TweetI delivered this talk in an unprecedented way this year. My annual birthday reflection was given at the very end of a reading and talk I was giving in Seattle about the anthology, to a packed house at Black Coffee Coop where they laughed, clapped, and wildly cheered and say Happy Birthday. The lyrical parts of the essay – I actually SANG them into the mic. Me! My terrible singing voice. Fear, be gone. I did it! I gave the address to a crowd. Bucket list shortened.
The other day I caught a lyrical moment while I was cleaning. That iconic song was playing, “to everything, turn turn turn. There is season turn turn turn.” Nearly everyone knows it. It’s based a popular Ecclesiastes passage in scripture that poeticizes that for everything in life, there is a season.
As I was folding laundry, I found myself singing along, “A time of love, a time of hate, a time of war, a time of peace.” My attention drifted in and out of the song, and at one particular moment when I drifted in, the lyrics are “a time to rend, a time to sow.” But when I heard is a “time to wren, a time to sow.”
The actual lyrics say a time to:
To rend R-E-N-D is to shred something violently into pieces.
Sow. Would put all of that back together.
But what I heard is a time to
Wren. W-R-E-N. Meaning the small, brown-feathered songbird with a perky head. Although a noun, I thought turning wren into a verb was a clever way to communicate a time to fly. Since the music group who sang this classic song was called The Byrds, I figured this is what they meant. At time to fly. It made sense.
To sow, I thought it meant a time to cultivate the soil, to till the earth.
As I look back on the past year, on what 34 revealed to me, I think it was year to rend. R-E-N-D. The ever growing matrix of raising a 4 year old in this world that would love nothing more than to squeeze out every gentle, creative, non-linear tendency rends my zealous ambition to preserve and develop it. The razorblades of rejection letters from online publications, magazines, and journals rend my delicate tongue as a writer. Simply existing sometimes rends my dreams of love, justice, healing, and simply allowing myself to be imperfect in a dangerously hypocritical world that is itself flawed but seeks to emotionally persecute and criminalize the imperfect.
To rend R-E-N-D is where 34 began, but it didn’t end there.
Tonight. Tonight I stand before you in my time of wren – W-R-E-N – flying, soaring. being a person who has finally come into her own song, as someone who decided that I’m finished tilling the soil. It’s time to wren. It’s time to fly.
Tonight my flight comes full circle, as I stand here in Seattle, the very place where, 13 years ago I ruminated about a thought I had for a book that may help survivors of rape and sexual violence know that they are not alone. Tonight I stand before you as its anthologist, a person who emerged out of the ideas of “maybe someday I will do that” and into the light of “I did that.” I am 35 years full of beauty and brokenness.
I believe that, as woman of color activist by quilt trade, Carolyn Mazloomi, once said of her decision to pursue quilting as her life craft, “I left my job to quilt because I believed I deserve a life of joy. I deserve to go after my dreams.”
I believe I deserve a life of joy. And as a women of color declaring that I deserve the opportunity, the unequivocal moment to express who I am without backing down in fear of racism, sexism, kyriarchy, catcalling, harassment, mockery, heckling, or anything else to silence the voice that I have come to know and love as my own for the past 35 years, yes, I believe I deserve a moment to say I deserve a life of joy.
I believe you do deserve that, too.
This is my song. This is me. This is 35, a time, indeed, to WREN. W-R-E-N.
The past month has been a blur of dreams. Hard dreams coming true. Pain blossoming into sweet petals of healing.
Conceptualizing the idea of this anthology began 13 years ago. Call for submission, editing, book proposal, negotiating, waiting, galley reviews, begging for blurbs, outreaching on the branches of favors from good hearted writers and journalists and feminist-hearted media makers — all that took four years.
I’m going on a journey and I hope you come with me. I’m going to promote the anthology all over the country. I’m going to have discussions and workshops about why sexual violence is the global epidemic that it is. I’m going to ask communities if they understand how to listen and heal themselves so they can help survivors heal as well.
I’m going on a journey to listen to and learn and offer the anthology as a tool to understand rape and sexual abuse from the eyes of the contributors.
Come with me. Let’s do this together.
TweetNew Year’s Eve is the microcosm of life.
I love New Year’s Eve. It’s this holiday that I think perfectly sums up how life is perceived by most people: expectations are high, expectations rest on others to make it exceptional, and when things turn out mediocre, the conclusion is that New Year’s Eve is anti-climatic. Folks miss the part that New Year’s Eve is all about what YOU put into it, how you make the night what you want it to be, putting in the energy and time to make it exceptional, and then deciding to BE what you want as the change happens.
I’ve been thinking about NYE for weeks. Every year for the past decade I’ve always chosen a theme, a word to think about throughout the year. Last year it was “Relationships” which reminded me to constantly put it in first in my life. To show up. Make others know how important they are to me. What I learned about that theme in 2013 is this: you can’t decide to make a relationship better or deeper if you don’t tell the other person that that is your objective. Relationships are two way streets. One person deciding something doesn’t necessarily make it different. I learned that after the disappointment set in after I did go out of my way to be an extraordinary friend, daughter, sister, mother, partner, employee to someone else and then walked away with a feeling that something was lopsided.
For the first time, I don’t really have a word that’s resonating. I just have the feeling and even the handful of words that come to mind land around, not on, what I’m thinking about.
The best that I can do is this: 2014′s theme is COMMITTED.
Not to be confused with COMMIT.
The latter assumes a certain level of indecision, as if I have not yet done so and sounds more like a memo to change a behavior. ”Committed” is somewhat of a salute to 2013, the arguably most difficult year I’ve ever lived thus far. 2013 was the year that I was forced to really think about who I want to be, what I want to do, where I want to go, and then wait until the time was right for it to happen. 2013 was the year that trained my mind and spirit to go after what I want, but physically had to wait until 2014 to make it happen. It was excruciating like that. Like consciously being alive and exuberant but physically being in a coma. That’s what 2013 was like
So I know what I’m about and I have 2013 to thank for that. Which makes 2014 the year of The Doing, The Actualizing, The Making It Happen, The Going For It.
2014 Committed to the 2013 decisions:
That might sound crazy but fellow writers understand. There are infinite ways to not write and believe that you actually are writing. And what an excuse I’ve had in 2013 not to write: my boook is coming out. I have turned into a project manager and publicityhound preparing for the launch. Writing moved to the back burner. 2013 was all like, “Go write. Go write. Go write.” while my body was like, “I can’t. I have to revise the introduction.” ”I can’t. I have a block.” Or the realities of raising a child, needing to exercise or sleep or eat won over the decision to write. Screw it. I’m turning 35 this year. I once heard you need to spend 10,000 hours before you’re really good at something. I need to focus on what I truly want and what I truly want is to be an extraordinary writer.
2. There is enough time as long as you spend it wisely.
The CRAZE of appointments, parties, work, children, obligations is normalized like life is supposed to be nothing but a series of things you attend or do, instead of BE. Why do folks live like there’s a social apocalypse right around the corner? I’m organizing better, committed to the things that I know sustain a healthy existence.
3. Clean eating.
I love food and I’m really tired of people obsessing about diets, restricting, and treating food like it’s this alluring siren with irresistible temptation. We project our problems and frustrations on food. We personify it as if has it’s own intention and personality to justify the often powerlessness people experience with eating. But I don’t think we were created to be miserable about flavor and taste. Food is so beautiful and celebratory. Sacred even. Cooking is an therapeutic art and what we consume either heals us or harms us. I’m choosing healing.
4. Uplift others.
The world is drowning in hate, scorn, sarcasm, cheap thoughts, and a quiet undercurrent of menace. Who needs another person pretending they have all the answers, or another sarcastic tweeter, or another reckless and lazy writer, or another coward in the rat race? The high road has always been there. That’s my ride.
About every other day in 2013 I felt the urge to write about God. I’m a spiritual person, I know what it means if a reoccurring thought won’t leave you alone for a year. It’s kind of obvious that’s what you should do. But in 2013 I just let the thoughts come. I observed the frequency and what feeling accompanied the thought. It was fear. I hesitate to write about God because I don’t really like reading other people’s thoughts or theories about God. Maybe that’s connected to my desire to write about God since I am so dissatisfied by what is being currently written. I don’t have an agenda, just the commitment to write.
