6/9/14

Just Write.

In a city full of writers all wanting the same goal, it’s imperative to respect and cherish your journey. You may get dissuaded along the way, but your biggest defiance yet is to sit silently inside yourself. Stay true to the stories that have kept you awake. Don’t worry about other writers. To each his/her own. The stories you want to tell are inside you, nestled inside memory, emotion, confusion, or simply, imagination rooted deep inside a place you rarely understand or can explain. You allow that internal force to move your pen. Open up all channels to let them run wild without care for structure, grammar, audience. Let them haunt your waking moments. As a writer you cannot be afraid to sit with things, whether good or bad. Your demons, whatever they are, exist for various reasons. Let them roam, for they are a part of you. Yes, I dare say the very word we’ve been taught to rebuke, compartmentalize, forget. By "demons", I mean tapping into your deepest, darkest self. This will allow you to write with honesty. You will un-apologetically stir those same raw emotions from readers who thought they too had compartmentalized, forgotten, and rebuked those feelings or experiences.

Write the things you know, not the things taught to you or shoved down your throat. Write the visceral things you have felt, experienced, witnessed, lived. I encounter too many writers for instance, who write the way the old white British men wrote—the ones whose words scrawled across our textbooks, especially if you are a writer from the British Caribbean. Those Caribbean writers would later recount how their first characters were white. And male. This happens in other places too, not just the Caribbean. Nigerian author, Chimamanda Adichie admits that she was once guilty of this as a novice writer. Junot Diaz recounted in a recent New York Times article that the literature in his MFA program at Cornell was dominated by mostly white males, some dead, some alive yet clutching pens that will forever be immortalized. I too had to learn this given that I grew up reading books that weren’t about me or my experiences. However, it was Toni Morrison who once said that you have to write the stories you want to read. And in this city of writers, all panting forward for the biggest agents and literary journals and publishers, be assured that someone out there—be it someone who may not be all the above—will pick up your story, read it, and be inspired by it.

Brilliant works are never written in one sitting. If someone utters such nonsense, then perhaps they’re lying. Or perhaps they might not be as brilliant. For Writers, good ones, tend to be humble. And for good reason. Because there is vulnerability in writing. Writing means you have to crack yourself open and expose yourself to the world. Each sentence, each word, is a labor of love, written with great care, handed over in blind faith of trust. Like new mothers we hold writing dare, clutched close to our hearts, too close, as to prevent them from being mangled, misinterpreted, destroyed by the world. But then we learn to let go, though still attached, forever pregnant with hopes that they will end up in good hands. Not many people can walk the earth exposed and not blush. Not when every blemish is visible to be scrutinized, stared at. Even if one thinks nakedness is the most empowering and beautiful thing. Gazes are subjective. The best bet is to try your best, put your heart and soul into writing, revise carefully, and send it out into the world. Be grateful and humble by the ability to even have a voice in the first place.

A voice. Not many are given voices. As a writer, your duty is to give a voice to the voiceless. Let this be your motivation. Every time you stare at the blank screen or blank page, terrified to write, crippled by what others might think, or crushed by a rejection letter; know that someone out there needs to hear what you have to say. Someone out there needs to know that they’re not alone in a personal struggle. Someone out there needs to see themselves, their stories in books. Let your stories empower them. Just Write.

About Stuyvesant Writers Workshop:

Stuyvesant Writing Workshop understands that writing is lonely, and that every writer needs a safe space to share their work, have it critiqued by other serious writers, and discuss authors whose stories inspire them or whose techniques they can learn from. The workshop is geared towards the working professional who has always wanted to write, but never seems to have the time; the storyteller searching for a voice; the writer who would love an opportunity to form community outside the coffee shop in the neighborhood without having to venture to Park Slope or South Brooklyn. The workshop is facilitated by yours truly!

Stuyvesant Writing Workshop is affordable with four sessions for a total of $250. Classes run from June 24th- July 15th. Tuesday evenings, 6:30pm-8:30pm. To register, please email stuyvesantwriters@gmail.com. Like Stuyvesant Writing Workshop on Facebook. Or follow us on twitter at @StuyvesantW.

Nicole

6/5/14

Stuyvesant Writing Workshop- Facilitated by me!

I am facilitating a four week intensive writing workshop in Bedstuy, Brooklyn every Tuesday evening from 6:30pm-8:30pm, starting June 24th- July 15th. Please pass this on to anyone who might be interested!!If you are an aspiring writer, now is the time to pull out your pen, join me, and write! Click on the Flier below to see the details.


5/22/14

“I LOVE YOU, JUST NOT YOUR LIFESTYLE…” ~HOW THESE WORDS HARM US

Paul Blackwood.

“I LOVE YOU, JUST NOT YOUR LIFESTYLE…”

These words meant to seem supportive are the most detrimental. For imagine being acknowledged, accepted, and dismissed in one sentence. One sentence alone that has the potential to shove you back inside that box where you couldn’t breathe. It’s those very words that butter you up as a loved one; but put you down for being you. Every time I hear those words I cringe. It’s only human to hurt, to feel the pressure of guilt pressed firmly against your ribcage where your heart is supposed to be. Because when your support system—family members or friends—tell you that you’re OK, just not how you love, it is a slow devastation. Subtle in nature, because it eats at you, though they might say that it’s uttered in love. Only those who you love have that power to assuage you tenderly, lovingly while they snap your neck. So when we hear “I love you, just not your lifestyle,” the pain is so subtle that you barely feel it.

Not until you vow to keep your sexual identity and expression to yourself by omitting certain life events, hiding your spouse, showing up to family events alone, compromising yourself for their sake, does the pain materialize; slips sideways under the breasts where it becomes sorrow. You begin to feel robbed of something you cannot quite explain;enraged by the insoluble compound rising in your throat; embittered by the displays of the affections around you, the acknowledgements of your other achievements—just not that other thing, yes that thing, the don’t-you-dare-bring-it-up-or-else-you-won’t-be-invited-or-ever-meet-your-nieces-and-nephews-thing; the—I-hope-your-novels-don’t-disgrace-us-or-reveal-too-much-about-that thing.

And then there’s the word “Lifestyle”. This misnomer is even more harmful, because it brings to mind choice, luxury, style that can be tried on, taken off, altered. The word should be LIFE. For being gay is my identity. It’s a part of who I am. Just as I am woman, black, and Jamaican. Therefore, when my identity is trivialized as a lifestyle, I implode. When I hear “I love you, just not your lifestyle”, I quickly discern that the person is telling me without really telling me that only part of me is OK. That they refuse to accept the whole; and thus does not see me as a human, but a severed being, freakishly existing outside of a circus.

I consider myself lucky in the way I choose to get my anger out. I grab my pen and write. Others self-destruct, for the rage is too much to carry alone. It’s too heavy to walk with, putting one foot before the other; and even daring to reach out to find love. For when your identity has been challenged and dismissed so often, it fucks with you. It fucks with your perceptions. When you are made to feel invisible, it makes you hate yourself and thus empties it on others—all that baggage. And their weak backs are often too worn to carry all your weight, all your baggage, because like you they have been weighed down by their own baggage too. So one day, everything snaps. And just like that you’re alone—just like those people wanted. The ones who sweetly cooed “I’m praying for you to change. You know I love you, just not your…” And all you can say to them. And all you should say to them is, “Fuck you!”

Because at the end of the day it’s your life. You should never compromise for anyone. I know you’ve all heard that cliché. But living it and saying it are two different things, especially when identities get scorched, mangled by the dragon flames of religion and society and yes, that comfort of good ole familial affection and acceptance. But sometimes good things harm you. There’s a Jamaican saying “Wah sweet nanny goat aggo run him belly.” Basically, it’s saying to just be careful of the vices you use to make yourself feel good. Be careful of that family member or friend who keeps putting you down under the sweet disguise of affection and tolerance.

