Fanon and Red Balloons

So this blog is a long awaited project for me. Or should I say, long procrastinated. I honestly don’t know why blogs are so important– although I do read them– I feel like they are a little like extended Facebook posts– not really enough space to get into anything completely tantalizing, but enough to catch a readers eye and interject a question, or at least, a moment of hilarity.

I don’t know that this blog will do either of those things, but I do know that as a writer, I need deadlines, and a monthly, if not bi-weekly post may help me stick to the program. So bare with me as I fumble through this process of writing, posting, and dreaming while spending my days with my daughter and a job and a home and partner.

I am now part of a writing accountability group that spawned out of last year’s Confluence– an annual gathering of radical folks of color that I organize each year. So many of us are writers– scholars, song writers, poets, playwrights, bloggers, novelists — that an accountability group made sense.

I can’t begin to discuss how this has changed things for me. I have never been part of a functional writers circle, let alone one with women I trust on so many levels.

Women of color need spaces like this. They are especially sound when we build them ourselves, as we have here.

Anyway, we have calls once a week, hold each other to deadlines, text each other wake up! and write write write reminders, and review each other’s work.

I sent in a piece recently to one of the sistahs who is a woman I have admired for years. She is a friend, and a mentor, and an amazing organizer and mother. Her son is a genius. I’m serious. He started using words like “despite” and “otherwise” when he was two, and if you are ever in need of a humbling conversation, of a profound question to the likening of Fanon, go have a conversation with this young brother. He will change your life. A couple of years ago we were talking about music, and he brought up Tracy Chapman’s Revolution. Said “doesn’t that song make you feel like it feels when you are fighting for justice? Like, very happy but sad at the same time?”

He was four when he said that. Four!

Watching him grow through the years and watching his parents raise him with such an overwhelming sense of dignity, has posed some challenging questions for me as a parent. I imagine, and have witnessed their struggles, living the delicate balance of exposing reality to their child while maintaining his child’s sense of imagination and dreaming and goodness…

So the piece I sent in for review. It was actually my first attempt at a children’s story, and it was dedicated to the children of my group of friends. I don’t want to talk too much about character or plot here (maybe one day it will be published and you can see for yourself! Cross your fingers!) but suffice it to say that the kids are all represented by different animals, and they work in a factory with horrible conditions, and they fight back. Of course they fight back!

So my friend read the story to her son, and he responded with amazing, five-year-old-honest feedback. Although he was excited by the story, he didn’t like the way his character was represented– actually used the word “coward”. “His” character hesitates to act when a friend is fired– but then they all join forces as workers. I wrote it this way so that the female character is the leader of the struggle, and to expose the complexities, the individuals’ struggle to make sacrifices, ultimately, the role of fear in struggle. But this young brother, fearless I must add, who in his everyday life defends his friends on the playground, couldn’t relate.

Which led me to question a few things.

First– Was I patronizing to write these children as characters without their input? When I taught playwriting at a local elementary-middle school, we wrote collectively, sitting on the floor (well, I would sit on the floor and the kids would pretty much bounce around the room as they spun off ideas).

Second– my sistah suggested that to allow for a true exploration of those qualities and emotional attachments to struggle, that perhaps I should not use their real names– so that the children are less attached to the characters, and can explore those ideas more freely.

So, in the end, I am back to the drawing board in a delightfully refreshing and surprising way. (It’s nice to not be looking at tense and grammar but at the essential core of the piece). Facing the question of whether or not to use their names, and if I choose to do so, what my process needs to be moving forward. If I am going to use their names, I think I will bring the draft to them directly. I can read it to them at the next get together and see what they all think, and write their suggestions into the story…

I think ultimately I am wrestling with the issue of the greater audience. If I am to get this published, then children who are not those of my friends will be reading this, and the issue of identifying with characters so strongly will not be such a problem…

It is interesting because I am currently working on a one-woman-show about my family, focusing on our recent trip to Sicily last June. I am writing about real people (the realest people, Mom, Dad, Godparents, Cousins, Husband, Me) in real time. So thinking about how they will feel hearing (ehem, and seeing) my perceptions of them individually, collectively, and interacting with one another, is sure to conjure up some not-so-great feelings. (Although I think we in general laugh at each other so it should be fine).

Ah… the morning coffee conundrums of a mommy-worker-writer-organizer.
Life is sweet and fulfilling and engaging.

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