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Letter from My 48th Year (Mar 13)

In the interest of total and complete honesty, please know that I’d much rather be finishing the last pages of Lisa Kleypas’ Midnight Angel than writing right now. In an alternate scenario, I’d like to binge-watch two episodes of Murdoch Mysteries instead of writing right now. Are you sensing a trend?

All I want to do is read and watch TV. I don’t want to do laundry. I don’t want to eat healthy meals. I don’t want to do my taxes. I don’t want to set up a grocery delivery for this weekend.  I don’t want to write this blog.

When I was a child, books and sleep were the only way I could escape from the fear and anxiety that plagued my home life. I generally went to “take a nap” an hour or so before my mother arrived home, hoping that by the time I woke up a couple hours later she’d have sealed herself in her room for the night. The rest of the time I lay in bed or whatever safe spot I could find reading, occasionally age-appropriate literature like the Mary Popppins series or the Little Women series, but generally completely inappropriate literature like the endless stream of Harlequin romances I borrowed from one of my aunt’s friends, Victoria Holt novels, and all of Mario Puzo.

Decades later, in grad school, when starting to write about my difficult relationship with my parents, I escaped again—this time to TV. When I didn’t have to be on campus or I didn’t have homework due, I’d spend hours and hours unable to do anything other than stare at the TV.  I don’t remember in particular what I watched, but we had cable so I’m sure it was a frenzied assortment of high and low brow movies and whatever TV shows were popular in the early to mid-oughts.  With the help of conversations with assorted friends and after fantasizing a few too many times about throwing myself down the stairs at the place I was working for the summer, I went to see the on-campus psychiatrist who informed me I had “depressive disorder, unspecified.” She put me on Zoloft, which helped me bear the pain of baring myself on the page and helped me to live a life apart from copious doses of screen time.

I’m no longer on Zoloft, and I’m no longer depressed, though, like everyone, I do need a good wallow every now and then. There is something going on with me right now, but I can’t tell you what it is. Not because I don’t want to, but because I simply don’t know. I suspect there’s something I’m processing at the deepest levels—possibly because I’m at the culmination of all the poems about my father, possibly because of the anxiety-ridden zeitgeist we’re all feeling, possibly because my hormones have turned into assholes—and it will reveal itself to me when it’s good and ready. In four pages of journaling, or a new and unexpected poem, or it will just fall out of me during a friendly conversation. Till, then, excuse me, I have some literary kissy face to eavesdrop on.

Letter from My 48th Year (Feb 19)

So I need either a better filing system or a better memory because today’s been about finding poems I’d forgotten I’d written. Sigh.

I’ve also turned my attention back to the book about my Dad, or about me and my Dad, or about the uselessness of language in the face of grief, or probably some other theme I can’t currently see.

I’m sooooo close to the end, and by “end” of course I mean only the end of writing enough poems, which is the beginning of figuring out how to put them all into order in a way that makes sense, which I suspect will be quite tricky given how narrow the subject matter is.

I read a a handful of the Dad poems last night and they seemed to land, and out loud they didn’t seem like too much, so that’s good. (By too much, I mean that it wasn’t so much sadness heaped upon sadness that people started sobbing so loudly that I couldn’t continue, though maybe I wouldn’t have minded that?)

When this book goes out in the world, I wonder whose voice my readers will hear in their head? If they’re lucky, maybe it will be Armie Hammer, though I suppose that would be odd since it’s a book from a daughter’s perspective, but honestly, I’d be okay with my work in his mouth.

But seriously, who would you want to hear read the audiobook (do books of poetry even become audio books, is that a thing)? I wouldn’t want it to be me only because I don’t like listening to myself. I mean I like that so many people have actually watched the video from last night’s reading, but I listened to the song at the beginning (which I started too high on, sigh…) and then couldn’t get myself to listen to any more.

I didn’t mind listening to myself over the microphone last night mostly because I read so differently than what I’d rehearsed at home that it was like hearing the whole thing for the first time. I forget sometimes that I’ve been performing in some way or the other since I was a kid, and I really do come alive in a different way when there’s an audience. I forget that I have stage presence.

I’ve been thinking about how it’s a sin (don’t worry, venial not mortal) to forget who we are, to not see what our particular superpower is and walk in it. Because we’re scared, or some other reason that ultimately boils down to fear. (Fear is the one human constant, don’t you think?) It’s hard to embrace the spotlight of our own authority but we must if we’re to do what it is we’re put on this earth to do.

My particular superpower right now is resisting the siren call of the TV, and instead typing up this definition poem I just found hiding in the back of a file cabinet. It will (maybe) make up for the poems I mercilessly slaughtered today to put them out of their misery, that is, if it escapes the merciless guillotine itself. Good luck poem, good luck!

Letter From My 48th Year (Feb 8)

Last night while I was taking my make-up off, it occurred to me that I was so obsessed with Call Me By Your Name—I mean I’ve seen the movie and will probably buy it, I’ve read the novel, I’ve listened to the soundtrack countless times on Spotify and just bought it, and now I’m listening to the audiobook, in case you were wondering what I mean by “obsessed—that I should write an essay about it. I started pondering it again in my journal this morning: “… that’s what people do. They take that thing that keeps hanging about and investigate it on paper. But one needs a great deal of courage for that and it’s unclear if I actually have coraggio!”

(Says the woman who’s been obsessively writing poems about her dead father.)

I, of course, then quickly changed the subject.

Then out fell this:

I am scared of writing an essay about Call Me By Your Name because I’m scared of being wrong about it. I’m scared of missing some essential point. I’m scared of making a mistake.

It is somewhat frustrating that I don’t trust my own voice. One wonders how I have ever written poems and sent them out into the world. But I’m realizing now that because I’m a confessional poet and I am intimately acquainted with myself (or at least getting that way), I can’t actually get it wrong [in my poems]. There’s no one to say that my truth is flawed. Well, people can say it, but i feel an authority when dissecting myself. It’s when I think about weighing in on something in the public realm that I get shaky.

I’m realizing it’s why I don’t write more current event poems. I don’t want to be called out for having the wrong POV or missing some crucial fact. I don’t feel the same way in conversation, just if I commit things to paper, possibly because I’m reportedly an expert on putting things on paper.

Or maybe it’s as simple as that kind of writing somehow feels the same as doing my homework as a kid, in the sense that it relied on knowing “outside’ information. And deep in my subconscious, unless I’m in a state of flow (which takes more laboring toward if I’m writing prose), there’s my mom being relentlessly unforgiving if I make a mistake.

Mistakes are a sign of sloppiness not of the act of learning. Erasures on the page of homework are unacceptable; you must throw everything out and start again. Erasures earn scorn even if you have indeed arrived at the right answer.

Today, still, with near everything except maybe the poetry, making mistakes just cost me too much. I have to restack the bricks of my self-esteem. Yes, I keep coming back to: how can you move forward as an artist without risk, without discomfort? You can’t always depend on your subconscious taking over and bulldozing you through whatever it is you have to say.

I am also realizing as I write this that walking around like an exposed nerve when I’m knee deep in the poetry is not just about being vulnerable to the feelings I’m experiencing by examining my wounds and scars. I am also vulnerable because of the act of committing those things to paper. I’m showing you my homework.

PS Not sure what the next steps are but it’s time to start making some. To more fully commit. Stay tuned. (Stay tuned?)






Open Letter to Marc Maron, Day 29 (on the uses of idleness)

Speaking of being overweight (I knew we’d get back here eventually…)

If anyone asks what I’ve been doing over the long weekend, I will say nothing. Whether or no I’m lying will depend on your perspective. There is still just as much laundry to wash as there was when the weekend started. There are no more groceries in the fridge. I have put away 5 letters that were on the coffee table, but the table is still undusted and covered with things to file. And I have added more clutter to the piles on the kitchen table rather than sorted any of the existing clutter back to where it belongs. That is one perspective.

As I was stepping out of the shower, which I took about 5pm because I couldn’t remember if I had showered yesterday or the day before (showers I assign to that part of life Virginia Woolf calls moments of “nonbeing,” they exist but are not worthy of memory). I thought to myself, “Oh, but God doesn’t leave you empty-handed. He doesn’t take anything away if he’s not planning to give you something else.” I was thinking about my period and how for roughly 35 years I’d bled away about 12 possible children a year and though I’m still bleeding that space between the door of my fertility being open and the door being shut is less than a sliver. And then I thought, but what has been made possible—not just for me, but for others—because I haven’t had children? And then I remembered the thing about God not leaving us empty-handed, about God being not a God of lack, but of abundance, so I don’t not have children, I have something else (freedom to write? money to spend on others? time to heal emotionally?)

And if I hadn’t spent all weekend watching Criminal Minds and occasionally getting up from the couch to warm up a burrito or make a cup of decaf or pull the dirty pillowcases off the pillows and throw them on the bedroom floor, would I have had stumbled into that thought as I stepped out of the shower? That’s the other perspective.

I just needed to write that down, to remind myself that sometimes my real work doesn’t look like work at all. Yet the end result is far more profound than a basket full of clean sheets or a fridge full of food. Though those are nice too.

To be continued….

Open Letter to Marc Maron (Day 19)

PS You’re on my list of crushes, too. But I thought it would be weird to write that. And yeah, I was right.

I’ve spent part of today, the part that didn’t involve sorting out the hundreds of shopping bags I’m apparently hoarding in the front closet, going through my poetry files. My mission is to figure out which poems are good enough to send out for publication, which ones need work and are still worth working on, and which ones are just waiting for me to call their time of death.

I’m generally a hoarder of poems, sticking failed ones into the bulging miscellaneous folder in hopes that I’ll salvage a line or two. But as much as gets stuffed into that folder, I can’t recall the last time I actually harvested anything from it. The bad ones are easy to let go of. The ones where it’s clear I was trying too hard or not hard enough. There are also the ones that might work with some polish but I can’t tell from reading them what sparked them. What hit my eye, my heart, my brain in a way that demanded that poem. I can’t find the poem’s big bang moment no matter how many times I rerun the lines in my head.

There are also those poems—some from residencies or graduate school—that showed some promise when they were written. Perhaps they just needed an edit or two to make them publishable. I save all the drafts of each poem along with comments from former teachers and workshop partners, and, no surprise, it’s gratifying to read all the lovely things they have to say about my work. As I look through my own scribblings of their in-class comments, I think about which suggested edits resonated with me and which didn’t. But still, these poems that were vibrant in 2005 or 1999 appear still-born in 2015 no matter how many checkmarks or “beautiful line” or “I think this is finished” appear in their margins.

These old poems, the ones with promise, are hard to throw out because I can see in them the poet I used to be, the language I used to use. I can see precursors of some of the ways I write now that I didn’t quite realize I was already experimenting with back then. Emptying their folders feels a lot like I’m emptying out boxes of old family pictures. But when I think about sending these poems to the world, it feels like I’m about to step outside in an outfit that’s decades out of date. Many of these poems are good poems, yet they’re just don’t fit me anymore.

There are some where I can remember exactly where I was when I had the idea for the poem: at a record release party for the Christmas album of a band I knew in Chicago, at an exhibit of work by an artist I met (and had a crush on) in Provincetown. It is hard to let these ones go too, though I tell myself that as I rip up each page I’m letting go of old loves long gone stale, old habits, old ways of looking at life that no longer serve me. I’m letting go of a view that appears myopic next to the perspective I have now. I’m shedding skin, shedding weight, shedding anger and grief, and sometimes even old joys. It’s hard but I can’t keep sending out an out-of-date headshot of myself into the world, can I? And no amount of white-out or red penciling or sifting through the thesaurus can make that old voice enough to bear the weight of what I want to say now. I have to make room in the files for new words. I have to let go of what I once saw and open my eyes wide to what’s right in front of me now. Or something like that.

