elephants.

Politically, I have this love/hate relationship with black people and women (in general) in America. I often use the “elephant tied to a pole” analogy to describe what it’s like talking to them about moving closer to our freedom. Granted, the analogy isn’t exclusive to these two groups…but I’m most invested in the liberation of black people and women because—lo and behold!—I am both.

For those who don’t know, the analogy’s about a baby elephant who gets tied to a pole. It tries to escape, but it isn’t strong enough; and over time, it reasons that it will always be too weak and stops trying. When it grows to be a massive elephant—ten times bigger and stronger than the pole it’s tied to—it still doesn’t bother to free itself. The elephant keeps itself hostage no matter how strong it gets physically, because mentally, it is disempowered.

I’ve observed the same mentality amongst American women and black people, in various forms. It’s worth noting that throughout U.S. history, we’ve put up enough fuss as baby elephants that this country was forced to at least lengthen the rope: you know, give us rights, representation, etc. And today, when you point out that they are not yet free, many will agree: most can see that they are still tied to the rope. (Black Americans are arguably the more outraged of the two, at least vocally). But when you encourage them to finally break free, they come up with every excuse as to a) why it’s not possible or b) why they’re not ready yet.

Some aren’t ready to understand freedom as a personal responsibility. They grow defensive, claim that you’re “shaming” them for being tied up, and retort that it’s their oppressors, the government, and the system that continues to keep them chained. Others relish in being perpetually victimized for the “benefits” (like, again, not having to take responsibility)…but not openly, of course. Instead, they wrestle in this weird love/hate relationship with their persecutors: like hating white people but demanding media representation before white audiences, or bemoaning men but continuing to protect and coddle them.

Some will go even further and convince themselves that being tied to the rope is empowering, and that simply “reclaiming” their circumstances and inviting others to join means they have just as much power over the rope as it has over them. This response is perhaps the most heart-wrenching to me, because it shows that we recognize our power in the midst of oppression but not necessarily without it.

Even those of us who claim we are ready to revolt have limited ourselves with one or all versions of this mindset at some point…if not towards our persecutors, then in realization that we are outnumbered amongst our own.

Damn, even writing that sentence makes me feel like a mentally enslaved elephant. I love us, but I hate that so many of us aren’t willing to radicalize and break free.

art lessons.

Beginner artists: gripe about perfectionism via unfinished art on Instagram.  (@t.spellen)

Beginner artists: gripe about perfectionism via unfinished art on Instagram. (@t.spellen)

I’ve been practicing my sketches through helpful art channels on YouTube. It’s fun to learn from such talented artists, and many of them have great advice for beginners. There are so many things one can do to improve…but essentially, the difference between a starting artist and a skilled one is mindset. Coincidentally, the mindset an artist needs to grow in their craft is crucial for realizing our goals in any area of life.

Let’s compare some differences between beginners and experienced artists:

Beginner artists…

  • try to nail every detail perfectly and often spend an hour or more on their first draft alone

  • insist on clean lines and uniformity, which often results in a stiff, lifeless drawing.

  • trace and copy to replicate the style of their favorite artist.

  • stick to what they know and show little variation between drawings.

  • grow frustrated when they don’t see their art improve dramatically or overnight.

Experienced artists…

  • draw their first sketch lightly, quickly, and fluidly. They prioritize getting their ideas out on paper over [making] everything perfect. Experienced artists don’t waste time obsessing over the first sketch—instead, they improve as they go.

  • accept messy lines as the foundation of an sketch. They erase minimally and use minor mistakes as guidelines instead.

  • take on subjects and techniques outside of their comfort zone to grow as an artist.

  • dedicate time to drawing every day so that their art will slowly by inevitably improve. They understand that “practice makes progress.”

  • establish a “signature style.” Unless their niche is realism, experienced artists usually have stylistic preferences that distinguish their art from others. These elements are derived from (but not limited to) a) the works of other artists and b) discoveries they’ve made in their own art over time.

So students, what have we learned? :-)

My biggest takeaway: growth means embracing the journey. Growth of any kind means we have to stop seeking instant perfection and start valuing progress. Growth means learning from our mistakes and the messy parts of who we are. It requires commitment and investing a little bit towards our goals every day, and trusting the process no matter how long it takes. To be clear, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with most of the beginner steps, like feeling good in your comfort zone or occasionally feeling frustrated with art itself. But eventually, our growth requires us to try new things and take risks. If nothing else, the blossoming artist reminds us to stay inspired, and to have fun discovering our unique style or impact.

