On Living Heart-First

This Valentine’s Day, I finished the first screenplay I’ve written in 8 years. On my quest to disrupt the Hollywood Romantic System, I decided that instead of pursuing a doctorate on the intersection of fat studies, race, gender and media, I’d write movies that gave fat, Black women access to romantic love. Forget locking myself in the Ivory Tower; I want images of fat, Black women in love on the screen as quickly as my brown fingers can type.

The idea was good, but when I sat down to write, I had no inspiration. My once overflowing imagination was dry, hardened and somewhat cynical. I had characters and an outline of their story; I even had a new office with a fresh coat of paint and adorable furniture, but when I tried to insert myself in their world, I was met with fear, and hurt.

Plain and simple–I was heartbroken. 

As much as I wanted to tell their love story, my own self-perceived failures at romantic love left me feeling inadequate and ridiculous. Here I was, 40 and still single; what could I write about? Something about entering their world unearthed my single-Black-woman-rage. I was jealous of my fictional character. I didn’t want to watch her fall in love when my lonely heart was stuck on the sidelines. 

“I can’t,” I told my mom. My office wasn’t quite complete yet. Paint brushes sat in the corner along with all sorts of tarps, boxes and things. She stopped working and sat down.

“What do you mean?” she said. “You have to tell her story.”

“I can’t!” I broke down. “It’s too painful. Here I am still single, still alone and what? I’m going to write it happening for someone else?”

She didn’t respond.

“I’m still going to write a movie; maybe a crime thriller. I can handle that,” I said, hopeful.

She rolled her eyes, “You’re avoiding the difficult thing,” she said.

“Yes, yes I am. It’s too hurtful. I’m 40, alone, probably can’t have kids, just waiting for some miracle of a guy to show up when the truth is, it’ll probably never happen for me,” I said through tears.

My pain was very real and so was my fear. The fear that it would never happen for me. The fear that I was unlovable. Undesirable. I had an interesting romantic couple in my mind, waiting to come to life on the page and here I was holding them back due to my own fears and insecurities. My movie was the thing I wish would happen to me–in real life. Writing it would crack my heart open, leaving me exposed and vulnerable. 

“You’re the perfect person to write about this,” she said finally.

“What, I’m supposed to turn my heartbreak into art?” 

She nodded.

I rolled my eyes, left the room and went to bed. I woke up that night, still heavy but something was different. I remember thinking I needed to let go of who I thought I was, or who I thought I was going to be by this age. I meditated on that for a while but then a deeper answer arrived, encouraging me to let go of the limited way in which I saw myself. I held a vision of myself that didn’t amount to much. I never felt accomplished or as “together” as I thought other people were. I sometimes felt ashamed of loving movies and writing, mixed with despair at not thriving in the rat-race. Source was urging me to let that version of myself go, so that I could make space for who I was.

I sat with that for a while because truthfully my mind was blown. Afterward, I journaled:

29 January 2021

Prompt: Where have you seen strength in yourself this past year?

I have witnessed strength in my inner-work. The strength in tenacity. To keep going, regardless. Yesterday, I witnessed that strength prevail in the newness of thought. The ability to remain grounded in truth regardless of the chaos around me. Even with tears, I offered myself compassion, grace, love and acceptance. I received these things from myself–from God the Divine and stood tall–rooted in the Divine truth that I am divinely cared for. I felt the strength of that trust ground me in assurance. I know I’ve grown. Evolved. I can sense and now see it. My intention is to continue onward. Head held high in love–divine grace and supernatural wisdom and protection.

30 January 2021

Prompt: Where do you see light breaking into your life right now?

My writing–light has freed me in my creative expression, and it continues to do so everyday. It pulls me in and is teaching me new ways to engage. It’s showing me boldness. How to listen to the truth and write it down. It stirs excitement. 

My self-perception–Light has, with compassion, shown me,me. It’s taught me how to extend love to me–as I am–who I am. It taught me how to embrace myself. Nurture. Offer up words of kindness and understanding among hurt and discomfort. It lifts my head when it’s down, encouraging me to look up! In me, I see beauty, strength, compassion, love, sexiness, desirability, vulnerability and so much more.

By extending myself some grace, love and compassion, I was able to shift my self-perspective and embrace the truth: I am loved. I am a writer and I MUST tell this story.

I finished the script in two weeks.

Taking ownership of myself and placing value on my uniqueness empowered me to be the writer I am. I was able to listen to my characters with ease; their truth flowed to and through me. The process was powerful–transformative. It was evident that I must disrupt the Hollywood Romantic System because part of my fear in writing the script was that I’d never find romantic love for myself. Fat, Black women not having access to romantic love on screen validated my own fears: this is not for you, Chantell; it’s for everyone else!

It’s scary to follow our hearts. Being a screenwriter with the ultimate goal of making movies has always been my dream, but I’ve allowed fear to create anxiety and self-doubt around living  my truth. I’m here to say life is fucking short. It’s fragile and valuable; it’s our one shot at allowing our hearts to lead us into the fabulous unknown territory of greatness. Not success and greatness defined by capitalism but the greatness that resides within. The next time you find yourself faced with the choice of receding into the shadows of self-doubt and fear in the face of your dream, I encourage you to offer yourself kindness and grace. Recognize your fears then walk through them.

I’m grateful for the present moment and the privilege of getting to spend time doing something I love. I’m not just scraping together trite stories of fat, Black women in love–no. I am teasing out the truth of love and expressing it through beautiful characters who are as desperate to tell me their story as I am to write it. The fear of writing disappeared, along with the fear that I was unlovable and destined to be alone. Truth is, I’m surrounded by love. I have every right to desire romantic love in my life, but I have no right to discount the love that’s already present in and around me. This knowledge allows me to move in authenticity; each day, I see new facets of myself that I never acknowledged before. Each day, I get the honor of living my life heart-first. This is my gentle reminder for you to do the same.

Oh, and here’s the premise of my script:

A college professor, secretly in love with her best friend, realizes he may also have feelings for her. With this, the two embark on a romantic journey to discover whether the foundation of friendship is strong enough to hold their blossoming love.

Thanks for reading! Talk to you soon.

All my love,

Chantell Monique

Journal prompts from Morgan Harper Nichols Storyteller App available wherever your purchase your apps.

Copyright 2021. Do not repost without permission.