Saturday, April 25, 2015

There's Still Time to Join Poetry Fun and Games!

I could not be more excited with the way that Poetry Fun and Games is shaping up--we've assembled an amazing group of good sports and the words are flowing like crazy. I just wanted to let you know that there are a few slots open and you can still subscribe at a reduced rate or come any week as a walk in. Plus, it's almost warm enough to start having classes on the terrace!

Poetry Fun and Games With Jane Cassady and Turtle Ink Press

Location: 539 Carpenter Lane, Apt R2

8 Tuesdays 7:30-9:00 Beginning April 7

Celebrate spring by kicking your inner censor's ass and kickstarting your imagination. Each week we will play a poetry game fueled by an amazing poem or other source of inspiration. All ages and experience levels are welcome.

50$ for the remaining five classes, 15$ walk-in

Amy Lawson of Turtle Ink Press will be publishing a chapbook of the poems we create, plus we'll be having a performance/book release event on June 2!

If you plan to join (or even if you don't) pick up a copy of Lynda Barry's "What It Is" and start writing down your dreams.
Any questions, please write to or call (215) 432-4036. You can follow our shenanigans at

Love and happy writing!

Being a Part-Time Kite, Part Time Lilac

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
--TS. Eliot, The Wasteland

“(Panic is) rooted in “I know where I’m going to go, but how am I going to get there?”
--Julia Cameron, Walking in This World, The Practical Art of Creativity

A few weeks ago, I put a thank you note in my window-artist neighbor’s door and she made me this incredible gift. Since then, my kite has been the only thing in her right window, floating on its own in a blue cloudy sky above a green patchwork of fields. It’s one of the most life-affirming things that’s ever happened to me, and emblematic of this weird, magical time I’ve been floating through for the past couple of months.

On the best days, I am a kite, soaring and sure I’m being carried to the next right things. A lot of the time, I have a central sense of calm sort of like an inner snow day—a “Well, can’t do much just yet, might as well enjoy.” I go along like that almost all the days, completing pleasant/tedious tasks at the bookstore, working on my memoir and assorted other projects, basking in the glow of the most amazingly game and generous poets on Tuesdays. I’m able to accept invitations I always had to turn down during teaching, and so I’m starting to feel like a better friend and part of the creative world again, coming back to myself more and more each day.

But sometimes, kiteness seems to fail and urgency elbows its way in. Last Sunday at church there was a very April-is-the cruelest-month sermon, reminding us that we’re all going to die but that life is so much more powerful. When I was living in the short springs of Upstate New York, I used to have a yearly mortality panic every time the lilacs bloomed, they were so beautiful and their season was so short. I have to say I haven’t missed those particular panics, but in their own way, they’ve served me very well.

I’ve always had an annoyingly acute sense of the shortness of life, and it’s not altogether helpful when I’m still in the midst of recovery. Part of me wants to jump into the next job, the next mission, to force purpose and meaning (not to mention regular-sized paychecks!) back into my life, but the fact is I still have to be slow, it just takes time.

Anyway, the sermon, combined with reading Cheryl Strayed’s gorgeously sad and cathartic Wild, triggered a flood of grief and urgency. I had to collapse for most of a day, take to bed like I did at the beginning of this breakdown/breakthrough. I dragged myself out of bed and walked through the miracle that is the budding Wissahickon trees, crying like an ungrateful idiot. Sadness just flattens me sometimes and I guess it always will but there are days when I just re-realize that I’m damaged, I’m healing, I’m slow and shy and some days just have to be like Bambi learning ice.

It didn’t take long for work and poetry class to rouse me from my grief attack, and I’ve made plans to visit those Upstate lilacs, maybe fill the car with them. I’ll pile in some family visits with some perfect mortal beauty all at once.

It’s time to quit the bookstore before too long. Last night I dreamed of summer camp and whether or not to get dropped off there, and I applied this afternoon, but there is the melancholy wonder of whether it’s safe to return to teaching. I both miss it and don’t miss it at all. I wonder if I might be meant for a different life, one that is for myself. That idea seems both selfish and true.

During the panics (the ones that come from the bad school, not from the lilacs) I feel like everyone who’s ever laughed at me was right, and is still with me laughing, that the principals and teacher-blaming discipline lady and my bullying class are all still with me and were all right, that I’m nothing, that trying to be something is stupid and futile. All my life I’ve carried those derisive voices within me like a parasite. I’ve found so many outward ways to confirm and reinforce them, to treat myself as though they were what is true.

So I want to protect myself from acting out those fears again, from any other self-annihilating life decisions. I want this to be the time I find and honor my real self, or I’ll keep feeling over and over like I’m going to die, like I’m not real.

Here’s what I know so far: Read a few poems every morning. Work on the memoir when I can. Make art as often as possible. Thank poetry class for being amazing. Do work that doesn’t hurt. Take pictures of flowers. Love cats, family and friends. I don’t think I have any choice but to live as a kite, but I’ll do whatever I can to help the wind.

Completely unrelated to any of this, here’s a drawing one of the nice bookstore bosses gave me. From her doodle to the universe’s ears.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

March Checkmarks, April Goals

It truly was one of the happiest months of my life--how could it not be? Look at all of the art and sleep!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Last Visit to the Old School (Or: Anger Is Magic)

Every few weeks or so at the old school, a parent flips out in the office, screaming, cursing, and threatening. The administration calls it “performing,” as in “His mom performed last night so we had to transfer him.” I’ve always empathized with the exploding parents, even when I was one of the things they were screaming and threatening about. Friday afternoon I got to feel a little more of what it’s like, standing at the office counter being boxed in, talked down to, and treated like a threat. Nothing inspires rage like helplessness against a system that thinks you are nothing. I didn’t scream or curse, just seethed and spoke softly, but the anger feels just as wild and hard to wrangle.

After feeling so good for most of the past month or so, I dreaded revisiting the place. Amy and I were scheduled to leave the bookstore at two to run some other errands and then go get the rest of my stuff. (I don’t know why I couldn’t just leave it, or send Amy with a list, but it felt like part of my soul was stuck there in the guise of baskets and cute file boxes, and I could rescue it. I almost crowd-sourced a shaman for the occasion but I figured I could be my own. I was right, go me.) Around noon, the feelings started to come, the freezy crick in my spine, the foggy head, the tightening at the front of my brain. My work tasks, which as you know are beautifully Candy Crush simple, got harder. Whole rows of sale sweatshirts became unfindable. I felt the urge to run and hide.

When we arrived just after dismissal, the first person I talked to was my former grade partner, who was pulling out just as we were walking up. She seemed genuinely happy for me. When I told her I was doing well, she said:

“See, it’s like I’ve always told you. As long as you’re…”

“Taking care of me, I know. I am!” I laughed with joy. She was so taken by my tale of clocking out at five that she might go into retirement early. I like my new identity as someone who inspires others to do less work.

Most of the teachers I ran into were kind and distant. They were on their way to their Friday happy hour, and I admit it hurt a teensy bit to not be invited along—though I would never be able to keep up, ventingwise!

The best part was seeing some of my former students who were there for afterschool programs. As they showered me with hugs, their faces glowed like little angels I don’t have to order around anymore. I loved them so much.

“Why can’t you come back and teach us?” they kept asking.

“Because I’m too sensitive. But thanks for being so cute and smart and good.” They nodded solemnly and I could not have imagined a nicer moment. I kept running into them in stairwells in the course of moving stuff, and every time they said “Come back! You have to teach us!” It wasn’t sad, it was like a game, it felt wonderful to keep telling them I’m too sensitive. It was a joy to finally be with them as myself, even just to say goodbye.

Cleaning the room out was HARD. The longer I was there in the past, the more my brain constricted, so that easy tasks like sorting the scissors kept getting harder. The teacher who took over doesn’t share my organizational skills, so I had to really dig to find what I wanted to take.

But I found the things: I found the book an afterschool student gave me years ago about growing a rainbow garden. I found the watercolor set and paper I’d been daydreaming about. I found Apples to Apples Junior and Mancala. I found an almost-full can of coffee and a pack of fresh scrubby sponges, items I was happy to cross off the grocery list. I got the rainbow shelves my mom gave me for teacher graduation (now cheerfully holding all manner of art supplies) and my blue file boxes with cartoon foxes on them.

The principal came in and was cordial, but weird. She didn’t seem fully aware that I’d resigned, even though I’d emailed her and put the paper through weeks ago. She seemed really out of it, but then, as I learned from Gretchen Rubin, people who don’t sleep are often more impaired than they think they are. “We don’t sleep,” the principal always said proudly in meetings, as I fought back a bratty “Well, I do.”

She was concerned with what I might have taken—a set of workbooks I never got, some missing laptops. The poor tech guy kept coming in to ask where the missing computers might be, until I got exasperated.

After all of the things were loaded into Amy’s car, the principal called me into her office one more time. she said she needed to “hold me accountable” for the missing laptops and she was filing a report with the district.

It was one of those rare and beautiful moments when I got to say exactly what I wanted to. In my best quiet teacher voice, I said “I have never been more livid. I will NOT be held accountable. The part of my life where I take the blame for things that are not my fault is OVER.” Though I’d been gone for six weeks and two other teachers had keys to the computer cabinet, she kept asking, “Well, who SHOULD be held accountable?” which for some reason is the thing that fills me with the most rage to think of.

It’s not really about the computers or that fact that they might somehow prevent me from getting the money from my summer account (what I was thinking of as my work-retail-and-heal money)—I felt the familiar sensation of being trapped by the place, dragged down by it, stupid, worthless, as if the idea that I might ever be free and happy was an illusion. That’s how I used to feel every day, and I must say I do not miss it.

I think that this was really her way of expressing the hurt of the situation—of losing a teacher, of seeing evidence that perhaps there are some holes in her plan, of plain old losing a person she used to like and believe in. She must have worked so hard to protect herself from the emotions ricocheting around her all the time that the only way she could express hurt was by filling out unpleasant forms. At least, that’s the most compassionate way I can come up with to see it.

Although I know that no one can really take this new life away, that’s what it felt like in the moment, like the happy flow I’d imagined myself floating along was a stupid illusion, like the bright and colorful new path I’d devised for myself was gone. I felt like a fraud and a drain on everyone I knew, especially my family and close friends. As I drove away, I put on “Ukelele Anthem” as loud as it goes and sang along, but I couldn’t really feel it. The poison of the place had taken over my system, and it’s taken a LOT of writing, closet-rearranging, and art-scheming to make the toxins start to fade away again. I’m still impaired, but I know what to do and I’m doing it.

This month has been among the happiest of my life. I’ve gotten back in touch with my dream-driven Jungian side and begun to stumble into some gorgeous synchronicity. For the first time in a while, I can see a real future on the horizon, one full of art, friends, writing, and love. If it could also be filled with making a living, that would be helpful, but I’m pretty sure this new happiness, this new self is nothing any principal can take away. There is no form for that.