Outlining takes time. It’s smart, but it’s also been my kryptonite. In the past, I’ve used outlining as a way to feel productive, but to ultimately procrastinate. My approach to this 30-day draft is to wing it. And, that decision might be a nail in this project’s coffin. At the end of this, my novella will be some incoherent mess. But, the goal is to have a finished piece. I’m not going to be too torn up about it not being some ground-breaking piece of literature.
I’m currently at 4276 words. Under my goal by 724 words. The night’s not over yet, but unfortunately, with the workweek right around the corner, that’ll probably be it for me. During the week I’m lucky if I can get in a couple of hundred words here or there.
In all honesty, I wrote the majority of those words today in a frantic frenzy to have something to document. Accountability is amazing for getting me going. That and the fact that I desperately needed something to occupy me today. I couldn’t bear another minute of getting sucked into Netflix’s endless queue or aimlessly scrolling through my Twitter feed where the writers I love talk about the stories they’re creating.
This draft has become one of the few things I look forward (the only other things on that list are Gun Gale Online and lemon sandwich cookies. Yes, I’m a bit pathetic) to when I get up in the morning. Even though I don’t pound out a ton of words for my draft every day, I have made it a habit to work on other pieces as well.
I suppose writing, in general, is what is keeping me sane. My depression has stolen so much from me. It’s stolen my desire to care about anything or anyone. When I’m writing, that lack of caring works to my advantage. I’m not bogged down with doubts. I keep typing because what else is there to do in what currently feels like a very empty existence.
This post is kind of turning into a drag, so I’ll end it with my stats and goals:
4,276 wrds/30,0000-ish wrds (If I can end it in 25,000 I’ll be fine)
12 pages written
22 days left
On average I need to write 1,169 words per day to reach my goal in time.
Next week on Self-Publishing Diaries I’ll talk about my novella’s plot and how I plan to craft my self-publishing alter-ego. ‘Cause I’m not ready to publish under my name just yet. Read my first entry here, where I decided enough is enough and I should just write and publish a dang novella.
My family and I passed out tracts on a bridge that linked a college campus to the dorm buildings. I was shy on a good day, so handing out the “good news” was difficult for me to find the courage to do. I pushed myself out my shell because spreading the news was mandatory for all true believers. If I couldn’t share God’s plan, then I wasn’t worthy of whatever heaven had in store for our afterlife.
The good news told people they had a few months to live.
And if they didn’t believe in the date they’d get left behind to experience whatever punishment God saw fit. We handed our yellow and blue pamphlets to college students, who were too busy running to classes to pay mind to the black family preaching about the end of days.
I don’t remember a time in my childhood where the date wasn’t lingering in the background. Its ever-looming presence was easy to ignore at first. I’d get lost in playing a game or reading a book, drowning out any anxiety that tried to creep into my thoughts. But, when five years in the future turned into a few months, things started to seem dire.
On my knees, I prayed for forgiveness for all my sins. I prayed for God to take away my temper and love for steamy romance. I promised from that day forward I’d be His most obedient servant. First step? Ridding myself of all worldly literature. I choose Emma by Jane Austen to be the last non-Christian book I consumed. Halfway through the book, I gave up. I realized it was taking too much of my attention away from time I could spend reading the Bible.
I stopped writing a manuscript about a girl becoming an actress — something I’d obsessed over for years — because Hollywood was a cesspool of sinful desires. And I took up knitting because it was something I could do to keep my hands busy (idle minds and whatnot) while I listened to Family Radio.
My family would listen to Family Radio throughout the entire day.
The Christain music was white noise while we finished school work. At night, the president of the station, Harold Camping came on his talk show where he took calls from all sorts of people. Some individuals were terrified, skeptical, and downright rude in their disapproval. Some called to yell out him for spreading lies and using God’s name as a co-signer. Others called concerned for whatever repercussions would happen to those of us who claimed we knew the truth.
Camping was an old man who impressively never used glasses to read Bible verses out loud. He sat on a couch in the middle of a room decorated to look homey. I sure it was a stage set. His chair seemed like it wanted to swallow him and his large bible whole. There was strength in his voice, making his body look like the simple vessel it was, as he claimed,
“This. Will. Happen.”
Though Family Radio was a platform for many other preachers, Camping’s predictions eclipsed all other programs on the station.
