Welcome To My Bed

Endless Midnight Oil: Artistic Overdrive and The Dual-Wicked Candle



I had a conversation with a far-flung friend recently where we lamented being twenty-somethings.  A compelling conversation, I know, but just walk with me here for a minute.  After the "I hate my boring job" gripes and the "there's not enough time to make art" train of thought, we came back around to a happy place.  "Just sleep less," he said.  "You have a voice that needs to be heard."  I can't begin to explain how much I need our talk to end that way.

In the past few weeks, my writing here has been overwhelmingly negative.  I won't apologize for that so much as offer a bit of background.  When I go a long time without a serious outpouring of internal monologue, things can get a bit overwrought.  But, in service of being truthful, my life is fantastic right now.  My job may be a bit mind-numbing, but it gives me eight hours of auto-pilot where I can be chasing down ideas for the next poem, essay, or painting, so that when i get home after work, I am primed and ready to produce.  I have a cozy apartment where there is more than enough space for all of my projects.  I have a partner in crime whom I can bounce drafts off of at all hours.  My best friend lives a ten minute bus ride away.  I paint and write every evening until I fall into bed.  It is glorious to be so tired from so many good things.

I'm pretty sure the reason that I worked shitty customer service jobs for so long is the toll it would take on my body.  Even if I hated the workplace I was in, it was easy to feel like I'd actually accomplished something at the end of a shift because I could feel the strain in my body.  I would be sore from standing at a register, taking Christmas ornaments for eight hours.  My feet would ache due to the fact that I'd been running entrees non-stop through dinner service.  There were measurable, physical responses to how I'd spent my time in a given day.  While the exhaustion was intellectually satisfying, it was also defeating my ability to create.  How can a person come home from working a job that requires you to be on your feet and on the move, only to expend more physical and mental energy on what actually matters?  When I worked this more physically demanding jobs, I was terrible at staying awake an hour past arriving home for the night, and an hour is not nearly enough time to make real progress on a creative progress.

Trading my standing shifts for a cubicle and endlessly ringing phone has been a rocky transition.  I get restless staring at computer screen for eight straight hours.  But there are serious benefits to work that does not drain finite energy reserves.  I do not have to be creative at work.  I have to be personable and repetitive.  My time on the phone is essentially scripted.  I write emails on auto-pilot.  I know what is expected of me, and I accomplish my daily to-do lists.  It is a very simple existence.  Initially, this black and white environment had me thrashing around like a shark in the shallow.  I felt like I couldn't breathe.  Did they really think I was enjoying my work?  But art crept in around the edges of the day.  Writing on my luxurious hour-long lunches (having designated break time is still something I am giddy about); reading submissions for Side B in between answering email inqueries; writing to far-flung friends when the phones are silent.  I found so many small moments in my day where it was not only okay to do what I wanted to, but encouraged, that I still consistently feel like I'm getting away with something when I get up to take a stroll around the office.

Since changing workplaces (and moving to Somerville in general), I've had a lot more brain space to accomplish all the things I've planned out for years and never been able to find the structure in my day to facilitate.  I have a routine, and it is glorious.  I sleep less, and it doesn't affect my job performance; in fact, being tired enforces my auto-pilot at work.  The less I think about what is going on, the easier it is to lose myself in the repetition of my job, and then before I know it, it's five o'clock and I'm on my way back up the hill to my apartment.  I've put together a manuscript, painted a series to show publicly next month, built a soon-to-launch personal website, started writing non-fiction again.  Even though I spend more hours per day at my job, I feel like I have more time to do what I want.

There's an episode of Wilfred where (SPOILER ALERT) everyone's favorite Australian man in a dog suit loses his sense of smell, thus losing his sense of purpose.  At my minimum wage jobs, I had lost my sense of smell.  (I've not been unemployed since I was 14.)  I worked so much, and so consistently, alongside my actual life, that it became easiest to hide behind my exhaustion in lieu of making the strides towards things I actually wanted to achieve.  Sure, I finished college a semester early while working full time, but I also didn't try nearly as hard as I could have.  I may have muddled through last years tumultuous time in Providence, but I was angry and lonely all the time; I did very little writing and almost no painting, even though I had more free time than I knew what to do with.  I panicked when I started my current job because it was so unlike anything I've ever done for work before, but it really has been the best thing for me.  My nose is back.  I can sniff out opportunities to push myself a little further along like a motherfucker; I am surefooted, burning the midnight oil, experiencing more excitement and success than I knew I was allowed to.  The tedium is glorious for all the hours it affords me to do exactly what it is I love, and do it full force.

Having It All: Impossible, But I Want To Anyway

Over the course of the past several days, I have started (and stopped) writing several things to be posted here.  One of them is an essay I've been kicking around for a long time about my unbridled and slightly neurotic love of my fellow New Jersey writer, Junot Diaz.  The other is a very personal bit of matter-of-fact prose about where I was when my father died (it was not at his hospice bedside, as I'm sure a lot of people I'm acquainted with have probably assumed).  The reason you haven't seen either piece, besides the fact of my self-imposed cease-and-desist, is the fault of a complicated breed of anxiety that I've been trying to chase down an name for awhile.