6. Be where you are. Right now.
2013 was spent in either the future, the past, or a place that was rarely reflected in that very moment. Maybe it was a coping mechanism. Maybe I was just that busy. Maybe I was too afraid to face my everyday. I’m not sure, but I do know that life is about deciding to forego what you don’t want and simply taking another path. This is so hard for me to do because I struggle with perfectionism, expectations of life, and when things don’t happen the way they are “supposed to happen,” my conclusion is that it’s not good enough, or I’m not good enough, or the person in front of me isn’t good enough. Judgement leads to callous behaviors. That’s the last place I want to be.
7. Choose what you really, REALLY want. Not what you want.
I want a billion things. But what I really, REALLY want is probably about 18. Prioritize. No more excuses. Shed what is unnecessary and holds you back: ghosts, mishaps, expectations, missed boats, grudges, need for “closure” (as if life is a neat and orderly chronicle of sensible stories).
8. Unceasingly, express the truth.
I spent too much time in 2013 opting for a watered down version of the truth or what made another person feel more comfortable. I don’t think I need to hide what I genuinely believe, even if it’s unfavorable or difficult, as long as I can deliver it respectfully. The rest is up to them.
9. Have faith in people.
I lost my faith in people last year. Shortcomings and flaws were more prominent than their inherent goodness and effort. It was too easy to be jaded and although I tried “to be positive,” it only led me to feel like a phony because I didn’t FEEL positive on the inside. Perceived forgetfulness, selfishness, and self-consumption ate away at me. I know it will continue to do so in 2014, but my energy will be directed on putting out in the world whatever remedies the ills that I find so disheartening.
Something shifted last year. I’ve always experienced spiritual connection in the same way until 2013. I had moments of great connection but something happened in my spiritual life. I’m not hearing or experiencing in the same way. I’m searching for its replacement but have come up empty. Rather than drawing the conclusion that God doesn’t exist or that I must have done something to piss God off, I’m going to assume that I’ve changed and my communication patterns need to updated as well. It’s like God and I have dead cell phones and I keep screaming into mine, “ARE YOU THERE OR WHAT?” Maybe it’s time for a face to face visit. Or letter writing. Or service. Something different to pray my way back into a regular conversation with my inner Power.
11. Enjoy life for its full sensuality.
The tiny burst of a grape. The sound of four in Isaiah’s voice. Waiting for the right moment before I snap the shutter on my camera. Taking time to look up words that I don’t understand. Being affectionate. Sitting with a new poet.
And after all this, last night when Nick and I got home from my sister’s place, we plopped in front of the couch at 11:10pm, wondering, again for the umpteenth time, what are our true feelings for Ryan Seacrest when Nick got a headache closed his eyes and I, still wrapped in my long winter coat , decided to watch GirlCode on MTV.
Since I was about five, I’ve never missed the Times Square ball drop and have made a vow I will see it by 2020 in New York. But this year, at 11:40pm, I switched to ABC and snuggled into my huge coat which now felt like a warm blanket. The next thing I knew, I opened my eyes to Ryan Seacrest saying, “Isn’t this the party of the year?” The confetti was whirling and I wildly looked for evidence that I still had time. (It didn’t occur to me to check a clock.) Since there was no chaos, I figured I still had time. But I then heard Frank Sinatra, “It’s up to YOU, New York, Newww Yooooorkk!” which only plays after the new year has rung in. I grabbed my phone and saw 12:03am with texts reading HAPPY NEW YEAR!
I yelled at sleeping Nick, “WE MISSED IT! WE MISSED THE BALL DROP! I’VE NEVER MISSED THE BALL DROP SINCE I WAS FIVE YEARS OLD. I MISSED THE BALL DROP!”
Nick, in some dreamy state hears my screaming and thinks the house is on fire, jumps up and out of the couch, “What’s the matter? What’s going on?”
“WE F***** MISSED THE BALL DROP! WE MISSED IT! WE MISSED IT!”
He calmly laid back down and rearranged the Ohio State blanket on his long legs, “Oh shoot!”
Shoot? That’s all he has to say?
He looks at me, “Happy New Year!”
A bit of 2013 edginess clung in my throat and I sarcastically replied, “HAAAAAAPPPY NEW YEAR!”
And then I remembered one of my committed decisions to let things go. Stop lingering on what cannot be fixed. Stop wishing for the boat that has long since set sail. Those habits do nothing for me.
The fact that this challenge came precisely at 12:03am, three minutes into 2014 caused me to laugh out loud and shake my head. The challenge to be committed to my decisions began with my sleeping through what I had been waiting for all holiday season. I missed it and the minutes of 2014 were moving forward. Life continues. Every second of the new year was happening and I couldn’t believe I slept through the first three minutes. The champagne bottle was still corked. My winter coat still on and hiding my sparkly shirt underneath. I wasn’t ready. I was late. I missed it.
I laughed again. Nick probably thought I was hallucinating with anger. I shook my head and stood up, the challenging thought raised to 2014′s ironic beginning, “So, this is how it’s going to be?”
And with this writing, I let it go.
I’m not up in arms over Jezebel’s latest debacle calling “selfies” nothing but a degrading digital act of vanity, making people focus on beauty and nothing else.
As a writer and photographer, I woefully disagree. The beauty about photography, and why it pairs so elegantly with writing, is it’s wordless power to share truth. It generates engagement through image so words aren’t necessary. For me, it’s not about waving your techie arms for attention, but a manifestation of one’s creative lens. Why should we not document ourselves? As a photographer, I rarely let anyone use my camera, which means I have few photos of myself.
Taking selftraits can be a meditative look into one’s soul. It conjures emotion, memory, and documents who we were at one moment in our fleeting dust of our lives. Categorizing “selfies” as nothing but cheap uploads may be the trend, but selftraits have been going on throughout history. Writing one’s story, photographing one’s body or face? These are tactics of survival, annotation, so we are remembered on our own terms.
There’s a difference between these photos. Even without the explanation, I think it’s clear what’s what.
TweetOver the weekend I ran into someone I knew from college. Someone who went on to become a physician and married a lawyer and wore really nice clothes with a cool, slick satin tie. As we exchanged expected pleasantries, and that pause came, signaling questions were coming I braced myself:
So, Lisa, what do you do?
In a world that is bombarded by measurements of worth by production, degrees, and credentials, I knew his reaction before I even said the words: I’m a writer.
Eyelids disappear, brows temporarily move in with his receding hairline before slowly coming down with the forced, “ooookay!” Like I had just said I was at a drug pusher. Like how a physician would communicate, “Right on! Good for you, kind of.”
And as we talked about his house and private practice, his wonderful kids, and wonderfully stable life as a physician I wondered if he would ask what I love most about MY life and it’d be something like, “I love my partner and our son. I’m chasing my dreams and the wild part is that they are on this crazy ride WITH me. We’re happy and still searching for who we want to be.”
But I didn’t want to risk his eye sockets cracking under the disbelief so I just smiled and nodded as he spoke. He wasn’t being disingenuous. He was kind but it was clear that a life of creativity is equivalent to a life of chaos and disruption. No plan, no stability, no firm anything.
*Shrug.* I know. I kind of like it that way.
And yet, as I explained to Nick, it’s still hard for me to accept the creative road. When so much of my life I WAS cultivating myself for a life of a physician (I was going to deliver babies all over the world in underdeveloped regions and no access to healthcare) or a lawyer (human rights, of course). But instead, for today, I chose to be a writer. I chose this pathless life of daily grassroots existence and wiping mud off my face from rejection and critical feedback. What I most struggle with, though, is my ego. Like most writers do. Like any writer does. I struggle with the need to know that what I have inside me is worth sharing.
It’s ironic to be a writer. It’s what you want to do more than anything and yet the uprooting of that truth is so painful and so consuming, you’ll do anything to NOT do the work. And after the years it took to come forward and present myself to the world, I find that I need affirmation. The desire to write is NOT enough. It’s ego. The desire to have your work distributed, known, respected, studied, analyzed, read, considered.
