Growing Up With Miss Jamaica [ELLE Magazine]

“Growing Up With Miss Jamaica” ~See Link to Elle.com

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The Truth about Black Girl Magic

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Photo by Mary Ellen Mark

“No one loves a black girl, not even harself.” This statement by Delores, one of the main characters in my debut novel, HERE COMES THE SUN, resonated with listeners at the Kweli Literary Journal Reading Series last year, which was held in the New York Times building.  There was a hush in the room—the kind of weighted silence that braced with all the emotions, and reels of memories that gave way to a soul stirring guttural hum. The statement comes from Delores’s experience and understanding of the world, which she has instilled in her daughters. And by the reaction of the women of color in the audience at the Kweli Reading Series, it speaks truthfully to those who have felt this way.

However, there are some of us who have made it our personal mission to defy this notion of internalized hatred; to love ourselves more fiercely as an act of defiance. The growing popularity of the hashtag, “Black Girl Magic” is one such example.  It has been used to describe the likes of first lady, Michelle Obama; producer, writer and director, Shonda Rhimes; director, Ava DuVernay; actresses Viola Davis, Kerry Washington, and Taraji P Henson; and the growing number of black women doing amazing things on the world’s stage. But Black Girl Magic is rooted in something bigger than a trending hashtag on social media. The use has nothing to do with invincibility per se, but a deep yearning to conjure up confidence and self-affirmation in a world that still deems black women as under-dogs—something we have internalized for centuries, dimming our shine; having gotten used to being in the background, unseen and unheard, yet functional nonetheless as helpers, cheerleaders, witty side-kicks, background singers in a chorus where we’re camouflaged as one monolithic body in the shadows. Some of us take to retail therapy, others take to food, and a significant amount of us take to religion to fill our empty self-worth. The argument of whether or not the term Black Girl Magic is appropriate, incontestably reveals the need for discussion in how we perceive ourselves as black women versus how the world perceives us.

Dr. Linda Chavers highlighted the disadvantage of the term “Black Girl Magic” in a recent Elle Magazine article, describing it as “constricting, rather than freeing”. Dr. Chavers drew a parallel to the “strong black woman” archetype, which has proven detrimental to the mental, emotional and physical well-being of women of color. Of course, having gotten my master’s in Public Health with a concentration in women’s health, I am fully aware of the research and totally agree with Dr. Chavers.   However, I also believe that black women, more so the younger generation, have evolved a term in order to control their reality—a reality that has negated black women or rendered them invisible for decades; a reality where black women could be arrested, thrown in prison and murdered without a fair investigation and trial; a reality where black girls could be wrestled to the ground inside a classroom or while in handcuffs at a pool party by grown men who were supposed to protect them, their cries of pain and innocence falling on deaf ears. In order to survive in a world that treats them as less than human, many black women yearn to find that thread of light within themselves—that secret power to cast this thread in gold so that it can be resilient to the razor’s cut.

Contrary to Dr. Chavar’s statement, Black Girl Magic does not imply that we are different than any other human being. Neither is it restrictive in the sense of deeming black women as sub-human. Black Girl Magic is a term coined to outwit negativity that has plagued us for generations; a necessity to confront the odds against us.  In her essay, Tongues of Fire, bell hooks, discusses the history of critical affirmation, the need for black women to “tell it like it is” to protect ourselves against “the critical white world”.  According to hooks, self-critiquing became important in the eyes of many black women, especially mothers who feared if they did not punish their children accordingly, then their children would be susceptible to abuse and more intense punishment or criticisms from white people.  hooks reasons that while most of our energies went into the protection of ourselves and our off-springs by using harsh criticisms that might enable us to grow a thick skin, we lost the ability to affirm ourselves and others that look like us.  Black Girl Magic has turned this history on its head, giving more black women the audacity to tell the world that we are brilliant, beautiful, talented, ambitious, and competent; that we matter.

Therefore, Black Girl Magic is a proof of power. It is crucial to the development of the identity of the younger generation of black women.  Many young girls learn their culture’s social definitions of race at the same time they learn what gender behaviors are appropriate for them.  Black girls gradually come to understand the meaning of intersectionality, though they cannot articulate this or may never articulate this until college years or beyond.  As they develop as individuals, they do so while observing themselves as reflected in the eyes of others.  They begin to understand how others see them.  The most popular experiment conducted by psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clarke proves this to be true when over half the black children sampled chose white dolls as nicer than black dolls. This phenomena resonated with me. Not only has it rung true to my experience growing up as a black girl in Jamaica—a place still infused by post-colonial hierarchies of class and shade—but in my stories.

