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“The Banal and the Profane” is a monthly Lambda Literary column in which we lift the veil on both the writerly life and the publishing industry. In each installment, we ask a different LGBT writer, or LGBT person of interest in the book industry, to guide us through a week in their lives.
This month’s “Banal and Profane” column comes to us from writer A. Naomi Jackson.
A. Naomi Jackson is the 2013-2014 ArtsEdge resident at the University of Pennsylvania’s Kelly Writers House. She studied fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was awarded the Maytag Fellowship for Excellence in Fiction to complete her first novel. Jackson traveled to South Africa on a Fulbright scholarship, where she received an M.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Cape Town. A graduate of Williams College, her work has appeared in brilliant corners, The Encyclopedia Project, The Caribbean Writer, and Sable. Her short story, “Ladies” was the winner of the 2012 BLOOM chapbook contest. She has been a resident at Hedgebrook and Vermont Studio Center and received the Archie D. and Bertha H. Walker scholarship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. She co-founded the Tongues Afire creative writing workshop at the Audre Lorde Project in Brooklyn in 2006
The gods have smote me and banished me to the menstrual hut. A friend calls to invite me to an evening of acoustic music, and I would really like to rouse myself from my perch on the couch where I have been plastered most of the day. But alas, I cannot. The good news? I have time to re-read Anne Lammott’s Bird by Bird cover to cover. I am reminded that writers are insane and neurotic, a danger to themselves and others. A chapter on plot gets me revved up for a solution to a scene in my novel that I’ve been stalling about for, well, a year. Fourteen months. But who’s counting? A melodramatic plot twist has been cut, with no fair replacement yet. Lammott gets me going, and I’m in, penning the start to a new scene on my fancy new iPhone.
Did I tell you yet that I have a fancy iPhone 5C? It’s pink. And the C does in fact stand for cheap, Apple finally luring me into the smartphone club after two years of a busted phone with a pull-out keyboard my friends just barely held themselves back from laughing at. I knew it was time for a change when I pulled out my phone and a smart-mouthed nine-year-old said her grandmother had the same one. Sometimes “shut up, little kid,” is the only appropriate response.
Mid-morning finds me at the Penn bookstore, pulled in by a friendly voice on the phone that is not at all alarmed by the panic attack I am having about my ailing computer. I can tell the voice is West Indian, and when I get to the computer section of the second floor, I look for the voice, which it turns out is Jamaican. He talks me down from my state of panic about having to potentially replace my laptop computer. I cannot fathom such a thing. I have been writing my novel on this laptop for the last 3.5 years and said novel is due in four weeks and this is the only computer I can work on. He talks me out of buying a Hello Kitty mouse, which I want because it is pink. He can tell I will not be able to figure out how to work the ‘wireless’ aspect of it. He makes a long-winded analogy about how I should ‘stay on the bus’ of my broke-down computer until the gears fall off. I ask him, hopefully, if he thinks my bus will make it to the end of the year. Yes, he says. Til next September, I ask? No, he says. No, it will not. I fork over $14.03 for a basic black mouse and come home, and it works, and everything is all right in the world again. I find some small peace in knowing I can write this off as a business expense.
A star was born. Or at least culture night was birthed with my new friend, a doctor and aspiring writer. Is this what happens in your 30s? Is going out such an event that it then becomes a named evening? Date night? Laundry day. Sigh.
The inaugural cultural night was a trip to see Danai Gurira’s stunning play The Convert at the Wilma Theatre. I was initially wary because of the sea of white-haired theatre subscribers gathered to see this play about Zimbabwe in the 1890s. And while the talkback was illuminating, there was the usual foolishness about how discomfiting it was to hear the actors speak Shona, that their dialects and accents were an obstacle to overcome. Insert diatribe about cultural imperialism, ugly Americans, and the need for self-awareness here. That said, it was awesome, and a reminder of the importance of writing. Favorite quote from the play: “Change is a tricky business, my friend.”
The day began with, for the first time since August, actual excitement about hitting the writing desk. For this, I am truly thankful.
Home from culture night and checked my mail. There is a Patagonia catalog. And more importantly, a handmade postcard my lover has sent showing the New York skyline from her apartment. I swoon a bit, and try not to make too much of the fact that this is the first time she has signed her card, “Love…” I try, but I do not succeed. A good day all around.
Understanding why the 30+ set have to name nights. After hanging out last night, I struggle to rouse myself from bed at the appointed 8 o’clock hour. Susan Sontag said something about this being the latest possible moment she should wake up in order to have a productive writing day. But then again, she also had her son stand by her typewriter and change her ashtrays while she typed and chain-smoked. I’m not going to have children because they cost too much, but I think that if I did have some, they should earn their keep by doing useful things. I’m up by 8:35. I don’t think I can count the 35 minutes I spent laying in bed texting, checking my horoscope, and putting smiley faces on Facebook.
I get to my desk five minutes late (9:35) because I have decided that this type of morning needs a second cup of coffee. I’m reminded of a writer friend who said that if you end up needing a second pot of coffee, it’s probably time to call it quits. I stir cheap soy milk from the (not quite) Fresh Grocer into my cup and wonder whether the carrageenan therein is, in actual fact, a carcinogen. I’m glad that the non-cancer-producing soy milk is awaiting its debut for my lover’s arrival on Friday night. Did I mention she’s coming on Friday? She is.
Back to the desk for a morning of wrestling with that scene. I’d originally worried that the way it plays with an incident this summer during Crop Over in Barbados when a gay man was stoned might give it a Law & Order ripped-from-the-headlines feel. I was both encouraged and disturbed by the fact that my agent and I both agreed that it was fine because few people outside of Barbados had probably heard of said incident.
Headed to a yoga class that I hope will unlock the creative flow. Spent the afternoon reading Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go. Spoiler alert: it starts getting good when the author’s namesake begins an affair with the law school dean. Early evening finds me about halfway through this thick novel and I reflect on the privilege of long stretches of time to read and make guacamole and then read while eating guacamole and trying not to get food on a library book. I’m sure I will pay for the acid while attempting downward dog, but in the moment it feels great.
Light up the second of the last three celebratory end of day clove cigarettes at my desk. Sit down for an evening writing session, unusual because I never write at night. But alas, my novel is due soon and I’ve told a friend I will send her a copy of a chapter for her to read this weekend. The friend has obliged, which means I have to actually finish writing it. Signing off to do the damn thing. But first a few awkward moments contemplating if any friends or family will hire out one of their children to me to keep my cigarettes lit. Typing and smoking at the same time is challenging.
Dust off the cigarette ash from last night’s writing session and begin again.
The Freedom® bell rings to let me know my morning writing session is over. I am 10 pages and 3,000 words further into the new scene than I was on Monday. Now to clean it up, and hope that my friend will like it, and give me some good ideas for how to make it look less fresh. Kind of like lemon juice for raw fish. Either way, I’ll be happy to have it off my hands, and grateful for the distraction of the weekend.
On the afternoon agenda: workout and begin beautification rituals for the lover’s visit, starting with twisting my locs while watching the Mindy Project on Hulu. The show is so problematic and yet so damn funny, like most things in life. Also, cocktails with a group of black women academics and artists I met at a mixer some weeks ago. Any email with the subject line “stay happy” is enough to draw me in.
Side note. It is quite possible that I am in fact suffering from a syndrome I’ve been calling “Iowa post traumatic stress disorder” (no disrespect to people who suffer from real PTSD). I am overly grateful for any chance to build community and friendship with other women of color. Sigh. It could be worse.
The evening is wonderful, including the surprise discovery of a cigar bar. Old fantasies about having my own humidor and smoking jacket resurface, along with memories of visiting a cigar factory in Salvador da Bahia three years ago. Cue corny Lion King reference about the circle of life here.
I’ve given up on Fridays as writing days because for the last two years, no matter my best intentions, I sit down and am just too excitable to make meaningful progress. I open up the chapter, take a deep breath, and send it off to my friend.
I did think about going to yoga this morning but alas, I twisted my locs yesterday, and in order for it not to have a droopy curl, it must stay dry today. Ahhh, the black girl hair saga. Pen in gym workout in for Sunday evening, to hit my four-workouts per week goal, and also stave off any sadness after my lover leaves. Tear.
Today is a busy day. A couple beauty appointments and lunch with myself, followed by the Future of Africana Studies conference at UPenn. It has been so long since I’ve been in the academy in this way, it feels very black to the future. Looking forward to hearing Jafari Sinclaire Allen talk about the black body politic, and the keynote address by Farah Jasmine Griffin, who I’ve admired since first encountering her writing on black women jazz and blues vocalists in college.
Question: how do academics sit still for so long in these conferences and meetings? I seem to have lost this skill.
The lover arrives at 10:35 pm. Beyond excited. She says “I love you” for the first time tonight. Insert swoon here.
Perfect day showing the lover around my neighborhood. The joy of unrushed late-night conversation and a gorgeous bus ride down Spruce Street, admiring Philly architecture (I didn’t know my homesickness included yearning for East Coast architecture). Meet up with friends, a diverse crew of black gay folks from the Dominican Republic to the Deep South for cheesesteaks at the renowned Jim’s Steaks on South Street. Waiting in line for an hour seems worth it once I see a signed love note to Jim’s Steaks from basketball legend Earl the Pearl. Sad that the rain drowns the fun out of walking down to the water. Next time.
Kiss and wave to the lover’s bus as it leaves 30th Street Station. Tamp down pangs of missing by making a stop at Joe coffee shop (my favorite form of NYC cultural imperialism) to read the New York Times. Have to repeat my coffee order four times to the wide-eyed barista. Am I that much of a low talker? If my mom’s reading this, I know she’ll say yes. One hour of excruciating weightlifting to techno tracks with perky undergrads at Drexel Rec almost makes me forget I’m going home to an empty house. I hope I can walk tomorrow.
Photo Credit: Lola Flash