Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Beginnings. Preparing For This HeadRoad Trip.

I grew up writing, yet it never occured to me that I may want to pursue a career in writing. I'm not sure why, but I think it has something to do with all the pressure from everyone around me encouraging me to be a doctor, lawyer, an actuary or an engineer. My first major was actually electrical engineering. I was cursed with abilities in math, actually enjoying algebra and loving calculus. So, I thought, maybe I should pursue one of these money making fields.

I sat in the front row of my major classes and drooled for an hour and twenty minutes. One class is all it took. And I don't mean one class as in, I took a class for a semester and then called it quits. I mean, after that first hour and twenty minutes of embarrasing myself and my teacher, I wiped the side of my face, cleaned off the desk, and I never stepped foot in that engineering building again.

What was I to do? While figuring nothing out, I continued to write and perform poetry. Boy, was that working out! A born performer, I was out there every day reciting "poems" and getting paid to do it! Yes, I was one of those "poets" that wrote my newest "poem" on the way to the gig and proudly said so when I got on stage. This was proof of just how deep I was, that I wrote this hot shit on the way there. Bam! I blew your mind and then I walked off stage to wild applause. The chosen people got to walk with me, patting my back and telling me how I had done it again.


One thing I learned from that era of my life is to gauge your audience. Those people would have had me foolishly publishing that crap I was spewing and reading those poems all over the city, country, earth to people who knew nothing about poetry except that sometimes it rhymed and sometimes it didn't.

Okay, so,

a friend of mine, a guy named Langston, who had written and self published the book Back to Africa with a White Woman with another friend named Wadud, on whom I had a crush, (shh, nobody knows!) invited me to become part of a writing community. His idea was that we would workshop one original piece every week. I was down. Other initial members included Nehassaiu, who's performances impressed me and who was becoming my big sister, and Samuel. There were others who eventually dropped off. These others were similar to me - sure they were already amazing. They felt they didn't need to waste their time with such silliness as workshopping and crafting their pieces. I, on the other hand, liked having my own little private audience of poets to whom I could read my awesome work. Can somebody say ego?

BUT! Something happened while I was there. Maybe it happened because I did, at least, take the process seriously. I gave feedback on the work of my cohorts and I seriously considered their feedback. And it seemed they always had some. My perfect pieces never seemed quite perfect after we'd discussed them. And other pieces, that I had not authored, were getting a lot more appreciation. Can somebody say busted - I mean, awakening?

What was that shit I was writing?

We began to study authors. Our group expanded. We began to share members with the Dark Room Collective, people began to get fellowships and began to enter MFA programs. People with MFA's began to join our group. And I expanded. I began to write poetry.

The writer's collective we formed became known as 12th house. Well, known to us. You probably never heard of it. We met weekly for years. It was because of that association and my studies with the awesome Sonia Sanchez, that I began to understand the career of writing.

My time in 12th House was a blessing, because it freed me from the world of spoken word - the planet of singing syllables - and landed me in the land of literature. It introduced me to the process of crafting and showed me that what I'd thought were classic works of art were plain foolery. Our initial focus was poetry - simply because that was what the members wrote. Eventually through new members, we had a group of prose writers. I myself didn't introduce my prose until late, just before 12th House began to transition, its members moving on. I therefore didn't have the benefit of learning where the strengths in my prose writing lay. I found myself stuck in the abyss of,

"How do I know it's good enough?"

I completed projects that were going nowhere, because I was afraid they weren't strong, literary pieces. I didn't want to publish contemporary literature.

No judgement there, okay? Well, maybe a little judgement but not like the, "You suck! You write contemporary literature" kind of judgement. It's more the, "I am seeking a different audience," discerning kind of judgement. The judgement that asks, "Would I like this shit if I hadn't written it?"

I began to yearn for the benefits of an MFA. I wanted to grow, learn, study craft, receive feedback, recognize my strenghts and labor through my weaknesses. I decided to apply to MFA programs, but where?

I couldn't just move to some awesome MFA program in New England or New York. I had become an unwed mother. Best thing to ever happen to me, (the mother part, not so much the unwed part), but it did place some limits on me. There were no programs that interested me here in Philadelphia. I was going to have to give up. But wait! Ellis started teaching at something called a low-res MFA program. I didn't have to live there, it was well respected, intense learning still took place... What is this place called Warren Wilson!

I did my research, and completed the application to Warren Wilson. I sent my poems to Ellis and got great feedback! Then I decided nothing was good enough. I didn't apply.

I found I was afraid to apply.

"How do I know my works are good enough?"

I worked on applying for years (primarily I worked on myself). I continued to speak to my friends and associates, who encouraged me to apply. The assurance of those teaching in MFA programs themselves should have been enough, you would think. But no. I still waited years, working on my pieces. I had gone from egomaniac to... what? I was confident that I could write something valuable, but not confident that I had written it, and couldn't figure out how to know.

I completed a collection of short stories, a collection of poems and short stories, and a memoir that I could not allow myself to release.

"How do I know it's good enough?"

Things were getting ridiculous. I set my sights, once again, on the MFA. Armed against my uncertanties, I decided to apply. But those years of searching, writing, and reading introduced me to a new genre: Creative Non-Fiction. This is what was meant for me.

I learned that Warren Wilson doesn't offer that concentration.


1 comment:

Bsquared86 said...

Okay, I'm back again!

Wow, how many times do I read over my poetry and ask "How do I know it's good enough?"-- hell, how many times have I asked myself, "How do I know that I'm good enough?" The answer would have to be daily, sometimes hourly depending on my stress level. That's part of the reason why I'm taking these CW classes this fall-- to reassure myself that I am good enough (or, I suppose, discover that I am not).

I think that with your background with the writing collective and your connects in the industry that you will be fine! Stay focused and inspired!