Sunday, January 10, 2021

on opinion

There are two lines of interaction that I really do not tolerate, not tolerate in as much as I do not engage and I pretty much leave the room in every way possible. These two lines are:

1. When opinion is presented as a golden rule, and

2. Attack on someone's mental abilities or rationality.

The first is easy to understand and needs no explanation. For examples of the second, I will use the names Jane and Mary. Easy examples of the second are when  Jane tells Mary that she is  crazy or stupid. A more complex example of this is when Jane tells others that Mary is crazy. Further examples of the complexity of the second is Jane telling others that Mary is crazy while also engaging with Mary, consistently hen pecking her with claims that she is crazy. 

On there own, examples of the second are a kind of abuse. If Jane has a considerable place in Mary's life, the second line of interaction can severely alter Mary's perspective of herself and how she sees the world. It can hinder Mary's ability to trust herself and how she sees her life. In day-to-day life, Mary would be told to separate herself from Jane. Mary would be told to set boundaries and limit Jane's influence. 

However, in the dynamics of our virtual world, this separation is unacceptable.

These two stated lines of interaction are at there worst when they operate in tandem. An example of this is when Jane presents her opinion as a golden rule, and then attacks Mary's mental abilities or rationality when she does not agree. Inside this example, for the most part, others would tell Mary not to engage with Jane, to separate herself. 

But for some reason, when it comes to politics or ethics, Mary is supposed to sit and hear Jane out. It's bizarre. In my actual, day-to-day life, if I find a person is toxic and unreachable, I leave the room. If I feel like there is a black hole in a part of someone that is vital to who I am as a person, I leave the room. Why should I give space to someone who I find toxic and unreachable? This should unapologetically apply to the virtual world as well. If you are going to put your political opinions and ethics in the vast ether of political opinions and ethics, and present those opinions as the golden rule, then you should accept that people are going to leave the room. You should expect that others are not going to stand around your soapbox of opinions, waiting for the opportunity to cheer or damn you.


Thursday, December 31, 2020

old year / new year

 


I mess up a lot. I have big time anxiety. I constantly make sure my perspective has balance and that it's true and that logic is not too far behind feelings. I'm one of those people who hope and work towards the best of times, but who are also always steeled and prepared for the worst. All this a bummer, I know, and it's definitely not who I've always been-- at least not what I've always lead with, and I probably still don't, but now it's a part of me when it wasn't before. That's what age does. I used to be way more chaotic, when it was just me and I wasn't responsible for anyone else, back when most everyone knew not to count on me and that I'd show up if I did. But being responsible for others changes all that. It makes you care in ways that keep changing and growing more immense. Is this what Salinger was writing about? Have I lost my innocence and now I'm a Catcher in the Rye? Maybe. Most likely. It's the new chasm between youth and not-youth that you don't see when you're on the youth side of things. I've probably spent too much of the last few years regretting the difference in who I was and who I am now. When I was running this morning, I was mulling all this over and realized that there is one thing that 2020 totally made the same though. 2020 made me really good at focusing on (and putting my care into) the things I can control, which seems to be one of those parts of life that kids are inherently good at. I definitely came to it from the angle of necessity instead of just not knowing any differently, but it's a kind of victory. So here's to the end of 2020. I'll be spending the evening drinking Lucky Irishmans with my beau after the babes are snug in their beds, listening to records and telling jokes and totally overwhelmed by all the love and good nature I get to experience everyday with these people I'm lucky enough to live with.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

the need for shelter

I went into 2020 with the idea that fallout was happening, and I just needed to light a candle, stack the canned goods and hug my kids; do some push ups on the concrete floor, run in place and read my kids all their best books in all the best voices I could muster. Then go to the second string and third string stories, bake the cakes and make everything as bright as possible. Turn on the golden lights and imagine they are the sun. Tell stories about that. Sing songs and wash clothes, stay underground and wait. 

Do all this and time will pass. Eventually the quiet will be consistent, the unwanted interferences will stop, there will be no feeling that the Trojan horse is on its way to my doorstep. I just had to wait, wait emphatically. And do it all, do all that waiting and living, as gracefully as possible-- be open with my kids, honest in a way that is bright and clear, but also stay out of the really dark corners, and work to stay away from absolutes-- and all would come through. I'd unlock the door, stick my head out of the shelter, and all would be well, better than I'd left it.

But, as you know, 2020 went along with all this. It leveled the ground, made all exceptions absolutes. We all ended up with the idea that fallout was happening, and all of our fallouts happened concurrently. So there we were: separate mostly, all with the need for a candle and a stack of canned goods, push ups and high knees, and the honest-to-God good work of everyday, of mustering the best face that one can possibly make when right in the middle of chaos and stasis. 

