Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lonely transfer student talks about poetry

Poetry has been on my mind a lot lately. It kind of hurts.

A couple of things in particular have got me thinking about it:
  • In her latest blog post, Lucy wrote about how she loved poetry in high school, but has since moved on to different things. I agree with her that connecting with people through venues such as journalism, nonfiction, and social networking just isn't the same as connecting through poetry; an important emotional element is missing. Her post really spoke to me, and was especially poignant because I met Lucy at the Controlled Burn Seminar for Young Writers nearly six years ago. So I've workshopped and participated in readings with her. I understand exactly how much she loved poetry, and how weird it feels to not be immersed in it anymore.
  • When I found out that Carolyn Forche will be at SVSU on Thursday, I cried. I cried because I'm no longer an SVSU student, so getting there is a lot harder than simply penciling it into my planner. I cried because I work on Thursday nights. I cried because I took last Thursday off work to spontaneously run off to Pittsburgh for the weekend, and probably can't get away with pulling the same stunt this week. And most of all, I cried because I realized that I really, really wish I could be there, which means that I still love poetry a lot, even if I've been trying to talk myself into accepting the fact that I don't.
I remember the last productive workshop I took part in. I was a sophomore at SVSU, and had recently joined the editorial staff of the campus art/literary journal, Cardinal Sins. Then editor-in-chief (a fellow writer and friend of mine) mentioned that his first semester of editing had made him realize how much he missed workshopping. So while we were waiting for submissions to come in, he organized a meeting for anyone interested in a workshop. Four of us (three students and one faculty member) showed up on a Friday morning at the end of January.

I'd like to share the poem I brought to the workshop that day. And I'm doing this because as Lucy mentioned, doing so feels strange. I never in a million years thought that I'd use poetry to leave my comfort zone.

Crossing Jefferson in the Rain

We're the only ones
who speak this language. Words splash
against the windshields
of passing cars, seep through our clothing,
soak into us.

But nothing is permanent.

The fabric will dry and
you'll leave this town, whose
lawns and sidewalks meet
like lock and key,
form a pattern and click
into place.

And I'll keep my eyes closed--
feel every breath of the ground
beneath my step,
each of its shy gestures.

Funny how the last poem I wrote is about a friend who isn't really part of my life anymore. So many things have shaped me in ways that I hadn't expected them to. I'm trying to figure out just how everything fits into my identity without getting hung up on the ways in which they're not significant parts of my life anymore. And I don't want to shut out new things.

I don't know. I wish I had the time/energy/resources to match my capacity to love. But I don't. So, what to do? Who to be?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Let's take a spontaneous trip to Pittsburgh!

On Wednesday afternoon, I was sitting at the Cass Cafe near Wayne State, wasting time on Facebook. My friend Jamie (who is a student at SVSU) had posted a status about how she was packing her bags and heading to Pittsburgh for the weekend with a band of nerdy English majors.

Nerdy English major that I am, I offered love and cookies in exchange for a ride to Pennsylvania.

Moments later, having seen my comment, my friend Stephanie offered to take me along. Apparently, one of the people who was supposed to be going on the trip couldn't get time off work, so Stephanie had an extra spot in her car.

I eagerly said yes and spent the next hour or so frantically packing and wiggling my way out of work. And to Pittsburgh we went.

I don't know why I'm blogging about it, really. I don't see this post benefiting anyone other than me. But I have to write about it because I had a damn good time. And it's been a while since I've enjoyed myself that thoroughly.

Their reason for going to Pittsburgh was the Sigma Tau Delta International Convention. I'd never been to a conference before; the experience left me feeling personally validated, but professionally doomed. In other words, I'm smarter than I feel and need to tell my various insecurities to shove it. But smart though I might be, I'm getting a degree deemed useless by people who are more pragmatic than I am. So I need to find someone willing to let me live in their basement for the rest of my life, because I'm going to be penniless. (Anyone? Anyone? As always, I will provide love and cookies.)

But at least I'm not the only one who's freaking out about the future. During our three days in Pittsburgh, we had a lot of coffee-fueled conversations at 2 a.m.

