Writing as a Healing Balm: Mellany Paynter’s “Dancing at the Crossroad”
By Debbie A. Officer,
Book Review Editor
A chilly wind greeted passengers exiting the Barclay’s Center train station on November 20, 2016, signaling the winter ahead. It was Sunday, and under the gaze of The Brooklyn Academy of Music around 60 people came out to the book launch of “Dancing at the Crossroad: A Guided Journal self-published” by Mellany Paynter. Within minutes of entering the 33 Tapas Wine Bar & Lounge, the crowd was warmed by the atmosphere of support and love for a local writer who wanted to share the candid story of her healing process with them.
“Dancing at the Crossroad” is about a woman’s journey through pain, depression, relationships, and ultimately finding her inner peace during the process. There are hundreds of books about grief and loss on the market, so what makes this one different? Paynter is from Trinidad. She’s a Black woman who comes from a culture where women often pick up the pieces instead of falling to pieces. An engineer by profession, the Howard University graduate said, “I went through all seven stages of grieving after my mom’s death. This came from the guilt I felt because I was a rebellious teenager. I saw her silent strength back then, but didn’t understand it fully. I felt that I spent all that time being rebellious and I lost out on that relationship. I do think the guilt brought out the pain after she died. Not wanting to let go does prolong the grief.” The book is not just a writer’s memoir of her own loss, it’s a safe space for women and men to know that it is okay to fall apart after losing a loved one.
The audience, a majority of whom were women, hung on to her every word. She was speaking directly to them, at times encouraging each person to make peace with relatives, or to visit a friend who might be going through any of the many stages of grief. Thirty-three Tapas Wine Bar & Lounge at times felt like an intimate gathering of friends in a cozy sitting room. “Dancing at the Crossroad”is a guided journal, giving readers their own personal space to find their way through the challenging days, months, or moments during their own inner struggles. In an entry dated November 29, 2010 the author writes, “my arrival home was overwhelming. I was a rookie at funeral planning, and being an only child did not help either: I had to be on-hand to sign and co-sign everything. The process did not allow me time to rest. Silently, I was plagued with feelings of guilt for not being present at her moment of transition, or when she came out of the hospital after her surgery. So I made sure to put extra effort into the funeral arrangements.”
The loss of a parent isn’t something one bounces back from quite so easily. It’s not a hangover one shakes off in a day. The process, according to Paynter is ongoing and needs to take its course. This well-written, clear, and often times heartfelt book deserves a front row in personal libraries, women’s centers, schools, and hospitals. In another entry on January 24, 2011, she acknowledges that “waking up every day and knowing that I have to face another day without my cheerleader is painful. On some level, I think I’m fooling myself into thinking that everything is okay; instead, I lie to myself constantly. This pain is too much to bear. Honestly, for the first time in my life I am considering drinking heavily or smoking. I now understand why some people choose external salving rather than dealing with their feelings.”
The author gives readers an inner tour of her most fragile moments, but she doesn’t stay there. In the last chapter titled “What Really Matters” we are left to imagine Paynter smiling as she tells us “Rebirth! This is the life I was meant to have. Some people stay in their pit, some surface faster back into the light. I am the butterfly that had to emerge from the cocoon because my mother’s death allows me to have life. I understand now that I never really lost her. She campaigned for my life, and now I see the beautiful light. I am dancing out of my crossroad, and it’s a beautiful place to be!” She takes many steps forward, not forgetting her mom, or ignoring her grief, but she embraces the pain and has used it to create something powerful in her own dance with life, hoping others will use it as their healing balm.
Dancing at the Crossroad: A Guided Journal
By Mellany Paynter
Create Space, 2016. Pages 129
ISBN 978-0-9983638-0-6, $20.00