to be a writer/to write

What it is to be a Writer:

hashtag your emotions
photograph your best side
tweet edited version of your day in less than 180 letters
post where you’ll be in ten minutes (even if you never make it there)
photograph your face as though you have forgotten what it looks like
tell at least ten people to LIKE you on computer screen
go where you can be seen

 
What it is to Write:

say no to things in order to ink your thoughts down
unzip, bleed, stain every desk and floorboard with the pulled-apart bones of your language
eat to nourish brain and give self an opportunity to break (though without photographic documentation)
cry: give away salt to every sentence and/or stanza
feel enlightened and melancholy simultaneously
lose your fingerprints from all the splinters born off pages you turn because one must read in order to write
go on a hike, rather than online in order to inhale the earth that inspires these words
be alone A LOT, but in doing so you learn WHO you are and WHY you must live as this

what it is to have (not)

 

As I write this, I stare at less than $200 in my checking account. I do not announce this as some sort of Kickstarter-ploy-for-pity, rather as a reminder to myself of what it is to have or have not.

Growing up in suburban New Jersey, there were never empty shelves. Before each school year began, my mom would take my sister and I to Kmart or its equivalent and get us folders and notebooks. If shoes started breaking, we’d get a new pair. Holes in the knees of jeans? We’d head to the local mall for their replacement. We had.

As I got older, I fell in love with other people’s things. I spent my weekends, going to garage sales. My dad and I would hoard our treasures, hiding them from my mom who disapproved of the dusty discards. My body would be wrapped inside various shades of polyester, purchased from the local flea market, sometimes for less than $1. I loved wearing other people’s stories against my skin.

I never thought much about money. As a kid, we always had it.

Once I was old enough, I worked, so I had loose change to purchase non-necessities like cassette tapes, books and (later on) drugs. When I started working, I began saving for larger objects like a CD/record player, TV and then upon moving out after high school, rent.

There were years I fed my nose before I fed my mouth. But I always had. Even as a drug addict, I paid my bills on time. Rent. Credit card. Utilities. All of it. Sometimes there were even some months where I actually had some money left after paying these bills.

My eyes don’t get excited over expensive objects because as an adult, I always knew I could never afford them. I own no jewelry, nor do I care about the designer’s brands. My labels are usually faded by the time I purchase them, so I barely even know what size I am these days.

As I write this, with less than $200 in my checking account, I recognize how far $1 can go these days. (Should I build some suspense? Close your eyes. Hold your breath.) Not. Far.

$1 cannot afford my trip on the subway to work. In the 1940’s, a dollar could buy four movie tickets. Now, it doesn’t even cover the cost of a bottle of water from concession.

This is not to say that with less than $200 in my checking account, I do not have.

With less than $200 in my checking account, I wake in a bed every morning in a bedroom I call mine with heat that comes on fairly regularly at no extra cost. This bedroom is inside an apartment that also houses two other wonderful humans who fill it with art, music and laughter. This apartment includes a kitchen with a cupboard full of ingredients. Each morning, I toast rye bread in borrowed toaster and slide peanut butter against its yeast with less than $200 in my checking account. I have the ability to boil water (also free) and drink coffee from beloved French press every morning. In this apartment, there is furniture to sit on. In this apartment, though there are occasional cockroaches (the uninvited pests of living in the city); luckily, there has been no infiltration of mice. With less than $200 in my checking account, I can take a bath any time I want and the water never forgets to flow.

Ten years ago, I was eating nineteen-cent packages of freeze-dried ramen with enough salt in their flavoring packet to cover my allotted sodium intake for close to a week. This was all I could afford. Now, I purchase ramen (price more than doubled) not because I have to but because I want to.

What does it really mean to have? Is it always attached to money, or is there something else to it.

As I write this, I think about the weight of love and how when I have it, I feel like it replaces every haunting presidential face attached to currency that could ever climb into my wallet. I feel like the most affluent human just for having my metaphorical heart wrapped up in a metaphorical heated 1,000-thread count blanket.

I think about the weight of words and how when I have them, I feel like I can purchase meals with my poems. I feel like I could pay my rent with my words. I feel like I could purchase a plane ticket for around the world with a well-crafted independent clause.

With less than $200 in my checking account, I have enough books to build a well-enclosed fort to protect me from the ones I hide from.

I have things. I am reminded of this with each move from new state or street. In my head, I am a well-intentioned minimalist. In real life, I am a massive collector of the discarded.

