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  • Birds of Apolonia, Tales of Araceli

    Polly’s reading chapter books.
    Araceli counters, well, “I’m only 2.”

    They both continue to amaze me.

    On the playground,
    creating elaborate detail

    no matter what we play.

    It’s Sunday morning.
    Araceli is going on and on
    with an idea I can barely follow

    until she calmly, assertively

    informs,

    “Auntie Al, I have to poop.”

    Polly & I hang back
    while Araceli heads to the BP with Jay
    to take care of business.

    We sit at the top of the slide and wait for them
    and Polly teaches me a thing or two

    like usual.

    As they return to the playground
    Polly and I jump up and wave

    and Araceli bounds back

    in her little red pants
    and new yellow tee
    with cats on a trampoline

    and we’re back to the storytelling.

    It’s something else entirely.

    Later,

    and the girls are gone —

    I’m listening to Jenny Lewis
    and cooking brussels sprouts 
    and thinking about them.

      We watched Mister Rogers

    and Daniel the Striped Tiger sang
    a song about how it’s very hard to wait.

    Araceli wraps a cat toy in her blanket.

    Polly puts her hand in mine.

    I couldn’t love them more.

    It’s the way Araceli woke me up on Saturday
    by talking to me as if we were mid-conversation;

    it’s the way she calls, “Peach!” to the cat
    and is delighted when he eats the treats she throws down;

    the way she put her stuffed cat Bubba
    on the ground by my bed (“if Peaches sees Bubba
    then he maybe won’t be scared
    and he’ll get used to me,” she explained).

    Meanwhile, Polly's engrossed in her third book of the weekend.

    She’s stretched out in the chair,
    the chair that’s mine that was my mom’s,
    skinny brown legs crossed —

    Not even fazed for one second
    that I knew the main character was named Karen
    Because I, too, used to drown out all the adults
    and everything else around me
    engrossed in a Baby-Sitters Little Sister book

    on a Saturday afternoon.

    When the girls are gone,
    I consider how different my couch looks

    without Pinky and B
    George and Bubba
    Araceli, Apolonia & Me.

    Fred Rogers was right,

    of course.

    There are many ways to say I love you.

  • to be sorted later » focus your intensity; quit being the apology

    to be sorted later » focus your intensity; quit being the apology

    Happy New Moon in Virgo!

    No, I don’t understand exactly what the New Moon in Virgo means, but it’s fun to consider. I liked this reminder to “anchor into our wholeness,” according to the astral insights from Mystic Mamma.

    And why not consider a new moon as an ideal opportunity to give your intensity some focus?

    Don’t ignore the power of the motherfucking moon.

    I love September. Everything feels new. I’m reminded, each September, how much I love the promise of fall, the breeze cooling. It’s almost romantic.

    There’s so much to sort through, always.

    *

    I’m still thinking about this poetry and photography project from The New York Times. It’s called “Being Women: Poetry and Imagery” — and good god, it makes me feel so much. My favorite, “Until the Stars Collapse,” is by Tonya Ingram, and goes like this:

    you owe it to yourself to quit being the apology. to
    hold your hand and sing your favorite song. to

    love another and see how far that will go. to love
    yourself and forget where you were headed in the
    first place. love is a funny story. it wakes up and
    builds a plot. it wakes up and shapes you into the
    kind of woman your mother studies. i am not per-
    fect in it. i am not even remotely articulate. but it
    is big, this love. it is airborne and triumphant. i am
    no easy show. i hurt like the climb of my lineage. i
    hurt on purpose. i hurt to not be hurt. no, none of
    this is an excuse. just a blueprint. a map. come
    find me when the day is bronze and the sorrow is
    full. i am building my poem in this here heart. all
    of it is a working title.

    “I am no easy show.” God-dammit-all if I don’t get it, Tonya. Thank you for this. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:

    Women are amazing.

    You’ve gotta check it all out. And the photos!

    My other favorite is "For My Grandmother's Perfume, Norell" — but I’ll let you read that on your own, should you desire.

    “...love yourself and forget where you were headed in the first place.”

    Love yourself. What a radical notion. I’ve been trying it on for size, and I like it.

    *

    Speaking of women being amazing: Today I finished reading The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness, by Jill Filipovic. I highly recommend it.

    That’s it. Happy New Moon in Virgo.

    Anchor into your wholeness. You deserve it.

    *

    Previously: “baby be simple”

    Photo: Taken at the National Museum of Mexican Art, Chicago [by me]

  • trashy life, rosy mythologies

    trashy life, rosy mythologies

    Each time I turn to Susan Sontag’s journal,
    I find myself
    on the same entries,
    drawn to the same lines —

    like

    “All my life I’ve been looking for someone intelligent to talk to.”

    and

    “I’m loyal to my feelings. What does that mean?”

    another — a favorite —

    “Pseudo-problems!”

    *

    On a Sunday afternoon
    Lauren & I talk shit about boys
    at a French cafe on the corner of Augusta
    over fries & the perfect whiskey smash.

    I worry about my looks
    (what a fucking bore)
    and she looks perfect,
    with her arm stretched out
    on the back of the bench
    that might just be a church pew.

    I want to take her picture,

    but I don’t.

    “Pseudo-problems!”

    I’ve been told I’m beautiful
    my whole fucking life

    & still, it doesn’t stick.

    We only hear what we can
    — or is it what we want?

    Unlike Susan, I don’t feel loyal to my feelings.

    They change constantly, after all.

    I order another whiskey smash.

    There are sauteed calf brains on the menu.
    I could never pretend to be that invested.
    You can order them for breakfast, even.

    *

    All my life I’ve been looking for someone
    to make me laugh like I do with my girlfriends.

    “Can I love someone (N[icole]) and still think/fly?”

    I’d say so, Susan, yes.

    But where is the proof?

    She writes of feeling “inauthentic at a party”
    & lately — forever? — I feel inauthentic

    when I have the desire
    to show my authentic
    to a man.

    What does that mean?

    PSEUDO-PROBLEMS!

    *

    On August 14, 1973, in Paris,

    Susan Sontag was reading — re-reading —
    Kafka’s “Investigations of a Dog”

    And on August 2018, in Chicago,
    I’m reading another woman’s journal
    & just trying
    to get my new cat to love me.

    Trashy. 

    Rosy. 

  • Won't You Be My Neighbor?

    “What do you do with the mad that you feel

    When you feel so mad you could bite?

    When the whole wide world seems oh, so wrong...

    And nothing you do seems very right?”

    — Fred Rogers

    *

     

    The Mr. Rogers documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is the film America needs right now.

    Yes, it’s a tearjerker — and yes, I ugly-cried through much of the 93 minutes — but it’s purposefully, not manipulatively so. Like Fred Rogers himself, and his PBS show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, this documentary reminds its viewers that how we treat each other matters. That children — and yes, adults too — feel deep, and often confusing, emotions. And that above all else, what matters most is love: To give and to feel love, and to know, especially as a child, that you are deserving of love.

    Love thy neighbor as thyself. Now that’s a passage from the Bible Jeff Sessions should be reading, and considering, when it comes to immigration policies. It’s a sentiment we all could consider before we dive into the comments section on Facebook and argue with each other via our screens. It’s most certainly one that Donald Trump should learn before his next Twitter rant.

    Love thy neighbor as thyself.

    Mr. Rogers lived by that sentiment, and through his quietly radical public television show, he made millions of children — myself included — feel loved and unique and important. And if “quietly radical” doesn’t sound like the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood you remember, with the Neighborhood of Make-Believe and Daniel Striped Tiger and above all, the dorky, singing old dude in the cardigan sweater, it’s time to revisit the show through this documentary. You’ll think again when you see Fred Rogers and his black castmate François Clemmons dip their feet into a tub together in one episode, protesting racial segregation. Watch for his smile at the camera—love is powerful, indeed, and no one was going to stop Fred Rogers from spreading a message that love does, in fact, always trump hate.

    In 1969, Fred Rogers took that message to the U.S. Senate, testifying about the necessity of funding public television. In only a 6-minute statement, he managed to secure $20 million in funding.

    This is what I give. I give an expression of care every day to each child, to help him realize that he is unique. I end the program by saying, “You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you, just the way you are.” And I feel that if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health.

