A Lengthy Ode to Ayesha(s)

In my early teens, I went to spend spring break with my big sister while she was in college. It was our time to hang out, not sleep, and try out new restaurants; a tradition that we still hold to this day. #simonandschusterforlife

During this particular trip, my parents planned to surprise me by repainting and redecorating my room. I had been saving such a project for the summer, but my parents were excited to do it in my absence.

Because of the nature of the renovation, they had to clean out my closet. As they were ending the excavation into the recesses of my wardrobe (because I was an unorganized teenager) my father made a discovery that, at that time, horrified me.

He found my notebooks

Wait…maybe I should back up a bit.

When I was about 10, I really dug into writing. I would write every chance I got. It didn’t matter if I was supposed to be paying attention in class (usually wasn’t) or I supposed to be asleep at night (still famous for night owling) I would write. I was a master of point of view, drawing in an audience, or engaging the five senses. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t spell (still can’t) I was a writer!

By the time I turned 13 I was feeling myself a little bit. If I were to confess the whole truth, writing/storytelling had been my very first love, even before I was properly introduced to the stage. Nobody could tell me I wasn’t an amazing writer…

Until they did.

My peers…other 13-year-olds, were disinterested, even laughed, whenever I would read something in class. To make matters worse, another classmate, who was known for plagiarizing amongst our fellow classmates, was constantly applauded for how amazing of a writer she was…

So at 13, I accepted the harsh reality that my writing sucked. And I vowed that no one would ever see it. 

….but I kept doing it.

….under the cover of darkness.

….during class when no one was paying attention.

….whenever my parents weren’t home.

And just so we’re clear, this isn’t a metaphor for anything, I am legitimately talking about writing.

By the time I got to my senior year in high school, I had amassed about 20 spiral notebooks of college rule paper, all filled with stories, poems, essays…etc. And whenever I finished a notebook, it went into my closet to collect dust in the dark…

….until my parents found them.

The story goes that after my father found and opened the first one, he called my mother and she opened another one, and they spent hours reading almost five or six years worth of my writing; so much so that they almost didn’t finish the room redecoration before I arrived back home.

Real talk, when I arrived home and found out they had found my notebooks, it might as well had been a “we found the porn” or “drugs in your closet” conversation. They were ecstatic. I was talking myself through an anxiety attack.

“You’re a brilliant writer!” they kept repeating. I just nodded and fought back the vomit that was collecting in my throat.

Of course they thought it was brilliant…. they love me.

That’s what they’re supposed to say.

My parents bragged to everyone about my writing. “You should send these in,” my mom would say. “You have to show this to people,” my dad would beg.

And my sister joined in the praise….but of course, she did…that’s my ride or die.

That’s what she’s supposed to say. 

And just so we’re clear, this isn’t a metaphor for anything, I’m legitimately talking about writing.

I kept writing….and I kept hiding….occasionally showing…still getting praise.

From aunts
From uncles
Godparents
And Grandparents

“You’re brilliant!”

“You’re talented!”

“You should be published!”

But of course they said that to me…because they love me.

They’re supposed to say that.

And I wrote more and more. I lost notebooks, had notebooks stolen, waterlogged, stuck together…..

I was a writer….even though I didn’t think it. I didn’t feel it. Even though I would go through terrible blocks, rip up more than I ever put down… I. Was. A. Great. Writer.

Only…not to me.

Because the only people that were telling me…were the people that loved me.

And they were supposed to say that

Even into my adulthood, I wrote plays, songs, essays, fiction….stuff that never saw the light of day. And my husband, who has never lied to me, who adores me, would join the concert of my family and close friends:

“You’re brilliant!”

“You’re talented!”

“You should be published!”

But of course he would say that to me…

And more accolades from him wouldn’t really help how I felt…because he loved me…and and was supposed to say that.

And just so we’re clear, this isn’t a metaphor for anything. I’m legitimately talking about writing.

“What will it take for you to recognize you’re a good writer?”

That was always the question.

The answer, unuttered, was always the same: Strangers.

I wanted strangers to tell me my writing was amazing. I wanted strangers to tell me I was talented, that I was a genius,  that I should be published, that I was brilliant. I wanted perfect strangers to come across my essays, short stories, poetry, posts, plays and tell me how it was the best thing they had ever read.

Because strangers don’t love me…

so they don’t have to say it…

so if they did…that meant it was true.

And just so we’re clear, this isn’t a metaphor for anything. I’m legitimately talking about writing.

I was a writer.

But I didn’t feel like one.

And I carried that in my spirit…even through standing ovations of my shows, and contest wins,  and publishings on websites and in magazines; Through ghostwriting for others…who would thank me as they took credit for my genius…which was ok because I wasn’t a great writer…because the only people that told me I was were the people that loved me.

And they’re supposed to say that.

When I was finally standing in my master’s hood, holding my MFA in Creative Writing diploma, clutching my salutatorian certificate, cradling my class’ “most likely to succeed” award as per a vote from all twelve of our professors, my husband turned to me and said, “Do you believe us now?”

Did I?

I mean it would make sense for me too, right? Because technically my professors are strangers…but not “stranger-y” enough.

Jeeze, Danita!!! What do you want?!?! You’re a good writer!!!!

I know that….now.

I know I am a good writer….I’m an excellent writer….

But as a young writer, sometimes, I wanted a complete stranger to tell me.

Because strangers don’t know you…they don’t love you

And that’s not what they’re supposed to say.

So if they say it…that meant it was true.

No matter how big of a success you are, every writer wants to be validated. I know there are other writers out there who feel the same way. There are writers with Pulitzer’s and Emmys, Tonys and Oscars; there are writers with best-selling novels, highly regarded professors….there are writers that stare at their accomplishments every single day, and yet, there’s a small piece of them that still struggles with the idea that they are good at what they do or if they are amazing as their family and friends say they are.

Because of course our family and friends say it….they love us…

This isn’t a metaphor….at least not for me….I’m legitimately talking about writing.

But just for the record….if I were sitting at a round, red table with other writers….I’d probably confess this there too.

….you know I’m…write

I get it, sis. I get it.

-Danita LaShelle

One Comment Add yours

  1. I.Am.Tash. says:

    D, per usual…you nailed it. I don’t follow the Curry Dynasty or keep up with Ayesha, but I do know that she seems to get a bad wrap for whatever comes out of her mouth or grossly misunderstood. I watched that episode of RTT and before she could complete the sentence , I knew EXACTLY what she was talking about. Sometimes you just wanna know YOU STILL PHUCKIN GOT IT! I’m not gonna go into this further because you obviously get it too.

    Like

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