Here I am, blogging and apologizing. Saying, I'm sorry I haven't been blogging more often. Here I am falling back on the excuse that I've been busy. Busy, busy, busy. Here I am claiming that being busy keeps me connected, keeps me aware, makes me feel like I'm contributing to life around me and weaving a thread between my own heartbeat and the drumming that makes the world go 'round.
And here I am admitting that it's not (always) true. That sometimes, it's quite the opposite – staying
busy helps me disconnect, helps me keep moving without pausing to consider how I'm moving, or why. It helps me feel productive, which can seem fulfilling when I convince myself that I value productivity more than being in touch with the fullness of my reality, including any uncomfortable feelings I'd rather avoid.
For me, working and creating with dignity means being mindful about the work I'm doing, and being aware of all of my needs, even those I might be neglecting in any given moment by staying so busy. I'm thinking about what bell hooks wrote in Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-Recovery:
"[t]he practice of 'right livelihood' invites us to become more fully aware of our reality, of the labor we do and the way we do it."
So here I am, pausing. Practicing "right livelihood" by taking a moment to think about how I can align my busy life with my dignity.
We all deserve to work with dignity, which is one of the reasons I'll be marching tomorrow for May Day, also known as International Workers' Day. It's a day for uniting in solidarity with immigrant workers, to stand up for human rights and say no to criminalization. CUAV's contingent will be part of San Francisco's march, walking together as LGBTQ survivors and our allies. Join us
, or find May Day events in your area
What does working with dignity mean to you?
Mr. Invisible Doesn't Like Rain
by Candace Fowler
I'm realizing I spend a lot of time trying to shake off the good things that come my way. I dismiss compliments to my work as exaggerations of my talent, shaking my head rather than letting the words stick. If I read the poem and the audience applauds, I try to let the sound fly off me like a dog shimmying water off its coat, instead of letting the praise sink in. And recently, upon reading a particularly glowing review of my poetry, I seriously considered the possibility that the reviewer was uncharacteristically drunk when she read my work. But I guess that's not likely.
Can anybody relate? Why do we do this? I guess I can see why people of color, or women, or queer people get used to the idea that we're not good enough, not deserving of good things, so it's easier to attribute our successes to other sources than to believe that we're really the ones who created something of value. After surviving abuse and oppression, I can understand why someone like me would have a hard time accepting that she's worthy of praise.
Today's practice is not one in humility. Today, I'm practicing saying something new - "I deserve this."
Recently, I've read my work as part of some truly magnificent events
, and poems of mine have been published in some compelling journals. It feels both humbling and empowering to share my work among such talent, and instead of asking, "What the hell am I
doing here?" I'm taking a breath and sitting with the feeling. And I'm saying, "I deserve this."
Try it out when good things come your way. Let me know how it goes.
And for one of those compelling journals in which I'm honored to have my work published, check out last December's issue of Blackberry: A Magazine.
I've written about Writing Ourselves Whole
before, but that was a while ago
, and anything that brings transformative healing into survivors' lives is worth mentioning again and again. There's no better time to mention this precious work than now, on the eve of Fierce Hunger
, Writing Ourselves Whole's 10th anniversary celebration. For the past ten years, founder and facilitator Jen Cross has been helping survivors write at the intersection of a trauma and desire. And what a liberating place to write from
from – I'd know, as I've personally spent time in some Writing Ourselves Whole workshops, and I have Jen to thank for so much of the courage I've found to write my truth. And now, I also have Jen to thank for my latest publication credit. She's included my poetry in the Fierce Hunger chapbook
, alongside the work of many of the brave and talented Writing Ourselves Whole participants from the last ten years. I'm thrilled to be included, and by association, to take part in tomorrow's Fierce Hunger celebration. The event sounds like so much fun! The night will include dancing,
a silent auction and a raffle with some fabulous items available, and readings by Carol Queen, Jacks McNamara, and more. All proceeds benefit the Writing Ourselves Whole scholarship fund, to give more survivors the gift of transformative writing workshops. You can find more details on the event, on the prizes available, and on how to donate to the fund on the Fierce Hunger tumblr
I'm glad that my words will be at Fierce Hunger, so I'll attend in spirit, since I can't be there in person. I'll be reading at the Bernal Yoga Literary Series
, which is happening the same night, in an unfortunate coincidence in scheduling. I must say, I'm a little blown away by the list of the other writers who'll be sharing the stage (studio floor?) at Bernal Yoga Studio tomorrow night. The lineup includes Joshua Mohr, Aimee Phan, and Phil Lumsden. I'm trying not to shake in my boots over here. Here are the details for that event: Bernal Yoga Literary SeriesMarch 2, 2013
, 8:00 pm
908 Cortland Ave in San Francisco
I hope to see you there, but you won't hurt my feelings if you show up at Fierce Hunger instead. I'm looking over the details for that below, and I know it's hard to miss!
Valentine's Day came and went again this year, along with its usual...challenges
. You know I'm all about the self-love
when it comes to these kinds of holidays, because if nothing else, it can be a good time to remind ourselves that we're worth loving even if we don't have the types of relationships or lives deemed perfect by the mainstream media's standards. But one of the great things that came out of this year's Valentine's Day was more about coming together than being alone. It was One Billion Rising,
a global campaign to end violence against women. People all around the world united in the most wonderful way – by dancing. Anti-violence action and
dance? You know I love it! Taking a stand to say we all deserve to live without violence – in the end, that comes down to self-love, too, doesn't it? For me, one of the most inspiring results of the One Billion Rising campaign comes out of the San Francisco jails, with those who participated there. Maybe I love it so much because I'm connected to these folks through my life and work, but I think this action also spreads a moving message that's important for all of us to hear. Watch "Inmates Rising" below, to see why the inmates danced, and why it was such a special experience for them. This video reminds me of the work of the formerly incarcerated poet Reginald Dwayne Betts. If you're not familiar with his work, I'd recommend getting to know him. Here's a taste, one love-centric poem of his:
"For you: anthophilous, lover of flowers"by Reginald Dwayne Betts
For you: anthophilous, lover of flowers,
green roses, chrysanthemums, lilies: retrophilia,
philocaly, philomath, sarcophilous—all this love,
of the past, of beauty, of knowledge, of flesh; this is
counter: philalethist, negrophile, neophile.
A negro man walks down the street, taps Newport
out against a brick wall &
stares at you. Love
that: lygophilia, lithophilous. Be amongst stones,
amongst darkness. We are glass house. Philopornist,
philotechnical. Why not worship the demimonde?
Love that—a corner room, whatever is not there,
all the clutter you keep secret. Palaeophile,
ornithophilous: you, antiquarian, pollinated by birds.
All this a way to dream green rose petals on the bed you love;
petrophilous, stigmatophilia: live near rocks, tattoo hurt;
for you topophilia: what place do you love? All these words
for love (for you), all these ways to say believe
in symphily, to say let us live near each other.
I’m finally back to blogging! Sorry for the extended break, and thanks for sticking with me. What have I been doing during all this time off, you ask? Keeping busy. Here are a few highlights – more on the resulting insights later.
- I made a big move, crossing the Bay to move from San Francisco to Oakland. It feels a little like hooking up (and shacking up) with the person I’ve been crushing on for a long time, and it’s been really good for me so far.
- I attended my second-to-last residency for my MFA program at Pacific University. Spent most of my time there feeling floored by the fact that the time has passed so quickly, but I had a great time. One of the big high points – Kaffir Boy author Mark Mathabane as a guest speaker, calling us to be a “courageous, humanitarian generation of writers” who write with the spirit of Ubuntu, that which makes us human.
- On the school note, I’m now in my final semester of my MFA program, which means I’m putting together my thesis, a manuscript of poems. It’s an exhilarating, excruciating process that feels a little like killing my darlings and giving birth to new ones every day. So exhausting and so rewarding, to say the least.
- I’ve been booking reading gigs, and I’ll have details on those soon!
- And I’ve been taking good care of myself, which totally counts as a thing to include among this list of life achievements. Because it’s necessary. It’s revolutionary. It’s love.
But okay, I would be lying if I pretended I’ve been only triumphant in my time away. I’ve also been feeling the pressure of what Jay Smooth calls “the little hater,” which said that when I finally got back to blogging, my return would have to be GLORIOUS. Well, this is my return, and it might not be so glorious, but the important thing is that I’m back.
I encourage you to watch this video, and to beat your own little hater by getting back to doing something you love. Let me know how it goes. *Shout out to Sugarcane
, the LGBTQ of color writing workshop that brought this video into my life and helped me beat my little hater*
It's time for a cheesy reader appreciation post. So if receiving appreciations makes you squirm, you've been warned. And if you enjoy reading about how awesome you are, then please, read on.
I've been blogging for over two years now, and I am just full of gratitude for everyone who reads what I write here. That includes newcomers just stumbling by, as well as everyone who's been with me since the beginning
, and all of you who joined this journey somewhere in the middle.
