Il faut du temps d’etre femme.
This line of French–my only go-to sentence in that language–has long stuck in my mind.
It was my mother’s mantra when she set out to create her own life at forty. It was the 1970s, we lived in Berkeley, California, feminism was in full flower, and my mother had never even had her own checkbook. Suddenly, she was a single mother to three daughters, with a full-time job and rent to pay. She went back to school to get her master’s degree, and had her Bat Mitzvah in her fourth decade. “Call me a late bloomer,” she laughed. I laughed, but watching her bloom was powerful and inspiring.
It takes time to be a woman.
I’ve long held onto that maxim when the dreams I’ve harbored take their own sweet time to materialize–if they materialize at all. Having dreams is a luxury when you’re just trying to survive. And yet, having dreams is what makes the grind of day-to-day living bearable. At least, for me.
It was my dream to be a writer, so I wrote. First in diaries, journals, notebooks, on proverbial napkins. Later, I published poems and stories in literary magazines. I wrote book reviews. Eventually, I translated other people’s writing and sent my own out into the world. Sometimes a short piece was published here and there, but that brass ring eluded me–a published book of my own. I wanted to be a writer. Was a writer someone who wrote, or someone who published? In order to make the dream real, I reasoned, it had to be shared. What if the world wasn’t all that interested in this “sharing?” Thousands of rejection slips later, I let the dream slip away. Although I loved reading and writing, I had to make a living. Writing took a back burner, but the dream never died.
I moved to Japan, where it was possible to parlay an M.A. in Creative Writing into gainful employment. I lived in Tokyo for four years. I freelanced, wrote reviews for the Japan Times, wrote art criticism for Art in America. By some fluke of luck, I got a gig teaching writing at Tokyo University, which some consider Japan’s Harvard. One night the American jazz trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith invited me to Yokohama to hear him play at very small, smoky jazz club. There was a typhoon and I almost didn’t go. Also, it was free jazz, which is a taste I hadn’tacquired. But I went. I saw a man across the proverbial crowded room. When the set was over, I went over and talked to him.
S. said he was a journalist, poet and fiction writer. His friend was the drummer that night. We struck up a conversation, one that has lasted twenty years. After we’d moved to Northern California and struck out as freelancer writers and translators, one of those conversations was about the novel Memoirs of a Geisha.
We discussed how few strong Japanese heroines there were in popular fiction, and how we’d like to create one someday. Were there any such women in history? S. told me about female ninja, and I said, breezily, that someone should write a novel about one. To be honest, I thought of ninja as B-grade villains, who were not so interesting to me. But S. understood they were indigenous people fighting to save their lands, like the Native American people had done. He wanted to include that element in the novel. I had no idea how he’d do that, but I remembered the Navajo Code Talkers. I suggested he work their story into the plot. Then I forgot about the conversation completely. S. didn’t.
On New Year’s day a year later, S. walked into our kitchen and announced that the novel was finished. There was just one problem. It was in Japanese. He then spent another year translating it into English. I spent the next few years editing that English. Over the coming years, we sent it out to friends who helped us shape it. The novel evolved into a much different book than either of us had envisioned. It was also a test of our marriage, but “smooth seas don’t make skillful sailors.”
A decade after that conversation, Jet Black and the Ninja Wind was done. We set our multicultural adventure in the American Southwest and the Japanese North country of Tohoku. It wove the last living female ninja’s quest to save her homeland into a treasure-hunt/adventure. Without an agent, it was hard to find a publisher. So we put it on the back burner, which was pretty crowded by then.
Meanwhile, America went to war, the economy took a nosedive, and freelance translation jobs were hard to come by. We returned to Japan. I opened a yoga studio and we got serious about having a family–another project that was seriously stalled. I was forty, then forty-two, then forty-four. We began adoption proceedings.
On March 11, 2011, a massive earthquake and tsunami struck the Tohoku region of Japan. We were living in Tokyo, and the quake shook us to the core. Tokyo was safe, but the coastline was devastated. How could we help? A friend put together an anthology to benefit teens in the affected area. We sent in an excerpt from our ninja novel, which was set in Tohoku–the birthplace of the Emishi, the indigenous tribe of that region.
Things snowballed. A friend came to Tokyo to make a movie. He asked if I knew of any good stories he might consider filming. I pulled out the manuscript of Jet Black and the Ninja Wind.He read it in a week and bought the film option. These little shots in the arm made us feel we might have something worth pursuing. Or at least, not giving up on.
Then Tuttle Publishing, whose books on Japan had lined my shelves for decades, published a Young Adult novel, their first book in that genre. I sent them Jet Black. They made an offer the following week.
Timing is everything. In between the time we finished our novel to the time we actually sold it, Young Adult literature had taken off. Strong female leads had also become popular through The Hunger Games, Brave, and others.
Jet Black re-taught me what my mom had taught me as a teenager. Things take time, and that’s okay. After Jet sold, I finished a memoir about my journey to motherhood, which also took ten years. That book, Here Comes the Sun: A Journey to Adoption in 8 Chakras, will be out this summer.
If everything I do takes at least a decade, so be it. Now I get it.
It takes time to water a dream, and that’s okay with me.
I’m it for the long haul.
About the Author:
Leza Lowitz is an accidental global citizen–bicultural mother, modern yogini, yoga studio owner, Expat, and multi-genre author of over seventeen books. Her memoir about her journey to motherhood over two oceans, two decades, and two thousand yoga poses, Here Comes the Sun: A Journey to Adoption in 8 Chakras, will be published by Stone Bridge Press this summer. For more, see: http://www.cbsdsmarttools.com/sites/m89832/index.html
Her Young Adult novel in verse about Japan’s March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Up from the Sea, will be published by Crown Books for Young Readers (Penguin Random House) in 2016.
Her previous books Yoga Poems: Lines to Unfold By and Jet Black & The Ninja Wind (co-written with Shogo Oketani) are amazon best-sellers. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, Yoga Journal, Yoga International, Shambhala Sun, The Best Buddhist Writing, The Huffington Post, and The Japan Times.
She has received the APALA Award in Young Adult Literature, the U.S.-Japan Friendship Commission Award, the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award for Poetry, a Translation Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a California Arts Council Individual Fellowship in Poetry, a National Endowment for the Humanities Independent Scholar Fellowship, and the PEN Syndicated Fiction Award.
If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe to this blog or sign up for my newsletter. Also check out my books: A Writer’s Guide to Persistence, Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time and, Forged in Grace.
EARLYBIRD REGISTRATION: The THIRD Annual Plot & Scene Writing Retreat with Martha Alderson happens at the Mt. Madonna Retreat Center, May 6-8, 2016.
Photo by Jae is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License.