I really can’t believe 2011 has arrived already. But I guess I should get used to it. So, like everyone else I’m spending my day reflecting on the past year, thinking about the next one. For me, 2010 was full of highlights, and I hate to reduce it to a silly top-ten list, but if I didn’t I might ramble on forever about my year. So here they are, my Top 10 Highlights of 2010:
CUAV’S 2010 Safetyfest
was a spectacular highlight of the year. It was great to be a part of the planning process as a member of CUAV (Community United Against Violence
), to help launch, in April, a festival of events designed to build safety in queer and trans communities. Events included everything from self-defense workshops to opening and closing celebration parties, and it was all thanks to the combined energies of community members giving time and money and resources to help empower each other. I was so thankful for the chance to lead a writing workshop and an open mic, where folks astounded me with their presence and words. Planning for Safetyfest 2011 is now underway, which is very exciting. Watch this look back at Safetyfest 2010 here
Continuing my membership at CUAV has been a highlight of 2010 in general. Opportunities have ranged from being a part of transformative Safety Labs
to reading poetry at rallies
in support of social justice. Not to mention building community, and growing as a person in all that I’ve learned along the way.
Another great part of 2010 was volunteering with the inspirational people of POWER
(People Organized to Win Employment Rights) in various capacities. They do really great work
that helps a lot of folks, and empowers folks with the tools to help themselves, and the time I’ve spent with them has taught me a great deal about organizing in ways that can really enact change
· U.S. Social Forum
This was one of the great opportunities that came with being an active member of CUAV – the staff invited me to be a part of the delegation that attended the U.S. Social Forum
in Detroit. The USSF was a conference of activists and organizers who brought knowledge and open minds to share with each other tools for making change. For example, a workshop with the Black Alliance for Just Immigration
(BAJI) featured a panel of folks speaking on immigration and shared BAJI’s findings
on black communities’ involvement in immigration rights movements. There were so many workshops at the USSF that it was hard to choose which to attend, but being me, I tried to pop into as many of the arts-related workshops as possible. Workshops like “Art is Change”
with Anasa Troutman were enlightening, and I was inspired not only in my own writing
, but also by the power of words
to move others, as I saw people like Anasa making a difference in folks who would carry her words across the country and to the rest of the world. I’m grateful still for that time spent in Detroit, especially because now we continue to share what we learned and what we shared with others while we were there.
In an exciting milestone for my writing, in 2010 I got a short story published for the first time. Transfer Magazine
published my short story “The Single Woman’s Guide to Surviving a Miscarriage” in Transfer 99, and gave it the Leo Litwak Award for Fiction. Whoo!
· Quiet Lightning/sPARKLE & bLINK
Some of my most thrilling moments this year were all thanks to Quiet Lightning
, a local reading series that’s given a great range of writers a place for their words. They gave me a place during Litquake
in October, and again in November
, and I’m so thankful for those unforgettable experiences. Hell, I’m thankful just for Quiet Lightning, whether it includes me or not, because Rajshree Chauhan
and Evan Karp
are doing something wonderful for the San Francisco literary community
. And with Quiet Lightning, of course, I’m also grateful for sPARKLE & bLINK
, the publication featuring each month’s readers (which they also generously offer for free on Scribd
· San Francisco Lit Community
I’m thankful that this year has introduced me to the thriving literary community
that’s such a lively part
of the Bay Area right now
. I’ve had such a great time at events like Quiet Lightning, Literary Death Match
, the Living Room Reading Series
, 14 Hills
events… I could go on, and there are plenty more I’ve yet to see as well. To say that it’s exciting to witness and participate in such a vibrant scene
hardly captures how thrilling it all is, and I can only hope for what the next year will bring as we walk through the doors that are opening for writers in and around San Francisco.
