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12.16.2012

HE DIED IN HIS APARTMENT, NOT FOUND FOR DAYS


St. Anthony, patron saint of lost souls.
He was that guy. The weird guy on the second floor of my apartment building. In his 50s or 60s, hard to tell, bent over, his arms always held oddly a few inches away from his body, like a pigeon about to take flight. Shuffling the hallway in dirty sweats, socks, flip-flops. I’d pass him on my way down five flights of stairs.  He’d be sitting on the stairs, drinking beer out of a round Tupperware container, smoking a cigarette. Damn, I’d think, and call the landlord, indignant. More “No Smoking” signs were hung, up high out of the reach of graffiti and angry pens. But no matter, every few days the smell of smoke wafted up the stairwell. I'd tell myself it was the price of having a rent-stabilized studio. I'd try to remember all of the great things about my place, my neighborhood. I soon stopped calling the landlord as annoyance faded into pity. 

Over the two-and-half years I've been living in my building, I started hearing rumors about the guy. He’d lived there for 33 years, enabled by rent control and a disability check. Once, he’d harassed a gay man who had lived in the building, leaving threatening Post-it notes on his front door. I decided upon a simple, yet self-protective modus operandi whenever I saw him: I said hi, half-smiled, and scurried away. 

We exchanged few words, and always random: once, he was reading a thick novel while he sat in usual his spot on the stairs, the Tupperware of beer close by. He looked up at me and said, “Did you know surgery was invented in the war? That’s right, on the field they had to learn how to operate on wounded soldiers.” “Really?” I said, “that makes sense.” Another time, I had my dog as well as my neighbor’s dog in tow. “They multiplied,” he said, expressionless. “Um, yeah!” I’d say, in that forced-cheerful tone, “Have a good one!” 

A few months ago, he posted in the lobby a meticulously hand-written list of items for sale. It went something like this:
            4 UNICYCLES good cond.
            5 BICYCLE INNER TUBES
            1 TRUMPET
            1 OBOE
            2 CLARINETS
            3 RECORD PLAYERS
3 TOASTERS
5 TEN SPEED BICYCLES need repair
1 SNOW SHOVEL
1 AQUARIUM
LOTS OF BOOKS AND RECORDS
Later, when someone—probably the cleaning crew--had taken it down, he reposted the list, with a note added on top: IF YOU TOUCH THIS YOU DESERVE TO DIE PIECE OF SHIT HAVE SOME RESPECT FOR PROPERTY ITS U.S. of A LAW CODE 11.89123.1. 

More recently, a few Dilbert cartoon clippings from 1994 were pasted to the elevator wall next to the buttons. I thought it might be his doing, though I can't be sure. It was as if someone was communicating in code. 

This past Tuesday, a neighbor I'm friendly with called me at work. The guy had died inside his apartment. No one had known he was missing until people noticed an awful smell. Tuesday morning, police and firemen and EMTs flooded our building. He had been dead for three, four days. ODd on heroin. The fellow who lives below him, a kid in his 20s, said blood seeped through the ceiling, for reasons no one's yet confirmed. The photo on his cell phone is out of a horror movie, red dripping down a wall. He was the first to call the super. Some neighbors hadn't known the dead man's name. A few folks who’ve been in the building for decades said he’d once been a teacher, accomplished jazz musician, a decent guy. One warm-hearted woman from my floor said he’d been trying to redeem himself in the past year, was funny and kind to her 4-year-old. Someone else said, maybe now he’s in a better place. 

His name was Mike. 



10.07.2012

MUSINGS ON "JONAH" AND OTHER POEMS BY TOMAZ SALAMUN

Jonah
how does the sun set?
like snow
what color is the sea?
large
Jonah are you salty?
I’m salty
Jonah are you a flag?
I’m a flag
the fireflies rest now
what are stones like?
green
how do little dogs play?
like flowers
Jonah are you a fish?
I’m a fish
Jonah are you a sea urchin?
I’m a sea urchin
listen to the flow
Jonah is the roe running through the woods
Jonah is the mountain breathing
Jonah is all the houses
have you ever heard such a rainbow?
what is the dew like?
are you asleep?




