first published by great weather for MEDIA
I am waiting for the 4 train at Fulton station. Bodies surround me like a parade of run-on sentences. We are all experiencing this madness of human congestion together. I am pressed against the wall because there is nowhere else to lean. A human walks past me wearing legs longer than Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. Another passes me by and if I were to press adjectives shaped as boxes into their skin, they’d all combat each other. Some humans just cannot be labeled. They are rare; they are unclassifiable.
Or. Maybe I am looking at this all wrong. All humans cannot be labeled. We are all rare; we are all unclassifiable.
In a recent article by Laura Haines about the complexity of gender, “Not as Simple as XX or XY”, she wrote, “…rare is not a reason to dismiss possibility or to dismiss a real person’s humanity. Rare still exists. Rare walks around and has feelings, faith, needs, and rights. If anything at all, rare should move us to expand our horizons along the planes of love, grace, and acceptance.”
I spread this quote onto the board at school and ask my students what this means to them. We break down the various meanings hidden inside rare: unique, different, other, special.
I ask them: Are you rare? Do you want to be rare?
This conversation comes out of one that arrived a few weeks ago when we were discussing the openness of identity. Can someone choose their identity? I asked. And can it change? Or must it be static?
When we are approached by something or someone we do not understand, it can be difficult to know what to say. It may feel like a challenge to learn them. Sometimes we just walk away or we make assumptions. This just creates a further gap between us.
A student answered, “It’s confusing when I don’t know how to approach someone.”
I said, “If we judged every book by its cover, we’d be severely disappointed. The best parts are the words. You miss out when you don’t even take a moment to peer inside.”
In an interview, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates said, “You are your body” and in class we talked about all the ways we are pushed out of it. When we do not look like someone recognizable, we are isolated. Called names. Misunderstood.
In a world where we are replacing our tongues with loaded guns and speaking through them, I fear that we are forgetting the beauty of rarities. When I don’t understand something, I ask questions. A lot of them. I want to understand. I want to learn the language of as many identities as I can; in fact, I am still learning mine.
I want to be rare and I want to live in a world where oddities are celebrated, not removed.
Just think of every time you learned a new word and it brought you closer to seeing more clearly, to articulating yourself more and the world around you. People….especially the rare ones…can offer you that too.
When I was little, I remember my dad and I making up stories. About people who passed us by as we sat on various benches at the mall while my sister and mom shopped. About people we knew or wanted to know or characters that only lived inside our imaginations.
As I grew, I started writing poems. When I felt bold enough, I’d storm stages and read them out loud. Sometimes I wrote stories too.
Three years ago, I encouraged my dad to publish his work. He had been writing stories for years and couldn’t believe someone (who didn’t know him) would want to read his work.
Now, he has three published novels under his belt and is working on a fourth.
A year or so ago, my dad asked me if I might want to write a book with him. Of course I said yes. And many months and words later, our book is in print with an ISBN and cover and I couldn’t be prouder.
A Very Special Dress & Other Stories is an accumulation of a myriad of relationships: a daughter to her father, a dog impatiently waiting for her human to come home, a teenager figuring out their gender identity…..spanning generations and voices.
Purchase this book now:
Checks or money orders only, made payable to Martin Herman & Associates. NO cash please.
194 Rodney Press, 521 Simsbury Road, Bloomfield, CT 06002
Every bridge I have ever jumped from has talked back to me.
The story of my body has seven alternate endings and a fold-out atlas stapled to the middle. It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure novel, but when I turn to the page I want, it is missing.
The first time I jumped, it was several hours past midnight. Somehow the sun had confused itself again with the stars. The sun fractured into neon confetti and fell from the sky. As I jumped, what appeared to be illuminated starfish stuck to my skin. I survived with two scraped knees and a cracked tooth.
Have you ever spent an afternoon weeping over the dismemberment of Pluto? I have.
The story of my body can be unwrapped in chapters, but they are disordered, of course.
The second time I jumped, the cables and bolts from the Brooklyn Bridge came undone. I slid down, down into the water and climbed toward the ocean’s floor. I ate lunch with a mermaid with braided buildings in her hair. She begged me to stay forever; her voice sounded like smoke and hummingbirds in love. When I ran out of oxygen and conversation topics, I floated back up dripping a trail of salt and sandwich crumbs.
I’m very excited to perform alongside David Lawton and Zita Zenda, my Hydrogen Junkbox poetry bandmates at this year’s BOOG City Poets’ Theatre Night at Sidewalk Cafe located at 94 Ave A in NYC. We will be performing a new, theatrical version of our song, Rice Paper Heart.
The event is from 5-7pm. Event is free, but please come and support this venue. They have great food!
A great line-up also featuring the thought-provoking poetry of my spouse, Trae Herman-Durica!
first published by great weather for MEDIA
It all began with an eyelash. Perhaps poison ivy found in Marquette, Nebraska. Or maybe some dust mites.
After returning from a two-week trip out west, I found myself in the ER of a hospital room in Brooklyn, covered in curious and extremely itchy red marks. As usual, I do my best to pretend away my body but when the blotches spread to my eye, my spouse insisted on a medical intervention.
As we waited, I tried my hardest not to itch, so I forced my attention toward the television above me. A new game show where contestants could win up to one million dollars just for naming that tune! I had twenty dollars in my wallet and two college degrees.
I always know I’m really sick when my appetite goes away. I usually dream about dinner while I’m eating lunch, so after spending an entire day with maybe 100 calories in me, I knew something was wrong.
I stared at the welts of varying shapes on my arms, legs, two on my belly, gathering beside my hairline. I imagined being this itchy for the rest of my life.
The smell of the waiting room was a mixture of fast food, sour cologne, and August sweat. I turned toward my mate and said, “Remember that eyelash? I can’t remember what state that was.”
“Minnesota, I think.”
“Yeah,” I paused. “I wished I were dead.”
I’m unclear where the tradition started that a stray eyelash gave permission for one wish if blown off the tip of a finger. But I feel like it had always been there.
I started to cry or maybe I hadn’t stopped.
“Do you still feel that way?”
“Not right now,” I spoke.
“I think it was from the dog’s fur, actually. I don’t think it was an eyelash.”
When my name was finally called, the nurse weighed me and asked about height and habits. Then she sent me back to the waiting room until the doctor was available.
Recently, an almost-stranger grabbed my forearm and asked about the state of my skin. “You get attacked by some zoo animals?” they asked.
I can’t remember any time I understood my skin. It was never smooth and unbothered. And if it was, those memories have all dug themselves away.
When my name was finally called again, I was sent to a room with beds beside each other. “Take the second one,” a nurse instructed.
A young, long-lashed physician assistant approached me. I removed my sweater, so she could observe all of my itchy constellations.
I watched her burnt caramel eyes approach a diagnosis.. “Any idea what this might be?”
Suddenly, I panicked. I’m paying $150 to diagnose myself?
“I’ve been traveling the past two weeks, so I’ve experienced different environments. Been outside a lot. Maybe…poison ivy? I’m extremely allergic.”
“Everyone is, really,” the doctor said.
“I don’t know. Maybe bug bites?” I don’t mention the eyelash and my fear that wishes (if wished enough) do come true. I don’t mention my fear that these welts are the beginning of my end.
“I’m gonna put you on steroids for a few days and some Benadryl.”
“But you don’t know what this is. But—”
“They’re all treated the same,” the doctor interrupts.
I used to be allergic to milk. Then, perfume. For a significant portion of my life: men. On and off, I’m also allergic to any derivative of happiness.
I’ve wished on eyelashes my whole life. Over three decades of birthday candle wishes. Two or three shooting stars. I have no memory of any wishes coming true.
