THE NATIONAL BOOK CONVENTION IN WASHINGTON DC
I woke up. I got dressed. I hitched a ride into DC. I met my sister-in-law. Was I excited for the day that lay ahead? Not necessarily. After going to sleep at 2 AM and having to wake up at 7, I had to be out of the door no later than 8:30. And that is scary for a woman who needs to flat iron a whole head of wavy hair. But I was determined to look my best for the Old Rockstar and the New Rockstar, so regardless of the time, I was gonna flat iron my hair.
So, to optimize my time, I left my car at home to avoid searching for parking. Ya'll know how DC can be. They built a city too small for everyone with cars, and now they want you to pay an arm and a leg to park in a concrete space that was created as an afterthought.
But my lack of excitement increased once I stepped out of the car and onto the concrete. I tried to get my mom to come in and see the world of fanatic readers and hopeful writers. Fat chance. The diva who birthed me didn't like going into public without having her "eyes" properly applied with mascara and whatnot. So, the lady who loves to be meticulously put together from head to toe rejected me, because I had sprung the favor to drive me to DC on her.
Regardless, I was ready to face the two Rockstars. Now I was excited. I was about to step into my world. A world where people were like me. We, the nerds, the pen geeks, the thirsty and humble English intellects. Yeah. For this world, I would gladly step into with just five hours of sleep under my belt and make up for it with overpriced coffee. But unfortunately, the coffee would come later, because you wouldn't want to step out on a Rockstar just to potty because your diuretic got the best of you, right?
Enveloped into a world of people who share the common lust for a great paperback book or have a mentalgasm at the thought of entering Barnes and Noble, we all became little karate fighters who traded in facial expressions for open jaws and blank stares because we had finally met the greatest sensei, our Mr. Miyagi . . . Mr. Stephen King.
Thirsty for his knowledge and literary greatness, we all wanted him to show us the way. Give us the secret. Let us know how we, too, can become international bestsellers. Revealing a personality that was funny, bold, blunt, and confident, did we get the secret? Did he show us 'the way'? No. Did that irritate me? Not at all. Because the secret and 'the way' was best fed through the appreciation of knowing where he'd come from--not in the result.
You never learn how to get to the same place or better from where someone is currently sitting, but rather from where they've been. Boasting accolades of having written over 50 books and 100 short stories and being an international bestseller, well, that didn't help. Well appreciated, but not an entree that would get me fed.
See, with me, I became stuffed, satisfied in the gut, but not when Stephen King said that he and John Grisham were just two boys from the country that just happened to get lucky. Is that it? It that your food for thought? Luck? Nah. I pushed the appetizer of crumbs back to Mr. King and waited for the real meal. Oh! Here's my steak and potatoes!
He and his wife didn't start off in a lofty home. Of course not! She had a part-time job at Dunkin' Donuts and he worked somewhere . . . Oh I forget. But I do recall his mentioning of their Buick almost throwing up the transmission on a daily basis. They could barely afford life, but they managed to save just enough to splurge on some book membership thingy that allowed them to read every book penned. Cool. He had to climb a ladder. He wasn't always happy with his work. Nice. But how did Stephen King become The Stephen King?
By not giving up. By being diligent in his craft. By reading other authors' works. No one set of formula will work for one author the way it did for another. I simply learned that I liked honoring his legacy by being supportive. I learned that this very humble being wants children to have a chance to read and develop a deep appreciation for books. He wants parents to get into the habit of reading to children at an early age before TV rots their tiny brains out. He wants America to value reading like they would sports and movies. He wants us to do the leg work of feeding our brain instead of just having our brains being fed. My take is when we feed the brain, we decide the food. When our brain is being fed, we allow the unfiltered to infiltrate.
Indirectly, Mr. King taught me that I was on the right track by being an author. Okay, but how to become a success? Now that is totally up to me and my efforts. I think we can't really teach success--that is an inner drive. We can teach methods that complement that drive. What's drive without methods? What good are methods without a drive to propel them? On the other hand, my HR degree taught me that in order for one to succeed, you need to research the best practices for your field and we owe it to ourselves to do that. It'd be arrogant or remiss of us to not see what others have done in our field to decrease the rate of failure. I say, if you come to the table hungry with the understanding of how to cut a steak more than 20 ways, then you'll eat well. There's success. No one's gonna cut it for you.
So, afterwards, I met a young lady, Alexandra, and together, we wanted to go to the next program. After lunch and getting to know one another, we headed on back upstairs to see the New Rockstar. We didn't know if we would pass out first or what, but the New Rockstar replaced our sad feelings of bidding adeu to Stephen King.
Sparing the details of how we composed ourselves before seeing the great African American lady who changed the game of Thursday nights and television period, I knew I wouldn't have a moment like this again--or not for a while. I choose to believe the latter.
Watching Shonda Rhimes speak was like watching the new-aged Oprah Winfrey of writing. She was powerful, self-assured, confident and unapologetic. She was . . . the modern bad-ass woman.
Watching her speak, here was a woman whose words of wisdom I knew I'd swallow whole. She looked like me, I mean, we shared the same skin color and gender and that is a big deal given the hurdles minorities face in this society, whether it be from skin color, gender, or any other category that faces additional and unnecessary challenges. But I learned that Shonda Rhimes and I shared something in common: We both didn't feel as though our color and sex necessarily impaired us, because those traits have been with us for our entire lives so essentially, that's all we've known. She saw them as assets, and I agree! I mean, should I not?
I understand that. Everyone may not. However, we're not blind to the adversities faced by women or people of our race. We just choose to not let it victimize us. Call me crazy but since I was a child, I saw that I had brown skin and owned a vagina. And I was always ready to go with a let's-do-this attitude! Besides, it's up to you to find the beauty in yourself regardless of whatever. So I'm with you Miss Shonda! No stigma here! Moving on.
So, what I saw in front of me was a woman who wouldn't back down. A woman of her own rules. Someone I could only dream would hang out with me. A person who had many millions but understood giving to the community. Shonda Rhimes and Stephen King just want the public to understand that they still care. Her way was donating significantly to the new DC African American museum. Privately, her way was creating several full-time jobs by delegating tasks of her life, realizing that she didn't need to do everything on her own. But what did I learn from her?
Here sat a woman who'd read every Stephen King book, who wrote for her school's newspaper, who wore coke-sized bottle glasses and preferred the company of her books to that of the crowd, who would want you to tell her why you like one of her shows over the other should you ever meet her, who read any book of her choice at age eight with no content off limits at the permission of her excellent and forever supportive parents, and finally a woman who is still just Shonda Rhimes to her older five siblings and parents.
I learned that she didn't have a shabby childhood story. This ivy league educated woman didn't believe that true creativity could only be born from those who suffered a damaged childhood. I learned that what Stephen King is trying to do for children now, will yield the product of what Shonda Rhimes is today. He wants children to turn to books to save their minds, and Shonda Rhimes is an example of a great mind nurtured by the works of authors. Two authors with a tie that binds them. And not all stars rock but these two do, making them my Rockstars.
Physically, I sat below the platform of two great Rockstars, one old and one new, but mentally we sat on the same plane field. We are all trying to save the minds of humans with our words while saving ourselves by living out our passions. That's the true job of an author: to work the imagination in the minds of those who seek to live in an alternate universe for hours at a time and to enrich the brains by increasing the performance of wires capable of critical analysis. And since I can't find the harm in that as an author myself, then sign me up for a lifetime commitment.