• StirTheCoffee4

Title: My Sister Found My Middle School Blog Post About Her.

I started a blog in middle school that I wrote in from 2003 to 2007. It was popular amongst my twelve year-old friends, and it even got the attention of people I never met. Then I lost it all, purposely...

In 2010, my parents, sister, and I all went to downtown Chicago for the first time. We were there to take a tour of The Art Institute of Chicago, where my twenty-four year-old sister was accepted to, and where she would decide whether or not to get her second Bachelors degree, in Fine Art.

Since our father had suggested to us both that we should study business administration, and since she had already graduated with honors, a full scholarship, and always on the dean’s list, she now felt rightfully entitled to study what really interested her. My dad, as the first one in the whole family to get a degree, and also the first to move to America, to whom nobody had taught English, was happy to grant her this. 

We had arrived in Chicago on a sunny day in May. The weather was perfect for walking, and every passerby looked us in the eye and smiled, welcoming conversation. But as soon as we sat down for lunch -- I sat facing the windows to the street, and I looked outside, the weather had swiftly turned into this dark and powerful thunderstorm, at which I suddenly gasped from thinking the windows had shattered. Tables, patio umbrellas, and chairs were flying by completely horizontally. Rain poured for ten minutes, and once our entrees arrived, the rain had stopped. The sun started to shine really bright again. Precipitation was already palpable. Two drastic weather changes happened in minutes like a movie magic trick. 

Afterward, as we walked to our hotel, we turned a corner and all of us noticed an unusually approachable pinkish bald man with iceberg blue eyes and a gentle smile. We wondered why he looked familiar, and then my dad realized it was Steve, the most popular bouncer from “The Jerry Springer Show,” whose energy, when we went back and took pictures with him, was nothing like the mean persona displayed later in his own spin-off, “The Steve Wilkos Show.”

Coincidentally, I first started writing in my blog back when that show was on. After dozens of daily activities, I would get home at night and still find it impossible to fall asleep. I would cook, draw, and watch routine TV shows on Cartoon Network, Game Show Network, WCW, and Jerry Springer. Still awake when infomercials came on, with nothing left to do, and no one to talk to, I started writing in this blog, which had now found one full circle. 

The next day we were at the Art Institute of Chicago for a tour. Although it’s located in Millennium Park, and connected to one of the best museums in America, the weather was overcast, windy, and cold. Very few people were out that day. Instead of feeling inspired and challenged by this campus, my sister was somewhat uncertain. She was still impressed with the studios. Every kind of artist had every necessary medium readily available to facilitate their art to its fullest potential.

But I quickly wanted the tour to be over. As the guide continued with another speech, I turned around to my dad and made hysterically animated facial expressions, changing at full speed. I flickered my tongue, stirred my mouth, and blinked so fast that my face looked like a malfunctioning robot. My dad laughed. Nobody knew why. And the tour finally ended.

That night we went to dinner to celebrate my sister’s new hometown. She was happy to start her professional, adult life there, so, she did what everyone did in those days when fiddling on their first smart phone: she Googled herself. “Ha!” she hollered. “Somebody from high school didn’t like me,” she said, and clicked on the first link. 

When she finished reading the first sentence aloud, I snatched the phone without asking, to check if it was in fact my blog, and it was. I had written this post in 2005 when I was fifteen, after we had gotten into a tremendous fight involving a tupperware of ground beef. It was the turning point in my manhood. I had finally triumphed over her physical reign over me. 

The story was not very distasteful, but I was ashamed of myself for having shared it online. This was a lesson I had not learned for two full decades now. My family had always been private, so much so that even our privacy was a secret. Our parents hid many of their problem’s from us, and my sister didn’t want me knowing anything about her, specifically because I wanted everyone to know everything about me, which included her, and somehow, she always found out. I apologized, and when we got back to the hotel, I decided to take a look and see if it was worthy of keeping or deleting. 

I opened my blog on the hotel computer, and the first visible post was the last one I had written back in 2007, about this perfectly innocent girl from high school whom I used to ride the bus with. In it, I made fun of how big her shoe size was. I wondered why I had said that. She never hurt my feelings. She always thought I was a nice guy. I imagine she would only say good things about me if ever asked, which made me feel even worse, because here I was again, spewing ugly gossip. I had no ethics.

I deleted the blog without reading any further. The confirmation page said I had twenty-four hours to reconsider or else everything would be gone forever. I decided that it was for the best; nothing from those fours years of journal entries deserved to be saved. I quit writing for good, again, now for the third time.

I want to make a note of the fact that that was the last post. I remember being aware of no longer being the best version of myself, which maybe was exactly why I started writing in the first place. But I didn’t get where I wanted to go. So I stopped. And I had barely written since.

T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, was a worldwide phenomenon. From working in a museum to living in the caves of the Middle East, this short and slender Boy Scout from London came into WWI without any military training, only a keen interest in maps and archeology. He withstood the extreme living conditions of the Bedouin tribes, and he unified and organized the entire Arab nation -- a nation also without any military experience, whose history had only consisted of bloodshed between tribes. He singlehandedly became their leader, bringing them their greatest victory against the Ottoman Empire, which had ruled the continent for over a century.

Staged pictures, fictionalized biographies, dramatized theater plays, grand scale movies, and radio shows were made: everything about Lawrence of Arabia was in worldwide demand and selling out, but none of it was original. Upon his return to London, he began writing his book. For years, he carried every page in his briefcase. Once he finished writing the greatest story ever, he boarded a train and suddenly realized that he had left the briefcase behind at the station. The search for it lasted months and years. People prayed for it to turn up, but it was never found. Some presumed that he lost it on purpose, because he was known for never making such en error.

