Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Remembering And Thanking MJ Harris

Yesterday would have been my friend MJ’s birthday. When he passed away last fall, I didn’t properly grieve. I was using all of my emotional strength to prop myself up for my third graders, but that’s no excuse. I should have honored him, thanked him, properly grieved the way such a dazzling soul deserved. I’m, sorry, MJ, and thank you.

When I first met him, we were working for AmeriCorps, both bringing poetry into schools where people kept telling us “these kids” don’t want to write. We bonded over a shared faith that poetry and art could make the world a better, safer, happier place.

We became closer friends when MJ joined one of my poetry classes at Big Blue Marble. He was open and wholehearted in every writing game, and it was a privilege to stand back and watch his poetry deepen and grow, to watch his already strong voice get stronger and more sure of itself.

What I admire most about my gone-angel-friend is how he put his art first. He had faith in the goodness of his talents and never compromised, didn’t let anything hold him back. He was a true artist and a loving, generous, and deeply kind friend. I don’t tend to believe that my dead loved ones can look out for me, except when I do. His spirit might have been part of what took me through these past few weeks, remembering sitting on the 23 bus talking and believing in poetry, in kids, and most importantly in our real selves.

Thank you, MJ, I will try to honor you by being more like you, by putting friendship, love, and creativity first. I miss you and love you very much, and I hope you knew how much you meant to me, how grateful I am for your enormous heart, your enormous contribution to the lives of children, your friends, and the world.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

February Goals Mostly Done, March Goals Mostly Not Scary

Pretty productive month, for having contained a breakdown! Time to stop trying to make the gym happen, though.
 And for the one in the middle, I need a lot of luck, strength, and love:

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Restarting the Serotonin Factory (Teacher, Interrupted)

This is the second time I’ve tried to write a back-to-the-Factory post. The first time I tried, school tumbled out onto the page in a way that was unmanageable and had to be put in the Box of Things to Be Worked Out Later by Unseen Forces.

About a month and a half ago, I had a dream that a conversation with a troubled, anxious student cause me to get out of a car on a deserted highway. I took the nearest exit, which ended in a dirt path and then nothing. That’s where I am, pathless, for the first time in I-don’t-know-how-long.

I don’t know if it would be called a breakdown these days, if we call things breakdowns anymore, but one week I was jollying myself along, working almost every waking hour, breathing on the restroom floor to keep myself from fainting, doing the every two weeks or so sob-at-work thing, whispering a parent out the door who’d come up to threaten someone else’s child, and then I was…done. I couldn’t put my body or my soul through it. I couldn’t make my brain be in the straight jacket of the Standards anymore. I couldn’t make myself give the tiniest shred of a fuck about the PSSAs or rituals and routines, or how to solve the pencil problem. I looked at my students’ latest petty theft and thought “They. Are going. To take. Everything.”

I put myself on extended leave on Feb. 9th and a few weeks later, a nice doctor verified it: “acute stress disorder” and “recurrent major depressive episodes.” There’s an antidepressent prescription waiting for me at the pharmacy, but I’m too scared of the side-effects—what if I’m one of the suicidal thoughts and actions people, or if my brain decides to poison itself with serotonin? That’s just too much irony for me.

After three weeks of rest, it’s time to start thinking about the next phase of my life. I don’t know what it looks like, but do I know that for the past few years I’ve tried to murder my own sensitivity. I want to find ways to honor it instead. The thick skin everyone’s been telling me to grow for as long as I can remember is not coming, and trying to make it happen has only made me more ragged. I care deeply about what everyone thinks, says, and feels, even if it’s wrong, even if they’re eight. I take things personally because we’re all, despite the forces and standardized tests that would like us to believe otherwise, vulnerable, breakable, real people.

