Ladies, gents, and genderqueers, I present to you: My Feelings. I'm practicing getting in touch with my feelings. I mean that just as it sounds, though I know it sounds silly. But you're a writer, you might say. Isn't that all you writers do, feel feelings? Not
this writer. I'm more likely to write my feelings away, until they become nothing more than metaphors, or even to overanalyze them, until they're nothing more than afflictions to overcome. So this is new to me. I'm trying to really sit with my feelings, to honor them, and to settle into how they move through my body. And guess what? It turns out I'm full of those suckers. Feelings, I mean. Everything from joy to fear to frustration is inside of me somewhere.
Maybe I've just been doing too much yoga
, but I think sitting with my true feelings is good for me.
It's also kind of terrifying. There are, after all, reasons I've tried to avoid my feelings. Trying not to be an angry black woman
, for example, with all that that image brings.
I've also tried to avoid being perceived as "bitter." That's another big one. And what does it mean to avoid bitterness? To me, it's meant that every time I've felt unappreciated or unloved, I've internalized that feeling, trying to accept the situation, rather than getting upset about it. Unappreciated? Psh, what have I done to be appreciated? Unloved? Well, I don't deserve love anyway.
You can see how this might wear down on me after a while. So this is me shifting course, based on the idea that I deserve better.
We're near the end of June, which means the end of Pride month. Since some people jokingly refer to Pride month as "Gay Christmas," then maybe this end to the queer holiday season is something like New Year's Day. It's time to take that fully expressed pride in ourselves and turn it inward. It's time for deep reflection, for self-care, for resolving to do all that I can do to live the life I deserve.
The end of June also means the end of our three-month series on self-love at CUAV
. But I don't want to stop exploring what it means to show myself care. That means I have to continue making room to love myself, getting rid of those forces in my life that make me feel unworthy. It doesn't mean getting rid of those feelings, though, as uncomfortable as they may be. I'm giving myself permission to feel it all - everything from that awful feeling that I'm unworthy to the more hopeful feeling of self-respect, and all of those wild emotions in between.
And now I leave you with a song that always reminds me to feel it all.
I'm back from my MFA residency, and I can't think of a better welcome back to the Bay than tonight's event. I'm reading some poems as part of the special National Queer Arts Festival edition of That's What She Said! It's a variety show featuring a bunch of crazy-talented women, so I'll just be trying to live up to my place on this brilliant line-up. The poems I'm reading are supposed to be funny, and though it's quite possible that the audience will laugh at me and not with me, I know I'm going to have a blast. The show is hosted by the fabulous host of all hosts, Wonder Dave, and by Caitlin Gill, whose comedy is really blowing up on the scene
lately. The lineup promises, laughs, music, and more - visit the show's website
for details. My residency was a lot of work, but it was also so much fun, reminding me that one of my reasons for writing and performing is just to enjoy myself. So, That's What She Said! Queer Arts Edition is the perfect way to settle back into doing what I love here at home, and it's also the perfect setting for showing up as my real, strange self. You may remember that I was part of a previous edition of That's What She Said!, as half of the comedy duo The Hermana Sisters. You can watch videos from that show here on Vimeo.
It was so much fun! So I can't wait to be part of the fun again tonight, at 8 pm, at The Garage's new location, 715 Bryant St in San Francisco. Hope to see you there!
Click to see a bigger version of this poster! I know, we're pretty cute.
Warning: this isn't a proper blog post. It's not something from a real professional writer, the kind who has something profound to say after spending the last week and a half soaking up the brilliance of the likes of Leslie Adrienne Miller, Bonnie Jo Campbell, and guest speaker Charles Johnson. I'm not pretending to be that person. I'm seeking the essential me-ness
, so this is a blog post from the real me. This is a blog post about kittens. As we near the end of the Pacific University MFA residency,
I'm trying to decide on a defining moment for this experience. And it's not the moment when Joseph Millar, Dorianne Laux and Ellen Bass shared what they learned from reading Lucille Clifton. It's not when Kwame Dawes read his poems, or when he read the work of Audre Lorde and Langston Hughes, two poets whose words
are tattooed on my body
. It's not
even when Marvin Bell used one of my poems to illustrate the points he made about poetic strategies.
