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The Banal and the Profane: Nik Nicholson

The Banal and the Profane: Nik Nicholson

Author: William Johnson

August 6, 2014

“The Banal and the Profane” is a monthly Lambda Literary column in which we lift the veil on both the writerly life and the publishing industry. In each installment, we ask a different LGBT writer, or LGBT person of interest in the book industry, to guide us through a week in their lives.

This month’s “Banal and Profane” column comes to us from writer Nik Nicholson

Nik Nicholson is an artist: writer, painter, poet and performer. Her highly anticipated debut novel Descendants of Hagar released in July 2013, won the Lambda Literary LGBT Debut Fiction Award. It is the first of a two-part series, which also includes Daughter of Zion, about a woman coming to terms with her masculinity in the early 1900s.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

I am off today, so I sleep in until 8:30 or 9 AM. This morning, I’m considering a question I read online last night: “Is God here to make you happy? Are you here to make God happy?”

I turn on some gospel music and contemplate these questions in the shower. I’ve been raised to believe that if I don’t obey certain rules, God will punish me.

Years ago, I abandoned my beliefs. For about two years, I was an atheist, and angry. Afterwards, I realized that I wasn’t angry but rather disappointed and hurt. I couldn’t understand how most people pushing the Bible hadn’t actually read it. I’d been raised on lies. My world was rocked. It was only through questioning my faith that I began to question every aspect of my life.

For a while, I felt like I didn’t know who I or anyone else was. I started to question my attachment and attraction to certain women. Eventually, I explored, accepted and shared my sexual orientation.

“Is God here to make you happy? Are you here to make God happy?” The word “happy” rubs me the wrong way in these two questions.

I’m depressed. I feel guilty and unproductive. I need to stop plotting and writing in my head. I need to work on my novel, but I’ve planned on finishing my poetry book. I’m overwhelmed by my own change of course. Initially, I was releasing a selection from poems I’d written over the years.

So much work has already been done. It took a month and a half to read thousands of poems, then another two weeks to read the selected poems and edit them, then another two or three weeks during which I read each one aloud for a final edit before sending them to another editor. During editing, I realized how much I’ve changed. I want to release a book of poems that reflect who I am, not who I’ve been. The old poems are repetitive and depressing.

I’m considering putting my novel, Daughter of Zion, the follow up to Descendants of Hagar, on hold so I can focus on writing poems. I don’t know how I’m going to pay for my next novel, anyway. The cheapest I can get everything I need done is around $4000, and even that’s scary.  I’m broke. I like writing when I know how I will publish. With Descendants of Hagar, I’d paid for the publishing before it was written.

Today, it’s a better idea to finish the poetry book, since publishing poetry isn’t as expensive. I can publish through CreateSpace or BookBaby, because a lot of the books will be sold during performances. I go back and forth on this, too. I want to maintain a publishing standard.

Wednesday, June 18

9:30 AM: I step out of the shower, put on a housedress, and then make breakfast. I clean up the kitchen. I try to determine what I can cook for the next couple of days. My girlfriend and I need to have lunches. We try not to eat out during the week.

11:00: Since I’m off, I settle into my office to work on writing this article on myself. I also check email and Facebook.

1:00 PM: I’m reading a nonfiction biography on three people’s lives during the Great Migration.  I’ve read so many books on the early-1900s South that I can normally skim books and find any new information. I have to take my time digesting this book. Some pages I read twice, some lines I read too many times to count. I also read with note cards to jot down special observations.

3:30: I need a change of pace. I continue a book on how to write poetry. Usually, I write long performance pieces. I am exploring other forms of poetry. I’ve written shorter poems. Still, I need to learn how to be concise. I skim poetry-writing exercises until I’m moved to try one.

5:45: I jump online to research book covers. I’m trying to decide if I should paint the cover art for my poetry book.

6:30: I start the soundtrack that I’ve put together for writing my novel, Daughter of Zion. It’s a collection of jazz and blues, mostly Nina Simone. It helps me get where I need to be to write. I clean up and cook while it’s playing.

8:00: I listen with headphones to focus. YouTube’s commercials drive me crazy; maybe that’s the point. I end up buying tons of singles from iTunes. I still haven’t found my song for Daughter of Zion. I wrote almost all of Descendants of Hagar to N’dambi’s “Ode 2 Nina,” on repeat.

