Scary story

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Invited to a classroom to write with some first and third graders:
“You won’t scare the kids!”
Nice thought, but truly, I would
were masking not still a thing.
No amount of stickers
or “Write On!” t-shirt
or smiling enthusiasm
or typewriter socks
or book-print leggings
or punctuation skirt
or gimmick or trick or joke
could make it less scary that I
had both jaws broken then bolted back on with titanium
had my nose grow crooked after
had a screw poking through my sinus just so
have a rubber band holding my front teeth together

that the doctor
sliced me open between my teeth and upper lip
peeled back my face
removed screws and plates and gave them to me in a baggie
scooted my nose back into a straight line
and sewed it there for good measure

that when I woke up I
ran out of local anesthetic
cried for the nurses to do anything
called it worse than the broken bones I’ve walked on without knowing
called it worse than natural childbirth
called it worse than the worst migraine
(or maybe torture, though I’ve not been tortured)
made the doctor come running with his big needles
took four shots directly into my face
looked up within three minutes saying “Ok! I’m fine now!”

that the next day I swelled up like Violet Beauregard
my eyes turned purple then swelled shut
bruises slid down my cheeks and chin
and the doctor sent medicine that helps, but slowly
And indeed, I would scare the kids!

*NOTE! I was so beautifully cared for by TriCounty Oral Facial Surgeons! The anesthetic thing that happened was NOT something they did wrong, but something my body does almost every time I have a cavity filled or any local anesthetic like lidocaine or articaine (it was just more severe than ever) . I strongly recommend Dr. Engroff for any oral surgery you may need to have!

Some facts about pain

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My whole life, I’ve had a desire to somehow measure physical pain in a uniform way. Like so many other important human things, pain is on the inside of us, not the outside. Maybe sometimes we can see the cause of the pain, like a cut or a swollen foot. But the pain itself is just impulses running through nerves and brains, right?

Then there’s the problem that not only can’t we see the pain, we also can’t determine its strength relative to the pain of others. Like, what hurts more, my mosquito bite or your ant bite? I would just leave this tagged as one of life’s imponderables, but my screwed-up mind feels like it really needs to know. It needs to know because, without external evidence that someone else’s pain is actually less, some secret part of me thinks I don’t get to complain about my own.

I never said this was healthy!

Not sure if this is because I am Texan (so tough!), because I was a gymnast (don’t cry in here!), because I have spent a lot of time dissociated from my body (like a brain in a vat), or because my body does seem to have some kind of weird pain disconnect (didn’t realize that bone was broken for days!)

Is it a superpower? A curse? Or just weird?

Things some kids have said to Alexa today

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Alexa, tell us a joke

Alexa, do you hate us?

Alexa, announce “Alexa, announce”

Alexa, you’re not my bestie

Alexa, does the government listen in to our conversations?

Alexa, tell Jeff Bezos he sucks

Alexa, what’s Jeff Bezos’s favorite song?

(the answer was Don’t Stop Believing)

Alexa, how do you hide a body?

Alexa, are you evil?

Alexa, tell us how to make a taser

Alexa, what’s your favorite song?

Alexa, put Tenny Village on repeat

Alexa, don’t play the song

Alexa, what’s your favorite color?

Alexa, I hate you

Alexa, can you kill a robot?

Alexa, wow

Rest is the best

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A few days ago, my friend Ona over at On A Thought wrote about Spending Time. I can’t stop thinking about it. Right when I read it, I went in to comment, thinking something like “Amen!” or “Preach!” But as so often happens to me, once I started writing, I started having things to say. Lots of things to say, some of which I said in my a way-too-long comment.

(My comments do sometimes get long. I know it’s not great. My texts are long too. And sometimes punctuated, which my teenager always finds quaint and sometimes finds offensive. But I have interrupted myself! Another thing I do often.)

Ona writes: “Why is it so hard to spend time now? Why does slowing down feel wrong? Why do I feel guilty? Why don’t I sit around and listen to music just to listen to music anymore?”

