Everything Old Is New Again

I haven’t thought of that song in forever, but it came immediately to mind when I queued up WordPress to post tonight. I spent a couple of hours yesterday and many, many hours today unpacking boxes and loading up my newly-assembled bookshelves. It was nice to rediscover my things. There’s a lot more work to do, but what’s already been done has been seriously transformational.

I am, in fact, so pleased to have done such a large chunk of unpacking, I decided to write tonight’s poem about it. The source text is Lucille Clifton’s poem “grief,” even though I am feeling anything but grief about the work I’ve done these last two days.

Unboxing

My world on pause.
No email, no tasks -- then
just one task, one job of work for
my heart. I keep the
rhythm going, simple, human.
Not instinctual, not animal.
Methodical, focused in
letting each treasure tell its
own story as I wipe the dust from its coat.

National Poetry Month 2021: the Golden Shovel

As I’ve done for the last forever, I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April. I don’t always succeed, but I always give it my best shot. The “Golden Shovel” was created by Terrance Hayes in tribute to Gwendolyn Brooks. I learned about it from my friend Sonia (aka Red Emma). I’ll be using Lucille Clifton’s poems as my starting point this month. Here are the rules:

  • Take a line (or lines) from a poem you admire.
  • Use each word in the line (or lines) as the end word for each line in your poem.
  • Keep the end words in order.
  • Give credit to the poet who originally wrote the line (or lines).
  • The new poem does not have to be about the same subject as the poem that offers the end words.

If you pull a line with six words, your poem would be six lines long. If you pull a stanza with 24 words, your poem would be 24 lines long. And so on.

Should be interesting!

Under the Sea

Okay, one last Grand Cayman story. At the end of yesterday’s post, I mentioned that there was a lot of snorkeling on that trip. It makes sense, of course. We were in the Caribbean, of course a lot of our activities would involve the water and seeing what was in the water with us.

I’m not a great swimmer. I can swim, and could probably swim well enough to swim out of trouble if trouble approached me slowly, but Diana Nyad, I’m not. I’m fascinated by the ocean, however, and by sea creatures.

Backstory on me and snorkeling: The first time I went to Jamaica, I was excited to go snorkeling. My friends and I got gear and marched ourselves into the water. And the ocean didn’t disappoint. I saw lots of fish — including a beautiful moment when a school of silversides swam around me. I saw sea urchins, a conch, lots of coral … After I’d been paddling around a while, I was annoyed because there was a terrible noise that was distracting me from my leisurely sea-gazing. It was a loud, rasping noise, as if Darth Vader was about to tell me he was my father. I kept looking for what could be the source of the nuisance. Finally I realized that I was the source. What I was hearing was the sound of my own panic breathing, loud and terrified, amplified by the snorkel and maybe by the water. I don’t know, but it was LOUD.

Panic breathing even though I was totally fine … and would always have been totally fine because I was snorkeling in such shallow water I could just stand up when the going got too unnerving. Seriously. The second place we snorkeled on that trip was a sand bar. I couldn’t even swim there. I just lay on the ocean floor and looked around.

Why panic breathing? Because I am fascinated by the ocean, but I’m also pretty entirely afraid of it. And when I’m fully in it, swimming around with the beings that live there, I’m out of place. I’m the alien, unable to adapt, inserting myself into someone else’s territory. The landscape is foreign, the atmosphere is inhospitable — I can’t breathe there unless I have special equipment — and no one speaks my language.

And being underwater in the ocean, I discovered, makes me feel claustrophobic. Really, really claustrophobic.

All of this adds up to panic breathing. I consciously calmed my breath and forced myself to keep going. There was so much I wanted to see. And I got to see a lot, but my snorkeling fear took hold from that first day. I snorkeled a few more times on that trip — even had a barracuda swim on his own leisurely path right in front of my nose! I kept snorkeling, but my fear didn’t abate.

So when I agreed to be a chaperone on the Grand Cayman trip, I knew there would be snorkeling on our agenda. I figured it would be like what I’d done in Jamaica, and I’d make it work. I also figured that, with two other adults sharing the chaperone duties, there would be times when I could opt out of being in the water. And then the other chaperones announced that they had no intention of swimming because they couldn’t swim and were terrified of the water. So I would have to do all the snorkeling. All. And keep a brave face on while doing it so the kids who were nervous would feel better about giving it a try.

Our first outing, we got on a boat, and motored out further from shore than I’d ever snorkeled before. Our captain and guide announced that the spot he was taking us to would be great for seeing lots of things … and would be between 75 and 80 feet deep. And, while the kids were oohing and aahing at the thought of such deep water, I was repeatedly confirming for myself that no, in fact I wouldn’t be able to just stand up if I was freaking out. I’m tall, but I am woefully human-sized, so no toes on in the sand and head above the waves options there.

We put on our gear when we reached the designated spot, and our guide and his crew began helping the kids into the water. I descended the ladder and pushed off from the boat and, before I even put my face in the water, I could feel my panic breathing start. Under the guise of monitoring the kids, I treaded water and did some deep breathing exercises to calm myself. I finally got my breath back to something that could pass for normal, and went under.

And I saw lots of fabulousness, including rainbow parrotfish, who I fell in love with instantly, and gorgeous, enormous sea fan coral (gorgonia ventalina), which is one of my favorite corals. I also saw how far the floor was below me, and I had to fight back the panic breathing again. And I saw a stingray … and I decided to swim back to the boat … which at first I couldn’t find but located before a full panic attack could erupt.

I don’t remember how many snorkeling outings we had during that week. At least five, including one day when we snorkeled at two different venues. Vidalys, one of the older girls who had held my hand across the aisle on the plane because she was terrified of flying, told me she was excited to get better at snorkeling because she could see how much I loved it. I almost laughed. Then I realized that a) my “Whistle a Happy Tune” approach to being a snorkeling chaperone had worked for both Vidalys and for me because b) I was loving the snorkeling. I was loving seeing all those rainbow parrotfish and seeing corals and seeing all the other underwater-world things there were to see. And by the last couple of excursions, I no longer had to calm myself because the panic breathing had stopped clawing at my throat.

I’m still not Diana Nyad, nor will I ever be. I am, however, making some undersea plans. I have a gift I want to give myself when I hit my 60s, and it involves some serious undersea activity. Just thinking about it calls up the old panic, but Grand Cayman taught me the cure for that: I just have to keep diving in.


It’s the 14th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

I always feel like somebody’s watching me …

Which is actually not at all true, but I can’t help thinking about that song right now.

Turns out, there are at least seven different people from my job who have been reading and commenting here. Seven. And there may be others who have just chosen not to contact me after reading last night’s post. I have seven different emails to respond to after yesterday, and included among them is one from the person I was actually thinking about when I wrote that post.

To be clear, no one is cyber-stalking me or bullying me or anything like that. I have just felt odd about some of the comments and odd about the fact that the person (and now, I realize, a bunch of people) was reading here but not letting me know they were reading here.

This discovery that my tiny little audience a) is bigger than I thought and b) includes people who are at least tangentially connected to me in the real world reinforces for me the importance of what I wrote yesterday. I can’t let any of that make a difference in what I write here, in whether or not I write here. These seven people know me/know about me in a very particular way. I fit into a certain set of boxes. If they are reading back through this blog, they will learn …

  • That I am often really angry
  • That I write and think about racism a LOT
  • That I have a lot to say about living while fat
  • That I am incredibly and unashamedly vain
  • That I’ve had some really ugly experiences in my life
  • That I’ve had some really fabulous experiences in my life
  • That I’m older than they might have thought

And sure, plenty of other things, too. Is it weird to learn these things about me and not actually try to meet me when we work for the same institution? A little, I guess. But it’s okay, too. I put all this stuff out there with the idea that it will be read — and read, quite specifically, by strangers. So I can’t really fuss when people do exactly what I hope people will do.

So I’ll keep posting in my Queen of Oversharing fashion. Maybe I’ll even post some of the things I wrote last year but didn’t share here. We’ll see.


It’s the 14th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

And this is why we can’t have nice things.

I continue to participate in the #52Essays challenge, the challenge to write an essay a week for the year. I’ve been attempting to meet that goal each year since taking on the challenge in 2017. Last year was my least successful year. And yes, I could say that was because of Covid, but that would just be an easy cover. I mean, I did write less last year than I usually do, but I still wrote quite a lot. I posted 12 essays last year — half the number I posted in 2019 — but I wrote many more essays than that. Covid was part of what kept me away from this space, but it wasn’t the main thing.

I jokingly call myself the Queen of Oversharing. It’s only sometimes true. I talk a lot, and can definitely talk too much, but I don’t always share the deep stuff, expose my tender underbelly. Except on this page. For whatever reason, I often share things here that I haven’t found a way to talk about with the people I am close with.

Most of the people who read here don’t know me in person. Some of my friends and family read here, too, however. So do a few of my coworkers. And that’s fine. And it’s also strange sometimes. Strangest of all when lines blur and someone who falls into the surprise category of “strangers I know” starts reading here, starts interacting here.

And that’s what happened last year. Someone I’ve never met but to whom I am connected started reading here, started interacting here in a way that felt judgmental and mocking. And I was trying to manage being in quarantine and found that I couldn’t also manage even a quiet confrontation — couldn’t or just didn’t want to spend the energy on turning a conversation I didn’t want to have into something that wasn’t a confrontation. Instead, I chose to leave this space dormant for the better part of the year.

Which pissed me off. And made me sad. This page is one of my preferred release valves. Shutting it down because someone I didn’t want to see walked into the room wasn’t the best self-care I’ve ever practiced. If ever I needed a proven release valve, I needed one last year.

Last night I posted about my history of not settling in the places I’ve lived, posted about the fact that I am not settled in the place I currently live. And today the name of that “stranger I know” dropped into the inbox of my work email. And I had a stomach ache for the rest of the day. I don’t know if they are still reading here. But I am annoyed to find that I am still made uncomfortable by the possibility that they are.

This space is mine. These stories are mine. That person holds no power over me, and I refuse to give them the power to silence me again. If they’re reading here, they are. If they choose to share my stories with their coworkers, that’s just what will happen. All of the ways that I am ugly and flawed here are all of the ways that I am ugly and flawed in real life. Keeping myself away from this space, not posting the pieces I’ve written expressly for this space … that’s like writing lies in my diary to protect myself against someone else reading it.

Saying all of that out loud is a good reminder to me to keep standing in my truth and holding my space and, really, to hell with anyone who chooses to mock or judge me for any of it.

And this is why I will have nice things.


It’s the 14th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Mantra of the Mundane

Tomorrow I’ll be working at my office instead of at home. I’ve been going into the office once a week or once every two weeks for the whole of quarantine. I go because my plants are there, and they need regular watering. Yes, I could do what so many of my friends have had to do and just let them go, replace them whenever we’re back on site. I can’t do it, though. Can’t bear to surrender them to the pandemic. I’d love to be able to bring them home, but they don’t much like my apartment, and at least half of them aren’t cat safe, so in the office they stay … which means that to the office I go.

Rather than being a chore or a headache, having to go out pleases me. It’s nice to have a reason to be out and about every week. And my day in the great outdoors gets expanded by including all my errands — the post office, the bank, the drugstore.

Even with my regular runs to work, however, going out remains so foreign that I have to talk myself through getting out the door. At first, I would remind myself to put on a mask. A few false starts later, and I was reminding myself to don a mask, check for my keys and wallet … and put on shoes. Yes, shoes. That’s how unused to the world I’ve become in all these days and weeks and months of seclusion. I should probably add “contacts” to the list, too. I’ve gone out too many times and had to turn around when confronted with the blur of my surroundings.

The list is a kind of chant, a kind of song. Mask, keys, wallet, contacts, shoes. Mask, keys, wallet, contacts, shoes. The  most boring mantra in the history of mantras. I laugh at myself, but I need the crutch to keep myself from being half-dressed, fuzzy-sighted, and locked out!


It’s the 14th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot