Does anyone remember Tumblr at its peak? I know I do. I spent a good amount of time there as a teenager. I guess I was finding myself, or at least trying to. I spent hours on that platform learning and building the aesthetics of Kamilah. My Tumblr search history looked something like this: Libraries. Logophile. Typography. Coffee Shop. Dark Academia. Dead Poets Society. Literature. Vintage. Books. Romanticism. Slytherin. Bibliophile. Wanderlust.
Growing up, reading was more important to me than sleep. I would stay up until I finished whatever book I was reading. It was something I did on a weekly basis. Being able to experience worlds beyond my own was very enriching. Not only did it foster creativity, but it challenged the way I thought about my own experiences. As the oldest of 7, reading about children fighting for the right to exist in a society that won’t allow more than 2 children per household made me reexamine my own relationship to my family. Instead of consuming myself with negative thoughts about my life and problems I had at the time, I read about how the characters in their stories handled their problems and setbacks. Reading about children taking their lives into their own hands and dealing with the cards they were dealt gave me hope and confidence that I too could do those things. So much of the media and stories I consumed were about adventurers who traveled and explored. And I don’t just mean from place to place. These characters navigated their worlds & societies, social relations, new territories, monsters of all kinds, and so much more. Infinite universes all at my fingertips.
I was captivated when I came across the word Wanderlust. I looked it up, read the definition and said “yup that’s me alright” even though the furthest I’d been at the time was about 4 hours north to New York. I started to think about all the places I wanted to go but couldn’t. This went for the places in the real world and in the books I read. I made it my mission to incorporate exploration into my writing and into my life. I was so serious about embracing wanderlust I purchased a phone case with the view of mountains high up and the word printed across in huge calligraphy. In high school, stuff like this mattered. Your accessories were a direct indication of your interests, passions, and style. I wanted to let people know that I had so much more in mind for myself than the tangible things right in front of us. And yet using things like phone cases, screensavers, wallpapers, and journals, was the easiest way to communicate this.
I never knew that speculative fiction was its own separate ostracized sector of literature until I was in higher education. Of course, I played the role of the extremely well-read English Literature Creative Writing Major at a private quaker PWI. I was seething for that elite-ish, Ivy-like, Hogwartsy feel, I just didn’t realize there would be controversy around everything that actually inspired me to be there as a writer and storyteller in the first place. In an ice breaker activity for one of my classes, we were to go around the room and name a piece of literature or author that means something to you. Following my response, I was met with stares, silence, and scrutiny. Finally, I heard the professor say “I meant writing and writers of a certain caliber, but I’m sure that’s very fun too.” After that, everyone else made sure to answer the icebreaker with canon stories and authors. I felt a brief moment of shame and embarrassment. At that moment, I was being viewed as an unserious English student. On top of all my other setbacks, I didn’t need to have a reputation of being less capable than my peers just because I like spec-fic. Upon realizing this, I’d work to prepare talking points in order to defend me and (some of) my peers’ perspective on the very real impact speculative fiction has to inspire people like us. In class I would challenge the relevance of outdated works used to explain and examine the various forms of literary theory. I took every opportunity I could to push the bounds of what was considered acceptable or “real” literature. Over time, I learned which classes and professors would support this, and where it would be more difficult.
The literary canon is supposed to be the foundation that represents the most influential forms of literature, but rest assured Charles Dickens and Mark Twain were not the reasons I loved reading. The closest I’ve gotten to that is Bram Stoker and Edgar Allen Poe. I enjoyed book series like Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House, R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps, Mary Downing Hahn’s ghost stories, and Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Shadow Children Series. Best believe I was also reading those vampire and wizard books too. Horror and mystery will always be my first love, but dystopian lit really has my heart. What can I say? The further corruption of man’s inhumanity to its fellow man intrigues me. Not only the creation of a world, but the reimaging of our own world’s entire existence.
My first time on a plane, I was headed to the Midwest to see a college. I received their acceptance letter in the mail and was invited to tour the school and stay for a weekend. I knew I wanted to go to a school that had a great international population, but also opportunities for work, study, and immersion abroad. I wanted to have access to experience as many worlds as possible.
Wanderlust: noun – a strong desire to wander or travel and explore the world
As I went through my years of undergrad, I kept my love for speculative fiction close to me. I’d include elements of magical realism, Sci-Fi, and Horror in all my creative writings. I’d use the works of Aldous Huxley and George Orwell to argue their importance beyond social commentary and entertainment. When I wasn’t focusing on how white-cis-het people reimagine the world as they know it, I was learning myths, folklores, fairytales, and fables of Afro Indigenous Cultures. The worlds and life experiences of deep Darkskin people across the globe are being erased before our very eyes. This is when I tapped into Afrofuturism. Engaging with worlds that envisioned Black futures that stem from afro-diasporic experiences excited the hell out of me; and still does! Collaborating with writers, artists, and historians to watch fact + fiction intermingle to make such a beautiful transformative creation of art filled me with purpose.
The more I embraced my wanderlust, the more I experienced sonder.
Having the opportunity to live, study, and work internationally was such a privilege within itself. I gained so much perspective and it helped me grow and evolve. I not only developed my relationship with myself and others, but with my writing as well. I began to understand whose stories were at the forefront, whose were being ignored, and how I can begin to bridge that gap. Everyone deserves the chance to see, explore, and learn about the things that make us all uniquely human. We are comprised of so many resplendent and horrific moments, and they need not go untold.
My experience as a wanderer has been amazing but things have been drastically different since the start of the pandemic. I, like many folks, had no choice but to wander as they battle housing, job, and medical insecurity. Ultimately, it feels lonely at times. Even as a wanderer, I find myself longing for the stability of a familiar place. A home if you will. There is a sense of belonging that’s been missing since leaving for school. All the I love yous and goodbyes in airports. Long road trips across the country. Plane and train rides to new destinations. And yet, my suitcase and my stories remain the most consistent thing about me. They both allow me to continue exploring worlds and universes far beyond my own.