Who’s Your Daddy is Arisa White's debut poetic memoir for which, with funding from the Center for Cultural Innovation in Los Angeles, she was able to go to Guyana, South America, to meet her father after 30-plus years of estrangement. With this same artist grant, White was able to offer community workshops for people to write letters to their own absent fathers, and some of those letters became centos in the collection.
Poet Terrance Hayes writes that Who’s Your Daddy “gives us archives, allegories, and wholly new songs.” It is a collection of healing and repair, which took White seven years to complete, starting in her Jesus Year. Through the lyric, she attempts to renovate her relationship with her father, patriarchy, and masculinity from the absence he gave.
Much of Arisa White's poetry and contemplative practice have been informed by the spiritual writings and dharma talks of Rev. angel Kyodo williams Sensei, most recently her coauthored book Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation. Their relationship has spanned two decades, starting in White's late teens in Brooklyn, New York. williams belief in personal inner transformation for collective outer change is the spiritual love force that undergirds Who’s Your Daddy.
In this convening of White and williams, they address sustaining a creative practice that honors their being and queer blackness, the contemplative arts as muse and form, and how the question of 'who’s your daddy' is not only personal but an opportunity to reflect on the political power and social control that story—the ones we tell ourselves and ones told about us—has on our daily lives.
Arisa White is a Cave Canem fellow and an assistant professor of creative writing at Colby College. She is the author of four books, including the poetry collection You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened and Hurrah’s Nest. She is the coauthor of Biddy Mason Speaks Up, the second book in the Fighting for Justice Series for young readers, which won the Maine Literary Book Award for Young People’s Literature and the Nautilus Book Award Gold Medal for Middle-Grade Nonfiction. As the creator of the Beautiful Things Project, Arisa curates poetic collaborations that center narratives of queer and trans people of color. She serves on the board of directors for Foglifter and Nomadic Press. Find her at arisawhite.com.
Rev. angel Kyodo williams Sensei was once called “the most intriguing African-American Buddhist” by Library Journal, and “one of our wisest voices on social evolution” by Krista Tippett, Rev. angel Kyodo williams Sensei, is an author, maverick spiritual teacher, master trainer and founder of Transformative Change. She has been bridging the worlds of personal transformation and justice since the publication of her critically-acclaimed book, Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living With Fearlessness and Grace. Being Black was hailed as “an act of love” by Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Walker and “a classic” by Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield. Her new co-authored book, Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love & Liberation, is a powerful wake-up journey that is igniting communities — activist, Buddhist and beyond — to have the conversations necessary to become more awake and aware of what hinders liberation of self and society. The Radical Dharma events that have emerged from the book: Connections, Circles and Conversations, have initiated profound healing and deepened commitment to dismantling oppression across lines of race, class, gender, sexual orientation and other divides.
Ordained as a Zen priest, she is a Sensei, the second black woman recognized as a teacher in the Japanese Zen lineage. She is a social visionary that applies wisdom teachings and embodied practice to intractable social issues at the intersections where race, climate, and economic justice meet. She coined the name for the field of “Transformative Social Change” and sees it as America’s next great movement. In recognition of her work, Rev. angel received the first Creating Enlightened Society Award from the international Shambhala Community. Both fierce and grounded, she is known for her unflinching willingness to both sit with and speak uncomfortable truths with love. Her work has been widely covered, including in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Ms., Essence and Buddhadharma. angel notes, “Love and justice are not two. Without inner change, there can be no outer change. Without collective change, no change matters.” Whether in writing, teaching or speaking, her voice is unique. She was made for these times. Find her at angelkyodowilliams.com.
CHARLES STANG: Good evening, everyone. My name is Charles Stang, and I'm the Director for the Center for the Study of World Religions here at Harvard Divinity School. Welcome to this evening's event on Arisa White's new book, Who's Your Daddy? Thank you, Arisa, for joining us this evening. And thank you, Rev. Angel.
Who's Your Daddy is Arisa White's debut poetic memoir for which, with funding from the Center for Cultural Innovation in Los Angeles, she was able to go to Guyana, South America to meet her father after 30-plus years of estrangement. And with this same grant, she was able to offer community workshops for people to write letters to their own absent fathers. And some of those letters became centos in the collection.
Poet Terrance Hayes writes that, Who's Your Daddy quote "gives us archives allegories and holy new songs." It's a collection of healing and repair, which took White seven years to complete, starting at age 33, her Jesus year. Through the lyric, she attempts to renovate her relationship with her father, the patriarchy, and masculinity from the absence he left in her life.
Much of Arisa White's poetry and contemplative practice have been informed by the spiritual writings and Dharma talks of Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams Sensei, most recently her co-authored book, Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation. Their relationship has spanned two decades, starting in White's late teens in Brooklyn, New York. Williams' belief in personal transformation for collective outer change is the spiritual love force that undergirds Who's Your Daddy.
In this evening's convening of White and Williams, they will address such issues as sustaining a creative practice that honors their being and queer Blackness, the contemplative arts as muse and forum, and how the question of, who's your daddy, is not only personal but an opportunity to reflect on the political power and social control, that story the ones we tell ourselves, and the ones told about us has on our daily lives.
Arisa White is a [INAUDIBLE] fellow and an assistant professor of creative writing at Colby College. She's the author of four books, including the poetry collection, You're the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, and Hurrah's Nest. She's the co-author of Biddy Mason Speaks Up, the second book in the fighting for justice series for young readers, which won the main literary book award for young people's literature and the Nautilus Book Award gold medal for middle grade nonfiction. As the creator of The Beautiful Things Project, Arisa curates poetic collaborations that center narratives of queer and trans people of color. She serves on the board of directors for Foglifter and Nomadic Press.
Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams Sensei was once called, quote "the most interesting African-American Buddhist" by Library Journal and quote "one of the wisest voices on social evolution" by Krista Tippett. Rev. Angel is an author, spiritual teacher, master trainer, and founder of transformative change. She's been bridging the worlds of personal transformations and justice since the publication of her critically acclaimed book, Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living with Fearlessness and Grace. Being Black was hailed as a quote unquote "act of love" by Pulitzer Prize winner, Alice Walker, and a quote unquote "classic" by Buddhist teacher, Jack Kornfield.
Her new co-authored book which, I've already mentioned, Radical Dharma Talking Race, Love, and Liberation, is a powerful wake up journey that is igniting communities-- activist communities, Buddhist communities, and many others-- to have the conversations necessary to become more awake and more aware of what hinders liberation of self and society. The radical Dharma events that have emerged from the book-- connections, circles, and conversations-- have initiated profound healing and deepened commitment to dismantling oppression across lines of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and other divides.
