Writing Life Update: Summer 2018

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It’s really sunny and really dry here!

Hello from Squaw Valley, California! I’m incredibly honored to have been selected to attend a fiction workshop at the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. I got here on Sunday, after spending the night at a casino resort in Reno (which was 80s Casino Chintz Fabulous, but I lost $20 between one hand of Blackjack and one slot machine, so am kinda salty), and am excited to keep the week moving! I’ll give you a full report about this week once it’s over, but I wanted to briefly update you on some developments in my writing life.

While I was on vacation in Belgium, I received two pieces of great news: first, a well-respected DC-area literary magazine editor is strongly considering one of my short stories for inclusion in an upcoming issue! We’ll see what the final result is, but I’m just honored to have been so thoughtfully considered.

Second, also while I was on vacation, my first piece of fiction was accepted to a literary magazine!!! I was inspired to write this story after watching an episode of House Hunters International in which a girl moves to Germany to live with her “boyfriend,” some kid she obviously didn’t know all that well. So I asked myself, in what ways is this going to go terribly wrong after this episode ends? And, what if she were Black? I can’t say it was as simple as, “Then a story popped out.” It took months to draft, revise, edit, have friends read, workshop in a class, and all. But now it’s going to be published toward the end of the year, and I am ecstatic!!!!

Another development is, I finally, officially made up my mind not to pursue an MFA (at least for now). I realized that all I want is instruction and community, which I’ve been so blessed to receive from great women writers in DC as well as from all of the amazing conferences I’ve been to. I’ve built a team that keeps me accountable and keeps honing my skills, which is really what I would have been interested in a degree program for. So, I shall keep trying to go to these great workshops and keep in touch with the awesome writers I meet there, so iron can continue to sharpen iron.

Otherwise, I’ve got Bread Loaf next month, about which I am thrilled. It’ll be my only nonfiction workshop this summer, and I need that—I haven’t neglected my memoir (I completed a draft of my proposal and all) and I’ve enjoyed the time away from telling so much truth, but I realize that nonfiction is the area in which I feel less confident in my writing. I’ve been writing fiction for 20 years and nonfiction for two. That explains, mostly, but additional instruction will help trim down the learning curve, hopefully.

I should get back to my workshops, but keep me in your thoughts/prayers! I’ve got a lot going on and I want to maintain good vibes during all of it. 🙂

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Recap: My trip to Belgium and France

My spouse’s friend was getting married in France on a Wednesday, so he wanted to have his bachelor party the weekend before with all the guys in Amsterdam. I love my spouse’s friends and think they’re great guys, but there was no way in hell I was going to go anywhere near Amsterdam during a bachelor party. So, I arranged to go to Brussels, Belgium.

I had all of one week between Yale Writers Workshop and my trip to Europe, which meant I didn’t really have time to research what all I wanted to do before I got there, so I kinda had to wing it. Which, if you know me well, you know is not my thing. But everything turned out great!

I arrived on a Thursday evening, and since the sun doesn’t really ever set in Europe in the summer (not until at least 11pm), I took a walk through Leopold Park, which right behind my hotel. It reminded me a little of parts of Central Park, especially with the tall apartment building peeking out behind some trees. Brussels is the capital of the European Union, so it didn’t surprise me that it was so stately and cosmopolitan while also being pretty tranquil.

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Leopold Park

The next day, I walked to the Grand Palais and hit up the Old Masters in the Royal Museums of Fine Art. Since I took an art history class my sophomore year of college, where I first learned about art, I’ve made it a goal to seek out the paintings, especially, of wherever I go. Belgium/Flanders happened to be the home of quite a few huge artists, such as Peter Paul Rubens, who—much to my surprise—even painted a Black man (which was not included in my art history slides, of course).

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“Four Studies of the Head of a Moor” by Peter Paul Rubens, in the Old Masters Museum

I wandered around to some of the touristy things, like the Mannequin Pis, but overall, I walked the city, just to get a feel for it. I window shopped along Rue Antoine Dansaert, where all the boutiques are, and managed to make it through most of Rue Neuve, where the big mall is. I have never seen a street so crowded by shoppers, even in Times Square.

