Some of you have asked why I’ve been so quiet recently. It’s a question even I couldn’t answer, until now.
Over the last month or so, I’ve found myself many an evening unable to muster enough fire within to write a meaningful 300 or more words about the Chick-fil-A controversy, criticism of Olympian Gabby Douglas’s hair during competitions, or even Frank Ocean’s big revelation.
And its bothered me more than anything has for a while. The cat got my tongue, and I didn’t know how or why.
Almost every night for the past 3 weeks, I returned from work only to sit paralyzed on my dad’s couch with my HP laptop glaring at me… and a blinking cursor in a word processor that wouldn’t move an inch. For a year and a half, it didn’t take much for me to convey an informed opinion about social issues on a weekly basis.
There were many false starts. I’d hit a brick wall trying to come up with a title before digging into a piece. Or I’d sit down to write and the words just couldn’t flow through my fingertips. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what the hell kept causing me to malfunction.
So I had to let go for a day. Then a day turned into three and I tried again. Still wasn’t working, so I took another. And then another one until I’d gone a week without writing, still lacking the inspiration I needed – the fuel – to give it a go and compose something meaningful.
That’s until I discovered an ugly truth: writing in an unfamiliar location removed me from important sources of inspiration.
Inspirations. Those were easy to find while on Northwestern’s campus or traveling around Chicago’s north side with college friends. I could find it in Norbucks, when sorority girls gabbed about NU’s “Racist Olympics,” at my fraternity house when the guys cracked jokes while I ate fried chicken, or while working with other queer advocates I know to rally for community unity in Lakeview.
I just can’t seem to find that same inspiration while staying at my childhood home.
Most of what’s become familiar is far away. There’s no Panera in walking distance where I can zone out and write with some clarity. I can’t walk down the street in orange flip-flops without being questioned. Many college friends are no longer in an arm’s reach; they’re all around the country now that college is over. Most of friends that are here, well, that’s a 25-45 minute drive.
But until I relocate to Chicago’s north side, where the queer community, my friends, my church, my job and most of my life centers at this moment, I’ll have to look to my roots on the south side to find new sources of inspiration.
Instead of numbing myself when I drive past heavy police activity or blue light surveillance cameras, I can express my fears of being stopped, watched and perceived as a threat.
When I leave for a night out looking a little too preppy and ambiguously gay, there’s those occasional walks between the front door and my car. Our newer neighbors look on bewildered at times, or passers by sneer a little. Needless to say, I stick out like a sore thumb in an all-black neighborhood. Why not search for the words to describe those moments?
Traveling north for work and fun, and then returning home again, I can’t ignore feeling like I’m leaving half of myself in one part of Chicago to return to the other half on the south side. That north/south divide — there’s something there. It’s something worth telling.
The inspiration was never lost. It was all around me all along. I just had to be willing to see it. Wherever I am, I’ll still be me, looking at the world from a perspective all my own.
Note: This was republished with permission from the author’s personal site, you can find the original at the Daily Derrick.
Derrick Clifton is the Events Coordinator for In Our Words and a proud native Chicagoan passionate about cross-cultural connections and dialogues. While working as a student advocate for social issues, Derrick served as a columnist and opinion editor for The Daily Northwestern. Derrick and his works have been featured by various publications including Gawker, National Review Online and Northwestern Magazine, which named him one of eight “Seniors to Watch” from the Class of 2012. Aside from writing, he’s usually working as a business communicator, singing in the car or drinking copious amounts of Fresca. Feel free to send him a chirp @DerrickClifton or say hey at his blog, Daily Derrick.