    These are dark times for America, and I feel strongly that Fred Rogers would agree. By watching this documentary, I learned that Mr. Rogers was a lifelong Republican. (Funny how I never worried about his party affiliation back when I was watching the show at my babysitter’s house.) It’s been 15 years since he died. But I have no doubt, deep in my heart and soul, of this: Republican or Democrat, if Mr. Rogers were alive today, he’d be urging us to consider more than each other’s party affiliations; to move away from the memes and hateful social media commentary; and to instead see our shared humanity. And to speak up for what’s right, especially when children’s lives are at stake.

    Let’s speak up for love and understanding.

    Won’t you please, won’t you please?

  • AN EMOTION PICTURE.

    Save the date: April 27, 2018. 

    *

    Until then, I'll be watching the "Make Me Feel"  and "Django Jane" videos on repeat. 

    Let the vagina have a monologue
    Mansplaining, I fold 'em like origami
    What's a wave, baby? This a tsunami

     For more evidence of my Janelle obsession, see my Twitter feed and visit the archives of this blog

  • WTF is a Choon Group?

    WTF is a Choon Group?

    It's a brand new music site! Or "digital magazine," if you will. Made by music lovers, for music lovers—Choon Group features album and concert reviews, features like Arranged Autobiographically, playlists, podcasts, and much more to come.

    I'm still feeling pretty geeked I was asked to be a contributor. Check out the site and be sure to read my first review, of Rhye's new album, Blood. 

    You can also follow Choon Group on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. You can, and you should! Do it! 

  • Three Precarious, Uncertain Elements

    "Writing exists (for me) at the intersection of three precarious, uncertain elements: language, the world, the self. The first is never wholly mine; the second I can only ever know in a partial sense; the third is a malleable and improvised response to the previous two. If my writing is a psychodrama I don't think it is because I have, as the internet would have it, so many feels, but because the correct balance and weight to be given to each of these three elements is never self-evident to me. It's this self—whose boundaries are uncertain, whose language is never pure, whose world is in no way 'self-evident'—that I try to write from and to. My hope is for a reader, who, like the author, often wonders how free she really is, and who takes it for granted that reading involves all the same liberties and exigencies as writing."

    — Zadie Smith, "Foreword," Feel Free

  • I am sure of nothing but this

    My friend’s father has died. Last week, as it was happening — as she and her family spent agonizing hours of waiting and wondering at the hospital — I searched for the words to write to her. I was at a loss, so I kept typing the same things again and again in my texts: Thinking about you. Love you. Just checking in.

    It wasn’t enough.

    “I wasn’t sure of the right thing to say”; “I’m sure I said all the wrong things” — sentiments we all have heard, and said, during times like these. What I learned many years ago was that I wouldn’t remember anyone saying the wrong thing, but I sure as hell would remember who said nothing.

    So I continued to text the same things and searched for what I wanted to really say instead.

    I bought a Mary Oliver collection and looked for it there. I read this one poem, “Franz Marc’s Blue Horses,” and cried, because it was exactly right, and completely wrong. Anyway, it goes like this:

    I step into the painting of the four blue horses.
    I am not even surprised that I can do this.
    One of the horses walks toward me.
    His blue nose noses me lightly. I put my arm
    over his blue mane, not holding on, just
    commingling.
    He allows me my pleasure.
    Franz Marc died a young man, shrapnel in his brain.
    I would rather die than explain to the blue horses
    what war is.
    They would either faint in horror, or simply
    find it impossible to believe.
    I do not know how to thank you, Franz Marc.
    Maybe our world will grow kinder eventually.
    Maybe the desire to make something beautiful
    is the piece of God that is inside each of us.
    Now all four horses have come closer,
    are bending their faces toward me
    as if they have secrets to tell.
    I don’t expect them to speak, and they don’t.
    If being so beautiful isn’t enough, what
    could they possibly say?

    I didn’t send her the poem, because I was incapable of articulating how Franz Marc and his blue horses and Mary Oliver felt exactly like the hope I wanted her to feel in this time of deep despair, the beginnings of grief. I tried to write, but wrote a shitty poem instead. I read a book. I felt angry at the world that would make my kind friend ever have to sit in a hospital room and wait and wonder.

    I didn’t feel good about the outcome. I tried to think positive thoughts, but I knew too much. I’ve been in that kind of room before.

    So I read more Mary Oliver.

