At the end of Day One, I sat with friends at CopaBanana, a local eatery right off of the campus. We munched on salty french fries and sipped on whiskey and ginger ale. The conversation turned to submitting work. I asked myself then if that would be my intention for the next year, to submit more work. I promised myself that I would make that decision once I was workshopped on Day Three.
I knew that getting my piece workshopped could do one of two things: light a fire under my ass or make me run under a rock to hide.
As we walked back to campus, I asked myself if I was ready for submitting work. I asked myself if my work was ready. I asked myself if it was good enough. I told myself I was just playing myself, that my work was mediocre at best, that I had to try harder, be better, do more before I could submit anything.
I felt the self-doubt hanging itself like a weight from my ankles as I walked, dragging me back to earth from the high of the earlier part of the day.
I went to bed thinking I had no idea why I was even there.
I woke up and dressed carefully, putting on a flowy dress to combat the heat, piling my hair at the top of my crown with pins. I tried not to think of the beat-down session I gave myself the night before. I ate breakfast, kept a smile on my face, and then started the trek across campus to workshop. I noticed three white males walking extremely close behind me as I walked. It made me uncomfortable, not just because of their whiteness (though that played a part), but because of their maleness. I don’t like men walking extremely close behind me. It makes me feel unsafe. It makes me feel watched. It makes me feel vulnerable.
I stopped short and the person directly behind me bumped into me, of course. They sucked their teeth as they walked around me. I stared at them with icicles in my eyelashes as they did. It was too early and I hadn’t had much coffee.
The incident made me appreciate New Yorkers, who just like me, like their personal space. Walking on someone’s heels is just not a New York thing, despite how crowded and cramped it may be. The only place motherfuckers will forgive that shit is in a crowded train and barely then. On the street though? Unacceptable.
Finally in workshop, we dove right into workshopping people’s pieces. The conversation circled around the disruption of idols and what that meant for us. We talked about one of the pieces assigned to us to read, an interview in a 1984 issue of Essence magazine between Audre Lorde and James Baldwin. In it, Baldwin’s male blindspot is garish, put into light.
How do we accept that the man revered for his writings during the Civil Rights movement had a HUGE male blindspot? Does that take from his work? Does that makes us see him differently? How do we reconcile our respect for our icons of Black and Brown movements with their flaws, with their humanity?
Zhayra, a fellow workshopper, raised a powerful point to us by referencing what she said she believed was an ancient Greek saying: “The greatest disappointment and liberation is knowing that your gods have feet of clay.”
I thought about that quote for most of the remainder of the day, journaling about it while wrapped in blankets in the dorm room later that night, fighting sleep to get the words down.
The conversation reminded me of a scene in a memoir written by the granddaughter of Lolita Lebron, in which she talks about the funeral held for her mother. The government allows Lolita to attend her daughter’s funeral and the funeral overflows with people who hold Lolita as an icon for Puerto Rican Nationalism. The little girl at her mother’s funeral wonders why so many people are just there for her grandmother and not to mourn her mother. She watches as her grandmother waves to the masses, hugs people, talks to them about Puerto Rican nationalism. She watches her grandmother and strips her of the idolatry everyone else gave to her. At that moment, Lolita is not a Puerto Rican nationalist icon. In that moment, she is just a flawed woman.
In the quote Zhayra brought up, it says it is not just a disappointment to see your gods’ flaws, but a liberation. A liberation! The idea that who we respect and revere can also be flawed, reminds us of their humanity. They are no longer icons, they are people with shit…just like us. They are human and humans are flawed, fucked up, messy. Perfection after all is an illusion. Imperfection is the reality.
In our disappointment in our fallen icons is the recognition of their humanity. And in recognizing that they are human and flawed like we are, it gives us the freedom to accept our own flaws, our own imperfections as facets of who we are. It helps us to be more gentle with ourselves. Even our inspirations have rot.
I didn’t beat myself up when I put my journal down that night. I didn’t sleep with doubt that night. I dreamt of goddesses with feet made out of red clay washing their feet in a river. I bathed in the river, leaving watery streaks of red on my skin.
I woke up the next morning no longer questioning why I was there. I knew why I was there. To become a better writer.
And the only way for me to do that, was to continue working on being a better person than I used to be.