Starting Again

Up early writing and I’m loving this free time, this morning time, when it’s just me, my thoughts, and my laptop.  Feels so wonderful to be working on something other than Have a Little Piece of Me.  

I’ll be blogging on the editing process with my editor and the publishing process with my publisher. (Can’t believe I have an editor and a publisher!  Yay! :-)) I’m quickly learning  this is really the beginning.  I always thought you finish the memoir, publish the memoir, and your baby is out in the world.  Luckily, that is not the case.  My “meme” needs some serious work, but I’m looking forward to digging deep with my editor and making Have a Little Piece of me the best it can be.  It feels so good to have people who aren’t related to me and who aren’t my friends believe in my work.  I know we don’t write for that validation, but it feels divine.

Kind of giddy working on this new piece.  My new memoir picks up where Have a Little Piece of Me ended.  It chronicles my first years in the Army. I already see a difference in the writing and in the sense of urgency coming from this new narrator.  She was such a confused, damaged, angry, but brave little  girl.  Reading over it, seventeen seems so far away from the life I’m living now.

Isn’t that how this thing goes?  We look back at the years that we lived and we don’t know how we got where we are.  I was looking at a recent  episode of Super Soul Sunday on the O network and one of the speakers, Jack Kornfield, spoke of the soul as something that is “timeless, unborn, and not limited by this body and mind.”   The body itself will change.  The hair will fall away, the skin will wrinkle, and speaking from personal experience, things that used to sit up nicely will eventually succumb to gravity, but those physical characteristics have nothing to do with the soul.  The soul is everlasting and even as the body changes, the soul/the spirit remains the same.  That means the soul of the little girl walking to James Hurst Elementary that first day of school, is the same girl who boarded that plane to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, the same girl who first held her newborn,  the same girl who taught her first day of Composition, and the same girl who will hold her childhood memories in the form of a book in  her hand.  You don’t feel so alone when you realize all that you’ve gone through, good and bad, you, your soul remains intact.  Thank God for that wholeness, despite, at times, being broken.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!  Looking forward to all of the beauty 2014 will bring!

What the Women in My Life Gifted Me

ImageStill reeling from the wonderful news I received Tuesday, December 10th, 2013 at 3:45 p.m.  For obvious reasons, I want to remember that date and time for the rest of my life.  I will never get another call from a publisher asking if I will accept their offer to publish my first book.  Hopefully, there will be calls for a second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixtieth book, but there will never be another first.  

This week I have experienced overwhelming gratitude, disbelief, and that ever present doubt, but that is not what is on my heart right now.   My heart is not on that phone call and it is not on the moment my new publisher spoke those beautiful words.  My heart is on Sanaa, my baby girl.

My kids have always shared me with my writing.  They’ve eaten pizzas, night after night, in the name of revision, washed their own clothes in response to writer’s block, tucked themselves into bed as I was holed up in my office trying to find the perfect word, and they suffered countless moments when the stress of the writing spilled over into stressful words spat at them.  They have stood by, most times quietly, allowing their mother to give birth to something that would never be kin to them.  

When that phone rang, I immediately turned to Sanaa.  She’d had a rough day at school and I feared, with that phone call, the ride home would be rough as well.  I’d already decided Etruscan Press would reject my manuscript with the typical, “Thanks, but it’s not what we’re looking for right now.”  I’d hoped to be able to suffer that rejection alone, with my trusty computer and email account, not in front of my daughter, with the words streaming through my car speakers.  My only thought as he said, “I’m with Etruscan,” was I don’t want my baby to hear him say her mommy’s not good enough.  I didn’t want her to know all the time I’d been spending away from them, away from dinners, recitals, and class parties, had been squandered, ricocheting from one rejection to the next.  I didn’t want my baby to know how vulnerable, how flawed her mommy could be in the eyes of others.  I feared seeing this deficiency cloak me would mean she might drape herself in that same deficiency one day.

I’ve spent much of this week going back and reading sections of Have a Little Piece of Me.  One theme rings clearest in each section and that is the love of the mothers in my life for their children, the sacrifices they made in order to ensure their babies had a better start than they did.  From my mother washing clothes in a tub with a washboard, to my aunt dividing one Big Mac between six children, to my grandmother walking up Shipyard Road just to see her babies.  They each did what they could, what they knew  in order to give their children what they did not have when they were children.   I don’t care what your age, race, social class, or location is, we mothers, we fathers, share a common bond: we want our children to be better than we are, to have more than we had, to do better than we did. 

My mother has often apologized for the things that happened to me when I was a little girl. She’s said of me and all of my siblings that we deserved a better childhood and that she should have done better.  I say those same things to my children now. I have offered apologies to Dereck for not seeing how much pain he was in as he suffered constant racial taunting.  I have apologized to Tariq for almost allowing an overzealous school psychologist to label him MR even though he’s a little freaking genius.  I have apologized to Sanaa for missing that snuggle time, those kisses, and evening talks just to grade a few more papers.  I have to apologize for so many things, many of which take me from them, things that are supposed to offer them a better beginning than I had.  

But that day, December 10th, 2013 at 3:45 p.m., no apologies were necessary.  My baby sat there with me, witnessing us reap the fruits of our labor, knowing that her beginning starts with my ending, and in that moment (these were her words), “Mommy’s a superstar, so I am too.”  

I often think of the women from my childhood and the gifts they gave to me.  Despite the challenges they faced, they got up every morning and became a living example, a superstar, for us children.  They let us know to keep fighting as long as we were on this earth.  My Grandma Rachel, my mother, Aunt Ella, Aunt Vony, Aunt Birtee,  Aunt Angie, Aunt Della, Aunt Shirley (Bruce), Aunt Shirley (Barry),  Aunt Chris, Aunt Edy, Rosemary, Charlie, the countless adult cousins, all my surrogate mothers who gifted me the belief that I could do what they, because of the world they lived in, could not.  That is the greatest gift a mother can give her daughter; the belief she can succeed beyond her wildest dreams.  Her getting up every day, doing the best she can is the blueprint all daughters first follow.

When I looked at my twelve-year-old baby’s face and saw her crying, even before my own tears had fallen, I knew that phone conversation, that moment would be one she would add to her blueprint.  Just as I found myself through the gifts of the women in my life, I pray  Sanaa will find herself better, less ruffled, more whole than I am, and I pray that she will accomplish all she wants in life, especially the things I could not.

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