Confession time: I have a really hard time with the personal politics of being a writer.  I get very wrapped up in the ugliness of rejection letters, the even-worse pangs of jealousy over the success of my peers, and the general sense that I am completely missing the "community" part of the writing community I try very hard to contribute to.  I worry about how I seem infinitly more than how I am actually doing as far as any given project is concerned.  This is the unattractive truth: I have still not gotten past constantly looking over my shoulder, wondering what other people think of what I'm up to, and that insecurity rears its head at very unfortunate times, often causing me not to attempt something for fear of publicly fucking up.

I could blame this insecurity on growing up between two very opinionated sisters who have always singled me out as the "odd" one, but in recent years they seem to delight in all of my bizarre tendancies and creative projects in a way that is the most overwhelming support I could ever ask for from people who do not do the same things I do.  I could blame a long string of codependent friendships and relationships that made me believe that the only way to feel important was for me to be a better friend or girlfriend than some other candidate, even when the person I was trying to impress was the wrong person for me in the first place.  I could blame the coded language of rejection letters that comes to me as nightmare narration--a string of vagaries about why I am not worthy written so tersely as to be impossible to parse, or my troublesome take-on-everything-and-smile-through-it personality that has me often over-booking my time so that I cannot do any of the things I take on all that well.  All of these explanations are really just excuses.

I don't want to talk about Ann-Marie Slaughter's now-infamous "having it all" article, but I think I have to get closer to the bone of what I'm talking about.  We all know that the idea of "having it all" in the first place is ridiculous.  The concept was a crutch used by the feminist movement back in the day to open a window into the workplace for my gender, and I am grateful for the autonomy it afforded my generation, but the implication that women must live multiple lives simultaneously in order to satisfy the world at large is part of what frustrates me about being a woman.  I don't think my days would be so fraught if I had a penis.  Maybe that's just an assumption.  But in talking to my male friends and my boyfriend about this, it seems like the assumption may be right.  Most of them aren't constantly concerned with who's doing what and how they can be seen as the most successful of their friends (at least not that they've admitted to).  The way they talk about it, their experience of success is measured against an internal benchmark.  More "personal best" than "best of the rest".

I wish I had the emotional acuity to ignore the influence of outside pressures, or at least to process it in a way this is actually productive.  But I'm not sure I do.  For example, the Junot essay: it's about the ways we make authors we enjoy into imaginary friends, and how that person is destroyed if ever we become familiar with that same author in the process of living his everyday life.  There are turns of it that are meant to be funny in an over-the-top kind of way that I am sure are well done when I think about them in a vacuum, but when I consider my audience, I'm not sure my speaker won't be read as obsessed, insane, and definitely very creepy.  The piece about my father is even worse to think about as something others might read, as its whole premise is wrestling with what I'm sure many people might say I should've been doing in my father's last days.  Both pieces are about teasing out the ways perception alters our experience, but I can't even bear to show them to anybody.

Which is utterly ridiculous.  Junot Diaz will probably never read what I have written about him, not because I will never publish it, but because he is busy with his own reading and writing life, which I'm pretty sure does not involve any version of me, real or imagined.  And I can think of plenty of things no one has any right to tell me how to do: topping the list is how I was meant to process and attend to my father's passing.  But my problem with the politics of these sitautions remains; at once, I know it's impossible to please everyone who might stumble across this humble blog, but I convince myself that if I don't write with pleasing an audience in mind, I might as well never show my work to anybody in the first place.

At the core of all of this is the fear that if I write only for who is reading, I will lose the integrity of my stories.  On the other hand, if I write only for myself, why publish?  Finding a balance would be the obvious solution, but I'm not quite sure how to get there.

More To Look At



Two down, eight more to go.  I've never asked myself to work in sequence this way.  It's is an interesting challenge, putting painting into conversation with one another.  I've used Alphonse Mucha's work as a jumping off point for each of the 8 x 10's because his figures are beautiful and I love the repeated circle motif, but beyond the common ancestry, I'm scared they won't read as a series once they're up on the wall at the galelry.  It probably won't matter to whomever is looking at them, but its interesting to think about unity in imagery for a project that has nothing to do with poems.

I've been sharpening language and playing with the order of poems for a chapbook manuscript these past few weeks, and the anxieties are similar, if not the same.  A lot of the poems deal with my father's passing, which seems to be one of the few things I'm capable of putting in verse since his death.  I don't talk about him much in everyday life (dead dad is a surefire party conversation killer, even if making distasteful jokes about it is totally his style), but he comes up again and again in my poems.

