Thinking Out Loud*-A New Kind of Intimacy

Recently, I was walking my dog through the neighborhood and ran into a long-time acquaintance. Standing six feet from each other, we exchanged Co-Vid pleasantries and then there was a pause, and he said, “Doesn’t everything feel weird and awkward? Like everyone is afraid. It makes me sad.”

I nodded. I understood. But I didn’t feel the same. “I think we are having to learn a different kind of intimacy.”

His brow creased. ‘What do you mean?”

“I mean, last night, I went to a dinner at a friend’s house. There were four of us. One of the guests has Stage 4 liver cancer. Her husband set the protocol for what they felt was safe: Eating outside without a mask was safe. Anytime we were inside, fixing food or cleaning up, we wore masks. We all agreed ahead of time so that when the evening came, we went about having a sweet time. And we did. We told really good stories and laughed a lot. The agreement felt like an act of intimacy.”

His brow didn’t uncrease. “Wow. Well, that’s pretty interesting.” A polite minute later, he said, “Well, I gotta go.”

I had to smile. There you go, Lindsey, making people uncomfortable. Again.

Was it because I used the word intimacy?

Maybe. So often, intimacy gets defined as sex. In fact, too often being close to someone gets funneled through the tiny keyhole called sex.

A million years ago, I made a list. It was titled: A Thousand Ways To Be Intimate. I think I wrote down a hundred. Then I cut them into little strips, rolled each one up and put them in a jar. Sometimes I would pull one out with a friend or lover, and we would do what the paper suggested. Things like: Go outside, put a blindfold on one person and let the other person lead you slowly around your neighborhood. Make a bouquet of flowers from your neighborhood. Simple stuff. Some were sensual. None were overtly sexual. But each one expanded the idea of intimacy.

Like agreeing to have dinner with friends in such a way as to keep one another safe.

*As the youngest in my bio-family, I was preverbal for many years. My sisters and my parents were a walking, talking tribe. Paragraphs and sentences ahead of me. Consequently, I became an exquisite listener. I didn’t speak up. I didn’t practice trying out my thoughts because I didn’t want to embarrass myself by saying anything less than perfectly. To express myself, I became a writer, carefully crafting thoughts and sentences and putting them out into the world. But even in that arena, I have been tentative. This series, for however long it lasts, is about me speaking up and thinking out loud.

Writing Tip #2-Brave & Vulnerable

I love writing. I love teaching. I love teaching writing. I love listening to writers talk about their manuscripts. I love problem solving with writers. I love the delicacy and boldness of writing. These tips are things I’ve learned over the years that have held me in good stead and kept me going through the hard dry times. I hope they help you.

And hey they are only one minute long. Click here.

(aargh…YouTube, you are testing my vanity.)

“Brave and vulnerable. When people ask me what it takes to be a writer, I say you have to be brave and vulnerable. Brave because you are about to create a world on a blank screen or sheet of paper and vulnerable because, I think for that story to be successful you have to touch the reader’s heart and to touch the reader’s heart you have to be willing to be vulnerable and go to the deep places inside yourself.”

Thinking Out Loud* – White Privilege

I have marinated in white, chauvinist, capitalist culture my entire life. That admission is a statement of fact. What’s harder to admit is how that culture has blinded and deafened and dumbed me so much that it is sometimes very difficult for me to see my own stupidity when I speak.

It happened last week.

I love checking out the late-night hosts for their spin on current events. Colbert was interviewing Stacey Abrams (It starts about minute two) about 45’s phone call to Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger. I watched how Stacey listened to Stephen’s quips about the situation. She smiled, almost laughing at times but she waited for the moment to take the wheel of the conversation and remind Colbert that Raffensberger may not have buckled to 45’s pressure but make no mistake, he is not a champion of voting rights in Georgia and cited what he has done to hinder people having their votes counted. Boom. No prolonged soapbox. Just a quick reality check.

I exclaimed to a dear one how smart, how articulate Abrams is.

He said, “Um, you know, your white privilege might be showing.”

I gasped. I started to protest. I shut up.

Of course, Stacy Abrams is smart and articulate and all those things that any well educated woman can be. Did I point it in the way that I did because she is Black? Was I exclaiming about it because I am white and oh so surprised?

Truth is, I don’t know.  BUT I can definitely claim how privileged my words sound. And I can definitely claim how I am blind to this privilege.

In fact, I do it all the time. I exclaimed about this interview in the NYTIMES about Rev William Barber and his clarity of his thinking about poverty, race and politics. As if what? He wouldn’t?  Did I say it that way because, on some level, I am surprised by people whose skin color is different from mine can have such clarity of thought?

Ugh. Possibly.

But here’s the deal…Or at least I think it is the deal right now…Instead of getting all ashamed and defensive about my blinders and deafness and general soaking in white chauvinist capitalist culture, I can stumble forward, listening differently, opening my eyes more widely and speaking up not as an authority but as part of a bigger conversation. I can stop being surprised. I can be grateful that there is a new fabric of brilliance weaving itself into my consciousness. And I can welcome people’s nudges when my white privilege is showing.

*As the youngest in my bio-family, I was preverbal for many years. My sisters and my parents were a walking, talking tribe. Paragraphs and sentences ahead of me. Consequently, I became an exquisite listener. I didn’t speak up. I didn’t practice trying out my thoughts because I didn’t want to embarrass myself by saying anything less than perfectly. To express myself, I became a writer, carefully crafting thoughts and sentences and putting them out into the world. But even in that arena, I have been tentative. This series, for however long it lasts, is about me speaking up and thinking out loud.

Writing Tip #1 – No Wrong Answers

I love writing. I love teaching. I love teaching writing. I love listening to writers talk about their manuscripts. I love problem solving with writers. I love the delicacy and boldness of writing. These tips are things I’ve learned over the years that have held me in good stead and kept me going through the hard dry times. I hope they help you.

And hey they are only one minute long. Click here.

“One of the things I love to tell students is: Writing = No Wrong Answers. Writing is your chance to see your imagination come to life. It is your invention on the page. And there are no wrong answers when it comes to putting your imagination on the page. Set the timer for five minutes. Give yourself a prompt like “Once Upon a time….” See what happens.

What about grammar and spelling and punctuation, you wonder? That’s editing.”

Thinking Out Loud*–Dear John

Dear John,

When I leaned over and touched your shoulder yesterday and said, “How about Joe Biden? A pretty good alternative, right?” I was truly thinking that you would be able to get behind a guy who is from a working-class background and has worked with the legislators in Washington to get laws passed and changes made for real people. I knew you probably voted for Trump in 2016 because, well, Hillary wasn’t your… But I guess I thought, that the past four years had shown this president to be a dishonorable and amoral bully. Someone you, in your heart of hearts, wouldn’t and couldn’t care for.

So when you said, “This president has been good for my 401K,” I was, well, a little shocked. I mean I know money in the bank makes a difference but didn’t you have any money in the bank before 45? Didn’t we have a President from 2008 to 20016 that pulled us out of the sub prime disaster, avoided an Ebola outbreak and got the economy going again? As we talked, you said, “This president is tough. He doesn’t give our country away.”

I think I sighed and looked sad.

“Are you going to cancel me out because I’m voting for Trump?” you asked.

Of course not, I love you. And because I love you, my friend, I am going to take the delicious risk of telling you what I think and feel and understand.

As a writer and teacher of children’s books, there was a seismic shift in our industry in 2008. A grassroots organization called WeNeedDiverseBooks surged into being, calling for more diversity across the board: From characters in books to the authors who write those books to the editors at publishing houses who acquire those books. Shortly afterwards, another surge called #ownvoices came into being which basically called for books about, for instance, Black people to be authored by Black authors. It called for a kind of authenticity and more importantly, it called out publishers to acquire more books from Black, Brown, Native American and LGTBQIA authors and not give advances to white authors who were trying to populate their books with diversity in answer to this sea change.

