Summarizing Deadly Distraction

 

I struggled to find a source text tonight. I tried to avoid politics, and specifically Trump’s Friday the 13th actions. No such luck. In the end I had to find my way back here. It’s hard culling text from his words. I have worked so hard to avoid hearing him speak, to avoid reading his transcripts. I had quite the gag reaction reading this speech.

Precision Strikes
(An erasure of Donald Trump’s address to the nation, 4/13/18.)

I ordered forces to launch
weapons combined
now under way.
Innocent people responded,
again.
Weapons, innocent civilians,
escalation.
A pattern of weapons.
Thrashing and gasping,
actions, crimes, horrors.
Suffering (even small amounts)
can establish production and interest.
The response,
all instruments of power,
stops the most responsible.
I will say what is necessary.
Friendships take greater resources,
indefinite presence, contributions,
no illusions.
We purge everywhere there is
peace and security,
a troubled place,
fate.
The darkest places,
the anguish, the evil.
Righteous power and brutality.

Say a prayer
for dignity and peace.


It’s National Poetry Month! Every year, I choose a specific form and try to write a poem a day in that form. This year, I am trying erasure poems and I want to use news articles as my source texts. I’ve practiced a few times, and it’s already feeling difficult! We’ll see how it goes.

Here’s an edited version of the Wiki definition of this form:
Erasure Poetry: a form of found poetry created by erasing words from an existing text in prose or verse and framing the result on the page as a poem. Erasure is a way to give an existing piece of writing a new set of meanings, questions, or suggestions. It lessens the trace of authorship but requires purposeful decision making. What does one want done to the original text? Does a gesture celebrate, denigrate, subvert, or efface the source completely? One can erase intuitively by focusing on musical and thematic elements or systematically by following a specific process regardless of the outcome.
Also, Robert Lee Brewer at Writer’s Digest has some good points to add about ethics and plagiarism:
Quick note on ethics: There is a line to be drawn between erasure poems and plagiarism. If you’re not erasing more than 50% of the text, then I’d argue you’re not making enough critical decisions to create a new piece of art. Further, it’s always good form to credit the original source for your erasures.

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Washington International School

The Queen of Oversharing

I like describing myself as the Queen of Oversharing. This naming is kind of a lie. I tell a lot of stuff about myself … but not really. When we were crashing and burning for the final time, one of the things The Morphine Man accused me of was talking too much and saying nothing. He said I told a million stories about myself, but they were all surface, I never let people get close to my real self. This is pretty true … but it’s also kind of a lie.

I do tell a lot of stories about myself—practically this whole blog is stories about myself. A lot of my stories are told for entertainment value. My stories about traveling, about my various experiences with hitchhiking, about bad boyfriends (The Morphine Man included, of course), about growing up in a very particular kind of small, insular town—these are the kind of stories that fall into this category. They’re almost like long-form jokes, told to amuse the listener, show you how funny, or silly, or charmingly naïve, or comically vain … or whatever I can be.

Some of my stories are “Learn from my wacky mistakes!” stories, instructive but comical at the same time. When I was teaching, there were a lot of stories about that, and I still tell some of those. I loved teaching, and I learned so much from my students, and so many of my experiences in the classroom make for good stories. Those are generally more heartwarming or educational than comical, but there’s plenty to laugh about in those anecdotes, too.

So The Morphine Man wasn’t wrong. I absolutely do tell a lot of stories. I talk a LOT. And most of that telling doesn’t reveal the deepest, darkest corners of my soul, but I would argue a) that no one wants to have to look at the cluttered back rooms of my soul all the damn time, b) that there’s more to seeing and understanding who a person is than watching them take rib-spreaders to their own chests and dump their heart on the table for you every time they open their mouths, and c) if you actually listen to the stories I choose to tell about myself—even the foolish ones—there’s a lot you can see about who I am and what’s important to me and how I tick.

Do I also keep people at arm’s length? Yes. A lot of the time I do. I’ve had a lot of experience with people showing e how totally they couldn’t be trusted with my confidence, with not feeling safe showing much more than my surface. So I got good at learning to look as if I was sharing while keeping my soft underbelly well protected. So The Morphine Man was right on that score as well. I don’t think this skill, this form of protection, is particularly unusual. Don’t we all hold our vulnerabilities close to our chests? With luck, we meet people we begin to feel close enough to, begin to trust enough that we stare more of the deep-dark-corners stuff. I am glad that I have a strong circle of these kinds of friends now. I wish I’d had them in the past, but the storytelling helped me muddle through.

