Blogs by Dr. Niama L. J. Williams
Dr. Ni's Notes & Nibbles--3
11/22/2007 8:55:20 AM
Welcome to Dr. Ni's Notes & Nibbles--3, a gathering place of news, notes, words and wisdom bulldozing its way into your workday.
Seeing as how I am returning to the world of academic work (YIPPEE!!!!!!!), specifically the teaching of freshman comp (which, actually, can be quite enjoyable if you approach it with a full heart and a creative mind), I thought I would include two essays this issue on the art and science of writing. So, first a bit of news, and then on to the essays. Cause I know you wait with bated breath for these essays …… :-)
From the "Saved by Christ's Bell" Files: Thank you to those who expressed concern and who prayed on my behalf as I faced imminent homelessness. It is proof of God's existence that not two full weeks later I have three jobs (Brookdale Community College, Harcum College, and Fairleigh Dickinson University), one remaining interview (Western International University), and an additional application in play (Malaspina College-University). I did indeed have to be out of my former apartment by August 25, but my dear friend and neighbor, Abel, offered to share his much smaller than mine space until I move—into a possible 5-bedroom house in Norristown! Yes, my good friend Rev. Massey, personal minister extraordinaire, has a neighbor of his own who is selling her childhood home after the death of her father this past April. She wants to be very, very careful about who purchases her home. She met me, liked me, and loved my reaction to and sensibilities about the house. She wanted to make sure that I got all three jobs and when I spoke to her today, she was as excited as I was and put in a call to her attorney. Hopefully, we will be meeting with him on Tuesday to "seal the deal!" I am elated and acting like an old woman of the Church: thanking God every five minutes and looking for opportunities to praise His name! When Black people talk about "making a way out of no way," they are talking about Him and circumstances just like mine. Believe you me, I know who butters my bread when it comes out of the toaster! :-)
Special announcement from the inimitable Marge Pippet: A friend's Fringe festival performance. Please go! It promises to be grand! Tell your friends!! Thanks for your support!
SHOW DATES AND TIMES
Category: Art and Photography
PLACE: The Meeting House Theater, 3500 Lancaster Ave, West Philadelphia
DATES AND TIME: Friday August 31 8pm
Saturday September 1 8pm
Thursday September 13 7pm and 930pm
Tickets can be purchased in advance at www.livearts-fringe.org
Shows will most likely sell out so PLEASE purchase as far in advance as possible!
See you there!
I was to post this in a previous newsletter but the stress of impending doom, i.e., homelessness, stressed me so that it slipped my mind. Oddly enough, this is a film about homelessness! I haven't seen it, but Ladybug Marketing has some truly interesting and productive folk on its list serv, so I suggest you check Mr. Mack's film out at your earliest opportunity.
Here's a little description of RICH FROM WITHIN. Thanks for dropping this in the newsletter! Hope it's not too long!
Mack: " MCWSTAR.aol.com "
Caglevision (www.caglevision.com), an award-winning New York-based independent film production company, will hold the second NYC area premiere of its feature film, RICH FROM WITHIN, at the Pioneer Theater on August 19th – after selling out the first on August 12th. An adaptation of the musical stageplay of the same name by author/writer/composer Mack Williams, RICH FROM WITHIN is a comedic yet poignant look at the life of Richard Minton - an aspiring recording artist who, as a result of an unforeseen set of circumstances, finds himself in a less-than-enviable situation.
"It's been great working with Kenya Cagle and the awesome group of performers Caglevision assembled for this film," says Williams, a native New Yorker and current New Jersey resident who wrote the work because of his concern about homelessness. "RICH FROM WITHIN has a multi-cultural cast, and in a light-hearted manner, tells the universal story that wealth is not the sole provider of true happiness."
One last news item: At the wonderfully illustrious hour of 1 a.m. on Friday, September 21st, I will be the auspicious guest host on Air Atta Ca's Blog Talk Radio show discussing and presenting erotic literature. Those of you privy to the first newsletter know that this is something I dabble in, apparently. No erotica this issue though, unfortunately. But stay tuned for the 21st. You can find out more about Ms. Air Atta Ca's show by searching her on WritersCafe.org.
