Published on May 20th, 2014 | by Jeanine DeHoney1
Jeanine DeHoney on WRITING
At the age of seven or eight I remember announcing to a family member what I was going to be. He’d been eating a sandwich and watching television while we sat on my mother’s gold and white French provincial couch, my skinny as bean pole legs, tucked beneath me, writing in my notebook.
“I’m going to be a writer,” I said, my bony chest thrust out. I waited for a smile to crease his brown face. I expected at any moment to get a high five. I waited for him to finish chewing, for a commercial to come on in case he didn’t want to miss whatever he was watching. I waited for him to say in his deep bass voice, “That’s nice.”
Instead there was a chuckle and then the comment that I should think about becoming something more realistic; maybe a teacher or a nurse. It was not that I was thought of as not being smart enough, or creative enough by this family member. It was that the men in my family had been programmed to think that women couldn’t be more; doctors, lawyers, and especially writers. Writers didn’t look like me; a little black girl who would one day be a black woman. Writers were Hemingway, or Baldwin or Richard Wright. Writers weren’t mothers – as I assumed he thought I would one day be.
I went into my room and cried. But afterwards, I made a pact with myself: I was going to be a writer, come Hell or high water. Unfortunately, this family member saw me become a wife and mother at a very young age, before he ever saw one of my articles published. But before he left this earth, saw me work at my craft and I hope he changed his mind. He saw me writing when I was holding a baby, first one and then two more on my lap, a pen and pad in my hand. He heard the passion in my voice when I talked about an idea I had for a story, he saw how I voraciously read The Writer’s Market as if it was a bestselling novel.
Still, I must admit finding time to write as a mother and the road to publication hasn’t been a cakewalk. Sometimes I felt as if I was torn into too many jagged pieces. It was difficult trying to gain an equilibrium between family and writing without feeling guilty when I chose to write instead of taking my children to the park on a beautiful day.
Writing was soul food for me. To see a blank page become full with words after fifteen minutes on a good day, or after a few hours on a not-so-good day made me want to sing, sometimes dance, and definitely eat something decadent in celebration. To birth a story, cut the umbilical cord and clean off the vernix caseosa before wrapping it with love, hope, and faith and introducing it to the world of editors and readers made me step back into my other motherhood a better person. I suppose it was because I had done “my thing;” I hadn’t neglected that part in me that has reared up in me since the age of seven, the part of me that was a writer.
I tottered on both sides of the fence between writing and mothering, even after my children became adults and needed a different kind of mothering; along the way I learned lessons that anchor.
“Life happens.” You never know when your set of dominoes will topple over from some unexpected current in your life, forcing you to line them up again. A friend who is a magazine publisher lost everything during Hurricane Katrina. They relocated to another state, and then her husband unexpectedly died. Still, she pressed on and is continuing to put out the magazine her and her husband started while raising two children who are thriving. She showed me that when “Life happens” your faith keeps you afloat. You take it one day at a time, lining up your dominoes again and again no matter how torrential the storm. We writers already have a tough inner skin so we have an upper hand when it comes to life’s glitches.
I’ve learned to count the blessings. It may be difficult to see your blessing when you’ve gotten another rejection but what doesn’t break you makes you stronger, and that includes a rejection letter. I’ve learned to swallow hard the lump in my throat, take a deep breath and be appreciative. I’ve learned to take a moment and reflect on what I have accomplished already. And I’ve made lists to show that I have more on the side of pluses than minuses. On the top of the plus side is my family. They are all in my Amen corner, even if I never publish a single story. I am happy. I am in love with the same man I loved when I was sixteen. I have a room of my own to create in or to do nothing at all in if I choose.
I’ve learned to be self-loving during my writing process. Writing certain scenes in a story or an essay has often made me sad. I knew it was because, though cathartic, it also brought back painful memories, or poked a sore that hadn’t healed completely and was still festering. When that happens though I always take a break. I encircle myself with sunshine, have a brisk walk, watch cartoons with my granddaughters, call my sister or stroke my cat to rid myself of melancholy. As mothers we need a bushel of self-loving rituals in order not to be depleted emotionally, physically, spiritually, so it is as writers.
I’ve learned to not worry incessantly about the freefall of words. They will come. Sometimes slow, sometimes surprisingly fast, sometimes in the wee hours of the night, sometimes while cuddling my grandgirls in my arms. The words always come, not when I force them but when they are pungent enough to scent my narratives.
I’ve learned to write for myself and my family and friends. I was always on a mission to see how many markets I could get accepted in. This gave me credibility as a writer and those needed published clips but I realized I wanted to leave something more personal for my children and grandchildren. They would remember letters or poems or stories I made up for them. They would remember the family history I put together. I, too, would cherish the words I wrote in my journal, words that laddered through my life, showing my growth or wisdom on each rung. We deserve to gift ourselves and our loved ones with sweet tea words, just as much or more than our reading audience.
I’ve learned to open a book and read it through. As a mother I rarely had time to read a book from cover to cover and even when my children were grown I thought because I was writing consistently, unless it was a book about writing, reading for enjoyment was out of the question. I had little time to read a book from my favorite authors, but slowly with a brand new library not too far from me, I have realized that a good book is like a warm, uninterrupted bath. I have finally reached the last pages ofAnne Lamott’s book, “Plan B,” and am planning to delve in Tananarive Due’s “My Soul To Take: A Novel.”
The late author Gwendolyn Brooks is quoted as saying, “I felt that I had to write. Even if I had never been published, I knew that I would go on writing, enjoying it and experiencing the challenge.” This I take as my final lesson; to write, to enjoy and experience the challenge. I am well prepared to see it through; the highs and the lows, the peaks and the valleys. I am a woman, and I am a mother, and I’ve had my testing