Vol. 80, Readercon in Boston and Miko Kuro's Midnight Tea in NYC
So two months after the book has been published, I have a much clearer understanding that achieving something big simply means that you have more work to do (of course it means more than that, but...) My free time is now spent sending out emails, looking for opportunities for public appearances, putting together promotional items. It's great, but it stretches an already full life to the breaking point. I have committed to giving this book the attention and energy it deserves, so quitting is not an options. I have had to learn to surrender (even more than I had already been surrendering) to the chaos of having multiple irons on the fire. This past weekend was a humongous example of surrendering to the opportunities that present themselves.
My original plan was to leave my job at 5:00 p.m. and drive to Boston alone after work. I thought most of the 4-hour drive time was in the dark. Thankfully because my friend witnessed a mini-breakdown I had in the beginning of the week, she decided she would be accompanying me to Boston. I left work at ten to seven because I have a new account and tons of work to do for all my existing accounts. I called the rental car to let them know I was on my way and they said, we close at 7:00! Despite this, the agent said he'd wait for me. My friend and I speed-walked to the rental car company and arrived ten minutes after it closed. We arrived to Boston in the middle of the night, finally getting to Burlington where the conference was and checking in to the hotel at 2:00 a.m. In the morning I had to put in a few hours for work, run my friend to Boston, and drive back up to Burlington for the conference. I attended a few panels, napped, dragged myself out to the meet-the-pros party, met editors and reviewers, kept up with social media, and even called clients (because my work email was full and would not send out emails). Before hitting the road, I connected with another writer from my publishing company, then drove through the evening into the night to get back to New York City for the Midnight Tea--a performance art event.
Incredibly, with all that activity I had an amazingly reflective weekend and still managed to reach a state of peace. There was no home or little person to be responsible for. With the exception of my Friday morning push and my Friday evening phone calls, there were no work worries. I spent the weekend receiving insight and input from writers, reviewers, readers, and other artists. It turned out to be quite an uplifting weekend.
I registered for Readercon early, but was not clued in enough to sign up for panels and readings. To a certain extent it was a wasted opportunity because the way that people learn about you at conferences (unless you already have a name) is through your participating in the programing. When I showed up at the Meet the Pros party, all the professional writers had these sheets with labels. Prior to the conference, the pros had provided the conference organizers with quotes from their work. Readers each had a sheet of wax paper and collected quotes from the pros. It was a cool activity because the label sheets identified the pros and the readers had something they could use to interact with the pros around. It was also something of a conversation starter. I remember reading one pro quote and having an immediate response to it. The writer and I had quite an extended conversation about the project the quote came from and the process the writer is/was using to complete it. A few people asked me where my labels were. I was not in the know and had not signed up to participate. But I had my flyers on hand and I passed them out as I wandered the room mingling and meeting people.
I ran into Ellen Datlow, the editor who was our mentor at Clarion West in 2001. Ellen has been incredibly supportive and openly answers any question I have about the field. I hung out with her for quite some time. The next day, I delved deeper into Readercon. The feeling of Readercon was a bit more cerebral than Wiscon. Wiscon felt a bit like a festival of creativity, politics, and feminisms, with people spilling out from panels, gatherings, and hotel rooms. A lot of high energy. Readercon seemed a bit more sober and controlled. I think I attended the same amount amount of panels at Readercon that I attended at Wiscon, though I was only at Readercon for half the amount of time.
Two Readercon panels in particular sparked self-reflection. A panel on first person and a panel on the books authors don't publish (the panel never got to that topic). The first person panel brought me back to the moment when I finished my draft of my second novel and my advisor wanted to know why I had written it in present tense. When I tried putting it in past tense it created a need in me for a brand-new present tense in which the characters were older. I started a new plotline and when that plotline ran out I stopped working on the novel. One of the writers on the first person panel said that some works only work in a certain person (or a certain tense). That the interest in it and the tension that draws in the writer only exists in a certain form, and when you shift that tension, the impetus to create it dies. I did a lot reflecting on my decision to change it. It's interesting, my relationship to the story has shifted as well and as I know I want to complete a novel, I've been wandering round and round this question of do I start anew, do I go back in and work with what I have? Reflecting.
The second panel that sparked reflection had a moment when the moderator asked the writers if they were miserable. And all of them said no, they weren't miserable and they talked about how delighted they were to wrestle with their craft. One writer even talked about how amazing it felt to get up and go to his computer as his job. It reminded me of my long-term goal and affirmed why I am willing to run around like a chicken with my head cut off for this book--it is because I have a larger goal in mind, a destination ahead. A destination that is reachable if I keep pedaling forward.
MIKO KURO'S MIDNIGHT TEA
I did not attend Readercon on the final day because I had been invited to participate in Miko Kuro's Midnight Tea on Saturday night. There were four featured artists, and each of those artists invited special guests, of which I was one. I left Burlington at 5:30 with the goal of getting to the tea at 11:30. I got back to Brooklyn just in time to drop my bags off at home, change my clothes, bring my travel buddy home, and high-tail it to DUMBO. When I arrived to the event, my friend L. Natasha Diggs was arriving, exhausted from her own day as a working artist. We caught up and chatted as we were escorted up to the space where the tea took place. When we arrived we signed releases to allow our images and voices to be recorded and used. After the featured artists took our bags, we special guests were told to have a seat. We didn't get informed as to what would happen inside.
After about ten minutes, we were blindfolded with black netting, so that seeing was difficult but not impossible. We were told to hold hands and were led into the area with the audience. We were led to stand in a circle still holding hands. I felt like we were pledging. We were performers but we were experiencing surprise and wondering as we had no idea what was next. We stood there for a VERY long time. People were fanning us, taking our shoes, turning us to face in other directions, putting things in the waistband or top elastic of our dresses. As we were standing there for so long I decided to meditate. I don't meditate often but it's really good for me so I went spent the time connecting myself with the earth's core and the sun and sending light and earth's dark energy through my body. I enjoyed it, though I wondered what the audience thought of us just standing there. Was anything else going on while we stood there?
Then I was told to turn around, sit on the floor and remove my blindfolds. I did saw and saw that the seats were full. To my immediate right, there was a table with tea service set up and a young afro-ed man sitting there, apparently prepared to serve tea. To the right of him, the the far left of him, and behind him were three tents draped in red fabric. The tents represented bleeding huts. In each tent one of the featured artists had created their own experiences. I couldn't see the tent to the far left, but I saw the performer afterward and saw that she was pinned with labels that represented the physical impact of the emotional fracturing that happens after a love affair. I'm not sure what her performance was in her tent. In the hut to the right of the tea master, one of the featured artist rocked a baby with soothing, semi-eerie audio playing in the tent. Whenever someone entered the tent she rocked them too.
Soon after I had gotten my bearings, I was guided to enter the third hut. A featured artist was waiting inside. There were balled up pieces of paper on the floor of the hut. I crawled in enjoying the feeling of being enclosed in the hut. Although I'm not a performer, I love the idea of performance art. It intrigues me and I'm constantly thinking up of performances. I looked at the featured artist, excitedly waited to hear what was going to happen. The featured artist asked me when was the first time I hid. I had to really think for that one. I answered. And she asked me what was I hiding now. And I told her I wasn't using my full voice. She asked me what my voice would say to me now and what my voice would say to me if it died. Then she made lyrics out of my answers and invited me to sing with her. Singing and acting are the two skills I have not a lick of talent at--but I was open to engaging in whatever unfolded as I knew this was a going to be a totally new experience.
We sang together and then the woman with the mask who was directing the night's festivities came to the tent, shuffled through some papers, ripped a sheet of paper into pieces, and threw the pieces into the tent. Then she handed me a sheet paper. It had my directions on it. I was to find the order in chaos: that was my role for the night. It was up to me to interpret what that meant. I was to leave the tent and divine for the tea master. (The performance I had chosen to do--which I communicated to the organizers before the tea--was divining from my book.) So I left the tent and set up my divining space. Everyone was silent, watching me. So I thought--Oh, it's time for SHOW.
It was interesting (and perfect) that I had just done an activity in the tent about my voice. I felt that the audience was possibly adrift in all the activity going on, not having been directly addressed, so I started speaking. I led the audience in a mediation. This is hilarious because I don't meditate on a regular basis, but I surrendered to the moment and followed what my voice wanted to say rather than thinking of what my brain wanted to do. I talked about how all answers are within us and encouraged them to listen throughout the night and be open to hearing the answer to questions they may have in their lives. It was completely spur of the moment and unplanned. Then I divined for the tea master aloud. He asked a very esoteric question and got an abstract answer from the pages of my book. Then he served me tea. As I was drinking a scream yelled out. Was this the fourth featured artist? I saw her motion to a person's feet, gut, chest, and throat--which looked like she was indicating how deeply this person should draw from to scream. Then she embraced the person and directed them to scream. She continued this scream therapy for various people throughout the night. Others special guests were invited to enter tents. A woman began moving slowly and a special guest and a chorus member mirrored her actions. One by one, the other special guests, were given their sheet of paper with directions and were signaled to begin their share. All the other guests were poets--come to think of it, I think all the featured artists were poets too--a prose writer in a poet's world! Stories and lines from poems were ringing out around me, there was intermittent screams, singing coming from the tent I had entered, the hypnotic music playing while someone was being rocked in the other tent. There were a lot of layers of performance swirling around me.
I was not told that I should or should not continue divining so I invited a performer who was not performing to sit on my cushions so I could divine for her. From that point, every questioner picked a page that mirrored the question they were asking. Someone asked about life after death and selected a page number on which a character had just learned about mortality and was speculating on what happened after death. Over and over there was this interesting pairing between the question and the page they selected for the divining.
I spent the rest of the night selecting people from the audience and from the stage to divine for them. It was noisy, so I did it all in silence by having the questioner write down a question, then write a page number--then I divined an answer from the page, or when it seemed relevant, handed them the whole page to read. I was drawing energy from all the activity around me and I had actually found order in my little space in the middle of chaos. I was energized and felt like I could divine for the whole room. I think I may have done 8 to 10 divinations. When the performance was over, I did two more, but it didn't feel the same without the drama swirling around me. I was tired and was ready to go. I actually drew energy from the madness.
I think sometimes we resist madness and mad activity, but it was instructive to me that I could draw on it and--because I couldn't use my voice--I used another way to connect and communicate that was equally as effective as using my voice. I got a lot out of the experience from the voice activity, to leading the room in a meditation to the divining. It was a wonderful component of my weekend of reflection. Thank you, Khadijah Queen, for inviting me to participate.
*** BOOK REPORT ***
1. The e-book is out! Currently the ebook has not loaded to Amazon just yet, but it is available from the publisher: http://www.aqueductpress.com/books/AncientAncient.html
2. I have TWO reviews! I sent out about 60 emails looking for reviews, and I finally have two! I also met two people who write reviews at Readercon and immediately sent them review copies as soon as I got back home. So hopefully I'll have at least two more reviews.
One of the reviews is from a spec fic reader: http://reviews.futurefire.net/2012/07/ibura-salaam-ancient-ancient-2012.html
One of the reviews is from a non-spec-fic reader: http://aalbc.com/reviews/ancient-ancient.html
The difference between the two reviews is quite clear.
3. My sales are limping along: From the early weeks of selling 13-16, to the middle weeks of selling 6, to the current rate of 3-4, my ratings are hanging out at the bottom. I figure as long as I am in the game I'm still winning! I have a few more promotions up my sleeve and I'm interested to see if all my conversations with readers at the Harlem Book Fair this past weekendwill bear fruit in terms of sales. In terms of ratings, I had been hanging out in the 600,000s–800,000s, and today the rating in the 300,000. That can only mean one thing, book sales!! But I have to wait until Friday when the reporting is done to find out.
Be well. Be love[d].
Kiini Ibura Salaam