Dolores Gurske with my Emma at Flying Eagle Resort
ADHD

Voices and Comfort

I can’t open up to my psychologist yet.  I realized this when I finally took a breath after weeks of relentless cycles of giddiness and tears and I knew it wasn’t medical or needing a check.  No.  It does this; when something bothers me–in my heart and who and where I am–it manifests in my body until the truth hits.  I cried and let it all out to my grams.  I told her all my secrets NO ONE KNOWS.  And she told me I was still so sweet.  That I had to be better to myself, that I would figure it out–because I always have.  And I sat for awhile in the silence in the dark and let my mind finally rest.  Finally.  And it hit me.  The time here lately has been a progression of the positive–I am changing.  And my “epiphany” was to make a change.  I am going back to school with my writing/soc/psych and I am going to teach art therapy/trauma writing to women and children of trauma (Vets w/ PTSD would be amazing).  I told my grams “I feel so big inside–whole worlds are opening up in me–but my outer life is so small…” And this decision to finish school and USE WHAT I HAVE BEEN THROUGH TO HELP OTHERS GET THROUGH IT.  I know I’ll do it like I know I’m getting better–a well-known FACT.

I wish I could talk to my psychologist, Allison, like this.  After all that’s why I am seeing her.  I had a sort of assignment because I busy myself so much because I am trying to find purpose in my days, and we started talking about the voices I have heard.  THe challenge is to try to listen to them, and to not fear them–see what they say.  And somehow, last night (I’ve sought out the old woman and small boy that talked in my head and i can’t find them) so last night I stopped thinking, I just listened.  Listened to the heat click and kick in, my breath, Emma’s sighs from sleep in the other room…until I noticed a relaxing familiar hum coming beneath the real world, and the hum is what’s really real.  A woman was talking, she didn’t sound old.  I kept listening and tried so hard to remember what she was saying for later but i knew if I did try I’d lose it, so I just listened.  And it at first sounded like my older sister Nikki talking about the television or something, But the voice came closer, and more clear and I knew who was talking in my head to the others–it was me.  ME.  And I remember I said something about finding something and I had it the whole time.  I don’t understand but I don’t think what she/I said was of any importance.  But it was me.  My voice.

WHAT THE FUCK

But I am not afraid–I am utterly curious.  The mind fascinates me.

Thanks Grams, for sorting out my tired head, you in your yellow floral sweater you used to wear with the embroidered collar on it.  I miss you.  I love you.  Sorry I haven’t talked to you out loud since I was in the mental ward, but I know you see into me–you see me getting better.   Rest in Peace.

Dolores Gurske (Aug 2008) with my girl, Emma at Flying Eagle camping resort–she knew from the beginning that Emma was going to be hilarious, and one hell of a little kid.  The way she looked at her.

Dolores Gurske with my Emma at Flying Eagle Resort

Dolores Gurske with my Emma at Flying Eagle Resort

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On Writing

Writing Tips and Quotes

Here is a list of many essays, articles, quotes, and links on writing advice, tips, theory, and thought.

faulkner_publicity_san(from 23 Tips from Famous Writers)

“Let the writer take up surgery or bricklaying if he is interested in technique. There is no mechanical way to get the writing done, no shortcut. The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error. The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity. No matter how much he admires the old writer, he wants to beat him.” ― William Faulkner

“You either have to write or you shouldn’t be writing. That’s all.” ― Joss Whedon

Ray Bradbury

“If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.” ― Ray Bradbury

“One doesn’t become an artist overnight. First you have to be crushed, to have your conflicting points of view annihilated. You have to be wiped out as a human being in order to be born again as an individual. You have to be carbonized and mineralized in order to work upwards from the last common denominator of the soul. You have to go beyond ity in order to feel from the very roots of your being.” ——The Tropic of Capricorn

“Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt use it–don’t cheat with it. Be as faithful to it as a scientist–but don’t think anything is of any importance because it happens to you or anyone belonging to you.” –Hemingway

“Advice? I don’t have advice. Stop aspiring and start writing. If you’re writing, you’re a writer. Write like you’re a goddamn death row inmate and the governor is out of the country and there’s no chance for a pardon. Write like you’re clinging to the edge of a cliff, white knuckles, on your last breath, and you’ve got just one last thing to say, like you’re a bird flying over us and you can see everything, and please, for God’s sake, tell us something that will save us from ourselves. Take a deep breath and tell us your deepest, darkest secret, so we can wipe our brow and know that we’re not alone. Write like you have a message from the king. Or don’t. Who knows, maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who doesn’t have to.” ― Alan Watts

Tell It Slant: How to Write a Wise Poem (poetry foundation): “The essence of poetry is the unique view—the unguessed relationship, suddenly manifest. Poetry’s eye is always aslant, oblique,” says poet Josephine Jacobsen. What I am arguing for is a degree of obliqueness sufficient to allow the mind to rest on something else, something unexpected. To be oblique is not the same as to be opaque. Obliqueness refers to angles and slopes, to geometry that is not parallel. “Tell all the truth but tell it slant,” Dickinson reminds.

Czeslaw Milosz said, “To write a wise poem one must know more than what is expressed in it. Consciousness leaves every means of expression behind. Hence the regret that we will remain sillier in human memory than we were at the moments of our acutest comprehension.”

How to Be a Bad Writer (Harriet poetry blog):

Check out this post from This Recording that collects “on writing” statements from a number of writers, with some cool photos. Here are Langston Hughes and John Ashbery’s entries. Follow the link for the rest!

Patricia Spears Jones (and she loves her blues) and her BLOG

Writers on Writing: 12 Writers Discuss the Writing Process (like KNOW YOUR GENRE!):

  • Donald E. Westlake
    “In the most basic way, writers are defined not by the stories they tell, or their politics, or their gender, or their race, but by the words they use. Writing begins with language, and it is in that initial choosing, as one sifts through the wayward lushness of our wonderful mongrel English, that choice of vocabulary and grammar and tone, the selection on the palette, that determines who’s sitting at that desk. Language creates the writer’s attitude toward the particular story he’s decided to tell.” (January 2001)
  • Elie Wiesel
    “Acutely aware of the poverty of my means, language became obstacle. At every page I thought, ‘That’s not it.’ So I began again with other verbs and other images. No, that wasn’t it either. But what exactly was that it I was searching for? It must have been all that eludes us, hidden behind a veil so as not to be stolen, usurped and trivialized. Words seemed weak and pale.” (June 2000)

Advice on Writing: the collected wisdom including books on the art by famous writers (Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Didion, Sontag, Vonnegut, Bradbury, Orwell, and other literary icons.)

“Understanding is not a piercing of the mystery, but an acceptance of it, a living blissfully with it, in it, through and by it.” –Henry Miller

Miller begins by relaying his journey of discovery, that essential and infinite process that helps us transmute information into knowledge and wisdom:

Writing, like life itself, is a voyage of discovery. The adventure is a metaphysical one: it is a way of approaching life indirectly, of acquiring a total rather than a partial view of the universe. The writer lives between the upper and lower worlds: he takes the path in order eventually to become the path himself.

I began in absolute chaos and darkness, in a bog or swamp of ideas and emotions and experiences. Even now I do not consider myself a writer in the ordinary sense of the word. I am a man telling the story of his life, a process which appears more and more inexhaustible as I go on. Like the world-evolution, it is endless. It is a turning inside out, a voyaging through X dimensions, with the result that somewhere along the way one discovers that what one has to tell is not nearly so important as the telling itself. It is this quality about all art which gives it a metaphysical hue, which lifts it out of time and space and centers or integrates it to the whole cosmic process. It is this about art which is ‘therapeutic’: significance, purposelessness, infinitude.