Arranging them as a continuous narrative has proven difficult.  When it coems to death, I obsess over water imagery, the lottery, children's games, the ways in which reality bends so that we can make space for loss.  To have too many lines written about the same cruel stroke of fate is one of my biggest fears.  I don't want to milk a tragedy dry of its meaning.  But I do believe my father being gone is a very important outline that I want to trace.  The space in my life where he was present is an odd one--we hadn't lived in the same place in years, we didn't know each other as well as I would've liked--but his absence is something I think on often.  Being that I rarely saw him at the end of his life, the ways in which he is gone are more metaphorical than anything.  The possibilities for writing the tension between this presence and absence are likely why I keep circling it, and coming back to dip my toes in the same water poem after poem.

Alongside the verses about loss, there are others.  The tone seems consistent throughout the manuscript, which is satisfying.  The poems match each other in quality.  If I had to say something about how the arc of the book works, I'd say that it is about the loss and discovery of many homes.  Which is a constant journey of the self.  We can't be people if we don't own up to the discomfort of feeling out of place, of not being ready for something, of being disconnected from what is meant to be closest to us.  There's a lot of distance in the book.  I want the echoed images to make it clear that even across greats spans, there are things that remain consistent.  That grief is not the only universal in death.

I've not been writing much, but when I sit down to paint, I'm still thinking all of the echoes through.  Mucha's circles help with this.  First layer, they look like the moon.  With each added color, they become menacing or alien or warm or obscured.  They keep being the moon by drawing your focus to them like a tide.  But beyond how they look, they're a meditation for me.  I keep painting circles and the ripples in women's bodies and hair because I need to be reminded that the most complete way to see something is to surround it with your eyes, to keep walking around and around the same scene until some small detail draws you in.

How-To Lists Gone Wrong, and The Attention Span Antidote

It seems that most blog posts take a "how to" tack these days, with steps listed out as if the road to success always happens in a discernable secquence.  The same way that music magazines fall back on the top 10, top 100, best of, must listen format, bloggers are wont to reducing their most brilliant insights to any easily digestible list of wisdoms.  I get tired of reading things in this bulleted format.  It is the literary equivalent of a powerpoint presentation--snooze worthy, even at its most successful.  Invented to battle boredom by distilling everything down to it's barest, most essential set of points, the format has become not only ubiquitous in the blogosphere but hokey in its omnipresence.  Fancy transitions, links, photos; none of the bells and whistles make how-to posts any more compelling to me than the most assinine "advice" articles in Cosmopolitan, regardless of topic.
However.  There are times when it's actually an appropriate organizational tool.  This week, I read an excellent compilation of advice to young writers by Sarah Manguso on the Farrar, Straus, and Giroux Work In Progress blog.  No catchy headings, no overwrought humble-brags or even any anecdotal evidence whatsoever.  Just clean prose presenting sound advice.  Here, we have an example of a restraint I feel is lacking in a lot of online writing.
 
The internet is a glorious arena for writers, as it offers so many avenues of expression, and nearly limitless posibilities.  Our stories can become multi-media extravaganzas.  Any reference made can be linked to, anything seen can be inserted into the readers view via embeded photo or video.  The writer has ultimate power via the internet to footnote their thoughts in attempt to provide a reading experience as close to the writer's process of synthesis as possible.  And this is exciting.  Of course it is.  But with the ease of inclusion comes the peril of drowning the reader in distracting ancillary information.  Does my audience really need to see a picture of me holding the pie I baked to understand a written description of it?  Do they need to be link to all semi-relevant Wikipedia articles in a post that is not about fact, but about the experience of information?  By reudcing your thoughts to single-serving format and drowning them in unnecessary ephemera and minutae, you are saying that your reader isn't smart enoguh to find her way through what you have to say without extensive assistance.  You are calling her a bad reader, and calling yourself a bad writer.
 
Manguso's article links to nothing.  There are almost no specific details.  We get common nouns and simple sentences.  Her advice carries more weight for this absence of direct context.  No apologies for what she knows to be true.  No approval sought.  Quite simply--she presents the truth as she knows it, and leaves it to the reader to provide context.  Think about the best novels you've read.  In my reading life, the books I want to live with longest and most often are the ones that have made space for me between the lines.  This can be said of all successful writing.  It is not only a reflection of a recognizable image, but a space to inhabit.  Manguso's advice makes a space where I can imagine my writing life more fully realized and attended to.  That space is not typical of the how-to form, and that she is able to break the form and emerge with something sparse and necessary is a gift.
 
The way the internet is structured draws out our impulse to individualize everything in service of creating an identity in a vacuum.  But identity is not solely based upon personal signifiers.  What kind of car I drive (or whether I drive at all) has little bearing on how I feel after a long stretch of highway.  Why cloud my point of view with product placement, or even an overexposure of the self when I can trust what is felt, and the writing that comes from it?  I'd much rather sit down with a small kernel of meaning, however unclear, to work towards articulating, than draw an explicit map (landmarks inluded) of how to get there from here.

Today is a threshold.

The world has been a wily place lately, but as the dust settles, I can share a string of fabulous news.

