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Tremors.

13 Aug

The strangest day came upon me yesterday. An enormous storm rolled into DC, including flash floods, lots of falling trees, and a day-long power outage in our neighborhood (other neighborhoods, mainly in the suburbs, have longer outages in store).

The good news is I had time left on my laptop battery, so I actually worked on my manuscript for four hours or so. It’s due Sunday, so that needed to happen.

The interesting news? I stumbled over an emotional rift I hadn’t expected. A rift, I managed to suss out, totally exposed – and potentially worsened – by the process of compiling and editing my manuscript definitively.

Why, I don’t quite know. Storms do bring out, yeah, elemental emotions in me, so it isn’t really a shock. But I had no idea working on a book would be internally difficult in this way. Let’s talk about some of the reasons this might be that I’ve come up with so far. The list:

1. The intensity of revisiting potent emotional landscapes, be they fiction or fact.

2. The pressure of having, for the first time, truly finished poems.

3. The inability to carry success with grace and forward looking – as opposed to guilt, self-sabotage and an overwhelming feeling of unworthiness.

4. The stress of the most serious deadline of my life to date.

5. My not having an entirely grounded space of my own.

Now let’s talk through each one (excuse me, therapy definitely affected my brainscape).

1. Those moments are potentially static. I can choose to visit someone’s grave, to tell someone I still love him, to perpetuate a difficult mystique of myself I harbor in my own mind, or to put off, or to let go. It doesn’t make my situation simple, but I don’t have to tackle every aspect of my life challenges right now.

2. Most writers hate their first books. This will probably happen to me, in some fashion. Poems rarely feel totally finished, but that doesn’t mean other people can’t gain a lot from reading them, or that I can’t gain a lot from sharing.

3. I know I’ve earned this. The year has been fucking overwhelming; a lot of great things came to me in a very short period of time. But I’ve been writing and performing since I was a child. So what if I see where I could still grow? That’s a good thing. That means I’m not finished. That’s what living people do.

4. I will get it done. It’s done enough right now. But I will get it finished.

5. I’ve decided I want to fight for the Chicago space I see in my head, the one I want. I’m not going to be bitter if it isn’t exactly right, or if it doesn’t happen. If it doesn’t happen, I’d like to try to stay in Chi anyway, and see a full year through. There’s potential in me and my housemates that I don’t think we’ve truly grasped as a whole, and I want to see that through. I chose to live with these poets for good reason. I also haven’t addressed the city itself as fully as I mean to, although knowing the extent of my introversion, I likely won’t ever be satisfied in this regard.

Yesterday was literally a dark day. But you know the adage. I’m glad I came to DC, for my sister’s birthday, yes, to see my family, yes, but also to be somewhere familiar, to take enough space from the questions in my head so I could get a moment to answer them. To give me a buffer between a few of the demons. This must be one of the main reasons I’m compelled to travel so much, and to love so many people.

*shrugs* I’m ready, y’all. My draft is due on Sunday. It’s going to be a book worth reading. And rereading. This much I can promise. ❤

You Can’t Go Home Again.

28 Jul

Bathroom graffiti from a bar in DC.

The other night at the Green Mill slam, I was sitting at the bar with Adam Smith (not the economist) and a couple of older gentlemen from Chi. After a little preliminary chat, Adam offered up this gem: “This whole city’s not as bad as it used to be. It’s a pussy city now… It was all junkies, and whores.”

DC made me. I was born there, and my nuclear family lives there. I went to DCPS for eleven years. I remember my hometown as it raised me. I remember:

wandering around the Smithsonian boiling hot days as a kid

smashing Atlantic Blue crabs with hammers to get at the sweet meat inside

prettyboys in dukes rollerblading down P Street

the passing scent of Drakkar and Coolwater from not-quite-men in my junior high

walking down 14th Street in the middle of the night in a hoodie and steel-toed Docs and never feeling afraid.

Many of my most painful memories live there, too.

DC as I knew it at sixteen or so wasn’t all junkies and whores. It was rastas, musicians, poets, couriers, hardcore kids, corner boys, gutter punks… But yeah, I knew addicts and people who sold themselves, too. Altogether, it made for quite the symphony, dangerous, ecstatic and strange.

My hometown used to always be pretty invisible to people who don’t know folks there. People think of it as the place where the monuments and the government are, a place where maybe they went once on a school trip, but would never go again without a reason.

Some still think of it as the murder capital of the world, although it lost that title many years ago. Some still remember Marion Barry, who held the dubious honor of being our crackhead mayor.

Fairly few seem to know or care that DC has never had a vote in the House or the Senate. Very few know that DC’s HIV infection rate is currently at epidemic status. But I wouldn’t be surprised if all that changed very soon.

As an artist with a firmly middle-class background, I’ve been a part of the amorphous, often nasty phenomenon of gentrification, both in Oakland and Chicago. It’s uncomfortable feeling you’re invading someone else’s neighborhood, but, well, I go where other artists are, and where I can afford the rent.

It’s another feeling altogether watching my own city transform.

DC’s always been among the cities outsiders felt entitled to claim. DC doesn’t belong to a state; it was meant to be a city that represented the Union as a whole. That well-intentioned fuckery has led to unfortunate abuses on all levels, from folks who work for the government commuting in, taking jobs but not paying taxes, to the suburban kids who’ve claimed DC for years (to the point of coining the ugly, but more-accurate-than-ever term “DMV” for the District/Maryland/Virginia region).

