What are the lies you tell yourself? That it is impossible, will never work, the pressure is far too much? That the space between us is galaxies we travel light years just to touch? How quickly we forget we are astronauts. Our small steps are giant leaps. Just you wait and see!
— “Stargazing at Noon,” Amanda Torroni
For a couple of hours, Amanda Torroni stepped out of her fast lane of single motherhood and burning determination. And in that moment, on the eve of Valentine’s Day, she was the confident face of so many bright and talented and hard-working young folks whose life journeys are true dream chases.
They’re the waiters and waitresses and greeters who make good restaurants great. They’re the young moms and dads paying the dues of training and honing skills and talents, paycheck to paycheck, compiling portfolios, navigating critiques. Money is but part of the prize; answering life’s passion is the prize. We should notice them and admire them more than we do. Our community is enriched by their presence.
Amanda worked her way through the College of Charleston’s honors school, graduating with a degree in philosophy. She studied Italian artists and philosophers and spent a lot of time touring Italy, too. Writing is a passion ignited in her teenage years, and over time her focus evolved as poetry “in many styles.” She became a favorite waitress for many at Carrabba’s as she hustled tables, edited term papers, always sharing her confident ambitions with the regulars.
Like so many of the young and ambitious, busy Amanda juggled the evolving structure of her life — single-motherhood, writing and, yes, earning that paycheck. Her notebooks were filled with her thoughts about her journey: “the connectives of physical and the visceral.” Every moment was a poem theme — the happy and sad workplace stories, her little boy beginning his journey, and her grief after her cancer claimed her mother Debbie a decade ago.
Chilean Pablo Neruda and American Sylvia Plath are her favorite poets. Her narratives invoke Plato and cite Scripture. But Amanda’s writings seem to defy most conventions of poetry. It’s more narrative and internalized. She honed her style on the internet and even made money as an “internet poet.” Publishers began encouraging compilations. She produced several and a novella. She was in that dues-paying territory that leads either to higher acceptance or a passion-sucking stopping point.
Finally, a conventional publishing proposition came along and “Stargazing at Noon” was soon a reality. Amazon sales immediately validated worldwide interest and, praise be, the little book by the hard-working mom was available on Kindle, as well.
The gaggle at the Barnes and Noble “book signing” Tuesday included dozens of folks who have watched Amanda’s remarkable journey. Her dad, Steve, flew in from wintry New Jersey. Her sisters Kayla and Ashley were there, too. Amanda presided with a background humility, clearly more interested in sharing her messages than self-promotion. Her 6-year-old son Brighton seemed to know this was a special moment for his mom.
Amanda teared up as she read 14 selections from “Stargazing at Noon.” One was a chronicle of grief following the death of a Boeing employee in a motorcycle accident. Another was a “conversation” with her mom, describing a void of “ten years without you.” Unscripted, she told her audience that she wished she could consult with her “13-year-old self, when I first recognized my raw passion for writing. I would tell her that ‘in a world built on dreams, too few people are able to pursue theirs. You did, and I’m proud of you.’”
We can all recall our first reckonings of interests and passions and ambitions that we hope will guide our lives. Amanda laments the levers of realities that separate life’s journey from life’s true passions. And she celebrates the values of ambition and hard work and the support of others that guide genuine dream-chasing.
One book signing does not define literary success. But to know Amanda is to sense that this is just a beginning. She does in fact represent the legion of those ambitious dream-chasers who inspire all of us — when we know their stories.
And with the celebration over, busy Amanda can continue her Valentine’s week. She hasn’t quit her job — yet. But she is planning her April 21 wedding. Her fiancé, systems engineer and Air Force reservist Jordan Berkebile, stood proudly next to the bookstore’s Valentine’s cards display as Amanda signed her books.
Ron Brinson, a former associate editor of this newspaper, is a North Charleston city councilman. He can be reached at email@example.com.