Anger and a keyboard jump-started my writing career. My voice surfaced the moment I logged on to Twitter and saw the corpse of Michael Brown lying in a Ferguson, Missouri, street for hours. The horrific image circulated on my feed for days, and even though I had been a Twitter user for over two years, this was the first time I felt compelled to comment on current events in real time. I assumed that public lynchings were a thing of the past, something my ancestors had fought to end. Not knowing where else to turn, I voiced the pain I felt as a black person in the many threads spreading across Twitter.
All of a sudden, there seemed to be an explosion of young black writers online, and I was in the midst of it all. I felt legitimate and powerful when my tweets were retweeted within a matter of seconds. And soon, my outspoken posts paid off: I began receiving emails from white editors commissioning stories about black suffering and trauma. They needed me. No longer could they depend on their white colleagues to talk about lived experiences that did not apply to them. Racial tensions had reached feverish heights, and I capitalized on this moment — one I believed to be ephemeral — as a career opportunity.
I started what would become a very strict and exhaustive work cycle: Every Sunday, I would write up five story ideas on police brutality and the associative trauma, and then pitch them out Monday morning. Most weeks, I was turning around one or two pieces, and after a short while, more and more editors would come to me when another police officer shot and killed a black person. I often wondered if the body was even cold yet when I received another assignment in my inbox.
But it didn't matter. I accepted every task that came my way. My outrage was immediately channeled into words. There was no mental processing if it was not geared toward work.
From my own quaint bedroom, I could make my voice heard to hundreds of people. And when a verified Twitter user retweeted me, my words reached thousands. I could receive dozens of new followers in under two hours. I was formidable. My words were my own form of resistance, and I realized that my anger could be a form of currency: more bylines, money, contacts, influence. All of this was mine.
But when the assignments were done, when the direct deposit hit my account, I had to deal with the fact that my internal machine — both my mind and spirit — was beginning to char, inflamed by my inability to stop and process the events before channeling them into work. I felt elevated whenever I was published, but I could never shake the feeling that death loomed over my head every time I wrote. I feared that I was only valuable when I was producing. My anger and disillusionment worked beautifully on the page, and friends and followers praised me for my vulnerability, but no one knew that my work and the brutality surrounding it was peeling away at me from all sides.
Over time, my physical body staged its own resistance: When I sat down to type, my hands began to tremble. Pressing the keys proved to be a challenge. I would take deep breaths and discover that my whole body was unsteady. If I closed my eyes, I did not see darkness but streaks of light, each one emitting a different color along the spectrum of my fury. There was no "off" button — not when I finished writing a piece, not when I logged off Twitter, not when I shut down my computer.
My anger even transformed into disturbing dreams. I would see the ghostly figures of slain black people hovering over me, or find myself running from something unknown, my face tear-streaked. My own body would disintegrate in these dreams: teeth and hair falling out, nails breaking off, skin shedding. I would wake up with my heart racing, ears ringing, throat dry and sore. Other nights, I would lie awake, my eyes ricocheting around the room, disoriented. Sometimes I would count down from twenty or try labored breathing to calm myself. Most times, I would turn on the television so that the sounds would distract me enough to fall back asleep.