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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….

Writing About My Father, Day 31*

I am like a cat on the couch rubbing
my face–nose, mouth, cheeks–across
the blue velvet. This couch is my father’s
money, a small forgotten-about portion
left to the three kids he had first
and left first. No, he didn’t forget us
but he didn’t remember us either, not the way
the phone company he’d worked for through all
its identity crises had remembered that once,
possibly with a blue pen, my father had signed
our names and his name on company insurance documents.
My father’s money, too, bought the giltwood, caneback
chairs dressed in golden yellow upholstery and a blue,
white, and gold bracelet. And some bottles of wine
and several ice cream cones and a pound of unground
coffee. It may even have bought something hanging
in my small closet though I don’t remember now
and even if I were to push the hangers one by
one down the painted rail, I couldn’t be sure
I’d recognize my father. I am not a cat and the coffee
is long spent and the chairs are only chairs and my father
was a little too surprised when I wore a pretty black dress
and red lipstick to see him in the hospital his last
Christmas. And even when I scroll through my bank statement
sometimes and look for the small portion of the small portion
I’ve stuck into savings I see a little grace, I see a little
security, I do not see my father.

*I wrote this draft on September 6 after writing my morning pages when I didn’t really think I’d been thinking about my father at all.

30 Days of Writing about Writing*

photo of few rows of brick topped with moss

I am thinking this morning about how I privilege sound over meaning. For example, I don’t care so much what The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock means because I love the sound of it so much. And the sound of it carries the emotion of it, which is more interesting to me than articulating any sort of precise–or even imprecise–meaning. Many of my own poems start with rhyme, rhythm. I long ago accepted that I often don’t know what my poems mean till years after. Poems tend to excavate my secrets long before my conscious mind can decipher them. Which is not to say I believe in writing nonsensically, but while I will fiercely pursue the “right” sound, I am willing to trust that the poem means something even if I can only glimpse the edges of that meaning. I tend to trust my intuition that it has an internal logic and meaning. And that is why I love readers. They reveal the poem and thus myself to me.

* A word on how I’m thinking about this series and by extension the series on writing about my body. In this particular season of my life, it doesn’t seem possible to write every day or near every day for 30 days straight. But it is possible to accumulate over time 30 bits of writing about a particular subject whether “over time” means over days or months or years. Which may mean I launch a series of series, or it may mean I stick with the body and writing as my subjects for the time being. I am concerned more with creating several loci around which to write rather than concentrating on a mass of writing over a constricted period of time. To borrow from Miss Dickinson, I am working on creating an environment on which to “dwell in possibility.”

Sometimes in April it rains poems


For April—National Poetry Month—I’m trying my darnedest to write a poem each day. I don’t plan to post them here; the poor darlings will be too newborn to be out in the world any time soon. I did, however, want to share the draft I wrote today as it was a direct result of the “ecstasy of looking” I wrote about here. (And it’s also part of the Love Poems series I’ve been working on since last November. At least, I think it is…)

Poem Left in His Pocket on a Page Torn from a Book

I admit you still feel strange to me
in the most ordinary of ways:

how, for example, you look at me
as if I were enough or

how when I put the white tulips you sent
on the kitchen window sill and wait

for the sturdy light of morning
each yellow heart glows

and still, I do not weep.

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