Oberlin Blogs

The Essence of Time

February 2, 2016

Alexandria Cunningham ’16

In the spirit of Winter Term dialogue, this post is illuminating how I dedicated my energy this past January. Winter Term has always functioned for me as a time to re-align myself with things that I am passionate about such as literature and writing, digital media, advocacy and education. Across my three projects of journaling, working in a charter school in New Orleans and self-teaching photography, I have found ways to do my passions (and get funding for them!).

Similarly, this time around I found myself engaging in work (when I should be resting), but this time the work filled me up with something far more sustainable that I can only begin to describe. Between finishing my senior capstone for my Africana Studies major, completing the last of my graduate school applications and learning how to heal from a hell of a semester, I began to (re)question how I spend my time. Working on developing myself academically, professionally and personally seemed irrelevant if my time was not centered on loving radically and allowing the depths of that love to sustain me in the far too many things that I take on.

So what did I do, you ask? I took to the pen! Physically and metaphorically, I took up my pen and wrote, which led to some incredible creations. After a wealth of introspection, I realize that in my consideration of questions of activism, social justice, calling out and calling in and everything in between, I was nearing explosion. In this moment, a quote by Brother Nelson Mandela made all the more sense: "We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right." Suddenly, life had a sweet and timely irony that allowed me to rediscover a fearless voice.

I will not lie. My spirit is often restless with so many things waiting to literally jump off of my chest and into the universe. Within me is a voice so loud and powerful that the stories that this mind, body and heart can testify to are pressing. I continually recognize the urgent need to share these stories beyond myself but am equally cognizant of the danger and pressure that may result. However, I am all about the process.

To spend any amount of time in process means several things. Firstly, it is to concentrate more on the journey than the end result. It is to dedicate and commit oneself to exploration, intricacy of issues and complexity in such a way that one is constantly learning. Fundamentally, it includes acknowledging the need to grow and to seek out the opportunities to engage in such critical growth. However, being in process is a luxury for me. I spend a large amount of my time advocating, meeting, coordinating, working, strategizing, educating, organizing, supporting, researching, writing and sleeping (whenever it fits in). During my luxury moment of process I reconnected to myself as a creator of work with the potential to free... and THAT is time incredibly well spent.

Hands down, I created some of my best writing during this past Winter Term. One of the wonderful things about writing in process is that I wrote the stories inside of me that were fueling my explosion. Rather than run from the things that weigh on me or reject them, I felt compelled to own them (the things I can handle) and proclaim them within the context of my writing. I created space for my existence and that is such damn radical work. Honestly, that is the power of storytelling, one of my most cherished art forms and tools of liberating action and work. Whenever I committed myself to dealing with my anger, anxiety, frustration and curiosity that drives me to be so passionate about certain things the better my writing became. It was magical. Pure #blackgirlmagic.

The best example I can give is my capstone, nicknamed, "Only If Ya Nasty." As the excerpted title suggests, it is not for the shy of heart nor is it for those unwilling to deal with intricate complexities of social identities such as class, race, gender and sexuality. Despite having an entire semester to work out thirty pages, it was my extended labor with it that made all the difference. When I reached a point of thinking about actual experiences and not just academic theory, it was easier to write. When I reflected on why this paper, the arguments raised within it and its potential are relevant, it is because I understand how modes of cultural expression, coming from my Africana community, are integral to our own freedom, liberation and radical sense of love.

From quoting lyrics from Nicki Minaj's "Anaconda" to Missy Elliot's "One Minute Man," I found myself assuming the role of both storyteller and audience. My investment in what I was writing was (and is) so deep because I existed in the work I created. I was able to construct an argument about race, sex and sexuality that centered a perspective that is validating, affirming and critically engaged with my communities. Suddenly, I felt a little less explosive. Instead, I felt nurtured, heard and cared for (and exhausted from writing too, keep it real).

For an extensive and impactful period, my time and energy was sacrificed for something I was wholly committed to and the difference in doing that kind of work made not only my Winter Term incredible but it made my relationship to writing and storytelling all the more strong. I encourage anyone reading this to think about the essence of time for you... do you dedicate energy to at least one thing that sustains you? If not, there is no time like the present to make a shift.

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