WELL-RED Reading Series at Works/San Jose Tuesday August 14th

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I am looking forward to reading my work with poet David Denny on Tuesday August 14th in the WELL-RED reading series, at Works/San Jose. I am honored that Poetry Center San Jose asked me to come “down south” to read.

I will be reading poems from my upcoming chapbook “How it Happens” (September, Nomadic Press) and new work. Can’t wait and hope to see you there.

WELL-RED at Works/San Jose

Tuesday, August 14, 2018, 7:00 pm

A Poetry Center San Jose event

at Works/San José
365 South Market Street
in downtown San José
doors open 6:30pm
$2 admission, no one turned away
Works is on the Market Street edge of the San Jose Convention Center,
just to the right of the parking garage entrance

 

 

 

Elephant on the Sidewalk

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I was recently chatting with a white male neighbor who suddenly launched into talking about a book he had begun to read for his book club. The book focused on race and racial issues in the United States. I had not read the book and was not familiar with it, so I could not speak to it and I told him so. Despite that, my white male neighbor, pressed on with the discussion that he decided he needed to have with me.

He: Have you read this book?

Me: No

He: I think the author tries too hard

Me: Oh?

He: Yes, and in my book club, there seems to be a majority belief that I don’t agree with.

Me: Hmm, but I’m thinking “uh oh” as I sense a rather large elephant standing nearby

He: “Yes, the author really doesn’t provide evidence.”

My neighbor then reads aloud a sentence or two from the book.

The sentence he reads aloud doesn’t help me to understand specifically what he’s referring to, as I haven’t read the book and have told him so, but I sense that there’s an elephant standing beside us, a really big one.

He: “Race has happened all around the world. Many societies had slaves.”

I’m thinking “Here we go again, another white man explaining away slavery in America and its connection to race relations and American society in the 21st century and ignoring the construction of ‘race’ for political and economic purposes, and so much else.”

Me: “Slavery in the U. S. was for economic gain.”

He interrupts me, excitedly.

He: “Yes, it’s about capitalism!”

Me: “Slaves were treated as property, not people, as inhuman, they were objects to be bought and sold.”

He: “Yes! Capitalism and the things that have led to the terrible political things today.”

I’m still feeling the elephant standing on the sidewalk next to us. It’s still quite large.

Me: “Race and racism are two different things.”

My neighbor seems to be using “race” and “racism” interchangeably as he attempts unsuccessfully to make another point about the global historical slave trade. He finally gets to the truth or to what he really wants to say.

Him: “I’m afraid to speak up in my book club. White people need to talk to other white people about this.”

Me: “White people are afraid to talk about race because they are afraid that they will be seen as or called racists. That stops any conversation that could be had and prevents anything from moving forward.”

He looks at me with surprise, as if I have just awakened him from a nap.

Me: “Have you seen the film 13th?”

I’m thinking that because the film so brilliantly and clearly connects the 13th amendment, history of slavery and the prison industrial complex of the present, this might help him to gain some footing on the issues he seems to be floundering in. Plus, guys usually like history. Ava DuVernay made that film with great intention, and it’s perfect for conversations like these and the ones that my neighbor wants to have with other white people.

He: “Yes, we had to view it while reading this book for the book club. It was too heavy; I can’t watch it again.”

Me: “Hmm.” While looking at my phone, I say, “Okay, well I have to get going now.”

He: The mind can overcome this.

Me: “Not without heart.”

He: “Okay, goodbye.”

Me: “Goodbye.”

#52essaysNextWave

Authors, Readers and Books

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The People’s Republic of Berkeley, my current home, is such a hodge-podge and mix-mash of people. I went to the Bay Area Book Festival this weekend and mingled in that hodge-podge and mix mash of people. And I heard authors of different genres, backgrounds, ages, geographical locations talk about their work and about writing in the context of a theme for each session. The sessions I attended were:

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz author of “Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment” interviewed by T. J. Stiles – history and statistics on gun culture in America that were not entirely surprising, but still…damn. Here’s one: 1/3 of U. S. households have guns, yet there are 300 million guns owned privately in the country, so most of these households contain multiple guns as the U. S. population is about 300 million. Today a gun owner owns “an average of eight guns” according to Dunbar-Ortiz. This number is up from 112 million in the early 1970’s. Whaaat?

Robert Reich and guests in a panel discussion titled: “Income Inequality: A World Gone Mad, Mean and Immoral.” I won’t report back on that one as many are familiar with Reich’s videos do an excellent job of illustrating the not-normal that exists with the American almighty dollar(s).

Melissa de la Cruz, author of YA fantasy, History and Modern Life (also a former writer of the social lives of celebrity elite in New York for major magazines –glossies) interviewed by Jessica Lee. The woman is a highly imaginative, focused and prolific writer with a great sense of humor. Her output of books is stunning and she is still quite young. I loved it that she began writing one of her series of books because she missed New York. So, she created and wrote books about young society vampires. Isn’t that what you would do? Hmmm….I’m originally from Brooklyn, maybe I ought to think about an angle….(smile) Here is a link to Melissa’s web page: http://melissa-delacruz.com/ Her latest YA novel, a sequel titled “Love and War” continues the story of the love between Eliza and Alexander Hamilton.

Lidia Yuknavitch “On Fearlessness, Truth, and Misfits” was interviewed by Daphne Gottlieb. I loved Lidia’s discussion of connecting with her audience without a need to provide graphic descriptions of violent behavior and instances of sexual connections between characters. She goes for the emotional connection. I understood what she was talking about and I also know how difficult that is to do. I’m looking forward to doing more reading of her work. So far, I’ve only read essays, so I have a lot to choose from with her speculative fiction “The Book of Joan,” memoir “The Chronology of Water,” and novels “The Small Backs of Children” and “Dora: A Headcase.” Her most recent book is “The Misfit’s Manifesto.” I’m most interested in speculative fiction these days, so “The Book of Joan” it will most likely be.

Today’s panel was the most powerful session for me and seemed to touch the rest of the audience in the same way. Authors Margaret Wilkerson Sexton (A Kind of Freedom), Rodrigo Hasbún (Affections) and Madeleine Thien (Do not Say We Have Nothing )  were moderated by reviewer Mal Warwick in a panel titled: “Resist: Unlocking the Political Power of the Novel.” The authors’ answers to Mal’s questions were surprising, nuanced, thoughtful and interesting. By the way, Thien’s Tumblr for her novel is fantastic: http://donotsaywehavenothing.tumblr.com/

Margaret, Rodrigo and Maddie’s answers went deep and made me think about a lot of things personal/political as well as the inherent truth that the personal and the political are radically intertwined and that some of us are more aware of this than others. And at the same time, I think that in America many more have become aware of this truth or this living something. I still don’t know what to call it because it isn’t a thing, I don’t really think the word “fact” captures the reality, but it just is and there really isn’t a separation involved unless one is in extreme denial. And some are.

Added to the festival, I listened to an On Being podcast with Buddhist monk and writer Angel Kyodo Williams with host Krista Tippett yesterday, which I found riveting. Williams talked about being optimistic (herself) because all it would take would be a mass of people to do the inner work that would change individual and collective consciousness and shift inner and thus our outer reality. Here’s a link to the webpage for the podcast series: https://onbeing.org/

After taking all of these discussions in, I began to think about what makes something meaningful. I think that what is meaningful does not bloom and flower and grow with analysis. It just is. What is meaningful just is. And dissection, analysis and all of that stuff aren’t really necessary and is just a mental exercise designed to distract me and Lord knows whom else. And too much of it kills the spirit.

There is so much that is meaningful just because it is. Meaningful like call and response, like singing “Ain’t Gonna Let Anybody Turn Me Around” as loud as I can in the car as I drive to work, James Brown singing “Get on the Good Foot,” that moment when Aretha threw her fur coat off her shoulders while singing Natural Woman at the Kennedy Center Honors for Carole King, The Stylistics singing “Betcha By Golly Wow,” and Sam Cooke singing “A Change is Gonna Come.” And hip shakin’ and singin’ along to (y)our own rhythms with no interference.

Not sure what brought this on, but I think it was listening to writers talk bout the work of writing, the work of living. The work is inextricably connected and all part of the one to many of us who write.

How can I separate myself from my writing, from the act of writing? I can’t, writing is part of my life, part of me and has been for a very long time. I am glad that so many younger writers are as invested in writing as I and those of my generation have been. I’m glad that they feel the urgency to give their voices wings. The work continues, the voices rise, the circle opens and new voices enter the choir. Good. Deep gratitude for this cycle that continues.

 

Conversation

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I am not sure whether I have been having a conversation with life or with death of late. Perhaps it’s the same conversation and it doesn’t matter as the two are so intricately intertwined. We can’t know one without eventually experiencing the other.

I took a walk through a local cemetery a few days ago. This might sound maudlin, but it wasn’t that type of experience for me at all. This particular cemetery is a beautifully laid out park in which many have been laid to rest. There are paved as well as gravel lined paths and wide roads on which to walk. There is also a pond and several live fountains. I also found a veterans memorial sculpture that had been erected and etched within the past decade.  In this green space one can find local history laid out through the names on headstones, section names and the annual tulip show, winter holiday light show and other displays. There are runners, dog walkers, nannies with strollers and in the completely green lawns; one person was stretched out in the sun. On the steps of one of the mausoleums, one person was using his laptop while sitting in partial sunlight.

My mom’s transition was the most recent; my dad died a little over 15 years ago. I felt as if something had been wrenched from my guts when he died. It was an unexpected reaction as we’d struggled and disagreed with each other about many things for years. And yet, there were periods of no struggle at all. As a friend once pointed out, we were two generations apart. My father was 42 when I was born and I was his first child. He had been born in 1911 in Alabama. That statement and the truth it reveals holds much weight. When I was able to hear my friend and look at the disagreements from an inter-generational perspective, it made sense that our ways of seeing the world and especially the roles of women in the world were so different and filled with tension. That didn’t make me stop disagreeing with him, but it did provide me with eventual understanding and a softening toward myself and toward my father. Neither one of us could see things very differently because the world that had shaped our development had changed in some ways while I now think it had stood still in other ways, ways that had to do with race and gender. I wonder what my father would say now about the world, or at least this country that we both have called home. Damn.

What happens to one when one has crossed a threshold with the knowledge that there is no turning back even if the desire arises? I am not the same person I was one year ago or two, or more. And at the same time my values have not changed greatly.

When I look in the mirror, I see someone I want to spend time with. And as a writer who has been in it for the long haul, that is a good thing. I know who I am and I like her lots. I don’t want to turn back.

Today is Easter, April Fool’s Day and the first day of National Poetry Month. What a convergence. Should I write a trick poem? Or invoke the Easter Bunny? Or write about the the Phoenix who burned to death and later rose from her ashes? I’m thinking of trying the poem a day for 30 days challenge this month, just for myself, since poetry unearths deep roots for me. I feel the need to reconnect with deep roots these days. And the quiet within the poetry well welcomes me to those roots.

These are some of the tidbits I’ve been gathering on paper and in my head of late. I’m not planning on tying everything together in an essay form. I’m just going to plant seeds and share some of them. This gives me the freedom to write essays or poems or genre-bending thingies as they arise. Good luck to me (smile).

And thank you very much to author Leslieann Hobayan for the inspiration to break free. Her “Deep Thoughts” have helped me to not hold back with my snippets for this week and to get back into the mix. I’m glad to be back.

 

Publication News

 

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I’m happy to share that my poem “Return” has been published in the current issue of WORDPEACE

Here is the link: https://wordpeace.co/issue-2-2-winter-spring-2018/poetry/joyce-young/

And Nomadic Press is publishing my chapbook “How it Happens” this coming Fall.

Gratitude to WORDPEACE  https://wordpeace.co/

and to Nomadic Press https://www.nomadicpress.org/

Follow me on Twitter @joypoet and Instagram @joypoetry for updates

 

 

The Gauntlet

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I wear a short Afro and have my hair cut several times a year. I love my hair with its thickness and mix of salt and pepper. There is more salt shaking these days but the salt has an orderly plan for framing my face, while the pepper fills most of the sides, back and top of my head. I usually go to see my stylist on Saturday afternoons when my schedule is more relaxed. I like the area the shop is located in – across the street from Peet’s Coffee, down the block from Arizmendi’s and a few blocks from one of the best farmer’s markets. It’s busy with all shades of people, kids in strollers, folks eating, shopping, clutching coffee cups, talking, and being with one another.

The minute I sat down in my stylist’s chair, I landed in the middle of a lively discussion about Jennifer Hudson, her partner and their son. One of the 30 something male stylists seemed to have done a lot of research on Jennifer’s business. According to him, Jennifer was taking legal action against her partner because she wanted custody of their son. Jennifer had been touring and she had been leaving her son behind with her partner, who had been doing the job of raising and caring for him. And now ungrateful Jennifer, who wasn’t carrying her weight as a mother, wanted to use legal means to get custody of the boy.

Since I wasn’t up on this story or the rest of Jennifer’s business, I was intrigued about the scoop and the commentary. My stylist, Sam (not his real name), is a man, too and it seemed as if both men were taking sides. The decision for both of them was that Jennifer was wrong. She was a bad woman and she was (and has been) doing her man and her son wrong.

I have to admit that I don’t know Jennifer Hudson. I am only acquainted with her performance as Effie in the most recent film version of Dream Girls. I really can’t take sides on something or someone I don’t know a good deal about. This does not mean that I have never engaged in such behavior before. Of course I have.

The discussion about Jennifer became even more interesting when it somehow veered toward Black women who say, “there are no good Black men.” I don’t remember whether Sam, a 70-year-old Black man, mimicked the phrase or whether he led into it with “And they say there are no good Black men.” Meaning that Jennifer’s man is good and she of course is bad. No matter, I am old enough to know that at that point in the conversation the gauntlet had been thrown down.

I declined to pick the gauntlet up and continued to listen to the two men talk. What followed was an indignant, “Well, white women are finding them!” and that was followed by a “Yeah.” Again, Sam spoke this. Again, I remained silent and chose not to pick up the gauntlet. I knew I was being baited. Sam was waiting for me to either say that I couldn’t find a good Black man (and was guilty of saying or thinking this) or rail against white women and blame them for my sorry predicament. I did neither of these things because I am neither sorry or in a predicament.

As if on cue, a gorgeous brown woman walked into the shop with a Black man, who she called “honey” as she asked him to take her jacket and she sat down in the stylist’s chair, which was opposite mine. She was tall and curvy, with great cheekbones, and wavy black hair. She might have been Asian, Latinx, Native or Multiracial. After all, we were in Oakland, and everyone lives and loves here; the ethnic possibilities are endless. We smiled at each other when Sam turned my chair in her direction. I wanted to stand up, look Sam in the eye and say “Ha!” but I also wanted a really good haircut, so I restrained myself.

The truth is that, like Jennifer Hudson, in the past I have been cast as a bad woman. I’ve been called bad for telling the truth, and bad for being independent. A friend’s husband once asked me why I didn’t call on him for advice when I bought my first car. The truth was that was confident in my evaluation and negotiation abilities to do what I needed to do to buy the car. I had a mechanic look it over. I negotiated a fair price. I bought the car. That was that. The fact that I didn’t ask him for advice wasn’t personal. However, this man was not implying that I was a bad woman. I had recently moved to California to attend graduate school and I needed to buy my first car. I was from New York City and had only borrowed cars for shopping trips to New Jersey or rented cars when I had needed them for road trips. My friend just wanted to be helpful and make sure that I would get a good deal.

On the other hand, the bad woman shaming I have experienced usually occurs through comparison. One of my ex boyfriends was a master at bad woman shaming. He once stated “Why don’t you cook for me when I visit you? A woman cooks for her man when he visits her.” His reasoning was that I did not cook for him, so I was a bad woman, bad girlfriend. I was not moved to change my ways.

This same ex boyfriend also compared my spending time with him to my watching a sunset by myself. I’d asked him if he’d wanted to come with me to one of my favorite places during a summer evening right before sunset, but he had said no. Later that evening when he saw me, he presented the comparison in the form of a question. Did I like spending time with the setting sun better than spending time with him? I told him that the question was silly. How could one compare the two things? My real answer, unstated, was the sun, definitely the sun.

Bad woman shaming can wear on a person. For the one being shamed it can mean suffocation, doubt, holding back. It can mean being miserable, but it only means these things if she believes what the speaker or the passive aggressive parent, boyfriend or relative says, for these beliefs really belong to the ones who voice them. Once the person they are trying to shame stops believing these things, even for a few minutes, she can breathe again. And that is why my time with the shaming boyfriend lasted only 6 months. Shaming is just not sustainable in a relationship with anyone. I’ve very happily been a “Shamers need not apply for friend, acquaintance or boyfriend status” woman for many years now. And I can breathe.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t personally know Jennifer Hudson, but I do know about the gauntlet that is often thrown when men are discussing gender roles and women are within hearing distance. I could have picked up the gauntlet, but I don’t think that the best time for me to share my thoughts on gender roles and shaming is when a man is cutting my hair. After all, I want to walk out of the salon looking good.

Director of Talent for the Electorate

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Since last week’s Golden Globe Awards ceremony the question of whether Oprah is going to run and/or is qualified to run for and become president has been tossed around, and around. And today, the Washington Post has an in depth article with her photo and the headline “Our Next President?”

I am not sure whether Oprah wants to sacrifice her life to run for office or endure the accelerated aging that happens to every person who takes that office. Have you noticed the way that the weight of the job begins to appear on all of our former presidents’ faces? It seems that one cannot really take the job lightly if one has a true understanding of its depth and heft. It is indeed a big job.

This is not a comparison of presidencies. It is also not an endorsement of Oprah for a presidential campaign. And it is not an opinion piece on whether I think she should run for office.

After Oprah’s acceptance speech for the Cecil B. de Mille award, last week at the Golden Globes and the reaction the power of that speech has evoked in so many people, I have been thinking about what I know of Oprah, through her former network television show, her acting roles, her film television producing, her philanthropy, her interviews, and her documented conversations with others.

Oprah could bring a multitude of experience to the presidency if she did indeed decide to run a campaign for and become the next commander in chief. It’s important to expand on the “We don’t need another celebrity” that I’ve been seeing and hearing in the media and on social media. For me that phrase indicates shallow thinking and a habit of making women one dimensional and therefore invisible. The irony of that is not wasted on me.

Although I’m not Oprah’s close personal friend and I have never worked directly with her, I can see that there is a lot more to her than just “a celebrity.” And I would go so far as to say that many who contributed to social media discussions and others who saw Oprah’s speech on the Golden Globe Awards last week were blown away by the power of her delivery and of her words but they can’t consciously articulate what that being blown away has evoked in them. Waking up to something one has been blind to isn’t always easy.

So, I’m going to take on the role of “Director of Talent for the Electorate” and share some of what I see as being Oprah’s qualifications for a job that requires intelligence, good judgment, a high degree of interpersonal skills, the ability to interact and communicate extremely well with people across cultures, experience dwelling in the public eye, which includes media scrutiny, interest in and work toward the common good, and more.

Here are just a few of Oprah’s qualifications:

Oprah’s interpersonal skills are not only top-notch; she has honed them and held multiple positions that have allowed her to further develop them since the mid 1970’s. These positions have been: news anchor, actress, talk show host, producer, media conglomerate owner, philanthropist, and boarding school founder.

She is highly intelligent and thinks outside of the box.

She can deliver focused, clear speeches that contain an explicit main point and sub points.

She is well connected across many demographics, nationally and internationally

She has experience interacting with people from all walks of life from interviewing them as a talk show host, building and hiring staff for her school in South Africa, mentoring young people, hiring and managing staff of her company and its many projects.

She is patriotic, as she is on board with what America could be if it lived up to the ideals and values espoused in its constitution, its amendments and enacted laws.

She has maturity on her side as she’s been around the block a few times professionally and personally, and she is about to turn 64. Although age is a protected category in most hiring situations, when one is applying for the position of POTUS, the age of a candidate is public information.

She is a woman. It’s clear that we need more female leadership in our local, state and federal governments. Women tend to think of the future, of children and of legacies that will be left to their children and to children in general. Women tend to consider these things whether they are parents or not.

So it seems to me that there is a lot more to Oprah than the title “celebrity” suggests. I haven’t even mentioned the social issues her work has uncovered and made part of the global conversation. Her talk show and the issues that it focused on did have a majority female studio and broadcast audience and my guess is that her work on OWN is currently followed mostly by women (and probably a smaller male audience). That speaks volumes as I see it, because the issues and problems that we face as a world can and will only be addressed through the awareness and work of fully conscious women and their male allies.

We currently have and we will have a lot to clean up and make right for many decades to come. Anyone who is still indulging in staring at her or his navel need not apply to the work of turning things in this country and in the world toward a more humane direction.

That is, if any of us are still around to do the work.

 

 

 

Thank You and Happy New Year

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A very Happy New Year, to all of you who so graciously read my intermittent musings on this blog. I hope to post more regular musings this year although I’m not sure right now what “more regular” will mean. I’m up to the challenge, though.

As I was writing these words, I remembered Anne Lamott’s chapter titled “Short Assignments” in her book Bird by Bird. Lamott describes how she redirects herself when her mind spins into overwhelm about writing:

“I go back to trying to breathe, slowly and calmly, and I finally notice the one-inch picture frame that I put on my desk to remind me of short assignments. It reminds me that all I have to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being…. I remember to pick up the one-inch picture frame and to figure out a one-inch piece of my story to tell, one small scene, one memory, one exchange”

The one step at a time approach can help to allay the impact of the spinning mind that can so easily whip up panic, fear, dread, desire to give up as all is lost, etc. Thank goodness for the breath and the patience we can develop to work with it.

I plan to also continue writing nonfiction essays this year, thanks to the brilliant Vanessa Mártir and the #52essays2017 challenge. I look forward to what is to come in this genre for me. I found treasure in carving out time to write prose reflections on life, love, the world around me and so many things. Bless you, Vanessa for you are truly a gem.

You can learn more about Vanessa, read her work and find out about the classes she will be teaching this year at https://vanessamartir.blog/

And on we go…