The last time I blogged I was living in a house, in Cleveland, and resting up from the book tour that took every inch of energy from my bones.
It’s now October. I’m a month deep into my MFA writing program at Columbia University in New York, and live in an apartment in the Bronx. Life, how shall I put this in an understated manner, has changed.
So, pardon the lengthy silence. I was getting my bearings. Small things: selling a home, finding a home, beginning graduate school, child rearing my five year old, keeping my life partner and I sane in the process.
You’ll find me on here more often, I promise.
Welcome to October. I usher it in with my gratitude and passion.
I’m starting the MFA program at Columbia University in the fall. Literary Non Fiction. I have no qualms about going back to school, but once I started walking the hallways on a deserted Friday afternoon, the doubts began to echo as my 35 year old body passed by ear budded and beat covered ears, youngish faces with no signs of parental lines of worry. I went to the bathroom to collect my thoughts and found this:
It made me half smile. The rewording/defacing private property is something I would have done ten years ago. Something I would proudly do with my feminist friends, searching for our space in the world, restless to reclaim a corner of a university that has a harrowing record of its treatment toward women.
I feel secure in my age. Signs of age on my face have accompanied the deliverance of wisdom and understanding beyond my 20 something year old self could have imagined. And I am curious to see how this MFA program mixed bag of writers will mesh, in the classroom or the Women’s Womb.
For me, language is a freedom. As soon as you have found the words with which to express something, you are no longer incoherent, you are no longer trapped by your own emotions, by your own experiences; you can describe them, you can tell them, you can bring them out of yourself and give them to somebody else. That is an enormously liberating experience, and it worries me that more and more people are learning not to use language; they’re giving in to the banalities of the television media and shrinking their vocabulary, shrinking their own way of using this fabulous tool that human beings have refined over so many centuries into this extremely sensitive instrument. I don’t want to make it crude, I don’t want to make it into shopping-list language, I don’t want to make it into simply an exchange of information: I want to make it into the subtle, emotional, intellectual, freeing thing that it is and that it can be. – Jeanette Winterson
Taken from a presentation by Kaya Oakes, writer and lecturer
I am a little over three months away from beginning my program in literary nonfiction at Columbia. In the chaos and details of moving, I found it rather hilarious that folks keep asking me to define “literary nonfiction” and how that differs from journalism. There are plenty of differences, some explain it better than others.
I’ll start with Kaya Oakes.
Sometimes it takes a while to catch up on the coverage of the anthology, but here’s an interview/review combo at Bitch Magazine!
I’ve got one week left. In one week, I’ll be on plane flying home to Cleveland. The west coast sweep of the book tour will be over. Years of thinking, months of planning have gone into each event and then, poof, it will all be a memory.
I’ve never been on a book tour and I had to figure out how to do it. It was all DIY. Makes sense. The book itself was a DIY from the start. I think that’s one of the things I’m most proud: I finished it. It may have taken 13 years, it may have consumed the last 4 years of my life, but I finished it. I’m in an exhausted state right now, unsure what my next steps are going to be, half praying that somehow those steps will reveal themselves to me.
But I know better than to do that half prayer. I know that things most important in our lives are never revealed to us, they must be explored with tireless curiosity. And then built.
I built Dear Sister not just for you, but for myself. It’s a space where I wanted to learn about the intersection of complexity and love. It has not disappointed.
I’ve been on the road. Two pieces of luggage full of old clothes and fresh books right off the press. The books are all the same title. It’s my book. It’s a collection of letters, poetry, and prose I put together about four years ago. It’s taken this long to get it out in the world, and it’s taken this long to get myself out into public spaces to talk about it.
I often struggle with how to talk about rape. There are so many ways I can talk about it – prevention, healing, justice, trauma, community, global epidemic, silence, culture – that I find myself, sometimes, at a loss for words. I fill the spaces I’m in with words, yes, but the real words, the ones I have been searching for for a long a time, still, have not yet arrived. It saddens and worries me. I hope those words come. I crave the process that will give me the insights, but I can’t have them now. I’m still IN it. Therefore I can’t have an insight in what is still occurring. The process can only be an afterward. This simple statement frustrates me, too. I want to have my own words, not the ones on repeat that come automatically during the Q&A. They are genuine, but those words don’t reveal the complexity I am experiencing. There is so much complexity.
There is a time for hope and a time for brokenness. Oddly, during this book tour, I’ve found that I can be both; my body can handle being both. It’s usually the people that populate the world that can’t handle the duality. It truly is extraordinary, our need to know if we are one thing or another. “Both” — is countercultural. Being more than one thing is too much, too difficult to grasp.
But not for me.
There is a joy and brokenness I feel on this book tour. A solemn understanding of the gravity of what I am bringing into the spaces I am presenting or facilitating. It’s like a permanent twilight in my soul. A dimming of the day that never happened. That is what violence and trauma have done to us. And, still, the joy of meeting the contributors whose work has occupied my life for years now is a wonder to experience. They bring their pieces to life, to an emotional level of existence that could not be enlivened by the page or screen. There is something projected by the actuality of a person; their voice, skin, they way their eyes scan their page, and then look up, open their mouths, and tell a story that is true. A story of violence. A story of survival. A story that birthed itself out of their minds and onto the page for the world to consume.
It’s a joy and sorrow I cannot explain.
I keep saying to myself that I’ll find the words. Maybe the words will come tomorrow. Maybe the words will come at the next event. Maybe.