Editing Family

I went full-speed ahead with a yes when my sister asked me to look at her book-in-progress. Or, to say it more accurately, we did not ourselves settle on a specific word to describe what I would be doing. I figured I’d do what I usually do in these situations, some mix of proofreading, copy editing, line editing, and maybe rewriting a thing here or two (though at this stage, it was pointless, since she’ll be doing a lot of rewriting herself). It’s what I often do when I look at something for someone, depending on my relationship with the person, when we haven’t agreed upon exactly what I’m doing. Since it was my sister, I thought I’d try to just be as helpful as I could be.

So, without a definite mandate, I jumped into the document. I changed spelling errors. Ignored most of the things I felt might be grammatical problems because: 1) I’m not an English teacher and; 2) I don’t want to intrude too much on her voice. She has a strong, authoritative voice. She’s not pulling punches. I liked that. Besides, issues like that, she could fix herself once she read it out loud. They can be dealt with in a later draft.

She repeated herself in some areas and I pointed those out. Some things, I felt she hadn’t emphasized enough and could benefit the story. Some, I thought she’d lingered on or didn’t need. I told her those.

I finished in a couple of hours and I texted her.

Then, I got nervous.

Some of the possible usual worries, some not. Concern over whether I might have been too harsh. Should I have gone more general in my reading and not been as thorough? Was my own reading of it BS? I did my best to look at her and the people she discusses in the story as characters –not as people I know and have definite feelings about– and try to not impose my own perceptions or desires into her story.

That was the hardest.

For instance, I know my father, but not in the way she did. She grew up with him, in his house. I only spent one summer with her and my other sister and her mother, and while I remember a great deal of the events, I was just five. I probably misunderstood a bunch of things I did see, forget about the things I could have missed because I was five. She’s already told me about a lot that went down.

The rest of my time while my father was alive, I talked to him on the phone or saw him during his trips back home to Baltimore. Or, as technology progressed, via webcam whenever he felt like being bothered with firing up his computer (I wish he’d gotten himself an iPad before he passed; I tried).

I wanted to know more about the father who she said encouraged her to follow her passions. I never felt at ease having that conversation with him. We talked about what I was going to do, more than what I wanted to do. She says she received so many lessons and so much wisdom from him. I want to know what he told her. Life, being the way it was, he could have only told me so much.

I wanted to know more about her friends I only saw in passing as a kid. I remember them only as much as I remember the sherbet and the cake we ate on my birthday.

I wanted to know the adventures she went on before and after helping to watch after her younger siblings that summer in Diamond Bar. Some of these events are key in my own life. I’m writing about some of them.

The hope is that as much as I wanted to know more as myself, if she ends up following any of my suggestions, her eventual readers will benefit from knowing those things. That I, as a reader of a story with characters and events, have given suggestions that serve the story. More than I might ever serve myself and my curiosities. Or even my sister, for that matter. The story is bigger than the teller. Even in my own work. Especially in my own work. Even in what you’re reading right now.

According to Google Drive, by the time I’m finishing writing this post, she’s read at least some of the comments. Who knows if the suggestions will ever make it into the final product? If they’re helpful in making the story more successful, I hope they do. Otherwise, she should pitch them into traffic.

I am looking forward to the final product. And if there’s any value for her in what I’ve suggested and wants me to read it, the next draft.

Chesapeake Writers Conference – Day 4 1/3

One third of day four is in the books down here at the Chesapeake Writers Conference. I’m dividing the day into 3rds as we’ve only had the craft talk portion of the day, even if it wasn’t exactly that. That and why I’m posting early will be explained …

Craft Talk

Instead of the usual craft talks we’ve had the other few days, we had an editor and a literary agent discuss the business of publishing.

I won’t print their names since they’re not in the official schedule online, but it was an insightful talk. I learned that a lot of what I’ve heard about publishing is pretty accurate.

I asked about how to structure a submission for a piece of creative nonfiction –memoir, full length essay, etc– since it’s not necessarily general nonfiction (like how-to’s, history, science, etc) or fiction.

The answer was, in general, what I expected, that it will probably be treated closer to fiction and to follow submissions guidelines, whatever those are.

Another participant asked why so many poets don’t have agents and the answer was that publishers like to work with poets directly.

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Participants who signed up, are able to have one-on-one meetings with the two. I’m over here writing because I went to the sign-up document late and none of the earlier slots were open; but still, I’m not necessarily ready to send a book out, so there’s little reason for me to go and talk to either of them. Even the editor who was there, while he’s a writer and has worked in several different roles in publishing, he’s an editor at a fiction mag and aside from getting ideas for where to send my work, I’m not sure what else I’d talk to him about.

The best thing for me during this time was to come back here and write. Even if it’s blogging, I’m getting the practice and habit of being back in front of this computer and putting down words. There’s certainly value in that, especially given where I am. I need to work. When I’m ready, the doors will open.

Besides, I’ll probably try to get a response from Angela since she’s doing the kind of work I want to do, has had a book published, and is working on another right now, I believe. Jerry was on the panel to give perspective as a writer, but I wish Angela had been up there to give the perspective as a nonfiction writer as Jerry writes fiction. Again, largely the same, it seems, but not exactly.

Kids and Food

Went off campus again for breakfast. No other comment.

Workshop

Very much looking forward to it. One of my fellow participants wrote a really good essay that we read last night for workshop today.

Plus, we’re covering lyric essay today. Also assigned were Girl by Jamaica Kincaid, Things To Do Today by Joe Wenderoth, and Captivity by Sherman Alexie. All really good, lyric essays. I can’t wait to discuss them.

One of my own lyric essays will be workshopped tomorrow. Probably best that I procrastinated until last night to submit it for critique.

Writing Bootcamp: Postmortem

And then, it was done. No more prompts. No more classmates’ writing to read and critique. No more 1000 word assignment to turn in on Saturday. Even as I know the time flew by really quickly and I wish I’d signed up for the 10 week bootcamp, it feels like I’ve been at this routine a lot longer. I could go on doing this for much longer. I imagine this what somewhat like an MFA program feels like, from what I’ve always heard or read about them.

I had an inkling that responding to prompts and letting the writing produced from those exercises lead me to new story ideas, memories I had forgotten that might fit with *something* I’d written and I was right. I produced a lot more writing than I thought I would and leave the experience with many more ideas for projects, both large and small. Since we’ve been invited to, I’ll be downloading the prompts and revisiting them, as I feel like I need another boost or a different alleyway to take my writing down.

The next step is to work and bring pieces I worked on in the class and that I started outside of it, to conclusion and send them out. I have a huge bout of impostor syndrome to get over, but at this point, if I keep doing any more of these classes (or any other classes, for that matter) without trying for publication at all, I’ll be still hiding. Someone whose opinion I trust asked me when I was going to stop going into these classes looking for validation for my writing and permission to put it out in the world. I learned it’s okay and I don’t completely suck and I should go for publication. The hiding isn’t working.

So I’ll go back to the lab, throw some things out here on this site, some things out elsewhere, and we’ll see where it goes.

Since the names of the members of the class weren’t published, I won’t put any of their names here, but I would like to thank them for sharing their work and their opinions about everyone’s work. As I said before, it was great to see work written about subjects that I care about, but from different slants. The class was worth it for that alone.

Forget about the bravery the writers must have had to produce the work they did. Exploring lifestyles out of the mainstream. Stories about living with cancer. One writer talked about one way their mother’s death from cancer was a relief. She stood on her truth and never wavered.

I’d also like to especially thank the instructor, Meghan O’Gieblyn, since her name was listed on the site. She gave me wonderful feedback on my work, especially the longer pieces. I am truly grateful for her discussion of an issue I’ve struggled with for a long time: the use of second person in my writing. It’s one of those things that I’ve just “felt” for at times, but she gave me a larger way of looking at that perspective and when to employ it.

More than that, she offered encouragement and even talked with us about things like publishing with us that weren’t officially covered in the course. Generous, helpful, and supportive — everything you want in a writing teacher.

Read some of her work.

And that’s it. Tomorrow, I’ll jump back behind my Chromebook screen and we’ll see where I go.

Medically Induced Sojurn

(Entirely paraphrased)

It’s a good thing you came in when you did, you might have died if you’d waited too long.

Or at the very least, lost your arm.


It’s an abscess.

We’re probably going to need to lance it.

(Are they using swords in the operating room these days?)

Surgery.

Surgery? Like putting me out, surgery?

Yes, surgery. With you under anesthesia.

Really?

If we don’t and this infection spreads, you might still die.

Well, hello to all of you doctors, bumrushing me with this news. Telling me I might die when you’ve barely introduced yourselves — that’s really heavy. Can I at least get a loved one here before you go telling me you’re cutting me open, lest I probably die soon?

I haven’t had any fevers by the way. Since I’ve been asked approximately 73 times since I’ve been in this hospital if I’ve had any, I take it that’s important. And since I haven’t had any, I wonder if this is really as serious as you’re making it out to be. As serious as my needing to be rushed into surgery in the next couple of hours.

