Well-Read Black Girl Festival: The Sequel

My apologies for not blogging last week; in truth, I’d forgotten it was Tuesday and was really overwhelmed with election stress. But the good Lord works everything together for our good, including letting Democrats take over the House, hallelujah.

This weekend, I had the great honor of attending the second annual Well-Read Black Girl literary festival in Brooklyn. I went to the first one last year, so I was excited to go again. Glory Edim is doing the Lord’s work in promoting literature by Black women. You can tell this even more when you’re in a room full of them, so many beautiful women of every shade, size, and shape “woo” over authors who look like them.

I arrived to the festival later than I would have liked, thanks to some Lyft Line snafus, so I got a terrible seat.

I couldn’t see much, but Glory looks cute here in the yellow shirt!

Luckily, I could *hear* everyone just fine.

Patricia Smith giving everyone *chills.*

Powerful, award-winning poet Patricia Smith’s keynote address left us all in tears, standing, cheering, and stamping our feet, as her work is wont to do. She spoke about, as a child, being told to be quiet, and how she was being lead to believe that important things were “white” things. She compared this to current events, like the president telling Black women journalists to sit down and that their questions were stupid.

“No, Mr. President, we will stand,” she said, and electricity ripped through my spine.

Next was a panel on the creation of the Well-Read Black Girl Anthology, with contributors talking about some of their biggest Black woman writer influences. I love and hate talks like this, as I get to hear, as a writer, who drove my peers to create their best work, but these things also remind me that I didn’t grow up in an area where reading Black authors was a thing. I didn’t hear the name “Zora Neale Hurston” or “Audre Lorde” until I went to college, and even then, I didn’t get to read their work because I was already behind on my assigned Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. But I learn so much from these talks and I expand my to-be-read list.

My favorite panel of the day was “Black Girl Magic: Writing for and about Black girls.” The panelists were YA and middle grade authors, but I found the topic relevant to my memoir/literary fiction, too, as I recently have written Black girls/women protagonists exclusively. The biggest thing I took away from it was a quote I can’t remember who said (sorry!), “Write for the reader you are.” This is what has driven me to write for most of my life, but definitely in the past year, and especially with fiction. I realize that my literary fiction has plots and it usually involves a relationship gone messy—because that’s what I love to read. I haven’t seen enough stories about Black women who aren’t struggling, but face somewhat ordinary problems, such as encountering messy situations, and I want to read them, so I write them.

Again, my terrible seat allowed me to only *hear* the greatness on stage. Better seat next year.

And in the last panel I attended, Uncovering the Legacies of Black Women, I learned of even more writers with whom I was not familiar, which again, I feel bad about, but until Doc and Marty McFly come by with a Delorean, I’m going to have to be okay with not knowing sooner.

One thing I always note in these environments in which I am *not* the only Black person or the only Black woman is how different we are and how homogenized literature and pop culture can make us out to be. I loved Nafissa Thompson-Spires collection, Heads of the Colored People, because it broke up that narrative. I believe Camille Acker’s Training School for Negro Girls does the same (haven’t read it yet, but I am so excited to!). These books give me the space to be; they make me feel adequate in a world where I’m supposed to have been drowning and hopeless in a den of drugs and abject poverty, which was not my story. They give me room to tell my story and I am eternally grateful to them for it.

I also, because of this conference, I got to meet up with a writer friend I met online! I love when social media does what it’s actually supposed to do—bring us together. So, three cheers for Glory, Well-Read Black Girl, and Black women writers supporting each other as we show the world who we really are.

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Finally—An Insulting Workshop Experience

I’ve heard horror stories of people—particularly women writers of color—receiving really devastating feedback in workshops. Sometimes so devastating that they stop writing for years. I have been very fortunate as a woman writer of color to have been in workshops where I felt understood. No one has ever given me feedback that made me question myself or felt insulting…until last week.

I’m currently in an essay class at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD. My instructor is the great Bill O’Sullivan, an editor at Washingtonian magazine. This is one of those classes for which you have to apply; months ago, I submitted my Catapult essay, the one I am most proud of, and was thrilled to have been admitted.

Bill asked for volunteers to go the first round of workshop. I had an essay I’d been toiling with and had hit a wall with. I wasn’t sure if this would be the right crowd for this essay—in it, I’m exploring why I’m so freaking fascinated by the prep life, preppy things, and, in particular, this one woman who ran a blog about these matters. But it is actually about identity—who I am allowed to be and why are certain styles of dress reserved for certain races/classes. I start it by talking about a trip I took to Vineyard Vines in Georgetown, where I found the vanity sizing to be so egregious, they’d erased thin women like me. When I did some research online about the brand, I found the blogger woman and got sucked into her very fascinating world.

This is my first class at the Writer’s Center (I took a class online, but that was different), and from my tangential experience with the organization, the students incline a little older. Which is to be expected, in a way; the center is in the burbs and runs classes during the day and at night, and who is likely to take the day classes but retirees, particularly those in their 70s and above. I hesitated to turn in the essay because of this, but I did anyway. YOLO, as the kids say these days.

I was surprised to find that my class is actually relatively young, almost exclusively women who are in their late 20s to 50s. The only “outliers” are one woman who’s in her 80s and a man who is probably in his late 70s.

Our discussion of my essay went great! They gave me some really helpful feedback about expanding the parts about my personal history and how ending the piece sooner than I currently do would really pack an emotional punch.

The man in our class was absent for my discussion, so he emailed me comments. First, he emailed to say that he usually just says what comes to his mind as he reads, so he can come across as gruff. I shrugged that off and thanked him in advance for his comments. And then I read them.

I have never been so insulted in my writing life! I did not read past the first page of his comments. Essentially, he misunderstood my fascination with the blogger woman; as a result, he thought my essay was going to be about my self-discovery as a lesbian (!). He also said I was ignorant for not knowing whether Georgetown the university was named after the neighborhood (which, of course, I knew, I just worded it more voice-ily in the essay for those who are not familiar with the school or the neighborhood). And he basically said that I was dumb if I didn’t know what size I was and was trying on clothes that were too big for me.

I mulled over what to do. My options were (a) leave it alone; he’s an old man, so it’s not likely that he would learn not to be disrespectful, or (b) tell Bill the instructor, and let him handle it as a professional. I went with option B.

Bill was also appalled by the man’s comments. He sent the man a letter explaining that he was wrong and outlining how to give feedback in a workshop. I was super grateful to Bill for doing it, but I also thought, How is this even necessary? Why would anyone have to tell someone in their 70s, who is retired from a very prestigious and high-paying career, not to be disrespectful?

I remain baffled.

But I finally have a notch in my belt of weird workshop experiences. Luckily, I was able easily brush off what he said. I have published enough essays and been admitted to enough prestigious conferences to know that I’m a damn good writer, and no one is going to rankle me about that.

 

I’m Not Scared Anymore

Last week, I went through a version of a very long exercise my friend Carole recommended to me: write on an index card every scene in every chapter of your book; this allows you to move things around, so you can find a structure that makes sense.

I took this one step back—listing the scenes in a notebook instead of on index cards—but also one step forward—writing transition sentences for the opening and closing of each chapter. It was time-consuming (it took 4 days to complete) and exhausting (as going through my memoir drafts always is, as it feels like living my life over again in a truncated timeframe), but soooo worth it.

I’ve been avoiding doing reflection in my book, mostly unintentionally. There were parts I felt speak for themselves; there’s just not a lot to say as I look back on some things my father and sisters did. But the opening/closing transition exercise challenged in a unique way—I had to ask myself a question about the primary “thesis” of the chapter. For example, if the thesis was, “My father made me feel like an outsider by excluding me from activities with my siblings,” then the question I would ask myself was “How did I feel not fitting into my family, or anywhere else, for that matter?” And suddenly, I had so much to reflect on.

Doing this exercise took up most of my time last week, so I didn’t have time to blog. And I’m glad I didn’t force it because going through the exercise took a lot of energy that I’m glad I conserved: after going through my book at that high level, I finally felt in control of my narrative. I’ve felt this way since I returned from Bread Loaf, but I was finally able to put it to the page.

