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.


Thank you to Jenna Leigh Evans for asking such excellent questions. She also has a fantastic novel that came out last year, “Prosperity“, which I highly recommend.


Aimee Herman

Aimee Herman! Do you ever publish your work without compensation or for a nominal fee? If so, why, and how do you feel about doing it?

I’m a poet, so most of my work is published without compensation. I chose poetry (or poetry chose me) and I know it’s not a moneymaking genre. But it keeps me alive. I want to be read. At the end of the day, that is what is most important. However, there are some journals who apply for grants and graciously pay their writers, so there have been times I’ve been compensated with money. Otherwise, it’s usually contributor copies, which is more than enough. There are often small teams of hardworking people working to keep these journals alive, so I don’t expect to be paid; they aren’t even being paid.

Does your craft alone provide you with a livelihood? 

Livelihood tends to be equated with income, but for me, it’s about nourishment. I feel nourished and filled-in when I write. I feel like I’m traveling, like I’m having a conversation even though I’m all alone; like every scar on my body is being properly translated. I will write regardless of how it affects my bank account. Luckily, I also really love how I spend my days making money, which is through teaching. I always struggled as a student, from day one even through graduate school. I have a difficult time with authority, and I’ve always been restless sitting in those tiny desks. But being a teacher extends the conversation of words and thought.

If you have to hold a day job to supplement your income, or just make a living at all, do you feel you have as much time as you need to write?

A writer writes. I don’t want to oversimplify it because it can be extremely difficult to find the time, but it is there to be found. I wake early, or I say no to invitations, or I set up extremely hearty writing dates. When I teach creative writing, I often do the assignment I give my students, so there is further encouragement.

How do you know for sure when something in your work still needs another revision?

I read it out loud. To myself or to an audience. I perform a lot and that really helps me to gauge what works and what doesn’t. I search for the rhythm. I watch/listen for responses. For me, nothing is ever done, even when it’s published. I rework old poems all the time. Rebirth them into different forms and extract lines to create new ones.

When revising something in your work, how do you know for sure when it’s truly time to stop?

See above. But also, there are times that — especially when workshopping — one could easily cut too much out. It’s like when I cut my hair.  When I was nineteen, I had a bad day, went home, and decided to give myself bangs. This is often not a good idea when one’s hair is curly like mine (though I’ve seen some curly-haired folks really pull it off. See: Kim Addonizio). Then I started fumbling with the rest of my hair. Chopping away strands. I grabbed my then-girlfriend’s clippers and began shaving away my hair. I was left with nothing. Really. I over-revised and ended up with quite a mess. Sometimes it’s necessary to leave parts alone.

Do you feel that being a writer was a choice or a calling for you?

I have no choice. It arrives in me like breaths or hunger. I cannot control it. And I am grateful for this calling every day.

BONUS ROUND FOR PURE PLEASURE: What book did you probably read too young and it therefore haunted you forever after?

Hmm…..not sure I read any book too young, but I did get my hands on a really old copy of Naked Came the Stranger written by Penelope Ashe (rather, many writers calling themselves that) at a garage sale when I was in high school. I don’t think I was too young for it, but I didn’t “get it” in the way I did a few years later. It didn’t exactly haunt me, instead, it inspired me to haunt. The Bell Jar will forever haunt me. Same with Catcher in the Rye because although so many characters have been compared to Holden, none will ever match his unique voice.


how to find (your) wild

Dear Art Farm,

Here in Nebraska, the ticks confuse beauty marks, but humans grow closer through each inspection of skin and lift of cotton and hair.

In Nebraska, mosquitoes engage in foreplay. Ignore signs of disinterest (bug spray and swatting) and stick to skin until until    until    penetration

Here in Nebraska, a poet falls in love with a band saw, meditates on the circular movements of electric sander.

In Nebraska, the stars wallpaper the sky.

Here in Nebraska, mice collaborate with an oil painter through midnight parade of paws on paper

In Nebraska, happy hour is whenever one calls on it, as wine drips onto tongues, slow and tired from farmed imaginations.