2011 wasn’t his first cry of God’s return. He released a book entitled 1994?, stating he was certain God would return in mid-September of the year. When the date passed Camping went back to the drawing board. He used the New King James Bible and math to back his many proclamations of the pending judgment day.
I would live to be fifteen, I assumed. I planned accordingly by changing my mindset to what life would be like post-apocalypse. Camping noted that only a certain number of people would become saved. And no matter what we did we couldn’t change who God chose, and who He decided to leave behind. My knees were sore from kneeling on our old, rough carpet. By the time May 1st, 2011 rolled around I ate, breathed, and slept the Bible and Family Radio.
Doomsday started like any other day in the outside world. My family gathered in the living room to await our fate together. Our pallets littered the floor as we tried to find comfort in each other’s company. We kept the news on and my mom kept her laptop open, keeping track of the forum postings of other believers. We prayed and held our Bibles as though they were our golden tickets into heaven’s gates.
Other than a brief mocking segment on May 21st being the end of the world, the news stations didn’t report any signs of destruction. What was supposed to be a rolling earthquake, followed by a rapture, turned out to be a simple overcast day.
Months passed and no call to heaven happened.
People expressed their confusion, hurt, and anger. Some had taken out second mortgages, spent their life savings, and sold their belongings to donate to spreading the message of May 21st. They took out billboards in large cities and went on trips to foreign, rural places to share the date.
I felt relief when the rapture didn’t occur. I was ashamed of that relief. But, deep down I had an inkling if God was saving people from a list he made at the beginning of time, I probably wasn’t on it. For the next few months, everyone was in denial. Camping was silent before eventually coming forward with an apology. The certain subset of his followers refused to accept his renouncement and decided to continue what he started.
What made people so fervent in their belief that the world was ending? For me, it was because that’s how I was raised. I believed because religion made me think everything about my existence was wrong. For my mom, her belief could largely be attributed to her unsatisfying marriage. I’m curious about what was going through the mind of the other believers. Did they too want to escape something horrible in this life? I don’t think God or heaven were the only motivating factors. They needed an escape and Camping provided what seemed to be a sound one.
Those yellow and blue pamphlets we’d handed out to the students were undoubtedly forgotten. Buried in the garbage along with pizza boxes and mid-term papers. The meant nothing to them or to the rest of the world. But, for us who believed, it meant everything.
Last weekend, after locking myself in a bathroom for forty minutes and crying until my head hurt I realized, I had nothing else to lose. My job has become a place where I can put myself on auto-pilot, entering data like a robot in need of a software update. On weekends I sulk by reading romance and listening to true crime podcasts. The repetition finally got to me and I became overwhelmed with the reality that my days are numbered and for the past few months, they all looked the same.
I’ve decided I’m going to write an utterly horrible romance novella and publishing in the next two months. Write it in thirty days, edit it in ten, and market it for whatever time is left. Because I desperately need something to distract me from what feels like an empty life.
This project is going to be like a crash course for me. One good thing I’ve gleaned from university was due dates. No matter how much I didn’t want to write my first draft, those dates kept rolling in with professors expecting evidence of progress in their dropboxes. Writing on my own has no accountability. I can go months without penning a word and no one’s going to say anything.
This diary will be an expectant professor. This novella will be the groundwork for what I hope will be a career in writing romance. I have nothing more to lose because crying my eyes out on that cold, hard bathroom floor was proof at this point, I don’t enjoy any aspect of my life. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt like I’ve done something worth celebrating.
Day One: Outline + 1,000 words. Feels a feat, but I have the whole day to either watch Netflix, lie around on social media, or write something that will take the mind of my sadness. Writing’s the only option I haven’t tried. God, I hope it works.
Updates will be weekly.
This is going to be utter crap. But, hey, in the end, I’ll finally be able to say I finished something.
The lights were already out when my boyfriend and I walked into the theater. I was annoyed because we were late and my depression had been suffocating me all weekend. We made our way to the middle of a row using whispered “excuse mes” to find good seats. I sat down, trying to get comfortable while the woman in front of me reclined her seat back so far that the cold plastic knocked my knees. Given another reason to be mad at the world, I tilted my legs at an angle to avoid any additional bumps during the next three hours.
I’d seen the 1990’s It when I was a senior in high school. My obsession with horror stems from being traumatized as a kid by my father. His movie pick for a night we spent stranded in a seedy hotel room was: The Visitors. Watching horror has since become a fun game of testing my limits. I see it as forcing myself to build a mental tolerance for the disturbing, so if faced with fear I’ll be prepared.
