Undertow

Here’s the second of the poems I wrote while on my way to Homer. I had a L-O-N-G layover in Anchorage, more than seven hours (!!), which gave me a lot of time to do something to keep myself awake. I was ridiculously tired, up for almost 24 hours by the time I got in from Seattle, but I knew I couldn’t curl up and take a nap as I saw so many other people doing. I’d have slept right past my departure time! So I listened to music, listened to The Read, walked around … and wrote some sleepy-brained poetry.

Undertow 

The ocean decides: swim or drown? Water carries you.
She can wave you to safety or suck you down. Water carries you. 

You trust her with your breath, your fragile, breakable bones.
Your body is both lost and found. Water carries you.

In my heart, fear and love are coupled for the sea.
She smiles, swirling her gown – water carries you.

I could live in her, tell stories of her beauty –
cajole her out of her frown, water carries you.

And I, Stacie, hold my fascination for her --
stand ready to polish her crown. Water carries you.

This might be the last of the ghazals that I post. I have one more that was written during that layover in Anchorage, but it’s sooo rough, so clearly written with the most exhausted part of my brain. We’ll see.

Choices, Decisions … Defiance

I didn’t write 30 poems in April. Trying to get ready to leave my job for two weeks and then spending the last two days of the month traveling added to the fact that the ghazal was driving me crazy meant not hitting my mark. I did write more poems than I posted, however. I had over nine hours of layover time between my stops in Seattle and Anchorage, and I wrote a little. So here’s the first poem. I started this one in the Seattle airport and finished it on the flight to Anchorage.

Oscillation 

Indecision is my middle name, up in the air.
The road not taken calls my name, up in the air.

What's the secret to choosing a path, staying the course?
Choices delayed are a losing game, up in the air.

Today I felt my mind drain, blanked of every thought:
abject panic, time I can't reclaim. Up in the air.

Everything I'm doing feels wrong, leaves me rootless, at sea.
I need some kind of structure, a frame. Up in the air.

If I, Stacie, could break this code, find clarity, peace.
I'd be changed, never again the same up in the air 

Even after letting it marinate for a few days, I’m no closer to being enamored. The ghazal is really, really and truly, not the form for me. I was so sure we would click because I love a form with built-in repetition … but no. Running head-long into a form I can’t take in is when I feel it’s most evident that I’m not a poet. Which is silly, of course, because there’s no generally-accepted idea that all poets must be able to write all forms. I mean … of course. But there’s something about hitting that wall that feels like being told to stay in my lane.

But I like not doing what I’m told, so … I guess I’ll keep writing these bad poems. See if I don’t.

One from Column A and One from Column B …

I like lists. There used to be a blog with that name years ago, and I was instantly drawn to it. I have always been a list-maker. Yes for the obvious things — groceries, daily tasks, packing for vacation. But also for just about anything else. If I have to think about something, my first move is usually to make a list … and sometimes to make two, to make the dreaded pro-and-con list.

I once made some crazy huge lists. Huge because I wrote them on giant chart paper and hung them up on my kitchen walls. This was years ago as I was prepping for my first knee surgery. I had a lot of things I needed to do to be ready for surgery, to get my house ready for me to be some degree of debilitated after surgery, to get loose ends at work tied up so I could ignore my job for weeks during the first part of my recuperation. I needed a series of lists, one for each area of work. And I needed the lists to be big and in my face, hence the chart paper. My kitchen looked pretty comical. And for a long time. The lists kept growing. I had three lists, but each list had two and then three sheets of chart paper.

It looked crazy, but it also made me happy. I could see my work laid out so clearly in front of me … even as the “work” started to look overwhelming and ridiculous.

I’ve mentioned my list love before, written about my foray into bullet journaling. I am still keeping a journal (and still using my bullet journaling as an excuse to buy way more pens and notebooks than I could ever actually need or use).

Today I started to make a list that started off so normal, so manageable … and then it went off the rails. My list has now spread across eight pages of my journal — two columns per page! I’m obviously out of control. I flipped through the pages tonight, and realized a few things (yes, I’m going to make a list!):

  • Sometimes making lists gets in the way of actually doing things.
  • I wish there was a magical tool I could be using that would let me take my crazy-long list and instantly categorize and organize it so it looks les like madness and more like a plan.
  • If I have this many things on a to-do list, what the hell am I actually doing with my time?
  • Do I really believe all the things on this monster list need to be done?
  • Is this list so long because I’ve been procrastinating … or have I been procrastinating because I have so many things to do and couldn’t figure out where to start? (In which case, my insane list will actually help me get started?)

