Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Hello dream weavers. Guess what? Somehow it’s mid-November.

[note: don’t get bored, I’m going to talk about school for approximately one minute…]

This is significant because it means I’ll be turning in the final research paper of my third semester in just a little over one month, putting me at the halfway point in this crazy grad school adventure. [OK, that’s enough of that!] But perhaps just as importantly, it means we’re only two weeks out from my 29th birthday. I know, I know, hold the applause. Remember how I spent my whole life convinced I wouldn’t make it past my 27th birthday, and then somehow I did? Yes, it’s possible I actually died and this is all some afterlife fever dream (how else do you explain the Stranger Than Fiction situation where a poet named Tana Jean Welch is living in Gainesville, Florida and literally writing my life story as it unfolds?), but maybe, just maybe I’m actually still here and doing the damn thing.

Last week during my tutoring hours at the community college, a very earnest and very concerned student came in to talk to my coworker, her former English professor. Between her wild hand gesturing and aggressive semi-whispering, I deduced this girl was trying to make some Big Decisions. After all, she’s 19 or 20 years old, the age when the Decisions We Make will impact The Rest of Our Lives.

And I laughed, remembering a 21 or 22 year-old me, saying to Lucy I just think we’re at that age where we’re becoming the people we’ll always be, you know? I want to make sure I’m becoming the best me. That conversation went down approximately one year before I would make the series of destructive, drunken, borderline sadistic decisions that led me to Portland, where I floundered along, learning to be less destructive and sadistic. Where I started making the decisions that would eventually lead me here: a Japanese restaurant in the Hillcrest neighborhood of San Diego [note: they have a hell of a Happy Hour and an $8 spicy tuna rice bowl that is literal heaven].

Was I making decisions that would impact me the rest of my life? Yes of course. Was I becoming the person I would always be? No, absolutely not. The thing I’m learning about decisions is that they’re more like altimeters than street signs. They’ll tell you where you are (in all your glorious ups and down), not where you’re headed, or where you’ve come from.

This girl wants to be A Writer. She wants to know if she’s Good Enough. She is afraid of Selling Out and Playing It Safe. She is afraid of Not Having a Safety Net. Ahh, memory lane.

Fact: I only went to college because a high school teacher didn’t want me to die still working at the diner in my hometown, so he literally kidnapped me, hovering over my shoulder while I filled out my application to University of Montana.

Fact: I declared myself an Anthropology major because I had a crush on my friend, who happened to be an Anthropology major (and, unlike an English degree, there was no foreign language requirement for graduation). We dated for nearly three years. We had a dog and a cat. We inevitably didn’t work out.

Fact: After graduation and the breakup, I had no idea what I was doing. I worked as the General Manager for a doggy daycare until depression and alcohol abuse brought me right to the edge of being fired. I dated the first “love of my life,” and spent over half our relationship setting us both on fire. I decided to pursue a career as a rugby player. I promptly blew out my knee, at which point I pulled some David Copperfield shit, and “disappeared” my problems by burning bridges and skipping states.

Fact: In Portland, I worked almost five years as a receptionist in the veterinary industry, but at parties I introduced myself as the “Marketing Director for a local specialty clinic,” because I was ashamed that I spent my days scrolling through Facebook and answering telephones. I learned how to drink a whole bottle of wine without blacking out. I dated. I made some good decisions, and some bad decisions. I started writing poetry, and it was just as angsty as the stuff I filled notebooks with in high school, but I was suddenly no longer afraid to read it on a stage in front of strangers, and they seemed to dig it. I was nominated for some awards, I published some things.

Fact: I applied to grad school because of a breakup. Because the second “love of my life” didn’t love me. Because I was hurt and angry, and I didn’t want to be in that town full of memories. Because I wanted her to see me doing fine without her, even though I wasn’t and didn’t think I ever would [spoiler alert: I was wrong] Because was learning, slowly, that you can’t treat real people like background characters in your stories. They have their own agency.

Fact: Currently, I can say in all honesty that studying for my Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) is the hardest, most rewarding thing I have ever done. I have always been A Writer (link: Floorplan/Rusty), I have always been Good Enough. I don’t regret a single step in this crazy, circuitous journey.

So I told this to the girl making her Big Decisions, and I told her about my cohort: the retired construction worker, and the former librarian, and the mammal fresh out of undergrad, and the mother whose body rejected a job in the beauty industry, and I told her If you want to be a writer, you’ll write, and you’ll never stop writing, and if you’re meant to go to school, you’ll find your way.

I don’t want to act like I have all of the answers. This morning I had a sleeve of saltines and a whole French press of coffee for breakfast. I bribed myself to do laundry with a YA graphic novel and a bottle of sake. Tonight, I’ll go bump elbows with the staff of Fiction International (who happen to be some of my closest friends down here. I know, it’s like totally no big deal) at the new issue release party. In four days I’ll board a plane to spend Thanksgiving and my 29th birthday in Portland with the silly little familia that loves and supports me from 1,000 miles away.

Recently, I texted Lucy. I said I don’t know what to write. She said:

One time you were really drunk when we were dating-- like really blacked out, didn’t know who I was, or where you were. You kept biting me as I tried to put some pajamas on you—like you were incoherent but you were fighting back no matter what. Sometimes I think about that because… I feel like you saw yourself as weak. But you were really strong, you fought for yourself even when you didn’t know you were doing it.

None of this is easy. But it feels right like the essence of purple, which is to say god. It feels calm like blue heron. Like waking up and knowing I’ve been dreaming poetry. Even when I feel weak, something somewhere inside me is fighting.

Happy almost Thanksgiving, kittens.



Sunday, November 5, 2017

A Brief & Incomplete List: Ways My Life Might Resemble a Roller coaster

The idea is generally better than reality. Like, standing in the line, you’ve got the sun on your shoulders and butterflies in your belly, wondering what’s coming. Starting out, the whole situation feels like possibility. But once you’re strapped into your safety harness, you realize it was all pre-planned by someone, somewhere, who doesn’t really care if you have fun long as the admission has been paid. It was a lot more fun when I was younger. Back then, I never wanted to get off the ride. I’m positive there was a time before this persistent nausea, back pain, and general feelings of malaise. These days, it’s best to relax into the ride.  Resistance leads to whiplash, at best. There’s always another unexpected drop, twist, or turn right around the corner. So really, there’s no point in expecting any sort of consistency. After that first drop-off, the anticipation of the beginning of the ride, you’ll be sideswiped by literally everything. You will squander that "one-in-a-lifetime" opportunity, your pets will die, you’ll waste so much time watching Netflix that your life will pass you by… so you might as well relax and enjoy the ride. After all, the only constant is unpredictability. It’s better with friends and family. Today, my little sister got engaged and I’m an English major, so I can’t even count how many times her best friend cried. Seriously, if ya’ll are riding alone, I know you’re lonely. The older I get, the more important daily maintenance becomes. Maybe it’s more reassuring to not think about the real life human beings who make sure roller coasters are tight where they’re supposed to be tight, and greased where they’re supposed to be greased. That moving parts move and staying put parts stay put, and the safety mechanisms don’t fail. I wish I had a crew or a finely-tuned machine to do the same with my life and body. Instead I have tacos, whiskey, and a gym membership.

No matter how carefully you plan, things go wrong. Like, I'm sure the guy who built the Big Dipper at England’s Battersea Park Fun Fair never expected all those fatalities, but sometimes life throws you curve balls you aren't expecting, and really, what are you supposed to do? Call it quits, throw out the baby and the bathwater? Close down the whole park? Well, if you're like those guys then... yeah. That's exactly what you do. It’s incompatible with pregnancy. I think that says plenty... You can’t stop once you’ve started. I mean you could. But it would be either be incredibly boring or incredibly disastrous, since you’d either be stuck on the tracks or coming off them. Nah, despite the ups and downs I think it’s best to keep your limbs inside this ride.

After awhile, you get used to the screams and everything seems almost… peaceful?

Love you, creeps. Keep keeping it real.

Xoxo - b

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Exchange

“I want to give you something, or I want to take/something from you. But I want to feel the exchange…” - Ada Limon, “How Far Away We Are”

Whenever I miss smoking it’s because I don’t know what to do with my hands. There was always something so satisfying about the ritual, a singularity of purpose. Come home, dig through the heap of dirty laundry for the lighter stashed in some back pocket of some pair of jeans, wait for the landlady to be settled upstairs, because I hated when she’d surprise me in the backyard. I’m not great at making conversation when I’m caught off guard. Sometimes it was the only deep breath I’d remember to take, that first drag sucking the smoke into that aching chest place.

I have been shouting into this void with increasing unreliability for almost six years now. Almost as long as I’d been smoking. 192 posts, at least a hundred thousand words. A handful of relationships, two cities, one notoriously rotten cat; this blog is a life that’s doing its best to look like mine. Whenever I miss this writing it’s because I don’t know what to do with my mind. With my heart.

This afternoon I woke up from a nap to the earthquakes in my blood rocking me awake, but gentle. Not like a disaster, but like waves, and it made me lonely for last summer, how water and moonlight seduced us. How it swallowed us up, naked and rum drunk, burning with something we didn’t understand quite yet, while our friends watched from the banks. I swear, earlier this was poetry. I could feel it thrumming in my fingertips. There were strident verbs and resonant nouns, and so much musicality, but now there’s just my brain feeling all soft and bruised around the edges.

I text T to ask her who left the gravity running on high all afternoon? When did everything get so heavy?

This semester I’m taking a manuscript class, which means doing this terrifying thing: letting people read and critique my poetry. Now, obviously I understand that I’m in a poetry program, so this comes with the territory. And yes, of course, people have read and critiqued my work before. But there’s something different about compiling these pieces, stringing them together. There’s something about holding the thing, feeling the actual heft and weight of it in my hands. I called it Poverty, and didn’t fail to notice the irony in how much it cost to print 14 copies.

After reading it, my mentor asks What does home mean? Why do you spend so much time looking for it?

This year I’m living in split screen. Home, on this street, where the addicts next door scream on the weeknights until police lights burst like blossoms on the outstretched splays of the front yard succulents. Where coyotes lurk in the shadows of the carport, their breathing hushed like the rush of traffic on the interstate. Home 1,092 miles away. Home, always something outside of me, something to get to. Something to make, or to search for. I say I don’t want to live here and the Sensai Bear says give it three years. She says You are stronger than you believe. Always have been, always will be, or something to that effect, and I’m reflecting back on Mary Oliver and her wild geese. This need to let the soft animal of my body love what it loves, even if it means bared teeth and savagery to protect the softest parts of me. I am tired of men taking my poetry like they’re doing me a favor. I am ready to jealously guard these things I am shaping as they shape me.

I want to give you something. I want to take something from you.



Friday, August 4, 2017

I've Been a Hungry Ghost

Last spring, I sat in a room while my she-hero prowled between the tables and answered the question we were each complicit in not asking: How do I write a story? Start with the body, she said. Always return to the body.

She said start with the body, and this morning I woke up, but I woke up with that throbbing that’s too central to be heart and too high to be stomach, and I wondered again how much a pancreas weighs. Can I hold it in one hand or two? When I ache in that place, I take one palm and press hard, like on tv shows, how professionals will hold a scared child until that child stops thrashing. If I pin my pancreas’s little fists, will it stop punching so hard? Will it stop being a scared child, stop throwing tantrums. Will it grow up, grow out of this, become an honor roll student, be the sort of pancreas that never runs stop signs, and is careful not to overdrink or speak out of turn? Maybe my pancreas will earn a Nobel Peace Prize. Maybe my pancreas will find a cure for cancer. Or maybe my pancreas will explode while I sleep. You never know about these sorts of things.

This week, temperatures in Portland peaked at 107 degrees. It’s stupid hot, the air cloying. The air oppressive. The air holding us hostage. Holding us captive, like an audience. Like we’re an audience, this magician suspends our breath and sweat, look at this trick. Right before our eyes.  One sleight of hand keeps all that moisture in the air until we’re nearly drowning rather than breathing. So each day, as the heat wave breaks over us, I leash the dog and we stumble, totter, trip our way down the steep staircase into the basement’s blessed chill.

Self-fulfilling prophecy, I’m living exactly where I joked I would be.

There the dog spreads her bones out on the cool concrete and sighs. There she can breathe easy while I grapple with words. While I try to transform letters into dollar signs. While I empty my head to fill my bank account, and the heart goes on with its heady little woosh woosh woosh unnoticed until it misbehaves, like so many other things. At the end of the day, the first girl to see me inside and out comes down those stairs and curls herself into me. Last year she may have been a back alley apparition, but now she’s weight, and breath, and warmth, and soft; so much her to remind me what it is to feel like me.

Return to the body. Sometimes I get this electricity in my hands and feet that can only escape if I cry. Return to the body. I can’t tell the difference between sick and sad. Return to the body. There are days with too much gravity. Days when everything gets so heavy I have to crawl to get anywhere, so I just don’t bother. Return to the body. Some days I am sick with gravity. Some days I am sad with it.  Return to the body. I don’t want to want so much, but thank you for giving it. Return to the body. My body is going to betray me. Return to the body. Every time I drink myself blind, I think I am one step closer to dying. Sometimes that scares me and sometimes it’s a relief. Return to the body.

These long summer days I feel so transient that it is a strange thing to have a body. To be bound by its requirements. To eat, and drink, and sleep, and bathe, and be forced to confront the fact that even when no place is my place, I will still have this body with all of its complicated history and impulses and needs. So I eat triangles of honeydew out of the fridge with my bare hands and lick the cold sweetness from my fingertips, while sweat drips down the backs of my knees and I realize this too is what it means to be alive.