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

img_1029

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.

img_1035

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.

img_1038

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

FIRST DRAFT DONE!!!

The first draft of my memoir is done!!!!

I wrote the last word on Friday, May 12, 2017 at 11:10am.

Final word count? 208,230 words. 595 pages.

So, I have quite a bit of editing in my immediate future.

While it feels amazing to have gotten the first draft out of the way, it’s a little surreal: I spent 10 months (well, nine, really since I lost about a month to the NYC to DC move and related planning/packing/unpacking) writing the story of my existence, from my earliest memory until just after my 30th birthday. I have a record of my whole life, basically, and that is just wild, if you think about it.

This is a bratty thing to say, but completing this first draft doesn’t feel like quite the accomplishment that it should be. Probably because I’ve written first drafts of books before, in middle school, high school, and college. None of those novels were anywhere near as long as this memoir draft, and I did not devote all of my time to them the way I did this book.

So I have to remind myself that this project has been special for a number of reasons: it commemorates my father’s life, the person that I became because of him, and people in my life who helped me become a better person in his absence. It is also the first book that I’m serious about, and will actually edit and query agents. (I went through the querying process with my college novel. I sent 10 letters, received 9 rejections, then gave up.)

My next step? To let this sucker breathe and to not think about it for a while.

I’m going to VONA Voices in June, so by then, I think I will be ready to tackle the Everest that editing this book will be. My plan is to whittle the 200k+ pages down to roughly 85k.

Yes, I plan to remove approximately 123,230 words—well more than half the book—that I spent almost a year getting down on paper. Writing is a tough business. Dems da breaks.

I’m not sure what’s next for me after my memoir. Editing will take several months and will be just as time-consuming as writing because editing is writing, but then I have to figure out what I’ll do afterwards. More writing? Go back to the corporate world? I have no idea. Let’s see what happens!

But for now, I rejoice and I edit.

Pitching to Agents: the Most Nerve-Wracking Exercise of My Writing Life

This past Saturday, I attended Books Alive!, the Washington Independent Review of Books writers conference held annually in the DC area. While there are panels and talks like every conference, the thing about this conference that attracts so many attendees, I think, is the chance to pitch your book to agents. I met with four of them: by far the most nerve-wracking exercise of my writing life.

I’ve been working on my book pitch for months, since before AWP in February, but I was still really nervous. What if I left something out? Or worse, what if I forgot my lines? Or even worst, what if they interrupted me with a question about my book that I didn’t know the answer to?

All of the agents would be sitting at desks in the room, and it would be very similar to speed dating, not unlike what I’d done with editors at the Barrelhouse conference the week prior. We got six minutes with the agents to deliver our pitch, ask any questions we might have, and to basically see if we hit it off or not.

As I entered the room for the first time, my heart nearly blasted out of my chest.

I sat in front of my first agent, a girl who seemed about my age, maybe even younger, actually. She introduced herself to me, then asked what I was writing. I said, “Should I just jump into my pitch?” My hands were shaking. She said, “Sure.” And I did. I delivered my pitch! I didn’t forget my lines! I didn’t choke!

“You did great!” She said.

“I feel so much better,” I said, audibly exhaling.

Then she said my story sounded interesting and she asked me to send her my first 20 pages and a synopsis! It’s a big deal for an agent to ask to read pages; they can decide later if they’re not interested, but their request for pages shows initial interest.

WOO-HOO!

My second meeting went well enough. The agent was nice, but she doesn’t really represent memoir unless the author is a celebrity or has a really extensive platform. Same for my third meeting.

But the fourth one requested pages, too! She was really conversational, and after I’d given my pitch three times, I was nowhere near as nervous, so I imagine that helped.

So, two out of four agents requested pages. 50% is not bad at all!

My next step is to edit the beginning of my book to make sure it’s a real hook/line/sinker. Progress! 😀

Speed Dating with Editors: My First Time

I attended Barrelhouse’s Conversations & Connections writer’s conference this past weekend, and I found it immensely helpful. The panels and keynote readers were amazing, but the thing that drew me to this conference was the chance to do Speed Dating with Editors from literary magazines across the country. Since I’m still relatively new to the literary scene, I’d never met any editors about my work, so I was both nervous and excited, and I had no idea what to expect.

Since we only got 10 minutes with each editor, I brought a piece that was very short (less than 400 words), so they could read really snappily. This short piece was sort of experimental: all dialogue, recalling a conversation that I repeatedly had with my mother in which she would tell me to call my father, and then a short convo with him.