Isn’t it great when life imitates art?

queer (revisited).

I wrote a post about “queerdom” awhile back—affectionately titled “Fuck Queer”—but I deleted it because it felt disrespectful. While I welcome raw emotion in my writing, the outrage felt visceral and wasn’t getting to the root of things. I don’t wish to deter people with seemingly bitter push-back against this queer tidal wave that so many LGBT today are riding on. Instead, I think it’s important to share where my anger is coming from.

Simply put: I care a lot about women. Women, young girls, and especially lesbians. Often when we care a lot about something, we guard it vehemently against any perceivable threat.

I suppose that, to me, queer is a threat. I’m still baffled at how people fail to see the misogyny and homophobia, or at least the illogical foundation, in queer (largely trans) theory. So, this isn’t an apology for how I see things, because I do think that “queer” women (who are actually lesbian and bisexual women) are and will be harmed by queer ideologies. Again, it’s just a transparent look at where my outrage comes from.

In everyday life, I have friends that mostly agree with my stance. But I’ve also been fortunate to have discussions with people who see things differently, and thus far, there’s been a pleasantly open dialogue between both ends. In any case, I hold myself accountable for two things: 1) targeting the idea, not the individual and 2) standing for something, not against something.

My outrage is in unity with women and girls, especially gay women—I don’t see myself shying away from that. But my intent is never to be bigoted towards any individual. Challenging and critiquing people can be healthy, but blind anger and ill-will is not. It’s a thin line though, as passionate critique can be often be misunderstood.

Anyway, this feels more like what I wanted to say the first time around. That there needs to be more of us challenging the widespread embrace of queer theory, particularly that which positions itself against lesbian and bisexual women. If people perceive that challenge to be bigotry in and of itself, well…that’s out of my hands.

vision.

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Yesterday I finally created a vision board! I’ve been meaning to for so long, and now that it’s up there, I love it. It adds to my bare walls and makes me feel more optimistic. I didn’t plan to expand it originally, but now I may have to, if only to cover that annoying brown scratch in the corner (that was already there when I moved in!) Finished or not, I like that simply having a vision board encourages me to dream more.

The major themes on my board are relationships, money, and creativity. Some photos represent things I’ll achieve in 2019, while others will be manifestations in the long term. Regardless of how much time it takes, I’m convinced that I can have everything on my board, or better. I am truly capable of making it all happen.

The best thing the board does is remind me of my “why.” If things feel tough and I question the process, I can look at these photos and imagine what good lies ahead. in that regard, a vision board can keep me grateful for the journey itself.

loving

A break from my usual musings to share what I’ve been loving recently:

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Lone Natural Bold Deodorant (pictured). I’ve only tried the “Mint” from Lone’s Bold collection, but this is the best brand of natural deodorant I’ve tried thus far. It’s only drawbacks are: 1) I have to apply it with my fingers because the knob releases too much product in one turn…and 2) I seem to sweat more from wearing it (emphasis on it being a deodorant not an antiperspirant)… but it’s the only natural deodorant I’ve used that greatly reduces, if not eliminates, any odor throughout the day.

The Northface Borealis backpack: a Christmas gift. It’s been useful for carrying my technology, notebooks, and reading with me around the city. I wanted to replace my old gym bag with more storage space for light travels; but it’s replaced my tiny everyday purse too. I think I prefer the utilitarian look of this backpack over a purse anyway.

Gold huggie hoops (pictured), another gifted item. They’re really small and subtle, about 9mm in diameter. They’re nothing fancy, but I haven’t taken them off since I got ‘em.

Lone Hydrate + Butlers Body Butters Lip Balm (pictured). I ordered the BBB Lip Balm in “Lavender Peppermint” from Etsy a few months ago in search of a natural vegan alternative. I got lucky on my first try: this lip balm is thick and healing, perfect for winter. The Lone Lip Balm in “Honey Vanilla” arrived as an unexpected gift with my first order of Lone deodorant. While their lip balm isn’t vegan, I was sold on how it softened my lips instantly upon use. Both balms are true to their names: BBB is moisturizes and protects like a butter, while Lone dries matte and deeply hydrates. I find them both to be nourishing, long-lasting, and healthier your standard commercial brand.

Sketch videos on YouTube. Not a material item but…I started sketching a few weeks ago and found it therapeutic. I haven’t drawn (intentionally) since I was a teenager, but now it’s something I’d like to start again.

out.

A few days ago, i came out to my mom. By “came out,” I mean I announced that a) I’m a lesbian and b) i don’t believe in god. My mother is an immigrant from Guyana, and in her culture (in West Indian cultures collectively), homosexuality and atheism are blasphemous.

But I felt it was time. I wanted to accept myself fully without fearing anyone’s disapproval; and, whether or not she accepted it, I wanted my mom to know the important parts of who I am.

I won’t delve too deep into it, because coming out wasn’t nearly as dramatic as I thought it’d be. At first, things were awkward…but my mom wasn’t hostile, and she came around much faster than I expected. She’s asked me questions about my “new lifestyle” since then, but other than that, everything’s normal. Better even, because I can trust her a bit more. And when she tells me she loves me, I feel it.

beauty.

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originally on Instagram (@t.spellen):

I think it’s important to capture women as more than pretty/tempting/beautiful on camera. Something as impermanent as beauty cannot be our only license to be seen. I’m not sure yet what that entails for my art, but I’d like to work towards a widespread change.

Here’s a #selfportrait to start. While my blackheads(?) and neck rings may not qualify as “pretty,” I love them because they add character. Admittedly, this isn’t a striking image, but it’s an honest one. I want my self portraits—and all of my art, really—to mean seeing women fully and honestly. And if you all should find that beautiful, that’s nice too.

(PS: I will get out of head shot mode, eventually.)

2019.

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Honest things I’d like to do in 2019:

  • Curse out so-called friends that were shit to me this year. The ones that refused to take responsibility for their actions; so instead I took responsibility for both of us, and internalized my anger when really I should’ve just told them they were shit.

  • Take a picture of myself, underarms exposed, and post it on Instagram. Wearing a sleeveless top and shorts outside this summer. Swimming. I haven’t worn a bathing suit in three years—not even when I traveled to Brazil—because I’ve been afraid of reactions to my body hair.

  • Tell my mom that I’m gay, and that she and her bible-thumping siblings can fuck off if they don’t like it; and that her comedic use of the word f*ggot was never funny to me.

  • Block certain older folks from my social media because c’mon, I think it’s weird that you’re, like, twice my age and all up in my shit, you know? Go helicopter your own kid. (Or alternatively, post whatever I want with no shame as to who comes across it.)

  • And lastly: share this journal entry on my blog…precisely because I’m afraid to, but also because any substitute posts will feel comparatively shallow until I finally confront the thoughts I’ve been hiding from.

If it hasn’t clicked already, my deepest intention for 2019 is to stop prioritizing everyone else’s opinions above my own. Stop hiding, stop compartmentalizing; stop biting my tongue, waiting until later, playing it small…

In other words, stop giving a fuck. That would make 2019 great.

Happy New Year, everyone.

minimal.

I did it: tomorrow, I move to Brooklyn. I’ve been packing for the last two days.

As a minimalist, I own less than everybody I know. I’ve managed to shove most of my valuables in a suitcase, a carry-on, and one box to be shipped out after my arrival. Everything else I’ve either sold or discarded.

Regardless, the little I have left feels like too much to be bothered with now that I’m ready to move. My suitcase of essentials is one thing, but I don’t like the miscellaneous crap. I can’t even fathom buying new furniture (i.e. more crap) one I move.

I think I’ll pare down even more after moving. I’m looking for even more ease and mobility with my belongings—freedom, essentially. The money I’ll save buying less won’t hurt either. How cool would it be if I became one of those free spirits living out of a simple backpack?? I should start a “minimalism” tag and update with the changes I make.

Until then…wish me luck tomorrow.

sacrifice.

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Remember my last post, when I was growing my hair out? A lot of has changed between then and now.

For one, I quit my job last week. By "quit," I mean I completely stopped going.  It wasn’t an easy decision to make…I left with nothing but a resignation e-mail. I had never quit a job so haphazardly before. I worried that my colleagues, future employers, and loved ones would find me irresponsible.  But at the same time, I was willing to forfeit their good graces, if it meant that no one could talk me into spending any more time apart from my dream.

After that, I began planning my move to Brooklyn.  I took another week-long visit, where I met with employers, browsed affordable housing, and leveraged any resources that could make my move possible.  Towards the end of my stay, I reconnected with a friend I made a year ago, who just happened to have a vacant room in his apartment…

So that's where I am in the process currently: newly (f)unemployed and dipping into my humble savings to move.

This part of my life feels risky, but essential. I’m making sacrifices with my time, energy, and money that are new to me; but, I realize that a big part of living fully is pushing past my comfort zone. Sure, walking into unknown territory feels uncertain, but, I feel more alive with every step I take.

