I used to work a job as a counselor for a group of delinquent teenagers at a day camp. Many days I felt like a beacon showing them the way. Other days I was searching for a beacon. These were the chaotic days. Depending on what they had for breakfast, how much sleep they’d gotten the night before or for no reason at all, they would often be angry, depressed or just plain ornery.
I had to pick them up from home at dawn and return them at dusk. The ride was long but I didn’t mind because it gave me time to think. I blasted Tupac or Biggie or something brazen on the radio because apparently the beat blasting in their ears as if they were at a concert front and center calmed them down. Better for me.
I would think entire novels in my head; dialogue would flow as if God himself were dictating. The characters were vivid like holograms and I knew I had a good book or books…in my head. Many centered on kids just like them, who’d fallen into a bad place. Unfortunately in my head is where they stayed because between working this job and taking care of my own little tikes I never took the time to write down my thoughts. Months went by. I would get to it. After all, it’s in my head where’s it going?
The months got by me and then it was a year or so later. And when I sat to write it was as if someone had ciphered every idea, thought and inspiration I possessed. Nothing came. The well was dry and dusty.
There is always someone else willing to get the job done…
Meanwhile, those who would have been my contemporaries, emerged around me. Terry McMillan was shaking up the literary community with her honest depictions of middle class African American life. Her stories were bold, the dialogue fierce and on point. Those who hadn’t read a book since high school English had their head buried in her novels because she wrote our stories truthfully and without apologies. Connie Briscoe and Mary Monroe were doing the same. Victoria Christopher Murray and Reshonda Tate Billingsley were doing it as well using their faith to inspire and enlighten. Meantime I had all but disappeared somewhere between ‘I will’ and ‘When I get some time.’ Now I’m not a person who lives in regret and I’m not belting some Raging Bull speech announcing I could’ve been a contender.
What I’m saying is that if you have an idea, a story, a plan, get it out of you. If the pangs won’t let up, it may be a sign that you’re in labor. And we know that a woman in labor must be taken seriously. Do it. Say it. If you can’t get it out in one fell swoop, do it in brief sentences, blurbs.
Do we get second chances? Yes most of the time we do. But there’s nothing like the richness and purity of the first time. Who will you inspire or bless with what you have to say or do right now?
I waited for more favorable circumstances, I waited to be inspired. But I had to realize that life is a constantly moving thing, with perpetual ebbs and flows. Sometimes we have to jump in and catch the current. It may be bumpy and scary, risky and uncertain, but we have to ride it regardless. We have to ride as if we only get one shot.