I do my best thinking hiking up and down the hills of Laguna Beach, my adopted city. This afternoon, I’m heading up that one hill that parallels Laguna Canyon Road near my home with my Staffies, Fergie and Jake. Got a lot on my mind. The hill is steep with fabulous views of Catalina and sunsets. It was up one of the higher hills I figured out the meaning of life. Okay, maybe not the entire meaning of life, but certainly some key elements, along with insights regarding my marriage and plot points for my two African-based novels,
The hill is steep with fabulous views of Catalina and sunsets. It was up one of the higher hills I figured out the meaning of life. Okay, maybe not the entire meaning of life, but certainly some key elements, along with insights regarding my marriage and plot points for my two African-based novels, Monkey’s Wedding and Mine Dances. Today, the publication of my memoir, Loveyoubye, Holding Fast, Letting Go, and Then There’s the Dog, is on my mind. It’s coming out April 8, 2014 from She Writes Press and I’m freaking out. Me in the public eye, giving readings. In front of people.
I stop on this one flat area with the remains of a house, and watch the dogs chase a rabbit. It was my Jazzercise buddy’s comment the day before that I could be on Oprah that set me off. Totally unlikely of course, but it sent me running to my dark place, the one where I’ve already spent some time anguishing over the actuality of putting my life out there. I got over it, well, more or less, when I sent the manuscript for Loveyoubye to the publisher. But now the real deal of going public is looming.
It’s Sister Damian Marie’s fault. She’s the one who gave me this phobia about being in front of a group, adding to my good South African children-seen-and-not heard issue. That time she sentenced me to an entire week of standing in front of her class at St. John’s Convent School in Nkana, Zambia. There I was on display below the banner she had strung above the blackboard–“To Thine Own Self Be True”–all because of that excuse letter I wrote for myself. I can still feel my smirking classmates’ eyes bore into me.
“I guess I never got over it,” I tell the dogs, and we continue up the hill. Of course, if it weren’t for the American Sisters of Saint John the Bapist nuns who came to Nkana to school us heathens, I wouldn’t be here in Laguna Beach. Them with their rich slangy accents, their inviting American scenes plastered all over our bulletin boards, their art projects, and their sometimes unconventional ways. That’s what had inspired me. Despite whacking us over the knuckles with rulers, their rigid religious beliefs and disdain for us, they fed my curious nature. At twenty-three, I left Africa and years later I made it to Laguna Beach, capital of the unconventional. This is where I finally became an artist and a writer.
This is where I wrote my memoir, a process that took me back to Africa and reconciliation with my African self, bringing me full circle. I glance around still able to marvel that I’m here where I want to be. Sister Damian Marie pops into my mind and I grin. Her with that damn banner strung above the blackboard, her always pointing at it like it had to mean something to us. Hell, all we wanted to do was survive her class. Now it has meaning for me. In the coming months I’ll think of Sister Damian Marie’s banner and I will survive being in front of the class again, but this time understanding what it means to be true to myself. I will complete the journey I began when I started my memoir. Reading out loud, speaking my truth, I’ll take one more step to the authentic self I aspire to be.