Shaking Me Out of My Skin

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"How do you honor people in your pieces?" I asked two different poets these past few weeks.

I've been struggling with this question as I think about writing and publishing more publicly. I always have ownership over my own stories, even when they include other people - family members, friends, and people who look suspiciously like them. Who gets visibility when I write them into my stories? My writer self or the subjects that I sit with? I've been asking for an easy answer, but I only get more complexities.

I've been writing in my head, but I've been writing badly. After the Eyes on Bangladesh event, I was fried. I started to describe my stress in waves. All the stimuli of having weekend after weekend of events made it hard for me to concentrate on anything but practicalities (did I send that email/write that post/eat today?). I love all of my work, but because I love it so much, I have not learned how to adequately say 'no'. To only get rest when someone cancels is no way to live your life. Something had to change.

What I needed was poetry.

And movement.

My friend of many years, Jess X. Chen, came to stay with me and since she is a poet, upon landing she had a list of events for us to go to. I inhaled Tarfia Faizullah's poetry collection Seam after seeing her perform. I listened to Cathy Linh Che and Jenna Le in Ocean Vuong's living room, humming and asking questions. It helps to have friends who can drop you a casual invite to an unfamiliar community.

Poetry influences a lot of my writing style, in part because that was the first form I wrote in that integrated my art and activism. These days, I don't keep up with poetry as well as fiction, though whenever I need inspiration I turn to my well-worn Pablo Neruda collection. More and more people of color poets are doing amazing work and getting noticed for it. These poets shook me out of my writing skin. This period of writing badly has reminded me of another lesson:

My art is slow. In form and content, I need to spend more time with my pieces. I need to draw inspiration from a wide range of sources. I need to listen to the people in my head before I can even think of honoring them.

I encourage you to also try drawing some other inspirations apart from your usual. I'm a fan, of course, of fabric arts (hence all the in-progress pictures in this post!). It's been immensely helpful