Love in the Time of Corona

If you can move past this admittedly trite title, I’d like to invite you to stay with me a while—

Here, in my small, one bedroom apartment, in a Pittsburgh neighborhood that is all too quiet tonight. I’m sitting on the couch I got off of Craigslist five years ago, in sweatpants (although I did wash my hair today!), a silver spoon resting in a jar of edible cookie dough (obviously an essential) that I picked up on my final grocery haul beside me, and nothing but the light from this laptop screen in front of me.

I’m alone. I’m used to it. I live alone, I travel alone, I take care of myself. (Well, sort of.) But in the midst of a pandemic sweeping our nation, I feel alone.

I know that as I write this, coronavirus is carving out its place in history. The world as I know it is changing, the economy is diving headfirst into disaster, people are getting sick, some people are dying. Many people are panicked, some are rolling their eyes. But nobody knows what the fuck is going on, or what to do. How long it will last. What this mess will look like after it’s over. When they discuss 2020 in history books years and years from now, what will they say? Will we have learned anything by this?

I honestly don’t know a lot about the world. I’m a small town girl who went to a liberal arts college. I admittedly find out a lot of my news via social media. But I do know some things: like how I believe in basic human rights. And that the amount of mass shootings in the country I live in is outrageous and unacceptable. And I know that right now, due to the spreading of COVID-19 and hopes to slow it, schools are closed, gyms are closed, bars and restaurants are closed. Countless events are canceled.  Countries are on lockdown. International and domestic travel bans are in place. I’ve read the word “quarantine” more in the last week than I ever have in my life.

This is something I never could have imagined. I come from a generation that uses humor as a way to understand, to heal, and to process. (I mean, we basically communicate with memes.) I come from a generation that some people think is entitled, selfish, and stupid. I come from a generation that I think, as a whole, also genuinely cares about what’s happening to the planet, and all its people— regardless of age, race, etc. I come from a generation that realizes they aren’t experts, but still gives a shit– toilet paper in stock or not.

In what feels like a bizarre parent-child role play, I’m now pleading with my mother to stay in. I’m thinking of who is going to take care of my grandmother, now that my parents aren’t only a mile down the road to help her. I’m thinking of the students I support who can’t see their families, or have the great commencement they were expecting, especially those who are first generation international students. I’m thinking of my friend who just had a newborn baby, and the one who is currently six months pregnant. I’m thinking of my fellow writer friends who had upcoming readings scheduled and book launches they wanted to celebrate. I’m thinking of the artists and performers that prepared endlessly, who had to cancel shows, and the heartbroken fans who worked extra to save up for tickets and counted down the days to the event. I’m thinking of my fellow travelers who are stranded in airports, or out hundreds of dollars, trying to figure out what to do next in the chaos of a foreign place. I’m thinking of my friend who is knee-deep in training for a marathon that now may or may not happen- all the miles running into a question mark. I’m thinking of my friend who has an upcoming wedding, and all the planning that went into what was supposed to be the perfect day. I’m thinking of the kind, bright-eyed woman that bags my groceries, how she tells me she’s afraid for her family. How she doesn’t have a choice. I’m thinking of the parents who are worried they will lose their jobs, and for the ones who already have. The schools that close their doors, the children that need meals. The families scrambling to find arrangements and answers for what to do next. I’m thinking of the teachers who are navigating a new world of online classes and a now jumbled course plan. The janitor I usually see every day at 2 p.m. in my office wing, who always tells me to have a nice day. I’m thinking of the elderly, who matter. I’m thinking of the immunocompromised, who matter. And I’m thinking of those closest to them, who are terrified for them, trying to be careful and cautious with every action. I’m thinking of those struggling with mental health who soldier on, their battles intensified by this crisis, but still invisible to most. I’m thinking of the small businesses who are on the brink of collapse, trying to crunch numbers, just trying to stay afloat. Employers who cut corners to ensure they don’t have to cut the wages of their employees. I’m thinking of those who have already lost their lives to this, all around the world, of their families and friends still reeling in the wake of a sudden absence. I’m thinking of those who are currently experiencing symptoms and scared, suffering. I’m thinking of those who don’t have health insurance. Those that don’t have the ability to work from home. Those that don’t have someone to help them. Those that don’t have the money or resources. And I’m thinking of, and especially grateful for, those in the health care industry that are putting tireless and thankless hours in, risking their own health, separating from their own families, and more— working to help fight this.