In Nebraska, the poet’s body (shy coward in the city) digs itself out of clothes and skinny dips in a lake. Breaks up with binder, pressing down gender of flesh just for a moment in order to free the wild within.

In Nebraska, shovels become totems. Holes are dug to remind the humans how deep this earth goes. To remind the humans how trees begin.

In Nebraska, raccoons replace house pets. So do spiders, wingless flies and mice sneezing on cayenne pepper.

In Nebraska, artists & writers find themselves as they find each other.

In Nebraska, stories are pressed into palms and given away over cups of coffee and long drives from one town to another.

In Nebraska, we become the wild life. We become wild. We become. We become. Free.

(can you) LIKE this?

When I was a junior in high school, I liked a boy called G. I was too shy to ask him if he liked me the way I liked him, so I gave him my Enya CD before class one day, because I had overheard him saying he liked her music.

He smiled and took it, but never really said if he liked me or even the album and I have a scar on my right forearm from the day I drove to that park somewhere between where I lived and didn’t and cut my skin until I felt touched by something.

Grade ten in high school and I am told by my best friend that while he was in the gym locker room, a bunch of other boys were making fun of me. They said they wished I had just killed myself already and I began to wonder why my friend was relaying this to me. He said, “I defended you,” because he liked me, even though no one else did. Four more scars were born soon after.

First grade. A boy called D passes a note to me via three other people and asks me if I like him back. He gives me a choice: Circle YES or NO or MAYBE. I circle all three; even then, I had a difficult time making up my mind.

Nowadays, we are LIKED at least once a day, sometimes ten or thirty depending upon how often we ask through typed-up messages and photographs. We unravel our scars, dig them out like time capsules and put them up onto our computer screens, so that someone will press a button and deliver validation we’ve grown to thirst for.

Nowadays, we walk around with instant validation. All one has to do is post words and wait.




Two minutes pass and you’ve acquired three and then two more and suddenly your lack of employment or depleted bank account or untreated-but-diagnosed depression does not matter.

You. Are LIKE’d. Simply because you posted words above a button making it very easy for others to press it.

You tell people you have grown sick or gone to hospital or stopped eating or what you are eating or how you sit or how you lean or the delicate drip of your nose or who you are dating.

You tell people about what you just did or what you are about to do or what you plan to do next week.



Nineteen years of age, I am swallowing a boy’s body part that does not feel safe or comfortable in my mouth. He did not ask me if I LIKED this.

Year twenty-seven of living and I leave a place that I never recorded after my body is broken into once again and there is no button, but if there were I would not press it.

Seven years later and I try it out. I gather up some words like a bouquet of flowers stolen out of someone’s front yard. I take these words and thrown them onto a computer screen. And I wait. And I hold my breath until the first….


It feels good. Adrenaline of acceptance rushes through me and suddenly it does not matter how much I meant what I wrote. It doesn’t matter that I never spell-checked or fact- checked. All that matters is someone LIKE’d it, which means someone LIKE’d me.

And all my scars began to faint away or I pretended they had and it did not matter I was alone or lonely or hungry or still depressed. Someone pressed that button for me.


I take all these LIKEs and crush them up. I press down firmly to smooth out the hard bits. Like gristle. Suddenly, I’ve got a fine powder of LIKEs. I lean toward them as though about to whisper something worthy of a click to them. I get so close, I almost blow some of the LIKEs away. Then, I glide this dust toward my nose and snort them up like the drug it really is. I inhale. My chest beckons. My ribs climb themselves. I inhale every last drip of LIKE that exists and revel in the aftertaste of anticlimactic emptiness.


day 26: read (some more)

Reading a book is like being in a relationship. There are moments you do not want it to end, yet there are also times when you feel more than ready to walk away from it. There are disappointments, but also surprises. Sometimes, there are sequels, which just elongates the pleasure.

I’ve had entire summers dedicated to writers, unable to say goodbye to their language: Mary Gaitskill, Haruki Murakami, Charles Bukowski, even an orgy of Pablo Neruda, Kazim Ali and Hafiz.

