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 powerful warrior writers, poets, storytellers, performers, friends, spirits, women, beings. I am sure they made a great impression on you with their work, beauty, style. 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 white haired 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? That I cringe as my stomach turns when I hear hateful words that intend for a group of people to be made small. Nigger, fag, those Mexicans. You know the words and phrases. All of them. 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. 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 most of 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 about a young woman who goes off to college and has an assignment to create a story about where and how she grew up. She chose to interview several women in her "village." These women. These bold, ordinary women one at a time sat in the comfort and discomfort of their kitchens and back porches and poured out the sensitive parts of their scars to Phoebe Sunday Morning Waters (Sunny). I hope you and the world will read my collection one day. I am feeling stuck with this collection. Don't know where to submit it yet. I am so protective of this baby and have held it close to my heart for too long. It's time, I know, to let these women fly. These women told me their stories while I lived in McDonough, Georgia. I was alone in my home and they took space in my head and would not stop talking. Whispering. Chatting. Scaring and soothing me as if finally they had a portal to escape and be heard. These women in the village of my head. In addition to my stories 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 who has spent much of his life in the audiences, backstages and in greenrooms of poetry and music events. He has been awesome at every stage. When he was seven years old he sat in the back seat of my car and stared out of the window and asked me where babies came from. "Is this a conversation about sex?" I asked. "No." He said. "Where do they come from even before that?" I thought about my response for a moment and said, "People believe different things. I believe that babies are in heaven, choosing their parents, choosing the best situations to be of best service to the world." To which he responded, "Ok, I don't know if I believe that. But that is very interesting." Around this same time in his life one summer he was up very late at night playing checkers online. I fell asleep and I felt him shake me and ask what year he would have had to be born in to be eighteen years old. I sprung awake realizing that he was online alone playing checkers and thought some checker "buddy" was chatting with him or something. But no, that wasn't the case at all. Earlier that day we were shopping and he wanted a video game that I refused to buy, mostly because it cost sixty or so dollars. Well, he saw a commercial for DeVry and they advertised a course on making video games and also said that they offered online education. My brilliant son went to the website and was filling out some questionaire or appliciation and the age box kept coming up red because he was afterall, only seven. He figured he would take the online video game couse. Online so that they wouldn't know his true age. He guessed the course would take ummmm, maybe a few hours, how hard could it be? And that his videos would look like any game he would play on his XBOX or whatever system he had at the time. Brilliant! I am honored that such an inquisitive seeker came through me. He is amazingly kindhearted and strong. Handsome and funny. The best blend of his father, me, God, his sister, step mother, cousins, grandparents and all who love him.
I want you to know my passion for writing and why I zone out during conversations and dinner. Movies and lectures. Strolls in the malls, beaches, in line at the Gas Company. There is always a character I am creating, a stanza I am rewriting. A paragraph I am deleting, a villian I am killing off or giving power to. 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. I want you to know my relationship, my oneness with God. That I am constantly praying, constantly giving myself more to God's will and steadily increasing my circle of compassion so big that no one is left out. No one. That I am ever trying to see love in the gap where I see separation between me and any other human being.
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 steps 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 where he could see them even though technically brain dead. 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 monster's 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 wiped 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 for adding brightness to my day. I am a seeker of bright spots in my days. I hold on to them and appreciate them, relive the moments long after they have expired. I have spent much of my life carrying a sadness inside of me. A sadness I could never explain, or worse, justify. It has become much more pronounced in the last six or so years. As a child I remember once my sister asked me what was wrong. "I dunno. You know how sometimes you just be sad and you don't be knowin' why but you be sad anyway?" Those sad thoughts would land on me and not stay long but I rememer the landing. I am forty-two years old now and can better describe the sadness and predict its coming but no better at its prevention. My journals are filled with these sad brave characters. These over the top happy for no reason talking too fast super humans. But last Sunday, dear Antioch, in the hours I was there in my seat smelling flowers guest brought to graduates, watching happy tears fall and letting my own drop, listening to one encouraging word after another, there were no sad thoughts or happy people talking too fast in my head. No old southern women with freakishly smooth skin spooking me with their stories of dead babies and cracked out mothers. Only my own voice, God's voice, the good witches of stories past daring me to at least write the letter. At least say thank you. At least say one day maybe.
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.