“In Bora Bora, even the fish look like sperm.”
The year is 2006. I travel to Tahiti with my writer friend — let us call her Beth — she to get a tattoo, me to find a sperm donor. Beth is shaken and sad, recovering from an abortion. She is young, her current relationship is troubled, and she is not ready to have a child. Me, I’ve just had a miscarriage and am near the end of my fertility. Beth finds solace in tattoos, while I’m desperate to find a sperm donor. Beth tells me she heard “Polynesians are perfectly open to impregnating white women.” So we go. Both seekers.
This story was published in BlackBook magazine. We told it back-and-forth so you get both our perspectives on the trip. It is also the tale of friendship and travel and adventure. There are fruit-carrier races, the mysterious Third Sex of Tahiti, sharks and stingrays that I think look like “flapping velvet vaginas.”
The producers of the film “American Beauty” saw a movie possibility in the duet article. We had meetings. Wrote drafts. Then, as suddenly as the stars aligned — they whirled apart. And the moment passed. That’s Hollywood.
Why do I bring up this story? Because I am currently on assignment to write my Why. What is the Why behind my business Writers On Fire? If you don’t know what I mean by Why, check out Simon Sinek’s mesmerizing TED talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.”
Because I haven’t written creatively in a while, my inner Artist Rebel is feisty. Why should I write a Why? Doesn’t the name Writers On Fire convey it? That, and the logo? I think of logos like Chinese ideograms. I want it to distill the entire meaning of Writers On Fire in one fiery image. Isn’t it clear I help people access and articulate their Untold Story? Their signature tale? That I help entrepreneurs learn the power of personal narrative so they can clarify their business message and claim the secret side of themselves? It’s all about personal branding. About rooting your sense of self and your life’s journey in a deep emotional place. Only then can you confidently storytell your expertise so people can emotionally engage and be entertained.
Here is a truth about business in the 21st century, at this moment in time:
If you want to move people? You have to move yourself first.
Personal story, or personal narrative, or story, or voice, whatever you want to call it — is memoir. Something I know a lot about. And memoir, besides everything I list above? Also has the power to heal.
I am not the same person who wrote about Manhunting in Tahiti. I read the words and wince at the anger, sadness and desperation of Rachel Then. This was before Love Junkie: A Memoir — that odyssey from self-loathing to self-love — before cooking! which was all about self-nurture and self-mothering. And now, the current ongoing story — the entrepreneur’s journey toward self-worth and self-value.
One thing holds true from the Tahitian article though.
The tattoo. And in it lies the key to my Why.
I didn’t find a sperm donor there in the paradise of Tahiti.
I did — unexpectedly — get a tattoo. Something I vowed I’d never get.
Here is the last part of the Manhunting In Tahiti story, after the disappointment of not finding a Polynesian sperm donor and having to face the chance that my life would not turn out the way I planned:
“I have always been afraid to scuba dive, because so often I forget to breathe. I descend into a world of water and utter silence. I cannot speak, for once! Cannot hear. I can only breathe. Breathe, and stare in wonder. Hands on hard coral, holding fast as the oxygen tank tugs and fantastic fish fan around my face. Crazy carousel colors. Electric blue, rocket red, screaming green. Tears streak my mask as I weep. I will get a tattoo. I will mark my story on my body. A story that can change.
With my hair freshly glamorized with coconut oil, I stride into Purotu’s tattoo shop. And instantly I melt into his mana — spirit. Embodying male and female energies, calming, even as I pound through one tattoo sample book after another, ten times in a row, poring through, seeking the perfect one, the time for the airport pick-up hurtling closer.
Then I see it. A story, curving from the ankle bone around and arcing gracefully over the foot. A journey, mountain/obstacles, a moon, a sun rising, a bird flying, the turtle for fertility but also for creativity, then the story finishing out in a lizard scrambling forward — grounding.
I do not take aspirin. I do not cry. I do not flinch. I lie there, chanting, while Purotu gently rakes what feels like a garden spade, jackhammer, and butcher knife in and around tiny foot bones while men in the store watch, marveling at my composure. Repeat the names of friends, Beth, others, family, songs, pray, until it is done. And I am inked. Permanently.
Whatever else happens, this is a story that can be told differently each time I look. It is not intime for a lover. It is not beauty for beauty’s sake. It is my first and last tattoo. There will be transformation. This much is certain.”
I bear that tattoo on my right foot to this day. The story it tells holds the space for my continued growth and change. Just like Writers On Fire, which is the umbrella company for my business. My vision. I believe in the power of writing — to heal, to inspire, to affect change. Inside. And outside. Within the writer/entrepreneur. Then, when the creative entrepreneur shares their story on the page or stage — within the listeners or readers.
That is literary alchemy.
That is the power of reinventing your narrative.
That is the story burning at the heart of your business, and your brand.
The more you claim it, the more you will be seen and heard.
What is your Why? Here is a three-part exercise. Don’t overthink! Write your Why first as a list. Then, as a story. Finally, have a conversation with a business partner, or trusted friend or colleague about your Why. Let them ask you questions. Write that. Please share what worked or didn’t in the comments below! Or anything else you want to say. Did this post inspire? We’d love to hear your Whys and your responses. All questions welcome.
Yrs in truth,
How often do we set out to conquer one goal, only to discover that we learn a completely different life-lesson instead! I love this story! This is why Buddha says “Do not be attached to outcome” To do so, misses so many golden moments of life. And Tattoos apparently!
The Big WHY… Such a hard question to answer. And so much deeper than “To be rich” “To have a condo on the ocean”
My Biggest WHY… Hmm. “To be God’s Vessel and KNOW- in my gut- that I am using my life to spread the message of Profound Unconditional Love and Grace- through my life, my art, and my work- even in my own imperfect way.” That sums it up.
Rachel, thank you for this inspirational and thought-provoking story!
Such a well written piece, thanks for this.
I’m never surprised by the bendings and turnings of our journeys. The important thing is to trust in them. Thank you, on the eve of launching into writing my Y of Weight Loss program, for reminding me to let go and do that.