My favorite plants are the white ones that grow on the side of our bathtub. Whenever the wood underneath gets soaked from the leaks in our old copper pipes, the tiny, umbrella-shaped plants blossom. Mama says they’re called ‘shrooms, but not like the kind in our refrigerator. We couldn’t eat the ones that grew in the bathroom. Every time they grow, Mama puts on her rubber gloves and pulls them out of the splitting wood. I ask her why can’t get the floor fixed, or the pipes replaced. She says it costs too much. We don’t have that kind of money. And this house? This house belonged to my great-grandfather. The family owns it. And they wouldn’t be happy if we changed it in any way. Even though it’s literally falling apart. Instead of gossiping, you would think they’d help us fix it up. But no. We’re the laughingstock of the family. My cousins who live up the street say we’re too poor to afford iPhones like they have. The kids on the bus say we live in a chicken shack. I don’t ever tell Mama this, though. I know she’s trying her best. So, I do my part by bringing home straight As. So, I can go to college on a scholarship and get a good job. So, we can move far away from the family.
My favorite sound is the rain when it hits our tin roof at night. It reminds me of the drumline playing at my high school. I dance for the band. Mama saw the dance tryout flyer crumpled up on my bedroom floor earlier this year and asked why I didn’t want to try out. I told her I was afraid. But the truth is it would cost $500 to join the team if I made it. And our water heater had just broken. And the septic tank was full. And we were low on propane, so the heaters were barely working, and winter was coming. I didn’t think dance was more important than those things. Mama wanted to be a dancer in school, but they were too poor. And my great-aunts said she wasn’t good enough. She forced me to go to tryouts anyway. I made it. So now maybe I can get a dance scholarship to go to Julliard. Or I can become a professional backup dancer for Beyonce. So, we don’t have to pick between water heaters and my dance fees. So, we can move away. So, we can get away from the family.
My favorite short story is A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner. Mama reads it to me from one of her old college textbooks. I like it because it’s strange, like me. She says if I read it now, I’ll know it before the other kids at school. She tells me that I must always be two steps ahead. I tell her we’re poor with money, but rich with knowledge. She laughs. People say money doesn’t solve everything. But they must’ve never been without. Money would literally solve everything for us. We could get the heater fixed. We could stop having to boil our bathwater on the stove (when it worked). We could buy our own house. We could get away from the family.
My favorite day is today. I applied to 13 colleges. I got accepted to all of them. And I’m getting presented with a bunch of scholarships. I was up all night calculating numbers. After paying for all my tuition, books, and housing, I still had thousands of dollars left over. Thousands. I had never seen so many zeros after a dollar sign before. I also spent all night crying. But not because I was too cold to sleep. Or because I heard my aunt say I was too dark to be pretty. No. I cried because I could finally help Mama. I could finally get her old car fixed. I could help her fix her credit. So, she could get a loan. So, she could move. So, she could finally get away from the family.
Author’s Note: About four years ago, I was introduced to Brian Ketley’s The 3 A.M. Epiphany, a book of over 200 writing exercises designed to help transform your fiction. After sifting through prompts about synesthesia, atypical days at work, and practicing negative capability, I arrived at a prompt titled “What If?” In the prompt, I had to choose a historical event and write a short story centered around its opposite outcome. What if the South won the Civil War? What if Japan never attacked Pearl Harbor? I opted to choose a lesser known, yet just as deadly, event in U.S. history: The bombing of “Black Wall Street”, in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the early 1920s. The bomb, dropped on the intersection of Greenwood, Archer, and Pine, inspired the title of my work, GAP (This event was also the inspiration behind the popular song “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” by GAP Band.) In this work, I wanted to emphasize the craft of elements of dialogue, dialect, and plot.
Greenwood Province, Tulsa, OK 1927
“Notha roun’ on me, Scotty! We live, baby!” said Count from the large stage.
The crowd roared with excitement. His band was visiting from Harlem and Tulsa ain’t know how to act. But that’s how we do it here in Greenwood – stompin’ our feet to the sounds of Swing. The smell of pipe smoke wisped through the thick air as the bass from the band shook the wooden floors of the GAP club.
I nodded. The GAP club bustled with the poignant personalities of many – the ladies rolling their lovely brown bodies to the sounds of Count Basie’s band, while the fellas stared in awe, sippin’ the remainder of their scotches. I lined up ‘bout a dozen shot glasses on the sleek, wooden bar and a couple of youngins watched as the bourbon danced into each of ‘em.
“Not for y’all.” I winked. They giggled.
“Oh I know, Mr. Scotty! My Daddy’ll tear my raw hide if I tried!” said young Clyde Stradford. All the girls giggled – their petite brown hands over their mouths. I couldn’t help but smile.
He’d just finished up his last year at GAP High School and had been accepted to one of dem fancy schools up North. Harlem University is what dey call it. “Well, we’on want that. You’d miss the celebration.” I replied.
“Yessir. Can’t believe it’s been a whole six years.” Clyde shook his head.
Now, we usually don’t let the youngins in this joint, but tonight is a special night. It’s the sixth anniversary of the Greenwood Province that almost ain’t exist.
‘Bout six years and some change ago, I was sittin’ in the lobby of J.B. Stradford’s hotel, waitin’ for my wife to finish up in the powder room. Stradford’s joint was the epitome of black excellence – it had over 54 rooms, a ballroom laced with crystal chandeliers, red carpets, and satin table linings. Most people would never believe he’d been born a slave. That night, we were coming to see a brotha named Edward Ellington from D.C. play with his band. Stradford said he had no doubt ol’ Ellie would make it big.
My eyes were glued to the headline of the Tulsa Star, our local newspaper:
Dick Rowland Protected by Greenwood WWI Veterans
Ol’ Roe was accused of accidentally tripping over a little white girl in an elevator at the Drexel Building a few months ago. She screams and everyone reacts – y’all know how that goes. After he was arrested, a few of our Elders marched up to the courthouse to protect Roe from the angry mobs that lurked. They had just lynched ol’ Roy Belton the year before and we ain’t need another headline like that in our newspaper.
As the story goes, a lynch mob approached the group and asked them what Roe was doing with a pistol. Roe looked the men up and down and replied that he’d use it if he needed to. They got into a scuffle and the gun went off. All hell broke loose.
“Still readin’ deh madness, eh?” said Coolie as he sat next to me, peering at my newspaper.
“Coolie”, or Ian Baptiste, was a musician from one of dem islands in the Caribbean and man did he drive the women of Greenwood buck wild. If it wasn’t his long curly jet-black hair, it was surely was his dark skin contrasted against his dark blue eyes that kept them coming. He was opening for Ellie tonight.
“Yeah, man,” I sighed, “Hopefully, you an’ Ellie can take our minds off it for a while. We can’t wait to hear the set tonight.”
He bowed his head graciously, “Life back on deh island jus as wicked, yeh know? At least we have a community here.”
Next thing we knew, Stradford came runnin’ out of his backroom, yellin’ to the top of his lungs, “Y’all run in the ballroom! The mob’s comin’! The mob’s comin!”
It was just before sunset and the shouting of quite a few men could be heard in the distance. Everyone jumped up and hustled all of the women and children into the ballroom. I stood up, lookin’ roun’ for my wife, MaeBelle. She and Stradford’s wife, Posie Kay, came runnin’ out the powder room like some chickens wit’ the heads cut off.
“Scotty, they got me sweatin’ in this satin dress, damn it!” she said. The red dress complimented her ebony skin.
“Where Stradford? Tell ‘em I’m gonna get my pistol!” said Posie Kay, making her way toward her office. Coolie stood in front of her.
“Posie, deh mob’s comin’. It’s not safe.” He said.
Posie Kay looked Coolie from head to toe, “Coolie, get yo ass out the way! I ain’t lettin’ dem white boys take-”
Stradford came between the two and threw Posie Kay over his shoulder. He looked back at Coolie and gave him a nod. We rushed the women to the ballroom, with Posie Kay fussin’ the whole way.
All the men guarded the ballroom, ready to die. Stradford, in his red velvet suit, went outside and stood in front of his hotel – the pistol in his hand just as dark as his complexion.
“Stradford, you crazy? Get in here!” shouted one of the men.
Stradford turned toward us. “If them white boys want my hotel, they gonna have to fight me for it!”
I shook my head. Yeah, he and Posie were made for each otha.
We could hear the mob in the distance – or so we thought. It was the GAP militia, Greenwood’s very own army, charging toward the white mob and they managed to detain the group. Some say the mob worked with the U.S. government to try an’ bomb us – I didn’t doubt it. Once we got wind of this, Stradford, Coolie, and myself went over to meet up with the militia. Stradford’s oldest son, Renald, was one of highest-ranking officials.
“Renny, what y’all gonna do wit’ ‘em?” asked Stradford, shootin’ daggers at the now powerless mob members, “Sendin’ back ain’t gonna stop ‘em from tryin’ this again.”
“I know, Pa.” nodded Renald, glancing at the mobsters, their face as red as his father’s suit, “Y’all let us do our job. You won’t be hearing from them again.”
Renald’s words sent a chill down my spine. To this day, we don’t know what became of those mobsters. Did he kill ‘em? Hell, dey didn’t have a problem with tryin’ to kill us. Dem fools had 99% resentment in their eyes an’ 1% guilt. I ask myself why I only focus on the one percent.
A few fellas grabbed their shots of bourbon as J.B. Stradford walked onto the stage.
“Thank you, Count for that bangin’ performance! I wanna introduce our next act: He came on back to Greenwood to bless our ears! Welcome, Edw- ‘cuse me, Duke Ellington and the Washingtonians!”
The crowd went wild as the sounds of “East St. Louis Toodle-oo” richoted off the walls of the GAP club. I snapped my fingers slowly to the beat of the music. MaeBelle came and leaned over the bar.
“You look good in that red,” I said with a smile.
She grinned, “Don’t I know it?”
I noticed a flower sitting neatly in the side of her hair.
“What’s that there?” I pointed.
“Oh this here’s a posie from Posie Kay,” she smiled, “She said a whole mess of ‘em started growing in that land behind Stradford’s hotel. I heard the Natives gonna build a monument back there or somethin’.”
Author’s Note/Trigger Warning: I realized I hadn’t posted any of my creative work. I dug up this short story I wrote back in 2018, centered around the 9/11 terrorist attacks in NYC. The prompt called for short story centered around an atypical day at work. It surely is a day we will never forget. Rest In Peace to all the victims.
Good Morning Kafka,
I hope classes are going well. Are you sure you want to take a full course load this semester? I always advise my interns against it.
Anyhow, please complete following tasks today:
Order the office lunch at Vinny’s. They are usually busy this early, so I’d recommend going in person.
Please schedule social media for all of next week. Post content related to Fintech since we are hosting the Annual Technology ball next Friday.
Submit our survey to the Springville Most Talented Awards. It would look great if we were to win again this year.
Please draft a press release and a blog post to go out on Monday.
It’s your turn to plan an exciting event for office! J Let me know what ideas you come up with.
Find some potential background photos for our upcoming company holiday party.
Let me know if you need my assistance.
CEO, Caesura Capital Investments
P.S. The Finance department is looking forward to your presentation today!
Kafka buried his face in his hands. He’d forgotten about the damn presentation. The thought of trying to fulfill these tasks on two hours of sleep plagued him as he read Neil’s email for the third time. Kafka looked up at his reflection in the glass computer screen; his brown eyes were virtually sunken in, his brown skin looking rather dry, and he hadn’t been able to afford a decent haircut in about a month. He knows Professor Jones didn’t give a shit about him, having to be at work by 7 am the next morning when homeboy assigned that random ass critical analysis. Nor did Professor Craft when he decided to give the class an Excel file and told us to clean the data. Or Professor Kim. Or Dr. Umami. No, no. But Kafka couldn’t blame them. After all, they were just doing their jobs. He had nothing to blame it on but his tumultuous love affair with procrastination. And boy did he like it rough.
“Kafka, did you need some coffee…or a nap, perhaps?” asked Val, as she walked by his desk.
Kafka quickly straightened up. “Oh no, Val. I was just thinking about what I wanted post on social media for the upcoming tech event.”
Val nodded. “That’s good to hear. You know Neil puts a lot on you a lot because he cares about you.”
And when did Neil become an expert on caring for interns? His ass is always “working remote” on a yacht off the coast of a random tropical island. Or in the case of this week, islands. The Keys of Florida or something like that. Caesura Capital Investments was founded by Neil’s grandfather, Caesura Herring, then passed down to Neil’s father, Monroe “Ro” Herring, then of course to Neil. Folks around the office call Neil, “Red Herring”, because he never pays attention to the task at hand. He thinks it’s because everyone knows his favorite character is Red Foreman from That 70’s Show, but they’d rather not inform him of the truth. Val Herring is Neil’s younger sister and, you guessed it, CFO of Caesura Capital Investments.
Kafka half-smiled. “Thanks, Val.”
Val winked as she walked away- the click clacking of her stilettos a cacophony in the ever quiet office. Kafka looked around his undecorated cubicle. The iridescent lights inside the office reflected off of a shiny silver name plate embossed KAFKA ABDUSEMED, Intern.
He couldn’t explain it, but something about the way the letters of his name dug into the silver metal stirred excitement in his belly. He looked at Neil’s email and dragged it to his secondary monitor and pulled up search engine on his primary one.
He typed “How to start your own company” in the search bar. And within a millisecond his possibilities were endless.
“Plotting your escape?” said Dre, as he entered Kafka’s cube. Dre, formerly known as Aleksander Glasgow, reminded Kafka of a birch tree – tall, lanky, White, and always smelled nice. After some time working with the company’s satellite office out in Chicago, Aleksander had a cultural awakening, if you will. After feeling so accepted by the community there, he returned to New York insisting everyone call him “Dre”, the nickname bestowed upon him by the illustrious Black delegation of the Southside. He also met his fiancé, Brie, while there. And before you ask, yes. Yes, she is. Kafka disregarded most of his co-workers, but Dre made this place more bearable. He was like the older brother Kafka never had.
“Something like that.” Kafka laughed, leaning back in his chair.
“Hey, so I was thinking I should get a tattoo on my arm?” Dre said smiling.
“Of what?” Kafka asked.
“Maybe ‘Chi-Town’ or ‘Windy City love’?”
“Dre, you’re from suburbs of Syracuse.”
“Yeah, but it doesn’t fulfill me, bro. You understand?”
Kafka shook his head. “Yeah, I feel you, bro.”
“Man, whatever. You can’t say anything to me with a name like ‘Kafka’. Why did your parents want you to become a German-speaking Bohemian Jewish novelist?”
“My Dad isn’t known for his intellect, you know? Just does shit without thinking of the consequences.” Kafka laughed, only half joking.
“Yeah, I bet. Well speaking of fulfillment and interesting white men, I have a meeting with some investment bankers on the 103rd floor and they took a liking to you last time. You wanna go?”
“Ah, I’d love to man, but Herring’s gave me a laundry list to do. Can’t go way up there right now. Matter fact, I have to go to Vinny’s to order lunch.”
Kafka grabbed his jacket and walked with Dre to the elevators. As they walked, Kafka found himself staring out the windows. He used to be afraid of heights, but after some time working at Caesura, located on the 40th floor, his fear subsided. New York was busy as usual. Her hustle and bustle is why Kafka fell in love with her in the first place. The sun’s rays shot through the windows and gently kissed Kafka’s brown skin and illuminated Dre’s.
Dre sucked his teeth. “When’s Red Herring’s goof ass coming back anyway?”
“Who knows?” Kafka laughed. “How’s Brie?”
“Brie’s wonderful as usual. We went to Harlem last weekend to get her hair done by the Dominicans, and now they call us café con leche. ”
“Yeah, I bet. See you in a few man!” Kafka smiled as he watched Dre step into the elevator going up. Dre smiled and waved.
