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Posts Tagged ‘choose your own adventure’

“Land is power.” Ruby McGee

Tonight I had the distinct pleasure of watching an amazing documentary, Dirt and Deeds in Mississippi. It tells another amazing “hidden figures” kind of story, some Black history that was rolled up in cotton wool and tucked way out of sight. In this case, the story of Black land-owning farmers and the role they played in the fight for rights — civil, voting, human — in Mississippi. It is an eye-opening, painful, powerful, important document of history. I could watch it on a loop for days.

Ruby McGee was the first Black person to be registered to vote in her county. Today, she owns and operates the family tree farm that gave her the freedom to take some of the chances she took as a young woman, that enabled her parents to run a Freedom School. She talks about what being a landowner gave her, says that it meant she didn’t have to work in white people’s kitchens. She talks about the idea of “knowledge is power” … and says no, “Land is power.”

And that resonated so deeply in my chest. I wanted to clap my hands and shout, “Yes!” It reminded me:

Got land to stand on,
then you can stand up,
stand up for your rights
as a woman, as a man.

“Achin’ for Acres” by Arrested Development was about exactly this, the power of owning where you live, owning the ground beneath your feet.

And it reminded me of my sadness, my personal heartache when family land has been lost, on my mother’s side, on my father’s. Those are pieces of ourselves we can never get back. I feel the empty spaces left by each even now, years later.

It reminded me of something I heard John Boyd Jr. say a while ago in an NPR profile piece: all of us are no more than two generations removed from somebody’s farm.

It reminded me of Constance Curry’s amazing book, Silver Rights, also about Mississipi.

This movie touched so many chords. And it spilled over into tonight’s chōka.

I have so much pride
seeing my ancestors fight
seeing them stand up
refusing to cave, to give.
This is what it means:
strength, power, faith, love, honor.
This is who we are,
fierce, unendingly stubborn
and sure. Sure of us,
sure of the fact we were right.
Sure that — live or die — we’d win.

My family isn’t from Mississippi — at least no one I’ve found yet — but Dirt and Deeds felt like home all the same.

_____

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.



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I had another long overdue friend date tonight. Make that L-O-N-G overdue. I met up with Michele, someone I hadn’t seen since I was in my early 20s. For realz.

I was nervous, waiting for her. What if we couldn’t find a way to talk or be comfortable with one another, what if being friends in our teens wouldn’t translate into being friends in middle age, what if?

(I will be honest and say up front that there aren’t a lot of folks I knew in my teens who I would risk meeting today. I knew Michele was one of those few I’d be safe meeting, but I was still nervous.)

But then I looked up and she was walking toward me, and I knew we would be fine. Her face, that smile. And then we were hugging and laughing, and there we were, just talking and talking.

Great evening. And a great exhibit that I need to go see again, take a closer look.

_____

Reunion

With so much to say —
all the years in between us,
the years to catch up,
all the things to remember.
Story on story,
a jumbled, hurried telling
decades in hours,
an ever-pouring fountain.
This conversation
interrupted by our lives,
floods back with a welcome ease.

No envoi on this one. I thought it was going to fall into place, but the poem clearly had other ideas. I think the poem works well enough without the envoi, but I miss it, miss the rhythm of having that final tanka.

_____

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.



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April 1st was the 24 Hour Project. I had the pleasure of participating with my IRL and blog friend, Raivenne. We met up in a cold, rainy, windy Times Square and set off. Our first stop was to buy a hat for ridiculous me who’d left hers home and forgotten to zip the hood onto her coat. Can you say “foolish”? Once I was properly hatted, we were ready.

My Saturday had other plans crammed into it: a Girls Write Now genre workshop with my mentee, a friend date for lunch with some VONA loves I hadn’t seen in forever, and a coworker’s improv show. All of it found its way into the Project, my picture of my city for one day in this year.

As I did both of the last years, I wrote mini stories for nearly every photo I posted. It’s what did when I first started on Instagram, use my photos like Duane Michals, like prompts, illustrations. I’ve gotten a little rusty, though. I had a hard time calling stories out of the ether this time. I’ll need to stay in practice so next year’s Project is easier.

