“You meet all kinds of people that help put life in perspective and turn the horror into some kind of lesson or avenue of awakening that lives with you all your days.” -Ruby Dee
“Stand still inside yourself and know who you are.” -Dr. Maya Angelou
If you’ve seen me walk you know I walk hard and in typical New Yorker form, I rarely stand still. Exactly a month ago, after just leaving my office in Hamilton Heights and in total mid-stride, I bumped into literary editor Malaika Adero and proceeded to get into a passionate discussion with her about what it means to be successful, the need for sustainable Black networks to support art and artists, and finding and maintaining soul-shifting joy in both work and in life. We talked for almost an hour on that tranquil Harlem street corner. The next afternoon on that very corner, I randomly bumped into writer/ author Jill Nelson and we got into the coolest convo about pretty much the same thing except it was wholly centered on Black women, community, happiness and saving ourselves, and supporting each other using simplicity and truth as our markers.
Both sister-mamas talked to me about the importance of having a hobby. One dances, the other creates collage. I don’t really have a hobby. I tweet and play Candy Crush. Social networking and gaming are my pastimes. “Those aren’t hobbies,” Jill tells me matter-of-factly. I start asking some of my friends if they have a hobby and with the exception of the few who make body butters, the one who knits and the one who tie-dyes, none of us are freestyling recreationally in a consistent way that rejuvenates and, most of all, gives us pleasure. I had to really think about how I fill those few hours I relish known as “leisure time” every week. And to be honest, I realized I’m not showing myself nearly enough love or exposing myself to enough pleasure during my free time. Doing laundry, grocery shopping, and even writing just ain’t cutting it! I deserved more. So much more.
Those talks awakened me on a deep level. Shifted something in me. They happened weeks after Maya Angelou died and days after Ruby Dee made her transition. I thought of these amazing women– their art and struggles. How and where they may have found joy. In my own life– my recent exhaustive yearlong search for a job, the burden of mounting debt and dealing with dishonest so-called friends, not only had become exasperating, but it had conditioned me to live, if not thrive, with a lack of pleasure. Forget learning to make lemonade out of lemons, I had learned to eat the lemons and like them. And to be clear, I actually think this ability is a gift. It’s turning that horror that Ruby Dee alludes to in that quote into an education. But once we’ve learned our lesson and the bad times are, at least for now, only visible from our rear view mirrors then what? I was still munching on lemon rinds without even realizing that a pitcher of lemonade was right there for the drankin’ (sayin’ it like Bey). Welp, thank God for summer as it’s the season that I come closest to having hobbies and indulging in my leisure to the fullest. I go fishing, garden, and read books on the beach. It’s the perfect time for me to (re)discover the meaning of “hobby” outside of “Hobby Lobby.”
To be sure, I’m so grateful for those two days, those two women and that one corner last month. That corner must have some Harriet Tubman, Zora Neale Hurston juju on it. Yams, honey and molasses must have been crushed and poured out on that corner. Because on that little snatch of concrete, and in less than 24 hours, I found myself talking to two women I adore about this thing called Life and in turn, I found myself… again. Feeling a chakra or two open. Finally. Maybe if I stand on that corner long enough, I can start getting out of my own way and find sustainable joy. Maybe. Finally.