"I dunno he was just very strange, he wanted, he talked with me very clearly and insisting--like intensely looking right at me and at great length but smiling about the simplest commonplace subjects but we both knew we meant everything else that we said-"
Kerouac's The Subterraneans
Writing Process Blog Tour is an exercise that my buddy, the Ultimate Clare Ultimo asked me to be part of. My post is delayed, but my sentiment is current. She was connected to this project through our friend and mentor, Annie Lanzillotto, author of L is For Lion.
I met Annie almost a year ago, during her Women’s Creation Circle series. An old coworker pal of mine connected us because she felt that Annie and I shared the same philosophies and that I would grow as a writer, women, spiritual individual from being around her. For me, Annie re-instilled that I am an artist, first.
“You’ve got to be a crazy person to lock yourself in a room and write all day.” Annie Lanzillotto
Clare and I were a part of this cohort of women and one young man who gathered in a downtown restaurant on 2nd Ave and near 6th street on Sundays, last summer. We all shared our work, our fears, backgrounds, and the responsibilities that kept us from writing. Our name evolved into LOL: Literary Outlaws for Liberation. We had a secret handshake. Sometimes I practice it on the subway while traveling to work.
It had been awhile since I had shared my work in such an intimate setting, probably since college. We were opening up about personal loss and painful transgressions in hopes of putting “our shit on paper” like our sister Gloria Anzaldua told us. Tears were shared, community connections happened and art was offered. I am fortunate for my new, loving friend/survivors/advocates.
The Blog Tour questions and my answers:
1. What are you working on?
There’s two essays on my radar right now. The First is about archetypes. I can see myself standing in front of my recent archetypes/image fixation, with our noses touching. I haven’t opened my eyes yet, but at least we are facing each other. I am taking my concepts of the feminine and masculine damned binary and framing them against my life’s patterns. This has allowed me to unlock very deeply rooted systems and it feels good. All of that translates into my stories about my father, my lovers, and an incredible bowl of chili that I couldn't find the bottom of. I like to think of Annie as a catalyst for some “wicked hard” art therapy.
The other is called “Laundry” and it is about my love, my beacon. This piece is about sadness, as a choice and habit. And the realization that your lover's spirit can unlock any desired irritability. This is not attempt to discount/answer/disrespect mental health issues because I am someone who struggles heavily with depression. But I do want to value the divine spirits that are able to effortlessly lift us out of our darkness.
I write this for my baby.
Cat Power's "The Greatest" inspires this piece and is on heavy rotation.
2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?
I tend to write nonfiction...but my stories are similar to some of the fictitious narratives by other black women writers. Stories that tend to be closely related to my own story. Toni Morrison’s Pecola Breedlove from The Bluest Eye wove numerous threads into my context, as is the through line for many black women. These are narratives based on truth - blurring the lines of fiction and nonfiction. A blur that I find so fertile for valuable writing. This is work that raised me. Within my work, I attempt to use allegory and religiosity to deconstruct my racial and sexual identity. My fears, and, at times misguided context, serve as a landscape for my story. So right now, I don’t find my work to be fiction, but sometimes I tell my story like righteous mythology. I enjoy weaving in spirituality to bring clarity to my standpoint and to also develop some of the missing truths in my previous work. Very slowly, this is making my work less complicated and more direct. Friends, peers, and loved ones tend to ask for copies of my work after I have read it at public gatherings. I used to find this to be complimentary but I now I recognize how this magnified lyricism is a shroud for my objective-- my voice. I am working on making things less layered, less intellectual, and more ME. Perhaps, I will begin to write more fiction.
Personal history and geography:
I am queer black ex-ballerina(!) who was raised in Amish country. I moved to New York at 18 to complete my undergraduate education. After college, I spent a lot of time making theater, motherless, living in France, and hiding in my Astoria apartment. I discovered sex that satisfied me…. through men with crooked teeth and women with incredible smiles. I never knew that the intimacy I craved could be liberated through connecting to my femininity...and the femininity of others. I would love to discuss “coming out” by removing the “out” and discussing the extremely delicious “coming.”
And right now, I feel all types of HYPE about beginning the Creative Nonfiction MFA program at Sarah Lawrence this fall.
3. Why do you write what you do?
I Write to heal and create space for others. I write to offer the imagery that I didn’t have or wasn’t ready to behold for a very long time. I write to tell my story.
4. How does your writing process work?
First off, I gotta say, that Clare Ultimo and I are daughters from the same suckling tit or an eccentric breed from similar flesh--worshiping at the altar of our dear Annie Lanzillotto. After reading Clare’s post, I am loving how many connections there are. Specifically our simultaneous belief in Kerouac’s bible of passionate urgencies, “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose.” I have kept that list under my pillow for a decade. In July of 2007, I shared my own list called, "My Beatitudes". Here are two of my faves from his beatnik hum that lives in my mouth when I need some affirmation to roll between my teeth and gums.
be in love with yr life
you are a genius all the time.
In my early twenties, my process was very cerebral and automatic. I would bolt upward and jump out of bed at around 8:30, regardless of whether or not I was hungover, hungry, pissed off, freshly sexed, or freezing. I had an urgency to keep up my schedule. That was 2007 and posting on my blog was a requirement. I would read the news and pick out things that I wanted to write about and pontificate Djuna Barnes style on this blog. Also, I would return to a project, research publishing opportunities or just would write to feel free. After re-reading some of my previous posts, I marvel at the woman that created them. I want Her to walk in the room, I want to look at Her. I am no longer "her". Particles of Her still exist. However, I would like to combine Her confidence with the person I consider to be (for this post!) my evolved self.
But, as I grew older and my demons crept up begging for answers, it became harder to get out of bed. My head and heart were arguing which created an overwhelming space and I would spend hours staring at the ceiling in a waltz with my anxiety. There are years that I sincerely feel were wasted or live within the "fade to black" from the movies. The lights had not turned back on, life wasn't able to be lived....YET.
However, if I had a writing assignment or gig I would plug away at it. #ikonsmagazine
After joining the LOL writing group, my hunger was back. I was ready again. I needed to return as the omnivore that I declared myself to be many moons prior. I knew that I was queer; I just had a different name for it.
To raise the stakes on my ass, I started collaborating with a pal a few years ago. We became cyber pals and exchanged work via email or in written letters. Our collaboration still exists. Her name is Cindy, and I love her. She will be posting to the blogroll, next.
The next writers on my Blogroll are all family members. Here they are:
Nadine Friedman - feminist media critic and photographer, Piscean hermanita who is destined to live FOREVER
Ella Boureau - lesbian writer, editor of In the Flesh Magazine, kindred spirit a al Francais
Cindy Molina - Howell - Poet, photographer, and writing pal and stakeholder in my kinship family of dynamic queers
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Your silence will not protect you. Your silence will not protect you. Audre Lorde
Those words were rolling around in my mouth as I read through the several blogs posts and articles chronicling the untimely suicide of Karyn Washington, founder of For Brown Girls. Immediately, my bones stiffened like concrete and my heart began to thump briskly behind my breasts. This response is familiar; it arrives as a protective warning and physiological memory of trauma. Karyn and I had never met but in solidarity we carried a kinship of resonant armor. I was distressed by the reality that the darkness of mental health had taken another one of us. A darkness that has also visited me.
Here lies a complicated conversation surrounding silence. It truly demonstrates the abstract space of the individual, the shadow that seals the body in tight, discoloring our vision and making the world appear to exist very far away from us. A scrim used to protect and sometimes hide behind, but cannot always be removed. Her singular experience may never be able to be examined. The private qualities to mental illness. The darkest parts of vulnerability. The depth of repressed pain. These complexities are difficult to pattern or describe. They are real. Real enough that her emotional experience most likely existed like a violent, but familiar enemy lashing out unexpectedly. As we have seen. Some may believe that Karyn had the resources and belief systems she needed to rise above social naysayers and tackle the dense barriers inside of a black female body.
Is this proof of our silence not protecting us?
One will never know exactly what weighed on Karyn's heart. It is clear that there was a separate voice. Some of us will perceive it to be the consistent intake of obtuse energy towards black woman and the surrounding images that do not validate our experience. Otherness as a black body is frequent and discernable. It is consistently difficult, and inevitably comes within our deeply colonized territory. As a black female bodied individual, our oppression is like emptiness. It provokes a space of nameless importance, where beauty, generosity, creativity, and heart go unexamined. And when something is “left behind”, it can recoil and unleash in challenging ways. One can have the resources to advocate for others. Or one can fight alone. Now, it is difficult as her community wonders how things could have been different. Perhaps there was a missing phone call and lunch date. Or... perhaps there were particles that none will ever be able to understand or describe. I extend support to her community by reminding them that none of this was their fault. Karyn’s life, her work, and the hearts that she influenced will carry on through the spirit she developed within the mission of For Brown Girls.
In a piece by Ty Alexander entitled, I am Karyn Washington: Suicide, Depression, and the Mothers Who Left Us, Ty shares with us several email exchanges between her and Karyn, where Karyn reached out. They were commiserating as they individually and collectively coped with losing their mothers. (thank you for sharing, @allisonrhone) Karyn reached out to her for support and guidance as her mother was dying; Ty was deeply nurturing as she offered suggestions for Karyn to "remember" her mother (On a personal note: I was extremely moved by Ty's suggestion of photographing their hands clasped with their mothers' hands. My favorite part about my mother was her hands.) and Ty also checked in on after Karyn shared her mother's passing. Thank you Ty Alexander ( @gorgeousingrey) for writing this piece.
“What we know is that something went terribly wrong and we owe it to Karyn, and others with similar struggles, to find out what happened and work to fix it.” For Harriet, All is Not Right with Our Girls
Therefore, amongst many things weighing on my heart throughout this tragedy is Karyn’s age-- 22 years old. At 22, I had also just buried my mother and was preparing to graduate from college. This left me living a few steps behind everyone else. Losing my mother had taught me to “perform” my life as best I could. It was hard for me to focus on the things that were REAL. My slate had previously been etched with a clear reality, but post trauma, it had been wiped clean. I would wake up every morning, read the script and step out on stage. No one could really know me. And not unlike this very moment, my depression was ripe. On a recent night--I found myself stuck within a tilt of depression where I truly needed someone. Negativity and anguish once again were clutching me so tightly, altering my vision, and luring me with the always consistent bait of self hatred. It was late afternoon, and I felt lost. My heart was full-- ushering my trauma in to break the dam of my rising predisposed chemicals. I reached for my phone and sent out text messages to a collection of friends and people that would pause and hear me. I do not remember if I possessed the awareness around "unlocking my silence." The truth is, I don’t always reach out. I am fortunate that I am healthy enough to share this. I am also fortunate that I believe in sharing. It is privilege that I can articulate these words.
“That asking for help was ok.” - Ty Alexander
When I consider Karyn’s age, I immediately think of the young women identified youth that I work with. They live in a fast paced, technology driven world of objectivity, public discourse, emerging desires, and incommunicable concerns. Their hearts are enormous; they give so much of themselves to their families and communities. These battles are public, allowing for little space to air their personal and inner warfare. These are my little sisters. Their existence is a fight towards justice. I have listened and witnessed so many of their narratives of this war. Thus making the loss of Karyn another reminder to me as a youth worker, that there is so much that will never be seen or heard. This taps into my greatest fear -- that my words of love and support may never be enough.
I am left wondering, where does our work begin?
When we look at the qualities of leadership, our perspectives need to shift. Our leaders appear stalwart and resilient to us, making their struggles uneasily accepted. Karyn Washington demonstrated her humanity through fateful actions, but her leadership has not wavered. She leaves us with an empowered vitality and a duty to ourselves and our communities. We are to live our stories. And our humanity has little to do with our skill or representation. Those are only threads within the diverse fabric of who we are. My favorite kind of woman is a complicated one--with a pulsating heart, incredible laughter, and tangled eyes. And after scrolling through #KarynWashington, it is clear that we have the capacity to support one another and share in our complexities.
My [our] task is to explain how black women's citizenship is shaped by their attempts to navigate a room made crooked by stereotypes that have psychic consequences." Melissa Harris Perry
For me, our fighting begins with listening. It involves eliminating judgment and developing community spaces that allow for young women to just BE. There are not a lot of spaces even amongst my queer community of color that I feel safe enough to share my challenges with mental health. At times, my fear is a fabrication that is symptomatic of my condition. And, unfortunately, there are other community members within these spaces that are struggling themselves and need to make this conversation difficult for the rest of us. A lot of black folk believe that therapy is just for white people. The young black mental health professionals that I have had the privilege to work with are reminders that not only is this NOT the case, but this IS our issue.
In Karyn’s honor, I refuse to be a “strong” black woman. I don't want to redefine it or reclaim it, I want to destroy it. I want the courage to be able to say that I cannot handle some things. And that I can ask for help. And I demand for a world that not only will accept this, but will listen.
I strangle my words as easily as I do my tears
I stifle my screams as frequently as I flash my smile
it means nothing
I am cotton candy on a rainy day
the unrealized dream of an idea unborn
I share with the painters the desire
To put a three-dimensional picture
On a one-dimensional surface
Nikki Giovanni (thank you Nadine, @freid_pod)