From the very beginning almost I was deeply aware there is no goal. … With the endless burrowing a certitude develops which is greater than faith or belief. I become more and more indifferent to my fate, as writer, and more and more certain of my destiny as man.

“Writing is not an exercise in excision, it’s a journey into sound.”  –EB White —

In one, predictably, White remains true to the book’s overarching ethos, reminiscent of David Ogilvy’s famous 1982 memo on writing, and makes a case for clarity:

Dear Mrs. –

[…]

There are very few thoughts or concepts that can’t be put into plain English, provided anyone truly wants to do it. But for everyone who strives for clarity and simplicity, there are three who for one reason or another prefer to draw the clouds across the sky.

Sincerely,

E. B. White

Zadie Smith: “Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand — but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied.”  

John Steinbeck on writing (taken from brainpickings)

steinbeck1

  1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
  2. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
  3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.
  4. If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.
  5. Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.
  6. If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.

But perhaps most paradoxically yet poetically, twelve years prior — in 1963, immediately after receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature “for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humor and keen social perception” — Steinbeck issued a thoughtful disclaimer to all such advice:

If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes, but by no means always, find the way to do it. You must perceive the excellence that makes a good story good or the errors that make a bad story. For a bad story is only an ineffective story.”

Annie Dillard: “At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your heart, your back, your brain, and then — and only then — it is handed to you.”

Dillard begins:

When you write, you lay out a line of words. The line of words is a miner’s pick, a woodcarver’s gouge, a surgeon’s probe. You wield it, and it digs a path you follow. Soon you find yourself deep in new territory. Is it a dead end, or have you located the real subject? You will know tomorrow, or this time next year. anniedillardYou make the path boldly and follow it fearfully. You go where the path leads. At the end of the path, you find a box canyon. You hammer out reports, dispatch bulletins. The writing has changed, in your hands, and in a twinkling, from an expression of your notions to an epistemological tool. The new place interests you because it is not clear. You attend. In your humility, you lay down the words carefully, watching all the angles. Now the earlier writing looks soft and careless. Process is nothing; erase your tracks. The path is not the work. I hope your tracks have grown over; I hope birds ate the crumbs; I hope you will toss it all and not look back.

Anne Lamott: “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life.”

jack-kerouac

Jack Kerouac’s Belief & Techniques/Rules for Spontaneous Prose:

1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy

2. Submissive to everything, open, listening

3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house

4. Be in love with yr life

5. Something that you feel will find its own form

6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind

7. Blow as deep as you want to blow

8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind

9. The unspeakable visions of the individual

10. No time for poetry but exactly what is

11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest

12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you

13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition

14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time

15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog

16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye

17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself

18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea

19. Accept loss forever

20. Believe in the holy contour of life

21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind

22. Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better

23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning

24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge

25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it

26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form

27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness

28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better

29. You?re a Genius all the time

30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

(taken from LitDrift)–and I have these rules taped to my kitchen cabinet

Margaret Atwood’s 10 Ideas for Writer:

She offers inspiring writers some practical (and perhaps not-so-practical) tips:

1. Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.

2. If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.

3. Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.Canadian author Atwood poses for a portrait in Toronto

4. If you’re using a computer, always safeguard new text with a memory stick.

5. Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.

6. Hold the reader’s attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don’t know who the reader is, so it’s like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What fascinates A will bore the pants off B.

7. You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but –essentially you’re on your own. Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.

8. You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You’ve been backstage. You’ve seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a –romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.

9. Don’t sit down in the middle of the woods. If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.

10. Prayer might work. Or reading something else. Or a constant visualization of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book.

Originally published in an article in The Guardian.

Bipolar Disorder

My Yellowed Reminder, The Bell Jar

“but when I t came right down to it, the skin of my wrist looked so white and defenseless that I couldn’t do it. It was as if what I wanted to kill wasn’t in that skin or the thin blue pulse that jumped under my thumb, but somewhere else, deeper, more secret, and a whole lot harder to get.” bell jar

So I have three copies of The Bell Jar.  Well I only need two–because one of them I still can’t bring myself to look at.  But I refuse to let it go.  It means too much.  When I do look at it I feel that old familiar feeling of dread, the bad kind, the kind that is a glimpse of what you know inevitably is 1111111111112wedfcoming.  I was in high school when it became really strong.  Don’t get me wrong, I knew something was mentally off with me around sixth grade, and had cried and worried so much about it in private by then that I had become accustomed to that level of panic.

…until I got a copy of Plath’s The Bell Jar.  An old yellow one with browning pages.  The bold, curly letters in the title.  Her gnarled name–the woman who didn’t make it.  And she was me.  She was so much like me.  Or IS.  I couldn’t read as I read it in class after class.  I was nauseous but unafraid.  When you know something is going to happen to you that cannot be helped, you somehow brace yourself for more pain, and the fear becomes a numb root in your gut.  And these roots had taken their initial digs years ago, and yet I felt too mildly mad at this time of The Bell Jar reading, that I dared myself to continue and explore what felt like a schizoid terror.

I read and read and read, ill and beyond uncomfortable.  My head fell asleep like a limb, and I couldn’t shake it out.  My friends looked different, they talked different.  I was suffocating.  And I learned only later why Sylvia named it The Bell Jar.  Because that’s what I was in–and it was what I remained in for over a decade after until I broke it.  I decimated the mother fucker.  But it took years away from me.  Years away from my life.  I was dead.  I died.  And then it’s as if I had to just be let be for a few years, which came at a very high cost, but I did come back.  Well, no, you never come back.  Someone else does.  But it’s someone better.  Someone who knows that that rot is gone, it is over–I know that better than I know myself.  Okay, okay I’m sidetracking….

Toward the end of week two (back in high school now) I still hadn’t dared to explore my mind or question my “off-ness.”  I was terrified of it.  And looking back, it’s almost like I could see my future splayed out before me.  A rot.  Some of the parts in the book I still can hardly read completely spell out what I experienced long after reading and trying to forget about The Bell Jar.  For example, when I was in and out of the mental ward and experiencing psychotic break-throughs every day, my “tell” for myself that it was going to get bad was I would look at the shadows on the walls and floors cast from lampshades.  If I was afraid of the shadow, (yes a simple shadow from an actual lamp on an end table) then I knew I had to find something to hold on to because my mind was going to leave me soon.

Prophetic.  Somehow.  Because this book, as I go through it now, there is a part I either didn’t noticed or tuned out–her love of the shadow.  Which is perhaps where I differ in one way with Plath–I did not long for the edge (did she? IDK), I couldn’t look at the thin skin of my wrist because if I did cut it, it wouldn’t be me doing it, it would be my mind, and my mind terrified the living 11111111111111111eeeshit out of me in my late twenties when “the fever” started (the fever festered up from writing so much about my past in college to a point where i couldn’t write anymore and i dropped out, too sick to continue; too afraid of what I was writing).  Perhaps that is our difference–she was braver than me.  But I take that back, she gave up.  And I wonder if it’s all in how your personality and soul handle disorder.  Did she quit because she was so brave to face the blackness and continue into it?  And it was just far too dark for a human?  Or did she almost…obsess with and play with that fire, therefore feeding it?  I don’t know…

What I’m trying to get to is the quote I found in my old goddamned haunting yellowed copy of The Bell Jar:

“I thought the most beautiful thing in the world must be shadow, the million moving shapes and cul-de-sacs of shadow.  There was shadow in bureau drawers and closets and suitcases, and shadow under houses and trees and stones, and shadow at the back of people’s eyes and smiles, and shadow, miles and miles and miles of it, on the night side of the earth.”

