Sunday, April 20, 2014

Hurricane

I had a high school English teacher that I owe a lot to. I started his class when I was 15 years old. 15. You don’t know shit at 15, and you think you know everything. That class taught me what it meant to be allowed to define who you are.

I struggled with that a lot then, still now sometimes. Sitting by a pond in my junior year of high school, someone asks me, “Why aren't you smoking?” and me answering, “Just don’t feel like it,” and the reply, “Weird, I thought all poets smoked weed.” (It makes me really quiet and anxious, exactly what I like to be AROUND A BUNCH OF PEOPLE*).  Then last night, at a friend’s wedding, watching all the girls from my freshman dorm suite take a picture together, and another friend asking me, “Why aren't you over there?” and my answer being, “I don’t know.”

And I don’t know, but I do know, but I don’t know. Maybe I just didn't feel like it.

I've just never felt like I belonged anywhere. And in this class this English teacher taught me that that was kind of ok.

This teacher would become a great great friend, throughout high school and after, and during high school he took a bunch of students on long camping trips. One summer, we went out west. Grande Escalante, Valley of the Gods. He made us these epic playlists, his current favorites, some classics, giving a group of 17 year olds a cultural education, or just a chance to experience something new.

This trip he had Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane”.

This was the first time I had heard any of Dylan’s longer ballads, but it was also the first time that I realized that I, as an artist, could witness an injustice around me, and do something about it. The strange thing is that we all connected with this song. We listened to this 8 minute song on repeat, the the point where Charlie and Irwin (our chaperones, though they loathe the term), would groan at the request to play it again. But we all connected with it. The story, the message, the chord progressions, it meant something to all of us.

I think a lot about confidence and insecurity, I think just because I’m really sensitive and insecure. But I think I've always been afraid of taking ownership. Over my feelings, whether I have the right to feel them. Over the stories that I see and live each day, do I have a right to tell them? I think I've never felt like I belonged anywhere, therefore I always question whether I have the right to be here.

Rubin "Hurricane" Carter died today, and I hope that he has found peace. I can’t help thinking of a song, an 18-passenger van in the desert, and that for 8 minutes, I think that I can change something, I can make a difference, I can belong. I've been listening to this song on repeat all morning.



*In retrospect, I'm pretty much like this all the time.

Monday, February 17, 2014

I went to Asheville this weekend looking for a story. I’m not really sure what I found.

**

    “I like my heated seats, because my heat doesn’t work that well,” I say.
    “It doesn’t?” Max asks, “What’s wrong with it?”
    “I dunno,” I say, “It just makes this squeaking sound that annoys the shit out of me, so I never turn it on.”
    When we’re next in my car, Max blasts the heat, and he hears the tinny whistling that comes from the vents.
    “It’s probably just something off with the blower,” Max says, “All you need to do probably is to take out the glove box, because it should be right under here.” He starts kicking under the glove box as he sits in the passenger seat. The whistling stops.
    “There,” he says. “Fixed it.”
    “What did you do!” I exclaim.
    Max laughs, “I was just kicking it to show you where it would be, and it stopped.”
    “You fixed it!” I am beyond happy. The ridiculousness of the situation, the freedom of being away from home, no responsibility; everything about this moment is hilarious and perfect and golden.
    “How long has that been going on,” Max asks.
    “Years!” I say, emphatically hitting the steering wheel, then turning down the music in the car, to fully appreciate the silence of the fans. “It’s gone! It’s completely gone!” I could kiss this moment.
   We drop off the movie we rented. I take a suspicious reverse U-turn half in the parking lot, half in the street. I’m feeling lucky and reckless and invincible.


**

I called Max after I first found out I was pregnant. I left him a voicemail saying there was something I wanted to tell him and asking him to call me back. When he did and I told him I was pregnant, he said, “Yeah I figured with that message you left me.” I was incredulous at the time, but later I understood. As girl-who-got-pregnant-in-college, I became keeper of pregnancy related secrets. Girls who got abortions, girls who were so neurotic about getting pregnant they took pregnancy tests even if they hadn’t had sex. Once, at a party, as I was sitting large and uncomfortable on a couch, trying desperately to blend in with the decor, a woman told me the story of how she got pregnant in college too and gave the baby up for adoption, and had always regretted it. I let her put her hand on my stomach because that seemed like the right thing to do, and didn’t require me to say anything. I left quickly after that.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Where we started from

