A little fun fact about me: My last name is not Symone. It's my middle name. And something else? It's not even spelled Symone.
It's S-i-m-o-n-e, and yes I did change the 'i' to a 'y' when I was seven. Watching "That's So Raven" every Saturday morning and seeing Raven "Symone" on the pre-show credits, I thought that changing my middle name to look the same would bring me one step closer to being a TV star.
But, even though the spelling has changed, the meaning of Simone/Symone hasn't. It still, and always will mean, "to be heard." For an unusually pleasant reason, the name fits me almost perfectly.
My parents tell me just about every day that I've always been Ayana Symone. What does that mean? Well, let's begin.
According to many relatives and long-time family friends, I was a baby who not only knew what I wanted, but made sure everyone around me knew it too. For example, when I was two weeks old and spineless, I apparently stiffened my back in the arms of my father to show that I didn't want to be held by him. When I was six months old and we took our family pictures, the photographer did everything in her power to make me smile from silly faces to lit-up toys to reaching out to tickle me herself, but I didn't smile. Because I didn't want to. Because I wanted to show everyone I'm not amused. In our home family videos, I was recorded on my 1st birthday pushing my older sister away when she was about to kiss me on the cheek, therefore showing her I didn't want to be kissed. When I was three, my dad carefully listed all the snacks and candy I couldn't have before dinner and I negotiated my way into getting every snack on that list. When pre-school came around, I tricked both of my parents into getting me new shoes so my classmates can sing the "New Shoes" song to me. In Sunday school, my aunt accidentally put my older sister's (Nia) name on top of my paper instead of mine, and I corrected her almost immediately. And I quote, "You don't spell my name N-i-a," I told her. "My name is Ayana Symone." We didn't even get to my grade-school years yet. The stories I have heard about myself as a child are endless. The point is, from the time I was born seventeen years ago to now, I have behaved in a similar pattern, and my parents call that pattern "Ayana Symone." I was letting people know what's up before I could even talk. So when I did begin to talk, "Because I said so" was never an answer for me. I would ask, "Why?" or "How come?" and negotiate until I got the answer I wanted, until I was heard. While I never found this to be a bad quality, things got a little frustrating the more I grew up when I realized that sometimes, speaking up can be intimidating. And for someone who has spent their whole life fighting to have the last word and negotiating to be heard, it's scary to learn that you can't be heard if you're afraid to speak. And I was. I was increasingly becoming very shy, extremely insecure, and horribly comfortable with just keeping quiet.
But then, something really cool happened. I discovered writing.
If you don't consider yourself a writer, let me briefly explain to you how refreshed it makes me feel:
1) I don't have to look at you when I'm writing. 2) I don't have to have all of the words at that moment. I can come back to it later. We call that a draft. 3) I don't have to talk, which means no fear of stuttering on tongue twisters, not speaking loudly enough, etc.. 4) Even if I do want to be heard, I get to control whether or not you can read my words.
So while I still fight to have the last word, I do it differently through writing now that I'm older, especially because my desire to be heard has become even more untamed. I can't just quit being Ayana Symone, right? I have been my whole life. However, it was my first few weeks of high school when I realized that writing as a career is often frowned upon.
"You'll probably change your mind," school officials replied when I told them I wanted to be a writer.
That was freshmen year. And now I'm a senior in high school, three months away from graduating, and I haven't changed my mind.
School officials weren't the first who questioned my career choice either. Many others have agreed one way or another that writing isn't exactly the best job to shoot for after high school. I've gotten that "are ya sure?" look multiple times. Those were the nice reactions. Others didn't lose any time to tell me the facts about why I'm making a horrible decision.
"Not too many writers make it out there," some have cautiously said. "My sister wanted to be a writer too, but I think you'll be better off as a teacher," one shared with me. "Do you have a plan B?" is the question that approximately... hmm, let's see... everyone has asked.
The truth is that I do have a plan B because I'm aware of how challenging writing as a career can be. We can start with the obvious: income. Let's just say I won't make as much as a doctor or a lawyer (both careers many people have suggested I should go for instead). There's really no full-time job for writing unless you work for a newspaper or a magazine with no promise that you can be as creative as you would like. The safest way to put this is that I may not become Nicholas Sparks overnight, and I may need to find a steady-income job before I do.
So, as you can see, I'm aware of the troubles that come with my career choice. In fact, I'm so aware of all of the challenges that I've started to stutter when people ask, "Why writing?"
It's a good question, isn't it? Why won't I go for a career less challenging?
"I mean, I'm following my dreams," I hesitate to answer their question. "It's my way of expressing myself."
The more they ask why, the more I'm forced to face the truth: I don't actually know why I'm sticking to my decision to write so loyally. It's not too late to switch to be that doctor or that lawyer. I don't have to do this. But yesterday, being sick in bed and starting a negotiation with my dad about why he should buy me ice cream, he let out a familiar and natural laugh, ending our argument with, "You've always been Ayana Symone." And it was yesterday when I found my answer.
It's true that I've grown a few inches. I went from freshman to senior way too quickly in the span of four years. I go from one point of my life to another. But my name never has and never will change.
I am Ayana Symone, to be heard. I've got to do everything I can until you hear my last word. When I was a baby, I cried so you could hear me. When I was kid, I negotiated until you understood me. But now, as a teenager, I will write. As an adult, I will write. I have a message I want to get out, and it's in my nature to be heard. So, if I can't speak it, I'll write it. I know I was expected to change my mind before high school is over. I know it's going to be a challenge to support myself through writing. But my family knows this, I know this, and I think whoever is reading should know it too: I will always be Ayana Symone. I have to be heard one way or another.