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The Mannequin Pis — as touristy as Brussels gets!

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People spending mad € on Rue Neuve in Brussels.

On my last full day in Belgium, I took the train to Bruges, the most adorable, and maybe oldest, town I’ve ever seen. It’s a little medieval city founded by Vikings around the 9th century.

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A side street in Bruges.

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Entering the town center.

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The canal in Bruges

I met up with Rustin in France, and the day before the wedding, we drove out to Mont Saint Michel, a UNESCO World Heritage site. I was speechless when I saw it—a city carved out of a mountain in the middle of a bay. (It was low tide when we went so it was mostly wet sand around it; I thought it was global warming, so I was glad to learn that I was wrong.) We went to the top of the Abbey, maybe one of the highest heights I’ve ever been to. It’s just so, I don’t know, amazing (?) to think about monks creating this breathtaking piece of dirt and turning it into a fortress and house of worship (which was subsequently turned into a prison, then a historical site, but that’s neither here nor there).

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Us with Mont Saint Michel.

The wedding was one of the most fun I’ve been to, but we were definitely pleasantly exhausted by the end of the week. Some of the guys went on to other cities in Europe, but I didn’t see how; I just wanted to go home and go to bed.

I should note to clarify that, yes, I traveled to Belgium alone. I don’t tell my mom about it because it would give her a heart attack, but I love traveling alone. You don’t have to ask anyone else what they’d like for breakfast or lunch or dinner. You don’t have to come to a consensus about any museums you want to visit. You just decide what you want to do, then you go. I’m not saying I’ll only ever travel alone; I married my spouse partly because I enjoy his company, though traveling abroad is usually the only time we ever have disagreements (like, one of us wants to get directions while the other wants to just wing it down dark alleys while walking at a snail’s pace—guess which one I am. Not the one who wants to wing it.)

But traveling alone reminds me that I am capable of solving problems on my own. I am smart about it—I’m not going to be the one who goes trekking through the Himalayas or in a third world country by herself. But seeing new things on my own makes me feel bold, competent, and confident. It’s good for my soul. It gives me something to talk to my spouse about. I highly recommend it to everyone. Don’t be scared! You’re no safer at home than you are anywhere else, so might as well go see this beautiful world God’s created.

Yale Writers’ Workshop Recap

After two weeks away, I’m back in DC and back to blogging! I spent ~12 wonderful days in New Haven, CT at the Yale Writers’ Workshop, where I had an amazing time.

YWW splits its workshop into two sessions. For Session 1, my instructor was Lisa Page, a splendid English professor at George Washington University (yes, I went all the way to Connecticut to work with someone who works down the street from my house. Life just be’s that way sometimes). To be honest, I wasn’t super-familiar with Lisa’s work, but I just had a good feeling about her, that she would be a good teacher and a strong workshop facilitator. I was totally right on both fronts. I got great feedback on a short story I wrote for fiction class last year that I decided to dust off. I’ll start doing revisions on it soon, then it’ll be ready to submit.

Session 1 also included a panel with a few literary magazine editors. Reps from PANK, The Common, and Bodega told us about what they look for in submissions and if they pay or not (most journals don’t, unfortunately. I guess that’s the plight of the artist? Either way, explains why I’m looking for a job now.) We also got to do sort of a speed-dating session with them to ask them additional questions after the panel.

One topic I broached is that experimental (which is apparently a bad word these days) fiction seems to be all the rage—weird sh*t is the easiest to find in lit mags. Unfortunately for me, I write super normal sh*t—stuff about family and relationships and friendships, mostly all enacted by super-ordinary Black people. My work isn’t boring, it just isn’t weird, and I’m finding that it’s been difficult to place my work. One of the editors agreed with me—there’s so many markets for weird stuff that they wind up having to publish normal stuff, because there’s just not enough weird to go around. Which made me feel better, I guess. I’ll feel even better if they actually publish some of my work…

For Session 2, I had Julie Buntin as a workshop leader, and she was also amazing. I was surprised to learn that she’s younger than me, mostly because she is super-mature and wise beyond her years. Her novel, Marlena, was a total hit last year and won all kinds of awards. I read it before I went to CT, and I adored the writing, though the plot was kind of a downer.

