Do you know what I’ve discovered? Sometimes I think I live under a rock. Where was I when 64-year-old Diana Nyad swam from Cuba to Key West (103 miles)? I clearly missed it. Recently when I had writer’s block and couldn’t sleep, I was flipping through the TV channels and stumbled across a documentary on how Diana conquered a 35-year-old goal of swimming from Cuba to Key West without a shark tank. Her biggest fear: jelly fish—which almost defeated her until she figured out a special facial mask to wear that would thwart their stings. The first four attempts—at least once she almost died—had me screaming at the TV at 1:00 in the morning: “Girl, have you lost your freakin’ mind?” Her screams of agony each time she was stung by jelly fish were excruciating to listen to. Every time she failed, I was crushed. By the fifth time Diana Nyad actually accomplished her goal. I was so pissed at her for what she put her family, friends, and me, the viewer, through that I almost jumped into the TV and smacked her upside her head in my best black mama moment. (DISCLAIMER: I am not a swimmer, so another take-away from Nyad’s documentary is that I’m never getting in the bathtub ever again for fear of water, in general, and jelly fish specifically. I also went through this bathtub withdrawal the summer the movie Jaws came out.)
When asked why she attempted such an arduous feat that took 53 hours to complete and $500,000 to facilitate, she replied: “Because I’d like to prove to the other 60-year-olds that it is never too late to start your dreams.”
Used by Permission: David Fitzsimmons, The Arizona Star
Jelly fish. Tropical storms. Sharks. Dehydration. Hypothermia. Horrors! Who does this kind of stuff in water? There isn’t a black person in the world who would subject him or herself to this kind of torture. As I thought more about it, I pondered over the concept that maybe this was a white people thing. So I decided to check it out with the white person I’ve been sleeping with for the past 34 plus years who loves to swim (WW, “White and Wonderful”). I brought the subject up during one of our recent Sunday mimosa-fueled brunches.
ME: “Hey Babe. I just saw a documentary on Diana Nyad and her marathon swim from Cuba to Key West. Did you know about that herculean feat, because I didn’t until I saw the Showtime special?”
WW: (Head buried in Sunday newspaper) “Yeah—vaguely. It’s a motivational story about a woman who should be right up your alley since you’ve trying to successfully publish your first book as a woman in your 60s. Why do you ask? Did you learn anything new regarding Nyad’s accomplishment?”
ME: “White people be crazy, and I just wanted you to confirm it.”
WW: “Somehow, I don’t think that was supposed to be the take-away.”
ME: “Really? Who would quit their job, risk their health, their life, time with their family, and oodles of money to spend countless hours at a task in a solitary pursuit of a goal in their 60’s?”
WW: “Oh let me guess. Someone who wants to be a writer, who stays holed up in her office for hours and days at a time, who I have to check on periodically to make sure she hasn’t died, and every once in a while drag her to bed after she has done a face plant into her computer. Shall I poll the audience at the breakfast table to see who that might be sitting right next to me?”
ME: “Oh come on—I’m not that bad.”
WW: “You want to bet. Do you have any idea what season we’re in now? What? Did you just mumble that you think ‘it’s still spring’? But in spite of all the sacrifices, the good news is that you’ve almost reached ‘Key West’—your book is almost ready to launch—and I couldn’t be prouder of you. I’m also eager to get my ‘Wreck of the Hesperus’ wife back.”
ME: “Oh that is so cold!”
The night after I had the conversation with my husband, I had a dream about another white man—Mark Twain—my muse and one of the funniest writers I’ve ever read. I went in search of him between the heavenly stacks of the biggest library I’d ever seen in my life. I was carrying the galleys of my book in the hope he’d give me some encouraging words for the journey ahead. When I caught up with Mr. Twain, he was smoking a cigar and laughing his ass off with Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes over the bane of literary censorship. I could hardly speak when I entered their presence.