It is easy to use the excuse: there is just no time to read a book, but time must be paved and watered.

When I read, I travel to countries and territories I may never get the opportunity to discover. I meet characters who help me to understand myself and the world around me. I read poems that expand my vision. Reading reminds me to always believe in magic.

Here are just a few great books I read this year and highly recommend:

Nevada (Topside Press)  by Imogen Binnie. Throughout this book, I felt like I was part of the bike gears turning over bridges as the narrator, Maria, traveled toward and away from herself. I was significantly blown away by this novel and the honest, funny and emotional writing of Imogen Binnie. After reading this book, I purchased, The Collection, which is a phenomenal anthology of transgender writers, including Binnie. I just didn’t want to let go of her yet.

Man Alive (City Lights Publishing) by Thomas Page McBee is a memoir exploring masculinity and a highly focused dissection of the past. It is poetic and brutal and exploratory. I found myself folding over the corners of pages in order to go back to his words. I even underlined some things, faintly, since it was a library book. This one I need to purchase, so I can reread and rediscover.

Prosperity, A Novel (Dog Ear Publishing) by Jenna Leigh Evans. I was blown away by Evans’s vocabulary and cinematic approach to the ways in which debt can be overpowering and (oddly) funny. It is beyond relatable, since I want to believe that everyone is slathered in some form of debt. The entire time I was reading this book, I felt like I was watching it. Her mind is so illustrative and she crafted a place that I could see in every scene, down to the color and smell of it all.

For Today I Am a Boy (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)  by Kim Fu explored the complex relationship of gender and culture. I fell in love with the protagonist, Peter Huang, and loved being a part of his journey away from and toward home. Kim Fu brings such dynamic characters together up until even the very end of this novel.

An Untamed State  (Grove Press) by Roxanne Gay has infiltrated my dreams and has sewed itself to my palm. I am forever changed by the horrific accounts of the protagonist, Miri. Roxanne Gay already had me with “Bad Feminist”. I fell in love with her frankness. Here, in this novel, she captivates my core. I feel bloodied and battered from the scenes she creates.To write that I could not put this down is not exact enough. Even when I put it down, I was reading it. I want to ask Gay: How did you leave these scenes while writing them? How were you able to move through the world (eat lunch with friends, watch a television program, sleep) with these images crafted by your mind and fingers. This book MUST be read.

Retrograde (great weather for MEDIA) by Puma Perl surprised me in such marvelous ways. I’ve been a fan of Puma Perl’s since moving back to Brooklyn almost five years ago. Her poetry is gritty, like rock-n-roll slurs of graffiti against the page. I’ve seen her perform many times and she slides her words out seductively and authoritatively. I have read most of (if not all) of her books and find that this collection shows such immeasurable growth that makes me an even bigger fan than I already was.

the pedestrians (Wave Books) by Rachel Zucker feels like a walk through the subconscious mind. This is what I imagine it might feel like to hold hands with another’s frontal lobe, interlocking fingers with mood and behavioral status. There is a saltiness to her prose. A desperation drenched in almost-stale tears. It is a unique experience to read a book of poetry and want to call it a ‘page-turner’, but this one definitely is.

Here (Mariner Books) by Wislawa Szymborska became my travel date on a long walk through Greenpoint, Brooklyn one day. I carried her words around and could feel the seep of her line breaks saturate my skin; her words drip. I feel full when I read her, like I’ve just eaten a meal full of protein and starches and my insides feel bathed. There is an optimism in her writing that also reveals a bit of loneliness as well.

day 24: someone else’s words

Inspiration is not the exclusive privilege of poets or artists. There is, there has been, there will always be a certain group of people whom inspiration visits. It’s made up of all those who’ve consciously chosen their calling and do their job with love and imagination. It may include doctors, teachers, gardeners — I could list a hundred more professions. Their work becomes one continuous adventure as long as they manage to keep discovering new challenges in it. Difficulties and setbacks never quell their curiosity. A swarm of new questions emerges from every problem that they solve. Whatever inspiration is, it’s born from a continuous “I don’t know.”
―Wisława Szymborska from her Nobel Lecture: “The Poet and the World,” 1996


day 18: read

You are significantly overwhelmed at bookstores. You cannot believe every title is alphabetized and has its own section. You realize you are slightly jealous that every spine’d story has a place to be. A home. You wonder if maybe you have chapter envy.