Last week's poetry day was a massive success.  I've already been invited back to do another next year during poetry month.  The kids asked some tough questions, which I wasn't properly expecting, but I think we carried off the discussions well and got them to think about poems in a very different light.  A lot of the talking after our presentations centered around music--how songs are the way poetry lives in our world and touches us on a daily basis.  This obviously led to discussions of various hip hop artists and corresponding poets that might help bridge the gap for a music appreciator who's curious about where poems fit into their life.  Two girls stayed after one of the sessions to grill me about what I do to keep from deleting my first drafts and how I keep from getting discouraged when sending out submissions.  I lauded the power of the page break when making revisions (and using long-hand as a stand-by, since you can't delete when it's paper and ink), as well as sites like Duotrope, which are invaluable when it comes to finding out where your work might fit and keeping track of submissions.

All said and done, I surprised myself with how well I managed a day of teaching.  I often forget that all my performance experience translates to other kinds of speaking engagements.  Even my interviews have gotten infinitely better.  Speaking of which, I interviewed for a new job on Wednesday.  A real one this time.  It's too early to say for sure, but according to some insider info from my office spies, I did fabulously and have nothing to worry about.  Cheers to an impending change of industry!

Finally, I found an apartment.  At long last, I'm moving to Somerville on May 1st.  We found a cozy two-bedroom with massive closets and plenty of space for our epic collection of books.  Less than three weeks until the big day.  I've been shopping for the perfect dishes all morning and daydreaming about long evenings painting and writing in our workroom.  Jamie showed me an excellently curated furniture store just down the block from where we'll be moving, and knowing it's there is only adding to my frenzy over rattan lampshades and red lacquer bookcases and finding the perfect record player and a host of gems I've got coming my way from my uncle's storage unit that he needs help emptying.

There is nothing more exciting that an avalanche of positive change.  Except keeping up with writing a poem a day for National Poetry Month, and possibly winning Madonna tickets from Spotify...

New news.

1.  I finally did all the legwork I'm capable of squeezing out for the poetry day.  They're paying me to read things to teenagers.  Somehow, I managed to dig up enough material that isn't either profane or somehow illicit (at least as far as high school administrators are concerned).  As a companion to a presentation that will probably only interest a small fraction of my listeners, I put together a zine with a list of ten quick, painless writing prompts and three alt-poems.  The first is a Mad Libs version of "Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening"; the second is a collage poem about the point of poetry, made with material from John Cage's lecture on nothing and bits of Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons (revived and revised from a college class on Black Mountain College//yes, I am a painfully serious nerd who should probably be buried in a graduate program somewhere); and finally, a bizarre word cloud thing I wrote the other day called "Quicksilver" that doesn't know what it's doing but seemed like an apt end note for the hand-out.  I'm going to top off the zany antics with a fur hat and a denim vest and maybe some rhinestone glasses so the kids all feel like they have permission to think I'm crazy, thereby getting that conversation out of the way up front.

2.  I am now the poetry editor at Side B Magazine.  I felt pretty dandy when I found out--the kind of blush til you're purple and not respond in conversation when somebody says congrats dandy feeling that often accompanies such things.  Anyway.  We like words and arts and cultural phenomena and under-represented voices.  Among many other fabulous things.  We'd most likely like you.  Submit things (anything, really--there are lots of categories and each has its own handler) and I will love you for your efforts as a pen pal.

3.  I worked a ten hour day on my feet in those awful Dansko clogs that are supposed to be so comfortable and am now certain that clogs of any type should never be stood in for so long.

4.  I have a loyal following of regulars who routinely say my coffees are the best they've ever had.  In spite of my wild barista successes, I have an interview for a real job on Wednesday.  Fingers crossed that the company falls in love with me.  They've already made it known that pink mohawk and face metal are not at all frowned upon.

5.  If all goes according to the fast and loose plan, I'll be a resident of Massachusetts again May 1st.  Giddy at the prospect of living in the same neighborhood as my best friend for the first time since the summer of boat-in-yard, nacho fail, and the curious incident of the disembodied pants haunting our stairwell.

Orchids, intertextuality, and doctoral programs.

Everywhere, orchids.  In the mystery man's house when Donna takes over the Meal-on-Wheels program on Twin Peaks; in The Orchid Thief (obviously), driving people mad with covetous desire; in poems I read by accident.  Everywhere I turn, these strange plant aliens have popped up.  For two weeks, all that I consume has been nothing but orchids.

I like to think of texts (a term a define broadly as anything that can be read, where read means consumed and interpreted, so books, film, TV, songs, etc. are all texts in one way or another) as creatures that speaks to each other if you let them.  This probably stems from any critical work I've ever done: I don't believe in writing on a text by itself.  There always has to be another text to let it talk to.  Blame this on my college experience.  Hampshire doesn't just read books.  Hampshire reads books in context of other books.  Change the context, and the entire experience of a novel shifts.  Typical assignment: read your assigned novel of the week and come up with an essay topic, then look for articles supporting your thesis; if there are articles supporting your thesis, pick a new topic.  This is how you keep critical work from stemming only from the hybridization of two formerly held notions about a text.