These were all incredible moments that will remain with me, undoubtedly, but if I had to choose just one moment of all of those that are sticking out in my mind, this would be it: Standing on the corner of the farmer's market in Forest Grove, holding in my arms one of the kittens from the free kitten box I've just come across, as Ellen Bass rubs his tiny head and we giggle over his absurd adorableness. I know, I'm ridiculous. That moment had nothing to do with the residency. But to me, in a way, it had everything to do with why I choose to be here. I choose this moment not simply because
I'm crazy about animals, although it's true that I am, and not just because I have immense admiration for Ellen Bass, though that's true, too. I choose this moment because Ellen and I weren't standing apart as student and teacher, or as emerging poet and established poet. We stood together, no expectations between us, just united by our appreciation for cute creatures, a real, down-to-earth, essential part of who we are, not just as poets or lovers of the written word, but as people.These are the moments that make my MFA experience so unforgettable. I am just deliciously delighted to say that Ellen Bass is my advisor for this
semester, which means that from now until January, I'll be working with her one on one to craft an essay and continue to grow in my poetry. I just adore Ellen, as a person and as a poet. She writes the loveliest poems about some of the subjects I care about most, including love between women, healing from trauma, and spirituality. And I've already worked with her in workshop so I know that she "gets" me, and really supports my poetic vision. And kittens. She also shares my love of kittens. She understood my longing
as I reluctantly faced the truth that the kitten in my arms couldn't come home with me. But before I put him down, we all shared a moment - Ellen, the nameless black kitten, and I. And though it may seem silly, in that moment I knew that Ellen Bass understood an essential part of me. Watch this clip of Ellen reading her sweet, funny poem
"Bone of My Bone and Flesh of My Flesh." You can visit her website
I’m tuning in live from the Pacific University MFA residency in Forest Grove, Oregon. We’ve reached that point in the residency when I’m not quite sure what day, or hour or, well, universe I’m in, but I’m having a good time and learning a lot, so I’ve given up on trying to stay grounded and I’m just floating along. The good news is I’ll be more grounded once I leave here. I’m reminded of all of the rewarding reasons I entered this program, so I’m really thankful for my time here.
To put this gratitude in perspective: when this semester began, I was freaking out. I wish I could use my writerly skills to describe it more eloquently, but that about captures it. I was freaking out, as in, I wasn’t sure where I was heading or why, that kind of feeling like you’re rushing forward, only everything is dark, so you’re not sure where you’re going. I was freaking out, as in, I didn’t know what I was supposed to be writing, was struggling to recall why I’d embarked on this wild quest to get an MFA in Poetry, of all things, when it’s hard enough to make a living as a poet, and harder still when you’re a crazy person who writes things barely recognizable as poetry, like I happen to be.
Marvin Bell tells the class of 2011
to "write with abandon"
With a deadline looming, I was honest with my advisor, Marvin Bell, about my freaking out. It’s nice to say I could be honest with him, but the truth is, I had to be honest, because I felt frozen, unable to write anything without a crippling sense of self-doubt paralyzing my mind. There I was, lucky enough to have the prolific poet Marvin Bell as my mentor, and all I could do was wonder if I belonged here, or if I was forging my way through a path that was never meant for me.
Marvin’s response was so sweet. He was gentle, generous, and silly with me, reminding me to have fun, because when I’m writing, I’m doing something I love. He told me, in much more eloquent words, to stop freaking out, to stop worrying about what others expect of me (himself included), and to simply be who I was born to be. Me.
These ideas have been coming up at the residency, so those who have brought it up have unwittingly continued to confirm that I know what’s best for me. From Dorianne Laux’s insights on childhood memories as moments that define us as people and as poets to Kwame Dawes’s words on the personal necessity for political poetry, every piece of advice from the past week has had its limit. That is, every faculty member here acknowledges that their guidance can only go so far, and it’s up to us, the writers, to let their words reach their fullest potential in our own work.
In other words, what I’m after is not something Marvin Bell or Kwame Dawes can give me. I’m seeking the essential core of my me-ness. Expressing what it truly means to be uniquely me means being the best poet that I (and only I) can be.
Following a trail at
the Elk Grove winery in Oregon
Sorry I've been so quiet, dear readers! I'm currently in Forest Grove, Oregon for my third residency of the Pacific University MFA program. Each residency has been a unique experience so far, and I'll update soon on how this one's going. One of my fellow students is blogging thoroughly about it - check her out at Sobre Mariquita
in the meantime. And speaking of quiet, what happens when a shy, quiet person like me comes to a place like this, with the potential to make invaluable connections with other writers around me, if only I can emerge from my shell and speak? I'm finding out, and I'll let you know. Here's a piece I wrote on the subject after attending the Trinidad's Bocas Lit Fest in April.
Black folk don't blog. No, we keep our business to ourselves. If we share it with anyone, it's family. Black folk don't write. Just look at the widely accepted U.S. literary canon
and you know a young black woman like me has no business trying to be a writer. Also, black folk don't talk about things like violence
, survival or healing
. We survive, wordlessly, and go on with our lives. Okay, so clearly it's not that simple. I do all of the above. But it's amazing what it can to do to a person, the amount of hesitation or fear or self-doubt that can sneak in when I feel compelled to do something after hearing that "black folk don't."The idea behind the documentary web series "Black Folk Don't" is to
have conversations about those activities that often complete the statement "black folk don't..." Series creator Angela Tucker talks to folks who show that there are exceptions to every rule, and also some history, some pain, some shame and some humor behind each one. It makes for a very insightful show. In an interview just published on The Root
, Tucker chats about season one of "Black Folk Don't," as well as the upcoming second season.Let's see, what else don't black people do? Black folk don't identify as queer. If we do lean that way, we certainly keep it to ourselves. Oh, and black folk don't get tattoos. Black folk don't listen to white folks' music.
And black folk don't love animals. We certainly don't occasionally refer to our cats as "soulmates." And if we did, we certainly wouldn't admit to it on a public blog.Let's talk about
what we do and don't, and why. It seems like a good step toward understanding one another, beyond the limits that sometimes hold us back.
The 8th annual Queer Women of Color Film Festival begins tonight! This totally FREE festival features short films, screening tonight, Saturday, and Sunday. It's taking place at a new location, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. This year's festival focus is I Do AND I Don't: LGBTQ People of Color & Same-Sex Marriage. When the media is so often misguided in its coverage of these issues, here's a chance to witness through film the true, authentic stories of queer people of color. The films speak to experiences of folks from all across the globe, and the festival also includes panel discussions with the filmmakers and after parties to celebrate this amazing weekend of voice and visibility. Visit the Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project
website for more details about each day's events.
Walter Alois Weber's
Blue Bird of Paradise
“Wherever the bird with no feet flew, she found trees with no limbs.” –Audre Lorde
I’ve always been what you might call a strange bird. My feathers carry colors you wouldn’t expect to see, and I chirp in poetry instead of song, and I also sometimes speak in metaphors that fall apart. When that happens, it comes down to this: I’m a weirdo. I have strange tastes, strange interests, strange ways of being. I love my solitude, so I’m likely to spend a weekend entrenched in my own strange ways, emerging on a Monday morning to recall that I don’t quite fit into this world.
When I was growing up, being a weirdo made life challenging. Even for a kid who liked being alone, finding myself perched on the outside looking in made me wonder if something was wrong with me. This time for solo introspection had its perks – I was able to step away from the expectations of others and learn what it really meant to be me. In a lot of ways I appreciated my perch on the outside, where I learned how to do things like take myself out on dates and use my own written words for company, so I didn’t have to be around other people to have fun. I appreciated my solitude, but in some ways, I still didn’t quite understand it.
Enter, stage left: an understanding of systematic oppression. My journey on the outskirts led me to discoveries of the movements behind feminism, racial equality, queer liberation. I learned about privilege and power, and saw my solitude as part of a bigger picture. My thinking went something like, Well, of course I never fit into spaces where societal norms are upheld. No self-respecting young queer woman of color should.
Let’s be real – it’s not just being a queer woman of color that makes this bird as strange as she is. But I think connecting my identity to my weirdness gave me a complex of sorts, an expectation that I’d never really fit anywhere, because there are things about me that are different. And following the legacy of writers, artists and other earth-shakers who were considered “different” in similar ways gives me a special kind of pride in those qualities that make me uniquely me.
Enter, stage right: other birds with colors like mine. After getting used to the idea that I’d never find a flock to accompany my flight, I’ve found artistic spaces where I’m welcomed, not in spite of my differences, but because of them. Where being a queer woman of color is something to lift up, to celebrate.
Two events in May really gave me a moment to be proud of my strange voice. At CUAV’s The Color of My Spirit
, queer and trans artists dance, sang, and spoke of our stories of survival and resistance, and I swear, by the end of the night, my heart swelled with so much pride, it was ready to burst right out of my chest. And at Harlem’s Poetic Rebellion
, I was so honored to be part of such an amazing night of performances by powerful queer black artists that I…well, that I flubbed my own reading. But being the weirdo that I am, I’ve had to recover from plenty of flubs before, so that’s what I did. I read on, too full of gratitude to keep my head down.
It’s not often that I feel a true sense of belonging. Sure, by the end of the day, I’m still happy to settle into my nest, wrapped in the comfort of my own wings. But for a little while, it’s nice to take flight with a flock of birds as strange as I am.
There are more chances for strange bird sightings, coming soon. Upcoming events include special National Queer Arts Festival editions of That’s What She Said!
and Queer Rebels of the Harlem Renaissance, on June 26th and June 30th. And on July 7th, I’ll be reading at Hella Soulful, part of Oakland’s Beast Crawl
. Check back soon for details about these events!