24 Hours: Do I Dare?

What is it with me and challenges? I can’t resist them. Cannot. I never used to think of myself as a competitive person, but I so am. And that’s part of the driver behind my saying yes to challenges. I’m competing: against the ridiculousness of the challenge, against myself.

I think it throws me back to taking a dare as a kid. Someone would thrown down some petty or foolish gauntlet, and I would immediately feel the pull to dive in and prove … who knows what, but prove it all the same. Clearly, I’ve never outgrown the inability to resist that pull.

All this to say I can’t resist. Generally speaking, the challenges I take on are fairly mild. They come in the form of, say, doing NaNoWriMo. Or the 30/30 poetry month challenge … and sweetening the pot by choosing a poetry form and writing that form all month long. Not easy for me, but pretty harmless.

The 24 Hour Project is one of the challenges that keeps captivating me year after year. It tests me on different levels:

  1. Can I stay awake and mostly functional for 24 hours?
  2. Can I find something or someone to photograph every hour of the day?
  3. Will I be able to imagine a story to write for each photo I post each hour (this is the “sweetener” I’ve added to the basic rules of the 24HrPrj)?
  4. Will I be able to get all the photos of people that I want without being spotted (I fail this every year, always get busted at least once)?
  5. Will I venture into neighborhoods I haven’t visited on previous 24HrPrj days?
  6. Will I post all my “leftovers” after the day — all the pics that didn’t go up on the challenge day but which I still want to make stories for (I haven’t succeeded with this one this year … yet)?
  7. If I’m going out alone, will I settle into the fun of the challenge and not let the worry and discomfort of being alone on the street in the middle of the night sour my good mood and make it hard for me to take pictures (this one is really a crap shoot and has as much to do with me as it does with who else is out on the street in the middle of the night)?

Is it any wonder that I love this challenge when it has so many challenges baked in?

I had a lot of fun this year … after I managed to succeed at Number 7, calming down about being by myself. Both of the friends who’ve gone out with me in the past weren’t able to do the Project this year. I did wind up running into my friend S, the person who introduced me to the challenge. I spotted him in Times Square around 4 am and hung out with him and a few other 24 Hour Photogs for a couple of hours then met up with him for another couple of hours in the evening.

I was rusty with the story-making. Not only was the Project Covid-canceled last year, being in quarantine for the last forever has meant not being out and about that much, not taking pictures, not having the catalysts/inspiration to make up stories.

So yes, quite rusty. But after a couple of hours it began to feel easier. There’s a picture from the two o’clock hour that was the turning point. I had found an all-night diner (key establishments for making it through the Project, to be sure) and took a picture of a police officer who was having dinner and a very involved conversation with his partner. In the picture, he is studying the menu. The combination of his serious face and the fact that he reminded me of a friend’s son and echoed her older brother who had been a police officer all clicked for me and the story just fell into my head. From that point forward, the stories came more quickly and smoothly.

*

I miss my city. Eighteen months in my room is a long time to be separated from people watching, grabbing a coffee at a favorite café, chatting with store employees, having random and excellent encounters with strangers.

That last one is one of the things that struck me hardest during the 24 Hour Project. I miss talking to strangers, something I’ve always done quite a lot of … but not since Covid came to town. Around 7:30 Saturday morning, having seen my way through the long midnight-to-dawn of the challenge, I was headed home to charge my devices and recharge myself. I stopped in my grocery story because I still needed a photo for the hour. I saw an elderly woman I wanted to take a picture of. I did take a picture, but she surprised me by starting to talk to me.

Not only did she talk to me, but she was funny and sweet. At two moments in our conversation, she reached over and put her hand on my arm. You know, the way you reach for a friend’s arm when you’re talking and you want to emphasize your shared feeling at that instant. And she did it twice.

I am a toucher. I like affectionate physical contact. Not with everyone, of course, but yes, I like it. Having this woman touch me in this conversationally intimate way — after a forever of almost no physical contact, when we were strangers, when she was a tiny elderly white woman and I a big, Black woman — it was absolutely beautiful. It made my heart smile.

I have missed this type of sweetness my city has always given me. Yes, the city has given me some ugly moments, too, for sure. But I get much more of the random kindness and connection of that exchange in the chips and cookies aisle.

* * *

(My 24-Hour experience this year was a warm welcome back to my city. But what a difference a couple of weeks can make. I was out taking my pictures on July 24th … and now, Delta is threatening new lockdowns. I’m glad we got the Project in before the tide started to turn, and I really hope we can stay on the safer side of this variant wave.)

Do I dare? Well, I certainly always do when it comes to the 24 Hour Project. It’s such a great idea and a fun event, and I love following people from around the world, getting to see a day in their cities. This year I followed two Italians, a Pole, two Mexicans, one Turk, a couple of Australians, and a handful of people around this country. In a sense, I guess it’s a virtual way to have a random conversation with a stranger.

I need to get back to posting my leftovers … and some of the shots I’ve captured since the event. I’m already looking forward to next year!


It’s Tuesday, which means it’s Slice of Life day!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
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Original Slicer - GirlGriot

NOLA, Darling

The second trip I took with my mother was a tag-along trip. She was headed to New Orleans for a conference and invited me to share her hotel room. “I always get a double queen,” she explained, and said I should get a plane ticket and come on down. So I did. She was at work all day, but we had our nights to roam the city together, and it was pretty delightful. Because it was New Orleans and because it was my mother. And so …


Sense Memory
(or, Dreaming inside Her Dreams, 2)
Forty-eight, traveling with my mother

Is heat the secret, the magic key?
Those nights in New Orleans
unlocked new doors
slipped her back and back,
into her childhood
into memories you’d never heard before.

That first night, walking through the Quarter
searching for dinner
settling, heat-flattened
in a tiny, crowded spot.
She was tired, a little depleted
enjoying her meal but subdued.
Then she tried the bread pudding.
One taste —
her face opened.
She smiled, closed her eyes, smiled more deeply.
It wasn’t just good
it was memory.
It brought her mother to the table.
You watched her change,
leaned in as the stories began.

That night on the tram,
windows open to thicken the stifling air
both of you half conscious
the heat drawing you down, under.
Then the story began again —
her first visit to New Orleans as a child,
her aunt who lived in
working for a fancy family on the avenue.
Stories from behind the scrim,
the curtain she kept drawn over her past,
spilling one over the other,
what she knew, what she saw,
what she dreamed, what she lived.

And what you wouldn’t give
to take her back and back again
into her memories
into the stories you’d always wanted to hear.

Every night of that mid-summer trip,
both of you soft and wilted in the heat.
It let her guard slip,
let the girl of her come out
come quietly out and into your arms.
Your sweet mother,
a woman you’d never known playing behind her eyes.


It’s National Poetry Month!

As I have done for the last forever, I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April. I don’t always succeed, but I always give it my best shot. This year, the form I’ve chosen is the epistolary poem — poems written in the form of an epistle or letter. They are also called verse letters and letter poems. I’ve also chosen a theme for the month. Each “letter” is going to be written to a younger me: 12-year-old me on the first day of junior high, 5-year-old me navigating the overt racism of her kindergarten class, etc.

National-Poetry-Month-2020

Equilibrium Shift

Epistolary poems, eh? That’s what I wanted? That’s what I wanted? Why?

Yes, this is a familiar place for me: choosing a form for April … and immediately regretting my choice because the form presents challenges. Yeah, sounds about par for the course.

I got lucky yesterday. Luck … and reading the lyrics to Leonard Cohen’s “The Famous Blue Raincoat” are what got me through that poem. Today, I’ve already hit a wall. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing with an epistolary poem. Am I talking to younger me? Am I just reminiscing? I am just painting pictures of the past? I’m stuck before I even start.

Needless to say, I’m not thrilled with tonight’s attempt. My fingers are crossed for some growth and change for tomorrow.


Equilibrium Shift
Nine years old, Troy

You’re not going to love it here,
but it’ll be okay.
You’ll be here two years.
You can hold on for two years.
And you’ll be smart here — you’ll trust fear.
You’ll recognize danger
and steer yourself wide, away.
You’ll be bullied here
but remember — it’s just for two years.

It won’t be all bad.
You’ll learn to climb trees.
You’ll meet a crazy, kind old woman
who’ll treat you with care.
(How you knew she was a safe place …
I still can’t fathom.)
You’ll have your first for-real best friend.
You’ll rediscover the power of words,
wielding them deftly, both shield and lance.
They will build you an arsenal
a fortress
freedom.

It won’t be all bad,
but it will be bad.

One day your mom will miss your signals.
She’ll agree to a playdate you want her to refuse.
That will be a bad day,
a choose-your-words-carefully scary day.
You’ll feel the shift in your equilibrium,
a strange internal shudder,
and it will tell you —
the people smiling into your face intend to harm you. Yes.
But you’ll come through.

Why write you now?
If everything’s fine, why focus here?
There’s something you know, something about you,
something I need to accept, to protect.
I should have advice, helpful things to tell you,
instead, I look at you with surprise.
You’re such a puzzle to me —
who are you?
Nearly 50 years later and more worldly wise,
I’ve yet to process the secrets you’re holding.
I can tell you which choices I’d make differently now
as if you might care what path I’d choose.
I can tell you again that it won’t all be bad …

In the end, I want to tell you I see you,
take you back to that day when you saved your own life.
I want your hand in mine as we walk down the street,
your hand in mine all the way across town
back toward Burdett Avenue — your house, your family,
toward as much safety as that town could allow.
I know it works out. I know they don’t hurt you.
I know you get home. I know that you’re fine.
Still,
I offer my fangs, my claws —
you needed a lioness that day, and I want to be her.


It’s National Poetry Month!

As I have done for the last forever, I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April. I don’t always succeed, but I always give it my best shot. This year, the form I’ve chosen is the epistolary poem — poems written in the form of an epistle or letter. They are also called verse letters and letter poems. I’ve also chosen a theme for the month. Each “letter” is going to be written to a younger me: 12-year-old me on the first day of junior high, 5-year-old me navigating the overt racism of her kindergarten class, etc.

National-Poetry-Month-2020

Ages and Stages

It’s April first, the start of National Poetry Month … and of National Poetry Writing Month. I’ve decided not to keep going with the pantoum, not to keep breaking my heart with #SayHerName poems. I’m not saying I’ll never go back to one, the other, both. This isn’t that year, though. Today, in our time of pandemic, I’m choosing not to sink myself into such a deeply painful place.

I looked at a lot of poetry forms and narrowed my choices down to three and sort of had my eye very particularly on one. And then last weekend I went to a poetry salon, and the homework assignment we were given was exactly that same particularly form. And then I opened today’s prompt for Souleika Jaouad’s “The Isolation Journals,” and it was talking about the same thing. And so here I am, with epistolary poems.

It’s hardly surprising, right? We’re all cut off from one another. It seems only natural that we’d be craving comforting contact, comforting forms of contact. So of course: letter writing. When we first went on lockdown, I made a list of people who are far from me and decided to write a letter a week. And I’m certainly not alone. I’ve read so many posts about letter-writing in the last few weeks. So, to have my salon homework be writing an epistolary poem, to have Souleika Jaouad’s first prompt be to write a journal entry that’s a letter … well, it all just fits. This is where we are. This is where we’re going to be for some time.

In the salon, we were asked to write a to a past self, to pick an age and focus on who we were then, and write to that someone. I’ve had that prompt before, writing a letter to my child self. It always appeals to me. And it appeals to me now.

And that’s my challenge for April: to write an epistolary poem to long (and not-so-long) ago versions of myself. Maybe I’ll play around with meter or rhyme scheme, maybe not. I’m not going to bother with chronological order. I’ll just pick whatever age calls my name each day. And maybe there will be more than one poem for certain ages. I mean, God knows some years are so full or so butt-kicking that they’ll demand more than one poem.

And so, we begin. Happy poetry month, y’all!


Stitched into Silence
First day, junior high

Do you remember those jeans you embroidered?
You worked so hard, spent weeks getting them right.
You covered that denim in flower-power and peace signs
stitched S.W.A.K. over your right ass cheek,
a Black Power fist across the left.

You wore them once.

Do you remember? You worked so hard,
stitching, stitching, stitching long into those late-summer nights.
You couldn’t wait for school to start.
You couldn’t wait to be seen.

Junior High!
And weren’t you practically grown?
You’d had your first kiss,
you’d read Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret
          (though not yet The Bluest Eye.)

Junior high.
And you’d be ready that first day,
your jeans and their story,
jeans that would announce your arrival,
jeans that would wink and wave as you left.

You wore them once.

Because your sleepy, backward town couldn’t see you,
wasn’t ready to know you,
was so stuck in its 1950s timewarp
it had no place for your flower-child fantasy.

Even your friends laughed.
Even your friends.
At the end of the day, you took off the jeans,
folded and hid them in the back of your closet,
folded and hid all those possibilities,
stitched yourself into the background, into silence.

I’m here to tell you that those jeans were fire.
They were all the things you believed them to be —
cute, flirty, smart, funny
and that ivy down the side made your legs look so long.
I want to go back to that day in September
to say you were right and your friends were all wrong.

Grab those jeans from the closet, hop on your bike.
Ride down Westcott singing at the top of your lungs.
Who cares if your friends laugh —
who are they to judge you?
Stand up on the pedals, flash that fist in the air.
You are magic. You are magic. You are magic.


National-Poetry-Month-2020

The Wild Unknown

Since August of last year, I’ve had the pleasure of co-hosting a monthly storytelling event at an art gallery in Brooklyn. This is the show’s sixth season. It was started by a poet who has a love of the oral tradition, of the magic of stories around the campfire. Every year, he selects a pair of hosts, and every month the hosts bring two storytellers in to share 15-minute tales with the always-appreciative audience.

Three years ago, a friend of mine was hosting and he invited me to come tell a story. OMG, but that was fun! I was crazy-nervous, but it was also great to get to share some of myself in that way.

When I was asked to host, I was excited to give it a try. I had, however, no idea what I was getting myself into. Finding storytellers is hard. But really hard. Sometimes people say “Yes!” right away, but sometimes I ask one person after another and come up empty again and again. And even once I have people, I have no idea what to expect. I haven’t asked people who are storytellers, and everyone is super nervous about having to tell a story — not read something they’ve written, but stand in front of people and tell. I’ve asked people who are interesting to me, people who I know have a lot of interesting things about them. These things don’t mean they’ll tell a good story, but I am lucky: they always do tell good stories! The challenge of coming to be a storyteller unlocks a new door for them, I think. I mean, many of the people I’ve invited are writers, so they definitely understand a lot about how stories work. But writing a story isn’t really as much like telling one as you might think.

One pure joy of this hosting journey has been my completely delightful co-host, a young woman who is an artist and an actor and who creates in so many amazing ways, and who is full of energy and light. We connected as soon as we were introduced, and are already planning future projects to work on after our hosting year has ended. I can’t wait to see what our next adventure will be!

We’ve been having a lot of fun on this ride … and then COVID-19 hit. Our little Park Slope gallery with barely enough space for five people to distance themselves socially wasn’t going to be open for this month’s event. So … we did what half the world has done lately: we went on Zoom!

I was nervous: what if no one showed up, what if my computer froze (it’s done that in a few of my meetings this week), what if someone noticed that my house is a mess?! You know, all the worries.

But … all the worries were over nothing. Tonight was so much fun!

A — People came. As we approached start time, my computer screen started to do that intro-to-the-Brady-Bunch thing with all the squares popping up to show who’s joining the meeting. Not only did people come, but they came from places they wouldn’t normally be able to join from! We had folks joining from Long Island and Colorado. My cohost is Australian, and her mom zoomed in from outside Melbourne! So tonight was our first international showcase!*

B — People were so nice. This is one of the things I love about our in-person event, the way the audience is always ready to embrace the storytellers. And that was definitely true tonight.

C — The storytellers were sweet and open and wonderful. It’s such a gift to have people give you their stories, to trust you to hear them. I feel so lucky every time.

Every month, we have a theme for the evening. We’ve tried to have our themes connect to whatever show is up in the gallery. And we pick them well in advance. This month’s theme was “The Wild Unknown,” picked when we had no idea we were about to be plunged into the wildest of unknowns. Couldn’t have had a better theme for tonight.

COVID-19 didn’t beat us, couldn’t keep us down! We laughed and cried and laughed together. Which is maybe a good thing to remember as we shelter in place and pray for safe passage through this unsettling and straight-up terrifying time.

Storytelling can move us. Storytelling can connect us. Storytelling can make magic even when we’re not in the same physical space together. Storytelling is how we weave ourselves and our worlds together. I am so lucky to be a part of this. And I can’t wait to do it again in April!

__________
* I really just want to say, “Wicked cool!” when I’m this happy and excited. I’m trying to rein it in …


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot