Today's post title comes from Karen Leona Anderson's Punish Honey, which I am reading aloud, poem by poem, because each so clearly invites such treatment. I particularly love her single-sentence, multi-stanza poems. Whatever the reason, these are the poems for me. They make me think about my fiction education, the care I used to put into those opening lines of stories in the days when I wrote stories. What's interesting here, though, is that Anderson's single sentences function as the opening and closing lines and also manage to tell the story. It is an interesting way to think about the sentence.
I remember when I was writing WTMA. I was living on one of the worst blocks in South Philly and had a part-time job teaching the GED in a halfway house for post-incarcerated men and women. These classes met M-Th, from 6:30-9:30 at night. My schedule was basically: wake at 5 pm, get a muffin and coffee from Dunkin Donuts, go to work, refill on coffee and get drive-thru dinner on the way home, sit at the computer by 11 pm and write until 9 am. Sleep. And Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, I wrote in coffee shops by day and at my desk in my room-for-rent by night. The room was enormous. I slept on the twin bed provided for me, which was pushed into a corner. The rest of the room loomed. Everything I'd brought with me fit into my car, and once unpacked that stuff fit into drawers and bookshelves so that there was nothing in that huge empty room but me, a bed, a desk, a dresser, a bookshelf, and my computer. My life was that book. My world was that book. I knew nothing around me but that book. It is no surprise that the final lines of that book are:
if nothing else
I am at least a woman who has known and loved the company of a lamp in a dark and empty room
WTMA is about body parts. It's interesting to me now to go back and think about what body parts meant to me at that time in my life. I had a revelation last night. I said something aloud to a friend of mine that I have never said to that friend before. That I do, in fact, want children. That I would love to be at a place in my life where I could provide for a child. Now, I'll be honest. I couldn't be a stay-at-home mom. That would drive me insane. I'd need to be working, too. God, it's confusing. In an ideal world, I'd be able to work from home but I'd have a nanny in the house during the day, taking care of the kid while I work. But I'd be there. Watching the kid grow up. If not a nanny, then a stay-at-home partner wouldn't be too terrible either. Ha. That's a weird thing to say, that I'd prefer a nanny to a partner. Hm. Something to think about. But I've got over $50K in student loans due. I don't have a full-time, long-term job. I'm 30. Well, 29, but what's the difference. I'm not even with anyone that could be that nanny/partner thing.
Am I alone in this? I feel like I am alone in this. Being a woman. Pressures to reproduce. To love that reproduction. God, I sound like a robot or some uncaring thing. But like I said to that friend: I would give anything if this were my life. And I gestured vaguely around the house, with garage, that I rent. If this were mine. If I owned this. Could have my current job for as many years as I wanted or needed it. Knew I would always have health insurance. Money to provide for all a child's needs. Like college. I haven't even paid for my own college.
All I do is think in parts and the holes they fill or don't.
People have kids all the time. They make it work. They find ways to make it work. But Philadelphia ruined me. When I lived there it was a regular occurrence to see people throw garbage out their car windows at stop signs. To see people beaten on the streets. To see a young woman flanked and trailed by three, four, five children, the youngest of which would inevitably be naked or diapered, barefoot, on sidewalks littered with broken glass, trash, and dead mice. The dead mice were a frequent problem for me. I think that people caught them in their apartments and tossed them out their windows. This is how I remember South Philly. My block, anyway. Next door, there lived a couple. All they did was scream at each other. Call each other profanities. When they had sex it sounded like it hurt. He slapped her around a lot. I would look out my bedroom window for two years there, and that is what I saw and heard. So what I did was turn my back and face my computer and write. I wrote We Take Me Apart. I wrote:
every part has a function and I believed then in the function of things and how things could work and become the becoming of another
or at the very least a whole thing that was more than just its parts
for we are more than our parts
we are all of us more than our parts
That book. I couldn't be more proud of it. We sold out of our second printing. That happened at AWP. That was exciting. And everyone who has a copy from the first or second printing now officially owns a collector's item. All of the books in the third run will be stamped with an ISBN and a barcode. Those things are ugly. Philadelphia will forever be an ugly place to me. Even though I know better. Even though I had a lot of good times there. Even though the food in that city is amazing.
I keep reading the final two lines of Anderson's poem:
I posted about Lidia Yuknavitch's essay "About a boob," and I'm sure that's bouncing around in the back of my head, too. And today I was re-reading Selah Saterstrom's The Pink Institution:
"Willie called his daughters into the dining room. He picked up a dining room table chair and threw it into a closed window. The window shattered. He said, 'That's a lesson about virginity. Do you understand?' to which they replied, 'Yes sir.'
And every night for the past few days I have been reading Liz Rosenberg's YA novel in prose poems, 17:
"The most surprising thing isn't that he kisses her but that he opens his mouth when he kisses. His tongue moves against hers, cool, wet, and probing. She thinks, in a startled voice she can nearly hear herself say aloud, 'Oh! This is French kissing.' It is one thing to read about or even watch people do it in the movies, and another thing to be inside a body that another body is suddenly inside of. Her heart is slamming against his. His chilly hands slide to the small of her back. Her feet seem to be sinking into the snow, into the wet ground beneath the snow."
We keep writing about our bodies.
Lubhyati: this is what I want to call this new collaborative manuscript I'm working on with Lily. Got it from Diane Ackerman's A Natural History of Love:
I want to call it this because it's not about him. It's about her.
The backup plan has always been to go get a PhD. By the time I got out of that, I'd be 36. If I got a campus visit after that, and if that campus visit went well, and if I got the job, I'd still have 5 years of ass-busting before I even knew if I had tenure. At long last, job security! By then I'd be 41. Is that too late to have a kid? Not theoretically. I'm adopted. Want to adopt. Could adopt an older child. Seems doable. I'm serious. Philadelphia made me want to never have a child until I could more-than-adequately provide for that child. I've got a ton of student loans that are only acquiring more and more interest by the day. It's stressful. The entire idea of the future of academia is terrifying. I want my life to be different than the life outlined in this paragraph. And I'm wired to want to be the provider. I would never trust myself if I were living with someone who provided for me. I would feel inadequate as a partner, as a person. Which means, if I'm going to be the provider, or an equal partner at least, and if I want to even think about children before the age of 41, then something's got to happen. My plan has to change.
What's more: I fear that maybe I even want to make history, change the shape of things, do something important and relevant and timely, which is not to say that teaching isn't important. God, teaching is the most honorable thing a person could do. Although, you know, probably the GED teaching I did is way more appropriate to this conversation than the teaching I'm talking about. But I think this is why I'm writing this post. I feel like I'm abandoning a huge part of my entire psychology, a psychology that is the result of the past so-many years that I've devoted to the possibility of teaching what I love full-time. Now that I'm pursuing other options—even if they do turn out to possibly provide more financial security in a shorter amount of time—I feel as if I've abandoned myself, my former dreams and plans.
So. Lubhyati. Yes, fine. But I desire too.