Every time you visit a bookstore you cry. This is not mentioned for pity; it is a fact marked by the salt which drips down your face each time you walk out. You have a library card which is meant to curb your desire to spend money. And yet, you find yourself purchasing the books you borrow because you want them closer to you. You want them to live beside you. You wonder if the only reason you became a writer was to have an exclusive pass to these shelves. You fantasize about being alphabetized and which writers would live to the left and right of you.

You go on a three week cleanse that lasts one week and in this time, you give up dairy, gluten, meat, alcohol and coffee. You get your protein from books: Thomas Page McBee, Vera Pavlova, Rebecca Gay. Your tongue has grown loose and sleepy from all the pages it has licked, but you no longer feel indigestion after a meal. Instead, you feel like you’ve learned something.

When you meet someone new and they invite you to their home, you study their bookcases. You learn more about them by the titles and organization of their books than you have from weeks/months/years of knowing them. You fall in love with a human who organizes by color; there was that one who shelved by size; you remain loyal to the one who did not alphabetize but permitted you to search out their order.

There was that time– let’s call it yesterday– when you had a difficult time leaving a bookshop with empty hands. You feel lonely when you do not have a book to get lost in. These characters, their stories become yours.

Read. The words are always there, even when you think you are alone. Words surround us just like air. And if there is ever a time you are somewhere without any text, speak and spread out your language like the most exquisite song you’ve ever heard.

Tomorrow, you will start carrying around an extra book to give away. This is for that moment you lock eyes with someone who has nothing better to do than swipe their finger back and forth on their fancy phone. Blow someone’s mind with Bukowski or Baldwin. You’ll never need an outlet or internet access to read. Just turn the page and get lost.

(I’ll meet you there.)

the performance of skin

At a recent arts festival in Brooklyn, I came across a young performance artist who I approached after watching for several minutes.

My initial observation was of this: Human with hazelnut-colored skin, wearing white tank top and white pants, stands, moving only her upper body. I recognize her gestures, but cannot place how. She is moving head to the left and then right. Shrugging shoulders. And repeating. 

Finally, I go up to her and read the sign beside her, describing the piece.

Black or White or      by Reya Sehgal

Passersby are invited to beautify the artist’s face using skin color-based beauty products, creating a new kind of multicultural subject. Using Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” music video—an early ‘90s paean to multicultural love—as a framing device, this participatory piece explores themes of race and multiculturalism in the beauty industrial complex.

Beside the artist was a palate of colors squeezed out of skin foundation make-up. Her movements were copied from Jackson’s famous video and afterwards, she sat motionless, body covered by a white sheet, as passersby painted her face.

I told her I felt uncomfortable and I knew that was the intention.

I told her that I wished she had other colors like red or yellow (which have been used to describe skin tone and even race). 

She responded that these are the only colors available for people to use as foundation. These are what are marketed as skin tone shades.

I slowly walked away, allowing more people to enter this space and get involved. I drifted my eyes back toward her throughout the day, watching people cover her skin.

After about an hour, I walked up to her once the crowd dissipated. She was covered in thick gasps of browns and beiges. I grabbed a make-up sponge and dipped it into the bowl of water beside all the colors. Then, I moved toward her face and began wiping the paint away. I wanted to remember what her face looked like before the cover-up. I didn’t think any of those colors made her any more beautiful. I noticed myself feeling anger at all the layers of cover-up on her. With each scrape, I returned sponge back into the water, heading back toward her face to remove more. No matter how much I tried swiping at the oily make-up, it wouldn’t come off. I realized she was succeeding in this performance. I was not only thinking of race: color, blending, what is added/what is taken away, but the anger of what is hidden, what feels like it needs to be hidden.

