1. first line prompt: she pressed a hand over her mouth to keep the last shot of tequila down.

    (prompt via @tnwhiskeywoman)

    she pressed a hand over her mouth to keep the last shot of tequila down. people buzzed at their tables around her. to her left, a group of friends laughed loudly at a picture they took, passing a phone around a u-shaped booth; at her right a waitress argued openly with an exasperated man in black no-slip shoes, a white dishtowel cascading from his back pocket. her hand was on her hip, braids whipping at her belt where they fell at the end of her mile-long ponytail.

    she watched the waitress and tried to imagine her on a date, tried to rearrange her face into a mask of pleasantness, difficult to do because all her features were bunched and wrangled as she snapped at the man. if she had a boyfriend, they probably fought all the time. he’d say something she didn’t like, she’d follow him room to room yelling “and another thing!” he’d leave. she’d stew until he came back. she’d jump when she heard the front door close and approach, arms crossed, stubbornly silent, but soft and remorseful in the eyes. no one would say a word. they’d apologize with breath, with greedy fingers and—

    "you doin’ alright over here?"

    her back straightened and she looked around, reorienting herself.

    "yes, i’m fine."

    "ready to order?"

    "no, i’m still waiting on a… someone." she took a sip of water and shook her head violently, trying to get the waitress and her imaginary boyfriend out of her head because it wasn’t about the waitress and her imaginary boyfriend at all. she was the one unfolding her arms, extending them like bridges to tony as he walked back through the door. she loved the drama of it all, but it exhausted tony and the next time he walked out to get away from her nipping he didn’t come back.

    "tanya?"

    she jolted, her spine stiffening uncomfortably. she’d had her eye trained on the front door of the restaurant for as long as she’d been there, for each tick of those 45 minutes and the moment she looked away he walked in.

    "max?" he smiled and extended a hand to her. she took it and wobbled slightly on her heels, half because of the nerves shivering in the pit of her stomach, half because of the tequila warming her from the inside out. he was either more or less attractive than he was in his profile picture; she couldn’t tell which. he hugged her loosely, kissed her lightly on the right cheek and she felt her nose dot quickly with beads of sweat. she smiled bigger than she meant to. "it’s nice to meet you."

    "you as well. you look great." she pretended to believe him and thanked him, hoping it felt genuine.

    from the corner of her eye, she saw the waitress fail at not smiling at the man in the black no-slip shoes who was giving her his best sad puppy dog eyes over the din.

    tanya hugged herself with one arm, and with the other, shook her shot glass toward the bartender, pleading another round.

     


  2. an accidental biography of me & writing.

    when david alan grier hosted ‘saturday night live,’ there was a very funny sketch about news anchors whose lives slid into bedlam when their teleprompters went dead.  they had no idea what to do.  they froze and looked around the set wide-eyed, looking for answers, and finding none, panic set in.  hysterics and lawlessness took over.  one of the anchors beheaded the weather man in a fit of frenzy as another shrieked please make the words come back!

    this has been my life for the last 10 years.  i have wanted to be a writer since i learned to read.  i didn’t know it then, but looking back, ive always been head over heels in love with language.  i used to sit for hours with books and just copy the text onto reams of my mother’s printer paper.  i just loved words.  i felt like i was doing something when i wrote them.  it didn’t matter that they were someone else’s words.  they were words, and that i knew how to make them was a big deal.  i wrote my first poem when i was 8 years old.  it was about halloween, and it didn’t rhyme, but somehow i knew that that was okay.

    i knew very early that i was a good writer. my teachers accused me of plagiarism all the time, starting in the 4th grade.  english teachers used my papers as examples of distinguished work.  i knew that people thought i had talent, but that didn’t mean anything special to me until i took a standardized test in middle school.  one of the open-ended questions asked us to respond to a scene of a forest being destroyed from the point of view of an Indian living in the forest.  i used two sheets of paper to complete my answer.  there was drama, description; my hand was on fire and i couldn’t stop it.  all i could do was feed it more paper until it burned out.  that answer was on my mind all the way home.  it was good.  it was good.  *i* was good.  i had written something good.  i told my mother about it when i got home.