I got into a conversation recently about graduate school.  (I have a lot of these higher education talks while half-daydreaming at my minimum wage barista job.  Call it wishful thinking.)  My conversation partner seemed to believe that holding an advanced degree meant you were some kind of brilliant, original thinker.  If only.  I've met plenty of people with advanced degrees who aren't worth the paper their diploma was printed on.  And here's why: a PhD program can't teach you to be an original thinker; it can only teach you to organize your thoughts in an academically acceptable scaffolding.  No one needs to be brilliant to be called, "Doctor".  They only need to be observant enough to find where critical lines about any given topic intersect, then point out those intersections and move the conversations about the given topic a slight stumble forward.  Simple and plain, most dissertations do little to advance their fields other than repackage information.

But the fact remains, I get dizzy when I imagine completing a doctoral program.  Something about being not only allowed, but required, to spend that amount of time rooting around in a library looking for unarticulated truths reminds me of Indiana Jones.  In a much more musty, sedentary way.  But the adventure is still there.  Conversation between two texts assists in interpretation of both.  Conversation between more than two texts creates an exciting web of interconnected ideas that helps sift out new things from my brain, and also helps mine for images I didn't know I had in me.  Textual excavation is also a process of self-discovery.  Regardless of the acceptable critical perspective on literature or any text, my own favored method of interpretation has always been emotional.  How does a piece of art make me feel?  It is that gut tug that makes any piece of art resonate past the year it's written in.

Back to orchids.  They grow in the most strange ways, latched onto the sides of trees and the edges of cliffs, roots dangling in the air.  They don't bloom for their first seven years of life.  They have odd, ugly faces, wear funny hats, die easily when removed from their misanthropic swamps.  How like artists.  We know little about how or why they grow the way they do, but the more strange and rare they are, the more eagerly they're pursued.

Magic Morsel: Ekphrasis

At times, it's necessary to empty your head of all personal imagery and just let writing become the mechanical process.  I've heard tell of both Ernest Hemingway and Hunter S. Thompson re-typing great novels by other writers to learn the movement of genius.  I've never gone so far myself (though it intrigues me to think what I might make after such an exercise).

But last night I did a little exercise.  After retyping a scene from the novel (no editing allowed in the process), I was in a very floaty, empty-headed working mode.  I tend to create best with nothing current immediately on my mind.  Then I did an ekphrastic experiment(ekphrasic writing is done as a direct response to another art object)--a song came on in shuffle, and while listening to it several times over I brainstormed images based on the musical features.  The guitar line was lonely and wandering.  The drums sounded like the slow turn of gears.  Before I was sure of what was on the page in front of me, I'd written a three stanza western.

Here's the song:


It would be interesting to see what other people would write in response to the same song, though I haven't quite thought through how that might be collected.

Anyway, I plan on doing this at least once a day.  It's an effective trap door out of always writing about myself, or at least an escape from the ever-larger manuscript of hospital/death poems.  Maybe for National Poetry Month (April), my project will end up as thirty ekphrastic poems, each a response to one of my favorite songs.

The Bibliography of Loss

I haven't written here in eight months. For everything, there is a reason and season, if not a proper rhyme. My father died in July. Simple as that tiny sentence; bigger than anything I can (or will) ever write here or anywhere else.

Following this, I threw myself into many things. I worked two jobs, spent endless driving hours bouncing between Providence and Boston. It felt best to move more than was comfortable. In stillness, people approach you. Hang at the fringe of a party and someone will ask how you're doing. It's rude not to answer. They're only concerned, and rightfully so. The conversations that accompany losing a parent are unlike any others. Such an experience becomes public no matter what you do or say surrounding it. Everyone finds out. Sympathy becomes oppressive. Pity, pervasive. The faces of friends are suddenly gutted of kindness, deeply hollow, wanting only to drink in as much of your sadness as possible. They can't help it; tasting your loss could make their own future losses somehow easier. You are a walking premonition. A how-not-to guide for grieving.

My best friends have always been books. Like many children, imagining was the greatest escape. It continued to be into the final stretch of my father's battle with innumerable chronic illnesses. I read The Autograph Man; the first scene, I reread three times and cried on the commuter train. Big, wet sobs in front of strangers too horrified to ask. And then I read White Teeth and decided that along with The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, I had the start of a syllabus for a lit class on the immigrant humor-histories of diaspora. To finish out my comprehensive tour of Zadie Smith, I sat a long weekend with her essay collection Changing My Mind, which had me bawling even more than the novels. Her piece about off-color humor and its place in her family life hit particularly close to home.

I started The Brothers Karamazov and in the middle of it, the end. I haven't been able to push forward more than a hundred pages since. (I blame most of this on having come to the first person interjection of the elder Zosima's call to faith, which should probably just be dramatically staged in my living room with funny accents and stick-on mustaches to expedite the process so that I can say I've made it through.) Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World broke my heart by presenting itself as the first book post-death that I would've bought for my father. Our phone calls where we talked about recent reads are the thing I miss the most. He was an expert on the hierarchies of Herbert's Dune, favored speculative fiction above most things. I feel closest to him now when I find something madcap and unapologetic. I also have my greatest troubles with the future, because he can't bodily be in it. I cry about weddings of complete strangers. The thing I am most proud of is that the first piece of writing anyone's paid me for publishing came out 2 days before he went. That I got to see him smile at our triumph.

He made me a storyteller and storylover. Which made this next one a particularly difficult time, given the elusive presence of the brilliant storyteller dead dad. I picked up Infinite Jest at the end of the summer as a challenge to myself. I hadn't been writing. I hadn't been able to read more than a few pages of poems a week, where my appetite usually went through two or three hundred times as much in the same time. Before. Such an ugly word to think of when talking about a person's life. Foster Wallace wrote the guilt of remembering a better before and the guilt of searching for a better after, and the numbness required to run from both, and the ways we are all bred to expect some escape, and a lot of nonsense about puppet shows and trash and radio engineers and Canada that wasn't even close to nonsense because it kept me from thinking of the hospice and the ashes and the eulogy I wrote mostly about a seagull feather (weeping nearly enough to short out my computer). The power of words lies in their ability to imagine ourselves different. Reading asks us to go somewhere unfamiliar, to trust that the unknown can be good again. I can think of no other conversation I wish someone had started with me in person.

I am (un)fortunate enough to know a handful of people who have done this dance. The I-wish-wouldn't-say-you're-sorry-for-my-loss dance. The please-shut-up-about-it-and-take-me-to-a-stupid-movie dance. All of us are heavy readers. I can think of no other effective coping mechanism. If someone asks about "how I'm doing" in that eyebrows raised kind of way, I tell them what I'm reading. Most seem deeply thwarted by this, but I much prefer sharing something truly useful to harping on a wound that is unlikely the scab over, perhaps ever. Luckily, there are enough titles on my must-read list to keep me distracted for at least six lifetimes.

I guess what I'm saying is I needed a long, deep breath, voices unreasonable and irreverent to talk me out of taking loss so seriously. I come from the future. The thoughts here are hard-nosed, but happy.

"The poets are coming."

The way things unravel never ceases to amaze me, but the way things come together is even more astonishing. I got a rejection letter today and was not devastated. My skin has gotten so thick about writing--four years ago, not even a handful of people had even seen my poems. I just talked my sister's ear off about Blind Huber and themed manuscripts (I'm working on two). I have yet to even complain about a 30/30 poem; I just wake up at 8 AM every day and write one.

Which reminds me--it's National Poetry Month. All of my friends are posting their work and tagging me in notes on the good book. Well, not all of them. The brave ones. The disciplined ones. The crazy ones. (Those words tend to be interchangeable when it comes to the people I love.) And then there's this thing happening in one of my adopted cities this summer that drawing closer every day. You should be as excited about it as we are. The National Poetry Slam is coming to Boston! I've known about this for awhile, but shit just got real the other day. April Ranger put together a great show of music and comedy that led up to a slam grudge match between Boston and New York City. Melissa gave me this postcard:

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...in which the NPS logo is both the moon AND the poetry Bat Signal. She's also curating a tumblr for the event, which is currently chock-full of performance poem videos worth watching.

To top all this word-love off, I have a show tomorrow night in Portland, ME with Sam and Mckendy. I haven't shared a stage with them in months. I anticipate sheningans of a tall order. Or, at least we'll perform some poems and yell "Get it in!" and "Only off jumps!" at one another for a good chunk of the evening. If you're going to be in the area, come give and receive hugs. I am very good at those.

In closing, this song makes me really really really happy.

Today is.

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Morning with a favorite. Still under the blankets. All I can think of are birds. Petah Coyne's dead, still birds. The giant hanging masses of ash. Chandeliers of dead things. Flowers made of wax. Sol LeWitt's math, all of his chalk and crayon on the walls. Grids of planning. Now, take away the grid. Peel back the mask. What do you see? What will be left when the lines that propped up your words are stripped away? Can you stand on your own?

I am digging through the manuscript of the first, the only, year I did 365. So many new poems will come of this. Mass MoCA is still stewing in my head. Even frozen feathers make me think of movement. I've seen dead birds in the gutter and expected them to dust off the grit and maggots, take flight like nothing was ever wrong.

What I think about when I am a month late on resolutions.

I am safely back from tour, getting buried in snow (again) but nestled into my beloved, frigid New England. This a quiet, Ryan Adams b-side kind of day. The sky and the snow are the same shade of nothing. I have spent most of this day reading a novel in verse about Los Angeles werewolves and answering emails. It feels good to stop spinning my wheels for a few days. The engine was beginning to smoke. When the year changed over weeks ago, I was too busy smiling to make any resolutions. I've never found them very useful, though I've always been vigilant about keeping a little list for myself. I leafed back through my journal this morning and that yearly list was nowhere to be found. So here's the short version: submit to journals (no matter how quickly my heart thwacks into my tonsils at the prospect), settle back into the city of my heart, fine tune the novella and let it loose on the world, never fall asleep without reading at least ten pages. Small steps lead to the largest movements. This year is a big one already. I have seen so many cities I never dreamed of seeing, loved so many people I never thought I would hold so close to me. I am full, if struggling. That must be what it's like to be alive.

