“Untitled.” Written by Yahniie Bridges. Performed by Yvonne Orji. Even though Yahniie has temporarily left writing and performance behind, she still understands how they’ve each been a saving grace for her, especially after the last few trying years.
“Although I don’t put pen to paper very often, it’s something that I know is in me.” – Yahniie Bridges
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Walter Thompson-Hernandez, Yahniie Bridges, Yvonne Orji
Some calls for them but for me, class was in session. While they were counting the days’ vacation, I was counting the loss of that taken. Learn that lives journeys has its ups and downs, but I slipped into the shadows. They waited for someone to have no chill, but some just chill left me bitter. Then I realized that just because I fell doesn’t mean I failed. This summer infringed upon by death caught in between the stench of cancer and the ache of miscarriage. No Sage was strong enough to clear the lows of my spirit. The lows of losing a parent and a child had me half-conscious in my living room. Trauma triggered stomach full of pink and red capsules. revisiting all the memories and I could […] been wanting to hear. Someone calls to them but for me class was in session but to what lesson?
Yvonne Orji 02:45
This summer each loss struck off a chunk of me like a propeller while treading the unfamiliar enclaves of depression. No still moment because this court was persistent like social workers in the 90s. Nothing to write my mind was tight like the ATM cash dispenser. No status suppose because everyone expected better. What’s on your mind? Facebook asks, you don’t even want to know. This summer I learned it wasn’t about planting the seed. The more the queue you gave when the stem begins to wither. I learned I don’t have to engage in everything and I can’t save everything. This summer I saw my ruse dissipate before feeling more grounded. I lost every essence of me in this summer course. Hopefully I passed because finished a woman knew, after all, just because I failed doesn’t mean I failed.
This summer I learned that losing isn’t a setback. But a reset so you can go back again and see what works. This summer got wove the silk of my tears into opportunity. opened my eyes the land of dreams is slanted palm trees were nothing is perfect, but everything is possible. Summer calls for them but for me, class was in session. While they were counting the days of vacation, I was counting the losses that taken. Learned their lives journeys has its ups and downs but I slipped into the shadows. They waited for somebody I have no chill, but someone’s chilled of me better. Then I realized that just because I fell doesn’t mean I failed. Now therein lies the piece. I hope you write the testimony of my commencement speech.
Walter Thompson-Hernandez 04:52
I’m Walter Thompson Hernandez and this is WRITTEN OFF. You just heard actress and comedian Yvonne Orji, read a piece by Yahniie bridges, who when I first meet her is dressed head to toe in red, including her braids. She’s standing next to her daughter, a preteen version of herself. They’ve got the same face, and they carry themselves. Similarly, Johnny’s got her hand on her shoulder while she hugs her IOW friends. She hasn’t seen some of them in years. The photo that’s around the office make her smile. She’s also reflective while she looks at the older photos of herself. Her 12-year-old spends the interview lying on her stomach with her feet up. Watching the show. She doesn’t make a sound. Yahniie is in her jumpsuit through the centered she wants to look professional. For the short video that we’re taking.
She puts on a lip gloss. Normally, she’ll wipe it off, as she puts her mask back on, she strains her hair, she’s straightforward and open. She glances at her daughter a lot with pride and protection. Yahniie, I learned, was a little hesitant to take part in this podcast at first, partly because she hasn’t performed her own writing in a while, let alone talk about it. And because of the prospect of sharing intimate details about her past with the world. Details that rightfully belong to her and her alone, I’m just gonna say, it would have been a major loss, if you decided to not show up. I’m really happy she came today. To feel like knowing that you wrote that, and to have someone read it, and sort of like, give their own sort of take on the poem, right? With the intonation and their tone.
Yahniie Bridges 06:34
She captured it perfectly. Maybe even better than I could have read it out. It’s so personal. And it’s so deep. And it was such a difficult moment that is still just even hearing this, like, dang, you know, but she did an incredible job with it. And what I would expect if I was hearing it.
Walk me through writing this piece.
I honestly I don’t even know where I was. But just based on, you know, the date that I put, like I wrote that I wrote it, it was October 10th in 2016. And at that time I had the roughest year and I had just been housed after experiencing like chronic homelessness and like going in and out of different programs and losing my grandmother, having a miscarriage and a very, very toxic slash abusive relationship. And just trying to figure out, like, what’s next and feeling like prior to that I had all the answers, you know, going through when I started writing, like I was learning so much about myself. So I felt like I knew myself, but then that year, I’d lost myself. And like just finding the space to be okay with all the questions of who I am. And moving into that just with as being curious as opposed to feeling like I have to know, I was performing at the time too. So when I wrote it, I wrote it in a way that when I’m reading it, I hope you know to deliver it.
