“Being stuck at home made me realize: now is the time to go for what I want”

Which is why Smita James (37) decided to quit her job in the middle of a pandemic to focus on her writing.

Words by Caspar Pisters, photos by Smita James, Marijn Korver

“When you have all these ambitions, like I’ve always had, at some point you need to address them or you’ll get stuck. I suppose it’s why I found myself sitting home at the end of 2019, feeling anxious, overwhelmed and overworked. 

I love the organization I was working for, COC Netherlands, which is committed to LGBTI-rights worldwide. But the job itself – I was secretarial assistant – didn’t necessarily fit my interests much. I had been doing it for eight years, where a max of five years was what I’d agreed on with myself. Not sticking to your own promises will bite you in the ass.

Weirdly, when Corona happened, it sort of felt like a blessing to me. It allowed me to sit home and catch my breath and do the things my soul needed, and not having to feel the outside world was spinning on without me. 

Writing was an outlet at first but it started to provide stability later on”

The lockdown had sent all these people home all of a sudden. It made me realize that a fixed contract doesn’t provide the kind of security you would like it to. If you want to do something, you have to go for it. 

In the middle of a pandemic I quit my job and chose to pursue my writing. Poetry, spoken word, writing about love, writing about emotions, about being Black, about being gay. 

Writing is how I organize my thoughts. It was an outlet at first but it started to provide stability later on.

From an early age it was what I wanted to do. Being Black and being a girl coming from a somewhat backward little village, I didn’t get the guidance I would have wanted to at the time. I really don’t mean to sound pityful here but I did have to figure things out for myself, which is probably why it took me a bit longer to find my path. 

As soon as I had made up my mind, I started to get invited into all kinds of fun projects, allowing me to generate my own income until now. I’m still very much at a stage where I’m trying to make height, but I’ve made it this far. 

Photo by Marijn Korver

Quitting my job, giving up this kind of security, is not how I was brought up. Of course it was scary, it still is. 

Insecurities creep up from time to time. The question ‘Do I even have something to say?’ is no longer one of them. It gradually changed into ‘What is it that I want to say?’ I stopped making myself small. 

We often only talk about mental health when there is some sort of issue to be addressed”

Our dealing with emotions is a main theme in my work. I aim to provoke a feeling in my writings, leaving the interpretation and examining of those feelings up to you. To me this exchange is some kind of magic, it relates to how we are all connected.

We often only talk about mental health when there is some sort of issue to be addressed. While actually it is something that should be on our minds every day. 

Taking an estimated risk, to me, is part of keeping myself mentally healthy. It’s nice to have a routine but it can also choke you up.

I’m working on finding a rhythm that is suitable to me, rather than trying to fit other people’s expectations. 

I started to eat healthier and exercise every day, even if it’s only for ten minutes. I make sure I get enough sleep and show up for the things I need to do. 

Probably I work a lot more hours than before, but I get to decide on the boundaries myself.

And I try to be proud of myself every day, without any disclaimers. It’s how I support myself in this chaos.”

Check out Smita’s poetry

Photo by Marijn Korver

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