Writing is a Brawl: Thoughts on Another Week at WaPo.

I’m-the-man

I am not especially tough. I think most people who know me would be able to confirm this. My skin is gold-leaf thin, and this is especially true after I’ve written. You will find me at my most vulnerable on the day that something I’ve penned has been published. It doesn’t matter where; this is true whether I’m in control of the posting and it’s seen by a few hundred people, or if an editor at a national publication is involved and the post is seen by several thousands.

I am old enough to remember a time before the internet, when writing was far more romantic to me than it is now and when writers had a few insular hours or days or even months before reviews of their work began to trickle in. A letter to the editor or an op-ed or a missive to the author would travel through a postal cycle or onto the desks of various news staffers before it reached the eyes (and the ego) of the writer herself. Those were pleasant times — or they seemed to be, anyway. Some would argue that the time between publication and response, pre-internet, felt tortuously interminable. I think I would’ve appreciated the breathing room. Immediacy has obliterated the insulation of the writer’s ego, and I’m still mourning that loss. But the more frequently my work sees the light of day, the closer I get to accepting things as they are.

For the second time this year, Alyssa Rosenberg has generously shared her space at her Washington Post blog, Act Four, with me. This go-round, she did so while she traveled to Toronto for the city’s International Film Festival (TIFF). (Be sure to check out her coverage, now that she’s returned!) I wrote six posts in total: Thursday and Friday of last week, Monday through Wednesday of this one. Writing daily for a Washington Post blog was as exhilarating now as it was back in May.

But if I told you that I approached each day with confidence, if I claimed that I didn’t feel anxiety at dusk every day worrying over what to write and how to frame it and how it would be received and how frighteningly possible it was that I was on the absolute wrong side of an issue, I’d be telling you the boldest-face lie there is. I’d be talking about someone other than my quietly neurotic self.

amelie puddle

no crying

For writers like me, who struggle with the cultural disintegration of a feedback buffer, there are side effects to writing at a breakneck pace for a broad audience. The first among them is, of course, the comments section paranoia. I learned a few years ago to fastidiously avoid those unless I’m asked not to and then, only to spend as much time on them as I comfortably can without crying. The second is staggering self-doubt, which — I assure you — will annoy everyone within a mile radius when you’re on daily assignment. The third is an inability to sleep. The fourth is an uncanny aptitude for focusing on the three critical statements, rather than the 30 favorable ones. This last also manifests as talking myself out of great comments by convincing myself that 2/3 of that feedback is from people I know, people who love me, people who know just how little it takes for me to wither or chafe.

If you regularly experience any of these effects, I’ll let you in on a little life-hack. At 1 am, when you’ve reached delirium and you’re still pounding keys on what seems to be incoherent, remember: there is no time. The only minutes you have to spare are for sentences, not self-questioning. And when you wake up again at 5:30 am to re-read what you wrote at 1, you’ll realize you’ve developed an immunity to iocane powder. (Word to the Dread Pirate Westley.) Honor the absence of idle time and all that clutter casts itself aside. Head down, keep typing. That sound of your fingers flying across the keyboard amplifies, like Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart. Eventually, you surrender to it.

Is that enough? Will you be cured? Are your insecurities behind you? Man, nah. Your insecurities will always be nipping. Sometimes, they will clamp down and rip themselves a good chunk of flesh. I have yet to learn how to play off that limp, to walk a straight line when I’m wounded. This is what terrifies me: the more I’m read, the more often I’m wounded — and if I want this life, this daily-published life, I better learn quick how to self-suture.

There is nothing as exhilarating for me as writing. A close second is being widely read and well-received. I am trying to reconcile that some people will always think my purple prose sucks and that others still will almost always disagree with my central claims. Not everyone thinks that I’m good at this. I am working hard to become that most feared kind of woman: the one who does not require validation. But this, I suspect, will take as many years as I have left — and I do not know, having tasted validation, if it is a thing I could ever learn to eschew.

Here is another thing I’ve learned: publication is petrifying for the conflict-averse, but to write is to kick up dust and to beg for a brawl. To write is to wait for the big kid after school, with eggers-on encircling. You will want someone to root for you. You will want someone’s help with the wounds.

friend kind of

During this guest-blogging run, I think I gave as good as I got. I took more risks, made more leaps, tried to make interesting intellectual connections. I tried, as is the wont of Rebecca Traister, by way of Amy Poehler, not to f—ing care if you liked it. I’m enclosing all the links, in case you want to read them to see for yourself if you’d declare me this round’s winner or consider the whole thing a draw:

A Musing on Misogyny and a Guest-Blogging Stint.

Follow your own hand gestures, dude.
Follow your own hand gestures, dude.

As promised, here’s another quick update with another writing-related announcement. Before I get to that, I wanted to point to this piece I published this morning at Medium about CeeLo Green and whatever terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad mess is going on with him right now. There are a few reasons I didn’t publish or cross-post it here, but I’d love it if you went there and read it. If you do, please feel free to leave a comment here, letting me know what you think. Here’s an excerpt:

The truth is: all the music men will disappoint us. They’ll make exceedingly wack albums or be rude and dismissive in person. They’ll abandon art for commerce or go into hiding. They’ll catch the most absurd, unsettling cases. You’ll live. Sometimes, if you’re a die-hard fan, you’ll give them the widest berth, remembering the good album, the great guest verse, all that as-yet-unrealized promise.

But a time may come, as that artist approaches midlife, when you realize he has let the ugliest parts of himself go unchecked. He has shirked rehab, reason, or the idea of reckoning. And if he’s anything like CeeLo, nothing he’s ever done will disgust you and chill you clear to the bone like knowing that despite your patience, despite his vast exposure to the extravagance and cruelty in each corner of the world, despite the eventual responsibilities to the next generation that come with advancing age, your favorite music men could hit 40 still believing and imposing as rule of law that respect, tenderness, decency and even acknowledgment of women’s humanness is some sort of meritocracy, individually earned, publicly debatable.

The other news is a little bigger. If you’ve been visiting this blog for a while, you may recall that I guest-blogged for Alyssa Rosenberg’s Washington Post page, ‘Act Four,’ for a week back in May. (It was big. I’m talking major milestone.) Well, I’m back on tomorrow for another week, as Alyssa screens films at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Since this is my personal blog, I’m going to let you all in on a not-so-secret truth: this work — this incredible, high-profile, quickly turned-around work — is no less scary for me this time than it was the first time I did it. Part of that is that Alyssa is pretty brilliant and she makes the most interesting connections between histories, events, and media — and she does it daily. I don’t want to bore or disappoint her loyal readers. Part of it is that I don’t often know what I’m going to write from day to day — and the better part of a day may go by without an idea coming to me. The third part is that my daughter’s embarking on her full days of pre-K (9-11:45am), starting tomorrow, and I’m her drop-off/pick-up person. And I also have another work-from-home job, so you know. Life’s hectic. The fourth part is just your run-of-the-mill writerly nerves and doubt.

To calm myself, I am thinking of Langston Hughes and his poem, “Theme for English B.” When I was in high school, it was one of my favorite things to revisit — and I’m coming back to it now, like a student timidly knocks on the door of her mentor, days before her thesis is due. I won’t reproduce the entire poem here, only the part that I love most (made all the more relevant by the lone comment left on Alyssa’s kind re-introduction post):

Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.

Word, Langston. Word.

Another Press Round-Up: PBS Redux, Slate Podcast, Colorlines.

A photo of me and my daughter, taken a day before her fourth birthday. She is the reason for almost every awesome writing thing that's happened to me since 2010.
A photo of me and my daughter, taken a day before her fourth birthday. She is the reason for almost every awesome writing thing that’s happened to me since 2010.

Sorry there’s no clever title for this blog post (and no poetry in its prose), but I just wanted to write a brief note to let readers know where else they can find me this week.

Before I get started, I’d like to welcome new subscribers. There’ve been a lot of you since the beginning of this month (and the beginning of this year, for that matter) and I appreciate you all. Thanks for your continued readership.

Because I’ve taken down the other recent post about PBS NewsHour and HuffPost (since the HuffPost appearance was canceled), here’s the link and below is the video for the brief talk I did with host Hari Sreenivasan:

A few days later, I was also a guest for PBS NewsHour’s Twitter chat on social media’s efficacy in activism. Here’s a link to those tweets.

Yesterday, I was a guest on Slate’s “Mom and Dad Are Fighting” parenting podcast. The other guest was R. Dwayne Betts, whose writing I’ve long admired. Many thanks to host Allison Benedikt for inviting me! Listen here:

On Wednesday, my day job featured the first five of my blog posts on Michael Brown and Ferguson, which was a great honor. The sixth one posted yesterday, in case you missed it and would like to read it.

And next week, I should have another announcement, God willing and the creek don’t rise. If you follow me on Twitter, you may have caught me errantly announcing it too early before a super-quick tweet-deletion. Pro-tip: don’t announce things before the person who offered you the opportunity okays it. Another pro-tip: don’t announce things until you know that you know that you know they’re a done deal. It’s a rookie-level error to jump the gun. As the old adage goes, “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.” (And more pointedly don’t tell people about your chickens until you’ve got eggs to sell.)

Thanks again for rockin’ with me. It matters. A lot.

Bellow.

black-woman-screaming

I’ve come to comprehend, at last, why necessity is referred to as invention’s “mother.” There are few people on earth in as constant a state of need as those who’ve chosen to mother someone. Mothering forces the hand of creativity. Mothers* wrestle with angels and refuse to let go before they are blessed with something — either an actual resource or the means by which to create one themselves. We also wrestle with demons — not just our own but those that would presume to stalk our children. We feel responsible for everything and for distributing everything. When a thing fails, we stay up latest taking stock. When a thing succeeds, it is often because we have risen early to ensure that it would.

This is all to say: I create much more as a mother than I felt capable of creating before I became one. This is, in part, because I no longer have time to consider whether I’m capable of a thing before I undertake it. Often, I simply have to move and make that assessment later; now, too much depends on my movement.

As a writer, the only difference between my childless self and my mothering one is that now, I need what writing well can provide. It isn’t a lofty ideal, an untethered desire. I had endless time for crippling insecurity before I had another person to support. I could put off writing or set myself adrift on a sea of incomplete ideas because when I was alone, writing wasn’t anchored in need. It did it as I worked other jobs. I treated it like a side gig.

Now? I need the capital. I need the community. I need the insight. And I need the empathy. All of it, all of it, is necessary for me to be the best mother I can be. And that makes me fastidious.

Screenshot 2014-06-29 at 4.55.00 PM

Bellow is an invention that comes from this same chamber of need. Writing as a single mother may force greater productivity, but it also seems to insist on a greater sense of isolation.

“I love solitude but I prize it most when company is available.”  — Saul Bellow

I’ve written about this — and so have many others — but there are certain creative spaces that will be restricted to you with a baby or small child in tow. And they’re usually the spaces you need most: retreat spaces, residency sites, travel grant destinations, rooftop networking events, even bars (where readings are being held).

These, of course, are not problems specific to new parents. As a culture we are increasingly of how lack of access perpetuates inequality and works as a barrier to success. We are even beginning to parse what that means for writers, acknowledging the difficulty of becoming successful at it without access to the reservoirs of money and free or reduced-income housing that will allow new writers to work for pennies until they’re put on.

So few are put on — even as they burn through their meager savings and burn bridges with housemates, family and friends, doggedly insisting that a break is just around the corner. It must be. We’re good at what we do.

The more we say it, the reedier our voices feel and the more the sound echoes. Fewer supporters, fewer sound barriers.

Enter Bellow. It’s a very basic setup. All you need is a laptop with a webcam, a strong microphone, either internal or external, and wifi. You need relative privacy or a quiet background and earbuds. And you need your original work.

Each month, a small group of writers will meet on the third Wednesday at 8 PM Eastern and they’ll share their work — not just with each other — but with whomever in the world wants to watch them. We get to witness the facial expressions, nervous ticks and out-loud negotiations you’d make if you were in a dimly lit room in front of an intimate audience.

But you don’t need money, transportation, or even a lot of free time to connect with your crowd. It’s all about raising your voice and finding out who-all will hear you.

“I want to tell you, don’t marry suffering. Some people do. They get married to it, and sleep and eat together, just as husband and wife. If they go with joy they think it’s adultery.”  — Saul Bellow

So many writers, both emerging and established, know what it’s like to be invited to speak at a venue for free and to not have enough gas to get there. We know what it is to sit at home while friends text group-selfies from the pricey writing conference we couldn’t attend. We even know how to look like ethereal, like we’re above commerce and capitalism, when our ability to publish a certain number of freelance writing pieces a month is the only thing standing between us and eviction.

It isn’t much, Bellow. It may not help you make rent — at least not directly — but I’m hoping it becomes a place of understanding, encouragement and opportunity. These are the environs that even playing fields.

Come play with us. Bellow across the fields every third Wednesday of every month at 8 PM EST via Google Hangouts On Air. Connect with is there by adding our Google+ page to your circles and live-tweeting (@bellowseries) while you watch each webcast.

Bringing people into the here-and-now. The real universe. That’s the present moment. The past is no good to us. The future is full of anxiety. Only the present is real–the here-and-now.  — Saul Bellow

*I realize I made some generalizations about mothers in the opening paragraph. I’m usually good about not making blanket statements or applying caveats. But um. The best I can do here is: #NotAllMothers?

Stacia’s Minor Notes and Writing You May Have Missed.

Today marks the beginning of the third month of the year, and I must admit I’m feeling a bit untethered. After years of cultivating a very specific voice for this blog, I’m having a harder time conjuring it these days — and I’ve been allowing that to stop me from updating as much as I’d like. Aside from my last piece, which was the most viewed post in the history of this blog and which was picked up at the American Prospect, I’ve only updated one other time this year.

Freelance writing also seems to be slower at this point in 2014 than it was by this time last year.

Even so, here’s what I’ve published since 2014:

  • A piece on a Melissa Harris-Perry Show faux-scandal that already seems like it happened a lifetime ago.
  • Something about how white the Golden Globes are and how infuriating that was this year.
  • Musings on a mall shooting in Columbia, Maryland at the mall where I most often take my daughter.
  • And this piece, written in the wake of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death, which I wound up really being proud of, even though I had one of the details wrong.
  • I also wrote this about mothering and teaching mothers in a college setting.

I’ve read two novels, too. Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State, not to be released until May of this year, and Gina Frangello’s A Life in Men. Here are my impressions/reviews of them on Goodreads. And did y’all know I also have a Tumblr, where I occasionally do some creative microblogging?

Here are a few pieces I’m only highlighting here because they’d be hard to find there, between my copious reblogs of Chiwetel Ejiofor photos:

http://one-offs-from-slb79.tumblr.com/post/77119720682/stop-wanting-pack-your-jaws-with-paper-chew-the

http://one-offs-from-slb79.tumblr.com/post/76710516711/i-know-too-little-about-men-ive-only-ever-lived

http://one-offs-from-slb79.tumblr.com/post/76600977441/you-know-what-youre-ready-for-it-isnt-this-it

Because 2013 was an amazing, prolific, incomparable year, I’ve been putting a good deal of pressure on myself to keep pace or outperform. But as the first quarter of the year begins to draw to a close, I’m just going to keep steadily at work. If you’re like me — prone to anxiety and hard on yourself — I’d encourage you to join me and do the same.

I was on MSNBC — and I feel loved.

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My friend, Aulelei, sent this screenshot after watching live yesterday. Thanks to everyone who took snapshots and DVR’d. I was more touched and humbled by this than I can adequately express.

There are few greater feelings in all the world than being certain that someone is happy for you. Because I know well what that feels like, I try to impart that feeling to others as often as I can. Fortunately for me, I know a lot of people who are near-constantly celebrating something wonderful: a publication, a new gig, a marriage. And in expressing unabashed joy for them, I feel joy myself. Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow call this Shine Theory, and it’s awesome.

To be real, though — and I talk to my friend Joshunda about this fairly often — sometimes being happy for others is concurrent with working through more complicated feels. She and I don’t pretend we don’t experience twinges, pangs, and on occasion, even full tides of jealousy.

Sometimes, you’ll see someone’s sudden great news in a social media feed and something plummets. It’s a hasty, involuntary reaction and, if you’re not careful, it can take root, bearing shriveled, bitter fruit.

Everyone handles jealousy differently. I’ve gotten fairly practiced at it (Like I said: I know some amazing people). I’ve a formula that’s become almost fail-proof: suppress, interrogate, eradicate. That’s another post for another day.

I’ve taken this long digression to say: you can’t fully enjoy a success if you haven’t developed healthy responses to other people’s success. If you haven’t done that work, your every achievement is comparative. You’re stuck in a miserable loop of: This is good, but it’s not as good as X’s. I’m thrilled but it would be even better if it was more like Y’s. I feel like I’m getting somewhere but not as quickly as Z.

This is me being as real as I can. It doesn’t make sense to pretend that I don’t wish for experiences similar to the ones that people I love and admire have had. It doesn’t do any good to be a writer of autobiographical content and edit out the baser, uglier parts of myself.

Ultimately, what’s important — at the moment of a friend’s highest achievement or deepest bliss — is that she understands your happiness for her, not your internal conflict. That’s something for you to work through privately and, while you do, your friend shouldn’t have to wait for you to feel ready to celebrate.

I don’t know if this is common or if it’s just me. I’ve talked to people who insist that they’re always happy for others in uncomplicated ways; that they never want what anyone else has; that they have mastery over envy or covetousness; that what God has for them, it is for them (and they’re cool with not getting anything they’ve wanted — and equally cool with watching someone else attain and enjoy that thing — because they’re secure in that affirmation). Let me tell you: I find that to be amazing. I am jealous of that.

Yesterday, I had a big moment. I’ve had a lot of big moments this year. I’m learning a lot about those, too, and about how fleeting they are. I’m learning that it’s important to absorb the success on the day of, because in the days that follow, the world moves quickly on. You will either have other big moments or you won’t; but once one has passed, it’s beyond others’ memory. You cannot pitch a tent there. The caravan has carried on.

This makes the celebration all the more significant. The people who decide to join it — and it’s very much a decision — are to be cherished. You do not know what, if anything, they’ve had to work through to be so present and happy for you.

As someone who routinely downplays big moments, so as not to feel like I’m “bragging,” it means a lot to be lauded without reservation. We all need that, but we’re told we should behave as though we don’t.

I’m rambling. The point is: I really felt loved yesterday. I feel loved every day. But yesterday, when I found out I’d be making a television appearance for the first time, and I tweeted about it and posted a status on Facebook, I felt especially loved. Announcing good news has always seemed like a calculated risk for me. You hope it will be received in the non-braggadocious way you intended. But it may not be. You hope it’ll be greeted with the same confetti-swirling, pom-pom-shaking ebullience you try to give to others. But there are no guarantees.

Yesterday’s risk paid off. You were all awesome. There was no tension, no complaint, no side-eyes, no backhanded compliments, no measured or grudging kudos. Everyone I love and everyone I celebrate loved and celebrated me — and that’s exponentially more exciting than being on TV.

That was my day. Today or tomorrow will be yours. And trust: I’ll be losing my voice in the stadium, cheering for you.

 

If you missed News Nation with Tamron Hall and want to watch the segment on which I appeared, it’s here. If you want to read the essay that got me on air, it’s here. If you need to know more about Avonte Oquendo’s disappearance, read Amy Davidson’s piece in The New Yorker. And if you want to know how you can support the parents of children with autism, visit Autism Speaks. 

Stacia in the Press: HuffPost Live, Salon, and a New Gig.

photo (6)
Why am I so happy? Read on.

Just a quick update before my next blog entry (which will probably be about calling a comeback a comeback, even if you’ve been here for years).

A few things have been poppin':

On Thursday, I appeared on a HuffPost Live segment about black unmarried motherhood. Please watch when you get a chance.

  • I wrote a piece for Salon about The Melissa Harris-Perry Show’s recent segment on black single motherhood, which you can watch here. The piece was featured on the show’s Facebook page.
  • I’d also written another piece for Salon that I’m not sure I’d announced here.
  • And a recent one for The Atlantic that I know I didn’t mention here.
  • In other somewhat old news, I was one of five “Single Mom Breadwinners” featured at Disney’s Baby Zone site last month.
  • Just this morning, I tweeted about the importance of emotional restraint in personal writing (something I still struggle with, as I’m sure you can tell by my blog entries). If you’re a writer of nonfiction, you’ll want to check out the Storify slideshow there. Please note that one tweet should read, “Tell your emotions. But don’t sell your emotions.” The don’t is missing in the tweet.
  • I also Storify’d a tweeted tribute to Trayvon Martin this afternoon. May be always remember not just what we’re fighting for but for whom we’re fighting.
  • And finally, I’ve started a year-long fellowship with the illustrious Colorlines. I’m their 2013-14 Editorial Fellow for Community Engagement. This means, I’ll be helping them find ways to further connect with their readership through Google Hangouts, Twitter conversations, and article comment engagement on their website. It’s an exciting development as I’m a longtime fan of the pub and a stan for many of their writers/staff. Last week was my first week and we’re off to a swinging start. :)

In the next few days, I hope to have another blog entry for you. In the meantime, I hope you’ll check out the linked works above and let me know what you think. Thanks for reading, and thanks for being here.

Two Recent Pubs and an Upcoming Interview.

photo (5)

Hopefully, prayerfully, tomorrow, I’ll have a new blog entry. Today, I just want to share three recent publications. Most of you may have already seen them, via Twitter shares. But for those who haven’t:

I’d also like to take this opportunity to welcome new blog subscribers. I hope you continue to enjoy the work I’m doing here and elsewhere.

Stacia to Appear on NPR’s “Tell Me More” on April 16.

Tomorrow, I’ll be a guest on NPR’s nationally syndicated radio program, Tell Me More with Michel Martin. I’ve been invited to join author and family therapist Lori Gottlieb to discuss single motherhood for the show’s weekly Parenting broadcast.

Beyond nervous. Beyond excited. I’ll update when a link to the audio becomes available online. You can stream Tell Me More live at WAMU FM from 2 pm to 3 pm EST. Use the NPR station locator to find out where you can catch it on the radio in your area.

UPDATE: The audio for the segment can now be heard here: http://www.npr.org/2013/04/16/177468617/single-moms-on-making-it-work.