Welcome To My Bed

Poetry: what I think I know.

I do not claim to be an expert on anything literary.  I am, at best, an enthusiastic novice.  I like words.  Words and I get along REAL WELL.  I'd say I read roughly one novel and one poetry collection a week. This is probably more than the average person, but I'm lucky enough to spend most of my time at work leaning against a counter with a book in hand.  Roughly five years ago, things were very different: I was new to the parentless world, at college as an art student, journaling furiously, showing none of my writing to anybody.  I read the same few books religiously (The Bell Jar, Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Please Don't Kill The Freshman), mining them for clues on how the whole words thing works.  But I did not read poetry.  Poems were a nebulous form that seemed almost evil because of how powerful people claimed they were.  You could memorize them, carry them around mentally, spit them out at anybody else like a spell, sing them to the tune of popular songs, wrap them in a love letter and use them for personal gain.  As a teenager, that power in economy was terrific and horrific at once.  I wrote poems every day, excruciatingly bad poems saturated in angst that made my few friends uncomfortable and my teachers shockingly proud.  A few of them ended up in the high school lit mag, but I had no delusions about grandiosity or success in the form.

At college, slam happened to me.  With all of its flawed format and silly hierarchies of rock star poets and gimmicky performance styles, it was exactly what I needed to make poetry accessible to me.  To make poems a scary, evil power that I too could possess.  This is what I sounded like in my early slam days:


It is embarrassing to hear myself rush, to hear how little control I have over my voice, how many things I repeat.  But this is exactly where it happened: where I found the power of poems.  The poem in the video is nowhere near my best work.  It isn't even something I can watch or listen to without cringing.  If I went back to it, there is so much I would change, so many thing I would arrange differently.  But showing this is important because it shows how much things had shifted by February of my first year as a writer admitting she is a writer.  Here, I am playing with language, repetition, a circular narrative that grows and changes and builds in a small, three minute arc.  This is important.  This play is how poems happen.  They are games you play with language to say something unexpected, but, like anything worth the effort, you have to be willing to be bad at them before you can ever hope to be good.

The immense power inherent to poems is in the things they allow you to say.  A poem, at its best, is a transgression of silence.  There is a reason why poets have been enemies of the state in countries and culture the world over since the beginning of language--poetry gives us license to say dangerous things, to say them quickly and starkly, to pare away all the white noise surrounding the heart of what we mean and present just that heart and only the heart to be consumed and sometimes these hearts make us sick.  They have an intense power when it comes to protest, witness, and education because they are so distilled.  Poems are the kind of writing that works in small strokes and creates big changes in thought.  They provide a space where huge leaps of comparison can be made, where two things before unalike are suddenly the same.  Poems travel great distances in single steps because of the way the images in them enter into a conversation, because of the way a line breaks, because of the multiplicity and music of sounds, the connotative and annotative meanings of words, the suggestion of a world much larger and more complex than what is said.

In less than two weeks, I am responsible for bringing what I now know about poems to students at my former high school.  I've been given five hour-long sessions to read poems by other that I love, poems of mine that I feel proud of, poems that might help people like me (latent writers scared of the magic they might produce) understand that poetry is far from dead.  I'm not going to talk about Billy Collins or Ezra Pound.  I'm not going to beat over the head with history.  The best way to get a kid to fall in love with poetry is to show them that it is a way to find voice in a world where everyone talks but few listen.

I could hem and haw about poems for a week-long workshop and still not be winded.  But I want to know what other people might say.  Writers, friends: why were poems an important discovery for you?

Small happies.

You can read a poem of mine here, published on the thirteenth. I recommend leafing through the whole sixth issue of Phantom Kangaroo and getting thoroughly spooked tonight before bed.



This song makes me happy, especially when it comes on at a dance night.



This show is my new favorite.

And now I'm going to work, and then to New Jersey. See you across state lines, post floating tattoo appointment and Long Island Gaga concert.

Perpetual motion machines.

Hello from our last morning in DC! Our time here has been both relaxing and exciting. Sam, Mckendy and I went to see the slam at Graffiti DC and got a feature by Rudy Francisco (this year's Individual World Poetry Slam champ) thrown in, all for the price of FREE.

