Monday, May 02, 2016

The Work of Hegemony and Other Thoughts

My head, my heart.

Last week I went to see Sunil Yapa (an author I wasn't previously aware of) interview Junot Diaz, as part of PEN Canada's Ideas in Dialogue series (? Actually not sure if this is a series).  The talk was called "Mind the Gap: Crossing Imaginary Lines" and it was pitched as a talk about diaspora, globalization, reading as a radical act of empathy, and writing as resistance...which I mean, OBVIOUSLY DID YOU PUT ALL OF "MY" CALLING CARD WORDS AND PUT THEM INTO A BLENDER TO MAKE A WOKE SHAKE FOR ME TO DRINK OR WHAT?!?

I invited my new friend N, and was all like, "Have you ever read any Junot Diaz?" and she's like, "Um, yeah, obviously.  His stuff is catnip for woke POC."  And I was like, "ummm, yes, I know exactly what you're talking about,"  but I clearly didn't and have never read his stuff, but I am now!

Anyway, we went last week and we walked in and she kind of drew in a breath because he was RIGHT THERE and of course I was so clueless I thought N was impressed that the Blum Appel salon had a bar set up and sells drinks, because I had no idea what Junot Diaz looked like, or how awesome he would turn out to be.

The talk was INCREDIBLE.  I came away and my mind was blown.  As a woman of colour, as a feminist, as a terrible writer, as a reader.  I will post it for you and you will watch it and you will hopefully be as inspired as I was.  It was one of those talks where I was so spun up after I had to wander around a bit because my mind was jittery with all the things said.  I biked home and didn't remember my trip at all because I was so in my head and I came home, went down to the basement, and removed my bra and idea-barfed all over the Dotytron because I needed to get it out of me.

There's an old Funkmaster Flex mix from the early aughts where throughout the mix he would jump on the mic and trigger a million bomb-explosion sounds and it was the most exuberant, amazing mix of life.  Every time Junot Diaz would say something I would hear one of those bomb-explosion sounds in my head.  My mind = blown.

He talked about hegemony, and how people of colour, women, poor people take on the "work" of policing ourselves in the service of hegemony.  Hegemony would not function without us willingly taking on that work.  There is so much of that work to do.  MIND=BLOWN.  How colonialism is predicated on the idea of "I am white, therefore I am human.  You are not white, I am not sure that you are human."  MIND=BLOWN.  How as a writer, he doesn't write for other writers but for readers.  Because readers are a more forgiving audience.  He said that other writers are not giving and supportive or want you to succeed in the same way readers do.  He talked about how he bore witness to his mother's almost predatory ownership of his sisters' body and didn't recognize that privilege until much later in life.  He talked about family.  About hanging out with activists.  He answered amazing, brilliant, thoughtful questions (which, as you all should know, NEVER HAPPENS) from the audience.  One woman asked him a two part question and the first part was: "Have you watched Lemonade."  LOL!  Then she asked him what he thought of it.  He was so funny.  He said he knew better than to mess with the Bey-hive.  He also said that there are people who would critique this piece because it is a tool to make millions of dollars.  He said that POC have a long history of inserting our narratives into objects designed to make millions of dollars.  He also reminded the audience that not too long ago, all we would have wanted is the opportunity for a black woman to make millions of dollars with her art.  MIND=BLOWN.  He talked about how Lemonade was distributed on a medium (HBO) that traditionally has not been very kind or mindful of people of colour.  He said to be wary of white liberals, who like to say they support POC but frequently don't want to have anything to do with actual POC.  He talked about how for him, it's easier to disguise the meta and the meaning in the writing, to hide the big picture ideas/thesis, then it is to go back and put the meta and the meaning in.  MIND=BLOWN.

It was pure fire.

One of the things I came away with, based on the idea of hiding the meta/meaning/thesis, was to make an effort to be a bit more intentional in my writing.  I'm working on a project currently (it's in the very, very nascent stages), and I started it just writing. Getting stuff down on the page.  It was a challenge getting into the groove of writing fiction again, and I'm clearly rusty, but it came back, though a little creaky.  What I realized is that I should have a goal for each scene, to avoid the automatic writing trap - where you just write for 30 minutes or an hour and you end up with a few pages that might have some killer metaphors and the roots of a character, but strung together don't really go anywhere.  I'm going to try that approach and see if it works.  If the next time I sit down to work on the project I start by saying, I want this scene to tell me something about the protagonist's family, friendship with X, how she feels about herself.  What's the big picture thing I want the reader to take away from this scene, and then write my way around it.  Hiding it if you will.  It was a total breakthrough moment.  I'm not sure if I'll be able to take that away and operationalize it, but I'm certainly going to try.

I haven't seen Lemonade yet, but I've certainly seen the output of the cottage industry that functions around all things Bey.  Of course, that meant that I came across Warsan Shire and her beautiful work that gave structure to much of the Lemonade movie (I refuse to call it the visual album).  You can hear her work on the her Bandcamp here.  It is incredible. I love her voice and how she speaks her own words.  I can't get enough.

This actually dovetailed neatly with a recent realization that poetry is still an art form.  I was wondering - do kids even read poetry anymore?  SHOULDN'T THEY?  I have Ocean Vuong's Night Sky With Exit Wounds on my list of to-reads. I want Lolly to read it with me.  I think I'm too out of practice with poetry to go in alone.  But maybe that's my own bias and insecurities talking?  I should be able to go it alone, yes?

I'm obviously going to add some Junot Diaz to my reading list, because he is officially catnip for THIS particular woke (sometimes?) POC.


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