My life is not a revolutionary act.
I’ve been trying to sit down to write this post for a week. Since a friend sent me the screenshot of a tweet that read:
“there’s a mvmnt of sorts on tiktok & youtube of black young women saying they are ok being average in looks & achievements & that they don’t necessarily want a high power/paying job. we need some solid writing about how this embrace of mediocrity can be a revolutionary act.”
It was the kind of hyperbolic word salad that drove me off Twitter in the first place, but my friend meant it as a compliment. For the last few years, I and the other mutual friend she shared it with have openly set aside notions of our extraordinariness in favor of just… living. She lauded us as visionaries in her text but it wasn’t long before we were picking the statement apart.
“Only, I don’t want a damn think piece about it. Just leave me alone.”
“Wait. I think I am stunning. That part is not for me.”
“There is that, also. I think I’m striking.”
Then, my final admission as I brushed my teeth the following morning: “I’m about 70% sure I’m going to write about this. lmao. So I guess the tweeter got their mission accomplished.”
Except not, because I am here to tell you my life is neither an “embrace of mediocrity” nor “a revolutionary act.”
Yes, I’ve crafted a life I can hold in one hand if push comes to shove. The type of sturdy, low-to-the-ground existence that can withstand the winds of circumstance because I’ve stood in the aftermath of too many sky-high sandcastles swept away by tides.
“I am tired,” I recently lamented to my BFF over too much tequila on a Sunday afternoon as she refused to accept my ordinariness.
“I beat the odds,” I explained. I have effectively avoided all the traps of my upbringing: addiction, teenage pregnancy, criminal activity. I finished high school, got into college on a full academic scholarship, and graduated Magna Cum Laude; the first of my grandmother’s grandchildren to get a degree. Unlike my mother, I’d never seen my cars repossessed or had a baby with a married man. I’ve dodged stifling partnerships and will not scar a child’s life with my selfishness. “I’ve stared down death,” I said, in near tears referencing the several times I’ve crawled back from the brink of suicidal depression. “And I’ve survived. I don’t want to be ‘special’ anymore. ‘Special’ is a burden.”
I live on a plateau on the side of a mountain, but I climbed through hell to get here.
My life is mundane. Blissfully ordinary. It is not mediocre.
* * * *
Three years ago, in a since-deleted post called “Good Girl,” I wrote the following:
“I need to accept that the only validation I’ll find for my life choices will be internal.”
That post, like most of my posts back then, was about remaining single and childless. While chatting with a newly-married friend about how proud older people were of him post-nuptials, I found myself jealous.
“…the little girl who built her self-esteem around being best-in-class refused to fucking die,” I wrote. “…I realized how unlikely I am to make anyone proud.”
“No one’s going to say ‘[Rob], I’m really proud of you for never marrying or having kids. But I shouldn’t need anyone to do so.”
So when I read “we need some solid writing about how this embrace of mediocrity can be a revolutionary act,” I bristle.
The author of the tweet goes on to describe the trend toward “mediocrity” as “a refusal to buy into capitalist pressures on labor and appearance, but also a clear rejection of social ones from both within the community and outside of it.”
It’s the second time I’ve seen “mediocre” used in place of “mundane,” “ordinary,” or “regular” in reference to women embracing simpler lives. I find the word choice curious. As if the users have not made enough peace with their decisions to speak kindly of them.
If this is a trend among The Girls these days, it is only a new mythology. A new stage on which to erect a new character for a rapt audience to shower with applause. Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and the like are tools and products of capitalism, based on and driven by the same insatiable desire for more more more — except the “more” in this case is attention and adoration. Whether you seek it by playing the Boss Bitch Baddie or the Plain Jane Girl Next Door is of little consequence.
A narrative centered in your own specialness is not revolutionary simply because said narrative requires less labor on your part. You aren’t breaking the wheel; you’re riding a different spoke.
So no; my life is not a revolutionary act. I did not reject capitalist pressure — I rejected my delusions of grandeur. The idea that I could only hold my head high if I was somehow “set apart.” I swallowed the hard truth that if my life would be significant in any way, it would be in the memories of the people who loved me. And that would be enough.
No one will admire the utilitarian aesthetic of my sparsely-decorated 575 sq. ft. apartment, but the noon sun beaming the perfect combination of light and shadow across my hardwood floors brings me deep satisfaction.
No one will throw me a party for the children or husband I do not have, but walking into my silent home at the end of the day knowing my only remaining obligations are to myself makes the lonely moments worth it.
If I have any solid writing to offer the new wave of black girls negotiating adulthood in a crumbling empire, it’s this: create a life that is its own reward. So when the world moves on to the next “revolutionary” lifestyle movement, you’re not left on stage waiting for applause in an empty theater.