All I Want for TKD …

It’s the first frigid days of 2018. A new year. Where I’m sitting, the “real feel” temperature is -30. Yes, if I step outside, it will feel like 30 degrees below zero. There is so much wrong with that, I don’t have time or energy to describe it. But … where I’m sitting, it’s beautiful, and it’s quiet and calm, and I have a gorgeous space to myself for a few days of writing and dreaming and staring at the snowy landscape and organizing my brain.

This is a gift I’ve bought myself, these four days of contemplation and work. The drive up with my friends yesterday was lovely. The first moments of walking into this glorious space and seeing just how fabulous it is was lovely. Waking up to see sunlight creeping over the mountains out my window was lovely. Remembering that the only things I have to do are the things that I want to do was best of all.

These few days are the third DIY writing retreat I’ve made. Each retreat has been very different, and each has been just what I needed. In some version of a perfect world, all of my time would be like this. But I don’t live in a perfect world, so I have to create my moments of perfection when and where I can.

It’s Three Kings Day, the day Melchior, Balthsar, and Gaspar presented their gifts to Mary’s new baby. What gifts would I have of the Magi this year? Gold, frankincense, and myrrh are nice, but my needs run a little different from those of the newly-born Christ child.

  1. Energy. I have a lot of plans for myself this year. If I have any hope of getting through even half of them, I’m going to need lots of energy. Lots of it.

These plans I have for myself run in all kinds of directions. When I set my new-year intentions before my birthday (the official start of the new year for me is my birthday, so January is a time for me to review first quarter success and re-up for the rest of the year), the primary focus of all my goals was my health. I’ve had a few years of non-stop crap, and I’m more than tired of it. So I started working on the most pressing items and focusing on maintaining the gains I’d already made. Dealing with the healthcare system and with healthcare providers exhausts the mess out of me, however. That’s one place the need for energy comes in. Pushing back against a system that wants to blame all my ills on my weight, insisting that providers actually listen to the things I tell them are happening with my body, fighting with my insurance company so that care I need is paid for … it’s a job of work.

I need physical energy, too, however. I have some clear and intensive goals around strength training and getting my body ready for the trip I’m planning in the fall. I need to be stronger, need to be a little less fearful of injury and pain, need to have a little more trust in my physical capacity. So, speaking of jobs of work … yeah.

And there are some things that need to be done, that only I can do, that I have no desire to do. I need to find the will to power through them, day after day after day. If I can’t do them, most of the rest of my plans for the year will have to be set aside, and I’m not here for that possibility, so I have to step up and get those things done.

  1. Pigheadedness. If you know me, you know I can be annoyingly stubborn sometimes. That’s true enough as far as it goes. But I struggle with not being stubborn enough to hold onto things that are for myself, things that feel selfish because they are just about me. I let plans for myself fall by the wayside all the time. I regret those falls later, but that regret doesn’t bring opportunity back. So I want some selfish stubbornness, I want the ability to keep my needs as my primary focus and direction this year. That doesn’t mean I want to ignore other people and their needs. It means I want to stop putting other people and their needs ahead of myself every time. I want to be pigheaded in my belief that I am worth that focus, that my needs are important and deserve my time and attention.
  2. Confidence. This one may be the most important one of all, the one that gives me the ability to have the other two.

I struggle with Impostor Syndrome on the regular. There are times when La Impostora is my constant companion. She is far too good at keeping me down, keeping me back, keeping me in a box of self-doubt. And I’m sick unto death of her power over me.

I wanted to say that the third gift should be “Wakandan pride.” And maybe that’s still right. Wakandans know they are the shit. I have never had that fierce a sense of myself and my value … and I want some of that. I’m not getting any younger. What am I waiting for? Mother Toni said it right in Beloved. I am my best thing. Me. I am. And I need to see that and know it and believe it and live it. And I need to start right this instant.


And so, Gaspar, Melchior, Balthasar. There are my wishes, my gift requests for this Three Kings Day: energy, pigheadedness, confidence. Work your magic, magi. Come through.

X is for: Xenial

It’s about hospitality to strangers, which reads to me like kindness and generosity.

Tonight was the sixth anniversary of a women’s poetry salon I’ve been attending off and on since the summer of 2014. (Yes, for someone who spends a lot of time talking about how she isn’t a poet, I sure spend a lot of time immersed in poetry, don’t I? I know.)

The salon is a lovely space, a welcoming group of women who are unfailingly supportive and encouraging of one another. There are a couple of guys who attend, and they are just as lovely.

Aside from the beautiful welcome the salon extends, I feel free there. I let down my writing defenses — the ways I try to keep myself “safe” when it comes to writing poetry. I have let myself write in new ways, let myself stretch and try and trust the moment in ways that I would have had to struggle to do before I joined the group. One of my strongest Black Lives Matter pieces came, nearly whole, from a writing exercise we did in the salon.

Tonight was the 6th anniversary party, and it was great! Excellent readers, friends in the audience I haven’t seen in ages. Nice all the way around. Tonight’s chōka was inspired by one of the conversations I had early in the evening.

Plumped and Full

I said to a friend
I feel like I’m coming back,
back into the world.
It’s a good feeling — airy,
light, full of power
like everything is open.
It’s a good feeling,
finally back to myself,
my lungs plumped and full.
It’s time to stand up, to sing,
take pleasure in all of me.


A chōka is a Japanese form poem with a specific syllable count per line. The shortest form of chōka  is: 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 7. The 5- and 7-syllable lines can repeat as many times as needed. The poem’s end is signaled by the extra 7-syllable line. The final five lines can be used to summarize the body of the poem.

W is for: With My Whole Heart

My friend — who, for the purposes of this post and the poem that follows, I will call “Saadiqhah” because it means, “true, sincere, faithful, veracious, a woman of her word” — is about to leave town. She is moving clear across the country. I am going to miss her for so many reasons. She is one of the friends that VONA has brought into my life to make my world bigger, richer, better. She is smart and funny and strong and clear-eyed and honest and thoughtful and caring. The Bay Area is about to be super lucky to have her.

But back on this coast, we had a party last night to celebrate our friendships with her. The party included an open mic, since many of her friends are writers or performers. I wanted to read something of mine, but I also wanted to read something from VONA and something that was created just for her. In the end, I read two super-short poems by Ruth Forman (“Let Down All Your Doors” and “The Sun’s One Good Eye”). I read the poem I wrote on Sunday about people trying to touch my hair. For the final piece, I wanted to copy a thing I participated in many years ago.

I read in a great reading for Valentine’s Day. The reading was called “Love and Chaos,” and was organized by a lovely poet, Patricia Landrum, who has since passed away. For her piece in the reading, Patricia did an audience participation poem. She asked us to shout, “Chaos!” every time she gave us the signal. Her piece was fun and funny and wonderful. I wanted to do something like that for Saadiqhah, and I wanted the poem to be a chōka. And it started to feel silly once I put it together, but I read it anyway. And (of course), because everyone in the room was there because they all love Saadiqhah, it worked exactly as well as I’d hoped it would!

I Love Saadiqhah!

I love Saadiqhah
and I know I’m not alone
I Love Saadiqhah!
so many conversations.
I Love Saadiqhah!
She doesn’t pull her punches.
I Love Saadiqhah!
Saying what I need to hear.
I Love Saadiqhah!
She is always right on time
with friendship, wisdom, and love.

(I could have gone on and on, but decided the occasion — and the patience of the audience — called for a shorter chōka.)

(I’m a day late, but will try to catch up tonight or tomorrow, can’t fall off the challenges this late in the game!)


A chōka is a Japanese form poem with a specific syllable count per line. The shortest form of chōka  is: 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 5 / 7 / 7. The 5- and 7-syllable lines can repeat as many times as needed. The poem’s end is signaled by the extra 7-syllable line. The final five lines can be used to summarize the body of the poem.

