If one day you desire to find me, don’t look for me here. Search for me in the quiet space, that place where only you and I can dwell. There will be no more hunger for my body but instead a hunger for my soul. There will be no more pretense, only naked and raw authenticity, our minds and secrets disrobed forever. In that moment I would become you and you would become me, and there would be no more hiding from each other, because we cannot hide from ourselves.
Flesh to mind, mind to flesh. Syncopating, melding into one mind, yet still shapeshifting between the objective and subjective, the singular and the plural; the me, the you, the us. Shapeshifting for survival.
No, don’t look for me here. Search for me in the quiet places, on the planet of my mind where only you and I can breathe and dwell; shapeshifting to exist.
One of my advisors a year ago encouraged me to write a memoir based on a writing prompt during one of our residency workshops. He was so enthralled by what I had written within the ten minutes given, he promptly shared his excitement with my previous advisor, who accosted me at our next workshop.
I have never thought about writing a memoir. Who the hell am I? I never imagined I had anything interesting to share. The writing prompt was meant to draw out a past memory, nothing more. But when he insisted that I consider the memoir after what I wrote, I began to toy with the idea.
Some of you have read the very short opening of my piece. The overall piece is now nearly 100 pages. For both those who have read the opening and those who have not, I’d be interested to know if you read what I’ve shared below (what I wrote during the workshop), would you be curious and want to read more?
Be honest. I have thick skin.
I was born beneath Cuba, across the waters of the West Indies on an island that lives and breathes Bob Marley. It was 1967. While papa, my grandfather, was mending the house he built with his bare hands, civil rights marches were happening in “foreign” the place the locals called America. As King, Jr. lay dead, murdered by the mindset of the majority, I learned to walk on hot stones. The light of a man went out. I was oblivious to this then. I lived in a place where electricity and running water and indoor plumbing didn’t reach us. The outhouse was dark at night. But my uncle would take me there sometimes. At other times the chimmy, as my grandmother called it, would be pulled out from under the bed, squatted over, then slid back filled with yellow waste that reminded us of our simple life.
I was small and grass blade thin but I remember the mangoes and jackfruit and star apples and ackee and ginepes and the flowers I used to make jewelry, little necklaces and bracelets, bright and red and beautiful. I want to remember the name of that flower, but time sends memories away to places we can’t find.
I’ve come to realize over the years that my existence is like a tiny atom/molecule/single celled creature under a microscope; a tiny speck of dust on some distant planet in some distant galaxy, in a possibly distant universe ensconced within another atom filled with universes. And that atom that houses many universes is a single atom within yet a larger omni-verse filled with similar universe carrying atoms. And, even with that notion on the table, it is still not a sure thing. The cosmos are filled with endless possibilities about our existence that we cannot begin to fathom, or even understand. We are the dust of stars, the dust of worlds created, powerful, but small, wandering around trying to grasp why we are here, when in fact, we may never find the answer. We can only hope that at the end of this earthly journey, there really is something waiting for us; something amazing and wonderful, that revelation, Nirvana, something to make our experiences here have meaning and purpose. Something. Anything.
Write a new post in response to today’s one-word prompt.
Sadly, what I’m about to write is not fiction. It is a very real conversation from a few days ago with a young 20 something who made a most unfortunate discovery. Her experience once again shows me that everything has changed, but nothing is different.
Earth. What a strange, familiar, beautiful, ugly, amazing, disgusting, wonderful, heartbreaking planet I live on.
The day was a dusty blue four days ago. The drive to the supermarket was uneventful. Cars moved through green and yellow lights like bumps in a caterpillar. Some turned into Wendy’s, others into Walmart. Some headed for Office Depot or DollarTree. All of them toward something in their future. We were headed for the fruits and vegetables aisles. We talked and laughed and remembered the lemon yellow morning on a dusty blue canvas.
The girl, she was white. We call her acquaintance, sometimes friend. We’ve known her for only about a year with distance between the times when we speak. She is always all smiles, teeth white, cheeks pink, hair dark and quasi goth. She is medium height. Not fat, not skinny. Black work pants fitted snug. She didn’t belong there though, in those aisles. She had quit her job three months ago to go away to college in Jackson, Mississippi. But she was back now, in the chain supermarket aisle talking to us and working the self checkout line like a champ. She told us why she’d come back. It was against her will, but equally willed by her desire to not be transformed into something ugly.
She almost bubbled as she said, “My grandparents are racist!” We gasped in semi surprise, because in our brown skin this was not news. She said she showed them her friends on her tiny phone screen. Small figures locked inside an electronic device that doesn’t care who you are or what you look like. It just saves you there, suspended in time for as long as the device remains on. She was all smiles when she showed them her friends, her second family. They saw the brown faces and gasped in utter horror. Surprise was not enough for them, they needed something bigger, more theatrical.
They said they loved her. But at the end of our beliefs, what is love? Real love.
She said she never got to meet her father. He died when she was little; at least that is how I recalled the detail about her father. The bigness of her story distorts the details though. Only the feeling remains, the feeling of again. Always it reappears. Again. And again. And then only the words that stab are remembered as though set on fire in front of you.
This was her first time meeting her father’s parents, her paternal grandparents. They welcomed her. They bought her a brand new computer for school. They said they would be happy to have her stay with them while she attended college. She could not afford to stay on campus, so their gift to her was right on time. But the brown people in her phone changed everything. Her grandparents didn’t know that she was a “nigger lover”. They told her that as long as she had nigger friends, she couldn’t stay with them and would no longer be welcomed in their home. She had to leave.
She smiled at us and said she couldn’t believe they were racist. But I could believe, because I live inside my brown skin—everyday. I see the good and bad of people who are not brown. Sometimes it’s beautiful. Sometimes it’s ugly. Sometimes it’s indifferent. Always it’s human. At times, to me, inhuman. Her smile, though, didn’t hide her pain. I saw deep inside her. She wondered about it all. But did she wonder if it was worth it? I don’t know. She, too, was human. And the wondering would have been human if it ever nudged her.
Her grandparents were human. Too human—whatever that might mean. She ultimately agreed with them and left. Because she would not give up her brown friends to satisfy their pathological condition. She would not compromise. So she fearlessly let go of an important part of her future, her college education, and returned to Laurel, Mississippi.
She returned to checkout lines and standing on her feet all day. She returned to minimum wage and a foggy future thick with uncertainty and long years of ladders leading to nowhere. She was a nigger lover. That is what they said. She did not deserve a comfortable and certain future. She deserved only scorn for knowing us and all the other faces in her phone, faces that stained her life brown and stymied her future.
I left the imposing supermarket feeling sad for her. She really was fearless. She could have erased the still brown bodies in her phone, the smiles she shared with them and enjoy college and a life outside of the aisles. But she didn’t. She let it go, for now, to fearlessly preserve her moral standards, dignity and belief that we are all people. We are all…human.
Sometimes I’ll hide behind my cousin who died when I was about 14 years old. Or my sister who died 9 years ago. There you will also find me searching for my grandmother and stepfather, who both died before I was ready for them to go, long before my cousin and sister. This world can’t hold souls too kind to live here.
My grandmother, singing about God’s love and grace before the worms and sun could yawn. The breath filled sewing machine stitching unexpected life into a dress or skirt. Boiled yellow yams, dasheen, yucca, bananas and dumplings love the warm comfort of sautéed callaloo and salt fish on a plate too small to fit them all. Mama, as everyone called her, made the disgusting powdery taste of liver transform into a moist flavor filled gourmet meat. Only she could conjure the love needed to make liver taste good. Eighty something years old and could run—oh my, could she run. Daily walks to Dyre Avenue in the Bronx to pick up “food”. The bustle of white collar Manhattan workers disembarking from the number 5 train didn’t scare her—they became victims of her authentic smile that infected everyone who caught it. Church bells didn’t need to ring, she would be there when the keys slipped into the lock to let a rush of air into the holy place. Gallant white hat and faux gold embossed black bible tucked deep inside a soft stuffed purple purse. A pink embroidered handkerchief peeked out from inside. With amens complete and the afternoon young, the kitchen would smoke and boil and sizzle with victuals meant for one but shared with five; it was her way. No one should go away hungry or thirsty.
My stepfather, jolly yet serious. Teasing yet solemn. A quarter inch of Wray and Nephew overproof rum at the bottom of a glass, the rest orange juice. Sounds of jazz vibrating everything not nailed down. Dexter Gordon, Joe Henderson, Miles Davis, Donald Byrd, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Sil Austin—The Blue Note Years were deep and sad, even feisty and rebellious. The history books that spanned no less than 300 years, read between lodge visits and cricket; they were an extension of the man who knew too keenly the ills of the world, yet could still turn a phrase and a joke that would leave everyone in unrelenting laughter. He was father and chef, husband and historian, electrician and cheerleader. He loved in a way we often forget.
All this is tucked away inside me, memories of the ones who left too soon. It is here you will find me, inside me, waiting and wanting to have porch side swing chats with those who ushered me into womanhood and maturity by showing me that life is too short not to be lived, and lived well. They stand on the other side of tomorrow’s wind waiting for me.
So I play jazz, and laugh and share a slice of bread meant for one with four people. I dance and sing and make love by sunlight and moonlight. I walk in graveyards to remind me of how fortunate I am to be here, for one more day. With my left hand I eat yellow yams and dasheen, yucca and dumplings; with my right hand I flip open the pages of a history book and read myself into understanding and remembering.
Life is sweet and sour.
But I am here, inside myself, sometimes hiding, sometimes searching, and sometimes waiting for a quasi Elysian fields to manifest so that true freedom can find me where I hide.
II’ve decided to allow for a few guest interviews and blog posts from authors interested in a blog tour.
Up first is Robert van Dusen, author of several books.
Thank you Robert for sharing a bit of who you are with my followers.
• Tell me a little bit about who you are as an author and why you write within your genre?
Who I am as an author? I just like telling a good story. I’m not really not out to write the next Great American Novel or anything so pretentious as that. If you pick up one of my books and you had an enjoyable couple of hours or however long it takes you to finish it then I’ve done my job. Reading should be fun, a break from all the serious stuff you’ve got going on in your life. If it happens to make you think a little bit then…hey that’s great too.
As far as the genres I work in I’ve been a fan of zombie movies ever since I saw the original Night of the Living Dead when I was about twelve or so. Never mind the zombies, who were scary in their own right. What really shook me was watching these strangers thrown together in that farmhouse eventually tearing each other apart. Zombies are stupid. People are smart, prone to panic and you never quite know what they’re going to do if you follow me.
The very first book I ever wrote was a Fantasy novel so I guess you can say right now I’m kind of returning to my first love. I grew up reading the old Conan the Cimmerian stories and of course Tolkien. I absolutely adore the old stories of heroes like Beowulf and Achilles and Hercules as well so I draw from those as well.
• What is your book about?
My series of Zombie Fiction is primarily about my main characters trying to at first survive and later thrive in a world that tears itself apart under the weight of an (un)natural disaster. I tried very hard to make my stories more character driven rather than the nonstop gorefest that some zombie stories can fall into. Don’t get me wrong: horrible things do happen to my characters and they do some horrible things themselves but it’s not the focus of the story if you follow me.
• Why did you write this book?
The first book in my series, Outbreak: Boston, started as a D20 Modern game (a pen and paper roleplaying game) that a friend of mine was running and I had been playing in. The game had fallen apart due to players missing sessions but I felt a need to take up the narrative and run with it, so to speak. Something about the characters and the setting just grabbed my interest so I started work on a draft of a manuscript. Before I really knew it the tale grew in the telling and I ended up with two more novels and a handful of short stories before I felt it had run its course.
• What is your favorite aspect of your book? And why?
Favorite aspect of my books? That’s kind of a tough question…I’d probably have to say I’m proudest of the way my characters interact with each other and the world they’re forced to live in. I’m a former service member (I refuse to call myself a Veteran as I’ve never deployed overseas) with ten years in service between Active Duty and Reserve sides of the U.S. Army so I used a lot of my own experiences in forming both my characters’ personalities and how they’d react to the situations presented them.
• What are you currently working on?
