Tuesday night I came home to a gift: a thick envelope pushed through the bars of my gate, too big to fit in the mailbox. It didn’t register as I fumbled out my keys to let myself in. Then I bent down to pick it up, saw the return address and got happy. It was my copies of the literary journal in which two of my stories can be found, the first fiction of mine ever published!
I flipped to the table of contents.
I flipped to my pages.
I danced a little happy dance.
And then I walked across the room and showed it to my grandmothers, my father, my aunt — my family who couldn’t stay here long enough to see it.
And then I cried.
It’s not that the tears surprise me. Or, that they surprise me much. But I hadn’t expected to cry, and I’m not sure I can claim that the tears were all happy. And I’m not sure I can explain why any part of my response wouldn’t be happy. Yes, there is sadness because I would so love for each and all of those family members to be here today, to see the journal, see my name in print. But they are with me all the time, so they have already experienced both stories. So I think the tears were more about me.
When I went out to California for VONA last year, I had an experience bigger and deeper than I was prepared for, more meaningful and soul-affirming than I had imagined possible in one short week. I had not one thing to prove in that amazing company. Who I was was a given: if I was there, I was a writer.* I’ve spent a long time not quite embracing myself as a writer. Yes, I write all the time. Yes, I’ve been in a writing group for years and years. Yes, I have a graduate degree in creative writing. Yes, I’ve published essays. Still.
VONA pushed me past the weird scrim I’d set up between myself and my for real and true, out loud and in public acceptance of myself as a writer. Opening that journal and seeing my stories was a reminder of everything I experienced in San Francisco, a reminder of the commitment I made to my writing at the end of that week, a reminder that the scrim is gone. “Remember?” those printed pages are telling me. “You can no longer hide from yourself by saying oh, I write. You’ve already unmasked yourself and said, I’m a writer.”
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* Forgive me, Tananarive: a damn good writer.