Add Title

Before I even begin writing, I am approached with Add Title and I don’t quite know what to title the language inside me now. Yesterday, sharing coffee with my spouse, I said: I don’t know what to say right now, so I am listening. And I am reading. I want to make space for the voices that get trampled.

I walk toward the park I usually walk to with my dog. This is the first time I am here without her. This is the first time I am getting close to hundreds of other humans since March. A community meditation for Black lives. A breathing in and out for Black lives. A call for action, reaction, response for Black lives. So, I close my eyes and sit with these strangers. I cry into my mask. I think about what George Floyd liked to eat for breakfast. I think about what book made George weep or laugh or wonder. I inhale. I sit. My body aches and I am angry at myself for focusing on my discomfort. I exhale. I peek one eye open and see a dog laying beside its human in front of me. I smile at this dog.

“We come to understand who we are by understanding who we are not.” In White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo confronts and questions why white people need to talk about racism, why we need to be uncomfortable, why it is time to be uncomfortable. “Though white fragility is triggered by discomfort and anxiety, it is born of superiority and entitlement.” When I tell my mother that we must defund the police, she said: Aimee, we need the police. You can’t just eliminate them. I said: Black and brown people have never had a system of safety, of protection by the police, so whom are we protecting? To defund is not to suggest complete elimination. To defund is to disassemble. Reallocate funds to communities that have been completely left behind, to offer mental health services, health services, social programs to rebuild what we have crumbled.

I travel on the subway for the first time in three months for a root canal. I hold onto my favorite rock as though it contains every poem by Audre Lorde. It calms me as I try to move through the many layers of my anxiety. I pass by boarded restaurants, cafes, an empty jewelry store. Everyone in masks. I smile at those who pass me by, but my mask hides my friendliness. I ask the dentist if she can explain to me every part of what she will be doing, so I can understand. I ask questions, just like I tell my students. Every question deserves an answer. The dentist is kind, gentle, communicative. At the end of the procedure, I cry. Not because of pain, but because of gratitude.

I walk to Fulton Street, just a few blocks from my apartment and stand beside others carrying signs of protest, signs of solidarity, signs which demand Black Lives Matter. I cannot hear what is being said because there are layers and layers of people, but I clap because I know that I agree. Martin Luther King said, “a riot is the language of the unheard.” Are we listening? When the protests fade and the signs get recycled, will we continue to listen? The moment we stop listening is the moment we become part of the problem.

While playing cards with my spouse last night, we talk about this month of pride. LGBTQ folks are given one whole month to see rainbows everywhere, purchase over-priced pride clothing from Target and other box stores. I say to him: When you designate a month for people (women, Black people, queer people), you are acknowledging that every other month leaves them behind.

Last year, I let go of the largest story inside me, which was published by an independent press here in NYC. It’s a little book with a big, queer heart. It’s currently on sale at Three Rooms Press through June 30th. Code: PRIDE2020. But if you can’t afford it right now, email me directly and I will mail you one for free.

Love,

Aimee

One year ago…..

One year ago, my best friend Rebecca arrived from Colorado to celebrate the release of my new novel, “Everything Grows”. It was a very different time then and perhaps I didn’t appreciate the ease of which we had to walk around together, browsing in the local thrift shop for something to wear and sharing a meal of crepes together at the place across the street from where I live.

We will forever live in BEFORE and AFTER now, but that is life, right? These BEFOREs and AFTERs have marked us in ways we don’t always have words for. Before I was sober. Before I fell in love. Before I really fell in love. After I came out. After I moved away. Before I joined the workforce. Before I lost my job. After I graduated. After we fell out of love. Before I got married. Before I moved to Brooklyn. Before I relapsed. Before that panic attack. After I finished my novel. Before after before before before.

Ten (and some) years of writing inclusive of many starts and stops, and many, many rejections until a YES from an independent press called Three Rooms Press and suddenly dreams were coming true.

