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Archive for the ‘things I love’ 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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Today is National Watermelon Day. No, really.
Who knew?
So, in honor of this, here’s a watermelon story from my June trip to Florida for VONA: There were a lot of different camps happening at the University of Miami while the writing workshops were in session. Ballet camp, football camp, etc. So we were often surrounded by kids when we were in the dining hall. One morning, I saw a tall, slender, bored-looking, blond girl at the salad bar filling an enormous bowl with watermelon (in other words, doing exactly what I was approaching the salad bar to do!). I smiled and told her she was a girl after my own heart because I so love watermelon. Her whole demeanor changed. She smiled and laughed and told me that she is from Serbia and how her mother always teases her because all she ever wants to eat is watermelon. She will spend her last money to buy the biggest one to bring home, just for herself (definitely sounding a lot like me), and her mother will ask her how she expects to eat such a huge melon herself, and she always just says, “Watch me!” I’m telling you, it was as if I was talking to myself!
And here’s a roundup of watermelon things I’ve had to say on this blog:

Source: Agricultural Marketing Resource Center

(I don’t know why the spacing is off in this post, why I can’t get a blank line between paragraphs. I’ve messed with it for more than half an hour, and I now officially give up. Feh.)

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Make that, what my world needs now. Most definitely love, sweet love. Thank goodness I have plans for so much of that this weekend.

It’s time for the New York Area VONA retreat! This afternoon I got on a train headed north and I’m now at this lovely farmhouse in the country! This retreat — insert contented sigh — means a weekend full of love. And, of course I mean how much I love my VONA fam and how much they love me. But I also mean love for myself.

This weekend is all about slowing down and taking the time to focus on my writing, something work has made very difficult.

It’s clear to me that I was naive in my perception of what my new job would be like. It is far more high-powered than I’d anticipated. It’s a great job that I’m quite happy to have, but it doesn’t leave me much time. And my work, my writing, has suffered.

I’m not setting and hard targets for the weekend. I am, however, bringing with me my nice, thick notebook, pens and lots of ink, my computer, and the thumbnail sketches for a new comic that have been languishing in my desk for two months. Anything is possible.

And I want that to be true, want anything to be possible. All the time, not just this weekend.

When I talk about my leisurely unemployment this past summer (I want to write “luxuriant,” even though it’s not the right word because it really feels like the right word), I tell people that I recommitted to myself as a writer. I actually say those words. And it sounds weird when I say it, weird enough to jolt me out of my train of thought for a second. But it also feels absolutely correct. I spent a lot of time last summer focused on myself as a creative person, and all that focus made clear to me how much I hadn’t been giving myself and how much I needed to change that.

And then I started my new job. I’ve been running so fast since starting work last fall. The intensity of the pace and the nonstop-ness of it has been overwhelming. A month or so ago I read an article about a bunch of people who work where I work, and one of them made a comment about having a “24-hour job.” I read that and stopped. That’s the problem! I have a 24-hour job. There’s no casual, “Oh, it’s 5:30. I’m heading home,” when the thing I’m working on has to be released/announced/in the paper the next day. You stay till the thing is done. Punto.

And that’s all fine and well, but it also means far less time for all the ways I was enjoying my life over the summer.

And so this weekend. It’s about reminding myself how much I value myself — my time, my creativity, my need to be foolish and fun. Talk about what my world needs now!


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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… and a post short.

I had two writing deadlines for March 15th, and I could only make one of them.  Here’s the post I wanted to put up yesterday:


Today is the deadline for writers to get their applications in for VONA 2015. I’m not applying to VONA this year, but my heart is with everyone who is applying. I mentioned VONA to a friend a couple of weeks ago, and said I was feeling sad about not going this year, and she wondered what the point of going would be. After all, she asked, haven’t you already been a bunch of times?

And sure, if three is “a bunch,” I’ve been a bunch of times, but … why on earth would that matter? If you tasted the most delicious food in the world, would you decline a second, third, four-hundredth taste simply because you’d already tried it? My friend, course, doesn’t understand VONA. How could she, when she’s never been?

So, why have I been three times (and why will I apply again in the future)? Here’s the answer I gave to that question when I was asked to address it for VONA’s newsletter:

The simplest truth for why I return to VONA is …. it’s VONA.  A place where I will be surrounded by a universe of talent, where no one will ever say my characters “don’t sound black,” where I’ve never had to explain why my narrator talks about her dead relatives in the present tense, where I will be nurtured by amazing writers, where I can expand the loving, supportive, we’ll-kick-your-butt-when-you-need-it community I’ve been building since my first workshop in 2010.  I will go back as many times as VONA will have me.