Yes, I’m already thinking about next year. I hope Raivenne’s ready!

And now, without further ado, here are the pictures and stories.

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Spinning Yarns

I tell stories, lies,
made up worlds, dramas, joys.
Characters light up,
dance their tales across the page,
show me where to turn,
how to tell, what’s next to show.
Living in moments,
flashes of bright narrative
gleaming, line by line …
on to the next and again.
A new story. Keep spinning.

_____

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.

(Also, Raivenne wrote an arun! It’s not her first one, but I’m always surprised to happen upon one, out there in the wild, off the tip of someone else’s pen. I made a form!)



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My lazy effort of last night made clear how much I don’t yet know about the chōka … and I need to find out if I have any chance of making it through this month. Back to The Google I went today for a little research

My first surprise was finding that the length of this form isn’t set. The poems I’ve been writing are, in fact, the shortest form of chōka. The stacking of five- and seven-syllable lines atop one another can just go on and on until they are cut off by that final extra seven. If I wrote the syllable counts from the point of view of my rusty math knowledge, I might write it this way:

In other words, the five- and seven-syllable couplets could go on and on to create super-long poems. The final seven-syllable line is like the full-stop that ends the poem. (I know it’s entirely ridiculous that I just tried to use math to explain the pattern of this poem … and I know that there are other ways to illustrate a repeating decimal, but the little line is what I was taught — was that Miss Leuchten who taught me that? — and I’m sticking to it!)

In a long chōka, the final 5-7-5-7-7 began to be used as an envoi, a final stanza to comment on or encapsulate the whole poem. Good envois began to stand alone as poems … creating the tanka! WAIT. Let me say that again. Good envois began to stand alone as poems … creating. the. TANKA!! How excellent to find that this form I’ve chosen is the parent form of the tanka. Isn’t research cool?

This last bit explains so much about the tanka. It’s supposed to express a full moment or emotion, and that started because it was drawing an end to a poem that could have been as long as a hundred lines.

I’ve also done some chōka reading — ha! maybe should have started with that before writing, eh? — and that’s been illuminating, too. Seeing the ways the chōka almost tell a story and seem like a kind of prose poem in that way gives me ideas, gives me something to think about as I try moving forward with this form.

Today’s Poetic Asides prompt is to write a “discovery” poem, which is funny to see in light of everything I learned on my fact-finding mission.

Discovery

Flexing my muscles
trying to forge a place, here —
across new landscape,
wide, unknown territory.

I’m stretching, stretching.

It’s nervous-making and strange
but I’m determined.
Unsure what to hope to find
to keep my eye on
what patch of ground to reach for

I stutter and stop
and again, stutter and stop.

Searching, I’m kept whole
to wander, wonder, look
to try, keep pushing
the pen always in my hand
my willingness held open.

I don’t know if the skipped lines or spaces are allowed, but I went with them anyway. I certainly like this better than the last couple of attempts. Reading more about the chōka has made me more curious to keep at it this month, see what I can come up with.



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Yesterday was the 24 Hour Project, and I was lucky enough to have my friend Raivenne join me! I’ll put my pics together to share later this week. Suffice it to say that I am exhausted today, beat to the last thread of my socks. And my knee has so many unprintable things to say about me right now. Taking on that challenge was fun, though, and the pain will pass. But, because I was so wrung out yesterday, so other things fell by the wayside. Hence my “A day late” title.

It’s April 2nd, and that means I’m a day into National Poetry Month … and nary a poem written. I thought I might manage one yesterday while I was out and about for the 24 Hour Project, but that proved too much for my super-tired self, so I let it go. And now here I am, trying to catch up on day 2 … not just with my 30/30, but with the A-to-Z challenge as well.

Because I need more writing challenges in my life.

I haven’t made any decisions about a form for this month. Today I have a Zeno that I started on the bus yesterday. Around 5am, Raivenne and I went to my office — we needed to charge our phones, sit in warmth, and use the facilities. The security guard on duty when we arrived, had some beautiful yarn in front of her, and — although she’d given us quite the fish eye when we first walked into the building (it was 5am, after all) — the moment we started exclaiming over her pretty work, we had a very different conversation! After Rai and I parted for the morning, I was on the bus and this poem started trying to be something in my already-sleepy brain.

(A Zeno has a syllable pattern of 8/4/2/1/4/2/1/4/2/1 and a rhyme scheme of a/b/c/d/e/f/d/g/h/d.)

Handmade

She is stitching for her mother.
Unspooling yarn,
her hands
sift
through soft colors,
twist and
lift,
braiding beauty
and love.
Gift.

She was sweet, the security guard, told us that she used to make cards for her mother with artwork and pretty designs, and that she hadn’t made anything in a while and so decided to make her a scarf. And the yarn was some really fun, slubby, multi-colored business that her mom is sure to love.

And, because today on Robert Lee Brewer’s page the prompt is to write a “not today” poem and that fits with how I’m feeling after my 24 Hours, I’ve scribbled up a little tanka for my second poem:

Not Today

Sunday plans cast off —
laundry, errands, all the things.
I am not moving,
not thinking, not doing, not.
Focused inward, refueling.

And I’m all caught up with my poems!



 

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What I wanted to write was “Gratitude³¹” but apparently I can only do that in the body of my blog post, not the title. (I am learning to live with the disappointment.)

It’s the end of March, the end of the 10th Annual Slice of Life Story Challenge. And I have made it here once again. Made it here for the 10th time in a row.

Today I’m going to bed in the middle of the afternoon so that I can get as much sleep as I can before I have to head out at 11pm to catch a bus and then a train and head into Manhattan to start the midnight-to-6am leg of the 24HourProject.

But before all of that, there is this: my final slice for this March challenge. I thought I’d end this month of slices with a list.

So here, on this 31st day of March in 2017, are 31 things I  am grateful for:

  1. The chance to rediscover favorite slicers from years past
  2. The chance to discover and get to know new slicers
  3. The chance to see how everyone’s kids have grown since the last slicing challenge
  4. The excellent reminder of how much I am inspired by reading other people’s work
  5. The reminder of how powerful it is to write every day
  6. The surprise of realizing that I actually can write every day – even when I’m tired, even when I’m cranky, even when I feel as if my mind is entirely blank when I sit down in front of the empty page
  7. The lead-in the slicing challenge gives me to the dramatic terror that is about to be National Poetry Month
  8. The fun of writing with my mentee every week
  9. My determination to get through the #52essays2017 challenge even though I’ve already fallen behind
  10. My mom, who is very cute, evidenced by the envelope that arrived in my mailbox the other night … an envelope that contained coupons for the kind of food my cats like
  11. My mom, who is full of love for me all the time, even when I’m whiny or tired, even when I’m a slug and don’t call as often as I should, even when I tease her for sending me cat food coupons
  12. My new knees, which have finally turned the corner toward more healed than healing
  13. My new knees that don’t make that weird percussive noise they used to make
  14. My new knees that made it through the winter without any slips and falls
  15. My heart, which didn’t stop working when things went wonky with it this summer
  16. My heart, which is now bionic/Borg, with its shiny new microchip
  17. (My microchip that looks kind of like a tiny harmonica)
  18. My heart, which is transmitting to the cloud even as I type this
  19. The end of the season of surgeries
  20. The conversations I get to have with my super-woke coworker who helps keep me focused on the day-to-day fight, not just the big-picture battles
  21. My other coworkers who are in these conversations with us, who make me happy that I work with people I can have these conversations with
  22. The outrageousness of chocolate geodes
  23. My old computer, which — after the great my-time-here-is-done debacle of Thanksgiving 2016 — kept working until I finally got my act together to get a new one
  24. My new computer, which is sleek and fine and fully functional
  25. Being introduced to the Bullet Journal, which has helped me focus on my 400,000 to-dos and plans in a more helpful way
  26. My sister, whose birthday is today and who I’ll get to see over Easter!
  27. My sister, who is the best friend I’ve ever had
  28. My sister, who shares my warped humor and always gets me
  29. My sister, who can laugh and laugh over just a snippet of memory from past nonsense (“Hey, Mommy, how d’you like your steak?”)
  30. My sister, who introduced me to Habitica, a fun way to keep me working on the things I need to get done
  31. You, dear reader, who do me the honor of stopping by to visit, to read, to comment … Thank you! I appreciate all of you!


