Dreaming of spring and a mini poetry review of Carrie Fountain

I want it to be spring. Spring in the north is like fall in the desert: a cause for celebration.

#TBT I remember those first cool days... like I am salivating for the first warm ones, now.

#TBT I remember those first cool days... like I am salivating for the first warm ones, now.

There are only a couple of seats left in my ApiaryLit generative CNF workshop in April. If you're stuck (believe me, I know how that feels), or looking for new prompts and ideas, or just someone to give honest, pointed, and thoughtful feedback on some new writing, I'd love to work with you!

Carrie Fountain's Burn Lake

I'm so in love with Carrie Fountain, even though it is very much unrequited. Burn Lake is not a new book, nor is it new to me. But I re-read it last weekend and was just as enamored with it as I was when I first got it a few years ago. 

So, the book won the National Poetry Series back in 2009, judged by Natasha Trethewey. It is about New Mexico and New World histories of conquest and apathy, but also about sexuality and mothers and industry and ex-urban spaces and fire. 

When she writes, " "We are all alone," / they cry. And the sky answers back / by not moving an inch" I get a sense of the cruel sublime that operates against and upon the pent-up teenagers and construction workers and locals waiting in line at the first McDonald's in Fountain's Las Cruces. And then there are amazing moments like this:

Because this is what the dog
was made to do.
Because for some lucky animals

the space between the body
and what it wants
is all there is.
— from "Late Summer" by Carrie Fountain

I was very fortunate to take a class from Fountain in 2009, at Austin Community College. She was a generous reader of what were surely terrible poems of mine. The course was taught online and we only ever met face-to-face once, in an awkward and disappointing exchange.  But I don't hold that moment against this book. It is intelligent and the poet's hand here is sure and deft. I highly recommend it.

Let's write some words together!

I may have been struggling to write my science book, and suffering a bit from imposter syndrome there, but that is not what I want to share today. Regardless of how the last couple of months of bird writing has gone, I have really loved teaching my nonfiction workshop at Colgate these last two semesters. I am sad and a little freaked out now that the semester's almost over, because it means I will lose all of the inspiration and focus that my students impart to my own writing practice.

But! I have a plan.

Next month, I'll be teaching a virtual workshop over at apiarylit.org and I hope to make it a regular thing. I have so many ideas for workshops and lecture-series I'd like to give (how to find and write great applications for fellowships and residencies, new nature writing, incorporating research without sounding like an asshole (working title) and about a million more), and this is a way for me to keep teaching whether or not there's a brick and mortar job for me in Central New York.

My generative workshop will be focused on helping writers produce nearly 5k words in the month of April. I will give guidance and prompts, and then a ton of specific feedback on that work each week. Writers in the same workshop can optionally share and learn from one another as well. Apiary's platform is flexible enough to allow me to provide readings, feedback, and forum space for my workshop in an integrated and easily navigated space.

I'm still writing. I'd like to keep teaching, too. If you or someone you know could benefit from an Apiary workshop, I'd love to hear from you. I can answer questions here in the comments or over at chelsea@apiarylit.org

(PS, there are also still a few seats in the poetry workshop, if poetry is more of your bag. Kenzie Allen will be teaching that one and she is phenomenal. Meredith Luby's fiction workshop is already full, but Apiary hopes to offer more courses over the summer.)

Thoughts on the allure of giving up. Or, Maybe it's all the snow?

I'm still having a hard time writing this book. I wish most days that it weren't "this book," that I could just write without the obligation of "this book" hanging over my head. So many people have supported this book, have supported me in the writing of it. So many people have said encouraging words about how they can't wait for the book and the book will be so important. I feel a little bit like I've been trying to get pregnant for three years and there's still no plus on the stick. 

My inability to write the book I want (I'm writing, I'm just not writing enough to get past the writing I hate), is making me doubt my ability to write with any lengthiness at all. I think of all of the things that I have given up these past three, four, five years—like job (or really, any kind of long term) security, like reading or road trips for fun and exploration, not weighted down with the need to do double-duty, to be "productive" first, fun second. I can't justify visiting friends (unless they live near vultures), because every piece of spare change goes to funding these research trips that... I mean, I don't know what I'm doing, some days. You know?

Part of this frustration has come about because I'm having a hard time fact checking some of my earlier writing. I have become crippled by the fear that I'm going to write something and some expert (who never answered my emails; who I never found; who wouldn't let me record our conversation and now wants to clarify my "misunderstandings"; who won't give me the name of the person who knows because that means admitting not knowing) is going to say, "That's wrong. How could you write that?"

Right now, I'm working off a bunch of newspaper articles for this one piece, and no scientist or reliable source will confirm that the news is correct. But they won't tell me what IS correct, either.

When I asked a Forest Officer how many leopard attacks have happened in and around Mumbai since 2011, he replied, "SGNP Borivali have density at least one leopard per each 2 and half square kilometer. Means here is huge population of  leopards. As before discuss   encroachment  made by surrounding  population as well as increase in population of leopards is the main reason of clashes between leopard and human."

When I asked a biologist who studies leopards in India about the increase in attacks since 2011: "there was no "increase" in 2011, earlier there were about 30 attacks each year and 2011- 2012 had about 4-5 attacks and likely to be caused by one animal as it was very localised." But another expert said there were no attacks between 2009-2011. So what's up with "30 attacks each year"? Then, a Guardian article from November 2014 that quoted that same expert reported: "Yet, since November 2011 there have been six fatalities; the last three deaths were all reported in Aarey Milk Colony, to the south of the SGNP." Not all attacks are fatal. How many attacks? How may deaths?

I understand that it is risky (and at present, not especially scientifically rigorous) to tie the near extinction of one species (vulture) to the increase of another threatened creature (leopards), and it is especially unwelcomed to correlate the increase of a threatened species with an increase in human conflicts with that species (see also: wolves in the US). 

BUT FUCK. If it's true? How can more leopards not mean more attacks? How can more dogs not mean more leopards (when the leopards' bellies are more full of dog than any other animal)? The link between dogs and the vulture decline has been noted in several peer reviewed papers, but another leopard biologist wrote to me: "I think the link between vultures and increased dog numbers is total speculation and I do not believe in it at all. I think it is a really bad idea to emulate guardian or Indian papers which are absurdly sensationlizing the issue. I hope you will not join the bandwagon."

I don't want to be sensational. I don't want to be a part of the terrible group of "people who talk about science badly." I don't want to do leopards or vultures a disservice. But I believe they are connected, and I don't think it's a conspiracy-theory type belief. But if no one tells me the same story, what the hell am I supposed to do? Not tell any story? Risk discrediting all of my other experts by believing the wrong one? 

And this is just one little story in "this book." Most of my time in Europe was spent with experts who refused to speak on tape. They have sent me their papers and the papers of others to quote. How easy it is to create a rich, sympathetic character from the scholarly papers of others! These folks would say, "But I'm not the character! The birds are!" Because they don't understand that readers fall in love with people who love animals, not the animals themselves. We love our reflection in animal eyes. We love how they make us feel. 

(Which is where the risk is, right? I'm scared about writing a book about me. I'm scared that it will be full of doubt and fear and anxiety instead of vultures and beauty and wonder and the sublime. I thought I was writing a conservation book about vultures, and then I thought I was writing about death and scavengers and maybe myself a little, and then a travel memoir about caring enough about a type of bird and its place in the world to go to half a dozen countries trying to learn more about it, and now I don't even know. I have no clue how to make these last three years into an interesting story. Why me and why now? I have no clue.)

Anyway. I am trying, you guys. I am trying to find the story. But I just feel like I am failing at every step.

Now, I've written and re-written to a half dozen people trying to find an expert in Peru on vultures, and no one is responding. The kid in me who wasn't invited to the parties everyone went to, and who was picked last for every team ever (except in-class trivia games, heyyyy), is convinced that it's me. That I've asked the wrong questions of the wrong people and now everyone else knows not to answer, that not everyone wants a general book about vultures written by me, because it means writing about people as much as it does the birds.

So then I think, fine. Maybe I'll just go to Peru and have fun. Maybe I'll just be a tourist. Maybe I'll eat guinea pig and climb Macchu Picchu and take pictures and buy a clay pot and get a tan. And when someone points out a condor in the sky, I will look up like people who don't care about birds look up and just say, "Wow!" And who cares if it means nothing to anyone except me and my lover?  

I can't find the Peru story. It's a huge country, full of vultures, and ... nothing. I don't feel like any of this is any easier or that I have any more idea what I am doing now than I did when I mis-booked my first hotel room in Antwerp and let my first whole week of "research" go unrecorded. Like I'm going to write a book now about what I sort of remember happened, a book about all the stuff I still don't know. About the people who wouldn't answer my questions or who turned out to be racist or sexist jerks even though they have committed their lives to saving endangered species. (And too, the wonderful, kind people who can't get funding, who don't have corporate sponsored vans, who don't have a uniform, who are doing good work that some do and some don't consider "valid" based on whether or not there is a government logo on their front door.)

Which makes some stupid desk job and an essay or two a year maybe, about breakups and the places I've lived, so attractive. It would make many things easier, to just put this down. It wouldn't make me feel better, but if trying to write "this book" won't either, shouldn't life at least be easier? I am tired of scrambling every fall for a spring of defeat. I am tired of trying so hard and failing over and over. I am tired of pitching a story in the hopes of getting some exposure for an amazing project, and then watching the rejections roll in, or worse, the story never go to press. I am tired of not knowing how to work harder so I get it more right. I am letting people all over the world down by even considering this, I know. I know it every day and it is such a weight to hold up. All those people and all those birds. 

I know that the difference between people who succeed and those who fail is this exact moment. But for fuck's sake: it's just so huge. The whole world. All the vultures. I can't find the story that connects them all. I know that this is where everyone who is going to quit, quits. I have persevered and hung in there and done the hard things before. I just don't understand how to make this book the thing I can't give up. What I mean is: Why me and why now?

Poetry: three short reviews

It's spring break, and in addition to other things, I'm reading poetry. I don't really know how to talk about poetry properly, which is to say with a learned vocabulary, so I'm just going to tell you how the following collections made me feel. 

Bendorf's first book will make you hungry for his next. The Spectral Wilderness is about becoming and emerging, and about wildness and ghosts. I folded over the corners of the pages I liked best, and now it sits crooked on the table, all swelled up on one edge, like a board taking on water. 

I love this book. 

Get it, everyone. (Also available from The Kent State University Press)

Sorry, Tree
By Eileen Myles

I bought this book because Wave Books was having an amazing Holiday sale. It is a numbered and signed edition, and I'm kind of a nut for those when I can afford them. (Note: While I include Amazon links in my posts in the hopes of making a few books with which to buy more books, I prefer to buy books closer to the source whenever possible.)

Here's where I admit how uncool I am: It was a little tough to get into these poems at first.

I like rich imagery, and am drawn in by visions and reflection. But Myles is telling stories here, and after a few pages, I began to better hear her voice. There's bravado and performed bravado and love and sex and 9/11 and an amazing essay-like-piece at the end in which barf features heavily. Myles' short lines and long stacks of them conspire to take you, as if by stepping stone path, deep into the mind of the poet's poet. She's called a rockstar for a reason. She has this way of combining small, "trivial" details (like the time -- "Twenty three before 6.") and big things (like love, like sex, like some larger thing that looks like living).

After reading Sorry, Tree I felt like I'd watched a documentary and gone to the MoMA. She'd probably hate hearing that, so don't anyone tell her, but for me it was amazing. 

Verdict: recommended

I have been a fan of Curbside Splendor books ever since I became a fan of Amber Sparks' books. Specifically, some number of AWP's ago, I bought her collection, May We Shed These Human Bodies, and then when it came out, her collaboration with Robert Kloss, The Desert Places.

What I love about CS books is that they are each specially designed objects. No detail is forgotten. Kloss' illustrations are printed like works of art, Sparks' collection of stories is as good inside as out, etc.

Kiss as many women as you can is another CS collaboration. This time between poet Franki Elliot and artist Shawn Stuckey. [I'm including the "thumbnail" for this book (which is really more like a ham-fist than a thumbnail, since my blog platform doesn't allow re-sizing), because it includes an example of one of Shawn Stucky's gorgeous collages.]

Elliot writes poetry/stories live, on an old typewriter, and photographs her favorites. This collection features several of them on the front sides of mailable postcards (with perforated edges, because CS gets it). The poem-images alternate with Stuckey's collages, some of which feature Elliot's typewritten lines as textural elements. 

Most of the poems feature the love or lovelorn, and Elliot is adept at concision. If I were to call these poems charming that might not adequately represent the weight they have on the page. Stuckey's surreal collages are a blend of someecard-style woodcuts with Portlandia-style birds on them, but these are not images from the Anthropologie stationery table: heads are cut off, birds fly upside-down—there are mysteries and chaos, simmering just behind the richly textured and vibrant backgrounds. 

There's a quality of performance between these pages. Even more so if you actually detach the postcards and mail them. Which you should do. Unlike me, who will probably horde them like I have the dead bugs

Score: Buy a copy for your favorite romantic artist. And then buy a copy for yourself and start writing to people with an actual pen instead of a keyboard.

On Jessica Bozek's The Tales

I just devoured Jessica Bozek's The Tales. It's available from Les Figues Press

I am not that great at writing off-the-cuff book reviews, so I will be brief (and hopefully galvanizing). The Tales is a slim volume full of prose poems/fragments/stories that speak in a number of voices about violence, victimization, and myth-making. It traces the songs, poems, stories that surround the aftermath of a terrible crime, committed as an act of war, in some dystopian perhaps-future.

The reader gets to hear from the Lone Survivor of the atrocity, but also the tailors, architects, engineers and claims adjusters who must attend to the life of the survivor. The dogs, birds, and a chorus of dead also speak on the before, during, and after. Bozek includes notes at the end of the book to trace some of the scholarship and artistic inspiration that has informed all of the tales that make up The Tales. She borrows from and is moved to create by works as disparate as critical analyses of war memorials, Ojibwa and Odawa tales, and a wide range of 20th century art and poetry. 

As the central narrative of the Lone Survivor becomes revealed through the mouths of various perspectives, Bozek investigates the language that victims and perpetrators alike use to make sense of (and attempt to forget) the aftermath of violence. From ordinary objects–family photographs, sweaters that unravel, old batteries, and lightbulbs–to the remnants of destroyed art and architecture, an annihilated nation is brought into reality, and the Lone Survivor’s story is simultaneously documented and invalidated, becoming “a memorial that will disintegrate over time, gray and fray as most of the dead did not have a chance to.”
— Les Figues Press

I committed a long time ago to working my way through the growing pile of friends' and recommended indie press books that I add to each AWP. This is the first of what I hope will be regular installments. 