Heaven on the Vine

Today is National Watermelon Day. No, really.
Who knew?
So, in honor of this, here’s a watermelon story from my June trip to Florida for VONA: There were a lot of different camps happening at the University of Miami while the writing workshops were in session. Ballet camp, football camp, etc. So we were often surrounded by kids when we were in the dining hall. One morning, I saw a tall, slender, bored-looking, blond girl at the salad bar filling an enormous bowl with watermelon (in other words, doing exactly what I was approaching the salad bar to do!). I smiled and told her she was a girl after my own heart because I so love watermelon. Her whole demeanor changed. She smiled and laughed and told me that she is from Serbia and how her mother always teases her because all she ever wants to eat is watermelon. She will spend her last money to buy the biggest one to bring home, just for herself (definitely sounding a lot like me), and her mother will ask her how she expects to eat such a huge melon herself, and she always just says, “Watch me!” I’m telling you, it was as if I was talking to myself!
And here’s a roundup of watermelon things I’ve had to say on this blog:
Source: Agricultural Marketing Resource Center

(I don’t know why the spacing is off in this post, why I can’t get a blank line between paragraphs. I’ve messed with it for more than half an hour, and I now officially give up. Feh.)

Partial Disclosure — Or, Airing My Dirty Laundry … List

Thirteen years ago, I had finally reached a place where I no longer thought it was vain or needy, or greedy (or any other thing I didn’t want to be) to make a big deal out of celebrating my birthday.  I adopted a friend’s tradition of “birthday week” — planning large and little celebrations for myself to draw out the specialness of having a birthday.  I threw myself a party … and I didn’t feel guilty about it, I just had fun.  The next year I bought a super-fancy cake to share with some friends.

And then eleven years ago my birthday was eclipsed and I’ve been struggling ever since to find a way to remember that September 11th is also a good day because it’s my birthday, to find a way to celebrate myself without seeming disrespectful, to find a way to just have something be a little normal.  The double significance of the day can sometimes catch me unawares.  Even now.  When I started writing yesterday’s “it’s the day before my birthday” post, I thought I was so clever: I was going to call it: “On the Almost Incendiary Eve,” stealing a line from Dylan Thomas’ “Deaths and Entrances.”  But then I heard myself.  Because not only are there too many incendiary images/memories about today, there is also the fact of the poem being written about dying in a building bombed during the Blitz … not the way to go.

Still struggling to find the balance between observances, still looking for some normalcy.  I’ve succeeded in some years, failed miserably in others.  I think at this point I’m a little reconciled to the reality that this is just what my birthday is going to be from here forward.


So.  I’m 50.  It’s old news already (pun sort of intended — I got my AARP membership invitation in the mail last week!).  Let’s get down to business.

You’ve probably noticed people making lists all over the place.  All those people with their buckets and such.  I make lists, too.  All the time.  I don’t usually pick a specific number of items for the list, I just jump in.  Then I happened on the birthday listers, the people who make an age-numbered list of things they want to do.  And doing all the must-do stuff before you turn 50 seems to be a big goal.  There are about 800,000 blogs and lists online that catalog the many things people want to do before they are instantly too old to think straight, stand and walk, and talk without drooling turn 50.   Here’s a random sampling:

Life Gets in the Way, or SimeyC’s Hub Page,  or Julie Hibbard, or Lori Mole’s 50 Paintings Before I’m 50 (which is actually pretty fabulously ambitious and just plain fabulous), Madeline Perry, or 50 Before I’m 50,  or Carolyn’s 50 … Before 50 … you get the idea.

I’m not sure I do, however.  Why do we feel the need to get everything done before we’re 50?  There may be many things that need to be done earlier in life, but why is 50 the dramatic deadline number?  It is my great hope and sincere expectation that I will still be running around making a fool of myself for another 20 or 30 years.  Do I really need to cross so many things off my list so “early” in the game?

Perhaps more helpful are the lists that tell you things you should be sure to do after you turn 50.  The Telegraph’s 50 must do things for 50-year-olds pleased me for the most part — I love that “come out of the closet” is on the list, but could someone tell me what “a personal MOT” is (#45)? — and the ones that tell you what not to do/eat/hang onto/buy/try after 50 (courtesy of my soon-to-be-new-friends at AARP).

