VONA/Voices: The Best Thing That’s Ever Happened to Me

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VONA faculty members lay down wisdom in a panel discussion about writing.

Last week was one of the best of my life, I think.

I spent the week at the University of Pennsylvania in writing workshops at VONA, where I mingled and sat at the feet (figuratively) of some literary greats, including Junot Diaz. My instructor was Reyna Grande, a Mexican writer whose memoir The Distance Between Us detailed her own journey crossing the border and how it affected her family.

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My instructor, Reyna Grande, reading material from her new, not-yet-published memoir. #sneakpeek

My piece—the first 20ish pages of my memoir—was workshopped on Monday, the first day of the week, which was nerve-wracking. I also happened to go last, after two of my colleagues’ great work was discussed, which compounded my heart palpitations even more. The feedback I got was brutal, but good: the child narrative voice I use in the early chapters limits what the reader can see if there is no accompanying adult reflection; also, my book’s overall theme didn’t ring through the early pages. Reyna’s personality was a little hard to read, and that made the workshop more difficult because I couldn’t put a confident “but she doesn’t actually hate my work” on it until the end of the week, after we’d opened up to each other a bit more.

I had a one-on-one meeting with Reyna, and that was invaluable. I mean, her lectures contained MFA-level material and the other workshops were great, but the one-on-one meeting allowed me to talk out some of the kinks in my story. I told her the basics of my story (my dad was a minister who was married four times and abandoned me and my older brother in favor of my sisters, with whom he had an inappropriately close relationship), and we discussed a short piece I wrote for her class, a letter to one of my sisters who made me feel like I didn’t belong in a most vulnerable situation. And that was the key—belonging. I knew that was a theme of my book, but I didn’t know how important it was until I spoke with Reyna about it. Therefore, having that 20-minute conversation with her changed the course of my book, and made me think that, maybe, I’ve got more than one memoir in me.

Reyna also had us write about our first time doing something, first about the physical experience, then about the subtext/what really happened underneath that physical experience. I wrote about my first (and only) time on a water slide. My mom took me on it when I was about 4, and it didn’t go so well. It was my first near-drowning incident. I wasn’t happy with the way I’d written the assignment, though, so I didn’t share it in class, but thought about it more once I got home, back to DC. Only yesterday, during a long walk to relieve some muscle stiffness, did I realize that the story wasn’t about my mom letting me go and me nearly drowning. It was about her putting me in harm’s way and not apologizing. It was about my needing to forgive my mother for everything that happened with my father. I had never thought about that EVER in almost 32 years, with all my focus going to forgiving my father and sisters. But forgiving my mother is equally important, and I was finally able to do that in my heart yesterday.

People say that VONA is life-changing, but I sort of thought they were full of sh*t, or at least way more touchy-feely than I will ever be. But VONA did more for me when I got home than it did the week I was there, and that is incredible.

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Renowned poet Patricia Smith and students shaking us up with a heart-wrenching poem about children’s concept of death. #blacklivesmatter

How I Survived My College Reunion

Sometime last year, after reading sensationalized, click-bait style essays on Thought Catalog and XOJane, I drafted my own, which I titled, “Going to Georgetown ruined my relationship with my family.” Which isn’t true.

This past weekend was my 10-year college reunion. Since I now live in DC, I took the bus or a Lyft to the tent parties held on campus to see people I hadn’t seen in that many years, or more. I was anxious to the point of abdominal bloating, which is really not helpful when you want to show off all the time you’ve spent holding minute-long planks over the past couple of years.

And those who know me even an iota know that I did not enjoy my time at Georgetown while I was there (the first or the second time). Undergrad was, by far, the hardest four years of my life, due to a bunch of factors, but mostly academic rigor that I wasn’t used to and socioeconomic weirdness.

The moment I stepped onto campus in August 2003, I knew that I was different from damn near everyone else there. I was poor. I was raised by my mom with little contact from my dad by the time I went to college. I would have to work while I was in school. I would not travel for spring break. I shopped at the Gap, not BCBG, and I only bought things on clearance because I couldn’t afford even sale prices. On top of that, I was Black.

The combination of everything I listed in the previous paragraph made me feel like the elephant in every single room I entered (though not physically: white girls still complimented me on how skinny I was, something that had been happening to me since eighth grade, and something that Black girls virtually never did or do). I was uncomfortable to a magnitude I didn’t know was possible for four years straight.

