still trying to try

not another black life
not another hashtag 
not another think-piece
not another protest
not another march

i am fucking tired
we are tired
still trying: 
to not be tired
to be okay
to process trauma
to process 400 years and counting
of systematic/sanctioned/structured violence
enacted upon black bodies
still trying to try
to be okay

still trying to try
to imagine an otherwise life and world

still trying to try
to be okay
to imagine
and black joy
black love
black life

still trying to try
to be okay

a thought/work-in-progress by jamal lewis
© 2015


i come to you broken
with no desire to be fixed
do you know how that feel?

to be confident yet insecure
strong yet weak
brilliant yet doubtful
loved yet lonely
unafraid yet fearful
seen yet invisible
broken yet whole

whole because i am broken
invisible because i am seen
fearful because i am unafraid
lonely because i am loved
doubtful because i am brilliant
weak because i am strong
insecure because i am confident
do you know how that feel?

imagine with me:
tears fall slowly from my face
drop after drop after drop
forming a body of water as vast as the ocean.
so, i swim, stroke after stroke
deeply immersed in a body outside my own
because swimming is a phenomena of joy
much like (re)birth, 
much like wading in the water, children
searching for answers 
searching for truth
searching for healing
do you know how that feel?

somewhere between green and violent
a tide draws nearer
bodies moving in concert 
like the earth and the moon
a gravational pull -- beautiful and misunderstood
a rhapsody in blue: colorful and formless
like a nuanced melody in bflat
both sentimental and vapid, much like my life
all of the things and none
broken with no desire to be fixed

do you know how that feel?

original poem by jamal lewis
© 2015

(Re)Imagining Purpose

Note: This is a short story -- an artifice or reflection of sorts -- of a series of events that happened during the months of November and December. I recorded each mini essay as notes in my phone and connected them later.

It is Friday night and folks are gathered in an apartment in Brooklyn to celebrate life and the birthday of a fearless, passionate revolutionary. Drinks are superfluously flowing. Loud is in the air. Conversation happening here and there. Party goers rolling in, one by one, two by two, and some in larger crews. In one part of the apartment, folks are dancing: two steps, jersey “wu tang,” soca, “nae nae,” and girls voguing. Shawam! In another, folks are engaged in intense, intellectual, emotional dialogue about transformative justice and healing. In the last part, folks are discussing occupation. I walk in, quietly observe, nod, and smirk at folks. A few seconds later, I’m immediately asked, “So, what do you do?”

I’ve always struggled with this kind of questioning as someone who does many things -- a jack of all trades, but master of none. So, I respond, “I’m passionate about such and such…” Faces turn in the room. More questions are asked and some frowns even, but one glaring smile from the birthday queen made things better. She fiercely responds, “I know there isn’t anyone asking about occupation at my party. Nope, not at this party!” We all giggled and the party and children carried on. I politely ease my way out to return to dancing because I felt uneasy about what happened. I danced and danced until my body tired and later crouched in a corner to regroup. Thoughts about earlier conversations began to cloud my mind, especially the moment about occupations. It was disturbingly frightening and telling of many things, specifically folks inability to connect with one another in substantive ways and only on the basis of who they are and what they do. For me, it made me anxious about my life and all the things that I did not like about its current state. I stopped, took a deep breath, heavily sighed, and continued to self reflect. I realized later that I could have easily answered the question asked of me but the older I get the more I find myself less interested in teenage fantasies of achievement and success – a type corroborated by images produced by mainstream media. However, in contrast, I believe, and want for myself, to reimagine my purpose beyond those things, and connect with people for who I am not because of who I am and what I am able to produce.

It is now Saturday morning and I wake up feeling and looking like the party, dressed in the same clothes. What an experience! Celebrating life in this way is such a beautiful sight and it feels so damn good. It felt like a magical high, like carefree summer afternoons on the beach, and a feeling of joy that I did not want to escape. I roll over and the birthday girl is in the bed next to me. She smiles a satisfactory smile that gleefully filled the room. I smile back, and after stretching, wiping the crust out of the crevice of my eye, I took a stroll through the apartment to see who else was there. I would find maybe one or two folks and we laughed, recollecting all of the wonderful memories made the night before. Every laugh and every moment embodied the radiance and beauty of the sunlight, peering through the clouds, shining on our faces, through the window, reflecting the goodness of the human soul. Though the weather was gloomy out, the sun still found a way to shine, in spite of, much like my life. Saturday evening rolls around and I'm finally home, in solitude. Reading, surfing the net, lying in bed, feeling at peace; I've realized that I'm happiest when my body is immobile, in a lazy state of being, not feeling pressured to produce. I like to think of this laziness as an act of self-preservation because it is a radical response to imperialist white supremacist heteropatriarchy capitalism, and its expectations of my black, fat, femme body. So, I chose rest and self-care. Erykah Badu's Baduizm is playing in the background and I'm scrolling through Facebook -- as I would through TV channels -- in search of something to read. Moments later I found and began reading “The Two Michael Sams”: a moving piece, written by Joel Anderson, on BuzzFeed, about Michael Sam, his father, and the disappointment they’re both experiencing in their lives. It placed so many things into perspective for me and I began to feel guilty about the distance I’ve created between my family and myself for my own survival. I left home at the age of 18 with 2 bags of clothes, a few dollars, big dreams for my life, and a self-determined, independent attitude that would have me navigating adulthood and homelessness with no map or model. Bruised, hurt yet resilient. I taught myself how to survive with nothing but hopes of achieving something. And at 24 years of age I’ve still found ways to blame myself – somewhat feeling like an imposter or sell-out -- because I abandoned, and even sacrificed, one way of living for another, my biological family to find chosen family, and hell in comfort (life at home) to find a heaven of sorts in uncomfortability and uncertainty (life in the streets, houseless). How does one even begin to heal from trauma(s) of their past and move forward, heal, leap into newness without feeling guilty about it?

Weeks later I would encounter a depression as dark as the night fall that terribly haunted and consumed my life like a black hole devoid of sunlight. I felt like I was drowning so deep in water, with waves constantly crashing against me that I couldn't climb out. I felt trapped and the Ferguson verdict, announced a few days after the start of this depression, shook me even more—pushing my body back under water. I protested, screamed, cried and even raged on a few folks in real life and on the web. Doing so allowed me the opportunity to insert my body into a concerted effort of madness in public space. It was needed. It was healing; but, it was also frustrating, taxing on the body, and extremely ableist at times making clear to me my place in movement making: artist, thinker, creative, healer, and nurturer. These thoughts came to me after much introspection, and I realized that I thrive best in hybrid spaces that look and feel like many things and not one that prioritizes one thing over the next.

A week later, I'm on a bus headed home to Atlanta. The bus is jerking, shaking and moving very fast, much like my life, again. I’m anxious and worried. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and opened my offline reading list on my phone in search of something to read. I found and begin re-reading Ashon Crawley's “Otherwise, Ferguson” and his words and writing deeply resonated with my current thoughts and gently held me in warmth. He writes: 

“To begin with the otherwise as word, as concept, is to presume that whatever we have is not all that is possible. Otherwise. It is a concept of internal difference, internal multiplicity. The otherwise is the disbelief in what is current and a movement towards, and an affirmation of, imagining other modes of social organization, other ways for us to be with each other. Otherwise as plentitude. Otherwise is the enunciation and concept of irreducible possibility, irreducible capacity, to create change, to be something else, to explore, to imagine, to live fully, freely, vibrantly. Otherwise Ferguson. Otherwise Gaza. Otherwise Detroit. Otherwise Worlds. Otherwise expresses an unrest and discontent, a seeking to conceive dreams that allow us to wake laughing, tears of joy in our eyes, dreams that have us saying, I hope this comes true.”

I’m in my seat, at this point, and I am having church all by myself – snapping my fingers, stomping my feet, and crying. As tears fell from my face, I was reassured and reminded of my own strength, the obstacles I've overcome in my lifetime, and the life ahead of me. Imagining an otherwise world and possibility for living has saved my life and helped me to reimagine my purpose, which has transformed my life in overwhelming ways and helped me to heal. It has relieved the guilt I felt (and, feel) for abandoning my family to pursue my own dreams and selfish wants for my life. It is what saved (and, saves) me from myself. It is a light, in dark times, at the end of the tunnel. It is what I think about when I’m asked, “what I do.” The party, guilt, and depression are all separate things but they’re not isolated. Who I am and what I do is a result of so many things, people, places, and much struggle; and it is also connected to the guilt I often feel, the depression, and my desire to celebrate living, in party spaces and elsewhere, during a time where black lives are constantly taken. All of these things sit at the front of my consciousness, day to day, as I perform self, and go out into the world.  So, imagining otherwise worlds and possibilites, for myself, demand that I ask the following: Who am I performing for and what will I gain from it? What will I lose?