I first read Tomaz Salamun in graduate school at UNC Greensboro. My favorite writers then were Robert Hass, Raymond Carver, Milan Kundera, Vladimir Nabokov, the dead Russians; I was easily influenced by what my teachers taught and my friends liked. One day, a fellow student, frustrated with our workshop's narrative, predictable, linear, very 90s poems (it was the early 90s, after all) brought in a pile of poems that included Salamun's "I Have a Horse" and "History":

Tomaz Salamun is a monster.
Tomaz Salamun is a sphere rushing through the air.
He lies down in twilight, he swims in twilight.
People and I, we both look at him amazed, 
we wish him well, maybe he is a comet.
Maybe he is punishment from the gods,
the boundary stone of the world.
Maybe he is such a speck in the universe
that he will give energy to the planet
when oil, steel, and food run short.
He might only be a hump, his head
should be taken off like a spider's.
But something would then suck up
Tomaz Salamun, possibly the head.
Possibly he should be pressed between
glass, his photo should be taken.
He should be put in formaldehyde, so children
would look at him as they do foetuses,
protei, and mermaids.
Next year, he'll probably be in Hawaii
or in Ljubljana. Doorkeepers will scalp
tickets. People walk barefoot
to the university there. The waves can be
a hundred feet high. The city is fantastic,
shot through with people on the make,
the wind is mild.
But in Ljubljana people say: look!
This is Tomaz Salamun, he went to the store
with his wife Marushka to buy some milk.
He will drink it and this is history.

I was in love. I had that Emily-Dickinson-quote feeling, the top of my head coming off: “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?

"History and "I Have a Horse" I think are better poems than the first one here, "Jonah." But somehow Jonah became one of my favorite poems, part of my blood and bone. It felt familiar and strange, its simplicity and tender voice refreshingly transparent, earnest, sweet, at a time I was trying to wrap my mind around, say, Jorie Graham's poems, or prying my eyes open through a 18th-century British literature class (the mention of "Clarissa" is like Ambien to this day). In an Irish literature class I was gulping down quantities of Yeats and yet remained stubbornly attached to his early sentimental pieces, "He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven" and "When You Are Old and Grey." They reminded me of the very first literary poem I remember loving, Wordsworth's "Daffodils." I didn't understand the complexities of Irish history, didn't care for Yeats's creepy seances and communing with afterlife, just as, I confess, I'm still shaky on the Eastern European history informing Salumun's poems. Being versed in the historical contexts of these writers' lives would only deepen my appreciation for their poems, but I don't think the poets would disapprove of my limited knowledge of politics. The language alone offers abundant beauty and lasting resonance. 

I remember running to the Poets House in the mid 90s for a reading by Salamun, that feverish feeling of anticipation, the thrill of hearing the word live. I've kept the poster for that reading the way a Deadhead would keep a bumper sticker of dancing bears. The poster is in a box of keepsakes in my closet, along with ticket stubs for Pavement and Yo la Tengo, a map of Greensboro, xeroxes of poems, dog-eared and coffee-stained. Ah, grad school.
 
Katherine Mansfield said, “To be alive and to be a writer is enough.” To be a reader--a close second indeed. Tomaz Salalmun reads on Friday, October 12, 5pm at NYU Creative Writing Program.


9.15.2012

BEING BIRACIAL


I’ve been asked to submit some poems and an essay to an anthology of poetry by biracial writers. The “poems” part is easy, but I’ve been stewing over the "prose piece between 200 and 2000 words. It can take the form of a brief biography, an anecdote, or a full-fledged essay. We only ask that it be relevant to the experience of biraciality."  