Yesterday we went on a sight-seeing adventure on the National Mall, which involved hot pretzels, atrocious coffee, bitter wind, and a chill sesh with honest Abe. Sam got a proof of his first-ever book with a spine. I got my final evaluation for college. We have a workshop/interview/show in Richmond tonight, leaving only two more future cities for us on the road trip leg of this tour. But fear not! There are still a handful of shows in New England that will commence upon our return (one of them in Providence, the city of my heart, the day after the big ol' V-Day). The month of February will be far from a return to normalcy. I'll most likely make some drastic change to my hair--it's getting overdue for one at this point--and the Ribcage Kids will tear it up.

Speaking of which. Below, you can view the first video of me performing since the Providence Grand Slam in '09. I'm pretty proud of this one. It sold books and all that good stuff.

Magic morsel #45, or, the holidays make me morbid.

In honor of driving home for Thanksgiving this afternoon, I thought I'd spread a little holiday cheer, courtesy of Christian Alexander:

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And a holiday haiku, courtesy of my dearest SPC (and my exhaustive journals, circa three years ago):

Get your head out of
the oven. Somebody needs
it for the turkey.

Don't get me wrong, I'm excited for the family time that's about to take place. I just know that it all comes with its fair share of strife. I'll see you on the other side of the weekend, hopefully less scarred (charred) than I'm expecting to be.

Magic morsel #19, and a very happy birthday to the Little Mandible.

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I am reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson for my class, and the narrator keeps saying she wants a flying horse so that she can live on the moon. I wanna know why, if I already live on the moon, I do not yet have a flying horse. I must rectify this situation, immediately. Unicorn tail feathers!

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Also, today is my little brother Owen's thirteenth birthday. I wish I was home so that I could bake him this cake and dance in front of the living room mirror making silly faces. I want to compose songs about outer space and make sure he remembers he will always be young inside if he wants to be.

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And I'd also like to give him this poem.

Little Beast,

Welcome to the interstice.
You are stuck between a hard place
and your own self. You will grow out of it
like a dandelion pushing through a parking lot
and I will rub your round gold face
with my hands and capture a bit of sun
in my skin, simply having found you.

Animal,

You are getting tall now. You will grow to touch
the tops of windows. You are already more than halfway there—
caught in the corner of the living room, grown
so large your shoe plugs up the chimney floo.
When you hug my ribs with spider spindle arms,
you lift me off the ground and hold me there,
dangling for a brief time. This is only
the beginning. Your bones will build you
into a lighthouse. You will spit back
everything the ocean tells you
with that light in your face and a warning.

Little Mandible,

I have never wanted to call you smaller
than what you are. Last I was home, you ate
three plates of ziti to my one. You devour
everything you have been given. I want
to keep telling you, you are a beautiful weed.
You are an accident, a seed leftover
from our parents still trying to love.
When you landed in the yard,
I recognized myself.

We will never be the same age, little one.
We will always be chasing one another.
At the end of summer, when the dandelions puff,
I will take you to the reservoir at the end of our street
through the hole in the chain link fence and ask
for your stories. When you told me
your lungs were stained blue
I knew we were born
from the same pool of ink.




Happy happy day Nohney!

The 12 Step Poem.



For all of my friends who couldn't make it, this is the second poem I performed in the Grand Slam on Thursday that Jared Paul is pretty damn jazzed about. I feel pretty proud of myself here, in spite of the out of control nervous gesticulations.

Adventures in form.

So I wrote my first ever sestina today. I wake up most mornings during the working week around seven so that I don't waste the day (and on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays I shelve books and sort newspapers at the library from eight to ten), and to make the best possible use of such a jump start, I decided it was time I revisited form. Other than the occassional haiku, I haven't written in form since at least the middle of high school, but most likely as far back as middle school English class when we were attempting to write sonnets in order to better understand Shakespeare. (It didn't help much.)

I had been looking over a poetry anthology from my class on Black Mountain College from last spring and stumbled across my favorite thing that I read that whole semester, a poem by Denise Levertov called "The Sharks", which inspired some thinking on how overwhlemed I've been lately. And thus, my first sestina was born in the very early hours of this morning.

And just so you can judge my first foray in form in god-knows-how-long, here it is.


I am out of my depth,
sand bar dropping from under me,
yawning mouth lacking the teeth
I need for traction; toes
drag along the floor
and I want steady.

