It’s been a few years, and there’s a chill in the air. When the time comes and my current books are launched, they may have to include a new paragraph on the copyright page. To whit:
This whole work is about me — my story about as much of the world as I’ve experienced. The world is vast. Imagining, let alone claiming, that I’m trying to speak for or in the voice of you or your family or your kinfolk, tribe, culture, religion, conspiracy theory or whatever you identify with or as — well, that’s about you and the alchemy of storytelling. If you find yourself in this work and dislike what you find, don’t make it about me. Write your own story. That’s where you’ll find what you’re looking for.
I’ve been struggling a bit with my emerging writer’s identity. I realized that, while I have many clear ideas for children’s books that I could be pitching and selling quite readily, that’s not my primary motivation right now. I’m so full of secrets that I need to tell. This is very scary. What if they get me in trouble? What if no one cares?
In this mood, I think about Bobby McFerrin, the musician who got famous for his song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” He is one of the bravest artists I have ever encountered. I remember the first time I saw him in performance, online in a video recorded after he’d repudiated “Don’t Worry.” He stood before a huge audience on an empty stage with nothing but his self and a mike, and brought the universe of human music down to earth. Every person in that dark audience, including me, was persuaded to enter his dream with dancing hearts.
And in this video, look at how he rejects the efforts of the people behind him to turn what he is doing into mere amusement, that old shuckin’ and jivin’ for the Man. The audience, after that first spontaneous tonal jump, is 100% with him, learning what he has learned, delighting as he delights. The men in the chairs — you feel sorry for them. They’re trapped in a nervous, tittering hell of their own making, while McFerrin and his happy flock are playing in Paradise.
Earlier in my life I turned my talents to making a living. Now, with the wolf farther from the door, I have space to make art. Dark stage, invisible audience, just my mind and my words. Cue the spotlight. Here we go.
I am “defecting to the typewriter”. I believe in the luck of my children, who have not devoured me; I believe in the luck of my husband and lover, who keeps a free woman. (Thank you, Carolyn Kizer!) As of March 1, 2021, I am a writer only. The first day went great. The second day started earlier and with even more enthusiasm. Here’s a little bit of what I’m working on:
In dole service I was a little more judgey, because I was older and looking for something — evidence, reasons, a clue. Dole service has a element of choice to it, at least until the choices become who you are. I was working in a market, once, wrangling folding tables and sweeping floors. It was the kind of market where the hard goods are second- or third-hand and the groceries are all past their best-before dates. A frowsty-haired woman named Brinda had a table there, displaying gloriously scented bruised pineapples and small piles of limp or desiccated vegetable items I didn’t know the names of. I bought avocados from her. I only knew one thing to do with them, a kind of creamy, spicy spread, and the very soft, beginning-to-blacken ones she offered suited that purpose. We got to talking about journeying and I said I was thinking about going home for the solstice festival.
“Oh, I never go otherwhere for something,” she said. “I just go, and see what there is when I get there.”
“Why?” I asked.
She squinched up her face as if tasting something sour. “You gotta to leave at the right time, and get the hops timed just so,” she said. “Weeks in advance, sometimes, you have to plan. And life’s not like that; you can’t count on things staying the same for long.” She shook her head. “Too chancy. I go when I want to.”
I didn’t know what to do with that. I felt sorry for her mysteriously stormy, precarious life so prone to falls. On the other hand, her reasoning felt itchy. Wasn’t it more unsettling to go any otherwhere at a moment’s notice than to go with planning and purpose? So what, or who, was chancy here?