This is exquisite writing about the act of writing.. and it’s also about loss and the devastating long-term effects of racism. It is written by Kiese Laymon. It is so worth the read.
I could have finally said, “Uncle Jimmy, you drowning yourself with that crack and all that hate. Ain’t nothing really behind that smile, man. I love you and we need you to live.” And you could have told me, “There’s more than one way to drown, Kiese. You looking pretty wet yourself, nephew. At least I know I’m under water. Can I read some of that writing you been doing?”
But those words were never said. We talked, but we didn’t reckon with each other. Hence, all of our communication created no echo, no meaningful reverberation outside our imaginative speculations about each other. The last thing you said to me the Christmas before you died was, “No matter how much right you try to do, white folks in Mississippi do everything they can to make a Nigga remember they owned us.” There was a silence after the sentence and I filled that silence with a nod of my head and a weak “Yeah. I hear that.”
By that point, I was sure I knew you. I assumed you coped with the weight of a paroled life as a black man in Mississippi by laughing, acting a fool, relying on crack cocaine, alcohol and women who were just as hopeless as you. And I assumed that you knew that I coped with a paroled life in many of the same ways you did. One of the only differences between you and me was that I fell deeply in love with the possibilities of written and spoken words. I used words to create stories, essays, novels I thought you’d want to read, hear and see. And, believe it or not, I always wrote to you.
When I wasn’t writing things that you might have wanted or needed to read, hear and see, I created fictive versions of you that were, sadly, more interesting, and more loving than I allowed you to be. Uncle Jimmy, you inspired thousands of paragraphs, hundreds of scenes, but I never even showed you one sentence. I was afraid to know for sure that you thought my work was my hustle, a shinny indulgent waste of time. But more than that, I didn’t want you to know that I wanted you to be a better uncle, brother and son. I didn’t want you to see that it was possible that I saw in the real you someone I never wanted to be, a shiftless paroled “Nigger” with two glass jaws, someone who fought a few good rounds, lost and finally forfeited his opportunities to ever be a beautiful black human being.
Thanks to Tedra for the link.
And then there is also this from the same writer – “How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America: A Remembrance”.