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I’m not happy with the last chapter of my novel. I’m pleased with the way things end up, but I just don’t think that I have figured out the best way to really show that part of the story. In order to knock something loose in my head, I have been listening to a lot of music.
Since I am happy with what happens in the last chapter, just not too thrilled with the execution, I got the idea to listen to lots of different versions of the same songs. Some remakes were just tributes to the original– i.e. Mariah Carey singing “I’ll Be There.” But I ran across some other re-makes that were actually re-envisioning of the original recording. I’ve made a playlist of a few which were really helpful to me. I included both versions of each song because I am not thinking of one as an improvement over the other.
And to take this a little farther, listening to these covers may help you when you start feeling like the story you want to tell has already been “done.” It hasn’t been done yet the way you want to do it. You can take a familar story and make it brand new.
P.S. If you have other suggestions, leave them in comments
That headline is my approximation of the Twilight Zone music. You all know that I am at VCCA, way out in the boondocks. For some reason I am having trouble hooking into my work. I’ve been feeling frustrated and sort of creatively starved. But here is my horoscope:
SAGITTARIUS (Nov. 22-Dec. 21):
During his time in hiding, the Biblical prophet Elijah was kept alive by ravens who brought him food. John the Baptist survived on nothing but honey and locusts when he was roaming the wilderness. And I’m sure that some unexpected source of comfort and sustenance will likewise turn up during your wanderings, Sagittarius. It may not be what you’re used to. You might even have to cultivate a taste for nourishment that seems foreign. But stick with it. You could learn to love it, and in the process become less dependent on stuff you thought you couldn’t do without.
You can get your ‘scope, here.
I believe I am the only fan of the Sam Jackson/Nick Cage movie, Amos and Andrew, that came out in 1993. The premise is this: Sam Jackson plays a black academic big-shot who is mistaken for a criminal after his neighbors see him moving in at night. “When you see a black man carrying stereo equipment, you know what it means…” So the police set up this big operation to arrest the Big Scary Black Man. When they see him on the cover of TIME magazine, they get the cockamamie scheme to make it right. Hijinks ensue. (Best part is when Sam Jackson hits the Sheriff over the head with a skillet, but I won’t spoil it by tell you what he says while he does it.)
Well, life is imitating art over in Cambridge, Massachusetts– minus the hijinks. Professor Henry Louis Gates of Haaarvard University has been arrested. He was mistaken for a criminal as he was trying to break into his own home. One of his neighbors got scared and called the police. The police showed up and there was a “Do You Know Who I Am?” moment. The good professor, one of TIME Magazine’s 25 most influential Americans, was arrested for being “disorderly” and “tumultuous.”
I am not lying.
Update: Here is the police report. Professor Gates apparently gave the police a run for their money.
Another Update: Professor Gates has released a statement. Although the police report makes the whole incident sound like an episode of COPS, Mr. Gates’ version reads like the minutes for a NAACP board meeting.
VCCA is a nice place– lots of natural beauty and yesterday I went blackberry picking. I ma having some trouble settling in, but I think it’s because I don’t have enough to do. In a way, this is a high-class problem– being so far along on the manuscript that the work isn’t dragging me out of bed in the morning and keeping my locked in my studio. Team-T is weighing in with their comments and although they are by and large positive, there’s still work to be done. For some reason, I just don’t feel like doing it.
But enough about me. Let me tell you about VCCA (and of course there are photos). There are about 25 people here– writers, visual artists, and composers. I’ve got my own bedroom and bath. I’ve also got studio space, which is essentially an office. The food is pretty tasty, particularly the dessert situation. (That pound cake last night was the TRUTH!)
My mind is wandering, I must admit. I just don’t feel like doing anything. I want to be in NYC hanging out with my friends. I can’t tell if it’s because I don’t want to be done with the manuscript, so I am avoiding finishing or if this roadrunner has just run herself out.
I’m here at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. I’m safe, I’m sound, but I am suffering from technical difficulties when it comes to internet access. I will spare you the specific details, but I won’t be able to put up a proper post until Monday, when I can take my laptop over to Sweet Briar college to use their WiFi. I came *this close* to driving 50 miles to Lynchburg in order to veg out in a Starbucks– fancy espresso drinks + T1 connection=bliss. But then, I decided I was being a baby and should just drink drip coffee and tough it out with my blackberry.
SAGITTARIUS (Nov. 22-Dec. 21):
Don’t leave me hanging, Sagittarius. What happens next? How could you even imagine you’ve wrapped the whole thing up? According to my analysis, you’ve got at least one more riddle to solve, one more gift to negotiate, one more scar to wish upon. (Yes, that says “scar,” not “star.”) To stop pushing for more adventure at this pregnant moment would be a crime against nature and a whole chapter short of a bestseller. Get out there and bring this story home.
Is that right on time, or what? I’ll be deep into my work, but if you want to be pen pals, send me a letter or postcard. I’ll write you back:
154 San Angelo Drive
Amherst, Virginia 24521
While I was away, I caught some of the news coverage of the Obama’s visit to the Cape Coast Slave “Castle” in Accra, Ghana. I caught a few minutes of the report on CNN and I had to turn it off. This visit just wasn’t treated with the respect that it deserved.
Last November, I visited the “castle”– and that word must be used with quotation marks. It is no more a castle than Abu Graib is a castle, and more than Treblinka– despite the size and architecture. These structures– which dot the seafronts of Ghana– were torture chambers. I have never encountered a more wretched space in my life. After the “tour”, I understood why I felt haunted during my entire visit to Ghana. This was the site of mass murder of mass kidnapping, of torture and rape.
When I visited Cape Coast, I was so full of emotion that I could not speak. I mutely followed the guide from room to room. My Ghanain companion, Aisha, held my hand and it meant a lot that she was there. This was the moment in our history when we had been pulled apart. She might have been my sister, were it not for this place. Even typing this now, I am crying, although my face was oddly dry as I listened to the guide explained what had happened in that place. I didn’t cry when I touched a mark etched two feet from the floor– this is what archaeologists have determined was the level of human filth in which my ancestors had wallowed, for months. The famous “Door of No Return” is a full sized door now, through which tourists may pass, but when our ancestors went through, it was a half door, through which they were forced to crawl. Overwhelmed with grief, I found myself taking comfort in gospel music, humming “Soon and Very Soon.” My humming was sometimes so loud I couldn’t even hear the guide.
I didn’t blog this in November, because I felt like an African-American cliche. And maybe on some level, I felt shame about my level of grief, some residual generation shame about having been victimized. I evn felt a little exposed even writing about the haunted beaches of Accra. It seemed a little too New-Age or Afrocentric, but what happened on that beach did happen.
And this happened too: I left the Cape Coast “Castle”, dry-eyed, but shaken to my core. I made my way to the courtyard where my driver was to meet me. I took off my ordinary sunglasses and from them poured a steady stream of water. There was so much water streaming from my sunglasses that it wet the cobblestones and splashed on my feet. Generations of tears, as salty as the cruel ocean itself.