Thursday, July 21, 2011

the one where I think, "Crunch time," and then laugh because that sounds so dumb

Laundry spins in my washer. I'm tempted to hang the clothes out to dry on my back patio instead of using the dryer since our electrical grid is likely to be strained over the next 36 hours or so. I don't think my neighbor is home, so she shouldn't mind.

Not that she would mind, anyway.

I wonder, though, if the smell of her cigarette smoke would infest my daughter's jeans should my neighbor step out onto her back porch for a hot cigarette while the clothes were swaying.

I leave Saturday for the MFA residency. I'm not even kind of ready though I have pulled out my suitcases and have been organizing the clothes I will bring.

Two weeks is a long time to be gone, and I'm worried about my house and my cat, though people will be looking in regularly, and I plan to come home in the middle for a night. I hope my daughter feels free to be here next week as much as she needs to be during the day, though she's to go to her father's this afternoon or whenever she wakes up. I don't even mean just to pack up for band camp; I mean just to be here in her house alone, her house.

I must clean my house a little bit so that I don't faint when I return.

Because of the scorching heat, I've a feeling I'll regret choosing solitude in the dorms over air conditioning in the shared apartments. I have fans, though, and may bring a cooler, just fill it with ice and dip my face in it now and then, you know, because I'm cool like that.

I am trying to gather up things for my daughter to take to band camp, too, that first week in August. I worry that she will not be able to find things she needs in my messy house. I don't want her to stress.

Some kinds of stress are good for her, but not the ones I cause because I'm messy and disorganized.


My little city is a mess over the loss of the 14-year-old boy. I wonder if things would be less contentious if we didn't have such immediate access to each other, if we couldn't express our opinions instantly and sometimes anonymously. People point and blame and holler, don't take that deep breath designed to stop us from saying things we might regret.

Others simply keen with grief.

The school year will start on a dissonant note, and I feel so sad for the student body.


I think it is going to be so good for me to immerse myself completely in poetry for the next two weeks, to avoid the news and friends' Facebook pages and all the distractions of the Web. I will be frightened and awkward and sky and ugly and thrilled and tired and energized and focused.

I plan to be friendly and kind and open. I'm assuming everyone else plans to be friendly and kind and open, too.

I hope my brain doesn't explode from all the learning. I'm unaccustomed to learning in a formal setting. Self-taught poet. Self-taught teacher.

I nod.

I think I'm ready to be a manic packer/organizer/cleaner now.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

the one where I try to make sense of a death**(an edit)

I didn't know the boy who died, though in the pictures I've seen of him on Facebook, he looks familiar, and I may have checked out books for him when he was in sixth-grade (2008-2009), and I volunteered in the middle school library. My daughter only knew the boy by name and sight since she's two years ahead in school. The boy who died was about to be a freshman, a new member of the 2011-2012 high school football team.

It's so strange living in this technological explosion. People visit his Facebook page, the dead boy's page, and write to him, people who knew him well, like best friends and girlfriends, people who skated with him, ran with him, played sports with him. People who only knew him by sight write to him as if they could make up for time disconnected.

My daughter understands that this sort of thing will make me weep. She is off with a good friend now, hanging out, doing Lord knows what. (I trust my Girl, but it's really, really hard to let her go sometimes. Really hard.)

On July 8, our school board adopted an Extracurricular Code of Conduct. All school athletes and others in certain activities (though oddly enough marching band is not mentioned though drama is, quiz team is) are required to attend a meeting to learn about the code, are required to sign a document certifying they have read the code and will abide by it. If they violate the code, they will face consequences. This code is new, and I'm not sure what triggered it. Maybe some school board members began hearing about the parties some of their athletes threw involving underage drinking. Maybe a parent complained when a young son or daughter came stumbling into the house after a party, drunk as the proverbial skunk. Whatever triggered the code, it's too late for the boy who died last night.

The rumor we've been reading is that he died of alcohol poisoning. Part of the story is that he was attending a football party the way my daughter attended a percussion party last night but without the drinking (they stuck to Mountain Dew and Flaming Hot Cheetos. This is not to say that all of the bandies abstain. I've gotten so I can tell which ones are high or hungover just by the tone of their skin).

Oh, God. I can't tell you ... I'm ... Oh...

I can't imagine how this boy's family must feel. It's all so confusing. How could anyone let a 14 year old get so drunk that he died? Fourteen year olds are still children and don't have the experience to know what it feels like when they've gone from tipsy to drunk to way too much to "fuck I think I'm about to aspirate my own vomit."

Or whatever happened.

I don't know. Maybe this is all just conjecture, but the thought that our children find it so easy to obtain alcohol makes me crazy. It just makes me crazy.

People keeping writing to him, "I miss you already, but you're in a better place now."

Most of the writers of that phrase are children/teens. A better place would be home with his family, being grounded until Christmas.

I'm all over the place, but I can't not post this. I have to post this. I don't want to offend anyone, not the boy's parents or friends or acquaintances or our city or the school board or my friend who had to post the message on the school's Facebook page letting people know there would be grief counselors available at the high school tonight for anyone who needed to talk through this.

I didn't know the boy, but I'm just heart broken.

It's hard enough when we learn that one of our retired coaches has died or a teacher has succumbed to cancer or a much loved parent dies of a heart attack.

But when one of our students dies, it's impossible to process it.

So. If any teenagers I know and love happen by here, I hope you are not upset by this, by me. Please, children, don't drink until you're 21. Please. Your bodies aren't designed for such abuse (not that an adult's body is, either). I know it's too late for some of you, that you already have your routine of weekend binges. I wish you would stop.

From now on if I hear anything specific about a specific kid related to underage drinking, I'm going to have to rat you out to your parents or directors (or coaches). I'd rather you hate me forever than die too young.


9:45 p.m. I think I wrote the above at around 6 p.m. I had things to do. As I left to do my things, I saw my neighbor in her yard, hauling a little grill from her garage. We talk now, she and I.

It's lovely.

Her son is going into eighth-grade. He and the boy who died were friends, and she told me how numb the boys were, that a girlfriend of hers, another single mother, who had been with them all day said they were like clingy zombies.

My neighbor and I had to get to our chores but promised each other we would reconnect if we saw each other in our yards.

We did.

She and I talked and talked. She cried. I cried. We hugged. I think part of what made us weep is that fear that this could happen to our babies.

It was good to talk, to love, to share kindness and heart, to be open, to share with her the thing I couldn't write here that one of my young friends said about the boy who died that I didn't hear but someone else heard and said

we hear
and say
and weep
and growl

my child is still
with her friends,
not at the high school
where the counselors talk,
but at the middle school,
probably on the hill
sitting in the grass
that will raise welts
on her allergic skin

unless that's her I hear
pulling up alongside my yard

It would be good
if she would come home
but only because I am a mother
who fears
losing my child

the world
in which our teens live
is so treacherous

what can we do but teach
and talk
and listen
and say, "I'm here,"
and then let go?

what can we do?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

If you love spoken word poetry, go here! Watch this!

Through another spoken word poet (Scott Woods, a hilarious, gifted generous man and poet), I discovered Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz, and through her, I discovered this wonderful project in Philadelphia called the Philly Youth Poetry Movement, and through this project, I discovered Sarah Kay, who presents the above TED talk.

As Scott said, these discoveries that link us to each other are "The Circle of Life." (understand, he is one of the funniest people I've ever met. He's so lovely and funny, so irreverent and gifted that he rekindled my (teen) daughter's love for poetry a couple of weeks ago when we attended one of the Writers Block Poetry Night weekly open mics and occasional slam contests. I owe him. Big time.).

I don't regret that I've spent a great chunk of my afternoon watching spoken word videos and following links to other links to other links.

I would love to found something like this in this little city. Some day, after I finish the MFA and find a little paid work. That's not a "maybe." That's an "I'm fucking well going to do this."

Friday, July 8, 2011

write free

Daughter still sleeps, though it's five pass noon. Cat lies curled on the edge of this bed where I sit reading poetry and essays about poetry, where I begin the process of

the fuck

no, no, it will be fine, I promise, Elizabeth. You'll be fine. Take this self out of the equation, and follow the crumbs to the center, you know, labyrinth style (not "Hansel and Gretel" style). It will be fine.

I have poetry packets for both MFA residency sections. I see my own poems in the packets and cringe. Why is that?

Take this self out of the equation. Move aside. We have things to do and no time for the ego of self-loathing. It's time to work, now. You don't matter. The work matters.

My head aches a bit and I remember that I haven't eaten yet today. A bad habit. My girl and I didn't eat until 3 p.m. yesterday when we picked up a friend and had a late lunch at Cracker Barrel.

My daughter drove us to the restaurant and then drove us to the music store where she bought a set of sticks for her tenor toms and her friend bought slide oil for her trombone. My daughter drove us back to my house and dropped me off. My daughter is driving (like everyone's daughter eventually drives). She leaves me more and more, but when she returns after a day with her friend, returns at midnight, we talk as much as we can around texts that flood her phone. She is an amazing young woman and works to repair a snag in connection between two friends.

I read an essay by Mark Irwin on the nature or definition or philosophy of truth. Loved reading it. Fed my head. Belly filled with stone. No wonder I forget to eat. I worry that I am too stupid to be a graduate student.

I was too stupid the first time I tried it.

No, no, that's not true. You were too shy the first time. You didn't have an advocate. You wouldn't advocate for yourself. You lost your heart. You have no time and no room for this narcissistic self-deprecation. No room.

I don't know what this is. It doesn't matter. Does it?

No, no, don't question this. It's fingers on laptop keys and ceiling fan breathing cool air onto your face and cat purring and memory weaving. No need for definitions. Just let it be.

All right.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

the one where I shake off this madness*

Title has no meaning here.
Today: My daughter passed her driving test, has her license, doubled my car insurance, plans now to stay in for the rest of the day.*


She took her time getting this license, in fact, had to renew her permit because it expired before she got around to taking the test.

She's a good driver.

Friends nagged her. "Just go take the damned test! Why don't you just take it? You need to get your license!"


still my baby
complicated and rich
for five more months...

I feel like waging war on time.

I feel like sleeping.

I have lost some important documents, though the losing of them isn't nearly as serious as my middle-of-the-night self thought.

They'll turn up.

In the meantime, I have the account number and can handle business.

My stomach growls.
My fat stomach growls.
The soft roll of it
should be familiar to me now.
like the grassy hill
my brother and I rolled down
in summer behind our Maryland house
just at dusk
just before our mother called us
to come in for our baths,
all red eyed and itchy skinned
from green allergies.

I feel no motion
in fingers rushing across keys.

I received the session one packet
for my MFA residency.
Only three other students
are in my group.
Love their pieces,
which, I tell myself,
means they will not love mine.

I don't know why I think this.
I do know why.
I don't trust

in what?


I wonder if I am the only skeptic
when it comes to God.

(I stalk the other poets, see that I may not be the oldest, see that I may be the most mundane. Why does the word "prosaic" pop into my head? Because it does. It just does.)

In the mail, my daughter receives two letters from Pvt. Buddy. No return address yet. She must have sent them last week before she knew how we could reach her. We have letters ready to go out as soon as we know where to send them.


I received a legal notification about some Honda lawsuit. I'm going to exclude myself. It all sounds wonky. Wonky makes my stomach grumble more than growl.

Complain, complain, complain.

Now that I have the other poets' poems, I'm not sure what to do with them. Study them? Critique them? Try to see inside the writers' heads? Make a collage? Collect my whimsical eyelashes and paste them to the computer screen?

The cat makes pudding on a blanket. He wants me to sleep, and I could since I had a bit of insomnia last night.

But I'd rather find those missing documents and maybe buy my Girl a berry cobbler.


*I was wrong about my Girl staying in all day. I took her to a friend's (because she didn't think she needed the car). But she needed some things - her sunglasses, tennis shoes and socks, a sandwich... . After I fed her and she changed shoes, she took the car, her first time ever driving alone. She has 5 p.m. plans with another friend, so why not?

I rarely leave my house anyway, right?

Monday, July 4, 2011

two on the fourth

Living room now. My Girl has her quads practice pad out. "I love the bounce on this. So much better than the real drums," she says.

While she practices, I will shower.

After I shower, she will shower.

After she showers, we'll go driving (practice for tomorrow's driving test).

It's cloudy.

I started watching Howl last night but wore out (it was 2:30 a.m. when I finally shut off the DVD player and crawled into bed). It's not what I expected it to be. It's more about the words, about the poetry, than about the "lurid" details of Allen Ginsberg's life. It makes me happy.

I am obsessed with poetry
but haven't written a new poem
since June.

And now, I have this novel premise I dreamed that keeps nudging my hand when I try to write stanzas instead of paragraphs.

Do me! Look at me! I know I'm not high art or even vaguely literary. I know I'm just entertainment and weirdness. But you know you want me. You know I intrigue you. You're hungry for me the way I'm hungry for you to write me.

The plan has shifted. The Girl hit a snag on one of the pieces, doesn't know how to play it so she'll have to wait until Boss Boy returns from Vegas where his mom lives (he spends summers with her and the school year here with his dad and step-mom, but that's not really part of this post). She will shower and then I will shower
and then we'll go driving.

on the fourth

Cat walks back and forth along the west edge on my bed. He seems to be avoiding sitting on things. I sleep with books on my bed, with headphones, an iPod classic, a journal, sometimes a stray clean sock with no mate.

My Girl sleeps. I'm pretty sure she was up chatting or texting with a friend much of the night. Their lives are complicated. I'm glad I've forgotten what it's like to be 16, though I write 16-year-old characters, so maybe I should let myself remember.

This is a slow way into a post I haven't composed yet. I will, as usual, compose in this window. I want to write a love letter to our politicians. I can't, though. I can't love them. I want to write a love letter to our Constitution. That makes more sense. I'm not as familiar with the Constitution as I'd like to be. It's one of those things I read periodically but can't retain. Sort of like instructions on how to program my phone. (I know that is a trite comparison.)

Maybe one of the things every American should do on July 4 is read the Constitution. I just paused while writing this to reread it, well, skim it. It's a pretty brilliant piece of work, really. I have to wonder how our Founding Fathers knew what we would be up against.

I have lost my train of thought because I started researching "corporate personhood" as I wrote. When I think about politics, about our government, about Democrat vs. Republican, liberal vs. conservative, people vs. corporations, I feel all deflated and sad.

Deflated is not so bad because then maybe my fattening belly will unfatten. But sad is not good. I feel impotent and discouraged for my child and all the kids I think of as my "fake children."

When we moved to Ohio in 1995 (from Texas. Red state to semi-red state, though glory hallelujah, she was a bit blue in 2008), I started paying attention to who was running for what, what they believed, what they promised, how they planned to implement their promises. Then I watched everything unravel when they got into office.

Our mayor is not running for office again (don't blame him. People around here are vicious, and when things in their lives go wrong, they blame people in supposed power. I love running into our mayor at the grocery store or library. He knows people know him but always looks so confused when I say hello to him as if he's an old friend or a neighbor I haven't seen in a while). One of the candidates who is running for mayor (I won't name names) is someone several of my friends have friended on Facebook. I suppose they will be supporting him (he is a Republican, but even some of my Democrat friends are supporting him. I suppose party, at first, means less at a local level, but I think that's deceptive. Not that I trust anyone of either party to stand for anything that matters any more except power and control and fucking partisan divisiveness). I've read his Facebook page and watched interviews with him.

I have absolutely no idea what he hopes to do for our little city, what he believes, who he is barring the bare facts of occupation, hair color, family, etc. In interviews, he is enthusiastic about the support he is receiving from the community, but he never says why I should support him. He talks about how well his fund-raising is going, how he plans to go door-to-door to encourage people to vote for him.

But why should I vote for you? I think. Why? Why should I vote at all any more? My vote rarely counts in my county. I'm such a socialist, you know. And, hey, from now on, I'm voting my conscience rather than voting against a candidate or for a party against another party. If that means I end up voting for the socialist candidate whose policies and belief system line up better with mine than the blue dog Democrat's, that's what I'll do even if I know he'll lose.

Oh, good gravy this is dull. A political post on Independence Day. I don't feel particularly independent.

The cat has settled. He's happy, head turned upside down. I pet his belly and he flexes his claws (which need clipping). I feel him purring.

I doubt I'll bother to find fireworks to watch, though my Girl has tentative plans to watch with a friend from the friend's car somewhere on the north side of town near the Starbucks. I don't have a cookout planned, don't even know what we'll have for dinner (maybe fruit salad and a deli tray, anti-meat, yo).

I was going to try to compose a post before I came to my blog, to write something of higher quality. But when I write offline, I have other things to write - poems, bits of novel (and dammit, a new premise arrived as a dream, and I feel pulled to write it before the MFA residency starts on July 23, or at least to sketch it out), letters to my young friend in boot camp, lists...

I like writing lists. They keep me sane.

To do today:

- whatever I feel like doing