Monday, June 25, 2018

On the Magic of Music


I just finished watching that clip of James Cordon's Carpool Karaoke with Paul McCartney and cried. I didn't know how much the music of the Beatles was a part of my growing up. How deep it went. Until now.

My parents were hippies. Well, at least the Filipino version (which is to say, as a mutt-like culture, it’s not surprising to embrace the wide-ranging diversity of American music. Keep reading. You’ll see what I’m talking about in a moment.). They didn’t do acid (at least, not to my knowledge, but who knows! They are never very forthcoming about anything that happened before I was born. Or, actually, even after. Unless I ask direct questions. To my dad. Which he may answer. Or not.) Maybe they smoked? I have no idea. All I know—from photos taken in Manila—is that they wore bellbottoms. My mom wore flowers in her hair. My dad’s hair was long, just below his shoulders, and he wore those thin headbands across his forehead. I always thought it made him look Native American. Were they politically active? I don’t know. I’d like to think so. For one, it might explain my dad’s tendency to “keep your head down” and to over-prepare for anything. (At the time, the Philippines was going through their own political unrest with Marcos’s rise to power, resulting in martial law, which was the driving force for their immigration to the US.)

Growing up, there was music in the house. All the time.

Peter, Paul, and Mary. Carole King. Simon and Garfunkel.

Anne Murray was my first concert. I was six.

Stevie Wonder. Donna Summer. Diana Ross. Heck, anything Motown.

Eric Clapton. Billy Joel. And of course, The Beatles.

I remember sitting on the floor of our family room, next to the stereo, playing records with my aunt, who just immigrated from the Philippines. I must have been around 8 years old. It was summer; back then, the days were long and slow. In our hands, we held the album sleeve, printed with lyrics, and we would just sing. Loud. All day long. “Heaven Can Wait” by Meatloaf was one of her favorites. (Yes, you read that right. Meatloaf. The guy who sings that all-time frat party anthem: “Paradise By The Dashboard Light”.) Diana Ross’s “Touch Me In the Morning” was my personal fave, though I kept wondering, why did she want him to touch her and then walk away? Did she not like him anymore? Also “touch” in my little-kid mind was just that: a hand touching her arm and then walking away. What did I know? The music lent itself to an upbeat feeling, so I really didn’t pay attention to the meaning of the lyrics anyway. If anything, maybe that was my first encounter with being in the present moment: “Nothing good’s gonna last forever / And wasn’t it me who said, let’s just be glad for the time together” and “But yesterday’s gone my love, there’s only now and time to face it.” Either way, I just know that the only way I could participate with the song was through singing.

Then, there was the Beatles.

one of the many albums in my childhood home

I remember how much my dad treasured these albums. How much care he gave them. He was so delicate when sliding them out of the album cover, then the sleeve. Gently setting it on the turntable and slowly placing the needle into that first groove, his face close to the vinyl, waiting for those first beats. 

I remember him instructing me to be extra careful when taking out records to play them. I was also not permitted to put the Beatles’ records on. If I wanted to listen, I’d have to ask him to put them on. He showed more tenderness toward those records than he did me.

While my knowledge of The Beatles was limited to my exposure as a child (I never really explored their music beyond what my parents listened to), I now know how much of their music is foundational within me. What I mean is this: music and memory are inextricable. When I watched that clip of Carpool Karaoke with Paul McCartney, the music brought me right back to when I was a kid. Back when I could spend an entire day sitting around, listening to music and singing along. 

If I took the time right now, I’m sure I could trace the formation of my current eclectic (I hate that word) tastes along the path of musical roots, in which the Beatles are inevitably embedded. But for now, I’ll give a sample of my favorite music to date, which will probably reveal more about my growing up than anything else (in no particular order): Dave Matthews Band; Prince; 90s alternative rock (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, et al); late 80s/all of the 90s rap & hip-hop (Public Enemy, Notorious BIG, Tribe Called Quest, MC Lyte, et al), R&B (Anita Baker, En Vogue, Destony’s Child, New Edition – plus all of their projects after: Bell, Biv, DeVoe, Johnny Gill, et al), Latin freestyle (Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam, Expose, Stevie B, et al). I high school, I also listened to house music & reggae (club reggae, that is) (songs like “Girl, I’ll House You” and “Percolator”), though I never ever made it into a club (my parents would’ve killed me – and I kinda liked living. Haha). During the college days, I also listened to Indigo Girls and Sarah MacLaughlin and Tori Amos. And pop music was always there. Always. One fave that comes to mind right now? Lisa Loeb’s “Stay”. (The video is typical 90s: just walking around in an abandoned building. Haha!) Man, I’m a total cheese ball! Hah! And just typing up this sample list makes me feel really mutt-like. Like a true Filipino. Haha!

But oh, the magic of music. How it can transport us back in time with just a few notes. And how quickly we flash right back into that moment. A moment, perhaps, that we had forgotten about long ago.

