[CONVERSATIONS] Shameless Maya on Fear, Change, and the Next Chapter

I came to New York City with the intention of taking the Big Apple by storm. To go out and increase my social and professional networks.

But I found myself feeling incredibly homesick during my first days alone here. All I wanted to do was stay in my apartment curled up in the blankets watching Netflix.

Shameless Maya

Shameless Maya

A little over two years ago, Maya Washington found herself in this very city with the very same fear of “putting herself out there”. She started a personal experiment to shamelessly promote herself on social media which has blossomed into a social movement that is inspiring people from all walks of life, all over the world.

I knew when I came to this city I had to make it my priority to meet the shameless one herself, Shameless Maya. But as soon as I got here, I found out that Maya was leaving the city (my big plans were not off to a good start).

Jeigh and I

Jeigh and I

Maya and her equally inspiring cousin Jeigh hosted a furniture sale at their apartment. She invited a select few others to her home on her final day in the city to tear through her belongings and buy stuff so she could donate the proceeds to the Harlem Boys and Girls Club. And guess who made sure she was on that list?! (this girl!!!)

I figured while I was in the apartment of Miss Shameless, I would shamelessly ask her to interview her for the blog. So with a nervous hand holding a shaky camera, I interviewed Maya in her kitchen.

We had a quick conversation that I want to share with you guys. Looking back, there are so many more probing questions I wish I asked her but even in our brief conversations, she was dropping honest wisdom that helped me find some confidence and I hope it will do the same for you.

So who are you, exactly?

I am the shameless one they call “Shameless Maya”. I am a social media personality but I am by trade an artist: photographer, actor, diva, you know.

You inspire a lot of people if you didn’t already know that. Who inspires you?

I’m inspired by friends and family especially my mother and my great grandmother that inspire me to keep pushing. Those are the two strong female figures I had in my life growing up. And then I also am inspired by like The Greats.

I’m currently working with Prince. He’s a huge, immediate inspiration right now! I’m also inspired by Grace Jones, Andy Warhol, Shakespeare…For me, they are the definition of “shameless”. They’re artists, and they’re unapologetic, and really shameless about putting themselves out there.

I’d be so intimidated by Prince

I was really nervous at first. But he’s a great guy. He’s actually really funny and very easy to work with.

Shameless Maya and Me

Shameless Maya and Me

Do you think being shameless is something anyone can do?

Definitely. Or at least work towards. It’s really about abandoning your fears and embracing who you are and doing that shamelessly, confidently, whatever you want to call it.

What’s the most rewarding part about being Shameless Maya?

For me it’s inspiring others because I have grown and obviously people are seeing my life transform in front of them. I want people to see (and think) “if Maya can do it, I can do it.”

What’s the most frustrating?

Frustrating? What am I frustrated with? Maybe time? At this point I don’t have enough time. I’ve been traveling a lot like in the last week I will have been in four different cities and in the next two weeks I’ll have been in 3 different countries. In the middle of my move! So it’s frustrating to get everything done. I just never have enough time.

Are you moving to LA permanently?

Nothing is permanent. I don’t want to say anything is permanent. Anything can happen.

Is this what you expected life to be like 3 years ago?

Oh man, I thought I would be married with kids! I thought that’s where my life was headed. But clearly I’m now I’m divorced with no kids! (laughs) My life is nowhere where I thought but it’s in a place that I think I’ve always dreamed about. Like my dream has always been to inspire while being inspired and to just create and do what I enjoy doing and make that my job. And I’m just so amazed and blessed that I wake up and I’m like Holy, what do I do for a living? I just have fun basically.

What advice do you have for someone about dealing with the unexpected turns of life?

Go with it. I feel like people are very much controlling. And they have this preconceived plan in their mind and if it doesn’t go according to plan, they still try to steer it and force their life to go in a direction. For me, one of the most powerful realizations that I’ve come to is to just go with it whether it’s good or bad is to just go with it because life is just so much easier and so much more rewarding if you’re just allowed to be surprised. Cause if you control it you’re never going to be surprised. And you will have the life that you expect if you could just let go; You’re going to be amazed.

You’re actually speaking to my life. I’m so intimidated by this city. I was afraid to go out of my apartment, come over here, and meet you. I was talking myself out of it.

.You need to have certain goals that you want to hit. But how you get there is a different story. You can plan and I do advise planning but be open to unexpected turns. For example like photo shoots, I’ll have a preconceived idea but once we start shooting, I’ll go with the flow, I’m not going to be like: this is what I planned, this is how it needs to be! No that’s not going to work.

What advice could you give to someone who, like you, is trying to live shamelessly in NYC

My advice would be to push yourself. I mean in terms of like fear. I mean, don’t do dumb things. When you’re afraid to do something. Like, I’m afraid to meet this person, I’m afraid to do this, push yourself to do that. Everyday should be you pushing your boundaries and limits because the more you push it, the further you’ll go. If you allow those fears and boundaries to hold you then you’re not going anywhere.

Check out the first Shameless Maya video I ever saw (1 year ago). It’s also one of my favorites:

Follow Maya on Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Unapologetic: A Year as a Writer

The craziest thing in the world is when someone comments on something I write. Even after a year of being a full-time blogger and writer, it’s still hard to get used to the fact that people care enough about my work to read it, share it, and think about it.

This time last year, I was at my desk sneaking peeks at blogs like For Harriet and ESSENCE Online and the Thought Catalogue (today, I’ve written for all of them). This time last year, I was sitting in a cubicle at a tele-sales job that made me hate life and people. This time last year, I was dreading the alarm clock that would wake me up with just enough time to make it through traffic to the cheesily decorated office building which I loathed spending 10 hours of my day in.

This exact time last year, I quit that job.

I left my benefits, my apartment, my friends, and my freedom behind and moved back in with my mom to pursue writing as a full-time career.

Smart? Some would say hell no. Crazy? I would say oh yes, ma’am. Worth it? Absolutely.

Getting through the past year has required that I be honest about who I am, what I want, and how I want to live my life. I’ve been made vulnerable to critics who don’t understand what I do and don’t think blogging is a “real job”, and I’ve been made vulnerable to my personal fear of failure.

This year has educated me on how strong the human experience can make you. I’ve endured the side eyes, the family meetings to discuss what was “wrong” with me, the endless phone calls from Sallie Mae, and some severe sessions of writer’s block.

It has been a year of tears, disappointments, empty bank accounts, empty stomachs, confusion, prayer, questioning, and asking for a lot of help.

And I’m not sorry about any of it.

This journey has often times required that I make people uncomfortable, including myself. There are times when I can’t explain to people what I do, where I work, or even where I live. Many people will say I’m reckless for risking my financial freedom and security to chase a pipe dream.

But I believe it would be more reckless to let that dream go deferred.

I’ve long believed we should be tellers of our own stories. People may not always understand it, or appreciate it, but your story is yours to tell. This is MY story. When I couldn’t find the work opportunities I wanted, I created them for myself. And by doing so, I’ve been exposed to other opportunities I could never have imagined for myself. The same places that rejected my resume now follow my blog and some ask me to write for them.

As I continue growing and learning more about myself and how I operate, I hope to encourage everyone who I encounter or who reads what I write to live life unapologetically. Unapologetic for the way you look. Unapologetic for the way you feel about something (or someone). Unapologetic for what you may think or say. Unapologetic for what you believe. Unapologetic for what you want.

I hope that once we decide that we’re not going to apologize for wanting something different out of lives, we will all pursue our goals with reckless abandon and watch life unfold in unexpected ways.

Am I rich? Far from it. Am I broke? Eh. Aren’t I always? Am I happy? Absolutely.

As failure filled as this year has been, it’s also been a year of success. I’ve had the freedom to travel, meet and interview really inspiring people, work with great editors and teachers, and be inspired every day. I hope I’m helping redefine the definition of success.

I’ve learned that satisfaction in this career choice will not come from a salary. But it will be derived from the relief of getting a gnawing thought out of your head and onto a page, from the heated conversations in the comment sections, and from the freedom of living in my purpose every day.

