While cleaning off my desktop the other day and clicking through old pictures, I came across one I’d taken on my birthday earlier this year. I was on vacation in Queenstown, New Zealand, my second solo international voyage. I stood on the patio of my lakefront hotel room, the wind rippling my nightgown, eager to greet the dawn. Even though it was a still, beautiful morning, the sky streaked with silver and rose, I remember feeling frightened as I stood there, beholding the immensity of The Remarkables mountain range and the vast milky blue waters of Lake Wakatipu. It was the first time I truly understood how miniscule I am in relationship to the cosmos, but at the same time, I felt loved, protected and confident of my future.
What a difference nine months makes. I am no less the woman who traveled more than 14,000 miles round trip to Godzone by herself because she was feeling fearless and wanted a bday to remember. As soon as I made my way through customs at LAX the morning after my vacation, I was planning my next adventure. I had boldly stepped into my destiny as a solo woman traveler, and Dublin, Ireland was in my sights.
But something happened.
It was early March, and I was lurking on several travel forums, trying to solidify my vacation plans. It was a tossup between Ireland and Iceland, and I was leaning toward the former, having quizzed several friends who’d visited the Emerald Isle. I was entranced by pictures of its medieval castles and rolling grassy hills, which I planned to stroll through in late May or early June. I could see myself pub hopping, a Guinness in one hand and a camera in the other, settling once again into the role of intrepid explorer. But try as I might to create some type of itinerary, my heart wasn’t in the planning, as it was in my jaunts to Australia and New Zealand.
These are not simply First World remembrances. There’s a point to this; I promise.
Around this time I was gripped by a growing sense of malaise. In between my jet setting, my life lacked purpose and meaning. I was three months out of grad school and still unsure what I wanted to do with my MFA. I’d always dreamed of having a writing career. It was something I’d loved ever since I picked up a pen at seven or eight to create “obituaries” for the kids who bullied me. But I had a great career at a top-rated talk show, for which I’d penned several exclusive interviews, and I was on the verge of renewing my contract. It was a job that allowed me to see the world, that gave me a feeling of prestige whenever I mentioned where I worked. And yet, that blue-black void in my spirit would not be filled with a passport and a Coach lanyard that housed my badge to the studio lot.
So my dreams of the Emerald Isle dissolved like dew on the leaves of a shamrock.
Not long after I laid my continent-hopping plans to the side, I woke up with an unshakeable feeling of joy. I would produce a video trailer to market my new book. But I didn’t have a book. I’d written about five short stories in grad school that I was pretty proud of, but a few speculative fiction pieces do not a novel make. Yet, the seed for self-publishing a work of fiction had been planted, and I refused to dig it up. When I came home from work that evening, I began writing a new short story. Over the next two and a half months, I had a collection of ten.
Looking back on the genesis of Escape from Beckyville: Tales of Race, Hair and Rage, it’s a good thing that I didn’t go to Dublin. Had I acquired that new stamp on my passport, I wouldn’t have had the money to produce my video trailer, and it would have eaten into the funds I’d saved to publish my book and put a down payment on the van that would eventually become the Beckyville Bookmobile. It’s almost as if that day I stood on a lakefront patio in New Zealand, feeling both fearful of a larger power at work in my life and confident of my future, prepared me for this real-world adventure of driving cross-country. More so than skipping from state to state in a dainty purple chariot, my life now has purpose and meaning. As of this writing, I’ve been post-cubicle for nearly five months. It hasn’t been an easy road. Though the sales continue to trickle in, I exhausted my savings and had to sell my car to pay my bills. And yet, I’ve been able to go on this incredible journey with my mother and road dog, Lola, and see parts of the country I’ve only flown over or read about.
The fearlessness born of taking several solo international trips, and the adventures contained therein – bungy jumping, skydiving, canyon swinging, kayaking – gave me the courage to deal with my life in this moment. Whether I’m leaping from a mountain, or staring one in the face, I’m learning how to deal with craggy obstacles in my path. I can either tremble before its enormity – as I did that morning Down Under, as I do many mornings when I wonder how I will survive – or tell it to move.
I choose the latter.
In her book Reel to Real: Race, Sex and Class at the Movies, bell hooks says, “Until there are lots of black filmmakers who are willing to work as struggling artists to produce a variety of representations that emerge from unfettered imaginations, we’ll never witness a cultural transformation of representations of blackness.” Substitute “authors” for “filmmakers” and you’ll understand my urgency to publish the stories in Escape from Beckvyille, the desire to create a funky and futuristic world where black women are quirky, complex and have agency. I risked a lot of things for this endeavor, sacrificed my international diva status. But I don’t regret it, and I’ll resume my transatlantic travels one day soon.
Of this, I’m sure.
But for now, I’m left with pictures on a desktop and old itineraries. This time last year, I was researching an out-of-the-way island country in the Pacific Ocean, where the sheep outnumber the humans, as a possible destination. One of the many things I was looking forward to on my vacation to New Zealand was bungy jumping, the extreme sport of hurling oneself off a bridge or a mountainside. When I finally made it to the ledge, some 1,300 feet above Queenstown, I wasn’t as brave as I wanted to be. It took many minutes of hemming and hawing, much cajoling by the young guys who ran the bungy jump and finally a push in the back to help me leap into the ethers. But I did it.
I’m still free-falling.
I’m still dangling from my harness, suspended above fear and doubt, with nothing but the big, wide sky above me, and a mountain in front of me. Daily, I tell it to move.