Tuesday, April 19, 2016

a scoop of mint


Listening to Usher on the way to work this morning, I thought about the way a poem can rise up in a wave of irreverence and take you under.  In my freshman English class this afternoon, we finished watching Into the Wild, and I cried at the end watching Chris McCandless struggle to live.  I would like to share that crying is therapeutic.  If you peer closely into yourself, you might find a spot so tender it consumes every negative emotion you've ever felt.  I feel the heat is trying to say, Drink more water.  I watered my snake plant this morning, and it almost seem to giggle.  Laughter is a hotel room with garish wallpaper.  I miss riding the bus.  I've never ridden the bus in Los Angeles, but I used to in Austin, and when it headed down Red River, a street so wide and green it almost seemed a horoscope, thinking of God made me shiver.  Cynical, spiritual.  I drift back and forth between these states of mind.  I wouldn't mind slicing an eggplant with a wedge of silver.  Wake up, live randomly, fall asleep, press repeat.  What if the earth really isn't round but rectangular, and tigers are actually cuddly tricksters.  What I'm getting at is this:  there is honor in defeat.  What happens, happens.  What makes you question things, holds the answer.  While listening to the Buddhist teacher explain concentration last weekend, I thought about the slippery nature of reality.  The reality is, I don't have a clue where my car is headed sometimes.  I can't concentrate on the destination.  I wave my pens through the air, hoping they'll catch a wave of magic.   Sometimes they do, and the whole sky turns pink.  Sometimes the pens seem tired, like they're about to fall asleep.  Sometimes even the plainest things are sexy, a cup of coffee--a scoop of mint.    

Sunday, April 10, 2016


Photograph by Sylvia Sukop

This weekend I attended the beautiful wedding of my good friend and poet, Erika Ayon, in Long Beach.  She'd asked me to read an e.e. cummings poem aloud during the ceremony ("I carry your heart with me, I carry it in"), and it was moving for me to participate this way in a special event.  It was also cathartic to walk up to the podium in the awe-inspiring church and pay homage to one of my favorite poets.  In order to prepare for the delivery, I'd practiced reading the poem several times in my apartment, until I felt a kind of kinship with the poet's words--until I felt myself almost disappear inside the line breaks.  And while I've given a toast before, I have never had the pleasure of reading a poem aloud at a wedding.  The love poem that Erika selected was a lovely piece to read.  It captures the mystery and vulnerability of love in just a few lines, taking it all back to the stars and the moon.

There's something about bringing poetry to meaningful rites of passage that is salubrious.  I wouldn't  have realized this if I hadn't been given the opportunity to read a poem at Erika's wedding.  It made me think that when we face transitions in our own lives (a new job, a new home, a new routine), maybe it's wise to do some detective work and find a poem that speaks directly to our experience in that moment and practice reading it aloud (multiple times) as an affirmation.  Maybe it wouldn't hurt to print out the poem and place it in our wallets or on the wall, and return to it again and again, making it a companion for a certain period of time.  Cherishing a poem this way is an act of giving and receiving, mirroring one of the fundamental truths about human relationships, that to make our relationships with each other meaningful, it helps to listen and share with an open heart.

Three epiphanies:

1) Poem-Companion:  Now that I've read the poem at Erika's wedding after carrying it for a few weeks, I miss having a poem to cherish this way.  I think today I'm going to find a new poem to carry with me…for a certain period of time.  I will practice reading it aloud and listening to what it has to say.  And when I'm ready to read it to someone, I will, and then I'll search for a new poem-companion.

2) Music Verses Poetry:  Unlike songs, poems are naked.  In my experience, reading a poem is not the same thing as singing along to a song that inspires you.  It's a different thing all together to surrender to a poem.  And because poems don't get played on a radio the way a song might, it takes more effort to discover them, which makes the connection to a poem more personal.

3) Surrendering:  Powerful poems, I think, come from an awareness of humility.  When you read a poem where the writer gets vulnerable, it feels like the poet has surrendered to something in the act of writing the piece.  And in witnessing the writer's surrender, you feel a part of yourself surrender too.

Monday, April 4, 2016

22 asides


1) Gratitude with attitude leads to a life of magnitude.

2) My horoscope said, Be a literary optimist.

3) I want to paint the moon Hibiscus.

4) Detective work is poetic.

5) Elegance, elegance...with moments of irreverence.

6) Just the right amount of awkward.