It’s the final day of the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices!

Get ready for poetry!!

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Determined to write more than two sentences tonight, I went back through the daily writing prompts that Lisa (aka Satsumaart) sent me a couple of years ago to see what would catch my eye. The first prompt I saw had me composing my post even before I clicked onto this page: Moving

I’ve moved a lot. I moved once a year for the first six years that I lived in New York. I once moved after only nine months.  I hate moving house, and yet nothing seemed strange about the fact that I was changing apartments so often.

The place a moved to from my mother’s house was an apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, on the edge of Chinatown. An apartment I shared with a friend and a guy I didn’t know who was eventually swapped out for a woman I didn’t know. It was a great place — an almost 1600sf loft with lots of sunlight and a roof we could hang out on. I loved living down there, but I left so I could look for a place my sister, Fox, and I could share. I found a big, cheap, two-bedroom apartment in Washington Heights: $50 less rent than I’d been paying for my one room on Ludlow Street! That was when we started calling ourselves The Poverty Twins. We had so much nothing. One chair, futons on the floor, my old stereo, and the cast iron skillet we found in the apartment. We were a little pathetic, but we had a good time living there, a good time living together. We left when we learned that we were living above drug dealers who didn’t hesitate to murder one neighbor as an object lesson for the rest of us. That was a lesson we learned quickly. We moved to Brooklyn.

That first Brooklyn apartment remains, to this day, the biggest, most extraordinarily beautiful place I’ve lived.  It was the bottom 2/3 of a house. The house was bigger than a brownstone, maybe half again as wide, and Fox and I had the parlor floor, the ground floor, the basement and the back yard (complete with grape vines!). We had more room than our furniture-less selves knew what to do with: two bedrooms, living room, formal dining room, sun porch, and mud room. We had ceiling fans, built in book shelves and desks in the bedrooms, decorative and working fireplaces and a fabulously-appointed kitchen with an extra large fridge, tons of cabinet space, windows onto the back yard and counter space for miles (seriously, about fifteen feet of counter, plus an extra little 2-foot side counter and a counter top in the pass-through to the dining room that was bigger than the entire cook space in Jill Santopietro’s kitchen 4b cooking videos). We also had what a friend of mine called a “love-making tub” … a big, jacuzzi-like thing in a room with dark wood and slate-tiled walls and little sconces with soft-glowing bulbs that were great for ambiance (but crap for putting on make up).

I was hugely spoiled by living in that house.  I love where I live now, but I still think longingly of all the space I had there, of the craziness of our grapevines taking over the yard, of having our first Christmas tree (a tall, half-spindly thing that we made all the decorations for, including popcorn garlands), of how at home I felt immediately. Of how comfortable we were living there with all that space we didn’t need (we had two large rooms we never even used, that’s how much too much space we had).

We didn’t want to leave that place, but any thought of putting down roots were quashed almost immediately when our new landlords told us they wanted to sell. When we left, Fox moved to Eastern Parkway, and I moved across the street to my first on-my-own apartment. That apartment was a hot mess: fleas, collapsing walls, corroded plumbing, strangers with keys (a scary, early morning discovery!) and some creeping brown sludge that bubbled up from the baseboards and ruined my futon. That was the nine-months place … and only my complete lack of money made my occupancy last so long. I couldn’t afford to move.

When I finally left, I moved to a place on Lafayette that I really liked. That was the first apartment in which I had the thought of actually settling. I had good landlords — kind, considerate, attentive to problems — and the place got lots and lots of wonderful light. There wasn’t even half enough closet space for a near-hoarder like me, the floors slanted, and the bathroom was small and awkward and shower-only. Still. I loved it there. I had good neighbors, had both north and south-facing windows, including a room-wide picture window with a nice sitting ledge that the cats and I enjoyed equally. I probably could have lived there happily for years. It looked like this:

Two closets? And not even big closets? As if that would ever have worked for me. So that little room on the side, instead of being my bedroom, which would have made all the sense in the world, became my storage room. The room at the top was my giant I-could-cook-for-an-army-in-here kitchen, and the picture window room was my everything else room. I kept thinking of things I would do to make the place more like home: build an island for the kitchen, get bookshelves, paint, get carpeting, unpack the little room and set it up as my writing/craft space … so many plans that came to nothing. I unpacked hardly anything, and then it was time to move. A friend got me interested in the idea of sharing an apartment, and I liked the thought of paying less rent, so I left my pretty, sunny little place behind.

Next, it was on to Eastern Parkway (Fox had already left for Park Slope). My friend and I found a place right across from the Botanic Garden. I enlisted my brother and sister-in-law’s help, hired a man with a van (a funny Russian guy I got along with so well my brother thought he was a friend, not a hired hand) and schlepped my life over to a big duplex apartment with two bathrooms and a garden. The entrance was into the upper floor. My room mate took the bedroom on that level, a space she shared with the kitchen, bathroom and our living/dining room. Downstairs was a huge open space with a smaller, shower-only bathroom and the door leading to the garden. I took that space for my room. We had some wacky notion that we would eventually set things up so that we had a living room area downstairs, too, but in my heart I knew that was never going to happen. That would have meant I was living in public, and I wouldn’t have liked that. Basically we shared the upper floor, and I kept the downstairs to myself. A very uneven distribution of territory. I also got the garden, but that was mostly because I was the only one interested in working it.

After 18 months of swanky duplex living, an out of town friend came to visit and when I brought her down to my space, she gave me a funny look, asked how long I’d been living there. When I told her, she shook her head. This is kind of how our conversation went:

“Why haven’t you unpacked?”

“What are you talking about?  Of course I’ve unpacked.”

“Stacie.  Look around.  This space is full of boxes.”

“Oh that.  I just haven’t gotten to that yet.”

“In all the years I’ve known you, I’ve never seen you unpacked.  What do you think that’s about?”

In that moment, I thought it was about her being nuts. Of course I’d unpacked in every placed I’d lived … except then I thought about it and realized how very much that wasn’t true. Not only was I moving like I had the law on me, I was keeping my life in boxes so I’d be ready for the next move. So I freed my possessions. That was the first apartment into which I fully moved … and then I only stayed there another year and a half before moving to Park Slope. Fox had moved to DC, and I moved into her old apartment, with her old room mate.

I almost let myself believe that I’d learned my lesson about unpacking, that I should stay in boxes because obviously I was going to keep moving. Instead, I forced myself to unpack, to set up my bookshelves and find places on them for all my stuff. And I stayed there for about five years, so it was good to be unpacked, to walk into my rooms at night and see all my stuff.

After that it was a move downtown to a too-small apartment into which I should never have moved. I entered that place under a cloud: one of my cats had just been euthanized, my decision to move had put a strain on one of my best friendships, I’d just broken up with my crazy Russian boyfriend, my awful mover couldn’t get the job done until after midnight — which meant that, even before I was in the apartment, I’d had a fight with one of my new neighbors. I closed the door at the end of the move-in and sat down and cried.

I was never able to unpack in there. It was too small to hold all my things — I’d exiled almost all of my furniture to a storage unit in Vinegar Hill, and there wasn’t enough space to unpack the things I kept with me. I did the best I could, but still felt like I was living out of boxes. I hated that place, and yet I was there the longest I’d lived anywhere since leaving my family. Years of living in a place I hated simply because I couldn’t bear the thought of another move.

And now I’m here. While it’s true that I wouldn’t have found this  apartment if I’d left the last one any sooner, finding a place as nice as this one makes me that much more sad to have stayed in the last one as long as I did. But now I’ve lived here longer than any place since leaving home, and that feels just right.

Have I settled in here? Let’s see: I rescued all my furniture from storage (full disclosure: I opened that storage unit door and almost cried to see my things after seven years away from them!), I’ve bought book shelves, arm chairs and … a sleeper sofa! In my mind, that last is a real indicator of making the place you live into a home, having a sofa and having the ability to comfortably host sleepover guests must mean you have a real home, yes?



It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices!

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