In case you missed it, I met my literary hero Paul Beatty this week at DC’s Politics & Prose. I’m still beaming on the inside. Here are the photos:
I sit in front of my laptop, or my desktop, or on a throwback day, with pen in hand and spiral pad underneath. I try to write. Some days I am successful. Many days I am not.
There are two books that I want to work on, am working on, will work on. One should be easy. It’s already mapped out in my head and outlined on paper. The other is more challenging, but I know I want it to be good.
My life is not where I want it to be by a long shot. I have not reached the level of success or notoriety that I had hoped to have by the age of 35. I look back on what I have accomplished and I see four novels and a book of poetry. I understand. I possess the knowledge that I have done more than what many writers have done in entire careers. I understand that five books is a good thing.
But having the knowledge is not the same as feeling successful. I write and I publish and the people say it’s good and they immediately want another, not understanding that I have put years of my life into a work that they finished in a weekend, in a day, sometimes even just one long night. I give everything and more is desired right away.
With every new book comes the dread of following it up with another good book. I don’t know that I can. I never think that I can.
I feel, sometimes, that it’s all for nothing. I am a success, but I don’t feel successful.
They want more books, but they don’t know what I have to go through to get there.
It is dark where I am. My eyes are wide open but I can’t see a thing. I know I have to go to Tartarus alone and claim what belongs to me.
I take the first step and the panic already creeps over me, but I continue in spite of the sweat that has drenched me almost immediately. I am afraid that I will swallow my tongue, that I will stop breathing, that I will die on the spot. But I don’t, in spite of a racing heart and spinning head.
I descend further and further into the abyss for days, months, years, searching for my prize. I know it is here. It is always here. My greatest creativity has always been housed in my greatest pain. I cannot leave until I retrieve it.
I finally hit the basement level of my descent and all around me are the demons I have been avoiding. I have to acknowledge them in order to pass. They demand it.
My own doubts. My own fears. They screech beside me begging for attention. I ignore them and go deeper.
The mentor who betrayed me time and again. The father who doesn’t love me. Fathers and father figures alike grabbing at my shoulders to hold me back. I break free. I break through.
I see authoritarians there. You supervised me into submission. You bossed me into victimhood. You signed my checks but you couldn’t sign my life. I vanquish you, too. I go deeper.
I see the men. I see the ones who loved me wrong. I see the ones I loved. I see the ones who inspired poems:
i was born in diana’s tide with a caul over my third eye
And I see the ones who are the reason that I haven’t written more than two poems in the past decade. I pretend as though I feel more comfortable with fiction but the truth is I feel too broken to write poetry.
And even the ones I still love are there, compassing me about. I break free.
I see me. I see body image. I see someone who doesn’t feel worth it. I see an utter lack of hope, a vision of a future that is not there, in which I have not been remembered. I am dust.
And there, just beyond the nihilism, just one more step beyond the limits of my odyssey, it is there:
The next novel.
That is what it is like to write. Every single novel.
I cannot write until things are right. Every time I sit down to work on something, practically everything, even this blog post, I feel like I am going back to Hell to confront all of my demons all at once. I feel short of breath and I give up to work on other things that make me happy and give me some meaning.
I know that being a writer is my destiny and my gift to the world, but I can’t always do it. This, in spite of the many people who ask me when the next book will be out. If I could make a living on my writing, I would write three a year. But I cannot live in the abyss in order to do that.
This is not writer’s block. This is depression.
I will beat it someday.
Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the book launch for Eleanor Lopes Akahloun’s memoir The Magic of Dreams: An American Diplomat’s Journey. Ms. Akahloun–known as Penny to her friends and family–is the mother of one of my dear college friends. The event was at Sankofa Books & Cafe in Northwest DC–a fine venue to just meet friends, purchase books from the diaspora, or have an intimate special event.
I brought my camera just in case my talents were needed and I found myself doing my thing fairly quickly. I was happy to serve, considering I know what it’s like to have to put on a book event and worry about all the little things that come up in the course of the day.
Ms. Akahloun did a wonderful job and I can’t wait to read about her various adventures as a woman in foreign service.
I feel as though I haven’t written in months. I probably haven’t. That will change.
The things in Ferguson have been weighing heavily on my mind, as has the death of my fraternity brother Marion Barry.
But that was yesterday.
It’s time to come back.
Thank you to the women in this picture, my sister-authors, for helping me bounce back. And you ain’t even know it.
More to come.
Last night, a character on Red Band Society (great new show on Fox) recited a line from Henry V. And it was cute or whatever, but it reminded me how I fell in love with Samuel West’s portrayal of Richard II when I went to England way back in 2000. Truth be told, I had to creatively gain credits in order to graduate on time, and Georgetown’s “Shakespeare: Text and Performance” course was a good way to earn six credits and two courses in four weeks. Plus, I’d get to see the UK. (Note: It looks like they shortened the program. That’s too bad.)
I believe we saw six (or seven?) plays all together, four of which were Shakespearean (Richard II, Henry IV parts one and two, and Romeo and Juliet), and then The Rivals and the the Mystery Cycles (religious vignettes) at York Minster.
(Typing those words makes me feel smarter than I really am.)
I am still friends with several folks I met on that trip and I really want to go back to the UK some day, for an extended period if I can. Reflecting on it, I felt both incredibly aware of my blackness in England yet also incredibly free. Certainly the British have racism and racists and privilege and all of that (and I would NEVER go back to York if I could help it), but I also felt like I was part of the diaspora in ways I do not feel here in the states.
I suppose in some ways when you are not home, and you’re black, you look for color everywhere. And England is indeed colorful.
Back to Richard II. The version we saw was at “The Other Place” which was the smallest of the three theaters making up the Royal Shakespeare Company’s properties. It was a “white box” with minimal scenery and gorgeous costumes designed by Sue Willmington.
I really wish there was a DVD of this performance. It was so good.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to have traveled overseas at an age where it mattered so much in my development into manhood and into writerhood. I look at this performance of Richard II and I can see now how much it informs the stories I tell, particularly that my protagonists are often not terribly sympathetic and are deeply flawed.
Just a little trip down memory lane. Sometimes I am amazed at the things I was able to do before I learned how to worry.
Here is an exclusive excerpt from Blood of a Dark Nation, Rashid Darden’s sequel to the vampire novel Birth of a Dark Nation.
Micah Leung was in his fifth year as the Butcher’s faithful executive assistant. He was faithful to his employer in every way, from grocery shopping for the household to making sure all the bills were paid on time. The Butcher loved being tuned in to every possible news outlet to stay on top of the goings-on of the world, so the cable and internet needed to be operational at all times.