The day I was a serious writer: A hero's journey in Miami Beach
The blistering Miami sun’s 96 degree rays beat down on us. It was 9:45 AM on a Saturday morning and the only people on Lincoln Road were hopeful fans waiting outside of the new Apple store for its first-ever smart watch and 10 local writers gathered for a writing workshop held by O, Miami.
Even as a local, every summer the heat takes me by surprise. I always dress wrong for at least a handful of outdoor occasions before I’m forced to revert back to the standard shorts, tank tops and sandals uniform. It’s a problem I realize many around the world would revel in, but as Miamians would say… it sucks irregardless.
This morning I left my comfy bed in pursuit of acting like a writer. I’ve been a writer most of my life, but I only recently started doing writer things, like enroll in O, Miami Poetry Festival's walking and writing workshop.
A few short weeks ago I finished my novel. I love it and hate it depending on my level of self loathing. I also blog, but somehow I see that as separate. Perhaps because most authors and self-proclaimed “serious journalists” find the medium jarring.
When I was in college right at the beginning of the blogging boom, my veteran journalist professor called bloggers "hacks who wrote in their underwear all day". He was an old school journalist molded in the era when newsrooms where filled with hustlers working around the clock. I sneered along with the rest of my class and now I have a blog. Such is life I suppose, and perhaps that was a good thing because this forcefully ingrained pretentiousness never lets me forget that I also want to write fiction.
Incidentally, I have spent entire days writing in my pajamas and I’m actually really happy about that.
Our bearded guide is author and essayist Nathan Deuel. The Miami native left to travel the world and become a writer. He became famous for quitting his job at the Rolling Stone and journeying the country on foot in search of adventure and some good material. Like us, he is a story teller.
This morning we are going to be heroes, he says.
Adventures usually take two fictional forms, a hero goes out in pursuit of an experience or a stranger arrives into town. Today, Deuel is challenging us to be heroes. I’m in.
While it’s very hard to concentrate with the sweat literally pouring down my jeans, I try to have an out-of-body experience and be someone else, a serious artist. And a serious artist would never complain that she was walking in a constant pool of her own perspiration, she would suck it up, go full-on process and continue creating. And so, I press on. I listen as our instructor tells us what’s going on in the news today, as this may impact how we see the world. He’s right.
I haven’t read the news in years. I used to read the news back when I was a wannabe serious journalist. Then I backpacked through Europe and everything about my perspective on life changed. I stopped reading the news altogether because humanity depressed me. I suddenly become embarrassed of the memory. There are people around the world literally living the news, and I can’t even read it. I probably didn’t have the stomach to become that serious journalist anyway.
Our small crowd of sorry-looking misfits begins the adventure. We are quite an odd-looking group. It’s not any one of us in particular, but the lot of us together sticks out like a sore thumb. We have our notepads out and we’re staring at strangers while walking down some of the seediest streets in Miami. I am immediately reminded of how people would look at me when I told them I was from Miami back in college. They must have been thinking about this.
It was always on the first day of class when teachers made us awkwardly introduce ourselves. I was surprised they still did it in college. There I was in Gainesville, Florida and every person looked at me like my life was Scarface. They pitied my upbringing and judged me all at once with their concerned expressions. They meant well, I knew, but it always happened. It was one of my biggest pet peeves about introducing myself as a Miamian. That, and when kids from Fort Lauderdale said they were from Miami. We could always tell they weren’t. For some reason they never said Fort Lauderdale! Were they embarrassed? I never wanted to ask but kind of wish I did at least once.
Si no, te quedas con nada, I hear a young guy tell his friend. If not, you’ll end up with nothing. He wraps his arm around his friend in a brotherly sort of way. He has a ponytail and shiny black hair. He’s covered in tattoos. I’m tempted to make up his story, but then realize whatever he was saying was probably true. I didn’t even need to hear the first part to know it. That's how life is. You have to be prepared to do what’s necessary, if not you’ll end up with nothing.
As we cross the street and move on to Washington Avenue I am a bit stunned. Just one street over, a slight walk by even Miami standards, is a whole other world. There are 5 black women gathered at the bus stop staring at us angrily. I’m not sure why they’re upset. A different group of scantily dressed Hispanic women are walking our way. They're wearing bright red lipstick, fake gold jewelry and puffed up hair. They don’t look angry but they are visibly irritated as they move around our awkward crew. As we keep moving we see an excess of stores that sell strange things I can’t imagine people buy, like old cell phones, boob-shaped salt shakers and cheap wigs. We keep walking and come to a small circle of apartments called Golden Dreams. Do any of these pedestrians live there? I wonder silently what kinds of dreams they had when they moved in.
Miami Beach has always been a transient place. Plenty of out-of-towners come here for some time hoping to cash in on the “Miami experience” Hollywood sells them. Not many natives live here, unless you grew up in North Miami, which may as well be Fort Lauderdale because it’s nothing like the real Miami. And, of course, there’s the orthodox Jewish community. If you do not fall into any of those categories and you live on the beach, you’re probably a druggie. I briefly considered taking residence here and was told by several of my worried friends: only weird people live on the beach, period.
The ocean lays just on the horizon and I can see it blurring like a mirage. Our journey is almost over. It’s a bittersweet feeling my damp legs are rejoicing in. I don’t walk around enough. I should open my eyes more.
Our leader takes us to shade and we sit and cool down. We share our thoughts and some observations. It’s all really good stuff. Is this what writers do? Do they sit around and talk about observing things while purposefully nodding? I dig it. I am nodding hardcore and taking in the knowledge.
“Alright, who's up for reading something they wrote?” Oh god.
My sweaty legs are paralyzed. I knew this was a possibility, he did mention it in his email, but I sort of glazed over it and assumed the day’s outing would run the clock. One by one our eclectic little group volunteers. It’s always the same for that type of thing, two or three very enthusiastic people, the middle which kind of thinks it’s okay since they weren’t first and then the last of the group who feels the heat. I am that last handful. I nod some more and am really impressed with some of the writing. I enjoy it only to a point as with every end comes one step closer to my turn. I can’t wimp out. I need to do it. My arm flinches every time there’s a pause, but someone else keeps jumping in. Okay, this is good. Time is good.
What are you waiting for, dude?
I don’t know exactly.
Your writing excerpt will not change in the next 5 minutes. You are covered in sweat and probably smell like hell because you’re a serious writer. You. Are. A. Hero. GET ON WITH IT.
My hand raises involuntarily and our teacher nods at me smiling. Okay. I am a serious artist. I am a writer and writer’s read their shit. This is happening.
“Hi,” I smile. “My piece isn’t a poem. It’s an excerpt from my novel.” Deep breaths. Here goes nothing.