Social Media Machine

Social Media Machine

As some of you may know, I only joined Facebook last September to engage in the private Facebook group for the School of Greatness Academy 8.0 class.  I also had no Instagram or Twitter at the time. I only had a long abandoned LinkedIn page.

I prided myself on not being part of a social media machine. I was satisfied to read, write, watch TV, go outside to experience the world without documenting it and catch up with friends and family via phone calls, text messages and emails.

I heard dramatic stories of social media drama and addiction. It seemed as if people were moving through the world with their heads cast downwards or upwards in a flattering angle.

I was never one for constantly wanting to be included in pictures. I took my fair share in the days before smartphones but it felt different–somehow more natural. Years ago, I was at a dinner with some friends and it seemed like we could barely enjoy the meal without constant picture taking. I respected everyone’s right to live and document their lives as they pleased so I was never overtly vocal about my discomfort. It was evident that I didn’t love it but I never wanted to ruin anyone’s fun. As I was driving home while they continued their impromptu photo shoot after dinner, I felt a sense of disconnect. Why was I so different?  Why did I even care?

The feelings passed as did the years. When I came to a crossroads last fall trying to decide if I was going to continue my graduate school education or get serious about my dedication to writing, I joined School of Greatness to learn more about goal-setting and pulled myself into a new world. It was apparent that I had been doing a little hiding, weirdly harboring a fear of judgment. I found, like with a lot of other things, you can strike a healthy balance. I slipped into the habit of  catching up with family and friends via scrolling, liking and commenting. It brought both a new sense of connection and disconnection. I experienced great joy seeing how members of both sides of my family and old friends had grown but it gave me a false sense of belief that I’ve really caught up. Unless I’ve had a conversation or seen you in the flesh, you may still seem two-dimensional to me. I have to take responsibility for my part in moving from the two into the three.

Although the realization of false connection rings true sometimes, I welcomed the wealth of opportunity and education that came with sharing my work, travel and the awe-inspiring events I’ve been able to attend. Before I started sharing myself and my work online, one of my greatest concerns was privacy. It still is because I have drawn a line about how much I want to share with the public, particularly with my marriage. I am a firm believer that some aspects of my life should be just for me (and my husband).

I have always been sensitive to the types of people I allow in my life. If someone is known for things like flirting with other people’s partners, lying, speaking to others in a patronizing manner or constantly talking about others for silly things like the kind of clothes they wear, I shut down immediately. Call it instinct, survival of the fittest, The Holy Spirit, intuition. It has served me well. I know they are people (just like me) who are carrying pain and insecurity within them and this is how they choose to relate to the world to avoid the healing work they have to do (Yes, I have watched more than my fair share of Iyanla: Fix My Life). I wish them well but from afar. I do not need to possibly sacrifice my mental health, my relationship and time to keep someone in my life for “their good moments.” I have learned that lesson.

On a positive note, opening myself up to all of those mediums of social media confirmed we are not alone more than ever for me. I see the struggle, the beauty, the triumph, the failures, the uplifting, the laughter, the teaching, the open gushing wounds of the hearts of millions of people. There is hiding and deception but the option not to do so is clear. There are connections and movements.  Even though I have wasted some time in the last year or so, there have been so many gains.. Maybe it’s because I knew the world before it, knew the world with it while I chose not to jump in or maybe it’s because I brought the wisdom of a grown woman to it.

There are no regrets. I have moved past fear to build this site and apply for a fellowship, share my work on these platforms and cheerlead for others on this journey along with me–the writers, the bloggers, the vegans, the wellness seekers, the psoriasis and PCOS warriors, small business owners, my fellow Greats who stepped out on faith to go after scary goals and other Black women who are often misrepresented as a monolith.

I will continue to embrace the mess of the world and carve out my own corner in it with all that is available to me. I will close with a haiku I wrote and posted a few months ago:

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What Support Looks Like

What Support Looks Like

Last night, I was going through some files and found a book synopsis I wrote earlier this year. It was 8 pages long and a joy to read. I had such a clear vision of where I wanted my book to go. It provided a short burst of inspiration to keep going and finish this first draft. Next week, I have the entire time off to put in serious hours towards completing it.  Even though there will be hours when I want to throw my laptop across the room or crawl under the covers to avoid it, it doesn’t matter. What matters is being the writer, more importantly the woman, I thought I’d be. The woman who doesn’t waste time talking about it, she does it (she writes about it, too).

I just got back from writing group where I am always reminded of the support I have to become the woman I want to be. I would encourage anyone to look around and take an account of all of the support that is already present in your life. I would bet there is more than you realize, even if it’s just one person praying for you daily living 5 states away or a reader who sends positive vibes your way directly after reading one of your posts.

Or it could be more obvious like the love of your life baking you a vegan apple pie while you were away at your writing group.

Sowing Into Our Future

Sowing Into Our Future

I forgot it was Halloween when I woke up today. It’s not a holiday I celebrate so it slips by except for the cute kids costumes I see online. My husband and I were cutting up pineapple and bananas last night, preparing to make green smoothies this morning for a sale going on at his job. I was grateful to be up and busy early in the morning with the loud, whirring noises of the blenders.

And busy is a good thing especially when it is not empty. Lately, when I have started to feel some anxiety about where things are going, I remind myself of the reason. It’s because I am actively pointing myself on a path and walking it. I am sowing into my future and as a wife, I am sowing into our future.

I visited an awesome church this weekend and had one of those moments where the pastor says something and you could almost swear it was directed at you. He was talking about sowing into people, places and products with roots and they would bear fruit. And it occurred to me that everything I was investing in had roots–my husband, my faith, my writing, my writing tribe, my friends, my family and my health.

As we were blending, pouring and scurrying around the kitchen this morning, I knew there would be fruit.

I am writing this after hearing the news of the attack in Manhattan today. It was another  tragic reminder to treasure your time, sow into the people and the gifts that you have been blessed with and to stay grateful.

James River Writers Conference 2017

James River Writers Conference 2017

I spent the weekend at the 15th Annual James River Writers Conference 2017 which started with Master Classes held on Friday, October 13th. I did not attend the master classes but I was there on Saturday and Sunday. The conference offered one-on-one meetings with an agent or an editor, panels on writing (both the business and the craft), Library of Virginia Literary Luncheon featuring an interview with honoree and Richmond native David Baldacci, an opportunity to play the Agent Dating Game and First Pages panel.

 

There were several sessions running concurrently so I could only go to three  each day. The first session was a panel of agents answering questions about paths to publication. One agent, Cherise Fisher, made a striking point that as writers, that we should understand our dreams. The consistent message was that we should be self-aware. We should know our genre, be able to name realistic but comparable titles and take time to research the agents-their Twitter, other authors they represent and books they have sold. Ms. Fisher from Wendy Sherman Associates, Inc. also reminded us not to forget about the smaller publishing houses. I particularly enjoyed the tip that we should write such a dynamic query letter that they should have to do little else before sending it to a publishing house/editor.

The social media panel gave insight into how authors Sadeqa Johnson, Sonia Yoerg and Panio Gianopoulos manage their social media. They covered topics such as when to post, scheduling apps used, blogging and the major importance of a newsletter in reaching your audience. I admired how they didn’t pretend to have it all figured out and advised if you don’t, then seek counsel! A solid piece of advice given by Sadeqa was to know your lane and build from there when posting on your media sites. For example, if you like gardening, post pictures and video of yourself doing things related to that along with content about your writing. They all acknowledged that readers like to feel as if they know you, not just your work.

The Literary Luncheon was fun and the food was tasty. I was grateful they had a real vegetarian option (a flavorful Portobello mushroom and peppers dish). It gave us the opportunity to reflect on the first half of the day with friends (my awesome writing tribe!) and meet new ones. David Baldacci’s interview was engaging and although emerging authors like myself can’t relate to his meteoric rise, I believe it gave us all a dream to aspire to.

The third panel was moderated by a local writer friend of mine, David Streever. It featured Library of Virginia Nonfiction Award Finalists Belle Boggs, Patrick O’ Donnell and Annette Gordon-Reed. Belle Boggs recited a quote I liked: “Writing won’t make you a living but it will make you a life.” They shed light on what it is like to devote copious amounts of time to research, interviewing and unearthing untold stories that were long overdue for its place in the sun.

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Library of Virginia’s Nonfiction Award Finalists Belle Boggs, Patrick O’Donnell and Annette Gordon-Reed moderated by David Streever.

The end of Day 1 was fascinating: an interview with “Hidden Figures” author Margot Lee Shetterly. Getting to hear how she grew up in a neighborhood full of engineers, professors and mathematicians in Hampton and had no idea the greatness she was in the presence of astounded me. I loved hearing about her professional background which included founding an expatriate magazine in Mexico with her husband and working on Wall Street. I believe we all gasped about how quickly the book and the movie deal came together after the book proposal was accepted. Listening to this woman was a sonic delight I will not soon forget.

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Thrilled I got to hear the phenomenal story of Margot Lee Shetterly, author of Hidden Figures!

The second day was introduced by highlighting Richmond Young Writers’ books. I was inspired by the literary talent of Richmond’s youth led by Bird Cox. After the opening ceremonies, the First Pages panel began. I commend all of these people who submitted their first pages and were willing to be judged. I submitted my first page last year. Although it did not get selected for reading, I remember the anxiety I felt waiting to hear my words read in front of a crowd of strangers.