Just before leaving for Berkeley, I was fired from a job I’d loved and worked hard at for 12 years.  I’d spent the weeks between that moment and getting on the plane questioning – my judgment, my decisions, my options, my skills.  I was grateful to be able to go to VONA, but worried that going was a luxury I shouldn’t afford myself – surely putting my head down and finding a job was the wiser, more important focus. On Tuesday, I stepped out onto the balcony during break.  a classmate stepped out beside me and put her arm through mine and it hit me: Oh, right, I’m home. This is family. This is curling up in the palms of my ancestors’ hands. This is the only thing I should be doing now because this is about my soul, about my writing.

I recommend VONA to every writer of color I meet.  I’m sure I sound like some crazed zealot when I do, but I am a crazed zealot.  It’s VONA, after all.  It’s VONA, and I will go back as often as I can because every workshop will move me forward, every workshop will give me something new, every cohort will give me something new, every faculty reading will give me life, every moment sitting quietly in my room reading manuscripts and dreaming will fill my creative well.  VONA is different every time, and the “new” it has to offer is always what I need.  VONA is also the same every time: always full of beauty and brilliance, always a warm space of welcome and acceptance, always a challenging space that doesn’t let me belittle or disparage myself, always a reminder that I have work to do and that I’m the only one who can do it, always a reminder that I’m not alone.

 _____

I’m working on a story right now, a story that’s due tonight. The story takes place in 1856, and the main character is a child who is a slave. As I’m writing dialogue in this story, I have an annoying voice in my ear telling me that the readers won’t find my dialogue “believable” or “accurate” because I’m not writing in dialect, because my slaves don’t sound some stereotypical way slaves are supposed to sound (read: there’s narry a “gwine” or a “massa” in the piece). Every time one of my characters opens his or her mouth, I’m forced to pause for a second and question my decision not to give them that other language.

As I’m wrestling with that irksome critic on my shoulder, I’m thinking about VONA. Every writing workshop I’ve ever taken outside of VONA, I’ve run into someone telling me my characters don’t “sound black.” I have begun to counter by asking if the speaker thinks I sound black. This usually results in flustering the person and derailing the conversation … and I won’t say I mind that a lot, but I mind it some. Why is there only one way my black characters are able to sound? And who decided what that way was? And, if I don’t sound whatever that way is, why would you think my characters would?

It seems a small thing in my “why go back to VONA” response when I say no one’s going to tell me my characters don’t sound black. Trust me that it isn’t small. Conversation starts from a different place at VONA, and that’s gold, that’s precious beyond measure.*

So tonight I’m thinking about all the beautiful people who are applying to VONA. I’m wishing you all inspiration as you write your application essays, and I’m wishing you the opportunity to have that amazing, mind-blowing, soul-filling experience. We all need VONA. As often as we can get it!


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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* Of course, finding the right community isn’t only about surrounding myself with people of color. I was in a writers’ group for many years in which I was the only person of color. Aside from the fact that I loved the women in that group, I think one of the reasons I stayed was the fact that no one ever said anything like that to me.

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Still thinking about the Hotel Leyland. That milk truck wasn’t enormous, but it never felt small. Roger and David had outfitted the living space with a kitchen — sink, stove, fridge, and cabinets — and a small dining table with seating for four. The dining area was surrounded with bookshelves (and, as I said in the Leyland post) most of those shelves were full of Dick Francis novels. At the back of the truck there were long, cushioned benches with storage beneath.

A bathroom would have made the Leyland perfect and self-contained. But our camp grounds had bath houses, so we were just fine.

Thinking about the four of us living in that truck for two weeks — and the men living there for a couple of weeks before meeting me — made me think of my fascination/future-fantasy of tiny-house living.

I flat out LOVE the idea of a tiny house.* I admit that, greedy-for-space girl that I am, the idea is a challenge, even knowing that the footprints of the tiny houses I’ve designed for myself are all bigger than the standard. Still, this is a way to approach living in the world that pleases me enormously.

Part of me always backs away from the tiny house idea precisely because I know how greedy for space I am. But remembering how comfortable I was in the Leyland makes me wonder. Yes, of course, that was a couple of weeks while I was on vacation … when I was 22. But I am intensely claustrophobic (surely at least some of why I am obsessed with space), and I never had one twinge of that in the Leyland. I just felt comfortable.

Naturally, when I went online (consulting Dr. Google, as Roxane Gay says), I found plenty of people who have made homes — not just vacation homes, but full-time, this-is-where-we-live homes — in old buses and various kinds of service trucks.

I don’t so much see myself in a converted bus, but I like seeing that other people have made that work. My fantasy is an amalgam of the Cal Earth dome houses and a tiny house. And again, a larger footprint, probably between 750 and 1,000 square feet. (Yes, basically the size of three tiny houses! Look, I told you I was greedy for space.)

