balance · community · poetry · work · writing

We Have All Overpacked

hey dudes. burning candle at both ends, with early work commute, and late night job hunting, so, please accept this poem in place of today’s blog. it’s what I read at the “spiritual send-off” graduation ceremony two weeks ago. imagine me being emphatic. xo,m.

                     * * *

There is a train departing shortly.
All the people in this room will be
on it.
This is lucky because you have
overpacked.
You have brought
scarves
and sweaters
and knitted hats.
You have anticipated your journey
will be wintered
and icy
and hard.
Your neighbor has also overpacked.
His suitcase is filled with
stilettos,
and boas
and a katy perry mash-up.
He has anticipated his journey
will shimmy with ease
and levity
and laughter.
As you look around this room,
each person comes here overpacked –
with ideas
with plans
with scars.
Each person with
a dream,
or prayer,
or plea.
Each of us comes here hoping
we’ve prepared for our journey
properly.
Hoping we’ll
have enough or
be enough or
do enough.
Hoping that everything
we’ve put in
and gone through
and let go of is enough
to move on from
here.
But, I am sorry to tell you,
we haven’t got everything we need.
See, I need your feathered boa
to remind me
not take myself too seriously
 – and that glitter is a verb.
You need my winter boots
to help you walk through that one
moonless night.
The person in front of you would like to know
if you have a bandaid she could
use,
or a book that you love,
or a love that you lost.
The person behind you would like to know
if she could borrow your arms for a
minute
so you can enclose her in an
embrace
— something none
of us can pack.
There is a train departing shortly.
All the people in this room will be
on it.
And this is lucky because we have
all
overpacked.
May 2012

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community · courage · discovery · faith · fate · poetry · receiving · school

Rituals, Rites of Passage, and the Spindly Lines of Fate.