The movie was much more engaging than the original. I have yet to read the book so I can’t speak to the difference in the plot there. What I can say is Stan’s storyline in the 90s film was disheartening and unsatisfying. While in this version his ending was just as horrible, the film tried to give some sort of reasoning behind his decision to not join his friends in Derry.
Once Stan hears of Pennywise’s return he’s the only one of “The Losers” who doesn’t fulfill his promise to come back. In the 90s version, he writes “It,” in blood on the bathroom wall, cementing his reasoning for suicide — and, making me theorize maybe It possessed him to do the act? In this year’s version, it’s revealed that Stan wrote his friends letters, providing a full explanation for taking himself out of the game.
Stan confesses he knows he’s not mentally stable enough to go back to Derry and face Pennywise again. And he knows his absence would mean inevitable doom for The Losers. Without the seven of them together, Pennywise would win. Stan decides to kill himself, thus breaking their entangled fates.
As someone who has been suicidal in the past, and still deals with suicidal thoughts currently, my emotions about this adjustment to the story was mixed. My throat tightened when it was revealed the Stan wasn’t just some scared kid who turned into a scared adult. An act his friends and audience saw as cowardice turned out to be the reason behind their success. Without Stan being honest with himself and friends, they wouldn’t have stood a chance. This small change makes a huge impact on the narrative. It’s a change that is as harmful as it is compelling.
When I was ready to kill myself one of the things that comforted me was the idea that I was making life easier for those around me. After I was gone and buried no one would have to check on me to see if my depression was once again dragging me down. My boyfriend wouldn’t have to deal with my mood swings. My family wouldn’t have to worry about me struggling to get through work while having anxiety attacks. I could leave whatever money I did have to them to help fund a happier life. A life that would be brighter once I took my clouds with me.
That’s the message Stan’s death sends. He’s noble for giving up because he could see that his fear not only got in his own way but his friend’s chance at a better life. It’s unfortunate, but terms of the story, it’s true.
On my good mental health days, I know my death wouldn’t make the people around me better off. The darkness I carry would linger. But, Stan’s death did bring hope. His death brought the possibility of a happier future. I couldn’t help but feel frustrated with how his decision worked. Stan’s choice tells the audience that this sacrifice was worth it because the monster is dead…
We left the movie as soon as the credits began to roll. Stuck in the traffic of exiting viewers, I nodded my head when my boyfriend asked if I enjoyed myself. It was good. It was troubling. And it was sad. I’m not sure what responsibility films hold in terms of the messages they spread. I’m not sure how this message will be received to those who are currently struggling with thoughts of suicide. I know for me, it was hard to watch. But, also, unfortunately, realistic in its portrayal of how some of us decide to escape from pain.
If you’re currently struggling, please, reach out for help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Line: 1-800-273-8255
“Your 20’s are your ‘selfish’ years. It’s a decade to immerse yourself in every single thing possible. Be selfish with your time, and all the aspects of you. Tinker with shit, travel, explore, love a lot, love a little, and never touch the ground.” – Kyoko Escamilla
I grew up watching the women in my family pour every inch of themselves into others. My grandmother would always be on her feet at family gatherings. From the early morning to late in the night, she’d make her rounds from the kitchen to the living room, to the porch. She’d ensure that everyone was comfortable enough to have a good time.
Like many women, her dedication to her family didn’t start or end with family dinners. Her sacrifices spanned a lifetime. I never learned how much of her own dreams she gave up to make everyone else comfortable. Yet I’m blessed to have seen the aftermath of such large sacrifices in my own mother’s life.
When I was a child, every year that passed seemed to allow my mother to reveal another layer of her life.
My mother’s marriage to my father had her emotions brimming over the edge of silence. Her grief would seep out over the kitchen table or afternoon trips to the park. Once I became a teenager I was privy to some of her biggest fears. The root of those fears came from her decision to place my father and her children before her own needs and wants.
She spent her twenties surviving and dating a man who knew how to make his life comfortable. The men in my life seemed to be either natural or educated on how to be selfish. While the women’s teachings highlighted the art of sacrifice.
Once married, my mother moved two states over to live in the hot wasteland also known as Florida. She knew no one except my father and his family — an unwelcoming group who viewed non-blood relatives like passersby. In the span of nine years, she bore four children.
