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After writing a post about showing up in your own life, I haven’t been doing that here… or many other places, at all.

I could blame it on any number of valid things: incapacitating migraines, being sick with this seasons flu of the month, Life®.  And all those things are true.  I’ve been a special kind of sick these past few weeks and I am not sure where or why all these various degrees of sickness have decided to descend on me now, when I have so many things to write and so many projects that I want to get up on their feet.

But I think the biggest sickness I have, has been how to get myself together.  After this July, I’ve been figuratively stumbling, forgetting, wading shin deep in my emotions.  That kind of sickness is harder to get through than a cold.  I see it and I try to forgive myself but the juggernaut of work that I had lined up for this time of year is drowning me.

If I can get through it, I know the month of December and January will mean respite.  So I am trying to trudge through.  And I know I am failing.  Miserably.

I wish I could tell you guys that I will get better at this.  Right now I just don’t know.  All I can do is try.

In all of this… upheaval though, this has been on my mind:

I think of Her… what she will look like, what she will smell like, where she will live.  And my heart takes solace that I am at least dreaming again.  Better than the darkness and stillness of my prior yearnings.

I am Lovesick.

For hugs and questions about my day and what DO I think about the color pink.  It is easy to forget the warmth of a smile or the comfort of a hug when you’re so far into your world that nothing else matters.

Until it does.

But I feel Her.

And I know I will meet Her.  And for a while, life will seem new again.  Instead of the familiar house shoe cozy that lulls me into routine and makes me forget that I am a Queen.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

That’s all I got this week.

-S

Interview

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Sandra Jean-Pierre on Self-Exploration

Sandra Jean-Pierre is a Miami-based spoken word poet and author of several self-published e-books of short fiction. An avid amateur photographer and afghan maker, her exploits and insights can be found on her website: www.sandrajeanpierre.com.

This week on the Middle Gray Mag blog, Sandra talked to us about the difference between working in prose and working in poetry, about knowing yourself and about choosing one’s words wisely.

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Your work feels very personal, yet it is presented with such a wonderful touch of artistic restraint. How do you go about using a particular writing style to present personal stories?

Umm… I think the stories step forward with a voice. If that makes sense. Some of my stories are very frank and so my style for that story would be as clean and unencumbered as possible. Other stories are emotional, so I try to write in a style that honors that emotion. The stories exist on their own, my task is to bring them to light for others to experience as well.

We featured both a nonfiction piece and a poem by you in our first issue. Do you have a preference when it comes to genre? How do you approach each genre as you sit down to write and revise?

I prefer poetry.  Because it is so much of a challenge to fit as much feeling into as few words as possible that on the onset, I’m presented with choosing my words wisely.  Which makes me consider what I want the poem to be and not be, where I want the reader to go, how I want the reader to feel, etc…  It’s like composing that one delicious bite of food – everything on that spoon has to be there for a reason, to contribute in a bigger way to the experience of what you want the recipient to enjoy.  Poetry to me is the same but with words.  That gets me excited to see what I can come up with and if I’ll be able to execute it properly.  By properly, I mean in a way that honors what I want or need to say.

I haven’t been a fan of prose because I have to find so many more words to express what I am writing.  I struggle with it sometimes. I always thought that I wasn’t very good at it.  But those who enjoy my prose tell me otherwise.  So I have to believe them.

My approach to writing poetry or prose is the same: I spend days examining the emotion and intent behind what I want to write before I ever sit down to write word one.  If I am unclear about either emotion or intent, then I keep mulling it over until I see exactly where/how I want to approach my subject matter.

Once I feel like I can put it down in words, then I sit and write.  It’s like the piece (poetry or prose) is a formless entity while it’s in my mind and the words I put down on the paper are its bones and skin and demeanor, attitude.  After I write, I generally put it away for a few days, then I’ll pass it by a proofreader if it is a piece of prose or just give it a once or twice over if it is a poem.

I try to make my pieces strong, so they can stand on their own.  They’re like children, gotta make them tough, so they can defend themselves because you won’t always be around to protect them.  And you can‘t feel bad if someone doesn’t like what you wrote.  Everything is not for everyone.  Being part of a Spoken Word troupe (Lip, Tongue & Ear 2001-2005, currently disbanded) helped me to not be shy about the things that I write or present.  So I thank them for that.

How much responsibility do you think writers have to explore themselves as people before they work on their craft?

You have to write what you know.  And in order to know, you need to examine yourself, your experiences.  No matter how painful or terrible it may feel.  I think really connecting with that lesson within a particular situation in your life pushes you to be authentic, which opens you to write from a place of knowing and understanding, which ultimately allows your readers to connect to you.

