The poet Tiana Clark writing in the March/April 2021 issue of Poets and Writers about her process, and sometimes lack thereof, of writing during the pandemic, remarked about editors soliciting “Black pain from Black writers” in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd. At that time, she wasn’t sure she had much to add to the conversation, she wrote. After all, the killing of George Floyd was just the latest such killing in recent years and any Black writer suffering from fatigue from discussing the latest death of an African American at the hands of law enforcement, was understandable. One has to wonder how many times and in how many different ways you can frame this conversation.
Her response ended up being a turn in the opposite direction. She embraced “black joy and pleasure.”
After I read the essay, I had to ask myself and wonder where I had joy and pleasure in my own life. Especially during the pandemic. One place where, until recently, I had come up short was my writing. Participating in the online production of North Avenue was indeed a happy experience and yet, after that was done, I looked around and didn’t see that much joy. For one reason or another. I’d been in a play that ended just as the pandemic was starting. The first time in a long time that I’d been on stage. And when the world retreated and reorganized, I didn’t do the same as far as that goes.
The last couple of years, I’ve been involved with prayer circles where folks gather once weekly to talk about life and then pray for each other for a time. Last year, I’d considered the possibility of merging that practice of weekly prayer with creativity. I wanted to use it as a space not just for people to come together and “hold the high watch,” but to also be partners in support and accountability. We’d support each other in our creative pursuits and make sure that we were all holding to our own and each other’s word. I told my spiritual community what I was interested in doing and they were enthusiastic supporters. I wasn’t ready right when I had the idea, but it was definitely something I wanted to do in the future.
This year, the idea came back up and I told the group that I was ready.
Then I read the essay.
And thought about it.
And what I decided I wanted was not just a spiritual and creative practice, but one specifically centered around joy. I told the others who would be participating that this was the intention — not just to talk solely about what was going on in our lives and to ask for prayer around the parts we wanted to improve, but for us to consider where the joy is in our lives. Or can be. Where we’re inspired. And how we can be inspired in our work.
The others agreed to make these practices part of our journeys for this gathering. We’ve agreed to do the inner work and the outer work of making whatever it is that we claim we want to make, and to share it, daily.
I think it’s a necessary process. It’s good to keep focus. With all the death around, the fear and anger. Conspiracy theories. Half truths. Hard-to-swallow truths. Scarcity. It’s easy to become distracted and derailed from the creative process at this time, so it’s good to get focus back on practice and on those things that are life affirming and not just on all of the conditions of the world. It comes across as privilege at first, but it’s not. It’s paramount. And the conditions will still be there, ready to be picked up, chewed on, etc. later. It’s less about divorcing ourselves from the world as it is about giving ourselves a place where we can find and be our best selves –especially our creative selves– in the world, as the world is ongoing. As Tiana says, “blood and bruises from history or current events will always be present in my poems.”
Tiana also said that this year, she’s “trying to curate more joy into my life.”
I am, too.