Bath time with Frida Kahlo

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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:

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.

Why I blog

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So it’s been well over four years since I started this blog, and I have a confession to make: I didn’t know where I was going with it, but I’d like to know going forward.

I wrote some poems, some stories, some rants, some day recaps, some reviews. Little of this and that. Not a whole lot of themes or intent, just doing.

I’m okay admitting this. I started this blog not really knowing a whole lot about blogging and just needing an outlet. Maybe I would write things that relate to other people. Maybe not.

I enjoy literary writing, which requires a good deal of time and thought. I’m proud of a lot of those pieces and wanted them to be shared outside my blog in a collection with other strong writing. I have sent a lot of my work to small lit presses. I waited months for a response. Sometimes, I didn’t want to wait and posted on my blog.

Writers and people before me who have a thing to say or two about writing have always said this: write for yourself first. And if anything else, I’m happy that I have been able to do this in my lifetime.

Reasons I write

  1. Emotional release
  2. To know more about myself and what I think, even if it’s hard to articulate
  3. The craft of writing. Because getting better at something I like is fun.
  4. To connect with other people
  5. To create a name for myself

Emotional release

Writing for emotional release and understanding is a well-known use of the trade. Emotions are complex, beautiful beasts and if you don’t spend getting time to know them and how you use them, life can get pretty hazy. Not saying writing is the only way to get intimate with your emotions, but it’s my way of doing so.

To know myself

I want to know what I think and why I think that. Being authentic, no matter how painful it is and what I learn about myself, has always been one of my life goals.

It’s so easy to get caught up in what other people think, especially when we’re connected to each other’s opinions and thoughts more than ever before. This blog was supposed to be a spot where my thoughts could free fall. I say “supposed to” because I think I went through a few big life phases during this blog, but was unable to fully capture this experience openly. Because I was afraid of what other people think about me.

Along the way I also learned about “boundaries” and have grown to appreciate my privacy. I allowed myself to go through these changes on the other side of this blog. I write very personal things, and sometimes I’m not always aware of how this information can open myself up in vulnerable ways that some people may try to take advantage of. People who are not actively trying to understand their emotions tend to do this, and are not always aware of or care about how their emotional responses affect other people.

That being said, I’d like to continue to write what I mean in the best way possible, regardless of how others use their emotions.

The craft

I’ve spent more time and energy on writing than I have on any other passion or skill in my life. Why stop now? I’m not a perfect writer, and I don’t intend to be, but I’m not done learning. Do you see the headings I’m using in this blog? I more recently learned why that’s important for a reading experience. Learning about writing and implementing what I learn is very rewarding to me.

Don’t get me wrong: writing is still pure agony. But then the agony is also plain fun. And maybe that’s sadistic, but there are worse things.

To connect with other people

Notice that “to connect with other people” is fourth. Especially for writers trying to figure out their groove and niches, writing for people before knowing what interests you is not something I and others who write recommend.

That being said, I care about my work being read. A few months ago a woman commented on my blog about combatting anxiety. I appreciated her comment and thought about it a lot.

To make a name for myself

I still struggle with this one just as a lot of writers and people who want to be known for something they put a lot of heart and time into something do. Because I care about the artistic experience, I don’t want to come out with quick, easy material that isn’t accomplishing my emotional and self-awareness needs in writing for the sake of being provocative and being known.

However, marketing myself and being confident about my talents needs to be on this list. I want people to know me, and I think it can be accomplished since I require a lot of honesty with myself.

What I dig

Since starting this blog, here is what I learned that I like to write:

  1. Poetry
  2. What I’m reading or watching
  3. Current events
  4. Travel logs
  5. Stories
  6. First hand accounts

I have always been overwhelmed by my amount of creative interests, which is why I tried not to limit the types of content on this experimental platform I created for myself. I even started putting my sketches on this site, which is another creative interest I tacked onto my interest load.

This has made planning and consistency for this blog highly problematic. The amount of times I overthought form and ended up with no blog at all is very frustrating to me. And looking at this blog as a whole entity is also very interesting and confusing to me.

Blogs you liked the most

Writers are nothing without their readers. And that’s where I’d like to improve this year. I renewed this blog because I’d like to be more consistent, open and aware of my audience.

Here are the blogs you viewed/liked the most:

What this list tells me is that people tend to click and engage with posts about my family, sex, life goals, best tips and relationships the most. This makes sense because they are the most articulate and often openly emotional.

Based off the stats I have on this blog, I also learned that 2015 was my best year. I posted only 15 blogs that year, but received the most amount of views. It would appear that in my case quality over quantity makes a big difference.

I’m sure I could spend a lot longer on analytics. I’m telling you about them because I want you to know that I care about what both you and I like and want to create more of it. In reorganizing this blog and strategizing from this point forward, I will be more consciousness of what content works and doesn’t.

In the end, this stuff does come from the crevices of my heart, so it means a great deal that you would choose to spend time on it. Life is short and your time is important. Thank you for reading!

Flipping off my baby

I wrote one personal essay that was published in a small online publication for emerging writers. This was my first. I’m moderately happy about it. I guess. Let’s pretend I didn’t forget how to walk and royally fuck up my knee on the third flight of stairs leading to my apartment after I read the acceptance email. Let’s pretend I didn’t dance in my living room in my sports bra and granny panties when I read it a second time.

After months and months of shooting in the dark as a writer without a name, getting someone to notice you at all is kind of hard. Maybe you know exactly what I mean. But someone did, and I’m very grateful for it. If you’re so interested in reading my piece (I swear I will only do this self-promotion once) you can find it here: http://birdsthumb.org/july-2015/2015/7/1/whoopie-pie

Anyway this piece really worked for me. I was proud of it enough to send it off somewhere. It’s my baby, but it’s also the bane of my existence at this point in time.

I’m looking to tackle writing from this kind of lens again, but I’m kind of left scratching my butt right now. How did I do that? I keep asking myself. Do it again. Yeah, just like that, I say. Like it’s algebra. And when I try to write in the same sort of fashion, it falls a part in my pan like a poorly made omelet. Too much milk? I wonder. I should have probably sprayed the pan first, huh? The truth is it was one of those unicorn pieces a writer has that happens on paper without very much constipated thought. It just kind of happened, and I ran with it.

I recently saw this photo collage on Facebook or something of a mother flipping off her newborn child. She made it clear she absolutely loves her new baby, but that she doesn’t appreciate when her baby doesn’t let her sleep more than one hour every night. So she flips her sleeping baby the bird. And the baby is none the wiser. My experience with my piece is kind of like that. I love my baby, but my baby is kind of tormenting me.

6 word narratives

I have been writing a lot, but not posting to my blog because I’m kind of confused about what to do with my content. I’ve been submitting a few things to contests and literary magazines, and deleting various things off my blog to avoid the “no previous publishing, including blogs” rule that seems to reside in most submission guidelines. This is totally understandable, but I kind of miss my blog. I’ve been seeing a lot of these 6 word (10 etc) narratives floating around lately. I wrote them for submission, but now I’m deciding I just kind of want to share them here.

If you have any ideas or your own experience on how to separate (or don’t) your blog content from what you want to see in print, I’d most definitely appreciate hearing about it.

In other news, here is my attempt at 6 word narratives. I realize some of them paint a larger story while some read like punchlines, and wish to improve those. Feedback is most welcome. This was an awesome exercise that I’m planning on doing again. Next time, I will probably end up with less, but that’s okay. You will have fun too, I’m sure.

Bathroom love
Bathroom stalls tell me I’m beautiful.

Passerby
Lock your doors! Black man!
No.

Bully
I’ll teach that cyberbully a lesson.

One and only
The man for me is dead.

After work relaxation
I hear oceans in wine glasses.

Coming and going
My boyfriend pulls out…the driveway.

Grocery shopping
NEW! Soap Paper Towels are unnecessary.

Inner child
My shrink is a little boy.

School’s out forever
I will pay attention this time.

Baby
Childless. A baby can mean anything.

Nine to five
Co-workers talk about weather. The end.

Gravedigger
Grandma’s body is in Grandpa’s grave.

It’s a date
The automated voice message called back.

Hired
New hire was fired years ago.

Snap
Customer snaps his fingers. Waitress snaps.

The order
Blowjob with fries, please. Thank you.

Breaking news
6 word stories read like headlines.

How to reach an audience
Writers somewhere between confidence and humility.

Peer-to-peer inspiration

I have the privilege to review a screenplay. And it’s really good, too. I won’t talk too much about it. 1. I’m only 10 pages into it. 2. The writer is still at work. Not being sexist, ( let’s be real, most of my favorite writers are pissed off hermit white dudes), but I’m doubly excited because it’s written by a chick. She is someone I would have never thought of approaching in my younger days, but here we are connecting over our craving for writing, connecting over finally connecting to who we are becoming. I’m excited to keep reading.

Taking a long time to warm up to smart people who also inspire me is a pattern with me. But when I do, I’m hard to shake.

My friends and I started a writing group not that long ago. It’s all I want to think about most days. They all have their own thing going — metafiction, fables, a day in the life. I get to live through many eyes and backspacing fingers. I get to see writing planted. We write, it rains, and then there are little buds poking from the soil. I get to see stories alive and growing. I see my friends, and they’re writers in motion. For a lack of prettified language because it’s getting late: it’s freaking fantastic.

Just recently, one of my group members came up with an assignment. We were to make a list of all the things we’ve written thus far. It’s something to see. Everyone has a little list — bits and pieces of ourselves that we’ve shown to each other in different lights. So far I have a quarter of a book, several poems and essays, and three short stories. I had never written a short story prior to joining this group, but now I have nine versions of the same short story. It was better after I made every round of edits, and my group members fixed their beady eyes in between the lines. I’ve gotten really good with criticism. I take most of what people throw at me, but then at times I defend what I really want to savor for my own.

But you know what’s awesome? Finally getting to that point in your life where you can be surrounded by talented people, learn from them, and cheer them on. And in turn, having that come back to you.

“You” who was intimidated by smart, talented people because you didn’t feel like you measured up, that maybe you were just an open mouth, that maybe you were unrefined, classless. That maybe people didn’t want to listen because you spit your gritty words in their faces. But then you changed your tune. You found a way to love through the holes of yourself and reached the other side. You couldn’t see, only feel your way around. Someone was there. Someone reached back. Sometimes loving in the dark overtook you. You were mistaken for fickle, fucked up, emotional, and loose. Sometimes you let yourself believe that you were only these things.

And when I say YOU I mean me, but maybe you can relate.

I feel like a Linkin Park song

Sometimes the noise in my head is so loud I just have to say fuck it and surrender to the tears that are pushing and shoving their way through my tear ducts. They all want a turn to star in the show. Me, me, pick me, Sarah. Cry me! I’m next in line.

Today I cried in my car parked in front of a Subway. I’ll take the 6’’ inch turkey with chips, and a cup full of snot, please. There was this guy in a dark Mustang parked next to me who looked startled, then squeamish—like he just saw a squirrel get run over, and he was trying not to stare directly into the pool of glistening guts. So warm and gooey.

Subway is long gone. I’m home alone. I reactivated, then deactivated my Facebook at least five times. I tried to change my profile picture to something less morbid, less “feel-sorry-for me.” But then again, I don’t know what face I could possibly make to convey all of what I’m trying to say. It’s known in my circle of friends, co-workers, and family that I’ve shied away from social media and why. After fumbling around on Facebook again and again and failing to speak up for myself, I went to the gym.

The gym is one of the few routines—that and my beautiful drop of delicious sunshine a.k.a writing group—I have to my name. Zumba always makes me feel GOOD. Like I’m one sexy, strong mama with a slammin’ pair of hips. Like the flaming-bird-spirit-child I’m supposed to be. If I could stare at my ovaries in the mirror during Zumba, I would. I would ask them out on a date and get to know them.

And then the adrenaline dripped like a hose that’s just been turned off. And here I am. Alone with myself. It doesn’t help that my pits smell.

It’s 10 p.m. right now, and I’m forcing myself to write. Even though I detest writing when I start to dip this low.

The truth is I don’t want to sound like a Linkin Park song.

I’m sorry if you like Linkin Park. I like Linkin Park, too, actually. Back in the day, Meteora was my jam. But for some reason I thought I was light years away from Meteora in terms of my life. I thought I only had room for Bob Dylan, for Iron and Wine right now.

It’s not only the lyrics (Somewhere I Belong, Breaking the Habit, and Easier to Run, if you want to get all technical about it). I also feel like I’m made of Chester Bennington’s voice. I’m the hairball covered in shards of glass scraping on your tongue. I’m like swallowing a blister that explodes in the back of your throat. I guess I just want kind of want to break things. Or run.

I told everyone that I need some alone time because I truly do. I told them because I’m not one of those people who just disappears. My brother tells me, “Dude, Sarah, you sound sooooo emo right now.” One of my cousins thinks I’m pulling some bomb ass Edgar Allan Poe shit. My friends and boyfriend support me, but linger in the shadows just in case I need anything. My parents have no idea what planet we’re on, and that I live in it.

I’m not blaming my parents for this. Even though they have a lot to do with things. In fact, I have this ancient biblical-like scroll I could pull out and read to them. But I have never blamed anyone for my problems, and I’m not about to start.

My wanting quiet time is supposed to be a good thing. I set out to work on my writing, settle the racing thoughts, figure out where I want to go next. YOU ARE HERE on the map. But I’m having a rough time with it because in the silence, I’m finding yesterday’s news. It turns out I’ve been hoarding newspapers for years.

I’m reverting back to the gurgling, black pit of insecurity and helplessness that we so cherish in our adolescence. And the worst part is I’m not okay with that. The steaming bitch inside me is not onboard with letting me feel this all out. Even though “feeling this all out” is a part of the plan.

Because the same hustler, the same back patter who has been working with me, inside me, for years is also the one handing me my ass, my severed head.

Here’s what you don’t learn sitting at a desk or find staring at you in the middle of the notes you wrote in your college rule notebook: sometimes you sweat blood to get out of the dark cloud of your home life, you push yourself, you come ploughing through the other side—and you realize that it kind of feels the same. Except there’s nothing there. There is no broken home, no screaming match, no violence on the other side. The nothingness itself is what eats away at you.

You move into an apartment. You feel the wind in your hair of being on your own. You find a full-time gig, a window to your career, something to do with your time. You have someone to share it with, who understands what it’s like to be a 20 something on your own in 2014, someone who will hug you through it all. You think, I’m ready to begin my life, but wait…

And suddenly, IT is there. IT never left you. IT rings like a bell reminding you what you left behind. (Speaking of Poe) BELLS BELLS BELLS; to the rhyming and the chiming of the bells. There’s nothing touching you. You can’t feel it on your skin, taste it on your tongue. You try like it’s your religion to phrase and re-phrase it the best way you can. You try to outrun your past, and you find it here waiting for you—sleeping in your bed, sharing a cup of coffee in the morning with you. It says, “hey man, remember me?” with a nod of its head. It tells you fuck off in between red lights.

My parents are cropping up in casual conversations. It’s almost how I introduce myself, how I recap my weekend. How was your weekend, Sarah? Oh you know, my mom wants to live in my living room. The usual. How do I tell people that that she calls me weekly, pleading in pain, while I’m at work? I don’t. Because that shit doesn’t fly, dat shit don’t pay rent. Sarah, please help me. Please help me, Sarah. And I feel ready to cave, to just give it all up. To move back into the cigarette-stained apartment, to suffocate again with her. All in the name of HELP.

If you read my pulse, you’d find my family there. If you listened close enough, you’d hear something bleating like a half-wounded sheep. I used to have this on lockdown. For a long time FAMILY was the one genre of honest writing that was off limits for me.

I desperately want to ebb and flow in front of my siblings. They after all lived through the same thing. But I’m too stubborn to show them, too scared to get black ink all over their clothes. My brother is a young dad now. He’s found a way to outsource his rage, through scream-o music, and my jaw drops in awe whenever I hear him scream. It’s thrilling to me—like the feeling I get on the Giant Drop. My sister has a new boyfriend she’s really pumped about. And apparently she’s what the kids call “a boss” at her job. The other one is going to school after silently digging holes into herself and straggling from house to house for years. I worry about them as often as I click on a link, as I type a sentence, as I turn a tight corner. I also well an ocean of pride for them because I know what it takes. It takes everything just to move an inch in the muddy waters of poverty, of pain you wouldn’t believe even if you lived it. Because trust me, I don’t believe my eyes.

Being the first to graduate in your family sounds like a big fucking accomplishment. It is, don’t get me wrong. But there’s something so pathetic about coming out the other side alone. There’s no one at the finish line to share this with me. I left people behind. When I come back to visit, there’s this artificiality, this distance, this need for them to understand me. I miss my people. I need my people. But I’m afraid to get close.

Let’s get back to Linkin Park, and why the bitch inside my head is not okay with me feeling the music. When I was 13, this was expected. I just let myself feel whatever I had to feel, and then moved on. Mostly, I felt angry. I felt suffocated. But as soon as I opened the sliding door, when I left the dingy, cigarette stained apartment, shit was funny again. I turned to my friends and teachers; I didn’t push them away or push the button on self-sabotage when my open life was staring me in the face.

Sometimes I wish I could just inject funny into me. I used to see directly past pain, and a lot of that had to do with my ability to open my mouth, hear the sound come crashing behind my tonsils, and laugh with my entire body. My defenses are down. I’m so good at making myself laugh, at laughing at myself. But right now my humor sounds like a radio playing muffled music, short-circuiting under water.

I try to move on, but really what I’m doing is distracting myself, over stimulating myself—with the Internet mostly. With the opinions and thoughts of everyone else, so I don’t have to be alone, truly alone. At home and at my desk, I’m living in this hyper sensory bubble. When something happens—not just to my family, to people I hardly know or don’t know at all—the bubble I’m living in zaps me. My hair stands up straight from the electricity. When a journalist is beheaded. When a comedian kills himself. When an entire population is led to an edge at gunpoint. I suddenly can feel that, too.

I feel like a dandelion that’s being plucked over and over. When did I become such a delicate, little flower?

And then there’s the whole what am I going to do with my life thing that plagues us all. I figured out a long time ago that I’m not okay with doing something that isn’t meaningful to me. What I really want to do depends on if other people think I have anything legit to say. It has to smell new, feel new. It can’t be covered in chocolatey clichés. For the love of god, I want to be a writer. A WRITER. I usually follow this with a punchline, chortle, a snort. Why of all things, does it have to be that? Why couldn’t I have picked something else to fall in love with?

I don’t even know what kind of writer I want to be. My boyfriend tells me I need a niche. Hey babe, you’re good at movie and book reviews. Hey babe, you love poetry. I know I need to narrow things down, too. The trouble is I have this professorial snob in the back of my mind who is wagging HIS (because let’s face it, most known writers are men) finger at me, telling me I’m not smart enough to be a writer. He speaks in a British accent of course. He asks me what I know. I tell him I’m not sure. And he laughs a merry laugh that only a well-esteemed, well-accomplished old, white man can.

I know a million people around me who are feeling the flimsiness of being a 20 something in 2014. As my best friend said to me last night in between my large gulps of air, our parents, people before us, don’t know what it’s like now—to graduate from college, to write a resume, to encourage yourself, to find a job, to learn the ropes of a new one, or to be stuck in one. It’s a miracle that I still have my best friend, that I have friends to share these raw sentiments with.

In a sense, this is why I’m sharing all of this. I know I say I want alone time, but this does not mean I’m truly alone. I know you are on the other side feeling some of these things, too.

Here’s the advice that I’m telling my wide-eyed, sleep-deprived self this morning. (It’s no longer 10 p.m. I woke up. It’s 7:30. I have to be at work at 9.)

The advice I tell myself is nothing fancy. It doesn’t wear designer clothes. It’s what I tell everyone else. Here it goes: just roll with it. If you feel pain, fucking let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. Girl, don’t push it down. Where do you think that shit goes? You can’t simply have a bowel movement, and out it goes. Wrapping up insecurity and pain and stamping a frilly bow on top of it all is not the way to go about things. It has never helped anyone. Hiding breeds bad adults. Plain and simple. Say something. For fuck’s sake, wake up, speak up. Turn around and look. We’re all bleeding around you.

Irene

Back when I still shelved books for far below a living—well, read books or whispered about them with my co-workers between the stacks—I knew this peculiar bird of a woman, Irene who worked in adult reference.

Irene always wore homemade things—earrings of two crooked figurines woven from sharp wire, a speckled feather broach with a flimsy emerald in the middle, or a sweater patterned with different shapes and colors of eyes. She was like one of those storks you see along the highway that juts out from a pond on two long stilts, with a brightly colored bill that doesn’t blend well against the back fall of soft, pastel greens.

But there Irene sat behind the reference desk, attempting to bleed into invisible reeds. She was always surprised when a patron approached her. “Excuse me, do you think you could help me use the print card?” a patron would ask. In her thick-rimmed glasses, her eyes readjusted as if light was shined directly into them, and she looked desperate to fly.

It must have been hard for Irene to thrive eight hours a day in a building completely surrounded by glass on all sides. Under the green, limey lights, there were books filled with songs and rhythms sung by birds of paradise, the poets she idolized.

I remember taking big fish gulps of air in my car before coming into work. I did this a lot to prepare myself for a long silence that was usually punctured with the unsure, rampaging thoughts of a growing person. Once, I saw Irene’s face from the employee door window. There was no color in her cheeks, and her eyes welled wildly, bulging with whiteness. Her gray face staggered back and forth, and her bottom lip trembled. She looked beyond seasick—more like she just discovered a corpse, or something worse. Though her stare lingered in my direction, our eyes never met.

Irene had disappeared before I had the chance to meet her at the door. Once I clocked in, I rushed over to Irene’s desk on the other side of the library. I demanded to know what it was she saw in the window, and why she was staring like a seer with a horrific vision. She was confused, like I just informed her that I had seen her sleep walk. After a long time, she seemed to come to her senses. She said, “I didn’t even know you were working today—you aren’t even on the schedule. I had this weird feeling. I could feel you all the way from here behind my desk. I just knew you were here.”

One time she discovered me writing a poem in the break room. She made a strange cooing sound and cocked her head sideways as if to hear the words I scribbled onto the paper. And once again our eyes missed one another’s. She looked like a little girl who wanted to share a secret, but didn’t know how. Irene told me she tried writing for herself, but she stopped because she got a “little carried away.” Somewhere along the way, she misplaced something and had to retrace her steps. By the time she went back to her trail, the breadcrumbs were all gobbled up—by birds if I were to guess.

A few years later, I heard Irene had a run-in with death. She never married or had any kids. She donated one of her kidneys to a man she hardly knew. Her body seemed to know it was missing something and put up a fight. I have a hard time imagining doing the same—offering my body for harvest while it’s still alive—to help a stranger.

These days I hear Irene is lighter, even flightier than before. She’s somber when she stares out the windows. I hear she has begun to write again.

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.

I’m going to write

Image

“I’m going to write tomorrow. I’ll wake up early, you’ll see,”

I told my couch ridden boyfriend whose sight was set on bed.
He lulled his neck like a banana, spilling its peel over a paisley pillow.
His mouth stretched a yawn, a long “sounds good, babe.”

It’s tomorrow,
and my alarm sounds like dandelion seeds clinking softly against wind.
Whoever made this ringtone hit SNOOZE on commonsense, I think
as I pile the words NEW CLOCK WEEKEND
on the pad of paper I keep on my nightstand.

Just in case I dream in stories.

Like the one about the earring farm.
The land the farm sat on was neither flat nor hilly.
It was more like a platform of air, of nothingness, really.
There I was plowing a spaceless field for delicate droplets of jewelry.
The sky was knitting a blanket above me.
The clouds were orange as Dreamsicles.
Then suddenly they shifted to storminess.
And then the clouds began to fold around me.
I was tossed into a basket of swirling scenery.
I tussled about like soiled laundry
around and around.
I couldn’t catch my breath,
started to claw my way out,
but my arms were like plucked weeds,
useless, tired without the ground…

WAKE UP. TIME TO GET UP.
(Sweat. Dandelion seeds chime.)

I take mental notes on my slumber.
Just in case I know what it means,
how to de-discombobulate dreams.

No frets, I’m going to write.
I’ll skip breakfast, I say.

Instead, my eye catches the sink, dirty as an unfiltered fish tank,
the drowning dishes call for help and utility.
There’s one fork left in a drawer shy of spoons.

My car door slams shut.
I’m the hellbound bat dipping in and out of lanes.
At a red light, I smear on eyeliner.
Maybe I can jot down a few lines before

“Good morning, everyone.”

There’s a week left until the magazine prints,
so we race like white rabbits,
pit patter on the keyboards

until we fall into a state of dizzy busyness.

The air is a 9 to 5 kind of dry.
Every now and then someone coughs,
or looks out the window to detect rain.

“Weatherman said sunny, mid-70’s.”
“Yup. Hopefully it warms up. I’m slightly cold.”

I have to urinate despite my lack of water.

As I edit, I can hear pounding through the drywall.
Our neighbors work with metal, or rocks they throttle
into the thin borders between us.

I respond to emails from other realms.

Dear so and so,

I am writing to you because I’m interested in your company’s story. I would like to set a time to talk to you, so I can write about how awesome you are.

I will jump through hoops to meet your schedule.

Regards, sincerely, best.

Name
Lengthy, important title
Address
Phone number
Here, have my cell too.
Email
I’m on Twitter.
And LinkedIn
And Facebook
The End.

Lunch time breeds freedom, the nourishment of words
I’m going to write then.

I sit on a wooden bench with a recycled notebook open on my lap
The lines on the page entice me, whisper secrets in my pen’s ears.
I turn to the first leaf, and breathe in until I can feel my bellybutton.

Where was I again?

My phone rings.
It’s my sister from the other side of Illinois,
the cornstalks, no burbs with freshly renovated parks,
large mall lots, or helicopter parents in Sedans.
She’s away at school for the first time.
She says she’s homesick and needs money.
I talk to her like a mom who knows better,
and I can hear her roll her eyes through the phone.

We strike up a deal,
I’ll send her a pot so she can cook spaghetti.

FINALLY,
I bow my head downward to the white space.
“I’m going to write,” are my first lines.

“How about a drink of water, Max?”
asks this silver haired woman to her bulldog.
I look up and watch her pick up her dog,
lean her body against the fountain,
and let him lap from the flowing faucet.
“Now, that’s better, isn’t it?”

The next time I sit down to write,
I juggle raviolis for dinner, gulp coffee
in uncomfortable lumps,
read text messages from people
I’ve ignored throughout the day.

I use the last of my words to explain.

I say the same word over and over.
I try to teach my bird how to talk.
Her feathers ruffle her annoyance;
I tell her not be cheeky.
“Say hello, Khaleesi.
Hello. Hello. Hello.”

I flip on the T.V. and let whatever’s on fill my ears.

The door creaks open, and my boyfriend wipes his feet on WELCOME.

He sniffs the air, asks what’s cooking,
how my day was, if I wrote.

I tell him almost,

I’m going to write tomorrow,
I’ll wake up early, you’ll see.