My god, I am still effected by this.  My hands are sweating, just as they always do when I ever even consider Plath, a woman/poet I have put off reading my entire life because she is in my head, I was in hers.  Am.  I am, I am, I am.  What I didn’t say is that after that second week in high school of testing my own fire to see how far I could handle this madness-curiosity, I one day left class without permission and threw it into the large waste basket in the hallway.  I purposely threw it.  Hard.  And I wanted to cry.  But even then, it had grown too much in me.  It’s like madness gets its grips in you, so yeah I guess you don’t have to feed it for it to grow, but I knew, (of course I found another old copy of the book and kept it in my cedar chest ever since, untouched, but as a reminder) even after I threw it away and chickened out on testing my…psyche and courage (because messing with those things automatically connects you to messing with the disorder in your brain) I knew it wasn’t over.  I knew something was dreadfully wrong with me, and that it was going to get worse before it would even come a fraction of a millimeter close to creeping out from the shadow.  I feel like a large part of me spent the years from ages twelve to twenty-eight waiting for the demon to come out of me and we’d duke it out.  And it happened.  As I knew it would.  Plath was just as haunted, if not more, because hers drove her to the end.  It came out in voices in my head, and a screaming girl, and psychosis and mania and what felt like acid trips.  I have to say I am amazed I am where I am.  It should’ve killed me, at that magnitude.

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On Writing

Memoir Notes & Ideas

(I elaborate on this idea in the post “5th Ave East” –the sister one)

MEMOIR NOTES & IDEAS

                                            “-parts of you become numb along the way and they fall asleep in their idea that jmmmmmnhbgthis kind of living is okay, and you neglect parts of yourself that need you, because you don’t know how to help it—it’s not that you don’t really know any better (though that’s largely the case) but that that particular sight or emotion got tired and gave up…”

 

*****Here are clips from the 5th ave post that stick out for me, and the point i was trying to make while writing it is now insignificant to me, or rather, it’s not the heart of it. This shit is:

-Womanhood simply did not exist in our household. Well, it existed—it was bursting out the eaves—but it was not discussed. Periods were a thing of disgust and emotions were things for children that we had to learn to put away. We weren’t punished for these things, it was worse—we were ridiculed and teased and took turns being the butt of Scott’s bantering. Even thinking of yourself as a woman was humiliating

-Letting go of childhood—meant letting go of those you loved and if they were hurting you’d better leave them alone to do it.

-Life was becoming, so I was learning, about making it through and praying there was enough of me left to grow after I escaped to live a somewhat normal life–while half of me fought believing that this was it–and the great fear with that is that parts of you become numb along the way and they fall asleep in their idea that this kind of living is okay, and you neglect parts of yourself that need you, because you don’t know how to help it—its not that you don’t really know any better (though that’s largely the case) but that that particular limb or body part or emotion got tired and gave up,

–The second change that occurred between us three is the sad fact that parts of ourselves did shut down, and maybe we were too embarrassed to go to each other, or maybe we were just hurting so damn bad from disappointment and confusion and we saw it reflected in each other, so we just…went with it–believing with dulling hearts that that was just the way it was.

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Music & Writing

She’s Come Undone

It is a sunny afternoon, the light

coming in yellow through her curtains

that cut through the smoke.

Cat Stevens feels like water inside my soul

and then she switches it to Bread

and hands me a dust rag.

I dance across the green and brown

carpet squares; I wipe the hazy walls, the stiff

yellow furniture with the green and gold flowers;

speakers as tall as I am:

it is 1984 and I am my mama’s bumble bee

 

She is young and beautiful;

this is the age I wanted to be her–chain-smoking Dorals

and sipping black coffee, no men for us, no fathers, no drunks
She tells me to get dirty but stay in the yard as she

folds freshly washed laundry from the Good Will.

I see her always moving, and I was a part of that motion,

that current,

that music like water.

I used to find my gravity in her eyes
Not this woman

 

with

this stare,

this woman

 

who wrings

her hands

and tells me
“Amy if there was a gun, I’d do it”

 

tears roll down the lines
of her tired face
weeping for the men that
changed us. Changed us all.

 

At thirty, I am across the table in my secret desperation

I hear the invasion of The Guess Who singing,

my favorite, “Undun” Continue Reading

quotes

from Christian Wiman

“In time, she seems less moved than a part of that which once moved her, fleeting, uncontained, her black-and-white-book-coffee-girl-Favim.com-809549bpresence seen only in what she’s touched: leaves scattered and lost, bodies of dust swirling. She longs to find some calm within what she’s become, inside the sound, a roaming stillness. It seems so close, as if she might, even now, blink and be there, restored, prepared, whispering all she remembers.”

–Christian Wiman

 

“All the thoughts without emotions, all memories without any attachment–my skin is loose and thin.  I don’t speak at these times because I don’t know the girl that will form the words.”  –Amy Jo

 Welcome to Difficult Degrees

Diary of Dawn PowellPhotographed in New York, 2012
My Poetry

Palms Up, Water in the Ward

The journal at my bedside.
I stare at the white winter light
coming though the double-paned glass
and crystal dust drifts in empty air.
The nurse comes in
her alcohol and starched scrubs
tells me to shower.
Pills come in paper cups
Paper ornaments on the
Christmas tree so we can’t harm ourselves.

The journal at my bedside
paper pages, dull and soft with wear–
I’ve had this journal for fifteen years now–

here as a reminder that I was someone. Continue Reading

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Essays

Something Like That

He is the bass stripped down to a dark rhythm that hums to the backdrop of city lights and black and white urban streets and alleys, somewhere foreign to me I want to get lost in. My thoughts around him read like the first time I fell in love with banned books and Henry Miller lovingly wrote “cunt.” I want to turn his pages, I want to read the forbidden words he paints in red for me. A steady and heavy cello across absurd piano strokes crash into everything I’ve judged myself on, every law I am governed by and I am intoxicated by the strangeness, drunk on this existential, loveless affair, this music. Something cold in his quiet demeanor, almost cruel–a hidden beat to his body, to his sex; a muted aggression beneath a tie. I imagine his eyes ignoring his surroundings, lost in thoughts on maybe statistics, maybe sex, maybe the structure of all things black and white, applying logic and reason and theory to the strange design of women. Or maybe he is seeing only scale and the black dots of notes and wanting only an outlet for himself, and maybe I am making this all up because I am looking for it too–somewhere to release it, choke out my tired morals, or at least to have a corner where I don’t have to hide. I feel him make a little room for me, and just the tone in his voice makes me wonder how he would feel inside me. I want to crawl into his mind, I want to be taken senseless without expectation. Just a want–a hunger. I don’t want to be so alone all the time with this appetite, this contorted rhythm in smoke.

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PTSD

Sex, Abuse, Dreams, and Taboos

My hands are actually sweating writing this.  I’ve wanted to write it for a long time but how do you talk about it?  Well–you don’t.  So you write about it, and then no one can look at you.  Childhood sexual abuse, a well-known internet topic, but not-so-known is the secret many victims share–the abuse aroused us.  Maybe not all, but many, many, many survivors share this shame with me.  My therapist wasn’t surprised when I told her about it–which is the only reason I didn’t puke.

I’ve been looking around and found this place helpful–Pandora’s Project.  The opening of their page on Sexual Abuse and Arousal states:

A sexual response or orgasm in the course of sexual assault is often the best-kept and most deeply shameful secret of many survivors. If you are such a survivor, it’s essential that you know that sexual response in sexual assault is extremely common, well-documented and nothing for you to be ashamed of.

and I liked this as well:

If you were sexually assaulted as a child, you were victimized by somebody who had knowledge of how to touch and manipulate you to the ends of their own gratification, and ensuring that your shame and (false) sense of complicity rendered you less likely to tell. It is another dimension of the abuse, and not a statement of you being bad. As you heal, you will come to give the abuser back the responsibility for all of the abuse, including the responses.

However, even though knowing that this reaction is normal, I just can’t accept it, and for very good reasons.  But before I get into that awfully private shit, I want to talk about shame.  I don’t even understand what the word means and I want to know why I don’t.  It’s not in my vocabulary.  I don’t feel like I caused the molesting in any way.  I did not provoke.  I was four for Christ’s sake.  Then why do I hate myself for it?  I don’t understand.  Like this part of my brain is blocked.  I want to do more EMDR.

I have dreams where I am being molested or raped and I wake up in an orgasm.  And the worst part?  The “dirtiest” part? Is in the dream…I like it.  I wake up nauseous and cry my eyes out, wondering what kind of person am I?  And it take A LOT for me to cry.  I have nightmares all the time but these ones kill me.  And then 11111111111111111111111111111there’s the other reason I was hinting at before–my sexuality.  I am a submissive heterosexual bordering on bondage.  Utter submission.  And there are fantasies in my head I’ve only shared with one other  person, and luckily he’s as fucked up as I am, so there’s that camaraderie, lol.  OK, why am I making jokes.

I know arousal is a normal response.  I know that.  But what about now?  What about current sexual desires? –the submissive, bondage, etc.  And is it normal to be having these sick dreams at the same time that I am figuring out my sexuality?  yeah, I’m a late bloomer.  I was very…inhibited and numb until my thirties.  Continue Reading

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creative nonfiction & memoir

My Brain a Splitting Continent

The sun has set and I am standing on the back porch, leaning over the railing.
I hear the screen door creak, his heavy boots sliding.
“Are your friends picking you up tonight?” The nicest question he’s asked in a while. He’s imploring about nonessentials. Something is coming. A faint alarm spins my gut.
He leans against the house under the yellow glow of the porch light and I turn so my side is toward him—I don’t want my ass in his view, and I can read his body language this way. His arms are crossed over his plaid belly, hands under his armpits. He’s nervous.
Hesitating, “Amy, I want to tell you something.”
“What? ‘Is Jeremy going to be there?’”
“No. I trust you.”
Silence. The crickets are loud this spring. I hear the frogs mating out back behind the pole barn. Beyond the tree line, a semi’s headlights float.
“That’s a shocker,” I smile at him. He smiles back and makes room for himself.
“Amy, what are you going to do with your life?”
My smile ends. I look down at Kurt Cobain on my black t-shirt, and hear
“…‘nothin’ on top but a bucket and a mop and an illustrated book about birds…”
I look into the railing’s grain. “I dunno. Why?”
I cannot fully absorb this question. What was I? Who am I but space? I cannot entertain this.
Silence.
I feel his presence suddenly. The atmosphere has changed. “I want you to know something—something I think no one tells you—you have so much potential in you, Amy–so much more than your sisters. You’re talented, you’re smart, you’re brave. There are so many things about you that you will use in this life and you don’t even know it.”
I turn my back to him and watch the tear seep and spread into the wood. Come on Lori…
“I just wanted to tell you that, because you don’t know. Because you act like you don’t care. Because I…”
What is paternal love but the sick twisted measure of a man? I do not know. I think of Jeremy when he says this, and I feel a sickness colliding with compassion for my stepfather. For the quickest moment of my life he is not a monster. He is human. It’s almost love.
The moment passes and I imagine him looking at my body again—yet something in my heart tugs, 16something that has always been a mystery and desperate for me.
“Thanks,” I say coolly, as if in passing. I can’t look at him. Headlights, bass. “Lori’s here.”
“Ok. I just wanted to say it. Have a good night.”
“Thanks,” I say without looking at him and skim down the steps toward the car, heart pounding.
“Hi my Jo-Jo Bean!” Lori smiles, her bouncy self turning down Tupac and putting the Buick in reverse. Night slips around me, the only light from the dash. She hands me a cigarette.
“Hey turn that up,” I say and smile. As if nothing had happened. As if I would forget this.

* * * * * *

I save up for a stereo. It is three hundred dollars and two and a half feet wide. I clear off my dresser with the scarves draped over it, Kurt Cobain on the wall in back. I take my time with my prize; my favorite possession. Speakers hooked up, red to red, black to black. I inhale its plastic newness, the luxury. I open up the four-disc changer and gingerly place Lynrd Skynrd in “disc 1.” I skip to number seven and as the electric guitar starts I gauge the volume by the round knob. My stepfather knows I am angry, so the loudness is acceptable today.
...if I leave here tomorrow, will you still remember me…
I turn it to the right more, until my chest can feel it. It’s the only thing I can feel these days–physical vibrations. The lyrics take me outside myself. I think of Forrest Gump–Jenny standing on the banister of the balcony before her shoe slips. I know that–the curiosity, almost psychotic. No feeling. No thinking.
Next comes “Rage”–Paul York’s take on Bach and the angry, almost cutting violin terrifies me, like a slice through a vein. I want to play it. I see my future in it. I want to be afraid. I want to feel, fear, cry. Anything. (FYI –THIS SONG, RAGE, STILL TERRIFIES ME)

I go to the full-length mirror by the door, a pile of purple and blue eye shadow on the cement floor. The dim light from the lamp shines in the mirror behind my head. I stare as I always do. Waiting for something. I take the shadow applicator and press into the purple powder, as purple as the crayon. I stroke it beneath my eyes and around one, so it looks bruised. Then I hollow out my cheeks, defining the high cheekbones in darkness. I am satisfied and go up the basement stairs to show my family. My stepfather Scott and older sister Nikki are in the kitchen. My mother cross-stitches in the dining room by the bay window. I walk around to face her and wait for her to look up.
“Mom? Can I go to Janelle’s?”
“Yeah,” she barely speaks through pursed lips–a thin white line. She doesn’t look up. I watch her dry, knobby knuckles bend and pull the needle to the dark thread, punched through and in the hooped fabric.
I go back to the kitchen. Scott looks at me, then my chest. He is pale. Continue Reading

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child abuse

When it Makes Sense (Temenos)

“And it is so simple…you will instantly find how to live.” –Dostoyevsky

Do I contradict myself?
Very well, I contradict myself.
I am large.
I contain multitudes.

–Walt Whitman

Temenos:a Greek word which refers to a universal instinct to create a protected, safe space in which to heal, reorganize and regenerate the fragmented personality; taking shape in circular shapes like Mandalas (Jung)…

“Heart on your sleeve”—I had been doing it for years. I’ll admit that for the first one or two years after breakdown, I had to. I didn’t know who I was otherwise, or where I was, or why I was here. Yes. A diagnosis became a light out—a red-pinned focal point on a map of black behavior that was almost sociopathic, because there were no feelings or compassion or empathy behind the wheel. Just actions. Behaviors. Thoughts. An almost death.
I realized I’ve stepped out of my laziness a little—I no longer define myself by some diagnosis or history or trauma. Why do we need to define ourselves by such intangible things? But enough is enough. I’ve been spending a lot of time in silence, and quite a bit making a few new friends online—and woo-hoo one in reality. That was tricky shit at first. But on the real level, the level I care about–I am seeing changes. I am making changes. I have been changing rapidly for the last six years, and things are finally feeling…right. I am feeling forward motion. I am even having flashbacks of beautiful things—that smell in the country air with Erica on our bikes by that shaded plateau of forest where the ground was moss-covered and fragrant. I can smell it. And sunscreen. Mello Yello out of the clean hospital cups her mother worked at outside of town, us on our bikes, thirteen, Walkman speakers connected to the handlebars. Or walking in the cold winter mornings—the world is blue and suffocating and it’s beautiful. Puddles reflecting branches in the cloudy sky, the way water rivulets on pavement, sounding like Spring is coming and then I smell Easter candy and marshmallow peeps and I see Emma the year she was four and got a new bike—bubbles in the chilly air, her orange hair and squinty eyes not so amused, and I smell the carpet of that upstairs apartment and how I climbed the roof to clean windows when she napped, black coffee on the counter and wet lilacs from the rain in my antique mason jars—this is the strange shit I can’t help but notice lately. Smells are overwhelming. And physical oh my god physical–sexual—which is also at its peak. My prime must be here, and I’m only learning my sexuality. I have slept for so long. I was asleep before I got sick. So this being okay and kind of healthy is a whole new trip for me. I define my health. Or I’ve always been sick. And this is me now. And I’m creating who I want to be—or what I want to be. I think we already are whatever we were born for—be it reincarnation, or, what I believe, stardust (the ever-present connection of Taoism and Science)–and our choices and desires only direct a life. And that life is small. Insignificant. And beautiful. When everything is taken away, and I have been completely annihilated and there is no god anymore and there is no purpose, I was forever changed. I cannot unsee. And at last I learned how to stand—because I chose to. Because it was time. It’s easy to lay low as I did for a few years. I could be gentle on myself and say I was recovering and heavily medicated, and that sometimes it’s too much– or I could be harsh on myself and say I was weak to be so afraid of myself. I had not prepared myself for something I had always known was coming. I refused to look in the mirror and be brave. Face myself. Face illness and rot and emptiness. I guess because I didn’t think she’d make it. Huh. I dreamt the other night that I was assigned to this beautiful futuristic apartment in London, and I went to my sister’s apartment to check myself in the mirror. I looked. I was stunning. My dimples, the high cheekbones, the long lashes. Pink lips. So I stepped closer and I startled for a fraction of a second, but didn’t trust my instinct so I leaned closer. I’m suddenly wiping all the makeup off, and beneath the colorful layers, my face is a blackness, a vacuum, a shapely hole of what I imagine to be hell, because it reminded me of being in the mental ward. It scared me but not enough. I was more so curious and imploring.

A few years back I felt like I woke up. I was sitting in the sun and it was spring and there were fat bumble bees. I could smell the mud and budding grass. I believe Sonny Boy Williamson was playing through the window screen. But I wasn’t quite ready. So I kept on, but I knew it was building somewhere in me. Then one day, maybe 2 years later, I woke up to words, as if I’d never used them before. And they began to heal me. And then I found I wasn’t waking up to anything but myself. More and more every day. And I was curious and am curious about this woman. I don’t take any pride anymore in my “wounds”—that’s such a sad way to exist. They are not wounds but just parts. No name to them. They are there and that’s that. Small parts.
I used to fear being so many fragments and pieces. Yet somehow they are all managing to start to fit together a little. I have many masks. I am many people. I change all the time. And I like it. I like that I don’t believe in something or feel I have to. Because I know in my gut I come from something—something as vague and enormous as the universe, and as small as an atom. I’m starting to crave things too, things I was unable to find before or even fathom. I’m hungry for everything and my god, it feels so good.
It’s all become so simple, and it took the most complex existence to figure that out.

“To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities—I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not—that one endures.”

Thanks for listening dear readers.
–Amy Jo

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My Poetry

Madden Me Back

I have lost the need to be someone.
It’s strange that when
You have one piece left of so many selves
And it breaks, shattering your familiar
reflection, You–annihilated in the howling–
and a certain amount of time
will stop mattering as it goes on, and
You pool into something–a fine new liquid–
black beneath the swollen moon,
and then, a tender solid thing.
An awakened body and mind
Cast about in the water’s mad rush,
not afraid of its depth anymore.
A woman now. And a fire stirs–a heat
I’ve never heard of.
No one ever told me I would rise to
occasions On my own accord.
No one ever told me the soul
Is a hungry, insatiable thing
That pulses so right Once
the wounds and lesions Turn to scars.
I am thirsty. I am watching. I am waiting
Continue Reading

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Essays

Not to Touch the Earth

I’m standing on the roof of a four-story building downtown in a city. I’ve just taken Ecstasy. I don’t feel ecstasy. I feel what I learned later to be verging on a psychotic panic. I’m going to jump off if someone doesn’t stop me, if someone doesn’t touch me.

The sky is clear. Alisha spins and spins, her arms out “Amy, oh Amy I love you,” her red hair flashing.

I tell her she looks like Satan.

I feel like the roof is going to tilt and my body will let itself slide to its death. I’m too embarrassed to speak; the stars pulsating in time with the veins in my temples.

It intensifies. I feel the depth pressure when I look over the edge and then run back to the center and fold, wrapping my arms tight around my legs. Alisha is sliding all over in smooth colors. She’s scaring me. And then suddenly I am fire; I am bottomless.

I am I am I am.”

Fucking Sylvia quotes in my racing brain. And then I see her head stuffed in the stove and I hear the blade wretch back on my wrist. Suicide. The very word gives me metal chills, the way the “-cide” sounds like a knife slash on cold teeth. I can’t take it. And now I start believing I am going to die. It has been per-ordained from a higher power that my heart will stop. ….Now

Alisha’s laugh peals through the air and I choke down my fear of the word.  It must be obvious, this affair I’m having with “suicide”–so now it feels like a major question on my lips, but I can’t get up and tell her. She’s holding her breasts through a Dropkick Murphy shirt. The moon high over the rooftop glints on the barbell piercing under her lip. Ed, her boyfriend, makes me think she is a suggestion to a woman like me. Nonsense. Ed. I feel a wash of compassion for Alisha. And then the memory of Ed Norton’s forehead creases, “I am Jack’s raging hard-on.”

I’m a train. I need the ultimate climax in everything I do until I’m repelled by fear—that is all that I have learned about myself, living out here. And that new fear –it’s hard to scare me. Alisha takes my hand and pulls me through the thick air and into the stairwell and kisses my lips, “Let’s go,” and I hold her hand and crash into another night.

I find myself rocking in the dark wet grass behind my apartment. I don’t know how much time has passed since the rooftop. A few people are here and there, bottles of booze and clear baggies of coke. My head spins and then stops, spins and stops. Someone comes out of a threshold somewhere, and I think it’s my dead father, no, I know it’s him. The familiarity I felt when I turned to look over my shoulder was real. The moon shine’s down on a large, flat, white face. A choker with spikes. I am alarmed at this apparition, and then at this ease of myself seeming to slip between reality and delusion. I feel the blood in my temples pound. I’m tearing at the grass, desperately making piles under a calm facade. My roommates are having a party inside and after what seems like hours of confusion, I see clearly, a thought. An act. I have an idea.

