Creating from the Inside Out

Thursday nights have become a happy place at The Beautiful Project; a joyful, fulfilling, artistic, truth telling space where Black women writers consort to galvanize our artist selves to come forth, create, and flourish. There are few spaces like it. Together, we have created a space where we feel free to be our whole messy, in process, triumphant selves. The conversations are rich, teeming with epiphanies. Affirmations are thrown around like confetti transforming a Thursday night gathering into a celebration filled with love and sisterhood. What happens between us is nothing short of awe-inspiring. As we continue to grow and bring forth all of the stirrings of our heart and mind, you will find words and reflections from our writing circle here. Our sister, Teni, is first up. We hope you enjoy a small piece of her brilliance as much as we do.


Recently, I have come to terms with two truths: 1) Art is anything I create as a means for expression, healing, and survival. 2) My most crucial art work is becoming me.

I have always been drawn to art and expression. Throughout college, I dabbled in various forms of art. I sang in an African choir. I started a praise dance group with my friend. I performed with the Black Theater Association. Art was the way I made sense of who I was becoming and who I was created to be. Throughout college, my art was resistance to the new environment I found myself struggling to navigate. Time and time again, art liberated me.

After graduating college, I started to work a 9-5 job, and while there were brief moments of creativity, I felt stifled. Even though I lived in Los Angeles, I found so many people creating to entertain but not enough people creating to stay alive. I craved a supportive, nurturing community of creatives, so I started a group for women of color to connect, create and collaborate. As I helped other artists cultivate their work, I struggled with my creative identity. Am I an artist if I am not displaying my work on instagram or twitter? If I have no desire to share my work, is it real? As I dug deeper into my core, I realized I was doing myself a disservice by trying to squeeze myself into a box. During that time, I had to remind myself that as a Black woman in America, my very existence is art. Taking up space at a protest is art. Working in corporate America and surviving (maybe even thriving) is art. There is art sprawled across the pages of my journal. There is art growing gracefully from my head. I AM ART.

So how can we create authentically-from the inside, out?  I believe this is a lifelong journey, one that starts with acknowledging and celebrating all of who we are in this moment, then determining how we want to grow. Here are some questions that helped me get started:

Think of two artists that inspire you.

What qualities draw you to them?

What are three adjectives do you hope people use to describe your work?

Finally, as you go through your creative process ask yourself:  Is this true? Is this honest? Is this me?

 

Teni Ayo-Ariyo is a lover of words and humans. She strongly believes there is something in each of us the world needs.

The spring season is afoot which means we are considering what spring cleaning can look like for our lives and households. As we navigate how to declutter our spaces, both physically and mentally, our guest writer, A. Kurian, continues her dialogue on choosing simplicity and shares her favorite resources on the approach of minimalism.

Minimalism is a trend, but simplicity is a lifestyle. In the Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster writes, “We are made to feel ashamed to wear clothes or drive cars until they are worn out. The mass media have convinced us that to be out of step with fashion is to be out of step with reality…Simplicity sets possessions in proper perspective…Simplicity is the only thing that sufficiently reorients our lives so that possessions can be genuinely enjoyed without destroying us.” We can learn how to live simply by reading and learning from those who have chosen a minimalist approach. Below are a few resources:

The Afrominimalist

Brown Kids

Black Minimalists

Becoming Minimalist

Through My Lens

Miss Minimalist

Frugalwoods

The Minimalists

Be More With Less

 

“The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.” – Socrates

Do you ever wish you could go back to save a friendship from your past, armed with the knowledge you have now? Maybe five or ten years have passed, and you recognize that if you were then who you are now, the friendship might have survived? It’ll be a while before I forget Devon*. We became friends in eighth grade and into high school. We ran track together our sophomore year of high school. Our post practice ritual was driving five minutes to the local Dairy Queen to down chocolate chip cookie dough blizzards. She excelled at track. I came in dead last during a mile run (to be fair, y’all, it was the first week of practice!). Devon was a lighter complexion. She wore make-up, got her hair relaxed and nails French manicured at a beauty salon. My skin was darker, and I rocked braids to hide the new growth from my mother haphazardly chopping off my perm after deeming the hair damaged. My nails were unpainted stubs, and I got my hair done in a woman’s basement while watching Lifetime movies on a television that was missing a volume knob. My outfit of cool back then was a white baby tee paired with the classic jean overalls (one strap undone) and black Nike high tops. 

