I like titles. Not the professional kind, but the type that describe a person’s allegiance. I’m a fan of words that make it clear to whom and to what a person is committed. Call me a Christian because I’m walking with Christ. Call me a daughter, sister, auntie, or cousin because my family is my lifeline. Call me a friend because you’re a part of the second family I have chosen. Call me your lady because we have mutually decided that even if the skies should fall or bosses call, nothing even matters at all.
As much as I like titles, there are a few I have a hard time professing. I was recently at an event and a woman asked what brought me there. After a long pause, I said something along the lines of “I’m doing poetry.”
It was a vague statement, almost as if I just woke up that morning and thought, ‘hmmm I think I’ll do poetry.’ It was a casual statement, no hint of passion for an art form, void of confidence in one’s craft. My response was nonchalant and noncommittal, and it seemed traitorous the moment it left my mouth.
As a writer, I know that there is a word for people who ‘do poetry.’ As an observant person, I realize that other people call me a poet more than I call myself one. The same goes for writer, blogger, and author. Those titles are front and center on the homepage of this web site, but I have always had trouble using them to describe myself. I’m more comfortable with action words that suggest I occasionally write, rather than with titles which claim that at the essence of my being, I’m a writer.
I know why I do this. I do it for the same reasons people avoid most titles. It’s because we doubt our abilities and don’t believe we can manage people’s expectations. It’s because we don’t want to bear the responsibility that accompanies the title. Writers write, after all, and sometimes there are long stretches in which I don’t. We shy away from titles because we are not sure we’re actually ready to commit.
However, there comes a point when you have to find yourself worthy of the title, regardless of your lack of credentials and accolades, in spite of the opinion of others. You have to stop sidestepping the most natural path for you, and follow that still, small voice in the direction of your destiny. You have to quit downplaying your emotional investment out of fear that things won’t work out. You have to relinquish control of your idea of what it looks like for things to “work out.” You have to remember that “life and death are in the power of the tongue,” (Proverbs 18:21 KJV) and then boldly speak life to the parts of your being that you hope to see thrive.
If you’re not going to embrace the title for yourself, then do it for the object of your affection. Words have been nothing but good to me. If I am patient, they always come. If I allow them to have their way, they piece themselves together to perfectly capture my thoughts and feelings. If I set them free, they find their way to readers and listeners, tickling senses, penetrating minds, and touching hearts. When I commit to them, the words show me their magic.
My writing may not always be lyrical and my poetry may not always be profound. But it is always a heartfelt, authentic act of emotional bravery. I will claim it if for no other reason than that it has chosen me. Writing is no longer something I simply do, it is intrinsically a part of who I am.
Unfortunately, I won’t have a chance to take back the foolish words I recently uttered. That woman may forever consider me the chick who “does poetry.” However, for the rest of the world that may not know and for myself when I forget, allow me to reintroduce myself. My name is Sheryl and I’m a writer.
SheryLeigh is a woman who loves God, words, and people. She is currently living and loving as an author, blogger, poet, and spoken word artist in the Washington, D.C., area.
A communicator by education and trade, SheryLeigh holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Howard University and a Master of Arts in Management from Webster University.