Ordained as a zen priest, Rev. Angel is a sensei, the second Black woman recognized as a teacher in the Japanese zen lineage. She's a social visionary that applies wisdom teachings and embodied practice to intractable social issues at the intersections of race and climate and economic justice. She coined the name for the field of transformative social change. And she sees it as America's next great movement.
In recognition of her work, Rev. Angel received the first creating enlightened society award from the International shambhala community. Both fierce and grounded, she's known for her unflinching willingness to both sit with and speak uncomfortable truths with love. Her work has been widely covered, including The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Ms., Essence, and Buddhadharma. Whether in writing, teaching, or speaking, hers is a unique voice for our time.
Thank you both again for joining us. And thank you, all of you who are joining us from around the country, around the world. Here's how the evening's event will unfold. Arisa will introduce her book and read selections from it. Rev. Angel will offer a response. And then the two of them will engage in a conversation.
At an appropriate time, probably around six PM, we'll pivot to questions and comments from you, from the audience, which I will read out to our two guests. So I will disappear from your screen until it's time for the Q&A function. So without further ado, once again, welcome Arisa and Rev. Angel. Arisa, the floor is yours.
ARISA WHITE: Thank you so much, Charlie, for that introduction. It was just beautiful to hear all of the amazing accomplishments we have accomplished and just the amount of work we're doing around healing and love and difficult truths and sitting in that and our own creativity. So I'm going to read mostly from the second section of Who's Your Daddy. And this section I think, really, establishes the spiritual crisis in the book, where things start to fall apart and not go along as planned, where the absence of the father is showing up in harmful behaviors and making a presence known in my dynamics in such a way where I'm unable to fully show up in the way that I want to be.
And so I'll jump around that section just to kind of establish some of the heart work that I had to do and where it was hurting. And I think that is what moved me along this particular journey to reunite with my father and reunite with an aspect of myself that felt distant and gone and to touch it. OK.
On a visit to my mother in New Jersey from the Bay Area, where I lived post graduate school, she takes a long good look at me. She's transported, updating her visual, taking stock of what she saw last against what's now. Her eyes treasure a find.
You have Gerald's hands. Your feet are his too. I pulled my hands and feet closer to where we belong. In that way, you draw people to you, she says, that's his charm. I have a shango dream. Uraba, god of fire, lightning and thunder, depicted with a double ax, a white and red wedding. I wear red Converses, a monarch train, my arms free of fathers.
Being sister told me to be careful not to sweep them feet as a young girl. You want to not get married? I swept the floor, swept every love child inch of my body from the [? thing ?] my mother chased.
Truth be told, under certain weather, a young girl becomes a weak woman. Cloudy heart, spine partly, I felt the pressure of an adult front, proposed three different times drunk to the same ax. I couldn't vow to a blade that knew my insides soft. I'm already of split definition.
I'm not sorry for my one-way streets, my way or the highway, manly waters incompatible with my sex. Swear by my cocksure shine. Don't believe one person can give you all that you need. Polyamory is the way to burnish.
I'm not your daddy. Will not top you to stay. You are your own bottom. I work at pleasing me because I can't please you. And that's why I do what I do.
I'm not trying to be in love. I'm searching for a new preposition, discerning and cautious about who gets close to me. My trust is earned. Love is a verb and is space in not asking me where I'm going all of the time. I panic at the knowledge of my own real existence. My attachments are to memories-- light bulbs, cardstock, dreams, immaterial drops of golden sun.
Let's remain under the spell of objectification. Once the chase is done, I eat a sweet thing. Unconditional love is a boat that has sailed. Conditions Now, apply.
From home to globe, I know the extremes of people. My hate is a soluble line. I take all sides, shapeshift, my moods and language mutable, too slippery for words and evaluation.
I am used to being unaffected and misrepresented. I live short and fine, as the doll most nested. My bath water is nobody's business, my complaints squeakless. I burp. And goddamn, Gerald is noisome and stinky.
I walk with a poet friend around Lake Merritt, all its miles starting from the East and then returning East. The hour holds us in amber. I say to my friend, I'm ready to be a woman who's matured her femininity, who appreciates all that has gotten me through, that has gotten me here, a grown ass woman, not subdued by shame, I set forth. Several double crested cormorants surface from a deep dive in the lake's brackish waters. Their wings spread to dry, and geese fly in arrowhead formation.
Nobody ever told you all you must hold onto is you, is you, is you. I say fuck soft enough to not disturb my shame. The blood from my finger turns the water pink. I'm cutting fatherlessly.
I can no longer deny that's how missing begins, attention on so many things I show up in fractions, then divisions. And no one ever sees me. It's a challenge. I'm in a situation. And what I do is offer a maze that bobs and weaves a new style whenever there's a demand to love one only. And Monday way is Aqua Net.
My heart-- swollen, sad-- shifts me into a strange shape. I excuse myself from public. The city doesn't have the same charisma anymore, was told never make your friends choose. No one chose me. No one called. I'm so thirsty I drink an entire birthday, so lonely I knit a cave. I fear I may run into old friends and fall into old rivers.
I'm talking to my boss one afternoon. And to my surprise, I say, I'm lonely. There is no metaphor between me and lonely. I've been putting people between me and lonely. Said, I'm in love to send lonely away.
I've been achieving and succeeding, and I'm still paying off student loans and being a literary citizen, a second class citizen and, once, regarded as nobody at all. I'm lonely. So quiet and lonely. I masturbate next to me, sleeping. I never wake.
I take extra time rubbing Shea butter on my feet, legs, hips, and ass, slow dance solo to guava jelly. Who else to love me tall, Stuart, my desire? Who else greased my scalp, braid rows of corn and cane that map my beauty and liberty?
Monday way wants me to account for my shadow, wants to know why I am not. She sees what I am doing as insufficient information. Her operations interrogate the negative. But I'm here, looking behind me and lonely. Someone come hug me.
My mother said, you raise your daughters and love your sons. Gave me her face and said to herself, who's going to take care of you? Testing if I absorbed her logics, her belief if there's a will, there's a way. I've been laying will and making do.
And we knew this growing up Black girls and handclapping, trying to make a dollar out of $0.15. She missed, she missed, she missed like this. And we made X's and O's with our arms and legs, so we remembered to hug and kiss ourselves. I cheated to hug myself blue in the face.
I haunt my studio apartment, aggrieved. When you put the pieces back together, scars look crueler than the original stitch. What used to be a treat for Fridays and Saturdays every hour now of 4:20. I take bong hits like my last breath, my only breath, just to keep breathing.
I stand in the coat check line to get my jacket and get the fuck out of the club. Monday way is heated, found my slow whine with a man vulgar. My view, the guy had moves and was a tall memory in which I could escape. His cologne, a breeze of body water. The bossa nova synched our bodies to a rhythm uncolonizable. No borders between us, his curves like see beneath me, we wend and blend our bodies like horizon. And finally, I was coming up for air.