Public projects and secret dreams.

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College is drawing to a close more rapidly than I was prepared for, so much so that I now have in my hands the rough draft of my novel with marginalia (read: my wonderful advisor's sometimes-illegible scribblings to push everything a little closer to literary greatness). I purposely took a picture where you could see none of the writing, not even the title, because the only person in the world besides myself who's read the thing in its entirety is the aforementioned advisor. If I am a public poet (which I am, let's be honest), then I am the most private of novelists. Since the story was re-imagined into its current incarnation, Nell has been the only one to read it. Before, I'd read bits and pieces to Cassandra, post others to the tumblr I made for the project as they moved out of my head and through their drafts. But the past month or so, this shit's been on absolute lockdown. It feels like I'm trying to harness nuclear power or take over the free world, which is silly, considering how small and generally quiet the story is. That pink binder is the last four years of my life. That blows my mind every time I think about it. I've been practically living in my Ouija board t-shirt because I like to put myself in the divination state of mind for all this jazz of writing about hungry ghosts and psychic energy. (I'll post an excerpt once things have moved through two or so more drafts when, perhaps, this will will all make more sense.)

ANYWAY. During our meeting yesterday afternoon, Nell made me cold coffee with cream and Lebanese sugar cubes and asked me about my plans post-December. There is obviously the tour to look forward to, but beyond that I've been nursing a bit of ambivalence about a very quiet, secret dream of mine. Lately, I've been telling it to a few just to test the waters, and the response has been puzzled, but generally positive. So I just came right out and told her. When I'm done with college, I want to go to cosmetology school. It may seem backwards to get a bachelor's in literature and creative writing and then jump ship from the academy to attend trade school, but as I told my advisor, I think that any more study of books and the like at this point in time might kill me. And, contrary to the response I imagined, she was overjoyed for me, even launched into a story about how she'd always wanted to be a plumber and often wondered what her life would be like if she was the caretaker of a house's innards. It is beyond comforting when your mentor not only validates your odd needs, but admits to a crop of the same feelings herself.

So it's settled. Finish the book, tour the coast, open the door for the next chapter of my life. One made of the cotton candy hair and silver rollers and diner songs of every middle school sleepover I ever had. I'm beginning to think that Grease has had a lot more to do with my development as a human being than anyone could have anticipated. But then, that's another post entirely.

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Magic morsel #43, Manic monday.

I have two manuscripts due this Thursday. Welcome to crunch time. My bed has turned into an odd headquarters of sorts--I sleep next to/under/spooning legal pads, six or seven fat stapled drafts of both poems and the novel, three or four jackets, a basket of my clean (and yet to be put away) laundry, my shark, various magazines, books, and at least seven hats. I ate ice cream for breakfast yesterday. I fell asleep at roughly nine PM and slept straight on and off until about seven this morning. My body and mind will not meet me halfway on this.



At least the Bangles know how I feel.

Brain food, and that other stuff that just tastes good.

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Good morning, sunshines. I got a solid ten hours of sleep last night and I am so ready to kick this day's butt! Too bad there's not much to do. While I wait for my laundry to finish drying, lemme sing another chorus of "Young and Healthy" from 42nd Street and then I'll tell you the tales of the past few weeks.

The past semester has contained more revision than any other period of my life to date. Til now, and as a writer I'm endlessly ashamed to admit this, revision was more of an afterthought than process. I see now that such an attitude was burying some of my best ideas in a whole lot of junk, and feel my words are better able to breathe now that I tend and prune them properly. It really is a lot like gardening; afterwards, my back tends to hurt and my hands can get ornery, but I always sit down to eat a helluva lot more satisfied than when I let things have their own way. And I'm going to cut that metaphor off right now before it gets away from me.

The preliminary final drafts of both my novel and my poetry manuscript are due next week. I have this. I can manage it. I am endlessly excited for the outcomes, as my projects have taken their time becoming what they are now. I have been peeling back layers for months and letting intuition do the bulk of the real work. It is both rewarding and excruciating to let your instincts write a book for you. If you only write when the mood strikes as it is, waiting for the mood to strike and your instincts to indicate where you must go next is like holding out both hands for lightning strikes. But it is getting there. I am getting there. In a month's time, I will be done with college and gearing up for tour. This all boggles my mind. I am still just a little girl playing house. Here, evidence of the playing--an experiment in soup turned genius fall meal. I literally just put things into pans and hoped for the best. Magically, that worked out with such success I had to record it. Jericha usually does the cooking at home, but I bested my roomie at her own game this time. She asked for the recipe, so I thought I'd write it down here for everybody. (And it's vegetarian.)

