Call me by … my job’s name?

I had a meeting today with a friend who works for a partner agency. We needed to review some work we’d done on some grant applications. At one point we were talking about being mistaken for other people — something that had just happened to us both — and she commented on the fact that there are so many folks with my name working in our relatively small circle.

It’s surprisingly true. I have gone through most of my life knowing hardly any other people with my name. Years ago, the Fed Ex man who delivered to my office was named Stacy, and he thought our having the same name was hilarious. But he was really it, no one else sharing my name.

And then I came here, and I was suddenly surrounded. There was one fabulous moment when I was walking into a building with a Stacy and a friend who is a Stacie, and someone behind us called our name — she had spotted Stacy and wanted to say hi. She called our name, and we all turned in a perfectly choreographed move and said, in unison, “Yes?” So there were those two women, but there were also three others in other agencies that I work with and one in a program for helping high-skilled immigrants find work in their fields, and one who worked for one of the Deputy Mayors. So many!

So my friend commented on the abundance of Stacie-ness and said that her big concern was that she would spell one of our names wrong in an email, especially mine, as the others are all “y” or “ey” people (my dear “ie” friend has moved to Texas).

She found a helpful mnemonic for spelling my name correctly, however, and I couldn’t love it more. The initiative I have spent the most time working on since taking this job is integrated education and training, a little something we call “bridge” around here. It’s all about offering adult basic education or English language instruction combined with occupational skills training, helping people move more quickly toward their employment goals. My first 18 months on the job, I presented about bridge all over the place. I was the one-woman bridge roadshow. I even made a slide for a presentation that featured a cartoon me asking a lot of the questions I heard from people who weren’t sure what bridge was:

bridge image

I very much want to be all about integrated education and training, want to eat, drink, and sleep it. That would make me happy, would be a real mark of a job well done for me.

What does any of this have to do with my name? When she needs to write me and wants to be sure she’s got the correct spelling, my friend says to herself: “Stacie — IE for Integrated Education.” It’s so perfect, so ridiculously fabulous, I can’t believe it never occurred to me! I’m done. Done. I love it like crazy.


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!

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Airing my dirty laundry …

At the end of December, I moved house. Goodbye to the many-splendored joys of living in Crown Heights, and hello to … Sunset Park! I’ve moved to south Brooklyn, to a neighborhood with which I already have a love relationship, having worked here happily for a dozen years. Sunset Park is a wonderful community. And my apartment is beautiful. And I have unobstructed views from my windows to let in sunlight and starshine and all of that.

BUT

My heart remains … if not fully broken, then still badly bruised. I realized just before Christmas that my response to having to leave my Crown Heights home was translated in my body to the response I have after a break up. I was grieving a lost love, licking my wounds, crying myself a river. Leaving Crown Heights was breaking my heart.

I wish I’d figured that out sooner. My move would have been far less difficult. All the while I was pining, I wasn’t doing any packing. So I didn’t start getting shit into boxes until three days before the move. Seriously. Three days. To pack a large apartment with a 10-year accumulation of mess.

Predictably, I failed. And failed on a luminously-technicolor scale. The movers arrived on the morning of the 30th, and maybe a hair more than half my house was ready to go. When that happens, what it means is that the movers pack your stuff. When that happens, what it means is that your things go into giant boxes any which way, and there’s no handy labeling of anything so you end up not knowing where things are.

It also means I let the truck head for the new place knowing that I hadn’t packed much of the kitchen or finished the closets in my bedroom or front hall. And that was stupid, but I just couldn’t bear to take any more time getting things in the truck, couldn’t bear to have strangers—men—pack my clothes, my underwear and bras. Couldn’t bear to have them handling my world of purses and scarves, my jewelry.

When that happens, it means you spend the better part of the next two days schlepping back to your old apartment to pack the things you left behind and cart those things in (expensive) cabs to your new apartment.

Sigh.

This was the worst move of my life. No question.

There’s one way this move could have gone more smoothly. Many friends offered to help me pack. They understood that I didn’t have much time between signing my lease and move-in day, and some of them knew I have a shoulder injury that would make packing difficult. So they stepped up.

I turned them all down.

I had so many reasons. I wanted to be able to sort through everything, do some enormous culling of my possessions so I could move with less stuff. I wanted to have the boxes organized and carefully labeled. Also, and most importantly, I totally underestimated the amount of stuff I own … which happens when you’re not paying full attention because you’re busy grieving your lost love. When everything’s put away, it doesn’t look like all that much. Start pulling things out of cabinets and cubbies … and you suddenly have ten fucking years’ worth of accumulate to somehow cram into far too few boxes.

But all of this—while also true—is just the story I told myself about why I couldn’t accept help. The real story is uglier, sadder.