Here.We.Go.!
I’d written last week to some of my fellow cohorts to ask if they
wanted to mark our graduation with some kind of a “ritual” or ceremony. That
very afternoon, I was invited to read a poem at the “Spiritual Send-off”
graduation ceremony at school. Apparently, I really do and am meant to have a
ritual around this. To mark and honor and acknowledge what a privilege this is, and to mark and honor and acknowledge what we’ve done and how we have shown up and completed something sort of major.
When I got into school two years ago, a friend of mine suggested we have
some sort of ceremony of our own to celebrate and honor and give thanks for
having gotten there, to wherever there was – an answer to a stated and unstated
prayer or longing or wish. For years, when I’d ask folks what they did for a
living – trying to vicariously divine what I ought to be doing for a living – when folks responded that they went to school full-time, invariably, I said that
I envied people who could do that. Who did that. Underneath envy, is longing.
I knew for some time, and said it occasionally or often,
that I wanted to “go back to school.” That I wanted to go for some advanced
degree, but I had no idea what. I toyed with many ideas. Rabbinic School.
Cantorial School (the singers in synagogues). Masters in Education. Masters in
Jewish Education. Clown School (just kidding). Master’s in Literature… that
always seemed to make the most sense, what with my undergrad in English Literature, but I had no inspiration for what I’d study in that or why.
Through a series of “coincidences,” I’d heard of Mills
College. Although well-known here in our little Bay Area enclave, I hadn’t
heard of it prior. What happened was, in about 2008, my friend in Brooklyn,
whom I’d met here in SF, started a magazine. An arts and culture journal. She
called me and asked if I’d interview a writer for the magazine who lived out here in the Bay,
and despite my lack of experience, I said sure.
Yiyun Li was working as a visiting professor at Mills
College, I found out in my research about her before our phone call. This was the first I’d heard of it. I toodled around the
website, and something somewhere in me sighed,
Yessss….
Every six months or so, I’d revisit the website. I’d never
been to the college campus (The first time I even saw the campus was orientation day!). I’d hardly ever been to Oakland. But, I’d read the
description of the English Department’s Masters’ program, and I felt …well,
like I knew. Like I knew, but dismissed, closing the browser for another six
months. That’s for other people. People who can afford to go back to school, or
who really know what they want to do.
I found a notebook recently that has scribbled notes from a
phone call with my Aunt. She’s an English professor at a university in
Virginia, and has been doing all this for a very long time. My notes are probably
from 2008 or 2009. They’re asking me to check out programs, and seek out
writers I like and see where they’re teaching. They’re asking me to take action
to help “figure out” what I want to study.
See, my above list of my options for Masters’ degrees remained.
What did I want to study? Desire and
action are two different things. Vague desire and clarity are as well.
But, at some point, all of those peekings at the Mills
website came to a head. And in the Spring of 2010, I called the English
department admissions coordinator to talk it out.
Huddled in a side office at my job, I sat on the phone with
her, and she told me about the requirements for the Masters in Literature
Program. The problem became, that I didn’t really do so hot in the last days of
my undergrad (read: Pulling a Britney), and I didn’t have any connections with
my professors from then, and I certainly didn’t have any academic papers on
hand.
I called my brother, and asked him to go through my room in
New Jersey, to see if he could find a paper of mine. He said he didn’t see
anything like that as he sifted through a few years’ of my papers and creative
writings, but that “It is obvious that you are, and have always been a writer.”
This phrase helped more than he knew. I called Stephanie at
the English Department, and as the deadline for application drew voraciously
nearer, I asked her what I should do. I asked her, then,… what were the
requirements for the MFA in Poetry Program….? (insert full body chills)
Those requirements, I had. 15-20 pages of recent poems. I
had 16. No lie. Letters of recommendation – my gorgeous and supportive women
Karen and Kristin who’d seen my evolution over a number of years and were aware
of my poetry (go Facebook). And an essay. My essay. An essay which wove
together the disparate streams of chance and circumstance and fate which
brought me to the cave of longing for a Mills’ degree – about Yiyun Li, and the
thread of creative writing through my life (thanks to Heather for that phrase),
and about a mission statement I’d heard from a friend of mine – “To use my gifts
and talents to be of maximum service to [G-d and] my fellows.” That although I
didn’t have my own mission statement yet, mine would be something like that.
It continues to be something like that.
The threads of fate conspired, faint as gossamer, lost as a
cobweb in the dark at moments. At other times, bright and obvious as the red criss-crossed string of a movie manhunt over a map. Termed as I’ve put it, “an answer to a
prayer I’d never have let myself utter,” instead of the MA in Literature, I
applied to the MFA program in Poetry, and I got in.
In my friend’s living room a few weeks after I was accepted
and in process of heading down a path I’d no idea to where, cross-legged on the floor, we wrote down all the things that we
wanted to let go of – things that had brought us to the point where we were
now, but which we believed weren’t serving us any more. To honor those
characteristics and beliefs which had been necessary ‘til then, and then to
burn them as a symbol of surrender and release of them.
So many of my “let go of” qualities were about doing it “on my own,” feeling like I needed to or had to do it alone, or that I had to figure it out.
I wrote down, “I can’t” and I burned it.
When the ceremony was at its end (“ceremony” being us
burning several strips of paper over a bowl!), we wrote down what we wanted to
take with us, as we headed out from there. On one square of blue lined paper, I wrote what I wanted to
take with me from there, to Mills, to my future, to the world as I engage it
more fully:
We Can.
adulthood · authenticity · band · compassion · courage · dance · discovery · letting go · life · maturity · music · performance · persistence · poetry · receiving · responsibility · self-care · singing · surrender

Pulling a Carmen: 2

When I began this blog-a-day back in November of last year,
my first post was called “Pulling a Carmen,” as I’d been reading and was encouraged by her own blog-a-day postings. In the time since, sometimes I
just find it hugely funny how parallel my path is to my fellow blogger and
friend.
For recent example:
  • I also just starting going back on to the internet dating
    scene. In fact, I have a coffee date today with someone I met on JDate
  • I too have said fuck it, and asked out a dude yesterday.
    Unfortunately, turns out he’s married, but it felt really good to do so.
  • Several of the books that are lining my desk and bedside
    table are travel books about Europe, underlining my intention to take a real
    freaking vacation some time this century.
  • And, I also rented a camera and video camera from the
    school’s A/V department to begin taking pictures again. 

Sometimes I feel awkward about our exceedingly similar
trajectories, as if I’m copying her, but the reality is that independently, we
come to these things, and then come here to write about them. It’s really
funny, and also somewhat comforting to know that there is someone who is
traveling a similar path toward “To thine own self be true.”
On that note, I went to see my friend’s band play in the city
last night, and then headed with my girlfriends to go out dancing in Oakland.
Prior to both these… we went to the Dharma Punx meditation – nothing says
spiritually fit like meditating for 40 minutes before downing coffee with an
add-shot. 😉
But to relate it to the ‘self be true’ part – each of these
are places where I want to feel more connection. I hadn’t been to see live
music in MUCH too long. It’s on my current list of “Serenity Moths” on my
refrigerator (a list of things that aren’t cataclysmic, but slowly and
subterraneaously eat away at my serenity and foundation). Yes, “Absence of live
music” is on there, and so should be “dancing.” I’m a white girl. I have no
ambition or goal to be anything but a mildly flailing Elaine Benice, but … i
love it. The absence of self, the absence of self criticism or posturing or
need to be anywhere or anything else. Lost in the music.
The band brought something else up for me. Like the
“dropping” of the whole acting bent at the beginning of this year, what I’ve dropped
more often than anything is the “being in a band” idea.
As you may know, I have 2 guitars, a bass, and a small USB plug
in keyboard. Each as dust-covered as the next. The bass amp sits as a monument
to abandoned dreams in my apartment.
Last night, watching my friend’s band, I remembered that this is
something I want to do. In fact, I’d emailed one of the guitarist’s wife about
6 or more months ago to talk to her about her own process of getting toward
singing in a band – embracing her inner teenage rock chick. If I had my … well, if I had my own back, I guess, I’d play
bass, and I’d sing. Talk about vulnerability.
This week, I stood practically naked in front of an audience
and spoke my poem into a microphone in a moderately full theater. That isn’t nearly as frightening to me as
standing in front of an audience, singing, or playing.
The truth is that for several years, I’ve been gathering information
about the whole bass playing thing. But, no, I haven’t been playing. A few
years ago, I asked a guy I knew for bass advice, and he sent me a long list of
places to start (which I didn’t pursue). About a year later, I contacted this other guy about bass
lessons (which I didn’t pursue). … And the guy I asked out yesterday is also a bass player. Apparently,
I have a thing.
Every few years, I’ll troll craigslist, and I’ll answer a
few ads for singers. I even recorded myself a little on my computer’s
Garageband to send as a sample. I got a “not a good fit, but thanks anyway” from one,
and no reply from another. And, hey, I don’t blame em. When I’m terrified, it
comes through. I don’t know. I’ve written here about it kind of frequently –
and dismissed it and been “embarrassed” by it just as often.
However, once again, the thing that occurred to me last night as I
watched my friend’s band was another case of “I want to do that” … followed by
“I can do that.” There is no one stopping me, obviously except for myself and
my fears, and that critic that says “Not good enough” and chops me off at the
knees before I start.
One thing I’m working on releasing at the moment, a pattern
and belief and behavior that is just not fucking serving me anymore, is my need
or habit to stay small.
When I was living in South Korea, my friend nicknamed me
“Ballsy Mollsy.” I had the absolute chutzpah and hubris to ask anyone anything,
go anywhere, and do pretty much whatever I felt like doing in the hedonistic
way most drunks do.
However, there is a quality of that Ballsy woman who still I am,
somewhere, and who I want to resurrect or reveal or uncover or let loose – or
even just let into the light a little tiny bit.
I find it’s happening in some ways. And I know to have
compassion for myself as I try to aim in this direction which has been a Siren
song for me (uh, no pun intended) for … oh, 15 years.
But compassion for slow progress, and acceptance of
stagnation are two different things. And I’d really like to move forward from
here.
So, for your reading pleasure, here’s a poem composed about
a year ago. Reading aloud is encouraged.  As is recalling the line “So let it be written, so let it be done.” Cheers. m.
Band Practice
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TNK TNK THWAP!
acting · community · direction · friendship · performance · poetry · school · self-support · theater · work

"I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life"

When I was growing up, when my family went on long car
rides, my dad had
instituted a rule. My brother and I could only ask the question “Are we there
yet?” three times, combined. Not three for him, three for me. Not phrased
differently to bypass the rule. Three times. Are we there yet.
I’m sort of glad the Universe doesn’t have a rule like that,
although I suppose it sort of does. For the number of times that I’ve asked
what’s next, the answer remains as vague as the Magic 8 ball’s “Reply Hazy –
Ask Again Later.” Apparently 3 seconds later is not later enough, and you get,
“Cannot Predict Now.”
But, it’s sort of comforting in some ways I suppose. A friend
said to me recently that we don’t know what’s next because it reminds us we’re
not G-d. I also heard that G-d loves us just enough to not let us know what’ll happen next. The perpetual
“SURPRISE!” type Higher Power. But, really, I think that if I ever knew really
what was to happen next, I’d spend a lot of time manipulating to my way of
thinking – if I’m meant to go in direction A, then I’ll start to pack for that
direction, not knowing that perhaps I’m supposed to go to A, but with a byway
in L, Q, and H in order to learn what I need by the time I get to A.
I was out with a group of us school poet folk last night at
dinner after our performance poetry … performance. Which went highly well, I’d
say. Pretty full theater, no technical problems, and, me, in my makeshift
nudesuit – because really, when the else time would I have the opportunity to
do that??
So, we’re out at dinner, and the women who are finishing
their first year are asking about my experience there, if I took cross-courses
at Berkeley, if I’ll stay in the Bay Area, and what’s next. And they’re
just curious. I say that I really took school sort of as a walk – I looked into
taking a GTU cross-course, but didn’t. But, I took painting, and singing, and acting.
I mean, it is a liberal arts college
(though you may not guess that from the highly funded business school it now
hosts). I
did take the school
experience as a bit of a walk. It wasn’t academically rigorous. I think I took
one class that had a lot of reading on theory and criticism. I took one that
had moderate reading like that. And the rest, well, they were pretty much,
write poetry, read poetry, discuss poetry. Period. It was sort of awesome.
I suppose I feel a little chagrined at not having taken more
advantage of the opportunity, but then on the other hand, I think I also took great
advantage in ways that weren’t as “rigorous.” I did just find out yesterday
that you could rent the most awesome a/v tech equipment for up to two days –
even lighting and high tech cameras and video cameras – so I’m a
little bummed I didn’t take advantage of that – cuz it sounds AWESOME. I guess
I do have a few days left! Maybe I’ll be a filmmaker for a few days, as I
continue to send out tendrils into the work world.
I have one more class to complete. I have a class time on
Thursday for Acting Fundamentals, and then our class performance next
Wednesday. It’s just a scene, each of us students paired with someone and doing
a scene assigned by the professor. But, I feel really comfortable there. I
forget. I mean, after that flurry of activity in December and January around
headshots and auditions and monologues, I let it all go to focus on school,
which was appropriate, but now that I have a little more breathing room, I hear
it. Like I hear the painting studio.
Stress and creativity aren’t quite compatible I suppose.
But, in any case, being on stage last night (though I wish I’d reread my piece
before I got onstage, as it was quite distracting to know I was/appeared
naked!), and practicing my scene with my class partner, I mean, I just feel like
I know this. There’s an incredible
amount to learn, but I know about blocking, and staging. I helped the two of us
create movement in the scene, to listen to the text and let it inform us. I
also tried to not be bossy 😉 as this was a joint effort. But I felt in my
element.
I have an invitation to have coffee with an acting friend of
mine – something that’s been pushed down the pages of the calendar like a
shuffle board disc, and I intend to ask my acting teacher to coffee for an
“informational interview” type conversation. But as I continue to look for
work, to find out where and how I’m supposed to earn, and embody the question “what can I give”
rather than “what can I get,” and let go
of the Am I There Yet, I can also take FULL advantage of what I have in front
of me – advocates, peers, and a wicked a/v department. 
change · compassion · forgiveness · fortitude · life · maturity · poetry · progress · recovery · San Francisco

Poetic Noise.