And by day (when not at the conference or napping), we wandered around Pittsburgh and were exceedingly silly (as evidenced in the photo included with this post). From left to right: Carolyn, Jamie, me, and Stephanie in the oldest building in Pittsburgh. We stumbled upon it accidentally while waiting for Carolyn to pee in an outhouse (let me reiterate: we were very silly). Naturally, the tiny one in a bonnet got to hold the gun. :-)

(But don't worry. I'm a pacifist in real life, I swear.)

On Thursday night, we ate at a Lebanese restaurant called Kassab's (recommended to us to a literature professor at SVSU who happens to be from Pittsburgh). Anyone who knows me knows that I love food about a thousand times more than the average person. My mom has said that watching me eat is like watching a kid open gifts on Christmas morning.

And Lebanese food just happens to be way up there on my list of favorites. So I was particularly vocal about how much I loved the falafel and stuffed grape leaves. In fact, by the end of the weekend, I'd acquired a new nickname: Falfy. And the others were ready to lock me in isolation out of fear that I'd eat their souls. I am not exaggerating.

Other highlights:
  • The view from the condo where we stayed. Pittsburgh at night is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.
  • The shower at the condo. Seriously, hear me out on this. Settings included "massage" and "monsoon." Monsoon!
  • The condo was up on a mountain (hence the gorgeous view). So naturally, whenever we drove up there we sang, "She'll be comin' around the mountain when she comes..."
I could go on, but you get the idea. Suffice it to say that the trip was amazing. My friends are brilliant; this weekend was full of nerdy hilarity (and some not-so-nerdy hilarity, too). I lost count of how many times I said, "I am so, so happy right now."

I didn't realize how much I had needed that spontaneous vacation until I got back home to Grosse Pointe [insert sigh here].

What the hell am I doing with my life? There is a world out there, and I need to be part of it.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

I don't want to have kids.

I make a point of saying that out loud (or in this case, writing it down) every now and then because it's taboo but shouldn't be. Not wanting to be a mother does not make me lazy. It just means that I realize how much work it is, and would rather be productive in other ways. Many of my friends are parents. I respect the hell out of them for it. But parenthood just isn't for me.

No doubt some people saw the title of this blog post and chose not to read it. You're not supposed to tell people that you don't want to have kids. And this is especially true if you're a woman.

Usually, two things happen when I mention that I don't want to have kids: People assume that I hate children, and then they tell me that I'll eventually change my mind. (Would you really want someone who hates children to change her mind? Just sayin'.)

I don't hate children. Please. I used to work at a vocational preschool. And since August, I've been babysitting two girls, ages four and seven, three times per week. While the job sometimes makes me feel like some kind of premature soccer mom, I do love the girls. And because I realize that they are the future, I make a point of treating them with respect. This is a concept that seems to be lost on a lot of people.

As for the people who tell me that I'm just too young to understand that I'll eventually want children, well. That's offensive. For one thing, I may very well change my mind. Life happens. But I'm 22. While I'm young, I am of child-bearing age. Who are you to tell me that I don't know my own mind?

It's especially fun for me to pin this argument up against the backdrop of my grandmother's wish for me to find a man, marry, and reproduce, ASAP. If I'm old enough to do that, then I'm old enough to decide not to.

And really, this is something that I've thought about all my life. My mom told me recently that she saw signs of my feminism very early on. She noticed that when I was a kid, I had a fascination with women who worked outside of the home, likely because she herself did not. I was in the first grade when I realized that many of my friends' mothers did things a lot differently than my mom. I also have an aunt who lives in the Yukon. She never married and doesn't have kids. And she has always been one of my favorite people on Earth. My mom assumed (accurately) that it was because her reality was vastly different from anyone else's.

The unfortunate thing about Kerrie (aforementioned aunt) is that her parents and siblings (all of whom did the whole get married & have kids thing) treat her as if she's some kind of overgrown child who just refused to grow up. Respect others' choices. Kerrie can do a lot of things that they can't, because she lives by herself in a very cold, remote place. You have to be really freaking strong and independent to pull that off.

I want to be strong and independent too, and am still figuring out what that means for me. I doubt I'll ever move to the Yukon--super low temperatures aren't really my thing. Nobody's shaking their finger at me for saying that. So I don't see how it's so unacceptable for me to say that I don't want to have kids.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Failure to launch

I haven't posted much to this blog this month, even though there's so much going on in the world and just as much I could say about it.

I've actually sat down at my computer several times in the past week or so to write about all of it: the devastating earthquake in Japan (and the YouTube video from a crazed Catholic who saw it as some sort of "beautiful" sign from God); the Wisconsin loss; Governor Rick Snyder's plan to destroy my home state of Michigan; the victim-blaming piece of bullshit I read in the New York Times about the gang rape of an eleven-year-old girl in Texas; and the news that a woman in Nebraska--thanks to her state's anti-choice legislation--was forced to watch her newborn die because she had not been permitted to terminate a pregnancy that doctors told her would result in the death of her baby.

But each time I've started writing, I've gotten too overwhelmed/tired, given up, and gone to bed. Lately, I've felt too deflated to accomplish much of anything.

I feel as disappointed in the world as I did in the first grade, when a classmate called and asked if I'd like to come over and play Candy Land with her. I envisioned her house--which I'd visited many times--transformed into a castle made of candy. I pictured the two of racing through it, sugar adding to the energy I already had just from my level of excitement. And I eagerly said yes.

But Candy Land turned out to be just a board game.

I read a really great Between the Lines article last week called "The kid aren't all right," about how my generation isn't going to stand for any anti-LGBT bullshit. One part in particular gave me some much-needed hope: "This generation is often ridiculed for having a sense of entitlement. But these kids show that they feel entitled to basic human rights. And if those rights aren't there, they're going to organize, ask, demand, and fight to have them."

If that's true, then I need to find a way to join in. Part of why I'm so down about things lately is that I feel like I'm the only person who gives a shit about anything (even though from reading my friends' posts on Facebook, I know that I'm not).

But I feel so terribly alone because my current living situation and babysitting job make it really hard for me to go out and pursue my interests. I live with my parents twenty minutes from campus, don't have a car of my own, and work on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday evenings. And because I'm a transfer student, I don't really have any friends in the area.

So, woe is me. I keep telling myself to be strong and stick it out until June, when the kids I babysit will be done with school for the year and I can think about moving on to something else, freeing up my evenings. But that's not real strength.

When I transferred to Wayne State, I moved in with my parents because doing so would save money. I knew that transferring would mean taking longer than four years to finish up my BA. So I thought that by moving in with them, I'd be making them happy. Because if there's one surefire way to make my parents happy, it's by saving money.

But it just hasn't turned out that way. My parents, though they mean well, are stuck in some kind of time warp, and are waiting for me to "launch." Their word choice scares me. I'm afraid that by their definition, I'm never going to "launch." I got my driver's license three and a half years after it was legal for me to do so. I won't finish college in four years. And to top it all off, I'm gay, so even if I were in a committed relationship, it's not like I could get married anytime soon.

I mean, it's understandable for my parents (like any parents) to want to watch their kids grow into successful adults. But what they don't understand is that for so many reasons, they can't hold me to the standard to which their parents held them. For one thing, there are obvious economic obstacles to making it through college in four years (thanks, Rick Snyder, for slashing state funding to Michigan colleges/universities by more than 20%).

And more importantly, there are so many ways to be successful. And success, to me, is happiness. We can agree that I've failed. But I'm not a failure because I got my driver's license three and a half years later than my peers. I'm not a failure because I won't graduate from college on time. And I'm not a failure because I have no desire to marry and have children. Instead, I am a failure because I've settled for living in Grosse Pointe. I'm a failure because two hours from now, I'm going to leave the house for an evening of babysitting instead of leaving it to go after what really inspires me.

Life has told me to settle for board games. Living, however, has taught me that if I have any hope of doing something good for this world during my time here, I need to build a candy castle--even if right now, it only exists in my imagination, and no on else can see or understand my need to create it.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Thoughts on children

I think I've finally figured out why children exhaust me so much.

It's because they're wonderful but the world they live in is not. And I don't like having to be the one to explain to them that it's not. (Note how I said "that it's not" instead of "why it's not." Fuck if I know why.)

Also, it sucks that they haven't yet figured out that adults don't have all the answers. We have fewer answers than they do, really. The kids I spend time with are so imaginative and energetic and great. But they're tiny so they're the first to get stuffed into boxes. They're small enough to fit.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A letter from a feminist/first generation college student to her parents

Dear Mom & Dad,

I love you a lot. And I appreciate how supportive you've been, both financially and emotionally. Despite all your good intentions though, there are still a lot of misunderstandings between us. So hear me out:

School is really important to me. I transferred to Wayne State because for a number of reasons I don't feel we need to go over again, things fell apart at SVSU. I moved in with you so I could stay in school and save money, which is something I thought would make all of us happy. But I feel that the money I earn babysitting is more important to you than school is, even if you'd never say it.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not against earning money. I lived in Saginaw for three years. Students have soul-draining jobs to defray the cost of school. The economy is terrible; life is life. And given what my interests are, I think it's important to have worked jobs like that so I can understand people who rely on those types of jobs to make a living.

But both of you need to understand that right now, earning money is not priority #1. School is. And even though I love it, it's not a hobby. Mom, you said something to me recently about how I need to suck it up and stop hating my job because my whole life will be like that, and I'd better get used to it.

Dad, your whole life has been like that. But I'm in school because I'd like mine not to be. I know that you worked 80 hours per week because you had a wife and kids to support. I am grateful to you for that. But even though I'm the same age as you were when you started working that hard, you need to see that I'm not in the same position. I am single, for one thing. And childless. And gay. The list goes on.

Abundant idealism aside, I am also, somehow, decently realistic. Maybe I inherited that from you. I don't expect to graduate and get a job that I love right away. But I'm willing to do the work to hopefully get me somewhere where I can do something other than babysit or clean houses or work as an aide in a preschool or anything else I've done so far.

And so you need to understand that as much as I enjoy school, it is work. I'm more than willing to help out around the house. But it bothers me that of the four of us who live here, I'm the one who is always expected to drop whatever she's doing at the drop of a hat when the dishes need to be done, just because I always have my nose stuck in a book. I still have to have that book read within a certain frame of time. And reading, though enjoyable, is time-consuming. Especially when you're planning to write a research paper on it later.

I get that you're scared. Your kids are both grown, and you want to see us move on with our lives so you can move on with yours. But our lives are different than yours. I'm in college. Neither of you went to college. So already, there's a huge difference in our respective versions of reality. And that's exactly why it's unreasonable to gripe about how I'm not going to graduate in a typical four-year time frame while trying to convince me not to take summer classes in favor of earning as much money as possible.

Now, my majors/interests: Those scare the shit out of you too, no doubt. I get that you're afraid of seeing me go off the "Commie deep end" or something. Understand, though, that my intentions are as good as yours. People that both you and I respect see what I believe in as a good thing. You only see what I do as "militant" or "extremist" because your God-fearing parents told you to believe that. You knew better than to fear God, and did not raise your kids in church (THANK YOU for that).

You never gave me a hard time about being a creative writing major. For one thing, I loved it too much to consider doing anything else (which is why, having known me all my life, you need to trust that if I'm going to go after something else, it's only because I love it just as much). And secondly, you were okay with it because creative writing seemed neutral to you. I mean, your kid spent her childhood up in her room, writing. Can't cause too much damage doing that.

But take a closer look at what I wrote about. It isn't like I went to SVSU and had one conversation with someone who "turned me into a feminist" overnight. It is something that has tugged at me my entire life. I got it from examining how much we differed from other families in Grosse Pointe, and wondering why the hell it is that we live here. I got it from seeing the literal brick wall that exists along Alter Road on the border of Grosse Pointe and Detroit. And I got it from moving to Saginaw and realizing that it's really no different there, either. There was so much unfairness right in front of me, wherever I went. How could I not take notice? Now that I'm aware of it, how can I let it be? You should be proud of me for being moved enough by it to want to change it.

I've worked really hard to try to understand your perspective. Maybe I'm missing something: If so, let me know. But in the meantime, please try to understand mine. And know too, that it's okay to be different. Just because I didn't graduate from high school and immediately get married and have kids like you did, doesn't make me a failure. And it also doesn't mean that you're failures as parents because your kids didn't turn out the way you thought they would.