Chris, @lostboyspoetry, is a long time friend and member of Insta's poetry community. I can't say quite when we connected, but I can say that every time I read his words they resonate deeply—to the point where I'm like, wait, have you been sifting through my thoughts, Chris? (Haha, but seriously.) I know I'm hardly the only one who feels this way about his work, and that's a major kudos to Chris. He's that tapped into his emotions that they feel universal. Now, I cannot wait to share with you guys the man behind the poems. Here we go...
I'd love to start out by hearing about your backstory. How would you describe your childhood growing up?
Honestly, I'd describe my childhood as beautifully complicated. My parents divorced when I was around 3 or 4 years old. My father moved from Haiti to the states with my soon to be stepmother. My mother and I moved to the states about a year or so after they did. My mother eventually remarried as well. My mother and stepfather settled down in SW Florida, while my father and stepmother lived in D.C. then settled in Long Island, NY.
The dichotomy of being a Haitian growing up in America was something that heavily impacted me. It influenced just about everything in the sense that I was forced to navigate two completely differing cultural dynamics. At home, I was Haitian; however, the moment I left the house, I was American (not even Haitian-American, as it took me a long time to understand that I could identify and claim both).
I had the privilege to grow up attending private Catholic schools, all the way through high school. I'd say this was both a gift and a curse. The gift is obviously the incredible opportunity for a better education and curriculum, but the academic and religious pressures, I think, limited and stifled my sense of identity and creativity.
Navigating all that, I'd say I was always a creative kid struggling to find myself in a seemingly non-creative social environment and household. As an only child though, I'd been exploring my imagination (even if only with myself) from a very early age. From creating entire back stories, plots, and character dynamics when playing with my action figures (my mom for period of time actually questioned my sanity because she'd hear me in the room acting all this out and would come in asking if I was talking to myself, and I had to kindly tell her that I wasn't talking to myself but that the action figures were talking to each other), to writing complete stories and books with chapters that I'd give my mother, to singing and acting, I found any way to slip in creative exploration under the rigor of academic and religious expectations.
I feel like my entire childhood as whole inspires me now.
If I could personify my experience growing up than that would be the person that makes an impact on who I am today and the work I create today. I'm constantly looking back in both admiration and deep frustration at that personified childhood. I admire it because without every single experience (both good and bad), I genuinely don't think I'd have the same perspectives, values, and beliefs I do now, which all subsequently greatly influence my creative work.
There's frustration because I also realize that it's because of it that I have to work so hard to navigate my creativity in a genuine way. I'm fighting and rewriting a lot of negative conditioning that came from that time, but I'm learning to use that fight as part of my creative process and growth so I guess I can still admire that as well. It's more admiration than frustration then.
What does your work, do you think, reflect about where you are in life right now?
Oh wow, this is a great question. I'd describe my work as a way to genuinely and honestly explore this life and all that it has to offer. I've always been curious about humanity and the human condition. Societies, cultural norms, ideologies, values and belief systems, and every day life has always completely fascinated me from an early age, especially growing up with the dichotomous cultures I had to navigate through (Haitian 3rd world & American 1st world/superpower). I learned very early on about the subtle and blatant differences that can exist, and how those differences play a role in impacting thoughts, behaviors, and perspectives of individuals.
I am most definitely a writer at heart. My childhood was also spent living in the world of books, as well as speaking 3 languages (English, Haitian Creole, and French). Between the books and talking, I learned early on the power, impact, and magic of words. I have journals and notebooks that date back to 2005 (if you ever want to completely f--k yourself emotionally and have good laugh/cry, take a ride through the writings of your past). Even then, my writing was a means of me navigating and trying to understand the world. It was, and still is, as though writing is like my laboratory with all the microscopes, test tubes, and tools that I need/use to create my own form of the scientific method, to then analyze, interpret, and draw hypotheses on feelings, emotional/social/intimate connections, social issues, mental health issues, self-development and growth, and just life as whole.
Therefore, it's almost like, until I write about, or bring it into my laboratory, I can't truly process or understand it fully. It has become more of a need than a want, at this point.
Because I view writing as that means of better understanding my, and our, overall existence, I don't think I'd ever limit myself to any one topic or theme. However, this also means that, at any given moment, my writing is usually a direct representation of what I'm currently trying to process/better understand in an abstract way, what I'm currently struggling with/experiencing in a personal way, or past experiences I'm attempting grow/learn from. In that regard, my 20s have been full of heartache, unpacking and dealing with past childhood trauma and how that's manifesting in my adulthood, navigating my "race" and my relation to the world as a result of it, body image issues, my mental health and subsequent journey to treat/cope with it, career aspirations and subsequent struggles to define/achieve them, and navigating my sense of self worth (especially as it relates to my art/creativity and all the things previously mentioned). So, you'll probably find a smattering of all those things, and then some, in my recent/current work.
Currently, writing, with poetry being the main form, is my main medium. I'm also extremely passionate about Spoken Word poetry and the overall impact it has as an artistic vehicle. I used to do a lot of Spoken Word, but stepped back a bit since starting my Instagram. That's definitely something I want to get back into and sharing, either through Instagram or some other platform. And as I explore and grow in my creative identity, I definitely see myself wanting to venture into other mediums and forms of expression. At this time though, I'm more so looking to slowly do this by searching for collaborators, most likely visual artists (but I'm open to all), who'd be willing to work on finding ways to infuse their art forms with my words. This is a big goal for 2020 (and possibly starting a book but that's a lofty dream/goal...she's still up in the clouds while I figure out a way to bring her down).
