Saturday, August 29, 2015

20. Making Good Habits

I love reading Joyce Meyer because its easy and enjoyable to read. I can digest any of her books within a day or two, highlighting what I need to remember.

As a writer, much of my life deals with habits. In order to complete a novel, I must habitually wake up at 4:30 in the morning and write until I grow weary. I must habitually read. I read everything: poetry, novels, essays, Christian, philosophy.

Discipline is queen.

There are a few habits that I could break in order to become a better woman and there are a few habits that I can pick up in order to be a better writer. Joyce Meyer's book helped me walk down the path of remembering these things.

Joyce Meyer encouraged me to focus on one habit at a time. And so I will.

I recommend Joyce Meyer's books because they are a quick read that will help you get your life together. Once you've completed the text, you can reread countlessly until you've mastered everything you need to grasp.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

19. Between the World and Coates

A friend of mine purchased Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me; he raved about it. My friend mentioned that there is only a single review blurbing the entire book: Toni Morrison.

And when Toni says that Ta-Nehisi can clearly fill the intellectual void left by James Baldwin's death, I listen.

Coates had my undivided attention.

I loved the rhythm of Coates's sentences much more than in his memoir. In a few years, he has grown as a writer. I am amazed and in awe. It was not simply the parallels and unparallel choices within his sentences, I also loved the repetition within his paragraphs.

This is a pithy, well structured book. The writing is strong.

I enjoyed reading about the experience of Black men. It was not the cruelty of the threat of death that I enjoyed. It was the strength passed down from generation to generation that amazed me.

To be such a small text, it is the most quotable book I've read in a while. The notion that, "in fact, Americans, in a real sense, have never betrayed their God." makes me think about the structure of oppression and the design of poverty.

"But race is the child of racism, not father" and the dead races that he mentions later makes me think about whether I would want the notion of Black to die. I love being Black, implied oppression and all.

Even though Coates is not writing from a theistic perspective, his notion of "the Dream" reminded me of The Four Agreements, in a powerful way. I have to consider what lies I have accepted as my own.

"Fail to comprehend the streets and you gave up your body now. But fail to comprehend the schools and you gave up your body later." I appreciated this sentence. As a college graduate who has been homeless, a college graduate who lives in Detroit. I negotiate these differences daily. I am a woman, so the ways in which I could lose my body are expanded exponentially, which Coates acknowledged.

As a writer, I will be contemplating this notion of being "twice as good". Why should I measure my writing against white people?

Whether I am twice as good or not, it is America's "heritage" to destroy the Black body. And unfortuantly, sometimes Blacks participate in this destruction. Black police officers against Black citizens. Black men against Black men. How have we internalized this America tradition?

In stead of stating Don't drink the Kool-aid, Coates stated, "Do not drink from poison." That's what it is isn't it?

I'll be rereading Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me several more times.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

18. On Reading The Art of Slow Writing

I love books about how to write. I collect them; I enjoy them; I reread them.

I deeply wanted The Art of Slow Writing to be my favorite book about writing. It had all of the components that I needed to fall in love with the text. Namely, it had the personal stories of my favorite authors.

I was disappointed with the editing though. The writing was beautifully, readable. I read the entire text within 24 hours.

However, I didn't need the exact same Zadie Smith quote about letting a year pass twice. One of those quotes should have been edited out. It wasn't necessary to include two separate chapters on decision making and choices -- one of them should have been deleted. Or merged.

The beginning of the book was much stronger than the ending. Perhaps the beginning of the book was rewritten or edited much more than the ending.

And, also I didn't enjoy the commentary about her own writing process, which amassed half of the text, as much as I enjoyed the narratives of authors who I know and love. Her half of the book could have been edited out for a much more powerful read.

And, perhaps it is the influence of screenwriting, but Louise DeSalvo did not have to mention what books an author wrote every single time she mentioned a famous authors name. Truthfully, she didn't have to mention their books in a parenthetical phrase at all. Most of the readers who would buy her book already know who the famous people are. Editing, editing, editing.

I am not sure who edited the book but they sure could have used some help.

The Art of Slow Writing had the potential to be a classic how-to-write text.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

17. Terrance Hayes's Best American Poetry

I must admit, this is the greatest Best American Poetry collection ever.
I should have known.
I kind of did.

Since Terrance Hayes writes so flawlessly beautiful, I am certain that he reads with the same eloquence of rhythm.

I trust his taste, his eye, his ear.
I trust his emotions.

I was delighted to find, throughout the book, lines that I wish I had written.

I, too, love the devil. He comes to my bed
all wrath and blessing and wearing
my husband's beard, whispers, tell me who
you suspect. He fools me the same way every time,
but never punishes me the same way twice.
--Traci Brimhall, from "To Survive the Revolution"

...And the preacher introduced
the word "lascivious" and accused
the congregation of not tiding
when the daughter died
And the deacon board smoked.
--Amaud Jamaul Johnson, from "L.A. Police Chief Daryl Gates Dead at 83"

The only surviving son of Jesus Christ was Karl Marx
You can tell by the last letter of his name,
Which has the shape & frail balance of an overturned cross
--Larry Levis, from "Elegy with a Darkening Trapeze inside It"

Wait. I just realized how many poems that I highlighted have references, allusions and criticisms of religion. Am I religious? Sometimes. But, I'm digging the poems, poems I wish I wrote.

My favorite poem in the entire book is "OK Cupid" by Major Jackson, who I love. This poem makes me weep and moan and laugh and shake my head. I'm not up on my writing game. This is the poem I wish I wrote but I'm glad that I didn't. Simply because, I had such a great damn time reading it.

"Dating a Catholic is like dating a tribe
and dating a tribe is like dating a nation
and dating a nation is like dating a football star
and dating a football star is like dating a new car
and dating a new car is like dating an air freshner"

I don't know where to stop because I love the whole damned poem.

"...and dating a fireplace is like dating a mantel
and dating a mantel is like dating a picture frame
and dating a picture frame is like dating Martin Luther King with Jesus
and dating Martin Luther King & Jesus is like dating a threesome."

Wait, wait, wait. I have to put down my book and just... breathe. I love this poem so much. And there it is, isn't it. Another one of those religious references that I love.

My favorite poem, unfortunately is "Rape Joke". Yes, I can have two favorites. I don't even want to reprint the words for fear I'll flashback into my own psychosis. But trust me it's not funny. Not in the laugh out loud sense of the word funny. But it is ironic how your rape joke could be my rape joke. And how few words between my rape joke and your rape joke would have to change before it's my story, my poem.

Whew, that poem is heavy.

Perhaps the whole collection is. It's a true work of art.

I could use more anthologies edited by Terrance Hayes in my life.


 



16. Living The Four Agreements

For the past decade, this book, The Four Agreements, has been putting things in perspective. My brother recommended the book long ago and I still owe him for introducing four simple agreements into my life.

In order to live by these four agreements, you don't have to ascribe to one particular religion or another. In fact whether you are Judeo-Christian or an Athiest, Buddhist or Yoruba, these are four standards which everyone could strive for.

When I first read the book, I attended a Unity Church and a Hindu spiritual group.

Now I am Baptist. A Christian.

These four agreements are still relevant.

When I was younger, I tried to master the agreements one by one. I always thought that the first agreement, "Be Impeccable with Your Word" came naturally to me.

But I always, always, always got stuck at number two: "Don't take anything personally."

It took me a decade to re-wire my emotions and my instincts so that I don't take other people's words and actions personally.

This was one of the books I carried with me, along with a bible, Half of a Yellow Sun, Wade in the Water, 100 Best African American Poems and War Dances, while I was homeless. Unfortunately, I lost my original copy while sleeping on an open lawn near Cass.

Finally, I had a chance to rebuy. Finally, I had the chance to reread. To remember.

Now, I can say that every day I live by the four agreements. I'm not perfect. But for the most part, I reach my standard.

15. As a Man Thinketh So is He

I've been meaning to read this slender selection, As a Man Thinketh by James Allen, for over a decade.

I absolutely agree with the premise, "Men imagine that thought can be kept secret, but it cannot; it rapidly crystallizes into habit, and habit solidifies into circumstance."

I only have one objection to this crucial text. James Allen claims that, "The truth is that oppressor and slave are co-operators in ignorance." I whole-heartedly disagree. To blame the Africans smuggled across the Atlantic (or the Indian Ocean, for that matter) for their oppression is short-sighted and, quite frankly, cruel.

I will not participate in victim blaming.

To blame women who have been sold into sexual slavery for co-operating in ignorance is wrong.

In fact, as short as his book is, I'd like to see him try to write it as a slave who was not taught to read or write.

New Age ideologies work when you are at least middle class. They break down quickly amongst those without.

However, As a Man Thinketh is well worth the read.

