Going home to Janelle Monae

Let me just say as the vibe for this post, I meant to type “WordPress” and typed “LiveJournal” into my browser instead. So that’s where my mind is, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, towards the end of my first year as a graduate student, on the eve (not really, but it sounds prettier this way) of getting married: with my high-school self, marveling at where I am now.

I have said before that this blog is a chronicle of my growth from a teenager to an adult, and it’s that tenderness that keeps me from occasionally deleting the whole endeavor from the internet. Face it: no matter how much you think you’ve matured, all it takes is an extra year for you to look back and find yourself an embarrassment. I turn twenty-five in a little more than two weeks, and I can’t wait to read this back in a year and recoil in disgust.

The fact of turning twenty-five is a marvel in its own way. I don’t think about my age very much until I think about this blog. NeihaThinksThis to I’m Running My Mouth to Waxes Poetic to WaxesPoetic.blog encapsulates so much about who I was and who I am today. I have done a good job of ripping my youth back from the clutches of the internet for the most part, occasionally unfairly, but I don’t think I could ever do that to this blog.

But that’s not really what this post is about. And despite the title, it isn’t really about Janelle Monae either – so I’m sorry to the people who used to really enjoy reading music reviews! Anyway, I don’t know to what extent I can review an album that came out ten – ten – years ago. Maybe this is a celebration, but of what? I’m not sure.

I discovered Janelle Monae on Tumblr, which kind of dates me in its own way. I think that’s when I fell in love with the Afrofuturist project. And despite my nascent “revolutionary” self-proclamation, I was still a baby, learning Marxist sociology in my IGCSEs and thinking Yeah! and How come not everyone believes this?

…and we definitely won’t get into what I think about that now, but suffice it to say that I think the album ArchAndroid by Janelle Monae was my first genuine experience with/of/ in radical imagination. It helped scaffold my brushes with helplessless (paralyzing, at that time, which is something I’ve also recorded on this blog incidentally!) with a raging, wild hope that pushed me harder, forced my nose to the grindstone when I was struggling to think of the point of it all.

Maybe that’s why I got emotional, listening to Dance or Die, the stunning statement of purpose that guides the spirit of ArchAndroid. I’ve been struggling with a lack of motivation for the past week or so, unable to think past the most immediate assignment at school, struggling – again – with the point of it all. Shut in, having to delay my wedding, missing the energy at school that made anything feel achievable – or at least debatable – I spent so many mornings staring off into space until I had the wherewithal to pick up Animal Crossing and at least lift my spirits enough to engage with productivity. My initial hyperproductivity couldn’t have lasted. And it didn’t.

But Dance or Die forced me to confront my own dormant muscle memory. I have been here before. In less dire straits, in the comfort of my room in Dubai, feeling simultaneously detached from and hopelessly mired in collective suffering and toil, scrolling endlessly down Tumblr, until-

Until I got to where I am now. Crying and beaming simultaneously, exulting in possibility, rage-matching-rage, the dizziness of possibility for once an instrument of my own, not just a windstorm around me with my own inertia its eye. And I was sixteen again. Thinking about where I would be when I was older.

I’m here. I’m happy. I’m safe. I’m in love. I’m still raging. I’m still hoping. I am the culmination of my bouts of helplessless, tempered by a tempest of perseverance, anger, and the earnest, sincere belief that we can be more. We will be more.

Dance or die. We choose to dance, every time. Back then, now, and always.

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