BUT.

I would do it all over again. Every single anxiety-ridden, self-questioning moment.

Why?

Because I was finally outside of my comfort zone, in a place where I had figure out who I was and where I wanted to belong because no one was there to tell me.

I was put off by the preppy lifestyle because I didn’t have the money to sustain it and it felt inauthentic, even in those who lived it every day of their lives. It seemed that most of them were hiding something; nothing crazy, most likely just dissatisfaction or unhappiness of some kind, neither of which I wanted. They were also not attracted to me, likely because we had so little in common.

I didn’t really fit in with many of the Black students in my class, either, though I’d been struggling with that since elementary school. In college, I was too conservative and not militant enough and had put my ‘hood roots safely behind me in my personal history book. Rather than aiming to be as “black” as possible, I decided to do and believe what felt right to me, and that definitely caused some friction.

I found that I fit in with the people I’d always fit in with: the misfits. The theater kids, the international students who were venturing to America for the first time, the Christians who drank and partied and loved Jesus with all their hearts, the girls who had never had boyfriends, the boys who were trying to figure out if they liked girls or not, the literary bunch, the Library kids.

But the kids I wasn’t friends with influenced me powerfully. From them, I learned about Earl Grey tea, the Parisian department store Printemps, art history, and how to become an investor. Obviously, these new things were the ones that stood out most when I went home to North Carolina. Asking for a cup of Twinings Earl Grey in a house that only has Lipton can be awkward, as with any growing pain.

Georgetown helped expand my world, literally when it afforded me the opportunity to study abroad in the UK, and figuratively. It made me aware that I am a global citizen, not just one of my city, state, and country. When I thought I was being quartered, I was really just being stretched so I could reach beyond boundaries of differences with empathy. I am who I am, and I am a better version of who I am, because of Georgetown, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

I was anxious that I would be seen as a Wall Street failure who got an MBA, but left the industry and had time to write a book since she’s kept by her corporate lawyer husband. But more than one of my classmates told me that I was “impressive” for having written a book. They said that they were proud that I was in their class, representing them well. I was blown away by their positivity and encouragement. I know I’m not supposed to need validation, but, hey, I’m a Millennial and I need a bone thrown sometimes. It made me feel good to know that I had done something that even I wasn’t sure I could do, and that my classmates respected me for it. I just hope not to let them, or more importantly, myself, down as my editing and publishing journey resumes.

 

There’s no place like home.

But, for the next two weeks, I’m on break. I’m letting my memoir breathe, as we writers say; that is, I’m allowing myself some mental distance from my manuscript so I’ll be able to edit it with a more objective eye. I’ll still be writing, but I’m going to catch up on reading and journaling, and try to do as much of nothing as I can. We’ll see about that.

Writing Wins (!)

This was a rare whirlwind of wins for me this week, and I just wanted to celebrate!

Memoir: I started editing my book!

If you might recall, several weeks ago, I met with a few literary agents who expressed interest in my memoir. One of them wanted me to send the first 20 pages of my manuscript and a synopsis. Well, this week I busted out a 600-word synopsis (for which I am now seeking feedback) and started macro-editing the first 20 pages. I used the book The Artful Edit by Susan Bell to get me started, and it has been so helpful, mostly in getting me to ensure that every sentence I include in my book is there on purpose.

Publishing: I was published in The Billfold!

I am in my second class with the delightful Michele Filgate, who I took for Creative Nonfiction online at Sackett Street and now freelancing at Catapult. When I submitted an essay to my class about my quest for financial security is in conflict with my life as a writer, Michele suggested that I pitch it to The Billfold. I did, thinking I wouldn’t even get a response, but I did, and my essay ran this past Friday! It’s gotten 66 recommends (!!!) and so many positive comments, I am really overwhelmed by how well-received it’s been! I mean, I guess the way I feel about people reading my work is a blogpost or essay in itself, but it is just crazy – I am so touched at the number of people who have said I’ve touched them!

Conference: I was accepted to the VQR Writers’ Conference!

Since my friend Lauren told me about summer writing workshops, I wanted to get my feet as wet as I could. Praise the Lord, I was accepted to VONA, which I was toppled over by, and then I was accepted to VQR on top of that, so I’m just outdone. Of course I’m looking forward to the instruction and networking, I’m honored that I was chosen to take part in these programs. I know they both get a lot of applicants, so it means the world to me that they thought I was worthy to be among them.

