2020

Apocalyptic Malaise

by Taj Shareef

Creation is a birth.

 

I hold only the idea of pregnancy to pull from. My body doesn’t hold life in that particularly magical way, but I have within me worlds that call out to be expressed. I sit with the excitement brought by anticipating something new and spending hours gripped by what it will be as I stare down the blank page. There is a churning that happens in the well of new creation. When the seed arrives it is planted and grows under the sun and soil. Here and now, our soil is tainted and our sun is not quite so bright.

 

The threat of global sickness removes a certain richness from the environment of creativity. The once sparkling seed finds itself desperate for nutrients in stagnant earth. There are moments of warmth, and in these fleeting instances I cling to it before the gray scale sun reminds me of the lesser nature of people. There is heat, and there is fire, and via screens and digital partitions I watch as the folks with my skin are beaten for their bravery and killed for their existence. The spilled blood seeps into the soil, and I write a little on those nights.

 

Between drinks and drugs, I hold space for the blank pages, and the anger that takes root in me more each day. My daydreams of my created life pervert into horrible clear-eyed visions and yet, I cannot live without the work. Is there beauty left in this place or a single life worth saving in this waste-covered field? 

 

I wonder. 

 

Still, there is breath in my lungs, and each inhalation serves the thing I’m growing inside me, and I brace each day to be thrashed again.

 

Eventually, when distractions of cartoons, fried food, masturbation, and new hourly horror have run their course I’m still left with my thoughts. The world is a nightmare, that is true and the future is uncertain. Death is ubiquitous, blood flows down branches, around necks with nooses, and into the soil. 

Teeth are gritted, eyes are tear dry and at the foot of my soil there sits a demon waiting for me to create a life so it can spoil it. It has a hungry jagged mouth, a rotten grin, and the indigestible veneer of whiteness. When I’m ready to curse god, I write with one word following the next.

 

A bud peaks out.

 

Something grows. Something is born.

There, in impossible dirt, something warm is thriving. But now it must be cared for.

A life, a work, an idea exists and must be tended to — gently in a downpour of violence. To sit in the violence and consider a world that grows without the infection of anti-Blackness is my salvation, and after a day and a night feels wrong. I am a creator of fiction, and to express a world influenced by our collective pain can feel exploitative. It feels like raising a child and clothing them in suffering.

It is funny to think a fractal of morality leads me to abandon an idea, my work, and leave it to fend for itself.

I start again, a notebook and pen in hand armed with a desire to create something beautiful for myself and for others. The passion of new ideas brings me back to the birth, and I try to write a new world free of the suffering I consume.

We love to lie to ourselves. 

A creator is a sponge and mirror, taking in every piece of life they are subject to. We eat our share of joys and sins, and then we sit down to our instruments of paint, pianos, and poetry to make sense of it. 

The idea of the world without the suffering of Black people sits patiently in me waiting to be created and a face, a

name, and a hashtag come to mind. The dead are allowed to forget, but I am not dead, and I weep for us. The computer is closed, the paper balled and tossed, and I abandon another child.  I am a bad nurturer yet again. I’ve created unfinished chaos.

During a pandemic extending grace to my process is something I wish to do, but anxiety and fear of death linger, and it is easier to pour tequila than it is to pour out my heart. It is easier to smoke and disappear into nostalgia than it is to meditate. If I am drunkm my thoughts are manageable and revolve only around porn and laughter and eventually sleep.

But, as is the case with altered states the veil dissipates, and I hear the children calling again. To sit with my work is painful; I look at a piece, and it looks back and asks me questions of myself. 

How are you? (breaking)

Is your life valuable? (To me?)

Does your heart always beat this fast? (Where is the exit?)

Are we going to die today? (Is it better after this?)

I am caged without my consent and afraid of the door being opened. Outside in the world is disease, and there are men and women who’d revel in my death. They wish to hang me and watch the life drain from my face. I exist too comfortably for them in my skin, in my queerness, and in my freedom of existence.

I stare down these blank pages afraid to fully realize these ideas because it will mean the world is getting in and bonding to my blood and my organs. It is wrenching to create when I am counting hours until my death. I leave the pages untended and clean the house because when my world is small, it’s at least my own.

At night, after a day of pretending to write, I turn off the lights and sit in the dark with a chest on the verge of bursting, waiting for the time when they’ll come for me. I remember the year I learned how easy it was to become a target of the FBI — when a friend was grabbed by state agents and disappeared for months. There is life to be created; I have life I must tend to urgently, but if they are my children, I know the world within which they must exist.

Dreams show me composites of my anxiety formed into chimeric proxies. They are visions of yelling and spit. Time blurs, and my Monday has become my Thursday, and still nothing has come. I drink at 11AM and watch the newsfeeds. More death, more unanswered justice, more dead Black women, more dead Black queer folx, more dead Black men, more dead from Covid, and more still from ignorance.

My work stares back at me asking if the world will have a heart today? 

There is cake in the fridge, and that must be tended to. 

Without any clear sense of direction, my life continues with new lines in my face. To finish the thing is so difficult, because reprieve as I’ve known it, with touching and heat are not available. I want to stare into someone's eyes inches from my face and speak the quiet talk that leads us to the bedroom. I want to retreat into someone, but this, too, is distraction, and I owe intimates more than that.

Coming back to the work again is difficult; I don’t want to open up my veins on the page. I’m not sure that the bleeding will stop, but here we are. Again, a day becomes a night, and a month becomes three, and the pilot script still isn’t done. The thing I am so excited to create becomes another piece to my anxiety, and I wonder if I’m cut out for parenting. 

Finally, a day comes when I become disgusted with my treatment of myself and my work. The liquor is taken to friends, and the leftover ice cream thrown out, and I write. The sun comes up, and life continues outside the window, beckoning, but I know it’s a lie, and I write. The words are coming, but god only knows if it’s sensible let alone any good, but I’m here with them, and they are with me. Maybe this will be my best work or an utter embarrassment. 

Divorcing myself from the future prospects of my creation is next to impossible. How do I avoid wondering if this will be the piece that pays my rent, or brings me to my dream project? I’m not writing for myself yet again, and the challenge of demolishing expectations is perhaps the most crucial.

It can’t matter what this work is to anyone but myself. It has to be of me, and I have to love every beautiful and disturbing bit of it. My work is mine, and we are here on this planet alive until our bindings break, and we expand further. We are here, on fine days and suicidal ones, at this time existing in spite of every attempt to kill us. 

A paragraph is done, and the page looks to me for more answers. 

I do pray I have something to say today. 

Find Taj's portfolio at https://tajshareef.contently.com/

Taj's work can also be seen at https://www.slaymediahouse.com/ and https://www.bigfooters.co/