The professional life still beckons me. To this day, I can’t read about human rights law programs without feeling a dagger in the heart. When I was pregnant, I asked my OB/GYN if any older women attended medical school. She nodded excitedly, “It’s hard, but it’s possible!” It occurs to me on a daily basis that when one chooses to write, it’s one decision that cancels out every other viable life that would carry a great potential for a life on a sure trajectory. It would be the exam you knew you could pass. The purchase you wouldn’t need a receipt for because you know you’d never need to return it.
Writing is not any of those things.
Writing, unfortunately, manifests itself in a process that most of us, by nature, typically avoid. The emotional ground work to create something true and resonating with our fellow humans means we have to live a bi-existence. On one hand, you have to live in the world: buy groceries, endure DMV waiting lines, trip on sidewalk cracks, and fidget with broken belts just like everyone else. And yet we have to maintain enough distance and quiet to be able to create an alternate universe to the world in hopes to write a book, poem, essay, or article that will help others realize an inner truth they didn’t know about themselves.
There are days I wish I had gone to med school or taken the LSAT to see if Could/Should have gone to law school. But I know if I did switch places and magically be in that life, I know deep inside there’d be – not a roar (because that’d actually be delightfully promising) – but the whimpering sound of a dying darling girl who dreamed in words and couldn’t wait to rewrite the ending of stories she didn’t like.
I chose writing because it was my only true love. I chose writing because it was my only real choice. And for some reason that made the decision both easy and painfully difficult.
A Guide on How To Write About Sexual Violence, In Reaction to “Mellie’s Rape” on Last Night’s Episode of Scandal
TweetIt was horribly done.
Last night’s handling of sexual violence. Scandal writers “explaining” the history of Fitz and Mellie’s marriage, how Mellie came to be how she is now. The writers took us back 15 years ago and gives evidence of how Mellie came to be the kind of First Lady that she is.
There are many ways to interpret the script and delivery, but how I took it in and how I’m seeing the aftermath on social media is troubling.
First, there was no trigger warning whatsoever. I guess after so many years of editing the anthology about sexual violence, I knew it was coming. The scene opened with a drunk father in law, power obsessed, in a dimly fireplace lit den with a young, bright eyed “asset” of a wife, Mellie. My writing brain scans the scene in seconds. My first thoughts rushed forward to predict what was going to happen. Flash thoughts were:
1. Why is this scene going to be important? There are no mistakes in television. Every second counts toward the story line. Scandal doesn’t do subtle.
2. What would mainstream writers do to try and bring sympathy for a female shark character?
3. Why do I feel like something horrible is about to happen?
I was right. They wrote a rape scene into Scandal last night and it was terribly done.
The next morning when Mellie smiles and says she will never mention it again, she then wields the familial and political gavel from Jerry’s grip and the story moves onto her pregnancy.
As much as I suspected Mellie’s rape, it still bothered me, all the way up until I fell asleep. Eyes woke up this morning still troubled by the way it was handled. Perhaps it’s triggering for all of us – survivors and allies alike – to have visuals of rape so suddenly thrust into our homes. A violence so strangely normalized in media and yet so profoundly sickening when it echoes in our living room, a mere few feet from our sleeping children.
What has the narration of rape become? How is being so callously and nonchalantly written about, show in the beloved characters of stories that circulate every watercooler conversation the next morning, “Can you believe last night’s episode?” and thus unfolds more notions and missed opportunities to deconstruct the cultural problems that bolster sexual violence and rape.
Writers are responsible for their creative power. And just as we do do research in fields before we write details about the who what when and why — we should have standards that evoke sensitivity and tact when writing about this issue. Here is a brief guide for writers out in the world contemplating writing sexual violence into their story.
And for the love of all things holy, Scandal writers — USE TRIGGER WARNINGS.
TweetI’m not able to write about the typhoon in the Philippines. I am overwhelmed by the devastation of my homeland.
I am devastated by this calamity.
TweetLast week I had a work meeting at a site away from my usual office. The morning colors of the fall day were distracting. It was so bright, so clear, the sunshine setting everything on fire. Leaves, trees, and bushels seemed to be on fire from the inside out.
