Sunday, August 22, 2010

Writing on Loss

A post by Deborah Siegel about the loss of a dear family friend triggered some thoughts on the death of my father, my child, friends and other relatives.

Reading about David's death at age 69 I can't help but think of my own father's death in '69 when we, my mother (52 at the time) and I, considered him gone too soon, when I was only 13 and he two days short of 71. I was the child that had to make up for all those killed during the Holocaust and my father asked me not to forget his story, history.

I promised him I would not, and up to today I consider his wish a command (I'm working on it Dad).
What story exactly? His story is my story, our history, my past and present and yes, my future. Yet, I have always felt more comfortable making visible the stories of others (as a designer for multicultural theater) than sharing my family's.

A visit around 1980 with a woman who practiced "automatic handwriting" helped me with my first attempts to grasp the extend of the influence of early loss of my father on my life. While automatic handwriting did open the gate, started the flow, I only shared my poetry. I did not think I could write worth while full sentences.

It wasn't until the loss of our baby daughter Ariane Eira in 1993, that I really started writing about my own loss and later in response to other people's losses. My husband  called me the Ann Landers of Grief.

I don't know how I could have survived without writing down my feelings, or rather the translation in words of sensations. Writing about a baby's death the first as last question that remains unanswered even if the clinical reason for the demise is clear, is Why?
My father was an artist the last twenty years of his life. He painted and created objects in clay. One of his sculptures shows a man addressing G.d in despair, asking Why? Why hast thou forsaken me?

Writing about loss gives us besides a place to unload, to try and make sense, or to try and accept, a gauge to measure our development in the mourning process. Acknowledging our own or an other person's loss is never futile, it's all about remembering, paying respect, offering condolences. Remembering a person on the page is of great importance to those who are left behind.

When someone I've known, someone dear to my heart has died, I write down her name, cluster in Gabriele Rico's fashion around the name, bringing to the surface memories, deeper and further from the present time, I cluster about moments between back when and right now until a mental shift gives me the sentence that makes up the essence of what was or is most important about my relationship with the deceased.

I write letters to those who remain, or publish a blog post and when appropriate I send the poem Claribel Alegria wrote after her husband had died. Her books is among those that make me believe writing is a Creative Act of Healing.

Salí a buscarte

Salí a buscarte
atravesé valles
y montañas
surqué mares lejanos
le pregunté a las nubes
y al viento
inútil todo
dentro de mí estabas.

Searching for You

I went out searching for you
crossing valleys
and mountains
ploughing distant seas
asking of the clouds
and the wind your whereabouts
it was all useless
you were within me.

Claribel Alegría

from Sorrow
Curbstone Press 1999

How do you find solace? Do you write about your own or other people's losses?

This work (prose) by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

We Write History Today

HYBRID AMBASSADORS: a blog-ring project of Dialogue2010 This spring you listened in or read about our multinational cultural roundtable discussion on hybrid life at expat+HAREM. Now we're back with interconnected blog posts, a shared reaction to a recent polarizing book promotion at the writing network SheWrites. Join the discussion on Twitter using #HybridAmbassadors or #Dialogue2010

Introduction for White Readers to Black Authors 
Borders Books Seattle
Carleen Brice author of Orange Mint & Honey is an ambassador for black authors and their books. On her blog she reminds readers that August the 29th is the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and she shares some compelling titles related to that natural and civic disaster. 

To buy these books Online, all you have to do is click on a link, it'll get you to the requested title. If you go to a real bookstore however, one you enter through the front door, you may not find novels by Afro- or African American authors in the regular fiction department. You'll discover there's an African American Interest section where all Af Am writers are grouped together. At least, that's the case at the chain bookstores such as Borders and its subsidiary Waldenbooks.  

The Indie bookstores I frequent in Seattle don't show segregated shelves for work by novelists of color.  Nor is this the case at the Tattered Cover where Brice filmed her fictional video. (If you watch her video now, you'll see a disclaimer). Good booksellers will assist customers in finding what they are looking for, the best are able to direct book lovers in new directions.

Welcome White Folks

Elliott Bay Book Company
Last month, in the SheWrites TalkRadio program White Readers, Meet Black Authors: How Women Writers of Color are Read, Received and Reviewed Brice told SW founder Kamy Wicoff that white readers emailed her saying they felt people would look at them funny if they visited the African American Interest section at a book store. They felt that section was for blacks only. In order to deal with this misunderstanding she created a (she says tongue in cheek) video with the hope that watching it will make people think twice before walking past the African-American Interest section at a chain book store in the future (click on video in menu bar at WelcomeWhiteFolks if link above doesn't work for you).

Wanted White Ambassadors to Help Black Author Cross Over
Between Friends - Sandy Bell-Lundy
June 29, a day after the TalkRadio show, Kamy Wicoff called white SheWrites members on their lack of participation in the discussion with beside Wicoff and Brice Virginia De Berry, Bernice McFadden and Martha Southgate. At the end of her post she offered some suggestions of action to take.

One of the aims of the founders of SheWrites is to offer members a possibility to promote their upcoming titles by keeping the membership abreast of developments leading to the publication date. 

After the above mentioned TalkRadio program had aired SheWrites member Lori L. Tharps, author of the memoir Kinky Gazpacho published her "Countdown to Publication" blog post

Perhaps she was inspired by Carleen Brice's video . Perhaps Tharps thought humor would win over people unfamiliar with her work. Tharps's Kinky Gazpacho does look like a fun read, but a comedy writer she is not. There was nothing remotely funny about the way she addressed her white Shewrites sisters. Perhaps she was the victim of a self fulfilling prophecy.
The discussion that followed in the comments section reeled participants in and out of a time warp, with white readers promising to promote her book, sight unseen and a few wondering what the hell was going on. 

Why the segregation in addressing fellow writers?

The Times are Literary A Changin' 
The fact is, the TalkRadio program and the discussion following the blogpost by Lori Tharps tell us that the times they are a changin', but if we don't pay close attention, all we may wind up with is a reversal.

By Judy L Katz 1st publ. 1978
 After a sensitivity training in the 70s Judy L.Katz noted:
"... I felt defensive about my whiteness and guilty and hurt because I was labeled the oppressor.  [The group's response:] This was a self-indulgent way to use up my energy. The real issue was not whether I was concerned about addressing racism but what I had done to challenge it. What action had I taken? By not acting I supported and perpetuated racism." From White Awareness: Handbook for Anti-Racism Training

SheWrites is a platform where writers can count on support as writers. A place to promote our own work and if we like an other writer's work, we'll promote her book, but our willingness to promote a writer is based on our liking someone's work, not on an imposed sense of discomfort.

Celebrate Contemporary Authors of Color
At this time in history the focus of African American writing is changing and all of us can have a hand in making that known to people in our community, no matter what color we have.

"Today, African American literature has become accepted as an integral part of American literature, with books such as Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, and Beloved by Toni Morrison achieving both best-selling and award-winning status."

Seeing this last paragraph of the Wikipedia page on Af Am Lit makes me smile. The mentioned "Today" was the today of yesteryear and is way behind the times. Take alone the books on Hurricane Katrina and engaging novels by women authors mentioned above, look at work by Jeffery Renard Allen and while you're at it check out other "young" writers of color such as Sonya Chung or Rattawut Lapcharoensap.

Have you read a great novel by a writer of color lately? Visit Wikipedia and help contemporary writers make history. 

More thoughts on this subject from my fellow HYBRID AMBASSADORS:
Sezin Koehler's Whites Only?
Catherine Yiğit's Special-ism
Anastasia Ashman's Great White People Book Club
Tara Lutman Agacayak's Circles
Catherine Bayar's Thicker Skin
Elmira Bayraslı's The Color of Writing
Jocelyn Eikenburg's The Problem with "Chinese Food"

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Monday, August 02, 2010

Naranja Sanguina Creates a Sense of Apolcalypse

My sweetheart is "at camp" this week. He's participating in Centrum's Acoustic Blues Fest in Port Townsend. A sucker for road trips I offered to drive him and his gear to Fort Worden where the Festival takes place, five hours on the road, just to see our dog run on the beach and my hubby in his dorm room. On our way to the utmost north-eastern point of the Olympic Peninsula we noticed the temperature was lower than it had been when we left; on my way back to Seattle I felt it went up again the moment I crossed the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, Leaving the Kitsap Peninsula  behind me it was as though I drove into a moderately warm oven the moment the tires of the truck hit the mainland. It was 6 p.m. and the sun, while still high in the light blue sky, seemed veiled.

When I stepped out of the car in front of our house in Seattle I noticed a wood burning smell, not unpleasant, rather like that of a good campfire (no, really) but I drew no conclusions other than that I was glad I could detect smoke again after living without a sense of smell for two years, and that our neighbors must have added some aromatic chips to their charcoal barbecue pit.

By 8:30 p.m. the sun stood like a Spanish blood orange over the horizon without any of the usual spreading of colors in the sky, a bloody red ball against Wedgwood powder blue. In the iPic I took the sun was golden, not red. The surrounding atmosphere of the globe was reddish pink. It all had an apocalypse-like feel to it. The stillness of the summer evening, the sun like a ball on fire, a photograph that didn't speak of reality, it made me want to scream. A silent scream like the one uttered by the figure in the famous Munch painting. For the longest time people thought Munch had to be crazy for "seeing" such an image, but astronomers discovered changes in the atmosphere due to a volcanic eruption can create the colors Edvard Munch painted. In the sky that is, it doesn't explain the red sun ...

This morning I awoke with the aromatic wood burning smell in my nostrils and remembered last night's red sun and that I've seen something similar in Los Angeles about 35 years ago. Forest fires, I realized, it's summer time and the woods are ablaze. Dreadful, dreadful fires. A good reason to scream.

Which artwork expresses how you feel at times?

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License