There and Back Again

dscn1547.jpgSo I just got back from another adventure! This time I visited various places in Idaho.

So I spent three days exploring places, and interviewing for some teaching positions. I’m excited to take my love for literature from the inter-webz to people’s faces by sharing that passion and energy with students!

For now, it’s nice to be back home in Portland and in my pyjamas.

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New Year, New Look!

typewriter

I’m excited to launch the new website to coincide with the first day of National Poetry Month! As you may have noticed, I’ve been MIA since last year, mainly sticking to twitter to reaffirm every now and then that I’m still around and goodreads to share the books I’m reading.

All of that time I’ve been working on this! Hoping to get it done by the new year, and then when that didn’t happen, I wanted to launch it by…today!And here it is!

Some things have stayed the same: I’ll continue to do Monday Poetry Prompts and cover all things literary!

So what’s new?

There’s this gorgeous new look of course!

Additionally, I’ve separated the writing prompts from the articles for easy navigation. I’ve added a section so you can see my first published book and other writing projects! And I’ve got a spiffy new about me section.

By summertime, I’m hopefully going to be offering other things, such as free e-book downloads, giveaways, and more!

Click around and explore!

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Tribute to Jim Harrison

jim-harrison-tributeJim Harrison—writer and poet best known for “Legends of the Fall”—passed away on Saturday, March 26th, at the age of 78.

He has published over 30 books, including novels, novellas, essays, and poetry. His best known work, “Legends of the Fall” was made into a movie in 1994.

I first encountered Harrison’s work when I was still in high school, during my first few years living abroad in the United States. I had come to the U.S. to attend an arts boarding high school so I could become a novelist. I had barely written anything outside of fiction, and never really planned to.

It was after reading Harrison’s “Letters to Yesenin” that my writing life took a sharp turn. That book was a watershed moment for me, and made me yearn to know language more intimately than I had thought possible before then. I started to write poetry.

And not just in general, but specifically, I started to write poems addressed to him. In fact, most of my poems start out as letters to him whether they stay that way or not.

I can’t truly describe what he has done for me. But all I can say is that his words changed me for the better.

Everyone has that book or writer that opened a whole new world for them, and he was, is, mine. I will never thank him enough for that.

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On Charleston.

10-charleston-mourning-blog-postThese past ten days I was able to bury myself in a community of writers at my last residency as an MFA in Writing candidate at Pacific University. For my graduate reading, I took a long time to craft the following statement, which I read at campus chapel.

“At her reading, Dorianne [Laux] asked us to think about Charleston. I’m sure many of us were thinking about it before we got here. Here’s what struck me: the terrorist who went into a historic Black church, killed nine people, and left one alive so she could tell us what he had done, that terrorist is 21 years old.

Think about that number, that age. For a while there was this idea in the ether that when all the old, racist farts died off the world would be better. And as a woman of color, and millennial, I’m telling you that it’s not true.

We live in a time when everyone agrees that racism is bad, but we will not talk about the institutionalization of racism and how it breeds new racists. This is a time when we can easily condemn a White celebrity chef for saying the N-word, but not an economic policy that makes jailing young Black men profitable. We agree racism is bad, but don’t know what it is, and refuse to talk about it. There is a haunting silence we walk through.

I say this, not just because of my heavy sense of political and civic duty, but because my relationship to poetry is directly tied to my experience as a racialized entity, when I moved to the United States. Eight years ago, I went from being a full person, to being a Brown person. Eight years ago, I went from writing fiction, to writing poetry. I don’t believe it was a coincidence, in fact I know it was not.

Now, since we are in a chapel, I thought it would be appropriate to take some influence from the Bible that these nine people had believed in. And I say to you, regardless of any religious, political, cultural, or racial affiliation: if you are a writer, and believe in the Word, and that the word is good, is necessary, is life, then it is your, as well as my duty, to break the silence.

I don’t mean we all need to bang our drums and scream, there are degrees to this—read the names aloud like Tyehimba [Jess], ask for a moment of meditation and remembrance like Lin, read a poem like Vievee [Francis] and Tom, or, like Dorianne did, just ask yourself and others to think about it.

In Islam, the Shaheed, or the martyr, those who died fulfilling a duty to God, is honored with a place in heaven. I would like to again, read aloud the names of the martyrs, and would like to add the names of three Muslim American students who were killed by an Islamophobe in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, this February.

Pastor Clementa Pickney
Tywanza Sanders
Cynthia Hurd
Reverend Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
Myra Thompson
Ethel Lee Lance
Reverend Daniel Simmons
Reverend DePayne Middleton-Doctor
Susie Jackson

and from Chapel Hill,
Deah Barakat
Yusor Abu-Salha
Razan Abu-Salha

And, ending this note, I want to ask you to think about Charleston, think about yourselves, think about your place in the world, and who you are, and why you are.”

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Another writing adventure!

09-writing-adventure-blog-postJust a quick update, i’ll be heading to the winter residency for Pacific University’s MFA in Writing!! While i’ll be an absorbing sponge for the next ten days, I will be checking in.

 

In the meantime follow me on twitter as I’ll be posting the awesome things I’m learning!

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#SupportWNDB

08-we-need-diverse-books-blog-postThere’s something magical happening on Twitter!

The “We Need Diverse Books” campaign is fundraising! I donated what I could (tahirra.blogs), and I hope you will too.

I’ll post a larger article on this topic soon, but for now, follow @diversebooks, @wordsxborders, and #SupportWNDB to see all the amazing stuff people are saying.

Best!

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“Slam Knuckles on Keyboard” or Why Noveling Hurts Some(Most)times

07-noveling-hurts-blog-postSo. Novels. They kind of suck.

Don’t get me wrong! I’m very happy to attempt to write another, and grateful I finished one. (A very, very, very, awful draft of one, but hey there was an ending, right?)

So way back in ancient internet times (October) I wrote a post on strategies to keep moving on a novel focusing on plot. It came out of my own problems with a novel I was working on, and I thought it’d be fun to use a post and just explicate that problem.

As I wracked my brain for words to fill pages, my roommate Sara was an awesome influence. She encouraged me daily to write, often just asking, “did you write today?” Most days the answer would be a simple yes/no followed by either her praise or chastisement. One day, I answered:

“Yeah. I’m up to 50K words. And I just realized I have to trash it all.” *Bang head here*

Good people, I give you: The Process.

So it’s been a good six months since then, and I’ve finally pieced together the problems with that first incomplete draft. There was a lot, but they generally fell into two categories:

1) What I didn’t know:

  • I didn’t know my 1st main character, her motivations, her inner dialogue, how she percieves herself and her world, etc. I didn’t even know her favorite color… Well, I knew her name:)
  • I didn’t know the world the story took place in, it’s political and social structure(s), it’s history, the race/gender/class ratios, the geography, or its current politcal/social issues.
  • I didn’t know the motivations of my 2nd main character (I knew more about her personally at least), she’s an old woman who has been dormant for years, so why now does she get active and seek out Main Character 1?
  • I didn’t know the motivation of the antagonists (this has a lot to do with not knowing the world and it’s status quo) like, why the hell are they so mean and angry? And how the hell do they even know about MC1? And what information do they have to even give a crap about her?

To basically summarize issue group #1:

Sidenote: OMG! Game of Thrones Season 4!

Side note: OMG! Game of Thrones Season 4!

 

Well, now that #1 has been explicated, let me illustrate issue group #2: Imagine chugging away on a keyboard (or in my case, writing by hand in a notebook) and deciding one day arbitrarily, “hey I should read this through just to get a feel of the pacing” (or in other words, “how shall I procrastinate now?”).

2) The fact that in 50K words, nothing was happening:

Seriously. There’s about 30,000 words of a group of characters camping. And nothing happens (beside some stupid drama that has little to do with the overall plot). Part of this is my problem with outlining. I am an “outliner”, and a “re-outliner”, usually though this means that I have certain moments in mind, and I keep writing bleckh till I get there. My brain goes: Ok this character needs to die, but that one already fell off a cliff, is it too soon? I guess so. Well, I’ll just fill a few more pages and make time pass for this person to die.

Not a good strategy. It’s one thing to keep writing, it’s another thing to keep writing nothing. Outlining can be a crutch, and its good to recognize when you need to leave the plodding and free write for a while. It’s harder than it seems, trust me. More so if you were invested in the ideas before you started writing them (in the editing process, we call removing those parts “killing the baby”).

But for about 30-40K words, I would not, could not, kill the baby, and so I ended up writing a bunch of stuff I couldn’t save. And killing 50K words was so much harder than it would have been to just leave the outline and the preconceived ideas I had.

Sum up issue 2:

Come on, we all know why you read it.

Come on, let’s just be honest about our expectations here…

So, that’s my story. After working my butt off, I’m back to no words.

Now you are reading this and thinking, “Ok, what the hell was the point in all that?”

What I’m trying to say is, for any novelists out there, you are not alone. For any new ones, this is not a bad thing (it sucks, but it’s not bad). Be flexible. Let the process take you where it needs to.

Why?

Well, I have a happy ending to give you!

Realizing what my issues really were, I decided to analyze the characters I had. One character stuck out. She was so interesting, and I knew her so well. Yes I had an outline on her too, but it was very vague, which gave me room to explore. (Also, she lives in a BAMF world that I get to travel around with her!)

