Empowerment through Language...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

It's My Birthday - Here Is This Year's Birthday Letter

October 16, 2012

Here it is again, my birthday. As has been my habit for some years now, I write to you, my dear ones, before I head out into the world of commitments, busy-ness, distractions. This solar return marks 59 years on this earth, in this body. As my dear friend Cathy Gibbons would say, I am basking in my late 50s.

It is the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which I never really connected with my birthday before today and it seems oddly relevant, though I am not sure why. And this morning I woke with a beautiful Black Labrador Retriever named Enza sleeping on the floor at the foot of my bed. Enza came to live with me yesterday. She is a mature and lovely, well-trained girl and I think it will be a remarkable addition to my home and my life. After the death of my dear Butch cat 2 years ago, I have been missing companionship in the house. Butch was very much a dog in cat’s clothing anyway so this adjustment is no stretch. Enza seems to have already fully accepted me and I am quite delighted to have her here.

It has been another challenging year but when I start to get too involved in my freak-out mode, I have to remind myself that I have achieved my major goal set forth in a simple declaration in August 1994; I have a life completely centered around my identity, my life mission, my passion for poetry. This is a remarkable blessing. The only drawback, that which often instigates freak-out mode, is that I have had a number of setbacks due to the economy that still make my security tenuous but if I remember the greater truth, I have to dwell on the miracle and blessings much more than the fear. Things are looking more prosperous with many opportunities unfolding for later this year and early 2013. I will make it…

A year ago, I was given the opportunity to work as the Workshops Coordinator at the Downtown Writers Center, to which I have been dedicated for its 11-year history so it was a good step forward. I love the work and have learned a great deal in the process. I am able to use many of my skills in the position and am involved in developing new programming as well, most especially the Young Authors Academy, for middle and high school writers, a dream actualized.

I applied last year for several residencies and fellowships, the most significant being the Guggenheim award. I proposed to complete two of the book projects that I have been slowly working on for the past 7 years. I was optimistic that the panel would see the need for support and that I would be given the time and funding to focus on my writing before any other priorities. Unfortunately, the panel did not select me this time. This is not uncommon but it did sting. My main point in my application was that of the difficulty for writers who are not sheltered and supported by the academic system. Time equals money and if you are in a day job or self-supporting, affording the time and money to do nothing but work creatively is a significant obstacle.

But this is the deal: I did not get it. There is no crying in baseball or requests for funding. You just move forward. And so I have, with one of the two manuscripts nearly completed so I can mail it out for consideration for publishing. I am nearly halfway through the second that I proposed and I have another third of a book also in process. I will move on and keep reaching. I have applied for a VCCA residency for next year and who knows, maybe they will gift me with a month of retreat.

I had the honor, along with my coauthor Quraysh Ali Lansana, of being nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Excellence in Instructional Literature this year for Our Difficult Sunlight. We were in an elite group of five nominees, including Rev. T.D. Jakes and Tavis Smiley. Again, we did not walk with the trophy but we did walk the red carpet. The deeper confirmation was that more than 40 of my dear friends and family members sponsored me financially so I could have the experience of going to the award events in Los Angeles last February. Were it not for the generous outpouring of my community, I would have been unable to make the trip. I am so very grateful for the love and respect for my work that these gifts expressed. I was given the opportunity to see myself through a different lens with this as well. I had to acknowledge the environment of love in which I dwell with the magnificent people who surround me and believe in me, my work, my life. These people provided a mirror that I now keep close at all times.

I have witnessed the illnesses and challenges of many of my dear ones. I have lost several friends and colleagues. I have also welcomed several new lives into the world. I have struggled within my own mind and heart over the course of the year, but I have also paid due attention to the marvel that the honor of life is. How is it that we are given consciousness in this grand mystery of life in the universe? We cannot truly answer any of it but we can witness it, experience it, honor it all, without answers. Maybe that is the real point. Maybe stopping the need to have explanation and rational reason for any of this leads to peace.

I have great concern for our world and, as you all know, I have my opinions about it all, particularly the political tone in this election year. But I also know that the moon is marvelous and I have no idea how many more full moons will beam in my lifetime. I anticipate a long life but none of us ever really knows. I just want to do well in sharing my talents, be a positive force in the lives of others, and an asset to community. I also want to remember to relax, be peace, and keep writing.

Thank you to each of you who reads this most recent of my birthday missives. You are the mirrors of the quality of my life and, without you, life would be empty. I smile because I am supported by a community of loving, caring beings, each with individual talents and value. Thank you for choosing me. I toast to you all. And take note, you have a year to get ready to revel with me when I turn 60!

Much love and light…Namaste!