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Posts Tagged ‘Girls Write Now’

Had a great pair session with my mentee yesterday. We haven’t met in a couple of weeks because of my work schedule and her summer vacation, so it was extra especially nice to see her. She’s started doing the summer assignments she got for the AP classes she’ll be taking in the fall. For one of those assignments, she’s reading a book I hadn’t heard of, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs. In addition to reading, she has to do some reflective writing after every 20 pages. Never mind that I love this idea and think I should start doing it my own self with every book I read. It also inspired our writing for today.

I asked if there was a line or section that really stood out for her already – she’s only just started the book. She showed me a passage about Robert Peace’s mother, Jackie, that ended with this line: “She had a baby boy and she never saw a trace of pity or scorn in his eyes.”

And we started writing.

I thought I knew where I was going, but I went somewhere else entirely. And where I went shouldn’t be surprising, but it caught me off guard all the same.

* * *

“She had a baby boy and she never saw a trace of pity or scorn in his eyes.”

Because isn’t that part of what you hope for when you have children, that they will just love you, one hundred percent love you? No judgment, no anger or shame. Pure love. Of course.

And I think about my mother’s reaction after she read my first Hunger essay. She felt bad about herself as a mother, wondered how she never knew about the camp counselor, the man at church, the boy, how she never knew about these bad things that happened to me, how she never knew about any of the bad thinking that was going on in my head.

But how would she have known? She wasn’t with me every minute, and that would have been the only way she could have protected me from bad things, from bad people. And that wasn’t possible. And she isn’t psychic, so she certainly couldn’t have known about anything I was thinking if I didn’t tell her.

Her feeling bad about her mothering of me makes me sad. And it makes me think of that famous Anne Lamott quote, one of my favorite things I’ve read, ever: You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.

My mother did behave better. She was a great mother. Was she perfect? Of course not. Perfection would surely have made her an awful mother. Not perfect, but mine. And I have never looked at her with anything but love. Sometimes a desperate love, but always love. She’s my mother. I know that answer isn’t a given. But it is for me. Even when I haven’t agreed with her or wanted to do or be what she’s wanted me to do or be, my mother has always been one of those people who I love completely. And maybe part of that is that I’ve always known that she loves me the same way. Even when she hasn’t understood me, when she’s been puzzled or disturbed by me, when she’s wished I’d go another way, she has always been fiercely in love with me. How can I not reciprocate?

I own everything that’s happened to me. And I’m telling my stories. But I don’t want the barbs strung through my stories to catch her soft, smooth skin. I don’t want to hurt her, to make her question my love for her. I will write about her warmly … but I will also tell other parts of our story. Yes, her sending me to Weight Watchers when I was 13 was a mistake. Yes, a mistake that came from a place of love, but still a mistake. And all these things can be true at once – her love for me and not knowing how to make the world safe for me, my love for her and my honesty about her impact on my life.

I like to tell this funny thing about my mother. I’ve always said how lucky I am because I don’t have to worry about how my mother will react to the things I write about her … because she has always read my work backwards: when I’ve written stories that weren’t about her, she’s read them and asked how I’ve remembered so many of the details. When I’ve written things that were absolutely about her, she’s marveled at the power of my imagination. And that was sort of perfect. But it is clearly now done. I’m telling my stories, and she’s seeing herself in the lines.

There are a lot more Hunger essays to come. I don’t know if any of them will be as hard for her to read as that first one, but there will definitely be hard moments. And I worry.

I worry about how she will respond to things I write, how she’ll see herself in my words. I don’t want her to ever think that I see her with even the barest trace of pity or scorn. I see her. I see the woman she was trying to be in the face of the world she was in. I see her learning how to make a way every time the floor disappeared from under her. I see her standing up for us, her three very different, not at all easy children. I see her. I am impressed by who she is, who she was, all the ways she stays open to learning and growing.

Do I wish things for her? Of course. But not to change the past. That’s something I told her when we talked about that Hunger essay and she was wishing I’d been born to a better mother. Change one thing, change the world. If she’d been whatever that idea of a “perfect mother” was, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. “I like who you are today,” she said. Yeah. Me, too. And the person she is. I like how we’ve grown up to have this powerful, loving friendship, and that I can still count on her to mother me the way I sometimes need mothering.

So I keep digging, keep writing. I know there will be hard moments for her. And I know we’ll come through them. No pity. No scorn. Only love.



I’m following Vanessa Mártir‘s lead, she launched #52essays2017 after writing an essay a week in 2016 … and then deciding to keep going.
I’m months behind on my #GriotGrind, but I’m determined to catch up, to write 52 essays by year’s end.

 

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Tonight was the second Chapters reading for Girls Write Now mentees, and Sophia was on the bill! She was so nervous, but she was great! All the girls were great. I’m always so amazed by the writing I hear at Chapters, by the power and beauty and honesty and vulnerability and humor. These girls are fire. 100%

A favorite moment came from the mentee who was co-emcee of the evening. When it was time for her to read out the name of the raffle winner, she took the paper and looked at it quizzically then leaned into the mic and said, “The winner is … Moonlight!”

The mentee/mentor emcee pair will be a hard act to follow. And that’s exactly what Sophia and I will have to do in two months when we emcee the June Chapters! I’m already stressing about what to wear and what I’ll do with my hair.

I’m so honored and proud to get to work with Sophia, to get to know the other mentees and mentors that are part of GWN. Such a great evening. Can’t wait to get back to work with Sophia on Tuesday!

Fire

Fierce, beautiful words
these young writers are power.
Their energy shines
reminding me: stay open,
keep trusting my voice
keep welcoming my muses
there is treasure here.
There is music and magic
all of this is free —
free … in exchange for the work
in exchange for faith
and yes: the blood, sweat, and tears,
the torture of the blank page.

_____

A chōka is a Japanese form poem with a specific syllable count per line. The shortest form of chōka  is: 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 7. The 5- and 7-syllable lines can repeat as many times as needed. The poem’s end is signaled by the extra 7-syllable line. The final five lines can be used to summarize the body of the poem.



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My mentee, Sophia, and I are working on our submissions for this year’s Girls Write Now anthology. Every year, GWN mentees and mentors get published together. It’s a lovely thing. The mentees, of course, are the stars of the show, so their pieces are more substantial. That’s the tricky part for someone as long-winded as I am! How to say what I want to say in only a handful of words?

Sophia and I have been brainstorming and free writing, trying to decide what we want to write about. She’s had a couple of writing deadlines in the last month, so some of our free writing has led to work that she’s developed for her other submissions. In January, she wrote a snippet of something that seemed like the tiniest frozen sliver hiding a colossal iceberg beneath its surface. I suggested she think about working on that for the anthology since we had so much time before the anthology piece would be due.

But now the piece is due (in a week), and our work is still pretty amorphous. She has added several additional snippets to the first, and each is powerful and compelling, but the work hasn’t yet come together. We’ve been in this place before, with Sophia writing all the way around a thing and then — just in time for the deadline — writing exactly the bit she needed but couldn’t find. We’re going to work for a while on Saturday, and my fingers are crossed that we’ll have one of those breakthroughs. I shouldn’t expect it, of course, but it’s clear that this is one of the ways Sophia and I mirror each other as writers. How many times have I woken up on the day of a reading with nothing to read? And on how many of those days have I “magically” managed to write something in time for the reading? Hmm … I’m seeing another mentor goal for myself: help move Sophia away from this nerve-wracking habit!

While it’s not necessary, each year that I’ve been volunteering with GWN, my mentee and I have chosen to write on the same subject. I like the companion-piece aspect of that, like that our pieces seem to expand in relation to one another. Sophia is writing about her relationship with her father … and heaven knows I have more than what to say about my relationship with my own father, so I thought writing my anthology piece would be easy.

Ha! Guess again.

Of course.

I’ve written so much about my father. And in some ways, that’s the problem. Not that I think I’ve said everything there is to say, but maybe I’ve said all of the easy things to say, the things I can say with the fewest words. And, too, I have to write something that connects, at least tenuously, to this year’s program theme: Rise, Speak, Change. I really like that theme, but I’m not sure any of the things I’ve been thinking to say about my relationship with my father can be bullied into fitting the theme.

Oy. Time to get to work.



It’s March 1st: The start of the 2017 Slice of Life Story Challenge! This is the 10-year anniversary of Slice of Life, which is hard to believe. I started this blog a month before discovering Two Writing Teachers. When that first SOL challenge started, I had no idea what I was doing as a blogger. I always credit that 2008 SOL crew — I think there were 12 of us then? — with making me into a blogger, and I credit them still. Today, there are hundreds of folks participating in the challenge. Every day, writers will post their links over on TWT. I definitely recommend clicking through to the site and checking out some of the work there!

 

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My introduction on Saturday to erasure poems has spawned an obsession. At our pair session yesterday, my mentee and I — in between lots of storytelling and laughter — tried our hands at it again. And then I went home and “wrote” another. During the pair session, I used an article about Brazil from a travel magazine. My night time source text was the editor’s note in the Family Circle magazine that showed up in my mailbox.

I neglected to say what an erasure poem is when I wrote about them on Saturday. Here’s the definition we were given to work from (which I realize as I look at it now that I haven’t actually followed at all!):

Erasure poems use a source text that is already written. For example, you can take a page of a book, and that would be your source text. You would then “erase” by crossing out the words you don’t want in your poem. Poems are created with what’s left after the words are erased without adding to it or rearranging parts of it. We preserve some phrasing, but we form new images, ideas, and meanings.

That makes more sense than what I did! I only used individual words, no phrases. That surely explains why my poems make no sense. But I still like them!

Here’s the one I “found” from the travel article:

Between the summer
sprawling, isolated miles
far beyond this coastline.
A tiny village
slice of perfect peace
an adventure
a boat ride
a room.
Beyond days
colorful, turquoise footpaths,
waterfalls.
Remote home.
Protected.
Wild.

I’ll try another now that I’ve actually read the instructions properly. We’ll see what emerges.

So here’s some craziness: I go on and on (and on) about poetry, about my inability to think of myself as a poet, of how self-conscious I am about writing poetry. Then how to explain the fact that I came very close to applying for a poetry fellowship this week? I found out about it only a few hours before the deadline, and that’s the only reason I didn’t apply. I didn’t have enough time to find folks to be my references and to write my letter of intent. That’s all that held me back. Not my terror of poetry or of calling myself a poet. What was I thinking? How weird is that? I honestly don’t know what to make of my actions. What will I do next?

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This past April, I didn’t write a single poem. And maybe that doesn’t matter, but it does, too. Every April since 2008 I’ve written poems. Every April since 2009, I’ve done a poem a day for the month. But this year I couldn’t make it happen. My poetry brain shut down. Part of that, surely, was rustiness — for writing in general, but definitely for poetry. I kicked myself over it. A lot. But I finally had to just let it go. It was clear that I wasn’t going to produce any poems, and I needed to move on. I had another knee surgery looming on my horizon, and I had work to do. So I moved on.

But it still ate at me.

And then today, for our third Girls Write Now genre workshop, we wrote poetry. Specifically, found poetry. No matter how many poems I write, writing poetry scares me. Always and always. And, at the close of a year in which I failed to meet my annual poetry challenge, I was more scared than I would usually be. But I have such a good time working with my mentee*, I was looking forward to today’s workshop, despite the looming threat of poetry. Our guest presenter was the amazing poet, Rupi Kaur, and she led us through the creation of our first poem of the day. She wanted us to respond to a series of questions … from the point of view of wallpaper. When she said it, my brain immediately relaxed. Because I could write anything, right? As wallpaper, there was no pressure. I didn’t need to make sense, didn’t need to be clever or “right,” I could just go with whatever came into my head. She asked questions such as, “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” and “How do you feel?” And I tried to just write my answers, not worry overmuch about the line that came before or whether or not the end result would amount to anything. And the end result gets weird in places, but it works, too:

In Situ

I am thick with dried glue, stuck fast to plaster
I am lonely — who looks here? Who really sees me?
To flap free in wind, a flag proclaiming a nation …
instead, here — these dry frames blocking the sun, nails in my eyes.
I could have wrapped novels, embraced classics.
Where will I go when the family leaves, the renovation begins?
If only my stripes and curves had value, were valued —
if only I hadn’t bent to the axe blade, given myself to the pulper.
There was shine and power in that new roll,
but that doesn’t excuse bringing my sisters with me.
My sisters, who could have made their own choices.

And then moonlight drapes over me, a silver renewal, washing clean.
I feel myself then — all adornment, all quiet civility —
here, gilding these walls, creating comfort, home.

It’s weird (and that title is annoying), but there are bits that I like. And overall, I like the reminder: that I can put words together however they come together, that I don’t have to agonize over everything all the time, that I am allowed to write things that don’t work and don’t make sense and won’t stand the test of … well … anything. And it doesn’t matter. I can write nonsense and move on to the next thing. I’m amazed at how easily and often I forget that, how adeptly I construct barriers between myself and my writing.

After the wallpaper musing, we worked on erasure poems, taking texts and “finding” our poems within them by crossing out (erasing) the words we don’t want in our poem. And I found a magazine article about making cheese … and created two poems that make no sense at all but which I like very much.

(Untitled 1)

This story, perfect storm.
Community, all, fair weather,
able.
Now made the bargain
opportunities
independent,
opportunity learned.
You —
with specifics,
craft.

(Untitled 2)

I came one day —
delicious-looking.
I asked. He said.
Continued making, starting,
following, famous.

I didn’t know our privilege.
I found minutes
realized opportunity,
a hands-on reality.

She agreed.
They would.
I needed, I could.
I worked truly,
indirectly,
next.

A fun day for this rusty, gun-shy girl. Before leaving the workshop, I grabbed an article about Brazil from a travel mag … I feel more erasure poems coming on!

_____
* I have a new mentee! Naima, who I had the absolute pleasure of working with these last three years, graduated in June and is now off in college. So, in September, I was paired with Sara … and I completely adore her.

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I met with my mentee this morning for a couple of hours. I’ve been volunteering with Girls Write Now for three years now. It’s so hard to believe it’s already three years, and that Naima is about to graduate from high school. Being her mentor has been a great experience for me — and for her, too, I hope! — and I’m excited to see her move into the next stage of her life as she starts college in the fall, and I’m already thinking ahead to what I’ll do next year. Yes, I can re-up as a mentor and meet a new, equally-wonderful young woman to work with. And it’s likely that I’ll do exactly that. But Naima and I clicked so instantly and our meetings were great from the start. Surely I can’t get that lucky twice in a row.

But those decisions are for another day. Today was about laughing over cups of tea at our favorite cafe and doing some writing. I found some great writing prompts on the Warren Wilson College website, and we’ve been working through them. We’ve tried writing stories using only one-syllable words (so hard!) and writing a story that’s 26 sentences long, each sentence beginning with the next letter of the alphabet. Today we wrote about our first names — why they were chosen for us, what stories are attached to them, what they mean.

I have a few months of Sunday morning hangouts with Naima left. I’m already feeling nostalgic for them.


We’re almost halfway through the 2016 edition of 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!

SOL image 2014

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This morning I learned that Speaker Man had a truly not-cool interaction with another black man at one of these meetings several months ago. I learned this as I was on my way out the door because …

Today was a Girls Write Now workshop day. And today’s genre was poetry. And I was thinking about Speaker Man and his shenanigans. So, when it became clear we were going to write poems in the voice of some person or animal or object, I knew I was going to write as Speaker Man. And then I remembered a wonderful poetry exercise I did a few months ago, writing one side of a conversation. Then, after lots of pre-writing and discussion, we got to the “Compelled to Speak” exercise and had to actually craft our poems. And so …

Compelled to Speak

I. Call

You say you notice a pattern?
In my behavior?
Listen —
I know myself.
I know what’s in my heart.
Any “pattern” you think
you see —
that’s about you.
I sleep well at night.
I can look in the mirror and like who I see.
Whatever pattern you see,
that’s your imagination.

Listen —
I have black friends.

I have a black friend.
And if you asked him about me —
How long have I known him?
For years.
How do I know him?
Does that matter?
I think you’re straying from —
What’s his name?
Do you think I don’t know his name?

Well, I don’t know his name, exactly,
but we get along fine.
He doesn’t care
what I call him.
Well, I call him “Chief,” or “Boss.”
Well, of course I know your name.
I’ve confused you with Margaret?
Have I? Called you her name?
Talked to you about her program
as if it were yours?
Don’t be so sensitive.
I meet a lot of people.
Sometimes I get confused.
Listen —
none of this creates a pattern.
Why do you have to make everything about race?
Why are you so angry?

And then we did some small-group reading and discussion and everyone wrote out questions they had about each poem, things they wanted to hear more about. One of the questions I got was: What was the tone on the other side of the conversation? Is it your intention to let the reader decide?

To the second question, yes. Yes, I want the reader to imagine what the other speaker’s tone might be. For the first question, I wrote a second poem during the final workshop activity:

II. Response

Do I make everything about race?
Okay, maybe. Probably.
But would I have to
if you didn’t shower me in microaggressions?

You’re right — I’m so angry.
I’m always angry.
I’m glad you can hear it.

Do you think
I enjoy making everything about race?
I would rather
talk, just talk.
I would rather live. Just live.
But you brought us here.
You let your inner white supremacist out.

You brought us here.
And you’ve got me by the throat,
so I can’t help but follow.

I’m not particularly fair to Speaker Man here. (Big surprise.) He’ll have to write his own poems if he wants kinder treatment.

I, in all my stubbornly-proud not-a-poet-ness, like both of these. Not because they’re great poems, but because it was a great exercise, thinking about what confronting Speaker Man might have been like was a great way for me to think through yesterday.


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

 

__________

FYI: My apologies to anyone who subscribes to the blog who got a message about a different post this morning. You may have clicked over here and found there was no such post. Yes, that would be what happens when I click “publish” instead of “save draft.” I hadn’t written much of that post, and then I went to Girls Write Now and was inspired to write a whole other post, so I’ll get to the “Leland” post tomorrow.

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