In solitude, in community

Writing’s supposed to be a solo thing. Right? That’s what I signed up for anyway, something I could do while holed up in my room with nobody but my cat as company, when nobody and nothing else matters but me and the words I put on the page. Something that would go well with my affinity for taking myself out on dates, so that if nothing else I can take out my notebook in an attempt to prove that yes, I am a weirdo who wants to be alone.

But when I signed up I didn’t read the fine print, of course. The part that said that there are a whole bunch of other weirdos out there, and at some point, we will find each other.That’s the funny thing about writing, that it’s a solo activity that ultimately creates community. Like-minded folks find one another. People connect over mutually recognized parts of the human condition, aspects of life you thought only you noticed until someone else reads that line of poetry that makes you go, oh.

Something exciting is happening here in San Francisco these days. At events like Literary Death Match, Queer Open Mic and more, writers and readers and lovers of the written or spoken word are finding one another and creating community. There’s nothing like being in a room where a writer puts her heart on the stage and the audience reaches out to keep it beating.

This Labor Day I was lucky enough to spend time with some of this community at September’s edition of Quiet Lightning, a monthly reading series hosted by the fantastic Evan Karp and Rajshree Chauhan. The event began with a litnic (thanks to Matthew DeCoster for that term) at Dolores Park, where the weather was beautiful and the food was plentiful and the love of writing was in the air. And writers weren’t the only artists to find each other, of course. Musicians also came out to not only provide the day’s soundtrack, but also add to the sense of community that was coming together. Then, as evening set in, the group moved to the Mina Dresden Gallery for the reading. Folks like Andrew Paul Nelson and Katie May and Jesus Castillo (I’d really like to name them all, they were all so great) read back to back without introduction and took our collective breath away, so if nothing else our simultaneous gaps and oohs reminded us that we were in this together. It was really a marvelous day.

I’d like to blog more about these events, as I witness the creation of a community of writers, people who spend enough time alone with their own maddening thoughts (so maybe I’m speaking for myself here) that the chance to come together and share words is an inevitably explosive event. So expect more of these posts. Evan Karp, of course, always does a brilliant job of keeping up with these things at the Examiner, so when I miss out, be sure to check in with him there.

Published in: on September 8, 2010 at 9:33 AM  Comments (6)  
Tags: , , , , ,

For Labor Day

Happy Labor Day.

If yours is one of the backs upon which this country is built, know that you aren’t forgotten. Never forget that you, too, are America.

I, Too
By Langston Hughes

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
and grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
and be ashamed —

I, too, am America.

Langston Hughes, “I, Too” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1994 by The Estate of Langston Hughes.

Published in: on September 6, 2010 at 9:22 AM  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , ,

On that damn d-word: Diversity

Hello again, world. Hello, September. I took a little break from the blog, though I didn’t plan for it to be this long. I come back and September is here.

I’d like to tell you that I haven’t been blogging because I’ve been too busy with something super important, like saving the world. So I will. Little did you know, I’ve spent the past week or so on a perilous adventure saving your life and the lives of everyone else on the planet. It’s been very exciting.

Feel free to believe that story, but the truth, I suppose, is that I’ve been busy with things like work, job searching and house hunting. And, of course, writing. I’m pretty proud of the self-discipline I’ve been able to use to keep myself writing. I’m using methods like a rewards system. Lots of writing = lots of ice cream. So maybe I’m getting fat, but so are my notebooks.

Another distraction from the blog has been trying to figure out what to do about graduate school. In my first post, I mentioned I’d be updating about my search for an MFA program. So far, this has been the update: every time I think about grad school, I just want to curl up and…stop thinking about it.

But the last few weeks have been different. I think I’ve figured out what I want to do. My plan was to apply to an MFA program for next fall, and I was feeling hesitant about that for many reasons, including not wanting to leave the Bay Area for school and not wanting to put on hold this life I’ve begun to go back to being a student. I love learning and being a student is what I do best, but in a lot of ways I feel ready to move on from academia, applying my thirst for knowledge to the so-called “real world” (I have a hard time putting this fantasy life I live into that category).

So the solution I’ve found is to apply to low-residency MFA programs, like those at Antioch University, Pine Manor College and Vermont College of Fine Arts. With these programs I can stay in San Francisco, have a full-time job and work on my MFA at a distance from my instructors. Then there are biannual residencies on campus or at another site, usually for ten days at a time. This sounds perfect to me, and I’m glad to at least have a little more clarity about what I want to do. Now I can stop pulling my hair out every time I think about it.

Even though I’ll be away from campus for most of the year, I have certain needs. Apart from wanting to find a good program that might offer some financial aid, I’m also hoping to find… diversity. Or something like it.

I hate to use the d-word. It always seems to fall short, perhaps because it’s been so often thrown around to refer to cases like tossing a token black woman into a room of white guys and calling it an example of diversity. It makes things challenging — how am I to find a college home that truly reflects an array of backgrounds when anybody can slap the word “diversity” on their website and claim to have what I’m looking for? Other questions that come up:

  • How can I be sure that that absurdly happy group of racially diverse students in the picture really attend the school? Isn’t that the cast from Glee?
  • Short of climbing into bed with faculty members, how can I find out if any of the faculty are queer? And will climbing into bed with them help or hurt my chances of being accepted to the school?
  • Should I be concerned if the only black person on the website is the same woman in different photos? Should I be more concerned if they’ve used Photoshop to change her outfits and her hair, apparently hoping I’d think she’s several different people?

You can see why this is challenging. I guess I’d just like to find a community of writers that can understand my perspective as a writer. And to be the young black queer woman among a faculty and class composed primarily of straight white men wouldn’t really make me feel at home as a writer. Hopefully between now and application time I’ll be able to figure out some research methods to get me the information I’m looking for.

Has anybody out there had any experience in low-residency programs? What about in trying to find a “diverse” setting? Any advice would be much appreciated. Otherwise I might end up crawling into strangers’ beds. I’ll let you know how it goes if it comes to that.

Published in: on September 1, 2010 at 10:51 AM  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: