Navigating My Identity With Words

My husband says I grew up like a gypsy. He says that's why I get uncomfortable when we live in a single place for more than a few years. I'm not sure if that's true, but I do know that for as long as I can remember, I have been searching for my place; searching for somewhere my spirit will recognize I belong.

My writing has always accompanied me on my journey to find my voice.

The characters I create and the stories I tell reflect that. I write about women, mothers, sisters and children. I write about subtle traumas and catastrophic ones. I write about relationships and love, both the ones that hurt and the ones that heal. I write about the intricacies and politics of identity and I write myself into places and spaces where I and others like me can belong. 

In my first three years of life I lived in Washington, DC, New York City, Puerto Rico and New Jersey. After that I bounced back to New York, then on to New Hampshire, Connecticut, Texas, Hawaii and finally landed in Pennsylvania where I currently reside, but geography was not the only aspect of my life that made me question my place. I grew up with a fair-skinned Black mother, two very fair-skinned sisters who shared an Irish-American father, and a transient stream of my mothers boyfriends and husbands. 

I only had a vague notion of who my father was, aside from the fact that he was "dark." I now know this to mean that he was darker than my mother, though not necessarily dark-skinned, but growing up my father's "darkness" was used by my mother to highlight my difference from both her and my sisters. I was always aware that I was browner than them, that my lips (particularly my bottom one) were larger than theirs, that my hair was coarser than theirs, and that my nose had a "pug shape," as my mother called it.

As she pointed out all of these things, though they each stung in their own way, the overwhelming feeling I was left with was that I was different, and different was not a good thing. 

I have spent my life navigating my space. Living in the in-betweens. I found solace in the television shows, movies and books where I found characters that mirrored my experience, but found those stories to be few and far in between, so I began writing my own. 

Story telling at its best allows us to not only connect with charactersacross the spectrum of human experience, but it allows us to find ourselves.

The worlds I create spring from the world I come from.

They are diverse, challenging, blended and heart breaking, but they differ in that I help my characters find power in their difference, a power I wish I had recognized growing up.

To read more about how my experiences growing up shaped my identity, read this piece I wrote for mater mea magazine.

Artist's Prayer

A Year of Toni Morrison