Here we are in Afrofuturism Month, discussing the power of myth is the ability to take the wisdom of “the ancestors” and emotionalize it so you can FEEL its truth. And when they are stories, not lectures, they bypass conscious thought…
If you don’t believe in yourself, you don’t take action. Or you take weak action. And when you hit the Dark Night of the Soul, YOU WILL QUIT, or at the very least interpret this as “I cannot”. Take less action, get worse results, in a descending spiral until you crash and burn.
If you have UNSTOPPABLE belief in yourself? You take MASSIVE action, out of which SOME actions will get the results you want, you pounce on that like a Black Panther. You get more results, leading to more confidence, leading to more action in an ascending spiral that becomes a raging fire…and you create the life of your dreams.
On an individual level, this is self-image, clarity of goals, the stories you tell yourself about your past, what your failures and successes in the arenas of body, career, relationships all MEAN. Does a loss of love mean you are doomed to be alone? Or was love a beautiful experience, the ending of the relationship a mirror for the things you will heal, shift and grow so that your next experience is even better?
I remember when I started writing. It was all I wanted in life, and I got rejection after rejection for story after story. I could feel the despair and hear the negative voices in my head. My mother’s voice, telling me I would be crushed unless I chose a quiet, traditional, conservative path. The voices of teachers telling me I was too “commercial” or conversely too odd.
One day at Pepperdine I was sitting in front of the cafeteria writing a story. A black upper classman walked by. “Hey, little brother, whatcha doing?”
“Writing a story,” I said, happy that he was interested.
He looked puzzled. “Is that a class assignment?”
“No. Just…writing a story.”
“Oh,” he said, even more puzzled now. “Did you see it on television?”
I felt the slightest thread of irritation. “No. I’m writing a story.”
“Oh,” he said. And then paused and said four words that devastated me: “Black people don’t write.”
Heard it from everywhere. Teachers. Friends. Mom. Society. When the rejections came in, it just weighed on me. All the hissing demons in my heart screamed do loudly I could hardly hear my thoughts.
This is crazy. You are wasting your life. You’re doomed. You have never even MET a writer. Let alone a black one. Let alone a black science fiction writer…dammit, there are barely any science fiction CHARACTERS. What makes you think you can do this…
With THOUSANDS of examples of white characters, hundreds of examples of white writers, unpublished white writers feel the same doubts, the same fears. What would they have felt WITHOUT those advantages?
Would it be worse than what I felt? Impossible to answer. But the voices in my head tried to use that to stop me, too. Give up. Its just too hard…
Anyone who knew me from college will remember how cocky I was. That was sheer bravado, an ego shell hard enough to protect me, a chrysalis protecting an emerging butterfly.
How did I do it? Wellll
Even though Mom couldn’t support my dream of being a writer, she had given me the basic building blocks to believe in myself. God would not give you a dream you can hold continuously in your heart, unless somewhere within you unless you had the ability to bring it into existence.
I think she’d found that in Think And Grow Rich. That book, arguably the best self-help book ever written, also introduced me to the concept of modeling. I couldn’t find any black writers to model, but I believed that if I looked at enough of them, the humanity HAD to apply to me. It just had to. Hold onto that dream…
So I searched, and researched, and asked: what was the average number of stories a writer wrote and submitted before selling? It was hard to say, but it looked like the average writer published at about 32. After writing story after story after story. I wasn’t sure…but it seemed the average number of stories written before successful publication looked like about THIRTY.
My mother had said something POC and women hear a lot, I think: “you have to be twice as good to get half as far.” I dug down and found the place inside me that wasn’t’ angered by this. Anger is fear. I was not afraid. I found the I AM part of myself, the God would not give you a dream you can hold continuously in your heart, unless somewhere within you unless you had the ability to bring it into existence part of myself.
I would write 100 stories. And submit them, one after another, moving on to the next one before the last one was rejected, so that I’d have a bit of emotional distance and be able to handle the pain, and it WOULD be painful. ONE HUNDRED STORIES before I even BEGAN to question whether I could make it.
And I wrote, and wrote…and made it to about #24 before I sold my first story, TRICK OR TREAT, about a man who gets into an escalating war of nerves with Halloweeners, every year things getting a little worse and a little worse, back and forth…until one year he accidentally kills one of them, and he knows that the next year…they will murder him.
My first story. Actually published. Sure, I “only” got a fifth of a cent a word, but dammit, I was PUBLISHED!!!!
Because I took massive action. Because I refused to quit. Because somewhere deep inside myself I remembered what my mother’s book had said: that I could not hold a dream in my heart continuously unless somewhere within me there was the ability to fulfill it.
That belief had saved me. I believe in heroes. In imperfect people in an imperfect world still finding love, and courage, and connection. Why? Because that is the world I see and feel, and have since childhood.
That is what I used to compensate for the ugly history, the arid reality, the lack of father or uncles or brothers or role models who had experienced what I experienced.
Belief that somewhere inside me, no matter what anyone said, I had what it took to be a writer.
And now, three million published words and over thirty novels later, I look back at that kid, and I say: what could anyone have done to make his path easier?
And that is what I write. My stories are for THAT kid…because I know that if I can do it right, I am leaving a trail of bread crumbs for other little boys and girls. That while boys of my own ethnicity are the focus, I’ve had thousands of men and women of all races tell me that the stories move them. THAT is my bliss. Beliefs matter. When encoded in fiction, they bypass the conscious filters, and therefore the hissing snakes of doubt.
When they are deep enough, they can communicate across all social, gender, and ethnic lines. If a READER is deep enough, they can extract what they need from other writers, despite superficial differences.
But…most people are just people. They aren’t “deep” they are average. And for the average person, the closer to “them” the images, the easier it is to silence the doubting voices:
That’s not you. That person was born rich/white/male/in a “better time”.
That’s not you. You are too old/too young/too uneducated/too educated/too intelligent(!)/ not intelligent enough/not talented
That’s not you. It is too late/too soon.
That’s not you. Except that God Dammit, it IS you. They are ALL you. There is, I believe right down to my toes, one soul looking out through many eyes. You are ALL me. And I am all of you..
The doubting voices will use ANYTHING to slow you down. To cripple your ability to break your ego box. And if you are part of a disadvantaged group? The “Crabs in a basket” thing kicks in, where others will try to stop you from achieving, because if you achieve the doubting voices in their minds will awaken from slumber to try to force THEM to remain in the box.
Hope kills. If you give up, you save yourself a world of pain and disappointment.
But I knew that if I gave up, I was already dead. I’d just be one of Romero’s zombies, lurching along in an imitation of life, my dreams already putrifying.
God would not give me a dream I could hold continuously in my heart, unless somewhere within me I had the ability to bring it into existence.
And in every arena of my life, that has proven to be true. Have I achieved every individual goal? Hell no! But I GOT THE LIFE I DREAMED OF IN CHILDHOOD.
Could I have dreamed a little better, a little more “adultly”? Sure. Working on that now. But the core reality is that if I died tomorrow, I’ve already gotten more than I ever expected to get from life. I have a beautiful family and a loving wife, thousands of fans all over the world, have helped countless people find THEIR dreams (thanks, Mom!), and have had mind-blowing martial arts and adventure experiences that would have melted the brain of the little nerd who dreamed of one day being a hero. Of being admired by the men I admired, and desired by the women I desired.
Life is good. It will get better. Especially if I now concentrate on helping others, as I was helped.
Believe in yourself. Help each other. Keep moving. And if you lacked the cultural or personal myths to empower you CREATE THEM. Heal yourself with them. And share them with the world so that others can heal.
Ask “where did we come from?” without guilt, blame or shame. Ask “where am I now?” taking responsibility without fear. Ask “where are we going?” with confidence that if ANYONE can do it, you can.
That God would not give you a dream you can hold continuously in your heart, unless somewhere within you you had the ability to bring it into existence.
Because even though you won’t get everything you set out to do, if you choose your goals carefully, NO ONE can stop you from being the person you were born to be.
And frankly, that’s enough.