I made it to my meeting and afterward, although I had much work to do, decided to linger the grounds. There was no one around except a caretaker trimming a bush. I saw four deer ambling about in the woods. My knee high boots had a wooden heel and clomped loudly on the paved areas. Although I would never consider myself a fashion expert, I do have some common sense for attire. That day, I donned my tan zip up boots with a loose cream vintage looking dress with a blue floral print. Over the dress, I worked in a short navy blazer so the slightly casual dress was sharpened with a modern cut jacket.
I looked around to make sure no one saw me. In my car that day I had packed my gym bag with a plan to attack the gym after work. I grabbed my New Balance sneakers and slipped off my boots, and slid my feet into the comfortable flat shoes that had conformed to my feet.
In my dress, I ran like the wind down a path and into a kingdom of autumn. I passed majestic trees, swishing wind by my ears, and filtered the golden sun on my skin.
I had never been to this place. I had never worn sneakers with a dress. I couldn’t believe that I went running through an unfamiliar path dressed as I did. Whatever compelled me to race the wind was too strong in me. I had to burst open into a run to spend the energy and endorphins that delivered a joy I couldn’t measure or explain.
I couldn’t remember the last time I felt that way. So I took a picture to remember this particular morning, a slice of perfection to last me until I forget what it feels like to sprint in a flower dress.
TweetI’ve been thinking a lot about how much time I read and absorb the life advice from other writers. It’s soft addiction. Articles about the challenge of motherhood and writing smell like dessert, and I devour each one as if I’ll find myself in someone else’s once kept now open secrets.
Who you choose to build a family with and how they view your writing life is kind of a big deal. So often it’s the children – how many to have, whether serious writers have children (whaaat) – who are blamed as the prime distractors to women writers. Here’s the thing though: a billion things distract or consume a writer’s time. But another adult in the household is capable of helping create and sustain a productive and balanced writing life. Right now, in most heterosexual relationships with stereotypical gendered traits, the partners, spouses, or lovers of women writers can help (he drove the kids to soccer, he made dinner one night) but its still the woman who does the majority of the child lifting. As long as that is the model, balance will not and cannot be struck.
If I could tell young writers anything it would be to cultivate as close to a sustainable writing life as early as possible so you can choose a partner well and the expectations are clear from the start. She or he doesn’t have to completely understand the demands of writing, but gets the jist that for as long as you’re in a committed relationship with writing, the primary human relationship won’t look like other relationships that are used as a barometer for success, happiness, or even peaceful.
Nick sometimes struggles with my struggle to be fully and absolutely present to him on weekends, our sacred hours together. My fingers begin itching for a pen or a keyboard, my mind starts forming rebuttals and imaginary characters (depending on what I’m working on), and my eyes widen or narrow in reaction to my thoughts, as if I’m having a conversation all by myself. Which, actually, is the painful truth for partners of writers.
Who you choose to parent with, how you set up that situation is one of the most underrated areas in the debate of women writers and finding balance. Nick gladly picks up most of the domestic duties when he is home because he knows that I need to focus on writing when I can. He disappears with Isaiah for hours at a time so I have a quiet office in the house and only interrupts to see how I’m doing, to rub my back, look over my shoulder and make a short quip about turning out a bestseller so we can retire. (My usual reply is a laugh, “With the content I’m interested in? Hardly going to make us rich.”) But more than that and what usually carries me is that he gets it. He sometimes doesn’t like it but he gets it. He gets that writers often wonder away to love a character instead of a human being next to you. He gets that I spend a majority of my time doing unpaid work and picks up the slack, watches our budget, and takes on more because of the understood covenant between mother writer and her work. He gets it and the balance, the ever so fragile balance, is sustained when your partner understands the psychological, emotional, and financial sacrifices that need to be made in the name of creative work.
The community, village, partner, and family we create is just as critical to the food we put in our bodies, the amount of sleep we try to get, and the oxygen we take in for creative work. Emotional support is amazing, but the practical resourceful help that partners give – without tricks or guilt trips – cannot be overstated in the mother writer role.
The balance of parenting, for those in partnered relationships and nuclear families, has to be shared. It must be shared. I’m not convinced that balance can be struck without actualizing that in your family. And I simply refuse to normalize a state of imbalance; it is not an option for me. What turns that refusal into a lived reality is a partner who refuses gendered imbalance as well.