it’s been a while

“so can these shoes take me to
who I was before
I was stabbing my sticks into
a vulnerable earth
and I can almost out run you
and those stalking memories
did I somehow become you
without realizing” + Tori Amos

Here we are again, on the edge of summer, tipping ourselves from heat slop into the crisp hands of never-winter, the New England promise of broken trees slicing dead skies while slowly fading humidity chokes us. Down into the pit of earthly ruin we go.

I haven’t written in a while.

How to say: the world has turned upside down?
How to say: no one wants to see from beneath a new leaf?
How to say: I wish the dog days of summer meant dogs scarfed down the sun to make new ways?

Somehow in the midst of this I am supposed to be an English teacher. Black Lives Matter, Covid-19, the election, the faint scent of time ending. I remember being stuck inside for hours and days teaching via Google Meets and knowing I was not alone, but feeling horribly alone regardless.

If we are all shouldering the weight of the world, well, what do we do with it? It escapes in jabs and snips and bites at each other.

Yeah, I got a full time job. 9th and 10th grade ELA. We will be reading Fahrenheit 451, Dear Martin, Things Fall Apart, and possibly The Lord of the Flies unless/until we kick it out.

I find I can’t bring myself to move. To summon up the courage to get going. I feel like an impostor. I’m worried I’ll be discovered as such.

Wishing I could be more brilliant and articulate, like a glacier, or a star.

paranoia

“I put on my best face.
I was glamour. I was grammar.

Yet my best couldn’t best my beast.

I, too, had been taken apart.
I didn’t want to be
fixed. I wanted everything dismantled and useless

like me.” + Paul Tran

This moment has stirred me to consider,
perhaps the stories & letters,
the active bustle of paper under palm
under scritch-scratch of pencil,
the motions I thought important

were meaningless. Consider the oppressor:
the boastful king, the sly dictator,
the gentle teacher? A pigeon carrier
of regulations & rules, overrun
infestation that eats up the human heart.

One click at a time. The collection
of names. I drop them like water
into digital space. Completing tasks;
same as a dog can do. To-do lists &
search & rescues. That’s the game now,

figuring out who is ghost and who is
ghosting. How dare they — but, wait.
How dare we. The grief of a nation echoes
silently behind closed doors, in static
& wire passages connecting us.

This moment in time. This moment, by
which trees of breath are shriveled fists
in our lungs. Choking us. We cannot
touch it or each other & nothing makes
sense except to run like policemen

calling out to the darkness: “Where are you
my love, that I knew not
I loved before this… & now you must suffer

for it.”

overwhelmed

“And to tell the truth I don’t want to let go of the wrists
of idleness, I don’t want to sell my life for money,

I don’t even want to come in out of the rain.” + Mary Oliver

***

My head spins like a pirouetting ballerina toy on top of fake sheet-snow, one of those old-fashioned Christmas displays of winter; I wait for the light to shift, for clarity, for an end to the “hustle,” but only take on more and more. Soon, everything will crash and blow up in my face. I keep saying, “I am sorry,” and “Should I have refused _____?” and “Please, time together is important to me, so if I need to change my schedule…” but it never sounds quite enough. Just fake snow in sterile air being choked out of my lungs as I remember to breathe, breathe, just breathe. Don’t fall.

I recently applied to two separate long term substitute teacher jobs, hoping to maintain a steady income so I can pay rent while broadening my teaching experience. I took on a second student for tutoring, with whom I meet tonight for the first time. I am waiting to give word of whether I am going to fill in at the first of the two substitute jobs to my current work, my family’s business, because the start date is looming and I need to give enough notice…

And I don’t know, I just feel like I’m going crazy, like I’m killing the time I want to dedicate for relationships and human connection for pursuit of career and health (I currently go to the gym 4 nights a week). My anxiety and dread and excitement is increasing with the possibilities of what’s next, but there’s remorse and regret and longing over what I leave behind if I move forward, and a tinge of uncertainty.

There’s a certain degree of loneliness, too — like a deeper understanding of what I want to do, but when spoken out loud, my dreams and beliefs and thoughts, they are like fire and not everybody likes fire, sometimes they just want ice, or lukewarm water, content in the passive words we say to strangers and acquaintances in this age of social media. I am not always understood. And it depresses me. Do I want to be some heroic big-shot teacher? No. Do I want to be some weather worn gritty farm supplier? Not that, either.

