Belief in Magic

20140701-074059-27659958.jpgThe other night I woke at 1:30, read until 3:30 and then went back to sleep.  It was amazing, as it always is, to be up and feel like time belongs entirely to me.  I can’t plan that–it just happens when it happens, a sort of gift from my body, however inconvenient.  

I have to believe in magic, because babies. Because I’ve seen myself born and reborn, have fallen in love, have watched the sun rise while drinking a cup of coffee. I have been granted exactly the thing I need at exactly the moment I need it, like this poem, Belief in Magic by Dean Young, who I love so much I wished he was a relative when I read (and re-read, and re-read) The Art of Recklessness–flagged it up, wrote notes in the margins, marked passages.  So your prompt is to read this poem and list the evidence you’ve gathered on magic.

Belief in Magic

Dean Young

How could I not?
Have seen a man walk up to a piano
and both survive.
Have turned the exterminator away.
Seen lipstick on a wine glass not shatter the wine.
Seen rainbows in puddles.
Been recognized by stray dogs.
I believe reality is approximately 65% if.
All rivers are full of sky.
Waterfalls are in the mind.
We all come from slime.
Even alpacas.
I believe we’re surrounded by crystals.
Not just Alexander Vvedensky.
Maybe dysentery, maybe a guard’s bullet did him in.
Nonetheless.
Nevertheless
I believe there are many kingdoms left.
The Declaration of Independence was written with a feather.
A single gem has throbbed in my chest my whole life
even though
even though this is my second heart.
Because the first failed,
such was its opportunity.
Was cut out in pieces and incinerated.
I asked.
And so was denied the chance to regard my own heart
in a jar.
Strange tangled imp.
Wee sleekit in red brambles.
You know what it feels like to hold
a burning piece of paper, maybe even
trying to read it as the flames get close
to your fingers until all you’re holding
is a curl of ash by its white ear tip
yet the words still hover in the air?
That’s how I feel now.

Facebook Status

  This past week we were talking a little about social media and the ways it interferes with our idea of our sense of self.  How through it, we can often create these really false images of ourselves that we might then feel required to live up (or in some cases down) to–so we’re literally setting ourselves up for failure.  And scrolling through everyone else’s perfectly edited life can add to the feelings of not being enough.  It’s 365 days of the dreaded Christmas Letter.

In the picture above, Hurricane is standing next to the statue at Lincoln’s Cottage, which had been on our “fun things to do” list for weeks.  A few Saturdays ago, after I had gone to yoga and Hurricane and I had an argument that started with toothbrushing and went all the way to I wish you weren’t my mom, we finally got ourselves together and drove out there.  By the time we arrived, the last tour had already started and we weren’t allowed to just walk around the cottage by ourselves.  So our trip to Lincoln’s Cottage was visiting the gift shop to buy Abe Lincoln playing cards and taking this picture that we maybe weren’t technically supposed to take.  I could have posted this picture and my status would have been: “Seema is having so much fun at Lincoln’s Cottage, best way to spend a Saturday with my wonderful kids in this great city of hidden gems!!!”  But I think I’d feel like shit if I did that.  Because the real status would be: “Seema is glad that she didn’t kill her younger son today and feels a little like a failure for wasting a Saturday and a bit like a martyr for taking him anywhere ever.”

I shaped the poem below, a series of potential honest Facebook statuses, after Mahogany L. Browne’s poem, Facebook Status: Mahogany, pictured at the bottom of the post.  The poem is from Destroy, Rebuild & Other Reconstructions of the Human Muscle, which I couldn’t find on the site (perhaps I have a rare edition…), but you can buy Dear Twitter and lots of other great books on Penmanship’s website here.  

You know what to do. And you know where to send it. 

Facebook Status, 

after Mahogany L. Browne

Seema…

went to bed at seven pm to avoid making dinner

woke and ate shredded wheat at 2 am

is talking into the mirror, scripting a response to a conversation 

that ended long ago

        or never happened

            or hasn’t happened yet

                or she won’t have the courage to start

is trying not to scar her kids

is in the doorway of their bedroom watching them sleep

feels guilty for snapping at them

is being careful not to wake them so she can get more done, be alone

is consumed with self-doubt

is drinking coffee she found in the microwave  

is afraid everything is her fault

hasn’t cried enough for her father

is not at all sorry she missed your call

is lighting Incense and waiting for someone else to take the trash out
  

ps: Matt, I know I totally missed a week here. Forgive me, and send me a poem. 

What to write about

my beloved twin of my heart and I take lots of pictures together, but this moment of motion and laughter is my favorite, I think.

the beloved twin of my heart and I take lots of pictures together, but this blurry moment of motion and laughter is my favorite

In a writing group this week, someone asked me what they should be writing about. They said, “No offense, but I don’t care about poetry or whatever. Writing has been one of the things that’s helped me and I want to do it right.”  Well, no offense taken.  Poetry is immediate, precise, emotionally honest, and surprising. That’s why I so often use it in my groups. But I think the point of writing, for me personally and creatively and professionally is not what I write about or even what form I write in, but how I approach the writing.  By that I mean that if we write with:

1. attention to specific sensory details (observation),

2. emotional honesty (that vulnerability of exposing how you actually felt about it), and

3. space for questions (a willingness to change your mind right there on the page)

it’s bound to be helpful to us, and it’s quite likely it will be helpful and interesting to others (which is a bonus, but still not the point).  The point is to know yourself so that you can be at a little more at ease with the mysterious parts of yourself that share your mind and body.

When the amazing poet Brendan Constantine was here, he brought this really simple exercise that I’ve been assigning to everyone since: make a list of six sensory memories from the past 24 hours.  Pinpoint moments.

Not a whole dragged out “Well my boyfriend said this and then I was like, Ooookay, but what about the cat? and then he was like, But since when do you care about cats? and I was like, Oh my god, I totally told you that I was a cat in a past life you never listen to me!”  

But more like:

The sound of the keys on his keyboard clicking when he asked me to remind him again why I cared about cats.

The expository stuff will come, once you sit down and list the six things, you’ll be able to identify what you need to write about.  Then you can expand on those things, for example:

“When my boyfriend asks me again, while only half listening, why cats matter, I don’t know how to explain what I have already explained before.  That I have a memory of an arched back, soft belly, of paws on grass, of solitude and strength.  That somewhere inside me, I can remember nights awake while the world slept, the power of releasing claws into flesh.  I want to scratch his eyes out to remind him.”

So in the above example, we can see that perhaps what the “I” in question needs to write about is maybe a need for more time alone, and perhaps a latent hatred for his or her partner…

 

Below is a poem by Brendan.  Look at all these images linked around a single thing–one particular year in his life.  If the six sensory images thing isn’t hitting home, take a year in your life–maybe the year you graduated high school–and list some sensory memories from that time on the precipice.

 

1981 – Poem by Brendan Constantine

I learned the word disaster meant against the stars,
learned it did not apply to this world; the sky intended
every cruelty.
…………………I watched the boy with no legs draw
pictures of feet for an hour in Study Hall.
……………………………………… ………………In the hall
of my uncle’s rest home I heard the paper voice of a man
so old he’d forgotten he was blind. When a nurse passed
his door, he’d ask “Turn the lights on, would you?”

I learned sadness like a way home from school. I got in
later and later. Some nights I didn’t come back at all
but sat up waiting for myself.
……………………………………… .I passed Geography,
History, & Spanish for the last time. My cat died.
My dog turned grey. My physics teacher was hit
by an ambulance.
But I read a book & understood it.
A woman asked me to touch her body. I did.
……………………………………… ……………………I wrote
my first poem. It said people were like moons. I believed
what I wrote, believed I had done all my writing, wouldn’t
do anymore.
…………………Then I believed a book that said the oleanders
behind our house were poison. All summer I dreamed
of meeting someone I could feed one brutal flower.

 

Shaped by Opposition

 In the past few weeks I’ve been thinking about the common penchant for outrage, how people seem to need (or at least really like) to find something to brace against.  To, in Leslie Jamison’s words “be shaped by opposition.”  I see it in my kids, how they want to be angry at someone (usually the umpire) when things don’t go their way.  I see it in casual conversations with people who seem to define their beliefs more by who they disagree with than who they align with.  I see it in myself when I am in traffic and furious that someone won’t just MOVE UP THREE FEET because they are obviously the biggest IDIOT in the WORLD.  The failure to look inside with any kind of clarity, the eagerness to look outside for a place to direct blame is comfortable, dangerous, and stupid.  Baldwin writes, in his introduction to Nobody Knows My Name, “A person cannot face in others what he cannot face in himself.”  
Isn’t it so much easier to blame others?  To be incensed and fueled by that burning that doesn’t long for anything?  At the far end of the entitlement to outrage spectrum is the hate-fueled activity and vitriol that is ravaging the world. 

