Terror, Anxiety, and Not Much New Writing

In the spring of 2016, I got on a creative roll, waking up in the dark at 5:30 am and writing for 90 minutes before heading off to my day job. But as the 2016 election drew near, I focused more and more on reading the news each morning, and then each night. Each new misogynist revelation, each new racist pronouncement left me newly depleted. My morning writing practice fizzled out.

Since 11/9, I’ve been in a perpetual state of checking: checking the NYT, WaPo, the Guardian, checking 45’s Twitter feed, checking social media. Recently, I realized this checking behavior was what I did as a child in an abusive family situation, and later, a teenager in an abusive relationship. It’s got to stop.

People who’ve survived child abuse and intimate partner violence get used to walking on eggshells because abusers and batterers can snap at any moment. When I lived like that, in terror and anxiety, I monitored my boyfriend’s moods with great vigilance. I hung on to the fantasy that if I could predict his violence, I could prevent the next black eye, broken nose, split lip.

For many years after escaping that relationship, I was as head-shy as a maltreated horse. Any sudden movement near my head made me flinch. I thought that for the most part, I’d gotten past that.

But no. I live in a country where elected leaders exhibit the same characteristics as batterers: blaming others for their actions, denying or minimizing their own bad behavior, using sex as an act of aggression, losing their tempers explosively, insisting on control. And access to their babyish rantings and explosions is always just a click away.

So it’s not surprising, really, that I would be re-living the terror and anxiety of my youth now. The current political landscape is awash in overt racist and misogynist violence. It’s also awash in the more subtle violences that attack the health and security of women, of immigrants, of anyone who doesn’t look white, of gay, lesbian, and trans people, of people with disabilities, and people living in poverty. It’s much too much like the old days, when men were legally entitled to rape their wives, when homophobic violence was not prosecuted, when racists got away with lynchings, when men could beat their wives and children, when communities and government sanctioned such behavior or excused it as “private family business.”

For me, the terror and anxiety manifest now in my checking behavior. I spend way too much of my time and energy monitoring the political climate and obsessing about it. As if I could predict violence, subtle or overt, and so prevent it. As if.

So where’s the balance between staying informed enough to call my congressmen (yes, they are all men) regularly, and freaking out over every new photograph of a group of old rich white men smiling over meetings and documents meant to exploit or harm our planet, our people? Where’s the balance that will give me back at least some of the energy I need for early morning writing sessions?

Help me out here. Thank you.

 

Dedicated to My Northern Friends

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I used to live up North.

Way, way, way up north, as in Central Maine and Northern Idaho. And though I’m wicked happy to be back in Flor-i-dah, a little piece of my heart is still frozen in the snow, and I remember the long wait for spring.

“Wood Lot in April,” published in the March 2017 issue of Cleaver trillium-erectum-in-dlong-bMagazine, is about the dark side of that longing. In my desperate searches for signs of spring, I often walked alone in the Unity College wood lot, on the lookout for trillium, unrolling fiddlehead ferns, and other early risers. And I was often disappointed when I found the land still in winter’s grip.

Cleaver won my heart with its “Thwack!” and its Ask June column. It’s one of the coolest online magazines around. Check ’em out.

Time Travel in True Stories

I’m honored to have a personal essay, “Maternity Cave,” included in the March 2017 issue of Hippocampus. Like most of my publications, I worked on writing this piece for several years, and worked for even more years trying to figure out what the events in the story meant.

Every so often, a phrase or an image or a small event in daily life captures my attention as being connected to a phrase or image or event from the past. Those little a-ha moments are the beginnings of my stories. The maternity cave story begins in 2006 on a visit to a  bat cave in Central Florida with my teenage niece Candi, where we saw thousands of little brown bats swirling up into the dusk, then it wiggles around in the 1990’s between my first marriage, my experience of infertility, and finding my birth family, and then it shoots ahead to a family picnic in 2016, when Candi is a grown woman with two children of her own. There was a moment at that picnic that lit up the past for me.

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The story doesn’t follow linear time, and I’ve been thinking lately that’s one of the benefits of being a reader of personal essays: we get to experience hard-earned wisdom in a way that isn’t tied to chronology. We get to look back, be in the present, and jump ahead to the future in less time than it takes to bake a cake. There’s no undo or do-over button because truth doesn’t change, but at least we get to see truth’s trail.

Personal essays are time capsules, freezing us in a moment. But they can be time machines, too, taking us forward and backward, allowing us to grab on to the hindsight and foresight in someone else’s experiences, even as it escapes us in our own.

Keep on Keeping on

Writing is so much about resistance. Resisting the inner voice that tells you your work is worthless. Resisting the external voices that tell you your perspective is worthless. Resisting the easy way out of a story or essay or poem. Resisting the very human impulse to put your work off for a day, a month, a year.

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Writing is so much about persistence – persisting even after a lengthy absence. Persisting in spite of the difficulty of putting your thoughts into words that others can understand. Persisting in spite of failure to communicate your vision. Persisting in spite of rejection by others. Persisting in your belief in what is important, good, and right.

The new issue of Baltimore Review contains a poem I began ten years ago that’s been rejected more times than I can count. Like a lot of my poems, it’s trying to share the love.

If anyone (including you) tries to bury your ideas, take heart in knowing your ideas are seeds. They will rise up.

 

Why We Need Poetry Written by Women

mezzo-cammin-winter-2017Kim Bridgford, the founder of the online magazine Mezzo Cammin: A Journal of Formalist Poetry by Womenis the best kind of revolutionary: one whose actions make space for the actions of others, one whose compassion expands with knowledge, one whose own art challenges the status quo with power, grace, and accessibility.

Bridgford brought Mezzo Cammin to life in 2006, when I was a formalist poet looking for places to publish my work. At that time, believe it or not, many poets were suspicious of online publication; print was what mattered. Today, many poets realize that online publication means their poems have a wider audience, and some of the most admired literary journals publish only online.

When I first submitted work to Mezzo Cammin, Kim took the time to make revision suggestions, and later published my work in issues that came out in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2015, and now, in the current Winter 2017 issue. Those poems cover subjects from domestic violence to addiction to poverty to the stigma of disease. As an editor, Bridgford has been open to all subjects, no matter how “unpoetic” those subjects may seem to others. The world needs poetry written by women: to make our experiences and our visions accessible to others, to give young women poets hope, to help keep women’s voices alive.

20100327-mezzo-cammin_0491-1In addition to publishing new work by contemporary women poets working in form, Bridgford also initiated the Timeline Project, a database of women poets throughout the world. Articles for this timeline are researched and written by contributors. This important work of preserving women’s history continues — check out the Timeline if you’d like to write an article about a particular woman poet.

On Wanting, Shame, and Artistic Ambition

Reblog from Sonya Huber — wise words about how taking artistic risks (including the risk of rejection) is scary, yet safe and necessary. 

You didn’t get the grant that would have affirmed your talent and promise. You don’t have a book to hold in your hands that would make all this flailing on the page real. You have been immersed in …

Source: On Wanting, Shame, and Artistic Ambition

Winter Isn’t Coming for Me

Here in North Florida, we do get frosts and even hard freezes, but the seasonal cycle is really more like spring-summer-fall-spring.florida-winter

For most of my life, though, I’ve lived in places with real winters: snow flurries, blizzards, ice storms, freezing rain, slush, slush that freezes into lumpy ice, snow-plow piles of old snow coated in layers of urban soot.

A deep winter, like the one New England experienced in 2013 – 2014, creates a deep silence, a deep sorrow. Snow muffles sound. Wild animals perish from starvation and cold. The weather brings on internal reflection. And then, some stunning, unexpected beauty — the blood-red life of a cardinal at the feeder, the chickadees’ energetic squabbles, sharply-angles sunlight striking an ice-coated branch.

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I don’t miss winter. But, I remember its power in this poem, Sheepscot Wellspring Cemetery, just published in the enigmatic magazine, Cleaver. Don’t miss their “Ask June” advice column, and all the other great poems and stories in the December issue.

Two New Poems at Noble Gas Quarterly

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Where do poems come from? It’s an endless mystery to me, although with these two I can at least point to specific events.

Both poems were inspired by surprising, unplanned interactions with animals. In one, an owl who’d had her tree cut down hissed at me. In the other, a renegade, runaway goat showed up outside my home in Maine.

Noble Gas Quarterly, by the way, is a legit venture — not to be confused with my “ignoble gas” satire, which is totally illegit.

Art by Kmye Chan, from the cover of Issue 203.4
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5 Steps to Safe Guns on Campus

My latest piece for Bullshitist.

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Note: The piece is a satire, but what follow here is not.

The Florida state legislature will consider a bill in 2017 that would allow people to carry guns on college campuses. Currently, permitted gun owners can not carry guns on campus, but they can keep guns locked in their vehicles that are parked on college property.

In addition to being a former college student myself, I taught college students for about 20 years. The institutions where I taught include state universities in urban settings and rural settings, and private colleges in both urban and rural settings. I have friends who still teach college now.

American college campuses are hotbeds of high emotion, high stress, and high alcohol consumption. I don’t know anyone in favor of allowing guns on campus, but of course I live in my own left-wing bubble. People break laws, but still, it seems both tragic and ridiculous me that students under 21 will be forbidden to possess alcohol on campus — because they aren’t mature enough to handle it — but that under this proposed legislation, they will be allowed to possess guns. Really?

It’s this sort of insanity that makes me turn to satire.