With Rebecca here, we adventured and caught up, reminding each other the magnificence of friendship.

On the evening of my book release, I draped myself in polyester and mismatching colors, and tried to combat the immense anxiety of letting go of this story that was just mine for so many years.

These days, my words arrive much slower. Sometimes, barely a sentence. Other days, I can write pages. I do my best to be kind to my brain, my thinning imagination, knowing that these are times of great grief and uncertainty. Just getting through a day feels like a triumph. I tell my students that we must accept–without judgement–who we are now and what we are capable of, even if it feels so small, or not enough. I took a shower. I changed my socks. I read an article in the newspaper. I walked my dog. I slept through the night. I graded a student’s paper. I smiled.

On this anniversary of the publication of my novel, I celebrate all that grow from sadness, from death, from mourning, from loss, from uncertainty. It is beautiful and it is tragic and it is magnificent and it is exhausting. If you haven’t read this book yet, what better time to lose yourself in someone’s else’s words? Purchase it HEREOr I can mail you a copy as well. If you can’t afford one, privately email me (aimeeherman@gmail.com), and I will make sure you get one.

Name Calling

I am trying to articulate and wrap my understanding around the words I want to ask others not to use on me. What if we could carry a tiny index card in our pockets and on this card were the words that make us feel invisible, incorrectly seen, or just simply cause us to cringe. And by just carrying these words in our pocket, that ink becomes so powerful that it creates a…force field…an electromagnetic barrier making it impossible for these words to be spoken in our presence.

What words would be written on your card?

I thought about this yesterday while traveling home from a friend’s memorial. I was on the C local train, without a book to read and only my tiny notebook to keep me occupied. I began a list:

List of Words I Hate Being Called

miss, ma’am, girl, cute*, woman, lady, wife,

And then I stopped because one of those words was used towards me three times earlier in the day. As a writer, I know that I can have all the control over the words I want to use. I decide what I want to write and how I want to write it. Of course, I may use a thesaurus (or the computer) to help fill in when I want a different word.

Walking around, I have no control over how people see me or use their words toward me. This is a strange juxtaposition because it can startle and create an invisible seizure in my body because how I see myself is so often not how others see me.

Recently, I paid a professional to chop off all my hair (or much of, at least). I thought this removal might help balance my reflection. I thought this removal might help me feel like how I felt.

Spoiler alert: it did and it did not.

I have learned many things about myself over the years such as: I really am lactose intolerant no matter how much I try to ignore this; I continue to feel the need to challenge authority figures; I much prefer to be by myself; I can live without alcohol though not marijuana; sometimes I enjoy wearing women’s underwear; and no matter how far I try to run away from myself, the turmoil and fragmentation of myself lives within. Therefore, haircut or wardrobe is just a minuscule portion of who and how I am and feel.

I do not want to police others about vocabulary. Well, actually, sometimes I do. But most times I just want to be off-duty from all of that. I want to be seen, but it’s impossible for others to see me how I desperately want to be seen unless I say something.

I really, really, really, really, really (you get it?) do not want to be called cute. I am forty. I am jagged and messy and queer and wild and that is just not an adjective that settles well beside the wax in my eardrum. This word makes me feel like I am being mispronoun’d.

So, here is a replacement: bold. Or how about: like a savage poppy growing in a field of dandelions. Or even: You look like YOU.

I am quite sure I have used words toward others that weren’t quite right. Adjectives and nouns and other parts of speech that were severely incorrect. And for that, I am sorry because I know what it feels like to be mispronounced and I never want to do that to another.

I am still adding to my list. It is one of those lists that is forever to be continued….

And I am working on a different list. A list of what I would like to be called. How I want to be seen. Because I am still figuring this out after decades of not even considering it.

Is there a cure?

“Words change depending upon who speaks them; there is no cure.” –Maggie Nelson

 

You say it is uncomfortable. Words are a puzzle without illustration guiding you in and it would be so much easier if we stopped changing our minds about what we are.

