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Why I / We Write

I woke up this morning thinking about how my day was going to play out. As I prepared for the day ahead, getting myself dressed and making sure that I dropped my children off at school on time (I am perpetually running late), I initially thought I could spend some time at my 12-year-old daughter’s school since there was something going on for parents that I could be involved in or briefly go into the office before my 10 a.m. hair appointment at Get Gorgeous. But then I thought I needed to spend time writing, getting lost in my own thoughts and dreams. So, I dropped my kids off at school and made my way to my favorite Black-owned coffee shop, Golden Thyme. I ordered the loaded hash browns with veggies and apple vegan sausage, gluten free toast, and of course, a cup of chai made with oat milk. The only way I drink it.

With me, I carried my journal, my computer, work things, all of the lip gloss a Black woman could hold, and the book of poetry that I had been reading by Nikki Giovanni called, A Good Cry. I didn’t read this book as quickly as I read through Bicycles earlier this year, but I have been reading it just the same, getting more familiar with this artist, who if I am honest, I hadn’t paid that much attention to before. It was Bicycles and the levity of the title, and her stunning image on the cover page, that brought me into her world.

I opened Nikki’s book (I’m not sure if she knows that we are on a first name basis now) and picked up where I left off the night before. Last night, I closed the book reading her piece called Surveillance. In Surveillance, she told the truth about her father’s violence toward her mother that she was forced to keep silent about. I suppose she has worked through her emotions and the nightmares, or at least, attempted to work through them in the space of writing. Even though we are on a first name basis now, I do not know if while writing she wept, or screamed, or shouted curses at the Divine, or blamed herself, or…

I ended the night with that piece and the rawness of its vulnerability, which brought me to my own tears, and I think it's what prompted me to come to this sacred space this morning. I settled into my cup of chai and began to read. I read Nikki’s "Autumn Soup” followed by the "Introduction for Tim O’Brien.” And in reading the introduction I paused as she writes:

Sometimes though you understand

You cannot make the tragedy go whole

You cannot make the hurt heal

You can do nothing but embrace

The best within yourself

And you

Write a novel a song, play a poem, a short story

As I read her words, I immediately said to myself, yes. Ase.’ This is why we write, why I write―to change what I cannot on my own. To hold what seems too heavy to pick up. To make sense of the unsensible. To create what doesn’t exist.

I sat and began to reflect on Nikki’s call to write and her parents' relationship. Did she begin writing because she felt that this is where she held the most power? I thought back to my own journey with writing over the years, in particular, feeling as if it was in the sacred space of writing where I was able to reconcile with my own memories because it was here where I felt the most powerful. It was in the space of writing where I felt the most heard, and the most validated, and freest to give voice to my own pain, as well as the pain I witnessed.

In doing so, I began to really understand the power of writing. Writing for me is alchemy. It is magic. With my paper and pen (or computer), I weave together a story, lines of a poem, or a prayer that I am convinced will free us from whatever hell we find ourselves in. Can we make the tragedy disappear? I don’t think so. But maybe, if we approach it right, we can make sure that the tragedies don’t destroy us.

Writing isn’t just honorable; it is absolutely necessary to heal ourselves. We have the capacity to heal ourselves and apply balm to the places we have hidden from the public eye. Writing opens us up like that, and then it gives space for those who take part in our healing to also be healed through their witnessing of our transformation. But like Nikki, we must tell the truth. Even when it hurts and brings up memories we would rather forget.

This is why I keep writing. I’ve been at this for 17 years of my life. And I will be at it for 50 more as long as God gives me breath and life and sight. Lord, I want to see into my 90s! And into eternity. Give me a room full of paper and pens, and incense and chai tea, and flowers and love, so I can continue to write from the great beyond and inspire others who will take this alchemical work seriously.

I want to be counted among those who use the magic of writing as a force for creativity and good, not for evil. This is what I hope. For Nikki. For me. And for everyone else who is brave enough to take the utterances of their heart and expose them for the world to see.

Nikki Giovanni. "Introduction for Tim O'Brien." A Good Cry: What We Learn From Tears and Laughter. HarperCollins. 2017. pp. 84-85.

EBONY AYA independently published her first book, Dancing on Hot Coals, and started a publishing company, Aya Media and Publishing, LLC in 2020. She has also published three other texts: The Gospel According to a Black Woman, Let the Black Women Say Ase’, and Incomplete Stories: On Loss, Love, and Hope. She recently contributed an essay entitled “Examining Blackness” to the Women, Gender, and Families of Color online edition.

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