The Hustle Is Real

The Hustle Is Real

Simplicity is not my strong suit. Much as I enjoy a succinct sentence, the brevity of wit, I tend to formulate complex concepts. The newest permutation of this is multiple high-concept endeavors. I don’t consider myself an overly ambitious person, just one with ideas, and I wish to see them actualized. Like a cranky old lyric I once wrote, wishing doesn’t makes wishes come true.

Besides if not me then who? (Just to be clear it – though it rhymes that was not the next line in the song).

I suspect there are many people in this predicament. If I knew more of them we could compare notes. Until then there’s you, reader. I’ll go first. Current professional projects include:

  • putting the finishing touches on a new novel years in the making and handling the release
  • writing and recording compositions for a multimedia project
  • applying for a grant
  • making peace with social media and marketing (it may just be a ceasefire)
  • writing
  • learning new programming languages for multimedia pieces
  • creating (a) piece(s) for the Creative Pinellas show in September
  • meeting about collaborations (perhaps more on this as it materializes)
  • setting up an umbrella business for established and new ventures
  • scouting for and finishing freelance editing/proofreading work
  • wrestling with the age-old question: to day job or not to day job?

In short, the hustle is real.

Actually, when I typed it out it didn’t seem like that much. The thing about complexity: It improves your time management over the years. For me it’s just do one thing at once, then on to the next.

It would probably be easier if each idea didn’t come connected to another (much like this light bulb) but the ideas come as they come. I’m just glad they do. Still, I look forward to finishing this round and seeing the next configuration.

By the way I’m not kidding about comparing notes, tag me on Instagram @TeneaJohnson (See what I did there? It’s as close as I dare to multitasking) and show me what’s driving you to distraction.

picture of a intricate led light bulb


Writing in a Fire

Writing in a Fire

The world is full of distraction and just lately that distraction has crept into a realm of intensity new to me. So how do you write when the world is on fire?

Sometimes you don’t. Full stop.

Some authors are energized by the need to voice their opinions or throw their talents behind their cause, their beliefs, the version of the world they wish to live in.

I applaud them. I’ve joined them on many occasions but not always.

For me, articulation is key. Writing helps me do that, to analyze paradigms or particulars and give them linear meaning, a path to follow; usually I have a destination in mind.

I’m a pragmatist though, and as much as I respect words they can be slow to change the world. At times that’s all I want to do—today, immediately, so I turn to other pursuits that in that moment seem more viable, concrete.

Invariably I return—because words have a specific strength. They overcome ailments that community or preparation can’t. Like smoke they get into locked places, find you in your fugue to wake you . . . or make waking impossible.

That is no small thing.

Poetry knows it. Oratory is built on it. Songwriting revels in it.

Often, I write speculative fiction. It’s a field of great depth and breadth, but it has inherent challenges in times like these. A portion of readers devouring more-escapist stories won’t come back. Wish them well. Struggle is not their strength.

For the others, the speculative can reach a level of abstraction that saps its power. In crucial situations we need to talk about the thing, not the metaphor for the thing or the theory behind the thing. I’ve heard before that being so straightforward can hobble one’s work. Certain readers will find it hard to digest. OK. But not everything should go down easy.

There’s a time for flights of fancy, immersive universes that delight the reader. They help her/him/them recharge and regain a sense of wonder. Necessary work. There’s also a time to tell it like it is.

This gets tricky in a field based in non-realism. Challenge accepted.

I find hope in getting through, not over. So when it’s time, I take readers that way too, through the trials and tribulations, the rough journey that builds strength if only because one has to hold on. Call it the hero’s journey, the heroine’s epic.

So to get back to my original question:

Sometimes you put the fire out and go sit your ass down in the grass. At others you keep your seat and finish, hair singeing, skin blistering as you write a message telling where the survivors have gone, how to rebuild or where the fire will next ignite.

I choose not to think they’d be your last words, just the first in a rebirth—an incantation that brings that renaissance, an instruction if that better suits you, or just a naming of whoever, whatever in this world brought you to being.

Tenea D. Johnson



Words Off the Page

Words Off the Page

As much as I enjoy traditional literary forms, multimedia work has a kinetic quality all its own. Whether it’s compositions that include music and prose, collaborating with a choreographer or creating art pieces that showcase visual narratives alongside story, I explore those intersections in hopes of finding something fresh for the audience. This month I have a couple of pieces up around St. Pete.

Howbeit, is exhibited in the Pride & Joy show at Mize Gallery until July. It comprises three interrelated pieces that use poetry, found objects and paper to create a meditation on freedom.


River of Dreams is a prose piece up at the Museum of Fine Arts downtown. As part of the SunLit festival, the museum partnered with Keep St. Pete Lit and Carousel for Literary Carousel at the MFA, an evening of performances by local authors reading works inspired by selections of photographs from the museum’s archives. It’s on display until September. The stories range from the hilarious to the magical (where my piece lies) and the photography spans several decades.



River of Dreams


Infinite Possibilities

Infinite Possibilities

While in Iceland, I didn’t see night. There were warm, colorful sunsets but it didn’t ever actually get dark. Somewhat surprisingly I enjoyed this. It’s not yet full summer there so the sky will get brighter as June progresses. It’ll do so without me.

Back in Florida now, that long Icelandic twilight has reignited my appreciation for darkness — cricket-soundscaped, wind-pushed-clouds darkness. The planets look too bright to be planets, the stars too bright to be stars. This because the backdrop is midnight blue. It makes it easier to understand why some in the past thought stars were pinpricks.

Understanding, I find, is too often complicated. But what may seem backwards or alien aligns with it after a shift in perspective. This is why some people read stories—to temporarily live a life not their own. I can’t say the intention is always to understand others, but it’s possibile to and in possibility lies, well, everything.


P.S. Pamela Sargent once said that speculative fiction is “the literature of ideas.” It’s also a realm of infinite possibilities. Some are explored one person at a time; others on the scale of totality.

When I build a world it’s to explore the possibilities for improving this one, to show what’s precious or what I think should be plain. But sometimes it’s just for beauty. One can never have too much (especially these days) and it makes it easier to share. Like now:

South Coast of Iceland


Journeys That Lead Back to Yourself

Journeys That Lead Back to Yourself

It’s fitting that I begin at a departure.  I’m leaving the subtropics to visit the subarctic for a few days. Wheels up in an hour or so, but through the magic of technology (more on that in a later post), and weather willing (see: technology’s limits), these words will appear as I stand on a shore where glaciers are born.

I relish contrast, but more than that, for me, travel is necessary.

You show up in your work. It’s certainly true in writing. Whether you know it or not you’re there in bits and pieces. So I believe to be at your best, you have to know what moves you and move with it.

This is fairly common knowledge. The challenge is often how.

As my grand daddy used to say, ‘however’.

Be dangerously clever, fully committed, perfectly pragmatic, ever-evolving or rooted to your earth. It’s easier said than done but just about everything is.

This, I know: it’s hard to be compelling when nothing compels you.

This particular journey has been a long time coming. Maybe your next adventure has as well–whether out on the road, in front of a blank screen/canvas/budget ledger, or wherever you find yourself. There you are.

Bon voyage.


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