Meet Toni Ann Johnson
I met Toni Ann several years ago through Antioch University, Los Angeles's MFA program. Her talent as a writer, her striking beauty, her sense of humor, her infectious laugh,and her willingness to reach out and connect to others are all things I admire about her. She was one of the first people to jump on board in support of Compliment, and I am so grateful for that. Though we haven't seen each other face-to-face in a few years, Toni Ann's friendship is very special and I'm so happy to introduce her to you as the first woman I interviewed for my new Compliment Soul-Care Series. When you read her interview, below, I think you'll understand why she's the first! Thank you, Toni Ann, for being so sweet and for believing in changing the world for good.
YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL INSIDE AND OUT.
My interview Toni Ann Johnson: Compliment Soul-Care Series Vol. 1
MC: Tell us about yourself.
Toni Ann Johnson: My name is Toni Ann Johnson and I grew up in Monroe, New York, which is about 50 miles north of New York City. After graduating from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, I began my career as an actress. I did a couple of Soap Operas, (All My Children and Loving) tons of New York theater, and few small movie roles. I worked with Spike Lee, whom I'd met when I was still in high school and acting in student films in New York City. I was also writing plays at NYU. I had a few produced after college and I then moved to Los Angeles. One of my plays got into the hands of Dave Wirtshafter, a literary agent, and I began working in Hollywood as a screenwriter. That play dealt with the complexities race relations and was hired to write several TV movies about race. Three of them were produced. I won multiple awards for two of them, "Ruby Bridges," and "Crown Heights." I was later hired to re-write a dance movie that included an interracial love story, "Save The Last Dance." I was uncredited on the film, but re-hired to write the pilot, which was produced for FOX. After the pilot didn't get picked up, I wanted a break from writing for hire. I missed my own voice and writing things I really wanted to say, so I spent a few years working on a novel. A New York book agent represented the novel, but wasn't able to sell it. That's when I went back to graduate school to get an MFA in Creative Writing. Just as I began school, I was unexpectedly hired to write a movie, which turned out to be a feature, "Step Up 2: The Streets." It didn't help with the goal of reconnecting with my own voice, but it did give me some financial freedom.
Since then, I've been continuing to work in fiction. I re-wrote the novel. And I've been writing a series of linked short stories. Three have been published so far. The most recent one came out in The Emerson Review in April.
My hobby is writing about health and fitness. I've written two books in that area. One is an anti-aging book called VIBRATING YOUTH and the other, VIBRANT AND CLEAR is a book about how to get rid of acne without taking or applying harsh medications. I had acne and used everything, including Accutane and Retin A and the acne always returned until I figured out how to combat the bacteria that causes it.
I write articles on health and beauty and blog about it on www.vibratingyouth.com.
Another hobby is community beautification and in particular, tree planting. I bought a house in South Los Angeles and when I got there I realized that the community had far fewer trees than other parts of the city. I've devoted a lot of time and energy getting trees planted. Occasionally, I've written about that, too. I published an Op-Ed in the LA Times called "Visions of a Lush Green South LA." I also blogged as I was working to persuade Ralphs Grocery store to install trees in our neighborhood. All their other stores in LA had trees except the stores in South LA. Eventually, I succeeded, but there's still more work to do. Now they're refusing to take care of the tree wells, which have been overgrown with weeds and strewn with garbage. I'll be participating with the community in the cleanup, but the concern again is, at Ralphs' other locations they invest in landscaping. I'll continue to write about as long as they continue to disrespect the community.
MC: Give yourself a compliment.
TAJ: I am resilient.
Though I've had a number of successes in my life, I've had countless failures-- many times when I've been knocked down. Being a sensitive and emotional person, I suffer through those times, but I do keep getting back up.
MC: Give a compliment to a woman in your life who doesn't know you're being interviewed.
TAJ: I'd like to compliment my amazing sister, Dr. Hillary Johnson. Hillary is beautiful, smart, talented, capable, generous and kind. She continually goes out of her way to help others, whether it's her friends, family, or community. She's pretty special.
MC: What inspires you?
TAJ: There are a couple things that inspire me lately. One is forgiveness. When someone is able to forgive something that seems unforgivable it moves me like nothing else. I think the act of forgiveness is something that, each time it's done, makes a person a better human being. It brightens the spirit.
The other thing that inspires me is when someone accomplishes something unexpected, or seemingly impossible. I love stories about people who try, fail, try again, fail again, and somehow still keep trying until they succeed. I needthose stories (maybe we all do) because everything I try to accomplish seems to take many attempts!
MC: How do you care for your soul?
TAJ: I constantly read spiritually instructive material. Right now I'm reading A Course In Miracles. I'm always reading something to learn more about how to live joyfully. It wasn't until I was well into adulthood that I even considered joy as a goal. My parents didn't teach me that, and I didn't see a lot of happiness growing up, so I've had to train myself to pursue it.
I write in a journal. I meditate. I pay attention to the feelings that come up as I go about my life, so that I can identify where I'm blocking myself from allowing joy.
Releasing resentments is really important. My parents were resentful when I was growing up. They held grudges and seemed angry constantly. I modeled that behavior for a long time. There's no benefit to that, in fact, it's harmful. I try not to keep any resentments if I can help it. I'm always looking for ways to let them go.
MC: What three soul-care tips can you provide to readers?
1. Forgive often. Cultivate the ability to let things go. While it may feel justified to be pissed off at someone, and it may seem weak to not to hold them accountable for their transgressions, move on. Don't sit in the anger, because it will harm you and block your light. Allow them to be wrong and go on about your life without dragging the resentment with you. Forgiving doesn't mean you have to remain close to them, necessarily. If someone is abusive, you can remove them from your life. But you can also release the anger and detach your energy from them.
2. Cultivate joy. Make it a priority. Chose to be happy as often as you can. That sounds sort of obvious, but we do forget. Sometimes we're just on automatic, moving through the day, accomplishing tasks without being aware of how we're feeling. Set your emotional dial to joy and keep coming back to it when you drift off. It's a choice. Many of us wait for circumstances to be great before we allow ourselves to feel joyful. If you operate that way you'll spend a lot of your life wishing for things to be different. Let yourself feel joy even when circumstances aren't perfect. It's okay. I used to feel like I had to have accomplished something amazing or something great had to happen in my life for me to experience joy. But I've realized that it's okay to feel joy just because I feel like it.
3. Schedule time to do the thing you want to be doing. If you want to write, (or whatever it is you long to do) but you have a full time job and a family, you may never fit your writing (or whatever it is) in. So schedule it. Even if you can only do it for one hour on the weekend. Make the time. Get up earlier, or go to bed later. This is your life. It goes by pretty fast. Manage your time and fit it in. The thing you really want to be doing is your soul's desire. Responsibilities may force us to prioritize making money over doing our souls desire if we can' t make a living at it. Fit it in anyway. Don't underestimate the need to pursue your soul's desire. It's what you're here for.
About the Compliment Soul-Care Series
Compliment's mission is to help women feel beautiful on the outside (with lovely, hand-crafted jewelry) AND on the inside (through words of affirmation.) We women have a tendency to compete, compare, and believe in scarcity (as in, "if you get yours, there's not enough for me." Think about it-- youth, slimness, money, men, success.)
We say that's BS. Instead, we want to work together and believe in abundance: that there is enough love and joy for all of us. How do we spread that? By loving others, of course.
But that's impossible if we are on empty.
That's where the Compliment Soul-Care Series comes in. Once a month you will receive in your email a little inspiration on how other women, just like you, who are doing wonderful things for this world, are taking care of their own souls.
The hope is that you might put some of these ideas into practice for yourself, that we all grow together, and that we experience the true joy by edifying and building up one another. Enjoy!
Don't forget to read Compliment Soul Care Series Vol 2: Susie Istvan!