The breakers keep even pace, steady
as I tread and they carve more sand away, the depth
of sound swallowed doplar of a marble rolling across the floor.
It seems the sea will swallow me,
head first, ending with the toes,
never remembering to gnash its teeth.

But it isn't just the empty gums, the absence of teeth
that is worrisome; the danger is comfort, steady,
like familiar sand scratch between toes.
I wish I had remembered my height, the depth
I could dive, how my lungs would press me
towards surface, when all I want is floor.

Treading water, I can't help missing the kitchen floor,
grateful constancy that received my baby teeth.
Like the sand at the water line, it likely holds no memory of me,
but its forgetfulness is steady,
unfathomable as the precise depth
of these trenches gargling salt just below my toes.

The puckering of the skin of my toes
has caused them to forget even sea floor,
all salt instead of depth
of purpose. Only watery teeth
repeat themselves like footsteps, steady
pace that's only lulling me.

The tide will soon enfold me,
all but the buoy tips of my toes,
and only then will I feel steady
in its belly of a floor
wreathed in grainy teeth
at some unknown league or depth.

It worries me, the sudden increase in depth of panic -
I am reduced to just teeth and dangling toes for anything to devour
and only the fins gliding across the floor give me pause, steady me at all.

Ending this.

I'm getting a little frustrated, and I promised myself I wouldn't, but I am posting something I wrote the other day, even though apparently I'm not even allowed to post my own writing on a blog that I created and maintain. Anyway, we all know what this is about.

To the Anonymous Blog Commenter -

This morning
I took a butter knife
to my thigh at the breakfast table
and cut out a sizable chunk
for you.
It's in the mail.
Dividing myself
among cardboard boxes and tight white envelopes -
but the pieces don't just find their way
to mailboxes I have had hands in
before. That is why I am sending one to you.

I got a postcard from Spain
today, apologizing for mistaking
my left lung for salted pork; at least someone can use it.
Got a tin can phonecall from down the road
asking to borrow my eyes for the afternoon and said yes.
My skin is an archive
holding in piles of letterbomb
that will not reveal themselves
when shaken. They will not detonate
until you hold them in your own hands
and know that you are
the same brand of homemade explosive.

You are too scared to name yourself
so I will call you "Peter" because the last Peter I knew
defined himself by dead men
who cannot ask him questions,
because Peter was a rock to build the Church on
and denied his brother three times,
because Peter is meant as stone wall and you
are unmoving.

I know each piece
I excise from my body -
muscle-tumor ripped from skin and wrapped
in paper like a butcher's kiss.
I am sure they'll be carried to places
I have never met
and I can't be held responsible
for whose hands are bloodied in the process;
just remember that I am scattered shrapnel,
know that you'll recognize
what I have given you
when it comes through your mail slot,
a stone through the highest window
of the church you built over someone else's corpse.

Go ahead, deny me.
We are made from the same things.
So don't tell me you can't recognize
human flesh.

Apologies, and a poem.

I have been too busy to spend any time on here. A poem to tide you over, after last night in Medford for a Valentine's dinner with a gaggle of mostly lonelies. It's called "Sleepover" and is one of my 365/365 poems.

The comforter keeps slipping off my shoulder
but I have decided not to follow it anywhere.
Memories twisted together, the many cords of a stereo
trying to play back every possible recording.
I twist the gray cellophane linguine back into the cassette
with a pencil and press rewind and fast forward until I find noise.

Nick, baseball game on in the background, your mother never asked questions.
Adam, lights out after school, I closed my eyes.
You had nowhere else to go.
Andrew, it was comforter on someone else's floor.
Garrett, dubious about the mattress, you slept head on my chest.
Sean, you kicked off the blankets every time, squirmed under an arm,
shook your head at the ceiling. Disappeared into August haze.
You were insistent Joe, kept kissing me long after
I had given up.
And Alex, you told me to leave.
Sam, you ate all my grandmother's butter cookies
and retired without explaining yourself.
Devon, I don't remember you smelling like anything
but Led Zepplin records and packing tape.
James, the two of us are too big for one bed, but we try.
Alec, you woke me up for my weed, kidnapped my nights, burned me
alive and forbade my sleep-talking.
James, you are warmest in the mornings. Between library shelves
I will make us a place
no one would think to disturb, silent, secret.

Chorus of breath playing somewhere past my neck,
this new voice is out of place, visitor for the night,
pull out couch cordial, we ask no questions.
Avoid each other's toes.
Old springs remind me
of slow record spiral, sound moving out
and out
and out.
How many of you have I fallen asleep
next to?

Underground art movements.

Slam Collective is a fairly visible organization on campus, and we get people from all over the place at our open mics, including this gentleman

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Kevin Devaney, who has recently started this terribly bohemian monthly meeting of minds known as "The First Thursday Reading" (until he can come up with a better name). Typically there's some kind of musical act, followed by two local poets, all things accompanied by decent helpings of alcohol and a great bit of whooping and hollering. And, as I stupidly forgot to mention, this isn't at any normal kind of venue - it all takes place on a stage made of wooden pallets in a basement. It's a great forum for new and developing voices in the valley, and though the featured artists don't get any kind of compensation, the audience is really into it and we all have a really fantastic time.

Last night Northampton band Salut Ananas played the opener, followed by my dear friend Sophia Holtz (member of the 2008 Hampshire County National Poetry Slam Team that competed in Madison, Wisconsin; possessor of one metric ton of awesomeness) and Kerry O'Keefe (Northampton area poet with some really amazing pieces; also, a former blues singer and fluent in French). I'm not sure I have any way to link to any of Sophia's work - sadly - but I did manage to Google up some of Kerry's from a couple years ago when she was one of the Northampton Drive By Poets, a piece called "Late Mass in August".

Next month my CUPSI teammate George Delgado is one of the featured poets, along with another Slam Collective member Adam Gottlieb. And the month after that, I'm featuring. With Shira Erlichman. Needless to say, I'm already freaking the fuck out about what to read, and how not to look like a complete tool next to someone who is currently on tour, has been on NPS teams, blah blah blah. Kevin drunkenly told me last night that my work has never not impressed him, but I couldn't tell if it was just the Jack Daniels talking. Next week there will be a slam/dance party, which should be raucous, but I have slam team practice and I don't think that Charlie would be very happy with me if I canceled again. Unless our slam practicing were to take place in front of the basement audience, in which case I think I found a loophole. Please excuse me while I go pen devious emails.

In closing, support your local art movements. Read things and make noise in basements, you will not regret it.

Lots of words.

So I'm participating in this crazy thing, and I'm not even sure I'm going to accomplish it fully because it's early yet, but I wanted to share it with you guys anyway. So now that I made it sound all serious...ehem. Along with a bunch of poets I know (and some I don't) who frequent the Cantab Lounge on Wednesday nights, I am part of a blog that's goal is for each of the participants to post a new poem every day. I've done this for solid months before, so if I don't give the time frame you could end that sentence however you want. But I'm going to end it for you and blow all of our minds. 365 poems in as many days. Yes, a full year of poetry. This is the latest torture device I have invented for myself. Although so far, it hasn't been all that torturous. Maybe inspiring even? Getting to read what everybody else is thinking, along with what everyone is thinking when they read my work is a really helpful thing for me. But anyway, to get around to what I was going to say initially, I don't typically post my poetry to this blog. I don't know why, I guess I'm a little self-conscious about my work. But with the good news about my first feature at a venue (more about that later) and the looming CUPSI qualifier tomorrow night, I have decided it's more than time to get over this fear of people being exposed to things that I write. So without further ado, I'm going to post a poem I wrote last night for 365/365. It's called "Aspirations". I hope you like it.

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Where do you go
to find a broken piano?
Do you buy one
and break it yourself,
or is there a graveyard somewhere
to scavenge at?

I want to age backwards,
put things on fast forward
until I reach five
then pause -
remember everything I know now -
and grow up different,
into a pile of levers
and strings, hammers
and gap teeth.

I want to be a broken piano
when I grow up
so that people will say
that I made beautiful noise
once.
But I need to figure out
my return address
before I enact any plan
that would mean committing
to the holes in my smile
and only humming
the feeling from someone else's fingertips.



* * *



So anyway, about my first feature. It's a long way off, but I will be performing in Northampton at the First Thursday reading series that takes place on Union Street once a month. Someone is giving me a chunk of time to wow people, and I'm worried about living up to it all. I have until April 2nd to prepare, but still. The other person featuring is Shira Erlichman. Member of the Spilljoy Ensemble, which if you can recall, I was speaking very highly of the other day. I am nervous. I haven't been doing this thing for very long. Well, that's not entirely true. I've been writing all my life. I've only been performing a little over a year, maybe two if we were to stretch the numbers. We'll see if the offers continue. Maybe if I make CUPSI, we'll have a spotlight feature somewhere and I can practice falling flat on my face in a room of my peers. If not, my bedroom is going to be subjected to a lot of reading aloud for the next few months. And regardless of anything else, I'm going to be posting a lot more poetry on Edible Words, so you're welcome to come check it out if you're into the bits and pieces you're reading here.

Truth said in jest?

Ken Arkind was at Hampshire Slam Collective performing with the Spilljoy Ensemble about two or so weeks ago. He's a performance poet from Denver, and I've seen a lot of people do slam well, but he is by far one of the people who has impressed me most in my nearly two years of getting to see the best of the best roll through FPH. I feel spoiled. I don't know how I'll get my spoken word after they hand me my diploma. I guess it depends on where I end up, but anyway, I digress. I bought his chapbook, but I can't share that with everybody who reads this, since I don't even know everybody who reads this. So here's one of his poems, one of my favorites.

With teeth.

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If one side makes you larger
and one side makes you small
I must have eaten somewhere in the middle -
everything growing and shrinking
growing and shrinking at once -
it's all much less exciting
than I had imagined.
I'd much rather
someone lowered me
down that treacle well
so that what I see with opened eyes
is the same as what I see
with them closed.
The mayfly on the shower stall door
told me
that Tigerlily has been asking
where I've gotten to,
so I sent her a short letter:
"From the desk of Nevermore -
I don't know what I have to do
to slip under doors anymore,
so I've given up trying."

At last.

I procrastinate. It's just in me. But when I get going on something, it is difficult to stop me. Take tonight for instance. Caroline Harvey's feature blew my mind like it hasn't be blown since the first time I saw James Caroline perform. I wrote half a new poem during the feature, drove around with Sam after the diner for at least two hours, and then I came home with two other poems in my head. So I wrote them. And then a third. And then I decided it was time for a chapbook.

Now, I have been talking about such things since last fall when I first started writing poetry seriously. Maggie tells me that if I get famous one day, I will have a more heavily recorded life than Buckminster Fuller on the day that I die, and she's probably right. I journal every day without fail. Sam reminded me tonight that as the most prolific poet he knows, I had the material for a whole library of chapbooks, and that it would be best to get underway before it became too difficult to start. And so I did, because tonight (of all nights) I have adopted some of James' recent insomnia. My brain is too full for me to stop.

Here it is, in all its glory:

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It's called Welcome To My Bed, after this old blog, because Grace always used to tease me last year that if I ever had a chapbook, it would be called that. I adopted the insult and made it my own, which makes me proud. If you look closely, you can see that the cover photo is the header photo (a little different) from the top of this page. Oddly enough, I don't think I've ever posted any of the poems in it here. Anyway, table of contents:

Someone Else's Driveway
Crystal Methadone
Kentucky
Mermaid
Drive Me Home
Tight Jeans
Bali Shag
Quiet All Talk
Epilogue (or, Someone Else's Driveway Pt. II)

Most of the poems were slammed at various locations over the course of last year. I know for a fact that most people in New England have heard Someone Else's Driveway and got sick of hearing it, because it was the one piece I had that was almost guaranteed to score well no matter where I was competing. Epilogue is a bookend for it, a little closure for the thought I started in writing the first piece at all. And the rest have their own stories.

James always says that it's impossible for me to write anything that doesn't come from a place of love, and I think that this book contains the poems that made me realize that. Next project, making more than ten copies of this thing. I desktop published using Word and my now-sleepy Canon Pixma, so I had to limit myself. After I make more copies, I will assemble my next effort, which was actually in the works since before this one, entitled Name Without a Place, which is mostly comprised of pieces from last spring through this summer and early fall, although the mental line-up I have for it changes almost daily, especially with all the new stuff I wrote today.

I don't know how I'm ever going to get to bed. I cannot wind down from this day.

Too. Syked. For. Words.

