She approached me slowly, hesitantly, just a child hoping not to disturb her father.
I chose to leave the blog post for another day and turned to my daughter Kendra. Nine years old on the outside, older than time in many ways. I took a second to take in the face before me, not the visage of a little kid, but a refined bone structure that transcends simple prettiness. She tucked her long dark hair behind her ears and grinned like a sage selfishly hoarding a wondrous secret.
"I have a dilemma."
No need to even ask her if she knows what the word means. She goes through books the way I go through "digital ink."
"Project Adventure starts this week, but this is also the last week of chorus practice before our winter concert."
Kendra has been talking about Project Adventure since hearing about it during orientation at her new school. Joel Elementary gives its students a chance to participate on a week of fun physical activities to combat the typical cabin fever that takes over when the climate turns cold. As soon as she heard the words "zip line" she knew she wanted to do nothing else.
"So...I don't know what to do."
"Well, talk to your teacher and if you want to do well at the concert, ask your chorus teacher to give you the songs you'll be singing and I'll help you practice."
I was not prepared for the wide eyes and the sudden look of abject horror on her face.
"You mean...you'd hear me sing?"
"Well, yeah. That's kind of how it works."
"But I can't sing in front of people."
It was my turn to look shocked. I have a video clip that proves her wrong, so wrong. Unknown to Mommy and me, Kendra can carry a tune better than she even knows. "You just sang in front a group of veterans and you did it really well. What do you mean you can't sing in front of people?"
She stammered that it was easier with a group although in the clip, she's the only one singing; one of the tougher lines of "America The Beautiful" no less. After a back and forth conversation about singing in front of an audience, I sensed the answer was far simpler.
"What if someone laughs at me?" She confirmed my suspicions.
When your child asks a question, someone up there hits you with a fleeting bolt of wisdom, just enough enlightenment to fulfill your parental role in the life of a new soul. This was one of those moments. "Do you like to sing?"
"I love to sing," she replied, her hazel eyes glittering.
"Sing for yourself first," I told her. When she continued to stare blankly at me, I added, "Look, ever since you held that crayon with your left hand and put on fashion shows for me, I knew you had an artistic streak, and artists do whatever it is they do for themselves first. They don't care what anyone else will think of them because they're doing something that makes them happy."
Tears filled her eyes though I didn't know why.
"But kids make fun of other kids."
Hard to believe, considering the lengths she'll go to, being a goofball for anyone else. "Yeah, but you have no problem being a clown with your friends."
"Well, I'm a comedian," she laughed.
"Comedians are courageous."
"Of course they are. They act all weird and say silly things, knowing that some people are not going to like them or laugh. It takes a lot of courage to get up on a stage and tell a group of people a joke they may not find funny."
"Then why do comedians do it?"
I imagined myself coming off like a sage, so I leaned in and looked her in the eye, enjoying my movie moment. "Because, Kendra." I paused for effect. "They love to make themselves laugh first."
We shared a long silence, and a sparkle in her gaze told me she understood.
"Singing is a gift to be shared. I heard you sing for the Vets and you were great. You held each note, your voice had volume, and it sounded amazing. It really did. It really surprised me. It'd be a shame not to let others hear your voice."
A grateful little tear trickled down her cheek before she smiled and thanked me. She promised to get a list of the songs for the concert and now looks forward to practicing with me.
Once I got back to this blog, I realized that perhaps that enlightenment that comes at those father/daughter talk moments, was also meant for myself.
I've questioned why keep writing.
I've questioned it like never before. Some practical voice inside me often protests the time committed to write and all the work that yields such little results. Another cynic voice often wonders why even try when every possible storyline has already been told. Some reproaching voices scream at me to stop trying, to stop filling Facebook feeds with book ads that are often ignored completely; to stop posting reviews that elicit very little response from others; to stop anxiously waiting for a promised review that's never going to come; to stop writing so the risk of hearing my stories are boring no longer exists. Time to put the time into getting a real job or a degree that will turn work into better living. Time to lose the illusion of finding you novel in the hands of millions. Time to accept no one will ever care about making a film out of your scripts. Time to move on and meet your responsibilities with a better arsenal than millions of words that yield nothing but a bank account in the red.
When times are tough, those voice are loudest and much of myself agrees with them but...
Writing makes me happy.
I've stopped caring about what anyone will say of my flawed Samantha because she taught me strength while Lewis taught me to be true to myself. I ached over the decisions they made just like I gritted my teeth as John saw no way out of his losses until he somehow realized that once you hit rock bottom you can finally stand. Ken Glass managed to rearrange my perspective on death, perseverance, and the melody life can really be, and Tony reminded me to rely on family and solid friendships to surge ahead.
I write for myself. I write because I simply need it the way I need to breathe to live, and because more than a few people contacted me to let me know my stories touched them, changed them, and affected them. At that point writing became a gift to give and how could I leave those few people wondering where Gwen came from; or what will become of Patricia or what's the name Brooke Elizabeth chose?
I realize many who read this post have no idea whom I'm speaking of, and I apologize for that. But there's one thing I've learned through trying to infuse my daughter with the courage to shine before an audience, and give her gift to it. I learned I wrote the stories for me, just like many of you have written your stories for yourselves, and oh, how they shine when that passion comes through each line. How those wonderful characters come alive when the author breathed soul into them: Cassidy Jones, Jay the Treeman and Jodi, "Daddy" Edwards, Beck and McSwain, Zack in heaven, Anna in France, SUKI, Chayton and Montana, Mauricio, Hattie, and thousand others that live in those stories...
Apologies to practicality, common sense, reality, and responsibility. Writing is a gift to be given.
Like the comedian who distorts his face to elicit a laugh, like the singer who works so diligently to hit that high E and turn a voice into a godly caress, like the painter who gives life and light into a two-dimensional canvas, like the sculptor that carves the statue out of a block of stone, and like the many of you who answer the what-ifs and make sense of your triumphs and failures through spending copious amounts of digital ink, mainly in hopes of answering your own questions...
Javier A. Robayo