On Writing A Memoir

This memoir is hard. I don’t know why, but the memories refuse to be shaken loose. I’m not used to dealing with writer’s block. When I want to write, dammit, I write. I might not have exact control of which ideas that I want to discover, nor do I know what format it will all take, but I trust my instincts and just write. I type each word as it needs to be typed. It doesn’t make sense if I try to think about it. It’s like trying to explain writing to someone who’s never read.

I’m functionally illiterate to the processes behind my writing process. I used to think of it like those cotton candy machines. I dip a straw in the middle of that big bowl and rotate slowly. Pieces of ephemeral cotton candy start to latch around the straw and build. It starts out insignificant, but they quickly start to take a firm shape and reach massive proportions. That’s how I write. I just stick my straw into the idea pot of my mind and things start sticking to the middle, finding cohesion and taking a shape of their own. The shape is almost always random. All I know is that the end product will be sweet to varying degrees. I really could care less how it happens.

That’s where I’m at in my life right now. Trying to tackle this memoir, and by the Will of Allah, I hope that it gets easier to approach every time I sit down to do battle with the thing. Psychologically, there’s a lot at play here. It’s not easy to talk about yourself to the world. That’s what a book is. You’re laying bare your soul and presenting it to the world for their consumption. You hope that it changes some lives, and hope even more that your life is not negatively affected by having produced it. People are judgmental. People fear what they don’t know. People are more like spitting cobras than people, at times.

It’s hard not to think about people when I sit down to write that memoir. It’s painfully slow going and as if I can feel every pair of eyes in the world fixated solely on me. The world is standing on my shoulder watching me type. I have no idea how well the book will do, I just hope that it’s enough to provide me some reprieve from life as a working stiff. I enjoy working, no doubt, but it’d be nice to take the winter off. Go to Africa to write and relax and take pictures and drink Camel milk and dip my toes in white-hot sands. I miss getting into arguments over a meal. I miss bonding with the same person you were arguing with 5 minutes ago. I miss the openness of our culture, of our people, in their natural habitat. The further we get from Somalia, the more we lose ourselves. The more diluted we become. You can speak Somali in Seattle, but it won’t have the same meaning as it would in Sool iyo Sanaag. Sometimes I think about how people back home envy us while people up here envy them. The grass is always greater, the light is always brighter on the other side of the tunnel.

I have to admit to myself that I don’t control my writing. I’m not sure if it’s something that can be controlled. One thing that I’ve gained control of is the frequency in which I write. The ferocity of my writing has increased with practice. I’ve always been a slow bloomer, like a steeped tea, and I never do well when rushed. My writing is an extension of me, so it makes no sense to rush this process. The one thing I hate more than trying to write this memoir and failing miserably is having to field the endless questions concerning its progress. Listen, Janet, I don’t know when it’ll be done, Okay?

People think writing is just a walk in the park. You just sit down at your desk for a few painless hours and pump out thousands of words. No, it doesn’t work like that. If writing was like accounting, there’d be a lot more writers in this world. If words came so easily to the page, there wouldn’t be much reason to read anything. Writing is not talking, it’s not some standup comic doing a freestyle set entertaining a crowd of drunken buffoons. It’s a struggle. A piece of every writer worth their weight is left on each page. Anyone who forces themselves to consistently go through this violent self-torture is a real writer in my eyes. Their output might not be “good” or “bad;” it just is. Mediocre writing can be polished into world-class writing. I wouldn’t know because I’ve never produced anything “world-class,” which makes me wonder if I’m not just another mediocre writer with a bag full of tricks. A pretender and a chameleon. A damn clown, that’s me.

The truth is stranger than fiction, so I stay away from writing short stories. I think I could, if I really tried, but it wouldn’t resonate with me. I only read the types of stuff that I could see myself writing, and vice versa. I love reading my friends’ fiction because I know them and can learn more about who they are based on their stylistic choices, their omissions, and retractions. I loathe fiction in general. Although, I’m enjoying this fiction book that I have to read for class. Ok, so maybe I am a fraud, after all.

A friend of mine, whose initials are M.J.J., once complained to me about all these stupid little rules I have of things I can or can’t do. I’m extremely limiting of my own possibilities, my friend told me. I replied that I’m like a picky eater, because I’ve always been a momma’s boy, and I have very peculiar and exacting wants. I follow my desires. My mind is weaker than my body, I’m not even exaggerating. I once went to a girl’s house to meet her mom because she promised to cook me breakfast. My body won out. My mind said slow down. My stomach said growl. I put the car in drive and off we went, smiling like a court jester the whole way. That’s just the kind of person I am. I wear my heart on a sleeve and drive around with clichés in my trunk, hogtied in a stolen knapsack.

