What Spraining My Ankle Taught Me About Comparison

Oh, you know, just chillin' on the grass with my stylish cast. (Photo courtesy of healthtap.com).

Oh, you know, just chillin’ on the grass with my stylish cast. (Photo courtesy of healthtap.com).

 

This past weekend, I did something silly. I tried showing off.

Now you might be thinking, “What’s silly about that? Tons of people do it.” Certainly this is true, especially in this age of social media. Everyone tries to show their best lives when no one is perfect. This leads to the cause of showing off: comparison.

That’s what I did this past weekend. I was at a friend’s house, and we were waiting for tea water to boil. While doing this, we did what any other self-respecting group of adults would do: tried to see how high we could kick.

We were in the kitchen at the time, and all of us wore socks on this slippery floor. This didn’t really register for me until later. A friend kicked pretty high, and I thought, “I kickbox. I should be able to kick at least that high!” So I tried. And the room spun.

Before I knew it, I was on the floor, with my left foot and ankle in quite a bit of pain. I saw several pairs of hands trying to help me up, but I needed a moment. I needed to get the strength to deal with the impending shot of pain that would result from getting up. I needed to orient myself in the kitchen. I also needed to deal with my embarrassment.

Why did I do this? I thought to myself. What in the world did I have to prove?

My ankle hurt for the rest of the night. The next day, I couldn’t walk on my foot, and I became worried, wondering if this injury might take weeks to heal (According to my illustrious Google research, a sprained ankle can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to heal. That’s a HUGE time window! Seriously, it’s almost “waiting for the cable guy” worthy…). I hopped around my apartment whenever I needed something and tried to make as few trips as possible. When my ankle started feeling a little better, I limped around, sometimes hopping because of a sudden shot of pain.

So why tell this story? To illustrate a point. We are hobbled when we compare ourselves to others. Had I just marveled at the fact that my friend could kick pretty high, I could have enjoyed a pain-free night and weekend. How many times do we compare ourselves to someone else’s looks, success, art, writing, etc, and feel inferior? How many times do we walk around feeling sorry for ourselves because we can’t do what “so and so” does?

This helps no one! We all have something unique to bring to the world. (*cue sentimental violin music*).

You have nothing to prove. You’ve got your own style, your own flair, your own flavah, so own it!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Is there a moment where you caught yourself comparing? What did you learn from the experience? Is comparison still a struggle (it still is for me!)?

 

 

Singing: The Ultimate Detox

Image courtesy of thehoopla.com.au

Image courtesy of thehoopla.com.au

Perhaps it is because I’ll be singing karaoke in January or maybe I just need to howl at the moon—whatever the case, I’ve recently found myself singing loudly, well, everywhere. I do most of my singing on my commute to any one of the three colleges I teach at, but I also sing at home and while running errands.

A while back, I wrote a post on the link between grief and song, but my current penchant for belting out various tunes has me wondering what other connections there might be between singing and everyday life. Here’s a short list of possibilities I’ve come up with:

  • I just like the feeling of being loud
  • Singing acts like a catharsis, a release of frustration (I am a teacher, after all) and, as previously mentioned, grief (I recorded a podcast about my very recent journey with grief after the sudden death of a family member.)
  • I’m super serious about prepping for karaoke
  • One of my not-so-secret wishes is to be a rockstar, and singing loudly helps me live out this dream, even if only for a pretend audience

Whatever the reason (and the list above is by no means exhaustive), I find I always feel refreshed after indulging in some screamo or holding an extra long note. I’m not super into regular “cleanses” that involve only drinking juices or other dietary restrictions, so maybe singing is my detox and way of giving voice (no pun intended) to all that is not language within me yet.

Your turn: Do you like to sing? If so, what are your reasons? Is it for fun or might there be another purpose?

An Imagined WA (Workaholics Anonymous) Meeting

Image courtesy of onlinecareertips.com

Image courtesy of onlinecareertips.com

(Note: This post is the first of it’s kind for me—I wrote it in about five minutes. No editing. No nothing. Stream of consciousness. Makes me nervous, but I trust this is a safe place to let some of this out.)

Hello. My name is Michelle, and I’m a workaholic.

(All: Hi, Michelle).

It might be the result of being the only child of a single parent or just beginning my life with a type-A personality, but I tend to work myself to death. No one asks this of me—I demand it of myself.

And yet, as I get older, I realize I can’t keep up the frenetic pace. I started thinking there was something wrong with me because I couldn’t keep up break-neck speed. But it wasn’t until my husband said, “I’m worried about you” that I was willing to admit that it was my schedule and the pressure I put on myself that was the problem.

This means taking on less work. This means less money, which, as a former welfare recipient, honestly scares the shit out of me. I don’t ever want to rely on the system again. But that can’t be synonymous with not relying on those closest to me.

Yes, it means less of what I’ve grown used to, but what else might it mean? More free time for sure. More time to write, to make art, to sleep (oh, glorious sleep!). More energy for my students. More time with my husband. More reading. Kinda makes the old adage “Less is more” take on a whole new meaning.