Happily, I don’t have any chart paper these days, so my kitchen — and the rest of my house — is safe for now.


It’s the 15th 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

The Quantum of Worst

Last night I was part of an IRL reading for the first time since before Covid. I read with Big Words, Etc., a series that has definitely become my reading home over the last several years. It was wonderful to see Stacey and Jess, the hosts, and to see some of the Big Words regulars.

I gave a few readings on zoom during the height of the pandemic, and all of them were great. It was nice to be able to be in the space with other writers and share my work. Being in person is something else entirely, of course. Getting to interact with the audience is one of my favorite things about reading. I’m always super nervous (“terrified” is a more accurate descriptor) , and getting to laugh with the audience helps so much. And there was plenty of that last night, which made me super happy.

Add to that, a full moon, the discovery of a nice bar, hanging out with Red Emma, the sipping of a jalapeno-spiced mezcal drink, and getting to listen to stunning writing by and give farewell hugs to the wonderful Aimee Herman, and it was a pretty perfect night!

Big Words always has a theme, and last night’s theme was “The Worst Job Ever.” There was such a range of pieces to fit that subject! Here’s the piece I wrote to share:

The Quantum of Worst

I worked for small-time criminals the summer after my first year of college. Technically, they ran an import-export company, but their business was theft. They took merchandise from wholesalers, claimed never to have received it, then sold it. They took payments for merchandise and never shipped the goods. One of my jobs was to organize their file rooms … the one for lawsuits against them and the one for their counter suits.

What makes a job the worst job? I’ve been working more than 40 years. And some of those jobs have sucked dramatically. Some, in spite of their awfulness, also had aspects that were good or funny or nurturing in some way. What is the right equation of crap to equal “the worst”?

Those long-ago bosses — Jack and Charlie — weren’t just crooks. When we met, Charlie asked what college I went to … and then told me how many women from my college he’d had acrobatic, porn-star sex with, wondering if Sarah Lawrence girls had changed since his day. 

(I suspect they hadn’t changed, that no one at Sarah Lawrence or anywhere else would ever have been having any kind of sex with Charlie.)

My first morning, I got an office tour, a can of Lysol, and instructions to spray my desk, chair and phone every time I returned to my space. My coworker explained that Jack and Charlie used any unattended desk, saying: “You don’t want to touch things after Jack.” When I met Jack, I understood. He was visibly filthy, his odor preceding him into the room. I doubt Lysol fully eliminated the problem of him. And Lysol couldn’t do anything about the trail of dandruff Charlie left wherever he went. Both men were loud, sloppy eaters, coughing, laughing, and spitting into our phones as they ate. For a Virgo misophone whose primary trigger is eating noises, this was maybe enough to make this job the worst.

But it was a summer job. And I left after only a month. A few short weeks, and I walked out with a trove of crazy stories I’ve told for years. So was that really the worst? Shouldn’t the worst job be the worst for a better reason? Shouldn’t it be in my chosen field, make me question my career choice or become wary and bitter?

I’ve never worked in a more physically repugnant place, but morally repugnant? Yes. I have. That seems far worse. 

Jack and Charlie eventually went to prison. They stored volatile chemicals in a Bronx basement, creating a health hazard for the residents, and couldn’t counter-sue their way out of it. It was a fitting result for two entirely-terrible people.

Thinking about my crappy jobs and my good jobs that turned crappy … I realize I’ve been lucky. There’s been real crap — I was sexually harassed at one job, regularly discriminated against at another, ugly-fired from another — but I was able to grow and move forward. And, if not, I was able to pay my bills and sustain myself until I found something better.

 “Worst” is about pieces, moments, rather than whole situations. Yes, Jack and Charlie were a whole situation, but otherwise, I have been lucky, have found myself in safe environments, working with people who felt like family, doing work that pleased me … or all of that at once.

So I’m realizing that the critical element in the equation of “worst” … is me, that I can be the force multiplier that sends everything tumbling into the depths.

In my last job I worked with an unashamedly horrible woman. She wasn’t my boss but was central to my work. 

In a discussion about the use of new funding, she listened to the pitch for a job program for young people leaving the criminal justice system, rolled her eyes, and launched into a scathing take-down of the proposal, ending with: “We’re making jobs for little criminals now? We can’t make programs for good kids?” Even at my big age, I was naive enough to be stunned. But this is my worst-of-the-worst because of me. Force-multiplier me.

This happened after the ugly-firing. For the first time, I knew how disposable I was, how easily I could find myself in jeopardy. I had just repaid the borrowed money that floated me across the gap between severance and my new job. I knew how much I couldn’t afford to be out on my ass. That woman had that power, and that knowledge cowed me, showed me I could be made to silence myself when my voice was needed. 

Any version of me before and after that moment would have called that shit out. Wounded, vulnerable me felt fear and chose self-preservation. And while I could understand that choice, it made me sick. I’d spent years teaching the exact young people she was disparaging, championing them at every opportunity, but I didn’t stand up for them.

And there it is: not a question about my career choice, but about whether I had a right to the space I occupied. How did I merit a seat at that table if I couldn’t be who my students would have needed me to be, who I needed me to be? 

Jack and Charlie stole everything, stole at every opportunity. They were despicable and disgusting. But working for them couldn’t be my worst job. They didn’t mean anything. I laughed at them for the caricatures they were and walked away when I’d had enough. Nothing they did could have made me change or swallow who I was. But that “little criminals” moment. My silence in that moment stole me from myself, made me a person I didn’t like. 

There are plenty of jobs where the determination of best and worst wouldn’t come down to my actions alone. But I haven’t worked those jobs. My cushy employment life puts the onus on me. Today, two years into what I think of as my dream job, all this worst-job thinking clarifies for me how much the truth or not of how dreamy this job will be for me is mine to create. I like having that power. I hope I use it well.


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve kept working on personal essays, kept at my #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join, it’s never too late! Find the group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

Grading on the Curve

My no-longer-so-new job is the largest job I’ve ever had. It’s a job I wanted for several years before the opportunity to apply for it came along. I had some ideas about what the job would include, the kinds of work I’d be doing. And I figured there’d be a world of other things I hadn’t imagined. And I knew I’d have a lot to learn.

Right on all counts. Even the familiar things and the things I figured would be part of the job have presented plenty of mountains to climb in the need-to-learn category. I’ve spent the last 18 months on a learning curve with a broader, more sweeping arc than anything I’ve ever taken on.

All that learning, all that needing to learn, has made lots of room for La Impostora to stride in and get all up in my business. (If you are new to this page, La Impostora is my pet name for and personification of impostor syndrome. She and I have a long and unpleasant history.) And she has been riding shotgun with me since the day I accepted this job.

There is a large piece of my job that has been particularly difficult for me. It involves: 1) learning and understanding two sets of rules, 2) overlaying those rules on some moving parts that tend to move in completely non-complementary ways, 3) fitting the whole swirling chaos into a governing system the logic of which I am only made aware of when a) catastrophe is about to strike or b) catastrophe has already been precipitated by me. This piece of my job impacts every other piece of my job. This is where La Impostora comes to play.

This part of the work stresses me out and calls up all my doubts and fears, so of course it’s La Impostora’s favorite place to be. She has done a great job of reminding me of all the ways I don’t understand this critical piece of my job and how I am more likely to burn everything to the ground before actually learning how to do one part of it even passably well. (You can see why La Impostora is not exactly my favorite imaginary friend.)

This week, however, I tackled this aspect of my job in a way that bordered on capable. Because sometimes I can see La Impostora coming and I can shunt her off into a side room and bar the door. I can remember all the things I came into this job knowing and all the things I’ve learned since I got here. I can actually work through messy problems and find solutions and make disparate pieces function as parts of a whole. This week has surprised and pleased me by being full of moments like that, most particularly in this one super-stressful aspect of the work. I didn’t see it coming at the start of the week, and wouldn’t have guessed that it would keep up for the whole week, but here we are.

I have so much to learn in this job (I mean, SO MUCH), and not everything this week went swimmingly. But it always feels good to be able to turn down La Impostora’s loud, resonant voice, to be able to listen to my own voice. It feels good to see that I have been learning all this time, that I’m moving further in and farther up … that I’m on a curve, not a hamster wheel.


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