10:30: I’m online looking for slang words from early 1900’s and researching a character’s hometown. I find pictures of women who lived there. Then, I research ways to sell my novel.

11:00 I check my email. The Advocate has posted something about Descendants of Hagar. It reads weird, like I wrote the article. I tell my girlfriend. She follows my exposure online and tells me excitedly how many times the article has been retweeted. I’m always in disbelief the book is being recognized.

Thursday, June 19

8:15 AM: I wake up before my alarm goes off at nine. I start counting how much time I have before I have to be at work, then how much time I have before I need to be in the car on the way to work. I have ADD, so I lose track of time frequently. An hour feels like a few minutes. I always have to be wearing a watch or looking at a clock to keep track of my day.

Nik Nicholson

Nik Nicholson

I grab my clock, the one with the huge digital numbers, and take it with me as I leave the bedroom. I also turn off the alarm so it doesn’t go off while I’m in the shower and wake my girlfriend.

9:30: I eat something then pick out clothes for work. There are so many things to be done that I’m exhausted thinking about them. I’ve got to clean my office and do laundry. I get paid today; that money is usually spent before it is deposited.

10:45: I’ve got to be out of the door by 11:15 to be at work by noon. I loosely commit to not doing any more research for Daughter of Zion and decide to focus on finishing my poetry book, Seeking Sex Without Armor.

Friday, June 20

7:45 AM: I wake up clear. I post on Facebook, again, that I’m still contemplating, “Is God here to make you happy? Are you here to make God happy?” I want to hear other people’s thoughts. I don’t want them to just “like” it. Today, I acknowledge that God is a spirit, as I am. Today, I acknowledge that no one else is responsible for my happiness, including God. So now, I’m wondering why God exists, or why I exist for that matter.

Saturday, June 21

I wake up in the middle of the night. I don’t know how long I’m in bed before I check the clock. It’s 2:45 AM.

I come out of the bedroom. If I can’t sleep, I should work, I think, chastising myself. I don’t have time to waste. I am always writing, thinking about writing or trying to figure out ways to sell my book. I’m so consumed that my friendships are being challenged. I never want to hang out. I feel guilty whenever I’m not writing, researching or plotting.

I turn my computer on. It notifies me there has been an error that required it to shut down. I can’t find the B&P document unless I “search” it. When it comes up, it’s blank. I don’t journal daily, but because of this project, I’ve been leaving my laptop on and open, so I will remember to say something about the day.

I can’t remember what I wrote. I’m upset. I try to read research. I consider going to the gym, but my girlfriend worries about me going to the gym in the middle of the night. Honestly, I’m kind of afraid of our alley at certain times.

I’m starving. Weight is a huge issue. I hate the way I look. I hate taking pictures.

I check the fridge to see what I can eat that doesn’t have too many calories. I drink water and worry that I’m gaining the weight I’d lost. More importantly, I’m no longer losing weight. If I eat, I have to stay up. I’m not committed to staying up, and I can’t go to sleep on calories. So I go back to bed.

I wake up around 9 AM and decide to experiment. I make pancakes with almond milk. I’m surprised by how well they’ve turned out. They really taste like I used milk.

My girlfriend reminds me that I have an interview in an hour. I tell her it’s on Eastern Time, so it’s actually in about fifteen minutes, which makes her anxious. My nerves are bad, too. I’ve been trying not to think about this interview.

I am outgoing in social settings, but it’s different when I’m being interviewed; I’m different in front of an audience, and this is going to be recorded. My voice will be captured somewhere online even after I’m dead. It’s crazy.

My phone is broken, so I have to call in from my computer, which means every move I make in the privacy of my own home is being heard and recorded. It also means I can’t psych myself into believing that I’m having a casual conversation.

10:45 AM: As soon as I log in, I hear the host, Claudia Moss, already speaking and laughing. Claudia informs us that she hasn’t started recording yet. I remember that Tony Valenzuela, the executive director of Lambda Literary Foundation, is on the phone. I feel like I’ve just strapped into a roller coaster.

I greet Tony, anyway. It’s such a huge honor. I stammer over whatever I say. I don’t feel that I’ve made a very good impression. At some point, once we are recording, I tell SJ Sindu that she is pretty and that I’m researching her as we talk. So I’m on a recording sounding like a stalker.  Awesome!