My response manifesto:

THIS. This is how we feel in a culture that says we are worth only what we accomplish or produce for someone else (usually for someone else to profit). It says our right to exist is predicated on doing things, and not all these good thing that you listed but instead “useful” things that earn money or serve patriarchy or preserve inequity or all of the above. If you’re me, your soul knows it’s not right, and so does your body, and many times even your mind knows it’s not right. But the whole things churns on, and you keep going. And if you’re me, this eventually leads to mental and physical illness, to the point that your self FORCES you to stop.

And this is what happened to the whole world; we all forgot that our worth is inherent in our existence and not determined by these thin and harmful measures, and we all were operating brokenly and in pain, and even when worldwide disease and uprisings and beatdowns and 21st century lynchings and lies brought everything to an actual, concrete HALT, we have failed to turn away from it.

Every nanosecond you spend lying on the sofa looking at shadows is a VICTORY. When you float in a pool thinking, or memorize every word to a song, or noodle or doodle: you are a fxxxing CHAMPION and I commend you. It’s proof that you are a human being and that you still know how to human.

Let all the time be spent! May it all be wasted, squandered, released, embraced, enjoyed! Splash that shit around like it’s cheap perfume!!

Talking About the Weather

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I suspect that spending time with me, these days, is a bit like walking through a land with that kind of weather that changes in a heartbeat. I don’t mean that it just changes the way it does everywhere, like how everywhere I have lived, people say “Don’t like the weather in ____? Wait five minutes!”

[Spoiler alert: they say that EVERYWHERE. The nature of weather IS change.]

This weather changes in ways that show. They are changes that force you to notice. This weather pounds on the roof so hard you forget your work; you get up from your desk and go out to the front porch to watch the lightning. Or it floods the sky with colors that scream “Filter!” and remind you most of the huge eyeshadow palette you had in high school, all blues and purples and magentas and glitter. It’s weather that makes you get your camera out, or run for your coat, or rip off your layers.

My weather changes in ways that don’t necessarily seem to follow reasonably from one another. Reasonable changes would be from cloudy, to light rain, to pouring. Or from cold wind and rain to sleet. My weather isn’t that orderly. It defies cause and effect. Maybe it’s cold and windy, and you’re walking along bracing against it as the fuzz around the hood of your parka gets wet and crusty. And then without warning you are sweating, red-faced and panting, and the sun is bald and burning. I change like that.

I feel all my feelings, and also a lot of other people’s feelings, and also I have feelings about all those feelings. And I have BIG feelings. I always have. Even my elementary school report cards said things like “very sensitive,” and way too many partners and family members and even acquaintances have said “too intense.” It feels like I’ve spent most of my life trying to dial that intensity down for fear of not being liked. But really, how does one dial down the weather? You can’t. All you can really do is make sure you have the right clothing and equipment. Or, roll with it and just let the snowflakes melt your tongue. Let the sunlight warm your face. Feel the wind in your hair, and squish your toes in the mud.

Also, I have spent way too much time in my life terrified, and absolutely convinced, that bad emotional weather will stay bad. Every down day is transformed in my mind into a doomsday: “Oh no. What if I’m depressed? It was like this at the beginning the other times. I’m never going to just be happy, am I. What the hell is wrong with me? Why can’t I just be happy? Fuck. I’m going to get so behind at work. And on and on.

But weather changes, doesn’t it? The nature of weather IS change. Even horrible long gray cooped-up interminable sloggy winters in central Pennsylvania eventually do come to an end. Maybe instead of hating the showy, unreasonable changing of my soulweather, I can love it. No weather is forever, and neither is any emotion, and for that I am grateful. Showily, unreasonably grateful.

Photo by David Gylland on Unsplash


Things my house and I have in common:

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  • mismatched
  • colorful
  • cozy
  • welcoming
  • needs some work
  • some projects are perpetually unfinished
  • leaks here and there
  • filled with memories
  • shared with my best people
  • blends old and new
  • lots of blue
  • full of found items: ground scores, curb scores, thrifts, and gifts
  • outer doors don’t always close or open right
  • difficult to heat
  • filled with books and crafts and drafts
  • stuffed with too many things

Any writers here?