So know yourself, which will make your writing better.  And you don’t have to know “all” about yourself before you begin writing.  We are ever growing and changing beings, so waiting until you’ve figured yourself out, isn’t realistic.  Start with one something and it will spread to other things.  For example, my early poetry was about “The Struggle” of being under-employed and having to deal with social services that weren’t really there to help you succeed.  Now my pieces are more about emotions and memories.  I kept writing through it all, as I learned more and more about myself.

Who would you say are your main literary influences? Why?

Langston Hughes was the poet who started me down my poetry path.  I remember being a high school senior and having to do a report about a literary figure.  Being the semi-militant that I was in my mind, I set out to research someone black.  Being also the lazy high schooler that I was, I chose poetry because I could read a bunch of poems and not have to read a tome before I was able to do my report.  But when I read Langston’s Jive:

That’s the way I stay alive.

My motto,

as I live and learn,

is

Dig and be dug

In return.”

…my brain felt lit up like a pinball machine.  It’s like I heard the jazz notes, I felt the rhythm.  The line breaks captivated me.  ‘You could do that?’ I remember saying out loud when I read this piece over and over.  It was a piece of art on the page and on my tongue.  I was in awe that black words on white paper, written so many years ago by someone I never met, could still jump off the page and dance in my imagination like it did.  To this day, I am a devout Langston Hughes lover.

I try to write like Langston so that my words too, in 50 years will still carry the same emotion and spirit as when I wrote it.  And maybe a lazy, militant high schooler can write a report about me.

What aspirations do you have when it comes to your work? What would you like to accomplish as a writer?

I hope my work inspires, motivates, stirs the emotions, makes people think, makes them sad, makes them determined, makes them mindful.  As a writer I want my stories to be there, like a mid-wife, for someone else who may be going through something similar.  That they know that they will make it, cause I did.  And that it’s okay in the end.

How much has the education you have received helped you as a writer?

I think my education helped to expose me to structure.  Though I write with emotion, if I didn’t write along with discipline, I wouldn’t write quite as much as I do.  Education makes you disciplined.  My education has also exposed me to different authors, ideas, conventions that on my own, I probably wouldn’t have found.  So, umm, go to school.

 What social or cultural aspects would you like to see more prominently featured in today’s literary magazines and journals?

I’d like to see more Haitian American voices.  We’re out there, our struggle with not being Haitian enough for the Haitian people, yet not being American enough for American people is real.  I’d like to hear more stories about that.  As well as stories about disabled people that isn’t about pity or how much of a disadvantage being disabled is.  I am a strong disabled person and there is nothing pity-worthy about me. I haven’t found a way to write those stories with balance, so they’re not written yet.

What would you say to readers who enjoyed your Middle Gray work and would like to see more from you?

Some of my better/personal writings can be found on my website www.sandrajeanpierre.com.

There are some small ebooks available, as well as my blog posts.

Show Up

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A continuous theme I have running in my head is to Show Up, in my own life especially.  I have a knack of showing up for things and other people but not for myself in the ways that matter the most.

But I showed up for myself the other day…

Here is the FB post (yeah, I’m one of those Facebook posters) I wrote about it:

A very lovely Handlebar Mustachioed Gentleman paid for my Iced Tea Lemonade at Starbucks this afternoon. He was in line ahead of me and did a double take when I pulled up behind him. Thinking nothing of the stares I get when I go out, I minded the business at hand of finding my Starbucks card in my bottomless pit of a purse and otherwise ignored him, though I found his mustache intriguing.

When It was my turn to pay for my order, the equally nice cashier waved me on. I was confused. He then pointed to the Mustachioed Gentleman and said he paid for me. When I tried to approach him to thank him, he pretended to be about some very serious business on his cell phone.

So as we both waited for our drinks, I positioned myself by the door, so he would have to pass me on his way out. On cue, his drink was served up and he made a mad dash for the exit, at which point I piped up a sincere, albeit quiet ‘Thank You.’, to which he replied an equally heartfelt ‘You’re welcome Baby’.

Now, not being one for names of affection, I generally scoff at being called ‘Honey’, ‘Baby’ and the ilk, unless I know you. But something about this man and how he cared for me today allowed me to receive his gift of Humanity, of Thoughtfulness, of Love wholeheartedly.

This small exchange reminded me about Showing Up in your own life. My intention today was to make a quick dash to the store and then to squirrel myself away to write. But a wild hair sparked my sense of adventure and I took off for the familiar unknown. For my obedience to heed the call of Life, I was rewarded with $1.00 worth of winnings on a scratch-off (though I lost it on the second scratch-off I purchased – it was fun anyway), an elevator ride with a gaggle of handsome, funny gentlemen, a free iced tea lemonade, wonderful service where ever I went and the most comfortable seating in my own chair that I have experienced in some days due to pain in my side.