I was all set to write a blog about 7 years. How really when
someone is 6 years old, they’re beginning their 7th year of life.
How I’ve been here in the SF Bay Area 6 years to the day, and so I begin my 7th year in
the Bay. And how, further, and don’t quote me, that our cells are said to regenerate every 7 years – all of them – so that I am now beginning a set of 7. Any and all cells that I had in my body when I arrived in San Francisco
have absolutely been purged and regrown, replaced.
I think about this, and intended to write about all the
things that have changed in these 6 full years. About where I am not as I begin
my 7th – about how I feel it’s completely cosmically appropriate
that I stand ready to graduate from a Master’s program and contemplate a return
to the East Coast, and even maybe a career.
I wanted to list things like getting my teeth fixed, a
several-year process that I started here, after 10 years of having a few molars pulled
in high school but never replaced, which made me self conscious in photos,
though few others noticed (I certainly do now, as I smile entirely with every
ounce of my cheeks).
I was going to write about my return to art. About taking up the pencil after several years’ neglect and the first tentative and
judgmental sketches which I shoved away for another few years before warming up
and into myself – culminating in selling a painting last year – me?! of all people.
The last 6 years witnessed a return to the stage, auditions,
head shots, community plays. Two acting classes, and two performance poetry
classes, and some modeling to further my return to being present in my skin.
They also signaled a return to writing, the scribbled in
margins and the back of notebook hobby of mine. Who knew that beginning to post
my poems as Facebook notes for several years would morph into what it is now –
reading in public, (almost) owning my mantle of poet. 
I got a cat, for chrissake. Something I was loathe to do –
my first pet-able animal I’ve ever owned, and having her hasn’t make me a crazy cat
lady… so I’m told.
I put up curtains, set root in San Francisco, didn’t run
away, cut and run, shrink or hide. I’ve emerged slowly, shyly, tentatively,
reluctantly and painfully for sure.
I took guitar lessons and voice lessons. Which I dropped,
but the piano creeps in these days, sending crescendos of joy into my marrow.
For years, while I’ve been here, whenever someone told me
that they were in school full-time, I looked at them as though they were a
movie star, a little starry eyed and goofy and admiring, and said (I remember
so clearly), I envy people who do that – go to school fulltime. And now I’m one
of them. I forget that I really asked for this. I asked for it often and
deeply.
As each of the cells on this corporeal form have dived their
swan song into the ether, I have changed. People sometimes use the term inwardly
rearranged
– how literal it is here.
Yes, I intended to write my blog about that – about the
nature and surprise of continuing to beat a heart consistently for 7 years.
But I read my email before I came to write this, and there’s
some poetic noise in the interwebs about some highly public class tension that
occurred last night in the direction of a classmate, and I’m just sort of sad
about it.
We are all human. We are all trying to be free from
suffering and doing the best we can. 
How we act and react — teacher, student, classmate … parent, co-worker, acquaintance, dude who cut me off on the highway — is simply and ultimately the best we can offer for that day. We may not like it or approve – we may reprove ourselves for how we acted or reacted or neglected to act – but we also get to reflect and change what isn’t working for us, whether that’s our perspective or action. 
So mixed with the awe and gratitude I feel for not being the sloppy,
grubbing, manic splash of a young woman I was when I arrived in San Francisco 6
years ago today, I also feel a melancholy compassion for last night’s wounded artist (who
for all I know, may not be), and for the reality that we are all somewhere in the process of this perpetual
self-renewal.
coffee · friendship · gratitude · growth · healing · poetry · receiving

I Get By with a Little Help from My Friends

As I sit across the wide wooden table, slightly wobbly, with
“world music” of some kind emitting from corner speakers, my friend holds out her hand, lays her palm up, crisp milky white against waxed mottled mahogany, and I take it. She places her other hand atop our pile of digits,
cocooning them, warming them as tears make unbidden trails through the
invisible down of my cheeks and under the hollow of my jaw.
balance · performance · poetry · progress · self-care

Reframe.