From deeply embedded in the School District of Philadelphia, it’s hard to imagine any place in the world where a delicate little seashell like me could find meaning and employment, but I have to imagine that there’s some productive way for me to make myself at home. Brene Brown says he therapist once told her something like, “If you feel like a turtle with no shell in the briar patch, maybe just get out of the briar patch.” In the fog of depression, it all looks like briar patch, but maybe there’s a meadow someplace out there with my name on it.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Bon Voyage to 2014, with Welcome and a Little Faith

“The welcome book would have taught us that power and signs of status can’t save us, that welcome, both offering and receiving, is our source of safety. Various chapters of this book would remind us that we are wanted and even occasionally delighted in, despite the unfortunate truth that we are greedy-grabby, self-referential, indulgent, overly judgmental, and often hysterical.” Anne Lamott

“You’ve given me everything I need.” Rory Gilmore

The first New Year’s party I ever went to was at my Aunt Patti’s when I was in about first grade. We didn’t get to go to all of the family things because we lived three or four hours away in snowy rural Pennsylvania, and our family cars were not super-reliable. But this magical year we got to go. We arrived just a few minutes before midnight, banged pots and pans outside, and then stayed up until four in the morning doing The Alley Cat and such. It was the most amazing thing that I’d ever experienced—my first real party.

The next year, we weren’t able to go, and though I’d never noticed New Years before, I was devastated to be away from the festivities. It was my first visit from deep dark winter sadness. I thought ahead to all of the New Yearses to come, and all of the Christmases, and I realized that there’d only be a finite number of them. I was a mini-Existentialist, and though I fret less about the shortness of lilac season than I used to, the end of the year always comes with sadness.

This year, I got home from Christmas with the family on Saturday and on Sunday I watched the last episodes of Gilmore Girls. The finale is as wrenching as it is capital-H-Hopeful—instead of a post-college roller coaster tour with Lorelai, Rory, with her almost-Mary-Sue-like knack for lucky breaks, is hired for a job reporting on then-Senator Barack Obama’s campaign. The quirky townspeople decide to throw her a surprise party in the town square, and when it threatens rain, Luke collects every tarp, tent, and raincoat in town and covers the square so the party can happen. The moment when Lorelai and Rory see the surprise is one of the sobbiest TV moments of all time, and it perfectly suited my melancholy end-of year mood.

Like Rory saying goodbye to Lorelai and Stars Hollow, I feel full of everything 2014 has given me. I had a major therapeutic breakthrough, spent a mountain of restorative time with my family, and somehow transformed a bad marriage into a good best-friendship. When everyone was exploding with Ferguson grief, I realized I am very lucky to know how to try and be part of the solution, to get to work for justice even though it seems impossible most of the time.

But to get to this good, open place, I had to leave a lot behind. As the trauma left me, so, somehow, did my place in the polyamory community. Like the poetry community before that, there’s not really a replacement. The friendships and relationships that buoyed and inspired me for the past few years were mostly just…gone. I wouldn’t U-turn back there, I’m relieved to admit who I am, but there’s a void that I don’t know how to fill. Backtracking all the way to waiting for true love instead of just cobbling it together out of…opportunities is a pretty big change, it’s a huge leap of faith.

Polyamory WAS a place. All my life, I’ve wished for a safe place where I could perfectly belong, where I’d be embraced, accepted, and welcomed. I had that feeling for a while, of being able to do no wrong. It felt like a place where every flaw, every foible, every selfish thing about me could be rationalized and loved, where I could be nakedly vulnerable and still walk through life unscathed.

But after a while I saw that way we were encouraged to build boundaries, to be cruel in the name of  transparency, to slough people off when they ceased to fit, was the opposite of vulnerable, it was a life of constantly constructing ever-more-elaborate walls to keep everything and everyone contained and separate. The walls kept crumbling and springing leaks, human messiness kept flooding through the contracts and agreements until there wasn’t anything I could do but stop building them. I wanted so much to fit, and it hurt so badly to walk way.

The dream of the magical fitting-in place is gone. The only safety I’ll ever know is within myself—the ability to speak up, to go against the grain, to make room for what’s really important, which right now is family and work and hugging the cats.

There’s still the Big Missing Thing, but I can occasionally have faith about it. When I went to Christmas Ever church with my friends and their new baby, we were figuring out how to arrange ourselves on the pew so that more people could come in, and I joked that we should leave room for my boyfriend to show up, just in case we were in a Hallmark movie. Later when I tried to scoot over to accommodate another family, my pal looked over and said, joking-but-serious, “No, you’ve got to save that space.”

A saved space is better than a void, don’t you think? I sang carols and smiled and had the kind of happy certainty that can only happen at church, that someday my person would be sitting next to me. Until then, I have a good car and if I want, I can go to every single family party. Happy New Year to me

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Song of The Week: Good Enough to Reopen the Blog. :)

I've been wondering what to do with my writing self now that I ran out of adventures (or rather, of wanting to have them) for my naughty blog. Then I scrolled past this on my morning facebook dawdling and remembered how much fun it was to be a pop culture blogger. Thank heaven for moments of transcendence in between games of Bejeweled.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Turning 38, Progress and Grief (And a Gig!)

The week before last, I sat in Blue State Coffee, in Providence, RI (on of my favorite venues) before my feature and did the online orientation for my student teaching this semester. It scared me to death. Don’t plan on doing anything at all else, it said. I have to be ready to assume full responsibility for the class by the end of October.

Well, assuming responsibility for a class was the general idea, wasn’t it? But I am still not feeling up to the task. Ever since I had to face the reality of what’s coming, I’ve felt lost, like I don’t have access to my inner resources. I still can’t seem to find them. I’m settling for trying to LOOK like I have inner resources—that always works on those makeover shows Amy hates, right?

For most of the past ten years, I’ve been a full time writer, and it’s brought me so much—including my big dream of having a full-length collection published. I had day jobs and part-time jobs, I got myself through my teacher certification courses, but I am so, so lucky and grateful to have had writing as the central focus of my life. I feel real grief for that part of my life being over, even sad for my classes to be coming to a close, even as I am very glad that I won’t be spending my days alone with a computer anymore.

I love my life as it has been for the past ten years, and I am very sorry to see it go. Right now, it feels like the end of my writing self, even though I know lots of people who successfully teach and write, they teach and write and do a million other things. I know that when I get there, I’ll be there, I’ll still find ways. I’m in the middle of a year-long writing project that may have enough of its own momentum to carry me through.

The rest of my life seems too transitiony and off-kilter as well. I feel like I’m not growing into things fast enough. We haven’t quite settled into the new apartment, and we aren’t feeling very settled into each other, either. I’m angry at the new apartment sometimes for not being the old apartment, and I really do miss our couch that we couldn’t get up the stairs.

The project of accepting my polyamorous self has come so far, but it feels like it’s hitting a wall as well. I had some good momentum going but then I fell for another monogamous guy who has since disappeared—so yep, I get it, poly guys only, but still, I liked him. I felt a deep guilt that I couldn’t give him what he wanted, that I’m someone who comes with an (adorable gingham) suitcase of (really fun sometimes) complications. Though I can try not to get close to anyone else who makes me feel that way, I still make myself feel that way. I hope it’s something I can grow beyond.

So it’s a tentative, unsettled birthday eve. I am proud of my book release this year and praying to the next book to keep me a writer. I’m proud of how much I’ve learned and experienced as a dater of men, but I’m mournful for the ones who aren’t around anymore. I love Amy, but our home doesn’t feel like a home right now. I am excited and curious about teaching, but I’m nervous about the possibility of wrecking little fourth-grade lives.

Student teaching doesn’t start until next week, but I’ve decided to start going in as of tomorrow. I’ll spend my birthday day in professional development with the other teachers and my birthday night doing a Skype feature with another favorite venue: the Ugly Mug in Orange, CA. It’ll be a good way to celebrate both the new and old lives, with my oldest, dearest friends and poems. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Awesome Gigs this Weekend! Philly and Rochester

Two chances to hug, drink wine, and read this weekend! come visit and share your poems!

Friday, Aug 3 at 7 pm: Open mic and Book Release Party at Big Blue Marble Bookstore!
551 Carpenter Lane, Philadelphia, PA

For pals who didn't make the first one or just want to pal around 
some more!
My first full-length collection of poems, For the Comfort of 
Automated Phrases,came out this summer from 
Sibling Rivalry Press!

Bring your own poems--we'll start the night with an open reading.

Says my beloved editor, Bryan Borland:" For the Comfort of Automated Phrases is a bottle of wine on a 

blanket in the park. It’s a night on the couch with your girlfriend, your boyfriend… or both of them. It’s 
making soup for a friend with a sick child. It’s the beautiful unpretentious. At its heart, this is a book of love poems written starry-eyed to board games and geography, to pop culture and pop music, to nephews and cats and cities and singers. Cassady’s full-length debut is the poetic equivalent of a mix tape – one you’ll keep rewinding and replaying – one that could easily be the soundtrack to your life."

No admission cost for the event, but you can get a book (and probably a hug) for 15$.


And then! Saturday night in Rochester, NY, I get to read for Rachel McKibbens, one of my oldest and 

dearest sister/friends: