Talking to poet Arielle Estoria is like basking in a seamless book of poetry. At the end of our interview, I remember thinking I couldn’t wait to play it back as a listener. Her words are profound yet accessible. Everything she’s published, from her collections of poetry to her inspiring Instagram feed—is approachable even first thing in the morning.
It’s no wonder we had our photo session at sunrise. I couldn’t help but notice how the hues of the sky and sea mirrored the beauty of Estoria and her effortless words. I remarked at her ease with conversation and she explained, “My brain responds in poetic form. It’s how I process everything I experience. I hope that my response encounters people. I’m not just speaking for you to hear. I’m purposely trying to create words that allow you to experience what I’m saying so that it ties back to some part of who you are. I want to offer something people can take with them to sit and soak in – something that goes beyond just me.” She reminds me of her motto:
“Words not for the ears but for the soul.”
Estoria has shared her poetic mind across multiple platforms from spoken word to themed keynote talks, annual conferences, and a myriad of workshops. You’ll find her splashed across social impact campaigns where her word stretches further. But, what impacted me most of all after meeting her beyond the screen was her ability to translate words into energy. The spaces of silence between her sentiments were filled with hope, joy, and wonder. And that’s something rare.
To soak in Estoria’s brilliance, read on below, and to listen to my interview with her, visit the Woke Beauty Podcast.
After I thank Estoria for sitting down to chat with me, I admit that I never feel like the words “thank you” are enough. We need a better phrase in the English language to express gratitude. Knowing Estoria’s way with words, I joke that she probably has one. Contrarily, she tells me that sometimes there are no words.
She says, “I recently listened to this podcast and they were talking about the art of bowing and the humility and just gentleness of that. And so, I think it’s more so, just bowing to that moment or to that person as a way of paying respect and gratitude. If anything,
gratitude is more of an action than it is a word.”
On the meaning of home…
Estoria was born in the Bay Area. She has a poem that says, “Overcast and a red bridge to remind you of welcome home signs.” When she thinks of home, she envisions her family, foggy skies, raw beauty, and a melting pot of generational diversity. Even though she’s been in L.A. for 10 years she still can’t bring herself to change her area code. She’s a “Bay girl” for life.
When pondering what it means to define where you grow up, she continues,
“For a lot of us, where you were first rooted stays a part of you, no matter how much you uproot as you change. That place will always be the place that ‘grew you’.”
The oldest of her siblings, Estoria has a really special relationship with her parents and her lineage. The more she evolves, the more she realizes how much she resembles both of them, not just in her appearance but in her manner. I can hear the importance of her names in her voice as she explains how they were passed down by grandmothers. She tells me, “Each of our names represents different seasons in our parents’ life. Arielle mean’s ‘lioness’. It was their season of stepping into courage and going full throttle into ministry. They’ve always nurtured the importance of the name meanings and what it means to carry out the identity of who you are. It’s not just a title, but an embodied experience. They taught us so much about who we were.”
On how she’s defined her larger purpose…
At first, Estoria just wanted to make beauty so that people could feel things—it was all she knew. As she’s evolved, she’s really sat with the question, “What are my life’s intentions?” In our conversation, she told me she’d written something down (just the day before) that she wanted to read:
“My life’s intention is to write words, create art and cultivate spaces that change, heal and transform lives. And when I say ‘heal’, I mean the process of returning to oneself. When I say transform, I mean shedding what does not serve to become. And when I say change, I mean revealing what needs to be uprooted in order to then heal and transform.”
She says that words have always been a part of how she’s showed up in this world.
“Purpose is: you see a void and everything in you has a desire to fill it with something. What is it? Usually it’s not what we went to school for or what we were told we would become. But rather, this innate existence and ability to fill something that we have been made and designed to fulfill.”
On the ebb and flow of unconventional work…
Our lines of work require multiple ‘hats’. We are always having to shift from one role to the next. There’s a stigma around freelance work and the assumption is that we’re constantly hustling to make a living. In some ways it’s true. There is no ‘punch in, punch out’. We are continually punched in. But for those of us who have fallen into a rhythm, the flow looks different.
It’s always comforting to hear from other creatives and I love what Estoria had to say as she described her journey, “At first, I was hustling. I had to grow. With no prior experience, I did a lot of seemingly odd things: running a social media page for a clothing subscription company, going off-site to style models, and make flat lays. And I had no idea that it was building me and preparing me to represent myself.”
Estoria tells me that she’s never really assessed the word ‘freelance’, but now she decides she doesn’t really like it either. She has built a system within the madness that is streamlined and strategic. She has owned the roles ‘writer’ and ‘artist’ and is focused on intentionally carrying out those titles.
On the quote she turns to in times of stress…
Estoria recites a quote that compelled her to write her first poem. What blows me away is that she tells me the quote from memory without hesitation. After I express my respect she says,
“To truly embody words creates a whole different appreciation for them. Being able to memorize and take in words like that is a way of paying gratitude to the word itself.”
After she tells me the quote, she explains that her craft isn’t just a part of what she does but who she is. For Estoria, the quote told her: this is your life.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are light beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves: who am I to be talented, brilliant, fabulous, gorgeous. Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God, and you playing small does not serve this world.” — Marianne Williamson
On contextualizing identity…
I bring up identity because it’s such a focal part of my work and this column. I’m fascinated by how people see themselves and position that perspective in their surroundings. Estoria starts by talking about her Enneagram type which is a 4 (same as me!). She uses the model to explain the importance she places on being unique. It helps her avoid falling into comparison anxiety.
“There’s a mosaic to my identity, you know? Other people will have ideas of who you are. We need to have our view and to own it entirely, especially as Black people. We had to decide and declare our worthiness because most times, the world will do anything it can to strip that from us. Now, more than ever, I am reclaiming my racial identity as an aspect of my identity but you will see me for the fullness of who I am. I challenge others to see me, to see Black people in my entirety.”
On recovering from failure…
Estoria and I talked about imposter syndrome, ruts, and low places. She told me that when things get tough she does her best to keep things simple. Even just letting herself sleep in can help to aid the blues. She makes a good point that we tend to overcomplicate mindfulness. You don’t need much. She’ll go so far as to challenge herself not to reach for the candle, meditation cushion, or music.
Sometimes you just need to let yourself ‘be’.
She has a unique outlook on failure too. In fact, she’s found a way to take it out of her language altogether.
“The whole process of failure starts with reframing. What is failure to begin with? The moment you said ‘failure’, I heard ‘pivot’. It’s ‘that didn’t work.’ What else could work? Especially in the creative world, if we just sat in every failure, we would be buried by it. The reframing of words is really important. Ask yourself, what is this word? And why do we give it so much power?”
On the book that changed her life…
“Untamed came at the most on-point season of my life where I needed to remind myself of my voice and the trust in her. That book wasn’t unlocking and permission slip. Glennon Doyle tells us all the things she did and all that happened and then she gives us a permission slip to decide what that is for ourselves—it was just so life-giving. I cried. I cursed. It was just this whole experience. We don’t have to sit in a cage just because it’s comfortable. That was my book last year but I’ll talk about it for years.”
On advice she’d give her younger self…
Before we said our goodbyes I asked Estoria what advice she’d give to herself 10 years ago when she was 20 years old, getting ready to be a college graduate. On the brink of a brand new decade, she said she would leave a little cliffhanger for younger Estoria. With a big nostalgic smile on her face, she said,
“You have no idea… in the best possible way… you have no idea.”