Talk about a winning week! I feel super boosted as a writer, and it has come at the right time: I’m approaching the 1-year mark of having resigned from my job in NYC, so I’m glad I’ve had some successes to make me question myself and my decision ever so slightly less. 🙂

Stop & Smell the Grapes

This past weekend, I went to San Francisco visit my friend LT, who is moving to Asia for a really cool job at a start-up. As a result, this blog post has nothing to do with writing, only wine.

We drove up to Sonoma and went did tastings at two wineries, Copain and Porter Creek. While I loved Porter Creek, the tasting at Copain was incredible, mostly because of the view:

But the chickens at Porter Creek were a hoot!

I bought entirely too many bottles of wine, but it was well worth it. It was sort of a pre-celebration: by the time you read my next blog post, I will have completed the first draft of my memoir. If that doesn’t call for wine, I don’t know what does!

Sociological Pickles of the Talented Tenth: House Hunting Edition

Backstory: my spouse and I both obtained bachelor’s degrees from Georgetown; I have an MBA from the same school, and my spouse has a law degree from Howard. When we lived and worked in NYC, we were basically in the 2% of income earners in the country (but NOT NYC because, well, billionaires). Essentially, we are blessed to say that we started from the bottom, now we’re here.

Pickle #1: One pondering that has particularly bugged me is, “Is it still gentrification if the people moving into the neighborhood are affluent Blacks?” My spouse and I debated this and ultimately concluded that the answer is both yes and no; yes, if your base assumption is class, and no, if your base assumption is race. As much as I enjoy buying chia pudding from Whole Foods, I don’t really see the ‘hood as “inferior in quality or value,” and my spouse and I tend to blend in pretty well on the surface in these neighborhoods, despite my Tory Burch flats and Longchamp bag.

Pickle #2: Basically, we have the choice of living in a lower-income area, like we did in NYC, or a higher-income one. Living in a lower-income area allows us to be 3-D models of DuBois’ Talented Tenth. Not Black Saviors by any stretch, but just role models for kids who want to be upwardly mobile on the economic ladder. It allows to be living, breathing Obama-ites, being the change we want to see.

Now, notice that I said that we have options. This means that, although we make a pretty good living, my spouse and I actually think about living in a neighborhood where people earn considerably less than we do. We take seriously the chance to live in a place where there are more renters than buyers, so property tax income is lower, therefore the schools aren’t so great.

I sort of only just realized the other day that not everyone takes the low-income option as an option. When I was chatting with a friend the other day, she said that she and her husband were moving to a nicer area of North Carolina, where the schools had some of the highest test scores and rate of free/reduced lunch was only 5%, meaning that most of the kids are middle- to upper-class. I don’t knock my friend AT ALL for thinking about this because it’s an important consideration. But I do find it interesting that my friend probably wouldn’t think to live in an area with poorer people because, even though she is woke, she is white.

Pickle #3: Given Pickle #2, whenever we look at a house in a higher-income (read: more white than other colors) neighborhood, I feel kind of terrible. While I have no fear of discrimination (though it’s a very real possibility), I fear that my kids won’t know authenticity. Although my kids would go to a great school, I think they’d be at risk of losing sight of their place in society, as children of two hardworking, well-educated Black parents who want them to give back to not just their community, but communities where people don’t give quite as much. I’m afraid of the level of entitlement that accompanies living an easier life; I want my kids to know struggle only because I want them to be strong.

I understand that all of these pickles are true first-world problems. They’re probably some sort of discrimination in their own way, but they’re still very present thoughts, and not recognizing them won’t make them go away. All I can hope is to be the best neighbor I can be, wherever that winds up being, and to teach my kids to do the same.

We Are All Horrible Human Beings

Last night, Rustin and I boarded the Metro after house hunting. We were discussing the house and trying to decide if we wanted to make an offer. It was a serious discussion, but we felt patient and lighthearted, and were having fun talking about it.

When we arrived at Union Station, an old homeless man got on the train, followed by several teenaged boys. The homeless man, who appeared to be either mentally ill or under the influence of something (maybe both), plopped into a seat with a clear trashbag full of clothes, leading me to believe he’d just left the hospital or shelter. The boys gathered in the seats around him, and one of them hovered over him, provoking him to hit him. The homeless man yelled so loudly for them to leave him alone that the whole train (which is usually pretty quiet in DC, one thing I love) went dead silent; earsplittingly silent aside from the screams of this homeless man to be left alone.

Since the whole train was looking at him, I thought the one boy standing over the man would get embarrassed and sit down. Instead, he taunted him more, even threatening the man’s life. The man pushed past him to sit in another seat, but the boy followed him, still mumbling provocations. Then, the boy punched the old homeless man in the head and nose until he bled. One of his friends took the man’s bag and opened it so all of his belongs fell on the floor of the train.

The other passengers huddled at the far end of the train, away from the crazy. We were supposed to get off at the next stop, and when we did, we called the cops to report what had just happened. The other passengers rushed into the next train car, and when I motioned with my hands for them to call the cops, too, none of them even looked my way.

As we walked, I told Rustin that it reminded me of a situation I was in once in high school. One of the kids who everyone knew was in Special Ed was sitting next to me on the bus home. One of the huge kids found it a good idea to start making fun of him and started punching him in the head as hard as he could. The boy was sitting right next to me, blow after blow falling on him, and I didn’t say anything. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to be associated with the “special” kid. I didn’t want the bully to say, “What? You like him or something?” So, I put my own piddling, insignificant social status above that kid’s safety.

I will never forget that moment because it showed me how horrible a human being I am. If any of us would allow that to happen to someone who is unable to defend themselves, we are all horrible.

When we got home last night, I remembered that it is Holy Week, the week in which Jesus was betrayed by one of his closest friends then executed, ultimately as penance for the sins of all humankind. I started praying and, as I did, my heart broke into a bagillion pieces. It broke for the old homeless man who could not defend himself. It broke for the boy beating him. It broke for the friends of the boy beating the man. It broke for the people who ran to the next train car at the next stop.

I wondered, how could we as a population have failed so many people? We’ve failed our poor. We’ve failed our youth. We failed ourselves, holding our own safety above that of another human being who is worth just as much as we are.

How could we as a society have let that boy get so calloused that he thought nothing of beating up a homeless person? Does he have nothing else to live for that he was so okay with going to jail, where he must know he will be treated unjustly as a young Black man?

How could we as a society have left that homeless man alone? He could have been killed and his blood would have been on all of our hands because we left him alone. Even if we didn’t jump on the boy who was beating him, there is so much strength in numbers that the man was safer with us there than in our absence. And we left him.

I repented for not doing anything more, for once again, holding my own safety more highly than another’s. I was again the 14 year-old-girl on the school bus, all the same at age 31. I pray that I actually become a better person instead of just talking about it.

There are no easy answers, and I know that I’m being hard on myself. I should—we all should. That’s the only way the world will change. That’s the only way the world will change, when we call out unacceptable behavior, including our own omissions.

Strong vs. Skinny

(Only Kenny O’Neal can capture how I feel after I go to the gym: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7mnjiOPKGE)

Today, I was released from the sports doctor.

I’m sure that means nothing to you, but, to me, it means that the pain in my lower back/hip/glute area is now healed, or at least manageable without professional help. And that I amazing!

Going to the sports doctor makes me feel important, like an athlete, because they’re not just any old doctor, they’re a sports doctor, which means they work with athletes and if they’re working with me, that means I’m an athlete. 😀

I found eating burdensome as a kid, so I didn’t do it until I absolutely had to. This meant that I was teased mercilessly for most of my childhood with every insult you could think of (“You could hula-hoop through a Cheerio!” “Are you from Ethiopia, like on the commercials?”). I hated being skinny because my peers made me feel awful for it.

Once puberty struck, I started eating everything in sight, but I maintained a wicked fast metabolism, so all the crap I did eat never stuck to me.

Around eighth grade, something flipped. Suddenly, everyone (or at least the white girls) wanted to be skinny. Then they would tell me, “Vonetta, you’re so lucky. You don’t have to exercise at all!”

And I believed them. I considered myself lucky. What more did I need than being a size 0?

I knew I could be a model – the industry loves skinny girls, and it’s the only place where a skinny black girl could find some affection (if selected for a show at all despite the color of her skin, of course). I never pulled the trigger on starting a modeling career, and by the time I was old enough to try to take matters into my own hands, I was too old (like, 17) and had lost interest.

But during my senior year of college, I was chosen to model in Georgetown’s annual fashion show. I thought it would be fun to finally use the years of model-walk practice to use.

At rehearsal, I put on my high, high heels and started down the carpeted “runway,” a path between some desks in an empty classroom. I came to the end, stopped to pose but hesitated for some reason, and felt a small bump in my knee. I didn’t think anything of it, and continued walking in rehearsal.

The fashion show was scheduled for just after spring break. I’d planned to stay on campus and work that week, to make extra money. When I woke up on Monday, I could hardly walk.

I limped to the library for my eight-hour shift, almost all of which I spent sitting because my knee was in so much pain. The pain didn’t go away the next day or the next or the next. I swallowed Advil every few hours to take the edge off, but the pain wouldn’t go away.

I panicked. How was I supposed to walk in the show when I wanted to tear my leg off?

As luck would have it, something happened with the university and the Fashion Club had to cancel the show.

Which meant that I had injured myself for nothing.

The pain had gone away by the time I could get into the doctor’s office almost two months later. But it came back when I took a mile-long walk a month later. The pain went on and off like that for years before I finally saw a physical therapist who told me that the reason for the pain was that I was weak.

So, I was skinny. But I was weak.

What was the point of being skinny if body parts would start to hurt? Would I be physically able to carry a baby if I became pregnant? Would I fall and break a hip and not be able to recover because I didn’t have enough muscle around my joints?

I’d started exercising when I was 25, but I didn’t get intense with weight lifting until I got a trainer when I was 29. I’ve spent the past two years building strength I never had. As a result, I have no more knee pain at all.

Of course, with exercise comes bumps and bruises if you don’t do things right, hence how I wound up at the sports doctor recently. But working out prevents far worse future injuries. Which I was something I didn’t know or fully understand before.

Being skinny is great, but being strong is so much better. I weigh more than I ever have, but I’m firmer. When I lift weights, I genuinely feel like I’m taking good care of myself, now and in the future. I implore you to do the same.

The War for Home

I lived in 13 houses/apartments before I turned 16.

Some of those were nuclear family moves from a small house to a larger one, but lots of those occurred after my mom left my dad and we stayed with friends or relatives for a while. As a result, I didn’t have my own room, really, until I was 15. A few years after my parents divorced, my mom bought a house, and I finally, after years of unfulfilled promises, had my own room. All that said, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I hate moving and I’ve always wanted my own home.

When I got a job in DC after college, I had one weekend to find a place to live and another weekend to move into that place before I started work. I landed in a studio apartment downtown, on 12th & M, and intended to move when my lease was up the next year because the rent was crazy expensive relative to my income (about 50% of my paycheck rather than the finance-guru-advised 30%). But the psychic pain that accompanied the thought of moving (along with my not having any extra money to do so) and the desire for stability kept me in that apartment for 6 years. Only relocating to New York dislodged me from my studio.

My husband, on the other hand, has had the exact opposite experience. Until he went to college, he lived in two houses, the second of which his family moved into when he was 2 years old. As an adult, he bounced around from apartment to apartment, usually seeking cheaper rent or nicer amenities.

So, the four years we spent in our New York apartment were deeply treasured by both of us: him, for the stability of creating a home as a married couple; me, for not having to move from one place to another.

When we decided to move back to DC, we chose to get an apartment for a year and begin the search for our forever home, the place where we would raise our children and have family over Thanksgiving dinner and invite friends over for cocktail parties.

But the DC real estate market slapped us across the face and told us to quit dreaming.

The sticker price on something we’d consider a “forever home” in the District is approximately $2 million over our current budget. So we said, let’s get a starter, something we’ll stay in for five to seven years, then pray that it appreciates well enough (and we hit the lotto) that we can move into said forever home.

Last week, we found the perfect starter. It was in Brookland, an area of DC that neither one of us had hung out in, but we realized was actually really cute. It was a detached house (DETACHED!) in the city (IN THE CITY!) with grass (GRASS!) and a screened-in porch (PORCH!). We both saw our future selves raising our kids there in that city farmhouse (FARMHOUSE!). So, we bet the farm, went all in on an offer and even offered slightly more than would have been prudent for us to pay.

And we lost.

Someone out there wanted our city farmhouse so much more than we did that they bet not only the farm, but the contingencies that would ensure that the farm was worth what they were betting.

So, we lost a bidding war for a home. The thing that I’ve sought out for such a long time, the thing that my husband is so used to, neither one of us could get.