For each syllable, Monday way's finger jabs my chest, a stream of fuck, bitch, slut, you want to suck his duck like your thumb. And then she spits on me. It lands on my jeans' right thigh, the jeans distressed and black. And her spit makes a darker stain. I take Monday way's marking in no nonviolent way. See a history of racism and lose it. Fight hard until bouncer's separate me from her, tell me to take my coat and go into the chill.
An early morning night, I'm in shock and shaking. I pick up my pace, pick it up some more. The lights in the master's house were never off. My breath goes out burning, comes out rough, My, body lost to the same old fault lines. I run from Monday way's fire, run to outrun the body's invention.
I stop beneath the lake's necklace of lights to vomit. I failed in what I loved and what I didn't love. Where am I to go?
My therapist says, we attract the people who are going to help us heal what we came to heal in this lifetime. It is convenient for Monday way to label me the cheater and not claim her role, the one willing to pursue another in a relationship, to court with jewelry and time. This is the cruelty of her honesty.
She doesn't reveal herself in the process, doesn't allow her vulnerability to be here with me. She doesn't care for my dignity, for the presence of esteem. In her assessment of my character-- so causal and very little spiral-- she's asking for a death. But she is no wake to celebrate its home going, more executioner than I'm willing to offer my neck.
I exist within a cosmology of experiences, her critiques supported by her routine, standards, and world worldview, volleying between two poles of right and wrong that don't serve nobody. Causing harm and founts of resentment, there's a soluble line between love and hate.
Without dignity I am naked before a crowd. I reinstate walls to defend. Without dignity I can't hear another's truth. My body is tuned to the ring shout of voices saying, you're the beauty your ancestors dream. I self preserve. I don't show mine if you don't show yours.
Our desires are made in our entire image. I fooled myself into expecting my desire to take a shape holier than I. Come to find out, every grown ass woman has her grown ass girl. Monday way occasions what default behavior looks like. It is so unkind and unloving to yourself and others because you've subsumed an authentic part of yourself to activate it, reduced the other person to some triggering trope. And so both parties go missing in the exchange. I see this in myself now.
I could have killed her. Old she, I was, she I sometimes wish I could be, she who didn't know better, didn't voice in protest, she who doesn't hold herself in the confidence I hold all others. I'm negative below in myself. A heart shaking where my fists used to be. Anger need someone, someone not loving me.
I stare into Lake Merritt and welcome returning to water, not those fitful instances when tears are running, snot and spit reminding me of my elemental kinship, but the deep Sankofa longing to go back and get what I've forgotten. Trying to put strength in my voice and convince myself I'm more than, what?
I speak to a dear friend. She hears my walls breaking, says, Arisa, it's OK to be human? Human? How to be human when conditioned not to be? Confusion takes the thought of walking into oncoming traffic from my feet. I go home instead.
My therapist says, I've gone from an open field, a complete clearing where Earth pauses from making anything tall to a seed encased in its shell. Our love is a tight squeeze. I disappear by implosion to feel that clearing between the forest of my worlds. I've lost the beauty I've imagined for myself in her critical gaze.
My mercurial wit, ludic ways, erotic fire and ice, the shore is given over to the plea. Please see that I am a parallel truth. Please take care in how you choose to speak to me. I don't know how to ask for this.
My therapist says, what is loving about this relationship with Monday way is your courage to rescue yourselves from being subsumed. Bringing light to the dark, dark to light, I attract a person who calls checkmate. Queen, let your heart break, who deals in the invariable facts and energetics of the body, how it's showing up here and now, how it feels, what it needs, and the depth and quality of my body's relationship to itself and others.
Wants me to care about these things, to be present and live news stories. Imagine how good that could be. Monday ways says in a voicemail, you can't forgive me until you get inside your heart and grow.
At the darkest hour, there is no demand to show. To dissemble, to give, I unhook my breast to spill to gravity, sink into the bath. Orange blossoms stick to my skin like mother's kisses and overdue apologies. The peppermint soap mentholates and constellates my interior.
Stars go through the Florida water to shine. Deep breaths open my tight chest. And I feel how running has taken more than given. I rub my heart with the heel of my palm.
And my heart stays voicing. Find your father. Find what's missing there. Find what is enough. Find yourself whole. Forgive and be forgiven.
My mother says, she has an address in Guyana. You want to write your father? It is through inflection she makes her directives questions. She doesn't intonate high, just enough so her implicit meaning isn't lost to freedom of personal choice. I feel my face up against the bluest door, and it's about to open.
So I haven't really read those sections all together and out loud. And I can just like, oh god. I'm going to cry.
REV. ANGEL KYODO WILLIAMS SENSEI: Indeed. So that's what I got. [INAUDIBLE] was just the [INAUDIBLE]. I feel as somebody that has-- for those of you that don't know, Arisa and I have a long time of our lives spent in parallel in different places, sometimes close, sometimes separated by the land mass we call the United States.
ARISA WHITE: Yeah.
REV. ANGEL KYODO WILLIAMS SENSEI: [INAUDIBLE] been in each other's lives for a long time, since you were--
ARISA WHITE: Like 16, 15.
REV. ANGEL KYODO WILLIAMS SENSEI: [INAUDIBLE] 15.
ARISA WHITE: I know I know. I just think about that moment. I was driving down like Fulton Street past Cocoa Bar and saw that-- well, driving in the car with my mom and just saw that Cocoa Bar there. And I was like, I'm going to that place.
REV. ANGEL KYODO WILLIAMS SENSEI: So in addition to the zen teacher presentation, I had another life in which I owned the first internet of-- they would call it internet cafe in Brooklyn. And at, really, the newest sprouting of black bohemian Brooklyn Fort Greene. And that is the beginning of Arisa and I's story and journey.
And in reading, preparing for-- I don't know-- preparing is just a real stretch to say this is just my being with my friends. I just felt the-- I felt coursing through your life that, as a person who doesn't live with you, I had glimpses of, but I felt so drawn into like, oh, I remember-- yeah, like that. And maybe I didn't know about this incident or that incident but felt the arc.
And what has always-- and I'm sitting here-- I'm sitting here with several of [INAUDIBLE] Arisa's book [INAUDIBLE]. And then I was like, wait a minute. I don't have a beautiful-- I don't have beautiful things. Can you please send me a copy?
And I'm always-- and it's been since the beginning of our time together, which I expect to be for the rest of our lives. I've just always been struck by your ability to hone in to what was going on that was not being said. And I always felt that. And I feel the sharpening of that in your words over time.
And I'm curious about the ways in which your own-- well, just, what are the practices that you have felt have given you such-- it's more than just words. It's a mental acuity and a dexterity that has to both be willing to see oneself and then and report on oneself because there's a seeing oneself, and then what you're doing here is reporting on yourself in a way that invites others of us in. I'm sure that many people here that would listen to this would know that if most of us-- if we head out to report on ourselves, it would just sound like gobbledygook.
