Dream Notes

Dreams from the last 7 months

  • A younger Asian American poet asks me for help with getting their work published. I help somehow and remember the feeling.
  • A body lies on the ground. A body sits near it. The sitting body begins to levitate. I am the one sitting.
  • I was working for the ACLU and hosted a social/work party.
  • I explain the Asian American class to Rushi. I play a video about it.
  • Dreamt that I visited Ian, Elizabeth, and Dannon (former housemates). Ian had a long, complex poetic letter for me. I felt weirdddddd.
  • Sid is on a talent show like American Idol, but the skill is cooking. I’m there to support him, which means I make out with him. For the finale, his parents are there too. I’m sitting between the two of them.
  • I visit SF but end up accidentally going on what seems like a date with an Indian man, the wrong one. He was a man sitting next to me at the bar in a restaurant while I was waiting for my real date. The man invites me to dance. I dance and on the dance floor, Sid shows up. I dance with with Sid and it feels so good, so right. I want to be with him, not the stranger. The other man notices and I explain who Sid is. The man leaves. I want to spend time with my real date but he is upset as well. He storms off. I cannot reach him. Eventually I do, but he avoids the topic. I go to see him and knock on his door late at night.
  • I got married to a Viet guy I didn’t know as well as I wanted to. But he was great. The wedding was interesting… like we posed for pics at the altar. We had great sex in the courtyard honeymoon suite of the hotel. I was surprised.
  • I am in a science fiction/alien movie, but the Black/POC version. Mostly, the dream devolves into me and Tony Jack walking around and eating gluten free cookies while analyzing why the department is not as successful as it could be. People are beginning to run away, maybe there are predators after all. I’m afraid.
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The time I met Jericho Brown but didn’t know he was Jericho Brown

It was a warm day in March earlier this year. I was in Miami at AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs), the largest literary gathering in North America. Writers were everywhere. I remember taking a break in the conference hall, curled up in a nook and charging my phone. My eyes widened as I saw Ross Gay 20 feet from me, just catching up with Danez Smith, Fatima Asghar, and Franny Choi. Getting to listen to, interact with, or just stare at Tyehimba Jess, Bich Minh Nguyen, Patricia Smith, Don Mee Choi, and so on and so on.

So I should have expected to meet writers everywhere.

On the first day of the conference, at 8AM I was at an acai truck, because healthy foods help me feel better and more grounded when I travel. I leaned my uncorrected proof copy of francine j. harris’s poetry collection play dead against the metal siding of the truck as I put away my wallet. A tall, athletic man with dreadlocks, who had just pulled up in a sporty car with a woman, leaned in to look at the book. Squinting at it, he asked, “Is this yours?” I said no and explained how I ended up with the proof copy of the book. He asked to look at it and if I liked it. I started to talk about how harris came out of Cave Canem and Cave Canem writers have a reputation of being top-notch. He nodded and said he’ll look into the book. I got my acai bowl and left for my first-ever AWP session.

Fast forward two days. It’s Friday night and I’m at the Lambda Literary X Copper Canyon reading to support friends and for the hot writing. Poet Jericho Brown is last to read, and I’m happily surprised by his short poems and direct, tender lines, a style I feel contemporary poetry is moving away from. (Also, in all fairness, it was reassuring to hear poetry that resembled my poetry a little.) I also loved how casually he sat on the stool, reading and bobbing along with his lines, sometimes almost falling off.

When the event ended, Jericho quickly left to make it to another reading. I turned to him to say thank you and to tell him I appreciated his poetry. He shook my hand, smiled, and said, “Have we met?”

I was very certain we hadn’t and onto our separate nights we went.

Months later though, this moment still bothered me. I’m usually the person who recognizes familiar faces before they recognize me. I might not remember names or how we’ve met, but I always always remember faces. So, how come Jericho Brown thought we met, when I couldn’t recall him?

Obviously, I put it together that Jericho Brown was probably Mr. Acai from that first morning. But again why didn’t I remember his face?

I have to admit to myself that I did not remember him later, because I read him as a stereotype instead of looking at him fully when we first interacted. I wrote him off because of the sporty car, his Nikes, the joggers, and just how fit and attractive he is (y’all, Jericho Brown is the hottest). I also want to believe that race wasn’t a part of this. It would be easy to say that I don’t think of writers as athletic, attractive men. It is more difficult and important to say that I don’t think of writers as black, athletic, and attractive men. Was it the combination of these qualities or explicitly race itself that activated my implicit bias? I’m not sure, but I remember this initial moment with Jericho Brown and remind myself of all the races and colors of writers, all of our complexities– the shy awkward parts, the extroverts, the capitalist-in-us, the spiritualist, the revolutionary, even the athletic parts, and the shades of in-between that make living possible. I remember to hold myself responsible. I remember to reflect and confront my unconscious stereotypes and internalized racism.

You can read more of Jericho Brown’s work here and here.

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Check-in

Is it weird to interview myself? Here’s my cheat for a quick blog post. It’s been a while, and of course I write posts when I am busy and should be studying and working on other things.

How’s the weather? It was almost 70 degrees when I woke up and worked it’s way down to the 40s with a sprinkling of snow by the evening!

What are you enjoying? The tulips! Thinking about the future, daydreaming about someone, thinking about cities and the different feelings they give me. The photos in this has me thinking about New York and Europe in the late summer/fall: https://oakandbone.wordpress.com/2018/02/25/last-minute/

What do you hate? How it’s not Friday yet. Time is definitely about perception and it’s been moving fast as I get more busy.

What are you doing well? Managing time, emotions, and risks. Before our performance and writing class today a friend said, “I can’t believe I’m doing this… in front of other people.” In some ways I can’t either, but it’s become normal, and as our confidence builds, safe. I feel like I’ve been generating a lot of writing as well.

Not so well? Slowing down, being present in my body, feeling grateful and peaceful. This is a good reminder to try harder as the semester wraps up.

What do you want to say? I’m excited about the future as much as I am craving time to slow down and reflect on myself and my work. What is happening? I need time to process the good news to work from there. On that note, I have good news to share, but need to disseminate it thoughtfully. Keep an eye out!

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What I read– 2017 edition

  1. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
  2. The Bluest Eyes by Toni Morrison
  3. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  4. The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
  5. My Wicked Wicked Ways by Sandra Cisneros
  6. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
  7. Haikus by Richard Wright (working through it still…)
  8. Blood Dazzler, Poems by Patricia Smith
  9. The Pearl by John Steinbeck
  10. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
  11. Seam by Tarfia Faizullah
  12. January Children by Safia Elhillo
  13. all about love by bell hooks
  14. I’m So Fine: A List of Famous Men and What I Had On by Khadijah Queen
  15. Slow Lightning by Eduardo C. Corral
  16. Ode to Walt Whitman by Frederico Garcia Lorca
  17. [insert] boy by Danez Smith
  18. Whereas by Layli Long Soldier
  19. Afterland by Mai Ver Dang
  20. Eat a Bowl of Tea by Louis Chu
  21. When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz
  22. Palm Frond with its Throat Cut by Vickie Vertiz
  23. Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
  24. Look by Solmaz Sharif
  25. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
  26. Odalisque in Pieces by Carmen Giménez Smith

Oddly, while I am in graduate school, this list isn’t as long as I thought it’d be, but I’ve read longer sections of books, mostly poetry collections this year. I’ve also jumped around a lot online, reading Ruth Ellen Kocher, Douglas Kearney, Julie Carr, Kevah Akbar, Ruth Madievsky, more Safia Elhillo, and others. I’ve poked my head into poems by Li-Young Lee and Sun Yung Shin. Also, I’m currently reading these two poetry books: Beast/Meridian by Vanessa Angélica Villarreal and Don’t Let Me Be Lonely by Claudia Rankine. Almost done with the novel Swing Time by Zadie Smith (I don’t know y’all. I guess I’m a hater, but from the sentence level to the story, I think it’s not as good as other novels. This one could be shortened and improved. Let Carmen Maria Machado head that project, Zadie.) Non-fiction: I’m in the first sections of We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes of Race and Resegregation by Jeff Chang and Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination by Avery Gordon.

The nice thing about these posts is that they are self-explanatory. For the record, I keep and share these lists for my review and accountability, not for some other motive, but if you like them, then cool!

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What I am learning

1.

TENABLE. IMMUTABLE. INDEXICAL. PHENOMENOLOGICAL.

How often I want to visit social media. And the call to be a “voice,” or something.

I see your phenomenological. I raise you EPIPHENOMENOLOGICAL.

How to decide what is worth your time, energy, and money.

How to use the phrase “ephemeral archive” as much as possible.

Trust yourself. Trust yourself. Trust yourself. There is nothing left.

How fraught these spaces—and really all spaces—are with our personal and professional expectations and desires. And the underlying social, cultural, historical, raced, classed, gendered expectations for behavior.

And the ensuing silence.

 

2.

Direct from the horse’s mouth, or bastardizations of what poetry professors have said–

-Make collages.

-Some people write with music, but I need to write with words around me. I find words.

-Then using a number system, I went through and killed poems.

-I would ask my dates, “Are you happy with your job?”

-Cut this word out.

-Image cul-de-sac.

-This voice feels authentic.

(This last one bothers me.)

 

3.

By showing up, I inherently pressure the Institution.

Better get used to it.

 

4.

I realize my life is rather “boring,” that most of the time I am looking for ways to spend time somewhere writing or with people talking about writing or listening to people read or perform writing. That when I look around Boulder, there is not much I feel drawn to do. (Mostly, one has the choice of school, the mountains, shopping. Boulder in three words.)

I think the secret now is to embrace this. How much more time can I reserve for writing– without becoming a complete recluse?

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Thank you from an almost thirty-year-old

When I was 16 going on 17, I read Toni Morrison’s Beloved. When I was 16 going on 17, I tried to read Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. That year in AP English, my teacher’s comment requesting that he keep my homework musings on home kept the tender embers of desire to be a writer alive. Thank goodness.

4 years later, I re-read Beloved in a Black Studies and literature course. The other young women and I marveled at our brilliant professor, especially as she was young, black, female, and did I say brilliant. That year I was applying for a teaching program and ripping down Teach 4 America posters on campus. My mentor and advisor stopped our meeting to make copies of bell hooks’ Teaching to Trangress. I didn’t know it then, but he was handing me yet another mentor. Thank goodness.

About 9 years later, I was teaching and learning about excerpts of Pedagogy of the Oppressed with middle schoolers. I had them playing with Morrison’s language to learn about poetic line breaks. These writers and thinkers paved the ground I walked on, and I kept their work alive, while stoking the fires in my young charges. They taught me how to break open my heart and let them in. They flood me to this day, and I have cried more than ever. Thank goodness.

About 13 years later, I am teaching undergraduates, and today I tacked up a collage of Kendrick Lamar reading Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eyes at my desk. Morrison was a poet, who became a professor, who wrote novels, who changed us. I ponder now about my work, my writing, and what’s next for me.

Age is a funny thing. While I am so ready to be 30, I am still 16 going on 17. Still eager, still social introvert, still reader, still laughter, still nervous and moving. But also, I am so not 16 going on 17. Not pining after some baseball player, not wishing to fit in with the right clothes, not wondering about college, not crying under the sheets, not anguishing about my thighs, not writing poems in a secret notebook. Nope. Now I talk too much sometimes. Now I risk not fitting in more. Now I cry in public—all the time. Now I love my body more than ever. Now I don’t wait for no man. Now I write poems in journals and journals and journals. Even read them aloud. Might even call myself an artist or something, sometimes.

***

Age in a funny thing. When my mother was 3 years older than me, she gave birth to my brother. About a year later, she gave birth to me. When I am 33, I may give birth to a book. About a year later, another. In her thirties, Toni Morrison raised two boys and wrote her first novel.

***

Age is a funny thing. Sandra Cisneros might call age an onion, layers on layers that you feel at times. I think it’s more like leaves on a tree, shimmering all at once in the wind. And as these leaves flutter and I stare—mesmerized in the sun—I am full of wonder, joy, appreciation. Disbelief.

When I was a toddler, I would cry when given gifts. I would overwhelm myself. I don’t know exactly why I cried at 3. Now at 30, I know I cry because I feel so much. I am full of all those who made me me, as I am becoming me. I am full of immense gratitude that my body cannot hold without release. So I cry. I cry because I am 3, I am 16 going on 17, I am 30. I cry because—thank you.

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Filed under age, essays, love, memory, prose, writing/writers

Where is There freedom?

I begin this essay at the beginning of my second day of my MFA program. One orientation week and one day in, I am showered with opportunities to learn, to create, to publish. I am reminded that almost every hour I have here may be used as a choice– to study, to write, to play, to rest. Though I am a Teaching Assistant, I am utterly privileged to do essentially whatever I want with my time. While I relish in this, I also find the disparity of opportunities like these in institutions like these compared to what is available to the everyday working person, shameful. An MFA graduate once called his program’s financial support and outcomes an “embarrassment of riches,” though I think I am emphasizing a literal definition of “embarrassment” more than the writer.

Yet, in some ways, I came here for this, for learning, for tools, for writing time, for freedom. I reflect on how my applications to programs last fall discussed the value of protest poetry and literature as well as its trap. How do we speak to people? Move them? How do we maintain accessibility and become artists who break boundaries? How do we free ourselves from their and our expectations? When we write for freedom, do we find ourselves in another kind of trap?

Yesterday, I was given a sign that these are the right questions when I came across Ravi Shankar’s interview with Gregory Pardlo, where Pardlo says that Callaloo’s Creative Writing Workshops “have a more catholic conception of diversity. And in terms of the theoretical constructs of identity that you are talking about, I think we interrogate identity in a way that a simple statement ‘I am a black writer’ or ‘I am a white writer’ reduces me to a two-dimensional concept. There’s no way that term can contain the breadth of my worldview and my sense of myself. And yes, it is a kind of shorthand that we use to trade between people in order to arrive at some brief and quick understanding of one another, but if the conception of myself that I bring to the page is merely that ‘I am an X writer’ then it could be that I am limiting myself of that I am acquiescing to the bureaucratic logic of the very institutions I would oppose.”

Pardlo goes on to say, “The world on the page is not the world outside. The rules that apply in our social world, and yes, we need community, whether hyphenated or not, these shorthands are very useful out in the world, but on the page, my imagination needn’t be delimited by a particular worldview or cultural imperative.” Shankar replies, “Of course, your experience will be inflected by that perspective of being a person of color, but you’re saying that it doesn’t need to be overtly manifest. Not unless you want it to be.”

As much as our identities are important, we may be limiting ourselves when we write. Shankar and Pardlo discuss the importance of choice. What are you choosing to do? Can you weld writing intelligently– as a tool– with precision? Can you put down the tool and choose to write for some other purpose? Some other kind of freedom?

I hope so, and honestly, I write this today to reaffirm that amidst crazy-making interactions with a housemate; the very white and wealthy town I live in; and the perceptions of undergrads, peers, and professors, I can make choices. I am not only in a physical location I realize, but also in a new psychological moment (as well as a historical moment nationwide). A moment where I am checking how I present myself against how others may perceive and receive me. A moment where I remind myself I may want to hold my cards closer to the vest. A moment where my whole self may not be welcomed. A moment where my mistakes may alienate me further personally and professionally. “Further” as in beyond how my gender and race already push me aside or erase me. I have experienced these moments before, but now they come in a package called Graduate School.

But now I come with more experiences, insights, and tools to make choices.

I reaffirm to myself everyday and every night who I am. For the breaths I have the right to take. I reaffirm I can choose who will know me fully. I reaffirm my desire to approach the page for personal freedom. I reaffirm my desire to work and write for collective freedom. I know this is not some ideal of freedom, but I get to make some choices. I will not let it trap me– not protest literature, not this institution, not this place, nor this moment.

Lift up your head and keep moving, (keep moving)…

Peace to fashion police, I wear my heart

On my sleeve, let the runway start

You know the miserable do love company

What do you want from me and my scars?

Everybody lack confidence, everybody lack confidence

How many times my potential was anonymous?

How many times the city making me promises?

So I promise this, nigga

And (I love my myself)

When you looking at me, tell me what do you see?

(I love myself)

-Kendrick Lamar

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