, for “a writer” someone who literally wakes up everyday drafting, someone who writes everyday be it in journals, on notepads, on a blog, or even just in her mind, the idea of a dissertation is something that I can totally do. It is not a question of can, or even will, for me it is a question of how…the process.

Words just flow through me. I do not sit down with an intention or a plan, no outline no map. I flow in and with words at the same time. I’ve been working on cognitively not creating such a dichotomy between my joyous writing and my academic writing. I believe that it is in large part due to my own paranoia have I found there to be such a difference between the two. I have also realized that there is no way I am going to be happy writing a dissertation that is not both academically rigorous and yet poetic and meaningful. So, I decided the route I am going to take.

Earlier this week, I said to myself, “On Friday, you are going to begin. You are going to start to pull all the inside to the outside and you are going to get naked in this thing.” Risk. I guess the best way to explain my decision is that I decided to be vulnerable in my work. That is what I believe separates my joyous from my work. I learned really early how to “do” school, I figured out what teachers valued and I played to that strength, however when I began my PhD program I decided this degree would be for me. So, I’ve taken opportunities that have scared me. I’ve pushed myself and sometimes failed but learned in the process. I’ve whole-heartedly believed in every piece of work I’ve produced in this program and I want the end to be an illustration of not just research but of my journey through my work.

It started with mentorship. Safe. Then spirituality, but it was too big and I got lost in that. So I pulled back out. Then decision making, but I realized it wasn’t the decision it was the process. Then I read. And I found that the decision making process is different depending on where people are developmentally. So it became about development. Then, there was a question of but who? First I looked at different types of individuals. The student. The professional. But I realized something, that at the same time I am me, I am also we. So I couldn’t just study the individual. It has to be both the individual, the system, at the same time.

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Artwork by Nychole Owens

It was a question to Brené and it is a question that I think is coming for my own research, and that is how does one encourage and promote vulnerability systemically? There are some things that happen, people open up with you or those that cannot or will not almost resent the vulnerability and act out in different ways. But how does that shape the organization? And what does the individual who was first “open” do? Do they experience shame ? Or are they shame resilient? And because I am looking at student affairs practitioners, how does this then affect the students that he or she advises?

It is still taking shape. But it’s my place. It is where I fit and it involves all the other pieces. I had to leave it so that I could arrive in this place, and I am excited to share it with my advisor who will soon get a new name, My Chair. It is a tricky thing, time. It moves so quickly and even before you can catch your breath, sometimes the seasons have changed and time has marched on.

So it’s Friday. I’m ready to write. I set my intention, I’ve taken off my armor and I’ve got my pen. I am right here right now and it’s the only place I want to be.

Timing and Acknowledgement

Did you know when you started out on your [journey] what your [story] would soon become? Someone asked Liz Gilbert this question of her famous adventure-in-soul-searching book, Eat Pray Love, to which she said, “what sane person could have ever imagined such a thing?!”

It got me to thinking about beginnings. When was it, exactly, that I started on my journey? Was it when I left Nashville? Arguably the decision to move home instead of drink myself into an oblivion was definitely a turning point and a new start. Or was it when I moved to San Diego? Life has been a roller-coaster ride of surprises since I’ve been here. I’ve grown–both upwards into the light and also down into the earth. But perhaps neither of these is the beginning and my great work has yet to begin.

Of course, that’s simply not true. Even EPL began before it began. In a sense, we are always living our stories. Sometimes the past is the only way we can contextually make sense of the present…which as we make meaning of it, is passed.

Sometimes when a moment is happening, you get a sense that it means something much larger than the right now. I felt that way the first time I met E, or RKB. Or even the minor players and some friends. Standing in the “now” it feels as if past present and future have all aligned and these people fit into your life in a way that seems space was carved for them; and it was.

I feel as though when I make sincere requests to God, my prayers are answered. Often tenfold. Lately, I’ve found myself praying for presence. For the ability to, when faced with an inconvenient truth, not bolt and dive head-first into numbing activities. Give me the ability to stay and endure. Meredith said last night, “the only way out is through.” How absolutely astute, and sure I’ve heard it before but something about hearing it at that moment on that day made it a little more true than previously.

Ash once told me the greatest advice she ever got was, ” Right guy, wrong time; wrong guy.” It a greater scope I take it to mean that, the universe–in all of its infinity and wonder–does not nor will it ever do “almost”. Natures timing is perfect. Things bloom when they are supposed to, die when it’s time, and are nourished all the days of their life, all things considered. Why should we be different?

Are we?

imageThat’s the thing about timing, though. We sometimes get on our ownand forget that we are not separate from nature, but very much a part of it. We bloom when we are supposed to, die when it’s time and are nourished all the days of our life, all things considered. Right now, when I asked myself where I was in that I quickly heard myself say, you are opening. If I close my eyes I can see it, myself. A little bud still green at the base but whose petals are ready to bask in warm sunshine and be wet with falling rain.