And yeah, in the spirit of change, I got a new haircut. It’s an adjustment…but I think a little change looks good on me.

hair.

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My afro is one of my favorite features. I started growing my hair out last year, around this time, after growing tired of experimenting for “the right look.” The signature only came when I surrendered and left my hair alone.

It’s a simple style, really. My coils look looser when wet (pictured above), and more compact when they’re dry. Occasionally I wear my hair wrapped in a headscarf or styled in a mohawk…but aside from that, I don’t fuss over it. I don’t use any styling products. Most days I just fluff it out and go.

To maintain it, I do the bare minimum. I wash it once a month to keep it clean without drying everything out. My “shampoo” is just a coconut-based face wash, free of artificial chemicals and sulfates. I don’t follow up with conditioner; I don’t brush or comb my hair; I don’t apply any moisturizers or oils…

I know some of you are cringing at this. I do sleep on a satin pillowcase, if that helps?

oct 2017.

oct 2017.

jun 2018.

jun 2018.

Keeping things simple works for me, especially for the look and feel of my hair. Since I don’t suffocate them with product every day, my coils are soft and defined. I avoid breakage because I don’t brush, comb, or even finger detangle. Underr the shower head, my hair practically detangles itself.

(Some curls that have clumped together may loc over time. I’m not too upset about it—I quite like the chunky, textured look.)

Interestingly, my hair has never read as “unprofessional” at work, something many women with hair like mine are afraid of. I decided long ago that if my hair prevented me from getting a certain job, then that’s not the right job for me anyway. But most people have only approached me with compliments.

In the end, what matters most is that I enjoy it. I’ve been content with this hairstyle longer than any I’ve had before; for now, I’m happy to watch it grow.

But if anything changes, I’ll be sure to update.

dream.

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Brooklyn is one of my favorite places in the world. I was born and raised there until I was three. Now that I’m an adult, each visit to the borough feels new, and yet instinctively familiar. For the past few years, I’ve dreamed of moving back.

I want to live in Brooklyn to a) expand creatively and b) immerse in a community of other black gay women…iinstead, I live in Connecticut, which feels like the polar opposite. The job I have here is admirable, for an adult who is saving and building her career. But I can’t help but feel stuck, like I’m putting my dream on the back burner for conventional (disappointing) adulthood. Life here has felt…bleak.

But last week, after a work-related panic attack (fun!), I escaped to Brooklyn for four days.

It had been awhile since my last trip to the borough, but when I arrived, I fell in love with it all over again. My trip consistend of: watching the sun set on old brownstones; flirting at a lesbian-owned bar, and again with a lover a few blocks down; perusing a feminist bookstore; eating at my favorite vegan spot; devouring art at the Brooklyn Museum, and the piña coladas at Eve's Lounge…  

I was the happiest I’d felt in a long time. For four days, I lived a glimpse of what could be my new and exciting life. So I’ve decided: I’m ready to live out my dream, permanently.

I am moving to Brooklyn.

fear (revisited).

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Let me tell you something, if you didn’t know it already:

This creative shit is hard.

Creating in itself isn’t the hard part…it’s getting over the fear. The perfectionism, the self-doubt, and the debilitating critic in your head that thinks you suck at what you do and should probably stick to your day job.

Perhaps the hardest part is accepting that your critic is might be right, and continuing to create anyway.

Take this blog, for instance. This morning I was mortified to read my last post. Honestly, I think I was on a pseudo-spiritual high when I wrote it. It was this cheesy, over-zealous piece about “pushing past fear.” It read something like, "I will dedicate this month to accepting fear when it is present; standing firm in my truth anyway, and embracing whatever happens..." 

Just…total bullshit.

What I actually wound up doing was cringing at the post a week later; panicking that someone had read it before I could intercept; and deleting almost the entire blog altogether (“the entire blog” being a measly three posts and at least ten drafts of thoughts never published.)

What’s the diagnosis, doc? Is this simply creative neuroticism at work?

The only thing that calms me in a panic like this is a “fresh start”…a.k.a, the impulsive cop-out of destroying all my flaws and mistakes, as if they (I) never existed.

Anyway, I don’t know shit about fear. I don’t have any profound, transcendent wisdom to impart…just the first hand experience of fear as a maddening state to create in (and grapple with every day, for that matter).

What I do know is that I’m reaching a breaking point…whatever that looks like. Today it looked like deleting two-thirds of my blog and writing a shameless shitpost about it.