I’ve been unfaithful, this blog. My affections remain steadfast, though, while my pen (quill, actually–the one my poet starter kit came with, along with beret, cigarette holder, and the book How to Alienate Friends Through Poetry) has wandered. The kind folks over at Superstition Review are hosting a blog where I talk about many of the same things I do here but with less self-deprecation and chimichanga references. Please check it out here. I promise to come back to you soon, this blog–sure, I may smell of that other blog, and that blog may send me weird texts in the middle of the night, but you always have my heart.
My mother came to America by boat. She wasn’t really an immigrant, and definitely no refugee. Born to an Air Force serviceman in England, she came to the States at six. It was the 1950s, and England was bombed-out, post-war, rations and wool. But still, the cottage she’d lived in had a name, Thornsbane or something, and there was an occasional nanny who knit and prepared tea and smelled of scents I don’t have the names for. What is camphor? Are rosehips not the whole rose?
I don’t know the America she saw when she landed. It was New England, a place I’ve only recently seen, as foreign to me as the Old England. She’d go back to the UK to live again before coming back to Massachusetts to graduate high school. Eventually, and strangely, she ended up at 21 in the small New Mexican town my father was born in. He was over 14 years older, twice divorced. It is impossible for me to imagine them falling in love–now split for nearly as long as they were married–so instead I put them in a booth, say 1974. The seats are black pleather and there are white candles in thick red globes on a laminate table. They are drinking a lightly yellow beer in mugs and she imagines she is seeing what her life will be. I suppose they had to have been laughing or something else but the image grows fuzzy where I need it to. The point is that she decides to take this life, but then she gets pregnant and that’s not the life she gets.
This is the story of your mom too, probably. Before just the past year or two, I didn’t know anyone who came from homes or communities where people had many options, and some of these people I’ve met recently have mothers who, even in the last quarter of the 20th century, lived intentional lives. It’s weird. I don’t fully get it, what it must do to you as a person to see that every day. How it has shaped you in ways it hasn’t shaped me.
As usual, I am talking about someone else as a way to talk about me. I thought I had outsmarted the trap of the poor town I grew up in, that I’d found books and feminism and couldn’t get pulled down, but I think now the town just moved into me. Part of why I quit writing, as I’ve said, was that nobody seemed to care either way. Of course, I have to see and claim my part in that, but I also understand now that my values were shaped, sneakily, by that place, by that example. Why write, I thought, when you can just be happy?
For the metrics of my town, happiness was firmly rooted in coupledom, in marriage, in children. There’s a picture of me at 16 with three friends at the Boy We Love Jesus So Much We’re Gonna Sing About Him All Week Bible Camp. We are all 15-17 and had started a “music group” that week that mimicked They Might Be Giants. We called ourselves Les Dents Noir. The picture is a fake album cover taken in front of a church van. Within a couple of years, two of us would be mothers, the third just a bit after that. I have to emphasize this is not a judgment. I promise. I swear–one of them may be reading this now. (Hey J!) This is just one picture of any number I could choose with any number of high school friends and tell a similar story.
And the thing is, I was kind of judgmental for awhile. How smart my choices are, I thought. How great that I lived in Prague, poor and lonely, while my friends nursed or packed kindergartners’ lunches. I went to graduate school, I learned and forgot Polish. Look at my modern independence. Look at how I’ve escaped. In Greek drama, this is when the stabbing starts.
My grad school experience was, at best, mixed, and I left with not much desire to write. Moreover, I returned to New Mexico knowing that I would have no writing community, no writer friends, no one to read any work I may create or to discuss with what I read. To be clear–these people exist in New Mexico, but there’s not too many and I didn’t know them. I once had a brief pseudo-relationship with the neighbor of a well-known poet in Santa Fe, but that’s as close as I got to knowing who to turn to in case there was a poetry fire and I had to pull the alarm. (Seriously–how can a poet be this bad at metaphors?)
Where I’m going with this is that I made a calculated choice: go elsewhere and pursue writing options or stay in NM with my boyfriend and try that life. I chose B.
What I am not saying is that I regret that choice. That would mean the erasure of far too much good. But what I am saying is that I wish it hadn’t been either/or. Or that I hadn’t seen it that way. I am saying I worked so hard not to do what my mother had done, I never noticed that I had just updated that narrative for a new century.
Just about one month ago, my mother’s youngest brother was killed in a fairly gruesome car accident. I was on Poetry Mountain and only shared this with a couple of people I’d grown close to. My mother said there was nothing I could do if I returned, and because of various complicated legal issues in his life along with his expressed preference, he would be cremated and there wouldn’t be a funeral. I wasn’t close to him (he’d become a disaffected right-wing agitant), and while I worried for my mother, she insisted I not leave.
Certainly I am selfish for having stayed, but yet I know her well enough to have also heard in her voice Don’t you leave there. We don’t get chances like this.
A couple of weeks later, a small obituary for my uncle, penned by my mother, was published in Texas. It handled gently a troubled man’s life, and then this line: “Danny will join his father in lovely, desolate New Mexico. Someplace where the lonely rail tracks rumble.”
She had once wanted to write. She says she doesn’t regret her family, the way I don’t regret mine, but in both of us there is an imagined other life where someone said You should do this thing you love and are good at and then we do.
If this is a blog mostly about writing, let this be about writing. I write more and more, as often as I can, fitting it into the spaces I once used for companionship or self-care. And yet I gain no traction / nothing seems to be working. Fellowships and prizes have an age maximum, a tradition so sexist and classist I’m shocked it still happens. And yet. Each of these tell me I have no worth. That my voice doesn’t matter. What’s worse is that I listen.
Part of what kept me from writing before was fear, and yet now that’s what keeps me going. I fear the small town inside me unlatching until I am inside it. I fear not becoming my mother so much as I fear not fulfilling what she wanted for herself.
I love bemoaning personal setbacks, but only in private, so I have to ask myself what is the service performed in sharing these thoughts with all four of you. I don’t know that I know. I think at its heart is the desire to yell out into the lovely mass of award-winners and fellows and prize-winners and ask not for what they’ve earned but for a bit of space, room to share and breathe. That has to be earned, certainly, but it also has to be allowed for.
Mostly I am in this desert talking to rocks. They say nothing. Or maybe I am not listening.
It is Monday. Garfield is somewhere bemoaning this fact on cubicle posters and chipped mugs. I am back in New Mexico, in my own charming
office cubicle next to a pile of old maps, adjusting to regular life after a week and a half on Poetry Mountain in Vermont. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Google “Poetry Mountain in Vermont” then drive to where that is and let me know what you see because I have made this name up and this would be pretty entertaining.
One thing about my experience on Poetry Mountain was that after a freak accident resulting in my giving a pretty decent reading to a roomful of profoundly talented people, I got used to people saying nice things to me. I teach community college, so I’m more used to folks yelling at me in unpunctuated sentences over email. Being in an environment where peers both understood and appreciate (and even love) my project and voice and work is wholly unfamiliar, but it did not take me long to get drunk on adoration. Also on vodka tonics. Poetry Mountain’s waters are fermented.
And while this has filled my heart and renewed my dedication to what I’m doing, coming back has felt less like a slow emerging from a tranquil sea and more like being born but remembering it–everything’s cold and bright and people are in my face and, yes, maybe someone is cleaning some goo off of me. I may have returned from Poetry Mountain covered in last night’s wine. Who can say? (Shut up, those who can say.)
Maybe this sounds like someone coming back from Cote d’Celinedion, a French beach I have just made up, where they have used summer as a verb and made love to a Serbian stranger for 7 1/2 weeks, the salt of the sea lapping at their skin and serving as a potent de-wrinklizer, only to complain about how different things are here. I went to the fountain in the hall and was SO surprised when only water came out! I had entirely forgotten how the States don’t have champagne in their fountain d’revitilizement. How quaint!
What I want to do is understand how to integrate the energy and attitude I cultivated there into my life here. So far, I have not done well. The sheer act of driving onto the campus where I am indentured filled me with anxiety. Two separate dudes in two separate trucks revved at me and licked their chops while I listened to NPR in my mom car. I tried to tell Someone about Poetry Mountain and Someone went Wow. So when do you start real work?
My life is not hard. My life is also not-not hard. I want to acknowledge the latter but focus on the former.
One thing I’m going to do is tone my arms. I’m afraid of growing wings.
Also I think I will talk about poetry to some pen-pals, some of whom don’t know that’s what they’re going to be.
I want to wear underwear that matches my bras. No one will see this, but I will be a person in the world with a secret knowledge of how together I am.
Lastly, I’ll read more: poetry and essays on poetry and some nonfiction and fewer recaps of television shows, which will be hard as I really like to get mad at people who write recaps of television shows, and I’d thought been using this anger as fuel when really I think it’s just left me wrinkled. Adorable, but creased.
I don’t have any other insight now, nor any actual occasion for this blog other than that now that there is silence where there was conversation, and maybe if I write this, you can hear me and maybe that can matter.
It is halfway through June, and most people I know are ready to cash 2016 in. It has been filled with death and disappointment for so many. My mom called me crying this morning because an alligator ate a two-year-old outside Disney World, for chrissakes. And, of course, so many of us are moving past pure sadness over the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Florida into anger over how America will wail and accuse and then not change.
While writing a poem yesterday for the Tupelo 30/30 project through the lens of all of this, I became, just for an instant, entirely without hope for humanity. I don’t mean this to exaggerate my usual mental state as being hopeful, lord no, but my hopelessness is usually about my own life–I tend to think, and maybe need to believe, that things will work out better for others. But for a minute, the weight of our fear and selfishness and myopia and zealotry felt like it was big enough to snuff out any goodness, any chance of being better.
I shook this off. Not in the way that some people hear something awful and effectively stick their fingers in their ears and lalala through your misery–rather, I accept that very little I do will stem the shittiness, and in fact, may actively contribute to it. So this is my only choice: accept that the world is a hollowed gourd filled with troll afterbirth and so stop trying, or keep trying anyway. For me, the choice is not about how to see the world but how to see myself and role I play.
Answer: write some motherfucking poems.
It feels crass to ask people to donate to poetry right now, so that’s not the angle this is taking. If you want to, cool–see the end of this. But I’d rather write a bit on where some of the poems I’ve written for the 30/30 project (and we’re at 15/30 now) have come from as a way to open the process to some of my non-poet friends.
Until the end of June, you can see my poems here at the Tupelo 30/30 project. In July, you can read them elsewhere on the site (look around, OK?). After that, you’ll have to wait until the compilation book 30 Ways of Looking at a Quesadilla comes out.
1: “Land of Enchantment”–this is not a great poem, and no self-respecting New Mexican would ever title something with that in earnest, but I had run out of time. The only line I like is the first: “The roadrunner didn’t so now he’s dead.” This poem is also an attempt to write about place in terms of nature and that crap, which I’m balls at. I don’t know the names of anything. I just want to sit in air conditioning. I’ve been reading Gregory Pardlo and thinking about his diction and the first few poems of the project reflect my watered-down version of that.
2. “Some of My Friends Are Trying Open Marriages”–I love a good title, but sometimes the title can oppress rather than open the poem. After struggling where to turn after the first line, I listened to Richard Hugo and got out of the triggering town and straight into the arms of Chekhov, my dead Russian boyfriend. Seeing a Tin House tweet with a Whitman quote allowed me to bring it back to the notion of relationships and gratifying ourselves as soul work. Which is to say that fucking around on Twitter leads to good poems. I give this one 3.8 out of 5 beards.
3. “Photograph of a Poet Posing As If He Doesn’t Know a Photograph is Being Taken of Him”–I worried about two long titles back to back but then realized this project is ephemeral and I can’t see any of you reading this anyway. This came really from pulling books off the shelf to read poems to get something going in my brain. This guy’s photo inspired me way more than his poems no I’m not saying who it is. I also had clearly been drinking some Larry Levis before writing this.
4. “Small Towns of New Mexico”–a prose poem (which I still just don’t do very well I think). I mostly just wanted to talk about Allsup’s chimichangas (as I’ve done here in the past).
5. “Jobs I’ve Had”–I love litany poems and have to be careful not to only do them. One of the first I did was two summers ago while at the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, and it was workshopped by the late C.D. Wright. Oh, man. I knew her so little and treasure it so much. In this one, I wanted to depart from my usual cataloguing of nonsense and say everything straight and true, not leaning into lovely language or metaphor and see if I could still make some meaning. This one seemed to resonate with some people, which I think made me feel brave enough to keep pushing and changing up form/tone/content for the project. Also, every litany poem I write is now basically in memory of C.D. Wright.
6. “Summer Weekend, Taos”–I was at my friends’ house in Taos. There was some stuff there. I kept trying to make it mean something poetically and instead wrote about how I was trying to do that.
7. “No Fences”–Jesus. I was just describing the guy’s sad house and then his tree fell in the street. I can’t even look at this poem without feeling awful because of my sorcery.
8. “Come On Pilgrim”–The first line: “There’s always a mattress on the sidewalk / somewhere” is perhaps the one true thing I know. This one’s not finished–it’s got a weird gap between the penitentes and the cat-walking guy, but I do want to revisit it. Title absolutely taken from the Pixies.
9. “Not Anymore”–I was visiting my dad and his wife in the middle of Vacant Lot, Texas for five days and many of the next ones come from that experience. We were driving from Austin and they regaled me with tales of how much things had changed, so while this is in part about that phenomenon it is more about the witnessing of the witnessing of the change. I also, as stated earlier, don’t know the names of anything, so I just made a bunch of shit up which was way more fun. Also, Trish O’Connor donated money and gave me some crazy people words, so voila! The Sancho Panza look-a-like contest!
10. “Bucket List”–“At 78, my father says the only item on his / is to live long enough / to piss on Dick Cheney’s grave.” This is really just how this person talks. He’s putting a Planned Parenthood bumper sticker next to his Marine Corp one just to drive Texans insane.
11. “In a Dry County”–I never begin a poem with an idea of the themes I want to explore or the emotional resonance I want it to have. That, for me, is a sure way of bogging down the poems before it can begin, chaining it to my intentions. I usually begin with language and go from there, and this is a good example of that. I had no thoughts about this being about my father’s aging and the anticipation of loss, but I’m finding that the practice of writing daily is focusing my receptors a bit more, allowing things to take shape in surprising and sometimes satisfying ways. Also, it was so hard to just get a Shiner there.
12. “Beige Hooves”–My girl Amy and I went out in Austin and she came up with the title and then told me I had to put an octopus in it. ARE YOU HAPPY NOW, AMY? LOOK AT THIS SHIT!
13. “The End of May”–Written after Robert Hass’ “The Beginning of September” from Praise. I had some parts from before the project but finished it for this day and through the lens of the deaths in Orlando. For me, being a parent means shutting off the part of my brain that lists the ways I could lose him. I won’t have the space to love him if I do that. Also, I am comparing my Albuquerque to Hass’ Bay Area and, well we have more dirt I guess.
14. “Against Future Disasters”–Still dealing with some of the above, of sending your love into this awful, lovely bruise of a world.
15. “Merciless”–I woke up and starting writing in my head in bed. I like the first line “We’ve left our turn signals on” and all that implies, but I don’t care for the arrival. But my son was like Play Angry Birds with me! And he didn’t mean the video game; he meant acting out the video game in real life so I was a giant bird trying to knock over a tower of couch cushions and had to send this thing in.
16. “It’s Toasted”–Rebecca Aronson donated and made me write a poem with the word “taco” in it, but somehow this also became about colonization and the violence of the American hetero-masculine identity, so that’s weird. That’s a joke, of course, because I would never sit down to write a poem about that, but since I think about these issues basically every minute of the day, they will find their way in, even into a taco poem.
If you’re interested in donating (please?), click the Donate button on the Tupelo 30/30 page and enter my name where prompted. If you do so and would like to dictate the words or title of a poem I write this month, please message me and let me know. Thanks so much.
I am bad at many many nouns and verbs, as well as a handful of adjectives and even a smattering of adverbs. The less said about my prowess with certain prepositions, the better. I am bad at waking up, I am bad at friends. I am bad at losing games involving words and I am bad at dainty.
Also, and lately crucially, I am bad at raising money.
This is not new. I never once sold the most cookies and as a waitress refused to push the up-sell. “You want to upgrade to table-side guacamole? It’s a lot more expensive and a pain in the ass for me. No? Cool.” I don’t like asking for things, not because I fear the rejection, but because I don’t like putting other people in that position. I don’t want to be a bother. I’ve never volunteered to go door-to-door for a political campaign because that sounds like the boot camp they have in hell.
So, because I’m writing a poem a day for June as part of Tupelo Press’ 30/30 fundraiser, this blog will address the process of creating ART and asking for money.
First the latter.
I am amending my offerings for donations (see not being good at things for why). Should you go to Tupelo’s 30/30 page and donate in my name, you can lay claim to the amazing prizes:
$10: Give me three words that I have to use in a poem
$15: Five words
$20: Seven words
What if you give more? See my previous blog. I’m adding these lower-dollar prizes because as someone who is both financially strapped and super cheap, I appreciate a bargain. So here it is, your poetic blue light special for June. (If you do donate–thank you–and go ahead and drop me an email or Facebook message, as I will only receive weekly donor reports and want to stay on top of my poetry-for-hire business.)
Now the former.
Finding time and mental energy to write a poem every day has been absolutely brain-bendingly difficult, and yet I’m almost finding a rhythm. The first day of the program was also only my second day teaching two online 8-wk composition courses (which present the work of a full semester in half the time). It was also a day when my son was at home with me, so here is a sample scene of me trying to write that day:
[Child plays in other room. Poet stares meaningfully out the window. Begins to type a few brilliant phrases.]
Child: Mama, I have to show you something really important.
Poet: Okay, hon. Can it wait a minute?
Child: No! Mama! Really! You have to come over here now! Now!
[Poet goes with child to what can only be an emergency.]
Child: See? I put Captain America in my water but he can’t swim so now he’s dead!
Poet: Well that’s something. Remember what we said about mama needing to work so you could have some play time? Let’s do that, okay?
Child: Okay mama!
[37 seconds later]
Child: Mama! I put something weird in my pants!
[Repeat 18 times]
Most days, I would have given in and parented my child, but not this month! (Did you know June is National Benign Neglect Month?) Instead, lots of people have pitched in for an hour or two the past six days, allowing me enough time to write some mediocre poems that, instead of cloistering in a Word document, I have sent out into the world of poetry for dozens of people to shrug at.
The great thing about the project so far is that I feel free to write outside of many of my usual syntactical and line choices (my voice is my voice and immutable–even if I had to write a menu it would sound sarcastic and a little sad). Of course, there’s no way most of these attempts can be successful on a first go, but every one so far is born from a process that is both thoughtful and, because of the time constraints, economized.
Like most of the others writing this month, I’m working a day ahead, beginning a bit for the next day’s poem, going back to it in the afternoon if I can, then shaping it up and finishing it in the morning before sending out. I won’t be able to maintain this during the school year, but it does lend legitimacy to what I do. The idea of a poetry deadline is sort of hilarious to me–I keep imagining an old-timey newspaper editor chomping a cigar and yelling at me: Hodges! I need six stanzas examining the nature of human truth by 3! And put some goddamn flowers in there!
I was going to talk about some of the process behind each poem, but who do I think I am? Snooze. Also, the poems won’t be up on the site past July, so until maybe three of the thirty get published, you won’t know what I’m talking about. Sure, I could post them here, but why milk the cow if you’re gonna marry the barn, you know?
But needing to produce something fairly complete each day has forced me out of my normal practice of writing until I’m stuck and then walking away. For me, writing a poem is both crafting a puzzle and solving it at the same time. After trying several options that don’t, I’ll take a break, coming back to it only if the language or energy was particularly interesting to me. And in a way, I’ve done that this week in that every day I’ve written seeds of 1-3 pieces that I abandoned, the difference being is that I would normally be okay with that writing day as clearing cobwebs and not keep pushing. But now I’ve had to keep creating new openings until one felt like it could lead somewhere.
Lastly, while working on poem 7 (a piece called “No Fences” about my sad neighbor’s sad house and yard and how it’s so cliche it sounds made up), a thunderstorm yanked his 40-foot tall pine tree out by the roots and into the street. He wasn’t there, so when he came home we talked about his crappy luck: he’s caring for his sister’s mother-in-law with Alzheimer’s, his VCR repair shop went bust, and now this. “Sometimes I look to the sky, and I ask God, why me?” he said. “And God said, ‘Tony, there’s just something about you that pisses me off.'” Sure, me writing about his property and then something crappy happening to said property could be seen as coincidence. But probably it is that I am a witch whose powers only reveal themselves in middle age.
Anyway–please donate to poetry! If not, I fear I shall have to write a poem about you….muhahahaha.
I used to be a nice person, a heartbreakingly nice kid (save for one incident in the third grade when, believing I was sticking up for my brother and his friend, I created a fictional “Ghost Society” and sent vaguely harassing letters through the U.S. mail to a seven-year-old boy). But even that misguided mission, nurtured by my voracious reading of late ’70s/early ’80s youth novels about kids getting shit done, came from a place desperate to help others. I was the kind of kid that adults would look at and think: she’d better callous up or the world will eat her lunch. And they were right/and I did. A decade of bullying knocked the nice pretty clean out of me. The lesson I came away from adolescence with was that being selfish was the best way to stay alive and sane.
But I hate this. I hate that I pulled into myself to protect myself from the world, that I equated kindness with weakness. But this roughly inculcated lesson is hard to shake, even though I no longer see the world as a series of scenarios waiting to kick my metaphoric ass and do a touchdown victory dance over my bag of bones. (OK–I still see it as this to some extent, but I don’t take it as personally.) And so I give myself reminders and challenges to be nice, to do good. I think nice thoughts all the time. I’m a saint of the good intention, but I don’t always get around to the action part.
My decision to participate in Tupelo Press’ 30/30 fundraising project isn’t entirely altruistic, though, like most of the “good” I end up doing. I have a job that is super hard and serves high needs communities, but I do get paid (in unripened turnips and naughty limericks, but still). I co-created a reading series to fill a gap in our city’s artistic offerings at which I will totally read because I want to read my stuff somewhere. And now I’m participating in a fundraiser for a poetry press because I desperately crave a daily reminder of my failures and inadequacies. That, and I’m trying to figure out how to write more, but the inevitable onset of imposter syndrome will just be a neat bonus.
And so why should you, fair reader, consider helping out, especially with so much other need out there? A lot of people I know have recently been doing fundraisers for LLS: Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, geared toward eradicating blood cancers that keep trying to kill people I love. That is, obviously, amazing. Many other friends of mine do tremendous work for our food-insecure community members, while others are active in a variety of social justice causes. All of these should be supported. At some point, please toss some support their way.
Here, though, I will make a case for poetry, for fostering its small flame. While poetry itself can not stop hunger, it can render the struggle of those in need with immediacy and passion. And while science is still attempting to figure out if a poem has, in fact, cured someone’s cancer (my money’s on anything by Mary Oliver or Wislawa Szymborska), what a poem can most certainly do is underscore the stakes, cataloging fear and loss and fear of loss so that we rage at so much suffering and beg for a chance for more. Tupelo Press happens to do a tremendous job at choosing and crafting phenomenal books of poetry, supporting emerging and established poets alike (poets like Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Lauren Camp, Dan Beachy-Quick, and Hadara Bar-Nadav, who recently selected mi amiga Rebecca Aronson’s book Ghost Child of the Atalanta Bloom as winner of the 2016 Orison Book Prize). I say this even though their journal sent me a big ol’ no about a year and a half ago. I can’t even stay mad at such a great press.
I’m writing one poem every day in June in attempts to raise $500. Please check up on my questionable progress here:
If you’d like to support with a financial donation, there are a few ways to do it.
1. Subscribe to Tupelo Press–Visit: http://www.tupelopress.org/books_subscribe.php
Purchase their incredible 2015 series – 10 books for $129 and they’ll pay the postage! Or choose one of our exciting prior series, or a personalized list of any 9 titles. Put my name (Erin Adair-Hodges) in the
“Is this subscription in honor of a 30/30 poet? If so, please list their name here:” field.
2. Complete the Tupelo Press Donation Form–Visit: https://www.tupelopress.org/donate.php
Scroll down to the bottom of the page, fill out the donation form and send it in with a check or fill in the credit card details. Select “Erin Adair-Hodges” under the
“Is this donation in honor of a 30/30 poet? If so, please select their name here:” field.
3. Donate Using PayPal–Visit: https://www.tupelopress.org/donate.php
Click on the orange “Quick Donation via PayPal” button and complete the entry with either PayPal account details or credit card information.
Put my name (Erin Adair-Hodges) in the “Dedicate my donation, in honor of:” field.
As a thank you for your help, those who donate will receive:
$25 donors will get to choose one of the following:
I will write a poem with any title you give me and dedicate it to the recipient of your choice. (Idea 1000% stolen from a previous participant.)
A broadside with your choice of June’s poems.
A T-shirt with some poetry stuff on it. A quote or something like “Poetry Is My Boyfriend.”
A mix-tape with music and other good stuff you will like.
$50: Any two of the above.
$75: Any three of the above AND a copy of my future book, or should that thing never see the light of day, a video of me doing some really embarrassing dancing.
$100: I don’t even know people who could give this much, so let’s say all of the above and I’ll wash your car while wearing a child’s Darth Vader mask and some clothes I let my son pick out for me.
As a last selling point, I’ll be blogging about all this here. I hope you’ll at least check it out, if only to feel better about your own public life choices.
Thank you for reading and supporting my work and poetry in general. You are the real heroes.
Three years ago, I made an appointment to see a therapist to fix myself. While the list of brokenness is long and would no doubt require a chorus line of therapists, each with a different specialty (much like one of those home makeover shows, with each tile and plumbing and duct specialist exclaiming that this shit needs to be torn out and down and built back up), I felt compelled to seek help because of two specific areas: 1. Post-postpartum depression-depression, and 2. Anxiety attacks related to writing, or more specifically, sharing my poetry.
I had seen a therapist twice before: the first was at 12, when I was experiencing crippling migraines. After seeing a physician, it was determined there was no physical cause to my pain, so my mom drove me to Albuquerque from our small town to see a counselor (I regularly saw my middle school counselor because of frequent bullying, but now that my body had begun to show the effects, it was time to call in the A-Team). The verdict was that I was a pretty sad, stressed out little kid (thanks squad of girls who’ve made it difficult for me to form relationships with women!). He recommended a strategy to deal with my migraines that involved imagining the headaches as a physical presence to battle–I did, sending out tiny, white bean cowboys on floating space horses to blast the gray, pulsing, fanged menace. It worked, and while I wouldn’t develop mechanisms to handle the bullying for years (spoiler alert–it was humor and overeating), the migraines dissipated.
The second time I saw a therapist was in college and it was about some other stuff, largely related to issues of abandonment resulting from assorted sources including the decade of bullying (seriously–y’all fucked me up, Belen). The woman was a doctoral student who was kind and warm and liked me as a person, and though we met only for about three months, working with her became a source of tremendous solace and important realizations.
That was in 1997, and it wouldn’t be until 2013 that I reached out again. To be clear–that is not because I was doing super well. It’s because for most of that time, I didn’t have health insurance. It’s a good thing I’m the only one whose need for mental health assistance was thwarted by lack of resources, huh? Wouldn’t it be terrible if people were prevented from accessing needed care because of a lack of, or having crappy, health insurance? Shudder.
I was able to make an appointment this last time through an employee assistance program at my work that makes a handful of sessions available through a contracted organization and was set up with a woman on a hot summer morning. I should have known upon entering her office, though, that this was not going to work: the diploma from Liberty University (aka The Jerry Falwell School of Reading the Bible in Ways That Render Intolerance Righteous); the penholder emblazoned with “Focus on the Family” (a similarly evangelical organization that uses the term “family” to mean “a man and a woman who follows that man and hot dinners with plenty of red meat, hold the critical thinking, thank you”; and lastly the Navy memorabilia blanketing the small room. Now, don’t think that just because I’m an atheist peacenik that I, in turn, am intolerant of those who live their lives differently just because I was super sarcastic about those choices several lines earlier. I was raised in a Southern Baptist church, and I come from a long line of military folk, not to mention all the students I’ve had and really liked despite our significant philosophical differences. I’ve been privileged to get to know and care for many different kinds of people in my life, but that’s not the same as opening your brain and asking them to peek around inside.
As we talked, my anxiety attacks came up as the focus, and I described the sensation of physical panic any time I even thought about sending work out. At that point, I’d been writing again for about seven months or so, invited into a writers group of fellow moms by the wife of a colleague (both of whom became friends). The experience had been largely positive, and I found myself pushing my work in ways I had never done before: getting weirder, showing greater control. The years of reading and teaching (but not writing) poetry seemed to have serve as some kind of poetic Crock-Pot. (Hey Erin–if you’re a poet, why are you so terrible with metaphors, you ask? I don’t disagree.) For the first time ever, I was producing work that, if not exactly what I wanted to do, was close. It was exciting, and it prompted my writers group friends to suggest I send out my work, to which I responded by crying and hiding in the bathroom. Just the idea of doing that caused an intense physical reaction of pure panic, unlike any other kind of anxiety I’d experienced (and I am a bit of a connoisseur of the varying flavors of freaking out). This reaction made me feel ashamed, like a failure–if this was what I wanted to do, and I couldn’t even bring myself to fully pursue it, what kind of failed life does that speak to? This ensured that I spent a good deal of time in a spiral of anxiety and despondency, thus, the outsourcing of my mental wellness.
The nice woman responded to all of this by asking why it was I wanted my work to be seen. Wasn’t it enough to write, to keep a journal, perhaps emblazoned with interspecies baby pairs frolicking in a meadow? When I responded that I wanted to be a part of a larger conversation, to listen and be listened to, she recommended starting a blog for my poems. I explained how poetry publishing worked, journals, etc., and how a blog would reach those I already knew but would fail to connect with new readers in the kind of way I hoped to someday accomplish. She smiled and wrote something down and played with her bowl haircut. It was a very bad first date.
And while this nice lady did not get, and therefore could not help me through, my dilemma in any way, some of her questions led to me to ask other questions of myself. What did I want my poetry to do, and why was I so certain that the next step had to be sending work out if I was, in fact, so petrified of that notion? Why did I think that poetry, after 15 years of flirting with and hiding from it, was the thing I had to do? Who did I think I was, and why did it matter if anyone else knew?
You’ll be happy to know that I have answered all of these, and in fact all possible, existential questions about my life and have become very wise and grounded so I don’t even know why I’m talking about this.
Sorry–misspelled that. Meant to say that I’m still working through those and other questions on a daily basis. Damn autocorrect.
Three years after the bad therapist date, I’m now a published poet with a nice list of acceptances and a roster of rejections that can be seen from the moon. (Google Earth has a spectacular view of them.) And while I don’t write about the rejection experience in specific detail, which is perhaps part of my WASP-side where we do not speak of such things, I feel like it relates to where I’m going with all of this. Nearly all of my rejections as of late (of individual poems, residencies, and my book manuscript) have been close. Finalist, semi-finalist, personal note about trying again soon. Ostensibly, that’s great, but it’s a bit like being told you were really seriously considered as a prom date but ultimately he’s gonna go with your friend, but if she and then two others get sick, he’ll call you. On a pure ego level, it is rough, but I’ve also been struggling with how to stay committed to this when I feel so stuck in almost. Why write if no one sees it? Why shit in the woods if the Pope’s not there?
So (and here is the where of the what we’ve been driving toward), in order to help me focus on writing not just as a nice hobby for my journal, and to encourage me to write through the rejection, I’ve signed up to be a part of Tupelo Press’ 30/30 fundraising project. Each month, Tupelo asks a small group of poets to write one poem a day for thirty days in order to raise money for this independent poetry press. I have committed to raise $500 in June, during which I will write and post on Tupelo’s site a new poem every day. Let me emphasize part of that insanity: I will write a new poem every day.
Every day. Every day? Every. Day.
I will also blog about the process, though that won’t be every day because I will also be teaching and traveling and beginning a new reading series in June (every day? Every day!). But I do invite you, if you’ve made it this far, to check out my progress here and at Tupelo’s site, and if you’re able, consider contributing to the cause–the cause being my public humiliation.
I have a pretty strong feeling that this is going to be a real shitshow, a circus of new and exotic failure, but here’s the thing: I’m going to do it anyway. That’s not something I could have said even two years ago and so seems like a kind of success, Crock-Pot metaphors and all.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll come to gawk in June.