You say there is a choice and when you throw those two letters up in the air, you just cannot fathom why heads shake and bodies want to hide because choice should not be determined by strangers.

You say pink or blue but not both and never other shades such as taffy or aegean or flamingo or admiral. You say that department stores separate their fabrics for a reason.

You say there is a book which decides what words mean and one cannot change meanings without consultation but but but.

What would happen if we just stopped worrying about inconveniencing others and spend a day, week, month, hour, rest of our lives living inside the vocabulary, accessories, music of who we are determined by the source that matters most: ourselves.

Excited to announce my new chapbook of poems

Thank you so much to Essay Press for publishing my chapbook of poems, carpus.

Carpus is a gutting of body, all the kicked up grit of gender and love and (mis)understandings of self

Thank you to the incredible editors who were patient and encouraging: Aimee Harrison (brilliant reader/editor), Travis Sharp (created the cover), and Emily Pifer (video embedder).

READ CARPUS HERE

Let me know what you think! Email me at: aimeeherman@gmail.com

Check out this video of one of the poems featured in the book:

 

SATURDAY: Cleaning out our closets (a performance about all the ways we come out)

JULY 23rd……Stories and Songs about Coming Out

Cleaning Out Our Closets is featured in the HOT! Festival at Dixon Place, so come and celebrate all the ways we reveal ourselves to others (and ourselves). FEATURING: Aimee Herman and Trae Durica

WHERE? Dixon Place 161 Chrystie St./NYC

WHEN? Door @ 7pm Show 7:30 This is a short show, so please be on time, as it has a running time of 45 minutes.

*There will be poetry books and Keith Haring inspired patches for sale!!!****

 

 

Aimee Herman is a performance artist, poet and teacher, widely published in journals and anthologies. Aimee has two-full length books of poems and is currently writer-in-residence for Big Words, Etc. reading series.

Trae Durica is a poet and artist, whose work has been published by NYSAI and great weather for MEDIA. He will be featured in the BOOG poetry festival in August.

how to walk into rooms

It is easy to remember certain things.

I remember to brush my teeth after coffee, in the morning. And after my final bite, in the late evening.

I remember to bathe–or at least listen to the alert of my skin beckoning for a wash.

I remember to eat and drink water.

I remember to go to work. To walk dog. To check emails. To wash hands.

But lately, it’s like I’ve forgotten how to exist. How to walk into rooms. How to speak to others. How to breathe without panic pushing on my lungs.

I am thinking about Orlando. I am thinking of all those young people dancing, celebrating their queerness, the ability to move their bodies and be with each other. I am thinking about that moment in the earliest hours of day or latest of night when they were bombarded with a human so full of hate, and what they were all thinking in those final moments.

I’ve forgotten how to feel safe. Armed police with guns as long as their bodies stand in front of buildings. I’ve forgotten what it feels like to be protected. To me, guns are guns are guns are guns.

I’ve forgotten how to sit. To read in peace without the howl of my organs, anxiously shaking me. I’ve forgotten how to enter buildings without obsessing over EXIT signs.

I remember young me in rainbow gear, wanting everyone to know how GAY I am. Proud of being OUTOUTOUT. I’ve forgotten how to wave my flags. They are at permanent half-staff now.

I remember how I used to see strangers as just a few words away from being future friends. I’ve forgotten how to trust people.

I was sitting outside, in a triangular park, with water and people on their phones and a dog trying to catch flies and giant white flowers that are called lilies or maybe something else. And I grabbed one of the petals because I needed something to hold onto that came from earth. Something that came from earth that wouldn’t hurt me. That would just let me cry into it. And so I sat in this park, amongst unaware new yorkers and I cried for the ones who got taken. And I cried because I gave up drugs and God and diet soda years ago and needed something to believe in. Something to ingest that would take me away.

