Saying "When": Why I Backed Out of a TEDx Talk

I'm a perfectionist in some respects. When my name is on something I need to be proud of the product. It's part of why my output is not as high as others because I do slave over words and message and meaning and intent. It's what makes me a good editor but also a slow writer. So I reviewed these words over and over and found I could not relay them with enthusiasm. This meant I couldn't stand behind a product I didn't believe in, nor travel to a convention and memorize words I didn't have the heart to say. It's not ideal to back out less than 2 weeks before an event but I had to stick to my own beliefs and the work I put out that has not only my name but face on it. 

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A Reminder: Your Voice/Work Is Necessary

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to read at the 5-year anniversary of the Boundless Tales reading. What I read, and submitted, was a portion from my short story collection. Yes, the one I've been working on longer than I like to admit though not as long as I guess warrants complaint to some.

If I'm honest, I haven't looked at my fiction, let alone this collection, since I was at VONA in June. For the most part I've dedicated myself to writing a lot of nonfiction this and much of last year. When I returned from VONA I was tired, dehydrated, hot (read: irritable), and stuck on what to do to fix my work. This is par for the course, at least it is for me. You get a lot of feedback and suggestions. You receive some blows and some praise you have to sit with. Plus, your mind is filled with all this (potential) material as you return home from priorities you briefly escaped and now have to deal with.

I think a form of escape for me has been nonfiction because it ties to a reality and I can better report that story. It's a different way of thinking but there are correlations to fiction and fiction writing, hence the genre tags of narrative nonfiction and creative nonfiction. I have professed I am not a "fast" writer. It takes me a long time to get it “right.” I feel dejected that the output isn't generated as quickly nor is what seems complete actually done.

For more than two plus months I put this collection aside. I figured, as I have before, perhaps the collection is not the work that will be my debut. Perhaps this is not the tome that will land the agent or the publishing deal, despite the requests for full when it’s done, despite the intrigue on faces when I describe it. Perhaps I have a lot more work to do elsewhere to help me get to where I want to be. In my most recent podcast interview with my friend Rion Amilcar Scott he said that spending years on something "unpublishable" isn't the worst thing that can happen. You learn from it. It's its own form of education.

But then, I went to Friday’s reading. I had applied to be part of the anniversary reading when I was at VONA, before my work got critiqued, when I thought I may actually finish it in fall. I was the last reader of seven. It was a small, hot space with a packed crowd. I was glad to see three friends in the audience and several familiar faces. I waited and listened to local poets, playwrights, and fiction writers read their work and applauded them all. I looked around before I went on and whispered to my friend, "I am the only reader of color on this roster." She gave me a slow nod and said, "I know."

I wasn't so much worried about how the audience responded, but I talk about racism, I talk about a mother almost losing her child in a store, I talk about insecurity and identity in a span of 6 pages. We'll see how this goes, I thought.

I went up, a camera was on me from my right and another directly in front of me. I made a few quips about how wonderful Queens is but don't move her because my rent is low (for NYC), please and thank you. Then I read. I got laughs when I didn't expect it, gasps on certain (very descriptive) lines, and I saw when I panned the audience people paying close attention. When I finished there was applause, but it felt different in a way, it felt like they hung on to every word and truly grasped the trepidation of Mikayla as she almost lost her child.

When people grasp your hand and tell you they appreciate your exploration of humanity, it means a lot. When people give you a hug and say "Are you a mother? Because you got that spot on," it means a lot. When people stay back to tell you they really enjoyed their work, it means a lot. When someone emails you that they taught one of your published stories in their writing class, it means so much. And it especially means a lot because—what you don’t admit out loud—is that you doubt yourself. When I read Mikayla’s piece to the audience, and later again to myself, I was reminded how much I loved it, how much work I put into it, how it was successful in many ways. This was one of those times I needed a reminder. And sometimes those cues come just when you need and least expect them.

Year of ME

Today's my 35th Birthday! It seems fitting to post a reflective piece being another year older. Here goes... The day it released I received a copy of Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes. I don’t often read self-help(ish) type books. But hey the book came with the tickets of her appearance at the 92Y so why not? 

Here’s the premise: One day Shonda Rhimes of all people has a metaphorical wake-up when she realizes she’s not happy. One of the most power women (of color) in television was not happy. She tended to hole herself up and not do things that scared her or took her out of her comfort zone. She was happiest when with her kids, in her jams/sweats, and/or writing. She was not someone who was into parties or public speaking, these things freaked her out easily. 

So she decided to challenge herself for one year. She was prompted by a comment from her sister who essentially said she never said “yes” to anything instead going on to complain about all the invites to events, being super busy in her success, and so on and so forth. However, she didn’t indulge in the celebrity life people were asking her to be a part of. She really wasn’t living period. And then, voila she made a change and while it wasn’t immediately soothing over time she got over those hurdles and realized that once something that terrified her was over and done with she didn’t die. Life goes on.

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MiP Podcast + HiFi Reading Series Event Nov. 4th in NYC!

My Minorities in Publishing podcast has been asked to curate the upcoming HiFi Reading Series for November which is happening November 4th, 8pm at HiFi Bar in the East Village! Come here acclaimed author Daniel Jose Older and emerging artists Courtney Gillette, Glendaliz Camacho, and Ennis Smith read from their latest. Come for the booze & cupcakes, stay for the literature!

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