One of the 30 million

Social distancing in the time of corona is one thing, but being single and jobless during a dystopian nightmare is another. I’m 30. It seems like I was just starting to make long-term goals and take off in my career.

Then comes the swift pull of the rug. Hey, thanks a lot, 2020. Thou art cruel.

I have certainly shed tears. The thing is I know I am far from alone and that my situation could be worse. Last I checked there were 40 million people in the U.S. alone who filed for unemployment due to the coronavirus.

The day I lost my job I bought a fish filet and ate it on the top of a parking garage where two friends joined me. One of my brave friends hugged me. It was a warm hug.

I don’t have the interest or stamina to hunt down conspiracy theories or fiction’s premonitions at the moment, but how Orwellian does being afraid to touch another person feel? Let’s be honest.

This is the first time I’ve been unemployed since I was 16 years old. The first job I ever had was at Cold Stone Creamery, and I gained 10 pounds in the first 6 months. Because free ice cream. I worked with my friends. I made $6.50 an hour. I sang to customers. I had a blast.

Now, I’m one of those poor souls who has a hard time defining myself outside my job. I didn’t realize how severe it was until I was laid off and my “seek, write, destroy” routine came to a screeching halt.

My energy is still here, but I find it’s veering off in all directions. As it turns out there isn’t really a set standard to productiveness during a world pandemic.

Today I was fairly productive, by my standards, and I need to give myself more credit for that. I applied for a few jobs, journaled all my twisted feelings, contacted a career-coaching agency, talked to my therapist, and watched a documentary about Michelle Obama. What an inspiring lady. And I want to wear rainbow colored power suits like that.

Today was a good day. I’m lucky I have the time to do this self-exploration and learning.

Not all days are like this. Some days I slop out of bed around 11, take my dog on a grand tour of the neighborhood, marvel over a squirrel and robin duking it out outside my window (I swear this happened), and depress myself with massive amounts of shitty news until my back hurts and I realize it’s 5 p.m., and I should probably dive into a complicated home cooked meal that takes me 2 hours to make because my body is so riddled with anxiety that I’m having a hard time concentrating on the instructions. On these days, I’m lucky if I make it out of my pajamas or brush my teeth.

One day I wrote a list of how I can become essential. Things I might like to do included child care worker, garbage truck driver, and foot fetish saleswoman. It’s a long story but someone actually did reach out to me for pictures of my feet, and to my disappointment they only wanted to pay me $7 dollars. “My dogs are worth at least $100,” I kindly told the man.

How fun is that, huh? To realize what you do is considered non-essential?

I read somewhere that volunteer work will make me and others feel better, like I’m contributing something in this shit storm. I am writing letters and sending cards to this woman in hospice. She was an elementary school teacher her whole life, and now she has no one. I’m having fun talking to the girl who is coordinating the volunteer work, too. It kind of feels like we’re friends. She told me that the hand-sketched bulldog I sent to Gloria (let’s call her), the patient I was paired with, smiled real big when she saw it. And this made me smile.

I am proud of how far I have come in my life (from a career standpoint and otherwise). As someone who grew up on government assistance, there was always a feeling that I had to work extra hard to prove my worth. I want to continue to work hard, but I also want to make sure what I’m doing aligns with who I am, the lifestyle I want, and the goals I have for myself. The narrative is always changing. So am I.

I’m not done searching. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t painful.

Maybe you are in a similar kind of Rock Bottom, but it’s a different circumstance. Anyway, it’s not quite the apocalypse just yet. Don’t you dare fucking give up.





Bath time with Frida Kahlo


I’ve been thumbing through, “The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait,” for the past week or so. It appeals to me that someone can use both writing and drawing at the same time, in the same place, to capture their inner world.

I knew very little about Frida. Just that she had a sweet unibrow. And I could recognize her famous self-portraits like a lot of people. A few months ago I bought a pair of bottle cap earrings with quarter-sized portraits of her painted onto them. I wore them around a music festival I attended with a friend. A lot of people were delighted at the sight of Frida dangling from my earlobes.

All but one of the drawings in this diary I’m reading never made it out. It was her space to make sense of things. I had to read the translated notes because I don’t understand Spanish, but I still found myself examining her multi-colored writing. She wrote in colored pencil and left scratch marks and scribbles, as one would do with a pen. It’s nice to know someone as regarded as she had visible second and third thoughts, could allow herself to stumble on paper.

It turns out she was quite the writer too. Here is one of my favorite letters, one of the many written to her beloved Diego:

Truth is, so great, that I
wouldn’t like to speak, or sleep,
or listen, or love.
To feel myself trapped, with no fear
of blood, outside time and magic,
within your own fear,
and your great anguish, and
within the very beating of your heart.
All this madness, if I asked it of you,
I know, in your silence, there would be
only confusion.
I ask you for violence, in the nonsense,
and you, you give me grace, your light and
your warmth.
I’d like to paint you, but there are no colors,
because there are so many, in my
confusion, the tangible form
of my great love.

Frida suffered from a lot of physical ailments throughout her life. She beat polio in her childhood, and in her later years was in a near fatal accident that left her physically impaired for the rest of her life. She had close to 35 operations in her lifetime, and was unable to bear children. Much of her art depicts misplaced body parts, parts outside her body. And a spiritual and sexual longing to reproduce. It’s no wonder she painted so many self-portraits. Despite her immense pain, she found a way to steal her own joy and find love in her life.

Many consider her to be Mexican hero, who appealed to Mexican women and more broadly to the plights of women everywhere, but a lot of her critics thought her work was intensely self-directed and incapable of moving past self.

“I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best,” the artist once said.

Essayist Sarah M Lowe wrote, “Her work was deemed so excessively personal and self-referential that it is thought incapable of expressing universal emotions or the human condition. In time, her self-portraits, though they never cease to shock, have overcome some of the prejudices against women painting their own lives.”

I started drawing women in bathtubs a few months ago. I’m not exactly sure of the reasoning behind the choice of vessel. I know that both baths and drawing calm me down when I’m feeling overwhelmed by the weight of things.

And baths are where some of my best ideas have come from.

In a college writing class I wrote a metafictional story about this woman who takes a bath and gets the idea to write the story of her life. There’s a talking shower head that is encouraging her to write and also shouting innuendos.

The woman rockets from the bath in a Eureka-like moment, water spilling all around her and plummeting to the carpet. She runs butt naked into her garage and wrenches out these old, dusty bins filled with her old journals.

She searches one of her journals frantically, dampening the pages with the water falling from her hair. She finds the passage that is supposed to help her define this moment of certainty. She realizes the passage is in fact not the missing piece she needs to solve her life story. She’s frustrated at her younger self for leaving such a poorly constructed record of her life. She scoffs and criticizes every line in that single passage then moves onto mocking some others. Finally, she flings the journal across the room.

Looking back at this piece, I realize it was about my idea process and the frustration I face in creation, particularly writing. When I have an idea, I feel that well-known mania, and I need to write. RIGHT NOW. URGENT HURRY. A lot of times I lose the feeling. Then I over complicate the idea. I rage about the hopelessness of memory. The idea vanishes as quickly as it comes.

Drawing these bathtubs was my way of coping with my issues with writing. I love these hours I spend shading, erasing, coloring. It’s obvious I don’t have formal training, but this doesn’t stop me from getting better and sharing my work. Putting my work out there has only made me feel braver.

For now, the bathtubs seem to be working. Drawing has helped me reunite with writing. I’d like the two to become friends. Like my girl Frida, I’d like a space where I can combine both worlds.

Library trippin’

Those trips to the library on Sunday. Oh, ah, yes. I always come prepared with a list. Jump onto one of those old clunky computers and scroll through the online portal. Most of the ones I want are either at another location or are checked out. 5 copies of “Hillbilly Elegy” gone. Jeeze. Share with me, ya book hogs.

Yes, I know Kindles and Amazon exist, but I prefer to get lost, you know? I’m not one of those people who dims the lights and masturbates to my favorite Smell of Old Books candle; I have limitations, and I’d like to think I’m a sentimentalist for the right reasons. But I do like books that have I trek for and find myself. Tis a noble quest in my opinion.

This haul was not pre-established whatsoever. These are things I ran into, and here you will find my justifications:

  • “Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules,” edited and introduced by David Sedaris. This was my audiobook selection. I drive an hour to and from work every day, so I find it helpful to pop in a good read to prevent me from causing a rage-induced collision on Touhy Ave. I prefer things that make me laugh. I’ve been through all of David Sedaris’ books, which are especially funny in audiobook format because he reads his own material, and therefore knows exactly how to hit the high humor notes. This compilation is not Sedaris’ work, but they are some of his favorite writers who he deems to be essential to the short story canon. I am not an absolutist, but I trust his judgement that all of them will be good.
  • “Little Labors” poetry by Rivka Galchen. Saw this in the new poetry section. No real reason why I picked it up. Maybe because the cover was orange? I don’t know. From what I found out about Rivka is she’s from Canada, and she won the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. I’ve never heard of this award, but it sounds legit enough.
  • “The Virginia Woolf Writer’s Workshop: Seven Lessons to Inspire Great Writing” by Danell Jones. I wanted Virginia Woolf’s “Flush,” but I settled for a text that was written with her in mind. You know, it’s amazing that the library owns text after text of literary criticism for some folks, but not all of the texts that these folks actually wrote. Like Jesus, if you are going to have 40 books about Virginia Woolf, you should probably also house every single book she ever wrote. Just saying. I miss being in a writing group, so writing group exercises inspired by the dark lady sounds good to me.
  • “The Happiness Effect: How Social Media is Driving a Generation to Appear Perfect at Any Cost” by Donna Freitas. I saw this on my way to the checkout counter. Seems relevant. And I’ve been spending way too much time on social media and feeling sorry for myself and the world while doing so, so I thought I’d read a book about why I might be so compelled to do so. I’ve already read the first chapter, and I’m already comforted by it. Social media is changing the cultural landscape as we speak, and it’s happening so fast that people don’t necessarily know how to process. In the meantime we’re building our usual weird human norms around it–what we can and cannot say, how much stock we put into our image, etc.
  • “Writing from Within: A Guide to Creativity and Life Story Writing” by Bernard Selling. Creative nonfiction is my jam, but lately, I’ve been feeling this constant distancing. And also my psychotic, helicopter parent of an internal critic won’t let me say anything. I need some written reassurance that I can write about things that hurt. It gives plenty of tips and encouragement that I’m looking for right now.
  • “People I want to Punch in the Throat” by Jen Mann. This was one of those judge-a-book-by-its-cover finds. I started cackling in the 800s the second my brain registered the title. Like who says that? A man standing a few feet away from me quietly scooted over to the next aisle. I just had to have this book. What a title. And it hasn’t disappointed me. Such a sassafras of writer. I sat down for about an hour to read this book. I tried not to disturb the girl sitting at the table in front of me who was doing her chemistry homework or something. I don’t know if it was chemistry; I saw a lot of numbers and my eyes glazed over. She had red hair and spaces between her teeth, which I could see every time she stopped working on her equations to smile while reading a text on her phone underneath the table.

Welp, there you have it. Another Sunday in the books. It’s kind of sad really, the sight of me waddling up to the checkout line with a teetering pile of books. I will fully read maybe two of them. It’s 2017, and I have good intentions.

Good intentions lead to late fees. The second I stepped up to check out my books, the squirrely man behind the counter told me there was a hold on my account because I owed them 28 dollars and I had lost a book. I told the woman at the other counter that I knew for sure that I had returned Margaret Atwood’s “True Stories,” though I could imagine myself stealing the book because I liked it so much and footing the “lost item” fee of 5 dollars. The woman looked a little too relieved when I told her I’d go check the shelves myself for the book, and sure enough I found it.

I told the squirrely, shy guy behind the counter that I would be better this time. I would bring my books back when they are due, I assured him. I’m sure he could care less about this information.

Poem of the Day by Marge Piercy

Okay, I lied, I have two poems. Because why should I only have to choose one? They are taken from “My Mother’s Body,” published in 1985 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

The first time I read Marge Piercy was during freshman year of high school in my advanced literary arts class. One of my teachers who smiled only when she meant it and rotated the same 6 outfits, tossed Piercy’s “Barbie Doll” face-up onto our desks. It wasn’t a pretty sight. After a quick scan, no one really wanted to read it aloud. I mean come on, in a mere two lines there were the words, “pee-pee.” Some beautified dead girl in a coffin — the societal error that we place so much value on a woman’s beauty during a time of life where everyone is being assessed and measured by everyone for mostly the wrong reasons is a startling image to start to class out with.

The poem certainly grabbed me by my throat, but it didn’t necessarily make me want to cannonball into her poetry. I read it for the class because that’s what good little students do. I gave the cut up dead girl a moment of silence and moved onto the next assignment.

Apparently it meant more to me than I realized. (I’m starting to notice this trend a lot more often lately).

It wasn’t until after I graduated college that I was able to look Marge back in the honest face. I know plenty of undercover feminists and plenty who are out in plain sight. I thought it was unfair that I had to give myself a disclaimer at all. A do not fuck with me card. A do not fuck me card. The common misconception, of course.

But here I am at 25 reading and finding her poetry comforting during a time in my life where I’m realizing that not only am I a loving and kind woman, I know how to kick some ass… that ass being my own ass to get the stuff that I want done — emotionally, professionally, physically, what have you. Remembering that during the mornings when I’m slouched over another Facebook post about the next person whisking off to get married or whatever, is especially pertinent. Or when I’m stewing in a personalized pile of pity, with my voice lodged in the back of my throat. I know that’s the bloody mouthed fear talking. The oozing leftover pain from lifetimes ago that sometimes feel like yesterday. Sometimes gaining self-awareness really is a bitch to deal with. Where’s the relief?

People with similar experiences who know how to reach you. Thanks for reaching me, Marge. I hear you loud and clear.

All of these poems are about being a woman who chooses a life of meaning, who isn’t afraid to hurt or offend. The meaning isn’t found in the grand, overdressed big ones, as you might expect, but in cleaning (or not) the house, list making, going through memories, sleeping next to someone, writing a will, caring for a litter of kittens, getting a pap smear, drinking a glass of wine. She can make a housefly come to life. She’s got quite a bite, but just smolders under certain lights. This writer has an extensive, astounding vocabulary. I enjoy the way she describes color and taste… Check out her poems about wine and see what she can do with RED.

I also connected to the way she described her mother and her relation to her mother’s life after death through her own coming to terms. That this collection is dedicated to her mother, shows her fierce need to understand and accept her for what she was and lacked. Only speaking truthfully about a parent will ever do this person and your relation to them justice. This collection gives me a fur ball (because Piercy REALLY loves cats) of hope.

Here are two poems that really resonated with me. One is about being in a relationship and truly knowing a person, which she argues isn’t the point of a relationship. The other is about being a being a fierce writer who captures “the goodness” in a world where the most established are the ones who get to decide what’s “good” work. Her version of goodness is beyond good.

Witnessing a wedding

Slowly and slower you have learned
to let yourselves grow while weaving
through each other in strong cloth.

It is not strangeness in the mate
you must fear, and not the fear
that loosens us so we lean back

chilly with a sudden draft on flesh
recently joined and taste again
the other sharp as tin in the mouth,

but familiarity we must mistrust,
the word based on the family
that fogs the sight and plugs the nose.

Fills the ears with the wax of possession.
Toughens the daily dead skin
callused against penetration.

Never think you know finally, or say
My husband likes, My wife is,
without balancing the coil of the inner ear

that no one is surely anything till dead.
Love without respect is cold as a boa
constrictor, its caresses as choking.

Celebrate your differences in bed.
Like species, couples die out or evolve.
Ah strange new beasties with strawberry hides,
velvet green antlers, undulant necks,
tentacles, wings and the sense of bees,
your own changing mosaic of face

and the face of the stranger you live with
and try to love, who enters your body
like water, like pain, like food.

