Bibliotherapy: Anger

It started with Jericho Brown’s reading at Northwestern a few weeks back. Someone asked about Brown’s relationship with the church. I don’t remember the question but I remember thinking she wanted him to reference a tension between sexuality and religion. Whatever the prompt, he responded:

If God is everywhere then why would I be the exception? If God is everywhere then I have to allow God through me and to see God in others… There is no separation between God and me… I am capable of creation in my own sphere.

I immediately thought of the chaos of my own spiritual life. As he spoke, I felt an urgent need for its order, for the sake of my creativity and my being.

Not long after Brown’s reading, I picked up Kiese Laymon’s book of essays, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America. It’s been on my to-read list since I read the eponymous essay. Laymon is an excellent thinker and writer. I want to be an excellent thinker and writer. It turns out I very much needed to read this at this time. I’ve been in too many spaces lately where people are unsure of my anger. People who live in black or female bodies who doubt when I say this is a thing that is both political and inherited.

In Laymon’s collection, he talks quite a bit about love, and anger and reckoning our worst selves with our best ones. It’s a confrontation from the very first page:

One cold night in New York, someone I loved told me that I was precisely the kind of human being I claimed to despise. I defended myself against responsibility, as American monsters and American murderers tend to do, and I tried to make this person feel absolutely worthless, confused, and malignant as I was. Later that night, I couldn’t sleep, and for the first time in my life, I wrote the sentence, “I’ve been slowly killing myself and others close to me.”

It’s the type of writing that lets you know you are seen but it’s not going to do the work for you.

So now I’m reading Taming the Tiger Within: Meditations on Transforming Difficult Emotions by Thích Nhất Hạnh. A therapist recommended this as one way to address my anger. I’ve been taking notes as I read the meditations. I’m doubtful. How can I take care of my anger as I would a baby if I’m so wary of motherhood, or rather of giving so much time to anything outside of my indulgences?

bell hooks provides some encouragement to keep trying. In her interview with George Yancy she talks about the necessity of a spiritual practice:

Feminism does not ground me. It is the discipline that comes from spiritual practice that is the foundation of my life. If we talk about what a disciplined writer I have been and hope to continue to be, that discipline starts with a spiritual practice. It’s just every day, every day, every day.

In other words: I’m woke so any sense of stability has long been disrupted. If I practice it with discipline, spirituality can be a grounding experience.

 

 

 

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On Being Unpublished & Not Winning

The ‘About Me’ page of the Life As Fiction tumblr reads, “My name is Nicholas Ochiel. I am an unpublished Kenyan writer, striving to be published. Mostly, I read a lot and quote things. I have an opinion about everything.”

In the past few months I’ve felt the weight of what it means to tell others that I’m a writer. On many occasions, my declaration is followed up with questions — the most dreadful thus far: “where can I read your work?” Beyond For Harriet, I have not submitted my work anywhere, but I imagine that if I did, I’d be using my “rejection is redirection” affirmation a lot more. I am a writer who spends a lot of time reading and writing and trying to discern what is good and what is not so good as both reader and writer. In not even attempting to explain this to others, it sometimes feels like the embodiment of non-achievement.

On a recent post entitled, “On not winning literary prizes” Nicholas shares some thoughts on writing after not making the shortlist of this year’s Commonwealth Short Story Prize:

For those of us who lose (because it really is losing if one does not win: judgement has been passed; “the shadow remains cast”) the publication of yet another list on which our names do not feature is an opportunity to remember that writing fiction is to embrace an absurdity: one writes with the conceit of hope that one’s words and thoughts matter, that one’s imagination is bright enough to illumine the hearts, minds, and lives of a small cohort of unknown kindred others, that perhaps the writer is in fact brilliant, her output perspicacious or even vatic, her existence necessary. However, those of us who remain unpublished write not because we really believe these things which we hope but because there is not an alternative: the hand that holds the pen propels itself, wending its way across the page, and it matters very little if anyone else reads these words.

A good reminder.

Notes on Writing: Writing the Sex Scene

I was just joking with my sister that she’d be writing any sex scenes for my novel because I’m just out of touch. For different reasons, Tayari Jones is struggling with writing sex scenes as well.  On her blog she explains how she tried to get around her shyness:

I thought about going the innuendo route, sparing myself from having the write anything hot and sweaty.  Afterall, I reasoned, sometimes you can convey a lot just through describing touches, glances, etc.  But I had to face it– I was pretending to take some sort of high ground because the scenes that needed writing made me uncomfortable.  And let’s face it, when you feel uncomfortable while writing, it probably means you really MUST write that scene.  What famous person said tha literature is meant to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable?

