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Archive for the ‘my own private Idaho’ Category

I stopped watching Scandal early-ish in Season 5. I was so tired, and it was so convoluted and conniving, and I just didn’t have the energy.

Then last week I went back. The new season is on and I wanted to be able to peek in and understand where everyone was and how they got there. So I went to Netflix and slid into Season 5. From the top.

And you know? Never mind that it’s still convoluted and conniving and crazy and cringe-worthy and all the other alliterative descriptors I might think to use. Never mind that I can’t stand Fitz and have never found that man – the character or the actor, but so particularly the character – attractive. Never mind that even Olivia turns me off and annoys the crap out of me most of the time. Never mind all of that. I need to be watching Scandal, desperately need what this show is giving me.

How have I never noticed the music? How have I managed to watch four seasons and never notice the music? Where have my ears been? This show – which should come as no surprise – is so Black. But sooo Black. Powerfully, unashamedly, doggedly, determinedly. If it had a theme song, it would have to be the fabulously nonsensical yet bizarrely affirming “I’m Black,Y’all.”

And it’s not because Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope is the primary character, although yes, she’s part of it. And Joe Morton as Papa Pope is part of it – he is, after all, everyone’s favorite Brother from Another Planet. But the Popes are barely in the real world, certainly not anywhere near what my real world looks and feels and smells like. They are definitely Black, but they don’t make the show Black. No. For me, all that unapologetic Blackness is in the music. The soundtrack to Season 5 is a glorious celebration of Black music as Black voice, Black mood, Black conscience … and I am so here for it.

Maybe I never noticed this before because I didn’t need it as much in the past as I do in this moment. Maybe I stopped watching in part because I was getting further and further away from Pope-world and the cognitive dissonance was too much for me. And, while I’m still plenty far from Pope-world today, I need to dive in anyway, need to gather as much Blackness around me as possible. So I was drawn back to the show … and found my heart and soul waiting for me there, the running conversation under the scenes.

Just so you know:

  • You Got the Love — Rufus (yes, featuring Chaka Khan)
  • Got to Be Real — Cheryl Lynn
  • Do Right Woman, Do Right Man — Aretha Franklin
  • How Do You Keep the Music Playing — James Ingram and Patti Austin
  • You’re All I Need to Get By — Aretha Franklin
  • Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours) — Stevie Wonder

That’s just in the tiniest toe of a dip into the first four episodes, people! So 👏 damn 👏 black 👏.

On Sunday I went to a meeting of an anti-racist group. It was a meeting only for the POC members of the group. They meet monthly, and I’ve been wanting to go for a while, but Sunday was the first time my schedule allowed it.

And then I woke up Sunday, and the weather was awful: iced-over snowy rain and so cold! I didn’t want to leave my cozy apartment, and certainly not to head downtown to a meeting place right by the river!

But the chance to sit in community with a group of POC working for social justice and equity was too great a lure. I got my act together and got myself to DUMBO.

Thank goodness, too. Those two hours were fresh air. I could be as serious, silly, snarky, angry, frustrated, amused, or sad as I wanted, and no one expected me to explain, defend, modulate, or disappear my feelings. I could just have them.

And so I gathered a little more Blackness to me, wrapped myself in it as I would a fleece and mink blanket. Blackness — POC-ness — is the balm for my head and heart these days. I’m not closing doors on white folks. Can’t afford anything like that. There’s too much work to be done.

There is so much work. And I won’t get any of it done if I don’t look out for myself, find ways to take care of myself. I need to remember my sanctuary spaces, need to find myself some peace, need to put some shine on all the Blackness, all the big, bold, bodacious, brazen, blackety, black Blackness. Those alliterative descriptors are set to become my new mantra.

Time to slip back in. Nina Simone, Gil Scott Heron, and more Aretha on deck. Shonda clearly has my back in this fight.

“I’m black y’all, and I’m black y’all
and I’m blackety black, and I’m black y’all …”


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In 2017, I’ve committed to writing an essay a week.

It’s not too late to join if you’re feeling ambitious! Check out Vanessa Mártir’s blog to find out how!

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It’s Slice-of-Life Tuesday! Click on the badge to visit Two Writing Teachers and see what the other slicers are writing today!

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Last year my friend, the relentless writer and unfailingly generous, tough-loving writing instructor/mentor, Vanessa Mártir, was inspired to take on the challenge of writing and posting an essay a week. I watched her progress with awe and am joining the ranks of hundreds of writers who have taken up the challenge for 2017. (No, really. Hundreds. It’s amazing! It’s also not too late to join, and it would be fabulous to have you on this journey!)

And so, kicking things off with some writing about writing, here’s my first essay. Let the wild ride begin!


