Dear Holden Caulfield

First published by great weather for MEDIA

Dear Holden Caulfield,

I lived inside your manic mind briefly, though long enough to feel hung-over and raw. There are good things, which come out of having terrible long-term memory. I forget endings of books, beginnings too. You won’t find me quoting movies or historical dates. I have gaps in my memory that I’ve simply grown accustomed to. Sometimes it’s better to forget; then, everything feels like an unexpected surprise.

So when I recently reread The Catcher in the Rye for the tenth+ time, I smiled and reacted to Salinger’s words as though I hadn’t digested them before. Of course, this is just like winter, right? Our bodies have to readjust to plummeting temperatures as though we’ve never felt negative degree Fahrenheit before. Snow—at least the first fall—is like an enchanted repainting of our landscape. We bury ourselves in it and slide down its slick ice. We create three-piece men with carrot noses out of its ingredients.

Everything that has existed can still have elements of surprise and newness.

I convinced myself my fractured memory was a fault, something to be embarrassed about. However, it allows me to find thrills in reruns. Forgetfulness has become like a cure for ennui.

There is simplicity in The Catcher in the Rye. There are no explosions or surprises. It’s kind of like a Frank O’Hara poem. We’re brought into the head of someone referencing people we don’t know, yet suddenly want to care about. Walking around New York City during hours I usually sleep through listening to jazz, drinking too much and searching for ways to feel alive.

I spent most of December too afraid of my blank imagination to write. Instead, I listened. I cried. I ate too much. I searched for meaning in the frigid air at Coney Island. Actually, Holden Caulfield came with me that day. It was Christmas. I was alone by choice and felt completely emptied of any tangible, creative thoughts. My mind was terribly, terribly dark. So I went toward the water because that is where the answers are. I could barely look up because the wind was so fierce and cold, but I listened to the music of the Atlantic, inhaling the salty air merged with Holden Caulfield’s alcoholic exhales. I collected shells and bought some stale donuts. I realized that sometimes what we write doesn’t always come out at the time we need it to, or in the way we want it. Each word is a shallot. A tiny onion with so many layers, that you sometimes need to keep peeling before its quite right.

When I finished the last page of Salinger’s book, I felt sad to leave Holden. I liked being in his head. Although it was in those last words that I became closer to finding my own. To being ready to try again. To write.

water and poetry and gloria steinem…

Recently, I read an interview with the awe-inspiring Gloria Steinem, who was promoting her new book, “My Life on the Road.”

She said, “If you poured water on a great poem, you would get a novel.”

So, I grabbed all the cups and bowls in my apartment. Filled them with water. Filled my bathtub with water too. Filled my palms, pressed together with water. Filled my mouth with water and held it there, with my tongue and breaths.

Grabbed my poems. The ones in books and the ones still forming bones.

And then. I poured water on them. Dumped them into bathtub, let liquid smear all the words and lift them off page to swim. My verbs were doing the breaststroke.

I grabbed a new one that is still being written and threw it into my mouth with sink water and spit. Let my throat deal with the crowd of language vibrating against vocal chords and teeth.

Thought about how much string I will eventually need to sew each page together to make up this novel.

What would the title be and will it make sense? What if no one reads it? What if it has no ending? What if

Doesn’t matter. There is enough water to keep feeding the words to keep filling the pages to keep drinking up to turn into something to make people feel to make me feel……..to extinguish my thirst.

religion of the outdoors

You tell them you are a recovering atheist. The urge to believe in things gets louder each day but here you are in the flatlands where landscape is brown and green and all you want to believe in is the ability to persist.

You speak to a man called Ernie about a religion designed by a persian with the foundation of one god amongst all, but if you told him of your homo, he’d tell you to find a way out of yourself.

You become obsessed with the wings of flies and the ones who you slur into death from the smokey musk of your incense, which you are now burning several times a day.

If you ever moved here, you tell someone, you’d work in the library. Surround yourself by the flavor of books and spend your hours alphabetizing and reshelving histories.

You are haunted by the sound of your “hippie” being pulled away from your skin. An other wants to know if you are inside an identity crisis. You say, no, then yes then……I just don’t which word I am anymore.

You decide to live inside the story you are writing and feel the gentle weight of your protagonist’s hand slowly rub your back. Reminds you to remain.

You study the sky and its pattern of flight. Its pattern of storm and ominous. In this moment, the thunder gathers. Last night it shocked the sky in pink currents.

You marinate your tongue in various dialects of red wine. Rosé. Merlot. Cabernet. Slur.r.r.r.r.r

Then, the rain arrives again. Tornadoes warn, so you and the other poets and painters search out a safe spot in your “home” which is only guts, no skin. Sky is a dangerous blue. This rain, overweight and angry, is romantic. You want to make love, but you are barely ever nude here, except to check for ticks and bites.

You take cover. Create a tent from poems and memories. See how far it gets you.

Onward: Nebraska to Art Farm Writing residency!

With large blue backpack packed, I head to Nebraska for two week long writing residency.

When I first decided to be a writer (does one actually decide this?), I never thought I’d be awarded with the biggest gift a writer could get (besides a large box of black-ink extra fine pilot pens!):  TIME. Time to write. Uninterrupted time. An expanse of land to wander, to work, to gather, to meditate.

I began applying to residencies a few years ago. I didn’t know much about how; I just tried to follow the guidelines, submit my poems and hope for the best. It’s definitely a challenge for me to explain what I write or even how I write.

I found myself dressing in the rejection letters, replacing shirts and jeans with printed out form letters, kindly saying thank you, but no.

But a few months ago, I got my first yes. I immediately sent a message to my friend/accountability partner/mentor to tell him of this news. He was excited and also cautious. He wanted me to make sure this was what I wanted and how I wanted it to be. He told me to sit on it and give it a day or two before answering.

I walked around. I imagined myself writing in a state I’ve never been before. I imagined working on a farm, doing various forms of construction/carpentry/gardening/upkeep. I imagined sitting in front of my computer (INTERNET OFF!) and just writing. Working on poems and neglected prose.

Then, a little over twenty-four hours later, I made my decision.

YES. Of course! This has been my dream. And such validation as a writer to be granted this. YES. YES. YES!

So, here I go. Off to the 37th state admitted into this country in 1867. A state known for its tornadoes and thunderstorms. Major producer of beef and corn and writers!

My goal is to……well, write. But also to meditate on life and this existence and this privilege to go to a place specifically for writers and artists.

My goal is to poem and to sentence and to edit and hike and create and share and nourish and soak in this beautiful new (to me) land.

Thank you, Art Farm, for this amazing opportunity.

And writers, artists, creators of various sorts, you can do this too!

Do your research and find out residencies that are a good fit for you. Make goals. Search out deadlines. Find some land to spread your art on!

reminders.

 

breathe.”
My father reminds me to remain. When his mileage grows further than my eyes can reach, I press yellow post-it notes to borrowed walls to remind myself what to do.

Exist. Write. Nourish. Be kind. Be patient. Be present. BE.

When I ask my students why they write, a list of words unravel off their tongues reminding me how necessary it is to even question this process of documentation.

I write because it keeps me here.

My father is a novelist. I can say this now because he spent many years curving his back toward various computers, writing words down. Amidst the stress(es) of life, he found time to accumulate over 70,000 words into organized chapters and plot twists. A writer writes.

Each time we speak, he asks me how my writing is going. Am I sending work out? Am I broadening my audience? This check-in reminds me my purpose.

I remind my father that he keeps me here too. As a writer, I have grown accustomed to being so enclosed within my thoughts, it has created a distance inside me. I can reveal all my secrets on stage, but that is because they have already been written down. In person, I am zipped-up; this can be a lonely existence.

My father reminds me how I used to be. Before ______. And before _______.

When I was younger and my hair was yellow and soft, we used to listen to old radio shows, barter at garage sales and hoard other people’s junk. My body was less creased, less angry; there were far less stockpiles of scars on my skin. It’s difficult for me to recall that human that once was me.

My father reminds me that there is still happy in me; I just need to be open to rummaging a little.

I remind my father that there is still peace in him; he just needs to be open to some rummaging as well.

in defense of.

“What needs to be defended in writing is what’s offensive.”   –Charles BernsteinI travel with a poet through six states toward a place where there are five banks within five blocks and when I ask where the best place to get a cup of coffee, I am answered with: “7-11.”

We are here for a poetry festival and I feel as far from NYC as one can.

At the University where everything is happening, we go to a Q&A with three editors and hear what not to do as writers. They end it early, so they can catch the art reception happening upstairs in the library where there will be free cookies and crackers. The artist speaks only briefly because she needs to catch a plane and is waiting for her driver to pick her up.

I start to wonder why we are here.

Suddenly,  it is suppertime and the only happening place to eat is a Mexican restaurant, but they serve hotdogsso we head to the cafeteria with three other poets.

Seven dollars to get in and it’s ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT.

As we eat, one poet asks about censorship. How do you know when to hold back what you say? Like, not say something because it could offend someone?

I think about all the rooms I’ve listened to others and all the rooms I’ve shared with others. We could go around and ask about trigger warnings and words to stay away from and gestures that are offensive, but that may leave us in silence.

I told him that if you make someone angry or make someone ecstatic, it’s all the same. You’ve made someone feel with your words. Isn’t that what you want? I asked.

Another poet added that if you feel compelled to read something, then go ahead. If there is urgency, give it space to roam.

Today, I take the stage and suck up my allotted twenty minutes. I think about what stirs me and these infamous trigger warnings.

I just want to feel something. I want you to cause me to write. I want you to give me more words to expand my vocabulary. I want you to cause me to question what I know.