This is a great theatre season in NYC. Sarah Schulman has steered me to a bumper crop of new plays written by writers of color. If you are in NYC, please go out to support at least one of these events. (Full disclosure: I am only just now taking my trifling self to see Ruined, so I’m not judging. I’m merely urging.)
Here’s what’s coming up.
Along the lines of life imitating art/art imitating life, which book(s) seem to resemble your life?
A simple question but it left me stumped. Alice Walker famously said that Their Eyes Were Watching God was the first book she ever read that featured a brown-skinned heroine. Walker is talking about the thrilling shock of recognition that comes about when you read about a character who looks like you. I think it’s time to take it to the next level. I want to read a novel about a character that lives like me.
It’s time to write it.
A good friend and lovely writer called me yesterday in tears. She’s an adjunct professor at several local universities. She teaches a class here, a class there, and a class somewhere else, all just to make ends meet. “When am I supposed to write?” She asked.
My answer to her is really simple– 2 hours a week. I know that seems like not enough time to do anything, but it is. It’s not enough time to finish your novel or book of poems in record time, but it’s enough time to keep you moving toward your goal. Consistency is key. Carve the time out the way you would make time for a yoga class. Or, if you are a people pleaser: Carve the time out the way you would if it was something for someone else. Then, find a place to work. You can use your own home, but if you have a lot of people to answer to, leave your cell phone behind and go to the public library for two hours a week. If you can’t do that, maybe you have to transform your lunch hour on Monday and Wednesday to your writing hour. (And to be real– in lieu of watching True Blood and The Real Housewives of Atlanta, you can write your book. Let NeNe and them babysit your family while you handle your business.)
Two hours is not so much time that you would need to reorder your life, but it is enough time to keep your project alive. It’s enough time that you won’t be discouraging yourself by saying “I’m not getting anything done!” (A vicious cycle: You get depressed because you’re not working,and then you don’t work because you’re depressed.)Also, I believe that once you hit your stride with the two hours a week, the story (or poem) will sometimes ask you for more time, and you will find a way to provide it.
So, me and my friend Vickie, are taking a vacation– a Mediterranean Cruise to be exact. This will be my first real vacation in more than ten years. I know that I travel all the time, but the closest I have come to a vacation is going away to work a novel. The key word there is “work” and if it’s work, it ain’t a vacation.
Our sail date is in about two weeks and I want to gather up a couple of books to read by the pool. Although I love ToMo, I am not in the mood for a close re-reading of Beloved. Chillaxing with a sangria, I want to read something juicy! My summer time tastes leans toward mystery and thriller. Romance, not so much. (I think this because having never murdered anyone, I am not struck by how unrealistic the mysteries are. When it comes to romance, I have a little bit more experience, if you know what I mean.) I’m also down to read zany memoirs.
I have only one book on my list, so far. That’s HOLLYHOOD by Valerie Joyner because I love her booktrailers! What else should I take with me?
An off-the-cuff status update on facebook has given me a whole new level of respect for the writers of memoirs. Yesterday, I wrote “Tayari is thinking of writing a memoir.” And this was true. I was thinking about it. Just turning the idea over in my head. Most of the responses were positive, although one person begged me not to give up on fiction. Then two other people put their two- cents in. MY PARENTS.
My mom said “wonderful” at first. My father joked that as the daddy, he gets to make final edits. (I knew he was only half kidding.) And then a couple of days later, my mom sent me a txt that I should wait until after she is dead. (Another half-joke.) And this is about a book I haven’t even decided to write yet!
It’s funny how much just a little bit of (friendly, joking, why-do-you-have-to-take-everything-so serious) family pressure can freeze a person up. All I could think was how glad I am that I am already through with my new novel. Although it isn’t really autobiographical, the notion of parental displeasure is a real creativity killer.
It’s a hard place to be in. You want to write with honestly and truth, but you don’t want to hurt anyone you love. Also, you really have no idea what is going to upset them. A couple of years ago I wrote what I thought was a charming little memoir essay for the New York Times, but everyone involved was not as charmed by my remembrances. It wasn’t a big deal, but that incident knotted my stomach a little bit. I had somehow managed to offend when I hadn’t even known myself to be on sensitive ground. I can’t even imagine the landmines buried in the territory of a book-length memoir.
Of course, all this got me to thinking about the really candid memoirs I have read. Take for example Sue William Silverman’s Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You or one of my all time faves, The Only Girl In The Car. I can’t imagine how these women would have written if they were worried about anything other than the truth. Somehow they managed to shut out all the voices.
Sometimes, I can tell when my students don’t feel brave enough to tell the real story. Their work has a certain distracted quality. Reading it reminds of the feeling you get when you are talking to on the phone to someone who sounds really weird. Finally I ask the person, “Is there someone else in the room? Is that why you can’t talk?”