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.

Gender Reveal Party!

Join me on February 9th from 7-9pm at KGB Bar for Gender Reveal Party, a great NYC reading series exploring queer voices. This month’s theme is…..Euphoria. 

Hmmm….what makes me feel euphoric? Off-leash dog hours with my pup at Prospect Park where dogs can roam, sniff, play, chase, run. Finding a five dollar bill hidden in a pocket of a pair of pants I just purchased at the thrift store. Kissing my spouse. Reading anything by Carmen Maria Machado. Taking a bath and listening to NPR while eating cookies or drinking hot cocoa. Teaching.

Gender Reveal Party is hosted and curated by Robin Gow.

Emotive Fruition!

Emotive Fruition is an inventive merge of poets and actors celebrating spoken word. I am excited to have a poem, “hide-n-seek” featured in the upcoming show celebrating loooooooooove poems.

LET LIGHTNING SET US ON FIRE is a live performance of poetry written by some of New York’s hottest poets and performed on stage by a cast of film and stage actors. This Valentine’s Day, snuggle up with some fiery poems about modern love that will surely get your heart going.

WHEN/WHERE? February 3rd / Caveat Bar / 21 A Clinton Street / New York, NY 10002

Doors 6:30 PM, show 7:00 PM.
Tickets $15 in advance, $20 at the door.
21+
This event is mixed seated and standing room. Seats are first-come, first-served.

PURCHASE TICKETS HERE!!

Poems written by Michelle Bermudez, Michael Broder, Elizabeth Burk, Susana H. Case, Janel Cloyd, LeConte Dill, Jared Harel, Aimee Herman, Emily Hockaday, Quincy Scott Jones, Dara Kalima, Arden Levine, Anna Limontas-Salisbury, Chrissy Malvasi, Cynthia Manick, Caitlin Grace McDonnell, Jason Schneiderman, Lynn Schmeidler, Jackie Sherbow, Kathleen Williamson

Directed by Thomas Dooley

Name Calling

I am trying to articulate and wrap my understanding around the words I want to ask others not to use on me. What if we could carry a tiny index card in our pockets and on this card were the words that make us feel invisible, incorrectly seen, or just simply cause us to cringe. And by just carrying these words in our pocket, that ink becomes so powerful that it creates a…force field…an electromagnetic barrier making it impossible for these words to be spoken in our presence.

What words would be written on your card?

I thought about this yesterday while traveling home from a friend’s memorial. I was on the C local train, without a book to read and only my tiny notebook to keep me occupied. I began a list:

List of Words I Hate Being Called

miss, ma’am, girl, cute*, woman, lady, wife,

And then I stopped because one of those words was used towards me three times earlier in the day. As a writer, I know that I can have all the control over the words I want to use. I decide what I want to write and how I want to write it. Of course, I may use a thesaurus (or the computer) to help fill in when I want a different word.

Walking around, I have no control over how people see me or use their words toward me. This is a strange juxtaposition because it can startle and create an invisible seizure in my body because how I see myself is so often not how others see me.

Recently, I paid a professional to chop off all my hair (or much of, at least). I thought this removal might help balance my reflection. I thought this removal might help me feel like how I felt.

Spoiler alert: it did and it did not.

I have learned many things about myself over the years such as: I really am lactose intolerant no matter how much I try to ignore this; I continue to feel the need to challenge authority figures; I much prefer to be by myself; I can live without alcohol though not marijuana; sometimes I enjoy wearing women’s underwear; and no matter how far I try to run away from myself, the turmoil and fragmentation of myself lives within. Therefore, haircut or wardrobe is just a minuscule portion of who and how I am and feel.

I do not want to police others about vocabulary. Well, actually, sometimes I do. But most times I just want to be off-duty from all of that. I want to be seen, but it’s impossible for others to see me how I desperately want to be seen unless I say something.

I really, really, really, really, really (you get it?) do not want to be called cute. I am forty. I am jagged and messy and queer and wild and that is just not an adjective that settles well beside the wax in my eardrum. This word makes me feel like I am being mispronoun’d.

So, here is a replacement: bold. Or how about: like a savage poppy growing in a field of dandelions. Or even: You look like YOU.

I am quite sure I have used words toward others that weren’t quite right. Adjectives and nouns and other parts of speech that were severely incorrect. And for that, I am sorry because I know what it feels like to be mispronounced and I never want to do that to another.

I am still adding to my list. It is one of those lists that is forever to be continued….

And I am working on a different list. A list of what I would like to be called. How I want to be seen. Because I am still figuring this out after decades of not even considering it.