{What a time to be a Libra}

Need a boost? Let the Astro Poets take care of you:

Week of Feb. 10: 

A pile of pink glitter will appear. It may or may not be in the shape of your name. You’ve been telling yourself you’d better come to terms with it all. Don’t waste any more time standing still.

Week of Feb. 17: 

There will be health there will be flowers there will be money there will be strawberries. The only thing missing may be a song. Can you go into the past and find it. Probably you will have to go into the future.

(I have gone into the future and found my missing songs. Here they are below:)

Let me know in the comments: which missing songs are YOU bringing back from the future?

And there goes 2018…

I’m attempting to pack my bags (I’m a horrible procrastinator when it comes to packing) as I leave tomorrow for a two-week trip to Japan! I’m nervous excited with the arrow pointing more to the excited portion of the scale. I’m reviewing my hiragana/katakana charts and stuffing as many notebooks as physically possible into my carry-on. I’ll be palling around with local cats (named Mimi and Otsuka for all you Kafka on the Shore lovers) in Hiroshima/Miyajima, Kyoto, and Tokyo. I went to Japan as a wee lass in 2005, but I don’t remember too much except that I loved it. I have a few places I know I want to check out this time (e.g. the Atomic Bomb Dome, Itsukushima Shrine, Fushimi Inari, Yayoi Kusama Museum), but if you have any spots you think I should check out, I’d love to hear from you! Mostly, I just want to soak up as much history and culture to add to the novel I am writing — and if that means hanging on a park bench or sipping green tea in a cafe for half the day, then I’m down for that. Book-wise, I’m bringing Akutagawa’s Rashōmon and Jean Genet’s The Thief’s Journal, plus the Poison issue of Tin House, for all those long hours on the plane and the Shinkansen.

I think this trip is coming at the perfect time—a reset at the top of the New Year.

But today, I take a few moments to look back.

This was a glimpse of 2018:

-My first trip to the AWP conference in Tampa, Florida, and celebrating the publication of this beautiful issue of Hunger Mountain I had the pleasure to help make!

-Finishing my third year of beginning every day with a yoga routine (will you join me in the challenge as I enter my fourth year?)

-The launch of a new series of (almost weekly) posts called Sandbox Notes where I collect and curate words, links, facts, thoughts, descriptions, and objects of interest into creative visual pieces. Learn the story behind my Sandbox Notes here! 

-Tapping into a state of delicious movement with Eiko Otake, and hearing brave hibakusha share their stories of the atomic bombs.

-There were tears: family illnesses, heartbreaks, stress, listening to Visions of Gideon.

-There were fears. Most of them seen on TV.

-There were very good friends—new and old—who made my life a little brighter.

I quit chain-chewing gum. 

-My creative work was accepted three times this year, with two essays forthcoming in 2019 (thank you so much to all of the editors of Queen Mob’s Teahouse, Windmill, and Entropy, and to Glimmer Train for giving my piece “Frozen Locks” an Honorable Mention in the Jan/Feb Short-Story Award for New Writers). I continued writing blog content for the Michigan Quarterly Review, as well as published articles and interviews in Artscope Magazine, Everything is Music, Storyboard, and Perpetual Beta. And my interview with the amazing Rene Denfeld was published in the back of her paperback book!

-Attending the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop and meeting Carl Phillips in real life.

-I started writing a novel!

-Somehow I read 82 books (message me for the full list!) and narrowed it down to 20 “favorite things I read this year.” An eclectic bunch of old and new titles, here they are hand-drawn, in no particular order:

Her Right Foot – Dave Eggers
The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson
My Favorite Thing is Monsters Vol 1 – Emil Ferris
Vice – Ai
Heart Spring Mountain – Robin Marie MacArthur
Vermilion Sands – J.G. Ballard
Indictus – Natalie Eilbert
Census – Jesse Ball
The Principles of Uncertainty – Maira Kalman
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
Confessions of a Mask – Yukio Mishima
Dialogues in Paradise – Can Xue
Premonitions – Elizabeth Schmuhl
There There – Tommy Orange
The Country Between Us – Carolyn Forché
For Other Ghosts – Donald Quist
Man v. Nature – Diane Cook
Severance – Robert Olen Butler
Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami
Everything Under – Daisy Johnson

Favorite moving pictures I saw this year: a Monty Python Flying Circus marathon, Maniac, Alias Grace, The Crown, The Lobster, and Call Me By Your Name.

