Written by Chelsie Boyd. Edited by Mara Strobel-Lanka.
You’re going to write a poem about New York. It will be the first of many dreams you place on paper, words flowing together like music. The poem will be titled “Empire,” and you’ll read it to your elementary class about how you yearn to be in the middle of big buildings, colored with Time Square lights.
This was an assignment, but your teacher will see more.
“God’s given her a gift,” she’ll profess to your mother. “She’s a quiet leader, a beautiful writer. She’s bound to do great things.” And you will.
Years will pass, and life will blossom. Art Schools, published poems, spoken word groups, all before you turn eighteen. The contents of your life will be a fine line to easily follow; no detours or bumps. The stage will become your pusher and the spotlight your addiction. And each time you recite the last line of your piece, you’ll smile because people see the person you’re supposed to be for them.
Those who have been around longer than you will share their tips on living a successful life: how to mold your talents into a salary, writing things that will get you further, no matter the topic, faking it until you’ve gained stability. You’ll see the cars they drive, the access they’ve unlocked, the financial security they’ve attained, as happiness.
You’ll decide to sell your iambic pentameters for insights to draft a hard news clip. You’ll come to realize poetry slipped through the cracks so easily. You won’t sweat it because your gift is still present, you’re still writing, your supportive team back home is still happy, and that comes first.
Don’t be startled when I say this, but you’ll find yourself stumbling, and that fine line will start to get fuzzy. There will be a war in you that comes suddenly and uninvited. It will shake your perfect world, the world that was mapped out for you. In the midst of trying to find yourself, you lose the parts you loved in pieces of the divine, gifted writer, the artist with the Midas, corporate touch.
It’s going to be hard trying picking up the pieces and find how they used to fit, especially when the shapes of yourself mold into something different. You can’t help it, you can’t control it and they can’t either.
Those pieces were never meant for you.
There’s a closed stage, spotlights are all cut, and the sound of empty pews will make it hard for you to hear your worth. You never defined you.
“But how could I?” you’ll ask yourself in dirty dorm room mirrors. “The audience was so loud, cheering my name, it created who I am. I was willing to sell my art to those who believed in it and saw something I never saw in myself.”
In this big life, it’s going to be easy to hide behind the mistakes of others rather than your own. And though I don’t blame your village, I don’t blame you either.
It’s going to get better for you, I promise. The voice you once had will mature into your own. Through trial and error, you’ll get the hang of it: how it sounds, what comes out, how vulnerable yet strong it is. You’ll buy your art back from those who had too much control and make new edits. You’ll learn not to lose your art for financial freedom or access to a popular crowd. And while constructive criticism is essential to every artist, you’ll begin to take pride in every line, every symbolic message and personal input without the sound of a crowd. Without a spotlight.
You’ll be happy to choose this artsy life. The life God gifted you from the very beginning. And now the life you defined for yourself.