I am a writer. I am a transcriber of thoughts and opinions. I am a teller of stories. I am a sharer of ideas. Even now, it’s hard to admit that this is what I do. But I know I am in good company of other strong black women authors before me. I believe in their stories and their struggles. And I’m thankful for everyone who believes in me.

There’s still a lot I want to do as a writer and as a professional and I’m excited to pursue those dreams in the next year. I no longer fear failure. Every failure helps me appreciate my successes more. And in failure, there is satisfaction in knowing that I tried to do something others said I couldn’t or shouldn’t do. And I didn’t die. In fact, I’ve never felt more alive.

[VLOG] Hola, NOLA Day last :(

ESSENCE Fest has ended and so has my time in New Orleans.

I’m surprised by how sad I got on Tuesday morning when I woke up and had no work to do for ESSENCE.com. And I was even more surprised by how I almost cried when I turned in the key to boarding house I called home for nearly 10 days.

But I’m mostly thankful for everyone who helped me get to New Orleans in the first place by either donating to my GoFundMe, buying my plane ticket (yea that happened), updating my wardrobe (that happened too), or giving me great advice and necessary encouragement. I did a lot of work down in the bayou and I hope to keep working and making you all proud.

And also thanks to everyone in New Orleans who were so friendly and helpful. You all made me feel at home by taking me out, introducing me to new foods, helping get around, or giving me endless compliments on my nappy hair (seriously, EVERYONE tried to touch my hair!)

I did a lot but there’s still so much I didn’t get a chance to do. So I know I’ll be back. The question is, who’s coming with me?

[CONVERSATIONS] Denisio Truitt on creativity, confidence, and DOPEciety

photo courtesy of Instagram @densiotruitt

If you haven’t heard about DOPEciety, it’s time you get hip. DOPEciety is a casual clothing and T-shirt company that makes high quality unique tees, shrugs, dresses, and more. The brains behind this fashionable operation is Denisio Truitt, the founder, CEO, and head designer of all things DOPEciety. If you follow her on Tumblr or Instagram (like myself), you know her for her style, her friendship with poet Alex Elle, or for her awesome shaved hairdo.

I reached out to Denisio before my trip to New Orleans in the hopes of meeting up with her just to pick her brain about the origins of DOPEciety and her personal style. What resulted was a long and inspiring conversation in a sandwich shop about life, struggles, triumphs, and learning to go after what you want.

I want to share our conversation with you in the hopes that she will encourage and motivate you as much as she did for me.

When did you start making clothes?
I’ve been sewing cloths since I was like 4. My mom taught me how to sew and my grandmother was a seamstress. My moms family is originally from Liberia my grandmother had this boutique in Liberia.
I lived there for a little under a year when I was younger. I loved it, from what I can remember even though I only like, 4, there are little memories .


DOPEciety’s Fulani Tee

So where did “DOPEciety” come from?
So DOPEciety funnily enough kind of funnels into my whole culture. I’m an artist by trade. I’m a painter. I was a studio art and english major in undergrad. I wanted to incorporate my art work into a clothing line. I wanted to make a t-shirt that I would rock. So I wanted t-shirts that were kind of relatable to everybody but also reflected my own culture. So a lot of my designs kind of revolve around this mask…a traditional mask used in Liberia and Sierra Leone. I guess it’s kind of representative of the duality of my culture being both African and American. and kind of taking this very traditional object and modernizing it.
It’s kind of a mash up of my culture. So DOPEciety is a mash up of “Dope” “society”.

You’re known in my circles as the dope bald chick who designs really cute T-shirts. What made you decide to shave your head?
I’ve had short hair probably for about 6 years. It’s been different lengths but it’s never been more than 6 inches long. I just don’t like hair. Before I cut my hair, my hair was like on my back I just would’t do anything with it. It was hard for me the first time I did it. I first did a really big chop when I was 19. I got sick and I was taking all of this medication and my hair fell out. So I had to shave it off and I was crying. But because my mom and her family are from west africa they tend to wear short hair. I kind of grew up thinking short hair was normal. But when I cut it off I liked the way it worked.
I think all women will look great with short hair. You just gotta rock it and own it.