Day three of these unconfirmed mountains of itchiness and I do my best NOT TO ITCH. My spouse tells me they are fading. I wish I could wish this itch away, but I’ve sworn myself away from fallen eyelashes and my birthday is a long way off.
Colorado-based writer, j/j hastain, is a flood of words. An ocean of energies and crossings. In j/j’s newest collection, Priest/ess Trilogy, worlds are entered and examined. Gender is questioned. Body becomes a new alphabet. After digging through these texts, I sent along some questions to j/j and was lucky to receive incredible words back.
AIMEE: With all that is troubling our country these days–doors and walls and STOP signs and HATE crimes, I want to know what keeps you here. What allows you to endure?
j/j: Here is where?
You mean what keeps me on planet? Not taking my own life and not yet having had it taken by another? Or here—on the precipice of vitality? Here—intentionally inhabiting body as it grows me through from Richter (various rough realities in on-planet trajectories) to psychic, material and energetic riches (realties which exceed on-planet rough patches)? Here—as in legs wide open to the oncoming matter? Mouth open to the gale? Hands open to the pelting hail? Here—the tender pride of complex gender between lover and me—between me and inner circle? Here—in the bedchamber where the light is taking over—finally leading to unconditional love songs of merge undeniable? Particles burgeoning to touch other particles in a manner conducive to both on-planet and off-planet versions of heaven?
My sense is it took more to get me here than it takes to keep me here (even if I have experienced it taking quite a lot to keep me here at times in process). Pre-incarnate negotiations can be complex—and I was not positive I was going to return—not because of lack of love for Earth and her inhabitants—but because of other commitments off-planet I was busy completing. Erecting crystal castles (no joke!)—creating heaven off-planet just as Gaia’s glistening age ensures by dimensional communion with God—heaven is possible on-planet.
It came down to this: if I chose to come here I—personally—believe it only makes sense to stay here, creating.
For me, endurance is plainly about will. Quite different than being—which is what “here” is all about. So—I guess I see the two correlating but they are certainly doing different things in/as me.
A: What elicits your words and the directions they take?
j/j: In many ways it’s a kind of matured obedience (not the negative implications of that word)—as refinement in (co) cadence—that drives the language. Drives. But the direction it takes is its own. Just like East and all of its emanations are its own, same with South, West, North, Below, Above and Within. Within is its own directionality. Due to this, Within goes Within.
What elicits the words in the first place? Cross-world alchemies and the reverb (intonation/vibration) that carries information back and forth between figural ‘lovers’ across spans. Words such as these—bridges and bows. Words—conduits, conductors, creases and crimps—artful agendas. Words—‘safe words’ or “no” or give it to me as a thought-form (push me past where I perceive my edge to be while fucking me, baby) between gritty bodies in the bed. Words—carnage of forefather dying into the land and becoming the beets and other root vegetables that forefather’s offspring picks to cook for dinner.
A: Can you talk about the disrobing of your vocabulary?
j/j: I am all about the disrobing that happens in charged scenario when someone is taking these robes off of me. Heat, dizziness. The musk of animals preparing to mate. Therefore—it could happen with most pleasure for me by nakedness of content, of cadence—even of the fact of writing becoming light (life)—by another wanting to see it naked.
Sure—this is the lover—but in this way—any reader can make the page blush like a virgin so happy on her wedding night to be joined, finally, with her Beloved. The naked page a “her”—though not necessarily a traditional (or gen) female nor a femme.
A: In Priest/ess, you wrote, “We can be ethical harvesters of secrets. We can make secrets edible to that most enigmatic child: the third eye.” Can you talk about your practice of spirituality?
j/j: Both secretive and extremely transparent—like all useful tools which assist in processes enhancing soul evolution would need be. When dealing transparently in the languages of secrets what would arise? Tracts and ducts wherein and whereby Divine could_________. To stimulate divinity by divining (designing) a space? What lyrical stimulus would flow? What idea by which wisdom becomes queered? Modern mystic is so—not by their own self-distinction as such—but by the sound of their gesture coming back to them. Like in Shamanism—it is the space-made—then inhabited by Divine—that is a fullness able to be used for positive transactions, transmissions, transmutations in the world (due to it touching another).