How beauty is marketed. How we are encouraged to cover up. To blend. To smooth.

I have never used foundation, nor do I currently wear any make-up. My skin is blotchy and freckled and scarred and dry. Those around me would title my skin: white, though I’m not sure what shade that would be called in the land of make-up.

There have been times in my life where I dumped mascara onto my lashes or attempted a layer of color on my eyelids. I never quite made it work. I certainly didn’t feel any more or less beautiful. I felt covered up. I definitely felt in drag.

Within the construct of beauty, a lot of pain exists. Pressure. To hide what we are often told to hide. To brighten what is told is too dark.

I wonder what would happen if we all sat with palates of colors beside us…..how would others paint us and would anyone try to erase away what exists.

Would anyone just leave a face….a body…..alone….



is this thing on?

Check the heartbeat of your city. Are the traffic lights stuttering? Is there congestion on its street corners? How smooth is its street-flesh? When was the last time it had a full check up?

I’ve got enough calluses on my feet to remind me that I am city-living. I inhale the beautiful soot of new york and get lost. I travel without electronic directional device, so when I turn incorrectly, I ask human beings: Where am I?

Over ten years minus about six months without health insurance and this earth can be quite scary without back-up sometimes. Several people in my life have told me to intentionally get lost: Go without maps and allow yourself to study parts of the wind you weren’t expecting to meet. Three years ago, a beautiful German with the blondest of dreadlocks told me: When you make the wrong turn, it becomes right.

So I turned my maps into paper airplanes and floated onward. Careful of the cracks and and inconsistency of sidewalks, I lifted up each foot so as not to fall. I wanted to see everything and yet feared falling. Suddenly, I realized I was collecting more fears. Choking and getting sick and infections and side-effects and migraines and whooping cough and chicken pox–even though I received it in my youth and it no longer exists.

I still wanted to be aimless and hippie and hunt and exist, yet I worried about the contagion of city.

Now, I am incorporating vocabulary back into my speech such as: HMO, copay and referrals. I am searching for doctors in my plan. Suddenly, I feel like an adult because I have…..health insurance.

I have deeply mixed emotions about this body I live in. I lost the keys a few times and I’ve had to break in. So, there are cracks and creaking floorboards inside me. There are tiny slits where the mice get in. There are drafts and mold, but it seems to be rent stabilized, so here I am.

Suddenly, I feel like I can address this body in ways I have been waiting to. Ready to see some doctors. Ready to articulate my sick. Prepared to get my heart checked.

what is included.

From a recent article in the NY Times magazine featuring Jill Soloway, the writer of  the new Amazon program, “Transparent”, Ian Harvie, a transgender actor was quoted saying: “…We’re all trans. Don’t you see that we’re all trans?”

The writer of the article, Taffy Brodesser-Akner said, “But we aren’t, except in this way: We all struggle to become comfortable in the skin we were born into; we all try to uncover an identity beneath what was assigned to us at birth.”

And here I agree. So much of this life is about remaining. We are encouraged (by some) not to alter. Not to change what has been “given” to us. But so much of it is beyond changing hair color or attire. So much of it comes from a need to feel complete. To unite one’s insides with one’s outsides. And it is painful. And risky. But far better than living inside a construction site that you feel unwelcome in.

Trans is to move into another state or place.

Trans is to transform.

Trans is to translate. To surpass. To transcend.

I think more visibility is what is most important. To ask. To never assume one’s pronoun or gender marker. To allow space for someone to exist between binaries. To give humans space to be inconsistent if that is what permits them to live out loud. More and more movies and television programs with transgender characters and actors and genderqueer humans existing as well, is what we need to further educate those who are unaware or unsure.

There is never going to be just one way to be. There is not one kind of gay person or trans person. Or human.

We (can) exist to educate and inspire one another. So, ask. And respect one another’s vocabularies. It takes some people a lifetime to find their inner dictionaries and understand how to enunciate the body.