Walter Thompson-Hernandez 08:10
There’s a really powerful line in your piece, where you say, this summer, God wove the silk of my tears into opportunity. And I’m wondering if you could break that down in any way?
You know, I felt super, super helpless during the time that I was experiencing those emotions, and there was no point of inspiration for me, I didn’t know how to get out of it. I didn’t know how to not feel those things, I didn’t know how to feel inspired enough to want to live. During that time, I was working on a project with one of my IOW siblings, and also with one of the board members who was my mentor at the time. And then also Jimmy, and we were working on a project. And that was one of the opportunities that kind of kept me going. Because we had deadlines to meet.
But also like it just kept me like into something while I was experiencing those things. And I had people who once I did open up who just really just covered me, like really covered me and held my hand and walk me through it. And so when I speak about opportunity, I speak about both like opportunities to still have like a distraction to work through. But also like having the support and knowing that no matter where you are or how you’re feeling, you know, people will be there. You just have to ask for the help. So that was part of it.
And when you were writing this piece, was there a specific audience that you had in mind?
No, no audience. But if there were an audience, it would probably be the people who are closest to me like my network. For example. Talking about posting on Facebook like I’m posting about what I’m really feeling because I feel like people expected me to feel like I wasn’t being honest about how I was feeling and like, what I was experiencing, and feeling like there wasn’t the space for that. So maybe it would be my network.
Walter Thompson-Hernandez 10:18
Talk me through writing, how it started for you, who introduced you to writing, how old you were?
I was about two years old when I started writing and reading and my mom’s godmother took care of me while my mom was working a lot. And so she homeschooled me at a very early age. And then she would have me write stories, just like different, you know, we read if it was bedtime stories, and then during the day, she would have me practice my, my handwriting, and then she would have me write actual stories out. So write stories, creative, anything, she still has some of them. And then later, I went into the system and had all these different experiences. And then I was reconnected, once I was incarcerated, reconnected to writing, that experience.
I remember having my first inside out writers class, and witnessing all of the similar stories that were just like mine. That was a very healing experience to understand like that I was not alone. And also, it was a revelation to like, what trauma was in understanding that what had happened to me and these other kids were was wrong. But we’re still kind of locked in a system. But this was sort of an access to freedom. And they did actually let you out of your room during the writing process. So that was, once I saw how much I can learn about myself, my process and other people through writing, I kept writing.
What were some of the things that you were writing about when you were incarcerated?
I wrote a lot like about, like personal pieces about what had happened, where I come from, what brought me to where I was, and also creative pieces that are about fairies and things like that, but also still very empowering, very conceptual. And those like I was constantly like writing pieces that were both what I’ve experienced, and like how I feel about being empowered, knowing how to change, or how to shift some of those things, or how to heal through it. And so, I’m sorry, I hope I answered the question.
Walter Thompson-Hernandez 12:35
No, I think that was really good. And I’m also curious if like writing helped you sort of escape from situation, but also dive so much deeper into it at the same time?
Yeah, my relationship with writing is very love hate. Currently, I am not writing I haven’t written in quite a bit of time, there is a lot that I had to dive into, to pull some of that stuff out and these memories that will come back. So I often found that it would usually be a traumatic experience that would lead me to writing, you know, and so it would be like, you know, some harm that was created, or that I experienced, and then I would start writing and I’m crying. And then after I’m done crying, then I have the piece at the end where I’m like, okay, well, I’m back up now. I cried now. So it was just like, I would always know that when I was writing, I had to dive into a place of darkness and come out light at the end of it somehow. And so even now, I’m like, I don’t know that I want to go dive back in that, you know?
That’s such a real thing, right? Because I feel like oftentimes, like for writers, you know, having to tap into traumatic experience and past experiences that have been marred by pain and anger, frustration, like entering that room to explore that really takes a lot out of you, right? So you sort of have to ask yourself, like, do I want to go into this room today? Right? And I think oftentimes, the answer might be No, because it’s really painful to do that. But I’m curious if like for you, maybe evolving as a writer means like, tapping into something else now, where like, it’s not writing from pain, or from trauma, but from another aspect of your life.
Yahniie Bridges 14:17
All right, I think that I’ve transitioned from that space of like, being in a constant state of like chaos. It’s almost like I don’t know where to start, right? From this space. And I have written pieces that are like all inspired by empowerment and great things. But just trying to think I just took the time to get to know myself and still learning and going through this new journey, this new process and trying to figure out how to be reacquainted with writing in a way that is not really traumatizing for me, you know, and also, even listening to the piece. It’s like, dang, I’m sharing this. This is really hard, right? And I didn’t even realize like how difficult It was to read it. I read through it this morning. And I was like, this is intense. Like I knew when I wrote it.
I knew when and I saw by the first stance, I was like, okay, like, this was that time and I know what I was writing about, but then going through the details on what it like, what my experiences was, it was difficult. So at this point, I miss writing, like I miss, you know, having a finished piece, I miss, you know, exploring those things, but I don’t miss the other side. And so I stopped writing after that period of my life where I was dealing with depression. And now I’m like, I’m learning how to cope with life and how to move forward. And so eventually, I do plan to go back to right the right end, but I don’t know when.
When you were growing up, what was your idea of a writer?
I don’t know that I had very much of an idea. I never. I grew up in so many different places. And I see a lot of writing happening. And I guess when I thought about writing, when I was in elementary school, it was always like some white person that’s like going off to maybe I watched a film about an actor going off and writing a book in the woods and having you know what I mean, like going away for three months. I’m serious. That’s what I thought, like, when you think about authors, and you have people like, I don’t know, who I read James Patterson, or like, Lemony Snicket, those things kind of resonated with me. And then we have the Harry Potter series and things like that. So like fantasy, and I’m like this, these novels are gonna take forever, they took forever for them to write. So that was my, like, it was like these, you know, kind of mundane people that take off two years and go live in a cabin and write their book. But it was never as like, like journalists or things like it was never like all the different things that you can do as a writer, screenwriting and like, it wasn’t really that for me, it was just like, novel writers or authors.
Walter Thompson-Hernandez 18:15
No, I mean, I think your absolutely right. And I’m curious, like, what kind of an impact that has on like younger folks who potentially want to be writers, But to your point, right, like, think about a writer being like, probably a white person who like, goes off into the woods for like, two years, and like, chop down wood and writes and like, you know, catches their dinner. Like, that’s not really a reality that a lot of folks have, right. So it’s like, if that’s the model, then we’re not writers, essentially, right?
And also, like, just not understanding like the different spectrums that there are like, you can write in four different things, like I just mentioned, but also like, we all have something to say and something to bring out, you could be writing about anything. You could write for anybody, you can write for just your own selves, just to get to know yourself better. You can share those things you can be paid to perform these things. And I haven’t even been curious about what you think of writers. I’ve never been, I’ve never been asked that question. Nor had I had to think about like, what was my perception of an author? That’s a very interesting question.
I’m curious now to ask my child, like, how do you feel about authors and writers? And, you know, would that be something that you’re interested in, in which she is because she writes stories. She’s really passionate about that. So the time that it takes, I would be more curious to know, like, what I thought about as a young person was how long it takes to write something and that process. So what would be the first step like how do you do it? That would be my question, like, this beautiful piece of literature that you wrote, like, what was the process? You know?
Yeah. When you were writing more often. What was your like process for writing? Like, what would it take for you emotionally to like, sit down and write, because I know that that process like looks different for so many different people. So for you, like was it like, has to be supremely quiet? You have to go somewhere to a library like is it like, like an innocence that you’d like, you know what I mean?
Yahniie Bridges 20:24
For the most part, my writing journey started in confinement for the most part. So it usually involved community, you know, and so like, we’re sitting in a space that I used to write and weekly, like, you know what I mean, like, and I used to bring my baby when she was tiny, she’s on these walls, and, like, my writing process has always been through community through conversation and having the prompts and then still bringing what you have to the table is still very personal. So like your peace, and your experience, but I don’t often write when I’m alone and by myself, but there have been a few pieces. And again, they were triggered by some incident. So yeah, like, if, if I were to write again, look at me talking, like, if I were, like, when I am in the state to journal, or to write, I usually do like incidents, I usually make sure that there’s some type of soothing, you know, lo-fi, or, you know, jazz or whatever is in the background, whoever. But I prefer things not to have lyrics. So I don’t take people’s ideas. Yeah, be like an instrumental.
I’m also curious if the writing was different. When writing in isolation, or writing in community.
I don’t know if it was different for me. Usually, I was just really emotional. I was overcome by emotion, and I had to write. Now I have different mechanisms and tools to use, but also don’t know what they experience. Like what the difference was.
Walter Thompson-Hernandez 22:00
I’d also like for you to imagine a younger version of yourself. And think about like writing not being available to you, at such a young age, and your life Without it.
It sounds so cliche and corny, but writing did change my life. And writing made me explore things that therapy could not, you know, and still to this day, like I’m able to use the tools that I got from writing and the questions that were asked from the prompts and the teachers that I had like to process my day-to-day emotions. And although I don’t put pen to paper very often, it’s something that I know, it’s in me, and it’s a very much as a part of my, you know, what I incorporate with my child with my parents and in my parenting. And yeah, I wouldn’t even I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t be here, I truly don’t see the same, like trajectory, like for myself as a younger person. And I think it’s super vital for people to have access to, it doesn’t matter what your experiences, but for you to have access to that.
And if they’re like a certain way, when like thinking about your daughter that you’re trying to introduce her to writing?
She’s really very much like, you know, in the creative stage, but I want to try to get her to reflect more on like, how she moves, what she believes, like, how I’ve impacted her, you know, how that her experiences have impacted and shaped how she thinks about things. And, you know, sometimes it works. But oftentimes, she’s really just on like, she’s very simple when it comes to that. But when it comes to like her writing creative stories about unicorns and things like that, she’ll go, she’ll dive a little bit deeper, so I’m trying to figure out how to merge the two.
Let’s take a quick break. More written off after this.
Walter Thompson-Hernandez 24:23
During your free time, when you have time to essentially be yourself, like, who are you? What do you do?
I enjoy, you know, spending time with my loved ones. Right now when I think of just what I would do if I have free time right now, I will probably do like I do divination, reading. So I use Tarot and Oracle cards and meditating, just sitting with myself or reading books that strengthen just me as a person as an individual, but also just like my take on like, how I perceive the world. So really, I spend my long time doing like really working on myself, you know, feeling whatever emotions, I feel whatever comes up, healing, I’m really heavy on healing, like, because things happen and things resurface. And I go into hermit mode. Like right now Lately, I’ve been in hermit mode. So reading, you know, I spend time with my baby, I spend time with my loved ones. My partner, and a lot of us, in my immediate circle are looking at building out businesses and different projects. So just working on managing those things.
Walter Thompson-Hernandez 26:15
Is there like a place in LA that you have called home?
I was born in Lynwood lived in Compton because there’s no hospital in Compton. So everybody was born in St. Francis are at Long Beach Memorial or something. But because of foster care, and the system and being juvenile justice, I bounced around a lot. And I think I spent my time between LA County, Riverside County. So I’ve lived in every area of Los Angeles for the most part, there’s not a space that I haven’t lived in. So I’m very like, I’m LA native.
I’m wondering if you’re still doing creative writing?
So right now I do like micro journaling, I think that would be like it’s kind of, I don’t know, has anyone has ever used that term, but I like journal about like, experiences that I’m having what I interpret from my readings that I do. But aside from that, try to stay back.
Are there any specific writers that maybe inspire you?
So I mentioned a few earlier, but really, I don’t have a lot of writers that I really just read aside from, like self-improvement. But the first person that came to my mind was Jill Scott, and a lot of people look at her as a musician, or an artist, but I look, I really look at her work as poetry. And in fact, that was how she was introduced to music, through her poetry. So that is somebody, of course that I follow. And it’s just so strange saying but also Erykah Badu. Those are two, two writers that I really listened to their stuff. And they also have pieces without music. So those are like, like, when I think about myself as a writer, those are two people.
Walter Thompson-Hernandez 28:18
I’m curious how you define yourself as an artist today, if at all?
I was just on a call this morning. And I was thinking about that, like, I was like, you know, you’re kind of inactive, like, you’re an inactive artist at this point. But I am a creative and so I like to bring creativity into whatever workspace I’m looking at, or whatever workspace I’m working in. And I do paint sporadically. And any way that I can bring art into my daily life, my daughter’s daily life. And people around me I do that. So creating […] and you know, like, whatever, medium, whatever workshop that I have, like just being creative about it. So I’m just at this point, it’s like the artistry is more so in just my daily life. It’s not like a focused activity. I just try to incorporate art in whatever way that I can to keep myself creative.
Thanks again to Yahniie Bridges for joining us. Moved by what you heard today? Want to do more? Follow and support InsideOUT Writers Workshop at insideoutwriters.org and click on ways. To get involved personally in the work to end mass incarceration in California. Check out the work of ARC, the Anti-Recidivism Coalition at antirecidiviesm.com. Next week on WRITTEN OFF, writer […]
Speaker 3 30:04
It definitely made me realize that I write a lot of deeper things, I think and I have a slight personality issue maybe, go off in the bad wolf, the bad one. He always likes to do things with the good one tries to you know, help them out.
WRITTEN OFF is a co-production of Lemonada Media and Black Bar Mitzvah. Our producer is Claire Jones. supervising producers are Xorje Olivares and Kryssy Pease. Executive producers are Aaron Bergman, Jay Ellis, Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs. Music and sound design by Xander Singh. Mix and scoring by Matthew Simonson. Special thanks to all of our contributors, and InsideOUT Writers, you can learn more about them at insideoutwriters.org. If you like what you heard, help others find us by rating the show and writing a review. Follow us at @LemonadaMedia across all social platforms. To support WRITTEN OFF and gain access to exclusive bonus material. Like additional conversations with the writers and producers of this show. Subscribe to Lemonada Premium, only on Apple podcasts. And for more of my work, visit my website wthdz.com. I’m Walter Thompson Hernandez. Thanks for listening.