“Act like you know who you are
Speak from your gut, honey
Say what you want, my love
Be who you wanna be
Speak, speak, speak, speak”
- Jhene Aiko
Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed about being famous. Maybe it was because I was always in front of a television or because I practically lived in movie theatres. But for as long as I can remember, I've wanted to be in movies. I grew up practicing acceptance speeches in mirrors, pretending to answer interview questions in my head, and always practicing my smile if the paparazzi ever caught me off guard.
Ok, typing this out loud sounds a little crazy. But these were the things that helped me sleep at night. My life may be shit now, but when I grow up, I was going to blow up. I came out of the womb in love with acting and performing. In my elementary school, I participated in talent shows and auditioned for the school plays. One of my earliest memories is of me standing on stage saying, “Today we’re going to learn how to spell supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." Oh, the joy I felt when I nailed it that day. I was in a girl singing group and even begged my Mother for dance lessons. Looking back, I guess I always had this drive to learn my craft. But little by little, it was all taken away.
I can't pinpoint the exact moment my Mother stop nurturing my interest and dreams. But I do remember her vividly telling me about my cousin Ellis. His claim to fame was the Undertaker in Hoodlum. "He's still in Chicago trying to chase a dream.” So instead of dance class on Saturday mornings- I ended up in math and science club. My Mom claimed it was because of "money." But I know it was deeper than that. She will never admit it, but she probably felt like she was preparing me for a more “practical” life. And considering what I have now, where I live, I guess it all worked out in her eyes. But I can’t help but think how different my life would be if she just believed in me.
Writing this makes me realize that I have always been creative. And yet, somewhere along the lines, I forgot about that brave child who was always willing to try anything—that girl who was fearless and determined to shine. In high school, I was on the cheer team and took dance classes. So when it came time to "declare" my major for college, I thought it was a no-brainer. I was going to school for theatre. But unfortunately, my Mom had other plans. I had to pick a “real” major, and I've been regretting that decision ever since.
The next time that I would even think about theater was my graduate year of college. I don’t know if it was a subconscious thing, but I never even attended plays until that year. See, I had to stay at Hampton an extra year while all my friends were back in the real world. So I had no choice but to explore and find my own way. The play that I saw was "For Colored Girls." I still remember sitting in the audience with tears in my eyes and this feeling in my gut. I couldn’t put my finger on it then, but now I know it was remorse.
That night I left the theater knowing that I had given up on my dreams. But I felt like it was too late. I had a bachelor's in science and was well on track for getting my master's. To add the cherry on top, I had just got a job offer at a Public Accounting firm. Could I really give all that up to chase a dream? Denise was NOT having that! I didn’t realize it, but I had completely shut down that side of my life. Not realizing that by shutting it down, I was losing a whole side of myself. But it wasn't just totally my Mom's fault. I fell in love, joined an organization, and felt like I had a path to success. Something that would make everybody proud. Remember, I just wanted to fit in. I needed that external validation. But even on the path to public accounting. I secretly had these magical ideas.
Things like, I would be an accountant on a movie set, and then people would realize how amazing I am. Then offer me a part in the movie. Thinking about it now, it sounds ridiculous, but that's what I honestly thought could happen. I never even attempted to wrap my mind around what it would mean to be an accountant on a day-to-day basis. When I had the chance to visit college as a mentor, I realize how small I kept myself. How I didn’t even attempt to go after my dreams. I just settled, and it's honestly kind of sad. I never gave myself a fighting chance.
So, of course, I would hit rock bottom when I am faced with the reality of what my life has become. When I first started Honestly Sis, I blamed my parents a lot. But the more that I think about it- it's on me. I could have minored in theatre. I could have changed my major and transferred to California. I could have tired, but I didn't, and as much as I want to play that "should of- could of- would of” game, what happened, happened. I didn’t know any better, and honestly, at seventeen years old- what would I know about life? I was living on autopilot and in safety mode. It wasn’t until I was faced with the reality of what all those “safe” choices had done that I was forced to wake up.
Sitting in a conference room all day pretending that I gave a fuck, truly felt like I was dying on the inside. Hitting rock bottom forced me to search for that piece of myself that I shut down in 2006. In 2012, I was convinced that I would quit my job and enroll back in graduate school. I came to that conclusion after listening to Bradley Cooper’s Inside the Actors Studios interview. He told his story about how he was in a similar space, and his applying to Pace University saved his life. I figured the same thing could happen to me. I began to research Pace and what it would take to get an MFA. Once again, I told my Mom and a few friends. They all thought it was nuts considering the student loans I already had- and they had a point. So I killed that idea, but I didn’t stop looking.
Next up was a blog called Conversations Pieces. But that didn’t last too long. Then I attempted to write several stories, thinking about my B2K days. Nothing stuck. It wasn’t until my Mom finally admitted that “accounting isn’t your personality at all” that I was freed to be me. The moment that she uttered those words, I stopped trying to please her and just trusted in myself and God. After praying, I was blessed with the idea for my book a few weeks later. Since then, my life has taken so many twists and turns. But what has always stood the test of time is my book.
No matter if I was in a hospital, suffering on the job, or going through heartbreak. My book has kept me through it all. When I think about my life and the dreams that I have for myself now, they are so much grander than when I was just a kid. They are so much more than simply being a movie star. A while ago, Kofi Siriboe did an A Sip conversation with Issa Rae. It was just after Season 1 of Queen Sugar, and he seemed to be everywhere. From the outside looking in, Kofi was living his best life. But from the moment he opened his mouth, you could tell that something was off.
Kofi energy was low. You could tell he was forcing a smile as women made catcalls from the audience. He seemed sad. Eventually, as the interview went on, Kofi revealed that his best friend had just committed suicide. He also said in a very indirect way that his boss (Oprah), who preached about self-care, didn't care about his mental state. When he asked for time off to grieve. It was all about business. Everyone thought Kofi was having the time of his life, but he felt like he was in prison. I felt for him. By the end of the conversation, Kofi said something that has stuck with me ever since: “I didn’t know that I had just worked myself into another form of enslavement." Kofi made me realize that I was saved in the pivot.
See, the thing about my journey to wholeness is that it has never been about changing myself. But more like accepting and recovering parts of myself. Everything from acupuncture, reiki to the birth chart reading honestly didn't tell me anything new. It simply affirmed what I always knew to be true about myself. What the energy healing has done was removed other people's projections and expectations of me. Now, what remains is the conscious adult who always knew they were destined for greatness. My pivots, twists, and turns, are what make my story sweeter.
One of my favorite past-time is listening to interviews. In most interviews of famous or accomplished people, there is always at least one person in their life who supports their dream from the start. Especially for younger stars, there is always the parent who made sacrifices to make their dreams possible. But I don’t have any of that shit! In the beginning, it use to bug me. It used to make me resentful of God. But now, it's the absence of that support that makes my story so unique. I don't have a group of people rooting me on, parents to lean back on. All I have is me. If I can make it- doesn’t that mean anyone can? No matter how fucked up your background is? I feel like my story (when it's all said and done) will be the ultimate testament to what happens when you simply believe in the impossible.
Society has flooded us with the message that you are a loser not destined for greatness if you don't have a supportive group of family and friends. And a lot of us, especially people of color, have accepted this as a fact. Using it as an excuse to stay small and not even try. But it’s bullshit. If you can still manage to dream, love, and care when everything wanted you to stop, that's fucking amazing. Do you know how much courage, strength, and resilience that takes? It also means there has to be a power greater than us, carrying us forward. I don't know about you, but there have been so many times when I wanted to "give up," but there is just something inside of me that won’t.
What I know for sure at thirty-two is, that I appreciate my past and all that it has taught me. I am glad that I hit rock bottom at twenty-two versus forty-five. I'm so happy that I am free from living as that same hurt-ass little kid. Because the sad reality is many people never break the cycle of childhood trauma. In turn, they grow up to be a grown-ass kid. At least now I know that won’t be me! This year, I completed my fifth draft of my novel, and although I haven't read a single page. I am just proud of myself for still trying. For not giving up when the book really sucked. For trusting and believing in myself when everyone else walked away. Shit, just for sticking it out, that alone takes strength.
Despite all the things that I’ve been through, I have still been able to birth something into the world. Even though I'm not done, that simple fact means a lot. Unfortunately, the sad fact is my skill level has just risen to the level where I can translate what’s in my head on the page. I guess Oprah had a point when she said, “the best thing you can you’re yourself is time." Becoming great takes work, despite what influencers are trying to sell to you. There is no shortcut to writing a great book, and even the most remarkable writers will tell you that! Becoming great only comes from constantly trying, refining, plus never giving up.
Lately, I have been tweeting, "I'm going for it! I'm really going for it!" Because I can't believe that after everything, I am now finally going after my dreams. There is no magical thinking or projecting, just direct effort and careful planning towards making it happen. I now believe that I am building something that will not only benefit my children and myself but the world. I am creating something that will stand the test of time, and for that to happen, it's going to take time. When I attended the Detroit Rep Actors Workshops, I learned that "acting" had nothing to do with "acting". It was about living. My vocal instructor stressed the importance of self-awareness since our body was the "tool." It turned out I have been on the path to becoming an actor all along.
For the past few years, I've found myself torn between these two states of being. On the one hand, I am striving for my dreams. While on the other, I am mourning my past and the person I used to be. But I realize the more I look back, the more it fucks up my focus. This past year, it felt as though God asked me to close the door on my past and be proud of myself. When I focused on the things that didn’t work, the people who walked away, or the job I hate. It all felt magnified and out of my control. But when I shifted my focus, a shift occurred in my life. I realize that the things I could control were amazing.
When I'm writing these articles, I feel alive, but it's not just about my projects. The truck that I drive, the community I lived in, and the bed I rest my head in- all reflected the luxury and peace that I know is meant for me. When I put my blinders on and shut out the outside world, I am happy. There is a knowingness stirring in my soul, pushing me forward, letting me know that I'm on the right track. Some days, I lay down exhausted with a smile on my face. And it's never because of my day job.
It's because of the things I have created and the life that I am building. I have a sense of happiness that no job, man, or degree can give me. I have finally found peace in myself, and that means everything. I started this journey looking for a passion, and I found myself. I don't know about you, but that's a hell of an achievement and something much more than a job title or film role. Often it feels like I have lived five different lives, but I'm only just getting started. Now I'm ready for the next leg of the journey.
The leg where I learn to embrace and understand the importance of divine timing. Just how I've finally learned to appreciate my past and embrace the pivot as the beautiful magic of the Phoenix rising from the ashes!
I'm So Fucking Proud of Myself,