· HIV prevention
I feel like I can’t not mention my so-called “day job.” If my writing is the side of me that is the wild, unstable artist, then I guess my stable side is what has me walking the streets of the city at odd times of the night in an effort to prevent HIV. Working as a study recruiter for the AIDS Office
of the San Francisco Department of Public Health has been challenging in some ways, but it’s been a highlight of 2010 in that I’ve been a part of an extensive effort to reduce HIV infections, and for some, substance abuse, and along the way I’ve had the chance to learn about other people by connecting directly with them.
· Writing Ourselves Whole
Another that can’t go unsaid – I’ve participated in several of the incredibly transformative workshops of Writing Ourselves Whole
, and recently I’ve had the pleasure of working with the workshops’ facilitator, Jen Cross, with some of the duties that help her efforts to reach others move forward. This is another of 2010’s gifts for which I’m immensely thankful, and I look forward to connecting more with Writing Ourselves Whole in 2011.
· Graduation / Grad school
And I can’t leave out, of course, my graduation in May from the Creative Writing department of San Francisco State University
. I feel like I’ve taken a long journey
through school, so I had a whole lot to be thankful for upon reaching graduation. And now I’m looking forward to the next step, as I apply to MFA programs. Maybe I shouldn’t count this as a highlight until I actually get into grad school, but deciding to move forward with the process has been a highlight of the year for me.
Okay, so if you’re counting you’ll know that this is actually highlight #11. But I couldn’t resist adding it, because I wouldn’t have the platform to go on this rant of reflection and gratitude without this blog. I would definitely call Inkblot a highlight of 2010 because it’s been a part of my growth as a writer, it’s helped me connect with people I admire
, and it’s been one way I can share all that I’ve learned from the thrilling and critical moments of the year.
Thanks for being a part of it all with me. Have a safe night. Happy New Year!
Today I'd just like to share a poem I love, by Derek Walcott, a poet who has roots in my ancestral home of Trinidad.
Love After Love
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
It's the holidays, so I'm glad I'm not the only one
telling family stories
. When I attended last week's holiday edition of the Porchlight Storytelling Series
, I wasn't really sure what to expect. I went mostly for the opportunity to hear Evan Karp
, host of the Quiet Lightning
reading series I'm so very fond of
. As the man behind Litseen
, Evan's usually caught behind the camera
, recording others perform
, so it was great to see him get his moment on stage. Porchlight is a really great series that invites folks to simply come tell a story, without notes, based on a theme. The theme for this edition was "Family Secrets," so we heard a wide range of funny, poignant and very touching stories. Evan's covered it all, complete with videos and some great commentary, on Litseen here. I was touched by all the stories, but one that really affected me was filmmaker Sandy Salas' tale of growing up in a household with an abusive father. This story has no happy ending -- on June 5, 1995, her father killed her mother and himself. But the story continues today. Sandy and her siblings became determined to end the cycle of violence in their family, and as part of that effort, Sandy and her nephew are now embarking on a film project called "Recovering Irma." During this journey they're getting to know Sandy's late mother Irma through interviews, and they're filming it all to raise awareness and help end cycles of violence. It's a really incredible story, one that I couldn't tell nearly as well as Sandy herself. So I'll leave you with the video, filmed by Evan Karp. But I also want to leave you with two things: 1) The reminder that telling our stories makes a difference, whether it's through the art of film or simply the spontaneity of words. And with this, the knowledge that seemingly endless cycles, such as the cycle of violence, can meet their end when we commit our lives and our art to stopping them. And 2) The chance to help -- visit the fundraising page for Recovering Irma here. There are only a few days left to help them reach their goal!Stay safe this holiday season.
More excitement in the air
in San Francisco. This time, it’s not just in the literary community, though that’s where it’s beginning, with some of the most brilliant and creative minds in the SF lit community pursuing a vision that is, as Alan Kaufman
put it, “a dream far too important to hold hostage to any particular person or personality-type.”
This past weekend I attended the first planning meeting for the Free University of San Francisco. It’s very early in the development stages, only just morphing from idea to reality. You know what that means? That means that you (yes, you, if you live in the Bay Area) have a chance to be a part of this from the very beginning.
