As a kid, whenever people asked me: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I would say with confidence: “I’m gonna be an actress, maybe on Broadway!” Now, this answer usually resulted in one of the following responses:
• “But how are you going to make money?” • “Ok, and after that?” • “Do you have a backup plan?” • “What about something more practical?”
Years of passive aggressive doubt are hard on anyone, but as a kid growing up it was as if I was being told:
“You can be anything you want to be!.....oh, not that though.”
I believed that your job should be something you loved to do so I didn’t understand why anything else mattered as long as I was passionate.
Life happens when you least expect it to, so when my parents split up I clung to the thing I loved the most- theatre. But you can only pretend to be someone else for so long, so when I couldn’t, I turned to an old hobby. English has always been my favourite subject but I never expected becoming as enamoured with writing as I did in the following years. Rather than getting rid of my problems I used poetry to encapsulate specific feelings I was experiencing. So although they no longer consumed me, I never forgot that despite how hard life could get, I would always get through it.
Once that switch flipped in my brain it was as if nothing was too small to inspire me, poems came to me from something as simple as a word, a smell or the way sunlight leaked across the kitchen floor on a cold morning. I wrote about the essence of specific moments that I wanted to remember forever. The idea that my words could mean something to someone else never even grazed my mind, I was just a kid...right?
Wrong, I never thought about just how wrong that excuse was until my grade 9 year when my English teacher read one of my poems. Afterwards, he looked up at me in silence for a moment before his simple response of, “Wow, that’s powerful.”
It was in that moment that I thought to myself: This is what I’m on earth to do.
Moving forward with this new revelation I decided my best thoughts deserved a decent place to live, so 200 notes on my phone turned into 120 pages on my computer. That page number was often changing as new poems were written and old ones were revised or taken out altogether.
As time went on I came to the realization that being a writer elicited the same reaction as being an actress, but rather than letting that doubt discourage me, I let it fuel me. Every negative response -- every wince, every sharp inhale, every mention of my age or ‘career practicality’ gave me more of a reason to succeed. When I was told “You can’t” I asked, “Why not?” But no answer was ever convincing enough.
Getting a book published is not an easy thing to do at any age. For a 16 year old student with no income from small town Cole Harbour it’s nearly impossible. The key word in that statement being, nearly. The little sliver of a chance that that phrase held was enough for me to start trying. I had finally decided on a title and I thought the book was done, so I began emailing any local publisher I could find, and even a few outside of the province.
Over the next 6 months only one company replied. They offered to make my dream come true!.... For ‘only’ a few thousand dollars. So I headed back to the drawing board, even more determined than before.
Another 6 months came and this time, so did replies! However, these responses weren’t exactly promising:
• “I don’t publish poetry.” • “You’re too young.” • “I cannot help you.”
Rather than see this as a setback I saw it as a sign that maybe the book wasn’t actually ready. A year of waiting comes with an extra year of poems, so that brought me up to 130 pages. Then came dedications, chapters, acknow-ledgements, a prologue and some last minute “Oh, I need a poem about this!” inspired pieces. It wasn’t until those last few, spur of the moment, poems were added that I truly felt in my heart that I was finally done.
Knowing that for certain only made me want a publisher that much more and I was not taking no for an answer from anyone else.
Perfect timing. That term has always seemed like it meant a coincidence. I live by the idea that everything happens for a reason, no coincidences -- just fate. The day I met my publisher was very soon after I had completely finished the book. That day was fate. My mom had reminded me that an old hometown friend recently had a book published and she gave me the idea of messaging her to ask her a few questions. Within 5 minutes of messaging her she had introduced me to Lisa Browning, and we exchanged emails. I figured that she would definitely be able to help me out; maybe even in the next month or two, I remember thinking.
I was absolutely ecstatic when I told her all about the book and on October 28th, 2019 -- only a few days after my first email she replied and told me, “I do want to work with you to get your book published!”
That day felt so unreal, but meant to be at the same time, that day was destiny. This meant it was finally go time! After 2 months of working together, “Tears of Rose Water” was born.
When I first started out on this journey, I had entertained the idea of waiting to publish until I was older but I didn’t want to. I wanted to do something in life that mattered to me and I wanted to do it now. I didn’t want to find my old poetry 15 years from now, shrug my shoulders and sigh because I just never got around to it. I didn’t want everyone else to be right. I wanted to prove to myself and readers that there is no such thing as ‘impractical.’
A dream is a dream, no matter how far out of reach it may seem. After all, that’s what step ladders are for. So if you are reading this and you have something you are passionate about, don’t dismiss it don’t let doubt catch up to you, and please -- don’t wait.
“Tears of Rose Water” was published by One Thousand Trees in December 2019, and will soon be available on www.amazon.com.
You Are Not Alone: stories of hope, by Lisa Browning