Poem: Monet’s Cataracts

“Monet’s Cataracts”

I hope you have the blessing of many yesterdays

To see the world aged through Monet’s cataracts

The world swirled in colors

People could see as

Beautiful

All the sharp edges of the world dissolving

Like water lilies in a pond

Like ice thawed in the spring

All that brokenness of youth

Tossed into a churning sea

And a lifetime later

A child could pick up a piece

Safely in her hands

A sea green matte glass treasure

To hold up to the light

And call it precious


Is it me or was half the world born June or July? This poem is a bit of a birthday wish, but also a wish for myself and my children. I think about my daughters specifically for some reason. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve made a crap ton of mistakes in my life. I have hurt people, including myself. But I like how Time smooths over the rough times and makes it easier to process. You need that gift of time — with it comes age and hopefully wisdom.

Anyway this poem isn’t too complex. I think you will get it. I was thinking of art museums and some stories I have about visiting them when I was young. I haven’t been to an art museum in ages because m my kids don’t like art at all.

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Poem: Testing

I tested the limits of my dream

To see if it could keep its integrity

When exposed to the sun

~

However the moment came

When the edges curled up

And I could have snatched it back

Close to my heart

Where it had been for so long

~

I let it stay in the harsh bright light

Watching the red wormy edges

Crawl like maggots over my offering

Slowly cremating it

To dust and flecks

~

Some pieces persisted

Like tiny islands on an ocean of ash

An archipelago of non sequiturs

Once connected by a theme

Severed from the umbilical cord

To my placental brain

Now outside

Without me it perished

Never once breathing life

Never once crying out

~

I reached my hand

To touch what remained

But a zephyr picked up

Scattering the powder

Into thin air

~

What lingered I kept

In a reliquary forged by

Holy ghost hands

I offered up the bones of my dream

To the souls who foundered

Beneath my bare feet

With their hopes

Still pinned to their chests


So here I am again writing poems. Not sure what to do. Not sure if they are any good. Not sure if they are getting any better.

I have read so much bad poetry that I feel terrible thinking that I am contributing to the stuff that is out there. Having been a literature major I can at least tell when something is really bad. I can also tell when something is really beautiful. Not everything speaks to everyone’s heart. There is something to be said of style and preferences.

However, I have been in writing workshops and I know that they are capable of producing really good feedback and constructive criticism. I very much want to be better. I know that Grub Street has poetry classes. There is one called Six Weeks, Six Poems. I can’t possibly do it. They are 3 hour courses that meet on Sunday night. I am always busy on Sundays. I think I am will be more successful doing standalone 3-hour workshops on other days.

I know there are truly great poets who have created art without access to any workshops whatsoever. Should I just continue to put this poetry out? I have created so much more that I have hoped to submit to literary journals, but none of them feel right or complete. I feel like they never will.

I don’t know what to do other than publish on this tiny blog.

Poem: Hot Tea

“Hot Tea”

I drank my tea quickly although it burned

Because I stole a moment not earned

I gasped at the pain I felt I deserved

For thieving’s the work of mothers with nerves


Many parents I know brew cups of tea during the day and then forget about them. I am raising my hand here — guilty as charged. Tea presents such a challenge to parents at home.

First, I have to let it steep long enough for it to be a good cup or pot of tea. That will take about two minutes. A lot of stuff can be done in that time so I end up doing stuff and then I come back to cold tea that has steeped too long. It is bitter and cold, but I drink it anyway. I don’t enjoy it. Boo!

Second, let’s say I set a timer for two minutes or so. I have some nice tea. It is still too hot so I take a sip and scald myself. I put it down to cool a little. I put it down wherever I am. I could be near a bookshelf, at a table, in the kitchen by the counter. It’s never the same place, and so it means I forget where I put it. I am a wanderer, and I travel about my house like the Jews walked the desert — meandering about a small space for a very long time asking G-d why I am here and begging Him to bring me to some type of salvation. Anyway, I eventually find my tea. It is cold. I drink it anyway because wasting anything is bad. I don’t enjoy it. Boo!