The summer when I finished my novel, HERE COMES THE SUN, I did a final read through, realizing the similar thread in the novel.  One of the main characters, Thandi, bleaches her skin, thinking it will increase her worth in Jamaican society—a society that has long given prestige to the lighter citizens of the ruling class. Thandi’s narrative is a testament of how culture informs how we see ourselves. It’s no coincidence also that my main protagonists are women. I wanted visibility of working class black women in our culture.   Most feel invisible, pushed to the margins of society and silenced. While rape, incest, and violence against women remain prevalent in Jamaica, like any other country, the focus tend to be on other issues that exclude them. Issues such as homosexuality, for example, takes precedence over the victimization of young girls in our country by older men. In the book, Verdene is the most reviled among the River Bank community as a gay woman while a known rapist and pedophile walks around town freely.  The notion “No one loves a black girl, not even harself” rings true. Very little has been done in society as a whole to make black women feel like we are women; like we are deserving of rights and empathy.  It was Sojourner Truth’s lament in “Ain’t I a woman”.  We have been there for black men, but rarely does this loyalty gets reciprocated. It was a group of black women who came up with black lives matter after a series of publicized police brutality, which led to the killings of black men. But while the black lives matter movement picked up velocity, black women who have been victimized by rape or domestic violence continued to be overlooked.  Who advocates for them? Thankfully, the “Say Her Name” hashtag took effect after the news of Sandra Bland’s arrest.

It was no surprise that Dr. Linda Chavers’s argument against Black Girl Magic garnered criticism on social media. Black women all over the internet reamed the author, saying “If we don’t have [Black Girl Magic], then what do we have?” I thought about this rebuttal some more and analyzed the very meaning behind it: What do we have if we don’t have the ability to believe in our own magic? As simple as this question seems, it transcends history, generations. For years we have struggled and have somehow managed, in our own way, to exist.  Surely, our mental health has come into question given that it is impossible to exude strength at all times. The strong black woman archetype is definitely a myth.  Like any other human being, we need help. We need to be cared for, listened to, affirmed. And since society has not yet embraced us as women much less as human beings, we embrace ourselves and call it magic.  For it takes a sort of supernatural power—a potent witch’s brew—to love ourselves when the whole world tells us otherwise.

Nicole Dennis-Benn

Excellence and the Bastard Child who calls herself a Writer

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(Art by Andrea Chung)

Only the fittest will survive. This Darwinian statement was the only thing I remembered from high school biology class, which was held in a room that had fetuses of different developmental stage—(“unwanted bastard children”, one friend jokingly called them)—floating in large jars of vinegar inside glass shelves in the back of the classroom. I remember looking at those jars—at the refracted light, the dust motes dancing in the sun rays coming in from the glass windows of the old Victorian building, the grainy reflection of myself, barely eleven years old—and thinking I would never make it. Not here.  In this jar. Not in Jamaica.

I knew instinctively that if I were to graduate and live in my country, I would wither faster than the rose bushes choked by the vines of Running Mary’s outside my classroom.  Back then I had developed anxiety that condensed in sweaty palms that I often rubbed in the front part of my uniform skirt. It probably looked like I was continuously pressing my pleats as if the iron and starch hadn’t done their share of the work. It was especially embarrassing in dance classes where the teacher—a woman who use to beat us with a wooden stick if we lacked coordination—would attempt to adjust my flexed or pointed toes and find them moist; or when I would slip on the polished floors because my feet produced its very own puddle.  I also had knots in my stomach every morning that teas and crackers made worse; and took lots of deep breaths, for I would always feel like I was drowning. These spells were like vapors, appearing then disappearing, though often.

I would come to find out that such anxiety was a part of being raised in a British common-wealth country.  The rules, the regulations, the staunch expectation of propriety, respectability, excellence.  You were made to feel like you were competing for something; made to feel like you would never be good enough. I was beaten by teachers at my primary school who thought eighty-five percent wasn’t good enough on a test; beaten whenever I was late; beaten if I wore the wrong earrings; beaten if I misspelled a word; beaten if I got an equation wrong (hence my lifelong hatred for Math); beaten if I dared let our dialect—Jamaican Patois—slip from my mouth; beaten if I had my hair braided—a style deemed too African for the British ideal.  One time I was exempted from beatings for a whole month because my father visited from America and slipped my teacher a hundred US dollars.

Sometimes I thought primary school children were just beaten for the black of our skin, for our working class status, and for our broad features that some of us had come to hate, wishing they were straight and fine and light like that of the invisible people in Britain dictating to us how to wear our hair and our uniforms with not a rumple in sight; and even how to stand and walk—as erect as the Buckingham Palace guards. The headmistress of my primary school, a Chinese woman by the name of Sister Shirley Chung, made us stand in the sun for hours after devotion as a form of punishment. To her, we were a group of rowdy black children deserving of such torture. In high school I had begun to imagine—after viewing an award ceremony at Jamaica House where a government official was getting knighted by the Queen—that Jamaicans were like the Queen’s horses, gritting our teeth, jumping over hurdles, and galloping over hills and across valleys, trampling each other for her approval—that British Honor of distinction and excellence.

Excellence was a word I’d come to hate, though innately I strove for it, subjecting my mind and body to torture reminiscent of the beatings I used to get.  There were times, for example, when I refused to eat until assignments were complete; times when I ripped out pages or deleted works that hadn’t gotten approval from others.  Deep inside, the ten year old girl was holding on to the fear of not being good enough; the fear of being lashed, if not with a switch, then with failure. In high school I was never awarded any certificates of excellence—an award given to exceptional students at my high school every November. I wasn’t tapped to be a part of School Challenge Quiz or things like that, which was the pride and joy of Jamaican children bent on being the perfect examples the elders wanted them to be. Pressured them to be.  I was an average student who never really sought leadership roles. The thought of Head Girl for the whole school was too reminiscent of Uncle Toms on a plantation. I just wanted to get by and get out.

The one thing I had going for me was my writing. I wrote for comfort. The words flowed as easily as my breathing that eventually slowed the calmer I became. I wrote in exercise books and hid them. There was something liberating in dictating the direction of a story, the fate of a character. I felt like God—though not the judgmental and prejudiced god from my understanding back then, based on the acts committed by people like Sister Shirley or my dance teacher who abused us in his name.  I was more inclined to mercy, because mercy was what I wanted, needed for myself. I didn’t know this then, but when I read my journals that my mother now keeps on her bookshelves as though they are published novels, I see them for what they were—elaborate fantasies of salvation.

Unlike most writers, English was not my favorite subject.  Not while living in Jamaica. In a country where true excellence is evaluated with practical subjects like Math and Science, English, like Art, was a guilty pleasure if taken seriously. It’s only use was to learn the tools to speak and write well—especially the latter since Jamaicans are expected to be ambassadors of our country wherever we go. God forbid we open our mouths elsewhere and Jamaican Patois spew out like vomit. For that reason, patois has always been forbidden in schools. However, since language is a huge part of culture, such regulation limits the speaker.  Moreover, I was never assigned books by Jamaican authors. To this day I cannot tell you who the influential Jamaican writers were at that time. I was reading Shakespeare, some of which I can still recite in my sleep, and dissecting themes in novels such as SHANE, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, CATCHER IN THE RYE, and a random book about a swamp and a lighthouse.  It was no surprise then that my characters were all white with no hint of our dialect when I first started writing stories. When I did attempt to write something true to my experience in a personal statement for my college application, I was told by my English teacher who also doubled as a college advisor that my writing would not get me anywhere.  “It won’t get you through the door. Write something more relevant.” She said, handing me back my essay with red ink all over it, and slamming that proverbial door in my face.  Of all the times I had been beaten in primary school for the sake of improvement so that I could be an exemplary citizen and student, I never cried. Not until that day when the one thing I found solace in was wrenched out of my hands and mangled with red ink.

I put down my pen and focused on the sciences. I wanted to defy those who never thought excellence could come out of the working class by getting into a good university. “But neither of your parents went to college,” I was told by the man in charge of helping Jamaican students apply for colleges overseas. “Your parents’ education determine where you’ll end up. And Cornell?” He laughed. “That’s not for you.”

I was as alone and lost as those floating fetuses—the unwanted bastard children—inside the jars in the biology lab. My mother had a habit of encouraging me to watch Profile with Ian Boyne and by pasting newspaper clippings around the house of successful doctors, business people, engineers, and lawyers who had gone off to England to study, returning to Jamaica as successful professionals—the epitome of excellence. I felt pressured to make my family proud. I never told them about the beatings in primary school or that I was discouraged to apply to the college I wanted to get into because of them. That year I pushed hard academically but was still not awarded a certificate of excellence.  It wasn’t the work itself that was hard, it was the competitive, classist environment that was stifling.