*

I recently contributed an essay to Wendy Angulo’s “Lifting the Burden of Shame” project. Very specifically, I wrote about the shame I was taught to feel about being Black. So much of that essay seemed to fall out of my pen. But there was also the part that snuck up on me and smacked me upside the head … with a sledgehammer.

I thought I was aware of the ways and places shame manifested in my life. The ways and places it still manifests in my life. Writing that essay showed me how wrong I was, how sneaky and insidious shame is. That sounds obvious, but it surprised me all the same.

Writing that essay and then getting myself moved also made me think of Cisneros’ “A Smart Cookie” in The House on Mango Street, of Esperanza’s mother stirring oatmeal at the stove, angry, saying, “Shame is a bad thing, you know. It keeps you down.” So far down. So firmly down. So adeptly down that you don’t notice the damage until someone or something slaps you hard enough to wake you up, force you to see the hole you’ve allowed yourself to dig, the dirt and leaves you’re covering yourself with.

 

Yeah. What does this have to do with the hell of my moving? Everything. Every last thing. I couldn’t accept anyone’s offer of help because of shame, because I didn’t want any of those people—my friends—to see me.

People think they know me. I’m a middle-aged Black woman with a fair amount of education, a sense of humor, some creative skills. But I’m like Dorian Gray and his creepy-ass portrait, looking good on the outside … but behind the scenes I’m all chaos and disaster, oozing noxious slime. Behind the scenes is the real me, and the real me is a mess.

To let people come help me pack would have meant letting them see the slovenly way I keep house, letting them see that I am a borderline hoarder, letting them see how not at all together I actually am. It was easier to have the worst move of my life, to spend hundreds of dollars I couldn’t afford on cabs than to expose my shamefully disorganized, dirty, disgusting underbelly to people who like and respect me.

*

Was my shame-induced hiding successful? Of course not. Yes, the movers got to see me, but they were strangers I’d never see again, so I could manage the mortification their judgment caused. No. One of my friends came on moving day morning, and instead of helping oversee the move-in end of things, she wound up spending hours—HOURS—packing, seeing my mess, dealing with dirt and trash.

My heart ached the whole time. How was our friendship supposed to survive everything she had to see?

I tried talking to my mom about it the next day when she asked why I hadn’t invited help. She told me, unsurprisingly, that I was being overly hard on myself, that everyone has dirt and dust behind their bookcases, that no one’s house looks good when you start stripping away the decorative distractions. And I love her for that … but I don’t think she understood the true state of my apartment.

This terror of having anyone see my filthy house, it’s more than just shame. It feels connected to Impostor Syndrome. I present as someone who has her shit more or less together, and letting people see how badly I keep house lays bare that lie, makes plain just how much I don’t have together, opens the door to questions about what else in my life is in utter disarray, what else in my life I’m lying about.

 

Welp. My ugly secret is exposed. As he wheeled my bed down the hall to my new bedroom, the mover looked at me and nodded. “This is a nice apartment,” he said. I could imagine the rest of his thought: “And you’re going to fill it with crap and keep it as badly as you did the old one, aren’t you?”

*

So I’m in my new apartment, in my new neighborhood. I finally finished the move last weekend, bringing the final things from the old place, and I have begun to settle in—my kitchen is unpacked, I’ve broken down a bunch of boxes, my cats no longer spend hours in hiding. It’ll be a long time before I begin to feel settled. How long will it be before I begin to root out and deal with my shame? Unpacking is slow and exhausting. Eradicating shame is work. But it’s clearly time I got down to it.

Meeting old friends for the first time.

Lucky happy day, this. My lunch hour was spent with Bonnie and Tara! I’ve been reading both of their blogs for such a long time that it seems impossible that we haven’t actually met in person. And now it is impossible because we have met! My excellent slicing friends came into Manhattan today and met me for lots of conversation and a yummy lunch.

This is only the fourth time in ten years that I’ve met someone I know from blogging. And, as with each of those other times, it has pleased me enormously. I like that, after reading bits and pieces of someone else’s life over a period of years, I feel so completely familiar with them. Yes, there is still a moment of, “Oh, how nice to meet you!” formality, but then it drifts away and you remember that you already know so much about the other person, that you have known them for so long. Of course, there are so many things you don’t know about one another, but writing has knitted you together quite comfortably.

I left Bonnie and Tara to head back to my office while they headed off to find a place to write together. That pleased me (and made me wish I could go off to write with them, too!). I’m looking forward to our next meeting!

We’re grainy (and I’m annoyingly slouchy), but happy!



It’s Slice of Life Tuesday! Click through to see what the other slicers are up to this week!

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.



K is for: O’Keeffe

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.



I is for: Insta-stories

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!)