All this to say that being opposites was most likely what connected us as friends, but this was also what allowed jealousy to sprout. And it did in small ways. Like when we both applied for a summer program I had told her about, and she was the one accepted. Or when guys talked to me only so I could talk to her on their behalf. Or when we went off to separate colleges, and during freshman year, she met the man (Chris*) that she’d eventually marry, and I dealt with the angst of dating. She got engaged to Chris right after college and was married at twenty-two. I moved to a new city in the same state for my first real job out of college. I invited her to see my new apartment; she seemed to show little enthusiasm for this new stage in my life, which felt hurtful considering I had shown excitement for her wedding and new home with Chris. We hung out for the last time a couple years after her wedding. I was more confident and finishing up graduate school. I was also working, dating, and living in a new state. During our meet-up, she spoke with a tinge of envy about my life and tried to talk to me about how she felt she was missing out because she had married young. But you’re married, was my thought so I could not understand her dilemma. We talked past each other that night, not truly listening to our anxieties or feelings. After that dinner, we must have both recognized that the friendship was drifting apart. We eventually stopped communicating.

That was over a decade ago, and I’ve reflected on this friendship through the years. I realize that many factors led to its dissolution. We were young, naïve, and inexperienced about the disruptions that impact a friendship with each life stage. We were inept at navigating these progressive stages. We let them happen to us without knowing that we had to actively adjust. I was unaware of how hard or isolating marriage must have been for her at such a young age. She was unaware of the difficulties of moving to a new state alone and building community. Her husband, Chris, was a little controlling and often dismissive of her friends. I was unaware of how a partner can influence the course and sustainability of your friendships. She was probably learning to assert herself in that relationship. People also constantly compared our love lives so I often felt like I fell short of some standard. But what if I had rejected the social comparisons, taken stock of my own emotions and addressed them with her? We lacked the tools, maturity, and foresight to consider the interplay of these factors on the health of the friendship. 

This experience made me wonder about present friendships. What mistakes might we be making in a current friendship that we’ll regret in a few years time? How much do we resist doing the hard work necessary to maintain a friendship so we excuse ourselves and state that the friendship is doomed because we are in different life stages? Oh, she’s single, she doesn’t get it. She doesn’t have any kids, she’s clueless about how much time this takes. She’s got her dream job, she won’t know what this feels like. She’s divorced, she can’t help me with this situation. We also make assumptions about how friends will react to us sharing our new stage of life with them (e.g., she doesn’t want to hear about me changing diapers). Based on our assumptions, we are tempted to shut down instead of offering advice or experiences that might help a friend who may be planning to one day enter into our current stage of life. We may become self-centered, wondering how our needs can be fulfilled instead of genuinely seeking to serve the friendship. We fail to understand that new stages of life can be lonely, painful, confusing, or challenging. How can you give your friend the time or space to adjust to a new promotion, career change, first year of marriage, master’s program, illness, divorce, caring for an infant, or the loss of a parent? Instead of demanding that she maintain the same level of communication, how do you show grace and understand that the friendship might no longer function as it once did? Depending on the level of friendship, it may also be worth it to initiate a conversation about expectations and adjustments.

We know the adage that some friends are only in your life for a season. Not every friendship that is withering needs revival. I was a friendship paramedic for years—stressing myself out, trying to hold on when it was obvious a friendship was dying.  I’m not advocating that we hold on when it’s time to let go. But we should consider in what ways we might look back ten years from now and wish we had been more patient, gracious, compassionate, or thoughtful about the stage of life in which a friend currently finds herself.

 

Written by A.Kurian for The Beautiful Project

Photography by Madylin Nixon-Taplet

*Names changed

When we got engaged, my now-husband suggested we opt out of a wedding registry. I looked at him like he had grown an extra head. He emphasized that in our separate apartments we already owned what we needed to begin a life together. His suggestion to forgo a registry led to a heated argument, one where we were both entirely stuck in our respective views. Fortunately, it also sparked an ongoing conversation between us about true needs versus wants, and about doing what society expects us to do versus doing what is right for us.