The lure of America began with a chill. I had gotten so overwhelmed that I took sick. It was then that I learned that there’s such a thing as psychosomatic illness.  My mother, desperate for answers, called my father and asked if he could do something.  And he did. I moved to America to live with him.  I could finally breathe properly, no longer having to take deep breaths to submerge myself under immense pressure. I was given time to acclimate to my new environment, before applying to the one school I wanted to get into. I submitted the same essay I was told wouldn’t get me through the door and was accepted early.  Someone must have liked it.  Furthermore, someone must have not cared that my parents didn’t go to college.  I encountered more acceptance of my work there than when I was back home. Ironically, Cornell University is known for its competitiveness and suicides due to the high standards set in place for its students; and yet, it was there that I thrived—on that hill surrounded by gray clouds with no sun.

One may argue that being a student in Jamaica with its demand for excellence and high standards had prepared me for my new environment; but I ended up losing a lot by erasing the bad memories. Grace Jones said it best in her memoir when she wrote, “Once I left Jamaica I had to wash all [the bad memories] away, brainwashing myself in a way…that viciousness took Jamaica away with it.”  I lived in exile for a while—a coping mechanism. It took many years to rid myself of the insecurities I developed being raised in a country that made me feel unwelcome, undervalued. When I finally came into myself as a writer, I found freedom in expressing myself.  My priorities finally shifted. No longer did I pledge allegiance to my country, but to the stories that I was called to write.  The sad part is I had to leave Jamaica to be reborn.

Nicole Dennis-Benn

Lost Ones

192_art_warfield_largePhenomenal Women by Margaret Warfield

Everyone remembers where they were the day Michael Jackson passed. If not, perhaps it was the dreariness of the dove gray June sky; or the unseasonal chill we tried to ward off, huddled together in windbreakers and spring jackets in Harlem at the Apollo Theater. We knew instinctively that we had lost a great entertainer—one of a kind. Same goes for Whitney Houston, James Brown, Elvis, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Amy Winehouse, and others who have impacted our lives; people who have provided soundtracks through our growing pains and victorious breakthroughs.  For me, dancehall artist, Lady Saw, though still alive, is one of them.  But hers is a tragedy steeped in the murky waters of religion.

Yesterday I woke up to the headlines all over social media. In bold words they seemed to shout, DANCEHALL QUEEN, LADY SAW BAPTISED.  I scrolled through my timeline, thinking it was a hoax. For years Lady Saw had been talking about recording a Christian album under her real name, Marion Hall. In fact, I saw her at a concert two years ago in the midst of this personal dilemma, humping the speakers on a stage during the first half of a performance then meekly emerging during the second half without a wig as Marion, singing about Jesus. It was like witnessing Jekyll and Hyde. I had hoped that this hoax—if it was a hoax—was just another one of the queen’s Jekyll and Hyde moments.  But when I saw the pictures of the baptism, I knew the story had to be true. The queen of dancehall—who I loved and respected as one of the first females to have broken gender barriers in dancehall—was wearing a white robe, and standing next to a pastor wearing a similar robe. Lady Saw had her hands crossed over her chest and eyes closed, appearing ready to snatch that last breath of queendom before going under the water.  She would emerge a humble servant of the one man she couldn’t cut down to size—God himself.

I stared at the pictures for a long time, unable to believe what I was seeing, and feeling a surge of loss.  Not quite sure why I was feeling this way, I closed my computer and played all of Lady Saw’s greatest hits.  Then it struck me. Lady Saw’s voice had resonated with me as a young woman who sometimes needed to be reminded of my strength. She was the auntie with the loose mouth who I could turn to when I was in need of advice that wasn’t quoted to me in a scripture.

If you know about Jamaican culture, you will know why I took this news so hard. A baptism is the end of the life of a woman—a Jamaican woman. This I learned while growing up.  I witnessed my aunts, my grandmother, other relatives, and many family friends who had found the Savior and had taken to saving others, though I was convinced as a child that they were the ones that needed saving.  All their talents and accomplishments and uniqueness were hidden under church hats with broad brims. I could no longer see their faces; and could no longer reach for their hands without the thrust of a small Bible or a pamphlet in return.