Accidental Onion Soup

5 medium-sized onions, chopped
1 bottle Opa Opa Light Lager
5 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 1/2 cups water
salt & pepper, to taste

Melt 1 tbsp butter in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add chopped onions and remaining butter in layers. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt. Allow to cook, unstirred for 25 minutes. Do not worry about burning (it won't happen). After 25 minutes, stir occasionally, continuing to cook onions until they are a deep mahogany, 15-20 minutes. Once a rich brown color is achieved, mix onions, beer, and water in a large stock pot. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook on medium heat for 20-25 minutes. Serve with crusty bread and parmesan cheese on a brisk night when you want hearty comfort food.

Or, you could always stop by Nakedhaus and I'll cook you dinner while reciting for my latest project. No kidding. It happens at least three times a week now.

"Do I offend?"

Mid-afternoon sanity break, after I realized that this was how I looked, curled up in the corner of the kitchen, poring over drafts with a correction pen:

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The need to reign in my excitement is generally overcome by the need to keep trucking. I hope the world at large understands.

Little happiness.

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+ I am writing so many poems that I am overwhelmed with pride to read on stage. When people come up to me after an open mic, be they friends or strangers, I can take the compliment gracefully and start a conversation. Not so ugly duckling anymore. More of a goofy, blinking owl trying to turn my head all the way around so that I can see absolutely everything, hooting and hollering whenever there are words to be shout at and with. I am more than okay with that.

+ C Rudz told me last night that I have a delightfully unique laugh, and to never lose it.

+ C Rudz and April Ranger are going on a tour of the West Coast, bringing their sucker punch sunshine to the Sunshine State (no, not Florida) and its neighbors. If you can catch a show, you must. They will melt your faces with their talent and overwhelming goodness.

+ Speaking of face melting, Karen Finneyfrock featured at the Cantab last night. Not only is she a phenomenal poet and a charming lady, she will sell you socks. I kid you not. Ask her about it, cos she'll be in New England for a minute on tour.

+ I haven't even gotten to St. Paul and I'm already thinking about NPS 2011, which is coming to Boston. I am absolutely thrilled by this. NorthBEAST advantage? I think, yes. J*me quoted Mark Twain on the mic last night--"In New York they ask 'how much money does he have?' In Philadelphia, they ask, 'who were his parents?' In Boston they ask, 'how much does he know?'" I like to think the bit about Boston holds true. Regardless, that week of August will be nuts.

+ All my happies today are poetry related. I guess it makes sense, being that it's National Poetry Month.

Prioritizing.

So I had this picture in my save folder labeled "wishful thinking":

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And I decided to stop wishing. Besides the bleach, I am on my way. And the bleach can always happen later. As for the tattoos, we'll just say there are plans in the works. For now, this is the wish in progress, with a groggy face.

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Other life goals fulfilled this week include making the Hampshire NPS team, submitting poems to a publisher, telling someone off for sexual harassment at work, among various other gratifying moments.

This week only knows how to improve upon itself. Saturday afternoon, Cass and I ran a workshop on the floor of a Manchester office building with Jeanann Verlee, whose new book Racing Hummingbirds is phenomenal. She, besides being a presence onstage and kick-ass poet, is a delight to talk poem mechanics with. Although, my favorite moment of the workshop definitely came from McKendy when he told her, "You can totally pen-fuck that draft if you wanna," while she had his hard copy in her hands.

I still haven't turned my calendar over from March.

Ooh-la-la, or, I CAN'T BELIEVE I'M GOING TO NPS 2010.

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This about sums up my shock and awe at the events of last night's slam as accurately as anything else, although I must say that I am not wearing a hat that fabulous. But the sentiment is definitely the same.

In the final bout for the Hampshire County Slam Collective's third ever NPS team, we came up with a first in the history of HCSC (at least as I know it): an all-lady team. Christina Beam, Anna Meister, Katie Frank, my lovely roommate/partner in committed friendship Cassandra de Alba, and yours truly will be storming St. Paul this August for some serious shenanigans, and also some serious poetry business. As a fundraising ploy, we are going to have a photo shoot as pin up girls and then make a calendar. I am very excited about this whole thing. The road trip, the estrogen, but especially the calendars.

In other, semi-related, poetry news, I submitted some poems to Write Bloody last night as part of their yearly call for new authors. I am also terribly excited about this, especially because of how soon I find out whether or not I've moved on to the next round. So many big steps to take in one week.

Papa bear is still in the hospital getting stronger (I told him we need to have a Rocky-style training montage replete with egg drinks and Philadelphian stone steps, etc.), and my sisters are working overtime looking for various heart surgeons to get second and third and fourth opinions from. Ever the glamorous one, Chrissie is going to get in touch with Oprah's very own Dr. Oz (she has more connects than any other working class 19-year-old I've ever met) and Kaitlin is inquiring with old friends who've had heart surgery who may be able to point us in more productive directions. I feel useless, as I know absolutely nobody who's had these types of problems, and thus cannot ask any doctors, famous or otherwise, for help. I just have to keep crossing my fingers. I hope they don't get stuck this way. But then again, even if they did, at least I'd have that extra luck.