    my mother.  she was an aspiring writer herself when she was younger.  she had a book of handwritten poetry that i would sneak upstairs to read sometimes while she was away at work. naturally, she encouraged my literary habits, taking me often to the library and to bookstores, to plays, the ballet—anything creative.  when i was 12, she took me to see Les Miserables for the first time, now our favorite musical.  we listened to the soundtrack everyday for two weeks leading up to opening night.  one afternoon, i sat at the table writing down the lyrics to one of my favorite songs, Eponine’s “On My Own”, as my mother sang along with Fantine’s “I Dreamed a Dream.”

    but the tigers come at night/with their voices soft as thunder

    "don’t you wish you could write like that?" my mother said with a dreamy sigh.  i looked up from my notebook, half puzzled.

    "i can."

    my mother, taken aback, said, “oh. well, do it then!”  

    ———   

    i decided that i wanted to be a poet at 16, and i wrote everyday.  i still have with me a manilla folder full of poems that i typed and printed on reams of computer paper similar to the kind i used to copy text on with a number two pencil on saturday mornings.  i shared my work.  i devoured the positive feedback and glowed when someone asked me for help with something they were working on.  i read voraciously—Edgar Allen Poe was my favorite poet, hands down, and still is, to this day.  i discovered the harlem renaissance and played with what it meant to use poems as tools, as weapons.  my mother bought me the collected works of Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, and Nikki Giovanni; my father, knowing less about his kid and her interests, bought me the complete works of Robert Frost.  as a birthday gift, my niece, then 7 years old, had an author who was visiting her school autograph her book for me because she knew i liked books.  writing was my thing, and everyone knew it.  they supported me and i settled into it because there wasn’t anything i liked better.  and besides, i wasn’t good at anything else.

    i outgrew poetry in college.  in the midst of a really, really racist campus environment, i found journalism a much more powerful tool, so i gravitated more toward essays and articles for the school paper.  i also began blogging around this time, keeping an online journal wherein i pored all of my angst—a generally tumultuous history of my relationships with men, including a broken relationship with my father; my first love; being unhappy on campus, etc.  there was plenty to write about, and though i wasn’t writing poetry anymore, i still wrote plenty. 

    by the time i graduated, i was over poetry altogether.  this was at the height of the spoken word boom in my neck of the woods, and i’m sure that contributed to my new attitude towards it.  i found poetry and poets, in general, to be pretentious and full of shit for lack of better wording.  this is when writing first became difficult for me.  i’d sit with my notebook and pen in hand, just like i always had, and i’d wait for something to happen.  when nothing did, i willed something to happen.  what came out was horrible; flat, boring, uninspired. just as pretentious as everyone i made fun of.  so, i put down poetry and picked up prose.  it worked until it didn’t anymore.  eventually i found myself in an immense drought and tried waiting patiently for the words to come back.  sometimes i’d panic like the news anchors in the SNL sketch, but i’d beat it back or ignore it enough to keep the little flame of hope burning.  eventually i started a blog to write silly, mindless things until the real words came back.  and while waiting, i started another.  and another.  just something to keep the juices flowing while i waited.  some of those blogs gained modest popularity and lead to some pretty cool opportunities for me, which eventually landed me where i am now: supporting myself (BARELY) as a writer with a couple of freelance gigs under my belt.

    but, i’m still waiting. 

    i’m still trying to write.  i’m good at being silly, yes, and i don’t mind it, but i still miss that fire, that thing that made me sit and copy text from books for hours.  i miss being able to sit down and not be eaten alive by anxiety over whether or not what i’m writing is good or feeling like i’m trying to make a snowman of dry sand.  and that is what writing is for me now.  it is not fulfilling.  at all.  i know that the process of writing isn’t fun for most writers, nor is it easy.  and i’m not looking for it to be fun or easy, but i do want it to be fulfilling.  after i’ve sat at my keyboard and bled and cried and screamed for hours, i want to be able to look at the baby i just birthed and feel like all of it was worth it.  i never do.  it never is. 