It’s only human to feel that pinch of a nerve when we are denied and dismissed. But it’s also human to mourn, to say our goodbyes to those people gently—as gently as a stroke, a whisper, a kiss on the forehead or cheek—and walk away knowing that your choice to let go and move on is done in love. For YOU. ~Nicole

5/21/14

Kara Walker's Exhibit at Domino Sugar Factory


I went to see the Sugar Sphinx, Kara Walker’s exhibit in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It was hard not to marvel at the sugar babies made of molasses and carrying weave baskets of crystallized sugar; their miniature build creating large shadows of melting beneath them. Visitors stepped into these puddles as they peered inside these baskets, their shoes carrying footprints through the entire factory, unknowingly. For those who have these lived experiences of our ancestors still soaring in our blood, we know these footsteps are indelible, sticky, meant to create a trail however long.



Then we get to the Sphinx itself. A magnificent mammy-esque figure perched on all fours in the nude like a lioness resting. Her stark whiteness glows in the factory; her mammoth image, divine. I was drawn to this figure, her features; her fists tightly coiled as though angry; her eyes staring off into the distance at something we, as her viewers, failed to grasp. All she wore was a head-scarf tied the way my great-grandmother used to tie her scarf, knotted in the front; and her face said it all with the emotions suppressed, restrained under that calm exterior as people snapped pictures and snatched molecules of sugar into their lungs.



It was quite jarring at first to see many people so fascinated with the Sphinx’s magnanimous derriere, snapping pictures and carrying on conversations; their miniature heads seemingly sandwiched between her enhanced butt cheeks and vulva. White people, mostly, with their cameras gazed up into the sacred space where the Sphinx reclined on curled toes. It was then that I thought about Kara Walker’s intent. Her decision to have this naked, mammoth black woman to be gazed at, marveled at that way. The shaming and objectifying that we as black women are subjected to, used to. Of course, I admire Walker’s effort to drag everyone—black, white, asian, Hispanic, whatever the backgrounds—into this conversation of race. Of course I see how this large Sphinx could be that elephant in the room, the one whose presence is inevitable, forcing you to look, to gaze up into its face. “I dare you,” she says, her eyes meeting yours.


And now you see. Now you make sense of the message implicit in her stoic face. For how can she be ignored now? How can one’s gaze be averted? The question of power arises. Now in this space, this figure has the power to snatch people from their reality and bring them back to the reality of slavery—to the stories and images of those very workers who ploughed through cane-fields to deliver the sweetness to their tables. How bitter the taste when they look down and see the blood trailing their footsteps. ~Nicole

12/24/13

Tessanne, the measure of a true artiste

Check out my latest article published in the Jamaica Gleaner (see link below):



http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20131224/cleisure/cleisure2.html#.UrmM6DQJ39Q.facebook



Nicole

11/20/13

Coming out again and again as femme

Living out loud as a lesbian has been a challenge since the day I decided to come out. First I had to come out to myself then to others, a step that still feels like a never ending journey given my gender presentation as a femme. For years my femme persona has somewhat acted as an invisible shield against the antagonism that comes with my sexual orientation. My presence was never seen as a threat to anyone until I openned my mouth or was with other women, those I have dated who identified as butch or tomboy. I remember the first time I started dating. I was a college volunteer at a youth center where elder women would come from a nearby senior citizens center and assist with after school services. One evening I sat in a small circle of these older women who welcomed me into the group without reservations. The conversation was a whirlwind of topics, scooping me up in the middle of it all. They discussed current events, politics, the plight of school children nowadays, and the unfortunate disaster of the world trade center that had happened just a month before. Then they got into discussing the days when young men were gentlemen who courted young women. Suddenly one of them turned to me and asked if I was seeing someone. I nodded, careful not to spill the gender of the person. “Oh how nice!” they exclaimed, their eyes lighting up as though my budding romance had suddenly ignited bulbs inside them.

After the session, my girlfriend at the time was waiting outside the building. She was an athlete, so she had on a baggy sweatpants and her hoodie that had our university’s name written in bold letters across her chest. She had finished basketball practice and seemed to have been waiting in front of the youth center for a while. I was exiting the building with a few of the women I was in the circle with when I saw her. The women were still talking when their words turned to a hushed whisper. “Is that a boy or a girl? You just don't know who is what nowadays...” They were shaking their haeds and looking at the person standing by the car, who I realized was my girlfriend. She was leaning with hands buried deep inside the pockets of her baggy sweat pants, chest hidden beneath the large sweatshirt, and hair braided in a neat set of cornrows. When she saw me, she waved. This sent a hush among the women who watched closely to see how I, the nice young woman they just sat with, could have any affiliation to the person—“a young man? A young woman?”—waving. I parted ways with the women without answering their questions, walking slowly toward my girlfriend. She met me halfway and gave me a peck on the lips like any other couple would do when they are glad to see their other half. As our car drove off, I looked behind me to see the women still staring,their faces darkening like the dusk outside.

Incidents like these never prevented me from coming out to others, whether directly or indirectly. I say incidents plural because they happen all the time. Even now when I'm married to my wife and have to let people know that the ring on my finger was given to me by a woman, not a man. I figured that by coming out femme I became instrumental in showing people that anyone can be gay or lesbian; that we do not have “a look” or “a uniform”—something that has been used in the past and even now to stereotype same-gender loving people. For femmes, the preconceived notions have always been that we’re one heterosexual encounter away from “straightening out”. These comments are often made by men and to some extent, whispered among straight women. “Who faulted you?” Women would ask, curious as to why a high femme like them would rather another woman than a man. Meanwhile, their male counterparts bristle with their wishful thinking commonly referred to as the “savior mentality”—a common phenomenon among some men who seem to have the inability to acknowledge that not every woman would want them and thus see every lesbian as a potential conquest to salvage their manhood.

In fact, the veils of darkness that descend on the faces of those who were enlightened by my sexual orientation often lift when I see them again. The second encounters, in my experience, are often filled with muted questions visible in the eyes and body language. Eventually they become audible, starting off with pauses and fillers that eventually lead to the inevitable question, which gets blurted too loudly: “So…are you really…?” The last word often gets stuck, or rather left for me to say, which I never succumb to doing. “What?” I would ask, daring them to finish their sentence. I liken these moments to a game of soccer. The word they fear saying out loud becomes the ball. They dance around it, exerting themselves as they try to kick it inside the goal post. And when they eventually do, it’s a moment of reprieve rather than victory. For my confirmation seems to ease the pressure that was built up inside them; and in that same moment, blight everything they were led to believe about lesbians and what we look like. “Yes, I am a lesbian.” I would look them in the eyes when I say this to make sure that this fact is sealed within their pupils and hopefully tucked away in a part of their brain.

Unfortunately this does not happen. I am often faced with coming out again and again to the same people until they get it; until their awe turn into shock or disbelief, to denial, to anger, to bargaining, to guilt, to depression, to acceptance and hope—hope that I would repent my sins, change, or maybe swing their way—whatever the case may be, people tend to go through these stages of grief. For in truth, they are grieving the loss of their ignorance, their assumptions, all of which were like a comfort blanket to help them cope with the fact that not everyone is like them and not everyone will fall inside the box they designed to put them in with their own labels.

Therefore, I imagine that every time I come out that an angel gets her wings, figuratively and metaphorically speaking. For every confirmation, a bell jingles and a rainbow arches across the sky, letting the person who is too afraid to come out because they may not fit the sterotypes of gays and lesbians fed to them by the media or their immediate environment, know that they are not alone.

Nicole Dennis-Benn

9/8/13

JAMAICA-TRANSGENDER-MURDER


It's interesting how Dwayne Jones, the transgendered teen who was murdered this summer in Jamaica, was simply referred to as a "cross dresser" in Jamaican news papers. Nothing about his life or legacy was ever mentioned as though this didn't matter. Nothing about him being transgendered, the correct term, and what that really means. For in Jamaica, the term "transgender" does not exist. There, it is subsumed with being gay; the ridicules and assaults more brutal given the lack of understanding of why a boy would feel the need to dress as a girl. Little do they know as a culture that such need to dress that way is analogous to survival; for only then does a person who feel trapped in the wrong gender, gets to express their true selves.

Huff Post did an article that delved deeper into the issue and who Dwayne Jones (I really wished they had used her "girl" name)really was...A beautiful girl who liked roses.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/11/jamaica-transgender-murder-_n_3739448.html


Nicole