The Launch of She Lives Here

This past Friday, my new book She Lives Here was celebrated virtually on Life in 10 Minutes’ FB page. I have been asked several times since then how I feel. I feel relieved, excitement, hopeful and more at peace. I didn’t even know how much anxious or nervous energy my body carried until Saturday night, where I slept for well over 9 hours. I was even full of adrenaline Friday night. I paced the room,. feeling like I should be going somewhere but where do you go to let loose in a pandemic?

The launch party itself was a lovely experience—the introduction, the reading and the Q&A. The L10 Press team and I logged on a few minutes early to get settled and prepare for showtime. I am glad we did because it gave me time to breathe deeply and mentally ready myself to read into the Zoom void. I chose 8 pieces to read and decided to end it with my last piece “She Lives Here” because I wanted to emphasize leaning into joy. I wanted to end feeling triumphant.

During the reading, the only visible audience I had was my publisher, Valley who fist pumped and pantomimed claps enough for 10 people. Her muted presence spurred me on. What was unexpected is the emotion that bubbled up when I read one of my more vulnerable pieces entitled “The Rules.” The first time I ever read it aloud to my husband, I teared up. I have read it to myself a handful of times since so when I found myself choking back tears, there was a sense of surprise but I pushed through. I knew the pieces that make me feel more inspired were coming and I would find refuge in reading them.

Launch party night!

After it was all over, I had time to respond to messages and watch the playback. One of the things I treasured most was reading the comments. There was so much love in that virtual room. I knew they could feel me. It was what I wanted more than anything. For my words on the page to be taken to another level, an understanding that cannot be matched in someone else’s voice.

I look forward to doing more readings, interviews and sharing more of my heart with readers. I hope more of you can join me as I continue to choose joy as She Lives Here makes its way out into the world.

If you would like to order your own copy, please go to https://www.lifein10minutes.com/unzipped-issues/unzipped-issue-2-she-lives-here or for a digital copy, it’s available on Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

Esther Belin

Today, I want to do something I haven’t done in awhile here. Shine a light on a poet.

Esther Belin is a Dine writer and multimedia artist based out of Colorado. She is the author of “From the Belly of my Beauty” and “Of Cartography: Poems.”

I chose “Night Travel” simply because of the way it connected me to memory especially here: “we’d be hungry for travel and for being almost home.”

I have been there. If you ever took a long car ride at night, Dad at the wheel, you’ve been there. Even if those are not your memories, Belin invites you to be a passenger in her daddy’s truck, reliving the darkness and the road with her.

Night Travel

BY ESTHER BELIN

I.
I like to travel to L.A. by myself
My trips to the crowded smoggy polluted by brown
indigenous and immigrant haze are healing.
I travel from one pollution to another.
Being urban I return to where I came from
My mother
survives in L.A.
Now for over forty years.

I drive to L.A. in the darkness of the day
on the road before CHP
one with the dark
driving my black truck
invisible on my journey home.

The dark roads take me back to my childhood
riding in the camper of daddy’s truck headed home.
My brother, sister and I would be put to sleep in the camper
and sometime in the darkness of the day
daddy would clime into the cab with mom carrying a thermos full of coffee and some Pendleton blankets
And they would pray
before daddy started the truck
for journey mercies.

Often I’d rise from my lullaby sleep and stare into the darkness of the road
the long darkness empty of cars
Glowy from daddy’s headlights and lonesome from Hank Williams’ deep and twangy voice singing of cold nights and cheatin’ hearts.

About an hour from Flagstaff
the sun would greet us
and the harsh light would break the darkness
and we’d be hungry from travel and for being almost home.

II.
I know the darkness of the roads
endless into the glowy path before me
lit by the moon high above and the heat rising from my truck’s engine.
The humming from tires whisper mile after mile
endless alongside roadside of fields shadowy from glow.

I know the darkness of the roads
It swims through my veins
dark like my skin
and silenced like a battered wife.
I know the darkness of the roads
It floods my liver
pollutes my breath
yet I still witness the white dawning.

Make a Plan

I was listening to Pulitzer Prize winning poet Jericho Brown in a podcast interview with Lewis Howes (The School of Greatness). They spoke of many things: letting go of a poem, adopting the identity of Jericho Brown, their shared history of abuse, paying homage to Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes and Lucille Clifton and his relationship with God.

But here’s what grabbed my attention more than any of the deep penetrating conversation: He says he makes a plan for laughter. He referred to watching an episode of “The Golden Girls” every night. During the Slant Poetry Festival, he mentioned his nightly ritual with Dorothy, Blanche, Rose and Sophia but I didn’t know it was an intentional plan.

I have never heard of anyone making a plan for laughter. Of course, I love to laugh but what would a plan look like? Or is the best part of laughter is when it comes spontaneously?

I will take my spontaneous giggles when they come but I like the idea of making time to laugh. I already enjoy comedic television and podcasts regularly. My husband and I probably goof around with each other more than most. It’s just us so there’s no one around to be “grown-up” for. We are not above dancing for each other, tickling and purposely watching a nighttime soap or two, just to howl with laughter at the over the top antics and tragic acting.