When I was in college, my grandmother had begun refusing my jewelry gifts for Christmas—watches that came in the Elizabeth Taylor White Diamond perfume set from Macy’s that she loved and used to treasure even after the batteries ran out. But my mother was the one who took me by surprise. Growing up with her, we only attended church on Easter Sunday. I was always comforted by the fact that I had a mother unlike other mothers who loved dressing up and going out. So when she visited New York last year and refused to go see a Broadway play with me, I felt like I was in a What Would You Do episode. This was the same woman who used to carry me and my siblings to the theater every year after Christmas. I made the mistake of asking my mother why she could not go to the play and to my chagrin, she replied, “I don’t go to the movies or plays anymore now that I’m baptized.” It took me a minute to process the letdown, the iceberg chip that melted in my chest. Right then she became a stranger, standing in the middle of my living room, appearing older now that she stopped wearing her beloved dangling gold earrings. Following her declaration, she twisted the knife further by telling me that because she was now a “serious Christian”, she could no longer stay with me and my wife like she had been doing for years. “I just can’t anymore. It’s wrong. God knows my heart,” she said. By then she had called my sister’s husband in Queens to come pick her up so that she could stay with them in their one bedroom apartment.

As a highly religious Christian culture, we have lost too many women that way—mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunties, friends—all of whom begin to look forward to the Day of Judgment, expecting its sweet relief. My aunt was one of the first ones in my life who I lost to religion. Like the church sisters she brought to our house for Sunday dinners, she completely purged from her life anything having to do with the secular world, which included nearly everything.  She stopped watching Love Boat and complained about television having no filters. I was secretly glad that she still liked brown stew chicken and even ate the bone better than any man. She sucked the eyeballs out of fish head too, though I held my breath plenty times, hoping she wouldn’t choke on conviction.

It is no surprise that in a country like Jamaica filled with many churches—one located every square mile of the small island—religion is taken seriously. And the Bible, more than any other book of fiction, is taken literally. The same Bible that was used to justify slavery and later, to appease slaves by telling them to “turn the other cheek” and “thou shall not covet” what should rightfully belong to them too, is the same Bible used to oppress women in our society.  A poor Christian woman with little or no education will cling to every word thrown at her from the pulpit.  They turn their rounded backs on the world, weighed by defeat, and throw meager pensions and life savings into cloud-filled dreams.

Of course, I cannot talk about Jamaican culture without addressing social class.  An upper class Jamaican woman, for example, might not be so bad. She might worship in a Catholic Church or an Anglican church, none of which demand their female members to wear hats to cover their heads or get rid of their favorite pants suits, though the restrictions and guilt might be the same.  But unlike a poor or working class woman in a Pentecostal, Seven Day Adventist, or Church of God church—who feels obligated to adhere to the rules of the only community she might have—an upper class woman who has the means to explore places outside Jamaica, reads widely, treats herself to adventures and excitement on the island even after her children leave for college, will most likely preserve her identity.

But one may ask how come Lady Saw, who now has the means of an upper class woman, could turn to religion. Yes, Lady Saw has worked her way up through the rigid class ranks of Jamaican society as a successful dancehall artist; but at some point she may have come to terms with the fact that she has to retire. As a product of a religious culture, Lady Saw’s only alternative to dancehall is gospel; and to sing gospel, one must prove their “anointing of the Holy Ghost”. Nevertheless, the woman who could hold her own among her male counterparts, going as far as being the first woman ever to close out Reggae Sumfest in 2015, will be missed. Known for her raw sexually explicit lyrics that somehow became anthems for women seeking power and control in their relationships, Lady Saw inspired me.  I might not appear to be the type to sing out loud the lyrics of songs like “Chat to me back”, “Sycamore Tree”, “Man is the Least”, “Hice it up”, and “Heels On”, but Lady Saw was to me what Tupac Shakur was to a lot of youth. Whereas some may argue that Lady Saw’s lyrics are crass, she’s the alter ego who gives a voice to women unable to voice their needs and demands in a culture that mostly caters to the needs of men.  In other words, Lady Saw inadvertently was a feminist—a new wave feminist who owned her sexuality and challenged men to respect it.  In fact, she challenged me to think about feminism in that light. Once a conservative feminist, I argued the detriments of the “male gaze”. I staunchly criticized Beyoncé for calling herself a feminist before I thought about the fact that as black women, we were socialized to be ashamed of our sexuality. Much of it was taken from us; and so we spent decades not thinking about it, much less claiming it. Lady Saw served as a reminder—at least to me as a Jamaican woman raised in a household of women who taught me to adhere to those gendered norms of female propriety—that I can be in control of my sexuality.