    *

    Recently another friend said to me, “This album will always make me think about this time.” I was playing the new The War on Drugs and I knew exactly what she meant.

    *

    This week I’ve been listening to Shannon Lay, a singer I just discovered. I’ve listened to her new album, Living Water, every night, and thought: “This album will always make me think about this time.”

    The sparseness of it, the melancholy — listening to it feels like reading that Mary Oliver poem. But I wasn’t going to send my friend songs like “Orange Tree” or “The Moons Detriment” and try to explain what the hell that could possibly have to do with what she’s going through.

    Although, like the Pitchfork reviewer wrote,Living Water is shot through with a kind of ragged hope—not optimism, exactly, but a determined belief in the power of that life force to pull us all toward something like transcendence.”

    So, it makes total sense and no sense at all — pretty much exactly like what it feels like to lose a parent. You think you’ll know. You don’t know. And then you do.

    *

    This morning I was eating avocado toast cause I’m a real asshole like that and as I stared at my cat Mufasa staring at me, this Frank O’Hara poem popped to mind and I thought I had it — the right words for these feelings. And also fittingly, a poem with a reference to avocado toast.

    I’m so brilliant in the mornings!

    Turns out, the poem, fittingly called “Poem,” doesn’t have a reference to avocado toast at all and doesn’t make any more sense than Mary Oliver talking about stepping into a painting of horses.

    Here it goes:

    Light clarity avocado salad in the morning

    after all the terrible things I do how amazing it is

    to find forgiveness and love, not even forgiveness

    since what is done is done and forgiveness isn’t love

    and love is love nothing can ever go wrong

    though things can get irritating boring and dispensable

    (in the imagination) but not really for love

    though a block away you feel distant the mere presence

    changes everything like a chemical dropped on a paper

    and all thoughts disappear in a strange quiet excitement

    I am sure of nothing but this, intensified by breathing

     

    *

    I’ll probably never know the right thing to say, and maybe none of us ever will. But as we all search for the words, what counts most is the feeling behind it. I am sure of nothing but this.

  • "And when I begin to believe I haven't left"

    I Don't Miss It 
    BY TRACY K. SMITH


    But sometimes I forget where I am,
    Imagine myself inside that life again.

    Recalcitrant mornings. Sun perhaps, 
    Or more likely colorless light

    Filtering its way through shapeless cloud.

    And when I begin to believe I haven’t left,
    The rest comes back. Our couch. My smoke

    Climbing the walls while the hours fall.
    Straining against the noise of traffic, music,

    Anything alive, to catch your key in the door.
    And that scamper of feeling in my chest,

    As if the day, the night, wherever it is
    I am by then, has been only a whir

    Of something other than waiting.

    We hear so much about what love feels like.
    Right now, today, with the rain outside,

    And leaves that want as much as I do to believe
    In May, in seasons that come when called,

    It’s impossible not to want
    To walk into the next room and let you

    Run your hands down the sides of my legs,
    Knowing perfectly well what they know.

  • along the boulevard

    “fall
    in love
    with your solitude”

    — rupi kaur


    Walking along Logan Boulevard in mid June feels a little like falling in love. Sure, the peonies have come and gone, but the flowering trees are in full bloom, showing off, maybe even shaking a flower or two in your hair if you strut under it at exactly the right moment. Just after dark, on a weeknight, the traffic on the Boulevard slows, and if I’m on the quieter side of the street, it feels like a secret, at least until the next traffic light.

    I recently moved right off the Boulevard and am getting used to taking that quick left turn after I leave the building, guiding me down the Boulevard to where the action is, or isn’t.

    On every walk I’ve made in the last couple weeks, I’ve discovered something new: a house I hadn’t noticed before; a different cat in a window; a perfectly pink rose bush that surely couldn’t have looked that perfect yesterday.

    Sometimes I’ve been with a friend, but usually I am alone, listening to music, which probably amplifies this ridiculous romanticism.

    I’m having an affair with Logan Boulevard. Tell no one. Tell everyone.

    It feels like this, except I prefer my view, I never dramatically break into song, and — unfortunately —Jazmine Sullivan never shows up. So I guess it’s nothing like this at all, but fuck! I love this song, they *are* walking — and I listened to this twice while walking yesterday.

    Let us all behold Jazmine Sullivan's majestic snarl now: