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.

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it can be so difficult to be alive, and then you find words to band-aid you back

I’ve been gulping oxygen like I used to gulp drugs in my twenties. I don’t know how to be. I don’t know how. I don’t.

And then, I drink coffee with a friend who reminds me why writing is a salve. And then I read words by misfit goddess writer Lidia Yuknavitch and my wounds suddenly feel less wounded.

 

Lidia Yuknavitch, author of The Small Backs of Children writes:

“I hope that we write ourselves back to life. I hope that we double down on what we mean when we say ‘writer,’ so that the definition explodes and reconstitutes around writing as a socially vital activity, not a market-driven dead zone. I hope that when we step into our writerly lives, we can only come alive by and through each other, by and through our beautiful differences. I hope that ‘hope’ doesn’t come from looking up ever again, but from looking each other in the eyes/I’s. I hope we stand up inside our various languages with ferocious love and courage and that we aim for what matters in the world, whether or not anyone remembers our names. Let it be true that we wrote the world and each other back to life. Let that be the new book.

“We didn’t get here by accident. This is not a new brutality, it is a very old one, and every time it circles back around in a new form, we have to look again in the mirror and stand up differently ― writing can yet invent new forms of resistance and resilience in the face of brutality.

“And the wonder of that.

“And how this is our present tense calling.”

circular framework of solitude.

We don’t really need much. There is water. There is food, which can be found hung on trees or sprouting from ground. There is air. While hunting for a place of resuscitation, I think of what is necessary. As a writer, all we need is some paper and something to write with. If there is no paper, there is skin. There is concrete to carve our letters on. There are buildings and bathroom walls. There is memory. As a writer, all we need is silence, but even the new york sirens and screams can yield enough words to work with. These days, I long for a yurt. A circular structure that offers enough seclusion to welcome in some words. A house without outlets. Windows with the scent of wood smoothing its way onto skin. An avenue for rest and translation. As a writer, we live so much of time in solitude. To home-birth the words out. I search for the soil to dig my nudity in and live out days to unwind these letters.

this is why I teach.

 

I can name each one. Mrs. Herkus. Ms. Runquist (now Soback). Ken DiMaggio. Fred Cooksey. Maureen Owen. Bhanu Kapil.

Seventh grade. Junior year of high school. Capitol Community College (Hartford, CT). Smith College Summer Writing Program (Northampton, MA). Naropa University (Boulder, CO).

Each teacher inspired me. One drove me home one afternoon when I was forgotten and waiting. She kindled my love of words. She got me on stage. One told me I could poem. Like…be a poetOne slipped books into my hands that others would have banned. One showed me the importance of threading needles into words to create a new lineage of skin.

When I entered their classrooms, I was no longer invisible. Or the sad one. Or failing. Or falling. They called on me. They challenged me. They never let me get away with “I can’t…”

I ran from classrooms and never would have dreamed I’d be in one again. Especially as a teacher. But here I am, waking at 5am three days a week to travel underground to the Bronx to be inspired. All of my students are writers and I remind them of this everyday because I wonder if maybe no one ever told them this. Sometimes humans are left behind due to language barriers or communicative restrictions. Sometimes trauma takes away our voice. Sometimes it is the one who stands in front of us with chalk marks on their cheap pants and bags beneath their eyes from late nights grading papers who reminds us the importance of not giving up.

 

 

all of this will soon be past.

“If this life isn’t enough/ then an afterlife won’t be enough”      -fanny howe

Dear Kazim,

There are presents to be received when remaining in the present.

You wrote, “The body is like a day: it begins with the darkness of evening, ends with the ebbing of light.

I say to you: Within this wander, I recognize who remains. That in this present, my past exists like swollen gifts. Some I sense the need not to open. Some I must not only open but rummage and fondle. Kazim, I am tangled. The knots wrestle themselves into my hair and my loins and even in my words. I like your sense of beginning in the dark in order to travel toward light.

There are these humans hovering around me: a music MAker, a soul sister, a brother, several lovers, the satellite that exchanges shapes each night, a Rebel, a father, a gender warrior. Each one tells me in their language how to remain. How to remain.

Kazim, you remind me: “If the plot of my life is writing then I have nothing but time.”

What is this rush to unpack my boxes. Perhaps I need to wander in order to remember what it feels like to be still. The writing exists in me; this earth has many desks and “rooms” that permit and encourage our creativity.

A traveling human tells me that all we really need as writers is time. Space is everywhere.

Several months ago, I met a woman who wore earth on her skin. One day, we sat beside each other in a room full of others and we painted. We were each given blank circles and asked to fill them in with our souls. With our souls, Kazim. Can you imagine this task? So, I painted a tree with branches of words and she combined colors into a womb and sperm and there was dark and light and I could smell her tears even before I noticed them bungee-jumping from her eyes. In this human, I saw hope that even in such sadness, there is desperation to live. To remain. Before I said goodbye to her, I gave her a tulip, which someone else had given me. This flower is like youI said. Alive. Watered. From the earth. And breathing. And giving. And giving. And giving. 

now tell me what you really think

My wise soul sister talks to me about the importance of connecting to words. Beyond just licking fingertips to flip pages. Beyond even the recognition of finding oneself within the lines.

She tells me that if I am moved, I should say something. As a writer, I know how solitary this process can be. A lot of thinking, cataloguing, noticing, noting. A lot of writing, typing, choosing to be alone over being with others. So when I am moved, inspired in such a way that I weep trees out of my body, then I should really let that writer know.

The first time I contacted a writer, I was living in Brooklyn (the first time). I recall sitting at my roommate’s communal computer, writing out the words that had been oozing out of me. I first read Kim Addonizio several years earlier after an older poet friend shared her work with me. When I picked her up again, I felt the reek of erotism from her poems pull at me. Even if she didn’t write back, I knew I had no choice but to write her. And. She wrote back.

A few years later, I was feeling ghostly. My body was sitting inside classrooms for an overpriced degree that just wasn’t doing it for me. It’s kind of like pursuing the most attractive person in a bar (or the most sober, cost-effective one with a rolling admission). And that person accepts you without hesitation. And you’re in. And you’re into each other.

Until their first word. And you notice their breath or odd jargon or or or. So, I was feeling uninspired and I sought out a writer/ performer/ beast I once saw in a land I used to live in. And this letter was long. And I wasn’t quite sure it would be answered. And. I heard back. This beast has been my mentor ever since.

Recently, I came across a writer who tore the hair out of my legs. This writer boiled my sweat and caused me to think even further about sexuality than I have been already. She turned me on, while also making me want to do the butterfly stroke inside my tears. I think about sending her a letter, but it just needs to be perfect…because what if I don’t get a letter back this time.

The thing is, it doesn’t matter. We need to be writing these letters. We need to tell these writers what we feel, the traffic accident on our bodies after reading their words.

If you wrote a poem or a sentence after reading something I wrote, I want to know. Because I am sitting in a metal chair, hunched over– occasionally aware that I should straighten my back– with a brown, borrowed blanket wrapped around my waist. I am typing on a computer held on a slab of wood, which was free because it was from the scrap pile at the hardware store on fifth avenue. I stained it red, then painted it in puffs of multi-colored paint on my rooftop, which is no longer mine because I no longer live at that particular address. To my right, is a see-through mug with earl grey tea interrupted with honey. To my left is a tall window illuminated by a string of purple lights purchased for $2 from my soul sister’s stoop sale. It is silent here, until I interrupt it with my voice or hear the slurp of tea plunge down my throat.

I could use a letter. I think we all could.