Of course, it’s a long way from thinking about small-house living and actually living in a small house. Never mind just how much I don’t know about building a house, about plumbing, about wiring, about anything that has to do with construction. There’s the equally large question of where would this house be built? I don’t happen to have a random piece of vacant land in my back pocket. So, clearly this idea is going to stay a fantasy for some time. But writing out the story of the Leyland makes it seem much less an impossible dream, and that makes me happy.


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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* If you haven’t heard about this itty-bitty-abode movement, you can find excellent examples of tiny houses all over the internet.

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This picture is being shared all over the place:

refurb bus 1

First, I love that some people respond to this as if this is the most radical, crazy, hip thing they’ve ever heard … as if this is the first time they’ve heard of such a thing, as if only a young person in 2015 could think of such badassery. Yeah, not so much.

Second, I love that this bus seems only made for sleeping. There’s no kitchen, no cabinets, no bookshelves, no … anything but beds. This is an odd way to try to travel even a super tiny country!

Third, I love that this reminded me of my long-ago experience of traveling in a converted milk truck with two wonderful, usually-drunk, Englishmen and a very sweet young Dutch guy.

— Oh yes, it’s another travel story! —
(And it’s a long one!)

Back in my many-years-past youth, when I spent some time hitchhiking in Europe, I wound up in Sagres, on the Algarve in Portugal. I arrived there by bus, having temporarily thrown over my hitch after some unacceptable scariness in Spain. I had put the town on my itinerary because it has Henry the Navigator history, and was close to Cabo de Roca, a lighthouse that marks continental Europe’s furthest western edge. I liked filling my planned/unplanned trip with weightless items that left me as free as I wanted or needed to be. On paper, Sagres was an overnight stop before heading to  Spain. But Sagres turned out to be a stop-rushing-and-enjoy-the-sardinhas-asadas kind of place. That “overnight” lasted five days. Nothing to do, nowhere to be, no reason to leave. There was thick, rich cafe leche to drink, vinho verde to wash down the sardines, beautiful beaches to stretch myself out on and cultivate my first deep-in-the-skin-so-black-my-mom-didn’t-know-me-at-the-airport tan.

I did drive out to see the lighthouse on my last day. I love lighthouses, and that one didn’t disappoint. And the view, the wind, the edge-of-the-worldness of the place was fabulous. Definitely worth the spot on my trip plan.

I don’t remember when in those five days I met David and Roger. (Their real names. Because they were lovely, kind people, and maybe there’s a chance that one of them will stumble upon this all these years later and we’ll reconnect.) They arrived with cute, bespectacled, Marcel, a Dutch hitchhiker they’d picked up a while before reaching Sagres. They arrived in the Hotel Leyland, a milk truck they’d converted into a mobile home.

They were my companions for the lighthouse trip, and when they announced they were leaving Sagres the next day and heading for Spain, I happily accepted a ride. Seville is maybe a two-hour drive from Sagres, maybe a bit more. We made the trip in ten days.

We left Sagres late morning and headed into Lagos … where we found an English pub and ate English food and didn’t leave and didn’t leave and didn’t leave. At first, I was anxious — when were we going to get to Seville? Then I let that go and relaxed. What did it matter? We could stay anywhere. It wasn’t as though I had some kind of schedule to keep. (Okay, I did have plans to meet a friend in Siena for the Palio, but that was weeks away.)

Eventually we started looking for a place to stay the night. After the windswept wildness of Sagres, Lagos was too citified for us, so we drove east. On my map, we found Olhão. It was little. It was on the ocean. It would surely be fine. But when we got there, it wasn’t as fine as we’d hoped, so we drove on. A short while later as night fell, we were in an even tinier town, one we couldn’t be sure was on the map. There was no hotel, but there was a campground, so we moved in.

Sleeping arrangements, you ask? Easy. Marcel slept on the bed that folded out of the dining room. David had a one-man tent that he set up beside the Leyland. That left Roger and me … and the bigger-than-queen-sized bed that could be created at the back of the truck.

“Don’t worry about Roger,” David told me that first day. “He’s gay.”

I don’t actually know if that was true. It hardly mattered. Roger was usually so full of alcohol at the end of the night, sleep was all that could happen on his side of the bed.

We woke up that first morning to discover ourselves in a tiny paradise of a place. You could buy a big jug of vinho verde for about $5 … and get your $3 deposit back when you returned the jug … and yes, for $2 you could leave your deposit and just get a new jug of wine. There was a great farmer’s market where we bought delicious produce (Portugal is still one of the greenest, most growing-est places I’ve ever been) and where, to my horror, the guys all bought tubes of sardine paste. Yes, really. Tubes like toothpaste full of something red and fishy and “fishy” that they squeezed out onto slices of bread and called a meal.  A half-step from our campsite was a wide inlet. When the tide was out, it was full of people digging for clams. When the tide was in, you could stand on the pier opposite the campsite entrance, and someone would come by with a boat and take you across to the beach island — a miles-long stretch of empty, pristine sand.

