Accepting the messiness of 2017

New Year’s Day is my favorite holiday of the year, full stop. An arbitrary demarcation that somehow has a cosmic-like pull on my psyche. In with the new, out with the old. Something inside me changes, I feel a spark, a little less weight. None of this real but it’s still true.

Maybe it started when I was younger, my family would gather around the television to watch the Rose Parade, half asleep in our pajamas. There was even one time in the mid-80’s when we all woke before the crack of dawn and drove to Pasadena only to find a tiny bit of cold cement to sit amongst the die-hards with their camping gear and folding chairs. Like a lot of immigrant families, we hadn’t amassed a trunk full of tailgating gear or organizational skills to scope out prime seating for a parade vaguely about college football.

I recall it was my idea for the family to trek to the parade at five in the morning. Sparked by my dad’s nostalgia, I had grown up with pictures of newlywed parents at the Rose Parade, they seemed so happy, so fresh in America that I had to recreate this feeling. It was a memorable morning, and to this day it was the only time we ever saw the floats made of roses, gladiolas, wheatgrass, marigolds, lilies, cornhusks, and seeds rolling down Colorado Ave. to the sounds of high school marching bands all within a few feet. There was always something so alluring about the Rose Parade and my father has always been in awe.

This is how it was in America, we built gorgeously impermanent structures of every type of plant material to ring in a new year, and it was amazing! In those days, we were a regular family of four, living in this country, with high hopes, innocence and a bit of simplicity.

I wanted to share about the past year before I let some of it evaporate into the ether. Yet I have re-written this post a few times in the past week. Something kept stalling me, I’d written thousands of words only to cut and paste them away into a google doc graveyard. My inner voice telling me that my thoughts were too dark, so tinged with cynicism and negativity, and maybe more useful as a journal entry rather than a narrative blog post. Sometimes I’d think, fine just go with the honesty, inside I am dark, and I took a lot of knocks in 2017. I am tired, a bit jaded, and confused. The messages haven’t coalesced, the movement is murky, and there is so much in-fighting. I can’t make sense of it all. I’m not sure if what I did, all the marching, sign making, protesting, organizing, and researching even mattered. As of yesterday, that’s where I stewed for weeks. Were any of my efforts worth the energy, investment of time, and money? And the dark forces rose up within and put a stranglehold on any connective thought that was worth sharing. For I am sure, we are all filled with some negative takeaways from 2017. So when I went to hit publish, I paused, the pessimism didn’t feel worthy of my experiences.

Because when I really sit with it all, I still believe in hope.

I know this word, hope, is so trampled upon. Synonymous with Obama’s face on a poster made by infamous by Shephard Fairey.

We are afraid to conjure hope, it was what screwed us up right? We hoped so much we were blinded, an opiate for the masses. We were so giddy, we just drank unicorn shakes and farted glitter.

And while our force field of hope was beaming to the high heavens we forgot our magical superpowers had a kryptonite-like Achilles heel. In our singing hosannas and prancing around, holding hands with our black, brown, white, mixed, gay, trans, old and young Democratic bubble-mates we didn’t see the orange monster creeping around the edges.

So he seeped in, the man that would change the world. We let him enter our homes as he fired away, and pointed, and yelled, looking for birth certificates and a secret Kenyan chain migrated family of shape-shifting lizards.

And then he won.

Our bodies writhed Charlton Heston-like and before us loomed a dust bowl of destruction as we landed on our knees screaming nooooo to the severed head of liberty.

And then we rose up.

I walked all over the streets in 2017. It was as if I needed this motion, my worn down boots pounding the pavement, one foot after another. Chugging along. Family crafting turned to minimally effective sign-making skills. Exacto knives, stencils, sharpie markers, thick paint pens, poster board, tape, and all matter of supplies filled the garage.

We weren’t gonna take it. That’s what I wanted my girl to know, and her friends too. They were all between 8-10 years old in 2017. An age when memories make an indelible mark, the sort of times we all recall in a haze but aren’t exactly sure what any of it meant. Iranian hostages, terror attacks in Beirut, the Gipper and his jellybeans, John Lennon died, religious people hated abortion, what was an abortion, what is inflation, and why is there no gas for the cars? I didn’t know then, but I do know.

My girl, she needs to know why in the future. It was okay that she didn’t get it all. But it was a messy year, taking her to protests didn’t often work out so well. As I was soaking in all the community, masses of people, signs, and outrage, she was overwhelmed. And then I began to see it from her vantage point, standing in between a sea of adults who she’d never seen so angry. So pissed about rape culture, sexism, racism, hate, bullying, destruction, and the end of the world.

It wasn’t gonna be all fidgit spinners and Pokemon Go anymore. And there were early days when my sponge of a child, who absorbs and processes like those canaries we all talk about in the dusty mines that still need to exist, simply said ENOUGH.

And yet, I persisted a word placed upon us like a totem for our righteous zeal. I marched, yelled, called, signed, and emailed. And when the slight whispers of MeToo wafted in the air, I couldn’t absorb it at first. It was all TooMuch. One the one hand I am swatting away sexist pig, nazi scum from my streets in San Francisco and Berkeley, and on the other, I was flooded by memories of sexism. The whip of inequality kept building each day. Revelations, chapter and verse, exposed so much pain.

Then I drove in a haze caused by a fury of fires, burning souls, and homes, wine countries and farms. And it collapsed me. I knew I had to turn inwards. Check in on my kid. Make cupcakes and feel gratitude for our home with filtered air and tightly sealed windows. Because she was right to wanna tap out.

And as we approached the year anniversary of The Election, I tuned into voices that were saying what was hard to admit. The Resistance kept us in the shadow of the orange man. It left no space to think outside the pull of his existence. His livelihood insists upon perpetuating a decline. And I wasn’t going to let my family slide into this darkness. I had to find to find a way to monkey-wrench my way out of the twisted up narratives.

So it became a slow puttering fall into a fattened up holiday season. I tip-toed here and there. My swords crossed a few times as more men fell down the swirl. I wasn’t happy about much but I was hopeful that I could remain honest.

Honestly, I am not sure if the choices I made were all that great. Maybe I screamed too much about oppression and white supremacy. Perhaps I became repellant. I wasn’t living rooted in hope, inter-connectedness, the idea we do have blue states and red states but we all believe in the union of these states. And states of mind and theories all of these are formed to live in some sort of messy soup bowl of unison.

There was a man who said these things, and he left behind a legacy of hopeful youth I tuned into each week. Crooked Media was a continuation of the idea that not everything is a deeply twisted nest of  5-dimensional chess. These bros counteracted the cynical, pessimistic, angry, lonely testosteronic grumbly naysaying bros that crunched my forehead and left me no place to turn. All they say, it’s rigged, rigged, rigged, a pile of junk, all diseased and hypocritical and full of shitheads and fuck this and that and HER. It’s HER fault, she sucked, sucked, sucked. So what are they asking me to do now?

Some things are simply right in front of us. Telling us what they were going to do all along. We get out the word. We sign people up. If we pay more attention than others, great, spread a bit of good knowledge to others who don’t. Not because they’re apathetic, do-nothings but maybe because they’re trying to live, to make it, pay bills, or don’t know how. If you do know how, teach others.

And that is the hope, I can do this. It feels better to reach across, yes to my white friends, and immigrant family. To an independent or a third party enthusiast. Do it, build more parties, I am so down. I will be there to help. But you can’t build from the top, roots begin in the ground, foundational supports, rebar, flexible two-by-fours of diplomacy and taking in all sides, yes all sides.

It took me all week to write this year out, it doesn’t make a thread, it’s a messy tangle and I love it. I adore the mish-mash, mixed tape of so many voices and ideas. That is what our side has, we are not one big tent, suffocating dissent, beating down voices into a single tone-deaf khakied monolith that is crumbling away like a shortbread cookie left over from Christmas. Oh, and don’t you dare tell me about the war.

My dad, he still watches the Rose Parade on TV. Today I sat with him on the phone for over an hour while we patiently sifted through the equestrian pride, and flowers, and City of Hope float, dangling pandas, and synchronized bands with glimmering flags. He kept thinking we missed the float, he was so worried it passed him by.  No dad, hang on it’s coming, I promise, they did it again this year. And then it came on screen and I was filled with pride. I really did feel like a full circle of my shared experience here in California, and I pulled my daughter in and we watched together. To see us, a float with turbans, phulkari dupattas, langar, towers from the Golden Temple adorn the phrase “Serving Kindness” did me right. It took me all day, to connect to all that happened in this mixed up year. But we are the hope right here. My family, we can live here, we are proud to organize huge weddings and then go to our jobs in cubicles or peach orchards.

It’s right here and not that hard to see as I live it. This is what I needed, a day in my house, a place for the first time in my adult life I don’t actually want to leave. For I have finally made a space filled for my family’s comfort, a lair of books, food, a bubbling pot of Thai noodle soup, leftover candy, a drying Christmas Tree.

I finally bought table mats, and cloth napkins for the holidays that tuck into little golden rings and I am filled with hope for 2018.

IMG_0543

 

Sharpening the word sword, again

A few weeks ago I found myself alone in Seattle, a luxury I wasn’t going to let pass without some revelry of the type suitable for a middle-aged mother the night before a work-related conference. I landed in sideways snow a somewhat sweaty-palmed adventure for a consummate Californian, who truly dislikes the unknown variable of white stuff falling from the sky. Icy flurries smacked the windshield of the car creating the illusion of a massive blizzard tunnel, but when I looked out a passenger window, I saw a peaceful flake flutter, a light dust atop evergreens and slick black highway. So weird how perspective changes everything.

I had read online that Ta-Nehisi Coates was speaking at Benaroya Symphony Hall about two blocks from my old-fashioned hotel, of the style with glimmering chandeliers and effusive concierge. Surely this was a sign, a cue to tell me something I needed to know, as I had his book “Eight Years We Were in Power” tucked in my backpack, the edges of the jacket already curled up from wear and a bookmark at the last chapter. Plus, I had made no plans on purpose, hoping to find my way, as I used to before family and work-life carved me into a highly scheduled person. I’ve always loved coincidences, for a moment I start to believe there is something larger out there guiding my way, a personal message from some secret source of inspiration. Of course, Coates’ talk was sold out but I figured I’d try to grab a ticket like a teenage groupie waiting to see a glitzy rock band. I checked in to my cozy room and set about my mission, and as my feet crunched down salted sidewalks, I was dazzled to be alone in the crisp air, no distractions, nobody asking me for a thing, just my random plans. As I anxiously waited at the box office for standby tickets to be released, a beautiful black woman, like Diana Ross beautiful, with long natural hair scanned the crowd, she overlooked the tall man standing next to me who was also waiting for a spot but her gaze connected with mine and she asked if I needed a ticket. I said, yes, and as she handed it to me she said “Spread the love sista” and I swear she floated off into the crowd. The man next to me, raised his hand as if to say, what about me, but I didn’t wait to see his outcome and bolted off to grab my seat.

So, I gotta do it, spread the love! I had my marching orders and a solitary evening that didn’t make me feel wistful for any companionship. I wanted to be alone, listen hard to a writer that I feel is treading on some truth, using well-chosen words and research as his guide. I took notes like a rapt student listening to a master essayist, but more accurately he is an observationist, a polemicist, someone who is not going to back down from the narrative he formed through great personal energy and rumination. I find his writing brave, his ideas necessary as if he uses his pencil to poke at the beehive. His objective to write felt similar to my own, although I can’t say I have his level of experience and surely not his dedication, I could still relate. I had been feeling a little out of touch with my writer self all this year, distracted by activism, paralyzed by a combination of fear and hopelessness at times. Most of 2017 has been a horrendous journey into our worst anxieties about our country led by a bigoted, racist, and unfit president. But at that moment, in my singular space, in the balcony of a large symphony hall, surrounded by cozy Seattlite liberals who were in the thrall of Coates’ ideas and words, I could only think that spreading the love meant I must write more because it brings me closer to loving myself.

IMG_2739 lrg

I had figured that the night would be filled with talk of Trump’s election, the definition of whiteness, the politics of our age, and how we missed the signs of the racist backlash that was gonna smack us out of our Obama-fueled hope daze. I looked around the hall, and some semblance of positivity about the future filled me as I saw real-life humans, mostly white people, nod, some snapped their fingers in approval as they do now in universities and activist circles as Coates described whiteness, not as a genetic characteristic or ancestry, but a belief that these characteristics guarantee a place of power in society.  When he said such words, about how white supremacy works in his book and now on stage, it usually strikes me as a comfortable position, and for a brief moment I feel heard and understood as brown woman, until I realize how difficult it to really grasp, even for me, that some of us have an advantage on the backs of others loss. But nevertheless, on this evening, Coates and the moderator sat on two arts and crafts leather chairs, a small table between for resting water bottles and note cards, and an entire stage rimmed with glowbaby hand-blown glass candles, and I was taken back to little dashes of hope, a feeling that is hard to relinquish. I let my mind wander, and yes hope, that even if one person in the audience could begin to understand that we have to do more than just react to our current situation, that we have to build a plan that directs towards a vision of a country that is different than one we have accepted up until now that maybe we could actually do it. The vastness of this idea is not lost on me, I know it will be generational, but it has to begin, and the more I reckon with our white-supremacist, misogynist systems, and culture the more I am sure we need to find a different mechanism for change. And so listening to Coates, reading his work that is built upon research and actual stories of people in this country who have lived under the strains of our often merciless laws and regulations is an important step in the process. Coates’ work is footnoted and references many other academics whose work is just as important, researchers, and writers who have spent their lives dismantling the notion that our system is fair and just. Without this important backbone, and without Coates’ own narrative voice and personal story, I think his work would fall flat but he is wise enough to know that his pointing to the white supremacist structures will require that he as a black man, a college dropout, an author from Baltimore, will have to work triple time to make his point, he is afforded no shortcut in this area. This inspires me to great lengths, to build writing upon knowledge, interactions with people, historical context, an unacceptance of easy narratives and myths that we adore so much in our country as this way of life have often been my natural frame of mind. I’ve always been a contrarian, a debater someone who rankles at doing things because that’s how they’re done, and throughout Coates’ work I recognize this in him as well.

