Small Steps

Screen Shot 2017-12-01 at 3.26.49 PM By Danielle Emeka

I helped a friend move over the weekend. After getting the last of the boxes into her new place, a group of us decided to go on a hike. I knew we were headed towards the Columbia River Gorge east of Portland but didn’t know exactly where we were headed. One of my friends asked, “Are you afraid of heights?” Feeling confident I answered “no” and we set off.

We arrived at the Bridge of The Gods about 50 miles east of Portland. Not surprisingly I had some hesitations and some questions. “Are we really walking across that? Can we, since there is no sidewalk?” “Is it really that high?” “Why is it so high?!?”

Despite my objections we paid our dollar pedestrian crossing fee and headed towards the bridge. There was a lot to take in. The grate on the floor of the bridge rattled with all the movement from the cars. The wind was so loud and blew my hair in all directions. The railing was cold and dirty from car exhaust.

Looking through the grate the water rushed under me. Even though we were almost 150 feet above the water, it felt so close. I got to that level of scared where I started laughing, as if I were laughing at my own fear. Since I was already halfway across, there was no turning back.

Then I caught the view  — the sheer vastness of the river, the trees, the clear sky and shining sun. Just for a moment I dismissed all hesitation I had previously. We all paused to appreciate the view. All the distractions of before — traffic, wind and noise — no longer mattered. We lived in the moment, if just for a moment.

This small experience taught me a lot about taking risks. All the emotions I felt walking across the bridge are no different than any big life decision, with its fear of the unknown and exhilaration upon embracing the experience.

As I enter my last 3 terms at Portland State University and look ahead to the rest of the year, there are some big life decisions I have to make. As I work towards my goals it’s exciting to imagine them coming to fruition. Yet I’m terrified. That’s because attaining these goals brings great change, like being away from my friends and family in Portland and being truly on my own. But amidst all of this uncertainty, there is hope. I know that despite all my hesitation, my next life chapter will be just like the moment on the bridge, where nothing else matters except what’s on the horizon.

Practice Instability

Screen Shot 2017-12-01 at 3.26.49 PM By Danielle Emeka

Talking about creating balance in one’s life is a common topic. Work, classes, family, friends, sleep. How do you delegate enough time to each without creating tension? You don’t.

As I juggle the many things that take up my time these days — my time with FIR the student run ad agency at PSU where I create ad campaigns for clients my job that pays the bills, my full class schedule and  a little sleep! — instability has become a close companion. It hangs out with me as I stay up late finishing homework and grab coffee before an 8:00 am meeting the next morning. I’ve come to know it well, and I want to embrace it even more. This is the key time for me to be busy and have a lot on my plate. even though I’m stretched a little thin, I know I’m working towards my desired career. I know that what I have to do every day brings me one day closer to that, and I couldn’t be happier.

I believe college isn’t the place to strive for the ideal structured experience. In fact I think it’s the best time to practice instability. Once you graduate, the real world hits and you’re in a  job, the work structure, with its expectations for results, takes over. I think it’s better to explore one’s field and work while you still have a support system in school, rather than experiencing that for the first time in the work world. Internship programs at PSU like FIR allow me to attain real work experience in advertising that will make me feel more confident when I take my first agency job.

So if you’re just going through the motions of work and classes collecting credits, maybe it’s time to search for a little bit of instability for a change. Practice embracing a little bit of the unpredictable. You never know where it’ll take you.  

Summer wanderlust

Screen Shot 2017-12-01 at 3.26.49 PM By Danielle Emeka

As I make my way through spring term with school and work, a small thought keeps creeping in —“summer is coming” and it’s in the air. As everyone rushes to the gym to make up for forgotten resolutions, I ponder my plans and what I’d like to do this summer.

An internship first came to mind. It’d be a chance to get some work experience in my desired field and possibly make some extra money. I found the online job site, Handshake, and it offers a great array of local opportunities for PSU students. Also the Career Fair is coming up on May 1st, giving one-on-one face time with employers looking to hire students and offer summer internships.

While keeping up on career opportunities is important, I also wonder if I’d be better off  looking for ways to unwind this summer. I believe it’s important to have balance in my life and traveling is a way I find my equilibrium.

One travel option that I have for the summer is to stay with a friend in London. At first this seemed like an obvious decision — go overseas to visit and experience a new country! It’d be a great chance to travel on a budget and see a new place.

But I’ve also been thinking a lot about going back home to New York, and that thought is becoming too difficult to ignore. I plan on moving back to New York once I finish school, and suspect I’m feeling a little premature nostalgia taking over.

I find myself wondering what I’m looking for — a job to give me career knowledge, memories or new experiences?

On the one hand, I want to chase the comforts of home. I want to immerse myself in loud city noise, the subway, the hot summers with a heat so heavy and penetrating that it’s felt upon every breath. I want to wander museums full of history and then find peace in Central Park lying on the grass scrolling through the pages of a good book. I miss all of it.

Yet London is also tempting me. To leave the country and escape all the political weight that’s constantly on my mind and have an ocean of separation from all the stresses of life sounds enticing. The chance to explore a place in real life that I’ve only seen through a digital perspective so far.

But having a summer job related to my field would be great. A chance to exercise what I’ve learned in school and get a feel for the real world job market. I could even potentially gain some networking connections for future opportunities.

Although I wish I could do it all — work on my career and stay in Portland or spend time traveling and take a breath. I know the right decision will find me and take me where I’ll need to be.

Late night creative self

Screen Shot 2017-12-01 at 3.26.49 PM By Danielle Emeka

We’ve all done it. Put things off till the last minute. It’s called procrastination. That sudden realization that it’s 10:00 pm, something is due tomorrow morning and not one word has been written.

Procrastination is happening even as I write this. The sun is asleep, my eyes are tired from staring constantly at a screen and my fingers are shuffling along the keyboard searching for the right letters. My bed taunts me, callingdaring me to sink into its covers.  

But in these moments my mind makes connections unlike any other time. Some of my best writing and art has come from late night studying. Sometimes it feels like structured sabotage, setting myself up for failure and fighting against it with everything I have. Like it’s all or nothing, using all my mental focus and creative energy combined with the pressures of time. Nothing beats the thrill of finishing the work just before it’s due. Knowing that all I have to offer is in that work.

I don’t know if lack of sleep creates a break in my natural inhibitions, allowing me to develop what comes to me. Maybe it’s just a race to see how soon I can embrace the relief of sleep. But I can’t deny my fascination with my late night creative self.

Object Impermanence

Screen Shot 2017-12-01 at 3.26.49 PM By Danielle Emeka

I took his shirt out of my dresser and layed it against the carpet. I checked my lines with a steady hand full of assurance, guided the scissors as they cut through all that I had hidden away. A year of memories, longing, love and tears were held within the fabric. I viewed my work. “Cute,” I thought as a examined the new crop top I’d just created. I had held onto his shirt for nearly two years. In the drawer it had stayed. I had never put it on. Away from the light and, out of my sight, and unable to force me to think about him. It still smelled like him after all this time. Cocoa butter and castor oil woven with his natural scent.

Then one day I saw it for what it was. Just a shirt an ex had left behind. The hold it had on me was gone and I had to do something with it. I knew I couldn’t throw it away, for  that would be denying the experiences I had with him. Perhaps I make new memories with it. Better ones.

I’m taking the same approach to this new year.  Aside from school, work, dating and general day-to day-things. I’m working on parts of my past and not letting them take control of me. Some are still sitting in a drawer in my mind, hidden away from the light. One day I’ll have the courage to open that drawer, find what’s inside and see what I can transform it into.  

Natural Hair Journey

Screen Shot 2017-12-01 at 3.26.49 PM By Danielle Emeka

I started my natural hair transition about three years ago. I put the straightener and blow dryer in storage and embarked on my own personal hair journey. Maybe it wasn’t the best time being a student taking 12-16 credits a term, working part time, and still trying to find time to eat and sleep, but there never is a perfect time.  

A black woman’s hair is her crown and I wanted to grow mine. Learning about my hair’s texture, porosity and what it loves and hates was a big challenge. But I’ve learned more about myself in the process.

In college, multitasking is a way of life, and my natural hair journey forced me to become better organized in that I had to schedule my wash days. Nothing is worse than having to decide between washing a two week old twist out and finishing that essay! After many discussions with myself over the bathroom mirror, detangling my hair with a wide-tooth comb. Tangles are all too very real. The longer one goes between washes, the longer it takes to get all the tangles out. I will never again wait too long to wash my hair. Learn to be more patient. It’s called wash day for a reason. You can’t expect perfect curls and healthy hair if you aren’t willing to put the work in. I love myself and my uniqueness. Yes, my hair is different than most. I couldn’t love it any more.

College is all about self exploration and discovery. We’re all here not just to get a degree but to learn about what kind of person we are. For the black students who are  pondering starting their journey, do it! If you’ve already taken the plunge, congrats! Don’t give up. It will get easier. I promise.