21 October 2014
An old woman looks over at my table, her face lined downward, as if she has been concerned her entire life. I could believe it. She looked into my eyes for a few moments, then returned to her conversation.
I often eat alone. "You're a young, pretty person, who often eats alone," someone told me once, as plain as newsprint. I'm not looking for flowers or anything. No "Get Well Soon." Sometimes, I'm even enjoying myself. The other day, I had a slice of banana cream pie. Everything was chilled and smooth and refreshing, and I didn't have to share it with anyone.
When I'm with other people, I'm mostly a listener. I have never liked the phone, so I just listen on that, too. I realized today that I pay someone else to listen to me, so that I can speak and not be interrupted. I can be free. I can talk about my research or my students or my new cat tattoo without feeling like I'm boring or stupid. This person is paid to care about me. It seems more direct that way.
I think about all of this as the old woman looks away, her frown in a perfect upside-down "U," like a Muppet's mouth. I smile to myself and finish my pie.
20 October 2014
I believe in mermaids too.
- Nick Cave, "Mermaids"
This course of action
requires my womanhood: my sharp brow,
my careful bangs, all used
to collapse walls, erect new bounds.
If I could be a mermaid,
I could tame the sea.
I could guide my troubles, my burdens
toward the rocks with my song, my temper.
Because I will test your laws
with appropriate punctuation and
I will test your arguments
with lacquered nails and strong testimony.
You will remember my face
as salt water
fills your lungs.
15 September 2014
I had to discreetly comfort one of my students today. They happened to see the story and a picture of the shirt in question while they were checking their phone before class. They started to hyperventilate and shake, and I had to take them into a quiet and empty area to see if they were OK. This student, who I will not name for obvious reasons, has PTSD and had been triggered by the image.
This is just a reminder that while this piece of clothing seems harmless enough -- it's just an over-priced, ugly sweatshirt, after all -- its style is symbolic of something more sinister and ideologically harmful. To add to the laundry list of reasons that others have already explored today, I think that it's despicable to commodify students -- dead students, living students -- and it's really twisted to think that their bodies and experiences should propel "creative," "edgy" marketing. Either Urban Outfitters has some woefully ignorant folks on their development team, or they were doing it for shock value. After all, bad publicity is still publicity, so, why not? In either case, the result is the same: it's a trigger not only for those who remember the National Guard killing four of our students on May 4th, 1970, but also a trigger for anyone post-May-4th who has suffered violent trauma, who sees fake blood splatter and is immediately reminded of the real thing, from their lived experiences. In that case, there is no difference between the reality and a facsimile. If the impact is the same -- if it evokes true and deep emotions of past trauma -- then it doesn't matter whether it's "just a shirt."
It's also good for all of us to remember that intention and impact are not measured the same way. Later today, Urban Outfitters issued a half-baked apology for making and selling the shirt. "We meant no disrespect," they said. If they intended no harm, I understand, but it doesn't negate the impact of their decision. It does not erase my student's experience of being triggered. We do not get to decide how other people react to our decisions; with regards to Post-Traumatic Stress, this is especially true. Being triggered is a knee-jerk reaction; it is in no way planned. It just happens. The impact is, at times, difficult to overcome. A simple "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to" doesn't erase anything. And in the case of company-issued apologies, they are as much used as a marketing tactic as anything else, so impact becomes particularly important to consider. The common metaphor used in counseling is this: If you break a plate, then apologize to the plate, the plate doesn't automatically repair itself. Repair is a separate action. "I'm sorry," while helpful if it's sincere, is not repair.
Ultimately, I have to wonder, is it worth it to Urban Outfitters to privilege "edginess" over the emotional well-being of their potential customers? I know that I can't trust a company to put people over profit, but who do they think will buy their merchandise? Generally speaking, alienated and/or triggered customers don't buy products that alienate/trigger them. I'm no businesswoman, but how logical is that?
In any case, as an instructor, I feel responsible for the safety of my students. Today, I was reminded that my students' safety also includes their emotional and mental health. So, while companies like Urban Outfitters don't have their best interests at heart, I do. Other instructors at Kent State do. And I join them in saying that this is more than "just a shirt." It's a reminder of how far we've yet to go, if dead students can be commidified so easily.