    when i sit to write something—not a blog post about some celebrity’s horrible wig or a goofy post about crunk song lyrics, but really write something—i feel a ball of anxiety right in the middle of my chest, so palpable i sometimes put my hand over my heart to see if i can feel it there beneath the skin.  i poke a stick into the side of my imagination; i try to tap that thing, that something that i know must be in there, somewhere; i look for that part of me that told my mother that i could, at 12 years old, write as good as Alain Boubil and i find nothing but a handful of frustration, ground teeth, and the gnawed insides of my jaws. 

    i know that i can write.  i recognize now—and it took fire and brimstone for me to be able to say this—that i am a very, very talented writer.  i have the potential, but… something is missing.  something is gone.  im angered to the point of tears at not being able to express exactly what that is or what i mean, but something isn’t there anymore.  the words that do come out are so forced and stale and pitiful and meaningless.  they’re meaningless.  i end up trying to string together chains of pretty words and metaphors to give the illusion of depth, but i can’t fool myself.  i see right though me.  i feel empty, hollow.  pay no attention to that lump of wasted talent behind the curtain.

    and that’s exactly how i feel.  i’ve gone through my adult life amassing an impressive arrays of attempts and excuses, squandering precious time that could be otherwise used in some productive way, like running a marathon or having a baby or counting the kernels of corn in my poop.  first i couldn’t write because i was living in philly and stressed about the goings on at home, so i moved home.  then i couldn’t write because i was living at home with my mom and it stressed me out, so i moved out.  then i couldn’t write because my anxiety was getting in the way, so i got a pill for that and got it in check.  then i couldn’t write because i may have had ADD, so i got that diagnosed and got a pill for that that kind of helped.  then i couldn’t write because i hated my job, so i got laid off with unemployment benefits and had all the time in the world plus money to live on. 

    the perfect storm—the perfect set up:  no 9-5, money to eat, family to support me in the event that i don’t have what i need.  just time to write.  and i feel like i have nothing to show for it. 

    i recognize that this is my defeatist nature coming out.  i can barely see the good/amazing things that i do accomplish, but every slip, every crack, every single fault or failed goal grows to the size of mount kilimanjaro and makes a home of my shoulders.  i just feel like there should be more.  i should have done more. i should be writing more.  but i feel so spent.  barren as the inside of a drum.

    the things that i’m writing are fine, but not what i want.  of the audience that i have scrambled together, i feel like none of them really know how good i actually am and at this point in my life, i’m worried that they’ll never see it, and i’ll never see it again.

    maybe i don’t really have anything to say anymore?  what if writing will always only be a chore, something else on my to-do list?  something that i loathe as much as having to go to work in a cubicle answering someone else’s phones all day?

    what do i do?  what do you do when you’ve tried everything but giving up? 

    is that the last thing on the list? 

    what do you do when you’ve reached the very bottom of the well?

    ————

    this afternoon was absolutely beautiful and perfect.  i’d successfully kicked a threatening case of bronchitis and the weather was bordering on 80.  the clouds were high, the sun was higher, and the sky was the bluest its ever been.  after a week of wallowing in another pool of feelings not unlike this one (but far worse, thanks to PMS), i finally got up and into my office, ready to finally put some work in.  cross some things off the to do list.  write something.

    i put on some lianne la havas and out of nowhere a jolt hit me.  i wanted to write something, something creative.  i want to make something and i’m ready to do it.  i instantly felt terrified, because i knew what could happen:  i get all situated and ready to capitalize on the moment and bam, i fuck it up.  i sit and try to write and nothing is there.  nothing comes out, so i force something out, and i get mad and anxious and feel like a failure.  that’s pretty much what happened. 

    frustrated, i took to twitter to vent, trying to figure out what my fucking problem is.  in pink’s ‘behind the music’ special, she spoke about her refusal to dig deep into her life experiences and emotions & the superficial art she got as a result of it.  maybe that’s my problem?  maybe i’m not angry/sad/hurt/emotional enough to produce good art?  how do i fix it?  shave my head and move to cameroon?  date a thug?  do some drugs? 

    i got some great advice and encouragement from a lot of amazingly talented people, and their care and concern brought me to tears.  outside, in the middle of a beautiful day, i couldn’t hold them back.  partially because i was irritated, but also because i felt so unworthy.  i barely feel fit to call myself a writer these days; to be complimented on my writing by people who are amazing at writing?  i felt like a fraud.

    i got back up to my apartment, thankful that i didn’t have to explain away my puffy eyes to anyone on the way up (“ugh, these allergies!”).  as soon as the door closed behind me, i hit the cough and sobbed.  wept.  like, ugly cried.  the gasping for air, grandmama-dont-make-me-go-get-a-switch hiccup crying. and i’m still crying, though not as dramatically, because i’m so fucking tired of this story.  i’m tired of being here.  and i always end up here, no matter how many blogs i start, no matter how many projects i launch, no matter how many crutches i collect, i am always here.  always. 

    someone suggested just not writing for awhile, and i balked at the thought because 1 - i have to eat, and that extra money can help, and 2 - i already feel like i’ve wasted so much time.  there’s a clock eternally ticking in my ears, screaming at me to make each second of life count, to make it mean something because death could very well be right around the corner (thanks, anxiety!).  i’m afraid to put the ball down completely, because with the weariness in my bones, i very well may never pick it up again. 

    and then what would i do?  i’m not good at anything else.  rather, i’m not passionate about anything else.  our ultimate goal in life is—at least mine is—to do what we love to do.  this is it.  this was it.  maybe it’s time to do something different. 

    i thought this would help but i’m every bit as frustrated as i was before.  i still don’t think i’ve said what i wanted to say the right way.  but, this is all i have.  i’m tired. 

    i’ll pick myself up and dust myself off again, im sure.  i always do. 

    just sucks that i have to do it again.

     


  3. what i kept. - in memoriam


    a packet of sunflower seeds lay next to him like it didn’t even know what was happening.  his blood bled into the red of the logo on the package and the plastic just stared right through it. 

    i glared at the bag and tried to think of a way to go back, back to when they were still in the womb, to when they were packaged.  to when they were still in their case at the bodega and my baby was still on his feet.

    they took him and i took the seeds.  i turned the bag over in my hand and finally placed the feeling in my chest.  my heart is a sagging bag of tears that will not fall, of seeds that will never root.

    i kept them, and when this place burns me whole, when i am charred and soot takes over my veins, i will plant them in the ashes and try to remember miracles.

    —-

    for those who mourn Kimani Gray & others like him.

     


  4. a blink of words.

    untitled, incomplete.

    ————

    what must it be like to search for your breath through the riot of my own heart in my own ears and find it there between your lips, to have the audacity to go after it?
    what nerve to want to make a home of your fingertips, to settle in as if i belong there; to memorize each ridge til i know my way around them in the dark

    how strange you look in this light.

    a study of your mouth reveals a cupid’s bow never noticed and the surprising pink of your tongue.  your fingers thicker, palms broader than they should be.  your jaw is squarer, set hard beneath the suede of your jaw.  you were not always here.  you enter the room and an arch snatches the small of my back and legs spread and i breathe deep because i like the way you make me smell and we were not always here.  the lyrics are the same but formed to fit this new mouth, they weave around a throbbing backbeat that i cannot dance to. 

    how deafening, the crave to lay and try anyway. 


     


  5. I see amazing people suffer everyday — I appreciate what you are doing here

    (via submission - can’t remember who. sorry!)

    I watch amazing people suffer every day. I wish I could give them peace. I would tell them that separation is an illusion, they already are fulfilled. No one can take their place in line; there is enough for all of us to share. There is nothing to fear because Life is the same for me as it is for them as it is for the monsters under the bed. We are all just alive in this play of consciousness “walking each other home.”  We are all the same damn thing. The only lack is that which we create for ourselves, in our mind, believe to be true, and behave accordingly each day. A sure fire recipe for suffering. I’d tell them that pain is most often a reaction to something that has already happened; it is an event in the fiction of time that no longer hurts nearly as much as the walls we build to keep it from happening again. Angst-filled walls. Loveless walls. Impenetrable walls that add to the idea of separation, making it real to amazing human beings who have been fooled into suffering by their grief. And there is no such thing as loss. There is no such thing as ownership. Just as we are borrowing these bodies for a short time, so must we learn to borrow everything that comes to us in this lifetime. Nothing is ‘ours’ and everything is ‘ours.’ Oh yeah, I’d tell them about the paradox of being alive. Because there is a relief in knowing that for every dark night there is a brighter day. From every perceived wrong will come a righter way. We are as much our bodies as we are the sun and there is nothing anyone can do to take away the birthright of returning home to the stars. Of course I would give them words from our friend Rumi, things like: “Do not grieve, for whatever is loss comes around again in another form” and “Something opens our wings. Something makes boredom and hurt disappear. Someone fills the cup in front of us: We taste only sacredness.”