I had a conversation with someone the other day about writing more. We talked about ways to trick yourself into writing, and the things that prevent us from writing. (Mine is that, there’s always something else I can/should be doing, and then complete laziness wins out. Mad Men won’t rewatch itself for the 4th time!) We also talked about insurmountable projects. Like, this crazy large idea for a story that I have, that I just can’t ever seem to work on because I have no idea where to start. And then this person said something that I always knew in my heart to be true and I don’t know why I had forgotten about it…"Write a poem." Write a poem. Poetry used to be my life. I loved poetry. I lived poetry. I was a poet. I performed it, I read it. I read a poem in a class once (not one of mine) and the professor liked the way I read it so much that he asked me to read it again. I was in the grocery store once and someone that I didn't recognize at all came up to me and said, “Hey you were the poetry girl, right?” Y’ALL I was the poetry girl in high school. (Also known as “white t-shirt girl”.) And what happened? I grew out of it? I started wanting to write more. I wanted to leave less to interpretation. There was a story I wanted to tell, a world I wanted to build, and I wanted to do that in a paragraph, dammit. I think there’s also a part of me that wanted to grow up. Poetry...I grew up with poetry. Poems were my writing training wheels. I wrote poetry as a self-centered teenager. It was how I processed the world, it was about me, for me. It was so indulgent, so myopic! That’s not what Real Adults ™ do. (Y’all I know this is not true. I read a ton of amazing poetry right now and I can’t even.) So I stopped writing poetry. And you know what I started writing? I can’t even pretend like I write fiction because I have never once finished a short story I started. (Not true, there was one, for a class.) I started writing BLOG POSTS. Jeez, self, if you thought poetry was indulgent, where do blog posts stand on that scale? Blog posts are the molten lava chocolate cake of self-indulgence. High school poetry is like, an ice cream sandwich. Anyways, so this person told me to write a poem. Because you only need to write a few lines. And then when you want to revisit it you just have to read a few lines, change a few words, and you can move on. I can do that. I can totally do that. 2014, more poems, less telling people about the novel that you want to write. Sound like a plan? Sounds like a plan. I'm going back to my roots. Back to where I started from. The irony, of course, that I wrote this all up as a blog post, instead of you know actually writing a poem, is not at all lost on me.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What I'd run to

Last week was Lena’s 6 birthday, and so I tried to write something for her because I love her and all that, but really it’s time for some introspection on my life.

I’m in lab late tonight. I have a twelve hour experiment going, and no matter what way you slice it, one of those time points is going to suck. If this experiment works and wins me the nobel prize, I will totally dedicate it to my parents, because we spent the night at their house so I could leave early, and they picked her up from school today, and will put her to bed, so I can stay late.

Between time points, as I’m doing my work I realized how relaxed I am. Every day I get to lab and I am on efficiency mode. I have to get done by five to go pick up L. Whatever I do during the day, it has to be done before five. I’d like to think this means I’m more efficient, but whatever, it really just means that I plan experiments that I can get done between 8 in the morning and 5 in the evening. Doing work now, after 7, knowing my kid is being taken care of. Work is so leisurely. Is this what it’s like to not have kids? WHY DOES ANYONE WITHOUT KIDS HAVE ANY REASON TO BE STRESSED OUT? This is the least stressful feeling I have ever had. I could kiss this feeling. I am so. damn. relaxed. And I’m just working. I’m working, and then I’m playing (this) and then I’m working. This is fun. I could do this all night.

I've written a lot on here and other places about running away. It’s just this knee jerk reaction that I get every time I get on the interstate. That I could just keep going and never come back. I could leave it all behind. I never do, and I never will, but the feeling just doesn't ever go away. It’s the sense of promise that I like maybe. The sense that I can still do anything, no matter what the consequences are. I just like that power. Or just...thinking that I have that power.

The thing that I don’t think about, if I could run away, abandon everything, is where would I run to? And I think I found my answer. I would run here. I like this quiet. That I could have nights and days stretch lazily before me. That I could do an experiment however damn I wanted to do it. I could repeat something in the afternoon, I wouldn't have to wait until the next day because of the dreaded 5 o’clock. I would run here. To lab. To people I respect. To questions that I want to answer. To things that I just like doing.

And look at that. If I were to run away, to drop everything and leave, I would run to something that I get to do every day. Every damn day, I get to do what I love to be doing. If that doesn't make me the luckiest girl in the world, then I don’t know what does.

Oh yes, I know what does. That after this I get to run home to this.


Yep. Lucky.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013: the forest through the trees

Last day of 2013, I've had pizza for my last three meals. I was thinking I didn't want to do a "year in review" because nothing happened. I'm slogging through Lena's winter break, feeling like I'm letting a lot of people down. YOU KNOW, THE USUAL.

And then I remember, 2013. It's been a great year.

So let's recap, shall we? At the end of 2012 I found myself with three interviews to graduate schools. So without further adieu...

January. Lena turned 5, and not that there was any doubt that we would make it five years but...yeah there was a little doubt. Had my first grad school interview at UNC. It was fun. I got to stay at the Franklin Hotel and went "out" one night with a bunch of strangers.

February. Had my second and third graduate school interviews: state and duke. Got acceptances to all three. Got a first author paper, too.

March. Made the toughest easiest choice of my life to attend duke for graduate school. Crazy, right?



April. Wrapped up work at UNC. I MOVED OUT OF MY PARENTS HOUSE. Into an apartment with Lena and Stephanie. It was awesome and such a huge leap but I am so. glad. I did it. Oh and I ran 10 miles.


May. Went on a sweet weekend trip to the mountains with friends. Just building my life, more and more.





June. Started a summer rotation at duke!!!!! Being in a new place, getting connected to the wireless, checking out the library, meeting so many new people. Started talking more with Kevin, my absolutely favorite person in my program so far.



July. Oh did I mention this is month two of my parents being in Singapore? Which is officially the longest time I've been a real single parent. So tough, but this was one of the biggest confidence boosts I've had thusfar. Oh and a guy in my lab convinces me to try OKCupid.



August. SCHOOL STARTS. For me AND Lena. I line up my second, third, and fourth rotations. I start having real conversations with real people about real things. I decide to take a computer science class. I went on a date for the first time, ever, basically.





September. I am in love with a new language, Python! School is hard, but fun. I am loving my next rotation. Discovering more and more things about Duke. So amazed and surprised that I ended up here. Especially since the people I'm rotating with/most excited about I didn't even KNOW about on my interview weekend.




October. So I'd be lying if I said everything was all fine and dandy. October and November were some of my toughest months. The most work, the most writing I've ever done. So many ups and downs, confidence swells and dips. But, I got off three fellowship applications!


December. Lined up my classes for the new year. Doing a couple of cool writing projects. (Reading a story with the Monti in January!) New life motto: "we can't stop here, this is bat country!"



There you have it. It's a pretty amazing year if I stop feeling sorry for myself for two minutes and focus on the immense amount of good that happened this year. 2013 was the best year ever, and 2014 is looking to be even better. I have about a billion things to look forward to, tons of duke stuff, recruitment weekend, choosing a lab! Traveling. Lena is going to be six.

Watch out 2014, we're coming for you.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

thankful

Lately, words have not been scarce for me.

I have been surrounded by fellowships, projects, assignments. I've been making time for stories and poems. My days are filled with words, discussing papers, ideas, with new friends, new mentors.

I am so thankful for these words, these people, this life. There aren't enough words to encompass how thankful I am.

Here's a glimpse of something I am oh so thankful for.



reading in jammies from rachael bloom on Vimeo.



This person. This person forever and ever and ever and ever. Not enough words, not enough love.

(those cheeks! those eyes! look at the love of my life!)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

quick draft

after a fire

first to return: the ones who do not need anyone else.
the mosses, the lichens
able to cling to the rocks. to stand the loneliness.
after a heartbreak: the ability to get out of bed in the morning
to place one foot in front of another.
both serve the same purpose:
to break the rocks into manageable pieces,
soil for the grasses. to change the day
into something recognizable again.

this is how we heal, after a fire, a devastation:
slowly. dependent so much at first on the wind
to blow seeds of what once was over this bare earth.

then the green returns. scientists call this new growth,
this gross injustice of having to build something up
that was already there.

i want to quantify all of this. let me reduce
the world to the bare minimum, and bring it up again.

let me reconstitute this love story.
let me map this heartbreak.

here are the constants: your presence, the rain,
our love, turned variables. a drought. the unknowns:
the lightning, when the tenses started to change.

the one i love, the one i loved.
the ground wet, then dry.

to the student looking for answers:

not every forest fire has an arsonist
you cannot fault the lightning for striking
the fire for wanting to burn
not every heartbreak has a destroyer
no one teaches the heart how to love,
how to be loved. you cannot fault the heart
for breaking on its own.

and yet i want to quantify everything:
the scientist after a fire. loyal only to her senses,
to what she sees, what she can touch.

here are when the mosses start to emerge
here the first grasses, here the blooms returned,
the birds to the trees, the fox to her den.
the farther from the fire we get, new questions:
how strong must the wind be to shake new leaves from trees?
how many years until you stop haunting my dreams?