Third, I do have rare occasions where I set the timer and don’t lose my tea somewhere on a random flat surface of my home. I can sit down and with some nice tea right? No. Not with a baby/toddler/preschooler who needs constant attention. Not with a child on medical leave at home. They can’t just sit with you and stare at you while you drink your tea. No. I get pulled away to some bathroom emergency or broken object. I come back to some tepid, disappointing tea. I drink it anyway. Boo!

Finally, we come to some nice hot tea. I set the timer, and then I cradle the tea in my bare palms which are burning with pain. I quickly dash up the stairs and go to my closet and shut the door. I sip my scalding tea while sitting my closet which also hides my small stash of chocolate. It is dark and my eyes adjust to the light but I can still only see the rim of my mug. It’s hot. It scorches the roof of my mouth and the tip of my tongue. The door knob rattles and a face full of happiness finds me. “I found you!” As if it were a game.

And isn’t it all just a game? We all just win a moment. Victory is an instant – so brief yet so sweet. Like the window of time when tea is the perfect temperature. The time of your life when you can actually sit down and drink a cup of tea peaceably.

My tea is blisteringly hot. I drink it anyway. It is just fine.

Zina in Westeros

Everyone seems to be up in arms about the Game of Thrones finale. I hardly set foot in Westeros, really. Of the Song of Fire and Ice books, I read the beginning of A Feast for Crows and the beginning of A Game of Thrones (I am known not to read things in order). I honestly can’t remember if I read any of these before watching the first season of the television series. It would seem, given my young adulthood obsession with fantasy — and dragons, in particular — that this series would be right up my alley. Alas, in my own Kafka-esque real-world dealings with people I could not fill my recreational time with more dysfunctional portrayals of the human (and not-so-human) condition. I wanted to watch Jim Gaffigan stand-up comedy and read David Sedaris so that is what I did instead. You can’t really escape the humanity’s foibles and follies, but it is really great to be able to laugh at them.

In A Game of Thrones, I closed the book once I got to Danerys’s wedding night. She is much younger in the book than she is on the screen adaptation. I didn’t want to read a series where pedophelia or sexual abuse was glorified, especially where victims were going to be portrayed as liking the acts. I got inklings from reading A Feast for Crows that I was going to be exposed to so much more soul-killing scenarios that I had to stop. Given my book list is so large I just moved on, and I found The Expanse a much better fit for me. Besides I think the television adaptation is actually so much better in terms of its writing. It fills the same holes for me genre-wise that GoT/SoFaI would with an epic series in a fantasy/sci-fi world, tons of political intrigue, a large cast of complex characters, action/fighting/battle scenes, etc. (The major sex scene in LW is such a laughable stereotype of sci-fi male fantasy that it didn’t bother me in the the ways that GoT sex had.) I have only read Leviathan Wakes and the beginning of Caliban’s War because I hardly ever buy books anymore. I borrow from the library instead, but the novels are always taken out or once I have them I can’t read fast enough before needing to return them.

It amazes me that my friends with kids have time to watch anything at all. I lived and breathed television for so much of my childhood and young adult life. However, since I now have five children with complex needs I don’t have time for going to the movies or watching much television. I feel like I hardly have time for reading and writing as it is. It baffles me how much my friends can consume, but then again, I think I may be doing something right. My life is not lacking for amusement or joy. Instead of being a consumer of worlds, I am a creator of them. I often find the characters I write and the situations I find them in so much more enriching and entertaining than my real-world interactions. It is sandbox of humanness that I get to play in without hurting anyone’s feelings in real life.

It is a beautiful thing, being a world builder. I am not just talking about writing, but this family my husband and I created — complete with their complex struggles, heartbreaks, and triumphs. Who needs Westeros — or Mars for that matter? I guess I still do just to escape. But when all is said and done I can look around me and say I didn’t waste my time watching other people’s worlds. I lived in my own and it takes all the effort I could possibly give it. I am writing my own story and helping my children write theirs.

And I am determined that my finale won’t suck.

Misophonia and the Joys of Writing

I was replying to a comment from a mother-writer-friend about this, but I thought I would write a blog post instead.

The original title of this was Loud Cereal Chewing while Writing.

