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.

Looking Back on Writing

Thank you to Raluca Albu for prompting me to write and to BOMB for publishing the following piece:

To me, writing is always like walking up a flight of stairs with giant gaps in between. I lose my breath, my limbs start to shake, I worry I am going to fall and awaken in a chalk outline of my mistakes.

For full article and many other wonderful writers’ responses including Lidia Yuknavitch go to: BOMB

https://bombmagazine.org/articles/looking-back-the-past-decade-in-literature/

Dear 2019 and the years before that,

I learned that the color of a bruise is synonymous to the sky right before a storm. And just like the sky, the body can thunder and lightening itself until it is unrecognizable.

There are billions less birds flying above us. Instead of the flapping of wings, we hear clouds tangle and cough like flu victims. I walked around the Metropolitan Museum of Art and lost count of the humans wearing face masks. I held my breath for as long as I could. What are we really breathing in?

Blame it on the squall.

I learned that articulating the correct pronoun can save a life.

Sometimes the most difficult decision one can make in a day is to turn off their Internet.

Sometimes the second most difficult decision one can make in a day is to exist for twenty-four hours and post zero photographs of what you ate.

Learned how to embroider; learned how to walk outside; learned I can stay inside; learned how to say no; learned how to leave without causing a scene; learned how to sit still (even if just for five minutes); learned how to approach my body (carefully, as though we are meeting each other for the first time);

I still have no idea who I am.

On January 1st, I will not eat differently.

On January 1st, I will not join a gym.

On January 1st, my scars will not erase themselves away.

On January 1st, I will have still done that.

Haruki Murakami wrote, “Most things are forgotten over time. Even the war itself, the life-and-death struggle people went through is now like something from the distant past. We’re so caught up in our everyday lives that events of the past are no longer in orbit around our minds. There are just too many things we have to think about everyday, too many new things we have to learn. But still, no matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away. They remain with us forever, like a touchstone.”

I learned that I don’t have to forget all of this, but I don’t have to carry it every day. I can live amidst war, even when it is inside me. I can search for peace amidst the screams and slashings.

Sometimes, just saying hello to a stranger can save a life or at least remind each other that we are visible even when we are not trying to be.

Some words, questions and (hopefully a bit of) hope

Thank you to Denise-Marie McIntosh from Fairy Tale Access at Nashua, New Hampshire Public Access for asking such thoughtful questions and for giving me space to speak about my novel, “Everything Grows”.