Session 2’s workshops were more focused, on genre or something else; Julie’s class focused on the first 10 pages of a novel, so I workshopped, well, the first 10 pages of my novel. (Have I mentioned that I’m writing a novel? Maybe I have… I can’t remember. But, yeah, I’ve started a novel! It’s essentially about a family that reunites after a funeral, and it explores the discomfort that sits at the intersection of race and class. [Much of my fiction is about this of late.] While I was in CT, I got a Zipcar and went to Madison, where the fictionalized setting of the action takes place.)

It was incredibly helpful for me to think about being so intentional as a writer. Sure, in the first draft, you just get it all down on paper, but it’s the revision and shaping up that really matters. I knew that before YWW, but it hadn’t really solidified for me until then: workshopping the first 10 pages of a novel I haven’t finished writing (I just finished chapter 2) really made me wonder why I’m writing it and what I want to say, which is elementary but monumental for a writer to establish so early on.

I also got a big confidence booster—for Session 1, some of the other participants in my class hadn’t written fiction before, so I sort of automatically took the seat of expert, which felt great. I still learned a lot, but also felt better about what I already knew.

There were, of course, readings out the wazoo! Each faculty member, plus Porochista Khakpour (pictured above), who was going to be on staff, but was ill and starting her book tour, read and they were all incredible:

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My session 1 instructor Lisa Page reading from the anthology she edited, “We Wear the Mask.”

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My session 2 instructor Julie Buntin reading from her novel, Marlena.

There were a couple of blunders—a young white woman telling me my hometown, Camden, NJ, was terrifying; an older white man reading his first-person account of a slave woman being separated from her baby, with superfluous dialect, racial slurs, and all, then asking me the next day how I felt about it as “the only Black person in the room”; me telling Hallie Ephron that I loved her essay, then her saying she didn’t write essays, then me getting embarrassed, then me realizing a week later that she was the correct sister and I got embarrassed for no reason—but overall, I had a great time.

I don’t know if I’d go to YWW again since the demographic wasn’t all that diverse in terms of ethnicity or age (this conference inclined older and whiter), but I really enjoyed myself and was honored to have been selected to go.

A year ago today, I was at VONA, in the throes of a life-changing, soul-nourishing experience. I know I can’t expect all summer writing workshops to be like that, so I’m tempering my expectations. I’m just blessed that I’ve gotten to go to so many of these, to have gotten to know so many great people, and to have become a better writer, step by step, day by day.

3 Days After My Wedding, or The Worst Day of My Life

In addition to my wedding anniversary, this time of year is special to me because, on this day six years ago, I lost someone incredibly special to me, my dear friend Jessica Caroe.

Jessica and I were BFFs in college, and spent the summer of 2005 living in group house together out in Maryland while we were interning in DC. She’d transferred to Georgetown from a small Southern school, and we met in Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship.

We realized we were kindred spirits for what’s probably a terrible reason—we were *those* Christian girls, the ones who could party hard on Saturday night, into the wee hours of Sunday morning, but still get up to be on time (or close to it) for church and not fall asleep during the sermon. Sure, we likely should have made some better choices, but I don’t regret a single thing we did because it taught me that self-righteousness—like that of some of our classmates who literally frowned upon people who went to parties, as if making someone feel bad about dancing and underaged drinking made Jesus smile—saves no one. It actually pushes people away from Christ. So, we were Christ Ambassadors (which is what Chi Alpha stood for) on the dancefloor of college parties throughout Georgetown. Amen!

I jest, but what I’m saying is, Jessica taught me about authenticity—what it meant to be unashamed and unafraid to be yourself, even when others are telling you that you should be something else, something they want you to be.

I always said with us being so much ourselves, it’d take strong men to handle us. God blessed us both with those strong men, Rustin for me and Robert for her.