It is ironic that based off of his premise, if you are oppressed and you believe that you have co-operated in your oppression, that will become your reality. And you will begin to operate as if your own poverty and rape is your fault.

I cannot recommend any Black or any woman or anyone internalizing that concept.

Friday, August 07, 2015

14. A Lighthead's Guide

There are poets who remind you of the beauty and necessity of poetry: Terrance Hayes is one of those poets.

Lighthead, by Terrance Hayes, was a pleasure to read. His formal verse reads with the ease of free verse. There is such emotion hidden openly in what he notices. His discoveries bring the reader joy.

When he writes, "When I kiss my wife,/ sometimes I taste her caution" we understand the kiss, the caution and the inevitable sometimes.

Terrance Hayes is a master of endings. Whether saying "and then lifting her head to listen for something no one but her could hear", or "Yes, I have a pretty good idea what beauty is. It survives all right. It aches like an open book. It makes it difficult to live.", Hayes knows how to leave an impression.

Lighthead's Guide to Addiction is one of my favorite poems of all times. It is a masterpiece. It captures the necessity of repetition between the facts of life which should not be repeated. Each of the Lighthead poems make me enjoy reading the poetry of others much more than I enjoy writing my own.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

13. Blue Horses

On the inside flap of Mary Oliver's Blue Horses, Oliver's attention to the beauty of nature is noted. It's funny, when I read the book it wasn't the natural world which stood out; it was her attention to the emotion of the inner world.

I was moved.

In the beginning of the book, there were several poems that tested limits. I enjoyed, "What I Can Do" and "First Yoga Lesson".

While I was overtaken by the poem "Franz Marc's Blue Horse's", "If I Wanted a Boat" is by far my favorite poem in the entire collection. It may very well be one of my favorite poems of all times.

Oliver's work is readable and emotionally captivating. I wrestled with my feelings throughout reading this volume. I greatly enjoyed Mary Oliver's attention to the moments between being alive and realizing that one is so.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

12. The Problem is No One Likes a Snitch: A Book Review


Do you have a new idea almost every day for a writing project?... Are you a short-story writer one day and a novelist the next? A memoirist on Monday and a screenwriter by the weekend?...Do you blab about your project to loved ones, coworkers, or strangers before the idea is fully formed, let alone partially executed? (Lerner, Forest for the Trees
For the past decade, the opening paragraph of Forest for the Trees has been my refuge.
 
I presumed, perhaps correctly, that Betsy Lerner understood me in a way that my father and my sands and all my unrequited crushes could not. In college and in New York City, I read the first chapter, "The Ambivalent Writer" in rapid succession, every time I felt depressed. Misunderstood.
 
In my young adulthood as a self-published poet seeking literary journals that would have me, I was the ambivalent writer.
 
A funny thing happened to me on my way to becoming a novelist. Part of the descriptions in the first chapter ceased to apply to me. The whole notion of ambivalence deterring completion doesn't fit any more.
 
Now, I can finish poetry books and novels and screenplays and essays.
 Asking for advice about what you should write is a little like asking for help getting dressed. I can tell you what I think looks good, but you have to wear it. And as every fashion victim knows, very few people look good in everything... But in my experience, a writer gravitates toward a certain form or genre because, like a well-made jacket, it suits him.
 I've been contemplating this assertion for the last decade. Trying to see if it fits.
 
Almost a decade ago Sonia Sanchez appeared at Louis Reyes Rivera's Brooklyn writer's workshop where she encouraged people to write everything. She said the opposite of Lerner. Sanchez, a poet, was asked if she could write plays and she said Yes! She encouraged all the Black folk in attendance to do the same...
Finding your form is like finding a mate. You really have to search, and you can't compromise--unless you can compromise, in which case your misery will be of a different variety... The James Joyces of the world, those who can move from short story to novel to epic, are rare, but then again, few writers master each form the first time out of the gate.
 Not to be a racialist, but I am hyperaware of there differences between the path of a white writer, male or female and that of a writer of color. In the case of Black writers, I don't think I have any writer on my bookshelf who only writes in one form. Most of my favorites write in at least three... but everyone writes in at least two.
 
I have Morrison novels and Morrison essays, Adichie novels, short stories and essay, bandele memoir and poetry (and soon novel), Angelou memoir and poetry and essays, Madhubuti poetry and essays, Baraka poetry and essays and plays, Danticat novels and short stories and biography, Hughes poetry and short stories, Brooks poetry and novel, Alice Walker novels and short stories and essays, Giovanni poetry and essays.
 