For me, hearing “Penny Lane” beamed me back to a moment when my dad sang this song. I don’t see much in the memory except for him singing, wearing a pair of jeans, eyes closed. Maybe he is remembering his own Penny Lane, a street in his childhood neighborhood, a place he will not return to for another 30 years. A place that will always be in his ears, in his eyes, and in his heart.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Letting Go and Working on Self While In Service of Others

Taking the leap involves making a commitment to ourselves and to the earth itself –making a commitment to let go of old grudges, to not avoid people and situations and emotions that make us feel uneasy, to not cling to or fears, our closedmindedness, our hard-heartedness, our hesitation. Now is the time to develop trust in our basic goodness and the basic goddness of our sisters and brothers on this earth; a time to develop confidence in our ability to drop our old ways of staying stuck and to choose wisely. We could do that right here and right now. 
–Pema Chodron, Taking the Leap


I typed up this excerpt from Pema Chodron’s book Taking the Leap a few days ago. After reading the first couple of chapters, I felt moved to write an essay on letting go. I wanted to explore my own relationship with this idea of letting go, of non-attachment. I knew that it was very much a work-on-progress. And then my attention got pulled away to a different direction (for one, towards the insanity of migrant children being torn apart from their parents). But here’s what’s interesting: the universe works to conspire with you. You set your intention and the universe puts everything in place to fulfill your request. At that point, it’s just a matter of you recognizing it. This is not news to me, but I got to experience this magic, once again, first hand.


My residency here at Millay Colony for the Arts is coming to a close soon. A handful of days are left. And, uncharacteristically, I feel calm. I’ve got my equanimity. Which feels like a miracle in and of itself! Normally, I’d be freaking out around this time, thinking about how much I still have yet to write, or how much I have yet to accomplish. Normally, I’d put this pressure on myself to have something “completed”, even if it’s a single poem that’s been through a few revisions and feels more polished. But this time? This time, I feel okay. I feel at peace, actually.

How did I get here?

When I first arrived at the Colony, I set up my studio right away. I unpacked my books, notebooks, sketch books, file folders of poems, printer, paper of all kinds, stacking letter trays, arts supplies, mugs, hot pot, mug warmer, snacks, and the ever-important white Christmas lights, which I strung up immediately. Environment, ambiance –whatever you want to call it—is everything for my creative process. At least when I’m at a residency. (Apparently, this is a Taurus trait? Resident conversations inevitably turn to astrology every night at dinner. No idea why but it’s quite amusing.) At home? My writing locations/environments vary. Anyway, after I set up on that first day, I told myself, Tomorrow, we begin!

And then the sun rose. And I didn’t know where to start.

So, I picked a book out of the stack I brought and began to read. I was hoping for some inspiration, some spark to get me to write.

Nothing.

I started to get a headache.

Great. Just what I needed.

The next few days were a bit of a struggle. I was forcing something to happen when I very well knew: this is not how it works. But I got myself all rigid anyway and tried to make something, anythinghappen. (Hello, Ego. Nice to see you. :p)

Because I’m very much an earth-driven sign (yes, I’m talking Taurus again), I thrive on tactile things, on interacting physically. (Sometimes I wonder why I’m not a visual artist. Then I try to draw something and suddenly it all comes rushing back. Haha!) So, I made a physical rendering of my book-in-progress: a list of poems, divided into sections, and tacked up on a wall. I needed to get a visual overview. That felt like a first step towards being “productive”.

As the days went on, I decided that I would fill the creative well during the first half of the month and then get down to the writing business for the second half (how very Type A of me to plan creativity – heh heh). I visited Mass MoCA two days in a row (I love that place!!). I went to yoga. A lot. Even took a workshop on handstands. (Physical, remember?) I went to my first kirtan. I hiked to the top of a mountain. I lay down in a meadow. I knitted in a gazebo with eight strangers, eight fellow knitters. I ate amazing Indian food, and later, wandered into a small-town stationery store, where I bought my first fountain pen! (The physical feeling of the fountain pen is something else! What kinds of things will flow forth? Stay tuned!) I fed my yogic & spiritual self with a day at Kripalu. I visited a glass blowing studio and gallery. I baked. (I joked that the kitchen was my second studio.) I took (and am still taking) a lot of photographs.

Boy, have I filled that well.

Then the halfway mark came.

And you know what? Things started happening.

If you know anything about the creative process, you know that it’s not predictable. But, patterns can be identified. I know my patterns, so I knew that the creative flow would really get going at this point. But it doesn’t always mean the flow is fast.

And this one is not fast.

Here’s the thing about creating art: it’s an intangible process. Even if one is a visual artist working with physical, tactile media. Its source is very much anchored in intuition. The process itself: anchored in experimentation. And if there’s anything that calls for letting go, it’s this.

Creating art really requires that the artist be mindful, to be aware, to pay close attention. And then to try to translate what’s within, without. To translate the inner to the outer. But if I force the ways in which the inner manifests into the outer, it ends up being more difficult a process than necessary. And more often than not, the result ends up being something less than stellar, something that might come close to resembling the inner, but misses the mark.

*

Yesterday, I spent some time in the afternoon at the Chatham Bookstore, perched on a chair out front with my typewriter on a stool. A pop-up Poetry Booth. Poems-on-demand. This was an idea planted long ago when I first read Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bonesas a very young poet. She did it at a state fair. There have been no state fairs on my radar. No opportunities to do something like this. Until now.