At my wedding reception, where I’d made a joke about letting Robert come to the wedding as an investment in their future and Jessica called me her best friend, Robert pulled me aside and said that he was going to propose to her on Monday. I was thrilled! He showed me the ring on his phone, and I knew she would love it.

He did propose on Monday, and she said yes. They died the next day. I didn’t find out about it until Thursday, when I went on Facebook to see why on earth she hadn’t told me she was engaged; Robert didn’t strike me as the kind of guy who would chicken out.

To say I was devastated is the smallest use of that word, ever. To say I could hardly get out of bed for days also doesn’t quite capture how I felt. To say I didn’t genuinely smile for a year still doesn’t do it justice.

Jessica dying was literally the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, worse than being abandoned by my father even, because it is the only thing that has ever made me question the existence and goodness of God. Crying out to a deity you think has dropped a very important ball is extremely difficult. Of course, I still went to church, still prayed, still went through the motions, faking it until I made it. God had nothing to prove to me; it just took a while for my brain to catch up to the re-revelation of His character.

My first year of marriage turned out to be quite a doozy since I wasn’t all there mentally and emotionally. I had to go back for my second year of business school and remember why I was there. By the time I moved to New York a year later, I felt some better, well though to start writing down some of our memories. That’s what got me started writing nonfiction, actually.

Losing Jessica is still the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, but it’s turned out for good in a lot of different ways. It made me take my marriage much more seriously since “for worse” came only three days after we made our vows. It made me take on leadership roles in school and work because I knew it’s what she would have done. It made me write memoir, so I wouldn’t have written my story about my dad if she hadn’t passed and I hadn’t started writing our stories. I wouldn’t have left my job and started writing seriously while still wanting to make in-roads for minorities and women in finance. And that’s just me; it doesn’t include the scholarships that have been founded in her name, the tree that was planted on the grounds of Duke University (where she was going to business school) in her memorial, and other ways I don’t even know about.

I sometimes contemplate finishing writing our stories, but six years later, it’s still a bit too painful. (I say this as her friend, not even her family member, so I can’t imagine their pain.) I haven’t actually cried while writing this blogpost, but I’ve come soooo close, and I’ve kept a distance between my head and my fingers to keep from coming unglued in a public place. She meant that much, that even after all this, it’s still raw to go there.

I miss my friend more than anything, but I’m thinking of their families today. I pray for her family and Robert’s, that God will continue to show His goodness and grace to them, and that they not forget that He’s never forgotten them. As hard as it is to believe.

Why I Don’t Call Him My Husband

This time of year is special for me for a couple of reasons, one of them being the celebration of mothers (and calm down, I have birthed nothing but stories) and another being my wedding anniversary this Saturday! (And cheers to Meghan and Harry the same day!)

It’s been six strange and happy years I’ve spent with this dude named Rustin, who’ve probably read about many times on this blog. You’ve probably also noticed that I generally refer to him as my “spouse,” and rarely ever my “husband.” I’ve addressed him this way in just enough essays that just enough editors have corrected it, so I thought I would tell you why I call him my “spouse.”

Growing up, I knew lots of women who were single for longer than they wanted to be and were, therefore, overjoyed when they finally got married. These women called the men their “huuuuusbands.” They always, ALWAYS dragged out the “u.” It was as if the title “husband” somehow venerated both them and the men they’d chosen and they needed to stress its importance.

The problem was, they had always, ALWAYS chosen horrible men. The men almost always—and we’re talking a good 99.8%—turned out to be controlling, manipulative, unfaithful liars, or some combination of the such.

I felt bad for these women not just because their relationships went to piss, but because they’d set themselves up for failure. By calling them their “huuuuuusbands,” they’d heralded these men and their marriages as if they were the greatest things since sliced bread, as if they were impenetrable, as if their love could never fail.

But they weren’t and it did.

I wasn’t turned off of marriage because of these women (I was turned off of it because of the men, but that’s a separate blog post; actually, that’s the topic of my second memoir), I just learned that I wanted to do things differently.

I decided that I would look at and treat the man I married as the person he was—a completely fallible human who is completely capable of letting me down at some point. I would speak highly of him, but I would also mention his flaws. I would let people know that my marriage was realistic, not some blissful train ride through the Swiss Alps.

I would call him my “spouse.”

“Spouse” is legally correct (so is “husband,” I know, but stay with me) and sounds completely objective. It gives me and those listening to me the space to judge him for who he is, not who I want him to be. It helps me to not jinx things.

“Spouse” reminds me that he is a human—a good human, without a doubt—but a human. A human who has made me and my life better, but still a human. A human I look forward to spending the rest of my days with, this attractive human I enjoy looking at.

You could say I give myself this distance out of fear, and there may be some truth to that. But I know that he and I are happier when I have my feet on the ground, managing my emotions and expectations, even if I call him something that’s kinda weird.

So, happy anniversary to us this weekend! May many more years of weird be to come!

What Opera Does For My Soul

This weekend, my spouse and I had a real grown-up double date to see The Barber of Seville at the Kennedy Center. For me, opera has grown into a full-blown love from a small intrigue a long time ago.

I never listened to opera growing up, except for that one [amazing!] episode of Hey Arnold! and that part in Pretty Woman, both of which I still know by heart. Opera always seemed inaccessible, something spooty rich people to do to remind the rest of us that we will never be spooty or rich.

To be honest, that’s what started my fascination. You hear all the time about ballet dancers and actors who came from humble beginnings and made it to the top of their field; what was it about this type of performing arts that was so ritzy?

During my sophomore year of college, my friend at the school newspaper asked me to cover the Kennedy Center’s production of The Magic Fluteto review it for the entertainment section. He gave me tickets to the Saturday matinee show, and I was excited to finally get a chance to break into this secret club. I asked my roommate to go with me since I was apprehensive of going to my first opera alone; she was a bit hungover, but was a trooper and went with me anyway.

We both dressed up as we saw fitting for opera but on a Saturday afternoon. I wore a red cotton skirt and a white twin set (all from the Gap, where I’d worked previous summer and unloaded each and every one of my paychecks) with black sandals.

When we arrived at the Kennedy Center, I gave the usher my ticket, and she showed us to…the center box!!! Crazy!!! (Spoiler alert: Those were best seats I’ve ever had at the opera. Ruined on my first show.)

I looked down at the audience and noticed that it was full of children. I then read my program and realized that The Magic Flute, in particular, is very kid- and opera-newbie friendly. It was as if God was smiling on me, giving me a chance to experience this new thing like a child.

During the show, I was enthralled. I’ve always loved theater—drama, dancing, singing (I wanted to be an actress from 5th grade until 9th grade, when my mother finally convinced me that I’d wind up hooked on drugs, turning tricks for rock). Opera was all of the above, with a live orchestra playing along. There were captions above the curtain, so you could know what they were saying since the show is in German.

The music nearly lifted me out of my seat, it was so beautiful. I became immersed in this other world, and totally forgot that I was just down the street from my university. By the end of the show, I didn’t want to go back to school; I wanted to stay in that world for just a while longer.

When I graduated from college, I bought season tickets to the Washington National Opera, going into debt to capture that feeling. I couldn’t afford to go on vacation, so each performance was like a little getaway of its own, sweeping me away from thinking about my mundane jobs and lack of love life.

That’s why I love opera: it takes me away and makes me feel what I thought I couldn’t, or just hadn’t felt yet. I don’t know very much about it, so I can’t tell you which is “better” than another, or if the conductor did a good a good or bad job. I just know that it makes me feel joy.

I hope one day to introduce opera to people who think the way I used to about it, to help people to see that it’s not as pretentious as they think (it’s also not as expensive, if you get tickets at the right time). It’s almost like travelling—seeing the world as a way of worshiping the God who created it. Opera lets you do the exact same thing without having to leave your city, if you live where I do.

DC Author Fest recap

Sooo, I’d intended to blog last week, but errands very quickly got out of hand, and the rest of the week was insanely busy, too, as was the weekend. But such is life!