Its tough redefining who you thought you were. I thought I was the perpetual happy-go-lucky person, then my depression worsened. I thought I was a type-A person through and through. I think it might be true to a certain extent, but it’s wiping me out. It’s wrecking my health.

I’m scared. I’ve been here before. But all the scary steps I’ve taken in the past have paid dividends, though not always right away. I have to trust (God, myself, the people in my life) that this will also turn out OK.

What My Grade-School Self Taught Me About Owning My Art

I wasn't quite grade school age here, but those pigtails!

I wasn’t quite grade school age here, but those pigtails!

When I was in first or second grade, my class read a book and then did an art project based on it. I don’t remember what the book was about, but I remember that the main character was a ho-hum-looking man. The assignment was to draw clothes on the paper doll version of the main character in the style of any activity we wished. Some put leather jackets on him, some made him a painter or a fighter.

Keep in mind that this was the early cusp of the 90s, so 80s fashion was still prominent. I decided to do something a bit different and outfit the guy in workout clothes—short shorts, lemon-yellow headband, and all.

IMG_1282

“Funky Doodle” Colored Pencil and Micron Pen in sketchbook

There are two things I’ll never forget about this assignment after seeing the bulletin board with all of my classmates’ paper renditions of this book character. The first is how awesome my friend’s outfit came out. She was known for being a fantastic artist, even at that young age. Her paper doll looked like he was ready for the cover of a J. Crew catalog. He sported a smartly cut-out leather jacket made of brown construction paper, complete with a drawn-on zipper. Her paper doll had swagger.

The second thing is this: I admired the bulletin board behind two of my classmates. They pointed out their own work, then began commenting on the work of others. I’ll never forget what one of them said. He swept his eyes across the bulletin board and exclaimed to his friend, “I like all of them…except that one.” He was pointing to mine.

I don’t think the two boys knew I was behind them. I’m pretty sure they didn’t even know the paper doll outcast one of them had just singled out was mine. All I know is that one sentence rung so deep in me because it pointed out something I already felt: I’m no good at art.

Two-minute sketch of Wonder Woman. Much swagger. Such wow!

Two-minute sketch of Wonder Woman. Much swagger. Such wow!

Writing was a different story. That has always come fairly easily to me. My mom recently told me that around this same time in my school career, the stories I wrote during free time were shown to the principal because my teachers thought they were that good.

Yet I was hung up on that paper man. I knew that, technically speaking, mine wasn’t the best or most attractive of the outfits. But, dammit, I’d spent time on it!

I’ve gone back to this memory a few times throughout my life, convincing myself that perhaps it meant I shouldn’t pursue art in the public eye because people will react like my classmate: love absolutely everything out there except what I make. But I’ve recently come to the conclusion that praise isn’t what truly matters (though it is nice). Community does.

And I now accept that paper man with short shorts and headband that I made all those years ago (though he doesn’t hold a candle to the snow lady I drew around that same time. She had a red bandana and nunchucks, a la Ninja Turtle style).

"Circle Study" Micron Pen in Sketchbook

“Circle Study”
Micron Pen in Sketchbook

In years passed, I’ve set out to make art more regularly and it never quite worked out so well. This year, I’m making it one of my goals to do a bit of art once per week, even if it’s a little doodle and even if I end up doodling a male Jane Fonda like my grade-school self did. And, dammit, I will own every last bit of it.

(Note: all photos in this blog post are part of this project so far. Already on a roll!)

IMG_1276Want to join me in owning your art? Include the hashtag #arteveryweek2015 on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. There are no restrictions on the type of media you use. Just have fun! Let’s collect our creations via this hashtag and create a community of artists that says, “We love all of them!” No exceptions 🙂

Weighing In on the “Biggest Loser” Controversy (and Bad Puns)

Biggest Loser_Rachel

A few years back, I watched the “Biggest Loser” regularly. I liked the feel-good stories and the fact that the cast of participants wanted to pursue a healthier lifestyle. But, as often happens, I got sidetracked with other shows.

The “Biggest Loser” recently came back to my attention because of the recent winner, Rachel Frederickson. There is a controversy centered around the question: “Did she lose too much weight?” I was going to write this off, but then I realized that the previous question is linked to “How thin is too thin?”—an inquiry that hits home for me.

As someone who has hovered between 110 and 115 pounds her entire adult life, this is an issue I face regularly. Because I’m on the taller side (or tall enough not to be counted as “short”), my slight frame seems unhealthy to some. I know what you may be thinking: “What do you have to complain about? You’re thin!” Yes, I know. And I’m grateful.  What I’m not grateful for are the remarks:

“There’s nothing to you!”

“Do you eat?”

“Oh, you’re thin…too thin.”

“I’ll have to feed you more so you can put a little weight on!”

While these remarks are generally well-intentioned or meant as a joke, they hurt. Am I less of a person because I’m slender? Do I look sick? Why can’t we focus on something else other than what I (or you or her or anyone else) looks like? I, and everyone else, are more than the sum of our body parts. But back to my main point…

Did Rachel lose too much weight? I feel I don’t have the proper information to say yes or no, largely because one must take into account two components (the physical and the emotional/mental).

First, the physical: If she is tall, weighing 105 pounds may not be healthy for her from a purely biological standpoint.  Additionally, when you are in the low 100 weight range, 5 or 10 pounds looks like a big difference and, depending on how tall you are, can impact you significantly. Lastly, losing a lot of weight is OK as long as it is spaced out. How long did it take her to lose the 155 pounds?

Now, the emotional: Perhaps my biggest concern is how does Rachel view her weight loss? Does she see herself as too thin or, perhaps, not thin enough?

While I have, thankfully, never had an issue with food, since Rachel began this journey overweight, I wonder if she now has a healthy body image. Losing weight (or trying to maintain it) is very much a psychological journey.

Though my weight isn’t too far off from Rachel’s current weight, I’m aware that there should be a balance. What I mean by this is because Rachel began at a heavy weight, my concern would be that she won’t find balance between a healthy weight and, perhaps, her desire to stay thin and not revert back to habits that could make her overweight again (which could cause her to overcompensate by continuing to lose weight even though she is healthy).

My personal conclusion: If Rachel’s weight is healthy for her height, if she lost the weight in a reasonable amount of time, and if she views herself in a good way and maintains a healthy lifestyle, let’s just be happy for her. (Well, we should be happy for her regardless, but I’m a huge proponent of taking action if a problem/misperception exists).

Time for you to weigh in: What are your thoughts on weight loss and/or this particular controversy? Do you have a particular weight that you deem “too thin” or “unhealthy”?

Musing on Three Years of Waiting

dearsister_newcover_1

Image courtesy of AK Press

In December of 2010, my poem “Smooth as Scales” was accepted to an anthology titled “Dear Sister.” At the time, I knew that the manuscript didn’t have a publisher. So began the wait.

But let me back up a bit—
I should mention that the subtitle of the anthology is “Letters from Survivors of Sexual Violence.” Before I submitted to this anthology, I’d gone through an event that qualified me to submit. I tried to convince myself that nothing had happened, but my nightmares and panic attacks told a different story. Looking back on that part of my life, I’m reminded of Jennifer Percy’s quote: “…The imagination of the event is so often more terrifying than the reality.” I know this is not true for everyone, but it was for me. I kept replaying the event constantly in my mind. In some ways, I think that rumination on the negative made me sick and my nightmares worse.

I thought about this event so much that I felt I had to write it out; otherwise, it threatened to poison my body. “Smooth as Scales” came to me. I read it to a dear friend of mine, and she later encouraged me to submit to “Dear Sister.” When my poem was accepted, it was like being told, “What you went through matters no matter what anyone else says.” It was a validation not only of my poetry, but (perhaps more importantly for me at the time) it was also a validation of the pain I had endured.

Spring forward to Winter 2012: Myself and the rest of the anthology’s contributors got an e-mail saying that the anthology was going to be published! Following that e-mail and swell of happiness were proofs and bios and media kits. It was all worth it. The anthology was published by AK Press on January 15, 2014.

Dear Sister Box of Books

In these past few years, the less-than-pleasant part of my story that appears in “Dear Sister” has simply become part of my life’s tapestry. I’m in a very different place now than I was when I wrote the poem. Seeing it in print, I think, has helped me close a chapter. I’m healed…now it’s time to pass that healing on to others.

Since the contributors of this anthology are far-flung across the nation, we were all encouraged to set up our own events. I held a poetry reading at Bernardsville Public Library this past Sunday with some lovely readers from Adanna. We all read works that revolved around the theme of healing and grief. Below are the lovely ladies I read with.

Adanna Dear Sister Reading

Stepping behind the podium to welcome everyone to the reading was an incredible feeling. Everyone read beautifully, and I loved speaking with each person at the small gathering. It reminds me of a quote from the last section of the anthology: “Forgiveness is a possibility that happens in conversation.”

If you’d like a copy of “Dear Sister,” e-mail me at roaringout@gmail.com. I still have some copies. Each copy is $10. I’d be happy to mail one out to you!

What Makes You Vulnerable?

“My weakness I feel I must finally show.”
Awake My Soul, Mumford and Sons

This post is a bit darker than usual, but I feel I can’t break my hiatus from posting written blog entries until this one is seen.

To answer the question posed in this post’s title: What makes me vulnerable? Asking for help when I am so incredibly depressed I lose my words.

Now let me put this in context: Around the end of June of this year, I felt…off.  I don’t really know how else to describe it. I’m typically fairly calm, content, and level-headed, but I found myself off center. I was snapping at those closest to me and always felt either fuming angry or deeply sad. There was no in between. Thus started three months of the worst depression I have ever faced.

I don’t know where it came from or why it never left during that time period, but there it was when I woke up in the morning, haunting me throughout the day, and keeping me from sleep.  There was much crying and frustration and voices (yes, voices, which makes me sound schizophrenic. But it’s more common than you think.) I couldn’t do anything without crying. I knew there was a problem, but didn’t know what the source was, which near made me go insane.

What was the most maddening for me during this time was the fact that I’m a writer…but I had no words. When my fiancee or a friend or a family member would ask me what was wrong in a genuine attempt to help (which I am so grateful for), I had nothing to tell them. I wasn’t trying to be coy or less of a burden. I legit had no idea what was wrong with me. I eventually stopped reaching out because it seemed pointless.

I kind of felt like Vincent Van Gogh, as portrayed in Doctor Who. During one of Van Gogh’s fits of madness, he has a short conversation with the Doctor:

The Doctor: Vincent, can I help?
Van Gogh: It’s so clear you cannot help. And when you leave—and everyone always leaves—I will be left once more with an empty heart and no hope.
The Doctor: My experience is that there is, you know, surprisingly always hope.
Van Gogh: Then your experience is incomplete! I know how it will end. And it will not end well.

For months, I felt exactly as the artist did in the previous exchange. I felt as if everyone always left me, and I was always alone. I felt like this experience I was having would end very badly.

I don’t think that people should live without hope, but I do think that everyone reaches a point where they truly believe there is none. I agree with Van Gogh in the sense that if someone has not experienced that, then her experience of life is incomplete. But the point isn’t to stay there. It is to rise and get help.

I know it’s a cliche saying, but it is true that sometimes you need to hit rock bottom to go anywhere but up.  That’s where I was, and I decided to just fold into myself. I didn’t reach out, as mentioned before, and tried to deal on my own (This didn’t go well. If you’re experiencing depression, please tell someone). I watched depressing movies so I could cry. Sometimes it was all I could do not to hyperventilate. And in between all this, fielding the voices in my head, and fighting just to go out and see the sun on so-so days, I made it my goal to find words for whatever it was I was feeling.  In the process, I amassed a pretty good collection (some of which I’ve already shared in this post, with more quotes to come).

Now to circle back to the question posed in the beginning of the post: I was vulnerable during my depression, especially because I didn’t have words. But, somehow (and very thankfully), I moved past that to ask for help again. It wasn’t fancy. It wasn’t pretty. But I started to say, to a trusted few, things like “Something’s wrong,” and “I can’t take this anymore, but I don’t know what to do,” and “I don’t know what this is.” And people stepped in. My fiance, my friends, and family checked in on me. They made sure I had everything I needed. They skyped with me in a minute’s notice. They got me out of my apartment.

It’s hard for me to accept help. I think part of this hearkens back to the movie “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” One of the main characters says, “We accept the love we think we deserve.” I wanted to soldier through the depression on my own because I wanted to be independent, but I also didn’t want to be a nuisance. The kind gestures of those closest to me showed me that I deserve a love much better than what I originally thought, and I try to carry that knowledge with me wherever I go now.

After getting help, both personal and professional, I’m feeling better. I’ve been ok for about a month now, and I can’t fully express how refreshing it is. I’m back to being myself. I still get frustrated and blue, but it’s manageable and in proportion with the circumstances I face. And I also get happy and smile a lot. But more than that, I’m content. While some may see content as being “middle of the road,” for me, right now, there is no sweeter feeling than to just be satisfied with where I am.

I must give credit where credit is due: There are two web sites (one blog post and one TED talk) that really pushed me to be brave and write this post: Natalie’s “The Lies in Our Heads” and Brene Brown’s “The Power of Vulnerability.”  Thank you, ladies, for sharing your stories.

In her TED talk, Brene Brown talks about telling “the story of who you are with your whole heart” and having “the courage to be imperfect.” That’s what this post is for me. That’s why I felt I couldn’t post anything else before I wrote this. I had to learn that being depressed wasn’t my fault. I had to learn that it’s ok to be imperfect and ask for help, spreading that messiness to others who can do something positive. And I needed you, the reader, to know this and, perhaps, let what I’ve learned sink into your own life.

Epilogue: I was seriously thinking of making this a private post just so I could write it, but only for me to see. So why make it public? Because I’m starting to find words and, as a writer, it’s important for me that I put those words out in the open, knowing that this could backfire or that not one person besides myself will read this or care. But even in the times when I don’t believe in myself, I know that risk is worth it, that the written word infused with authenticity has the power to change everything. Aside from authentic human relationships with the closest people in my life, it is all that has ever changed me.

Here are some of the other words I found to help me through my journey and articulate what I was feeling:

“Do not ask the price I paid. I must live with my quiet rage.
Tame the ghosts in my head. They’re unwild and wish me dead.”
Lover’s Eyes, Mumford and Sons

“I feel fine, and I can smile,
But I feel the anger coming.
It’s underneath.
I don’t know why
It’s always overflowing.
It’s a constant fight
Deep inside,
And I wanna forget it.

I confess I’m always afraid, always ashamed
Of what’s inside me.
I confess I’m always afraid, always ashamed
Of what’s inside my head.

And I can breath, and I still feel,
But not the way I want to.
I’m on the edge. I don’t know how
I can escape this nightmare.”
Confession (What’s Inside My Head), RED

“You’re so mean when you talk about yourself. You were wrong.
Change the voices in your head. Make them like you instead.”
Fuckin’ Perfect, Pink

“Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.”
The War of Art, Steven Pressfield
(Thanks for sharing, Stephanie Levy!)