After making arrangements with the bookstore last week, I shared this plan with a fellow resident –a playwright. He said, “That sounds terrifying.” Haha! I hadn’t thought of it that way. I told him, “Nah, it’s just like a writing exercise. Poems-on-the-fly.”

At this point, I had been thinking about poetic form. I could sense that some poems were calling to be written, but I didn’t know how to get them out. Poetic form has always been helpful. And freewriting wasn’t working right now. So, I was tinkering. Testing things out.

It was hard.

It wasn’t even the good kind of hard. It wasn’t fun.

If anything, it was excruciating. 

One night, I stayed up until 1am testing out a couple of forms, playing with word choices, word variations –and that was just to set up the form! I hadn’t even written anything yet! (One was a sestina, which works with an intricate pattern of six words. Those six words had better be good ones if I’m going to use them over the course of 32 lines!) 

I was exhausted.

Enter: Poetry Booth.
Enter: Regular folks strolling Main Street of a small town called Chatham.
Enter: Magic.

Me & my typewriter, a Smith Corona
It was slow-going at first. Folks who walked by didn’t want to look directly at me or my typewriter, for fear that I’d pull them into some kind of sales pitch. So, they side-glanced. Skimmed the accompanying chalk sandwich board. They still didn’t get it. If they slowed down their pace with that puzzled look, I’d just say: “Poems-on-demand – I can write a poem for you about anything you want.” Some would respond, as if just attacked by the fragrance girl at the department store cosmetics counter: “Uh, no thanks! Maybe next time!” and quickened their pace. They stilldidn’t get it.

Others would smile and laugh, say “How neat!” but didn’t want a poem.

Those who were curious enough to stop would ask: “So how does it work?”

“Well, tell me what you’d like me to write about.”

And they’d give me something. Sometimes it was really vague (“The end of the world.”). Sometimes it was specific. (“Our four vizslas” – to which I was bewildered. What the heck is a vizsla? Oh, it’s a breed of dog.) From there, I just talked to them. Asked them questions about the thing they wanted their poem to be about. For the dogs, I could tell by the way the woman talked about them how much she adored them. “Regal,” she corrected when I made a comment about them being cute. That said it all. When her husband read the poem (he returned before she did), he said: “Oh my, she is going to love this.” When she arrived and read the poem, she put her hand to her mouth and started to tear up. “Oh.” She said quietly. “Oh, this is beautiful. This is really them.”

The guy who wanted a poem about the end of the world talked to me about energy, about how everything is energy and that there really is no end of the world. To which I said: “You’re trying to challenge me, huh.” He smiled and left me to my devices. I felt a little pressure but then remembered: you’re never going to see this poem again, so just write it. Write whatever comes to mind.

And that’s when things really got cooking.

One woman, accompanied by her sister-in-law, talked about how she and her husband just moved to the area (Hudson Valley) from the city, where she was born and raised. I made a joke about City Mouse moving to the country. I asked her to tell me a little bit about the house and we talked a bit about the spaciousness of being here versus the city. When she came back to pick up her poem, she read it out loud and as she read, her eyes filled with tears and her voice started to crack. “Oh my God,” she said, pausing. “Yes. This is it.” She finished reading and then gave me the biggest hug. Her husband’s birthday is on Monday. She’s going to frame the poem and give it to him as a birthday present. “He’s going to love it,” she told me, smiling through tears.

A man named John, came up with his dog, Eddy. “A Wheaton Terrier?” I asked. “Why, yes!” he seemed pleased that I recognized the breed. “I have one, too,” I said. We talked a little bit about Eddy, how Eddy was John’s son’s dog but really was his dog –they know who takes care of them, who loves them best-- about how John lives in the city but comes up on the weekends. I watched the way John talked about Eddy. He told me how Eddy, in his advanced age of 13 years, has taken to putting frogs in his mouth. Not to eat them, but just to put them in his mouth. Unfortunately for the frogs, Eddy isn’t so gentle and thinks they are his toys. But it brings Eddy joy. So, John puts up with it. As I write this, I kinda wish I had taken a photo of that poem – I really liked that one. After John read it, he said: “Yes, this is totally Eddy. Thank you.” I could see a few tears well up.

Ben, a friend from Supersoul Yoga (a place that has now become community for me), happened by on his way to dinner with his wife. We chatted a bit and when I asked “what would you like the poem to be about?”, “Dinosaurs!” was the answer. I laughed, already thinking about children stomping through a toy city like Godzilla. But then I heard the story behind it, which was the story of how they met. So sweet. And so, I sent them off to dinner and banged away at the keys (let me tell you, you need some force to get those typewriter keys down! I think my fingers got a good workout!). When they came back and read their poem, they laughed and said, “Yes, this pretty much sums it up. It’s exactly what happened.” How in the heck did I know??

A man, John Paul, strolled over from across the street. A man who reminded me of some old kats on the spoken word poetry scene from back in the day. He said, “I was sipping my beer over there,” pointing to People’s Pub, “you can see it in the window from here—and I saw you here, typing away and thought: well, let me go over there and see what that’s about.” He told me all sorts of stories –about how he taught himself how to type properly (notthe hunt-and-peck method), how he works with the dying –a hospice caregiver. He even spit a few verses (see? I knew he was some kind of spoken word kat!). I sent him back to his beer and told him I’d bring over the poem when I was done since I was wrapping up my “shift” anyway (I was actually an hour past when I was supposed to end). He came back before I was done, told me about how, just then in the bar, he told a joke to get into this group of people he didn’t know except for this one guy. As he told me this, I pulled the sheet out of the typewriter and handed him the poem. He read it aloud, a little mumble under the breath, and said, “That’s it. You got it. You got me.” 

My final poem was requested by Christopher, the owner of my favorite food spot here in Chatham: Main St Goodness, home of Pieconic NY. I mean, he’s got All. The. Pies. He’s got other baked goods and breakfast served all day! (I mean yeah, lunch, too, but lunch has got nothing on breakfast!) I asked him what he’d like his poem to be about. “Perseverance,” he said. “What about it” I asked. And he pointed down the street to his place. “Ah,” I said. Perseverance is what it takes to run a food-service business, for sure. He told me that he used to be a Weekender and got fed up with the corporate world, moved here permanently, and opened up his business. He just opened in December. I told him I’d bring the poem over when I was finished. After I closed up shop (because Nicole, the bookstore owner, was also closing up shop, but not before I could write a poem for the bookstore), I walked over and delivered the poem. He read it aloud, right then and there, for everyone to hear (two employees and one last customer as it was closing time). And then immediately he framed it (a frame just happened to be nearby) and put it up on the shelf for all to see (photo coming soon!). He was so happy. I was so happy. The employees were happy. The customer was happy, too! She said, “You wrote that?” “Yeah, just now.” “Wow.” The poem was titled “The Goodness of Pie” and while it was about making pie, it’s also about what is needed when you want to persevere. To be gentle. To be still. To be aware. And that the results can only bring you joy.

"The Goodness of Pie"
I am my own worst student, I’ll tell ya. Hahaha!

Here’s what I’ve learned but didn’t see until now, until the writing of this:

Poetry Booths are a great way to learn how to let go. Not only did I feel unattached to the writing of the poems (I often hem and haw over a word choice here and there. This time, I just went with whatever word came first and kept going), but I also felt so liberated when I gave them away. The poems were not precious to me (as in, attachment rather than degree of delicateness) but they were to those to whom I gave them. That, in and of itself, was a gift to me.

There was no time for the mind (aka Ego) to come in and say, hey, you sure that’s how you want to say it? You sure that’s what you want to say? What if it’s wrong? What if it’s terrible? Or worse yet: what if it’s cliché???

And the results were so touching. I had no idea.

And you know what else I didn’t know? I had no idea that I could see people for who they truly are with such ease. I’m quite beside myself.

But you know what’s even better? That I did this thing with my heart wide open. And that is what enabled me to see these folks, to really see them. Their gratitude for this acknowledgement was really humbling. I am ever grateful. For this. And for the immense lessons I have learned during this amazing month here.

Let go and let be.
And the rest will shine.
(That last part is mine.) 
(Hey, look, I rhymed! Haha!)

Sending out big love to alla ya’ll—
xoxo—

Writing make me hungry. Thanks for the fuel, Christopher!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Essay 26-1/2: Where is Our Humanity? Part 2

G. Ronald Lopez/ZUMA Press/Newscom

I can’t stop reading about the ripping apart of families, the tearing away of children from their parents’ arms. It’s heartbreaking to hear about these stories. Even the word “heartbreaking” falls short. It feels significantly insufficient. It feels like this word has been used so often in the past 18 months that it verges on cliché. And what does that mean for us? What does it say about us? As a nation, as a people? The fact that “heartbreaking” is becoming commonplace is trouble. Even the word “devastation” does not carry the weight of break like it used to. Use it often enough, it might follow the path of “heartbreak”. And at the rate we’re going, it might happen sooner than later.

Reading the stories does not save me from repeated heartbreak. Over and over.

You’d think that I’d stop. That I would practice some level of self-care and limit my intake. And to a certain point, I do, but this is too horrific, too inhumane to turn a blind eye. How can any human being turn a blind eye to this? (And yes, you are read my implications correctly: there are some who are not human.)

We already understand the basics of human development. We understand the importance of human brain development during the tender age years (birth to 11). We understand how crucial a role this plays in developing a fully functional adult. We know that our brains are still forming up until the age of 25. Twenty-five! (And some would say that we can continue to develop and shape –and even heal—our brains and their neuropathways for as long as we live, depending on our practices in engaging with the brain.) We know that the patterns of attachment during childhood (in this case, namely attachment to parent or caregiver) are everything, that these attachments (or lack of) help determine how we interact (or don’t) with others as adults. It is the starting block of mental health (or illness, depending).


Alan Shapiro, the senior medical director for community pediatric programs at Montefiore Health System, put it bluntly: “This is government-sanctioned torture of children.”

