You may be middle-aged if your first thought after the Jack White concert at Anthem last night was, “Boy, that was loud!” And also, if you missed parts of the concert because you were overly distracted by the throbbing of your middle-aged feet, which are no longer used to standing for four hours straight while a weird and also weirdly attractive man takes his time showing up to the stage upon which entrance he decides reverb is the night’s key ingredient. Oh yes, and you also have to stop yourself from yelling at the supremely tall people who keep stepping in front of you, “Get off my lawn you damned kids!” and you blithely drop questions like, “Why don’t people say ‘excuse me’ when they push by you anymore?
On the other hand, there is the sublime moment during “Seven Nation Army” when the whole crowd is singing and swaying as one and it really is one of the most beautiful things you’ve ever seen. And there is also getting out of bed this morning and peering pensively down at your ankles to discover no they are not swollen and red beyond imagining because you wore your life-changing and blessed (except when they’re not) compression socks.
I should also add that my date for my evening was my dear friend MM who is always conjuring ways for us to meet again and I suspect she has no idea how precious it is to me to feel so wanted. It’s not that I go around feeling terribly unwanted anymore, but the little girl in me is still somewhat amazed (and at times mystified) that people will actually scheme, plan, and some other word that means “to scheme” or “to plan” to hang out with me.
MM also has a great capacity for listening to me talk about yesteryear as I seemed to spend a great deal of time—in between the throbbing—remembering the girl that used to arrive at concerts hours early so she could push her way to the front of the stage (How else was I supposed to get a good look at Keanu Reeves when he toured with Dogstar?) as the only proper behavior at such things was to gaze lovingly and longingly up at said stage and the people on it while simultaneously wrecking one’s eardrums by putting them square in the flight path of the speakers.
Which is not to say I miss that girl or the way she always smelled of want and longing or the way she habitually launched her want and longing only at those who stood furthest away from the spot in which they might want and long for her in return. I don’t miss her (though I suspect we still smell, at times, faintly alike) but I do remember her fondly and I think she would have smiled at me to notice how enraptured I was during last night’s rendition of “Seven Nation Army” as I stood, again caught in the spell of some magical mystery musical bluesman.
I’ve gone to bed the last two nights totally in the buff. Which is a huge deal for me since I prefer to be clad in pjs from head to toe. I tried a couple of times during past summers to sleep in just my panties, and I didn’t like it. I felt too exposed, too vulnerable. Though I was covered with a sheet. Though the shades were firmly drawn. Though I sleep alone. So I’m trying to get more comfortable with being vulnerable in safe spaces. Like in my bedroom. Where I sleep with the bedroom door firmly closed. Though I live alone and rarely have houseguests. Sleeping in the nude is uncomfortable. Physically so sometimes when I can feel my thighs rubbing together during the night. Or my flesh gets caught in a way when I twist and turn that it doesn’t when I’m clothed and have a barrier. Emotionally and intellectually it’s uncomfortable because I can’t articulate quite what I’m trying to prove to myself, why it matters that I can comfortably sleep in the nude. Still, instinctively I know it’s something I should be working on. I think it has something to do with trust. I think it also has something to do with being comfortable in my own skin, not just when I’m in a great mood, but when I’m feeling vulnerable. It feels a little ridiculous that I have to practice exposure given what I sometimes admit to/reveal in these blogs. But there’s a way pen and paper, keyboard and screen protect my emotional skin the way pajamas protect my physical skin. Maybe I’m teaching myself—metaphorically—how to be comfortable with allowing myself to be vulnerable, face to face, skin to skin, flesh to flesh. Maybe it’s a sign of faith that I won’t always want to sleep alone.
Well, I changed the wallpaper on my Apple Watch to a photo of Chris Evans wearing a Captain America t-shirt and showing off his biceps so that’s something.
It’s been one of those days where I can’t quite make-up my mind what to do. Most of me wants to just sit on the couch and be. But another part of me thinks that since I have a day off I should do something. And so they go ahead fighting each other all day and the part of me that wants to just be wins by default, sort of.
Last night I started reading Will I Ever Be Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers. My sister’s therapist recommended it to her, and I’ve decided that it’s completely appropriate for me take her advice for me as well. I’m only a couple of chapters in, but as I was reading last night I could feel myself being shaken up. I was mindful of the part of me that felt utterly seen in what I was reading, and the part of me that kept saying, “Oh, it wasn’t that bad.” and “Oh, well, at least my mom doesn’t do that” as I read some of the stories from other women. I also found myself wondering about the effect of narcissistic fathers on their daughters, and also pondering the wisdom—given that I’m still in the middle of the book about my Dad—of messing with the wounds from my Mom.
And I also thought about the looks on friends’ faces when I let some less savory part of my youth slip out—like the fact that I tried very hard not to talk to my mother directly, because it was too terrifying, and instead if I had to ask her something that really mattered left her a note on the fridge and made sure I was asleep before she got home to read it. Or the fact that despite the fact that the drama club was my entire life in high school neither of my parents ever came to see the shows I worked on past maybe the first one. My friends always look uneasy when those things slip out, most likely because they are pained for me, though, of course, my daughter of narcissist parents self sees the looks on their faces as a reproach.
(I don’t know why it’s so much harder when I say those things out loud to people than when I write those hurts down in poems. I suppose the paper and ink are barriers of some sort even if lately the pain in the poems goes unmediated.)
And I’m thinking too now about the fact that I feeling restless and lazy at the same time—and that I’ve been feeling a sort of emotional numbness since I started writing again–are generally signs that something is ping ponging around in me just out of reach of my conscious mind, something that Will I Ever Be Enough? is bringing closer to the light. It’s like all the cracking and groaning that happens before a glacier calves an iceberg, which I’ll offer as a metaphor of another part of my authentic self being unfrozen and set free. Or so I’d like to believe. (BTW, I haven’t really thought this metaphor through so it’s unclear if the iceberg is the free part or if it’s the part of the glacier that’s exposed by the calving of the iceberg. I’ll get back to you.)
I’d like to end—as I sit here on the blue couch half listening to Death in Paradise and half watching the sun set—by giving a shout-out to my friend James R. You may have heard me talk about his brother, the actor Jonno who I met a couple of years ago through work. For some reason James decided he should be my Facebook friend as well, and I’m foever grateful. James doesn’t blog as much as he used to—he’s too busy saving the world through youth rugby—but this blog post he wrote today really moved me. It’s good to know that despite so much evidence to the contrary, there are men out there who are calling bullshit on toxic masculinity and instead choosing to be vulnerable and share their feelings, no matter how many dumb dad jokes they have to crack to get through it. He was just the reminder I needed that no matter how much pain we’re carrying around—physical or emotional—we can still live lives filled with love and laughter and Heinekens.
I fired up Josh Horowitz’s Happy Sad Confused (HSC) podcast with Dan Stevens on my way home and since then have sort of been wandering around my apartment making dinner (peanut butter toast), putting away the wares in the dishwasher, washing some other dishes, reading tweets by Chris Evans, updating my Twitter profile, browsing Joshua Jackson’s IMDB page, pondering if I want to rewatch Fringe since I never saw the whole run, and other assorted shenanigans while wearing my big blue wireless headphones and just loading up HSC episode after HSC episode, including—after Dan Stevens—Michael Shannon, the Russo Brothers (well, that was only half an episode, as I’d already heard the first half), and Joshua Jackson. (BTW, what I now know after all that listening is that I’d really like to get a drink with Dan Stevens and Michael Shannon–though not at the same time–and I desperately need to make out with Joshua Jackson.)
Sure, none of that sounds like writing but come on I just gave you one helluva near paragraph-long sentence so that’s gotta count for something.
After writing last night, I did actually make a title page for my manuscript–titled Falling Still, at least for now, and cut and paste a revised draft of the title poem into said manuscript, so progress is being made. I am, however, on deadline for a longer magazine piece at work so I will probably not work on the book again till this weekend, which is probably a-ok.
Listing the reasons for not working on the book yesterday, I neglected to add that late March through April was horribly busy at work with a lot of content to create for three events on top of my usual daily work. Despite the fact that I was writing my fanny off every day at work, I spent a great deal of time beating myself up for not working on the book at night though if anyone else had told me how busy they were I would have told them to give themselves a break. It’s interesting that though I know I have the tendency to be unnecessarily hard on myself, I still haven’t quite learned to recognize that behavior and nip it in the bud. I suppose all of life’s a learning curve, isn’t it?
Oh by the by, I probably won’t blog tomorrow because one of my dearest friends is going to be in town and I’ll be out to dinner with her and some of the gals. But we’ll see..
Til then, arriverderci!
I remembered today, for the first time in too long a time, that this year of the blog wasn’t supposed to be writing about the “big” things. I was actually supposed to be trying to capture what this year feels and smells and tastes like, which sometimes leads to writing about the “big” things, but is by no means requirement.
