August 11, 2014
So your new book Wet Reckless is broken into four parts. Can you explain what they are?
They are based pretty loosely on places I’ve lived. These are not really all the places I’ve ever lived and they are not really chronological but somehow it works to tell my story. The book is described as poetic memoir.
The first section is “Mud Pond.” Can you explain what or where that is?
Mud Pond is a dirt road in Thetford, Vermont, where I lived from the time I was born until I was about nine years old. I’ve been itching to describe this place and time, I read a lot of memoir and I never hear anyone talk about an environment like it, of course there are commonalities that people my age experienced, but like pop culture references which I personally love in writing, are hard because we didn’t have a television and my references are kind of out of whack. We did listen to the radio all the time especially country music stations but really whatever we could get. My parents had a bluegrass band so we went to a lot of parties and bars and us kids just ran wild. We were like a pack of animals.
When I entered public school I was a freak. I was taller, fatter, going through puberty really young, I couldn’t read, I didn’t know how to do math, I had absolutely nothing in common with these square ass kids. I cursed and fought. The more I fought the more they stayed away from me, the madder I was. I was sent to the principal’s office almost every day and I was put into special education classes because I couldn’t read and I didn’t care. This was the beginning of my life as the outsider. I was too big, too sexual, and really terribly shy.
So that leads to the second section, which is the Fillmore district of San Francisco, a far jump from the backwoods of Vermont. How did that happen?
When I was ten we moved to a mountain in Corinth, Vermont. My mother left shortly after the move and I lived with my dad and a revolving cast of his girlfriends their kids and other strange characters he took in, with no toilet or electricity for almost five years. I left for good when I was fifteen with a shaved head, combat boots, a boom box, and a homemade duffel bag. I landed in the Fillmore where I lived with my mother’s youngest sister. I was a punk rock kid, still too big, too sexual, and terribly shy. But I had learned to drink the shyness away and I had gotten tangled up with the skinheads. The alternative high school I ended up going to was run by a black revolutionary principal. It was there that I got deeply into hip-hop and black literature like Toni Morrison and Zora Neal Hurston. I learned to read late, but once I did, reading was my thing. I also found Charles Bukowski around that time and that was a turning point for me. It took twenty years before I started writing but once I read Bukwoski I knew I would write. The Fillmore has been gentrified extremely (like unrecognizably) since I was a teenager there and I try to capture the look and feel of that time and place. It will always be my neighborhood.
What Part does Richmond, California play in this poetic memoir?
I lived for five years in Richmond in public housing when my son was small. It is not a hugely significant place in my story. I was a young mom, I was working, commuting, raising a young black man in a neighborhood with an astronomical murder rate. I wasn’t getting in trouble with the law anymore but I still loved a roughneck man or two. The poem “Neighbors” is about Richmond. It was a good time for me in many ways; it was a time for family and putting down roots. Than we moved back to Oakland and I went from the projects to being a homeowner, rather amazing.
So here we are in Oakland, what does Oakland mean to you?
Oakland means home, Oakland means love, It’s where I became a whole person. In my twenties I was bouncing around feeling totally unhinged, so lonely that the company of cellmates was comforting to me. When I landed in Oakland the first time and got pregnant that was the beginning of something, of growing up having something, someone to live for. When I came back to Oakland it was just right. Oakland is a city going through changes, my ex boyfriend had thirty friends murdered in Oakland, thirty, that’s worse than coming back from Iraq. Now the city is changing in front of our eyes every day more and more young white folks moving here and again I feel like I need to document because I’m losing another city like I lost San Francisco.