Dr. Ni's Notes & Nibbles
Friday, August 03, 2007 12:42:00 AM
by Dr. Niama L Williams
|The latest from the world of the wily academic.
Welcome to Dr. Ni's Notes & Nibbles, a gathering place of news, notes, words and wisdom bulldozing its way into your workday.
Two mini-essays this issue and then a brief wisdom section: brief bites that nourish the business, the soul, the making of international connections.
Novelist Cheryl Hagedorn, who seems to have fallen off my radar screen for the moment, commissioned the first piece, "What I Look For." If someone can send her a "how're ye" for me, I'd be grateful.
Now, to the piece!
WHAT I LOOK FOR: A SHORT ESSAY ON CRAFT AND SOPHISTICATION
I was standing on a hot, sweaty street corner waiting, interminably, for the slow-ass 23 bus. The six or seven of us gathered there quietly not fighting for the miniscule space in the shade under a definitely unloved something straining to be a tree. We couldn't fault it; it was trying with everything it had.
The only sources of true entertainment were the two addicts, an interracial couple, madly in love, dancing, walking, talking and occasionally nuzzling while waiting for the bus. Their love, we could see, was clear, pure, honest, and vivacious, and they didn't care who saw. Neither looked a long way from their last high, but my heart leapt when I saw the female, either Latina or white, holding fiercely to and reading, a book. Literature, I thought, in the hands of someone who needs it!
Then I saw the title. Knife Assassin.
So when you ask me the rationale behind the choices for my radio show, "Poetry & Prose & Anything Goes with Dr. Ni," I tell you that I want my listeners to hear the best writing out there; if they tune in, I want their ears dripping in anticipation. I want their appetite for good words whetted and then sated in the way that only sweet potato cheesecake can make a gourmand smile.
Keep in mind that I am, and have been for 13+ years, a professor of literature, and therefore I want poems and prose with evidence of study and the development of craft. To give you an idea, here is a definition of poetic art that I gave to the Kelly Writers House for whom I did a poetry workshop in 2005:
Why poetry: Poetry works because it bypasses the intellect and goes straight for the gut, the soul, what lies underneath your tame and ordinary conventions, ideas, and feelings about the world. It takes you out of your commonplace feelings and arouses, touches something deeper, something you feel only in your solar plexus, something you feel only when someone surprises you and knocks the wind, momentarily, out of your sails. That gasp for breath, of recognition, that's what you're going for as a poet. You want your audience to recognize but be stunned, startled by that recognition. You want them shocked awake by what they instantaneously understand.
Poetic language: By poetic language I mean metaphor, simile and imagery as your nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs; as your building blocks with which to communicate. Poetic writing is about density (of image and metaphor) and compactness of language; you are communicating in symbols, but you are compacting those symbols so tightly that you express 5 pages in six or seven stanzas. Your medium is the comparison, the putting of a thought or concept into its mirror, an image: the way in which a flower unfolds, the way in which a bee approaches and pollinates, the way in which a mirror smashes against a wall and proliferates into a million and one shards. Tell us about your news item and its effect on your world using image and metaphor and simile. Tell us by showing us through what you see, what you hear, what you taste, what you envision, what you hold every day in your hands.
Do you see what I mean by development/evidence of craft? I want poems and stories for the show that leave a reader THINKING, recovering from an emotional onslaught, yes, absolutely, but I want their brain teased into motion as well. Density, complexity, sophistication: I want all three evident in the prose or poem, and it must be a great listening experience as well; if writing is not fun for the reader, does not pull the reader in—especially against his or her will—if it is not magnetic, kinetic, and instructive what then is the point and who will ever care?
You may wonder why I put "and instructive" in italics. I am one of those old saws who still believes in the ideals of the Black Arts Movement. Literature is supposed to give us tools for living, is supposed to tell us how others survived the impossible, the improbable, the unjust so that we too can do the same—with our dignity intact, with a sense, even, of majesty and grace. Literature is supposed to arm us for Mr. Charlie, whoever and whatever our Mr. Charlie looks like. That tree needed love and attention and water, and that female in love and recovery needed stronger sustenance than Knife Assassin would ever be able to offer. To face the cruel twists and turns of fate sober will require knowledge, solace, tales sophisticated and honest with characters real in their bravery; characters enough like her to help her envision acting with similar courage and fortitude.
The 23 bus did, eventually, come, and I left that tree there, alone, unloved, unwatered. Soon to be another fatality in this city of mounting bodies. As I boarded the bus I tried very hard not to look at that woman and the book that, in her hands, would continue to break my heart.
This next essay is rated "R," like the film it critiques. Don't let your boss catch you reading this one …..
THE VELOCITY OF GARY
Niama Leslie JoAnn Williams
Copyright August 2007
Yes, to write even on the dirty page, the page besmirched with prints of black and darker black, fingerprints and newsprint and my hoped for dreams finally more than a vision, my fantasies taking center stage and people around me, through telephone wires, saying yes, yes, yes!
And that is exactly it, is it not, dr. k? That is exactly what nourishing connections teaches us. Hard solid sturdy food—fiber and chicken and potatoes and fruits and vegetables, they fill us up because they are hardy sturdy stick to your ribs—like Vincent's touch. For some reason I was not excited by Brokeback Mountain; quite honestly, after the comic strip and Riley and Huey and Grandfather's take on it I knew I'd never be able to sit through the film with a straight face: I'd be thinking about Grandfather and his friend going to see a good ole cowboy movie and—oh, I'd be in the center aisle thinking of MacGruder's strip and laughing my head off.
I do not laugh at The Velocity of Gary—I am moved touched disturbed by the film. Vincent's talents ignored again, savagely. I know Velocity was long before Brokeback and has to be a much more stirring, startling, and necessary story. How many times have I looked at a prostitute when I knew exactly what I was seeing and did not want to see, to touch, to know? For all the sympathetic, think we understand short stories and teleplays about 'hos, no one gives them honor as does dan ireland's film. What I find fascinating is Vincent's emergence from that into Law & Order: Criminal Intent. My God, Goren must be a perpetual straight jacket for him. He must be going fucking nuts. A man who risks Thumbsucker and Velocity could never be happy, permanently, with a Goren role in perpetuity. Uncomfortable long term as butt sweat or that special chafing fat women get only in the summer. Yet Vincent risks it—he makes a real bisexual romance—a real story of sex workers, transvestites and their lovers—my hopes for Hollywood somewhat Kid Joey's—but like Kid Joey I have enough sense to take my ass to New York, not Tinseltown. I watch The Velocity of Gary and no, it is not Valentino's (D'Onofrio's character) story, yet he is its raison d'etre. My week of big blond oafs. Peter Weir Gerard Depardieu African music aboriginal flavoring and Green Card another essay. Enough to say that the filmmaking careful there. Andie MacDowell expert at playing the repressed proper privileged well brought up guerrilla gardener dilettante who wouldn't know what to do with a real penis between her legs. Gerard as the Frenchman composer unafraid and unembarrassed to admit he is an oaf, but hurt by the epithet just the same. His snort like a pig too effectual, too accurate, and one of the things "Bronte" (MacDowell's character) comes to love about him.
License. It is license, you see, that was lacking. License to tell the real story of bisexual New York sex workers dying of AIDS. Every time he coughed I thought consumption, asthma, until they just had to keep knocking my head against it and I had to say AIDS. Velocity of Gary brave to make me see them, love them, care about them. The overweight Black nurse and the tattoo artist the only two to truly see them and risk loving them in all their foolish, desperate choices. The Dracula overlay heartbreaking; his little girl the castle, all that is left standing at the end.
But a family created: a street hustler, an HIV positive former doughnut hostess, the baby of a dead porn star; she, the last, named Hope. What other option for a mother brave enough to love a man whom she must share with a man and Vincent's character brilliant enough to see the storm coming and make himself large enough, powerful enough to love them both, insist that they make nice.
Uncomfortable as they made me my best scenes, my favorite scenes, Vincent kissing and being kissed by Gary. Sensual power rating: 563,000. Kinetic sexuality rating: 729,000. Portrayal of real love, naked honest lust on screen: numberless. dan ireland and his star risked making those love scenes the most sensual, the most powerful, the biggest turn on. The way V's character lays his head back and lets Gary kiss his face—I've never seen V that tender with a woman.
And why do I write all of this to you, dr. k? dr. k of healthy wholesome nourishing connections? because we too are outlaws, dr.k; we too are bandits, complete with mask and black hat. you stand before the massive, trillion dollar diet self help twelve step industry and say, feed yourself and your body will tell you what to feed yourself. Cassendre Xavier's Pink Ediccione confirms that. I for the first time sit and watch a film bare-breasted, water cracker crumbs dusting my breasts from the peanut butter and crackers I nibbled as the film began. Soon the intensity took over and yes, dr. k, I was thinking about freedom, liberation, license. I will feed my body, my consciousness, what it asks for and find that way to health.
