yet another poem

the sand was still cold from nighttime, it was morning

and we were allowed to go to the beach alone.

we put sand down the fronts of our one-pieces

forming two mounds over our young chests

paraded around with our hands on our hips

and our shoulders thrown back.

“someday,”

we said.

the sand slid down our bathing suits

and gathered into a hill at our bellies

that we lightly pressed our palms against.

“someday,”

we said.

the sand did not come out easily.

it fell between the bathing suit and its mesh liner,

she said,

“I know!” and took my hand, jerked me towards the sea

we were running

and I knew it was going to be cold but I didn’t care and when we reached

the water

we just kept running until the ocean took our legs out from under us and we floated

the waves were gentle and we ducked our heads under the surface

where things were a whole lot quieter.

I remember her hair, suspended in that darkness and fanning out, away from her.

We came up for air, she spit and wiped her nose with the back of her hand

she said,

“I wanna stay eleven years old for as long as I can,”

and I thought that even though her Mom probably told her to want that, that was exactly what I wanted too.

 

 

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in trouble bad

I’m here to scare the hell out of you. 

I’m pretty sure that was the very first thing Dorothy Allison said to us on that cold night in south Georgia. It was 5pm and the sun was already down. I was bundled up with about 30 other creative writing students in a classroom of the Forest Drive building that smelled like crayons and Kinko’s. We were there to listen to the South’s own literary badass talk about this heartbreaking labor of love called writing.

With her appearance alone, she is already successful in her attempt to scare the hell out of us. Dorothy Allison has thick arms and straight, graying hair that she parts down the middle. One of her eyes is more closed than the other. She’s one of those people who looks like if she were to hug you, it might hurt a little because she would squeeze so hard. Somehow all of these features mixed together make for a surprisingly beautiful woman. But she is also terrifying.

Well, she says. Where are y’all from? An unusual question to ask an entire audience, but no one dares to even begin to think of her as strange.

We’re all quiet and still at first, but then someone says, Roswell. She nods once. Looks to the next person. Macon. And the next. Savannah. Atlanta. Lawrenceville. Dunwoody. 

My throat constricts as the the wave of answers approaches my seat. Eventually it’s clear that it’s my turn. She looks at me and raises her eyebrows.

I’m from California, I say. I try to speak loudly, because I think she would like that.

Her eyes stay on me, she squints. The silence thickens the air. I try with my mind to shift the attention off of me. I say to myself, Yep, yep that’s right, California, we’ve got really good avocados, alright, moving along now…who’s up next? Oh look, up next we have the dude that invited me over for tea Freshman year, I know where he’s from! He’s from Marietta, he went to Japan and got this really nice tea, we watched Youtube videos about some video game he loves that I didn’t think was funny but I laughed anyway and then I left and I haven’t talked to him since, and I think he’s kinda mad at me but hey! He’s from Marietta! 

But her eyes are still on me. I seriously consider pointing to the tea dude and saying, He’s from Marietta! But she interrupts my thought.

Oh girl, you’re in trouble bad, she says, shaking her head and smiling with just one corner of her mouth. She swings her large hands up to the sides of the podium, gripping its perimeter, and now her whole mouth is smiling. Her head shakes violently, her eyes roll back and she starts to laugh one of those laughs that can stiffen an entire room with its volume alone. If you heard this laugh in a restaurant, your mother would be alarmed and definitely make a comment. Then, silence. She steadies her head, her eyes, and looks at me, a little too directly.

Girl, she says, almost whispering. You. Are in. Trouble. Bad. 

Five years later, and I still have only guesses as to what she meant by that.

“Everything that comes to us is a blessing or a test. That’s all you need to know in this life…just the certainty that God’s got His eye on you, that He knows what you are made of, what you need to grow on. Why, questioning’s a sin, it’s pointless. He will show you your path in His own good time. And long as I remember that, I’m fine.” -Dorothy Allison, Bastard Out of Carolina

Up until I graduated from college, the word God used to make me aim my finger towards my mouth and make a little gagging noise. I had always been under the impression that religion started wars and made people hate each other. But I listened to what those Southerns had to say about God, because I’ll listen to anyone who thinks they’ve got something figured out. But for most of them, they told me that they didn’t really have anything figured out. All they knew for sure was how to pray, and as it turns out, they’re really good at it.