However, on December 15, 2015, Lady Saw left dancehall for good.  When Jamaican news outlets confirmed the queen of dancehall’s baptism, I wept as though she died. Mostly, I wept for all the women I had lost over the years to religion, including the one woman who let me down the most—my mother.  Lady Saw’s decision only reminded me of that pain.  But while it’s easy to blame the church and religion for the loss of people close to me, I know I have to look at the broader picture. I have to remember the shadow of hopelessness drawn over faces I have known for years.  I have to recall phone calls and letters telling me that there’s nothing to live for back home—that “Nutten nah g’waan.”  No opportunities for upward mobility. Church was the only answer.

So in that instant, I wiped my tears, reached for my phone and whatsapped my best friend in Jamaica. “I love you,” I typed. She replied with a smiley face and a question mark. “What a thing about Lady Saw,” I said. “Promise me that you won’t be next.” I didn’t get a reply. That morning, ironically, I prayed to God, asking Him to never let me lose another friend or family member again to religion.

Taking it all in~On Practicing Mindfulness on My Journey to Publication

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As my July 2016 publication date nears, I’ve been trying my best to practice mindfulness. It’s easy to live for marking off dates on the calendar. I’ve been guilty of this, my mind leaping over Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years to my publication date, July 2016, despite being immersed in a second novel.  It’s hard to be still when my dream is about to come true in a matter of months. Worse, I’m on Twitter and Facebook everyday where there are countless posts about whose novel is doing what. Although social media is a great way to market yourself as a writer, it can be detrimental too.  For every update about what other writers are writing, doing, and saying can incite anxiety. For example, in October when a friend told me to tune into a Jamaican radio station to hear them discuss the new Man Booker prize winner, I thought nothing of it until the journalist probed, “How can we make sure that Jamaica produces another Man Booker Prize winner?”  A feeling of dread shot through me. So now they’re going to treat literature like the Olympics? I stared at my computer screen—at my newly written chapters, and deleted them.

My anxiety persisted until later that month when I happened to share a table with award winning author, Dolen Perkins-Valdez of the New York Times Bestselling novel, Wench, at the Hurston/Wright Legacy Awards in DC—a prestigious gala that annually awards black writers for literary excellence.  “Take it all in,” said Dolen, who has been a great mentor to me, squeezing the message into my shoulder when I shared with her my angst. “This is the happiest you’ll ever be.  The process leading up to the publication of your first book is special. So take it all in. Remember it. Enjoy it. Don’t concern yourself with anyone else.”

Surely, it’s only human to have such anxiety. I call it “good anxiety”. I think about new mothers (which I hope to be someday) and their continuous stroking of their bellies where their hopes and dreams stir inside with every movement of a fetus that will need nine months to grow before it takes its first independent breath.  A book is like a baby. It takes time to write and time to get out into the world. I used to think that books just get put on bookshelves after you write it. But what I am learning is that such belief is analogous to a child thinking a baby was delivered overnight on a doorstep. And just like parents feel the world will be much better, brighter, with the joyous miracle about to be born, a writer feels the same about a first novel.

I made a mental note to do as Dolen said, enjoy my process.  After all, she is right.  This is my first book of many that will come; my first time walking into the Norton/Liveright building where I felt like a movie star; my first time being one of two writers invited to a publisher’s dinner with sales reps from all over the country who all gushed about my novel and who wanted to learn more about me; my first time being given a publicist whose name has appeared in acknowledgments of my favorite writers. I am, as Errol Dunkley would sing, a black Cinderella, I thought. This moment right here, might have a timer on it. So, why am I wasting time being anxious? Why am I stifling my creativity by listening to others talk about books that are already out there in the world? Why am I not trusting and reveling in my own journey? Why am I not working the ballroom floor in my jeweled gown like it’s about to be midnight and I have one last dance?

So in the month of November, I will enjoy the harvest:  I will spend my time writing new chapters and yes, making a grocery list for Thanksgiving. I will turn off Twitter and Facebook (except when I want to post something). I will spend more time with my wife, talking about other things besides my book.  I will mark down other events on my calendar like birthdays and readings and anniversaries. I will meet up with friends outside of the writing world and enjoy their company. I will spend time nurturing my students. I will read the books of my favorite authors and remember a time when I didn’t concern myself with their tweets or blurbs.

Lastly, I am reminded again of that scene in The Alchemist when the protagonist was tested. He was told to carry something on a spoon through a beautiful garden to get to where he wanted to be. But while he concentrated hard on making sure the content of the spoon didn’t spill on his way, he made the biggest mistake—he missed the beauty around him.  I want to be able to see the beauty around me now and savor it while I’m on my way to my destination.

Nicole