The Wanderer’s Guide to Life

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” ~ Douglas Adams

Galaxies are so large that stars can be consid...

Galaxies are so large that stars can be considered particles next to them (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I graduated college nearly five years ago, I would not have considered myself a wanderer (or hitchhiker, as is the case with Douglas Adams).  I was a girl with a very narrow focus on life, and I thought I knew what I wanted: a steady 9-5 job as an Editorial Assistant at a publishing company where I would climb the ranks and, when I got married (who knows when that was going to happen!), I’d move out of my mom’s apartment.  In my spare time, all I aspired to do was catch up on reading.

Fast forward a few years, and my life looks very different than the less-than-inspiring version I was aspiring to as a recent college grad (Not that having a steady job is a bad thing, I’ve just since realized I want something more than that).

When I stumbled across the above quote earlier today, it got me thinking of all the sometimes frightening but always wonderful turns my life has taken, particularly in the past three years.  As another exercise in gratitude, I wanted to list some of those changes:

I have two Etsy shops: Remember when I said I used to aspire to simply catch up on reading? I’ve since opened up to online shops where I sell crafts and fine art (btdubs, I’m having a 15% off February sale in both shops now through 2/15!).  Because I have this outlet, I’m constantly thinking of new ideas for projects, which keeps the creative juices flowing.

I freelance, well, everything: I mostly copy edit, proofread, and babysit, but it’s so different than a 9-5.  I’m grateful that I can make my own schedule and even have time for lunch with friends 🙂

I am in a healthy romantic relationship: I used to be the jaded, single woman who thought that all the good guys were either taken, gay, or my best friends.  Nothing I did to garner a relationship seemed to work.  And then one day (like so many people told me, but I never believed them), it just happened.  A friendship I had for about half of my life blossomed.  And it’s been awesome ever since.

I think it is rare to find a person (and I am lucky to have friends like this too) who loves you, flaws and all.  (I know, I know. I’m probably giving most people a toothache right now, especially so close to Valentine’s Day. If you are not in a romantic relationship, let me encourage to live your life fully now, not in a holding pattern.  The right time and right person will come).

I am a professor: I thought this title only came after numerous awards, books, hard work, and lots of coffee (well, tea in my case).  I’m glad that a local community college gave me the chance to be in front of the classroom.  I am in my second semester of teaching, and it has been by turns challenging and rewarding beyond any of my expectations.

I have recently been commissioned to make art: This is something I thought would never happen. I’m comfortable calling myself a writer, but not an artist.  The painting commission I recently received was a really great confidence booster.

I am living on my own (well, with a roommate): For the past two and a half years, I’ve been living with a college buddy of mine.  We play video games and banter about poetry, faith, and Gangam Style (ok, fine, mostly Gangam style).

I have an MFA in Poetry: When I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I determined that I was done with school.  But then I heard about the Poetry program that my alma mater was starting.  I knew I had to apply.  It’s been a little over two years since I’ve graduated, and spending two years breathing, eating, and sweating poetry was definitely one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

I have a chapbook: A chapbook is a shorter poetry manuscript (about 18-25 pages).  I put one together a few weeks ago, and I’m pretty happy with it.  I didn’t think I’d ever have the time or discipline to put one of these together.  Now I’ve got one and a goal of mine for this year is to get it published with a press.  We’ll see how that turns out!

I find myself continuing to explore different possibilities.  I’ve signed up for bartending school and am looking into certification to be a teaching artist.  I’m also applying to and saving for writer’s residencies and art classes just for fun.  I feel that the world is open to me, and I want to try everything I possibly can!

Ok, so perhaps there is no “Wanderer’s Guide to Life” as the title suggests, but I think that’s because to wander means to explore.  If you have a five (or seven or ten)-step plan for it, the fun is sucked out of the adventures.

Of course, wandering comes with its own worries and questions (for me, some of those questions are: what should I focus my time on primarily?  Do I want a career? Can I pay the bills doing activities I love?), but I’ve found that these bigger questions tend to work themselves out if you put in hard work and pursue the activities that make you feel alive.

If you would have told me about my current life situation five years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you. My options at that time were few because I made it so. My life as it stands now was unthinkable to me back then because it’s completely different than the stereotypical picture I had in my mind.  But when I think about my current circumstances, I smile and know this is exactly where I needed to land.

What is one event in your life that was a pleasant surprise?

Poetry Still Has Teeth

During my first day in the Drew MFA program in 2009, students gathered to hear the faculty talk about a current favorite poem of theirs.  I’ll never forget when Alicia Ostriker, my first mentor, read Jane Mead’s poem “Concerning that Prayer I Cannot Make.”  At the time, I was fresh out of college, living with my mother whose mental illness was, unfortunately, getting the best of her, and wondering how and why my relationship with God was changing…and frightened by it all.