I chose to do the piece exclusively in dialogue because the setting and gestures were not important to those conversations. It was more to display how the pain of fatherlessness played out in my life on a day-to-day basis, which was through my mother unintentionally constantly reminding me of the fact that I was not close to my father. The conversations with my dad were always short because, while he was friendly, he never showed the appropriate amount of interest in my life, so it hurt to talk to him.

Even without narrative or real prose, these ideas come across clearly in the dialogue. But I know that a flash non-fiction piece made up of just dialogue is very different from what is typically seen in the industry these days, so I was excited to hear what the editors had to say about it.

The first person I met, a man, did not get it at all. He told me that there was no story in my piece, that just because people are talking didn’t mean that anything was happening, and if I’d watched this in a movie, it would be pretty boring, wouldn’t it? He said that I needed more drama—the father missing the graduation would be much more interesting. This editor failed to give me any concrete advice, so I have no idea what he would have wanted me to do to make it better. In truth, it felt like working for one of my old bosses again. It really sucked for that to have been my first meeting with an editor. But I shook his words off, got Peruvian chicken for lunch, then met with my next person.

The second person, a woman, actually laughed out loud at the funny part of the story! I was thrilled! Then she said she really liked it! She gave me great suggestions, such as changing the title to something more emotionally evocative and to add, not narrative, but a meditation at the end that sounded almost like rhythmic poetry. Then she told me to send it to her when her magazine’s submission period re-opens! (EEEEkkkk!!!) I made those changes today, and I can tell you that I feel so much more confident about the piece. I pray that her journal takes it because it would be amazing to be published in it.

The third person, also a man, didn’t laugh out loud, but liked the risk of an all-dialogue piece and suggested that I make the piece even longer or more experimental. He didn’t embrace it with open arms, but he still seemed more accepting than the first guy, and that was really all that mattered.

I was seeking some level of validation by meeting with three editors, and I think I got what I was looking for. Reiterating, meeting with that first editor was absolutely awful and was so reflective of my work experience that I really wanted to give up, right then and there. But thank God other people understood me and my work, and proved that I and my work matter. I’m holding on to that feeling tight because I’ve got my first meetings with real literary agents about my book on Saturday, and I cannot wait.

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.

I Wanna Go Deeper

This weekend, I submitted an essay to be included—if selected—in an anthology about the role of writers in our current political environment. And then I tossed and turned all night in between nightmares about spelling and formatting errors. Suffice it to say, I was a little anxious about submitting my work.

The normal thing to say here is that I was nervous about my work being judged or that I wouldn’t win the contest, so to speak. But, if there’s anything you’ve learned about me over the past few months, dear reader, is that I’m not *that* normal. I was anxious because I knew in my writer’s brain that the authors of the chosen essays went into the cavernous pits of their subjects and that I had not gone deep enough.

I’d asked for feedback on my essay from one of my memoir instructors at Gotham Writers Workshop in New York (and I cannot thank this instructor enough for taking the time to give me feedback, and while she had been sick, to boot!). One of her suggestions was to tie my personal story with the universal theme of the essay more closely. I’d upended the entire draft, accomplishing to the best of my ability what she’d explained, and I’d felt great about it…for about 12 hours, and many of those were spent sleeping.

As I re-read my work, I could feel my author self floating on the surface of the topic. I’d chosen to write about the trauma of one of my best friends dying, so I attribute some of the shallowness to that; I don’t particularly like re-living hurtful events, so my mind must have gone into a protective stance to allow me some distance as I discussed the trauma in writing. (I’m not going into detail about the piece because I just submitted it and don’t want to give anything away to the editor in a Google search.)

“Come on, Vonetta, you can go deeper,” I told—no, scolded—myself.

Why couldn’t I delve further into events that are eternally burned on my brain? Why couldn’t I remember some of the things my friend said to me that would have broadened the essay to a truly universal point? What was I afraid of?

I searched my mind for answers. It told me: The topic is painful and I don’t want to do that right now, and also, I feel inadequate. Do I really have the talent—yes, talent is necessary to join in matrimony personal and universal truths—to participate in this? Nope.

So, friends, that’s where I am today, sitting in front of my laptop, trying to prove my Imposter Syndrome wrong.