With less than $200 in my checking account, I have enough clothes to last me through two weeks without having to visit the Laundromat (or at least enough underwear). I have boots to protect me from rain or snow and sneakers to slide my feet into for the warmer/dryer months.

I go to work at a community college, teaching students about writing, reading and creative ways to think with less than $200 in my checking account.

With less than $200 in my checking account, I swipe metro card with enough money stored on it to get me to aforementioned workplace and back home with possible stops in between. I notice that as I travel with other strangers underground, this is the one place where all economic classes blur together. It does not matter if you have $20 in your wallet or no wallet at all. There is no exclusive seating on the subway. A hedge fund or 401K account will not guarantee you a seat during rush hour. Everyone is the same.

What is it to have with less than $200 in my checking account? How can one claim to be rich when by society’s standards, they are poor? Is mood measured by bank balance? Would I be happier if I could afford everything on my Amazon wishlist?

As I write this, with less than $200 in my checking account, I feel no less sad as the days of the week where my balance is far more corpulent. My disposition has nothing to do with my wallet. In fact, as I settle into this low-income identity, I recognize that what I desire the most are things unattached to price tags: words, love, peace of mind, poetry.

to amy (sic) of ten years ago today.

Ten years ago, you had a difficult time with serving sizes. Back then, you hoarded cocaine and one-night love affairs. You collected envelopes of gashes. Ten years ago, you were being cyber-bullied by your memories. You changed your phone number and the shape of your skin in order to hide from your shadow. You feasted on potholes. You grew an enormous amount of debt as though this tab was like a garden you were watering. You lost feeling in the lower region of your body. Ten years ago, you shaved everything. Ten years ago, you fondled paralysis of your heart. You stopped trusting men. You fell. Do you remember that? You traveled with bar napkins against bloody chin because the weight of panic threw you down. Do you remember that you found new places to hide the slashes from the anger which only grew louder from all the drugs? Ten years ago, you got into a knife fight with the other half of you. You filled out only half the application for a restraining order against your vagina.      * Ten years ago today, you began planning for a future you were contemplating against. You applied to university in a state you never lived in, hoping for a re-do. You found words, which felt too kind, to describe your journey and intention to study. You got a phone call from a voice you did not recognize telling you that you were accepted to university. You decided it was time to get clean again. You threw bad habits into garbage and threw heavy bag of trauma into Brooklyn dumpster. You started writing more. You decided what could be left behind and what you wanted to remain with you. You cleaned out your phone of names, which haunted your ear drums. You decided to choose poetry as your drug; it was a lot cheaper and though it left you fiending for more, it was free. And did not leave you with nosebleeds and blackouts. You drove over two thousand miles. You still made some mistakes, but when you fell, there was a lot less blood. You got your degree. You learned how to collect months and then years of sobriety. You gave up collecting things. You still have a difficult time with serving sizes…..though now, it’s just coffee. And words.

flâneur

for Virginia.

photograph by Trae Durica

photograph by Trae Durica

I fold myself as though I am traveling inside a suitcase. My limbs curl and bend. I want this day to have nothing to do with me and everything to do with the humans around me. The snow has lost its shine; it has aged and curdled. A pigeon ice-skates, trips on a bundle of discarded city. And though this wasn’t supposed to be about a pencil, several hours later, a poet hands one to me. It is unsharpened and new like my body once was. Before the pencil, a woman on the 4 train heading uptown talks about peppermint tea and her dislike of hot chocolate. She talks of the heft of cold climbing beneath her layers. She whispers out a love letter to the Islands where she grew up and memorized recipes. After the pencil, a moon in the shape of a question mark or a slurred howl. After the pencil, a crack in the sidewalk with laughter oozing out. Closer still, and a knock-knock joke jammed between one square of concrete and another. Before the pencil, a gentleman of elder status, peeing outside of a park in chinatown. He is wedged between two shopping carts in the shape of a home minus chimney and foyer. After the pencil, a puddle of curious shade of yellow patronizes the city street. Before the pencil, a kiss so magnificent and hungry, that skin gains thirty-seven pounds from its embrace. Somewhere, though it is unclear where and when, possibly seventy-four years ago, you see her. With long sullen face, I smell the soot of words wafting off her palms. It is Sunday and there are no parties to prepare for or meals to measure. Simply, a pencil to purchase at eighteen mile long bookshop. But it was never really about that pencil.

fictionary

Experiment #3,403: Create a word that hasn’t existed before this moment. Break the rules with crashing two words together or make a sound birthed between your lips for the very first time. See what arrives.

Traumasement – (noun)-  the hidden area of one’s mind/body where haunting memories are kept.

Winter. Several years past millenium. I sit in style of meditation. Swallow fist of hangnails and crooked knuckles as I unhinge clasp toward traumasement, peel away cobwebs like puffs of sticky smoke and begin to address. Begin to read the footnotes of misery.

Here, in the traumasement, I sniff dust like invisible particles of cocaine, coughing up bloody remnants of the bones of my memories.

do-over

You did not get raped. You are not allergic to dairy; therefore, you may eat that strawberries-and-cream sundae without fear of gut explosion. You were not interrupted while walking home that day by two men, in tinted brown car, alerting you that you dropped something. You did not say I love you to the first lesbian to ask you on a date. These men in scratched aluminum car did not persistently tell you: Yes, you did. Miss, you dropped something. You do not have a difficult time reading Proust. Here is when you did not grow confused and then angry when these men in bass-blaring car continued with: Miss, you dropped a conversation. Now, c’mon and get closer and talk to us. You’re so pretty, Miss. No, you definitely did not grow flammable when those men thought they had your permission to be gendered and bothered. You never tried to give yourself bangs. You are not plagued by indigestion every time you remove your clothing. You have absolutely no problems being intimate. You never eat dessert for supper; you wouldn’t dare. You have no difficulty calling yourself labels like woman or alive. You feel completely understood by the humans who think they know you. You are not uncomfortable by the thought of celebrating your birthday. You have no desire to afford a mortgage one day. You definitely don’t want to get married. You were so relieved that time you weren’t pregnant. You have forgiven _________. And _________. You are not clothed in sixteen layers of phobias. You definitely do not hesitate to breathe sometimes. You did not collapse on that Brooklyn concrete and find nine crooked stitches in your chin the next morning. You are really OK. You are not looking for a remedy. You are clean. You can definitely get through this. You can get another try; there is always a do-over.

what it is to write.

I was in high school, year nine, when teachers started to wonder about the dark in me. I was eating Sylvia Plath and Lou Reed, collecting pills and scars.

At a school assembly, I read a poem which caused my guidance counselor to call my parents. Back then, I didn’t know words could be a diagnosis. I had no idea words could be a precursor to prescriptions and social workers.

It’s the tale of so many poets’ stories.: Depression. Drug addiction. Suicide attempts. Social anxiety. A walk-on role by Homosexuality. 

I heard a writer say, “Good writing doesn’t come from happy childhoods.” But I want to believe that we don’t always need the backstories. Our imaginations are massive enough to create our stories and poems.

When I run out of words, I dig my fingernails into the root of a scar found on forearm, hip, between thighs and rummage around until letters come out. This is a metaphor.

When I run out of words, I go to my bookshelf. Pull out Kate Bornstein. Pull out Vera Pavlova. Lorca. Neruda. Miranda July. Ivan E. Coyote. Audre Lorde. I scratch out their words and sniff the aroma of magic coming through. This is literal.

What it is to write.

I have been diagnosed and hospitalized and “treated” and analyzed and medicated and rehabilitated and tested. The pills gave me dry mouth, increased anxiety, nausea, increased thoughts of suicide, fatigue and irritability.

The side-effects of writing? Awareness, realization, acceptance, ease of overwhelm, validation.

When I tell people I am a poet, they say: better find a day job. I want to explain to them that there are different versions of currency and poetry may not pay my rent, but it keeps me alive. Twenty dollars in my pocket won’t.

There are days I feel as though I am not allowed to call myself a writer. These are the days I fall asleep without a puddle of words at my side. These are the days I feel dry.

And yet to others, I am able to say: Thinking is part of writing, so if you thought today, then you created. 

I get lost a lot. I’ve never had GPS at my disposal. I’ve got a flip phone in my pocket (features including only camera, calendar and calculator). So, I often turn away from where I am supposed to be. But maybe humans need to get lost more, in order to feel more found. Maybe more humans should write without disclaimer, without waiting for a place for these words. Let poetry be your diagnosis. Let language and its looseness be your symptoms.

Let ink and paper be your geography. Your map. Then, you’ll be ready for travel.