But what I wasn’t expecting was the night would essentially be a class on writing and as I looked around and saw I was one of the few (or only) people taking notes, I realized he might just be talking to me, and perhaps one or two others. For he admitted he compiled his essays so he could share his process and journey as a writer in the last eight years, and he wanted to come to Seattle to speak to all of us young writers, and I took young not to mean age but lacking in experience or audience. I took his words as a direction, just as I was told to spread the love, he also reminded me that writing is fighting, and we have to keep our swords sharpened, that we must wake from the dream and into the struggle. I wrote this and paused, that moment when I felt so aligned in exactly where I was sitting, at exactly the time I needed to hear exactly the words that were spoken, and I was open. He told me, that fear is a productive force, something I hadn’t heard enough, as I am surrounded by intellectual people who also say fear is a paralyzing force. That writing is a private act, that it’s how we feel, and an important part of writing is curiosity. He mentioned when people would throw out terms like The System or White Supremacy, he wanted to know more. What do those words really MEAN? So he set out to learn. And he would research a topic and think one thing at the start and after a while, he would think differently on a topic, that writing is about habit, a willingness to be wrong, struggle, and questioning. Ah, how I loved all of these ways, they do not shrink me, these insights encourage me, and even though I have little space for a full-on writing habit, I can make something happen with the time available. Because he also said writing is a process, and yet not stuck in amber. He wrote this book for writers.

Then he went through his process for writing, and he said his first draft is always really, really bad and I believed him. Because his brilliance is that he sticks with it, and rewrites that horrible draft until it transforms to really bad, to bad, to still bad, to average, to passable, to maybe he can share it now, to something that is a final published piece. And that was honest, it’s what I know every author has told me, drafts always start off bad, but it’s a start. Coates also said he just couldn’t sleep at night knowing he wasn’t writing and that’s the rub, for I have had many a sleepless night, only to wake and stand in the shower while my head is a swirl of ideas. If I’m lucky I write down a blurb in a notebook, or I do the lazy thing and post a ranty Facebook update only to get a like or two. And that can feel deflating, but I also realized that’s my problem, I’m choosing the wrong medium. And I struggle, do I write long posts or not, are they worth anything and then I force myself to stop, even though I’m dying to share. But it’s still writing, it’s still a tiny bit of sword sharpening, so as of now I feel less guilty about my posts. I’m reminded think of what Coates wrote about the defiance of being a writer:

This lack of expectation dovetailed with my writing, because writers too must learn to abandon appeal and expectation. Failure is the norm for writers–firings and layoffs, rejected pitches, manuscripts tossed into the wastebins, bad reviews, uninterested editors, your own woeful rough drafts, they all form a chorus telling you to quit with whatever dignity you still have intact. And if you are going to write, you must learn to work in defiance of this chorus, in defiance of unanswered pitches, of the books that find no audience, and most of all, in defiance of the terror radiating from the blank white page. And so, in writing, I found that black atheism and defiance morphed into a general theory of life. No one was coming to save me, and no one was going to read me. My reasons for writing had to be my own, divorced from expectation. There would be no reward.

Of course, he goes on to say there was a reward for he became the Atlantic’s black writer, but I take his point to write in defiance of the chorus. My friends and followers on social media, they don’t regard me as a writer, yet I have to write for my own reasons and understand not everybody reads. I have to relinquish feeling sheepish for writing long facebook updates, blog posts with so few readers and reading poetry out loud amongst a clique of talented Berkeley writers. I have to stand my defiant ground when a friend cautiously asks me, not out of curiosity, but tinged with a sort of shorthand judgment, as to why I posted and shared so much on Facebook. That she didn’t “get it” should reveal more about me than her scrutiny. I got it and I know a few others do too but writers live in a very small world. If I think of sitting with Coates in Seattle, I did feel like one of the few who would take his words to heed. That should fill me with energy, not this diabolical fear, for not everyone’s mind is racing a thousand miles per minute, as I gorge myself with long-form essays, and hours a week writing drafts nobody may ever read.

IMG_2734 lrg

I had such high hopes to write about 2017 a bit more scrupulously than I have done so far. I had an aspiration to be a diarist documenting all the chaos around me and from what I see there is still time. It might even have been a good thing to step back for a moment. About a month ago, my brain lit up with a new realization that left me uneasy. This most horrific year had churned me up and left me by the wayside at times. I was unsure of my direction and where I had been placing my energy. Surprisingly, I felt frustrated that the resistance compromised my writing, although maybe I will see that it was fuel to be in the streets all this year. But I recognized my urgent on-call activism had taken up so much brain space that I had nothing left to give, even as my mind filled up with ideas, observations, and revelations. My notes app and journals are brimming with ideas and titles for blog posts, and there is a sizable amount of niggly little bits one could call bad first drafts, and this is not a bad thing. For most of these past months, I’ve been over-eating and under-creating, paralyzed by frustration and comforted with candy, bread, cheese, and wine. Hitting a wall is nothing new, and oh, do I know the drill. It was time to make a plan, start writing, start exercising, eat clean, and the big one, less news consumption, more reading, and more editing. As for the list, I can just check “start writing” the other stuff is more challenging but I know I will get there.

So I’m back at the Writer’s Studio again, creating persona narrators and talking about literature with other writers. I had started here a few years ago when I began to put more faith in myself as a writer. I already feel the limbering up has made a difference, I feel able to say that I’m a writer without feeling like a liar. My struggle about whether I should write or not feels less consuming. I know I have to do this and almost every day I stumble up little happenstances that reminds me to keep going. Most days I am clear, there is a place for my words, voice, and ideas. Coates reminded me that writing is a fight and I take it to mean one worth the battle. I also take away that the internet is a sword. It’s been so easy for most people to bemoan the toxicity of the internet, more specifically social media and its bots that allow for a constant stream of rhetoric and harmful propaganda. But Coates also pointed out, as well as other “under-represented” writers, that although the internet did destroy the gatekeepers, and this is perhaps why we see the fake news, those same gatekeepers also controlled ideas and who was eligible to share those ideas. Without the gatekeepers, writers like Coates and probably so many of the beautiful tide of diverse writers of color and women, wouldn’t have had the platform they do. It was a reminder not step aside and let the populace continue to slide into easy to digest soundbites about right and wrong, but that if I was to write, I needed the internet, and social media to be a healthy space for ideas. Even this small reminder, showed how easily I’m influenced because the toxicity online, and it does exist for certain, was also keeping me from taking on this blank page. If Coates is right, that white supremacy in all of its forms is also fueled by a shared body of knowledge and if my hope is that we work to fight for a new vision of our country, than perhaps I need to add my voice, narrative, and question ideas from my position so that we change what is shared. Coates has been labeled fatalistic, the oppositional point to Obama’s hopefulness, but I don’t see it that way at all. He said on that chilly November night in Seattle, to me that writing matters, it’s meant to be enjoyed, it’s an expression of who he is, and it’s pure. So perhaps it’s not hope in the way we’ve been trained to embrace it, but what Coates’ is asking is that we all make something worthwhile out of our lives, and for us, it’s writing.

Time after time-Another Year Passes

Some say time is a construct, an arbitrary measure of days passing, marked by a calendar that was created to restore order to holidays surrounding the birth and resurrection of Jesus. We began counting Earth’s rotation on January 1 since the year 1582. While arbitrary in the sense that time is meaningless and we’re all gonna die anyway, the Gregorian calendar has been in place for 435 years. Although many celebrate holidays according to Jewish or Chinese calendars, it’s still a feat of global unity that we all function using one standard measurement of time. And so we arrive at the end of another 365 days, another year passes, another day upon us to wipe slates clean, as we prognosticate new plans and goals. Last year’s regressions are deleted from the calculation, our chance to hit the reset button is here, on the first day of January we can start fresh. I always love this day, all stark white and wintery-hued, decor returned to minimalism, the hustle and bustle reduced to quiet, and the oncoming normalcy is a comfort. It always takes me by surprise to notice my own lightness, as my mix of PMS and anxiety—exacerbated by the unpredictability of family dynamics—dimishes and is replaced with relief that it’s passed.