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An impromptu poem (bad, I bet) to try and express how I feel at this moment:

Tearing out my hair--
in twelve hours
I will be at work.
But another twelve after that
I will be
tequila in the freezer,
Velma from Scooby Doo,
Maggie&Emily back in action.
Putting the Jersey back in New England--
not that it was ever here to begin with.
I can't finish real thoughts.






Hampshire Halloween, for the horribly uninformed, is supposed to be legendary. And maybe it was, once. Last year I just wandered around a little dazed, a little overwhelmed. This year is pretty much going to be the opposite. Or maybe the same, but for very different reasons. I can't wait for Sean's show! I can't wait to see Sophia as a robot! I can't wait for Maggie to finally know where I live for the majority of the year. Best friends should not be a summer-only commodity.

Owen.

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Every twenty minutes
he asked us to stop,
the dark circles around eleven-year-old eyes
the thing that convinced the woman in Georgetown,
behind bulletproof glass with the Marlboros,
to let him use her bathroom.
But he kept asking all the way up 95.
We thought we could appease him
by switching drivers more often, but it didn't help;
we handed him bottles, but he blushed;
pulled over on the shoulder to try to make it better,
and still it was every twenty minutes.
Those numbers don't lie.

I asked him what the meter said
with fingers crossed behind my back,
and he didn't know enough to lie,
just said, "323".
And I asked where our sisters were
to keep from coughing despair into his eyes.
I met the driveway for gasping,
met my sister and lied through my teeth from her shoulder.
"Everything's going to be fine, it's all going to be fine."

And while I was sharing a forty in a smokey basement,
she met my mother in the driveway
and they ferried him to emergency room shortened breath,
and the last sister sobbed into me ear from far away
while I clutched fence posts
and tried not to redefine panic.
She was trapped, a car accident, I was trapped,
we were all counting down and getting distracted:
none of us could stay,
none of us could save any of the others.
I had forgotten what it felt like to pick up pieces.

On the way to the hospital
I took the turns from faded memory,
trying to recall the love that brought me here
the first time.
I counted through CD tracks,
sang as loudly as possible to keep tears back.
Parking garage gave way to front desk,
and then elevator,
and then I saw him.
So much smaller in that folded up bed,
tubes and wires leading away from his too-thin arms
trying to call back the weight that melted away with each summer month.

My mother and I walk to Starbucks, counting steps,
trying to reassure each other while he slept
in a pool of numbers,
the things he would have to remember
when they'd let him go
and the numbers would be his to hold,
the minutes to count between needle and meal.
I sat in the window
and counted back to the age of six,
the last time summer gave way to calculation,
to search and rescue,
to asking for bathrooms too frequently to be well.
I counted back to the couch in the trailer park,
to the minutes before his sleep
when I sang until it seemed
like numbers couldn't possibly matter.
And then, they really didn't.

I'd like to blame the number of exits
for the number of times her asked us to stop driving.
The number of hours, the number of bottles of milk he drank,
but now I can only thank
the number of clicks
that will keep him from having to count too high.
But i can't help wishing i could take all the numbers away.

Smiling.

Things I found tonight that made me smile:



And a poem I wrote God knows when this summer -


I remember it as snow
though I know we hadn't quite gotten there yet
hands clenched in my pockets
trying to dig deeper holes
against my hip bones
a family-sized bottle of cheap chardonnay
but nothing could keep me warm
not even with stomach at my feet
and my lips running only to your ears

I was crowned with cigarette ash
from backseat smoking
and your arms around me
like down against December frost
when we hadn't seen Thanksgiving
when we hadn't seen skin or silence
skin or sweet nothing
from God's mouth to our ears
words we both knew better than trusting

I remember it as snow
but really it was a pot of chai before
we happened upon each other again
maybe because I felt the air crunch
when I closed and locked my door
for the last time
at that time of night
last time that my pillow
would go without the carbon of your breath
mixing with the oxide of early morning
and I could finally die satisfied
even if December came
with no calendar to count on

I remember it as snow
and I can tell it's symptomatic
of fighting off the blanket of summer
that threatens to swallow
everything I spent no time hoping for
and all my time receiving
no time dreaming of
and all my time spent
on getting ink under my skin
getting closer to living
and getting you to notice me.