Do the Work
We, myself included, have been swept away by the possibility of social media becoming our ticket to fame. If we post a stanza, a little gem of meaning, maybe, just maybe, it’ll go viral. Maybe we’ll find the shortcut to the long arduous road to becoming artists who have finally found enough work to sustain ourselves.
I’ve been doing this (whatever the hell this is) for 15 years.
I’m still struggling to find place, meaning, financial security.
It’s not what some young people want to hear. It’s not what I wanted to hear, to be honest.
I thought by now, I’d be settled in my creative path— but that’s the thing about creativity. If you’re willing to surrender to it, it’ll recreate you. Every time.
So here I am, on the precipice of what I think will be my third book. I thought I could will it into fiction, but it wants to be poetry. It won’t be instafamous. It won’t be tumblr-worthy. It won’t be a bestseller. And I am starting to realize that I don’t give a shit about that. And part of me is scared— does that mean I don’t care about ‘making it’ anymore?
Yes, it does.
I don’t even know what “it” is. And when I arrive at what I think “it” is, I’m pretty sure I’ll be sorely disappointed by what “it’ is not. So basically, “it” doesn’t exist.
I choose the obscure path to write obscure poems in an obscure form (the ghazal). An obscure form made popular by white poets who appropriated it and renamed it. Oh, those literary hipsters— rediscovering something ancient, making it new and claiming it to be a trend they started. The hilarity of it, of me trying to reclaim it in a mother tongue that is all at once foreign and familiar. The only one I know well enough to write in.
How could I possibly be understood by the mainstream? Am I silly? Am I delusional? Maybe I thought the world was ready for ghazals by a South Asian Canadian woman with Kenyan roots who is neither Muslim or Buddhist but not sure if she’s 100% human yet (ok, just writing that allowed the absurdity of it to sink in). In a time when we are still having debates about cultural appropriation, how could I possibly think the mainstream would be receptive to someone who writes like me? Who can’t, despite my efforts to sabotage my obscurity, make it to the mainstream?
(This is very much a ‘poor me’ ego vs. ‘get your shit together’ post, so if you’re rolling your eyes right about now, good. So am I.)
The dream I dreamt up as a teen is shrivelling up. I don’t want to be the person I thought I wanted to be when I was in my ‘20s. What was once nourishing and sustaining me is now emptying itself of meaning.
And it scares me. It scares me because somehow I’ve believed, all these years, that the career I want will create the life I want. I’m beginning to realize that the life I have created must shape my career.
The earth sustains me. Being reminded that I’m intimately a part of it sustains me.
Witnessing someone have a breakthrough in the classroom— sustains me.
Abandoning any idea of what I’m going to do the minute I walk on stage— sustains me.
Making mandalas in nature— sustains me.
When I was in Nova Scotia, I met Greg Turner, a man with lasting, local impact. Observing how generous he is with his knowledge and passion, how he acknowledges his privilege and honours the land— it was beyond inspiring.
He reminded me that it is possible to teach, to live, to create, to share, to work and to love through the land. I’m so grateful for that teaching, and I hope to navigate those waters for myself.
To close the gap between what I do and how I live.
So I had to ask myself what may seem like a very obvious question:
Do you want to have wider impact on social media or real impact in community?
These questions, while obvious in theory, would require two very different business strategies and creative approaches. How I answer them will determine the work I commit to.
The idea that by making my focus local instead of global is somehow diminishing my potential and falling short of who I could be— it’s egotistical bullshit. It’s an excuse, in some ways, to see what can’t be unseen— that I’m letting go of who I thought I wanted to be.
And that’s ok.