I’m not sure Ntozake Shange would be thrilled at being my literary mentor, but nevetheless, she was my first and I honour her every writing day.
My first marriage, largely a marriage of convenience in order that my hubby could get a draft deferment and I could stay in the US, busted up while we were living in NY. After the split, I had a two-story walk-up on the park block of W 85th while I attended NYU (anthropology); my ex kept coming over insisting we should reconcile and have babies. I didn’t want babies. I was single in NY, a student, a dancer, and I had a job selling luggage in the Trade Towers. I had designs on education–I wanted lots of it. In my psych class, I had a pet rat with an inch wide red magic marker band on his tail, and at home, in my building next to the red whorehouse, I had a dog, Keiko, a short golden mutt with pretensions of being a lab. The ex was taking Clint, the whippet, with him to San Francisco, and he cajoled me to come along. I finally agreed to transfer the whole shooting match out west, though not to live with Gary, and started to make noises about closing up shop in NY. There was a guy, Michael, I loved but didn’t want to love. It wouldn’t have worked between us–any idiot could see that. I’d met him the night of his Carnegie Hall debut. He was a percussionist in Tequila Mockingbird Chamber Ensemble, and we spent long afternoons in the park while the ensemble enchanted the wind, Michael on vibraphone, Jürgen on violin, Burt on lyric trumpet, and me passing their hat and later counting dimes. Bach: Little Fugue in G Minor. (You can listen to them here: Mockingbird.) There were illicit afternoons in bed with Michael, and even though he had someone else, he kept sneaking over, and I kept opening my door, and I kept loving him with a fierce burn that kept me hot and then, when we were apart, shivering, and so it was time to leave the city.
It was spring semester, my last year of undergrad, and I didn’t sign up for classes. I thought I ought to see the shows on and off Broadway in the two weeks before I flew out, and then go north to visit my mother in Canada, and my brother in Vancouver, en route. I saw dozens of plays, and I finally saw, by accident, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide But the Rainbow Was Enuf by Ntozake Shange, and when I stepped blinking back into daylight, gobsmacked, I was a writer. I could have walked right back into my going-along life, but because of Shange’s stirring words, everything changed, and I walked out a writer. At first, I just made myself write a poem a day for six months to making writing habitual, then I started writing the poems and stories that would eventually become my books.
The little dog, Keiko, took up car-chasing, biting tires, and was eventually hit by a truck in Pass Creek, BC, dying from her injuries. I had two babies. I came out.