6 Months in New York!

 

Baby’s First Blizzard 

 Six Months! It looks like we’ve survived our first winter, and even though this was a notably mild one, I’m still puzzled by the dire warnings we got from family and friends before we moved. And I have to admit I was pretty terrified going into this – mainly because I’ve never owned a real coat in my life and had no idea, like, how they work. But, seriously, everyone made it sound as if no one ever lived through a snow storm. Like at the first sign of “bitter” cold anyone in their right mind would go running back to Cali. And to that I have to say, WHY DIDN’T YOU PEOPLE WARN ME ABOUT SUMMER?! Winter is adorable and cozy and magical and wonderful, and summer is the veritable armpit-soaked trench of human existence. 

Blizzard Sunset, Maria Hernandez Park 1/24/16

Anyway, 6 months in, and I’m totally in love, which sounds like a cliche and doesn’t even come close to describing how deeply “at home” I feel. And of course it’s not just the city – it’s our friends, and my job, and our apartment and our neighborhood, and above all: it’s that we’re in this together, me and Autobono. One of these days I’ll get around to writing about the move itself, but for now I really needed to bang out a quick catch up post, just to break the ice, and remember what it feels like to transfer the words in my head to the page after such a long break (spoiler alert: it’s weird).

More soon, but in the meantime, pics!

Williamsburg Bridge at sunset 3/18/16

ISIS Helped Me Quit Smoking

H. A. Eugene

From the Medium article “Why I Joined ISIS”, which quotes a Twitter DM from an ISIS fighter:

It took time for ISIS until they implemented the law, but after having lectures about it and so on, there is no objection — with exception to those who smoke. It’s a little hard for them to suddenly quit smoking. But ISIS have been very good at helping them quit. —Abu Bakr al-Janabi

Smoking is a very difficult habit to break. I should know. I tried to quit twice. The physical symptoms, the self-recrimination you’ll feel at the first sign that you may not be as resolute as you previously thought, the childlike helplessness, the weakness of will…wait a minute…weren’t we talking about ISIS? Violent extremists?

Eric Hoffer’s terrific 1951 book The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements describes the extremist persona well. If memory serves (I read the book many years ago), this…

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Writers of Color: Your voice matters

My new hero!

Vanessa Martir's Blog

Dr. Miranda Bailey, a black, genius general surgeon on Grey’s Anatomy speaks in a loose language that sounds like home—“I can’t be…” and “gonna.” She’s fierce, will read you in a heartbeat and always has the best intentions. She’s hardcore and reminds me of me in many ways. She’s the chief resident, dubbed the chief surgeon’s “work husband,” she plays a prominent position in the hospital, and yes, I know this is a drama and not real life and just a show, but it’s important to have these models in pop culture. Why? Because such characters demonstrate that you can be your full self and succeed; you don’t have to adopt the voice and language of white America to make it.

Voice.

If you know me and have worked with me, you know that I stress that a writer work on finding his or her voice. Why? Voice is perhaps…

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When You Can’t Make Things Better…

“Even when the condition is critical, and the livin’ is miserable, your position is pivotal, I ain’t bullshittin’ you” ~Talib Kweli

There’s an ambulance and a fire truck outside my building right now. They’re here to rescue and/or pick up someone overdosing at the SRO next door. This used to happen a lot more – several times a day – but it’s tapered off lately. It still happens too much. It’ll always be too much.

The whole scene reminds me of my childhood. People in my neighborhood were always ODing. I was often, very often, the passenger in the front of the ambulance while my mom barfed up pills in the back, pretending that I believed her story about it being an accident. Maybe it feels like an accident to the person overdosing. I don’t know. I just know that intentional or not, there are patterns, noticeable, trackable, predictable effects of certain actions (like drug abuse) which result in chaos.

Life is hard. And sometimes it’s so hard you’re willing to go in for any sort of escape – drugs, alcohol, TV, sex, food, shopping, taking off in a car and driving the fuck away from your problems for a minute. And all of those things are healthy and helpful in moderation (yes, all of them… in moderation). But when your attempts to escape veer into self-destruction, the chaos and damage are far worse for you and the people around you than the problem you started out with in the first place. Because now that you’ve overdosed? Now you’ve got ambulance bills and hospital bills on top of all your other bills. Now you’ve missed work while you were in the hospital, which means you have even less money to cover all those bills. Now the food in your fridge, meager as it may have been, is rotten and you have to throw it out and start over. And then it’s like you’re always starting over. Now you feel so infinitely much more shame and misery and humiliation and fear, that you need even more desperately to escape.

And problems like these take a long time to fix. Longer than they should. Longer than you think you can possibly endure. And I’ll be honest, some of them don’t ever go away. And in the meantime, you’re terrified. You feel like nothing you do matters. But here’s the thing: everything you do matters. It might matter slowly, but it matters. And when you can’t bear to do the work of making things better, you still have to try not to make them worse. Because there’s a lot you can’t control in life, but there’s one thing you almost always can, and it’s this: when you have to choose between one thing and another, try to choose the one that won’t make things worse for you. When it feels like there’s nothing else you can do, at least try to do that. Because those decisions matter. Because you matter.

Have you heard all this before? If you’re a person who’s been carted away in ambulance, there’s a good chance you have. But just in case no one’s mentioned it lately, or in case when they did it didn’t get through, I’ll go ahead and say it again – you matter. Go on – live your life like it matters, because it does.

An Evening of Poetry

IMG_5233This past Wednesday, Dancing Girl Press hosted a poetry reading at E.M. Wolfman General Interest Books in Downtown Oakland. It was my second time seeing one of their events, and what was once a total novelty has quickly become a welcome and well-anticipated tradition in the neighborhood. The event features three DGP poets reading from a mix of published chapbooks and works in progress, all of which were bold and fresh and captivating.

When I left the reading, I met up with a friend at the Golden Bull down the street and tried to explain how awesome the readings were, but I came up short. I realized I have way more words for things I don’t like than for things I do like. And that’s not ok with me anymore. So I figured I’d take a stab at reviewing the reading for this blog.

The first poet, Nicole Borello is a joy to see in action. I’ve had the pleasure taking several writing classes with her, so I was already familiar with her work – her short stories are powerhouses of humor and insight, and her poetry is equally accomplished. In addition IMG_5230to running her own independent press, Nicole has published three chapbooks, all of which are rich and substantial and incredibly accessible. Here’s the thing about Borello’s work – it sneaks up on you. Her reading style is so casual and conversational that you don’t realize you’re being blessed with a dose of badass feminist poetry. I call her work feminist, not because it follows a political agenda or anything, in fact you would be hard pressed to describe her work as political or pedantic. It’s more that the images she presents of women are gritty and real and vibrant – in her work we get to admire bountiful asses and the contents of padded bras, we explore intimate grooming and rites of motherhood and prostitution and abuse – but Borello addresses these things with her signature grace, in effect saying “of course we should talk about these things, because they are beautiful and ugly and real and true,” And in a society where we avoid such topics, giving them a place in poetry is itself an act of feminist assertion.

Now don’t get me wrong, the strength of her work is not solely in it’s subject matter or the accessibility of its delivery – this is well crafted poetry, this is a woman who understands form and structure and employs them every which way to pack maximum meaning into her words. I could get lost in them all day, unpacking connections and associations. This is potent, primal stuff. Her latest chapbook, Fried Fish and Breast Milk is available from Dancing Girl Press.

After the reading I picked up Sarah Chavez’s chapbook All Day, Talking, also available from Dancing Girl, because her poems and the ongoing narrative they explore just got under my skin. The poems in the collection all take the form of letters to a deceased woman named Carole. They range over time, revealing snippets of both women’s lives and their relationship, things they believed in and things they questioned together, and they also chart the speaker’s explorations of life with and after Carole – there’s an intimacy to her private thoughts while washing dishes, reminiscing about adventures they shared, forming and reexamining her identity over time, and of course grieving her lost love. I had to pick up the collection because the story was so compelling, like a really good novel, but masterfully packed into the frame of compact epistolary poems.

Discovering Chavez’s work was a treat and one of the reasons I love these readings (besides the fact that they’re local and hosted at a seriously delicious little bookstore where pretty much every book on the shelves is on my Goodreads list), because they bring talented voices practically to  my doorstep and introduce me to poetry I wouldn’t have found on my own. Check them out, especially if you think you don’t like poetry, ‘cause these two just might change your mind.

Winter Stay-cation

image3 The company I work for is very generous this time of year. We basically shut down for the last two weeks in December, meaning that I’m off the hook from work in ways I’d never be on a regular vacation. The problem with regular vacations, no matter how grand or peaceful you make them, is that everyone else is still working, so no matter how hard you try to get ahead of the current, by the time you get back to the office your inbox is crammed, your work has piled up, and you spend a disproportionate amount of time playing catch up. This is not the case when everyone  is off! When the whole company is on snooze you get to really unplug, because even if you tried to be a good soldier and log into VPN, there isn’t anything there to work on. (If an out-of-office auto reply goes out and no one’s there to read it, does it make a sound?).

Now, usually I try to cram as much into this indulgent break as possible – trips to LA to see my family, or across the country to see distant friends. I make big plans for all the things I’m going to work on and write and sort out and organize and see and buy and…! But this year, after a pretty quick chat, my boyfriend and I decided to take it easy as fuck, and man am I glad we did. I can’t imagine a more satisfying way to have spent all this free time. And because of that, I’m feeling ready to go back to the grind… excited even, because I feel like I’m going back legitimately recharged and refreshed.

image1And we still got a lot done – I joined a new gym, started a journal, fired up my blog. I got to spend time with local friends whose schedules don’t normally line up with mine. I completed a ton (a ton!) of weird home projects that have been haunting me all year – finally replaced the stupid dutch oven (welcome back, braising! You’ve been sorely missed), bought a desk and set up a work area for myself because I really needed a dedicated space to practice my craft and reinforce the validity of the work I’m trying to do. I’m 36 years old. I’ve been writing my whole life. And I’ve never given myself a real place to work. I figured out some really important things about what foods and activities are working for my body right now (Crohn’s disease is a moving target, so it was great having time to really observe patterns and set some guidelines for myself). I got to see what the fuck my cats do all day while I’m at work (hint: it involves sleeping and napping, and more sleeping)

The important takeaway is that I got way more done because I approached the break with an attitude of “I’m relaxing here! If there’s any time or energy left when I’m done, THEN I’ll move on to doing stuff” which is the exact opposite of the “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” mentality of my entire life up to this point. Coming into adulthood, I had to move fast, like disgustingly fast, just to survive. But that part’s over now. My life and my body have been trying to slow me down for the last few years, and I’m starting to see why. Some things can move a lot faster when you slow down and let them.

image6Winter is the perfect time to study hibernation and repose. It feels good to follow the rhythms of nature, to sleep when the world sleeps, to go indoors early when the sun goes down early. Largely because when it’s dark out it’s harder to dodge all the human feces on the sidewalk (I’m looking at you San Francisco!), so you may as well take that time to paint your nails, take a nap, watch the new season of Revenge, read thirteen books, and plan which seeds to sow come spring.

Today we go back to work. Back to morning commutes…and evening commutes. Back to desk life and emails and social interaction. It’s time to plant now, and lay down the roots for next year’s harvest. And I’m rested and ready. Bring it on.image5