Kafka had never seen so much smoke. It was so thick. So black. It was moving so slow, it looked like it’d stained the sky. He was standing off in the distance, outside of Vinny’s, and his neck stiffened as he stared this cloud that erupted from the side of the tower in the middle of NYC. Among the screams, gasps, and the “What the hell was that?”s, Kafka found himself thinking about Dre. Did he make it out? Kafka began counting the floors, hoping the impact hadn’t affected 103. 2. Did you see that? 14. Was that a plane? Did a plane hit the tower? 16. 35. 61. 84. Oh my God, all those people? 22.214.171.124…102.103. Dre, where was Dre? Where was Val? Where was the lady that smiled at Kafka every morning when she emptied his trash? Where was Dean, the accounts manager, who just became a father for the first time? 108. Where was the man in the plaid coat he’d seen walking in this morning? 109.110. Kafka found himself out of floors. He’d reached the top of the building and it had all been engulfed by the thick black smoke. Was that a fucking plane? Someone yelled. Oh my God, a plane! A plane hit the tower! A man screamed. Kafka looked down at his hands. He’d never seen them shaking so violently. The lunch order for the office had fallen from them onto the sidewalk some time ago. Val’s quinoa salad busted all over the ground, while Dean’s bean burger was no longer the sum of its parts. The artificial cloud had blocked the Sun. Fire engines roared, and the police sirens bellowed through the streets of NYC, but they were unmatched to the screams of the people they passed.
Speaking of fulfill, I have a meeting with some investment bankers on the 103rd floor and they took a liking to you last time. You wanna go?” You wanna go? Yeah, Kafka wanted to go. But where? Part of him wanted to run into the burning tower and find his friend. Part of him wanted to get out of NYC as fast as he could. Where was Dre?
Most of my favorite characters tend to hail from the world of anime. When I was younger, I was captivated by their expressive features, high intellect, and passion to overcome whatever plight they were given. As I aged, however, I found myself paying more attention to the backstories of said characters. This gave me a deeper understanding of the human experience- instilling in me the power of perspective, while showing me just how much your environment can influence the person you become. These parallelisms are what I believe makes characterization so important. Sure, I watch these shows for entertainment, but I can appreciate the Aesop-esque nature of them as well. These qualities were best personified in a character named Prince Zuko, a gifted fire bender from Avatar: The Last Airbender. The show (it was adapted to film, but real fans don’t speak of it) follows the story of Aang, the long-lost Avatar, on a journey to master all four elements – fire, water, earth and air (he is already an air-bending prodigy).
The Avatar world is divided into four nations – the Fire Nation, The Water Tribe, The Earth Kingdom, and the Air Kingdom. “Benders” from each nation can control and manipulate the element from their nation. Zuko, the banished Fire Nation Prince, has but one goal: capture the Avatar. He believes this will restore his honor and his father, Fire Lord Ozai, will accept him once again. After Fire Lord Ozai discovered that Zuko (a child at the time) spoke against the Fire Nation, he challenged Zuko to an ‘agni kai’, or a duel in front of the entire Fire Nation. Zuko pleaded for this father’s forgiveness, but it was too late. Zuko is not only banished from the Fire Nation, but his father severely burned Zuko’s left eye (this is known as the ‘mark of the banished prince.’)
As the show progresses, however, Zuko learns that true strength does not manifest itself from rage, rather inner peace. This is largely due to the help of his tea-loving, peaceful Uncle Iroh, aka “The Dragon of the West”, who we learn lost his only son to war. According to Zuko, in his showdown with Fire Lord Ozai, “He’s [Uncle Iroh] the one that’s been a real father to me.” Zuko eventually teams up with Aang and his friends and together they save the world from the Fire Nation’s wrath. Fire Lord Ozai is defeated and Zuko ascends the throne.
