And I Would Write 1000 Words…

Jami Attenberg’s 1000 Words of Summer started a few days ago, coincidentally at the same time #blogjune began. Because I’ve never met a challenge that I haven’t abandoned halfway through, I’m challenging myself to reach that lofty goal this month. For some reason, I want it more this year. I’ve felt creatively fecund lately, and there are stories and art living inside me that simply must get out.

I’m starting to think that it isn’t the fear of success that keeps me from getting serious about writing or a creative career, it’s fear of criticism. Furthermore, I don’t handle criticism or rejection well at all; I crumple like paper in a clenched fist at the slightest brush of disapproval. But that urge to create, to purge myself of whatever words or images live inside me never goes away. I put in my earbuds, find a focus playlist that is motivating without being too aggressive, and pick up a pen, a paintbrush, or stylus and write until I feel creatively spent. It’s a rush.

I’m currently reading Moss House, a work of historical fiction that is based on the real life diaries of Anne “Gentleman Jack” Lister (verdict: I’m enjoying it). Miss Lister says she keeps a diary because she was sure that her lesbianism would result in others erasing her from history. “(I)f I have not recorded what happened, did it happen at all?” It made me wonder why I keep a journal. I’ve done so sporadically over the years, and while I might not write daily, I seem to have picked up the habit in earnest after repeated incidents of various kinds of trauma over the years. I write to help me process my emotions, to set free the swelling emotions that threaten to pull me under. Furthermore, I write to have a record of emotional healing and progress, and to get better as a writer.

I write to be more self-aware, and to learn to hear and trust my own voice. My journal is where I go to yell; where no one can hear me or judge me, or think less of me because I dare to express an emotion that runs counter to theirs. But mostly I write to stay connected to myself, to wrap myself in my words as if they were my mother’s loving arms. I write to reassure myself that I am okay, that I remain a magical and wondrous creature, despite what society would have me think.

Two weeks ago, I had an idea for a scene in the young adult/new adult novel I’ve been threatening to write, and the scene felt so powerful that I had to step away from it until tonight. I’m going to share it with you, knowing that it is extremely raw and unpolished, but like the woman says,

Today you will write 1000 words. You are going to write freely and passionately and with beautiful abandon. You will not worry if they are the wrong words. You will not second guess yourself. You will not talk yourself out of this. It is day one and you have a reason for being here: you have something you want to say. No one can stop you from saying it but yourself. And you are going to nail this. Hard.

Jami Attenberg, Day 1, 1000 Words of Summer

So here goes.


In all of my years of going to concerts, I always wondered what it would be like to be backstage at one. Backstage conjured up mystical images in my mind: rangy, sweaty, half-naked musicians of every gender draped languorously over couches or their nearest sexual conquests. I’d find bowls of fresh fruit and towers of bottled water stacked higher than my head over on the craft services table. The adrenaline rush of performance coupled with endorphins would make me feel heady and a little punch drunk.

The summer that the radio station put on a weekend long music festival, I learned that it was much cooler than I could have ever imagined. I was in the crowd, but I stood at the back with the rest of the kids from the radio station. It was closest to the bar and our VIP area, but it put us close enough to the action to experience it without needing to be in a crush of bodies. To be in it, but not of it, which is how I usually felt at these events.

Yes, I obviously worked at the station, and in a few weeks, I’d be the general manager, the impossibility of which makes my mind collapse in on itself in disbelief.

The heat of the day was beginning to dissipate, but our bodies carried the memory of being slowly roasted over a low fire all day long, being stoked by music, drugs, and the incomparable allure of being young. We felt like gods. Or were supposed to feel like gods. They looked like Zeus, while I felt like Demeter. I hovered near the edges, dancing with myself and occasionally with other members of the staff, each of us a clumsy, milk-drunk puppy with its littermates. But there was a carnal undercurrent that danced through the air, and that night, I set out to fuck (or be fucked by) somebody.


There’s some other stuff that’s supposed to happen here, but I lost the plot once my arms started to hurt. What do you think? Should I continue? Is it any good, or am I just fooling myself? I suppose ultimately it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks, what matters most is that I’m enjoying the process. But we’ve established that I’ve got the Lassie gene, and I thrive on praise and head-pats. I am who I am.

