Thursday, September 5, 2019

Some Small Music With Jessika Kenney (getting back to my voice, one step at a time with the support of some friends)

Yesterday, Jessika Kenney sent me a seed riff after I wrote that I would learn a song of folks' choosing or create something new if they sent $5 or more to my tip jar (Venmo: @MecaCole), and this as a way for me to get back to singing regularly, to stretch my voice and musicality, to woodshed, to start thinking in music again after years of not singing, not even being able to open my mouth, or hum, and some of that even manifesting physically into ailments that I am currently working on.

I thought this activity might be a way to hold myself accountable to the calls from folks who are telling me I need to get back to music. I also thought that this would be a way that I could take care of myself too, to not become over-committed, and to be supported by the folks who want me to step back into my body and the world through song.

Here's how that part works: Send me $5 or more through Venmo (@MecaCole) and some song information: title, recording, poem, etc, it doesn't matter what genre or style, so long as you do not choose the most difficult operas/art songs and so long as you don't expect me to shoot back something from the bebop or super-max prog canon in the too-near future (I gotta get my chops back, y'all).

Below follows some snippets of the riff Jessika sent to me, and some of the play I was able to do with it in the short time I had yesterday morning.

I was working with limitations. My computer has gone kaput on me, my voice is rusty as all get out, and I don't know yet how to use the app on my phone, but, if I did, this would be longer, and perhaps later this week, I will work with it more. The limitations bit comes because I want Jessika's voice to be part of this, central even, rather than memorizing her Inanna riff (what I heard mama mama mama) and going from there. The riff can be a beautiful loop, or, if I knew how, a remix with that central idea intact.

I also like the idea of treating these music bits as a sort of musical exquisite corpse. If folks want to play with that, I would love to hear what comes of it. The first link is Jessika's riff. The second is my riff on Yeyo (mother), and what follows are variations.

Just a short background about Jessika Kenney: I have been following her work for a while now, ever since I learned about it through my friends Heather Crank and Greg Amanti at Crahmanti Design Collective. Some years ago, Heather shared a video from a concert that Jessika Kenney and Eyvind Kang did in collaboration with the Playground Ensemble and Creative Music Works in 2013. Click here for a video from that performance.

But, not to make this part about me: Jessika Kenney is a beautiful accomplished experimental vocal artist who is steeped in the knowledge of art songs from all over the world. She recently worked with the team of folks who helped create the very creepy musical score for Ari Aster's movie Midsommer. According to Pitchfork, Jessika brought her knowledge of Nordic and Icelandic musics, and also those of the Mideast. For more information about Jessika Kenney, check out her website over here.

I've wished I could transport myself to that concert mentioned above so many times, and have listened to this snippet from the performance so many times, so Jessika reaching out to me just melted me yesterday, and it was enough light I needed to continue with this project for an indeterminate amount of time. I hope that I can get my voice back, or grow into the voice that I am with now, as imperfect and rusty as it is, and unpracticed. I am looking forward to seeing what happens next.

Click here for the work from yesterday. I created a simple site on Google Sites to create the artifact of that work. Google Sites is slow, so be patient, and if you have other ideas on how I can upload music links into Blogger, I'm all ears.

Thank you for being here!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Small Songs: An Experiment with Community in Getting Back to Singing

I haven't been singing regularly for a long time for many reasons. My voice is very rusty but I can still sing. I can sing through the rust, oil it up, treat it or whatever, get back in, be with my voice however it is now, sing around rasps, holes and obstructions until they are hopefully healed or integrated/transformed, and remeber again how to breathe, how to play with and hold sound, breath, and silence in my body.

I'm often too timid to do something on my own. And here I am, mid life, spent a little, having been waiting, and mourning too much when I could have kept 'shedding.

But that is not the tone I want to end this post with: For a long time, I've been thinking about doing these small videos where I ask folx to send me a song to learn, and I'll learn it (+5 or more bones in my tip jar --> Venmo @MecaCole). It's a way for me to hold myself accountable in regards to my singing, and also take care of myself, and give back, too. Because people keep asking me to get back in, and I don't always know how to get back in, and maybe this is a way I can get back in, so I'm going to try it.

This morning, I start with a little tiny riff. Just a small example of something I might start with before I start riffing off of that idea into loops and variations/deviations.

