On March 1919, shortly after publishing her first novel, The Voyage Out, famed author Virginia Woolf wrote in her Writer’s Diary, “Is the time coming when I can endure to read my writing in print without blushing—shivering and wishing to take cover?”
I am no Virginia Woolf, but at 1:00 a.m. on March 15th, 2023, struggling to fall asleep and too anxious to wait until morning, I slipped under the covers clutching my phone and refreshed Literary Mama‘s website for perhaps the 20th time to see if they had updated the home page with the new March/April issue. I had been waiting for this moment since November 2022 when I got the email that my pitch was accepted—a secret I kept from everyone except my husband and two children.
In the early morning hours, almost 35 years after immigrating to the U.S., my first published essay, The Blue Duffel Bag: A Journey from Beirut to America, appeared with my byline a few spaces below the fold. I closed my eyes and sobbed. Although I’ve been published before, this was the first time I was sharing a part of my story with the world—a story I struggled to own.
My writing career has never been about “me”—it has always been a means to an end—an act of survival, a way to earn a paycheck and put money on the table. As a former journalist for ten years, seeing my byline on the pages of a newspaper week after week was par for the course. I looked forward to writing about the community I covered and took pride in my job as a reporter telling the stories of the town’s movers, shakers, and ordinary people. After leaving journalism, I worked for another decade in public relations and communications, where my job was to promote my employers’ missions and initiatives.
It took eleven years after my mom passed away to consider writing my memoir, mainly to leave a legacy for my children and help them understand and appreciate their heritage. “The Blue Duffel Bag” is a piece of my story I penned to see if there was interest in the narrative before I started thinking of publishing a book.
However, as we all know, getting published these days is only part of a writer’s journey. It’s equally as important for the work to be viewed and shared. The team at Literary Mama did a fantastic job promoting it, as they do for all their contributors. My husband and I shared it on our social media pages with zero expectations. In fact, I posted the link and went about my business teaching my students while avoiding going on social media or looking at my email until that evening. The last thing I wanted was for my story to become fodder for debate or backlash.
Even though, as writers, we may feel like hiding when our work is published, a part of us thrives on accolades. To my shock and amazement, the comments poured in—more than 100—all encouraging and complimentary. The ones that touched me the most were those that praised my writing and asked to read more of my work.
Following the publication of The Blue Duffel Bag, the Detroit Writing Room, a community of writers and creatives, invited me to join them as an editing coach for their summer youth journalism program. In addition, one of my former students wrote an article about me in my alma mater’s newspaper, while many others inquired when the memoir would be published.
Although I am not naïve to think I will ever be bold enough not to feel anxious or nervous when I put myself out there, my essay gave me the courage and support to allow myself to be vulnerable, to speak my truth, and to be proud of my journey. Whether or not I can publish my memoir the traditional way remains to be seen, but at least I am embarking on this journey armed with support and encouragement I can refer back to every time I feel the urge to hide or give up.