And because of all the shelters we had to build or find, my need for shelter blended right in, and that was just fine. The physical space of 2020 and the personal space of the individual in 2020 kept together, and they kept to themselves. That's how self preservation happens, I think. That small space between shelter and God forbid is where we make our most important decisions. With our chins to our chests and eyes down, we lean into that small space between chaos and stasis and choose based on the parts of ourselves that we often do not consciously understand. It is there, in that space, where it is impossible to communicate the difference between everything and nothing. 



Friday, November 29, 2019

on girls and women

It is 5 am, and a pretty good blizzard is on the way to town. I usually wake up at 5 am, which means Evelyn usually wakes up at 5 am. If I am not up, she kicks me-- slowly-- like she's stretching out her arms and legs-- testing their length and strength before she really gets moving. At 5 am, I usually read for an hour, turn the lamp on beside my bed, pull my sweater up so the full globe of my belly is in the golden light, and I imagine Evelyn inside there, looking around in soft-fuzz wonder, her awareness growing more and more every morning I turn on the golden lamp.

But today is the day after Thanksgiving, and Tim and Langston are still sleeping, Christmas trees lit in the bedrooms, so all the light is kalidoscopic against all the dark. Mornings like this, Evelyn and I usually draw a bath and read for an hour, sometimes emptying the tub half way to warm the water again, my belly a giant island where my book sits. We would usually stay in the bath until Tim wakes up and asks if I want a cup of tea, then we'd climb out and crawl back into bed, back to the golden lamp and stacks of warm blankets, and watch the sunrise through the windows. But this morning, that pretty good blizzard is on the way and will stay here until Sunday; Evelyn is due to arrive in four days, and though she doesn't strike me as a baby who'd be born in a blizzard, I wouldn't fully put it past her. It is also almost the end of the year, so I suppose this morning I thought to write here for the first time in ages, mostly about that. Mostly about Evelyn.

Langston came about like a lightning bolt. Tim and I got married and planned on waiting a few years to have a baby. And I don't know what happened really. I married Tim, and automatically, I saw Langston's face perfectly. I knew Langston was supposed to be there, and then he was. He pounded into the world immediately, all strong legs and long arms. We named him Langston, which means, tall man's town.

The bringing on of Evelyn is very different. We waited for her for years. I mean years and years. In March of this year, I remember being in a beautiful hotel room in Portland, Maine. It was raining and cold, but we could see the ocean. I remember finally giving up the ghost. After the years of waiting for Evelyn and all the medical tests, the months and months of heart-crushing disappointment, I told Tim I couldn't do it anymore. That maybe we could go back to trying after a few months, but that it couldn't be my focus anymore. We decided to stop trying for the year, and for the year, I would put all my focus into writing. That sounded real nice.

And I had no idea that when that absolute decision was finally reached, I was pregnant.

I found out I was pregnant on Good Friday. For a couple weeks, Tim had asked me to take a pregnancy test, and I said no, I said I couldn't take seeing a negative again and that there was no way I was pregnant, even though my belly was soft and I was nauseous all the time. I finally took the test on Good Friday, and it was positive. I still didn't fully believe it. So when I saw my doctor the following week, and I was lying belly-up on the sonogram table, I was scared my belly would be empty.

But there she was. All little and quiet and nine weeks hibernating, waiting for me to come to the door.

Tim will tell you that when I was pregnant with Langston, I not only knew-- weeks before the tests told-- that he was there, but I also knew he was Langston, fully and completely. I like this story. I like to believe I immediately became tapped into that perplexing, psychic aspect of motherhood, being part of the divine Mary, but I am not so sure if that's true. If you would've asked before Evelyn came to town, I would have proudly said, yes, yes, of course. I would've tousled Langston's hair, and he and I would've exchanged the same knowing look we've exchanged since the first moment, in the hospital, when he opened his eyes and looked at me.

But after this year, I think part of my divine Mary was absolute fear. I was terrified of having a little girl because I knew having a little girl would change me in ways I was not ready for.

This is probably going to be the part of all this that's difficult to write, and not just because of the meaning and point, but also because of the language needed.

The thing about being a kid is that we are still not only learning the world, but we are also learning how to translate it. The things that make us happy-- the things we see in the TV sitcoms and on cartoons, the things we read to our brothers and sisters from our Little Golden books-- are easy to understand. We see the same pictures of happiness, hear the same words of happiness, so as kids, we can easily point to those moments and call them happiness. But the dark parts of childhood are far, far more difficult to understand. And the really dark parts, the parts that are singular-- and you're too young to realize you're in an extreme exception and not a rule-- are impossible to translate. The truth is, as a kid, you feel your way through those dark parts. There are no words. There are just colors and feeling.