I'm hoping that this week, I can get my home in order, set my loop stations up again and figure out what I need to create more sounds even when it's just my voice, and even when I'm a groggy rough mess in the morning. 💕🙏🏽☺️
If you have a song for me, Venmo me the title, and I'll oblige. 💕 I'm getting my wings back, so don't send me your most difficult operas (don't know if I'll ever get those kinds of chops back), or anything yet from the Charlie Parker Omnibook (I'd like to work up to that). 

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

They/Them/Theirs: This is not an explanation I owe to you

For the most part, I am female-presenting, 
and I choose they/them/their's pronouns for 
many reasons. None of these reasons include 
anything like your comfort unless 
you are someone in the realm of folks 
with whom I wish to show solidarity. 
This is not an explanation I owe to you. This is not a signifier of an identity crisis. This is ultimately none of your fucking business. This is not a signifier of a course of action you imagine for me. This is not license for you to ask me what I do with my genitals or my love. This is not license for you to tell me what I should be doing with my genitals, my body, my mind, or my love. 

This should be enough: They/them/theirs. It is what I prefer to be called, and yes, it is absolutely political. This is not a blanket statement over anyone else.

I have always felt "in-between things." I was born on the cusp of Taurus/Gemini. I was born to a white mother and Black father. My familial life for a long time was always in some state of flux. We lived in at least five or six places before I was five years old, stitching our way back and forth over the country, and with many homelife instabilities that carried forth into my adult life. For most of my life, I've felt like I was in some sort of limbo for so many reasons and in so many different ways. I write about these things in other places.

I have always felt someplace between what our society calls female and male (though I used to call this state "nondescript," and often dressed accordingly), and I have always craved some sort of script or even mention (permission, even) of an integrated gender, one that was both, neither, all. Shiva Linga, for example, or my idea of what Divinity is: a place from which all things come and then return, which ultimately does not have any gender, and which ultimately switches back and forth and to every in-between, depending on what energy is called for. 
Two of my Shiva Lingas -- in simplified terms, Shiva Lingas are 
a representation or manifestation of feminine 
and masculine energies combined.

In my deepest silent moments, I am neither. I know what organs my physical form carries, and I know how this body functions biologically. But that is not all that I am. 

I know precisely what reasons led me to they/them/theirs. I have been thinking about it a lot because people often ask me. I will list some of these reasons below, and give myself license to change this list as I need to:

I can choose.

There isn't a lot more to say here other than that. I can choose. This is an action out of my own volition. I choose they/them/theirs, and I am thankful that it mostly feels significantly safer in 2019 to do so because of everyone who is celebrating who they are and how they want to, because of everyone who has come before, because of everyone who has suffered/ is suffering or who died because they stood up for who they are, or because they simply exist. Choosing they/them/theirs is one minuscule action I can make towards that energy of everyone being able to choose how they express their gender.

I want to recognize, too, how for many of us, it really isn't safer. Folks are still being harassed and even killed for expressing how they want or need to express. It is important to point out that I am very lucky in being surrounded by supporting and growing communities who create a foundation and safe container in which many of us can come out and be who we are in the world when and if we feel ready. It is also important for me to recognize my particular privilege. I am female-presenting, which jives with most folks' perception of who/what I am.

I am less and less afraid to use myself as an example.

It has become important to me to show my clients and students where I stand, and to hopefully open up spaces that aren't always safe or welcoming for folks who reside on any point of the gender spectrum that isn't fully accepted by social norms which are predominately determined by a select minority who deems any "deviation" a threat to whatever comfort or power structure they would like to uphold. For the record, gender nonconformity is not a deviation. Gender nonconformity is valid expression and necessary action. There are other terms that ring better than "gender nonconformity," in my opinion, like "gender fluidity." I feel that it is important to say that.

I am a person who recognizes my own energetic and gender fluxes.

I've often considered it a goal, to be that entity I feel I am in my deepest silent moments. Currently, though I feel this state of in-betweenness, I do not feel wholly fluid. I do not feel wholly free. I do not feel wholly urgent in being one thing or another. Maybe I never will. I do feel, that for me, fe/male is a false dichotomy. I am not either/or, though sometimes, yes, I am.

I've never felt particularly "female," and I don't completely jive with feeling "male," though I recognize myself as carrying both energies in differing capacities. The term "female" (along with Black, Queer, POC, etc.) is a label that only matters when I leave my house. It is a term that is most often applied from the outside. It is a term that is applied without asking me who I am or how I feel. It is a term that makes many assumptions. Most terms place a certain stagnancy, and demand a certain outcome. I am stubborn, and feel more comfortable being a living, breathing, changing question. 