I think I am too much of an idealist for most. Very hard to swallow, the things I say are so lofty and out there — and we are all so cynical nowadays, so focused on the visible and real. So it’s lonely, to be full of these ideas and beliefs and words and knowing full well how I could live into that existence while recognizing, with fear, all the bridges it would burn (talking about fire).

I hope I get the jobs, but I am terrified. I am terrified of my potential, my ability to have authority, and how bad I could possibly be, if that makes sense. My head feels like it will split from the sheer pace of how this is all happening at once: quickly, relentless.

“I say all these stupid things, and people think I’m an idiot,” I told both my sister and boyfriend.

“It means you see the world differently, and the world needs that,” they both replied.

So I am taking the steps, face tear-stained, brain a scramble, nervous, scared, but moving forward. Hopefully. Hopefully. Ignoring the little voices that tell me to stop.

“the empty glass”

“What do we have really?” + Louise Gluck

This time of year is not kind. The former dead are stirred with each new death, and so become alive: the brittle leaves littering our walkways and roads, the frost painting the now unyielding earth like pretend stardust, the calculated coolness of a wind during the ever-darkening horizon. I focus on the remaining blaze of marigold and orange clinging to tree branches, trying my best not to see the ghost of gray skies staring like wolves just behind them; I attend to the business of work and friendly interactions to avoid the darkness bleeding out in my chest, signaling loss. I pretend my attention is needed elsewhere, anywhere but the past, memories spiraling like black holes into the now, the swift approaching of 2020.

Thirty years on this planet, and I am no more the wise. I talk of great, huge, lumbering things like God and plans but I am the most uncertain of all. The mountain is large and looming and not even halfway up I am winded from the climb.

**

I am beginning to think I should have stuck with just writing stories and poems. Too city girl for the farm, too farm for the politics of the city. Too kind for the sinners, too rough for the saints. Imposter, floating through like a ghost. Maybe I have the wrong mountain entirely, took a bad turn at some point.

Winter has me in questions. It brings me to the painful places in my head and heart I don’t want to look at for more than three seconds. If I look too long, I begin to think up all the ways I do not measure up. Failure, trauma, disappointment, and shame start making their way to the surface of the frozen lake.

Tap, tap, tap. Waiting for me to break through.

**

If you do not speak now you will explode

and

Quiet is not purity
it is erasure —

Reminders that I could be better. That I do not need to encapsulate my wrath and sorrow and joy in ice, like a pretty, presentable object for those around me, a work of art on display.

**

I don’t know why I am writing this, like this, right now. Nothing is coming out the way it should. A few hours ago, I thought to myself, “I will reflect on where I am, and be honest, and clear. I will write about work, and teaching, and writing.”

Years ago during a poetry workshop, the poet teaching us said that sometimes, in order to gain a clear picture of an event or image or person, we need to look at it from the opposite angle, almost like those diagrams of how our eyes work, flipped.

I think it is pain that keeps me from honesty. And maybe if I deliberately approach and name that pain, the truth will come out.

It’s difficult to admit: I am having a hard time. I am not strong enough for this. This isn’t what I thought it would be. I have made a mistake. I am so very, very human, and so very, very wrong. My stores of hope are almost dried up.

These are all things I am experiencing now with work, at the shop.

It’s embarrassing to admit: I am still grappling with the (negative) effects of student teaching. The need to decompress and be away from people, how I handle stress, and my reactions to anxiety-inducing circumstances have changed drastically. I want to go back to teaching, but I am afraid I will not be able to handle the job. I’m afraid I am not good enough. I am afraid that I will be doing the wrong thing if I go, and doing the wrong thing if I stay where I am.

These are all things I am thinking in regards to my future.

It’s shameful to admit: I struggle with writing. I want to tell stories. I have so many poems and stories in me, right now. But I lack the energy. The discipline. I am afraid I am a failure. I could have done it once, but I missed my chance. It’s not practical. No one wants my stories anyway.

These are all things I am worrying about in relation to my creativity.

In the end, all of this is not enough.

**

What do we have, really? I don’t know how to answer that question. We are vapors. We disappear at first morning’s light. Maybe we are pretty, or maybe we go unseen. I don’t know.

In the end, I have always struggled with a sense of purpose — what is at the end of existence?

I want to echo the last line of the poem,

I have nothing, I am at your mercy,

and be wise, for once. For once.

visions of now, part 2

“I actually wasn’t uncertain; I was just afraid.” + Hannah Brencher

“Strength! Courage! Don’t be timid; don’t get discouraged. GOD, your God, is with you every step you take.” + Joshua 1:9 (MSG)

The lazy heat of August is upon us. Summer is slouching to an end, tired, sweating, relentless as it drags the sun from below the hills to the top of the sea that swallows it whole. The routine of days. But once we blink, bat away the errant fly, listen to the grass rippling with wind, smell the evening dew turn to vapor at dawn, it will be over. Fall will be here. The start of a “new year,” the school rush, a different routine, a more alert one, we hope, awake, alive, not sleeping.

When you get older, I’ve noticed, time blurs. Five years feels both like yesterday and an unfamiliar memory, one you are not sure really happened. You begin tracking life through seasons. At times, it is like the earth is taking over and you have no sense of where your head or your feet or your heart are.

Then at others, you are forced out of the mud, taken aback by light.

I think this place is known as the wilderness — where we go when we have questions, when we are full of doubt and uncertainty, and a certain bitter unwillingness to trust because we honestly believe despite the confusion we’ve got this, we know how to get through.

When I moved out west, I was in the wilderness.

When I enrolled in the teaching program at a local college, I was in the wilderness.

I thought doing these things was the answer, the way out, that I could cut a path for myself under the guise of “God’s will” and everything would be okay.

Instead I wove and braided a thread of self-denial through my life that I’m now working up the courage to cut.

There are people in my life who think those two things were the answer, the solution to a problem, a way to find my role in the world. That if I change my location and occupation, everything will be made right — I’ll no longer feel discontent but surer, more wise. I’ll have a reliable job, a more affordable place to live, be happier.

It sounds nice, doesn’t it?

But I know that’s not God’s will for me right now.

Switching time zones did not and will not fix the problems I face. Teaching will not and does not give me credibility and worth. Even though it is not necessarily where I want to be, I have been called to be where my feet are, and that is currently in my home state, at my family’s business, living in a city versus a town, not rich, not qualified, not where or what or who the world is telling me I ought to be.

I am right where God wants me to be.

People will laugh and joke or say I’m throwing away an education, I’m throwing away an experience, but I am doing the opposite — I’m learning from them, using what I’ve seen and heard over the last five years to further a vision I’m still just starting to see. A vision that is not fabricated or generated by wishful thinking, like the vision of the fence and gold-green grass I wrote about back in 2014, a by-product of my fragile, broken humanity.

The work will be hard and long and likely grueling.

I am not qualified.

But instead of wandering around the wilderness listening to the echoes of my own voice in hopes of navigating my way out, I am going to try trusting instead.

For once, I am going to be still, and simply know.

visions from the past (part 1)

(Note: I have not written in a while. While I fully plan on doing so, first I want to share an entry from a previous blog of my mine, that I wrote way back in October of ’14. It’s extremely relevant to what has been on my mind as of late. It’s also why I have not written, have not talked with certain people in months…)

While driving home from church yesterday my dad asked, “Do you ever see visions of where you should, or would like to, be?” I thought about it for a few seconds before responding that yes, I do: somewhere wide and open, a great expanse of land with seemingly no end. Then he shared his vision, which is him simply holding a piece of wood. Or perhaps not so simply. We very briefly discussed our uncertainty about such visions, whether they are merely fabricated from our human desires and dreams or if they are something more, like God allowing us a glimpse of a future that could, maybe should, be. With that, our talk of visions ended.

I didn’t share all the details of my vision, mostly because I don’t trust that it isn’t just a reflection of my own personal wants and desires to be somewhere else. Over the past two, going on three years, I’ve really struggled with what it is I’m meant to do with my “one wild and precious life” (quoting Mary Oliver here, though the verse is everywhere on social media and you likely already know they’re her words). I enjoy writing and reading, and I really enjoy talking to others about their writing.

I’ve prayed and I can only think that I’m either praying for and about the wrong things or that God is answering my prayers (such as, please strengthen my faith in You) and the answer is this standstill, where I’m still living at home at the age of 25, still working at my dad’s shop as a sales associate, still, still… still. Of all the things I listed above, nothing seems to fit. Just recently I met with a former professor who was blunt about my wanting to enroll in a Masters program for English: if there isn’t funding beyond assistantships it isn’t worthwhile, that the market for PhDs is tight if not non-existent (because I guess a MA in English can only move upward now), and my GPA, while good, is not stellar (3.5), which is what many programs are seeking. “Look, I would hate to see somebody as sincere and kind as you enter a program somewhere and realize that it isn’t what you wanted but it’s too late to change your mind so you ride it out and wind up with a ton of debt and crushed dreams.” She thought I should consider teaching. “Who knows, you may be a star there” (though part of my ‘problem’ is that I am not seeking to be a star. I am desperately searching for a way to share my gifts in writing and reading and to serve others with them). Always I end up at the end of the same road: I am a square in a round world. I seem to be lacking all the proper qualifications.

At the same time, I recognize that there are a lot of educational programs on that list of ‘stuff I’ve considered in order to move forward with my life and get an adult job.’ That in that list, there is a heavy reliance on man-made systems. Why am I trusting in a faulty system to bring me to where I’m supposed to be? At times, all I see is the labyrinth we’ve created for ourselves when the truth is a straight and narrow line. Why overwrite it?

None of these thoughts, though, do much for how stuck I am. I don’t know what it’s going to take to break me out of this rut. I thought applying to grad school and getting in somewhere would at least force me out, but maybe I really just ought to move and take my chances with finding a job instead of using school as a front, a safety net. Nothing is happening because I am not happening. As a result, I’ve become severely self-doubting and scared of doing the wrong thing, of being selfish or selfishly self-driven. But recently I’ve started to wonder, am I being too legalistic? Am I scared of not obeying God’s will, or am I scared of breaking rules? Am I, in essence, hiding behind Him and using Him as an excuse?

The entirety of my vision, the vision I did not share in full, is this: the land stretches ahead of me, vast, parched gold, not necessarily lush, but alive, and the pale gray clouds above are full, hanging low. In the distance I see the beginnings of blue shapes, black at the base, and sometimes they disappear. When they are not there, an old wooden fence is, single rail, and I kneel beside it, sometimes joyfully placing my hand on my abdomen, other times, clutching it as I sob, a strange notation for the desire for family, eventually, perhaps. But always, I touch the ground, parting grass to sink my fingers into dirt, and when I bring my hands up to look, the dirt, no matter the vision, is the same: cool and dark, clumping with the promise of water.

where i’m at

where i’m at is disarray,
a winter without snow,
a question mark on the compass.
leaves of ink bind me to
this world;
if it wasn’t for the stories
seeping off paper
i’d know no due north.

“patience is a virtue” is a cliche
i want to crumple
up like the tissue in my palms,
throw it out into the refuse
of scattered thought.
if there’s anything i’ve gleaned
from our fractured mythologies

the sweetest words are the ones
we ought to avoid
the most. surely the bitterness
only means my taste buds
still work.

something else must be true

“and I go out to walk.
The bare blue trees and bleached wooden sky of April
carve into me with knives of light. […]

“Crops of ice are changing to mud all around me
as I push on across the moor
warmed by drifts from the pale blue sun.” + Anne Carson

And I go out to walk.
And I go out to walk.
And I go out to walk…

I’m supposed to write a poem for my students, about hoodies, and how hoodies are not just hoodies, they act as barriers from one world to the next, placed between the visible and the invisible, the heart and the matter, are in fact mark of somebody dangerous, somebody slick, somebody not to be trusted, somebody to be silenced because the head covered is a relinquishing of voice, like Ariel drifting from sea to earth, there is no fair or equal trade off, ever, and this slightly thicker cut of cloth denotes me murderer, and therefore, fit to be murdered by weaponry ignited by words. I’m supposed to believe in a “better” where death does not exist, is not sewn or cross-hatched into the fabric of the garment I threw on to face off against the cold on my walk into the outside, the street-wise intensity of sound and light and smaller lives enough to make my spirit want to bleed out onto the sidewalk, the tiled floor, your hands as you tear it in half and call me no good SOB unladylike slob go back to the gutter where you came out of —

I’m supposed to write a poem for my students, and let them know, the story’s messed up, this is all wrong, these are the places in the hearts and minds of humankind that are false, the real untrustworthy, the real murderers, those who go out into the street without the protective mask (or hood), faces raw against the winter frost, uncaring, unfeeling, constantly feeding on the grief and harm done to the teenagers in our cities such as yourselves.