7) Eminem for breakfast.  Classical for dinner.

8) The old disdained virtues (kindness, patience, & humility) always triumph.

9) My muses say, ignore reality.

10) Blush.

11) Think I need to put doubt aside and finish writing that mystery novel.

12) Spend mirthfully, save mindfully.

13) Doing the right thing is sexy.

14) Alliterative statements alleviate acrimonious attitudes.

15) Was it Agatha Christie who said, Murder your laundry pile?

16) People take you out of the vortex because they're not in the vortex.

17) Fun is spelled S-E-E-S-C-A-N-D-I-E-S.

18) Youth is a media obsession.  Embrace aging.

19) Baking is romantic.

20) Popularity contests aren't for aliens.

21) OMG, Wes Bentley reads poetry...

22) I'm ready to dial "operator."

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

horror & suspense

The Rainy Day mix on Spotify makes me think surreal thoughts.  I listen to it while cooking or coloring or chilling, and then I tell myself, I want to splurge on a pair of UGG sneakers, but maybe I'll wait until winter because during the spring & the summer I live in flip-flops.  I want to write a series of persona poems in the voice of a detective who owns a snake plant.  Or maybe poems in the voice of a belly dancer who once spent a summer living in a log cabin in Alaska, surviving on squirrel meat.  Poetry writing feels like a vice when I'm doing it right.  It feels like acting too, and last night in my core restore yoga class I realized that fear isn't a vice, but a felon that makes eye contact with me when I'm wearing too much white.  So lying there on the mat in the large dark room vibrating with soul music, I astral projected my fear right onto the ceiling and walked out of the class feeling like I'd won a boxing match.  Truth be told, I have a secret crush on fear.  It's a small rose with a large thorn.  And often it's working in cahoots with me, reminding me to hold back the sass when I'm getting ahead of myself.  Like maybe if I wasn't afraid of needles, I'd get a large feather tattoo on my foot.  Or maybe I'd dye my hair orange and call myself "Cheeto."  That wouldn't fly well at my age (or in most countries for the matter), and besides I'm sure it's already been done.  Anyway, I'm glad fear's there to shake a finger at me and say, how about a glow in the dark T-shirt instead?  I tell fear I don't need a glow in the dark shirt because I'm leaving a light on in case the speaker skips a track.  On spring break, I like sinking into bed after one and sipping poems before I fall asleep, pillows nestled under my back.  I like writing poems and thinking about the stories I might read:  mysteries, thrillers…horror and suspense.  My guides are telling me to dive into fiction, past or present tense.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

healing is wheeling


You might interrogate yourself in the boardroom of your subconscious when you’re forced to eavesdrop on a conversation.  Sometimes people talk to reinvent themselves.  There is loneliness in moon watching, but a kind of beauty, too.  So the feelings cancel each other out.  I am what you might call a domestic.  But I think Charles Bukowski would agree that I’m actually a romantic.  I like to pretend I’m drifting through a dream.  I like to dream I’m pretending.  I’ve been stuffing my mind with poems and wearing shoes that make me taller.  I think an unspoken sentence is sexy.  Today the sun pours down lightly, spreading joy.  I have replayed conversations in my head as if they are songs.  Music is a 1939 Coachcraft Mercury Roadster:  mustard exterior, ketchup seats.  I’m kind of obsessed with cars these days.  And then I think, I need to revive my romance with my old Saturn.  She’s a sand dune on wheels, and she’s been a companion through Los Angeles.  If I’ve been a tourist in this city for five years, she’s been my tour guidance counselor.  Sometimes I tell her how I really feel.  Like how the scrambled eggs I had this morning at the new cafe by my work made me long to visit Tuscany.  There are so many precious things in this world, it makes me sad for times I’ve been asleep.  Self-compassion might be the balm for everything.  I saw a bumper sticker in my mind that read, Healing is Wheeling.  