So with that firmly in mind, I’m going to fire this puppy up again as I’ve missed you all while I’ve been sitting here on the couch thinking big thoughts that I just haven’t wanted to share. I think because I had nothing definitive to say about them, and I still struggle with being fully comfortable amidst uncertainty.
The thing I’ve been thinking about the most is why my manuscript has been up on the wall for a few months now yet I’ve made no progress past putting the poems in an initial order. I’ve been doing poetry things–a few readings, working on a collaborative poem with Jen, buying poetry books and sometimes even reading them–but my own work has been on hold.
There’s no one answer why everything has come to a full stop, but a jumble of reasons. For probably the first time since I was a young poet, I’ve been experiencing major doubt about my work. Is it good enough? Who wants to read it? Blah blah blah. I’ve read some of the poems at readings and the audience response has shown me the work is good. Still I’ve been paralyzed about moving forward. It’s been occurring to me that the reason I’m afraid is because in many ways this project is a huge risk for me. I’m making myself vulnerable in a way I haven’t before. There is no coded language in this poem, nothing to hide the raw grief and rage behind. Which is what makes the poems powerful but also scares the poet shitless. Sigh.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about the fact that the writing of these poems is probably the longest time I’ve spent being close to my father, to having him be part of my life day and night. And once this project is finished, I will let go of that. It will be something like losing my father all over again which feels confusing as the poems are so much about never having held onto him in the first place. But grief and love are complicated and both seem to contradict themselves willy nilly.
At any rate, whatever the reason, it’s been more rewarding to indulge in my beloved crime dramas and historical romances than to move forward. But I suppose at some point, like tonight, I do actually have to move forward. Sigh. But as Pastor Clark preached yesterday, we need to get as far away from reluctance as we possibly can. It’s only by moving forward willingly, that both the grace and the joy come. So here I go…
Yesterday, one of the things Pastor Clark preached about was that we can always begin again. It was something I sorely needed to hear as I’ve gotten off track with so many things—prayer, reading my Bible, journaling, living a healthier lifestyle. At the end of service, there was an altar call for people who wanted prayer for beginning again. While he was praying for me, Pastor Clark reminded me that writing is a steadying force in my life. And while I know that with all of my heart, sometimes that knowing isn’t enough to get me out of bed an hour earlier so that I can write my morning pages (and pray and read my Bible) before I start my day. In fact, I’ve been so tired lately—perimenopause, winter, allergy season, work, take your pick—that I basically roll out of bed, jump in the shower, and head to the Metro. (For you literal types who abhor plot holes, yes, somewhere in there I do also get dressed, comb my hair, put on some make-up, and take my medication.) And it doesn’t help that I’ve been actively, albeit perhaps a bit unconsciously, trying to hide from my poems. But while I’m not sure I can manage mornings until this final stretch of April events is over at work, I can at least spend a few minutes writing on the blog each evening (well, except for Wednesday when I’ll be at work late for the Poetry Out Loud National Finals, which you should definitely watch live on arts.gov. I’m just saying…) So, here we go friends, I’m beginning again.
PS While I have your attention, here are some interesting things I’ve read lately…
According to Instagram, it’s been nearly a month since the book went up on the wall. And since then, I’ve barely glanced at it other than a quick glimpse or two at the additional poems I might add.
I feel stopped. I feel paralyzed. I feel like to move forward will take more effort than I’m capable of sustaining.
None of which is head-true. But it’s-heart true.
So I’ve been trying to figure out what’s going on.
My sister—the best cheerleader a gal could ask for—told me to prepare myself for this book to be big. Which I’m realizing now fills me with dread, the idea of people reading my book. Well, not people, my family. My dad’s family. I can’t quite shake the feeling that I’m doing something wrong by writing about my father this way, by writing about all the ways I was consistently hurt by him. I think it’s true that my father can both have been a nice man and a terrible father to me, but on the verge of that statement being true in a much larger world, I’m not so confident saying it.
When I was in grad school, I had many talks with the nonfiction writers—all of whom were writing about their families—about what to do when a family member bitterly disagreed with the point of view you were exploring in your writing. If I remember correctly, one writer almost lost what had a been a close relationship with her brother over essays she was writing about their childhood with alcoholic parents. At the time, I wasn’t writing about my father, I was writing about my mother when I wrote about family. And I didn’t see any possibility of any real relationship between us so I didn’t really think about being careful about her feelings. I would always say to my friends struggling with what to say and what not to say, “This is your story. I’m sorry if it hurts them, but it your story to tell.”
For this reason, as I’ve been writing these poems I’ve removed most traces of my siblings though my sister and one of my brothers were very much involved in my father’s illness and death, and as I share a mother with my sister, she was a first-hand witness to the destruction of our original nuclear family which some of the poems also cover. Still, as I could only know truly what I felt about my father and didn’t want to put either words or feelings in their mouth, and since I could tell the story I wanted without including them, as a writer I didn’t include them (though as a sister there’s no way to untwine them from that time in my life nor would I want to.)
And perhaps it’s because they have not been part of the writing of the poems, I haven’t really thought about the impact of not just one or two poems about my father but nearly 30 of them. That will hopefully be read by thousands. And read before thousands. And discussed by thousands. And while I have no problem exposing myself to strangers–in a literary sense, that is–it feels scarier to expose myself to family who might say, “You’ve gotten it wrong. He wasn’t like that at all. But you were the one who didn’t…”
I grew up as a kid who was constantly gaslighted by her parents. I still feel like I have a tenuous grip at the very best on what actually transpired in my childhood. Because of the continual gaslighting, because of the atmosphere of fear and anger, I spent a great deal of my childhood trying to somehow be un-present. And though I’m an adult now, that idea of not being believed is still the most terrifying thing I can think of. I am still terribly frightened of doing the wrong thing. And somehow I’ve gotten it in my head that putting this book out there is a kind of “wrong thing” and will open me up to another wave of not being believed, which won’t be any less painful even if I do—hopefully—have better coping mechanisms.
Even now I’m gaslighting myself, the voice inside of me taunting, “You’re making a big deal over nothing. Everything you’ve written about really wasn’t as painful as you’ve made it seem. Seriously, exaggerate much?”
I don’t really know how else to respond but to be in my current state of panic, which I’m hiding in prolonged weeks of overeating and binge watching TV. It is terrifying to see one’s flayed self stuck to a wall with blue masking tape. It is terrifying to know you have to keep moving forward on the path that will put the most vulnerable parts of you in the hands of those that may not be as kind, as understanding as you’d like.
There is, of course, nothing to do but move forward. In my saner moments, I know the work is good and, as I’m written before, necessary. I also know that it is my fear that is demonizing my family. Still I really don’t know when this panic will subside. I should write something heroic like, “So I’m going to get back to working on it tonight.” But, really, all I can promise is that I’m going to go take a shower and wash my compression socks and leave those pages stuck up on the wall, which, the fact that they’re up there at all, is at least, something.
Back when it was still March, I had planned to write about how I spent roughly 20 minutes standing in the autograph/selfie section of Awesome Con staring at middle-aged Tom Welling who’s a fine looking silver fox now that he’s given up his tights.
Instead, I got the usual spring cold/sinus infection thingie that’s had me stuck on the couch and swilling Mucinex and sacrificing all the toilet paper I can find to my overflowing nostrils since Monday afternoon. (Editors Note: Yes, I do have boxes of tissue but they’re alllll the way at the other side of the apartment. Sigh.)
Before April turns into May or some such foolishness, I did want to share with you a couple of things I figured out about myself, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say things that I finally articulated about myself, while at Awesome Con.
One was that I have to stop lying to myself about not knowing how to talk to people. This was absolutely true at one point. I am definitely an introvert with very little small talk game BUT I’m also someone who’s worked in Public Relations for more than a decade now and spends a great deal of my professional life interviewing people. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when I walked into a reception hosted by Smithsonian Magazine and X (Google’s “moonshot” division) and found myself happily chatting away with mechanical engineers and such about creativity and creating an environment where it’s safe to fail blah blah blah.
I know how to ask questions and get people talking, and while I can’t talk about specific principles around mechanical engineering, I certainly have thoughts on whether delivery drones are a good idea and about how to foster innovation in general. And I knew how to advise the newbie Slate writer I walked in with on how to find a story at a party at which you knew no one.
Yet, as I debated whether or not I should even go to the reception, the picture I had in my head was of the tongue-tied wallflower ill at ease in the corner wondering why she was in this place where she clearly didn’t belong. Turns out that picture is beyond outdated. And yes, sometimes I still stand by myself for a while at gatherings before I find someone to talk to, but I’m no longer uncomfortable with that solitude. It no longer saps my self-confidence. Now to work on updating my internal files so I always start from a place of remembering who I am, not who I used to be.
That being said, back at Awesome Con, I stood in line in the autograph are to try and talk to Cress Williams about getting an interview for my agency’s blog. My heart was pounding so hard that I thought it was going to fall out of my chest. And his gatekeeper dismissed me even as I handed him my card and explained that I didn’t want to pay for an autograph but I did want to ask for an interview for my outlet. Later that night I found myself wondering how I could have been so confident at the Google party, and yet so undone trying to talk to Cress Williams (who, by the way, is even more gorgeous than he appears onscreen. Yowza!)
I realized that my lack of confidence was because I didn’t know the rules. If one has a press pass at Awesome Con, you’re cautioned to the nth degree about not trying to use that pass to cut others in line or gain any special favor. There are also rules for every Con-goer about what you can do when you’re in the special autograph/selfie area (no cell phone pics you haven’t paid for, etc.) I was terrified that by trying to ask for an interview in person I was somehow going to violate the rules and get thrown out, with violating the rules—particularly if I don’t know them—still being one of the worst things I can do in terms of my childhood triggers. So that’s an area to work on. I don’t want to become an out and out rulebreaker, but I do want to not feel so triggered when I don’t definitively know the particular rules of a situation that I’m inhibited to my detriment.
I’m feeling a little bothered by the fact that yesterday when I was putting the poems from my manuscript on the wall, I was already scheming to take a photo to put up on Instagram. This is not a “social media” is bad situation. I think social media is a tool and, like any tool, it can be used for good or for evil.
What really bothered me is that it was a physical manifestation of my need to be seen, which is not a bad thing in and of itself; everyone deserves to be seen. But having had a childhood where my parents never took the time to see me, that need to be seen doesn’t feel like a normal human reaction to me (which intellectually I know it is). It always feels like a wound (which it also is).
I have obviously based my career as a poet on displaying my wounds to anyone who’ll look. But still, when that exposure is not quite intentional, when it feels like a reaction to something that happened long long ago rather than a decisive action, I feel what I guess is shame, or something close to it. I feel like I’ve lost control, which is another thing I dread. I also feel like I’m doing something wrong as a poet by letting you into the early part of the process. Maybe I feel like I’m jinxing it. Or maybe it feels like hubris: who am I to brag about the book I’m writing like anyone really cares?
And perhaps that’s what I’m really fighting. That leftover-from-childhood voice that’s screaming its head off: You don’t matter! Nothing you do matters! No one cares! Stop trying so hard to make everyone care cause they just won’t! You’re not worth caring about!
And yes, I do know that that voice is an asshole. And I also know it’s dead wrong.
And so I’m going to keep listening to Josh Groban’s “Symphony” and start some preliminary work gathering poems for the next collection while I give the Dad poems some time to rest and breathe before I look at them again. And yes, I’m going to prove that damned voice wrong.
This book of poems I’m working on is breaking my fucking heart.
There’s really no other way to say it. I’m at the stage where I’m taping it all to the wall as I arrange the pages into sections (cause Katy Day was right about that!). I know I wrote the poems. I know I know what’s in them. But to see all of that rage and grief all in one place is overwhelming. And I’m also realizing how much I miss my father. Our relationship status has always been, “It’s complicated,” but I miss talking to him about what we’re watching on TV. I miss sitting at his kitchen table and listening as he holds forth on whatever’s on his mind. To read these poems over and over again as I find their right spot in the book is a little like losing him over and over again, which I suppose is how it was in our actual lives together.
I’m also listening to Josh Groban’s new song “Symphony.” Though it’s a romantic love song, it seems to resonate with what I’m feeling and thinking about my father right now.
“I’m staring at the empty page trying to write the things I didn’t say to you.”
“You deserve a symphony.”
“I need to know you feel me with you even when I’m gone.”
I had planned to write something different to you today. I was going to write about the panel discussion I was part of the other night at Forum Theater after a performance of Nat Turner in Jerusalem (which you need to go see!) The other panelists included someone from Black Lives Matter DC, a reverend who works in urban ministries, and a woman who works in the arts in prisons. We were asked what justice looks like for us in our work. I wasn’t sure what to answer. I am certainly concerned with the issues of the day but they don’t often show up in my arts practice. Eventually I said that for me, justice looked like everyone having a voice and like everyone feeling seen.
And that’s why I need to keep slogging through this book though it keeps breaking my heart over and over again. Someone needs me to articulate my complicated grief because they’re desperate to see their own. So on I go…