I had the most literary Valentine’s Day of my life! So full of love and literature.
First, my newest essay, “Like Breathing,” was published that morning in Barrelhouse Magazine! It was featured in a special issue called, “I’ve Got Love on My Mind: Black Womxn on Love.” The featured image of this post is the cover, “Softness is a Radical Act,” by Donyae Coles.
“Like Breathing” is the hardest essay I’ve ever written. It started with a prompt while I was at the VQR Writers Conference back in 2017. Anne Helen Petersen, my workshop facilitator, asked, “What are you an expert in?”
“Fatherlessness,” I joked with myself. But then I started writing what exactly that meant.
As a child, I felt that I—and many other women in my family—were exceptionally good at being without a father, in that that was the situation for most of us, for most of our lives. For me, that manifested in this acute discomfort in my body, and at the start of puberty, one can imagine it was that much worse. So, I took that physical and emotional discomfort, and I put it in a place where everything is likely to explode: the mall. I put it in present tense because I wanted the reader to be in the moment with me, and I put it in my kid voice, to emphasize that feeling of present-ness.
I submitted versions of this essay to a little over 20 outlets over the past two and a half years. I got 10 passes (what I prefer to the word “rejections”), and I pulled it from nine in order to make more revisions and avoid more passes.
One thing editors couldn’t wrap their brains around was the fact that it was in present tense, with a young narrator. This isn’t something I invented; I’ve read it elsewhere before, so I knew there wasn’t anything inherently wrong with doing it that way. It came down to finding the right editor.
Luckily, the guest editor of this special issue was Tyrese Coleman, someone who wrote a whole book of essays that sat on the cusp of real, true story and fiction. She got me. The issue is about Black womxn and love: the need for it, the have it, the exploration of it, the wanting to be rid of it. It couldn’t have been a more perfect fit. (Oh, and just to clarify, it was “womxn” since some authors are nonbinary and the word “women” is inauthentic for them.)
Needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway, I am so thrilled that this essay is out in the world!
So, Valentine’s night, my spouse and I went to Love Lit, a reading headed up by Tyrese here in DC. And it was amazing! There must have been nine readers, three of each who covered love gone well, love gone poorly, and, well, sex. And there was a burlesque dancer and all!
But the thing that I took away from it was that my literary community is strong and so deeply loving. More than one person there told me they loved my essay, and I couldn’t believe they’d taken the time to read it the same day it came out. I was truly overwhelmed with love.