Friday, November 17, 2017

Fucking Finally

Whenever I've thought of what I want to do, the only things I ever came up with were writing and teaching.

I have been writing. But we all know that doesn't pay the bills. So I'm dipping my toe into the water of teaching. Just a tiny baby toe. I'm working one afternoon a week, at a high school. There, students meet after school to write and read poetry. In the spring, they will compete in a spoken word poetry competition.

I'm going to be a part of it all.

I was excited yesterday, to be in a room full of people who wanted to write, who are already writing, at fifteen or eighteen. I wish I had been involved in such a thing during high school, to have the healthy outlet for coping with raging hormones and petty friendships. I would've known that there are communities of people who are also passionate about writing and I would've anchored myself in one much sooner. I want to do high school all over again.

These kids are going to write some good fucking poetry. Really good shit. We're going to do it together. It's going to blow all of our minds.

I'm getting paid to write and teach writing. Can you believe it?
I'm thirty-four and I'm finally figuring my life out.

Fucking finally.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Adulting So Hard

This is hard to admit, but here goes:

Steve and I are separating.

To say I'm overwhelmed would be such an understatement.

On Friday, when I walked into the office to get my apartment keys, the office manager said I needed my co-signer with me. So I called Steve who thankfully dropped everything and drove over so I could get into my new place. The office manager asked for the form proving I had set up gas and electric. I had set up neither gas nor electric. She let me in anyway (with gas and power on) even though the paperwork says they won't.

I am so thankful for the kindness of strangers.

The weekend was a whirlwind of hauling boxes up the stairs and unpacking them, of finding new places for old things to go.

On Monday, I drove Brandon to school and then went to Steve's house with my laptop to use his WiFi. I scheduled to have my utilities started. I called to get my own WiFi. I texted Steve to find out what routers and modems are and if I should buy or rent one.

Yesterday, I drove to Lincoln to order a couch. Holden fell asleep in the car so I sat in the parking lot returning emails I had forgotten about, crying. This was my first time missing a school deadline. I woke up Holden and we ordered a couch which won't be here for 8-10 weeks. I bought a chair which we finagled into my car with only one seat down, Holden in the other one. I bought a trash can from the hardware store which rode in the passenger seat. I had so many blind spots: behind me and next to me. I could only see what was going on around me by contorting my neck.

What a perfect metaphor.

I stopped and picked up a router/modem and installed it myself. I have WiFi now.

Last night I stayed up late unpacking the last boxes. I vacuumed the floor, loaded the dishwasher. Today I submitted my workshop materials five days late. I set up automatic bill pay for my utitlies. I made an email folder called "Adulting So Hard."

I am learning to live this way.

Every day is easier than the last.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Halloween 2017

It's always cold here on Halloween.
 
But this was the first year it snowed. Just light snowflakes that didn't stick to much, but snow nonetheless. I looked up into the streetlights and watched them fall as the kids ran from house to house, shivering in the snow, collecting candy.
 
This is embarrassing to admit, but when I was nineteen, I went trick-or-treating in West Omaha to get some candy for my dorm room. I know, I know. I was one of those kids. But I remember I was wearing flip-flops because I hadn't accustomed myself to the weather here, how it gets cold quickly. One day you're wearing flip-flops and the next you're freezing your toes off.
Brandon was a trooper, he could've trick-or-treated all night. But Holden my homebody said, "let's all go home." So we did. And we ate a lot of candy. And watched Charlie Brown. Brandon manned the door and handed out candy to kids much older than him and Steve and I marveled at how big he's become, how grown up sometimes.
But happily, only sometimes.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

why i write


I am overwhelmed sometimes and feel a great deal of wonder at words, just simple words and how deeply we can touch each other with them, though I know that most of the time language is the most abused of all human abilities or traits. 

On the river a few weeks ago, we wrote about why we write.  Here's what I came up with:

I write as a way of wondering aloud about people. Who are we? Why do we act the way we do? What are the traits that connect us, the emotions that fuse us? Although we have such varied experiences, there is a universal humanity that we all share.

How do we move through the world in relation to other people?

We wouldn't be able to navigate completely alone, without those connections that sustain us.

I write to join in. To add to the conversation, sometimes by distracting it: by thinking of it differently, challenging why we are this way--imperfect and flawed. But are we, if there is no perfection, no pinnacle? We are only not good enough when measured against others we think to be better, only OK when measured against who we think to be worse.

There is no scale, no scoring.

We are people moving through the world in ways so differently they can divide us but with motives so identical they could connect us.

*

Writers often seem like loners. And we are, in social ways, a lot of times. But we write as a way to connect to people, to understand ourselves and the people around us. In that way, we are not loners. We just do our work alone.

We use language to fuse ourselves to other people.

But through stories from each other we can feel that we are not alone, that we are not the first and the last to confront loss.

*

All semester, I have been writing my own story. A self-indulgent past time, it feels. But it has been cleansing nonetheless, to say the words I hadn't, admit my faults, wonder aloud about my future.

I am wrapping up what I have to say about myself, but I am not done writing. I will finish out grad school writing fiction again, telling stories.
  
I often wish I had more to say, but somehow it comes out in a story. such as these. 


(Italicized quotes are Leslie Marmon Silko's, pulled from her letters to James Wright. They can be found in The Delicacy and Strength of Lace). 

Friday, October 20, 2017

fly in my coffee

I had plans today: clean the toy room, do the laundry, take the boys to the wildlife safari.

But instead of following them, I allowed spontaneity.

Today was one of the last nice days of the year, before the winter winds blow in, freeze us, coop us up. So we played outside, me and Holden still in our pajamas.

I read Annie Dillard, who is something like a naturalist and a scientist and a writer and a quiet thinker all rolled together. She is the queen bee of being present, of observing.

I put down my book and watched my boys as they played. I noticed what I usually don't: the way the wind ruffles Holden's hair, how in charge Brandon is. I watched a fly land on my leg then fly away, again and again.

Brandon brought out cheese and chips and we had an accidental picnic.

We lived the day as it wanted to be lived.

I drank around the fly in my coffee.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

hear us

Recently, spurred by Harvey Weinstein, women have been posting #metoo online to show how widespread sexual assault and harassment is.

I have not been assaulted, but I know so many women who have been.

I have been harassed, I guess you'd call it, but only with words.

Once, by my boss when I closed down the bar. I went into the office and said, "anything else you need me to do before I leave?" and he spun around in his swivel chair, his bald head shining under the florescent light and said, "you can suck my dick." Wordlessly, I left.

Another time, a co-worker from the Olive Garden came to my apartment between lunch and dinner shifts and while I was filling up Tucker's dog bowl, he said, "are we gonna have sex or what?" and when I looked up, his pants and his sailboat boxers were around his ankles, his arms outstretched. I chose the "or what" and drove him back to work. I never saw him again.

Both times, the men were not aggressive and I had an escape. I am one of the lucky ones.

I know from my friends who have been physically assaulted that the pain is deep and doesn't go away. I know that they feel they can't say anything or shouldn't. I know they feel like it's their fault even though it isn't. I know they feel helpless and afraid to ask for help.

I know I feel helpless, knowing this happens so often to so many. 

So what I'll do is everything I can to keep my boys from turning into demonic men who see women only as sexual objects. I will teach my boys that women are people with the same rights and liberties they have, with brains and humor and ambition. I will teach my boys to appreciate girls for who they are, not what they can offer. I will teach my boys to never use a position of power as a manipulation. I will teach my boys to be gentlemen, not depraved goons.

To the women who haven't had it as good as I have: every day you have been brave and courageous. You are beauty in the world, making it despite the ugliness.

To the women who have had it as good as I have: we are lucky and relatively unscathed but don't let that blind you to what is happening around us. Let us raise our sons to be better. Let us rally around women who haven't had it so easy. Let us teach our daughters they have a voice and we want to hear them.

We are women, hear us roar, howl, wail, and growl.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Q317 songs

Dark Side - Bishop Briggs
Habits of my Heart - Jaymes Young
Summertime Sadness - Lana Del Ray
White Lightning - The Cadillac Three
False Alarm - The Head and the Heart
Like I'm Gonna Lose You - Jasmine Thompson
No Diggity - Chet Faker
Bloodstream - Stateless
Sparks - Coldplay
The Night we Met -Lord Huron
Copycat - Billie Eilish
Dive - Ed Sheeran
Feel it Still - Portugal. The Man

Monday, October 2, 2017

writing on the river

This weekend I spent on the Missouri River, at a writer's retreat. A writer's retreat is a place full of artists, other tribe members. These retreats exist so we can be learn from each other, inspire one another, read, write, and watch the birds fly south overhead.
On the first night, we each wrote on three scraps of paper what we were leaving behind: a role, maybe, like mother or wife or job title. Or maybe it was grief or blockage or being a public figure or guilt or chores.
We dropped our scraps of paper into a jar and Karen screwed the lid on tight. We gave ourselves permission to focus on writing, to do writerly things.
We have to do this, give ourselves permission to focus on what doesn't pay bills and what doesn't serve anyone else (yet), but what is important because it fuels us, this exploration, how we find our place in the world.
Because then we go back to our lives and our roles, the ones that distract us from our writing but also give us something to write about, fuel us differently. We are finding our place, these misfits who write because we must, it's a current running through us.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

for brandon

Last night, Brandon, you couldn't sleep because you watched a video on the iPad that frightened you. You called, "mommy!" from your bed, even though you never call me that anymore and I raced up the bunk stairs to hold you. You were covered in a cold sweat. You told me about the video, that it had a devil on it and now you believed monsters were real. I smoothed your sweaty hair and said, "that might have seemed real, but it isn't. What is real is that you are safe here, in your cozy home. Your brother is right beneath you. I am here to hold you. This is what's real."

I told you what I know to be true, but I also know your fear. I told you I remembered seeing something that scared me once, at the mall. It was Terminator 2, playing on the tv at Suncoast next to the Gap. I remember Arnold Schwarzenegger on a motorcycle, shooting or getting shot at. I had nightmares about getting holes blown into my back after that, too often. Only a little while ago I found out my brother, who was with me, also had reoccurring nightmares from what we saw. We had been sheltered until then. And then, we knew that people killed people, that people might kill us. The ugliness I hadn't known was too much for me to process. I remember being afraid to fall asleep, being afraid that what had scared me once would scare me again while I dreamed.

It took a long time for you to fall asleep, but when you did, it was cuddled in my arms.

There is so much I wish I could promise you that I can't.

I wish I could promise you that you won't be scared, but I can't.
I can only promise you that I will hold you, smooth your sweaty hair, and reassure you of what is real.

I wish I could promise you that you won't get sick, but I can't.
I can only promise to give you a juice chaser after your medicine, a sucker after the doctor, and lots of couch snuggles while we watch movie marathons instead of going to school.

I wish I could promise that people will never disappoint you, but I can't.
I can only promise that I will try to make it better by being for you what you need.

I wish I could promise you that things will turn out the way you hope, but I can't.
I can only promise you that things will turn out, and that you will learn to adapt because you are a smart and sensitive boy that can handle absolutely anything, even devils on the iPad.

I wish I could promise you that you will always know you're good enough, but I can't.
I can only promise you that I will remind you over and over again how important and special and kind and smart and funny you are.

I can't promise you life will be easy, but I can promise to be there with you, as long as I can.

And I can promise you that you're strong enough for all of it, because you are. You fell asleep last night, and your chest heaved up and down, breathed in, then out. That's all there is to it, in the most basic sense. Taking another breath, then another. You made it through last night. You'll make it through a lot of other shit, too. You will, you will, you will.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

favorite short stories

I often write posts about books I've read and loved but I've never made a collection of short stories I love, which are equally important, but don't get the attention novels and memoirs do, for some reason I can't explain. I don't know why everyone isn't reading short story collections. Short stories are condensed versions of entire books! There is still plot and character and an epiphany (often more pronounced). Or sometimes its just a scene without a plot but you get to sit there, in that moment, with the character and live with them.

A writer friend asked for my list of my favorite short stories, so I made one. And then I figured I would share it. Because short stories are the tits and there is no excuse not to read them. They're short! You can read one while your kids are bouncing on giant pillows at the Pumpkin Patch. You can read three while the rice cooks.

In no particular order:

1. "The Yellow Wallpaper" 
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
If you want to feel a character, read this. You get to crawl around in this post-partum, maybe crazy, maybe gaslit, woman's skin. It'll make you want to peel wallpaper off in giant sheets, scratch through the wall until you have sheet rock under your fingernails. 

2. "The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar"
by Roald Dahl
Lame title but incredible story. Probably my favorite. It is a long short story, but that's because it's a story within a story within a story. And all of them are incredible. Dahl somehow can give us minute details of a moment and the overarching summary of years all in this same piece. He is a master, making us believe what might or might not be possible because of how he tells it.

3. "Rape Fantasies" 
by Margaret Atwood  
Possibly my favorite title ever. Long before The Handmaid's Tale swept the Emmys, Margaret Atwood was writing incredibly funny stories like this one. She is a chameleon, an artist, the very best kind of writer.

4. "A Small Good Thing"
by Raymond Carver 
I know when people think of Carver, they think of "Cathedral," but it was this story that I liked the best. I constantly think back to the epiphany of this story, remind myself of small good things in my own life when I need.

5. "How to be the Other Woman"
by Lorrie Moore 
Lorrie Moore was the one who made me first fall in love with short stories. She is so funny and writes in her own way, damn everyone else. Second person? Hell yeah. Why doesn't anyone else use it? If they could like Moore does, they would. She twists conventions into something all of her own.

6. "The Man who Invented the Calendar"
by B.J. Novak 
Confession: I have a think for B.J. Novak. How could I not? He's a self-deprecating, funny writer who is also smart and thoughtful. His whole collection is smart and fun, but I found this story particularly inventive.

7. "Sparks"
by Susan Minot
Minot is a master of using language as more than words. Watch what she does to make you feel the crazy of her character with punctuation, scene changes, word repetition, tense vacillation, well-placed images. #aspirations

8. Parker's Back
by Flannery O'Connor
I'm probably not that literary because I'm not a big O'Connor fan. But this story is special. She created a whole story based on an image and I think of that image often, Parker's back, covered in tattoos he can't see. 

9. "Deep Kiss" 
by Tobias Wolff 
 Wolff packs so much to think about into such a small story. His writing is nice and tight. He even makes me consider writing in third person, because he does it so well, makes it look effortless. 

10. "Where are you Going, Where have you Been?"
by Joyce Carol Oates 
I love the tension Oates writes into both her characters and her story's action. She writes ominously, so the reader just knows shit's about to go down. She was inspired to write this story by an actual news story, proving writers are inspired by real life, but not necessarily their real life.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

resembling myself

I read the phrase, A woman who has only recently come to resemble herself ("The Folded Clock: A Diary" by Heidi Julavits). I underlined it. I read it again: "A woman who has only recently come to resemble herself." There was a break on the page then, which I used to mull over this sentence, why it stuck out to me.

Steve often tells me I'm a different person since I started my MFA. I don't deny it, he's right: I am. I'm writing all the time. Instead of watching tv, I'm reading. I started running again. I also have friends again, who I am in constant contact with: we text, send each other writing, see each other for coffee when possible. I didn't have friends for years while I was staying at home, not like this.

When Steve says I'm different, he might mean I'm pulling away from what he knew me as. Our kids are older now and they don't require the constant attention I gave them for years. Admittedly, I don't keep that clean of a house: I often skip chores to write now. Steve and I have always spent much of our time separately, but not to this extent. We used to meet up in front of the tv, which I never do anymore. I'm no longer the me he once knew.

I have been many variations of me over the years, none of which were honest. There was a long stage where I played fantasy football. There was the try-to-be-the-best-mom-ever stage where I was always taking my kids places. There was the wake-up-early stage. There was the listening-to-other-people's-music-instead-of-my-own stage. There a wino stage, there was even a yard work stage. None of these stages stuck. None of them were me. They were personas I wore to benefit someone else.

Now that I'm being honest with myself, I know I hate football. I also don't like yard work or waking up early. I like to make my own playlists. Wine gives me headaches. And as much as I'd love to give my sons a perfect childhood, a perfect mother, I know that I am an imperfect human that can not be more than I'm capable of. It has been in learning what I'm not that who I am has pixelated.

I am a writer. I am a mother. The order doesn't matter: I am both without one taking precedence. I like to listen to my headphones. I can only tolerate so much time around other people. I like to read and piece together puzzles and run and practice yoga. I like to edit other people's work, discuss literature and the craft of writing. I like to drink too much coffee, sometimes too much vodka. I like to keep friends with people who make me laugh and think and sometimes even cry, because they keep me honest. Sometimes I'm funny, sometimes I'm sad. I like jokes that go too far, past what is politically correct. I like to give people gifts when they don't expect them. I like to feel the breeze in my hair. I like to sing aloud, horribly, to the song I'm feeling, the one on repeat. And, best of all, I'm courageous.

It takes courage to be yourself. Because yourself isn't who people expect you to be. They tell you to be yourself, but they don't mean it. They mean, "be what I need you to be for me." But all of those personas I wore for other people, the ones that didn't suit me, are gone now. I'm dropping the act, the charade, the mask.

I think all of this is why I underlined the line: A woman who has only recently come to resemble herself. And I thought: finally.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

somewhere discoverable

Once I was a writer in the sense that I wrote sometimes.

Now, I am a writer in the sense that I depend on it. Like exercise, or sleep: it is a part of my day. My head fills with words and sentences to write and each day, I empty my head: scribble it down or type it out.

It was harder before, when I cared too much about structure and organization. I would keep things in my head too long, until I could be at my computer, put it in the proper Word doc. Or until I had my proper journal, which I have some inexplicable system as to what warrants entry. My thoughts would vanish there, into some dark corner of my brain, never to be found again.

But now, I have a "fuck it" notebook that I put anything and everything in. A sentence to use in a new piece, a revision idea for a current piece, a journal entry, a poem, a check list. It's a fucking mess. But it empties me out so I can fill back up with other thoughts to write down. I am creating content that I might use one day, might not. But it exists, somewhere outside my mind now, somewhere discoverable, which is what writing is, basically.

Writing is putting your thoughts somewhere discoverable: somewhere that someone one day will find it, maybe even appreciate it, maybe even tell you.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Milwaukee

Writing was lonely.
So very lonely.
Until the day I discovered other writers.I knew they existed, of course, on couches being interviewed, represented with jacket pictures, in print. But not in real life like this. 
When I joined this MFA Program last summer, my world exploded. Suddenly I was filled to the brim with the camaraderie I had so desperately craved before, alone at my desk. Now, I could see in color.
I was home, with these people who thought a little like me and laughed at the same jokes I did, people who noticed subtleties like I do. We talked well into the night every night. No one wanted to go to sleep, no one wanted it to end.
This summer, during student readings, Jen and I acted in Colleen's ten minute play. I was the first Indestructible, Jen was the first Dorothy Wick. We rehearsed much more than necessary because we just really loved running lines together, making each other laugh. I wrote a poem inspired by the character I played. I read that. The crowd loved us. 
So when Colleen texted us that her play, the play we loved, was being produced at a play festival in Milwaukee with "road trip?" Jen and I each texted back "hell yeah" without contemplation. Of course. Writers support writers. That is what is so incredible about the MFA community. So we drove, a lot of hours, after Jen and Brandon were out of school, in the dark, and arrived at 3:30 a.m. We woke up and ate gluten-free pancakes and we went and saw Colleen's play acted out by "real actors" 🙄. They were incredible. Colleen was a celebrity. We were groupies.

On the ride back, at a Walgreens somewhere in Wisconsin, I checked my email where I had an acceptance from a literary journal for the poem I wrote at residency based on my character in the play. I told the girls and we high-fived, shrieking loudly. We are writers, becoming published together, by writing together, editing for one another, texting prompts and urges to write and submit. We are friends who get each other, get this business, and give each other a tunnel out of the loneliness that could envelop you if you let it.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

like a child

When my arm is across Brandon's or Holden's chest, I feel their hearts racing, running. I think, slow down, calm down, breathe. You're running your little selves ragged, you're so high strung, you chatter too much. 

I think all of these things while I drink my coffee, trying to stimulate myself.

I tell them not to interrupt when I read them books, but they have so much to say, so many questions. I think, as Brandon falls asleep in my arms: I used to wonder like that. I used to be amazed, think aloud. 

Maybe they don't need to calm down. Maybe I need to get excited again. Maybe my heart should race and run all day until finally, at night, my chest heaves and my breathing slows and I fall into dreams which I believe because I am capable of something other than skepticism. 

I caught the sunset last night which did make my heart race, a smile spread across my face. I've still got it, I thought, although it is a minimal dose.


Over the weekend, I was playing a kids' game on the iPad while I watched Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders and a woman on there said, "when you get comfortable, it's time to try something new." Yeah, like the next level, I thought, passing the last one.

But I knew what she meant: something that makes your heart race, your breathing shallow. Something that makes you giddy, something to chatter endlessly about. Something that makes you feel like a kid again: full of wonder and excitement.

Tonight I want to fall asleep next to my son, both of us exhausted, not because we survived a day but because we lived the motherfucking shit out of it.