I didn’t mean to become a writer. Sure, I went to grad school for an MFA (let me note right now that while getting my MFA was an experience of a lifetime and led me to a career in writing, an MFA is not at all necessary to become a writer. Practice is, though. And if you need the structure and could use the feedback, an MFA is great for that), but I went because I wanted to be a better teacher. I wanted to have every single tool in my toolkit to prod my students to find and use their voice. Raise your voice, I said a lot. I meant it metaphorically and literally.
Anyway, it was at graduation that my final advisor, Michael Klein, came to me and said, “I never saw you at publishing workshops.” He had this fabulous raspy voice that I was crazy about (I was also crazy about him. The girl who landed in the honey pot with her grad school advisors? Me. Jaime Manrique, Kim Addonizio, and Michael Klein. It was seriously an embarrassment of riches), and I still remember his inflection as he said this to me.
“Naw,” I said. “I don’t intend to publish. I got my MFA so I could be a better teacher.”
And that is when Michael admonished me to consider how a published work- a poem, an essay, a book– could also be a classroom; a classroom without walls. How I could reach the girl in Kentucky who most needed to know that she wasn’t alone by publishing because how was a girl in Kentucky ever going to end up in my classroom otherwise. “I wish you would see that publishing can be your classroom, too,” he said. And so we went back and forth for a bit and, ultimately, decided that I would start sending some things out– for just one year- to see if publishing could satisfy my desire to be in community with people, to learn and grow further. I sent things out and it was amazing when something resonated. But, still, I didn’t imagine that I would write as anything more than a hobby. Then life happens, as it sometimes does, and writing for part of my living became a reality.
Writing is such an interesting endeavor because so much of it happens in a vaccuum. You write at your desk, email the piece or book to your editor for publication months before it’ll ever come out, and move on. Most times, you don’t hear anything- you have no idea if anyone ever read a single sentence you wrote or sometimes you hear the very vague, “I saw your column in the paper” (any suggestions on how to respond to that? I go with the ‘Oh, great!’ since you really aren’t sure if the person liked what he or she saw). But, every now and again, you get an email, a comment on your blog or web-site, a tweet, a called out ‘Loved it!’ at the town post office. Every now and again, someone lets you know that she read what you wrote and it impacted her and, that moment, that’s the one that sustains.
I came across the idea for Beautiful You in 2008. But I had another book idea that I was already shopping so I waited to see what would happen with that. Nothing happened with it, but then a baby happened to us. And so though the proposal for BY was done, I sat on it for a bit. Finally, I sent it to Seal Press- the publishers of Hijas and just a stand up publisher if there ever was one (and, hello, have you seen my book covers? Seal is as creative and committed as they get when it comes to putting out a great product. I love that about them), and they said yes. And I spent last fall writing five “days” of the book every Monday through Friday until it was done. Now, more than ten months after I turned the draft of Beautiful You in, it comes out. Maybe someone will say something about it, maybe no one will. But I love this little big book all the same, either way. Because it allowed me to pour my essence into it, made room for all my ideas, allowed me to sort things out and even see light and beauty in what was, in many ways, my hardest year yet last year. It was absolutely the book I needed to be writing last year. So this book gets born today and, in some ways, it’ll be like I’ve known it all along, and in others, it will be like we just met. I am grateful for both those truths and ever hopeful that while this was the book that I most needed to be writing last year, that it is the book that someone or two or three most needed to be reading this year.
Most days I feel like a fraud if I say that I am a writer, because, really, what I am doing is living and documenting the journey. And that, really, is a privilege, a new classroom, an old friend, a blank page. It is promise and providence all at once. It is possibility.
Welcome to the world, Beautiful You. Because you deserve to see beauty in a way that is true to you and not in the way the world hands it to you.