Creative Writing Challenge: 2AM Photo.

Fun idea for some of you creatives out there.

Migrating

Posted: October 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

So I’m glad to say I’ve done a tad bit of writing as of late, even though I haven’t been blogging it. One thing I’ve been writing and thinking about is authenticity. I’ve grown tired of the “false separation” between my “professional” blog and my “personal blog.” As a result, I’m in the process of merging the blogs to one place (here).

I’d love it if you would subscribe over there if you’re still interested in receiving my posts. There’s one caveat though… I’m trying to get everything (including my blog) up and running on my domain cocostudio, so there may be another move in the offing.

In the meantime, in case I do blog and you don’t wanna miss it, come visit me at ndcollier. All the old posts are there, and I may even migrate my spitfire political posts from my blogspot days.

Note: I wrote this a few months ago – late winter, early spring. I sat on it for weeks and worked it a bit in June. Not sure why I’ve not posted it until now…

For the past several weeks, my flight has departed from or returned to the international terminal of the Atlanta airport. This, despite the fact that I was only traveling to and from Cleveland, of all places. Each week I have been struck – overcome really – by the abundance of soldiers in this terminal, dressed in their telltale camouflage. They’re men and sometimes women of all colors, sizes, ages. Sometimes on phones, sometimes on computers, sometimes deplaning from parts unknown, but oftentimes sitting. Waiting.

Today, however, I was struck by you.

Now for sure you are not the first female soldier I’ve ever seen. You are not the first black soldier I’ve ever seen. You are not the first black woman soldier I’ve ever seen. But today you captured my attention. Or more accurately, my heart.

As soon as I entered the concourse bathroom, I noticed you – slight, brown skin, dark hair slicked back in a ponytail. You looked eerily like me. Not babyishly young like some of the boys seem to look. Not particularly old like a career soldier on the verge of retirement perhaps; but about my age, maybe a little younger, a tad slimmer. You were going through your toiletries. It seemed you were unpacking. Repacking. Shifting. Transferring things from one pouch to another. Organizing perhaps. I don’t know, but I was moved.

She is me, I thought.

I felt my heart bursting with the overwhelming desire to embrace you. It was as if I were a vessel and Goddess wanted to send you a message of love.

I resisted it at first and headed to a stall. Yet I rushed, hoping you’d still be there when I finished, even though I really didn’t know if I had the courage to approach you. When I emerged, I washed my hands slowly, decidedly shy, stalling for time as other women entered the bathroom.

This is so silly, I said to myself, heart racing, belly full of butterflies. It’s just a hug.

You, still arranging. Me, hanging back, primping in the mirror a few paces to your right. Breath, shallow. Feet, cement blocks. I silently hurried the other women along. I didn’t want to sound crazy, I guess, to them or to you. The voice, the feeling, the knowingness – urged me, You have to do this.

I applied more burgundy lip gloss. Retied the matching scarf at my neck. Pulled my black dress straight. Gathering courage. Passing time.

Finally, coast clear, deep inhale, I approached you.

Excuse me?

You turned to me, face and heart open. Curious. My words tumbled out, a hurried explanation, an apology, I just have the urge to give you a hug. The words barely free of my lips, you threw your arms around me. And we shared a moment. Spirit embodied in flesh. Life to life. Heart to heart.

Throats tight, eyes swimming, we echoed words of thanks to each other. And then, you pulled away, barely above a whisper, You’re about to make me cry in this bathroom. You shook your head, eyes down, turned away. More organizing, packing, shifting.

As soon as I saw you, I had the urge to hug you. I couldn’t leave this bathroom without doing it. My parting words a confession, tossed out gracelessly over my shoulder. And I left, plodding down the terminal corridor, choking back tears, heart full, exhale.

I replayed the moment again and again along my walk to the escalator. I hoped you knew that all I felt in that moment was love. All I wanted for you in that moment was love.

Not fear. Not shame. Not worry. Not doubt. None of those things a person normally feels. I just wanted you to know…love.

That moment we shared was a moment of revolution.
Because loving a stranger is a revolutionary act.
Loving a soldier is a revolutionary act.
Loving my sister is a revolutionary act.
Loving myself is a revolutionary act.
I saw me, in you, and I loved us both.

A thief made off with a prized possession
Me
Snatched from sacred promises of love everlasting
Held hostage
Imprisoned
A cage of my own hand
Tortured
             by hurt invisible,
                            choking out life, love

Twenty years I spent
Captive to that pain
Yet blind
Ignorant of my own walls
Fences

Wondering why you couldn’t reach me
Wouldn’t reach out to me
Feel me
Know me

None had eyes for well-hidden pain
Buried
And I with it
Trapped
Cowering behind a guarded heart
Safe
From you

Wishes escaped on wings of prayers
Floating beyond boundaries
                                        of consciousness
Sneaking through cracks
Disguised as discarded hopes
Rising above barriers
Taking flight
A call
A song
          in my key
Imprisoned heart unlocked
Responding
Wishes as balm
As pathway to freedom
Story as star
Illuminating the road home

Love

My cousin got married last fall. Like many weddings, it was an occasion for family and friends to reminisce, reconnect, and bond. The wedding reception found me tucked away in a corner with a few cousins, most notably, the beautiful, often elusive, V.  She inquired about my dissertation defense, mere days away, and my future plans. At that point I only knew I had to move. The sooner the better.