Right now I’m working on what looks like it’s going to be a series of Fantasy novels set in a realm vaguely reminiscent of the late Roman Empire. So far there’s two different plots going on simultaneously: a party of adventurers are on a quest to find a holy relic hidden in the burned out ruins of a city on the far side of the Empire while in the north a barbarian warlord (or jumped up cutthroat if you prefer) is rising in rebellion against the Lords of the Greenwood.
I’m also publishing short stories off and on set in the same world and starring some of the characters from the new novel(s) as sort of teasers to try and generate interest for the new project.
• Where can readers find your work and you?
I can be found on Facebook ( https://www.facebook.com/robvandusen109) and I have an Author’s Page on Amazon (amazon.com/author/robertvandusen) where you can buy my eBooks. You can also read my blog (https://robertvandusen.wordpress.com) as well.
What is the one thing that drives you to wake up in the morning and do whatever it is you do? Is it writing, family, friends, or something else entirely?
Possibility. When I think about all the things that are possible at the dawn of a new day, I roll over, sit up, yawn and allow possibility to move me forward and onward. I am driven by the power within me to create anything that is possible to create. Every morning I am the creator of my day and future world. Even those things that are outside of my control in this culture still pulse with the possibility to be changed.
What drives my thinking is our existence. Imagine, in a universe of infinite possibilities, we are here, thinking, breathing, believing, imagining, creating, being. Simply being. Our existence shows that anything is possible. Through some means we are unsure of, we are here. It could have been creation. It could have been evolution. Or, it could have been neither of those, and the way we’ve come to exist is something beyond anything we can imagine at the moment.
Can you imagine that we could have come into being without creation or evolution? Regardless of our feelings, beliefs, opinions and limited observations, the possibility exists that we are here by a means outside of our realm of understanding or ability to detect. This is a most beautiful possibility to me. It leaves open the door for us to imagine different and create new possibilities for our existence rather than limit ourselves. Why argue over that which we could all be wrong about?
This is what wakes me each day—all that is possible to conceive and perceive in this galaxy, universe, omniverse, multiverse, or a thing so expansive (or microscopic) we have yet to know it or name it. But still, we live and breathe in it. In it, we are sentient and think. In it, we…are.
There was so much to see on my trip home. The last time I visited my family in Jamaica was around 15 years ago. The land, as expected, was lush in the countryside and weighted down with asphalt and concrete in the cities. The rich were just a stone’s throw away from the poor. Driving was as I’d remembered it, although forgetting was more than welcomed. Most drove as though speeding on narrow roads was a necessary evil in order to reach their destination.
The ocean stretched into what looked like a flat Earth, with the periodic cruise ship dimming in the distance as it moved further away from the shore. Narrow streets were lined with old houses, some run down, some built with tin roofs, cardboard and metal fence. Most of the poorest structures had no less than three fruit trees that were there longer than the grandmothers sitting on the veranda watching life go by. Every house I passed for the better part of two miles had fruit trees filled to overflowing.
Julie mango, breadfruit, guinep, sweetsop, soursop, ackee, almond, otaheite apple, jackfruit, neesberry trees enriched Jamaican ghettos with life and sustenance. The poor could not be hungry unless brainwashing led them to overpriced supermarkets that would never provide them with the richly nutritious and filling fruits and vegetables that lived inside the borders of their run down fences. The majority of the ghettos of America had no such richness, nothing green and life giving to hold them over when money ran out.
Jamaica has its problems—serious problems. But what I saw and what stood out was how beautiful it was, filled with potential and possibility. More than a decade has come and gone, but I still love Jamaica.
As my plane flew over Cuba, bound for Jamaica, I began to feel the pull of a long ago home, one that remembered me more than I could remember it. I landed on over 4,000 square miles of fragile paradise, not knowing what to expect. But I was on the soil of my first home.
I am now sitting on the veranda of a quaint hotel overlooking the ocean. A child splashes about in the pool below. I wondered why he was not brought to the sand to feel the glorious ocean around his tiny body. We each make our choices and hope that we make them well. I chose to be here and will later create the sand memory for the child. I will let the sand move between my toes and the water envelope me as I remember what was gained and lost, remembered and almost forgotten. I will be the child.
I will let this expansive view humble me and remind me of my fragility. I can only smile and fall in love again. Jamaica is a wonder to behold–colonized and monetized, still, something of the old world remains.
Nearly ten years ago I put my television in the trash. Since that day my life has been an endless string of adventures, enlightenment, awakening, learning and growing. I’ve learned to spend more time living, as opposed to imagining life vicariously through characters on a screen. I began to read more and interact more with friends and family. My powers of discernment and ability to find resolutions increased. I became calmer, less on edge. I no longer wanted things I didn’t need. These things and many others have changed in my life. The most amazing thing about this journey is I’ve never missed television. I thought I would, but it was like a huge burden released, an albatross I let fly away. I am incredibly happy with the person I’ve transformed into. I am certain I will never turn back. Television is out of my life for good.
Memories never come in any particular order. So I’ll number mine randomly, in the spirit of the randomness of memory.
I was no more than 12 years old. A friend had just come up from Jamaica and had never seen snow before. The first snow fall of that winter, we both ran outside barefoot. We didn’t feel the cold. It was a magical day I’ll never forget.
I’m somewhat of an odd Jamaican woman. I don’t like things too spicy. Nearly everyone in my family loads their food with everything hot created by humans and I am expected to not only indulge, but enjoy it. After all, what sort of Jamaican would I be if I didn’t enjoy a jerk chicken or jerk pork every now and then. Just as I don’t like my food too hot, I don’t like my life too hot. A touch of spice doesn’t hurt, but too much numbs me from the inside out.
My ability to deeply appreciate my success doesn’t require that I live through mountains of failures. While watching the many rags to riches stories that exist in media and literature is heart warming, I would much rather find success through as few failures as possible. I’ll live vicariously through those who like it hot, laden with failure that inspires them to appreciate their success to a much greater degree.
The night is beautiful here. The moon seems to be full and only a few sparse clouds speckle the sky.
If not tonight, tomorrow night, go outside and look up at the night sky. Let the many millions of stars slowly come into view. Notice how the longer you stand outside in complete darkness, the more stars you begin to see. Imagine that each star is the center of a solar system. Let the wonder of this possibility wash over you.
You are a grain of sand in the beach of the cosmos. Be humbled by how amazing it is that you are here, at this moment, in this solar system.
Hands down, I would say I’m snobbish about books. I rarely loan my books to others. When I do, I must be sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the person will in fact read it. Otherwise, they are welcome to buy their own book and read it at their leisure. But I expect any book I loan out to be read within a reasonable time, or promptly returned. I know, I’m bad. Don’t judge me and don’t laugh at me. I know some of you are laughing anyway as you read this. That’s ok, I can take it.
Books are so near and dear to me. They are friends come to tea. I love to be surrounded by books because it is like being surrounded by my ancestors who are filled with knowledge and wisdom. I can honestly say that books are the only thing I’m a huge snob about. However, if I know that someone is a die hard reader, they will always have freedom to roam my library, which is now over 5,000 books strong.
Ah, the literary-minded witch. From one witch to another, hands down, I would choose to become an obscure novelist whose work will be admired and studied by a select few for decades. I want longevity as a writer. When I see authors such as Mary Shelley still being read and studied, it makes me smile. Imagine, to have such an impact that more than 100 years later, your name is on the tongues of the young and old. Meanwhile, how many authors do we know now, who are still alive, whose works are virtually forgotten already?
I’ll take longevity any day.
This was a great writing prompt. I’ve been asked this question before and the answer is always the same, even as I sit here, the starving artist, trying to make my way through the world of literature. But I am hopeful that what I ultimately pen, my magnum opus, will last through the ages.
It’s 6:10am. I don’t usually rise this early. This morning felt different, however. I had an urge to get up and write. Through my shaded window I can see the sky turning from a deep dark blue to a light pale blue. The sun is somewhere below the horizon, slowly making its ascension into visibility. I am trying to remain alert to all I’m feeling. I need to write it down so I can remember it. I need to remember that which we take for granted.