Are night sweats as terrible a symptom as the fevers? I only ask because I have had those the last couple of nights … oh, they’re not? Then can we pump the brakes on you putting me under? The anesthesia sounds scarier than the actual infection.

It’s an abscess.

There’s no antibiotic you can give me that’s going to help? Surgery is the only way? What about after the surgery? You’ve got painkillers for sure, but aren’t you going to give me at least some antibiotics? Oh, they’ll work then?

You won’t know how bad this is until you get the pictures from the CT scan? Then, you’ll be ready to go slicing me up?

Well, it’s now busted open and is starting to pus. You said if it drained, that was good and I could avoid all this.

Put this on there.

Nurse, why are you smooshing it with a gauze pad? Shouldn’t we be pinching it or something to make it pus or bleed more or something? No?

(I’m going to have to figure out how to sleep with a butterfly clip in my arm? Guess I can’t sleep as wildly as I normally do.)

You don’t drink this contrast. We put it through your IV. You’ll feel warm inside.

Why didn’t all of you tell me the contrast might make me nauseous before putting me into the machine? I just tried to throw up in your machine. The welt on my arm you intend to cut off isn’t nearly as painful as this even though it’s large enough to fit a small taquito inside it. Did I mention that I tried to alleviate this pain by throwing up in your machine? I had a bagel earlier. I tried to leave it in your machine.

(Later)

Looks like we won’t have to do surgery. It’s just on the skin.

Splendid.

Yeah, you squeezing this thing like tomato sauce in a tube stings like you’re jabbing something into it, but if the alternative is being put under, squeeze away.

Let’s make the hole bigger to help it drain.

And now, you are jabbing long Q-Tips into it. Again, better than the alternative, but I wish I’d gotten some of those painkillers we discussed before. I’ve been in hospitals before. Isn’t there some button I can press that automatically dispenses painkillers?

Oh, you’re just going to give me antibiotics and see how it responds? We’ve come full circle, haven’t we?

(The next day)

We may need to lance it.

(Are we going to Medieval Times for this procedure?)

The doctors yesterday said there wasn’t going to be any surgery.

Different team, different diagnosis? Kinda sounds like literature class as much as biology class, but what do I know?

(Later.)

Oh, no surgery? You saw the pictures. Just a skin infection? Swell. I’ll just chill here with these antibiotics.

This tomato soup is the best. Send me more of this. The chicken is pretty good, too, but the gravy needs some seasoning. Should I send out for a bottle of Mrs. Dash?

More antibiotics.

You’ll have to lay on here while we wheel you to your new room.

I have an infection on my arm, but my legs are fine.

It’s mandatory.

Fine. I’ll play along.

(The next day)


We’re here to take your vitals.

What time is it?

5:30

Well, I’m up. Painkillers are still working. You need more blood? How much blood do you need? Are you keeping some for me for later? Forget it. I feel too good. Take all you need. I’m going back to sleep.

(Later)

Yeah, it’s going down.

The infection is sensitive to the antibiotics.

(I’d rather not know what would happen if it wasn’t sensitive to the antibiotics.)

I can go home?

We’re sending you home with a prescription. More antibiotics.

You don’t say …

#WhyIWrite

Happy National Day on Writing. Only remembered this morning that today was the day.  I’m going to put it into my calendar so I don’t forget again.  People on Twitter have been responding to the hashtag #WhyIWrite, so obviously there have been some real gems floating about as well as some of the usual platitudes about writing.

I was working on something I rushed to finish so I could run outta the office, get to the library, and think about it before I wasted the rest of the day away letting my mind flitter back to technical things, baseball scores, and whatever’s on the DVR that needs to be watched.

So why do I write?  I used to have grand notions of changing the world, fighting and righting all the injustice once and for all, and telling stories that one day, people would read by the campfire and their bedroom night lights.  Along the way, I discovered I wasn’t up for changing the world, yet; I had to change myself first, or at least at the same time.  And I discovered that I loved theatre and drama as much as I loved straight ahead literature, and if people read plays as much in the future as they do now, I might not be read then as much as I’d hoped.

I also discovered that my goals didn’t have to be so lofty for me to do something important or valuable.

#

I used to hate writing.  Reading, too.  My sister Charlene recently told me a story about when I was five or so.  My younger sister Kellee and I had gone to visit her and my sister Robin, my father, and his fiancee, in California.  When my father brought us home from the airport, Charlene asked me what I liked doing and I told her, “read.”  She told me she thought, “I gotta loosen this kid up.”  I was pretty wound tightly on reading and writing then.  My mother had drilled and drilled and drilled me to the point where all I did most of the time was read.  She’d read with me and taught me how to read, but after I got really going, I did all the reading.

I read the Baltimore Sun and the Evening Sun, to my mom, often.  I had a set of Childcraft Encyclopedias that I pored over and read frequently.  My favorite book was the one on physical sciences (my least favorite was the gold one, which, if my memory serves me correctly, was on animals.  I thought it was insulting that people would always ask me about which animals I liked, just because I was a kid.).  I wore out the spine on the fat, yellow Childcraft dictionary, too.
In kindergarten, I loved this little book called Freight Train.  It was mostly pictures of the types of rail cars and few words, so after a while, the teachers didn’t want me reading it.  I hid it on a random shelf in the rear of the library, so whenever we were brought down to the library, I could find it and read it again and again.  It was a small diversion from the heavier stuff I’d be reading when I got home.

I didn’t read any of the kids stuff.  Didn’t like it.  Even now, people talk about all the fun kids things they liked reading: Hardy Boys Mysteries?  Nope.  Nancy Drew?  Nope.  Judy Blume?  Nope.  I don’t remember how, but at school, they got me to read It and A Stitch in Time.  I cheated when reading A Stitch in Time.  I skipped a bunch of pages.  I got the gist of the story and my explanation of it seemed to satisfy the folks who had made me read it.  To the extent that I could bullshit my way through all the reading we had to do, I would.  I did the barest minimum I could get away with (which wasn’t that much, given how my mother was).  I tried, though.

#

This same story of my being assigned reading and my mother having to take drastic measures to get me to do it, carried on all the way to middle school.  I’d do the readings, but I hated, HATED them.  I still read the newspaper, always the sports section, but I even started doing that less.  I was reading my encyclopedas less, too.  I had indeed been seduced by the tube, but I was probably just burned out on reading.  With the exception of the sports section, I seemed to always be reading something I didn’t care to be.  This wasn’t fun, it was a chore.

I was trying to find out my thing.

#

My 6th grade English teacher, Ms. Baumgartner, was vexed.

She knew I was a good reader but couldn’t figure out why I just wouldn’t just do it.  Things weren’t in my favor, though, as I wasn’t doing too well.  I eventually felt safe enough to say out loud the truth I’d never felt confident enough to say: I really hated everything the school made us read.  Never liked any of it, ever, and given how stubborn I was, it took my mother almost yelling, screaming, and threatening me to get me into these books.

Ms. Baumgartner asked me what I really liked, loved, and would read about.

I told her baseball.

Baseball was then, as it still is, my favorite sport.  I loved watching it.  I loved playing it.  I wanted to be a baseball player when I grew up.  My love of baseball helped me get through 5th grade (another story) and in some ways then, changed my life and would change it even more (even though I didn’t know it then).

As much as I told her baseball because it was a real passion, I was being a smart ass.  I thought there’s no way she’ll ever let me read a book on baseball for class.

We went to the library and walked around until she found a book on baseball that would be suitable for me.

World Series Memories.

The drill was the same: I was to read this book and report back on what I’d read.  It was a good book.  I read it and even did the report.  Eventually.  I even didn’t mind it.  I even seek out more books on baseball to read (I found a few books on basketball, but I said no thanks, not the same thing), but what I’d discover later wasn’t just that I enjoyed books on baseball.  I didn’t care for those kids books because I really loved reading nonfiction.  Most of the books we’d been reading were some genre of fiction.

#

Back in 5th grade, one day, I’d missed a homework assignment.  How I got home the night before and back out of the house without finishing this assignment, I’ll never know.  Yet, there I was, sitting in class, without having written my essay.  And despite the fact that Mr. Marchetti was standing over me, ignoring the rest of the class for a couple of moments, asking where it was, and after getting my less-than-satisfactory answer, assigning me to do the essay over, right there, in class, I was not having it.

I’d hated writing.  The majority of the writing we did, that I remember, was book reports, responsive writing, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.  I hated it.  HATED IT.  Read this book, tell the teacher back what it said.  Why, I’d wonder when I was much younger, did I have to read the book and spit it right back out to the teacher?  I even thought once to tell a teacher that the whole enterprise was stupid, that they knew what the book said, and that my telling them what it said didn’t prove anything.  Especially once they taught us how to properly quote.  They told us to quote but not only quote, not only repeat the book back.  If I’m reporting the book back to them, wasn’t I just repeating it back to them anyway?  And why do I care what this person said in some obscure novel a few hundred years ago?  Why does this matter?

We didn’t do much other writing.  We read poems, but we didn’t dare write them.  Poems were for reading and analyzing and therefore, hating.  Which I didn’t, however.  This was different.  I started writing my own poems at home.  Bad poems that a 10 year old might write.  But I liked it.

But what I didn’t like was essays.  And Mr. Marchetti was standing over me, demanding an essay.
I don’t even remember what we were supposed to write about.  Mostly because I wasn’t paying attention, but Mr. Marchetti gave me the option of writing what I wanted to write.  And that still wasn’t good enough.  I didn’t know what I wanted to write about.  I didn’t actually care.  I didn’t want to do it and to hell with it.  Plus, I’d forgotten the stupid essay format (which really was and is still, stupid) that we’d learned and really gone over in 4th grade (another story).

So I took the paper he gave me and on the top line, instead of writing essay, I wrote “SA.”  On the lines below, I probably wrote about how much I didn’t want to do it and how much I hated it.

That went over as well as one might expect.

#

I kept on scribbling my little poems.  By the time I was in 6th grade, my boy Brandon and I were rapping.  I still was fighting all of the whole entire school on reading and writing, but outside of school, I was doing my own thing.

#

The summer before 9th grade, though, I had a Come to Jesus moment, with my mother.

The school I’d been assigned to, Baltimore City College, better known to Baltimoreans everywhere as simply City, had mailed home the summer reading assignment for its Honors (A course) students.  My classmates everywhere were opening their mail to find out that we had three books to read that summer and we were expected to do exactly what I hated to do: respond to them.  In a journal.

Before, my mother had had to use one negative possibility or another as a means of motivating me to do the reading and the writing required in school.  Now, I was going to City, but that was a privilege.  The outcome of not doing well at City: failing out and being sent to my zone school, in this case, Northern.  Or if I was lucky, I might somehow get a shot at redemption at Mervo.  But even so, going to Northern wasn’t going to happen.  If I’d washed out of City, I’d have to go to California with my dad.  His brand of house discipline would be good for me in that case.

We went and got a marble notebook and the books.

I decided to read the shortest first.

#

Down At The Cross — Letter from a Region of My Mind

People actually wrote like this?

I knew some of the church where he’d been raised, that he rebelled against.

Who were these people he’d dined with?  They believed that God was Black?  People talked about racism in this way?  It wasn’t just how things were?

#

My world started to lay itself bare the first time I read The Fire Next Time.

It opened itself up even more when I got to the next assigned book, Native Son.

I’d never read anything like those.

All the times employees followed us around Eddie’s Super Market or Woolworth’s or some other store.

The swastikas painted on the back wall of the gym at school.

The looks we’d get walking up or down Roland Avenue.

#

I’d understood these things in a prima facie way, but these great works put me squarely into the minds and worlds of great writers, great thinkers, which helped me understand my own.

This is one thing good writing can do.  There are many more.  Whole books have been written.

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On the back end, my Aunt Brenda began feeding my growing love of books.  My mother must have told her about her struggles trying to get me to read something, anything, because eventually, my aunt would do what Ms. Baumgartner did: give me things I liked to read.  My aunt’s bookshelves were full, 2 books deep on each shelf, of books by black writers.  History, sociology, a few novels, essays, everything.  I had access to nearly her whole library.  All I had to do was read the book, not destroy it, promptly give it back.

#

Before I got out of high school, we’d read many more great books, many more great writers.  Achebe.  Morrison.  Shakespeare.  Those were among my favorites.

The writing continued.

We’d write our own poems in class in 10th grade.  Finally.  Sonnets.  Ballads.  Free verse.
In 11th grade, when we began reading philosophy, we didn’t have to just regurgitate what we’d read; no, we were encouraged to develop our own ideas about the subjects we’d been reading about, and to write them.

Even my history teachers encouraged me to explore my writing.

All of this combined with my rapping and poetry, I found a love of writing, of letters.  And in some ways, it did change my life.  Even through all the false starts and disappointments, I still love reading and writing.

A great book or play or essay or poem or memoir or biography or whatever, can do that.

#

August Wilson said:

I try to explore in terms of the life I know best those things which are common to all culture, so while the specifics in the play are black, the commonalities of culture are larger. There are universal realities in the play.

That’s the space where I want to be.  I want to explore the life I know best.  I hope I can one day, say some things that matter to someone else’s life.  The way that writers like August and James Baldwin and Richard Wright and many others have done for me.  That’s why I write.  Or at least one reason.