To fear is one thing. To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another. ~Katherine Paterson
I’m embarking on a journey of writing a collection of short fiction stories. I write all the time, but I haven’t made an attempt at fiction since I was a child, so this whole process makes me feel like a stumbling toddler. Did I mention that one of my major flaws is the pathetic pursuit of perfection? It’s so bad my 4 year old daughter tattles on anyone in the house who says the word perfect because “perfection is an illusion, right mommy?” That’s right baby. Now keep reminding me.
I have always loved to read and write. When I was about 12 I wrote a play. I don’t remember anything about it other than that. I have no idea what it was about or what happened to it. I just remembered that I was obsessed with it. My mother says when I was seven I wrote her a story about a young girl who lost her dog and found it again swimming in a pool of flowers. And to this day, I write in my journal. I don’t do it as much as I used to and I know I should. But it’s one of those treasured things that have fallen – okay, that I have pushed – to the wayside that I keep promising myself I’ll get back into, like yoga and meditation.
To break the monotony and overwhelming pressure of grad school, I began writing opinion pieces about random things like determining the right time to have sex with your partner, my evolving (hair) politics and self-esteem. They were what I called “Sex in the City” pieces – ramblings that I posted on my MySpace page. People read them and generally liked them; a few folks suggest that I start a blog. I thought about the idea for a couple of days and then let it go. Besides my friends (who I figured were just being nice because they loved me), who is going to want to read what I have to say? I thought my writing was decent, but I didn’t consider it to be moving and life-changing, like the work I was reading in school and on my bookshelves.
Several years later I started dating a woman who I love dearly and greatly admire. As we lay in bed I began reading a few of my journal entries. When I finished she looked at me and said: I know you’ve been looking for your thing, and I think this is it. You’re a writer babe. You’re great at it. This is your gift. I smiled and thanked her (generously – bow chicka wow wow!), and as I sat staring at my crazy ramblings, something shifted inside of me. I’d heard the words before, but before then, I just didn’t see it. I didn’t believe in or honor myself. In my head, if I wasn’t spitting fire like Toni Morrison, Alice Walker or Chimamanda Adichie, my writing didn’t count. I didn’t trust my gift, or the Creator for what was given to me. But that night, the seed that had been planted at my conception was finally given water (Music break: Give me waaater, water for my miiind).
I didn’t stop writing. I felt safe writing in my journal, so that’s where I put most of my effort, and though I wanted to, I really wouldn’t touch my dreams of writing plays or novels or even short stories, which was sad, because I love fiction. It feeds me and speaks to me in a way that nonfiction and creative nonfiction do not. I saw myself and other Black women in stories like Paule Marshall’s “Praisesong for the Widow,” Merle Hodge’s “Crick Crack Monkey,” Edwidge Dandicat’s “Breath, Eyes and Memory” and Ntozake Shange’s “Cypress, Sassafrass and Indigo” – ugh! These books were my heaven – a heaven to which I felt I didn’t belong.
The reading part I had down, but I hadn’t worked the fiction-writing part of my brain in a very long time. And that lying bitch fear kept talking in my ear: what if no one likes it? who are you trying to be, Pearl Cleage? Chile please! Writers don’t make any money, you know. If you’re not writing about sparkling ass vampires or S&M narcissists, no one is going to read your shit. Go back to writing in your journal, boo. This is what I was doing to myself. Me, the only person who will ever give me the love that I am.
But it wasn’t writing that I was afraid of. I was afraid of not being heard. Of what I had to say not being worth listening to. A fear of not being seen, or cared about; a fear of being insignificant or unworthy of love. Something that goes so far beyond my writing, but greatly affects it. This is shit that many of us go through, but not many of us deal with, because we’re not honest about it. Fear is a natural instinct that can save us when we’re in tune (fight or flight – it’s designed to lead us from the things that will harm us to that which will help us), but like all other basic instincts, such as lust and anger, it will take us out if is misused or overfed. So because we’re often not taught how to deal with fear in a healthy way, we refuse to acknowledge it. We try to avoid it because it makes us so very uncomfortable. But when you avoid your shit, it just grows. From a whisper to an in your face, drill-sergeant’s yell if you don’t handle it. You will repeat life’s lessons until you learn them, and fear will stop you from doing what your heart truly desires.
This past March, I went to Spelman College’s Octavia Butler Celebration of the Fantastic Arts. Seeing so many inspirational authors and filmmakers, and listening to their stories and struggles helped me to connect to my need – and my duty – to confront my fears around writing, and around my life in general. During the panel discussion, Stephen Barnes said to “Trust that you know how to recreate mythology.” For a very long time, I have toyed with the idea of recreating a well-known myth, and hearing his words lit a fire inside me and brought that thought that I pushed deep down under my layers of fear to the front of my mind and heart, and I began giving that seed the love and light that it needed to grow.
So I write through my fear. I write despite the fact that maybe some folks won’t like it. Some folks won’t get it. Some folks will think it’s shit. But I’m not writing for them. And I don’t have to sound like Toni or Zora or anyone except myself. To try to mimic them would be a dishonor to who they are, to who I am, and to the people who need my specific voice to tell things my way so they can connect, and learn and grow to see and honor their own gifts. I’m writing for that 12 year old girl who doesn’t know what happened to the play she wrote, I’m writing for the 14 year old girl who wrote a fictionalized story of a young girl who was raped by her best friend’s brother to try to give voice and make sense of her own real life sexual assault. I’m writing for that seven year old girl who imagined a dog could swim in flowers. And I’m writing for my 4 year old fierce femme-inist of a Bean and my sweet 14 year old Chicken who, like her mother, sometimes doubts herself because she has no idea the force of nature that she really is.
I write through my fear to make sure our stories are told by us and not colonized and changed to fit the status quo to keep the masses blind and ignorant. I’m writing to show that my story matters – our stories matter, and that we are not alone. Our celebration and honor of our connection to one another and to the entire galaxy and beyond – the celebration and honor of our Divinity, will save us. So fuck fear. It will not choose my destiny.