On Pessimism, Optimism and Legacy

James Baldwin famously said “I can’t be a pessimist because I’m alive. To be a pessimist means you have agreed that human life is an academic matter. So I’m forced to be an optimist. I am forced to believe that we can survive, whatever we must survive.”

This quote has been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve been thinking about it in the context of professional success, the fulfilment we are expected to get from our work. The pessimist in me says that the situation in libraries — the conservatism, the unwillingness to make room for opinions from and the leadership of people who don’t toe the party line — will never change, and that speaks to the pessimist in me who looks at my work in libraries in a somewhat detached fashion, as if the circumstance I find myself in is immovable and hopeless.

But I’ve come to understand that nothing is truly hopeless, that progress is like an iceberg carving out a canyon in the landscape. You don’t see the iceberg move, but over eons, the after effect of those changes are clearly visible.

Optimism, as Baldwin frames it, is an active engagement with life and the issues. The act of struggle means that you are, whether you know it or not, striving for something better.

This willingness, this optimism is what pushes us forward when things seem most bleak. It’s a belief that even though I may not personally benefit from social or organizational changes that are more open and equitable, I believe that someone who comes behind me will, and that may well be enough to keep me motivated.

How can I begin to make and effect change for future generations? What is my legacy?

The Most Cringe-worthy Street in Vancouver

I walk past this street from time to time, and every time I walk by, I am reminded of how good intentions can go horribly wrong.

The name is intended to memorialize a portion of Vancouver’s Black community. This is a noble effort, and the city should be commended for it.

However.

The street is named after a nameless individual. What’s worse, it’s named after a particular job, a job that was limited to Black men because of the servile nature of the work.

The city might as well have called this “Black Maid Street,” or “George Street”.

Changing the name so that it represents a class or group of individuals is marginally better, but what would have been even better would have been to name it after A. Philip Randolph, for example.

Langston Hughes: The Black Man Speaks

I swear to the Lord
I still can’t see
Why Democracy means
Everybody but me.

“The Black Man Speaks” from Jim Crow’s Last Stand (Worldcat)

To say I’ve been feeling this acutely over the last few weeks is an understatement. I honestly think I’ve felt this way almost as long as I’ve been alive, but the feelings grow sharper the longer I live in Vancouver.

Today is Langston Hughes’ birthday. Hughes has long been one of my favourite poets/cultural critics, though I feel like he’s fallen out of favour a little over the last 20 years or so. Though he is better known as a poet, his essay “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” has been a source of inspiration for me, more so when I was a young African American Studies scholar who was trying to balance claiming my place in the Black community with my feminist leanings and my queer identity.

If you find yourself in a despairing place, read a little Langston Hughes today.

Spice Up Your Life: A Diverse List of Library/Tech Speakers

My good friend Tiffany B. Brown had this to say earlier this morning:

 

This tweet and the Tristan Walker interview in question were in my mind when a friend and colleague asked me to put together a dream speakers list that the library’s Policy & Planning group could use for possible speakers. This list is by no means exhaustive, and it was pretty much just made up of people I know personally and/or people I admire and have seen present at other events.

If you’re a friend of mine and you’re not on this list, it’s probably because I know you don’t like/aren’t jazzed about public speaking, not because I don’t think you’re any good.

Here’s the list:

The demographic breakdown:

If I were to revise the list (and I may), I’d try to incorporate more Canadian voices/perspectives on this list, because library, privacy, and intellectual freedom issues differ so greatly between the United States and Canada.

Tristan Walker said  “If you’re not including what will be the majority demographic in our country at the table in positions of leadership, your company just could not be destined for the level of success it should be destined for.”  As someone from a woefully underrepresented demographic in my profession, I’m always thinking about ways to make library events more inclusive. I think some fantastic, creative thinking about technology and how it affects our lives happens within our profession, but I also think that some of the best thinking happens outside of libraries. The division between corporate culture and libraries, while still great, isn’t as much of a contentious point as it used to be; however, I made a conscious choice to include technologists who espouse a more human approach to the role and reach of technology into our personal lives.

Tiffany might’ve said “get some black friends,” but knowing her as I do, I’m sure she’d agree with me if I expanded that to “Get some black, brown, Asian, queer, international friends, too.”