Updated: Apr 25
As a young girl, it was always instilled in me to follow the right path and to do good. I lived in a small, wholesome farming community on the outskirts of Philadelphia. Growing up, I was the ideal child. I kept to myself, did well in school, and minded my manners. But little did I know that, one day, I would muster the courage to step away from my quaint farming society to pursue things bigger than my young mind would ever be able to comprehend. It was not until the age of 18 that I realized how close-minded and ignorant my upbringing had made me. Day after day, there I would be, merely residing in a bubble that society had seemingly trapped me in. It was at this time that I discovered how I no longer wanted to be trapped in this bubble; I wanted to pop it altogether. It took traveling halfway across the world for me to discover my calling, my core, my ‘Mecca,’ if you will.
In Between The World and Me, Coates shares of his time at Howard University and how he fled the streets of Baltimore for the Yard at Howard University, which, ultimately, allowed him to find his ‘Mecca.’ “We have all we need out on the Yard. We are dazed here because we still remember the hot cities in which we were born, and where the first days of spring were laced with fear. And now, here at The Mecca, we are without fear, we are the dark spectrum on parade,” (Coates, 2015, p. 62). Similar to how Coates had found his ‘Mecca’ in The Yard, I found mine on the various park benches of Europe, along the crystalline waters of Australia, and among a sea of smiles throughout Southeast Asia.
It has been through my years of travel that I have been introduced to the world and the lens that it has allowed me to view society through. Now, I am no longer that little girl trapped in her bubble. I am the woman without fear, and a force to be reckoned with in the minds of those who embrace my art. Travel has been the mechanism for inspiring my artistic pursuits. Just as the Yard was Coates' Mecca to pilgrimage to, writing has become the Mecca that I find myself constantly needing to return to.
About three years ago, I studied at the University of Sydney. It was there, that a spark was ignited in the pit of my soul to delve deeper into literature. Day after day, I would find myself craving a new book and a new artist to escape with. This served as the initial stage of my pilgrimage. Skipping class and sitting in the open sun, my mind was free and equally at ease. My ears attuned to the waves of the Sydney Harbour crashing along the shoreline to the rhythm of the words that fell from the pages and into my inspired mind. Similar to Coates, I craved books. I wanted to read, to learn, and to pursue my curiosities. “The pursuit of knowing was freedom to me, the right to declare your own curiosities and follow them through all manner of books,” (Coates, 2015, p. 48). In this sense, I can relate to Coates. Each time I finished a pile of books, I would return to my favorite bookstore with my favorite shop owner in Surry Hills. There, I felt free and no longer a prisoner to the ignorance of my upbringing. I would stare at the shelves of books for hours, meandering the various corners of the shop in order to stumble upon a new work from the likes of Camus, Orwell, or Dick. It was in moments such as this that I was beginning to find my way.
The more I began to read, the more I noticed myself escaping from my bubble. All the hurt, the tragedy, the sorrow that had plagued much of my childhood resided in this void deep in the pit of my heart. The lack of closure and the jumbled feelings constantly danced around in my head, forcing me to confront the void that had left me so vacant, so astray for all these years. I, like Coates, discovered that the art I was falling in love with also resided in this void, and it helped me understand that there is beauty in pain. “I didn’t yet realize that the boot on your neck is just as likely to make you delusional as it is to ennoble,” (Coates, 2015, p. 50). While Coates had uncovered the beauty in pulling energy from the void, I, too, was coming to terms with this realization. “The art I was coming to love lived in this void, in the not yet knowable, in the pain, in the question. The older poets introduced me to artists who pulled their energy from the void,” (Coates, 2015, p. 50).
Following Australia, with each new country I traveled to, I quickly discovered how travel really is the mechanism that has helped me get closer to my art, my Mecca. Moreover, with each new feeling I penned, I could sense myself bursting ever-so rapidly from my bubble.
Although I have never endured the kind of struggles that have plagued so many of my artists, I have felt them with each page that I have turned and with every word that I have stored close to my heart. It was not that I was learning more about myself, but instead, learning how to verbalize my struggles, my pain, my burdens through pen and paper. Each time I took to my notepad, I was discovering a new voice inside of me, one that was poetic in nature. “Poetry was the processing of my thoughts until the slag of justification fell away and I was left with the cold steel truths of life,” (Coates, 2015, p. 52). The more my sorrow beckoned, the more I felt the urge to return to my Mecca.
I cannot recall a time during my travels when turning to my Mecca has ever failed me. Given its freeing nature and peaceful release, I do not know where I would be today without the multitude of rocks that I have claimed as my studio, or the number of bodies that have crossed my path and triggered a sense of urgency to craft. Like Howard University was for Coates, writing poetry for me is The Mecca, a sacred one that would not have been discovered if it were not for travel. However, being able to look at society through the lens that travel provides is not always as freeing as it seems. With travel comes perspective, a reshaping of the mind if you will. Once you take those first steps onto an international-bound aircraft, I can guarantee that you will likely end up a changed individual. Perhaps for the better or perhaps for the worse, travel will make you rethink the bubble that society has placed you in all your life. Our personal bubbles can only trap us for as long as we allow them to. Thus, until those initial steps are taken to discover your Mecca, the bubble will always remain, and with you inside of it.
While travel has satisfied many cravings within me, one of the most important has been helping me unravel the process of self-discovery. For if it were not for travel serving as the primary driver of my artistic pursuits, I would have no Mecca to to call my own. No matter where in the world my travels take me, I am always taken aback by how much of my happiness lies in my ability to return to my Mecca, no matter how different each setting may appear from the last. Because I am now free and released from the disconcerting constraints of my bubble, I have been able to open my eyes to the splendors of life. And while I am no Coates, no Dick, no Orwell, or Camus, I am purely and proudly my poetic self, and that is the most comforting feeling my Mecca has given me. The bubble has been burst, and a future pilgrimage awaits.
Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between the World and Me. Spiegel & Grau, 2017.