“Are there any writers here?”

Being a specialist in teaching writing, writer identity, emotions and writing, and writing research, I ask that question a LOT when I work with any group of people. I have asked it of college freshmen, kindergarteners, and students at every stage in between. I have asked it of beginning teachers and classroom veterans, of doctoral students and senior professors. I have asked people in school, in Sunday school, in the woods, and even by the pool. And for all of those groups of people, across all of those times and places, if the group is new to me, the answer to “any writers here?” is almost always “no.”

Most folks keep both their hands and their gaze down.

Some folks give an emphatic, “No! I hate writing!”

Some folks raise a timid hand for yes, then lower it as they see nobody else is.

Lots of folks ask or tell what “counts” as being a writer.

The older they get, the fewer writers seem to be in the room. Younger kids will say they’re writers if their teacher has been saying it. (and how I love those teachers!) Older ones will say it, but will often qualify it, like “well, I write, but I’m not a writer-writer; I’m a kid.” With teens and adults, maybe one or two in a room usually will claim the label “writer.” These often either journal regularly or have published something.

Lots of teens and adults say with regret, “I used to be.”

Sometimes someone brave says, “I want to be.”

A lot of my work is about helping all these people (and their teachers!) get from feeling like non-writers who can’t write or hate writing to feeling like writers who can write and do write, even if they also hate writing. We build confidence and stamina, we learn to find and grow ideas, and we learn how to work in a writing community. If we keep at it, we learn to live with the difficulty that never really goes away (writing is hard!).

But today was different.

Today I visited a group of pre-kindergarteners I had never met. We gathered on the carpet, and like always, I asked the question. “Are there any writers here today?”

I blinked, and every hand in the room was up. Intrigued, I asked them to point to any writers around them. Many of course pointed to me– I had been introduced as a real author! But then, those small and pointy fingers started to move. One child pointed at another. A third child pointed at herself. Children pointed at the ones across the rug from them. A teacher pointed with all her fingers, spreading them like jazz hands aimed all over the carpet. Pretty soon fingers were waggling and twirling, and a few whole arms swung around heads, pointing at any human in their paths!

A whole room of writers. And so, we got to work!

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On an equinox, day and night are of equal length; the dark time and light time balance each other. This Sunday was the Vernal Equinox, but it also was a sort of personal equinox for me. It is a time of turning over to a new season, on levels literal, emotional, metaphorical.

There really have been no appropriate bins of seasonal clothing, no decorative seasonal garden flags, no holiday decor to pretty up this last couple of years. Since a good writer friend told me she loves my lists, I’ll list some of the events and characteristics this looooooong last season has featured:

  • Burnout
  • Panic attacks
  • Pandemic
  • Divorce
  • Money problems (see: divorce)
  • Professional rejections and disappointments
  • Missed opportunities
  • Failures
  • Cancellations
  • Health problems: mental, kidney, brain, uterine, teeth, jaws, joints, Covid
  • Treatments: surgeries (5), braces (1 set), medications (so many)
  • Overwhelm
  • Self-judgment
  • Dissociation
  • Near-total societal badness

Lots of dark in that season, and all the flashlights out of batteries at times.

BUT. I arrived home at 4 am Sunday, on the vernal equinox, from a trip. Climbing into my bed, I thought vaguely, “I made it.” And on Monday, I woke up to these sights:

What you are seeing is living stuff revealing that not only is it still alive, it is growing new stuff! And even though spring/new “leaf” (get it?)/new life metaphors are cliches, they are also true.

New light this spring:

  • Headspace
  • Embodiment
  • New love that feeds, not starves
  • Teeth, jaws and face that cooperate
  • Writing ideas
  • Energy
  • Medicines (different and better ones)!
  • Fun plans
  • Self-compassion
  • No part of my body is cold right now!

There may be a pandemic, still. Education is still full of disappointments and frustrations, both personal and systemic. So is society. And life. There may still be lots of societal badness, complete with wars and oppression and tons of harm. I even still wake up every day with joints that hurt and more ideas than I can ever finish, and I want more money.

But still! Leaves are growing! I made it.

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