Writing Communities and The First Draft

I have written a lot in the past week. I've finished a draft of the story I mentioned earlier, the one where my protagonist changed genders on me. I wouldn't have worked so hard on it had it not been for my friend, Rae, who gave me a firm deadline of when she wanted to see the story. I owe her one. I don't know how any writer makes it without a community to cheer her on and help her sort through ideas. I'm so very grateful for my community in AZ. We're losing our punk novelist to Chicago but that' okay. We'll be in touch with her through the internet.

The last time I met with this group, we talked briefly about writing sex scenes. I've done it when I was assigned to do so in a class, and I feel pretty lame making that admission. The question is why not write more about sex? Anyway, I pushed myself to explore sexuality in this story more than I have in the past. Here's an excerpt of the draft:

It must be, DeAnn thought, that her sister was not a sexy thirteen. Not like she'd been the year before. She gathered this by the way the boys in gold chains paused to look up and down at Crystal then turned hugely away. DeAnn had warned Crystal about her little girl hairdos. That day, her sister wore her hair in an afro puff, which sat like a geranium on the crown of her head. "Not cute," DeAnn had told her. Crystal said that DeAnn's straightened flip, which swept down over one of DeAnn's eyes, made her look, quote, "extra cheap."

DeAnn was not insulted, was never insulted, by Crystal's assessment of her especially when the boys in chains were turning to glance at DeAnn again. DeAnn was cute. Boys liked her because she was cute. Boys wanted to have sex with her. She liked sex. She'd had sex at least a dozen times, maybe two dozen times. These encounters happened in basements, swimming pools, in wooded fields, at the mall, or in cars if the boys could drive. She couldn't explain how amazing it felt to be with a boy in an unlikely place then go home to eat dinner with her mother and sister. It felt the way Christmas felt before you knew. It felt like someone outh there thought you were special. Sometimes, before she did it, DeAnn thought she migh explode into a cloud of atomes from anticipation. But afterwards, as she'd pull on her jeans, she never felt special. She felt nothing. Mostly she felt alone.

The boys were still checking her out when DeAnn looked over at them. They stood near the school staircase, a huddle of backpacks, chains, sneakers. DeAnn and Crystal had not gone to public school in years, since Crystal was in second grade and DeAnn in third, so when they walked through the doors of Edward Bigley High that morning, DeAnn was holding her breath trying to feel how her body was different from the jangle of sounds and rhythms she would join. This was her father's idea that the girls attend a "regular" high school.

Obama On My Mind

President Obama is scheduled to speak at Arizona State University's commencement ceremony this evening at 7 p.m. and so all of Phoenix is abuzz. Before 8 a.m. this morning, I saw helicopters flying over campus and security guards standing outside Sun Devil Stadium where the ceremony will take place. I decided at the last minute to donate my tickets to two people who really wanted to go. I wanted to see the prez, too, but the last time I did a stadium crowd was at a football game in 1984 at the University of Michigan. The guy next to me drank so much beer he got, well, sick. I haven't been too fond of stadiums since. Besides, it will be over100 degrees today.

Last night, the president hosted a Poetry Jam at the White House. The event was first publicized as a slam, but because there was no competition, the White House is now saying use "jam" instead of "slam," please.

The president is outdoing Oprah when it comes to money-making endorsements. When he recently mentioned that he was reading the novel Netherland by Joseph O'Neill, sales for the book increased and it went into a second printing.

And finally, Obama is on my mind because I'm trying to finish an essay about what his presidency means. The essay is due next week but I'm finding it hard to write something original. I can list all of the interpretations about the presidency that we've already read:

1) Obama's presidency represents post-blackness.
2) Obama's presidency represents black exceptionalism.
3) Obama represents biracialism, multiculturalism, etc.
4) Mrs. O's clothes/arms/butt/hair represent ___________(fill in the blank).
5) Obama's presidency means the end of black artistic angst.

So that's where I am, listing cliches and hoping to find something, anything fresh to say.

Happy Mother's Day

I know I've cracked jokes about motherhood, but the truth is that I would not want to be in the world without my kids (shown at right squeezing me out of the picture.) I feel a specific joy when I see them even when they're squeezing squeezing from both ends.

Like every writer, I want to finish the manuscript I'm working on and get it published. But I also want to be present for and responsive to my kids. They deserve it. Many writers have been successful at this balancing act although I wonder, did the children of regal Toni Morrison act like this in her family photos?

What You Don't Want to Miss

Two Arizona-based artists have events coming up this week.

Poet Sean Nevin will be reading the evening of Thursday, May 7 at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe along with Prescott poet Jim Natal. Nevin will read from Oblivio Gate, a critically acclaimed collection of poetry about loss and memory. For more information on the reading go here.

On Friday and Saturday, May 8 & 9, performance artist Denise Uyehara hosts The Senkotsu (Mis)Translation Project at Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica, CA.
Project description: "Inspired by an Okinawan tradition in which the bones of the deceased are washed and placed in tombs, this project remembers the U.S. occupation of Okinawa via a series of interactive rituals." For more information go to deniseuyehara.com.

Quick Links

I've read a lot about White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers, but this weekend was the first time I read that she is a descendant of Marie Laveau who was the subject of Jewell Parker Rhodes's novel, "Voodoo Dreams: A Novel of Marie Laveau". Check out the Wall Street Journal's profile of Desiree Rogers here.

Writer Toure has a piece in the New York Times about Colson Whitehead's new novel and post-blackness. He writes that "It's time for us to hear more post-black stories like this." Whitehead's novel, "Sag Harbor," has received three reviews in the NYT in one week, each review angled towards a different audience.

I love Michael Silverblatt's Bookworm show which is broadcast from KCRW in Santa Monica, and can be found online here. Silverblatt has to be the closest reader of literature outside of an English department, and his interviews of writers are so smart and interesting because of it. An interview of Elizabeth Alexander is coming up on May 7th.

Reading on the Light Rail

Two books that I've spied people reading this week are "god is not Great:How Religion Poisons Everything" by Christopher Hitchens and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" by J.K. Rowling.

There has been plenty of reading on the train but I had a really hard time seeing the titles for some reason and I didn't want to stalk people as they read.

I did ask a passenger sitting next to me what book she was reading on her Kindle. She was reading news from the Arizona Republic. It was the first time that I got to look at a Kindle in person and the screen is not computer-like at all. It looks just like a printed page from a newspaper or book. And it holds 1,500 books or something like that. I may have to reconsider.