On average I have between 30-60 minutes of time in the morning to write creatively. This is basically all the time I have alone, and that is when I write things like fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry the best. Today I had maybe 5 minutes, and then my oldest comes down and asks to turn on the lights. I type with a wireless keyboard on a tablet in near darkness which seems to enhance my ability to concentrate fully on what is on the screen. Anyway, the lights come on, and my beloved son sits directly across from me, gives himself a serving of Frosted Flakes, pours his milk, and chews his cereal very loudly. It sounds like slurping and crunching — all while he is laughing at his YouTube videos because he constantly has entertainment going. (His needs are extremely complex. Don’t judge.) I do not have misophonia, but this brief moment of madness brought me a little closer to my friends who do.

The time allotted to my creative and writing activities are dictated on my parenthood duties each day. Like I said, I have 30-60 minutes daily on average of writing time. However, there are many days where I have virtually nothing. Throughout the day I have about 2 hours of distracted, interrupted, or physically difficult writing time. I write long emails or text chat with friends while pinned down by a 3-year-old who likes to fall asleep on some part of me. Shorter emails and editing poetry is often while I am sitting on a bench at the park watching the children play. My reading takes place in the pickup area at school or in the backyard while the neighborhood kids play in the common area. I squeeze in more writing while I am cooking or making lunches or while eating, but only if I can manage to eat alone.

I used to drive to the library or coffee shop to write after dinner while Jeff was home, but there was so much wasted time with the commute and getting settled in. It also took away time from exercising which is a huge part of my mental and physical wellbeing.

I have a strong compulsion to write. Perhaps it could be described as slightly obsessive. If I don’t write something long each day I feel incomplete, as if I had let a part of me go to waste. Like the banana that my child insists she can eat whole, but leaves half of it on the table. The eaten portion lies obscenely flaccid, turning bruised and brown. The other side yellow, the flesh bears the bite marks of milk teeth. Children make promises as big as their imaginations. I made an implicit promise to myself to write during the early morning hours. Perhaps I shouldn’t make them anymore. I should not want the banana. I should have something more realistic, like a small piece of cheese. Like the reasonable duties of a homemaker.

My writing life browns like fruit on a table beside scattered cereal flakes and spilled milk. Everything rots. Everything lives. Everything goes on. Until it doesn’t anymore. And you wish you could remember what it was like to be driven half crazy by the sounds of the ones so close to you — to the music of the sounds of a temporarily happy child — because someday they won’t be so close. Or so happy.

Instead of writing…

I had to spend my writing time this morning playing an agonizing game of Go Fish with my 6-year-old who doesn’t know how to play Go Fish!

E: Do you have a 2 of diamonds?

Me: Do you mean a 2? You don’t ask for the suit… that means the diamond, club, spade or heart.

E looks through her stack of cards. She has half a deck.

Me: Are you sure you don’t have a set of four in there?

E: Nope.

At the end of the game I take all her cards and she has lots of sets. Sigh. She complains that she is bored and that she wants a screen. We all want screens nowadays. It is supposed to be screen free week at school, and all the parents got a flyer with suggestions of what to do. Like make homemade pizzas with our kids, painting rocks with inspirational messages, exploring new parks…

Oy.

Parents need to be so much more involved. We need to be cruise directors, teachers, and guardian angels. We need to earn money, but we also need to be at home at all times. This is the day and age where neighbors call the cops if you let your kid roam about unattended. Or your spouse yells at you for leaving your kid unattended. It is a difficult time.

I remember my father teaching me to play solitaire so he would not have to play any card games with me. Free cell and pyramid solitaire. He watched me and my sister on the weekends when my mother worked. If I said I was bored he would take the deck of cards and spread them unsystematically over a tabletop and have me play memory. He told me it would make me smarter and remember things better. As a kid I still travelled from room to room forgetting what I came in there for, forgetting assignments from school, forgetting the days and getting dressed in my uniform on a Saturday.

My mother worked a lot. When she was home she cooked. She let me out the back door to wander the neighborhood and get yelled at by neighbors for trespassing, mostly for knocking about people’s garages and taking stuff that didn’t belong to me. Stuff that would interest a kindergartener like toys and things with wheels.

I only have one wandering kid, and he does that even when we watch him. One morning we were getting the children to school. He headed out the door with his backpack and thought he went to the car. When we got the girls inside we realized he was not there. He was no where to be seen. We called out but we got nothing in return. Nothing but the rush of morning cars and the honking of geese. After a long five minutes of searching we see him up the street, coming back to us. He said he saw a family of geese walking the sidewalk and he followed them until he decided he wouldn’t or couldn’t anymore. A literal wild goose chase.