To understand the breadth of this suffering, I spoke with several experts who work with migrant children from Central American countries, including Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Each made a point of highlighting the trauma visited upon these children even before they reach the border of the United States.
“They have come from a place where they have been exposed to incredible turmoil and sometimes very severe trauma—whether the killing of one parent or family member, domestic violence, plus abject poverty,” said Shapiro. “There is a lack of food, poor living conditions, dangerous neighborhoods—all of that is the baseline of the children we are seeing. It’s critical to understand that these are not people looking for a better life, they are looking to flee dangerous environments with no protection.”
[…] Separated children are often in shock. But there are also internal changes, ones that are less visible but no less distressing. “Physiologically, we are damaging the immune, nervous, and endocrine systems,” Shapiro said. “All these things with prolonged stress without a buffer lead to long-term chronic diseases: cancer, depression, obesity, worsening asthma.”
And then there is the impact on mental development. “We are putting children in a constant fight-or-flight mode,” Shapiro said. “It shuts down their memory centers and is potentially affecting their long-term learning and development. I almost have never seen this.”
Imagine being a parent and having to decide between the fatal violence at home or fleeing your beloved home for a place that will not only imprison you and treat you like shit (a place that is notyour home) but permanently separate you from your child(ren). Imagine that the latter choice is the “better” alternative to barely staying alive in your hometown. One level of devastation for another.

Imagine.

I don’t know if I can make that kind of decision.

And, of course, this speaks to my privilege. Something all of us in the US have right now. The privilege of not having to make this decision. We also have the power to make change – to change what is happening in our country. Not every person in other countries has this power. Let’s do something about these acts of inhumanity. Let’s do something NOW before we find ourselves repeating a legacy we swore we would not repeat. Because right now, from where I’m standing, we have concentration camps filled with really young “tender age” children on the southern border. And this is a legacy I refuse to be a part of. What about you??

Call and email your Congressperson today: https://www.house.gov/representatives And yes, calling and emailing matters! Staffers take a tally and when the numbers reach a certain volume, the reps are usually then moved to do something. But it has to start with us. So please: do something.

In solidary with love & strength--
xoxo--



Saturday, June 16, 2018

Essay 26: Where is Our Humanity?


I’ll admit it: I’ve been living in a cocoon while at Millay. I have limited my interaction with the news, more so than usual. In the interest of self-care, I tell myself. Too much tragedy weighs heavy on me. And Lord knows that there’s no shortage of that in this country. But there’s a line between self-preservation and simply opting out, dodging any kind of responsibility as a citizen, as a human being. I refuse to opt-out.

I just watched the clip of Stephen Colbert commenting on Jeff Sessions and Sessions’s use of the Bible to defend the inhumane acts of tearing children away from their parents. This use of the Bible is offensive. It is a prime example of how people can shape anything to support their beliefs, no matter their moral code of ethics (or therelack of). Colbert makes a fine point –and outstanding point—of continuing on with that passage Sessions quoted:

"'But if he just read a little bit further into Romans 13:10, 'Love thy neighbor as thyself. Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.'"

I am grateful for Colbert using his public platform to take a stand, to call on our nation to take action –and that he did so without hedging. He said it plain: call your elected representatives and demand that they do something to stop this. 

What is the world we live in? When will people take action? When it finally happens to them? That’s the likely scenario. Look at the school shootings. Children –and I mean kids who were mostly single digit ages—were murdered at Sandy Hook and nothing changed. You’d think the horror of that would propel some catalyst toward change. Nope. The Parkland students are sounding the rallying cry –they are touring the nation— and will not stop until something happens, until significant change actually happens. I hope they are successful.

What does it take for our humanity to come forward? How can we create an environment that allows for people to release their fear –because, really, that’s what this is: fear—and to see that what we are doing is not who we truly are? An environment that allows us to really see each other and to know that there is abundance, that there is love that is endless and available to all?

I don’t know the answers to these questions but I’m willing to do what it takes to work towards some version of this. Even if it’s just one person at a time. Don’t get it twisted: I’m not looking to change people. I am only hoping to create awareness and for folks to open their eyes and to really see with their hearts.

The breaking apart of families devastates me. I try to imagine what it would feel like if someone were to take my kids away from me, under the guise of “we’re just going to give them a bath” and then never return them to me. I can’t imagine. The pain is too great to fathom. So please, call your representatives and demand humanity, demand love as fulfilment of the law.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Essay 25: The Halfway Point

(You're probably wondering: how did we get from Essay 21 to 25? The ones in between are half-baked essays. Which may or may not get finished. But they're not far enough along to share. Still marinating... which is what this essay is about. :) )

There's a lot of blank space here. What to do with it? Hmm...

I’ve been sitting in my studio for the past six hours or so. Sitting here, stuck. Not knowing what to do. I started at my desk and sat there, thinking about where to begin today. 

I woke up this morning with a sore throat and so took Day 1 of my “3-day regimen” of vitamins to battle the early stages of whatever this might be (extra Vitamin A, D3, C, MSM, Omega 3). I then did my usual yoga and meditation practice, but felt run-down while doing it. So, after a little bite of breakfast, I took a nap, in my studio where there is a comfy couch. Yes, a mid-morning nap. Whoever heard of such a thing? Me. That’s who. Me who listens to this body. But because I know there is some work to be done, I set my alarm. When the alarm went off, I’ll admit that I had difficulty getting up. There’s listening to your body and then there’s just giving in to laziness. How to tell the difference? I’ll let you know when I find out. Haha!