One of my ex-boyfriends would pray pretty much every night. If he forgot to do it before he went to sleep, sometimes I’d wake up to him praying at 4am or whenever. He’d take his hand into a clenched fist and press it against his heart. Then he would silently talk to God. He told me that he’d ask God to help everyone he knew that was going through something hard, which was pretty much everyone, and to let everyone that he loved know that he loved them. And to seal it all in, he’d bump his fist twice against his chest, make a peace sign with his fingers, kiss the peace sign, and extend his arm up toward the sky. Like some sort of spiritual gangster.

He never went to church or read the Bible or anything like that. But he said he could tell that he really needed to pray when he got a little tingle in the palm of his hand.

When people ask me about my experience in the South, they always ask about how it was to live in the Bible Belt, expecting me to talk about how weird it was for a religionless girl from the Bay Area to live in a place where religion was big. But the truth is, that’s what I loved about it most. Maybe I was lucky, and I just didn’t see how religion was damaging people my age down there. But most of them were just fine–they didn’t think they were going to hell because they had sex before marriage or wanted to go see the Vagina Monologues. There were of course, assholes, who thought gay and black people were going to hell, but I don’t know if they thought that way because of religion. I think it was from their asshole parents. I don’t really know.

I come from California, where things going wrong in your life are problems to solve, issues to pick apart, lessons to be learned. To just pray about your life isn’t enough, you’ve gotta do something about it. You’ve gotta ask why. And you better take that answer and learn something from it.

Girl, you are in trouble bad.

I think it’s more about balance. As with everything. One part figuring shit out and one part giving it all up to Whoever. Doing and not doing equally. Too much doing and too much not doing isn’t gonna get us anywhere. I’m just glad I learned how to do both. But some days it’s hard to remember that, and some days all I can hear are her words. They make me smile. They’re comforting and completely terrifying at the same time:

Girl, you are in trouble bad.

 

Don’t you just love her?

 

 

 

shitty first drafts

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the act and process of writing. I am rereading Bird by Bird by Anne Lammott–my go to writing handbook when I’m wondering, how the hell do I start? What the hell am I doing? Am I actually insane for wanting to be a writer? (She assures me, yes, yes you are). I also read it when I just feel like laughing. Anne Lammott is hilarious, and it is one of the most helpful books on writing I have ever read. I think I owe a lot of my creative process to that book, and to her.

So. She has this concept called Shitty First Drafts. The idea is this–shitty first drafts turn into better second drafts and stellar third drafts, or sixty-seventh drafts. However long it takes. Pretty simple stuff, right?

Ira Glass thinks so too:

It’s all about doing the work. You’ve gotta get through that first draft, and that might take years.

I think this entire blog is my Shitty First Draft. Or at least, that’s how I’ve been feeling. I’m not trying to knock my own writing–it’s just that whenever I publish something on here, most of the time it’s just not…quite…there. It’s close. But not there. Anne Lammott talks a lot about how mortified she would be if anyone read one of her Shitty First Drafts. It’s a legitimate fear for her. And here I am–I’ve published almost every word of my SFD on the internet, for the entire world to see.

Oops.

The SFD comes out like a child throwing a tantrum–it’s got a lot of energy to it, but it’s screaming and crying so loud that you can barely understand what it’s trying to say. And, perhaps worst of all, it begs for attention. But you’ve gotta get the SFD out of your mind and on to the page, or else you’ll never get to that stellar third or two-hundred-ninety-eighth draft down the road.

I think that my entire twenties are going to be a Shitty First Draft. And that’s finally becoming cool with me. Probably some of my thirties too.

I think a few of my relationships have been Shitty First Drafts. Yeah, that’s what was going on there.

Alright. I wrote a poem this morning. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you all can look back on your own Shitty First Drafts with compassion and forgiveness. It was necessary. It had to happen.

 

 

I didn’t fall in love with anyone              in Whole Foods

so today was a success.

I didn’t make up a story in my head about the woman sitting across from me on Bart,

how she’s a healer that is going to invite me over to her house,

well maybe I did that a little bit

but I didn’t fall in love with anyone       in Whole Foods

so today was a success. 

I walked up to the abandoned house and for the first time saw smoke

twisting from the chimney 

and I thought about how that’s probably where the healer woman lives

with a lot of wind chimes and succulents, I was this close to knocking on the door

but I didn’t fall in love with anyone        in Whole Foods

so today was a success. 

