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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prose Before Bros

Yes, I said it.

I thought I was in love when I kissed my first crush, Seth, on the cheek when I was seven. We were behind a tree during a family camping retreat for the Boy Scouts, which both he and my brother were part of. (Smart girl-learning to break hearts at a young age.)

…But it wasn’t exactly a fairy tale ending.  He immediately straightened his glasses, gave me a weird look, and ran away. We didn’t speak after that. But that’s okay, because I learned a different love- escaping with a book instead of chasing boys.

Since then, writers from Sylvia Plath to J.K. Rowling paved the way for my love of literature. Teachers from elementary school to college classes taught me to create my own by nurturing and guiding my craft. I couldn’t ever explain it, but words empowered me. I mean, who needs a man when you’ve got countless characters to fall in love with? There was nothing quite like losing myself entirely in a story, or better yet, discovering myself between its pages in the process. And when I wrote? Indescribable. It was like I held the power. Let’s get real here- The last lines of Sylvia Plath’s Lady Lazarus are a perfect example.

“Herr God, Herr Lucifer
Beware
Beware.

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.”

Come onnnnn. It still gives me chills! But somewhere between that first kiss to writing poetry in my bedroom to getting my first apartment, I lost touch with the paper and pen. When I wrote in college, it was only for an assignment. I stopped reading for pleasure altogether. In fact, I stopped reading. I skimmed, or would use Google. And I definitely couldn’t remember the last time I sat down to write for me. I was caught up in relationships and social life,  and then just trying to get a job like most college grads. Then I got a job and an apartment, and was trying to figure out happiness and paying the bills but still traveling, and what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. (Spoiler alert: I still don’t know.) When I finally wrote again, it was hard. It sucked. I wasted years not reading and writing, and all I could see was how far behind I was.

Which brings me to the here and now. I created this blog to keep writing, and as a place to bring my stories of travel. I joined a writing class. I’ve been submitting my work.

I delayed posting until this week because I was waiting to hear whether or not I got accepted to the 2016 Sigma Tau Delta’s International Convention, and I am THRILLED to announce that I received the e-mail last night.

So hold on. What exactly is Sigma Tau Delta, you may ask? First off, it is not a sorority. It also isn’t a sexually transmitted disease. Although that is, in fact, what the acronym implies. Ha. STD is an International English Honor Society.  (And yes, believe me, we tried to get “Prose Before Bros” or “STD: Gotta read ’em all!” as our T-shirt sayings, but it didn’t stand a chance against administration.)

I joined Sigma Tau Delta in 2010, and, in my junior year of college, presented at the 2011 Convention March 23-26th in Pittsburgh, PA (shown below). The convention theme was “Beyond Words.”

NOLA3

With friends Samantha and Laura, exploring the ‘burgh and attending presentations (below).

nola7

nola4

Practice makes perfect!

nola8

I presented an original poem, “Discoloration” which I wrote about my father.

*

 A year later in 2012,  I had the time of my life at the convention, which was held in New Orleans, LA from February 29-March 3. The convention theme that year was “Reawaken.” New Orleans was a beautiful city, and I heard such beautiful writing in the sessions I attended. I was a senior in college then, and even now I am amazed by the memories I made there, from Bourbon Street to friendships I stumbled into. I hope to go back someday.  I’m still craving beignets from Café du Monde…

nola

Some classmates/fellow STD members with our professor, Dr. Andrew Ade (above) and below at the Red & Black Gala Dinner and Convention Awards.

NOLA1

NOLA2

I told you I take eating seriously.

nola6

Presenting poetry from my collection “The Art of Baptizing.”

Now, it has been over three years since I graduated college. I rediscovered Sigma Tau Delta recently and joined the Alumni Epsilon Chapter. Shortly thereafter, I realized I could still submit, and if accepted, present at the convention. Naturally, I was stoked and submitted as soon as I could pull something together. I have been racking my brain waiting these past couple months to see whether or not I would be accepted. Seriously. Not knowing was brutal, and so was trying to prepare myself for rejection.

But, this has a fairy tale ending after all. I am so happy to announce that this year, I am one of 24 Sigma Tau Delta alumni that will present at the convention in Minneapolis, MN from March 2-5, 2016. The convention theme is “Finding Home.” I will be reading ten poems from my collection “From This Side of the Sun.”

Are there any other Sigma Tau Delta members out there? Would love to connect with you!

 

Stay classy readers,

sig2

 
P.S. I went to Minnesota when I was younger and all I remember is the Mall of America. What is at the top of your list for things to see & do in the City of Lakes?
Hotel-Deals-Minneapolis

 

The Mark I Left

*As promised in my Madwomen In the Attic post, here is my first draft for my creative nonfiction workshop.

***UPDATE: This piece was published in Longridge ReviewCheck it out here!***

 

 

The Mark I Left

I run my hands gingerly over the white and tan splotches of matted fur on my new Calico kitten. We got her a week or so ago, from a woman getting rid of a whole litter. She promised she had all her shots but she just couldn’t take care of all of them anymore. The kitten was thin, probably sick. But that would change now that she was mine.