So maybe the plan starts with asking myself each day: Have I laughed today? And if not, what will I do to change it?

After all, what’s so bad about seeking relief from the dreary?

About letting a little laughter in?

This past weekend, I attended the 2019 James River Writers Conference. I walked in this year feeling different. I didn’t care I didn’t have a book to pitch and all I wanted was to hear about was quality writing in all of the many forms it takes. I took some notes but I realized what I needed was to be around other writers.

I needed to catch up and laugh with some of my friends.

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I needed to be reminded to set aside time for myself each week to put pen to paper and let this particular truth deliver a gut punch: I shouldn’t be devoting more time to my blog than to all my other writing.

Which is exactly what I have been doing for several months now.

Every novelist, screenwriter, memoirist, short story writer, journalist, poet and agent reminded me that there was story still beating inside of me.

The keynote speaker, the incomparable Marita Golden, emboldened us to celebrate ourselves as writers even if we are not published or under contract. This wise woman had me at the edge of my seat telling us how she had been birthed twice. Once on the day of her actual birth and again when her mother told her she was a writer.  I also was blessed to hear her on the panel discussing memoir.

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Marita shared that sometimes you need to write the memoir to free yourself to write fiction. The vulnerability in memoir panel impacted me emotionally the most. I love how they brought three writers with wildly different tales to share their points of view. I wish I could take classes regularly from Marita Golden (Migrations of the Heart), Mary Bonina (My Father’s Eyes) and Jon Pineda (Sleep in Me).

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Vulnerability in Memoir panel: Moderated by Patty Smith with Jon Pineda, Mary Bonina and Marita Golden.

A special note about this year’s conference: It was beautiful to see the level of cultural diversity this year. James River Writers Conference has come light years in this respect, especially since my first year as an attendee in 2016. Thanks to the chair, Robin Farmer and co-chair Sonia Johnston for not only creating a conference that ignited my fire to devote more time to my craft but for creating an experience where I had the distinct pleasure of seeing faces that reflected the real world around us.

 

 

Into Space

At the James River Writer’s Conference in 2016, The Library of Virginia honored Nikki Giovanni. During her interview, she said something that has stuck with me. I don’t remember her exact words but the sentiment was if we were to take a team to explore a new planet, a writer should be aboard the ship to document everything, to tell the story.

She said it so matter-of-fact and passionately. Without a doubt, there needs to be a creative soul to give voice to the uncharted. It made me think of how important writers are, how important the art of storytelling will always be.

It is how we convey who we are, on Earth and maybe someday floating into space.

Haitian Heritage Month Highlight: Jacques Roumain

My second feature for Haitian Heritage Month is poet, novelist and politician Jacques (Jean Baptiste) Roumain. Born in 1907 in Port-au-Prince, Roumain was one of eleven children and became one of Haiti’s most prominent figures until his untimely death in August of 1944.

In the late 1920’s,  he founded two literary newspapers La Trouee and La Revue Indigene and a political newspaper, Le Petit Impartial, to protest the presidency of Louis Borno for working with the U.S. government during the American occupation of Haiti from 1915-1934. He was even arrested at one point for “violating press laws.”

Later on in his career (and after Borno’s presidency), he was appointed to Ministry of the Interior. Roumain even traveled to the United States to study economics but while here, suspicions were aroused he joined the American Communist Party. Because of fear of arrest. he returned home and was convicted for conspiracy and treason and three years in prison.  In 1936, he was freed and moved to Belgium.

In 1938, he moved to Paris where he wrote several articles chastising the Haitian political elite. Over the next several years, Roumain was arrested for “mounting an affront” against a foreign head of state in France, fled because of World War II, spent time in Havana, Cuba and eventually returned to Haiti in 1941. He was a diplomat of the Haitian embassy to Mexico City and returned to Haiti in 1943 because he had fallen ill.

A notable literary connection was his meeting with famed poet Langston Hughes on his one and only trip to Haiti. Hughes even translated some of Roumain’s works, included Gouverneurs de la Rosee (Masters of the Dew).

While researching Roumain, what impressed me most, was whether you agreed with his political beliefs or not, one cannot deny his passion to stand up for them. He has been described as a poet, novelist, politician, ethnologist and revolutionary.  And it all ended at the age of 37.

Here is one of his most famous poems:

When the Tom-Tom Beats

our heart trembles in the shadows, like a face reflected in troubled water
The old mirage rises from the pit of the night
You sense the sweet sorcery of the past:
A river carries you far away from the banks,
Carries you toward the ancestral landscape.
Listen to those voices singing the sadness of love
And in the mountain, hear that tom-tom panting like the breast of a young black girl
 
Your soul is this image in the whispering water where your fathers bent their dark faces
Its hidden movements blend you with the waves
And the white that made you a mulatto is this bit of foam cast up, like spit, upon the shore

Reflections on SOG 2017

It’s been one week since I completed the Water-Workout-Write 21-Day Challenge. I made new commitments, too: working out 5 days a week, drinking 100 oz. of water each day, writing two essays and sending one pitch to a publication weekly and blogging two days a week. For now, I picked Tuesdays and Thursdays. My intention was to start on Monday. I knew I would be back from attending The Summit of Greatness in Columbus, Ohio and well-rested. I did workout yesterday but my old habit of not drinking enough water reared its ugly head. I am back on it today and will most likely finish my intake in a couple of hours. I may work out later but if I don’t, I will complete my other four Wednesday-Saturday.