To be continued…

Open Letter to Marc Maron (Day 6)

Yes, I think it’s time I started calling you Marc. And you should call me Paulette. I used to hate the sound of my name. Maybe because the only time I heard it at home was when I was getting in trouble for something I didn’t understand I did wrong. I admit I’m ready to forget the story about the time I came home with a straight A report card in third grade—after pulling Bs in handwriting the previous two trimesters in handwriting—and my mom’s reaction was, “Your jeans stink. Why do you smell so bad?” But I think that’s the definitive story of my childhood. Or maybe one of five or so. But at any rate I hated my name. I had this big plan when I got to college—did I mention I went to BU too? COM class of ’91—to tell everybody to call me “Paulie.” But I just couldn’t do it; it felt like a lie. It’s not surprising I wasn’t able to reinvent myself because I didn’t have enough grasp on who that self was to reinvent it. That’s what parents do, or are supposed to do, give you a sense of self. And if they fail in that fundamental area, then you spend a great deal of your life chasing down leads as to who you might actually be.

That being said, I am lucky in that I always knew I was a writer. There were several hardcore years of dallying in theater but even so, poetry continued to haunt me and spill out in me. Sometimes in stream-of-consciousness letters and in some very terrible scripts I wrote for my college classes and occasionally even in poems. And like any good poet, I was always good at suffering. Though back then, in my 20s and my 30s it was always for the wrong reason. In other words, men.

To be continued…

Curious what this is all about? Check out day 1 which explains a bit about this project.

An Open Letter to Marc Maron (Day 4)

How do you say these things out loud Mr. Maron, week after week, in front of live audiences? Are you trembling even as you break into that great barking laugh of yours the way I’m trembling now as my fingers determinedly march across the keyboard? Perhaps the question is—how does one survive being self-aware and aware too of all the barren places propping you up?

I should tell you here that I’m 45, well, I will be officially in four days or so. And I’ve written poems always, it seems, and as a teenager plays about witches named after characters in The Outsiders and short stories that always ended with someone dying—suicide, murder—and a movie script when I was about 15 that starred Matt Dillon and me as star-crossed lovers who met after I’d been raped by a friend of his. On Trinidad where I was born there’s a pitch lake, a seemingly endless lake of asphalt. I thought for years that this pitch lake lived inside me, the lake and its attendant monsters (which is what leaked into my writing) and that’s why people couldn’t love me. By people I mean, of course, my parents but that’s still hard to write. And honestly, I didn’t have the language to really grasp what had formed me till my 30s and I didn’t have the understanding to grasp what was hidden in what I wrote with that language till just a few years ago, and I was still missing important words like “narcissism” and “abuse” and “unformed self” and “parent” until my father died last January.

It took till I was 36 or so and in grad school and realized that on the right day I could conceivably consider suicide and ran to the therapist’s office on campus and got some good drugs that I took for a long while and started to talk plain about what was inside me, not coded like I did in poems, for me to realize I didn’t have a pitch lake inside me. I wasn’t a secret monster and my parents weren’t right to protect themselves from me. So maybe what I’m saying is I’m a late bloomer. And also the truth can stare you in the face for four decades and it doesn’t matter. It’s not about whether or not the truth is easily apprehended—they were at fault not me—it’s about when you figure out how to stop listening to all the stories you’ve learned to tell yourself to explain the monster.

But when you’re a storyteller—as it’s plain you are—it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between the stories you tell because they’re true and the stories you tell because you need them to be true. Is that something one ever learns to do with 100 percent accuracy?

To be continued…

Open Letter to Marc Maron (Day 3)

… So knowing I can’t control my audience and yet knowing I’m compelled to write this all out loud, and knowing that the reason I want to write to you is that you say out loud all the things I should and I shouldn’t, how open can this letter really be, Mr. Maron?