Kids here can’t chase geese. We can’t trust neighbors. They mostly only see friends at school or organized events and classes. Everything is structured to not allow for any uncertainty of your children’s whereabouts. There is an accountability. Like the accounting that comes with standardized tests. The points of failure are identifiable. And punishable.

No one wants to see a child hurt or left behind. And children don’t want to be bored. They want to explore and feel independence. To ride down a steep hill on a 10 speed with hands in the air and the open sweatshirt flapping against the wind like clipped unstructured wings. Freedom feels like the point before wipeout — bloodied skinned knees that manage to heal. And perhaps a broken bone that takes longer to heal, the sweaty, itchy cast that kids at school can sign for you. Or maybe a kid dies crashing into a moving car.

We want kids to survive childhood. Perhaps at the expense of living it.

My children are bored.

Grub Street and the Lyric Essay

The Amazon First Reads program is fantastic. I don’t know if you need to have an Amazon Prime membership, but I do and I think it is through this that I got an invitation into First Reads which allows members to download one out of of six pre-release books a month. You can choose from a variety of genres and every book that I have gotten through this program has been excellent.

The last book I finished through First Reads was Winter Loon by Susan Bernhard. The novel begins with tragic choices made by a mother and son on frozen lake which sets the groundwork for a well paced story that explores the broken lives of three generations. Despite the dark atmosphere, the ending sated my desire for justice for the protagonist, Wes Ballot. It has been a rare thing for me to experience satisfaction at the conclusion of a modern novel.

It turns out that the author’s acknowledgements at the end may have been the most valuable read for me. Bernhard mentioned that she was part of the Grub Street Incubator program. I had read about this place before and wanted to check it out but I could never commit to a full class for both financial and time reasons. However, I decided to do a search for Grub Street again. This time the very first hit caught my eye. It was for a one night workshop entitled Lyric Essay: Blending Memoir and Research… and it was in three days! I told my husband about it, and he encouraged me to sign up and so I did.

Here is the course description,

“The lyric essay offers a brilliant opportunity to engage both creative and academic sensibilities. The best writers in this genre are capable of using science, literary theory, citation, and more to open new gateways for exploring and understanding their own personal narratives. In this class, we will read essayists who combine these techniques to create complex woven narratives, as well as researching, brainstorming, and beginning drafts of our own lyric essays.”

According to Wikipedia, the Lyric Essay is “a contemporary creative nonfiction form which combines qualities of poetry, essay, memoir, and research writing, while also breaking the boundaries of the traditional five-paragraph essay. As a genre unto itself, the lyric essay tends to combine conventions of many different genres.”

I think I have finally found the perfect genre for me. I do not have time to complete my fiction — short or long. Poetry is good, but I never felt quite at home with the genre. I always felt like I should be writing differently or more but even when I expanded my verse and experimented I never felt it had the structure to fully support my ideas or visions. Now that I have taken this class I can see how I can weld my words to the steely I-beams offered by the architecture of the essay. All of the sudden I feel like I can focus.

Everything about Friday night’s workshop was great. Our instructor was Torrin Greathouse and there were five students including myself. I was the least educated and experienced writer of all of us, but I felt like I contributed well. I was the stay-at-home mom who dreamed of writing, and this was her first class. I was that student. The guy who sat next to me had been taking classes at Grub Street for five or six years, and he said this class was particularly good. He is a former journalist who teaches history now and has written a historical fiction novel. He has an agent and is just rewriting the beginning of his book. It was a comfort to meet someone who had a lot of writing under his belt and who thought this class was a great introduction to Grub Street.

It is now two days after the course, and I am trying to find time to write. Again, this has been the worst challenge for me since my life is so busy with all the kids and housework. However, I know I am extremely lucky to have a husband who is supportive of any writing I do. He has always believed in me, and he always thought I had talent. I just don’t know when I will be good enough. I don’t know how to get good enough. And I am quite aware that I may feel like I will never be good enough to be read by anyone at anytime. Imposter syndrome can be a lifetime affliction.

Pray for me. Give me advice. Throw some reading recommendations my way. Thank you for everything and anything you have to offer. I appreciate it all.