Our Lives

Writer emerges in this journey

CorrespondentApril 21, 2009 

"I'm partial to giraffes, key lime pie and the night sky. (I have a thing for) words, winter, and water -- in all its incarnations. I'm carving myself a niche as an advocate for African-American elementary students. I am a single mom of color living in subsidized housing in the enclave of affluence and debatable progressiveness that is Chapel Hill.

"As a working parent of children nearing adulthood; as a person whose 'socio' is very much at odds with her 'economic'; ... as a 46-year-old woman ready for her second act I am very much a person in transition."

Those are some of the sentences that garnered me a slot in the Our Lives rotation. My time's up. "What a strange and lovely trip it's been."

"We read to know we are not alone," says C.S. Lewis. Some of us write for the same reason. While not shy, I do tend toward seclusion (INFJ for all you Myers-Briggs fans. Yay, introverts!), so part of why I applied was to challenge myself. Eventually, I hope to earn my living as a writer (anyone know a good agent?) and since endemic to being a published writer is criticism, I figured this would be a way to get my feet wet. I had no idea how right I'd be about that.

The column most difficult to file proved to be my first, and I'm sad to say that my child support situation is largely unchanged. The most unsettling reactions came after I expressed my worries for my children, especially my son, when they are out and about in the world. I wrote as a mom concerned for her children's safety. My skin and that of my children is brown, so of course one of the many lenses through which I see and am seen by the world, is that of a person of color. If the e-mail I received is an indicator, there are still many of us not fully ready to speak respectfully about race. I didn't expect 100 percent empathy regarding that or any of my columns, but I certainly didn't expect my words that month to be a lightning rod for hatred from every bigot with Internet access. I'm still processing the resultant e-mail.

My take on winter brought the best surprise in my Our Lives adventure. That column elicited the most e-mail response to date -- all of it favorable. It was great to find that I am not the only snow bunny out there. Apparently winter lovers are no strangers to the pen. All of the mail was practically poetic, and one in particular took my breath away. I was secretly hoping my winter paean would find its way to Greg Fishel, on whom I have quite the weather crush, but alas, it apparently has not.

In the beginning, it was unclear to me whether people wanted a reply. Though I'm still not completely sure, one of my post-column tasks is to revisit my inbox. Capturing a portion of your life in 650 words can be challenging. Save one column (the one about summer), I always want more time with what I've written, so it's particularly gratifying when I hear that my thoughts resonate with others. Two such happy moments came when a fellow Our Lives columnist and, at another time, my editor sent me a comment about my words.

I think I've managed not to mortify my offspring, so I suppose it somehow balances my universe that the best compliment of all should come via one of them. My daughter asked if a schoolmate could interview me for a career assignment. I responded, "I'd be glad to talk to her, honey. Lord knows we need more good teachers."

My daughter replied with characteristic puzzled exasperation, "She doesn't want to be a teacher, Mom! She wants to be a writer."

So there you have it. It's been my pleasure, everybody. Thanks.

Contact Jennifer Dykes at dykesjenn@bellsouth.net.

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