If those dark parts go on long enough, eventually we learn the words. We've read different books, we've watched different sitcoms, we've overheard the wrong conversations. At this point, when we finally extract the language, it isn't a eureka! moment. It has been too long. Think of how long that shift in consciousness takes. The years that shift in consciousness takes. When you're a kid who goes from color and feeling to full-fledged words, the eureka! moment is the knowledge that you are alone.

I remember the very moment I made it past the colors and feeling and was sunk straight into their meaning. It was right before Christmas. It was dark and after dinner. I was cold and outside, sitting on the wooden swing in my grandparents yard. I didn't have my windbreaker, but I didn't want to go inside. I could see the blue glow of the TV through the curtains of the picture window. I was little and quite, a small blonde mouse, a still stone, hibernating in one spot.

The thing about this, the thing about being a kid and being alone in color and feeling, then finally getting to the language of things, is that the weight was heavy in all those colors, but when the feeling makes its way to words, it is impossible to carry. The real bad part of moving through that though, is the end reasoning: I am alone. There was no one to give my words to. I was nine-years-old. It was almost Christmas. And I really, really wanted a gold necklace for Christmas. But it was the first time I knew the difference between a want and a need. There was something I really needed.

So I talked to God. Did I ever. I begged God. There were so many reasons I could come up with for what was happening.

And if I am completely truthful, I have been stuck in that moment my whole life.

All of me, since then, has still been nine-years-old and without a coat, talking to God from the perspective of a child. As a parent to Langston, I could consciously separate myself so far. I've spent all of Langston's life consciously giving space to our communication and openness, consciously working to parent him outside of my own hang ups, in a lot of ways growing past my own childhood. Before Evelyn, if you would've asked me if this is what I was doing, I am not sure what I would've said.

I think I would point to distance. I would show you the map between Florida and South Dakota, show you the miles, the days it would take to walk. I may have nodded to Tim and Langston. their thick coats and bright eyes, their lopsided smiles and ease. I may have told you the factual bullet points between here and there. Told you I went to college, attained an advanced degree. That I am a teacher, a reader, a parent. Bold nouns as buoys.

But then quiet little Evelyn came to town and everything changed. Evelyn means wished for child. It means little bird or beautiful bird.

The things I learned from being a mother to Langston are easy to define. He made me strong. He made me realize I can do exactly what I say I can do, that I can always find the path, I can love and understand deeply. The things I'm learning from Evelyn, at this point, are  more difficult to define. Evelyn has made me recognize the difference between the woman I am now and the little girl I used to be. Evelyn has brought out the colors and the feelings. She's brought out the language, she's dragged in all the good books I used to grow up.

But the big thing, the impossible-to-ignore thing that Evelyn brought me is myself. I can still see the little girl, right before Christmas, sitting outside and talking to God, but I can also see who I am now, as a woman, a mother and a teacher, walking down the path to that nine-year-old girl. Seeing how small she is, how complicated her sadness is. Who I am now would do anything to help her.

And one of the big things I've been able to do this year is see this for the first time in my life. If Langston, my tall man's town, cut the path and held my hand through it, then Evelyn, my little bird, is the one who has made me realize who I am in the story.

I don't think she is the kind of baby to be born in a blizzard, but just in case, I am happy I got to write all this out before the hour.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Translating the Muse lecture

My friend Natasha and I presented a lecture at the 2017 MCC Creative Writing Forum, and it was recently posted on the MCC CW site. 

Our lecture was called Translating the Muse: The Collaboration Between Creative Movement and Creative Writing. Creative movement is a collaboration with the self and with others. By focusing more on the body and senses while writing, writers can develop a deeper understanding of their world and the narratives and images they are creating through the process of composition.

If you're interested in watching the lecture, you can see the full presentation here

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

On Writing


I've seriously dedicated myself to writing for about twenty-two years now. This doesn't include being a small kid writing stories and playing them out with my friends, making puppets or building sets out of the few things we could carry. I don't even really think much about the years I've consistently worked, exploring an idea to its (almost) end. I think a lot about that (almost)-- those times when I've abandoned a project completely and then didn't write much of anything for a year (or more) because I knew I had to work something out in my head. Or maybe it's more than that.

Maybe the first twenty years of writing was just getting out and getting over all the ghosts that haunted and hurt. The simplest, most personal realizations can often become the most profound. At the end of William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist, the demon is raging in the bedroom, assuming the voice of Damien Karras's dead mother, who Damien feels profound guilt over. He and Father Merrin are at the door, and Merrin tells Damien about his own loss of faith. Pretty much, Merrin says he has a difficult time loving everyone. He says that a lot of people actually disgust him, and he felt a loss of faith because God asked him to love. Then one day, he finally realized that he didn't have to actually love everyone, not even close. But he did have to act with love. It always comes down to the act. 