Today, I’m going to read to give my writer’s brain a little break. Reading other people’s work gives me perspective on my own. This is not to say that I compare my work to other people’s; reading boosts my sense of empathy. It allows me to put myself in other people’s shoes, which, in turn, allows me to better understand myself.

Right now, I’m reading Donna Johnson’s Holy Ghost Girl, a memoir about a girl who travels with a tent revival group in the 1960s. My life is pretty different from Johnson’s (aside from all the Jesus; I had a lot of Jesus growing up), but reading her story is helping me identify some of my deepest unknown desires, such as recognition by parishioners for being the child of a pastor and the power that that position holds.

See—I’m making progress already. Take that, Imposter Syndrome.

AWP17 Recap: Writing Tips, Crisis Catalyst

Two weeks ago, I attended my ever first writers’ conference!

The Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference & Bookfair is a huge affair, with 12,000 writers, editors, publishers, and agents descending upon a city to talk art and the business of art. There are easily 25 panels going on during each time slot from 9am to 5pm, AND THEN there are after-hours events, where the magic (of networking) happens.

I went to soooo many panels, and they were pretty helpful overall. Here’s some tips that I picked up that I found immeasurably beneficial:

  • “Memoir isn’t about what happened; it’s about what the f*ck happened,” said novelist and memoirist Dani Shapiro, quoting a teacher she’d once heard. That is to say, memoir isn’t just about what happened to you, it’s an examination of the impact on what happened to you, and what was going on in the world. That’s part of what makes memoir universal: the common bits beneath the extraordinary story of each individual.
  • Think about jazz as you balance scene and reflection, suggested memoirist Marie Mockett. There’s a certain momentum created in the reader similar to that which a jazz band creates in its listeners, and music listeners know when the solo should end. Try to avoid getting the reader to the point of “Could the drummer please just stop already for the love of God???” by modulating reflection with scene and vice versa.
  • Don’t worry about how you will end your memoir since you’re not dead (and I hope you’re not if you’re reading this). Ask yourself, “What is the ending for now?” You could feel the crowd ease in their chairs when Mockett said, “Remember that a book is a made thing. It’s not actually you, it’s a composition, and you are in charge of that composition.”
  • Avoid revealing too much about minor characters in your memoir, and keep the focus on places rather than people. This will keep the real people in your life from being insulted (if they would be) by the way they’re portrayed in your story.
  • The voice of innocence relays facts; the voice of experience explains and deepens those facts with metaphor and spirituality. The voice of innocence isn’t necessarily your kid voice; it’s the voice you use at the point at which something is happening to you. The voice of experience comes in at any point after that thing has happened and interprets what the events mean in the grand scheme of things.

See? So helpful, and that was just the tiny, tiny tip of the iceberg.

After three days of conference action, I was exhausted, not just physically, but mentally, too. Looking around at the other conference attendees, I felt kinda small.

So many people who attend AWP have MFAs from prestigious universities and/or are critically-acclaimed published authors, like Shapiro and Mockett. I only just started writing a memoir 7 months ago after leaving a job in finance, an industry that couldn’t be more opposite to the literary world — how was I qualified to sit at the same table as respected authors? I felt like an imposter. Sure, I’ve been writing since I was 12, but I’ve also always loved business. I’ve loved concreteness, disambiguity, and seeing things as black-and-white, not grey, since I was a little girl. In one session, one of the panelists said that she lives in the grey because “the story is found in the ambiguity,” and, I swear, my skin crawled. I felt that I did not belong in this crowd.

I shared my feelings with my poet friend who was in town for the conference and my husband, and both of them said I was being ridiculous. Everyone has the right to write, they said.

Giving myself a good talking to, I remembered that I have a story to tell and I’m telling it, and that is perfectly acceptable. I’m trying my best to tell my story well; I want to be good at whatever I do, of course. I just have to be confident. There’s no room for feeling unworthy when you’re trying to tell others that they are. I just have to keep on trucking until I finish telling all the stories I have to tell.

Fear of Re-Rejection

I’ve faced the obstacle of fear one too many times while writing this memoir.

“What is it now?” You might be asking. “You’ve already talked about fear of your family not being pleased with your book; what the devil is it now?”

Glad you asked.

