As part of my weekly blog post, I’m launching a segment called GEMSTONES. Gemstones will highlight people who approach others with an abundant heart, which includes lifting others up and doing so with love.
I’ve always prided myself on being able to find people who are gems (as I’m defining them here) and it gives me great pleasure for my inaugural GEMSTONE post to interview Gael Sylvia Pullen, https://gaelsylvia.com the author of the forthcoming book, The Good Around Us: Living and Learning From a Place of Joy, Even in the Joyless Moments.
MDRC: Tell me about why were you called to write the book?
GAEL SYLVIA PULLEN: It started years ago, over 40 years ago. I shared my desire to write with my husband (with whom I will celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary in December 2020). He was only the 2nd person I shared my writing with. He sent me to a Guidepost writers retreat. That was the second gift he gave me after we got married.
The first person I shared my writing with was a long-time family friend who I was certain would be enthusiastic and encouraging, but just the opposite happened. Even as I think about it now, I tear up. It was so disappointing and painful. “Oh no, this is really hard – you’ll never be able to do this,” she said referring to writing. The sting of that disappointment lingered, combined with my mother’s silence to these hurtful words, which added to the pain. I was 24 years old. I had been so intimidated by other writers.
I don’t want anyone else to go through that type of disappointment. I want to turn up the good around us and not have anyone dampen someone’s enthusiasm. I want to live and lead from that place of joy even in the joyless moments. I know there are good people around who will lift up the dreams. No matter how small the act of kindness, the sweetness of that has always lingered through the years. That is why I was called to write, The Good Around Us: Living and Learning from a Place of Joy, Even in the Joyless Moments.
MDRC: Tell me a bit about you and your life?
GAEL SYLVIA PULLEN: I was always a first in many situations. First one in my family to study abroad – Switzerland for high school. This was my first glimpse into individual actions and how many others are living the dream with us even though they can’t’ walk with us. I wanted to document this journey and give them something back.
My grandmother was a domestic worker and she left Arkansas because she did not want her son to pick cotton and did not want her son to live the risk of that life there, which included lynching. My grandmother bought real estate, working as a domestic worker. My grandfather did menial labor, working for a department store washing windows and sweeping in the housekeeping department. My grandmother rallied friends from the church to bake sweet potato pies to sell in front of the grocery stores to raise money for me to go to Switzerland. She got the local newspapers in both Pasadena and Pomona to do a story on me. I saw how my success meant so much to them all.
MDRC: Will you share a bit more about the impact your grandmother had on you?
GAEL SYLVIA PULLEN: I helped my grandmother clean houses and one day I was dusting at a home she worked at and I saw passports on a bureau and was looking at them and the woman whose house it was caught me looking at the passports and she said, “Oh you can look at it,” and then said, “I bet you wish you could go to some of these places. Too bad it will never happen. Now go put this in the laundry.”
My grandmother overheard the exchange and followed me into the laundry and took my face in her two hands and said, “Don’t pay any mind to that peckerwood, you will go to many places and have as many stamps in your passport.”
Hearing her words, “don’t pay them no never mind” was a reminder to just keep going and that ultimately helped me write the book.
Even if the only one who reads it is my grandmother, I’d be thankful. I’m writing it for all the people who read the article in Pasadena and for my grandmother who convinced the local paper to put me in there when most of the time the people who were showcased were debutantes from the other side of town.
My grandmother was right because I now have a whole bunch of stamps in my passport!
MDRC: Can you share more about your writing experiences?
GAEL SYLVIA PULLEN: Later, I wanted to write an article for EBONY magazine about living in Japan. I was one of a few people of color attending a prestigious university there and wanted to write about the experience from a cultural perspective and share with others what it was like. The person I connected to at EBONY turned down the pitch.
Self-publishing was not reputable back then. Now with social media we can communicate in liberating ways to tell our own unfiltered stories and not have to wait for someone else’s approval. For example, #blacklivesmatter. The truth is I know what I know and there are so many people who have dreams that are dismissed.
When I went to that Guidepost writers’ workshop, I was told I have a story and a voice, but I was so intimidated by the process. People were very friendly and encouraging and also very old and very white. It was hard for me to ask the questions I needed to ask because I felt so different and I was the youngest person there. I did more listening. In retrospect, if I had asked for help, I would have received it, but I did not know how to ask for help.
MDRC: Tell me about your organization Girls Fly!
GAEL SYLVIA PULLEN: In 2010, I was about to implode. I felt pregnant with all that I was carrying around. I knew I needed to pause and figure it out and stop having to do what was mandatory for me to do. I felt like I was constantly doing what I needed to do but it wasn’t addressing another part of what I was called to do. I told my husband, “If I don’t figure it out, I will just implode, and I’ll feel like I helped others achieve their dreams and I won’t ever achieve mine.” Bless his heart. He said, “Let’s figure it out.”
You don’t know what you don’t know, and it is sometimes hard to think clearly, so I pray, “If I’m not feeling right, take it away.” And then something will happen to tell me I was seeing it right. I had no idea where my dreaming would land me or what I’d have to walk away from. Eventually, I collapsed, and it was a problem with my heart. I was on the phone with a doctor friend and told her what I was feeling, and she said, “you are feeling congestive heart failure. I have to call 911.”
I felt like I might die from a broken heart if I didn’t do what was in my heart: to encourage women and girls to be reaffirmed, to hear from others with similar dreams, and to have access to people who can help guide them towards their dreams. That’s how my organization GIRLS FLY! came into being. I want girls to know they are not alone. I found authors willing to inspire the girls and I also collaborate with them.
I’m am now working on my second book, as I now know more about the publishing process and feel more comfortable with my writer’s voice. Redesigning Your Life from the Inside Out. It’s about the principles that I use in GIRLS FLY!
MDRC: What are your thoughts about the obstacles we face in life?
GAEL SYLVIA PULLEN: I recently listened to a sermon about people who come against us. Around the same time, I also watched a story where Michael Jordan talked about a couple of players that got his goat, causing him to get so worked up within his own thoughts that it fueled him to keep going. The forces we resist — that hold us back — can become a source of fuel, almost like jet propulsion. My grandma saying, “don’t pay her no never mind” has stayed with me.
We thank the people who cheer us on. In retrospect, I should have dedicated the book to the naysayers.
In 2018, I found a book editor who was going to help me get the book written. I think when she read it something caused her to feel uncomfortable and she said, “This is garbage. No one will ever read it. You should burn it.” This is a woman of color who had an illustrious career on paper. I couldn’t even finish reading her e-mail. I was anticipating guidance and I got that. I went into my bedroom and sat on the bed and said, “Wow. That is so messed up.” She was saying my life experiences were worthless. We cannot assume that just because people look like us that they are for us. And the converse is true: we can’t assume someone who doesn’t look like us is against us.
My husband came and read the entire e-mail (because I couldn’t finish it) and he said, “Okay, then she wasn’t the right one and you found out earlier than later. Babe go for a walk and find someone else. It has to be her own personal issue because what she wrote was extreme.”
It took me about four to six months before I could go find someone else, but during that time I did keep writing. I needed to get the words out of my system. A friend eventually connected me to an editor, and I got a book coach. I now have a couple of editors I’ve worked with.
I walk the talk of my faith. What I want is to connect good people with other good people to bring out the best in everyone and have goodness passed along. I have to remember that not everyone is going to come with the same intentions. Everything does not qualify as a gem just because it’s a rock. I have come to distinguish. For a long time when we were living in Arizona, I was collecting rocks that look like hearts and that took discernment.
In writing and sharing about the book launch, my friend Karla asked how she could pray for me. Today, I told her, “let me be at peace with the book getting into the hands of the people who need it and let the day of the book launch be fun.”
The first person to unsubscribe from the e-blast about the Book Launch on May 20th was the editor who told me to burn the book.
MDRC: You have a VIRTUAL BOOK LAUNCH coming up. Tell us more…
GAEL SYLVIA PULLEN: I wrote the book to thank my husband for his support. Truth be told, I would have been happy with it if I only had five copies of the book. One for my husband to thank him for his unwavering support. One for my son who reads a lot. A third and fourth for my cheerleaders, my mother-in-law in Connecticut and my dear sister-friend Arlene, and one for me.
I wrote this book with the hope of being a reaffirming voice to encourage others to keep going and to be relentless in seeking the good around them.
FACEBOOK LIVE LAUNCH date May 20th begins at 9:00 am (Pacific) running through 6 pm (Pacific). Find: Gael Sylvia Events on Facebook.
For more info visit: https://gaelsylvia.com