[Re]Introduction

Just as I’ve spent Pandemic Time revisiting some of my favorite music from my teen years (including No Doubt’s Return of Saturn and 112’s 112; I might have told you back then, perhaps in a very bad poem performed in hopes of enchanting the nearest dreadlocked boy, that such unremarkably disparate tastes meant I had layerssss like a cake) and refining the aesthetic I’ve been attempting since my freshman year in college, it only seems logical that I would also return to my digital roots by using this long period of frightful stillness to start a newsletter.

In the fall of 2006, I found myself both unemployed and one class away from graduating from Howard University—a course that I would not be able to take until the spring. Bored as hell, I started actually updating the blog I’d started a few months prior on a regular basis. It became the wind beneath my sad little broke and broken ass wings, connecting me with this emergent Black digital writer cohort that had come together on platforms like Wordpress, Blogger, LiveJournal, and of course, MySpace which was effectively Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, and LJ at once—and also the Friends to Black Planet’s Living Single. It was through these platforms that I grew what once I thought to be a large community, and what I would now describe as simply being known by more people than I know of, some of whom would support my work.

There’s a lot that I could, or perhaps should, say about the work I’ve done in the past, considering that people coming across this are unlikely to be deeply familiar with it. Maybe at some point, but I’ve always struggled with giving myself any sort of credit and, besides, it’s not like I was bell hooks for a couple of years and then went quiet on everyone. I typically just tell folks that I’m from the OG Black feminist blogosphere and a lot of y’all owe us a debt of gratitude for the work that we did, during an era in which #ruinaBlackgirlsday was not just a hashtag, it was more than fair game—it was a way to platform yourself online. Black women were very often the punchline of the day and it wasn’t as popular to strike back as it is now.

I would have just started publishing my new essays without explaining any of this, but there are people out there to whom I owe more than that. See, I had readers. A sizeable number of them. Now, to be fair, more than 3 is sizeable to me, to be completely honest (Whomst the f*ck are any of us to expect an audience larger than ourselves? To have but one devoted supporter is a blessing, and I am eternally grateful to each and every person who has ever supported my work in any way.)

However, there were far more than three of them, and many would come along for the ride from my early post-Howard days in Washington DC, to my first full-time media job in New York City—which happened to be a promising one with a well-known publication. Though it was never an exclusively ‘personal’ blog, which I’d define as having the vast majority of the content facing inward, it was enough of a high-and-low-light reel of one young Black feminist’s experiences that people connected to it, and to me. I hate how capitalism and Twitter disrupted that for them and most selfishly, for me. We had a lovely thing going, despite the glaring asterisks.

From 2008-2016, I regularly published opinion essays about race, gender, sex, and pop culture for a host of print and digital outlets, which created opportunities for me to do punditry, public speaking, and social influencer work. I went from blogging to freelance writing, to becoming a senior editor for a national publication. In 2013, right as I seemed to be stepping onto what felt like solid ground, I got pregnant during a break-up.

Thanks to effective co-parenting and a willingness to work into oblivion, I kept thriving at work and would be promoted a couple of times before leaving my job for an executive-level editorial position in 2016. “Not for me” would be an understatement akin to “This fire isn’t cold enough to freeze.” I left two years later.

By this point, I wasn’t regularly writing anything longer than a Twitter thread anymore, unless it was a speech of some sort; I allowed my sadness, the hectic nature of my schedule, and the instant gratification I got from sharing ideas in short bursts on social media to steal my voice as a writer, and it heightened the misery of a deeply unhappy spell.

Mine was and is one of many unique careers created by the internet. It has been a wild ride with subtle successes and more pronounced regrets, defined both by what feels like great promise and the depression and anxiety that conspired to put it on a slow burn. Ice would have been too kind, I’ve had to sit with my potential simmering, with a fragrance enticing enough to draw forward opportunities other folks would kill for...only to freeze with fear, or to collapse with exhaustion from Doing Too Much for years with nothing resembling a real, significant break unless you count my 6-week maternity leave. Meanwhile, ideas for articles, books, TV shows, films would be birthed in my iPhone Notes app and would die there just as quickly.

So much online time over the course of too-many-years would be wasted by engaging bad faith arguments, deliberate trolls and/or people who were so ideologically opposed to anything I might so much as think of considering to hold as a value, that I’d sooner sweep the ocean than I’d achieve anything by engaging with them unless it were for therapeutic and/or performance value. Unfortunately, while I would have sworn I was too sophisticated and mature to be tempted by the latter, the former became a way to excuse wasting hours slam dunking on fucking nothing for nothing’s sake on the internet dot com.

Don’t get me wrong: during many of these exhibition matches, great points were made by myself and countless others, and I will not discount the power of using seemingly fruitless, often headass online debates to disrupt widely held notions that may be harmful, and other such ways in which Twitter bickering can be very useful. Seriously! Don’t read this as snark, I’m being sincere right now. (If this were a text message conversation, I’d add an exclamation point and a “LOL!” for approval seeking reasons right now, but luckily, the Word-file version of the internet forces me to stand a little taller.)

As I reckon with the toll on the soul, I echo Adrianne Marie Brown, who writes of her own path towards various modes of healing and interrogation, “I began to move towards my own yes, my satisfaction. I examined how my experiences of deep political alignment with people who wanted to collaborate with me had taught me more than years of battling with people who wanted to dominate me or compete against me.1

An invitation to contribute to Slate’s ‘Care and Feeding’ parenting advice column and, a few months later, to co-host the site’s Mom and Dad Are Fighting parenting podcast would bring me back to the rigor of regular media work in 2019. I’d planned to make a return to blogging that fall, drafting just one post before things took a very bad turn in my life.

I forgot to mail a health insurance payment, and as this is America, I lost my coverage very soon thereafter and had to wait until January to begin a new plan. (I suppose I should mention that my medications were in the ballpark of $4-6k a month without insurance, so there wasn’t so much as even a passing thought of trying to just pay out of pocket.)

I do not have the proper words to describe how lost in my own body and mind I felt during the nearly five months that I waited to get back to a doctor, which would have been difficult enough had I not been in the process of trying to move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles with the goal of selling a TV pilot. I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready to talk about that time period with anyone but a therapist; I’ll just say, I felt very confident that 2020 would be a new dawn, a new day, a new life for me, and that I would be feeling good, finally. 

Whoops.

Alas, here I am. I have mourned my lost time—both that which I lost prior to COVID and the open-ended period of restriction we are currently surviving—and I continue on, with gratitude for my ancestors who worked much less comfortable jobs than my own, and with consideration of the fact that I am quite fortunate to still be alive to have, at least this very minute to continue creating.

I realize that this may not be the greatest introduction to, well, anything for folks who don’t know me at all, and it may still leave too many gaps for someone who might have wondered where I’d gone. Hopefully, it will suffice. I don’t want to look back hardly at all, and that is especially true now that reminiscing means thinking back on a time in which I could go to a friend’s house, or to a work meeting, or get on a plane, without placing my life at any more risk than simply being Black and woman might confer upon me.

I cringe reading my solitary 2019 blog post, but I’m glad it exists because helps me to measure the tremendous growth and progress that I have made in the nearly 1.5 years since then, in terms of making peace with my past, with my work, and with myself. Nothing I wrote then rings untrue to me now, however, I see it as little more than me listing out all of my traumas and troubles and hoping that, somehow, that they would cease. Furthermore, the bitterness and lack of awareness of my own agency are remarkable. But it’s a snapshot of where I was then.

For years, writing, which used to feel like home, felt like…just stopping by. Like sliding through a gathering for a quick round and little 2-step. Once upon a time, you would have been there until the lights came up.  But hey, how many 30-somethings really party like we used to, am I right? (I mean, I was doing pretty well until COVID, tbh, and I do plan to…man, IDK, planning feels weird these days.)

I miss what I had with readers and writers way back when. We respected and supported each other and it was lovely. I don’t know how possible that it is once you’ve crossed over to the side of the internet where people, whom you will never meet or may not even know exist, have grudges against you that feel very, very legitimate to them. But it’s worth a shot!

It took a really long time, and I am terrified that I will lose my way once again, but I feel like I’ve truly returned to where I belong, and I’m grateful to anyone who is down to come on this ride with me.

I will publish essays, short bursts of thought, and other original #content here. It’s free for now, but there will be a paid sitch to come soon because um, I got bills. I’m also freelancing again (!) and I have a new piece up for The Cut’s ‘All Work, No Pay’ series on how the pandemic has impacted women. And there is so much more to come.

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Welcome.

Jamilah

1

adrienne marie brown “Who Taught You to Feel Good?” in Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good (Edinburgh: AK Press, 2019), 23