The following musing/story is about me – projecting into the future as a published author of acclaim. I wrote it a few years ago and redraft it every now and again. Being published in book form is a goal of mine. I don’t care about being known although I do want to be a successful writer in the way that I view success. I would love your feedback.
How I Got Here – copyright 2001 by Candelaria Silva
I’m standing here off-stage waiting to go on, and I’m checking out the faces in the audience like I always do before I read. Checking to see who’s there. How many black, how many white and if there are any ones other – Asian, Latino, Native, hell, even Italian or Greek are “other” for some audiences. I get weary of the world always being pegged as simply Black or merely White. Black ain’t simple – it’s a whole lot of things. White ain’t mere – it’s a whole lot of somethin’, too.
Anyhow, I check out the audience to see how they look, what they expect from me. Can often tell by how they’re dressed. How they’re sitting. How many have my books. Their ages. I hate it when they look young and too earnest or hopeful. Not that the two are one and the same, but they often are.
What I really want to do instead of just reading my stuff, is tell them how I got here, but I resist the impulse because I’ve been in dozens of audiences myself, waiting and expecting something like manna from above to be delivered by whomever I went to hear. There were years when hearing another writer was as close as I got to being one.
How I got here. Now that would be a story. That, and who I really am, how ordinary I am, except for what even I have come to admit, admire and accept – my skill with words.
Tonight I’m on the second day of my period, which is always my heaviest day, and in the back of my mind I’m thinking, “I hope I’ve packed myself well enough so I don’t leak on the floor.” There’s no pain, just the discomfort of emptying blood from one’s womb. I don’t have cramps any more since the births of my children and I miss them — not the pain but the warning they provided. Now my period always catches me by surprise. I haven’t had an accident in years but the fear of one and the utter embarrassment it would cause me has made me never want to do a public reading on its first two days and almost made me cut white out of my wardrobe…
It was a long road to here.
I started writing because I had all these thoughts and all these things I wanted to say but my family contained too many children and too much noise to hear my single voice. I had been pegged as the quiet child who liked to read, so nobody had room for me to open my mouth and start talking. Instead, I wrote and read and wrote. My high school English teacher was so overwhelmed that this poor, and therefore it followed to her, backward black child could write that she encouraged me to send my work to publishers. I would be a find, she felt: that oddity that happens ever so often in the publishing world. I did send stories out immediately after graduating from high school – she was my sophomore English teacher I believe – because I didn’t like her enough to want to give her the pleasure of knowing that she’d opened up a world for me, another possibility of something to do with my life besides teach, which seemed inevitable then.
I read a lot of books; some were even, unusual for those days, by black writers besides Hughes or Wright (both of whom are wonderful but who were held up to me so often that I got sick of reading their same few stories and poems over and over again). To be a writer full-time simply never occurred to me. I read and I wrote. To get from there to being published was a quantum leap.
Wish there were a mirror someplace around here. Need to make sure that this blue-like-the-Caribbean-is-blue belt is straight, not curling up around my more-ample-than-it-used-to-be waist. Got to look good for my audience. Both out of respect and to dazzle them. And being a little bit of a show-off, which you have to be to go public with anything, I want them to be properly struck by me.
Give the people their money’s worth. Make ‘em just have to buy my books. Maybe some of them might actually hear the words. Some of them might understand. And some just might feel some recognition that the very ordinary things I write about in my unique way are literature too, which, in turn, might get them to set down their own words. Not enough women’s words in the world, to say nothing of the black, the brown, the poor.
My readings are good. I read a lot, read a little something from one of my three books. Always do something new, never before heard or seen. Sign everybody’s book that’s not too awestruck to ask, like I have been. I am a little bit awestruck in the face of fame, which in my world translates to being known by some few thousand people. And just a tiny bit haughty because, after all, I have been distinguished by getting into print and I make my living from my royalties and the three properties I bought with them. Not an unimportant feat at all if you’re black and a woman and a mother and not rich and without connections.
I answer everybody’s questions. When nobody’s willing to break the ice and ask the first question, I ask myself a question, something like, “Do you know there ain’t a universal thing in your books yet cause you don’t write about white people?” That usually gets them going, both my defenders and my detractors.
If the truth were to be told, I’d have to talk about all the words I didn’t’ write, about the ideas that popped into my head so whole and finely tuned that if they’d come at the right time and place, I could have delivered a book complete. But there wasn’t time – the kids, the jobs, the men, the fatigue.
I’d try to squeeze my brain shut around the images and words. Secure them in some tight space to which only I held the key. Or I’d repeat the first few phrases over and over in my mind, like water to prime the pump. But it was always the same: no matter how I primed, the well was dry, the lock had been changed, the room I’d finally managed to steal into had been burglarized and was empty. Oh, I’d write something down when finally I could let go of the obligations and sit down with a pad of paper and quiet, blessed quietness, but it was never the same something it could have been, only a dull brass that had before been gleaming gold.
Finally, but not eternally after all, I surrendered to the fact that there was no time, wouldn’t be no time that I could write. Became the most dedicated, most involved, most committed mother, worker, lover, anything but writer I could be. And there was no challenge to any of it. I tried to ignore the fact that to do all those other things required only a small part of my brain and that other part — that woman who insisted on writing, on throwing ideas like so many lit matches to burn the oh-so-dry timber of my mind, that woman was watching my life. And making comments on it, besides.
I have been accused, from many sources, of being aloof. I don’t deny it anymore because whether it’s true or not, a lot of people have believed this to be a fact about me. I think, now, that I know where it came from: from living a life on automatic pilot, from not being fully there, not out of condescension or elitism, not out of being half-baked as my mama and some friends mislabeled the source, but from not living my life with my whole self. I started to write again, obviously, or I wouldn’t be here listening to a local poet open for me. I started to write again because I had to. To bind these fragments I’d become into one whole, if not entirely wholesome and never will be finished self.
It occurred to me, life is not going to get any easier. There never will be any free time. The words of the song “Trouble Don’t Last Always,” became my anchor. The kids won’t always be
in diapers; I won’t always have to work a 9-to-5; I’ll get married to some man who is generous with his money to me (I have always been precise in my fantasies).
Then I set the tiniest goal I could think of – writing one page a day. Before I went to bed, I had to write one page. I managed to do this five out of seven days and, lo and behold, the pages mounted. I got to the point where I could write more than one page .at a sitting. I found that whenever I faced the paper, there was something to say. I wrote about my life. I wrote about my dreams. I wrote about my disappointments. I wrote about the kids. I wrote about wanting to find and slap the face of the driver who’d cut me off that morning. I wrote about the weather. I wrote. By writing, I became what I wanted to be – a writer. By publishing, after years of rejection letters and notes, all of which I’ve saved in my “You can reject my writing but you can’t reject me notebook.” I became an author.
That’s what I really want to go out and tell this audience – about how you have to make the time to do what you want to do. Not the thing you could do or the thing you should do or the thing you have always done, but the thing you want to do – the thing that burns in your blood and won’t let you rest.
Ahhh…I hear them calling my name, so I sashay these hips on out to the stage, clear my throat, step up to the lectern, readjust the mike and say, “Before I start, I’d like to tell you a little something ‘bout how I got here.”