I suddenly wasn’t scared to go into the depths of how I felt at the time, or to guess how I felt at the time if I don’t remember, or to lay meaning on top of events. I was so afraid of feeling false, I assumed the reader could glean the significance of certain occurrences. I believe my reader is competent, of course, but there’s a reason why people read memoir (well, more than one), and one of them is to see what meaning people ascribe to their lives as they look back on it. I feel better able to do that now.

I pray to Jesus that this is the last draft of Daughter of the Most High I complete before I start querying. I finally, *finally* feel confident that I can actually make that so. I’m excited and I’m anxious—not scared, just ready to face it. I feel like I’m going into an athletic match that I know I will win. It’s not going to be easy, but I’m going to come out victorious. Just you wait!

My first short story is published!

Pardon my absence last Tuesday—it was my 33rd birthday, so I had to let myself breathe, treat myself to a tipsy lunch, and wander around a suburban mall. I couldn’t have asked for a better kick-off to my Jesus Year.

But this week was made even better by the publishing of my first short story, “I Help You,” in Cosmonauts Avenue!

Well, technically, it’s my second. I guess my real first was when I was a senior in college, published in the spring 2007 issue of Georgetown’s on-again-off-again literary journal, The Anthem. It was called “Shine,” and it was weird and trying to be subversive because I was in college and that’s what you do when you write in college. (I still have the hard copy floating somewhere among my boxes of mementos.)

The one thing my current first story has in common with my original first story is the theme of trying to escape one’s past. In “Shine,” the character fell victim to a generational curse without noticing, it seemed; the protagonist in “I Help You” is significantly more aware of what’s at stake. Cici in “I Help You” is older than the main character of “Shine,” whose name I can’t remember, but I believe Cici’s awareness has more to do with my maturing as a writer. I’m more aware of what a character needs to know about herself, and also what readers expect to know about her that she doesn’t know. I’m also more mature as a person and know what it is like to create one’s own expectations of oneself rather than doing what you’re told.

Even though imposter syndrome tells me that “I Help You” is silly because it’s about a girl chasing after a boy, I’m infinitely proud of this story. In a workshop, someone said it was “well-plotted,” which I think this person meant as sort of an insult, as if to say the story isn’t “literary” enough. The perception is that, in “literary” stories, nothing actually happens; characters just “be.” But when do people ever not actually do anything? I mean, sure, on vacation, sitting on the beach or by the pool, do people just languish in their thoughts. But literally every other day in every other life circumstance, people do. They move, they act, they show how they love, hate, think, believe. Also, the definition of literary fiction is that which is driven by the character, not the plot. Cici and her desire to live a different life drive this story, therefore, it is literary, my friend.

I am so stinking happy about this story, I just don’t know what to do with myself. I pray that it is the first of many, many more. At least enough to fill a collection about Black women thriving in white spaces. Fingers crossed tight.

In case you missed the link above, you can read “I Help You” in Cosmonauts Avenue here: https://cosmonautsavenue.com/vonetta-young-fiction/.

Me and the Gentleman’s Game

Confession: I love golf.

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Me, about to hit my best drive ever, and on a beautiful hole, to boot.

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Me and my spouse at the Quicken Loans National last year. That’s Ricky Fowler in orange behind us.

I took up the sport when I started business school, complying with the “white guys make deals on the golf course” trope, but also because it seemed like a really complex sport, physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging.

I started watching men’s golf on TV really consistently when I was working at my old job in NYC. Every Sunday afternoon, anxiety would paralyze me to the point where all I could do was sleep. So I turned on golf to keep me company (my spouse was usually working). Since it was relatively quiet, I found it relaxing and it helped soothe me a little bit.

Watching the sport every weekend became a habit, one I’ve kept up since then because golf is, by far, the most fascinating sport on the planet. Let me explain:

Golf is widely known as the “gentleman’s sport.” It’s a game of politeness, rules, order, and snazzy dressing. When you play on a course, there’s a dress code and clear way of comporting yourself—most places require a collared shirt (at least for men) and for you to play in a certain amount of time, to be respectful of those behind you. [Further example, if you’re going slowly on a hole and a group comes up behind you, it’s custom to allow them to go ahead of you, to “play through.”]

