A guest post to motivate, encourage, and inspire
Writing without Boundaries
The first creative non-fiction piece that I wrote and was fortunate enough to have published came about, not from a class or a clever writing technique but was instead inspired by my then six-year old daughter. She was sitting in my lap, looking up at me while comparing her hand to mine. She then began to ask me question after question about why I said I was black like her, when my skin was really white, why we were different colors, why my hair was a different texture then hers and what color–black, brown, or white–I thought was the prettiest.
As an African-American mother, I thought I was prepared for this issue. I gave my daughter dolls of varying hues and made sure to find as many books featuring multicultural characters as I could, but I never shared with her any of my own personal experiences with race. I did not think it was necessary because any questions about skin color or culture, I was sure would come from an external source, another child at school or something she might see on television. I never thought that I would be the source of her doubts and confusion, and I wondered what had I done wrong.
I did not know how to sort through all the feelings that I was experiencing and so I decided to take my daughter’s startling observations about culture and race to heart. I simply began to put on paper, all the doubts, emotions, and memories that her questions stirred within me. I had just begun to try to write professionally and my style of writing was clean, factual and proficient, but often also seemed stilted or colorless at best. However, now informed by intensity and purpose, the words, meaningful, and full of life began to flow effortlessly.
I began by writing about my past cultural experiences, dredging up memories that were long since buried deep in my consciousness. I put on paper, for the first time, exactly what it was like growing up in the 1980’s in small town Indiana, one of the least likely places for a black girl to be, where I had the dubious experience of being the lone black girl in my kindergarten class until the fifth grade. I endured jokes about why I joined the brownies Girl Scout group when I was already brown, endless questions about my ability to tan or not tan in the summer and requests from student’s and teachers alike to touch my hair. The questions were a mix of meanness and genuine curiosity, but the result was the same, I often felt embarrassed, isolated and different because of my skin color and ethnicity.
Writing these words was difficult and sharing them with my daughter and my other children was not easy, because I think, I somehow thought it would make me seem vulnerable in their eyes. However, my children taught me that the best parenting, like the best writing might not be flawless. Parenting and writing without the self imposed boundaries that we place upon it can be messy and uncomfortable. Yet, embracing those difficult feelings allowed me to create a stronger relationship with my children which in turn made me a more insightful and authentic writer.
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