Stepping Out

220px-RWS_Tarot_00_Fool

“Well, perhaps you need to step out there and make a fool of yourself.” Not the type of advice I would have expected from a mentor. Yet, that is what one of my mentors told me. I had enrolled in a certificate program at a nearby college after earning my master’s degree. I had begun to write poetry, yet had placed most of it in a desk drawer. I still wrote in notebooks, though, something I had been doing since childhood. But I didn’t see the writing as being central to my life. I knew I needed a steady job, one that paid a consistent wage.

 

I had grown up working class and Black in Brooklyn, New York, in the 50’s and 60’s. My father, trained as a carpenter, worked full time at a lumber exchange terminal in Greenpoint during the week and built bookshelves, cabinets, cabinets and various wood structures for relatives, neighbors, friends, friends of friends, and friends of relatives, friends of neighbors, etc. evenings after dinner and on weekends. My mother worked in the public high schools with students and their families to help prepare and support them in reaching the goal of college admission. With these role models and those of my friends’ parents, I couldn’t help but gravitate toward, and worry about finding a full time job post graduation.

 

I’d held two or more part time jobs as I worked my way through graduate school, and knew it was time to find more sustaining and sustainable work. The dean of my college was surprised when we first met. “You have two part time jobs? Most people struggle with just one job!” Well, most people were not African American New Yorkers raised by two southerners who had grown up poor during the Great Depression. I was not most people. I am still not most people. I’ve learned to face this about myself.

 

I’ve never quite fit in with the demographic that I supposedly belong to, which is more accurately, the one that I am often placed in by others. This demographic placement is, of course, based on my appearance. Growing up within my nuclear family this meant I needed to suppress some of my ideas, my true feelings and my opinions. In other words, if I wanted to respond honestly to some things, I had to hide those responses. No freedom there. That was what I learned to do to survive.

 

So, I grew into an angry young woman. Except that I didn’t know I was angry because I wasn’t allowed to express anger. So, I turned the anger in on myself and it stayed buried beneath the surface during my teens and most of my 20’s. An angry teen isn’t an unusual occurrence. A teen with buried anger probably isn’t unusual either. Around my parents and the other adults in my life, my anger was hidden so well, that it was also hidden from me. Perhaps it wasn’t only my independence that drew me to hang out with boys who became my closest friends in high school. They were comfortable with anger.

 

I had plenty of help with suppressing my anger from the patriarchal behavior that my family and community operated with. The anger was buried pretty deeply and I didn’t discover it until I participated in a workshop, which used strategies and exercises from acting to support people in recovering their self-esteem. I thought that I would never survive the time that I felt ready to explore anger. I don’t now remember the details of the strategy that I was taught and which I used for this exploration. What I do remember is how much lighter I felt once I had come out the other side of the tunnel. Let’s call it the anger tunnel, since that’s what it felt like. Somehow, I emerged from the other side a lot lighter and able to laugh. My fear of expressing the forbidden emotion had encouraged me to dance around the anger until I could no longer stand it. There was nothing left to do but dive into the anger tunnel. Looking back on this now, I see just how brave I was to walk away from the socialization I had experienced and recover more of myself.

 

I discovered that I was angry with myself for holding back, despite the fact that I had done so in order to survive. It has taken me years to appreciate my strong survival instincts, which I believe are due to the excellent genes I’ve inherited. My parents, grandparents and all of my greats could not afford to express their anger outwardly as their lives could have been snuffed out as a result of doing so. The social systems of Jim Crow and slavery guaranteed this fact.

 

So, this no longer angry young woman decided to leave a private sector job and return to school for an interdisciplinary degree that merged religion, psychology and philosophy. She did this in her late 20’s and she was happy reading, writing papers, reflecting on what I was reading and what I experienced and doing research. And in the mix of all of her scholarship, she began to write in verse. This was a complete surprise and a thoroughly new experience. But when I finished my program and I graduated, I stuffed the verse into a desk drawer. I didn’t take it seriously and I decided to return to school again. But this return turned out to be not a good fit. This led to the conversation with my mentor that began this essay. The conversation during which he said to me: “Well, perhaps you need to step out there and make a fool of yourself.”

 

Poetry allows me to do just that. I step out there and make a fool of myself. I have no idea where I will end up as I begin to write. I just follow the stream or words and return to it later to pull out the words, themes and sounds that ring for me, the ones that I am intrigued by or drawn to. There is a lot of revision and wondering about what I intend to say, where I am going with a line or a stanza. The sense of wonder is one that I revisit over and over again.

 

To be honest, writing prose also allows me to “step out there and make a fool of [myself],” too. It brings me back to the writing I once did as a book and film critic, curriculum developer and education research writer. Writing prose allows me to stretch out in a different way as a writer. It reminds me that I have some flexibility and range as a writer. And that is like taking a good yoga class or having a fun session at the gym.

 

Yes, I really do find going to the gym fun (but still need to do it more often). And most of all, I am buoyed, nurtured and fed by the practice of writing. I am going to reconsider and more accurately call this work that takes care of me, in ways that nothing else ever has, the discipline of writing. Writing requires discipline and it is a discipline. And I am grateful for it.