Loneliness was like the grim reaper, always waiting for a decent opportunity. When us kids could finally speak and respond in thoughtful ways she felt brave enough to be candid. She’d express sadness about my father not having an interest in developing his relationship with her or us kids. And she felt lost with the realization she still didn’t know what her calling was in life. It hurt her that my father could still choose his career goals while she was routinely expected to choose us.
The biggest questions that came out of my conversations with her was: Is it possible to decide to be selfish and also be there for people who depend on you to support them? Morally, are you in the wrong?
Her fears and inner dilemmas passed down to me.
The effects of intergenerational trauma are unique for every family. But, as women, effects are often parallel. As pieces of my mother were replaced with pieces of us I’ve felt obligated to figure out how to give back. If not to her directly then to the universe. In some ways, I feel as though I own a debt. And the only way I can pay my debt is through the currency I received it: time. Time is payment I see many women give as they move through their lives as wives and mothers.
My desire to become wholly selfless for my future family isn’t intuitive. A huge chunk of it’s fueled with guilt and conditioning. Why should I live for myself if my mother, and her mother, and her mother’s mother lived so that I could be in comfort?
It’s a neverending cycle that could stop with me making a choice to not take part in always sacrificing my wants.
What would breaking my family’s cycle look like? First, it would be choosing to have money of my own. As I get more serious with my boyfriend it’s vital for me to have my own pocket of savings stashed away. I call it my “in case this goes South” fund. I know, not at all romantic. But if I learned anything from my obsession with the romance genre, life’s not like how things are on the page. And women should always understand no one can look out for their financial future/freedom like they themselves can.
Asking myself where I want to live is another way to break away from selflessness. The women in my family shouldn’t have been indefinitely tied to the jobs their partners decided to take. Of course, there’s some give and take in relationships when opportunity knocks. But, over the course of decades, one person’s career journey shouldn’t continue to eclipse the other. One person shouldn’t have a monopoly on dreams.
Truthfully, I’m still naive about this part of life. I have yet to start my marriage journey. Still, I can’t shake the discomfort that comes with imagining a life of me always standing on the sidelines while my partner is making moves.
According to the quote above, I have six more years of selfishness.
There shouldn’t be a cap on the time you have to choose yourself. Even when you’re a partner, a parent, or a caregiver. My mother thought once she married and had children those selfish years were long gone. In reality, exploring life and figuring on what she wanted from it never had an end date.
When there are other people involved I understand one can’t always get what they want. And even if my desire to give doesn’t come natural, giving still makes me happy. I enjoy seeing my loved ones feel supported by me as they reach for their dreams. But, I don’t plan on sacrificing my own goals as some sort of martyr.
I hope the women in my family stop ignoring their dreams under the guise of the greater good. I hope they realize no matter how much they give no one is going to ask them to stop. We never asked my mom to stop. I never asked her to stop. It’s because as kids and partners, well, we tend to be selfish. And life without my mother — life without a woman — giving me everything I needed felt terrifying.
No, there’s never a right time to be a selfish woman, but we still have to find time to do it anyway. Preferably, be selfish when it does the least amount of damage to others. I plan to take back my time, my career, and my joy. Living out my dreams is how I choose to repay my debt. Being selfish doesn’t have to be a negative thing. I accept the comfort the women in my family have given me. And use the comfort to chase my dreams. One day, I intend to pass that comfort done to my own daughter. I’ll tell her to do the same.
I’m sitting on the couch with my legs up, complaining about my family drama. He stands there finishing off the last of the dishes, hands wet and eyes on me. We’re discussing how stressed I’ve been since taking on huge family responsibilities. He feels bad saying anything about people he’s met a few months ago. He’s only interacted with my family twice. The longest interaction was at a theme park with screaming children and make-believe castles – too chaotic to have meaningful conversations. So, of course, he doesn’t have much material to build a decent opinion.
“I’m hesitant to say what I’m thinking,” he says, shifting his weight from one foot to another. It’s a phrase that’s become commonplace in our relationship. He doesn’t want to sway my decisions. He doesn’t like feeling as if he’s planting seeds for something that may benefit him in the long run. If I wasn’t living with my family I’d be living with him.
“Say it. Nothing you say hasn’t already crossed my mind.” I always urge him and he always continues to hold back. But, this time is different.
“I think you should try to figure out what will make you happy and go for it. Your current situation clearly doesn’t work. You only have one life and you have to live it for you.”
I nodded, hoping he’ll continue because these are the words I’ve repeated to myself. Words I’ve said when I get up in the morning, head off to work, and lay down at night. But, these words always get tainted by the feeling that I don’t deserve my own space. I don’t deserve to live in comfort and happiness if those closest to me can’t either. What makes me worthy?
“If they heard me they’d probably think I’m trying to manipulate you. But, if you ever feel that way, leave me.”
He says the last part without hesitation. I work to keep my face neutral while inside I’m shocked. I’ve never heard anyone in a relationship tell their partner to leave them in a tone that wasn’t threatening. My father would say the same thing to my mother towards the end of an argument. “Leave me,” were words meant to challenge her to venture into a world that seemed even harsher than him. My father taught us we couldn’t survive in the world without him and that’s what I thought most men wanted their family to think. But, now, I was hearing something completely different.
My boyfriend’s urging me to leave him told me I needed to start working on how I looked out for myself. He didn’t want to be with someone who’d believe he was manipulating them. Nor, did he want to feel bogged down by the guilt of living with the small luxuries he could afford. And that was his way of looking out for himself. He decided to completely choose things that served to make his life stable and balanced.
“I help my family whenever I can, but I can’t split myself five ways. It’s not sustainable. You help people more when you’re in a healthy place,” he tells me as he dries his hands on a towel, ready to move back on the couch next to me.
Making decisions for my pleasure sounds like such a cold-hearted thing to do if I’m being honest. I was raised Christian, so the desire to dedicate my life to others feels like the most respectable way to live. I’m ashamed for wanting to make choices that result in me being at my happiest. But, being with my boyfriend seems to open a door to unabashed self-love and self-care. He’s showing me a version of self-love I never thought I’d be able to learn from someone else, but instead would have to go on a solo journey in some mountain where the trees seem to touch the sky, engulfing me in pollen and hard truths.
“How do you live for yourself without feeling bad all the time?” I ask as he lowers himself beside me.
He shrugs with a nonchalance I will always envy. “I want to look back on my life and say I enjoyed myself.”
I’m addicted to suffering. If my life was ending today I would look back and see anxiety embedded in the happiest of moments. Anxiety often feels like a life raft, keeping me afloat in the world that’s vast enough for me to sink to the bottom. But, my boyfriend looks at this life full of experiences yet to happen and comforts ready to claim.
It’s going to take me time to untangle my guilt from my longing to act on pleasure. My pursuit of happiness will look different from my boyfriend’s – which, is also something I should keep in mind as I attempt to mimic his mindset. My experiences with self-love are tangled with religion and the expectation that women are natural-born caregivers. As I work on releasing my guilt I will remind myself to be open to leaving behind the things barring my happiness. The permission to leave feels like the freedom I’ve always had, but ignored in favor of a life that looks more respectable. To leave will be my first real act of rebellion in the name of self-care. I couldn’t be more excited.
What are you planning to leave behind to pursue a happier life?
Money can’t buy happiness, but my god is it a stepping stone to it. I grew up believing my underwear wasn’t replaceable until it had a few well-worn holes. The same pair of workout shorts got me through middle school, high school, and university (last week I finally decided enough was enough and got rid of them). When I walked across the stage last year to receive my degree the house I grew up in went into foreclosure. Not having enough money felt like an everlasting curse that got worse for me and my family as time went on. And the cherry on top was the only thing I’m in love with doing is writing — which leads to a career infamously associated with struggle.
Being a writer was never a choice, but deciding to try and earn a living off of words was a whole other story.
I decided to study English Literature over Physical Therapy because I knew deep down all I wanted to do was tell stories. I didn’t want to be sensible when it came to my career because if I settled on such a vital decision I feared I’d develop a habit of settling for other big life choices. Going to university to improve my writing was the closest I’ve come to complete rebellion — don’t judge me too much, I was a shy kid. Choosing to be a writer as a career is a romantic notion I’ve since revisited over and over in my mind. For the past few months, I’ve been paralyzed with doubts if I’ll be able to live a comfortable life as a full-time writer. In all honesty, I often feel regret about not having a wider range of skills and a little sense of dread about the huge potential of failure.
Stability is what I desperately crave as each year passes.