I think Zuko’s character is a mix of “The Rebel” and the “The Explorer” archetypes, balanced out by Iroh’s “Sage” archetype. Unlike many “villians”, Prince Zuko is not one-dimensional. He is a well-rounded, complex character that makes you root for him, and (arguably) has the best character development in the series.
What makes Prince Zuko an effective character:
His Gradual Maturity – Zuko’s development mirrors that of the average human. We certainly do not mature overnight. This process takes years of grit, triumphs, and pitfalls.
Complexity of Emotions – As mentioned before, Zuko is far from one-dimensional. As the series progresses, we are given insight in to how his upbringing and environment influenced the person he was. We see Zuko filled with hatred and rage, but also depressed and defeated.
What traits do you think make for a memorable character?
I think I have always had a passport to explore the writing community. Still, it was not until middle school that I flirted with getting my official literary citizenship. My eighth-grade literature teacher, Mrs. Miller, would give us a random prompt at the start of class each morning. I can recall yanking out my 49-cent composition notebook, taking the first fifteen minutes or so to jot down any narrative I could stir up quickly. At that moment, my classmates and I were one and the same. Even if it were only for the first thirty minutes of this class, we had come together for a common goal – catharsis and the exchange of ideas, emotions, and the genesis of a support system. For a long time, I thought I was an anomaly. Being an author, or being a writer, even, was worlds away. This shaped my understanding of the need to feel connected, wanted, and heard. We see this narrative quite often nowadays with the advent of various social justice organizations. The commonality is community.
In the article Do Writers Need To Be Alone to Thrive? , Katherine Towler calls her writing community “very rewarding and enriching.” I, too, find my writing community rewarding. As we live amid the digital age, we have access to hundreds of communities at our fingertips. Whether it be a specific genre, like the Horror Writers Association, or something more general like PEN America, there’s seemingly something for every writer. Presently, I’ve taken note of a few writing communities that I see myself joining. The SNHU Writer’s Community is reminiscent of Twitter (with its micro-blogging structure) and Facebook (the “like,” “share” features), making it rather easy to navigate. This proves intuitive for me, as I am an advocate for social media both personally and professionally. The community demonstrates usefulness, in that it is alive and well – we can ask questions, get advice, and feedback about our work in real-time.
The Authors Guild and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs too, resonated with me. Though their missions differ, I was impressed with what I saw. The Authors Guild, for example, stands for fair payment, distribution rights, and the right to retain ownership of their copyrights. The Authors Guild found a void in the writer’s journey and is successfully seeking to fill it. The Association of Writers and Writing Programs takes a more academic approach in their mission, and the perks to membership reflect that. I especially took note of the Writer to Writer Mentorship Program, which pairs new writers with established ones. Imagine being able to meet up for coffee (post-pandemic) with an established writer? It would be like looking into the mirror, conversing with your future self. These are the type of support mechanisms I would want to receive from a writer’s org -they guide every step of the writer’s journey.
A disadvantage to this, currently, is the physical connection. In The Spooky Art, Norman Mailer said, “If you write a piece and everyone in the room listens as if there is nourishment for one ear…then it will not matter afterward if you hear a dozen separate reactions, for you will at last have the certainty that you are a writer” (10). Sure, we have video chat, but it does not quite compare to seeing your audience in the flesh, feeding off their energy and undeniable presence. But even before 2020 happened, life did. Kids, workplace obligations, and other various externalities kept us from maintaining the connections we made in these writing communities. So how do we retain these connections when life is such an uncontrollable variable?
I think the keys here are empathy and accountability. Just like with our writing processes, managing relationships in the writing community takes work. Could we intermingle an accountability partner in our writing processes? This isn’t a final solution, but I believe leveraging the writing communities we have access to can and will make us better writers. Have you answered the call to your literary citizenship?
Whether you’re just starting out or returning to the game, keep these three things in mind for an easy transition.
No journey is more mystifying than that of the creative writer, and it would be silly of me to deny myself of its magic.
