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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Link Sharing: Women’s Work

I’m taking a break from Twitter and Facebook. It’s not my first break but this is the first time I’m feeling antsy about not being able to shoot links out into the ether.

So, check it:

Elizabeth Newton has this excellent essay in the latest issue of The New Inquiry on the erasure of women’s work, specifically within Jazz and other music communities. “Can She Dig It” is a fairly quick read with some nice prose, thoughtful articulation, and disturbing facts. For instance, “Sun Ra had excluded Carla Bley, a pianist and composer in his circle, from his Jazz Composer’s Guild—a society Bley helped found. Citing sailor lore, Sun Ra claimed it was bad luck to bring a woman aboard the ship.”

These days I’m always raging about the small (and large) ways I see women’s work being dismissed and completely erased. My mother keeps warning me that it’s not good for my heart so I’m always looking for nods that let me know I’m not alone in my rage. Enter my favorite part of Newton’s essay:

Just last month I fleetingly considered smashing my computer, mining my hard drive for its mineral contents, scraping the tantalum and coltan into vials with which to poison every man who has ever made me compromise.

But to get back to the center (if there is such a thing)
This conversation between Darian Harvin and Danyel Smith is so good. There’s some good stuff in there about dating and about career. Danyel Smith is in that Black female hip hop writer canon (with the likes of dream hampton, Joan Morgan, …). I’m not super familiar with her writing (though this on Bobbi Kristina is excellent) but this conversation makes me want to have a mentor like her (and to be a mentor like her). I’ve also TBR’d her forthcoming book on black women in pop music.

Sometimes I daydream about “making it” as a writer and whenever an interviewer asks me what made me want to be a writer, I say “ZZ Packer’s author photo.” Yeah, that one. The side ponytail. The eyebrows. This is seriously my favorite author photo. Also Drinking Coffee Elsewhere is one of my favorites. I tend to say I don’t have favorite books but DCE is one I revisit for enjoyment and as guidance with my own writing. In any case I’m always looking for news about Packer. Somehow I missed this from earlier this year. The profile is a bit generic (Packer’s path to writing, her current project, just enough personal information to make her success seem attainable, and some advice to writers) but it’s still nice to read.

Speaking of writing advice, this is a good reminder from NK Jemisin:

And if it helps, remember: this is what makes you a writer. Yes, this. The sick feeling in your stomach, the weariness you feel, the utter conviction that you are the Worst and your novel is the Worst and everything is awful. This is how writers feel sometimes.

Alright, that’s it for now.

About Me

When I penned the About Me section of this blog, I intentionally kept it short. I only wanted to mention the things that I believe will always hold true about me. I also didn’t want it to seem as if I was selling myself (and to be honest, I wasn’t sure if there was anything to be sold). I’m so reluctant to acknowledge this blog as an act of personal branding (Joseph E. Davis captures why here) but blogging has played an important role in my life in both personal and professional ways. I’d go as far as to say that it has helped changed the trajectory of my life. The short version of this story: After a particularly rough period of life in Manhattan, I moved to Newark where I was surrounded by quiet. The idea of blogging kept intruding on thoughts of how pitiful my life had become. Eventually I started a personal blog. Blogging there was mostly a therapeutic experience. It led me to rediscover my love for writing.  Since then, so many good things have come from that (including Muse & Words). I, now, write with professional and personal goals in mind.  I have no plans to update the About Me section but if you’re curious about the woman behind this blog and some more of my creative projects, please check out my profile in Jane O.’s Meet A Blogger series.

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?

Web Finds: Jamaica Kincaid, Avatar Remix, & More

For Creatives, a few places to submit your work:

Got a high-quality film with commercially appealing content? Consider submitting it to be screened at the Big Shade Tree Film Salon (a monthly film screening event in NYC).

Are you an African writer in the diaspora with an unpublished manuscript?  Consider submitting to Kwani? Manuscript Project

From the Black Film Center/Archive: the African Media Center releases a call for papers on Evolving African Film Cultures

Reading & Writing:

Have you checked out AfricaBookClub.com?  It’s a great resource for reading about contemporary African books and authors.  They also have an online store.

I just finished reading my first Jamaica Kincaid novel, check out this interview she did with Mother Jones back in 1997.

Tayari Jones shares some facts about Artist Residencies

I like these writing prompts Tayari shares with Gotham Writers Workshop

I just finished Chapter 2 of Teju Cole’s Open City.  His comments on The Last King of Scotland reminded me of this video: