The Courage to be Transparent

Guest Post by Vicki Ward


“I believe the most important single thing, beyond discipline and creativity is daring to dare.”— Maya Angelou


extreme closeup of asian woman wearing glasses; courage to be transparentNo one knows better than writers, the power of words.

How the right ones at the right time can blanket us with warmth like a good winter quilt.

How they can transform us,  pull at our heartstrings, make us laugh, make us cry.

How a good read enables us to escape to different worlds and broadens our horizons.

How the experience enriches us.

But being a good writer requires more than an extensive vocabulary, a gift to gab, and observance of some grammatical rules. Contrary to the hype, it’s not that simple.

Good writers must possess one other important trait: the courage to be transparent.

Being transparent means “going public” with the warts of our lives.  Like sharing stories of the stupid things we did for the men we loved before they left us, or lessons we learned from being fired, or dealing with demons of insecurity, or even fears of growing old.

Story lines that are written in all of our life’s “script.”

And this takes courage.

Putting our work before hundreds or thousands of readers means we must face the risk of rejection. Over and over again. Whether it’s the rejection of editors for articles we‘ve penned, sending out book proposals to agents to secure a book deal, or a blog post that may potentially bomb like the fireworks on the Fourth of July.

But we do it because our transparency not only allows others to see more of us, but to see more about themselves–and the human potential. It enables them to know that they can overcome some of the same obstacles, doubts, and disappointments we have. That regardless of race, sex, or religion, there is more that unites us than makes us different.

In the spirit of transparency (and celebrating the wisdom of women), my new anthology, More of Life’s Spices: Seasoned sistah’s keeping it real showcases the courage of dozens of women from all walks of life and stages, who reveal their personal journeys and invite you to come along.

Here’s a poem that’s an excerpt from the book:


Lo Gig

his game
a lo gig
sleeps with me
behind closed doors

deliberate steps
ahead in public
once a brick house beauty
I suck back tears
remember tender youth
pour my brittle heart
into his arms   frigid   insincere

gives me bad sex   quick   painful
cops a crude dime and whine
for rent and cash
dines and wines another

thinks me
dumb and desperate
I  feel
dumb and desperate

bite my tongue as he
bites in his talk
until need rises

sweet in his beg
a gigolo
who belittles
and strikes
deathing blows
to my generous
closing hand


Vicki Ward’s essays and poetry appeared in several anthologies and collections. A former entertainment writer, covering live concerts, and stage plays, her literary focus shifted to writing books about women’s needs and concerns. She edited Life’s Spices from Seasoned Sistahs, an award winning anthology from the voices of mature women of color. She followed that releasing Savvy, Sassy and Bold after 50, a handbook for maturing women packed with financial, health, and retirement strategies for women reaching midlife. Ward has also presented empowerment workshops at women’s conferences and universities. Now retired, she writes full time focused on strategies to empower maturing women to navigate a new phase of their lives.

For more info visit her site at:

Zora Neale Hurston Born and Read

At 16, I met Zora Neale Hurston. I tucked her inside like a sterling silver pendant worn close to my heart. Her spirit traversed through decades and the bedlam of high school to appear on my desk in the form of an autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road.

This was the time in my life when I wanted to go, go, go. Zora’s words beckoned me to follow her lead:

My vagrancy had begun in reality. I knew that. There was an end to my journey and it had happiness in it for me. It was certain and sure. But the way! Its agony was equally certain. It was before me, and no one could spare me my pilgrimage. The rod of compelment was laid to my back. I must go the way. 

Zora Neale Hurston is a Daughter of the Dustleaving tracks along the many routes she’s traveled, always moving on but leaving imprints of where she comes from. Perhaps my obsession with roots & routes started there, within the pages of Zora’s book. I walk miles through her language, like the journey from a blank screen into the unknown stories we’re meant to tell.

Zora Neale Hurston

A year later, Zora and I reacquainted, this time in a novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God.

She was sixteen. She had glossy leaves and bursting buds and she wanted to struggle with life but it seemed to elude her. Where were the singing bees for her? Nothing on the place nor in her grandma’s house answered her. She searched as much of the world as she could from the top of the front steps and then went on down to the front gate and leaned over to gaze up and down the road. Looking, waiting, breathing short impatience. Waiting for the world to be made.

What artistry! How could a high school girl not be enchanted by such voodoo?

Though I fell in love in high school, it wasn’t until I changed my major from architecture to English midway through undergrad that I began to study Zora Neale Hurston’s text. Her depiction of a character’s emotional state and world view through their location in the scene. Geography is not only a metaphor depicting ideology, but the concrete manifestation of ideology. She tells the story of her time and her people with poetic prose.

Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston

She enriched her work with anthropological research and publications on African American folklore. All of her writing celebrates the legacies crafted by blacks out of their environments, memories, and dreams. No matter how far she ascended into the Harlem Renaissance elite, or how much she traveled, she never distanced herself from those cultural roots. Rather, her travels brought her deeper, closer to them.

Beyond 1891, Zora Neale Husrton continues to be born and read, alive even today.

In honor of Zora’s birthday today, Jan. 7, I invite you to share what you know and love about her in the comments below or on Facebook.

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What We Write About When We Write About Place

Abandoned home

“Don’t all writers have . . . something irreducibly theirs which stirs their prose and makes it tick and turn this way or that, and identifies them, like a signature, though it lurks far deeper than their style, or their voice or other telltale antics?” –Andre Aciman.

I don’t usually sit and think about why I write, because I’m usually too busy just sitting and writing. But something changed a bit when I read Andre Aciman’s NYT article, “A Literary Pilgrim Progresses to the Past.”

For one, I was comforted to learn that I’m not the only writer with a fascination about place.

“As for a sheath . . . I’d spot mine in a second. It’s place. I begin my inward journey by writing about place,” wrote Aciman.

I became focused on place and developed a deep desire to write about it while in graduate school at CCA. I’m pretty sure the jarring contrasts between the suburban and rural landscapes of the South and the concrete urbanity of the Bay Area were the catalysts that brought my sense of place to the forefront of my conscious mind.

It wasn’t just the way spaces looked, either. The wide accents, the accessibility of public transportation, the frustrations of parking, the ubiquity of bicyclers, the plethora of dietary options and exotic cuisines, the dirty and smelly streets, the perpetual cold, the walkability of the cities, the diversity of languages and cultures, the carpool lanes, the gentrification, the self-righteous liberalism, the blind spotted progressiveness, even the peculiar way women always draped scarves around their necks, all gave me a heightened sense of my status as an outsider.

When we’re familiar with our environment  and comfortable enough to take things for granted, we don’t take the time to think about where we are. Nothing makes us more aware of our surroundings than the feeling of being lost, out of place, a stranger in town. Perhaps feeling disoriented in the Bay Area drove me to write about place.

“Writing is how they grope,” wrote Aciman. “How they light the darkness around them.” He’s also described this phenomenon as “groping for inner signposts.”

Writing became a lens through which I could better see (read understand) where I was. Perhaps I believed on some level that changing places meant I was changing, and understanding where I was could help me understand who I am or might become.

In his essay, Aciman admits, “If I keep writing about places, it is because some of them are coded ways of writing about myself.”

Even when we’re writing about other people, or food, or grief, or politics, we’re still writing as ourselves, and therefore writing about ourselves, even if only subconsciously, even if no one will ever notice that flake of a memory fallen into our word choices and metaphors. (See what I did there? Why did I choose to use the term flake to describe bits of memory?)

When I became aware of my drive to write about place, I was not aware that I was really writing about myself. That’s because we are never squarely before ourselves, never wholly visible,  and our identities and vantage points never stable. We may recount facts and events as best we remember them in autobiographies or memoirs, but it’s impossible to articulate in full the essence of who we are. Writing helps us approach our core.

After reading a few of his essays, I spoke briefly with Aciman, and he revealed the question, “How do you get at a mood of what it means to be yourself?”

The mood of who we are is perhaps more appropriate than a definition or explanation. Though the mood is no more static than any other part of us, it’s what we remember most about ourselves and others. More than names, faces, dates, or words, we remember moods. We remember what it felt like to be with someone long after we’ve forgotten the name of the street they lived on, or what their clothes looked like, or how they spoke. We remember them in our spirits and in our bodies.

So if all of this is so elusive, how can we ever pen it down?

Some people write about sports, some people write about celebrities, or food, or technology. Others, like me, write about places and spaces.

How about you?

courageous compass