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Learning to Walk All Over Again

When I went to VONA in 2014, I was pretty clear about what I was doing and where I needed to be moving with my comic. I was overwhelmed by how the project had mushroomed into something enormous, even more overwhelmed by the amount of drawing that lay ahead of me. I was hoping Mat’s graphic novel workshop would help me understand comics better, that I’d leave with a clearer idea of how the graphic memoir I’d begun could be shaped, that I’d leave ready to dive deeper and get the work done.

As it happened (big surprise), I knew just about nothing. The memoir I thought I was writing turned out to be not a memoir but, instead, a whole other thing. I left VONA with one bright, glittering idea: I was going to write and draw a series of essays about racism. The idea was new and shiny … and I had not the first idea what it meant or how I had any chance of making it happen.

The idea that I was writing essays that took my personal experiences as their jumping off points felt 100 percent right, made so much more sense than writing a memoir. When I’d created my memoir comics, I’d stumbled again and again over a) my insistence on keeping all the comics short¹ and b) my desire to branch out from my story, to write more than memoir. I’d had to reel myself in with each successive revision. Thinking about essays wouldn’t answer the first point, but would resolve the second entirely.

I’d read some not-a-memoir graphic nonfiction – Brooke Gladstone and Josh Neufeld’s The Influencing Machine had been the most recent, and I thought I understood how to approach the writing. Of course, I’d thought that when I’d started making Adventures, back at the very beginning. I struggled. Hard. I thought that, since I’ve written so much fiction and memoir, the writing would be the easy part. I know how to tell a story about myself. It’s one of my favorite things to do! But even with the first comic, the 4-page, oh-you’re-so-articulate story, I ran into problems. I had to scrap and restart several times. But I started to figure it out.

When I began writing my first essay script, I thought I’d learned enough, all I needed to know, about the writing part of comics. Essays about race? Wasn’t that totally my wheelhouse? Wasn’t that what I’d been writing off and on since starting my blog?

Guess again. My first drafts were more picture books than comics, and disappointing ones at that. Pages of almost solid text dotted with the occasional unnecessary image – usually just a drawing of me talking. I just know you’d be running to Midtown Comics for that one!

I looked at those early drafts, then thought about some of the things I’d learned in Mat’s workshop – about the work the images need to do, about being greedy with space, spreading text out over a series of panels. I started again.

It’s interesting how quickly I fell back into my original mindset about how to write for comics. I realized as I worked through the next draft that I was, once again, trying to write the essay first and then fit some images in with what I’d written. It really – REALLY – doesn’t work that way. But I’m so stubborn, I just turn right back to my old way, and it took me three lousy drafts to recognize it.

The size of this project overwhelmed me when it was a memoir. It has, at the very least, doubled in size now that it’s a collection of essays. And that’s daunting. I’m a slow artist, and some of the images I envision are well beyond my fledgling skills. But I’m excited for the work. It feels more right with every script draft, more like exactly what I should be doing.

This is still a new form for me – comics in general and these essays in particular. I feel as if I am having to learn the basics every single day. There are beautiful, powerful role models to learn from everywhere – most recently my fascination/obsession/minimal-text-envy love for Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s stunning Monstress

I have so very much to learn. But I’m here for it. So much so that I’m even considering sending myself to a town I have no desire to visit to take what looks like an excellent comics course. And yesterday I submitted an application for a late-summer residency: two weeks of nothing to do but write (and maybe draw) Adventures. Yes, that feels exactly right.


I’ve decided that I’ll try to post my essays on Tuesdays, that way, I can get back to consistent participation in the Slice of Life story challenge!

Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see what everyone else is writing!

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¹ Why was I so adamant about that? I am nothing if not long-winded!
² If you haven’t read this yet, get on that. Pronto!

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Only a few days until the Writing Our Lives #52essays2017 challenge begins! Time to prepare! First a little background. The “Writing Our Lives” part? That’s the name of the personal essay/memoir/creative nonfiction workshop created and taught by the incomparable, relentless Vanessa Mártir. I’ve never actually taken V’s class, but I’ve watched it longingly from afar, following its growth and the growth of its writers. I’ve been writing essays for a long time at this point, but I still flirt with the idea of signing up for WOL. I know V would push me to get out of my way … more quickly and more than I push myself. She would see the scrims I put up between my words and the deepest truth and call me on that nonsense. If you’re in NYC, I would definitely recommend checking out WOL.

I’ve never taken on a year-long writing challenge. I’ve done numerous month-long challenges, and I’ve successfully completed several NaNoWriMo novels. And I always learn the same thing from each challenge: when I push myself to write more and to write regularly, my writing improves. In each case, I feel as if my brain became more attuned to writing. Ideas flowed more easily because my brain settled into its “writer” space — and I didn’t give it time to slip out.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, it’s what I told my students every year that I was a writing teacher. I believed it then. I knew it then. It’s interesting to find how easily — and repeatedly — I have let myself forget it when it comes to my own work.

I imagine this essay challenge having a similar effect. While the essays themselves may not be spectacular, what they will do to my writing muscles will be. So, as my title proclaims, I’m getting ready, prepping for battle. I’ve started brainstorming a list of possible essays topics. The list is all over the place … which will certainly keep things varied. Some of the items on that brainstorm list are already scaring the crap out of me … I think that means one of them needs to be the first essay I take on. Something about diving into fear seems like the right way to get started.

Certainly it’s possible that I’ll manage to get one essay posted in Week One … and then fall by the wayside for the rest of the year. But that seems unlikely — if only because I have called myself out loudly and proudly with my announcement graphic!

I’m afraid of this challenge, but I’m excited for it, too!

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I got on the A train the other night and slid into an empty seat … next to a ventriloquist. Why would that be necessary? Why, of all the people I could sit beside, would I have to find the one over-chatty ventriloquist? I was so with the young man at the end of the car who announced loudly: “Do NOT take that dummy out.” But of course, as soon as he said that, our friend the ventriloquist opened his case and pulled out a dummy.

I don’t hate ventriloquists. Not really. And he was talented. But really. They’re creepy, ventriloquists and their dummies. Creepy.

Let’s pause here. You may agree with me about the creepiness of ventriloquists and their dummies. You may not, but you may know someone else who finds them creepy. Fine. But I have to be clear. My feelings on this subject go deep, deeper, deepest. I so totally have pupaphobia. My puppet fear traces back in a perfect straight line to the movie Lili. No, seriously. That dream sequence scarred me. The only silver lining of this horror is the discovery of “automatonophobia” … which, really, is a way better word than pupaphobia.

Okay, back to business. You know how, if you don’t like cats or are allergic to cats and you go to a house that has cats, they come for you? They could have been asleep at the back of the hidden closet three floors away in the attic, and they come down and come running, looking for your lap? Yes, ventriloquists are the same. Because when that man on the train opened his dummy case, did he try to interact with the people who’d begged him to take out the dummy? No, he turned to me

Puppet Master: Say hi to the nice lady.

Creepy-ass Puppet: She don’t wanna talk to me.

Puppet Master: She’ll talk to you if you say hi. Say, “Hi, pretty lady.”

Creepy-ass Puppet: You think she pretty?

Puppet Master: She’s pretty.

Creepy-ass Puppet: She aight.

Yes, because not only do I have to be accosted by ventriloquism when I was just trying to get home for the night, I get a puppet who has what to say about how attractive I am or am not. Good times.

#NoThanks #NotHereForThis #CREEPY


It’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge! Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see what the rest of the slicers are up to … and to post the link to your own slice!

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Yesterday I told myself that, if I could make it from midnight to 6am, I’d somehow find a way to get through the rest of my first 24 Hour Project. At this moment (7:22 pm), I’m not so sure.

I am sore and exhausted. All the walking I’ve been doing seems to have invited a recurrence of painful tendinitis in my hips. and the knee that’s scheduled to be replaced this summer is shouting all kinds of words my phone would have a hard time typing.

I thought midnight to 6 would be the roughest time because those late-night hours are the least familiar to me. Yes, in my often-doing-dangerous-and-unwise-things youth, I have stories about nights out on the street, but I floated through none of those adventures alone. Being alone on the street at 3am is a strange thing. And that means that — as much as you wish there were other people around — as soon as you see someone, you wonder what on earth they’re doing out at such an hour and what trouble they’re up to and if they’re going to sprinkle any of it on you. Irksome.

And midnight to 6 was hard — well, midnight to 5-ish because after that I was with a friend and his friends until 6. I left my house at 11:15 — already a serious weirdness — and was on my own until connecting with my friend at Times Square just before 5am. I had a hourly-on-the-half-hour safety check-in text plan with my street-photog friend, and that was nice. We weren’t crazy about adhering to it to the minute, but knowing he was keeping track of me from time to time helped a little with my nerves.

All that alone time was a challenge because a) we had a wet snow storm yesterday to celebrate the vernal equinox and by later evening the ground was an ice-and-slush mess and the snow had given over to sleet; b) I had a hard time finding people to take pictures of … New York may still be a city that doesn’t sleep but folks are clever enough to stay in when the weather is ridiculous (see item “a”); c) the number of easy super-late-night or all-night places for me to step out of the cold has dramatically decreased since I was more regularly out late-late at night. Found a coffee shop around 2:30 … a coffee shop with no seating (!!), no outlets for me to recharge my phone, and no bathroom. In other words, the worst coffee house ever. Found a diner an hour later, and that fed me, warmed me up, had a good restroom. Yes, my pancakes were a little soggy, but pancakes weren’t priority. At six I discovered a waiting room in Grand Central (train station) that had outlets. Perfect!

