Summer Writing Sabbatical: Tbilisi (Week 1)

This Summer Literary Seminar is turning out to be something I know I’ll be processing for a while. The language, food and people are truly unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I can really only describe this entire experience as challenging.

The City

T’bilisi Georgia, above Armenia and below the Ukraine has a history of being conquered by foreign entities, birthed Joesph Stalin and apparently has never seen a black girl with blond braids and big tits. I mean, I have never experienced the level of street harassment I have here. The city itself is amazing. It’s lush and sprawling, the food is good and the wine is *chef’s kiss*. But the people as a whole are pretty homogenous in race and culture, which makes them conservative, and they have no problems staring me down and or whispering about me while I’m just minding my business in public.

The Workshop

Bullshit aside, I’ve been enjoying the writing workshops. My cohort is full of thoughtful writers from varying backgrounds. I’m the only black person but my instructor is Ru Freeman, a Sri Lankan activist who efficiently cut the tokenism out of a someone’s story on the first day of workshop. So I don’t feel completely alone.

Ru Freeman, Kevin Sessums, and me!

I’m also taking a seminar with Kevin Sessums a vulnerable and prolific writer of celebrity profiles and moving memoirs. He gave us a great prompt where we were to write a profile about our fathers through the use of memory.

My father was a Libra, born on an Autumn day in the Bronx, NYC. He was handsome and personable, charming really. Every time I walked down the street with him no less than five people recognized him, stopped him and had to chat about whatever is was they had to talk about. He was a Libra so there were many lovers. A few years back my sister and I received a box of things from his sister, our Aunt Linda. The container was full of papers, greeting cards, medical prescriptions, and those matchbox cars he loved to make. One card was from some woman reminiscing about their Army days together. Another card featured a sexy cartoon, “Remember to never forget me Lionel,” the inside of the card read in handwritten script. A faded pink kiss was next to an illegible signature. My favorite piece of paper from the box was the citation for shoplifting from a Gettysburg supermarket. It reads “The defendant did stuff items into his pants and attempt to leave the supermarket without paying.” I imagine my father, fly as fuck in his orange shirt and camo pants stuffing canned oysters, crackers and maybe even a grapefruit into his pants. He strides cooly out the door, ‘actin like he know’ as my mother would have called it. In my version of events the police never catch him. But the reality is they did. And this citation which features his social security number and address at the time now act as proof of his existence on earth. Since he passed in 2001, life has been harder but somedays I forget he even existed. Then other days when the grief is peaking in my subconscious I’ll get strong urges to eat a bag of grapefruit and steal from a supermarket. I now keep an altar for him that reason. It is said that if you don’t build altars for your ancestors you will become one. I am already the spitting image of him. Already have his weak stomach and gift for cooking. I don’t need his alcohol and drug addiction. That’s why I keep an altar for him. To manage his vices, keep them separate from mine.

What I wrote in Kevin Sessums seminar on Memory & Profile.

The Masculinity

I think I’m still getting over jet lag, adjusting to the culture shock which makes me more vulnerable than usual but the levels of comfort I feel walking down the street change when I’m with a man. I’m not used to not being able to walk down the street comfortably. I know street harassment happens all over the world, but the stares and whispers I get here is exhausting. Luckily they have ride share apps which are very cheap. And I have decent male friends willing to defend my honor or whatever, but it’s so weird that this is even a thing.

In short this first week was intense. Hopefully the second half will be better and I’m able to end this seminar on a high note. As always, if you want to send me money while I’m here, click here -> https://www.gofundme.com/f/summer-literary-seminar

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2 comments

  1. Great post! And thank you for sharing what you wrote in Kevin Sessums seminar. I hope the remainder of your time in T’bilisi is more comfortable. It sounds romantic and refreshing to have a Writing Sabbatical abroad; but I didn’t think about street harassment and culture “clashes.” Maybe the folks there will find a kinder way to express their curiosity before you leave! Wishing you the best!

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