Wait, They Want More? (An Author’s Journey to Vulnerability)
By Author Keturah Kendrick
Like many new authors, I was unprepared to be a new author.
I was not clueless that I had no idea what releasing a book into the world would entail since I had never before released a book into the world. Up until my publishing date, I was honest with myself and with all the friends who patiently listened to me drone on about nothing else but the birth of No Thanks. I was nervous about not doing what I was “supposed to do” once the book released and I let no one cross my path without hearing about my anxiety.
I knew I was partially prepared for the time and money it would take to promote my book so someone other than family and friends would buy it. I kind of (sort of…but not really) knew how to get bookstores to shelve it and libraries to add it to their collections. I had the sense enough to work with an artist consultant and a publicity manager to bolster the efforts I had been making a full year ahead of publication.
So, what really caught me off guard? What tiny little factoid about being a new author – a memoirist, particularly – had never even crossed my mind?
“No one really wants your book, Keturah. They want you.” The artist consultant finally spat this out after three months of trying to get me to post on social media about something other than my book. She broke this shocking news after suggesting if I wasn’t prepared to speak in greater detail about the experiences that informed what I chose to share in my memoir of rejecting the “should wants” of womanhood, then I should be prepared to have the audience I was trying to reach lose interest in my book. And me.
This is as good a place as any to put who I am into context. I’ll start with who I was: an inside kid. If you go back to this collection of six streets called Little Farms in the New Orleans-adjacent neighborhood of Metairie and ask any random resident if they remember this girl named Keturah, many of these middle aged, life-long Little Farmers would struggle to summon up a memory. “Ka-who? Where she lived at?” You would point to the modest house where all those dogs used to run around the yard and try to nudge some recollection of a summer kickball game or a weekend where this chubby kid showed up to someone’s birthday party. “I remember there was a couple kids who lived there.” The stumped lifer would probably tick off the names of each of my siblings and then squint their eyes real tight trying to recall this Keturah person.
I found no pleasure in going outside. There were books inside. Television. Ice cream. I found all of these items separately to be stellar ways to occupy my time. And, together! Well, when I could cut up an entire summer day into 2-hour intervals featuring each of these blessed gifts…who needed to be sweating in the sun with mosquitoes and bad-ass kids?
A kid who avoids outside becomes an adult who only goes there when like-minded people are waiting on the periphery to take her to a more fun place: like the library.
The thought of being coaxed outside by strangers who wanted to “connect with me” made me quite uncomfortable. The artist consultant was direct and told me I’d have to get used to being asked questions I preferred not to answer and being pressed to share more about experiences that I didn’t think worthy of further exploration in No Thanks.
Here, I had written a deeply personal diatribe celebrating the privilege of reaching my forties without children or a spouse and being secure in the fact that this was how I always knew I’d live my life. I’d written about the freedom of packing up and moving to several different countries in the span of five years and the loneliness that accompanied my exciting adventures in foreign lands. I devoted thousands of words to how much women who made choices like me were pitied because of other people’s projections and assumptions, highlighting how a lifetime of assumptions and projections can cause an otherwise self-possessed woman to question if she knew herself as well as she claimed.
I put it all right there in the pages of this wonderfully written, witty book.
What more could readers want?
“A lot,” the consultant laughed. She suggested I dig deeper into those things I hadn’t wanted to write about. The half-truths resting in between my carefully crafted sentences and humorous anecdotes. I, of course, had the final say in how much more I would reveal, but no tour of a collection of personal essays would exonerate me from opening up to people I didn’t know.
Because I am friendly and talkative even among strangers, my natural fondness of people can be taken for extroversion. Because I have written about myself and my choices with candor for many years, those who follow my work assume I have no qualms sharing every part of myself.
I am neither an extrovert nor an open book. I’m a Gemini. Each time I’m engaging in carefree banter with you, assume I am choosing what I say and how I say it with thought and intention. That blog post you read about how a birth control malfunction made me realize I was committed to being childfree revealed nothing more than what I wanted to show you. I wrote only what was necessary to make my point.
From the launch of No Thanks, nosy readers kept pulling me outside. They wanted to know about my experiences traveling alone across the world. I wanted to drop philosophical profundities about the perception of the “unowned” woman who traverses continents without male supervision. They sought stories of how often I had to avoid men who wanted to marry me for a green card. A few tip toed around straight out asking if I had taken advantage of the booming sex tourism industry like my male counterparts.
During audience Q & A, the neighborhood kids weren’t satisfied with just my mere presence at the kickball game. They had read sections of my book closely and wanted to know what I meant when I wrote _____ and why didn’t I just do ____ instead of ____. It. Was. A. Bit. Much.
I’ve had to go outside a lot this past year. As friends reminded me, “You’re the one who wrote the book. I mean, what did you expect?”
I quickly learned my expectations meant nothing. Each time I’d show up to an event to read my best excerpts – my talking points prepared and witty rebuttals on hand, some self-possessed woman with thoughts of her own would offer unscripted questions and commentary that took the conversation in entirely different directions. Through no fault of my own, I was all of a sudden talking about my father’s death, my desire to start a retirement commune in Costa Rica with my best friends and how I sometimes filled my loneliness abroad with placeholder men I would’ve never looked at twice had I remained in New York City.
The more I came outside, the easier it became. I was surprised to learn that when you reveal yourself to others and offer them your story, they return the gift by allowing you to share in their own.
When I went outside in China, a woman revealed how hard she was working to silence her doubts about the impending marriage she’d agreed to mostly because she was thirty and single and tired of explaining herself to everyone in her circle.
When I went outside in Rwanda, a millennial woman shared how she’s beginning to question if the African tradition of having children simply because you’re fertile is one that is sustainable. “I’m well into my thirties now and have had a wonderful life without children. I really don’t feel like I’ve missed anything and can easily envision my life never becoming a mother.”
Each time I go outside here in the United States, women offer me the gift of their stories. They tell me how they’ve entertained selling their homes and moving overseas many times, but have allowed family obligations and generic fear to talk them out of it. They tell me they felt invisible until they read No Thanks and finally had words for the life-long isolation they felt as women who didn’t want what they were supposed to want.
If I had the choice to go play in the fresh air or stay in the air conditioned house eating ice cream, I would still choose Chunky Monkey in 60-degree temperature over double dutch in 95. However, I look back on this past year with gratitude. Putting your work out there in the world with no control over who sees it and how it’s perceived is exhilarating, but mostly terrifying. I’m an expert now at playing with the other kids when necessary since I’ve survived the mosquitoes and bad-ass kids many times.
I better understand my siblings’ obsession with inserting themselves in the adolescent politics of Little Farms better. Outside can be fun, too. Just a different kind. Such a shame I never lost my library card and Oprah never ran out of shows. I might have enjoyed the great out of doors sooner.
In addition to penning No Thanks: Black, Female and Living in the Martyr-Free Zone, Keturah Kendrick is the host of the podcast, Unchained. Unbothered.
She has lived and traveled across Asia, Africa and South America. She currently resides in New York City, the love of her life.
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