Sunday, June 19, 2011

On Finding and Defining Oneself

So these first few entries will document my wrangling with the medium at my disposal, and the conclusions and actions taken therein. It is not as easy as one may think to decide on what angle to deliver in something as potentially revealing as a blog. There are so many things I find myself being passionate about, yet find myself self-censoring for one reason or another. This is my attempt to get out from under my own blanket, so to speak. Something I read this morning allowed me to validate my own conceptualization regarding the art and the job of writing, whether one is a novelist or a journalist or a blogger, or, as the case may be, a jotter, as I sometimes am.

I was reading an entry from a new page I stumbled upon, Reluctant Habits (which, in many ways I can identify with), where the editor Edward Champion (love amazing people with that surname, as if they were truly born into their role) had the opportunity to follow up with a favorite author of mine, Colson Whitehead regarding his most recent novel, Sag Harbor. I found this novel last summer, while trying to fill up a somewhat incomplete summer's day, the last day of my Census 2010 assignment. The title jumped out at me because I attended undergrad in The Hamptons, and adopted it for about five years, becoming a bit more than a summer visitor, but not quite a full-blown Southie. I lived there during the school year, but also worked there during two summers and one winter session, which, if anyone knows, is when the real mettle is tested, along the deserted crunchy beaches and soggy gray atmosphere of the off-season.

Colson Whitehead's novel weaved a captivating tale of that region of Long Island in the 80's, before I really could call any part of New York my own, the generation of my older cousins, yet far removed physically as well as culturally. His world was one of middle class African Americans, professionals, upwardly mobile and yet grounded in their traditions still insulated to a degree from stereotypical portrayals based on unexplored assumptions. I loved Sag Harbor when I was in the Hamptons, but I never really got to see much of what Whitehead framed in his novel. It would almost have me wondering, doubting the true existence of such a place, such a perspective, if I didn't already know the legacy of the reservations in the area, of Riverhead even now. Not everything is white-washed out there, if you are paying attention.

The best part of this interview however, was how Whitehead handled the response to his reponse at The New School interview session. He touched on the need for labels and categorization that oftentimes is the nail in the coffin for brilliant writers, marginalized by their subject matter. It's as if some all-powerful marketing curator deemed them unworthy of a broad audience, or only necessary to plug into a niche market. It is condescending at best, and I wonder where I would be if I capitulated to such playground versions as a child. I distincly remember being accused of "talking white" because I told a classmate that she was acting haughty. I used words beyond my sixth-grade stature, apparently. I even had to defend the radio station I listened to, which was Z100 at the time, not HOT97 like all the other cool ghetto kids. I didn't admit to turning the dial to CD101.9 or the classical stations, though; that would have been too much even for me to bear as an eleven-year-old. In eighth grade, I was voted "Most Likely to be a Snob" by my ever-popular, loud, big-breasted classmate Cheryl and her gang. My reluctant habit for a while became dumbing down my own abilities or range.

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