How to Stay Informed

first published by great weather for MEDIA

 

Forget the headlines, translate the ink left weeping on your fingertips. It can be difficult to turn the page. They title it war as though it is different this time. You locate a run-on sentence on page nine, so you hitch a ride on one of its commas. They misspelled DEMOCRACY. Whose news is this, anyway? Afterwards, you search for an antonym for FREEDOM and all you see is red, white, blue. Just stop reading. Instead, walk outside and photograph everything that doesn’t move. You still need to stay informed, so you skip to the end and scoop out the middle. You ask the stranger beside you to read it to you. Coffee spills over the paragraphs and in the blur, you feel free again. But when it dries, your brain paralyzes from another re-run of violence.

Advertisements

You are a Rarity!

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.

Allergic Reaction

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.

Imposter

first published by great weather for MEDIA

 

You worry you enter rooms just for the free coffee. 

I write this into my notebook and leave it there, unattached to anything else. I try not to think about all the times I have walked into spaces I didn’t belong, or didn’t think I belonged. But this is not a story about coffee. Although, I am drinking some as I write this. No, this is about my life as an imposter.

I am approached by seven doors by the time I get to work. Some open and close without my hands pushing on them; some need to be messed with. I have a key to two of the doors, yet even when I’m inside, I’m not quite sure how or if I should be there.

I am a teacher. Some call me professor. Though that word sounds way too buttoned-up and makes it sound like I brush my hair or wear deodorant (I often forget).

Three days a week (sometimes four), I head into the Bronx and teach at a community college. Throughout the hour and fifteen minutes commute there, I read. Write in my notebook if there are enough words collected inside of me. Sleep. Stare at people staring at their phones. Marvel at the ways in which our lives can twist and turn us into so many different variations of being.

Every other week, I receive my paycheck and still grow astonished that I am getting paid to swell minds.

Growing up, I always thought teachers were aliens. Like flesh-covered dictionaries and encyclopedias. I firmly thought libraries of every book and fact lived inside their bodies, pressed up against their organs, which of course they knew all the names of. Ask a teacher anything and they knew the answer; this is what I believed.

My parents never put my report cards on the refrigerator like my sister. She was in the extra-advanced classes; I was in the low self-esteem club (yes, there was such a thing).

I wanted to be a veterinarian until I figured out I’d have to deal with blood and death. I thought about being a hairstylist, and then changed my mind to a pastry chef until I became a drug addict and that took me away for a bit.

I have been a nanny, a house cleaner, a barista, a bookseller. I’ve worked in a movie theatre, a diner, a dollar store, a fast food chain, a bagel shop. I’ve sold jewelry; I’ve sold my body.

Ten years ago, I never thought I would call myself teacher. What am I saying? Five years ago, I wasn’t sure I could call myself this. For most of my life, I never quite knew how to be. How to sit straight, how to socialize, how to be a girl, how to study, how to be bad, how to be good, how to remain.

I tell my students that doors represent an opening. An engagement with another side, land, perspective. I tell them that our bodies contain doors of varying sizes. Doors with padlocks; doors with police taped ribboned around; doors with broken locks. Doors with windows, screens, metal, wooden, translucent.

Even an imposter has a door to their insides. The problem is that sometimes they just don’t always know the way in or through.

I carried around an EXIT sign sewed into both my wrists from all the times I tried to walk out and jump off the ledge of this body. Yet I always found a way to get up and keep walking. But this is not a story about my mental illness and all the scars creating an alphabet on my skin.

I am an imposter. But maybe we all are? I mean, what qualifies any of us to be in any room? I want my students to remain and get their degrees, but that paper doesn’t necessarily get them into a room. Because then there are other STOP signs, which might assault their path like gender, race, class, religion, sexual orientation, must I keep going?

When I walk into the classroom, the students have no idea how nervous I am. Are they really going to listen to me? Me? But I almost flunked high school. I was a restless mess in college. And when I pass by the other teachers, I wait for them to ask me about my credentials. How many books I’ve read and if I’ve gotten through the literary cannon (definitely not).

In New York, where I teach, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for those ranging in ages of 15-34. Every semester, my students tell me about their depression. Their anxieties. Their losses and their fears. I do not tell them all the times and ways I tried to walk off the ledge of this body. How I still feel this urge…

I do not tell them because what I show them is far more important: I always come back. At the start of every class, I welcome them as writers (because they all are) and remind them to be as present as they can be. At the end of the semester, I tell them I will always be their teacher, even when we are no longer walking through the same door.

And yet, I still cling to this word of imposter. I’m not trying to deceive anyone, as the definition often suggests. It’s more about how I feel.

I scratch hate crimes into the death of my skin, dry from winter fornicating with its oils.

I find this in my notebook, dated a few months ago. I have a steady job and a magical spouse who I love and a dog and an apartment and things and nourishment, but this does not mean that I don’t fall sometimes. Mess up. Relapse into old behaviors. Hence, my self-stuck imposter label.

I worry that I am an imposter in my marriage because I don’t believe in this word. I’ve had no great examples around me, and even though it’s a word my people have fought to have access to (and won), I still feel unclear by it

I am an imposter hippie. Swallowed by panic attacks at marches and rallies. Hairy but hungry for all varieties of animal. Can I still be a non-conforming subculture beatnik, and live inside this queer-stained heteronormative lifestyle?

Recently in my Women’s Literature class, my students and I watched Lidia Yuknavitch’s TED talk titled, “The Beauty of Being a Misfit.” Though I have watched this many times, I still feel emotional throughout. She said, “Even at the moment of your failure, right then, you are beautiful. You don’t even know it yet, but you have the ability to reinvent yourself endlessly.” Afterwards, I asked the students to react and one announced that she felt like her soul had been touched. So often we don’t quite have the words to say how we feel or even what we are. And then someone else articulates it as though they have been swimming inside our lives, our brains. A student asked, “But what is a misfit?” And I let the other students answer: outsider, someone unlike the others, someone who doesn’t fit in.

Maybe being an imposter is like being a misfit. It’s this giant secret I have living inside me. Like seeds of my former lives growing in my gut, pushing it out. It feels like the reason I should not be welcomed, but maybe being an imposter is the reason I should be here.

I have an exercise I do with my students each semester. It is based upon all the times we are approached by boxes: a box to check off our gender, our race, socio-economic class, educational background, religion, etc. Before the students arrive, I tape up blank pieces of white paper all over the classroom. Then, I ask them to stand up and approach a piece of paper.

This is your box, I say. Think about all the times you are asked to check boxes that may not include what you are or how you see yourself. Boxes with someone else’s language and expectations. Boxes which aim to label you with words or categories you may not feel connected to. Boxes just not big enough to include your vocabulary. I tell them that these pieces of paper are their boxes. They get to fill it in with their words. In the past, students have written: mother, battered, divorced, misunderstood, smart, latina, multi-racial, brother, son, survivor, queer, human, pansexual, Muslim, and even a question mark.

I ask them to sit down when they are done and write in their notebooks about what it felt like to choose their lexicon. Then, we get back up and walk around the room, taking in each other’s language. We notice the repeated words, what we have in common, and what words surprised us. For some, this is their first opportunity to give away their self-identified language.

I absolutely hate labels, even though I wear this imposter one across my bound chest. And I wear other labels too, which I self-imposed. Do I do this before someone else does?

Dictionaries are thicker now, and so are we. In brain stem, worry lines, and flesh stretch.

Maybe we need new definitions? To take these words out of their tightly-sealed casings and wrap new syllables around them. Make room for more meanings. Expand the width of our doorways.

NYC Governor’s Island Poetry Festival!!

Celebrate Poetry, Sun, and Imaginations gone WILD at the annual NYC Governor’s Island Poetry Festival.

I will be there with great weather for MEDIA and hosting Queer Art Organics on Saturday July 29th, featuring Trae Durica, Sarah Sala, and Aldrin Valdez at 2pm on the Algonquin Stage.

 

how to walk outside when skin is made of nervous

first published by great weather for MEDIA

 

Origami the front page of The New York Times into an airplane. Watch words, carefully cropped photographs, and haunted headlines swoop into the air as you allow the trauma of the world to fly away from you. Inhale and exhale every yoga position you’ve studied. Remember that just waking up is enough to feel like you’ve accomplished something today. Give your mouth permission to shape itself in whatever position it wants; smiles are always optional. Stop when you need to and if you only get past your stoop, that’s OK. Give your body a standing ovation because organs and skin never receive the recognition they deserve. You will get lost, you will eat something that will cause your belly to renounce itself, you will want to hide, want to climb your way toward an unbothered planet, that’s OK. Listen: there is music playing. Your lungs. The trees. Your hair humming against ears. A cardinal calming you toward one more block. Your teeth, settling in to themselves. That woman saying, bless you. Litter like wind chimes against pavement.

Blocked

previously published by great weather for MEDIA

 

For six years, I have been writing electronic letters to someone I have never met. The entire time we’ve corresponded, I’ve been in Brooklyn; he has been in prison.

Our sentences have swum in many directions, but lately we have both begun to grow introspective. Sometimes he is the gasoline to my words, getting them to move quicker out of me. However, recently I expressed an affliction bubbling in my brain, referred to as writer’s block.

I wrote to him, “Actually, I don’t believe in such a thing. I mean, a writer writes. Right? And yet, here I am contradicting myself. A brick wall against my chest. An accidental overdose of words without even swallowing anything. Focusing too much on meaning and not enough on purpose.”

Blocked.

My fingers press down on letters, creating meaning, and then I erase. The words go away as though they never existed. Maybe this is why I find more ease when writing in my notebook. There is no delete. Everything remains.

We speak about nicknames, my electronic pen pal and I. He shares his with me and I tell him the ones I’ve been called. I write, “I like the idea of a word that has no meaning, which makes NEW meaning from how it defines.”

There are many questions I want to ask my electronic pen pal, which I leave stewing inside me. Some I am just not ready to ask; some may not have an answer.

Another kind of block.

Even while writing this, I pause more times than I care to announce. Staring at these words. Feeling unqualified to be writing them. Contemplating other labels I can quickly stitch to my skin to replace what I thought I was.

I’ve begun to ponder letting go of pressing this word to me: Writer. It is a noun. A person. But it is so much of a verb too. An action. A state of being. Of doing. I talk to my students about STOP signs and all the words, images, thoughts which stand in our way of becoming. My STOP sign has always been red. With curly hair and very thin lips. (Me.)

I thought being inside something would make me feel less blocked. And yet, I wonder if maybe it has led to the cause. This two-syllable label gives me heartburn. I yearn for the days I was less self-conscious. Or I yearn for the days I will be self-confident.

Years ago, I performed a piece where words were written all over my body. Parts of my poems, secrets I’ve hoarded, words I’ve been or still are.

On one of my arms were the words, “what I was and what I am engage in a battle.” There is a tug-of-war with our past and present and I don’t know about you, but I feel this pull every single day. It is the cellular structure of my writer’s block, and yet sometimes the cure.

Thomas Page McBee wrote, “The more you’re exposed to different narratives, and the more you see there’s not one way to be anything, the more you question and interrogate your own way of being in the world.”

Maybe I just need to interrogate myself more. Not be so afraid of my questions and just ask them. To learn about others allows me entrance into learning more about myself. This may not aid my writer’s block, but perhaps it can keep me here just a little longer as I work on figuring out the answers.