What happens, I mean, if my mother finds out I think she’s a narcissist? Just typing those words, just thinking those words, just meaning those words is like firing a gun. Though it’s unclear if it’s aimed at my mother or aimed at myself. Is saying it out loud being self-aware and self-caring or is it self-destructive. I love my mother. We talk on the phone about TV shows and jewelry and the people she spies on at the mall. She calls me on my birthday and sometimes just because. Still, that feeling that I’m making nice with my (emotional) abuser persists, but what’s the alternative? I wasn’t estranged from my father, not in a no phone calls, no contact way. I dutifully showed up once a year at least and called him on his birthday and Father’s Day. I’ve endured years of picking out Mother’s Day cards and Father’s Day cards with my stomach knotted tight because there were no right words, no dutiful words, no pretty words that didn’t highlight exactly what I didn’t have with my parents. And yet I never quite broke the connection. I ran, as the song goes, I ran so far away, and still my relationship with my parents, broken and landmined as it was, as it sometimes continues to be, persisted. Does that make me courageous or a coward? Am I a narcissist too?

How do you say these things out loud Mr. Maron, week after week, in front of live audiences? Are you trembling even as you break into that great barking laugh of yours the way I’m trembling now as my fingers determinedly march across the keyboard? Perhaps the question is—how does one survive being self-aware and aware too of all the barren places propping you up?

I should tell you here that I’m 45…

To be continued…

An Open Letter to Marc Maron (Day 2)

I hate how letters are always monologues. And in an effort to make this a two way street–and to change the subject because I’m already bored with myself and it’s only day one, I’ll start with a question: Are you a feminist? No, that’s not what I really want to know. I wanted to ask you about talking about your weight in public, which men never do but even that seems less important today (though I’ll get back to that later) because I spent the night wondering what it means to write an “open” letter. I wouldn’t mind if you read this, of course, and my friends, and my sister and one of my brothers. But I wouldn’t want my mother to read this or any of her friends, or any of my friends that are Facebook friends with my mother. But since I share this on Facebook (and Twitter but I don’t actually know very many people I’m on Twitter with) it’s inevitable that she may at least get an inkling.

Last November as my father was dying of cancer and I was trying to understand how to have a relationship with him–the kind of relationship where I could hold his penis to maneuver it into a plastic container when he could no longer urinate by himself and the kind of relationship where I could wipe the shit from his ass the night before he died as his body relentlessly turned itself off cell by cell, organ by organ–when I was trying to jerryrig a relationship stitched from tenderness and not rage, I wrote about him every day. In the days after he died and at the funeral, several of my cousins and people who I didn’t think paid attention to my writing came up to talk to me about it. And my mother asked to be my Facebook friend (which I refused) cause her cousin had told her I was writing about my father. So knowing I can’t control my audience and yet knowing I’m compelled to write this all out loud, and knowing that the reason I want to write to you is that you say out loud all the things I should and I shouldn’t, how open can this letter really be, Mr. Maron?

What happens, I mean, if my mother finds out I think she’s a narcissist?

To be continued…

Read part 1 of this letter here.

An Open Letter to Marc Maron (Day 1)

Dear Mr. Maron–

What you should know first is that I don’t know what I’ll find here in writing this letter over the next 31 days. I believe that in writing I find myself, that is, I trick myself into revealing those things I don’t want to face. Which I suspect is a little bit of what happens when you turn on the microphone and let yourself riff, turning the unspoken into not fact, but truth, which is so much harder to bear. Podcast after podcast I hear you growing into yourself and perhaps that’s why I’m writing to you, to pull myself forward a little. As far as I can get in 31 days, which is generally how long my courage lasts. About 31 or so days of every year. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but that’s something else we’ll talk about later.

Right now my brain is screaming, “Don’t do this! This is a ridiculous project!” But I’m old enough now–and will be older still officially in about a week–to know that I tend to find transcendence in the ridiculous. And I know that you understand that urge to slice oneself open out loud, to perform daring acts of harakiri on the ego for a crowd. Hoping not to hurt anyone, yourself included, and knowing that that hurt is inevitable.

I hate how letters are always monologues. And in an effort to make this a two way street–and to change the subject because I’m already bored with myself and it’s only day one, I’ll start with a question: Are you a feminist?

To be continued….

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