Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Death in the Family

While I was on hiatus, my aunt passed away. She was my mother's eldest sister, and she was also my godmother. For the first time in my life, I will experience a birthday without her well wishes. When I try to act as godmother to my own niece, I won't be able to ask my aunt for advice. When I post links to my published poetry on Facebook, she won't be the first one liking it or commenting on it. 

My instinct to call her has not faded away. If I dialed the phone, though, I'd hear an automated operator telling me the number has been disconnected. Under different circumstances, I'd be speaking with her right now to work through my grief, but I can't, because this time, she's the one who's gone.

Intellectually, this situation makes sense. Emotionally, everything is a jumble. There have been several occasions when I refrained from texting my mother to ask if this is really happening, because I already know the answer. 

A few days after she died, my aunt came to me in a dream. I don't remember now what that dream was about, but I do know that she was her usual cheerful self, not some shuffling corpse. It was comforting, in a way, to wake up after that dream, but also disorienting, since I knew I couldn't tell her about it. 

All of my disjointed thoughts about her flash through my head from time to time. It's fortunate that I was able to go home to see her a week before she passed, because it gave me a chance to say goodbye. But the problem, ultimately, is that there never is a goodbye. She's always going to be with me, if only in dreams or memories. At the same time, I'm damn lucky to have that much, and to have known her at all, so I try to keep that in mind.


PS My aunt died of complications from ovarian cancer. To reflect this, I have changed the text of today's post to teal, which is the awareness color for this type of cancer. For more information about ovarian cancer, visit the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, the Mayo Clinic, the American Cancer Society, or the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What to Read

Way back in 2012, one of my early blog posts on this site was about what I read. I subsequently added a post about the poets whose work I reference most often. Maybe I was prepping myself, however subconsciously, for today's discussion.

What should you read? There are two basic schools of thought: the canonical purists and the laissez-faire experimenters. Guess which kind I am.

Yes, I'm a do-what-you-want kind of girl. To tell you the truth, I think the idea of an academically-defined canon is bullshit. What I consider essential, required reading differs greatly from the next person's idea of necessary novels. For example, I believe every fiction writer should read Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves. Meanwhile, when I was in grad school, I had a professor who was one of the dreaded Raymond Carver devotees, and I found Carver to be a waste of time. (Yeah, that's right; I said it. Come at me, bro.)

The American Revolution was fought over the canon; forces employed cannons. Or something.

Ray Bradbury wrote that we should read anything and everything. I happen to concur with that advice, since "anything and everything" can be interpreted to mean "anything and everything that will meet YOUR needs, rather than those of some fusty old scholars." (No disrespect to scholars in general; I'm a reluctant member of your ranks, but we all know that there are those rude people who scoff at anything other than what they deem essential.)

So get out there. Read some books. Or magazines. Or cereal boxes. Whatever piques your interest and makes you think! I'll be doing the same on my end, of course, and I can guarantee you the books on my list are ones that work for me.


Image via some defunct website. I had to search Yahoo Images for "firing cannon" instead of "cannon" because "cannon" takes you to an endless stream of pictures of Canon cameras. Someone needs to learn how to spell, and it's not me.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Terrible Things People Say

As a child, I was bullied on a regular basis. This is a sad reality for far too many adolescents, as you may have noticed over the past two or three years. Coming of age as the Internet started to gain ground, I experienced cyberbullying on two occasions I can recall, but thanks to the limited access afforded by dial-up, I was not plugged in constantly, which no doubt reduced my risk of attacks.

In more idealistic days, I assumed that people became more civilized as they grew up, and that bullying peters out as a result. Now I realize that this rare bit of optimism on my part was misguided. I'm almost 28 years old, and I've learned that bullying never goes away. It may get even more vicious.

You may recall my post from last November about the woman who referred to me as "the weird girl." This was a passive sort of bullying, since she didn't say it to my face; instead, it trickled down to me. I've also been torn apart via e-mail by people who were unable to mask their identities yet managed to keep the shield of the screen between us, which is somewhere between passive and aggressive. These occurrences, while bothersome, allow for at least some control on my part: all I have to do is cut off communication, or keep things professional if I must interact with the people in question.

However, one of the more prominent forms of bullying today is anonymous cyberbullying, taking place in online forums, on social networks, or in comment sections below articles/blog posts. I don't know that I've ever experienced this myself, since for various reasons I don't engage in online discourse to a large extent.

This is not the case for everyone. Popular bloggers might get a thousand comments in a single day. Authors of articles for online news magazines are subject to both editorial scrutiny and public response. Or, in the case of Andrea Wrobel, a person may be promoting his or her work on the Internet. Wrobel recently recounted her experience over at SheWrites, saying that anonymous commenters were the worst of the group, sometimes making rape jokes or otherwise disparaging her. 

This undisguised misogyny is not uncommon. If any thread on a forum continues long enough, eventually one of two things will happen: someone will compare another person to Hitler (Godwin's Law)/accuse a person of Nazi-like thought (Reductio ad Hitlerum), or someone will tell a woman she deserves to be raped. This is what happened to Wrobel, along with, I'm sure, tens of thousands of other women who haven't shared their stories. It even happens when discussions appear about someone having been raped, as in the Texas gang rape case or the Steubenville allegations.

I have to wonder what happens to people that makes them lose their humanity and social graces, particularly when they log on. Since I'm not a psychologist or sociologist, I may never know the answer. But I do know that this kind of bullying has to end. It's backward and dangerous to continue encouraging both verbal abuse and rape culture via this kind of "discourse." It is time for us all to grow up and start supporting instead of threatening each other, don't you think?


Wednesday, May 7, 2014


I have to be honest with you: I'm not sure why so many people are such vocal opponents of the selfie. Self-portraits have been A Thing in art since, oh, forever. And it may be true that my self:other ratio lists too far to the self side, but there is a good reason for it. The fact is, I'm always available as a subject.

 Hey there, hi there, ho there.

Those of you who know me recognize that I'm a hardcore introvert, and I spend so much time alone--even at work--that it's natural for me to look inward for inspiration. This is why I take pictures of myself, write poems about my life, insert aspects of my personality into fictional characters. Think of it as a literal interpretation of the long-dispensed Creative Writing 101 maxim: write what you know.

And don't mistake it for narcissism. In America, we tend to place our emphasis on the individual, which means that, to an extent, we've taught ourselves to regard ourselves highly. But I don't think that's the same as being so self-centered that we are unable to look around and recognize that others exist. For me, it's a sort of self-actualization tool: the more I examine me, the more I am able to adapt and become a better person for the sake of society.

Yes, being a better person means showing the world my feet.

Perhaps this makes me unusual and everyone else is actually as self-obsessed as the critics say. But I'd like to think that we're all in the same--albeit large--boat, trying to understand and express ourselves via ourselves. And that's not such a bad thing to do, is it?