Thursday, September 11, 2014

Poem Fragment

One day you say,
Well, I guess I don’t need this anymore,
and you let go of the bracelets,
umbrellas, songs, the bright argument
of family and friends.

Your clothes hang, an idea,
an outline of the body you wore
and now shed — the ultimate
simplification! Subtraction.

Nylon stockings still hold
the shape of your legs.
From the fragranced drawer
they whisper,
All her steps were forward,
even her last.

--
I was writing to a friend recently about how my brain has been on some sort of extended summer vacation. Body has taken over and Brain just rides the Tilt-a-Whirl and Scrambler endlessly, shouting and whooping nonsense into the air. Brain likes all the swirly rides, and avoids anything with an extreme drop because it scares Heart. Brain has a crush on Heart. Heart keeps Brain at a safe distance because she thinks he's being a total rube. Body thinks she can think for herself. She trips a lot and skins her knees. Brain laughs a hearty boy laugh. Heart rolls her eyes.

Spring and summer were a blur of performances, a promotion to Mentor Artist through the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the completion of training with the Center for Creative Aging, a play produced, a father-in-law moved to a new home, some teaching of hoop and poetry. The fall offers a list of work in writing, some stage performances, hoop classes.  These jobs pay some bills. A few jobs are solidified, and others not - they are just up in the air. It's frustrating.

I have a collection of books with titles like "Wishcraft" and "344 Questions - the Creative Person's DIY Guide to Insight, Survival, and Artistic Fulfillment." The pages have folded corners and margin scribblings. Tucked into them are receipts for a wig or something frivolous for Body with a note written on the back of it. They offer comfort when I need time to focus. Which is now. Fall is a good time for answering a question like, "What is your Best Case Scenario?" and then pulling the lever on the Tilt-a-Whirl of summer so you can better hear what you really need.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

What do I look for as a reader, and what do I expect from myself as a writer?

When I read, I look for language that engages, that is verb-rich, and image-driven. I like humor and wordplay, but I also seek the metaphoric, and when I really enjoy writing the most it is when there is contrast, and an underlying message, a hidden key that my mind needs to find to unlock the meaning. I seek this in fiction, poetry, memoir, and plays. Meaning. It doesn’t have to be obvious, and I prefer when it isn’t. I like it when a writer trusts me as a reader to understand or make meaning. Tone can be humorous, obstreperous, sardonic, joyous. I expect sincerity in tone. Please don’t fake me out. Be genuine. Honest. I want to learn from what I’m reading. It can be a new word, or a way of folding a shirt, or a new perspective or opinion. Short, clear sentences engage me more than long rambly ones, and if a writer ends a sentence on the word “thereof” I am going to check out. The fragmentary intrigues me because I get to fill in the blanks. I love it when I read something and I think, “I could never do that!” because it challenges and inspires me as a writer. I know I’ve read a good book when I cry at the end – not for the content – but for the fact that I will never read the book the same way again.

When I write,  I want to connect with the reader, and I do my best to make that connection through clearly written observations. It isn’t always easy to be honest, writing the truth in memoir or poetry or a play, my truth, is difficult but it is the part of writing that I seek as a reader, so I expect it in myself. I expect to learn something when I write – about myself, about the world, about the way words click together or fall apart. I love it when I’m writing and something that wasn’t clear to me as I was writing suddenly surfaces, and it takes hold of the writing and states “I’m the theme.” Or, “Hey, metaphor here.” Surprise, surprise! I expect myself to be able to write to the point where that happens, to not give up, to be willing to let go for awhile and come back to it later to work on the craft of the language. I expect myself to work. Writing well is work. It’s excavation. If I’m only scratching the surface, I won’t discover any of what lies underneath, and neither will my readers. I expect to earn the understanding of my readers.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

There's a Unicorn in Here. It's Why I Perform.

It's 6 a.m. Glasses are necessary for me to see this thin line of eyelash glue. I tick off items on my mental checklist after I remove my specs and press a lash onto a crepey lid:

  • stuffed frog
    • lion
    • fox
  • dance ribbon
  • amp
  • 20 hoops
  • swivel chair
  • striped socks
  • sequin armbands
  • toy instruments
  • water bottle
It's all packed in my bag, and what doesn't fit will be lugged then tucked into the back of my VW Beetle. When I leave the apartment, I'm wearing butterfly leggings, cowboy boots, and the top half of a costume that was handmade by someone who can actually sew. As I drive to the school, I feel the familiar cloud of pre-show nerves that turn to half-hearted daydreams of having a job that doesn't include stuffed animals and hula hoops. I probably just need to hydrate a little more. I swig some water.

After I haul all my props to the gym and answer questions about my eyelashes to a lash-curious secretary, I get set up. The floor of the gym is my stage today. Three  hundred kids will sit behind the blue dashed line that marks the performance area. I rearrange the curtains that hide the stacks of gym mats and a large hockey goal cage, then set my props out. A parent volunteer introduces herself and her four year old son, who starts to climb all over the swivel chair. "Sorry, you can't play with that. I'm really sorry. I know it's tempting." I say. "Here buddy, take the Kindle," his mother says, and the boy parks himself against the wall with his digital dreampad. The stuffed frog and fox stare out at him with stitched on looks of "Are you flipping kidding us?"

I hate to admit it, especially to my impatient self, that I've been rehearsing the act I will perform at this school for a little over a month. Act development takes me forever. I love it, but I need time, and a lot of time, to create. Space. Plenty of room for screw-ups, flubs, bruises, popped off puffballs, getting stuck in hoop tangles, and complaining to my poor husband. Hours of videoing myself working the act. I share the rehearsal videos with my sister who I know I can trust for critical, honest, and very useful feedback. A sister will tell you when something isn't working. I develop the character, a little girl who has been banished to her room with her imagination, and create a 12 minute soundtrack. I polish the hoop choreography until my skeleton could dance it if my skin and muscles took off on a last minute vacation to Hawaii.

The boy with the Kindle is talking to it now. "I have gone to the most beautiful place! There's a unicorn in here!" His mother brings him over to the side of the stage where the amp sits. I've asked her to push play when I give her a nod from backstage. Kids file in from the hallway and sit by grade, the Kindergarteners in front. A few have spotted me waiting for my cue in the wings by the stack of gym mats and hockey goal cage.  The principal makes a few announcements, I give my nod, the soundtrack starts, and I'm on. They laugh and clap at the swimming on the swivel stool, the stuffed animals growling at my neck after I step on them too much, and during the hooping their "holy moly!" "this is so crazy!" and "ooooooohs!" push me further.

Two little girls break the ranks of dismissal after the show to say hello to me. "Hi! My name is Anna! This is Tristan! We love what you did with all of those hoops!" Their faces are so full of everything I remember about being eight years old. Total wonder. They look at me as if I'm a rockstar, and not some middle aged woman with a penchant for 70s sitcoms and chocolate chips. There is nothing like making other people happy. I've made 300 people happier this morning. Maybe even inspired a few. I have gone to the most beautiful place. There's a unicorn in here. That's why I do this.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Orion


You’re sure if you squinted at the stars enough
heaven might notice the trowels, spoons,
tiny coins left in the dirt where you once
buried the ashes of the family dog. Daffodils
and grape hyacinths sent up their
green apostrophes the following spring,
and you once found a ring in a gardening glove,
sure it was sent by your dead father.
Now you do everything with your father’s
shield and sword in your hands, as if he bequeathed
them to you and you hadn’t really just stolen them
from a hope chest to remember the quest
of his imagination. You are still so far from guessing
the true meaning, but can point at the constellations
and rename them all: Falstaff’s Wrinkle, Circular Bear,
Skeezix and Threnody. You have something
to get you home safe and sound. You have
a belt full of tools at your hip as you stand  
in the center of your triangle of fire.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Disaster

I know a lousy handshake
when I receive one, half-meant.
The unfocussed gaze. Not listening.
Or the hug that is so light I can feel
the chalk outline behind it.

It’s difficult to keep from falling
into the big black hole that hides
under all those metal plates
you see on the streets. To be swallowed
whole, to disappear, to drown
or be blown away by a gale-force
windbag you met at a university.

Unfair. Creating meaning requires
a good amount of just staring into the air. Time.
I like to build an act or a house of words
to walk through, a series of rooms
outfitted with damask and china,
then let neglect kill off all the plants.
Creak out empty nails from the walls where family
photos once hung. The windows were blown out
with buckshot that burst constellations of glass
on the floor, left shards and shadow.
An umbra that howls at night
so much it makes your knees jerk.

I think you have to add a lot first
in order to subtract.  Unless
you want to be a totally charming
but bad star in the field of creation.

Ask me when I am 90 what I loved most.
First I will tell you it was being held,
second, the slip of buttons through fingers,
then I will get lost in a spin of all there is to love,
a rambly multiverse that makes you wish for silence.
Ask and you'll receive a hug so hard you’ll feel
my whole life ahead.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Why It Isn't Spring Yet

Because we will it so. Because the song of traffic thrums
against the wrestle of city gristle and grime, disguised
and then revealed by March's greyed lens. Because we will it so.
There is a mansion of snow for the carnival players
who burn their scripts to improvise longing. Because we will it so.
Because a rose stampedes its red into the eye. Because paper,
when offered up for an autograph, deserves one, but not right away.
There is a pause. A breath. The absence glitters.
Because we will it so.

Friday, February 14, 2014

We Always Have Things To Do


for Maggie Estep

“I would not think to touch
the sky with two arms”
                                    - Sappho

Oh no, not like this, not yet, with prophetic weathermen
singing their dirges of ice. Winter’s closed off attitude –
blank space. The erasure of entire fields, faces lost to scarves,
elegant thoughts to scientific sacrifice.
I’m not sure if this is right,
or even if the thoughts were
that eloquent, and what’s wrong
with a little Bill Nye, some blood
in what feels like a bloodless art?

I’m not sure if this is any good.
I’m not sure. Here. What can you tell me?
I am sure that snow drifts,
and other people’s memories float
between my own: a Lego lodges
in my throat, I skate across the pond,
I once sang in an opera, added graffiti
to the dome of a courthouse.
I forget myself, windblown
in the stories of others. No,
I remake myself. No, that’s bullshit.
I re-forget myself by turning the page,
by hating what I love, all of it. The words
that pile up at my door, shivering,
and the ones that sit at the end of the bed, waiting
for me to line them up into meaning. Their eyes glow.
They snarl. Their teeth are lovely, see?

Tell me a story and tell it now,
the story of a journey, a transformation,
a bit of dust in a storm.
Make the dust want something big,
to have arms to touch the sky with,
to think and breathe. Yes, make it breathe.
Please. Before my heart stops,
and before yours does too,
tell it.