Of course, golf is also known as the whitest sport imaginable. I can’t think of another activity that encapsulates every race and class problem in the world than this very sport. Golf clubs are insanely expensive, even the cheap ones. On top of that, it costs at minimum $25 per person just to play the game on a terrible course, and greens fees on nice courses can be well over $100. (And that’s on a public course, not a private club, where greens fees are even higher, but seem lower because of the thousands of dollars one is paying for club membership. But anyway…) On top of that, courses are usually in places not all that accessible by public transportation, making playing an even more expensive venture for those who live in the city.

The combination of these two things—its gentlemanly veneer and its unabashed white privilege—is what fascinate me about golf. They allow for instant conflict and tension!

The male players have historically touted themselves as family men who live squeaky-clean, boring lives (a la Phil Mickelson), but that’s literally never been true. Phil, allegedly, had a gambling problem for years.

Tiger Woods blew through as the Black guy who would be the best ever to play the sport. I loved that he was knocking down barriers and didn’t even care to knock them down because he just wanted to win. He was a clean, nerdy, athletic Carlton Banks, and when I was in middle school, he gave me hope that my male counterpart existed, that there were more clean, nerdy, athletic Carlton Bankses out there and that I would find one and that he would love me. When Tiger became the poster child for the “good on the outside, icky on the inside” thing that every white male golfer had always been, it was extra hurtful to me. I didn’t care that he wasn’t who he’d made himself out to be to the world; it felt that he’d lied to me personally and tried to shatter my dream of love.

Everything about the sport of golf ultimately sets itself up for failure—the gentleman’s game that supports racism, sexism, and classism, none of which are at all honorable, as the definition of “gentleman” denotes.

For example, while my spouse and I were playing on a course in the Dominican Republic while we were on vacation a few years ago, I hit my best drive ever, WATCH:

I saw where my Callaway Solaire ball landed, a little to the right, but on the fairway. An older white couple came up behind us, and we let them play through, first the woman (who hit a sweet-ass drive) and then her husband. Her husband hit his ball off to the right, into the palm trees. He went in that direction to hit his second stroke, but then he stopped—he stopped at my ball. He hit my ball. HE HIT MY BEST DRIVE EVER BALL because he was an entitled old white man who figured he could never hit a ball off to the right, into the palm trees. I was livid. But all I could do was drop my ball around the same area and move on.

Clearly, the sport mimics a lot of the themes of real life.

To me, golf is a literary writer’s gold mine for narrative tension and character dynamism. I’m working on two short stories involving it in some way. For my Black women protagonists, this world should be inaccessible to them and to me, and that’s why it’s so intriguing. Stay tuned to find out how they turn out!

And congrats to Tiger on PGA win #80. Only needs 3 more to officially be the greatest golfer of all time. Let’s see about that…

Do you remember the 20th night of September?

I caught myself feeling down a lot the past week. I’ve been tired and a little teary and just plain glum. I couldn’t quite put my finger on the cause. I thought maybe a bunch of things were finally settling into my bones:

