Minda Honey Tells Us
About Putting Yourself in the Running
Happy autumn! I’m pleased to share the fourth installment of an occasional series I do in which I invite an author to tell us five things—not only about their most recent book, but about their life too.
I first met Minda Honey in 2019 when we did an event together in Portland in support of AWP’s Writer to Writer Mentorship Program. We had a half hour or so to hang out together in an empty conference room before the gala began and I remember being struck by her warmth and humor and wishing we had more time to talk before we were pulled into the crowd. I thought of that first meeting when I read her new memoir, The Heartbreak Years, which is full of her warmth and humor and also so much wisdom and insight as she tells the sometimes funny, sometimes hard stories about about how she found herself while trying to find love. You’ll get a glimpse of all of that in her answers to my questions below.
Happy pub week, Minda!
Tell us about a time when you took advice that turned out to be really good or really bad.
Growing up, my dad always told us, "Crying doesn't change anything." He was trying to motivate us to DO something about whatever we were upset about instead of spilling tears over it. I used that advice to fashion myself into a person who isn't "much of a crier." And I very much believed to be one was a weakness. But science tells us that crying actually serves several purposes. And I lived an entire memoir's worth of experiences that show being severed from your emotions isn't all that beneficial. Not crying doesn't actually make the sadness or the frustration or the anger disappear. Those feelings just become this mucky, inner-emotional tar that keeps you stuck in place. It's like whatever that villain in that Fern Gully movie was, glomming on to trees and forest creatures and squelching them of their vitality. Over time I came to learn that sometimes you gotta cry it out in order to process those feelings before you can take any kind of action to change your situation.
Tell us about a personal transformation in your life or a change that you’ve made for the better.
Flossing. This might seem like a small feat, but I avoided going to the dentist for YEARS. It seemed like every time I went as a college student, I had a cavity or my gums were in need of deep cleaning. These were not expenses I'd budgeted for as a teen. I even began wondering if the dentist was scamming me. In my late 20s, I went to the dentist because I assumed my grad student insurance would be shitty, so I wanted to use my work benefits before I left my job. Same thing. Expensive deep cleanings. In grad school, during my first visit to the dentist on campus, the dentist tsked over the state of my gums. I gritted my teeth prepared to be hit with more expenses I was unprepared for as a college student. Instead, he just suggested I floss, "And let's see what they look like at your next cleaning." Y'ALL, FLOSSING SAVED MY GUMS AND MY BANK ACCOUNT. At my next visit, six months later, my gums were in picture perfect health. All those expensive cleanings over the years and all I needed to do was floss daily? Floss is SO inexpensive — even the high-end stuff. Anyways, I now floss religiously (in the morning, instead of at night, which is controversial in some circles...) and I haven't had nary a cavity or bloody gum since. So, yes, flossing. Plus, what's good for your gums is good for your heart.
Tell us about a regret you have or a mistake you’ve made.
I think choosing to walk away from my career and reorient my life around writing at nearly 30 was not a mistake, but sometimes I wonder if going to grad school was. I think about what would have happened if I'd taken those two years and the money I'd saved and just drifted around the world instead, soaking up experiences. This maybe-regret is compounded by the fact I never did a Study Abroad as an undergrad. I'm fascinated by the idea of living overseas for a stretch of time, but at this age there just seems like there's so many more logistics to consider and less general infrastructure to make it happen (but, I think I might figure it out anyhow). This isn't a knock against my alma mater or the professors who nurtured my writing, but more me questioning what I've chosen to fritter my freedom away on over the years and what's come my way as a result of that frittering. Obvs, I did become a writer and ultimately achieved my goal of publishing a book. And walking away from a career at any age is hard, but I just wonder what would have happened if I'd been just a little bit braver about what I was willing to leave behind.
Tell us about your memoir, The Heartbreak Years.
I was with my high school sweetheart for six years and six months after moving to Southern California, we broke up! I had to learn how to date as an adult at 23. And at the same time I was changing and changing in love, our nation was changing too. We'd just elected our first Black president and the way we thought and talked about consent, class, race, sexuality and gender was evolving. And dating cuts across all of these concerns, so it's the perfect vehicle for interrogating these really big ideas.
The original name of my memoir was An Anthology of Assholes. For years, that was the title and, upon hearing it, people always responded, "I'd buy that book based on the title alone!" And I had this cute little follow up thing I'd say, "I dated a lot of assholes, but sometimes I was the asshole." *Self-aware chuckle* I was sure I had a winner. But unfortch, despite their recent trendiness, it's still really risky to publish a book with profanity in the title. Ultimately, I decided to trust my publisher and marketing team and change the title. The Heartbreak Years is a play on the Obama years, which are primarily the years the book spans. There's also not really anything else on the internet with the same name...? A lyric from a classic song and a 20-year-old book published by an indie press in a small foreign country called The Hart Break Years. That's what you call SEO gold!
Tell us your best advice.
Being humble is a trap. As a Black woman, if I don't loudly lay claim over my artistry and my accomplishments, someone else will step right up and take credit for it. I don't think there's anything unsavory about taking pride in yourself. I put in the time. It's okay for me to say I'm good at this writing thing or this being an auntie thing or this party hostess thing. I think when we dodge a chance to stand up tall and celebrate ourselves and instead choose to keep our heads down while kicking up a dust cloud of "Oh, I'm nothing special," it's really easy to buy into that energy. To believe that to the point you don't pursue different opportunities or demand a certain level of respect from those who engage with you. Then you begin to get resentful because you see other people getting the things you feel like you deserve, only you never even put yourself in the running because you didn't think yourself worthy. Remember being a little kid and wanting your parents to put every piece of art you created up on the fridge? Where did that energy go? I'm insisting on putting my best work up on the fridge of life and I won't make any apologies for it.
Minda Honey has a series of essays for Longreads on dating and politics and her writing has been featured by Andscape, the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Washington Post, the Guardian, the Oxford American, Teen Vogue, and she was Louisville, KY’s local relationship advice columnist for 3.5 years at LEO Weekly. Her work is included in the anthologies “Burn It Down: Women Writing About Anger” by Seal Press and the Hub City Press collection, “A Measure of Belonging: Writers of Color on the New American South.” Her memoir, The Heartbreak Years, about dating as a woman of color in Southern California, was published this month. She is the editor of Black Joy at Reckon.