Splitting

Thank you to Impossible Archetype for publishing my poem, splitting in their latest issue.

Recently, I have been writing one sentence a day (often more) toward, into, from behind, from within my body. It is a way through.

When we are taught how to read, we begin with simplicity. The vocabulary of others. Oftentimes, the language of us, our innards, our guts are overshadowed and forgotten.

I am reaching toward the alphabetics of my innards. It is painful. It is queer. It is changing my mind about things. It is political. It is overdramatic and gutsy. It fidgets and fondles. But it is time.

 

 

Three Generations

There are three generations in a room. The room is white. The people are white. The food is white. The first generation has rippled skin, says the third generation.

What is wrong with rippled skin? says the second generation.

It’s gross, says the third.

The second generation has rippled (wrinkled) skin and tattooed skin. The second generation has undeclared skin and skin that has been re-declared. The second generation has skin that they try to tear apart on a daily basis and skin they try to tend to. It is a daily struggle.

Why do you have so many scars, asks the third generation to the second.

Because I have lived, the second replies. But what they do not add is that each scar is from a different war within the body and mind. Some truths are not able to be told until. Until. When?

The first generation watches the third generation play. They do not play with imagination and paper. Their play is made up of wires and screens.

I can only concentrate on one thing at a time, says the second generation to the third. Can we unplug, at least while we eat breakfast? At least while we complete our sentences?

The third generation does not know what this means.

The second generation understands all about the ripples, the thinning of pockets and hair, the fear of government as rights are removed or excluded. They do not have extra food in their pantry. They cannot afford to throw that meat away.

The third generation wears t-shirts advertising liberalism and feminism and gay rights and trans rights and human rights and Black lives mattering, but when you ask them a question: What does dissent mean? They ask Google.

Cotton and flags have become the new voice of the movement.

The second generation listens to the stories reiterated by the first generation. They need to remember so that no one forgets.

The third generation wants to play with other third generations while the second and first watches.

This is youth, the first generation says. They can request what they want and the second generation will give it to them.

There will be a time, though, says the first generation, that they, too will run out. And we will be gone. And they will have the ripples and empty pockets they never thought would come to them. The outlets will be stuffed by the dissenters, and they will have no way to understand the answers. They will not know how to approach paper, because all they know are screens. The first generation will be just a page in their photo albums, if they ever get around to making one. The second generation will be lost somewhere in the woods, hoping to escape all the wires. And the third generation will become someone else’s first, ignored for lack of relevance, ignored for too many ripples, ignored for not enough incentives in their pockets. 

Thank you to Golden Crown Literary Society

Today, my novel, “Everything Grows” published by Three Rooms Press won two awards presented by the Golden Crown Literary Society: Debut Novel and Young Adult.

Thank you for honoring me with two Goldie awards! Thank you to Three Rooms Press for believing in my words! This book is for all the queer ones who are still searching for the shape and language of their queerness, of their wild, of their magnificence. And thank you to the writers out there who inspire me to write: Audre Lorde, Kathy Acker, June Jordan, Lidia Yuknavitch, Carmen Maria Machado, and so many more who live on my bookshelf.

Out there, somewhere, is a book that will change your life.

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde. And Zami too.

Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Blood and Guts in High School by Kathy Acker

I could keep going but then I would be taking up your time that you could be reading books! I believe there is a book out there (I’d argue many) that are written just for YOU. Books which lead you to see yourself and others in illuminating ways, that help you to find your language, that lead you to question and feel and perhaps even want to write your story down.

My novel, Everything Grows, was recently awarded a FOREWORD Review INDIES Silver Winner for Young Adult Fiction. Thank you to Foreword Review and Three Rooms Press for believing in this story!

Maybe THIS is the book that will…….gasp……too much?……change your life. Or at least, make you think, make you feel, make you smile.

 

Add Title

Before I even begin writing, I am approached with Add Title and I don’t quite know what to title the language inside me now. Yesterday, sharing coffee with my spouse, I said: I don’t know what to say right now, so I am listening. And I am reading. I want to make space for the voices that get trampled.

I walk toward the park I usually walk to with my dog. This is the first time I am here without her. This is the first time I am getting close to hundreds of other humans since March. A community meditation for Black lives. A breathing in and out for Black lives. A call for action, reaction, response for Black lives. So, I close my eyes and sit with these strangers. I cry into my mask. I think about what George Floyd liked to eat for breakfast. I think about what book made George weep or laugh or wonder. I inhale. I sit. My body aches and I am angry at myself for focusing on my discomfort. I exhale. I peek one eye open and see a dog laying beside its human in front of me. I smile at this dog.

“We come to understand who we are by understanding who we are not.” In White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo confronts and questions why white people need to talk about racism, why we need to be uncomfortable, why it is time to be uncomfortable. “Though white fragility is triggered by discomfort and anxiety, it is born of superiority and entitlement.” When I tell my mother that we must defund the police, she said: Aimee, we need the police. You can’t just eliminate them. I said: Black and brown people have never had a system of safety, of protection by the police, so whom are we protecting? To defund is not to suggest complete elimination. To defund is to disassemble. Reallocate funds to communities that have been completely left behind, to offer mental health services, health services, social programs to rebuild what we have crumbled.

I travel on the subway for the first time in three months for a root canal. I hold onto my favorite rock as though it contains every poem by Audre Lorde. It calms me as I try to move through the many layers of my anxiety. I pass by boarded restaurants, cafes, an empty jewelry store. Everyone in masks. I smile at those who pass me by, but my mask hides my friendliness. I ask the dentist if she can explain to me every part of what she will be doing, so I can understand. I ask questions, just like I tell my students. Every question deserves an answer. The dentist is kind, gentle, communicative. At the end of the procedure, I cry. Not because of pain, but because of gratitude.

I walk to Fulton Street, just a few blocks from my apartment and stand beside others carrying signs of protest, signs of solidarity, signs which demand Black Lives Matter. I cannot hear what is being said because there are layers and layers of people, but I clap because I know that I agree. Martin Luther King said, “a riot is the language of the unheard.” Are we listening? When the protests fade and the signs get recycled, will we continue to listen? The moment we stop listening is the moment we become part of the problem.

While playing cards with my spouse last night, we talk about this month of pride. LGBTQ folks are given one whole month to see rainbows everywhere, purchase over-priced pride clothing from Target and other box stores. I say to him: When you designate a month for people (women, Black people, queer people), you are acknowledging that every other month leaves them behind.

Last year, I let go of the largest story inside me, which was published by an independent press here in NYC. It’s a little book with a big, queer heart. It’s currently on sale at Three Rooms Press through June 30th. Code: PRIDE2020. But if you can’t afford it right now, email me directly and I will mail you one for free.

Love,

Aimee

One year ago…..

One year ago, my best friend Rebecca arrived from Colorado to celebrate the release of my new novel, “Everything Grows”. It was a very different time then and perhaps I didn’t appreciate the ease of which we had to walk around together, browsing in the local thrift shop for something to wear and sharing a meal of crepes together at the place across the street from where I live.

We will forever live in BEFORE and AFTER now, but that is life, right? These BEFOREs and AFTERs have marked us in ways we don’t always have words for. Before I was sober. Before I fell in love. Before I really fell in love. After I came out. After I moved away. Before I joined the workforce. Before I lost my job. After I graduated. After we fell out of love. Before I got married. Before I moved to Brooklyn. Before I relapsed. Before that panic attack. After I finished my novel. Before after before before before.

Ten (and some) years of writing inclusive of many starts and stops, and many, many rejections until a YES from an independent press called Three Rooms Press and suddenly dreams were coming true.

With Rebecca here, we adventured and caught up, reminding each other the magnificence of friendship.

On the evening of my book release, I draped myself in polyester and mismatching colors, and tried to combat the immense anxiety of letting go of this story that was just mine for so many years.

These days, my words arrive much slower. Sometimes, barely a sentence. Other days, I can write pages. I do my best to be kind to my brain, my thinning imagination, knowing that these are times of great grief and uncertainty. Just getting through a day feels like a triumph. I tell my students that we must accept–without judgement–who we are now and what we are capable of, even if it feels so small, or not enough. I took a shower. I changed my socks. I read an article in the newspaper. I walked my dog. I slept through the night. I graded a student’s paper. I smiled.

On this anniversary of the publication of my novel, I celebrate all that grow from sadness, from death, from mourning, from loss, from uncertainty. It is beautiful and it is tragic and it is magnificent and it is exhausting. If you haven’t read this book yet, what better time to lose yourself in someone’s else’s words? Purchase it HEREOr I can mail you a copy as well. If you can’t afford one, privately email me (aimeeherman@gmail.com), and I will make sure you get one.

Writing Remix Podcast

A lot of hunkering these past few weeks. Baked some homemade pita bread. Walked with my mate and pup to Prospect Park. Felt the previously napping sun against my face. Last week, I was invited to chat with Dan Dissinger and Katie Robison, creators of the Writing Remix podcast through USC Writing Program. We spoke about teaching through this challenging time, managing anxiety (if you have some suggestions, please send some my way!) and trying to find comfort through isolation.

Check out our chat below:

mountains before mountains were mothers

The first time I was ever published was about twenty years ago and it was by a small press called Butcher Shop Press which published a chapbook of my poems. Butcher Shop Press encouraged me to keep writing and I will forever be thankful to all the wonderful small presses which followed who have supported my work. These presses and the editors who work tirelessly to keep them up are such an important part of the writing and reading community. They aren’t looking to be millionaires or thousandaires or even hundredaires. They publish the work of others to encourage writers and allow their words to spread. My books have all been published by independent presses and in this extremely difficult time, I only hope we as readers and writers can continue to support them. Thank you to BlazeVOX booksgreat weather for MEDIA, and Three Rooms Press who have supported my words enough to publish me!

Speaking of excellent presses, hard-working editors and great journals…..Thank you so much to the Cream City Review journal for publishing my poem (and asking me to read it as well!). mountains before mountains were mothers was Runner-Up of the 2019 Poetry Prize selected by Aimee Nezhukumatathil!

 

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN!

 

Everything (still) Grows

Thank you to Barnes & Noble for celebrating my novel, Everything Grows as a B&N readout. Check it out below.

Everything Grows: A Novel

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The story of my first haircut is legendary. Or at least it is in my family. It has circulated over Thanksgiving meals, in synagogue after prayer time is over and all that is left are slightly stale cookies to munch on during Oneg, and even when my grandfather was slowly dying in the hospital.

It was just after my third birthday. My thick, curly hair had gathered into more knots than a brush could untangle, so Dad grabbed the scissors from the coupon drawer and started cutting. Shirley (my mother) was too distraught to do it. After the first cut, I started to scream.

“You’re hurting her,” Greta, who was five at the time, yelled.

And then—according to this well-circulated story—I yelled: “You’re killing it,” meaning my hair. I guess I thought my hair, like everything else on my body, was alive. I didn’t understand why my dad would try to cut a piece of me away. So, he stopped and I wouldn’t let anyone near my hair again until I was almost six. By then, my head resembled a blond abandoned squirrel’s nest.

I’m fifteen now, so of course I understand that hair is dead. My strands don’t scream out when I’m at the hair salon. Though of course, Henny, who has been cutting my hair since I was eight, knows the story too.

Here is what my hair looked like before. It was beautiful, like shampoo commercial hair where the woman throws her head around and each strand glistens as though weaved with tiny suns. Strangers have even stopped me at the grocery store. Or they’d stop Shirley and tell her what gorgeous hair her daughter has. Grandma (Dad’s mom) used to ask for my scraps after a haircut. Her hair was thin and straight. No one really understood where my curls came from. But apparently, I was blessed. This word was also used a lot to describe my hair. Anyway, it was long and thick and beautiful and then I cut it.

I don’t believe I’m unusual. What I mean is, how else should a teenager react when they find out a classmate has committed suicide? Oh, maybe I should start from the beginning, though I’m not sure where that would be. Beginning of me? Beginning of when I started to realize things out about myself that made me feel different than others? When does this story begin?

We were in second grade together. He sat behind me. Also fourth grade, where I got my first ‘D’, which I don’t think was fair at all, and seventh grade science class, and he is was in my English class this year. It’s not like we were friends. Hardly. He was my bully. Threw frog guts at me in seventh grade during dissection. He called me “screen door” and “mosquito bites” in front of the whole class, and yet the teacher didn’t even notice. Maybe he had a whole roster of people he bullied, but it sure felt like he had his hatred aimed straight toward me. But who cares about any of that now? He’s dead.

I was down the block at Dara’s house. Her mom (who knows everything about everyone) got a phone call (not sure from who) and went down to the basement where we were playing and asked if we knew him. I don’t even remember saying goodbye. I just ran home, rushed upstairs to my bedroom, grabbed the scissors on my desk and started to cut my hair. When someone dies like that, things just stop making sense.

Of course, I understand why I was so upset. So, maybe that is where this story starts? But first let me explain what happened after the first cut. Again, I’m fifteen. I don’t understand everything about the body, but I get that if I cut my finger, I will bleed and maybe cry, but blood and pain doesn’t come out of a haircut. And yet, it was like I could feel every hair being pulled out of my scalp. I just stood in the middle of my bedroom, away from my mirror, because I didn’t want to watch what was happening, and cut. The sound was like a slow rip. Not like paper, but well, like something else. My neck itched from the hairs falling against it and the floor caught my curls, creating a puddle of me. I just cut and cut, trying not to imagine him. Trying not to think about why a fifteen-year-old boy would want to kill himself. Trying not to think about Shirley and how I know about the time she tried to kill herself last May, but not about the other times, and there must have been more. Trying not to think about having to visit her on the weekends at that hospital. Angry about what she did, but still trying to be nice to her because she was in a mental hospital that smelled like rotten bandages. I used to call her Shirley in my head, though I’m not sure why. After she tried to leave us, I started saying it out loud.

I threw the scissors down on my bed and slowly walked to my mirror. My hardwood floor was now covered with my hair. Actually, it was really just a messy pile, but it felt like a lot. My hair had reached past my shoulders. The mirror now revealed my new ‘do.

“Eleanor!” screamed Shirley.

Well, I couldn’t hide in my room forever.

“What did you do to yourself?”

“I cut my hair,” I said, plainly.

“I see that. Why?”

“I . . . I don’t know. I needed to—”

“Francine just called me. She said you ran out of the house. She also told me about the boy in your grade.”

I took a deep breath. Greta was the one who found Shirley, not me. But I had to help get her to throw up. She had swallowed too many of her pills. Greta was incredible. She called for an ambulance, tried to calm me down, took care of things. It’s like she knew exactly what to do. I felt paralyzed. I didn’t understand what was happening.