You've read while I rant and ramble about anything remotely related to the arts and social change, everything from the big picture of justice work
to the smaller frame of the happenings around me
to the most intimate inner workings within my own body
. You've read my self-indulgent posts about my own readings and my fangirl raves about the artists whose work I admire. You've read while my blog has shifted focus, as I grow in my own healing work and learn more about how that growth connects with nurturing my world. This blog, which
began as a somewhat random, experimental project, has become very important to me. As an outlet for writing about many of the subjects I hold closest to my heart, this blog reminds me that I deserve to have time and space for what matters to me most. And knowing you're reading reminds me that I'm not alone in caring about transforming injustice into liberation through creativity.I'm feeling especially thankful for my readers these days, since I've been posting on a somewhat slow, irregular schedule lately. And yet, every time I think you must have all given up on me, I come back to find so many people still visiting this site, and apparently sharing it, too, with more folks reading now than ever before. This is the time of year when I tend to slow down a bit on new posts. This year should be no different, as I'm currently in the process of finishing the third semester of my MFA program,
as well as moving to a new city (still in the Bay Area, don't worry), and keeping up with work and the other details of my life. So new posts might be a bit sparse for the time being, but I want you to know that I'm thinking of you.
Your comments and emails help me find hope and remember the power of community, as I'm never alone in the fight for change, no matter how far my fellow warriors are from me. So feel free to speak up in comments or messages, even on old posts, even just to disagree with me and start a discussion, or even just to share your own work with me so that I don't feel like the only self-indulgent one around. I'd love to hear from you, for many reasons, but mostly because, as I said before, you are awesome. And not just because you read my blog. Mostly because, in your own unique way, your life is art. And your art is helping to change the world. Thank you for reading!
(the real thing)
I got down in the kitchen recently. I love to cook, so I do it fairly often, but there’s a difference between throwing dinner together for myself and getting down in the kitchen. It was a whole Caribbean-inspired feast – seafood sizzling in lemon juice, veggies coated in curry, cornbread sweetened with honey.
It was all for my grandmother, who just passed away. Or, as I like to think of it, she just found peace, after fighting many battles. One of her most recent battles was with Alzheimer’s disease. Another was her effort to live out her final days in her home country of Trinidad. In that fight, she claimed victory.
Now, I say that the food I cooked was “Caribbean-inspired,” because it was not quite authentically Caribbean. Cooking here in the U.S., I didn’t have the ingredients to make the dishes just right. I didn’t have the wise guidance of somebody like my grandmother, who could’ve helped me craft the meal like they do in Trinidad. So I had to substitute ingredients, and find my own path to the flavors I sought.
The most obvious of this inauthenticity was the callaloo soup. Callaloo is a popular dish in Trinidad, a green puree of delightful flavors, made with vegetables, coconut milk, and many times, crabmeat. I had to substitute leafy greens found in Trinidad for those at my local market, and I left out the crabmeat. In the end, my soup was more yellow than green, and considered callaloo by name only. It was delicious, and completely inspired by the real thing, but my soup was not real callaloo.
Sometimes I feel that my writing process is similar to this cooking endeavor. Lately, I’ve been feeling all kinds of things that exist beyond my grasp of words – grief, love, passion. For a moment there, these things threatened to shut me down with a bit of writer’s block. I mean, what could I really say about feelings that burst through the containers of the words we try to give them? Is it even worth the effort, when I’ll always fall short of capturing what I really want to say?
A moment in Trinidad
Well, the food was worth the effort, despite the flaws. It filled my home with an irresistible aroma, filled my mouth with delectable flavors, and fed a few people I really care about. And it also gave me a chance to honor and celebrate my grandmother, to send her off with a tribute to her life. I don’t have the right words for this, and I couldn’t find the exact flavors for it, either. But it feels good to create something that represents, in a way, my search for an expression of all I want to say.
A poem I wrote in 2010 for my grandmother:
This is a strange edition of Friday Friends. Usually, I use these posts to highlight a blog I like, or a literary hero of mine, or an organization doing important work. Today's Friday Friend is Nina Simone - not a particular interpretation or recreation of Nina Simone's work, but Nina Simone herself. Because some stories just need to speak for themselves. As a singer, songwriter, pianist, and civil rights activist,
Nina Simone made an unforgettable impact on the world. Personally, I have her to thank for helping me feel permission to love me for me. Her incredible sense of self-respect was nothing less than a fiercely radical act of courage, when she faced racism that said she wasn't good enough, and colorism that would call her anything but beautiful. Like me, Nina Simone looked in the mirror to see dark skin and big features, so like me, she had to see past the messages that attach the word "ugly"
to such features. Hers is a story that can teach us about true beauty, the kind that emanates from a spirit of self-love.
Now, Nina Simone's life is being adapted into a story as told by Hollywood, the source of so many of our messages about beauty. In Hollywood, beauty means lighter skin and smaller features, so in order for our Nina to be a Hollywood hero, she will be played by Zoe Saldana. She will be a romantic lead, because no leading lady is complete without the company of a leading man - never mind that the man in this story, her assistant Clifford Henderson, was, in fact, gay. And she will give us hope, with an altered happy ending - isn't it inspiring to know that every dark-skinned woman could someday be immortalized onscreen as a light-skinned woman? Perhaps there's hope for beauty after all.
Don't get me wrong - I do think Zoe Saldana is a beautiful woman, and for all I know, she could pull off the role very well, as far as the acting goes. And I'm not one to try to challenge someone's Black Card - her more mainstream features don't make her any less black than Nina Simone. So why does it matter if her skin is the right shade for the role? Because, unfortunately, choosing someone whose experience of blackness is so far from the challenges Nina faced follows a predictable Hollywood pattern
reinforcing hurtful messages about what it means to be beautiful. It's very rare to see this happen in reverse - a dark-skinned actress picked to portray someone who was much lighter. Instead, those who don't fit Hollywood standards of beauty must be replaced. And why? Will audiences relate more to someone who is thinner and more conventionally gorgeous
than the average woman? Will we learn not to let history repeat itself, to avoid underestimating the power of a dark-skinned woman, when we see her depicted as a light-skinned woman? Nina Simone's daughter has spoken up about the movie plans, sharing that the project is unauthorized, and giving clarification about her mother's platonic relationship with the film's "romantic" lead.
She also speaks about her mother's unseen beauty, her intelligence, and her revolutionary spirit. All of which could have an indelible impact if it were captured on the big screen. So I prefer to leave Nina's story as told by Nina, through her music, her soul, and her vision for justice. We don't need to rewrite lives, alter people's appearance and sexualities
, and ignore their truths in order to tell their stories. Nina Simone had no shame in who she was. We can respect her enough to know that she doesn't need to live up to Hollywood standards to be beautiful. I've posted this video a couple of times before, but it's always worth re-posting. Here's Nina Simone singing the words of William Waring Cuney's poem "No Images."
Today at CUAV's Wellness Wednesday, we're reading Lucille Clifton's poem "won't you celebrate with me" and writing our own poems of resistance. I think of this poem as one of survival and self-love. Actually, I think of it as a sort of prayer. It lifts up the sacred, precious quality of shaping your own life through struggle.
What kind of life have you shaped for yourself? How will you celebrate?
Here's the poem, with video of Lucille Clifton reading it below.
won't you celebrate with me
won't you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.
How strange, this business of writing.
On one hand, it's very personal for me. It's just me and the page, journeying through thoughts and memories that exist nowhere else but within my own mind. You may have noticed that lately my blog has focused a lot on my emotions and my healing, and my creative writing has also been taking an inward turn. I've been looking at the possibility of social change through the lens of inner change, exploring how tending to my needs as a survivor connects with creating the change necessary to counteract the broader impact of oppression.
And on the other hand, writing can be all about connection. It's an odd combination of stories both personal and shared, as the words that once hid in my darkest places make their way into the daylight for anyone listening to hear.
Like so many others, I began my day today with the impact of violence weighing on my heart, as I woke to news reports of the mass shooting in Colorado
. I'm praying for the victims and the survivors. I'm thinking about what it means to witness and survive violence, as so many of us in oppressed communities do each day, as we watch others fall to the violence we face.
In moments like these, I feel the need for connection. If only to know that others are surviving, and to learn how they're doing so. So today I'm turning to Dangerous Sweetness
, "an online collection of poems by queer & trans* poets responding with love & rage to the violence committed against those in their queer & trans* communities." It's a powerful, meaningful, necessary collection of words by remarkable artists, including some I've been honored to connect with personally. Poet Meg Day, whose work I've shared on this blog before,
writes of her need to collect these poems for those who have lost lives and livelihoods to violence, including those whose stories we haven't seen in the news, saying, "We honor them with our grief, our fury, our love, our words, & our lives."
There's something about connecting in this way that offers a glimmer of hope on dark days. This post was supposed to be about Bitchez Brew Revue
, the event where I'm reading tomorrow. Obviously, today's news of violence took my thoughts in a different direction, but this feels like an appropriate time to reflect on what connection means to me. Tomorrow, as I share some of my most personal poems with a crowd mixed with friends and strangers, I'll be thinking about what it means to share those stories that once were secrets, and are now acts of resistance against the forces that bring suffering. Event details:
Bitchez Brew RevueJuly 21, 20127:00 pm Awaken Cafe
1429 Broadway, OaklandFeaturing MG Roberts, Sean Labrador y Manzano, Cassandra Dallett, John Panzer, Jason Scheinheit, and Maisha Z. Johnson, with music by Brooke D.
Here's today's song for survival - Asha Ali's "In This World."