It’s 7 am in Brooklyn. The Hudson River on my left moves gently, recovering from the night before. Murals of men I don’t know look down on me from the redbrick walls where they sit. People begin emerging from the shadows of doorways, darting towards the welcoming oasis of a coffee shop or eatery whose shutters have just lifted.
I heard NYC was the city that never sleeps; perhaps that’s true, but it just doesn’t seem to be fully awake yet. It’s Saturday, the morning after playing the first show on our US tour. Perhaps it’s the jet lag that woke me but I know this feeling from somewhere else. It’s how I felt when I was younger, waking up on Christmas morning, exclaiming to my sisters, “he came!” It’s the feeling that this is a good day. This is a day that has been waited for and to sleep would only waste the experience of it. Some days you want to taste every available minute.
I’ve wanted to visit Brooklyn for as long as I can remember. I fell in love with hip hop in my early teens and quickly became obsessed (and yes, that’s the right word) with many artists who grew up in and around these streets. I remember the first time I heard Talib Kweli’s Get By and was mesmerized by a flow that sounded both effortless and technical in a way that only ten thousand hours of practice can achieve. I remember discovering Mos Def and realizing for the first time why people love poetry the way they do. I learned the power of metaphor and the double entendre from Jay-Z during my morning paper round, where I was taught more than I ever was at school. So as I walk through these streets, like a pilgrim without a knapsack, I’m basking in satisfaction and excitement. I remember the words that fell from my lips between songs last night: “If I had truly believed I’d be here, playing my music and sharing poetry when I was fifteen, I wouldn’t have wasted so much time worrying about how it would happen.”
In the last year, a lot has happened. I ventured on my first headline tour of the UK, produced and released multiple projects from the label I founded, had the honor of doing a TEDx talk, signed a record deal and released a new EP which has garnered over five hundred thousand streams and downloads. Hear me out: I don’t say this with pride or with the desire to boast about it. I say it because without reflecting upon and celebrating the materialization of our dreams, it’s easy to get caught in the fire of fantasy, a flame that is fueled by the inability to see the reality before and within us.
I thought I'd get everywhere quicker with less effort and somehow have the same stories and sense of satisfaction. See, that's the thing about fantasy: it twists what is in fact sacred timing into what seems to be delay. Joshua Luke Smith
In all honesty, in my fantasy I had visualized everything happening a lot earlier than it has. I thought people would begin digesting and sharing my work like they are now a decade ago. I thought I was going to get signed in my late teens rather than my late twenties. I thought I’d get everywhere quicker with less effort and somehow have the same stories and sense of satisfaction. See, that’s the thing about fantasy: it twists what is in fact sacred timing into what seems to be delay. Fantasy doesn’t care for essence, process, or growth. It simply desires results at any cost, even if that cost becomes your soul. We all know the best things take time, especially when we’re consuming it (slow cooked pulled pork, anyone?). It’s harder to appreciate it when it’s less what we’re consuming and more who we’re becoming.
As I stand here, overlooking the Hudson, I’m feeling an overwhelming sense of both gratitude and grief: gratitude that God in his kindness has opened doors and made connections that have helped us get to where we are right now. Gratitude for the gift and desire to write poetry that helps people. Gratitude that I’m here.
The grief, though uncomfortable, is equally valid. It’s the awareness that I’ve lost time meditating on lies rather than dwelling on truth and embracing the mystery of it all. My single most important responsibility is to remain present. Meditating on a thought that is rooted in worry abducts you from the here and now and locks you in a room whose walls are built with the bricks of fear. There’s no goodness in there.
There is more about life that is utterly out of my hands than there is under my capability and control. Submitting to that notion has produced (what seems to be) a purer form of productivity and willingness to work. Creating without an acute fear of the future or anxiety in how this act of expression will serve my fantasy has been, for me, life-changing. Like the pilgrims of old, we’ll all get to where we’re going when it’s time to get there.
The mountains we must ascend lead to a way of life we can only receive when we relinquish our right to be offended by the treachery of the terrain. I’ve met so many inspiring people along the way of this road and the one thing that has stuck out to me is that no two journeys are the same. It’s so easy to get disappointed or disillusioned en route, hard-hearted because you haven’t got to where others seem so effortlessly to have landed.
Take heart, for your story is your own and it will take shape. The long road isn’t the wrong road. You’re not late, you’re not lost—you’re just going a different way.