The hoodie, is no easy matter. The hoodie, is a risk. The hoodie, hides and bandages the wounds
that leave a history of red and black silhouettes etched into the memory of our youth, wounds that proclaim a dangerous day where the two are inseparable, and we believe nothing else but death to be true.

Hive Mind

Below noon, the sky bright and clear, and I am coaxing sunlight through plank and glass with the trill of my tongue when Mother Hive approaches, muting my separate song with the Drone of Legion. It buzzes and clogs my sunlight, turning it sour, and Her one-thousandth eye fastens on me, clicking incessantly. I know She does not mean to ruin my only voice, but I feel loss all the same.

“What do you do, Honey?” The Legion thrum pounds through my eye sockets and jaw, reverberating against the goldenrod comb-house, making the windowpanes shake with a grind of their own. In Her skull, the eye is whirling, taking in or trying to avoid the light, and behind Her voice are more chattering and bickering.

I wince. I hate Hive’s default name for us. Me. How uttering that name and the echoes it creates can destroy so much good light. Despite what it means.

The triangular comb we float in seems to constrict when I reply. Sweetly:

“Goodness. I am participating in the below noon Goodness. Emptying my eyes…”

Legion rises with a blackening roar, forcing my tongue blind. The sunlight becomes crystal, plummeting through the air about us, shattering on the slanted planks of silver, sliding out of reach.

Outside, (outside), the sky remains pristine, blue and high overhead, untainted by the angry hum of Mother catching my lie and crushing it into tiny, yellow-bright pieces. There are no angles to the sea of above, no sharp lines quelling song.

“What do you do, Honey?” One click, singular, sweetly smooth. They are all listening in now.

I turn back to the window, stare up at the deaf sky, a muted sun, and feel nothing.

Nothing and all.

Entering the new year

“She wants to know what is true —
not partly true, or sometimes true,
or almost true. She wants to see
Truth itself, face to face.” + Amanda Bible Williams

“And I can’t keep from wondering
Why nothing good could ever stay
Why faith feels like a fistful of sand” + THRICE

The weather on the river (and here in the northeast) can’t decide what it wants to be. Sunlight, rain, snow, ice. My mood and spirit are no different as we sprawl out into the new life of 2019. Uncertain, afraid of what will be next, the work to be done by unworthy, unpracticed hands.

In two weeks I’ll be (gulp) student teaching. Me, who once shrank back against any and all available walls whenever speaking in front of others, let alone teaching others, was mentioned or part of “the deal”; me, the quiet/shy girl that no one knew, but no one had a problem with. The one who balked at the idea of becoming a teacher because… I was a whole lot of not enough.

I have spent too much of my life in that headspace, and my spirit continues to linger in the graveyard of who I once was, afraid to step into the new body of who I can and should be.

This spring the first book I will be teaching is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It’s timely, really. At first I was ready to approach the novel from an ethics point of view, focusing on the question of what makes a monster, a monster — but as I actually began rereading the novel, I couldn’t ignore one of the larger themes of the story, all too present in Frankenstein’s narrative.

Grief. Grief, and what it does to the (human) mind and spirit.

We grieve often during the course of our lives. Not just after losing a loved one, but also after disappointing somebody important to us. After making a decision that cost us a scholarship, a better grade, a relationship. We grieve and regret when we realize things could have, and should have, been different. We get stuck. We don’t know what to do, if it would be better to quit all together then continue on the twisted, rocky path that seems to be leading to terrible places. Who do we turn to for directions? Who wants to be around our failed selves, dirty with our shame, our secrets, our mistakes? How do we respond to those who are in the midst of this grieving? This sense of doom, dread, loss of the better?

How do we turn back, get off the wrong road?

… These are questions I have for myself this new year, questions I will, undoubtedly, bring into the classroom with me as I question: why do I want to become a teacher? Am I doing the right thing? Am I following God’s call on my life? Am I honoring these young men and women, who are going to graduate in June and go on to careers and colleges in September? What discussions can we have before they head off into adulthood that will have meaning and purpose in their lives?

What drives people to do the things they do, in the end?

“It is over. It is winter and the new year.
The meek are hauling their skins into heaven.
The hopeless are suffering the cold with those who have nothing to
hide.
It is over and nobody knows you.
There is starlight drifting on the black water.
There are stones in the sea no one has seen.
There is a shore and people are waiting.
And nothing comes back.
Because it is over.
Because there is silence instead of a name.
Because it is winter and the new year.” + Mark Strand