Sunday, July 7, 2019

Paving the Way, Paying it Forward

Originally written for and posted on Straw Dog Writers Guild website:

My interest in writing emerged when I first relocated to Western Massachusetts in 2007.  Joining a writing a performance group as a way to learn more about the area and make friends, I discovered a hidden passion for scripting story through poetry.  From there, I began writing plays, maintaining a blog and even writing articles for local newspapers.  I uncovered a gift that laid dormant for some time…as I did win a statewide poetry competition in third grade back in Michigan.

Fast forward to 2011.  I had a substantial amount of writing and thought to start submitting for publication.  Like many writers, I got rejected from countless journals, emerging writers’ competitions, retreats and workshops that required an in-depth application and intense screening process and anthologies geared towards supporting writers like myself.  I gave up for quite a bit, not practicing art for several years.  Though returning back to writing in 2017, I stopped submitting as I was told that I needed to learn the science of getting accepted.

Frustrated, I reached out to friends and acquaintances who have been published before to inquire and identify what I was doing wrong and what I needed to understand about this very competitive process.  I was told things from find a mentor to apply for an MFA in Creative Writing to just continue blindly shooting your shot. All of these things cost something, whether it’s time, dignity or a lot of money – as I possess an MFA in another field and have already acquired a significant amount of debt.

Later in 2017, my life was suddenly derailed unexpectedly. By Christmas, both parents have died (both sudden). As many loved ones do, my mother and father left behind money so that I can care for myself beyond their days.  Thinking back to all of those rejections, I decided to take power in my own hands in order to garner exposure of my work.  In 2018, taking all of the work that I’ve written since 2009 I self-produced a spoken word album.

Thinking of all of the lessons my parents had taught me, I felt the need to do something for other writers who may not have the means that I do. I am taking the income generated from album sales to create a fellowship program for emerging women and gender nonbinary writers of color – people like me who may be experiencing similar hardship in finding their foot in the door in this industry.

I specifically chose Straw Dog Writers Guild to host this program as not only do they support writers of all stages, they have welcomed me and my work with open arms helping me to get the exposure my labor of love has deserved for so long.  Under Straw Dog’s auspices, I’ve been a featured reader at open mics and have served as an MC for several events including Voices for Resistance and the Dead Writers Dance – multiple opportunities to have my work finally heard.

We will be hosting our first fellow in 2020.  This program, which will run 12 months, will occur on a biennial basis.  We will recruit applicants from all four counties, those represented by Straw Dog membership:  Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden.  With the intent of meeting the needs of the fellow and their current writing goals, we will provide mentors to assist with craft and other guidance on the business of the industry. The fellow will also receive a stipend and will have access to a one-week residency at Patchwork Farm.  At the conclusion of the year, the fellow will share their work during a public reading.

We would love your support!  There are several ways to get involved in this initiative.  Through volunteering as a mentor or making a financial contribution, you will have an opportunity to get in on the ground level of supporting a groundbreaking program in Western Massachusetts. You can either make a direct donation to the Emerging Writers’ Fellowship Fund or purchase one of my CDs as I will continue donating proceeds to this cause. We anticipate opening the application submission process in early August and will announce our first fellow by November.

To purchase my CD, please contact me directly.  I'll be more than happy to autograph your copy as well!

I would like to personally thank everyone who has contributed thus far to this program and to those who will give in the near future.  It means a lot to have the support of my community in embracing our next generation of writers.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Whose Body is it Anyway?

For those who know me well, you'd find it very ironic 
that my blog post has this photo (my deathly fear of snakes).  
But this image captures so much with so little.

"Putting yourself on the market" is a reference mainly associated with the act of dating.  When you think about the hustle that comes along with looking for "the one," this sentiment makes complete sense.  For those of you who (like me) are mostly meeting people through sites and apps like OKCupid, Bumble, Plenty of Fish (one I haven't tried yet for a host of reasons), Match, Tinder, and FetLife (yes, I've been on this site and will dedicate an entire blog post to this "adventure"), you have to think of strategic ways to sell yourself.  Write the perfect profile introduction.  Post the most desirable, yet tasteful, photos to catch someone's attention.  And then, be cautious about what you choose to share with that person once you've started conversation.  Dating is more than a game.  Dating has literally become a system of commodification - people going above and beyond (and in many cases, doing things they find unfavorable) to be taken off said "market."

I thought about this concept as I reflected on a charged exchange from a particular Facebook post from a few days ago - one that I posted, of course.  I wrote the post in response to recent legislations passed in Missouri and Alabama around abortion.  I stated something along the lines of how can cisgender, heterosexual men these day proclaim to want unprotected sex (well, their words usually are "I want to cum inside you" or "shoot my huge load in you") with lack of commitment all the while conservatives are trying their best to abolish women's rights to choose how to proceed with an unwanted pregnancy or one where her doctor and her family may find not be in the best interest of the "carrier" (said future mother) and the child.  The person challenging my statement said (paraphrased) what about both sides and both people when it comes to this act.  I asked for more details but the conversation went off course.  While I wasn't able to gather enough information to garner a meaning behind what the responder was attempting to say, I did think about this notion of "both sides."

What I think this person meant is that it takes two people to partake in an act that could lead to an unwanted pregnancy.  While a man can propose wanting to have sexual intercourse without a condom, the woman would have to oblige in order for said act to take place.  Here's where I'd like to call b***s*** on the notion that the woman has the right to back out and say "no."

Patriarchy, unfortunately, defines many relationships.  I highly believe that women who are interested in dating men create this persona so that they can be found attractive, henceforth taken off the "market".  I'm definitely guilty of it.  The women of Uppity Negress podcast calls this group the "pick mes"where cis women interested in dating cis men do particular things for men to find them desirable.  I've fallen into this trap a million times!  

Men who I've met online have all given me the same story upon the initial meeting.  They can see me as a potential long term romantic partner and they can make good on the ills left behind by those before them...the numerous men who have rapped the same lines before and left collateral damage because they've hurt me so badly (this is going into my memoir but when men who have gone out with me more than once end things, they tend to give an unsolicited exit interview offering the reasons why I suck as a girlfriend and why they've decided to date a specific other woman...and in many cases, they share explicit detail on who the woman is and why they deem her better than me). 

We go out on the first date.  Things go swimmingly and then the end of night dating ritual falls upon us.  They mention wanting to have sex with me, which honestly, I'm game to having one night stands and have offered this many times...but men continue to say that what they want with me is much more than that but in the end, it becomes the one night stand as they vanish after the first date.  And, they tack onto the "proposal" how badly they want to have sex with me without a condom (of course, using the choice constructed sentences I mentioned earlier).  Along with other words and displays of affection, many of them I rarely hear as I don't think that I fit the stereotype of what I think men are looking for, I give in.  Following those who have came before them, they have completely vanished immediately the next day.  I log onto the dating app where I initially met them and they've blocked me (with OKCupid, you can tell because your message thread vanishes and you can't find them on your "like" list) and when I go to contact them via the cell phone number they've provided, I call and get transferred to voicemail OR the text message is never "delivered" as many of these men have iPhones.  So, I've been blocked from any and all communication.  And what's extremely upsetting about all of this is if I were to come up pregnant or contract an STI from our "one nighter," I have no way of reaching these men to let them know the news.  While I could have said no to sex, these men need to take more responsibility for their actions...either by insisting we use a condom, not have sex at all or completely tell the truth and be honest about what it is they're looking for as oppose to misleading me to believe that there could be more.

There's been this major shift in the culture, one that I hope to identify as there are so many other women like me who have and continue to share in these experiences.  What is happening?! What has changed?! Why are men like this?!

Though not directly related, yet it could be as I suspect many of the men who move through the world in this way are also some of the men pushing for these laws, I find it quite strange that there's so many cisgender heterosexual men who are 1) willing and wanting to have unprotected sex, 2) disengaging with women upon completion of desired sexual act, AND 3) pushing legislation preventing me from making the decision that I need to make if the unlikely outcome of the one night of splendid bliss is what I'm being blocked from having the autonomy to make the best decision for myself.  I cannot believe that in 2019 I'm asking the question "whose body is it anyway"?!