  • It’s “unofficially” autumn (though not for real until Saturday), so summer and all of my travelling and writing and meeting new people adventures are over. I still can’t believe everything I did this summer! I told myself I won’t do three (one, two, three) workshops again because it actually was too much. Throwing in a trip abroad that wasn’t to a beach compounded the exhaustion. But I had an amazing time doing it all, so no regrets!
  • It’s time to get back to work on my memoir manuscript. Given the feedback I got at Bread Loaf and from a couple of other readers, this round of edits will be pretty extensive. I’ll be making significant structural changes, especially to the beginning, which I’m still not happy with. I start to feel good about my book at Chapter 7, which is entirely too late to start to feel good about something.
  • I’m still submitting a short story around that I wrote last summer and have workshopped a couple of times. I got some positive feedback from a journal (a goal publication!), but I need more clarity on how to make it better. Otherwise, I’m still going at another short story that’s been pretty difficult. (I swear, I saw the protagonist on my plane to Ft. Lauderdale—yes, my fictional protagonist, in real life, on my plane. It was fine until she spoke to me. She asked if I had any lotion. It was weird giving my protagonist my little pink bottle of Vaseline hand lotion. Then she would smell like me, too. It was all very odd, and I still wouldn’t be sure I wasn’t hallucinating if my spouse hadn’t seen her, too [she was dreadfully pretty, so I had to make sure he didn’t look too hard].) Both are causing me their own versions of angst and making me a little tired.
  • I’ve got new material to get on the page. Inspired by Bread Loaf, I’ve got two essays and a short story that I spent some of past week drafting. The essays were short and easy to get out; the story, like the two above, is causing me some trouble. I think it’s because, though it’s a fictional story, it is based on real life, and that’s always weird, lying about things that actually happened in some way or another.

Ultimately, I reminded myself that this time of year is always weird. Even without consciously thinking about it, my body knows that it is the three-year anniversary of my father’s death. The weather in DC hasn’t been helping, staying nice and gloomy in the remnants of Florence. I still don’t miss my father, per se—not in the way people who had great relationships with their fathers do—but I think, every year, my subconscious acknowledges the implications of his physical absence from this planet: I’ll never get the acceptance or the love that I wanted and needed from him. I’ll be feeling great and then, suddenly, boom, this sadness comes out of nowhere, and I’m always confused as to why, until I think about it.

One day, I hope September returns to being just the introductory month to my birthday at the beginning of October. Three years later, it’s still “that weird time of year when my brain remembers that my father died.”

The Storms of Life

There’s a lot I could talk about that occurred in the past week, namely the misogyny (and probably racism) the whole world saw at the women’s U.S. Open final. But what really intrigued me this weekend was weather.

My spouse and I went to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida for a mini-vacation, landing Thursday night and leaving Sunday evening. We knew there was some weather brewing in the Atlantic, but figured we’d go anyway. We had almost every meal outside, mostly because the AC was blasting everywhere we went, but the temperature outside was actually pretty pleasant, even with the threat of weather.

On Thursday night, while we ate dinner, I noticed that some cumulonimbus clouds several miles out to sea (I suppose I should explain that I was a really huge weather nerd in middle school, thanks to a great science teacher and an acute fear of storms. I figured if I learned more about them, I wouldn’t be so afraid of them. I was right.). Knowing that storms generally west to east on land and east to west over water, I started to get nervous. The clouds grew bigger and bigger, puffier and puffier, until lightning glowed throughout, illuminating them in the dark sky.

“Maybe we should go inside,” I told Rustin.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” he said in a very Rustin-like manner. Nothing ruffles his feathers ever, whereas my feathers are in a constant state of flux.

But, of course, he was right. The storm never moved. The lightning never touched the water or the ground, but stayed suspended in the clouds, which eventually dissipated.

It’s really the strangest thing I’ve ever seen. But once I realized that the storm wasn’t coming near me, it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

During a flight once, my plane flew around a thunderstorm. There was no turbulence, no hint that something was awry in the atmosphere; we just floated alongside these massive clouds that kept lighting up. And it gorgeous.

I couldn’t help think, somewhat cheesily, that this must mean something, and it does. I’ve never been in a beautiful storm while I was in it. During storms as a kid, I was frightened to death of thunder and lightning, and no one and no thing could soothe me. During storms as an adult—not actual weather—I feel much the same way. It seems that no one can say anything that actually encourages me; the only thing that will make me feel better is for the storm to end, though something always comes up again.

These resplendent clouds were a reminder to me that I go through storms (like years-long career uncertainty and trauma) that will ultimately make things beautiful. Maybe my mess looks like a masterpiece to someone else, and vice versa, I don’t know. I just have to remember that there is beauty before, during, and after, even when I don’t see it.

Bread Loaf Aftermath: The Hard Landing

It was a bit harder adjusting to regular life after Bread Loaf than I was expecting.

