The students. My amazing students. Finishing a semester again. Reading their end of semester reflections. I like to think they are sincere when they talk about their favorite books, books that changed their lives, that gave them a sense of pride, The Distance Between Us, Canicula, Borderlands/La Frontera, The House on Mango Street. the assignments they are most proud of, their personal transitions and their new appreciation for writing, for their own voice, for having their say on STEM cell research and merit-based teacher programs, and gang prevention programs that can save the world. And it is mid-May.
Facing the anniversary of my father's passing. Don't want to.
Facing my son's first job ever. Asking him, "how was work (after you did nine hours of school)?" Registering him for a UT camp in music technology this summer for his college application resume because now we have to talk about my baby's college application, his resume, his GPA, his AP scores, his Dual Credit class, his girlfriend, his motorcycle riding with dad. My baby's album in progress, his next gig, his twenty something year old manager, Frank, who believes in him as much as I do. What the hell is happening. My baby better finish high school. My baby did not know how to work the register to find the wine button the other night, and a customer got angry at him. My baby's first wine order went bad. Someone yelled at my son! In public! I can obviously talk about this kid forever, but I have to let him be. I have to let him have his life. But he fascinates me! And he worries me! And he amazes me.
This week has been fight or flight levels of adrenaline jumping up and down, which are associated with my own and my friends' writers' crises. This week has ended with me painting my fingernails with white and pearly glitter because that is the kind of self-care I needed. Cinderella-glitter-dress nails. Quinceñera-dress-I-never-wore nails. Groomed nails to look like I have it together when in fact they would be shredded right now if they were not baked in plastic glitter. Shredded, infected, injured from stress, picking, chewing, worrying. Yes! And I have barely scratched the surface here about all the writing prompts I encountered this week. Something has to keep me together. It was glitter this time.
See, I'm scheduling kitten's, ummm, fix for early next week, though he has done nothing to deserve that. He purrs, he whines, he is statuesque, he climbs, he nuzzles, he does all the things ordinary kittens do, drinks water at the sink, which I cup into my hand. It's more delicious that way, he tells me. Cold, warm, he likes it from a human hand cup. But for me this is not ordinary at all, having a new small life in my care, a furry warm being from God, who is here to teach me self-respect, boundaries, and a new vocabulary.
I'm facing big decisions that are not medically recommended for Huey as well, and in comparison, I should be more worried about them than the kittens soon ball-less life. These are coming down the professional pipe in ways I would have never predicted. Because things now are at stake in my writing career. They have always been, I guess, but now, I'm exhausted.
And I missed this blog, this moment to reflect last week! Two weeks into my catch up, or was it three, and I missed! But then there was a good, no great reason, and set of reasons. Last week was a high, a mystical wondrous, lyrical getaway. There were so many good, good things, all having to do with poetry and friendships.
First, there was a poetry meeting with my group at Señor Veggie. This means I write a poem. I revise a poem. I show it to Barbara Griest-Devora at work. She makes faces, spends three minutes on it. I show it, revised again, to Barbara because poetry group needs to be all impressed by my new work because they are AMAZING poets, and I do not know how I am now included in their group. I finally told them that this week-- possibly it was the (single) beer talking (normally I never have a beer and read /critique poetry, but it was that kind of day when I thought, why he hell not), possibly it was a moment of honesty among us where we all felt a little vulnerable, possibly I just needed to say it: "I feel like an imposter in this group!" Yes, yes, this is my old crusty friend, low self-esteem talking and yes, yes, LSE is totally right. These poets are amazing. I drink them up, not in a sipping hot tea sort of way, but in a gulping up very thick and perfectly heated hot chocolate kind of way because you cannot control how much your tongue welcomes that perfect sweet, chocolate warmth, their amazing wisdom, shared histories, and lines.
My poetry group allows me to show them new, sloppy work, graces me with hints and feedback, and sends me on my way to feel lifted, cared for, listened to, and validated. They are my poetry vitamins and nutrients, totally necessary, and embedded now in my chemical make-up. Barbara, who helped me before I took poem to group, took the poem, yes a Mary-is-the-great-Mother-Earth poem, up about seven levels. I mean she is so damn smart it hurts. She is my office mate, my comrade at work, and my comadre, a lifetime best friend I met as an undergrad at UTSA. Our kids have grown up together, and now they are all finishing high school together. Crazy. We talk handbags, poetry, retirement plans, and of course line breaks.