One of the things that kept me busy this weekend was DC Author Festival, which was this past Saturday at the Library of Congress.

One complaint I’ve heard from more than one DC writer is that our literary community isn’t super robust. On the one hand, that’s definitely true: I’d argue that there’s far fewer creative writers in DC than in New York or even more offbeat places, like Minneapolis. On the other hand, there’s definitely a critical mass of us—we’re just rarely in the same room.

DC Author Festival was a chance to rectify that. Sponsored by the DC Public Library, there were panel discussions that covered a good range of topics relevant to writers, and a keynote address that basically blew me away.

The first panel I went to was the Author to Publisher Relationship, which I found to be the most helpful of all of the ones I attended. There’s a gazillion resources for writers about what their relationship with their agent should look like, but there’s not as much emphasis on the relationship with the publisher. For example, I learned that publishers have waaaaay more say in your cover than I thought (which was kind of disconcerting, so I had to start praying about mine, right then and there. Not out loud, of course, though.). The publisher should also have a conversation with you about what marketing efforts they’re going to put into your book, but you should expect to do a lot of promotion yourself. Note that your book’s title can change, too—UGH!

The second I went to was a query letter workshop, led by genre fiction writer Alan Orloff. He was hilarious—“Think of querying like dating; you want the agent to think they’re special, that they’re the only one you’re seeing”—and gave great tips on how to make the letter pop. I was most interested to learn that the point of a query letter is not to get an agent, but to get an agent to request pages. Key difference!

There was a really innovative social media panel, as well. Mystery author Shawn Reilly Simmons took us through her social media profiles and gave some handy tips, but I thought Ingrid Anders’ presentation, which she did from her Twitter, was super cool. Though, it did confuse some of our elderly guests, who weren’t familiar with Twitter in the first place.

Finally, Tracy Chiles McGhee, a fellow Georgetown alum, took us through some strategies on how to build an author platform without stress. The best thing I took away was her definition of the platform: “Imagine you’re in a crowded outdoor café in Paris, and someone stands up to start speaking—whoever looks up from their meal is the platform.” Makes so much sense, and is so much less stressful to think about than trying to garner as many readers as possible.

The keynote was George Derek Musgrove, who talked about his book, Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation’s Capital, and hit my heart discussing all the changes that have gone on in DC in the last several years. But, of course, there’s a long, long history of gentrification in our nation’s capital, and the book goes into great detail about it. It’s quite a tome, but I can’t wait to read it!

I detailed all of that to say that there’s some really amazing writers in the DC area, and they’re doing super cool things, and seem supportive of each other. I do wonder if we can have more of these opportunities for a bunch of us to be in the same room, encouraging each other to continue making great art. I hope so!

How I Met My Spouse

Nine years ago, tonight, I went to a lounge called Napoleon with my friend Laura, seeking a regular fun night.

It’d been a long, cold winter in which I’d stayed holed up in my apartment, being angry at a guy I’d dated for a couple of months over the summer. He’d been a big enough jerk for my anger to last a full six months. But one Tuesday, I woke up and felt fine about it all. The weirdest sense of peace and contentment took me over.

I’d decided to give up alcohol for Lent because the friend who usually bought my drinks had done so, leaving me no choice. (What was I going to do? Buy my own drinks?) So, when I went out with Laura that Friday night, I drank Coke while she indulged in a Champagne cocktail.

But, I thought, at least my eyebrows looked great. I’d left work earlier that afternoon to get them threaded for the first time, and they looked quite sleek, if also a little puffy.

Having a great time in the basement lounge (upstairs was a really nice French restaurant) as music thudded, I noticed a group of kids who’d gone to Georgetown had all come in together, as if the “freshman herd” concept had extended into post-grad life. There was a Black guy in their midst. He looked familiar because there’s only so many Black people at Georgetown at one time, but I’d never actually talked to him. I’d seen him in the cafeteria with guys who played soccer, but he didn’t come to the parties I went to, so we wouldn’t have had the chance to meet.

