This is me with Larry Smith, creator of the Six-Word Memoir Project, and Piper Kerman, author of Orange is the New Black after our Q&A at Camp Mighty. I took this with a professional photographer three feet away…
Photo by JetKat Photo.
Because apparently I am a fourteen year old girl? Still, I’m glad we took the top photo. There’s something happy about stretching your arms out and everyone pushing into the frame.
We’ll have video soon, but Larry suggested we do a Six Word Memoir slam at the end of the talk. This made me nervous, as all open-mic situations do, but it was great.
Here’s one of Larry’s memoirs:
And a few more of my favorites:
This last one is Bridget Eding, and I think it refers to the Japanese practice of Kintsugi, the practice of repairing broken pottery with gold so the veins show. Lovely.
Apologies for going radio dark the last few days, the week before Camp Mighty is always the land of a thousand checklists.
But yesterday a girlfriend and I drove into the parking lot at The Ace Palm Springs with the windows down and the kiddo in the backseat. The air here is exactly the same temperature as my skin, and Tom Waits is playing low by the pool.
I am so happy I could burst into blossom.
It’s possible I’m the last person I know to read Orange is the New Black. It’s a smart, first-hand account on the need for prison reform in the U.S., but it surprised me by reinforcing some of the lessons from Viktor Frankel’s account of his time in a concentration camp — specifically our freedom to choose an honorable path even when all other freedoms are removed.
The best parts of Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman:
In my travels I had encountered all kinds of people whose dignity seemed to have a price – widely variable – and I thought that next time I had better set my price higher than anyone would pay.
We now lock up one out of every hundred adults, far more than any other country in the world.
I was getting wet, and it was cold. Still, I was curious about these two. “Kinda crap weather out here.”
At this they looked at each other. “We ain’t felt the rain for two years,” said Jae, the black woman.
“In Brooklyn there’s a little rec deck they take us up on, but it’s covered over, barbed wire and shit, and you don’t really see the sky,” she explained. “So we don’t mind the rain. We love it.” And she put her head back again, face up, as close to the sky as it could get.
In Danbury I had learned to hasten the days by chasing the enjoyment in them, no matter how elusive. Some people on the outside look for what is amiss in every interaction, every relationship, and every meal; they are always tying to hang their mortality on improvement. It was incredibly liberating to instead tackle the trick of making each day fly more quickly.
Prison is quite literally a ghetto in the most classic sense of the word, a place where the U.S. government now puts not only the dangerous but also the inconvenient – people who are mentally ill, people who are addicts, people who are poor and uneducated and unskilled.
Rose, chatting in the midst of a pedicure one day, told me what she had learned from her faith; I thought later that hers were the most powerful words a person could utter, “I’ve got a lot to give.”
It’s not easy to sacrifice your anger, your sense of being wronged.
Now here, in my third prison, I perceived an odd truth that held for each: no one ran them… for the prisoners, the people who lived in those prisons day in and day out, the captain’s chair was vacant, and the wheel was spinning while the sails flapped… The leadership vacuum was total.
What is the point, what is the reason, to lock people away for years, when it seems to mean so very little, even to the jailers who hold the key? How can a prisoner understand their punishment to have been worthwhile to anyone, when it’s dealt in a way so offhand and indifferent?
“she let that girl know what time it was” — clocked her, hit her
“feeling some kind of way” – feeling down, not yourself
She was going through a rough patch in her early twenties when her mother died, and she had a revelation that no one was coming to save her.
“Whether we admit it or not, so many of us are waiting for someone to come along and fix our problems. No one can climb in your skin and live your life for you. My happiness and success are up to me alone. I own my life.”
Barnett said she had a psychological 180, that she stopped doubting herself and worrying about what others thought of her life.
“Create a life for yourself and then love and protect it as your most valuable asset. Don’t let anyone come in and change it, especially under the guise of taking care of you.”
Whoa. I did some hard thinking.
Letting go of the notion that someone will come along to shoulder your burdens is a big part of maturing. Do you think you’re there yet? And if so, how did you get there? Or, alternately, do you think it’s okay to hope for support in that way?
Photo from Black Enterprise.
I just returned from Atlanta where all the service people were so friendly it almost seemed like they pitied me. I kept looking down to see whether I had toilet paper stuck to my shoe, or a T-shirt on that said, “My Cat Just Died.”
I was there to speak at Blogalicious. It’s a multi-cultural conference for women in social media run by my friend Stacey Fergusen. (I’ve mentioned Stacey before, she’s the one who’s learning ASL so she can better communicate with her deaf sister).
The conference was amazing, so many pro-bloggers I’d never met before. It was like that dream where you discover a room in your apartment you didn’t know was there, “This has been here the whole time? We could have been having so many parties!”
I was on a keynote panel with five other bloggers — Patrice Grell Yursik of Afrobella, Shameeka Ayers of The Broke Socialite, Luvvie Ajayi of Awesomely Luvvie, Denene Millner of My Brown Baby, and Lamar Tyler of Black and Married with Kids. (Hi, guys!)
I was semi-terrified getting on stage because I’m used to knowing all the other panelists and 3/4 of the audience at these conferences, but everyone was so welcoming and friendly. (They must have heard the rumor about the cat.) We talked about how we got where we are in our careers, obstacles, and future plans.
At the end Stacey asked us to share a goal, so I mentioned that I wanted to help Rebecca Crump, who’s a Go Mighty member. Rebecca wants to donate 100 brown baby dolls in honor of her grandmother who made her an “adoption doll” for Christmas when her parents couldn’t swing a Cabbage Patch Kid.
It’s one of my favorite goals on Go Mighty right now, and she’s up to eighty dolls. (Technically eighty three, because I just ordered three.) So if you want to help push her over the top, you can order a doll from her Amazon wish list right here.
Do it for the children! Also to further terrify anyone who needs to use Rebecca’s guest room between now and Christmas.
Right before we spoke, Amy DuBois Barnett of Ebony magazine gave an excellent keynote speech, and my brain has been chewing on it. More on that tomorrow.
Photo from the Blogalicious web site.
I missed a few sessions, but these were my XOXO Festival highlights:
Creator of Cards Against Humanity
Max, who is just a real solid guy, talked about how good projects start with shared values, which then lead to strategy, and finally tactics. It reminded me of Simon Sinek’s Ted talk, “How great leaders inspire action,” which you should watch:
He said that one of their values was that success is not a zero sum game, meaning that they don’t believe their success is offset by someone else’s failure. This is an operating principle of my life, and one of the things I look for in other people. Can you celebrate with me? Here’s a stupid hat, I’ll get you some champagne.
Erika wins for the most quintessential XOXO Festival sound bite:
“I never set out to be a full-time sex cartoonist.”