Swallowing Ink: Teaching Myself To Write The Waves



your art

is not about how many people

like your work

your art

is about if your heart likes your work

if your soul likes your work

it’s about how honest

you are with yourself

and you

must never

trade honesty

for relatability

-Rupi Kaur

Whenever I want to escape the world, yet – be engulfed by it at the same time, I go to Bus Boys and Poets on 14th Street. It’s one of the few places that feel just as cozy as being nestled at home. It allows me the unique opportunity to enjoy the company of Black customers and servers, books written by Black authors, and food cooked by Black chefs – all in an establishment owned by a Black Entrepreneur. The café houses my favorite things under one roof: books, food, entrepreneurship, social justice, and Blackness. This past weekend, I was meandering through its aisles of books while waiting for my reservation to be called. I stumbled across “Well-Read Black Girl,” an anthology, by Glory Edim, of Black Female Writers who share their coming of age stories of when they discovered their love for reading, and writing. I immediately canceled my brunch reservation for one – and bought the book instead (this bih is on a budget!).

My impulse buy turned into an impulse read and I finished the book the same day. You don’t fully learn to appreciate reading until you start writing and begin understanding its nuances. Reading always came easy to me – I was an only child, didn’t have enough money for cable, and couldn’t play outside unless my mom was home. So, I grew up reading books borrowed from the library as my primary source of entertainment. Writing, however, was a different beast.

When I was first starting to put pen to paper my Mamaiay insisted that I trace within one of the many sets of stencils she had bought. To her dismay, I sabotaged each stencil as I purposely went over its edged lines – I was never a fan of structure or stifling my individuality. The issue wasn’t that I didn’t know how to formulate letters – I just had really shitty handwriting. My mind moved quicker than my wrist, and in the half-assed attempts to capture my thoughts, my words became illegible. As I got older, I tried to justify it as I was going to be a doctor and all doctors have bad handwriting. Thankfully – with the grace of technology and my stroke of luck – keyboards replaced penmanship.

Throughout middle school and high school, I continued to struggle with writing, though I could no longer place the blame on mechanics. My teachers would give my classmates and I essay exams and after 2-hours all I would turn in is my name and date on a sheet of paper. My school labeled me with having a learning disability, and I took exams in a room with students who were medically diagnosed with learning deficiencies. The school’s supposed intention was to offer me an alternative environment so that I’d be allotted a comfortable space and more time. The only thing the environment changed was that, instead, it took me 4-hours to turn in just my name, date, and now, doodles of mazes. When report cards would roll out my Mamaiay was always on my ass and was adamant that I master writing as a skill. I could never tell whether she foresaw how it’d impact my life, or if it was another case of how parents bank on their kids to fill the gaps of their knowledge and ability.

When it came time to apply for colleges, my academic counselor stated that due to my 2.3 GPA it was unlikely that I’d get into any universities. I had no intentions of filling out an application until my friend coerced me into letting her help me knock it out before we met up with our “cool college friends.” I was reluctant because I felt I had nothing to say but as she asked me questions about myself my story began to unfold. It was the first time I ever saw myself on paper. We spent 2 hours on that application and submitted it to all three of the University of Washington Campuses, the exact minute of the deadline. I got an email stating confirmation for the Seattle and Tacoma campuses, but the Bothell one didn’t make it through on time.

I was accepted to UW Seattle on a contingency plan; I was required to complete their STP program before fully being admitted in the Fall. STP is a summer program geared towards underserved high school students that are high-risk of dropping out and need additional resources. Students in the program basically got a kick start by being prepped for courses and college life over the summer. The STP program provided me the confidence boost and nurture that I needed. In high school, I was used to being called dumb by my classmates and was scared to apply myself or even bring any attention to myself whatsoever in case anything I did confirmed that (prime case of Stereotype Threat).   College was a fresh start for me and the STP program offered a support group of peers, mentors and professors. I transitioned from feeling ostracized to finally finding my community. Once I completed the program and my acceptance to UW was official, I began to sign up for my first set of college classes. Guess what the first one I signed up for was? English.

In English class, I worked tirelessly with my professor on persuasive, academic and creative styles of writing. The prompts were painfully stale and archaic, but I forced myself to go to office hours to have each iteration reviewed. I gradually became more comfortable and increased my ability to write under timed pressure. What was once diabolical became an enticing challenge. I left the class with a 4.0 and a newfound love for writing. For the rest of my college career I continued to hone my skills which ultimately positioned me for job opportunities, scholarships, and academic publishing. The greatest lesson I learned throughout this journey was that the biggest barrier was overcoming my own self-doubt. I realized that mastering writing – is just a matter of mastering the mind and communicating it to an external audience. I was only able to organize my thoughts once I established a better sense of self. It seemed naïve for me to have tried to project anything externally when I lacked the maturity to process internally.

I was initially hesitant to start this blog and I debated whether I should write under a pseudo-name or just be incognito. Ultimately, I decided against that and audaciously plastered the blog title with my name. I figured, society already erases the stories of black women and I didn’t want mine to be ephemeral. Telling my story is time consuming and draining – there’s no way around it. It’s unappealing in the manner that nobody looks forward to the process, yet marvels at the outcome. I often get asked, “So, why are you doing this blog?” “Who is your target audience?”

I’m writing in hopes that I can light another candle – that whoever is reading this will dispel their beliefs that they’re not a good writer, don’t have a story to tell, or that they’re not brave enough– and that they will begin to write too.

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