In any case, I decided to make a list of things I want to do this year, and exactly half of it is ready for prime time.  The rest is more personal than I need to be writing about in public.  So here’s a half-serving of my 50-List:

  1. Write every day (no, EVERY DAY)
  2. Take three writing vacations (the first one’s already in the works!)
  3. Apply to four residencies
  4. Become fluent in Spanish (finally!)
  5. Make time to read more
  6. Be as much of a locavore as possible (goodbye to mangoes? … no)
  7. Go dancing (I want to say “more” but need to just say “GO”)
  8. Ride a roller coaster (It’s 10 years since I last rode the Cyclone)
  9. Have knee replacement surgery
  10. Learn canning and jam-making
  11. Do African genealogy test
  12. Take voice lessons
  13. Get new helmet and new tires and learn to ride bike my bike without abject terror
  14. Go on photo walks with my “real” camera
  15. Start making jewelry again
  16. Take glass bead-making class
  17. Save for metal clay tools and kiln
  18. Save for spinning wheel and floor loom
  19. Go to Calabash festival
  20. Pay down my mountain of (in)fertility debt
  21. Interview my mother, StoryCorps-style
  22. Plan trip to Africa
  23. Walk minimum of 15 miles/week
  24. Take a life drawing class
  25. Go back to New Orleans

It’s far from earth-shaking, and some of it’s much more “work” than “walk on the wild side,” but it all moves me forward, and some of it will just be flat-out fun.


Because it’s Tuesday, you can head over to Stacey and Ruth’s to see what the other slice of life writers are up to.

That time again.

For my birthday this year, the really-not-at-all-right Reverend Terry Jones will be burning Korans in Gainesville.¹  I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but this is a gift I could do without.  Book burning?  Religious book burning?  Are you serious?  No, really.  Are you serious?  My only hope is that the Morphine Man — who lives in Gainesville and who has developed a disturbingly intolerant anti-Islamic stance — won’t be joining Jones’ group with his own set of matches.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a hard time celebrating my birthday.  This was true before 2001, but now …  One of the things I do to make acknowledging my birthday a little easier is to spend the day alone, focusing on things I like — reading, writing, knitting, sewing, going to the park — consciously not turning on the news, not looking at the papers.  I keep myself cloistered away so that I don’t have to think about what everyone else is thinking about.

This never works, but a girl has to try.

This year, I’m breaking my rule and spending much of the day out and about, going to my nephew’s football game, surrounded by thousands of people.  Many of these people could well be organizing moments of silence or even a reading of names.  And somehow I’ll have to deal.

In addition, this year I have to contend with the ugliness that is bubbling up all over this fine land of mine.  I can’t turn on the news without hearing one more bit of nasty about Park51, an Islamic cultural center that will be built in lower Manhattan.  And now there’s Terry Jones and his Koran-burning.  This small man thinks his vile stunt will shut down Park51, thinks the Imam (not “iman,” Rev. Jones²) will see some logical reason for having a meeting with Jones and his fanatics followers to keep Jones from burning Korans.

Let’s forget about me for a minute (yeah, right, as if).  Shouldn’t the marking of this day be about peace, be about rising above the anger and pain, be about tolerance, be about taking a more benevolent, high-ground position?  How does Koran-burning fit into that?  How do vitriolic protests about Park51 fit into that?  How do anti-mosque protests, vandalizing mosques, or anti-Muslim violence all around the country fit into that?

Are we really these people?  I don’t want to think so, but the evidence tells me something different.  Where are the people like me?  I see them in my friends’ comments on facebook, but the number of my friends is painfully small.

So it’s my birthday.  And, of course, I’m thinking about exactly the things that I’ve tried for 8 years not to think about (that first year gets a pass … it just obliterated my birthday all together, even made me forget that I’d had a birthday, forget to age myself, until 6 or 7 months had passed).  Before 2001 I had become a believer in “birthday week,” seven days of doing little celebratory or fun things for myself (leading up to or away from or surrounding my actual birth date).  It’s an idea I got from an old friend.  It’s a nice, low-key way to honor yourself, but it fell by the wayside along with my ability to celebrate on the day.  This year I’m trying to reinstate birthday week.  I took Friday off from work and had brunch with the lovely and talented Zetta, and then dinner (with cake and key lime pie!) with friends.  This morning I opened the gifts and cards that arrived in the mail (thank you!).  Today I’ll get to see my amazing man-child nephew play football and see my wonderful brother and his family.  And next week I’ll get to see my students (always a present, any time of year!).  We’ll see what other little goodies I can line up for the rest of BW.  Maybe I’ll use farmer Martín’s yummy apples and bake a pie …

None of it will erase awareness of everything that’s going on around me, but the point is less to forget any of that than to remember myself a little.  Wish me luck.


¹ I’m going with a more common spelling of “Koran.”  I apologize to anyone who prefers an alternate spelling.

² “Iman,” in addition to being an eternally-gorgeous super model, means religious belief or faith.  An “Imam” is a religious leader.  I know it’s only one letter, and I am foolish to think Jones would ever bother to know the difference, but still.

Shared History

Today is my brother’s birthday.  As my older brother, he’s been my brother my whole life, but not his.  He had a couple of Stacie-less years in there before I showed up.

Here we are at two years (him) and two months (me).  He’s already begun to look like the brother I know and love.  Me?  Well, I’m still a little shell shocked, clearly.

This is from one of my favorite series of pics.  I think this might be the only one in which I’m not flashing the camera.  I’m two, Big Brother is four.  I’m just about hitting the peak years of my cuteness, but The Brother is riding a wave of cuteness that will carry him through to … when am I going to see him next?  Saturday?  Yeah, through to today.

When I write about him in my fiction, his name is always Tony, so that’s what I’ll call him here, too.  I’m not sure where that comes from.  It’s nothing like his actual name (of course, it’s not as if “Fox” is anything like Fox’s real name …), but somehow it fits.

I don’t tell a lot of stories about Tony here.  There was the Lee Strasberg story, but I think that was it.  And yet I have so many.  The first time I got to ride a roller coaster and how he came with me and rode again and again and again … not telling me that he didn’t like roller coasters until I’d had my fill.  The excellent tape of us singing A Boy Named Sue and Spinning Wheel at six and eight years old … and sitting at my mom’s kitchen table many years later silly-singing our way through Rocky Racoon.  Teaching me how to climb trees, particularly the big red maple that grew in our front yard in Troy, the one we named “Spook,” the one we used to climb and call out foolishness to people on the street below who couldn’t see us because Spook’s leaf-cover was too thick.  Driving with my bad navigating on the day he, Fox and I had the first Family Adventure trying to make our way upstate to visit our father before he died.   How proud I was to see him perform in “Kid Purple” at NYU.  How he arranged for his fabulously-dramatic, film noir, femme fatale Austrian girlfriend to meet me in the airport in Vienna so I could arrive to a familiar face.  How he kept snapping picture after picture after picture of me when I gave my first reading at Cornelia Street Café, making me laugh and forget how nervous I was (well, you know, that and the double shot of tequila Fox handed me when it looked like I was going to spontaneously combust from terror).  His excellent, celebrity-making performance as The Preacher in our high school production of Tommy (no, I’m not kidding … he was so cool talk-singing his way through Eyesight to the Blind).

You know, to name a few …

He’s my brother and I love him fiercely.  We don’t always agree.  We don’t get to see each other as much as I’d like.  He can still crack me up with silly things from childhood.  He makes me smile when I see how strongly he loves his kids.  He’s my brother and today’s his birthday, so I thought it was time to bring him out of the shadows and onto the blog.

From another favorite series of mine, the famous Land of Make Believe series.  We’re eight and six and Fox is on the scene by this time, though she’s still an infant … and this is the first time I’m noticing that whatever’s growing outside that window is coming for us!


And, even though it’s not as funny as hearing Tony and I sing it, I couldn’t resist: