Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Gardenias Grow Everywhere in the South.

Hi everyone!

It's been forever. Nowadays it always is - I don't blog much anymore, and I miss it. If you follow me on social media, you already know that I moved away from Charleston after more than 14 years. It has been bittersweet and difficult leaving my loved ones. As a South Carolinian who never moved out of state till now, I've always had the privilege of being around my people. It's different now - I can reach them by phone or video chat, but they aren't here. I come home to my empty apartment, make my dinner, drink a glass of wine, watch Hulu and go to bed. John isn't around to drink coffee with in the morning; Mandie and Kim aren't around to grab dinner with after work; Sarah isn't around to have lunch with on Wednesdays.

Here's what I've realized about friendship: It's honestly just as difficult as dating. Sure, there isn't the issue of sex to deal with - but does that make it easier, or actually harder? A friendship is not based on animalistic desires, so what is it based on? Everyone has assured me I will "make friends in no time." But the truth is, I have not made a friend yet. And here I use the word friend loosely; I really just mean a buddy, someone to get a beer with. At home in SC, my friends are all true-blue. They are the people I've counted on for absolutely years, and they're more than simple drinking buddies. I've lowered my standards to look for buddies, and I'm still coming up short.

Some of you are probably wondering why I can't make friends at work. Well, it does not, so far, seem to be the place for friendship. Weirdly, a couple of the women I regularly interact with have joined the throng of folks who assure me I'll soon have pals - but they do not themselves offer to be my friend. While I certainly understand this - they're busy with their families, they have tight schedules, whatever - I find it awkward. Why say anything? But perhaps I'm making THEM feel awkward by reporting that I just moved here and I don't know anyone. Hmm.

Anyhoo, it's no real secret that making friends in your adult years is tough. My besties back home are 99% the result of friendships formed in my 20s (or before!) when everyone had way more time and a healthier dose of idealism. I still haven't joined a church or a volunteered for a nonprofit yet. But don't those tactics almost seem akin to online dating? It's forcing what we honestly hope will just happen out of the blue. We hope for real friends to just find us one day, the way we hope for love to just find us.

While I wait for friendship to find me (Love is a TOTALLY different set of obstacles and I really don't give a crap about crossing paths with it because it almost always ends up in disaster) I have to work on myself. It's funny - my best girlfriends all had their ideas of why the Universe pushed me out of South Carolina and into Alabama so quickly once my job search began. Was it because I'm supposed to meet my "future husband" soon? (Ha.) Was it to further my career? Was it to have some epic adventure that I would not otherwise have?

I don't think it is any of these. Rather, I think it happened because I'm supposed to finally grow the eff up. Now before you say "But you were already a grownup, Denise!" hear me out: No, I wasn't. I always had people around me who loved me and somehow dealt with things for me. If there was a cockroach in the house, John killed it. If there was a problem with the car, Mandie drove me around. If I became ill, Marie cared for me. I daresay that being a REAL adult means not having these luxuries. So far, I've used Uber to get to the airport, killed a gigantic disgusting cockroach myself, pacified my own feelings when I cried for no apparent reason. I'm getting tougher, and that's a good thing. Plus, I have a totally new job and company to learn about! Life was getting to be too cushy in Charleston. I needed a challenge. That's what I have now.

One day, when I'm the fully formed version of Denise K. James, perhaps I will cross paths with new friendship and maybe even new love. The Universe wisely decided that I needed to be isolated from my comfort zone to do some necessary growing. For those of you who grew up years ago, congratulations! Must be nice. But I'm looking on the bright side - at least I'm finally doing it. Some people never grow up at all.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Some Thoughts on Voice After an Evening of Listening to Jonathan Brown

So the other night I went to see my friend Jonathan Brown perform poetry. It'd been forever since I'd been to a poetry event. I flipped through the emails on my phone and the book of drafts I had in my purse, trying to find something to read at the microphone for the open mic portion of the evening, but, in the end, I told Jim, the emcee, just to take my name off the list. Everything was something I was already sick of --  loss of childhood, stolen cars, fouled-up love affairs. Frankly I wasn't feeling it.

For the last five years, I've been the editor of Mount Pleasant Magazine. I've arguably become a better writer since starting this gig. I've developed my "magazine voice," which admittedly sounds just like me: witty, conversational, truthful, sometimes humorous or snarky. But also in the past five years, I've come home and wondered, when it comes to my poems, memoir-in-progress and general personal writing, why none of it smacks of the heartwrench that I've focused on since, oh, college I guess, or whenever when I first decided that great literature must be sad and should mirror the more somber points of being alive.