Which was, in the end, the problem with and for The Morphine Man, wasn’t it? He clearly hadn’t become one of those people for me. Or, he had, during our first go-round … but he proved unworthy, using some of the painful things he learned about me to inflict more pain. So during our last go-round, I withheld myself a little more adeptly, waiting to see if I would feel safe with him again.

But this blog is one place where I truly am Queen of Oversharing. I tell things here that I never say to anyone. Those are the other stories I tell, the “full-disclosure” stories where I share some close-to-the-bone stuff.

Those are the stories I write and, just before I post them, I send my family a heads-up email, cluing them in to this information about me that they didn’t know so they can hear it before I make it insanely public.

So what the hell is that? Why do I feel entirely comfortable telling ugly, painful stories about myself online when I’ve never told my family or closest friends those stories? I mean, sure, there’s the anonymity aspect of “telling it to the internet.” No one is sitting across a table watching and listening. You don’t have to see or hear anyone’s response in real time. You create distance simply by choosing to write rather than tell.

All of that makes sense to me. But, like the things I said at the start of this essay, it’s kind of a lie, isn’t it? It isn’t as though I’m writing anonymously online. My friends and family know where to find me and some of them regularly read what I post. That’s precisely why I send my family those heads-up emails before I publish the worst of my mess. I want them to hear it from me directly rather than stumble across it on FB or during their occasional scan of my blog.

But, if I want them to hear these stories directly from me, why haven’t I told them any of these things directly? Why do I only choose to tell them because I have suddenly decided to share the stories with the world?

Last week I wrote a post about my current experience with apartment hunting. It quickly ballooned into a post about a lot of other things—my infertility, the mass of debt I struggle under, racism, fear of homelessness. A jumbled mix of ways I clearly don’t have my shit together. It was hard to post that because I like looking like a person who most definitely has her shit together. I know that under the surface and behind closed doors, I am an entire mess, but I don’t like showing that off. But that house hunting post pulled back the curtain on my well-crafted façade.

It’s a weird set-up to have created: now, people I don’t know well or at all can do the most basic level of search and learn all kinds of unkempt, ugly things about me. If these were the things I kelp close to my vest in the past, does my sharing them here mean I’m no longer doing that … or that this is just another form of TMI performance and I have an even deeper, darker set of personal truths that I’m holding onto?

Of course, the answer to both questions is yes. And I also suspect I’ll eventually get around to writing those stories here.

I already know there are things I am both itching to write about and desperate to keep buried. These are things I hide because they make me look bad. But hiding them also holds me back, and that’s frustrating.

Yeah. So … stay tuned?

__________

I am lucky in that my family have never responded badly to anything I’ve shared  or to the fact of my sharing. Their response is always a reaffirmation of how much they love me. (As I said: lucky.) Sometimes my mother worries about what parts of myself I expose because she doesn’t want anyone to use information against me. And I suppose there are ways info I share could be used against me, but I’m pressed to come up with a likely scenario for that.

I’m wondering how other people navigate this king of sharing/not-sharing line-straddling. Do you just dive in and tell all the things? Do you keep your telling strictly surface? How do your families respond when you go deeper, telling your more private-seeming stories in a public forum?


I’m following Vanessa Mártir’s lead, she launched #52essays2017 after writing an essay a week in 2016 … and then deciding to keep going.
I fell months behind on my #GriotGrind, and it seemed highly unlikely that I’d write 52 essays by year’s end. But then I decided to dedicate my NaNoWriMo writing to writing essays, and I’ve been catching up! Whether I reach the goal or not, I’ve written more this year than in the last two combined, and that adds up to a solid WIN in my book! Get ready for #52essays2018!

Girls Write … Right Here

Every year, Girls Write Now puts on a reading series called Chapters.  Tonight was the first of the four … and Naima and I were in the lineup of readers. There were two other mentor pairs that read together.  The remaining almost-dozen young women read solo pieces. We opened the night with a poem on street harassment, self awareness and self esteem, and ended with a shared mentor pair memoir about food and family relationships. In between were all kinds of things … including the pieces Naima and I wrote about close friendships ending.

Wow, but this was fabulous fun!  The girls read wonderfully, the audience was appreciative, and Amy Fusselman — our guest author for the night– was warm and funny and read a great excerpt from her forthcoming book, Savage Park.  A good time was most definitely had by all.  

I am so honored to be part of this amazing organization, to have the chance to work with these talented, intelligent, funny, and sweet girls.  Can’t wait for Chapters 2, in April (with guest author, Farai Chideya)!

_____

Don’t forget to check out more  slices at Two Writing Teachers!

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(I know, I know: again with the painfully short post.  But my eyes are closing.  I’ve been trying to write this for over and hour, and keep falling asleep at the wheel.  I’ll try to be a little more expansive over the weekend.)

Vote!

(… you know, for whomever you’d like … you know, not like you have to vote for ME or anything …)

After an amazingly long, hard slog, Alejna and Holly have come up with the final finalists list for the Best Just Posts of 2009.  Really. 

I am quite unashamedly proud to say that two of my posts are finalists (and totally self-servingly proud to say that TEN of my posts made the semi-finals).

And I’m thinking what a wonderful thing it would be for folks to pay Alejna and Holly a visit and read through the many, fabulously categorized and arranged finalists.  You’ll see that Chris from Formerly Fun is there, and so is Tami from What Tami Said, and Erika from Be Gay About It, and Rebecca from Flying Tomato Farms, and Claudia from The Bottom of Heaven, and Jen from One Plus Two, and Magpie from Magpie Musing

I think it’s incredibly giving of Alejna and Holly to not have included themselves in this list of finalists.  Each has posted things in the past year that definitely belong in the voting.  My hat is off to both ladies for being way cooler than I am.

Voting ends on March 22nd, which doesn’t give you much time to get all your reading done.

So, you know, click away from this post already and get thee over to Cold Spaghetti and Collecting Tokens and get to reading!  I can’t wait to see who the winners will be!

Talking Your Ear Off

Someone told me the other day, after hearing me scold the copier machine, that I should be on NPR.

That might, really, be the funniest thing anyone has ever said to me.  So I laughed.

“No, really,” she said.  “You have the right voice for it. ”  She turned to the young woman who was sitting next to her for confirmation.  “Can’t you just hear her telling stories on the radio?”

Please don’t misunderstand.  Being on the radio is high up on my list of vocal fantasies (yes, there’s a list … and yes, it’s quite long).  But really, because I said, “No, not now!” to the copier?  That’s what it takes to qualify as having a voice for radio?  Had I known this, I’d have auditioned years ago!

The subject of my voice comes up with surprising frequency.  People are always exclaiming over my beautiful voice.  I don’t hear it.  On the phone I am often mistaken for a child.  Telemarketers ask if my mother is home (and I tell them they’d have to call her house and find out).  I am also mistaken for a white person, but that’s not about having a nice voice or a young voice, that’s about how people imagine all black people must speak.  This comes in handy as a kind of easy pass/fail quiz I can give people to measure their PQ (prejudice quotient): When they meet me in person, do they exibit mild suprise and move on (pass) or do they completely freak out, going so far as to refuse to believe I can possiibly be the person they’ve been talking to on the phone (FAIL)?

I don’t hear what everyone else seems to hear in my voice.  I hear a perfectly fine voice, pleasant enough, not grating, sometimes punctuated with what a friend once called an operatic laugh, nothing to get overly excited about. Except that people do get excited about it.  A lot.  A long-ago ex once told me that I had the perfect voice for porn.  Yes, you read that correctly.  He said I had a voice like Snow White, and it would be exciting to hear me saying all kinds of not-Snow-White things.  Yeah, whatever.  That is not on the list of vocal fantasies.  Compared to Snow White porn, how would I not be thrilled to learn that I have a public radio voice?

So … NPR?  PRI?  And (obviously and specifically) Ira Glass?  I’m ready for my close up.

Tired but Inspired

For the last two days, I’ve been at Changing the Odds, a conference co-sponsored by Harlem Children’s Zone and PolicyLink.  If I had talked to you about this last week, I’d have been a bit whiny, talking about how I didn’t really feel into it, how I was only going to go for part of one day just to make an appearance and say I’d been.

Yeah, right.  Tonight I’m saying how glad I am that I was able to go, that I was able to rearrange my schedule for today so that I could attend the full second day, how honored I feel to have had the chance to listen to some of the wonderful speakers who were there … 

It was an inspiring couple of days.  I wasn’t sure in the morning yesterday if I was going to love it.  I wasn’t sure after the first workshop if I was going to love it.  I started to get a clue during the lunchtime keynote from Geoffrey Canada, the founder of Harlem Children’s Zone.  I wouldn’t say I’ve become one of Canada’s groupie’s — of which there are many.  In fact, he tends to irk me more than a little bit.  BUT … there is no denying that the work he and his staff have done in Harlem is visionary.  And he’s a good speaker besides.

I had to miss the afternoon sessions because I had a meeting at work that I couldn’t change, but instead of going home after the meeting, I went back to the conference for the evening keynote because Marian Wright Edelman was giving the address.  I have always admired Edelman and couldn’t pass up the chance to see her in person, to hear her in person.  And I’m so glad I went back.  Her address was powerful.  I left for the night with so very much to think about, so much that’s still running around in my head from her speech. 

Then this morning!  Ok, with a 7:30 start time, I was pretty sure Canada and friends were high, but I still made myself get up and get out because the first panel of the morning was going to include Mayor Cory Booker from Newark, New Jersey and I didn’t want to miss the chance to hear what he’d have to say.   That first panel included more than Booker, of course.  I got to hear from Mayor Otis Johnson from Savannah, Georgia as well as Adolfo Carrión, who was Bronx Borough President until he was tapped by Obama to be Director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs Policy, and Ron Sims, the Deputy Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.  All four men were great, but Booker and Sims were my favorites.  Sims blew my mind at every turn.  He had so much to say that was so on target, that made me feel optimistic about the kinds of things BHO’s administration could achieve.

I went to an excellent workshop in the afternoon and then the day was capped with our final keynote address from Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education.  His speech was pretty inspiring, too.  I was especially happy to hear him say that he wanted to move away from straight test scores as the only measure of performance.  That was encouraging, though I’d like to hear more about what he’s thinking there … and I’d like to see what he’s going to do.

I think I’m a little star-struck right now.  This was a pretty high-profile couple of days.  But it’s more than just the cool speakers or the fact that Cory Booker is kind of cute.  I left with a renewed sense of purpose and a lot of ideas for things we need to be and could be doing, both at my job and with WE LEARN.  There’s more I want to talk about from these two days, but I think I need to sit with it all a while longer.  Stay tuned …

Girlgriot & Jay Smooth sittin’ in a tree …

I am in love with Jay Smooth. Have been for a while, but I’ve been keeping it to myself, trying to figure if it was just some high school crush that would pass if I left it alone long enough. No. This is the real deal. A LUV THANG … with big, balloon-y, psychedelic, day-glo letters.

What has inspired this gushing? Oh, every video of his I’ve seen, but today it’s mostly because of his “Haters’ Ball” piece. And it’s not just because he’s saying all this stuff I was feeling after Sarah Palin finished slinging her one-liners to the party faithful. It’s just that I’m still feeling so shut down by the bucket-loads of ugly that’ve been flying around lately, and Jay says all this stuff I think I might say if I was talking. (And it doesn’t hurt that he’s a cat guy and he’s cute. Yes, I went there. I’m shallow. What do you want? Like you’re not shallow sometimes!)

He’s not the only one to zero in on my Palin-fear, no. And it’s really not just about Palin. It’s just Jay. I loved his “No Homo” piece … and his piece on showing emotion … and fact-checking in the mailroom … and machine guns and stupid choices … and all the others I’ve seen. I’ve used his vlogs in class, and if that doesn’t tell you how excellent I think he is, you haven’t been paying attention.

And then I found his “Little Hater” bit … I mean come on, how’m I not going to love this guy when he’s talking from inside my brain? I’ve been silent for so long, not really back on this page since I got home from Mexico, and with every day that passes and I can’t pull anything from the crazy cloud of crap in my head, I start to think maybe I should just stop messing with this blog, maybe I’ve said everything I can possibly think of to say and I should just roll up my tent and go home. And then, like an early birthday gift from the gods of serendipity, here’s Jay reminding me about the Little Hater (or, as I like to call her, my Inner Mean Person).

So it’s time to bring my love out into the light. I haven’t gone through his entire archive (yet), but I know I’ll keep finding the good as I do. He makes me laugh and he makes me think and he gets it right … and that’s just way cool.