And now, essay number one ……
ON NIAMA INK: WRITING WORKSHOPS FOR SURVIVORS: LIFE INFUSED, LOVE ENJOINED, TRUTH TOLD
Where would we be without friends who call us to account? Grousing once again about money, I faced a bold question from a friend in Riverside with no degree who pulls in three times my salary. What would I do, she asked, if I had all of the time and didn't want to worry about money? I thought immediately of the project God had been whispering in my ear, a program as old as when I started writing seriously, though I always took my writing seriously ...
I'd conduct poetry, prose, short fiction, personal essay workshops for survivors. Scratch any addict and you find a survivor.
I don't want to work with just the addicted and the compulsive; I want to work with those addicted and compulsive because they have scars, living, breathing, dimmed by self-absorption, by using, scars. I want to work with people who have a reason to be angry and I want them to have an avenue for getting that anger out. I want them to feel listened to, heard, given credence; I want them ready to call the police next time, to call Child Protective Services next time; I want them ready to confront anybody anywhere, even if confronting means holding a phone in their hands and calling for help. I want domestic abuse to cease, child abuse to cease, alcoholism and drug abuse to cease, compulsive eating and restricting to cease, I want cigarette smoking to cease because those with addictions and horrifying pasts are finding a way to speak, to be authentic to their experience, and to know, to feel someone listening.
I want to be that someone listening. I want the world to listen.
I want to help my clients write so well that they feel proud and have a reason to hold their heads up in the morning. So many of us have held our heads up in secret, have promised we never would, not again, would never let them, not again, and then there we were, facing it because we faced them. I don't want those I serve to stay stuck in blame or self-delusion. I want them to air whatever's stuck; air it, face it, shout real loud about it, make sure someone--even if only the other workshop participants--hears them. I want them to write about it then go forth and live because they know someone heard, someone listened, someone believed, even if it was only themself. Because I didn't believe, not really. I didn't believe it was traumatic at all. I believed the adults around me who gave it no credence, who treated it like it wasn't there, who were angry when I brought it up and then turned their anger and discomfort on me.
I want someone to hear them, and I want the presence of that audience to propel them into believing themselves, to beginning to hold themselves accountable, like I must. I am the captain of my ship, the master of my destiny, and that girl I love in Riverside is right: every one of my friends tows the line. They know when I sleep, they know when I wake, and they know when I am not to be disturbed. Such power I have and didn't know it. Running my life in absentia, unaware of the power I wield.
I want to share that power, what it feels like, the non-maladaptive use of it.
I want to infuse my clients with healthy power, self-preservation power, power that makes them smile as they put the cigarette, the cookie, the needle, the drink down. I want to infuse them with love. Because they are starved for it, for healthy manifestations of it.
I want to show them the road out. These workshops mean that I am walking it for myself.
And on to essay number two …. No sense in wastin words …….
BODY OF WORK
Given the strange crux I find myself in, Black woman academic with traumatic childhood and psychiatric diagnosis, I cannot help but believe that my experience, my record of how I continue to cope, and strive, and achieve, could save someone else from darkness, could provide light and a way out to another troubled soul. My work is not solely my own; it comes across an invisible transom from a source which believes in shrouding the ordinary—ordinary people, ordinary events—with the glint of majesty, the light of understanding. It is a spiritual process. Many times a piece begins with a yearning to write about someone who would never imagine themself center stage in a creative work. Then the listening begins, the tuning of my inner ear to my soul's voice.
The soul's voice, however, can be chaotic, so I've become comfortable with my work's home between forms. I've become more fluid in my writing, more apt to let the words come as they are, flow as they want, wander and startle where they may. I have learned when and where and how to let go of control, and the proper place of editing. I let the initial spark carry everything forward, I write it all down as it streams in, and then I let it sit for three or four days so I can edit ruthlessly. If I can be patient, I let it sit a month, or at least three weeks, and edit again. After that revision, I try to put it somewhere and forget about it so that I can do that last edit with a no longer in mad love with it eye. That unforgiving eye is so important to honing the true beauty of the original inspiration.
Teasing out hidden beauty in the ordinary is always my goal, so my work is primarily for women. We think ourselves so commonplace, so ugly, so unfit. I write for women who've been abused, for women who have survived trauma, for women who have survived trauma and yet do some of the most complex, complicated jobs of the twenty-first century. Women who feed babies, who love husbands or partners while fighting the memory of an intrusion at four a.m. when they were three. Women who have to go to work in the midst of all this; women who face up to the demands and somehow, some way, keep from crumbling. My work is for these women so that they don't crumble. It is my way of saying I've been there, I am there, I know, don't give up, don't throw in the towel, not today. Women can't work, can't change, can't nurture or survive if they don't want to get out of bed, if their trauma or struggles keep them from functioning.
I start with work if you ask me about artistic goals. An adjunct professor of English since 1993, I want the freedom an adjunct can only dream about. No scrambling for classes. No praying for enough assignments from enough colleges so that I can pay the bills. I am single with no husband or partner to provide a second income. One of my parents is deceased, and the other has notoriously bad credit. The only one who can support me now is me. The more classes I am forced by economics to teach, the less time I have to write poems, edit prose, submit essays, compile manuscripts; the less time I have to network, to create opportunities to read and present at conferences. I want time to focus on my writing, a gift any woman artist in this day and age would kill for.
You may ask about my audience, and I'll tell you that I am a middle-aged Black woman with many female friends. My friends are in their twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, sixties and seventies. I think there is even an octogenarian in the mix. My friends are white, Black, Latino, Asian, Jewish and biracial. I have friends from college, and friends that I inherited from my deceased mother, women she had known since she was in junior high school.
These women and I talk about many things, and one discussion we have often circles around race and class and culture. We don't step around the tension; we know that honest review of our experiences of each means that sometimes the white folks will be scared, and sometimes we will be scared. These women are my community; my Black femaleness only matters to them when it cements the authenticity with which I discuss whatever is pushing my pen forward at the moment. They know that as a self-aware and committed Black woman I cannot afford to add to the lies and half-truths we tell each other about race and class and culture in this country. To do so would be to do violence to my deepest and most profound sense of self.
My trauma was about secrets and pretending there was nothing wrong. To do so as an adult would betray the three and five and eight year old that I was. It would also do unspeakable violence to my community. My audience does not read me because I'm Black; they read me because I tell truths, because I put the unmentionable down on paper. One of my closest Black friends, who is also a writer, when she hears some of my pieces laughingly comments, "Niama, will you please stop scaring the white people?" She knows.
My community is unafraid of my boldness, my discussion of what lies beneath. They encourage that element of my work because they too are tired of walking on societal and cultural eggshells. They are relieved when I speak out on something they have held in for far too long.
I speak from my experience. My wide and varied community hears me. And that is the deepest and most profound connection.
And now, your favorite feature: the funnies!
HOW TO SHARE A TOO SMALL SPACE WITH SOMEONE YOU REALLY CARE ABOUT BUT ARE NOT HAVING SEX WITH
1. Remember that you are not having sex because you are both African Americans who love white; he loves white women, you love white men.
2. Remember that housewifing has fallen on you by default; race back home to get the dishes done because dammit yes, he assumes you are at home sleeping and doing nothing.
3. Remind him that is the furthest thing from the truth: you have been making calls; responding to emails, business and personal; job hunting and communicating with department chairs who've already hired you; in other words, remind him that you are at home …. Working.
4. Because you are at home …. Working … don't complain that his leaving at 8 to be at work by 9 wakes you at 7; of course he has to have his coffee and watch the morning news—in the living room right across from the couch on which you are not sleeping.
5. When you can afford it, buy him the treats you know he loves; tell him when his favorite addiction, coffee, is on sale at the local drug store; buy it for him if you can afford to.
6. After he has come in three hours late without calling and you have only jokingly asked him when he finally walked in the door, you were smiling as you asked if he was now ready for his ass-whuppin, you tell him the next night, very gently, to please call when he is going to be late because all of the writing you did last night had to be thrown out and you will kill him if that happens again.
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Dr. Ni's Notes & Nibbles--6 - Thursday, November 22, 2007
Dr. Ni's Notes & Nibbles--5 - Thursday, November 22, 2007
Dr. Ni's Notes & Nibbles--4 - Thursday, November 22, 2007
Dr. Ni's Notes & Nibbles--3 - Thursday, November 22, 2007
Dr. Ni's Notes & Nibbles--2 - Thursday, November 22, 2007
Dr. Ni's Notes & Nibbles--1 - Thursday, November 22, 2007