Before planning out what I wanted to do today, I set the intention that ‘Today will be an Awesome Day’. And it was because I was present and Showed Up everywhere I went.

Today, was a really good day. #ShowUp

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

-S

Ever After

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I was one of those kids who wasn’t ever satisfied when the teacher got to the end of the story with a “happily ever after.”  I would always wait to see if she would continue and let me know what happened next.  Like there would be a sneak peak into what the characters did once their current situation was resolved.

I remember once, in my first grade class, urging the teacher to turn the light blue end pages of the book she had just read to us so we could get to the ‘next part’.  When asked what I meant, I proceeded to explain that I wanted to know what the characters did after they got what they wanted.  Were they still nice to one another?  Did they cook dinner?  Did they do laundry?  Was there any more trouble from the villain/monster and how did they fix it this time?

When told that was it, I felt a deep sense of loss.  How could that be it!?  How did the characters just disappear after all the time we had just spent learning about them, getting to know them?  How could the closing of the book be ‘The End’?

I think I, subconsciously at that point, decided that the only way I would be able to break this code (for surely there was more to the stories than what the teachers were letting on) was if I learned how to read and read the pages of the books myself.  That way, I would be able to know for myself, all the things that the teachers and adults had left out either because they were tired of reading to me or because they thought I didn’t need to know.

Cut to the point in first grade were I am learning about Jane and Dick and how repetitive their world was.

Jane has a hat.
Dick has a bat.
Jane and Dick sat on a mat.

Definitely not story like at all.  Never mind the fact that they weren’t brown like me.  I was more curious about why Jane had a hat.  Where did it come from?  Why does she have one?  Did she like it?  I wasn’t interested in Dick and his bat because I wasn’t sure what a bat was or why someone would have one or need one.

I remember pushing the Jane and Dick book away and telling my teacher that I didn’t want to read that one, that I wanted to read ones like what she read to the class.  Imagine my dismay at finding out that I had to suffer through Jane and Dick’s ridiculousness before I got to the juicy good books with magical worlds and those hidden After pages.  My world felt like it went grey as my eyes glazed over and my mind went numb from Jane and Dick and their stupidness.

But I persevered. Until I got to Dr.Seuss.  I thought my brain was gonna implode.  There were words like that?!  That sounded alike but were different?  What did they mean?  How did you learn to say them?  Who ate green eggs (where did you get green eggs?) and what was ham?

Fast forward to fourth grade, where I was a solid reader at this point, learning about planets, science and sports figures like Pete Rose and Darryl Strawberry.  As long as there were words, sentences and some type of story line, I was in.

And then I was asked to write a story.

What?  What do you mean write a story?

Imagine some place or something and then write about it.

And so I thought, long and hard.  The blank page of my black and white composition book staring back at me, waiting for my mind to spill forth and populate its lines with my ideas.  So I wrote.  Pages and pages.  About elves who lived in a tree and who had conflict and cooked dinner and cleaned but didn’t want to and there were problems with the tree and… and…

My patient teacher, Mr. Patrone, had to reign me in and help give my story structure.  What do you mean I can’t put all that in there?  But it’s my story and this is what the elves do!  But alas, I relinquished and cut my story to four pages… of college ruled paper.  I felt intimidated about using the ‘special paper’ and a pen (!) but I took my time and used my best penmenship.

Mr. Patrone put my story up on the bulletin board, where people would read it (!!!) after I got done reading it to the class… and at the assembly of other classes.  It felt surreal, for teachers to pat me on the back and to tell me that I did such a great job of stringing words together and making a story.

It still feels weird today when people tell me that something in my poem or stories called out to them and then pulled them in.  I get numb when I see someone purchased one of my eBooks online.  I always hold my breath, wondering if they’ll think it’s the worst thing they’ve ever read and wonder why I bother to write.

Artist fears.  But I still keep writing, about the ‘Afters’, about the struggles, about the thoughts and actions beyond the blue end pages.  Those stories need to be told to.

-S

Writing

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Was given 8 questions not too long ago about my writing and what it means to me and other things.

Got me thinking.

Even in the midst of the chaos that swirls about me, writing has always been a life line. When I ignore it, when I treat it like a mistress, when I fall in love with it like the first time over and over and over again… It never does me wrong. It is always there to mark my existence, my presence, that I’ve mattered, that I matter, that I have something to say.

Writing challenges me and wants better of me and for me. If only I would listen to it long enough and not be afraid of all the corners it has to show me, all the corners I am afraid will swallow me, that it knows won’t harm me.

And when I am exhausted, (like tonight) having given my everything to these black words on white paper, these words that have no end… It’s there I find mySelf and all the things I never knew I needed.

Yes, I write. But more often than not, writing Writes Me.

-S

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