Paul Newman, Memphis, Texas discussed on Design Matters with Debbie Millman
Say Jones is a polymath. He is a writer. A poet a talk show host a cultural critic and educator cater and a Bonvie vont his pushcart prize and his debut poetry collection. Prelude to bruise was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and was awarded the Twenty fifteen pen award for poetry. Say he just released his highly anticipated memoir how we fight for our our lives and to review from NPR declared Jones voice and his sensibility are so distinct that he turns one of the oldest just literary genres inside out and upside down in this memoir Sayyed has developed a one of a kind style. That is as beautiful as it. It is powerful and he has cemented himself as an essential writer for our time. Sayyed is here with me today to talk about his life his work and his remarkable new book. Say He'd welcome to design matters. Thank you for having being here now. Is it true that you often fantasize about having sex with Paul Newman's goes. We're doing it right now. That's why it's very convenient being in a very complicated relationship with a ghost because you just never know what's going on. No one can see. When did this I I think I remember probably in college college starting to see some of Paul Newman's films or films featuring him and I think that's around the time? I saw a cat on a hot tin roof. Who My goodness and what I find really truly? I mean he was very handsome. I'm certainly but also I think as far as we know he was a good man He he stood up for some really important causes that matter now you know and I think he would be part of the cultural conversation now in a very contemporary way. He was very kind had a wonderful reputation. He loved his wife. He loved his dogs. You know and it's just it's a real delight that as we see all of these men in in Hollywood now twenty nineteen. It's just like God you to your jerk your monster. You know to see this guy who was like. Oh no I'm I'm super dead. Ed and I still still pretty good. Yeah I know it's amazing. Given how handsome he was. And what a star he was star. How how much in love with his wife? He was and one of my favorite things that he's been noted to say was that when asked about why he wasn't unfaithful to Joanne Woodward his wife he said well well why would I go outside for Bologna. When I can get steak at home madly in love and recommend people reading an Helen? Peterson's writing about Out Him because of course he existed in this very controlled mediated kind of Hollywood tabloid. And and so it's like heart. Is that for real. Did he ends like like no. Yeah that was there is something to end my goodness so handsome enjoy. Those is our killer. Wow so you were born in Memphis now interesting that your mother named you say because it means happy in Arabic and it has relationships to Muslim faith and also Persian urgen history which like intermingle but yeah. Sometimes I'm told often by taxi drivers to be honest that it is good or happy and fortunate. Ah which is what my mom always said. Sometimes it's like it's like good news or leader with the good news But yeah I I mean. I've always liked my name I do remember growing up when I was very little in Memphis. The Memphis accent is such that sade in Memphis sounds like said Said and I remember being really young like kindergarten have memories of like. I wonder if my mom thought I heard ghost or something that goes to Paul Newman. Because people would say I would turn thinking they were speaking to me and then we got to Texas and like no one could say my name and it was a constant and certainly how to spell. There are a lot of spellings for the name. Say It's one of actually the most popular named in the world and then nine eleven happened and I was a sophomore in high school at that point. Well used. I used people misspelling my name. Not knowing how to say and suddenly everyone knew how to say the name Saieed lost the television show came and one of the. Yeah so it was very. It's really really interesting and I've bonded with so many people you kinda ended up naturally having to tell the story of yourself to people you know from a young age like I remember you. You know lunch ladies say that's a funny name for a little boy and and yeah I was like. I'm just trying to get my macaroni and cheese. Please but you know you have this experience from early age wjr a feeling different. Yeah I've always had this dance with at that also. I think a lot of people have put their names. Maybe you were raised by your single mom in Lewisville Texas Not Louisville Louis Kentucky and I was like Oh no she had a job with Delta as you were growing up. She was also a Buddhist and her mother. Your grandmother was rather religious but she was not a Buddhist. What was that like for you to be between those two sort of fierce points of view you know? Unfortunately I think this is true for a lot of people you know. Faith religion in in our families is such a source of division often comes on my earliest memories as a little kid. Probably a toddler actually are my my family arguing with my mom about faith. You know you're going to go to hell. By the time I was a little older early teens. The conversation at kind of I've become the silence where people weren't just weren't talking any more people weren't closed and no one would explain why it just was the way things were you know and I i. I remember at one point as a kid like my mom ended up in the hospital and it was like really serious and her family didn't immediately come to take care of her. You know. In retrospect now as an adult. Oh Oh my gosh that says a lot. You know so. By the time I was a teenager you know then it became well. We're not GONNA have this argument with Carol Anymore. She's adult. She seems really set in her ways but here saieed he's teenager. He's acting worldly he's starting to talk back he's effeminate and I think an interesting way. The worldliness the sarcasm. The you're just being too much of a teenager was a allowed them to not have to say head on. We think you're going to be gay and we want to stop that so instead it was kind of framed as like you're GonNa go to hell like your mom and was like what does that mean so yeah it was it. It was really awful and it led to a lot of hurt more silence because I think you know it just got so painful that I also distanced myself from from those family members and we have since made up and we have a better relationship but we will never be as close as we could have been had this this conflict not been a part of our lives you realize you were gay. Equality Young Age you've written about. How as a kid you realize that being black and get you killed and so it can being gay and combined being a gay? Black boy is a death. Wish So you felt you needed to hide. who were yeah you're right? I mean I'm from my earliest most big kind of blurry fantasies. It was is always boys and men you know. I didn't really fantasize about women's bodies. I thought it was rude. Actually I remember you know when I was hosting a entity in the morning. Show for buzzfeed which I did for a couple of years I got to interview. TYRA banks and I told her that I was like I remember when you were on the a sports illustrated cover because that was history making and my guy friends at school. We're learning Hon. I want and I remember and I checked myself but I remember thinking it would it be ruled to see any more of and that's when I was like oh I think so. I didn't have question about attraction it was always like how. How is this going to work like in terms of life you know will ever have love? Will I ever get married because at the time I mean this is you know two thousand two thousand four for example. That's when I'm in high school major quality certain wasn't even on the docket would ever be able to be a father. Would if I do have a family if I do you find this man. Will I be able to introduce him to my family. Will I be able to you know. Bring them home for Thanksgiving. I don't know and so it felt like America's already perilous terroists you have people like Matthew Shepard or chains where junior being killed just for who they are anyway but also even if I'm not killed and signing up for misery by being myself so like that just seems like it is an unfair choice. That's not a choice. I know that you are really impacted by the deaths of Matthew Shepard and James Virginia and I read that you stated that just as some cultures have one hundred words for snow. There should be one hundred words in our language for all the ways of black boy can lie awake at night. How did you cope? We would always in a state of fear. Not necessarily and I don't know if I would have said that if you ask me at the time are you scared. I would've been like what are you talking about. You know. It was a very creative kid. I was reading very very passionately particularly like when when I was in middle school. We didn't have the Internet. Dial up and then dial comes like right at the beginning of high school and of course it was so slow and you couldn't actually use your landline phone and and beyond so it was like it took a while before that was even a part so I was just reading a lot of books I started writing and I really rich creative creative life and I think though I didn't realize I was coping I think my writing and reading and what became my writing life as a kid manifested in this lake rich interior. Already I had my. I have such an overactive imagination. It's just why you know now. I'm married to Paul Newman's ghost You know I just had like elaborate fantasies fantasies and everything in the world to myself so I think that kept me from feeling dead inside and kept me from feeling that the way America Kerr was outlining the borders of my identity and like barbed wire at that like they were never going to get to who I really really am. What is your first memory of writing? I think the first thing I remember writing with the intention to share it to someone was in middle school. We watched the movie clue in school the original movie. And then I think short store remember Mrs Scarlet and I think it was like to learn earned vocabulary were so it was like Miss Scarlet sauntered across the room I remember loving Miss Scarlet and wanting I remember and I and I was drawing my mom. Tom was in fashion when I was growing before it was born and I loved that part of our history so I was always trying women addresses so I was like writing poems about my scarlet and drawing all these women in red addresses and so that's kind of where I started and then the screen movies happened and my mom let me watch them and so the work that that I didn't start at sharing with my classmates that I was like I've I've got a new story. They were all slasher short stories. I guess is what you'd call them. It was basically screen but it would I would set did at are school and I would or some horrible murderer would be brutally murdering me and all my friends and the more I liked you the more elaborate and awful your death was and and you know kids are so crazy and so we all loved it. We thought it was great. And it's like wow this is awesome and like Oh when you put the knife in my forehead and the blood that was so awesome thank you yes I eat and then the school shooting started happening because then it's like columbine there was a shooting Paducah Kentucky was all over the news as we're kind of seeing again now a new cycle where sure everyone was like well. It's the video games they're playing. It's the clothes they're wearing. Are you looking at your son's notebook. Does he have a notebook and so I stopped writing that and then I start right about Greek. Mythology was much. Say You wrote in the voices of Penelope Ritchie and Medusa let you choose those characters You know so. Many writers Danielson certainly have examined the relationship between gay men in Greek mythology. So there's a long tradition there and again i. I think it's a fantasy life. These these myths about beautiful people literally being swept off their feet off the earth. You know in the case of a lot of these missed by these gods and I think maybe in the way that when we think more conventionally about feminity and like the princess idea I think for you know gay boys it was like Oh maybe Apollo. So we'll show up one day but I didn't feel comfortable writing candidly about my attraction as a boy to other boys or men but I could write about penelope longing for years and years for deceased now if I were to you know look at some of those poems and they still have the notebook that I wrote in the most. You know. It's obvious I'm in writing. I can almost figure out who the crush is based on the imagery but it was a way of again creating this protected interior almost like garden of richness. You've written.