I realize that in this moment I contradict myself. I've said my choice of pronouns isn't any of your bee's wax, and I have said that I prefer to be a question. People will ask, and I prefer this over any assumption, and there are plenty of resources these days to direct folks to when necessary.

"Guide to Being a Trans Ally" is one of many 
helpful resources available, this one from 
PFLAG, an organization that "unites parents,
and allies with people who are are lesbian, gay, 
bisexual, transgender, and queer.
To show solidarity with my friends and loves who are transitioning, coming home or who are also finding comfort in or making sense of any version of an in-between place.

Not even a year ago, I was with a dear friend in the hospital during their top surgery. I was reminded all the reasons I try to stay out of hospitals, one of the main being a certain loss of agency that can happen when you enter a hospital's doors. That is: if you are not informed enough about your personal needs, about how the system works, what's available, your rights, etc. as a patient, as a person, and if you do not essentially fight full-steam, non-stop for those needs and rights, even during the heavy grog- of painkillers and the constant change of cast who have varying degrees of care for the patients on their shifts, whose ideas don't always jive in the same lines of compassion, because they can't (overtired, overworked, etc) or because they won't (these reasons are to numerous to name).

I won't say much about this except that I was deeply affected watching my friend fight the whole time through potential mistakes by the staff (at least a couple of which were caught by my friend's hyper-vigilance) which could have been detrimental (physically, mentally, emotionally) or fatal. Self-Advocacy needed to be constant, and having a network of support to uphold that advocacy was paramount. 

I've heard other stories that I cannot mention, but if you do any search on the internet, you can see for yourself how the medical establishment is far behind in implementing inclusive care. You can also find many stories (some of them might be your own!) about how the medical establishment plays all-knowing and also gaslights so many of its patients who either don't know better or feel powerless or who have placed too much trust in Western Medicine as a know-all cure-all. 

A Note: As I said above, this post is not meant to be a blanket statement over anyone. This is written from where I am today, with what ability I have right now to see into this subject. There are probably holes here, and I am noting that in my states of flux, I am also learning and growing, and I hope to continue opening my understanding towards more inclusivity, self-recognition/love, and helpfulness.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

I have a byline at Westword. That's so fuckin' cool.

It finally hit me how cool that was when I was walking towards the Westword building to talk with my editor about some things the other day. I have a fuckin' byline at Denver Westword! I get some small ducats sometimes from Westword!

More than 17 years ago, when I first moved to Denver Colorado, I wondered how you got your foot into the door at places like Westword and The Denver Post. I might not yet have known about Denver Westword's office, but I did go downtown and enter into the lobby where The Denver Post was held, and I walked up to the security desk and asked how I could get a job there. heh. That's how I thought things worked, and really, up until I'd moved to Denver, things kind of seemed to work that way for me. I mean. . . Boise is a little bit smaller, and for the most part folks are pretty open and nice about what they know. Or were when I lived there. I'm pretty much out of the Boise loop these days. 

Since then, I've worked at a click-bait site (now defunct), written hundreds of articles, conducted numerous interviews, written for a minute over at Colorado Independent (their freelancer budget dried up), taken a handful of journalism MOOCs, and completed a grip of ghostwritten things that paid alright while they lasted. ...and this is all outside of the creative writing stuff I do (which generally doesn't pay, but feels good when it's published).

Anyway. . .this kind of work is so super humbling. I have a lot to learn since I've entered into journalism through the back door, and I get edited a lot. This work is challenging, but I think I like things that way. I'm always working upwards on the curve, learning all I can, and as part of that, failing a lot. Failing is part of the practice and the work. I get better and better by failing. That's just how it is. 

I like telling my students how challenging writing is generally when they say that they want writing to get easier and that they're just bad at it. I tell them writing is a learned skill and it is always work, always learning. I tell them that I just received an article or review or essay back from my editors or writing group that was red-marked to hell with stuff I needed to change for whichever audience, or because I was inadvertently hiding something that was too important not to be left out, or because my language was super fuzzy or flowery or not concise. 

I've been writing for a long time, sometimes get paid for it, and I still write shit. I still need other eyes to help me to see through it and to compost what's salvageable, and continue on with something better.

For the most part, hearing this allays classroom excuses. I am a working writer and I still write shit. It's okay. We'll all learn together. Give yourself permission to "write shit" (I first heard this sentiment, shit attached, from a workshop writer and editor Heidi Pitlor conducted at Regis University's Mile-High MFA program).

I'm not writing these things to brag. I'm doing this more so to take stock. It's important to take stock. I know a lot of really brilliant writers and journalists, and some of them work much harder than I do at just writing. A good deal of them have gone to journalism school and/or have been in the game for decades doing the thing more than intermittently. I piecemeal my life and my income from massage therapy, teaching, freelancing, and many other odds and ends when and if they come. I still do my best. And I still feel green. And when I start feeling like I'm failing too much, I take a moment to look at the tip of the iceberg, the stuff I have to show for the work I have been doing, which in some sense has been constant. 

I still feel so new at this, and at the same time, I've been able to take stock and see where some successes were, and this gives me a little more confidence to aim higher as I continue learning and writing.

Blah. This is another blog post with a flat ending, but I'm ending it here, just the same. I honestly needed to pick myself up this morning, and to do a little writing warm-up before I address the stuff my editors have sent back. At any rate. . .yeah. There it is, for whoever cares or wants to know. :P If you want to, we can talk about it (in the comments). 

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Taking Stock, and Building a Snowball into the New Year

a lot of writing is about to happen
For the last long while, I have spent time working on building some momentum into the new year during the holidays. My hope always is that I build some kind of snowball that will roll through the new year with a fury. This year is no different.

While working on submissions late Christmas evening 2018, I found this exit document I had to create as a facet of my completion process for my MFA at Regis University last summer. I am tasked as an alum from my MFA program with speaking at the next cohorts' residency about post-MFA life. Over the last six months, I have been steamrolled with activity and accomplishments that I haven't been able to take time to account for until now. And finding this document from my MFA also allows me to take stock of what I have accomplished,and take note of what I would like to do and/or revise.

It's funny how quickly things happen and how quickly things change. Hopefully I will have more information for you soon, and in more frequent fashion than I have in the long last while. In any case I thought I'd post this document here to start. I plan to run through it with some updates as artifacts of note become available. I also plan to over the next month or so to go through each bit of this blog post and give updates on where I am now.

Ok, without further ado, here is my exit document to my MFA at Regis University for those who may be interested. Subsequent posts will further describe anything that at this point is fuzzy.

Beyond the MFA: a list of short-term and long-term writing goals

  • What are your short-term (next year or two) and long-term (next decade or so) goals for your writing career?

* Short Term: My short term goal is simply to start sending out as much work as I can. I want to put myself on a regular submissions schedule, which doesn’t have to be anything more than a nice slow consistent two submissions a month. I say this because I will be working on other projects, working full time, and also creating new work.

* Long Term: I am trying to figure out if I need to look for an agent at this point. I also would like to find one agent who is willing to grow with me as I write in various genres, some of which are experimental, some of which might not be heavy hitters as far as sales. I also wonder if there is a special someone out there who can work with me via my other creative outlets as well, such as creating web/print projects, working in music, news, etc? I hope that it’s possible not to need someone different for each different thing.

I may teach. I am toying with the idea but I am not sure how serious I am. Something I think I would definitely enjoy is creating workshops and classes that can help me to travel either to conferences, or as a free agent. It seems that this is something that can be done.

Here is another long term goal: I want to publish Identity Polyptychs / A Glossary of Unfinished Terms as two books soon at one of my top publishers. I wonder if I should enter them into a contest. If the timing is not right for any of the contests, I plan on sending work out piece by piece. I also think that “How to Honor Your Mother and Your Father” can be a chapbook on its own. I will finish this poem in the short term and send it out to publishers/ contests.

  • Do you plan to seek representation for, or publication of, your thesis manuscript? If so, what’s your plan for doing so?

I do indeed intend to seek publication, no matter what happens in terms of representation. My thesis work is a little experimental, and probably not something any of the Big 5 or even mid-list publishers will want to represent (but who knows, sky’s the limit said my Lyft driver today). Also, after hearing Eric Baus speak about his process of publishing, I have decided to try to publish as much of my manuscript as I can in journals and such, and then seek a publisher either via contests (as with Graywolf) or other forms of submissions. I plan on asking my mentors and other folks in the program for assistance on this.

  • What is your next writing project? And once that next project is completed, what are your long-term writing projects?