Something that I admire a lot about you is that you seem very confident. Where does that confidence come from?
I mean I have my moments. I think when it comes to my talents and my skills I think I am a very confident with what I can do I think I’m a very talented person. But there are definitely areas in my life that I wish I was more confident in. I think I’m very socially awkward. There are people who can go to parties by themselves and talk to whoever they want. I can’t do that! Like any other girl sometimes I have issues with my looks. But for the most part when it comes to my artistic capabilities, I’m very confident.

What advice can you give about developing more confidence?
There was this one video that I watched. It was like a message to artist. He was saying that whatever type of artist you are, there will come a point in your creativity or career where what you want to produce is not matching with what you’re currently doing. And thats something that a lot of artists struggle with and so his advice was to push through that. With my artwork, there was a time when I’m creating this art and it was just not what I wanted it to be. And that’s where a lot of people quit and his advice was to just keep producing. Even if it’s shit, just don’t stop producing. I think for me, just not being afraid to make things that might suck or might not sell. When I first started DOPEciety, I had a total of 5 designs. 2 of the designs they were throwaways. But just being able to push through that and make things for the sake of making them, and eventually get into the groove of things.
I guess my advice to be more confident is just to keep producing. Even if you think its crap, just keep doing it. Don’t get discouraged and focus on the things that aren’t so great.

How can creatives turn our passions into profit?
Definitely know your worth. With me specifically, when I first started DOPEciety, I was selling shirts for something ridiculous like $15 and it costs like $10 to make a shirt! So there was no profit there. And kind of taking a stance and knowing how much time and effort it takes to make the products. I used to style friends and I wouldn’t charge them because they were my friends, but then I felt like if people were really my friends and they respect me they’ll understand that I can’t give my time for free because my time literally is money. I think that shift in thinking helped a lot. And also just knowing your resources and knowing when you need help. So kind of just letting my ego down and reaching out to people and asking for help.

A lot of my friends and I truly admire you and what you do. Who do you admire?
I admire my mom. She had it really rough being a single parent and raising me and haveng to deal with a moody teenager and kind of just instilling in me that I could put my mind to whatever and do it. I admire my grandmother for her grace. She is definitely somebody I look up to for her never-ending patience and compassion for people. She was a very giving person. In Liberia she was known for literally picking up children off the street and caring for them. She was a very nurturing person. I wouldn’t say that doesn’t come to me naturally because I am a caring person but I do have issues with temper and being overly sensitive to stuff but I admire her for that.
I feel like our culture in general has this obsession with celebrities and celebrity worship and people on Tumblr and Instagram and idolizing them. I feel more inspired by people in my family. I find a lot of things admirable in (everyday) people.

What has been the most rewarding part about running your own company?
It’s wonderful that I can get up and do work in my PJs if I want to. I worked at GW(George Washington University) straight out of college fundraising for 6 years. I was making really good money. I had a stable job really good benefits (and) vacation time, but I was miserable. I felt like I was on a hamster wheel: you get up, you take a shower, you get dressed, you go to work, you work, you go to t he gym for lunch, you sit at your computer for hours, you go home, you have a glass of wine, you watch some TV, you wake up and do the same thing the next day. Everyday. I think the most rewarding thing is being able to get up and make my own day and my own schedule. It feels good that I’m in control.

What is the most frustrating part?
I think for me the most frustrating thing is knowing that I can’t please everybody and knowing that I will make mistakes and it’s okay. I’m very hard on myself. And kind of just getting out my head and saying “You made a mistake, but its okay.”

Denisio’s advice for pursuing what you’re passionate about:

I don’t have regrets because my journey is my journey and I’m where I’m supposed to be now for a reason. But if I could go back, even though I had a full ride at my college, I probably would’ve gone to art school like I wanted to. I wish I was a little more brave and not so much afraid of what people would think.

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