I told Laura that he looked familiar, and she said I should go talk to him. I refused, saying I wasn’t going to approach some random man in a lounge. She slapped my arm and said I was being ridiculous. As he came closer to where we were, she gave me a line, “You look familiar, did you go to Georgetown?”

When he came close enough, and there was a break in the songs, I delivered the line. He said yes, he did go to Georgetown. We introduced ourselves over the loud music and danced.

After a while, he asked if I wanted some water. Before I could say, “Sure,” he added, “I meant, a drink?”

I shook my head. “Water’s fine,” I said. “I gave up alcohol for Lent.”

He giggled.

“I mean, I know it’s hard, but you’nt have to laugh in my face,” I half-joked.

“No, I meant—I gave up alcohol Lent, too,” he said.

I wondered if he was BSing—of course you’d tell a woman you’ve met in a bar that you’d given up alcohol for Lent just to save $8 to $14 on a drink. But he was for real.

We sat with the water and talked for a while. It got late, so Laura went home, and after a bit, his friends did, too, leaving us alone together. So, naturally, we kept talking: about our families, about Georgetown, about studying abroad and how the world is both wonderful and racist regardless of where you go.

I had to go to work at my part-time job early the next day, so around 2am, I put on my hat and coat, and he followed me out of the lounge. Outside, he asked for my phone number. I hesitated, not wanting to give my number to someone I’d met in a bar, but something said it would be okay, so I did.

“Could you spell your name for me?” He asked.

When I asked the same of him, I realized neither one of us had heard what the other had said when we introduced ourselves.

“Rustin,” he said. “Like Justin, with an R.”

“Got it,” I said.

We hugged, and I hailed a cab, and went home. I didn’t really think about him again until he called me that Sunday evening, asking to go out the following Friday, Good Friday.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Nine years later, I still don’t regret leaving work early to get my eyebrows threaded, or giving up alcohol for Lent that year. All things worked together for my good. Best 9 years of my life!

I Was Hit by a Car Last Week

Last Monday, I was hit by a car.

On my way to return some books to the library, I was crossing the street, with the light in my favor (the little white man with the countdown), in the crosswalk. A man turned left more quickly than he should have and, though I contend that he saw me, careened right into my left knee. The force knocked me down, and I landed on my hands and knees.

My first thought was, “My jeans better not be torn.” (They weren’t, but my knees hurt from being scraped across denim that hit pavement pretty hard.)

And then I realized that had happened: I had been following the rules, doing what I was supposed to, when someone hurt me.

I picked myself up and began screaming, “WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU? DID YOU NOT SEE THAT I HAD THE LIGHT? WHAT WERE YOU DOING?”

I screamed at the top of my lungs from the deepest depth of my belly. It was like I was screaming at everyone who had ever hurt me. I was shaking from adrenaline, but also because I was screaming so loud that I was surprising myself.

And then I was breathless.

The driver—an older Black man—apologized a bunch of times, and I ultimately accepted his apology. I knew I didn’t have any broken bones or anything other than the scrapes on my knees, so I wouldn’t need to drag him through legal or financial mud, even though an old lady stood on the sidewalk yelling at me, “You weren’t supposed to get up! You’re supposed to stay down until the police come!” There was no need to stop traffic on an extremely busy road during evening rush hour because of scrapes on my knees.

When I got home, I went straight to the bathroom and cleaned up my wounds. As I applied Neosporin and band-aids, I thought about the fact that I’d screamed at someone at the top of my lungs in the middle of a busy road during rush hour. I’ve never really screamed at anyone before, not even my husband.

When I went to therapy later that week, my therapist asked how it felt to do it.

“It felt great,” I said. “It was like I’d finally farted after holding it in for a really long time.”

He was mystified at the fact that it took being stricken by an SUV to get me to express anger. I tend to keep it bottled up, for fear of losing control.

“Be angry and do not sin,” the scripture goes. I never really saw how it was possible to do the first and not do the second, so I figured I’d stay away from the emotion altogether. Of course, that’s not what God has wanted me to do. And now I’m finding healthy ways of expressing anger when I feel it that don’t involve screaming like a madwoman in the middle of the street.

