By: Alexa Robinson
And I Thought I Did My Journey Alone
When one thinks of a journey a destination pops into mind. A pilgrimage to a holy place for self-discovery, or a coming of age yarn springs forth in the frontal lobe. The same word – journey when spoken about in literature leads people to the famous author, Elizabeth Gilbert the author of Eat Pray Love and the movie adaptation. The hometown Maryland talent, The And I Thought Ladies, a poetry group ranging in age from 26-62,are on a literary voyage. The process of writing a book, article, or poem is a journey. The And I Thought Ladies choose to travel with friends on their quest to publication. Their belief about their writing journey is summed in Jade Dee’s, the youngest members, words: “A new Journey is both sorrow and hope displayed one step at a time. To start a new journey, you need to leave where you are, forsaking what you accumulated for lighter travel.” This is the mantra for this group of ladies. They find courage in each other’s triumphs along the way and support their members when life goes wrong.
The five ladies making up the public faces of the group: Kay Walker, Jade Dee, Wilnona Marie, Scarlett Black, and Renee Evans have all left abusive backgrounds. Scarlett says, “Freddy Kruger was my husband but I survived,” and she doesn’t want any woman “To feel like she is alone or too ashamed to talk to someone.” Kay Walker has a similar story, but the law did not stand by her side. She was thrown in jail after her boyfriend attacked her. Wilnona was a victim of emotional abuse. Jade Dee has never suffered at the hand of an abuser, but she has been attacked while protecting a friend from her abuser. “Somehow after the evening I protected my friend. I found myself in many more situations like that night. I am not sure if helping other abuse victims is my blessing or my curse, but I am always happy to help,” says Jade.
The Ladies claim these tragedies have strengthened their writing abilities. Their literary assistant once told them, “If you haven’t lived it how are you going to write about it.” They took his words to heart and branched out their writing from the hard-hitting abusive topic of their first book, And I Thought Divorce was Bad, to lighter subjects. It’s been three years since the first book came out. Slowly they have incorporated happier subject matter into their literatures. It has not been an easy transition. According to Kay “It is easier to keep writing about dark sad stories.” This challenge is overcome by following their mantra. The group is doing just that in their third year writing together as they churn out book number nine and start a newer lighter series this spring.
And I Thought Being Grownup Was Easy
Sitting around the table in an Annapolis café for this interview the ladies look right at home. All five ladies have connections to this municipality. The five ladies grew up in Anne Arundel county or at one time called this city home for work or residence.
The sparkling bay and its transit summer population fuels their stories. Jade believes, “If we hadn’t met half the people we have in bars, restaurants, and on the streets, we wouldn’t have anything to write about.” The town folk of Annapolis have given them inspiration to continue writing. Jade is an Annapolitan, born and raised in the city, she lives near the shores of the Chesapeake bay. Wilnona joined her in the purchase of that home and enjoys the fringe benefits of waterfront property. The two friends claim eating a picnic breakfast at Jonas Greene,on the Sever River is the key to their creativity. It is a fifty-minute drive from their home in morning traffic, but both friends profess there is no scene quite the same as seeing the sunrise on the early morning Annapolitans. Wilnona says “I like that feeling of the everyday struggle against the back drop of a perfectly hopeful sunrise. It is polar opposites caught in a moment of time.” Renee nods her head in agreement.
This is the town where Renee found not one but two new starts. She escaped her first abusive ex-husband and fled here. She met her second husband, had her second child, and signed her second set of divorce papers within these city limits. She remembers thinking “When I first came here I thought this town is beautiful and I would find my happy ever after here.” She did find her happiness. According to local reporter Renee Zemanski, “Renee Evans started a cleaning business Divine Destiny Cleaning in Annapolis and it grew to the tri state area.” Renee started her business in 1998 and recently celebrated it’s ten year anniversary. She didn’t expect to find her peace in business ownership, but she is thankful she finally has her peace of mind.
Scarlett grew up one county south of Anne Arundel but to her Annapolis was the other side of the world. She landed here after marrying her prince charming in a grandiose wedding. “I felt like a princess in that dress,” she commented. Wilnona interjected her feelings about the dress because she wore it on her wedding day also. The pair chuckle about the mishaps of their wedding days in that dress but both refuse to share the stories. They do admit, “That dress has powers.” Wilnona moved on to explain how it was stolen by her ex-husband. She is sure the dress is still floating around town somewhere because she married into a family that had settled in Annapolis during the slave trade days at the city docks. The group visibly winces at the mental picture showing the intricate web of friendship that hold this group together. The camaraderie amongst them is sisterly.
Blond hair Kay speaks up about her connections to this naval town and its many bars. Kay has been a bartender since she turned twenty- one. Summers here have financed a portion of her life. She worked one or two bars a summer season in the marina filled downtown consisting of Ice cream shops and bars. Kay says she should learn how to scoop ice cream since she is running out of bars she hasn’t worked for in the past. Jade loudly protests adding “She makes the best margarita.”
Jade is the first one to talk about the connection between their lives, this town and the second book in the And I Thought Series. Jade comments “And I Thought Being Grownup Was Easy really came from this town and my childhood. It’s a compilation of the memories or hopes both good and bad. All of those emotions and opportunities are rooted right here.” Kay agrees saying what she added to the book, “My nights out after last call helped me re-live my youth through writing.”. Scarlett’s contribution about time slipping away is from the many jobs she held over the years in this town and how she never looked up to think about herself. “Time in the city seemed to stand still” she said “I would see the same surroundings and get wrapped up in my daily routine. I didn’t stop to evaluate me until it came time to write in this book what I had learned in sixty-three years. . . I spent most of the time here.” The And I Thought Ladies stories have grown from the nourishing lives they have lived within the bay and river encapsulated city of Annapolis. Like any vegetation near water they attribute a large part of their success to the constant stream of creative local waters flowing over them and the way it sculpts their lives.
And I Thought I Had it all Figured Out
A question about disappointments along the way hangs in the air as the five ladies mull over its meaning. The Ladies are accustomed to reporters, so they often take pauses before answering. They have done upwards to five hundred interviews including ones for: ABC, CBS, Sky Tv London, a BBC journalist, and numerous blogs/internet, or print items by the time they sit down for this article. When they arrive for the discussion each one is fully immersed in their assigned roles. As this conversation continues they grew more at ease and it was a wonder to watch them work together like gears in a clock. Kay is observant ever watchful of the people around them and weary of reporters. She made no effort to hide her distrust. Scarlett is thoughtful she lives up to her nick name the Sage One. She contests the name because she doesn’t feel wise. Renee is the newest addition to the group and is not accustom to her role. She tends to jump into answering questions head long if others in the group don’t direct enough question her way. Jade is a diligent listener. She is good at spinning their misspoken sentences into gold.
The clanking coffee cups and hissing machines customers are talking over to order makes it hard to hear. “ I can only speak for myself” Scarlett starts “I’m not disappointed, but Wilnona thought we would be welcomed into the literary world with open arms after the amount of media we accrued for ourselves. She was looking forward to that part.” Kay follows up with “She is always hard on herself. I don’t think any of us have disappointments.” Kay surveys the other lady’s expressions and they all look content with the answers until the maverick of the group raises her hand. Renee’s disappointment is with the travel arrangements for the last two years. The group of five ladies picked by Wilnona to represent the fifteen women who participate in writing the books have been on the road for two years non-stop. Scarlett complains about baggage cost, Kay about the frugal spending restrictions placed on them and room sizes in Europe. The group has let down their guard. Jade cites jetlag and road weary for this strange conversation and the out pouring of complaints.
And I Thought He Was the One
The And I Thought Ladies have accomplished a lot in two years. They have co-founded The Inspirational Women in Literature, Media, and Journalism Conference to recognize women in those fields, received an advocacy award for their books, they star in a docu-series about being celebrity writers, they are the editors of the 25 Hottest Authors, Advocates, and Artist magazine ,the group co-host conferences annually on three continents, they speak at book festivals in the UK during the summer, and occasionally lecture at a university when they aren’t doing spoken word performances or writing for their favorite magazines. With a list of accomplishments like that amassed during their journey it is hard to believe they have regrets. Every success has at least one regret and The And I Thought Ladies have learned this lesson well.
Jade feels that the good they have done for abuse victims, and charities like enough abuse UK merits not even speaking about regrets. Still she admits “If I carry one regret it would be the loss of the original authors on the first book.” The ladies that sat down for this interview is the third reincarnation of the group. “Somedays I wonder what we would have been if they hadn’t walk away from the group” she delves further into the idea by saying, “We weren’t making any money, so they walked off. They just did not understand what it takes to make a book successful.” Everyone seems to agree. Wilnona reluctantly talks about her regrets. She started writing at seven and was published by ten. She laments, “When I landed my first contract with a small press at twenty-two I thought I was going to be rich. It proved to be a different ball game than what I was expecting so I walked away from the contract.” Later, she signed a three-book contract hurriedly for fear there would not be another chance to get a traditional offer from a New York publisher. Quickly she found the restrictions to be too much and finished the three books and her contract within the year. She counts this as a regret, but Jade sees it as a great accomplishment. Lastly Wilnona regrets what she can’t foresee. She says, “As the leader of the group before we signed with a publicist and three managers there was just me and I keep asking myself if I missed an opportunity that would have landed us that once in a lifetime overnight success fame?” She shakes her head as she speaks.
As a collective they share one compunction, the loss of Jade and Wilnona’s mothers. This loss reverberates through the group. At the mention of their names the others bow their heads instinctively. Kay chimes in with a story about how Jade’s mom didn’t take anything off anybody. Renee mentions “I still had a lot to learn from their moms.” Wilnona attributes her business sense to her mother who owned a business in Annapolis for thirty-one years. Jade admits she misses her mom daily because “She was so much more than just my mom; she was my best friend.” The loss can be felt through the mournful silence. Together the group agrees their greatest regret is the absence of ,the moms, their first real fans from their first year. “They aren’t here to enjoy the fruits of all their supportive efforts.” bemoans Scarlett. The loss hits close to home for them all and they admit these deaths is a compass they each carry with them as a reminder to go the right way on this journey and to continue putting one foot in front of the other.
Even with all their success and their failings they still count their blessings. They all view it as an honor to be on this journey in the written word. The ladies hope to bring class and style to the writing world, and if Wilnona has her way a splash of celebrity, along with their brand of wisdom from this incredible journey. Like their book, And I Thought I did My Journey Alone says: “A traveler may return as poor as when he left but it is the pathways that he traveled that gives him wealth of treasure to dispense of whenever …that gives him wealth that is unimaginable.” The world is looking forward to the continued wealth the ladies gather along their path to be written on the page for their audience.
About the author
Alexa Robinson is a fifty year old single mother of two natural born boys and her three nephews she adopted after her sister lost her battle with cancer. She has written In three anthologies about her experience as a single mother and trying to date. She speaks on dating as a single mom, re-entering the dating world at forty, and making time for romance while raising children. She was featured as a guest on Sam in the morning LA radio and an unaired episode of talk show Every Way Woman. After suffering a debilitating health set back she found work in PR and writes articles when she can.