I’m neck-deep in debt with a full-time job that pays me just enough to support myself and my family as we get back on our feet. In response to my fear of failure, I’ve been attempting to formulate contingency plans. At first, it pained me to feel like I needed a Plan B because maybe that meant I wasn’t cut out for this life of full-time writing. Because struggling is par for the course as a creative. If I don’t want to struggle does that mean I don’t deserve to call myself a writer? When I don’t pour every ounce of energy into writing will the result be never reaching my goal?
I need to put food on the table, keep the lights on, and water running, so I work a full-time job I hate. It cuts into my writing time immensely and makes me feel less like a “real creative.” You know, the kind that will risk it all for their craft even if it means couch surfing for years. It’s that blind faith I feel I lack. And, I think my lack of faith in my ability shows when I approach the page. I pour my energy into so many other worries in my life so, at the end of the day when I’m faced with a blank page, I have nothing left to give. I exchange energy for stability. I’m comfortable but never satisfied.
The realist in me compromises with my romance side so I can fall in love with creating again.
Over the years, my relationship with writing has changed tremendously. Writing was once a beautiful escape that turned into a skillset I needed to develop and eventually monetize. The love waned as the pressure to making a living and eventually, I wasn’t as enthralled with the idea of storytelling. To start writing again and release pressure to monetize my craft I’ve given myself three rules:
1. Pretend I am confident that my skills are (or, one day will be) worthy of decent compensation.
The biggest new flash after becoming an adult was the reality that people rarely know what they’re doing. And they rarely believe in their worth in terms of salary. And even if they have confidence in both their knowledge and how they negotiate their paycheck, they don’t know exactly how they’re going to get their end goal.
At work, I’ve learned that the people who speak without a falter in their voices are listened to longer and trusted more easily. Online I’ve learned writers who don’t have much technical skill but make up for it in prolificity get more opportunities. Life’s a game that I mistakenly thought had strict guidelines. Reality is you can speak with conviction on a topic you just learned yesterday. And you can share your writing even if it’s not fully developed to your liking.
Confidence won’t always get me the freelance position I want or that book deal I dream of, but it’ll open the door to the possibility of personal and career growth. At the very least, confidence will give me the push I need to write more content.
2. Write at least one paragraph a day.
I say these exact words to myself as I clock out of work: “Just write one paragraph. No more, no less.” Thinking of writing this way makes approaching my novel and unfinished articles much less intimidating. It’s a recipe for slow progress, but better than what I’ve been doing, which has been sporadic writing sessions sometimes split up by months.
After five sentences I usually get into some type of groove that makes me want to write more. It may not be the same as when I use to write 3,000 words daily as a teen, but it works for the person I am today. And that person wakes up a 4:30 AM to go to work. So, yes, there is cause for an adjustment in my writing habits.
3. Gradually learn to accept that writing may never fully support me financially and that’s okay
My family has suggested I transition to part-time work since I hate my job so much. My boyfriend encourages me to move in with him and relax for a bit while searching for a position I enjoy and has something to do with my degree. But, having a steady income that pays all my bills and allows me to save does wonder for my self-esteem. By keeping my self-esteem up I release some of the pressure to make writing my bread and butter.
I may never sell more than a few copies of my novel once I finally finish the dang thing. I may never get more than minimum wage writing content for companies who don’t care about underpaying for their outsourced content. Writing may never pay for more than a cup of tea and a few muffins. Accepting that will allow me to relinquish some of my fear. I’m going to stop thinking about potential gross income when it comes to finishing my projects. I can’t continue to let my fear about earning potential steal my time from writing. The craft gives me the emotional outlet that paychecks could never give me. So, it’s finally time to separate the two.
How do you deal with the battle of making a living and doing what you love? Are they always separate things or have you managed to meld the two?
My boss infrequently walks around the office to say ‘hello’ to everyone. He’s a white man who dresses in cotton polos and tan slacks every day of the week. Sporadically, we’re invited to play five minutes of put-put with him to win snacks from the break room. His attempts at interacting with us are nice in theory but tainted by the reality that he’s not hoping for a genuine connection. Instead, feigning familiarity serves as a cop out to actually cultivating relationships with employees.
On one of his rounds, he paused briefly by one of my co-workers who recently removed box braids from her hair. From behind her, he reached out to touch her intentional placed puff. Her 4C kinks poked out underneath and clean, white visor.
“I had to make sure it was real. I thought it was one of those hats you buy during Halloween.”
His teasing made everyone around her laugh. She joined in and I couldn’t tell if she was laughing because his sense of humor aligned with her own or because voicing a disagreeing retort would result in her “not being able to take a joke.” He continued teasing her for a few more seconds, making it seem as if they had a growing friendship because of the small number of interactions they’ve had doing his roundabouts. I bit my inner lip as he walked passed me, ruefully thankful I hadn’t worn my hair in a way that would cause an extra amount of attention.
Being big meant being seen by someone who wanted to touch and make jokes out of a part of my body I’ve been learning to love.
I wanted no part of being big that day because it felt like it’d be a tiring battle between keeping quiet and wanting to scream.
The girl that sits next to me is Colombian. She’s trying to get her hair back to the curls she once had as a child. Right now, it’s wavy and limp due to years of dedicated flat-iron usage. Quite recently, I shared the hair typing chart with her. The chart was her first introduction to the natural hair community. And now, she attempts to offer me advice on my own kinky texture. Two days in a row I wore a headscarf to work in an attempt to spend less time untwisting my hair because our shift starts at 5:45 AM. Naturally, I want to stay in bed for as long as possible.
“Why have you been covering your hair?”
She asked me the question with eyebrows pulled downward and eyes trained on my head. “People with our hair shouldn’t hide it. I know it’s hard some days, but even on the bad ones, we have to embrace our curls.”
I tugged my scarf over my ears, suddenly conscious about being seen as someone who was ashamed. My reasoning was given to her in a polite tone, “It takes too much time. I’d rather do something else.” What originally felt like a logical solution to managing my time to fit my mood, morphed into guilt.
Being covered meant I was being seen as not loving myself entirely. To argue and advocate for rest meant I wasn’t willing to put in the time necessary to wholeheartedly embrace my kinks.
I simply wanted extra sleep and break from putting my fingers in my hair daily.
A guy in my training class said he liked my hair more when they’re in Marley twists. Except he didn’t know the word for them. Instead, he told me,
“I prefer your hair when it looks like ropes. It’s nice that way.”
My twists are tight, sleek, and neat. They’re easier to put in a bun and don’t attract too much attention since they fall below my shoulders in contrast to how my afro stretches upward and outward. In no way does Marley twists make me seem more white. But, undoubtedly, the preference for this style roots itself in the idea that hair should be tamed in order for it to look attractive.
I wish I had the courage to challenge him with the question: “Why doesn’t my hair usually seem “nice.” But, it’s too aggressive. Too bold. Too argumentative for the workplace. Though I honestly would like to understand. I’m curious if his preference can be attributed to a conscious or unconscious association to Euro-centric beauty standards. Or was it simply because without an afro there was nothing else for him to comment on about my appearance.
I put my hair in Marley twists to minimize my day-to-day drama. Surprisingly, it became the source of attention that left me annoyed because once again, I was forced to think about my appearance by a stranger who saw nothing but an end result in a complicated process.
For years I’ve managed and studied exactly what my hair loves, likes, and hates. I’ve ignored it in anger because it didn’t respond to how I wanted. I’ve de-prioritized its needs in favor of things like mental health. I’ve coddled it when it’s going through a new, difficult stage of growth. I don’t always want to be big, embrace the kinks, or twist it up so it falls towards the floor.
My hair and I don’t need outside opinions. Our relationship is and will always be strictly monogamous. My decisions on how I present it to the world don’t need comments. I know wearing natural hair is powerful. My hair speaks to people, but here’s the thing: It’s giving a lecture. So, sit back and learn. Commentary is not necessary.
Making friends is a skill I still have yet to master. To be honest, I haven’t been actively trying since the third grade. When I was in grade school I transferred four times within five years before eventually being home-schooled until I graduated high school. So, that provides some explanation for my lack of refined social skills. Naturally, I gravitated to books and television as not only a source of entertainment but as a way to have company without any effort expected on my part. Stories will always be the place I feel most comfortable. And though it’s not a cure by any means, it makes the dark days a little less lonely. These are the characters have been my friends in throughout various important moments of my life.
Emma Swan – Once Upon a Time
On a surface level, there’s not about my life that allows me to identify with Emma. No matter how much I hope, I’m not a displaced fairy tale character with royal parents and happy endings constantly on the horizon. And her tragic backstory doesn’t intersect with my own family history. But, her feelings and experiences with abandonment hit home.
