Conversations

On Getting What You Wish For

Clay Rivers
Mar 23, 2018 · 8 min read

I have this bit of news about a good thing that’s been in the works for a couple of months and if I’m lucky it will continue to be in the works for four more months until it’s proclaimed a sure thing. I’ve only told a few people about it, but I want to spread the excitement around and share the news with you.

Drum roll, please!

United Thank Offering, a ministry of The Episcopal Church, is considering a grant proposal I’ve written and submitted for the funding of a series of workshops on racial reconciliation!

No joke.

The proposal has survived the local and diocesan cuts, and is currently under review by the national UTO board. Awards will be announced in early July. Why am I telling you this far out? This isn’t a victory lap by any means. The bottom could fall out of the whole thing and come July my idea could be grant proposal road kill. The way I see it, you and I have been on this unexpected journey together this far, so why not share the news? Plus, I think my head will explode if I don’t tell you.

This, more than anything else, is a moment of gratitude and reflection on a couple of things I’ve picked up along the way. (It’s amazing how things can come into focus with time and perspective.)

So who’s with me on this Boeing 740-Stream-of-Consciousness?

Good! Please make sure all seat backs and tray tables are in the full upright position and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.


Everybody’s Beautiful

For as long as I can remember, I’ve thought of myself as special. Not in that annoying I’m the smartest person in the room and I’m going to prove it to you right now way, but in an I have something unique to share with people that might be able to help them way. Maybe being the only vertically-challenged person in a family where the average male height is six-foot-two had something to do with that special self-perception. Think about it. A forty-eight-inch tall, black man, is bound to stand out. In any room.

Not that being short-statured is a drag or anything, but the simple act of living — in a society that associates stature, physical perfection, and race with a person’s value; and carving out a life in a world where just about everything is designed for people at least a foot taller than you — presents a myriad of challenges most people would never imagine. A grocery store can become an obstacle course especially when your favorite items live in the top shelf, and ready-to-wear clothing . . . well, that’s a pipe dream.

But despite the challenges, I’ve always longed to have a positive impact on people.


Circa 2001, I lived in Los Angeles, pursuing a career as an art director, and dabbled in acting on the side. Don’t look surprised, everybody has a side hustle in L.A. But casting directors’ penchant for casting me as Dwarf #4 or some visual punchline disagreed with me on a visceral level. After Hollywood revealed its level of entrenched objectification as pervasive, I opted to sidestep the issue altogether and set about writing screenplays that featured roles for myself or any other short-statured actor. Short-statured people as real people, what a concept. Apparently, I held no monopoly on that idea, because two years later Peter Dinklage’s The Station Agent was released to critical acclaim.

Thanks to a severe economic downturn I left L.A. in 2004, moved back to Orlando, joined a solid writing group, entered a few screenwriting competitions, and actually won a couple of awards here and there. But the thing I loved most about screenwriting — its brutally economic use of words in telling stories in which one page equalled one minute of screen time — became the very thing I hated about it. The more I learned about what truly good screenwriting consisted of, the more its copious conventions felt too confining. That, and the realization that very few movers and shakers in Tinseltown wouldn’t seriously consider the work of an unknown screenwriter who didn’t live in L.A., soured me to the idea of pursuing my screenwriting dreams.


God Calling. He‘d Like a Word with You.

Oh, yeah! And this was about the same time I got The Call. Yes, that kind of call. Much like “the call” people get to go into ministry.

Valentine’s Day, 2009. I dropped by the office of a close friend — who happened to be my pastor — for an impromptu lunch and quick critique of my latest screenplay. John gently suggested that perhaps I should forego romantic-comedies (my genre of choice) and instead pen stories from my life as over the years they found the adventures in my blog far more compelling.

[blink, blink]

I didn’t take his comment as an indictment of my writing. The nuance was all in his delivery.

As John elaborated on why writing about my own experiences would be more compelling to readers, in my head I began cobbling together my own compelling reason why airing my dirty laundry held no appeal.

And then something strange happened.

While I was still forming my countermand, he was already dismantling that very reason coming together in my head. He worked his preemptive strikes two more times, once for each of my following excuses, before I uttered a single word. As someone who looks for meaning in seemingly random events, I didn’t need to see smoldering tablets of stone etched with a personalized message from the Almighty, not with John’s brand of prescience in play.

That night I went home and began working on my memoir.


Flow with the Go

Prior to writing my memoir I thought my interest in writing began with my screenwriting efforts. But a stack of old journals showed that my love of nonfiction writing stretched all the way back to my junior high years and inspired me to forge ahead.

Don’t let anyone fool you, writing a memoir is boatload of work and calls for more self-examination, forgiveness, fact-checking, and fortitude than anyone can express; but I enjoyed the process and the discoveries. Three years after my lunch with John, a failed business relationship with a literary agent, and a promising review of sample chapters by a major publisher that proved fruitless, I self-published my memoir … which people seemed to enjoy.

In the following years, life stripped away just about all the things that would have distracted me from writing. Independence, a career … all the things. After seeking any and every means of diversion (translate: job searches, freelance projects, and the like) — 90% of which led to dead ends, I followed sage advice and changed the way I looked at an interminably long period of unemployment from that of a prison sentence to one of a borderline ideal situation to better my writing.

Once that happened, I did the only thing I could do. I wrote. Lest you misunderstand, know that it was not an easy transition. I didn’t wake up all bright and bushy-tailed every morning about wrestling subjects and predicates into submission onto the digital page. I wrote, yes; albeit begrudgingly at times. And blogged.

And penned two more books.

And published another book for a client. (Be sure to ask me about that one!)

Funny thing is as I look back, I can see that every time I needed guidance or a resource to move forward or a kick in the pants, people were always there to help. And they always appeared as if out of thin air.


Medium and the Perfect Fit

I forget how I found Medium . . . well, that’s not true. It happened summer 2015, but I don’t want to unpack that whole story again. Basically, I found this portal quite daunting back then and several of you (who shall go nameless in this writing for fear of omitting anyone’s name) welcomed me as one of your own.

My first essay, which happened to be about race, went over surprisingly well, and has since been picked up by different publications over the years, including The New York Times.

I’ve tried my hands at a couple of other topics and while your collective reception has always been kind and gracious (especially with those clunker essays), but nothing resonates with you guys like my essays on race in America with a little bit of faith mixed in.

Because of your collective support of my writing on Medium over the years — via reading, clapping, sharing, commenting, or hearting my essays — you’ve had a hand in making this UTO grant opportunity a possibility. In doing so you’ve also helped me find my writing voice in a niche I never would’ve imagined broaching a few years ago. I guess there’s something about the perspective of a forty-eight-inch tall, black man who is Christian and gay that connects with y’all. Thank you.

(And Simon & Schuster said my perspective was “too unique.” Ha! I think my perspective is a bit more mainstream than the tauntings of that Milo clown. And we all saw how that deal went down. Hmph.)


The Take-Away

I want you to know first and foremost how grateful I am for your support. I’m not nearly as prolific as other writers, but I try to make up for that by making sure that each piece is worthy of your time.

Everybody’s beautiful.
Everybody has stories to tell, lessons to share, and songs to sing. Your job is to discover yours, hold on to it and don’t let go; then live it out loud so as to enhance the lives of those around you.

Answer the call.
Don’t shy away from your own Hero’s Journey. Your greatest adventures are yet to be discovered, but you’ll never know if you don’t answer the call.

Flow with the go.
It’s so much easier to say this than it is to do. When you’re stuck in the midst of circumstances that are neither of your choosing or making, you can either cave in under the pressure or allow the situation bring out the best in you.

The future will take care of itself.
And while this UTO thing is still up in the air, I’m sure everything will turn out just the way it’s supposed to. Know that you’ll be one of the first to know how it all shakes out. Trust me on that one.


Clay Rivers

Writing from the intersection of race, faith, and equality. Join the conversation, but you have to bring your own espresso.

Clay Rivers

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Author, art director, actor, and optimist. Writing about equality, faith, and racism. Let’s chat over espresso. Books available at amazon.com/author/clayrivers.

Clay Rivers

Writing from the intersection of race, faith, and equality. Join the conversation, but you have to bring your own espresso.