  • Sweet Fictions (poems): I have a good deal of poems for this collection already and intend to add more. I intend also to create a list of songs to sing with a good deal of these poems when they are performed. This is something that has worked well in the past with performances.

  • I would like to create some additional sections to Identity Polyptychs as follow: “The Trouble in My Speech”, wherein I address broken analogies on the basis of their problematic origins, such as in the section when I compare racism to a cancer that needs to be cut out, which can be understood as ableist speech. I would also really like to try to get to the reconciliation I have been striving for. It may be that this is for another book, another time, when I am ready, if that ever happens (I mean...surely, yes? It’ll happen!)
  • I want to write a collaborative book with my mother about her stories. I’ve been planting the seed, and have written a poem and gleaned another from talking with her, one of which is in Identity Polyptychs, the other of which was published a long time ago at Pirene’s Fountain (“Mermaid, 1969”).
  • I need to write more short fiction so that there is enough to be compiled into a book, or two, or more. I think I also need to take more craft lessons/ courses in fiction so that I can gain more skills and knowledge towards this aim.
  • I want to turn my critical essay into an academic book, and need to write a book proposal. I also need to find a publisher after the book proposal has been composed.

  • What are your deadlines? How will you hold yourself accountable to them?

I would like to send out at least two submissions a month for a while. I have only ever done this for three or so months at a time. What this includes: contests, guest blogs, podcasts, news articles, book reviews, and anything else that has a date attached to it. When I think of deadlines, I think I get a little nervous. However, when I think of them in terms of submissions, it’s really not that big a task and becomes totally a little more feasible in my mind. I can either send things I have already created or “write towards the assignment.”

  • How do you plan to reconfigure and maintain your writing practice (absent the pressure of MFA due dates and deadlines) in the face of the demands of your job or everyday life? What would you like your writing life to look like and how will you make that happen? (And whom can you ask for help in order to manifest this vision?)

Reconfigure/ recalibrate: A big part of reconfiguring and maintaining a writing practice, for me, means changing the mindset of working my writing/ creative life around my massage therapy work, and instead scheduling my creative life as if it’s just as much (if not more than) a priority as that bread and butter work. Part of this also means figuring out how I work best, like if I need three days off to take a day to do nothing, and then the next two days to write, stem, edit, research, etc., I need to make that a priority in my life and stick to it, just as I would any other job or self care necessity.

I think that it will be really beneficial to round up a group of folks in which we can coax one another to stay on task. I belong to a writing group, but this other group would probably be flexible and provide the support for anyone who wants it, possibly by setting up a sort of forum where people can connect for the purposes of having immediate community, access to writerly goings on, and possibly a reminder circle of some sort that helps people keep on top of submissions and generating new work.

  • How do you plan on cultivating a writing community?

My writing group helps a bit with this because even if we are all so busy, living different kinds of lives and doing a lot of our own creative things in our communities, we are constantly encouraging one another and lighting fires under each others’ bums.

Literary Citizen also works towards this aim, actively reaching out to the kinds of folks in the writing world I want to work with and listen to and promote, etc. I am being held accountable to this project, because now there are other folks involved with it as well. My guilty conscious won’t let me walk away from it. Not until it’s at a point where I can pass it on to hopefully some super solid and like minded folks. That’s going to take some doing, some effort, some time.

I plan to be better at attending as many readings and events as I can. For me, this means also in the art, music, and performance worlds. There may be more literary/music/art events on my end, as well, both performed and curated. My general modus operandi is to be as inclusive as I can, including folks who have fallen off wayside, who have wonderful work they are sitting on or stuff that’s in their closets, etc. I want to coax them to let their work see the world, and also possibly either publish them or promote them in such a way that publishers interests are piqued.

I also want to find those things that are aiding in Literary Citizenship by helping other writers who may have become discouraged to become empowered in their work and inspired. One example of this is that this week, I learned about a side project Rachel Weaver is doing via Colorado Writing School, where folks can sign up to a matching service to try to find a fit for a writing group. This was something that I was trying to figure out for Literary Citizen, but since it’s a thing that already exists, I would love to send folks to her submission for the service and promote that.

All in all, I want to be as helpful as I can while maintaining personal boundaries so that I can also accomplish my own work because accomplishing my own work has become hella important.

It is also very important for me to do all of this with an open heart.

  • And how can we help?

I just want to say that I feel so inspired already by the inspiration and belief in my ability and the coaching/help I have already received from so many folks in the program. I owe so many thank yous (!).