In my mind, there is a point to counting time, it’s a line in the sand to remind us that an elliptical orbit around the Sun has ended where it began. And it’s hard not to notice the sliding of time as daylight fades into darkness and eventually transcends into hazy summer twilight. The passage of time is not arbitrary or made up, we see our kids change from chubby little babies to independent proto-adults. Time does move, it’s how we count it that may be random and perhaps our insistence that each year has its own personality as if a new one will arrive to save the day. I read that the first of January is often the coldest day of the year across the globe, so there is a sense that something connects us and traditions to mark this passing are cathartic and imbued with our own useful meaning. I also read that this first month of our Gregorian calendar is named after Janus, the god of beginning and transitions, although there is some dispute over this naming convention, I can see why those before chose this deity. I think we can agree, that collectively us humans have created a social norm that the changing of the year is a transition, like it or not.

I think of this day as the brink of past and future, a splintering faultline that we straddle while we pray for the past and hope for goodness in the days to come. Perhaps this is why the ominous tone of the coming year feels so disquieting, something we can’t ignore because it feels out of our control. I have heard more than one person refer to 2016 as a terrible year and that 2017 will be even worse. In years past, friends wouldn’t have dared to place such a negative prediction for the future, we’ve been so trained to think positive, hope for the best, always look for the bright side. And I think we’re all trying to do that but for once we may have rescinded the idea that just praying and hoping won’t make goodness magically appear. For the first time, I am so clear that if I want to do anything, in my home, my neighborhood, city, state, nation, and for the future of this beautiful blue planet, then I’m going to have to take it on myself. But I don’t feel alone, along with the dismal predictions, cynicism, fear and the unsettled feeling in the air, I also feel a large burst of energy, cohesion, unity, and action. So many friends that have usually remained on the sidelines are activating, right now we’re meeting, discussing, sharing ideas, concerns, and agendas. Documents are being gathered, resources, plans, structures put in place, the organizing is palpable and just where we need to be at this moment in time. I feel a little pulled in every direction, that’s for sure, but I’m also trying to bend like a willow tree, swaying back and forth between ideas and groups, learning where I will need to plant myself. This flowing around is absolutely okay and necessary. We’ve been complacent, intractable with our values, our current forms of institutions have failed us, we have no strong direction or leader and yet I see opportunity ahead. Because we need to let whatever force for change that is going to happen next year, and perhaps the years after, to build organically, by the will of the people, by our thoughts and ideas. Yes, right now they’re all over the place in a way, but I can see where the laser beam of light is headed, its refracted glow is sharpening inward and we will see the path lit up soon. I have no doubt about it and that’s my hope a laser beam to fight off the dark forces that are in power. This is not done by movie magic or wishful thinking but with hard, uncomfortable work that will be in addition to our daily lives. I will have to maintain energy and focus, something I’m not always very good at but I’m willing to practice because I just may have to out of necessity.

For me, 2016 was a year of transition, I moved away from feeling insignificant, or unsure of myself and for the first time in many years I am absolutely clear on what I stand for and why I am here. My anxiety no longer stems from confusion or lack of direction but from the fact that I don’t think I have enough time to do everything I want and understandably I get bogged down by regrets. I know that first and foremost, I am a mother. It’s a role I take seriously, and this identity is the fuel that keeps me moving forward, because if all goes to plan a part of me that will be on this planet long after I am gone. I am also a wife and feel grateful that my husband is stoically on my side, never getting in my way and honoring my decisions to fight the power! I told him that he and my girl are the only two people I need to do right by, I don’t need validation from anybody else. If my actions harm or get in the way of these two people I will make adjustments accordingly. This clarity is what I need to move forward, and both of them understand this without any doubt. In the past few months, especially since November 9th, this is what I’ve been doing, clearing my path, talking with more people, testing ideas, researching and preparing. It feels so right to be doing this and it doesn’t feel strange or unnatural.

I will also add, that writing this blog is a huge part of my efforts, I still plan to continue to journal my thoughts, again as a voice in this human experiment, as a regular person during this time in history, someone not affiliated with a certain group, but with a cause and hunger for knowledge and justice. And as it always happens, I get clues to keep on my path, even if I feel so alone at times, or even invalidated or delusional. Right when I start to spiral, I usually get a sign. Recently, one was to join a group of writers, many of them are women of color but so far the group is growing and expanding to include many voices. The call is to write 52 essays in 52 weeks starting on Jan.1. So I took heed because I need the support even if I am so passionate, outspoken, opinionated, arrogant, single-minded, whatever you want to call it, I still freak out all the time! I can go weeks feeling really strong and then some small event, comment or experience will crumble me to the ground. I recently sat curled up on my kitchen floor, crying about the future, with snot dribbling down my chin, while my husband held me and eventually walking me upstairs to bed. It’s not a pretty vision, but it’s the damn truth, I take a lot in and I expel just as much, sometimes with direct positive action, sometimes with tears. I hope to make those teary moments happen less, at least for the comfort of my family, but I can’t guarantee success on this point. However, I will do my best and I know what to do, walks, talks, good food, art, and most importantly writing in my own voice, in my own forum with free expression—these are all healing activities. I do feel like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, that I am writing like I’m running out of time, I bet a lot of you can relate! So let’s do it, and write our hearts out for posterity, for health, and most important for the protection of TRUTH.

Rejected but not dejected. Onwards!

 

kalman2
Maira Kalman

 

No art ever came out of not risking your neck.— Eudora Welty

Well, I got a rejection email today! Before I get mired in disappointment, I’m going to write this out of my system. I think processing emotions is why so many people write, it’s a way to release feelings through a weird combination of contemplation and openness. I’d been prepared for this day and is why I shared my submission process on Facebook. I’m sure more than one person thought, “how self-absorbed…who cares about your writing?…how narcissistic can you be?!” (Wow, that was negative, huh?) I knew there was a high probability I’d get rejected and I thought sharing the process would keep me honest and stop me from spiraling into crippling disappointment. It’s only been a few hours, but so far my plan is working, I think?

I spent about 20 hours over six weeks writing my submissions to apply for this workshop and it was more effort than I’ve ever made in the past. It was a lot of work but I’m going to fight hard not to lose motivation over a small setback. In the past, I’ve been very lousy at handling rejection. At the slightest mistake, I’d crumble into self-pitying despair, roll into a ball on a sofa and watch Golden Girls for as long as possible. Then, I’d wake up with manic energy, drink heavily and forge a path of self-destruction. This was how I coped with failure for many years. It would have never occurred to me to sit down, write and bang out words in the face of defeat! Nope, I’d just run away like a whimpering child and look for anything to divert my attention from the crushing sense of inadequacy. I’d never sit with my disappointment or try to feel it. I see now that there is an energy that comes with sadness, it’s like an ember hidden deep within a fire pit waiting to be fanned. So, this is progress, right here, right now, I’m back at the keyboard!

typewriter

I’m not sure why I have this deep and sort of delusional need to write, but I do. Writing is a part of my identity, real or not, and it brings me happiness to play with words and ideas. And before anybody tries to calm me down, I do think it’s a delusion to aspire to an artistic life. To write is a selfish act, it takes time away from my family and diverts focus from my career. It’s also a bit entitled to make time to write and have space to follow a passion. So in the grand scheme of things, I realize not being accepted to a writer’s workshop is not the end of the world. I will continue to write, I have all the tools I need. I have my mind, my ideas, a computer, even paper and pen, a stolen half hour here and there, and all of Saturday morning to type away adding more to my book or writing this blog. Nothing can take this away from me except for the evil forces of self-doubt and fear. (Stay Back)!!

CdRh6oJUUAAK4bI

And I’ve run away from writing for too many years to know that ignoring this drive also leaves me unfulfilled, no matter how well I’m doing in my personal and professional life. At times, it does feel ridiculous to put so much energy into something that doesn’t have a clear external reward. Writing is scary because so many of us will never see the light of day as authors, but I sit here and shrug it off because I don’t feel I have much choice. Trust me, my first thought when I got the email today was, why am I doing this? I just wasted so much time! What is the purpose? Ahh, and there it is, the key. We all strive to have a purpose. I know it’s so over-used to say this, but once you tap into what gives you intrinsic fulfillment, it’s very hard to turn back. You can’t just say, forget it!  I don’t want to keep doing something that I enjoy because it’s too hard, it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t make any money, and I won’t achieve anything. Unless self-doubt and fear are ruling your head, then these thoughts will win. Begone fear! Begone self-doubt!

1856f4090ec598f5f7f5d7ca0438a940

So, here is an excerpt from the short, non-personalized rejection email I received today,

This year we received a large number of applications and unfortunately are unable to offer you a seat in either of your workshop choices. You should not view this as a reflection on the quality of your work, but more a space/capacity issue…we have a finite number of seats and have an application ratio of 5:1.

Anyhow, I disagree, this was a reflection of the quality of my work because my acceptance was based on my submission and if it was good I’d have a seat, duh! Yesterday, in anticipation, I re-read my submission and I thought it was horrible. Now, I know most writers think their drafts are crap, so this could be a sign that I’m onto something genius. But my prose submission needed a lot more polish and I made a big error and didn’t reach out for help with proofreading my prose. I realized this mistake a few days before the submission was due because a dear friend was editing my essay questions and her strong red pen and direction helped me make enormous improvements in my personal statement. I enjoyed the editing process, she helped me clarify ambiguity and highlight my passion for the workshop. It struck me that I kept my prose piece close to my chest. Obviously, I still have some fear of feedback that I need to get over. I should have asked for input and direction from other writers. Also, I realize I need to practice and work on my writing chops! I make grammatical mistakes, write tired metaphors, use the dreadful passive voice and struggle with comma usage. I think I have a strong narrative voice and maybe some good ideas. But I worry that my plot is derivative and boring, and my characters are unlikeable, and I have no structure or idea how to end my story!  I have so much to learn about the craft. I must continue practicing and sharing my work. Luckily, I have a long list of writer’s groups, conferences, workshops, meetups, open-mic readings and writer friends all within my reach. Honestly, this is why I moved to the Bay Area nearly 18 years ago, with the hope to build a literary life. Although it’s not exactly fully-formed, I can see a narrow path widen to an open field of creativity.

One last note, it’s notable that there was a 5:1 ratio of applicants to space in this writer’s workshop that is aimed at giving writers of color opportunity to share ideas. The literary world is still very white and elitist, and although change is happening, there is a long way to go! I had thought I had the right amount of passion and skill to attend this workshop, but right now it’s not in my cards. I will submit again next year, and I will spend more time on my prose submission. But in the meantime, I hope to see more opportunities and advancement for writers that are not from the publishing establishment, or that don’t come from elite MFA programs. Now more than ever writers of color and minority voices need to share our stories, to humanize and reclaim narratives. Admittedly, I do feel disappointed about not being accepted to the workshop, but all I can do is write. Maybe I will also eat some cake and have a cup of tea, or climb a tree, or go on a hike, or visit a stream— you know, civilized wound licking

 

kalman18-1
Maira Kalman

 

Goodbye September!

A month ago, I made a commitment to activate this blog again. What has occurred since, has been a bit consuming but I know I’m doing the right thing because I’m LISTENING! Hello!? Anita, what do you want to do with your life? WRITE! Well get to it lady!

I was just talking to a friend today who asked my about my daughter and I told her she wants to be a guitar player when she grew and I kind of laughed. My friend said “Well I knew I wanted to be a writer around her age.” She’s reminded me that I was around seven, the same as my daughter when I had the idea that I’ve wanted to write books. I’ve never been confused about this. I’ve never had to read a book or take a test to find my passion. I’ve always been driven by words, reading, books, literature, writing, journalism and ideas. And I’ve felt this very strongly from a young age. So what in the world happened? Everyone tells you, find your passion, right? Then just do it.

What happened is a series of sad, but familiar events. My family, immigrants from India weren’t very supportive of creative pursuits.  I recall arguing with my dad, maybe I was 11 or 12 and he said, “Yes become a lawyer or doctor first and THEN you can write a book.” It’s only now as an adult that I know why he was saying this, he only cared for my future, having stability was all my family ever wanted for their kids. A writer’s life was no life for a woman. This was also made clear early on and I have to say, it hurt to hear those words from people I loved.

I struggled through school, had problems paying attention to certain subjects. I always managed to be a solid B student because I got A’s in English, writing, humanities and C’s in math and science, but this grade was not exciting enough for an Indian family. Over time the sadness morphed into a deep depression. By the time I was a freshman in college, pursuing Journalism, a sort of compromise for an English degree because I convinced my dad (and myself) it could lead to a career, I was clinically depressed. Instead of going to class, I would drive to school each day and sleep in the parking lot under the warm sun.

Now, everybody has regrets in life. I totally get it. But I keep repeating the same mistakes. I still haven’t fully figured out how to get passed the doubts, fears and barriers that have built in my mind. It’s not enough to have a passion. You have to be fearless, you have to stand up to others and just do what you want. I’ve never really been able to do this and as each year passes, it becomes hard. I’ve decided to not make it hard anymore. I need to get out of my own way as they say! This seems like a ridiculous time in my life to keep trying, but what else can I do?

It’s taken me years but I know that the best “therapy” is to keep listening. There is nothing worse than to live a life that is marred by regrets. It’s taken me 30 years to figure out the true source of my depression is that I’m simply not doing enough of what makes me happy. I’m not listening to my true self and have tried to run from it, hide it away, and ignore it. But when you’ve had a passion that has been squelched your whole life, you start to become sick. Really, it’s a form of cancer, it just remains. I’m not sure if I can really heal or get over the years that I’ve wasted, but I have to try to keep going on and write. I have so much to write about, this is a gift! A gift of creativity that not everybody has tapped into or feels as strongly. So I must honor it and be okay with fear, understand the barriers and just be a little crazy.

That’s why early this month, I finally decided to put my foot to the metal. I made some clear choices:

I want readers.

I need to put my writing out there.

I’m going to worry less about others.

I’ve been experimenting with a few styles and topics. I have learned what is read and not. But I think the best advice I’ve seen on writing is to not give a care about clicks and views and readers. Just write. But I do have to share this chart, check out September! So thanks to all of you for your support, I plan to keep this space going as well as I can.

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 7.39.02 PM

Do negative thoughts ever go away?

092715I have just returned from a place where darkness and negativity had taken over. But I’m back, sitting upright. Today I will write and slowly pound out each word one letter at a time. I’m force feeding myself little gulps of motivation. This post is not a call for sympathy, but a profile that shares how it can feel to live with depression and anxiety. I may look like I’m having fun, or this blog might seem like it’s written by someone who has figured out how to be self-important and filled with positive energy. But depression can take on many forms, it can look like and sound like me. Someone who has fun, enjoys life, with an abundance of energy, filled with dreams and ambitions. And other days, I can look sad, feel angry, alone, and am filled with all manner of negativity. My goal as a writer is to journey into truth, the changing nature of life, and how identity can be obscured by emotions. Because, here I am again, already doubting what I felt so strongly just a few weeks—when I was ready to write, engines on, gaining speed, ideas flowing.

I’m told living a creative life is an exercise of faith in yourself. But this faith is blind, offers little solace, and requires a massive amount of fortitude. To create without understanding the purpose, ignoring the futility, but soldiering onwards, resembles insanity. There is no real way to control the progress, there is no cleared path or manual on how to achieve creative success. The thousands of books written on this subject will never fill the void of self-doubt that creep into every artist’s mind. For the source of self-doubt is individualized, in some it’s calcified and difficult to root out with simple advice. Sure these books and motivational quotes offer some tips, insights, encouragement. I read them and recognize myself, I gulp up the soothing words, like a comfortable bowl of pasta.

But when I am rolled up in pain, positive words do not reach me.

These words sound hollow, stupid and ridiculous. They’re shrill voices say “just change your story, don’t limit yourself, honor your best self, be true, follow your bliss, chase that dream, happiness and achievement is available to all those that believe! If you just believe and motivate and write that journal, pin that dream board, hug your inner child, it’s all here for you, YOUR BEST YOU!!!”

And I want to scream,

I can’t hear you!

What do you know?

I’m wrapped in an eggshell,

the world is my enemy,

I can’t do this.

I can’t do this.

This is how bad it’s gotten. The other night a stranger made me cry. It was Friday, a cap to a week I white-knuckled and tried to smile my way through. I don’t think anybody recognized that my mind was filled with a ticker tape of negative thoughts. I didn’t want to be present or “in the now” because I couldn’t go there. I thought I’d topple over if I tried to feel the pain. So I marched onwards.

I was left tickets for the symphony, Beethoven’s Ninth, vestiges of a failed night out with my husband. He said, “take the child, it will bring her some joy.” My intuition tried to reach me, but I ignored it. Instead, I pushed myself to attend. Already late, I took a wrong turn and drove a whining child through the hills in a desperate search for parking. I found a lot, it cost $20, I only had $16 and I was forced to back out against a flow of incoming cars. I continued to drive in maddening circles. Once we found a spot 45 minutes had passed, my body was a live wire of nerves and clammy sweat. My child kept asking me to slow down, and as she put her hand in mine, I held back tears as we frantically made our way through the darkened amphitheater. The usher pointed to an aisle, we walked down the stone steps and I tried to time our disruption between interludes.

I was hyper-aware of the glares and the silent judgments. “Why are you so late? Who brings a child to a symphony? You are a jerk, an idiot, an asshole.” We found row 6, but it turned out we were on the wrong side of the aisle and a nice woman said “It’s okay just sit here a bit.” She must have read the stress on my face, she patted my shoulder, it was the first time in hours that I took a breath. I needed her niceness and I sat in the aisle and we watched a world-class symphony play in the warm fall evening. I really didn’t want to find our seats and move from this comfortable spot. But just as I was starting to relax, a man tapped me on the shoulder, he hissed “Where are your seats?” I pointed, and his horrible wife glared at me too and he said “You can’t sit here, it’s a fire hazard.” And then I wept, I put my hands on my face and wept right there in front of him. Shoulders heaving with tears dribbling down. The nice woman told me “It’s okay, just sit.” But in my humiliation, I grabbed my daughter’s hand and ran up the steps. We found our seats in the middle of the row amongst annoyed people. I felt trapped, on the verge of a panic attack, with a squirming child who liked some portions and sighed heavily with boredom through the quiet sections. I didn’t hear a note of the music, I just wanted to run, run, run through the hills and scream;

Mind your own business!

Your rude words could be the last straw!

Leave me alone, leave me alone, leave me alone!

It struck me later, that we were in an outdoor amphitheater, with open air seats made of non-flammable stone, and if there were a fire, everyone could’ve easily evacuated. The man that made me cry was just a jerk-off. He and his sour-faced wife probably thought I hadn’t paid my fair share to sit in their snooty section.

But this is not the point, a stranger made me cry, because I was on edge. But it was the moment I realized I had gone too far into the land of depression. I had to figure out how to turn back. I was left with no patience, no reserve of composure or ability to function in public. I scared my daughter, who took care of me and talked quietly and held my hand. Because I live with constant pain, there are times that it becomes too much for me to contain. It can send me to bed for a full day.

I know the source of the pain, deep long childhood trauma that nobody in my family will validate. I live with self-inflicted wounds brought on by my own mistakes as an adult as well. This past record of misdeeds fuels an intense desire to be perfect, flawless, creative, beautiful, mothering, nurturing, the very best of everything and to fail yet again is an utter, abject disgrace. I have mounds of guilt and shame that don’t seem to erode over time. I’ve tried to live with them in a semi-state of denial because dealing with the past bores me and distracts me from my family and writing.

By now you’re worried. Please know I have therapied, medicated, self-soothed, acupunctured, talked, discussed, meditated, begged, prayed, cried, breathed, opened up wounds and figuratively bled out my veins. Yet the pain returns. And all of those well-intentioned words, they don’t help. I’m sorry, Oprah, and Brene Brown, and Elizabeth Gilbert and every other person who espouses that we can get passed all of our obstacles if only work at it, little by little. If we honor ourselves. And dream big. Stay vulnerable, or whatever profitable catch phrase they sing to high holy heaven, are all supposed to help me get passed my personal limits and reduce the pain. But they haven’t.

I want to believe that limits wash away.

I want to believe I can be free from the past.

I want to believe positivity will clear my mind,

like a warm shower after weeks in the wilderness.

So what I’m left with is the unknown, as in nature and art. Because feelings ebb and flow, the way trees interact with the seasons. Thoughts are unreliable. A day under the covers is not a bad thing. Guilt is just a useless habit. Negative people are powerful and abundant. Positive words are pointless in times of distress. This too shall pass. Sadness, anger, pain, isolation will return. Maybe I can keep on writing. It will get interrupted. We all have limits.

I didn’t want to read My Struggle, but now I’m hooked!

FullSizeRender (1)

Before I became a ridiculously over-zealous fan, I had no interest reading “My Struggle”, Karl Ove Knausgaard’s 3600-page fictional memoir. Who in the world would ever read something so long, much less write such a voluminous text? Brevity is key in this world of 140 character Twitter posts and pithy advertising copy. We want short, to the point, condensed nuggets. Not some self-obsessed writer droning on for pages. I’d heard of Knausgaard following my nerdy literary world of journals and book reviews, but I remained a hold-out, passing up the release of three out of six volumes (yeah SIX VOLUMES). I wasn’t that intrigued, and it always seems that literati has a penchant for male authors who write long diatribes, so I brushed him off as the newest David Foster Wallace. I favored reading contemporary women fiction writers because I had spent my youth devouring all the male literary giants, and so Knausgaard was exactly the opposite of what I wanted to read.

Then I happened upon “My Saga” a sort of travel piece he wrote for the New York Times Magazine about his adventure through North America. I noticed his pictures right away, and he is handsome, in that edgy chain-smoking way that should bore me by now. But what about his writing? I was hooked after I read a few paragraphs. His style is soft and flowing the opposite of Hemmingway but not quite with the frenetic energy of a Hunter J. Thompson rant. He can describe a mundane event page after page, with details and facts that you may or may not need to know. Then he makes a soft turn, very subtly infusing a statement that causes a slow pause, and you begin to understand the purpose of the details and want to know every moment. His scenes of everyday life, don’t necessary prove a point, but sometimes they do support his digressions, it just takes hundreds of pages for the reader to make the connection. In My Saga, I was pulled into a story about his lost backpack, and he writes,

There is a saying in Norway that he who loses money shall receive money, and I think that’s true, because when you lose things, it means you’re not on your guard, you’re not trying to control everything, you’re not being so anal all the time — and if you aren’t, but allow yourself to be open to the world instead, then anything at all might come to you.