She has three big dogs and long white hair, parted down the middle

and she’s a little fat but just the kind of fat that old people get,

her doctor isn’t worried.

Her daughter was killed in a car accident a long time ago, and even though these days she can

talk about it and sing along when Joni Mitchell comes on the radio, if you ask 

her how old she would be now,

she always knows the answer

but I didn’t fall in love with anyone         in Whole Foods

so today was a success.

She’s got green eyes and her husband left a while back, something 

about how he just couldn’t love her the way he knew she loved 

him,

it made him guilty and sad, so he went and found someone who loved 

him

just a little less, they’ve got a few kids now and I think they go camping 

in the summertime 

but I didn’t fall in love with anyone in         Whole Foods

so today was a success.

She’s walking down the steep hill, dirt with green grasses on either side and 

she uses the old rake like a cane, you know,

just in case

because if she fell no one would know. It’s been unseasonably hot 

and she notices a single dot of orange on the bright hillside.

The first poppy of the season, she smiles. The evening sun slides towards the poppy, touches 

its petals and turns them gold, the woman has walked through the wet grass and is kneeled

next to the flower.

The skin of her hands has thinned over the years and brownish speckles have turned up

like constellations and she cups the poppy 

and admires its golden resilience 

but I didn’t fall in love with anyone         in Whole Foods

so today was a success.

 

 

 

 

 

 

close the door

Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer. -Barbara Kingsolver

I read those words early this morning. Although I have heard some version of that idea since I was a teenager, this time, it scared the shit out of me. What if I were to write with the wild abandon that I do in my journal, what if I were to write like that always? What if I were to take it even further, because ya know, sometimes I even write in my journal as if someone was going to read it? What if I wrote without the shackles of audience? What would happen if I was the only witness?

Yikes.

I really do try to write like that, always. But when I have a job (and have had many like it in the past) that is all about writing content that people want to read, that’s easy and fun, that will get shared and liked, it messes with the part of me that is an artist. I have to consider that regardless of how much my work doesn’t look like advertising and marketing, I am writing copy. I write content that hopes to sell something. It’s all about audience–they are the first thing I think of when I sit down to work, and they stay right there with me throughout the process. As it turns out, it’s actually pretty easy to write something that people will like. I know how to do that now. And while that’s great for the companies I work for, it does weird stuff to my personal writing. Instead of closing the door, the door is always open, and someone is always looking over my shoulder.

Flip-flopping between writing for audience and writing for art has proven to water down my writing as a whole, no matter its purpose. Finding a way to transition between the two in a manner that doesn’t leave me constantly having to remind myself, Georgie, let go, you aren’t trying to sell anything here, is such a challenge.

Doesn’t this show up in everyday life, too? Most of us are socially aware enough to know what other people wanna hear, what’s going to be easy, what’s going to make others like us. We know how to sell ourselves, some of us better than others. But this is where things gets dangerous. If taken too far, this is one of the many ways in which we can go about doing that terribly painful but not always conscious thing called losing ourselves.

We’re in the Buttermilks, it’s packed. The Greenwall boulder is especially crowded, and another set of climbers have just joined us. They set their crash pad on the ground just behind a small bush, sit on the pad, and rest their feet in the bush. It was as odd as it sounds. Hey guys, you should give that bush a break, I hear Spenser say. After a moment of shock, the woman asks, what bush? while looking directly at the bush. I’m guessing a mix of ego and embarrassment is where her strange response came from. The one that you’re stomping on, he says back. I know it looks dead, but it’s not. That’s why a lot of the plants around here have died. The couple looks at each other like is this dude seriously telling me what to do with my feet? And then they look at Spenser, like who the hell is this guy? After some eye rolls and heavy sighs, they move their crash pad, and eventually slink away to another boulder without any of us noticing.

Spenser could have chosen not to say anything. That would have been easier and kept things nice and smoothed out. It was Valentine’s Day after all. Maybe if he didn’t say anything those people would have become our friends. Maybe they would have heard about Spenser and Vikki’s RV Project and told a million people about it. But that would have been dangerous, for Spenser, (and all of us really) because we know of the impact that climbers can have on the natural environment, and we know that putting your feet in a bush can harm the bush. So it became our responsibility to say something.