Monday, March 14, 2016

like a sea creature


I'm a small town girl at heart.  I think about this sometimes as I drive around the great sprawl of Los Angeles, working my way through the miles of traffic and the bling of bright lights.  Over time, I've come to love living here, but what attracts me most to this city isn't the glamour of it.  Not the trendy night clubs or the swank restaurants, the hipness of We-Ho.  Not the plays or the literary readings.  Not even the walking fashion labels.  Those things are glitzy and can be fun, but new trends and predilections pop up all the time, making me think what matters most must be something different.  The thing I love most about Los Angeles is its randomness.  It's underrated charm.  The small corner of it that I inhabit and feel intimate with.  I love the dreamers and tourists that swarm the streets, clicking their cameras and gazing upward.  The sunny breeze, the surprising fog--that's what I cherish most and what makes me feel warm hearted.  L.A. can be a den of strangers and strangeness.  Yet the places I return to again and again are the supermarkets, coffee shops, and convenience stores down the street.  The library where I attend meditation classes.  The baklava factory where I go to satiate my sweet tooth cravings and my longings for something different.  I love taking walks through my neighborhood, where I see regular people doing regular things, like walking their dogs and washing their cars.  I like this little section of the big city that I inhabit, where I write and read and color in my Paris coloring book and knit scarves and watch television; it's my unglamorous way to unwind after every work day.  In my neighborhood, the buildings are low, and even though I'm close enough to the coast, the ocean seems far away.  But if I get swept away by the illusion of it, the city can almost make me arrogant, as though the music I hear echoing off the walls of clubs across town will make me more magnificent somehow, like a sea creature.  It can trick me into believing I can reinvent myself. But on most days I leave such longings to others. I'm a small town girl at heart.  I want to live humbly and focus on the magic of the familiar.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

a protest in my mind


Sometimes you look inside yourself and all you see is Iceland.  Then you make a fist and open it and find a tulip sitting on the center of your palm.  See?  Even when you find yourself eating too much butterscotch, there's someone watching over you.  This weekend I ate too much cake, but this morning when I woke up, the world seemed sweeter.  I wouldn't tell my yoga instructor this.  Still I'll confess that I when I strive to express, not impress, my horoscope reads better.  Last night I woke up in the middle of the night and smiled when I heard the rain.  This morning outside my apartment complex I saw a dozen branches had plummeted onto the street--one large pile of greenness that made me want to drink mint tea.  I dreamt a long dream last night, but I can't fully piece it together.  It wasn't about the weather, but there was a red curtain and a couple of bees.  I've been reading up about dreams lately, and I wonder if they're the mind's way of giving advice or predicting what might be.  I'd like to think so.  Sometimes I make choices in my dreams that would startle me in real life.  Maybe unveiling what lies buried inside our subconscious is the answer to everything.  As for me, I want to start a protest in my mind.  I thought about this as I fried eggs this morning after unloading my groceries from Trader Joe's.  I'd forgotten to buy mangoes, but I'd remembered to buy roses.  Upstairs, my neighbor's piano playing sometimes imposes a shift in mood.  I'd like to write him a thank you note.  Then again, I'd like to write thank you notes to all the people I admire, but I wouldn't have time to dream.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

there's a forest in my mind

2/21/2016 Sunday

At Aroma Cafe on Tujunga, I stood in line today for twenty minutes to order Huevos Rancheros.  Spoke to a couple in their sixties about the vicissitudes of hunger.  The wife told me she graduated from Taft High School in the 70's.  I went there too, I said, enjoying the synchronicity.  The line inched on, until finally I was ordering lemonade, a Buddhist buzz on my tongue.  Patience is the antidote to delusion, the meditation teacher had said that morning.  So I thought, what's twenty minutes in a line when there's so much beauty all around us?  It was a question I wouldn't have asked on a busy Tuesday at work.  Yesterday at the organic nail salon, the manicurist painting my toenails guessed that my running shoes were too tight.  I didn't tell him I hadn't jogged since high school P.E., that I mostly wore flip-flops.  I wanted him to feel right.  So I picked a chocolate polish, more toffee than dark, and told him I ran often.

Last night I told my journal, there's a forest in my mind.  When I enter it, the weather changes from overcast to bright.  Sometimes I don't know what to write.  Still I enter the forest often, braving the uncertainty.  Expect the unexpected, the clouds seem to whisper.  Once I spotted myself at eighteen, flashing a tree the middle finger.  That's not the kind of person I expected I'd be.  Now when I think about what I want, the answer is un-sexy:  I want to be kind.  I want to bake cupcakes, cook curries, and hold the door open for strangers. Last night, I heard my neighbors fighting for almost an hour.  The noise rocked the building awake, but today I hear them laughing.  Today, I want to hug a book, forgive myself everything.  I want to write poems on the flyleaf of every misunderstood work:    Norwegian Wood, Crime and Punishment.  Never Let Me Go.    

