An interview I saw on TV two days ago with a former gangster has sparked lots of contemplation in me the last couple of days. The interviewee had brown skin like me, a colonial name like me, and was in a better place than he used to be; also like me.
“You have to show up everyday,” he said.
I not only believe in that way of thinking, I lived it for a long time and I’m trying to get back there.
Showing up means something different for a lot of people. In the interview it meant showing up to Homeboy Industries, a place to help recovering addicts and former gangsters stay away from crime and drugs. For me showing up means showing up to the page everyday. “The page” in my life is my journal, my notepad where I write my poems, the unread books, magazines, and newspapers I have stacked up in my room, my laptop, and the two manuscripts I’m slowly working on.
I remember sitting alongside one of my mentors, Lee Maracle, four years ago and talking about showing up without saying “showing up”. Lee and I were sitting at two computers side by side. We chatted as we typed. I did my thing and she did hers. Then one of the biggest lessons in my writing career happened.
“Have you been writing?” said Lee.
Writing to Lee means poetry, fiction, plays, creative non-fiction etc. I had been writing four articles a month for The Window, a University of Toronto newspaper, where I had my own column The Condor’s View, and I was writing essays for school. But I wasn’t writing anything classified as creative.
“No, I haven’t had time,” I said.
All of a sudden I felt eyes on me. Lee turned her head to the left to stare me down (I mean stare downs like I’ve had in the West Detention Centre as a youth). With her fingers still on the keyboard, Lee, my writing mom, gave me a verbal lashing:
“I worked three jobs and raised four kids and still wrote everyday. I broke down doors for you. Don’t you dare tell me you don’t have time,” said Lee.
I’m usually up for a good fight. But, I shut the fuck up. Lee was right.
Lee turned her head and went back to typing.
I’ve noticed that lots of my fellow writers have had trouble showing up recently. Some have come to me for advice and support. People think because I update blackcoffeepoet.com three times a week and write for two newspapers that I don’t face the same difficulties as other writers.
To be honest, in terms of creative writing, I haven’t shown up in a while. My journaling has been sporadic, my notepad has seen few poems written this summer, I took three weeks off blackcoffeepoet.com last month while visiting two Cree communities (Moosonee and Moose Factory), and I have not touched my two working manuscripts.
I’ve also not kept a commitment to write a piece for a local magazine because of insecurities and fear; and I’m embarrassed about that!
Showing up isn’t easy.
Life isn’t easy.
If we’re gonna make it we’ve got to figure out what showing up means in our lives and make sure to be present everyday.
Only you can show up. No one can, or will, show up for you.
As I write this I’m listening to My Life by Pharoahe Monch. It’s a Hip Hop song that reminds me of who I am as a writer and why I write:
My life is all I have
I done made it through the struggle
Don’t judge me
What you say now
Won’t budge me
Cause where I come from
People you grew up
They be layin’ in a coffin
But I done made it through the pain and strife
It’s my time now
Show up: sit, read, re-read, write, re-write, submit, publish, and do it all over again, daily.