In my series, Roses and Dames, the protagonist is a wayward soul because her foundation, her start in life, was quite unstable. That said, I’ve been asked often why my series is based on this madam who orchestrates sexual transactions for gain. “The book was good,” readers will say. Then, comes the side-eye or sly smile, "Where did that idea come from?" It's like they are waiting for me to reveal a dark secreted past life I've had. I usually smile at this takeaway, because for one it's hilarious. And two, because I realize they’ve missed the point of the story. The character's role as owner of an escort service is merely a detail. The theme of the story is based on her lost identity. Her means of income solidifies that lost, but it also serves as a mechanism of growth. As a writer, I’m all about exploring self-identification and getting to the core of a character's true being. After all, in life there comes a time when we all have to find ourselves, right?
During the start of quarantine last year, I went on a historical quest to read literature from the 20s and 30s. I read Passing by Nella Larson, then moved on to A Collection of Short Stories by Langston Hughes, among a few works by Wallace Thurman. Then, I decided to reread Their Eyes Were Watching God, by one of my favs Zora Neale Hurston. In honor of Women’s History Month, I have to highlight Ms. Hurston as the origin of my message today. In an English college course, Their Eyes Were Watching God was the first time I ever read a story about a beautiful black woman in search of her identity. But even more significant, I identified with the brutal effects that not knowing yourself can cause. Just to refresh your memory (or introduce the plot if you’ve never read it), the protagonist, Janie, had to learn and unlearn elements about self-love to finally find herself. She had to retrain her mind from some of the values she had been taught. In the novel, Janie is a young woman whose grandmother is an ex-slave just trying to live as best she can. She only knows to land the first suitor who looks her granddaughter’s way, as she is aware she cannot take care of Janie for much longer.
It didn’t matter that Janie wanted to go to school instead, which was the initial teaching that her feelings didn't matter—foundational era #1. So, her grandmother marries her off to this older man who treats her like a “pack mule”, and it didn't work out. She moves on to another relationship after that one falls apart, and this time she’s treated as a pretty face with no voice; a tool used for a man’s own social climb to become a mayor. As Hurston puts it, “she had an inside and an outside now and suddenly she knew how not to mix them.” This is one of the most memorable lines for me. It explains the epitome of a woman who has turned off her inner feelings in order to get by. She's simply existing without having any of her needs met.
In the story, Janie is 44 years old when she finally finds herself. Let me just say, this validates that age has nothing to do with knowing your true self. You can be in your twenties and fully self-aware, and you can also be in your sixties and have no clue. So, how does a person find out who they are? I can only speak from my heart and what I’ve learned. I always say it's about experience and exposure. We all take several trips around the sun, experiencing various joys and pitfalls, and hopefully learning from those incidents.
For me, each time I’ve gone through something—good or bad—I come out of it with a new perspective of self. We run into trouble when we encounter the same faulty experiences without changing how we handle them. And we are all products of experience and exposure. We can only see things differently if we’re exposed to them. For instance, imagine if every relationship a woman has been in resulted in her being treated solely as arm candy, or a common bopper. Side Note: I really showed my age with that term. If you were a young adult in the 90s please stand up!
Now back to our topic. How would a woman know what it feels like to be valued and adorned if she hasn't been exposed to it? She probably wouldn't know. Her current exposures haven’t shown her what that looks like yet. However, when that same woman learns to treat herself better because she grew from past experiences, she will soon gain that exposure. 'Cause as y'all know, we attract what we give off.
And when she receives top tier treatment, she’ll never go back to anything less than. The same thing applies with self-esteem. I research all the time and come across articles where women discuss reasons for lack of self-worth. One commonality in each story is that no one has ever poured into the person who lacks the self-worth. And I don’t mean materialistically either. Providing gifts and taking care of business is a given; that’s already understood, right? By "poured into", I mean adding positivity to their spirit, and allowing them to be exactly who they are, flaws and all. Yet, still showing them genuine love despite those flaws.
Just as the character, Janie, had to learn; you are who God made you to be. You just have to keep moving, keep growing, and keep learning from experiences to get to that core. Get exposed to different things by stepping outside of the box that others have placed you in. I’m not just writing this from an objective place, I’ve lived it. The exposure I've had in my life has built me up to the woman I have become. And I still strive each day to learn more about myself and grow even further. By being comfortable with me, my road to peace is clearer than ever before. I’m now mentally and spiritually free to be my entire self, and guess what's even greater? I have zero effs to give for who doesn't like it. That's what knowing your self and being exposed to mental freedom will do. So, the next time someone (anyone) crosses you with treatment beneath your standards, set the boundary right away. Whether it's business/work related, or personal, when you value yourself, others will value you too. And if they don't acquiesce, allow that experience to elevate you to the next level of self-discovery, and keep moving forward. No matter how long it takes to discover your core being, just keep going. Positive vibes, inner-beauty, and growth to all!