I want to provide a place in the world, on planet—where spirit can spurt because I have been rited as a place where spirit can spurt—and spirit spurting—offering another an opportunity to be involved in such elixir, potion, Amrita—the Grail waters filling the lake.
Any act dedicated to Divine—to God/dess or “Ma”—can be her efflorescence, her flowering. Festivity of flow. It’s a love thing—an offspring thing—what comes from me vivifies in a manner similar to from whence it came.
What are my values?
The Beloved, queer aphrodisiac (queer aphrodisiac is my patriotism). Reach (through queerness or through that which is not queer: both result in knowledge having been queered), receive and offer as what make the lemniscate circuit whole. Creatrix gender the genius activator.
A: How do you harvest your history?
j/j: Following guidance from “Ma” to the “T.” Taking great care with what I am being shown must be done for the betterment—for the best foot forward and best face expressing.
Literal answer to this—I once kept all of my old journals and diaries locked in a blue chest. This chest looked like the kind one would find pirate treasure inside. I would visualize it—sinking into the deep and never being found. Covered over with sea dirt and foam—sea detritus—from the urges of the rocking. Kept—truly kept by The Mother. Keeping me a secret. Keeping her promise to me.
When I was guided by Ma to open the blue chest and begin to integrate with an urgency I had never previously felt I did as I was told. I like doing what I am told in this type of regard. It is kinky. What I found within? Overwhelm of psychic spills, love poems, wanderlust widdershins, evening renderings, seedlings of the queer manifesto. I was shocked. Who I am was gathered right there—in a compostable heap below my wide-open legs. How would I integrate this? What could be harvested? By what manner made most sense?
A: How do you feed your present(s)?
j/j: Sense of self. Moving identity. Trans names. Presence in present tense is quite infused for the multi-dimensionalist. To be—though the most basic of human birthrites—is sometimes not the easiest place to be. What brightens it? Mystical gender. Mystical gender the face —the emanation that comes off of sexual chi. How does my sexual chi dress? What are its chosen mantles, negligees?
A: While reading your books, there were times I would just flip to a page and follow its language in the way I did when I read Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. It felt like stones toward a path, guiding me. What was your intention in writing these books?
j/j: Intention has the word tent in it. Refuge. For whom? For whomever comes with open heart into the tent with intent to enable hearth. It is less the “who” and more the “how” of orientation. An ape would do well in here—loving the world it loves. This notion—of “toward a path” is aligned with what I want. Living pages leaning. The full forest of trees—the mouth full of songs—the body full of moans—the being full of promise finding itself in a state of promises fulfilled.
A: In Priest/ess 2, you described your blood as ritualistic. As adornment. As worn. You wrote, “…my blood does not indicate my gender but my animality, blood remaining that which heals various dysphorias (like virginity being taken) rather than causing dysphorias.” Can you explain what you mean by this? In what ways are you animal?
j/j: I am an animal like an animal sweats—like sex has a particular smell to it depending on the way one’s lovers and their hormones mix. She calls the way mine smell, “salted caramel.”
I am an animal like it keeps walking even with a broken or missing leg. I am an animal in the way the consciousness meets with the physical/material dimension to refine/revise/play out pre-incarnate commitments and by that adds consciousness to planet. There is more to put in than to take out. We need not deplete our phenomenon of a planet (Earth) just because we are depleted. There is life-force to be found. Howl at the moon—not a cliché but an animal ritual in which very real moonlight shines back down and into the outstretched mouth.
I am the kind of animal that knows what I need by living closely with Earth rhythms. Fuck when it is time to fuck. Breathe deeply in the afternoon sun as the nap happens—let the body be what it came here to be. Drink water (resource) freely from resource. Draw both intentional and unintentional shapes (both beautiful) as the path. The path followed was always also the path created.
