Last Sunday I attended the graduation ceremony of the 2011 MFA Creative Writing program. I thought I was there to celebrate my two friends Gina Loring and Dasha Kelly who are two amazing writers, poets, storytellers, performers, friends, spirits, women, beings. I am sure they made a great impression on you. I sat there, maybe fifteen rows back with my Nikon in hand ready to take pictures of my friends as they walked across the stage. But as I sat I was more and more inspired speaker after speaker. I didn't expect that. Well, not to the degree that I was inspired. Thank you.
One of the student speakers put a particular thought in my head. I wish I could remember his name. He was an older gentleman with a good sense of humor and big stomach. I related to him. I'm kind of funny, my stomach could be smaller and I'm a little older than most college students. Hmmmm. In his speech he talked about what he imagined the admittance board discussed as they read his letter requesting to be admitted into your fine program.
I thought about that. What would the board think about any letter I would write about myself? What would I write to a group of seven or so people to sum up why I should be chosen? Where would I begin? What would I leave out? Who would I ask to review my letter? Dasha? Gina? My son? My bill collectors? What would you be looking for? How long should it be? Is the abortion too much? That I call myself a feminist but feel the need to explain that everytime I say it, is that not smart enough for someone you would consider? Would you want a list of my ex lovers? Some of them will not say the best things about me, but some of the most awful things will be true. Sorry. I have lived my life as a human being. Would you want to speak to my husband soon to be or some poets in my arts community? They will describe me in the most honorable ways. And that will be true too.
I am just freewriting here. Have never written a letter like this before. Never even thought about it. I have spent years in college but still don't have my B.A. yet. Long Beach City College, some business school in the valley my mom thought was a good idea, a summer at Spelman, Grambling State University, Strayer University (an online school, my favorite. I work well in pajamas.) Then Everest College where I studied to be a nurse's assistant. None of this is impressing you I'm sure. Just thought you should know. Like I said, I don't have my B.A. Yet. I have been saying yet for a very long time. But I have lived my adult life as an artist. A storyteller mostly. A writer. A performer. I have told my stoies on stages throughout this country. I have written seven books and published two. My favorite is a collection of short stories I haven't published yet called WOMEN IN THE VILLAGE GO 'ROUND AND 'ROUND. I have three cds featuring a collection of my poetry. But this is sounding more like my bio than what I really want you to know about me.
I want you to know that I am a mother to an awesome teenager. He is kindhearted and strong. But those words don't have you know him. I know that. I want you to know my passion for writing. Creative non fiction is my favorite lately but depending on the season it's fiction, poetry, freewriting in my journal or blog. Yes, I'm a blogger. I want you to know about my passion for justice for all human beings on the planet. We are all connected. All of us. Black and white, gay and straight, democrat, republican. All of the labels and boxes we put ourselves and others in only seperate us from ourselves. But I could go on and on about this.
This might be an interesting exercise for me to take on. To write a letter to you. You seven or so folks sitting around a table who don't know me at all. A letter from me, about me. I am encouraged to take it on. The letter, maybe not sending it. My guess is that I will discover more about myself than you may care to know.
In addition to the student speaker I mentioned earlier, I was also greatly inspired by the main speaker. I don't remember his name either, Father Somebody. No disrespect. He talked about the work he has done in the community and I was thankful to God that he was inspired and carried through on helping the young men that he has helped in our community. One story he told was of a young man who had spent time and put in work in one local gang. The man was finally out of the gang and trying to do good work. Father was talking to him at the bottom of his step one evening and asked him what he wanted out of life. He said the young man closed his eyes and thought hard and when he opened them he said simply, "to be a good father." He had a new wife and a new baby and wanted to be a better person for them. For himself. Not long after that conversation that young man was shot. While in the hospital his wife carefully placed photos of family and friends. Loved ones came by to visit. Eventually though, the young man died. His organs were going to be donated and as the nurses were taking his body to another room for his organs to be removed one nurse looked at his body and noticed all of the tattoos and said to the other nurse, "who would want this monsters heart?" The other nurse was angered by her comment and said "Shame on you. Didn't you see his wife, his son, his family and friends? How could you call him a monster?"
I watched the audience as Father told the story and there were tears on almost every row. As I dried my own tears I was so happy to be sitting in that seat last Sunday morning. So honored to witness what was going on. Thank you. Thank you, Antioch.
Well, I just wanted to let you know how much your ceremony affected me and I'm sure all who were there. You folks keep up the good work over there and have a nice day.