This doesn't feel so rare for the Black writer.
 
Perhaps the Black writer can't afford to be stuck in one form. There is not guarantee that the establishment will validate Black poetry or that the publishing companies will profit off of Black narratives; there is no guarantee that Black novels will be adapted onto Hollywood screens. Who will read a Black memoir?
 
And so my brother told me, Just Write. Don't worry about the critics and the academy; just write.
 
My favorite quoted quote in this book is by Mark Twain: "There is only one form for a story, and if you fail to find that form the story will not tell itself."
 
This, I've found to be true. As a poet, I have stories within me that cannot be explicated or imagined in a single line or a single verse. I need the essay, the memoir, the short story, the novel. I need to break away from the 10 line poem, the 3 minute spoken word piece.
 
And I've been battling, as Twain predicted, to find the perfect form for every narrative and philosophy presently untold.
 
 
 
"Let's face," Lerner writes, "if in your writing you lift the veil on your family, your community, or even just yourself, someone will take offense. Call it fiction, call it poetry, call it creative nonfiction..."
 
And how does the writer handle those who are offended? I have no idea. I have been very paranoid over the last decade of being ostracized from the Black community. I figure once my first novel is published, if it is noticed at all, all of the Black Christians and Black Greeks and Black Masons and Black Feminists would hate me.
 
This paranoia hasn't stopped me from writing any of the drafts; but, the idea of desolation and exile sits with me daily.
 
Lerner understands, "You think you can't write, but the truth is you can't tell. Writing is nothing if not breaking the silence. The problem is, no one likes a snitch."
 
And aren't I a snitch? Let's talk about Black herpes and Black homophobia and Black brain-tapping and Black eurocentrism and Black sellouts.  Let's talk about Black incest and Black rape and Black domestic violence and Black child abuse. Blacks who hate themselves. Let's talk about Black self-esteem.
 
I'll go first. I'll talk about myself.
 
Rarely do I think of my body except for as a vehicle to hold up my thoughts. I only adequately wash my hair or my body, shave my arms or my nether regions; I only change clothes on a consistent basis when I have a man in my life. I try not to offend him.
 
And since I haven't dated in months, I figure why go through the motions of, what do they call it, self-care?
 
I am a horrible woman. Horrible at being a woman. I don't cook or clean or color-coordinate. That is, I don't unless I have a man.
 
Left to my own devices, I spend my entire day evaluating my own thoughts, mining my own brain for sentences which might outstand eternity.
 
"If you become a successful writer, these ritualistic behaviors will become known as your 'process'. The paper you write on, the time of day you compose--these details will actually seem interesting to some segment of your reading public as well as to a few graduate students as they labor to unravel the mystery of your genius... Should you fail to achieve success, all of these behavior look like only excuses or sick behavior."
 
Yes, should no agent accept Order of the Oppressed, should no publisher by it all of the months I didn't retwist my locks and all of the years I didn't buy clothes and all of the shoes that I wear for a decade, all of the unarched eyebrows and unglossed lips and unmanicured fingernails and all of the perfume that doesn't exist; all of the books on the floor of my apartment and all of the raman noodles and yogurt all of the unused sponges and mops and rags and scowering powder will just look like one long explanation for why one brown-skinned, nappyheaded college flunkee could never get a man.
 
Actually, even if my novel was accepted into the post-modern lexicon of random Black American women with shit to say, my writing habits which are my life habits will still be a pretty damned good reason for why I will be the only one on my line who never marries.
 
For the first 10 years of owning this book, I always focused on the first half of the book which described, quite perfectly, the writer's nature. Now, that I've finished a novel, I am attending to the latter portion of the book.
 
Okay, so maybe I shouldn't compare my novel to literary blockbusters in my query letters. And Grisham bought 1,000 copies of his own book. So E. Lynn Harris had to self-publish because no one would publish his work. And Terry McMillan road-tripped her own book tour.
 
And so I'll try to go the traditional route. I'll try to get the literary journals publications that lead to an agent that lead to a book deal that lead to a book tour.
 
And if that doesn't work, then I'll try to get a Black or Independent to publish me.
 
And if that doesn't work, I'll self publish my own book with paperback flap covers and deckle edge pages... because it's really not about the profits is it? It's about having a product that is worthy of someone's time.
 
I highly recommend The Forest for the Trees for all writer of all forms and genres... perhaps this might guide you for the next 10 years of your writing career, too.

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