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Posts Tagged ‘things I love’

That’s what my mentee said when I told her about the Slice of Life Story Challenge, “Slice of Life. It sounds like a pie.” We were sitting in our regular place — a coffee shop a few blocks from my job. I had my regular drink — a large chai latte — and we had already spent at least 30 minutes laughing and talking and were settling down to write. At first I suggested we try a poem, since I have National Poetry Month on my mind. Then I thought I should tell her about the SOL challenge, and off we went: sitting across a blond wood table, surrounded by the music and buzz of the place, heads down, writing. My favorite part of Tuesday is that, right there.

Write —
dreams, rage,
forgiveness —
all the right words
all the wrong ones, too.
But —
Write. Write!
Words flowing.
It’s all you have,
all you really know.
Write.
And breathe.
This is it:
your own music,
your heart on the page.

Ha! A poem in spite of myself. The first attempt at an arun in more than two years!

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An Arun: a fifteen-line poem in three sets of five lines. Each set of five lines follows the same syllable structure: starting with one syllable and increasing by one (1/2/3/4/5 — 3x).



It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices

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On Thursday I wrote about getting the news that I hadn’t been awarded a writing residency I’d applied for. In their comments, Heidi from Wordsmithing and Akilah from The Englishist expressed interest in the DIY writing retreat I made for myself in 2012, and Akilah’s comment made me realize that I’d never written about it. So today I will.

In 2012, I decided to send myself away to write. In both 2010 and 2011 I’d gone to VONA and had my heart and mind and craft blown wide open. For 2012, I decided not to apply, but rather to take the money I’d spend on a VONA week and create a two-week writing vacation.

I was nervous about doing it because I’d never been particularly successful with writing on vacation in the past. I’d turned out a few pages, but mostly spent my time vacationing and maybe (maybe) writing in my journal. But those had all been vacations and not specifically writing retreats, and I wanted to believe that calling my trip something different would actually help flip whatever switch in my brain needed flipping to get me to be more productive.

So I planned.

  1. Find a place to go. I searched on Flipkey (like AirBnB) for a place to go. I searched in Mexico, in the Caribbean, in France, in Canada … Everything looked great, nothing looked right. And then I clicked to an apartment in Tulum and the first photo won me. It was a slightly fuzzy picture of a sunny kitchen table. When I saw it, the first thought I had was, “I could write there.”
  2. Figure out when to go. The retreat was going to be my birthday present to myself, so I wanted to go in the fall, as close to my birthday as possible.
  3. Make a plan for writing. I made my schedule very simple: I would write all morning and go to the beach in the afternoon (it was going to be Tulum, after all, home of one of the most beautiful beaches on the planet). I also signed up for an online writing class and planned the timing of the trip so that I’d be in the middle of the course while I was in Mexico.
  4. Make a plan for what you want to get done during the retreat. There was a story I’d been fighting with. I knew that, if I was ever going to find my way through that story, I needed to understand this one character I’d been avoiding. So I decided that I’d use my retreat to write about him, to figure out who he was so that I could make sense of what he was supposed to be doing in my story. I don’t know if this part of the equation is necessary for everyone, but having a specific project in mind before I started helped me. I wound up writing other things during the retreat, but having this clear idea already laid out in my head helped me know exactly where to begin on day one.

So I was good to go. I was still worried about whether I’d get much work done, but I figured I’d done as much planning as I could or should, and that I’d have to trust myself.

I got to Tulum, the apartment was as lovely as the photos had led me to believe, I set up my writing corner of the dining table, and went to sleep early so I’d be ready to dive in with my schedule the next morning.

My schedule didn’t work out at all. Not even a little. Here is how almost all of my days went:

I got up early and had a little something for breakfast. I sat down with a cup of coffee or tea and started working. After working for a while, I started to feel ravenously hungry and had to stop writing … which would be when I’d discover that it was somehow 3 or 4 or 5 in the afternoon, that I had been working all day.

Two weeks in Tulum, and I made it to the beach twice. Twice. That is actually a crime, I think.

But —

I wrote like a crazy person. I wrote more in those two weeks than I normally write in a whole year.

I have never felt more content, more perfectly at ease in my body, more perfect. I was completely exhausted at the end of every day and fast asleep before 11pm … and then up with the sun to start all over again.

A big part of the success of my retreat was signing up for that online class. It was a class with Minal Hajratwala. I’d taken an online class with her once before, so I knew what to expect. Minal is an amazing and amazingly generous instructor. The materials she prepares, the exercises she gives … always fabulous. I was taking her Blueprint Your Book class during my retreat, and I had a huge breakthrough thanks to two of the exercises she gave us. She is an entirely lovely person, and if you have the chance to take one of her classes, I enthusiastically recommend it.

__________

It’s definitely not necessary to go to Tulum or to go away for two weeks to make a DIY retreat work. You can stay right in your town. You can:

  • Find an AirBnB place that’s not crazy expensive (my apartment in Tulum was $50 a night), rent it for as many days as you can, and go write.
  • Apartment swap with a friend who lives a short train ride or drive away, sit at her desk or at his kitchen table, and write.
  • Stay in a hotel for the weekend, order room service, tell housekeeping to leave you alone, and write.
  • Find a co-working space that will let you rent for 2, or 5, or 7 days, and let the fact that you’ve paid for the space inspire you to actually spend those 2, or 5, or 7 days writing.

The important things are to 1) set aside time to work, 2) be in a place where you can work without interruption, and 3) hold yourself accountable to giving yourself that time.

I’m looking forward to planning a retreat for myself for the end of the summer. I don’t know if I could ever be as insanely productive as I was in 2012, but I like having that bar to aim for.



It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices

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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!

SOL image 2014

 

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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!

SOL image 2014

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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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