Two days, sickly-gutly

There are a lot of great things about being in a foreign country. There are the glimpses of other cultures, through food, music, clothes, etc.—and the chance to connect that such glimpses offer. There is the way that foreignness, and one's response to it, can provide insight into the ways and direction one needs to grow. Even just getting around in a new place is a time to learn—about more than just how to read a timetable that's half in Hindi, but about how easily we can accommodate and adapt, if adaptation is the goal.

One thing that is not great, however, is being sick.  

By Friday evening, I had a definite sore throat and headache. But I wasn't sure much of that wasn't from the dust and fumes from the motorcycle.

My view for much of the last two days

My view for much of the last two days

When I woke up Saturday still feeling off, I stayed in bed for most of the day. I left my room only to get a late lunch at the proper restaurant across the street: butter chicken. It was my first non-veg since touch down, but I felt crummy and thought that the luxury of one of my favorite dishes might help.

This morning, I was to hike to the highest point in Sanjay Gandhi Nat'l Park, with staff and members of BNHS. But when I woke up, my cough and headache and aches had reached a point of more than just annoyance. On top of which was some revenge for the chicken. Nothing terrible, but all signs pointed to not spending a hot afternoon in the woods. I called the tour guide, so he wouldn't worry about whether or not Indiana Bridget Jones had gotten lost on the train, and crawled back in bed. 

Once the shops were open, I staggered around the neighborhood looking for a chemist. All of the 'green cross'ed shop fronts were shuttered ... Sunday. One shopkeeper directed me to the nearby hospital, which seemed excessive. I wandered back to the hotel, sweating and a bit woozy, and asked the kid at the desk. 

His boss said, "I am sending you to the hospital, then." To which I objected, weakly but clearly. I don't need a hospital, I said. Just cough syrup and some aspirin. Turns out the hospital has an open-to-the-public chemist's.  Even on Sunday. 

I stumbled back down the block and got a bottle of Ayurvedic cough syrup (which seems to have taken the rattle out of my cough) and, after trying many words related to pain and aspirin, a pain reliever and fever reducer: diclofenac. Of all the NSAIDs in all the gin-joints in the world, amiright? (In case you don't know what I'm talking about: http://news.sciencemag.org/environment/2014/03/scientists-call-spain-ban-vulture-killing-drug )

Anyway, I've spent the rest of the day sipping a weird minty, cough syrupy syrup, popping deadly-to-vultures pills, coughing, sneezing, etc.  

And it's no fun. 

I wandered out later for some food and heard the singing in a nearby temple. Saw many men in white robes and ornate tilaka (red marks on the forehead in a U shape or lines). The vegetable sellers were out on their mats. 

But I got tired and overheated so fast. My guts are still unsteady, and I keep busting into sneezing fits. I've been trying to work, but I'm just drowsy as hell. So instead, I've slept off and on all day. 

There were some bright spots. One was the banana lassi, another was a bunch of attentive texts from a friend and the virtual hugs on FB. Thanks, y'all, really.  

So that is all the news today. I'm hoping to see or do something more interesting tomorrow. 

Mumbai to Alibaug

Today I went in search of critically endangered birds. The Asian White-backed vulture was once the most populous raptor in the world. Now less than 1% are left... All because of what amounts to a small aspirin taken for aches and pains. Many of you who know me already know this story, and I hope to tell it live soon, so I won't spoil the punchline here.

Suffice it to say that the birds are now rare. For just the slim chance of seeing one of the closest 19-20 individuals, I took a catamaran for an hour at dawn to Manwa and then a bus for another hour to Alibaug. I was (thankfully!) accompanied by a BNHS staff member and killer guide, Nandkishor. Once in Alibaug, we were met by Nilesh, a forest officer. After a breakfast of dosas, which I ate with my hands (once I could see how it's done), Nilesh put Nandkishor on a bus and me on the back of his Honda motorcycle and we wove through a few towns, over hill and dale, for a little more than another hour, to the Phansad Wildlife Sanctuary gates. 

Were we there yet? OH NO, FRIENDS. There was still another hour of leapfrogging Nandkishor and I on the bike to get to the vulture restaurant deep inside the sanctuary. Occasionally, I'd be left somewhere with the instructions, "Watch out for scorpios, they have many nests," or, "If you see a wild boar, climb up onto this rocks, quickly." Here's where I mention that yes, I am still sick. Specifically aches, pains, sore throat, and headache. So. Dusty roads perched on the back of a bouncing bike, through clouds of petrol or midge flies. 