Claudia is a sister friend of mine, and it feels wrong to be speaking with her for an audience, but I push myself.  I am grateful that my girlfriend goes to take a shower and leaves me alone in the living room.

I hate reading in front of people. It’s one of the reasons I memorize my poetry. Still, I read from Descendants of Hagar.  All the while, my girlfriend is walking around naked, dancing to distract me whenever it’s my time to speak. Then, she stands in front of me and just listens, still naked. My computer is loud enough that she could go into another room. It adds another layer of awkwardness.

I have a good time with Claudia as always, but I’m relieved when it’s over.

I’m emotionally drained. I run over all the things that I must have done wrong. I’ll never listen to that show. I hate my voice. I don’t like to hear recordings of me speaking unrehearsed.

1:00 PM: I do some research for ways to push my book. I read a little from the great migration book I’m reading. Then, I cook some meat I set out the night before. I go back to the tried and true seasoning salt. I’ve gotten fancy and failed a lot. Today, I’m tired of trying things and pushing myself. The chicken comes out good, which reaffirms sticking to the straight lines that I often abandon.

3:00: I take a cold shower. I also wash my hair again. Apparently, it’s too soon to wash it again, but I do it anyway, because I plan to twist it.

7:00: When it’s time to twist my locs, I’m tired, but I have to do it. After completing one section, my arms are sore. My hair grows like a weed; it’s longer than it’s ever been. Hair is a luxury. I can’t afford to have my locs retwisted regularly, and I’m tired of doing it myself. I could pay for a haircut every few weeks.

While writing this, I notice that my Word program highlights “retwisting” and “locs” as spelling errors, all the language for black hair being not known.

Sunday, June 22

2:30 AM: I’m still up, researching ways to market my book, keeping a journal for my B&P, and writing letters to leaders of reading groups who might enjoy Descendants of Hagar. When I stand, my legs tell me how tired I actually am. I crawl back into bed beside my girlfriend.

8:45: I wake up before the alarm goes off, alone. My girlfriend is gone. I eat microwave popcorn for breakfast. I’m looking forward to work because I miss my coworkers and I know I’m off tomorrow.

At work, a coworker reminds me that I have a chocolate mint plant growing in the break room that I need to buy and take home.

When I get off work, the plant becomes an event. I not only buy the plant, I go to Home Depot for soil. Since I’m there, I also buy a cilantro plant, because when I buy cilantro, I feel too much comes in the package for how I use it. I think it’d be cool to grow my own and just use what I need.

When I get in, my girlfriend isn’t home because our bedroom light is off. I go cut the bedroom light on for comfort. When I flip the switch I find her naked and asleep. So I turn it back off and quietly exit.

I drill holes in free plastic pots that I’ve gotten from work so the plants can drain. I plan to paint the pots and replace the outer pots, but not tonight. I also fantasize about painting pots and selling them. I read up on growing healthy cilantro and mint plants. It doesn’t look too good for the cilantro. I’m glad that the mint plant is basically a weed and can’t die as long as I water and feed it. I also like that the mint plant grows year-round. It’ll even flourish in the house during winter. I consider all the pots I’ve collected and fantasize about growing mint all over the house.  Lavender would be nice, too.

8:30 PM: I go to my office to see what I can get into. I’ve decided to finish my poetry book. I’ve got some library books about the writer’s market on my reading shelf. Then, I notice a package on my desk. It’s the manuscript I’ve been checking the mail for daily. It’s from another lesbian writer I met online, one who owns a publishing company.

I’m excited and nervous. I remember that I should have asked for the first twenty pages. I only edit what I want to read. My schedule is so tight that I’ve learned it’s painful to edit projects that don’t move me. I’d rather decline.

Monday, June 23

I’m still up at 2:45 AM reading the manuscript. I’m pleasantly surprised by how well it’s written. I wonder if it’s already had one edit. Most books should have at least three editors. I am usually the first of the three because I do content editing. People don’t always follow this order.

I make notes while reading. I take the book to bed with me and read it until I fall asleep.

10:30: I wake up with just a little time to get ready for work. I want to write the writer of the book and tell her how much I’m enjoying the story. On the other hand, the Internet is down and I’m not in the mood to text.

8:45 PM: As soon as I get in from work, I jump into the book I’m editing.

William Johnson photo

About: William Johnson

William Johnson is the former Deputy Director of Lambda Literary.

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