My Story

 

Mabel smiling

 

 

I am a writer

I write about feeling not-quite-at-home—about the distances that can exist between how we’re seen and who we are. We are complex, and not always what we appear to be on the surface.

I’m exploring these ideas in the young adult fantasy I am now writing. My protagonist, a fourteen-year-old aerialist, is just starting to learn what secrets and truths may lie beneath the surface of her life. When she has to leave her home in the circus, she learns truths about her Uncle Baxter and Tinker, a zany talking hawk who lives with them, that are only the beginning of the secrets she will uncover. But knowing what is true in the world, and true in herself, is her best hope for getting back home. This is a book about the things that make us different, and the things that tie us together; about cultural collisions; about flying; about finding home.

baby Mabel with thoughtful expression
a moment of contemplation

I, myself, feel at home in many places. Yet, I also feel somewhat external at times. Born in Washington, D.C. to young Cuban parents, I grew up speaking Spanish at home, attending a French Immersion program at school, and keeping up with English somewhere in between. At a young age I knew that even something as basic as counting can be done in different ways. Seventy-six is literally sixty-sixteen in French. It adds up to the same thing, but it twists your brain around a different direction.

All that twisty thinking tied me in to the three cultures. It also left some part of me always trailing behind, never completely inhabiting any one place. Perhaps that is why I am so fascinated by the idea of home.

 

I love words

I suppose that learning languages and devouring books has only intensified my love of words. For me, every word is multi-flavored. It carries notes of its parallels in other languages. It has roots, connotations, and history. It makes music: singing or tapping its feet. Every word resonates.

Papi's photo of Mabel as toddler on steps
one of Papi’s photos of me

I make things

As a kid I made lots of things: puppet shows at school, board games with Play-Doh dice, Barbie clothes, oil paintings, and self-published books (if typing text on a manual typewriter, illustrating with markers, and stapling the pages together counts as self-publishing).

In high school I knit my first sweater, performed in some plays, and fell in love with jazz dance. I also decided that I might want to be a writer. I took creative writing for two years, as well as English. This meant a lot of Ms. Ruddle, the most-feared teacher in school. She was demanding, and occasionally mean. Her intensity, though, rose out of a deep passion for writing. I learned a lot from her, and went into college confident of my writing skills. But I was also burned out. I no longer imagined myself a professional writer.

teen Mabel reading on a couch in library
in my high school library

College brought on a new creative phase. I found a home in the dance department, and signed up for poetry seminars. I learned the importance of being present. I practiced seeing as an artist sees.

After college I tried to balance making things with making a living. I spent seven years dancing as much as I could: making dances, producing shows, performing. Then I got a Masters of Architecture and spent seven years designing buildings. I kept dancing. I kept writing.

Somewhere in there I was lucky enough to fall in love and get married. I highly recommend it. Love warms your life like nothing else.

Mabel as young woman sitting in twisted position
warming up for a performance

Two amazing kids later, I shifted my focus to creating a nurturing home for our family. I craft food and conversation. I’ve become a finder of lost things. I continue to dance (though not so often now). My husband and I have renovated and added on to our home. (He’s a maker too.) And writing has reasserted its importance, tempered by time, impatient with silence. 

 

Now, I am here

In all my wanderings, I have come to appreciate standing outside the circle, as well as standing inside. I know what it’s like to want to belong, what it’s like to want to stand out. And I know what it’s like to want both at the same time.

We are complex beings. And mysterious. Writing is my way of asking questions and discovering new things about who we are, and about how we live in the world.

I am a writer.

And I am everything else.

©2018 Naomi Smith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

go to my Novel

go to my Poetry