Yesterday I was so lucky to have breakfast with my college mentor, Dr. Barbara Emerson, who was instrumental in allowing me to have no boundaries in all the things I wanted to do at Eugene Lang at the New School way back in the day. Me and my cohorts were able to put together the first black theater festival there and actually pay our professional friends (like Jessica Care Moore, Jasiri, T’Kalla, Bradley, Shelley Nicole, Nathan Trice to name a few) to come and participate. As a black women in such a progressive academic environment, she was refreshing, strong, unwavering in her support, opinions and wisdom. I remember my father really adoring her at my graduation (especially after the Dean commented that she’d never met a real autoworker before when I introduced him - that got an eyeroll).
So yesterday morning, Dr. Emerson and I caught up and we got on the subject of Sekou Sundiata, the beloved playwright/poet who changed my life through his work and through the simple instruction of connecting headlines to art so I could understand my world in contest and content. Dr. Emerson said she’d missed Sekou’s memorial at The New School because another good friend of hers had passed, Asa Hilliard. She then realized that both of these men were born around her time and that there weren’t that many black men her age because of the Vietnam war. The birth years of black men from 1947 onward had been tricky since not many came back home. It never occurred to me. My dad was one that did come back home but never ever talked about what happened there and I could usually get him to talk about ANYTHING. Vietnam was a closed door.
So incidentally, at the same time this conversation happened, one of my dad’s best friends since the womb, Richard “Scooter” Williams, was making his transition in Detroit, daughter and pastor present. His daughter, Kirsten, was one of my very best friends when I was in 1st - 3rd grade. Her father took us to the mall many times, our first Michael Jackson concert and chaperoned many crazy sleepovers. He taught me that it was okay to ask for what I wanted since, at that time, I had some crazy notion that asking the opposite usually got you what you really wanted. I wasn’t that imaginative obviously.
What a great life my dad, Scooter and my Uncle Mitchell have had. They’ve had adventures that many would envy, they have children who adore them in so many different ways, they’ve left a legacy of loving outside of the usual boundaries since blood is really just blood but love is really family. They gave me tools to be who I am now and I’m eternally grateful (I’m not sure if I can do a funeral yet since my dad’s really left me in a fragile place and has still) but not a day goes by that I don’t remember driving around Highland Park as if that was my world where I could expand and contract with ease and security. Memories are almost like my bible of sorts. I have such loving pure ones that I am thankful everyday when I wake up and am able to love as I do for the people like Scott, Marcella, Jen, my brother, my mom, Ari, Jessica, Kamilah, Inge, Eve, Vasanti, Yvie, Maritri, Amanda, my cousin Renee…the list is pretty long because of that time. How lucky I feel right now because of the untraditional.
Have a great time with dad, Uncle Scooter.
There are so many wonderful writers I know and we are all so vastly different but there are a few things we share aside from the need/love of writing. Specifically, we all share the presence of people in our lives that assume writing is very easy. I mean you just make stuff up, right? Or there are those that say, so what it’s hard? Push through. Or there are those who have the romantic relationship with writing which only sets you up for failure (if romanticizing the fully unknown doesn’t work for love, why would it work for anything else?). Here’s how it goes for me:
- Great idea pops itself into my head at usually not a convenient time causing me to either zone out, grab a napkin, try to remember, forget, remember again at another time, magic dust sifted off and idea is a little less than the initial great formation.
-open blank document. stare. be scared. first word struggles. first word deleted. decide to be zen and just write it out. usually like that. come back and realize you must do this sweaty palm typing all over again.
-panic when story structure does not go smoothly despite outline or no outline or clear steps in head.
-write it out.
-decide you are really not killing any of your children if yo cut that monologue that doesn’t work. i for one never use the cut stuff again. it sounds great but it sounded great THERE and it doesn’t fit there so it doesn’t matter.