After breakfast that first morning, Marcel, David, and I were standing on the pier just looking around and a pretty young man motored up in a skiff and asked if we wanted a ride. When he told us about the beach island, we climbed aboard. His name was João, and he ferried us across for something like a dollar and the promise to meet him in town for a drink that night.

That beach! Sagres was where I discovered that I am a beach person (shocking that it took me 22 years to make that discovery), and our little unnamed paradise was where I was glad to have made that discovery. It was a skinny strip of sand that went on and on. The three of us wandered together and separately for some indeterminate, sunny time then made our way to the pier and found a ride back across the inlet.

It was on that glorious beach where I read my first Dick Francis mysteries. The bookshelf in the camper was full of them — I forget if he was David or Roger’s favorite — and they were quick, fun reads. I went through at least five of them before leaving the Leyland.

We kept saying we’d go to Spain the next day, and then something would come up — the chance to drive into the hills and visit an lemon farm (random and excellent), a celebration one night that meant everyone dragged their dining tables into the street and cooked and fed everyone else (including us) — or just the pleasure of staying a little longer.

After seeing the men’s fascination with sardine paste, I decided to use some of the hotel cash I was saving to cook breakfasts for us. I am more surprised by this turn than you may be. As much as I love cooking, and as much as I love taking care of people, these are loves I’ve grown into, cultivated over time. Back then, I was definitely not a happy homemaker type, eager to please my man men.

But, clearly, I was. Manic Hostess Girl was lurking under my surface even then. I agonized over what I’d make and the fact that I didn’t have my favorite recipes handy. What (of course) turned out to be true was it didn’t matter what I cooked or how well I cooked it. When you’re cooking for men who’ve been eating sardine paste on stale bread, anything you cook is going to taste like heaven.

After our long, delicious sojourn, we were ready to head for Spain. We made the drive in no time, seeing as we were practically at the border already. We stayed together a couple of days in Seville, but by then I needed to be getting my meandering self to Siena. I forget where Marcel was headed, but he left first. Roger and David drove me to the train station (no more hitching in Spain, thank you), and then drove to Morocco. I’ve always regretted not going with them, but my friend was waiting in Italy (and I could feel that, without Marcel, the dynamic in the truck would have gotten weird fast).

We said our goodbyes, and I watched my Englishmen and their milk truck drive away. And thus ended my stay in the Leyland.

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Roadtripping with your friends in a converted bus is a fabulous idea, but even 30 years ago, I knew it wasn’t an idea we’d made up. And, when you decide to let that photo inspire you, remember to build more creature comforts into your bus. You’ll want more than beds!


 So that was shamefully long-winded! If you’ve made it this far, you’re a kind and special person. You deserve a treat, and here it is:

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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Happy first day of spring! It’s felt so long in coming this year. I know winter might have one last breath to blow our way, but I’m not worrying about that now. I’m thinking about warm breezes, bright green new leaves unfurling, and the blooming of the forsythia — always my favorite sign of spring.

I’m also thinking about this:

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I was looking through photos from my last Jamaica trip, and came across this guy and realized I never posted many (any?!) of my pictures from that trip.   This is from Falmouth, where I stayed for just a couple of days at the end of my trip.  I was sitting on the verandah of my little shack on the beach writing, saw something out of the corner of my eye … and there he was.  Slow-slow-slowly, I reached for my camera, hoping not to scare him off.  Not only did I not scare him away, I got to watch his excellent little show:

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And I thought about the ways in which we are often required to change so completely to fit our environments, the times when we wish we could change that completely, the times when blending in with the background is anything but desirable.  And I wondered what the lizard feels when he’s changing, how he knows he’s changed enough.  And I tried to remember how I’ve felt in those times when I’ve made a conscious effort to step out of the wallpaper and become visible.

I’ve been focusing on change for a while now, since I made the decision to have my knee surgery, since I began to recover.  Not just the “simple” change of learning my life with this new joint, but deeper and more complex changes to who and how I am and what I want for and from myself.  I’ve been stumbling with a whole lot of one step forward, three steps back, letting fear hobble me.  I’m looking to do the lizard in reverse, step finally and fully away from the wallpaper and embrace my technicolor.  Yes, it means the birds will be better able to see me.  I say: Bring it.

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All the other slicers are hanging out over at Two Writing Teachers!

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