    I would say all of these things except I am suffering too. I am one of those amazing people who have yet to be completely freed from separation. So I struggle to find the right words at the right time. I fear that I am not enough. I hurt when I see others hurt and squirm when I see others squirm. I am no different…I just have words…

     


  6. extracurricular

    (via @tnwhiskeywoman)

    If she hadn’t been distracted thinking about a certain crush, Tanzy would’ve crossed the street to avoid the group of men on the corner.  They’d already noticed her by the time she pulled herself from walking daydreams. She studied the ground, wondering if mothers’ backs were the only ones sidewalk cracks could break. She picked up her pace, praying her fallen lids would act as a cloak of invisibility. The cape must have still been recharging from Tanzy’s previous use a few blocks back because one of the men grabbed her arm.

    “Hey, baby, how you doin’?” he asked, tilting his head to get in her lowered line of vision.

    “Alright,” Tanzy said. She’d learned not to respond that she was fine.

    “You look more than alright to me.”

    Tanzy inwardly rolled her eyes and thought about being unable to win for losing. However, she kept her face as blank as possible. This man still held her arm, keeping her in front of his boys.

    “Thank you.” Stay polite. Keep it moving.

    Tanzy pulled at her wrist. He tightened his fingers for a moment before letting her move away. Tanzy’s heartbeat thickened. She resumed walking and he fell in place beside her. She tried to walk as fast as she could without looking like she was running. He was several inches taller than she so his long legs matched her stride easily.

    “Where you goin’ in such a hurry, lil mama, and can I walk with you?” Again, he dipped his head, trying to make eye contact.

    “My friend’s house,” Tanzy lied.

    “Your boyfriend?”

    “Man, nigga, leave that lil girl alone!” one of the men from the corner called out. Surprised, Tanzy looked up but again denied someone her eyes, stopping at the cigarette he returned to his frowning mouth.

    “Nigga, shut yo cockblockin ass up!” the man next to her shot back. He turned to Tanzy. “Nigga always mad don’t nobody ever wanna talk to his ashy ass.”

    Tanzy didn’t want to talk to any of them so she tried to keep walking, but the man put a hand on her arm again, turning her to him. Tanzy’s chest felt too small to contain her heart.

    “Look, you want something from the store right there? I’ll get it for ya,” he offered, arching his back as he leaned close to Tanzy’s face, smiling, still searching for her eyes.

    She stepped back and shook her head no. The corners of his mouth pulled his face down and his shoulders up.

    “Why not? You too good to speak now?” He walked closer, forcing Tanzy to move back. She grasped the straps of her backpack beneath her arms, partly from nerves but mainly to shrug it off in case she had to run. He watched her hands move to the straps and his top lip curled.

    “You think ‘cause you in school you can’t talk to a nigga? Huh?” He jerked his face toward her, wanting her to flinch. Tanzy’s eyes swam but she kept them averted, watching the pulse in his neck pound out the rhythm of the cramps twisting through her stomach. She wordlessly shook her head again and inhaled as he moved one more step closer.

    “Nigga, chill out.” The man with the cigarette blew smoke between them as he used his weight to move Tanzy out of the way. “Let this girl go on. She prolly gotta go study or some shit…” He nodded his chin to Tanzy, telling her silently to go, as he turned his friend away. She needed no further urging to hurry, even without the phrase “stuck-up bitch” thrown at her.

    At dinner that night, Tanzy mentioned she was thinking of joining the yearbook staff. Or the drama club. Maybe even video production. It would mean she’d probably have to stay after school a little later. Could someone start picking her up?

