My friend and I have this running joke about the perils of July as graduate students and then newly-minted PhD's starting first jobs and such - especially if we get no summer teaching. If you are in the education profession, then you too might know about the dreaded nine-month contract. Yes, we are supposed to save enough for the summer months, but that rarely happens... and maybe we can make it through June, but what about July?
So July is a rough patch - even for those of us who plan plan plan... I thought with my first job and all, I would be okay, but living in NYC is hella expensive and then there was re-paying money I borrowed to live through summers in grad school & relocating after graduation... right... and so I ended up scraping by & wondering once again, what about July? (and let's not even talk about August) But no matter these trials, I still love my job and I love the work :) And this July brought me new opportunities & many blessings - I completed my postdoc year at NYU and so I was back on the job hunt - and I got a visiting gig at University of Connecticut in Women's Studies (Assistant Professor in Residence), which starts late August! (Sadly, this means I'm moving to CT, but I will still be close to NYC :)
And I had the fantastic opportunity to go home (Nassau, Bahamas) and teach for the first Bahamas Writer's Summer Institute (BWSI)(which took place from June 29th to July 31st 2009) - organized by fellow Bahamian writers Marion Bethel and Helen Klonaris. It was a five-week institute that included weekly writing workshops, as well as seminars in critical theory and the Caribbean literary imagination. BWSI also hosted several events - a reading series called "Witness" and panel conversations about craft. I couldn't be at home for the entire time, but I was able to teach three seminars on the Caribbean literary imagination. I also participated in two of the panel conversations, as a panelist on blogging and I moderated a discussion about influences beyond the word; and I read poetry for "Witness" with Marion Bethel and Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming.
I was honored to share "a stage" with Marion & Lelawattee (daring & brilliant writers who inspire me so much). I read poems about Bahamian language, my grandmother, queer sexuality, healing from sexual abuse, and silences about Haitians & Haitian Bahamians. This was the hardest part - putting myself out there at home because I fear my people will not fully accept me - my queer Black light-skinned migrant self. But I put myself out there anyway. And I am happy I did. I felt such support in the room - especially from the BWSI participants. I was humbled by the responses. A number of people said that I was brave... but I often don't feel brave, I do what I do because I have to. For me, writing is literally an act of survival - as the great Audre Lorde says, poetry is not a luxury and it is better to speak. I feel that in my bones. And I work to put my body where my politics are - sometimes this means discomfort and pain. It's all worth it though.
The most exciting part for me was the teaching/lecture time and sharing community with the participants and faculty. I organized my seminars by theme: 1) race and class, 2) gender and sexuality; 3) postcolonial identity and mobility. It was my first time being able to talk about these issues in a classroom/community environment at home. We read Caribbean writers such as Michelle Cliff, Edwidge Danticat, David Dabydeen, Dionne Brand, Jamaica Kincaid, Kevin Quashee, Achy Obejas, Marion Bethel, & Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming. We talked about racial mixing and the complexity of class and color in the region. We discussed the social construction of gender and possible roots of sexism and homophobia. We had debates about Bahamian postcolonial identity and culture. We talked about migration issues and human rights in the region. And through all of our conversations, we talked about the Bahamas in relationship to the rest of the region. I made sure that each class included a queer writer so that sexuality was always part of our discussion. The discussions were lively and thought provoking. The experience was incredibly inspiring yet challenging - we always ran out of time and I left each class feeling like there was so much more to say. I sensed great urgency in our classroom to talk about these issues. I felt a part of something very important and very needed. And so I thank the students and fellow faculty - especially Helen and Marion for putting BWSI together. I feel blessed to have been a part of this. It was truly historic. And I hope to be part of many more.
I had to leave BWSI early -- rushed back to New York so that I could get myself together for the big move to Connecticut and preparing for Fall teaching. So there was my July! More than I could have wished for - a beautiful end to my year in NYC. And as I prepare to move and re-locate, I am spending my last few weeks in New York enjoying the place and thinking only of conscious vibration.
03 July 2009
A couple years ago, a group of my friends and I had a Michael video marathon. We watched all his greatest videos from "Rock with You" to "Thriller" and "Smooth Criminal" - we danced and sang along with Michael...and talked about how much we all loved MJ. We also watched the new stuff - from "Don't care about us" to "You are not alone." Seeing the physical transformation of MJ through his videos all in one sitting was quite astonishing and sad really. I saw him as a product of american racism, a troubled family, and a victim of child star obsession. I found myself haunted by his face, his eyes, and words he wrote about his childhood. And I started a poem then, but it remained unfinished in one of my journals until recently. It was (and is) hard to write about him -- I was so disturbed by the abuse accusations, I couldn't face the poem... but when he passed away, I decided to return to it. Like many people, I couldn't stop reading about MJ after he passed away - I listened to his music, watched videos online, and read news reports and blogs. I enjoyed reading different memories from writers who shared their love for MJ and why they thought he was so important. This was a kind of "recuperation" of MJ - he is suddenly responsible for making so much possible for Black people - i.e. he broke racial boundaries in the music industry and the world. MJ has been elevated to a new kind of Pop Icon Hero status. I was amused at the media's attempt to critique itself over "too much coverage" - the hypocrisy of it all - they continue to make money off of MJ, perhaps even more so in death. I watched the memorial service and cried. It was beautiful to hear positive things about this man who was so often berated. It was refreshing to hear about his humanity.
I also watched Democracy Now's report on Michael Jackson and they highlighted something James Baldwin said about him back in 1985, in his essay titled “Here Be Dragons”:
“The Michael Jackson cacophony is fascinating in that it is not about Jackson at all. I hope he has the good sense to know it and the good fortune to snatch his life out of the jaws of a carnivorous success. He will not swiftly be forgiven for having turned so many tables, for he damn sure grabbed the brass ring, and the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo has nothing on Michael.” … “Freaks are called freaks and they are treated – in the main, abominably – because they are human beings who cause to echo, deep within us, our most profound terrors and desires.”
This made me think more about MJ's treatment as a freak and how we can talk about him as a cultural icon. He certainly broke all kinds of norms, especially with gender performance, but he was also punished for it. I plan to write about this more... But in the meantime, I went back to the unfinished poem.
On Michael Jackson's Passing
I think often about your music, its genius,
but mostly about your sad eyes
I want to find you in your music
I want people to stop making fun of you
I want you to love yourself
I want the world to remember your smile
in spite of the circus and frenzy
your freakish glory and charm
morphing into white-washed
picture perfect view
living american royalty dreams
I want to scream that you were a human being,
not property to be consumed, nor an amusement
park ride, not a thing to rip at, pull & tear a part
they did it to you
we did it to you
you did it to yourself
I see your face, I think about the pain
you must have been carrying for so long
I think about the tears we never saw
the long days and nights of childhood
eroded, stolen, mutilated, burned
I think about this child star being
the object of sexual gaze
I think about the stars dancing around you
in awe of your power to make
people cry and fall out
I think about how you never got to grow
and discover yourself
I think more about your face
your beautiful face, troubling sadness
your eyes, in every picture