One particular day, dressed in a maroon-colored cotton dress that barely covered my knees I arrived early at my PG mess for lunch. It was a chilly January afternoon in 2019 — my fashion choices absolutely did not fit the weather. I had a burnt butter cookie in my hand that I dug into as I watched plates being stacked and big bowls of food lined up on the table. My hands instinctively reached the zip of my tote bag and pulled out a deep pink lipstick once I finished the cookie.
There was a growing quietness in me — I had only one more year of college left. A host of things were unfolding in front of me. But in that moment, inside that white-walled mess filled with the sound of steel plates clamming against each other, I felt comfort. All that mattered was finishing the cookie and having lunch.
That same year in October a professor of mine looked at me directly and told me I was an excellent writer. It had been a couple of months since I had started working with him on a semester-long project. I stared at the mug of coffee placed next to him, surprised at my own reaction. Until that moment no man outside of my life and family had told me I was a good writer. I lived under the deep rock-sized assumption that because I was writing from the definitive experience of being feminine, most men were simply not interested in my writing.
Maybe I should have just received his compliment graciously and moved on. But my general nature of being demands more dwelling. His words made me twitch a little. I felt a deep-seated discomfort inside me. By October, I had actively started feeling like a hot clueless mess. The only thing I had going for me growing up was my own conviction. And secretly, I had fallen prey to the belief that this conviction would always show up for me even when I pushed it away. I didn’t ever expect to ever find myself as lost as I was then, to be mid-sea, hovering in an ocean of confusion.
I shifted my gaze to him and thanked him politely for his kindness. He smiled and looked at the laptop screen full of text again. Not many people can do this, he said. I had come to know him as a flamboyant person, but at that moment his voice was tender. He was speaking softly. I smiled and let the silence linger for a while. He had nudged me a little, shifted my gears — in some profound way he had hypnotized me into confronting myself.
The truth was that I had locked myself up. I was waking up day after day wanting to be part of a different story, a better life. I would sit in the mess for hours eating cookie after cookie, drinking cups of tea, steeped in a stuck-ness. I was neglecting myself, and the words fostering inside me. Heaps of them were just lying around, collecting dust and on the verge of being inaccessible.
I can't claim to have understood all of this one afternoon in October. It took months after that. But that afternoon, in the center of that moment, I felt a slight push. Strangely enough, a quiet part of me felt like I wanted to be more present, to show up more for my own life. Some people, I’ve realised can magically and gently lead you to a sense of reckoning, an inner dismantling of the self.
I didn't get any meaningful writing done until April 2020, but I began doing what was necessary. I read, cleaned my bookshelf, sun-bathed, ate fruit, and began paying attention. I don't know the definitive method to get out of art blocks, but I know that paying attention always helps. I know that every time I find myself distracted, it takes different kinds of magic to bring me back.
I suspect that's what happened on that warm sunny afternoon in October. For a few minutes, I felt watched. Like someone had walked into my life and hit pause. They were holding space for me. Telling me that every day I woke up to a story. And even though I couldn't change the narrative, I could give up on control and live it to the fullest.
Some good things:
(Most of these are pride month recommendations!)
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous — Ocean Vuong (A book that made me weep profusely)
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo — Taylor Jenkins Reid
Liar Liar Liar — Hidden Brain
The World, Opened Up — Roxane Gay on living in a body, shame, and the fear of traveling
The Shopping Cure — Anne Helen Peterson on shopping
A sample from Jia Tolentino’s essay The Age of the Instagram Face: “...it wasn’t hard for me to understand why millennial women who were born within spitting distance of Instagram Face would want to keep drawing closer to it. In a world where women are rewarded for youth and beauty in a way that they are rewarded for nothing else—and where a strain of mainstream feminism teaches women that self-objectification is progressive because it’s profitable—cosmetic work might seem like one of the few guaranteed high-yield projects that a woman could undertake.”
Thank you for reading.
Six Impossible Things is a monthly newsletter about art, books, reading, and feelings. You may sign up if you want it delivered to your inbox. You can also come to say hi to me on Instagram @a_catinthesink