I’ve competed in two bicycle races, therefore I am biracial? Twice a week I slather on my mudmask--love my bifacials? I watched a rerun of the series finale of “Friends” last night: bye Rachel?


I suppose the editor is referring to my ethnicity, my Caucasian father and my Japanese (Mongolian, technically) mother. My father was, by all appearances, a white dude. So white, he was pink-cheeked, pink-nosed. He had blond hair and blue eyes. He was also adopted as a baby in a Chicago hospital. I never heard a word about his biological mother--I imagined a knocked-up Irish Catholic girl--so in fact, my father might be of mixed race himself. My essay could end here. But questions about my father’s actual lineage aside, what’s more important than DNA is that I’m perceived as biracial. “I have a Caucasian father and Japanese mother” I tell people who ask. Actually, that’s a lie. I say American father—Caucasian sounds too clinical--and people get it. 

Talking about race is like asking how gravity works, why aren’t we floating and bumping around like multicolored balloons? We say, re: gravity working, It just does, so that we can attend to more immediate matters, like what’s for dinner or the traffic light turning red or is that good-looking guy straight. 

Maybe what's meant by "the experience of biraciality" is: “What is it like to not be 100% white in America?”  

I was bullied by Japanese kids as a child growing up in Japan (my hair was too light, my eyes too roundish), so for a moment I thought I was white. But then I was bullied through elementary, middle, and high school in Ohio (I was Chinawoman, I was greasy-haired chink). Biracial means, to me, not being asked to a single prom or homecoming dance. It means spending my teenage years living vicariously through Molly Ringwald in John Hughes movies. It means vowing to dye my hair blond, wear colored contacts, and find the best damn mascara in the world to camouflage my slanted eyes. It means, in college, reading about the demographic breakdown of my class and realizing that I AM the ".002% Asian American Students from Ohio." 

Just a few years ago, a woman asked me my name. I said "April." She said, "Angel?" I said "APRIL." And she said, "Eggroll?" I was too flabbergasted to reply. I should have said, "What is this, free association? You must be 'Bad Perm White Lady'." 

As a poet, there seems little left to say about being harassed. Childhood is traumatic. Kids are mean. Adults are mean. You're ejected from the safety of the womb and it’s all sticks and stones from there. So what? 

Maybe the best poetry about being called chink isn’t in words, but in actions. I fight a little harder for the underdog because I am one. About five years ago, on a D.C. bus, I watched a black guy harass an Indian woman, perhaps a university student, from the looks of her heavy backpack. He looked like he might be a vagrant; it was a battle for power, the bullied kid setting fire to a kitten. Where you from he said. You from India. You seen the Namesake. Go back home. The girl sat still, her mouth shut, her eyes looking straight ahead. I walked/lurched up to the front of the bus and told the driver. He actually pulled over and stopped the bus. As I took my seat again, the driver stood up and faced us. "Don’t be making trouble on my bus or you will walk. You hear me? You will get off my bus and walk." I clapped my hands, I sat two feet from the giant bully of a man and cheered.             



7.20.2012

"little plum": erasure poems


These erasures are from two facing pages of Little Plum, a young adult book published by Rumer Godden in 1962.
                                    messages

         happen.
               Miss Flower’s bowls and tea
                           happen.

teas sets,
cups,       bowls.


                           (a Japanese
                 teapot.)

 “Japanese people seem to have tea with
everything – green tea – I can make that
with paint water.”

                                       (shiny black
                                         lacquer
                            bowls.)

II.

                           dolls are used to having
dollhouse food   
             the size of half your little fingernail.

                    each bowl held rice,

                                      fish as small as ants,

                 silver in        red sauce     (Japanese
people are very fond fish
  vegetable,
                          cake,
                sugar.         There were chop-
sticks made from pine needles.

                                     the tea was hot.   
                the teapot    

looked                                      real.   