I wanted nothing more than to immerse myself in the world of creative writing, in all “its perils, joys, [and] vicissitudes (Norman Mailer, The Spooky Art)”. Aside from the tangibles (the degree, the certificate), I wanted to acquire the skills to call myself a writer confidently. Also, I needed a writer’s community. Receiving constructive feedback from other creatives was critical for me, as I always wanted to be mindful of my audience’s perception of my work. I trusted that my writer’s community would have the insight I needed to make my work better.
Above all, I needed a writing routine. I understood a routine wasn’t “one size fits all,” so I customized one that would work for me! The Daily Habits of 12 Famous Writers outlines three overarching themes that I have found useful in developing a writing strategy.
• Pushing yourself physically prepares you to work hard mentally. My former cross-country coach used to say, “Your body will give out ten times faster than your mind.” I like to do light exercises to get my blood flowing in the morning, even if it is just for fifteen minutes. As a former dancer, I am no stranger to discipline – it is just a matter of reintroducing that level of physicality to my body. The mental strength will come naturally.
• Do the most important thing first. I will admit that I am not a morning person, but I am not opposed to becoming one. Perhaps after my morning workout, I can start by jotting down a few ideas. That way, even if the rest of my day does not go as planned, at least I got some writing done.
• Embrace the struggle and do hard work. I heard that it takes fifteen days to form a new habit. And old habits die hard. However, I have never been more excited to struggle! There have already been days (like today) that I have deviated away from the goals I set for myself. I recognized this, learned my lesson, and am ready to try again tomorrow.
Making writing my primary focus always sounded like a fairytale to me. The fact that is it now becoming a reality both excites and scares me. I feel like I must be just as afraid as I am excited to keep myself somewhat balanced. Maintain chaos and order. I am sure my concerns mirror those of any writer. Is it a case of the what-ifs? What if I cannot get a job? What if I lose my inspiration again? What if I cannot find a set routine? What if personal obligations do not allow me to write? I ask myself these things often, only to realize that nothing worth having comes easily. If it is something you are passionate about, then it should be worth the fight.
Admittedly, I never took the time to see how things could come full circle. I viewed moments as balloons – I’d breathe life into them, entertain them, then watch them float away. Foolishly, I allowed my passion for writing to become one of those balloons, when it should have been a boomerang – always coming back to me, reciprocating the effort I gave it. But here’s the kicker: if you don’t catch that boomerang, it’ll eventually hit you, and it will hurt.
Last night, I sat, legs crossed, on the hard, yet comfortable floor in my mother’s bedroom. I’d come to visit, and we sifted through faded pictures of my former self, wrinkled homemade Mother’s Day cards, and yellowing short stories I’d written in years passed. “Jayde Spooner wrote this in the second grade” (engraved in my then “boxy” calligraphy), concluded a few of my finished “novels.” Alongside that? A hand-drawn caricature of myself (which I now call a “gourmet stick figure.”) Although rough and crispy in nature, my makeshift stories held up well over ten years of tumult. Queue the reminiscence.
Little Jayde would find the nearest corner to curl up in (a 49 cent notebook and BIC pen in hand) and let her imagination run wild. Writing to her was as instinctive as breathing – everything inspired a story. From Sara to Evaneg to Mona and Gustame, Little Jayde’s characters were an ode to the vast array of personalities she’d encountered throughout her girlhood. Her demure demeanor diminished when she was under the influence of the pen. She was in control, the autonomy all hers. And she was magical.
I’m a few weeks shy of my 25th birthday, and I can already tell you how I’ll be celebrating: (one global pandemic + quarantine + racial tensions on tilt + pursuing my Master’s degree) = I’ll be in my damn house with a cold glass of Stella Rosa. Quarantined or not, this is probably how I would have celebrated “The Quarter” anyway. The time inside (and my untimely exit from the corporate world) has given me a chance to redirect my energy. Though I worked in Marketing, I hadn’t written anything of substance in almost two years. Every attempt I made to write a short story or draft an article became overshadowed by the demands of a full-time position, personal matters, the works. I told myself if I really loved creative writing, I would make time for it – but no matter how magical this Black woman was, I couldn’t add a twenty-fifth hour to my day. By the time I would get home from the office (usually around eight p.m.), I just wanted to shower, eat, and hit the hay.