That first stanza unexpectedly hit me, as Florence + the Machine would say, like a train on a track:

Jesus, I am cruelly lonely
and I do not know what I have done
nor do I suspect that you will answer me.

Those three lines felt like I had written them. I was disillusioned with silence from God, yet I desperately wanted to love Him, but didn’t quite know what that looked like anymore.  I was rapidly being asked to grow up in many ways by taking care of my mother and shouldering a full-time job while going back to school. I was also the youngest in the MFA program at the time and felt completely inadequate as a writer. And yet I felt I had to swallow all of my insecurities and carry on like a good little soldier.  I certainly did not think of acknowledging my loneliness, anger, and questions.

This poem changed that.  It showed me that it was ok to question and be bold about it.  To this day, I still think of the last line of that Jane Mead poem where, after addressing Jesus, the poet addresses nature and all that is around her, saying, “Listen, I am holy.”

That last line broke me open.  Though permission is not required to write or to feel or to question, I needed it.  I needed that gateway to open so that I could remember my worth as a person.  I later wrote to my mentor that it was in that poem that I saw pieces of the writer I wanted to become.  I realize now that my connection to the piece was deeper than that.  I saw pieces of the woman I wanted to become–thoughtful, observant, full of questions, and, when need be, brazen. Four years later, these are all qualities I now possess.

Last week, a writer at the Washington Post posted an article asserting that poetry is dead. The main question posed in this article is “Can a poem still change anything?”  Here, in part, is the writer’s answer:

I think the medium might not be loud enough any longer. There are about six people who buy new poetry, but they are not feeling very well. I bumped very lightly into one of them while walking down the sidewalk, and for a while I was terrified that I would have to write to eleven MFA programs explaining why everyone was going to have to apply for grants that year. The last time I stumbled upon a poetry reading, the attendees were almost without exception students of the poet who were there in the hopes of extra credit. One of the poems, if memory serves, consisted of a list of names of Supreme Court justices. I am not saying that it was a bad poem. It was a good poem, within the constraints of what poetry means now. But I think what we mean by poetry is a limp and fangless thing.

This response to poetry both saddened and angered me.  I was angered that someone would flippantly say that a medium I love so much is “a limp and fangless thing.”  And I was saddened that someone could misunderstand such a powerful literary genre so completely. To only look at the numbers is to miss the point.  The author’s perspective is one I would expect from someone who has not been affected by poetry.

And I know that not everyone will be.  Poetry is not for everyone. But to make such a sweeping statement about a genre one is not familiar with is ill-informed.  I hoped that the writer would at least include some tidbits about speaking with lovers of poetry, but she did not.

Poet Daniel Nathan Terry wrote a response to the Washington Post article as well (and after reading it, I wondered if I should enter the conversation because his response is so articulate).  I do not have a story that brings together politics, love, and words so eloquently as he does. But, as seen earlier in this piece, I do have a story of how poetry changed me.  And I’m not the only one.

The fact that poets may not have the most followers on Twitter or that they don’t sell out stadiums does not mean the genre is dead.  Poetry may not make headlines, but I have been in small New York bars and witnessed the audience sigh as one when a poem knocked the breath out of their lungs.  I have seen a poet cry when reading her own poem because the words brought back the memory so vividly.  I have sat at countless tables in cafeterias, cafes, and living rooms talking about the power of the exact right word.  And every one of those people has a story about a line of poetry that sticks with them to this day because it’s power knocked something loose in their souls.  It was that knocking that spurred them to action.

Poetry still has teeth.

And in that sense, yes, I think poetry can change a hell of a lot.  Indeed, that may be the only way anything has ever been changed in a lasting manner–one person, one adversity at a time.

Something Like Hope: Thoughts on Richard Blanco

Richard Blanco reads his poem at the 57th Pres...

Richard Blanco reads his poem at the 57th Presidential Inauguration, January 21, 2013 (Photo credit: Photo Phiend)

I have never been glued to the coverage of a presidential inauguration before, but yesterday, as poet Richard Blanco read his poem “One Today,” I was entranced by my computer screen (my mouth may have been hanging open slightly).  And after reading the poem and watching the footage again, I am just as enrapt.

You know how many people have this one moment that inspired them to pursue a certain life path or someone they really look up to?  Typically, this happens as a child.  I really think that moment took place yesterday for me.

As can be seen in some of my past posts, I have quite a few ambitions.  But something felt different in me as I watched Richard Blanco read.  As the first Latino and openly gay inaugural poet, his reading was ground-breaking.  What better person to form a poem when the nation needs unity more than ever?

On a personal level, as a Latina myself, I think the reason his reading struck me was because it was the first time I really felt as if there are no limits to what I can accomplish.  I can be published, go to the moon, teach, travel, read in front of a national audience, and, most importantly, have my art taken seriously.

Blanco’s poem was expansive and inspiring.  It had nods to national tragedy and national scenery, yet it also got very specific with it’s mention of “pencil-yellow school buses” and fruit “arrayed like rainbows/begging our praise.”  I especially liked the ending:

“…all of us —
facing the stars
hope — a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it — together”

What I love about these lines, and the poem in general, is that it focuses on the unity of this country despite our differences or, perhaps, because of them.  And isn’t that the point, not just of inauguration day, but also of this nation?

Maybe I’m being dewey-eyed and cheesy, but the inaugural poem felt a lot like truth in its remembrance of where this nation came from.  It felt a lot like hope.

After Sandy: A Lesson Learned from the Storm

Hurricane Sandy & Marblehead [Front Street 4]

Let’s face it: we’ve all become used to a certain amount of comfort. We have unlimited information at our fingertips with the Internet. Our homes are climate-controlled. We don’t even have to get out of our cars to get food.

For many, Sandy put an end to those comforts. For me, four days without power showed me that I can live without quite a bit.  And I have to say that the week off I had because of Sandy was one I’ll never forget, not because of the hardship, but because of the people I spent it with.

My roommate, boyfriend, mutual friend, and I spent a few days together without gadgets getting in the way.  We played poker, board games, and made a nifty heating/light source with a can of Spaghettio’s, a lighter, and some Everclear.  At some point during the week, I took a step back from the laughter and the many blankets piled around and realized that my three companions and I wouldn’t be sharing this time together were it not for the storm.  We wouldn’t have thought to hang out.  We might have been too busy or made excuses.  But here we were: cold but content.  It reminded me of a line from the Jason Mraz song “I’m Yours”: “Open up your plans and, damn, you’re free.”

I often wonder why it seems like I never have time to do anything.  Sandy was a pretty stark reminder of the fact that a lot of my “busy-ness” is self-imposed.  Although my power came on about a week and a half ago, I just got Internet service back yesterday (otherwise I would have posted sooner).  Now that all of my creature comforts are back, I’m sad to say I’ve fallen back into a lot of my technologically distracted ways.  But, I’m going to try to not spend so much time staring at a glowing screen.

I’m trying to re-evaluate my priorities.  Hanging out with people or reading or spending time outside is awesome and fairly liberating.  The Internet will still be there when I get back.

One thing’s for sure: I certainly don’t want to suffer from FWP (First World Problems) again.

How about you?  What did you learn/what was your favorite memory from Sandy?

An Exercise in Observation

About two weeks ago, I was sans car.  It was in the shop for some lengthy repair work and I was bumming rides to and from my job.  One evening after work, I decided to do a little exploring.  So I took a walk to the library (I know, wild times, right?).  But the walk ended up being more than picking up some books and getting some fresh air.  I noticed so much more than I usually do when I’m driving down the familiar few blocks to the library.  As soon as I got home, I made a list of all that I had seen (well, what I could remember anyway).  I thought I’d share my journey with all of you:

– Paw prints in one block of sidewalk cement

– What looked likea discarded lotto ticket with “crossword” written across the back

– A new art studio named “Elements”

– A somewhat hidden street I never noticed while driving down the main drag

– A store I previously thought was a gallery.  It was actually an antique store which also happened to sell art.  I saw a huge record player on sale for $250.00.  Not gonna lie, I was tempted to buy it until I realized I have no vinyl (nor a spare few hundred bucks to splurge).  But it looked so cool!  The last time I played records I was a tiny tot living at my grandmother’s house.

– A house with these cool, cracked crystal ball walkway lights (Yay alliteration!).

– A group of older women sitting on the porch talking.  I know this may not sound all that fantastic, but as I walked past them, I was able to appreciate the sound of their language– Arabic, I think.  I could smell their decadent perfume.  It reminded me of my grandmother when she used to have friends over and they would chatter grown-up talk in Spanish for hours.  I’d play amongst them and let the slick, familiar syllables roll off me.

– Artwork outside a small, local music venue.  There was this piece that really struck me.  It looked like a screaming face and it was made out of bits of magazine pages.  It was such an impressive, cohesive piece….must’ve taken hours to make!

– A silk screen printing shop

– A large Italian Ristorante I never noticed before even though I drive down Main Street all the time and have lived in my town for two years.  Now I want to try it.

– The familiar, speckled, uneven pink brick wall that leads to my apartment complex.  I noticed how unique each brick was with its own grooves, its own specks of brown and silver.

– Tiny plants grew above the grass next to the wall.  The plants looked like baby’s breath, but one was a tiny daisy– a curious hint of spring at the end of summer.

When I got home after the walk, I noticed that I got a big bug bite.  For the record, it was totally worth it.  I’m hoping to take a photo walk down Main Street soon when the weather gets a bit cooler.

What about you?  What are some cool things you have observed on walks or hikes?

5 Little Things That Are Simply Splendid

As I got ready to leave work yesterday, I was quite excited with the thought of the maple sweet mashed potatoes I would be making as my dinner side dish.  I thought of how awesome this simple food dish is, which got me thinking of all the little things I love.  So as an exercise in gratitude, I made a list of five “small things” I absolutely love and make my life that much easier/enjoyable (I didn’t include family, friends, or God because I think those are implied.  They are also not little ;-)).

1. New Book Smell – I know the world is moving to e-books and, to be honest, I may go that way someday myself.  But nothing can replace the awesome smell of pages fresh from the press.  As a kid, I loved smelling books.  To this day, I still smell the pages when I get an order in from Amazon.  I know, I’m weird.

2. Baby Laughter – Seriously, how can you not hear them laugh and keep a straight face?  I don’t have a kid and don’t want kids for quite some time.  But when I’m out and see a little munchkin in her stroller, I always smile.  The heartiness of a baby’s laugh provides a bright spot on even the most crap-worthy day.  Case in point:

See?  You couldn’t keep yourself from smiling could you?

3. Tabbed Internet Browsing – I’m really ADD when I surf the web.  The ease of pressing CTRL + T to get the information I want is such a fabulous convenience.  Every now and then, I’m on a computer that isn’t mine and isn’t equipped with tabbed browsing.  The clutter of all those windows brings about my sad panda face 😦

My Wikipedia-famous Posh Spice picture

4. Bobby Pins – For most of my life, I had super long hair (mid-back length).  I cut it short when I graduated college in 2008 and haven’t looked back since.  For a while I looked like Posh Spice with the short back and longer bangs.  Then I cut it even shorter.  Now I have a pixie cut with long-ish bangs.  This is when I became fond of bobby pins.  I can’t put my hair in a pony tail, but I don’t like having bangs in my face most of the time.  Bobby pins are a simple wonder that I am infinitely grateful for.  Eating my bangs doesn’t sound pleasant.

5. Maple Sweet Mashed Potatoes – While the thought of eating my bangs is unpleasant, I could eat sweet mashed potatoes every day!  And they are so simple to make.  I use the recipe found in Jae Steele’s book “Get It Ripe.”  She adds a bit of maple syrup to her mashed ‘taters and I have to say it’s a delicious addition!  Here is the batch that I made last night:

Om nom nom!

What’s one “small thing” you would add to this list?

Doing Nothing is the Most Productive Thing To Do

Most weeks, my life consists of work, laundry, volunteering, and sometimes cooking.  My weekends can get even more hectic with family parties, dinner with friends, weekend events, and catching up on errands thrown in.  It’s all good stuff, but it can get overwhelming.

This past weekend was the first in a while where I could just sit back and enjoy the luxury of doing nothing.  Sure, there are things I could have been doing, like cleaning or writing a book review.  But I often forget that sometimes doing nothing can boost productivity later.  Monday is coming to a close and I felt rested for most of the day, which is a plus of rest!

Well, I did do a couple of things this weekend.  I finally finished a book I borrowed from a friend over six months ago (The Book Thief by Markus Zusak…good stuff!).   I even made some yummy Black Bean and Brown Rice chili (I added ground beef later):

Speaking of food, my boyfriend and I also gorged on junk food while watching the Jason Statham/Jet Li gem “War.”  Also (perhaps more importantly), my boyfriend and I completely obliterated a score I held in Geometry Wars 2.

Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2

For those of you not familiar with the game, Geometry Wars 2 allows those of you despise Math to do what you’ve always dreamed of: shoot shapes!  There are several shape-shooting modes, but my favorite is called “King.”  In King mode, you fly from circle to circle trying to shoot the multicolored shapes and snakes while avoiding contact with them.  Shapes cannot get to you while you are in a circle.  The catch?  The circles start to shrink and disappear about 5 seconds after you enter one and you can only shoot while in a circle.

I could play this game all day.  In about a half hour, my boyfriend and I completely obliterated my previous high score of about 1,300,000 with the ridiculous score of 11,749,880. When we completed this feat, we must have had the perfect combination of salty ridge chips, Reese’s peanut butter ice cream, and Jason Statham badassery running through our veins.  I guess I did accomplish something this weekend.

 

How about you?  What are some things you like to do (or not do!) on lazy weekends?

For the Man Who Began the Wild Rumpus: An Ode to Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak, author of the children's book,...

I don’t know why, but every time a children’s author passes away, I feel as if I’ve lost a dear friend.  Or perhaps, I have an inkling of why.  I worked in a library for five years.  Three of those years I assisted in the Children’s Room.  One of my duties was to catalog and label the new materials.  Maurice Sendak’s books passed through my hands quite often (as did Doctor Seuss, Mo Willems, Judy Blume, Leo Lionni, and many others).

Authors who illustrate their own work are admirable, and Sendak’s drawings certainly possess a signature quality.  People’s hair is stringy and the edges are sharp. But, ultimately, these renderings are familiar and comforting with their warm tones and whimsical nature.

I must admit that I did not grow up reading Maurice Sendak (I was more of a Berenstain Bears and Corduroy kind of girl).  But during my library days, I read many of Sendak’s books.  I found myself delightfully intrigued by the the mischievous yet playful glint in the eyes of his characters.  Wonder and imagination are so often lost in the transition between childhood and adulthood.  Sendak, thankfully, did not lose that spark.  He brought that rich imagination to his books and breathed it into his timeless protagonists.  And for that, I graciously thank him.

Goodbye, Maurice Sendak.  May you always roam and find adventure where the wild things are.

 

Cover of "Where the Wild Things Are"