How to Ask

first published by great weather for MEDIA

 

Audre Lorde asked, “what are the words you do not yet have?”

I ask my students to bring to class the largest sack they can find. Made from forest or skirt or their least favorite weather pattern.

But it must be the curvature of empty, I add.

I arrive early and some of the students are sucking on the neon haze of their cell phones. One travels their neck and shoulder to places I’ve never been to before because of the music collected in the drum of their ears.

When it is time, I ask them to clear their desks of everything but their sack.

(They are quite used to these odd requests from me.)

I am wearing pants, color of crushed moss, with long-distance pockets.

Dig long fingers—once described as emaciated pianos—down deep and lift out as many question marks as I could fit inside.

I dump them onto desk and ask my students what they see.

Lines. Curls. Arches. A mountain?

Each student receives a question mark to place into their sack. The ones who insist get more.

We walk around the room with our voices, practicing how to use our question marks.

Lorde wrote, “I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”

I urge my students to rise. They clutch their sacks, which beg to be filled.

Here is when I begin the list of what will go inside our sacks:

  1. the discolored fist-marks on skin
  2. the hisses, hauntings, hunted parts of us
  3. mirrors or any reflective glass that forgets to disclose our most important bits: our insides
  4. every pronoun that mispronounced us
  5. all the no’s incorrectly heard as yes
  6. our childhood (optional)
  7. the memory of that time someone told us to let go of reaching because arms are never long enough to get us out and through
  8. every single box which has boxed us in
  9. that scar hidden behind a different one, shaped like an EXIT sign
  10. the words: I can’t

Our muscles grow vocal chords, working hard to lift what now overflows.

Some students are still confused. Several are crying.

Audre Lorde reminded us, “We were never meant to survive.”

So I ask my students, what can we do to remain?

I can tell them all about how classrooms felt like cliffs to me and I jumped more times than I can remember. That the few times I remained were because a teacher gave me a sack to fill with words. And questions. And dreams. And poems.

I can tell them that I still hoard questions marks in my pockets and beneath my tongue because there is so much I do not know and cannot claim to understand.

I can tell them that for every time I was incorrectly pronounced, I could feel my mouth’s zipper get thicker and stronger and tougher. Creating my invisibility.

But it’s not about me. So, I wait for them to decide how to feel. How to react. How to respond. Give them paper to write on and words to read to fuel their question marks.

To keep them here a little longer.

Which keeps me here too.

 

Bladder Control

previously published by great weather for MEDIA

 

When can we start to admit that the more doors we close on people—locking them out—the more ledges we are, in turn, building for them to jump from.

This doesn’t need to be political.

I ask my students: Raise your hand if you went to the bathroom today. They look at me, inquisitively, wondering why I would ask such a personal question.

Slowly, they all raise their hands.

Then, I say: How many of you paused at the rectangular sign announcing who gets to enter? How many of you didn’t relate to the word or image announcing a gender you may not prescribe to? How many of you just held it in because a possible urinary tract infection made more sense than entering a room that didn’t include (or welcome) you.

This doesn’t need to be political.

This is simply about a universal human function. In fact, maybe our bladders can be the thread that finally sews us all together, reminding us we are human. We are not the same, but we connect. We all just need to urinate sometimes.

In a recent article in the NY Times, Janet Mock wrote, “When trans students are told that they cannot use public facilities, it doesn’t only block them from the toilet. It also blocks them from public life.”

If you’ve ever gone camping, I mean, without the nearby showers and stalls, real wilderness without wifi signal, simply stars and moon and occasional bear sightings. You’d know that there are no separations. The earth doesn’t care about what gender you identify as. The soil does not lean toward a particular political party. It exists for you to dig your fingers into. To squat over and pee. To dig your hole and…well, I think you get it. Maybe this is why I love camping so much. Because I can be my loudest version of wild. Be naked (at times). I am not woman or man or ma’am or girl. I am just flesh. Wild and free.

I wasn’t supposed to still be here; I think this thought almost everyday about all the ways I have tried to erase myself. And all the ways government and others have tried to do the same.

I just want my students to remain. To feel embraced in a world where walls are replacing welcome mats. It is difficult enough to exist without all these question marks growing inside a body and mind.

For me, it is not UTI or bust. Though I linger at times and wish for more options, I walk into the F room. Women’s. Ladies. The one wearing the dress.

I try not to make eye contact with anyone, circa 1990s high school gym locker room.

I walk into a stall and squat. Try not to make eye contact with my vagina because we are so often not on speaking terms. I just need to pee. Wipe. Pants up. Flush. Wash hands without engaging in mirror contact.

We all do this. We all go to the bathroom. So, why not make it just a little less stressful and offer more options. Take the signs down. Or add another one like: FOR ALL.

I’m not interested in starting a campaign to investigate the obscene amount of urine splattered on toilet seats. I just want people to feel more welcome nowadays.

And I only want ledges to be homes for pigeons, not humans who’ve been pushed out, whose bodies have become politicized. Perhaps we need to take the time to ask: Who are you (today)? How do you feel? What do you need in order to be who you are for even just one more day?

Kind of Like High School

first published by great weather for MEDIA

 

It is similar to when you are in high school. You are in the cafeteria and the smells of imposter pizza and imitation chicken nuggets lead you to almost forget about your deafening hunger. You’ve got your lunch and your over-stuffed backpack and your quintessential post-pubescent pimples and you’re ready to search out a table to sit at.

Usually, you’d be sitting with _______, but you are no longer speaking because of _________ or __________, but probably because ___________ said ______________.

So, you sit elsewhere and pretend that person who you used to call your best friend simply no longer exists. This friend who knows that you used to pick your nose and then eat your findings. Who knows that you had a crush on Judith Light from “Who’s the Boss”. Who knows that you sometimes forget to brush your teeth and hair. Who knows simply all of you (thus far).

You pretend to easily digest your lunch even though you ache. Even though this friend who was like part of you is like a stranger now.

It is like that.

Except this isn’t high school and the friend who held the other half of your BFF charm is your body. Yeah, it’s like that.

But here is the twist.

Cut to twelve years later or fifteen or twenty and you see this friend and you don’t know how to act. Can you just say hello after all this time? Do you pretend you didn’t spread rumors about each other and that most (if not all) were true?

Somewhere in my twenties I had a massive fight with my body and banned it from sitting at my lunch table. What I mean to say is: I ignored IT. Gave IT away to strangers. Handed IT over to people who didn’t even care enough to learn how many vowels are in my name. Dressed IT up, even though the lace was itchy and the push-up was too pushy.

It doesn’t matter why (that’s another month/another poem/another story), but what matters is I let go of IT. I stopped addressing IT, asking IT questions: Does this feel ok? Am I mispronouncing you? What is off limits?

After years of the silent treatment, I started to call my body QUEER. It felt slanted, but not exactly toward anything specific, just away from WOMAN. Away from GIRL. Away from SHE.

I covered up the parts I gave away. I ripped off my pronoun. I cut my hair. I grew out my hair. I asked my breasts to stop addressing me. I grew attracted to those who slanted too. I liked the ones who understood what it was like to be engaged in bouts of silence with their bodies. I liked not having to explain why I cried every time I was touched.

For me, I just wanted to erase everything I had done to IT. Hide the parts that had been broken into (by others and myself).

And then. One day—it happened to be a Saturday—I saw IT. We sort of made eye contact, but both immediately turned away. I almost didn’t recognize it; it had been so long.

*

When I was old enough to get a tattoo (18), my friend and I (who shared the same birthday) went to a small shop on route 9 in a strip mall in New Jersey, and got inked. She got a fairy on her lower back. I got the WOMAN sign.

I was not yet OUT (lesbian) but a FEMINIST and excited by my breasts which were finally growing on me. I wanted to look like her and all the other girls in my school.

Eighteen years later, I added to that woman sign because it didn’t quite speak the truth of how I saw myself. So, I added a MALE to the FEMALE and suddenly I felt a little better.

