Well, it’s official. I was on my list of things to do by my 40th birthday. Oh well, I’m four years behind, but it was worth the wait. I did actually begin the writing process before I turned forty, so I guess I wasn’t too far off. I am a published author! Yes, I wrote a number of poems and a few articles that were published in the school newspaper during my college days at Columbia University, but to see your name on the tan pages of a book with a cover and a publishing house attached to it, is no match. I wrote the essay, re-wrote the essay, waited, worked with the editor to rewrite the essay, waited some more and finally received the first draft of the Joy in the Journey. It originally titled it, If the Shoe Fits, but by the time the essay was complete, Joy in the Journey fit so much better. After all of the work, the late nights, the writing at 2 am, after the kids were asleep and my clients were taken care of, I wrote and read and wrote and read and doubted and wrote some more. My editor was so nurturing and gentle with me and I think in my post natal state, anything less would have caused me to go into a full-fledged tantrum.
I hadn’t written, other than a few poems in over a decade. Life happened and my writing and the passion attached to was pushed to the side like a young child does to the broccoli that he doesn’t want to eat. Motherhood suited me. My profession took a back seat to the wave of overwhelming emotions I felt when I watched these beautiful spirits walk around in my life. I was enchanted, and put my entire soul into their care and the protection of their wonder and joy.
It was by no coincidence that I came home one day to an old high school friend’s voice on my answering machine. It’s Meri Danquah, looking for Tonita. Calling from the other side of the country and it brough back such great memories and laughter from my boarding school days. I couldn’t wait to hook up with her and my other boarding school friends in D.C. to catch up on old times. Our school was about 45 minutes from Washington D.C. and all of us still had friends and family there. We caught up, had a blast and kept in touch. A while later, she asked if I would write an essay for her upcoming anthology, The Black Body. I thought she was crazy! Didn’t she know that I had one child in kindergarten and a newborn? I also am self-employed but mostly a stay at home mom who didn’t have time to sit and write.
I still have the email she sent me which was again so gentle yet profound and spoke to the writer within. She told me of how my poems in college inspired her and how she still remembered one of the poems word for word – from twenty years ago! I was speechless. Then she told me that I didn’t have to abandon one part of myself to embrace the other. I could be a mom, a sister, a wife, an accountant, a community activist AND a writer. There was room in my psyche for every woman who I am. I am every woman. I finally got it! That’s what Chaka was talking about. “I’m every woman…it’s all in me..”. Well maybe she added a little more sensuality to her definition, but I got it.
So I committed, and I walked through the fear, the self-doubt and the insecurities and I wrote. The words came to me so easily that I wondered why I ever doubted I could write this essay. It embraced my writing style, my mother’s legacy, my ancestors and my journey.
Yesterday I volunteered at my son’s school to surprise his third grade class and be their Mystery Reader. I chose to read The Adventure of Captain Brainstorm of the Little Bill series by Bill Cosby. He was so surprised to see me and they couldn’t wait to hear the story. I happened to have a copy of the anthology in my bag, since I’m still trying to read all of the contributor’s essays, and after I read the class had a chance to ask questions. One of the questions was have you written a book. It was an out-of-body experience when my lips formed the words – “no, but I have written an essay that was published recently in a book.” Both the children and the teacher, whom I thought was too engrossed in setting up their next project gasped. “Well tell us about it”, said Mrs. Naylor, and “do you happen to have it with you? If so, can you read a little of it?” I said, “yes, of course” and answered more of the questions from the students about the process of writing and working with an editor. It was at that moment that I realized that this was a most special moment. I thought of all of the writers I know who have never had any of their writing published, including my own father. At the age of 44, I was not only published, but was planning to attend two of the book signings being arranged on the east coast.
I took the book out of my bag, and my seven year old son asked if he could read a few paragraphs to his class. I was literally passing on the legacy and the gift of writing to my first-born. Emotions filled me from my head to my toes as I tried to imagine what was going through his mind. This child who would rather die than not read a book before bedtime, with such a love for stories and books , how it felt to be reading something written by his own mother.
As I held back the emotion, he read the opening paragraphs and when he was done, he told the class that he thought his mom did a “pretty good job.”
What a gift!