The restaurant was empty. We left Namdkishor behind (because Nilesh had been trying to ditch him for the last hour, which made me equally uncomfortable and resentful and frankly just fucking WEARY, you know? But I digress in a country with very different gender dynamics than what I would consider, say, optimal) and rode another 20 minutes in, disembarked, and clambered 750 feet or so down a steep hillside (full of dramatic parabolic spiderwebs—says Nilesh, "Ah yes, these are poisonous spiders—no, sorry, venomous") to a basalt rock outcropping with a fantastic view of a super steep and majestically wide valley. Nilesh, after lamenting the unsatisfactory matrimonial situation in which he finds himself, pointed out a tree that juts out from the hill, a couple hundred yards away. As if on cue, a white-backed vulture stepped out of the tree's foliage and sat on a branch in plain (though too far for my camera to capture) sight. 

Okay, I am trying to see the good in everyone now, if you catch me, when across the valley, Nilesh points out two more circling above the tree line. 

Three. Of the 19-20 observed individuals within 100 miles of Mumbai. Can you believe it? Yesterday was good too, there were monkeys and barking deer and butterflies—so my luck, as they say, is good. But yesterday has nothing on watching that bird sitting on that branch. 

But, my friends, that is not all. After the bumpiest, dustiest ride back to the gate, we were served a lunch full of many small scoops of various dals and curries by the park's cadre of women, which we ate with chapatis and our hands. I'm getting better at it. Then, Nilesh took Nandkishor back to the bus station before returning for me. My ass objected to getting back on the bike, I don't mind saying. 

Nilesh, the pinkest face in the world, and Nandkishor 

Nilesh, the pinkest face in the world, and Nandkishor 

We took off down the road (faster, trying to catch the last catamaran to Mumbai, spoiler: we failed), when I saw something slink off the road in front of us. I might have shrieked. 

You guys. It slinked its low, pale body and dragged its long FURRED tail across the road and into the trees and was gone. 

The rest of the ride back was a terrible, migraine-inducing sensory overload of two more hours on the back of that bike (how brave am I? let's take a moment to ponder), which meant two more hours of fumes, speed bumps, potholes, flashing headlights, honking horns, and ended with not a one hour catamaran trip, but a three or four (I lost count) hour overland bus ride... I hurt all over and I feel even more sick than when I left.

But who the hell cares, I saw the vultures and a leopard.

Lovely, but for all the venom, poison, fangs, and claws

Lovely, but for all the venom, poison, fangs, and claws

Christmas Eve in Mumbai

The first thing you should know is that few people care that it is Christmas Eve, and that's okay. The drivers honk just as loudly and as often at one another, the lines move with the same frustrating slowness and corruption (SIR NO CUTTING OKAY PLEASE), and the odds are still just as good that you will tip one man too much and another too little—and that the shame they make you feel will ruin your appetite.  

But, if you are lucky, you will be taken far across the city, down a tree-lined road that requires permission to enter, past the bright and hollow façades of Film City, to a small centre in the forest. There, a young woman in a beautiful wine -red salwar kameez and turquoise scarf will take you on a nature walk. You will see a dozen butterflies, macaques, spotted and barking deer (the latter, you will even, what luck! hear bark), a paradise flycatcher, a gray hornbill, drongos, tailor birds, a forest chelotis, and a skink. You will imagine leopards watching as you both move through the trees, up and down the stone steps, in and out of clearings. 

You will wake up the next morning, and it will be Christmas Day and you will be sick—not from last night's dinner, as you'd worried, but from people, your throat sore, head aching. It will feel like it does every Christmas that you are far away from however or wherever you make your home these days, which is to say, a bit sad and a bit adventurous. 

The skies at dusk are full of house crows and kites (both paper and avian). You've seen street dogs, and more rarely, cats. You've seen alleys literally filled to the windows with moldering garbage. You've seen an eight story building framed in hand-tied wooden scaffolding, men crawling across the poles with trowels, scrapers. You've seen the Arabian Sea and the dozens of young lovers perched on the low retaining wall along the edge of Back Bay.

The rooflines are full of only pigeons and house sparrows, now. You've been here for three days and haven't seen a single vulture. At the conservation headquarters, when asked how long it will take to bring them back to the city (from their own brink—such a word can describe so many modes of desperation—of extinction), a specialist in bird habitats will tell you, "I think it is impossible. They are gone for my lifetime, and maybe forever."  



In other news: what the hell was I thinking?! And also: omgomgogomgogo 

That's as eloquent as I can maybe be right now. I just wrote this whole post and lost it (thanks, terrible new squarespace app!)  I'm so weak and wobbled with exhaustion, I can't recreate it. 

Some thoughts: this is a city full of car horns, ceiling fans, and makeshift roofing materials. Also, plastic feed sacks full of everything from garbage to laundry to who knows what. Also cows tied to bike racks. Some mangy dogs. Crappy wifi. Insane I mean INSANE driving like you wouldn't believe. What does "Please OK Honk!" mean? It's on the back of all the trucks. Loud crows, brightly dressed women & drab men, soot stained stucco towering impossibly over narrow alleys. Such a haze. Such impossible navigation. What was I thinking? People have been kind. More later, after sleep. 

This city is like delirium come to life. 


Brooklyn to Dubai

Taking advantage of a few moments of free wifi to send a dispatch from the gate. My last flight lasted 11 hours, but took almost exactly 24. 

It brings to mind a terrible movie AND a poem by Dylan Thomas. Don't worry, no spoilers here. 


I slept a lot on the plane, I think. Or else the hours passed in half sleep. I read a bit about the teaching of poems. I knit an inch of sock ribbing. I drank a small bottle of terrible Australian white wine (I'd asked for red, but the emirates flight attendants are so polished, I was loathe to correct even this small mistake.) The frittata was terrible. The terminal glittered and stank of leather and perfume—duty free.


Friends and a crush of humans

I love coming to New York City. I love seeing my friends and gushing and chattering and sharing—and I know some of the best, kindest, most generous souls on the planet. I'm rich with these people. 

I also love walking past the bright windows full of everything—you need buttons? large rolls of foam? owl-shaped candles? flip-flops in December? $300 ripped up jeans? necklaces made to look like Petri dish cultures? tacos next to bulgogi next to artisanal donuts next to lobster bisque? want it all topped with a star? I love walking and looking and overhearing conversations.  

"Lady, no. Real cashmere would cost you hunnerts of dollars.  This is ten. C'mon, whaddaya think?"

"My boyfriend's career counselor said he should go into taxidermy. I'm totally getting him this." 

But also, sometimes you turn a corner and for a whole block you only smell sewage. (Don't say Just wait. I know it's coming like gangbusters.) Sometimes some guy is flipping out waiting for a train, screaming obscenities, and no one notices. Sometimes a person has a whole campsite under some scaffolding and a cardboard sign taped up next to it. Sometimes the sidewalk is so dotted and over-dotted with black gum spots, I wonder if it's adding a bounce to my step, or if I should walk faster, lest I stick as  a dinosaur in tar. 

Sometimes all the shoulder checks weary me.  

But then look! Cupcakes shaped like that weird yellow cartoon thing with one eye. Look: Benetton half off! Uniqlo! Look! The Rockefeller tree! Look at the new silhouettes for winter! Look at how those dumb boots are back! Look, real chestnuts roasting over a... Well, over a food cart's electric burner, anyway.  

What a wonder. The city rooster woo-wooo-woo-wooos, the earth quakes every 7 minutes, steam slips out of grates as if sucked by invisible straws. There's always a saxophone playing somewhere underground. There's always a better deal around the corner on a "cashmere" scarf. 

Today, I ate pulled pork eggs Benedict, Korean ramen, and some fancy mini donuts. Tomorrow, the world.  I drank til I was buzzed. I laughed and walked and bought a book (of course*). 

Tomorrow, I depart for parts unknown (to me). Yes, I'm excited. Yes, I'm freaking out. Yes, in a good way.  

Restaurants at Chelsea Market 

Restaurants at Chelsea Market 

* Roland Barthes, A Lover's Discourse: fragments

Hamilton to Albany to NYC

I'm watching the rusty blush of Hudson valley leaf cover and brush fly past the train window. I learned decades ago that sitting backwards is supposed to minimize motion sickness—is this even true? 

The russet is punctuated by straw yellow reeds, at the water's edge, with even paler pampas-looking feathery clumps. The muddy lake water reflects the slate sky. Ocassional geese paddle against the wind.  

Im going to have to pay $200 in parking fees to get my car back next month. I'm an idiot and didn't verify the myth of free parking that I'd heard from a colleague. Maybe she knows a guy. Maybe she delights in imagining our horrified faces pinching up in disbelief after the two hour drive. Maybe she's thinking of some other train station, somewhere else altogether. Two hundred. This is when I like to say, "If that's the worst thing that happens..."  

What color can best describe all these bare trees? It's a brownish grayish light umber, perhaps, bleached trunks stippling into the sky like a kind of fur. 

How could you not love taking the train?  The rattle, the sway, the three reports from the engine car at each crossing. My car is not the "quiet car," but I'm blissed out over its incidental hush.

The drive to Albany started out all freezing rain and slick roads. I was stuck behind a snow plow for some excruciating number of miles. The thruway was a vision of black, ice-free asphalt, when it appeared. I was never so happy to pay a toll. 

Poughkeepsie station. Few board, and we rumble away.  


Tonight, I'll be among friends. I sure hope there will be somewhere in NYC to see Christmas lights. 

Just taking notes.  


Over on Brainpickings (one of only a few sites I subscribe to that aren't run by friends), there is a great post on How to be Alone. Here's the piece that struck me the hardest.

How have we arrived, in the relatively prosperous developed world, at least, at a cultural moment which values autonomy, personal freedom, fulfillment and human rights, and above all individualism, more highly than they have ever been valued before in human history, but at the same time these autonomous, free, self-fulfilling individuals are terrified of being alone with themselves?


We live in a society which sees high self-esteem as a proof of well-being, but we do not want to be intimate with this admirable and desirable person.


We think we are unique, special and deserving of happiness, but we are terrified of being alone.


We are supposed now to seek our own fulfillment, to act on our feelings, to achieve authenticity and personal happiness — but mysteriously not do it on our own.

Today, more than ever, the charge carries both moral judgement and weak logic.

This weekend, a man said to me that he thought I was being disingenuous for wanting a relationship without being "willing to sacrifice anything for it." By anything, he meant specifically my career and vocation--why should a guy bother to like me, he suggested, if I'm just going to move away? There are a lot of things wrong with that statement, and so I got angry. He said my anger was cute. Other exasperating exchanges occurred. We parted ways not too much later. 

Concession is a tricky business. So far, I've been unwilling to make many. Not for long anyway. (I try not to expect them, either. But we are all imperfect animals.) It's just no way to live, in pieces like that. There are consequences for that behavior, to be sure, and some of them are positive and some negative.

Yet. I hold out hope that it doesn't have to always be a matter of who wears the leg irons. That somewhere in the world is a door #3, that's my optimism. I don't really know what I'm getting at... Just that it was nice to walk away, into the cold night, fueled by a bit righteous self-preservation.  

Goddamn did the frost feel great in my lungs.


My trip was cut drastically short by the fear-mongering of everyone who has heard of the coming snowpacalypse.

Here are two pictures from my afternoon at the park. More on my visit another time. 

A jubilant crowd of teasels

A jubilant crowd of teasels

In almost the exact center of the sky over Round Top, there is... a tiny black dot. Or, a vulture.

In almost the exact center of the sky over Round Top, there is... a tiny black dot. Or, a vulture.

I'm driving to Philadelphia in the morning, against the advice of every weatherman in the world. Good thing this whole trip got started late on account of getting the snow tires put on before I left, eh? Think good traction-full thoughts. 

Road trip

I've had two minor epiphanies in the last couple of days. Now, I'm in a crummy Econo-Lodge in Scranton, Pennsylvania watching the news from Ferguson. Earlier this evening, I sat in a smoky, local bar while locals commented on the news teasers about the upcoming grand jury announcement. On the surface, and acknowledging that they recognized an outsider in their midst (my LOVE WYOMING shirt helped, as did my inability to pronounce "yinz"), I would propose that the bar patrons and I have divergent hopes re: indictment. 

My first epiphany: I don't always like hanging out with myself. I mean, that's not the epiphany, I've known that for ages. But I've been trying to go easier on me. I've been trying to like how I am, rather than fill my mind's ear with oughts and shoulds. I sing a constant song to myself of my faults. I re-think every terrible conversation I've ever had, and every bad decision I've made, daily. It's hard to admit. I know it isn't helpful. I know it doesn't serve me. That said, what I realized the other day, is that I like myself the most when I'm walking. Unless it's dark and there are leering and looming dudes around, walking is when I have the least amount of anxiety and it's when my critical voice quiets. I think I've been frustrated in the past, because I can't seem to change the things that voice says. Maybe the real first step is learning what interior silence feels like. 

My second epiphany: This is even smaller, but maybe also bigger, like a tiny yellow warbler in the hand. I was talking to a friend about my grandmother and I realized a couple more ways that she and I are alike. She was often unhappy; she traveled to escape; she seemed frustrated with her attempts to express herself creatively. I am often unhappy; I roam as a way to escape. What is any migration but an escape, enacted over and over, in the hope of finding sweet release on the farther shore? I wish I had started really writing sooner, because I wonder what she would've thought about it (though I imagine that no matter what she really thought, it would've sounded critical and probably even a little mean--I learned to judge harshly from her, too). I have made very different decisions in my life, so my writing is finding an audience in ways that her photographs and other works never did. 

These tiny, sharp stones, these sand grains, irritate. Irritation can inspire madness. But wait, because madness can look like a pearl.

I won't see the mountain of words tomorrow. I trust that people I admire will say very passionate and smart things and I look forward to reading those things upon my return to town at the end of the week. I look forward to finding, in the words and conversations, ways to actively help change this terrible, terrible system.

If all goes well, tomorrow, I will be looking for birds.


In today's sad-bastard-sing-along

It hasn't been a great week, guys. A few folks rejected my work, an essay isn't turning out at all, I had a very upsetting situation at work (that seems better now, but was scary), and someone I spent a long time liking... well, he just doesn't like me like that. These are things that happen. And sometimes they happen all at once when we are weak with longing or uncertainty, when we are far from home in every sense of the world, when even the birds in the morning sound like rusty gates. 

My mother used to give me warm water heaped with table salt to gargle when I had a raw, sore throat. She said the sting was just the tingle from the salt. My grandmother would pour the hottest water on a washcloth for me to press against my mosquito bites. She would say "Oh, itch-itch-itch!" as I screwed my face up in the agony of all that histamine coming to the surface of my skin. The pain was the first part of healing, and it was never too much to stand. 

Right now, something stings. Something itches. Like a sore spot on your tongue that you can't stop from worrying against your teeth, I lean into the discomfort to better know the shape of it. I am afraid of many things, but not, it would seem, the indignity of my sorrow laid bare.

And yet but so: it's snowing beautifully, and the visa office has sent word that they have my application in hand. Someone thanked me for my help, and someone else said they hope they can work with me someday. When I've asked for help, I've gotten it. I mean to say that it hasn't all been terrible. I have blessings, which I try to count often and generously. But, I'm sad. I doubt my resilience. I'm supposed to change here; I get that. I even know in which directions I need to grow. Still, this ache feels buried so deep in my bones, I don't know how I'd even get the salt or heat to it.


I often say I like hiking, but I almost always mean walking.

Walking is slowish. It's not a stroll, but it's rarely as much of a workout as I'd like, either. Walking accommodates stopping better than hiking. Looking. Appraising. So often hikers seem in a hurry to get to the halfway point or the lunch stop. A hike is better for seeing vistas and untrammeled etc, I'll grant, but a walk seems to offer me more peace.

I can walk in a neighborhood—but what I like best is walking in the slightly or mostly wilder edges. Green belts are good. Unincorporated roadsides. Wooded municipal or municipal-adjacent parks.

Tree tops at sunset. 

Tree tops at sunset. 

Last week, while doing the little 2 mile loop of the Chenango Canal trail that's near my place, a woman stepped out of the trees with a hawk on her arm. I was too shy to take a picture. It looked like a Swainson's but I was also too shy to confirm, so struck dumb was I by the sight of her and the bird. I can go a whole weekend without talking to anyone. I get awkward.  

A man at the bar on Friday said he was going hiking on Sunday. I considered asking to come along, and then he explained further: a 14-miler with two summits. I know these hikers: a race to the top, then a race down to beat the dark. Instead of "putting myself out there" like I guess I'm supposed to, I said, "Wow. Have a great time!" 

Another guy seemed more like the stay-in type, which I also like, but by the third time he had to say, "Allow me to explain how you're wrong..." to me, or one of my friends, I just sort I wandered away. It's nuts out there

I've deactivated my Twitter now, too. I tried to be disciplined about it, but I'd gotten to just staring at the feed like it was a party I hadn't been invited to but could watch from beyond the gate. Means I'll just have to actually write the rest of this book once I finish the job applications. The tally so far is eight tenure-track applications and one visiting professorship done. By tonight, I'll finish another visiting and a one-year post-doc.

Another time I will write about my worst month, last month, but for now I'd just like to mention how frustrating it is that "applying for jobs" gets so little systemic or organizational support. Everyone in academia realizes it is time-consuming and aggravating; the joke is that it is at least a part-time job of it own. But we're all supposed to fit it in on-top of, or next to, our actual  jobs. I'm lucky to have room in my schedule, but my virtual and actual cohort are going nuts with despair and slipped deadlines. Why doesn't everyone accept the same dossier service? Why isn't there a "universal application" that I can fill out once, and then allow schools to pull from, to fill in their VB forms? 

I wish my letter could just say, "I will work hard for you; you'll be glad you picked me."

Hug your on-the-market academics, is what I'm saying. It's even worse out there than the crowd at the bar.

When I despair, I'm also saying, I try and remember to get out and take a walk. 

How to be okay

It's okay to be depressed, as long as pills or meditation or your dog or hard work is making you better, a little every day. 

It's okay to be lonely as long as no one else has to hear about it. 

It's okay to be scared about the future, because everyone is, duh. It's okay because it's just life.

It's okay to be nervous, but not so nervous, all the damn time. Sheesh. 

It's okay to be mad, but only if you're going to let it go eventually. The most infuriating people will tell you about how you'll make yourself sick if you don't forgive everyone who's ever hurt you. Even if they aren't sorry? Even if they aren't sorry. 

It's okay to cry, if you've got a good reason. Otherwise, stop it, or I'll give you a reason. 

It's okay to be "crazy" if you're beautiful. 

It's okay to be mean, if you're "broken."

I stumbled over a crack in the sidewalk. I'd been crying about something. She grabbed my arm, above the elbow, to steady me. "Are you okay?" "It's fine. I'm okay."

"Is everything okay over here?" he asked, shining his flashlight over us. We shielded our eyes from the glare. "It's okay, sir. We're okay."

I grabbed her arm with both hands, harder than I meant to. "Please stop asking me if I'm okay. Please? I'm trying to keep it together and being reminded of how not okay I look every 5 minutes isn't helping me." 

"We could just go buy something. That always makes it okay. That always makes us feel better."

"Okay. I want you to count backwards from 100."

"I hope I was okay."

"You're going to feel a pinch, okay?"

She handed me a receipt, "Okay. You're all set." "Is this it?" "What do you mean, honey?" "Well, when I got married, it was a big fancy piece of paper, a certificate." "Yeah. This is different than that." She laughed, not unkindly. When I got back from my lunch break, the only coworker I'd told what I was doing asked if I was okay. "Yeah. I'm okay. It's fine. It was easy."

Has anyone ever written a song about being okay?

"Is this okay?" "Yes." "How about this?" "Fuck yes."

"It was okay. Just okay, but you know, at least okay."

from nothing is okay