What’s the vision? To create a university where knowledge is freely given
between those who wish to share it. But that’s only part of it. The other part is what you and I and everyone else who wants to make this a reality can bring. I attended the meeting in awe of folks like Alan Kaufman
, Matt Gonzalez
and Diamond Dave
, but I found that everyone was there to listen, believing that everyone who’d come had something to contribute. It’s very inspiring, how grassroots this whole process is.
Still, it’s obvious that at this point the communities involved are limited. Which is a shame, because an opportunity like this one should be available for everyone to share, from the beginning. So they’re hoping to get more folks involved, more people of color and queer and trans people, educators and experts in all kinds of fields, which could mean having a degree in a particular field or having a grasp of a practical skill, or anything in between. And also people who can help with the logistics of setting something like this up, and anybody who's interested in learning. If you know anybody who would want to be involved, or if you have any sort of inkling to come see what it’s about, please check out the Facebook group here
, the website here
(still very early in development), and I can’t recommend enough, even if you don’t want to be involved, reading Alan Kaufman’s opening remarks
from the meeting, just for the sake of the enrichment that brings.
Also, if you can make out the audio, here’s a video peek
at how the first meeting went. Help spread the word! And let me know if you know of any organizations or individuals, particularly folks of color, who want to be involved. Education for all!Note: As I mentioned later in this post, I've since decided to step away from being a part of the Free University collective, though I wish them the best of luck!
Happy holidays! I can't believe it's already the week of Christmas. I've made a couple of suggestions for Good for the World holiday shopping, and here's one last reminder for last-minute shopping: shop local. I know that at times like these it's easier to get everything at the big corporate stores, but don't forget to save some holiday love and spending for the small businesses, which are having an especially rough time these days. For gift ideas, don't forget to try your local craft stores, artists from your town, or, my favorite, independent bookstores. It may be too late to order online, but you can check out resources
to track down local artists and craftspeople and contact them to lend your support. Or, why not give the gift of a donation to a local organization
doing good for the world? Last suggestion: a locally-produced literary magazine
featuring the poems of your favorite blogger makes a great gift. Okay, so maybe that last one was more selfish plug than Good for the World gift idea, but really any of these could help support your community, and local artists. Read about more reasons to shop locally here.
I’ve been feeling a little guilty about something. Namely, about the fact that I’ve been doing all this complaining
about growing up without seeing myself reflected in the books I was reading, which wasn’t entirely true. It was true most of the time in school, but I’m grateful at least that I had a mom who was conscious enough of how difficult that experience would be for me to make sure I saw myself in books at home. The books she brought home for me usually focused on little girls of color, so in some way I knew I wasn’t alone in the world.
She has no idea what she got herself into. I’m sure a simple thank-you would have been fine, but no, I’m showing my gratitude by telling the world how inspired I was by those stories and writing my own. So she finds herself showing up sometimes, in places like my holiday coming out story
. And in today’s holiday time story, which was inspired by her determination to have me see myself in another art form, dance. I don’t remember the details, so let me start by saying that this is a completely fictionalized, highly dramatized, and frighteningly accurate version of the story.
That last part is a joke, as far as I know. Read on...
“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live within and know we cannot live without.” –James Baldwin
That’s one of my favorite James Baldwin quotes, and I’m wearing it proudly on a shirt today. Where would I find such an enlightening shirt, you ask? It’s from my second pick for Good for the World holiday shopping (read about my first pick, LGBabyT, here
). Today my eye is on Liberation Ink
You can’t get much better than this – a volunteer-run, worker-owned collective that makes (cute!) sweatshop-free apparel with socially conscious designs, with funds going to support social justice organizations. Shopping that’s good for the world, indeed.
I don’t think I need to say anymore, besides that they’re having a SALE right now, so you can buy three items and get one free until December 19th.