Last week, I was writing about my sophomore year of college. It wasn’t a year in which I spoke to my father a lot, so much of this writing focuses on the underlying impact that our lack of relationship had on me. That means that I’m writing more about my relationships with my friends and with guys that I was interested in (who were, of course, not interested in me. But that’s alright now.) As I sat down to write a scene in which I had a conversation with one of these crushes, my heart started pacing so badly that I had to leave my co-working space, come home, and have a fig bar and some tea. THAT BAD.

It took only about half the cup of tea (though all of the fig bar) for me to realize that the ickiness in my stomach, the sensation of bugs crawling on my flesh, was actually fear.

Why would I be afraid of writing about a conversation that happened over ten years ago, that is now so inconsequential, that I practically got hives?

Part of me believes that the visceral reaction is an answered prayer. I have prayed multiple times for God to let me feel the same feelings that I felt back then so that I can properly express them in writing. But with those sensations come the fear of being rejected all over again.

Yep, I said that.

It is a fear of being rejected by that same guy all over again.

“But, Vonetta,” you might be saying, “you already know what’s going to happen!”

Exactly! That’s the problem! I know that I’m going to get rejected and it is incredibly embarrassing.

“But, Vonetta, you’re married to wonderful man!”

I know, I say, shaking my head slowly. But that doesn’t change how I feel every time I think about that conversation.

This left me with a couple of options. I could either (a) skip that part and continue pretending none of it ever happened or (b) swallow my pride, face my fear, and write the damn scene so that others can gain a measure of comfort from my embarrassment and be a little bit soothed by my vulnerability.

I understood that (b) was my only option, but, man, (a) was really tempting. But I wrote it out, wincing all the while, and I got through it. I felt the feelings again, and they sucked again, but everything is okay now, just as it was then. I don’t know why I didn’t tell myself back then that being rejected by one guy wasn’t the end of the world. But that’s the benefit of hindsight and one of the easiest parts of writing a memoir. The hard part is believing that the future will wind up being okay, too.

 

I Want to Possess My 14-Year-Old Body Today

How many times have you wanted to go back in time and change a thing or two?

That is one of the most frustrating things about writing memoir: you relive all of these memories, but you can’t change a damn thing.

Lately, I’ve been reading my old journals to make sure that I’m representing my voice accurately in the age that I’m currently writing about. It’s taken all of my strength to prevent me from vomiting while I read—my 12-year-old thoughts were so freaking cringe-worthy!

I captured nothing remotely relevant in terms of emotional depth or anything that would actually help me write my memoir now, unfortunately. For example, when my parents got divorced, I didn’t include how I felt about it or what implications I thought the event might hold on my future. I legitimately only wrote, “Daddy sent the pink slip. But I’m okay with it.” Then talked about some boy! *Eye roll*!

There’s so much shyness, awkwardness, beating-around-the-bush-ness in these pages that I wrote over 15 years ago, that I—31-year-old Vonetta—want to jump in and say something. I don’t want to go back and re-do things that 15-year-old Vonetta would do; I just want to possess her body like a spirit and say whatever 31-year-old Vonetta would say now.

When I was 14, I had a mutual crush with a guy who went to my church. We told each other in letters passed by other people that we liked each other, but we never went out or dated like normal teenagers. We could barely even speak to each other. For example, I recorded on Sunday, June 11, 2000 that “we had lots of almost conversations” at church that day. It wound up being the most words we’d ever speak to each other and consisted of the following (and, yes, I was that creepster who kept detailed records of conversations with boys, but not of her feelings about her parents getting divorced):

Conversation #1
Guy (whispering): Tell my sister to shut up.
V: Girl, your brother said shut up.

Conversation #2
Guy: What time is it?
V: Huh?
Guy: What time is it?
Sister: 12:10.
V: 12:10.

Conversation #3
V (thinking aloud): That’s what I forgot.
Guy: What?
V: I forgot to eat dinner last night.

31-year-old Vonetta wants to ask the guy to pick me up from my house and take us to the mall, where all the normal teenagers hung out in the late 90s/early 00s. I’d also hold him to his promise to buy me a watch for my birthday and demand that it be a damned nice one because I was turning 15 and didn’t want no Mickey Mouse rubbish (and I’d do with atrocious subject-verb agreement and the double negative). I’d sniff his shirt after he had played basketball and tell him he smelled good because I thought he did, even though to every other nose in the immediate vicinity, he smelled horrible. Instead of tapping his arm to get his attention, I’d hold it in both hands and scratch his skin lightly.

BUT I wind up sighing and reminding myself that everything that I didn’t do as a teenager helped make me into the cynical so-and-so I am now.

