Kind dears, I am averaging a post every other week.  I have heard your outcry, and I apologize, I apologize, I apologize (maybe go into the archives when you really need a prompt–there are years of writing back there).  This thesis writing thing is sort of kicking my ass.  But stick with me.  Just a few months more.  Then something else will be kicking my ass, I’m sure.  

You may have heard me speak at length, about happiness, and how there is this false expectation that it occurs in the alignment of a great quantity of perfect circumstances.  If we are waiting for the perfect job, the perfect love, the perfect finances, the perfect body to all come at once and make us happy–we are pretty much screwed.  If we are waiting for every remaining ghost of our pasts to disappear and leave us unmarred, scars healed, nightmares replaced by sound sleep–we are absolutely going to die waiting.  Happiness is much smaller than that, in my opinion.  It is wanting a sandwich and being able to go get that sandwich.  It is neeeding to pee and making it to the bathroom on time.  It is feeling grateful for your hands, for warm coffee. It’s the little flashes of time, the glimmers, when you “cherish yourself,” when you forget all the ways you are failing or fucked up or not who you want to be, and only feel kindness toward yourself.  

When does this happen for you?  If you’re inclined to tell me it doesn’t happen, you need to think more deeply (sorry to be an asshole here, but it’s true–if I’m writing this GD thesis, you’re writing a happy poem, damnit).  Pay attention to the expertise with which you swing into a parking spot, the loving way you wash your face, how you tuck yourself in at night and try to make yourself comfortable.  Write for 20 minutes now, then think about it all day and come back and write for 20 minutes more.  Send me the poems, send me the poems, send me the poems.      
I love the snot out of you.

What the Living Do

Marie Howe

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

Bodies & Compromise

Recently, a friend of mine (you don’t know him) wrote me an email about his experience with illness, and his feelings of anger and frustration with it.  It’s a strange thing, to know that you exist inside something–are part of something–that is failing you.   I don’t know exactly what he’s feeling. But when I read his email, I did think a lot about how I felt when I was pregnant with a very sick baby when I was 25.  I felt betrayed by my body–I’d been pretty nice to it–good eating habits and no hard drugs, exercise–we’d had one good healthy baby together, but now it was failing me and I was pissed. If you can’t trust your body, who can you trust? Before that, I had been a pretty staunch and certain atheist (obnoxious even, in the way of any extremist). But then I started to have to think of my body as something not ME. And so I was having to let go of some of the certainty. I could not possibly be this failing thing, because my emotions were so acute.  So then I had to, in some ways, detach from it and review my understanding of myself.

Our relationships with our bodies change. We realize we can’t count on them to just do as they are told. I think this changing landscape is sort of the crux of what living is about–learning to compromise with the world as it is, even if the part of the world you’re compromising with is your own body.


Read the poem below, and then write about your body from three perspectives:


  1. What you remember of it as a child (perhaps pull in a memory from a childhood scrape–a fall off a bicycle etc)
  2. Puberty/Adolescence–that first time you become aware of (and maybe even a little freaked out by) how it is does its own thing
  3. A recent time you noticed a change in your body–ability, illness, or maybe you’re training for something physical and seeing increases in strength or endurance.

Or write whatever you need to write.  You know that’s always an option.  Then send those poems to yours truly if you want.  My inbox is hungry for poems.


Variation on a Line from Elizabeth Bishop’s “Five Flights Up”


Sometimes it’s the shoes, the tying and untying,
the bending of the heart to put them on,
take them off, the rush of blood
between the head and feet, my face,
sometimes, if I could see it, astonished.
Other times the stairs, three, four stages
at the most, “flights” we call them,
in honor of the wings we’ll never have,
the fifth floor the one that kills the breath,
where the bird in the building flies to first.
Love, too, a leveler, a dying all its own,
the parts left behind not to be replaced,
a loss ongoing, and every day increased,
like rising in the night, at 3:00 am,
to watch the snow or the dead leaf fall,
the rings around the streetlight in the rain,
and then the rain, the red fist in the heart
opening and closing almost without me.
“ — Yesterday brought to today so lightly!”
The morning, more and more, like evening.
When I bend to tie my shoes and the blood
fills the cup, it’s as if I see into the hidden earth,
see the sunburned path on which I pass
in shoes that look like sandals
and arrive at a house where my feet
are washed and wiped with my mother’s hair
and anointed with the autumn oils of wildflowers.

Source: Poetry (June 2015).


This week, a participant in a writing group asked me why I write so much.  I answered with something not untrue–something like, “Because I’m really fucked up and trying to survive.” But that wasn’t the whole truth.  It was like a sliver of the truth, or a version of the truth.  Because while, yes, I believe that I’m fucked up and trying to survive, I also believe that everyone else is too.  That my fucked-upness isn’t extraordinary.  That nearly nobody’s is.  The below is excerpted from my thesis (the above is what I look like when I’m working on my thesis), and it’s a more complete answer.

We must do the work ourselves. No one else can do it for us. Socrates, Baldwin, Jamison, Rich, Rukeyser all write: an unexamined life is not worth living.  Whether they quote verbatim or paraphrase, it is no less of a revelation each time. Never does it become cliche; each of the lives they examine are singular. No one else’s examination will do.  Even if the conclusions drawn are essentially the same ones that have been drawn by thoughtful people for centuries.  Even if we ourselves have drawn these conclusions before, in a different skin.  In my well-worn copy of This I Believe, the 1952 anthology of personal belief systems edited by Edward R. Murrow, I found a folded stack of notes scribbled in my own hand.  No date (I am always reminding people to date their work; add hypocrite to my list of titles). The note lists the ways I have suffered. Large and small. Two weeks prior, I had begun to write the section of this book that deals with suffering. I am always learning and forgetting and relearning not to discount my own experience. I suppose the self-assurance of the artist is evident in the fact that we believe that our particular examination may be interesting or beautiful enough for others to derive pleasure from viewing our art, reading our words, listening to our music.  When I discovered Muriel Rukeyser’s The Life of Poetry, I wrote to my friend Shomriel: this is the book I wanted to write, but better. I’m like sixty years too late. I give up. Shomriel wrote back: I am trying to keep from copying the book I’m reading word for word into my thesis. We dropped our heads, returned to writing, although the thoughts have already been had, have already been written.

In the four years after leaving the institution of marriage, I discovered more about myself–good and bad–than I could ever have imagined. I was in the early stages of my writing, limping forward in spite of my attachment to the comforts of that life, toward a self-questioning that would ultimately leave me excavated beneath the crust of myself, blasted open like a mine inside a mountain.  James Baldwin writes, in the introduction to Nobody Knows My Name, “The questions which one asks oneself begin, at last, to illuminate the world, and become key to the experience of others. One can only face in others what one can face in oneself.” The essays in this collection are from Baldwin’s time in Europe. Having left America in an effort to cast off his identity, he thought he would discover something.  And he did.  He discovered the America in himself. For all I have said and have yet to say about the complexities of that marriage–our youth, my temper, his temper, his overwhelming and consuming love for me, my great but lesser love for him, our mutual devotion to our children–the fact most difficult to face is my inability to be truly pleased or satisfied by anything that marriage was capable of giving me.  In our joint quest for normalcy, it was I who was least willing to sacrifice self, to conform to a standard for the task.  How well we discover what we are when we are no longer railing against what we are not.  He may have been mean or aggressive, controlling and unyielding. But I am selfish, restless, lustful. By which I mean: I am an artist, a writer. By which I mean: becoming is my life’s work.

The suffering I have experienced has awakened me.  I do not wish to fall back into a slumber.  Nor do I believe I can.  I can never again be who I was. I look forward to who I’m becoming.   This doesn’t feel like a retreat into myself so much as it feels like a foray into some wild place. I am happiest here, when the pieces connect, when the words are correct. Even when I’ve read the thing I think I ought to have written, I am happiest to be writing it again, happiest to be walking ever forward into an unknown self. But much work remains after the writing is done.


So here’s a starting phrase as your prompt, from the incredible James Baldwin: “The questions one asks oneself begin…”  Set a timer.

Send me your writing if you like.  Know that when it lands in front of me, it will be received with a great quantity of gratitude.


This week I attended an Ashtanga yoga class for maybe the second time in my life.  The sequences are repetitive, you do a run through with the teacher’s guidance, and then repeat the sequence on your own three times. Every time the teacher said, “Okay, now do it on your own,” I suffered a little bout of panic–what if I couldn’t remember the sequence without her? What if I got it wrong? And then I’d do it. Just fine. Or a version of it that was good enough.

Two weeks ago, I was in Vermont for what is my last residency at Goddard College (unless something really unexpected happens this semester). It was a challenging week–a lot of miscommunication, a lot of layers I didn’t have enough information to really understand–both there and in other places in my life. Many of the formative realizations of my adult life, about love and desire and friendship and my own strength and capacity happened on that campus. Anyone who has been to a residency at Goddard knows what I’m talking about. You get to this little cluster of buildings far away from your life and discover things you can’t unlearn. And I’d worried, in the past, that the magic of residency would not be replicable and that without it I’d get stuck, live with less clarity. But this past residency I realized that maybe I’ve learned well enough in my time at Goddard that my work has outgrown the dependency on it.

Again and again, I am paralyzed by what if I can’t make it in the absence of____________? I protect myself against absence, make decisions with the intention of minimizing the experience of loss, proceed with caution, try not to make habits that rely on quantities I feel I can’t control.  Which doesn’t work, so again and again I find that when I have to, I can make it in the absence of just about anyone or anything–and that I learn the most about myself and my relationship to the thing I’ve lost in the period of adjustment. I think it’s this way for a lot of people. Things change, we survive, we keep getting better. Even though we weren’t sure we would.
I’ve just finished reading Detailing Trauma: a Poetic Anatomy by Arianne Zwartjes.  Well reading it for the first time anyway.  It’s in my stack for the foreseeable future.  She says this:

To surrender fully, to let go.  To yield.  Sometimes opening the hand is the hardest action the body can perform: one finger at a time.


The prompt this week was provided by my wonderful advisor at Goddard, Lise Weil. We used it in four groups last week and the resultant writing was really spectacular. Set a timer for 10 minutes, then finish the fragment below. Then set the timer for another 10 minutes, but this time go over what you’ve written and write from where you’ve left off.  Mine is after the jump, read it only once you’ve written your own. No cheating. I’d love to read yours.

So much suffering that is diagnosed as personal…

Continue reading

Thought and Witness

Tell me to what you pay attention and I’ll tell you who you are.  –Jose Ortega y Gasset

I’ve been slowly reading and writing notes from The Life of Poetry by Muriel Rukeyser since  March.  It was recommended to me by my brilliant friend Renee, and I ordered it immediately on my phone from her kitchen table.  I’ve reached the title essay in the collection, where Rukeyser walks us through the long process of writing her poem “Orpheus.”  The thought originated from childhood memory, and mythology, and an evening in New York City watching women walk by, dismembered in her view by the window frame.  She wrote notes in different places over many years and then finally arrived at a shape that needed editing.  “The sharpening of the resurrection,” she called it.  Which refers both to the literal resurrection that occurs in the poem and also to the poem itself as resurrection, the editing being the sharpening of that which is being brought to life.  In editing, the poet transitions from being the one who is writing the poem to the one who is reading–witnessing–it.  You leave behind the person who had the original thought, the one who knows in a realm beyond and before articulation what it means.  Relegate her to the past, and try to look at the thought from the outside to see if the work has been done correctly. 

 It’s a sticky process, editing, particularly editing other people’s work.  Last week, I worked with a few of the poets I am honored to guide in editing their poems.  I strive toward ruthlessness in the editing of my own work and try to temper that while working with the poems of others. Because poems are, at their core, thoughts that lead the poet toward becoming, and the pivotal thoughts of others must be handled with care.  

This morning I had a conversation with a poet I admire about thoughts–where they originate, how they travel, whether plants think, what the first thought ever might have been (I’m maybe not doing much in the way of promoting the fun of hanging out with poets here). Then the conversation turned more specific and concrete, as conversations do, and I found myself wondering (aloud, because the great pleasure of being in the company of those you trust is the space to wonder aloud) what we were really trying to say, under the cloak of the anecdote.   There is always bound to be space between the thought and the articulation and the reception–between what is intended and what is witnessed.  Martin Heidegger writes, in Poetry, Language, Thought,

“Thinking’s saying would be stilled in
       its being only by becoming unable
       to say that which must remain

Such inability would bring thinking
       face to face with its matter.

What is spoken is never, and in no
       language, what is said.

That a thinking is, ever and suddenly—
       whose amazement could fathom it?”

If we removed the articulation (spoken or written) the poems or ideas would exist only as thought, but would still exist.  If we then approached these with the attention of editing as they occurred, what might we discover about ourselves?  And–who, exactly would be witnessing the thoughts?  If both the poet and the witness exist simultaneously, inside us, which are we really?

Maybe the point of this whole post is that it’s not my fault if nothing I write makes sense. Look, Heidegger said it. 

Think about it, dears. Tell me what you think. (Or what you think you think or what you mean to think). Or tell me about whatever else you want to tell me. I just want to see your name in my inbox.

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.
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


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




 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.