The View from my Brooklyn Home Office this afternoon
June 29th, 2022
I’ll be honest with you. I would never have ended up at K-State for graduate school in the early 1990s if I had not been following a woman who was headed off to Mizzou for a degree in journalism. A woman I would later make the mistake of marrying, thinking love alone can keep alive another person who has their heart set on freeing themselves from misery. But there are no mistakes. Because I loved my time in Kansas. And I’m finally a father now in my fifties, and I wouldn’t be here now if I hadn’t been there then.
Let me back up. I really dislike the expression I’ll be honest with you, and I try never to use it in my speaking or writing. However, before sitting down this afternoon to write this reflection on my time studying English at KSU, I would have said the reason I didn’t like that phrase — I’ll be honest with you — was that it suggested that the rest of the time I had no intention of being honest.
But the more I think about it, I realize that’s actually kind of true.
I’m back now after spending several minutes looking out the window to the Mormon Visitor Center on the other side of Court Street here in Brooklyn. Turns out the real reason I don’t like to suddenly announce that I’m going to be honest—and this was news to me—is that I don’t particularly want to call attention to the fact that honest isn’t really something I’m ever trying to be. It’s shocking for me to reread those words that I’ve just written. But there they are, and they’re true. I want to be memorable, entertaining, playful, eloquent, and profound. But honest? Meh. Not so much.
I’m an artist. I’m a former slam poet. I’m a metaphorical game designer. And sometime next year in 2023, I’ll officially become a children’s picture book author! Think about it and you’ll see that all those things are about capturing peoples’ attention and holding onto it for as long as possible, which requires a kind of mesmerizing showmanship and dazzling misdirection. Not honesty, but artifice.
For three wonderful years, I loved just writing poems for Jonathan Holden and Elizabeth Dodd. And later, at the request of Larry Rodgers (of all people!), I loved performing those poems at my first poetry slams in Lawrence at a topless bar called The Flamingo. Is it still there? But most of all, I loved getting to experience what it was like to have Jerry Dees as a literature professor. Jerry once asked the entire class “Why would I ask you a question if I already know the answer? That’s not a question, it’s a quiz.”
I can’t believe I’ve written a couple hundred words already and not yet mentioned my game, Metaphor Dice, nor the anthology of poems that I’m editing that were all written using the dice. Or my latest manuscript of poems, Descendant of Mercy, about the 400+ years that my family has lived in what became this problematic country we now live in. But I’ll probably be back next year to write another piece for this space when my children’s book comes out. It’s called The Teachers I Loved Best, and Jerry Dees was definitely one of them. If I’m being honest.
— Taylor Mali (MA ’93)