2018 sounded like Sufjan Stevens, Poliça, Wilco, Death Cab for Cutie, AURORA, the Westworld soundtrack, The National, Father John Misty, Neil Young, and of course, my forever faves — Emancipator and Fleet Foxes.

Next year will see graduation and beyond, the great job search, and more. But for now, Japan! And being grateful for each day as it comes. Peace to all <3

Happy Solstice.

Another semester has come and gone…and suddenly, I am back in Ann Arbor to celebrate the holiday season with the family, and to take a break (ha!) while also working on my thesis and other writing projects, and I am already days late in celebrating the solstice! I’m surprised at how little snow is here in Michigan (as in NONE!) compared to Vermont. But there are fairy lights in the trees downtown and that helps to keep spirits high.

My latest book haul…thanks to a visit to Bear Pond Books!

I spent most of the weekend reading Everything Under by Daisy Johnson on recommendation from my classmate, Tyler. It’s a book that eats you wholly and takes you underwater, and suddenly, you realize hours have gone by and you’ve grown gills and haven’t needed to come up for air because you are less human and something more magical now. Guess what will feature on my best of the year list—which (stay tuned!) will be posted here on the blog in a few days!

Today, I went to a broadcast of the Bolshoi Ballet’s performance of the Nutcracker with my grandmother. Gah—the dancers were so talented! The show itself was full of nostalgia, timelessness, and charm. Tell me what your favorite pieces from the Tchaikovsky score are! Mine are “The Presents of Drosselmeyer” and the “Pas de Deux: Intrada.”

For the rest of the week, I have artsy presents to craft together, interviews to work on, ice skates to break in, and a travel itinerary to plan, as I have exciting news to tell you in the next few days. But right now, I have sweet cinnamon tea and the promise of stories told underneath an ornamented pine. Happy hibernation!

The Serious and the Silly of December

A glimpse into the last month of the year:

  • Making progress on my thesis/novel—though considering a bit of a plot restructuring!
  • Read Bianca Stone’s The Möbius Strip Club of Grief and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee both in one sitting. Stone’s book is doing all the subversive maneuvers I strive for in my own poetry. Even better, she will be teaching a class on “Meaning, Sense, & Narrative in Poetry” at VCFA in the spring! And don’t even get me started with Dictee. Holy wow—I didn’t know a book could look, sound, or read like that.
  • Began an epic watching of Monty Python’s Flying Circus from start to finish. I had seen random sketches here and there, but I’ve never seen the whole series straight through, and I just felt like a phony, calling myself a fan without seeing the entirety of the show! I watch about 15 minutes each day with my breakfast, so I’m not too far through yet! I’m currently in Season 2—just finished “Scott of the Antarctic,” which was pure plasmatic gold.
  • In the spirit of the holiday season, my friend Aaron Wyanski and I have co-authored a list of literary holiday carols. Enjoy the whimsy and feel free to add your own in the comments below!

Jingle Bell Jar
Baby It’s Sharon Olds Outside
Graham Greenesleeves
The Picture of Dorian Sleigh
Robert Frosty the Snowman
Lewis Carroll of the Bells
Little Saint Nicholas Nickleby
Up on the Bleak Housetop
Have Yourself a Merry Little Women Christmas
It’s the Most Wonderful Wrinkle in Time of the Year
Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree in 80 Days
Alice in Winter Wonderland
Twelfth Silent Night
Deck the Wolf Halls
Ding Dong Merrily On High Fidelity
Santa Claus is Coming to Our Town
(There’s No Place Like) Maycomb for the Holidays
Go Tell It On The Mountain
The Holly Golightly and the Ivy
Joyce Carol Oates to the World
Love in the Christmastime of Cholera
Ruefle the Red Nosed Reindeer
Hark! The Herald Angels in America Sing
We Wish You a Mary Shelley Christmas
O Little Town of Macbethlehem

Isn’t it nuts that it’s already December? At least the world outside looks like an Emancipator album cover and there are pine-scented candles and the sounds of Vince Guaraldi’s jazz brush beat and lots of spiced tea!

