Pat asked me to tackle this question some time ago, and it has taken me a long time to work up to a response. Probably because I don’t have a clean and simple answer. Is that a mark of a writer? It may not be a universal trait of the literary-minded, but it is certainly mine – I write the things I cannot explain verbally or cleanly or neatly (to use far more adverbs than is permissible for anyone who aspires to “good” writing).
Contrary to my current personality as a chatty, former lawyer who shed most of her self-consciousness a long time ago, my early years were quiet, contemplative ones.
I was a shy Black kid in Dallas, Texas, a loud, extroverted community of cheerleaders, beauty queens, oil barons and barnyard barkers. Folks who loudly slapped dominoes onto card tables, bleached their hair to blinding levels of brassiness and bared their navels and most of their asses in skimpy suits to salute their favorite football teams. Everything’s big in Texas, I learned at an early age. But I shied away from big, at least verbally. All my biggest, bestest, brassiest work, worthy of my lengthy Texan heritage, was on paper. What I could not, would not say with words from my mouth, oozed from my pencil like so much Texas crude, literally and figuratively. On paper I could at least attempt the salty flourish of my Texan heroines, Barbara Jordan, Ann Richards, Molly Ivins, my mother (who happens to be in the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame); women with superior smarts and dry wit as searing as the Chihuahuan desert. When I have a problem to resolve, a gripe that’s eating away at my gut, pea-green envy, herkey-inspiring flashes of joy, dark doubts, dips into despair, or just random, itinerant commentaries on everything or nothing; for some reason that I have yet to understand, I am best able to process it, react to it and then keep my life moving forward and not mired in it, by writing it down, whatever the “it” happens to be.
At some point, not long after I left graduate school, my random, written-down musings made their way into stories that enabled me to blow up my observations and sentiments into surreal statements that both amused me and helped me to cope with the world around me. As I have grown older and not entirely wiser, these stories have moved from hobbies to necessities to keep me going – kind of like exercise. What I used to do only for fun when I felt like it is now what keeps me alive. I write because I can’t not write; because it’s my one, true voice, however imperfect. Because it is the one place I can be myself, think for myself and remain utterly, imperfectly human. And Texan, to the extent that humility, humanity, thoughtfulness and Big Brash Texan can ever peacefully co-exist (for this transplanted New Yorker, that contradiction only resolves itself on paper).
Ginger McKnight-Chavers, a Dallas native, is a graduate of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service and Harvard Law School. After sixteen years practicing corporate and arts/entertainment law, she became a full-time writer and was the 2008-09 Gurfein Fellow at Sarah Lawrence College. She resides in the New York City area and recently completed her first novel, Messages From Midland. She has also contributed articles to New York Family, SheWrites.com and Scribe, the blog of the Writers League of Texas.