When I originally spoke up about my mental health problems I was brushed off by my family. I was instantly lonely after realizing that the people who were expected support me at my lowest were nowhere to be found. Throughout the series, time after time, Emma’s hits a dark point with no one around to pick her back up. Instead, she moves forward for herself. She’s a survivor. She’s sloppy about it and that’s what I love about her. She reminds me surviving doesn’t have to look perfect.
Rae – My Mad Fat Diary
This series came at the perfect time of my life and I’m forever grateful for its existence. Rae struggles with an eating disorder and the series explores how she learns to manage her intrusive thoughts while balancing her friendships. I was in my second year of university when I watched the first episode. University wasn’t the space I’d imagine after years of society telling me it would be home to some of my best memories. And I was trying to re-invent myself like Rae but failed miserably.
Rae has an amazing way with people. Watching her with her friends made me long for someone like her in my own life. She was caring and non-judgmental (once she got over her jealousy). When I wasn’t wishing she was my friend, I was tearing up at how her thoughts about herself mirrored my own self-hatred. There’s one particular scene from the series I always go back to because it has given me one of the best tools for dealing with really bad self-talk days.
Bertie – Tuca & Bertie
I recently finished season one of Tuca and Bertie, and in an instant, Bertie became a comforting favorite. Her life mirrors what I’ve been experiencing since graduating from university. I briefly moved in with my boyfriend and got a job doing something that pays the bills but isn’t the most stimulating. And, now, I’m trying to hang onto the things that make me happy, like she does when it comes to baking.
Seeing her fight for a promotion at work after originally being insecure about talking to her boss was encouraging. I’m up for a promotion and battle thoughts of insecurity about the whole situation. Bertie is a snapshot of my present. And it’s nice to be reminded I’m not the only one that is anxiously stumbling through my days, attempting to feel comfortable outside of my safe zones.
I can’t be the only one who finds solace in fictional characters. Share some of yours below! I’d love to get some show/book recommendations. Your favs could also be potential candidates to add to my carefully curated “friend group” – cause I’m always on the hunt for more characters to add. Yes, you can sit with us.
When I was a teenager I wanted desperately to go to high school. My mother began homeschooling me at the age of eleven and continued to do so until I went to college. My daydreams consisted of things like lockers, football games, and parties on beaches with concealed alcohol and forbidden kisses. The next best thing to actually going to high school was creating a character who got to go there in place of me. I wanted to write about someone who was able to do all the weird and crazy things I dreamed up while I sat in the safety of my room behind an old desktop. And so, Joycie Conwell was born.
Joycie was my alter ego. She was everything I was with the small change that she was going to experience the highs and lows of high school and have some cute boy pine over her in ways I could only dream. I would create scene after scene of what I thought being a teenager in public school looked like – which, of course, meant I had invented some off-brand versions of CW teen dramas. Realism didn’t matter because it was fun to simply imagine life in a place where I wasn’t some socially anxious, black teen who felt trapped in the suburbs.
I shelved my novel when I moved away to college. Joycie’s life suddenly felt two-dimensional, riddled with silly hopes of a clueless teen writer. The document sat untouched for two years as I gained “life experience.” Once I walked across the stage with a newly minted degree I started looking back to the character who had gotten me through those lonelier years. She was there waiting, of course, unchanged.
Inevitably, rereading the draft after years made me cringe. My chapters were laced with bad jokes and questionable interactions between Joycie and her love interest, Lincoln. Despite the disappointing writing the story still holds a special place in my heart. I decided to not let go of it just yet.
Rewriting Joycie has been a welcomed challenge. The biggest struggle I have encountered is still keeping part of that naive voice alive when writing her. I don’t pretend to know everything. But, I’ve grown enough over the years understand how silly it is to believe you completely understand yourself as a teenager. Part of the magic of writing back then was that my voice was simple. Now, life feels more complex and I want badly to communicate that within the story.
I just pray I don’t complicate things too much because Joycie isn’t some twenty-three-year-old customer service worker who has become a little jaded about life and love. She’s a kid experiencing first love. Somehow I have to get back to that mindset. Or, at least find a happy medium.
Ever tried to go back a re-write a character you created in a different stage of your life? Got any tips for me? Also, if you’re interested in watching me struggle to rewrite Joycie’s story check it out on Wattpad. It’ll be a rough ride, but fun. I plan on documenting the writing journey on this blog as much a possible.