Today was unexpected. My brother called and asked me to lunch before he headed back out of town. Seeing as I didn’t know he arrived yesterday, it was a pleasant surprise. And not the first. I was so happy to see him. Not just because he’s my brother but because he is a friend and a good sounding board. After last week at Summit, there was much to reflect on and discuss.

One of which was the decision to go this year. I went last year and the experience was life-changing. There were hundreds of us, cheerleading each other, not knowing what was to come and having these instantaneous deep conversations with people who just happened to be standing next to you in line. The connections forged made me want to come back. I was excited but there were goals I knew I had set for myself that I did not reach, like finishing the book I was working on at the time. But of course, that is no reason not to recognize the strides I did make like taking Life in 10 Minutes with Valley Haggard, Pens Up Fears Down with Sadeqa Johnson, pitching my book at the James River Writer’s Conference, applying for my first fellowship, starting this site, expanding my social media presence, gaining a wonderful group of friends who also write (my tribe!) and finally getting around to printing up my business cards.

 

So, there was no real reason not to go. And I am so grateful that I did. This time my husband came with me. And that was one of the best gifts. Getting to see it through his eyes. Even though the magic of experiencing it for the first time was no longer there for me, watching him crane his neck around at the Southern Theater and hesitantly open up to a fellow attendee about his business goals made me realize how much time away from your “everyday” is needed. The Summit of Greatness is a jolt to the system, a soul-stirring reminder of what we could be if we are only willing to let go of what we thought we are or supposed to be.

We started off by registering last Wednesday the 13th and then attending a dinner which was mostly a casual reunion of last year’s attendees and enjoying the treat of meeting some new faces. And that is when I knew we were off to a good start. My heart was so warm and full at the sight of these people who I hadn’t even seen in nearly a year, except for online of course. It’s weird seeing people leap off of a screen and into your arms for a big old bear hug but it’s a good weird!

The next day was official Day 1. A highlight for me was poet Najwa Zebian and her loving embrace of her sensitivity and vulnerability. She exuded a quiet power. Tears were rolling down my cheeks during the Q&A portion of her time. Esther Perel was whip smart and funny! Her observations of the evolution of relationships like how we are looking to one person to fulfill all our needs compared to the past when it was a whole village was a major Aha moment for me.

Chris Lee’s emphasis on the power of giving moved me. When you’re depressed, give! When you’re happy, give! When you are lonely, give! His visualization exercise asking us what and where we want to be in 10 years was particularly memorable for me because he asked us to start it by saying that age out loud which was jarring for me. Then the tears came again.

Day 2 was quite a finale. My parents also came to Summit and the four of us sat on the first floor as compared to the balcony on Day 1 and the impact was powerful. The close proximity of the thumping drums and the cries of excitement made me want to jump to my feet immediately. As for speakers, Chris Guillebeau made another case about the power of the introvert. His energy was quieter but not boring in any way. He was promoting his new book “Side Hustle” and showed tangible evidence of people who started a side hustle, not a part-time job and grew it into a real business. He was practical and his approach made me want to listen deeply. I cannot wait to read his book! Mel Robbins came and brought the house down with her quick wit and insights and presented her 5-Second Rule. She delved into the science behind counting down…5, 4, 3, 2, 1..Go! When you wait too long to take action, we tend to stay still. She showed us how 5 seconds can change everything. Another read on my mile-high list from this weekend.

Tim Storey simply took us to church. There was a lot of call and response which made him entertaining but there was a message in his rhyme and swagger. He spoke about impartation, incubation and maturation phases in your life and shared about his work with people in addiction recovery. Brendon Burchard, the number one online marketer, was the closing keynote speaker. His emphasis was on the habits of high performers. I loved how he talked about bringing the joy every day. He took a moment to ask us all to think of three words that exemplify who we want to be, set and name an alarm with those three words for 10:00 am. We even had a dance break moment and I found myself admiring the interactive nature of his speech.

To cap off the conference, there was a dance party at Express Live with DJ Irie. The crowd was live and the music had us dancing for hours on end. Lewis, his Mom, Tim Storey, and even DJ Irie himself crowd surfed. The dancers that were teaching as a part of morning workouts last year came back and danced their collective faces off on stage.

As if this hasn’t been long enough, there is so much I am missing including the performers that danced and sang so beautifully for us, Lewis giving away his book as a surprise, Nick Onken’s art piece connecting all of us from all over this country and 20 others and hugs at every turn.

I am thankful. I am grateful.