I’ve already received confirmation that Literary Citizen can work out an internship situation with Regis, either for credit for the undergraduates or pay when we are able to do that for the MFA candidates. This will be a great help because already, we are foreseeing a lot of work that will require delegation. Further, this is a way for us to continue in both of our mutual missions of connecting with community.

The feeling of connection is something that has become very important to me as well, and the Mile-High MFA really embodies this idea of community support and participation. I hope that in some way the work I am doing is a mirror, and also amplifies that cause.

  • How and when do you plan on enacting your Writing in the World Action Plan or otherwise contributing your writing talents to your community?
I’ve already begun work on my Writing in the World Action Plan, and have already taken assignments in the community for book reviews, readings (curated and performed). Literary Citizen is also part of this work.

  • An updated curriculum vitae (including “MFA in your genre(s), Regis University”).

*see attached.

  • A thesis manuscript query letter/cover letter (that you can use when querying agents, editors, and/or publishers about your book manuscript).

*see below.

  • Any lessons about writing you’ve learned that you’d like to share with us.

“Write Shit” ~Heidi Pitlor.

  • What Kind of Job?

While a good deal of my writing life is spent at home, I would like it to in some way help me travel to other places, plane and hotel fares paid + meals and a stipend. :P Perhaps this is some magic I could work through Literary Citizen, and if nothing else, perhaps I could be a free agent!

Figuring out what kind of writing job I should do is something I have been struggling with for a very long while, or maybe I should say experimenting with. Writing related jobs seem super challenging. Freelancing is catch-as-can. I’ve had gigs and then they disappear, or even have been interviewed only to end up feeling like maybe the person who interviewed me was researching information. But. . . it seems that most if not all of us do quite a bit of piecemealing our worklife together, and maybe that’s part of what makes it interesting.

I AM in the process of trying to figure out how to make Literary Citizen into a business. This feels much more fun than some offers that are already starting to come in for applying for adjunct professorship. I also understand that adjuncting is a stepping stone. I have not ruled it out.

  • Presses I am thinking about (willing to take more suggestions!)

Graywolf Press
Ahsahta Press
Noemi Press
Yes Yes Books
Field Office
Tarpaulin Sky
Subito Press
Uttered Chaos Press (Laura Lehew)
WTAW Press
Les Figues
Pirene’s Fountain

  • To Do List (not listed on our Graduate Portfolio list but I want to put them here anyway so I can remind myself that they are on my to do soon list):
  • Make a list of people who will help sustain writing/ submission schedule.
    • I am thinking of organizing a group of folks who can be a sort of telephone tree for one another. We can just lightly check in and remind each other what we’re about, etc.
  • Make a list of folks who will promote work, come to readings, etc.
    • Make a Local List
    • Make a National List
    • Make an International List
  • Make a list of people you would really like to have in your literary circle and connect with them.
  • YES!
Dear Matthew Dickman and Camille Dungy,

I have attached a copy of my manuscript Identity Polyptychs/ A Glossary of Unfinished Terms, as a submission to Tinhouse Press.

This hybrid work explores identity through the process of moving towards reconciliation in regards to familial strife and estrangement. It also questions race from a place of in-betweenness and unknowing, carrying forward via performative action by acquiring the language and understanding needed to define and reclaim selfhood.

I have recently completed an MFA in poetry and fiction from the Mile-High MFA at Regis University. I have published work at Pirene’s Fountain, The Colorado Independent, Denver Crossroads and elsewhere. I have three reviews coming soon from Full Stop|Reviews. Interviews. Marginalia, and I am currently establishing a web and print project called Literary Citizen: Writers Shaping Culture which will feature writers, editors, publications, venues and more who are working towards positive change on many fronts.

I feel that you make beautiful books, and I would be ecstatic if my work was published by your press. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

Tameca L Coleman

Friday, November 11, 2016

Just a beginning: Why It Is Important to Tell Our Stories

“The personal is political.” ~feminist rallying cry

I’m trying to write myself out of a pickle. For months, I have been circling around the idea of why it’s important for us, as women, to tell our stories but I haven’t written anything down on the page. I initially thought that in bona fide academic fashion I would include voices the likes of bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Alice Walker and Rebecca Solnit and let them speak for me. I had written notes in the margins of their books and printed out articles, marked passages I wanted to quote, and others I wanted to paraphrase. I intended to expand upon those writings with little more than my personal agreements upon the text, and I thought that would be enough. However, to my dismay, I left every single one of those resources at home, a proper justice for someone who had put off writing her paper til less than 24 hours before her presentation was due.
So, there I was without a proper paper to present. My former professor, mentor and friend Sandra Maresh Doe then read to me a proposal letter she is writing to ask for support in her writing and research. In the proposal, she told her story about how chasing a male relative’s work for decades has led her to this point in time. She read about how publishers told her that this story about an artist named Ray Boynton was separate from her own, that the Boynton biography and her autobiography could not be mixed.
“But. . .this story is your story,” I said. I felt angry and was probably a little pushy, too. In her proposal, and in the text of the book she is writing, Doe talks about a life of her own very impressive accomplishments that, though she won’t admit it, often go overlooked. She talks about many of the deep personal connections she has made along her search. She speaks about motherhood, sisterhood, losing lovers, family members, and a breast to cancer.
I’ve heard pieces of this story multiple times over the years during various presentations on campus and off, but for some reason, it never hit me as much as it did today. “This is your story,” I said.
Doe admitted, passionately that she doesn’t want to continue with this project because why would she continue chasing a man who had burned through three wives and has remained a bit of a ghost, leaving her alone to complete his story for him, to fill in the blanks where he left off. She also admitted that she wanted desperately to finish the work: Can’t leave the work unfinished, after all.
“That is honest, what you’re telling me. The want to finish this work and your frustrations with it. It is not two stories you are writing, it is one; and it is yours. Further, those frustrations are definitely part of the story.”
We had breakfast and I still did not have a paper; I did not have a clue on where to start. I began thinking about other friends’ and loved ones stories I have heard over the years. I thought about some of my own. There were so many stories. They came rushing in:
I remembered the friend whose drink had been laced with rohypnol and who woke up abandoned, groggy and bleeding; the friend who had been gang raped and who took the main instigator to court, only to lose her case because of the way she looked (she was asking for it?); the loved one who was beat in front of her children, her hair dangerously close to lit burner coils; the woman whose baby’s papa sent her flowers and her favorite fruits after promising to take care of her and her soon coming little one, only to abandon them in an unpaid for hotel when he went back to an ex-girlfriend; the woman whose boyfriend became angry at her when she wouldn’t have sex with him because he had brought home crabs from sex with another woman; the woman who asked me to take her photo down off of a college club site because she was afraid a stalker would find her; the woman who confides in me that she’s going back to exotic dancing because she can’t make enough money otherwise, and this despite the sexual harassment that men deem warranted because of her occupation; the woman who owns three strip clubs and also founded an organization to help women who have experienced sexual violence; the woman reporter who constantly has to assert her significance and powerful voice in the realm of journalism; the woman who has laid aside her whole life to be a mother and caretaker; the woman who was told she could be a singer in a band if she became the band fluffer; the woman who kept it secret that her husband raped her first daughter, the same daughter that was a product of another rape; the trans woman who was told that she would never be a real woman. . . .
I could go on. And many listening right now can recount stories of their own, stories they’ve heard from friends, family members and loved ones, stories they have experienced themselves. Luckily, there has been no better time than now to speak up and to share these stories. Sharing them instigates courage. It creates community and solidarity. It creates change.
Personally, I have felt stunted in my expressions and have shirked telling stories of my own. I suppose that is why I did not start writing around this idea til now. I know conceptually the importance of telling stories and I know what feminist writers would say. Still, I’ve been afraid and silent.
So, this morning, I decided to reach out to my friends on Facebook as a way to reach out to people and to begin a process of rounding up community. “What do you think?” I asked. “Can you help me? Why is it important for us to tell our stories?” I had no idea so many people would answer. Here is what they said:
  • This is where I always start about anyone telling their story: “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” ~Zora Neal Hurston.
  • It’s important for us to tell our stories so that we are not written into invisibility by men. . . again.
    • Case in point: A man writes in this thread what he would do if he were writing my story. . . .I thank him for his input and let him know that no one will be writing my story but me.
  • It is important to tell our stories because a lot of people don’t have to live it. They don’t live it, so they don’t see it, or if they see it, they pretend it’s not there. For a lot of folks, they don’t think it’s real if they don’t see it. Last night, I had to tell my own boyfriend personal stories about being a woman in the workplace and the story of my sexual assault. It’s not his fault that he didn’t know, he’d never witnessed this himself. But he didn’t believe that sexism is real. He didn’t know about misogyny. I had to explain to him what misogyny is. It’s our job to share our stories, to inform that yes, these things are happening all around us. It’s not his fault he didn’t know -- he never saw it, never partook in it, never had to deal with it. But for those of us who do have to deal with it, it’s our jobs to show those who love us. It’s our job to open their eyes to it.
  • We all have a story. . . ‘when having done all to stand, stand therefore.’ When you think you can’t continue, can’t survive, or that you are not strong enough, think again. We are all capable of greatness, even in the smallest measure, shaken and stirred by conflict but still intact.
  • I grew up in the time of bra burning and Gloria Steinem’s brand of Women’s Lib. When I was a child, I thought that maybe marriage would be out of date by the time I got to be my age. Yet, ironically, we still are talking about the same issues, decades later. I wonder just how have we evolved as a culture? Have we simply become more PC, and never truly addressed the core issues?
  • Because the romance lie dominates book sales and keeps women hooked on finding the right man.
  • Because our real experiences and thoughts and feelings are not told.
  • It's important because without knowledge of the past, nothing will ever change. We need to know where we came from to appreciate where we are and to realize how important it is to keep going.
  • Stories define us, our histories, our families, our hearts and souls. The telling of story is recognized universally as essential to humanity, from Doctor Who, to Native American, especially western Apache, traditions, all the way back into prehistory. I would love to see some women seize the narrative and run with it, telling their history in the epic tradition, making correlations between womanhood and heroism, like Joseph Campbell did for men with The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Or continuing where Clarissa Pinkola Estes started with Women Who Run With the Wolves. Keith Basso did some great interviews with Apache elders of both genders when he was writing Wisdom Sits in Places. Those three books are my favorite studies of human narratives.
  • I feel it's necessary teaching for the daughters and granddaughters of this country. It's a health concern to me. Some women are taught not to speak up by their families and society at large needs to teach them how to do so and provide a safe container to hold them. So the scary stories and uncelebrated joys don't turn into ill health and disease.
  • There's no freedom for anyone until we are all treated equally. Just because we can vote and have jobs doesn't mean we are equal. I want the same pay as the men in my industry doing the same job as me. I want to be taken seriously when doing business with men. I want to be able to make choices about my own body. We aren't all the way there yet.
  • We want our stories heard so that our lives will have lasting meaning. Maybe our experiences can help others who come after us.
  • If our stories are never told, it's like we never existed and once again our voices silenced. We live in a patriarchal world where this has been the norm for far too long.
  • For one reason and one reason only: To remind yourself that you're real. ←(and I would add, to remind the world that you are real).
  • I think it's important for everyone to tell their stories. These stories help people to heal and help to create our history. It also can so often help others by hearing these stories. It may trigger something for healing purposes or just allow a person to feel heard, which is important to our human existence.
  • If we let others know how we have struggled, it somehow makes us seem weaker in others' eyes. The reality of it is this: We are stronger than we even know and the trials and tribulations we have gone through have made us who we are. We have learned and evolved from the young women we were to the women we are now.
  • I went through a very turbulent first marriage and I have said from the beginning of my healing process with that, if I can help one person get through a similar situation or save someone from it, then all was not lost. I love the person I have become and I love my life. I have learned that I am enough just as I am. Wonderful place to be!!!
  • For me, it's a very personal way to feel connected. To share/trade stories with other women gives me a feeling of safety, and validation that my own stories and experiences are ok, I'm ok. When I listen to other women confide in me, I feel useful in their experience.
  • As women (and this can extend to anyone who has dealt with oppression), we have been indoctrinated by a wealthy/male dominated world that has practiced & preached that everything is on their terms. When our voices and stories become heard we have the opportunity to change other people's lives for the better.
  • Because when men go through puberty their voices crack...girls turn to women so quickly, protruding. It's so important to support girls turning into women, so they can pass the baton, we can support one another. Physicality reveals the worlds inside.
  • Because when we tell our stories, we learn what our story is....
  • Because no one knows them better than we do. And because "Not telling it has been changing me, and not in a good way."
It is my hope that we can all become inspired and empowered by coming forth and naming those things that have been weighing heavily on our hearts and holding us back. I hope that we can listen to each other and begin a process of healing that can bring about the kind of transformation we yearn to see. I believe that it is imperative that we do.
I would like to close with one quote from Audre Lorde after all: “When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.” So here’s to that (!).
Thank you.