Posts in WTMA & Desire
"articulate why this collection matters, what makes it important"

I'm working on a chapbook-length collection that uses 30 local city papers (a.k.a. art zines) from 30 different cities, all collected from the week of my 30th birthday. Here's the process: take a phrase from the cover and make it the piece's title; take a phrase from every single interior page, and one from the back cover, and use these phrases in the order they were found to string together a narrative. Particular challenges are those sex ads/classifieds at the end of all the city papers (a lot of my pieces have to work in a weird fetish sort of thing toward the end), as well as the nature of the constraint leading to many of the pieces sounding like first-person dramatic monologues from narrators who share the same bizarre manner of speaking. Oh, fireworks (because of July 4th events) tend to pop up frequently as well. Not to mention the Air Guitar Championships and the movies Bad Teacher, Conan O'Brien Can't Stop, Midnight in Paris, and Tree of Life. 

I was asked recently to articulate why this collection matters, what makes it important to me, and I thought about that a lot. Several years ago, when I was a fiction student in the MA program at the University of Cincinnati, Porochista Khakpour came to deliver a lecture and said that she'd always wanted to have a book by the time she was 30. She'd just squeaked by, as her first book, Sons and Other Flammable Objects, had been published before her 30th birthday. I was 26 at the time, and I thought I'd never be able to make a book happen by the time I was 30. But I was wrong. We Take Me Apart was published in December 2009/January 2010. I was 28.

But time passes. I'm 30 now and haven't written a book, much less thought of publishing one, since WTMA. This is why "30 Cities, 30 Years" (working title) matters to me, then, because it is commemorative. It is the first collection I've worked on since WTMA. To be honest, I had no intention of working on a manuscript right now; writing has taken a back seat to other interests, like publishing. Cow Heavy is getting a complete makeover and Lit Pub is being redesigned at this very moment! I didn't think I wanted to be writing. I thought maybe I'd pick it up again in the winter, or maybe next summer. I remember talking to Michael Kimball about this in a bar not too long ago. I said something close to what I was getting at, something like: "I'm waiting until I have something to say again." I feel like you hear writers say stupid shit like this a lot. That statement smacks of self-everything. But I meant it. WTMA got at some real things for me, at that time when I wrote it, and I haven't really FELT anything since then. But when I was asked if I could come up with about 30 pieces for a chapbook, I said yes. Practical reasons aside, I said yes because it was the right time for my 30 cities, 30 years project. The solicitation and the timing of the deadline gave me the perfect excuse to start and finish this project. 

I'm starting now to really warm up to this collection. The pieces that are emerging from these city papers document the events of one week all over the U.S., from major cultural hubs like NYC, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Atlanta, as well as cities like Des Moines, Nome (Alaska), and Fort Collins. People all over the country were going to see the same movies, were all getting ready for July 4th events, were all being sold the same products (Bud Light and American Apparel, most commonly), and were also, more interestingly, dealing with issues relevant to their own cities. For example, some of the smaller city papers run Obituaries and Missing Person announcements; other, more liberal cities, seem to advertise five, six, seven different stores for medicinal marijuana, almost all of the advertisements using a busty blonde or brunette in a sexy nurse's costume to entice you on down to the clinic for a free sample with purchase of $50 or more. What's especially great to see, again and again, in all of these papers, is how they celebrate the arts. Music, from symphonies to rock concerts to local open mics; film, from artsy to blockbuster; literature, local poetry slams and open mics, mostly, but also some author events at local bookstores; museums and gallery openings of all kinds; as well as libraries, gardens, pet grooming, face painting at the farmers' markets, etc. 

I'm becoming, in the process of writing these pieces, to really feel, in my own way, patriotic. Not flags and booming cannons but, like, hot dogs and cable TV. I mean, every day, every week, every month year moment, lives are happening. People are living struggling dying loving fighting going to all-night dance parties and horses-welcome patios. They're going to Broadway and '80s night at the local roller rink. They're inspiring these little pieces, these made-up voices, these other people who are beginning to collectively represent us all. In short, lest I continue to ramble on and on about the glory of the U.S. of A., it's gratifying to be working on a book again, albeit a small one, and it feels special, commemorative for my own personal reasons (e.g. birthday) but also because of the larger picture of America that seems, with every new piece, to grow clearer and stronger, filled with the voices of so many individuals living so many unique lives. It is, surprisingly, turning into an emotional writing experience, and I'm grateful for it, if for no other reason than it seems to prove that I have something to say after all this time, after all, and because the release is living up to the buildup of all that pressure to write something that would matter, if not to anyone else then at least to me.

"Get your shit together. . . . I have complete confidence in you."

I don't know about you, but my dusty fingers are out of practice. It's time to start working them out again, I fear. I've got a manuscript due in fifteen days. Will I complete it on time? And also: why do I always do this? I did it with WTMA, for which I also pulled this little stunt, too: I frantic-emailed my publisher and said, "I need a kick in the ass." She replied, "Get your shit together." And then she wrote, "I have complete confidence in you." (JAT basically said the same thing when I did it to him.) I wrote back, "I will bring it," but that was bravado talking, taking over. Now that it is a new day, I'm back to procrastinating, doing everything but write the damn thing. But, as I've told myself before, in 2 days I'm going to get on a plane, I will be separated from the Internet for 18 days, and I will write the damn thing then, OK? I even have an outline! And I will stick to it! It's just a first draft that's due, anyway. It will be OK.

"we are better than dead / in that we are this: breasts, soles, heels, lips."

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:

listen

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:

we are better than dead
in that we are this: breasts, soles, heels, lips

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:

"If we search for the source of the word [love], we find a history vague and confusing, stretching back to the Sanskrit lubhyati ('he desires')."

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.