A: I love what you wrote about the pronouns in your body. You wrote, “I constantly do psychic surgery on myself: trim this here, add that here.” Can you speak about the process of this “surgery” and how it has become part of the ceremony of your evolving self?
j/j: It is nip and tuck by my own hand. I go to myself for revision. To what future versions of me do I want to be aligned? What is required of me orientationally in time and space to manifest the highest frequency vision I can see for myself? Who am I?–replaced by I am. I am is not a state in time and space. It is a vibration, self as vista or environment. In this I have every right to dead-head the roses that are depleting essence, weakening the functionality of my stem.
How is it a ceremony? I am intent with it. Intelligent design with an end-result in mind—result of which is vitality increasing—versus aesthetic. Ultimately I want my aesthetic to be inspired by what is going on inside me. Gender musks in the gender folds.
A: Something I ask my students each semester is to draw a STOP sign in their notebooks (the shape) and then fill it with all the words that STOP them from completing their goals, their desires, their dreams. What holds them back. I explain that writing it down offers a release. A way out of it. To move through and past. If I were to ask you to do the same, what might fill your STOP sign (words or images) and can you explain your process of moving forward?
I love what you wrote about indulgence in Priest/ess 3. “…doing so is not simply some pleasurable indulgence. This isn’t eating cake. It’s a mouth-full of putrid water from which it is hard to discern the future from. Within the mouth-full are tadpoles swimming. Are new rules begging? It is challenging to go completely into the scream: rite-like exhausting.” Can you speak on this challenge. The shape and smell of this “scream”? What is gained from this indulgent ritual?
j/j: (I want to start by saying I don’t regularly spend time doing releases that affirm what is holding me back—because affirming I am being held back is not useful for my manifestational agenda— though I do understand the value of cathartic releases of many types). This process, for me, would be more physical. Through somatic abundance being increased by dance in physical plane—it would be more like no thoughts, no words or ideas—simply fiercely shoving my own chi through the vessel of body (physical world) as a way of amplifying consciousness within it—then holding that kind of blowing-into-the-balloon—until I can feel it is on the edge of what it can currently contain—balloon-skin stretched out completely. Red balloon looking almost orange or even see-through. From that point—my toxins kept in the satchel made buoyant by my intention with breath—I let go. It is a mystery what happens next. Sometimes—the balloon slams to the ground and breaks open—toxins leaking down the niches and into the river to be purified by its curves and pounds. And sometimes—that laden balloon actually floats. Such floating state might be how a poem is made.
A: Writing is so solitary, though I (especially while reading your work) imagine your process as a collaboration with Earth. With land, water, soil, the creatures beneath feet. Can you lead us on a walk? What you see/hear/smell and how that fuels your creative process?
j/j: Gesture is collaboration, yes. Not in a void—but very much on planet—in the ardent and marvelous realm of forms—means at any moment I am doing anything—my field is touching another’s and that touch—in and of itself—means there is no aloneness.
It is not one. It is more than one.
Come with me on a walk in my favorite of places or a walk in a place that is not in alignment with my preference fields. Come with me into me—out here on planet. Come.
All manner of creatures exist in the lights and shadows. All manner of creatures exist in the senses. My memoir was recently described to me as a piece of abstract art she got lost in. A painting of abrupt lines stripped of all lines becomes what? Space, potential. I feel I have touched a lot of animate beings in my life. I feel I am barely beginning to touch to the degree I intend to touch.
Phallic candle, incense smoke, purification maneuvers, fig pith, bruised hands, my mother’s tears falling down the bib of her dress.
Today—it was in the way the sun had everything completely quickened—like tips of grass stalks or pine needles extra poignant. How I laid on a cactus whose fruits were leaking beneath my neck while watching the once-in-a-lifetime eclipse take place. Thinking of orgasm as a soul and bodily state of abundance that can in fact be required of the material dimension.