6.12.2012

War Hero

My Great-Grandfather
My great-grandfather, Naoyuki Kuzume, was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Pacific War. Growing up, I know just this: his name is in Japanese history books. He fought an important battle. He committed suicide upon defeat.
   In my child’s mind, I picture seppuku, ritual suicide by sword, an image later colored by reading Mishima in my college Japanese lit class. I see a faceless soldier on his knees. I see little else, no cave wall nor jungle terrain, no humidity nor heat, no sun nor moon. He is a sentence in a book I can’t read; he is the sound of pride in my mother’s voice.
    In graduate school, I begin asking questions. I Google his name. I buy and study a book about his last battle on the island of Biak, New Guinea. The book is self-published by the author, the verity of details murky. Some likely facts: he is the leader of approximately 11,000 Japanese soldiers occupying the island, valuable for its airfields (a refueling stop on the flight between warring countries). The Japanese general has recently restrategized in the Pacific-- reduced its defense perimeter and essentially abandoned its troops in New Guinea.

US Army Sgt John P. Gallagher-
South Pacific- WWII- Island of Biak 1945
http://www.ww2incolor.com/us-army/Sgt.html
   MacArthur heads up the mission to overtake Biak, a mission known as Operation Hurricane, May 27, 1944-July 22, 1944.
    “’The light enemy resistance at the beachhead held little hint of what was to come’, recalled MacArthur. Lieutenant Colonel Naoyuki Kuzume put up a fierce defense that included tanks, which was rare for Japanese troops in this theater of the Pacific War. Kuzume utilized his knowledge of the island's topography and devised a brilliant defense plan that fully utilized the terrain...
    It was the first time Japanese troops effectively used caves as defensive strongholds. Before this point, Japanese troops defended the islands at the beach; when all was lost, surviving troops formed a banzai charge, and the battle was over. After the battle, the Japanese began to include caves as an option, which dramatically increased American casualty rates during operations to secure the subsequent islands...
   His effective defense even rendered the airfields, newly captured by the Allies, useless. On 28 Jun, Kuzume's command post, located in one of the numerous caves, was breached. He committed ritual suicide."
    Most of us are descendants of soldiers, survivors, war heroes. Facts can be researched, stories recorded, but the question I struggle with now is: How do I feel? As I read war narratives--while drinking my iced coffee in a Park Slope cafe--I feel proud. Wait. Proud?--though he was partly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers? Proud of his intelligence? Proud of his sense of honor and duty?
     I also feel profoundly sad. Heatstroke, skin ulcers, malaria--there were many more dangers than gunfire. The troops had few rations (supply routes cut off by American military) and survived on potatoes in the dark passages of caves they’d tunneled into. One reseacher even suggests there was evidence of cannibalism in the caves.
    Did they know they wouldn’t escape?
    Is such suffering lightened, transformed when undertaken for love of country and emperor worshiped as god?
   Last night, instead of working on this blog, I watched "Duets" on Hulu. Life as a writer is a series of confrontations and evasions, attack and retreat, even though no one is forcing me look back, to ask questions such as: where is the body?
    I turn up the volume on the TV. 

   

4.29.2012

Happy Grandparents' Day, Grandpa David!

April 27 was my father's birthday. He would have been 74. The day also happened to be Grandparents' Day at my niece's preschool. I talked to my niece Izumi, who is four, on the phone yesterday:
    "Hi!"
    "Hi! I'm Izumi!"
    "Yes, hi! I'm April! I miss you!"
    "I miss you too!"
    "I heard yesterday was Grandparents' Day at school. What did you do?"
    Silence. My sister, in background: "Remember, you had lunch in the gym with Reiko baa-chan?"
    "Oh. Yeah! We ate lunch! in the gym!"
   I spoke to my sister, who worries about how to explain Grandpa David's passing to Izumi: if my sister were to say Grandpa David "got sick," would Izumi become frightened every time someone sneezed? I realized that as the family storyteller, I could take it upon myself to explain her Grandpa's life and death in a sensitive, yet meaningful way:

Dear Izumi,

On April 27, 1950-something, your Grandpa David was born in a Chicago hospital on a cold, windy day. Grandpa David was special from the very beginning. His birth mother loved him soooo much, she wanted to give him a happier home than she could. So one day, when the stork dropped him off on her doorstep, she wrapped him in swaddling and took him to the nearest hospital. There, from a row of gleaming white baskets filled with little pink babies,  Great Grandpa and Grandma picked him out, adopted him, and brought him home. They were so happy! He was their little angel.
     As he grew older, his blue eyes remained blue and his blond hair remained blond, suggesting an Irish-Catholic background, though only God really knows.
    Grandpa David was a mischievous, bright, handsome boy. He went to high school in Euclid, Ohio, where he was a four-time track and cross-country champion, just like your mom.
    When he was 18 years old, on New Year's Eve, he ran away from home and enlisted in the army. He almost wound up stationed with Elvis Presley, but Elvis had a movie to make and was sent off to Hawaii. Too bad. Grandpa David did some stuff in the army and traveled to Japan, where he fell in love with the country and its traditional, yet modern ways. He returned to the U.S. and attended Ohio State University, where he studied to be a creative writer. When he realized that the writing life was totally depressing and futile, he went back to Japan, met Reiko baa-chan, and got married. A Japanese-American stork dropped off your mom and me as little babies on their doorstep, and he spent the next 17 years working and raising a family.
   One day, when he was an older man, he was struck by a serious illness. An illness so rare you should think about it again, because it will never come up, I promise. He went to the hospital, fell asleep and never woke.
      Why? Sometimes that just happens to people, and we don't know why.
     The good news is, now Grandpa David is in Grandpa Heaven, which is right next to Doggie heaven, where dogs frolic amongts giant slabs of bacon and tennis balls all day long. Grandpa heaven is a giant living room strewn about with Laz-y Boys equipped with cup holders. Each Grandpa has his own TV screen that shows Superbowl games and James Bond movies 24/7. The best thing about Grandpa heaven is that they have strict visiting hours for Grandmas coming over from Grandma heaven. They can only nag their husbands on weekdays from 1pm-2pm.
    Yes, Grandpa heaven is a very happy place.
    The only problem is that children are not allowed there. But if you have a message for him, all you have to do is say it aloud, and he will hear you. You might not hear a reply right away, but if you really listen, you might hear a little voice that sounds like a rustle of leaves or whoosh of wind through the window screens: "Love ya, sweet cheeks. Sorry I missed Grandparents' Day."






4.15.2012

confessions of a Luddite

I still have a flip phone--a banged-up but 100% operable, slick Sony Ericsson. When I left my cell phone charger at the Super 8 in Wooster, Ohio, last December, I couldn't buy a replacement charger at any store in NYC. The clerks at two Radio Shacks laughed; the salespeople at two T-Mobile stores stared as if I were speaking in the grown-ups' language of a Charlie Brown TV special. (Mwah-mwah, flip phone, mwahm wahma?)  Best Buy was a beacon of hope: the label on an antique cell charger promised to work with my phone. It didn't. But the Best Buy guy told me I could just buy one on E-Bay for 99 cents, duh, which I did.
    Homeless people have better phones than I do. Some of them also have MP3 players and portable DVD players, neither of which I have ever owned. 
    Correction: I owned a Nano for two of weeks. A well-meaning guy I was dating gave me his semi-operable Nano for Valentine's Day (he had a new one). You couldn't forward or rewind, but you could poke "play" and hear some dance beats. He asked for it back after we broke up. I lose umbrellas, gloves, hats, scarves and sunglasses on subways as quickly as boyfriends, so I've never invested in music gadgets since my COBY CD player broke around 2001. Needless to say, I do not own a Kindle.
   I'm terrified of the day my phone dies, when I will have to face again the option to upgrade to the new century. Despite my Amish-like ways, I'm a loyal Apple devotee. I love my Mac laptop. I have a crush on i-phones and i-tablets. But I shudder at the thought of being reachable 24/7, of being tempted to check work email or update my status or snap photos of the Jesus silhouette on my French toast or Google the Moore-Willis daughters at any given moment. I like to uni-task. I try not to text and walk at the same time. If I'm texting, how I can be fully attentive to my surroundings? How will I notice the pattern of clouds above or the scent of lilacs and dogwoods in bloom as I pass by? How will I have uninterrupted expanses of time to reflect, meditate, daydream? 
   Whenever I obsess about the evils of new technology and its devastation of attention spans, I think of Keats reclined in the tall grass and a nightingale close by singing. I imagine him listening, uninterrupted, still, enchanted, inspired. I can't picture him with a cell phone vibrating beside him, a Word window popping open on his tablet, a Facebook news stream updating him every millisecond with the status of his 999 "friends." He couldn't have tweeted an "Ode to a Nightingale" in 140 characters (although some scientific advances, like a TB vaccine, would have worked in his favor.) 
    One of the highlights of my weekend is turning off my phone, shutting down my laptop, and curling up on the couch for a nap. Mattie drowses at my feet, and it's so quiet I can hear us breathe.   
  

4.11.2012

not tonight dear, i'm watching law & order

The postcard project is a challenge: apparently, I have zero time each day to write. That's right, no time on the 45 minute subway ride to and from work. No time while watching Law and Order: Criminal Intent. No time during my lunch break at work, and certainly no time on weekends. The post office is extremely far away (next door), and I'm not sure they make postcard stamps anymore. I have a repetitive stress injury in my right shoulder. I'm getting a migraine almost daily, I ran out of pens and paper. I'm plum out of ideas. I'm not sure where mail drop-boxes are, or if snail mail even exists. My fingers are frozen. I'm a terrible writer. I quit.

Postcard #1, Revised

Every day is every day is every day.
I'm thinking of too much
at once. Of an hour lost in a station
where engines idled in the tracks,
where fume and perfume and goodbye
fought for air. Every day is night, every night
another morning. I've walked into this season,
this ocean before. I didn't know I was weary
until you asked. I won't speak of flowers
or weather, of which enough has been said.
I'll spend most of my life
softening into forgiveness. The task
has chosen me. A fortuneteller
once told me to listen
as a whale listens
for pitches too high, too low
for most ears to comprehend.
I'm swimming to the source.
I'm holding my breath.

Postcard #2
(Experiment: rewrite the poem backwards in couplets)

I'm holding
my breath.

I'm swimming
to the source.

A fortuneteller once told me
to listen

as a whale listens
for pitches too high,

too low
for most ears to comprehend.

The task has chosen
me. I'll spend most of my life

softening into forgiveness.

I won't speak of flowers

or weather: enough
has been said. I didn't know

I was weary
until you asked.


I've walked into this
season, this ocean

before. Every day is night,
every night

another morning,
an hour lost

in a train station.
I think of too much

at once. Every day
is every

day is
every day.

Postcard #3, draft #1
(Experiment: rewrite with "every day" as anaphora, using the same words in original)

Every day is a fortuneteller.
Every day is holding
its breath. Every day is flowers
or weather, morning or night.
Every day I’m softening
into forgiveness. Every day is a season,
an ocean I’ve walked into
before. Every day is another hour
lost in a station, fumes swimming
in the tracks. Every day I’m weary
of perfume. Every day I won’t speak,
won’t listen to the ocean’s pitches.
Every day is a whale
and I’m thinking of too much at once,
fighting for air.
Every day is a fortune, every day a task
that has chosen me.

Postcard #3
(Experiment: with scissors, cut the poem so each line is its own slip of paper. Rearrange.)

Every day is a fortuneteller.
    Every day is holding
        its breath. Every day is flowers

lost in a station, fumes swimming
    fighting for air.
        Every day is a fortune, every day a task

in the tracks. Every day I’m weary
    Every day is a whale
        or weather, morning or night.

Every day I’m softening
    into forgiveness. Every day is a season,
        and I’m thinking of too much at once

Every day is another hour
     that has chosen me.

Postcard #4
(experiment: use a new anaphora, rewrite with same words as original)

since a flower is a fortuneteller
since every morning is holding its breath
since every train station is another lost hour
since the weather is every softening
since in the tracks another flowering
since in every ocean, a whale fights for air
since goodbye is a perfume
since night is forgiveness
since listening is saying and saying is a flowering
since every day is at once
since choosing is a task
since you asked me to--

4.02.2012

Postcard #1 (April in April Poetry Month)

APRIL is poetry month. How lovely to have an entire month named after Me and my Profession. I'm participating in a poetry postcard project with fellow writers in Kundiman (an organization for Asian American poets). The challenge: through the entire month of April, write a new poem on a postcard every day and send it the next name on the list, flooding mailboxes with my genius verse. Mailmen will weep! Mountains will move! Hearts will throb with inspiration! Meanwhile, my own mailbox will be bursting with gorgeous lyric and sultry song. My mailman will finally believe that not only 1800-PET-MEDS and student loan companies are after me. Nay, I am sung to by Orpheus himself, by all the Muses and their daughters, by the most talented Asian-American bards of our time! (PS: You don't have to be a poet to do something everyday for a month. What will you do for 10 minutes every day to bring joy or change into your life?)

Postcard #1
Every day is every day is every day.
I'm thinking of too much
at once. Of an hour lost in a station
where engines idled in the tracks,
where fume and perfume and goodbye
fought for air. Every day is night, every night
another morning. I've walked into this season,
this ocean before. I didn't know I was weary
until you asked. I won't speak of flowers
or weather, of which enough has been said.
I'll spend most of my life
softening into forgiveness. The task
has chosen me. A fortuneteller
once told me to listen
as a whale listens
for pitches too high, too low
for most ears to comprehend.
I'm swimming to the source.
I'm holding my breath.

3.29.2012

writing & jealousy

Who's top banana? 
I know two perfect litmus tests for my spiritual condition at any given moment: 1. waiting in a long line at Duane Reade, and 2. hearing the good news of another writer.
    The line at Duane Reade is easier to manage. Say the line's snaking waaaayy back to the dental floss display, and you have nary a sightline to a cash register. You can huff loudly, mutter fuck it, and leave. No one will think you are evil. In fact, people may follow suit and decide to eat Chinese dumplings around the corner instead.
    But hearing about another writer's amazing accomplishment--juicy prize, cash award, plum teaching job at The Best University in the Universe--that's a different story. If you happened to glimpse this news along with 97 thumbs-up on Facebook, you can't walk out of the Facebook store. You can't un-read it. In that split-second, you've waited a half hour in line, overheard a loud cell conversation, witnessed a toddler tantrum, been rung up by an apathetic cashier, and argued about how the sign said 2 for $6 so why are you being charged $9.99?! and ruined a perfectly decent mood.
    What to do? You can swear off the Book of Face. Or you can bitch to another writer about how so-and-so got the watchamallcallit and won the thingamajig. Only another writer will do, because no one else will know what you're talking about, because no one else reads poetry.
     Or, in a case of mixed metaphors, you can shake it off like a dog shakes off water after a bath. That's right, let that bad vibe shimmy down your spine. Wiggle and flick. Regain your bearings. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in humility, breathe out ego. Breathe in gladness, breathe out. Breathe in gratitude, breathe out.
    There now.
    Shoulders down. Chin up. Look the world in the eye, brave writer. Say: Congratulations, my friend. Well done.