So it's good for the world, and also good for me... in case anyone’s wondering, these are the three I’d like. Feel free to keep the fourth for yourself…
I thought it was appropriate that the sky was raining ruthlessly the day I interviewed poet Camille T. Dungy
. I was heading to a café in the Mission to meet with the woman who edited the first collection of nature poetry by black writers, and by the time I got there, nature was on my mind, in my shoes and dripping from my clothes. It felt only right to find myself sitting with Dungy and her six-month-old daughter, two black poets coming in from the rain to discuss, among other things, black nature poetry.
Having her take the time to sit down with me was a big honor. Camille T. Dungy authored the poetry collections What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison
(Red Hen Press, 2006) and Suck on the Marrow
(Red Hen Press, 2010), edited Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry
(UGA, 2009), and co-edited From the Fishouse: An Anthology of Poems that Sing, Rhyme, Resound, Syncopate, Alliterate, and Just Plain Sound Great
(Persea, 2009). Dungy has received fellowships from organizations including the National Endowment for the Arts, The Virginia Commission for the Arts, Cave Canem, the American Antiquarian Society and Bread Loaf. She is associate professor of Creative Writing at San Francisco State University. When did you begin writing? And is that separate from when you decided to pursue a career of writing and teaching poetry?
Yes, I’ve been writing my whole life. So I couldn’t tell you when I began. I made a conscious decision during college that I was going to become an English Major with a Creative Writing focus. And then I made a conscious decision at one point to do an MFA instead of a Ph.D., so there were several times along the way when I made decisions about focusing more deeply on it, but the writing has been there all along.
It’s just the decisions and opportunities to make it professional that keep confronting me. ...
Onesie available from LGBabyT
Ordinarily my least favorite part of the holiday season is the rampant consumerism, the so-called “spirit of giving” that has us running around like rabid animals showing more greed than giving as we fatten the pockets of the already-rich people who get to benefit from it all.
But I figure at least I can get into the spirit by finding gifts worth giving, to make the art of holiday shopping something that can be good for the world.
So here’s Maisha’s first pick for this year’s “Good for the World” holiday shopping: LGBabyT
LGBabyT sells queer-friendly and gender neutral baby clothes (and some for adults too!), perfect for any progressive-minded parent who would love to dress their baby in something like an “I (heart) Harvey Milk” onesie. More reasons to love LGBabyT:
- Their mission statement is “let babies be babies,” so that rather than using babies to push an identity or agenda forward, they have shirts with phrases like “When I grow up I want to be” and “I’m not flirting, I’m a baby.”
- Sustainability. According to their website: “We offer organic and recycled options and plan to one day work with solely recycled materials. We use Environmentally friendly products, water-based inks, energy conserving lights and try to find multiple uses for every scrap of paper or fabric we come across.”
- They’re doing good for the world, sending positive messages such as “Don’t raise bullies” on t-shirts are also available for adults. This message is especially relevant after the media coverage of the gay teen suicides this year. Also, LGBabyT donates 30% of its profits to organizations that support LGBT youth, education, and social equality for marginalized groups.
- They began with art, and an idea, and now they’re making the difference. I happen to personally know one of the women behind LGBabyT, and she’s fabulous, which is reason enough to support her, but she’s also inspirational, in the way that she’s taken a screen-printing hobby and turned it into something creative, sustainable and good for the world. Simply put, a world where kids wear these clothes makes for a better future.
So if you’re doing any holiday shopping, consider letting LGBabyT be part of your gift-giving. The world will be a better place for it.
I’m so excited by what’s coming up on the blog this week that today I’m just giving you a preview. Here’s some of what we have to look forward to this week:
- An interview with a very special guest, honored poet Camille Dungy.
- Creative non-fiction: more holiday stories about me and my mom (sorry, Mom).
- Holiday gift ideas that are good for the world.
- And who knows what else? Can’t wait!
And since I’m leaving you now with no real post to keep you company, I’ll take this moment to share with you a video I love, featuring a poem I love, about a state of being I love – here’s “How to Be Alone.”