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.
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!
I know. Crazy. It's much easier to find themes in high school English class, though, when you're reading some work that was crafted with a writer's intention, that's been analyzed for years, and your ideas about theme can fit neatly into one of the five paragraphs in an essay. It doesn't quite work out that way in life. Sometimes, themes appear in the form of many questions, without any answers. Sometimes, a word or a phrase keeps coming up, and you don't know why, so the only question you can come up with is "what's the point?"
Sometimes, multiple themes seem to arise at once, and they don't always work well together. I'm in one of those moments of conflicting themes. I can appreciate the space it leaves me in, a place of exploration and asking questions that might not even need to be answered. The first theme is longing. Yesterday I saw an incredible movie, "Pina." The film shows the work of legendary choreographer Pina Bausch. Pina died in 2009, but she'll never really leave this earth, not after bringing so much passion and expression to the world. "What are we longing for?" Pina asked her dancers
to answer this question, though not with words. Their dancing reminds me that themes aren't always found in words, but also in movement, in expression, in those moments when our voices are silent but our bodies illustrate what's left unsaid. The other theme of the moment for me is quite different from longing. I keep encountering the statement I am enough. What does this mean for me? Maybe these themes aren't so contradictory. In a way, I believe I'll always be longing for something, which doesn't have to mean perpetually falling short or failing to reach something. It only means there will always be passion pushing me forward. But I am enough, even while longing.
I am like a dancer, expressing my longing with every muscle, every breath, every stitch of my being, reaching for everything I hope for, until at the end of the day, I settle into my skin, alone in my body, and I am enough.
I think I've established pretty well on this blog that I'm one of those crazy literary types. So, it's possible that some of my thoughts are the result of my affliction - er, affinity, that is, for words. For instance, I tend to see themes everywhere I go. Themes in my life, following me along through my days. Some might prefer to leave such things behind in high school English classes, but me? I continue to ask those silly "what's going on here?" questions, finding themes in life situations, in the words of friends and strangers, and yes, in the books I read.
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.
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.”