Friday, March 17, 2006

This Writer's Life

I've been reading a lot these past two months. I've read Stephen King’s book "On Writing", revisited bell hooks "Remembered Rapture - the Writer at Work", "Out of the Dust" by Karen Hesse and "On Our Backs- Volume II". It has been helpful to read these books together. At first glance you may wonder what does "On Our Backs- Volume II" erotic fiction have to do with "Out of the Dust", a book about the dust bowl of the 1930's. They span a variety of approaches, from essay to memoir to prose verse and the art of erotica. Eating requires a balanced diet and so does reading.

In Stephen King's work, I enjoyed the first section of the book in which he chats about growing up with an imagination against a working class background. He includes the time he worked at a mill while finishing high school and saving money for college. I enjoyed getting a look into this writer’s head. Though I don't consider myself a big fan of his work, I think he has a great imagination. I took a few things from his work. One is the idea that he takes one small incident, a situation or a conversation one hears in a crowd and spins it. He advises the reader to pay attention to how real people behave. He says that one must tell the truth if the dialogue is to express how people act and speak in very ordinary situations. I loved reading the On Our Backs stories and picking up on what people really say when they are engaging in sex. It was the best example of what King says about telling the truth.

By the time I reviewed bell hooks chapters on writing "Class and the Politics of Writing" I was able to understand an issue I've been struggling with for quite sometime. The idea of "fear of disclosure" has been a big factor as to why I have not put out the stories that I want to write. In my family, and I'm talking my side of the family, my mother has not always been my biggest fan. I've battled with this one for a long time. I guess this is why I've stuck to articles in this blog that are pretty much commentary on social injustice which is a big interest of mine. I have not always made the personal political, as my feminist teachings have argued. If the personal is political the fact that topics I've dealt with in the past have been met with my mom’s only two responses “how dare you” or (silence) has been a big reason for not writing lots of stuff that are so revealing. But more and more I'm drawn to the subjects that have made life for me very interesting these days. Bell hooks talks about getting intimate with one’s thoughts.

Another thing that King talks about is having an office and when one writes to close the door. While at the moment I don't have a door to close, in a few weeks I will. As a mom, I find this one somewhat hard to imagine. While I have dreamed of having a room of my own, if I may borrow from Wolfe, I can't imagine quite closing the door. Now while Stephen King’s children are grown and moved out, I have a 13 year old and a 4 year old who will turn 5 next month. The youngster still manages to creep into our bed every night. Almost every evening one of us is forced out of the bed for lack of space. What usually does it is his arm swinging over onto my throat or his laying on top of the covers causing me or my spouse to be pinned under a section of sheets like a mummy or having to roll the intruder off of the blankets so one of our asses isn't sticking out in the chill.

I imagine this room full of quiet sunlight. My desk will face the window overlooking my new backyard. Well actually it’s a neighbor’s backyard but there are quite a few trees to gaze upon. I will write at a simple desk bought from a local guy selling used goods. I will purchase a typewriter, like the one I first started writing on years ago. It will be the backup for my laptop. There will be an altar with photos of Zora Neale Hurston and Audre Lorde to honor and seek advice. A foot of mudcloth will hang on the wall, purchased at the African Mart on 116th and Malcolm X Boulevard and think of my beloved Harlem in my new home in Brooklyn.

I know my children will be knocking on that door. They can't help it. My children bother me. They don't always bother their dad with stuff like, " I can't find my truck!" or "Did you wash my sweater?"

I've had the luxury of writing for 6 months. Every morning, I send family off to school and work. If I start writing as soon as everyone leaves, I can give myself 4 to 5 hours of writing. Writing this way means leaving everything else until later. I’ve gotten pretty good at this. This time is my time; to develop ideas, write and rewrite, think, research, write some more. Sometimes the writing gets good as soon as I should be stopping. Stephen King talks about interrupting the writing and using that interruption as a means to have something to go back to. Approaching the work this way helps. I know I will go back to it at the end of the day.

In order to write, I have to be organized. I prepare a couple of meals at one time. This gives me a few days with no cooking at all. I try to keep the laundry at a minimum of two loads and give this task to my daughter. I teach two evenings a week, so I use one day to plan lessons for two weeks of classes. I also have a radio show I participate in once a week and the poetry class to read and write for. I can do all this because I’ve learned to plan.

Wednesday is tricky. I have learned to reverse this day. I don’t do any household chores. I write less. I sleep for 4 hours during the day. I heat up a meal previously prepared for dinner. I leave at 5:30 in the evening for the poetry class and the radio show at 2 am Thursday morning and I'm home and in bed by 7 o’clock. Later that afternoon I have lunch with a friend for encouragement and I'm teaching class by the evening.

My husband is my anchor in all this. We have adjusted the work schedule in order to allow me time to write. A few years ago I worked full-time in order that he may complete his undergraduate degree. Now he does the full-time. I’ve got this window to make something happen with my writing. I know I’ll be going back to a full time schedule of working in a few months. But I’ve got a rhythm now. I think I can keep this beat going no matter what happens next.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Cave Canem Called

Hard work has paid off. I was selected to participate in the Cave Canem Spring 2006 Workshop at Poets House. It is the first congratulations letter I've received in a long time. I've been sending out submissions of all kinds. Articles, poems, proposals of what I thought were great ideas. I get many rejections or no response at all.

So getting that email was sweet.

I thank all the poets and writers who have heard me. Here are a few.

Thank you Audre Lorde. The only reason I went to Hunter College is because you were on staff. I wrote a note to you and slipped it under your office door. It was a pitiful note begging to get into one of your classes. I went by the office for a week looking for you. You were on sabbatical. You were also beginning your battle with cancer. When you came to Hunter to be honored by the Poder Collective, I missed the event. I was always one step away. The closest I ever got was when I met your daughter who blessed me with kind words after a reading. I was always one step away. Thank you for leaving your words and instructions. Your words have made a path for me.

Thank you Zora Neale Hurston. You made me believe I was not crazy for wanting to remember my Geechie folk, their language and their stories. Your picture is on the altar beside a great company of writers. Your picture is beside my great-grandfather's cigarette case and my great-grandmother's Conch Shells. Because of you I've learned to love myself best, when I'm laughing.

Thank you Ann Petry. Your novel, The Street spoke to me through the wind on 116th street as I tried to make sense of a difficult time. Your words jumped right off of the page and surrounded me like a quilt. I struggled between Lenox and Adam Clayton Powell Blvd because your words gave me the courage to do it.

Thank you James Baldwin. Your work is a reminder that there is no limit of what I can do with words. You remind me to look at the world and tell it what I really think about it.