Our conversations deepened, and I started reading what I could about minimalism and materialism (e.g., Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution and David Platt’s Radical), rereading the Bible with new eyes, and rethinking Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler. My husband recommended MLK, Gandhi, and St. Francis of Assisi, but I leaned towards the more recent wave of new monastics. In my search, I ultimately stumbled upon Project 333. I invited a few of my friends to join me in electing to wear 33 items for three months. They all declined! So I journeyed alone. At first, it was difficult working with what I saw at that time as an extremely limited closet, but I lasted through the three months. Paradoxically, fewer clothing choices meant more choices because I could see clearly all that I had available to wear. Restriction suddenly meant freedom because I was no longer caught up in what anyone else thought I needed. And no one even noticed I had restricted my wardrobe those three months. After the project, I reduced the amount of clothes I had by at least 75 percent, donating several bags of clothing to Goodwill.

I learned to start asking myself if what I desired was a need or want and to fight the urge to instantly buy something without first weighing the pros and cons or dealing with a little inconvenience. I’m not saying that wants are inherently wrong; I am suggesting that we spend a little more time considering how a trivial want may distract us from a higher want. You may want a $500 television, but what you may truly want more than that television is to become an entrepreneur. Don’t trade a higher goal for a lesser goal. What could buying a less expensive item or choosing to go without something do? The money could go towards a business course or into a savings account to ease the transition of switching careers. What if you purchased a less expensive house or car? The thousands saved could go towards acts of generosity or freeing yourself from student loans and credit card debt.

Because of this personal transformation, when my husband and I married, we did not have a wedding registry. We moved into our new apartment and considered what else we could do without.

Simplifying our possessions trickled into simplifying other areas of our lives. For example, we realized how stressed we were on Mondays due to overscheduled weekends. We rushed from brunches to birthday parties to dinners to church services to lunches, and then came back exhausted on Sunday nights. No wonder we dreaded Monday mornings! We decided to experiment with putting parameters on our time. We tried not to schedule anything before late afternoons on Saturdays, and we did our best to return home by early afternoon on Sundays. It meant turning down some invitations, which I—and a lot of people—struggle with doing. But putting boundaries on our schedules was one of the most liberating things we could do. When I mentioned the experiment to friends, a couple of them thought it was too extreme. Sometimes if we’re at one extreme, though, we have to go to the other extreme in order to find balance. This taught me that when folks are caught in a crazy busy cycle, they’ll make you feel like the crazy one when you try to step out of it. We all want to fit in, but conformity keeps us stuck. Trying what others see as strange or impossible unlocks many freedoms.

During this journey of simplification, I also began to reassess my career goals. I worked in the health field but was deeply interested in writing professionally. Freeing up time allowed me to focus on my passion. After a few years of attending writing courses and workshops, I knew the next step was to go part-time at my job so that I could dedicate even more time to writing.  It was a privilege to go part-time given my financial circumstances; however, I also know it would have been much harder if we were living beyond our means or had an expensive image to sustain. The decision to go part-time did not come lightly. Others projected their fears onto me: (1) If you go part-time, you won’t be able to buy a house. (Does everyone need to own a home? We don’t think so.) (2) If you go part-time, your health insurance premiums will increase (By how much? They did, but we researched our options and prepared accordingly.) (3) If you go part-time, you won’t get a promotion. (Did I want a promotion? I wasn’t convinced that higher positions in my organization would be fulfilling for me.). After two years working part-time, I took a leap of faith, quitting my job to pursue writing. In my last weeks, I was surprised by the number of colleagues who spoke to me in secret about wanting to pursue something other than what they were doing, and who had admired my decision to go part-time.

My journey with simplicity continues. I have not “arrived”, and I won’t pretend it’s always easy to choose the road less traveled. I keep reading to challenge myself and renew my mind. The amazing benefits and freedoms that come with daring to be countercultural help me stay the course. Some of us are so used to overextending ourselves, living stretched thin, or functioning at heightened anxiety, that we can’t even conceive of the freedom that living beneath our means and creating margin in our lives could bring. We have much more than we should, and we need much less to live on than what we think. Let’s reconsider what others say we should want and think critically about our authentic needs. Let’s think a bit more radically about what is enough for living. Because life is greater than our material world.

Written by A. Kurian for The Beautiful Project