Without silence, I wouldn’t have so many words. Without hurt, I wouldn’t be able to laugh so hard at myself. Without awkwardness, I wouldn’t have confidence. Without my dreams, I wouldn’t have had a “type” to see if could be found in real life. Without so many unrequited crushes, I wouldn’t have realized that I am a diamond-in-the-rough weirdo who was worthy of being loved by the right one (presumably, my spouse, the only man who ever thought I was cool in spite of my inherent weirdo-ness).

I started writing fiction around the same time I started journaling, in seventh grade. Middle school is a time when a lot of things happen to kids, internally with puberty and all, and externally with everyone reacting to puberty and all. I didn’t know it then, but fiction was a way for me to create the reality that I wanted.

No guys were seriously interested in me until I was 22 (which I didn’t know when I was 12, obviously), but through writing, I could create whatever relationship I wanted with whoever I wanted, typically someone who didn’t exist. That might sound unhealthy, but I think it helped me create healthy paradigms. The relationships around me—my parents’, my sister’s—were crumbling by the minute, and my mom watched way too much Lifetime, so my foundational idea of relationships was considerably warped. Going into my mind and allowing God to re-create what was never there was ultimately healing for me.

For over two years, a fictional character has been sitting with me in the recesses of my mind. I know she’s begging me to write her in a novel. I think she’s some version of me, 20 years from now. Maybe she will be my escape from the reality of memoir. After reliving my past for months and months, I think I readily welcome the future, even if it’s not real. Yet.

Why I Write: Memoir Edition

Last week, I had lunch with a friend, who asked me how my writing was going. I told her that it was going well; that I have over 60,000 words and 185 pages; and that she should read my blog, like my author Facebook page, and follow me on the Twitter. She laughed at the last things (but I hope she actually does them!), and also asked, “Why are you writing your book?”

I didn’t have to take long to think about that. I said, “I want fatherless kids—people who didn’t grow up with their dads or who just aren’t close to them—to know that they’re not alone, and that they’re okay, too.”

Plenty of authors have written their “Why I Write” stories. I’ve read George Orwell’s and some of Joan Didion’s. I haven’t gotten around to Stephen King’s, mostly because he freaks me out a little, but I intend to get to his one day, too. I think writers put their purpose on paper because it helps to focus them. Writing is stressful as hell because it’s a mental activity, and the mind is a battlefield. Writers constantly face inner demons and voices that tell them that their work will never be good enough for people to want to read and that they should be doing something else with their lives. (Okay, maybe only mine say that. I feel like George, Joan, and Stephen had/have made enough money that they could/can shove dollar bills down their demons’ throats to silence them.)

Last week, in my memoir class at Gotham Writers Workshop, I got some really valuable feedback on the first three chapters of my book. I’m writing a very close narrative, meaning that I use the voice I used at the age that I was during that time period (so, I use the vocabulary of a four-year-old for parts in 1989, a 14-year-old in 1999, and a 24-year-old in 2009, for example). The consensus was that I executed the voice of a young child very well, but that more adult voice and reflection would be helpful to ground the reader and to add tension in the plot. (See! Isn’t that some really constructive feedback?) I was so grateful for the criticism because I want to know what my readers are thinking, but I spent the whole week daunted, wondering how I was going to implement it while staying true to my own style. I got to the point where I questioned if I should really be writing this book at all. Would people get my message or would they think it’s just relatively well-written garbage?

Luckily, that’s when I had lunch with my friend. I felt empowered just by saying my reason for telling my story: I want fatherless kids of all ages to know that they are okay, that they are lovable, that they are enough.

“That’s a noble mission,” my friend said. “Now, stay focused on it.”

And that is why I wrote this post, to remind myself of who I’m writing for, and to make my mission public. I probably won’t be salve to every person who has been hurt by their absent father. I won’t cure the “stereotype” of rampant fatherlessness in Black communities because the problem is bigger than me (Side note: I heard recently that fatherlessness in this context has become a “stereotype,” implying that is not a real thing. I, and actual data, beg to differ. It’s not everyone’s experience, but it’s happened to enough of us to be considered disconcerting, at the least).

But I hope to make some people feel like they’re okay. I survived, and I know others who have, and our lives aren’t complete shit, so there’s hope for every fatherless kid out there. That is the story I’m going tell, regardless of what the voices say to me, because it is the truth.