~Putting Yourself on Parole~
Written By: 戴梦 Martina
Captain Jack Sparrow prides himself on many things, namely being a Captain and owning the Black Pearl. “Wherever we want to go, we go. That’s what a ship is, you know. It’s not just a keel and a hull and sails; that’s what a ship needs. Not what a ship is. What the Black Pearl really is, is freedom,” he says, his dark eyes full of the horizon and adventures that lay beyond.
Freedom in the 21st century looks the same. Wondering wherever you want without bounds, landing headfirst wherever you happen to fall, never doubting your destiny, your talents, or the idea that everything will work out. It’ll all float on and be okay. Freedom: never having to account to anyone or prove your worth because the burning soul within simply tells you otherwise. Freedom is truth, a universal entitlement. No matter what anyone tells you, everyone deserves to be free and nobody has to prove anything to anyone.
But then there’s that word. What’s it again, oh yeah: Ambition. To thrive in life, not just to survive. Mr. Laymon, author of On Parole: An Autobiographical Anti-dote to Post-Blackness, must claim the freedom he deserves. And surprisingly, his claim doesn’t look like a peace sign, a calm thought of inner peace, nor a breezy float in the wind that he effortlessly takes. His claim to that entitled freedom looks precisely the opposite of smooth. The only way for him to claim that freedom is to put himself on parole. And like real prisoners on parole, Mr. Laymon’s mother teaches him to be overly eager and overly ambitious to prove himself;
Mama’s antidote to being born a black boy on parole in Central Mississippi is not for us to seek freedom; it’s to insist on excellence at all times. Mama takes it personal when she realizes that I realize she is wrong. There ain’t no antidote to life, I tell her. How free can you be if you really accept that white folks are the traffic cops of your life? Mama tells me that she is not talking about freedom. She says that she is talking about survival.
Perhaps survival isn’t about the pursuit of freedom. Perhaps survival is about the pursuit of excellence. And sometimes excellence isn’t about how much attention you receive, how wacky or unique your talents are, or even how big your dreams are. Anna Wintour, American Vogue Editor recently gave a tough love speech to upcoming fashion students. She told them, “Go get a job. Whether it’s working as a designer or working in a restaurant and then doing your own thing in your own time, it’s a reality of life. In the end it’s going to be helpful to you and so many others.” Her harsh advise aimed to reign in dreamers and encourage them to take different routes to success, namely via working their asses off.
Maybe excellence starts by embracing our circumstances, our reality, our weaknesses and using them as our parole, however unfair they may be. Mr. Laymon didn’t do anything wrong, yet he mentally put himself on parole just to make himself work harder.
Unwarranted realism creates the grounded weights to our manic and boundless freedom butterflies. Going to extremes for attention is easy. It’s easy to leave behind who you really are in a sprawl for fame, a plethora of tweets and Instagram reels. As Wintour says, “It’s possible in today’s world to be instantly famous, whether it’s through Instagram or whatever platform it may be.” But long term success is a “very different matter.”
All dreams do not include fame, but all dreams include some measure of success, some measure of excellence. And I think excellence starts with embracing your weaknesses, your challenges or the unavoidable, unglamorous raw reality you may wish to ignore.
For Beyonce, it’s her beauty. Pretty hurts guys. For Scout Willis it’s being born in an upper class wealthy family and inheriting fame she didn’t ask for. Maybe your parents are immigrants from Winterfell and you live at Casterly Rock. Maybe you’re an asexual neurotically shy introvert with ADD, and a tendency toward manic depressive behaviors, bordering on BPD. Maybe you or a loved one has a debilitating disease, AML, or a whole host of dysfunctions that you’re inadvertently living with. Maybe you convert your feelings into math equations. Maybe you s**t crystals. The possibilities are endless.
Hey you could be normal! And that would be really freaky honestly.
Like Mr. Laymon whose disadvantage was his race, we all face challenges that make us hustle just to survive. But only when we embrace and own these challenges do we see our way to thrive. So am I saying to let where you come from, your past, your type-cast, your genetic fate be the chains on your feet that prevent you from flying high? Let your shame, sins and secrets hold you back from being like everyone else? To let your quirks, disabilities and oddities form the bars of your cage that holds your public persona? Am I saying to let your weaknesses set you apart from the crowd?
That’s exactly what I’m saying. Because chains make you stronger. Like swim racers who train wearing bulky shorts for more drag, boxers who run around with extra weights, runners who train in oxygen-depleted altitudes or Mr. Laymon who pretends he’s always on parole even though he didn’t do anything wrong. Pursuing your dreams with a realistic hinge, with chains of reality, with a virtual parole will only make you stronger.
I’m not providing justification for others to define you by your supposed limitations. Rather, I’m saying you should beat them to it. Own, master and surpass the expectations that limited you, that type-casted you, burdened you, and set you apart from the norm, from ideals and from society’s image of perfection. These challenges aren’t excuses, they’re the universe’s demands for evolution.
Whether it’s being hardcore about your story, stubborn about your point of view, defensive of the multiple perspectives only you can see, outrageous in your dedication or intense in your discipline, however your excellence manifests itself, let it manifest. There’s only one thing holding you back and it’s actually making you stronger.
Till next time,