And I will watch The Velocity of Gary one more time, perhaps this time totally naked because what comes next for me, dr. k, what comes after giving my body what my consciousness wants is giving my consciousness a healthy, happy, sensual relationship with my own body.
And now for the Wisdom Bites:
WISDOM BITE #1: SOCIAL NETWORKING IS A GOOD THING. Got me an intro to Larry Meistrich's Nehst Studios and some kick-ass carrot cake. Chatting up his assistant, Stefano Bonaretti, was a side delight, unanticipated when joining Philly Writers Meetup Group. Should you spend far too many hours staring at your computer screen producing 21st century literature, it's good to periodically pretend that you're actually going to meet real, live people.
Don't want to spend your Friday and Saturday nights with fellow geeks bemoaning the demise of (insert title of most recent cancelled intelligent television show here; think 3 lbs, Raines )? Hie thyself to Meetups.com and find folks who thrill to Dr. Wayne Dyer and Iyanla VanZant just like you do. You can search Meetups.com by city or by topic, and you can specify the mile-proximity so that you are not traveling 200 kilometers to meet the Sunday's Child Winnebago Lovers MeetUp Group. I've joined 13 groups and I get the most enticing emails and invitations ……..
WISDOM BITE #2: SERIOUS WRITERS DON'T SLEEP. Know any thriving novelists, prize-winning poets, spoken word devotees with four or five chapbooks in circulation? Ask them the last time they got a decent night's sleep. Probably the night they finally put the wrap on "My Memories of DeathTrap: 15 Years in the Theatre and No Awards."
You aren't sleeping when the Muse has decided to visit and refuses to even let you dream of the covers. No, working producing writers of a certain ilk, my 76-year-old father included, know that when the idea percolates down from your brain just as you were doing the last pee of the night before somnambulant bliss, well, dedicated writers know Morpheus won't be seeing you at the 7-Eleven that wee hour of the morning.
If you care about words, shiny new and tingling as they dance over the transom to tantalize you from the Great Beyond, you'll answer their siren call, wipe, flush the toilet and hope your partner doesn't catch you sneaking past the bedroom to your office, writing desk, lovely ball and chain. If daily diligence turns your consciousness to mush, but the spontaneous spark quickens your blood and hastens your pace, here are a few ways to cope:
1) Cultivate fellow nightowl friends. You'll need them at 4 a.m. when you've finally finished your new baby and need to know if it's ugly or not.
2) Wear down your psychiatrist. She'll try to tell you that you need to socialize more, get out there and meet people; it's important for your career. Do meet people, socialize and such. Just insist on no meetings before 12 noon. As your social life and psyche continue to thrive, your psychiatrist will eventually shut up about normal sleep cycles.
3) Look for jobs that suit your hours, not convention. They do exist. Hell, you're a writer—telecommute, baby!!!
4) Blackout curtains are a must. The one thing your psychiatrist will be right about is that it's hell trying to fall asleep in a sunny room. So knock Apollo off his chariot with Bed, Bath & Beyond's finest.
5) Don't let anyone—ANYONE—berate you for occasionally staying up all night. Medical personnel do it on a regular basis. You're not saving lives, you yell, but your writing saves souls and psyches so back off, you say, with real venom behind your teeth.
6) 24/7 access to writing utensils is a must. No sense in staying up if the campus computer lab doesn't open til 8:30 a.m. Make sure you have—at all times—working tools of your trade. Doctors don't leave their scalpels at home, neither should you.
7) Last but not least, when not working, sleep to your heart's content. If the days collect and the pizza boxes pile up become concerned, but do not avoid catching up on your rest. When the Muse has beat me like a well-seasoned mule for a day or so, I know that the next two nights I'll sleep ten to fourteen hours. Two days (or nights) of that and I'm back to feelin' fine.
And remember: you're in this because you love the work, because your capillaries glow as you watch the newest piece cluck its way out of the printer. You know someone's eyes are desperate for it. Hey, might those desperate eyes be yourn? If so, hate to say "see you in two weeks." I'll do my best not to clog your inbox too much til then. In the interim, fare thee well and yes, bake those cookies. Your serotonin levels could use the assistance of good, quality chocolate.
Dr. Ni's Corner