I burrow into my sleeping bag in the back of my car. The moon is still behind the horizon, so the stars are particularly dense. My phone lights up, it’s a text from an old friend. I miss my Dad so much and feel like I’m so far away from him and myself, it reads.

These are the people that I find the most venerable. It would have been much easier to send me a text that night that said something pretty and nice, like, Happy Valentine’s Day. Instead it was one that held so much more value, so much more of her. It was an offering of her truth, and I was so grateful to receive it.

It’s not even that I want to write about things that would piss people off necessarily. What’s happening is that I’ve shied away from anything too heavy or too dramatic, out of fear of being judged as being too heavy and too dramatic. But judgment of my character happens no matter what I write about on this blog. Even close friends have judged me for what I say on this thing. Just having a blog is reason enough for some people to think of me in a certain way. But God, I just don’t care anymore. I’m too tired of caring, of thinking about what people want to hear while I’m writing, while I’m living. And maybe tomorrow I will care again, but right now I just don’t. So I guess there’s really only one thing left to do.

The more I write and the longer I live, the more I realize that we’re pretty much all the same. All of us have been through something. And if we haven’t been through something, the fact that we haven’t been through anything becomes our something. But for most of us, truly awful things have happened. The kind of things that we can’t even really mention. I’m interested in that. I’m interested in the fact that no matter how good you are, bad things can happen to you. And that sometimes, if you’re bad, you can still get pretty lucky. The lack of control we have is laughable. But despite knowing this, and despite all of our stories, we still sing in our cars. We still buy each other lunch and write thank you notes. We still laugh at the Daily Show. We work really hard. We are absurdly resolute. That’s how I know we belong here. Just like everything else on this planet, we are hardwired for survival. It seems odd that we have all been born into a world such as ours with souls that are incredibly tender. What is the purpose of a heart that can break in a million different ways? The answer is inconvenient. We are all holding on to our stories, out of fear of forgetting. In a quiet way, we know that we will never forget. But what if? What if when we forgive and let go, that we can’t remember anymore? But we have to do it. No one is going to get abandoned here. Right? I think that with all this searching, all I’m trying to do is learn how to love the space that they left behind.

That space has changed over the years. At first it was numb, and as it started to tingle into awareness again it became the source of anger, then shame, then self-doubt. I’ve got it all mapped out, really. But what has happened to that space recently is even more interesting. It has become the place where I relate to others. It’s what I breathe into. It if from there that I operate. It is from there that I can do the most simple thing–be kind. It is from there that I learned self-love. What happened is gone, but the space it left behind will always be with me. And there’s no way to forget about it, because not only is it with me, it is me.

When my audience is held gently in my mind without controlling me, I think I am always writing about that space. And when I stop caring about what other people think and show up to my life while standing in that space, I feel really, really brave. And that’s how I want to feel from now on.

 

 

another poem

Can I

be honest?

Or,               rather–may

I be honest?

Please?              I’ve got a lot to say.

I’ve got a lot to say              about the stars, snorkeling, babies, and

pumpkin seeds, but

can I be honest?

may I be honest?

Please?              I know I don’t need permission but,

sometimes you don’t like the truth when it’s prickly.

I want to tell you about the storm tonight, what

it’s doing to me, but

can I be honest?

may I be honest?

Please?

Do you know about the time I ate a purple plum and its

juice dripped off my chin?

Because I do, and I could tell you about it,                 but

can I be honest?

may I be honest?

Please?

I know that we can all agree that things aren’t

always                                  so sugary

that there is a sadness we all feel

and some days it seeps into our bodies, deeper than our bones

and I want to talk about it,                  because it exists, real as

Miley Cyrus, but

can I be honest?

may I be honest?

Please?

I’d bet you know how it feels to miss someone, but I want to hear

how you string the words together and see                 the way your face

looks as you say his name

and I don’t want to talk about your gluten intolerance anymore, but

can you be honest?

may you be honest?

Please?

What if I wanted to tell you something that most people would keep

secret

would that be too dramatic? would you want to unhear it, would it give a heaviness

to your shoulders?

I love your shoulders, but

can I be honest?

may I be honest?

Please?

The way you asked me, can we please           leave? I want to go home.

that’s what my heart beats for, what I want to sink

my teeth into

nothing that’s vanilla flavored or watered down

but, please?

may I be honest?

may I      please                      be honest?

Please?