Fam Mail

This bit of “fam mail” is from a high school student. Not sure where he lives but his honesty is pretty awesome. Check, check, check it outttttt.

From Brandon:

I must say, I’ve never had that much enjoyment in a book except for reading war books. I’m a high school student and being able to sit down and read a book is rare for me. I hate reading and looking at your website seeing that your goal to only make entertaining books sure is working. I’m planning on getting your other books to read.

Then came the rub. Hahahahaha.

I do have one question to ask because I am working on a project for school and I have to do research on the author so my question to ask, What is a quote that you would relate to When I Was the Greatest? I know your most likely busy and I hope you have the chance to write back, but if not I understand and just want to say again I loved the book and am planning on reading the other ones. Stay motivated, stay at peace, and keep writing.

The Amazing Angelo

I received an email this morning from the great, Lesley-Ann Brown, who is still in residence at THE RHODE ISLAND WRITERS COLONY. The email, well, the email is about Angelo, an older guy I met there who I unfortunately didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to. Lesley-Ann bumped into him, and…well, just read the email:

The other morning Angelo approaches me. He looks a bit sad. He asks me if you’ll be coming back. I say I’m sure. He goes on to talk about how amazing you are. The way you carry yourself. Your grace etc. etc. He talks about your hair and how he has seen so many people before with hair like yours, what do you call it? he asks me, dreadlocks, I reply, and he’s like yeah, but with Jason, it becomes him.
Later I hand him your book so he can see what you’re doing. He reads it a little, walks over to me and says Needles and Noodles, huh? I say yeah, cool names right? Yes, he says, that’s what I’ll name my two turkeys, Noodles and Needles. I say I think Jason will like that.

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Lesley-Ann and Angelo, with a feather from his turkey, now named, Needles.

AMAZING.

My time at The Rhode Island Writers Colony

I just got back from a week-long retreat at The Rhode Island Writers Colony, and let me tell you, it was pretty incredible. For those of you who don’t know what a writers colony is, it’s pretty much just a fancy way of saying that there is a place that writers can go to do nothing but write. This particular one was up in Warren Rhode Island, which is best known for being the smallest town in the smallest county in the smallest state. So…small. The house was beautiful, but there was no internet and no TV (intentionally.) I shared the space with Lesley-Ann Brown, and the colony’s founder, Brook Stephenson, and all we did was…well, write. A LOT. And when we weren’t writing we were talking about writing. And in between all that was a lot of coffee and wine.

Oh, and the locals were fantastic. There was Allison, a sculptor/Harvard professor who brought us fresh veggies (below), Angelo, a senior Italian man who walked over to me and asked me what I did for a living because he knew it couldn’t be corporate. He was actually the sweetest man on earth, telling me about how shy he was as a child, and how he spent forty years teaching in downtown, Providence. Now, he relaxes in Warren, and tends to his garden of swiss chard and tomatoes, and of course, chickens. He also has really intense conversations with his grey-haired buddies in the coffee shop about how to work a cell-phone.

Oh, and Brook’s brother lives there, and is probably the only black man in the town, which, in this case, makes him the coolest man in the town. BY FAR. Hanging out with John (that’s his name) was like hanging out with a celebrity. Horns honking, hands waving…the whole nine.

I would encourage EVERY serious writer to participate in a colony at least once a year, if you can. Absolutely transformative, but also productive.

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Goodies from Allison.

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This was an old school drug store that sold these things called, “Coffee Cabinets” which is pretty much a milkshake. The best milkshake EVER. The lady, Lesley-Ann. The guy with the hat, that’s John, aka, the Black Godfather of Warren.

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Other housemates.

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The house. Yeah…take it in. Pretty slammin’.
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On Building Houses

So I’ve been editing this book and it feels like I’m sawing off my arm with a butter knife. Every single day. I mean, really. It’s been absolutely torturous. And I’ve been plugging away at it hoping to have some sort of breakthrough, or reprieve, but instead I just get more kicks in the face. And somewhere in the midst of this three month process (yes, it has taken me three months to edit the shortest work I’ve written) I’ve slipped into negativity, fallen into an angry slump where I approach the computer as if it were an annoying customer at a retail store and I was the sales associate, and that customer’s sole purpose is to knit-pic and antagonize me about how mediocre my product and I are. How my technique could be more refined. How the quality just isn’t where it needs to be. Blah, blah, blah.