So I tackled the most problematic hours, and that feels like an accomplishment. I know that, in planning for next time, there are some important things to build into my strategy:

  • list of coffee shops and diners that are open and that have outlets or charging stations
  • list of hotels that will let random people off the street use their lobby rest rooms (found a great one around 5:30 near Times Square: beautiful place with beautiful bathrooms and the loveliest young man on concierge duty)
  • MUCH smaller, lighter bag — don’t want to tell you all the ish I packed with me yesterday. Happily, made a stop back home to feed my cats and ice my knee, and dumped more than half that stuff
  • more comfortable walking shoes — the boots I’m wearing are fine (especially with the great insoles I bought for them), but something better would be, well, better

I also want to plan for more paired or group late-night walking. That will be better for my peace of mind, and will surely also lead to better and more photos. I spent so much time being nervous on the street last night that I missed many, many shots.

All in all, I’ve done well so far. I’m completely exhausted — which would be true anyway, but is especially true because my big plan to work a half day Friday then go home and sleep went down in flames. My body wasn’t ready to sleep and just wouldn’t. In the end, after my grand plan, I managed about 90 minutes of sleep before it was time to walk out the door. Crazy.

For now, time to get back out there and finish strong: 4 more hours of photos to find!


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, hosted by the wonderful people over at Two Writing Teachers! Every day this month, hundreds of writers will be posting their stories. Head on over and check out the other slices!

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Like a fair number of people, I have a phone that allows me to send texts. This may be a bigger deal for me than for some, seeing as I still used a rotary phone as recently as 2007, seeing as I am writing this post with a fountain pen in my (handmade) notebook rather than composing directly on the computer.

I send a lot of texts. When I started texting, my phone struggled to understand me, inserting a lot of randomness into my notes … and a lot of deleted expletives. Yes, my phone thought I had a vocabulary like a stevedore. I would type “bookish,” it would come out “b****.” I would type “folkways” (yes really, folkways … hey, I’ve already explained that I use words other people don’t), it would come out “f***.” Clearly my phone and I had some serious disconnection issues.

Over time, of course, my phone has gotten to know me better. It no longer thinks I swear like a sailor. It still offers up wacky next-word options that I would surely never want to type. If I spoke the way my phone wanted me to, I’d be some kind of crazy, unintelligible philosopher, saying things such as, “I’m going on an adventure containing myself home.” Right. Because aren’t we all?

This morning, however, I realized my relationship with my phone has become a true luv thang.

I was typing an email to my sister and one of the sentences began: “I was missing … ” I was writing a very boring and ordinary exciting, “I was missing something important.”

Not for my phone I wasn’t.

I typed, “I was missing …” and my phone knew exactly what I needed to say, offering up: VONA!

I almost laughed out loud. “You know me, little Galaxy. You finally know me!”

Because of course, yes. Aren’t I always kind of missing VONA? Thank goodness our retreat is next week so I can get a fix!


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, hosted by the wonderful people over at Two Writing Teachers! Every day this month, hundreds of writers will be posting their stories. Head on over and check out the other slices!

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It’s Pi Day! And a super special one. Everyone’s making a big deal about the fact that today’s date is Pi-to-5-digits, but I think that’s a little short-sighted. Today, at 9:26 and 53 seconds (am or pm), our date lines up with the first ten digits of pi! That is too fabulous.

And more fabulous? The number of videos there are of children reciting Pi (who knew that was a thing?).

Also fabulous? The Pi articles to make us think, not just make puns.

Equally fabulous? Danica McKellar and her big mathy brain:

For most of my teaching life, math was (oh yes, pun intended) part of the equation. In the beginning, I was reluctant about that part of my job. Math made me nervous. I had always been good at it, but I’d never understood it. I’d just learned to do all the things math teachers had taught me to do.* Then suddenly I was an adult ed teacher and couldn’t just hang out in the English and History sections of the curriculum. I’ve written a lot of posts about my math fears as a teacher, and about the stellar professional development series I attended that transformed the way I taught math.

In my new job, math is becoming increasingly necessary … and I’ve been finding myself once again struggling with math fear.

But today is Pi Day. And I’ve been talking about it and making jokes about it for so long — especially during this past week — and today I remembered: I like math. I like math. And I’m good at it. And I need to calm down and get out of my own way and just get the work done.


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, hosted by the wonderful people over at Two Writing Teachers! Every day this month, hundreds of writers will be posting their stories. Head on over and check out the other slices!

SOL image 2014

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* Well, with the exception of geometry, which proved to be my great nemesis. Because of geometry, I outed myself as a class-A nerd, signing up for summer school even though I’d passed the class. I spent my summer re-studying geometry because I wanted a higher grade. Once this fact was discovered by my classmates, I was shunned.

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