Thankful.

Certain circumstances in my life this year have made me especially thankful for this life of mine. So…here is a gratitude list. It is surely incomplete and in no particular order:

  • My family and their undying support
  • Fuzzy animals (shoutout to Saki Finch)
  • Books
  • Every author I have ever met in person or met virtually through email interviews
  • Friends who have seen me in my best and worst states
  • Oatmeal – you have singlehandedly kept me alive this year with your nourishment
  • Vermont College of Fine Arts for giving me a safe space to discover myself, to find an encouraging and inspiring community of artists, and to challenge what creative writing can look like
  • Books
  • Art
  • My brain and heart for staying strong, even when I’m feeling down
  • The smell of my mother
  • Phones, for transporting faraway voices directly into my ear, wherever I may be
  • Smuttynose Brewing Company’s Old Brown Dog for reminding me it’s okay to let loose once in a while
  • Striped shirts
  • Fresh air
  • Tarsem’s The Fall
  • Everyone who reads my writing and this blog
  • Working on Hunger Mountain, which has made me realize that I want to work with authors on their writing and help promote amazing art for the rest of my life
  • Hibakusha Stories and the incredible work they are doing for our world
  • Music (particularly every song on this playlist)
  • Hugs
  • The ability to laugh

I lift my mug of tea to you. <3

 

Hibakusha Stories

Last Wednesday, I had the great honor of hearing the stories of two Hibakusha (atom bomb survivors), Shigeko Sasamori and Yakuaki Yamashita. I am so very grateful they traveled all the way from their homes in Mexico and LA to visit Vermont.

What an incredible gift they gave us—sharing their stories and experiences, reliving the horror of witnessing and surviving the nuclear blast.

I do not know what it is like to live through such violence, and yet Ms. Sasamori and Mr. Yamashita gave me a glimpse of it last night, and even then, it is difficult for me to fully imagine the numbness, the fear, the sorrow, the tragic loss, the pain, the devastation, the discrimination, the destitution, the sickness, the shame, the desperation, the courage it takes to live every day with these memories.

This may have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me, to have heard eyewitness accounts from the final generation of HIbakusha. Their work is ever more important these days when fewer and fewer stories are being told, and the population of survivors is dwindling.

We must remember their past, in order to ensure history does not repeat. Nuclear warfare affects not only those who survived the horrors but also the global environment and all people born into this world thereafter.

*

We must educate the youth that nuclear weapons have an unacceptable impact on human beings. So far, the organizations that put on the event last night have brought Hibakusha stories to over 40,000 students in the lower 48 states. Many students had never heard anything about the atomic bomb in their entire educational career.

*

As Yakuaki-san said, “Don’t hate anyone. Hate creates another hate…Your lives are beautiful.”

It took 45 seconds for the bomb to fall from the airplane to the city below. Take 45 seconds today to think about all you are grateful for.

For one, I’m grateful to have heard these remarkable and brave Hibakusha Stories in person last night. I will remember them for the rest of my life.

*

Together, if we all do our part with the unique skills we possess, we CAN eliminate nuclear weapons and work toward peace.

You can join the peaceful movement by visiting icanw.org and sign up for their newsletter to keep up to date on the Nuclear Ban Treaty and discover ways to take action.

Love widely. Peace for all. 💜

How to Quit: Lessons from a Former Chain Chewer

  1. Decide to quit.
  2. Tell others you want to quit.
  3. Do not go out of your way to buy packs of gum.
  4. If others have generously bought you packs of gum, tell them kindly that you no longer are eating gum anymore and have them hide the packs from you.
  5. Remind them that you know where their last hiding place was, so don’t put it in the top kitchen cabinet on the right, next to the laundry room. Because you WILL FIND IT.
  6. Begin to eat real food instead of chemicals with equal parts unpronounceable and unswallowable qualities. You know, those ingredients the Internet can neither confirm nor deny are harmful for your body.
  7. When your cravings for gum gain strength, try biting your tongue. Or drink more water. Or brush your teeth to prevent a dirty mouth.
  8. It probably means you are hungry. Try to listen to your body when it talks to you.
  9. Save up to $40 a month because Orbit is no longer chewing you out of house and home. Watch as the supply and demand you have struggled to keep up with in the past crumples like the wadded up wrappers you used to pyramid on your desk.
  10. Spend a few minutes every day considering why you quit. Convince yourself you feel better now that you aren’t chewing a piece of gum for five seconds before spitting it out, only to unwrap a new piece and stick it on your tongue. But really two, because you always liked having two pieces in your mouth at once.
  11. Wake up one night from a dream involving the double dutch melody, Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum, and an empty crystal dish. Wonder why you are covered in cold sweats like a turkey carcass thawing.
  12. Remember you are one in a community of many former chain chewers, whose metronome jaws nod along with yours in perfect synchronicity. Yes. We. Know. How. You. Feel. You. Dirty. Dirty. Chewer. You!
  13. But do they know how you feel? How tired your jaws are of chewing on air?
  14. Whatever you do, do NOT answer the riddle. How snarky. How mocking. How many pieces do you wish? You’d run out of numbers. Do not let yourself get distracted. Better yet, Bubble Gum: do not even ask me the question.

*Why did I write this, and why am I sharing this with you? Chewing gum has been a sort of crutch for me in the past, in times of stress, or when I was very sick and found tiny ways to avoid eating real food and real calories. Currently, in my three-week module class at VCFA, we are talking all about vulnerability; asking questions about why vulnerability is scary, but necessary; what’s the difference between personal & professional vulnerability (and how that line is often blurred in writing); how do you know when to share vulnerable details and when not to, etc. I suppose we are all vulnerable as human beings to becoming addicted to such-and-such thing. Science backs it up that it takes about 66 days to form a habit, whether “good” or “bad,” if you choose to assign such labels. I’m proud of my work to quit chewing gum, and though it may or may not sound difficult to you, it definitely was not easy for me, and it’s so freeing to say that. To be honest. To work hard to overcome an act that was controlling me. Whatever your “gum” is, I believe you can free yourself of it, too.

Delicious Movement

How do I even begin to explain this past weekend—in which I threw my belongings into a small bag and hitched it to the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts for a Delicious Movement Workshop with the legendary Japanese dancer, Eiko Otake.

I first came across Otake’s work while researching Hibakusha Stories – the stories of the atomic bomb survivors. When I found out that she was professionally trained in Butoh by one of the dance form’s founders, Kazuo Ohno, AND that she was teaching only three hours away from me, I knew I needed to attend the workshop and learn everything I could from her.

One of my characters in my novel is a Butoh dancer, and I took this weekend as an opportunity to understand what it feels like for him to dance—which is one of the yummiest things about being a writer—exploring my many selves and interests for the sake of “researching” a character.

The Setting

The Delicious Movement Workshop was located at Earthdance, an artist-run retreat center, which provides dance, somatic, and interdisciplinary arts training, with a focus on sustainability, social justice, and community. Set in the middle of the woods, we breathed green tree oxygen, ate fresh vegetarian food, and helped each other with chores and clean-up. For three days, I had a home away from home with the kindest of strangers.

The Dancers

In total, there were 22 of us, ranging in ages from 23 to late 50s. We were mostly artists (visual, dance, writing). A few dancers had worked with Eiko in the past, but for many of us, this was our first time, and we were in awe.

Delicious Movement Moments

Since there’s no way to truly replicate the experience of this weekend without demonstrating each activity sprawled out on the floor, I’m going to try my best to explain in words a few of my favorite moments of the weekend.

The Paper Dance*

Walk around the studio space with a blank piece of paper in your hands—don’t let it make a sound. Then, make as much sound as you can. Get comfortable with your paper. 

Find a partner. Sit down and place both of your papers on the floor between you. Communicate (without talking) who will begin. Engage with the paper any way you like. Make it clear when each interaction is complete. Take turns. As you grow comfortable with each other and build trust, begin to use each other’s paper—become one flowing unit. Move, attempting to hit an “end” of the dance.  