-share. with people. preferably other writers. if you share with actors, they either smile blankly or digest the thing whole and want it to be part of their fabric and ask you tons of questions you haven’t really thought of. sometimes this is great. sometimes you get an actor or actors who have decided they know this thing better than you and there is no way to talk them away from this concept. nobody got anywhere being a stage mother.
-hear comments. related to above. the magic of getting notes is pretty easy. if you let it, it will make you a patient in the bin but if you become liquid, it will become another exercise in getting to know others (sort of like eavesdropping). first, realize that people’s comments are coming from them - not from some magical unbiased think tank. this is not bad. sometimes people’s experiences are wonderful tools to use. other times, not so much. but they don’t know this so don’t be defensive towards them. they know what they know. how you get through this process is simple. write down what’s useful, pretend to write down everything else.
-remember your own thoughts after hearing play out loud. a few times. the first time you might want to peel your skin off, pee, run and crave oxygen at the same time. that happens to me. i’m no good the first time around. my heart wants to say the lines and that’s not possible so my mouth is forced shut. the second time, you can hear the gaps, run into the bumps, realize when a line is said not how you intended (decide if that’s your fault or if the actor just missed the lead in), figure out how to fix it.
The thread here is that you have to stay fluid in the process. If you have decided already how things should go, you might miss out on the best way they can go. What if? is never a bad thing to keep asking. Tune out the people who think you just sit down and start typing fast. Confidence works in life and more so in art. If you have a day job, realize that art is not the same structure. There is no boss when writing. No one can boss creative process. Well, that’s wrong. Madonna can boss creative process. But you’re not Madonna. So there’s that.
Just remember to cheerlead yourself until you get a posse who does it. You shouldn’t stop when you get a posse but you also don’t have to be sad you don’t have one when you don’t because you are more than enough.
Having just gone through a slew of birthdays (mine and my dad included), I’ve discovered another tendon important to maturing in life. Auto correct. You may have read this elsewhere in this kind of phrase “pay attention to the little voice in your head” but I think it’s really larger than that.
There comes a moment in your life when you’ve got to give yourself a little credit on first impulse. Everything that has come to past in your life has lead you to this moment so sometimes, your first reaction is correct. Yet it seems we are taught to second guess our first reaction just in case it’s incorrect. Even if it is incorrect, sometimes it is incorrect for a reason. It’s to auto correct you.
I’ll give an example:
The other day, someone asked if I was okay because there were a couple of things I was doing that fell through the cracks. This is a normal question of course because I pride myself on my work. But this person was also witness to some of the reasons behind this crack falling episode I had (actually just two things that went left of center but not two major things) that were including but not limited to a bank fraud on my account, a tire with a nail in it, that woman monthly visitor, some crazy work stuff and a low immune system. My initial reaction was to be who I was and say outright why I was acting the way I was acting. Without an attitude but definitely with perplexion because this person was a witness to said things. In the past, I would have tried to cut myself around the idea of being nice as opposed to calmly truthful. I would have shucked and jived my way into making the situation comfortable as opposed to letting it happen. I’m not saying that I didn’t think about my actions over and over again after my response. What I am saying is that I don’t regret how I responded because somewhere I autocorrected myself without realizing it. Something in me needed to be me at that moment and not listen to the fears, expectations, proper blah blah that we are taught to layer over our own feelings. Feeling what you feel is just as important as understanding where someone else is coming from. In fact, it should give color to all other things that relate to relating to other people.
This is a tangent but then most of my posts are because they are coming from my own experience as I navigate the art of autocorrection and hashing out my life without “putting all my business in the street” (I’ve been accused of that before).
The purpose of this though is to acknowledge that my thirty some odd years have lead me to unconscious lessons that have benefited me in areas where I don’t have to overthink anymore. Think of Neo in the Matrix when dodging bullets. He was not sitting there contemplating the bullets so much as he listened to his own rhythm. I’ll not tell you this works ALL the time but I can tell you that sometimes it’s just what you need to do to be you.