I feel myself stalk. My arms possess waves and my hips are on rails. Lily comes to me and she hugs my face and dances in the square of light coming from the kitchen window. “Rider’s on the Storm” is humming and rolling through the house. I scream for Bill to play “Not to Touch the Earth,” and before I realize I finish asking, it shakes me to my core—that high organ keys sounding like an Atari ghost chasing me and I smell brown smooth leather boots and jackets and “Wake up GIRL, WE’RE ALMOST HOME!” And we are dancing. Or we were. Or I just thought we did. Because in another moment I am alone in the quiet grass, easing out of a scare and into a numbing. Not a fine numbing. It used to be fine until it started mattering. It’s easy not to feel. I lie down and let it, inhaling anything that might fill me—be it words or fantasy or pills or gin—until I am brimming with and drowning in just a reflection of myself, pooling into a glass the man I fuck takes a drink from. Electrified flowers. Naked shoulders. I am gone.

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On Writing

Thoughts Developing, more notes…

(I elaborate on this idea in the post “5th Ave East” –the sister one)

MEMOIR NOTES

-parts of you become numb along the way and they fall asleep in their idea that this kind of living is okay, and you neglect parts of yourself that need you, because you don’t know how to help it—it’s not that you don’t really know any better (though that’s largely the case) but that that particular sight or emotion got tired and gave up,

*Here are clips from the 5th ave post that stick out for me, and the point i was trying to make while writing it is now insignificant to me, or rather, it’s not the heart of it.  This shit is:

-Womanhood simply did not exist in our household. Well, it existed—it was bursting out the eaves—but it was not discussed. Periods were a thing of disgust and emotions were things for children that we had to learn to put away. We weren’t punished for these things, it was worse—we were ridiculed and teased and took turns being the butt of Scott’s bantering. Even thinking of yourself as a woman was humiliating

-Letting go of childhood—meant letting go of those you loved and if they were hurting you’d better leave them alone to do it.

-Life was becoming, so I was learning, about making it through and praying there was enough of me left to bloom and blossom after I escaped to live a somewhat normal life–while half of me fought believing that this was it–and the great fear with that is that parts of you become numb along the way and they fall asleep in their idea that this kind of living is okay, and you neglect parts of yourself that need you, because you don’t know how to help it—its not that you don’t really know any better (though that’s largely the case) but that that particular limb or body part or emotion got tired and gave up,

–The second change that occurred between us three is the sad fact that parts of ourselves did shut down, and maybe we were too embarrassed to go to each other, or maybe we were just hurting so damn bad from disappointment and confusion and we saw it reflected in each other, so we just…went with it–believing with dulling hearts that that was just the way it was…..

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creative nonfiction & memoir

A Beginning (Memoir)

Cold January cracks through the diamond patterned lines on the security glass. The winter sun blinds my puffy eyes, stretches across my white blanket, my white sheets. Everything is white. I look for it in my gut—the comfort of warm familiar glows and dawn, but there is none. And the empty nothingness overwhelms me to a sit-up position. Fear. Fearing fear. This fear that had started spreading through me, and now continued as soon as I wake, like a black ink filling my veins. It has a mouth and a long, wide throat and there’s sharp teeth to catch me. There certainly aren’t people because people don’t exist in your head. And I cry because no one can help me out of this. That’s why I am here. I feel the nausea rise and the taste of rubber in my mouth. I cry because there is no God. I try to whisper Hail Mary again like last night. It’s not working. Focus. Panic. Focus. Feel the textures, feel the temperatures. Be present you will not die. I’m dying. Alone in my room, wearing their navy blue scrubs. It’s that starving cry again and I’m no longer embarrassed here to try to muffle it. I also know it doesn’t help worth a damn, but I’m that little girl, aren’t I? That little five year old getting her head kicked in and her underwear pulled. Wasn’t the time I put into this madness enough? It may never end, and I prayed to Mary to let it be over. I hear the little girl’s voice again, sobbing gently in my head. I want to reach inside myself and cut her. Because I know she is where I must begin–this is alone-girl-lonely-smoke-Favim.com-442462only the bottom of the well. It’s unexplored down here and only a shred of January streaks through above me, in that small opening to the world. Miles away. And I have to know this well like the back of my hand if I intend on not only surviving but never coming back. Memories, speak. Memories I’m down I’m down, I can’t fight anymore. And there is nothing left but terror—and even more terror awaits but I must break into this and start eating it alive—I must figure this out. I must feel. I must remember. Or I won’t make it.

The drive in the old red Chevy is a quiet one, nothing but white headlights through the haze of cigarette smoke—Dan, my stepfather, chain-smoking Dorals, watching the road and my thigh. None of us speak—we hardly ever did in those years. I stare through the glass, watching the mental ward set back against the tall bones of the birch trees draw near.
The sky is the only thing I want to see. The only thing I don’t have to think
Continue Reading

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My Poetry

The Elements of Loss

I don’t hear you say my name
as you ask why it is
I let no one love me.
I feel something stir
and I laugh.
This is my way.
There’s no room for clumsy.
Take me or leave me, I
say I’ll give you one chance
when I know I won’t
give you any.
Best to shield before
they want to leave.
But deep in the
infection of my gut
I’m saying
love me, love me.

After my father’s funeral
my mother gave me back
all the things I’d made her
as a child. Continue Reading

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My Poetry

Love, Your Angry Ballerina

In another language

you tell me I am only dancing

in your room for you,

you tell me I am a stamp

of a woman, elegantly abstract

across your stage of equations,

silly in my shoes.

I watch myself in your iris

and I shrink to pose,

turning for you I

want to say

See?  See

how I slip

behind the

curtain,

eating

petals?

 

published in Psychic Meatloaf, issue 3

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Music & Writing

TONES

Brown like the mahogany pews in the Rectory

my mother used to polish

as a side job when I was four,

trailing behind her with a bucket

of Pine-sol–that clean burning smell

of brown sloshing bubbles.

 

Brown like the carpet squares she

single-handedly pieced together

in our low-income house on Hwy 2,

her Cat Stevens’ filling my soul

like water as I spin and tap

in my hand-me-down corduroys.

 

Brown like the two-door Dodge Monaco

I was conceived in. Continue Reading

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creative nonfiction & memoir

Looking for My Father

     (excerpt)
"We believe in one God, Father the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth..."  I was raised a Roman Catholic.  I have painted my old Reeboks white so they look new; they're stiff as I walk downtown toward our apartment.  The steeple from my school and the lake behind it disappear behind the run-together row of clapboard bars, hair salons, and the broken down apartment buildings.  Lilacs are always pushing through the dirty fences and even they smell like cigarettes and beer.  Gum all over the sidewalk; gum in my mouth.  I look down.  I'm nervous every day at age eleven.  I am shy.  I do what I'm told and I have manners.  I pray.  I pray for my mother.  I pray for the holy force to make Joey Larson fall in love with me.  My shoes are dirty from the day--in the sunlight I see you can tell they've been painted and I feel for a moment delayed embarrassment.  One block to go and I pass the Cassaloma--the last bar before home.  The red door is held open by a rusted ashcan and hot, smuggy air permeates from the dark.  Bleach and smoke and beer.  Stale heat flutters my white blouse and I'm suddenly hot.  I take my ponytail out and peek behind my blond bangs, just to see.  I always have to see. There's the glare from the chrome of the barstool once my eyes adjust, and I see the silhouette of the man who's there, every day,at 3:20.  He doesn't move as empty ashtrays clang and spin across the counter as the bartender wipes them with white rags.  The sun catches in his big glasses that always magnified his blue eyes.  I want him to see me; I don't want him to see me.  I mouth the word "dad" just to see how it feels in my mouth.  It's just a fact--as my mother tells us--he has been an alcoholic since we before we were born.  A heavy woman in a Mickey Mouse shirt leans back from her stool and stares in my direction.  I can't risk her drawing his attention in my direction, so I walk away and wonder if Joey Larson saw my shoes in the sun.
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On Writing

Norman Mailer on Writing

“Sentimentality is the emotional promiscuity of those who have no sentiment.