First, God, there are always sirens—ALWAYS SIRENS—going on CONSTANTLY in DC (see, just heard some in the distance as I typed that). Getting used to the noise took…some getting used to. Which is all the more ironic when I consider that we moved back to DC from NYC partly for the relative quiet in our nation’s capital.

Second, I find that writing conferences in which I focus on nonfiction dredge up some sort of emotions, likely because I shared intimate details of my life in whatever I wrote. Bread Loaf was no different in that regard; I shared the chapter of my memoir in which I slow time down and show what it was like seeing my father for the last time before he died. I wrote that chapter on the plane, the day after I saw him, so I’ve always found that piece both in-the-moment, but also emotionally distant. One of the participants noticed that, in it, I said I would have liked to spend some time alone with my father. “What would you have said if you could have gotten that time alone?” She asked. I hadn’t actually thought about that. Thinking about it in that moment, sitting on the porch of my instructor’s house, tears started to prickle my eyes, but I demanded that I not cry while sitting there. I just wrote the question down and thought about it later: I would have asked, “Who am I?” Which sounds selfish until you realize I’m actually saying, “Who are you? What does it mean to be a Young? Who are we?” I would have asked for some light to be shed on that part of my identity that I’ll likely never know, especially since I found out some time after he died that we’re not really Youngs.

Third, when I said in my previous post that I felt a sense of belonging, that emotion—the elation of feeling understood without having to explain oneself—didn’t really sink into my bones until last week. Therefore, last week, I cried a lot. A lot. I’m not a crier by any stretch of the imagination, but I cried so much. And at the dumbest things! I watched the delightful Netflix movie, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” an adorable Gen Z rom-com, and bawled my face off afterwards. I realized that my subconscious was looking for any excuse to express how much it missed being in an environment in which everything made sense.

On the brightside, the National Book Festival was this weekend, so I was able to surround myself with book people. Even better, Tayari Jones signed my books! And I even got in a little Bread Loaf reunion–Francisco Cantu was a speaker at the book festival!

The National Book Festival crowd; in line to buy books.

Tayari Jones signing my books and me looking at her a way I never even look at my spouse.

BREAD LOAF REUNION! Paco and me

Paco speaking during the immigration talk at the National Book Festival

I told my therapist that I was trying to think of ways to hold onto that feeling of belonging, but I immediately felt it fall away when I got home (hence all the tears). I can’t live at Bread Loaf, so I have to think of something, not just a group of people to be around (I’m in great writers groups as it is), but a vocation that makes me feel some level of fulfilled, a job in which I fit. But over two years after I quit my job, I still wonder if there is such a thing.

Bread Loaf: The Time of My Life

When I woke up this morning to the sound of sirens outside my window here in DC, I asked myself, “How is there always a fire going on in this town????”

Violent sound is the exact opposite wake-up experience I had for ten days at Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference in Ripton, VT. Sitting on top of a mountain (though, compared to Squaw Valley, it was really just a gentle molehill), Bread Loaf is isolated and extraordinarily quiet. Sure, there’s bugs and birds, but otherwise, there was barely any sound at all. And it was blissful.

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Even when it’s cloudy, it’s *gorgeous*

I won’t do a day-by-day blow-by-blow, but I will say that most days were generally structured as workshop or free time in the morning, then craft classes and readings in the afternoon/evenings. My workshop was *awesome*, a group of women (and Francisco Cantu!) who gave me such useful feedback on a chapter of my memoir, feedback that actually applies to the rest of the book, so they really changed my life, or at least my book. Emily Raboteau was my workshop leader and I couldn’t have asked for someone more insightful and thoughtful.

I enjoyed all of the craft classes I went to, but the one I found most immediately relevant was Kirstin Valdez Quade’s “The Evasive Protagonist,” in which she explained how you know when your characters are avoiding painful situations or conversations. Turns out, I was my own evasive protagonist in an excerpt I chose to read to everyone, and was able to solve that lickety split.

And yes, I did my first public reading! Sure, I read at VQR, Yale, and Squaw Valley, but this was post-primetime (the 9:30pm reading), during the Dark Tower Reading Series, the one for people of color. I read a bit from my memoir about being extremely embarrassed when I went to see She’s All That with my mom, and the audience loved it! It was incredibly nerve-wracking reading in front of like, 200 people, but there was a spotlight on me, so I couldn’t really see anyone, so that made it better.

My reading was definitely a highlight, but there were also two dances in which we all drank just a hair too much and acted a fool on the dancefloor, but that’s always my favorite part of these things, and I wish every conference had that element.

Another highlight was the reading in the laundry room, which was *phenomenal.* Once it’s dark in those parts, there’s not a lot of light around, but there’s a vending machine in the laundry room and that provided the perfect amount of glow. Just made the whole thing feel way more like camp than it already did.

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My roommate, Jenna Scatena, reading by vending machine light during the laundry room reading

And I also went to a bonfire in the woods, which is the second most scared I’ve ever been in my life (the first being when my friends and I were followed by those racists in Barcelona that one time). I said I wasn’t going to go because—honestly, white people pick the scariest things and call them a good time—it was dark and creepy, but I found three other Black women who wanted to go, so we walked together. I figured we couldn’t all be murdered at the same time, and I was the one holding the flashlight (the one in my phone), so I’d be less likely to get killed. So we went. And we had a great time! But I had to have another drink to calm my nerves.

In short, I had the time of my life. Bread Loaf was what I’d hoped high school and college would be like, only during both of those times in real life, I was a fish out of water, struggling to be accepted and to get my work done sufficiently. Bread Loaf was the first time in years, maybe even forever, that I felt that I could truly be myself, my intelligent but goofy self, around perfect strangers.

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Me and my roommate post walk to the creek

“They don’t know me so I figured I’d just be me,” I told Rustin. “Not like they’d know the difference.”

I wish I’d followed that advice ages ago. At Bread Loaf, it freed me up to laugh so hard with my roommate at 2am, to dance with the Black girls in a runway show formation to Beyoncé, and to fall the flip out after a beautiful man touched my shoulder (and, yes, I confessed to my spouse about that).

This experience was so validating, too. My workshop mates were experienced enough to not tear my work to shreds, but to really make it shine. And I read from the same podium as Emily Raboteau, A. Van Jordan, Renee Simms, Nicole Sealey, and some other amazingly talented people. I could have fainted just thinking about the fact that someone believed that I deserved to share their space; the odder thing was, I started to believe it, too.

For the first time in a long time, I felt sufficient. I was sufficiently intelligent, sufficiently silly, sufficiently beautiful, sufficiently an artist, sufficiently aged. I didn’t feel the need to apologize for having an MBA or for not having a day job due to trauma. I didn’t feel weird for being married. I was enough.

I have to find a way to hold onto that feeling because it was just what I’ve needed.

An Ode to the Frustrations of Writing: a freeform prose poem

I have been working on a piece for a year and a half.

It is a flash nonfiction piece, only about 400 words.

It’s all dialogue, an experiment I decided to do

Because people tell me I’m good at dialogue.

So I thought, What the hey, I’ll do this short piece!

A year and a half later, I’m almost certain this

Experiment has failed.

 

Last year, I started writing an essay about

A guy who panhandled in the subway in NYC.

I finally finished a draft after a whole

9 months.

9 months

It took me to write 1,500 words about

This guy and how he made me never want to give him any money

Because he wasn’t actually poor.

Or maybe he was.

Who am I to judge?

(That’s the theme of the essay, if you were wondering.)

 

So, I’ve submitted the second essay to three outlets,

Christian ones, because I decided to take that bent.

All three said it will take between 4 weeks and

Eternity

To find out if they like my idea.

 

And I’m still working on that short piece

The 400 word one I’ve been toiling at for

A year and a half

The experiment that has obviously failed.

But I can’t put it aside

Can’t throw it away.

That year and a half is sunk cost

But I refuse to let it be refuse.

I will submit it again

And again

And again

And again

And again

Until it gets published.

 

That’s the writer’s way.