I forced myself to my desk. But not before making a fresh cup of green tea.

And then I sat.

I stared into space. I stared at my computer screen. I stared at the yellow notepad next to it. I looked over at the architect table where I’ve spread out my manuscript-in-progress and just stared. Zoned out.

I took a sip of tea.

I checked FB.

I thought about reading one of the many essays I have open in the millions of tabs on my browser, but didn’t feel like it. (Most of them have to do with suicide, Anthony Bourdain, sexual violence – you know, light subjects. :p)

I was looking for something to get the juices going. I emailed a poet-friend for some help. (Still waiting to hear back.)

I thought about reading some poetry. I brought plenty of books with me. But nothing is calling me right now, nothing is speaking to me.

I texted a couple of people. One was personal, another was business. I chatted online with another friend for a few minutes (which felt like a welcome break from so much of my focus on getting some work done).

I cut up some paper, hoping that a physical act will get me going (the intention is to collage).  It's times like these when I am envious of visual artists. From where I stand, they seem more willing to experiment and play with creative vision. The physical manifestation of their art looks like fun. Also, they seem to be better at letting go and trusting the process, even if it means failure, even if it means their installation is temporary. For me, it seems like they are more willing to go all out and are less attached to the outcome. (Hey, visual artists friends! Can you vouch for this? I'm curious.)

The paper strips are scattered on the floor. I don’t know what to do with them. Yet.

I made a mug of warm lemon water and took some Excedrin. A headache has been lingering since late morning.

I bumped into my friend in the hallway while I was filling the hot pot with water for my mug. We chatted for a minute. He was the first human being I’ve seen and interacted with all day. It was nice. He asked to borrow markers. I gave them to him. Then I thought: maybe I should try some meditative coloring (I do have my coloring book & gel pens here).

Which brings us to now. I am writing this because I want to demystify the creative process. Not just for my readers (hello, out there!) but also as a reminder to myself that writing isn’t always putting the actual pen to paper. Time is needed for composting as well. I’ve done a lot of work to fill the creative well (visits to Mass MoCA, lots of yoga at a new studio, long hikes alone, baking –have I told you that the kitchen is my second studio??-- chatting with the local bookstore employees, knitting with strangers in public –heck, just knitting!) and now it all needs to compost. To marinate and digest and integrate. Which is hard for me to honor because I know that my time here at Millay Colony is limited –and being here is such a gift!—but I also know that one cannot force the creative process. I need to remind myself to be gentle. To allow the flow of life to move as it will. And to disregard the voice of the ego, which rambles on about imaginary deadlines and producing a “product” (damn you, capitalism!). It’s just tough when I know I’m at the halfway point and I don’t have much to show for my time here in terms of “product” (*cringe*).

So, this is what I will do to address this issue: I will do the ego-changing Kundalini meditation tonight and every night that I am here in the hopes that I can diminish that voice and amplify the voice of my true Self. And continue to move in the ways that I am guided. If that means baking more treats, then so be it! :)


Friday, June 1, 2018

Essay 21: Letting Go and Allowing

(Note: I know what you're thinking: how did we go from Essay 9 to Essay 21?? Well, my life has been extra hectic these past few months so while I've managed to do a little writing, the essays between 9 and 21 are half-essays, just notes, really. But I plan to blow them up into something more cohesive. So we'll see. In the meantime, enjoy this one that I just wrote this morning on Day 2 of my residency at Millay Colony for the Arts! :) )



The first day of a writing residency is always the hardest for me. It’s the getting started, the blank page. Sure, it’s easy to just say: Leap! Saying and doing are two different things. I arrived at Millay Colony for the Arts two days ago. Yesterday, my first official day, was a little tough. Thankfully, this is not my first rodeo and I know this is part of my process. What I’m hoping to have learned by now is to be gentle with myself these first few days. To allow myself to adjust to my new surroundings, my new writing space, the new people around me. That’s a lot to adjust to, if you ask me. And then expect myself to just jump right into the work? Hah! As if.

For me, creative work feeds off my energy and my energy responds to the things around me. And when I say “energy”, I don’t mean it in the “I’m tired” kind of way. I mean it at the vibrational level.

The studio that was assigned to me has one window. And the window is not directly connected to the outside – there’s a stairwell and then a window to the outside. Not my ideal as I thrive on natural light, but I was given this particular space for a reason. (Perhaps to challenge me. Perhaps the universe is saying: Try to thrive in half-light. See what happens. What new thing can emerge?) So I set up the space as best I could to create the comfort I needed in order to go deep into the work. White Christmas lights (at this point, it’s my standard). Furniture arranged in a certain way (feng shui is real, people). Scented candles. Favorite books. Nap blankets. (Yes, napping is part of the creative process! Dreams are very helpful! So is mental rest.) Studio set up? Check.

Environment: I am in the woods. Yes, literally in the woods. On the estate of Edna St. Vincent Millay. There is nothing within walking distance (unlike at VSC, where you could walk into town and grab a beer or a book at your leisure). Nothing but fully-leaved trees, lots of fields, tall grasses (watch out for ticks!), trails to explore, and a vista of a mountain ridge that sits on the border of New York and Massachusetts. Perfect for the work I need to do, but also something I’m not used to. To the point where I’m a little suspicious: you sure I don’t have to run off to Costco, which is just beyond the trees, later this afternoon?(No, there’s no Costco. And the nearest grocery store is about a 10-min drive away.) The routines of home are showing themselves. Here, I need a different routine. 

Here, time is different. Here, things feel timeless – not in the “forever” kind of way, but in the sense that you can get lost in what you’re doing and not pay attention to the clock until your belly rumbles and says we’re hungryat which point you break for breakfast or lunch, depending on how it’s going. The only thing saving me from falling into the amorphous blob of non-structure is that dinner is served at 6:30. That’s the one structured thing here (unlike VSC where three meals a day were served at certain times. Here, you decide when you want to have breakfast & lunch.). Because of the non-existence of structure, I need to create one for myself or I’ll fall into that aforementioned blob. And would not be a good thing. Not for me. I’d end up creatively wandering around and leaving with a mishmosh of work. Which is no different from life at home. So I’ve created a loose structure to my days sthat looks like this:

Mornings: journal writing, freewrite essay writing, new work writing, reading
Afternoons: revision work, manuscript work, maybe a post-lunch nap, more reading
Evenings: administrative (non-writing) work (life still happens, you know and I still have Kundalini curricula homework to finish!)

Whether this actually happens remains to be seen. I’m just going to flow with it.

Which leads me to the title of this freewrite essay: letting go and allowing.

I have these intentions to work on my book. The aim is to leave with a completed manuscript. The creative process is not linear. It follows no rules (thus my need for some kind of structure. It’s like creating a fence around a field large enough for cows to graze in and move around, but not wander away.). Who knows what will actually happen. I have to be aware of my own tendencies to be overambitious. And also to be rigid in pursuit of said ambition. So the question I’m thinking of now is this: how do you commit while also allowing for things to unfold on their own time?

This is a question I had posed to Reverend Jaganath, a yogi master, who I was blessed to hear speak a second time last month. He had been discussing meditation, said something about intensely meditating. To my ears, this seemed like a contradiction. It felt counterintuitive. Isn’t meditation about noticing and allowing? How does one “intensely” meditate? He responded to me in this way:

“Intensely allow for moments to happen. Often, we engage in predicting what will happen, but we know we can’t predict.”

So then it’s to intensely allow? That’s some hard, tricky shit! The word “intense” feels like a gripping, the opposite of allowing. But inside that word is “intent” so… yeah, I don’t know. I’m still thinking on this. I am setting an intention to allow for whatever experience happens during meditation. Right? And setting an intention to allow myself to go deeper into the experience. Intensely. Right? Haha – maybe.

And so, the same for the writing. To go in with intention but without expectation. To avoid prediction but instead to allow. To be in the moment with intent in order for whatever happens to come into the space. To let the work speak for itself. To allow myself to be guided by the work, rather than the other way around. Because really –and I’ve believed this since I first started writing way back in high school—I am only a conduit for the work. And what’s great is that meditation has only opened up that communication line even wider and made it stronger.

So off I go! To let go of expectations, to let go of control, and to allow for all of it to come flooding in through the wide open doors of my heart.

(I know: I didn’t mention the people. Maybe in the next post. But I will say this: there are only 6 of us here –unlike VSC, which had 50 artists & writers. Quite a different experience. More soon!)

*

This is "Deep Thoughts #6" for 2018. I have taken Vanessa Martir's 52 Essay Challenge, and tweaked it a bit for this year. Instead of an essay a week, I'm just going to write some so-called deep thoughts. (Sometimes serious, sometimes jokey.) :)

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Essay 9: Notes on Rape Culture, Or What It’s Like to Go Public as a Rape Survivor

My poem, “How You Know”, went live on The Rumpus last night. It is both thrilling and terrifying. To be published is always exciting, but to have that poem be the vehicle with which you go public as a rape survivor? That’s the terrifying part.

But I feel like it’s time to really break the silence. And that I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. And that I’ve got a solid crew around me for love and support.

The people in my life, with whom I am close, know this fact about me. Some who have been in writing groups with me also know this about me. Still, it’s not something that I broadcast to the world. I don’t go around saying: “Hey! Guess what? I was raped when I was in college.” And only recently have I become more comfortable in talking about it out loud.

There is something powerful about the spoken word. The weight of sound. How it makes things more solid, more real, more manifest. And the more I speak my story –out loud—the less power it holds within me. But at the same time, the more power it gives me to speak out to let others know that they’re not alone in their traumas, in their suffering.

BUT.

This doesn’t mean that I’m invincible. This doesn’t mean that I don’t get triggered.
This doesn’t mean I’m entirely healed (what does that even mean? What does that even look like? Is that a possibility?) This doesn’t mean that everyone in my life knows what happened to me.

*

I shared this publication news with an FB group of writers of color. Someone left a comment that was reductive, saying something dismissive about the headline (which was: “Who Holds The Power”) – the comment included “Is this a real question?”, indicating that this person did not even bother to read the column that featured, not just my poem, but stories and essays by other women who testified to moments of sexual aggression and violence. This is not a new phenomenon where people DON’T BOTHER READING, but feel compelled to hear their own voice. Still, it set me off. How dare this person come on to my post as wave a hand as if to say “been there, done that, next”. I was not only pissed, but my body was shaking.

I was triggered.

Here I was putting myself out there, laid bare for all to see – for ALL to see: friends and strangers alike. An open wound of trauma, exposed to the elements. (What the heck was I thinking??) And here was one person –an oblivious one, at that—setting me off. Of course, this is more about me than that person. And so, I am taking notice. It’s clear that, within me, I am in need of nurturing, of comfort, of gentle love. I am working on providing that for myself. This is healing work an on-going process.

*

My parents don’t know what happened to me. Neither does my brother. Remember: I come from a family of strangers; we don’t know much about each other. My younger sister knows only because I told her before she headed off to college herself all those years ago. I wanted to warn her, to make her aware. I don’t know if she is a statistic or not. No one in my family talks about these things. I’m the only one.

Now that this poem is out in the world (previous poems about my rape have never been this direct, this transparent), I wonder what their response might be… if they’ll even come across this poem. When I shared this poem on my FB page, I made sure that everyone on my Friends list would see it. This included my brother and cousins and my one aunt who is actually on FB. So the chances that my parents see this poem is pretty high. I wonder if they will even say anything in acknowledgment. Or will they pretend they didn’t read it? Or that maybe the event never even happened. Who knows.

I’m not looking for my parents to come to my rescue or to try to heal the hurt. I’m not expecting anything from them. Except for love. Which is a tough thing for them to express. But if they want to pretend they didn’t read it or that it didn’t happen, I’m okay with that. Because it’s their denial, not mine. I know what’s true.

*

Last week, I talked to my therapist about this one “relationship” with a boy in college. This was a year prior to my rape. This boy, we’ll call him Baller (as he was a basketball player), used me to get blowjobs. I, naieve as I was, thought that we were dating, that we were boyfriend-girlfriend. One day, his housemate corrected me when I said something in passing about being his girlfriend. “No, you’re not”, he said. It dawned on me like a blazing hot meteorite crashing down on my head that he was right. Baller never came to my place – it was always his place. We were never seen together in public. He never asked what I wanted. He never really showed genuine interest in me, in who I was. In short, he never saw me. He only saw an object that would satisfy his desire. (I’m not going to get into the possibility him having an Asian fetish here. That’s for another post.) I participated in this kind of “relationship” because I was so insecure and so wanted to be loved. I really didn’t know any better. I thought: maybe this is how things are, maybe this is how it’s supposed to be.

When I talked to my therapist about this, I told her that I saw this as a kind of sexual assault, an aggression, a violation. To which, she actually questioned.

So. Can we unpack this for a moment?

With the #MeToo movement (just a personal side note: I hate hashtags and never use them, but for this? This I will use. This is that important.), many women are coming forward with their stories of how they experience sexual harassment, assault, aggression, violence, and rape. In the beginning, women were reluctant to share their experiences if it wasn’t straight up rape or assault. Some were saying: “I know it could’ve been worse, but…” But nothing! You experienced something that felt like a violation and you have every right to feel however you felt and feel now and you have every right to share it. No matter how small you might think it is. Fuck that shit. Own who you are and what you experience. See it, own it, and embrace it. Don’t diminish it. No one is comparing notes. And if they are, that’s their shit they need to work out. We’re all in this together and we are going to change the tide with our swelling voices. Got me?

Now.

With the growth of this movement, the “definitions” are changing. What I’m seeing is that women are really taking men to task. And to that I say: GOOD! But what troubles me is this idea of “definition”. Who gets to define our experiences? And what words do we get to use in order to name them? Which then brings the question of language. It all comes down to language. So what would you call my story with Baller?

It seems my therapist, who is a woman, does not see my story as a violation. But rather, an instance in which I was taken advantage of because of my naiveté. As if I had been swindled in a used car deal or something. As if this were a lesson to be learned as part of my coming of age. But sexual assault? No, no. This was not that. Not in her mind.

I could feel myself tense up when she questioned my naming this story as sexual assault. Which was a message from my body to me: don’t listen to her. I nodded in her office, keeping quiet as I formulated some kind of response in my head. So, you’re telling me that a guy pushing my head down between his legs is not sexual assault? Because I willingly went to his place? Because it happened more than once? Does it have to be violent in order for it to be deemed “assault”?

I didn’t say any of this to her. I am still thinking about my response, which I will bring to her next session. But this is what rape culture is. Where men get to do what they want without question. Where they feel entitled to take what they want. And it's okay! Where nobody questions it until somebody puts up a fight. And then the person putting up the fight is the one who is questioned. Not the men.

All this to say: why can’t we just honor people where they are, honor their very individual experiences, listen to their stories –and I mean really hear them—without judgment or trying to fix it or dismiss it or diminish it? Just fucking listen. You don’t have to say a goddamn word. Sometimes it’s better to be quiet. Just listen. And be present. And hold a space for love. Simple as that.

*

This is "Deep Thoughts #6" for 2018. I have taken Vanessa Martir's 52 Essay Challenge, and tweaked it a bit for this year. Instead of an essay a week, I'm just going to write some so-called deep thoughts. (Sometimes serious, sometimes jokey.) :)