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

 

 

 

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

 

 

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…

Stepping Out

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“Well, perhaps you need to step out there and make a fool of yourself.” Not the type of advice I would have expected from a mentor. Yet, that is what one of my mentors told me. I had enrolled in a certificate program at a nearby college after earning my master’s degree. I had begun to write poetry, yet had placed most of it in a desk drawer. I still wrote in notebooks, though, something I had been doing since childhood. But I didn’t see the writing as being central to my life. I knew I needed a steady job, one that paid a consistent wage.

 

I had grown up working class and Black in Brooklyn, New York, in the 50’s and 60’s. My father, trained as a carpenter, worked full time at a lumber exchange terminal in Greenpoint during the week and built bookshelves, cabinets, cabinets and various wood structures for relatives, neighbors, friends, friends of friends, and friends of relatives, friends of neighbors, etc. evenings after dinner and on weekends. My mother worked in the public high schools with students and their families to help prepare and support them in reaching the goal of college admission. With these role models and those of my friends’ parents, I couldn’t help but gravitate toward, and worry about finding a full time job post graduation.

 

I’d held two or more part time jobs as I worked my way through graduate school, and knew it was time to find more sustaining and sustainable work. The dean of my college was surprised when we first met. “You have two part time jobs? Most people struggle with just one job!” Well, most people were not African American New Yorkers raised by two southerners who had grown up poor during the Great Depression. I was not most people. I am still not most people. I’ve learned to face this about myself.

 

I’ve never quite fit in with the demographic that I supposedly belong to, which is more accurately, the one that I am often placed in by others. This demographic placement is, of course, based on my appearance. Growing up within my nuclear family this meant I needed to suppress some of my ideas, my true feelings and my opinions. In other words, if I wanted to respond honestly to some things, I had to hide those responses. No freedom there. That was what I learned to do to survive.

 

So, I grew into an angry young woman. Except that I didn’t know I was angry because I wasn’t allowed to express anger. So, I turned the anger in on myself and it stayed buried beneath the surface during my teens and most of my 20’s. An angry teen isn’t an unusual occurrence. A teen with buried anger probably isn’t unusual either. Around my parents and the other adults in my life, my anger was hidden so well, that it was also hidden from me. Perhaps it wasn’t only my independence that drew me to hang out with boys who became my closest friends in high school. They were comfortable with anger.

 

I had plenty of help with suppressing my anger from the patriarchal behavior that my family and community operated with. The anger was buried pretty deeply and I didn’t discover it until I participated in a workshop, which used strategies and exercises from acting to support people in recovering their self-esteem. I thought that I would never survive the time that I felt ready to explore anger. I don’t now remember the details of the strategy that I was taught and which I used for this exploration. What I do remember is how much lighter I felt once I had come out the other side of the tunnel. Let’s call it the anger tunnel, since that’s what it felt like. Somehow, I emerged from the other side a lot lighter and able to laugh. My fear of expressing the forbidden emotion had encouraged me to dance around the anger until I could no longer stand it. There was nothing left to do but dive into the anger tunnel. Looking back on this now, I see just how brave I was to walk away from the socialization I had experienced and recover more of myself.

 

I discovered that I was angry with myself for holding back, despite the fact that I had done so in order to survive. It has taken me years to appreciate my strong survival instincts, which I believe are due to the excellent genes I’ve inherited. My parents, grandparents and all of my greats could not afford to express their anger outwardly as their lives could have been snuffed out as a result of doing so. The social systems of Jim Crow and slavery guaranteed this fact.

 

So, this no longer angry young woman decided to leave a private sector job and return to school for an interdisciplinary degree that merged religion, psychology and philosophy. She did this in her late 20’s and she was happy reading, writing papers, reflecting on what I was reading and what I experienced and doing research. And in the mix of all of her scholarship, she began to write in verse. This was a complete surprise and a thoroughly new experience. But when I finished my program and I graduated, I stuffed the verse into a desk drawer. I didn’t take it seriously and I decided to return to school again. But this return turned out to be not a good fit. This led to the conversation with my mentor that began this essay. The conversation during which he said to me: “Well, perhaps you need to step out there and make a fool of yourself.”

 

Poetry allows me to do just that. I step out there and make a fool of myself. I have no idea where I will end up as I begin to write. I just follow the stream or words and return to it later to pull out the words, themes and sounds that ring for me, the ones that I am intrigued by or drawn to. There is a lot of revision and wondering about what I intend to say, where I am going with a line or a stanza. The sense of wonder is one that I revisit over and over again.

 

To be honest, writing prose also allows me to “step out there and make a fool of [myself],” too. It brings me back to the writing I once did as a book and film critic, curriculum developer and education research writer. Writing prose allows me to stretch out in a different way as a writer. It reminds me that I have some flexibility and range as a writer. And that is like taking a good yoga class or having a fun session at the gym.

 

Yes, I really do find going to the gym fun (but still need to do it more often). And most of all, I am buoyed, nurtured and fed by the practice of writing. I am going to reconsider and more accurately call this work that takes care of me, in ways that nothing else ever has, the discipline of writing. Writing requires discipline and it is a discipline. And I am grateful for it.

 

A Death

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As I was waking up, I was thinking that he was dead. He had died before Christmas, and he had died alone in Queens, in a home. I wondered why there had been no funeral, why I had no memory of one. I thought of his friends and wondered why I couldn’t remember any of their familiar faces and see them dressed up in their dark suits for him.

 

I wondered where our family things that he had placed in storage, were. I wondered whether his landlord had had to clear out his apartment. I knew I hadn’t done it; I’d never seen his apartment.

 

I lay there for a few minutes, turned on my side toward the windows and looked at the growing light through the blinds. I blinked several times. I thought about the winter holidays and I didn’t remember anything about his presence during them.

 

And after a few minutes, I realized that he was not dead. He was still alive and whatever dream I’d had was so powerful that my reality had shifted to a time after his death that had not even happened.

 

I’ve been reflecting on this dream off and on today and I’ve come to the conclusion that the dream was not about my brother, but about a system that persists in making him disappear, and from making me disappear as well. This system perpetuates dismissal, disrespect, silencing, demonization, and marginalization. It makes repeated attempts to make people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ people, women and the disabled small and insignificant. It has at its roots the desire to make people disappear through repeated attempts to limit their lives and to silence them.

 

I have lived in this system for six decades, and I have come to learn and understand that its survival has depended on my beliefs that I am not worthy and I will never have an opportunity to rest until I am dead. Its survival depends upon the belief that I will always have to push against the downward pressure of this system that was not designed with my living freely and breathing fully in mind. Three fifths of a white man did not include the descendants of enslaved men and women.

 

It is difficult to live within a system that exists because it regularly satisfies its urges to oppress. Those who are oppressed have to work consistently hard to free their minds, bodies and souls. As Bob Marley wrote “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery/None but our self can free our minds/ Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom?/Cause all I ever had/ Redemption songs ” (Redemption Song). Singing is breathing; it is inspiration, and expiration. One of the Freedom Singers said that even if people working during the civil rights movement couldn’t talk together, they could breathe together through singing together. We need to keep singing together and we need to keep writing together.

 

An intuitive and gifted massage therapist, with whom I have worked for several years, recently told me that I haven’t been getting enough oxygen. She encouraged me to pay attention to my breathing and make sure that I exhale completely.

 

I have witnessed my mother’s death, the result of a long illness, over the past year. I cared for my mom for nearly a decade and her decline and death have been enough to take my breath away. Being a caregiver and care manager altered my breathing, I’m sure.

 

I’m also sure that the high profile deaths and videos of so many Black people, such as Rolando Castile, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin and the many other children, women and men killed in connection with law enforcement haven’t helped me to breathe fully, either. Systematic killing and incarceration of Black bodies is an American practice that is not new. What is new is the technology that allows us to view what is disturbing, needs to be brought to light, and historic.

I have witnessed the 2016 U. S. presidential election and its aftermath, which continues to and beyond this moment. The events of the past 48 hours have been breathtaking, to say the least. Oppression is relentless, sometimes subtle, at other times blatant and always pervasive. Many individuals persist with their work toward freedom despite this. Many writers persist in their work toward freedom despite this. Every idea birthed and every word written is an act of resistance, an act of freedom, an act of bravery, and an act of uncovering something valuable for emancipation from an oppressive system.

 

Lately, I have been listening to the soundtrack from the play “Hamilton.” I hear layers of meaning in the lyrics that go a lot deeper for me than I originally thought. “Why do you write like you’re running out of time, why do you fight like you’re running out of time, like you’re running out of time, like you’re running out of time,” sing sisters Eliza Hamilton and Angelica Schuyler and other characters throughout the play.

 

Apparently the founding father who had been born a bastard, who became a penniless orphan, an immigrant, and who was a driven man who feverishly and fervently worked toward the revolution that eventually birthed what is now called America. He was a white man who created the roots of the financial system we now live with and he married into wealth in order to secure his status as he had a low status as a poor immigrant bastard. He had a keen mind and writing skills that were sharp. And he was driven I am most interested in his tendency to write like he was running out of time. I feel as if I am running out of time, like we are all running out of time.

 

My brother is not dead and I am not dead, but the systems that have been constructed to diminish, marginalize and extinguish our humanity have been unearthed and are in full view and the entire world is watching. Every breath I take and every word I write pushes back against this hurtful, hateful, corrupt and bankrupt system and leads to its dissolution. I must get on with it.

 

But I can’t do this alone. I need my allies to work with me. We must all get on with the work of singing the chains off and singing freedom into being.

 

 

 

 

Well-RED at Works/San Jose

 

On Tuesday January 10th I will be featured at Well-RED,  a monthly reading series in San Jose, which is a collaboration between Poetry Center San Jose and Works/San Jose. Works/San Jose is a gallery space, and I very  much look forward to be surrounded by art!

I will be reading with the fine writer Dane Cervine. Poet and writer Robert Pesich is the curator and host. Here is more information:

Works/San Jose

365 South Market Street
downtown San José

on the Market Street edge of
the San José Convention Center

 

Doors open at 6:30pm and performance begins at 7:00pm.
Affordable wine, beer and soda.
Open mic will follow the performance.

Admission: $2 Suggested Donation; No one turned away.

We hope to see you there!