And who knows whether my great story will be about the beginning, the middle, or the end? I certainly do not. I know that it will arrive when it’s time. And I will not ignore it, I will sit down and give it proper attention. I will write until the ending arrives. But for now, I suppose, I am just living the prologue.

Scribbles in reason

I was reading one of my best friend’s blogs, she’s such an amazing writer, and she had a new blog design. When we speak (she lives in VA) we talk about this world that many people are only proximally familiar with. They may read blogs or even write one…sometimes…on occasions…when the mood strikes. But we two are self and community proclaimed Bloggers.

As I was reading her latest entry I got to thinking about why she started, and then why I started. And how through the healing power of words and a supportive community we were both able to navigate through extremely troubled waters.

Along the way I have hurt people. I have mentioned friends, family members, boyfriends and they took offense to my words. I am talking too much and on the internet no less. I apologize for the hurt, but never the words. I speak my truth. I never intend to hurt or harm and truthfully if I write about someone in my life, it is in reference to them, and everyone knows I write. Isn’t that just an occupational hazard?

The thing is…Aeschylus was right, “words are the physician of a mind diseased.” So I am sorry for anyone I have hurt, but I am not sorry for healing. For getting better, stronger, more confident, more certain. For not thinking negatively every hour of everyday. The only thing that kept me here were the words. I will never be sorry for them, I am forever indebted to them.

I suppose that I continued because it centers me. Its the only place that is mine and though I invite people in, at dawn and dusk its only me. Its my altar and my sanctuary.

I want to write professionally, but I do not know if it will stem from this place, from Sincerely, Jess.  I mean it took me nearly four years to even share consistently on facebook. But I realize as much as this place is mine, its not for me. It is for all of us.

So in closing, a thank you. For reading. For commenting (I love them).  For linking and sharing with friends. For having me guest post. For walking with me on my journeys. For encouraging me. I am forever indebted to you as well.

And that is why I write.

Listening the first time

I am horrible at that. Full disclosure, I have a hard-head and have to be told things more than once before I listen.  To my credit, as I have gotten older the number of times I have to be told has lessened to an inordinate amount to just a handful, but I am aiming to listen the first time.  That requires a level of trust that I consciously work towards, daily.

I was reading this book recommended to me by Nama called Astrology for the Soul by Jan Spiller which explores the North Nodes.  My North Node is in Gemini, and among the many very insightful things I read the one that made me laugh out loud the loudest was this:

One of the best ways Gemini North Node people can experience the integration they’re seeking is through the process of writing–a journal, books, articles, etc.–on a regular basis…Writing calms their internal restlessness, releasing the tension and anxiety in a form that brings them peace.

These folks are extremely talented writers, though they may not recognize this until much later when they look back over what they have written.  They have an ability to clarify thoughts on paper in a simple way that actually communicates far beyond the words.

Fitting, right?  I mean, honestly tell me something I didn’t know. Though it was funny to see it written on paper.  Validation is a sneaky little thing.  The next thing was this:

In this incarnation, Gemini North Node people are here to teach.  They are here to bring Truths, principles, and practical application of ethics into society…If they let go of their ideas of Truth and really listen, they will automatically tune in to the other person’s belief systen and spontaneously say–through a sincere question or a new piece of information -those words that will shift the perspective for both of them to a fresh recognition of Truth…As teachers, these folks have to divorce themselves from prejudicial viewpoints and allow the other person to think freely, without trying to guide the other to a conclusion that’s identical with their own…When they act as true teachers, these folks behave in a way that creates a win/win situation for everyone.

This was something I closed the book on.  Not literally, but it was one of those “okay okay, I’m listening,” moments.  When I was in high school my step-dad first told me, “You’re going to go to college, major in psychology and be a college professor.” To which I scoffed, at the time I wanted to be the editor of a fashion magazine–I can say that writing has been a constant for me since I was about 8 years old.  Then, when I (of course) went to college and majored in psychology I hated that he was even a little bit right. Hard head.

After college, I sought opportunities to develop my creative impulses with photography and event planning, but the attention to detail worked against my natural ability to see the big picture and I hated it.  After working at Verizon and having people yell at me all day, I figured I should be getting paid for being a damn therapist. So off I went, to be a therapist.  Got my masters and decided, well hell why stop there?  Once I got to my doctoral program, I do not remember at which event it was but Dr. Nash told me that I should really consider the full-time faculty route–to which I scoffed. I.Am.A.Practitioner. I am not an academic.  I keep saying this, but at this point I’m talking to no one because clearly…I’m in a doctoral program, I am (at least partially) an academic.

Then, of course, there is the obvious fact that I am teaching right now.  Two classes.  Then today, the sign of all signs, after just reading this book and that passage about teaching, and just having a conversation about it all with Mass Elle, my Assistant Dean comes down to my office to tell me that I was approved to teach with Dr. Nash in a Global Study course (Multicultural Counseling) in Jamaica next summer.  Need I say more? Hard head.

So at this point, I feel that I have to stop saying what I’m not going to do, because clearly God has had plans for me since the beginning.  Psalm 139.

I will say this, its amazing to me how things fall into place.  I know by now I should not be surprised or even the least bit dazzled but it is still so amazing. As I have further affirmation that “shutting up” is not in my plans, I will continue to be as open, as expressive, as gracious as ever.  And of course, never shy about the knowing and sharing from whom all blessings flow.  (According to the book, in my past life I was one of those religious gurus on a mountaintop–lol, I doubt anyone is surprised by that either)

Destroying worlds

“Whoever wants to be born, must destroy a world”~ Herman Hesse Demian

Words from a book I never wanted to read. Yet somehow it fell into my life. Dr. Kim’s doing…but the question that lead him to assign me the novel escapes me. And thank god for it, as I draw upon the words in an attempt to tell a story.

Bill Isaacs says we prefer the pattern of familiar failure. Why? Because we know it? Eh…more like, the anxiety of being outside of our comfort zones is so incredibly high that we would rather fail in comfort. That is the world we live in, a world of destructive patterns and habits that hold us captive in warm and tender arms.

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I was in the grocery store tonight getting a bunch of junk to get me through the next week of class and work, cue lean cuisines and granola bars. As I walked to check-out I saw a shape magazine with Jordin Sparks on the cover looking amazingly hot. I bought the magazine and once home I read the story I’ve read 1000000 times about how some small event happened that caused this cosmic click and began the path to weight loss. (Silently I resolved to never say those words once I can tell my own story of weight loss). But what occurred to me was that she destroyed her world.

As I am nose deep in this adult development class, I can’t help but relate it to this thought…Demian was based on the work of Carl Jung, of course. Anyway, the destruction of worlds reminded me of Erikson because of his idea that crisis pushes us into our next stage, and Sharmer whose theory u work speaks frequently about letting go and letting come, assassinating what we think we know and remaining open to new generative ideas.  Hell, its Schön and his paradigm shifts, Wheatley and her order in chaos…its a lot of things.

Practically I think of what it is like for me to workout. Its uncomfortable, its sweaty, its clumsy, its slow, and its misguided. And why? I know how to workout. I know how to lift, to train…but it feels so foreign and so overwhelming when I’m doing what I know to do and my body can’t keep up with my spirit.

I feel as though I need to destroy this world of…two separate mes. Me that can and me that can’t. Me that wants to and me that will. One whole me. That is the theory of Jung–that the self fully realized is the ultimate achievement. Maybe the world I need to destroy is the one that feels like anything other than flying…the one home to can’t, don’t, shouldn’t, and maybe.

You know how I know I’m a writer? Because I just spent hours working on a paper, typing notes, and writing for class. And here I am now writing about writing. The thing is, I love this. I love to express, and feel free. If I am in the clouds over words, I am happiest.

In the words

So yall know I’m addicted to words…they’re my first love. Music is my boyfriend #2. Last night I was reading lyrics to one of my favorite writers, Sara Bareilles, and I got inspired to head to the Black Poetry Cafe-where I often post and read poetry.  I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to say though…I was torn between wanting to write about the openness to possibility, and my mind wanting to write about intangible desires.  I couldn’t get it together.  Some how some way I couldn’t get Sanchez’s Poem#3 outta my head

I gather up

each sound

you left behind

and stretch them

on our bed.

each nite

I breathe you

and become high.

Written by Sonia Sanchez

Most people will recognize that as the first poem Nina ever told Darrius in  Love Jones after their first date (well…before the reggae spot). Anyway, the lines “I breathe you and become high,” kept reverberating through me.  Can you imagine being so intoxicated by a person that you breathe them, just the simple act of inhaling, and become high? This persons being alters your state, without effort or cause. Breathing, something so natural and also repetitive…I dunno I couldn’t escape these ponderings. So I started thinking of my own moments of intoxication.  Yet, the one who intoxicates is, in a sense, intangible (that damn theme again). Needless to say I stepped back and just decided not to write.  Well before I went to bed, I kicked up some pillow talk with The Drug; I’m kind of a sucker for pillow talk-not at all sexual in nature just random thoughts before bed.  Anyway, The Drug asked, “Whats on your mind?” As I knew he would…and I answered, “everything and nothing,” which sparked (apparently) a creative tidal wave. I wrote about 5 pieces last night throughout the duration of our conversation though I think this is the most interesting and one of the most interesting pieces I’ve written, in my opinion.  Without further adieu…the fruits of the love-obsessed insomniac:

I long to hear your voice.
Soft folds of velvet draped across my name.
Dripping slow like honey from my ears
whispers of nothing and everything.
Love in the words fall like raindrops on my skin,
washing me with sweet soliloquies of promise.
Mind falls deaf to the warm caress of your inaudible kiss
heard only with the heart.
Your breath over my body screams of bliss
and is met with an echo of indescribable joy.
What’s more beautiful than beautiful?
Quiet, for the words we are don’t exist yet;
unmatched, unparalleled, prototypical, and without flaw.
Untraceable dialect, foreign tongue, understood by no one outside of We.
Tattooed on my soul invisible to all but you,
“yours” in so many words,
and shouted in deafening silence.

Written by JessJ.