It was a chilling moment for many white authors. What? Isn’t my imagination my license to drive? Didn’t Buddy Guy, the famous blues guitarist, say, “All you need is five fingers to play. The guitar don’t know the color of my skin.”

I felt pushed out. I felt like I didn’t belong. White writers were targeted for writing one dimensional (read: demeaning) characters of color. White writers’ voices were being questioned for their authenticity. White writers didn’t receive as many book contracts and advances. White writers couldn’t write anything they wanted. It has been, to put it lightly, a very bumpy time.

We all love the idea of equality until it hits our bank accounts, right? Then it feels unfair and unjust and “I didn’t do anything wrong.” I mean I’m a good person, why am I bearing the brunt of this problem? Yes, we are all good people but I had to take a big step away from my feelings to be able to see what WeNeedDiverseBooks and #OwnVoices is trying to accomplish.

It is this:

If we have more diverse authors writing more authentically diverse books, then we will have more diverse populations reading and resonating with those books. If we have a more diverse readership who feel like their stories are being told and told correctly, then we will have more readers in the world and, possibly, a more educated world. If my bank account has less in it but the result is more kids reading because they have access to more authentic books with characters who look like them then I have indirectly made an investment in a better, more educated world. If, in one generation, we have more kids who are looking up to authors who look like them as role models, then I say yes to this shift. If that goal is where we are headed, then I will be okay with stepping aside so more books by diverse authors can be published. Why? Because more readers and more stories make a better world.

Does it mean I will stop being a writer? No, I love writing. I can’t stop. Does it mean I won’t have diverse characters in my books? No. But I will have to work harder to make them real and authentic and NOT a one-dimensional place holder. Does it mean I won’t feel jealous and resentful and worried that I won’t have enough? I probably will, but at the end of the day, I know in my heart, it’s the right direction to take to undo years systemic racism.

All of which is to say, John, I understand the security you feel in having more money in your 401K but step back, look at the inequities we have kept in place, look at how these inequities keep us all scared by scarcity and scared of one another. I think 45 preys on that fear and promotes it. I think his idea of making America great again, is a secret message to turn back the clock when we didn’t have to look at pollution or racism or sexism, when my father’s generation could pursue a so-called American dream with no thought of any else’s well-being except his own and his family’s.

We can’t pursue that dream anymore. As this pandemic has proved beyond a doubt, we are so very connected. We are one world. We have to watch out for one another. We have to keep one another safe. That’s why I’m voting for Biden and I feel excited by that choice on the ballot.

Sure, he’s not perfect. And the relief from the disaster we are currently experiencing will take time. But to watch a man run our country with trade wars and threats and withdrawing from agreements like the Climate Accord and abandoning international organizations like NATO which hold us to a higher ideals is perverse. And really, John, if you’re counting on him to run America like a business, his record in that arena sucks. Trump hotels. Trump University. Trump Casinos. You would be appalled and I doubt you could work for a person who ignores contractual obligations and walks away.

I don’t know if this letter will make a difference to you or, if in the quiet of the election booth, you might change your mind and vote for a more decent human.

In the end, what makes a difference to me is that that you know me better.

Your dear friend,

Lindsey

 

*As the youngest in my bio-family, I was preverbal for many years. My sisters and my parents were a walking, talking tribe. Paragraphs and sentences ahead of me. Consequently, I became an exquisite listener. I didn’t speak up. I didn’t practice trying out my thoughts because I didn’t want to embarrass myself by saying anything less than perfectly. To express myself, I became a writer, carefully crafting thoughts and sentences and putting them out into the world. But even in that arena, I have been tentative. This series, for however long it lasts, is about me speaking up and thinking out loud.