Waking Up From a Six Month Fever Dream
Succumbing to COVID, the past six months on book tour, clarifying what I love and remembering, again, why I need to write despite what life throws at me.
After years now of dodging the beast, COVID got me, and it got me good. The Jazz said, stop scheming on poems and allow yourself to rest!
He knows me. I was definitely scheming on poems from the sick bed where I am a convalescent (I just really wanted to use that word) woman with too many ideas in her brain, as always.
Rest I did, I had no choice. The past six days have been a blur of half-watched movies, excessive amounts of sleep and drifting in and out of memories. One night I dreamed we moved to an apartment overlooking the highway, and I felt an immense swell of panic. What had we given up?
I was relieved to wake to the lush branches swaying out the window. I cherish this rare New York view, like living in a tree house! They have indeed kept me good company, along with the very chatty birds, and I like it best when they shake like maracas in the wind.
But never mind the past six days, where have I been these past six months? To tell you the truth, it feels like a fever dream. The whole gamut of spectacular emotion. How many more BIG FEELINGS can one squeeze into a season? I think I’ve felt them all.
Pre-COVID (mine), a friend on the verge of releasing a book called for advice. He was so nervous! I understood. Keep your family and closest friends nearby during the ensuing tornado of press and tour and travel was my advice.
Being so externally focused can wreak havoc on your moral compass, your sense of self, all those dreary airports and stiff hotel sheets on the limbs. A reason or a season, so many passing connections, so much change of scenery, trying on a city here and there. You’re logging into Netflix in what city? Dad texts, Are you in Dallas this week?
Time zones warp reality. You start to notice the world around you, particularly relationships, with an extra layer of sensitivity. Who is curious about you and what is their motivation? Who takes the time to ask you thoughtful questions about your experience? And who just… takes your energy, uses it up, then wipes their ass with it? Some people do, you know.
And it’s okay, but discernment is a tool I’ve been forced to sharpen, and sometimes the process hurts me. Sometimes it hurts someone else. Ultimately, we will all be okay, I do know that and I only ever wish anyone their appropriate roses, I am almost always cheering on the sidelines, even if unseen.
What fills my cup, what plucks my strings, in case you are wondering:
A song picked just for me.
A dream recounted that I made a guest appearance in.
A specific inquiry: “tell me about this aspect of your life…”
A little bit of poetry in the exchange.
A get-this synchronicity tidbit.
A sacred memory.
A perfectly-tuned inside joke.
An affectionate nickname.
A handwritten letter.
A strange and exciting article.
A beautiful photograph.
A juicy story about a world I know nothing about.
Bring me there!
It makes sense then that the moments written in bold and starred are ones of communion big and small (but mostly small, gloriously):
Returning an admired musician’s guitar that was left, bizarrely, in the hallway outside a hotel room across from mine (Leon Bridges, I swear!) Finding a best friend manifesto written in perfect misspelled childhood scrawl on the nose of the New Year with my very own best friend in tow.
Being regaled with old school Cholo gangster stories from the long-reformed over a meal in Pasadena. Holding my girl’s hand over burgers in South Central. Holding a grown man, a friend many years my elder, tight in my arms when he discovered death was courting his mama, allowing him to sob and shake, buying the plane ticket home, pushing him into a cab.
Smoking stars with a young bookseller and collapsing the time-space continuum. Dancing with my nieces as my cousin played me his songs-in-progress. Rummaging through the 200 cassette tapes my pops gladly unloaded onto us, the very specific medicine of swapping musical stories, of opening our ears together.
Damn that Max Roach with an orchestra, and of course the gospel compilation — real stand outs. Turns out, no surprise, the best party is always at home under the blue lights with good music playing.
It’s funny that though (a large) part of me does absolutely relish an audience (blame my Leo moon), none of my favorite memories consist of the many stages I’ve touched this year. I am thankful to have experienced them all, but the moment almost always disappears from memory right after I step away from the pulpit.
I suppose I enjoy public speaking for this reason exactly: the hyper presence I feel in the conversation is a joy, a reliable form of flow — but I can never, ever remember what I said. This is its own gift, and one I just figured out why I both love and don’t feel attached to it, at least in part, through telling you.
The other advice I wish I’d taken into account: work on your next book while on book tour — a note from a friend’s friend (thank you Nana, who just knew to ask: I know this is a weird time, how are you, really?) I find that quite impressive, and would put money down that this magical human did not have a full-time job, but excuses aside, I do wish I had figured out how.
When I’m not writing I am not myself. This is a fact I’ve known for years but conveniently “forget” and then put myself through unnecessary cycles of upset. You’d think I’d have this covered by now but goddamnit everywhere you go there you are, shucking off what’s good for you in exchange for cheaper thrills.
If I could do it over again, I’d do it differently.
I am ashamed to also admit I am not awesome at keeping a journal, and haven’t been for a few years now. Only little phrases and quotes like “carrying my grandmother up four flights of stairs like a baby” and “what’s being worn away is also the prayer” and “we see main characters from The Wire reappear on an HBO show and feel happy for them, as if our friends.”
I had a friend in grad school who was constantly, obsessively scrawling away in her notebook. It was so sexy — what was she going on and on about in that delicious long hand?
Me, I guess I do need an audience, some eyes to shape my experiences towards, a container to pour myself into. Alas, here I am, six months after my last entry, to put myself out of my misery, so to speak.
Wait, wait, don’t get me wrong. I don’t need your eyes to write, but it does help. Even if the idea of eyes are in the distant future somewhere, abstracted and conceptual. Two weeks ago I disappeared into my own cocoon, locked my phone in a box, put all my poems on the floor and then ignored them to write new ones.
Somewhere in the travels of the past six months the shape and title of my manuscript just popped into my head. I trust my instincts. When it’s time to finish a project, I have to heed the call. I’m getting close.
Is this too racy to share? It might be but fuck it.
While I was there with my poems, so deep in my sweet alone, I opened my eyes to lock gaze with a deer while I was engaged in some sexy time with myself in the woods. It startled me, but then I loved the symbolism I could invent into the scene.
What does it all mean!
Hopefully that the poems are worth something in their honesty, and call all sorts of wildness into (out of?) their grip. Like a fist holding tight the stems of a bursting bouquet. Hopefully the poems will make the eyes of humans lock with the poem-eyes, and the humans will feel their own wildness prick up so dewy on the skin. The poems will feel satisfied for a job well done.
Speaking of wildness, I interviewed one of my favorite poets, Ada Limòn, about her astonishing new book “The Hurting Kind.” My colleague called the interview “mesmerizing,” and another said my questions are “brilliant” and “singular — wise, probing, layered and surprising — a joy to read.” I hope that entices you to read, too, because it’s a good one, I admit it, much in thanks to Ada’s generosity. All in thanks, actually, given the inspiration.
More soon. New York is bursting with strange stories. I’m back in it.