My stomach. There is a mild ache. Probably thirst, or hunger. Maybe a touch of gas. I don’t know yet. But I am aware of my body and its morning chatter. A slight shoulder ache. My fingers typing on my MacBook Pro keyboard. It sounds different from a typewriter. Less effort. On my old antique Royal typewriter, the keys must be depressed more firmly so the ink makes a proper impression on the paper. The tap is louder, with each letter sounding like haphazard Morse code. But there is something about typing on a typewriter, something Earthy and natural, just a step above the primitive. My stomach again. It aches. It needs water. The pause to go to the kitchen to pour water to drink. Cannot make it though. The feeling of water in my bladder. The pre-pause to stop at the bathroom. The light. Too bright. The flush of the toilet. The sink water sounding like a narrow stream running into its future. I look in the mirror. The day before I put my hair up in a crazy way. Little rubber bands wrapped around a bunch of twists. Thinking I look crazy. My face. The age is coming. Slowly, but it’s coming. I see the changes making their way into my life. Fifty is only three more years away. I think about fifty as the water runs and my hands get wet. I wash them and think about my hair in almost a dozen twists and fifty. My stomach calls to me again. I dry my hands on my orange towel, taking care to ensure each hand has been dried of the river water. I turn out the lights in the bathroom, then walk to the kitchen in the dark. It’s very dark. I flick on the light. Too bright again. Too early to be up. But too late to stay in bed. The fridge is white. They mostly come in white, black and silver. Why not have pink or green refrigerators? Maybe purple or orange. Why must the majority of fridges be three basic colors. If I somehow become wealthy, I’ll custom order a fridge in a wild and fun color. I look inside the fridge but then my eyes catch a glimpse of a bottle of water on the counter. It’s 9.5 alkaline water. I prefer my water room temperature, even living in the heat of the Florida sun. I close the fridge and think about the light inside going out when the door shuts. What a clever invention. I pour the water into a small glass tea cup. I rarely drink full glasses of anything in a single sitting. Small drinks throughout the day suit me better. I drink it all, put the glass down, turn off the light and head back to the keyboard. The light is brighter now through the blinds. I imagine the sun is over the horizon. I realize my stomach is no longer aching. It has settled down. The ceiling fan spins on medium. I feel the air touch my skin. It’s cool. It reminds me to not spend the day inside, but go outside to feel the wind. Go to the beach and walk on the sand.
I think. I think. I think.
Today is about growth. Today is about doing what needs to be done, no excuses. It is about staying aware of self and being alert to those things we take for granted, such as a walk to the kitchen. It may seem simple to some, but imagine not being able to walk a few feet to one’s kitchen. Imagine not having the ability to walk a few feet to one’s bathroom. As I write this, many are on dialysis, their body unable to do the work of purification. I was able to go to the bathroom. What an incredible realization that we rarely look at! Imagine not being able to pee? It may sound crass to some, but it is a reality to so many whose body no longer functions normally. I am thankful for that which many believe is taboo to discuss, the ability to urinate.
The sky is bright. I continue to listen as my fingers tap the keyboard, making a dull sound. The words stream across the screen as I, from memory, create words on a system that I began using when I was a teenager. Now, the keyboard is like a supporting mind, a brain in my fingers that spills out onto the screen what comes from my mind. I am aware of this, as I am aware of many things this morning.
I think…it is time to post this and let the awareness of my existence fly into cyberspace. Where it lands, I won’t know. But no matter who reads this, I hope they are changed by it and take a moment to listen to their bodies and the world around them. Observe that which we live habitually. Observe your life one detail at a time.
I was 15 years old when I took my Junior High School graduation photo. My graduation gown felt frumpy and too large for my frame. I smiled a big smile in that photo and later looked at the proofs wondering why I smiled so big. My fangs were showing bold and unbeautiful. My baby teeth had refused to come out, so my adult teeth grew in on top of them. They were firmly rooted to my gums, with not even so much as a shake to indicate they might be ready to leave my mouth. My dentist said they had to be pulled. He should have pulled them long before my adult teeth grew through the top of my gums, making me look like a vampire. My baby teeth would not be easily moved, however. He had to put his back into it. They decided they would not go down without a fight. After what felt like more than an hour, they final relented, against their will. So at 15, I had to wear retainers to push down my adult teeth. I hated my retainers. They made me look uglier than I already looked during my ugly years. I believe we all go through ugly years as a teenager, don’t you think? My ugly years lasted through all of Junior High School and the first year or so of High School. But I made it through, retainers and all.