What do you advise someone who has a secret dream of creating but is scared, and blocking him/herself from tapping into his/her creativity?
It's simplistic and cliché, but you just have to create. You create every day, or as close to everyday as you can. You sit down and make time to for your passion. You're not always going to write or create a perfect masterpiece—that's not why you do it. You do it to hone your craft, to learn to love the process, to make enough space in your life for your creativity to have as many chances as possible to thrive. You should be more afraid of the version of yourself you'd become if you never made that time or provided that space for your creativity. Trust me when I say that version of yourself is far more frightening.
Was there a period in your life in which you were not creating?
There have been several periods of my life thus far where I wasn't creating, especially in my late teens and early twenties. Those were the years I was still wrestling with my understanding of the validity of being a creative/artist. I spent most of my time between the ages of 18-26 denying my creativity in the name of practicality, or, at the very least, my socially conditioned mindset of what constituted as "practical" or "worthwhile." In that mindset, art, or any form of creativity, was a luxury, or a fun past time, not to be confused with an actual means of supporting yourself/earning a living.
How did you come back to creating?
At 27, that mindset is slowly shifting towards a much healthier understanding and relationship with my creativity, and, subsequently, my sense of worth in relation to it. Speaking of my work, it reflects what I'm currently processing, and so this mindset shift is exhibited well in a piece from my "It Doesn't Work That Way" series, in which I write:
"You can't save parts of your soul for a rainy day."
I realized that this is exactly what I had been doing. I'd always told myself that I would write or create once I was more stable in my career (the practical career that wasn't my passion that I'd conveniently come to allow societal pressures to choose for me). All the while, I was slowly dying inside day by day. I was suffocating my soul, while convincing myself that saving its breath was "practical". I'm no longer doing that and I think that's the greatest creative realization I could have made.
I guess this newfound mindset shift can also be considered a part of my creative process now, too. It's what helps me move through funks. It's what helps me sit and write when I don't feel inspired. It's what helps me keep editing after hours, or even days, of seemingly not getting that line/piece just right. I remind myself that my creative outlet is how I let my soul breathe. I remind myself that I spent far too many years allowing it to suffocate, to not simply BE. I remind myself that it doesn't care what or how much I do, my newly freed creative soul just appreciates the opportunity to flex it's artistic lungs again and again and again.
I find there to be a synergy between letting loose/playing and creativity.
I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment.
What place does play then have in your life? And what do you say to someone who feels like they've lost their sense of play/wonder?
I'm recognizing more and more how much my genuine moments of pure creativity remind me of my childhood, which I strongly associate with this letting loose/playful mindset. When I'm in a good flow state with a creative project there are times when I'm transported back to moments or feelings during my childhood where I was so free spirited, questioning, and unapologetic about my imagination. I feel like we tend to lose that a bit more as we age. Now, I've always tried to exude a certainly level of playfulness in life, especially in social situations. My friends would probably describe me as the silly, always laughing, and the "down to have a good time one" of our group.
However, I think for me, and probably others like me (extroverted introverts), it can be easier to be that version of ourselves for others and not for ourselves. I think this is probably most true because we tend to be our own harshest critics. So, it can be far easier for us to get up on the dance floor to be playful and entertain a group of our friends, than it can be to sit down with ourselves and bring that same playful spirit/attitude to our own projects or crafts. We take ourselves too seriously when it comes to those personal things, while harping on others to lighten up or be more carefree.
I think the greatest gift we can give to ourselves as creatives is to take the time to remind ourselves of how easy it was to be adventurous, free-spirited, questioning, and unapologetic about our imaginative minds when we were children, and then harness that memory to more regularly influence our every day actions in our present moments, especially those moments surrounding our creative work.
You mentioned earlier getting back into Spoken Word, and potentially a book? What else can we look forward to consuming from you this year?
As with most creatives, I feel I'm constantly wanting and working on 10 different things at once, or ,at least, have the ideas for them. Recently, I've been trying to limit that tendency. I'm learning to say "no" or "not yet" to more things, while really committing to the ideas and projects I know I can reasonably work on in a meaningful way.
That being said, I will say that for 2020 I'm simply focusing on writing a lot more, while discovering one or two different projects that I can find to evolve/flex my creative mind beyond my simply chosen medium.
One of those projects that I'm currently working on is a creative idea/online business with a dear friend of mine, Lauren. Lauren is a incredible up-and-coming photographer/graphic designer. She and I have been talking about collaborating to include my words and her photo/design skills for some time and have finally set out to put it to action. The plan is to use both our skills to create a brand/movement that people can turn to when they might need it most. We hope to launch with merchandise ranging from prints, to mugs, tapestries, phone cases, etc., all available for purchase online.
We also intend to partner with different social causes/charities each quarter and donate 10% of our profits to them. We're definitely in the very early stages of planning and creating, so there's nothing actionable to plug or show just yet; however, people can expect to see, at the very least, the emergence of a social media presence for the brand in April/May with, hopefully, the launch of an online store (Shopify) by July/August. So, stay tuned to @lostboyspoetry and @laurenshoepfer for updates.
Lastly, I definitely plan on getting more involved in public speaking/advocacy/hosting roles. There's always been a part of me that loves engaging with people in a meaningful way and I've recently found that speaking on important matters while opening space for constructive dialogue and entertainment is something I find great joy in. So, I will be actively looking to find more ways to make this a reality. Whether it be hosting spaces for other artist to discuss their works, giving talks on social issues, or simply creating fun advocacy events/meet ups, 2020 is my year to more actively work towards facilitating such spaces.