She squirms in my arms, escaping. With hesitant steps, she explores her new jungle of four acres of wide open land. She darts around my bare feet, pawing at dandelions, and then lowers to the ground, ready to pounce. As I watch her hunt, I think back to last week when I held her alone in my bedroom. She would not stop crying. She meowed relentlessly, and when I tried to pick her up, claws extended and sharp teeth sunk fast and hard into my sensitive skin. Red lines rose, etching marks on my hands.

I did not think, She was just scared.

I did not think, It’s okay, it was just self-defense.

I did not consider the condition of the home the kitten knew before mine.

Furious, I opened one of my empty dresser drawers, plopped that stupid kitten inside, and slammed it shut it. That’ll show it. I pictured it in the dark, afraid and deeply regretting it had ever thought to leave marks on me. Well, good. The kitten had to learn that I was in charge. If she didn’t behave, I would punish her. That’s just how it works.

I left the kitten there for a few minutes until my rage abated, and remorse quickly washed over me.  I didn’t want to hurt her, that was never my intention.  But I couldn’t deny how powerful it felt to be in control for once.  It was impossible for her to get out of the drawer without me. She needed me.

In a way, we were the same. She was small and helpless, and I was accustomed to that role. The baby of the family, I was always being told what to do, forever a puppet on a stage with an older brother or a parent pulling the strings. My parents had my brother, Ryan, and I to attend to, full-time jobs, and bills to pay. Ryan had dirt bikes to ride, a punching bag in the form of a little sister, and better things to do than be bothered with some “dumb cat.” But forget any of that. This living animal was mine. I alone held the power. I knew that I was the stronger, bigger one.

Her fate was in my hands. For the first time I was the one to restrain, not be restrained, and it felt good. I could see why my brother liked it. The thought sickened me as I stared down at my hands in disbelief.  Even at eight years old, I knew that feeling was wrong. My mother would never do this kind of thing. Only bad caretakers would. Fear plummeted to the pit of my stomach.  What does this make me?

“Come on, we are going to be late!” my mother calls from inside. I hurry to climb shotgun into our sky blue Plymouth Voyager, leaving the kitten down in the grass. We are already late for a meeting at church, and I can hear the stress in my mother’s voice rising as she rushes down the stairs, carrying so many bags over her shoulders and under her eyes. She held so much of my world together. If that’s what being a mom meant, I don’t believe I could ever do it.

The sound of the ignition interrupts my reverie as our old van springs to life, and my mom flings her purse in the space between our seats. She puts it in reverse, steps hard on the gas, and that’s when I feel it. So fast I don’t even have time to process what the bump meant, then so painfully slowly, leaving me breathless as if my own lungs are the ones being crushed. Tiny ribs collapsing, the weight of an eight passenger van and two human bodies, alive and breathing, as life is sucked from a kitten, not yet one month old.

My mom quickly jams it into park and falls silent with the realization. It’s almost as if the world stops and gasps, watching, waiting.  I throw open the passenger door and scream, seeing the tread of the tires imprinted on the patched white fur. The mark I left. I know I am going to be sick. Bones and blood and whiskers and more blood. Blinded by hot tears, I go to hold the limp head in the palm of my hand but stop when I see its pink pearl nose. Just minutes ago it was wet and soft. Now, guts gush through nostrils. They push out, pouring red and already caking over in the hot July sun.

I realize I am still howling. Was this because of me? I know things about accidents, a little about death, some about pain. I know bodies have spines and heads and hearts and bones, and blood. There is so much blood. I wonder if this is God’s way of punishing me. I wonder if God will pluck me from this driveway and shove me in a box and slam it shut. That doesn’t happen, but I feel the guilt just the same. Death doesn’t care what mark it leaves.

Although numb, I force myself into motion. I stand up with skinned knees, spinning around wildly to face my mother, and choke out the words,

“You.

Killed.

Her.” 

I am hysterical, repeating it over and over again, wailing so loud I’m sure the Kilburn’s next door could hear, despite the overgrown fields between us. Everything inside me breaks. My mom is at my side instantly, smoothing my hair and whispering apologies. We don’t say it, but I think we both knew it was my fault. We lived in the middle of nowhere and left our pets outside all the time, but this was different and I knew it.

Why did I leave the kitten so close the driveway? I should have kept her inside. Why didn’t I check to see where she was before getting in the van? How could you be so stupid? Good job, moron, I could already hear my brother saying. I block out his voice in my head. I can’t think of that right now. Forget this church meeting, I don’t care. I insist we hold a funeral for her right then and there. We can at least give her that. My mom obliges, albeit reluctantly, and disappears into the basement, emerging with a cardboard box for a coffin.

“We have to put holes in the top,” I say. I had learned this is necessary for creatures to still breathe. She doesn’t remind me that the kitten is already dead and this is useless, but instead pokes holes through the top of the box. And then my mother, still in her black pumps, follows me to the woods. She carries the kitten’s lifeless body in the curved belly of one of my father’s shovels. I choose a spot next to one of my favorite trees, feeling the heavy box hit against the side of my leg as I walk up the hill. I tell her we should pray, or give a speech like I saw them do at my uncle’s funeral last year. She bows her head to pray, but I hear nothing.

My head is spinning. I am wondering if Jesus will forgive us. For how I kept that kitten trapped in my dresser drawer, for making my mother late for her meeting, for not paying attention to where the kitten was, for everything.  I look down at the dandelions I’ve picked to cover the grave, and realize I never even named her. Perhaps I knew, even at that age, that she wouldn’t stay with me for long.

Seventeen years later, when my mind has a better understanding of motherhood, and my hands know how to hold something fragile, I still feel my lungs give out at the question, “When are you having kids?”  Distant family members will ask me, trapping me at the dinner table during holidays. It is suffocating. I wonder sometimes if God forgot to poke holes in the top of my box.

When I try to explain to people that I just don’t want children, I give them reasons like finances and freedom. I don’t say how I am afraid of what my own two hands could do, or how you can love something so hard and still not keep anything safe in this world. I do not reveal my choking insecurities and how I feel unfit to care for another. Nobody asks. I know they label me heartless, but it seems easier to ignore that.  Because it’s hard to explain how when love and death and fear gripped the axles of a four door van, and guilt flowed freely into the four chambers of my heart like blood out onto hot asphalt, this decision buried itself in my womb many summers ago.

sig2

E.T. Phone Home

Tuesday, July 2. 2013

We set off for Marineland early in the morning. It reminded me of Waldameer‘s water park (in Erie, PA). We first went to the dolphin show, and then stayed in the kiddie pool the rest of the afternoon. I went down a couple water slides with Jordi and Mar. For lunch, we had ham sandwiches (“bikinis”) and also got gelato before making the trip home. It was an exhausting day for all. Once back home, Jordi put together a more traditional Mediterranean meal. This was interesting… Sonsa? I believe it was called- very skinny fish that were ingested whole. Except…the eyes were still there. Now, I am not a particularly picky eater, and I will try anything once. And it was good! But I could not get past the fact that I was eating this fish with its eyes still there. I swear it was staring at the back of my throat as I swallowed it.

1093857_10201739993329640_599977908_o

Later on, Jordi and I went to the supermarket. He told me I could pick up whatever I needed. Embarrassed, I put tampons, shampoo, and a razor in the cart. I said a silent prayer thanking God that I would finally have a razor- because I needed one more than life! And I’ll shamelessly admit that I couldn’t read the labels on the bottles in the shower, so I am not entirely confident what I have been washing my hair/body with these past couple days…

At the supermarket, it was shocking to see the switch between fresh and processed foods. Jordi took me walking through the weekly food market downtown where you can buy local fruit and vegetables. “This is how you know it’s fresh,” he said, motioning to an insect crawling through a head of lettuce. “It’s straight from the garden because these are still there.” He also showed me what the good price of meat is and some esteemed fish markets in Costa Brava. I felt like…I needed to not eat so much processed crap. And that I really should learn to cook, like him. He also made gazpacho, which looks like a delicious smoothie, but is made with with raw vegetables.

After we returned to the house, the kids and I went to the pool upstairs at their grandparents’ house. I don’t think that Jordi’s dad likes me too much. He seems very uptight and is not warm to me. Perhaps he thinks that having a stranger be an au pair here is a mistake, and that I am just another mouth to feed. Or, that I am just a young American girl that is incapable of being any help as a teacher to the children because of my inability to speak Catalan, and their young age. Whatever the reason, I can’t deny that this stings.

Now it is late, but I just got off Skype with my mom. She is sending me a package with more toiletries, necessities,and iPad accessories (since I fried the other ones). I am so grateful! Who would have thought that I’d ever be so happy to have such simple items? (Now, I was far from destitute, and I had saved up plenty of money from my first job after college to buy whatever I did need, but I just hadn’t had the chance to go to the store to replenish my own items, or didn’t pack them in the first place for other reasons.) Cliche as it sounds, the one thing I have learned quickly is that the things I truly need in this life are few, and plain and simple. I have neglected to remember that, but was reminded when my mom drove to Pittsburgh to help me prepare for this move.

We were finishing packing my backpack and boxing the rest of the stuff into storage when she said, “You have two boobs and there’s seven days in a week. Why do you have so many freaking bras?!” I love that woman.

But in all honesty, she’s right. What is it all for? I don’t need two closets full of clothes. I don’t need the latest technology, designer handbags, or more items that clutter my life. You can’t take these things with you when you go.

Just give me the sound of my mother’s voice (and maybe some clearly labeled shampoo) and I’m golden.

1146915_10201740083731900_914350306_o

The strength of this woman is unmatched. She didn’t want to let her baby girl get on a plane to Europe alone, and she certainly didn’t understand it, but she still stood by me. She’s my backbone.

sig2