Tag Archives: memoir

How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones

I read How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones because it was sitting there, and I’m glad I did. It’s a quick (but not necessarily easy) read. I was immediately drawn into the narrative. He shares what feels like a really authentic account of what it’s like to grow up Black and gay and how and why that felt like a death sentence to him.how we fight for our lives

The confusion, innocence, curiosity, and angst of childhood felt really authentic to me—though his experience seemed even more exacerbated by his firm knowledge that he was *different*. Later, the sex is explicit, and there’s a lot of it, and at times I wondered if it was gratuitous, but in the big pictures, it really did serve an important purpose in the story. And anyway, it’s about a young gay man, so yeah, there’s going to be some sex.

About two thirds or three quarters of the way through the book, when many authors lose their steam, attention to detail, and sentence-level care, this book picks up, ending powerfully as the author’s relationship with his mother contextualizes and heals and, although imperfect, a clear love story emerges that feels true and healing and heartwarming.

The ending is surprisingly, as it becomes clear that this author has achieved the sense of self that he’d been searching for—in some unlikely ways and places that simultaneously feel familiar. I too have suddenly and unexpectedly wept with strangers.

The book made me much more reflective of my own education, especially my undergraduate degree, an experience that, for me, has inexplicably evaded much analysis or meaning making from me. This book also made my world much smaller. I identified with this man in that I too went to a state school on a scholarship, and although it wasn’t the fancy private school to which I had received a partial scholarship, it offered an important education still the same.

Because the book was not too demanding of my time, I googled some of people listed in the acknowledgements section. I read Sarah Schulman as an undergrad! I didn’t realize Roxanne Gay has a PhD in Rhet/Comp like I do! I didn’t realize it was from Michigan Tech, a sister school with my own PhD program that often exchanges “talent.” Not only did the book’s journey resonate with me, I also had the sudden sense that these people were actually my people. This felt like…my circle.

This is a story of a gay black man, but the journey to reconcile the love and harm inflicted by one’s family, the journey of navigating the first years of adulthood (college) and settling into one’s authentic identity amid wildly conflicting pressures, the community we find, the family we choose is the stuff of life and something with which every reader can identify.

Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo

I read this book almost entirely while lying in bed, while falling in love. Joy Harjo’s a fixture in poetry and literature. Before now, I’d only ever read a poem or two here and there, but I’d never really gotten into her work…that is until I read her memoir, Crazy Brave. It was one of those books that I started reading in a bookstore, and then read a chapter or two from the library, and then finally bought my own damn copy and finished it at home…while lying in bed. I love this book.

image from amazon.com

Harjo is mostly known for her poetry. I don’t enjoy reading a lot of poetry, and so that’s why I haven’t been very familiar with her work. After reading and loving Crazy Brave, I read She Had Some Horses, which is also beautiful, and I love it, and it’s poetry. It’s a collection I see myself returning to.

As for Crazy Brave, what I love about the book is how she captures a creative, feminine life experience that I (mostly) really relate to. It’s soulful. It captures pain, and specifically women’s pain, in a profound way. It shows us another way. It does so in poetic prose–she’s a poet after all.

This is from the back cover of She Had Some Horses, but I think it pertains to all Harjo’s work: “If you want to remember what you never listened to & what you didn’t know you knew, or wanted to know, open this sound & forget to fear. A woman is appearing in the horizon light.” ~ Meridel Le Sueur.

And then I saw her picture and remembered that maybe I met her. Or maybe I heard her read once. She is familiar to me. Her name. Her face. Her work. And yet I only really found her work now, when of course I needed it most.

I was captured throughout the entire book, but  by the end, I was a little lost: WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?! I wondered about the title: crazy brave. Now I think I can say that the larger message was, for me personally, a message to women to be brave, an admonition that it will be crazy, and you will be crazy, and you will be brave, and that is life.

Part of this is about surrendering to the flow of the river, instead of fighting against it, using the strength of the current to pursue yourself, but also acknowledge or accept that the river will be violent, and it will wound you deeply, and it might kill you, and it might lull you to sleep, and part of this we can control, and part of it we cannot control, and this is the wisdom we gain from being in the river. I am reminded of the time I went underwater in the Colorado River, the immense crushing noise turned warm and quiet and then I emerged. Part of this book is about acknowledging fear, working around it, using it, but not being controlled by it. I left the book thinking I should do what I must do before the river does it for me, even as the river does it for me.

Some of the words I loved:

“Yet everyone wanted the same thing: land, peace, a place to make a home, cook, fall in love, make children and music” (19).

“Because music is a language that live sin the spiritual realms, we can hear it, we can notate it and create it, but we cannot hold it in our hands” (19).

“In the end, we must each tend to our own gulfs of sadness, though others can assist us with kindness, food, good words, and music. Our human tendency is to fill these holes with distractions like shopping and fast romance, or with drugs and alcohol” (23).

“Water people can easily get lost. And they may not comprehend that they are lost. They succumb easily to the spirits of alcohol and drugs. They will always search for a vision that cannot be found on earth” (25).

“They continue to live as if the story never happened” (43).

“Our  heartbeats are numbered. We have only so many allotted. When we use them up, we die (52).

“All of these plant medicines, like whiskey, tequila, and tobacco, are potent healers. There’s a reason they’re called spirits. You must use them very carefully. They open you up. If you abuse them, they can tear holes in your protective, spiritual covering” (77).

“I noticed a marked change in the quality of light when we made it to New Mexico” (83).

“Each scar was evidence that we wanted to live” (90).

“I told Lupita I wanted to paint, to be an artist. She told me that what she wanted was someone to love her” (102).

“I was given the option of being sterilized” (121).

“I believe that if you do not answer the noise and urgency of your gifts, they will turn on you” (135).

“We were in that amazed state of awe at finding each other in all the millions and billions of people in the world” (143).

“Her intent made a fine unwavering line that connected my heart to hers” (146).