But I felt differently today. Don’t get me wrong, the kicks in the face were still there, and the work was just as complex and annoying as usual, but I ended my pity party, and refocused on what it is I’m doing. Not just with this book…but what I’m REALLY aiming to do. Sometimes I get so caught up in the world of Jason, the strange, self-serving place where I battle my issues by hiding them under my accomplishments, that I forget the beauty and purpose of this whole thing — this life as a writer.

My job, in essence, is to build houses. And ain’t nobody ever built a house, without straining their back, without wood splintering their hands, without having to recut, remeasure, or rework something. Quitting has never EVER been an option for me, but I’ve decided to muzzle the complaining, and edit ME. Because I don’t need negativity to line the walls of my house. I don’t need any cracks in the glass, termites in the wood. I’m building houses of love and passion and discipline, for someone — some stranger out there — to someday feel comfortable calling home for a while.

And that’s a special, special thing.

Chris the Great and Undefeated

There’s this guy, Chris, who’s a barista at the new coffee shop up the street from my house. He’s twenty-two years old, rounded shoulders, pale white skin, first trimester pudge, blonde hair in a top-knot, and a thick Australian accent.

He and I talk daily because, admittedly, I’m a creature of habit who enjoys working in the same place, drinking the same amount of coffee, eating the same yogurt/fruit/granola dish while I’m writing (like right now.) Plus, Chris always has great stories. Well, they’re entertaining, but a lot of times they’re actually pretty tragic so maybe great isn’t the appropriate word for them.

For instance, about a month ago, Chris was jumped on Gates Ave. I mean, they really mopped him bad, took his phone and whatever cash he had on him. Strange thing is, as Chris is telling me the story, he’s laughing hysterically and explains that he wasn’t really upset about it. That he knew what we he was getting himself into when he turned down that block. “A Gentleman of Gentrification.” An easy target, except…a broke one. He then tells me how instead of going home, he limped to a bar — his eye a blueberry — and pretty much got free drinks and loads of attention from concerned (and probably pretty attractive) women, so the night was ultimately a win as far as he was concerned.

Another time he lost his wallet, and when I asked where he thought he’d left it, his response was, “Probably on the roof.” Of course, I asked what he was doing on the roof, not that hanging out on the roof is abnormal in New York, but I figured he might’ve been at a party and maybe someone caught him slipping and snatched it.

He said, “I live up there.”

“What you mean?” I asked.

He smiled a jagged-toothed smile. “I mean, I’m homeless, Jason. Have been since you’ve known me. I live on the roof of the building I used to live in.”

All this, like it was nothing. As a matter of fact, I think he was pouring me a refill as he was talking.

My initial thought was, he must’ve just gotten to NYC from Australia. A newbie. There’s always that weird couch-hopping, pseudo-homeless thing that happens as you try to figure NY housing out. That makes sense. At least it did until Chris told me that he had been here four years.

“Four years!”

“Yep, four years,” he said, grinning. “And I love it.”

Life at The Ashberry Home School

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You’re probably wondering what you’re looking at. This is Hudson, NY which where I’ve been for the last few days participating as a member of the inaugural class of the Ashberry Home School. Some of you are thinking, Ashberry? As in, John Ashberry? Yes. That Ashberry. This is the first year of this poetry workshop, where poets come together and write and work and think about poetry in relation to other art forms, which for me is always a good thing.

NAME DROP ALERT! NAME DROP ALERT!

Ahem.

Tracy K Smith is here, Tom Healy, Adam Fitzgerald, Dottie Lasky. The list goes on and on. Oh, and of course, JOHN ASHBERRY (remind me to tell y’all about his house. Crazy.) I mean it’s some heavy hitters in this joint! And I’m super grateful to be here, to talk and write and learn and see what this community of poets and the community of Hudson has to offer.

Got a few days left before heading back to Brooklyn, but I’ll keep you all posted!