There was a Lunch and Learn session. I attended the one about content marketing. Phaedra Hise of Legacy Navigator explained in detail what it takes to succeed in that field. She was blunt in what we should expect and be asking for with content marketing. The session was a welcome departure from the long form writing heavily discussed throughout the conference. It opened my eyes to revenue streams with writing that do not get enough attention at events like these.

One of the more notable panels was Sexy Narratives moderated by co-chair Robin Farmer with authors Sadeqa Johnson, Tia Williams and Marguerite Bennett. The way writers describe flirtation, sex and the buildup between two people is more than titillating conversation. Tia Williams referred to it as a “careful, slow manipulation.” I love this advice! We all had a good laugh at their blanket condemnation of clichéd scenes with heaving bosoms and throbbing body parts.

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Sexy Narratives panel moderated by co-chair Robin Farmer with authors Sadeqa Johnson, Marguerite Bennett and Tia Williams.

My last panel before the Agent Dating Game was Family Stories: For Your Family or the World? My book draws so much from both mine and my grandmother’s life that I knew I needed to hear whatever the panel had to say about this subject matter. I did come to a realization that since there are many details about my grandmother’s life in Haiti that I cannot corroborate, it is best to keep my work as fiction.

The final event was the Agent Dating Game. It was a rendition of the throwback TV show. This time an agent asks his/her bachelors (or writers in this case) the same three questions about themselves, story lines or characters and based on their answers, determines which author they want to learn more about. The segment even had a corny but hilarious host.

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The Agent Dating Game!

I need to say a few words about this year compared to last year. Outside of the crowd being bigger (they sold out this year!), it was much more diverse. The authors were more of a representation of what I like to see, which is a healthy sprinkling of what this world already has to offer. I hope they continue this inclusion for years to come. No one likes to feel like they are the only, or one of a few.

All in all, I am excited about returning next year. I will definitely be ready to pitch my novel and get to know more of the smiling, nervous, pensive, curious faces I see roaming the Greater Richmond Convention Center in 2018.

Forever

You ever have a moment where your pulse quickens and then it all slows down and you find yourself in flow? Two weeks ago, that was how I felt as I approached the head of the table where I would be standing to read four pieces I had written. I heard myself pause, my voice inflecting, letting the words drive what the audience would hear and how they would hear it. When I was asked to read my work as part of RVA Lit Crawl (Richmond’s first), I don’t know how I saw it going but there was a feeling I could readily identify: boundless joy.

I realized I let the words drive the direction my eyes went as well. They took in my fellow writers at the table, my husband, my parents, longtime friends, newly reacquainted ones, and the pairs of eyes I did not know, sitting on chairs, couches, a bench and on each step in the staircase. I only once broke for a second, hearing the thunder and rain that made its presence known over my voice. I felt my face warm and burn between each piece, almost not knowing what to do with the applause and cheers.

When it was over, I sat down and let my breath go. I had been first so it was my turn to watch these beautiful people bare it all, make us laugh and tear up. I allowed myself to become enthralled with the talent I was witnessing. There were times where we were rendered silent with the sheer power, especially during the last piece when the writer erupted into song, effortless and gut-wrenching.

When it was all done, we gathered around for pictures. In each face, I saw the boundless joy. I saw the beauty. I saw the love in these storytellers. I mentally raise a glass to all who read and all who came out to support us each time I think about it. I could do this forever.

Second Church

Second Church

I would drive to the bookstore, a place I used to call second church. I never had to kneel in second church. I think my gaze held such reverence for my environment that it did all the kneeling, hand clasping, and shouting Hallelujah for me. I don’t know if there ever was a casual visit. I walked through the doors, let my fingers trace designs on covers, read synopses that made me want to burn my notebook. I warmed my body by sitting in the café, sipping coffee and enveloping myself in a story so epic it asked me to go home and pray for a tenth of the talent it took to write such beauty.

 I know I should have no idols before Him but surely words that emanate from His created beings can make me want to worship Him more. 

Second church was more than escape. I was allowing myself to transcend beyond paper and print. I was literally surrounded by palpable courage, men and women who not only told a story but revealed a truth, did not sit idly by, who punched through a wall of gutless fear and laziness, who showed it all, bruised and battered and bloodied, daring people to critique and laugh and cry, who knew one day someone would pass their work and not give it a second look or one look at all, who knew their words could transform and inspire, or one day be hauled off as garbage, sit in a corner of a dusty bedroom or be used as kindling in a fire.

Or forgotten.

And when I felt like I was being pushed over the edge or pushing myself over the edge, this is where I went. Put myself in the center of it all. Trying to find where I fit, where the me-shaped piece went. One place that held so many questions and answers in its grip at the same time.

My hours were never wasted.

I always left second church restored.