But mostly, I am speaking here about small outrage–the kind that makes you feel vindicated somehow, that someone else is so clearly wrong.  Though I wonder if our outrage and deep grief over terrible injustices, racial violence, systemic inequity might somehow be related to this minutiae-rage.   I wonder if, for those of us who are deeply troubled by these bigger things in the world, the small bursts of outrage–in line at the grocery store, in traffic, in the comment lines of our facebook statuses, in our everyday dealings with our mothers–might be small ways we relieve the pressure of the helplessness of the larger outrage we don’t know how to begin to overcome and confront.  But if we don’t, I don’t know who will.  Are we waiting for our sweet-cheeked children to grow up and fix this mess?  If so, are we preparing them with the tools to do so?  

All I’ve got are questions, you guys.  And a really great story about a guy who sort of navigated the world by shaping himself in opposition for you to listen to while you fold the laundry (usually I give you a pass on laundry, but I did five loads on Friday so I’m not feeling lenient).  Write whatever you want. It’s Father’s Day and I’m feeling complicated. You could write about that if you want. Or avoid it until you’re ready. Like me.

(just a little warning, so you can decide if you’re up for this: a person gets shot in the story, but there isn’t a sound effect, it’s just read)

Bullet In the Brain, by Tobias Wolff

Choices

 

 
   

 I’ve been navigating the world in guilt for so long, I don’t even know when it started.  My mother tells me I was born with circles under my eyes.  So maybe it’s been this way always. But lately I’ve been feeling particularly breathless because of it and so have been looking at it closely.  Part of my guilt, I think, comes from how much I enjoy all the things I am doing. So I feel disloyal to the other things that I ought to do, and also enjoy, but am not doing at the moment.

This sounds like what my friend Jessica would call a “humble brag,” right? Oh my gosh my life is so awesome it just makes me so exhausted choosing which fun thing to do!!!  I’m sorry.

This morning my mother said to me, “You’ve made your life this way. To survive.”  She’s right. I have.  I’m grateful–not in the sense that all this stuff has just fallen in my life due to pure good luck, (though I must acknowledge the role luck has had).  I’ve worked for all of the great relationships and opportunities and doors that have opened for me. And it was work to walk through those doors.

This week I watched people walk through a pair of double doors at the USO Warrior and Family Center in Bethesda into an art studio filled with mostly strangers.  The USO of Metro Washington-Baltimore, Combat Paper NJ and Warrior Writers came together to create an immense opportunity for Service Members to work with some of the finest writing and art facilitators I know.  But the participants themselves did the work.  They came to it with an immense amount of personal courage.  They dug deep, wrote, edited, conceptualized, created art and told stories.  They laughed and cried and gave and received love.  They chose to spend most of their free time this week on this.  They chose to survive in this way.

Even in that room, I felt a sense of guilt, of being stretched thin, the responsibility of choice–I didn’t spend nearly enough time with some of the participants I really wanted to hang out with more.  I kept having to decide where to turn my energy, to prioritize.  But when everyone is a priority, it’s difficult not to feel like you’re letting people down.  

Is this annoying too?  Are you thinking sarcastically, Oh poor Seema, everyone needs you so much!  If so, navigate somewhere else–no one forced you to be here (except for you, Ma, you have to read this, I’m your kid).

So tonight I will sit in a gallery where art from this week will hang from the walls and I will listen to the words they speak with sometimes shaking voices.  I will be there, and I will be glad to be there.  I will not be eating dinner with my children who I love, or spending time with my brand new born-on-wednesday nephew who I only have a month to spend with before he flies away across the ocean, I will not be drinking tea on my mother’s sofa–my mother who has just arrived from a flight across the ocean and will leave before I know it.  I will not being going to the show my friend Karl invited me to or to the performance my brilliant friend Emily is in.  I will not be sitting on my couch in sweats eating nachos off of a plate balanced on a cushion while reading a novel.  I want to do all of those things, but I can only choose one thing tonight.  And everyone else in the room will have made the same choice.

edited to add: I wrote the above on Friday morning, but didn’t finish.  Just so you know, I also feel guilty about not posting regularly here.

Each week, we make a chapbook of the writing from the week. I noticed a lot of the audience following along with the chapbook while folks read their poems.  I selected the poems linked below for this week thinking about just that.  Hermeneutic Chaos is an on-line journal that asks writers to submit audio files with their poems.  It’s a really awesome way to read a poem–read it to yourself, then hit play on these two poems by Nicole Tong, who uses the combination of visual and audio afforded on this site to really great effect.  Give it a shot yourself.  Send me the results.  

http://www.hermeneuticchaosjournal.com/nicole-tong-may-2015.html

Past Seema Writes to Us

photo by Marya Hay

 

The other week at art we were talking about the importance of writing when we are up as much as when we are down.   Letters from a past self who can remind us of what was good when things seem low. The opportunity to look back and survey our lives through our journals and not just find a series of “I hate the world” scrawlings. Then I came home and found this file in my computer. I don’t remember writing it. In some ways, I can barely remember living that life.  And I know it wasn’t as rosy as this essay makes it seem.  But still, all of this below is true.  Look, past Seema had it pretty good.

What’s not so bad about the situation you are in right now?  What are the secret perks?

I believe this below is Seema circa 2009 writing to us.

I am a stay at home mom.  The common response I get to this is, “Oh that’s the hardest job in the world!  It’s so demanding and important!”  Sometimes it’s patronizing, but I think more often it’s genuine pity.  Regardless, I nod and smile and bask in an image of my own maternal sainthood.  Women who work full time are the most supportive and awestruck.  But the truth is (and I feel like a traitor admitting this), it’s not the hardest job in the world.  It’s not even a hard job.  The parts of it that are hard—the immense responsibility, the weekends lost to baseball, the lack of sleep, the toy car and Lego injuries—are the universal ‘mom’ parts.  The stay at home part is the gravy.

The stay at home part means that I never wait more than a few minutes in line at the grocery store.  On our weekday outings to deserted shopping centers and malls, my little companion and I get the best service and the best parking spots.  First, we drop my older son to school in our pajamas and come home to drink ‘coffee’ in bed—his is milk with a tablespoon of my coffee in it.  I read a book or catch up on on-line gossip, I am addicted to Fashion Police photographs—but don’t judge me: we listen to Morning Edition on NPR in the car.  He thumbs through his brother’s Pokemon cards.  Then we do whatever I want to do.  A benevolent dictator, I try to be fair.  I include cutting things with scissors and playground time on most days’ agendas (it doesn’t hurt that my loyal subject is prone to revolt).  But the day goes along according to my plan.  We run my errands, go to see museum exhibits that interest me, borrow picture books from the library on subjects I think we should explore.

Officially, I am a careful parent—my kids have strict media rules and eat their vegetables.  But being the boss, I am entitled to bend the rules.  If I’ve had a late night, or it’s a rainy day or they’re plain driving me nuts, I pop a DVD into my laptop, sling my arm across the kids (so that I’ll wake up if they move) and take a nap.  If there are too many dishes in the sink and I can’t bear to cook, we have a box of Macaroni and Cheese for dinner and, if the boss is in the mood, there are pieces of chocolate all around afterward.

This isn’t the easiest job I’ve held—I was once paid $15 an hour to remove staples from documents before they were scanned.  That was an easy job.   Since the births of my children, I have worked on and off: as a recruiter, in sales, starting my own little businesses.  But every time I quit a job or take in my shingle, I feel a huge sense of relief, of owning my time, of being responsible solely for the basic needs of small people who generally do as I say.  Of course, the reason that I grow restless and hang the shingle out to begin with is the lack of pay, time off and recognition.  But this is the case for just about any boss.  The boss handles all the worry, the boss steers the ship, and the boss takes the blame.

As far as jobs go, I’d be hard pressed to find one that is this flexible and has this level of security—by the time my success (or failure) can be gauged, it’ll be too late to hire a more qualified professional to get the job done.  Eventually, I’ll start itching to do something else.  But it won’t be because the job’s too hard.  It’ll be because I’ve worn a hole in the seat of my pajama pants and that looks like a sign.

 

 

Season of Sadness

  A few nights ago, I was at a beautiful dinner with some of the loveliest people.  One of them said something that while ordinarily would have certainly made me sad or worried, on this night brought tears to my eyes.  I blinked rapidly for a minute, but couldn’t hold it.  I had to excuse myself from the table and cry on a bench in the ladies’ room.  What is wrong with me?  I thought, sitting in the restroom while outside my friends had normal, jovial conversation. 

The next morning, while driving, I cried again. Uptown Funk came on and it reminded me of Dark Lord Funk (watch it, you guys) which reminded me of Harry Potter, which reminded me of how Mrs Weasley had to defend her daughter when she had already lost her son and I cried. I swear. That happened. Again I thought, What is wrong with me? 

It is my season of sadness, and it is also the season of sadness for a lot of my beloveds. So there’s the sadness that comes from my personal world and the sadness I absorb, and the places they intersect. So I cry. At dinner, in the car by myself, in the elevator, on the sidewalk, in the car with a friend, in the car with my son.  

Again and again I ask myself, What is wrong with me?  The answer is nothing (well…a lot of things are wrong with me; but this crying is not evidence of anything in particular).  

Again and again, the witnesses to my tears ask me, alarmed, Are you okay?  I am.  I am okay, I will be okay.

Sadness doesn’t have to kill me, it isn’t my end state. Though it can sometimes feel that way, being sad right now doesn’t mean I will be Sad Forever. It has taken me several years of sad season to get to this:  

There are some things that are sad. I am sad about them.  So I cry. And it feels kind of good.

I love you.  If you’re sad, I hope you cry.  I hope it feels good, and I hope you remember that the sadness will swell and lift you and then put you right back down where you were, or a couple of feet over.  Don’t do anything rash, don’t try to chase it away.  Let it pass.  It will pass, and it will come back again, just as certainly.  You will survive it if you allow yourself to. 

Memorial
by Gina Myers

for J

In my life so much happens
that I would like to write about,
but then something else happens
& things are always happening.
You, my friend, are underground
& will always be there. I did not
help you, but you always helped me.
When I was an atheist, I believed
in people. Now as a nihilist, my grief
has no hope. And I could say
there is no reason to keep going,
but then I think of, I think of you.

Suffering

On Mother’s Day, the kids and I have a tradition: we go on a hike by the river. I wish we did it every Sunday. But our weekends are so completely hyper-scheduled with games and practices and obligations.  I spend more time sitting on the sidelines with people I barely know who happen to have had kids at around the same time as me than I do with the people I gave birth to. I have tried to incite a revolution when it looks like some other parent is feeling a similar frustration. But so far, that has gotten me exactly nowhere. And it’s not as though I’m railing against a system of oppression.  People voluntarily pay money to be a part of this machine.  No one is making us do it.  And really it’s no big deal. Life goes on. But man, traipsing through the woods with my kids is such a simple pleasure.  I  really wish I had more of it in my life. And it makes me sad that I don’t. 

I’ve been writing and thinking (and talking, because hearing other people’s ideas is always part of my research) about suffering. How much we compare suffering, see ours in comparison others, feel ungrateful and small when we acknowledge that something sucks. Especially something that is, in the grand scheme of injuries and suffering, not a big deal.  I see it in the hierarchy of trauma, in the news cycle, in the sometimes god-awful shitshow that is my Facebook feed. Stuff can suck without being the worst EVER.  I’m not taking up collection or asking the Red Cross to divert funds to me over this issue. I might not even talk about it (except to you, dear reader, of course).  But I can admit that it bums me out.  And when I do, I can deal with it, and maybe even change it.  The danger of minimizing the importance of the little things that are causing us grief is that it makes us a bunch of sleepwalking, complacent cows.  The water goes from uncomfortable to scalding one degree at a time–we must pay attention or risk being boiled alive by our own silences.

The poem below is not exactly related.  I just like it.  I like both the ease of floating and the balance it requires.  If you’re absolutely in search of a prompt here, I ask you to remember when you felt most like yourself.  And consider making space for that in your life.  And send me some damn poems.

The rented lakes of my childhood

by Marge Piercy

I remember the lakes of my Michigan
childhood. Here they are called ponds.
Lakes belonged to summer, two-week
vacations that my father was granted by
Westinghouse when we rented some cabin.

Never mind the dishes with spiderweb
cracks, the crooked aluminum sauce
pans, the crusted black frying pans.
Never mind the mattresses shaped
like the letter V. Old jangling springs.

Moldy bathrooms. Low ceilings
that leaked. The lakes were mysteries
of sand and filmy weeds and minnows
flickering through my fingers. I rowed
into freedom. Alone on the water

that freckled into small ripples,
that raised its hackles in storms,
that lay glassy at twilight reflecting
the sunset then sucking up the dark,
I was unobserved as the quiet doe

coming with her fauns to drink
on the opposite shore. I let the row-
boat drift as the current pleased, lying
faceup like a photographer’s plate
the rising moon turned to a ghost.

And though the voices called me
back to the rented space we shared
I was sure I left my real self there—
a tiny black pupil in the immense
eye of a silver pool of silence.


Don’t Pity Me

Why not a super close up the nose shot?

  
I know it’s poetry month.  There is all this division around genre–this is how you write fiction, this is how you write poems, this is how you write a personal essay, a lyric essay, blah blah blah.  But the best pieces of writing have some things in common.  And what you learn from a generous teacher in any genre will apply to your writing in every other genre. Lately I’ve been struggling with this, as the calendar marches toward thesis time and my writing continues to meander in every direction–I’m writing a poem, then I’m writing a scientific article, then I’m writing an essay, then I’m writing a case study.  Oh, and the book?  Is it poetry, Seema?  Prose?  Are you a poet?  An essayist?  Well…um…

My undergrad thesis was about the relationship between form and content. I argued that the story itself reveals its form.  Write it a bunch of different ways.  You’ll know which one is correct, but you’ll learn something with every version you write.  However you write it, always start with images.  

On the last day of the WP bookfair, when all the presses were selling books for cheap, a woman standing next to me at the Alice James booth pointed to the last copy of Slamming Open the Door, with its innocuous white cover, an image of a ladybug under the script of the title, and said, “I couldn’t put that one down.” The name was vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place why. I bought it. Then I opened it and remembered.

I first encountered Bonanno’s work when she read on a panel at WP several years ago. She read some poems and told a little about the theme–these are her poems about the murder of her daughter. I thought, “This woman, these poems are brilliant. I will never read this book.  My heart cannot take it.”

It had to find its way into my hands, I suppose. Photographed below is her poem, “Confessions” Take that first line—Don’t pity me and write it down. Then respond with images, either from one day, as I did in the poem that follows, or with whatever images come to mind.
Set the timer for 20 minutes, email me if you like.

Ready, set…

Don’t Pity Me

It is opening day.

The kids spill out of the car in uniform
bright purple, powdery blue
I sit on the bleachers behind children

clumped by color around the diamond
Reading a book, hitting the metal seat plank
with the palm of my right hand whenever
there is applause.

Sometimes I look up.

Red balloons are released, then caught
on the high fence behind home plate,
teams are called by name, more applause,
obediently I strike the seat.

The mayor in pale pants, short-sleeved jacket,
ball cap perched on a hair-sprayed head
talks about small towns and tradition
gets ready to throw the first pitch
to a child from the instructional league

By the time I realize the name called is my child’s
and leave my purse on the step of the bleachers
fumble to the camera on my phone
and run toward the field,
the ball has already fallen.

  

Tribes

The picture above was one I took from the back corner of an auditorium where I was lucky to get a place to sit on the floor, with my back against the wall, behind the speakers, to hear some of my literary heroes talk about process and feminism and the body in literature.  That crowd, which made the room uncomfortably warm, was also a really beautiful thing–all those people willing to cram together to listen to a conversation that is so dear to my heart, a conversation that I couldn’t even begin to have with most of the dearest people in my life.  That’s the thing about this conference–on the one hand it makes me feel unbelievably lonely and lost to be in such a crowd and on the other hand it makes me feel like I’m lost along with some other really cool people.  Because it’s National Poetry Month, I’m going to make a little bit of a leap to connect my first poetry love to this post.

I got “My Wicked, Wicked Ways,” a book of poems by Sandra Cisneros from my mother when I was thirteen.  I think it’s clear she didn’t read it before giving it to me–I was a huge fan of Cisneros’ work and this was the book I did not have.  When I was eighteen and just married (that’s right–eighteen and married), I lent it to a friend and never got it back.  When I was twenty-nine and divorcing, someone I love gave me a new copy.

That year I went to AWP, a conference that is magical and dreadful by turn, and got it signed by Sandra Cisneros herself.  She hugged me (she hugged everyone, but that doesn’t make it less special).

When I read the book again, some smoke of a past self rose from the pages.  Rereading something that impacted you can do that, like a ghost of some other self is sitting next to you.   In the preface poem (below), she characterizes these poems as coming from a chunk of her life, a “Who-I-Was-Then,” which I think encourages honesty which then (you know where this is going) defeats shame. Because we make mistakes, and we try to grow and change and learn and do better. We can be held hostage by the lapses, or we give that era a name (“The girl grief decade”) and then try to figure out what we were trying to figure out during that time, by doing those things.

You came here for a writing prompt, so here it is.  Read the poem below.  Then set the timer for 20 minutes and think about the height of your self destruction.  Remember?  How you used to be WAY worse than you are now.  What was that person running from?  What were they searching for?  Who were they trying not to be?  Was there a turning point, a moment you knew, not because someone told you, but because something clicked into place, that you needed to make some changes?  Write about that too.  You can do anything for 20 minutes, quit being a baby.

One day, you will look back on these days that you’re living now and be able to see a story emerge from this too.  I promise.

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