FEEL YOU is a celebration of individuality and style with artists, creatives, and activists from around the world. We continue the series with Cleo Wade

FEEL YOU Cleo Wade

Cleo Wade is a friend, community builder, and best-selling author of Heart Talk: Poetic Wisdom for a Better Life – a beautifully-illustrated book that offers creative inspiration and life lessons through poetry, mantras, and affirmations. She’s been called the poet of her generation by Time Magazine and one of the 100 most creative people in business by Fast Company. Cleo sits on the board of the Lower East Side Girls Club, the National Black Theatre of Harlem, and the Women’s Prison Association. Like UGG, she calls California her home. Wearing the Classic Mini Boot and UGG Ready-to-Wear, meet Cleo Wade.

Introduce yourself, tell us who you are and what you do?

My name is Cleo Wade. I am a poet, writer, and artist. I just make things.

FEEL YOU Cleo Wade

Cleo wears the Classic Mini Boot.

Describe a day in the life of Cleo Wade.

I usually wake up and feed my baby, Memphis Love Kinberg. After I feed her, I make a little matcha and get around to all the things I missed the day before. I tend to wind down the day pretty early to spend time with my baby in the late afternoon, so I usually wake up with a few things to catch up on since a lot of people work a little later than I do. I like having a few moments to myself before the rest of the world gets going.

How do you FEEL these days and why?

These days are definitely tough. There’s a part of a poem in one of my books that says something along the lines of “Hope got a little bit harder today, but I can’t let these times take my hope away from me for it is times like these I need it the most.” Even on the hardest days, I am holding onto hope because there is this part of me, this tiny little voice whispering to me even when the world feels like it’s screaming, that says to hold onto hope because you really need it right now. I don’t think that now is a time to throw up our hands when we could be rolling up our sleeves. If we decide that we’re up for the challenge, we can look at the changes going on in our world and know that we are meant to be a part of it. It’s happening in our lifetime for a reason, and we need to join in because we are meant to. I think that a lot of incredible things can happen, and that gives me hope as well. I actually feel that the trick is to never feel that you’re done.

FEEL YOU Cleo Wade

Cleo's poem on FEEL

How do you balance being a creative, partner, and mother?

I try to make my entire life a part of my creative process. I raise my child with as much creativity as possible, partner with Simon as creatively as possible, and make everything I do feel like a creative experiment – a place where I can be spontaneous and apply my imagination. Through that, everything feels a little bit more like an adventure, and I’m also able to connect one thing to the other. I don’t necessarily have a mom zone or a partner zone or a writing zone or a painting zone or a friendship zone of my life, where I compartmentalize. I try instead to work on who I am and all of those spaces so that that person can be present no matter what I’m doing.

You and your family recently relocated to California. What’s become your go-to cozy place, and why is it special?

I have a secret room in my garage. It’s where I go to write and steal a moment away from the world. It’s where I go to create most of my artwork and my prints. I do most of my painting and all my writing here. The entire room is green. I also have a secret garden; there’s a little pathway to it right outside of my secret room. I don’t know why I have so many secret things in my house. They’re not actually a secret from anyone. I just feel like the word private sounds so harsh. I don’t know. So, it’s not my private room. It’s just my secret room. Sometimes we call it my clubhouse. When I moved to Los Angeles, or when I moved to California in November of last year, the first thing I really wanted to do was plant a garden. It was really hard for me to move away from New York City, because it will always feel like home to me, and is my favorite place on earth. I never really considered moving to California until I met my partner. We decided that we wanted to have our daughter here, so when I moved, the one thing I always really wanted was a garden, because you can’t really have a full garden in New York. I wanted something that just starts in the ground. There’s not a box. It’s not on a balcony. It’s just in the dirt that everything else is on. We’ve since built my dream garden. It grows strawberries, tomatoes, and every fresh herb you’d ever cook with. We have raspberries, citrus trees, and a pumpkin patch that I hope will be ready in time for this Halloween or Thanksgiving. It’s my happy place. I’ll often leave my little clubhouse to go for midday walks, or sometimes at the end of the day I’ll take a glass of wine and go sit down there because it just helps you reset. When the world feels really chaotic and intense, to be able to get out into nature or to be around things that are growing and shedding and then growing again, you’re reminded that, we belong to nature – nature doesn’t belong to us – and there’s so much we have to learn from the natural way that things grown, connect, and live harmoniously together. My flowers aren’t jealous of my fruits, and my fruits aren’t jealous of my vegetables. No one’s upset or beefing with the other. It is a reminder that we are all meant to grow here together in community; we’re a part of each other’s growth. When I’m in my garden, I feel most connected to my humanity.

