Archuleta A. Chisolm
When You're Really Just Trying to Survive
As a writer, you never know when or if you’ll get that big break. You write and write and pray that someone out there will take notice of the words you’re putting on the page, and then you write and pray and wait some more. In August 2019, I published my third poetry collection, Sixth Sense. It didn’t receive any critical attention or make it to the New York Times bestseller list. But it has sold well, and the little ones in my life recognize I did something cool.
The perception of a big break implies that once you’ve achieved a certain level of success, everything falls into place. And just like that there is no more struggle, or anything left to strive for. There is no more rejection, or any remnants of reality. My emails to significant people in my profession are answered at an unhurried pace, if at all. I’m used to it. It’s a reminder that I am not having a moment and I must keep going.
As I consider success and ambition, my Black womanhood also has a seat the table. It is hardened by so much burden. On the heels of Black History Month, we watched our efforts and accomplishments stuffed into the shortest month of the year. In the twenty-first century, this relegating of Black ambition to one month feels confining rather than inspirational.
Throughout my writing career, I have bought into the narrative of the glamorous myth of personal excellence. If you just work hard enough, all good things will come. It’s a belief that keeps me working, and running the proverbial race.
I teach for an on-line university, where every term I receive emails from students – mainly Black women - who finally see themselves in me. In my department, I am the only Black woman, full-time faculty member. The more things change, the more they stay the same. This is the price we pay - you will consistently be the only one or one of a few. I’m used to it. It’s a reminder that the puzzle pieces have yet to fit and I must keep going.
I have had many successful moments, but I never stop working. I don’t know what my big break would look like or feel like, because I would only want more. I cannot just be good enough, because I am chased by the notion I might only be “good enough for a Black woman.” This is the weighty result of racism in this country – it can break you all the way down, as you do your best to just live your life. Ambition? Perhaps. Or, it’s just plain survival.