Wednesday, May 16, 2012

On Writing

“Writing is a tool that enables people in every discipline to wrestle with facts and ideas. It’s a physical activity, unlike reading. Writing requires us to operate some kind of mechanism—pencil, pen, typewriter, word processor—for getting our thoughts on paper. It compels us by the repeated effort of language to go after those thoughts and to organize them and present them clearly. It forces us to keep asking, ‘Am I saying what I want to say?’ Very often the answer is ‘No.’ It’s a useful piece of information.”[1]
We have all been told that writing is a process, but I am just now learning what that means. My experience with writing has, I’ll admit, been one of random light bulb moments. Ideas come to me while driving, hiking, or sometimes even in dreams. Whole poems have come to me in dreams—I wake up just in time to remember and write them down. My relationship to writing has been one where I have felt more like the vessel through which some other voice speaks and I simply transcribe. To become aware of this was a major break through moment for me because it gave me clarity as to why my relationship to writing has often felt so troubled, painful and difficult.
I have deliberately been working to change my relationship to writing—instead of always thinking about a finished product, I am learning to embrace the journey. This is a journey that I enter with intention. And my intention is not simply to be done with the dissertation; it is to give myself permission to explore. I realized that I have been afraid of the journey. I have been afraid to write a sentence that didn’t quite make the point on paper the way I heard it in my head or felt it in my heart. 
As I entered the writing stage of the dissertation, I created a writing schedule that was difficult to maintain because I didn’t know how to engage writing with discipline or with patience—I wanted the dissertation to appear to me in a dream. I have never fully taken the time to cultivate my relationship to my own voice as a writer because I have been holding on to the idea that my ideas come from some elsewhere. I do believe in that elsewhere, but that elsewhere isn’t so far away. It is in me, I just have to learn how to access it. This takes practice, persistence, and patience. This change in my consciousness has motivated me and even given me more confidence in my capacity to write and think.
I am handing in the dissertation introduction to my advisor tomorrow and I feel good about it. I’m not worried about the things that I didn’t say or the arguments that aren’t as clear as I’d like them to be. This is a process, a journey and it takes time. Yesterday I woke up anxious to return to the problem I had written myself into the day before—that was new and exciting for me.
In my research, I’m obsessed with darkness, shadows, the spaces that are difficult to find, the spaces that many mark as dead—but I know life, beautiful life can exist there. Writing is a kind of darkness for me and I’m putting my money where my mouth is by playing in that darkness. I remind you, and myself “If the process is sound, the product will take care of itself.”[2]
What is your relationship to writing? What is your writing schedule like? What are the tools you use to make yourself a better writer? I would really love to hear back from you regarding your own process. Let’s share our knowledge and grow together:-)

[1] William Zinsser, Writing To Learn (Harper Perennial, 1993), 49.
[2] Ibid., 16.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

History, Time, Questions...

Do you believe history can be a type of salvation? Do you believe that without a sense of the past we can't build a new and better future? Does freedom dreaming require rewriting history from below? Is our desire for history connected to a search for some natal home? Why is collecting, documenting, marking time or saving moments important? I feel like it might be the best thing I have to pass down to future generations—stories, tales, and truths of past struggles, victories and losses. In a way my dissertation can be thought of as a letter reaching back to the Black Atlantic, Queer Atlantic—my people who lived in the dark, in the ships’ bottoms. Yes, this project is a letter to my younger self who longed to be connected to a part of me that existed in my own body’s history.  How do I make love out of the present and past? I'm writing for the future. I’m writing for the right now and the yesterdays. The way time has been marked upon our bodies and our histories is often times not in sync thus the tales are said to be illegible or impossible. If you've ever edited film you'd notice that if you move the image without moving the audio track the story doesn't make much sense--it becomes distorted. Normativity dominates our world and our time—it encourages us to throw away distortions, but what if we used a different meter? A different time? Might we create a different place?  Periodization standardizes time as it marks clear beginnings and endings, winners and losers, but for those of us who were never meant to survive, those of us who were never supposed to have beginnings, and those of us who have beginnings that start in the darkness as aberrations—well, who can read us? Who can see us? Who can understand audio and visual that might be out of sync, but still in motion? This might be the beginning of a transgender of color analytic...


This blog is a space where I share some of the questions, problems, exciting finds that I come across during this dissertation phase. I will post something at least twice a month. So my project:


Into The Darkness: (Re)membering Black Queer Los Angeles
Neither the existing literature on queer Los Angeles nor the literature on Black Los Angeles have been able to fully contend with Black queer Los Angeles, but my intervention via oral history and archival research will tell some of these lesser known histories of Black queer social and political organizing. Constitutive to histories of Black Los Angeles are the histories of Black queer Angelenos, though scholarship on the subject is scant. Many accounts of Gay Los Angeles are centered upon specific geographic locations, like West Hollywood, rendering the experiences of Black queer folks invisible, as Black queer Angelenos have a different geographical center. Through encounters with the present I discover a past that is not closeted, but rather protected. This is not a linear history, but it is rather through disparate materials, events, and encounters in the present moment that I am able to reach back and tell stories across time and space. The names of Black queer folk and places are often not recognized by any official historical record, and are instead kept alive by local communities intent on naming and (re)membering themselves. My project explores this quest for (re)membrance within the Black queer communities of LA from 1972 to 2000.