December 15, 2010

Defining Moments...Joanne C. Hillhouse

I’ve published two books, and I still feel like a fraud.

It was said there, in the safety of the circle, not simply to echo the insecurities of another, nor disingenuously, out of some sense of --you are not alone – false comfort. It was as honest as we had ever been with each other. It was an unremarkable day, really, notwithstanding the record low temperatures of the pending Christmas season; unremarkable, except for this, this moment of copping to our insecurities as though finally confessing some shameful secret.

And yes, there was a part of us, of me, fearful of being dismissed or ridiculed for it – more self-doubt. There was a part of me that contemplated, much of the rest of that Sunday and night, the riskiness of trust. After all, isn’t that one reason why writing, and fiction writing especially, had been my longest and most honest relationship; it gave me a safe place more sacred than the confessional, a space where it was okay to be honest and yet okay – in fact, essential – to twist the truth.

But in that moment of quiet admission, it felt safe here, too, in a community of writers not concerned with putting a good face on things, writers who’d spent the better part of this writing session talking candidly about the things that matter to them and the things that drive them to write – about family, and ideology, and country, and childhood, and passions, and flirtations, and the books of other great writers, and dreams, and, yes, insecurities.

I feel like a fraud.

And it hit me, about five minutes before I finally gave into the compulsion to write this, just now, that this is why I’ve struggled with my host blogger’s invitation – to me and other writers – to write of that moment when we knew we were writers.

I thought of things my father and mother – holders of my first memories – have told me about my early relationship with language: the way I’d sit so silently in pre-school my teacher thought it was too soon yet radio everything that had happened on returning home, the way I read the pictures and told the stories before I could decode the words.

I thought of how I’ve daydreamed my way through life, always with parallel scenarios running on delay in my head.

I thought of how writing saved my life all the times I felt certain I would finally jump from the ledge.
I thought of Tanty’s black and white notebook, inherited after she died; her elegant script alongside my own scrappy scrawl. I thought of how her ghost shows up, inserting itself:

At night, after she’d bathed and put on the pretty pink duster one of her ‘children’ had sent her, when he’d climb into her lap, it would be to the scent of baby powder, Florida water and soursop bush (the last tucked under her head tie) – from The Boy from Willow Bend

I thought of seeing the cover of that book for the first time and not knowing how to feel, and of that feeling of jumping out of my skin – like I was on a caffeine high – when, recently, my agent called with the news that she had an offer, after more rejections than I care to think of, for my new book – Spring 2012!

And while these are all true moments, it would’ve been disingenuous to milk them and say, I knew then.
I know I am a writer. Through each struggle for the right word, through every rejection, wondering if writers are just masochistic after all because this amount of stinginess in a normal relationship would’ve had friends scheduling an intervention. Through every effort to greet the day and the fragments of things that sit like puzzle pieces on the page with hopefulness, and let my spirit not be squashed.

I know I am a writer, and, yet, insecurity dogs me; insecurity, and curiousity, and questions, and this tendency to pick at things, and pain so big it feels like it might swallow me sometimes.

I know I am a writer, because, through it all, I write.

I know I am a writer, because as I drove to that writers’ group meeting, musing on things, my fingers itched to pick at the scabs with paper and pen.

Because as I left that meeting, the need to sum up how that looping, rambling conversation had filled me up was like an ache, but a good ache.

I know I’m a writer. And sometimes I even impress and surprise myself, feel proud of myself, that, yes, I wrote this: something that makes someone laugh or cry or wonder why, or so they tell me. I wrote this, After Glow, Friday Night Fish Fry…both stories I’m proud of. I wrote this forthcoming book, my most challenging effort to date.

I know that I’m a writer because things never feel quite so hopeless, the world never feels so dull and absent of meaning as when I can’t write. Not even after the umpteenth rejection saying in not so many words, you’re not good enough. It’s not about finally finding the courage to cop to being a writer, to write it in my passport, to greet the world with it – even as they whisper with something like pity, she bright, you know, she coulda been a lawyer.

It’s about moments like this when I can admit to the insecurities that I haven’t been able to shake despite the Boy, in spite of Dancing Nude in the Moonlight; and still write and feel grateful that like air and music, the ability to express that insecurity (and every drop of joy and fear and hope and sensation of being suspended miles above earth fearful of the drop but hanging there nonetheless) lives in me. I know I’m a writer because I write. This. And my underarms are sweaty with the fear of putting it down and setting it free. But I do anyway.

About Joanne C. Hillhouse

Antiguan Joanne C. Hillhouse (who also writes as jhohadli) is the author of two books of fiction: The Boy from Willow Bend and Dancing Nude in the Moonlight. A former Breadloaf fellow, her fiction and poetry have, also, appeared in Tongues of the Ocean, Mythium, Ma Comère, The Caribbean Writer, Calabash, Sea Breeze, Women Writers: A Zine, St. Somewhere, and more. She was awarded a 2004 UNESCO Honour Award for her contribution to literacy and the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda. Among her projects are the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize – She’s a freelance writer, journalist, editorial consultant, and producer (having worked in print, film, and TV). For more, visit  


Photo Credit:  Andy E. Williams.

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Unknown said...

This has really made my day, and brought me a little bit closer to one of my favorite new writers.

This post, these writers, this blog, it all feels like a blessing.

Thank you all so much!

Geoffrey Philp said...

Thank you, Andre for dropping by..& giving us your blessings...

ackeelover said...

... that touched more than a few chords ... deeply reflective piece ... big up y'self Joanne C Hillhouse!