In 8th grade, I was placed in Regular English.
The class was disruptive, packed with rowdy students unwilling to listen to our young teacher. I was very shy and subject to bullying at times; I didn’t perform well in class because I was desperate to remain invisible so they wouldn’t bother me. At progress report time, my mom asked why I was underperforming, and I told her my class was full of kids who didn’t listen to the teacher. During the first quarter parent-teacher conference, my mom brought it up to my teacher and advocated for me to be put in another class.
“The only other class I teach is Honors English,” Mr. O’Malley told her.
“She can handle Honors English,” my mom replied.
“Hmm. Well, if she raises her grade to a B, I’ll get her in.”
My mom looked at me and asked, “Can you do that?”
I nodded. “Yes.”
I raised my grade and was promptly moved to Honors English.
When I got there, we were assigned a book report presentation. I don’t remember what book I presented but I do remember my friend presenting the book Dawn by V. C. Andrews. Enthralled by the drama and romance she described, I borrowed the book from the library and have been reading romance novels ever since.
Another key moment from that year was when my teacher told us to find someone interesting to write a short story about over spring break. I was thrilled by the assignment but a little disappointed because most of my friends were going to Disney World or seeing family somewhere outside of Indiana, but my mom and I weren’t traveling during break. As the end of break drew near, I needed a story, and I didn’t have a character, so I invented one. He was a loner, going about his day—invisible, and inconsequential.
One day, we crowded around Mr. O’Malley’s desk, begging him to tell us what we earned on the short story. Finally, he agreed. He wrote the grade down, showed the student then scribble it out.
When he got to me, he said, “Oh, yeah. You wrote about the loner. It was good.”
Then he wrote down my grade and showed me. I earned an “A”—the highest mark I had ever received for a creative story. I was beyond proud of myself. As we walked out of the classroom, I told my friend, Sarah who immediately downplayed my accomplishment, making me feel small, like what I had done meant nothing.
Two things happened in that moment—I fell in love with creative writing, and I internalized my friend’s snotty comment, never taking writing seriously. Like reading, it was a hobby—a way of escape, but I could never be good at it because Sarah, from 8th grade, made me feel like shit for getting an “A” on my first short story.
Fast forward 28 years and here I am on the other side of 40. I checked all of the boxes: high school, college, graduate school, and a job. I battled severe depression. I cried over feeling like I didn’t have a reason for being here. That I didn’t have a gift or purpose. But through it all, I took an active role in my healing and expansion, which led me back to 8th grade.
The other night, I thought about the story of that loner. Until then, I hadn’t thought about 8th grade, working to get into Honors English or my short story in years. Like opening an old photo album, the dust-covered memory returned, vivid and powerful. I remember throwing my heart into that assignment. Then I thought about how it felt earning the “A” and how it felt when someone dismissed it as nothing. At 13, I didn’t understand that I had a shitty friend. I didn’t realize that I, the little Black girl who fought to get into Honors English, could actually become an author.
Throughout my healing journey, all of the bullshit has fallen away to reveal my most authentic self. For my Clueless fans, there’s a scene where Tai compliments the stickers on Travis’s skateboard. He says, “Oh you like ‘em? I was thinking it was too cluttered, you know. I wanna wipe all this out and just concentrate on one main decorative statement. Like uh, Marvin the Martian, right there.” That’s how I feel about my life—I’ve been given the chance to wipe away all the clutter of inferiority, doubt, trauma, good choices, bad choices, pain, and heartbreak to focus on one main decorative statement: writing.
That’s why my site has evolved, again. It has become the landing page for Chantell Monique the romance author.
Life is short, fragile and precious. We’re surrounded by a significant amount of loss, and we push past it without stopping to consider whether we should remain on the same path of least resistance. 2022 is almost here and I can’t enter another year saying life’s short only to do nothing to create the life I actually want.
So, yes, I’m a romance writer and all of my time will be spent on my first novel. I’d like to blog but to be honest, friends, I can’t keep writing about my life—it’s time I start living it. If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to declutter your emotional baggage, so that you can focus on one main decorative statement in your life. Until then, take care, be safe and go watch Clueless.