I’m long past “missing” my MLK day post. I’ve been trying to write, re-write and beautify something that I did write, but it was awful. And MLK deserves much more than that.
So, here I sit, a week later thinking about my future, my renewed course of life and what it all means. I’m having an existentialist moment, if you will. (I’m an English major now. I can say sh*t like that AND get away with it.)
I’d decided at the beginning of the year that in an effort to reduce my newfound student loan debt as soon as humanly possible, I would take a job at the start of my final semester at UNCC and go to class at night. I would forgo pursuing an MFA in creative writing and work to pay my debts down. After a year, I would revisit pursuing an MFA – saving up money, paying down debts and having what I like to call guap in my pocket.
Then I read Letter from Birmingham Jail, for my Black Arts Movement course (the only worthy course I’m taking this semester).
We all know that the famous phrase “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” is taken from this letter (If you didn’t, YOU’RE WELCOME), so I’m not going to focus on that. What struck me about this letter is the power of his words. The way his argument is framed. The way it literally shook me to my core.
Do you ever get that feeling when you read a truly magnificent work of literature (fiction or otherwise) that grips you and refuses to release you until you’ve read the last word? I get it when I read anything by Jacqueline Carey (notably anything in her Kushiel and Naamah series). I got it when I read Kenyon’s Acheron – which is one of the few books that made me cry. And I got it when I read Letter.
“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed…For years now I have heard the word, ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity…when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you have seen the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society…” and on it goes until King says “then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.”
The word “chills” doesn’t even come close to what I felt when I read that. How much longer will I wait? Of course, my fight to hang on to and realize my dreams pales in comparison, is nearly invisible next to that of so many leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. But, the aforementioned words made me stop and ask myself – how much longer will I wait to be who I’ve always said I wanted to be? I’m not ready to be a starving artist, but I’m also not willing to wait any longer to write words that shake people to their cores, that make them cry, that urge them to act or even change their point of view.
So, did a U-turn. MFA it is. PhD it is. Screw a corporate 8 to 5. Screw sitting in traffic. Screw working with people that never seem to close their mouths long enough to engage in actual work. The debt is scary, and like a vicious, drug-resistant fungus – it grows. But I want to be a better writer and I want to teach. Those are the only two things I desire more than Johnny Depp naked on a silver platter for Christmas. And, now, I’m willing to pay for it in more ways than one.
People did not fight and die so I could sit around and twiddle my thumbs all day.
How much longer will you wait?