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.

Rainbow Book Fair

Come celebrate LGBTQ presses and writers on Saturday, April 29th at THE RAINBOW BOOK FAIR!!!

Located at John Jay College 524 W. 59th St in NYC from 12pm-6pm

I will be with great weather for MEDIA selling poetry books and reading some of my poems sometime between 1-2pm.

Hope to see you there!

Upcoming Performance: April 17th

I’m excited to perform a brand new piece!!!

Poetry Electric: Women’s Poetry Happening Voices of Resistance

LaMama Theatre  / 74 E. 4th St/ NYC / 8pm/ Monday April 17th

$10 BUY Tickets  HERE

 

Poetry Electric gathers some unique artists to share their wonderful spoken words.

Performances by HD Artemis, Phyllis Capello, Heather Eatman, Heide Hatry, Nicole GoodwinAimee Herman, Jane LeCroy, Indigo Moon (Kate Hess), Clea Rivera, Ilka Scobie, Sandy Simona, & Susan Spangenberg

ABOUT THE ARTISTS

HD Artemis – Priestess, Poet, Producer. A relational artist, primarily exploring the intersection of experiences between subject and object, the mystical and the mundane, and people, places and things. She uses various forms in order to provide an outlet for her creative expression including creating images in stained glass, folding origami, writing and producing events that bring people together for meaningful reasons.
Phyllis Capello is a NYFA fellow in fiction & a winner of an Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award.  Her work appears in: “The Dream Book,” “From the Margin,” “The Milk of Almonds,” “Ping Pong Magazine,” “Embroidered Stories,” “Well & Often Press” & in the college textbook, “Reading, Writing and Reacting.”  She entertains children & families in hospitals.  Her poetry collection, “Packs Small Plays Big,” is forthcoming from Bordighera Press.
Heather Eatman returns to songwriting, performing and producing her own music in 2015, following a ten year hiatus. Her first single release, “Angels in the Street” (out February 4, 2015), accompanied by a music video conceived and produced by Eatman herself, shows she has lost none of her skill or original voice. She is, in fact, reclaiming her work for herself – making music and art as a spiritual practice. Of her reemergence, she says “It’s been important for me not to focus too much on commercial considerations. Now, by choosing to keep my overhead low, I am able to create music and art that I can deem a success simply because it’s artistically strong and authentic.”
Nicole Goodwin is the author of Warcries and also the 2017 EMERGENYC Fellow at the Hemispheric Institute at NYU. She resides in Harlem, NYC and as a writer/performer/poet strives to create work that highlights and vocializes social justice in union with art.
Heide Hatry is a New York based German artist, whose work transforms, transcends, or transgresses the customary relationship of artist to both audience and art. Among her fundamental preoccupations are identity, gender roles, the nature of aesthetic experience and the meaning of beauty, the effects of knowledge upon perception, and the human exploitation of the natural world. She studied and taught art at various schools in Germany while simultaneously conducting an international business as an antiquarian bookseller. She has curated numerous exhibitions, has shown her own work at museums and galleries around the world, has edited many printed books and art catalogs and 4 books document her own art. Her most recent book, Icons in Ash is accompanying her exhibition at Ubu Gallery (until May 12)
Aimee Herman is a Brooklyn-based performance artist, poet, and writing/literature teacher at Bronx Community College. Aimee has been widely published in journals and anthologies including cream city reviewBOMB, nerve lantern, Apogee and Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics (Nightboat Books) with two full-length books: meant to wake up feeling (great weather for MEDIA) and to go without blinking(BlazeVOX books). Aimee hosts a monthly series in NYC called Queer Art Organics, featuring LGBTQ writers and performers and plays ukulele/vocals in the poetry/band collective Hydrogen Junkbox. For more, go to aimeeherman.wordpress.com
Jane LeCroy: NYC based poet, singer and performance artist who fronts the avant-pop band, The Icebergs, and the psychedelic experimental music project, ΩOhmslice. She has toured with: the SF based all women’s poetry troupe, Sister Spit.  Jane is a poet-in-the-schools through Teachers & Writers Collaborative.  Her chapbook, Names, published by the art-book house Booklyn, in the award-winning, ABC chapbook series, was purchased by the Library of Congress along with her braid!  Three Rooms Press published, Signature Play, a multimedia book of lyrical poems, nominated for a Pushcart Prize. The Icebergs just released their debut album, Eldorado, from http://www.ImaginatorRecords.com  available everywhere (iTunes, Spotify, Band camp Amazon etc.)
Indigo Moon (Kate Hess) is an emcee, spoken word poet, and vocalist, whose passion is to cultivate authenticity. Her first poem was published at the age of 11. She released her 1st soundscapes EP, “Lucid Earth,” this past winter, besides other promotional tracks. She is in the process of releasing other recordings of various genres, such as hip hop, dub, and house. Indigo Moon represents synthesizing the light and darkness. “Moments R Movements…We R Rhythm.”
indigomoonmusic.bandcamp.com
Clea Rivera is a writer and actress.  Her solo shows, Food Of Life, and No Vacancy, both premiered at La MaMa’s Poetry Electric series.  Her ten-minute multi-character play, Bistro Blues, was produced and performed in Los Angeles last fall.  As an actress, Clea has worked extensively in regional theatre, in NYC ( Lincoln Center Institute, Women’s Project), and with Ralph Lee’s Mettawee River Theatre Company.  She is a regular collaborator with musician, Harry Mann, with whom she is currently developing The Bard And The Blues.
Ilka Scobie is a native New Yorker whose recent work appears in Brooklyn Rail, London Artlyst, Poetry in Performance and the anthology Resist Much Obey Little. She teaches poetry in the NYC public school system and is a deputy editor of Live Mag.
Sandy Simona is an  international, interdisciplinary, multimedia artist & physical storyteller currently based in New York City. Her award winning solo show, LOST IN LVOV, has performed nationally (NY, NJ,LA) and internationally ( Poland, Estonia, Canada), awarded Best SATIRE (featured in American Theatre Magazine) Sandy’s writing, choreography and devised work has been shared and performed nationally in the US at The Guthrie Theater, CalArts (LA),  Highways (LA), LA Mama ( NY) and Internationally at The Au Brana Cultural Centre (France), The Edinburgh Fringe Festival( Scotland),Teatr Syerna (Poland), and Monomafia (Estonia) Sandy is a physical theatre choreographer, Professor/Educator teaching Acting & Movement in NYC/NJ & frequently travels to teach in festivals along side sharing her work. Most recently Sandy was a featured teaching artist & performer at: “The BIG IF” in Barcelona, Spain.Www.lostinlvov.com & www.sandysimona.com
Susan Spangenberg is a painter, writer and actor who performs under the name, Shyla Idris. Stay tuned for the upcoming performance of her solo show, ‘RUN. HIDE. BE QUIET.’ with Poetry Electric Series, Fall 2017 at La MaMa. susanspangenberg.com

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.