Then I watched Jonathan Brown take the stage and read from his new book, Fight Dirty. His book is not sad. This isn't to say that it's happy either -- though I laughed myself out of my chair more than once. The book, like the reading, like the Monday, like the poet, includes a little of everything. 

Here's an embarrassing confession. Jonathan sent the book to me by mail a few weeks ago and asked me if I would review it. And I discouraged myself from the task! I told him I write "cheesy magazine articles" nowadays. I even told him to call up the City Paper. Y'all, I forgot about my own power and my own scope of vision -- then watching him read last night brought it back. 

Why the hell have I been ordering myself to be heartbroken all this time? Why can't I be that laugh-out-loud person even after work, in front of my own computer screen? This past year I've been freaking out about not writing anything personal, but what if it's only because nothing has devastated me? And yet I've trapped myself in that idea? Clearly I've been going about my role as a writer with blinders on -- sad blinders -- and to be honest, I've asked myself before, point blank, how a happy-go-lucky, pet-the-grasshopper kind of gal like me can love darkness so much? I mean, at 12 years old, I wrote poems about eating candy and hanging upside down. So what happened? At 14 years old i made up songs to the tunes of Christmas carols. What happened? 

I guess it doesn't matter what happened. I've got it all figured out. My writing needs to start reflecting me, and I'm not just sad.

As for Jonathan's book, Fight Dirty, let me show you what I mean about it. Take this line for example:

My ex's doppelganger/just surfaced from within a Christmas tree./It's past Easter; she's popping out like a pimple..."

I love this because it's ABOUT emotion - being reminded of a lost love - but it's crafted in a surprising, humorous fashion. I think this is what I like best about the collection; he manages to surprise me. I mean, before I can even start wallowing in sorrow, he turns it around like:

 "I shattered a wine glass/on my kitchen floor,/ then tried to glue it/together again/with peanut butter." 

How can I dwell on the misfortune of broken glass when the notion of using peanut butter as adhesive has been presented?! I give him mad kudos for highlighting not just our emotions, but the absurdity of said emotions. And I can confidently recommend his book to people who don't even LIKE poetry, or thought they didn't. Maybe we've never tried to teach our pet fish "to read by stacking Time magazines against the back of the glass," but we're amused by the idea.

For a long time I couldn't understand why I failed at writing sad, dark literature. I've been reading so much of it! But it is not, and it has never been, my whole voice. Thanks to Jonathan's reading, (as well as the words on the page) I remembered that it's OK if my voice is made up of more than one mood. And for those of us who experience more than one mood regularly, I heartily recommend getting your hands on a copy of Fight Dirty.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Process Versus the Product.

Hope y'all's 2016 is off to a good start! Been a while.

I've had the joy of working with a couple of my favorites in the under-18 set since the new year started. First, Rachel came to work with me for a couple of days over her holiday break, helping me with everything from our (downright woeful before her assistance) Pinterest account, to photo shoots, to interviewing the owner of a fabulous breakfast joint.

Then yesterday my girl Julia visited me for Charleston County's official job shadowing day and brought her friend Emily. We had a great time putting the last page of the magazine together (a "meet your neighbors" feature) and editing a couple of things around the office.

Hanging with my younger friends always make me feel good because they're amazed by what I do. I suppose it sounds fancy to be a magazine editor (I always preen a bit when I tell people my profession) but it isn't all glory for sure. In fact, if I don't stay organized, on top of my game and open to doing the grunt-work parts of the job, everything falls apart faster than you can say Mount Pleasant Magazine. That's why when I bring my proteges to the office, I try to present a pleasant mixture of hard stuff (coming up with the reasons why a sentence just doesn't sound right) and fun stuff (photo shoots). I mean, yesterday when we were out roaming around to meet people for the last page, one guy we interviewed raved about the magazine. He talked about what a good job I do, and it was nice to hear it. Of course, Julia and her friend were impressed.

"You're FAMOUS," they heartily declared. It's an overstatement, of course, but I still think it's important to recognize that when it comes to being a magazine editor, the process (sometimes tedious, boring, frustrating, etc) is just as important as the product.