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.

Reading: The Cure for Writer’s Fatigue

The past couple of weeks, I’ve felt myself waning in my memoir. I wasn’t as excited about writing it. I kept wondering why my book was so long. I kept craving editing. I slept for long hours because I felt physically exhausted. I knew something had to be wrong. (I insist that the thought of “craving editing” was from satan, because who the hell looks forward to editing???)

Like any modern informed person, I took my symptoms to the internet. I googled “Is there a such thing as writing exhaustion?” and up popped several articles about “writer’s fatigue”! It’s a thing, folks!

Several websites listed symptoms such as:

  • Thinking everything you’re writing is crap
  • Trying to force the words out
  • Lack of enthusiasm about writing
  • Stalled word count
  • Unclear thinking
  • Frustration with sentence structure, vocabulary, etc.

Check all of the above off for me the past couple of weeks, and that explains why I’ve really only wanted to drink and sleep for days.

There were several suggestions to help alleviate writer’s fatigue, but those mostly ran the gamut of typical: exercise, napping, guided meditation. None of those resonated with me, so I had to do some thinking. What if, instead of putting out energy (generating), I took some in (consuming)?

So, I set about on a great experiment: I would read for a week to let the writer part of my brain settle down and relax while also letting the rest of my brain be active.

I read everything I could get my hands on, from books to newspapers to literary magazines, and across genres, memoir and fiction alike. I had quite a few essays to read for my creative nonfiction class at Sackett Street Writers online, so those were helpful, too.

Over the course of the week, I took in so much good writing. Yes, I still felt that I am nowhere near as good a writer as anyone published in the Paris Review, but I also learned a lot about a craft that I am really only just recently getting more acquainted with.

There is so much nuance to literary fiction and nonfiction, and that nuance comes from the authenticity of voice. I’m still finding my voice as I write, but now I feel more confident that I will step into it. I’m glad I gave myself the time for (educated) rest for a week. Yesterday, my first day back to writing, I banged out over 4,800 words. It was well worth the rest, my friends!

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.

Valentine’s Day: My Tribute to Nana

Happy Valentine’s Day, all! I absolutely adore Valentine’s Day, primarily because it’s one of only two holidays that begin with the letter V and, as a kid, I had an uncontrollable love of chocolate and could satisfy it so easily on this day.

Valentine’s Day became more special for me when I was a senior in college, back in 2007. I woke up to find my college campus shimmering with a foot of snow. Excited at the prospect of a snow day curled up in bed with a book (for pleasure!) and a hot toddy, I turned on my cellphone to call the college weather hotline. I had a habit of turning my phone off at night to charge it, uninterrupted. It took its time turning on, and while it did, I decided that, in addition to reading with a hot toddy, I would have brunch with my friends in the cafeteria and invite the guy that I was sort of interested in back to my room to hang out for just a little while longer. It was going to be the best day ever, and it happened to be Valentine’s Day: the ultimate excuse to indulge oneself in chocolate and wine.

Immediately after my phone came to life, it notified me that I had a new voicemail. I listened to it right away, sensing that something must have been wrong if someone had called me between the hours of 3am and 8am.

It was my mom.

“Vonetta, it’s your mom,” she always said, as if I couldn’t recognize her voice after more than 21 years of being her child. “Call me as soon as you get this message.”

Part of me was afraid to call her; what if she had terrible news? On the other hand, I thought, what if she had really good news. Like, what if she’d just won the lottery and I no longer had $25,000 in student loan debt with no job prospects?

Barely fully conscious, I called her back.

“Hi, Vonetta,” she said, lacking the joy that belonged in her voice. After a hard childhood and two failed marriages, my mother was a survivor, and she carried that triumph with her always, even in her shy voice that she insisted was incapable of projecting.

“Hey, Mommy, what’s up?”

“I just wanted to let you know that your Nana passed away.” She’d delivered the message about my grandmother as gently as she could.

I blinked for a second as my brain pushed sleep out of its way so that it could register her words.

“No!” I said as soon as the word “Nana” hit my grey matter. “No, no, no!” I screamed and cried instantly, like someone had flipped a switch on the back of my neck that made me make sounds.

“I’m sorry, baby, I’m so sorry.” Mommy’s voice was calm, calmer than it should have been given that her mother—the only biological parent she’d ever known—had just entered eternity.

I told Mommy that I would call her back. I told my roommate what had happened, and she gave me genuine condolences in her Korean-accented English.

What I’d thought would be the best Valentine’s Day ever turned into the worst. I spent the day in bed, not reading, but crying. I saw my friends at bible study that night, and I was afraid to tell them what had happened, for fear of spoiling all the fun they’d had on their snow day. I didn’t have any chocolate, denying myself just to make sure I wouldn’t take things overboard. The next day, I had a phone interview for a job; I completely botched it, unable to make myself sound enthusiastic about anything in life, much less a potential career in finance as an English major. I remained depressed and grieving for several months. From that day forward, I have not turned off my phone at night, more willing for my sleep to be interrupted than to be rattled in the morning.

By graduation that May, my good spirits had returned as, with therapy and talking to my family somewhat frequently, I remembered that my grandmother had lived a full life. She died instantly of congestive heart failure at the age of 77. She didn’t suffer in pain for months or years. She didn’t die young. She’d had seven children and multiple grand- and even great-grandchildren who she’d lived to see and hug.

Nana represented the ultimate in love. She sacrificed a potential career to raise her children and help my grandfather sustain their family. She babysat my sister, me, and my cousins for years without pay. Although she spoke her mind when she was in the right mood, she was kind and giving. She loved the nuns at our Catholic school and always went out of her way to say, “Hi, sister,” to them if she passed them on the street. Nana idealized sacrificial love in a way that, perhaps, only those nuns, who sit at the foot of the cross for a good bit of the day, understood, and that’s why she felt a kinship with them.

For years, Valentine’s Day for me was about which boy didn’t like me and who I wouldn’t be receiving a valentine from. From that fateful Valentine’s Day ten years ago, it became about Nana and all of the love she showed me. I can only hope to emulate a sliver of it for the rest of my days.


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.