     


  7. title: small & savage.

    he made sure to walk in wide arcs around her in any room shared.  she pretended not to notice, floating pleasantries on the back of her perfume that swirled around her and thudded to the ground like petals.

    hey, how are you this morning?

    a wave, a nod.  distance kept.  lungs still inflating.  everyone unscathed.

    she barely seemed to notice him in the company of others.  it was a delirious game, a hide-and-seek of irises, an endless, stalemated battle of tag.  but alone, she locked in on him, armed to the teeth and in search of an excuse.

    on her right thigh she kept a mole he once saw when he walked in on her in the coffee room, huddled in a corner trying to straighten her slip.  once she looked up to find him frozen there, she waited a full three heartbeats before she lowered her skirt and put it away.  her left collarbone was her favorite and especially deadly, he decided, based on the way she fingered it as she watched him trace his normal arcs in empty rooms.  a weapon brandished.  a line drawn in the sand.

    this was to be the day he dared that line.  he walked into the room finding her lolling in her office chair, tapping her bottom lip with the butt of a pen.  each waited for the other to speak.  he bolted his feet to the floor and worked his jaw until she did.

    she arched her back and her right eyebrow slightly, accepting the challenge.

    can i help you with something?

    he said, as practiced, “yes. i need these forms notarized, please.”  he held the small stack of papers out to her.  she caught the tremble of his hand and bit her lip softly, smiled.  he blinked a little too rapidly.  

    have a seat.  let’s see what we have here.

    he sat. to his surprise she stood and walked toward him, the sparrow’s sudden change in flight that the hawk could not have predicted.  leaning over his shoulder, her blouse pulled at the top button, flashing the warning of her red lace bra.

    oh, these are no problem.  i’ll have them to you by the end of the day.

    when the mind perceives a threat, the body responds defensively, dispatching endorphins, quickening the blood, heightening senses. 

    leaving the room, he could feel his shirt.

     


  8. first line: “i watch amazing people suffer everyday.”

    i watch amazing people suffer everyday.

    it sometimes appears a beautiful dance, back gracefully contorted, heavy footfalls offset by a weary smile.

    they make it look easy, blurring the line between daredevil and defeat; laughing a little louder to drown out the rush of blood in the ears,
    the shriek of a crack deepening in its armor.  invincible, with god, as if god understands.

    and maybe he does.  maybe when she lays her weary bones on the newly soiled sheets nesting in her bed and asks god how much longer,
    when the bright face of his daughter blurs and he wonders at the taste of gunmetal and asks for a distraction,
    when she wants to know if the red in her veins is as deep as the red at the end of her brush,
    when we tearfully ask if there is a heaven for creeps and weirdos and the unloved,
    when we just need one fucking reason to stay,

    maybe there is a good reason for the silence given as answer. 

    and as they twirl through it all, boring holes into the belly of the stage, we watch, captive and silent til they are out of sight
    and we are left to rummage through our own questions,
    ticket stubs tucked away in our back pockets.

    —-

    i stole this first line from @ProfessorBLove.

     


  9. what this is.

    i’m a writer who currently feels ashamed to call herself such.  i don’t write nearly enough.   this is my attempt to write something, anything, everyday.

    i’m attempting this via five writing exercises that i used to do often.

    first lines - write a piece (poem, prose, fiction, anything) that begins with a chosen original, randomly concocted line.
    last lines -  write a piece (poem, prose, fiction, anything) that ends with  chosen original, randomly concocted line.
    picture it - write a piece (poem, prose, fiction, anything) to fit a picture submitted or chosen at random.
    titles - write a piece (poem, prose, fiction, anything) that fits an original, random, made up title.
    free writes - a typical, standard free write.

    i wrote a bunch of writing prompts (first lines, titles, and the word ‘free write’ on index cards and pinned them to the cork board in my office.  everyday, i’ll pick one, write it, and post it here.

    ideally.

    you can write with me if you like.  you can submit titles or first lines for me/us to write to.  you can send in your own pieces written to the prompt/exercise of the day.

    or don’t.  it’s cool.  i’ll be here anyway.