I love the folks who are from DC. We have a nice balance of Southern mellowness and East Coast fang. And I verymuch love some of the folks who’ve moved to DC from other places. But most of these fuckers can swallow my knuckles.

The White Return Flight that’s happening in so many cities has simply engulfed my hometown; the population’s projected to be mostly white in the next fifteen years or so. DC invaders typically originate in places deemed smaller or less important, but DC is tiny itself. It’s less than seventy square miles, with dramatic height restrictions (not actually having to do with the Washington Monument). There isn’t a lot of room.

DC’s also not a terribly cosmopolitan place, let’s face it. The food is generally terrible, and best believe you’ll get funny looks if you try to wear anything but very conservative clothes. But starry-eyed twenty-somethings swarm into the city from little towns all over the South and the Midwest with the misguided impression that reaching DC makes them big fish, that they’re suddenly very wise and urbane simply by virtue of their being there.

I know I sound bitter. Maybe I am. The last few times I hung out in DC I had to deal with some ignoramus shit every time I left the house. It made me angry, with a reflexive feeling of, goddamnit, that’s my town, colonizers.

But the demographics of the place have totally changed. And really, just because property values have skyrocketed in the last ten years and I can’t afford to live there, is that really the worst-case scenario? Recently I posted this map to my Facebook profile, and my friend Jamaal, who lives in Detroit, said, “Detroit looks like it’s bleeding.” I’ve been to places that felt like ghost towns, and DC is very far from that. Maybe I don’t personally like the way the city’s changed, but does that matter? I guess I should be grateful she’s being taken care of at all, like an ex-lover who marries an asshole with a good job.

And maybe it’s just the passing of time that makes me sad. Even though there’s a part of me that still feels like that toddler or adolescent who pattered around Independence Avenue and Chestnut Street when I was growing up, the world’s stayed moving, and so have I.

Fear & Loving In Little Washington.

28 Mar

I promised my next post would be about the Women of the World Slam, but it ain’t. Sue me.

I spent today walking around downtown looking at the cherry blossoms with my mom and dad.

Cute, yeah?

Spring is my favorite season in DC. It really showcases the beauty of my hometown. The cherry trees that Japan gave the city almost a hundred years ago, pink and white and pale and sweet against those dark, ornate trunks…

Are you moved? I'm moved.

To experience these beauties against the breadth of the Tidal Basin, well, that’s among my favorite sights in the world.

On this early spring day, the air crisp, the sky bright and clear, tourists were out in force. Kids flew kites around the Washington Monument, couples kissed under the blossoms, folks frolicked in paddle boats. It was a good setting for love. A good day to feel sentimental.

See the kites?

It’s my last weekend here before moving to Chicago, into the next phase of my life. I’m excited, scared and excited. I’m moving into a house and a community full of poets I really respect, and I’m hoping hard I don’t make an ass of myself. Chicago is new and strange to me. I’ll be paying rent for the first time since I left Maui more than a year ago, and while I have some money, I don’t have a job, and certainly not enough well-paying gigs to sustain myself on poetry (yet). The notion of having a home of my own is also pretty nuts for a chickadee who’s barely stayed still for the last year, to the point where she’s skittish sleeping in a bed.

Ha! When I go fear of commitment, I take it to a whole ‘nother level, punchbuggies. (This is not even to talk about men! Shall we not mention men! They are pretty and make me break things!) The only commitment I’ve been able to fully make over the past year is to poetry. Got that bit right enough for where I’m at, even though I have loads to learn. But if I want to do more for my body and words right now, I need to hold still, to perform new work regularly, to write and read and listen and learn, to train my strength and grace and eloquence. Amusing. I’ve trained myself so well to be mobile and adaptable, the notion of a day job and a home of my own kinda makes me quake. But yeah, I’m poetry’s bitch, pretty much, so I do as she says. I am so yes ma’am with this, it isn’t even a game.

***

Best Day Jobs I’ve Ever Had

As a lifelong misfit, a restless ladycakes, someone who hates taking orders (even from poetry, sometimes), and a bad liar, I’ve had a lot of different jobs over the years. Most of ’em I liked okay, actually. It’s just the having to be there, and having to be there early, that usually fucks me up. Call me princess, serve me papers, we’re good. Some jobs I really, really liked, though, and even get midnight cravings for sometimes. Poetry aside, here are my all-time favorites, based on the job itself, not perks or coworkers:

bookbinder
shampoo assistant
writing tutor
editor for online comics reviews
music librarian

Did I mention I’m a misfit?

***

So babies my babies, I fly to Chicago on Thursday. I have resumes out, and intend, at some point in the next little while, to *gasp* sleep in a bed of my own, with art of my own choosing on the walls. What’s next, my friends? Tiny Laura clones? Animals to greet me? Bennies and a 401k? Or will your heroine accept the straitjacket for a few months, only to toss it all to the wind at summer’s end (yes, straitjacket is spelled correctly, bitches)? Stay tuned. And if you get the chance to kiss DC on the mouth for me, do it. Feel her up while you’re at it. Tell her to wear pale pink sometimes, for me. ❤