Not to be cliché, but inspiration is such a deep and personal thing. It’s a word that we throw around as if it isn’t something powerful – something that can move mountains and oceans – but when you stop and think about it, inspiration can come as something as tiny as an ant, but can have the power and the fury of a hurricane.
While I have many sources of inspiration, when it comes to writing--how I started and what keeps me going--my inspiration comes from the practical and the whimsical.
I must give context to these two sentences. My writer’s story starts in a classroom. I was an 8th grade U.S. History teacher in a competitive and successful urban charter school before my eldest son was born. I created a curriculum that was progressive and critical. I was committed to education for liberation, for giving my impressionable young students the “real” history of our country, and making the connections from the Mayflower (which landed not too far south from their Roxbury classroom) to their segregated classroom in the age of Barack Obama. Some fool gave me the opportunity to awaken young minds to history, and I did. I loved every second it, though I knew that I wasn’t going to be promoted farther beyond where I was. The kids were awesome, but the adults were stressing me out. When I became pregnant with my eldest son, I knew that my focus needed to shift. I knew that I couldn’t effectively shepherd both my young, beautiful urban 8th graders to college and beyond while also raising my young son. I might be able to do both in a mediocre sort of way, but I couldn’t do both well. It wasn’t fair to either party. I needed to make a choice.
I chose to leave my job in order to take on motherhood full time. Having a husband who works in the sciences, we were blessed to have enough income (in the context of our economy) to be able to take on such a thing. It was still a hit to our finances, but it was worth it to us.
This brings me to the practical inspiration for my writing. A little over a year ago, I was the mother of an 8-month old baby as well as newly pregnant with baby number two. My eldest son and I were at the grocery store, picking up the things that mothers need to take care of sons, and my card was declined. I was, naturally, embarrassed. We pay our bills. We’re middle class, so we have our debts, but we’re people who pay our bills. I switched to a new card, paid for my groceries, and slinked out of the Stop & Shop, embarrassed to be yet another Black woman with money problems in the eye of the New England onlookers. I went home and looked at our accounts, then emailed my husband, who was the manager of such things. We had a problem, and we needed to seriously rethink the way that we were handling our money.
I worried. We were lucky in that we could drastically cut back our budget and still keep me at home, but I knew that my being home was a burden. I started seeking opportunities for full time and part time work, looking for ways to supplement our income, and when a full time job at a prestigious private school became available, I interviewed. I was nine months pregnant. I got that job, too, but you know what? It would have cost us almost two thousand dollars a month to put our two boys in child care. It was, essentially, the paycheck I would have earned. I was devastated. My husband was, too.
While mothering, I was constantly reading or listening to audiobooks. The two Novembers before my eldest was born, I stopped life to participate in National Novel Writing Month. I enjoyed the abandon, I wrote great ideas that were poorly executed, then I tucked them away in the bowels of my hard drive, never to be seen again. I knew that I had a bit of talent somewhere, that I was capable of coming up with great ideas, but I didn’t know anything about what to do with it. I began to seek classes, websites, and other opportunities to learn the craft and art of writing, to possibly hone my talent in a way to supplement our income.
I write to buy time. Time with my two young beautiful sons. My young sons are now one and two, my two year-old starts preschool in the Fall. Every day, my mission is the same: To raise them to be intellectual, reflective, compassionate, independent, curious and happy young gentlemen of color. The only way that I can do these things, I think, is to be home with them for as long as possible. I don’t need a million-dollar writing contract to do that. I just need a little bit, every month, to loosen things up and give us a little break. I need just enough to make me feel like I’m contributing to the family to justify my staying home.
The more I thought about seeking a place among the many, many people trying to contribute to the world as writers and thinkers, the more I thought about my students at my former school. They were beautiful young people of color, too old for the fairy tales that placate our young, too young for the stories of truth that make adulthood too serious and desperate. We started each school day with forty minutes of silent, independent reading. They read a variety of books, from the simple Diary of a Wimpy Kid to the powerful Their Eyes Were Watching God. Most of them were reading what every other kid in America was reading at the time: Twilight, The Heroes of Olympus series, Harry Potter, or Hunger Games. I have few objections to my students reading these books. They were great, fun little YA series that certainly got kids excited about reading which, as a teacher, was all that I could ask for.
But as a mother of two boys, I started wondering, what are the books that my sons will be reading? What wisdom will they glean from a story like Twilight? What are the books that I would want them to read? The books that will make them think, the ones that will make the wonder? What will be the books that change their life’s direction or shape the way they dream? When I thought about the books that shaped my life, I realized that very few of them featured characters that looked like me. Characters came from the places where I came from.
I don’t think that you must connect with every character on a racial or socioeconomic level. I do dream, however, of a world where my sons can pick up books and find characters that they can relate to on a level that has just as much to do with their life experiences as it does on the fantasy that an author has created for them. In other words, when it comes to creating literature for my sons and my former students of color, I’m writing to become the change that I wish to see in the world. I aspire to write in a way that imparts wisdom that makes the reader think, wonder, and maybe even make different choices. I aspire to build a beacon with my writing for those young people of color who I think about every day.
Inspiration comes from so many places, and indeed, my inspiration draws from filling a need. I need to contribute in one sense, and I feel like I can contribute in another sense. Words are so powerful, especially for the young and impressionable. While I don’t know if I would consider what I write to be Young Adult in genre, I do know that literature doesn’t always know age. Anyone of any age can pick up a story and learn something from it. I hope to write stories that will always leave the reader wondering, but also leave the reader just a little bit wiser. These are my hopes and dreams. This is what keeps me getting up and putting words on digital paper.
For the children who are here, for the children who are coming, for the children who we know, and the children who we should and could know, I hope that you will keep writing. Words give us power, and we need more of it. Happy writing!
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Please make sure to visit K.C. blog - iamwritingwhileblack.
K.C. Wise is a former teacher, current mother of two beautiful boys and aspiring author. Currently writing flash fiction and short stories, she is working on a novel that she hopes to have published in September 2014. K.C. draws inspiration from her current home of Boston and fading memories of her true home, the Washington D.C. metro area.