Monday, November 23, 2015

(quietly) assert your right to be quiet


What is the experience of being a literary woman?  Coffee and ink stains on every garment.  This sense that you're at the verge of finding the perfect synonym for "yellow."  A desire to wear a white dress with blue polkadots and read a poem to the tulips in your bedroom.  Today I'm off.  A whole week off from teaching to listen to Japanese Ballads and read Murakami's Norwegian Wood.  Free time is as satisfying as chocolate.  And I haven't finished reading Sylvia Plath's Ariel yet.  Still, here's a list of what's been happening in my literary mind lately:

1) I've been trying to promote my forthcoming chapbook, Summer Forgets to Wear a Petticoat, online via social media.  This self-promotion stuff requires an MBA mind.  I feel like I'm in Marketing 101.

2) I finished reading Toni Morrison's beautiful book, Beloved, last week.  I'd tried it a few times in the past but never took a shine to the style.  However, this time, I it engaged me. For the first hundred pages, I couldn't put the book down.  The language drew me in like a poem I didn't want to end.  Fiction can cast spells, but by page 150, the spell was broken.  Not sure why.  Still I finished the book satisfied, wondering why the spell ran out before the last page.  Maybe like all good cake slices, the pleasure is deeper in the first few bites.

3) I'm writing poems.  This past week, I wrote three:  one about lipstick, one inspired by Lord of the Flies, and one surreal jabberwocky.  I typed up two, and today I sent out a submission to a literary mag.  I'm dabbling with fiction writing also when I need a break from poetry.  But mostly, I've been immersed in line breaks.  However, something new:  I'm plotting poems.

4) Let's face facts:  Being a quiet person is like being part of a minority group where you consistently deal with people's judgements, lack of acceptance, and ridicule.  It's annoying when more extroverted people need to say, "You're so quiet."  It's like pointing out a mole on the chin:  obvious.  I know I'm quiet.  Your telling me this feels like a dig--a microaggression--and it makes me feel like you're judging me.  I heard once that when people say, "Why are you so quiet?" what they really mean is, why aren't you getting me to talk more?  Loud people are like roses with thorns--beautiful in their own way, but they can put their foot in it sometimes.   Anyhow, I read this awesome brilliant quote on introversion recently that helped ease the wounds:

"Instead of loathing and disgust at the sight of that ugly extra appendage [my quietness], I began to observe it, respect it, then finally cherish it."  ----Liana Norheim.

When people pick on you for being silent, (quietly) assert your right to be quiet.

5) I've been reading up about beauty.  What is beauty?  It's a philosophical riddle that intrigues me.   I've learned that a person is considered more beautiful if they reflect three traits in their physical appearance:  symmetry, averageness (their features are average sized), and a body shape that denotes "fertility."  Apparently, this stuff plays a role in natural landscapes we find appealing too.

6) Cynthia Nixon will be playing Emily Dickinson in A Quiet Passion, soon to be released.  I'm ridiculously excited about this.

7) Vacation week!  Think the gods will forgive me if I walk down to the corner store and buy a donut?  If anyone asks, I'm researching a poem.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Sylvia, Emily, & a Return to Poetry

Monday 9/14/15

So I've been reading a lot of poetry lately.  I mean, A LOT.  After a few months absorbed by an experiment in fiction writing, this return to poetry has made me ravenous.   I've been perusing literary publications online, sifting through anthologies, and surveying books by individual poets.  From Anna Journey to Li Young Lee, I've been exposing myself to different forms and voices, and it's been inspiring.  I cannot express how good it feels when I read a poem that kick's butt, that makes me look at something familiar in a new way, or that takes me out of the ordinary and into the strange.  I think, if I keep reading poetry, it'll change the weather.  The temps will get cooler.  Summer will transmogrify into Fall, and it will be the ideal season for immersing myself in line breaks.

I like listening to poetry on audio while I drive.  Audible has changed my life.  As someone who spends about an hour and a half in the car each weekday, I find my drive becomes more meaningful if I listen to a novel, a Buddhist text, or some poems.  One great collection of poetry available on Audible is The Poet's Corner by John Lithgow.  He reads a poem or two by each poet, gives a bio, and a short response to each poem.  His voice makes the poetry pleasurable, and I've learned so much in a short span of time.