So [INAUDIBLE]. Somebody read my mind. I was like, I don't want anybody in here. They would just be lost and get sticky stuff on them. It feels only fit for me. That's the power. You make legible, and legible in an embodied way, the things that feel for most of us intelligible in our own beings. It feels unintelligible for me inside here. And you put it out there and make it possible in some ways now for me to not just have a glimpse into you but a glimpse to myself. Tell me the magic of that. Tell us all the magic of that. What practices give rise to that?
ARISA WHITE: I think the magic came from the closet. As a young person-- I'm from a large family, one of seven siblings. And often, we were living in close quarters with each other, just constant activity and different personalities. And I would just take-- I would just take a retreat in the closet and just--
REV. ANGEL KYODO WILLIAMS SENSEI: Oh you mean that closet.
ARISA WHITE: Literally, I was in the closet.
ARISA WHITE: This is no metaphorical closet. This is the closet in the house. I often think about it. It's like, what moved me to find that? And I just think it was this sense of like, I wasn't able to really gather all of my parts in the activity and the chaos of my family. And so I would need these moments to just gather energy up again, to rejuvenate, to recover, whatever it is.
And in that dark, quiet space amongst the outfits of people, I would talk. I would talk out loud just to think about my thoughts and just to hear it in that space and not have it compete with the other voices of my siblings or the demands that I had to meet within the family structure.
So that became this practice where I recognized that there is something fulfilling about being with a bunch of people, being in community. But it takes away from me having a clarity to myself or having a sense of how I'm really feeling, because just as I've come to understand about my personality, I pick up on everything. I'm sensitive. I'm moved when you're moved. And for a while, I thought that was a flaw in my character until I learned how to work with it and be in stillness with it and talk with it and recognize that the things that I was feeling were pointing to what I need to do next or what I need to experience next.
And I've just practiced these ways of just being quiet and walking or going off on a retreat at least once a year just to synthesize some project that I'm working on. But what I found is that poetry, and specifically this creative energy that I have, creates this room, this space for me to enter. And in that space, I get to bear witness to all of who I am, to all of those different identities and, as well, to what the identities are not pointing to. And then I get to see what is real and what is fake according to how my own body is operating in the space.
And so poems just became these rooms I could create. And once I realized that-- and that was somewhere around high school when I-- I think I was going to spoken word events at Brooklyn Moon and Brooklyn, Fort Greene, and just kind of noticing the ways in which the poems are creating space for us to have conversation about the world, for us to bear witness to who we are more completely, and then to gather folks around that so I didn't feel alone.
And then I also think about just-- for a while, I was doing sitting meditation. And you definitely introduced me to that. And I remember one time I was sitting. I was like, this is a poem for me. This is what it feels like when I'm writing, when I'm in this creative habit. And especially too how, if I'm thinking about the fact that the poem is happening all of the time, I just need to find ways to stay present to that, to document, to feel it. And after a while, the world just opens up in this really special and beautiful way where you start to see the patterns and organization of things just for what it is.
And then once that becomes available to me, I take it, and I bring it to the work, especially when I'm on retreats. I'm always in this these woodland places. And so I find myself falling in love with trees. And trees start to function as bodies for me.
But mostly, they function as this poetic form, where I'm often thinking about the trunk of the tree is like the poem itself that everyone gets to read. But in order for it to really function well, it needs to have that subterranean stuff that's feeding it. What's the dark things we don't talk about?
What's happening in those quiet places, those silence places? What are the things that are put in the shadow? And then thinking about how to bring it into presence so that everyone else can see it as useful for their lives and not have it be this poem of so much trauma and tragedy that I'm only then creating that effect in another person. So the poem also taught me to be responsible in a way as well.
And I really think too-- I love shaking. It's just a practice or just shaking my hands and dancing and doing all of those really fun things. And I think play is a huge part of my practice in trying to really hone in on things because I can't be too miserable while I'm writing. I have to go in with a sense of joy, with a sense of-- with a sense of light, and even the sense of hope, and hope being the art making practice in and of itself, this way of shaping the shameful things into something reusable and usable by myself and others.
REV. ANGEL KYODO WILLIAMS SENSEI: So that's, from the outside, really helpful because I think so much-- and I have the blessing of knowing many people that are creative. And some of them are iconic. And yet they're shaped inside of tragedy. Their stories and the ways that they speak about the tragedy-- and as Black, queer women in these United States of America, tragedy could be such an easy-- can be so easily within our reach.
And I feel that what I always sense and what you know just shared and illuminated to, is this choice to take that and not just have it be this voyeuristic thing or just an informational thing-- it was just like, OK, this is information, because I feel there's many ways, especially in the era of everybody has a platform and a bullhorn and their own little thing to stand on and yell out at the world about the things that have occurred to them-- that it's so easy in some ways for that to be in desperation, to have some kind of attention that the narrative of our tragedy and how this allows us to become tragedy and become tragic, and that have chosen to not do that.
And that is, I think, not just a gift. It feels the gift of that, in my experience, often comes with age. [INAUDIBLE] It's like 50. We hit 50. And often women says like, oh, now we can stop caring. As people that [INAUDIBLE] women [INAUDIBLE], you can stop caring because your kids are out of the house, so-- all of the things that you were supposed to be.
So I want to hear more about the-- we have choices at any given moment. And each one unfolds a path. It unfolds something before us. And there's so many possibilities. I've witnessed them in your life, of ways that you could have chosen to unfold your own life and make the choices, so for instance the choice of returning to woodland so that you can have that quiet. So that's choosing that quiet. And as a person that did not come from the woods, who grew up in-- what do you think informs that, informs the willingness to make the choices for yourself that empowers you to choose how you're going to shape what could be tragic and in case it in the possibility of hope?
ARISA WHITE: Yeah. Sometimes I just feel so blessed to be a poet because it has been what has helped me make choices along the way. And so it comes from that desire to find quiet and cultivate that quiet. And when doing so, I learn my own home place where I can return to. And when I'm feeling disjointed by the world, that home place is with me. And I began nurturing as a young person.
And then, poetry started to feel like that home place as well. And then, after recognizing that this is what I want to do, what I want to pursue in my life, especially when most folks were like, what are you going to do with poetry? I can't make sense of this for you. Maya Angelou is your only option, or be a teacher.
So because there was no clear path, I really had to learn to listen deeply to myself and learn to trust my intuition. And there would just be times when I didn't listen to my intuition. And I'd be like, darn it. I didn't I didn't listen.
And every time I would course correct. It was like, now we need to learn how to listen differently. We need to learn how to quiet ourselves down a little bit differently so that you can hear when spirit or intuition is speaking to you.