In a stroke of inspiration, I have produced both
disappointment and excitement. Disappointment, as I’m not sure I’ll wear a nude
body suit for my Performance Poetry class final performance. Excitement, as I
think I know what my piece will be about.
As I’d mentioned, I needed to see if the whole brazen nude
body suit thing would be supported by the content of the work – why wear that
if you’re going to tell lyrical poems about cherry blossoms? This morning,
however, I believe I was struck with the inspiration paddle, and think I know
what my piece will be about.
Originally, it was to likely be about a woman’s relationship
with her body, how it waffles between ownership by self, and ownership by
others, including mainstream media, etc. But, I feel that I’ve covered a lot of
that for now in my thesis work, and although, sure, that’s an issue that’s
present or “up” in my life, as I began fleshing some of the new idea out in my
morning pages this morning, I think I’ve found something riper, funnier, more relatable,
and interesting. I’ll keep you posted.
I’ve started using a different morning pages notebook, as
I’d finished my last a few days ago. It’s thinner than the last, but much
larger pages, which equals much longer writing in the morning. (It’s also made
from post-recycled materials, so it’s not new growth trees being cut down so I
can write, I wonder what the Harry Potter
stars are up to now – which, yes, occurred this morning along with all the
else.)
I was a bit intimidated to be writing these 3 long hand
pages much longer – would I have enough to “fill” it? What more could I
possibly have to say. But I actually think this new length is just right for
me. It’s longer than the last, and is giving me the room to get further into
stuff before I wrap it up or end. Which is partly why I think my new idea for
my performance came about – there’s more room to work it out, and watch it
stumble across my page.
On another note. My friend left yesterday, and my little
space is my own again. Driving to the airport at 5am will a) make you
appreciate a rental car, and b) cause the skipping of my morning blog
yesterday, so please forgive. I was a bit pooped and outward energy depleted
from the trip.
It was very good practice, though, I believe. To wake up and
have a person there. To go to sleep and have a person there. Granted, on the
pull out couch, but still. I’ve been a solitary bird here in my apartment for a
long time, and having another human here … well, was interesting to notice how
I act and react.
Part of me is enormously proud that I got in most of my
morning practices, and I stayed within my spending plan for her trip, and
brought lots of snacks and meals with me so I didn’t have to eat out very much
at all. Part of me is very acutely aware of how other-centered I become in the
presence of someone a) so close to me, and b) who’s in my space almost 24/7.
But, the good news, is that I noticed it. And I began to do
my best to reign back in my codependency. I don’t need to complete your sentence. I don’t need to add in my two cents about your story with my own.
I don’t
need to be thinking of
how to respond or what I’ll say next to keep the conversation interesting and
exciting.
It was hard, honestly, in the few times that I consciously
thought, I can let this thread lie. I don’t need to pick it up. It wasn’t that
I was being cold, or uncommunicative. But when there came moments when I
certainly had my opinion, or an alternate opinion, I didn’t have to voice it. I could let my friend state her opinion
or share her story without having to add in my own or contradict or augment
what had already been said.
Some moments, it felt to me like there was a huge, blatant
gap in the space when I was usually “supposed to” say something. And it felt
awkward and uncomfortable for a moment – within me. Surely, she didn’t realize
anything, and a new thread of conversation would be picked up immediately. But
I noticed. I noticed, basically, that I was holding my tongue.
Which, I suppose, leads me back toward my own center. I
don’t have to put out every idea or thought in my head. I can let myself rest
in the calm of a conversation, or someone else’s story. This isn’t a very
frequent habit of mine, usually. Although, I do tend toward the loquacious
side, with my friend from New Jersey, we’ve spent so many years as the other’s
half, it’s “natural” to want to just chitter chatter away. But, I realized it’s
exhausting.
She, again, was not asking me to contribute in a way that
was depleting. And it also comes back my former habit of accepting jobs I don’t
want, when they’re not asking me to give from my dregs. If I take care of my
center, notice that my focus is somewhere in between me and another person, me
and a job, and can bring it back to myself, and sit, sometimes in the
discomfort of not engaging in a behavior that leaves me feeling depleted, then I
get the chance to give from my best, and also, to simply rest in the
companionship of another person.