So, though I wish it hadn’t happened and pray that it will never happen again, I needed to be hit by a car to allow myself to feel another emotion I’ve been afraid of. I guess I can call it one more step in becoming a fully adult human and a more mature follower of Christ.

 

Woman with a Plan: AWP 2018 Recap

After being on the fence about it for a while, I took the plunge and went to my second AWP, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual conference.

I had a great time at my first one, but was so overwhelmed by all of the panels and people and things and stuff that I had a headache for four days straight, and spent the Sunday after in sweatpants on the couch, watching golf for hours, in recovery.

This time, I felt a lot more prepared:

  • I carefully chose 2-3 panels for each time slot.
  • I decided to give a panel no more than 30 minutes if I felt it was going in an energy-sucking direction (15-20 is better, actually; gives you time to process what the panelists are talking about after they’ve done introductions).
  • I went in with concrete goals: talk to 5 literary magazines I’d researched to see what the editors are looking for these days, and to meet the people I’d met online in real life
  • I decided to only buy books by authors I knew, or books I was really excited about, or books by authors who seemed to write the kind of stuff I liked (I got suckered into a lot of books I didn’t like last year; hence, these parameters).

As a result, I had an amazing time!

I went to 16 panels, and of those, I left two, and I established within 15 minutes or sooner that they were going to be energy-suckers. (I don’t mean to insult the panelists when I say this. “Energy-sucking” means that I feel literally drained by the talk, either because of how the presenters talk [monotony] or because they only talk in vague/general terms.) So, 14 were great, and a large subsection of those were ludicrously helpful or encouraging.

I spoke with the 5 lit mags I’d intended, and then I allowed myself to be intrigued by some others. I stuck with buying cheaper back issues, so I could get a feel for what they like without breaking the bank on new issues or subscribing altogether. But, if I knew I would like it, I happily subscribed and felt no guilt.

I met so many people I met online! I even met up with about half of one of my online classes at the instructor’s panel!

And there was even a mini VONA reunion!

That was the most exciting part about this year’s AWP—no longer feeling like an outsider. Actually knowing people—even if we were just meeting because we’d only seen each other on Facebook or Twitter—made such a big difference. I don’t say this to discourage newbies from coming (and I’ll likely make it a goal to meet new people there next year), but it made it less intimidating. If you can say with some certainty that you know at least 5 people of the 12,000, it’s surprising how much easier it is to breathe.

The biggest delights of the conference were running into my first fiction professor, Jennifer Fink, who taught me what literary fiction was back in fall 2005, when I was still a heavy chicklit reader and teeny-bopper romance writer. Basically, she helped me to see my talent for storytelling, not just telling a story. I also met a woman who I’m pretty sure I interviewed for a position at my old job; she’s since also left the industry, written a novel, and is in an MFA program. I asked during her panel how she was coping with the lack of concreteness in writing and with the prospect of making way less money, and I was so touched by her honesty: “I’m not sure I’m coping well with either,” she said, laughing. I felt seen and understood, and Lord, if that’s not the point of art in the first place.

She gave a galley of her book (which seems really interesting), and I added it to the pile of other treasures I’d collected: novels by Percival Everett (one of my favorites ever), Simeon Marsalis (as a former Jazz at Lincoln Center patron, I had to!), and stacks of literary magazines I targeted because they publish Black women who I want to write like, like Danielle Evans and ZZ Packer.

So, I accomplished all of my goals, and didn’t feel remotely as overwhelmed. My spouse and I scheduled travel to Miami for vacation that Monday instead of that Sunday because I assumed I’d be as lifeless as last year, but I felt totally fine, so we got an extra day to explore Tampa. Tampa’s not the most thrilling town, but while I was talking to my spouse as we walked around after brunch, I got the words for an essay that’d be germinating in my soul for months.

That’s what AWP is all about: inspiring you to keep writing, even when you feel so far over your head, you’re barely standing. But at least you know with certainty that you are not alone.