Appearances and Publications, Current Events, Nonfiction

I Don’t Know What the Weather Will Be.

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This post is titled after a Laura Mvula song of the same name, because she’s my current musical obsession (I’ll get back to that in a minute). But it’s also apt because the year’s end is nigh and, though I am starting every day bursting with anticipation and ending each day, full — of anxiety or accomplishment or some amalgam of the two — I really don’t know what’s coming. That doesn’t scare me in the way it did for most of this year because, now, I am always certain that something is coming. As a freelance writer, things were typically more precarious and largely left to my sense of ambition on any given day. The weight and panic of trying to secure work left completely immobile some days.

Now, at least over the next seven months, I have a long-term project to execute. No day is fruitless. I’m never frozen. It’s refreshing, but shifting professional gears again is frightening, too.

Producing an audio program is different than the work I’ve done as a freelancer for print/written media. As a writer and a borderline agoraphobic, I’ve tended to write things that required the least amount of interaction with others. I didn’t leave home when I didn’t have to. And I was loath to consider myself a reporter of any kind. With Baltimore: The Rise of Charm City, the radio show/podcast I’m developing with AIR and WEAA, I have to go out — a lot — and when I’m not actually going out, I have to be making plans to go out. Not only do I have to talk to people, but I have to learn something I’ve spent years — decades, really — avoiding: leadership.

There’s no place to hide, especially not in towers of lofty ideas or behind hanging tapestries of language. As a radio producer, there are always directives to create and to give — and even when every instinct inside me signals that I should defer to someone else or to take instruction rather than to give it (I still do this whenever I can; you can ask my collaborators about that), I have to force myself to the fore (and then challenge myself to stay there).

I have help with that. We’ve built a small production team that includes two civic-minded young women I hired with audio and video documentary experience and one radio vet and organizer with a passion for the city of Baltimore. The general manager at the radio station has been supportive beyond anything I could’ve hoped for or imagined, despite how busy she is. And whenever I work in their offices, everyone seems excited about our project.

My production team is a mix of assertiveness, confidence, knowledge and emerging skills. Where I’m timid, someone else is not. When I have a firm idea/show concept, someone does whatever they can to help me execute (and improve upon) it. When I’m unsure about how to proceed, someone offers a ton of great leads.

It’s a good time to be starting at square one on something. I’ve been 36 for one month. It’s the first year I’m spending on the backside of my 30s; I’m officially closer to 40 now — and there are so many underdeveloped social and professional skills I still need to strengthen. This project will help. At its end, I hope to know how to record and edit my own segments, to be able to better gauge which direction an interview needs to take (in the moment I’m conducting it rather than in retrospect), and to develop a project management style that’s at once collaborative and confident. I also just want to overcome my anxieties about meeting new people, being around a lot of people at once, and asking any number of those people a lot of probing questions.

I’m hopeful.

Our ideas are only as good as our ability to execute them. Our execution is only as good as our ability to pivot, adapt, accept feedback, delegate, and recognize our own limitations and our collaborators’ strengths.

Last Thursday night, three members of our team went out on our first big night of recording for the show’s first episode (about the history and future of Shake and Bake Family Fun Center), slated to air in mid-January. I was scared going in and my heart raced the whole way home, but it was worth it to hear people talk about things they cherish: their faith, their childhood hobbies, their memories of Baltimore’s thriving black businesses and safe, open communities up until the late ’60s, their $400 skates, their ability to teach their children or grandchildren to skate, just as they learned to as kids. There’s something magical about good memories and how they animate a face, how recounting them makes the years that have etched themselves into forehead and cheek fall away. I get to watch that happen nearly every week for for the next seven months.

I’ll probably be as surprised as any listener will about how each episode turns out. That’s part of the thrill of it: the discovery, the surprise, the trial and the error, the vanquishing of fear. But I can’t wait to make it all come together. I can’t wait to remind myself that my abilities aren’t as narrow as I’ve defined them for myself and that my potential can still press beyond its long-set perimeter.

I’m also hoping to approach writing differently in the new year. It’s already nice not to have to rely on essay-writing as primary income. And it’s refreshing to be able to call myself something else for awhile. Being a “professional” writer is a realized dream and the goals I had for a career in writing and/or editing have needed adjusting for awhile now. I’m very fortunate to have an opportunity to make those adjustments now.

For those keeping track, I’m still a weekly contributor at Washington Post’s Act Four blog. I’m no longer a weekly contributor at New Republic (though I do still hope to write there from time to time in the future; it’s a very cool publication, both in print and online). And though I don’t anticipate pitching much in the first half of 2016, while the radio show is in production, I’m always open to it.

In the meantime, the upcoming launch of Baltimore: The Rise of Charm City was written up in Baltimore magazine. It was the first time I’d had a professional photo taken to run with an article.

Photo credit: Christopher Myers

Photo credit: Christopher Myers

Back to Laura Mvula: she’s incredible and I can’t believe I just found her albums two weeks ago. But I immediately started making up for lost time by learning and Acapella-ing her songs. This is probably the best of my efforts, taken from the chorus of “Diamonds“:


Runner-up, this from “Father, Father“:

For fun, here’s a longer attempt at that one, with a cameo from my daughter, who really doesn’t respect singing-with-bathroom-acoustics alone time.

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Appearances and Publications, Nonfiction

Stacia L. Brown on HuffPost Live! Sept. 7, 12:50 pm EST!

Apologies, friends. I’ve got to make a temporary departure from thoughtful, decently crafted posts to geek out for a moment.

I’M GONNA BE ON THE NEWLY LAUNCHED HUFFPOST LIVE TOMORROW!!!

excelsior!

Excuse the all caps, but this is pretty wild.

A little over two months ago, I wrote this. And this afternoon I got an email inviting me to discuss black mental health on HuffPost Live tomorrow, Sept. 7 at 12:50pm. It’s a twenty-minute segment, hosted by Marc Lamont Hill, and I’m really honored to have been asked.

It isn’t just the show (although that’s an amazing opportunity); it’s about what it represents for me.

2012 has been a crazy year. I started it by stating that I had expectations for it. I don’t often do that, make grand declarations at the top of a year, prognosticating a favorable future and actually hoping I’m right. But I did it this year. And, if God wills, I’ll keep being right.

From May until the end of August, I was a daily contributor at Clutch magazine, which led to my work being republished at The Root and, one dizzying time, at Salon. Needless to say, my visibility as a writer increased, which has always been one of the deeper desires of my heart. It’s a heady, blissful sensation, working really hard on a piece of writing and watching it land with a large cross-section of people. But I’ve always stopped short of pursuing the “brass ring” kind of opportunities. National mag pitches. Spec TV/film script pitching. The aggressive pursuit of a book sale. Speaking engagements. Personal branding.

It’s been too easy for me to psych myself out, to tell myself the market’s oversaturated and too many people are already doing work similar to the kind I do. Or I’m not as good or as smart as I want to believe I am (good enough, smart enough). Or I’m going to be eviscerated by critics. Or the audience I court will find me patently underwhelming. I’ve always been afraid to cast my wings toward the sun, for fear of singeing them, of falling. (See my previously-written faith issues.)

Concurrent with those issues, though, my ideas about possibility and self-worth and self-acceptance have been expanding. It’s the kind of work you should ideally do in your teens and twenties, and work that some women (and men, really) count themselves blessed to accomplish at all. My work began when I had my daughter. I started believing I could inhabit a much larger space than that which I’ve allowed myself till now, because I’ve promised her as much for herself, and in order for her to trust me, she has to see me do it. But believing and bulldozing the cement walls are different endeavors.

Coming up with an approach to the latter remained a mystery.

Sometimes the approach finds you.

This is probably the first year of my decade-plus career as a writer that people have sought me out to write or to discuss things I’ve written, rather than me frantically searching for outlets willing to publish me. And more than any other time in my life, my work has been resonating with a large cross-section of readers, people from different walks of life, people with wildly divergent philosophies, people who I wouldn’t have ever imagined taking notice of the work I do. It’s also been met with far more criticism than it’s been before (in part because it’s been more widely published). And I’ve had ideas. Oh, the ideas. Grand, sprawling, lavish, daring ideas, which for the first time ever, I feel capable of implementing.

All these experiences have converged at just the right moment. It’s the moment I’m finally, mercifully prepared to handle them.

At any rate, if you can, tune in to HuffPost Live tomorrow at 12:50pm EST and watch the 20-min panel discussion on mental health in the black community. I’ll be there.

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Nonfiction

Rejection, Pep Talks Involving Oil, and My Biggest Fan(s).

I spent yesterday starting a piece called “Everest,” about my constantly evolving relationship with my daughter’s dad, until around 4pm, when I got an email from the one publisher who requested my full pregnancy memoir manuscript, back in December ’11. I submitted it in mid-January, after coming up with an ending, and I’d checked in with the publisher twice over the past five months, since I was initially told to expect feedback in 6-8 weeks.

Now, here it was. Right in my inbox on a Sunday afternoon, a holiday. I knew it wasn’t good news, and I was right. They don’t want it.

I could stop here–and I almost did.

I hate rejection. I’m not one of those slick-backed people who roll criticism off themselves like water and never let it make them question their worth, ability, or purpose. I’m the opposite of that; I absorb every rejection–whether personal or professional, merited or baseless–and try to figure out how to become unimpeachable and beyond reproach. It’s what kept me from submitting to more than 20 agents and small presses in this initial run, and what kept me waiting on this last company’s decision before deciding whether the manuscript is viable at all.

Since everyone else said no or said nothing, it would come down to them. They seemed interested. After the first follow-up, they said they were very carefully considering it. I believe they did.

But I also knew they’d likely pass. I wrote the manuscript the way I write blog entries: stylistically, flowery, purple. And there isn’t much of a market for that in the category of memoir (or in general, I guess, unless you’re exceptional at it and use it sparingly).

In the end, the feedback suggested as much, that if I were willing to be less gauzy and second-person-y and provide a substantial amount more concrete detail, they’d give it a second look*. They said I’m a good writer (“very, very good” is the verbatim quote and thank God for it), but the diaristic nature of the book (which is, they said, in some ways, its strength) ultimately leaves the reader adrift. And worse: the work is too inwardly focused, too inside my head and not conscious enough of the reader.

Craft talk confession: this is my mortal flaw as a writer. Being too inside-my-own-head. I write in ways that make sense to me, not with an eye toward the reader, nor with much attention to time or space. I write what feels urgent and necessary and I’ll stop here before I veer further into that embarrassing self-assessing space that works to reinforce this point.

Anyway, I decided after reading the rejection, that I’d table the memoir (and memoir altogether). It’s the second one I’ve written, both were rejected, and for two reasons, I was partially relieved each time: 1. I was writing about very raw experiences with people impossibly close to me; publishing my ideas about them would damage too many relationships. And 2. Dozens of rejections must mean the work clearly wasn’t as good as I thought it was** and I could spare myself further rejection by moving on right now.

I am not a self-confident person. Most people can sense this about me right off. But I’m also used to achieving my goals with relative ease–except with this one I want most: to make my career as a literary writer (blogging/online writing, awesome as it sometimes is, isn’t quite the same***).

Couple the fact that I’m not used to needing tenacity with my compulsive uncertainty, and you have your reasons why I don’t already have a book or two published.

I was all too eager to go on to my novel-in-progress (because surely, this is the most commercially salable material I’ve ever written and all those other failed projects were just target practice, right?), after a brief existential depression, that is.

And then I read the rejection letter to my daughter’s dad last night. And I kid you not: he gave me the best. pep talk. EVER. It was all the more impressive because, if you’ve been following the excerpts I’ve written about him here in the past two years, you know that the memoir doesn’t flatter him.

Here’s where I should also point out that I am only brave when I’m writing. Afterward, a kind of cowardice kicks in. It’s one thing to blog or to publish. It’s quite another to open your door and field the complaints of a whole torch-bearing village, regarding the things that you’ve written. It doesn’t matter if your account is true; it’s still embarrassing for them and by extension, hurtful.

So though I told him repeatedly that I was writing this book, I never offered to let him read it, and he never asked. It was just another elephant, another bridge we’d cross when we got there. But occasionally, he’d let on that, during our months-long estrangement, he’d read things–things I didn’t know he’d read–so he had an idea of what to expect.

In short, he told me that, even though we’re in an amicable place now, that doesn’t invalidate what happened. “And if that pain can yield you a paycheck…”

He insisted it didn’t make sense to shelf it, because that rejection letter was filled with suggestions for making the manuscript more accessible.

Our conversation contained all kinds of extended metaphors (On conforming to genre expectations–which I don’t: “The industry is a machine that needs to be oiled. You just have a different grade of oil, and no one knows your brand yet. For now, you’ve got to change your formula.”) and plaudits (“I’m your biggest fan. Well, maybe your mom. And Story. We’re your biggest fans.”****)

Suddenly, this Father’s Day skyrocketed from bearable to awesome.

I know I’ve written a lot, but here’s an excerpt from the Everest piece I abandoned, once we got the rejection note:

I promised you the climb, without pomp, with no parade, without paper. I just looked up and saw above me an impossible height and, toward its apex, the specter of you beyond mist, in thinner air. You, insurmountable, a boy fully grown but under-parented, a man without map, baring nothing: a pinnacle. And as sure as the snow caps, the scant breath, the cliffs, I made vows.

I will tether myself to your side, will pull up or scale across or camp in your clefts, will hold fast to the immovable ridges that round you. I will bundle myself against your bite and warm myself with small victories.

These were unconsidered oaths, incalculable and foolish.

I may finish it later.

* More concrete detail would make it a different kind of project, one about which I’m less enthused. I wanted it to read like a kind of fable, not like a series of unfortunate straightforward incidents.

** A writer I follow on Twitter has told me repeatedly how few twenty rejections are. She had a friend who submitted a project to fifty or sixty agents before one said yes. It’s the kind of story you need to hear, but it also makes you queasy and moves you to paper-bag breaths.

*** As much as I love this blog and as much as writing for other sites has affording me a scantly larger audience, it’s the literary writing that will make me a contender for full-time college teaching positions, which is part of my endgame.

**** I’d add my dad to that list. He asks to read everything I write. And then he does.

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Nonfiction

How To Fight Self-Sabotage.

Turn 32. Recognize the Day of Birth in ways you did not before. Now that you are a mother, understand that this day, that this life, is not yours alone. There is a debt you must pay to the people who brought you here. There is a debt you must pay to the girl your body opened up–like a whale expelling Jonah–to release.

Know now that the time you have spent convincing yourself of an intrinsic unworthiness was not yours to waste. Those interminable years you whiled away, in conflict with yourself, could well have been spent slaying dragons, climbing Everests, loving deeply and well. Reset your internal clock accordingly.

Recognize that your worries–about the traction of your ability, about the accessibility of your talent, about your value–were the shallow trifles of the bourgeoisie. Women like you cannot afford to laze about on a chaise lounge of loftiness, noshing on the bon-bons of inaction. You–the gypsies, the transients, the intermittently penniless, the debt-laden, the mothers–must walk the length of deserts, must fashion a bridge of rejection letters, must set sail away from inadequacy, tossing overboard inattentive men, and finally, upon a new shore, must drill down to the marrow of your souls and extract the dreams you’ve buried there.

Remind yourself that this painful drilling need never have occurred, if only you’d kept your goals at the fore and tended them the way you do the face you so constantly lament isn’t lovely enough.

Repent of the audacity it has taken to thumb your nose at God. Tell Him what he has given you is potent. Your words evoke tears, evoke action. They occupy hearts, link arms, sit-in, sing songs that overcome. They stir the reader, alert him to the need for revolution, compel him to broaden his capacity for love.

Shame on you for re-enacting the parable of the talents, for burying all that you’ve been given, because it looked too meager to present before kings.

Beg forgiveness. Promise that, should He be gracious enough to let you keep these gifts, you will treat them as gold, not tin. They will no longer be susceptible to tarnish.

Give more to the world. Do not gaze at its magnificent surface, full of the colorful impressions of history’s trillions, and say: there is no space left for me. Leave your you-shaped imprint; none other is like it.

Concede that the artist is a public servant. But never surrender your growth to the public’s expectation. Should you find yourself in a box, obliterate its walls.

Believe those who tell you they cherish your work. You hear this often enough to trust it. Do not dismiss true praise as hype. Question those who would proclaim you the Next Whomever. You hear this often enough to be wary. Do not mistake hype for earnestness.

Finally, in pursuits of love, be kind to yourself. You were never meant to be the girl who pined for disinterested men. You always did, perhaps because it is easier to court rejection than to give all of yourself to the pyres of love. Be no man’s second choice. Be the echo at the end of the cavern into which he yells, in search of interchangeable women’s companionship. Be the voice he longs to hear again, now that he knows he never will. Do not become a salted pillar for him.

Instead, dance wildly at the water’s edge and bring your little girl. She must see what it means to at last be free from desiring far less than you should have.

Be assured: someone will be watching. And a love unlike any you’ve known will ignite itself within him.

But regardless of whether he approaches, regardless of whether he has learned to circumvent self-sabotage, you must slather on your war paint, with the girl on your hip. Begin to deliver your words to the larger space, honor them in ways you haven’t before, and watch them transform: tiny airless things at first, slowly yawning into giants.

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