I'm really excited about this profile for our series on amazing women. I first met April through a work project. She was raw. She was honest. She didn't hide behind formalities and all that nonsense. I knew we would be forever friends at that moment. (Not to mention she is also a Zimmerman, which is a crazy coincidence and must mean we are practically related.)
Being a Baltimore native, April has a great perspective on life. If you have spent any time in the Mid-Atlantic region you know what I'm talking about. Baltimore is a real city, full of hardworking individuals who may come across a little rough around the edges, but love with their whole hearts.
Without further ado, I'm privileged to introduce to you my friend, who shows up with chocolate chip cookies on a Monday at the exact moment you think you are losing your mind. Meet April.
Name: April Zimmerman
Hometown: Gambrills, Maryland
Occupation: Freelance and Contract Writer
When did you know you wanted to write? Writing has always been a part of my life, from journals I kept and storybooks I created as a kid, to letters I wrote my favorite teachers. I excelled at English through high school, and I went on to study English, Creative Writing, and Dance at Goucher College. Despite the positive feedback and encouragement I received from my professors, I panicked after my first year at Goucher and ran away to technical college in Ohio for the next two years. I saw the light in me and I feared it. At the time, running felt easier. It took ten years, a broken engagement, and a trip to Uganda to bring me back to writing. I realized it took more effort to dodge it than to stop, surrender, and pursue. It became essential. I needed to write because I was created to write, and I was burned out from doing all I could to avoid it. [Editor's Note: I told you she was real. I was blown away reading her response to this. Preach, just preach!]
How did you get the courage to first start putting pen to paper? I don’t know that it was courage so much as it was desperation. My fiancé had just broken off our engagement one month before our wedding. I was devastated, empty, and broke (emotionally and financially). The life I spent three years planning and the identity I created for myself within that relationship dropped out from under me. A few months after that, desperate for miles and oceans between me and my heartache, I ran away to Africa for my third mission with the Charleston-based OneWorld Health. I spent the next ten days surrounded by a group of people, a few I knew but most I didn’t, who let me be whatever I needed to be. I busied myself with my roles in our mobile medical clinic and, for the first time in months, felt able to focus on something outside of my own pain.
One evening as we bumped along in our caravan from the clinic site to our hotel, I plugged into my headphones and watched the sun fall over the Ugandan terrain. My mind glazed over as we zoomed by mud huts, where women hunched over wood fires and children ran circles in the red clay. And then I heard it. No lightening bolt. No booming delivery. But a clear, sure voice from Eden that said, “I’ve given you time to run and time to grieve. You’re ready. When you get home, I want you to tell your story.”
I didn’t realize until then that, in the months prior, God had been firmly nudging me in notable ways. I wrote off the number of times my friends praised my writing abilities or suggested I start a blog or asked if I thought about pursuing it as a career. It wasn’t until a 15-passenger van on a rural Ugandan road that the pages came together. [Editor's Note: Tears. All the tears. How powerful is it that God uses our pain, walks with us through that journey and then, just when you think you can't bear it any longer, reveals the beautiful things inside of us?]
What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given? My cousin and mentor frequently tells me to “keep going” when I’m in the middle of the this-is-crap-this-is-total-crap part of the creative process. I always think a piece is absolute shit when I wade through the innards of it. Not until the final sentences hit the page do I think, “Ok… this might be brilliant… ish.” Most of the time I don’t know how a piece will end. As Cousin Lori says (she’s always right and it’s maddening), “Just let your gift do its thing.” Sure enough, my best pieces don’t really need me to know exactly where each thought goes or what the fuck concludes it all. They just need me to keep going. [Editor's Note: Cousin Lori, I need to meet you. That is all.]
What is your best piece of advice for others who are questioning whether or not to pursue their God given gifts? Surround yourself with authentic, ride-or-die people and invest deeply in those relationships. Don’t waste time and heart on relationships that parch you. If you don’t have a mentor, find one. My mentors, family, and friends believed in me loads more than I believed in myself when I started off, and they still prod me along when I get mopey and doubtful. They let me wail and panic and stew, but they never let me check out completely.
Also, don’t believe people who say that you can’t make a living doing what you love. I understand the conviction behind it and I know it seems unrealistic and romanticized to a good bit of our society, but it’s also untrue. I believed it for a long time, and I wound up lost. As one of my mentors and dearest friends said, you have to be willing to bleed for it if that’s what it takes, but once I chose to pursue writing I found that I flourished in ways I never imagined, and opportunities and successes came more quickly than I ever hoped. God paved a path for me long before I ever recognized it.
Can you describe how it feels when a piece is published? To write something worth a damn means being honest with myself and vulnerable with others about whatever I find when I rummage around in my headspace. It’s nauseating and I don’t think I’ll ever not hate that part of it. But knowing that someone read my work, identified with it, and wanted to share it—that’s so fulfilling. I read because I want to identify, and I write because I hope it will spark a “me too” in someone else. When a piece is published, I feel like I authored at least one “me too,” and that’s enough.
You're going to write a book one day, I know this, so any thoughts on what it may be about!? Hahaha. I have a few ideas. Before I started pursuing a writing career, I worked as a Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT) for almost a decade. I still practice part-time as an LMT to supplement my writing income. People ask so many questions about the industry. Is it weird to touch naked people? Do men come onto you? Should I leave my underwear on when I get a massage? Do your hands hurt? I mean, the list is endless. I started jotting and journaling some things a little while back, in hopes of a future beyond-the-table book of things your massage therapist always thinks but can never tell you. Of course, I’ll retire first…
Favorite thing to bake? Mrs. Svoboda’s Jewish Apple Cake, a simple bundt cake recipe handed down by the wife of my dad’s late friend, Jocko, and it bakes just right every time. Add a homemade caramel glaze and [insert praise hands].
I also love anything with lemon—bars, cookies, cakes—and a chewy oatmeal cookie with any and all chocolate, nut or fruit additions. [Editor's Note: You can bring over that Apple Cake next time I'm the verge of a breakdown.]