I’ve made many terrible choices in my life because of this body. The body wants, and the mind must be strong enough to resist. I walked past a candy corn display case a few months back. I forgot what I was in the store for at that very moment. Nothing else mattered. I filled scoop after scoop into the plastic bag. I walked out of the store with nothing but a bag filled to the brim with the candiest of corn. When I got home, my mom asked me where all the stuff I was supposed to buy went. I said “WHAT STUFF,” behind a mouth full of candy corn. She put her hand to her head and just looked away in disbelief.

That’s the kind of person I am, I really mean it. You can imagine my reticence to write this memoir. My body just does not want to do it, as of yet. The words are telling me to slow down like a Lloyd song. The people are asking me when I’ll finish it. There’s a visible disconnect between people’s desires for my future and my own wants in the present. Right now, I want to write the memoir, but my body refuses. That is my reality and I am powerless to change it. I cannot make anyone other than writers understand this concept. The problem is that most people are not writers, so they cannot understand what exactly the words mean in the context of someone who is forced to spit them out before they overtake his very conscious, picking apart at his brain like buzzards, ripping through his heart like stray bullets, snapping at his soul like overly defensive chihuahuas at his ankles on someone else’s yard.

THE MEMOIR WILL BE FINISHED WHEN IT WANTS TO BE FINISHED. That should be my new response whenever anyone asks me anything. As an example, here’s a fictitious exchange with someone who wants to meet me at a small-business-owner conference in a hotel meeting hall, somewhere in the Midwest:

What’s your name?

THE MEMOIR WILL BE FINISHED WHEN IT WANTS TO BE FINISHED.

Ok… and what do you do for a living?

THE MEMOIR WILL BE FINISHED WHEN IT WANTS TO BE FINISHED.

So, you’re a writer, I take it? What are you doing at a small-business-owners convention?

THE MEMOIR WILL BE FINISHED WHEN IT WANTS TO BE FINISHED.

Look, man, you don’t have to be so rude about it. I really don’t care about your memoir.

THE MEMOIR WILL BE FINISHED WHEN IT WANTS TO BE FINISHED.

At that point, they’ll have no choice but to walk away in a puff of steam like Wyle Coyote, screaming profanities the whole way such as confound it and dagnabit. What in tarnation, they’ll say.

The memoir will be finished when it wants to be finished, I’ll whisper softly to my own reflection in the hotel lobby mirror.

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Yeezy Told Me to Drop Out

Do you ever wonder if you’ll find your dreams?

Yeezy said it best, and Yeezy definitely had his moments of poignant reflection once you got past all the arrogance and commercialism surrounding his artistry. Yeezy spoke to me a lot, at least some parts of his work did, before the egotism overtook him. I remember when Yeezy was blueprint, 5 mics, rhyming so dope he could’ve been signed twice. Just the right amount of hype and braggadocio needed to make hip hop, pop out the speakerboxx.

There was a time after I dropped out, in 2008, when I used to hang with the few people I met during my brief time as a College student in Seattle. There was a distinct lack of the sense of inclusion that I’d felt, as passive as it was, when I’d been enrolled at that college as opposed to when I was some black guy roaming the campus. It was like all of a sudden I was on the outside looking in and there was no faking it. I didn’t pay tuition, I didn’t complain about classes; I wasn’t one of them anymore.

That didn’t stop them from helping me consume my consumables, however; people in places of privilege aren’t very discerning when it comes to vice. In that regard, I was still paying to be on that campus. Whereas before I took out student loans to pay for classes I didn’t care about (I mean, seriously, can you imagine me in a white lab coat and goggles, in the Chem 152 lab, trying to meter out titrations or some such crap?), now I paid for the privilege of sharing space with soon-to-be college graduates with the green in my pocket, and I don’t mean money.

I never did feel at ease on that campus, it was as if all the polite racism and looks of un-comfort plastered onto non-black faces had been magnified to the umpteenth degree, condensed into a student body of 40,000 within 4 square miles of buildings that dated back to the late 1800s. Some of those buildings stood when slaves were here. Some of those buildings were used to perpetuate the ideology of scientific racism, of white inherent superiority to pretty much everyone else on earth, but especially the blacks.

 

Some people wouldn’t stop to think about that, and they’d continue on their pre-paved paths constructed by the various systems they benefited from, all-the-while oblivious to how good they had it. They’d always have complaints about the Negros in their dorms, making life difficult for them with their strange lingo and excessive intellect.

As James Baldwin once said, some of us have been made sharp by having to outwit white folks all our lives. As Du Bois wrote about, to be black in America is to live with a double, sometimes triple, consciousness; always aware of how your presence affects situations, of how you perceive yourself and how others perceive you, careful not to step on too many toes and allowing yourself to fall right into the pre-conceived notions that you know them to have of you without actually letting those notions dictate who you are or how you view yourself to be. Some people don’t have so many worries in the world, so they don’t stop to think about the perils associated with being born black and trying to make it out of this trap alive.

No, people who drove white Infiniti G37x Sport’s off the lot with their parent’s money, as a present for getting accepted into a college that those very same parents donated millions to, and whose alumni board was comprised of their distant relatives, need not worry about such concepts. People like that went to lab in their too-expensive, custom-bought white coats every day, whiter than the whites of their eyes, and they shot dirty looks my way when I stopped to ruminate on why I needed to be here to succeed, when the system was so clearly rigged against my success and geared towards my commitment to madhouses?

So I’d go home and I’d listen to Yeezy. I’d listen to him on the radio, I’d listen to his underground stuff on my computer, the one that my first financial aid check paid for. Over $1000 spent on a desktop computer that I would end up lugging around with me nearly every place I crashed into for the next several years. Dropping out of college made more and more sense to me the more I listened to Kanye’s seminal album, College Dropout. Dropping out, to me, meant that I could also drop the mountain of expectations heaped onto my hunched over back. I could afford to let my brow un-tense if no one expected success of me, by their terms, and by the terms of society at large. I could let myself be, a concept so foreign to me, and I could allow myself time to steep. Said Tea.

I’m done for the day. I don’t want to be here, but like a metronome, I keep coming back. As I get older, it gets easier to push on in the face of failure and fear. Sometimes my soul feels as a damp, overused body towel that’s been left to rot in a dark corner of the bathroom floor. Sometimes I feel this way, or worse, or better, and likely more often than not. All I can do is keep trying, and try with all my might.
Thanks for reading, you guys. It’s a scary world out there, and words soothe me. Words are my blanket, my thumb to suckle, my bed to hide under when the thunder gets too loud and my parents still aren’t home yet from buying groceries. God bless, y’all.

T.i.m.e.

Predawn reflections, on consistency;

I’m not. Consistent, that is. In fact, one of the few things that I do on a consistent basis involves no shortage of inconsistent behavior. I don’t really look at is as inconsistency, though; I see it more as calculated bouts of spontaneity. You see, predictability frightens me. Stagnation scares me. Monotony drives me up the wall, without any hope of finding a way back down.

I know myself pretty well, at least I think I do, and it’s a ceaseless challenge to continue learning more about how I think. I don’t think it’s work that can ever really be finished, because that would imply a cessation of personal growth. That would mean stagnation, and as previously mentioned, that scares the dog hell out of me.

I’m a creative type, as are most folks that I gravitate to, but I think the only thing that separates creatives from non-creatives is a willingness to acknowledge and nurture their own creativity. This involves taking many an unorthodox step, such as impromptu detours to state parks on the way home, just to explore new grounds, and to behold the beauty of the setting sun as it filters through a sea of shedding deciduous trees at the peak of Autumn.

Creatives live for those few moments of unscheduled mayhem, if one can call a quiet walk in an abandoned Forest mayhem (and maybe it is mayhem, mayhem to the crushing structure of a 9-5 that is emposed on the working class, on paupers and princes alike).

The problem is that we have to go to work to pay the bills, to come home to a space that we can call our own, and to support loved ones half a world away that only wish they could provide for themselves, if only their country hadn’t been robbed blind year after year. As grateful as we should be for our situations, every situation has its difficulty and its detractions and no two situations can be fairly compared.

When we come home to that space, all we want to do is to shut out the outside world. All we want to do is retreat into our preferred cocoons to recharge our batteries; a Netflix session, a bottomless mug of tea, a weathered book that we only manage to read 5 days at a time, 2 days a week. All we want is to regain the freedom of choice that defines a large portion of humanism, the one that we relinquish every morning and for 8 consecutive hours thereafter.

It doesn’t matter what you do to reclaim your time, to reacquire your agency after clocking out, but it has to be done. Throwing caution to the wind is highly appreciated by people like me, but always in moderation. I find that living recklessly for a few moments each day, insofar as you can call taking pictures of ladybugs and wood termites in Macro mode recklessness, really helps me to overcome the melancholy produced by maleficent monotony.

Inconsistency in my spare time helps to counter the ordained consistency that this world requires of me to survive. If I could, I’d stand on the street corner as beggers often do. My cardboard sign would simply read, “Do you have any time to.spare?” Passersby would have no choice but to ask themselves where exactly all their time went, and was it even possible to donate some of your own time to someone more desperate for it?

FRQ.NYC

Comfort zones are never easy to acknowledge. That’s the premise for the show today, kids. Talking at length about your comfort zones doesn’t make them any less comforting to fall back in to. For me, personally, I feel like sliding back away from this here keyboard and letting Netflix carry me into a semi-comatose state before bedtime. I feel like giving up on the act of writing as routine part of my life, a commitment that I made to myself countless times in an effort to “take it more seriously.”

I feel as though the words will melt away before I can even get a grasp of them, before the tip of my tongue can even form them, like cotton candy at first contact with saliva. I feel so many things that I wish I had the capacity to write, knowing full well that I’ll never quite perfect a turn of a phrase like turning on a dime. Knowing full well that the bulls will run at Pamplona even if the animal rights activists staged a sit in; they’d surely be trampled by the onslaught of unfettered animal instinct bearing down on them.

I step into the ring to do battle, show me my opponent. White blank page, even blanker stare. Tall, skinny cursor, blinking with an unnerving calm and unmistakable time signature. The words wrestle with the tenses on this side, the unilluminated ideations with the condensed and the carefully crafted in another corner. So much of this writing thing is a gamble, craps in the dark. The hardest part is forcing yourself to sit down and make it all come out, even if you know you lack the forces to do so. When the letters stick to the inside of your eyelids, when they latch on to the corners of your lips like dried white spittle, refusing to come out. When all you wish you had was something long and sharp to shove down your throat, forcing yourself to regurgitate all the words you’ve ever been made to swallow in your life. Hoping beyond hope that they magically fall into place without any prompting, that every prompt answers itself without any prodding.

Falling…

falling…

freely.

Failing to see an end to the monotony, until ultimately reaching a place of acceptance. Accepting the fate that life had dished out for you long before you ever stepped to the head of the line with serving tray in hand. Long before the land before time, long after the Coney Island of the mind had shuttered to a halt. Remembering that time when Ferlinghetti signed a copy of On The Road for you at City Lights Bookstore in The City by The Bay. That was 2009 and everyone your age was busy standing in line, standing in ovation for a series of sequestered lines spit out by the next hottest thing. They spent entire paychecks on showing out, on showing up the next man in line, as if any of us were ever distracted enough by the momentary flash of jewelry to overlook the stench of poverty glued to them all.

That the poverty was just a cover for their blemished souls, overburdened and underworked as they were. That you had sacrificed any chance at conventional success for the mere opportunity to explore your craft, your love of the written form in endlessly unbound ways. That success is an ever evolving thing, outpacing your very growth as a being just enough that you can never quite reach it. Until, of course, you realize that success isn’t something to strive for. Success is ultimately about being able to accept your lack of control in this finite visceral space. Success is living, just living, taking another breath without fear.

Mini.Mal

I’m trying out this new thing of laying my neuroses bare on a table like a surgeon might. I’ve been dissecting my various fears and phobias, exploring the dark recesses of my self-image as of late. It’s an entirely new venture to me, although I’ve talked about it in the third person narrative of my writings for quite a spell now. It’s minimalist chic, you might say, where this revamping of emotions is concerned. Deconstructing long-held beliefs is no easier than weaving a tall tale on command; you could do it hastily and under pressure, but the results might not be worth your effort. Your words might be better used for a constructive purpose, your focus honed to a razor’s edge and employed only when absolutely necessary.

Now, see, here’s the thing: this stream of consciousness style of writing that I so thoroughly enjoy, the one that hearkens back to both Hunter S. Thompson in a Daze and Bukowski on a Bender, seems to be greatly underappreciated by the raving, teeming masses. I would add nowadays to the previous sentence, but the days don’t seem to matter a great deal because human nature stays the same in just about any epoch you can stick a pruney thumb at.

It’s hard to tell where my projections of uncertainty stop and where the reality of another human’s lived experience begins when it comes to what readers are interested in, but I hardly think any of that matters at this point. Writing is supposed to be about connecting with the reader, in a sense, but I can assure you that the type of person whom life twists and turns into a writer (I say twists because writers are forged by the unorthodox pressures that arise from the nooks in the cracks of society itself) cares less about a reader’s sensibilities than a neutered Springer Spaniel cares about a need to procreate. Of course, we have to care to a certain extant, insomuch as bills need to be paid and target demographics need to be measured with keen eyes prior to setting ink to page; this is a business venture, after all, and wasted words wash away the dividends by the keystroke.

At the end of the day, writing remains a sanctuary impenetrable even by the military might of any world superpower. This is home base for too many of us to count. This is where it all begin, when therapy was out of reach, and this is where it ultimately ends when the lights are dimmed and the party-goers stumble back to their respective efficiency units in high-rise complexes sandwiched on either side by lifeless condominium blocks.

This space is where magic happens and where hopes are given permission to breathe again. This is where pretenses are smacked upside the head and tossed out the back door like Uncle Phil did Jazz in Fresh Prince of Bel Air. This is where dreams are made and the sleepless lay comatose for a determined term. This is everything we’ve ever had, us writers, and what we’ll ultimately be satisfied with if all the applause and merchandise and accolades and prizes and letters of distinction should happen to come, only to be snatched away by the jaws of fate.

I don’t do this here thing because it’s what’s expected of me. I do this because by and large this is the only aspect of my life that I have complete control over. Success and Failure have no definition here, in this space, because the rules are dictated by each syncopated tap of the keyboard, each rhythmic gyration expertly articulated by fingertips who’ve long since committed every intricate step to muscle memory.

It’s gotten to a point where I feel more than I think when I step to this, son. Nothing else that I know of is more liberating than this space, and protecting it is my greatest passion. The source of my passion is also the main recipient of that same passion; it’s like a business, man. Most of the profits are diverted right back into the production line so as to bear more fruits for the future. Lord only knows when this tree will produce enough berries to feed my village, but I’ll keep planting these seeds until that day.

Kitchener Kitch

So I walked into the local ethnic restaurant at about just past noon the other day. Everyone kind of knows each other there, for the most part, so we tend to act pretty informally. I made my way back into the prep area where a solitary employee was busting out order after order, the concentration etched into his face like the branding on a prize racehorse’s hindquarters.

It was the lunch hour rush on a Friday, one of the busiest times of the week for the quaint little eatery. I stood there as I always did, equal parts uninvited and uninhibited. This place is like Cheers, except nobody knows your name and nobody really cares what you do so long as you don’t break or spill something.

There I stood, as I always had in moments of free time in the last few weeks: idle in a commercial kitchen. To my right stood this out of the blue looking character, this uninteresting type of dude who kind of just existed in the background like the constant drone of the large hood vent fan over the flat-top griddle. There was nothing special about his face in any discernable way. He kind of just was, as an amoeba floating in amniotic fluid was: existing.

We made eye contact and I shuddered to a start, social anxiety kicking in like a rage of bundles, materializing without heed, like, all knotted up in the pit of me gulliver. I couldn’t tell you what did it to me about his countenance, dear brothers, but the effects were undeniably moving. As I struggled to get ahold of my nausea, as I fiddled nervously with the hem of my button-up, this peculiar patron of the employees section decided to pipe up, in my direction, no less.

“Sir, this area is for authorized and pre-approved employees only. You can’t be back here without the proper paperwork.” I looked him up and down like a Doberman staring down it’s next meal. I held my tongue, my anxiety having morphed into bewilderment followed quickly by a quiet quiver. The nerve of this cat, the unmitigated audacity of this goon. I really didn’t know what to say so I got on my high horse, popped a 180 and high tailed it out of there. Hi, Ho, Silver. I rumbled, young man, rumbled straight back to my house and helped myself to a complimentary banana at the front counter.

Sometimes the only way to win a battle is to not even acknowledge the existence of your opponent. Sometimes you just gotta walk away, slowly peeling a banana and whistling Dixie.