The final purpose of art is to intensify, even, if necessary, to exacerbate, the moral

consciousness of people.

Writing books is the closest men ever come to childbearing.”

—-Norman Mailer

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creative nonfiction & memoir

Henry Miller “Reflections on Writing”

Today I went to a used bookshop across the lake from my little hometown.  It’s probably one of my favorite places in the world.  It’s in an old, 18-foot-high ceilinged long rectangle of a room with shelves and shelves up to the ceiling with ladders all over.  The wood floors all old and creaky as hell, and there’s a little coffee room permeating over the smell of old books.  Poetry books, literary fiction (tastefully chosen, no Nora Roberts), history, world religions, psychiatry, tons on shamanism and healing, war, westerns, floral, local, books on writing, books on poetry, all jammed in tight in sky scraping bookshelves and they somehow keep it organized.

So I came across The Henry Miller Reader, edited and with an intro by Lawrence Durrell, copyright 1959 I believe.  As most of you know, I’m a fan of Henry Miller.  When I first read Tropic of Capricorn in college I was shook up and stunned to learn that you could write like that–honest, no conformity but a telling of a story/life/times like he just opened up his brain or his soul without capitalizing on the idea that a soul is perfect and beautiful.  He makes fucked-up look just right.  And that’s a relief to me as a writer trying to figure out the form to my voice.  He hit a point in his writing that I think we all have to reach–where we think we’ve lost it, we’re no good, we can’t make it as a man/woman because we can’t write the way we think we should.  But then there comes the point–you throw ALL of those preconceptions out, all the noise out, all the how-to’s out, all the examples out–AND YOU WRITE FOR YOURSELF.  You write out of the pit you’re in, and you write the scum your in, the beauty you’re in, the truth you’re in, you’re not ever going to find a point or thee truth, but you hover around it and the whole of your craft (not the words, but the language) the whole of your intention, shines a light on a truth you can’t even name.

“I imitated every style in the hope finding the clue to the gnawing secret of how to write.  Finally I came to a dead end, to a despair and desperation which few men have known, because there was no divorce between myself as writer and myself as man: to fail as a writer mean to fail as a man.  And I failed.  I realized that I was nothing–less than nothing–a minus quantity.  I t was at this point…that  I really began to write.  I began from scratch, throwing everything overboard, even those whom I most loved.  Immediately I heard my own voice I was enchanted: the fact that it was a separate, distinct, unique voice sustained me.  It didn’t matter to me if what I wrote should be considered bad.  Good and bad dropped out of my vocabulary.  I jumped with two feet into the realm of aesthetics, the nonmoral, nonethical, nonutilitarian realm of art.  My life itself became a work of art.  I had found a voice.  I was whole again….”

“I had to grow foul with knowledge, realize the futility of everything; smash everything, grow desperate, then humble, then sponge myself off the slate, as it were, in order to recover my authenticity.  I had to arrive at the brink and then take a leap in the dark.” Continue Reading

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Literature

Writers on Writing

jmmmmmnhbgRichard Price        

Anyone who’s a writer or a painter–or anything in the Arts–is no portrait of mental health. I have to be an artist, I have to take this lonliness and make it work–it’s not a happy or a proud choi8ce, it’s a desperate choice.

Alice Hoffman

In my experience, ill people become more themselves, as if once the excess was stripped away only the truest core of themselves remained. …Writers don’t choose their craft; they need to write in order to face the world.

Billy Collins

You read not to discover the poet, you read to discover yourself.

Elie Wiesel 

Authentic writers write even if there is little chance for them to be published; they write because they cannot do otherwise… Writers write because they cannot allow the characters that inhabit them to suffocate them.  …Writing, however, is becoming much more difficult.  Not to repeat oneself is every writer’s obsession.  Not to slide into sentimentality, not to imitate, not to spread oneself too thin.  To respect words that are heavy with their own past.  Every word both separates and links; it depends on the writer whether it becomes wound or balm, curse or promise. …writing is anything but easy.  (on the difficulty of Night)…and yet it was necessary to continue.  And speak without words; more precisely, without the proper words.  And to try to trust the silence that surrounds and transcends them.

Toni Morrison                                                                                                                                    If there’s a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it. …Without writing you’re stuck with life.

Joan Didion                                                                                                                               All I knew then was what I couldn’t do. All I knew then was what I wasn’t, and it took me some years to discover what I was.

            Which was a writer.jmmmmmnbty

            By which I mean not a “good” writer or a “bad” writer but simply a writer, a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent arranging words on pieces of paper. Had my credentials been in order I would never have become a writer. Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want to what I fear.  Continue Reading

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On Writing

Annie Dillard, from The Writing Life

“A writer looking for subjects inquires not after what he loves best, but after what he alone loves at all.  Strange seizures beset us.  Frank Convoy loves his yo-yo tricks, Emily Dickinson her slant of light; Richard Seizer loves the glistening peritoneum, Faulkner the muddy bottm of a little girl’s drawers visible when she’s up a pear tree.

…your fascination with something no one else understands…it is up to you. …There is something you find interesting, for a reason hard to explain because you have never read it on any page; there you begin.  You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.  ‘The most demanding part of living a lifetime as an artist is the strict discipline of forcing oneself to work steadfastly along the nerve of one’s own most intimate sensitivity.’  Anne Truitt, the sculptor, said this.  Thoreau said it another way: know your bone.  ‘Pursue, keep up with, circle round and round your life…Know your own bone: gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw at it still.’

Write as if you were dying. Continue Reading

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creative nonfiction & memoir

John Updike on Writing

(taken from Fresh Air: Writer’s Speak with Terry Gross)

“…you can take painful and bad experiences and somehow just in writing about them you get rid of the pain…Writing as a release, a kind of therapy…when you write about something in a strange way you become lightened of it.  Writing is my sole remaining vice; it is an addiction, an illusory release, a presumptuous taming of reality, a way of expressing lightly the unbearable.  In the morning light one can write breezily without the slightest acceleration of one’s pulse about what one cannot contemplate in the dark without turning in a panic to God.  In the dark one truly feels that immense sliding, that turning, of the vast earth into darkness and eternal cold, taking with it all nature and scenery, and the bright distractions and furniture of our lives; even the barest earthly facts are unbearably heavy, weighted as they are with our personal death.  Writing and making the world light in distorting, pitifying, verbalizing approaches blasphemy.  …I think there’s something demonic in the complete writer…an ideally nice person would probably not become a writer…we are cruel beings and all of the shadow sides of one’s self-knowledge goes into writing and in a way energizes it.”

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creative nonfiction & memoir

Lady Daydream

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A Lyrical Travel Essay, my first

A Kind of Daydream

Lady Day’s voice dips and drones and flattens the back of my throat as we open the summer together.  I’ve waited a whole year for this.  My car coasts so easily on the black road that climbs up and swoops down green hills, as if I’m not even driving but simply along for the ride.  The heat comes in from all directions; it radiates through the glass and wilts the lilacs on the dashboard; it blows in the front windows and weaves out the back.  I’m sweating but I welcome it as much as I welcome this annual tradition.  Somewhere deep within the miles of trees, our cabins await us (along with about two dozen other family members) on clean, clear lakes just beyond Delta in Bayfield County.

White clouds and treetops scroll across the silver hood and up the window.  Shadows dance across my arm as I steer the wheel.  Through muffled static, the notes from the piano lightly dance up and down scales, and the trumpet sounds miles away –backdrop rhythm.  The bass clarinet’s riff swaysaaaaaaaaaa and blunts my spine, taps my sandal on the pedal. 

…like a summer with a thousand Julys…you intoxicate my soul with your eyes…

Her voice is the long, velvety cord that laces all the different sounds together in a lovely, melancholy song.  I reach to turn her up.

County E slopes into County H and disappears behind a wall of oaks around a bend.  This is where the road begins to wind and zigzag throughout the countryside, taking its sweet time to reach Delta.  A series of sharp angles skims us past Benson’s Horse Ranch, where horses graze fearlessly close to the fence, barely looking up at the flash of chrome and blaring trumpets.  Another turn and we ease parallel with a grove of maples and pines behind the familiar old fence that is becoming less and less visible in the overgrowth of bramble and daisies.  I wonder if it all looked the same sixty years ago.  I wonder if someone drove through here in a shiny black 1940s Coupe –my dream car –listening to Billie Holiday crooning out of the radio.  I imagine the reflection of leaves rolling over its rounded surfaces, the quiet whir of the white-walled tires, my fingers curled around the slender wheel.

…all of me…

Everything is alive and bursting green.  I drive well below the speed limit; I am in no rush to get there.  I have carried the same thought every year since childhood –the faster we get there, the faster the long-awaited week of camping will be over.  But now that I’m older, the drive has become one of my favorite parts.

Pavement gives way to fine rocks and ruts, and we are swallowed up by the national forest, hidden from the sun beneath the canopy.  I look in the rearview mirror and see my toddler sound asleep.  Her plump cheeks are pink from the sun, and the gentle breeze that floats through the open windows cools her skin.  Strands of golden hair wisp this way and that around her face, which has lolled to the side of her car seat.  Life is good.  If I could choose my heaven, it would be this drive, unending through this country on a bright summer day, just Emma and me.

…I see your face in every flower…

We reach the sun-bleached “Fresh Farm Eggs 4 Sale” sign, and I know we are almost there.  The car rambles across the bridge Continue Reading

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On Writing

Memoir Tips, Quotes, & Books

Working on my memoir, I’ve turned to many, many (many many, too many) books with tips on how to get started, organized, and inspired.  I also read a lot of what other authors say about the process and will share quotes here, as well.  I’ll begin with my favorite quote, well, one of them.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love questions themselves like locked rooms or books written in very foreign tongues.  Do not now seek the answers which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them…live the questions now.  Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”  –Rainer Maria Rilke

So here’s a list of the books on writing creative nonfiction/memoir that I’ve found to be the most helpful.  Sadly none of them are writing my book for me.

I realize I’m giving away the fact that I’m desperate and may have no life,  but hopefully  you’ll find the list helpful.  Ernest Hemingway I believe said that you only need to find one true sentence.  That’s the toughest part about writing I think.

Here’s a picture of my writing journal that I keep notes, quotes, Continue Reading

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My Poetry

A Trauma Theory

It was my third year in college when I first heard the term string theory.
I remember moving forward into
what he’d say next, and as the professor
strolled over quantum physics and how
this theory could explain
all the forces of nature—
what it could reveal, the dark mysteries
it could possess—
I know that I felt the spindles in my irises unraveling
like a sketched star in reverse, and that
it connected to words in my brain, and then
to the angles in my fingers, the shoots in my nervous system

bodies in cubic space and time, specks in the ether,
strung together, moving each other,
causing and effecting
And all of this happened not out of belief
but from the simplicity of proofs.
I pictured the chemistry in my brain spark,
and that these strings moved around, refracting
and bending the way I did against my
faulty wiring.
My amygdala had a pulse.

—perhaps
it was my first touch with existentialism.
Or perhaps it was my first touch with faith.
But I lost the comfort of a small
ignorance and I was exposed,
and all at once, in the back of the room
at my desk, I pictured, in the span of a thread,

Illness.
repelling me, twisting and corrupt and
in sync–out of alignment, changing rhythm,
the defection streamlining down to
me like a shared, infected vein

and I think
that was when I first stepped away Continue Reading

jmm
creative nonfiction & memoir

Swimming Lessons

…My weariness amazes me
I am branded on my feet
I have no one to meet
and the ancient empty street’s
too dead for dreaming…
–Bob Dylan

He is standing at the end of the dock with a cigarette hanging from his dry lips. Late July sun is rising, warming his bare feet on the planks of warped wood–just inches above the water. His spirit belongs to older generations–an ancient part about him that sent him away from cities and busy people, never trying to chase or capture time. Maybe it was because of the rheumatoid arthritis; he had it since he was seven and now, at thirty-five, he’s found where he belongs–taking each day slow and steeped in chamomile, never knowing or planning for the next flare up.
He tinkers with cameras and foods and clay until they make sense in his hands, creating masterpieces 0000in the long afternoons of tea and painkillers. On summer nights he sat outside his house, smoking in the dark, capturing fireflies with shutter modes, trying at it every time he noticed the camera buried somewhere on the counter.
He embodies that Beat-look–aged blue jeans worn thin at the knees and seat, torn and meticulously patched, fitted and worn white t-shirts, shaggy hair. He doesn’t go without his FEDORA? He doesn’t give a damn about troubles or answers; he likes to watch the way things move and find their way. I once sat for two hours watching him creep up on a skunk to catch a shot. I got lost around him, the way he stole time with a naturally sedated articulation and spread it out like night, talking about politics or to whatever was turning in his hands at the moment. Taking a drag, taking a sip, and sauntering back and forth with the pace of an old man on Sundays. I loved him. I envied him without jealousy. I loved how he drew me into that world of his–like we were kids again behind that old red fence full of knots and spy holes, waiting for Spaghettios and blowing up frogs.
Mike has already had his hips, shoulders, ankles, and knees replaced. It comes and goes; it worsened when he reached his twenties. His bouts in his youth were shorter and he remained somehow elastic and tireless. I couldn’t keep up with him. Now they stretch and tear, and he gets so tired. When he cried to me I knew there was something so deep in him that I could never understand.

…I was in another lifetime
one of toil and blood,
I came in from the wilderness
a creature void of form
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give ya…
shelter from the storm…”

“Amos, I feel so fucking stupid, how I feel—but shit I don’t think I can do this again,” These are his words before another surgery. I silently cry too and tell him to find the Swimlot, and that Gram’s is watching over him. He always called while in Pre-Op.
I listened to him over the phone and watched him when we were together—amazed at how this wild boy had been defied by his own body. He was beautiful. Sometimes it got so bad he’d be in the hospital, worn away to his skeleton, his eyes protruding out of his hollow face. He was embarrassed when I saw him. Some days he couldn’t get out of bed, or turn doorknobs and steering wheels. But some days he could fish with me until the sky turned navy blue, and teach me again how to clean fish. His streaks of health, we learned, were becoming more and more sparse, but when he rounded back out into a healthy body, he picked up where he left off—as best as he could.
When his wrists are swollen, he fills space with dreams. He wants a sailboat, and he’s taking me away, out in the ocean. He tells me this as he sculpts his clay and I sit among my notebooks and laptop, writing the story I can never finish. Sonny Boy Williamson, Ali Farka Toure, and Billie Holiday take turns breezing through my yellow curtains, out my kitchen windows and down my stairs. I make him tea and tell him about the cherry blossom trees in Japan. He talks about oceans and masts and ropes while creating a sculpture with his very own, private signature—a kind of howling in metaphor in the sinews of his figures. Continue Reading