 

Advertisements

Winter

This evening, the melody to “Winter in America” by Gil Scott-Heron began to play in my head. I found a version on YouTube and I’ve been playing it and listening more intently than I ever have to the lyrics, some of which follow:

“Yeah, and the people know, people know it’s Winter in America

And ain’t nobody fighting cause nobody knows what to save,

Save your soul, Lord knows

From Winter in America”

I’ve been working on a poem about the “elephant in the room,” those things that are large and almost engulfing us, and yet we avoid acknowledging them, talking about them, sharing with one another that we see, feel and hear them. And something about it being “winter in America” and “nobody knows what to save” are anything but an elephant in the room for many of us these days. One of my mentors has encouraged me to keep going, to write the poem. And it’s not an easy poem to write. And this evening, I am once again putting one foot in front of the other, listening to Gil Scott-Heron and writing about that elephant.

Gil Scott-Heron begins the song with these lyrics:

“From the Indians who welcomed the pilgrims
And to the buffalo who once ruled the plains
Like the vultures circling beneath the dark clouds
Looking for the rain
Looking for the rain”

 

 

 

Reading, Writing and Subtraction

 

cos-01-closet-de

 

I’ve been spending some time during this long weekend reading articles, posts, Tweets and varied forms of artists’ writing about why and how they do what they do.

It has always been interesting to me to read or hear about the process through which individuals come to their art, or through which their art comes to them.

My other weekend activities: long walks, weeding out the things I don’t need or use from closets, drawers, hiding places, etc. and donating them. I”m also furiously writing bits and pieces of anything and everything in my notebook. And I’ve started a list of ideas for future writing.

All of this is providing me with more internal and external space. Aaaaah….

How do you create space for your art? I’d love to hear what works for you.

 

Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone—An Online Learning Experience – National Writing Project

Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone—An Online Learning Experience – National Writing Project.

This summer, I decided to hop on board an online course and community of educators led by teachers and authors Cathy Fleischer and Sarah Andrew-Vaughan called the Unfamiliar Genres Project. Their book “Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone: Helping Students Navigate Unfamiliar Genres” is the basis for the course.

Part II of the course/community is active during the month of July. Each participant chooses an unfamiliar genre to research and to write in. I’ve chosen vignettes since most of the students I work with are training to become clinical psychologists and therapists and they write papers in which they are learning to assess clients by reading and responding to vignettes. But I’ve learned through my research that vignettes are also used in Psychology and Sociology research in surveys. And I’m knee-deep in reading journal articles that describe the research and reveal the vignettes. And I’m loving it!

Of course, rereading “The House on Mango Street” is a great deal of fun as is reading “Deer Table Legs” by Katayoon Zandvakili and “Slide” by Monica Zarazua.

Katayoon’s poems are vignette-like which may be directly connected to her other creative pursuit, which is painting. And Monica’s short fiction has vignette qualities. Until I did a reading with these two writers on Wednesday, I was unfamiliar with their work. So, I’ve had pleasant synchronicities occur with this project. And I have two new books!

Emily Dickinson at a Writing Workshop

This is priceless. The blog of Writers Write, a program offering writing courses in South Africa, has posted a draft of one of Emily Dickinson’s poems with feedback from her (fictional) instructor.

Here is the link:

http://writerswrite.co.za/what-if-emily-dickinson-attended-a-writing-workshopProgram

I wonder whether Emily would have returned to the workshop, kept on with her writing and continued to believe in herself? Hope that ink wasn’t red!

 

Confessions #2

Joe at 5 Writers 5 Novels 5 Months has written another humorous and honest post about writing characters with emotional authenticity (my paraphrase). Thanks Joe, for your reflection and for motivating me in developing my own characters!

5 Writers 5 Novels 5 Months

Joe’s Post # 51

After the post about writing sex scenes, I realized that I may have another problem. A bigger one. (Stop giggling!)

Maybe the challenge with writing sizzling sex scenes is connecting to the actual EMOTION of the scene. 

Oh, boy. Emotions… that’s ah, feelings, right? I think so. 

It’s not that I don’t feel things. If I cut my finger, it hurts and that’s a feeling, isn’t it? If it’s cold, I feel cold. See… feelings. I have them.

Manga_emotions-ENOk, I know there’s more. I certainly feel more. Guilt. Sorrow. Happiness. Anger. Hate. Love. Usually I have all those emotions on a drive into town. Or after a good taco. But I know if there’s one thing I need to work on when writing, it’s living inside the emotional being that is my character. 

Oddly enough, it seems that we don’t live our real lives by…

View original post 383 more words

Been Away, Been Here, Been There

I admit that I’ve been away from this Blog. However, I have not been out of the country, away at my country home (don’t have one), or unavailable. No. It is the end of the summer quarter, and my head has been filled with other people’s writing and writing problems. Not a bad thing, but it means that there hasn’t been much room in my head for my writing or my writing problems. Funny, I’ve missed the challenges of my novel. I’ve missed the challenges of revising a poetry manuscript – make that 2 manuscripts. Not things I thought I’d miss, but…..

In 1 1/2 weeks, I’ll be back to my own writing and its challenges and joys, mountaintops and deep sea dives. And I’m looking forward to it!