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)  
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This is a blog post about sex.

Warning: this post includes discussion of sex and sexual abuse. Just so ya know.

Brainstorming for the blog this morning, I came across a whole lot of “shoulds.” Should I continue to discuss marriage equality? Should I commit to total honesty on the blog? Should I blog at all, when I’m not feeling particularly inspired?

It’s clear that my creativity has been stifled lately, as I haven’t been blogging much. I think part of why I’ve been stifled is that I’ve been drowning in a sea of pesky shoulds, trying to figure out what I’m “supposed” to be writing, instead of just writing.

I surprised myself when I stumbled upon this one: should I keep my blog as a sex-free zone?

Wait. What?

I’ve discussed sexuality, of course, mostly in the context of sexual orientation. I briefly mentioned erotica when I judged another me for writing it. But I wouldn’t really criticize anybody for writing about sex. Erotic writing can be beautiful, can be healing, can be one of the best ways for survivors of sexual violence, as well as other folks, to reclaim their power and feel whole.

So why should this blog be sex-free? If I use erotic writing to free myself, why would I then continue to keep myself trapped by hiding it? Why should I be ashamed of something I’ve spent years reclaiming as my own?

In short: fuck censorship.

This is a blog post about sex. And there may be more to come.

__________________________________________________________________________________

waiting

for your skin to touch mine

wondering

if we’ll ever meet again

when all at once

you reach me

reach through me

reach into me

so what I thought was my skin

is molten lava,

too hot to touch

but too warm to resist

and when I fall into you

I melt,

dripping down your body

slow and sweet

as warm honey.

Published in: on August 12, 2010 at 12:35 PM  Comments (3)  
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Exposed

I’m naked on this blog.

No, I’m not actually blogging in the nude (though maybe if I said I was I’d get more views?), but I look at the page and I feel exposed. Not only about writing some of my thoughts, many of which I often feel but rarely express, but also about posting my creative writing. About sharing about my writing process, and also sharing work that’s so fresh, coming out so early in the process.

There was a time when I wouldn’t show anybody what I was writing. Okay, so maybe I had a right to be ashamed of some of what I was coming up with, but mostly I had irrational feelings about my work being judged. Those feelings still haunt me now, but I have to push through my fears if I want my work to reach anyone so that’s what I’ve learned to do. Blogging has helped encourage me to push myself, but I still can’t really believe I’m doing what I’m doing here. Sharing new writing that I haven’t yet had a chance to mull over, eliminating the step when I usually decide I hate it and throw it away before anyone can see what I’ve done. Instead, posting it here without disclaimers or apologies (or maybe this entire post is a disclaimer slipping out — uh-oh) about how, you know, “it’s just something I just started working on, something silly, it’s not very good really, in fact not good at all, in fact you can just go ahead and forget you ever saw this…”

Part of the writing process I’m developing is trying to eliminate the disclaimers, so if I post something I’ve written and give it a preface about how much it sucks, you can go ahead and say “ahem” and remind me of this post. Even if it really does suck. Perhaps especially so.

I may feel naked, but I’m going to stand my ground, exposed.

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She woke up to blades of grass tapping her bare shoulders like the fingers of children eager to play. She didn’t have a blanket, she knew, but she felt herself wrapped in the warmth of her own skin. She moved her head from side to side to smell the morning, the damp dew nourishing the earth beneath her. She sat up, recognizing that she was nude only because of the way her body shifted, her hips falling in exchange for her body lifting, her breasts swaying slightly before coming to rest. There were murmurs above her, and she knew that she was not alone, but she wasn’t ashamed. She raised her arms to the sky, opened her mouth and let out a laugh louder than a lioness’s roar.

Published in: on June 16, 2010 at 9:20 AM  Comments (4)  
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Yeah, I’m looking at you

I don’t mean to be creepy.

But I like to look at people. According to my mother I always have, ever since I was too young to know it was rude to stare or too curious to care. She says that people used to laugh at the way I’d sit and observe, so silently and intensely that people often thought I couldn’t speak. I’m jealous now of babies who get to sit and stare. Wish I could park myself in a stroller and sit and watch people without looking like a creeper.

Now my excuse is that I’m a writer. I find people intriguing and I can often get story ideas just by watching people around me. A lot of times when I’m around people in settings like public transportation I bury my head in a book, but nothing can tear my eyes away from a good book like an interesting fellow passenger.

The problem is that people don’t appreciate being stared at, which is understandable. I wish I could communicate that I don’t have any ill intentions, wish I could just stare shamelessly wearing a t-shirt that says “I’M NOT JUDGING YOU.” For example, when I come across somebody with a truly unique sense of style, socially acceptable or not, I’m so appreciative of their individuality and courage that I just want to look them up and down and take it all in. But of course, I’m sure I’m not the first person to stare. And I’m sure most other stares have been accompanied by judgments, glares or giggles, so I understand when they catch my eye and glare right back.

I find myself staring at unconventional romantic pairs too, like interracial couples or lesbian couples. I’m not staring at the them with envy or with lust (okay, not always), but with appreciation of their freedom to love one another and show it in public. I think of places like my hometown or other more restrictive places, even places within the Bay Area, and I think of images from the media that would have us believe that all romantic relationships look a certain way. And I’m still (happily) in awe, sometimes, when I find myself in situations where these partners can be together without fear of judgment or violence. These are times when I want to bust out my “I’M NOT JUDGING YOU, I’M QUEER TOO AND I LIKE WHAT YOU’RE DOING THERE” t-shirt.

Sometimes I’ll run into another starer. We’ll keep making accidental eye contact as I look around,  and I’ll notice that curious gleam in their eye as they look around too. I’ll think, “Aha, I know what you’re up to,” and give them a little smirk, but it turns out I’m the only weirdo who wants to acknowledge things like a shared love of staring so usually I don’t get anything back.

That’s different from when you catch people staring at something everybody looks at. That can be my favorite thing to do sometimes, when something happens like the guy mumbling to himself on the back of a crowded bus makes an outburst. Instead of looking at the one causing the scene, I’ll take a look at the people around him. The kids riding home without their parents, their eyes widening as the girl wraps her arm around her younger brother. The young woman who’s talking on her cell phone, who rolls her eyes and pulls her bag closer to herself, as if the whole thing is about her and her purse.

You can learn a lot about people just by being an observer, just tuning into their habits and behaviors. I feel guilty about it sometimes because I don’t mean to intrude on anyone’s privacy or make them feel uncomfortable but sometimes that’s what happens. I could use another lesson in etiquette, I guess, to remind myself that there’s a reason people don’t like when you stare. But that reason usually has something to do with a fear of being judged. I’ll try to keep my eyes to myself, but just remember, if I slip and you catch me looking at you, I’m not a creep or a judge. I’m appreciating you for who you are. Try looking in the mirror to see what I see.

Published in: on June 15, 2010 at 10:05 AM  Comments (1)  
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Thoughts after the Queer Women of Color Film Festival

I began this post by titling it “Queer people of color and the arts,” and then sat here as my mind went on a million different tangents. Obviously I could say a lot on the subject, but I’ll start here:

I love San Francisco in June! There are so many great things to do, from literary events to queer events to self-created sit-at-Dolores-Park-and-play-with-other-peoples’-dogs events, that I hardly know how to choose. Happenings that make it fun to be queer in this city in the month of June include: Frameline, the LGBT film festival; the National Queer Arts Festival; and, of course, Pride.

This past weekend I volunteered at the Queer Women of Color Film Festival, which was tremendously fun, thought-provoking and empowering. I always know it’s true, but each time I see an event like this I’m struck again with awe at the power of the arts in communities like these. This is what thrills me — I have my nerd moments over seeing things like women who once felt powerless and voiceless finding their voices and sharing it with others.

I’m not thrilled when people try to divide these communities, using powerful forces like faith or family or tradition to say that queer people and people of color live in different worlds with opposite ideas. The strength, joy and community in the space at the theater yesterday says otherwise.

CUAV co-presented a group of films that included Susannah Hong’s “Pretty Ugly,” challenging standards of beauty that fail to appreciate queer women of color; “Ferment Me My Heart,” Louije Kim’s hilarious kimchee chronicle; and “Our Houses,” in which queer women recount self-discovery and desire in their own terms. KB’s “Bulldagger Women and Sissy Men” approached a subject that’s close to my heart, queer people in the Harlem Renaissance, to illuminate their undeniable place in the movement.

