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Susan Taylor Is 'In the Spirit'

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

I'm Farai Chideya, and this is NEWS & NOTES. For more than 20 years, Susan Taylor personified the spirit of Essence magazine. Every month, she shared her thoughts and life with millions of readers through her column, "In the Spirit." Her new book expands on some of the best "In the Spirit" writings. It's called "All About Love: Favorite Selections from In the Spirit on Living Fearlessly." We spoke not long ago about the power of living in the moment.

Ms. SUSAN TAYLOR (Author, "All About Love: Favorite Selections from In the Spirit on Living Fearlessly"): It's been so surprising to me that my column has touched people, and what I've written about are the things that I'm grappling with. My hope is that people don't think that I have it all together, and sometimes they do, you know. But I don't care how much you know, how many books you read, how you much you study and, you know, how educated you are, you're still going to struggle. Life is challenging.

You know, we have everything we need to handle those challenges, to meet them. But it's the feedback that I've gotten from readers over the years that has just made me humble and really grateful that I have something to share.

CHIDEYA: One of the things that struck a chord with me in the book is when you talk about not being in the moment and always wanting to be more than, different than, and how we can slip into that mindset. Tell me a little bit more about that.

Ms. TAYLOR: Farai, I missed so much of my life, particularly as a young mother. You know, when my daughter was born, I wanted her not to be an infant, but to be a toddler, and when she was a toddler, I wanted her to be able to button her own clothes and get herself dressed and help me get her out the door.

And when she was probably around 10 or 11, I wanted her to be 13, 14. And then I wanted her to be out of high school and in college. And when I looked back on that exquisite journey, I realize that I missed so many moments, so many precious moments because I wasn't present. My mind was always far down the road.

CHIDEYA: Do you think that you've been able to conquer that?

Ms. TAYLOR: You know, it's what I work on in the everyday of my life. And in this age and stage of my life, I have a new peace, you know, and - because I think I have a deeper understanding of what's important.

When I joined Essence, I was a young, single mother. I was 24. I hadn't gone to college. I wasn't making any money at Essence - what was it, $500 a month - and I was struggling. So I was always looking down the road, always hoping for a better, you know, tomorrow. And it was a very painful situation, one day having such anxiety that I thought I was actually having a heart attack at 24. And I ended up in the hospital, in the emergency room, and the doctor told me that it wasn't a heart attack, but an anxiety attack that I was having.

And when I left the hospital and started walking up Broadway in New York City and I looked up and I saw a marquee that said church service at 3 p.m., and I heard a sermon that changed my life.

And it was that very painful, painful day that helped me to realize that in this moment, if - no matter what we're challenged with, if we get still, if we listen within, if we stop biting our nails and fearing and just running around in circles, that there's a wisdom within us that will begin to unfold. And that's what I came to that day.

So I really try to honor living in the present moment - not that I'm successful every day, but I certainly am working at it.

CHIDEYA: You talked about when you were a young, single mother, not making much at Essence, just the stress you were under. A lot of people feel that material stress, having questions about whether or not you're going to be able to feed your family, keep a roof over your head, all that stuff, that's one of the biggest stressors in people's lives. How - is there any way that you put that into context in particular?

Ms. TAYLOR: You know, I write about that in the chapter on abundance, and I'll tell you, the greatest stress I have had in my life, it hasn't been drama in the workforce. It hasn't been relationships - even though, I mean, my heart ached when my first marriage, you know, just bit the dust and my husband fell in love with somebody else or found somebody else. I don't think he fell in love with her, but she was certainly his woman and I was just cast aside.

The greatest stress was really not being able to pay my bills, not knowing whether I could feed my daughter or keep that roof over my head. So it was the financial crises that I've had in my life that have really pained me the most. And this is what I learned, and I - this is when my face had to hit the floor.

We live in an abundant universe. Everything we need to take care of ourselves, those things are all around us. Don't focus on that economy. Don't believe that there's not enough for you. And what we have to do is contain ourselves. You know, you can't live large.

You know, Farai, what people don't know about me - oh Susan Taylor, you know, the one who is in the magazine and we see her on television and I know she has a fabulous life. What people don't know is that I slept in my living room for 27 years because all I could afford when I moved into that beautiful building across from Lincoln Center in New York was a one-bedroom apartment. My daughter had the bedroom, and I had the living room.

I built a bed, sort of like a banquette type of bed into the wall, right there in the living room. And what I began to do was I started saving my lunch money and not, you know, going out and spending money on things that I didn't have.

Now that happened after a dispossess notice went up on my front door. And I'll tell you, I bought my first property in Harlem by saving my lunch money over years. There's a whole piece on that, and it's called, you know, "Do the Math." Don't identify yourself with labels and brands and have to buy every cute thing you see. Invest in the things that will grow in equity. That's really the key.

Invest in real estate. Invest in stocks. Watch them. Don't turn your financial well-being over to people. Don't lose your house in this mortgage crisis. What can you do? If you have to wash cars, drive a cab, bake pies, do what you need to do to hold on to your property and to recover your life.

CHIDEYA: You talk in the book about the ritual of journaling and it being liberating and healing. Why do you think it's important to write down what you have been through, what you hope, your aspirations?

Ms. TAYLOR: As we write, what we do is we see what we're living through, and we gain clarity. And I think it's, you know, writing and speaking the truth, telling people what we're going through, not hiding our pain, not hiding our confusion helps us to heal and helps those who are listening to heal.

CHIDEYA: Susan Taylor is the editor-in-chief emeritus for Essence Magazine. Her new book is "All About Love: Favorite Selections from In the Spirit on Living Fearlessly." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.