I called my friend, Rebel, who wears wings only I can see. And I asked her what she saw and she told me trees. And she told me she’s writing poems again.

I remember the first pride parade I ever went to. I was draped in rainbows. I felt high on homosexuality.

I’ve forgotten how it feels to rainbow. How it feels to show my colors. How it feels to walk without fear.

How to walk into rooms. Breathe again. Easily. Tell me. How.

welcome to the wonderful world of misfits

Dear Lidia Yuknavitch,

Thank you. Thank you for unraveling your articulated vocabulary for all the weirdos and queers and freaks and marvelous misfits, reminding us how we are the superheroes. We are the ones who have books and beauties inside us. We are ones who remain, amidst all that scar tissue and cracked bodies. Amidst the punches (from others and ourselves).

We go to a store to purchase an article of clothing. We gather up hangers full of cotton/poly blend threads with buttons and zippers and pockets and itchy tags. We try them on, bullying our reflections in the mirrors, which seem to show angles that (maybe) aren’t supposed to be seen. But we see them. Then, we choose whatever “fits”. Whatever feels less itchy, whatever has enough room for extra meals, doesn’t wrinkle or stain too easily, whatever will last long.

When I read your books, when I hear you speak, I am reminded that we are these articles we wear. Yet, we arrive not always fitting into ourselves. So, we sew some patches on or rip ourselves up in order to find a better shape. Some spend their entire lives trying themselves on. I think I still am. I think. I still search for the parts of me that do not itch. Ripping labels off, smoothing myself out amidst the crumpled bits.

Lidia, you tell us of the “Misfits myth…even at the moment of your failure…you are beautiful…you don’t know this yet…you have the ability to reinvent yourself. That’s your beauty.” And I want to ask you to call me up, so I can hear your voice tickle my hearing as you say this.

As you tell of  “..weird-ass portals to something beautiful. All I had to do was give voice to the story.”  And yes, of course. These stories grow as we do. It’s just that it takes time to gather up enough ink and paper and time and words.

So, thank you, Lidia, Misfit Teacher Mother Writer Badass.

I’m working on my story too.

Oh, and if you are reading this, then click below and listen to Lidia blow your mind too at a recent TED talk

anniversary of breathing

Did I ever tell you of that memory, seeing “F” beside my name and thinking it stood for Friday. Thinking: this must have been the day I was born. To be defined by a day of the week, rather than smudged genitalia. Wouldn’t that have been something.

* * * *

(conversation between two)

I thought about labeling myself as a couch. Slipping that into my gender marker. 

Why?

Well, I’ve been sat on. My springs are loose. I’ve had overnight guests drape themselves all over me. Notice all these stains. Crumbs of lost meals. 

I guess that sounds like you.

Right? I had a partner call me wishbone once. Maybe I’ll just refer to myself as bone scraps.

* * * *

Today could be referred to as some sort of anniversary:

The day I ripped open my mom’s body.

Or the moment I breathed in the fumes of new jersey for the very first time.

& an accumulation of stretch marks and toiletries.

Or reminder of all the friends I’ve lost track of.

Just another reason to eat cake.

* * * *

An ode to me:

Everyday, before coffee 
& kiss-climb limbs against my other,
I 
inventory my parts to make sure they still remain:
all my teeth, or the ones which matter
gather up bouquet of knots left behind 
on pillow case
feel around for leftover meals 
clinging to my cheek
swallow all the yesterdays that 
have a difficult time being left

today,
i try not to batter my hips with
too much judgmental
too much writer's block
too much emphasis on the 
black hole of bank account

today,
i eat cake
because i am supposed to
because i want to
because i can call myself a couch
or a loaf of bread
or i can call myself door number three
and even if no one else notices, 
i see the evolution of breaths 
on my soul

what it is to be a loser

Last month, I got the incredible opportunity to perform in the Phillip Giambri’s excellently curated show, “The Loser Project”. Below is a video from the performance at Cornelia Street Cafe in NYC.