“You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?” — Talking Heads
It was 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 2, 2013. Ru Freeman and Jamaica Kincaid sat on a stage and talked. I sat in the front row and took notes in my “writing” notebook, i.e., the one only for information essential to my writing life. In May 2012, I’m not sure I could have pictured myself attending the PEN World Voices Festival one year later, and listening to two writers I admire. I was busy freaking out about post-MFA life.
Pre-MFA, I wrote copy to make accounting and financial services sound essential and sexy. I could not have imagined my life the way it is today. Now, I introduce myself as a writer. When people ask, I specify, “I write fiction.” I teach. I have a completed manuscript. I’m a contributing writer at publications.
“Leave it on the road,” the post for May 7, 2012, was about the need to be brave: the paralysis of fear is the biggest threat to my progress and growth. Bravery is the theme of this year’s PEN Festival, and it was the dominant theme in Freeman and Kincaid’s conversation. Fear is my default state of being. That’s why the creative force of the universe thrusts these well-timed reminders at me to have cojones. My greatest leaps forward over the past five years resulted from my biggest risks.
Jamaica Kincaid said many great things during Thursday evening’s discussion. My favorite was the response of her fellow Antiguans to A Small Place: “Everything you say is true, but did you have to say it?” Kincaid said she doesn’t think about fear. (Really? I do all the time.) Her main aim is to not lie, to say the truth, whatever the form. Kincaid said she is not afraid to lay it all bare because she is a part of the whole enterprise of life. She is just as guilty as anyone else who is living, so she’s not revealing anything we’re all not guilty of hiding, something we don’t already know about ourselves. Woah and ouch.
I do sometimes wonder how I got here. I want a road map that shows exactly where I will end up. I know that won’t appear on my GPS anytime. I also know that in life as in running, I won’t get anywhere if I give up at the first sign of discomfort, or drop out because I think the course is too hard.