Next, we move individually, reenacting the paper’s journey. What does it feel like to be that paper? As half the group begins to move as paper, the other half of the group eventually comes over to try to calm us (the papers) down. Our task as paper, Eiko said, was to resist the people. 

Later, I reflected on how I approached “moving” like paper. As the paper, I felt a deep history of abuse circulating throughout my fibers—feeling wanted for a spark of a moment, a tease, used only for a certain purpose that does not include everlasting love—then unwanted, mistreated, crumpled, thrown around. How often, I realized, we take advantage of each other, our environments, our everyday objects. When the person came to “calm me down,” I had so much of that attention I had been craving as paper, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted it, or I didn’t trust that it was an ephemeral desire to connect. I was slow to trust—I think the paper really did want to be loved and treated well. It didn’t want to get hurt again. 

It’s pretty incredible that I was able to inhabit this deep root of humanity through embodying an inanimate object. But it’s not too abstract if you really consider how we could ask the same questions on the circumstances of being an adult: “What does it mean to have a wrinkle? For someone to come along and care for you? What is it like to care about a thing that’s not human?” The Paper Dance is a terrific “icebreaker” move. As Eiko told us, ‘You won’t know much more about the person internally, but you will have spent some time seeing and being seen.’

*Keep in mind that this was the very first activity of the workshop. On Day One! Yes, it only became more intense from here.

Body as a Landscape

Throughout the weekend, our bodies were not human shapes. Instead, we took on the landscape of the earth. Our torsos were mountains, our hands were gardens, blooming. We were growing comfortably, yet asymmetrically. Moving subtly, with purpose, like the earth spinning on its axis. We were twists of air.

At one moment, we were to find a partner, a fellow mountain, and begin to touch. We were equipped with the language of “hissing” in case we ever felt unsafe or too uncomfortable with a touch. At one point, I wasn’t sure which part of my partner I was touching. But then I discovered the watery elements of her hair, the ridge of her knuckle, and I could have stayed there for much longer. I’m intrigued with this new way of encountering another body, another life form. I hadn’t known I could connect with an unfamiliar body in this way, with so much ease. 

We All Come From Water

In this exercise, we are sacks of water moving downstream. The river is the dance studio floor. Everyone lying on the floor is now a sack of water. Drip, Eiko says. Drop your water. Let it go. The water always comes. It will never run out. It comes in and goes out endlessly. We all come from water, she reminds us. We come from the sea. The same salt content. Think of that the next time you disagree with someone, we are all water. Our water may just be different, or springs from a different source. We close our eyes and move/survey/flow in a slowed, embryonic state, swimming downstream, through this stubborn molasses river. Time does not exist here…5…10…20 minutes may have elapsed. The only sound is that of the live water sacks around me breathing, rippling. And then, Eiko’s voice emerges from the deep: “Begin to calm yourself.” When she claps her hands, we are awakened from the hypnosis. The world a blur. I am reborn every time I open my eyes. 

Finding Your Aesthetic

We had several chances throughout the workshop to split into groups and “watch each other” perform. The point of “watching” was not to critique what was good art or bad art. Instead, Eiko reminded us that every time we have the opportunity to observe art, we are finding our own aesthetic. This is an important lesson that can apply to all fields of art. For example, it’s not the performer or writer’s job to entertain you specifically. It’s your responsibility as a viewer or consumer to hold your criticism and use your reaction to the artist’s work to help narrow and define what your personal aesthetic and interests are. Every time we engage with a piece of art, whether it’s to our liking or not, is useful in assisting us to better understand ourselves.

Gratitude and Growth

This weekend has been one of the most singular transformative moments in my life, and I do not know if I will ever again feel the way I did through these exercises with Eiko. I am filled so deeply with gratitude for Eiko Otake, the generosity of Earthdance and the land of the Mohican (People of the Waters That Are Never Still), and the other sacks of water with whom I had the honor of sharing my dances, my surveillances, my discoveries.

Learn more about Eiko’s tenets of movement by reading her Delicious Movement Manifesto and her Personal Manifesto of an Artist as a Cultural Activist.