I've grown curious, as a result, about the lives of different poets.  Right now I'm listening to a Sylvia Plath's biography, Mad Girl's Love Song.  It's interesting because it focuses on her childhood, teen, and college years (before her stormy relationship with Ted Hughes).  I'm also reading a novel inspired by the life of Emily Dickinson, The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson.  The book's language takes Dickinson's poetic and literary voice into account and imagines the inner life of Emily Dickinson as she navigates family relationships, romantic crushes, and health challenges.  It is a feast of the imagination.

Being a poet, living so much on the interior, and feeling this special intimacy with language, I sometimes struggle to explain why quiet time matters so much to me.  Why I don't feel the rush to be out frequently engaged in conversations and activities.  Not to say that I don't need these things also, because they feed me too.  But compared to most, I get the sense that I desire these things less.  And then reading the biographies of different poets, poets of great stature, I realize that they struggled with these things too.  The lure of the world and the lure of their imaginations.  They were also plagued by bouts of insecurity, superiority, mischievousness, and sadness.

I read about the lives of different poets to find solace.  And reading poetry has also triggered my spiritual side, making me want to stay connected with the pursuit of taming my thoughts, reflecting, journaling, and meditating. I think one of the reasons I was called back to home base (to poetry) is because I missed poetry as a way of life.  When you read and write poetry, you view your life, your relationships, and your dreams through the lens of poetry, and for me, this lens inspires calmness, love, and spiritual epiphanies.  After my divorce in 2011, I went through a period of three years where I read and wrote poetry inconsistently.  I was thrown off balance, and sometimes writing a poem felt too vulnerable.  I guess this can happen.  People say that suffering inspires art, but while that's sometimes true, in my case, the end of a long relationship made me uncertain about my sense of self and my sense of purpose for a while.  I went through an existential crisis, and everything I knew for sure fell out of focus.

It's taken some time, but I'm ready to write from the jugular again.  The past three months, I've written almost as many poems as I wrote in the past three years.  And it's funny because the return to poetry & spirit in such a deep way has made me feel more secure.  I feel at home in the world again, and hopefully the weather is changing.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

on not writing fiction


Summer is almost over, and mine was busier than I would've wanted!  However, I did get some rest, and I also got some time to reflect.  One big decision I've recently made is that I'm not going to continue working on my novel (for now).  As an experiment, I began working on a fiction piece last September, and somewhere around April this year, I found myself losing momentum.  I missed writing poetry.  I wasn't sure where I wanted to take my story, and why I needed to write it.  I felt lost.  And I felt overwhelmed by trying to do too many things at once:  teach, write a novel, write poems, and live the rest of my life.

In June, I signed up for a poetry workshop with Tresha Haefner, and it was amazing.  For six weeks, our group of five poets gathered in her home every week to generate new poems and workshop the ones we'd typed up and brought along.  Tresha is a spirited writer and mentor, and her passion for poetry is infectious.  I felt myself getting inspired and writing with a verve I'd missed these past few months while working on fiction.  It was a relief to be home.

So after some soul-searching, and reading this post on the pros and cons of working in more than one genre, I've made the decision that I'm going to concentrate my efforts on poetry writing for now.  It feels good.  Fiction writing may be in my future, but today I need minimalism.  And if I do decide to write a book someday, I want to feel a compulsion to tell a particular story, a story that can't be told another way. I began my project last year with the compulsion to write fiction, not necessarily a particular story.  And once I'd played with prose for a while, I realized I needed to have something to say.  With poetry, I feel a compulsion, and I have the desire to communicate something.  It's still work and it's still revision.  But I like the leaps a writer can make in a poem, the way she can filter a moment through symbolism, surrealism, metaphor, and rhyme.  I appreciate the brevity and minimalism of the form, often combined with its intensity.  I like taking photographs with words.

And that said, I am in awe of fiction writers.  Last year, through working on fiction, I got to experience first-hand how fun, challenging, frustrating, and mysterious the process of creating a story can be.  I love reading novels, and I love escaping into the dream of another world.  Good storytellers are magicians in that they are able to evoke a particular world. I don't think life would be as livable without moments of escape, without reading.

And though I may love reading stories, I don't necessarily want to put effort into writing one.   What I've learned through my process of experimenting with fiction this past year, is that the writing mind is like an ocean.  The waves keep shifting.  Sometimes the tides steer you one way, and at other times, another.  It's fine to move in the direction the currents are guiding you.