The good go down

I build stories. They own
their own shapes, their rightful
power and impetus, plot
them however I try, but always
that shape is broadly just.

I want to believe in justice
inexorable as the decay
of an isotope; I want to plot
the orbit of justice, erratic
but inevitable as a comet’s return.

It is not blind chance I rail at,
the flood waters that carry off
one house and leave its neighbor
standing one foot above the high
water’s swirling grasp.

It is that the good go down
not easily, not gently,
not occasionally, not by random
deviation and the topple
of mischance, but almost always.

Here is something new and true.
No you are too different,
too raw, too spiced and gritty.
We want one like the last one.
We know how to sell that.

We want one that praises us,
we want one that puts down
the ones we squat on, no
aftertaste, no residue of fine
thought smeared on the eyes.

We want one just like all
the others, but with a designer
label and a clever logo.
We want the one we saw advertised
in the New York Times.

Are the controls working?
Is the doorman on duty?
Is the intercom connected?
Is the monitor functioning?
Is the incinerator on?

It goes without saying:
The brie shall be perfectly
ripe, the wine shall be a second
cru Bordeaux from a decent year,
there shall be one guest

with a recent certified success
and we shall pass around plates
of grated contempt for those
who lack this much, of sugared
envy for those who have more.

For the young not facile enough
to imitate the powerful, not skilled
enough liars to pretend sucking them
is ecstasy, they erect a massive
wall, the Himalayas of exclusion.

For the old who speak too much
of pain, they have a special
Greenland of exile. Old Birnbaum.
Nobody reads her anymore.
I thought she was dead.

Once she is, and her cat
starves, she will become a growth
industry. Only kill yourself
and you can be consumed too,
an incense-proffered icon.

It is the slow mean defeat
of the good that I rail against,
the small pallid contempt of the well
placed for those who do no lack
the imaginative power to try,

the good who are warped by passion
as granite is twisted into mountains
and metamorphosed by fire into marble;
who speak too loud in vulgar tongues
because they have something to say;

who mean what they make down to their
bones; who commit the uncouth error
of feeling, of saying what they feel,
of making others feel. Their reward
is to be made to feel worthless.

Goodness is not dangerous enough.
I want goodness like a Nike armed
with the warhead of rightful anger.
I want goodness that can live on sand
and stones and wring wine from burrs,

goodness that can put forth fruit,
manured with the sewage of hatred.
The good must cultivate their anger
like fields of wheat that must feed
them, if they are ever to win.

Poem of the day

I subscribe to the Poetry Foundation’s “Poem a Day” email. I enjoy this routine because I’m always hungry to read more poetry, and having one shoved directly under my nose everyday is quite convenient. Otherwise, I would just get stuck in one book of poetry for weeks and weeks, and rationalize that with the “lack of time” disclaimer that stops us all from reading (and writing!) all the time.

Needless to say, I have time for one measly poem a day. Come on self, I can do this.

I received this poem on Saturday. I really like it, though I can’t always get on board with blatant political poetry. But my reaction to it interested me. It made me uncomfortable because of the level of honesty and relevance that it has in our society in terms of freedom– speech, marriage, religious beliefs, etc. — and because of the sharp note it hits on our current state of world events.

Also, I related to it. I am the person who laughs and tells people I love them when conflicting opinions (especially political) arise.

I posted this on my Facebook, and it wasn’t received well. I chickened out and deleted the post. So basically, in an unintentional social experiment, my defeat and fear to offend proved one of the points of this poem.

BUT… I still would like to share it. That’s what blogging is for right?

I was also curious about the writer. At one point in her career she taught incarcerated students. She writes a lot of probing things on being American. I have yet to read her other works, but I’m interested.

Poem of the Day: Three a.m.

Our cabdriver tells us how Somalia is better
than here because in Islam we execute murderers.
So, fewer murders. But isn’t there civil war
there now? Aren’t there a lot of murders?
Yes, but in general it’s better. Not
now, but most of the time. He tells us about how
smart the system is, how it’s hard to bear
false witness. We nod. We’re learning a lot.
I say—once we are close to the house—I say, What
about us? Two women, married to each other.
Don’t be offended, he says, gravely. But a man
with a man, a woman with a woman: it would be
a public execution. We nod. A little silence along
the Southeast Corridor. Then I say, Yeah,
I love my country. This makes him laugh; we all laugh.
We aren’t offended, says Josey. We love you. Sometimes
I feel like we’re proselytizing, spreading the Word of Gay.
The cab is shaking with laughter, the poor man
relieved we’re not mad he sort of wants us dead.
The two of us soothing him, wanting him comfortable,
wanting him to laugh. We love our country,
we tell him. And Josey tips him. She tips him well.
Jill McDonough, “Three a.m.” from Where You Live. Copyright © 2012 by Jill McDonough.

Success in solitude

Thoughts+Expression = Success

I’m beginning to think that maybe solitude is the success.

I don’t want money. Growing up, I was welfare poor. That’s right. I said it. Now, even though I’m inching up in life, I’d rather be welfare poor than rich without morality and concern for other people who are hurting below me. I get the concept of work. Sometimes. But I never really understood money.

I don’t want to be the smartest person alive, though, that’s tempting. To be that person who can rattle off knowledge or pull it from her pocket. People need to know more things than other people. Though I’m far from immune to this tendency, I know deep down that I don’t need to collect facts, stockpile knowledge to make others feel ignorant, stupid, LESS than me.

I don’t want a big house or to discover the American dream life, the “home is where the heart is” bullshit they feed you for breakfast. I never belonged in any home anyway. AND THAT’S OKAY, I’m beginning to realize.

THIS. This is what I want. Mommy, daddy! Buy me this for Christmas! Put this in a box and wrap it up, eh?

The following passage is from Pablo Neruda’s collection of writing found in Passions and Impressions (1984). It was originally posted in La Nación in 1924. It’s an introduction of some sort to how he saw a collection of his poems (his life, really) all together, which he admits is impossible. “Tying them together, interweaving them, never finding what will endure—because it does not exist.”

I had to type it up word for word because this doesn’t exist on the internet apparently. I guess this is what happens when you say fuck the internet to go sifting through the library instead. You find gems.

This piece is about self-expression, creation, and finding yourself in solitude. It seems to say you can set yourself free when you can pinpoint your expression. You don’t have to define yourself, confine yourself to anything, but if you have something that pulls passion from you, and you know it, it’s worth muddling through yourself. Obviously, muddling through and translating it into a piece of something you can see, touch, hear, get others to relate to etc. takes time and pain. A lot of QUIET time. Quiet time is especially hard because of how noisy everything is. How many interjections there are rolling around the internet, the 9-5 life, and in so many other places. The pain comes from isolation, from being absent from other people’s lives. This is hard for me. Maybe it’s hard for you too.

Take a read. I have put in bold italics the things that I think are worth re-reading again. Re-reading sentences over and over again lets things sink in more for me. Enjoy!

“Exegesis and solitude”

“I have undertaken the greatest act of self-expression: creation, hoping to illuminate words. Ten years at a solitary task, ten years that make up exactly half my life, have generated in my writing diverse rhythms, opposing currents. Tying them together, interweaving them, never finding what will endure—because it does not exist—I offer her my Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion desesperada. As scattered through in its elusive variations, joyful and bitter, I have fashioned them, and I have suffered no little in doing so. I have simply sung of my life and my love for certain women, as one would by shouting greetings to the parts of the world closest to him. I sought increasingly to link my expression with my thought, and I achieved some small victory; sincerely, and consciously, I put something of myself in everything I wrote. From afar, honorable people, people I didn’t even know—not clerks and pedagogues, who personally detest me—unhesitatingly demonstrated their friendliness. I didn’t respond, but concentrated all my strength on damming the tides, my only concern to pour intensity into my work. I have not tired of any discipline, because I followed none: the hand-me-down clothes that fitted others were either too small for me or too large; I acknowledged them, without looking. Always a meditative man, I have given lodging, as I have lived, to too many anxieties for them to vanish because of what I write. Facing in no particular direction, freely, irrepressibly, my poems have been set free.