TWAIN: “Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it.”*
ME: “Excuse me Ms. Hurston and Mr. Hughes. May I interrupt a moment to speak to Mr. Twain? Mr. Twain, ah Mr. Twain . . . I am such a huge fan of yours. I can’t believe that I have this opportunity to chat with you before my book launch. Did you get the word from the angels that I’m about to publish my first book on Earth within the next 4-6 weeks? I’m hoping it will make its debut by Christmas. It all depends on if the artists I’ve hired produce the cover I envision on time. They are working on it, even as we speak. My book is called Monsters’ Throwdown, and it is all about plowing through the bullies (a.k.a. “monsters”) in our lives to fulfill our calling—our dreams. I would love to hear your critique of it.”
TWAIN: “I haven’t any right to criticize books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”
ME: “Oh, Jesus! I can see that eternity has not dulled your acerbic tongue. Maybe for my sake, it’s better that you are dead since I’m no Jane Austin. If you hated her work, I can’t imagine what you’d say about my book. Writing has been so hard, but it gives me such a feeling of triumph when I am led to the end of a story or a book that I am creating, and it is my dream to exit this world as a successful writer. (Note that I said ‘successful,’ not starving writer.) Did you find writing to be difficult?”
TWAIN: “Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.”
ME: “Easy for you to say—you’re a master. You’re a genius.”
TWAIN: “My books are like water; those of the great geniuses are wine. (Fortunately) everybody drinks water.”
ME: “Well, may I be worthy to be compared to your water someday. I am a humorist with an edge and you are my muse, and I want to be the female Mark Twain of my day, but I waited until I retired and was in my 60s to start this journey. Isn’t that insane? Did you see the Diana Nyad special on Showtime? Is Diana correct that ‘it is never too late?’ I’m afraid that the marrying of the tragedies and the heartaches I’ve experienced in life will not merge well with my humor. What if people are completely horrified and think that causing them to laugh in the midst of devastation will in turn cause them to be glib about the human condition?”
TWAIN: “The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter. Everything human is pathetic. The secret source of humor itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven.”
ME: “But what if I don’t make any money off of this writing dream? I have to eat, you know, and I am partial to a constant influx of bling and a certain standard of living now that I am no longer a poor black child. How long should I keep on keeping on? It took Diana five times to reach her goal.”
TWAIN: “Write without pay until someone offers pay. If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this as a sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for.”
ME: “Okay! That’s your way of telling me when to let go and return to ‘Cuba.’ Got it! I just wish I wasn’t so afraid. What if the critics hate my book? Worse—what if my book never gets noticed enough to be criticized and it drowns in the sea of wannabes? Were you this afraid when you first started? Does the fear ever go away?”
TWAIN: “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”
ME: “I see. Well, good-bye Mr. Twain. Hugs and kisses Ms. Hurston and Mr. Hughes. Maybe I’ll get a chance to chat with you when I publish my second book in my Discovery series about life’s disappointment titled: Seriously God, WTF? Wish me luck, all! I will be brave and reach my ‘Key West.’ I will be brave and outswim the jelly fish and the sharks. I will be brave. . .”
I am discovering that we all have a calling and dreams to accomplish in our lifetimes, and as long as we are alive we need to press on toward the goals that can so easily elude us to win the prize set before us. It really is nobody else’s business what are calling is and their jelly fish stings must not thwart us. The adventure is there to be had, but all our journeys are fraught with peril and rough waters. Whether we’re the white marathon swimmer battling the jelly fish or we’re the crazy-ass black writer battling critical voices, the only voice we’re responsible to is the one that calls us from within to head for Key West and step upon its shores having fulfilled our dream. Be on the lookout for the launch of Monsters’ Throwdown–December 2013!
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” ― Winston Churchill
“You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.” ― Stephen King, On Writing
“The biggest adventure you can ever take is to live the life of your dreams.” ― Oprah Winfrey
“It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else.” ― Erma Bombeck
“I believe that the most important single thing, beyond discipline and creativity is daring to dare.” ― Maya Angelou
*In real life, I have no “unearthly” link to the great Mark Twain. All Mark Twain quotes used above were actually written by him at one time or another during his lifetime and culled from the Internet from various sources but with a special shout out to Luis Azevedo’s Reviews.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Eleanor Tomczyk and “How the Hell Did I End Up Here?” with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.