Read the full post here and her follow up post in which she includes helpful links on how to write sex scenes.

Notes on Writing: Productivity Tools

My absence from blogging has, in part, been because I’ve been writing, reading, and researching for a writing project.  I’m discovering a lot of exciting history but because I rely heavily on a computer for the research aspect, I do get a bit distracted by THE INTERNETS.  As a writer, I know I’m not alone in this; I once saw on Twitter: “Like many writers, I have rituals. Before writing, I pour coffee, open the window by my desk, and attempt to read the entire internet.” ha! Anywho here are a few productivity tools that I’ve been using as of late:

LeechBlock
With LeechBlock, I can create sets of websites and block them for certain periods of time. For instance I block access to my email account from 11pm to 12noon. I block Facebook and Twitter from 11pm to 2pm and block my Google Reader and other blogs I visit from 11pm to 1pm.  I have also selected the option that prevents me from modifying the blocked time unless the blocked time period has ended.

Time Out
I’m not currently employed but that last full-time job I worked had me sitting at a computer for 8+ hours a day. About a year into the job I developed carpal tunnel in my right wrist and months after that I developed back pains. All of this was because I had poor posture and rarely took breaks. Time Out is a program that encourages you to take a break to allow your muscles to relax.  You can set how often and for how long you want to take breaks — the default is a 10 minute break after 50 minutes of work. You can also set a micro break -defaulted to occur for 10 seconds after every 10 minutes of work.  Time Out may seem like a very simple and unnecessary program for some, but for those who struggle with healthy work habits, this could be really helpful.

WasteNoTime
Similar to LeechBlock, WasteNoTime is a time management program for Safari.  However, WasteNoTime works differently from LeechBlock in that you set your working hours then allot a certain amount of time for each blocked site during your working hours (you can also allot a certain amount of time to those sites after your working hours).  For instance, I have my working hours set from 8am to 3pm and I have allotted myself access to Facebook and Email for 30 minutes each during those hours.

Do you use any additional software to assist your writing productivity?  If so, which ones and how effective has it been?

A History Lesson from AfroPop

I tagged this post as ‘research for the story’ because the embedded radio show highlights some of the history that is integral to a story I’m working on.  Check it out for yourself:

You can read a transcribed version of The Hip Hop Generation in Africa: Ghana and Ivory Coast over at AfroPop.

Other interesting links I discovered after this podcast:

writer/DJ Juan G’s Tumblr Digging 4 Gold

Burger Highlife Explosion!!! – a documentary film about musicians who left after the curfews mentioned in the AfroPop podcast

some Ghanaian political history from Nations Encyclopedia

Notes on Writing: The Solitude Myth

There is no doubt that writing requires quite a bit of alone time, but according to Kalamu ya Salaam the myth of writing solitude can be damaging for black writers. Read exactly what he means in his essay The Myth of Solitude: No Writer is an Island. Though I can’t relate to some of his generalizations, he does make some good points:

In order to achieve both linear (across generations) and lateral (across cultures) greatness, writers must be both immersed in a specific era/culture and conscious of that era’s relationship to other eras and other cultures. It is not enough to report on or even analyze the news of the day. The ultimate meanings of human existence transcend the specifics of any given moment.

In the contemporary United States, “audience” has been collapsed into the concept of consumers, people who literally buy whatever is marketed. That is ultimately a very cynical approach to determining who is one’s audience. To write for and about a specific audience does not necessarily mean writing to sell to that audience. What it does mean is using the culture of the intended audience as the starting point (and hopefully an ending point) for our work.

A horrible truth is that too many of us are unprepared to write significant literature because we have no real appreciation of our audience as fellow human beings, as cultural creatures. We know neither history nor contemporary conditions. We talk about “keeping it real” but have no factual knowledge of reality. Thus, we glibly bandy generalizations, utter hip clichés as though they were timeless wisdom, and inevitably offer instant snapshots of the social facade as though they were in-depth investigations of the structure and nature of our social reality — in short, we lie and fantasize.