09 September 2014
Hopefully the following examples will better illustrate my point. The first time I was in the hospital, after my botched surgery, I listened to How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb nearly every day until my release. I played "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own" on repeat, when I didn't have visitors. It made me feel less alone, less angry. It gave me the additional support I needed to start healing.
When my grandfather died in October of 2011, I turned, naturally, to October. It was fitting, not only because of the month, but because it's an album very much about the loss of a parent. My grandfather was like a second father to me; he and my grandmother were directly involved in my and my sister's up-bringing. The last time I saw him, he asked me if he would see me the next day. I had to tell him that I was going home that night, but that I was planning on seeing him again "really soon." Listening to "Tomorrow" reminded me of that broken promise, my ignorance, because I never got to say goodbye to him.
During my first break-up, I listened to The Joshua Tree quite a bit, feeling forlorn and dismayed. I realized that I needed to be able to define myself outside of my relationships. Corny as it sounds, I still hadn't found what I'd been looking for, because I hadn't done enough soul searching. I knew what my dreams were, but I hadn't yet turned them into goals, believing that I was too broke(n) to achieve them. I soon realized that I needed to stop standing in my own way, and I applied to Kent State's PhD program in Rhetoric and Composition. I'm in my second year, and I'm happier than I've ever been.
While listening to the newest album, Songs of Innocence, I'm reminded of my consumption of Blake's own Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, which directly influenced my Master's thesis. In so many ways, I am still a child, with so much to learn, and yet I have to acknowledge the experiences I've had and continue to have that make me feel so much older. I've been poked and prodded by so many doctors, I don't remember some of their names. I've dealt with crippling poverty and not being able to afford medicine. Friends have come and gone; some of them weren't friends at all, and they bullied me instead. I've confided in the wrong people. I've turned up on the wrong doorsteps. In many, many ways, however, I am incredibly blessed. There are people in my life who love me very much, as much as I love them. I have books. I have my writing. I also have U2.
I'm a deeply sentimental and reflective person. Often, I'm obnoxiously transparent. My sensitivity annoys even me, so I understand if this blog post comes across as heavily navel-gazing and strange. But these reflections needed a home. They have been rattling in my chest for a while, abstract and somewhat formless. It feels good to be able to articulate some of it. Of course, I find the words while listening to this new album. So, thanks again, U2. You're inconsistent; some of your tunes don't grab me, and you're guilty of tremendous bombast and tackiness. But I love you. Your songs are a part of my story, and I'm grateful for that.
04 September 2014
fall out of my mouth--
unfolding them, a frustrating process.
There are no near-death experiences
that quite resemble
broken promises, decorative plates
falling from the walls.
I recall, somehow,
that I used to be decorative.
I'm not saying I'm misunderstood.
I think you heard me just fine.
I'm only as unreasonable
as the next customer in line.
I'm not here to be beautiful.
If only I was
on your lips, a dangling
modifier. If only
I was made
in your image.
16 August 2014
I don't know where else to put this, so here goes nothing. I'm tired of not knowing who my true friends are until something difficult happens.
In my last entry, I talked about understanding why people don't want to be my friend after enduring hardship and deciding they can't handle it. But just because I get it doesn't mean that it's somehow less painful. There are people in my life who like me when I'm funny and fun to hang out with. When I'm having a difficult time, when I'm in and out of doctors' offices and wanting someone to talk to, some of them are nowhere to be found. When I can't entertain them, it seems like they want nothing to do with me.
I'm not asking for anyone to take care of me. I'm not asking for anything but some sort of indication that I mean something to them. I'm grateful to the friends who have reached out to me since my newest diagnosis. It makes me feel less alone in dealing with this. But some of the family and friends who have remained silent this summer have surprised me. In writing this, I feel passive aggressive and petty, but I don't know how else to express my frustration at this time with people who won't communicate with me.
When other means of reaching out become ineffective, what other options do I have?
13 August 2014
The easiest way for me to cope with things is to write about them. The following won't be particularly well-written, but I can't care about that right now.
I didn't get back until about 1am from the ER, and I've been sleeping off and on ever since. They didn't admit me, but they ran a lot of tests, including a throat scope thing, and observed me. The latest diagnosis: I have bile reflux gastritis. It happens in rare cases to people who've had gallbladder surgery. Eventually I might have to have corrective surgery, or my chances of stomach cancer are higher. My liver is overactive, and what helps alleviate symptoms somewhat is a low fat diet with lots of probiotics, so we'll see. It's a chronic illness, so all I can do is try to manage it. Even with the low fat diet, my stomach will still have bile in it. My colon will still have bile in it. It's just a matter of dealing with less bile and having things flow as they should, or a little better, anyway.
I've been trying to manage these symptoms ever since 2005, post-surgery, when they were much worse. My flare-up this month has been the worst since 2011, when I had a C. Diff infection. I have been to many specialists, trying to find answers. First, it was diagnosed as a protein malabsorption problem. Then Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Then it was Colitis. Then it was simply lactose intolerance. Two colonoscopies later, and it was, "You have an elongated colon," even though I didn't have gastrointestinal problems until my botched gallbladder surgery. My chronic illness is not organic, and even though that's something I've always known, it helps to finally, finally have some tests to prove it. I'm still not 100% sold on the new diagnosis, even though everything seems to "fit," but that's only because I've been told everything under the sun for a long time and have developed a sort of skepticism about my medical journey, as it were. Dr. House does not exist, I'm certain; even though I respect those in the medical profession, sometimes I'm not sure how much they understand their patients and their needs.
For instance, in many, many cases, removing the gallbladder is fine for the patient. In my own case, however, things went wrong, and I have a nine-inch scar and thousands of dollars of medical debt to prove it. Through this journey, going from doctor to doctor, specialist to specialist, I've lost friends and loved ones who did not want to stick around. It was too much for them. And to anyone who says that this sort of behavior is inhumane, I've learned to interpret it differently. For instance, statistically, many marriages end in divorce once one partner falls very ill. At first, being supportive is manageable, but then it becomes too much of a burden to handle. Sometimes, it affects the "healthy" partner's ability to take care of themselves; their time and energy is constantly consumed by taking care of their ailing loved one. As someone who is the "ailing loved one," the last thing I want is for those I care about to neglect themselves in order to take care of me. But it's happened, and some of those people are gone from my life now, or they occupy a different role. I used to be angry about it. Now, even though I'm frustrated by my illness and how others react to it, I do finally get it. It's like being on a roller coaster for too long.
The roller coaster ride ends up being too much for some to handle, and they want off. I understand that now. But the thing is, I have to remain on that roller coaster. I don't have the liberating option of asking to get off. I want off so badly. I want it to stop, so that I can leave and "go home." But coming to terms with chronic illness means that, sometimes, you have to accept that the roller coaster is home now. Certain choices are eliminated once you have a chronic illness (or two or three). There are folks who are able to stick by their loved one through it all, with grace and patience, but not everybody is able to. And not all of those people who leave are like John Edwards; not all of them are, for lack of a better term, douchebags. Some are, though; I'm not gonna lie. I've had assholes in my life who decided their "funny friend" wasn't entertaining anymore, and they left when things got difficult. And then, there are people who at first think of chronic illness as a battle that is always winnable, always short-term, and once they realize that it's an on-going, bumpy ride instead, they get off when the bumps become intolerable.
But here I am, nine years later, and I'm still enduring those bumps. It's about survival and taking it one day at a time. Through it all, I have often felt as though my body hates me. This summer alone, I've had to deal with multiple health concerns. It gets to be exhausting, which is also probably why I've been fatigued and in bed a lot. I was diagnosed with a degenerative disc, for which I had been, up until recently, going to physical therapy three times a week. My insurance stopped covering it, so I'm left with trying exercises at home. Later in the summer, I was also diagnosed with an ovarian cyst. Thankfully, it is very small and treatable with birth control pills, so I'm not feeling as crampy as before. But my doctor had originally hypothesized that I had a tumor, which caused me to feel anxious for a few weeks leading up to the ultrasound to confirm or deny her guess. Thankfully, it's a cyst. I'm able to manage it, along with all of my other health concerns, with medicine, vitamins, and therapy (both the psychological and physical kind).
This leads me to another discovery I've made through all of these ups and downs: It's OK for me to be exhausted, and for me to say so and take time out for self-care. I've found Christine Miserandino's Spoon Theory to be especially helpful as I try to cope with these issues daily. If for any psychological or physical reason I'm just not up for arguing or conversing or anything else I don't have the energy for, it makes sense for me to pause or even stop what I'm doing. And I can forgive myself for it, too. For instance, I'm often the listener or shoulder to cry on in my relationships with others. It's OK for me to erect a temporary boundary sometimes when I don't have the emotional fortitude to be the support that someone else needs. As Miserandino might say, "I don't have enough spoons to handle that particular hurdle today," and that's perfectly OK.
Ultimately, there are facts about me that I'm still trying to internalize in ways that aren't harmful to my self-esteem. I do love myself more and frankly have less tolerance for bullshit than I did nine years ago. I have clinical depression. I have social anxiety. I have a degenerative disc. I have bile reflux. It's strange for me to be simultaneously resistant and embracing of labels, particularly when they're "new," like the bile reflux diagnosis. But with these diagnoses come, hopefully, awareness and education. I'm feeling better about myself and who I am. Through all of that, I hope there's compassion from others in the mix as well.
When you discover that someone you care about is dealing with chronic health concerns, don't automatically assume that it's temporary and that a simple "get well soon" will do the trick. Understand that often, there are good days and bad, and even on the good days, someone with a chronic illness may still not be "well." I appreciate the well-wishes -- all of them -- because the intentions are good and I can use all of the love and support I can get. But it's frustrating when I have to explain myself over and over that I'm not well, in response to statements like, "Well, you look fine." Don't assume that how someone looks is a good indicator of how they feel. In fact, don't assume anything. Just be understanding. Offer comfort and a smile. The majority of the time, that's all that I need. I actually don't want anyone to take care of me, other than doctors or nurses or, well, me. I just want to be seen and respected.
And that's the main reason for this post: I no longer talk about these trials very often in fear of alienating those I care about, but after returning from the hospital this last time, I feel as though it's better for me to be transparent about it all. I'm not some sort of spokesperson for chronic illnesses. That isn't my aim. I'm just one person, with one complicated story, hoping that my sharing does some good.
02 August 2014
those little hearts,
and I can't stop her.
She makes paper dolls but leaves them naked.
They have no faces.
When I was small, I dreaded autumn.
The bullies, dressed
in doubt and sweat, spoke
using their licorice fingers
to strangle me.
And August would say nothing,
just stand there timidly.
At home I would
iron-out the curls,
I would resolve
to do better.
But the windows are rolled-up
in this hot car, and I rest
my head on the steering wheel.
Meanwhile, August weaves her fingers
in and out of reality,
wisps of thought
in moist heartbreak,
and I am falling asleep
in the nest she creates.
14 July 2014
Kendall A. Bell's poetry has been widely published in print and online, most recently in First Literary Review-East and Drown In My Own Fears. He was nominated for Sundress Publications' Best of the Net collection in 2007, 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013. He is the author of fifteen chapbooks. His most recent chapbook is "Be Mine". He is the founder and co-editor of the online journal Chantarelle's Notebook and the publisher/editor of Maverick Duck Press. His website is www.kendallabell.com and his chapbooks are available through www.maverickduckpress.com. He lives in Riverside, New Jersey.
I met Kendall through my dear friend Kayla Marie Williams**, who is also a great writer. (You should check out her blog here.) Kendall's work is lovely, human, and on occasion, a little difficult to read. I don't mean that the way that you think I mean it. His poems, such as "Adalynn decides it's time to go," published in Drown in My Own Fears, punches you in the gut. You'll need to read it to see what I mean. With "Awkward Moment #1," you're right there with the speaker, in his nervousness and quasi-shame, and you can relate to that closing stanza (or, at least, I could): "Between she and the last / had been days of depression / and no fucking / and she could tell". The lack of punctuation suggests momentum, and yet there is urgency with that depression. Overall, his work packs a wallop and is worth a read and re-read. (Don't know where to begin? On his official website, check out his weekly poem. He'll even read it to you.)
His blog is full of "curmudgeon" observations (hey, he's the one who uses the term to describe himself) and offers his readers glimpses into his various interests outside of writing. Kendall has great taste in music, for instance, and likes everything from 90's alternative rock to pop and folk. (Indeed, I can always count on him to quote Veruca Salt lyrics.) Also, I must point out another intersection: my friend Kayla, who, like I said, introduced me to Kendall, is a radio DJ with WXUT and plays a lot from those genres in particular, so it's fitting that all of us have musical tastes in common as well as writing. (Check out her program Radio Alchemy, on Friday nights, 10pm-Midnight EST, on www.wxut.com [Click "Listen Now" then "HD"].)
So, in summary: You've got some talented people to check out, like, stat!
To finish this entry, I'm supposed to answer the following questions about my creative process. Typically, I don't like thinking about my work in this way. I love hearing about other writers' craft and process, but talking about my own feels uncomfortable and, actually, disingenuous, because my craft changes all the time. Not with the direction of the wind, mind you, but at least depending on what else is going on in my life, such as the classes I'm taking as a grad student, my assistantship as a grad student, physical therapy, regular therapy, whether or not there's been enough chocolate in my diet, etc. But, anyway, I'll try my best to answer thoughtfully and honestly. Here goes nothing.
1. What am I currently working on?
I'm writing more essays. Ha! No, really. I have been writing for class, blah blah, that's not what I mean. I mean, I've been trying my hand at writing social commentary in essay form. Most of it isn't quite polished (See: the essay from a month ago examining my own body image issues and confessions), so it isn't shared widely, but soon, I'd like to edit them and put them here in my blog. I'm still best at poetry, I think, so I'll continue to work on that, too.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I write my poetry in character. While my work feels somewhat confessional, most of the time, it isn't about me. I'm always trying to perfect my ability to adopt a persona and monologue, but often, my pieces end up being more like dialogue, which is fine. For my chapbook, I adopted the persona of the femme fatale, only I made her out to be this pissed-off, queer murderess. Obviously, I'm not that person. Parts of me are that person, but by and large, she's a character modeled after complex, nuanced characters that came long before. But I think it's fun to explore sometimes taboo topics through creative writing. I know I'm not the only one. I'm not doing anything new. I just hope that it's as fun to read as it is fun to write.
3. Why do I write/create what I do?
It's really important for me to share and to be in conversation with other writers. It's a community, ages old, as well as global. Poems and stories are histories; they're powerful. I love participating, engaging with that collective consciousness. It's a fulfilling way to connect. Also, on a more personal note, I've always had trouble articulating myself well through utterance, and writing gives me agency. Writing is my voice.
4. How does my writing/creating process work?
My grandma told me when I was a child thinking-up stories and poems that I should keep a notebook close by for jotting down ideas. I've attempted to do that, many times, but I always abandon it. I used to have to write everything down by hand first, organize it and cross things out, before typing it up. But the digital age makes things way too easy. Self-editing is a blessing and a curse. I need to copy and paste things I'm tempted to delete into a separate file, for safe keeping. I'm vicious. I will gouge. In order to control that urge, I have to let it all out through free writing, let it simmer, and return to it later. Thus, most of my writing is private. Does that make me less of a poet, if most of my work is for myself? I do more reading than writing. And reading informs my writing, anyway, because I think it's communal (See: #3.). So, I'm a contradiction, because I think writing creates a great community, and yet I am often talking to myself, so to speak. But really, eventually, my intention is to share all of it. My blog houses unpolished work, but my journals and computer house even more unpolished work, work that is really, really unpolished. So, in sum, my work is never "done."
And on that note, I'll wrap-up this part of the tour. See you next time!
**Happy early birthday, K!
07 July 2014
A house is always small when the only person living there is you.