You’re an artist, poet, and best-selling author. Where do you draw inspiration, and what motivates you to do all you do?

I definitely draw inspiration from people I meet when I tour my books, people I meet when I do my audio key booth, or people who slide into my DMs on Instagram. I’ve always been so inspired by people’s stories – their moments of vulnerability and moments of kindness. There are moments when life feels tough, but they’re able to get through it. That type of resiliency I find so inspiring, whether it’s my friend or someone I’ve just met on the street. I will say that during this time of quarantine, it has been difficult not having access to some of my deepest inspirations firsthand, although I do feel lucky that though the internet I’m able to peek into everyone’s life and email with people I’ve met on the road over the years. I follow a lot of people I’ve met at my book stops, so I’m able to stay connected, but there is nothing like that person-to-person, face-to-face type of community time.

How do you FEEL when you create?

I think being in touch with your feelings is the most important thing, rather than trying to force one feeling or the other, especially in a moment like this. If you had to feel good to write or be creative, you might not do either for long stretches of time when the world feels like it’s upside down, or things are changing so quickly, or you’re confused, or you just don’t know how you feel about what’s happening or where your place is in it. So, I wake up in the morning and say, “Are you feeling okay?” Then I try to figure out what I want to do with whatever I’m feeling and how I want to apply it to whatever I’m making. Sometimes there’s nothing much you can do with it, so you paint or draw a flower on your desk or finger paint with your baby or be creative in conversation with a friend based on what you’re feeling. As long as you’re feeling and doing something with whatever you feel, you’re headed in the right direction.

FEEL YOU Cleo Wade

Cleo wears Classic Mini Sheepskin Chestnut Boots.

How do you hope your work makes readers FEEL?

I’ve always written intentionally in a way that’s broad enough where the reader can feel whatever they need to feel, not what I tell them they should feel. I like to keep my work open through the text being very simple so that whatever you are going through, you can apply these words of reassurance or support. I’ve had people who were graduating eighth grade look at the same poet as someone who’s going through a divorce because I leave room for people to feel and apply their life story to the work. Pretty much anytime I’m writing or editing anything, I always ask myself, “How can I zoom out so that the reader can feel whatever they need to feel when they read these words?” It’s a real exercise in control. I don’t want to control my readers, I don’t want to control another person: I want to create an offering for them so they can take life into their own hands, do whatever they need to do, and feel whatever they need to feel.

How does it FEEL to know your work uplifts others?

I feel so lucky that I get to be a part of so many different people’s lives. That is not something you could have ever told me as a young little Black girl in Louisiana. Where I come from and what I’ve been through, if you told me that’s something I could have offered other people, I would have been like, “Me? Are you sure?” I actually still feel that way all the time, which creates a little bit of shyness around any sort of impact or influence I might have upon others. But I’m grateful – I think that through all those connections, I am made better and wiser. I’ve also found a lot of my own personal healing in the stories I’m able to hear and be a part of since my work shows up in other people’s lives in such a personal way.

Describe your style and what it says about you.

My style is just comfortable and easy. I don’t really like to think about my clothing too much during the day. I mean that in both ways – I don’t want to kind of think about it too much from a fashion perspective, but I also don’t want to be uncomfortable. I like things to just be neat and easy so that I don’t even have to think about my clothing and can still feel put together – like, I could hop on Zoom if I needed to or be ready to cook dinner at the end of the day. I like to wear things that you can really live in, things that just feel nice and feel comfortable. What’s even more important for me since becoming a mother is wearing things that feel soft. When I pick up my baby, I want something that feels good to not just me, but also to her.