Month: September 2017

If I Was Smart, I’d Be a Rapper

First things first, I love hip-hop. I grew up in the 80s and 90s. I was in college in the early 2000s and now in my late 30s, I’m still listening to A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and The Roots before anything else. So, the title isn’t an affront to any lyricist past, present, or future. And let’s be honest. I’d get destroyed in a cypher.

What I’m getting at is the idea that somehow creative writing gets overlooked when it comes to familial support. I suppose you can lump friends in there as well. We all make fun of our cousin’s “fire ass” mixtape, but I’m sure most of our networks would be more likely to click that SoundCloud link before buying our chapbooks. That’s not to say your granny thinks you’re a terrible writer or your uncle thinks your cousin is the next Black Thought. It just means that hip-hop, or rap if you’re nasty, is much more accessible for some of our family and friends.

It wasn’t until recently that I allowed my mother and father to read my essays. They’d, of course, read some of my poetry, but I’m not sure they picked up on all of the MFA tricks I’d thrown in there. Before I went to Callaloo in Oxford this past summer, I let them read my submission packet. Two of the essays were pretty basic childhood good times tales. The last one, which is still looking for a home, was about how I never felt quite black enough even in a close knit community in a small town. How I always felt left out despite being a middle class, only child with popular parents. My father called me after he read it. He, and my mother, told me they never knew I felt that way. They’d assumed I always felt like I belonged. That was miles from the truth.

The next time I let them read something was risky. This was an essay about my attempts to kill myself after surviving an emotionally abusive breakup and divorce. My father called me on the verge of tears. He said he’d known I’d been tired (that was they only way I could describe it to him at the time), but he never knew how close I came to ending my life. In that sharing, we bonded in ways we’d never done so before.

Now, in my writing that includes my parents, I ask them questions and weave them into what I am doing. It is now that I feel as if I have their support. It’s a far cry from when I told my mother I’d gotten into graduate school and she proclaimed, “That’s nice! When are you going to get a real job?” Now, that I’ve made my work accessible and they feel as if they can ask questions, I know they will at least try to read what I am writing. That’s not to say that they’ll like everything or even understand it. There are even things I am currently writing that I am afraid to let them read. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

Each day on Facebook, my timeline is full of performance videos, links to songs, and flyers for events. And along with that comes likes and comments and re-posts/blogs. On Facebook, which like Twitter I’m not a fan of, I follow both creative writers and rappers. It seems more often than not the writers are struggling to be heard. And I wonder if it’s a matter of accessibility. Like listening to WuTang vs. listening to Drake. Both genres are valid. One is just a lot smoother going down.

I’m not saying that writers need to dumb down what we are writing. And I’m not saying all mixtape, Facebook rappers are simplistic. I’m just saying, as a writer who has been through an MFA program, we can be a bit much. We can fall in love with our own words and voices to the extent we say more than is necessary to get the point across. I’m not sure if that means doing something as simple as including a line about welcoming questions or engaging with people in the comments to get them to expand on their “That’s nice!” posts. Or maybe taking a step back and thinking maybe they see you as such a great writer that they are intimidated. Sometimes all it takes is an open door to open both your world and theirs.


Romance is Dead: Do What You Love

Sitting at my desk Friday afternoon, freezing in my cubicle, I kept turning over the phrase Do What You Love! And it struck me just how unfair and exclusionary that phrase can be.

I’ve been working my “day” job since 2009. Prior to taking my position, I was an English adjunct at three schools in Southern New Jersey. I drove all over the state teaching English 101 and Introduction to Literature. I took that position fresh out of graduate school in 2008, full of dreams of a tenure track position. And then I learned that adjuncts got the leftover courses and little to no benefits. So then my dream shifted to being a full-time instructor who got to teach creative writing. And then I realized that I was exiting my twenties and making so little money left me with a tiny amount of wiggle room to eek out a life. And then the breaking point occurred. I reached my level of narrative essays and the like. I got discouraged by the pay, the lack of support from the full-time faculty, and the nearly impossible chance of advancing.

I took my job with the federal government for the healthcare, the salary, and the ability to build a retirement fund. I knew there would be very little creative writing, just the black and white letter of the law. I also knew my parents had sacrificed their dreams, and their bodies, in steel mills and factories to make sure my sister and I never had to know manual labor as a career. Who was I to turn down a “good government job” to be a writer and an adjunct making less than $25,000 a year?

Writing became my “night” job. I was no longer “doing what I loved”, but I was able to launch my literary journal, travel to conferences, study in foreign countries, and squeeze in a creative life between the hours in my cubicle. But it’s disheartening to hear that phase wielded as a weapon. It implies a level playing field, a life free of concerns that require a day job with health insurance, or an existence that doesn’t spread your salary out to help family. It lessens the sacrifice of doing both in favor of the romantic notion of being a writer, a struggling artist who is on the cusp of “making it”.

I’m not Carrie Bradshaw. I’m Athena. I can’t sustain myself on freelance fees. I don’t have family who can supplement my expenses while I work my way up through the ranks or take internships. I’m a first generation college student from a working poor family in Northeast Ohio. My writing, and the time I dedicate to it, is just as valid as someone able to do the same full-time. I’ve heard writers, in creative settings and at large, toss out the idea that you are dedicated to your craft when you invest money. What of the writers who are barely keeping the electricity on, food on table, who are in default on student loans? They aren’t serious?

Thankfully, my “day” job offers me more than enough to balance my monthly expenses and my creative pursuits. I know that I am fortunate and I guess that’s why I’m so offended when I hear “motivational” speeches about doing what you love. If we all lived by that philosophy, how would the world turn? How would some of us eat, afford families, stay on our medications, have a place to live? It’s unfair and it’s ignorant to equate someone’s worthiness as a member of our community to how much money or time they have to invest.

We exclude so many with this idea. We exclude even more when our writing workshops meet at times people with day jobs could never attend without taking personal time (if you have a job that actually offers that option). Even more when we hoard the information we gather at meetings and workshops like some sort of magical elixir that the less fortunate shouldn’t be privy to. Even more by assuming everyone in the room has read the same books, knows the same articles, understands the same backstories. Even more when we pay lip service by “acknowledging” these issues for a few fresh days in our minds and then going back to the same patterns.

I know I’m rambling, but I am always flabbergasted by the assumptions we make and how those assumptions ripple. In the end, I’m just hoping we continue to be mindful of our words in public just as much as we are mindful on the page.






For the second year in a row, I’ve spent a wonderful weekend in Lancaster, PA at the HippoCamp conference. And just like last year, I’ve been inspired in ways I didn’t know were possible.

I’ve gained confidence in my own story and the things I have to say. As well, I’ve been charged to invest in myself, my writing, so much more than I have been. That being said, I’ve decided to do an overhaul of my website. My old website, a static single page, was quite frankly boring and served no real purpose. My goal is to use my upgraded page in ways I’ve never done before. If you’ve heard me speak, you know I hate Twitter, but I maintain an account because that’s what modern writers do, right?

I’m from an era where everyone had a Blogger account! Fun fact, I used to run a daily fashion blog and documented everything I wore and my shopping hauls. And then I got engaged, married, and divorced. That blog disappeared for some pretty obvious reasons! So, I’m going back to my roots and interacting here. It’s much more comfortable and oddly feels much more intimate.

Join me here! I’ll share my thoughts, my publications, my apperances, and much more! Of course, if you’d like to follow me on Twitter you can do that as well!

Talk to you soon,