All of the other films were incredible too. An audience member commented during the Q & A session that we are in a renaissance now, a thought that sent chills down my spine. The Harlem Renaissance intrigues me as a time when Black people, including many Black queer people, demonstrated the use of the arts to celebrate themselves and each other, to heal from their wounds and to proudly show beauty and strength. Even if it’s not as pronounced as the Harlem Renaissance, if we’re in a time when the arts can have a similar impact, then I’m thrilled to the bone.

————————————————————————————————————————–

Let’s tell them where we’ve been, sisters,

so they will know our stories.

I’ll tell them where I’ve been,

and maybe I’ll remember too.

Published in: on June 14, 2010 at 12:29 PM  Comments (1)  
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Damn, I should be writing

On finding a writing routine:

I knew before I graduated from school that the hard part about setting out to be a writer would be, well, writing. It’s something I’ll never understand, why it’s so difficult to get around to doing what I love most. I was looking forward to freedom from the demands of academia to be able to write on my own time, but now the lack of a schedule that demands that I spend time writing is a challenge to overcome.

So far, if I have something that resembles a routine it looks like this: Getting up in the morning, sitting in front of the computer and thinking, “Damn, I should be writing.” Writing sometimes, or finding distractions to keep me from doing so. Then, going about my day. Cleaning while thinking, “Damn, I should be writing.” Or, sitting on the bus thinking, “Damn, I should be writing.” Or going to work thinking, “Damn, I should be writing.”

You can see where this is going. The end of the day comes and I decide I’m too tired to write, which makes me feel badly about myself after berating myself about it all day.

I know that once I fall into a routine of writing at the same time every day, I’ll be fine. I work well with routines like that. And getting up in the morning isn’t the problem; I’m used to getting up early and even if I didn’t want to my cat would make sure it happened. Blogging is helping, too. At least I’m getting my writing flow going. And if I’m blogging about writing, I figure I should at least be doing something to back it up.

I’ve also rearranged my room. The truth is I live in what is probably meant to be an office space and not a bedroom. It’s surrounded by windows on all sides and I absolutely love it, but of course I don’t have space for the desk area I’d love to have. But trying to write while sitting or laying in bed doesn’t help much with the motivation factor, so I managed to create a desk-like area for myself between my two bookshelves. I can lift the blinds and look out into the greenery of the neighbors’ backyards to my side, or stare into the neighbor’s office-equivalent of my room (somebody doesn’t know how to make the best of rentable space, geez) in front, and it at least makes me feel like I’m sitting in front of a desk and should be getting some work done (maybe thinking of it as “work” is part of the problem).

I’m going to shoot for writing in the mornings for now. Before I go out and take on the weight of the day. Hopefully most mornings, like today, I’ll be able to get some writing done. Before I was published, a stranger once told me that I shouldn’t wait for it to happen to call myself a writer. He was right. It doesn’t matter if I’m publishing what I’m writing or publishing it in the right place or having the right people read it to call myself a writer. All that matters is that I’m writing, so that’s why I’m aiming to do that, every day.

After all, putting a pen to paper and writing is so much better than sitting in front of a blank screen thinking, “Damn, I should be writing.”

Published in: on June 12, 2010 at 1:45 PM  Comments (2)  
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Conversations between places

Fiction from this morning (practicing dialogue, if you couldn’t tell)

———————————————————————————–

It was the only real conversation I ever had with Josie, even though she was my roommate Arnie’s girlfriend and I’d seen her sitting on our couch almost every day since I’d moved in. I didn’t count my parents’ only visit, when I ran inside moments before they did to give her a warning.

She was in the living room, the space I told my parents I used as an office, sitting on the couch wearing only Arnie’s yellow moose t-shirt and purple underwear and drinking beer from a can.

“My parents are here,” I said before I ran back outside to stall them.

When I returned with my parents shuffling in behind me, eager to see evidence of the magical life they envisioned for me, Josie was standing by the refrigerator in the kitchen, her arms piled with beers. Her purple ass was bright and distracting as a baboon’s backside.

“Had to stock up!” she said with a grin before slinking into Arnie’s room.

I was angry enough that I thought those were the last words we’d ever say to each other. Not that she’d notice. Maybe they would’ve been the last if I hadn’t had such a hellish day, if I hadn’t trekked into the apartment with feet so heavy they couldn’t carry me to my bedroom, only dumped me off beside Josie on the soft blue couch.

We sat at first in silence. I watched her frowning from beneath her long light brown bangs as she dug at her fingernails. That was one of the reasons I never spoke to her, because she was usually concentrating on something like her nails or a magazine with such intensity that you’d get the feeling distracting her might pull her away from her entire life’s purpose.

Minutes went by before she looked up at me and blinked, as if she only just noticed I was there. She looked around the room, as if she’d only just noticed it too. It was bland and undecorated except for what I’d added, the photographs on the wall from San Francisco, and shot glasses, clean and collecting dust, sitting on the mantel beaming rainbow flags and smiley faces.

“Is one of your roommates a lesbian or something?” Josie asked.

The apartment was small, the kitchen and living room sharing one cramped common space between the two bedrooms. How many people did she think we fit into this place?

“That’d be me,” I said.

Her light eyes widened, dancing across my face as she stared at me.

“You? No!” she said. “But you’re so pretty and girly. My friend Pete told me how to look out for lesbians, he said to look for short hair and man-hands.”

I pulled at my ponytail.

“Yeah, the long hair is all just part of my disguise,” I said. I was trying to make a joke, I guess, but she nodded and continued staring with those wide eyes, as if I was saying something profound.

She kept nodding as I shifted and coughed.

“Am I the first one you met or something?” I asked.

“The first what? Black person?”

I paused.

“No. The first lesbian.”

“Oh.” Josie shook her head. She went back to staring at her hands, only at her palms this time. “No. I didn’t meet a black person until I was twelve, I’d never thought about it, just thought I’d seen them in person ‘cause I’d seen them on TV, but no, Myra was the first. She cleaned my father’s house. She was nice.”

Now I was staring at her, and the way she was peering into her palms had me leaning forward to look at them, too.

“You’re the first person like you that I’ve ever met,” I said.

This delighted Josie. “Really?” she said with a grin, looking up at me. “Thanks.”

I nodded. “I mean it.”

“Why did you sit next to me today?” she asked.

I thought of work, the layoffs that seemed to be creeping toward my position, the possibility that I’d have to move. Again.

“I was tired,” I said. “Needed to rest.”

“Oh. I’m leaving today. I thought maybe you knew or something.”

She was sitting on the couch, like she always did. There were no packed bags around her. She didn’t even have any shoes on, her pink toes wiggling above the coffee table.

“Leaving?” I asked.

“I’m going away to San Francisco. Haven’t told anyone.”

“Josie. You know that’s where I’m from, right? Why haven’t you asked me anything about it?”

“It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I just gotta do it on my own.”

“Should I tell Arnie?”

“You don’t have to. He’ll figure it out.”

I bit my lip, unsure if I should ask my next questions. But when I thought of our conversation I felt like I needed to. “Are you sure you’re ready to go, Josie? Are you… are you gonna wear shoes, at least?”

Josie laughed. “Of course I’m gonna wear shoes, silly.”

She stood up and stretched her arms backwards, curving her body down. She looked like an acrobat and for a moment I thought she’d keep going and fold her body into itself in a way I never thought possible. But she righted herself and put her hands on her hips like a superhero.

“Of course I’m ready,” she said.

I nodded. Once I had that look about me. Once I was sure I could do something that sounded crazy to everyone else. Who was I to doubt her? Now it seemed like she’d been sitting on that couch preparing for this day since before I was born.

“Of course you are,” I said.

It felt like her questions were answered so I began to think of my own. I opened my palms and looked to them for the answers.

Published in: on June 12, 2010 at 1:26 PM  Comments (2)  
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Writing my way into history

There are many reasons why I write. I could call this part one of an epic series on the subject. But one reason that has been coming up quite a bit lately is to make a place for me and for others whose stories are often erased from history.

One of the recent events that inspired this post was Sunday’s Imagine How Free We Can Get: A Radical Queer Walking Tour of the Mission. It was part of the Queer Arts Festival, started at Modern Times Bookstore and was led by the wonderful Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. Leah showed us vibrant corners of San Francisco’s Mission District that were rich with queer history. The only question was, why was this all a part of marginally recorded history? Why were so many of these stories, of places and events like the Catacombs and the Valencia lesbian stroll, made up of distant memories and attempts to recover what has been erased in the writing of history?

I’ve struggled with this issue a lot, feeling like I want to make an impact on a world in which the stories of people like me, women and queer people and people of color, are often silenced. So, though I’m not always consciously thinking “this will go down in history” as I write, I know that on some level each word I put on the page is driven by my need to put out the stories that won’t always be heard. They may not make it into history books or the canon of literature or any other realm usually dominated by heterosexual white men, but they’ll be out there, and the very presence of these stories in the world will declare that they matter. So that someday, maybe someone who has been told that her voice is unimportant will learn otherwise. Once we let our words be heard, they cannot be erased. They’ll keep echoing through our bones for as long as our communities’ hearts are beating.

This is adapted from part of a more personal piece I write in a Writing Ourselves Whole workshop:

I worry so much that my voice won’t be heard.

So then I write a stupid poem.

Go outside and read it aloud, look around and see people who don’t care about the world beyond their big toe.

Go home and throw away my stupid poem. They didn’t hear a thing.

Saw a house once where queer women used for fuck each other, just meet every Friday and fuck, as their way of getting their voices heard.

Had to put sound-proof glass in the windows, the neighbors heard their voices so much.

There’s a young white family living there now. Soundproof glass keeps the neighbors from hearing the wife’s cries at night.

It’s like I want my voice recorded as a part of history, but I’m afraid as soon as I speak, my words will go down into history’s basement, where queer voices, where voices of color can so easily be erased.

It’s like I’d rather not have them say, “this is what she said,” but “Listen up. She’s still speaking.”

How can I write in permanent ink? Ink that echoes, that trembles, that shakes so much it can’t stay on the page, but goes on and on to reach ears that haven’t even been born yet. To say, “Hey, baby. Someday you’ll feel different too, and that’s all right.”

Because if my words matter, then so do theirs. So does everyone who’s ever been silenced. Historians have erasers they use as weapons, but they’ve yet to meet the weapons of my words. If my words matter, then so do the voices of all those queer women who lifted their voices in ecstasy each Friday night, and so does the voice of she who cries within those walls now.

Once I was afraid to lift my voice. Today I say, Listen up. I’m still speaking. I never got to finish telling my story.

Published in: on June 8, 2010 at 10:35 AM  Comments (1)  
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Is this how all blogs begin?

Here’s the story:

After a windy, adventurous road full of challenges and triumphs, I graduated from college with a degree in Creative Writing (technically, English with an emphasis in Creative Writing) and half a Sociology minor (okay, so I never finished it, but I can’t seem to let it go). It’s funny to me that after all that time of adding and dropping second majors and minors, trying to figure out what practical focus could actually get me a “real job” while I pursued my silly dream of writing, I ended up still focusing mainly on creative writing.

So now, of course, comes the inevitable question I hear every day: “What now?” I’ve been trying to come up with creative answers: Join the circus. Fix the oil spill. Sometimes I’m tempted to just say what I want to do: Get a dog. Travel the world. Change the world. Of all the answers, “be a writer” seems to be the most laughable. But why not? It would seem to be most logical to say that after getting a degree in Creative Writing, one would become a writer. Right? Heh.

Maybe it’s just me who makes a joke of it, if I dare to say that’s what I’m doing with my life now. I always accompany it with some self-deprecating line or laugh, because of all the answers, that’s not what anyone expects to hear. But I guess that’s what I’m doing. Being a writer, for now, for me, means: writing, preparing work to submit to literary magazines and writing contests, reading, considering graduate schools and of course looking for that “real job” to pay the bills in the meantime. I’d love to work with a non-profit, which is where that whole “changing the world” goal comes in. But who ever said that changing the world will pay the bills…

But here’s the main thing that makes me a writer: I write. So that’s my plan, to work every day to earn that “er.” In this blog I’ll write about how life goes along the way. I’ll post readings and events, share about some of my favorite writers, share some of my fiction and poetry. I’ll post about social justice work and life in San Francisco. I’ll write about what it means to me to be young, queer, Black and female. I’ll update when I come closer to figuring out what the hell I’m doing with my life, including my search for an MFA program and for a job, and when life laughs at my plans and takes me somewhere unexpected. And I’ll probably post some rants and raves.

And now I have a new answer when someone asks what I’m doing now. I’m blogging. Let’s see where this leads me.

Published in: on June 5, 2010 at 3:32 PM  Comments (4)  
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