Saturday, July 16, 2016

Crafting the Cake (Or, How Baking and Writing Should Be Compared)

Recently, I've come to term with a few facets of myself.

To begin with, I've finally realized that I need to bake. Just like I need to write. Perhaps not with the same soul-pinned need to string words together in the right sentences, phrases, paragraphs, sweeping tiers of meaning and warmth and the sense that what I am becomes that much better when it is put down on the blank page.

But at least with cake, I can eat my feelings and I don't have to look them in the eye while weaving them into dialogue and description. Also, it tastes better.

Anyway, I've also realized that the whole thing about baking and writing - "writing is like baking, you need the right ingredients and you have to be ready to wait, the raw material doesn't taste as good as the end result" and so on and so forth - is not...actually legitimate. At least, in regards to me. Probably because I just tugged a chocolate cake out of the oven and I can actually see the end results as pretty and don't actually find the in-process results of baking too bad even if they are rather messy and require a lot of scrubbing afterward.

Yes, writing requires the right ingredients. But the right ingredients vary. You can't always check your way down a list and go, "Oh, I've got my love thread right where I want it, so I'm heading to Aisle 12 to toss in a few thematic elements and maybe a little comic relief."

Yes, writing requires waiting. But at least with a cake, I know that within a good thirty minutes, I'll be heading in there with my gloves on and a toothpick ready to test that ooey-gooey middle - and, unlike an unfinished draft being carefully avoided in the writing program of choice for the week, that middle will settle itself in with a little heat and careful footsteps.

Yes, the raw material is no way reflective of the results. But at least you know what is coming out and you don't necessarily have to toss the entire middle of the cake and pour a new batter around the scorched edges in order to make progress. Well, not always. Okay, maybe that one still works.

I think you get the general idea. And I hope this doesn't sound like me whinging and whining about how hard writing is. Yes. It's hard. Yes. I do it anyway. Yes. I love it and this is my community and I wouldn't trade it for anything because this is such a gift and such a remarkable place to be and know that I am part of it and I contribute to it.

But. For all that baking has made me realize about the frustrations of writing - the unavoidable hiccups and fallen middles and sickening realization that somewhere along the line, you turned the heat too high and didn't stir enough and have to start a new batch (and yes, this totally does work as a comparison for writing) - I did have one important thought pop in my head when I was first sliding in that chocolate cake cooling on my counter:

Baking and writing both do require faith and patience...for you.

In you.

If I can hold a hand mixer in my aching hand and stir a thick batter for two long minutes and be confident that I'm doing the right steps, I should be confident when I'm writing down notes on a love list or starting a new synopsis or feeling that sickening ride-took-a-quick-turn lurch of new inspiration and rushing to take notes on it.

If I can grease a pan and set an oven and feel that I've given my cake the environment it needs to grow and reach its full, delectable, soft and fluffy potential in, I should feel just as secure in my mind's ability to add a creative flair to my own thoughts and imaginings.

Of course, thanks to the mind's impeccable ability to focus on all the wrong steps you take and the pancake-flat ambition of your ideas (or maybe that is just my mind, always snapping at my heels and making me question everything), it is not that easy.

Of course, even if I followed all the instructions in a recipe I'm using for the first time, there's still that nervous feeling of, "This can either be really good or a big waste of my time and flour."

And I don't really have answers for that, still. I would probably write faster if I did and spend less time deleting and tearing up and just...questioning everything. Which I don't do while I'm baking. Which probably says a lot.

Anyway. I think the moral today is create with confidence, create with self-assurance. Create with the thought that you are giving your work the environment and exposure it needs to grow and rise and reach its full, engaging, exciting, personally stirring potential.

And maybe put a cake in the oven so that when the self-doubt strikes, at least your mouth will also be full.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Every Face Lit Up: Kweli 2016 and All That It Was.

For the past few weeks, I've been at a loss.

The semester has long since lost its glossy sheen of expectations, seemingly light assignments and attainable syllabi goals. If, you know, it ever had any of those. I was physically ill, mentally worn out and withered, and reaching down into my creative well for any hope or love or light brought up a bucket of wall scrapings: what I should have been doing, what I should be writing, paltry, painful words that made me wince to type out and made me scratch them out and away like unsightly scabs.

So, just to make that clear right at the beginning: I was living scantily, and with the little energy I had, I was living for Kweli.

I seized on it - the idea of this conference within reach, for people like me, on a weekend when I could actually attend and not glance down at my watch every few minutes, worrying if I'd be missing another commitment.

So. It happened. And I went.

Which really are the most anti-climatic, poorly chosen words to encompass all of what I felt yesterday, and today, and hopefully for the rest of this week because I am still soaking it in and thinking it through and just...being glad and grateful for the rightness that it pretty much was.

My friend Patrice Caldwell really put it best. You walk into this room, and it is full - brimming in every corner and seat and smile - with your people.

My people.
Your shields came down. You code switched right back to your natural default. The slang and the sly asides and the playful ribs during the day just gave me life right back where it was suckered out of me by weekdays filled with casual racism and subtle sneers.

I beamed. Inside, I felt like I bloomed. My very heart was giddy.

And then, right when I'd managed to find a last minute seat, when I'd thought I found a moment to catch my breath and stop appearing so flustered, Edwidge Danticat stood up - and declaimed an incredible keynote that had tears swimming in my eyes, Does Your Face Light Up?

My face lit up. It felt like the entire room, in that moment, reached down inside and held onto their own deep spark. It was a reminder I needed: why we do this, why our voices matter - why my voice matters, even on the days when I droop low and I have to dig deep for the moments Ms. Danticat described, the moments when my heart first opened, or closed, or was battered or bitter or bruised, in order to draw them out onto the paper.

It is because we light up. It is because we feel that rightness.

It is because this story, our story, needs to be told.

Words have wings. Words have feet. We don't know where they will travel, where they will land, who they may comfort...or save. - Edwidge Danticat, Kweli 16

I rarely attend conferences with both the benefit of marginalized focus and discussion on craft. I have to admit, right here, that I ended up spending most of the time meeting with people I adore and only half an ear for some admittedly amazing panels, but the union was there nonetheless, and it was incredible.
I feel like I will be talking about this for weeks. I will be thinking about it for weeks.

I will hopefully be beaming and blooming for weeks, enraptured by this new sense of self: being part of that large room of belly laughs and cheeky rejoinders and hard-hitting truths and realizing that I am part of this world, I can hang with these incredible people, I was literally in the room where it happened and new talent walked away inspired to wield their gifts and everything pulsated with one beat:

Your story matters. Your story matters. Your story matters.
I'm not sure what else to share. There are little moments, funny and sweet moments: hugs and first meetings and being applauded while my mouth was full of a bagel and I hardly looked anything professional.

Oh, and going out to lunch and getting pancakes.

Because that did happen.

Today, my heart is hopeful. My mind is teeming over. Today, I feel my worth. I feel the weight of my responsibility and the memory of the girl I was, the girl who others currently are, who wanted mirrors and windows and hope and love and light and winged words to land in her lap and console her with their well-timed wonder.
In that moment, in that room, every face lit up.

And it happened and it was everything and I hope I experience it again soon.