The Señor Veggies poetry group meeting happened after the Big Give reading at Viva Taco Land , which was organized by Gemini Ink! Gemini Ink! That was Tuesday. And that day, I told myself how I would have plenty to blog about by just reflecting on Gemini Ink and what they have done for me because they have introduced me to the best writers for so many years. I workshopped with Yusef Kumunyakaa, Tim O'Brien, Sandra, La Sandra Cisneros, Reyna Grande to name a few of the amazing authors they have brought. I have worked for them in several capacities in their Writers in Communities program. I cannot name all the places, but the most powerful have been when they have sent me to work with women at the Battered Women's Shelter. Sacred work. Gemini Ink deserve to be lauded, not because of what they've done for me, though I can go on and on, but because of how they help so many writers of all levels in SA, and they do such a damn good job. Sheila Black is amazing. Alexandra Van De Kamp is superb, wise, luminous, Ben Tremillo, all of them! Anisa Onofre, a dear old friend who is utterly gifted and dedicated, and co-owner of Aztlan Libre Press. I love them so much. And then invited many poets to help them raise $ for The Big Give. Ah, the Big Give. Sad about the website, but it was open the next day! It worked! Sort of. The reading at Viva Taco Land was brimming with poets I love. Brimming! But I had to run to my meeting just minutes after I read, so I took my kid to his first day at work about thirty miles from there, got there in a hot May afternoon in San Antonio rush-hour rush, read a poem like it was a drive-by poem, (photo above) and left. I would have loved to stay and linger to hear the best of San Antonio. But poetry group rocked too. A little more mellow. A little beer to cool down. I drove home feeling like I could fly, and I was flying down the highway. And that was only one day.
Thursday night I met author Veronica Golos for dinner at my friend, Sharon Colangelo's house. We had a vegetarian feast, an informal reading and sharing of work, a trip back to their time as activists in the sixties, and late night conversation about writing, poetry, non-fiction, film, nature, coming back to nature, feeling whole because we are a part of nature, and she, nature, is possibly the mother that we are separated from, and perhaps that separation is the cause of our feelings of isolation and desolation. Normal stuff. It was medicine.
Veronica drove to town with her husband David Perez to teach at Gemini Ink Saturday, a class I had signed up for, and read with author, Sharon Olinka at the Twig, Friday, and so, yes, it was a frantic but wonderful week, an immersion week. The reading? Best reading I have been to in years. They were both wonderful. And it turns out they are old friends too, from New York, and Sharon Olinka and David Perez are both from the Bronx. Small world. But what a reading, what a moving radical, and stunning reading! Both women have this New York edge, both live in the South now, if Taos is South. Sure it is! And both brave tough, sardonic topics, giving their all to their work, to perform it well, to take us into our most terrible and frightened and lonely selves and lift us out into a tough, new awareness of what it is to be a person, a human, to be Donkey Lady, to be the wife of John Brown, Mary Ann Day, and to be lifted into grace and compassion.
I want to write a lot about this time with both of them, much more than I have time to now, but I am running and rushing as usual, and the Spurs are losing as I type, losing, losing. Ending their season as I end this sentence. Crikey, this sucks. Tim Duncan. What a graceful teacher he is. I have to hold off on writing more about my immersion with Veronica Golos. She is just a phenomenal teacher, poet, writer, and person. And it looks like she liked some of my work! That was good! My Mary poems had a good run last week. And Sharon Olinka? She's one of the badasses in my poetry group. See? The group really is good.
This week, though, has had a big share of stressors, as I mentioned above, half-crazed, fully crazed, and not filled with luminous poetry mentors, but this is how it goes. I looked into stress today with one of our psychology faculty while we walked across the mud and construction in our parking lot at NVC. "What are the chemicals that cause one to feel like their bones are being crushed when one gets bad information, or bad news? She made a face, tried to name the chemicals, and then explained to me that the phenomenon of feeling crushed to the bone when you get negative input into your brain is related to adrenaline, and is part of our fight or flight response, which is built into our brains for survival. That makes sense. Survival hurts. I was remembering Psych 101 as we climbed the barrier around the construction site! She said that the physical feeling of pain is made of hormones, sugars, and a flood of other chemicals that yes, create a crushing, possibly paralyzing feeling, shutting down your digestive system, slowing down breathing, bringing all into focus. It all came back to me as she talked. Dad. Losing Dad. Losing Marlo all those years ago. Losing babies. Losing a job. Some bad things that happened this week. And she said that the purpose of the chemicals is to prepare ourselves to react, to cope. "Really?" I said. "Yes, because you know you will have to react. Your body is getting ready. You will have to choose what to do, coping with grief for example, so the chemicals are there to help you when you choose to act." Funny, it never felt that way, that the crushing pain of bad news was a way of my body wanting to help? I want to look into this some more. She also said these were the chemicals of stress. Longterm stress. Short-term stress. As we all know, stress kills. But in my case, the bone-crushing feeling felt like an end in itself, like I wanted to just quit and hide, not a preparation for something. Is that flight? I don't think so. Fear, yes. This week was not filled with that pain at all necessarily, but badness, yes fear, yes, escape, yes, and yes, FIGHT is the only real option. It has to happen even though there was the strong lure of flight i.e. Cinderella finger nails! Ummm. Maybe FIGHT has to wait until the boxing gloves are correctly strapped on. Here is to all the light glitter can bring because light is its own kind of writing prompt and medicine.