I am often asked about how one can go about writing. If you read any book on writing (most of these books are terrible, minus Stephen King's On Writing), in so many words, they all say you have to meet the muse. Like Father Merrin's act-- or faith in any pursuit-- you have to be there, in the room with the pencil and paper, writing it all out. Eventually, you'll come to something. This is what I tell people because it is the easiest way to put yourself in the head space, to tap into that psychic energy you need to write. But as I said before, because of those (almost)s, I don't write this way. I'm more like Roethke: I take my waking slow

I've been working on a novel for about two years now (those different two out of the twenty-two), and I'll pause for a month (or months) to work through an idea because I don't want to fall into the old traps. I don't want to get sick of myself. This time, I am willing myself to do something completely different. That difference has taken a considerable amount of clearing out the ghosts and internal clutter so I can write something in front of me and not behind. 

And this is what led to the most basic of realizations: I've always written horror. Of those twenty years where I was writing what was behind me, man oh man, those stories and poems were bombed out and broken. I thought I was writing capital-L capital-F Literary Fiction, but it really started out as Gothic horror and then moved into gore. In poetry, I've mostly published Gothic horror. In fiction-- with the exception of the last two years-- it's all gore. And the gore is painful for me to read. Whenever I workshopped the pieces, I would always hear that the writing is beautiful, but the story hurts. And man, I loved that. But then something changed, and it got to where my own stories made me nauseous. 

Because I only wrote about girls, and all the girls I wrote about were in monstrous situations and they couldn't get out. They followed the breadcrumbs because their was no where else to go. And I wouldn't let up. I wrote out the worst parts, the willing walk to destruction. I thought this was romantic (you know, Literary Fiction, even sometimes Southern Gothic), but I was really writing slasher stories where the girl had absolutely no power, and there was always a force (usually a stranger, sometimes a boyfriend, once a mom) that runs the girl to the ground. 

The realization came yesterday, and it was this: I hate gore horror. I won't read it, I won't watch it. But it's all I wrote. I thought I quit those stories because I'm a bum, when really, I quite those stories because I truly hated their drives. 

I only recognized this because of the novel I am working on. I met a man on a bus who I could have easily turned into an active monster, which is far different than the threat of violence. I could have taken the power away from my main character, fallen farther into the world of splatter horror and out of the supernatural/paranormal. I took a month to figure out who everyone on the bus is, how I was willing to build force and vanquish it, and yesterday, I was finally able to write the scene. Afterwards, I felt like high-fiving my old self, and all those sad girls I buried in all those old stories.


Monday, December 3, 2018

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

That's Just the Feeling

This fall has been a bizarre season. No matter how much I tell myself that a single life is only one timeline, with a definite beginning and end, I can't help but constantly give myself over to that American idea of perpetually having the capability of beginning again. I think part of it is that I believe people can change. I mean, there are two ways of going about it: people change or they don't. And if I believe people change, then I have to believe I have the capacity to change too-- for better or worse. And man oh man, does the idea of ever growing worse startle me. I can't be the only one, though I may be in slim company of those who are infinitely conscious of it at most every moment, even in dreams. 

One of the reasons I married Tim is because we speak the same language. He has the exact same capacity of the infinitely conscious fear of being one who grows worse. I'm not saying that it's because of, but maybe only informed by, that fear that he is pretty good at saying something I've never heard before when I need to hear it. For this strange fall season, Tim told me that the worst tragedies happen on otherwise beautiful days because it's the only way anyone could cope with it. 

I mean, damn. That's poignant. 

Throughout this strange fall season, with all it's dramatics moving in completely disparate directions, along with other things, I keep thinking of what Tim told me. Maybe part of it's poignancy is connected to staying in the center of things. When things get to feeling like you're being tosses around at sea, I hear the best thing to do is remain a stone. So for this strange season, I've tried my best to remain a stone. But even living in this little city, one can only really stay a stone for so long, hardly anytime at all.

I keep going back to that scene in Broken Flowers too. When Bill Murray is at the end, all busted up and broken, suffocating under the gravity of life and being, and all the repercussions that stem from both, and he's holding those terrible, cheap pink flowers. He's leaning against a giant old tree, squatting next to the grave of one of his last loves, crying. Whenever I picture this in my mind, it's raining. I've seen the movie at least twenty times, and the greens are so fresh, they feel wet with the weight of falling rain.

But it isn't raining at all. That's just the feeling. 

For the most part, outside my love for Tim and Langston, I don't know where I'm traveling. But I know I'm capable, and I know people love me. (I dyed my hair pink this month, and immediately, my wonderful cousin texted me, "Are you okay? It's pink not brown, but does it mean the same thing?")

I think art is inside/outside-- part of the time is collecting, the other part is creating. Sometimes the stages take years to navigate. This week I've realized that it's probably just time for the other side of things.