weird, today, when you've decided that you want to be a fiction writer and really, nothing else.
Well, not weird, actually. That's imprecise. It feels harder to be a writer starting out* who will be noticed when you're not trading in details of your life for online clicks. That's no shade to writers who specialize in the personal essay. I have read some amazing essays over the years.
But, as a human who is constantly evolving and currently healing more than I ever have, the personal essay feels terrifying to me in a way it didn't before. Even when the subject is healing (*shout out to the project that impostor syndrome has had me in a vice grip over for months*). I guess I'm just scared in a way I wasn't before.
I'm okay with the exposure of certain feelings. Some issues, I've resolved. Some are ever-present parts of my development whose tensions I'm comfortable with, such as my existential dilemma of identity and belonging, which I captured in my 2017 Scalawag Magazine personal essay, "Southern Boxes":
As we naturally segregated into cliques, all my immediate friends were first-generation Floridian, with no memories of anyplace else. But the other kids I'd see during different classes like Ms. D's 10th grade history class had memories of subway trains I'd only seen in movies, of winters that required more than a sweater... I floated into identity limbo. My classmates' experiences in boroughs and in countries not tangible to me outside of movies and their accents that said words like CAWF-ee instead of cah-FEE made me feel as pedestrian as the tourists at our local outlet mall. My mom and I used to spend Saturdays giggling at their white ankle socks paired with hiking sandals. The jig was up: being from this perpetually sunny suburb of America clearly didn't denote culture.
I still struggle with narratives of what constitutes "cultured" identity. But now, instead of feeling left-out of the narrative (and upset about that exclusion), I question the structure and existence of the narrative, and who gets to determine said narratives for the rest of us.
There are other things, like the birth of my first child in 2017, which I have no problem exploring and sharing because birth is one of the most surreal experiences I've ever had and I don't feel like we talk about all things reproduction/birth/loss enough. I wrote in "Scenes from a Pregnancy aka Confusion" for Watermelanin Mag in 2018:
During your week in the hospital, doctors and nurses prod and examine your body, the body that was sliced open in front of a room of strangers. They now know parts of you you’ll never see. Much attention is given to your incision, the spot where your old body becomes your new body. They sweep over your new-old body with their eyes and barely-there fingertips and say things like, “Oh, it looks great!” and, “Oh, it looks so good, they did such a good job!” You still look approximately seven months pregnant and have to pull your stomach toward your breasts to see a glimpse of the white tape hugging your incision. Your husband tells you the scar is barely noticeable. Still, you keep the tape in place until it turns off-white, then slightly brown, afraid that pulling it loose will unravel you.
It will forever be weird to me that there are some strangers in Orlando somewhere who have seen my internal organs and thought nothing of it because it's just their job. But at least I don't look seven months pregnant anymore. Maybe just two after dinner. I do still have to lift my stomach a little to see the scar.
All of this is a commentary on writing nonfiction as if I never write nonfiction. I still do, all the time. Just not for public consumption. Part of the current tension I live with is being a writer (thus, a person who writes words for viewing by the public) while also being myself (thus, a person who can be intensely private). Hence, fiction. Not to mention I've always wanted to write fiction.
*starting out at least in the eyes of the establishment. I been writing since BET had Comic View, Midnight Love, and BET:Uncut. I never watched the latter, though. I was too romantic and respectable for that shit at the time lol.