It’s impossible to know if Lawrence of Arabia lost all the pages of his book on purpose. But if so, then I believe it's because he felt that it didn’t live up to what had actually happened, so he lost it all, purposely. And after years of people bugging him about it, he eventually wrote it all over again, but by then, even he dramatized his story to what he thought other people wanted it to be, and it wasn’t that good that way.

I was going through a similar process almost in reverse; back when I shared everything I wrote, everyone liked it, even though I didn’t. Then I deleted it, and now I simply need to write it all over again, but for me. People may not like it, because it’s not about other people, but it's not for anyone. It's for me.  

I suppose I want everyone to know that I regret deleting everything I wrote more than I regret having written it. I regret more that I let myself quit writing and stopped sharing. I had the right actions, but the wrong intentions, and then I adopted the right intentions but the wrong actions. Now I feel like it’s time to reopen the pages of my life. The main focus for my writing is to be about my life, not other people; to have the right intentions and do the right actions. 


Interview with 2018 NBCC Criticism Award Finalist Camille T. Dungy


Original article on Brooklyn Magazine

By: Daniel Benhamu


Daniel Benhamu: Considering that you are primarily a poet, Guidebook to Relative Strangers is your debut book of essays. It is my understanding that this book originally started out as a memoir, and transformed into a sort of traveling journal of your career as a writer and new role as a mother in the first few years of your daughter’s life. Was this outcome the direction you were always headed toward?

Camille Dungy: This book started the same way all my books do: I was curious about the world in which I found myself at a particular moment, and I started taking notes. These notes seemed to want to be organized in the manner you read now in Guidebook to Relative Strangers. I didn’t sit down one day and say, “I’m going to write a memoir.” I can’t imagine going about things like that, though I imagine there are writers who could.

I was keeping notes about my experiences traveling as a black woman and also about my experiences becoming a mother. I was working towards a deeper understanding of what was being revealed to me about who I was and who I was becoming, and also about who we were as a nation. These notes began to overlap and speak to each other and, after a lot of hours at the desk, the book’s path began to reveal itself to me.

DB: What was edited out of it?
CD: I initially thought that I was writing a book that explored motherhood. That was the new thing in my life at the time that I thought was the most interesting. I’ve been a black woman in America for several decades, and so my understanding of what it means to be black in America hasn’t really changed. The book does explore motherhood, but being a mother changed my approach toward my writing, my communities, and the world at large.

My daughter expanded my sense of commitment to hope, to possibility, and to actively working to build strengthening connections between vulnerable communities. To write about motherhood meant writing about why and how this was. I became more aware than ever of our vulnerability, so to write about motherhood meant to write about the past and present traumas that my black daughter and I must live with every day. This awareness of vulnerability is partly due to the presence of my child in my life, certainly, but it is also due to the awareness cultivated as a result of living a politically, historically, and environmentally conscious life for all these years. The edits in the book were about how I directed my attention, and my readers’.

DB: What was the most difficult part of the transition from poetry to essays for you, and how did you triumph?

CD: This wasn’t a difficulty I faced when writing this book, but when I first turned my attention to writing prose it would take me an impossibly long time to finish anything once I’d gotten past the first 5 pages. This was because I wanted to start every new writing day as I might with a poem. I would read everything I’d written thus far before I started the next new word. So, if I’d written a lot of pages, I’d find that I would spend my whole writing time rereading rather than writing forward.

With this project, I was constantly taking notes as I moved through the world. I journaled regularly on my trips around the country, and I found myself taking notes on a lot of the follow-up research that came out of things I discovered on those trips. I journaled about my daughter and the ways she was influencing how I saw the world and how the world saw me. While I was gathering the notes that would eventually develop into the essays in Guidebook to Relative Strangers, I employed the attention to every word I’ve trained as a poet, but I figured out ways that I could productively concentrate my attention on writing new lines to keep the energy moving forward.

DB: You talk about language as a home. In essence, you have given your daughter, Callie, a place to live for the ages. What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

CD: At one point in the book, I wrote about the fine line between hearing a dog’s master say sic her versus it girl. There was a bully in my elementary school who liked to use his Dobermans to intimidate me. I learned about the fine line between those two commands at a very young age.

Language is the seat of so much power and, like all power, we get to decide whether we use it for good or ill. I can’t remember a time I haven’t known that. Perhaps because, as a black woman, I have always known how common it is for language to be used against me. I think I have also always known about this power because I have found great joy in language, in writing and speaking and thinking about the many things words can do to make the world a more beautiful and loving place. I would make it past that bully and his Dobermans and walk into a house where someone said, “I love you, beautiful.” I’ve always known that language can do revolutionary work in this world.

DB: In my opinion, the design of your research process would be a great assignment for students to learn about how to form an inquiry and to share what defines how they are positioned in society today. I see this work as a perfect example of what everyone should try to write for him or herself. I believe that the world would be a better place if everybody did so. Do you see this work as a potential resource to teach young children about how to compose historical ethics?

CD: I am honored that you feel this way about the book. I would be delighted to know that the book proved to be a resource for young people. I am equally delighted when grownups tell me that they learned things from what I’ve written in Guidebook to Relative Strangers. I am as tied to history as I am to the present. My sister is a historian; both my parents are history buffs. This sense that the past is alive and electric was a part of my upbringing I’ve decided not to escape. I am always curious about how we got to where we are today, and what the past can teach us about who we might become. I am willing to put the work in to dig up answers about the ways that where we have been has shaped where we are going. Thinking in this way seems to be crucial to thinking in an informed and honest manner about who I am in this world, who we all might be.