So yes, right now, I am just a girl in sweatpants, sitting on my couch. It’s the least I can do to not put myself and others at risk. I am embracing self-isolation fully, freely, and openly. Before all of this, I was desperately needing time to myself. Now that I have some, I feel the pull to be productive…to write, to work on new projects, etc. With that, I am also feeling the heavy guilt that comes with not constantly doing or accomplishing something. But fuck that.

We aren’t machines. I need to remember that I am human, and especially as someone who struggles with her mental health, I am learning to just be. Not cross off every to-do list or bucket list item, just for one moment! Breathe in, and just be here. That’s absolutely enough, especially right now.

Since Monday, I’ve been working from home and will be for the next unknown amount of time. It’s both strange and wonderful. Today, I hopped on a video conference call with two of my dearest friends/colleagues, Holly and Chloë, and almost cried because I missed seeing them in the hallways of the university we work at, or taking our regular lunch break walks together.

Tonight, I FaceTimed with my family- who are all together at my brother’s house in Florida. Him, his wife, their two daughters, and my parents. While I’m so grateful for the technology that makes these 963 miles between us feel closer, and although I will say that this is one time in my life I am so glad to not be traveling… damn. I miss them. Those candy-sticky hands and full hearts, my dad’s quiet presence, my sister-in-law’s radiant smile, my brother’s contagious laugh, my mother’s undeniable warmth.

Earlier this evening, I read a book cover to cover. I can’t tell you how long it has been  since I’ve done that. I’m going through old notebooks of poetry. I’m retracing steps in my travel photos. I’m letting myself binge a little Netflix. I’m resting.

I know I said I’ve been feeling alone, but I’ve also never felt so connected. I say it every time, so I don’t know why I’m still surprised that when some form of tragedy happens, it always seems to bring people together. This continues to amaze me. The people volunteering their time, those offering online services free of charge, those raising money, those stepping up and showing up in all corners of the universe. And the connections from my circle- love that flows through telephone wires with a long distance friend, the FaceTime with family, e-mail chains with my Madwomen writing group, “meeting” new people on Instagram and Twitter. What’s more, I’m connecting to myself again, using the time I’ve been given to get back to the thing that always has nurtured me most: the written word.

So, hang in there, friends. We will rise together.

Sending you love and light,

sig2

Ireland Residency #2

JUNE 2-17, 2019

I know I said my last residency was going to be January in Pittsburgh, but I decided I couldn’t miss out on one last opportunity to spend two weeks in the beautiful country of Ireland, learning from and connecting with incredible writers. Thus, I tacked on one more residency of my MFA program. (Click here to read about my first!)

I deeply missed my travel companion, Jaclyn, but still very much enjoyed solo travel in Limerick. I caught a flight there early to spend a couple days exploring before nestling into my dorm room at Trinity College, Dublin, for the two week residency.

Limerick was an adorable city, and I spent most of my short time walking over Thomond Bridge and along the River Shannon, admiring King John’s castle, St. Mary’s Cathedral, and the beautiful street art and roses. I stopped in for a coffee at Jack Monday’s, breakfast at Bakehouse 22,  had a drink at Katie Daly’s Heritage Pub, and dined at Nelly’s Corner. (I basically ate my way back to my AirBnb. But really.) I spent a lot of time in People’s Park, sitting on a bench in the sunshine, and writing. I got lost downtown, stumbled upon Tait’s Clock, and browsing countless boutiques. While I was there, I also saw the Treaty Stone and visited the Milk Market, one of the oldest markets in the country. The Locke Bar next to Matthew Bridge was a great choice for my last night, as I experienced traditional music and dancing. It was a peaceful two days before the residency. See below:

The next day, I caught a bus near Arthur’s Quay Park to Dublin. Can I just say I love how easily you can travel this entire country?

Okay, okay- so now the writing part. During my first residency, in June 2018, I worked with the wonderful Irish poet Enda Wyley. I’ve never met a more passionate reader/writer. She reawakened my excitement for the written word and its endless possibilities. Here are all the current mentors in the Carlow/Trinity program:

 Evelyn Conlon, Fiction
 Carlo Gébler, Fiction
 Brian Leyden, Nonfiction
 Jean O’Brien, Poetry
 Enda Wyley, Poetry

Visiting writers during June 2018 residency:

Thomas McCarthy, Poet (Master Class Instructor)
Sinéad Gleeson, Nonfiction
Richard Blanco, Poetry
Ann Harverty, Fiction
Alannah Hopkin, Nonfiction
Claire Keegan, Fiction
Mark Roper, Poetry
Declan Meade, Editor
Rosita Boland, Nonfiction

What a lineup, huh? So for this most recent residency (June 2018), I was lucky to work with another Irish poet, the fierce Jean O’Brien. Jean taught me to survive my grief, and to “kill the ruddy doves!”

Visiting writers during this June 2019 residency:

Paula Meehan, Poet  (Master Class instructor)
Caitriona Lally, Fiction
Annemarie Ni Churreain, Poetry
Claire Keegan, Fiction
Sinéad Gleeson, Nonfiction
Kevin Barry, Fiction
Nithy Kasa, Poetry
Emilie Pine, Nonfiction
Danny Denton, Editor/Fiction

*Paul Muldoon reading

Every session was rich in its content, every writer was captivating in their craft. Unfortunately, I got sick somewhere between Limerick and Dublin, and the sickness seemed to spread like wildfire throughout the group. I had plenty of hot toddies to soothe my throat, and still managed to attend nearly every reading.

We also took a trip to Boyne Valley/Newgrange area, where I enjoyed the biggest Irish stew & coffee after exploring the Hill of Tara and Trim Castle:

That’s Valerie and I doing weird yoga poses in the photo halfway down on the left, one of my new favorite pictures 🙂

There is a part of Dublin, with its gritty streets, its green plazas, its rolling and quiet beauty, that roars on– a song cemented in my heart. I am forever grateful for the experiences I have had here, shared among friends and mentors, and the opportunity to connect with these brilliant writers, learning from them and their history.

 

These are just snapshots of a place, of laughter, of people in time. I take so many photos because I want to remember it all. And I’m so glad I do. A fellow student, Elicia Parkinson, passed away suddenly in October. She was a brilliant creative nonfiction writer and a dedicated student. Elicia, I hope wherever you are is as beautiful and lush as Ireland’s green pastures, and filled to the brim with books just as heavenly.

Our director included this poem in her e-mail to us, and I want to close this post with it.

 

And Yet the Books
And yet the books will be there on the shelves, separate beings,

That appeared once, still wet
As shining chestnuts under a tree in autumn,
And, touched, coddled, began to live
In spite of fires on the horizon, castles blown up,
Tribes on the march, planets in motion.
“We are, ” they said, even as their pages
Were being torn out, or a buzzing flame
Licked away their letters. So much more durable
Than we are, whose frail warmth
Cools down with memory, disperses, perishes.
I imagine the earth when I am no more:
Nothing happens, no loss, it’s still a strange pageant,
Women’s dresses, dewy lilacs, a song in the valley.
Yet the books will be there on the shelves, well born,
Derived from people, but also from radiance, heights.

sig2

Final Residency

I completed my third (and final) residency in my MFA program in January. To say that this program has changed my life is an understatement. In the words of my friend and former Madwomen mentor, Tess Barry, it is a “two year bath in champagne.”

I have worked with incredible mentors, had the pleasure of meeting and listening to many renowned visiting writers, and made lifelong connections in the friends I have found here.

Here’s our group at Steel Cactus: Amy, me, Jaclyn, Phillip, Cathy, Hannah, and Sam.

And then at the famous Jazz Night: Gerry, Phillip, Jaclyn, me, Cathy, Richard.

I met the remarkable Sandra Cisneros, award-winning author and beautiful soul.

IMG_9769

I presented my craft talk, Writing the Wandering Home: Place and Placelessness in Poetry.

And here we all are at the final dinner, the original crew: Richard, Cathy, me, Gerry, Jaclyn.

& the three musketeers, the girls: Jaclyn, me, Cathy.

IMG_9798

I would not have made it through this program or the past year of my life (including surviving Ireland!) without this incredible human. Thank you, Jaclyn. We did it!

IMG_9840

My brilliant, powerful teachers: Judith Vollmer and Jan Beatty.

I am beginning this last practicum with a full reading list, and a notebook full of goals. I’m not sure what shape my manuscript will take, but I know my voice is shifting the more I grow in this program, and I can’t wait to see how it sounds.

sig2

Cincy

In the past, I have written a couple posts about the Sigma Tau Delta International English Convention. Read my first post here, and about the 2016 conference in Minneapolis and the 2017 conference in Louisville.

I just returned from the 2018 convention in Cincinnati. It was a whirlwind of a weekend! On the way there, I started off with a stop at one of my new favorites in Columbus: Winans. Chocolate and wine, you can’t go wrong…

IMG_0090

Once in Cincinnati, I spent most of the first day exploring. It was a cloudy day, but still beautiful nonetheless. Below are some of my favorite sights in the Queen City:

*Roebling Suspension Bridge, Smale Riverfront Park*

*Great American Ball Park, Findlay Market*

*Hathaway’s Diner- I could eat all my meals in this charming, old-school place.*

 

Image result for hathaway's diner cincinnati

10/10 recommend!

I gave my presentation on Saturday afternoon and connected instantly to the brilliant writers: DeAndra, Eric, and Korbin.

*Rhinegheist Brewery*

Speaking of murals, Cincy has plenty!

*At the Red & Black Conventions Award Gala with my two guys, where my poetry collection was awarded a prize.*

And the next night, I got to reunite with my best friend from high school, who was visiting town.

IMG_0254

Already can’t wait to see what next year’s convention has in store.

See you in 2019, St. Louis!

 

sig2

 

Monologue of the Woman Dreamer

I don’t know how to peel back the months of my life. When those moments I was in became days that drifted into years, how I stopped recognizing myself in old photographs or where the people beside me in them went, or how to get them back. (As if I could convince myself it would be the same.) When six year old innocence became sixteen angst, became the shell of this twenty six year old woman. I blazed through adolescence with bleached hair, a hungry heart, a kind of wild ambition I can’t even dream up now.

Graduation was almost five years ago. The night before, I stood on that dock ready to jump, ready for cool dark water, something to shock my body, something to wake me up, just something underneath that May moonlight to either bathe me or drown me, I wasn’t sure which. It’s a strange feeling to want to be consumed. To be ready for it. That desire, that ambition, meant long city nights were ahead, and I fought my way to see them through. To pay the electric, to keep the light on, to keep burning. I set myself on fire. I raked through a 9-5 like I was taught.  I stopped looking for answers to the questions I forgot I’m allowed to ask, steadied myself against the current of the world and from reaching the bottom of the bottles on my shelf. I buried myself. Had milestones and mistakes on repeat. I bled trying to figure out just what it meant to be successful. A degree. A job. An apartment. Check, check, check. I did all of it. And yet…what for? And what now?

What happens when the supposed keys to happiness don’t twist and give way at the door in front of you? What if your wants and your needs and your reality don’t meet at this intersection and you look over to find nobody but doubt is sitting shotgun? I’m knee deep in my life and all of a sudden, I’m not sure where I am going or if I like it and who I am. I’ve stood in shadows and I’ve stood in the light, and I still don’t know how to love myself in either.

But I’ve loved. I’ve loved men who have seen all of me and yet never even knew my scars. What does that say about them? Better still, what does it say about me? I’ve loved the chase, the thunder of the unknown barreling through me. I love the hum of a heartbeat, the strength of fingers interlocked, the safeness of a naked soul. I clung to the notion I should romanticize busyness. I loved making calendars and planners fill up until I realized I was emptying myself. Running on coffee and the belief that I was making you, or at least someone, proud. That I was becoming something. Starving despite a full stomach, the appetite for my life lost. Maybe I’m repeating myself. Maybe we’ve all been there.

Women- how fragile and fierce are we? Too much this, too much that, but not enough. Crooked noses, big feet. Hair that frizzes in summer heat to swallow anything it touches. Clavicle bones that are never kissed, shoulders sunken with a weight we shouldn’t have to carry. The dripping curve of a lower back that forgot how it felt to be touched. Eyes an ocean of maybes. Stomach too soft, hips hidden from unwanted gazes (even our own), cellulite sliced into upper thighs as if it was a hot pepperoni pizza. Lips that beckon to tell secrets and inhale whatever a sunset is made of. Made of a million particles of “what ifs” and a swelling storm that rages even when we’re calm, even when we smile. Everything we are could bring you to your knees. We are composed of sheet metal our fathers molded from childhood, translucent glass that can never break, diamonds and teeth from past lovers, wood from the tree in your front yard, dirt roads and plastic bags, and stitched together with ribbon our mothers gave us- fragments of raw love, fraying at the ends. With bad posture and clumsiness and a beautiful brain and a lot of guts. I promise I am 75% fire and within me there is a real hurricane. I feel too much and I feel nothing at all. I’m trying to explain to you how that’s possible.

How do you learn to know who you are when the world is still telling you who to be? Where can you find what you love and let it kill you?  Maybe we’re just the blind leading the blind toward this whacked-out definition of happiness. Will there ever be a moment you look in the mirror and you don’t feel even just a little uncomfortable?  How do you make sure friends won’t be just a profile on a Facebook page and family won’t be strangers you feel obligated to see on holidays? Stop hiding behind filters and phones. Strip it all down, scream, do something. We’re so far removed from feeling anything and acknowledging it, revealing it. Too immersed in media and this illusion that everyone else has it together, and therefore so should we.

I’m here to tell you I don’t. I’m not exactly unhappy with my life. I’ve stood in crowds at concerts, feeling invincible. But when it ends, I wonder when’s the next time I’ll feel a part of something again. I’ve been told how envious people are of my accomplishments and experiences, like my life was this incredible dream they wish they could attain or trade something for. To some, that validation would hold meaning. But what do you say back, when they don’t realize the half of it? I’ve made friends in corners of the world, but those connections don’t reach across phone lines, probably for reasons that all lead back to me. I’ve stood on Machu Picchu, dined atop the Eiffel Tower, rode a camel in Morocco. I have traveled to cities where my tongue couldn’t speak the language, felt my skin burn from the fire of a different sun, and I’ve tried to soak my tired bones in all of it to find out what it means. Seeking fulfillment. I’ve crossed state lines and boundaries and crossed off bucket lists. I’m living but when do I start to feel alive?

And here we are already, another calendar year, another birthday looming ahead, emotions moving at the speed of light. How did we get to this place? I wish I could slow it down. These seasons are melting together so fast, memories always slipping through the tiny cracks in the palm of my hands as I try so desperately to hold on to them. And yet, I’m here still secretly hoping the leaves would just hurry up and change again, still wondering if there’s something more and measuring up just short of it, still waiting to find the word “yes” just so I can say it out loud, over and over again, to my reflection without flinching.

unnamed-16

sig2

Six months later…

Hard to believe that I wrote my first blog post just a little over six months ago.  I had zero clue what the hell I was doing, and constantly asked my friends Sara at Californyinz and Marissa at Ampersand Creative to help guide me through the process. (Check them out, they’re amazing!)

Originally, I was searching for a home to recount my traveling adventures both past and present and create an outlet for my passion for poetry & nonfiction. In doing so, I’ve found an incredible community of other writers and travelers, and received a surprising amount of support from friends & family. I now have over 4,000 followers and growing! I have also discovered that keeping up with a blog is not always easy…

If you are a regular follower, or even an occasional creeper, you can see that I have not written a post in exactly a month. While I’ll elaborate on those reasons in a later post, I thought I’d check in to bring readers up to speed on what’s going on now.

-I am still taking Madwomen in the Attic classes. I’m currently in a poetry workshop that proves itself to be more than overwhelming at times, but forces me to churn out new writing every week.

-Marathon training is underway. Those 26.2 miles are coming for me May 1st, whether I am ready for it or not! Check out A Year of Races to see where my love/hate relationship with running all started.

marathonn

-Next week I’ll be in Minneapolis! Getting accepted to present my work at the Sigma Tau Delta International English Convention was one of the highlights of my undergraduate career, and I’m thrilled to be going to the City of Lakes soon to do it all over again, this time as an alumna. Prose Before Bros tells it all. Got suggestions on things to see/eat/do? Send them my way!

sigma

-All writers are used to rejection, and I had come to expect it. Imagine my shock when I found that two poems and one creative nonfiction piece of mine were accepted for publication! Once all are available for purchase and/or accessible online, I will provide the links so that you can read up 🙂 Excited to be making some progress, however slowly.

-My next international travel excursion is hopefully taking place in the fall of this year, with Southeast Asia (Thailand) or South America (Peru) as my top two picks. However, I’m doing my best to still travel within the states as much as time allows. Some upcoming cities on my list: Chicago, Atlanta, and Seattle.

-I got Beyoncé tickets. This has nothing to do with my blog specifically, but EVERYTHING to do with me since I’ve loved her since Day 1. My homegirl Catherine & I will be getting in formation on May 31.  Conclude fangirl rant.

beyonce

 

 

For all those of you that read and follow my blog, I cannot say enough how much I appreciate it. You must be just weird enough to find my ramblings interesting, and I thank God for that! Not to mention the way you support and promote my blog and my written work with the likes, comments, and shares…I am grateful you care enough to see things From This Side of the Sun. And I’m so glad you’re on this journey with me.

 

sig2