Well, not this time. There will be other houses. We will be comfortable. We will be stable.

So help us God, we will make our home.

Daddy’s Little Girl All Over Again

I’ve reached a pivotal point in my memoir, the summer of 2008, when I was 22 and pure curiosity led me into (and kept me in) a [sort of] relationship that would up being really, really awful. I did not want to write about this time period or this particular individual—who for the sake the of this blog post I’ll call Dean—because I didn’t want to give Dean any credence and I was happy having convinced myself that none of it had really happened.

But as I thought about the themes that have appeared in my story—desire for belonging and acceptance, finding confidence in who I am regardless of what others think or say of me—it only made sense to include my two-month relationship with Dean. You’ll definitely read more in the book, but Dean was a guy I met through an online community. We hung out once at a club, literally dancing the night away, and were attracted to each other. We were pretty different with respect to virtually everything—political views, religious views, values, time and money management—but I was willing to cast all of that aside because I liked Dean and, quite frankly, I was curious as hell about what went into being in a relationship in general.

Dean and I had a great time for few weeks, until he broke up with me via text message (TEXT MESSAGE), saying that we were too different so we shouldn’t date, but we could be friends. I, for some reason, went along with that suggestion, assuming it meant that we would hang out and talk as friends. But we never hung out again or talked, only emailed about really personal things. As I shared some of my deepest secrets in the written word, I felt closer to Dean and myself, being vulnerable to us both. Ultimately, Dean used my vulnerability against me, becoming the “moral police” who indicted me for everything I did wrong, including shopping with a credit card and making a joke about wanting a cigarette.

I was livid at Dean for about six months, and even then, I wasn’t sure why I was so angry. Writing this book now helped me see that, like my dad, Dean made me feel like being my imperfect self wasn’t enough. He called me an imposter, something that I still struggle with to this day despite my vehement argument to him, and myself, that I was and still am being authentic. He refused to accept me for who I was, and because I was only 22, that made me question myself and shook my confidence more than it had been shaken since I was a little girl. Dean made me feel the way my father made me feel, and I hated him for pushing me back in time to emotions that I had buried so deeply.

I met my husband shortly after the end of the six-month lividity period. When Rustin accepted my flaws, I thought I was being punk’d (and I still do sometimes, don’t say anything), but I relished in the freedom. All my life I’ve wanted the people I love and just plain like to love or like me for me, which makes me feel worthy of being loved or liked. My dad made me question that worthiness, Dean made me question that worthiness, but Rustin left me speechless.

The Fears Prompt

I don’t want this to be known as “The Fear Blog,” but fear is a theme that keeps coming up in my writing life that I was not expecting. I wasn’t expecting for it to be so consistent or pervasive. I’ve been stomping on fears one day after the next until last week…

As I’ve mentioned, I’m taking an online workshop with Sackett Street Writers, and it’s been a delightful experience so far. At the end of each lesson, there is a prompt of some sort to get to us to exercise whatever craft element we just learned about. Last week, our topic was “The Uncertain Self: Writing What Scares You.” In truth, I mostly blew my nose at it, until I got to the prompt, which was: “Make a list of ten things you’re ashamed of, or scared of, or feel vulnerable about. Pick one of those topics and write a short essay.”

Now, I tell myself that I am fearless (out of faith that one day I will be so; if you’ve read even one post of this blog in the past six months, you know that this is currently far from true), so thinking of ten whole things that scare me seemed impossible. Until it didn’t.

The biggest thing I feel vulnerable about is my career. Aside from tangential mentions of my last job experience in an essay or blog post here and there, I have largely avoided discussing the jungle-gym that makes up my resume. Because of that writing exercise prompt, I was finally able to write down on paper—with a pen, not even erasable pencil—that I felt like a failure because I couldn’t “cut it” in an investment job.

There was so much freedom that came with confessing this truth to myself. Instead of stomping on the truth to overcome it (or just look past it), I looked at this one. I made myself stare at the words on the page. I felt 20 pounds lighter.

I wish I could say that after looking the word “failure” for 30 seconds, I suddenly ran off to finish my memoir and bang out, like, 80 essays that I immediately submitted for publishing, but that’s not what happened. I wish I could say that I still don’t feel the sting of failure every day. But I do. But I’m glad that I can name the giants that I am facing. That way, one day, I’ll be able to clearly write their names on their tombstones.