Home, Not Home
Athens had never been home to me, and Atlanta, although a great city in many ways, didn’t feel all that homey to me either. That I was born and raised there was immaterial. It wasn’t “home.”

V, a flight attendant, gushed about her love of NYC. It was her favorite city. She felt like herself there. Despite her world travels, there was no place she’d rather be. I wondered where my NYC would be. I knew it would be some place with a mild climate, near beaches, but that’s as far as I could figure.

Sunrise at Pass-A-Grille Beach

Border Crosser
I finished my Master’s degree 11 years ago. Since then I have moved seven times (four of those between GA and FL). Most of those moves were one and two year stints, and I usually knew they were temporary going in. I realized I was closer to finding home a year ago when I left St. Petersburg to return to Athens, and found myself aching for the luscious green grass, the humid, salty air, and the calming beaches. But even though there were many things I liked, even loved, about St. Pete, I still wasn’t ready to call it home.

A few weeks after the wedding, I graduated and found myself “in between.” I don’t do in between well. Job hunting and city hunting, I felt I had no clarity on next steps. Eventually it all took a toll on me and left me feeling kind of blah. Finally, I made some decisions, and in true form, the universe responded in kind. Within a few days I had a job offer, a clear path, and a new city to try out.

Where the Heart Is
This move was the first one during which I felt I were moving toward a new life. It felt permanent. Real. Settled.

I knew I was on to something when I had to visit my “hometown” (Atlanta) a few days after my move. Traveling to the airport, I was a child being dragged inside from the playground. No! Don’t wanna!

At the end of my three days there, I smiled inside, happy to be back on the plane heading back home, even though home was just a few days old.

Everyone who visits my new digs mentions how I seem poised to start a new life here. To them it feels like home.

To me too.

After a multi-year drought, I finally have some time to dig into fiction again. Reading it has been refreshing and even restorative in surprising ways. A recent treasure was Tayari Jones‘ Silver Sparrow. It was a delicious, complex and emotional read, although the purpose of this post is not to review the book.

I met Tayari in person last night, as she read from her book and answered questions from fans and writers assembled at the Athens-Clarke County public library. She shared great nuggets and pushed back hard against the notion of a writer’s life belonging only to those of privilege.

Author Tayari Jones

The Four-Hour Writing Week
“People who work everyday have stories to tell too,” she explained. There’s a myth that “real” and “published” writers spend all day writing and have unlimited amounts of time to devote to their craft. This is false. A writer is one who writes. Tayari has a job aside from her writing (she’s a professor at Rutgers Newark). “You can finish a novel writing four hours a week,” she said. It may take you a bit longer – she estimates it takes her about two years – but it’s doable. “It’s like going to the gym. You have to find the time.”

No Aspiring Writers
Unpublished writers often call themselves “aspiring writers,” but in fact, publishing is not the mark by which “true” writers are measured. You should not call yourself an aspiring writer, she urges. “Claim it!” If you fancy yourself a writer, you are. “You can say you are an unpublished writer, but you are a writer.”

Dealing with Disappointment
Would-be professional writers have to be able to deal with disappointment. The truth is, a great piece of writing may not be published, or may take a long and windy road to get there. But don’t commit to the publishing, commit to the writing. As you commit to your writing, opportunities will open up. But it’s important to know, the writer’s life isn’t a glamorous one.

Writer’s Block Does Not Exist
Tayari doesn’t like to talk or think about writer’s block. It’s like insomnia, she explained. When you can’t sleep, you make it worse by looking at the clock, counting back the number of hours left before you must wake up, and so on. In reality, if you just relax, eventually you will fall asleep.

The same is true of writer’s block. We make a big deal about it. We name it. We embrace it. We complain about it. Tayari’s solution: just write anyway. Eventually, you’ll move past it. When you find it difficult to write, it’s usually in response to some external pressure, she explained. You’re worrying about what “they” may say about your writing, for instance. Ignore “them.” It’s your story to tell. Commit to it. Write anyway.

Nicole & Tayari in Athens

On Finding the Perfect Idea
Tayari compares finding the right idea to finding the right mate. “I spend a lot of time on bad dates with ideas.” She tries things out to see if they work or don’t work. She writes her way through them, sometimes committing countless pages to the effort. But once she realizes the idea isn’t working, she lets it go and tries anew with another. “But when I get a good one, I’m spoken for.” It’s better that way, she thinks. She loves the idea of waking up and knowing exactly what she’s working on for the next year or two. Coming up with ideas is for the birds, but committing to, and writing through a good one is the sweet spot.

Keep Writing
It was pleasure to meet Tayari in person. I learned a great deal from her talk and felt inspired and encouraged to continue my writing journey. Her new book, Silver Sparrow, really was a great read, but she won’t call herself a gifted writer. Instead she said, “I was given a story to tell and the means to tell it. I have to honor that.”

Every word on paper becomes a tiny step forward, so here’s to the next one.

I want my words to move you.
Uplift you, inspire you, free you.
I want you to see things differently.
I want you to cry, to laugh, to be present.

I want you to go tell someone you love them – even a stranger – and mean it.
I want you to realize your divinity.

I want you to recognize yourself. Your struggles, obstacles, your victories. Your truth. Your secrets.

I want you to think, to question, to reconsider all that you knew before.

I want you to say amen.
I want you to nod in silent agreement, and then go do something.
I want to you walk differently in the world because you are different, because of these words.