I knew what he meant. I could relate, in a way when I was messier, I also had a different energy and felt more alive. Sure stuff got lost, but I wasn’t living in the grips of control. I kept on reading and found his whole botched adventure, insightful in a strange stoic, repressed yet observant, wryly humorous manner. But I didn’t think I’d read his books, it seemed too much of an investment. His stories are about events that are familiar, driving around America, or clogging up a toilet, but then he digresses with insights about literature and philosophy and then weaves his way back to the start.

But then in My Saga, Knausgaard relates a story to the photographer that he is traveling with, about meeting with a famous writer (he is unnamed in this piece, but later Jeffrey Eugenides outs himself). Knausgaard realizes that his silence may have offended the author, and the story picks up here;

Then I realized he must have taken my silence personally. He must have thought I didn’t find it worth my time talking to him.

I wrote back and asked him if he’d seen any Bergman movies? No one talks there either. And Finland was even worse; there, no one ever said anything to each other. I wrote that I’m always like this, that I never say anything to people I don’t know, even when they’re having dinner at our house. He never answered.

“Who was it?” Peter asked.

I told him.

“It’s deeply un-American, you know, not to make small talk. It’s a very important part of the culture of this country. You remind me a little of my dad. He didn’t know how to make small talk, either, when he first got here. Or maybe he didn’t want to. But he does now.”

Now I had no doubt that I must read “My Struggle”. He was pinpointing something that is relatable to me, the trials of an introvert, but he brings in observations that are distinctly not an American point of view. I have noticed this type of interaction and have wanted to write about this very theme. But he encapsulated this struggle, the quiet person versus the incessant American need for small talk, with an exchange and a short interlude to another story. I had to step into his Norwegian world, all 3600 pages!

Because of translation and publishing dates volumes come out in sporadic succession, but I went through the first three books rapidly. But the struggle of being introverted were one of many for the author, who is the main character of his fictionalized version of his memories. And what is a fictional memoir? If it’s confusing, you’re not alone. However, as you read you’re constantly asking yourself, is this his memory, or is it a fictionalized account? Of course, in true meta-fictional style, he as the narrator explores the very notion of memory and false memory. So you get the idea that he is playing with the past at the very same time he writes about his present life.

Aside from his life in Norway and Sweden, with scenes and discussions about the cultures and attitudes in these two countries, he also writes about his successes and struggles to be an author. He has all sorts of bourgeois baggage, that in itself is not that compelling. He has episodes of drinking problems, leaves his first wife, falls in love and marries again, has kids, his abusive father dies, he has a brother and relates long conversations with a close friend. But his intensity about his work, the malleability of identity, and his digressions that somehow touch upon these concepts, make his work compelling.

When I read Knausgaard I see a story every day, all around me, conversations on the bus, the interaction with my mom, my child, and husband. I notice small details, sounds, landscapes, and relationships, and I realize there is so much there, all around me. I kept thinking about all the scenes I wanted to write, connecting ideas or random thoughts. His struggle is inspiring, more so than overly positive affirmations that have become all the rage. When I posted the quote below on Facebook, a friend said, “Ouch.” But I get it, I understand. Right now, I’m more than disgusted with myself that I haven’t written enough and have so much more to write. So I needed this Knausgaardian kick in the seat because I can only be a writer if I write. Simple but harder than you think.

“If I have learned one thing over these years that seems to me immensely important, particularly in an era such as ours, overflowing with such mediocrity it is the following:

Don’t believe your are anybody.

Do not fucking believe your are somebody.

Because you are not. You’re just a smug, mediocre little shit.

Do not believe that you’re anything special. Do not believe that you’re worth anything, because you aren’t. You’re just a little shit.

So keep your head down and work, you little shit. Then, at least, you’ll get something out of it. Shut your mouth, keep your head down, work, and know that you’re not worth a shit.”

The Modernist’s Weekly Miscellany

Miscellany

I share a lot of articles, podcasts, books, TV, and movies on social media. I share because I crave discussion. I share because I love to read, watch and listen. I share when something inspires, enlightens and comforts my mind. It is with this intention that I plan to share a weekly collection of the very best that tickled my fancy—it may have made me laugh, gasp or cry—but most of all I hope you enjoy.

line break

Excerpt from The Lady’s Weekly Miscellany, New York, Saturday, April 30, 1808

Lucretia Greenville.
The following extraordinary account an attempt made by Lucretia Greenville, to assassinate the tyrant Oliver Cromwell, copied from a European Magazine, is a remarkable trait of female revenge. As it is probable very few of our readers are acquainted with the particulars, we believe it will be generally acceptable.

This exalted female was betrothed to Francis, Duke of Buckingham, at the time that he fell in a battle by the hand of Cromwell himself, and upon receiving intelligence of the melancholy event, she swore to avenge his death on the murderer. During the three succeeding years, she exercised herself with pistols in firing at a portrait of Cromwell, which she had selected as a mark, that she might not be awed by the sight of the original; and as, soon as she found herself perfect, she sought and opportunity of gratifying her revenge. But Cromwell seldom appeared in public; and when he did, it was with such precaution, that few could approach his person.

An occasion at length occurred; the city of London resolved to give a magnificent banquet in honor of the Protector, who, either from vanity or with a political view, determined to make his entrance into London in all the splendor of royalty. Upon this being made public, the curiosity of all ranks was excited; and Lucretia Greenville resolved not to neglect so favourable an opportunity. Fortune herself seemed to second her purpose; for it so happened, that the procession was appointed to proceed through the very street in which she resided, and a balcony before the first story of her house yielded her full scope for putting her long premeditated design in effect.

On the appointed day she seated herself, with several other female companions, in the balcony, having on this occasion, for the first time since her lover’s death, cast off her mourning, and attired herself in the most sumptuous apparel. It was not without the greatest exertions that she concealed the violent emotion under which she laboured: and when the increasing pressure of the crowd indicated the approach of Cromwell, it became so strong, that she nearly fainted, but, however, recovered just as the usurper arrived within a few paces of the balcony.

Hastily drawing the pistol from under her garment, she fearlessly too her aim, and fired; but a sudden start, which the lady who sat next to her made, on beholding the weapon, gave it a different direction than was intended, and the ball striking the horse rode by Henry, the Protector’s son, it was laid dead at his feet. The circumstance immediately arrested the progress of the cavalcade and Cromwell, at the same time, that he cast a fierce look at the balcony, beheld a singular spectacle; about twenty females were on their knees imploring his mercy with uplifted hands, whilst one only stood undaunted in the midst of them, and looking down contemptuously on the usurper, “Tyrant! it was I who dealt the blow; nor should I be satisfied with killing a horse instead of a tiger, were I not convinced that, ere another twelvemonth has elapsed, Heaven will grant another that success which it was denied to me!”

The multitude, actuated more by fear than love, was preparing to level the house to ground; when Cromwell cried aloud with the most artful sang froid, “Desist, my friends! alas! poor woman, she knows not what she does,” and pursued his course; but afterwards caused Lucretia to be arrested, and confined in a mad-house.

line break

The Other France, New Yorker, August 31, 2015.

“To many Parisians, the 93 signifies decayed housing projects, crime, unemployment, and Muslims. France has all kinds of suburbs, but the word for them, banlieues, has become pejorative, meaning slums dominated by immigrants. Inside the banlieues are the cités: colossal concrete housing projects built during the postwar decades, in the Brutalist style of Le Corbusier. Conceived as utopias for workers, they have become concentrations of poverty and social isolation. The cités and their occupants are the subject of anxious and angry discussion in France”.

line breakNeuroTribes’ Examines the History–and Myths–of the Autism Spectrum, Fresh Air, September 2, 2015.

“So I think that society really needs to do a bit of soul-searching about how we’re dealing with autism. And we need to get over our obsession with causes because we’ve been researching the cause of schizophrenia for decades, and we still don’t know what causes schizophrenia exactly.”

line break

The San Francisco Hipster is Dead Y’All, 48Hills, September 1, 2015

“The days of being able to be willfully obscure, outrageous, awkward, artistic, pretentious, and poor are long behind us. I never thought I’d miss greasy asymmetrical bowl-cuts and fake American Apparel oversized glasses as much as this, but I kind of do.”

line break

MI0002209598

Down by the Riverside, Sister Rosetta Tharpe 

I feel so bad in the morning
I feel so bad in the middle of the day
I feel so bad in the evening
that’s why i’m going to the river, to wash my sins away

I’m gonna lay down my heavy load, down by the riverside,
Down by the riverside, down by the riverside
I’m gonna lay down my heavy load, down by the riverside,
I’m gonna study war no more

I ain’t a gonna study war no more,
I ain’t a gonna study war no more

I ain’t a gonna study war no more,
I ain’t a gonna study war no more

line break

My Return to Life, Part 1

I just read about 1500 pages of contemporary literature in about 6 weeks. Beyond the sheer number of pages, I boast about this feat because it signifies that my brain is open to ideas, without barriers. I can feel it as I read, little globular brain cells soaking in the words, growing plump with new connections. I also enjoy the long almost meditative periods when my subconscious allow stories to pull me along in their spell. But a huge motivation is my own latent desire to write. As I read, I simultaneously enjoy the story and also pause along the way to dissect the force that is driving the narrative. Like any resurrected habit, at first, you have to fake it until you make it, and for a short bit I forced myself to fill in every possible moment of down time with a book. I made a concerted effort to reduce screen time and stopped binge watching serial TV, because I felt that I was losing my imagination, the images and words that clutter social media were adding nothing of value to my life. Reading voraciously is like any exercise, if the mind is out of shape it takes some patience before the words start to flow naturally. Of course, good writing helps, and once my reading chops are warmed up by one good book, I begin to search around for the next fix as quickly as possible to keep the lubricated gears in motion. It feels thrilling, I begin to notice more connections, catch phrases and my old habit of eavesdropping on conversations is tuned up searching for stories.

Since March I’ve been immersed in two huge epic serial novels by European writers that have both been touted as literary giants, if it sounds intimidating to ponder the idea to read a 3500 page, 6 volume fictional memoir believe me, it is at first.  Now my hours of commuting have been filled the close and strangely compelling writing of the mundane by Karl Ove Knausgaard and Elena Ferrante’s fiery world of womanhood. I’m going to start peeling away at Ferrante first and step into the land of Naples, which is one long tale of feminity and friendship, shame and courage. But I will be back to delve into the Nordic land of the introverted, chain-smoking, coffee guzzling world of Knausgaard at a later date–because I’m obsessed with him and his writing as well. Plus, I plan to follow his footsteps when he comes for a visit in May. Unfortunately, Ferrante in her pseudonymous, almost non-existence doesn’t allow for fans to follow her around.

Last night, I finished “A Story with No Name” or Book 2 of the Neopolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante. I rushed through the last 40 pages and before it was too late and I sadly realized  had only two pages left. I was a tiny bit panicked and mostly sad because I wanted the story to slow down since I didn’t have Book 3 handy and I felt a manic moment of abandonment as  I closed the book. I’ve become emotionally attached to the friendship and twisting and turning tales of Lenu and Lila, and I felt I couldn’t stop following them through their childhoods in the rough streets of post-war Naples, to their sexual and intellectual awakenings and then onto motherhood. But more simply, I just want to know what happened to both women, I needed to learn how their friendship survived or crumbled, I wanted to know if they were happy or sad, if they have money, success, happiness and if in the end they were comfortable. Even as I was reading there were times when Lenu stopped herself from visiting Lila and I want to cry to her and reach into the book and say, “No! Go see your friend, she needs you, don’t be petty, you need her friendship too.” This is the power Ferrante (or whomever she is, although I’m certain a woman wrote these books) her energy, her words, the passion, there is no editing or slowing down, its long paragraphs of grief and energy, page after page pulls you into what is intuitively honest emotions. Nothing is trite. There is little that is superfluous and there is a lack of sentimental descriptions of setting and yet through the thoughts, emotions, ruminations of these two women I can still see Naples, Italy. There is an outline that is filled with the stories fo the neighborhood and I can see shabbily dressed children and basic buildings that are made of stone, where women work all day, men push carts of fruit, teenagers flirt, and the streets are filled with heat and sweat and tears. It’s not said so much or even described but as a reader I can feel the presence of the scenery. This is the magic of these stories. Yet through it all, I’m in the middle of their story, I never want to leave Lenu or Lila’s side, I fear the day that I will have no more pages to read and I will have to let them go. At the same time, I’m struck by the underlying message, the difficulty and brutality that face women as they navigate through a male-centric world, where choices are limited and risks are high. At first, one can think this story seems to have been told, haven’t we heard of the sad affairs of women that come from poverty? Why does this story of Lenu and Lila has me captivated, disgusted, emotionally wrought and concerned for their lives? As Rachel Donadio said in her review in The New York Review of Books:

To those of us fully entangled in the Ferrante universe, participants in this Greek chorus, who have come to care about these characters as much as we care about some people in our actual lives, to those of us who have come to scrutinize the world and ourselves all the more intensely for having read these unforgettable books, her latest report could not have arrived soon enough.

And here is what I feel, a fire has ignited within. It reminds to sit and write down what I have experienced, it doesn’t matter what elements of craft is used, or metaphor or figuring out the arch or symbolism or magical realism or any such literary device. I just need to sit and write my own story as a way to exorcise everything that is clogged within, because it’s truly creating a cancer, a block, a hateful feeling that can shadow days at a time. I feel that all I have left to face is a blank page, and to realize I have plenty of words and ideas to fills its daunting whiteness. I bookmarked the following page from Ferrante because it hit a nerve and one that also ties back to Knausgaard–this idea of writing as an art of destruction–and I know I have plenty of shame to destroy.

One morning, I bought a graph-paper notebook and began to write, in the third person, about what had happened to me that night on the beach near Barano. Then, still in third person, I wrote what happened to me on Ischia. Then I wrote a little about Naples and the neighborhood. Then I changed names and places and situtions. Then I imagined a dark force crouching in the life of the protagonist, an entity that had the capacity to weld the world around, with the colors of the flame of a blowtorch: a blue-violet dome where everything went well for her, shooting sparks, but that soon came apart, breaking up into meaningless gray fragments. I spent twenty days writing this story, a period during which I saw no one, I went out only to eat. Finally I reread some pages, I didn’t like them, and I forgot about it. But I found that I was calmer, as if the shame had passed from me to the notebook. I went back into the world, I quickly finished my thesis, I saw Pietro again.

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