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"Why Don't You Write Anymore?"


I began this blog post-Katrina as a means of channeling my mounting frustration with the Bush administration.  I have forgotten, or probably more accurately repressed, the visceral memory of seeing people trapped and endangered in real time and nothing happening; the sense of helplessness and shame.  That drove me to continue writing for several years.  I'd thought that my writing had ended when I moved to Barcelona.  Revisiting the blog for the first time in years it clearly tapered off, but more fittingly it ended with the end of the Bush administration.  It makes sense that I would find myself writing again with the next Republican administration (such a sad progressive decline in Republican administrations after Eisenhower that Bush I is the only one you can say wasn't objectively worse than his predecessor, but with an asterisk) but that's not the impetus for returning to this blog.  I have never considered myself a writer.  Writing has been a tool for expression, a means not an ends, but maybe it's time to change that equation.  Regardless, the words once seemed to flow out of me and my vocabulary was markedly better (I blame China Miéville for this growing lexical inferiority complex), I'd like to return to that mythic greatness.

It all started with my high school reunion a few weeks ago.  My high school experience was incredibly unique.  It was Tennessee's first magnet school, something of an experiment.  I still struggle to find words to encapsulate that time and all I can really say is that I wouldn't be the man I am without it.  There were fewer than 200 students in the first two classes but the teachers gave us so many opportunities to experiment with and experience writing, art, nature, theater.  There was something about seeing so many of my former teachers at the reunion, a feeling of gratitude and joy, but also this low-grade guilt that I'm not using my gifts, not living up to my potential.  Maybe it's just the nature of reunions, so many years suddenly pin-holed and stacked up, or realizing that 30 years have passed while my back was turned and worrying that I have not expressed my gratitude enough. So when Bill Brown asked, "Are you writing?" It was the innocent kind of question that one writer might ask another, but I am no writer, and instead it sounded like the echo of a storm already brewing inside me.

The following weekend I found myself wandering the streets of New York City.  Earlier in the summer I had attended a friend's wedding and was recorded drunkenly promising to go to a Phish concert at Madison Square Garden.  I'd blame it on the alcohol but it was really my friend's maudlin sentimentality about turning 40, there's no amount of alcohol that could have convinced me.  To put it kindly I have no desire to ever see Phish perform again.  They came to my college a couple times, I didn't get it.  I spent a year living with my sentimental friend and another guy with close friends across the hall who all loved Phish.  They were all convinced  that it was just a matter of finding the right song, but I preferred them silent.  Over the next few weeks I'd developed the habit of muttering, 'fuck' every time I remembered the promise.  My friend kindly released me from my promise to go to the show so I gratefully joined him to celebrate his birthday in Carroll Gardens.  While everyone else went to the concert I walked the streets.  I crossed the Manhattan Bridge and wandered past former haunts that I could only find if I stopped thinking and just walked.  At one point I found myself at St. Mark's, which would never have happened if I'd been thinking.  Actually, if I'd been thinking I would have been nowhere near the East Village on a Saturday night; sometimes there's something to mindlessness. I walked up to 9th St. and at Stuyvessant St. I found this sign:


I wanted to commission a poem but,


I did wake him and we spent an hour talking about writing and life.  I'm not sure of the protocol for waking someone on the street so I came in low with a neutral voice and lightly shook his knee.  He was initially startled and came fully awake when he realized I was asking about his writing. His name is Donald Green.  I was awkward in the way that you are when you've been having roving conversations in your head without uttering a word to another human, and he had some practiced speech about being published in the New York Times, and then something suddenly changed. It became a real conversation.  His eyes snapped to mine.  "Do you write?"
"Not really, I used to write poetry and prose."
"Why don't you write anymore?"
And the storm echoed again, louder, closer.  I can't remember the answer I stammered out, it was as unforgettable as any bad excuse.  Two weeks later I'm still processing the experience.  He talked about having his poems published in a textbook with Langston Hughes, one on the same page as Robert Frost.  I found myself thinking about how a black poet's words might find equal respect on the page even as the island of his birth, the island he has seldom left seems to leave the man behind. When I mentioned staying in Brooklyn he talked about an idyllic period when he lived with his twin brother in Brooklyn and realized that he could sell his poems.  He hasn't returned since to preserve the memory.  One thing he said that struck me was that he was surprised that publishing made writing harder, it added the weight of expectation.  So I think I'm going to release myself from the expectation that my writing always be my best and aim for being intellectually and emotionally honest; the writing school of fuck it.  I'm taking Donald Green's inscription to heart:


"To poet and prose writer Jerel
So Brother Jerel write, continue to express yourself in this way rewarding you & possibly rewarding readers to be." 
Finally, last week I had one of the most satisfying online conversations with a stranger with whom I had fundamental disagreements that I never thought possible.  I learned new things, we disagreed without fighting and asked genuine questions.  It was like a conversation in person but with better access to relevant references.  It made me want to engage more thoughtfully and deliberately online and this is my first step.

More from Donald Green:






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