Insert the boomerang. No, I didn’t catch it. Yes, it hit me and hurt…at first.
With pandemics come job losses, and I was no exception. I logged into my laptop for my weekly one-on-one; by the time it was over, my account had been deactivated. I took that weekend to say my goodbyes and unpack almost two years’ worth of triumphs and traumas. Truth be told, I’m still unpacking. The following week, however, I finished my application for grad school. I had already been planning to go back, and this “hit” motivated me to complete the process. While my passion for marketing has definitely taken a backseat, my love for writing propels me forward. Life’s brief and unpredictable- but your legacy? Your legacy bellows from generation to generation, seeping into the minds and hearts of many. I’ve been fortunate enough to work on mine – don’t forget to work on yours.
I’ll never forget the moment that made me proud to be a writer.
While sitting in the back of an Uber driver’s 2005 four-door sedan, I’d begun to nod off as we made our way north of Atlanta to drop me off for a work event.
It was 7:30 a.m., yet the Sun had barely crept up over the horizon. Though still a bit lethargic from last night’s lack of sleep, due to studying for my dreaded accounting exam, and my tumultuous love affair with procrastination in studying for that accounting exam, I didn’t mind the early rising.
There was something mysterious, yet pure about the darkness of that crisp Atlanta morning that sent my mind into creative overdrive. Maybe it was the way the frost from the cold appeared as bright slivers on my window. Or perhaps how the lights that glistened out of the windows of the buildings we passed, mimicked the menagerie of golden plaques hanging on the walls of the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville.
But, it wasn’t this magic that made me proud to be a writer.
No, no. It’s what had occurred right before this moment.
Enter the other Uber passenger we picked up before heading to drop me off.
She struck up a casual conversation with the Uber driver and myself. She was new to Atlanta, Nigerian, and majored in Biology at the same university I attended.
“So, what’s your major?” she asked, seeming genuinely curious.
I smiled, “I’m an English major, with a concentration in Creative Writing.”
Suddenly, her gaze of genuine curiosity turned to that of disgust and disappointment. You know that look you have after you watch a terrible cinematic portrayal of your favorite book? Yes, that was the one. It’s a look nearly anyone who studies any liberal art is more than likely familiar with.
Sensing the turn in her demeanor, I quickly mentioned that I was also a Marketing minor. Her expression, still somewhat twisted, showed some signs of relief.
“Oh, good. You have a business minor,” she replied.
I shook my head.
There were so many ways I could have replied to this:
Like how a liberal arts major probably edited that expensive microbiology book sitting on her lap.
Or how a liberal arts major is probably facilitating that mandatory company workshop she had been going on about.
Or how majoring in English taught me how to think, not what to think.
Or that the very art she was condemning was the same one she had to understand so that could study Biology. My art is the gateway to your art: have some loyalty.
Or how of course, Business was important, but it wasn’t something I was passionate about.
But at that moment, unfortunately, this “Master of English” was speechless.
We’d dropped her off, and I knew I’d never see her again, but I did know it wouldn’t be the last time my major of choice would be called into question.
From that day forth, a few things changed:
I dropped the minor. It was nothing more than a flotation device that saved me when I found myself drowning in the condescending remarks from “The Vocationals.” I’d had some experience in Marketing already, and there was (and still is) a wealth of free/inexpensive resources, including workshops and courses I could utilize if it were a skill I wanted to grow (I was in the FinTech capital of the South, after all)!
I started to surround myself with mentors. I couldn’t be told it was “impossible” if there were people who’d done it (I had a whole department of them, for crying out loud)!
I found my niche. I started to put my creative mind to work. As English majors, we’re taught to be detailed-oriented, to think critically, to edit, and always be willing to grow – these are all valuable, transferable skills that you’re learning while doing what you love.
I started to believe in myself. It is imperative that you’re confident in what you know and vocal about what you don’t. You will always be a student to something or someone. Take the opportunity to acquire knowledge and perfect your craft seriously. You’ve got this!