Hi APC! My name is Nkosi Watts. I’m 19 years old and currently reside in Orlando. I’m African American and Caribbean (St. Croix anyone?) The work I’m sharing with you today is technically a redraw of an old comic I created in 2016. It’s also inspired by a post with quotes that basically said “Everything happens so much.”
Everything happens so much. It’s never just one thing, never just one assignment, problem, or historical event in 2020’s case. When it rains, it pours.
Even at 14, my life felt like a whirlwind. My parents argued every day, we faced financial problems, and we were most definitely NOT losing our house. Oh, and I was on my second attempt at breaking up with a boyfriend. Great!
I felt confused and sad and hurt. The only thing that could worsen the situation was if my parents, friends, or teachers knew how I was feeling. I didn’t want to burden anyone with my issues, they had their own. So I decided to “shut down” negative emotions. Hide all traces of sadness, confusion, hurt, anything that could give away my stance on the happenings of my life. It made things easier at first. My parents called me strong, my friends never questioned me. I became the rock which could hold my family together. My mom, brother, sister, and I moved into an apartment months later. The divorce started, and so had the arguments and threats and blame. My parents couldn’t be in the vicinity of each other without fighting.
My mom hid in her room most days. She’d come home from work, greet us, and head straight to her room. It felt like she was on another planet most days. When she did surface, we’d get into arguments. I kept in contact with my dad, and she hated it. With my mom trying to process the divorce, I stepped up to support my siblings. I, again, buried all of my anxieties and feelings to take on theirs. I just wanted everyone to be okay.
Burying emotions helped when visiting my dad. I had to keep my lives separate, almost splitting myself in two. Mom’s Nkosi and Dad’s Nkosi were two completely different people. It was, and still is, a code switch that occurred as soon as I left the apartment. That wrecked me, to be honest. Having to dance around details, avoid mentioning The Other Parent, and keep every one happy. I think that, on top of the usual adjusting my personality for school, pushed me over the edge. I felt too much all the time. It was overwhelming, and so I just tried not to feel. Or at least, not express any emotion other than positive ones. Over time I realized that this backfired. Sometimes my facial expressions seemed wrong. My mom would come home with good news, and I didn’t convey enough joy. My friend had relationship problems and I didn’t feel sorry enough for her. I felt numb. It’s not like I didn’t feel, I just didn’t express. I’d study facial expressions in the mirror or study the expressions of others. Which brings us to the comic. Sketching is cathartic, prime example is the comic above. It depicts the struggle between wanting to be yourself and not wanting to rock the boat. Person’s life seems easier when they project a certain version of themselves, much like I did. But, you can only hide for so long.
Most of my sketches are expressionless. When I showed the first sketches to my mom, she questioned why they were “faceless.” Years later, when I showed a recent sketch to a friend, he called them “mannequins.” “How do you know what they’re feeling? What they’re expressing? They’re just store front mannequins.” I can picture their expressions, and alter them however I see fit. If art is a reflection of the artist’s thoughts, that’s the perfect way to capture my mind.
I still struggle with this, 5 years later. I don’t really have a name for it. There are people with actual issues and I have, this personality incongruence? I get anxious as soon as anyone mentions Dad’s Weekend. Expressing myself is still difficult, more so now with the chaos that is 2020. There’s so much happening, and I feel exposed. Walk out with a mask and black skin, all eyes are on me. Both feel like targets, you can’t help but notice them. However, I’m slowly learning to own how I feel and how I express myself. Reposting information about social issues doesn’t seem monumental, but I feel like it’s the first time I’ve really said ” Hi, I’m Nkosi. I’m black. These are the issues I care about. This is who I am, take it or leave it.” Taking time to explain myself to my mom or to others helps with processing feelings and clears up any misinterpretations. I still have a long way to go, but it’s a starting point. Everything happens so much, you just have to take it one step at a time.