On this Saturday, where my body and I began to slowly break the silent treatment, I wasn’t quite sure what to say. So many years of reticence. I had forgotten how to approach it.

 

ME: It’s you, isn’t it?

MY BODY: Yeah.

ME: I…I’m not sure if an apology is—

MY BODY: There’s nothing to be sorry about.

ME: But I stopped talking to you.

MY BODY: And I stopped listening.

ME: Is it too late?

MY BODY: Why don’t we go for a walk?

ME: Can I…can I hold your hand?

MY BODY: As long as you don’t let go this time.

A Story About Luggage

first published by great weather for MEDIA

When you are carrying all the baggage around from childhood and a mismatched set from adulthood as well, it’s really hard to get around. Everyone is tripping over your teenage years and let’s not even mention ages 24-27, 32-34, 35 too. You can’t fly because you can’t afford the extra fees for the weight of what you carry around with you everyday. People (before meeting you) think this is a metaphor. Oh, right, baggage. But this is inconveniently heavy with zippers and hidden pockets and it all looks the same so if you left it alone, you wouldn’t know it’s yours and this is when you realize other people carry around baggage too. Lots of the same shapes, but some a little smaller and (yeesh) even bigger than yours. There are dull colors coding these bags, but bright ones too. You swear you can see a leopard print in the distance.

Now that you start to see other people’s baggage, you realize you aren’t alone. So, you start to walk more, sweating and grunting a little by the weight of it all, but while you’re out, people start to ask if they can help.

“That looks heavy,” one says. “Can I…can I carry something?”

Your eyes grow wide like your hips when you went from girl to woman and you say sure. You give them a bag and suddenly you feel lighter. Just a little, but enough to notice the difference.

You keep walking and notice someone else. They have tied all their bags together with hemp string and masking tape, carrying the whole lot on their back.

You approach them because you recognize the pain in their face.

“Hi,” you say.

“Hey,” they shoot back.

“Looks like you’ve been carrying all that for a really long time.”

“I have,” they say.

“See that water over there? They call it the East River. Think we could walk over there together and just…let our baggage go? If not all, then some?”

“OK,” they answer.

So, you and this stranger walk to the East River where the birds fly just above the water and the secrets down below carry their own version of baggage and you each choose a few bags to let go of. There are moments you each cry, dropping tears into the water like soft stones creating hints of rings swelling the salt. There are no words spoken between you as you lift and let go. Lift and let go.

When you are done, you notice what is left. Still a significant amount, but some of the heavy ones are gone, doing a limbless breaststroke away from you. The stranger beside you has walked away, with only one bag left.

*

Now, you step outside more. venture inside new places. Your arms still carry this baggage around but you have enough breaths in you left to speak and even sometimes laughYou thought you saw that stranger again, though you almost didn’t recognize them by the width of their smile. And when you looked down to note their baggage, all that was beside them was the comfort of others.

You still have your bags. Far less and not as cumbersome to carry around. You’ve since met others who you’ve walked to the water with to let go of some weight. It makes it so much easier to live.

TODAY 1/8: The Debut of Hydrogen Junkbox

Several years ago, while in a tiny music shop in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, I fell in love. I called her Pancetta and she was the most glorious ukelele. I carried her around with me everywhere I went. She was light and small enough, that even when bike riding, I slung her over my shoulder (neatly packed inside her case) and played whenever I had a moment. While waiting for friends to arrive. Before work. After work. On benches. In the park.

Pancetta will always be my first, though I have since fallen in love with a few other ukeleles. There was a banjo uke, a concert uke and now Pancetta IV, acoustic electric. I slowly started performing with one of them while reading my poetry. Then, I’m not sure what compelled me, but I began to sing a little. I’m still not quite sure what I’m doing, but it’s brought me to this moment with one of my favorite poets/humans: David Lawton.

He and I created a poetry/band collective called HYDROGEN JUNKBOX and we have our first feature today!!! Joined by the marvelous Starchilde on synth and hand claps, we will be performing a few altered cover songs and two original poem songs. Inspired by Velvet Underground, Patti Smith, and many others, we are excited to to share our sounds today!

Come to great weather for MEDIA’s Spoken Word Sundays open mic at The Parkside Lounge located at 217 E. Houston St. NYC from 4-6pm. There is an open mic and Richard Loranger will be featuring as well!

$2 donation/2 drink minimum (there are non-alcoholic beverages as well). I really hope to see you there!!!

 

hydrogen-junkbox

Hydrogen Junkbox is a music and poetry collective created by David Lawton and Aimee Herman, guided by the spirit of Brant Lyon. We aim to stir, rumble, and rouse! With Starchilde appearing on synth and handclaps.
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Upcoming Performances

I’m proud to be part of two great collectives in celebration of activism, poetry, music, and all that resonates within creativity:

Responding to a divisive political campaign, THE RESISTER PROJECT is a variety show of performances featuring 10-new plays, stand-up comedy, music and poetry. By and for the community of indie theater artists to partake in peaceful resistance through the power of live performance, every night will also feature dialogues and talkbacks. Proceeds from the evening will be donated to the ACLU. This is presented by the feminist theater collective, The Dirty Blondes.

The RESISTER PROJECT will be at the Kraine Theater on 85 E. 4th St/ NYC  from January 4th to 15th, 2017 from 7pm

I will be performing new poems from January 4th-7th! Come celebrate community, creativity, and semi-peaceful resistance.

BUY TICKETS HERE or HERE

 

THEN……Celebrate the debut of HYDROGEN JUNKBOX, a marvelous music collective with David Lawton and I.

8 January, 2017 @ great weather for MEDIA Spoken Word Sundays at The Parkside Lounge located at 317 E. Houston St. NYC from 4-6 pm. $2 suggested donation/ 2 drink minimum/ OPEN MIC too!

HYDROGEN JUNKBOX  is a music and poetry collective created by David Lawton and Aimee Herman, guided by the spirit of Brant Lyon. We aim to stir, rumble, and rouse! With David Lawton on vocals, Christmas drum, and kazoo. Aimee Herman on vocals and ukelele. Starchilde will be appearing on synth and handclaps.

hydrogen-junkbox

Dear Hillary Rodham Clinton

first published on great weather for MEDIA

 

Dear Hillary Rodham Clinton,

I’ve been gulping oxygen as though it were chocolate chip cookies, reminding myself to inhale then exhale because it can be easy to forget to breathe in a time like this.

Of course I knew a woman could be president, it’s just that I kept watching more doors get built just to slam in their faces and I wondered if I could call myself something else in order to be more heard.

It should have been you.

No one ever asks a man to smile more or coif their hair in a way that is more “attractive” or dress in a way to lure more eyes or or or…

Everyone lies.

It’s not that I want to “escape” to Canada, it’s just that I want to live in a place where I can be free and accepted without fear of my civil liberties challenged just for being gay. Just for being a woman. Just for being.

It should have been you.

I wasn’t supposed to still be here. I think about this every day that I wake. All those times I tried to push myself off this earth and here I am and they call me teacher. They listen when I guide their minds toward questioning what they read/what they learn. Each time I enter a classroom, I am reminded of why I stay here because these students (so many of whom are being told they aren’t “American enough”) impress me with their beautiful resilience.

If a bully can win a job they are completely unqualified for, what does that teach us?

When I was nineteen, I said it out loud for the first time. Called myself a lesbian because I thought that was the only word I had to choose from. Never expected to get married because I wasn’t allowed. Didn’t ever think I’d fall in love with someone who encouraged all my vocabularies and eccentricities. And then in June of 2015, suddenly I was told I could get married in any state and I started to feel safe again. But then North Carolina happened. And then and then and then this

It should have been you, Hillary.

What to say to the person who is continually targeted just for being a woman. I want to tell you we need you now more than ever. I need to tell you that I am scared. For my students. For everyone who is being threatened with ‘a wall’. I want to tell you that amidst the false accusations and even some of the real ones, you made me believe in democracy again.

Now what?