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Joy Notoma | “Courageous Voice” |

by , | Mar 21, 2022 |, Courageous Voice, Listen

“Courage is mine. Courage is available to me. It’s my birthright.”
Joy Notoma

Join us for our inaugural episode to chat with Joy Notoma, fiction writer, journalist and workshop facilitator living in Toulouse, France about vulnerability, her wide leaps of faith and how she finds the courage to make them.

In this episode we dive into:

  • Courage and creativity
  • Vulnerability and finding the courage to get necessary feedback
  • Backpacking and living in foreign countries
  • Where Joy finds the courage to continue to make incredible leaps of faith

You can connect with Joy on Twitter: @joyinstillness and read her essays and stories at:

Today is the day you vow to follow your heart and not your fear. If only it were that easy! The Courageous Voice podcast chronicles international artists, creatives, plus a handful of scientists, and their stories of fear, courageousness and creativity. Hosted by singer, storyteller and self-proclaimed joy spreader, Chanda Rule, The Courageous Voice inspires us to share our voices courageously in spite of our fears through courageous conversation and community.



Chanda Rule: So, I’m so super, super, super excited to introduce Joy Notoma to you all today. I met Joy a very long time ago. I can’t remember, but it had to be like 10 to 15 years ago. Joy, right now, she has done many things in her life. She is a creative [00:01:00] writer, fiction writer. She’s a journalist. She is a mom. She is a wife, and a friend, and an awesome human being, and so many, so many, so many things. Joy, in my opinion, has always been one that has shown a lot of courage from her move to New York, to study and to work in acting, and then deciding to go backpacking across Africa and then completely changing the whole script and going back to school for journalism. So, and so many wonderful things. And so, this is why I asked her to come and I thought it would be a wonderful launching. So, please welcome Joy, how we welcome on the Zoom call!

Joy Notoma: Thank you so much for having me, Chanda. Yes. I think we met in 2009. I was working at a bookstore, in like the spiritual [00:02:00] bookstore, where Chanda was in seminary. And I just immediately looked at her as someone who was like, just this big sister figure who just welcomed me, and I was so green. I was so green when I moved to New York, and Chanda just took me under her wing in a way, and I just was always happy whenever I saw her. I’m grateful that we’ve been able to keep in touch in our different ways over the years.

Chanda Rule: Me too. And I’m remembering that that was, I think, I remember watching the inauguration, with you, at One Spirit. Yeah.

Joy Notoma: Yes. We watched Obama’s first inauguration together. That was my first time at One Spirit, which is the name of the seminary and where I worked at the bookstore in the seminary. And, you know, assisting the reception and all of that. One of my many jobs in New York when I was working as an actor. [00:03:00]

Chanda Rule: Yeah. So Joy what, why don’t you tell us, who are you? Because you know, there’s like the bio version, and then, there’s the other version and it changes by the day. So for today,

Joy Notoma: It’s true.

Chanda Rule: Who are you bringing to our meeting today?

Joy Notoma: Yeah, it’s a great question. I grew up in South Carolina and for a long time, after I left, New York or whatever, I would visit France before I moved to France, when people would ask me, um, where I was from, I would often just say New York, because like I had lived in New York for about 10 years.

And I felt like, “Okay, I can say New York.” But recently, since I moved to France, I guess now two years ago, I’ve been in France for two years, I’ve been feeling more comfortable in saying that I’m from South Carolina and feeling more identified with where I grew up. So, I’m [00:04:00] in the south of France.

I’m a writer; I’m a fiction writer. I kind of really look at my life and my approach to courage, my thoughts on courage, kind of through, a creative lens: through the lens of the writing life. The writing life is so full of process and facing uncertainty and facing rejection, and every day, creating a new world with just words on the page.

So, that’s really who I am in this room, in this space right now, and, how I think about courage.

Chanda Rule: Okay. When you’re talking about vulnerability, I’m thinking of when we first spoke about you joining here, you were talking about vulnerability and I think you were talking about some readings. I think it was Audre Lorde. And what she was saying about courage and it was such a wonderful thing. I definitely wanted to get into that [00:05:00] today and talk more about that. But yeah, with this vulnerability, I saw this on your Twitter page: are you applying for school for a master’s program in fine arts?

Joy Notoma: I am, I am applying. So, we’ll see. Yeah, to study fiction. Yeah, it’s a big deal to go back to school. But, I just feel like to take fiction writing to the next level that it’s a necessary step. Yeah.

Chanda Rule: I found it so interesting that you were talking about specifically this process of getting feedback, which is, which can always be challenging. And how, you know, you have to be vulnerable in your writing, but also showing that vulnerability to get that feedback that you need in order to get further and to keep going.

Joy Notoma: Yeah. I’m trying to think of the Tweet. I Tweet a lot. No, I don’t Tweet a lot. But, I use Twitter more than the other social media. In writing my statement, I’m needing to receive feedback, you know, and the writing of it, it [00:06:00] just like any writing process, creative writing process: you’re confronting so much of yourself on the page, you know. Particularly for this, in really telling my story and telling all the points that led me to this place of deciding to take my fiction writing to another level was really quite vulnerable. You know, it’s vulnerable just for myself.

And then the next thing is, I need feedback. I need to send it to someone to hear what they think. almost Sometimes you might think that it’s easier to just like, send the application, you know, or like, just get it off of my computer in somebody else’s hand.

But, in the writing process, the feedback stage is a really sacred stage. You must give it to people who you trust. People who understand your voice, who understand your work, and who respect you. So I [00:07:00] think of it also as being vulnerable in any situation, you have to be mindful about who you, I think Brene Brown says, the people who are “worthy to hear your story” or, “with whom you can share your heart.” So, in sharing that with the people who gave me feedback, I ended up submitting it. The applications were all due at the end of February.

So, they’re out of my hands now. But, going through that process of sending and receiving feedback and then rewriting. It’s like a, it’s an exercise, it’s an exercise in vulnerability I think, and in humility.

Chanda Rule: And courage.

Joy Notoma: And courage! All of it is courage! One of the other things that I mentioned to you before was what Maya Angelou would say about courage being the most important of the virtues.

It’s the most important of the [00:08:00] virtues because it supports the consistent practice of the other virtues. So I always think of courage as that underpinning, you know, like it supports the other virtues.

Chanda Rule: Okay. I think this is what I meant, I thought it was Audre Lorde, but it was Maya Angelou.

Joy Notoma: No, but I did tell you something else from Audre Lorde. Yeah. Well, we’ll talk about Audre Lorde later, too. but.

Chanda Rule: Well, tell us what happened that you just said, “Okay, I’m going to go backpacking. I’m about to like pick it up. I’m going to leave everything behind, and I’m going to go to the continents and go backpacking, and then I’m going to move there.”

Joy Notoma: The first reason was, you know, I was born in Nigeria. My family left when I was a year old, and we never went back. So, I had grown up with this kind of hole in my mind. I had this whole half of my family that I had never met. So, I grew up with this longing [00:09:00] and these questions, you know? We never went back to Nigeria, but Nigerian culture was so strong in my household and how we grew up, how we were raised.

At that point, I was 30. I was already 30, and I had already traveled to a lot of places in Europe. And, I said, “The next time I leave this country, next time when I leave the U. S., I’m going to Africa, and I’m meeting my family. I have to do this for me.” I had been writing about it and thinking about it and always just imagining this side of my family that I had never met.

So, Nigeria was the first place that I had to go. And then, of course I said, “Well, if I’m there, then I want to visit other places, too.” I had just gotten married, and we knew that we were going to go to Nigeria. Before we actually got married, for the wedding, we asked for gifts to [00:10:00] help support this big trip. We kind of knew we wanted to leave New York. So we were like, “Don’t get us any like blenders or like appliances or any towels, none of that, you know, all the regular wedding gifts; help us go on this trip.” At that time, we were both freelancing.

We had the freedom to go. So, we sublet our apartment, and we backpacked through nine countries for six months. Yeah. Started in Egypt and then, um, went to Morocco. And then went to Ethiopia? So that was north and then east, and then we went to west Africa, and we were in west Africa for the rest of the time. Yeah.

Chanda Rule: Okay. And what made you decide then that you were going to move? Because you moved to Benin, right?

Joy Notoma: Yeah! So, Benin was this afterthought. Benin’s this like really tiny [00:11:00] country. After we had left Nigeria, we knew we were going to go to Ghana, you know, like the big, Anglophone countries: Nigeria, Ghana.

Then, we were like, “Okay, we’ll spend a few days in Benin.” We went to Benin, and it was just like… I don’t know, we were just hit by the culture, by the people. There was just this warmth. People just seemed to embrace us at a different level. We felt a safety there and the connection. We loved the food.

We made friends, I kid you not, Chanda, where we would spend a day or two days with them and cry in saying goodbye. It was deep! It was like, where is this connection coming from? I had never experienced anything like that. And then we got back to New York and we were, like I said, thinking about leaving New York.

And we were like, where’s the [00:12:00] next place going to be? We were only in Benin for, I don’t know, maybe five days? It was the shortest place that we had stayed. Then we were like, we were only there for a few days! Let’s just give it a try and go back. So, we went back for three months, and we were like, “we think we can do this.”

Chanda Rule: Right.

Joy Notoma: And then, you know, I was at that time transitioning into journalism. So, I saw a niche for myself as a freelance journalist in Benin because I realized that the Francophone, the French- speaking countries didn’t get as much coverage in American outlets. So, then I went to grad school for journalism.

I learned how to connect with editors, and pitch, and do all the things that are necessary to freelance as a journalist. In speaking to editors, they were always excited. I’d speak to editors at CNN, or Quartz Africa, [00:13:00] or Al Jazeera, and they were like, “Yeah, we never hear anything about Benin. Give us stories from Benin.” So, I was able to be there and work as a journalist: meeting people, hearing their stories, and getting them published.

Chanda Rule: So specifically when we were doing our imagery, there was kind of this push back that makes us stronger or something that we would have to push through, to experience this courage.

And I’m just wondering if there’s something that you could share with us that you think that really kind of honed in this ability that you’re able to just leave your home country, backpack, and then not only that. Because Joy moved to Benin, she moved back, and then she’s starting libraries for the people there, like all these things.

And so I’m just wondering, what helps shape that, that urge and that drive?

Joy Notoma: Well, there’s my mom for one thing. I find her to be[00:14:00] a courageous individual, whether she would call herself a courageous individual or not. My mom moved to Nigeria, and my mom’s from South Carolina. She moved to Nigeria when she had three small children and then ended up having two more children, so five children in Nigeria.

I sometimes just think about her being a foreigner in another country. You know, so I had that, like, backdrop of courage from her. Also, I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, and some people might not know this, but it’s not an easy thing to leave the Jehovah’s witnesses.

So, I did go through choosing to leave when I was 19, and then, having that break in a relationship with my family. That, in some ways… not in some ways. I think in a lot of ways, it really gave me that sense of, [00:15:00] okay, well I’ve made this huge leap. I’ve already voiced this thing that was so scary to voice to my family: that I no longer believe in the faith, in the religion that they’ve given me or raised me in. I no longer believe in this thing.

And it created this huge chasm, this huge rift in my family. You know, it’s not like the type of religion where you just go like, “Okay, I’m not going to go.” And everyone’s like, “Oh, she’s just kind of not going anymore.” No, it’s like, it’s a big deal.

So, I felt like I made that huge leap. It cost me a lot. It cost my family a lot. It was painful. But it showed me how courageous I am. It showed me that I can stand up for the life that I want. And, I did that when I was 19. So, if I could do that when I was 19, that just [00:16:00] continues to inform everything.

It’s like, okay, if I can do that, then I can, I can do this. I feel like I have a place in Benin. I feel like I have a place in France. I can do the things that I open my heart and my mind to because I know that courage is mine. Courage is available to me. It’s my birthright, it informs.

Chanda Rule: I love that, “Courage is mine. It is available to me.” I love that.

So, I have one more question, and then I’m going to open it up and see if anyone else has any questions. Just for someone who is looking to start writing or start a courageous endeavor, is there any specific ritual or practice that you would suggest or give to them that they could really stand, like you, saying, “Okay, courage is mine and this is mine.”

Joy Notoma: I would [00:17:00] say, reading. Reading novels, read fiction, read poetry. I think that’s been the most consistent practice of my life. The more that I read, the more I understand the possibilities. I understand my creative voice.

In reading literature, you are open to another person’s experience, and that then opens a well within you, which includes courage. Courage is there, you know, and I think reading also allows you to experience the infinite possibilities of your creativity. The more you experience that, the more you’re just tapping into to those wells, to those reserves of courage.

[00:18:00] And then, finding your own means to write, your own way of writing. If you love books, then you can somehow begin to think, ” Someone wrote this. I could put a word on a page, and maybe someone else will be inspired.

Chanda Rule: Thank you. Thank you, Joy!

Joy Notoma: Thank you, Chanda. My pleasure.