And each time, whenever-- it's almost like when something would sort of glimmer in that dark path that I couldn't quite figure out where I was going. It would always be connected to poetry. It would be a poet. It would be a mentor.
It would just be these words. It would be a poem. It would be a professor saying to me, do you want to do a PhD in sociology? Or do you want to do an MFA in poetry? And each time I'm like, poetry.
So I think just being very clear and having mentors and having guides and people who saw that creative energy in me, constantly nurturing me along the way and saying, yes, go that way, go towards the poem, go towards poetry, has-- at some times I felt like I wanted to be a lawyer because that was a much more clear path that would produce some recognizable income. But finding my way along this particular path has taught me to even be more creative, to trust myself even more deeply. And that has just been an amazing thing to witness in myself.
And age plays a huge part in that. I sent you a text message. And I was like, I'm turning 40. It feels good already because the 30s were dirty. It was a hard decade. And to think that this book really started with my mom asking me during my-- I turned 33, my Jesus year.
There was a kind of rebirth. There was a death. There was a resurrection. A lot of things weren't falling into place. Who I thought of myself was crumbling. It wasn't working anymore.
And a lot of that had to do with the ways in which I was performing a good behavior, a good daughter, a good girlfriend, a good worker. And I got tired of good because good I didn't feel like it was sustaining me or it was really giving me anything that made me feel good about myself.
So at that particular moment, when my mom asked if I wanted to write Gerald in Guyana, I didn't know what to say. I didn't know what to do. And so what I decided was that I'm going to let poetry help me along this journey.
And so in that space of the poem, just began thinking about, what would I say to my father? What does he need to know? And then that became, who am I? And to think about myself as someone who was constructed through a maternal existence and now to think about myself in this paternal way just felt like, this is actually a space for me to be creative.
If I cast this in a larger conversation about Black families and the Black matriarch and deadbeat fathers, it will make me feel shameful, that kind of narrative. But then at the same time, I recognized this is a space for me to determine how I am going to present who I am to this person that was a part of my making and then left. And I had to think about, what is true to me? What's a value? Where does it hurt? How was hurt showing itself, and especially how hurt was showing itself around ideas of masculinity and being violent in these ways to control a situation? And that's like the way in which I knew Father, in which I knew man, and the way in which I could make sense of this masculine energy that I felt was actually bubbling up and coming into existence at that time.
So the poem was really this place for me to sit with what I knew and what I could construct of myself and to pick and choose. And I think there's something too about being Black, being queer, being woman, an outsider on the margins and the liminal spaces of society is that, we can shape shift. We can construct and determine and disobey in so many ways the narratives that want to hold us in place. And so I started to use that as my power. And in embracing that power, I felt like I could be able to confront the father in a way where I was a far more authentic and whole being.
And so when I met Gerald, it really felt like I was-- in some ways, you can say I was sort of sassy. But I got to be all of the elements of myself. I didn't get to-- I wasn't going to be that quiet person that's going to be the good girl. I was going to be a grown ass woman in that moment and hold everything with me and not try to hold some-- try to hide some things or try to make myself look good or try to perform as a good daughter to this man because what he taught me is that you can make choices that benefit you.
And in some cases, in doing so, you keep harm at bay because Gerald told me-- he's like, if I was in your life, it wouldn't have been a good thing. And so there was this moment of him even recognizing that his own presence would have caused greater harm to me than his absence. And so really thinking about the ways in which we make choices, it's just not clear cut.
And one of the beautiful things about age is you get to hang out in the gray spot and that just be OK. And that was something for me that just altered me and just changed me, I think, creatively and spiritually as well. Just, something opened up, even in my writing. I wasn't so tight in the metaphor, trying to hide behind the metaphor.
I could expose myself and be open a little bit more and be clear and simple and still have the images there. But I didn't have to hide. And I was hiding before behind my metaphors. And because of that, I felt like I could be more tragic and also reproduce harm in those metaphors because I wasn't there with them.
And when I was writing the children's book, I've learned that the most because I realized there's so much jargonistic language that keeps violence in place, it keeps ignorance in place, it keeps anger in place. And so when thinking that I'm talking to a younger audience, I had to just-- I had to make myself really vulnerable and visible through my words. And that really taught me how to write Who's Your Daddy?
REV. ANGEL KYODO WILLIAMS SENSEI: So there are a few things-- [INAUDIBLE] there's like 1,000 of them. But the one I'll lean into now is-- so there's a couple of times you mentioned, for a time, you did practice mindfulness, meditation. And you've used the term "sit with." Multiple times you've used the same terminology I would say is familiar to people that have a formal meditation or contemplative practice. How do you see your own spiritual-- not your information. But where has your spiritual formation landed you?
ARISA WHITE: I think it's landed me-- it lands me in this place where I don't feel alone. For real, I don't feel alone. It's like my back opened up, like there's a posse back there. And I feel it. I know it. And it has been operating in so many different kinds of ways to tell me, we are here. We're doing good on your behalf.
And so even when I literally sit in a chair with a piece of paper in front of me, moved by some kind of idea or some inspiration is breathing in me, my back opens up. It's really this feeling every time. And it says, I'm a part of something. I'm a part of this collective consciousness, this energy, this web this-- whatever you want to call it, you are in it. And it's being activated . And I feel at the hub of it.
And it's sort of that same-- it's that same energy from the closet, which is always funny when they're like, did you come out of the closet? I'm like, no. I go back a lot to the closet, honestly.
And I think it's also landed me in a place where I don't feel so wanting. I feel quenched in a way. But the impulse to do and be and be successful and do this and do that-- there's a calming on that. I couldn't have said this when I was in my 20s or even in the earlier part of my 30s because I was still testing that ground. I wasn't trusting it.
And then I would also say as well, there's something about dreams. And I think that when I think about-- when I think about my back opening up, I think about how my grandmother dreamed and my mother would dream and the aunties would all dream, and everyone had these dreams that were signaling some future thing or pulling from the past to make sense of what's happening presently. I'm a Pisces. I'm a dreamer. And I really began to just hone in on what my dreams are saying and making space for daydreaming.
I even do that with my students in my classes. I think about, pedagogically, how can I make space for them to just sit, to contemplate, to just stare off? Because there's a certain kind of clarity that comes when [INAUDIBLE] feels far more trust-- I feel a greater sense of trust and belief in other people too because I think being a perfectionist and feeling like I had to be like a good student, a good daughter-- I felt like I was alone. And I couldn't rely on other people. I had to be in authority of my own life.
And when I say authority, I'm thinking specifically of an external force. And so it doesn't-- I don't feel like I'm externalizing anymore. More of me is settling and just allowing myself to be here and not be so afraid.
REV. ANGEL KYODO WILLIAMS SENSEI: Yeah. I imagine that's helpful for many of us because so often, people that are particularly creative-- [INAUDIBLE] what people's creativity is as something that's really solo. And that sense of you're not alone, I think, is really important for people being in and allowing and giving themselves permission for their own creativity, that aloneness-- because the idea of utterly alone-- it's anathema to our humanity to be so alone and I think also ends us up situated in the rugged individualism of--
ARISA WHITE: Exactly.
REV. ANGEL KYODO WILLIAMS SENSEI: --false narrative of American ingenuity and innovation that is somehow this thing alone, which also goes against so much of the culture of people that are marginalized because you-- if you think you can't survive going it alone in the mainstream, trying to go it alone as a marginalized identity, as a queer person, as a Black person-- just an impossible request of people. So I think it's comforting to know that there is a belongingness, there's a connectedness, there's a being with that that is inclusive of the whole people that have your back, that are supportive. So thank you for that.
I know that we're going to take questions. I have one more thing that I really want to ask about.
ARISA WHITE: OK.
REV. ANGEL KYODO WILLIAMS SENSEI: And it's funny because this is the first time we're here. We have some interesting parallels but from really different directions. I have my closet--
ARISA WHITE: Yeah.
REV. ANGEL KYODO WILLIAMS SENSEI: --thing. And I'm not at all seven children-- I was, for the very formative years of my life, an only child-- actually, all my formative years an only child. And also lots of those coursings.
I'm really curious about the-- what you feel like-- you said at some point, Gerald taught me this. What else would you feel-- be willing to share that has Gerald taught you in your--
ARISA WHITE: It's that definitely not one around choice and making choices that really benefit you. And I think in some ways-- and I think he did it-- for me, I feel like he did it in this extreme and self-centered way. And that's just me as a child abandoned. By at the same time, what I saw and that is, for me, to take a lesson of creating boundaries around what I need and learning how to express that without disappearing a person or disappearing a dynamic.
And that has been practice for me, and even more so practice because I have writing as a thing I can go to. So I have to be very attentive when I am being dysfunctional with my writing, when I'm using it as a way to not confront or address the real life person right now in my life causing me problems.
So oftentimes I'll go, I got to write this poem. And then the person is over there being like, when are you going to come back to me with that information? Right when the book gets published.
And so that has been a really-- that has me recognizing the point-- that was a turning point for my writing practice because in some ways, when it started as a young person, it was a way for me to talk back, find my voice, to just express in those moments where I felt like no one else was listening or no one was there to even listen. So it was serving that function.
And then after a while, for it to really become art, it can't always be hanging out in the sad child space of, I'm trying to talk back to someone because no one hears me. And I started to realize the creativity can't thrive and be exciting and fresh in that space. And that's when therapy becomes really helpful to for me to really pull apart the skills I need to develop just as a reset as a human being walking in the world, and then to recognize, what can I use for my writing?
And so there was one time in therapy where I'm going on, just complaining. I'm just blaming blame blame, just playing the blame game. And my therapist says to me, he's like, that's projection. You are projecting. And just started to call out these patterns of behavior and languaging that I was doing.
And he's like, that doesn't work. That doesn't work for everyday, intimate relationships. And I said to him, I was like, where does it work? And he's like, your writing. He's like, that's where you can use that. And I was like, oh, that's totally clear.
So now I understand how I get to show up, make choices that better my everyday relationships, and not bring it to the poem or whatever that may be. So I think that was a lesson. I learned how to put some of those skills to practice with Gerald by establishing clear boundaries and what I can do and what I cannot do.
And that becomes very clear when you're in a dynamic that hasn't fed you. So whereas in a different relationship that has been going on for years, you can get pulled in emotionally and be like, OK, OK, because that relationship has fed you. And so you want to feed it back, even if it's in dysfunctional ways or you're falling into bad patterns of behavior again in that dynamic, you still want to nurture it.
But with someone who wasn't there, it just became very clear. It's like, oh, I can't give that. But we can develop this because I have the capacity for this. And in doing that, I will feel more authentic and not feel like I'm obligated to do this. Because the moment I feel obligated, somewhere along the line, it's going to get sour. It always happens.
So I was able to learn to really just show up as I am and not make any excuses and just be. I don't have to fix anything. I don't have to make this perfect relationship with my father. I don't have to make any relationship with my father. I have so many choices.
And that's really what became available to me because I think our binary and dualistic thinking always puts us-- you have one choice or the other. And that creates so much anxiety and, I think, also so much wounding. And that's why we're all, for the most part, trying to repair these wounds and our coming out of-- I think a lot of-- with all of this wounded state of being, I'm trying to write from the scars. I'm trying to write from the way the body healed and made a new picture on my body and not be so afraid of that.
REV. ANGEL KYODO WILLIAMS SENSEI: Great. Thank you. I know there are questions and people want to get some things to you, so I'll yield to Charles.
CHARLES STANG: Thank you both so much. Thank you, Arisa. Thank you, Rev. Angel. And indeed, there are a number of questions.
The first is not so much a question but just a comment, which I need to read out to you, which is, I wish you could hear our applause. So first of all-- and there's some other comments we'll come to. But that one I wanted to highlight.
So here's a question. Arisa, did your father read your book? And were you thinking about that while writing it? And then this same person wants to thank you for your reading and for this discussion.
ARISA WHITE: Thank you. No, he has not read Who's Your Daddy? So he hasn't read this book, but he has read my other work. He's read my debut collection, Hurrah's Nest.
And so one of the things about this Who's Your Daddy? project, if I'm going to call it that, is that, with this grant that I received from the Center for Cultural Innovation in Los Angeles, I was able to create a self publication of those epistolary poems that I started to write when my mother said, do you want to write him in Guyana and I had no idea. So I just started writing epistolary poems.
So I had maybe like-- I would say close to 100, but I decided to be very symbolic, and I narrowed it down to 33 to represent that Jesus year of rebirth. And so when I went-- so the plan with that grant was to go to Guyana and give him a copy of this self publication called Dear Gerald. So he's read those. He's read that. And I would say Dear Gerald is the first iteration of Who's Your Daddy?
And the really funny thing is that on the cover of the Dear Gerald chapbook that I self published was a picture that I actually thought was of him and me. I think I'm about one years old, and I'm on top of his shoulders. And so when I gave Gerald this book, he's looking at the picture. And he's like, who's this man? That's not me. That's not me.
It was just like, oh, man. Of course it's not you. Why would it be you? And I come to find out later it was my uncle, Butchie, who passed in the late '80s. So I just thought it was this perfect moment of recognizing the presence of my other fathers in my life, which the book also honors-- is my brothers, my uncles, my cousins as that masculine father presence stepping in his absence. Did I answer all of that question?
CHARLES STANG: I think you did. Yeah, I think you did. So here's a comment and a question from Bonnie [INAUDIBLE]. So first of all, she thanks you both for this phenomenal event. And she wants to know whether you've had any impactful mentors in your writing career. Seems as if Rev. Angel might be one.
ARISA WHITE: Yes.
CHARLES STANG: And if you have others, if you could speak to those. And do you have any advice for finding a writing mentor?
ARISA WHITE: Oh, I think the writing mentor comes to you. There have been so many instances where my heart just goes, whoop, that's her. That's him.
And there is one instance where Nikki Finney, the poet, was reading at the Bowery Poetry Club. And I don't know. Just the way she was reading, what she was reading-- and once she got off of the stage, I said to her, will you be my mentor? And she said yes. Write me an email telling me what this means.
So what I'm saying is that, when you are open and ready for that mentor, they become present in some form or way. And I even think about that too as a book. So it doesn't need to be the actual person, but it's great when it is. But sometimes a book or a piece of writing will show up, and it's going to guide you to the actual person. And I believe that so truly because, in so many ways, that has occurred to me.
Angel is an example. I also love the work of Audre Lorde. I find myself really-- she's a kind of poetic practice for me in that sense of-- one of her most famous essays which was based on a title of an MLA conference panel, the transformation of silence into language and action. And so I'm always thinking about, what are the silences? What are the different kinds of silences that I'm holding onto or occupying or let inhabit me that I can break?
And to think about breaking not in this violent way, but to think about with glowsticks. So in order to activate the glow in the stick, you just got to agitate it. And I think about breaking in that way. In which way do you have to agitate it, bend it so that it releases its useful energy that you can then put to creative use so that you can then recycle for your own being?
So Audre Lorde is one. I love the Irish poet, Medbh McGuckian. She has really taught me about getting into the body and these wonderfully abstract, concrete ways, and to use mythology and one's personal mythology to reconstruct the present so that the present reverberates with all of the emotion of your existence. I love her writing. It's just so strange and beautiful.
And so those are the people who are coming to my most immediately.
CHARLES STANG: Wonderful. Here is a question from Europa Baker Braithwaite. What's your--
ARISA WHITE: Hi, Europa.
CHARLES STANG: Oh, good. I like to read the names because I figure some of these are friends of yours, or. So Europa writes, what is your recommendation to someone who's ready to embark on the journey of finding an absent father but doesn't know what to say? [INAUDIBLE] And what happens to all the ideas you had about your father before you got to know who he truly is?
ARISA WHITE: OK. I love this question, Europa. One of the things I realized in working on this project is that I can do this with other people. I can write alongside of/with other text. So from the section I read, there was a lot of citations in it, and specifically cite citations from Erykah Badu. So there is song lyrics. Later on there's excerpts from cultural studies work, sociology work.
So the thing is, is because-- yes, the language is new. It's like a baby inside of you. And so what you need to do is expose that emotional core, that thing that's needing expression. You need to put it in relationship with everything-- with music, with the books you're reading, with your cello, with your dance, with everything, and start absorbing everything around you because the absence is asking for presence. And so you're going to feed it with the things that are most meaningful in your life.
And so I did that. So I just had a notebook with me. I would write on the bus. I would reflect after I was reading a section by Christina Sharp or something from [INAUDIBLE]. So I was constantly allowing myself to be absorbant, to just take in as much information and to have a notebook with me everywhere I went.
So that helps, and that helped me a lot, as well as esoteric YouTube videos on synchronism and symbolism and all of those particular things. And one of the things that I learned about my father is that he loved numerology. So that's what I knew.
And because I knew that was something that was important to him, and I also like those occult things as well, I started to read about numerology, to read about the symbolism of different numbers. I started to break everything down to numbers. I would be on a bus-- the 36 bus. And then I would then look up what 36 meant. If I added it together, it was a 9. And then 9 is love. So I just really started to find these different ways of connecting with him. And so the numerology piece was a really interesting thing for me because I use that a lot in the book as well.
And then when I met him-- it's just kind of interesting because the details of him weren't as important to me as being able to stand next to him. And that became its own language and its own alphabet in a way. And I started to make sense in a different way too.
So that moment of meeting brought-- it wasn't an end stop. It actually created a new space for words to begin to emerge, which is why, in some ways, I thought, once I went to Guyana and I fulfilled the obligations of my grant, I was done. But I had all of-- I had a travel notebook, I was keeping newspapers, and pamphlets, and all of this stuff. And to be able to stand next to my father and see my body and his just really-- it just opened up something entirely new that I knew needed expression. And this is what came of Who's Your Daddy?
I wouldn't even say at this point in my life right now that I-- because there's an element of it that's still inexpressible, which is why, when talking, I can still feel the welling up of emotion. So there's more there. And I'm in love with the fact that there's more there, there's more feelings. And it's going to keep on evolving. And I think that's the thing to recognize. It will keep on evolving, and just make space for that evolution to happen.
CHARLES STANG: Thank you. There's a question from another person I suspect you know, Jason Sheets.
ARISA WHITE: Yes.
CHARLES STANG: [INAUDIBLE]
ARISA WHITE: Hi, Jay.
CHARLES STANG: He says, as one of your-- as one of my former writing mentors, it's lovely to hear you speak to your own mentors here on dreams. I'm curious to hear more about how you incorporate your dreams into your poetry, how you approach the page with these images within the limits of language. I'm also interested to hear how poetry making helps you interpret these dreams.
ARISA WHITE: Nice. I think what poetry allows me to do with dreams is let the dreams be. And I know you know I don't need to do anything because they're so rich with everything that's beautiful about poetry-- its aphorisms, its images, its associations, its the fact that it's in a dreamscape. It's de-familiarizing. So my subconscious conscious mind is engaging something that looks familiar in this unfamiliar way.
So what the dream teaches me is to honor it and to learn how to write it and language it in such a way where the dream remains as it was delivered to you. And specifically with Who's Your Daddy?, what I do is I let my mom be the dreamer, to be the oracle, the one that's setting things in place through this subconscious dreamscape.
And so I get to report her dreams, which are quite fascinating. And I would say many of her dreams have troubled me along the way. But they have been so beautiful and so rich.
And what I've seen through the way in which she holds her dreams is that she's moved. It's a force that really moves her. She'll dream something, and then she'll drive for hours and be like, I had a dream of you, and I drove from New Jersey to Massachusetts. So dreams have power and, in that power, just really trying to honor the syntax of it.
And so in this book, a lot of the dreams are helping to construct a mythology of Gerald. The dreams are helping set the journey on its course. And then the dream becomes the space to do the healing, to create ritual, to create spells. Because what I've learned about dreams in that liminal third space that it occupies is that it's full of the future.
And so it's just fascinating to know that we have these embedded layers of time that we can work with. And so dream is just another tapping into this other parallel dimension that feels futuristic, but it's actually here with you. So in that way, I love working with dreams as time traveling, as a time capsule that opens up and shows you what has passed and what can become.
CHARLES STANG: Arisa, I want to ask a number of questions, combine a few questions that are on the board and give it my own spin because, like you, I am one of seven siblings.
ARISA WHITE: Oh, you are? Which number?
CHARLES STANG: I'm number six. So I'm--
ARISA WHITE: Oh, you're number six. I'm number two.
CHARLES STANG: Oh, yeah. See, I was--
ARISA WHITE: It's like we're cyborgs.
CHARLES STANG: I know you had one ahead of you. I had one behind me. And big sibling's families are very unique. I liken it to being in the Balkans, where there's a kind of [INAUDIBLE] relationship, but there's also like ever-shifting alliances and rivalries and weird things.
OK. But my serious question for you is-- and this will be one of, I think, three questions. And you can [INAUDIBLE] any or none of them. But how did your siblings react to your contacting and getting to know your father?
ARISA WHITE: Oh, yeah. That's a good one.
CHARLES STANG: Let me get these out. And you can take any of them you want. The other two questions are about those community workshops you did. I'm wondering if you noticed, working with folks in those community workshops, whether there were any patterns in how sons approached absent fathers rather than daughters [INAUDIBLE] absent fathers. That's the second question.
And in those community workshops, did you come across people who were wrestling not with a father who was, so to speak, physically absent, who was not a part, but who was a present absence in their lives? And how did you negotiate or help them navigate that?
ARISA WHITE: OK. All right. So sibling's reaction-- it was interesting because I also have some half brothers and sisters from Gerald's side. And so I was connecting with them to just ask, what was their relationship? Were they interested?
And so my uncle on my father's side was very much instrumental in trying to connect all of Gerald's children or connect Gerald's children to their father family. So that element was going on. And so when I connected with some of those siblings, it was weird for me because I felt like I was betraying my siblings, which is so interesting.
And then for the most part, my brothers and sisters were just happy that I was taking this journey. And it also led them to also think about their relationship with their fathers and to connect more deeply with their fathers. My older brother, in the past few years, reconnected with his father and his family. So it really moved us to make those empty spots as full as possible based on our willingness at the time.
But totally supportive. But it was just a really weird moment because my family was expanding, which meant I had to expand my understanding of myself as a sister. And I'm just so-- I'm just so close with my siblings and feel really protective of them. So in some ways, I kind of wanted to protect them from knowing that I had other siblings. But at the same time, I was also excited about it.
So it was interesting. Things sort of opened up. And we all began to think more deeply about our own fathers and our father wounds and what journeys we wanted to make around that. So that's siblings.
Community workshops-- OK. So with that, what was really fascinating-- and I did notice a difference. So a lot of women were mostly recognize that the absence of their father was creating some poor choices around their romantic relationships with men. So a lot of the letters I got were really speaking to that, noticing how they wanted to break these patterns of distance and disappearance that they were tolerating in their romantic dynamics.
I also got three letters from inmates in San Quentin. And so I was-- and I got three letters. And one of the things I remember is just how beautiful their handwriting is, and how intentional and how straight, and just thinking about the letters artifacts in that way. And I was able to exchange a few rounds with some of them. And a lot of them just really recognized like, oh my God. I am now the absent father. And I am continuing this intergenerational pattern of absence.
And so those letters were really contemplative and really vulnerable and beautiful in a way. And because I had these letters, it really began to take the edge off of my anger and my sadness because I was a part of a collective hurt. And I was a part of that hurt from different sides of the gender spectrum, I guess. So guys were hurt. Women were hurt. Everyone's hurting.
And with that in mind, when I was really writing this book, I wanted to hold that-- I wanted to hold the nuance of all of these feelings that were coming up because I had all of these letters from different points of view, from different sides of it. So I just couldn't be one sided and mean and angry and not really feel through a whole bunch of emotions that were operating.
And then I also got two letters, actually, from people who grew up with fathers who were being traditional fathers. They were providing for the family. And in their providing for the family, they were gone most of the time. And then when they would show up and be at home, they were exhausted. And so, basically, they didn't want their kids bothering them.
So a lot of them were talking about that proximal abandonment, which I could see how that could be so difficult when someone is just there. They're tending and taking care of you. You see it. You feel it in these material ways. But you can't open or they're not open, and you can't connect with them. And that's also a loss that two of the people in the letters talked about and not, then, being able to break that dynamic that they had too. So as they got older, it just stayed in play. And then they weren't able to know their father because that silence that, I'm being a man and keeping myself emotionless and hard really meant that they didn't have intimate dynamics with their daughters. In this case it was two daughters.
CHARLES STANG: Well, we're at the appointed hour of 6:30. So I think we should probably wrap up. But I want to invite Rev. Angel to come back on, if she is available, [INAUDIBLE]. I want to say thank you, Arisa. This was wonderful.
ARISA WHITE: Thank you so much for having us.
CHARLES STANG: Such a blessing and so deep and also refreshing. And I think you'll see that reflected in some of the comments that have come through. Rev. Angel, thank you so much for your questions and your conversation. A conversation between you two is clearly going to be ongoing, as you said, the rest of your lives. So thank you for letting us into a little chat [? of ?] the lifelong conversation between you two.
ARISA WHITE: Yeah. Thank you so much, Angel.
REV. ANGEL KYODO WILLIAMS SENSEI: Thank you for having me. Thank you for inviting me to be here and to kick off this conversation. I feel like this is really so important. And I hope many people gathered the creative juice that you are allowing to flow through yourself that I think is useful for all of us to be able to learn from.
ARISA WHITE: Thank you. Thank you so much. This is the first event for the book, and I think it was the best ever.
CHARLES STANG: [INAUDIBLE] questions. But please know that we will pass on all the questions and comments to both our guests, both Arisa and Rev. Angel. So you'll know the kinds of questions and comments that this provoked. For those of you who are interested in future events at the center, you can always find that on our newsletter-- I'm sorry, on our website. And you can sign up for our newsletter.
So once again, Arisa, Rev. Angel-- thank you for your time. It's been a privilege and a pleasure to host you both. And good luck with the many events I hope that you have around this book. It sounds amazing.
ARISA WHITE: Thank you.
CHARLES STANG: And we put a link in the chat for anyone who does not yet have a copy of the book. I have mine right here, but.
ARISA WHITE: Great. And then, also my publisher is offering a discount specific to this event. So yeah. Use that link and get your discount.
CHARLES STANG: That's right. Wonderful. All right. Well, thank you both again. And good evening.
REV. ANGEL KYODO WILLIAMS SENSEI: Thank you. Thank you so much.