 

Now I’ve put that 50k mess on hold and started a different novel with a character I know very well, and a real plot with both outer and inner conflict! Hooray!

And writing a novel has gone back to being fun again. Faith restored.

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#CancelColbert and the “White Conservative Caricature” Dilemma

On Thursday the Twittersphere blew up over the “Cancel Colbert” hashtag started by “hashtag activist” Suey Park. The campaign was in response to a Colbert Report joke that was tweeted out of context from the Comedy Central promotional account (not affiliated with Stephen Colbert).

Original Tweet from Comedy Central Account

Original Tweet from Comedy Central Account

The offensive tweet (now deleted) was the punch-line Colbert used to demonstrate the ridiculousness of Daniel Snyder’s real-life “The Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation.” For any who don’t know, “redskins” is a slur for Native Americans.

The joke aired on the Wednesday night show, but the outrage did not surface till the offending tweet was published the following day. The hashtag sought to promote conversation of “safe racism” (would this be debatable if he had used the N-word?), and the tendency of white comedians and white activists to hide their racist remarks/tendencies under the Progressive label.

Response Tweets from Suey Park

Response Tweets from Suey Park

Long story short, as the hashtag gained popularity, the conversation derailed into: “Don’t you understand satire?” “Yes, I know satire!” “Stop being sensitive!” “Stop defending racists!” And the always expected death/rape/go-kill-yourself threats otherwise known as the “dark matter” of the internet. (Ok, so I made that up… still fits.)

Amongst the back-and-forth tweets between the pro-hashtag and anti-hashtag camps very few gems of criticism were available.

Dan Snyder gets a break

Daniel Snyder gets a break

When this ends, there really won’t be much of a concrete pay-off in terms of this battle, so everyone seems to be scrambling to find a “take-away”. (If you think smart, successful, and riskier activists such as MLK didn’t pick and plan their battles you need to watch the documentary “Eyes on the Prize.”)

Some look at the practicality of “hashtag activism” (and yes, I personally do separate hashtag and “click” activism from activism), some comment on how to conduct yourself in a twitter debate, some comment on the effect of in-fighting for larger movements, and some wonder whether all voices should be equally heard in a debate (I don’t take kindly to white tears either), or what it means to have Michelle “pro-Asian internment camps” Malkin as an ally, etc.

One problem that was overlooked was Stephen Colbert.

I’m saying this as a fan, who does not–as a woman of color, Muslim, non-American–get offended by his show. And for future reference, of course I mean the character not the man.

Colbert is a caricature of neo-con, conservative media. His show is a mirror to that of Bill O’Reilly’s on Fox News. He extends the assumptions, beliefs, actions, and talking points of conservatives to their logical extremes. When I laugh at his jokes, I’m thinking, “Oh my gosh, they [conservatives] would totally say that! How stupid! How outdated!” etc. I’m exercising my sense of superiority.

For argument sake I’ll call this “White Conservative Caricature,” WCC for short (not to be confused with the White Citizens Council).

In demonstrating WCC there is inherently a problem: how do you approach the caricature of white conservative beliefs without drawing upon the ideas (or -isms) that have historically made up that identity?

In plain English, how can one play a racist without saying something racist? How can one play a sexist without saying something sexist? How can one pretend to be homophobic without saying something homophobic?

The history of conservative White America is not a pretty one. When taking on WCC you’re incorporating a history of colonialism and chattel-slavery, and more domestically: “Black Face,” “Yellow Face,” Cold War hysteria, McCarthyism, etc., frankly a lot of bad crap. (Please spare me the white tears, I know not all white history is bad.)

In Colbert’s case, it’s true that some instances have been more successful than others. For instance, when “defending” Bill O’Reilly’s racist remarks (about Asians), Colbert used “technical difficulties” and his lawyers as a moment to highlight key problems with stereotyping (even as a compliment), and Twitter did not explode.

Bill O’Reilly’s Racial Insensitivity

Many have criticized that Colbert doesn’t walk the line between satire and oppression, he “tramples it” when it comes to topics such as transphobia.

The topic of “safe racism” fits well in this observation. It is safe to say that Colbert will probably never come out on set with black paint all over his face. Certain acts of racism will never be deemed acceptable in any context (though it doesn’t stop some from trying). This then begs the question for some groups who don’t have that level of “protection” why some acts of racism are always unacceptable and not all.

Ultimately one wonders if a character such as a WCC is always inherently harmful because of the history, privilege, and oppression it must draw upon.

I still enjoy the show, but #CancelColbert did succeed in making me think more about the toll a caricature like this may have on the oppressed peoples it tries to lift up through satire.

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At the Gala!: The Wonderful World of the Residency

06-at-the-gala-blog-postHappy New Year! And with the New Year comes a new experience for me: my first Winter MFA Residency with Pacific University.

This residency takes place at Seaside, OR rather than on campus. Students and faculty are put up in hotels, and spend ten glorious days in workshops, craft talks, classes, faculty readings, graduate presentations, and student readings. It’s non-stop, action-packed, awesomeness starting at 9:00 am and ending at (if you attend everything in a single day) 10:00pm.

It’s tiring, but I crawl gleefully to bed every night. This being my second residency (the start to my second semester), I feel like I know the terrain better. It’s also nice to feel like I can do my part to welcome new students, just as others welcomed me when I first arrived in June.

I thought it’d be interesting to post an example of the schedule, so here is the itinerary from Jan 12, 2014:

7:00am-8:30am            Breakfast

9:00am-10:00am          Craft Talk: “The Art of the Interview” with Judy Blunt

10:15am-Noon                Workshop
(During this time, graduate students typically have their Thesis reviews.)

Noon-1:30                         Lunch

1:30pm-2:30pm              Craft Talk: “Earn the Vomit: How Poets Write the Grotesque”
with Anna Journey

2:45pm-3:45pm              Craft Talk: “Fiction Faculty Passages” with Bonnie Jo
Campbell

4:00pm-5:30pm             Graduate Student Readings

6:00pm-7:00pm             Dinner

7:30pm-8:30pm             Faculty Reading and Book Signing

9:00pm-10:00pm          Student Reading (Sign-up to share your work)

That, my friends, is just one day! And yes, after just two days it felt like I was here for at least a couple weeks (in a good way). Its nice, like it was at the National Book Festival, to re-immerse myself into the larger conversations we as writers (and artists in general) have about art and the world. I even start referring to myself as a writer (weird!).

How do I feel, you may ask? Well, a lot like this:

Cheers!

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At the 2013 National Book Festival

03-book-fair-blog-post

me_Arthur

Meeting Arthur for the first time!

This weekend was the 2013 National Book Festival in D.C. For those of you who don’t know, the NBF is a yearly gathering of book lovers hosted by the president and first lady. I’m pretty sure it was started by Laura Bush as part of her literacy cause. Anyways, its two days of readings, book signings and special events in all genres.

Of course the first thing I did was get in line to meet Arthur!

Walking around and taking in the atmosphere on the National Mall was wonderful. The crowd was different than those small groups standing outside Capitol Hill on the mornings I go to work. It was jovial, and a sense of comradery filled me as I listened, read, and explored with my (later aching) feet, the journeys I’ve taken with my mind.

Because that is what this was about, a physical celebration of books, and reading, and what that means.

Immediately, I hung around the Children’s literature with my friend Sara who had the right idea of making me attend even though I was feeling sick. Children’s literature, you see, is the area I would like to one day work in as an editor.

Author Richard Peck read from his book “The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail,” combining his reading with commentary and his insights on writing.

(Cool thing he mentioned: his current book, and last book end on the same day in the same building, two doors apart. You don’t have to read in a particular order!)

It was wonderful for many reasons. But the part that lifted me most was at the end when a woman asked: how can I encourage kids to read?

Capitol Hill

Capitol Hill

He answered,

“They must be read to before they can read themselves. It’s not a school problem; it’s a home problem.”

Both my parents are readers, but I didn’t know that till I was in my teens. Before then, I rarely saw my parents with a book. I, being the kid who didn’t move an inch for hours to finish a book,  mistook their concern for a dislike of reading. I guess it is reasonable to want your child to eat healthy and take proper bathroom breaks…

But I compare my reading habits to say, my boyfriend, who grew up with parents who not only read in front of him on a regular basis, but recommended books. And, of course,  before he could read he was read to.

And gosh darn-it, today he’s much more well-read than I am! Can I add two points to my score since his mom is a librarian?

But I think parental involvement is important for any subject. I write better because when I was younger, my mother would correct my work with me. And over the summer she would buy math workbooks for my siblings and I to give us an hour or two of summer school every day. Today, I’m probably a better mathematician, than I am a reader. At least according to my GRE scores…

What I loved about the NBF was that there were so many parents with young children carrying new books to read later. They were all blossoming book lovers!

So this is really a blog to say: Thank you to the organizers, donors, participants and volunteers for making this happen every year.

And, thank you especially, to those parents who are instilling a love of books in their children. Makes my heart soar!

On the Merry-Go-Round

With my orange NBF bag!

I ended the day with a ride on the first Merry-Go-Round to desegregate in 1963. I believe I read about that somewhere…😉

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